My late father-in-law, Wayne, was an unusually handsome man and equally taciturn. It took a pair of charming grandchildren for me to rank … logically I see in retrospect.



 When he died I held most favored son-in-law status, an honor no doubt enhanced by my solitary position. The last Sunday dinner my wife shared with him, he said in an off-stage whisper, “Your mother sure has a lot of stuff.” One problem with possessions can be ownership.



Do you own them or do they own you?



We are three weeks along on a literary/financial journey looking at roadblocks impeding your goals, mostly financial but some personal. This week we look at happiness.



Study after study indicates personal happiness in not strongly correlated with income. Of course, minimum wage workers tend to score lower on life satisfaction measures than people making $100,000. But the income/happiness point of diminishing returns falls in the neighborhood of $65,000. I can testify there are tons of happy folks making multiples of this number but often the more you make the more stuff you have and that’s all.



It’s like the old saying, you are rich if you make more than your brother-in-law. 



Once your basic needs are met, extra income does not automatically translate into greater happiness. Psychologists call this a hedonic treadmill where the more money earned leads to increased desires and expectations rather than making you feel better. Don’t draw the Queen of Diamonds; she’ll beat you if she’s able.



In a New York Times interview, Gary Kremen, founder of the online dating service Match.com, said he put in 80-hour workweeks despite his net worth topping $10 million. In Silicon Valley, “You’re nobody here at $10 million.” Escape to Create/30A songwriter festival alumnus, Tommy Womack, wrote a poignant tune about a “Nice Day” swimming with family and friends. “I love you daddy. He said that twice.”  Hmmm … who has the most?



Dante laid out several deadly sins centuries ago. Some jump right at you — greed, gluttony, wrath, lust, et al but envy took me by surprise. But as I get older I understand. Envy lurks under the surface not like lust or the others. You see a new car in a driveway or someone’s new house and envy’s there, even subconsciously.



We live in a pocket of prosperity, if you want to be envious, take your pick, new restaurants, swanky cribs and lots of folks with lots of money.  Envy makes you miserable. At least gluttony and lust provide moments of pleasure. 



Here’s a tip. The key to a solid, sustainable retirement is not some grand investment strategy (laddering dividends or complex annuities) but your savings rate as a percentage of your take-home pay. You control how much you spend. You don’t have to furnish your home like a pothead or a pauper, but simply have your money, both financial and human capital, grow faster than your expectations.



Check in next week for 2014’s big surprise or at least to me. I’m amazed how it negatively affects retirement planning and most advisors, fiduciary or otherwise, cast a blind eye, I know I did. Stay tuned.



Buz Livingston, CFP has a Blue Mountain Beach based fee-only, hourly financial planning and investment management firm. For more information, visit www.livingstonfinancial.net or come by the office at 2050 Scenic 30A, M1-Unit 230, Redfish Village.