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Although I suspect that reading The Tightwad Gazette III is not going to reduce my monthly expenses by half, I did enjoy Amy Dacyczyn’s witty, unpretentious style and found her stories and tips inspiring and engaging. Because much of the issues discussed are still relevant, I almost forgot that her commentary and advice is from nearly two decades ago. Just then, I was jolted back to 2012 with one reader’s recommendation on thrifty communication.

Dear Amy,

Many people are using E-mail these days. They communicate through computers via Prodigy, AmericaOnline, or even free networks.

I don’t know if the fact that I am not really familiar either Prodigy or AmericaOnline indicates that I am ignorant or far too au courant.

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Your Money Or Your Life: Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Achieving Financial Independence is about just that, viewing money not as mere currency, but as Life Energy and learning to intelligently conserve this limited resource, achieve proportional fulfillment, and ultimately ‘retire’ when we still have some life left in us.

It certainly makes some good points, such as:

  • An unemployed person doesn’t have to feel worthless. Unemployment can well be a “time of learning and discovery.”
  • Unpaid activities should be honored and treated with “the same creativity, respect and attention that we give to paid employment.”
  • Life energy is precious and finite and much of it is invested in a job (paid employment). To truly value and cherish it (and be on the road to financial independence), one must seek the highest pay possible (that is, of course, consistent with one’s health and integrity).

While I happen to agree with all three notions, I sometimes wonder whether in our culture, that without doubt holds paid employment in very high regard and often relegates the ‘unemployed’ (whether by choice or not) to the status of second-class citizens, most such books that preach such truly important ideas are in fact aimed at those of us who dutifully play the part of paid professionals.

The books asks for diligent application of its 9 steps, including a monthly tabulation of income and expenses that opens our eyes to, now, just where is all my life-energy disappearing, and lets us sit up and take notice that that expensive spoon holder souvenir just cost us all of 64 minutes of our life. Now, in case of a couple, where the arrangement is that one works engages in paid employment, whereas the other engages in unpaid jobs, the sensible thing would be to treat the two as a unit, and plot a single earnings vs. expenses curve for the two of them. But if money is a symbol of our life’s energy that needs to cherished, valued, maximized and invested, what does the unemployed person have to show for it?

For those who don’t engage in it by choice, unemployment can certainly be a time of learning and discovery, as long as all that learning (well, at least some of it) can be eventually exchanged for the “highest pay consistent with your health and integrity”. (And by that I don’t mean that for those who are happy not to work for money, unemployment can be any less fulfilling.) And unpaid activities do deserve to be held in higher esteem than they are now. Maybe I missed something, but how is a 56-year old, ex-homemaker, currently without any means of supporting herself, going to be able to value her life-energy? By seeking the highest pay possible? In today’s climate where family ties are weakening and often uncertain, is the real message that unpaid employment is valuable only if it is also accompanied by paid employment?

As Roger Waters famously wrote:

Money, get away

Get a good job with more pay

And you’re OK.

Oh, I did find tremendous value in the book. But while transforming an individual’s relationship with money is hard in itself, money and family can be rather awkward bedfellows.

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