This is the first part of The Simple Dollar Book Club reading of Your Money or Your Life. Want to know more?
Right off the bat, the book asks a series of probing questions that basically demand some degree of introspection. Just try reading through these without reflecting on your life a bit:
Do you have enough money?
Are you spending enough time with family and friends?
Do you come home from your job full of life?
Do you have time to participate in things you believe are worthwhile?
If you were laid off from your job, would you see it as an opportunity?
Are you satisfied with the contributions you have made to the world?
Are you at peace with your money?
Does your job reflect your values?
Do you have enough savings to see you through six months of living expenses?
Is your life whole? Do all the pieces – your job, your expenditures, your relationships, your values – fit together?
The first time I read Your Money or Your Life, I really didn’t want to think about the questions too much because I knew I wouldn’t like most of the answers. I felt pretty content with my job and I felt it matched my values, but most of the other answers were deeply in the negative and it left me with a pretty tight lump in my stomach. These questions all point toward a values-oriented life instead of a money-oriented life. It’s something that a lot of people feel that they should be doing, but somewhere along the line they’re distracted from it – and that was certainly very true for me.
One particular piece of the prologue really jumped out at me. The section entitled The Not-So-Merry Go Round begins with a description of how people spend much more than their normal 40 hours working at their job – transportation, decompression, doctor’s visits from the stress, and so on. This is followed by the additional costs of working – clothing, commuting costs, food costs, maintaining transportation, and so on. The result?
With all that time and money spent on and around our jobs, is it any wonder that we have come to take our identities from them? When asked, “What do you do?” we don’t say, “I do plumbing.” We say, “I am a plumber.”
This is definitely true. When I reflect on this for a bit, I realize how much many of us are tied into our jobs. Here’s an example: I feel internally that I contribute more to the world writing on The Simple Dollar than I contribute in my professional life, but when talking to people face to face, I not only don’t mention that task that makes me feel like I’m making a difference, I identify myself as being defined by my particular profession. When I consider that conflict, it makes me really wonder who I am. What’s the really valuable thing I’m doing with my life?
This leads to a very interesting question about roles. What roles do I regularly fill in my life? When I go to the grocery store, am I going there as a parent? An environmentalist? A consumer? The answer to that question affects greatly what I put into my shopping cart – and also connects directly to the amount of money I spend and the nutritional value I take home. When you start thinking of things in such a fashion, the connections between your money and your life becomes terribly evident.
Most of the rest of the prologue is similar to almost all how-to books – and almost all nonfiction books in general. It mostly talks about how great the system is, which is rather boring to say the least. I generally feel like such sections are mostly for the self-gratification of the author and usually worth skipping over.
Tomorrow, we’ll dig into the first chapter (“The Money Trap: The Old Road Map For Money”) and continue until the subheading “Prosperity and the Planet.” In the paperback version I have (the common one in the United States), this reading is found on pages 1 through 9.