Daily Stoic for January the 23rd. The truth about money.

“Let’s pass over to the really rich—how often the occasions they look just like the poor! When they travel abroad they must restrict their baggage, and when haste is necessary, they dismiss their entourage. And those who are in the army, how few of their possessions they get to keep . . .”
—SENECA, ON CONSOLATION TO HELVIA, 12. 1.b–2

A lot’s been written about money. So much, in fact, that it’s a frightening topic to write about. I can’t think of any other concept, except probably love or death, that accumulates that many words devoted to it.

The Truth About Money

Opinions about money tend to fall into two broad categories: the “money can’t buy happiness” crowd, and the “if you have money, everything gets easier” pack. As usual, the truth lies somewhere in between.

Seneca was allegedly one of the richest men in Rome of his time. As a result, he understood that money is no guarantee for happiness.

However, what Seneca failed to realize is that money solves a lot of problems. Simply put, while a poor man can have all the problems of a rich man, the reverse is not true. There are many examples of this, from not having access to a good education to not being able to receive proper medical treatments when you are sick.

However, the main argument, for me, is this one…

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Money Buys Time

Money is better than poverty, if only for financial reasons – Woody Allen

For me, being rich is not about having money, it’s about having time. Money comes and goes, but our time is limited. Every minute we waste is lost forever.

If you are in your 20’s right now, this sentence may sound lame. But when you -like me- are approaching your 40’s, things change.

In this scenario, money allows you to enjoy your time without having to worry about your job or your business, debts, bills, your mortgage…

Yes, it’s true that money won’t solve our internal issues. No material possession can do that. However, it will eliminate the rest from the equation, giving you time to put your inner mess in order… a blessing the poor man can’t enjoy.

Does this mean I think being rich should be the goal of your life? Nothing could be further from the truth. I think that we have to aim for a humble, balanced life. Having enough money to cover our necessities and allowing ourselves some occasional indulgences is enough for me. I will talk about that in the future, concretely, the 25th of January :).

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Of Money And Value

In the end, money is just an artificial asset with a concrete value at a very concrete moment in time.

Past Friday, I was discussing about bitcoin, fiat currencies and real estate with some colleagues from TechHub. One of them argued that bitcoin didn’t have “real” value, as opposed to things like real estate.

His argument was that real estate has a threshold value, whereas bitcoin could disappear overnight, being a purely digital asset. Thus, real estate has more “real” value and is a better investment.

I couldn’t disagree more.

Humans assign value to things rather artificially. Some years ago, Detroit perfectly exemplified the financial crisis with its houses on sale for just $1 hitting the headlines of the whole world.

Sure, you can’t buy a house right now at Madrid for that price. Also, I agree that a worldwide meltdown of the worldwide real estate business is less likely than a total bitcoin collapse. However, one of the biggest mistakes of my life was buying my house at Murcia at the height of the financial crisis. That’s a mistake that costed me a lot of money, and it’s going to take me years to finally recover from that, if at all.

Our society assigns an artificial value to everything, and that value can change very quickly. Nobody knows what’s going to happen tomorrow.

Money And Stoicism

From a purely stoic perspective, Seneca had in fact another very enlightening quote about money:

It is not the man who has too little, but the man who craves more, that is poor.

As a construction from our collective minds, we should not rely on money to solve our problems. Even if money can help in the process, we need to look for answers within ourselves.

When you pack your whole life inside a suitcase, you stop worrying that much about physical stuff and, subsequently, about money too. Then, you begin to see it as what it actually is: just a tool to get some things you need, like clothing, food or a trip to your next location, nothing less, nothing more.

Conclusion

Today’s Daily Stoic, “The truth about money”, discusses about money from the point of view of stoicism. While it’s true that a lot of our problems come from within us, there are many others that money can solve.

Thus, I find the sentence “money can’t buy happiness” to be somewhat naive, and missing an important point: money can buy you time. And that’s the only truly limited resource that we have. That doesn’t mean money is the goal on itself. It’s just something we need to a certain extent to focus on what’s really important in our lives.

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