Essay: A more casual approach to the bottom line

People don't need to spend their entire lives making sure their money is working hard enough.

Back in my younger days, I had a pretty basic arrangement where money was concerned: Every week I'd earn a little bit of it and, just as regularly, through various transactions, it would end up in the hands of other people.

All very simple and straightforward.

There was no need for any smooth-talking advisers, helpful booklets, or weekend seminars designed to show me how a property investment in some emerging backwater could be the key to my long-term financial security.

But then marriage and a child came along, and suddenly it was important that there was enough money tucked away for a rainy day and maybe even a week in the sun, as well. Pension plans and retirement funds became hot topics, instead of being a conversational fallback.

And to top it all off? Thanks to the global economy, those of us within a slightly graying demographic now have international finance to worry about – which, as far as I understand it, involves prime lending rates, the price of various commodities, and the cost of a barrel of oil. Apparently, these all have the power to affect my standard of living, which makes me think I should maybe take an interest.

But lately, another thought has entered my head: You could spend a lifetime trying to make sure that your money is always putting in its best effort on your behalf.

These days, those in the know keep telling us that it's not enough to have a basic low-yield savings account.

Given the vulnerability of even the strongest economies to inflation and recession, they say, the truly wise and insightful among us are those investors, large and small, who know how to send their money out into the world so that it might be fruitful and multiply via mutual funds and pension accounts and property deals. And then the money will return home safely before being sent out again on some other lucrative mission.

In present-day Celtic Tiger Ireland – which was known as the Land of Saints and Scholars when I moved here in 1992 – there's a bit of a mania about the whole thing. It is difficult to express a thought, publicly or in private, in which money does not figure.

On television and radio, in pubs, and on the street, the talk revolves around the price of property and the cost of living. This is because the financial gurus never stop reminding us to change our phone service, switch banks, and juggle our stock portfolios frequently and without delay. All to save a few bucks. (Or, in this case, a few euros.)

Ireland's newfound prosperity isn't a bad thing in itself. More than most other Western countries, Ireland needed an economic boost. But at what point, I find myself asking, does our money begin to manage us? At what point does the careful maintenance of our wealth become the principal concern in our lives?

I know what you're probably thinking: Lighten up. We all have to make a buck and pay the bills. This is true. Plus, on a personal level, I know I could conduct a comprehensive review of my own financial holdings over a breakfast meeting and still have time to discuss the previous evening's ballgame at some length.

I get the feeling, though, listening to the radio, watching TV, and reading the papers, that only a fool would choose to adopt an indifferent approach to his money these days, one that doesn't involve a careful consideration of the bottom line at every turn.

I'm not advocating that we spend our money carelessly or that we go shopping as a social outlet. This approach has millions of Americans – and a worrying number of Irish – up to their eyes in debt. But what I'm proposing is that we simply forget about our wallets for a while. That, for a short time, anyway, we don't put a price tag on everything in our lives.

Only then might we be able to appreciate the bigger picture in front of us each day.

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