How Much Is Enough?

David Krueger MD

A passage in one of Schumann’s piano sonatas is marked so rasch wie möglich, meaning “as fast as possible.” A few bars later, he adds schneller—“faster”—and a bit later, noch schneller: “still faster!”
The Greek philosopher Epicurus said, “Nothing is good enough for the man for whom enough is too little.”

A Money Quiz

Answer the following two questions with a single, specific figure.

1. My current annual income is __________?

2. In order to insure happiness and contentment financially, with no more money problems and worries, my annual income would need to be _________.

I have given this quiz to hundreds of people. In more than 9 of 10 cases, their answers indicate that their annual income would need to be about twice the current level for them to feel happy and free from money worries. Someone who makes $50,000 a year believes it would take roughly $100,000 a year in order to be financially content; someone who makes $500,000 – five times the first person’s magical number – believes that the figure would need to be about a million a year.

And, in discussions with people after they take this little poll, there is a “trailing double” effect. People who have actually seen their income double over time have at the same time doubled their “happy and content” amount. In other words, once those who earned $50,000 achieve their hoped-for $100,000 goal, they then raise the bar and believe that it would now take about $200,000 to be happy.

Even when you change the numbers, the story remains the same. The story in this case is: “I need twice as much as I have to be happy.” That’s just one example of the common story threads; there are dozens of others, just as irrational, and just as hypnotically compelling.

Making peace with our moving target isn’t about learning how to aim better, or creating a fixed target that doesn’t move even after we hit it. Creating financial targets (goals) is an important part of writing a new money story—but finding peace lies not in the target, but in the shooter. Your new money story begins with determining not what it is you want to have, but who it is you want to be

Excerpted and adapted from The Secret Language of Money by David Krueger MD (McGraw Hill, 2009)