January 25, 2013 § 21 Comments
In a bit less than six months, my next book comes out. It’s called SAVED: How I Quit Worrying About Money and Became the Richest Guy in the World. In full candor, I’m not entirely sure how I feel about this title, which does not really covey the complexity of the issues the book explores. On the other hand, there’s a certain truth to it that I appreciate: On some level, I do feel as if through the process of writing SAVED I was saved from much of my angst over money and furthermore, that I have evolved into a world view rooted in an appreciation of the immense non-monetary wealth surrounding me.
The truth is, however, that I have not fully quit worrying about money. This reality was brought into distressingly sharp focus this week, with the arrival of a statement from the holder of my dormant IRA account, to which I have not contributed in many, many years. In fact, I’d forgotten the damn thing even existed, and given the paltry sum it represents, it might as well not. At some point about a decade ago, Penny and I made a conscious decision to fully commit to our long-held belief that our best “investments” would be in our land and infrastructure, the retirement of our debt, and time spent with our boys. Any money that might have been squirreled away as a safety net for an unknown future has instead been spent on things like fruit trees and soil minerals. Two greenhouses. A pond. Our last mortgage payment was three years ago, and we carry no other debt. Our primary vehicle is a 17-year-old Subaru. (Not so long ago, Penny picked up a hitchhiker. He got in, twitched his nose, and said “This car smells like the farm I used to work on.”) Over the past decade, I have steadily earned less and less, to the point where we now live on just under $30,000 per year. This allows me a degree of autonomy regarding how I spend my time that has become unusual in contemporary America, and for this I am enormously grateful.
Nine days out of ten, I feel good about our decisions around money. I truly feel as if I have quit worrying about money and become the richest dude in the whole cotton pickin’, dangblam world. But on about every tenth day, I get a little panicky. Yeah, we have some savings, but it ain’t much. And yes, I have enough work lined up that I can claim job security, at least for the next six months or so. Hell, that’s more than an awful lot of my friends and neighbors can claim. But still: The nature of my work means that I am responsible for maintaining my income flow. Once one project ends, there are only three people I can rely on to find the next: Me, myself, and I.
I’ll leave you with this short excerpt from SAVED and ask, if you’re interested in sharing, about your relationship to money.
Yet I cannot deny a certain degree of resentment that money – or a lack thereof – commands so much of my attention and generates the overwhelming majority of the strife I experience. I cannot help feeling somewhat bitter that, no matter how hard we try, no matter what deprivations we endure (and there have been plenty, I assure you), Penny and I remain beholden to the monetary realm. I am bothered by the fact that for the majority of my adult life, I have fretted over money. And then, ridiculously, I fret over my fretting: Why have I allowed myself to worry so much? I have never gone hungry, or spent a night unsheltered from the elements. I have never even been at risk of these things. Most of my worry, I have come to realize, has emerged from a place of uncertainty and fear. Not over the present, mind you, or even the medium term future, but over the belief that I should be accumulating monetary wealth in preparation for an unknown future. Why? Because it’s what I’ve been told I must do; it’s what we all have been told we must do. And so we collect the nuts, trading our time – which is to say, our life – for them, and squirreling them away and then worrying about whether or not they’re squirreled in the right place, at high enough return, to enable us to live the life we someday hope to live.