Monday, December 1, 2008

The impermanence of money

My grandfather passed away this weekend. Naturally I didn't feel like writing for a few days, which was interesting since I usually write to sort through my feelings. Although I did work on my novel a bit, I couldn't bring myself to write a blog post.

I guess I had an existential crisis of sorts and was left to ponder my life and the topic of money -- what is money good for to me, does money really matter in the grand scheme of things, and why do I write on it incessantly, versus say literary analysis, in a blog? Okay, so money may make the world go 'round because of the obvious reasons (i.e., we need it to eat, have shelter, etc.), but when did saving money become such a falsely quantifiable science based on some pre-determined age you think you'll live until? Take my blog, for instance: "Mastering the art of saving now to live lavishly later." What if there is no "later", and there is only "now?" Say I scrimped and saved every penny I could, forgoing things I'd love right now like a trip to Italy or an espresso maker, on the premise that I will enjoy my money when I'm older?

Perhaps I just need to vent, but I see two problems with this equation:

One, I have a feeling that one day when I'm older, I'll look back at all the time I wished I had traveled more at this age, and resent the fact that I didn't take advantage of all the energy I had to traipse around the world. At 26, I'm not who I was at 21, and that's just a five-year gap. Before I used to pull all-nighters with no problem, and relished going out with friends and meeting new ones. I was an endless reservoir of energy and enthusiasm, a social butterfly who was always up to try anything new. Nowadays I don't feel like that plucky spring chick I once was. (Am I getting old? Eep.) I'm often tired when I get home from a full day of work, I spend any extra vigor I have on kickboxing or writing at night, and look forward to the weekends when I can recharge my battery and veg like broccoli. (Usually retail therapy or lunch with friends works best for me.) If I feel like this now, what am I going to feel like at 47, my scary age? More importantly, if I feel this way times 10 at 47 (don't people get tired the older they get?), why would I want to pack my bags and go yodeling with goat-herders in the Swiss Alps or mash grapes with locals in Portugal to make homespun wine? I want to do all that when I look and feel impossibly fresh-looking. Isn't money meant to be enjoyed (responsibly, of course) in the crevices of our youth? I often see older, white-haired men driving sleek Porsches, and I wonder if they ever wish they could have had all that 25 years ago. After all, money can buy you a sportscar, but it can't buy the feeling of being young again.

The second problem to the "saving for later" equation is that none of us know when we'll die. I've never had anyone close to me die before this weekend, and I've been grappling with my mortality ever since -- it was something I thought about every once in a long while, but it never seemed likely. Me? Die?? Pffff. Exactly. Oh how naive I was, before the recent dose of reality sobered up my inebriatingly puerile state. It's a grand plan to save up for an early retirement at say, 50, 65, or 85, but what if you don't make it to then? (Of course, the argument against this would be "Well, what if you do make it to 50," but then that turns into a "chicken or the egg" debate, and we won't go there tonight.) I think it's very important to plan for the future, but when does fiscal planning simply turn into tightwad-ism ... maybe, even, for the rest of your life? Could you ever, then, enjoy your money later if you've so trained yourself to be mechanically frugal in the present?

I think it's important to think or write or talk about money, but it's equally as important to not allow money to take over your life. I know that it's easier said than done, especially when you don't have much of it. To me, money has always equated to power. Although I always knew that money couldn't buy you everything (though it seemed to help out with happiness, depending on your definition of the word), now my beliefs have been reaffirmed, especially that money cannot buy you perfect health or immortality. We all die in the end, no matter how poor or rich we are. My grandmother told me recently on the phone that "None of us get out of here alive." If that wouldn't take the "power" out of any millionaire's wings, then I don't know what would.


Janet said...

Your post was exactly what's been on my mind. My grandfather passed away on Halloween after a year-long battle with nursing home care.

I have the same thoughts on mortality and money lately and haven't figured out what I'm doing. I haven't figured out why I don't just travel more or just pack and go on a road trip.

Thank you for sharing!

Anonymous said...

I think it's very important to live in a way that you can honestly say to yourself 'if I kicked the bucket tomorrow, I would be OK knowing I had lived the life I wanted to'. I try to do that ever since losing my mum 4 years ago. I'm the same age as you, and spent a lot of money and time traveling through Europe, and although i'm still paying for that trip, I wouldn't change it for the world. It's about finding a balance. So sorry to hear about your grandpa. Take the opportunity to re-evaluate things so you are aware of the things that are important to you - which looks like what you're doing, anyway. Take care :)

Julie said...

I'm sorry for your certainly does put things in perspective. But during the here and now, money is still important. Even if you don't care to have tons, you want you and your family protected when you're gone as well and that takes money too.
Great blog

Anonymous said...

I am sorry for your loss. My condolences to your family.

Your blog post is very articulate and poignant. Thank you for sharing.

You can always make and save more money, but you can't make more time.

Take care of yourself during this difficult time.

Anonymous said...

Every time I lost a grandparent (approximately one every 4 years from age 14 to 28), I went through a very similar response to yours. I often looked at their lives and wondered what they regretted doing or not doing. Then I resolve to go out and do something I've been meaning to before I no longer have the option for whatever reason.

Would I be better off with an extra $5K in my savings account than spending it on travel? I argue "no", most of the time (I decided to forego India for Thanksgiving out of financial fear). I ask myself "if I died tomorrow, what would I regret missing out on"...and then I start putting some plans in motion. The only non-travel answer is "to leave the world better off for having me in it", and I haven't figured out how to do that yet.

Good luck finding your answers. Loss-related introspection can (and perhaps should) be life-altering. I've got some dark moments on the go myself, with the 4h anniversary of my father's death looming in a matter of weeks.

Deborah Johnson said...

I'm very sorry about your grandfather. I lost my grandmother earlier this year.

After she died, the family cleaned out her house. We found $20,000 in really old bills in a shoebox in her closet. She was a child of the Depression and was very frugal, but this shocked everyone. The money had obviously been hidden for decades.

I struggle with the same questions as you. Save or spend on experiences? I don't think there is an easy answer for anyone.

Budget Mama said...

I'm very sorry to hear about your grandfather's passing.

In terms of money, I think it's a balance that each person has to find for themselves. With the debt I have, I can't afford to spend and I need to work on my savings and emergency fund. But I am making small allotments here and there to reward my efforts in the day to day grind.

I love to travel and luckily did a lot of travel in my 20s and early 30s. I am going to make a travel fund so I can continue to travel somewhere big every other year and do small trips in between. Traveling is my passion. But I need to make sure I have all my financial ducks in a row. It's a balance.

Revanche said...

I've had this on my mind for some time now, and it still takes me a while to comment.

My condolences for your loss.

Crystal said...

Thank you all so much for thinking of me. Your support was very appreciated!

Emilita said...

I'm sorry to hear about your loss. My great uncle also died last weekend (after a long illness) fact, I lost both my great uncles this year. Sucky, to say the least.

I think time will help relieve that impending sense of mortality and soothe your existential crisis. Obviously nothing will fill the void of losing your grandfather in your life, but I think there will come a time when it's easier to get through the day without it being at the top of your mind all the time. (If that's how you're feeling at all...I just speak from my own past experience.)

But you're right, we have to live now. And even when you're feeling better about stuff, it's nice that you'll have this blog entry to loo back on if you ever need a jolt of money-isn't-everything mentality.

Thanks for sharing. I hope you're feeling better.

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