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Does money run your life?

Even if you answered ‘no,’ I’ll bet that it does. Unless you inherited a trust fund worth millions or you live off the land, money is the method by which your work is converted to goods. More accurately, it is the social accounting system by which your adherence to the economic system is measured.

It is a factor in almost every decision we make on a daily basis.

Money is why we get dressed every day. It’s why we venture out in the cold early morning to punch a clock, likely performing tasks we hate. Either that, or it’s because we love our families and want a warm, dry home for them.

Like it or not, money runs your life, and if you aren’t making ends meet, chances are you think about money a lot.

Even if things are going well for you, I’ll bet you think about money a great deal. I know I do.

Despite having worked hard to achieve this:

  • 100% Debt free. No car loans, no student loans, no credit cards, no bookies, no mortgage.
  • Adequate Emergency Fund ($20,000 cash, plus almost $30,000 in unused credit card balances I can tap)
  • Near-passive side income of a few hundred dollars each month
  • Fully funding Roth IRAs and additional funds to taxable brokerage account
  • My wife is able to stay at home with our 4 year old
  • $3,700 saved towards a European vacation

…I still find myself thinking about money almost hourly.

And while I don’t worry about money as much as I used to, I constantly think about my paycheck coming in two weeks as if it were a long-awaited visitor. This is what Eckhart Tolle calls the “self talk,” the incessant worrying and analyzing and conversating with your self.

I would be remiss if I allowed you to believe that I didn’t feel better about my situation given the success that hard work has brought me.

But now that I’m more secure, I find myself worrying about different things, like:

  • Will I be able to save enough for retirement?
  • Will my pension cover my living expenses?
  • Will my pension even exist when I’m old?
  • Will the Federal Reserve and Congress greatly devalue currency?
  • Why do I feel like I’m not making it?
  • Will Social Security be there for me?
  • Should I be saving for my kids’ college?
  • Is it silly to worry about money since we have so many social welfare lifeboats?


The Creation of the Consumer

In the good old days, people formed small communities and bartered what they needed. The blacksmith would shoe your horse so long as you share the fruit of the plow. The town doctor would gladly accept payment in eggs and sausage.

In these good old days, those who attempted to “sell” items that weren’t needed were likely not welcomed into town. Think of the stereotypical quack selling a heal-all tonic. If his product provided a real benefit, you better believe some town would have welcomed him with open arms. But the very fact of his nomadic lifestyle was simply a byproduct of his lies.

The American people were not naturally free spenders. In fact, it took a dedicated effort by the marketers of the time to create the Post-Depression consumer out of what was traditionally a penny-pinching people.

These days, it’s not so easy to tell what we need, as the line between wants and needs is blurred. We are to blame, I suppose. Do we really need 24 different types of laundry detergent? Is a new hard drive that stores twice as many terabytes important?

Money Is Noise

Money has become noise, and it’s impossible to tune out. The point is, it has become nearly impossible for any of us to go even an hour without thinking of money.

Maybe I’m just allowing my general tendency towards worrying and paranoia to rule – but just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean they are not after you.

And by “after you,” I mean everyone wants you to spend, even those who should be encouraging you to save. I’m not sure how much longer this experiment can last, where we become more resistant to the idea of providing retired folks with a monthly check, while at the same time encouraging them to work until they die.

Wage Slavery

I’ve talked about wage slavery, or being trapped in a cycle of work in order to survive, many times before.

In fact, capitalism itself is more than just an economic system; it is a way to force people to work.

Much like socialism.

What makes it superior to socialism, however, is that you at least have an outside shot of lucking your way into something big, or faking your way in. Though social mobility is ‘almost’ a myth in American capitalism, you at least have a shot of hitting it big.

How are you Helping Your Master?

If money is your master, why are you aiding him?

Why do you spend more than you earn each month? Why do you buy $40 t-shirts? Why do you need a new car every two years? Why are you resigned to working until you are 75?

Is it because he is everything and everywhere, seemingly untouchable?

I’m sure there are many out there who believe money is a religion, and they are probably right. Despite those who tell us that we are on our own, if we lose our jobs, we get 99 weeks of checks. We get a monthly food allowance. We are told not to worry when a new report shows that our country produces more with less.

Higher productivity, higher unemployment.

So What’s the Answer?

I have no idea.

I don’t even know if there is an answer.

To quote Operation Ivy, “all I know is that I don’t know nothing.”

If I tell you the key to success is living on less than you earn, what can I say when you reply that you can only save $250 per month?

While a lot of personal finance blogs will say WOW THAT’S GREAT – SEE, YOU CAN DO IT! I might be quicker to tell you that if you can’t do better than that, you will never get ahead.

Sorry to burst your bubble.

You are doing a good job, but the powers that be are working even harder to ensure that good will never be good enough. If every American were to embrace frugality and reject materialism, how many companies would fail? How many jobs would be lost? Needless to say that there are many people vested in your personal failure.

If you want to live a semi-normal life, you have to spend money – money on kids’ activities like sports; tithing to your church; new clothes every once in a while. There are plenty of blogs giving you advice on how to live ultra-frugally. While this is not incorrect advice, it does cause you to live a boring and meaningless life. What fun is it to scrimp to the bone for 25 years then realize you have no friends or family to share your retirement with? I’m not saying that there is a one-size-fits-all approach, but being an active participant in what we call a “normal middle class American life” means that sometimes you have to spend $50 to get a babysitter so you can take your wife to a $70 dinner.

Perhaps this is where all this anxiety is coming from, the difficulty in reconciling the life you want with the life you must live if you truly want to save money.

Maybe the problem is me. Maybe working until your 70 isn’t that bad, given that most of the truly difficult jobs like factory work are disappearing. Who am I to care if I have to work that long, if it simply means cranking out reports from a comfortable chair in a climate-controlled office?

I suppose I’m just naturally skeptical towards authority.

So what am I doing to move beyond money?

The first step was realizing that I WANT to move beyond money. I used to derive a great deal of satisfaction from obsessing about my financial picture. Watching my debt-load go down every two weeks was liberating. Using math and spreadsheets to test different repayment strategies was a fun way to pass the long road to debt freedom.

But now that I’m there, I’m not going to lie: saving money is boring.

Transferring from my spending account to my savings buckets is boring. Not buying a new TV and audio system is boring. Feeling like I’ve climbed out of a hole only to realize there’s a mountain to climb, one step every two weeks…is scary…then boring.

To help, I’ve automated the paying of all my bills, minus my credit card. Not only does this give me a few less things to worry about each month, it works to take out some money thoughts.

To help, I am saving a decent amount each month for fun things. I’m willing to scrimp and save on most everything, but only if it leaves me with a nice hunk of money to spend on my passion – international travel. Since I only take one major trip every other year and will do it without incurring debt, I don’t feel bad about it.

It’s time to move beyond money. It’s time to stop checking your Mint app every three hours. This is a good thing. It’s hard to get there. It’s hard to enjoy. But it must happen as you become a money adult.

John Miro