The Enough Curve: Consider the Ongoing Costs Of Your Purchases

Our youngest child successfully completed her first semi-autonomous Halloween, but also threw up after eating her candy. Instead of just a case of diminishing returns (stops tasting as good), it was an important life lesson about negative returns! This reminded me of the “Enough Curve” from the early retirement manifesto Your Money or Your Life, which maps the relationship between fulfillment and the money spent.

In the beginning, you are getting a lot of “bang for your buck”. You have the basics: enough to eat, safe shelter, clothing and general safety. After that, you are moving into comforts that help you think beyond day-to-day survival. This is a good thing. However, eventually you start getting diminishing returns where an extra dollar spent isn’t getting you much more in personal fulfillment.

If you keep going, as the TV ads say you “deserve”, you can get to a point where you experience negative returns. You spend more, but get less. Minimalists call this when “Your stuff owns you” vs. You owning your stuff. Here’s a few examples:

Too much housing. The more house you buy, the higher the insurance costs, lawn maintenance costs, home repair costs, heating/cooling/electricity/gas/utilities costs, cleaning costs, security costs, and so on. If you have too much space, you may also find yourself filling the extra space with junk you don’t even need. Extra furniture, extra toys, who knows.

Too much car. The more car you buy, the higher the insurance costs, repair costs, maintenance costs, detailing costs, and so on. You worry more about small scratches and dings. The strange thing is that the most expensive cars are not any more reliable or long-lasting than a Toyota Corolla or Prius.

Housing, cars, utilities, gas, and insurance costs are linked together and add up to nearly half of all household spending as shown in this visualization from Engaging Data :

Housing and car purchases tend to be infrequent, so the next time it comes up, try to take a good hard look at the total cost. One of the central tenets of Your Money or Your Life is that you are exchanging your finite life energy for money. Once you internalize that, you realize that many things are not worth exchanging years of your life working.

I’m not here to draw a line about what is okay and what isn’t, as it will be different for every person and every expense. I struggle with this as well. This is just a reminder that it’s easy to minimize this extra financial and mental baggage when the dopamine rush comes at the time of purchase. Finding enough is hard, but taking a moment to consider the ongoing costs helps me make better decisions.

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