One of the biggest threats to happiness at work is having too many fixed expenses at home. When you’re completely dependent on bringing home a pay check (or two!) every single month, you’re vulnerable. If work turns out to be unbearable you can’t simply up and leave and take three months without income.
I’ve chosen low-rent living for myself. At first it was through accident rather than planning but now I would never live any other way. Read on to see how it has made me happy at work – and in life.
Some years ago, my wonderful girlfriend Patricia and I were hunting for a new place to live in Copenhagen. We were living in her small, 1-bedroom apartment and we really longed for more space, more rooms and a bigger kitchen. Homes are getting ludicrously expensive in all European capitals including Copenhagen, so we went through a process that is common to many people hunting for a new home:
- We started looking at places within our budget that we could easily afford.
- But those places weren’t really cool so we started looking at more and more expensive places
- Untill we’d reached our threshold of pain and were only considering the most expensive places we could conceivably afford
We actually submitted bids on two different (expensive) homes and narrowly lost out in each case to other bidders. Back then we were devastated – we really had our minds set on those two places. Today we’re incredibly relieved that it never came through. We’re still living in Patricia’s apartment which costs us next to nothing and looking back I can see how much of an advantage that has been for the both of us. Obviously this applies not only to your mortgage or rent but to all fixed expenses. Rent/mortgage just happens to be the largest fixed expense most of us have.
Leaving lots of breathing room in my economy has brought me some huge advantages:
1: Freedom to leave a bad job
When a job doesn’t make me happy, I can quit without worrying about the money. I’ve done it once, Patricia twice. It’s not that we’ve quit at the fist sign of trouble – we have always tried to make it work. But when we’ve realized that a particular job wasn’t going to make us happy, we’ve had the freedom to say sayonara without first finding a new job.
2: Freedom to take a chance
In the startup I’ve been running the past three years I’ve been able to take some chances and focus more on building a happy, sustainable business than on bringing home a big pay-check every month. It has allowed the business to grow organically which has paid off immensely now that the business is up and running.
3: Freedom to do what I enjoy
I can decide to do stuff that lets me learn, meet interesting people or plain have fun but may not make any money here and now. This is a huge boon to me and my business in the long run because it means that I’m constantly developing and learning.
4: Freedom to do what’s right
I can do what’s right rather than what makes me more money. I can decide to work for free for a company that really needs me, but can’t afford me. I can give stuff away if I think people need it. I can set a high ethical standard and not need to worry about having to compromise it for profit.
5: Freedom to work less hours
There’s no pressure on me to work 50, 60 or 80 hours a week. I can if I want to and sometimes I do and if I’d rather work 20 hours one week I can do that. I’ve once and for all left The Cult of Overwork.
6: Freedom to say no to some customers
Some customers just aren’t right for your business. The chemistry is wrong, their needs dont’ match your solutions or they’re just too much trouble. I have the freedom to say no to some customers and yes to the best customers.
All of the above really comes down to short-term vs. long-term planning. Economic freedom let’s you invest in your future by doing things now that make less money, but will eventually make you more.
7: Peace of mind
I spend almost zero time and energy worrying about money – it’s just not an issue. I also don’t need to worry whether the interest rates go up or down half a point. Or whether there really is a housing bubble and house prices are about to start falling. That’s a huge relief and gives me more time and energy for business and life.
8: Focus on what really matters
When I’m not concerned with a bigger home, bigger car or bigger TV I focus on what really matters. My girlfriend, family, friends, business, writing, networking, learning, reading, etc… I waste no time keeping up with the Joneses.
9: Simple living
Living in a small appartment has taught us to own only the things we really need. We’ve been getting really good at throwing or giving away clothes, linens, kitchenware, furniture, knick-knacks etc. that we don’t use regularly. And this is a huge relief because you can form a huge attachment to the things you own and paring them down to only the things you really need teaches you to let go of that. There’s a mental relief and freedom that comes from that. Less stuff in your home = less stuff on your mind.
10: More money for fun stuff
When less money goes into the stuff I own, there’s more money for the stuff I do. Like snowboarding, conferences, travelling and more.
I want to make two things very clear:
1: This is not about being unambitious at work or setting small business goals. I can assure you that my aspirations are as big as the next person’s. It’s about realizing that economic wiggle room frees you to do things and take chances that lead to more happiness and therefore to great results in your work life and your private life.
2: I’m not knocking anybody else’s lifestyle and financial decisions. This is simply an observation of something that I discovered mostly by accident but which works incredibly well for me. Maybe you would be terribly miserable living in a small appartment instead of a huge house.
But I know that many people feel trapped in jobs they don’t like because their financial situation is precarious and leaves them no wiggle room. If that’s the case for you maybe you should consider trying the low-rent life and granting yourself some financial freedom. It’s a huge step towards more happiness at work and in life.
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