Money: free the mind
“Six out of every ten U.S. citizens have less than $500 in savings for if a crisis comes along, and many other countries in the Western world are moving in the same direction” Stolen Focus, 2022
These words scare me. I’m not sure how rational that fear is, but I know I feel it. Life is a challenge, and for better or worse, money is a tool that can make it easier. Yuval Noah Harri said that the idea of money is the story that we most strongly believe in as a global society. The ubiquitous nature of money allows it to become the foundation of many of our means of engaging with the world. Life doesn’t have to be centered around acquiring and maintaining money, but it is easy to imagine how ignoring it outright would make interactions with strangers extremely challenging.
If we take this statistic above at face value, around 200 million people in the United States would become insolvent in the next month if they were to lose their current employment. That is to say, nothing of any given person’s debt. It is a precarious place to be yet also extremely common. Why would that be?
Vicki Robin, the author of the book “Your money, your life” notes that financial independence comes through the application of four steps
- Free your mind
- Get out of debt
- Develop a six month emergency fund
- Invest your surplus savings.
Steps 2-4 are very practical tools to reinforce your changed relationship with money and allow it to start working for you. You can’t get there without passing through that ambiguous first step of
free your mind. Robin contextualizes this statement by noting that there are cultural norms defined by powers well outside of an individual’s control that push a specific worldview. We all face advertisements and feelings of social comparisons that put stuff, things, and purchased experiences on a high pedestal. If you let it, these factors will make the acquisition of more and more things your objective measure of value. The truth is that this is just one way to look at living life. Freeing your mind implies that you take the steps necessary to acknowledge the effect of these powerful influences and start making your own choices about what is important for you. It is possible that you reflect on the influence of these cultural factors and still determine that spending all your money is a good thing, but it could also have the opposite effect.
My feeling is that the external force of the market economy and social competition for status overpower many individuals’ ability to consciously free the mind as implied by Robin. Many people are not choosing for themselves but instead being told how they should use their money. Understanding this, having that feeling that powers outside of your own are shaping you in a very fundamental way seems to be a strong motivator to taking a step in your own direction.
Freeing your mind is not going to solve everyone’s challenges with money. Still, as with any matter of behavior changes, knowledge about the process brings the opportunity for autonomy in action.