Saturday, March 26, 2005

Thoughts On a Four-Letter Word

What is "rich"? Rich exists only in comparison to something or someone else. Rich is a helluva lot more than I have now. Rich is way more than most other people have. But we know the fallacy of the myth of more. More is like a mirage. We can never reach it because it isn't real. John Stuart Mill once said, "Men do not desire to be rich, only to be richer than other men." In other words, as soon as rich becomes available to the likes of us, it will no longer be rich.

— Joe Dominguez & Vicki Robin, Your Money or Your Life

I've never been absolutely certain that wanting "more" is such a bad thing. When I was 25 years old, I wanted "more." I'm 33 now, I have more (family, money, belongings, responsibilities, stability) and no matter what the books tell me, I'm pretty certain that I'm happier for it. Well, I don't have the "free time" I had back then. Sometimes I do miss that. But that's okay. I get much more fulfillment out of my "free time" now when I happen to stumble into a patch of it.

I understand what the text above is getting at, though. For some of us, it is a very slippery task: We must be careful what we strive for.

As for me, I have found it pays to think in terms of specifics, rather than generalities. I try not to allow myself to get wrapped up in the idea of being "rich." Our society loves to fawn over "rich," but "rich" is a horrible target for the individual. Work harder, smarter, or whatever. Aim all you want. But if "rich" is what you're gunning for, you're targetting nothing more than a pretty horizon. All you can see, from where you stand, is the beautiful sunset, all blue and pink and white. Thanks to human nature, it will always stay as far away from your grasp as it is now. Which is maybe a good thing, as you can't see all the bad stuff that's going on way out there. And it is going on out there, believe me.

So I try to get past "rich." More pointedly, I try to bring my sights down to things more concrete: I want to be debt-free. I want to see my net worth top the $100k mark. I want a yard that looks better this year than it did last. I want new windows, siding, and carpet for my house. When it's time to purchase our next car, I want to pay for most, if not all, of it in cash. And so on. These things are measurable, and attainable. I will know if my shots hit ... or miss.

There is something to be said, too, for that all-important trap of being "rich" — the need to publicly convey one's "richness," often regardless of any grounding in financial fact. It's only too easy to get knotted up in that "If you got it, flaunt it," mentality. This can be deadly, especially when it trickles down the earnings ladder to folks who lack the discipline to see conspicuous consumption for what it is. All too often, as Dominguez and Robin allude to, it is simply a mirage.

— Posted by Michael @ 3:01 PM

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Thoughts on my personal finances, goals, experiences, motivations, and accomplishments (or lack thereof).

My financial life began turning around when I took responsibility for it.
— Dave Ramsey


Start (2005-12): ~$21,900
Currently: $0
[About Our Debt Paydown]


Savings Goal: $15,000
Currently: ~$15,115
[About Our Liquid Savings Goal]