Buckminster Fuller (of buckyballs) said “controlled time is our true wealth”. To him, wealth is the time span for which we can maintain our desired lifestyle without having to spend time making money. During the dot-com bubble, Silicon Valley came up with Fuck-you Money. For them, it is the amount of money you need in your hand before you can stop working for your living.
Sadly, the amount of wealth many of us have accumulated can’t even last a month if we stopped working. For some smart people among us, it can last a few years. It’s only the case of a small fraction of people that the wealth can last their entire life time.
Million Paupers to Billion Kings
Historically, masses never had opportunity to acquire decent amount of money without taking huge risks. Comparing with today’s terms, human productivity was abysmally low [chart below shows the population and per capita GDP of UK (By the way, did you notice how there is a tight correlation between the population and per capita income? If you want to understand this phenomena, you should watch this TED video)].
Our culture carries the burden of thousands of years of legacy. We still live by religious and moral teachings that were conceived 2,000 years ago, if not earlier. They come from an era where anyone who didn’t take work seriously perished, or became a criminal. Even the nature of work was such that it placed huge premium on toil, rather than creativity. You can see from the graph that this was beginning to change somewhere around 1850 and the change picked up pace around 1920.
Take a look at the next graph. It shows the price of lighting (in today British Pounds, for million lumen hours) in UK over the last two centuries.
When you put the two graphs together, you can see that before 1850, not only people were making far less money, they were spending through all their orifices. Unlike most of us like to believe, today we live in a world that is cheaper than the past. And, today, we live in a world where everyone makes enough money to live like how a Duke used to live, if not a King.
We now have an opportunity to make enough money, without taking unreasonable risk, in a few short years to fund our living for the rest of our lives. Unfortunately, no one tells us that because we are stuck in a culture that is founded on values and customs that were appropriate thousands of years ago.
Note: The above two graphs were taken from this paper.
Education for Foot Soldiers
The education system that we have today was founded in Prussia, during the late 19th century. The purpose of the Prussian education system was to produce more people who were capable of reading bible and working in the army. Eventually, when industrial revolution came along, the same education system was used for mass producing workers for the factories.
Back then, it was a huge deal. 10 years of education guaranteed a lifetime of earning opportunity. And as an added bonus, there was even an assurance of some support cash when a person can’t work anymore. Life has never been this good and every responsible parent rushed to ensure that their children had this thing called formal, mass produced, education.
Unfortunately, mass education prepares us to be a worker throughout our life. It doesn’t teaches us the skill required for retiring early in life. Even after getting a 20 year education, we
- Can’t even set up a personal financial accounting system (unless we are specifically trained as a financial accounting professional)
- We have no concept of creating wealth. We are only geared towards earning money.
- We learn nothing about risk taking or risk management
- Training on ethics and morals are relegated to the margins of elementary classes, when we can’t appreciate much of nuances involved. To make the matter worse, the ideas taught in the name of ethics are often toxic.
- No one tells us that happiness is the ultimate purpose of life. Whereas, mass education constantly keeps reminding us that we must be good workers, good citizens, etc.
The list goes on. But the point is this: Not only does our education fails to equip us with skills needed for creating enough wealth, education and the society actually orients us towards life time of toil. No wonder most of us have no concept of ‘wanting’ to become wealthy for life!
Work subsumes everything else
During our working years, so much of our lives revolve around work. We simply have no time left for anything else substantial. We allow the work to spill everywhere and ‘life’ to be relegated to the cracks and crevices. Whatever non-work time that we permit ourselves is mostly used up for recovering from work. Worse still, very often we spend our leisure time to augment our success at our work.
In a life that is filled with thoughts of work from the time we enter the kindergarten, to the time we are 60 (when physical fitness deteriorates), it is no surprise that we don’t even stop to contemplate the possibility of making a pile and getting out of the game. We don’t know how to make the pile, or how much, or what to do when we make it.
We are so inseparable from our work that with the exception of perhaps the Batman, all of us define our identies by the work we do! For anyone in their right mind, it should sound ridiculous.
Non-work is an Unfamiliar Territory
Most of us don’t know what to do with our time if we stop working today.
Many exciting moments of our life happen in our work place. Until recently, before the online social networks popped up, work is the only place where we could meet people of comparable caliber and taste. Work also brings us to a larger number of more colorful people. Work brings us self-esteem. Work gives us easy targets. Work removes many ambiguities from our lives. Work also gives us a clear sense of getting ahead.
Not working has one crucial disadvantage: Too many options and zero training to handle such abundance of opportunities!
Since all of us live such a work-centric life, there is a sheer paucity of sufficiently exciting, and sufficiently engaging, non-work activities in our culture. The impoverishment of options further reduces the choice of things one could do after one stops working.
We have over-designed our systems to give us economic security. We failed to design them for happiness. That was OK till the last century, when becoming rich was synonymous to raising above the poverty line, which is the pre-requisite to happiness. However, with large portion of the world leaving the poverty behind, the idea that wealth is only a pre-requisite to happiness is just sinking in. We are just beginning to realize that once a certain amount of wealth is accumulated, and our future is secured, we are better off spending our time on pursing happiness more directly.
So, how much is too much?
If you are setting out to make your own pile of fuck-you money, the first thing you need to do is this: Have a number!
Unless you know what will set you free, you will either under shoot and end up working throughout your life, busy making the ends meet. Or overshoot and end up working throughout your life acquiring meaninglessly huge abundance.
Here are some clues that will help you put a number on your personal requirement:
- The amount of money should enable you (and your dependents) to maintain the desired standard of living for the rest of your life.
- The amount of money should be sufficient to give your kids the acceptable (to you) quality of start in their life.
- The amount of money should be sufficient to cover your health care demands for the rest for your life. And remember, unlike your parents, you are very likely end up living up to a hundred.
- Around 2020, if not earlier, you will be able to pay money and acquire biological enhancements. You better have some money for this one!
- Last, but not the least, you should have sufficient money to chase your passions
If you are looking for living a comfortable middle class life for the rest of your life
- You live in the West, or BRICS or one of the other fast growing countries
- You are living in a large city
- You are in your forties or fifties
if you have acquired approximately US$ 2 million to US$ 5 million (including the money you have to spend in your primary residence), that is your fuck-you money. If you are looking for living as the upper middle class, then you are looking at 5 to 10 times the number above.
Unless you are planning to use money as a tool to buy you power, influence or recognition, you will seldom need a larger sum to set you free. Also, if you decide to live a simple life in a small town or a village, you will need much smaller amount.
What is your passion?
Most of the people don’t know what they are passionate about. Don’t worry about it. Your passion is likely to change over time anyway. There is nothing wrong about it. People whose passion multiple passions live a richer life with much varied experiences. Even people who stick to same domain throughout their life usually keep shifting their interest areas inside their chosen domain.
There is only one way to find out the things you are passionate about: Try various things! The more different they are from each other, the better. The most probable reason you haven’t found your passion is probably because you haven’t been experimenting enough.
Finding your passion outside your work can be a strong incentive to quit working. Or, at least, allocate a decent amount of time for your life besides work.
How to make that kind of money?
Most people don’t know how to accumulate so much of money in a reasonably short period of time. After all, none of us get an education about making money! But if you are serious about taking charge of your life soon, you must find an answer to this question sooner than later.
Making money is just a matter of skill. Usually, it is a cluster of skills. The skills are not very difficult and they are very learnable. The problem is you will need to perform all of them consistently with reasonable level of success.
If you don’t set out to find the answer to the last question, you will be dragging yourself through the life, living from day to day, spending 10 to 12 hours on making money, and do it for several decades. There is so much you are going to miss out in life! That will be sad!!