Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Sour Dough

For some reason, I've been getting a bit philosophical lately. I feel a non-deep post coming soon. But not yet.

Two previous posts touched on a subject that our society is very good at obsessing over: Money. I thought I'd follow up with a few more thoughts.

In one post, I discussed how we are bombarded by ways to "save money" by spending it. Buying more is cheaper. But as goods have gotten cheaper, we as a culture have paradoxically gone deeper in debt.

In another post, I discussed the theoretical economics of spinach seeds.

Now as a point of clarification, the idea of the spinach story wasn't a foreshadowing of my becoming a market gardener or a seed merchant. Maybe it's my non-salemanlike nature, but on some level I'd rather give away surplus than go to the trouble of trying to sell it. Ideally, we'd use it all ourselves, but that'll take some fine-tuning of our skillsets.

I mentioned theoretical values for bags of spinach leaves and packets of seeds, but it wasnt's not about selling the extra. It was about not buying spinach or spinach seeds. Rather than about money that could (theoretically) be earned, it was about money that was never spent, resources never consumed. Not only that, but how little effort it took (if it can be called "effort"). To me, this path to self-sufficiency is not really about producing enough to pay for stuff. To me, true self-sufficiency is about getting to the point of producing all that we need so we don't have to pay for stuff. It's about never buying spinach again.

There's more than one way to balance the books. One is to bring more money in. That's hard work, and it usually takes a good bit of time. The other is to keep money from going out. That can be hard too, but a lot of it the work is within our own heads. The rest of it I have a hard time calling work. One of the most important lessons I learned from Gene Logsdon was to treat time spent doing something you enjoy as income rather than expense.

Much of our spending is due to bad habits, and constant bombardment from advertisers and others telling us how happy we'll be if we buy their product. Buy! Buy now! You don't even have to pay now. You just need this one more thing to be happier, make life easier. You deserve it!

But who among us is happier and more secure than those rare people who are debt free?

For most of us, our lifestyle expands (or contracts) to fit our budget. But from the richest to the poorest, many of us are still checking that calendar for payday.

I heard somebody say that saving money is like losing weight. None of us really need to be told how to do it. It's obvious.

We just want to find that elusive method that is easiest or most convenient to our lifestyle. The thinking is that different approaches work for different people, and it's all about finding the "right" one. But to some extent, I think that's an illusion. One way or another, it boils down to the difference between how much you're bringing in and how much you're using.

I went to an interesting debt reduction seminar. It was a pay-by-the-honor system thing, and the guy is affiliated with the Unitarian Universalist church, so there was a certain spiritual component to it, but the technique could be used by anybody.

His whole system was based on the fact that you can only get so far into debt before financial institutions start telling you "no". Your maximum debt load is pretty much a percentage of your income.

Because it's proportional to income, this means that even those people who are at that maximum point can still pay off all debts, including your mortgage within about nine years. On average, it's more like five years. If you're in decent financial shape, or just getting started down that well-worn path of debt accumulation, it might be just a few years. It's hard to believe, but out of a roomful of about 50 people from all walks of life, we all filled out the worksheet, and we all fell somewhere between 3 and 9 years.

But it takes commitment and discipline. How bad do you want to be out of debt? Conversely, how bad you want a cell phone, and cable TV, and internet access? How often do you want to eat fast food? How often do you want some new clothes? Which would make you happier, no debts or a bunch of stuff?

Another book I've read talks about spending money as trading your life energy for things. How many things do you have that really make your life better? How many were for a quick fix? How many things do you have that just fill up your shelves, cupboards, and closets, and get in the way when you try to clean up?

I won't bore you with the debt seminar details. (If you really want to know, I can do a rough outline in the comments.) The power was not in the method itself. The power was in seeing that it's within anybody's capabilities to stop worrying about money, in relatively short order.

The spinach is optional.


At 7/27/2006 7:48 AM, Blogger madcapmum said...

We must be on the same wavelength again - I've been thinking about money too.

3-9 years! Wow! That really astonishes me. I wouldn't have thought so.

At 7/27/2006 8:33 AM, Blogger Jamie said...

Nice post! Lots to think about. We are currently examining some of the "money-going-out" items and coming to some interesting conclusions.

At 7/29/2006 5:00 AM, Blogger Beo said...

The single biggest commodity that America is in debt with is time-back again to your labor saving devices. By not 'spending' my time logging long hours to buy more stuff-I then have more time left at home to be with my family. Even, as Gene writes, if I am still 'working' at gardening or chores. Shelling peas with my kids makes me richer than putting in the overtime, even if one hour of overtime would have bought 20lbs of peas.


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