I just started reading a book called Saved, by Ben Hewitt. Only the “S” looks like a dollar sign. I am not very far into it yet but it is resonating so deeply within me, that inner place where I stew in a bouillabaisse of guilt, anxiety, fear of the future, despair and greed. The book is written by an excellent freelance writer who lives in Vermont, my home state. He met a guy called Erik who lives on a very small amount of money every year, and makes his decisions using a profoundly different matrix than the average American. This book is the story of Erik and how he lives, but it is also the story of Ben and how he is changed and freed up about money through following Erik around.
I have so completely bought into the paradigm that America loves, you know, the one that is killing us? Where we work and work and work to put money into the stock market which is so volatile that I just have to not look at it, and buy insurance for every possible eventuality, and save and save, and fund retirement plans, and buy long term care plans, and spend lots of money on wills and trusts, etc. etc. all in a vain effort to feel some kind of safe. Of course it doesn’t work, especially in this country today where financial doom is imminent, constantly discussed and predicted, and absolutely nothing is being done to change the course of the ship. And believe me, I recognize that most people don’t have the luxury of attempting to safeguard themselves in any of these ways.
My kids have blown my socks off by taking a course called “Financial Peace University” which was developed by a guy named Dave Ramsey, and covers the basics of saving, spending within your limits, giving, not having any debt, etc. I have seen huge changes in their lives as they have begun to operate according to these basic and simple principles. I just watched my oldest and his wife come back from a weeklong vacation that they paid for in advance and were not going to receive ONE bill for afterwards. They were marveling at how good that felt. Another child is saving, has no debt, is financing a significant part of her wedding and all of her honeymoon, and is set up for a life of, if not peace, at least not crippling debt and anxiety. My third is gradually adopting into the system. She is already a highly motivated non-consumer and is putting wheels on it that will not wear out. I am inspired by my kids. They have much less than we do, and yet they are living with less anxiety than I do.
Anyone can do this stuff. It will of course look different for each of us, but it is doable no matter what your income, your debt load, and your expenses. It will involve varying degrees of pain to make changes. It takes a steel will and the ability to resist the siren song of rampant consumerism that is sung to us continually.
The thing I like about this book is that it isn’t recommending ways to beat the system, or work the system, or function more efficiently within the system. It suggests stepping away from the system and learning a different way to be, to do things, to live. And it suggests that there is great “wealth” to be found in doing so. It is only very recently in our history that the norm has been to buy, buy, buy all the time, and that the belief has been that herein lies our happiness. Surely we all know enough to know that isn’t true. Possessions never bring contentment or a sense of completion. Buying something produces a short-lived high much like shooting up. Then it must be repeated frequently and endlessly to produce the same feeling. And eventually you are left drowning in your stuff, with a cluttered house, a cluttered mind and heart, and bewilderment at how you got there and how unhappy it has actually made you.
Consuming less is not only good for us, it leaves us with the ability to help others more, to use less precious resources of our beleaguered planet, and to simplify our homes, our schedules, our bills, everything. I am really inspired to work this into my life in all sorts of ways. I’ll keep you updated. I have been very impressed with the blogs by my friend Treana who I mentioned in an earlier blog. Not only is she doing this, but she is sharing her struggles and giving easy to follow lessons in her blogs for how to get started. I hope this is encouraging to you. There is a different much more meaningful way to enjoy life than shopping and accumulating. Let’s all go figure out how it works!