A popular book I haven’t read is The Number by Lee Eisenberg.
As I understand it, the author has painstaking squeezed the following idea into the book’s 288 pages for $26 hardbound:
Once you hit your number — the amount of money in the bank that makes you confident you will always have enough money in the bank — then you can quit your increasingly meaningless job and do only what brings meaning to your life.
Of course, one gets to choose one’s own number. Financial advisers recommend a number big enough that your money does two things: (1) throws off enough income that you can live as you want to live on the income, and (2) throws off enough additional income that the number keeps growing to outpace inflation.
Financial advisers want you to never run out of money. But they also don’t want you to outlive your money, because then you might have underlived. Like when a grandmother, on her 105th birthday, realizes she could have — over the years — afforded to visit her grandchildren three times each year, rather than just twice. Now she has money, but can’t travel as easily. And the grandchildren are in the Navy anyway.
This Is Not A Personal Finance Blog
Get your personal finance somewhere else. And, please, keep it personal.
When Alisa and I were first married, we discussed our number, even before there was a book that we didn’t have to read.
I asked Alisa, "How much money would we need in the bank so that we could no longer be motivated to hold jobs for the purpose of loading money into the bank?"
She said a number. Something like $10 million.
As an former English major, I thought the number a tad bit high. "Ten million? What? In dollars? I’m never hitting that!" (I jumped an octave.)
Alas, so much talent, so little mercenary ambition.
So, as loving newlyweds, we cut the number in half, and kept cutting it in half until we thought we’d picked a number that we might actually hit.
Of course, once your number is so low that you can earn it by working a single shift at Donato’s, it’s not helpful. You will hit your number (hoo-ray!) but you will not be able to live on it (cat food!).
Warren Buffett has famously described his number in terms of how much money to leave to his children: "I want to leave them enough that they can do anything, but not so much that they can do nothing."
How much is that, Mr. Buffett? I know folks who work hard though they have billions (think "Bill Gates," whom I don’t know personally) and others who have said "Enough!" once they have $15,000 in hand (names not available).
When I Hit My Number
Earlier this year, while I was turning my life upside down, substantially reallocating my time, I realized that I had hit my number.
But not like The Number suggests.
In fact, I had not hit that financial number. Candidly, I had so not hit the financial number that I realized that I might never hit the financial number.
(This is the time when former girlfriends say, "Whew. Dodged a bullet.")
But this thought arose: "If I haven’t hit the number, and I really think I might never hit the number — do I really want to spend the rest of my life chasing a number I’m not going to hit?"
That’s when I realized that I had, in fact, hit my number.
But the number wasn’t financial.
The Number Was "48."
The number was my age. I had hit an age, as you have already read, and that age was My Number.
So, money in the bank or not, it was time to do only those things that bring meaning to life.
Weirdly, my new respect for the Age Number, rather than the Financial Number, seems to have two effects: (1) I’m happier with more meaning in my life and (2) — and here’s the weird one — the switch has increased the likelihood that I hit the Financial Number. I’m more likely to succeed more in every way, if I’m doing the things I love more.