It's pretty clear by now that I have a different relationship with money than when I started Get Rich Slowly. I'm by no means perfect with the stuff, but I've become firmly entrenched in the camp that sees money as a tool. (I used to see it only as a means to instant gratification.)
Here's a tiny example.
Taking a page out of Trent's book, Kris has been on a crock pot kick lately. This morning she tried a new swiss steak recipe. “Can you do me a favor?” she asked before leaving for work. “Can you make some mashed potatoes to go with dinner?”
“Of course!” I said. I make awesome mashed potatoes.
Well, as the day progressed, I became less enthused about the whole potato mashing process. As you might guess, it had something to do with The Book. Though I finished the manuscript last Friday, that's not the end of the work. In fact, I've been buried in editing ever since.
This morning, I started editing the chapter on housing. I expected it take only four hours. Instead, it took seven. Next I rushed to start editing the chapter on taxes and insurance, but discovered it's packed with problems that need to be fixed. I turned instead to the chapter on debt. More problems.
“I don't have time to mash potatoes,” I thought. “I have to edit.”
And though I know this sounds strange, it was then that I had an epiphany. All these months and years, I've written about the notion of Money as a Tool, and I've sort of understood it intellectually. But it wasn't until this moment that I actually knew what the concept meant: It meant I was stopping by the supermarket to pick up some mashed potatoes!
Money as a Tool
It's difficult to describe the relationship I used to have with money. It seemed like the ultimate objective. It was what I wanted. Yet I didn't do anything to earn or save the stuff. Instead, I'd spend it without thinking. When I spent more than I could afford to buy comics and videogames, I got a little thrill. It felt like I was somehow cheating the system.
I know now that the only one I was cheating was me. It took me years to pay off the debt I racked up by “cheating”. Now I really do see money as a tool. Monetary wealth isn't the goal. Happiness is the goal. Doing the things that make life meaningful for me — reading, writing, spending time with friends — is the goal. Money is useful because it can help me do these things. Used wisely:
- Money buys time. I think we all understand this abstractly. Sometimes, as in the silly case of my mashed potatoes, money almost literally buys time, but it's usually more subtle than this. When I think of my retirement savings, I think that every dollar buys me a certain amount of future time with which I can do as I wish.
- Money helps you meet your goals. It helps you do the things that need to get done. To use another example from my book-writing process, I've paid to buy books and journal articles to support my research. As I begin to focus on fitness, there's no question that money helps me better pursue my objectives. If I don't spend on Stuff and nonsense, I can use money to pursue my priorities.
- Money makes life easier. This one's obvious I suppose, but you can use money to take away some of the drudgery in life. You own a car so you don't have to walk or ride the bus. You might pay the neighbor kid to mow the lawn. Or, in my case, I rent office space so I can have a “fortress of solitude” in which to write.
For me, the transition from using money for instant gratification to using it for bigger purposes has been a slow one. It took a long time to even realize how stupid I was being. After I became financially self-aware, it took a few years more to break my old habits, though I finally seem to be gaining some degree of self-control. (As I mentioned last week, I haven't used money to buy anything on impulse yet in 2010. That amazes me.)
And I've reached a place in my life where I can buy mashed potatoes from the grocery store and not feel an ounce of guilt because I know I'm practicing conscious spending.
$8 Per Hour
Normally, I think of supermarket mashed potatoes as a sort of rip-off. For $3.99, you get a pound-and-a-half of mediocre spuds. For four bucks, I could make twenty pounds of home-made mashed potatoes that taste much, much better. But was that $3.99 a rip-off today? Hell no! It was a bargain. That $3.99 bought me an extra 30 minutes to work on Your Money: The Missing Manual. To me, that's cheap.
Of course, there's just one problem: I didn't actually use that 30 minutes to work on The Book. I used it to write this blog post instead. Ah well. Sometimes the things you build with your tools don't turn out the way you'd planned…
Postscript: Kris and I have eaten dinner now. Her verdict? “These mashed potatoes are tasty,” she told me. (For the record, I was unimpressed.)
Author: J.D. Roth
In 2006, J.D. founded Get Rich Slowly to document his quest to get out of debt. Over time, he learned how to save and how to invest. Today, he's managed to reach early retirement! He wants to help you master your money — and your life. No scams. No gimmicks. Just smart money advice to help you reach your goals.