It was a warm Friday night in Ashburn, Va., I took a final swig of a delicious beer and set the snifter glass it had been served in down on the table where we were seated.
There were five of us. Arieh Katz, my friend and employer, was going over plans for a group excursion to Ibiza by ship.
“We have to do it, boys. This will be even more crazy than Benalmadena. And this guy over here can speak French and Italian to the ladies on the ship!” he said while pointing at me and laughing with glee.
The topic of money came up shortly thereafter. Most of us were in no condition to drop bank for a cruise that would sail from Barcelona to Ibiza and back.
“I’ll cover you guys,” Arieh ‘Big Money’ Katz interjected. “Just reimburse me for the port fees, and it’ll be ‘kosh.’”
A sudden display of largesse from someone who usually keeps a tight fist full of dollars.
“You sure about this?” I asked Big Money.
“Yeah, dude,” he replied. “Here’s the thing: if I penny pinch, I penny pinch, but in the end, we are all the collective bonfires of our dollars. We have to at least be sure to get some kick ass experiences out of them.”
I wanted another swig of brew at that moment. I wanted the tasty beverage to swirl around in my mouth as my brain turned over the unexpected profundity of those last words. But I looked over at my glass, and it was empty.
Metaphorical flourishes aside, I think the idea expressed here is essentially true.
Once we obtain money, we have little choice but to spend it. We have bills and basic needs for things like clothing, food and transportation. The rate at which we spend our money, and the things we spend it on beyond our necessities, are under no one’s control but our own.
A dollar spent is a dollar never seen again. Or, to quote Dean Martin, “money burns a hole in my pocket.”
Things as fleeting and trivial as movie tickets, a jacket we don’t need, a cup of overpriced, tasteless coffee from Starbucks, bottles of booze, etc. form an endless pit of non-necessities into which we hurl our hard-earned cash.
After we dump our dollars into this chasm, we pour gasoline on it and watch it smolder with sacrificial glee.
“I’ll regret this later, but not now,” we say to ourselves. We keep ourselves warm by this endless pit of frivolity where we’ve discarded the rewards of our labor. But the flame begins to grow dim, and as we reach into our pockets for more kindling, we find them empty.
Then we weep. The emptiness of our actions goes to show just how hollow we feel without external possessions. And in order to feel even a modicum of contentment, we walk back up to that pyre prepared to throw more of our livelihood into the flames.
For those of us who squander money, our relationship with currency is telling about ourselves.
Money can’t buy happiness if we agree that happiness has to be more than just a temporary feeling of satisfaction or gratification. It seems these latter things are precisely what money can buy, and in order to even consider being happy, we need a consistent supply of these moments. Money can’t buy happiness, I agree—but maybe it’s a necessary ingredient in the formula.
If that’s the case, there’s certainly a case to be made against the squandering of money. By extension, we might question just what kind of feeble psyches we have if we can only feel satisfied by burning through our earnings on things that grant us an ephemeral contentment.
At the same time, the opposite end of the spectrum is literally pointless. Money is only as good as the things we spend it on. A stack of printed paper, if never used to purchase anything, will never be more than a pile of beaten wood pulp.
In the words of Lou Reed, “Money is like us in time. It lies, but can’t stand up.”
Our money in the end is as good as the things we use it for. It can feed us and those less fortunate than us. It can provide us and our families with shelter, or it can be used for cancer research.
There are three possible avenues we can pursue with those bits of paper required for our basic subsistence. We can burn them ad nauseam in a deep abyss of our frivolous desires. We can do nothing with them, and pile them up to satisfy nothing but our avarice.
Or we can take the most challenging approach, which runs directly between these two—we can strive to use them wisely, for our benefit and for the benefit of those around us.
Featured Photo Credit: Featured photo courtesy of Lee Haywood on Flickr.
Horus Alas is a senior philosophy major and can be reached at email@example.com.
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