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Thursday, March 22, 2007
Money, Money, Money....
...No, I didn't win any lotteries, if that's what you're thinking. Not that I'd announce that in a blog in the first place.

Some friends and I have been discussing money. One of my very good friends is in close-to-dire straits in her financial situation. She's struggling, and it hurts that she's struggling and I can't do anything to really help her, except be a shoulder and an ear and offer advice where I can.

So this group of us (there are about 10) have been discussing money and how we save it and most importantly, our views on money as it relates to daily life and (for some) how it relates in their religion. Do good and get rich, be more devout and God will bless you with riches, etc etc.

That's the religious criticism as it relates to money - it's not that my friends believe in that, it's just the observations they made. And that got me thinking about money myself, and how it relates to me and my family.

I remember, back in the day (oh gods, I am old if I'm saying that), when life was all about money. I was a teenager and no, I didn't have my hand out. Money was tight in my house when you have only one income coming in, and that was from a government job. The adult male in the household would go to work early in the morning, come home around 4 and then head to the bait-n-tackle shop that his mother owned and ran. And he'd work there for a few more hours, or he'd work there on weekends. I spent time working there too. We never got paid, much to the adult male's wife's chagrin - except in groceries. A flat of soda, a cut of fish, canned goods, crackers, sodas, milk, ice cream. The cost of the groceries wasn't necessarily in line with what we did for her, but I never saw a big deal out of it. It wasn't like we'd gotten pats on the head and sent on our way.

But I digress, sort of, because that was me from the age of 6 until I was a teenager. When I was a teenager, in the '80s, it was all about the money. Greed, indeed, was good. Money was it was all about. I was going to study hard and be at the top of my game and not make the mistake that Michael Milken and the others of that time made - they got caught.

Yes, I wanted to swim in money. After living practically poor my whole childhood, wearing off brands, never having anything I really wanted (except food). I wasn't going to have to worry about money at all.

Then came the '90s. And college. And reality. The paternal grandmother mentioned earlier died and left the estate in a mess. And her son and I cleaned it up and I paid a rather large and expensive tax bill. Now, for those of you who think something in the 5 digits is a large and expensive tax bill, I've got you beat by multiples of that because of that estate mess. Money was a headache. One that I had to have, unfortunately, but a headache nonetheless. And I appreciated all the money that I earned by working hard for it in a job ruled partly by smarts and partly by physical labor (college bookstore).

I won't say that my part of the estate didn't help things, because it surely did. It helped pay my rent when I got out of college and didn't have a job but wasn't going to move back to that place I once called home. It kept me fed and sane.

Money wasn't really at the front of my consciousness any longer, especially since I'd changed my mind about what I wanted to do for a living. And Money still isn't at the front of my consciousness. Ok, it's not a driving focus anymore.

Money, right now, is a means to an end. It's a necessary thing if you want to live. You need it to eat, you need it for shelter and clothing and transportation and those little things that make life a little nicer (like the occasional stitching supply, ice cream cone, or movie rental).

But Money isn't necessary to love my children, teach them how to learn, teach them how to be good people, or how to love someone. Money only provides me with the things for my physical existence and survival in this life. It does not provide me with the things I need for the existential, psychological, or emotional existence and survival in this life. It may affect those things (Money can bring *and* relieve stress), but it does not rule them.

That brings me back to the discussion about money, riches and religion. Money has nothing to do with God, and God has nothing to do with Money. One provides for oneself and one's family with the gifts that they were born with, either via genetics, environment or the grace and blessing of God (or the gods, depending on your preferences). God doesn't give you Money (that's what parents and grandparents do sometimes on birthdays), nor does He take it away (that's what the government does).

I'm not saying money isn't important - it is. And I worry about money too, and how to keep paying my mortgage and feeding the kids and all the things that go along with living life. And I'm not trivializing money either, because those that don't have much of it feel the pressure more than those who don't have to worry about it. I know both of those pressures well. I don't know what I'd do if I won the lottery besides start having a small nervous breakdown about how to handle that sort of riches. And those aren't the sort of riches that I'd like to have for the rest of my life.

You find those other sorts of riches in all manners of places - in the smile of a child, in the park relaxing on a pretty spring day, or as you fall asleep and realize that the day didn't include any drama-trauma...

...and those are the riches that I would much rather have.