What Do You See?

brown bearOne of the most cherished children’s books at our house for years has been Eric Carle’s classic Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? Both my son and my daughter fell in love with the book around eighteen months of age – now, my son (who is a bit over three) is actually able to read Brown Bear to his little sister.

Over time, the book evolved into something of a game that I’ll play sometimes with my son. We’ll be looking at something together and I’ll point out a feature that I notice, then ask him “What do you see?” Then, he’ll point out some feature. It’s a simple little thing we do together.

What’s interesting, though, is that he’ll often point out something that I don’t even notice or recognize. Sometimes, he’ll just misidentify something – at other times, he’ll notice a detail I don’t notice. Even more interesting, sometimes he’ll recognize or see something that I’ve simply missed or that he sees completely differently than I do.

Over the last several months, as people have become more and more concerned about the downturn in our economy, many people are seeing doom and gloom in the economy. For example, many of my readers have sent me clips and commentary in which Peter Schiff predicts what amounts to the end of the United States and ask for my reaction to it.

At the same time, I look out there and I actually see a lot of positive economic news. I don’t believe the United States is headed for apocalypse at all – I just see a pretty strong recession that’s in the process of resolving itself.

It’s a difference in perspective. Schiff lives in a world of high finance – the very area where there is a lot of uncertainty about what’s to come in the future in the aftermath of their bubble popping. My perspective is quite a bit different – I tend to look at what ordinary people are doing and thinking about. I see people that are worried and acting more conservatively with their money, but their optimism is still there. Almost all of them still get up and go to work and stop at the grocery store on the way home.

Schiff’s perspective is that it’s like the Great Depression if the financial world goes topsy turvy. My perspective is that it’s like the Great Depression if half the people in my town are in line at a soup kitchen.

What do you see?

One of the big complaints I get about The Simple Dollar is that I sap all of the fun out of life by being too cheap. I get emails where people call me a big cheapskate and a loser that has no fun in life. On the other hand, I see myself as simply having interests and hobbies that are substantially different than the person who wrote to me. For example, I consider it a gratuitous waste of time to send insulting emails to people whose blog writings I disagree with – not a hobby I see value in.

I get other, rational emails where people argue that it’s not time effective for them to change to more efficient light bulbs because they will only save $3 over the next year with that bulb.

I tend to not see myself as cheap at all, just analytic. I tend to be willing to try lots of things, but the things that stick with me and become a part of my normal behavior are the things that obviously pay off over the long haul. I’m willing to invest hours of work right now if I can see that I’ll make a good hourly rate for that work over the next few years. I also prescribe a lot of value to doing things that I enjoy – cooking, brewing beer, playing games, gardening, and so on.

What do you see?

Personal finance, like so many other things, is a matter of perspective. We all bring different life experiences to the table – and we all wind up better if we share those ideas in a rational and useful fashion. The more ideas you understand, the stronger your own views and ideas become.

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