How I Learned to Be Happy, While Living Beneath My Means

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I'm a professional finance writer. A lot of my time is spent learning, writing, earning, and thinking about money. In the few years since I've started this career, money has been on my mind quite a bit.

But after awhile, I started to wonder more and more about these questions: Why do I want money? What do I want from it? Now that I've started building wealth in a real way, I have been able to answer these questions for myself. And I've come to a surprising conclusion: Money doesn't buy happiness, but money has taught me to be happy.

To turn my financial life around, I had to make some sacrifices. When I got my degree, I was in debt up to my eyeballs. It wasn't a shocking amount of debt by some standards, but I also wasn't making much money. So I was barely able to cover the minimum payments on my debts, and I didn't have so much as a budget to regulate my general spending. Basically, I was all set to be paying off my debt for decades to come, remaining poor all the while.

I ended up changing all this, but to kill of my debt, I had to change my whole lifestyle. In doing so, I made the surprising realization that I felt happier and less anxious, almost all the time. Here are some ways that learning how to manage my money resulted in more happiness. I think it'll work the same way for you.

Living Beneath My Means Changed My Priorities

Suddenly, I couldn't spend money on whatever I wanted to. When I made my first budget, my daily life started looking a little different. No more eating out for most meals. No more big bar tabs two or three times a week. No more fancy car that I couldn't afford.

I realized that I spent most of my spare time paying to entertain myself -- to consume. Being a consumer is expensive. We go into debt living the consumer lifestyle, and by endeavoring to live beneath my means I had to change this.

I had to learn how to cook food that I enjoyed (a skill that has paid off for me and my girlfriend many times over). I had to start getting around on a bike, a change that got me a lot fitter (and I believe helped me finally quit smoking). I had to quit the habit of going to see movies whenever I wanted and start finding stuff to do at home. This contributed to a lot of learning in the form of reading -- learning that formed the foundation to my new career.

Living Beneath My Means Gave Me Motivation

So I finally started paying off my school loans and other debts a lot faster. I also started saving too, and I saw what a difference savings made to my general state of mind. Suddenly I had money in case of an emergency. I had funds that were gradually growing, that I could use for important things like buying a house. I quickly saw that simply by earning more money, I could reach these goals even faster.

This is when I started my business, a decision that has changed my life for the better in many ways. Doing so was hard, and I had to spend a lot of time figuring it out. But the time investment kept me from spending money on other things, so as I grew my business my savings grew as well.

For a period of about eight months, I worked about 80 hours a week. During this time, I was able to devote sufficient resources to my loans that I was able to pay them off in less than a year. I never would have dreamed that this was possible before. With my debt paid off, I have been able to initiate several investments that will make a big difference in my life for years to come.

Frugality and Creativity

I'm not telling you about these experiences to brag. I think that a frugal lifestyle is important. It's about pursuing your passions with creative energy, not funding the consumer lifestyle with every dollar you earn.

When I was in my early 20s, I had no sense of my life's direction. But today my personal relationships are solid, and I feel like I know where my life is going. I think that the single most important aspect of personal finance is a change of priority. Living beneath your means, without going crazy from boredom or culture shock, requires you to make important, positive changes in your life.

In conclusion, this path I've chosen isn't about money. Prosperity is a byproduct of living a life I enjoy. You have to look in the mirror, make life adjustments and plan for the future. But I'm here to say it's worth it.
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