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(The Story of Your Money is the ultimate beginner’s “for dummies” introduction to Personal Finance principles. This series is a primer that will walk you through the very basics and set the scene before you dive into the world of personal moolah management – I highly recommend starting with Part 1 [it will make more sense] even if you’re a pro!)
In Part 1, we very roughly divided this stuff into “basic needs” and “wants”; but let’s take a closer look:
Basic needs are the bare essentials – food and drink, shelter (e.g. a room in your parents’ home), a sufficient amount of clothing, transport (fuel, spare car), some level of exercise and fitness, education, etc.
Wants are the extra little treats and luxuries that we all want to enjoy: $5 café lattes, an expensive watch, the latest phone, shopping, a fast car, travel, etc.
You’ll notice that I’ve also placed a family under the “want” list; isn’t it a bit strange that something as big and important as a family falls under the same category as a cup of coffee. Similarly, in the “needs” list – should toilet paper really be in the same group as an education?
So perhaps we need to map this out a little bit more:
That’s better. The items that we’ve now taken out – fitness/health, education, family, travel – are the stuff you can’t buy off a shelf in a store. Now you might argue that hey, you can buy textbooks from a shop, a plane ticket from a travel agent. This is true – but a textbook is not the same as education; it’s something you can buy to help you towards getting educated but they’re not the same thing. The same way a lifetime’s supply of medicine will not (and cannot) guarantee good health. And “travel” means so much more than just simply booking a plane ticket or hotel room.
The stuff we’ve taken out – these are intangible, non-material items. This means they’re not physical objects, you can’t touch them or place them into a paper bag. Some of these items might be better known as experiences, beyond travel (and being a wanderlust yadda yadda) this includes bungee jumping, writing a book, white water rafting. You’ll notice that these are the things that tend to appear on your bucket list.
Let’s take a look at that table again then:
So non-material needs include things like health, education, fitness, and for some people, spirituality and religion.
Non-material wants are, on a basic level, things like travel, family, and can even stretch as far as wanting more time – time to devote to your passions and hobbies, like gardening, baking, or writing a book. Non-material wants can be to someday quit your job, start a business, and become a stay-at-home parent. These are all intangible needs and wants; just because you can’t see these things (or put a price on them) doesn’t make them any less important.
We have a tendency to think of needs and wants in terms of material, consumer goods. And that’s probably because our first exposure to the concept of “needs and wants” is in school, when you learn about commerce, business, economics, and trade.
But it’s worth remembering that humanity existed long before the modern financial system, and we had needs and wants long before the invention of money and retail shops.
Like Mamat, in order to fully utilize the tool of Money, we have to identify what our needs and wants are – and this must include all the non-material stuff, because I would argue that these greater “non-material” desires are much more important that the material items, and will contribute far more heavily towards a fulfilling life.
If you wish to mull over your own, personal Needs & Wants (without a busy clipart mess in the way) – here’s a blank slate. I think it’s helpful to think about it. Extra points if you actually list it out on paper 🙂
I’ve laboured on and broken this down into detail because the key point is that for every quadrant, Money will prove to be a very powerful tool. This is fairly obvious for the material items (i.e. mo’ money, mo’ shoppin’), but what we often don’t realize is the pivotal role that Money can also play in achieving our non-material goals. The bigger stuff like less stress, more time; and the even bigger stuff like the freedom and courage to stop doing what you don’t like (e.g. working 8am – 5pm) and start doing what you’re passionate about (being a stay-at-home parent, photography, baking, anything!)
Remember, Mamat got a job to earn money to get his stuff. The important reality of this relationship is that this job will take up a huge chunk of his time. In exchange for Mamat’s time (and work effort), his employer will give him money – that’s the basis of their relationship.
But the problem is that Mamat will soon find himself in the all-too-common struggle for control. Mamat will give up the majority of his time working at a job he may not fully enjoy, and then start to feel resentful, wishing he had more time and freedom. Time to do things he’d rather be doing. The freedom to choose whether he wants to stay employed or quit his job to pursue other things.
But this is the reality of modern life, isn’t it? Mamat will be chained to his office desk like a prisoner forever. He’s completely and inextricably trapped.
Or is he?
Does a tool exist, perhaps, that he could use – to free him from this cage?…
Hmm. Have you heard that saying…
Time is money. Time = Money.
If the relationship is that Mamat trades his time to receive money in return…
He can trade money to receive time.
He can buy back his freedom. In order for him to do that, he has to have a plan for the income he receives at his job. This plan must account for all four quadrants of his Needs & Wants. He obviously needs to eat and drink and survive on a day-to-day basis (material needs). He also needs to keep fit and healthy and devote some funds to lifelong learning (non-material needs). He works so hard he deserves the occasional treat or two (material wants). And he mustn’t forget the biggest picture – his non-material wants: a family, travel, the freedom to choose where and how to spend his days.
Mamat has to realise that in order to achieve these non-material wants, he needs time. Time to spend raising a family, time to travel, time to devote to his hobbies and passions. I’m sure you’ve seen this:
Mamat is the guy in the middle. He has money, he has energy – but he doesn’t have time. And since the marvel of modern medicine has hiked up average life expectancy, Mamat can expect to spend a lot of darn time being that guy in the middle. The image above even says it for me: this system of life is a true story “if you are normal” – and “that is why be Unique.”
So what can Mamat (and the rest of us) do?
Well, he has to gain time – without completely cutting off the flow of money by recklessly quitting his job with no cushion. (If he did that he’d revert to being a child and have a green tick under TIME and a red cross under MONEY).
How to gain time?
a) live longer [but this is obviously difficult and practically impossible to control]
b) buy time.
How do you buy time?
As I mentioned at the end of Part 3:
Money can buy many, many things – in fact, it CAN buy you happiness. You just need to know how to use it the right way.