#VanLife · investing · Personal Finance

It’s Impossible To Have Enough

“The more you have, the more you want.”

At some point all of us have heard this adage about life. If you go out and accumulate things, you’ll simply lust after more, and it becomes a sordid spiral of avarice from there forward. Human greed is never satisfied, but rather throbs and expands with each passing hour.

That may be true, but a lot of what others perceive you to be greedily collecting could well be a necessity forced by circumstance. Stop and reckon for a minute: when buying something new or expensive, is the motivation typically driven by sheer covetousness, or did a milestone of existence suddenly spoil the party? They’re far more common than one might believe, and often unavoidable.

To put it in perspective, when I practiced van life full-time, most of my purchases related to food or some gadget to correct issues with my living space. These included battery-operated fans to beat back the sauna regime, seat-mounted storage compartments, and inflatable mats to spare my back. Sure, I could have gone without them, but the decision seemed sound from a quality of life standpoint.  Without a doubt however, I did need less.

Fast forward about a year, and I purchased a house. I didn’t need one, but as an investment the idea felt decent. Of course a house requires repairs and improvements, with some arising long after you sign the contract and move in. These might be little things, like additional motion lights for safety, or a fresh coat of paint on the porch. Again, I could wing it without, but that opens the possibility of long-term decay or injury.

Recently I have also been exploring the possibility of buying a second car. Some would immediately relegate this to crude consumerist desire, but living further away from a backup vehicle means the risk of getting stranded without a ride – and possibly catching an employer reprimand. Bear in mind that the last time my car went bad it took over a week to have the repairs made, perhaps in part because things went south over Christmas. My alternative in that case was a single cab truck, so you can imagine how napping felt in there.

The underlying point is that lifestyle spurs wants or needs, not rampant greed alone. While frugality is a virtue, depending on how a person lives they could very well be a huge consumer and have little choice in the matter. After all, that beaten up Taurus you bought from an old farmer is hardly some testament to personal vanity; it just runs well enough to move you from Point A to the restaurant at the end of the universe.

Sometimes greed just solves problems.  

investing · Personal Finance · Self-Improvement

Are Beggars Beating The System?

When I was younger, I recall watching the Sherlock Holmes series starring Jeremy Brett. While not always equal to the Basil Rathbone version, it delivered thrills aplenty, bringing to life countless tales by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. A particularly poignant example is “The Man With The Twisted Lip,” which focuses on a wealthy but debt-troubled man who mysteriously vanishes, only to be discovered playacting as a beggar to help service his liabilities. It’s possible that the tale was written with assumptions of upper-class snobbery towards the poor, but that should not jettison the social value, particularly in today’s early retirement and money-scrounging culture.

I thought back to the show over the last two weeks, as I handed out cash to several panhandlers between my work shifts. Of course they might well be down on their luck, but what if they aren’t? What if homeless beggars are more like our friend in the show, a clever masquerader seeking to avoid the wages of tax?

From what data is available, a panhandler might draw $100-$300 dollars a day in an American city,  This doesn’t sound especially great, but remember that the funds are tax-free. To put it into perspective, when I worked retail some years ago, an eight-hour shift gave me $80.00 in gross income. After taxes, paying for boomer retirement, and Berniecare, I was sitting closer to sixty-five bucks. From any standpoint, that’s a yuuuge difference.

We should further understand that homeless people have access to soup kitchens and shelters, two helping hands that absorb other daily expenses. Should the person be masquerading of course, they might live with a family member or pay minimalist rent off the books to avoid added scrutiny. Meanwhile, Clarence Goodman has to cough it up for housing, food, gas, and Trojans, all to ensure semi-regular affection from his wow, man.

Now you might say, “Sure, but they don’t get all those great benefits!” As it turns out, that depends. Disabled folks can claim SSDI up to a certain level, and the general homeless population is eligible for Medicaid, with some regional variances. To be sure though, they miss out on subsidizing the retirement of the elderly, which does rather sting.

There are some downsides, to be clear. Any pretender to the homeless throne would have to deal with rough weather, lack of consistent sanitation, low money haul days, and the usual social stigma. In addition, whenever they chose to “clock out” of the streets, their behavior would have to carefully avoid attracting suspicion from the empowered and governmental.

Still, it’s a thought.