How much money is enough? You’ll never have enough.

August 6, 2007 | By | 12 Replies More

Unless you learn to let go of your materialist cravings things, that is.  

On Sunday, The New York Times published an article called “The Millionaires Who Don’t Feel Rich.”  in this article, you will meet lots of millionaires from Silicon Valley.  They have net worth measuring in the millions of dollars, sometimes tens of millions of dollars.  As I write this, I am certain that I would retire if I had $2 million.  After all, even if invested at 5%, $2 million would produce $100,000 per year of interest.  Tell me who couldn’t survive on $100,000 per year?  This article from The New York Times suggests that I should not be so sure of what I would do under such circumstances.

The problem seems to be that many of these multimillionaires feel compelled to buy expensive houses and cars.  They feel compelled to send their children to the best schools and to take exotic vacations.  All of these things cost considerable money. What do you do to keep the money flowing?  You keep working.  Take for instance, Mr. Hal Steger, featured in the article:

Each day Mr. Steger continues to toil in what a colleague calls “the Silicon Valley salt mines,” working as a marketing executive for a technology startup company, still striving for his big strike.  Most mornings, he can be found at his desk by seven.  He typically works 12 hours a day and logs an extra 10 hours over the weekend.

Steger and many other Silicon Valley millionairs have “made it,” you see.  70 hours of high stress work.  Don’t forget to subtract out the commuting time, chores around the house and, of course, sleep.   If you commute for an hour per day, do an hour of chores (laundry, shopping, cleaning up, maintaining your car, fixing up, paying bills) and 8 hours per day sleeping, that leaves you a grand total of 23 hours per week for leisure. 

A big reason that many of the multimillionaires are not satisfied with the money they already have is that they notice others who have much more. According to Gary Kreman, the founder of match.com (a popular Internet dating service), “everyone around here looks at the people above them.”  The article quotes from numerous financially unsatisfied residents of Silicon Valley, including numerous people having net worth between $2 million and $5 million.

This article reignites my interest in why people so deeply crave having things that they don’t need.  So many of us, including all of us non-millionaires, feel that we need things that we merely want.  Such cravings make us slaves to our possessions.  They own us.  I’ve written about this deep craving to display expensive things from the viewpoint of evolutionary psychology here and here and here.

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Category: Consumerism, Evolution

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

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  1. Dan Klarmann says:

    Of the millionaires I know personally, they became millionaires because they like their work, so they worked hard, and incidentally got the socially expected renumeration. I suspect that those poor multimillionaires might spend so much on odd things in order to have the excuse to keep up their workaholic avocations.

  2. Niklaus Pfirsig says:

    There is nothing wrong with being rich. However the attitude toward having money must be considered. Many believe that money can buy happiness. This is a crock of baloney. Money can buy security. Money can buy crooked politicians. A lot of money can buy a lot of things. It can even buy things that provide temporary distractions from how unhappy a person is.

    However, the only way to be happy, is to be content.

    Having lived in Nashville for a while, I've had the chance to meet several musicians and singers, including a few that are well known. I have noticed that the ones who really succeed are the ones that put the music first. They are the ones that will, (and have) do their music even if no one is paying them to perform. They perform because they enjoy entertaining others.

    Then there are the ones that come to Nashville expecting to become overnight millionaires as country singers. Usually they give up.

    If you read the biographies of a lot of self made millionaires, they did what they did primarily because they enjoyed the work, and the money was a secondary benefit.

    High tech companies seem to work on a formula where someon that is motivated by the challange of solving technical problems teams up with some one who is motovated by money. Think about it. Gates and Allen (Microsoft), Jobs and Wozniak ( Apple) Hewlett and Packard, Bang and Olufsen, and even to an extent, Edison and Tesla or Bell and Watson.

    Often the product innovator stays happy, while the money (or business) person just can't get enough.

    A lot of this is the result off equating sucess with money. That too is a lie, but that's for another day.

  3. Tim Hogan says:

    I have thought about what it would take to keeep me afloat annually, and agree with Erich. About $100,000.00 per year is enough, before taxes.

    If these entrepreneurs really want to maximize their wealth, I suggest they put me under lifetime contract for $100,000/yr. (with guaranteed 10 yrs or minimum $1,000,000.00 payment) and I will give them the fruits of my labors. The investment will be totally tax deductible and only be risking the investment income of one million at 5%.

    I have three movie scripts which I have outlined, one musical play, two books outlined and not enough time to be a good father and make a living as a lawyer to much less to take the time to finish these works. I have several inventions which might be patentable which also might be available for development. Any takers?

  4. Erich Vieth says:

    Tim: I'm not saying that anyone really NEEDS $100,000. Only that anyone can do quite well on $100,000/year if they have any sense at all.

  5. name withheld upon r says:

    it isn't HAVING money that is such a kick. it is MAKING it. not much different than racing a bicycle, a pickup game of basketball, competing for good grades, you name it. what is so wrong with that? by your logic, once anybody makes a million they should quit working.

  6. Tim Hogan says:

    Just putting it out there that I could live on that amount, and have some talents available for investm,ent shoulkd any of these under-capitalized millionaires wantr to take a tax deductible flier, with little risk to principal.

  7. Erika Price says:

    Generally, how you feel about your income depends more on where you live (and who lives around you) than how much you actually make. Someone worth $2 million could buy a McMansion that towers over everything in a middleclass suburb, but that same McMansion would look pitifully unimpressive in a neighboorhood of multimillionaires. Even if you've "made it", and have moved from those ho-hum suburbs where you would now stand out brilliantly , you feel no more superior when you start to compare yourself to the even wealthier.

    Also, people who stumble into a windfall of cash intially feel great, but their self-esteem and self-reported hapiness returns to baseline after a year or so. All of this suggests that "getting ahead" inflates our ego, rather than just having established success.

  8. name withheld upon r says:

    To Tim Hogan: I will consider taking you up on your offer after you demonstrate either an ability to type or a willingness to proofread.

  9. Ebonmuse says:

    I read this article and I, too, was stunned by the people who continue to lead a nose-to-the-grindstone existence, despite having more than enough money in the bank to retire comfortably.

    I think a significant part of this is that many of these families want to stay in Silicon Valley, which is one of the most expensive places to live in the U.S. Living there, $100,000 a year might indeed not be enough. But even so, there are plenty of equally nice places where that much money would enable you to live a very comfortable lifestyle.

    Far too many people insist on judging their wealth in relative terms, which is a game you can never win. Much better is to ask yourself: "Do I have enough for everything I want?" – and if the answer is no, it may be better worth the effort to seek to adjust your desires, rather than your income.

  10. name withheld upon r says:

    Bonobo: The Forgotten Ape: “All animals are competitive by nature."

    It's about making it, not having it.

  11. Erich Vieth says:

    "If only we'd stop trying to be happy we could have a pretty good time."

    Edith Wharton (1862 – 1937)

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