Updated on 12.12.07

The Meaning of It All

Trent Hamm

There is a fundamental disconnect that people have between their money and the way they live their day to day life. They view money as something separate and distinct, something to be managed. I sometimes use the phrase “money management” to refer to specific tasks, like balancing a checkbook or doing a budget, but I actually hate the phrase – it implies that money is something distinct and separate, something wild and uncontrollable that needs to be managed.

Over time, people have become more and more separated from the product of their work. Our ancestors on the savannah would immediately see the product of their work in the form of the berries they would gather or the animal they would kill for the evening’s meal. As time wore on, the idea of trade began to take hold – the first abstraction. We would trade the product of our work to others for other goods, so we began to look at the comparative value of our work. Soon, money appeared in some form, adding further disconnect from the actual product of our work. We would do something, get money in exchange for this work, then use that money for other necessities and possessions. Today, with credit cards, there’s even less of a tangible connection – our work is now traded for the swipe of a plastic card.

It is that disconnect, that separation, that has led to a sense of our money being completely out of our control. We spend hours in the workplace, but most of us don’t even receive a paper paycheck, let alone actual tangible goods in exchange for our work. It’s electronically deposited into our accounts. When we look at our balance, we don’t even think about our work – we think about all of the stuff this money can get for us. Is there any wonder so many of us are in debt?

I started writing The Simple Dollar to try to understand why I was in such bad financial shape and to work through the solutions available to me to get out of that precarious state. I expected that the process would take me towards learning about money management and investing and such topics. While I have learned a mountain of information on those topics, the real lesson learned was something else entirely.

The real truth is that money can’t buy happiness, only time can. If you look at every financial transaction you make through that filter, everything begins to look a lot different. Most of us spend time working so that we can afford the trappings of our daily lives. The only problem is that most of these trappings don’t really make us happy, they just serve as a balm to cover up a deeper problem.

That deeper problem is how we spend our time. Many of us spend our day working at a job that doesn’t fulfill us or satisfy us, leaving us feeling very empty at the end of a day. In exchange for that time, we get a certain amount of money, which we can use however we like.

The problem is that most of us look at what will make us feel better right now. We’ve just spent a day at work exhausted and it makes us feel a bit better to walk out into the parking lot and slip into a luxury car for the ride home. What has been forgotten, though, is that you’re spending your day in misery just so you can ride in a luxury car during the commute. You arrive home to a gorgeous home in the suburbs, but you’re too exhausted to enjoy it. You use the remaining energy you have left to do the basic steps of household care and interacting with your family, just to fall in bed and do it all over again.

That luxury car and that sweet house in the suburbs are balms. They’re like putting calamine lotion on a very bad case of the chicken pox – you might lessen the itch, but the itch is still there and it will keep coming back no matter how much lotion you put on it.

What is the itch? That itch is your dreams, what your soul tells you that you should be doing with your time. That itch is the dream that you’re not chasing so you can drive that Lexus on your dreaded morning commute. That itch is the time you spend at meetings when you’d rather be your son’s Little League coach. That itch is the realization that you’ve just sold your dreams for a house full of consumer goods that are gathering dust while you sit in a hotel room watching sports on basic cable after a business meeting wondering what has happened to your life.

The problem for most of us is that we’ve made ourselves a very nice prison cell, with bars constructed of mortgages, student loans, car payments, credit card bills, bad debts, and so on – in other words, the natural conclusion of that separation from our money. We’re stuck in place and we can’t move, so we rub on a little more balm and hope that our “ship will come in” and the bars will disappear.

What does it all mean? It means that every time we make a purchase that doesn’t have real meaning for us, we’ve added another bar to our prison cell. It means another few days of misery driving into work, wishing we could be doing something fundamentally different with our lives. It means that we stay at the office late and miss our daughter’s dance recital. It means that we leave that novel inside of us unwritten, burning us up. It means we give away everything we dreamed about our entire lives.

Maybe, this coming year, we can put off upgrading that car and instead hold onto it for a little while longer. Maybe we can cut back on our cable bills a little, or maybe even a lot. Maybe we can go through that closet in the basement and sell some of that stuff that, quite honestly, we’ll never use again. Maybe, when we’re standing in the checkout lane about to buy something we really don’t need, we can take another look at it and put it back on the shelf.

And maybe, because of that, we can get the courage to take out that keyboard and start writing that novel inside of us. Maybe we’ll have the freedom to leave the office early and help our children with their jump shot. Maybe we’ll turn off the television, go out in the garage, and start learning how to play the guitar like we always wanted to.

Maybe if we spend a few dollars less, we can step a little closer to our dreams.

That’s what this is really all about.

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  1. Mark says:

    Seriously, I think this is the single greatest blog posting I have ever seen. This perfectly describes how I have felt for so many years – “trapped” by my debt and spending, but spending more to feel better about it.


  2. James says:

    Wow, you have a great perspective on life. This post was right on target. Thanks Trent.

  3. Tyler says:

    Amazing post Trent. Now let’s see if people will actually change.

  4. Marta says:

    Amazing post, Trent. I agree with Mark – definitely the best yet.

  5. Melissa says:

    This was a very insightful and meaningful post. Thanks.

  6. Jasmin says:

    We all inherited certain money beliefs and if we do want a change, we must change those disempowering money beliefs. Change is not easy but it is very possible.

    Each of us has a personal money and success blueprint engrained in our sub-conscious mind and its this blueprint which is determining our financial decisions.

  7. Joe says:

    Well Trent, this posting is decidedly one-sided; it is very problematic from the perspective of someone who loves their job and doesn’t have a wife or kids. Agreed that for you, your wife and kids are number #1 priority, but you make it sound as if most people hate their work. I love my work – just like I love the Lexus I drive to work everyday.

    The point of my comment is that working is not inherently bad, as you make it seem; in fact, for some people, it is their love, just like your love is your family. When I get back to my beautiful home after working 12 hours, I’m happy at having accomplished what I have and I love the relaxation my beautiful home provides to me after an enjoyable and satisfying day of work…The fact that my salary allows me to spend money extravagantly is just an added perk of my job – so really my gratuitous purchases do not add another bar to a prison cell, but instead reaffirm that what I love to do (my work) allows me to fulfill the bizzarest of my demands (within some reason, of course)…

  8. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    Joe, you have a passion for your work, so you’re already doing what this post prescribes. For most people, their work is not their passion.

  9. Over time, people have become more and more separated from the product of their work.

    Have you read the Communist Manifesto? If you haven’t, you must, immediately.

  10. Akuseru says:

    @ Joe- You’re right, and your comment is a perfect example of how the same situation appears from different perspectives. Not all of us are so fortunate to have jobs that we love as you seem to. It all boils down to the Lance Arthur quote from a few posts ago: “It’s your life. Live it how you want to. Accept the responsibilities of your decisions, but also the rewards and pleasures — without guilt.”

  11. Michael says:

    Money doesn’t buy happiness; it buys freedom. Smart people can turn that into happiness.

  12. yoyoguy2 says:

    This is your best post in months Trent, you’re totally right.

  13. sue says:

    I like reading your blog and agree with your opinions, but this post is a little preach-y.

  14. Dave says:

    I’ve never commented here before, but I got so excited over this insanely-great post that I shot an e-mail to J.D. Roth (who runs my favorite blog called Get Rich Slowly) and said, “Have you read this, J.D.?????” Seriously — “Whoa,” as Keanu would say.

  15. Eric says:

    Good post but it does ignore some situations. Right now my son needs a lot of medical care. My job has great insurance so while it is not fulfilling it is important I keep my job. I spend my paycheck on things which make the dull job more bearable so I can have great insurance for my child.

  16. Andy says:

    I didn’t have a car in highschool, and my friends asked why. I told them that I didn’t want to drive to work.

  17. paidtwice says:

    Great post – isn’t that what money is for, the realization of our dreams. It is never too late to realize that, even if we can’t quite accomplish it immediately.

    And Joe, its good if your dream is an extravagant lifestyle doing what you love :). Many of us aren’t doing what we love all day long which I think is the point.

  18. CheapGirl says:

    Great post Trent. Most people are trapped working at something they don’t really love just to pay the bills.

    I think your point was more about spending wisely so you can eventually work for and at what you love, and paying the bills and other things will no longer be the primary reason for getting up in the morning. If you are like Joe and have enough income to spend plus provide for your future AND are working at something you love, you’ve already arrived.

  19. Kiz says:


    A heartfelt thanks to you for your excellent writing. It is the continued passion you show that keeps me reading.

    In the last two months, since I have been reading you and JD at Get Rich Slowly, I have accomplished a great deal. Your post on setting goals has had a tremendous effect for me and my life that I cannot describe. I did not have a debt problem but never seemed to have the money to do the things I truly wanted to do. Your words resonate deeply for me.

    I am sorry to hear you are dealing with the ice storms. When they hit the northwest here it is the worst, we have so many hills, so life is at a standstill. Take care, have a joyous Christmas and enjoy every second of it with your family and loved ones. I intend to.

  20. Adam says:

    What a great article. It reads like the “Simple Dollar philosophical statement,” but it so well describes what others feel.

    Keep up the good work.

  21. Ben says:

    Excellent post Trent. I enjoyed that a great deal. I see so many people headed down that road, so sad :(

  22. BigRed says:

    A great post–and great letters too.

    One other point–if you don’t know what you love doing yet, then a job provides security while you’re figuring that out.

  23. Michael says:

    @English Major

    If men are “workers” each man is a “worker,” not a man, since a “worker” is only good for work, and men are capable of more. Now, if a worker is only good for working, his production is only good if it helps a man work (food/machines), or keeps him from not working (police/party), or acquires more workers (war.) Work is reunited with reward, but now the reward is to keep working. We saw this in Russia. Most people had two options: follow dreams in peril, or try to find joy in Sisyphean hell. Evidence: torture and tortured literature.

  24. Trent – You write with such passion and conviction – keep it up brother.

    Stay Cheap!
    Jeff Yeager
    Ultimate Cheapskate

  25. Loi Tran says:

    Great post. I’m working towards my dream of becoming an equity analyst. Hopefully I will accomplish my dream someday.

  26. mote says:


    Alienation from one’s labour… Have you been reading Marx & Hegel, Trent?

    Great post!

  27. Wow…your posts are getting quite deep and philosophical.. :)

    I believe money can indeed bring us happiness and free us from problems. Of course, a miserly and obsessive pursuit can ruin the financial journey.

  28. MVP says:

    Excellent post. We paid off all our consumer and student debt this year, which took a huge weight off my shoulders, particularly regarding my job, which I’ve grown weary of. I’m still employed, but I feel much more secure knowing financially I can leave when I’m ready. I’m still not set on what my “dream” is, but I don’t feel nearly as trapped in a bad situation as I did before. Now, I feel I’m choosing to be in this situation, which changes the scenery somewhat. I just hope once I figure out what my dream is, I’ll have the guts to get out there and achieve it.

  29. infix says:

    Excellent post Trent. One of the best you’ve done.

    Most of us in this culture really do spend to try to deaden the pain of meaningless work. Some like Joe have found meaningful work that is financially rewarding, but most haven’t and probably never will reach that nirvana.

    But I suspect that even Joe could come up with something he’d rather be spending his time on than the work he’s doing currently. Maybe he’d rather be working for himself, for example. Would he do what he’s currently doing for free?

    I’ve decided to keep my car for a few years more so as not to trade a huge chunk of life for a new car… and I’ve been driving my current car for 20 years now. I think it’s got another 3 or 4 years left in it.

  30. Heidi says:

    Nice post. You should read Marx and John Stuart Mill if you haven’t already.

    Like Joe, I love my job – I wouldn’t quit it tomorrow if I won the lottery, except maybe to go back to school and get yet another degee.

    I work two jobs because I have debt and I want to pay that debt off as quickly as possible. But I choose to work these specific jobs because I like them and because I’m developing skills in each that will hopefully get me to my ultimate goal: to become adjunct business faculty at a major university – my dream is to go out on my own as a consultant and maybe teach a couple classes a semster. Sometimes the work is its own reward.

  31. Corey Pressler says:

    You just wrote what I’ve been thinking for so long, and you put it way better than I ever could.

    Excellent post!

  32. PoonJab says:

    What an awesome post.

  33. lorax says:

    Great post. Reading in the veins of YMOYL.

    There is something more to it though. For many, there’s a feeling of “make hay while the sun shines.” You might not get a chance to pull in this sort of dough if the economy falls apart in a 70s style recession.

    And then there’s the whole “work for health care” problem. Not many musicians I knew got coverage for their families.

  34. MoreCents says:

    This is why I love The Simple Dollar!

    I learned this lesson in a very harsh way a few years ago. I had a great paying job that I hated but a cute sports car that made the “dreaded commute” easier. As my relationship with my fiance began to disintegrate, I used my money to try and fix our problems. After our final ugly words, I sat in that now not-so-cute sports car, alone, and realized that even with all my money, I couldn’t buy his love.

    Thanks, Trent, for showing that there is more to life than making a dying (Joe and Vicki would be proud!).

  35. Sunshine says:

    Not much to add, but I concur that this is a great post and reminded me both of YMOYL and Marxist theory.

  36. m says:

    I’m with Joe, I chose my work based on my passions not money and intend to continue to do all I can to continue to do so. I think many people like or love their jobs, and of course many feel as you described, too, I’m sure.

    I don’t believe in accumulating possessions to “numb” myself–alcohol and other substances are avail. if I wanted to do that. I spend mainly on experiences and items that lead to some activity (art supplies, etc.) as well as on items that I enjoy and that enhance my life in some way.

    I don’t view any of it as a prison or trap. Then again, similarly to Eric’s situation,almost all my money goes to health insurance, rent (decidedly not a large house in the suburbs, etc.), medical bills, and life’s necessities.

    I agree that we don’t want to live in prisons of our own making; I just don’t agree that that is what all or most buying is. A house in the suburbs can simply be a house in the suburbs, after all someone has to live in the suburbs. It doesn’t always have to be some sort of overspending or method of covering up life’s drudgeries.

    What you describe is very real; I just want to point out that isn’t all there is. There’s plenty of spending that is not for the purposes you state, plenty of jobs that are enjoyed by those who perform them, and plenty of us who don’t feel distant from the product of our work.

    I guess as someone who is already in many ways living in the way you advocate here, this prescriptive posts reads a bit differently to me than it would otherwise. I guess I’m just saying I agree with what you recommend, but disagree that many live the life you critique in the post–but of course, I don’t really know how “many” live. Just how I and some of the people I know live.

    I’m one example of someone who does much of what you recommend, as is my husband who is a very talented artist. Following our passions and dreams is one of the most important things in life to us both–and it seems to you (and prob. many others) as well.

  37. Jason says:

    One of your all-time greatest posts. I’ve been in that hotel room wondering what the heck I was doing with my life on a two-week business trip missing my family like crazy. I took the initiative to find a new job, even though some of the perks weren’t as great I’m home with my kids every evening at 5:00pm – and yes, I am my kid’s soccer coach!

  38. Chris Conley says:

    exactly what the title says; this post sums it all up


  39. Siti Ahmad Subki says:


    You summed up my life challenge succinctly.

    The best post ever. My heartfelt thanks to you!

  40. Josh says:

    “…when you buy furniture, you tell yourself: that’s it, that’s the last sofa I’m gonna need. No matter what else happens, I’ve got that sofa problem handled. I had it all. I had a stereo that was very decent, a wardrobe that was getting very respectable. I was so close to being complete.”
    “You’re not your job. You’re not how much money you have in the bank. You’re not the car you drive. You’re not the contents of your wallet. You’re not your ******* khakis. We are the all-singing, all-dancing **** of the world.”
    Did anyone else notice the parallels between this post and the movie Fight Club?

  41. Gayle says:

    I don’t enjoy my profession here in the US but gladly pay for the privilege of practicing in an assortment of third world venues. Why you may ask? Everyone I serve outside of the US is appreciative and says thank you. Everybody in the US is busy finding fault and filing complaints. Add in the fact that I am a slave to our jobs for health insurance system, is it any wonder I feel frustrated?

  42. Ryan S. says:

    Wow. That so strikes home. My job assignment has changed and I’m so less thrilled than I used to be at work, so much so I’m wondering about going elsewhere even though it would be a pay cut–possibly a substantial one–to do so.

    That’s the itch, all right.

  43. Shevy says:

    A really great post.

    The only thing is, money may not buy happiness, but it often buys peace of mind. While one can be happy in the moment without peace of mind, the feeling is still transient. At the least hint of trouble, anxiety floods in.

    When a flat tire could mean the loss of your job (because you must drive to work), not having the money to buy a new tire robs you of peace of mind. When you don’t have extended medical, an illness in the family can threaten the very roof over your head.

    I think that’s part of the reason many people work hard at jobs they don’t feel passionate about and may not even like.

    And then, of course, you’re right. They work hard, they aren’t happy, they feel that having some little luxury is something they “deserve”.

    “I work so hard. I should be able to go out and have Starbucks/go for a drink after work/get my nails done/buy a pack of smokes/go to the game/whatever.”

    And they don’t see that eventually those things trap them just as surely as the fear of some kind of crisis does. So the critical point is that each of us must learn to differentiate between the things that truly make life worth living (the gourmet food you wrote about the other day, for example) and the things that just dull the pain.

  44. Fathersez says:

    Yes,yes, yes.

    You have clarified the so many loose thoughts that float around the heads and minds of so many of us.

    I realise that something seems missing, but what?

    I’ll read this post a few more times and really soak into it.

    Thanks again

  45. eyeofthestorm says:

    Yes, yes, more yes. I have shared your thoughts since the first time I read Thoreau’s Walden. Here are a couple of things he said about this seemingly modern conundrum in 1854: “The cost of a thing is the amount of what I will call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run.” and “As long as possible live free and uncommitted. It makes but little difference whether you are committed to a farm or the county jail.”

  46. Jason says:

    Trent… great post! I loved reading it and I think it describes the vast majority in our country. I hope they all read it and take a hard look at what their choices (they really are choices) have gotten them.

    Joe… No offense intended, but I feel sad for you. Not that you’re happy with the life you have, but that you think that the life you have makes you happy. There is so much more that you have not experienced. I hope at the very least, Trent’s post and the other comments here make you question a little… and maybe even search a little. If your life is as you say, I wonder why you read this blog in the first place.

  47. Jim says:

    I see from the comments that not everyone sees things exactly as you stated. But I can relate to your post and the “preachiness” is not offensive. Thanks for giving me food for thought.

  48. GC says:

    A wonderful post. I’ve just started reading your blog a couple weeks ago, and posts like this are why I keep coming back. You’ve hit it right on the head, and you continue to provide me with inspiration to make better choices every day. Thank you.

  49. Sandy says:

    I’m really glad several of you brought up the health care issue….slaving away for health care. I really see this as what distinguishes Americans over the rest of the world…so many people I’ve known over the years work for health care in this country. Mothers go back to work really early when all they really want to do is stay home with their new baby, but no! They have the health insurance benefit, so back to work they must go!
    My family has had the experience of living in several European countries, and I had one of my babies in Belgium. She went immediately into the Neonatal ICU and was there for 11 days, while they made me a little area in the ICU to sleep with her the whole time. (no…they don’t kick mothers out, as in the US) Cost? $0.00. Because of their wonderful universal health care, my family was spared what, had she been born in the US, literally, $10s of thousands of dollars. Not to mention literally anything health wise that comes up in an average person’s life in 11 years (pediatricians, ER runs, etc..) In France, the doctors still make home visits through a service that is reimbursed by the state…no running to the ER in the middle of a cold night….a doctor appears within an hour of your call, with his travelling labratory…what service!
    All I’m saying is that, to get back to the theory of working for health insurance…imagine if the term “pre-existing condition” didn’t exist, the time you would have NOT filling out papaerwork after each and every procedure, deciding every year “hmmmm….how sick do you think our family will be this year, dear?” and deciding how much deductible to have, to be able to make life choices based not on “the job provides me health care, thus I must work there” but “what do I really want to do?”.
    As you can tell, from these reasons and many moer, I feel that our country really needs a national health care program…everyone gets sick or has an accident or their children do. Even people who do not eat doughnuts and smoke. Sad that so many have to make such important life choices based on getting a health care plan at work. I really envy our European brethren, who get coverage from birth to death, and have all that extra time (that Americans are dealing with paperwork)to ENJOY life! And trust me…I would trade the “consumer” aspect of a dr. visit in the states any day to a more familial atmosphere of a Euro-doctor visit any day…don’t knock it til you’ve tried it.
    Since this is all about money…has anybody done a study about how much we already pay for health insurance vs how much per person the average European (through a special tax) pays?
    Sorry if this upsets your apple cart, but from the very first Doctor visit in Europe that I didn’t have to pay, it dawned on me what a problem the US has chosen to have.

  50. That One Caveman says:


    Thank you for posting this. A lot of your article rang true in my life. It’s great to see that I’m not alone in my perspective of money and the world.

  51. Carolyn says:

    In response to Sandy- I’m glad you had such a positive experience with the healthcare offered in Europe, but much of the time that is not the case. I’ve lived in both Italy and England, and had horrible experiences with the national health systems in both places.

    In Italy, I was hospitalized with food poisoning- I had to SHARE A HOSPITAL BED with a total stranger because they were overcrowded (two of us in a larger bed typically used for an overweight individual), the bed was positioned in the HALLWAY of the hospital as they were out of rooms, and I was accidentally given two medications in my IV, when all I needed was hydration. The kicker was the fact that three of the floors in this hospital were empty and unused, because the amount of money the hospital received from the government was based on its utilization- so they intentionally kept their ‘available’ space very limited!

    Fortunately I never had a true health emergency while I was in England- I did injure my knee, and had to wait 16 weeks for an appointment to get a CT scan. And I travelled 150 km to get in that ‘soon’!

    Today I am grateful for the opportunity to pay for the quality and level of health care I receive in the States. I, too, would be interested in seeing the numbers on how much money is spent per person on health care in the social systems in Europe versus here, but I can’t imagine that the European governments are terribly efficient in health care management.

    And please don’t get me wrong- we certainly have issues with our health system here! Everyone SHOULD have equal access to treatments regardless of their ability to pay for it. My point is that Sandy is incorrect that adopting the European system would end our health-related problems.

    In general, Trent- I couldn’t agree with your post more! Thank you for sharing your writing gift with the world!

  52. Sandy says:

    The countrie I lived in were Germany, France and Belgium…perhaps if we go towards a health care change in this country, we could look at countries that really work well. I know that France was judged the best health care in the world by the WHO. Way above the US. Perhaps we could LOOK at what they are doing right, and adapt an American solution…ie, all employers are mandated that they give all employees coverage, or contribute to a fund that is available to everyone not covered by their employer.
    Thanks Trent, for bringing up quality of life issues, sorry to change the subject…but I really see health care as the #1 issue in the states.

  53. Heather says:

    Awesome post! I agree! Learning how to dream and pursuit of it can be one of the greatest journeys to freedom.

    My journey has been amazing thus far and I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. God has blessed me beyond my wildest imagination.

  54. Golfing Girl says:

    This post is a good reminder for me. Every time I see someone else get promoted, part of me starts to get a little jealous and more motivated to get a promotion myself. However, if I take enough time to think about it, I really enjoy what I currently do and I’m not required to stay late very often or take work home with me. But my job allows me to play golf with friends nearly every day all summer long, so it does fulfill my dreams. It also allows me to pay off my mortgage early, thus allowing me to retire earlier to play even more golf! :)

  55. oios says:

    I’m a high school English teacher and I try to help my kids see this. We read Thoreau (why work all day so I can spend that money to take a train, when I can just walk to that faraway town right now) and discuss the absurdity of selling our minds for others’ use on the presumption that at the end of the day we’ll get it back in an unmutilated condition (fat chance!).

    We read Benjamin Franklin, who ends his Way to Wealth essay with, the crowd heard the doctrine, agreed it was valid, and immediately practiced the contrary since the shops had just reopened.

    In the end, I don’t know if it sinks in, and I may have to chalk it up to Emerson and Thoreau’s observations: that most men (and women) could be replaced by clods of dirt, and that the only way anyone will ever learn is through experience.

  56. Debbie M says:

    To the folks who love their jobs, it’s still good not to spend money on things you don’t really need or love. That’s because at any time you could get sick, or your job or industry or field could go sour. If that happened, any giant car and house payments might begin to feel more like prison bars.

  57. Jeanie says:

    Good one Trent. My husband took early retirement July 1 of this year and on August 31 of this year I quit my job due to stress. We are now a one (fixed) income with the same bills that we had when both of us was bringing in lots of money. But you know we are making our bills and having time together (which we never had before since we were both working.) With the help of the Good Lord we will live to be older people and enjoy life and our new grandson. Also we are both 57.

  58. Jamie says:

    I’m printing this off and giving it to my dad. He needs to retire…

  59. Brandon says:

    Great Post. Reminds me of a quote from one of my favorite movies, “The things you own end up owning you”.

  60. Peter says:

    I guess it’s nice to live in a day and age where we are so far removed from having to focus on the things necessary for bare survival that we can focus on the next step of pursuing our dreams and living lives of “meaning”, assuming we’re lucky enough to know what triggers our bliss. A good chunk of humanity is still not so lucky.

    While it’s always good to move forward, it never hurts to be thankful for what we’ve got.

  61. vh says:

    Very nice essay, and in so many ways right on.

    It’s interesting to know that people in some countries that indeed do not have the economic and technological privileges that Westerners claim to enjoy higher levels of “happiness” or contentment with their lives than we do. Exactly how “happy” is defined remains unclear to me, but money doesn’t necessarily buy it.

    And I do have to agree that if you love your job (really), then it’s not a place with bars around it. On the other hand…if you’ve grown beyond loving your job, you have the problem that you can’t get healthcare coverage without being employed. Well, you can, but to afford it you need a hefty income. To my mind, that makes employment metaphorically comparable to slavery — you work because someone (or something) makes you work, not because you want to.

    If I could get decent, accessible, affordable healthcare on my own, I would quit my job today.

    About the wonders of US healthcare — yes, Americans can get optional procedures with a great deal more despatch than you can in the UK or in parts of Europe. However, when you really need medical care it’s not easy to get access, even if you’re fully insured. I spent four hours sitting on a cold stone bench outside a big-city ER one night when I had acute appendicitis, and never got so much as a brief exam; neither did the young woman who sat next to me, who had been in the throes of a miscarriage for the past six hours.

    I ended up having to go to a different hospital in an upscale part of the city — the EMTs would not take me there, and so I had to have a friend drive me — in order to get the emergency surgery I needed.

    I’m glad I wasn’t in Italy. But for what we and our employers are paying for healthcare, you’d think the US could do a little better.

  62. Eric says:

    Enjoyed the post. Often as I sit in front of the computer or TV I hear a voice inside my head whisper “You are wasting your life” But I still sit, accomplishing nothing meaningful. One of these days…

  63. ablemabel says:

    Fantastic post. I love the purchases-prison bars analogy. And a good reminder as I start the new year to keep focusing on financial independence as my goal.

  64. Carol says:

    What a great post!!! It really says it like it is….the futility of putting material things first does not lead to real happiness! I appreciate your posts so much…they daily keep me on track with my goals of getting completely out of debt and feeling the freedom that comes with not being ‘a servant to the lender’. Keep up the good work and keep working toward your goals!

  65. azphx1972 says:

    Even if you love your job like Joe, there’s no guarantee it’ll be there forever. In this global market where employers and business owners are always looking for ways to cut costs, job security is a thing of the past. It’s still wise to live frugally and save, no matter what whether you love your job or not, IMO.

  66. Vicky says:

    Great post. A “balm”, so true. In the last month or so, with the torrent of email marketing I’ve gotten (I’m now hitting “unsubscribe”) and the usual capitalist hoopla, I am now asking myself a similar question to what you pose – will this make my (or giftee’s) life richer? Usually the answer is no. And as a friend reminded me, what our kids really, really want during this time is to spend more time with us. (Well, OK, maybe us and that stupid Dora toy, LOL)

  67. sandspiral says:

    Trent, I’ve been reading TSD for a couple of months now, and enjoying it greatly, but haven’t felt moved to post a comment until now. This is a truly fantastic encapsulation of what so many of us are going through.

    @Joe and m – You are lucky (and courageous) to have found ways to find deep satisfaction in what you do for a living, but unfortunately I think you are in the minority. With all due respect, I think Trent’s post is aimed more at those like me than those like you–it’s a kind of wake-up call to those of us who are stagnating and might not have realized with this much clarity why we feel so stuck.

    I am a fairly intelligent and introspective person who has spent a great deal of time in self-evaluation over the years, and I had already come to many of the same conclusions Trent presents here. My problem is the gap between the “knowing” and the “doing.” This is a refreshing wake-up call to start taking action in the direction of what I REALLY want out of life.

    For me, the big obstacle is being an all-or-nothing type. I just keep reminding myself that baby steps do count.

    Thanks, Trent, for such a great post!

  68. Paul says:

    Wow. To look at the comments section of this post and see what I was thinking in the very first reply. Couldn’t agree with Mark more. This is your best post ever Trent.

  69. Teri Pittman says:

    All this is why we sold our modest house in town and moved back to the country, where my husband has his friends. We are living an extremely basic lifestyle, on way too little money, trying to come up with a way to build a small place on our land. But here, we have connections. We are helping to keep a small local church alive. I can see the stars at night and deer and elk on my commute back and forth to work. There are some things that are worth sacrificing for.

  70. J-Rock says:

    This was a pretty good entry, but I thought a bit heavy handed.

    We recently moved out to the suburbs, which has added an extra 15 minutes to my commute. Why? We simply can’t afford to live in the city on one income. We wanted my wife to stay and home with our son and for him to have a yard to play in. Fortunately, we found a great community out in the country and we have lots of space.

    It is a little extra time and money on gas, but again our priority is on a parent being home with our child.

  71. Tyler says:

    Awesome post Trent! I hope others can see this post!

  72. Daisy says:

    That was a really really great post.

    I’m not working on a stable job yet — mostly freelance and side jobs since I’m still in college — but it’s something to think about when I do join the rest of the working world.

  73. Jamie says:

    Inspiring post Trent! Really touch me…I’m starting to learn how to play the guitar, like I always wanted =). Thank you

  74. I think that people become extremly wealthy when they do one thing. They provide value to their customers.

    While that may sound simplistic – think about it – coz its very true.

    Look at some of the greatest and wealthiest people in the world. Richard Branson for example has built a billion dollar empire. The brand virgin once stamped on a business provides millions of dollars worth of customer loyalty and recognition to the company.

    Look at bill gates … mircosoft … do i have to say anything more

    These people are providing immense value to the world and that is why they have been able to stick around for so long.

    But can i ask you this question … Do you think that they enjoy what they do? Do you think that they are on purpose and doing something they love? Well i can guarantee you that bill gates and Richard Branson love what they do

    Obviously they could so call “retire” they are worth so much money.

    But i really believe that life isnt about just making it to the top. Its about the journey, its about the challenge. But if you continually strive to follow your passion and continue to add value to the world, then the money will come and there will be more than you can possibly imagine.

    Young Investor


  75. yeah nigga says:

    yeah nigga get dat paper fo sho tho

    no but seriously, joe’s comment 493 posts back is true. if you don’t enjoy your work at all, you won’t last long enough to fully reap the fruits of your labor. the original post seems to be targeted at the archetypical corporate drone, a stereotypical assumption that the office can’t be fun or fulfilling. and if people get value from empty materialism, let them, who are we to judge? the amount consumerism drives the economy is fascinating.


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