The handling of money, whether to spend or to save, is an issue that we all face every day. I posit that money is a mental health issue for several reasons. One is that money, or a lack of it, can cause us to do drastic things. Another is that our relationship to just about everything and everyone (school, work, family, friends) is mediated to some extent by money. Lastly, for those with mental health issues like myself, there’s a tendency to be really REALLY bad with money. I’m going to examine these three intersections of money and our mental health with one working hypothesis in mind: it’s not your money that matters, but (simply put) your lifestyle.
Lifestylez ov da Poor & Dangerous
It’s an unfortunate fact of human life that when our basic needs (food, safety, shelter and minimum psychological/physical connection) are not met, we become aggressive. We might not be able to change that, but we can change the tendency for these basics to have a high price tag.
The poor of our country (which is the only one I’m familiar with) think about money much more than the average person, as money is their only way out of poverty. Yet (from my vantage point) there seems to be plenty of places in our world where people are perfectly happy while earning an amount that here in the UC would land us on the street. If we could simply make minimum living wage in this country a realistic and achievable figure, then we’d be improving the lifestyle of millions.
Money Makes the World Go Round
The exchange of money may seem like a choice we make, but really it’s an inescapable fact of our lives. We have to make decisions all the time. Should we eat at the MU, Crepeville, back at the apartment/dorm or at the DC where our plethora of unused swipes are threatening to depreciate into Aggie Cash (or perhaps you only have the 90-meal plan, and you’re trying to conserve those swipes for “eating out” on campus). These everyday decisions determine our future lifestyle. The people you see going to Crepeville or Burgers & Brew several times a week are likely to need a whole lot more savings for retirement. So, unless they make big bucks, they’ll be working longer than those of us who are willing to cook with Costco ingredients in our kitchens.
Lose your Money, Lose your Mind
I just spent $110 within two hours. And that was at the Goodwill, SPCA and a garage sale. Was any of it really necessary? Honestly, not really. Of course, I’ve heard the anecdotes of overspending. Stephen Fry, the actor, bought his fifth Apple computer in his documentary (The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive (2006)) about mental illness and spending. Kay Jamison, in her book, An Unquiet Mind, described picking up lithium (for her mania) along with expensive amounts of snakebite kits. Her plan is to save the lives of Californians by distributing the antivenom to hikers. My shopping ambitions don’t seem to be that delusional, but I still have to gauge my level of mania when I’m shopping. How much is this purchase a practical one, or one that is just inflating a hyperactive ego. It’s often a tough call, and to be honest I don’t back as many things as I should. I’m trying to change that.
Like trying to decide how much you want to use drugs in high school or college, deciding how much you are comfortable spending on a daily to yearly basis (your lifestyle) determines a lot of how your life will play out. Be wary that of the fact that just because you aren’t bipolar or suffer from any clear addictions doesn’t mean you don’t have any money issues.
I’d like to end on a more philosophical note. What’s funny about money is that it’s actually unnecessary. It’s perhaps the only thing that the VAST majority of humans use on a daily basis that is meaningless on a physical level. What I mean is: Clothes protect us to a degree. Food nourishes us. Shelter, air, water, sunlight, etc., all play a clear role. But money is truly just paper, and hardly even that the way digital currency is taking off. Yet, if all that paper and digital information disappeared tomorrow, we’d be hard pressed to see our society operate with only the bargaining of our forefathers. In short: Don’t try to change the game, change the player. Unless, you know, you’re into that whole Holy Mountain (1973) thing. Then go for it.
PAUL BEREZOVSKY would like to spend time reading the comments/concerns you send to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Photo by CA Aggie Photo Team