#8: “I want money so I don’t have to think about money”

9th November, 2020

Welcome to the Idiot Money newsletter. The newsletter that doesn’t care what it can afford as much as whether what it can afford is what it cares about.

This week: becoming wiser with money by understanding that it doesn’t matter how much money you have if you use it unconsciously.

One of the main motivations for making a ton of money is to not have to think about money. This is moronic. Because failing to think about money is a guaranteed way to waste it.

To hear “because I can afford it” is to hear somebody choose becoming dumber over becoming wiser.

The ability to afford something is not a valid input into a decision-making process. “Because I can’t afford it” can be a valid input. You can consciously conclude that something would add value to your life, but if it put a greater source of value in jeopardy, it’d still be dumb. But simply being able to buy something does not a wise decision make. The ratio of the monetary cost of something to the cash in your bank account is relevant only to rule something out, not to rule it in.

Commonly, having cash to cover a cost shuts down our decision-making machinery. Lack of thought leads not to transforming our resources into a Good Life, but into wasting them on white sofas and publicising our insecurities.

Every expenditure is a sacrifice of an opportunity to level-up your life, so if you’re not levelling-up or learning, you’re pissing away potential. Going into ‘fuck-it’ mode and buying something because you can is simpler than contemplating the money, time, and energy spent, and the foregone everything else you could’ve spent it on, but ‘fuck-it’ mode is fucking stupid. Because it forgets the only thing that’s important: whether something will add to your life, rather than detract (or distract) from it.

It is the alignment of our expenditure, not its accumulation, that determines the Goodness of it. [Continued...]

To pursue money so you don’t have to think about it is to believe that being able to spend blindly without going broke is a better aim than using your money to improve your life. And it’s to believe that the value of money to your life is about ability, rather than responsibility.

Having more money expands the universe of what you can do with it. But this is a burden, not a benefit if you have no sodding clue how to use it well to start with. If financial planning taught me anything, it’s that people are phenomenally bad at using money to level-up their lives. The only difference with the rich is that they prove it in more publicly hilarious ways.

This is not a call for constant cognitive vigilance. The genuinely poor have to count every penny, and it sucks. Necessity may encourage wiser choices by making really stupid ones impossible, but the accompanying mental strain causes as many dumb decisions as it dodges.

We want to use our powers of thinking to create conscious habits of not-thinking – of programming ourselves to take the right action automatically. Yet we turn away from both thinking and not-thinking like a fat man from a salad, substituting for both the sugary disaster of unthinking.

See this page for more on this distinction.

Unthinking is easier, because someone else is doing the work, and meditation takes effort. But you don’t want easy. You want good. And where decisions must be made, avoiding them is not a solution to making crappy ones. ‘A meditator,’ wrote Thich Nhat Hanh, ‘is both an artist and a warrior.’

A salesperson’s job is to sell you something. When this aligns with what you want to buy (and you are seeing clearly) the product does the salesperson’s job for them. In other cases, their job is to narrow your view – to reduce your perception of possibilities. To get you to compare House A to House B, but neither to working part-time for the rest of your life.

If you can look like an economist and see the opportunity cost of every transaction, and if you can think like a philosopher and judge which possible transaction is likely to lead to a Good Life, then the salesperson will have a harder time tricking you into ‘treating’ yourself to some shit that swells their pockets while converting your expectations into emptiness. When zooming in deceives us, to see more insightfully, we want to zoom out:

Your beliefs about yourself have both internal and external origins. Those imposed by society are often the most resistant to challenge. Zooming out makes this easier. […] ‘You’re less easily pushed around by social influences precisely because you’ve lifted yourself out of that usually unchallenged arena of behaviour. It makes you more creative, it generates systematic insight.’ [Continued...]

How you spend your money is an expression of the thoughts that shape who you are. To delegate those thoughts is to surrender your resources, to live someone else’s life, while wasting your own. Aiming for unconsciousness is an unwise way to ‘live’.

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