I’m in the process of becoming fully responsible for myself financially. Despite not being a particularly materialistic person, I find myself thinking about money a lot. I live in New York, a city that’s become engineered to only really ‘work’ for people who make a lot of money. I think a lot about budgeting, about living within my ability.
Most people here who aren’t trust funders have full-time jobs. I’m considering leaving the city because I do not want a full-time job. This confuses people, especially older people who value security and the traditional family structure, which relies on credit and debt to all but the most gravely frugal and/or financially independent people. I’m going to try to explain my reasoning (it is very simple) and talk about how Zen has altered my perspective on money.
Let’s say you want to live a life full of socializing, partying, and try to ‘network your way to the top’. There are tons of people like this in major cities. You can base a lifestyle on the very act of trying to improve your lifestyle. You can strive for striving itself. You obviously never achieve what you’re looking for— it doesn’t exist. But the quest itself seems to be enough for a lot of people. The materialistic life becomes an infinite means to a non-existent ends.
In order to live this lifestyle, you need money. You work a full-time job, and all of your free time is spent going to concerts, art shows, parties and more parties. You accumulate experiences like a collector accumulates baseball cards. Pretty soon, all of these memories start to look the same. These memories all cost money, since you have engineered a life for yourself that is very expensive.
It’s possible to revamp this lifestyle ad infinitum. You work harder to make more money to work harder to make more money, and your lifestyle only increases in indulgence. You end up spending all of the money you made just to work to make more of it. Life becomes all about this absurd cycle when it’s supposed to be about living.
The reason I warn people against having strong future goals and ambitions is that they often lead to a life of materialistic circularity. Anytime you want something you don’t have, you’re more likely to get into some kind of debt. Once these debts accumulate, you end up wasting your life energy paying them back when what led to them didn’t even provide you with any satisfaction.
I can’t emphasize enough the importance of living a modest lifestyle. I will say the following with confidence:
People who work so they can afford status symbols are weak. People who strive for fame and fortune are weak. People who sit on massive fortunes for centuries and thrive on accumulation are weak. People who place future materialistic goals over their present well-being are both confused and weak.
Strong people live within their means. They don’t penny-pinch or obsess over a lack of money (which is often just as harmful as obsessing over the opposite) but they do make financial decisions mindfully and without impulse. They think things through without placing bets on future possibilities.
Strong people live as people were meant to live: simply, with what they need, learning to minimize the unnecessary things they might want.
There is no pride in being rich or famous if you’ve contributed nothing of benevolence to the world. There’s no reason to make money if the process makes you miserable. Money should be a modest utility, not the fetishistic force that makes the world go round.
When people say that money drives all innovation, I ask them to look around at the world and truly ask themselves what those innovations have really done for baseline human wisdom. Make what you need. Slowly whittle your desires down until you’re left with an inherent satisfaction with life as it is, not life as it could be.