Enough Already: The Cost of Not Having Enough...of What Money Can't Buy

I recently read another book by John C. Bogle titled “Enough: True Measures of Money, Business, and Life”. The title intrigued me and I figured I was likely to like it, as I’d enjoyed reading a previous work from this author: “The Little Book of Common Sense Investing”.

And I was right. It is a great book and one that I recommend.

Interestingly enough, the part of the book that struck me the most is conveniently located on the very first page:

“At a party given by a billionaire on Shelter Island, Kurt Vonnegut informs his pal, Joseph Heller, that their host, a hedge fund manager, had made more money in a single day than Heller had earned from his wildly popular novel Catch-22 over its whole history. Heller responds, ‘Yes, but I have something he will never have…enough.’”

This passage struck me for two very different reasons:

  1. I have been coming across an increasing number of references to Vonnegut and Heller’s works and, as a result, have requested Joseph Heller’s “Catch-22” from my local library and will likely request one of Vonnegut’s works afterwards (if anyone has any recommendations, I’m all ears).
  2. A recent reread of “Everything That Remains” and various other works on minimalism* have had me thinking on the meaning of “enough” recently.

I don’t know that I’ll ever have a static definition of what “enough” means but I have certainly noticed an evolution in my thinking, both directly and indirectly. 

Addressing the Concept of “Enough” Head On

Recent experiences in asking myself what “enough” means to me and to us as a family include a trip to Costa Rica in February and updating my wardrobe this year.

First, Costa Rica:

We booked the trip in September and selected a lower-grade hotel on the beach. Here’s what we cared about:

  • Our safety
  • Having some reasonable access to vistas and to water sports
  • Being in a friendly atmosphere

A 5-star facility it was not, but we don’t consider higher-end amenities worth the money anyway. We were more than pleased with our choice: not only was it “enough”, but it exceeded our expectations. 

And expectations are the main driver of both satisfaction and disappointment (like how we feel when we get one scoop of ice cream when we were expecting two—the single scoop just doesn't taste as good). After all, perception is all we have, but luckily, it’s malleable.

Next, Updating the Spring Wardrobe

Travel / Summer Attire

During our trip to Costa Rica, I realized that I really could use a few pairs of pants that fold down to nearly nothing, the last of which I’d discarded as threadbare a few months prior. In the absence of these, I made due with some 3/4-length lycra workout clothes, but let’s just say that they’re not the best choice when headed to a restaurant for dinner, which we chose to do a number of times during our trip. (Beach and walking around, sure. Going out for dinner, not so much.) In fact, I'd been thinking about the need to add these to my wardrobe since my last trip abroad, a Safari in 2014. (Apparently, I'm either patient or a poor planner...maybe a bit of both?)

Back in Winnipeg, I decided to start looking for cargo pants again, well ahead of our next trip and struck gold almost immediately: clearance convertible cargo pants from MEC at 2/3 off. I bought three pairs for a total of $60 online and it’s one of the best purchases I’ve made in a long time. In fact, I wear them every other day or so (in fact, I'm wearing a pair of them right now).

The decision was nearly-perfect. The only drawback? A nagging feeling that I might have been perfectly OK with only two pair, though they did displace "only-wear-in-the-house jeans that I'd been meaning to toss in the fireplace for some time. Am I justifying? Quite possibly.

Professional Attire

I’m taking on a greater number of speaking and consulting engagements of late and that means I’ve been having to pay attention to my professional wardrobe, more than I have had to in a number of years now. Speficically dress pants, skirts, tops and shoes. Again, clearance season is upon us and I took advantage of the opportunity to purchase deeply-discounted items:

Left, one of the pairs of dress pants (I need to exchange the other one) and on the right, one of the pairs of convertible cargo pants.

Left, one of the pairs of dress pants (I need to exchange the other one) and on the right, one of the pairs of convertible cargo pants.

  • Two pairs of black dress pants: $100
  • Three light-weight tops: $106
  • Two pairs of black leather shoes (pumps and ankle boots): $100
  • Two light-weight cardigans: $40 

The only rule with these? The equivalent of what comes in must come out:

The unecessary ankle boot and the much-needed black pump.

The unecessary ankle boot and the much-needed black pump.

  • The two pairs of pants replace two pairs I have had to discard due to wear and tear.
  • The three tops replace three that have gone to Good Will because I didn’t want to wear them anymore (they weren’t flatering) and wanted “something” to replace them.
  • The black pumps had been on my list for over a year and it was starting to be an issue (black shoes are a staple in any wardrobe and I donated a pair that was hurting my feet before finding a replacement).
  • I purchaced the two light-weight cardigans (olive green and black) to replace one identical cardigan that I have been making heavy use of it's starting to show its age, which means it’s now relegated to "casual wear".
Two of the three tops and the long olive green light-weight cardigan in the background.

Two of the three tops and the long olive green light-weight cardigan in the background.

If you have hawk eyes, you’ll notice that there are two purchases above that were not justifiable:

  • The ankle boots
  • The second cardigan

Why did I purchase these? I didn’t have to. I had enough with the seven items I’d purposefully chosen.

In two words: “free shipping”. FREE helped me justify bringing more into the house than I needed or really wanted (and that includes that third pair of cargo pants I wondered about earlier). Is it really free when you end up using up more psychological and physical room than you intended, and spending a little extra in the process? (Not to mention the additional $75 I spent?)

Yes, I will end up keeping them and using them, but the need versus want tug of war is not lost on me and I wonder if I will feel differently about these add ons as I wear them compared to the other purchases that were far more thought out and intentional.

Addressing Secondary Concepts of “Enough”

These purchases had another effect on me that I had forgotten about. The after effects of consumption. Because I’d made these purchases online, I started to be bombarded with online advertising by the retailers from whom I’d recently made purchases, despite the fact that I hadn’t created an account with them.

I was reminded of that old feeling I used to have: the after-glow of the shopping experience that makes you crave another “hit”. These ads reminded me of how good it felt to find the perfect item to fill a desire to address a perceived fashion gap. They made me want to look for other wardrobe problems to fix. They even made me want to create a need. They were moving me from practical and fiscally responsible toward emotionally-charged irrationality.

Lucky for me, I did not answer the siren’s song. Not only have I put a stop to the potential shopping snowball, but I had the self-awareness to understand what was going on and stop the mouse clicks, ensuring no bank account was hurt by reckless shopping.

A big part of what made this possible is that I feel I have “enough” in most aspects of life:

And I know that wasn’t always the case. Part reality and part illusory, I used to fill a scarcity of time, power, connection, wellness, sleep…with stuff. I would think nothing of dropping the better part of a paycheque to feel the rush, to feel my glass was full, to feel I had enough, to feel a bit of the freedom that’s supposed to be yours when you’re busting your butt at a soul-sucking, high-stress/long-hour job.

When I think of the money and attention I wasted trying to fill that glass—not realizing it had no bottom—a special type of physical sickness comes over me; it's a nauseous feeling in the back of my throat and in the pit of my stomach.

I don’t want to go there again.

Ironically, it was fixing what had nothing to do with spending that kept my credit card bill in check. It was by filling my heart, my mind and my body with the good stuff that stopped me from filling my wardrobe and the rest of my house with the bad, the irrelevant and the destructive.

This recent shopping experience served as a great reminder of the slippery slope that is consumerism and that only by making sure I take care of the unquantifiable can I ensure I continue to feel that, like Heller, I wouldn’t trade places with that hedge fund manager for all the money in the world.

As for the small matter of the “free shipping” hurdle that led to a total of three extra garments, I’ll keep working on that nuisance of a weakness. Luckily, my shopping windows are small and far between…and as long as I keep it that way, I’ll (hopefully) stay ahead of the game.

*Other works include: "Spent" by Avis Candella, “Simplify” by Joshua Becker, “Enough” by Patrick Rhone, "Essentialism" by Greg McKeown, “You Can Buy Happiness (and It’s Cheap)” by Tammy Strobel and “The Overspent American” by Juliet B. Schor, “It’s All Too Much” by Peter Walsh and “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” by Marie Kondo.