Thursday, December 10, 2009

Rich Dad, Poor Dad

I missed posting yesterday.  This is of course entirely due to my own weakness combined with the fact that Tuesday was Patch Day (see the previous post for explanation) and I was busy acquiring shiny things.  I am an addict, no question.

Recently I have been doing a lot of thinking about money, particularly with regards to how much of it I have.  At the moment I am a homemaker and my wife Wendy is a grad student.  Clearly we are not in a high income bracket and yet I really never feel like we are suffering from not having enough money around.

Just for interests sake I went and looked up the official poverty income amount for Canada and was able to find a figure of 31 grand a year as the value for 2004 for a family of 3 in a large city.  Given slight adjustment for inflation we probably would sit at more like 32-33 grand for 2009, so lets call it 32 for these purposes.  I find this truly hilarious because not only are we living below the poverty line, we are living *substantially* below it, and yet our lifestyle is almost decadent by a lot of reasonable standards.

Our income for a year is something like 22k.  This means we are able to pay all our expenses including taxes, condo fees, full time daycare for Elli, food, transit, clothes, etc. plus all our fun stuff and run a deficit of something like 5k per year.  Given that I worked for 6 months this year and made 32k we can effectively budget ourselves as running even for the next 6 years even if Wendy stays in school and I stay at home.  It also means that we can support ourselves at 5k *below* the poverty line quite comfortably, including full time daycare while one parent stays home!  Granted we do own our place which reduces costs noticeably, but we could easily support our current lifestyle including daycare and rent on 32k a year.

I find it incredible that according to the government standards Elli is being raised as a child in poverty and yet we really lack for nothing.  She could qualify for special free lunches in schools and be a poster child for 'this family can't afford things for their children' type of fundraising, and yet we have so much!  I live in a nice condo in a middle class neighborhood right next to public transit.  Everything is extremely convenient though not cheap in this neighborhood.  When I go food shopping I don't really pay a lot of attention to prices; it isn't like we live on bulk onions and lentils.  We buy fruit from Florida, produce from New Zealand, and special grassfed no additives meat because we think it is worth the extra money.  I personally don't buy much stuff because honestly I don't have a lot of places to put new things and the things I have work fine, but whenever we need new things for Elli we get them without concern.  Elli has some clothes that are handmedowns (which would likely be the case even if I was a zillionaire) but she has boatloads of toys, more clothes than me and more books than is at all reasonable for a toddler to own.

I compared my life today to the life of people who are ludicrously wealthy and came to some interesting conclusions.  Based on the things I deem most important my life is wealthy to the point of lunacy.  Consider even a monarch of a nation 100 years ago:  I eat better than they did, I have much greater life expectancy, my access to information is staggeringly superior and I have tremendous freedom to do whatever I want with my life which a monarch doesn't even really have.  If you compared my lifestyle along these lines to that of any human in history up to 15 years ago there really is no way they could compare.  Take any rich and/or successful person prior to 1995 and it isn't even close; in most of the ways I measure quality of life I would have to be considered far ahead just because of what was available at the time in terms of information and healthcare.

Healthcare and life expectancy (not to mention basic creature comforts) are higher than they have ever been.

I can order any book I want from any library in Toronto and have it delivered within 2 blocks of my house.  The internet contains more information than a thousand encyclopedia sets and is available any time I want.  Even if I want specific scientific data Wendy can get me any scientific research paper ever published.

The availability of cheap goods is outrageous.  Food has already been mentioned, but nearly any tool or item I can imagine wanting that isn't valued simply because it is worth a lot (gold, diamonds, art) is available to me.

The level of freedom I (as a random citizen) have is unprecedented in human history.  I can live where I want, work at any job I want, express myself how I want, associate with whoever I please.  I have the ability to shape my life to my own vision moreso than was ever possible before.

The only way I could possibly consider this privileged lifestyle to be anything but luxurious is if I restrict myself to comparing it against those who live in the exact same place and time as I do and value money more.  If I decide that the benchmarks of happiness are big screen TVs, cars, cell phones and fancy clothes I could consider myself poor as I have none of these, and cannot afford to go and get them.  If someone offered me a car, cellphone, giant TV, and all the fancy clothes in all the world for me to work 40 hours a week I would laugh at them.  Unless that car contained a pair of limber, red headed, voluptuous, horny identical twins I wouldn't even look twice.  I have everything a person could be said to need and practically everything I personally want, and yet the government of my time considers me to be poor to the point of endangering my health and happiness.

Sometimes people's reactions to my situation shock me.  Regularly people refuse to believe that I am a homemaker (So you build homes, right?  No... I cook and clean.)  and clearly people wonder if I inherited a ton of money or won the lottery.  I live under conditions people consider wretched and unsustainable and yet it feels every day like I am absurdly lucky that I can live the way I do and have the things I have.  I don't have any reason to think I will die before I am 70, I don't worry that my daughter will get diarrhea and die from it, I can learn and absorb pretty much any part of the sum total of human knowledge any time I desire, I have ample time to pursue any hobby or interest and I live in a comfortable, safe environment.  If this is poor, then it makes me wonder why everyone spends so much time trying to be rich.

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