Bad ink: The tattoo of debt

“Money in the bank is like toothpaste in the tube. Easy to take out, hard to put back”

Earl Wilson

If you are $40,000 deep deep in credit card debt the sense of relief you will have once you finally pay it off will be immense.

That feeling though will pale in comparison to the feeling you will have on the day that you look at your bank statement and see $10,000 of your own money sitting there smiling at you.

Once you have real savings you will never let yourself get back into debt.

It is because your old self, and those behaviours and habits, will have become unrecognisable.

Some time ago we crunched our debt. The technique we used is documented here on my older blog. Now we have no hire purchases. No Visa. No overdraft. We do have a lightweight mortgage on our current fixer up house, but it has been hammered hard and paid down.

If you are young and starting out in life ask any older person about debt. Seniors will probably tell you that the debt that they got into in their 20’s was about as good an idea as getting their tattoo on a boozy 19 year old’s night out. Both can seem like a good idea for about 5 minutes or even 5 years. After 5 years there may be some nagging doubt. In 10 years perhaps deep regret.

The things you love today will not be the same things that you love in 20 years from now. You will grow, develop and change. In the future you may look down at the green ink on your arm and the red ink in your bank account and wonder what you were thinking. There are too many people struggling to pay off a super sound system and a Gibson Korina Flying V electric guitar 10 years after both have gone to the tip, been stolen or gotten lost in transit.

If we can’t pay in cash it means that we can’t afford it. We save up until we can or we get creative with the problem.

Being smart with money means holding off that red ink as best you can. It will leave a nasty stain on the future you.

The story of the second hand boy in the safe shabby neigbhourhood

“Everybody knows how to raise children, except the people who have them”
P.J. O’Rourke

Parents tell you that having children is expensive and it can be. There are some expenses that nobody should compromise on like medical care, hygiene and nutrition. There are others that can be managed and some costs that should be avoided entirely.

When it comes to our children the two most significant cost drivers stem from very noble intentions:

  • Personal Security (fear)
  • Quality Education

We happily live in the inner city until our children arrive. Before birth, or soon after, we flee to the suburbs. We want our children to grow up in a safe neighbourhood where they will be able to play outdoors without threat of personal violence or abduction.

We also seek a house in a good school district so that our children can have the best education money can buy.

This means that we are all competing for very sought after, and therefore rare and expensive homes. They must be in just the right part of town, very close to a good school and not too far from our place of work. If it is further away we accept higher travel or commuter costs in addition to the increased housing costs because the benefits for our children come first.

I am not suggesting parents do not have the right to keep their child safe or give their child access to a good education. Both of these should be foremost in any parents mind. It’s just that leaping to the safe home in the good school district (and all the extra costs) should occur only after considering the alternatives.

Perhaps we could achieve these noble aims of safety and education without incurring a heavy burden of exaggerated mortgage debt loaded on our families.  Before moving form a conscious plan to make sure your child is safe, smart and cheap. Maybe moving is the best choice, but maybe it isn’t.

There are many other areas where you can spend virtually nothing. Our boy is a second hand baby. We buy boxes of used clothing for 50 cents. We have also been given many items from people with children that have outgrown them. Second hand baby clothes are usually in very good condition because children grow so fast. First time parents also tend to buy more ‘cute’ outfits than their newborn could ever wear. It is not unusual for us to find a ‘second hand’ piece of clothing with the price sticker still attached to the label.

We have built a vast toy library without having every bought a single toy. The toys have been gifts from friends and family and donations of second hand toys from children who have outgrown them.  Small children can be very generous donating their toys to the new baby. Especially when they suspect (probably correctly) that their parents will rush right out and reward them with new toys.

Toys aren’t even that important to kids. Our little boy is far more fascinated by household items like clothes pegs. He’s spent more time retrieving the broom from the cupboard that he has spent examining any of the expensive made in China electronic plastic toys. I think toys are entirely unnecessary if you can’t get them cheap or free. A baby could be totally stimulated by engaged parents and frequently changing household items to suck, manipulate and examine.

We bought $500 worth of cloth nappies. Including all laundry costs we will save about $4700 on nappies over two years.  Disposable nappies are terrible for the environment, unhealthy for the poor garbage man (I mean who would seriously think that it’s okay to poo in their rubbish bin and then put it out to the street for pick up!), and hideously expensive. The good news is that with modern cloth nappies you can outfit a child for two years for a small one time cost.

Sometimes we do feel a little bit guilty when we deny buying something for our son. When these situations arise we remind ourselves of three things:

  1. He is so young that it matters more us that it matters to him. He certainly won’t remember that he didn’t have the Hasbro Winky Doodle 400 when he was 10 months old.
  2. Not having things when we were kids made us feel hard-done by at the time, but we both learnt to appreciate and care for what we had. We had to use our imagination to play rather than rely on a device for entertainment.  We also learnt a vital lesson about life -you can’t have everything that you desire, but if you nag enough you might just get the thing you desire (be persistent)!
  3. When our child(ren) reflect on their lives they won’t remember their toys. We hope instead that they will remember that we were both there to kick soccer balls, build huts in the forest, go on bike rides and play silly games with them. This is our greatest gift from and utmost benefit from not having to work a mcjob everyday.

Children can be expensive, but we don’t think that they need to be.

What kids want most from you is your time. Not toxic plastic toys made in China. Choose to be penniless and participating over rich and absent.

McJobs: the mind forg’d manacle

“When work is a pleasure, life is a joy! When work is a duty, life is slavery”
Maxim Gorky

Why are we such willing slaves?

[This is a fairly long post, but a very important topic. Before reading on go get a hot drink, put your feet up and ease into it :)]

We forfeit the best part of our lives completing work tasks that have no real meaning for us beyond a pay cheque. I suspect that fully 9 in every 10 working people would ditch their current occupation if they had financial means to do so (e.g. passive income from another source, won the lottery, got an inheritance, or knew they could start their own business and succeed).

After a few months of permanent vacation many would eventually return to an occupation, but with the freedom to accept a lower paid more fulfilling job like caregiving, coaching, or non-profit advocacy.  The truth is that we don’t need to earn as much as we do which then means that it isn’t necessary to work full-time.

Most people think – I need money and that means –  I need a job. Money is synonymous with getting a job. That’s faulty thinking though. What we need is cashflow. A job is one solution to generate cashflow, but not the only solution. In fact for many people (especially those that value free time more than extra money) a full-time job is actually a terrible solution to the cashflow challenge.

That said, I am still stuck in a part-time white collar McJob  a couple of days a week. I used to work full-time until I decoupled job from cashflow.  I immediately went down to part-time even though I did not have any extra cashflow at that point.

Going part-time had a major psychological advantage. It is great to know that you have more days to yourself each week than you do chained to sterile office desk.  A McJob is slang for a low-paying, low-prestige, dead end job. In McJob’s security is low, the chance of advancement virtually non-existent, but the work is very easy and so we continue to turn up and don’t get discontented enough to ask a better question.

McJobs originated from the industrialisation of the food service industry. Now McJobs permeate every corner of the economy. There are just as many white collar McJobs as blue collar food service ones.  The strangest secret is that we don’t have to work our life away doing dull, dreary stuff the boss tells us to do. The sadder aspect is that folks are so spent after 10 hours in the grind, and are so habituated to be a good little worker from the moment they enter grade school, that they don’t realise working is a choice.

Wage slavery to a McJob is a mind forg’d manacle. It is an accident of history. Working the majority of our time is in historic terms – fairly unusual. We’ve gotten into this pickle because our society drives home the message that we must all have money to be successful and that hard work and suffering to earn is actually good for us. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather be idle than suffer or labour to acheive something unimportant to me.

Idleness isn’t as popular a choice in our society as it should be. Unfortunately, to be idle, indolent, to not work, to not produce has become culturally unacceptable.  Most of the labels for those of us who choose not to work our life away are very negative. Bum, vagabond, unemployed or unemployable, lazy, slob, bludger…

In any social interaction the second question is ‘so what do you do?’. That’s code for what is your job? It’s an important question because your job explains your entire social identity once (if) you’ve grown up.

In the conversation that follows we are obliged to describe how interesting, stressful and exciting your job is. Sometimes we can’t believe what we are hearing from ourself as  we sell our job to others. Even if the truth is that we are miserable or bored with working we see no other option and it certainly isn’t the done thing to discuss unhappiness about our work at dinner with friends.  So we regale our comrades with the highlights from our work. They compare these highlights to an average day at their office. As a result the other person is most likely thinking ‘gosh that sounds so much more exciting than insurance! I must see if they have anything going’. There is that possibility of changing jobs and finding something better, but after a short time in the workforce we learn that one job is much like another. Still change is as good as a vacation.

I find it enlightening, but not surprising that the first recorded usage of the word boredom in the English language coincides perfectly with the industrial revolution. It turns out that we didn’t have the word boredom until interesting and autonomous work of the medieval period was transformed into meaningless repetitive interdependent processes. The industrial revolution required us to become machine like, robotic, mindless manufacturers in the assembly chain…and thus boring work was unleashed on the masses.

The truth is that we are not consigned at birth to toil our entire life for the profits of others. We can win our freedom from the grind and boredom of work. I found it very strange going from being a very free student at 24 to a highly controlled employee at 25 years old. I guess I never properly adapted.  Discovering the following quote from R. Buckminster Fuller (Bucky) many years ago likely destroyed my ability to sit quietly in the corner of a grey office block until I punched my retirement ticket.

“We must do away with the absolutely specious notion that everybody has to earn a living. It is a fact today that one in ten thousand of us can make a technological breakthrough capable of supporting all the rest. The youth of today are absolutely right in recognising this nonsense of earning a living. We keep inventing jobs because of this false idea that everybody has to be employed at some kind of drudgery because, according to the Malthusian-Darwin theory, he must justify his right to exist. So we have inspectors of inspectors and people making instruments for inspectors to inspect inspectors. The true business of people should be to go back to school and think about whatever it was they were thinking about before somebody came along and told them they had to earn a living.”

R. Buckminster Fuller (1895 – 1983)

So what is a wage slave to do? Just up and quit? Far too high risk for the majority. I suggest the first step is to recognise that like any mind forg’d manacle freedom is only one good thought away. The shackles are not physical. They are not real. We can think our way free.

Some idle thoughts to loosen the manacle:

  • There are certainly more negative terms to describe the unemployed, but there are some nifty positive labels as well: mogul,  starlet, entrepreneur  trust fund kid, home executive, landlord, retiree, freelancer, unjobber, fund manager, painter, writer, coach…
  • Consider also the examples of people and entire cultures that survive happily without money. The less money you need, the less you need to bother working. This is one idea very dear to my heart.
  • The history of human activity is very long, but the history of societies based entirely on competition for money is a relatively recent development. For far longer we have cooperated in small groups to produce enough to meet all of our needs collectively. Working together, sharing, giving, helping others can also reduce our need to spend and therefore to work to earn.
  • There are many people that survive on very little money (relative to the average income of the society). Thanks to the economic downturn the internet is heaving with examples of frugal folk.

We can also unpick the second part of the statement ‘therefore we all must suffer work’ in the following ways…

  • There are many very wealthy people that do not ‘work’ in the traditional sense. They receive money from value created through the labour of others.
  • There are a great many artists and individuals that would not consider their efforts suffering or work, but rather play. When passions are aligned with vocation there is no dreary drudgery of the work day. Work is no longer a grind. Time flies. We enjoy our labour.
  • There are billions of retired people who live happily without needing to work (although they probably suffered in a job for a long period to win their freedom). I also believe many retirees are forced to live on a fraction of the money they spent when they worked. Had they lived like this earlier in their lives and saved the difference perhaps they could have retired in their 20’s or 30’s.

For the last few years I have been focused on life redesign. Increasingly I receive money rather than work for it. Mostly this flows from entertaining, interesting and playful activities of my choosing. I reject the notion that the only way for me to earn my keep is thorough pointless office work for a large corporation (aka the modern McJob so many of us are afflicted with!). I now only work part-time which gives me more days of idleness than work each week. Highly recommended!

I look to cooperate with others whenever I can. There is no point competing to try to get all the money when one just needs enough to support a very simple life. A well lived life is not working 70 hours per week for the entirety of our adulthood only to fall down dead one day from exhaustion of it all. It is about doing what you want. Living is about freedom to enjoy a healthy dose of leisure everyday.

Having worked for a number of years in an office environment I can honestly say that for me this sort of work is far from fulfilling. I could never experience sustained happiness. I have also arrived at the following conclusions about white collar work (just in case you are waivering or need some convincing that McJob’s are a poor choice for you):

1) Office jobs are all very generalised, simplified and interchangeable. This is so that they are easily refilled as people get fed up and leave.

2) Because jobs are too simple people are very bored in their work.

3) It is socially unacceptable not to be busy at work. So even though we often have too little to do, and what we do have to do is very easy, we must make a great pantomime of every task. We become very skilled at pretending to be very busy and very overworked. Activity is far more important than productivity in the modern office. Because of this much of the activity in an office is pointless. People shuffle paper, create unnecessary activities,  or call an inordinate numbers of meetings. Others skillfully disguise non-work errands as productive behaviour. The goal is to create an indispensability aura around ourselves. Some Harry Potter fans employ a cloak of invisibility. Both tactics are to survive the blades of the management consultants hiding in the long grass waiting to pick off the weaker in the tribe.

4) Workplaces are not meritocracies. The wrong people almost always get promoted.

5) The wrong people get promoted because the main means of achieving promotion is to kiss up to a patron who is higher in the company structure. The patrons only elevate their favourite most grovely underlings. As a result many talented, intelligent and capable employees watch sycophants succeed while they, for all their talent, languish in obscure lower paid roles.

6) Fully 90% of managers are ineffective and unnecessary. Work gives managers a sense of power and something middle aged men seem to crave. A willing audience that have to listen to them talk endless rubbish. Only the office fool challenges the General Manager and so they come to believe themselves very clever indeed. This compels them to arrange even more motivational speeches for the troops to suffer through.

7) Long serving employees are not loyal. They are just very afraid and have a high tolerance for boredom.

8) McJobs pay just enough to keep you hooked, but not enough for you to easily accumulate the wealth required for you to do what you wish you could achieve in your lifetime.

9) McJobs are not secure. This is widely advertised to keep people in line. The unspoken threat is work harder than your colleague or you might lose your job, then your house and shock horror – end up poor!

10) Competition is used to drive people to extreme and often immoral or highly aggressive behaviour that would be considered unacceptable in any other setting or environment aside from business.

9) We rush out of the factory gate as soon as the whistle blows and hurriedly dump our wages straight back into the system. It is our incapability to retaining a share of the wage for ourselves that plunges us into permanent purgatory.

10) Most workplace confidants and friends reveal that they are unhappy and melancholy in their work lives. They live for vacations, lunch breaks, knocking off early on Friday and they always buy a lottery ticket.

I don’t mean to be overly critical or too negative about working. These are just my observations on office life. If you love your job that is great news and I am very happy for you, but many of the rest of us have already knocked off and gone to the pub.

The good news is that we can become free of our McJob if we choose and it is a choice. Simply decide you want out. Stop pretending that you are physically stuck. You are not locked into a shitty deal for the rest of your life. Look around the room. Search for the escape hatch. Check the window latch. There are ways out of solitary cubical confinement. Plenty of them!!  I can’t tell you exactly how you will escape McJobdom, but I will build this blog as a repository for seditious ideas to help you.

3000 years ago Roman slaves could buy their freedom so why can’t you?

In the coming weeks we’ll expand on alternatives and explain far better options for living.  In the meantime check out our skeleton plan for chucking in our McJobs 30 years ahead of time.

The deliciously easy recipe for happiness

“No one can give you better advice than yourself”
Marcus Tullius Cicero

A troubled business man sought out a wise young prince for advice.

“How can I help?” the prince asked.

“I have worked hard and made myself very wealthy” said the businessman “but I am very unhappy”.

“And what is it you seek now?”.

“I want happiness” said the business man.

“That is easily achieved” replied the prince, “Simply take away ‘I’ and ‘want’ and you will have happiness”.

The deep understandings contained in this simple story are easily overlooked. This story is perhaps the most direct road map to happiness ever recorded. As I reflect on this story I recognise that many of the happiest people that I know, or that I had discovered in history or in literature, neatly conformed to the stencil laid out by the prince.

What the prince is saying is:

Stop focusing all of you attention on yourself. Forget yourself. Live for others. Be open, giving, compassionate and helpful.

Give up striving on arriving at a future place where all your wants and needs are fulfilled. Live in the present. Shed future wants and become contented with who you are now and what you have now. If we are contented now chances are that we will be contented in the future. It I also very likely that happiness will be a regular experience in our lives.

Contentedness and selflessness (sharing and helping others to meet their needs as opposed to selfishness – pursuing your own needs and competing with others) are more likely to bring more happiness than a new car, a bigger house or stunning new earrings.

… that is the royal recipe for happiness that the prince mapped out. I enjoy it for it’s simplicity.

What is your recipe for living a happy life?

Primitive tools are best suited to primitive peoples (like us)

“Hip is the sophistication of the wise primitive in a giant jungle”
Norman Mailer

There is alot of press at the moment about primal eating. Noise and heat, but not much light. Theories and ideas abound in an absence of evidence. In contrast to the paleo crowd there is too much evidence to suggest that we almost certainly did not eat like a predator. If you’ve happened on this post because you are jazzed up about the paleo or primal diet watch this or this.

But, that’s not really what I wanted to talk about in this post.

In terms of being capable of meeting all of our needs ourself we westerners are actually a very primitive people. Jacob Lund Fisker has a really great bit on primitive people. He rightly points out that so called primitive people have the tools and skill to perform every function that is required to sustain their lives themselves. We on the other hand, the sophisticated, civilized, highly (inter)dependent set have become so entirely reliant on others and so unskilled and incompetent that we can no longer boil an egg.

I am reminded of Arthur Dent the central character of Douglas Adams Hitch-hikers Guide to the Galaxy. In the book Dent is swept off planet and transported to a supposedly primitive culture. He immediately has visions of becoming their leader due to his technological sophistication. Yet to his dismay he realises that while he knows of technologies never seen by this society he actually has absolutely no idea how even the simplest technologies work!

I was exactly the same. When something broke I paid a specialist to fix it for me. Then I dutifully troddled off to work to earn the money that I needed to pay all of the bills I was creating by being incompetent.

Now I am more creative. I don’t want to lose more life working to pay bills that don’t even need to be created. I look to repair things myself. I am learning how things work and I try to solve my problems without having to turn to the marketplace and pay for help.  I’m into permaculture, cooperative purchasing and I’ve even tried to start a local guild.

This journey has taught me that primitive (i.e. simpler) appliances and tools are vastly superior to modern ones.  I have a growing affinity for simple hand tools in preference to electricity guzzling devices made from toxic plastic. Simple mechanical tools that were made in the era before integrated electronics, plastic casings and embedded computer chips are easier to repair. Now I prefer mechanical repairs, wooden casings and low salt potato chips.

Our kitchen and our cooking has been transformed by returning to primitive kitchen tools. We use a knife instead of a blender. If we feel like popcorn we don’t need to plug in a Pop-matic popcorn maker we just pick up a pot. Going primitive is back to nature, back to simple and back to well…going back. I have several manual drills like this in my shed. Cast iron skillets, a hand beater and many other simple solutions that are much more robust than the more modern equivalent. The interesting thing is that the further back in time you travel the simpler and easier your life seems to become. What has happened to the modern convenience we have been promised. Futurists in the 1800’s predicted that we would be freed by our technology. That robots and machines would do tasks (like cleaning the house) while we took our leisure. Unfortunately such predictions appear to have backfired. We are slaves to the machines. We leap into action when they beep. The machines have necessitated more and more effort than they have relieved.  Long and hard (almost robotic) toil is required to mechanise our lives – a new dishwasher, upgrade  PC, get a smart TV, the new smartphone, computerize the washing machine so it can be connected to the household server…

If you want more free time then paradoxically you must turn back the clock. Return to primitive tools. Unplug whenever you can. Rediscover simple pleasures, have more leisure, and save ridiculous amounts of money.

Do you have your own primitive tool story or a primitive solution to a problem we’re all shelling way too much loot out on?

I’d love to hear about it. Please share it in the comments box below this post!

A Wealth Plan

“I’d like to live as a poor man with lots of money”

Pablo Picasso

The formula for wealth is very old and extremely simple. Perhaps it is so old that it has been disregarded by the populous because it is considered archaic. We seem to have become a society that discounts the value of anything that isn’t electronic or digitized.

The unnecessary busyness of life fills our minds with noise. Our ears are too often closed to simple secrets that are whispered on street corners. In the moment when we might learn wisdom from the universe our attention dashes off to any great number of electronic distractions. But like many things forged in a bygone era the formula for wealth is as good now as is was when it was shiny and new.

Becoming wealthy and maintaining wealth is quite simple. There are only five steps on this path.

It’s not enough to know the destination or plan the route. We must also make the trip.

To become financially wealthy (the first step):

Need little.

Save more than you spend and invest the difference.

If you earned $100 you may spend $49, but you must save $51 and buy an asset.

An asset is not your house.

An asset is not your car.

Your job is not an asset.

Neither are new clothes.

An asset is anything that returns a continuous payment of money.

Assets are: a rental property, dividends from stock, interest from cash, interest from repayment of money lent, business ownership, producing something you can sell, rent or lease.

If you save more than you spend and invest the difference you will quickly become wealthy.

Financial wealth is the simplest wealth to attain.

To be truly wealthy you must have good relationships (the second step).

To have relationship wealth we need to understand that all relationships are build on trust and the best way to develop trust is to listen.

If you seek relationship wealth become deeply interested in the stories told by those you wish good relations with.

To develop spiritual wealth (the third step) sit quietly everyday.

Gaze within. Understand the true nature of yourself. If this interests you look out for my upcoming post on decapitation.

To develop physical wealth (health) eat starchy vegetables and live actively (the forth step).

Leave milk for baby cows, let the egg become a chicken, leave the fish in the sea and let the beasts run with the herd.

To develop emotional wealth (the final step)  – give.

Give your time as a volunteer, give your money as a philanthropist, give your wisdom (but only when it is sought) and give care and compassion to all that you meet.

These are the five steps to wealth.

By walking this path you can be wealthy – financially, inter-personally  spiritually, physically and emotionally.