“What would you do if money were no object?” It’s interesting that we typically consider just one side of this question. To simply pose the question implies that you ought to imagine you had so much money you could spend it without consequence. However, there’s another way to consider the question. There is a set of people who live as if money were no object, but they have very little money. Willfully homeless people and wandering ascetics are are a couple examples of this set.
Why do people disregard an entire subset of possible lifestyles that satisfy the question? Perhaps it’s because living without regard to money is a riskier proposition than being filthy rich, or maybe, the social stigma against homelessness makes it an unacceptable option.
However, we can learn something from considering homelessness as an answer to the question, “What would you do if money were no object?” For the majority of us, we must choose among a limited set of options. To paraphrase the tag line of a popular blog, “You can do anything, but you can’t do everything.” This maxim applies even if you were embarrassingly wealthy. Even though money isn’t a limiting factor of the wealthy, there are other details limiting their choices and lives.
Perhaps a better way to phrase the thematic question is, “What does your perfect life look like?” The Mad Fientist’s December 2016 podcast offered this reformulation of our question. This rephrasing implies that money is an object of consideration, and even if your perfect life involves having a billion-dollar net-worth, you must also account for obtaining it too.
By considering a broader spectrum of ideal lives, from extreme wealth to extreme poverty, we increase our options. For example, many people idealize the opportunity to live out of a backpack for months as they travel inexpensively through foreign countries. While there is considerable privilege in this dream, it is also a form of homelessness that carries its own risks. Why couldn’t one live out of a backpack or a car, moving from campsite to campsite every week or two? In the USA, this is a legal option, and you’d get to see many beautiful places doing it.
I want to note that I’m not attempting to glorify or idealize homelessness or poverty. Rather than ignoring it, I want to notice and consider homelessness and poverty. There are lessons to learn about personal finance by examining these issues. Moreover, we are much more likely to notice ways to help resolve these issues through these examinations than we are by turning away from them.