How Much Money Is Actually Enough?

Michelle Blake on what it took for her to do the math, stop feeling financially strapped and start counting her blessings

by Michelle Blake
balloon tied to money image
Photograph: Dan Saelinger

I can say, though, that I am saner than I used to be; that I share more of my time and money; and that I feel grateful almost every day, the exceptions being those days on which I lose sight of the big picture. Facts, clarity and gratitude have turned out to be the best remedy for my fears.

A few years ago, a friend gave me an image that serves as a touchstone.

Ira and I were in graduate school together when he told me the story of his family: His Jewish grandmother, father and uncle had arrived in this country at the end of World War II, as penniless survivors of a concentration camp in Kiel, Germany. His father held a variety of jobs until he finally saved enough to found a medical diagnostic company. Over the years, the family worked together to make that company a success.

Ira and I are still close, and we often spend a week together on Cape Cod with our families. One afternoon on a Wellfleet beach, we reminisced about our lives and our great good fortune in the world. We'd both married wonderful people and had two beautiful children apiece. We had love and work and income and peace.

We could hear the voices of the children, returning from a swim, and knew that signaled the end of conversation. As he stood to watch the kids, Ira said, “I know one thing. If you lined up everyone in the world, front to back, from most fortunate to least fortunate, I figure I could see the front of the line.”

Though his family members had lived through an abomination and struggled for years afterward to survive, Ira was saying, Let's look at the facts. Today we are reposing on a beach on a summer afternoon. We are safe in our houses at night. We choose where we want to live, what we will wear, how we will make our living. We wake up rested and know we will be able to feed everyone we love, all day long.

I return to that insight often, especially when I am sinking into the delusional morass of not enough.

We can see the front of the line.

It is, perhaps, the most sensible thought about dollars I have ever heard.

Michelle Blake is working on a collection of essays, Grown Children. Her website is


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First Published November 23, 2011

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