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WND Commentary
Work: Curse of the living class, Part II

By Claire Wolfe
© 1999 Claire Wolfe

Last week, we pondered a Very Tough Question: how to make a living in a rural area. That wasn't the only tough question about work in my e-mail that day.

James Engelbracht wrote an entire herd of them, beginning with these:

Wasn't the purpose of industrialization to give people more and more time to improve themselves? Isn't the end purpose of increasing automation to give people (whose jobs are being replaced) the freedom to do something besides grub for a living?

These questions brought another to mind -- a familiar one: Where the heck is all that alleged time and when do we get some of it?

There are plenty of reasons why automation hasn't yet created mass leisure time. So far, automation creates more jobs than it eliminates. With the money from those jobs, we like to buy, buy, buy. Taxes suck away half our productivity. Regulations suck away more. We've developed a famous tendency to turn what little leisure time we have into a mad race. We feel indebted and indentured. Whine, weep. Poor us.

But we've heard all this before!!! Now, let's quit bitching and see what we can do. It is, after all, our life. And if it's broke, it's up to us to fix it. First thing we need to fix is usually attitude.

When it comes to smartening up about money, jobs and value, I don't know of a better kick in the intellectual backside than the book Your Money or Your Life by Vicki Robin and the late Joe Dominguez. I could tell you a dozen things I don't like about this book. But whatever its flaws, there's just no finer resource for work-weary people who want to learn to think more dynamically about what they do "for a living," why they do it, and what impact it really has on their lives.

For instance, have you considered that all the time you spend recuperating after your day's work is a "cost" of having a job? Have you considered that some of the time and money you spend on mindless entertainment or fast food may also be a "cost" of a job that keeps you too tired to live creatively? Dominguez and Robin did, and those insights are just part of what they offer in that now-classic book.

But OK, you already know that your job sucks [the vitality out of your life], even if you didn't think of it in quite those terms. You probably even know what you'd rather do, instead. So the next step in getting from your present pits to some sort of heights is discover specific -- repeat, specific -- steps you can take toward your ideal. Never mind that they may look like the merest baby steps at first. (Trust the word of an extremely impatient person; even baby steps will get you there, far quicker than you imagine.) Step number one, in nearly all cases, is understanding your spending.

Dominguez and Robin push a method that sounds blindingly tedious, but was actually fascinating, even for a decidedly non-methodical arty type: track every dime that comes in or goes out, categorize each expenditure, then analyze what, if any, value you got from that category. Do it month after month.

Doesn't that sound like the most anal-retentive thing in the known universe? But if you try it, you might be shocked not only at how much you're spending, but what you're spending it on, and how little you value the results. Even if your analysis simply yields the conclusion, "Ack, I'm in debt up to my ears and can't get out!" believe me, you'll have gained something merely by knowing, in glorious detail, your particular form of stuckness. Personal example. When I first read Your Money, I was spending more than I was making. Nearly every bit of that spending was non-discretionary -- payments I couldn't easily have gotten rid of no matter how badly I'd wanted to. My first response was, "There's nothing I can do."

Still, I knew I had to do something, or be stuck forever. No matter how long it might take, or how hard it might be, I had to commit to action -- specific action.

Now, at this point, every expert says, "Make a plan." So I might as well also say, "Make a plan," even though, where I'm concerned, that's BS. Maybe some of you guys are good at plans, and more power to you. I'm better at impulses. So I sold off assets (discovering that I'd accumulated more stuff than I thought I had), paid off most of my debts in whomping chunks (sometimes at sacrifice to the grocery budget), then tossed so much job-work off my shoulders that ... well, I was too poor even to think about getting into any grind of unsatisfying consumption and debt.

My new neighbor, Carty, found a different path toward a "downsized life," more methodical but not much slower. During the last couple of years in his military career, he was stationed in a backwater with a pretty good certainty he'd be there until he retired. He spotted a real junker of a house (We are talking low-rent neighborhood in a low-rent state), scratched together enough cash for a down payment, fixed the house in a hurry, and sold it for enough to pay straight cash for another real junker. Once he fixed that house and sold it, he had enough to buy outright a perfectly livable little home in Hardyville -- and here he and his family sit today, mortgage free. Now he's got one more tiny junker, with which he hopes to pay off the last of his credit card and auto debt.

Once you're on your way out of debt and bad spending habits, then what? Well, actually, at the same time you'll also, almost certainly simplify your life. You'll find you need less, want less and spend less while having more fun.

Then you can do the Real Thing -- quit your job, or go part time. Spend all those delicious new hours doing something you love.

Dominguez and Robin promote the idea of putting away some money, then -- when you are still far from rich -- quitting and live off a remarkably small interest income from this modest savings. For various reasons, I don't believe I'll ever do the living-on-interest bit. However, shucking off stuff and debt has enabled me to work at things I like to do, instead of things my creditors like me to do. I'm content. My solution may be different than your solution. But every solution begins with a commitment to act, then goes through specific, practical steps to get there.

And one day -- voila! -- you've got it made. Okay, it might take you five years to get to your voila! point. But if you want to be independent, the only alternative I can think of is to get rich. Nothing wrong with being rich! Except that then you'll probably have even more debt -- and the revenooers on your tail, besides. No thanks! For me, keep it simple.


For help and inspiration: The New Road Map Foundation which is part of The Simple Living Network. Useful books include: Crea ting Your Future: Five Steps to the Life of Your Dreams by Dave Ellis; Volu ntary Simplicity by Duane Elgin; and Getting a Life by Jacqueline Blix and David Heitmiller (stories of real people who've changed their lives after reading Your Money or Your Life).

WorldNetDaily readers may not always share the political agenda of these writers and organizations, but these sources offer lots of good ideas to be mined.

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