Sunday, March 22, 2009

Show Me the Money

The following article was originally posted on March 11, 2008.

This video that appeared on the Automatic Earth on March 20, 2009, made me go look to see what I had written on March 11, 2008.

What's interesting is that my post on March 11, 2008 was about money. You'll have to watch the video to see why I think that's interesting :).

Show Me the Money

I saw some celebrity profiling show not long ago in which Cuba Gooding Jr. was lamenting the fact that despite a whole body of work he has done since 1996, despite all of the roles he did before and since, he still has people coming up to him on the street exclaiming "Show me the money!"

It's all about the money.

We actually measure our self-worth by money. I received that wonderful document the Social Security people send out every year that tells me what my family would be entitled to for benefits if I died. The answer is not much.

I've worked for more than half my life, but my lifetime earned income, based on the wages I reported to the IRS, would barely pay the mortgage on the average suburban home.I have a college degree, but I've chosen to spend the last quarter of my life staying home and taking care of my children.

A nobel "profession" to be sure, but since I don't "earn" any money as a Mom, I'm worth nothing. Ask anyone who has a full-time job his opinion of a stay-at-home Mom. Hell, think about your own feelings of the value of a stay-at-home Mom, and if you are a stay-at-home Mom, ask yourself if you are ever considering going out and getting a job, and why? Is it because you really need the money so that your children don't starve and you don't lose your house? Or is it because once those kids go to school, you would like to have a paycheck?

Measuring my life in dollars certainly does make it feel as if I have no value, that what I do every day is pointless. And in truth, I don't get any recognition. I don't get much recognition for the job I do for my clients, either, but as Deus Ex Machina points out, the recognition is that they pay me. As a Mom, the recognition is ....


It's rare that I even get a thank you. No one buys me flowers or sends me special gifts for a "job well done planning, organizing and hosting the princess-themed birthday party for fifteen four to eight year olds and their adult guardians complete with a homemade cake, homemade pizza and a marionette play specially written just for the occasion."

There's no Christmas bonus for "hand-writing, hand-addressing, stamping and sending thirty-five holiday cards, several for family members not related by blood and whom I've never met."

I'm not going to get a day off because I "worked" late nursing a baby with an earache.

I won't be in line for a promotion, because I successfully delivered my baby, without the help of a midwife or a doctor.

I'm not counting on a raise because I documented in photos and/or in writing, their early years.

I'll never be honored for "Teacher of the Year", even though I keep all of the records of my children's school activities, organize and teach classes in my home for my children and their friends, sign them up for outside classes, organize all extracurricular activities, provide all of the transportation to and from outside activities, provide resource materials including books, videos, pens, crayons, and paper, provide a healthful, usually hot, lunch and breakfast, and at the end of every year, spend several weeks writing, editing and publishing our school yearbook.

I'll never get "Employee of the Month", even though I'm the only one doing my job.

We just don't put any value on things that can't be quantified with dollars. It's all about the money.

People live and die for want of it, but it's a double-edged sword. If we have too much of it, and we don't share, we're greedy - like Scrooge. He was a businessman. He was in the business of loaning money, not giving charity. He loaned money, and he collected on those debts. And people hated him for it. He was like today's mortgage banks - taking people's houses when they have foolishly signed a note for a $250,000 three bedroom, two bath house on a quarter acre in an up and coming neighborhood. Why is it the bank's fault? Because they allowed these people to borrow money? Why is it Scrooge's fault? Because he gave these people what they wanted? They wanted money. He gave them money. They understood the consequences of borrowing from him, and, yet, they did it, and HE becomes the evil miser because he forces them to pay the debt they incurred when they borrowed the money. And we all hated him for that. All of us. And we laughed when he was visited by the three ghosts, and we cheered right along with the town's folk when he died, and we all sighed in relief when he turned over a new leaf, bought the Christmas goose and took it to Cratchet's house.


It was his money. Why should he be expected to share with us, who made different decisions - decisions, which, ultimately resulted in us being where we are? But that's the nature of money. When we have it, it's ours and ours alone, and woe to he who wants it, and when we don't have it we expect those who do to give it to us, because ..., because we're poor, and they're not, and they should be charitable, because they've been so fortunate.

Fortunate. Like Glenda the Good Witch came down in her bubble and waved her magic wand and gave them the money. It's not like they actually earned it or anything. I actually saw a comment on an article about housing foreclosures that said celebrities should give some of their money to people who are in danger of losing their houses as a thank you for the support we, the fans, have given them by seeing their movies and buying their recordings. That was one woman's opinion. Seriously. Her answer to the housing problem - let someone else, who has money, take care of it for us, who signed up for houses we knew we couldn't afford, but thought we deserved.


We want it. We covet it. We revere it. We worship it. It gets us up in the morning, to go work at jobs we hate, and sends us home at night drained of every bit of energy we have, so that we can pay to support a life that is dependent on having more and more and more of IT.

We live for it. We die for it.

The one thing we all seem to forget is that the formula $ = :) is false. Money does not equal happiness. If it did, Britney Spears wouldn't have lost custody of her children, Brooke Shields wouldn't have written a book about her severe bout with post-partum depression, and Kurt Cobain wouldn't have committed suicide. They were all rich. At least they all have money, and lots of it, lots more than most of the rest of us, and yet, by some strange quirk, they aren't completely happy. Why is that? How is that possible?

Because ... $$ ≠ :).

We recently watched the PBS program Frontier House.

I'm reading Your Money or Your Life.

As I've mentioned before, one of the most life-changing books I've ever read was Dolly Freed's Possum Living. Dolly and her father lived, what seemed, a rather enjoyable life on a 1/2 acre lot 40 miles from Philadelphia. They raised as much of their own food as they could - including chickens and rabbits. They did a lot of canning. They foraged a lot of other things, including wild game and fish and turtles and many different kinds of greens. What they couldn't raise or forage or hunt, they bought in bulk and stored, mostly grains.

They didn't own a car, and walked or biked everywhere they went. So, no car registration, taxes or insurance.

They didn't have health insurance, but instead engaged in "preventative" medicine by eating wholesome, healthful food and exercising.

For heat, they foraged wood or burned boxes or old crates they were given by local store owners, and fashioned a solar passive heating system (basically a south-facing window that they covered with a blackened board to absorb heat). It was ingenious. They also closed up rooms during the winter and slept in the room with the woodstove, and wore extra clothing to keep warm.

They had electricity, but used very little of it.

They didn't have a television.

And well, computers weren't, yet, invented, but I'd bet Dolly would have been very savvy on the Internet. For sure, she would have had a blog, and she would have regularly updated that blog ... at the library, on their "free" computers.

They bought clothing second-hand, and Dolly could sew. She could cook. She could garden. She could raise and butcher an animal. She could forage for food. Anything she didn't know, she knew she could find out ... at the library in a book, and since she didn't have to worry about going to a job, anytime she wasn't "working" to survive, was free time, and, once the garden is in, there's lots of free time - until it's time to can, and then, once the canning's done, there's more free time. She lived. She lived to live - not to survive, not to work, and not to earn money, but to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and ... put to rout all that was not life....**

She figured it out. Money does not equal happiness.

Deus Ex Machina thinks Dolly is a nutcase, and maybe he's right, but she had something. She and her father successfully lived for many years in the middle of, but outside of, the money economy.

What's interesting about the Frontier House experience was not watching what they all went through, although that was pretty interesting, too, but what was really fascinating was listening to them after they returned to their "modern" lives. They all described a sense of loss, a sense of not quite belonging, a sense of disconnectedness. The experience they had on their Montana homestead was real. In fact, one of the participants actually, sometimes, felt, almost believed, he was a 1890s homesteader. It was real. They had purpose.

They didn't have that when they got home, and they seemed at a loss of what to do with themselves.

Interestingly, authors Dominguez and Robin talk about "life energy", and the fact that in modern society, most of us are giving up our life energy for money.

It's all about the money.

And, yet, here we have all of these examples, this HISTORY of people who have survived and thrived with very little or no money. People who have LIVED deep and sucked the marrow out of life.

If money is the determining factor of worth, I am worthless. I have no money. I have no assets. I don't have a retirement account. I don't own any stocks. I don't have any savings. Any material possessions I have are mine by virtue of the fact that I am married to someone who earns more than average.

He's worth a great deal. But me, I'm worthless.

And I hope that's not true. I hope that my value can be quantified in ways that transcend money.

But I really hope that, someday, I can learn to live life without money and without the fear of not having it. I hope I can "suck the marrow out of life" and LIVE richly, without a dime to my name.

It can't be about the money, because if it really is, there's not much point to my life.

**From Walden, by Henry David Thoreau


What's interesting is that, now, a year after this post was originally published on my blog, the "hard times" have hit us. The company Deus Ex Machina works for has laid off everyone except him and one other employee, and both of them are working at reduced pay, but their pay is only guaranteed for the next four weeks, maybe, and benefits have stopped.

On March 11, 2008, I said, I really hope that, someday, I can learn to live life without money, and the irony is that I'm probably going to get my chance, much sooner than I expected.

The good news about all of this is that we have no debt, except our mortgage, and I said to Deus Ex Machina today that if we could find a little piece of land somewhere, we could pay cash (with what we have in savings), move onto the land and live in our tent. We would owe nothing to anyone, except our property taxes, which we could earn through the sale of honey from our bees, maple syrup, and gourmet mushrooms :).


  1. Wow..... I hope the best for you and your family as you adjust to the financial issues facing you. May you come through as strong, if not stronger, than you are now.

    (FWIW, my hubby just told me that he's calling our morgage-owning bank today to inquire as to refinancing our home. The interest rate we got 9 years ago was set at 6%, it's down to 4.5% and the hubby thinks it'd be a fabulous idea to refinance -although he knows "fixed rate" is the ONLY way to refinance- since we plan on living in this home for the rest of our forseeable lives anyway. I think it's a stupid idea at this juncture. Just..... Stupid! But, cannot seem to persuade him otherwise. *sigh* Then again, he believes we're in a short recession, I think we're facing a long depression. And we're both trying to live according to what we see in the near and not-so-near future. Unfortunately it's quite a difference between the two views.)

    Have a Blessed week, Wendy!

  2. Hi -- I'm so glad that reading "Your Money or Your Life" was helpful to you! I helped to update the most recent edition that was released in December 2008. Original YMoYL co-author Vicki Robin and I have created a new website and encourage folks to visit and sign up to receive our regular blog posts.

    P.S. I never heard of Dolly Freed's "Possum Living" but I can't wait to read it!

    Monique Tilford
    Co-author, Your Money or Your Life

  3. Such a great post! I love how you weave in Scrooge and Glinda.

    I am so sorry about the job loss. It's really scary out there in that dept. but I have no doubt you and yours will prevail. I figure so many of us have been "practicing" for some time and now is the time for the actual swim.

    We also got our scare this year in that dept. (with my husband's job) and I am in the process of putting new initiatives in action. We are (slower than I would like) getting rid of the last of our debt (stupid debt that we were out of two years ago!) and working on the security we need at this time. Like you, I see living on land somewhere in tents or tipi as a viable option.

    I wish you all the best. Thank you for reposting such a thought-provoking look at worth, happiness and money.

  4. I know this is an old post, so I don't even know if you will see it...but we did exactly that. 18 years ago we bought my dream home. A Victorian house built in 1896. It was $43K, a really good price. It was on a 1/2 acre. I still love it....we started "homesteading" there. Planted fruit trees, garden, had our own well, had chickens and a goat, and heated our home (since 1999) with a wood stove. I was living very "quaint". In 2007, my dad passed away and he left me money to specifically buy land. We purchased 10.5 acres, sold the dream house and have lived in a 45 foot shipping container since May 2009. My husband has started building our new home (much smaller) but NO mortgage. We are building as we go. It's been rough, especially that first winter. We live in South TX but that year we had REALLY cold weather for us: 9 and 14 degrees for an extended period of time. Learning how to heat a metal building with no insulation was a challenge, but it has been rewarding learning how to live with less and be self sufficient. We have a garden which I canned, raise our own meat animals, and I rarely go to the sore...Learning lots! Having fun!