Recently, I read a quotation from philosopher Eric Hoffer that grabbed me with its simplicity. Consider his thought: “Our frustration is greater when we have much and want more than when we have nothing and want some.”
In other words, the more we have the more we want, and with greater determination. The mindset that “there is never too much” is more likely to infect someone who is already starting with an overflowing basket.
I find that both depressing, and very true. In most instances, human nature is pretty predictable. In our developed economies the acquisition of stuff, the accumulation of power or influence, and the desire to ascend the social totem pole drive too many of us too much of the time.
What compels this imbalance in our personality? Is it nature or nurture? Did the way we were raised in regard to money and possessions shape us? Or, does our daily barrage of social media, advertising, and peer pressure warp our values over time? Do we even notice the pressures all around us to conform and do our part to support the economy?
I don’t pretend to know the answers. But, one of my weekly writing prompts produced some questions that might help us get a firmer handle on what is going on. I will give you my personal reaction to a few of them, and then ask you to add your experiences and thoughts.
What do you remember your family saying about money during family conversations? I grew up in a comfortable, middle-class suburban household. Therefore, money was rarely talked about. I know my dad struggled with steady employment for much of his working years. But, my mom’s teaching kept things steady and any financial problems were never discussed in front of the three boys. We were not a family that spent much on non-basics, though a yearly family vacation was normal.
I heard occasional stories of life during the Great Depression. I know my dad had to sell vegetables door-to-door to help support his family; an orange was a typical Christmas present. I picked up the idea of avoiding the power of instant gratification through examples but not formal instruction. Financial basics through osmosis were more like it.
What is your first memory of making money for yourself? How did it feel? I guess I was born with an entrepreneurial streak. I remember having a paper route early on. Living in Ohio at the time, winters were cold, long, and snowy. My route started at least a mile from my home at the bottom of a long hill from our home. Instead of bags over my shoulders, sometimes dragging a wagon filled with papers was required
Either I was industrious or a bit of a wimp: when the snow was particularly deep I hired a few neighborhood boys to complete my route that day. I paid them probably more than I made but I couldn’t face pulling that little red wagon through snow drifts. This “contracting out” my work didn’t end well. The boys I hired were not particularly concerned about where the papers landed. Complaints to my boss about having to retrieve a paper from a roof or under a bush forced me to conclude I would have to handle things myself. One winter was enough; I left that employment option behind.
After a move to a less-snowy clime, my next money-making brainstorm was to sell postage stamps to collectors. A 4n amateur philatelist (stamp collector) myself, I bought small, plastic envelopes, ordered stamps from other countries through the mail, packaged them, and attempted to sell my product doot-to-door.
Not that different from the paper route experience, I lost money. The stamps and envelopes cost more than the few I managed to sell to neighborhood folks. I am sure most bought something from me out of pity, or neighborly concern.
Even so, these two experiences were actually positive for me. Over the years other ideas sprang forth from my youthful brain, some successful, some not. But, the thrill of possibility, of maybe hitting a winning streak keeps me on the hunt.
Do you believe money is a gift, a curse, or something in between? For me, money is a tool. At times it has been a scary reality. When I was fired after moving to a new city, the need to support my wife, two very young daughters and myself brought our financial situation into very sharp focus.
After solving that dilemma, I have never seen money as anything more than the necessity to provide for the life I wanted for my family. I give my upbringing credit for not thinking of money as some measure of success or status. It was a tool to live, nothing more, nothing less.
I must quickly add that I have been very lucky. My career was successful and was one that paid well above average wages. If I had been in the position to struggle, cut every corner, and not be able to pay for my kid’s college or fund our retirement, I really don’t know how my attitude might have been different.
How about your experiences with money? Were you given a firm foundation at home, or maybe learned what not to do? How about your first jobs? Pleasant and exciting, or pure drudgery?
“The love of money is the root of all evil.” Money, itself, is benign. It is how we think about it and use it that makes it more than a simple method of exchange.