Fulfillment Curve

Finding Your “Enough” (The Key to Calm on Your FI Journey)

“Enough” is where you find calm and peace in your life.

It’s where you know your income, either active, passive, or a blend of both, is enough to cover your living expenses.

It’s where you know you spend enough to be happy, but not so much that you stop enjoying and appreciating everything you already have.

It’s where you create a gap between your income and expenses, which gives you enough money to invest in your future.

“Enough” is your best friend on your journey to attain financial independence or FI.

Let me show you why.

Finding Your “Enough” Lowers Your Expenses

We’ll start with the fulfillment curve from the book Your Money Or Your Life (demonstrated in the graphic above).

This concept shows the relationship between the amount of money you spend and the satisfaction or fulfillment you experience from spending it.

You could call this your “return on spending” or the life satisfaction you get in return for each dollar spent.

At the survival level, you get a lot of fulfillment for each dollar you spend. These are expenses that tend to satisfy physical needs, like food and shelter.

The comfort level reflects those things that make life enjoyable. The money is still well worth spending, and the fulfillment level is still high.

Then you reach the luxury level. A few luxuries are fun, but then the curve starts to level out.

The top of the fulfillment curve represents your “enough.”

If you keep spending after this point, it’s a waste of money. You spend money on things you don’t need or don’t use. What you buy ends up as clutter—stuff that takes up space mentally and physically but gives little in return.

It’s like the law of diminishing returns in economics. You get to a point where additional spending gives you less and less.

Here’s an example of the fulfillment curve using one of my problem expense categories, online courses. Online courses are my frugality kryptonite. I love learning, and taking courses is my version of fun.

At the “enough” level, I have a healthy balance between the number of courses I’m buying and my ability to “consume” them and use what I’m learning.

And when you’re learning a new skill, you’re at the “survival level” of spending—you get lots of value for your money. (Depending on the course. The quality of online classes varies, but that’s a different topic for another post).

However, when I buy courses past the point of my “enough,” I’m now an over-consumer. What was once a fun and valuable purchase is now a source of stress and guilt because I don’t have the time or energy to use what I bought.

We all have these “problem” expense categories. What’s the item you can’t seem to stop buying even when you have enough already?

If you cut it out of your budget entirely, you’ll rebel and probably end up spending even more on it in the future.

A better strategy is to think through where your point of enough is and stop there. You’ll get more enjoyment out of your purchases and save money in the process.

Lowering Your Expenses Brings FI Closer

To successfully pursue a long-term goal like financial independence, you need to take an honest look at your lifestyle and the expenses that go along with it.

You want to make sure you spend your money in line with your values. Make deliberate choices instead of putting your life and spending on autopilot.

By determining your “enough,” you can make those conscious choices.

Plus, reducing your expenses provides double benefits for hitting FI:

  • It frees up money for savings without working for additional income. The more you can save, the faster you can hit FI or a version of it, like Coast FI.
  • The lower your expenses, the closer you can bring the goal of FI to you. For every $1 you spend, you need around $25 to fund it (using the 4% withdrawal rule of thumb). Put another way, for every $1 of expense you cut, you’ll need $25 less in your portfolio to pay for it.

Finding Your “Enough” Allows You to Stop Striving for More, More, More Income

Going from a survival level of income to a comfort level of income will positively impact your life. And being able to afford some luxuries, even better.

But the concept of “enough” applies to income as well.

The more money you earn, the happier you’ll be, right?

Not necessarily true.

After the point of “enough,” your happiness and quality of life can decrease!

Research from Purdue University found that income greater than around $95,000 no longer has a positive effect on your well-being. Andrew T. Jebb, the lead author of the study, states, “It’s been debated at what point does money no longer change your level of well-being. We found that the ideal income point is $95,000 for life evaluation and $60,000 to $75,000 for emotional well-being. Again, this amount is for individuals and would likely be higher for families.”

The study found that income over $95,000 (for individuals, not households) tended to reduce life satisfaction!

Why would this be?

Because higher-paying jobs usually:

  • Require more of your time, leaving little for family or personal pursuits.
  • Increase your stress levels, which can lead to both mental and physical health issues.
  • Allow you to buy a bigger, fancier house because you can afford it. This makes it more likely you end up in a neighborhood with other top earners, otherwise known as the Joneses. And, as the study states, this leads to comparisons. Comparing yourself with anyone will lead to pain because there is always someone with more than you.

All of our lives, we are told more is better. But studies like the one above show there are limits. There is a point of enough, even for income.

This holds true for entrepreneurs as well. In the book Company of One by Paul Jarvis, Paul explains the benefits of staying small and questioning growth at the expense of your freedom and happiness in life. He states:

“…Sometimes “enough” or even less is all we need, since “more” too often equates to more stress, more problems, and more responsibilities in both life and business.”

Determining your “enough” prevents you from wasting time chasing additional income that won’t make a positive change in your life.

By not continually striving for more income, it may take longer to reach FI but you’ll have more time to enjoy life. I love the idea of Slow FI from The Fioneers. It’s a calmer way of reaching FI, with more focus on the journey and less on the destination.

Finding Your “Enough” Leads to True Wealth

Finding your “enough” brings FI closer to reality. After all, it’s almost impossible to hit the goal of FI if you don’t know what “enough” is for you. Otherwise, the goalpost continually moves out of reach.

Pursuing financial independence brings you closer to true wealth. True wealth isn’t a fixed number, but the calm confidence you have what you need.

This quote from the book Enough: True Measures of Money, Business, and Life by John C. Bogle, says it best:

“At a party given by a billionaire on Shelter Island, Kurt Vonnegut informs his pal, Joseph Heller, that their host, a hedge fund manager, had made more money in a single day than Heller had earned from his wildly popular novel Catch-22 over its whole history.

Heller responds, “Yes, but I have something he will never have…enough.”

It all starts with finding your enough.”

So How Do You Get There from Here?

Finding your “enough” starts by looking at your current expenses and figuring out where the peak of your fulfillment curve is.

“Enough” is where you have what you need, but not so much you overcomplicate your life. It’s where you can appreciate what you have and recognize when you are yearning for luxuries.

“Enough” is the opposite of a scarcity mindset. Telling yourself that you can’t afford something because you want to save money is a terrible idea. It will only work in the short-term.

Instead, take care of your needs and a reasonable level of your wants up to the “enough” point so you can enjoy your life. But notice your point of “enough” and stop there. Doing this will help you create a budget you’ll actually use.

“Enough” is an abundance mindset—it’s frugality without deprivation.

When you embrace “enough,” you can feel gratitude for everything you have.

None of this is easy. You’re under cultural pressure to spend, spend, spend.

Advertising tells you repeatedly if you buy just this one more thing, you’ll find the happiness and satisfaction you’ve been searching for.

To find your “enough,” you need to learn to recognize those messages. Our cultural programming plays on an endless loop, telling us all we are not enough. But we are.

You are enough. Right now. You don’t need to buy anything to prove it.

It’s time to take back control of your money, your time, and your life.