Seeing the light: Happiness is more important than money

I am in Romulus, Michigan today (near the DTW airport) for work travel. I went online and found a local restaurant/bar that had good reviews from other business travelers. I gave it a try and am very glad I did! I scored a half pound cheeseburger for $3 and $2 beers. Dinner + drinks = $11.66. Nice.

I also met an older gentleman (soon to be 50) named Mike. We had casual conversation about various subjects and money and happiness came up. He is retired from the Army after 30 years and now works as a prison guard in Detroit. He lives nearby the airport and is into local rental property. He seems quite savvy with his money and makes good choices.

He moved around a lot in the army and owns a few homes as a result. He rents them out and uses the rent proceeds to pay for his 18 year old son's college. He is looking into buying another as he has a tenant waiting for a place and is bidding on local forclosures (as low as $4,000!) and would make a tidy sum from renting it. He said he plans to use the money to save for his yearly vacations with his wife.

He then told me about a neighbor of his who is a former NBA player. He said while he was in the NBA he would have lavish parties, throw around money, and got caught up in the fame and fortune of the NBA salary. He went on to say the guy now is retired and realizes that he does not need all the fancy stuff and big parties. Instead of a Porsche he now has a Camry and has sold most of his high end jewelry, cars, etc and is happier. He specifically mentioned that he wants to sell his $35,000 Rolex as it will "collect dust in the drawer."

One thing that I really liked about Mike is his view on television. I mentioned it to see how he would react and he said he doesn't watch TV except for sports and sometimes weather reports. I am glad someone agrees with me! A TV is just a devices that forces commercials down your throat. News is just crap to get you to watch commercials. Moving along...

Mike and his friend are 2 people that "get it" in my book. They understand that people and experiences are the most important things in life. They also understand that money is required to have these experiences (and sometimes to visit the people) and therefore channel their money towards it. They don't have BMW's and 8,000 inch plasma TV's. They save a lot of their money and use it for their goals instead of running up credit cards.

Mike said it took him years to get into the idea of saving and not simply spending the paychecks as they come. I personally attribute this to television, society, consumerism, and flat out horrible job of the education system of teaching people about money. If everyone had to take a personal finance class in order to pass high school I think a lot of good could come of it.

I am glad to say that I "saw the light" on what's important with money a few years ago. I took me a lot of internal struggle and being resilient with habit changes to get to where I am today. The tide is turning and I see my assets finally moving into the positive. I bet we all could still learn a thing or two from people like Mike. Focus on what's important (and getting more stuff should be nowhere on the list of what's important!).