Simplicity Is The Cure For Stress

It’s not the high cost of living. It’s the cost of living high — that causes the stress.

As a speaker in hundreds of corporations and associations, I’m often asked to address the issue of work-life balance. In fact it’s one of my more requested topics. Organizations are beginning to realize the stupidity of working their people to death. Thank goodness.

Organizations are beginning to realize the value of preventing employee burnout. They’re learning that a “balanced” employee tends to be a loyal, productive employee. And they’re learning that an employee with some semblance of work-life balance costs the company a lot less in health care expenses.

In their attempt to foster work-life balance, a lot of organizations have offered a lot of programs to their employees. Unfortunately, most of the workshops are short sighted and ineffective. They focus on “job stress,” and that just doesn’t cut it anymore.

When a person has “job stress,” it tends to show up everywhere. It shows up in a person’s marriage, a person’s eating habits, exercise program, communication behaviors, work output, and just about everything else. A program limited to “job stress” doesn’t have enough breadth to eradicate the stress or foster the balance.

What is needed is a program that addresses all eight dimensions of life. Indeed, success and balance might be defined as having something positive going on in all eight parts of your life: physical, recreational, financial, occupational, relational, mental, emotional, and spiritual.

Today’s tip addresses the financial dimension of life. It’s a biggie. Almost everyone seems to complain about the high cost of living. And it’s those costs, they say, that keep them working harder and harder and more and more, making a balanced, stress-free life very difficult if not impossible to achieve.

I would suggest that the “high cost of living” is somewhat of a myth. More often than not, stress and imbalance come from the “cost of living high.”

Think about it. Some of my readers are old enough to remember having a home without a TV. They thought if they could ever have a TV, they would have it made!! But once they got a black and white TV, they yearned for a color TV. That, they thought, would satisfy them. So they got one.

It wasn’t too long after getting their color TV, however, that they “needed” more color TV’s for other rooms in their houses. And the story continued with the purchase of their first VCR, then their second one, and so on with dozens of other products throughout the house, garage, and yard.

Face it. It’s the cost of living high that causes the stress. Even the research says that.

As a former university professor, I did a lot of research. And I was amazed at the consistency of the research on marriage. There were thousands of studies that said the same thing — that the number one killer of marriages was financial trouble.

Yet no one seemed to pay attention to the studies. The general public was either ignorant or arrogant. They didn’t know about the dangers of financial stress, or they thought they were “different,” that they could defy the research and be okay. Not so!

If you want a more balanced life, if you want to get rid of some of the stress in your life, one of the quickest ways to do that is to simplify. Separate your “needs” from your “wants.” Learn to live without some things.

As a father, I taught that to my children. It was my responsibility to supply their needs, but it was their responsibility to earn their wants — if they still wanted them.

When one of my kids told me she “needed” a new pair of $120 sneakers, we had to talk. We had to get our definitions straight.

As it turned out, she did need a new pair of sneakers. Her old ones were in pretty bad shape. We agreed on that.

Interestingly enough, $30 bought a very sturdy, fashionable, reputable athletic shoe. But my daughter “wanted” the $120 pair that sported a certain logo and the name of a particular athlete.

So she had a decision to make as a maturing teenager. She could let me supply her $30 need, purchase the sneakers, and be done with it. Or she could take the $30, work and save $90, and buy her $120 shoes. Sometimes she opted for the first choice, and sometimes she went for the second choice.

Today, I’m proud to say that she is a young professional woman, making a very modest salary, but extremely effective in her use of money. She’s free from self- imposed financial stress. She’s learned that it’s not the high cost of living but the cost of living high that causes the problems.

Have you learned to simplify your life? Have you learned to tame your wants and stick closer to your “needs?” It’s a sure way to get more work-life balance.

I’ve learned that as an observer of the Amish culture. I’ve visited several of their homes and attended several of their auctions throughout the country. Even though I wouldn’t want to live the way they do, I think they have a lesson to teach all of us.

Such was the case in Harmony, Minnesota. Outside of town, a man purchased a house next to an Amish farmer. When the new resident pulled in to unload his semi- truck full of furnishings, the Amish farmer came over to help his new neighbor. They brought in the TV’s, stereo’s, VCR’s, DVD’s, and microwaves, along with the washer, dryer, refrigerator, oven and everything else.

When they got all unpacked, the new resident thanked his Amish neighbor. He told him how much he appreciated the help.

The Amish farmer said, “No problem. I’m glad I could help. I just wanted to be a good neighbor.”

Then the Amish farmer said, “If any of these things ever break down, come over and get me.”

“Really?” answered the new resident. “You can fix all these things?”

“No,” replied the Amish man. “I can teach you how to live without them.”

That’s pretty good advice for all of us. We could all live without some things and probably should. We should live beneath our means, not beyond them.

Just remember this–every financial decision has an emotional component. Every financial decision gives you “peace of mind” or “stress of mind.”

For example, you may pay off your credit card every month because it gives you peace of mind. And you may choose to delay your shopping until a significant sale comes around. There are hundreds of financial things you can do that will give you peace of mind. Do them.

Be extremely careful of doing any financial things that give you “stress of mind.” Maybe you’re guilty of buying some things just because they’re cheap, even though you don’t need them or even want them. That will give you stress of mind.

Or maybe you buy something, knowing it’s beyond your budget. You even tell yourself, somewhat jokingly, “I’ll worry about how I pay for it later.” And indeed you do worry about it for a long long time. That’s no bargain. That’s the “stress of mind” that gets in the way of your work-life balance.

Your challenge this week is to live beneath your means. Reject the myth that says it’s the high cost of living. And do those financial things that give you peace of mind.

Action:  List 2 financial things you will stop doing that give you “stress of mind.” And list 2 financial things you will start doing that will give you “peace of mind.” Then do them.