I forget, occasionally, why I care so much about money. I know that the easy answers are “I do it for my children” or “I do it for financial freedom” or even – if we’re honest with ourselves – “I do it for stuff.” In the western world, in America in particular, it’s hard to forget money for a minute.
But money can’t be the reason for life. Money’s just a symbol for other things. It’s the placeholder for a vacation, or a college education, or payments on a medical bill. Trying to pretend it represents status or security or happiness is a false choice. It means nothing other than a temporary victory against time.
If you had all the time in the world to work, you’d have all the time in the world to earn what you needed to get what you want. You use money to bridge the gap between your lack of time and your desires. I’d like to have enough time to earn enough money to obtain everything I want in terms of material goods – without working too hard in the meantime to acquire it.
Every iPod, every plasma TV, every air conditioned car and every creature comfort represents a few seconds or minutes or hours (or more) of your life that you traded for things. Some things are necessary – I like having a refrigerator, for example. But I regret my mortar and pestle. A few minutes of my life were spent earning the money I exchanged for something useless.
I‘m sure you’ve read plenty of screeds against materialism on the web. Books like Your Money or Your Life hammer this point home. I talked about Early Retirement Extreme – a good primer for another way of thinking. But why do we do it? We do it because, no matter what anyone says, spending our measure of days on Earth is not as pleasurable without things or experiences. Without that dinner on the bay in Barcelona, or the air conditioned car, or the gleaming black tux at New Year’s life would be a little less. We can do without a lot, but not without everything.
Nobody needs an Xbox, or jewelry, or new books… but these things make the days a little better and a little brighter. We can all determine what price these things are worth, but I’m tired of the idea that any glimmer of consumption in the pursuit of happiness is a flaw in one’s character. All of us can look around and see someone who lived a shorter life than they hoped for, and wonder why they saved or delayed living a little fuller life. Nobody should be wasteful or spendthrift, but trade your time for money wisely. Financial freedom is a worthy goal, but a life fully lived – which may mean some money spent – is also an end to be admired.