How Rich Should I Get?

I find it exciting to get by on an amount of money that is so small it baffles people.  I get a kick out of driving a car that cost me exactly $100.  My electric bill is $35 a month.  I built my own house for the cost of the materials.  I have no cable, no Satellite TV and no cell phone (but I do have internet.)  When I buy food I go for the highest “calorie-to-dollar” ratio. 

But living cheaply is hard work.  And I’m beginning to wonder if it is irresponsible.  

How can that be?  How can it be irresponsible to consume less and be self-sufficient?  I will tell you about my misgivings.  They mainly have to do with time. 

I spend a lot of time saving money.  Some of that time is well spent.  I don’t at all regret building my own house, for instance.  Not only because my savings were great, but because building one’s own house is a creative work that is rewarding in itself.  It was good for my soul and will provide shelter for my family for many years to come.  The same goes for firewood.  Chopping firewood keeps me in shape and makes me feel good, and saves me a little money.  The same goes for cooking from raw ingredients, as opposed to packaged dinners, or eating out.  Cooking with raw ingredients is something worth doing even if it doesn’t save money (but I’m sure glad it does.)  But there is only so much I can do. 

Part of me would love to get my living expenses down to $0.  Part of me wants to be my own blacksmith, locksmith, taylor, mechanic, professor, dairy farmer, vegetable grower, beer supplier, meteorologist etc.  But part of me doesn’t.  Part of me says, “Is it right to spend precious, precious time doing things you are not good at and will never be good at, to save money?  Perhaps you should be spending some money to save time.  Perhaps, you should even think about making some money.” 


It is fun to get by on an amount of money that is so small it baffles people.  There is great freedom in being able to do with less.  But what good things are not happening because I am always doing with less?

– M. Ragazzo


6 responses to “How Rich Should I Get?

  1. HDW:

    Loving that tag line. Starting to sound very relevant to my own profession. As it happens, the shell game that passes for finance today is trying to accomplish that exact goal. What a strange coincidence.


  2. I do think your profession is uncommonly honest. You and your lovely wife are in fact exemplars of the distributist, strike that, the anarcho-capitalist ideal. I too once had a truly awesome job that paid about minimum wage. I’ll never regret that time.

    The question is not whether you are cheating life. You can never cheat life. You might just be winning. The salient question is whether you are cheating your family or yourself. If you made double minimum wage as a plumber, would you be happier? Would your kids be better off? A couple years of law school and you could commute to the big city and make eight times minimum wage. Would your family be better off then? That is the “rich enough” question.

    HDW Services Inc.
    We cheat the other guy and pass the savings on to you.

  3. Are you saying my guitar-hero profession is not honest? Anyway, I am more of a guitar-court-jester than a guitar-hero. You’ve hit a tender spot, I admit. I often question the legitimacy of my profession. Am I trying to cheat life by getting paid to do something I really enjoy? Mind you, it’s not all fun and games. If you don’t believe me, try tuning a Telecaster sometime. Mine is quite squirrelly.

    But you guessed it. It is really difficult for me to put a dollar value on my time. Though, I am constantly attempting it. Last Sunday I put in a twenty-hour day, if you include the commute. I was making a little above minimum wage if you count those hours sleeping in the van on the way to the gig. (But getting paid for sleeping, or looking at the scenery isn’t too bad.)

    From your comment:
    “I’m still going to split my own wood, change my own oil, and grow my own food, even though my realized hourly rate is very low, because I receive sufficient non-economic satisfaction. But I am careful to notice when the next best use of my time is spending it with my family.”

    Well said. Time with family really is priceless. The Amish have it figured out.


    – M. Ragazzo

  4. Treating your time as a commodity that is interconvertible into money can help answer this question. This might be harder for you with the financial uncertainty of your guitar hero profession, but for an honest tradesman like myself, it is fairly straightforward to convert dollars into hours of labor to decide whether to spend money on some convenience. Is it worth 2 hours of labor to rent the good post hole digger, when I can dig those holes by hand in just a couple of back breaking days? (Yes) Is it worth five hours of labor to hire a handyman for five hours to do a project that would take me ten hours? (Sometimes it is, it depends on how much pleasure I would get from the project.) I’m still going to split my own wood, change my own oil, and grow my own food, even though my realized hourly rate is very low, because I receive sufficient non-economic satisfaction. But I am careful to notice when the next best use of my time is spending it with my family.

  5. When my man cave is done we can be civilized and have many heart-to-hearts that last all night. Tea will be allowed, I suppose.

    – M. Ragazzo

  6. M>
    Glad you dropped by with a nice and useful POV. I like what you have to say on the subject and, personally, have always had my own trouble splitting the same baby. Don’t have any better answer than yours, I suppose; to each his own.

    My own solution, thus far at least, has been to find that level that keeps me generally excited to face the new day, from feeling like I’m burdening others, able to make a positive contribution (however that might be defined), and to help to give joy and happiness to those I love. Lot’s of fuzzy lines (along with the warm fuzzy feelings I’m after).

    Cheers, HT

    PS I’m ready for that heart-to-heart, but no tea for me. HDW, he’s the tea drinker.

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