Dear Huhana and Kāhu ō te Rangi,
This one is about making money, finding money, setting goals, and happiness.
Yeah I know, “all these stupid letters are about happiness!” You’re right, they are. But that’s because if there’s one single thing I want to help you be, it’s that. Everything else comes second to happiness.
When I was little we used to drive to the tip in Otaki with mum, your nana, and look for things to take home. Mum called it fossicking.
We weren’t homeless, or looking for food, and we weren’t too poor to buy the things we were looking for; mum was just smart enough to know that a lot of people threw out stuff that was still good enough. Either good enough to use as is, or good enough to use making something new. When I asked her about it she said my grandad used to take her to the Waikanae tip and do the same, so it might have been genetic. They would take a trailer to empty, and sometimes it would come back full. That explains the hundred lifetimes worth of every things he had in his workshop when we were growing up. She said we were always foragers and that foragers like rescuing things.
“And it used to keep you guys busy for ages. And it was free. Or maybe it cost a dollar.” She said.
I think she was probably trying to help the planet while the rest of us silly little humans bought a million things to do a hundred jobs, and then threw them away instead of passing them on. Plus she just liked making things.
So did me and your Uncle Manaaki. We made dummy bombs out of lawnmower parts that had already exploded. Non safety-standard motorbike helmets finished off our space exploration suits. You get the, duct tape patched and spray-paint framed, picture.
One of my favourite tip memories is the day I thought I found fifty dollars.
I can’t remember how old I was. Somewhere between five and eight years old I’d guess.
I was off to the side of the car while mum was unloading the tree cuttings or whatever we were dumping that day. I saw an unusual kind of orange in the brown of the mud. That was how I used to look for things, eyes to the ground, digging for different. I bent down for a closer look.
It was a folded bit of orange paper.
A fifty dollar note!
I unfolded it and another one just the same fell back down in to the muddy puddle waiting below.
Two fifty dollar notes!
I don’t think I’d ever seen one in the flesh, a real live fiddy, but the big 5 and big 0 told me what was in my little hands. So I shouted out something I can’t remember, and ran to mum. Suddenly becoming one hundred dollars richer at that age was the same as suddenly becoming one hundred dollars richer today, multiplied by inflation, imagination, and the ratio of $2 pocket money per week to my current salary. So it might as well have been a pair of million dollar notes.
What do you think I remember better and makes me smile more: what the money was spent on, or the time that I spent at the tip with your nana and your Uncle, finding something so exciting?
Answer: I don’t even remember what I, or more likely we, spent it on. It was just money.
Money for you today is an imaginary thing you trade in the coffee shop games that you play at daycare.
“Ten dollars. Here’s your coffee.” – two year old Huhana.
When you get older and you start winning your own bread instead of having it toasted and covered in Peanut Butter by me or your mum, it will become something different.
Money is a security blanket, it keeps you safe – it can take away a particular anxiety and worry about the future. But people tend to chase it like our ancestors chased Moa. They ran barefoot through the Kauri forests, hunting giants and setting Kereru snares at the edge of the lagoon. It was an environment of scarce resources. The animals they could catch were scarce, the plants they could eat were scarce. Life was about hunting, chasing, and gathering things that might not be there tomorrow. So today we hunt, chase and gather the stuff we need, including money, but it’s not going anywhere. We’re not used to having things in abundance. Money in abundance through the pay rises some of us strive for, is something we’re conditioned to think is the sensible, smart, and safe thing to chase. Get a better job, earn more money, get a better car, then buy a bigger house. But it’s not smart. Research shows that earning more money does bring more satisfaction and happiness, but only up to a certain point. After that, it stops making you happier. At some point you have to stop eating Moa, it’s not making you feel better anymore. The thing is, we don’t know where that certain point is when it comes to money. We don’t know when to stop, and we keep chasing it.
There’s a million and three smart people who have talked about the dangers of chasing money or thinking ‘being rich’ is your goal. Rich isn’t a goal you can reach, neither is having more money. You’re already too clever for your own good, so in case you’re thinking you could try and get around that by defining ‘successful’ in your mind as being rich, and then heading off to chase ‘success’ – it won’t work, it’s the same thing.
Don’t get me wrong, you need that security blanket. Most of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs have some kind of reliance on money. But you don’t need a blanket that covers you from head to toe and wraps around you 10 times. So don’t spend your time hunting for one. Spend that time hunting for actual happiness. If you need a financial goal, make it one that means you can do the things you love. After the basic security of survival, that’s what money is for.
It matters less how much you have and how much you spend, what really matters is what you spend it on.
Spend your time chasing the things you love, the money you need will come as a result of that goal. If it doesn’t, you probably didn’t need it in the first place.
Oh and spend some time at the tip too, there’s all sorts of cool stuff to find.