21 January 2008


I'm going to talk more about the economy this week, but I'm going to start small.

My own economy has taken an upturn, with a new projection of healthy revenue for the coming months. In other words, my new job pays better than my old one (and much better than being unemployed).

I took some time to crunch the numbers on my first pay, which was coincidentally almost identical to the amount I was being paid when I left my previous job. The difference that briefly caused my eyes to leave their sockets is that this pay slip only covered eight days of the fortnight instead of ten. Ever since then, I've been impatiently awaiting my second pay slip, which will cover a full fortnight and will therefore have far more attractive figures.

The question I have struggled to answer since I started working full-time has always been that of knowing what to do with the money. My family and friends only ever have one suggestion - "give it to me and I'll spend it for you" - and I don't much like it. I can do that frivolously enough myself, as I proved on the weekend. No, I'm thinking moreover of something to do with my money over a longer term.

It needs a project. I need to find it a problem that it can solve.

Put that way, it almost sounds as difficult as it really is.

Money has never brought me happiness. Agreed, it takes the stress out of doing things that I want to do, but ultimately, I've always found spending money to be a crutch, and I've never been satisfied with relying on it. It's not that I'm unhappy, it's just that retail therapy can only take you so far.

For example, I like video games, and I can buy whatever new game comes out that I'd be interested in playing. The problem is that I have plenty of money to buy them but less time now to play them than I have had in the past - and aren't they more fun to play than to buy? A few years ago, as I noticed a steadily increasing backlog of games that I had bought but hadn't played, I realised that this was a waste of time and money. I've been more selective since, and by and large, I've kept the queue to a minimum.

The lesson was that money is merely a means to an end, and when you lose sight of the end, you wonder what it is that you're doing. If you're going to buy something to make you happy, you'd better use it for that purpose, lest it be wasted entirely.

So, what can I do with my money that won't waste it?

It's really a question of passion. I can't justify everything that I do, but I'm never going to be hard on myself for pursuing something about which I am truly passionate, something that opens doors for me. (As a crude example, I spend a lot of time writing these blog entries, but I really enjoy writing and I'm trying to create something that I'm going to enjoy, even if nobody else does.)

One might suggest that I buy a house, or have one built. This is perhaps the next frontier for me. Granted, I'm well short of knowing exactly what I want and not even remotely prepared for such an undertaking, but I'm sure I can learn what is required. (One of the downsides to my fragile combination of idealism and deep thought is that I take forever to make decisions. When it works, I do take immense pride in getting there; when it doesn't, I conveniently blame it on being Libran.) No, it's that I have two much bigger problems with the idea.

Firstly, it's not something I really need at the moment. I've just started a new job, and I'm hardly going to buy a house and land with my first month's salary. The compulsion for me to have my own place stems mainly from the ideas that I have had for the place I'm living now, particularly when it comes to living somewhere energy-efficient. I'm renting now, and I can't really put these ideas, some of which I will admit are a bit experimental, into practice on someone else's property. That said, it would be a hobby, and an expensive and time-consuming one at that. I don't think I'm ready for that right now. I'm already tired most of the time now, while I'm still getting used to the arduous timetable of full-time work again.

Secondly, I have deep concerns about the state of the world economy, and I don't think this is the right time to assume a debt that large. The Dow Jones is down some 15% in the past two months and has shown no signs of recovery. Here in Australia, the stock market has dropped nearly 20% in the past three months and has been on the slide now for 11 consecutive trading days. The pressure is manifesting itself as inflationary, which is likely to mean higher interest rates, bad credit and continued flatlining of real estate prices.

The current plateau in global oil production surely has a lot to do with the credit crisis: the economy is geared for growth, and without growth in our largest energy source, economic growth is getting harder to come by. This is an aspect that worries me. An ideal preparation for peak oil would probably involve me having my haven of permaculture built and harvested before the problems really take hold. As such, a move into real estate at this point could end up as a race between preparing for peak oil and preparing for three decades of debt. Then again, with its low rainfall and summer temperature extremes, perhaps Adelaide isn't really the ideal place for such a suburban utopia.

I'm basically day-to-day on these things. While I am gearing up for a large economic move, and while I think I will make it sooner rather than later, it won't be that large and it won't be into my own place. This is certainly on the cards, but I fear it would be the right move made at the wrong time.

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