Why Being Content is the Most Important Financial Principle

by Ashley Eneriz · 12 comments

I have a confession to make. The day before I wrote my post titled, 5 Undeniable Benefits to Living in a Small Home, my husband and I were talking about buying a larger home and a larger car.

We flirted with the notion of how nice it would be to have some extra rooms in our home, a bigger yard, and a car with third-row seating (such are the romantic conversations you have once you have kids, right?).

The truth is that those things would stress our budget. And if I’m really being honest, we don’t even need those things. We’re simply suffering from not being content with what we have, and falling into the trap of consumerism.

Contentment Equals Financial Security

So many times we look at our financial situation and tell ourselves things like:

  • “If I only made more money, I would be able to get on track financially.”
  • “If I only had a bigger house, I would be more organized.”
  • “If I only had a nicer wardrobe, I would feel more confident in myself.”
  • “If I only could afford better groceries, I would be more healthy.”
  • “If I only…”

The desire for stuff creeps into every area of our lives. When we’re not content with what we have, it leads to spending more money. It causes us to go on shopping sprees to brighten our mood, to take last-minute pricey vacations to mend family issues, and to use loans for larger purchases because we think life would be easier and better with them.

In The Money Answer Book: Quick Answers to Your Everyday Financial Questions, author Dave Ramsey says that the most important financial principle is contentment.

He says, “You can get out of debt, save money, and get on a budget, but until your intellect forces your emotions and your spirit to accept that STUFF does not equal CONTENTMENT, your finances will always feel stressed.”

How to Be Content with Your Finances

Wherever you are in your financial situation, learn to be content. Don’t wait for things to get better. This, of course, doesn’t mean for you to stop striving towards your financial goals. It simply means to be happy with the home you are in now instead of buying one you cannot afford.

Be happy with the dishes, home decor, or wardrobe you have now instead of buying new ones. Stop tying shopping to wants and pleasure. The high you feel when you buy something new is fleeting, and you’ll fall right back to the same place you were when you first started.

Here are a few more ways to find contentment where you are today:

  • Write down your blessings. Stop looking at what you have in a negative light and start thinking of them as blessings. So what if our house is only 950 square feet. We have a roof over our heads and a bed to sleep in. Our family is able to quarantine in place and feel safe if we choose to. Because we live in a country that still has some open space around us, we are able to walk out and about even during a lockdown. This isn’t the case for countless others who share their living space, or those who live in more crowded cities and countries. I need to continually remind myself that I have so much compared to many other hurting people in this world.
  • Live within your means. Be honest with yourself when it comes to your finances. Are you living in a home that’s too large for you? Are you driving around a car that requires too much gas and maintenance costs? Can you really afford to buy a new pair of shoes? Even if you can afford those purchases, is it in your best interest to spend that money? Let me tell you. Once you have more money saved, you will feel much less stressed about everyday life and you’ll be happier. Isn’t that a much better use of your money than buying something?
  • Simplify your life. I’ve found that the more stuff I get rid of, the happier I am. When I had my closets packed full of things, I felt disorganized and stressed. I ended up spending too much time organizing and dealing with the clutter, and that stressed me out even more. I also felt the need to buy more even though we already had too much because that’s what I’m used to be doing. I slowly just eliminated the extra stuff and clutter. I stopped hanging on to items because of poor reasoning, whether it was a gift to my daughter, or it reminded me of my mom who passed away. It’s as if the clutter in my mind has been thrown away too. When my house is free of clutter, I spend less mental energy dealing with the mess and I feel more relaxed. I’ve literally cleared my mind by clearing out the clutter. When I go shopping for essentials now, I might look at a nice plate set on sale but I know it’s easier to not buy it because I know there’s no need for extra dinnerware.

I’m not saying I’m 100% of the way there yet. Learning to be content is a lifelong journey. I truly think that contentment is the best financial tip anyone can learn. Let’s keep learning together.

Do you struggle with contentment? If so, how does it affect your finances?

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  • Steven Pearson says:

    I really enjoyed this article and find it to be so true and spot on as reflected in all the comments that have been posted. I find this to be a forever evolving process in life that becomes clearer as we get older. Take our parents or grandparents for example. They slowly start getting rid of all sorts of stuff that for years seemed important to them and now is not all that important. As I frequently say, life is a big classroom and we’re always learning something. Keep growing or you start dying. Stay healthy everyone.

  • steveark says:

    Life has to be balanced. Extremes on either end, consumption or unnecessary frugality just lead to unhappiness in most people. We are still in our first house for over 40 years, but it is also twice its original size and very modern inside, all of which we paid for in cash. We have three cars for two people but they are not extremely expensive cars with each serving its pupose and our net worth moves more than all three cost some days when the market is volatile. We enjoyed some lifestyle creep over our 42 years of marriage but always much less than our income crept up. We’ve also given away a big percent of our income, that’s part of being balanced, being generous. You can have your cake and eat it too, as long as you keep your life and your wants and needs balanced.

  • Vicki says:

    So So true. I find that the limited number of “things” in my apartment helps me stay happier. When I find excess creeping in, I find I need to go through and purge which in turn helps me see that I don’t need anything else. I have everything I need, including light and space to enjoy. I spend less time cleaning than in the past.
    I also find that when I do think I ‘need’ something new, if I write it on a list and then wait a while (which works well as I don’t shop very often) I often find that I don’t really need it at all.
    Thanks to Robert above for mentioning the lake, I am sure that finding the beauty in nature would equal the same kind of contentment as my yoga class at least some of the time.

  • Robert Curth says:

    This is so important – yet of course really hard to do.

    I struggle with this sometimes. When I am not contempt it starts with impulse purchases like ice cream, goes on with self-help books, online courses, meditation classes.

    The better strategy would be just to go to the nearby lake and sit down for some time 😉 Makes me happy consistently. No need to be somewhere else or someone else.

    No need to fight this feeling with purchases.

    Thanks for the great reminder.

  • fredjohnson says:

    Being content doesn’t mean you give up trying financially. That’s just a cop out. I was content after college with my first job but no money to my name. But that wasn’t success for me. I had a goal to save $1 million in my life. Now, it’s years later and I have $6 million in savings and a $10 million net worth. No debt. If you have a dream, don’t just give up and fall for some contentment pitch. Keep trying. It’s what I did. And I’ll never regret it.

  • Michael says:

    This is so true. If you aren’t happy with your financial situation (or your situation overall) it makes it seem like everything you do isn’t gratifying at all and you aren’t appreciating what you have in life. This could lead to losing some very important things in life.

    I would add create SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely) goals and reward yourself every time you reach these goals. Even if it means spending some money on a decent dinner, rewarding yourself once in a while is extremely important to motivate yourself to stay on track for bigger and better financial goals in life, and it’ll help us stay happy 🙂

  • randall says:

    Good article about financial contentment. However, I believe there’s a difference between being content w/ what u have now, & financial security. In the long term, financial security includes setting aside $$ in an emergency fund (so critical for financial peace of mind), saving for major purchases & retirement.
    A couple mths ago, I was terminated from my job of 8 yrs. & believe me, my wife & I were so glad to have $$ in an emergency fund. I am starting a new job May 1 but at a lower pay. So we’ll need to reduce our lifestyle even more, or come up w/ another way to make up the difference, or our savings acct will gradually run out.

  • David says:

    What a timely post Ashley!

    I just came back from a model home tour and I was just talking to my wife about a possible “upgrade”. The fact of the matter is that we are happy with my current home and anything more expensive will just mean a bit less freedom.

    Thanks for the reminder to focus on what truly makes all of us happy!

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