Posted over 6 years ago

How to Get What You REALLY Want: The 3 Currencies of Life

[Part 1 of an ongoing series about my big picture wealth and real estate game-plan]

"[I]n spite of the fact that America is famous for its unhappy rich people, most of us remain convinced that just a little more money will set life right. In this way, the messianic metaphor of modern life becomes the lottery - that outside chance that the right odds will come together to liberate us from financial worries once and for all" Rolf Potts, Vagabonding

"People don't want to be millionaires - they want to experience what they believe only millions can buy... $1,000,000 in the bank isn't the fantasy. The fantasy is the lifestyle of complete freedom it supposedly allows." Tim Ferriss, The 4-Hour Workweek

Doesn’t the conversation in our head regarding money, wealth, and freedom usually go something like this:

"Everything will be just fine when I have $x,xxx,xxx in the bank."

Supposedly John D. Rockefeller, who at one time was the richest person in the world, was asked "How much money is enough money?" He replied, "Just a little more."

Don't get me wrong. I have no guilt or problem with earning and accumulating money. Making money is certainly a helpful part of my own life equation.

My point is this:

  • Will we ever really have enough money?
  • Will we really feel secure all of a sudden "someday?"
  • Is it possible we are sacrificing something in the meantime that money can't possibly buy?

The last question about sacrifice is the most challenging for me. What non-money currencies am I sacrificing? How much of those am I really willing to invest for future financial returns?

Tim Ferriss, who was quoted above, has a personal philosophy that I love and adopted as my own. The philosophy says this:

Money is not the only currency we should use to measure our wealth and our lives. Instead, to get the things we really want in life we should measure at a minimum 3 currencies.

The 3 Currencies of Life: Time, Money, and Mobility

We have all heard that time is our most precious commodity, yet on the financial balance sheets that we judge ourselves by, time is not measured at all.

Think about a period in your life when you’ve been completely out of balance, like when you made really good money but worked 60-80 grueling hours per week. Deep down didn’t you know that something just wasn’t right? You made money, but you had no time for yourself, your family, or your passions.

Early in my career as an entrepreneur, I did not make a salary as large as what I could have made on different paths in corporations or other professions, but I did regularly play basketball in the middle of the day for 2 hours. Score!

But we (myself included) continually fall back into these go-go-money routines because we feel enslaved and trapped. We tell ourselves that we need the financial security and the income, but in fact we're depleting the very reserves of life itself: time.

Henry David Thoreau warned not to spend “the best part of one’s life earning money in order to enjoy a questionable liberty during the least valuable part of it.”

He had a point.

Even so, this isn’t a call to hedonism and a free-for-all that will handicap your future and the future of people depending upon you. Living differently need not be living impractically. You can be practical, responsible, and still jump off the rat wheel of money chasing.

But, because it’s uncommon, prioritizing all three currencies is not easy.

Implementing the 3 currencies requires thinking differently. It requires questioning assumptions and strong social conditioning, including the “wisdom” of your family, co-workers, and major societal forces (marketers, politicians, media). It requires courage and persistence. It requires you to measure your personal success differently, even when it seems silly to those around you.

But, if you can do it the payoff is BIG. You won’t have to wait until that “some day” that may never arrive.

A Trip That Changed It All

When I first started evaluating my business and investing from this lens, my wife and I decided that a slow, meandering trip through Spanish-speaking countries would be exactly the type of activity that would feed our souls and enrich our lives.

Money was certainly an obstacle. My estimation for 4 months of travel was $15,000, the price some people pay for a car, but we worked hard and saved the money over time. This required us to live more simply, although I don’t consider choosing a peanut butter sandwich over a restaurant to be a big let down. We also started to notice that most so-called necessities were luxuries only 50 years ago, and life could go on perfectly without many of them (cable, new cars, new appliances and furniture, etc).

But, even more challenging was freeing up time and flexibility so that we could actually leave for 4 months! We had to forgo opportunities for more money and more advancement that would feed our ego and bank account but would have held us back from the freedom to do our trip. We also had to build systems and most importantly, relationships in our business that would allow us to not be present.

In the end, the mini-retirement happened. We spent one and a half months in Spain and two and a half months in South America (Peru, Chile, Argentina). It exceeded even our wildest expectations, and we enriched our lives in so many dimensions.

DSC00996 Soaking in the beauty of Patagonia, Chile in South America (Torres Del Paine National Park -- see map here)

Maybe long-term world travel is not your idea of a worthwhile goal, but surely you have something itching at you below the surface. Is it more time and flexibility with family? More time and flexibility for that favorite hobby? Or more time and flexibility for that vocation that fulfills you but doesn’t earn enough money?

For us, it all started by changing our personal value system from a single dominant currency of money to a value system with multiple currencies. This different lens gave and continues to give us a very practical tool to evaluate everyday decisions and the real sacrifices and returns that will result.

I challenge you to start evaluating your own assumptions about this topic. Take out a journal and set aside some quiet time this week to brainstorm these questions:

  • In the end, what do I want money to buy me?
  • Are my money goals enough? Are they more than enough?
  • How much of my non-financial currencies am I investing now in order to meet my financial goals later?
  • When my life is over, would I rather have given up the time now or had the time later in life?
  • What is never worth sacrificing in the present moment?
  • How can I change my wealth strategy to be more balance now?

There are no right answers here. I welcome your own thoughts, feedback, and personal experiences. Be sure to leave feedback in the comments of my blog.

Enthusiastically your coach,

Chad signature - cursive


Comments (4)

  1. Well said Al. I think that fulfillment of helping people is a big "wealth" we don't talk about enough. It really is enjoyable.


  2. James, I just love this topic. Personally I've a touched a financial goal and watched it slip away. While I was on top, I remember thinking "Is that it?" Yep, I'm very grateful for that lesson. I learned that I want an enjoyable life, not necessarily a pleasurable one. And enjoyment, as I defined it, had little to do with money. That's the main reason my REI focuses on helping people and creating value.


  3. Hey James, I agree. I think it's sort of like a ladder - at the bottom all we can think about is money. But the higher we get on the money ladder, the less valuable each additional amount is and the more valuable our time is. It seems personal for everyone where that crossover point is, but I sure don't want to keep climbing the money ladder without thinking about it. Thanks for the feedback.


  4. I've always felt that in business the most important thing was your time. Unless you did not have any money then it was money.