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{ in·deed·a·bly }

adverb: to competently express interest, surprise, disbelief, or contempt

How much is enough?

There is an old saying that we should stop once we’ve had enough.

But here is a question: what is enough?

Not too little.

Not too much.

Just “enough”.

Can you define it? Is it feeling satiated? Comfortably fulfilled? Needing no more? Wanting no more?

The dictionary describes enough as possessing “as much or as many as required” or “the required degree or extent”.

Which seems a bit vague and subjective. How do we determine what is required?

Back to the dictionary. Required is defined as “officially compulsory, or otherwise considered essential; indispensable”. Which sounds definitive. The meeting of a need.

But then that certainty immediately gets watered down by the next definition of required, “in keeping with one’s wishes; desired”. Desired? That sounds like a want, not a need.

Two very different things.

You need to eat. Why? Because, according to the timeless wisdom of my father: “if you don’t eat, you don’t shit, and if you don’t shit you die”. It is hard to argue with that kind of logic.

You want to win the lottery. Why? So that you will have enough.

Enough so that you no longer have to work.

Enough so that you no longer need to worry.

Enough so that you can do anything you want.

Would you recognise “enough” when you saw it?

Be consciously aware of it in the moment? At the point of decision making?

Is it something that we recognise at the time? In a similar manner to the way we recognise art. Attraction. Ethics. Obscenity. Talent.

Or is “enough” only knowable in hindsight? Something reflected upon once the outcome was determined?

Like the difference between bravery and stupidity. Grit or stubbornness. Investing or speculation.

Many years ago, my friend Lewis and I used to visit the buffet at Pizza Hut. We took the “all you can eat” promotion as a personal challenge. Repeatedly lining up for more. Until we had either eaten our body weight in pizza or been asked to leave by a store manager horrified at watching their profits being physically consumed before their very eyes.

Eventually advancing age, and driving a desk for a living, conspired to slow my metabolism. I reached the age where I could no longer outrun a dubious diet that included too much beer and pizza.

My adventures with Lewis taught me a few valuable lessons about “enough”.

The first lesson was “just because I can eat a whole pizza doesn’t mean that I should”. I became mindful of portion size. Of eating out of hunger rather than habit or boredom. Of how much effort was involved in working off what I consumed. In short, of being consciously aware of when I had enough.

The second lesson was related to what became known as the patented “Lewis manoeuvre”. This involved my friend disappearing into the bathroom moments before the restaurant bill arrived, and only emerging again once it had been paid. Lewis never had “enough” money!

While Lewis exhibited miserly tendencies, he had good reason. As a teenager, he had listened to all those “if I only knew then what I know now” financial stories told by friends and family.

I wish I had gotten on the property ladder earlier”.

The best time to buy a property was 20 years ago”.

80 years ago my grandparents bought their house for £500. Today it is worth over £1,000,000”.

Rent is dead money, paying down your landlord’s mortgage rather than your own”.

As soon as he turned 18, Lewis bought an overpriced flat in a poor location on the outskirts of town. He paid for it using a 100% interest only mortgage, a self-certifying “liar’s loan”. He had no savings, so he borrowed the buying costs too.

For a time, Lewis felt pretty good about life. He had “enough”.

He owned his own home, at a younger age than anybody he knew. A home he could do what he liked with. A home nobody could ever take away from him. Providing shelter. Certainty. Security.

His cashflow was under control, the interest only mortgage payments were slightly less than the neighbourhood market rent. Best of all, he didn’t have to worry about maintaining the building and grounds, the building’s management company took care of all that hassle.

Somewhat predictably, all good things come to an end.

Within relatively quick succession the property market tanked, interest rates surged, and the building’s owner went to war with its management company over alleged misappropriation of funds.

Lewis’s dream turned into a nightmare.

He couldn’t afford to stay in the flat, the higher mortgage interest payments were beyond his means.

He couldn’t afford to sell, the lower market prices would no longer clear the outstanding mortgage balance. A negative equity trap.

He couldn’t afford the eye-watering supplementary service charge, required to pay for urgent building repairs once the sinking fund had been exhausted by legal fees.

Lewis felt totally and utterly screwed.

In a similar situation, some of us would have rented out a room to a lodger to help with cashflow. Others would have moved somewhere cheaper, and rented the whole flat out to tenants.

Ever the lateral thinker, Lewis decided to get married. Proposing to his then girlfriend. Inviting her to move in. Talking up economies of scale achieved through cohabitating. Hoping her wages would tide him over until property prices recovered.

The lesson was that living beyond our means produces a feeling that there can never be “enough”.

Four years later, Lewis’s wife had “enough”. They got divorced.

The flat was flogged off. Bought for a song by a cashed-up investor, who found opportunity in the misfortune of others.

There was no communal property to divvy up. No spoils of war to carry off. Everything had been sold to try and bridge the gap between the high mortgage balance and low property price.

His now ex-wife walked away with nothing.

Lewis was forced to swallow his pride and borrow the shortfall from those same family members who had espoused the wonders of homeownership.

Collectively they shared more unsolicited housing wisdom.

Too much house”.

Too much debt”.

Much too soon”.

Rather than being disappointed or distraught at the shitty hand life had dealt him, Lewis felt an overwhelming sense of relief. A vast weight had been lifted from his shoulders. The flat had represented living life according to the expectations of others. What he “should” do.

He was done with that now.

No house meant no mortgage.

No mortgage meant no further need to continue working in a soul-destroying job. In an unfulfilling profession chosen solely for its earning potential. At the end of an epic commute that consumed more waking hours than any sane person would voluntarily endure.

He felt free.

Lewis quit his job. Packed up his things. Jumped on a plane bound for somewhere with better weather and a lower cost of living. He had always fancied the idea of being a charter boat captain. Living a simple life spent taking tourists out fishing, diving, or island hopping by day. Enjoying the company of his neighbours at the local watering hole by night.

He didn’t earn much. But that was ok, because his new lifestyle didn’t cost much. He made “enough”.

Needing little. Wanting less.

Some of the difference was set aside for the day he could captain no more. His new surroundings were enjoyable for the able-bodied and self-sufficient. They wouldn’t be much fun when either of those things no longer held true.

The rest trickled back to repay the loan to his family. He wasn’t in any hurry, his benevolent backers considered it an advance on a future inheritance.

The third lesson was that “enough” wasn’t a number.

Neither a static trophy figure, that ignores changes in purchasing power over time. Nor an assumed cash flow stream capable of covering anticipated lifestyle costs based on our current tastes and priorities.

Enough” was a perspective. A feeling. Appreciative and content with what we already have. Aware that while there could always be more, the yearning for it fades from behavioural driver to background noise.

Lewis figured that out younger than most.

Many of us don’t get there until old age takes away the option of “more”. No time left to recover. Forcing us to making our peace with what we have. Accept that this is all there is. Then make the best of it.

For some of us, there can never be “enough“. Always yearning. Never satisfied. Ambitious to the very end.


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18 Comments

  1. GentlemansFamilyFinances 10 May 2022

    Great article and anecdotes.
    One thing that gets me thinking hard about “enough” is that while a million quid is “enough” you can’t live off more than maybe £20k a year in dividends before eating into your capital.
    Worse still, that million might have only cost you £500k with the rest due to asset price inflation – the better you did and the richer you became the more you’ve probably been hurt by the recent collapse in values at Tesla, Amazon, Netflix and so on.
    On the other side, I was chatting with friends (with kids) who are looking at spending a year abroad – just take off and love somewhere.
    The elephant in my head was that whilst Norway or Nepal or Nicuragua sounds great, I’d have to know about the tax situation before jumping ship – in this case my possessions are keeping me!

    Having enough is great so long as you don’t just narrow down your options to limit yourself.

    • {in·deed·a·bly} 10 May 2022 — Post author

      Thanks GFF.

      The “enoughness” of £[arbitrary round number] would largely depend your living locale, lifestyle costs, and anticipated timescales. Consider a £1m in London. Back in the 1950s that would have let many of us live quite comfortably. Today, it would not be enough to both buy a house and finance a 30+ year retirement. In 50 years time, it won’t even be enough for a house deposit.

      Having enough is great so long as you don’t just narrow down your options to limit yourself.

      Agreed, designing yourself into a corner is a predictable future problem for many retirees, be they FIREseekers or just old enough to have been put out to pasture. Choosing to live like a troll under a bridge is a valid lifestyle choice for a minimalist frugalista who is young and healthy. But commencing retirement (particularly early retirement) where that is all you can afford takes away all other options.

      That said, most folks do have the option of changing their minds if they let themselves. We’re only as trapped as we choose to be.

  2. ryangibsonclever 10 May 2022

    This is something I battle with daily. As mentioned a couple of times I sold my business and I’ve been working on a few bits part time to cover our monthly expenses. I think we have ‘enough’ invested and still in cash to be comfortably for the long term but how do you actually know this with two kids aged 1 and 6? It’s not a life I have lived before so it’s a case of trying to balance everything.

    I don’t think I currently have the answer so I keep working part time hours for now. But when do I stop and what drives that decision? 😀

    I don’t have the answer for his and I suspect you don’t neither; hence taking on the full time employment when you did.

    What I’ve found interesting when selling the business is the money actually creates more opportunity which can be both liberating and stifling. Most people my age are just ‘going to work’ without thinking about it.

    I wouldn’t want that but having savings/money does change the balance and makes life equally as difficult but in a different way.

    I really enjoyed this post, thanks for writing!

    • {in·deed·a·bly} 10 May 2022 — Post author

      Thanks Ryan, glad you enjoyed it.

      but how do you actually know

      Planning will only get us so far, after that “life happens” and we roll with the punches. We can only afford what we’re willing to afford, in many ways that makes a lot of the parenting decisions for us. Public or private schools? Tutors and nannies? Student debt or starting at zero? Bank of Mum and Dad for house deposits? The list is endless. Just remember to be nice to your kids, they’ll be the ones who choose your nursing home!

      I don’t have the answer for this

      Once we achieve a sense of financial independence many of the old excuses we used to hide behind are taken away. We don’t have to work. We don’t have to commute. We don’t have to do the same boring/frustrating/stressful activities that made us unhappy.

      But nothing magically provides clarity around what we should invest our time in instead. Common short term options are travel and volunteering, but longer term most people appear to carve out a new life for themselves based around sports or community activities. Establishing replacements for the enforced socialisation of the workplace, the sense of purpose, and the need for intellectual stimulation.

      and I suspect you don’t neither; hence taking on the full time employment when you did.

      My venture back into the fulltime workforce was mostly a hedge driven out of the “families are complicated” category. It granted some options. Took some others away. A conscious choice at the time, that is starting to feel like the default not because it is fantastic but rather because apathy is habit forming!

  3. Sera 10 May 2022

    Hello from Canada! I love your writing, sounds poetic in my head.
    I know I have enough (not much but enough) but can’t be free yet because of the kids, so counting days until Dec 2026 when my youngest finishes high school.

    • {in·deed·a·bly} 10 May 2022 — Post author

      Thanks Sera, that is very kind of you.

      Enough is relative, a little enough or a big enough might represent a margin of safety or a cause for concern depending on our risk appetites and whether our world view runs towards optimism or pessimism.

      Good luck on the downhill run towards the finishing line.

  4. weenie 10 May 2022

    I think the ‘all you can eat’ pizza diet is something everyone should give a try, but to be attempted only in your teens/20s as that’s the only time you can get away with it!

    I have a good idea of what my enough is and it’s nowhere near the million @GFF mentions!

    • {in·deed·a·bly} 10 May 2022 — Post author

      Thanks weenie. I do miss those days where I could consume whatever I wanted and not experience any consequences. Age is a trap!

      Fantastic you have a good feel for where your personal set of goal posts are. To some degree I think once we retire enough becomes somewhat of an abstract concept. We have what we have, and that just have to do. In a way, that can be liberating as it takes away much of the self-imposed pressure and uncertainty we all place ourselves under at times.

  5. Adam 10 May 2022

    Very interesting topic and thoughtfully and eloquently explored as always, thanks. Your blog is an inspiration to me to start one but alas I am yet to do so

    I wonder if one truly can banish all feelings of envy, greed, fear, inadequacy etc and from a position of genuine contentedness still benefit from the broad set of rewards (financial and otherwise) that generally accrue from challenging oneself to keep pushing. I don’t know the answer and find that equilibrium elusive. True contentedness seems to require a sense of consistent life improvement to be sustainable given the sense of having enough can sometimes be hard to hang on to

    Hardly a profoundly original insight but from my humble perspective I have found the optimal balance to be in a high degree of control over working patterns. Not easy to achieve but where you can dial the intensity of work up and down on your own terms and achieve a decent return on the time you’re selling I think you have the dynamism to try and navigate that tricky balance of feeling like you have enough to slow down and enjoy life in whatever way works for you whilst retaining the ability to respond should the goal posts of ‘enough’ start to move, or indeed should they be moved by factors outside your control

    • {in·deed·a·bly} 10 May 2022 — Post author

      Thanks Adam, that is high praise indeed.

      I guess the answer to your question stems from what motivates us. Impressing others? Competing with the Joneses? Living up to expectations? Or is it just doing things because they feel good? Solving tricky problems not for the ego but for the challenge. Helping people because of the warm fuzzy feeling that generates.

      The most content people I know are the least ambitious. Comfortable in their own skin, accepting of their lot in life, and having made the decision to enjoy it. But the most miserable people I know also lack ambition, willing to complain but unwilling to do anything to help themselves.

      I often wonder about that constant need to push. Is it out of a desire to make the most of the opportunities, skills, and abilities we have? To find our limits and test our boundaries? Or is it out of fear, of becoming stale or stagnant or irrelevant? A lot of the super ambitious career types I’ve encountered over the years have nothing else of substance in their lives, work providing them with a reason for being. Not because they particularly care about the work itself, they just want to win the game.

      You’ve nailed it. Control of time is what people chasing Financial Independence are really after, they just haven’t figured out that is granted by prioritisation decisions rather than a monetary amount. Control of time is why we love weekends and holidays. It’s the luxury of choice, more so than the choices we then make.

  6. FI-FireFighter 11 May 2022

    Another good one in·deed·a·bly.
    From my fairly recent experiences I would encourage people to decide on the ‘enough amount’ sooner rather than later, so that you can start the freedom to do whatever you want stage at the earliest opportunity.
    Too many friends have been being taken too early from that awful C word! and it keeps happening.
    My mate has just been diagnosed and had a very painful, extensive operation and is facing a long road of treatment to fight it.
    Makes you stop and reconsider where you are and what you are doing.
    I think we forget how fragile life is.
    Apologies for the downer!

    • {in·deed·a·bly} 11 May 2022 — Post author

      Thanks FI-Firefighter. Sorry to hear your social group is having a bad run on the health front, I hope your friend bounces back swiftly and fully.

      Absolutely agree with the sentiment about using our time well, we can’t bottle it and we don’t know how much we’ll get.

  7. John Smith 12 May 2022

    It’s one of my favorite say, when I talk about FIRE and enough – The Parable of The Mexican Fisherman.

    Chasing money for obtaining “enough” is an illusion, as long as every country “print” money form their asses, for a continuous (exponential) growth (on a planet with finite resources). [On Titanic ship the rush for few safe-boats is between first rich men, not richer versus poor, neither between poor versus poorer.]

    My next preferred quote (by Henry Ford):
    “It is well enough that people of the nation do not understand our banking and monetary system, for if they did, I believe there would be a revolution before tomorrow morning”

    P.S.(to be or not to be): indeedably have you find the enough yet, or are you waiting for older age wisdom? 🙂

    • {in·deed·a·bly} 12 May 2022 — Post author

      Thanks John Smith.

      For me the point of “enough” was when I stopped having to think about whether I could afford something. Inflows comfortably covered outflows, random “life happens” events happened with monotonous regularity, yet financially they didn’t often register. That put me somewhere in the comfortable or abundance range, not feeling rich but not feeling poor either.

      By that definition “enough” wasn’t sufficient to stop working, buy a tropical island, or live like a king. But it was enough to not have to worry about money any more. So for me, “enough” was a long way short of financial independence, and provided by a recurring cashflow buffer rather than an arbitrary magic number or academically backtested “safe” withdrawal rate. But everyone is different, the personal in personal finance.

      I must confess from that point onwards my interest in the mechanics of money and investing has waned considerably. I used to follow the fortunes of individual companies, read annual reports, keep up with all the economic news and political events. Now I just don’t care about most of that stuff.

  8. Christopher Thomas Howes 20 May 2022

    The Future is always uncertain, but the end is always near. In my late 70’s have become more apathetic than belligerent, less afraid to fail and respect my vulnerability….in the end “how much Land does a man need ?”

    • {in·deed·a·bly} 20 May 2022 — Post author

      Thanks Christopher. I’ve always been somewhat of a young achiever myself, reaching peak apathy in my teens and plateauing from that point onwards.

      “how much Land does a man need ?”

      The answer for many would appear to be “more“. Always more. Not because they need it, but because they don’t know what else to do with themselves other than constantly yearning. Right up until the point where we have to mow the lawn, at which point the answer may (temporarily) change to “less“!

  9. pathways 26 May 2022

    I really enjoyed reading this post. Sorry I’m a bit late to post a response.

    Lewis is an interesting character! It could have ended so much differently for him if the market hadn’t crashed when it did.
    I wasn’t too dissimilar to Lewis myself. I took out a 100% mortgage at age 22 back in the early 90s! I also had to borrow the money from family to pay the solicitor’s fee. (I did pay it back!)

    I borrowed the top whack on a staff mortgage perk from a big insurance company and at the time I had not idea that the endowment that came with it wouldn’t pay off the mortgage. Fast forward 17 years and I have a decent enough job to pay off the shortfall by chipping away in over-payments on my mortgage each month.

    The endowment shortfall wasn’t as bad as had been predicted, and I had some money left over in maturity after paying off the mortgage for home improvements and investments.

    The impact of paying off the mortgage was a freedom pill for me! I immediately went part-time and started to explore self-employment. I’d definitely had ‘enough’ of my full-time work situation. Now my mental health tells me when I have enough work. If I start to get overly stressed, I wind it back a bit.

    • {in·deed·a·bly} 26 May 2022 — Post author

      Thanks pathways, glad you enjoyed it. Well done on paying off your mortgage, that is a huge achievement! Financial Independence starts to become a viable option for many people at that point.

      I suspect if the market gods has smiled rather than shat on Lewis from a great height, he would probably still be on the hamster wheel working in a job that made him miserable. As long as I’ve known him, he needed externalities to kick him into action rather than being able to make big decisions in his own time.

What say you?

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