2.45 How Much Money Is Enough For You?

“Money can’t buy happiness, but the absence of money can cause unhappiness. Money buys freedom: intellectual freedom, freedom to choose who you vote for, to choose what you want to do professionally. But having what I call “screw you” money requires a huge amount of discipline. The minute you go a penny over, you lose your freedom again. If money is the cause of your worry, then you have to restructure your life.”

Nassim Taleb


We tend to picture “screw you” money as a minimum hurdle. What’s your “screw you” money amount?

$100K? 1M? $5M? $100M? Everybody has a different answer.

“Screw you” money, in our heads, is a singular amount. Once we have it, life’s problems melt away. When you have X amount of money, you can say “no” to things that you don’t want to do. Nobody owns you. Your life is wholly yours. You have the ultimate degree of freedom.

But reality isn’t filled with straight lines that we can extrapolate forever. Reality is messy, full of nuance. The reality of “screw you” money isn’t a singular amount to cross, but a range to stay between. A dollar too much, and you descend back below that threshold. The formula is reversed, and additional wealth comes at the expense of additional freedom. Sure, you might be “rich” financially, but you don’t have “screw you” money.

Being Poor Sucks!

A graph of wealth vs. happiness looks something like this:

Alice Schroeder’s book, The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life, gave us a sobering look at the home life of the world’s most famous investor. 

Once the kids were grown and gone, Susie decided to move out and left for San Francisco. She and Warren lived apart for 27 years, and while they still talked extensively by phone, he was crushed by what he considered the biggest mistake of his life. “He wandered aimlessly around the house, barely able to feed and clothe himself.”

In May 2021, the world’s 10 richest men had 13 total divorces, with Mark Zuckerberg and Larry Page being the only two still married to their original spouses.

Did billions of dollars make Elon Musk miserable? Did Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, and Jeff Bezos suffer failed marriages because of their $100B net worths? Not necessarily. However, the traits that made them so successful both financially and professionally have also made the other aspects of their lives a living hell.

No one is superman, and we are all limited by time and energy. If you invest maximum effort into your career, your personal life has no  choice but to suffer. The average life matrix looks something like this:

What Does Screw You Money Mean To Me?

I would never want to switch lives with someone struggling to scrape by from week to week, but I certainly wouldn’t want to live Elon Musk’s life either. A lack of money makes you a slave to your wages. Too much money makes you a slave to your net worth.

To me, “screw you” money means I can do whatever I want. Having it is pure, unadulterated freedom with no strings attached. 

Ironically, the best indicator of having “screw you” money is the absence of having to think about money at all. The billionaire hedge fund manager trying to outperform last year’s returns doesn’t have “screw you” money. Neither does the minimum wage worker struggling to survive.

While these individuals reside on opposite ends of the income spectrum, their minds are consumed by thoughts of needing more.

The guy with “screw you” money? He doesn’t think about money much at all.