We don’t (really) need much

“Rivers are easiest to cross at the source”

Publilius Syrus

I know a guy in London who leases a Range Rover. It costs him 900 quid a month (before insurance, road tax and fuel). He’s 39 and lives in a house share but would like his own house. When I asked him why he doesn’t return the car and find his own place, he calmly replied – “it’s my dream car”.

Later, he pointed out that he only drives it to Tesco and once every two months to visit his parents in Newcastle.

£12000 a year for six two-way journeys and a bit of inner-city traffic hopping?! 

Madness? 

Perhaps. But it’s a madness that seems to have spread like the plague across our materially driven society.

This “dream car” justification is fine if he can (easily) afford it. But he’s stretching himself so thin that he’s stuck in a house share when he’d rather live alone.

A £1500, 2004 VW Passat will do the same job – so why is he, and many others, making this decision?

I believe it’s that most intoxicating blend of insecurity and inferiority complex. The wet dream of car and luxury goods advertisers.

This got me thinking about what we really need to live well

  • A car. Any that safely gets you from A to B will do. My pick, a £1000 VW Polo.
  • A house. Renting is fine as it affords you the freedom of moving. “Renting a house is buying the option to move at any time without losing money in a changing market” – Derek Sivers.
    • A house that operates efficiently is what we’re aiming for. Question why you need a dining room? If it gets used even just once a week, but costs an extra £1000 a year on rent, then why have it? It’s a want, not a need.
    • Same with extra bedrooms – the family comes to stay once a year. Why can’t they sleep in your room and you take the living room floor – or maybe they get a hotel close by?
  • Food. Eat as well as you can and avoid junk food. If that costs a little extra, then so be it. Health comes first. “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants” – Michael Pollan
  • Clothes: buy sustainable clothes once a year (or like me) once every two years. Brands like Patagonia makes products that last. They’ll even fix them when they break. Cost, £600 a year.
  • Health and fitness: for Kayleigh, the gym is essential. Working out improves her mental health so much that the gym membership (of only £15 a month) is a need, not a want. For me, it’s having a therapist for my ASD and ADHD. Without her, I’d be struggling.

What else do we (actually) need to live a free and happy life?

To live freely, we should pick three hobbies

“Pick three hobbies: One that makes you money, one that makes you fit, and one that keeps you creative.” – Naval Ravikant

Submitting to a life of true needs earns you the freedom to do fulfilling work. Most people are stuck in jobs they hate to pay for the expensive cars, house and frills they commit to.

If you have to wear a suit to work and someone tells you what time you must arrive and leave, you are not free.

Remove that, and the third of your life you spend at work can be applied to interesting and exciting projects, businesses or a more fulfilling career.

If you don’t need a lot of money and you’re working on your own business, you get to decide what hours you work. You can go running, cycling or climbing in the early afternoon. Thus, taking care of the second hobby – do something that keeps you fit.

Lastly, pick a creative hobby. For me, that’s playing guitar. Which leads me back into the needs over wants argument.

I’ve always wanted a Gibson Les Paul. But a good one costs at least £1300. If I ever have a spare £100,000 lying around, I might just buy one.

But until then, I’ll be playing the exact same Metallica riffs on my £320 2003 Mexican Fender Telecaster.

The Les Paul is a dream. A luxury I can only attain if I’m willing to sacrifice something else.

This way of thinking is liberating. 

Although, I used to be VERY different. A Porsche 911 was a dream of mine. But now, I’m genuinely happy with a piece of shit VW polo. Because, it’s just a vehicle to get me from A to B.

I escaped that materialistic way of thinking by realising how little these possessions matter. And the only way to achieve that state of self-acceptance is to get really fucking vulnerable for a while. To admit our inferiority complex and fight the demons that make us lust after things out of our reach.

Because otherwise, we’ll live today in the shadow of some made up tomorrow.

Today is what matters.

The only tomorrow I prepare for is investing money for a more secure future.

Saving for later in life

If you’re earning a lot and feel the need to spend it all, it’s perhaps the result of disliking your job. If that’s the case, have a word with yourself. Speak to a therapist. Do something about it.

However, if you’re frugal but still earn good money, you can invest plenty of it.

Ramit Sethi recommends using a percentage of our money for investments after we’ve budgeted for rent, bills and groceries, before any materialistic spending occurs (which he isn’t as opposed to btw!)

Shoving £12,000 a year into a long term Index Fund (like the S&P500) could net you £2,158,487 over 35 years.

In 36 years, when I turn 65, I’d be set for whatever kind of retirement I want.

How to know when you have enough

The next three quick points are stolen straight out the back pocket of radical, rat loving author Paul Jarvis.

Jarvis spends his life questioning growth. Which as much as we’re all ravenous for, probably isn’t the best approach to life.

Instead, he recommends that we define what’s enough for us to live a well and fulfilled life. That means capping our earnings and not pushing ourselves harder and harder to earn more. 

Because earning fuck loads more does what? Means you can buy more shit to fill more rooms in your house? Buy more cars to sit idle on the driveway? 

Or just to keep up with the insta-joneses?

Marketers and corporations have been using the status-driven psychology for over a hundred years to get us to buy shit we don’t we really need, to impress people we don’t really like.

And for many years it worked. Really fucking well. Until…

…well, it still works really fucking well. Only now it’s much worse.

Marketers and corporations made way for average people on smartphones, with ten thousand dollars in hundred dollar bills (borrowed from the bank) and a rentedstationary Gulfstream G5.

Through the depressing rose tinted glasses of Instagram – the world is rich and everyone has has everything they never knew they wanted.

And although we know it’s fake. We know it’s fucking fake, we still (sort of) fall for it. It gets in our heads. Our materialistic, inferior gremlin claws its way into our consciousness and then we’re stood in the Porsche garage lusting over Cars we can’t afford.

This has to stop!

The only way for me to escape it is to avoid Instagram altogether.

And finally: fuck stats, make art

Occasionally, I worry my posts are too aggressive and intense. But, then I remind myself that that is who I really am. ADHD and Asperger’s make me both extremely excited to dig into a subject and then focus on it very intensely once I get my teeth into it.

In a post titled fuck stats, make art – Paul Jarvis writes that “your genuine personality, draws people in. Writing to be liked or writing that follows a formula does not”.

So, thank you Paul. That’s what I’ll do. Because surely speaking from the heart is the epitome of freedom.

Cross the river at the easiest part

As Publilius Syrus reminds us that rivers are easiest to cross at the source, so too, are bad spending habits a result of lacking a philosophy of life and self-awareness. Somewhere these habits began as a small babbling brook before quickly growing into aggressive amazonian rapids.

Would you rather drown in a few weeks while crossing the rapids, or cross it now while it’s still easy?

It’s up to you.