What People Really Need

During my usual lunch hour reading I came across a post by Trent over at The Simple Dollar. It was a letter from a reader, which I will quote here:

“I do NOT overspend. I work with a monthly budget, live very carefully and frugally, etc. It’s the debt, and the underearning. I am working on both, but wow is it hard somedays, some weeks, some months, especially when this worry eats up so much energy.

I am so SICK of living with this stress. When I think about retirement, which I do constantly, I feel like a huge failure. I often hope I die before I hit 65 so I won’t have to live in the dumpster behind the grocery store, as I fear.”

I won’t republish Trent’s entire response, but here is the part that caught my eye:

“Evaluate all of the assets you have available to you. Most people think strictly in terms of financial assets, but that’s only the beginning. Look at the public services you can tap, the people who form your life, and the assets that they have that you can use. Also, consider the skills and intangible assets that you have – your resume, for one, is a serious asset because it enables you to get a solid job.”

What got me really thinking about all this was the initial letter. I just can’t understand that kind of self inflicted stress. Really folks, it isn’t the end of the world if you aren’t perfect with your money. Then it occurred to me why I was different. I’ve learned a long time ago what causes this and the solution.

First off let’s start with that our economy is built on the following model:

Make Products -> Buy Products -> Make Products

Basically we have a complete endless loop of a product driven society where everything is a product (which could also be a service). Now this isn’t the original design of how things worked. Back in tribal society we used the following model in a similar endless loop:

Give Support -> Get Support -> Give Support

Granted this wasn’t good for making new products, so you tend not to have a big push to improve anything. Yet is was good for people. Why? Because this model had the benefit of it entitles to everyone to cradle to grave support of the rest of the tribe. Now think about that for a second. Complete support of everyone around you for better or worse from the day you are born until the day die. No stress about your job or if you will have enough to eat or if you are going to be looked after in your old age. You will be looked after regardless of what happens.

I briefly tasted what the feels like once already in my life. When our first baby came ten weeks early I had support from everyone around us: our parents, friends, friends of friends and my workplace. The support was little gifts, a paid leave from my job, a place to stay or someone just to talk to. It was all there and there were no conditions on any of it. When ever I asked anyone one why there were doing it the answer was always the same: because I would like the same from you if that happened to me. Give support and get support.

So in that moment I’ve learned that money is nice, but I’ll take support over money any day of the year. Support is priceless when given at the right moment. So often people that stress over things are those without support. So in your life, don’t worry about your money as much as your supports. Your supports will help you pick up the pieces of your life when everything else is gone including your money. Your insurance can only write you a cheque, it can’t give you a hug after losing everything you own to a house fire.

Trent’s response gets close to dealing with this issue, but missing the point somewhat.  What most people desperately need in our lives to feel complete and secure is support from others.  To get support you must give some first.  It doesn’t have to involve money, but support those around you and then the world goes to hell for you ask for the support back.  You will be surprised by the out pouring of support when you are truly down and out.

4 thoughts on “What People Really Need”

  1. This is a great post Tim and it’s great to read how grateful you are for the support you and your family have received in the past.

    Though it might seem a bit trite to worry about money so excessively, I think we need to realize that Trent’s reader is likely an American and has the added worry of a VERY underfunded Social Security system as well as VERY expensive health care. You’re right, support from family and friends is an absolute necessity but I think our US neighbours have some very real concerns about eating out of dumpsters if they don’t have the income to set money aside for retirement.

    It’s unfortunate, but I’m quite certain Trent’s reader is not alone in feeling completely unprepared for retirement.

  2. Onthat note, I find another opportunity to bring up storyofstuff.com . . . It goes over the way things work, and how we need to change.

  3. My first thought in reading this as well was the Story of Stuff, which I just recently viewed. Like almost everything, it is just one side to that story, but it is pretty compelling and well worth the time to view.

    I agree with telly in saying this is a great post. There is so much more to life than money, especially worrying about it. Most who read this blog are very blessed and very fortunate and to be grateful for what we have is important.

  4. Telly,

    I understand the US has some unique problems around retirement that create some valid worry for people. I was more focusing on people’s emotional health where they worry themselves to the point of being sick. I feel that if the letter writer had some more support to discuss their issues they would feel a lot better about them. That was a bit of the aim of the post, which isn’t too clear at the end.


    I loved that film. Thanks for bringing it up.


    If you like this post and the “story of stuff” you might also like a book called Ishmael by Daniel Quinn. It does an excellent job of teaching our society: what the hell is wrong with us that we keep doing this to ourselves?


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