All that Glitters is not Gold

I’ve Dined With The Billionaires And Beggars, Priests and Prostitutes.

And the conversations all had one thing in common:


One of these people was obsessed with losing it.

Another chose their profession because of it.

An abundance of it caused one individual to lose everything.

And I was kindly asked by the other  if I wouldn’t mind giving them some of mine.

No matter who we are, what we do or how we live, we allow money to have an unhealthy control over our lives. Despite knowing deep-down that it can’t give us true happiness, it can still influence our decisions, cause arguments and result in life-long bitterness and regret.

So in many ways, not dissimilar to a family gathering.

First, let’s make one thing clear: I do not hate money. In fact, I quite like it.

On some occasions in my life I’ve had quite a lot of it. At other times – such when a 10-year old Freddie had to open the door to bailiffs and then we had to sell the family silver to pay off debts…only to be told it wasn’t real silver – I’ve had absolutely none of it.

Right now, I probably have a bit less than most 38-year olds I know. But I also know I’ve experienced a lot of things (good and bad) that most 38-years olds haven’t.

So if life is an adventure (or misadventure) playground, and not a game of Monopoly, does that make me richer or poorer?

This got me thinking:

Do we really need an abundance of money to be happy? Does a truly rich existence have to involve a life that resembles one long rap video?

Can we say ‘money doesn’t buy happiness’ and really believe it, not just pretend to mean it because we’re worried about looking like the lockdown version of Gordon Gekko, all red braces and pinstriped facemask?

It Doesn’t Grow On Trees

Researching the history of money involves more contradictions and conflicting stories than a Prince explaining his actions at a cocktail  party (I’d better add the word ALLEGEDLY to that sentance before I accidentally fall off the back of a yacht).

One thing that can be agreed upon however, was that there used to be a time when money didn’t exist.

100,000 years ago, it was all about bartering. “I’ll swap you some grain for your chicken”, etc.

Everyone lived in something resembling harmony because it was all about giving a little and taking a little. People didn’t take more than they needed, and therefore no-one needed to give too much. Everyone was happy.

Further down the line – around 9,000 – 6,000 BC – cattle and plants were used as money. So quite literally, you could ‘grow your investment portfolio’. Again, things were fairly settled because everyone lived within their means and, in those times, people didn’t need to consider payday loans to get a new pair of Nike Airs.

But things started to shift slightly. Maybe some of our ancient relatives had a bumper crop and extra-randy cows, so they started to have a bit more. And this small bit of abundance made it easier for them to get even more. And perhaps another relative had a bad harvest and their cattle were really good friends but just didn’t like each other that way. So they had a bit less, and this made it harder to get more.

And this caused a problem.

Luckily, a solution was found! Around 700 BC, the Greeks (or the Chinese, depending on which side of the political divide you get your news from) started to use small bits of bronze as currency.

Before long, everyone wanted to get their hands on these shiny coins like a child rummaging in the bottom of their Christmas stocking.

Fast forward a few thousand years and we find ourselves in a world of equities, commodities, futures, credit and crypto.

But is it really making us any better-off?

Greed Is Good

In many ways – at least in Britain – money is like pornography: We don’t like to openly talk about it, but it consumes a lot more of our lives than we care to admit.

As a hangover from the wartime era of rationing, hardship and general fretting that a V2 rocket might come down the chimney, the 1950s, 60s and 70s were generally about making-do and mending. Children played with lead toys, families enjoyed hot summer picnics in yellow-grassed parks, no-one raised an eyebrow if you wanted to gobble down an extra portion of spotted dick, and walking into a bank with a mask on was frowned upon.

Life was good.

Many people didn’t have much, but they were happy.

Then the 1980s barged in wearing a power suit, driving a Porsche bought on hire-purchase, brick sized phone clamped to its ear and a rolled-up banknote shoved up its nose.

All of a sudden, people wanted more.

Then their neighbour got some more, and they wanted even more again.

And money started to take control.

If you didn’t have enough money, that was fine, because in our newly-minted capitalist society, you could go and get a job that paid you more of it. Sure, you might hate that job, but at least you could buy some more shit to make yourself feel better.

And if that didn’t work, you could always get yourself one of those shiny new credit cards.

What could go wrong?

Maybe nothing. If – like a politician analysing the latest Coronavirus infection figures – you don’t look at the numbers too closely.

But the facts tell a different story. As of March 2020 (according to the Money Charity):

  • People in the UK owed £1.6 Trillion of personal debt (an increase of £48.7 billion in 12 months)
  • Almost 13 million households in the UK have less than £1,500 in savings.
  • There is over £4,000 of unsecured debt per UK adult.

Whilst at the same time, 1% of the world’s population own 50% of the world’s wealth, and the 26 richest individuals on the planet have as much money as 50% of the world’s population (or to put it another way, the 26 biggest hitters have more money than 3.5 billion people combined.

Forever In Your Debt

Now, a rich person – perhaps our friendly, hardworking bookseller, Jeff Bezos (richer than…New Zealand) – might say that all we need to do is dream a little bigger and work a little harder, and that gold-plated toilet will be ours one day.

But do we really want to be rich?

After all, the millionaire Jim Carey said: “I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it’s not the answer.”

And the millionaire Tim Ferriss said: “$1,000,000 in the bank isn’t the fantasy. The fantasy is the lifestyle of complete freedom it supposedly allows.”

And the billionaire Warren Buffett said: “Money is not everything”.

That’s cleared things up then, thanks gents.

What can I teach you about money that the millionaires of the world can’t?

Probably how to lose it.

But here’s what I do know about money and happiness:

  • I had more panic attacks than at any other time when I used to drive a turbo-charged Porsche. I had some of the best experiences of my life on a bike.
  • I wasted the best years of my life getting into all kinds of trouble wearing a £3,000 Breitling. All of my greatest achievements were accomplished with a cheap sports watch on my wrist.
  • The top three, hands-down, no-questions-asked, worst, darkest and most despairing moments of life all happened when I was wearing a £1,000 suit. My happiest, most treasured memories all took place when I was wearing shorts and a t-shirt.

Does money buy happiness? No.

I believe money brings us a level of security and freedom that would make our lives easier. But money alone cannot bring us true happiness.

I’ve visited some of the poorest places in the world, and all I saw were smiles. No bitching about only having an iPhone 7, no stress when the letter from HMRC falls through the letterbox, no hours wasted lying in bed pondering about how that couple down the road could afford that Range Rover Sport when he’s on long-term sick and she works in ASDA (I’ll give you a hint: shitloads of debt…or drug money)

Would the poor swap places with the rich? Of course they would. I’d bloody jump into Jeff Bezos’ bed if he pulled back the duvet, patted the mattress and gave me a wink.

But we can’t expect more money to make our problems, our fears, our insecurities and worries go away.

It just gives us different kinds of problems.

Burning A Hole In Your Pocket

Now, if I start to worry about money, or get jealous about how much another person has, I remind myself that I am rich.

‘Rich’ doesn’t have to mean numbers in a bank account. True wealth means love, happiness, contentment, gratitude and making a positive difference in the world.

And if that doesn’t float your boat (or superyacht), then remind yourself that although you may not be in the 1%, the fact you are reading this means you are in the 20%, and that literally billions of people around the around are praying to have your money problems.

So I always think of money like an ex-partner:

Whilst it’s always good to have a decent relationship with it, it’s certainly not worth abandoning everything you hold dear in order to pursue it.

And if you let it take it control of your life, it won’t just be your pockets that get burned.

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