When I was a kid my family had a Commodore 128 computer. The vast majority of the time spent on this computer was in playing video games. We had a game called Ghostbusters which, of course, was modeled after the hit movie of the same name.
The object of the game was to respond to calls of high paranormal activity in buildings all around New York City. At the start of the game you are given an allowance of funds with which you can buy gear for catching ghosts. The amount of money that you start with is enough to buy the cheapest car and a minimum of ghost catching gear — just 1 Slimer trap, and not even enough money to buy an Ecto-1. When the trap is full, you have to return to Headquarters to empty the trap. You get paid for each ghost that you catch.
As the game progresses, the Keymaster and the Gatekeeper arrive on the scene. These two wander rather aimlessly around the city until they finally arrive at Zuul. When they arrive at Zuul, if you have caught enough ghosts (it was never clear to me what metric was used to determine whether you had caught enough), you are given the opportunity to sneak through the legs of a dancing Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, take a trip to the roof of Spook Central, cross the streams and win the game. If you manage to do all this, you get a code that you can use the next time that you play so that you can enter the game with more money.
What does all this have to do with personal finance and avoiding lifestyle inflation? Well, it was my experience that no matter how much money I earned in the game, it never did me any good to buy more and better equipment. Some of the options available were 4 different cars, each faster than the next, as well as the ability to buy several traps. Having more than one trap allowed you to catch more than one ghost before having to return to headquarters to empty it, and having a better car allowed you to get from ghost call to ghost call and back to headquarters much faster. It seemed, however, that the more money that you spent up front, the harder and faster you had to work to catch enough ghosts before the Keymaster and the Gatekeeper got together at Zuul. In fact, it was so hard to catch enough ghosts, that I was never able to beat the game by using anything more than the most minimal gear available.
I’ve been thinking of the parallels between this game and personal finance for a long time, and more lately as I read the popular personal finance book Your Money or Your Life by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez (more on that later…). I’m finding it less and less useful to want to make more and more money if one of the big problems that it’s going to create for me is to need to keep making more and more money to support our lifestyle. I would much rather be happy with what we’ve got and use any money that we happen to make above and beyond what we need to boost our retirement savings and lower our retirement age. Coming to realize that we don’t need more stuff or a bigger house to make us happy has been a very freeing realization, and one that will allow us to maintain our lifestyle more easily over time.