Saturday, August 11, 2012

Living Well Without Riches

I'm sure someone is going to come along and tell me I don't get to talk, because I've always had a roof over my head, running water, and food (though the week of peanut butter sandwiches and whatever beverages I made at work wasn't very good). With that in mind I'm going to preface this article with a few caveats, namely: Crocker's Law and the Wellbourn Protocol - you can maximize information content in messages without having to worry about hurting my feelings, and all correspondence is ultimately bloggable unless requested otherwise. With these new rules in mind, let's play our game.

An anonymous commenter on the Curiosity landing post invoked, a couple of times now, the idea that living well and living richly are ultimately connected. While my first instinct in such a case is actually to keep the explanation bound to the comment thread, this is one of those topics that might be too large for the relatively narrow confines of the comment section feed.

I believe there is a difference between living well and living richly, and I believe a lot of it boils down to attitude. Consider two people, Alex and Beverly. Alex makes $45,000 a year working as a teaching assistant for persons with disabilities. Beverly is a student working her way through college as a retail clerk, with an annual net of about $22,000, between their RESP and wages.

On the face of it, we could make the argument that, because Alex is making more than twice as much per year as Beverly, Alex has the greater potential to live well. This may certainly be the case, as $45,000 can certainly feed, clothe, shelter, and accommodate better than $22,000 when spent wisely. Now though, let's add a few character traits into the mix.

Alex knows they makes a reasonable amount at $45k a year, and they want to live like it. After years of college, they're tired of living like a student and want to make it clear to their peers that they are living the "good life" now. Alex buys a brand new, higher end car and has a car payment. It's their first car, so now they also have to pay insurance and gas, which they never had to pay for before. Alex buys the very best phone their wireless provider carries, with the most capable data, text, and voice packages. They move out of their old studio apartment and into a two-bedroom, converting the second room into an office by the way they furnish it. We've now established a person who establishes their feeling of wealth on a foundation of possessions. Alex feels wealthy because it is outwardly visible to others that they are. However, they frequently eat poorly around rent day because it is hard to pay all these bills when they are due without it, or perhaps let small amounts slip into arrears to be covered by the second cheque of the month.

Now let's look at Beverly. Beverly knows they are a student, and doesn't want to get pegged with the "students live poorly" stereotype. They grew up, maybe, in a large or a poor household, but in either event, they know how to stretch a dollar somewhat. The college is a little off the beaten path, let's say, so Beverly still has a used car, but it's paid for outright and has been since they bought it with their summer working money in high school. It's insured, obviously, but Beverly only uses it for school and groceries, mostly, so the gas is a lot cheaper. Beverly's phone is a few years old, but it still works fairly well as both a phone and an SMS device, so they opt to keep using it and keep it on a simple plan that offers just enough minutes and messages to suit their needs. Beverly's a social individual so they find another, clean individual named Casey to share an apartment with, splitting rent and utility costs down the middle. Beverly never eats at the school cafeteria and always brings a box lunch. By saving in all these areas, Beverly makes sure that they always have food in the fridge, and they can even afford, every few weekends or so, to get a case of beer or a bottle of vodka to party with her class mates. Beverly establishes their feeling of wealth on a foundation of needs; they feel wealthy because it is visible to them that all of their basic needs are accounted for and they are reasonably comfortable in doing so.

There is a nobility in purpose in poverty. Granted, not having is worse than having. That is why the word poverty has such negative connotations in the modern parlance. When we look, however, at the monastic traditions of every culture, in every religion, we see a common trend of poverty being lauded.  The people I know with the least possessions are also the people I know with the greatest character. Those who can be satisfied by Compliments-branded laundry soap, Honda Civics, the yellow boxes are those who seem to be able to weather any storm. Similarly, those I know who "live well", who party every night, dine out every night, and drive fancy cars, can be ruined by the smallest outset. A man I know purports to own a car worth more than my entire net holdings and has been spending the last week eating nothing but instant ramen noodles because there was a hiccup and he can't swing the money. Someone else I know goes to parties every weekend, often in other provinces, and is getting tense because they're finally out of "fake money" on their credit card.

I'm not saying I have it all figured out, either - I did just admit to a week of peanut-butter sandwiches. But I have it figured to the point that I know that I CAN get by. Because frankly, sometimes you do need a diet of noodles and crushed legumes to do it. I also know that all states are temporary and so is this one. I don't feel poor, because I'm not. All my basic needs are accounted for. Sure, I can't party hardy or eat at nice restaurants every night, but I'm eating better than you are right now!

Okay, that's vindictive. But by now, I'm sure you all take my point.

1 comment:

  1. As long as you have financial skill to manage your budget effectively, I guess one can get by. But hey, I wouldnt mind having a lot of money rather than small amount :D