The Real Value of Money


“As soon as we become aware of money, we develop beliefs about it-- beliefs we cling to, sometimes for the rest of our lives, often at the cost of our souls.”

― George Kinder, The Seven Stages of Money Maturity


I grew up in a family that didn’t really talk about money. My grandfather was a brilliant and successful computer engineer, inventor and entrepreneur, and I grew up in a big house surrounded by the fruits of his success.  When the cloud of angst-smog settled across my consciousness around age fourteen, I developed a violent opposition to wealth (and what I perceived as a uniquely American tradition of hoarding it) along with the standard list of isms: consumerism, corporatism, racism, sexism, et al.  Of course, it’s not like I had a job or any real concept of the value of a dollar, nor did the hypocrisy of railing against wealth while attending a private school really register on my adolescent brainscape. My fledgling punk rock ideology became centered around the evils of wealth inequality, corporate destruction of the natural world, and “selling out.” Because of course, as the mythos goes, every great artist is eventually presented with a choice: stay true to the art or trade in one’s values for money, status, and power. You cannot have both. Poverty is the mark of artistic integrity.

Uh… what? Perhaps it will come as no surprise to you, dear reader, that I developed some limiting beliefs about money along the way. How can you expect to find financial success if you perceive capital as a threat to morality?  What if, and this is a little crazy I know, but what if money is not virtue’s true enemy after all? I spent the month trying to swap out my limiting beliefs with better ones - to consider money more as a useful tool than a necessary evil. One of these new beliefs is that money can only be “wasted” when spent on things that are not in alignment with your values, or on things that don’t lastingly improve your quality of life.

I also spent the month performing countless cost-benefit analyses on every purchase. Some of the small financial decisions I made this month included:

Thomas Allison Photography Video .gif
  • Deciding to open up our studio space to two more artists in order to halve our rent

  • Driving less, which resulted in saving a whole tank of gas over the month

  • Drinking less and cheaper alcohol (Bota Boxes for the win)

  • Re-evaluating insurance policies

    • Honestly, after playing around with the policy options, I determined that I’m already paying the least amount possible for enough coverage to feel comfortable. So these didn’t change much.

  • Offloading all unnecessary subscriptions - smell ya later Audible and Sworkit

  • Wrestling with a gym membership and ultimately keeping it

    • I’m keeping my Austin Bouldering Project membership because I am happier and healthier when I go to the gym regularly, and rock climbing and yoga really do bring me joy. The values test helped with this one; health and fitness is something that I value a lot and felt willing to prioritize.

  • Spending $50 to see Built to Spill play Antone’s and $300 on a plane ticket to Costa Rica in March.

    • Wrestled with these a lot, so don’t think these were frivolous purchases. But I deeply love Built to Spill and a week of adventure and surfing in Costa Rica fits squarely in line with what I value, so I’m cool with it.

Even better, I started diverting all incoming paychecks into two high-interest savings accounts (via, the coolest bank in the world), one as a fledgling emergency fund and the other which will eventually, unfortunately, go to the tax-man. Just doing this with every paycheck resulted in almost $500 in my emergency fund after the first month!  I found that once the money had been thus diverted, it was out of sight and out of mind. Hopefully I can keep saving at that clip, and not be seduced by its siren song.

Financial discipline was one of several gnawing dissatisfactions that I hope to conquer this year. My next experiment will be a month of mornings, where I try to wake up ridiculously early every day and carve out time for the things that are important to me: spending time outdoors, meditation, exercise, and most importantly, planning some personal creative projects. Followed by a month of making those projects a reality in March!  It’s about time I commit to the type of creative work I’m most inspired by and dive in headfirst. Stay tuned!