Even the POOR student studies and is taught only POLITICAL economy, while that economy of living which is synonymous with philosophy is not even sincerely professed in our colleges. The consequence ism that while he is reading Adam Smith, Ricardo and Say, he runs his father in debt irretrievably.
Henry David Thoreau, “Walden”
This is a short reflection on personal finance.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot over the past few years. It seems to me that I walked out of high school and college with basically no understanding of how money worked except that I hated it and wished that there was some way that we could just get rid of it. I had no concept of how value worked. There’s a part in Walden where Thoreau mentions that there was an Indian who saw rich white men and how they sold things and bought things, so he goes and weaves a basket and offers it to the white man and is angry when the white man rejects it. Because all he saw was the white man weaving his own weird baskets of business and other “civilized” trifles and selling them for lots of money effortlessly, but had no idea that he would have to find a way to actually make his basket valuable to the white man in order for him to buy it. I walked out of school in much this similar way, wanting to weave beautiful baskets of music and art and poetry, just assuming that if it was good enough and I had enough talent that those with the money would buy my baskets. Not so.
I’ve done a lot of reading and self-study on personal finance over the past few years, and, while I still have a lot of learning and work to do, have become a lot more sensible about how this strange substance called money flows through our society. While I’ve been reading Thoreau’s “Walden” lately I’ve been reflecting on what I learned about economics and money in high school and college. I remember learning about Roth IRAs, CDs, socialism, marxism, capitalism, late-capitalism etc. etc. etc. I didn’t learn shit about how to make money or how to spend money. I worked shitty jobs with no future and I spent all my money on frivolous things. I’ve been broke for the past 5 years of my life barely hanging on at several points of each year. and it makes me feel a bit betrayed that nothing was taught to me about how to file my taxes or how to invest or how to save. It’s possible that this was all mentioned to me at some point, but as I grew up a bit sheltered and I had no money with which to practice my personal finance skills, all of this went right over my head.
While reading these passages I was thinking how it would be cool to have some sort of game or class where high school kids were given money and educated on how to spend it, save it, and use it to make more of it. That way they could explain how business works, how taxes work, how investing works while giving kids more agency and stimulating the economy in healthy ways in a low-risk environment.
Thoreau’s book, and perhaps his life’s work, was to learn how to make the baskets he wants to make and keep making them without having to create value for the white man. This is why he left society for 2 years to live alone in the wild with no conveniences. The more I learn to more I aspire to this. The richest person is not the one with the most stuff, but the one who can get by with the least. I want to make my baskets, but I want to live well while I do it. And I think that now is perhaps the best time to do this. Realizing that I don’t need 1 million dollars to be successful or to live the lifestyl I most desire was a huge step for me. Seth Godin fits well here, talking about how one might live a better more fulfilling life making the things that they love for the smallest viable audience. not trying to please the masses, but the few who we truly care about.
This got a bit off topic but since this is my real first blog post I choose to just focus on getting it out there.
I’m working and enjoying this process of learning to master my money and not let my money master me. I think it’s something that can be very valuable for many artists and creatives who may not have been raised in places where money was adequately explained. it’s a beautiful tool if you learn to wield it the right way.