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A New Stage In My Financial Journey

by The Happy Rock on August 21, 2008

Like most things in life financial maturity is a journey not a destination.  If we are open we will keep changing and broadening our perspective.  Recently this has taken the form of questioning my definition of the purpose of money.  I used to think that the definition of money took on two distinct stages, but I am starting to be drawn to a third stage that I am not sure I could have imagined a few years ago.

Stage 1 – Money = Stuff

This is the stage that we all know and love.  It is the stage were the 10 year old realizes he can save his money from chores and get the latest Nintendo Wii game.  It is the stage were the 22 year old graduate realizes they can lease a BMW.  It is the stage were the 30 year old married couple can buy more house than they know what to do with.

As I began to peer out from under $70,000 in debt, I realized there were a few problems with this stage.  There is always bigger and better stuff to get and buying more stuff usually breeds discontent with the stuff you have.  Also banks are more than willing to lend you their money so that you can ‘fulfill all your dreams’.  Eventually that fancy new car breaks, you get laid off, or the grind just gets old and your left discontent with the stuff but still paying for it. This is where I started to move to stage 2 and clear away all my debt.  Stuff, debt, and payments were just dead weight that was keeping me from doing the things I really wanted. Things that if I really started to be honest with myself didn’t really include stuff at all.

Stage 2 – Money = Freedom

As my debt cleared and I began to be able to control my own cash each month, I began to feel a sense of freedom.  I started to get rid of stuff. I realized I could quit my job and do something I really loved, something more fulfilling than stuff.  I could spend more time with my family, children, and wife.  I was less stressed.  I wasn’t spending time worrying about stuff being broken or what the next new thing was.  I started using money to stash away an emergency fund which bought me freedom from having to worry about finances.  If I wanted more time with my family or for a business endeavor I could use money to hire a cleaning person.  Just like with stuff though, the more freedom you get the more you want.

Lately, I have been starting to realize that I have set up freedom as the end goal.  It seemed perfect at the time, but now that I have gotten towards the top of that plateau and peered out, the scenery is beginning to look different.  I am asking different questions than I was five years ago. It is quite exciting to be a part of ongoing growth, but also a little nerve-wracking because I thought I had it figured out.

Stage 3 – Money = Serving Others

I know it sounds a little crazy, but the idea is that freedom isn’t the end goal.  It is what you do with the freedom that makes it worth it. Since I am early in this new revelation, I don’t have the language to describe exactly what is going on.  Hopefully this isn’t a jumbled mess.  The more I read and the more people I meet the more I am drawn to those that are voluntarily giving themselves and their money away.   Being a parent definitely is having a big influence on this shift.  Radical and crazy, sure, but their lives and words ooze life, contentment, and joy to me.  Are we wired to truly come alive when we give? Is that true fulfillment?  Is it coincidence that many millionaires and billionaires start to seek avenues to give their money and time away?  Am I crazy?  Does anybody connect with what I am saying?  Hopefully in the future I will be able to more adequately describe what stage 3 might look like.  Is stage 4 money doesn’t matter at all? Any thoughts or is stage 2 it and I am just going overboard?

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Sid Savara August 21, 2008 at 12:42 am

I think your progression is spot on. We slowly move from barely being able to sustain ourselves, to comfortably taking care of ourselves – and at that point, there are some greedy people that do want it all, and never want to share. I think you and I share a common world view however that people are generally good and generous, and given the opportunity (with enough money and a comfortable life) would prefer to use their wealth to help others, as you are.

I am still in stage 2 as you put it, but I volunteer my time and money to help some causes now as well that I believe in. It seems like a sacrifice to others, but if I donate the money before I spend it, I don’t even really miss it – I adapt to what I have left. I am quite fortunate however in that I am healthy, don’t have college loans or hospital bills looming over me, and I can understand if people in tougher situations are not able to contribute as you and I do.

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John August 21, 2008 at 1:33 am

This is a great post! It really clarifies some things I’ve been thinking about lately and, at the same time, forces me to think yet again about how I view money.
Early on, I’d think of retirement as a time to kick back and do whatever I wanted. Lately, I’ve been thinking of early retirement – wouldn’t it be cool to be able to retire early to take a job teaching technology and coaching a soccer team at a high school or something along those lines (for those who don’t like technology and don’t like sports)? Would that count as stage 3?

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PT August 21, 2008 at 1:41 am

Thanks for sharing this one, Rock. Spot on. I get you. I think freedom (stage 2) naturally paves the way for more giving. And if you’re comfortable enough with money to get to stage two after some effort, you have the mindset to use it to serve.

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JBO August 21, 2008 at 3:34 am

I like your idea for the progressions. I think I am somewhere between stage one and three right now as with a young family I have started to notice that there is little time now for “stuff” and long to spend more time with the family rather than in an office working for someone else.

Freedom is my next goal but I would love to reach stage three at some point soon!

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Martin August 21, 2008 at 8:57 am

This is really inspiring. I am at the beginning of my journey but have the desire to see it through for my family. They deserve a father free of debt and the stress it puts me under. Hiding from the truth for so many years has left me tired. Doing something about it is energising.

your goals are really admirable. Good luck. I will keep coming back to see how you’re getting on.

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Matt August 21, 2008 at 10:30 am

I agree completely your progression of stages with money is something that I too am starting to notice. I don’t care for the stuff anymore and although I’m not there yet the freedom is what I’m looking for now. I don’t want to be a prisoner to the stuff that I have. Personally I’m not at stage 3 yet I’m just getting out of stage 1 by your definitions but I would like to believe that I too will get to the stage where I’m more interested in how I can help others with my money (not sure how yet but I’ll figure that out).

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Jacquelin August 21, 2008 at 11:13 am

I think when your in stage 3, then your in control. Your financial worries are gone (or at least under control) and so you can start to really look at yourself and think “what makes ME happy?” instead of having to answer to others (debt). When you as a person are truely happy, you give off a glow and an air that people want to be around. It’s more of a “what can I DO to make me happy” and the people around me happy instead of “I have to HAVE THAT to make me happy.”

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Ed August 21, 2008 at 11:17 am

great post!

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Christine August 21, 2008 at 2:10 pm

I love this post!
Love the messy bookcase!

Stage 1 is fun, but leaves you feeling empty.
Stage 2… I can’t wait till the near end of the journey in 4 years
Stage 3: this is where I truly want to be! (love the pic). I would love to use my money to help another. Go on an eco trip, help build a school, or help kids here with funding there school necessities. I think giving/helping another is a very true sense of what life should be about. Enjoy your journey! I can’t wait to catch up to this stage.

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nick August 21, 2008 at 9:32 pm

Very well put.

Getting out of the first stage can be difficult because of the mindset that we all need bigger better things. From a young age we are given the mindset that we should collect and own everything we can. Breaking this mindset can be difficult. One way is to sit down and list the things that are really important to you and the things that make you happy. For most people it will not be the things that cost much money: the camping trip with your family,playing catch with your friends or kids, etc. Once you realize this, you can spend more time doing it and will actually be happier.

It is also helpful to list goals and how you will achieve them. You will probably find that most things you are spending money on are little things that keep you from really getting what you want. Once you stop wasting money on those little things, the money can start piling up pretty fast.

The freedom to do what you want with your money/life si a great feeling.

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Breakaway August 21, 2008 at 10:39 pm

I love #3… thats what I really hope to do when I have all of my finances in order. I just hope I don’t get excited with all of this extra money I have once all of my debt is paid off, that I don’t serve others.

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Tim August 22, 2008 at 12:16 am

beautiful man.

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Chris August 22, 2008 at 12:52 pm

Great post. I find myself making the same journey. Right now I am in stage 2 working towards stage 3. I think I was fortunate enough to skip stage 1 and know that stage 3 was important from the start. Another great thing is that you don’t need a lot of money to start helping others with what you do have. If everyone had this philosophy the world would be a better place. :)

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Jeff@MySuperChargedLife August 22, 2008 at 1:48 pm

I believe you are absolutely on to something here. I think I’m still in Stage 2, but I firmly believe that I will one day be able to move up to Stage 3. I certainly aspire to being in a position where I can do more to help others.

Nice article!

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John August 22, 2008 at 3:14 pm

Chris makes a really good point – you absolutely do not need a lot of money to start helping others. If you wait until you’re “wealthy” before giving and helping others, you’re missing out on a lot of opportunities along the way.

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Sue August 22, 2008 at 3:53 pm

I think stage 2 and 3 can be combined. As you are gaining freedom you can begin to serve or help others.

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ChristianPF August 22, 2008 at 5:19 pm

Beautiful. Just beautiful. I love this post – and you are right on, I have moved through the same steps myself and am finally starting to realize that it isn’t all about me! It’s funny how long it takes to figure that out sometimes…

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The Happy Rock August 23, 2008 at 12:26 am

Wow, thanks for all the great comments! It is wonderful to see some many people living a similar journey and aspiring to similar dreams.

@Chris and John – I agree 100%, you can be homeless and pennyless and still live for others, but it takes a distinctive and counter culture attictude of altruism and selflessness that takes a lot of hard work. I know that I fall intro the trap of hoarding things like my talents and my time for myself.

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Scott @ The Passive Dad August 25, 2008 at 3:46 am

Wonderul post! I guess I’m at a spot where I’m trying to forget #1 and focus on #2 and #3. It is so hard to forget about the “stuff” and focus on freedom.

I stumbled it.

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Dino De Lellis November 20, 2008 at 4:20 am

I agree with your 3 steps , and I am sure that a multitude of other people have these in mind as well.

We all want to be financially well of enough to be independent and be able to contribute back into society. And to be able to do that we need to have financial freedom.

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J Kane October 13, 2010 at 11:16 am

Fantastic post. I’m currently in stage 2 and have noticed I’m slowly progressing to stage 3!

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