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Making a Living Vs. Having a Life: The Price of the American Dream

| September 17, 2015
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The Millionaire Next Door by Thomas J. Stanley has had a profound impact on me. I read it over a decade ago now, and as time goes on I see more and more of what the author was talking about and more and more of the price that people pay to live the American Dream.

The Problem of Perceived Wealth

In his book, Stanley reveals his findings that many people who live expensive lives are living at or beyond their means, no matter what their income level is. Meaning, as their income rises their lifestyle rises right along with it and consumes every bit of what they are making. So many Americans are proud of all they “own.” But really their houses, cars, and other possessions that are on some kind of payment plan. They own things with the bank, and their employer owns their time. Their wealth is not real but perceived.

As people’s lives become more and more complex with material things, they often have less time to do what they really want in life. They work and toil to pay their bills, socking away bits of money (if they are lucky) in hopes that someday they can wake up each day and spend the day as they wish. All the while, life slips by in the hustle and bustle of making a living vs. having a life. It's a bit ironic that we call this the American Dream when many people are no more conscious of the causes and effects of their actions than if they were asleep.

So, How Do You Wake Up from the Dream?

I've developed a process to help people discover what their real and deepest values are, as well as their unconscious feelings and motivations around money (i.e., their Money ShadowTM) so they can begin to make more conscious decisions. It's a process that I did for myself when I went through a massive life change following my divorce and the death of my parents.

I took a hard look at how I wanted to spend my time and the free time I wanted to have for myself and my boys. I made a decision to live in a condo instead of a house, and thus freed up countless hours that I used to spend as a caretaker of a small property. Because I share the cost of maintenance with 27 other families in my building, my expenditures for upkeep are also significantly less. I'm no longer in charge of paying for and maintaining the equipment required to keep up a home (lawn mower, weed eater, etc.). It's hours and hours of my life that are free and thousands of dollars that are free.

This is one small example and may not be for everyone. My point is that we often complicate our lives with things and expenses that steal our time here in this life. It’s helpful to take a step back and take a look at your life, compare it to the life that you dream about having one day, and then begin to take conscious steps toward actually living your dream.

Step 1: Take a Life Inventory

If you’re interested in going through this process yourself, the first step is to take an inventory of your life to analyze how you spend your time and money. When taking a life inventory, it is helpful to:

  • Ask yourself, "Knowing what I now know, would I be doing this?" If the answer is no, then you are in danger of wasting your life.
  • Really look at how you spend your time with your things. Are you happy with the level to which your things own your time?
  • What is the cost of "owning" your things? Is there a less expensive way to achieve the same happiness?
  • Look at the space in your home that you pay for to heat, cool, maintain, and furnish. Is there a way to reduce that expense and thus free up time and money?
  • Look at the expense associated with television. Can you come up with better ways to spend your time and money?

Finally, do you take the time to enjoy life on a day-to-day basis? People save their money and plan their time to take a great vacation. On that vacation they partake in life, watch sunsets, go for a stroll...all things that can be done without traveling thousands of miles. Don't get me wrong, I love to travel and see new things. But there is a sunrise and sunset every single day if you take the time to look.

Would you like to learn more about the Integral Wealth process? If you have questions or want to discuss, feel free to reach out! Email
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