Working with my Dad helping our clients get a handle on their household debt has taught me a surprising truth about living within our means: a balanced financial lifestyle doesn’t have to be restrictive or impoverished. If we cut out the racket that tells us ‘you aren’t enough!’ or ‘you don’t have enough!’, a host of opportunities become apparent.
In many ways, 2012 is shaping up to be a year in which the world discovers its limits.
Take for example, California, where residents of the beautiful state can no longer purchase foie gras, that French delicacy which epitomizes decadence, wealth, and excess. Though a minor change in itself, the curtailment of gastro-pleasure seeking in the Golden State is indicative of a wider trend: the rejection of overabundance in favour of measured and informed actions.
While students protest tuition fee increases in Quebec & Mayor Rob Ford “stops the gravy train” at cityhall, the environmental, social and financial communities continue to issue increasingly stark reminders that the world is finite and that change must be affected. To this extent severe austerity measures are being implemented in Europe; closer to home the budgets of both federal and provincial governments are focused primarily on cutbacks. Even a passing interest in what our economic and political leaders are saying reveals a fixation on phrases like ‘lowering of deficit’, ‘cautious growth’, and something about gravy trains. It seems that slowly, as a society, we are waking up to the possibility that modern economic models of prosperity are faulty and have become antiquated.
In their place, we need new ways of thinking that better reflect our growing consciousness about the perils of debt and the dangers of believing in an unlimited-resources system. We’ve arrived at that point in the night when feeling good is starting to feel just slightly bad. But as we’ve all learned, there are things that can and must be done in order to avoid a devastating hangover.
Let’s face it, saving money and living within our means isn’t ‘sexy’. The reason: we’ve been socialized to consume. Yet any rational person is capable of stepping back and recognizing that material goods alone cannot maximize personal wealth and happiness. Mortgages and lending money is at the forefront of this ‘rational moment’
Here are 3 things I’ve learned about living within sufficiency.
1. Swap your old measuring stick for a new one: We need to be brave enough to recognize the primary lesson of the 2008 recession: that unbridled growth and GDP year-on-year is a logical fallacy. But there are other, more accurate ways to defining success. We’ve all heard fables and wise tales about how life is measured by happiness and the quality of experiences. These stories are more than just fiction: Bhutan has implemented a happiness index, and Canada is considering doing the same. What’s keeping you from doing likewise in your personal financial planning?
2. Reassess and reallocate: A central doctrine of our ‘buy culture’ is that we don’t have enough, and that we simply aren’t enough. While financially this is true to the extent that more money can always buy more items, we are endowed with plenty of unlimited resources. What do you have that is unlimited? Imagination. Brainpower. Passion. Reassessing our merits in this way can allow us to reallocate our limited material resources using our unlimited personal assets in order to maximize what financial value we do control. As a mortgage broker with The Mortgage Centre – Tridac Corporation Ltd, I’m uniquely positioned to help my clients do this.
3. Don’t simplify: If you’ve read this far you’re probably thinking that to do these things you need to become a monk and shun all material goods. That’s not what this is about. Living within sufficiency isn’t about sacrificing or simplifying. It’s about being aware of what ‘enough’ is; the definition of enough is different for every person. But what’s important is that we recognize that ‘enough’ exists, as mirrored by a growing understanding of the world’s finite resources.
2012 may be remembered as a year of paradigm shift. The language of austerity can be daunting, but it needn’t signal the end of financial planning or the onset of general pessimism. Instead, the correcting of our mistaken belief in an infinite carrying capacity is an opportunity to reassess what wealth is already available to us. Awareness of this kind, in turn, can lead to better resource allocation, savings, and ultimately personal prosperity.