For someone who doesn’t drink alcohol, I sure spend a lot of time reading wine lists.
‘Freshly cut garden hose’. ‘Gasoline’. ‘Liquid Viagra’. ‘Pencil shavings’.
With descriptions like that, can you blame me?
One of the things Japan is famous for is its fancy toilets. There are ‘washlets’ that wash and dry your nether regions for you, heated toilet seats (take it from me – you should not use these after coming inside from below freezing temperatures like I did once after skiing – you’ll feel like you’ve seared your rump off), and even the delightfully named 音姫 (‘Sound Princess’) which makes a noise to cover up any audible productions of your own in public restrooms.
As it turns out, these ‘super toilets’ may just be the perfect example of the kinds of financial compromises we are willing – and not so willing – to make when it comes to personal comfort.
There is a Russian proverb that ‘Only mousetraps have free cheese’ (бесплатный сыр бывает только в мышеловке.) It’s reminiscent of the English saying (though slightly more brutal) ‘There’s no such thing as a free lunch’.
As I sit here digesting one such ‘free lunch’, I must admit, I do feel somewhat like a trapped mouse.
The relationship between time and money is complex. We talk about ‘saving’ and ‘spending’ both money and time. It’s very tempting to say to ourselves that we could get everything we needed to done if only we had a great expanse of uninterrupted time.
‘I could organise my finances if only I could have one afternoon a week spare, or a whole day to set aside to do my taxes!’
‘I could write that novel if I were rich enough to be holed up in an hotel for a year!’
‘I could learn French if I could live in France for six months!’
What is much harder to see is the amount of time we could be spending, each and every day, on these bigger goals we’d like to achieve.
Over 400 years BC, a massive seam of silver was discovered in the mines in Athens. Naturally, how to distribute this new-found wealth provoked great debate. Aristides, a statesman of the time, proposed that the profit be distributed among the Athenian citizens.
The way in which natural resources – not only mining, but water, natural forests, arable land, and the sea – are allocated has always been and remains a major concern of humanity. In Australia, a combination of the mining boom and the global financial crisis is said to have caused a two-speed economy that saw some grow very rich while others became poorer.
Even more alarmingly, there exist companies who have designs on natural resources which everyone should have a fundamental right to – those resources needed for survival.
We arrived in Milan, Italy yesterday, hungry. All throughout the flight, visions of plates overflowing with pasta danced in my head.
Upon landing at the airport, we took a bus straight for the city. On the way, we fervently started looking up Italian restaurants – and, no surprise, there were over 6,000.
But all of them were closed.
Piles of unopened bills. A wallet full of receipts and ATM statements. More accounts than you can remember the balances of. Cards you can’t remember the PINs to. Waking up in the middle of the night, heart pounding, thinking of your pension plan, tax return, or credit card statement. Sound familiar?
Certain words – like ‘bank’ and ‘statement’ – can grip us with anxiety. So much so, that Cambridge University researchers have declared ‘financial phobia‘ a bona fide psychological condition, affecting as many as 9 million people in Britain – mostly women and young people.
The herd instinct is ‘a mentality characterized by a lack of individual decision-making or thoughtfulness, causing people to think and act in the same way as the majority of those around them’. It’s a familiar term in investing, where investors are influenced by the positivity – or negativity – of others, and their behaviour then feeds into the market, perpetuating this cycle and sometimes leading to bubbles or crashes.
But the herd mentality I want to talk about today is the one that is much bigger than the stock market, and permeates almost all of our money (and other) decisions.
One of the things I most looked forward to, in buying a home of our own, was having more freedom.
Owning, to me, was more than just about no longer having to pay rent, lining someone else’s pockets, but about having the ability to make the ‘house’ I lived in a ‘home’ – something a bit more personal – getting to paint the walls a different colour or put up pictures if I so chose.
And I think this is a common dream. Take the cliché ‘A man’s home is his castle‘. It encapsulates the notion that ‘One can do whatever one wants to in one’s own home’.
But is that always true? And are there other ‘castles’ you can build that give you even more freedom?
I’m coming up to my fifth month of being on the road, partly inspired by the fantastic book Cashing in on the American Dream: How to retire at 35 by Paul Terhorst. It’s a book that sat on my wishlist for a couple of years, for one simple reason – the word ‘American’ in the title. Although I (and probably most people in the world) am familiar with the concept of the the ‘American Dream’, I wasn’t sure whether the book would be too heavily focused on the American context to be of any use to me. As it turned out, it was extremely relevant, despite its distance from my location in both time (being published over 30 years ago) and space (given my Australian background).
A few days ago, I started to write a post about this book, about how we can all ‘cash in on the American dream’ in some way or another, and the relevance of Terhort’s ideas decades later, in contexts outside America (which I’ll still do in my next post). But this led me to research the very phrase ‘American Dream’, and that turned out to be a whole other (and in some ways, even more interesting!) story.