This Simple Thought Experiment Helps You Determine Just How Much Money Is ‘Enough’ Money

Thought Experiment Determines How Much Money Is Enough


One of those types of articles that you can find on the internet regardless of when you look are stories which purport to tell you how much you need to have saved by a certain age.

It’s an easy topic to write about because regardless of whether you are right or wrong about what you’re writing, most people will really have no freaking idea.

People think, “Hey, this guy writes about money. I don’t write about money. He must know more than me. I am basically broke. I should listen to him.”

After all, a couple of years ago a survey of Americans found that 20 percent of them would be willing to swim in a pool of sharks to get out of debt. We’re desperate.

Related: 125 People Were Gifted $500 A Month For Two Years, No Strings Attached, And Here Are The Results

So, while I am here writing about money, I want you to know that I am no expert. I am just like you, looking for some financial guidance.

Which is why I am sharing a simple thought experiment that can help you finally determine what your ultimate financial goals should be. BONUS: you don’t have to do any math.

A recent article on discussed a thought experiment by writer Brad Stollery, who I assume knows more about money than I do (see?) and is an Eagles fan, which goes a little something like this…

“Suppose you’re one of five people who have been selected by a mysterious philanthropist to participate in a contest,” he writes. “The five of you all have comparable debt-levels and costs-of-living, as well as similar, middle-class financial situations. You’re all roughly the same age, equally healthy, have the same number of children, and you all live moderately low-risk lifestyles.

“Privately, and one by one, a representative of the donor approaches each of you with a blank check and a pen, and poses the following question: ‘How much money would you have to be paid, right here and now, to retire today and never receive another dollar of income (from any source) for the rest of your life?’

“The catch this time is that whoever among the five players writes the lowest amount on the check will be paid that sum. The other four players will get nothing.

“There are no strings attached here, no debt you will owe for submitting the successful bid, no obligation to be in the public spotlight. The winning player gets the exact sum of money they requested, no questions asked. The money will also grow at the rate of inflation, meaning that if you lock it away it’s value won’t erode over time. Lastly, it’s a secret ballot: you cannot know the answer anyone else gave, and they can’t know yours. And remember, if you win, you have to live off that sum forever.

“So, how much do you ask for?”

Uh, so, what exactly does that accomplish?

For that we turn to Jessica Stillman, the author of the aforementioned article. She writes for – she has to know a lot about money, right? I mean, look…

Works for me!

Here’s how she explains it.

This thought experiment forces you to cut away the natural impulse to aim ever upward (if you do that you’ll bid too high and get nothing). That result is however much you ask for is your number, the amount you’d need to live comfortably and pursue your goals if status and lifestyle inflation weren’t a factor.

Your answer might be a little bit higher or lower than mine or your neighbor’s. That’s fine. It’s not important everyone agree on a number. The important thing is that we each reflect enough to have one.

Because the alternative is being one of those people confessing online how you burn through a healthy six-figure salary and still feel stressed and dissatisfied. Your expenses and desires can be infinite. If you don’t want to chase them miserably forever, you need to put a cap on your financial ambitions yourself.

Hmmm… maybe she really does know a thing or two about money. Thanks, guys!

Doug avatar
Before settling down at BroBible, Douglas Charles, a graduate of the University of Iowa (Go Hawks), owned and operated a wide assortment of websites. He is also one of the few White Sox fans out there and thinks Michael Jordan is, hands down, the GOAT.