When You Have Enough


Kurt Vonnegut and novelist Joseph Heller were once at a party hosted by a billionaire hedge-fund manager. Vonnegut pointed out that their wealthy host made more money in one day than Heller ever made from his novel Catch-22.

Heller responded, “Yes, but I have something he will never have: enough.”

Most of us would be better off with more of that kind of thinking.

This story, based on a poem that Vonnegut wrote in the New Yorker in 2005, has made a lot of rounds because it reminds us about how we want to live our lives, and the amount of money we’d need to do that. Morgan Housel discusses feeling rich in his latest column for The Motley Fool.

Will you ever reach a point that you’d feel like you have “enough”? Are you going to be a person who feels poor with $10 million because your neighbors have $100 million (James Altucher has admitted to feeling this way, and, apparently, so did Gary Kremen, the founder of Match.com)? I have to admit that I have yet to reach a point where I feel like I have “enough,” but I think I’ll have a better sense of that once my student loans are paid off and my career progresses a bit more.

Photo: Les Chatfield

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31 Comments / Post A Comment

sea ermine (#122)

I definitely feel like I have enough (money wise). I think a lot of people would be disappointing with my salary but it works for me and my lifestyle.

The only things I can think of that would count against that are my student loans and my limited savings but since I set up an automatic payment for the loans it’s like they don’t exist anymore, and I’m young enough that I know my savings will grow if I keep tossing a little in each month.

The only thing I can think of that I’d like is cheaper rent, but I’d need to move to a new neighborhood for that and I like my apartment too much to leave, so, it’s not really a complaint.

la_di_da (#1,425)

I make a lot of complaints about my low salary, but I think that’s because I can’t see myself living on it and supporting a family in a few years. I have goals I want to meet: own my own house in a city with public transportation, a car, 6 months of expenses emergency fund, retirement, some part of the of college costs for each kid, plus you know the indulgent stuff, travel to cool places occasionally and own furniture not from IKEA (lofty goals, man).

I’m not the kind of person who’s going to stop worrying about money. Not worrying is not something I do. But I can worry and still feel like I have enough, I think. Maybe worry isn’t the right word, maybe it’s really something like I will never stop strategizing with my own money, figuring out if it’s in the right place and doing the right things, hypothesizing future scenarios and how to meet them. Anyone else do that? Make up budgets for all future scenarios? Just me? Ok, good I’m weird.

EvanDeSimone (#2,101)

@la_di_da I think this is an important distinction. Freedom from worry is not necessarily that same as just having enough.

lizil (#2,780)

I feel like I have enough for where I am at in my life, which is a wonderful feeling. However, I know I am going to want a house in the future (5-10 years)and (gasp) maybe even a kid or two, and I know that I can’t do that with what I’m making now. But I’m thinking I will proooobably make more as the years go on, so maybe it will be enough. Thinking about that makes me nervous, though, so I’ll just go on being satisfied with where I am now and worry about that later!

ATF (#4,229)

I think for me it’s not really a question of having enough. I don’t need more than everyone else. Never really been my personality to do that. What I crave is financial security. I have watched entirely too many people lose a job and get decimated. I myself have had bouts of precarious employment. I would like to be in a place where I have enough money that if I lost my job tomorrow and couldn’t find a new one, I’d be okay. I’m a long ways from there though.

samburger (#5,489)

@ATF I wish I could bottle and sell the equanimity of my former colleagues who had enough of a cushion to survive layoffs. We have a big layoff every year (~company transformation~), and my team got hit this year. A couple of them were endlessly gracious and cool about it, clearly confident in their financial plans, and a couple of them were disasters, rending their garments over how they’d stay insured and pay the mortgage.

The difference made such a huge impression on me. A solid cushion is such a worthwhile goal. Good luck!

CubeRootOfPi (#1,098)

@ATF Same here; I was unemployed for a while and w/o the emergency fund and some very nice people it would have not been good. For me, currently it’s primarily about getting rid of some burdens (specifically, the student loan).

thegirlieshow (#5,285)

Maker of budgets for future scenarios here! I think I have the same mentality as @la_di_da: I will probably never stop thinking about money stuff but I’d like to get to a point where I think about it less and less. (She says as she opens Mint.com in another tab)

la_di_da (#1,425)

@thegirlieshow Oh Mint, how I love your trends tab. I’m constantly on that thing. I wish there was a way to set complex goals, like I need 10,000 by a certain time but before that happens there will be these 3 expenses at these intervals.

eatmoredumplings (#3,808)

I’m on the same page as other commenters. I have “enough” now, and I’m vastly grateful for it. But my partner’s paychecks are going to end somewhere between May and August 2014, and mine between September and November 2014, so we both have to keep striving for new jobs. That’s not so much about relative amounts of money as any vs. no money though – the only people who wouldn’t worry about that are people who are so vastly rich they will never have to work, and I think most of us are smart enough to realize we’ll never have “enough” with that unreachable standard.

Generally I am a future scenario budgeter too, but when you don’t know where you will be living, where you and/or your partner will be working, and whether you will have a kid to support by then, you can’t even guess at scenarios! It’s so liberating! At least it is for now, but I predict I’ll be freaking out by June if I don’t know more by then.

laluchita (#2,195)

I felt like I had enough for most of this year. I make $38,000 before taxes, plus another $2-3K a year from crafts, and no debt. I was saving a good amount, I always had enough in my checking account, I could donate and buy things or eat out without thinking twice about it. But then I upped the amount I was sending my mom every month (from $200 to $400) and my craft income slowed by a couple of hundred a month, and suddenly my checking account is getting low between paychecks and I have to re-think my casual spending again. It was nice to know that enough is within my reach, but it’s sad to have to start budgeting again.

Allison (#4,509)

I have enough for the way my life is now, I’m not wanting for anything and I can save easily for big fun things and the distant future. But I know things are going to change, so I’m working with an eye to maybe not having a roommate in a couple of years.

samburger (#5,489)

I don’t need my salary to go up, ever (minus inflation), but I do need to keep making it for 15 years or so. I’m on track to become financially independent in my 40s. I have so much more than enough. Financial independence, you guys!! That is the ultimate luxury, to my mind.

My wife and I spend about 20-25k/yr to live, voluntarily. A low & sustainable standard of living makes it much, much easier for me to feel like I Have Enough.

loren smith (#2,300)

@samburger You sound like you’re in the same boat as my husband and I. We have a very modest standard of living, and a long term goal of freedom 45 – having each other, and the feeling of being part of an “us against the rampant and conspicuous consumption that defines so much of our current society” team makes me feel like I have more than enough.

samburger (#5,489)

@loren smith Yes, well said! The practice of frugality is as absorbing and satisfying as any creative endeavor–definitely a big contribution to the feeling of having enough.

Derbel McDillet (#1,241)

@samburger I am totally with you and loren smith. When Mr. McDillet and I got together, we were making about 1/4 of what we make now. We are really trying to keep our cost of living low, with the ultimate goal being a life without debt, and we definitely approach frugality as a game/challenge. Being part of a crew that is rowing in the same direction makes a huge difference.

loren smith (#2,300)

@Derbel McDillet @samburger I’m glad to hear there are others like us! Sometimes I feel adrift in a sea of people agreeing that they simply “couldn’t live” without a dishwahser and looking down their noses at us.

Eric18 (#4,486)

@samburger You guys don’t happen to be Mr. Money Mustache fans, do you? I’ve started reading his blog and forum over the past year and it has really helped in cutting down expenses and moving towards financial independence.

EvanDeSimone (#2,101)

It’s difficult to sort out what “enough” means when we conflate our immediate needs with our existential worries. I have “enough” in the sense that I have food and shelter and the means to continue working (transportation, appropriate attire, etc). My immediate needs are met, it’s my anticipated needs that make me feel like it’s not enough. I won’t always be able to work as much as I currently do, or live comfortably in my current residence. I try to keep those concerns separate from my more nebulous concerns (Do I have enough to travel, to eat where my friends eat, to wear what my friends wear, to generally remain comfortably in my current social world) I think those are the concerns that lead to never having “enough.”

pinches (#3,520)

My view on “enough” is shaped by my job, where I work with a low income and “working poor” population. Though I don’t make that much salary-wise, I feel like I make “enough” because I do have emergency funds, investments, housing security, and a union job.

andnowlights (#2,902)

I struggle with the concept of “enough.” I don’t make great money, and my husband is in school (on stipend), but we can pay our bills and we’re being aggressive with student loan payments- so I guess in one sense, we have enough. However, I’d like to be able to buy clothes somewhere rather than off the Target clearance rack without feeling guilty, I’d like to be able to give to charity, I’d like to be able to have a hobby without feeling guilty about spending money on it, and I’d like to overfund retirement (which we’re not really paying into right now because we’re being so aggressive with the student loan).

We have enough, but I’m not enjoying life. We are going on our first vacation since our honeymoon 3.5 years ago, which I am super excited about it, but I’d like to be able to go on vacation more than once every 3.5 years. I work hard for little appreciation or pay, and sometimes a girl just needs a break!

sea ermine (#122)

@andnowlights Would staycations work? I get good vacation time from my work but I don’t have vacation money so what I do is take a few days off (say, a thursday/friday and monday/tuesday wrapped around a weekend) and go and do free activities in my city that I would normally miss. Lots of places have art classes and yoga and free museum hours that are open during the day (for old people I guess?) but that aren’t open at night (or are, but you’re too tired to go after work).

That, plus trips to various parks, and catching up on hobbies and home projects are a good way to get me relaxed to go back to work without having to pay for a hotel and travel costs.

andnowlights (#2,902)

@sea ermine I’ve tried a staycation before! Completely did not work for me. I like to see new places that are completely different than where I live, especially because I don’t like where I live and don’t have the option of moving right now. Also, growing up, my family would go on awesome vacations so it’s kind of a learned behavior that it’s not a vacation unless you go somewhere (there’s ALWAYS another project that needs to be finished).

Derbel McDillet (#1,241)

@andnowlights This totally only works if you’re “that kind of person”, but I’ve found that camping at least partially hits the vacation spot for me. We’re lucky enough to live in an area where free camping in National Forests is about an hour away, and I love a long hike followed by a swim in a stream and getting drunk by a fire.

andnowlights (#2,902)

@Derbel McDillet I like all those things! Except minus the camping part. My idea of camping is a Days Inn. We are going to Yellowstone for our vacation, though, so I can do all the hiking and all the wildlife tours and all the horseback riding! I’m super excited. But we are staying in hotels, lol. At least one of them has a bonfire, though, and s’mores are pretty much my main reason for existence.

Derbel McDillet (#1,241)

@andnowlights Whoa! I am jealous of your Yellowstone trip!

Penelope Pine (#2,808)

I want to become independently wealthy ie get a passive income stream. When my money is making more money than I made in my best year, that’s when I’ll have enough.

Kthompson (#1,858)

This is a great concept that is illustrated in “Your Money or Your Life.” Basically, they plot this chart of spending vs. happiness, in a parabola, and at the very top is “enough”, where you have exactly what you want and don’t need anything else for happiness. If you keep spending, you start to get overwhelmed with clutter and stress, and your happiness level goes down. The book stresses how important it is to know yourself, your needs and desires, and more importantly, your breaking points, where too much is actually causing you distress and taking away from overall satisfaction.

For me, right now, I am pretty close to enough. I’m really satisfied with my stuff–my car, my flat, and so on. I would certainly feel more comfortable if I had more money in my savings, say about $3,000 more, but I’m working on that.

NoName (#3,509)

The concept of “enough” is problematic for me. I’m very comfortable, have a great job and a modest income. I have no desire to own property and live pretty happily on very little. My fear is that if I just become content with what I have, I’ll have no desire to aim for anything higher. Where does dissatisfaction with one’s life play into achievement in general?

Beaks (#3,488)

@NoName Depends on what you want to achieve. Having more money is just one “achievement”. What about gaining a new area of knowledge or a new skill, helping someone (or multiple someones) achieve their goals, or heck, finding “inner peace”. All of these could be something “higher” without requiring you to have or strive for more money or things.

HelloTheFuture (#5,275)

I have enough for my life now, but not enough for the debt I racked up before I found my current situation. So I feel like I don’t really have enough, because if I had ENOUGH, I could pay off all my debts at once instead of paying $900 towards them per month.

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