4.20.2012

Time and Money and Food and Life

Between two hard jobs and two young kids, Amy and I are longer on money but shorter on time and energy.  The past few Fridays, we've decided to spend a little bit of money to conserve some time and energy, by buying about $35 worth of food for dinner and leftovers.  Living where we live, there's an embarrassment of cheap and good choices, so in addition to saving us from cooking and dishwashing, it's felt a little indulgent to partake of a high quantity and quality of food.  (If you're curious, we're pretty vanilla in our selections so far: Boston Market, Middle Eastern, Chinese, and Subway, with possibly Vietnamese, Lebanese, and cheesesteaks on deck.)

If it's possible, Amy has become more frugal than I, so it took some convincing that this was perfectly rational behavior for two people in our situation.  I think once I explained it that way, she loosened up and has been able to enjoy the food along with the rest of us.  I recounted to her a recent New York Times article about someone who got to live like a billionaire for a day, and asked her to just imagine what sorts of decisions and behaviors became rational for someone who made hundreds of times more money than we do.  It kind of blew our mind just thinking about it.

It didn't take much for us to envision the opposite scenario, of figuring out what made sense in terms of life decisions if we made hundreds of times less money than we do, partly because we are pretty thrifty in our consumption and partly because we have regular contact with many such individuals and families.  It may seem strange or even insulting to say this, but there are some parallels to the billionaire's plight, only (stating the obvious) without the advantage of having a billion dollars to paper things over.  That is to say, the billionaire's dilemma is the scarcity of time, which is solved in part by trading money for time.  The very poor face time scarcity as well, but it's different.  Because their earning power is so low, it takes more time to earn enough money for life's essentials, and in some cases there isn't even enough time in the day, let alone the very real possibility that there aren't enough open opportunities to trade time for money. A certain, cold rationality kicks in, and my heart breaks for the very real and very tough either-or choices that have to be made at that point.


All of this to say that I understand the plight of the billionaire and hurt for the dilemmas of the impoverished.  And I am thankful to God for where Amy and I are in life, that we can afford a $35 feast on a Friday night to provide ourselves with some gastric pleasure and buy ourselves back a little time and energy.  Sure, working two hard jobs brings a lot of stress into our lives, both in terms of the jobs themselves and the scarcity of time and energy that result.  But we like our work and are thankful for the intellectual stimulation, social engagement, and financial remuneration.  And any life that includes a rotisserie chicken, a lamb shawarma sandwich, or pork fried rice on a Friday night can't possibly be one worth complaining about.

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