by Mitch Anthony

In the truest sense, freedom cannot be bestowed; it must be achieved.” — Franklin D. Roosevelt

Recently I read that 42 percent of Americans plan to downsize, in part to help stretch their retirement dollars. The article also talked about other reasons for downsizing: less maintenance, smaller utility bills, and lower property taxes.

To me, that sounds a lot like Return on Life™—living the best life possible with the resources you have.

Simplifying your life has both monetary and psychological benefits. Why have a 4,000 square foot home when one that is 1,500 square feet will do? There’s a reason Millennials are attracted to smaller spaces. If you’re in a part of the country where property values have climbed—it may be a good idea for your clients to think about making a move, especially if they’re now empty-nesters and don’t need the extra space.

The idea of simplification certainly isn’t new. In 1913, the Mayo brothers provided a large endowment to the University of Minnesota ($1.5 million dollars, which is about $28 million today). In a speech William Mayo made when presenting the contribution, he posed the question, “How much do we really need?”  Specifically, he talked about “moneys which should accumulate over and above the amount necessary for living under circumstances which would give favorable conditions to work and to prepare reasonably for our families…”

Dr. Mayo’s reference to “how much” was directed at money, but it could have easily applied to housing, cars, clothing—you name it.

I meet a lot of people who feel as if they are on the never-ending treadmill of trying to “get ahead.” My response has always been, “Ahead of what?”

Ahead of debt accumulated for things they don’t have time to enjoy or for houses that have rooms that go unused? Ahead of some of the unrealistic expectations they may have placed upon their lives? Ahead of others’ opinions of how well they have succeeded?

Getting a clear head is a far more liberating alternative to the frantic pace of getting ahead. We would all do well to get a clear head in three areas:

1. Debt that gets in the way of freedom.
2. Understanding that I am where I am, and I’m going to enjoy it.
3. Taking responsibility that this is my life, and I’ll write the script.

One of the great lessons my father taught me early in life was to always attempt to live on half of what I earn. That additional 50 percent serves to provide a buffer against accidents, rainy days, health issues—against the unpredictability of life. I’m often told that this is an unrealistic goal today—maybe it’s our assumed lifestyle entitlement that is unrealistic.

Once we clear our heads by grasping the reality that unnecessary debt is a major source of stress in our lives, we need to clear our minds and relax about where we are in life. Do we really need two cars, or will one do? Does that car always need to be the latest and greatest model?

Life does not consist of the abundance of things, but of the abundance of enjoying where we are and who we are with.

Simplification leads to satisfaction.

“Return on Life” is measured by how relaxed and fulfilled we are in the circumstances we find ourselves in.

Sometimes we put unrealistic expectations on ourselves about where we should be in the whole scheme of things at a certain point, or a certain age. But these expectations only haunt us if we allow them space. We can begin by clearing our heads of any thoughts standing in the way of finding contentment today (such as the comparisons we make with others). There is a lot to enjoy right now––right where we are at, doing what we’re doing.

The point is to stop living comparatively and to start living contentedly—regardless of how old (or young) you are, or your circumstances.

Life is like a movie that plays out one scene at a time. One scene leads to another. Conflicts arise, and conflicts are resolved. Each of us would benefit from making sure those scenes are of our own choosing.

The script for your movie is up to you to write. Any expectations placed upon you by others should be left on the cutting-room floor. Live as well as you wish––within your means. By doing so, you make sure your time belongs to you. Be content with what you have right now. If you can’t enjoy it now, you won’t enjoy something more later. Live out your own script, and the odds are that the movie will end the way you want it to. That’s not getting ahead…that’s being ahead.

© 2017 Mitch Anthony

Mitch Anthony advises financial services organizations throughout the world. An industry pioneer, he is a popular speaker and consultant, and the developer of MyFLPTools, a subscription-based service that provides a suite of discovery tools for financial services professionals. He and Steve Sanduski have developed the Retirement Coaching Program and ROL Advisor to help advisors build a Life-Centered Planning™ practice. A regular contributor to Financial Advisor magazine, Mitch is the author of more than a dozen books including the industry bestseller, StorySelling for Financial Advisors and The New Retirementality, now in its fourth edition. Contact Mitch at [email protected] or visit