The Unrepentant Individual

...just hanging around until Dec 21, 2012


May 16, 2006


Follow The Money

As I mentioned previously, I’ve been attending a new church. The theme recently has been the things within ourselves which grow to burden us, and how to avoid them. This week, perfect to be picked apart by someone like me, was greed (link points to the sermon streamed from the church web site).

Some of it was good, some of it was bad. One part that resonates, of course, is that where your treasure (i.e. money) goes, there your heart will go also. The point was made about stocks. When you invest in a stock, that stock doesn’t remain an impersonal company that you really don’t care about. It’s your baby. You’re researching constantly online to make sure the company is comporting itself the way you expect, worrying about their business practices, etc. All of a sudden, you’re not giving just your money to the company you’ve bought a part of, you’re giving them a piece of yourself.

In the sermon, there was a big message about how giving is good, and all that. I’m not too concerned about that at the moment. That’s not to say that I disagree, of course, as I feel very good when I give help and assistance, whether monetary or not, to people I care about. But the morality angle is simply an extension of the idea that where your money goes, goes everything.

Why, of course, do our money and our hearts follow each other so closely? To understand, we need to understand what money is. Money is the physical representation of our time. Time, not money, is the most precious resource in the world. Short of major life-lengthening medical breakthroughs (which will probably happen within 20-50 years), we’ve only got a century or so to get it all done. So what is money? Money is the value of our time when we’re working. Why do we want raises? Because we think our time should be more valuable than it is.

Ben Franklin said that “Time is Money“. But money is also time. Money is what we earn for spending our time, and money is normally required to be spent to enjoy our time. Money is freedom: an unlimited supply of money ensures that we have complete control over our time. When we give our money to another fellow human being, we feel like we are investing in that person, and have a vested interest in seeing them succeed. When we have our money taken by our government, we have a feeling not that we’re working for ourselves (or even for our fellow man, most of the time), but that we’re working for our government. And when our government forcibly takes part of our money, it makes us feel like they’re forcibly taking a part of our freedom.

This, of course, tends to be the most crippling aspect of debt. Once you figure out what debt is doing to you, it creates a pit in your stomach. You look not at the money you earn as paying for the things you want or need, you see it paying for the privilege of borrowing money for what you wanted or needed months or years ago. For every dollar you borrow, you pay interest. Each dollar of that interest is the quantifiable punishment for a bad mistake you’ve made with your money in the past.

On the flip side, of course, is what happens when you have savings. When you have savings, you’re paying yourself for your time, and you’re earning interest on those payments. You feel a great sense of self-worth when your actual monetary worth is in the black. You have the feeling that you have built something, and what you have built is an investment in yourself.

I find myself in a strange conundrum between these two situations. I’m a poor handler of monetary affairs, and tend not to have much self-control when it comes to spending. So I’ve got a fair amount of credit card debt, when hangs over my head like a dagger. Yet at the same time, I’ve been contributing to 401k for a few years, and have built a nice little start to a nest egg. At the moment, if I liquidated the 401k, I could pay off most (if not all) of the debt, and since the debt carries higher interest than I earn on the savings, it might even make some economic sense.

Yet I can’t bring myself to do something like that. The savings I’ve built are an accomplishment. And given the emotional state of money, they are an accomplishment in building myself. Would there be some sense in starting over at square one, clearing the debt? Maybe, but I can’t bear the thought of seeing those savings disappear, even if there was a tangible benefit in another area. That is money I’ve paid to myself. That is my “fit hits the shan” fund. That is the reminder to me that I’m doing at least something right financially.

Some have said that the love of money is the root of all evil. Perhaps the love of money itself might be, as the love of money itself leads one to do anything to achieve it. But the love of what money represents— personal accomplishment and personal freedom— can lead one to pursue greatness. I don’t desire to be rich to throw my success in the face of others, I desire to be rich to increase my own ability to live freely.

Posted By: Brad Warbiany @ 10:32 pm || Permalink || Comments (4) || Trackback URL || Categories: Economics, Personal Life, Ponderings, Taxes

4 Comments

  1. Brad, I’m glad that you are going to church. That last statement about the love of money being the root of all evil can be true. It’s what you do with your money that counts. If you use it for good and help others then it is not evil. Another point about your heart is that if you spend all of your time working, then you heart will be with your job. Make sure you spend some time with your wife and family so that your heart will be there too. Remember to put your heart on the important things in life.

    Keep contributing to that 401k and build your future, but you also need to pay off your credit cards. Cut your expenditures in other areas and work to pay them off. If you get an income tax return or a bonus from work, apply it to your debt. It feels good walking around without that ball and chain. Work to be a good steward of your money and become free of debt.

    Comment by Lucy Stern — May 17, 2006 @ 4:05 am
  2. “I don’t desire to be rich to throw my success in the face of others, I desire to be rich to increase my own ability to live freely.”

    Solid statement and said in a way I hadn’t ever thought of. Until I’m rich, I’m going to relish in cheaper freedoms, like alcohol.

    Comment by Neal — May 17, 2006 @ 9:26 am
  3. One of my many problems with Christianity in-particular is its hostility towards capitalism. Without the ‘love of money’ our capitalistic system would be all but impossible. One of my readers who identified himself/herself as BCM made a brilliant point concerning the ‘love of money’ as the ‘root of all evil’ in response to my post on Ayn Rand’s ‘Virtue of Selfishness’:

    “That’s one of those ideas that sounds like a truism, but doesn’t hold up under scrutiny.

    For example, where does money come into a rape? Where is money involved as the motive?

    Was there no such thing as evil before money was invented? If evil existed then, how could money be the root of all evil?”

    Not only is the love of money not the root of all evil, I would argue that the love of money and the selfish pursuit of happiness is the root of much good in the world. In last Friday’s 20/20 special, John Stossel explored how much of the foreign aid sent to countries for humanitarian reasons has been wasted by corrupt governments. On the other hand, countries which were once very impoverished which opened up its markets in a capitalistic fashion became wealthier because the people became wealthier. The people became wealthier because they pursued their own selfish interests.

    I would bet that most of those whom you attend church with are not at all familiar with the concept of selfishness as a virtue. You have a golden opportunity here to ‘preach the gospel’ of individualism, objectivism, and capitalism.

    Comment by Stephen Littau — May 17, 2006 @ 2:45 pm
  4. self-interest is morally neutral. It’s a part of who we are; it is the common thread that binds everything from bacteria to plants to mammals. It is behind all that is good, and all that is bad.

    It’s about how you use it and what you do with it. Selfishness about money or any other facet of life is merely the clay. Our will and our action is what shapes that clay.

    Brad, I find I end up in an opposite problem from you. I have neither debt nor significant savings. My problem is that I just don’t care about money. So when i’ve worked it’s been because I was bored, and not for a whole lot of money at that. This isn’t good either because I have no credit and no nest egg. Of course, student loans will change all that when I graduate from med school *shrug*

    Comment by IndianCowboy — May 18, 2006 @ 11:52 pm

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