A Quick Reminder

Here’s is a quick comment about life, money, and value.

There’s only one reason to make more money– so you can buy your life back.

We start our life with a short position on housing, because we’ll always need to work to put a roof over our heads. We also have to feed ourselves, and maybe do the same for our family. Everything else is largely extraneous.

So the point of you having a job is that it’s the alternative to hunting and foraging, and the advantage of a job is that it’s easier to put a couple bucks in the bank than it is to build a granary.

But when you put that couple bucks in the bank, you are effectively buying back your own future, ie the food and shelter you’ll be needing over the course of your life. The more of your future needs you can buy back now, the freer you are.

Henry David Thoreau talked a lot about this in Walden, which was all about freeing himself from all dependencies so that he could enjoy what life was really about. Buy it, read it, treasure it.

Anyway, the trick when you’re making enough is not to get caught up in the rat race– the one where you start thinking that money, status, or fame are important in and of themselves (and start increasing your spending, etc). Then you’ll just be working for work’s sake, and you won’t be able to use the freedom you’ve already bought.

You might also be surprised by how little you can live on. The first year I lived without a job (in 2005 I think), I lived on about $10,000 a year– or about $8,000 US. If I needed to, I think I could do it again. Especially if the other option is to work a 40-hour week.

It’s been said before but I’ll ask again– your money or your life?

Well, which one do you choose?





6 responses to “A Quick Reminder”

  1. Todd Avatar

    Well, so far I’ve had it both ways. My family and I lived for two years in a yurt with no running water or electricity and could get by on as little as $300 USD/month.

    Advantages: Hardly needed to work, could barter for many needs (try organic produce for web design (thanks to use of neighbours house in exchange for paying for their net access and giving them tech support), for example), and loads of time to read, reflect, and parent. It was a lot of work and I was acutely aware of the fact that while I was not paying for a heating bill, I was likely working as many hours cutting wood as I was to pay for my heating bill in the working world.

    Disadvantages: *Very* isolating. Living 15 miles from the nearest town meant that it was a trek to get together for a playgroup with friends, for example. Worst case we were snowed in for 27 days. Not fun. No cultural diversity in that part of the world (the number of visible minorities in that county of 35,000 or so could be counted on 2 hands), little culture period. And of course being in the states, we were just crossing our fingers and hoping we never got sick (we didn’t). Immigrating to Canada wouldn’t have been possible with that lifestyle.

    While I wouldn’t go back and change the past for anything (I learned a lot in that time), I can’t imagine wanting to do it again. We’re all very much city folk. But, of course cost of living is a challenge here. Not really possible to raise a healthy family on $300USD/month here. Hell, rent alone is likely to cost 5x that or more.

  2. Dave Delaney Avatar

    This changes with family. Suddenly there are three more people who depend on your income.

    However, I wouldn’t have it any other way.


    Nice new blog template BTW!

  3. hdbbstephen on Twitter Avatar

    Great reminder. My lovely bride and I made a cross-country trek this past winter while neither of us had “jobs”, freelance work paid for hotels and food and gas, or we stayed with friends and family. It was tremendous and brought us closer together.

  4. Whitney Avatar

    I agree that it’s all about choices- money buys you more options, more comfort, allows you to outsource things and buy back your time. (It reminds me of how much of this even kids can learn just by playing Civilization and learning the balances between providing food, security (armies) etc. and getting along with neighbors.)
    Freedom, regardless, comes from doing what you love, and is as much a mindset as anything else. You can find time for the things you love- you have to make them priorities in your life.

    Knowing the difference between needs and wants is important as well. We’ve made a choice to try to value experiences- travel, especially, with our kids, over stuff. This means less concentration on things and more appreciation for spending time together, having adventures of one sort or another.

    Money doesn’t buy happiness, but it gives you choices, it lets you outsource, it may afford different opportunities. But it doesn’t solve the basic problem of “Who am I?” “What do I want to be or do?” “What’s my contribution going to be?” “What will people remember me for?” “Who do I want to be when I grow up?”

  5. Chris Lamothe Avatar

    I’ll definitely have to check out Walden, although reading Ralph Waldo Emerson’s lament about Thoreau, he said:

    I so much regret the loss of his rare powers of action, that I cannot help counting it a fault in him that he had no ambition. Wanting this [that is, lacking ambition] instead of engineering for all America, he was the captain of a huckleberry party. Pounding beans is good to the end of pounding empires one of these days; but if, at the end of years, it is still only beans!

    Thoreau seems to have taken it to extremes. Sure one can get by on a minimum, but we might best serve society by being more than the minimum.

    You’re right though, it’s not about chasing the all mighty dollar. I gave up half my salary to live in a national park, and would probably give up half again to keep the same lifestyle I have now.

  6. CT Moore Avatar

    In 2005 I was living off of about the same. I’m not convinced, though, that money is freedom. I think freedom is more a lack of need. Money is more like power — the ability to call on resources when you need them.

    Like Robert Greene put it, though, when you’re powerless, you’re gonna be unhappy, so you should probably figure out how to grab some power while you can.

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