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Success on Your Own Terms: Time, Money, Camels and the Necessity of a Microwave

This article is adapted from the book, "Filling the Glass: The Skeptic's Guide to Positive Thinking in Business" which Today's Librarian honored as "[One of] The Seven Essential Popular Business Books."

Mary Ann Halpin and her husband Joe Croyle used to run a photo studio in downtown L.A., working 10 hours a day, six days a week. Even so, the overhead was so high, it was a constant struggle to pay the rent. Nowadays they work out of their home, 4 days a week, and spend the rest of their time relaxing and enjoying life.

"People are always saying to me, 'You're so lucky,'" Halpin told home office experts Paul and Sarah Edwards. "But it has nothing to do with luck. It's figuring out what you value, what makes you happy and what brings you peace, and then slowing down your life enough . . . to make the changes you need."

What you chose to spend your money on is your own business. But perhaps you should evaluate potential purchases in terms of the hours out of your life it takes to get them. Because that's what everything you buy actually costs: hours out of your life. According to Money magazine, in average wages, in 1916 it took 3,162 hours of work to earn a refrigerator. Today it takes 68. Refrigerators have gotten a lot cheaper. Of course a year of public college tuition has gone from 160 hours in 1966 to 260; and a year at a private college has increased from 537 hours to 1,295.

Tactic: Figure out what you net for an hour's work. Then figure out how many hours that new suit or blouse or SUV would cost you. If you get that much enjoyment out of it, great. If not, maybe you'd rather have the hours instead. And maybe you can find a way to get those hours back: either now or a few years down the road. Thanks to the wonder of compounding, a penny saved can soon be a lot more than a penny earned. What's the secret of The Millionaire Next Door? According to the authors of that book, it's lifestyle. Not self denial, just not wasting money any more than you should waste time.

The average family has gotten smaller in the last 50 years but the average new home has doubled in size. And it's filled with a lot more stuff.

Tip: We keep hearing that time is money. Time is far more than money. "It's more valuable than platinum and more perishable than a sunset," is the flowery way a former professor of mine used to put it. But the money we spend is--in a very real sense--time. And that money, as Emerson noted, is often far too expensive.

In our society, luxuries quickly turn themselves into necessities, wants into needs. We rail against materialism to our children at the same time that we teach them that shopping--buying for the sake of buying--is a hobby, a leisure pursuit.

In a recent study, 71 percent of Americans saw TV as a necessity in their lives, 40 percent thought microwaves were, over 25 percent listed answering machines, TV remote control, VCRs, computers and basic cable TV. About one in six said a second TV was a necessity. These people were serious. The more affluent among us of course are the most needy, most likely to have the most clutter crammed into the necessity level of their hierarchy of needs. For example, 56 percent of those making over $50,000 per year believed they couldn't survive without credit cards.

A much better book than any I've written is the source of the observation that it's easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of Heaven. Of course, it didn't say it couldn't be done. We're an extremely wealthy country. Still, maybe too many of us spend too much of our time trying to cram some really big camels through some very small needles.

Oscar winner Rod Steiger said that to him success meant having control over the time in his life. "A shoemaker who owns his own shop and gets up one morning and says, I'm not working--that's a successful guy."

Barry Maher is a leading speaker, writer and consultant, providing "real world tactics and reality based motivation" for increasing personal productivity AND job satisfaction. This article is adapted from, "Filling the Glass: The Skeptic's Guide to Positive Thinking in Business" which Today's Librarian honored as "[One of] The Seven Essential Popular Business Books." Sign up for his free email newsletter at or contact him at 760-962-9872. Copyright 2004, Barry Maher. Used by permission.

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