How To Not Need to Be a Millionaire (But Still Live Your Dream Life)

finding your path

For many of us, money plays a determining role in where we live, what we do, what we don’t do, and even what we eat (Organic eggs? Too expensive!). Ultimately, money determines our lifestyle.

But money doesn’t have to have such a strong grip on our lives. Instead of being a constraint, money can support our dream lifestyle. 

And the solution isn’t just to earn more. It’s to do something that can be more difficult—get clear on how much money you need.

Why is this hard? Because knowing how much money you need is really about knowing what you truly want in life. Ultimately, the life you want will determine the amount of money you need. 

And as Alex Hormozi said, "Figuring out what you want is 99 times harder than getting it.”

It’s a lot easier to chase an arbitrary number than to stop and think about what exactly we want.

And many of us defer living the life we want until we reach a randomly chosen and suspiciously even dollar amount. In reality, we could have the life we want within a few years or sooner. The story of the businessman and fisherman illustrates this point well.

But how do we get to this state? By getting clear on what your unique version of “wealthy” is.

What Wealth Isn't

Paul Graham put it best: "Wealth is what you want, not money.” 

Wealth isn’t a specific dollar amount in your bank account. The feeling of financial security doesn’t arrive when you get a 6-figure job, start your freelancing career, or make $1000 from a side hustle. 

It’s about being clear about what you want and using money to make that vision a reality.

What Wealth Is

You're wealthy when you’re living the life you want. 

There are people making $45k a year living the life they want and there are people making $120k living the life they want. 

The one constant is that they know what they want. They’re not distracted by what society or what companies with large marketing budgets want them to want. 

Ramit Sethi calls this state of wealth, which is tailored to the individual’s specific needs and desires, your rich life

Sethi defines your rich life as: "your ideal life — one where you look at your personal relationships, your finances, and your ordinary days and say, 'Wow!’”

Ramit’s approach is different from most personal finance gurus because he stresses the importance of identifying your specific needs and desires rather than defaulting to vague statements like “I want to travel” or “I want to be able to do whatever I want.”

Where exactly do you want to travel and for how long? If you could do whatever you wanted, what exactly would you do each day?

Why Most People Don’t Know What They Want

If wealth is having the life you want, first you must get clear on what you want.

The problem here is that if you ask yourself what you want, the first response is often a knee-jerk, socially influenced answer: I want to be happy, healthy, spend time with friends, travel, etc.

We give these beauty-pageant answers because they sound good and are in tune with everyone else's answers. The problem is that they really mean anything. 

And most of us have spent so much time giving these surface-level answers, we forgot what the truth sounded like. We forget what it’s like to have a desire that really lights us up. 

Also, don’t expect yourself to know what you want. I know that’s a crazy statement, but chances are you haven’t tried enough things to know exactly what you want. Either that or you might have tried it but were discouraged from it because of some external influence telling you that you shouldn’t want that, and that you should want something else.

I remember my 5th-grade teacher retiring and moving to Hawaii with his wife. Then a couple years later he was back at the school teaching. He thought we wanted to spend the days drinking margaritas in the sand—turns out he actually liked teaching.

How To Get Clear on What You Want

What most people don’t realize is that figuring out what you want is discovered more than it is decided. It’s a process of discovery, rather than a decision you make via thinking. Like an archeologist, you have to get in the dirt, dig things up, clean off the dirt, and examine. You have to excavate.

Personally, I journal about what I want at least once every few months if not more. Then I will actually try things by doing small experiments

Think about the specifics. To steal a couple of questions from Tim Ferriss’s 4 Hour Work Week:

What would you do, day to day, if you had $100 million in the bank?

What would make you most excited to wake up in the morning to another day?

Thing big, but also think small: What time do you wake up, and what do you do in the first couple hours? What breakfast would you eat? Would you have the same brand of coffee/tea in the cupboard or a different one?

Let your mind go free and write it all down. There’s no right or wrong and nothing is too small to mention. You can make it a bulleted list, a story, or stream-of-consciousness journaling. Or a combination of all three.

To help you get ideas, here’s a draft of mine: (keep in mind this list is often changing, and I am always revisiting it.)

Michael’s Rich Life

  • I wake up before sunrise, meditate, and write.
  • I go for a walk or run as the sun rises in a quiet neighborhood, the weather is nice.
  • A live in a nice apartment/home located somewhere with good weather 6-9 months out of the year
  • I have a membership at a gym that’s within 10 minutes of walking
  • I buy all healthy and organic foods, even organic tea and coffee, and yes, even those expensive organic eggs.
  • I have a room dedicated to writing music and creativity
    • It’s possible I don’t want a separate room for music, and prefer my instruments near my work desk so I’m more inclined to play when inspiration comes. I’m not 100% sure yet.
  •  I have time to work on being a good musician
  • I have friends nearby that I see weekly
  • I have enough savings to not work for 6 months
  • I have good health insurance
  • I don’t have to worry about taking an Uber a couple of times a month
  • A simple investment portfolio I only need to check 1-2 times a year

Another question I found helpful is What doesn’t matter in your wealthy life? Just as important as what you do want is what you don’t want.

Here’s what I don’t care about:

  • Luxury/expensive cars
  • Luxury accessories like watches or sunglasses
  • Expensive hotels
  • Dining out a lot (because I enjoy cooking)
  • Climbing the corporate ladder

A book I highly recommend, and honestly is essential reading, is Your Money or Your Life. Here’s a relevant excerpt from my book notes:  

Defining “enough” requires you to ask yourself some crucial and pertinent questions:

What makes you happy? What’s most important to you? What values will you never compromise? If you had $1 million right now, what would you do with your time? What’s one thing you could get rid of to make yourself happier? (A person doesn’t count.) Will you ever have enough money to retire? If someone today erased all your debts, would you dig yourself into that hole again? How or how not?

Once you get clear on your rich life you’re in a slightly better position to think about your career and finances. 

That being said, I don’t recommend spending too much time contemplating and not acting. 

This is because action is one of the primary methods of figuring out what you want. You try something, find out you don’t like it, then try something else. 

The trick is to make the experience small. Take a short course rather than going back to school. Land a gig rather than changing your full-time job. 

Just remember, this is a journey that takes years of trying things and realizing you’re wrong. But a few years of meandering and missteps is much better than living an entire life that isn’t aligned with what you want.

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