Forget a new house or car and forget Paris. What if we all had the freedom to enjoy just a few extra beers?
My needs are simple: a hearty tax shelter, healthy pension, robust health insurance, generous sick days, fully stocked fridge, a little extra cash after paying the rent, and seven beers, preferably craft or imported.
My tastes are sort of set in their ways.
That, and—of course—perfect health for my wife and kids, is all I need, on top of the basics of modern First World living. Forget a new house, car, clothes, and forget Paris. Give me the know-how of there being enough beer in the fridge for the end of a long day of hard work where I’ve earned every dollar. I want to hear that clink-clink when the fridge door is open.
I’m not asking to drink seven beers a night, but I want the financial freedom to enjoy one or two if I want, and to have seven more in the fridge waiting for me, for tomorrow or the weekend. I want the ability to drink or share with the wife or friends—it might be a Bourbon and ginger ale, or a gin and tonic, but the principle remains. I want that bordering-hoarder pleasure of having luxury in reserve, when I want.
I want that financial freedom.
And eventually I’ll have it. Maybe when the kids are out of college. I don’t want to die on my feet a sweaty worker who didn’t know how to be smart about money, especially in my American lower-middle-class world, where I’ve been privileged enough to reach a point and skill set that can guide me towards a retirement and help me provide for my children until they can provide for themselves.
What is a dollar?
Let’s talk about $7—specifically the amount (give or take sixty cents) it costs to afford seven beers or seven burgers or seven of something in your refrigerator. That seven dollars is swallowed up by the big picture—the cost of the fridge, electricity, the contents within—plus the pantry and its accoutrements. That $7 is a small slice of rent or a mortgage, or of a movie ticket or water bill. You know what things cost. The cost of take-out versus a week of groceries, the price of beer and coffee versus milk, and the cost of luxury, however simple, versus holding out until you really deserve that luxurious finish, whatever it may be.
When times are tight, the luxuries go, and you start that mental list: seven dollars here, seven dollars there. Eventually you start peeling back the years to your first dollar, wishing you had saved every nickel spent on any luxury since you first starting working, just so you could have that luxury now. Rent? That’ll be 1,500 beers. That new Lego set or dance lessons for junior? 40 to 60 beers. Interestingly enough, the Department of Agriculture recently raised their cost of raising a child to 304,000 beers from conception to college move-in. And forget buying a round of frosty ones at the bar—that ends up being like 30 beers to pay for, well, roughly seven beers.
The rent—and everything else—is just too damn high!
Most of the world lives on less than $2 a day. You’ve heard that, I’m sure—probably so much so that you can’t imagine what it looks like, or you can see it in your mind’s eye or on TV and you just don’t know what to do about it. (You could start learning here on TED, actually.)
What we need is a level playing field, which is something that has never existed in history. The top percentile have always owned the majority of everything, and the rest of us have always scrambled like morons for what was left, whether it was real estate or the last Christmas toy your kid wanted more than anything else (which happened to cost 63 beers, but was worth it).
The freedom, however, is in the refusal to be anxious about the money. Everything has always been insanely expensive, it seems—from shoes for kindergarten and large textbooks for college to that extra stupid polo the restaurant wants you to purchase (trust me, you’ll want it). And you probably already know that there doesn’t have to be any beer in the fridge or extra meat for the grill. Some of us know how to go without better than others, and some of us never have to.
Eventually everyone has their own object-to-money-connector. For me it’s beer or take-out or tattoos. For you it may be shirts or shovels or wainscoting. We’re all just out here looking to get something to eat, right?
Jack of all trades, Master of English
It turns out the world has enough writers and English professors, and also enough landscapers and house painters. But it can always use one more—that’s where I come in, as do legions of teachers in the summer. Those of you with degrees know the pressure of paying off your debts when you might not have the right job or career (yet) to show for it—or the pressure of paying off your college debt when you never finished.
My saving grace is that I’ve never turned down a half-interesting job where I could either learn something new or be able to have an adventure while making enough money for the usual reasons. And I’ve had a lot of jobs, both within my career and without. Some jobs have lead to long-lasting wells and some were means to an end. Some provided enough for the landlord and tax-man, and some left the beer drawer empty for weeks. Today, however, I’m able to be proud of my motley resume, and I can call up experiences some bosses didn’t know I had (or didn’t need to know). The day I’m not hungry to work and learn will be the day that I am either a little too old for risk and adventure, or the day that I finally have done enough to write full time about it all. Either way, I’m never retiring. I just couldn’t.
All you need is love—and a nest egg
Back to my “simple” needs: obviously, and I want to make to this clear—if you have a good work ethic, healthy relationships, and general happiness, you’re already rich beyond any means. You really are. If you’re stressed about “making it,” you’re not alone: most people aren’t making or saving enough money to live comfortably, even week to week, from high school teachers to hedge fund managers. Hopefully you have loved ones to fart around with on the couch after a long day; hopefully you have a pension free from the grubby hands of future workers and governments; hopefully you have ice cream and beer in the fridge for when the kids go to bed.
Now who’s buying?
Photo: Marjan Lazarevski/Flickr