Your Money or Your Life, the classic book about financial independence published 25 years ago, is much more than a guide to simplify your life and achieve greater happiness—and it is more relevant today than ever! In this video co-author Vicki Robin gives interviewer Janaia Donalsdon wonderful insights about how much is enough, building community, and creating abundance. Watch now, or read the transcript below.
Transcript: Simplify Your Life! Your Money, Your Life, Your Happiness
Vicki : When we wrote Your Money or Your Life in … We started in 1989, it was one particular era. It was an era when we going in to the go-go ’90’s. People couldn’t believe that that book became a best seller in the ’90’s. It was another gilded era. We were writing it, actually, for this time. We were writing it to prepare as any many people as possible to be living within their means, to be out of debt, to have some savings, to be free and to be unconstrained spiritually, emotionally—to be able to live the lives that they chose rather then lives that they had to. Because we knew we needed a lot of people—sane, balanced and secure—in these times. Because in these times, the walls are coming in. We are feeling the constraints.
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Janaia: Hi. Welcome to Peak Moment. I’m Janaia Donaldson. My guest today has helped to change our lives. It’s Vicki Robin who’s the coauthor of Your Money or Your Life. Actually, we met you and Joe Dominguez through the seminar; the tape seminar, that he did before that. I want to start by saying, we owe you a debt of gratitude because it really did change the trajectory of our lives and getting Rob and I to see what really mattered. A number of our guests … Let me back up, I haven’t introduced … You’re a writer, you’re a speaker, you do teleclasses for people, you are a community activist and have been for a long while here. You call yourself a strategic mettler. We’ll maybe find out what all that entails. Thank you.
Vicki : It’s good to be with you finally.
What is the history of the Your Money or Your Life program?
Janaia beginning at 2:04: Several of our guests have, just along the way in the conversation, have said, “And we did Your Money or Your Life and we shifted our lives.” I’d like you to let our guests know … Our visitors know, what is that? How does it work? Give them a little taste of it.
Vicki : Okay. Your Money or Your Life, I wrote that with Joe Dominguez. It first came out in 1992. It’s based on a seminar that we did from 1980, which is based on a way of life we lived in the ’70’s, which is based on a program that he developed in the 1960’s for his own early retirement. He was one of those geniuses of the ordinary and of reality. He saw things just the way they were. And when people believed that something else … When people said, “Here’s my pet rabbit.” And you say, “There is no pet rabbit.” Well, that was money for Joe. Everybody said, “Money’s so important. Money’s like success and fame.” He said, “There is no rabbit there.” He said, “What’s money really?” Why is everybody so engaged in spending their whole lives in what he called ‘making a dying’ because at the end of the day you’re not more alive than you were at the beginning, so you’re not making a living, you’re making a dying.
Janaia: Dying. Yes. Okay.
Vicki : He did this for himself. He had no intention of teaching or developing some big program and becoming famous. I was one of the first people out of the gate to recognize, “Ah, this is a way that I can not have to fit my square peg in the round hole, or my round peg in the square hole of reality as presented to me—selling my time, talent, love, creativity to somebody else for peanuts.”
Vicki : Can I live a life, according to my own best lights? I adopted it and eventually we started teaching because people were very curious about why we didn’t live the way they lived. That’s the history of it. It’s been around a long time; time tested. As a book, it was a New York Time’s Bestseller. It was five years in the Business Week Bestseller List. It sold a million copies. I think it’s in twelve or thirteen languages now.
How does the Your Money or Your Life program work?
Vicki beginning at 4:18: It’s very, very simple and straight forward. It’s a nine-step program for tracking and evaluating the flow of money and stuff through your life. Asking the question is, “How am I investing my life energy? The hours of my life to get the money that I need to buy the stuff that I have. Is how I’m investing my life energy getting me a life I love? A life I want? Is the game worth the candle? It’s a systematic way to ask that question. It’s not just some sort of you go off for a weekend with your journal and ask it. It’s day by day your object of meditation in, this is the dollars that flow through your life and the stuff that flows through your life. As you buy something, whether it’s the latte or the new electric bicycle … I just bought a new electric bicycle. Whatever you buy, you actually translate that purchase into: how many hours of my life did I invest in this? Is this how I want to spend my life? It really cracks through the whole set of assumptions about, “Well, we’re all going to earn and spend, and earn and spend, and earn and spend, and then we retire and then we’ll …” There’s a whole miasm around money.
We do live in a culture that encourages us to expand our desires, expand our bundle of stuff, fill our garages. People now buy things on EBay and have them delivered to their storage lockers. It’s all part of that more is better mentality. This program gives you the tools to, on a daily basis, crack through those assumptions; crack through that sort of pet rabbit that isn’t there. Often what people do is they’ll drop, if they actually follow it; really integrate it in to their lives, they’ll drop twenty to twenty-five percent of their expenses.
Janaia: We did. We cut them probably close to half.
Vicki : Wow.
Janaia: We realized that that question, when you look at it at the end of each month, I spent that much for my ice creams. Did I get that much times worth of enjoyment worth it? Or, as the gazingus pins that Joe identified, my little pet thing that I want to spend money on. When you start to shift to looking at what you buy in terms of the life energy it took; the hours I had to spend at work doing something I don’t love, and commuting, and having to dress the way I was; all of the costs of doing that. It highlighted what really, “Do I want to put that energy [inaudible 00:06:48]” For me the carrot of saying, “I’m going to retire early and not have to be doing this forever,” was a big carrot.
Achieving financial independence is not the only carrot? What makes life worth living?
Vicki beginning at 6:55: Exactly. Yeah, it was called transforming your relationship with money and achieving financial independence. That is a big carrot. At the same time, I don’t think it’s the only carrot. It’s a bit carrot, it’s not the only carrot. For me, if people could merely pierce through the assumptions around their identity as an economic being. If I have money I’m good, if I don’t have money I’m bad. If I have money I’m good, not only am I good, I’m thinner and more beautiful. If I lose my job …
Janaia: And popular, people will love me.
Vicki : Yeah. If we could just shed that and see money as something that flows through our lives at our own initiation. What makes life worth living? It’s not like, “Oh, the best things in life are free.” Some of them are, but what makes life worth living? Some of them require money, but many of them don’t. We try to buy non-material wealth with money. We try to buy happiness by buying a car. We try to buy love by whatever.
Janaia: Dressing right, or …
Vicki : Dressing right. We’re so confused. If people could simply … I just say, “That’s the baseline financial independence.” You could get financially independent monetarily, but if you don’t go through that questioning process, it’ll just evaporate. You’ll go back to accumulation again.
Janaia: Sure. I think what I loved about the nine steps is that they were all sensible and they weren’t hard. It unwound the mystery about money without a lot of extract talk about it.
Vicki : Right. I love how you said that, “It unwound the mystery around money.” That’s what I think the nine-step program does. It is, it’s very simple. You get square with, how much money have I brought in my life? You do a balance sheet. You do it because you want to discover, “Here I am in the middle of my money life.” I think, “Every time I try to get ends to meet, somebody moves the other end.” People feel stuck; a victim. If you just settle down and take a look at, what have I brought in in my lifetime? What have I spent it on? How much do I have left? What’s flowing through now? How much am I trading an hour of my life for? What’s my real hourly wage? Honestly; let’s take an honest, objective, kind, sort of ironic look at this whole process. Then you just do this over time and you start to become aware of what a job is. It’s not my identity. It’s not I’m a victim of it. It’s just what I do for money. I can work not for money. A lot of us do it now. Most of my work isn’t compensated.
Janaia: I understand. Peak Moment is basically not understood, but I work for other things.
Vicki : Yeah. Exactly. It’s not like a don’t have … I have enough on a material level so that I can spend my time working on investing my love and creativity and things that compensate me because I’m part of a larger life and I like doing them and I like to contribute. It just helps you to parcel all that out so that money just becomes a small necessary part of life in the world that we live in, but it’s not everything.
Janaia: It’s not always the gating item. In our culture, you’re right, we sort of think, “I need to have the money in order to do what I want, to be who I want.” I loved, it’s like Joe just turned it on it’s head and said, “Be that loving person or that generous friend, or be the person that walks dogs, or whatever the be is, and the money will be arriving.” It wasn’t magical like that, but it’s like shifting the inside view of it is simply … It’s a tool. The money is a tool. There are other tools you have.
Vicki : Exactly.
Janaia: Like thinking positively, for example.
Vicki : I love that you remember that. The be do haves.
Janaia: Because so much turns on our head how we’re used to thinking about it.
Vicki : Exactly.
Janaia: If I have all this stuff, then I will be successful and popular and happy.
Vicki : Right.
What is enough for me?
Janaia beginning at 11:13: Except the squirrel cage wheel that you both mentioned in the book, where you get … A certain level there’s enough, and that was a magic word for me. What is enough for me? Not somebody else’s, my enough. There’s things I’m willing to live without because I get more time, or more chances to walk in the woods, or whatever. I liked that self definition of what’s enough.
Vicki : Exactly. That really is, that’s the sort of core that I’ve taken from Your Money or Your Life. What is your enough point; enoughness. What is that experience of enough? How do we have that experience in every aspect of our lives? Enough friends, but not a calender full of appointments where you just go from one person to the next and you repeat yourself. How much is enough community service? There’s some people who are junkies for community service. They can never say no to a committee. Really. How much time to you have to give to your family? The demands or your grown children; thirty-five and thirty-seven. How much is enough of everything. That’s a really radical question. How much is enough food?
Right now I’m doing an experiment in the month of September of a ten-mile diet, which is I’m only eating within ten miles of my home. Except I have four exotics: caffeine, oil, salt and lemons. If I could get local vinegar, I could let go of the lemons. It turns that food thing on its head. We look at food in such an abstract way. How many calories can I have in a day? What do the doctors say? What is the food pyramid? There’s so many different ways to parse food, but not in terms of, what actually am I experiencing? When am I full? What fills me?
Janaia: Where’s your enough?
Vicki : What’s my experience? Taking the tools of Your Money or Your Life, which is simply tracking the flow. I’m tracking the flow of money, stuff, but it could be time. People track time. Take a look, every fifteen minutes or every half hour, whatever they do, they just start tracking, “What am I doing with my time?” Because people will say, “I have no time. I’m always so busy, I have no time. I’ve overwhelmed, or I’m bored.” We have an odd relationship with time. We’re just so stressed about time; how it gets filled. It just gives people a time to examine what’s happening with time, or food, or I have people look at their calendar. Just contemplate your calendar. What’s there and why is it there? When you start to do this with money using these tools, is the gain worth the candle? Who is it who thinks, “I need to do all that stuff?” What need is being filled by saying yes to those people? What need is being filled by chowing down this food? What am I bringing to this situation? You start to wake up. Anything that’s observed changes. The physics is telling us this. Observation changes reality.
Janaia: Just by seeing it it’s not the same.
Vicki : Exactly. Really setting up tools to observe what’s going on in your life to see whether the life you’re living is getting you the results that you want.
What is your experience eating local with your ten-mile food diet?
Janaia beginning at 14:51: I’m intrigued by your ten-mile diet, because that’s of course about eating local.
Vicki : Yeah.
Janaia: September’s a good month. There’s a lot of good harvest and you live in a rural enough area where there’s food here, which is very different from thinking about what’s the composition of food? I’m curious, what’s your experience of eating local is?
Vicki : It started with a friend of mine who’s a market gardener, watched a takeoff on Super Size Me, the Morgan Spurlock thing. She said, “I should have somebody do super veggie me.” She was looking for somebody who would be willing for a month to be simply fed out of her garden. The challenge for her, “Could I feed somebody?” Nobody would do it because of their gazingus pins; they’re gazingus foods. The gazingus pin is like, “I couldn’t give up … I couldn’t live with this or that or the other thing.” I just said, “Sure,” because it was so natural to me. Anytime you experiment with a constraint, you’re going to discover something about yourself in life. For me, a fast; a fasting on anything is an opportunity to get really creative. I think that pertains actually to the times we’re living through because we’re now … I used to be characterized as somebody who taught about voluntary simplicity, but frankly, we’re in that involuntary simplicity time.
Janaia: Yes we are.
Are we perhaps entering a time where simplicity will be involuntary?
Vicki beginning at 16:15: People are being required to reconfigure their expectations of themselves, their expectations of others expectations of life. They have to reconfigure their identify, as long as their identity is wrapped up in what they and have. We’re in a big reconfiguration time, which is really based on the constraints of the moment. It’s the economic constraints. It’s the resource flow constraints. Some people don’t pay attention to it, but actually we are in a condition of overshoot on the planet. We’re in a condition where we are using more every year than we have. We’re going in to ecological debt year by year. It’s like when you go in to credit card debt, year one it seems to be working; year two seems to be working, but eventually you start to feel the edge of your known world and you have no other tools to deal with it because you’ve been living on borrowed time, borrowed credit, borrowed ecological reserves. That’s where we are. We are in this time when we’re starting to face it, to experience, to feel the belt tightening; the natural belt tightening.
Climate change is a factor, but nobody quite knows how that’s going to land. You don’t know whether I’ve picked the right place or not to settle. In this era of constraint, what I love about this ten-mile diet, it’s just my own experiment, but also it’s a piece of examining, how do we feel? What can happen for us at a creative level when we’re in a condition of constraint? When all you’ve got is zucchini, what can you do with zucchini? Rather than saying, “Oh god, all I have is zucchini,” you say, “Oh man, I have this zucchini.” Right now, I’m have … I’m making … I realized going in to this diet what I needed was crunch. Where are my crackers? I’m dehydrating zucchini and I call them zakers. It’s zucchini crackers.
Janaia: Yeah. You get your crunch.
Vicki : Yeah. They give you crunch. Then I have zookies, which is if I put a little local honey on a zacker it’s a zookie.
Janaia: I love it.
Vicki : It’s all good.
Janaia: What I see in that, we can take the news of the constraints, life is built out of constraints. You look at the natural world, part of why plants grow in particular ways is because constraints of the sun or the soil or water and nutrients; all of that. If we can be playful and creative with it, I think that we’re going to come up with some astounding solutions, responses, that challenge us and are fun and interesting.
Vicki : Exactly. We’re going to grow spiritually. We’re going to grow materially. We’re going to grow in skills, and we’re going to grow in community. Just the ten-mile diet, here we go. Tricia, my friend who’s supplying me, we figure about seventy-five percent is just coming from her, she’s up late at night wondering like, “Can I feed Vicki?” I think there’s something to it because some people say, “Oh, I want to grow all of my own food,” but that’s just an isolated experiment. What this is, is relational. This is relational eating. I located somebody who milks a cow in the area, so I’m getting milk from that cow. I located somebody who does beef in my area, so I’m getting … I have beef. My milking day was the day after my diet started. It’s like, “I must have milk in my tea in the morning.” What I had to do is: I know the person who lived across the street from me also got milk from that cow, so it forced me in to a vulnerability in relationship with my neighbor, and I said, “Hi Sarah, can I borrow a pint of milk until tomorrow? I’ll pay you back.” That weaves; the vulnerabilities weave community.
Janaia: Nice thought.
How does simplifying your life build community?
Vicki beginning at 20:27: It does. The community arises from, not from giving necessarily … Of course giving is as important. It comes from the vulnerability of receiving; of being a receiver.
Janaia: That’s a phenomenal thought.
Vicki : It’s reciprocity. That starts the wheel of reciprocity going. This is what I talk about in Your Money or Your Life about financial independence. I say the first layer is the liberation of the mind. The second layer is getting out of debt, because if you’re in debt and you lose your job everything else slides out. Your third layer is having savings equal to six months of expenses so that you have a buffer. When you’re in that chamber between jobs, between identities, between things, you have something to tide you over. It’s having reserves. Then, the next layer is skills. What I’m talking about, we’re going to learn how to make zackers, whatever. I’m probably going to have chickens in my yard eventually just based on this. You start to learn how to take care of yourself. You start to learn, I probably could change that faucet washer myself. I probably could repurpose this dress that I have as something else. I could probably do it. You start to see how you could apply your intelligence and creativity and talent to things.
Then, another layer of financial independence is community. If you have networks of trade, then … It’s all about meeting needs. As you said earlier, we have this fixation on, “I have a need and between that need and me getting that need met is money.” If I don’t have money, I don’t get that need met. Then you start to see that there’s so many ways that you get your needs met. It’s through this reciprocity and capacity building, skillfulness, and that is the blessing. Of course, the whole ideology of the industrial growth economy, most particularly in North America in the United States, has been to separate you from community. The economy grows, it’s like … A couple getting married, that helps the economy, but when they get divorced that really helps the economy because now two whole households. It’s another refrigerator, another freezer, another car. The more separation you can create, the more necessity people have for packing products around them to make their lives work. As we reverse this flow; as we have a less product oriented, less packed, less stuffed life, calendar, time, food, money; as we unpack our lives, we’re going to start to discover those networks of reciprocity and guaranteed … All studies on happiness say that happiness is relational.
Janaia: It strikes me that that’s really where some foundational security … Securities got to be a core word in here, because we’ve been taught the only way to be secure is if you have enough money stashed away so if something happens you pay for some …
Vicki : Exactly.
Janaia: But if you have your network of people who have other connections, that provides the safety net that has been shredded.
Vicki : Exactly. Another thing I’ve been involved with is Transition Whidbey, it’s one of the early transition town groups that we started three years ago. We’ve developed something called the Whidbey Community eXchange. We have a unit of measure called a Terra. Fundamentally what it is is it’s a … It’s like an online trading network. It’s like you join the community; you join the Whidbey Community eXchange. Then you’re in the trading network. You can put anything that you need up there and you can put anything that you have up there. People will go in to the exchange and they think, “Ah god, I need a Skill Saw. Does anybody have a Skill Saw?” There’s somebody there who’s not willing to sell their Skill Saw, but to rent it out to you for X number of Terras. You do that exchange, and then you go in you register the exchange. You go and pay somebody in the system and you are ranked by other traders. How was that trade? Was it an honest trade? Was it a good trade? Did it work? Did it not work? We’re building a trading system with this unit that, you can just-
Janaia: It’s fictitious.
Vicki : It’s fictitious. It’s sort of like based on a dollar, but not really.
Vicki : Right now, it about a hundred and fifty people, I think, who are in that trading network, but as the constraints come in, more and more people will discover that trading network. People might not have dollars to have somebody build a sun room on their house, but they could trade in Terras. They don’t have a job, they can’t trade in dollars. It’s a backup system. Actually, it says in community we trust, in one another we trust.
Janaia: Nice. That’s what you’re living out.
Vicki : It’s disintermediation. It’s where can you take money out of the system, not because it’s bad, evil and wrong, but it’s because it’s everywhere where it shouldn’t be. Start to have relational eating, relational shopping, where … I’m lucky. I live in a beautiful, little south Whidbey island. I live in the little town of Langley. There’s a thousand people who live there. I go down to get my mail and I’m tended. Between the post office and the grocery store there’s at least three conversations that I have where my well being is being tended, where people are tracking me. This rebuilding of community … Community is the answer.
Janaia: What is really nice here in our last half second, we have ten seconds left here, is a lot of people tout community is the answer, but how we get there has been more mystified and you’ve just broken down that mystery; the reciprocity and …
Vicki : And the vulnerability and the connection, the asking, stepping up. Also, knowing your boundaries. That’s the other part of it is to live in community, you now your boundaries. You know how much is enough. You know you’ve given enough, too much, too little. You can say no as well as yes. If you can do that; if you can say no, then your yes means something.
Janaia: Yes, yes, yes, yes, no, no, yes, yes
Vicki : Yes, yes, no, yes.
Janaia: This is wonderful. Thank you. You’ve given us some really juicy material for people. You’re watching Peak Moment. I’m with Vicki Robin. We’re discussing enough and vulnerability and community and abundance. Join us next time.
Footnotes and Credits:
This video was produced by www.peakmoment.tv and published on YouTube Dec 30, 2010 on their YouTube channel PeakMoment. They own the copyrights to their videos. I have permission to embed this using their Standard YouTube License onto this educational website.