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The Finer Things In Life

By , July 30th, 2008 | 22 Comments »

Someone told me the other day that I should want to earn more money so that I could afford the “finer things” in life. I responded by saying that yes, more money would be nice (isn’t it always?), but that the tradeoffs (working longer hours, more stress, more time away from my family) wouldn’t be worth it to me. As things stand I’m able to comfortably afford my needs, fund my savings, have most of my wants, and even afford a few of my “pie in the sky” dreams, all while remaining relatively stress free and available to me family.

“Yeah,” this person said, “But with your potential you could earn so much more. Don’t you want the really great things in life like luxury cars, a bigger house, designer clothes, swanky vacations to exotic locales and fine jewelry? Everyone wants those things and if you think you don’t you’re living in denial. You only say that to make yourself feel better because you can’t afford them.”

Of course, I bristled at this because who is this person to tell me what I do and don’t want? Moreover, who are they to tell me that I’m living in denial and lying if I say I don’t want those things? When I was done being angry, I started thinking: What are these “finer things” in life and are they worth it? Should I want them? Am I wrong not to work more in order to afford them? And who decides what’s considered “finer?”

The answer to the last question came easily. For the most part, it’s Madison Avenue that decides what the finer things in life are. They are the ones constantly harping on “affordable luxury” and finding new ways to make us want what we never even knew existed. They latch on to certain items and promote them with glossy ads, product placements in shows and movies, tag lines that imply you’re a loser if you don’t have the item, and celebrity endorsements. But are these items really that much better than other items that bring happiness to their owners, but aren’t promoted as heavily? In most cases, not. But for better or for worse, these are the items that people like my questioner equate to the finer things in life and believe we should all aspire to own.

What this person (and Madison Avenue) doesn’t yet realize or want to admit is that what constitutes “finer” varies from person to person. Or at least it should in people who are able to think for themselves, independent of what the advertisers want them to think. For me the “finer things” in life are not luxury cars, designer clothes, and fancy jewelry. For me the finer things in life would include more travel (not necessarily to exotic locales, but more money and time to travel), a house on more land than we have (not necessarily a bigger house, but on more land), and a bigger camper (if I’m going to travel more, might as well do it in comfort). But beyond those few things, I’m content with what I have. Even without those things my life is still very good. Some people value cars or handbags, and other people would, with unlimited funds, choose to have bigger families or more animals. What constitutes “finer” is personal, not universal.

The problem is, in order to obtain those “finer things,” whether they be finer by my own definition or Madison Avenue’s, someone is going to have to work more hours to earn the money to pay for them. The last time I checked, the money tree hadn’t grown in my yard, so earning more is the only option. Unfortunately, working and earning more wipes out most of my finer things.

If I’m working more, wanting more travel is pointless as I’ll never have the time to go anywhere. The bigger camper also becomes useless in that scenario. I might be able to afford the house on more land, but to get more land, I’ll have to move further away from the centers of employment, thus increasing commute costs and wiping out some of the money for the land. The only “finer” things I’d be able to enjoy would be clothes, handbags, jewelry and cars, i.e., “things” like those my questioner thought I should have. Those can be bought with a high salary, it doesn’t matter where you live, and you don’t need time away from work to enjoy them. But those things aren’t worth working more and losing time with my family, at least not to me. Your wants may differ from mine and that’s okay. But for me, working more and earning more isn’t the answer to having the “finer things” I wish for.

So should I want these finer things in life, as this person said, or is it okay that I choose to earn less but have a higher quality of life? Certainly we should all have dreams and aspirations. Otherwise life will get pretty boring just doing the same things over and over. But if my aspirations don’t jibe with yours or with Madison Avenue’s then that’s okay, too. If this person thinks a luxury car is key to his happiness, then I’m all for him having it. Just don’t tell me that I have to think the same way you do.

Because I think this way, this person accused me of living in denial if I couldn’t admit that I wanted the finer things in life. Am I lying to myself if I say that the finer things don’t matter to me? I would argue it’s the opposite. The knowledge of the tradeoffs required to obtain those things makes me more aware, not less, of what I want and makes me more honest with myself. Lying to myself would be buying things I can’t afford so that I could have the “finer things” in life. Lying to myself would be saying these things don’t matter to me while secretly wanting more of everything. But simply not wanting those things, after having thought of the pros and cons, and having different aspirations from yours does not equate denial.

I’m human, just like everyone else and there are times when I see something in a store and think, “Wow, having that would be great.” But I also know there are costs of ownership that go deeper than the price tag. To have the finer things in life I’d have to sacrifice some other aspects of my life. Money doesn’t come without work, unless you are fortunate enough to have a large trust fund. Even people like Donald Trump who have money out the wazoo and every “thing” imaginable still have to make sacrifices in certain aspects of their lives. I doubt he’s home as often as he might like to be, or that he has very little stress in his life. Yes, he may have an easier life than the guy working two jobs just to keep a roof over his head, but earning money requires work that takes you away from family, hobbies, and other things in life that matter to you. Earning money is a goal and if it’s your main goal, then by all means have at it. But if other things matter to you such as having family time and low stress, then you have to find a balance and that may mean foregoing some of the “finer things.”

For now, I’ve chosen to keep my life as it is. Yes, I could earn more but I don’t need the money. I could buy a bunch of stuff, but at what other costs to me? More stress? More work? Less free time? No, thanks. I’m choosing to forego Madison Avenue’s “finer things” so that I can have my personal finer things later. If I keep saving at my current rate, I’ll be able to afford that land and the camper and be able to travel extensively when I retire (early). I’m choosing to put off having my “finer things” until I’m at a point where I can really enjoy them, while still enjoying the life I have today. If I went out, got another job, and earned more money, I could have more stuff today and maybe speed up the savings for the other things, but I wouldn’t enjoy my life today as much. Since I’m not guaranteed a tomorrow, I’m opting for the balance.

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  • SaveForHouse says:

    I couldn’t agree more with this article. Every time I hear someone talking about the “finer things in life”, they are always missing the most important point and thing in life: time. Time is more valuable than anything. I would so rather be enjoying a day at the beach in old clothes, a normal $50 watch, and a reliable and normal car, than having the “finer things in life” but not being able to have time to myself. My ultimate goal is to own my house completely (no mortgage) and have enough passive income from my investments to pay for my monthly expenses. I’m happy to settle for a nice but economical condo and nice but economical “things” to reclaim my time and spend my time how I see fit. Just can’t rationalize spending my hard earned money these days on luxury goods when I know these purchases are basically ensuring I have less time and will be trading my time for a paycheck that much longer. Every time I take a vacation, whether I’m at home or traveling, I get a taste of the finer things in life and know that time is the ultimate luxury.

  • Annie Jones says:

    Great article.

    For me, luxury cars and such hold no appeal. A good book, a cold drink (a glass of tea would work just fine) and the time to enjoy both are three of the finest things in life. As are possessions I don’t have to fuss over or “protect” because of their monetary value, time to spend with my family, time to relax, having no stress over debt or money and having no stress-related illness. These intangibles are priceless. Cars, jewelry and designer clothes are just things.

  • Susan says:

    Good health and time to enjoy those that I love and pursue what I enjoy are the finer things in life for me too, oh yes! and not owing debt (but even that is secondary to the first two.

  • Shane says:

    I agree with the above entirely. See – u are not alone !! Happy to see others with the same mindset – Madison Avenue can whistle !

  • Chris says:

    The person that said those things to you is obviously insecure. Your decision to avoid chasing the “finer” things in life makes him uncomfortable. He justifies spending his time and energy (and therefore his life) on conspicuous consumption by telling himself that this is what “everyone” does. He needs you to accept his position to validate his choices. Buy not buying into his line of thinking you forced him (even if it was for a split second) to question his assumptions. He was clearly threatened by that.

  • princessperky says:

    One of the finest luxuries in the world is watching my children learn, and smile….couldn’t have that if I worked a ton of hours to afford the stuff I am supposed to want.

  • Hilary says:

    Good point, Chris.

    I totally agree with this article. The most interesting people that I know are people who gave up traditional money-making careers to pursue a life that they would actually enjoy. My track coach is a great example – he has a graduate degree, but chose to do what he loves and coach track instead. His life doesn’t have many “finer things” but he is an incredibly happy person.

  • Christina says:

    It chafes me when acquaintances ask me why I have only one car, and only one child. Car = insurance, gas, repair, licensing, oil changes, parking fees. Child = education, clothes, food, entertainment, medical, diapers, dental, child safety car accessories, toys, books. Indeed, why not fritter more of my life in maintenance and risk more of my financial security at the say of an acquaintance. I usually answer ‘one car is all I can be in at one time’ or ‘all it takes is one child to be a parent’

  • Allen says:

    This is refreshing! Why must the center of everything that occurs in our country center around money? An individual can be happy without ‘the finer things’. Well, that’s my belief. Good for you! I am quite happy! ANd quite comfortable!

  • baselle says:

    Winston Churchill once said, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”

    Perhaps your someone is confusing making a living with making a life.

  • Laurie says:

    To me the finer things in life include: Being there to put my kids on the bus and taking them off in the afternoon. Not worring about who will take time off when they are sick. Spending the entire summer having fun with my girls. Having people approach me in public to comment on how well behaved my children are. Having dinner on the table for my husband and eating as a family every night. Being able to volunteer all that I want, making a difference in my community. This and so much more is possible because I am not working to earn the paycheck, rather I am “working” to better my life and that of my families and community.

  • Gail says:

    Sitting at the doctor’s office one day, I was flipping through a magazine and noticed an ad for a purse. An ugly, bright green, monstrosity of a purse with a price tag of $13,000! I nearly fell off my chair. This was supposedly one of the ‘finer’ things in life. Well no thanks I prefer my black purse that is the exact size I need that I picked up at Walmart one day. By changing out the strap (from freebie stuff in my sewing room) I had exactly the purse I had been looking for and one I could use without it doing battle with my cane. That is having the ‘finer’ things to me. Having what you need and want for your own wants, not because some advertising geek decided I should long for something tremendously expensive (let’s not forget ugly) that would never work for my lifestyle!

    Frugal folks have different lifestyles, wants and needs and we march to a tune many can not hear because we have the confidence to go that route. Too many folks are dumb, blind sheep that have to be told what is important to them because they can’t think for themselves.

    Thanks for the great article.

  • Maha says:

    Hi – I just found this article through smart spending. I used to envy rich and famous people. All the luxury and attention they got, all the stuff and services they could afford…if only I had just a smidgen of their wealth and fame. Then we had an opportunity to travel on my husband’s company’s dime to some Asian countries when my son was 20 months old. I love travelling, so I jumped at the chance. Let me describe my son at the time: cute (it goes without saying) and blond. Me, I’m brunette. For whatever reason, people in the Asian countries we visited revered my son and thought I was a nanny, rather than his mom. They acted like he was a rock star: at the airport, a group of teen girls waved and screamed at him; customs kept eyeing him; people wanted pictures taken with him; at one point, an old lady tried to walk away with him! The attention was unbearable. When I went out, I had to put my son in a stroller and drape a blanket over it, or make him wear a hood so no one could see his blond hair. I couldn’t enjoy seeing the sights witout someone wanting to touch him or hold his hand or foot – I had to be on the defensive the whole time. I spent so much time in the hotel room avoiding people, it made visiting a particular country a waste. I left 5 days early (we were supposed to stay 11 days in that one). After this trip, I never envied the rich and famous. I’m content with what I have, because I would never trade my privacy, and my family’s safety, for all the wealth in the world. While most of us probably never get to that financial level, the experience still helped me put “stuff” in perspective. However, I still really, really want super fluffy luxury towels.

  • Osadg says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more. I’ve also encountered the same question recently as my husband and I have been saving for the future we want, and are completly content with our current “status” in life. I will certainly admit that I like some of the “finer things in life” but I guess my view on the finer things is closer to yours. I enjoy having time to travel, and pursue hobbies, and interests. My place is nicely furnished and I have surrounded myself with very nice furshings, but I don’t see the need to upgrade any of them. I would much rather feel secure having that money avaliable, knowing it’s there and being invested wisely. I’m completly content living my life exactly as it is with time for the things I enjoy, even as I watch my friends upgrade everything in their life, and have less time to enjoy it.

  • Nagel77 says:

    Finer things in life: wine, champagne, cashmere sweaters. That’s also called expensive taste, whatever that means. I guess I’m cheap, since I’m allergic to wine, champagne gives me a headache, and the finest wool blend still makes me crazy-itchy.

  • Ray says:

    Like you, I’ve never really feel the need for the finer things in life.

    However, I believe that if we look hard enough, there are ways to earn more with roughly about the same amount of work. Might be _different_ type of work, but not necessarily significantly more.

    My income has increased significantly compared to 3 years ago, but I still have time for my family and my other stuff. I believe “more $” and “have time” don’t have to be always mutually exclusive.

  • Philip Parsons says:

    It’s a great idea to have a nice fine balance between what you need today and what is required for tomorrow

  • Shelly says:

    Hi I am a registered nurse in SoCal, 24 yrs old.. Been a nurse since I was 19… I work hard and work 3days out of the wk as full time and have 4 days off. I make money, spend and save .and able to spend time with my family and boyfriend. Content with my life and love my job stress free. I am able to buy the nice things in life cuz I choose to and I am able to afford it.. I bought my own brand new house last yr without over working! I could work more hours if I wanted to also! Very flexible! Bottom line, choose a job that can do all this.. I agree with the article, except those who can’t afford it don’t necessarily have to have the finer things in life. Everyone chooses what they buy.. If u work hard why not buy the shit u dream of? Right?

  • MsLaura says:

    I agree with all of the articles above. I think we all want our time back so that we can have those (finer things in life) which is different for every. For me the finer things in life is having the time to spend with my family whenever I want to. And to be able to do whatever if needed to for my family whenever necessary.


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