"Fish could not live without water, but they are hardly students of it. Similarly, most of us show no gratitude to money."
Driving my car down the freeway I notice there are some big white dots on the road. I kill the time by trying to figure out what these do. I'm driving an hour to visit a friend of mine who just moved to a new place in the country. We used to live five minutes from each other, but now I have to commute to see him.
I notice a sign up ahead explaining what these big dots are for. Apparently, I am supposed to try and keep two big dots between me and the car in front of me. There must be a problem with people following one another too closely. Well, this is unfortunate. Now that I know what these dots are for I don't get to spend my time trying to figure it out. Now what am I supposed to do?
I guess I'll try to figure out why my friend moved an hour away. He says it's because the rent is far cheaper out there. That's true, I suppose, but I don't think he's considering the cost of gas, his time, and the negative drain commutes have on our lives. I'll ask him about it when I get there in a half-hour.
The short version here is that he claims to have considered all of the aspects of this decision and this move made sense considering everything. I don't believe him, because he didn't last a year there.
He moved an hour away because he made a financial decision without considering the effect on his life. It's not just him. I've known people to get married because their accountant told them they could save a little money on their taxes. I've known people make buying decisions by figuring out what monthly payment they can handle instead of focusing on the total cost. I know people who spent the night in their garage in the winter because the heat in the garage wasn't part of their electricity bill. I know people who spent through a financial windfall in less than a year by telling themselves they have their whole life to save for the future. I know others who live miserly lives because they don't want to spend their money even though they will never run out.
If these seem like exaggerations, or if you find humor in these stories, it might help to understand that we're all a little weird when it comes to money. Perhaps you don't believe you would ever do any of the things I've described above, but I'll bet you've done something in your past that you look back and wonder why you thought that was a good idea.
Money does funny things to us...all of us.
It's Not Just You
One of the most common questions I get asked when people talk to me about money is something to the effect of, "Am I the only one with this problem?"
There's a good chance that there is some element of money that gives you stress. This could be not wanting to think about it, not being able to save, fighting about it, spending too much, trying to fit it, or anything else. You are not alone. What you're feeling (and probably trying to hide), is normal and happens to many other people.
You might be asking how that might be the case. After all, you've never heard anyone else talking about the things that worry you. But, that's only because talking about money is frowned upon in our culture.
As a result, it's very easy to believe that everyone else has their stuff together and we're weird. This is an illusion.
Money is the top stressor for most Americans. Money ranks high as the cause of marital strain. If you think you are the only one with stress and anxiety around money it's only because everyone else is hiding it from you.
Water to a Fish
There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way who nods at them and says, "Good morning, boys. How's the water?" The two young fish swim on for a bit and eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, "What the hell is water?"
The idea is that water is all around fish, and it's necessary for their survival. Yet it's such a part of them that they don't understand what it is or why they need it.
Wallace goes on to say that the point of the fish story is that the most important realities are often the ones that are the hardest to see and talk about. What if we applied this idea to money's role in our culture, and in our lives?
Money to a Human
Water to a fish is like money to us. Money is all around us and impacts nearly every area of our lives. Money skills are necessary for survival, but most of us never really learned money skills.
One way you may have heard people learn how to swim is to simply get tossed in the water and have to figure it out. That's kind of how most of us learn about money. We get tossed in and have to figure it out.
Swimming comes more naturally to us than managing money, though. Unfortunately, we are not wired for money.