Work/Life Balance

Success on Your Own Terms: Time, Money, Camels and the Necessity of a Microwave

By Barry Maher


Mary Ann Halpin and her husband Joe Croyle used to run a photo studio in downtown L.A., working 10 hours a day, six days a week. Even so, the overhead was so high, it was a constant struggle to pay the rent. Nowadays they work out of their home, 4 days a week, and spend the rest of their time relaxing and enjoying life.

Tactic: Figure out what you net for an hour’s work. Then figure out how many hours that new suit or blouse or SUV would cost you. If you get that much enjoyment out of it, great. If not, maybe you’d rather have the hours instead. And maybe you can find a way to get those hours back: either now or a few years down the road. Thanks to the wonder of compounding, a penny saved can soon be a lot more than a penny earned. What’s the secret of The Millionaire Next Door? According to the authors of that book, it’s lifestyle. Not self denial, just not wasting money any more than you should waste time.

The average family has gotten smaller in the last 50 years but the average new home has doubled in size. And it’s filled with a lot more stuff. At least it is as long as they can afford to pay the mortgage.

Tip: We keep hearing that time is money. Time is far more than money. “It’s more valuable than platinum and more perishable than a sunset,” is the flowery way a former professor of mine used to put it. But the money we spend is—in a very real sense—time. And that money, as Emerson noted, is often far too expensive.

The Motivation of Necessities

In our society, luxuries quickly turn themselves into necessities, wants into needs. We rail against materialism to our children at the same time that we teach them that shopping—buying for the sake of buying—is a hobby, a leisure pursuit.

In one study, 71 percent of Americans saw TV as a necessity in their lives; 40 percent thought microwaves were; over 25 percent listed TV remote control and basic cable. About one in six said a second TV was a necessity. These people were serious. The more affluent among us of course are the most needy, the most likely to have the most clutter crammed into the necessity level of their hierarchy of needs. For example, 56 percent of those making over $50,000 per year said they couldn’t survive without credit cards.

A much better book than any I’ve written is the source of the observation that it’s easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of Heaven. Of course, it didn’t say it couldn’t be done. We’re an extremely wealthy country. Still, maybe too many of us spend too much of our time trying to cram some really big camels through some very small needles.

Oscar winner Rod Steiger said that to him success meant having control over the time in his life. “A shoemaker who owns his own shop and gets up one morning and says, I’m not working—that’s a successful guy.”


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