So I recently expended my entire life savings on writing a book and making a film, which was exactly what I wanted to do and why my life savings existed. As a result, however, I find myself in the not unfamiliar situation of needing to stop arsing around and make some cash.
This is not a complaint, lest it sound like one. Nobody talks about the details of their personal finances. Nobody blogs about it. There is an enormous social stigma attached to being cash-poor. To ask for free hot water in order to brew your own instant coffee on the train, for example, is to invite looks ranging from pity to gloating to disgust.
I don’t see it as shameful at all. My attitude was born from years of pedalling the globe on a thread of a shoestring, eking every calorie out of every penny, itinerant and jobless and sleeping rough, and finding more contentment and happiness in it than being wealthy and career-driven and settled could ever serve up.
So when I’m forced — by my own idealism, stubbornness, lack of planning, dismal abilities as a businessman, whatever — to do the same within society instead of on its edge, I see it as just the same game of initiative and lateral thinking and resourcefulness as before, scoring counter-cultural points against consumerism and very much enjoying doing so.
There’s one big problem with having cash in abundance. It invites you to buy into convenience, into the ‘easy life’ that the pursuit of money promised in the first place.
This happens oh-so-gradually, but it doesn’t take long before you’re conveniently buying coffee on the way through the ticket barriers, upgrading your phone so you can use all those convenient apps, grabbing a convenient takeaway on the way home, and getting convenient open-returns instead of booking trains a month in advance. You can afford these conveniences now. So why not?
It’s not that paying for convenience sucks away every last penny — it usually doesn’t. It’s that it makes you lazy. Life isn’t quite as full of those immediate little victories as it used to be.
You miss the satisfaction of successfully procuring an extra discount from the yellow-sticker-man in the clearance aisle.
You no longer pop into charity shops, just-in-case, and so you don’t find the mint condition made-in-England 45l Berghaus rucksack that’s just gone on sale for a fiver.
You forget that it’s stupidly fun to boil up a brew in a parkful of folk too busy swilling from Starbucks flagons to notice the smoke.
You can’t remember how to quarter the price of train journeys through cunningly combining advance fares between ill-frequented stops.
You feel strangely helpless when your smartphone battery dies and you can’t remember how to navigate the city streets without a little screen telling you which way to go.
You don’t have time to grow your own food on the windowsill or beneath the skylight or in the vegetable patch because you’re too busy maximising your post-work free time to have time to do so.
And you’re no happier than when you were scrimping and saving, because happiness is mostly genetic, and an easy life that doesn’t test you or teach you misses the mark of what humans really find satisfying anyway.
I’m not saying poverty should be anyone’s goal, and I know some of these examples are at the extreme end of things (relative to life in the UK, in any case).
But I am saying that having the rug of financial stability pulled out from under us — even temporarily, for example in the form of a big bike trip — has a lot to teach us about navigating life.
It simply depends on the perspective with which we approach it.
What do you think?