One of the funny things about giving personal finance tips free to The World is that you know that lots of people don’t follow through. You can bring water to horses, but you can’t always make them drink.
How many people have read The 3 Numbers that can make you a millionaire and thought yeah, it would be good to be rich…and yet don’t track their spending to see where does it all go, don’t start investing in shares and don’t get round to firing a ridiculous financial adviser.
This is odd given that the people that stumble across The Escape Artist’s little backwater of the internet are generally smart enough to know when something’s real and valuable.
So why might this be? One sticking point is that people’s lives are often already full up. So people often lack the time and the head space to add more commitments or more information into their lives. If you are combining a full-time job plus travel plus any of the following (relationships, kids, exercise, friends, hobbies, pets etc etc) its no wonder you’re struggling to add more.
If you are one of those busy people, you must first eliminate shit from your life. By definition, if your life is full up, you can’t add something new into it without first letting something go.
We have limited bandwidth. We evolved on the African Savannah….a low information and low complexity environment. We are well adapted to wandering around in nature with a few friends looking for food. We are not so well adapted to commuting, airport check-ins and stressful sales targets to meet.
When we’re born, we all come into this world with nothing. No clothes, no commitments, no ingrained habits, no cable TV subscriptions and no debt. Then, when we are young, we are programmed by evolution to go out and get shit. If it didn’t, we would have died out long ago.
Imagine if all children, teenagers and people in their 20s were NOT acquisitive. So instead of looking for new tools, skills and possessions, they just sat around, zen as fuck….sitting cross-legged being mindful and listening to their breathing and their wind chimes. Back in the day, that generally wouldn’t have ended well. No, our ancestors that sat around totally zen got eaten by sabre tooth tigers or massacred by the next tribe.
It’s a paradox of life that the people that want to get rich are generally people that want MORE in their life. They may want more financial security, they may want more freedom or achievement. They may want more respect from the people that pulled their hair at school or an absent parent. The motives vary, but we all want more of something.
The first 20 or 30 years of life typically involve running around adding stuff into your life: clothes, life-skills, friends, hobbies, qualifications, degrees, jobs etc. These are all good things to add into your life when its empty.
Pretty soon, the time comes when you’ve gone past the point of enough. You’ve filled your life full of stuff and now the problem is too much. So now, to get rich you need LESS in your life. You need to make room for the good stuff.
What exactly do I mean when I say making room? Well, at its most basic level, I obviously mean space in your house or flat. The less physical stuff you have, the more space you have.
But possessions have this funny way of not just taking up your physical space but also taking up more of your time…and your head space. Every possession can be seen as a liability (as well as an asset). It comes with costs…a potential requirement for storage, cleaning, maintenance, insurance and so on.
Take holiday homes as an example. The Escape Artist understands the attraction of being able to flit around the world like James Bond. Its just that James Bond doesn’t spend his time filling in Spanish council tax forms and waiting on the phone in call centre queues to pay utility bills. No, he downloads his holiday homes from the Cloud.
And its not just possessions. The same also applies to entertainment, hobbies, jobs, colleagues, TV, social media, investments, social obligations, The News, employees and friends.
Derek Sivers has a nice way of looking at this. When you are young, you should say yes to just about everything. Parties, trips, new projects, meeting new people etc etc.
But eventually there comes a point in your career when you are busy and need to start saying no to stuff. If you are Chief Executive (or even a mid level manager or professional) and go to every meeting and cocktail party you get invited to, pretty quickly you are gonna end up with a dodgy liver and no home life.
According to Derek, at this point in your life, when you receive an invitation your response should either be Hell Yeah….or No. In other words, if you aren’t super-excited by the prospect of going, then just say no. And if you wouldn’t want to go to an event tonight, don’t say yes just because its 3 months away and you might have died by the time it rolls around.
Its possible to have too much of a good thing. The Escape Artist is in favour of holidays and travel for example. But I’ve noticed that people often spend every weekend flogging up and down motorways on dutiful visits to friends and family or mini-world tours…the cumulative effect of this is to never give them any time for themselves, for thinking and for quiet reflection.
It’s great to go out and see the world. But it partly depends on your motivation. If you’re filling up your weeks with an intensive job and weekends with constant entertainment then maybe you’re trying to avoid someone: yourself. But this is ultimately futile…because wherever you go, there you are.
This also applies to investing. Most people start simple (good) but then add more duplication and unnecessary complexity and fees into their portfolio (bad). The cure is simplification via subtraction.
Or take another Good Thing: other people. All your money ultimately comes from other people. So try to be kind to them (and to yourself). But this doesn’t mean you should conform to peer pressure or outdated social norms.
So investments, experiences and people are all Good Things and The Escape Artist is not suggesting that you stack them all in a big pile, dowse them with petrol, light a match and then chuck it on.
But The Escape Artist IS suggesting that you periodically conduct a life audit to see whether things deserve 1) the amount you spend on them and 2) the space they are taking up in your head, your time and in your life generally.
And if you are looking for some things to cut down on…where to start? Well here are a few suggestions:
Bizarrely, the mainstream news media still exists…even after The Escape Artist revealed it to be mostly bullshit here.
Complaining about politicians
Personally, I wouldn’t want to go for a beer with Jeremy Corbyn nor a romantic dinner with Theresa May. Both of them would borrow the money…he wouldn’t pay it back and she’d keep banging on about strong & stable she was (Theresa…show, don’t tell!).
But all time spent complaining about politicians is time that you are not getting your own shit together.
If The Escape Artist gets elected as Emperor of All Galaxies, you will be allowed to watch as much TV as you want. OR you will be allowed to complain about how you are not rich.
But you will not be allowed to do both.
Same as for TV. You can spend as much money as you want on cars. Or you can complain that you are not rich. But you can’t do both.
The correct way to think about Facebook / Twitter etc is as a nice green field in which you play frisbee in the sun with your friends for 10 or 15 minutes a week.
But watch out for the rabbit holes in the field. They lead you down into dark underground caves filled with trolls, fake newsreaders and amateur politicians.
Remember Dr Evil’s Money Mindset Mistakes. Dr Evil has a love-hate relationship with Austin Powers and seems to enjoy the rivalry.
But Dr Evil is so busy focussing on the feud that he makes elementary mistakes and ends up as the loser.
Shopping as a leisure activity is the ultimate time and moneysuck. For more details, see here.
I get that commuting is sometimes a necessary evil. The Escape Artist had to pull this trick himself for a while to combine the benefits of a free private education for our kids with working in central London. But if you set your life up so that you will be commuting for 20+ years, then you are doing it Wrong.
Bread, crisps, pasta, noodles, sweets, chips. These processed carbohydrates are all just sugar within 20 minutes of you eating them. Which your body then stores as fat.
I know carbs are as cheap as…errr…chips. But, if you are overweight, its probably that stuff that’s fucking you over.
The Escape Artist has previously solved The Obesity Crisis. And it’s not like you have to spend a lot of money to eat well…they are basically giving away vegetables in supermarkets.
It’s a lot easier, the lighter you travel.