How Much is Enough?

Money. We all need it, and daily we make decisions large and small about how to use it. We are constantly bombarded with news of the economy, and many of us have definite opinions about the local, national, and world economies. But when it comes to personal finances, we are often vague and uncomfortable. Talking about our finances is unseemly, pretty nearly taboo. You can be sexually intimate with someone, but don’t ask what your lover’s income is.

Despite our diffidence in talking about it, money is a big driver for most of us – determining what job we take, where we live, and what we do. So given the fact that money will set some significant parameters on our lifestyle, it is very important to set clear financial goals. Which brings us to my question: how much is enough?

H.L. Mencken once defined wealth as any income that is at least one hundred dollars more a year than the income of one’s wife’s sister’s husband. And he is correct that one common measure of satisfaction with our own wealth is comparative, not absolute. Although in the real estate market it may be most advantageous to live in the cheapest house in an expensive neighborhood, in the real world it’s no fun to be the least well off in among your peer group. (Keep that in mind when you choose a neighborhood for you and your family.)

But wouldn’t we rather set our financial goals by looking at our own needs and wants rather than striving to keep up the Joneses? To that end, my husband and I have recently been discussing our financial aspirations. Now, instead of simply asking whether we can afford that digital SLR camera we’ve been lusting after, or if we can take on the ongoing expense of piano lessons for the girls, we are discussing the big picture – how much money we need to earn collectively, how much we need to save, and how much we can spend. These conversations are not always easy. I’ll confess we put them off several times before finally sitting down and facing our finances together. But after our first conversation I felt closer to Reece. And that’s because talking about money meant talking about our values, passions, and dreams. Now that’s intimate.