Monday, October 10, 2011

The Case Against Acorns

This past March I took a month-long trip to England, France, and Italy. Next year I'll be taking a 15-day riverboat tour from Budapest to Amsterdam, then stopping over in New York for several days before returning to Chicago. Bragging? No...utter disbelief. That I have done and will be doing these things--things that so many other people can only dream about, as I could only dream about were it not for Norm's generosity--leaves me lightheaded in contemplation. And all these wonderful adventures were possible only through the death of my dear friend and one-time partner, Norm, who did not spend his hard-earned money on himself when he could and should have.

I am deeply indebted to him in death as I was in life. So do I feel guilty for spending money he worked so hard for? No. I am doing with his money what I wish he would have done for himself. I think he would have appreciated the irony in that.

And therein lies the theme and message of this blog: you truly can't take it with you. I could have...and many might say should have...invested the money Norm was kind enough to leave me. But to what end? I have no family to support, and even if I did have a family, I'm well beyond the age of having to support them. I have finally learned to live within my income and therefore didn't really need the money, though I am of course delighted to have it.

I fully realize that everyone's needs are different. We all have financial obligations, which vary greatly from person to person. And I am certainly not advocating just blowing every penny we have on our own personal pleasures. We tend to work hard all our lives, putting money aside for...what, exactly? Like squirrels collecting acorns, we keep stashing it away. But once we have accumulated enough to assure ourselves a reasonable and sustainable level of comfort, we keep going. "For the kids," is perhaps the most common reason given if asked. A noble thought, but once "the kids" are no longer kids, the obligation to support them largely vanishes--they need to stand on their own two feet and make their own way. Leaving them something when you die is fine. But too often "something" is, realistically, too much. Pampering children is one thing; pampering adults is something quite different, not to mention largely unnecessary.

I think a major problem in the acorn-gathering/money-stashing philosophy is that we are seldom aware of how much is enough. It would be safe to say that the vast majority of people are unaware of their true financial condition. They do not budget, they do not plan, they have no real idea of where their money goes. They just keep gathering those acorns.

I'm not addressing this to those whose circumstances prevent much acorn-gathering. But there are still a very great number who can, but who are so concerned for saving for the future comfort of others they neglect their own comfort now.

Norm, for example, left a sizable amount of money to his brother, who has done quite well for himself throughout life and does not need it, and to two nephews whom he never saw and who, from all accounts, were also doing quite well for themselves. I do hope they will use that money as I am using it, to fulfill dreams. I'm sure Norm, too, had dreams, but he was too busy storing acorns to act on them.

I am, as I'm sure you've noticed if you've followed these blogs, excruciatingly aware of the passage of time, and that time is not limitless for any of us. If we don't take the opportunities presented to us, they may well be lost forever. One of my strongest memories of my recent trip is of sitting in the Piazza San Marco in Venice on a beautiful, sunny day, having a drink while listening to a small orchestra playing not 50 feet from me. I made a mental toast to Norm, wishing he was there with me, and knowing that he should have been there instead of me.

So don't spend all your time running around gathering acorns. Take some time to sit in the sun and enjoy them.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please take a moment to check out his website ( and, if you enjoy these blogs, the recently-released Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs ( ).


Kage Alan said...

I'm so geeked to read about another trip for you next year! It makes me wonder what you'll plan the year after that.

btw, who's to say that Norm hasn't accompanied you on your trips? Your enjoyment may well become his own.

Is Gary going with you next year?

Dorien/Roger said...

Thanks, Kage. And you have a point about Norm...I hope he was there.

Norm's money will be pretty much gone after this next trip, so future trips are a bit iffy at the moment.

Gary and I had talked about meeting in London or Rome after the boat trip, but he is concerned about the expense, so we may just meet in NYC.