On a trip through Austria, I got to visit some castles. They were wonderful, with high, thick walls, stylish interiors and info boards with lots of interesting information about how people lived back then. What struck me then was the LOW standard of living!
The entrance gate was quite impressive and the walls were high, but when I entered the rooms and started looking at the lack of comfortable seating, the simplistic and ill-fitting clothes that they wore and the limited varieties of food they ate, there was one thing that I kept thinking:
What a poor way of living.
If you take anything away from this page, let it be this:
The standard of living in the 21st century is amazing. Most of us live way better than KINGS did a few centuries ago! If you realize this and keep reminding yourself of it, you'll be a lot happier, since you realize how luxurious your life is.
And if you're willing to use your imagination and do some life planning, you can end up being much happier while saving lots of money. I (Timon) have been reading up on how happiness and money work, and the article below is a nice combination of those two. (I'm not an expert, I just found some things that really helped me, and I share this is the hope that it will also help you).
This article will help you see how your current life is very luxurious and how you can decouple happiness from buying stuff and services. This way, you can become happy and feel rich. At least, that's what it did for me.
You might say: Well, I enjoy buying things, so if that is what makes me happy, isn't that the best use of my money? I worked hard for the money, so now I deserve to spend it on things I enjoy, right?
Well, if you want to make shareholders of large companies rich (and happy), that is exactly what you should do. They'll happily grab another mouthful of popcorn as they watch you walk out of the store with the newest set of sneakers that will provide you with a tiny and very short-lasting amount of pleasure and a little amount of social esteem from people that notice that you have new shoes. Meanwhile, the stock prices soar and the shareholders rejoice.
Thus, the idea that buying stuff and services makes you happy is true. However, the happiness that you gain from it is short-lived, and after that rush is done, you'll want to buy something else to get a new rush of happiness.
Thus, buying things is not a way of life that will bring you long-lasting happiness, and trying to become happy by buying things and services places a limit on your happiness: Your bank account. If you instead want to spend your money - and even more importantly: your time - in a way that makes you happy, regardless of how much money you spend, you're better off doing something else.
The tips, tricks and exercises provided below will help you to decouple spending money from being happy. Once you've achieved that, you can obtain the happiness that you so highly desire while living better than a king.
You can't! It's free (and I don't need your email address either). To understand how you can become happy and feel rich, you don't need to buy my book or subscribe to my course. I (Timon) don't want to make money off this. I just want to help you become more happy and feel wealthy, since that makes live worth living.
I've been reading lots of books and articles on these topics over the last few years, and I've been thinking about how to connect these ideas into a coherent strategy. The resulting ideas really helped me to be more happy and feel rich. I figured that it might help others as well, since last time I checked, nearly everyone wants to be happy and feel rich.
It's quite a story, so if you want to skip some parts to save time, feel free to do so. However, each part builds upon the previous, so if you want to get the full benefit of the story, reading all of it is highly recommended. Enjoy!
If you live in a first-world country, your life is filled with an extreme amount of material luxury. To realize this, you only need to rewind a few centuries and see how far we've come since then. Let me give you a tour of your kingly existence.
While you read this, you might be tempted to say: Yeah sure, toilets are nice, but nearly everyone has them so it's not that special, right? That's the whole point! The stuff that we're used to and take for granted is so amazing!
Try to imagine yourself living without some of the things I mention below. It'll make you realize how luxurious our life is!
Have you ever walked in the pouring rain or in gushing wind, thinking: Man, I wish I could be somewhere where I am protected against rain and wind, regardless of the weather outside?
Well, we have that! There's a reason that the early humans lived in caves: Being outside in the rain and wind all the time is not that pleasant. But nowadays we don't have to go to a cave to stay dry! We've got buildings all over the place. And these buildings aren't ramshackle constructions that would fall down if you gave it a proper push. These buildings are well-constructed and very well-engineered.
Just try to imagine what kind of work goes into those buildings! An enormous amount of people need to cooperate and communicate to build it, and many materials need to be gathered and processed before we have the sturdy houses, shops and offices that we have nowadays.
Just incredible. Can you even imagine living without buildings?
Today there are about 1 billion people that do not have running water in their homes (see the book Factfullness by Hans Rosling for more about this).
I will repeat this to make sure you realize what it says:
One Billion people (that's a one with nine zeroes, more than three times the number of people living in the USA and also more than Europe's number of residents) live WITHOUT running water in their homes.
What would life be like without running water? Well, each day you'd have to spend an hour or two of each day carrying water from a well in buckets to your home. That's life without running water. But that's probably not you, right? You can probably move a few steps from your current location and get more clean, fresh water than you can ever drink.
How amazing is that?
If you ever have a plumber doing some work in your home, treat them very well. Because when you need them, you really need them.
Toilets are such a great gift to humanity, and I am very happy to be able to use them. It took quite some developments for us to develop well-working toilets and a safe and functional sewer system that processes what we throw at it and – after some filtering and processing – returns clean water that we can then drink!
If you have toilets, be grateful! About 4.5 billion people do not have access to properly functioning toilets!
Can you even imagine what life would be like without toilets that flush?
One of the things that makes me happy every time I use it is the central heating system in my home. It's really magical: I push a button and a few minutes later the room is warm! Cool, right? Well… not really cool, kinda hot actually, I mean… Well, you get the point.
Life without central heating would be such a different life! Can you imagine being out in the cold, entering your home and having to gather firewood, start a fire with your cold hands, and then wait for 10-15 minutes before the fire is large enough to fill the room with heat? And then, when you leave the room to go to another room, the next room is cold! How uncomfortable.
But that's probably not you. You can probably, just like me, instruct the heating system to turn on and thanks to Mario, Luigi and their colleagues (the plumbers), the room becomes warm!
Can you imagine what has to happen to make this possible?
If you combine running water and heating you get the thing that I look forward to every day: A comfortable, hot shower. Oh, how nice it is. What a nice way to get clean!
And again, just try to imagine how life without a shower or heated water would look like!
I can't even begin to describe how amazing electricity is. It's the flow of electrons through metal wires, and when handled properly, it powers the most amazing devices you've ever seen!
Maybe this is the biggest luxury of all; Just try to imagine what life would be like WITHOUT ELECTRICITY! All the electrically powered stuff you've grown used to would not be there.
It took a whole lot of engineering to get this up and running, but now that we have electricity, it has radically improved our standard of living to levels that are off the charts compared to life before electricity, and enabled all kinds of amazing other technology.
Kings, the most powerful and rich people, from just a few centuries ago, did NOT have electricity. But we DO! How cool is that?
Speaking of Cool: There's no "cracking a cold one with the boys" if there is no fridge to make the "one" cold. There would not be a convenient way to store ice, milk, meat and other perishables without cooling. Living in a desert would be quite a lot less comfortable without air-conditioning. But we have all of that!
We can make ice cream and eat it the next day, still cold, in the middle of the summer thanks to a freezer! We can cook a whole batch of chilli and store it in the freezer to eat later! We can take some regular water, pour it into molds and a few hours later we enjoy our drinks with a cube of frozen water! We can do all of those things, and more, because we have access to the amazing technology that is cooling! How - you guessed it - COOL is that??
Try to appreciate how amazing this is, and how much better your life is with it. It will make you a lot happier!
I think you get the point. All of the luxuries that I mentioned above make living such a joy, and that makes our life already much more luxurious than the way Kings in the 16th and 17th century lived.
And I haven't even talked about the even MORE amazing stuff, like:
I could write pages and pages about how epic and amazing all of the incredible luxuries that I mentioned above are, but for the sake of keeping things interesting, I'll move on.
Just remember: You have enormous amounts of luxuries available to you.
But what's the point of all this? Why did I sum up all those things and told you how amazing they are?
It's because we don't realize how amazing they actually are because we get used to it. And once we get used to something, we don't consider it special anymore; We consider it NORMAL.
Having light bulbs that light up at the flick of a switch is nothing special, right?
Sure, I can look up the exact length of the Eiffel tower within 20 seconds via the internet, but that is just the way things are, right?
What do you mean with "Netflix blows your mind"? Having access to thousands and thousands of movies, series and documentaries is nothing special, right? Everyone I know has Netflix, so I don't know what you're so hyped up about.
The way things are right now for us is our standard. This standard way of living feels normal, and it is with this baseline that we compare other things. If you're thinking about buying a new smartphone, you compare it's specifications with the specs of your current phone and use this comparison to estimate whether the increase in happiness justifies the expense.
We do this same kind of reasoning with other stuff as well. But what we fail to realize is how AMAZING our current standard of living already is.
And here's the real kicker: Once we get the new thing, that new thing becomes our new normal. And the first few days or weeks we really appreciate the new thing, but after a while we get used it. After we have gotten used to it, it is no longer special. This is called Hedonic Adaptation, and it's the thing that marketeers constantly use to convince us that something new will make us more happy than we are right now.
And they are right – kind of. For a very short time, buying the new thing will make us a bit happier. But after a relatively short time, the happiness wears off, we get used to the new toy and we are back at our baseline level of happiness.
After we decide that we definitely need the better phone, we buy it. Then, we look back at our old phone with pity for our past selves, who had to 'survive' with a phone with 'only 2GB of RAM' and look longingly to the new phone that has a 24 MP camera instead of the 20 MP camera that your current phone has.
Once we understand this concept, we can start wielding its true power:
You can decide for yourself what you want your default level of luxury to be.
THIS is the way that you can live better than kings on a normal salary. Once you TRULY realize how amazing and luxurious the things that you once considered 'basic' actually are, the desire for new shiny stuff to further increase your standard of living will fade away.
Sure, for any thing that you currently own, there exists a better version. A better bike, a faster car, a bigger home etcetera. But the thing you currently have is already SO amazing!
The way to realize this is not to compare it to other items that are better, but to compare it to life in the 16th or 17th century. This way you realize that the thing you have is quite amazing already, and makes life SO much easier, more comfortable and/or more fun than it was without it.
I'm from the Netherlands, and there we have a thing called 'Mama Appelsap'. It's the idea that songs with vocals in them contain lyrics, but if you misinterpret the lyrics you can accidentally hear something completely different. In this video you can see some examples of Dutch words that can be recognized in songs in different languages. Why am I bringing this up? Here's why: Once you hear the 'Mama Appelsap' in a song and listen to that song again, you cannot 'unhear' it. Every time you hear the song, you recognize the wrong words.
Similarly, once you dine in an average restaurant, your home-cooked meals don't look that fancy anymore. But once you dine in an amazing restaurant, the restaurant that you previously liked doesn't look that special anymore. This way, the experience of eating in a restaurant can become the new baseline that you compare the activity of 'eating' with, and to get back the excitement and enjoyment of your first visit to a restaurant, you have to step it up to a higher level of fine dining.
Thus, the tricky thing with this 'stepping up our level of luxury' is that once we experience a new level of luxury, we know about its existence. And when we know this, we will use that as a reference against which we measure our current experience. And knowing that life could be just a bit more luxurious with that new thing or experience, we will long for that instead of enjoying what we currently have or experience.
Thus, when designing your life and choosing your level of luxury, keep this in mind. Once you experience a higher level of luxury, you have to be aware of the comparisons that your mind makes, and remind yourself that your current level of luxury, or probably a lower level of luxury as well, is still an AMAZING luxury that provides pleasures and comforts that the richest people in the world (of the 16th century) could not even dream of.
Thus, if we can reset our level of luxury we can experience our current lifestyle as the kingly existence that it really is. This way we reduce the need to buy stuff to become happy, since our normal life already makes us happy.
But how do we do this? I propose going through the following steps. After defining the steps, I go through them for myself. You can look at this to see how the steps work in practice.
Resetting your appreciations of life can be done in two ways;
First, you can do it by using the introduction of this article and imagining what life would be like without the luxuries that you currently have access to. So, imagine (for example) living without a bed, computer, car or internet. Really think through what that would look like; How would you do your work? Where do you sleep? What do you eat, and how would you get your food?
Then open your eyes and realize that you DO have the things you imagined living without! This will enable you to take a fresh look at your valuation of things and experiences, without the baggage of years of hedonic adaptation.
It might feel a bit weird, but it really opens your eyes to what you did not see before.
Second, you can look at your current way of living and compare that to the way kings lived a few centuries ago. This helps you see how far we've come and how ridiculously luxurious our life currently is.
Define what you want out of life, in terms of the things you want to do, not in terms of what you want to have or be. This will help you to decouple your identity from material possessions and status symbols.
This is important, because marketeers constantly tell us that you can be attractive by using a certain perfume, be successful by buying a certain car and be trendy by buying the new type of dress. In other words; You can BE something by BUYING something, because we couple identity with outwards appearance. If you google 'Fireman' you'll be greeted by pictures of people wearing the clothes and tools of firemen. But these people are not firemen. They are people wearing the clothes and tools of firemen.
Similarly, someone wearing an expensive watch is not rich or successful. That person could've saved up months or years to buy the watch, or worse yet, the watch could've been bought on credit, causing the wearer to pay hefty interest on the loaned money. Thus, the fact that someone drives a certain car, wears certain clothes or carries a certain bag does not mean that they are rich or successful, and it certainly not mean that they are definitely happy.
In other words, you aren't a tennis player by owning a racket, shoes and clothing. You are a tennis player when you play tennis.
The only thing that you accomplish by BUYING something is that you make the shareholders of some company richer, and that you need a bigger closet to store the new clothes.
I firmly believe that personality is not defined by what you HAVE, but by what you DO. If you get to know someone, do you ask them: 'Hey, what do you have stored in your garage?' or 'What car do you have?' I don't think so. You probably ask them: 'What do you DO in your free time?'
This is by far the more interesting question, because BUYING is easy, while DOING is hard;
The point here is that an activity is much less connected to buying stuff and much more connected with the things you DO. Thus, make a list of things you want to DO.
Another part of this is the things you need to DO to survive. With survive I mean: Meeting your physical needs to stay happy, healthy and alive (apart from making money on your job). State these also in the form of what you want to DO instead of what you want to BE.
With this in mind, make a list of the things you want to DO. Next to that, also make a list of things you need to stay happy, healthy and alive (like food, housing and transportation). So; create separate free-time and stay-alive lists. We'll use this list in the next step.
If you want to, you can take a look at the "King Timon" section below where I do these exercises for myself and see what I mean with it. You can also draw some inspiration from the order in which I list my needs and wants.
Take your list of activities you like to do in your free time and things you need to do to stay happy, healthy and alive, and order them from efficient to inefficient, in terms of money need to buy and time (or money) spent to maintain. You can do this by taking a fresh piece of paper and re-writing the list in order from most efficient to least efficient.
While you do this, it's good to keep a few things about efficiency in mind:
It's not about the last euro or cent. It's just about rough estimations on the efficiency of what you want to do, have to do and have to buy.
After the list is ordered, use the next section to handle inefficient purchases and activities that you see as essential for your health or happiness.
You'll probably notice that quite a lot of your activities are either free or require a very small amount of money. But in the case that you have some inefficient necessities you need to survive and stay happy or some inefficient hobbies you like to do in your free time, you can handle those as follows:
Now we branch out a bit.
To stay happy, healthy and alive, you need some things. But there are also a lot of things that you don't need. Finding the difference between these is the key here. The next sections can help you to optimize each area of your life to make it more efficient.
And remember: We are not trying to to redesign our life to squeeze every penny and become rich but unhappy. We do it such that we need less money to sustain our lifestyle, allowing us to work less and have more free time, which we can spend doing our efficient and fulfilling activities.
With that in mind, let's start.
The three things you (probably) most money on are food, housing and transportation. So let's tackle those first.
I love food, and I also love this guide on frugal and healthy eating. Check it out, it's great!
This is a big topic, and I challenge you to think outside of the 'graduate, get a job, get a gigantic mortgage, buy a way too big house and spend the rest of your life paying it back' script.
There are so many options to greatly reduce your living expenses. The biggest 'enemy' of your housing expense is the idea that your house should be of a certain stature, or that you absolutely need certain things.
When looking for a house to rent or buy, location is very important. Thus, first find a place to live. Finding the proper place to live can help you become very happy AND wealthy.
When deciding what your house should contain, again, focus on what you want to DO in the house. Then find a house that efficiently allows you to DO those things.
For me, a house is a place to:
The cool thing is: All of these things can be done in a tiny studio apartment! So, keep your wish-list focused on what you want to DO, not what you want to HAVE.
Driving a car is super convenient, yet also super expensive. A much more efficient way of transportation is:
Also, again about location: You can take travel time to important places into account when choosing which house to buy
Even better: If you like small-town life, you can live somewhere where things are close enough to walk! That's even cheaper (and healthy!).
For reducing general consumption, this guide will guide you through the process.
Here is another guide that might help you out.
Now that the essentials are covered and you are able to fulfill the things you need to stay healthy and alive in an efficient way, we can move on to the fun part; What to do with all your new free time?
In short: Do the things you like to do in your free time in order of most efficient until least efficient until you're out of free time. That's it!
This way you do things you like to do, while keeping your costs low.
Of course you are free to spend your money however you want, but why would you be in a rush to spend the money that you worked so hard for?
"My time as a student was the best time of my life", is something that I've heard from many adults around me. They longingly talk about the freedom they had as a student, spending their time learning, socializing and having lots of fun.
When they think back at their time as a student, they think back at what they DID. Not what they HAD.
When I then ask about their housing, as almost an afterthought they mention something along the lines of: 'yeah, we lived in a crappy house, sharing a small kitchen with 3 others and having a bedroom with a bed, a desk and a drawer, and when people came over they sat on the bed or on unstable chairs. But it was fine, we made it work.
And when I ask about the food they ate, they talk about not having the money to eat out, thus cooking most of their meals themselves. And that was fine as well, they learned to cook quite nicely because of it.
And transportation? "I had a bike, and my two legs, and public transportation of course. And that was fine, it got us where we needed to go."
This fascinates me tremendously, since they had a life where they "worked" (studied) less than full-time, and the money they spent sustaining their lifestyle was also very little.
And they talk about that time as the happiest time of their lives.
What if we would transfer that work/life balance to the life of someone that is done studying and has a regular job. If that person would have the lifestyle of the student (sharing a house with others, transporting themselves from A to B using their legs, a bike and public transportation and cooking their own food), the money they needed to sustain that lifestyle could very probably be earned in less than 40 hours a week!
And this gives you the things that made student life so great; Much more free time, which can be used to learn new things, to meet new people and to have lots of fun! Because; That's the stuff that people think back on when thinking about their life as a student, and that's what made student life for many people "the best time of their life"!
In this section I do the exercises myself, to show how you could apply it to your own life.
I'll focus now on housing, food and transportation, but you can extend this to other things like technology, entertainment and clothing. I apply the second tactic to reset my appreciations; realizing how epic my life is when comparing it to that of a king of a few centuries ago.
At the time of writing this, I am finishing up my Master's degree at the university. Thus, I live in a shared house where I have my own room, and I share a large kitchen and living room with seven other people.
The building is old, badly insulated and has thin walls, causing me to hear my upstairs and sideways neighbours when they jam music or play an instrument. My desk is a large plank laid over two drawer cabinets and my bed is the cheapest one-person bed IKEA had available. Thus, one could say I live in a poor house.
However, my room has windows, so I can enjoy plenty of natural sunlight every day, even when the windows are closed. I can open those windows as well, to let in delicious fresh air. The castles of kings a few centuries ago had no windows, just open areas in the wall with wooden closures, so they could choose; daylight and fresh air, or darkness and no fresh air. And I can still look outside, even when it rains! What a delight. My desk is simple, but quite large, and cheap, and easy to disassemble, and the one-person bed allows me to sleep very comfortably every night. I look forward to sleeping in my bed every night, and I wake up rested. My bed is even more comfortable than some of the beds that were on display in the castles that I visited! My room, although a bit small, is more comfortable and more luxurious than that of a king of a few centuries ago. I'm living better than a king.
For food, I rarely eat out. Maybe once or twice a month, and most times at either a snack bar or at a cheap restaurant, and sometimes my parents take me to somewhere a bit more nice. Thus, I eat the large majority of my meals at home. My housemates and I rotate the cooking schedule such that everyone cooks about once every eight days, and the costs of the food are split among those that join the meal. After the meal the cook gets to enjoy free time, while the rest of the people do the dishes by hand, since we don't have a dishwasher. Sometimes cooking takes longer than expected and we're left to wait hungry, while the person cooking tries to get the meal done. Doesn't sound that good, does it?
Well, to me this sounds amazing! For the price of 15 minutes of washing off plates and cutlery and 2 or 3 euros of ingredients, I get a delicious meal served to me seven out of eight days, and when it's my turn to cook, I can pour all my culinary energy into creating something delicious that all my housemates can then enjoy, and after we're done eating and reading the bible, I get to enjoy my evening immediately, while others clean up for me! How amazing! And the meals my housemates cook are not always super special, but they are healthy, filling and very diverse. I really love it! And one summer I spent two weeks on Bulgaria on my own, to get a taste of life there, and I cooked all my my meals on my own. And this was wonderful as well! I got to choose every ingredient, cook it exactly the way I like it and enjoy my meal while listening to my favourite slow dinner jazz music. Every night I didn't eat, I dined. And I ate foods from all over the world, combining exotic ingredients that I could pick up at the grocery store and the farmer's market. My diet was more healthy and much more diverse than that of kings of a few centuries ago. So, I eat better than a king.
For transportation, I use my bike and walk, and for longer distances I take public transportation. This means that I cannot use my car for spontaneous road trips, because I do not have a car. Also, When I need to go somewhere that public transport cannot take me, I have to get creative; Share a ride with someone and pay for the gas, rent a bike to close off the last distance, walk a bit, take a taxi or - as a last resort - rent a car. This can be a hassle, and requires upfront planning and thinking to make sure I get where I need to go. Also, public transportation sometimes is delayed or super busy, causing me to have to stand for long periods of time. Doesn't sound too good, does it?
Well, in reality it's quite nice! The vast majority of my trips can perfectly be done by walking or biking, and when I need to go further public transportation covers most of the rest. The case where it's too far to bike or walk and public transport doesn't quite cover, AND I cannot tag along with someone that has a car are so rare that I can handle the expense of a taxi or rental car quite well. Also, I only need to maintain my bike! In practice this means oiling the chain and replacing a tire every few months. At the beginning I needed to watch some YouTube videos on how you do that, but after a while I could get it done quite quickly. And man, taking public transportation is such a luxury! The speed, the comfort, it's just wonderful. Kings from a few centuries ago would've wished they had this amazing way of transporting themselves, but instead had to do with bumpy carriage rides and tiring horse rides. I am truly transporting myself in more luxury and style than a king.
Thus, I live, travel and eat better than kings did a few centuries ago. What an amazing life I have!
What do I like to do in my free time? I like to do the following:
Now ordered by efficiency:
I apply the guides I linked to to reduce my expenditures and optimize my lifestyle, and this way I am able to sustain my lifestyle for a very little amount of money, allowing me to work less (or save more!).
And after I have done what I need to do, I fill my free time with activities that I like doing. I start at the top of the ordered list and continue until I have no more free time left!
One of the things that excites me every day is the fact that we have so much freedom to live our life the way we want to. We can pursue many careers, live almost anywhere, learn any language, play music instruments and so much more.
We can also choose to see things differently, and decide our own level of luxury instead of letting marketing and social comparisons dictate our standards.
That was the goal of this article; To help you become free from social comparisons and help you decide yourself who you want to be, and how you want to live.
I hope this was helpful. Have a nice day!
These links might be interesting to watch or read, as they provide more thoughts on the subjects that I covered here.
This whole page spends much time talking about saving money, and it might be that you're very much into that. However, this becomes a problem if saving money becomes the goal. I want to make this very clear:
Having lots of money is NOT the goal!
Life is not about saving money, but about deploying your talents, making a positive difference and enjoying life in the process. I believe that a frugal lifestyle can help you achieve those things, because the additional money you saved allows you to make choices regardless of the money that's involved.
Thus, all the tricks and exercises that I described are only a tool in your toolbox, but not a complete philosophy for life. Money can enable you to buy the most amazing things, and to experience the experiences of a lifetime. So spending money is not bad. In fact, it's awesome! As long as you spend it such that it supports YOUR goals, instead of getting you on the same level of your peers and making shareholders rich.
Thus, to balance out my 'saving money is great' message, it might help to read some counter-weighing material like: