Money Mic: Why I Choose Not to Be Super Rich

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A trip to Sri Lanka taught Fowler the importance of gratitude—and that he didn’t want to be rich.

My Money Mantra: Like Father, Not Like Son

Growing up, I received a very different message from my dad, a software engineer, who constantly regretted not having more money. And, for a while, I adopted a similar outlook: More money was worth striving for—it was the key to lasting happiness and an important benchmark for success.

I remember sitting with him one morning when I was around 14, reading the paper. There was an article about my school, which was one of the worst in town. I could see how disappointed he was—not just in the school, but also in himself. He told me as much, saying he was sad he couldn’t send me to a more prestigious school.

I also noticed his discomfort when we’d visit friends of my mom. They were doctors, and their houses reflected their sizable wages. My dad never felt at ease—and never invited them to our house. It was, he thought, too small and underwhelming.

In reality, my siblings and I had a very comfortable lifestyle. My family had two cars, we went on holiday every year, and we lived in a nice area of town. Looking back, my dad’s desire to want more prevented him from taking stock of what he actually had—a loving wife and kids, a spacious house, a job he enjoyed—and appreciating it.

If it weren’t for my life-changing trip, I might have followed in Dad’s footsteps—and become obsessed with chasing the happiness that’d surely accompany a bigger paycheck.

If it weren’t for my life-changing trip to Sri Lanka, I might have followed in Dad’s footsteps—and become obsessed with chasing the happiness that’d surely accompany a bigger paycheck.

In fact, just a year ago, I was offered a job that paid more than I’ve ever made in my life. But although I was tempted, I turned it down, opting instead to work for a lesser-paying but more exciting startup that also affords me time to travel, as well as the flexibility to work abroad and pursue my own happiness.

RELATED: How I Did It: I Sold Everything to Travel the World for Five Years

Why I Love Living the Non-Rich Lifestyle

Since my trip to Sri Lanka 10 years ago, I’ve lived in London, Buenos Aires, Bogota and Berlin—and I’ve traveled extensively in South America, Europe and Asia.

For the last nine months, I’ve been living in Berlin, working as a marketing manager for a travel-focused startup and earning around $1,000 a month. The money isn’t much by any account, but it allows me to be social, eat well and cover my $400 rent. It’s actually the most I’ve ever earned. In Bogota, where I lived for three years, I made around $800 a month, and it was even less in Buenos Aires—about $400.

You could argue that, with more money, I’d actually be able to travel more, but it wouldn’t be the same kind of lifestyle that I’ve come to love. Because more than just journeying around the world, I enjoy the challenge of being in a completely new environment—with minimal financial resources.

What I’ve come to learn is I don’t want experiences that money (or at least a lot of money) can buy. I don’t want my connection to people in Colombia, for example, to be a commodity—a brief sojourn into privileged areas of Bogota where I only meet people who are trained to show the best of the country.

I’d much rather sink into the culture of a country and find my way through it by making a living there. I want to earn my place. With more money, I might miss out on such rich, life-changing experiences.

RELATED: Will That Purchase Really Make You Happier? 3 Questions to Ask

  • Rob Wilson

    I’m not sure what this article is supposed to be telling people. This gentleman speaks of why he chooses not to be rich, but then says he wishes he had more money.

    Having more money would not inhibit him if he would like to bootstrap and work in the countries he lives in. But to his point, how is he going to retire someday? How will he eliminate the worry of not being able to pay for an empanada? Have a family one day/

    In my opinion, there is nothing noble about a desire not to build wealth. It’s his prerogative for sure, but let’s not fool people into thinking that there is something wrong with building wealth so you can care for yourself and your family.

    I think we make building wealth seem harder than it has to be, especially if you live in the US.

    Here are my thoughts on how to do it:
    http://www.robwilson.tv/how-to-make-100k

  • JackieAU5

    Very interesting read, I give Paul a lot of credit. But it seems when he starts a family, these wages are going to be nearly impossible to get by on unless he moves to a near third world country. How about earning a larger wage and giving to charity? Or maybe earning a greater wage, covering basic finances, and setting money aside for emergencies? I think it’s possible to have the same values and also have money set aside. A financial safety net isn’t in place, which would make anyone nervous.

  • samm bucus

    He will need more money when he starts a family, but maybe significantly less than others think. We (3 person family) lead a similar lifestyle on a shoestring budget, grow our own food, don’t go out much, etc. More expensive to travel with a 3 year old and more likely to want insurance, etc.
    How will he afford retirement? Maybe he won’t. As a crafter I hope I never stop making pottery. On the other hand a short stint making a lot of money helps. Teaching ESL for 10 years I saved $250k, started a family in a country with affordable and good healthcare, put $40k into retirement and then moved back to the US. That makes living and saving off a shoestring much easier. And soon it will be possible to contribute to retirement again.
    Where there is a will there is a way and combining financial responsibility with a shoestring lifestyle can be seriously rewarding. We should encourage more diversity and inclusiveness in financial planning and realize it is a lifestyle choice more than anything.

    • Paula

      Would you like to share where you taught ESL?

    • Felix Sotomi

      Life is meant to be lived!!! What if you dropped dead half way through all that? Or are you under the assumption that your life belongs to you?

  • Dessa

    I understand where Paul is coming from. I live in Cambodia and have also lived abroad for the past 5 years. And it can be refreshing to live on a small amount of money–and ‘go local’ and get to know the culture/customs better. But at the same time, I am able to put away more than half my stipend in savings (retirement, emergency, and the mortgage on the house my partner and I just invested in). I am a fellow at a non-profit organization, but I don’t want that from getting in the way of building financial security, so I budget and am frugal. And at 29 I don’t want to call my parents up to send me money.

  • Frans Koster

    I’m sorry to tell you this, but your views on money are going to change radically when you first hold your child. Trust me from experience. But there’s good news. You’ll be so happy being a Dad that you really won’t care about losing your previous outlook. Again, trust me from experience. (But maybe also start saving up, man.)

  • L . Thomas

    Sigh, I was just waiting for the line where he spoke about how he is privileged enough to do this and here it came: “When things have gotten really tough, my dad—who’s been really supportive of my commitment to this lifestyle—has helped me out by sending $100 here and there, for which I’m incredibly grateful, especially since it’s always been my choice to live how I do.”

  • Sally

    This guy sounds like an idiot.

    • Paula

      There are nicer ways to say that you think his decision is not wise.

  • Jill

    While his desire for a simple life is admirable, he’s confusing earning more money with what lifestyle he chooses. There’s no reason he couldn’t continue living simply, regardless of his income. I don’t know of any rule that says you should consume/buy certain things b/c you’ve reached a certain income level. That’s all personal choice. There’s a lot of value in knowing that you can help others by donating to charities or that when you come across something unexpected you have your own savings set aside.

    • Shannon Lee Gilstad

      When you are so far removed from most people’s experiences, you don’t have to think.

  • Field Turner

    Could it be attachment that you avoid more so than money?

  • Lea Biggs

    I appreciate his candor and respect his life choice (it’s his life, after all). But to tell everyone that it’s the philosophy of “less is more” and “to be happy, free yourself from attachments like material possessions” is his reason is just deceptive. Let’s call a spade a spade: it’s quite obvious that it’s not the philosophy that made him choose not to be “super rich”, but rather, that he wants to travel and live a carefree life without any real responsibilities.

    He’s like some modern-day derivative of a hobo: an itinerant worker with no permanent address (as opposed to a “bum” who is jobless). A *privileged* hobo to be exact. Sure, he isn’t living on much, but he always has his father to provide him with a monetary boost when needed.

    I sure hope that he’s not the type to only take and never give (since he mostly talks about the kindness of other people helping him get by when needed.)

    • Shannon Lee Gilstad

      That and there is the implication that he already has money from somewhere to maintain his lifestyle, so he doesn’t need to work. Its easy for him to say that money doesn’t matter because he obvious has some, but have you truly ever heard somebody who wasn’t well off say that/ Just saying…

    • guest

      kinda doesn’t sound like you respecting his life choice…

  • gingerd

    I agree with other comments around the idea that having money is not the same as having material possessions, If you want to live a simple lifestyle, great! But especially when having a family, it is important to have a backup plan. My son spent 4 months in the hospital. I was sure glad to have some extra money saved up then! Life throws unexpected challenges your way, and Daddy may not always be there to bail you out. Nor is it fair to expect him to be. Has this guy been able to pay his father back for the bailouts or does he ever plan to?

  • Shannon Lee Gilstad

    The underlying theme on here is over-privileged people for whom money is not an issue preach about how they live simply, sacrificed, or accomplished great feats. Where are the people who are truly struggling, who didn’t go to college, who don’t make $75K, and don;t have the option of just skipping town, then claiming that money doesn’t matter?

  • Ami Koldhekar

    Not too long ago, I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Burkina Faso, the third poorest country in the world. It was before the Great Recession started and somewhat of a rebellion from a society that was telling me to chase a bigger paycheck. There, I lived in a village with mud huts and no electricity, where people valued one another more than their possessions and never hesitated to offer you whatever they could if you were a guest in their village. And you know what I learned from that experience? That it’s not the paycheck itself you should chase, but rather, the stability that paychecks bring. Poverty has limited options — not knowing if your harvest will be enough to last the year (and whether you will eat) or if you have a financial cushion to visit the doctor if someone in your family becomes sick becomes even more serious when your resources are significantly less. More wealth — even a smaller amount — translates to options that a person can pursue. Whether that option is a material good or an opportunity to live free from a financial burden is up to the individual. So while I understand and respect the author’s message of having freedom from trying to maintain, protect, and acquire goods and instead, spending that mental capacity focusing on what is really important, I would submit that it’s possible to do just that without putting yourself in a financially precarious position.

  • Sharissa

    I’m surprised that this article is on LearnVest where it’s generally “save save save” and “retirement!!” This guy will never save any money, and will have zero retirement. Maybe that will work for him (I hope it does, or else he is SOL), maybe life won’t ever throw him a curveball and that would be great. But the article itself seems contradictory to everything else I’ve ever read on this site..

  • Sherry

    Great article! Less is sometimes more! We spend more energy and time working for things only not to enjoy them! Everyone should seek their own path and strive for that which makes YOU happy and content!

  • Kathryn

    The point of his entire article, since perhaps some of you missed it? “But, most of all, I’d like to teach them what I learned in Sri Lanka: If you appreciate what you’ve got, then you have everything you need.

    • Paula

      Thank you Kathryn. People can be so mean sometimes and just miss the point. All they want to do is bash people.

    • creg123

      Until you don’t. And you have to call your dad to bail you out. Or perhaps you missed that part.

  • Blue Max

    As a 54 year-old father of three, and son of an 83 year-old engineer who provided for me, my mom and sister, I am amused by Paul’s article. He is living as a perpetual adolescent who sneers at his father’s work ethic and desire to provide. It’s the classic privileged kid choosing to slum it alongside people who have no choice and often no hope. It is impossible for him to know or experience the pathos of the people with whom he pretends to identify. His pathos is bathos. He knows that with a phone call and a plane ticket he can remove himself at any time. He is young and healthy and takes both for granted. Let’s hope he outgrows it as most of his kind do.

    At least he is thinking which is a start. Perhaps he will learn to be content in whatever situation he finds himself, facing plenty or hunger, abundance and need.

  • Tania

    While I respect his choices, I don’t think earning more money automatically will drive him to a life like his father’s. I do sense a conflict in some of his words that leads me to believe there is a fear or maybe concern (fear may be too strong a word) about what making more money will mean to him. There are many people who do live independent and free lifestyles and also build wealth. It’s not about how much money you make but it is how you make it and what you do with it (i.e. what you value). Income is not the issue, the attitude toward it is. You can make a good income and also be appreciative for what you have. It gets very difficult to continue to be free when you are in your 50s/60s/70s if you haven’t built any savings.