When it comes to saving extra hard to achieve a financial goal it is easy to become obsessed over how much is really enough. I have a tendency to mull over my financial independence goal on a daily basis. Focusing on this single goal repeatedly over a long period of time has allowed me to narrow down what it is that I am after. In fact, I spend a lot more time pondering how much I actually need than ways to make more money.
Needs certainly vary from person to person and that is absolutely normal. But this is about each of us getting to the point where we can feel secure in our ability to maintain a healthy, happy way of life without constantly interrupting it with mundane and repetitive work.
For me I try to consider things that I absolutely need and use every day like food and water. Shelter is probably next on the list and I certainly have a minimum required standard for what kind of shelter I need. I would need electricity to see at night and for cooking. I would also need to buy new clothes every once and a while. These are the basic things that I just think of off the top of my head. I think everyone would and should include some form of these few things as basic necessities.
Having said this, I certainly don’t believe that these are the only things there are to life. I would never imagine for a second that I would spend a little over ten years accumulating enough just to quench my thirst and sit around for the rest of my existence. In fact the way I see it, The quicker I can get these basics met the quicker I can move on to devoting my attention to something else a little less selfish perhaps.
For this reason I am constantly looking at the basics. What are they for me and how will they change over time? I am very aware that I still have to go through many steps in life that I have never experienced before. I might one day need to care for more than just myself and that might mean expanding my definition of needs. But first I have to figure out for myself what is the least I would need to survive comfortably as an individual and grow out from there. If I can’t do this for myself than it will be even harder for two or more people.
That being said, once we have some good ideas about what it is that we would need we can then start to improve on our habits. As an example: food. I know I need it a certain amount of times a day. I would want to have a certain variety – enough to to keep me healthy and strong. Therefore on my way to saving for the day I can stop working I will try to work on my food consumption habit with regards to spending. It would mean finding ways to get all that I need for less. Cooking more and eating out less is probably the first thing I can do. Once that is done I can start to learn about cooking and shopping strategies and so on.
Working on your habits in this way for each of your needs will help you define more precisely what financial independence means to you as well as help you get there faster. The point is that you won’t just figure out your basic needs overnight. You have to keep applying yourself to learn new ways of developing more efficient and less expensive daily habits.
What is also important to understand is that needs are never going to be etched in stone for all of eternity. Working out the basics requires work. It requires some combination of learning about yourself every day and taking away lessons learned from others. It also requires a certain mindfulness over what goes on around us on a social level. It can be easy to get caught up in this area because of the emotionality of the matter. Social needs are much harder to quantify and I think there is a tendency to try to replace some of these social yearnings we have with material things.
This is related to what I call the “getting attention” need. In each of our social spheres it is important that we listen to others but also just as important that we are listened to. The “getting attention” need is hardly mentioned or thought about in the budgeting world and yet I feel that it is not only real but also important. Because it is easy to forget about, it is also just as easy to throw an uncontrolled amount of hard earned money around in order to satisfy our often undefined need of getting attention. This is why it is important to be mindful of our needs and work on our basics every day. Oftentimes it seems to me that some of the largest amounts of wasteful spending occur because of our ignored social needs when in reality these should cost the least if we really think about and define what it is we really need from others.
As we think about these things in our lives, pushing the boundaries of some of our daily comforts can be seen as little experiments in personal development. Doing this over a lifetime will allow you to develop a rock solid foundation for a happy and stress free life. A life in which you can define your own needs instead of having them define you. By examining your routines and trying new (or less) things you can get a pretty good idea for a yearly level of income that would be needed to cover just your basics. It doesn’t mean that you should end there, but instead that you should aim for it first.