Sunday, April 1, 2012

Don't Change a Thing

By Lisabet Sarai

I've just struck it rich. I've won the lottery. A distant relative (too distant for me to grieve about) just died and left me her substantial fortune. One of my brilliant husband's clever ideas finally caught the attention it deserves from investors. The Weinberg brothers - no, make that Steven Soderbergh - read Raw Silk and decided it would make a great film. I'll never have to worry about money again.

What am I going to do with all this moola? What will I change?

Not much.

Thinking about Garce's topic for this week, I realized that there's very little about my life that I'd want to modify, even if I had near-unlimited cash.

I wouldn't buy a house. Been there, done that! At this stage in my life, having spent years chasing down contractors or fixing stuff myself, I love the freedom of having a landlord I can call when something breaks down. Sure, I fantasize about living in a ramshackle bungalow on the Maine coast, a gorgeous Victorian or even a Scottish castle, but I'd be satisfied with a week or so to savor those experiences - I don't need to own the buildings outright. Right now I live in an attractive apartment with more space than I can use (unbelievable as that might sound), in a fabulously convenient urban location. It has lovely garden, a swimming pool, an exercise room. Why would I want a house?

Definitely don't want a car! When we sold ours in preparation for moving to Asia, I felt as though a huge weight had been removed from around my neck. Sure, I enjoy driving around back roads and exploring new places, but I can rent a vehicle if I want to do that. No car means no insurance, no maintenance, no parking fees, no gasoline... You can have a couple of glasses of wine with dinner and not worry about killing yourself or someone else, or ending up in jail. Alternative modes of transit like subways and buses might be slower, but they give you a chance to interact with the world. A car insulates you from the rest of humanity. No, you can keep your Porsche or your Lexus, thank you very much.

So what else could that money buy? Clothing? I'll always be a bargain hunter - I learned at my Jewish grandmother's knee down in Filene's Basement. Jewels? I'd only lose them. Books? I can barely keep up with my current TBR list. Fancy electronic toys? I don't have an iPad or a smart phone, but at the moment I don't really miss them. And if I really wanted one of these modern must-haves, I could find the cash to purchase one without requiring that bequest.

Travel? Well, I guess if we had more money, we would do more traveling. We'd knock a few more exotic locales off our list of must-visit places. I'd go back to the U.S. more often to visit my family and friends. In honor of my sixtieth birthday next year, I'd throw a big party and invite all the people I care about whom I haven't seen in 'way too long. So yeah, that's one reason I'd like a bit of extra cash. But I might just do this anyway. You only turn sixty once.

If I were rich, I certainly wouldn't stop working. I love my job. I might spend more time writing if I didn't have to worry about making a living, but I value the variety in my current work life.

Probably the main reason I'd like to have more money is so I could give more of it away. I don't believe that cash can solve every problem in the world - intelligence and political will are far more important - but there are many causes that would benefit if I did happen to come into some cash.

Overall, though, I wouldn't change much at all. It would be relaxing not to have to worry about our big expenses, like health insurance. But honestly, the older I've become the more I've disengaged myself from material things. (Having to get rid of 80% of what I owned before our big move - and seeing how much we'd accumulated and how little we really needed - was a big factor in that transformation.)

It's a cliché but that doesn't mean it isn't true - money can't buy the things that really matter. I've got love, companionship, decent health, a roof over my head, friends, family, an occupation that lets me make a contribution to the world, a vocation (writing) that allows me to exercise my imagination. What else do I need? And if there were something major that I lacked, would money make a difference?

I doubt it.

(By the way, if any of you DO decide you'd like to leave me your fortune, please be assured that I won't refuse it!)


  1. Lisabet - I'm with you on the personal possessions thing. Most of it is just excess baggage. And I'd love to get rid of my car and take public transport. If there was such a thing here, I'd do it.

  2. Hi Lisabet!

    It's funny in a way when we think of it, how much money do we need? I heard once that the figure $70,000 is about as much as people need to be reasonably comfortable (I don;t remember how many years ago that was) and that anything after that tends to be superfluous.

    I think the real freedom would be as you describe your take on driving, the opportunity to have that extra glass of wine, or the choice of what to have for lunch, and not have to think about the money impact. If you have money its better to accumulate experiences than things, such as traveling.


  3. This is a timely post as, here in New York, we just gave away a little more than half a billion dollars in a lottery prize, so everyone's been thinking of what they'd do with enough money to do anything you want.

    First, I'd get the gift giving out of the way: millions to my signature causes and to my family, and then...

    I would definitely quit my job and write full time, or at least write when I wanted to and not worry about making the rent. And yes, I would buy an apartment. Something penthousy, in midtown, with a great view. Maybe (probably) also a house on the beach, with a pool and hot tub in the Hamptons. And a sporty little roadster, for fun.

    And I'd travel whenever and wherever I wanted, first class, because it really is nice for long flights, just sayin'...

    Here, in New York, I take public transportation exclusively. I'd probably continue doing that, with a few more cabs thrown in, or possibly a driver. The roadster would be for getting out of town.

    So, yes, I would definitely use the money and yes, it would make me happy. Not that anyone is really interested in what I want money for.

  4. Hi, Kathleen, Garce and Diane,

    After writing this post, I started to think about whether I wanted to take it all back... Because although I really don't want a house, I'd love to go back and live in Manhattan for a while...

    Garce, I live on a lot less than $70,000 a year - although granted that's here in Asia.


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