the end of the experiment

My column from the June 27, 2007 edition of the Greenhorn Valley View:

Well, we did it.  We made it through an entire month, attempting to not spend any unnecessary money.  It was quite possibly the longest month in the history of man.  To be honest, we weren’t absolutely successful.  There were a few times we spent money we didn’t need to: repairing a blown tire caused us to get home really late one evening, so we stopped in town for some dinner; we bought a couple of unnecessary grocery items (coffee creamer, sodas); and we bought some books at our recent out of town convention.  On the whole, however, we spent a lot less money than we normally would have, and in that sense I consider the experiment a success.
While I’m glad we did it, I don’t think we’ll be doing it again anytime soon.  Not being able to spend money when we wanted to caused no end of frustration.  Having money means having power.  I can bring items under my control simply by running to the store to purchase them.  Not being able to spend money required us to think of other ways of getting things done.  Money is also a social lubricant.  Taking a friend out to lunch or buying a store bought gift communicates to the other person that they are more important than the $14.95 I spent on their meal or gift.

In spite of all the downsides to not spending money, I learned some fairly significant upsides.  While spending money can bring things and people under our control, there is another level above the level of spending that is more powerful yet.  What if my friend and I, instead of going to lunch, helped a neighbor dig a ditch, or paint a house, or put up a roof?  Now I have communicated to my friend that working side by side with him for a cause outside of ourselves is more important than the lunch I would have spent $14.95 on.  I have done something significant for somebody else, while simultaneously strengthening the bond between my friend and me.  It’s not easy, of course, and I’ll be the first to admit I prefer the easy path.  But if we put forth the effort, I think we can accomplish much more without our money than with it.

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