Apr 22, 2006

Nothing Left to Lose

According to the songwriter Kris Kristofferson, "Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose." Is it true that real freedom is hitching through life with the clothes on your back? Not an experiment I am going to try anytime soon. The reason I bring this up is to point out that we chart a course of emptiness when we accumulate a bunch of stuff, with money we don't have. A high consumption lifestyle makes us vulnerable to the vageries of life. Job loss, pay cuts, or illness seriously muck up the best laid plans. We work long hours at crappy jobs because we buy stuff we don't need. We miss our kid's games and events, the company of our loved ones. We trade our lives for a bunch of stuff. Bad deal folks. Across America there are hundreds of thousands of young mothers who trudge off to work, leaving a toddler or two in daycare so that the family can have a nice car. Not put food on the table or a roof over their heads, but a car or truck or a boat. Whatever it is, our choices about our stuff drive how we live our lives. It is not uncommon for a car payment to be $500 or more per month these days. Take that cost and add gas, insurance, daycare, work clothing, eating out, taxes, etc. and soon owning the car is really costing $1500 per month, forcing mom to stay workplace. If families would analyze their situation it would be plain that mom could stay home with the kids or if she wants to work, to sock away money for the family's future, if they would just stop buying stuff. Do we do work that gives us satisfaction or do we suffer through our worklives to support our stuff? It is our choice. For a lot of folks the stress of paying for stuff is tremendous. It feels okay to buy things but it is decidedly not fun to try to juggle the pile of bills that result from buying a bunch of stuff on credit. Do you suppose the zillion credit consolidation schemes are there because buying stuff is emotionally satisfying to folks? Stuff loses its power to satisy pretty quickly, but the demands for repayment are relentless. One morning I was strolling around the office before most people had arrived when I came upon a guy I know, sitting at his desk with a checkbook and a large pile of bills. I asked him what he was doing and he said getting his bills ready to mail on Friday when we get paid. He remarked that it would be great to have enough money to pay all his bills without worrying about it. I offered that each bill in the pile was a decision he made, trying to provoke a response. His response was to call me a miser and to tell me that you can't take it with you. Brilliant, you can't take it with you, but they sure can take it from you. This guy and his spouse make $100,000+ per year. Their three kids are grown and they have lived in the same house for over 25 years. I'll will bet they owe more on that house today than they paid for it 25 years ago. I know he refinanced once to redo the kitchen, and they openned a HELOC to pay off some bills. Yet they continue to buy stuff on credit. They like to go out to eat at every new restaurant that opens and I'll bet you that they charge it. I know for a fact that one of the bills he was paying was on a department store charge and he was not paying it in full. I know because the check and the statement were in plain sight while we spoke. Making payments on clothes. Go figure. My advice to people like my friend is that what is great is not having enough to juggle the bills, but instead not caring when payday is. Not buying a bunch of stuff makes this possible.

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