Independence and Intention

Ain’t no money in poetry
That’s what sets the poet free
I’ve had all the freedom I can stand.

— Guy Clark, “Cold Dog Soup”


Part of my own fear and anxiety around money is rooted in the idea (perhaps misguided, perhaps not) that managing money and participating in markets implies culpability for an often flawed system.

But another, perhaps deeper, part of it has to do with the idea of trading freedom for money. If, as they say, it’s called “compensation” for a reason, in what ways am I beholden to my sources of income — and how beholden am I comfortable being?

(NB: It’s possible to trade money for freedom or time, of course — you can hire a driver, a babysitter, a chef, an assistant, or even a vacuum cleaner. I just haven’t gotten to a point in life yet where I’ve been able to make big trades in that direction.)

With a little experience and some reflection, it seems that a feeling of independence and some level of intentionality are touchstones in my relationship with money. I never want to feel totally beholden (and I’d like more independence over time), and I prefer to earn, invest, and spend money with intention.

One of the easiest ways to do both of these is to start small. Even this daily blog is in some way a daily act of freedom (and I intentionally do it for free); meanwhile, with the money I do have, I’ve tried to manage progressively more of it on my own, and to allocate more and more of it in ways that strike the best balance I can see between shoring up my own foundations and doing the least harm to others who might be related to me by money.

The challenge, of course, is that the perfect “freedom” of having no money does not feel very free. Some amount of attention and intention is required to achieve sufficiency and independence in the world of money and things.