Got any spare time? Got any spare money? It’s hard to find either nowadays, at least in the bits of North America that I’m aware of. A friend came back from months of visiting Mexico and told me about a culture that is much more relaxed, that values time. Conventional American wisdom is “Time is Money”, which it is when you’re paid an hourly rate; but, spare time is harder to find than spare money. Money can be saved, stored, and expanded. Time simply is. Time simply is precious.
Check around. How many of your friends are working long hours, living lives filled with chores and errands, and maybe only being able to connect with each other on facebook?
People with paychecks are sticking with their jobs even though 70% of them are dissatisfied. (Corollary: Let’s celebrate the 30% that are satisfied with their jobs. It happens.) Jobs cost hours at work, usually time commuting, prep time packing lunches and applying personas, travel time for some, recovery time (also known as vacations) for all. The after-tax hourly rate may not be appealing, but hopefully it is enough.
Entrepreneurs have their version. They’re less likely to work to a whistle announcing the end of the shift, and they have more control over their time for mid-day chores; but a business owner is always on call, it is harder to stop thinking about work, and finishing up around midnight can be a familiar event. But, with the extra costs of time and worry, there are also the potential extra rewards. The work is more likely to be something matching personal talents and skills. The larger and more elusive potential is the path to independent wealth. Roughly paraphrasing from my memories of reading The Millionaire Next Door, the three most likely routes to significant fortunes are: entrepreneurship, inheritance, and investing. A lot of dry cleaners worked hard and retired early.
Inheritance isn’t something to plan for or control. How many people dreamt of inheriting large tracts of land, hoarded gold, and untold investments only to encounter real estate bubbles, commodity crashes, and no record of stocks aside from family folklore? Yet, inheritance is a gift received by enough to account for about a third of the wealthy. The work or good fortune of their ancestors succeeded beyond generations. That is an impressive feat. Enjoy it if you got it. And thank your ancestors.
Investing is appealing because it opens that door to disconnecting money from time. Money is our abstraction. Time is a reality. (Though the existence and nature of time are the topic of libraries of philosophical, perceptual, theoretical, and experimental debate.) Investing, particularly in liquid assets like stocks and bonds, can create passive income. Joe Dominguez famously espoused a Nine-Step program for individual financial independence that ended with Step 9 and investing in something as reliable as bonds. (See New Road Map Foundation’s web site for details. Also check out the book he inspired and that Vicki Robin wrote and then updated called Your Money or Your Life. Disclosure: I’ve been associated with New Road Map for years as board member and now Information Manager, and am a case study in the new edition of the book.) Time doesn’t have to be money. The reality that is time doesn’t equate to the invented abstraction that is money.
Yet, for now, most of us living in modern western civilization work to trade our time for enough money to attain or sustain a lifestyle. Pardon me as I rewrite that to remind my self that I am trading something real (time) for something abstract (money). Evidently though, my mortgage company wants a lot of that abstraction or they are really going to take my house. At some level, we all live under a bit, and a version, of such a threat. Even people with large inheritances worry about losing what they have, because they’ve seen it happen to too many.
Of course, one dream answer for many is massive passive income. Massive passive income (MPI?) can be generated from dividends if the portfolio is large enough for the interest rate. In the past I’ve created massive almost-passive income by buying and holding stocks for years before selling them, an idea that is detailed in my book and the basis for this blog, Dream. Invest. Live.; which embarrassingly came out as the market crashed, and which would normally be vindicated by the recent market recovery which massively and unfortunately has not been reflected in my portfolio’s recovery – yet. One or two trades a year isn’t passive, but it certainly isn’t very active either. And there are other avenues for massive passive income that only require a lot of work up front. Such dreams inspire tens of thousands of authors to publish books every year. Very few even cover their expenses, but as I say in my classes, writing a book is like writing your own lottery ticket. You know it probably won’t pay, but at least you can try. Having mentioned the lottery I must include it to be complete. I buy. I hope. My chances are as good as anyone’s who has bought a ticket.
There are lots of avenues for refuting money’s claim on time. Great. And yet, are you reading this post at work, or quickly during some slice of an otherwise busy evening, or as part of a mini-marathon when you read a handful or a dozen of my posts when you finally get a chance to catch up? Few people have much free time. Even those with enough wealth spend a large chunk of their time managing their money. Evidently those avenues aren’t sufficient or effective enough. What can we do? What can I do? I even feel a bit scandalous writing this post when I could be working on someone else’s program plan or social media campaign. There are several manuscripts and recently published books from friends and clients sitting here, waiting to be read and reviewed – and yet I write.
What else are we to do? We continue on the paths we’ve set through decades of habits, making course corrections within our constraints and obligations. Radical change is possible, but can be too disruptive to others in our lives. If nothing else, radical changes later in life mean paperwork must be filled out, taxes calculated, and stuff stuffed, shipped, and sorted. I applaud every bit of progress of anyone working towards a goal of more time; especially, if it also involves less worry about money.
We can also look back and realize how much easier it would be now if we’d done some things simpler back then: spent less, saved more, enjoyed our youth, embraced our values instead of absorbing images from advertising, and living our lives according to those values. And we can shake our heads as we witness young people accumulating financial obligations instead of living experiences, and cheer those who are living individually defined simpler lives.
Okay, enough of this writing. I’ve got to get back to work to make enough, or to give my financial and artistic investments time to create enough passive income.
As for the rewrites of my youth, well, there were the times I should’ve applied at Microsoft and then Amazon, but decided to commit to my aerospace career; I should’ve spent more time sailing and maybe learned to live-aboard instead of buying a house; I never should’ve given up mountain climbing; and I should’ve listened to my own LTBH advice and held AAPL and FFIV – and done so with the house money instead of my play money. Hmm, so if I’ve learned anything, I guess I should do everything I can to hold on to AMSC, GERN, GIG, MVIS, AND RSOL – at least a little bit longer. Oh yeah, and keep buying lottery tickets until I don’t have to.