Why I Don’t Want to Be in the 1 Percent

Photo (cc) by TJ Morris

The personal finance blogosphere is bursting with be-a-millionaire articles. Less well represented are writers who aren’t clawing their way up to 1 percent-ville. That would be me.

In part that’s because I’m in midlife, and time is more important to me than money. I’d rather have a flexible job (freelance writer) than a high-paying 9-to-5. But it’s also because I don’t think of “wealth” solely in terms of dollars and cents. If life is the currency, I’m already rich.

It’s precisely because I’m not chasing wealth that I’ve been able to spend the better part of three years attending conferences, visiting friends and relatives all around the country, and sightseeing in places like New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia, and the United Kingdom.

I’ve been able to spend time with elderly family members (I’d rather go for a visit than a funeral), help my dad on his small farm, chat with drunken lawyers in a London hamburger joint, run along a Jersey Shore boardwalk with my great-nephew, and people-watch in Times Square.

I’ve eaten really good sweet corn, tomatoes, and peaches (and far too many Tastykakes) in South Jersey, a ploughman’s lunch sandwich at a hole-in-the-wall London coffee shop, and a slice pepperoni pie the size of a pillowcase in a New York pizzeria.

Couldn’t do those things if I were a regular working stiff.

Not ignoring the risks

I can easily survive on what I earn because I live simply. I save where I can so I can spend where I want. My income is a tool, not a toy: I use it to craft a life that works for me. And this life does work for me. I plan to live as a freelancer (which pretty much precludes millionaire-hood) for as long as I can get away with it.

I’m not ignoring the risks, mind you. I’m mixing short-term serendipity with long-term security: a solid emergency fund, a Roth IRA, and a 401(k) from back in my newspapering days. I also have health insurance – it’s pricey but I pay it because no machine runs for more than 50 years without some maintenance issues.

Had I taken a job as soon as I earned a midlife degree, back in December 2009, I’d have had to wait at least a year to earn vacation time – and it probably would have been only a week’s worth. I’d also have had to quit writing for MSN Money and Get Rich Slowly, and I probably wouldn’t have been able to create my personal website.

At this point in my life, those options are unpalatable.

Life holds no guarantees

When I think about money as “security,” I get a mental picture of someone sitting in a bank vault surrounded by piles of cash that he’s unwilling to share. I don’t want to be Scrooge McDuck, backstroking through an ocean of dollars and singing, “Mine, mine, all mine!”

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in 54 years on the planet, it’s that there’s no such thing as security. Your job, your health, and the economy can all go south with incredible rapidity.

Suppose I’d found a full-time job after college (and these days, that’s a big “if”). Right now, I could be making more money. But I’d likely be spending more money. Working people often do.

More to the point, I wouldn’t be making a difference. I get reader feedback like, “I’m out of debt because of you” and, “I’m back in school because of you.”

Knowing that I’ve inspired people to change their lives is something I wouldn’t trade for a 9-to-5 with a dental plan. Not everyone’s in a position to do this. But you may be able to move closer to your goals by examining the way you handle money.

Try it my way: Save where you can so you can spend where you want. It may not make a difference right away, but the longest journey begins with a single step. Or a single $5 deposit.

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