What We Really Want Isn’t Money

Times is the most valuable thing that a man can spend.

Coop up two mildly attention-deficit humans in a house for a few days with the stomach bug, and you’re bound to get some weird conversation. One of our more normal conversations this week, though, was revisiting the topic of what it is we want from life (we’ve talked about it here, here, and here).

Day in and day out, we work. We work hard. All in the pursuit of… more money. We all have goals and dreams. We imagine where we’ll be years down the road once those dreams have become a reality. What do those dreams look like for you? For Johnny and me, our dreams look a little like this:

  • a house
  • a couple more kids
  • the freedom to give said kids the attention they need
  • more time that isn’t spent working

When we were talking about what we want from life, I told Johnny a few things I don’t want:

  • a big house (i.e., more space than we need)
  • furnishings, clothes, cars, and things that make a statement about our perceived wealth
  • us 10 years from now wondering what we’ve done other than work

Everyone’s goals are different. If someone does want a big house or a fancy car or both, that’s great. Go after it. But that’s just never been part of our dreams. And even though we know what we want, we wonder if we’ll know how to get to it without working all the time. Or if we’ll make the choices that will get us to our idea of success, rather than society’s perception of success. It’s inevitable that we’ll always want for more things. And if there’s more money, we’ll likely find more things to spend it on.

Success is such an outward achievement in our society. If you have all the things, you’re considered a success. And it’s so easy to get sucked in. Even though Johnny and I don’t really want more stuff, we don’t dislike stuff. And it feels good to be able to afford stuff. But if it ever comes down to trading stuff for more time spent not working, I hope we choose time.

At some point, we all need to decide what it is we’re working for. Most of you are a lot smarter than we are, so maybe you decided ages ago. Our next question should be whether more money will help us achieve those wants. Sometimes more money is the answer. And that’s when working your you-know-what off comes into play. More money isn’t a bad pursuit. Sometimes it’s a really good pursuit. But it isn’t the end-all-be-all. That’s why we have to know what we want. So that our money goals help us reach our life goals. And so our life doesn’t just become a pursuit for more, more, more. More work, more money, more stuff.

If we can get what we want by working less, I hope we choose less. Even if it means less money, too.

Have you ever thought about what you really want? What do you need to do to get there?

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  • Reply TT April 25, 2014 at 8:33 am

    This is always a fun balancing act, and I think everyone’s definition of balance is going to differ. As someone who works ‘a lot of hours’ compared to the average Joe I think about this a lot. However, I think there is something to be said for delayed gratification. I look at this very much like retirement savings (and money babies?): if you sacrifice a little more early on it will likely pay dividends later and for a longer period of time (can I coin ‘time babies’, Joanna?). I feel like so many of my generation (under 30) play the “I don’t want to work so long because I want to enjoy life” card a little too early to the detriment of their careers, future, and family.

    Do I expect to work my current hours for the next 20-30 years? Absolutely not. But I’m ok with it for now because I believe it will put me in a position a few years from now and beyond to have more time to spend with family as opposed to taking a lighter load now but having to maintain it for longer. Maybe I’m just rationalizing, but I agree with Joanna, time is what I want more than money/stuff. This is just my way to get more time.

    • Reply Joanna May 9, 2014 at 11:08 am

      Good points, TT! I think there’s a definite case to be made for putting in time and effort early in order to live easier down the road. It sounds like you’ve found a good path for you and your family.

      And yes, the coining of “time babies” is officially all yours :).

  • Reply Retired by 40 April 25, 2014 at 9:38 am

    This is so tough – it makes me wonder if wealth is wasted on the old. Right now I am working crazy hours trying to get ahead because I know that even thought I will miss some really fun moments, I would rather spend time with my daughter when she is older and will remember the things that we do together. As much as I hate being away from her right now, I know that she won’t remember it, plus she’ll be a daddy’s girl!

    • Reply TT April 25, 2014 at 2:35 pm


    • Reply Joanna May 9, 2014 at 11:08 am

      Glad you’ve found a system that works for you!

  • Reply zoe @ my unhoardED life April 25, 2014 at 9:50 am

    I wish I could think about what I really want…unfortunately we’re so in debt right now and so saddled by our mortage that I feel like I won’t be able to see beyond my own bad decisions for another few years. So I guess what I really want is more time with family, and no longer living paycheck to paycheck.

    • Reply Joanna May 9, 2014 at 11:09 am

      Just take one day at a time, and you’ll get to that point before you know it. Kudos to you for working hard! Keep looking forward!

  • Reply Becky @ RunFunDone April 25, 2014 at 10:21 am

    I want time….FreeTime!

  • Reply Miranda April 25, 2014 at 12:49 pm

    As I get older, I realize more and more that, while I want enough money to be comfortable (relative term), what I really want to spend more money on are experiences that create memories or help me grow as a person. If someone gave me ten thousand dollars tomorrow that I wasn’t allowed to save, I wouldn’t spend it on a ‘thing’, I’d book an epic vacation for all my friends and family or use it to get a pilot’s license or something.

    Okay, I MIGHT buy a hot air balloon. They seem like a pretty solid investment… Plus I could use it to remake Up, except I’d leave out the first ten soul-crushing minutes…

    • Reply Joanna May 9, 2014 at 11:13 am

      Johnny and I have a hard time spending money on experiences, but it’s so worth it.

      And I like your hot air balloon idea. You really can’t go wrong with a hot air balloon, right??!

  • Reply Halsy April 25, 2014 at 4:03 pm

    I am so fortunate that my ultimate goal was to stay home with our kids while they were young and so far for the past 2 years I have been able to do that. I should be able to continue that as our 2nd daughter arrives soon and hopefully with any future children. However, this comes with a price because my
    Husband usually works more so this can continue to happen and we have to make a lot of sacrifices now and have in the past for this happen. For us this is important. Another big goal of ours is for our children to grow up in a safe neighborhood with excellent schools. Yes, we now have a larger mortgage but it’s what was important to us(not the size of the house). However, I would take quality time over $ any day. I don’t want “stuff” it
    Means nothing and will all be gone one day. I do enjoy experiences though such as family vacations and what not. So I really hope we are able to provide that for our children.

    • Reply Joanna May 9, 2014 at 11:14 am

      It sounds like you guys have made a decision you are happy with, which is what’s most important! I don’t think you’ll ever regret spending more time with your kids!

  • Reply Slinky April 25, 2014 at 4:45 pm

    I think about this constantly. The specifics and details change as time goes on, but mostly, I want more time too. The current incarnation is working towards eventual self employment in more artistic fields, along with some (semi) passive income. So far, we’ve mostly been stabilizing and “Setting up Base Camp” as I like to call it. Graduate college, get reliable cars, pay down debt, get married, buy a house, etc. We’re just starting to take some of the first real steps towards that big goal. It’s scary and exciting! Also expensive, but it helps to take it one step at a time. Next step – Hire a mason!

    • Reply Joanna May 9, 2014 at 11:16 am

      Awesome to hear you’re starting on the path toward the life you want! Way to take control. And I agree… it’s scary sometimes, but the alternative is kind of scary, too!

  • Reply Mrs. PoP April 25, 2014 at 8:01 pm

    I can’t imagine working this hard and not having at least some idea of what it’s all for! So yeah, we know what we want (a rough outline at least), and have a plan to make it happen. =)

    • Reply Joanna May 9, 2014 at 11:16 am

      Awesome. Hope you can make it happen!

  • Reply Kassandra April 25, 2014 at 8:49 pm

    We’ve begun to map out our WHY that keeps us motivated to work as much as we do right now. We have a fair idea of where we are headed and what we want to experience in life. We know and agree on what is fundamentally important to our well-being. Some of the things don’t cost much if at all whereas other things requires us to have a solid financial cushion. Setting a time frame really helps us to stay on track.

    • Reply Joanna May 9, 2014 at 11:20 am

      Agreed… setting a time frame is key to staying on track with your goals!

  • Reply Rob April 25, 2014 at 10:30 pm

    “Have you ever thought about what you really want? What do you need to do to get there?”

    Yep. First you plan – and I mean really plan – realistically, in as much detail as possible so that you then plan the work and then work the plan, all the while setting your realistic priorities – to first meet your needs and only then your wants – in that order, all subject change and course correction, as circumstances dictate over the years, until you eventually reach that point in your life’s journeywhere you feel that you finally have enough money (and inner security) to be able to afford to take that me-time that you’ve been promising yourselves. How’s that for one long horrible sentence of advice? 🙂

    • Reply Joanna May 9, 2014 at 11:22 am

      Haha, I liked your sentence, even if it was long and terrible. 😉 I like that you don’t sugar coat it… it takes time and lots of work and planning. Well done on already having accomplished your plan, Rob!

  • Reply Tarynkay April 26, 2014 at 9:39 am

    We have been working on setting up a trust so that everything can be in place for our son in the event of our untimely deaths (trusts sound like they are just for rich people, but it is actually the only way he can access to things like life insurance money before he reaches age 18. Have you guys done a post on estate planning? That would be an excellent money/parenting topic.) Anyhow, there is nothing like thinking about what will happen after you die to make you reevaluate your life!

    • Reply Joanna May 9, 2014 at 11:24 am

      We’ve just started thinking about life insurance and such, too. Hopefully we can do a post on it soon and get some insight from you and other readers!

      • Reply Jenni June 4, 2014 at 6:51 pm

        I’m eagerly awaiting your post on life insurance. I’ve heard so many conflicting things and I feel like most the research I find is backed by an insurance company who I’m afraid will push whatever they want to sell the most.

        My husband and I just bought a house so I need to get some life insurance soon!

        • Reply Joanna June 4, 2014 at 10:18 pm

          Thanks, Jenni! I know what you mean. When it comes to whole vs. term, term life insurance is the way to go, but the clincher is knowing how much to get. Johnny will be doing a post on it soon, so stay tuned! 🙂

  • Reply Michelle April 27, 2014 at 5:28 pm

    I spend a lot of time thinking about this because I’ve finally figured out what I don’t want. I think there’s just a point in a lot of people’s lives when they do some serious soul searching concerning where they are at in their life. Now that I know what I don’t want, I’m spending a lot of time working towards what I do want.

    • Reply Joanna May 9, 2014 at 11:25 am

      Glad to hear it, Michelle! The first step is definitely figuring out what you don’t want, and then figuring out a way to do the opposite! 🙂

  • Reply Emily April 28, 2014 at 2:15 pm

    I loved reading other people’s comments! We too love the time we have as a family and definitely sacrifice things by working less to have the time. We are pretty much on the same wave length. Just enough, nothing fancy, a little extra to give.

    • Reply Joanna May 9, 2014 at 11:26 am

      Totally, Emily. I don’t think anyone looks back and wishes they’d worked more :).

  • Reply Rach April 30, 2014 at 1:14 am

    Good thoughts.Your blog always makes me happy.

    • Reply Joanna May 9, 2014 at 11:26 am

      Thanks, Rachel! Your comment makes me happy :).

  • Reply MakintheBacon April 30, 2014 at 6:10 pm

    I know I want more of time, money, travel, memories and less of stuff. I would also like our mortgage to be paid off in 15-20 years.

    • Reply Joanna May 9, 2014 at 11:27 am

      Agreed… finding that balance is key!

  • Reply April Link Love! | The Shop My Closet Project May 2, 2014 at 7:42 am

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