This article is by William Cowie.

Pumpkins and a message of thanks

During the past year (and in years prior), all of us at Get Rich Slowly have been focused on money. And yes, that includes you. If you count them, I suspect the comments contain more words than the posts.

GRS would be nothing without you. None of the writers or editors here profess to have all the answers about how best to manage our personal finances. And that’s precisely why the site is set up to offer the opportunity for all to participate. At times the debate may get a little spirited; but through it all, the goal of putting our heads together never wavered. It’s how we figure out what will help us get ahead in an era when getting ahead seems tougher than ever.

We say thank you for being a part of our community and making it one of the better communities on the Internet.

The themes of personal finance

Comments, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, contain what we can call “strains” — several people over several months say the same thing in various ways. One of the recent recurring strains hinted that perhaps the site over-emphasizes money: saving it, making it, investing it and the discipline required to spend less of it.

It is true that several posts dealt with what some would call extreme measures to save or make money. During the past year we interviewed two couples and an individual who achieved extraordinary financial success by employing what some would call extreme measures. I wrote a post in summer about a higher level of dedication needed to recover lost ground. In response to those posts (and others) a strain which kept showing its head was something along the lines of, “Hey, there is more to life than just focusing on money.”

And while that is true, a certain preoccupation with money on this site is inevitable. Getting rich slowly, by definition, deals with money. That means that every topic is chosen because it addresses our money and how we handle it every day.

Nevertheless, perhaps we need to step back and just articulate what is in the back of our minds at least once a year.

Money is a means, not an end

Money doesn’t buy happiness, but it is one of the tools in our toolkit for achieving what we all strive for: happiness (however we define that).

But money is by no means the only tool in the kit.

Others are perhaps more significant: spending time with kids and family, good relationships with neighbors, coworkers and friends, and enjoying the pursuits which put smiles on our faces. For some, it’s careening down rocky mountainsides on two wheels in summer or a flat plank in winter; for others, it might be shopping, reading, writing, painting, gardening or snapping pictures and videos of cute grandkids or pets.

You can’t help but notice, though, that while being happy looks different for everyone, being broke can be a severe impediment. It is a lot easier to enjoy the grandkids if you can afford the plane fare, or to garden when you can afford some mulch and a few bulbs.

Money is part of life’s flow: We all have some crossing our thresholds on a fairly regular basis. Our challenge is to manage that money in a way that facilitates our happiness. The term which comes to mind is “stewardship”: If we are good stewards of the money crossing our threshold, we just improve our chances of happiness. As someone once said: A house where the finances are in order generally has more peace.

Money can’t guarantee happiness — let’s just say that out loud — but it is a tool to help us get there. How well we steward our money, therefore, does affect how much happiness we achieve.

And so, we continue what J.D. Roth started — a community where we all share our thoughts in order to help each other along that path. And just because we don’t say it every day doesn’t mean we are not conscious of the fact that money is no more than one of several means to achieve the happiness for which we all strive.

Giving thanks

Regardless of to whom you think you need to give thanks, it is important to acknowledge that those of us living in America have a lot to give thanks for, much of which we take for granted. I am from South Africa, as some know (where I’ll be summering next month). My wife and I are blessed to have many friends and family scattered across the globe, so we have a pretty steady stream of foreign visitors every year.

What’s the first thing almost everyone comments on when they come to visit? The roads. Compared to most of the world, America has nice roads. (Did you know that?) We may grumble every time we have to stop for road construction; but in many countries, you can’t drive more than 20 miles per hour because of the potholes and ruts. Have you ever given a thought of appreciation for paved roads? I will confess I didn’t … until those repeated comments opened my eyes.

When our guests leave, we usually ask them what impressed them the most about their stay. Surprisingly, it is not the malls, movies or national parks we take them to see. More often than not, it is two simple words: “Everything works.” We may find fault with banks, stores, telephone companies, websites or cable companies; but in most parts of the world, it is a lot worse … and many don’t have cable at all. Murder, rape and robbery are not nearly as prevalent here as in most other places around the world — cause for considerable thanksgiving.

We tend to even take Thanksgiving dinner for granted; but people in the deserts and jungles of Asia and Africa would die just to get the leftovers, which they could manage to stretch for several weeks. Most would regard our garages as lovely homes, our homes as palaces. In the big picture, Americans — even those we would consider below middle class — are the one-percenters of the world.

This is not to inspire any manner of guilt; it is only to stop a second and recognize how much we have in America to give thanks for.

Perspective

We plan to have our friend Kathy over for Thanksgiving dinner. She lost her husband earlier this year, right before their 44th anniversary. However, every time she talks about “my John,” it is with gratitude for the 43 years, not the hassle and pain (both of which were considerable) she endures. Her perspective is always on the half-full glass.

All of us have one or more situations or events in our lives which are, shall we say, less than desirable. Those circumstances are often not of our own choosing … but our response, our perspective, is.

A time like this is a good opportunity to stop the hamster wheel for a second or two, and rethink our attitudes toward the problem situations in our lives. Factually, they are what they are, and chances are there is little we can do to change them. But our attitudes, our perspectives, those are entirely under our own control. Are we whiny about those problems? Or are we figuring out ways to move forward? The answer is up to us entirely.

The future

You have heard it said here and many other places that the economy’s recovery from the Great Recession (such as it is) is now more than six years old. In economic-cycle years, that’s up there. Past history would suggest we are not too far from the next downturn, although nobody can tell with any precision how far off that still is.

Downturns inevitably bring pain of some sort: People lose their businesses or get laid off, possibly losing their homes.

Finances well managed do lessen the pain, however. Those with emergency funds inevitably fare better than those without. Those with high payments endure more repossessions and humiliation than those who keep out of debt. Managing our money well doesn’t only contribute to future happiness, it also helps cushion any unforeseen blows.

So helping each other get to the best place money-wise is why we come together on Get Rich Slowly. Everyone here participates in helping each other get through tough times the easiest and to get the most from the opportunities which present themselves. None of us can do it without the others. So on Thanksgiving Day, let us be grateful for each other and the contribution everyone makes to our individual ability to learn about how to manage our finances.

Thank you, one and all.

GRS is committed to helping our readers save and achieve their financial goals. Savings interest rates may be low, but that is all the more reason to shop for the best rate. Find the highest savings interest rates and CD rates from Synchrony Bank, Ally Bank, and more.