How I Think About Money

A friend said I should write about how I think about money. The answer is I try not to think about money because I don't like thinking about money.

Money is commoditized coercion. I don't like coercing other people and I don't like being coerced. I'll spend money to get food, housing and utilities. I'll pay to keep my body and bicycle in working order. By modern American standards of living this isn't very much but by historical standards it's extreme luxury.

I write software but I don't use engineers as my reference class when I measure my standard of living. I picture my great grandfather. He was so much wealthier than his neighbors he owned his own bicycle! I own a bicycle too and can eat polished white rice whenever I want! (My grandfather and great grandfather ate sweet potatoes, which were cheaper.) My friends and family say I live like a monk but in my head I feel like I'm awash in plenty. I've never be threatened by war, starvation, violence, plague[1], poverty or serious injury.

I wear clothes until they have holes in them. I keep wearing them until my friends and family insist I buy new ones. I wear the holey clothes in private until the sleeves fall off. I use the rags for cleaning. I bought two outfits new. One is a nice set of semi-formal attire my business partner insisted I buy to keep from embarrassing him. The other is a set of bicycling clothes I bought when I got tired of hypothermia. I work from a big comfortable chair I bought used ten years ago. When the cushions tear I sew them back up. I've owned my bicycle for longer than I've owned my chair.

Being wealthy isn't the same as being rich. If I was rich I'd eat at the local vegan Vietnamese restaurant which is run by Buddhist monks who give away free food to the homeless every Sunday. Since I'm not rich, I tend to cook my own food. Cooking improves my health and forces me to be at least a little mindful of what I eat. I eat a little meat and drink a lot of milk. I consume animal products out of a mix of selfish self-interest and ruthless utilitarianism. I'm a less effective person when I give them up. If I was rich I'd buy ethically-raised animal products and a membership to a gym with a good weight rack.

I don't like cars. They're bad for the environment and they're bad for my health. I hate driving. Not owning a car forces me to walk, bicycle or lightrail everywhere which makes me happy. The only thing I really need a car for is the occasional hiking/bicycling trip and for that I mooch off of friends and family which strengthens my relationships with them. I often compensate them with a full tank of gas to reduce the mooch factor.

Adventure is cheap. My favorite way to travel is to fly somewhere impoverished for a long stretch of time and try to blend in with the locals. If they take pictures of me it means I'm in a sufficiently obscure location. When they stop taking pictures of me it means I win.

I could imagine splurging on an attractive partner but I'm single and poor so that's like putting the cart before the horse when I have neither a horse nor a cart. I suspect having more money would make me more attractive but I don't really understand how status works.

I live in a violent neighborhood with a regular police presence. There used to be a burned-out husk of a car down the block. I like living here because rent is cheap, Vietnamese groceries are cheap, strangers will dispose of furniture for you if you leave it on the sidewalk and there are many opportunities to do good. I volunteer at the local high school where I teach programming. It's within walking distance, half my kids are Latina and no other programmer would be there if I wasn't.

[1] I saw COVID-19 coming months in advance. I treated it as an opportunity to make money.