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new featureAn Out of Country Experience-Part 20
(Please check the archives if you've missed previous installments)

Rebecca L. Morgan
Being Brief
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Tales From The Barstool By: Clint Lien
"The man doth protest too much."
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In My Opinion
By L.N.P.

Money Matters

I've had lots of money and very little money, and believe me, lots is better. Now I realize that my "lots" of money is someone else's poverty, and my "very little" is someone else's lap of luxury; I'm obviously speaking in relative terms here. So, first things first. By my definition, lots of money means: never any problem paying the monthly bills, two recent model cars in the garage, going out to dinner when we want to, buying suede boots or a new jacket when the mood strikes me, a bunch of credit cards in my wallet with substantial credit lines for when I need it, a few thousand in the bank, maybe someone to clean the house once a week, and the means to be generous if someone I love needs a helping hand.

Lots of money has never meant diamonds or Jaguars, expensive vacations or huge stock portfolios to me. It never meant shopping for clothes on Rodeo Drive, although it did mean I could have my hair cut in an upscale salon in Beverly Hills three times a year. It never meant flying off to Italy or even Hawaii when we needed some time off, but it did mean I could fly to New York once a year to visit my 83-year old father. In other words, lots of money wasn't like being rich; it was what we used to call "middle class."

Very little money changes the way you do things, even simple things like grocery shopping. I never knew what a pound of hamburger meat or a loaf of bread cost. I do remember times when someone would ask, "Can you believe how much the price of eggs (fish, fruit, etc.) has gone up?" I'd nod knowingly, but I had absolutely no idea what they were talking about. I bought what I wanted. Now I know what everything costs, because I compare prices and look for the best buy. I forego my favorite brand if the store brand is cheaper. I buy what we need.

Of course, when you have very little money, the concept of what you need also changes radically. Suddenly you don't need a recent model car; you need a car that runs. You don't need a new throw pillow for the couch, or the newest electronic "toy," or a new comforter for your bed just because you're sick of looking at the old one. If it keeps you warm, it's a good comforter. And, you certainly don't need a new outfit to add to your closet already crammed full with dozens of other once-craved new outfits that you no longer wear. What you do need is the confidence to wear something you've worn before, or something that just might not be the latest fashion trend, and still feel good about yourself.

In fact, very little money means having a great deal of confidence about many things. Like, confidence that some day the economy has to improve. Confidence that people will continue to pay for the services you provide. Confidence that you'll continue to stay mentally and physically healthy, so you can keep working hard in order to earn very little money. Because very little money actually translates into just enough money if you think about it. And just enough is really all you need.

Having very little money is sort of like the one time that you were so madly in love with someone who wound up rejecting you that you made a complete fool of yourself. You never did that before, and you certainly never did it again, but just that one time allows you to empathize with everyone else who ever became crazy irrational stupid when it happened to them. You know how it feels. It's the same with money. When you have lots of it, it's hard to imagine living any other way. When you don't, even if it's temporary, it increases your empathy for the millions who struggle to survive. It broadens your compassion for the jobless, the homeless, the poor. Sure, you know that it's not the same. Not being able to buy what you want is not even close to not being able to buy what you need. Deep down you know that your "just enough" provides you with a roof over your head, food to eat, clothes to wear. In other words, just enough to make you a millionaire in hundreds of third world countries. But still, it gives you perspective; you've had the tiniest glimpse of how it feels.

Now that I think about it, having very little money puts just about everything into perspective. It's not as though you didn't know before that being surrounded by people who love and respect you-husband, children, brother, family, friends-were ALL more important than lots of money, because of course you knew. Just like you knew that being healthy, and knowing your loved ones were safe and healthy was a priceless gift. But maybe you didn't think about it quite as much. When you strip away all the "stuff," however, you really get it. Your health, those relationships, the love that envelopes you, cannot be bought. Cliché or not, the Beatles were right; money can't buy you love.

So why did I begin this column saying that lots of money is better? Because notwithstanding all of the above, or perhaps, armed with the maturity and wisdom gained by all of the above, it is. Money gives you options. It doesn't decide how to spend itself; you make those choices. You can continue to live lean and mean, but you can have fun every now and then. You don't have to buy more stuff; you can save your money. Now there's a concept. Without those monthly anxiety attacks over how to pay the bills you can focus your attention on more productive pursuits. And you can go back to being the giver, because no matter what anyone says, it's a whole lot easier giving than receiving.

Still, I just returned from an invigorating 45-minute walk with my dog. The sun was shining on our backs and it felt wonderful; the 4th of January and it's 78 degrees in southern California. We're in the midst of the NFL playoffs, and my team, against most predictions, is playing in the first round tomorrow. I'm going to watch the game with my husband and kids. Win or lose, I can't think of a better way to spend my birthday. And no amount of money could have paid for that.

Send me your opinions at Lynn@netlistings.com

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