Why Save Money?

Stack up the zeroes and commas in your bank account as a fun game.

Why have we been taught that it is good to save money?

We are always told that it is good to save money. But is this true?

Where does the notion of saving money come from?

“A dollar saved is a dollar earned.” – Ben Franklin

Probably the best essay that talks about American prudence and utilitarianism is Max Weber’s “The Protestant Work Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism” (PDF download).

The basic idea is this:

We Americans descended from Quakers and other protestant sects, which say: in order to go to heaven, we must earn as much money and favor as we can while we are still alive, and spend as little of that money as humanly possible.

So the protestant work ethic is this:

We must work very very hard to make lots of money. But we are not allowed to spend that money. We must leave that money to our future generations, to help them prosper.

Now, this seems like a double punishment:

  1. First of all, you have to torture yourself your whole life to accumulate a bunch of money (often very boring and stressful).
  2. Secondly, you’re not able to reap the rewards of your work by spending your money.

And this how most capitalists think:

Make a bunch of money, but spend none of it (to accumulate more ‘capital’, which is money).

Why do we want to become rich?

“Mo money, mo problems.” – Biggie Smalls

Throughout all human history, we have all wanted to accumulate more money. Even in Roman times, avarice (desire for more) was considered a vice.

I think it is human nature to desire more. Or else we would all still be stuck in caves still eating (raw) acorns.

I generally believe it is a good thing that humans are avaricious, greedy, and desire more. This is where a lot of our personal ambition comes from. And ambition is a good thing.

So first of all, the desire to accumulate more money is a natural, human thing.

But from a practical perspective– why do we want more money? Meaning, what practical utility does having more money give us?

Money as a tool

I think money should best be thought of as a tool. I think Elon Musk defined money as a ‘social tool/means of human labor allocation’.

Which means, if we have money, we can pay for the labor of some else to do something for us which we want to be done.

For example, while I can change the oil of my own car, I would prefer someone else to do it for me (they can do it quicker, I don’t get dirty, and I can do other work while they do it).

Perhaps I could also learn how to roast my own coffee, but I would prefer someone else to do it for me, because I generally prefer drinking coffee over making it.

So in a sense– the best benefit of money is this:

Money allows you to have the power NOT to do things you DON’T want to do.

You can use money to have others do personally ‘undesirable’ labor for you. Which is good, because it means it frees up your time to do what you want to do with your time!

Free time > money

For myself, I value free time over all the money in the world. To me, the point of money is as a means to maximize my free time, to maximize my control and freedom in my personal life.

I personally gain the most delight from having a clear mind, not having to worry about any duties or obligations, which allows me to think. To think of new ideas, to challenge other ideas, and free time gives me the opportunity to produce knowledge. As a knowledge-seeker, this is what I desire.

As in the words of Nassim Taleb in his book, ‘Bed of Procrustes’, the best measure of wealth is seeing how much time you have to kill.

Money as security

A lot of people also think of money as a means of security. Now, I don’t really buy this claim.

Why? No matter how much money you have, you will never feel ‘secure’. I believe that feeling “secure” is a 99% mental thing. And perhaps the shortcut to feeling ‘financially secure’ is to cognizantly opt for an ascetic lifestyle. If your financial needs are a bare minimum, you will always feel secure, because you know you don’t personally need much to survive.

Fear of death

I think a lot of people also want money as a means for health security. They are afraid of a sudden illness that they cannot pay for, and that they will die.

But the truth is in most developed societies, if you turn up to the emergency room, they won’t let you just die there.

Of course, there is the chance in America that you get treated, and you fall into crippling debt. But still– bankruptcy laws protect most individuals, which means you aren’t going to be sold into slavery as a consequence of your debt.

If you’re not afraid of death– what do you need (that much) money for?

Buy Tools, Not Toys

This is my thought:

Tools are things we can purchase which actually do improve our lives and empower us.

However 99% of consumerist stuff ain’t tools. Which means, 99% of the stuff out there is a “waste of money”.

For example for myself, the best investments I have made with my money:

  1. Maxed-out (refurbished) 13” MacBook Pro Laptop
  2. RICOH GR II digital camera
  3. iPad Pro tablet
  4. Books
  5. Travel

Otherwise, all the other money I have spent on other stuff has generally not given me a good return on my money.

Almost everything else we desire to buy with money is a toy. Clothes, watches, fashion things, cars– toys for adults.

Do we need toys?

I don’t think you need to buy toys for children. Better to give them a few sticks, cardboard boxes, then to watch them CREATE their own toys!

Playing is good.

Can we as adults create our own toys? Not sure– but we can certainly play!

For myself, I play when I am writing or blogging, I play when I am making photos, making videos, writing poetry, making rhymes, making music, etc.

Thus for us, we should use our tools (digital creation tools) in order to play! The camera as a tool that empowers us to play!

Money as a means to travel

A lot of us like to travel, because it opens up our mind, it gives us interesting and novel experiences, and also it allows us to embark on adventures.

I believe travel is good. Traveling allows us to find delight in discomfort, and this discomfort sparks new creative ideas. Anything we do that allows us to have new creative ideas is good.

But the thing with travel is this:

You don’t need to go far to travel, nor do you need a lot of money to travel.

Travel doesn’t need to be expensive. I think most of us get suckered by this new notion of ‘luxury travel’ — we want to go to super exotic places, flying first class, in 100% ease and comfort. But to me, this is antithetical to the purpose of traveling. To me, the purpose of traveling is to intentionally make yourself uncomfortable. Thus the notion of ‘luxury travel’ is a contradiction in itself.

Travel more locally

You can travel by visiting the neighboring city. You can travel by leaving the house and driving somewhere. You can travel somewhere in your own state, nation, or country.

You can buy cheap flights via kayak.com or Google Flights. You can find cheap accommodation via airbnb.com, hotels.com, you can find a hostel, or you can just stay with a friend on their couch.

I actually find traveling in more “poverty-like” situations as more fun. When I sleep on the floor of a friend or my mom’s place with a sleeping bag, there is a great sense of independence and freedom — kind of the same sensation of freedom you get when you go camping.

Saving money as a game

Funny enough, Tony Robbins’ book: “Money: Master the Game” is actually pretty aptly named. Reflecting on money — at this point it seems like a game.

For example in an RPG (role playing game), we accumulate experience points, we level up, and we gain new skills, etc.

If we considered our own real life as an RPG, we can accumulate money (like gold) for the simple joy of seeing those numbers go up.

And if your goal is to accumulate as much cheddar in the bank, you must delight MORE in accumulating and saving money than spending it!

Ask yourself:

Do I get more joy from spending $1,000 or do I get more joy from seeing another $1,000 accumulate in my bank account?

Purple Lamborghini

Or another scenario:

Let us assume you had $250,000 (in cash) in the bank. Would you prefer to keep that money in your bank account, or would you prefer to go out and buy a (purple) Lamborghini for $250,000 which would turn your bank account into $0?

I think we would prefer to have that money in the bank, as a way of ‘keeping score’.

The purple Lambo would be cool for a few days or weeks, but it will soon lose its charm. Money chilling in a bank never does.

Do you want to die with lots of zeros and commas in your bank account, or do you desire to die with $0 in the bank?

Another thought:

When you are on your deathbed, do you want your bank account balance to be at $0, or do you want millions in the bank when you’re about to die?

Obviously if you’re about to die, the money you have in your bank account has no utility. But perhaps the question is: do you want to leave money behind for your children?

This is generally the problem:

When parents leave their children money, the children (almost always) squander the money.

My mom doesn’t have much money. I would prefer her to die with $0 in the bank– for her to use that money for herself. For her to use that money to travel, see the world, and suck the marrow out of life. I don’t want my mom to leave me any money.

How to prevent yourself from having entitled kids

Thus perhaps I also don’t want to leave my children any money. Nor do I want my children to expect me to leave them any money. Perhaps by being very explicit and telling them:

Hey little jimmy and sally, when I die, I will not leave you any money.

Perhaps this will actually motivate my kids to actually work hard and hustle for their own wealth, and also perhaps it will prevent them from becoming spoiled or entitled.

And to me, one of the ultimate vices is entitlement.

I want my kids to be independent, self-sufficient, and non-entitled.

So the question is:

For whom am I saving money for, if not for my future children? Am I only saving money for myself?

Money as a means to reduce anxiety and fear for the future

To be frank, I don’t really care much for money, and never have. Even when I was a teenager, I already knew “Money doesn’t buy you happiness” and also, “Even though you don’t have much money, you can be happy.”

I think there is a difference between reducing anxiety and increasing “security”. What we desire is LESS anxiety and fear. Thus perhaps the more cheddar we can stack in the bank, the less fear and anxiety we have?

Money as a means to keep score?

A lot of people fall victim to this ‘quantified’ approach to life: they judge their self-worth via numbers.

I think this is silly; why judge yourself according to arbitrary numbers?

Generally speaking, a lot of us want to see “progress” in our lives. Yet, this notion of “progress” is also a modern notion.

How do we even measure “progress”? By statistics and numbers. When we see a number going up, we feel “happy” because we perceive we are making “progress”.

So perhaps as you see the numbers in your bank account accumulate and increase, you feel like you are “winning” in life. When you see the number in your bank account decreasing, it feels like you are “losing”.

And how do you prevent the number in your bank account from going down? Simple:

Earn more money than you spend.

How to earn more money than you spend

Some strategies:

  1. Adopt an ascetic lifestyle: Prefer to spend as little money as possible. If you keep reducing your expenses to the bare minimum, even on a small income, you will continue to accumulate commas and zeroes in your bank account.
  2. Increase your income: You can continue to keep your expenses the same, and if you increase your income, you will continue to accumulate more money in your bank account.

It seems the most robust way to accumulate more money in your bank account (‘fucking up commas’) is by:

Increase your income, reduce your expenses.

That means:

Continue earning a bunch of money, but keep seeking to reduce your expenses less and less.

To me this is an interesting idea:

Can I continue to earn more money, be more profitable– while also preferring to live a more and more ascetic “poverty” lifestyle?

I think the only way we can make this enjoyable is to treat it like a fun game. Make it a fun game– see how much money you can earn, while seeing how little money you can spend! If you make it fun, it will be enjoyable and easy!


Some takeaway points:

  1. For myself, accumulating money in my bank account is more fun than spending it.
  2. The easiest way to accumulate more money in my bank account is to reduce my expenses to (below) poverty levels. That means, I pride myself in living an ascetic lifestyle. I treat it like a fun game, “How little do I personally need to live a maximally epic life?”
  3. Saving money should be seen as a fun game, not as a self-flagellation and self-denial thing.

More turbo thoughts to come.