The second year I was away from home working, my first real job after university, I had a moment.
I remember exactly where I was when it happened – I was sitting on the floor of my tiny apartment – the one I was so proud of because it was affordable and all mine – and I’d been tidying up, probably in preparation to go home for Christmas, but maybe because that’s how I seem to live my life – all my stuff explores all over the place and periodically I have to go stuff it back in place, reigning it in to some kind of livability.
Anyways, here I was, sitting on the floor, going through piles of paperwork and I think I was trying to figure out what to do with my pay stubs. I remember looking at the year-to-date pay and thinking, “Wow – that’s a lot of money! Did I really earn that much money this year? I’d never earned anything like that amount before.”
And then, my next thought was, “Where did it all go?”
Now – before you go and ask me what kind of fancy-pants job I had, I wasn’t making that much money – I was a recent graduate. And before you ask me if I’d blown it all in the big city, yeah, I’d bought a nice jacket and gone for dinner with friends regularly, but I’d also been putting money against my student loans pretty steadily.
In fact, that was what was so shocking. It seemed like that amount of money should have been enough. Enough anyways for a single young female to live on in that city. It seemed like it should be enough to save some, spend some and have a reasonable level of comfort with my financial situation. But in that moment, I wasn’t sure if that was true, or if I had somehow missed the adulting class on “how to manage money.”
So I decided to conduct a survey.
I was going home to my parents for the holidays, back to Winter-peg and minus 30 degrees Celsius for Christmas. I thought I would ask friends and family how much was enough – not necessarily wanting a dollar value, but more strategies on how to feel comfortable with my finances – a survey of the signs of “enough-ness.” How did other people figure out what was enough money for them?
I got way more than I bargained for.
The question made one of my best friends burst into tears. A trusted relative pointed her finger at me and said, “You do not have enough.” My innocent curiosity led me to totally underestimate the emotional power wrapped up in most of our relationships with money. In my discussions about what was enough, I had incredibly powerful conversations with many individuals.
Some of the adults that I’d talked to – people whom I’d believed had their lives all figured out – didn’t have a sense of sufficiency about their money. In fact, some of them expressed quite a bit of worry that I should have felt “enough-ness” about money.
“Are you saving for retirement?” They asked. My bewildered 24-year-old self thought that putting $100 a month away was doing pretty well.
“Do you have debt? Yes? Then you don’t have enough!” I was told.
I also had caring conversations, with adults who were able to talk about times in their lives when they hadn’t felt like they’d had enough, and times where they had felt more comfortable.
The bewildering range of these responses puzzled me for a long time.
Now, I understand that enough isn’t a state to be achieved or arrived at, but rather a feeling to be designed.
I believe that it is the process of reflecting and setting a considered, informed framework that allows us to design when we have enough. If we simply wait to arrive at some moment of enough, as set by an outside “them,” we’ll never get there. There are many financial planning systems out there to design your own financial level of enough and each plan is specific as the individual and families that make it their own.
But designing the amount that is your enough isn’t the hard part, by the way.
The hard part, in my opinion, is to allow enough-ness to happen. Our prevailing culture is so full of messages to do more, be more, have more, and to just be satisfied isn’t a popular topic. Or it is, but only in the sense of never getting there – just buy this next thing, do these few actions, and THEN you’ll be ok. THEN you’ll have enough.
Today, I am more deliberate in designing my own level of enough. I have been adulting long enough to realize that I’m the only one that can determine what is enough for myself, but I still welcome discussion and strategies from others. And I can watch myself move the line on my own levels of financial satisfaction. It’s so easy to arrive at the goal and then think, “but if I had a little bit more, THEN I’d be okay.”
Again and again, I practice returning to the designing and the feeling of enough.