A recent discussion over at Five Acres and A Dream (if you are not following Leigh and Dan, you really should be. No. Really. Go over there and bookmark them now) has got me thinking (again) about the economics of our lives both now and in the not all so distant future.
At the moment we are in a bit of an unusual situation for us: Our income has never been higher, but neither have our expenses (with Nighean Gheal in her second year of college and Nighean Bhean getting ready to go away next year). It means that in some things we are making great progress, but I realize that it also means that this is not a long term sustainable solution (in the sense that I really do not care to work the hours I have been working for the next 9 years to get everyone through school). This whole situation is also based on the real fact that I have a job at the moment - but given my industry, it could realistically end within a year.
But I am also a realist. The very thing that permits me to make my money now - my experience (and therefore my age) is the same thing that will eventually ensure that I do not get the next job, or the one after that or the one after that. In other words, this train will not run forever. At best there are nine to fifteen years left - at worst, one.
How does one plan for such a thing?
All the normal things of course - debt reduction, rainy day funding, savings - and to a greater or lesser extent, we are working on that. But what comes very significantly to my mind is simply changing the very nature of how we live.
Modern life - at least a great deal of people's modern life - is built on specialization and convenience. I am specialized in what I do and so I exchange that specialization for goods produced by other people their specialization. These goods are easily accessible - more so than ever. When I was growing up there were maybe 10 options for eating out in my little town. There are probably 60 options for me now within a 5 mile radius.
But all of this comes at a cost: a cost in money and a cost in how I view things and the world.
The cost in money is, I assume, fairly transparent. But the cost in view? I have changed my view from money and independence being the most important thing to "time" being the most important thing (I have not fully, of course - but let us play along for the sake of argument).
For me to fully right this ship, I need to change my view about "time" - now I view it as time I am not spending doing other things but the time I have to work to do this things is not figured into that calculation as it should be. An example: an average dinner for a family of four will cost me between 0.5 and 2.5 hours of labor at my current job. The dinner lasts maybe an a hour and we have not had to invest the time to prepare the meal or clean up - but was it worth the time at work it took to have that dinner?
What I am trying to propose, in a perhaps broken way, is that my concept of time has influenced my concept of value of money. For me to right this - to begin thinking correctly about it - I need to see my spending in terms of what I having to give up to make it happen.
Gene Logsdon of The Contrary Fame was an expert at this. Constantly in his writings he would reflect on the cost of what he was doing in the real world if he was paying for it - but as it was part of his lifestyle, the cost had transmuted itself into value. He had escaped the black hole of time and money.
A new book at the Big Book Seller will cost me 0.5 to 0.75 hours of labor. Alternatively I can wait until I find it used and it will cost me 0.05 hours of labor. A little patience and effort makes my money go farther.
I am not quite as far on this path as I would like to be. But I am also starting to get farther than I expected as well.