Updated on 10.25.07

Your Money or Your Life: The Freedom to Choose What You Do and Do What You Choose

Trent Hamm

YMOYLThis is the twenty-fifth part of The Simple Dollar Book Club reading of Your Money or Your Life. Want to know more?

When I read this section of Your Money or Your Life, I began to think of two of my high school teachers – incidentally, the two best teachers I ever had.

They both loved their jobs, without a doubt, and they both cared passionately about their students, but there was one huge difference between the two: one of them was financially tied to the job and the other was not.

The one who was financially tied to the job did a great job teaching his subject, which happened to be English. However, he was often frustrated by the confines that the school district put on him. He was very limited on the material he could have us read, and he was also limited as to how far he could take discussions. For example, he would often directly recommend books to me, but then say that he couldn’t possibly present them as course material. Why not? He lived in fear of a reprimanding from the school board. Even though he knew of ways to get us more excited and interested in reading, he didn’t quite go as far as he could have because of fears of the school board.

Another teacher I had taught a variety of subjects, often seemingly taking on areas that other teachers wouldn’t touch. Instead of lecturing on subjects, though, she usually sat in the back of the room with us, having us all turn our desks into a discussion circle, and she’d really, really push buttons. We would discuss a topic and she would very clearly play devil’s advocate and argue hard on behalf of her perspective. People would get upset, yell, pound their fists, and even be reduced to tears. Sometimes, she would even encourage some of the students to take on contrarian views and get us arguing so intensely on subjects that we’d keep going at it outside of class and on through the next day before class as well. The end result? We learned a lot more about the subject than we ever would have otherwise. Yet, unsurprisingly, this teacher didn’t last very long at the school and quietly slipped away after just a couple of years at the (rumored) encouragement of the administration.

While both of these teachers had impact on my life, which one do you think really changed the way of thinking of more students? My English teacher mostly influenced me because he took me under his wing to a degree, but in the classroom I believe that many of the students were quite bored. However, I still actually debate my wife about some of the things we talked about when we were in the other class together.

What does this have to do with Your Money or Your Life? It’s all about that magical crossover point. The teacher who had the courage to do things her way had a deep passion for teaching, but it was the freedom of not having her finances tied to the job that made it possible for her. Her financial freedom brought her different kinds of freedom.

To me, this is a deeply profound connection, and it illustrates once again the central point here: money is nothing more than a representation of the choices we make and the values we hold most dear. The more I experience, the more I genuinely believe that getting out of debt is, at its root, just a shift in values – everything else follows from there.

Tomorrow, we’ll start the ninth chapter, “Now That You’ve Got It, What Are You Going To Do With It?” continuing until the subheading “Three Pillars of Financial Independence.” This section appears on pages 292 through 305 in my paperback version of the book.

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  1. !wanda says:

    The firebrand influenced more students in her few years at the school, but I bet the person who stayed at the job influenced more students over the course of his entire career.

    Also, from your post, I can’t tell whether the scared teacher really was financially dependent on the job or whether the other teacher really was financially free. There are other reasons besides a need for money why someone living in a small town might not want to anger his superiors, and there are broke people who nevertheless keep getting fired from jobs because they have authority problems. I appreciate the point you’re trying to make but think your example is incomplete.

  2. rhbee says:

    Though the teacher examples in Trent’s post aren’t complete, he does with those two examples point out what freedom from fear MIGht produce versus what fearful of FREEdom can produce. The English teacher was described as one who was aware of the danger and yet suggested ideas and books when he could think his way around the problems. He wanted to stay teaching there. The second teacher left. Maybe to teach somewhere that fit her better. There are great schoools like that, I’ve taught at a few of them. But there are many more schools like the one that Trent described as boring and lacking in depth That teach a fearfulness of ideas and differences even though all intelligent people recognize that the learning is in discovering both the similarities and the likenesses of things.

  3. FIRE Finance says:

    Trent’s example is provided to transmit the essence that financial freedom empowers us to do what we “creatively” feel needs to be done.

    The freshness introduced by creativity interests our audience and also drive us towards excellence and joy. If we are constantly in fear about what will happen if we lose our job, creativity cannot step in.

    In fact most of us live like automatons trying to conform to a social and corporate pattern which largely does not appeal to us. It does not allow us to live freely in the moment and create at will.

    Financial Independence is a must for joyful living.

  4. gkchicago says:

    “…money is nothing more than a representation of the choices we make and the values we hold most dear.”

    Masterful quote, I have printed that out and stuck it to my fridge. Keep up the great writing.

  5. Minimum Wage says:

    The more I experience, the more I genuinely believe that getting out of debt is, at its root, just a shift in values – everything else follows from there.

    I’m not sure I understand this, but I find it disturbing. My interpretation is “I value keeping a roof over my head and food on the table more highly than I value getting out of debt, and I need to change these values if I am to get out of debt.”

    Did I get that right?

  6. John says:

    As a former English teacher myself, I wonder if making students cry is, in all actuality, a good thing. Even if the tears are a sign of psychological growth, perhaps such a stressful technique should be practiced by a psychotherapist, as opposed to someone with just a teaching degree.

    Secondly, it is obvious that the writer of this blog is highly intelligent, and would flourish in the second teacher’s classroom. Those, however, with more limited intellect or emotional issues would probably feel intimidated. Conversely, they would feel more comfortable in a structured classroom setting, particularly if their home life is chaotic.

    Both educational philosophies and methods have their strengths- one is not necessarily superior to the other.

    That said, I really enjoy the blog.

  7. rhbee says:

    To John: I say, First, as you say, longevity counts. However, the proof is in the pudding, eh? Do you really believe that our education system has developed a thinking graduate? An informed and interested and involved electorate?

    Two: If the second teacher were indeed practicing therapy, then a student crying would possibly result. But if a teacher were pursuing socratically an idea that led a student to respond that way, then that teacher would have been doing her job.

    Maybe more apt to our discussion is this quote.

    “This is why the economy and society must be reformed to allow people to develop and expand themselves through the work they do.” was a tag line in yesterday’s alternet.com post about 11 things we Americans could learn from other cultures. It seems to me that this rather progressive idea might be a way of turning our work into something more valuable than the next generation of widgets. I know, it sounds trekkie-like, but if this little idea could become a bigger idea, I’d feel a lot more like I had a chance of getting enough.

    Apparently, stepitup2007.org’s Bill Mckibben is planning on bringing up this and many more of these questions on November 3rd.

  8. plonkee says:

    Yes minimum wage, that’s exactly right. I suggest you don’t change your values, since having somewhere to live and being in debt that you’ll never escape is better than being homeless and starving. In my honest opinion, getting out of debt is not so important that you want to die to achieve it.

  9. John says:


    It was Wanda who raised the longevity issue, not I. But I will say this- I question someone who is so passionate about teaching, yet will back down and slink away when the administration raises a ruckus. Somewhat shady, I submit.

    I inferred from the author’s entry that the teacher was not employing the Socratic method while teaching- at least not exclusively. He mentions how “she’d really, really push buttons” and “argue hard” with students. The Socratic method, as I understand it, is about posing questions to students so that they can better understand their own perspective- and then perhaps change that perspective through self-realization, not by merely picking the perspective of an authority figure because they can’t fully justify the one they currently have. I can tell you from firsthand experience that many students are so naive that a teacher can bend their philosophies quite easily- this is an awesome responsibility, and should not be taken lightly.

    That said, I reiterate that both the traditional and progressive teaching models have their strengths and weaknesses- however, it has always been my experience that the students who actually want to learn find a way to learn, regardless of the obstacles or inefficient teachers in their path. I just have a problem with a teaching model that reduces a student to tears, and wonder if such a situation generally benefits a student more than it causes harm.

    Thanks for the thoughtful response to my comment.

  10. Rob in Madrid says:

    While probably not one of the best examples of Trents writing it does for me hit home why I’m working so hard on getting this frugal thing down (I’d say I’m about 70% of the way there). For me it’s the freedom it brings. My wife was complaining because she has to be back in Munich again on Monday (it’s a 4 day weekend over here in Spain) and they want her to fly out on Sunday afternoon to make a 9am meeting. She opted to leave (very) early Monday morning instead. This will be the 3rd week of traveling for her, while not as bad as America it’s still very tiring. I want the freedom for her to consider consider whether it’s worth another year in the corporate rat race (she’d leave after getting her annual bonus). But were not there yet. And even if we were having the choice to stick it out makes all the difference in the world.

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