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Home » Retire, Retirement Planning

The Pursuit of More Money Trap

Last updated by on 8 Comments

Who doesn’t want to earn at least a little bit more than they are right now?

Back when I made $35,000 a year, I’d look to the goal of $40,000 as if it were the be-all-end-all salary. If only I could get to that threshold, life would be sweet!

However, with each passing year, I wanted to earn a little bit more. And it usually came in the form of a modest pay raise (all but 1 year, from what I recall). But once I got to the promise land, every time my previous goal was replaced with a new goal. And that has happened about a dozen times since.

An analogy of an early explorer comes to mind. He sees the tallest mountain-of-all-mountains and sets out to climb to its peak. After painstaking efforts, he finally arrives, but when he gets there, his glory is short-lived. In the distance, he sees a neighboring mountain with a 20% higher peak for the first time. Aha! An even greater triumph to be had! So he sets out to climb it and after more painstaking efforts (and a few casualties), he does. But again, another taller peak in the distance. With each ascension, his goal of reaching the highest peak proves only to be a moving target. Days, weeks, months, and years of his life are pulled away from him in this pursuit. Friends and family are forgotten, health becomes fleeting, and total victory never achieved.

Pushing for more and accumulating savings faster is one of the keystones of personal finance success.

Particularly in your early years, accelerating wealth accumulation is vitally important to helping you reach your financial goals.

And the more you can crank the dial up to 11 and beyond, the better off you’ll be in later years and the faster you will achieve your goals.

pursuit-of-more-moneyBut it is a path that is not without risk. There is a dark side, and it’s a big one. The quest for more can become a never-ending cycle. And for many, it becomes the driving motivator behind everything they do. Whether the wealth-seeker recognizes it or not, there is a shut-off button. It’s just that they are never able to hit it. And if not careful, health, friends, family, quality of life, and time are all sacrificed in its pursuit.

We all need to understand why we compete in the wealth accumulation game.

In the beginning it could be to pay off our debts (student loans, mortgages, auto, credit card, etc.).

From there, it’s to save for retirement.

Then maybe to pay off our children’s higher education.

And finally to achieve financial independence.

But then what? Here’s where it gets tricky. Financial independence can be achieved based on current expenditures, but those expenditures can always shift. The wealth-seeker will look for even higher levels of savings to meet higher projected expenditures, additional safety margin (for health care cost increases, natural disasters, extended life), and even bucket-list fantasies. The notion that more stuff and more security won’t make them any happier is fleeting.

For some, those tangible goals are simply replaced by one single goal: more accumulation. Enough is never truly enough. We’ve all seen or heard the stories of unimaginable wealth and said to ourselves, “Why the F do they keep doing it?! If I had that much, I sure as hell wouldn’t be living out of a suitcase or prepping for board meetings!”

How else can you explain the stressed out CEO, who after 20 years of 100+ hour weeks dies from a heart attack at age 55 after hitting his first $100 million.

Or the billionaire oil tycoon who throws environmental safety to the wind in the hopes of eeking out a 10% increase in equity.

Or the football player who ignores his 10th concussion or 3rd knee surgery and signs another 5-year contract, after accumulating tens of millions.

For some, maybe they do truly love it so much that they cannot imagine doing anything else with their time.

But for most, it’s about the pursuit of more money. That continuously moving target.

So here’s my suggestion: recognize the trap, then set a limit on your pursuit of accumulation and stick to it. Maybe it is your crossover point. Maybe it is 50% more. But once you achieve it, be grateful and hold yourself accountable to stop there. If you accumulate more, let it be as a byproduct of other pursuits, versus letting the accumulation drive your pursuit. You are one of the lucky few who have made it. Congratulations. Time to celebrate and explore the rest that life has to offer.

Nobody lies on their deathbed wishing that they had reached 10X of their wealth goal or need versus just 4X.

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About the Author
I am G.E. Miller, & this is my story. My goal is financial independence ASAP. If you share that goal, join me & 7,500+ others by getting FREE email updates. You'll also find every post by category & every post in order.


8 Comments »
  • Kim says:

    Well said GE. We are on track to hit FI in just over 5 years (at age 35) and I can already see how it would be hard to justify working one more year to pay for XYZ. I guess that will be a good problem to have.

  • Retired by40 says:

    While I mostly agree with you, I do think that pursuing more isn’t all bad. When you set a goal for yourself and then work hard to reach it, I think that’s a good thing! It’s when the goal becomes all consuming and unhealthy or unrealistic that it becomes bad.

  • Jason says:

    I think it is healthy to just step back and see the forest rather than just focus on the trees. Yes you can penny pinch by spending friday night browsing the best deal for that slow cooker and save $10 bucks (too specific? because it happened to me last week!). Sometimes the cost benefit is just not worth it.

    If you get into the trap of always chasing the next hurdle it is no different to running on the corporate ladder.

  • Bicycle Jeff says:

    Great post. The interesting thing that has happened to me has been that the wealthier I got, the more things I gathered, the stingier I got. Money, money, money. It does strange things to people. Right now I am 2 weeks into creating my own sales/marketing business. No paycheck. Yikes! But, ironically I feel much more free. Not sure what will happen. I may succeed or I may fail but hopefully, I will live life a little lighter. BTW, I have been debt free for 20 years and own outright my home, cars, etc. And have enough savings for 2 years. But, being without constant money coming in has been a little freaky.

  • Great article, thanks!
    To follow up with what Bicycle Jeff said, I totally agree. The accumulation of wealth pushes you to do more to acquire it! I’m definitely stingier now than before, with higher net worth. It’s all about opportunity cost of money and resisting the temptations that come from instant gratification!

    An easy way to achieve that financial independence benchmark is to divide what you need to live on by 3%, a rate easily achieved through dividend income while preserving the capital appreciation of one’s portfolio. For instance, if I can live off $100k/yr, then I need roughly $3.3m in investable assets. I can live off the income, and also have a ton of dough to give away when I leave this earth!

  • I didn’t know where this post was going, but I do like to punch line.

    We figured out that our number is about $1.4M. That’ where we will not feel a need for more…at least that’s the hope. We used to have a target of $1M, but it did not offer any wiggle room, which makes us nervous. I do fear that we will find we are never entirely free of wanting a little more “padding” a little more security for “what ifs”.

    All I can do is trust that we will start to focus more on other aspects of life, which to some extent we have started doing. Otherwise, what was the point?

  • AJ says:

    Hey G.E. nice post! One of my favorites actually! I’m sort of too young right now to realistically envision having this problem, BUT I do know that FI is important to me, and hopefully I never let my priorities get out of whack. I don’t think I have the personality for it, I always save money for certain things, but most importantly I SPEND it (that’s the point right!?)Anyway, solid post.

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