More Than Money
Issue #27

Lifestyles of the Rich and Simple

Table of Contents

“When Money Is No Object”

Fabulous Temptation
THE TWO OF US BROWSE the gourmet market aisles- past the 400 choices of cheese, the gorgeously-packaged varieties of non-alcoholic champagne, the exotic meats. An unbelievable cornucopia beckons to us, far beyond what kings enjoyed in ages past. We are hungry. We want it all. And we could have it all. We could load our cart to brimming with no dent in our budget!

What guides our choices when price is no object? This question has been our daily mantra since wealth landed in our laps twenty years ago. The culture around us seems to say that buying as much pleasure and convenience as one can afford is the "natural" goal. As television viewers who have watched Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous know, lavish personal spending represents fun, freedom, comfort, power, and importance. It's sexy. Why hold back?

A Different Dream
Of course, that question is rhetorical. We hold back because our lives already feel stressed and cluttered, and we have the rare good fortune to truly know that more stuff won't bring happiness. We know that money spent on ourselves often could be better spent for others. And we are painfully aware that our consumption as a society is poisoning the planet and creating markets for near-slave wages around the globe. If only our daily spending could mirror our deepest values, instead of constantly contradicting them! This is our dream.

How can we actually live this different dream, choice by mundane choice, without withdrawing from urban life or driving ourselves crazy? As we have followed with interest the voluntary simplicity movement, we've come to understand that "simplicity" is a complex term. For some people, it means spending less; for others, it means creating a more peaceful and centered life; for still others, it means being guided by environmental, social justice, or spiritual concerns. But for any given spending choice, these disparate values can be at war. Buying cheap clothes saves money, but supports sweat shops; hiring a housekeeper makes life saner, but decidedly less frugal; shopping for environmentally sound products can seem a lot more complicated than just stopping by Walgreens. What's a consumer to do?

Four Qualities to Guide Us
To cut through this complexity, we identified four qualities to guide our spending choices: satisfaction, sustainability, sharing, and spirit. (See sidebar.) When we use this model to shape our spending, sometimes we spend more than we otherwise would have, sometimes less. Our life goals have become our guideposts, with thrift applied only selectively, as a means to certain ends. As people with plenty of money, we have the rare freedom to do this.

Both the good news and the bad news is that using this model compels us to grow ever clearer, not only about our current life goals, but about our core purpose here on the planet. People can address the fourth guidepost, which we labeled "spirit," in different ways: What am I here for? What is most important in my life? What is God calling me to do? Although we cannot claim always to find clear answers, it feels vital to ask the questions. Spending choices then become like a daily spiritual practice, moment by moment, choice by choice.

Joyful Response-Ability
Sometimes people who know we're rich (such as our ten-year-old son!) judge our careful consumption as stingy, eccentric, or holier-than-thou. Going against the culture of consumer frenzy is challenging for anyone; being wealthy can make it even harder, with temptations at every turn and few role models. We sometimes envy people who spend with abandon, apparently oblivious to the deeper implications.

Our goal is not purity. Our goal is to become fully aware of the impact our lifestyle choices have on our lives and on the wider systems of which we are a part, and to embrace response-ability in a joyful way. We aim to dance gaily through the contradictions, experimenting and revising in the spirit of adventure, not with a tone of guilt, restriction, or harsh judgment.

Here's what has helped this become a more fun and creative endeavor for us:

  1. delighting in our abundance, material and not;
  2. finding others, wealthy and not, who share our values;
  3. deciding on one aspect of consumption in which to take leadership (This means accepting that in other areas we might lag behind. For example, building community has been a much more important motivation for our choices than, say, environmental factors.);
  4. learning not to sweat the small stuff; developing a relaxed and forgiving attitude toward ourselves and others, knowing that wise spending is a lifetime project.

Of course, addressing the negative affects of global consumption will take far more than personal efforts. We need to throw our weight behind organizations and movements that are working on related economic, political, and cultural changes. Still, individual action is worthwhile: It can energize us and bring our lives greater integrity; it can remind us daily of our interconnection with larger systems; and if sufficient individuals are inspired to action, eventually the aggregate results will influence the larger systems.

A Vision for People with Wealth
Face it. This culture admires, even adulates, wealth; and people with wealth are looked to as trendsetters. What would happen if all of us simpleliving millionaires went public about our finances and our lifestyle? For example, The Simple Living Company is producing a thirteen-part documentary about voluntary simplicity for public television; what if one segment were to highlight people with one, ten, or a hundred million dollars in assets who then would articulate why living simply is fulfilling to them? Or, what if we were to join together with the handful of groups funding sustainable consumption? Those of us with wealth could have tremendous potential influence. Just think how surprised the public would be!

We don't have to go on television to be role models. We can inspire people around us just by opening respectful discussion of these issues with our friends and family, by being honest about our questions and confusion, and by daring to be different. We can let others know of our vibrant and unfolding dream: living lives of deep satisfaction and integration, and contributing to cultural changes that will make life better for all.

--Anne Slepian and Christopher Mogil

Christopher Mogil and Anne Slepian are the founders of More Than Money. They are award-winning writers, presenters, and organizers on issues of wealth stewardship. Their books include Taking Charge of Our Money, Our Values, and Our Lives; Welcome to Philanthropy; and We Gave Away a Fortune.