Someone asked me this recently:
What is your philosophy on money?
“Oh, that’s easy!” I said. And then it wasn’t so easy.
I thought about the question for a while and couldn’t come up with anything. No big deal; sometimes it takes me awhile to arrive at a good answer. I went for a walk which is usually helpful, but my brain wasn’t cooperating. After a week, still nothing. Then, I had an epiphany. The question was wrong.
Invert, always invert. -Carl Jacobi
Jacobi’s quote is one of my favorites. He realized that some problems must be solved by thinking about the solution and working backwards.
The philosophy of money question didn’t sit well with me because money isn’t really the goal. Money is just a facilitator. If money isn’t the goal though, what is? Some of my goals:
- Keep my body in optimum form. (Without health, nothing else matters).
- Surround myself with the best people I can. I want to be around people who challenge me and make me a better person.
- Raise my children to be good and hard-working people with strong values.
- Live in a place with:
- a great sense of community.
- access to outdoor pursuits.
- good resources (Hello library!)
- Explore the world.
- Increase my knowledge every day by reading, thinking and solving problems.
- Give back by volunteering.
There is a common thread in most of those goals and it is this:
They don’t involve money.
Nitpickers will tell say that everything costs something. Traveling isn’t free. I’ll need to buy a plane ticket and maybe a hotel room or two if I don’t have friends in the area. My fancy bike set me back $1,000. However, these expenses are minuscule when taken in the context of a lifetime of spending.
Time Baby, Time
There is another common (and much more important) thread that all of these activities have in common:
They all require lots of time.
And time is so damn precious. A 24-year-old may scoff at the suggestion, but I’ll bet any octogenarian would have a drastically different viewpoint.
So, working backwards, time is the most valuable asset. How does one make more time? Not easy:
- Keep yourself in top health so that you live longer. This is a good idea, but even if you live to be 100, how many activities will you be able to enjoy at an advanced age?
- Sleep less. Bad idea.
And my favorite:
- Minimize the time that you need to work for money.
Now we’re getting somewhere, but there is something I have to make clear about that last statement. I didn’t say:
Minimize the time that you need to work for money.
Financial independence shouldn’t be about living a life of leisure in front of the TV eating potato chips. Remember that retirement is an amplification of your current free time. If your weekends are spent watching reruns and eating unhealthy food, stay at work. Retirement isn’t for you, no matter what your age.
What is the question then?
At the start of the post, I stated that this is the wrong question:
What is your philosophy on money?
The right question is this:
What is your philosophy on life?
Life is a journey of growth and discovery. I want to live in a way where I can go to bed at night content because I’m a better person than I was when I woke up. At the end of life when it’s time to die, I want to have lived in a way that was a net positive for my children and the world.
I have big plans and working until 60 or even 50 would get in the way of them. Again working backwards, I finally arrive at my philosophy on money:
I want to live in such a way that I minimize the number of years that I have to work for money. I’ll have a modest house, car and lifestyle and will never spend more just because I earn more. I’ll invest any surplus so that I can live on my own terms sooner than later.
I’ve had a great life. I’m extremely fortunate to have been born in a place were hard work is rewarded. I’m also thankful each and every day that I’ve found a job that I enjoy. I’ve worked with great people who recognized my hard work and thanked me for it. On some days, I feel like I live in a fairy tale.
However, work is only one part of my life. I want to live in a way where each day is a blank canvas to fill as I choose. There are so many wonderful ways to live and such little time. Life won’t be long enough to fit it all in, but I’ll die trying.
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