What is Success when you consciously choose to consume less in America?

If any blog is to get me hate mail, this is the one—though hopefully it’s been edited enough by my Dragon Lady that the sharp edges no longer remain in this piece.

If something I write here hits a little too close to home—rather than stopping reading—why don’t you finish the blog and sit quietly for a bit to think about why you don’t like this particular blog? I’m hoping by doing this, it will help make you a happier person in the long run.

Awhile ago I talked about how we choose to spend our money—or not. Living like this has allowed us to reach the point not where we are fat FIRE (Financially Independent Retire Early), but where we are Financially Free, which are two different financial goals. Financial Freedom is a stepping-stone to true Financial Independence.

Sure, if we were to both stop working, we could activate the Trinity study’s 4% rule, but I’d have to give up two expensive hobbies—one of which is writing—which I don’t want to do. Or else we would have to stop sending our kids to a school where I feel they’re deeply loved and well cared for (I haven’t completely ruled out world schooling by home exchanging in our future).

You see, I judge a lot of my decisions by “what would I regret doing—or not doing—on my death bed?” One of them was not having kids. So despite the three-year struggle, we finally had kids.

But owning another doctor McMansion isn’t something I’d care about on my deathbed.

When we were fighting to get our finances under control, this is the writing I saw on the wall for my future life if we continued down the keep-up-with-the-Jones spending path:

“Gee kids, wasn’t it great when your dad and I had to work all.the.time to pay for that mansion you roamed with your nanny and you hardly ever got to see us? And sorry we ended up having to sell the place in the divorce anyway—because we never saw each other and didn’t have time to tend to our marriage.”

Houses can be never ending, they keep going and going….

This is not a scenario I want played out when I’m dying! Because to me that wouldn’t be my definition of a successful life—though I know the mansion would be for others. We each have to delineate our life journey and live with the consequences. And hey, if you can work full time, have a great marriage, and still spend a lot of quality time with your spouse and kids, please share your secrets. Because I failed miserably at trying to juggle all those balls—there’s only so much time in a day. Something had to give.

I find it easier to live a simpler life with fewer possessions (& fewer litigation liabilities—yay for asset protection) and be grateful for what I have so I can have almost complete control over the time I have remaining on this Earth with my loved ones.

And amongst my working friends, I appear to currently be the only one with enough bandwidth to host parties on a quarterly—as opposed to once a year—basis. So yes, choosing to engage in poverty tourism  has some serious side benefits—because one of my life goals is to facilitate community building, especially amongst women. To me this is important because we’re all in this stage of life right now where we’re stretched thin and because of that, we’re missing out on hanging out with other women.

I can’t work on this community building objective if I’m working full time and have a marriage that crumbled into the dust of a two-physician divorce.

Now I am content maintaining a “lower” standard of living because of our end goals. At this life stage, I want time more than I want money. Starting with the end in mind helps me define success. When we reach fat FI, we want to be able to work in whatever capacity we feel called—not obligated to because we have to work—but rather because we want to work. And work in a sustainable manner (good bye Burn Out!).

And after reaching this magical number, we would like to give away even more money, rather than the set percentage-plus-some we currently do. You see, our donations help support people and projects all over the world. We want to continue doing that, but in an even bigger way.

Success is different for all people. Each person needs to look deep inside to define success for themselves and their family. Success to me means not having to work at a traditional job if I don’t want to—that alone helps me live below my means.

Having a great marriage is also success for me. Being able to travel and see my sister more often is success. Being home most days—and especially, to be there when the kids wake up—that’s a successful life to me.

To have a meaningful, impactful relationship with my kids—now that’s success.

The secret is to be content and keep a gratitude journal. Yes, I sometimes wish I owned a Jeep and an Alto camper—but I wish I were fat FI even more—so that desire wins out over my coveting certain material possessions.

What is your meaning is success? And more importantly, what steps are you taking to help you achieve your successful life?



8 thoughts on “What is Success when you consciously choose to consume less in America?”

  1. Contentment is the key to all of life’s riches. Your scaled down lifestyle is only scaled down if you compare it to those who are scaled higher than you. If you compare to the average American, you still live a scaled up lifestyle. You have a beautiful home and a beautiful life. Enjoy it.

    Dr. Cory S. Fawcett
    Prescription for Financial Success

  2. You have found out early on what takes a lot of people a lifetime to figure out: That there are more important things that what people call the outer trappings of success.

    If all it takes was a fancy house, luxury car, etc to be happy than we would never see a single celebrity suicide. But yet it does exist, which is proof that money by itself cannot bring happiness.

    Contentment is basically the ultimate goal. If you are content with what you have and don’t have to compare yourself with others you have won the game. You are prioritizing the stuff that really matters (marriage, kids, experiences) over the stuff that doesnt.

    1. True that! Thanks for stopping by. And thanks for your hospital—it’s so convenient to have it as a “one stop shopping” place for doc blog reads. Strong work!

  3. Your definition of success hits home with me. It is an inside job. Coming from a childhood poverty background then becoming financiallly successful on my own followed by marrying a successful businessman has left me many times uncomfortable with our personal wealth. Growing up with almost nothing (and sometimes with literally nothing), the excess seems distasteful to me at times. As a professional, making the decision to leave full time work so I could be the consistently home parent (husband travels frequently for his work) was the best decision we made. Many people do seem uncomfortable with the idea a professional staying home, but I am extremely grateful for the time I have to grow my garden and feed my kids home grown food, to have the snack time with them every day after school, to be completely and fully present when the husband is home, and to just enjoy life with my family. I would gladly give up even more, because “stuff” doesn’t matter to me nearly as much as having time with family.

    1. Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I love that you’re living an example out loud that it’s a-ok for professionals to stay at home and align their living with their present-day values.

  4. BC,

    What jumped out at me was your simple act of hosting parties quarterly. Not such a big deal, right?

    Having the bandwidth to host those parties – this is exactly the dividend we seek. The marginal difference between too much work and just the right amount equals the difference between being the person we know we have in us (a connector of great friends with one another, an extrovert who enjoys people) and being too exhausted to inhabit that person’s life (host one get-together, once, feel to tired to actually be mentally present for it and slink off to nap instead of feeding off the energy we worked so hard to collect in one room).

    Just from your foresight to bring a Bota box to FinCon and get the wonderful docs happy hour (which rolled into a happy day?) started, it’s clear that the extra time is letting you flourish.

    Thanks for the illustration of how thoughtful consumption can effect subtle but important changes with big downstream benefits,


    P.S. I love that Chief Mom Officer post on Poverty Tourism, too!

    1. Hey CD, thanks for stopping by. I need to give credit where it’s due: I got the Bota Box idea from POF’s amazing wife (again, we agree he’s brilliant for marrying her!). I’m actually an INFJ, which means I can blend in and act like a extrovert when really, at heart, I’m such an introvert: I was exhausted after Fin Con, lol. But it was so totally amazing to meet such great people there, so it was worth it IMO. Take care, BC

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