The Paradox of Money

[As part of our weekly column by Mr. 1500 of – a fellow blogger who retired at 43!]


I really like my life. I’ve arranged my life so that I can do what I want.
– Warren Buffett

I’m a big fan of Warren Buffett, but not for the reason you may think. While Warren is an investing genius, there are plenty of others who have also figured out how to build vast wealth. The trait that makes him really great is that he’s a genuinely good person with plans to give almost all of his billions away to charity. And he’s frugal too, living in the same home for most of his life.

And I love listening to Warren’s folksy wisdom in person every spring. If you’re a shareholder of Warren’s company, Berkshire Hathaway, you have the opportunity to attend the company’s annual meeting. The big party takes place in Omaha and is informally called the “Woodstock of Capitalism.”

It’s a fun event where folks from all over the world ask Warren anything they want during the question and answer session. My wife even asked Warren a question about real estate at the 2016 meeting. Here she is on the big screen:

There is one question that will always stay with me though. At the first meeting I attended, a 20-something year-old asked Warren what books he’d recommend for getting rich. Warren didn’t have many recommendations, but he went on a tangent that was much more interesting. While ruminating on his age, Warren said this:

I’d give away every cent I have to be your age again.

Healthy Is Better Than Wealthy

Warren is a wise man. As he approaches 90, he realizes his days on the little blue-green sphere we all share are almost over. Money means less and less as we approach our expiration date.

Health is the most important aspect of life.

I hadn’t been taking good care of myself until recently. Retiring early has allowed me to go for runs in the middle of the day or swing the kettle bell first thing in the morning. If you don’t have your health, what else matters?

Relationships Are Better Than Riches

Everyone wants to give you advice when they hear that you’re expecting your first child. This certainly happened to me and I quickly grew tired of it. But when I was least expecting it, I received the best child-rearing advice ever.

I was at work when my manager called me into her office. She asked me to sit down and I thought that I was in trouble for playing pranks on my co-workers (not an uncommon occurrence). Instead, she told me that she had advice for me. I was skeptical, but her advice blew me away:

All your children want is your time.

She went on to say that I didn’t need to buy them tons of toys or take them to Disney every year. Just give them your attention. Deep down, that’s what they really want and need.

I walked out of her office in a daze. The advice was simple, but profound. And it made perfect sense. How many times have you seen children act out only because they want the attention and love of their parents? My manager’s words were completely true.

***Quick note: If you’re a parent reading this now on your phone, you have permission to read the rest of this article before setting your phone down and asking your children how their day was. :)

Hundreds of Thousands Don’t Bring You Happiness

I need about $40,000 per year to fund my life. Per the 4% Rule, that means that I need a nest egg of $1,000,000. My portfolio sits at $1,400,000 and I have an additional $400,000 in home equity. For those unskilled in the ways of math, that comes out to $1,800,000.

When I left my job, I expected an instant boost in my happiness. And then it didn’t happen. I started thinking about it and had an epiphany:

The money didn’t make me happier either.

I was no happier as a millionaire than I was when I was just out of college with $60,000 in debt. Wealth doesn’t create happiness. You must figure that out for yourself!

The Paradox of Money

None of what I’ve mentioned requires money. You don’t need money to be healthy. You certainly don’t need it to spend time with your family.

Where does money fit into all of this then? To get money, we must trade our time. You can always earn more money, but you can’t change your expiration date. The only thing you can do then is increase the amount of time where work is optional.

And this is the paradox of money:

It’s simultaneously the most and least important part of life.

While you don’t need money to be happy or healthy, it buys time. And once you have time, you can structure your life optimally. The real goal is this:

Save enough money so that you don’t have to worry about money.

Money is not the end, only the start.

Advice For My Younger Self

If I were to do it all over again, I wouldn’t buy two new cars. I’d hack my living situation with roommates. I’d build wealth as fast as I could to minimize my working life and maximize my freedom years.

Time is a finite resource. If you’re younger than Warren, embrace his wise words and appreciate the years you have ahead of you. Put the pedal down and start living!


EDITOR’S NOTE: I think about this trade off alllll the time and actually have a saying for it – “I’d rather be young!” That’s what I tell myself anytime I catch myself getting jealous of what someone older than me has that I desperately want :) It doesn’t help when they’re much younger than me, haha, but it does if they’re much older! No way I’d trade decades of my life for more money. Also makes you appreciate how long it takes to acquire such wealth as well – it doesn’t come fast.

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  1. Ember @ An Intentional Lifestyle August 23, 2017 at 6:10 AM

    Yes. I totally agree. I see people so much older, still chugging away at a full time job. Never questioning the status quo. We’re not to FI yet, but we are working towards it. We realized what we needed for our family (all that extra time) when we were in early 20s, and I’m glad. We have the chance to get there early and enjoy it for longer. This is a great reminder that I think we all need on a regular basis!

    1. Lance @ My Strategic Dollar August 23, 2017 at 7:57 AM

      This is the truth. I see people all around that are still struggling with their finances, even at an older age. I can’t imagine being in my 40’s, 50’s, 60’s still going through the stuff I’m going through today. I want to reach Fi so I can spend time with friends, family & children. I don’t want my finances to dictate my life.

      Great comment Ember.

  2. Mrs. Adventure Rich August 23, 2017 at 7:15 AM

    Yes! The whole reason Mr. Adventure Rich started down the path of frugality, financial responsibility and (hopefully) financial independence was because we saw far too many examples of people (especially married couples) allow financial stress and struggles ruin their lives, relationships and happiness. We did not one to be another example.

    The goal to “have enough money not to worry about money” is spot on for us. We want to live… not amass an excessive amount of wealth while trading time with family and pursuing life’s adventure for money.

    1. J. Money August 23, 2017 at 7:34 AM

      Haha yup! When I started this blog 9+ years ago all I could think about was becoming a millionaire and having gobs of money to throw around. Then a few years later when the FIRE movement came, along with having my own kids, I soon realized that it wasn’t about the money at all but about the *freedom* it could provide for us and that ideal *lifestyle*. So now the millionaire dreaming is long gone, although I do need to cross that milestone in order to hit FIRE :)

  3. Apathy Ends August 23, 2017 at 7:33 AM

    The biggest draw to FI for us was the choices it opens up, the pile of cash doesn’t mean a whole lot in and of itself. It’s what it allows us to do – which is spend more time with our kid (which it already does even though we are no where near FI) and do the things we like to do – which happens to be things that will keep us healthy.

    1. Mr. 1500 August 23, 2017 at 10:40 AM

      YES! Choices/options are EVERYTHING! And one choice may be staying at a job too. It’s much better when you’re not staying because of money.

  4. Leo T. Ly August 23, 2017 at 7:34 AM

    I was in relatively good health for most of my life, until about a year and a half ago when I suddenly had feet pain. I thought that I just pulled a muscle while I was working out.

    A year and a half later, I am still having this pain in both of my feet. I can’t stand longer than 10 minutes without experiencing inflammation in my feet. It’s really affecting my quality of life now.

    From time to time I would ask myself, what would I pay to get rid of this issue and what if it comes back again?

    The lesson is: your health is your wealth. Take good care of it.

    1. J. Money August 23, 2017 at 7:36 AM

      Dang! I wonder what could be causing that???

    2. Princess Hobo August 23, 2017 at 9:48 AM

      I had the same foot pain! Turns out the inflammation was being aggravated by what I was eating…cut out wheat, dairy and eggs for a start. When I stopped eating wheat and eggs, the pain went away and never returned. Research food sensitivities; you will get to live pain-free again. I wish you well; living in chronic pain is awful.

      1. Leo T. Ly August 24, 2017 at 8:48 PM

        Thanks for the tips princess. I will definitely give it a shot.

    3. Ms. Frugal Asian Finance August 25, 2017 at 11:21 AM

      My husband has been having hip pain for the past 3 years. He’s seen many doctors and tried different kinds of PT, but nothing worked. He’s in pain most of the time, which worries me, but we don’t know what to do except for seeing more doctors. Money just can’t seem to fix the pain!

  5. Turning Point Money August 23, 2017 at 7:55 AM

    Great post. The best part about having money is the options you create for yourself. You don’t want to work a full time job any more. You can quit. You want to set up a consulting company and work 20 hours per week, do it. You want to spend all your time with the kids and working out, great. Options that most people don’t have until older in age.

    1. Mr. 1500 August 23, 2017 at 10:41 AM

      “You want to set up a consulting company and work 20 hours per week…”

      Yep, that’s pretty much what I do now. Meaningful work, regardless of pay, is the foundation of a happy life.

  6. Ms. Frugal Asian Finance August 23, 2017 at 7:56 AM

    I was obsessed with a couple of things a few years ago (I.e. good grades, success) until I had a series of health problems that made me realize nothing mattered as much as my health. We all like money, but too much of anything, including the love for riches, is never good.

  7. Vicki@MakeSmarterDecisions August 23, 2017 at 8:01 AM

    We’ve always been pretty into fitness (swimming, running) but now that we’re FIRE’d – it’s becoming our J-O-B. As much as I enjoy reading about personal finance, I’m not splitting the time with health/fitness reading. Ms. Montana (Jillian) sent me two books recently – Younger Next Year and Thinner Next Year. Great books with some really actionable and simple rules. Gotta fight the tide…and they suggest it shifts from growth to decay at age 32. I’d agree!

    1. J. Money August 25, 2017 at 7:48 AM

      Awesome titles too!

      1. Sue August 31, 2017 at 4:05 AM

        Why did I think this said awesome tits! Haha. I blame it on working overnight. I agree with you about the Titles!

  8. Samantha August 23, 2017 at 8:11 AM

    I’m going to be thinking about this post for a while. Your words couldn’t be more true and they really spoke to my heart, both time with your kids and your health. How easy it is to not prioritize these things in the short-term, when in reality, the time is now. Now is the time to care for our health. Now is the time to listen about Pokémon or play with Barbie’s. I’ve always admired Warren Buffett and I’m so thankful you shared that story. Wow.

    1. Mr. 1500 August 23, 2017 at 10:43 AM

      Thanks Samantha for the kind comments. And don’t forget LEGO!

  9. Gwen @ Fiery Millennials August 23, 2017 at 8:38 AM

    See, posts like this one make me want to quit my job and go live an awesome life… except I’m not quite there in the terms of money stashed away. Pretty far from it, actually. I’m living a life conflicted!

    1. J. Money August 25, 2017 at 7:51 AM

      Haha you and the rest of the world… Though lucky for us we stumbled across FIRE early enough to change the game around! And I’d like to think we’ll appreciate the finish line even more knowing how much we hustled for it :) So I say we’re doing just fine, friend.

  10. Paul August 23, 2017 at 8:42 AM

    Jobs now demand you life in exchange for subsistence. Its a vicious circle in that you need money to live but everything is so perfectly priced as to take all of that money away, keeping you in your job forever.

    Even for someone like me who makes a good living, I have done the math and it comes out to a best case retirement at the age of 57. But that has more to do with life events that need to happen before I can reasonably retire. 401K money should be all set by 45 to last me forever. Part time work will be a possibility at 53 though. If my wife brought in income or I somehow made a significant amount more then this figure would drop to about 48, unless I decided to move to a smaller house with a smaller mortgage. Which is the real problem, I pay $4200/month just for the privilege to live where I do. I know, I should get blocked from this website just for admitting that, but you know, Maryland is expensive as $hit unless you want to live in a crap area. J$ knows, he lives somewhere in my general vicinity, I’m guessing that’s at least part of the reason why he rents.

    1. Mr. 1500 August 23, 2017 at 10:44 AM

      “Jobs now demand you life in exchange for subsistence. Its a vicious circle in that you need money to live but everything is so perfectly priced as to take all of that money away, keeping you in your job forever.”

      Nicely put! You should be writing here not me!

      And $4,200 a month! Holy cow! Come out to Colorado!

      1. Paul August 24, 2017 at 8:55 AM


        I hear Colorado prices are starting to creep up because it seems everyone wants to move there. My mortgage is tough, It has been a source of great pain over the last 4 years… but I promise you my house is very normal, 2400 sq ft rancher so I’m not sitting on anything obscene. I’ve got 4 kids and I refuse to live in a 900 sq ft studio. Maryland is the richest state in the country and I think per capita I live in the richest county in the state and second richest in the country. Everything is inflated here. I figure if I deal with this house now by the time I retire I can sell and buy 2 condos for cash, one in Hawaii and one closest to where my kids settle down.

        1. J. Money August 25, 2017 at 7:53 AM

          And your ol’ pal J$ will be getting invites to that pad in Hawaii too, right? :)

  11. Amy @ Life Zemplified August 23, 2017 at 8:49 AM

    For far too long I chased the ‘appearance of wealth and success’ and spent way too much time on it at the expense of my family. As a woman I was trying to do it all, be a wife, mom, and successful businesswoman and my health suffered. I now also see that my children may have as well. Fortunately, I figured some things out, and now I’m preaching about wellness in all areas of life. It’s a must to figure out a balance or you’ll continue suffering and stressing.

    1. J. Money August 25, 2017 at 7:55 AM

      YES!!!! And figuring it out way earlier than later too – that’s the real trick! Getting people to stop and CARE so they can live much more profitable lives (in all areas – finance, health, lifestyle) later with much less regrets… I shudder to think where I’d be now if I didn’t accidentally stumble across all this stuff :(

  12. Chris @ Duke of Dollars August 23, 2017 at 9:08 AM

    Very inspiring man! So true and can’t wait to be in the same boat as you.

  13. Nick Vail August 23, 2017 at 9:45 AM

    Health > Wealth
    Relationships > Riches

    Soooo true. Why do we build wealth in the first place? Without health and relationships, wealth doesn’t mean much. Great article!

    1. J. Money August 25, 2017 at 7:55 AM

      I think we need bumper stickers with those slogans :)

  14. Mrs. Picky Pincher August 23, 2017 at 10:10 AM

    Ahhh, isn’t money a funny thing? We talk about it all the time in the personal finance world, but it’s really about the freedom to use our most precious resource, time (life energy), as we see fit.

  15. Lisa O August 23, 2017 at 10:28 AM

    It is all about balance! We need good health & relationships to build wealth.

    When my children would ask if we were rich many years ago, I would always say “We are rich in love and that is all that truly matters!”.

    1. Mr. 1500 August 23, 2017 at 10:45 AM

      “We need good health & relationships to build wealth.”

      Yep, they feed off of each other.

  16. Dads Dollars Debts August 23, 2017 at 10:31 AM

    A wise and rich man told me that money won’t make you happy, it just makes things easier. I agree with this. Over the last month I have really realized that I am the only one that can make me happy. Sure family and friends help, but I have to be committed to having a positive outlook on life.

    The above is exactly why I am thinking to go part time soon. Sure it would take longer to reach my financial goals of FI, but I would have more time with my son and wife while my son is still young. Gotta figure out the math on this one, but it makes sense to me.

  17. Mr. 1500 August 23, 2017 at 10:46 AM

    “Over the last month I have really realized that I am the only one that can make me happy. Sure family and friends help, but I have to be committed to having a positive outlook on life.”

    Ha, we should be in some kind of happiness support group together. This is the exact same type of stuff that I’ve been mulling over endlessly since I quit my job.

  18. Joe August 23, 2017 at 10:56 AM

    Youth is wasted on the young, right? I’m sure I would trade all my money for youth when I’m 90 years old too. At that point, time/health is a lot more valuable than money.
    I’m pretty happy where I am right now, though. Life is just about perfect at 43. I’m relatively healthy, still young, and have some money. It’s all about balance.

  19. Richard Ryan August 23, 2017 at 11:17 AM

    Really excellent piece.

    When I worked for a big corp, they thought I’d be a great manager, helping them turn eager young up-and-comers into the next generation of corporate bots. Instead, I made them go home at a reasonable hour, telling them the work would still be there the next day. My mantra was always: “Go home and play with your kids. No one ever dies wishing they’d spent more time in the office”.

    1. Mr. 1500 August 23, 2017 at 4:03 PM

      Thanks Richard! And good on your for being a good boss!

      1. J. Money August 25, 2017 at 7:57 AM

        Yeah, exactly what I was going to say! That’s unheard of these days!

  20. Jeff @ MaximumCents August 23, 2017 at 11:36 AM

    I really enjoyed reading about this paradox and believe it’s true. A lot of people believe they will be happy when they retire but may they may find out they don’t feel any different. Don’t wait until the future to start focusing on your health. It’s important to start early so that you have less problems as you get older.

  21. Mariana August 23, 2017 at 11:48 AM

    The money doesn’t buy happiness but it surely does buy freedom.
    Still years away but we are well on track.
    Just a few days ago on MMM Forum I read (yet again) about the importance of having a plan / hobby after FIRE. Otherwise, FIRE may seem much less exciting as we imagine it would be.

    1. Mr. 1500 August 23, 2017 at 4:04 PM

      “Otherwise, FIRE may seem much less exciting as we imagine it would be.”

      The purpose of FIRE is to do the work that sets your heart on fire.

  22. Lily @ The Frugal Gene August 23, 2017 at 12:39 PM

    We all get too caught up in the rat race. I give everything in my bank to be pre-college again. I wonder how much I would pony up to be 26 again when I’m 50. Money isn’t good for anything if you’re health is sideways and your relationships are empty and that’s just truth. Look at Mr Burns.

    1. J. Money August 25, 2017 at 7:58 AM

      Truth about emptying the bank accounts! Haha….

      Only when we were pre-college all we wanted to be was older with money! :)

  23. Mrs. BITA August 23, 2017 at 12:53 PM

    Well written, Mr. 1500!

    This is something that drives me crazy. I understand, rationally, that time is my most important resource. Yet, in turns out to be the hardest one to value. The brain finds it easier to value money than it does to value time, at least my brain does. For example, when cfiresim shows me that my plan is 92% likely to succeed – my immediate reaction is to save more, work longer, and get that to 100%. The truth is that that is an insane reaction because it puts no value on time, the most precious resource of all. I am near certain that when I am old and wrinkly my only regret will be not casting off the golden handcuffs sooner. Yet knowing that in the here and now doesn’t make it an easy thing to do.

    1. Mr. 1500 August 23, 2017 at 4:09 PM

      “For example, when cfiresim shows me that my plan is 92% likely to succeed – my immediate reaction is to save more, work longer, and get that to 100%.”

      I think most of us can relate to that. Even after I far exceeded my goal, I had to get out an extra large pry bar to separate myself from work.

      Time is the most precious resource and that’s not too hard to understand. The hard part for me was making sure I had fulfilling activity to make use of that resource.

      1. J. Money August 25, 2017 at 8:02 AM

        Yeah, it’s like when people say “my time is worth more than that” so they go and pay people to mow their lawns or clean their houses or cook them food. True, their hourly rate could be more, but if you end up just sitting there doing nothing then you’re actually SPENDING MONEY than earning/saving money so it’s not a fair comparison. No shame in relaxing and/or paying others to do stuff you don’t want to do, but then just call it that, right? Not tricking yourself into thinking it’s mathematically better.

  24. Albert @ Mr. Smart Money August 23, 2017 at 3:04 PM

    I couldn’t agree more with every single word. Time is the most valuable thing we have, people tend to forget that.
    Cheers to a happier, healthier life.

    1. Mr. 1500 August 23, 2017 at 4:10 PM

      Thanks Albert! I just got back from a 3.46 mile run! Life is good! And healthier!

  25. Krystal @ Simple Finance Mom August 23, 2017 at 3:19 PM

    “Save enough money so you don’t have to worry about money.” I love that line! We should be stable and secure, and life our lives without fear, knowing we have taken care of our families. It will bring us so much more peace and joy in the long run. One thing I admire about Warren Buffet is that he is still working every day. Even though he obviously could have retired a long time ago. He loves what he does! When we find purpose in what we do, it doesn’t feel like work. If only we were all so lucky…

  26. Tracyl5 August 23, 2017 at 4:28 PM

    My NUMBER 1 reason for pursuing FI is to spend more time with my family. Right now, we live minimum 6 hour flight to 99% of our family and friends. We don’t have any kids of our own, so I feel like I’m missing out on so much! But living in this high cost area is what’s enabling us to get to FIRE. We make great money, but live frugally. Got started late, but I’m blessed to have young parents, so I hope to retire at the same time they do! Then hopefully we can have some quality time together before they go.

    1. Mr. 1500 August 23, 2017 at 11:01 PM

      Awesome plan Tracy!

  27. Ten Factorial Rocks August 24, 2017 at 11:57 AM

    Nice post Carl. I think the realization that money isn’t everything – ironically enough – dawns after you accumulate enough money to be called financially independent. I have seen families living in abject poverty in Asia but quite content because of both strong relationships and good health to earn their daily wages. While they aren’t assured of a job till they retire, they also don’t view retirement the same way as a FIRE aspirant does. Its about finding that sweet spot between health, wealth and relationships where true happiness lies in my opinion.

    1. J. Money August 25, 2017 at 8:06 AM

      “I think the realization that money isn’t everything – ironically enough – dawns after you accumulate enough money to be called financially independent.”

      Haha yeah… Or at least on your way towards financial independence :) I think it clicked with me around the $300k net worth range when the $$ was on track and I started doing more reflecting. Having kids help with that too :)

  28. Chris August 24, 2017 at 2:15 PM

    Kids spell love: T.I.M.E. — John Crudele
    Great post, and thanks for the inspiration to step away from work for a while!

    1. J. Money August 25, 2017 at 8:06 AM

      GREAT QUOTE!!!!

  29. ZJ Thorne August 24, 2017 at 11:02 PM

    That manager was very wise to show that she knew what you needed as a parent. Time focused on the people you love is so precious.

  30. Mr. Tako August 25, 2017 at 4:25 AM

    When we’re young and have tons of time ahead of us, money seems like the most important thing in the world. When we’re old (and have plenty of money ), time seems like the most important thing in the world.

    It’s ideas like this that made me question the status quo. Money is important to a point to pay for things like housing and healthcare, but so many dollars are *simply wasted* on trifle things that won’t matter when you’re 90.

  31. Primal Prosperity August 25, 2017 at 10:00 AM

    Years ago, I completed a triathlon and afterwards, my friends and I were talking to a guy who was probably about 80. He had a really nice (i.e. super expensive) bike and we were asking him about it. He said that he would rather trade the bike in and do the race in a crappy beater bike just to have his youth back.

    I generally live my life as if I could die tomorrow. And it really doesn’t take a lot of money. I just saw the total eclipse and it floored me. After it, I was thinking the same thing as this article…. that chasing or hoarding money isn’t worth it if you can’t experience some of the natural joys and wonders in life. This is exactly why I choose the blog name “Primal Prosperity”. :)

  32. Jack the Investor August 27, 2017 at 1:51 PM

    For me, the first quote by Buffet in this article sums up the measure of true wealth. Arranging ones life in a way one can do what one wants is actually true wealth – meaning having TIME.

    I have a small business and some investments, and people always ask my why I don’t do more and grow it even bigger. The answer is always the same – I don’t want to – I like working 20 hours a week, and having all the time for my son and wife.

    I’ve just stumbled upon this blog, and I am excited to read what else is on offer. If this article is anything to go by, I will fit right in :)