One of the ways rich people make poor people feel better about being poor is to bombard us with songs and movies reminding us that, at the end of the day, money isn't what's really important.

These stories seem to feature people who have homes and cars and food, for whom all that extra overtime at work is all about getting a second summer home in the Hamptons. "Dammit, honey, your children are more important than those material things!"

OK, how many of you reading this have that problem? The, "I have so much cash in my life that my biggest problem is spending it on the wrong things" issue? Well, all of you can stop reading.

For the rest of us, I'm calling bullshit on the messages like ...

"Money Can't Buy Peace of Mind!"

5 Reasons Money Can Buy Happiness

Ah, the simple life. If you're greedy and shortsighted enough to worry about "bills" and your "career", you'll have inspirational email forwards like this one letting you know you're letting life pass you by.

That one details a conversation between a hard-driven investment banker and a poor subsistence-level Mexican fisherman. The banker is made to look like an idiot, because he's worrying himself to an early grave while the "poor" Mexican fisher man is really rich, because he knows what really matters is kicking back and watching the tide roll in.

5 Reasons Money Can Buy Happiness

"Ahhhh ... the simple life of poor people. Relaxing in the grass outside of my 2 million dollar home."

The lesson of the story is clear: All this hustle and bustle of the rat race is completely optional; the wise man turns all that shit off and knows that all the worry isn't worth it. In the end it can't buy you the peace of mind that those simple poor people have.

But I've Been Poor, and ...

Hey, email forward writer -- did the Mexican fisherman guy have fucking teeth? When they broke or got cavities, did he have to go to a dentist? Did the dentist make him pay? How about his kids, did they have teeth? Because kicking back and watching the sun set is a little harder when you have a stabbing, constant pain in your jaw -- or when you have a toddler at home screaming about the same. Of course when I say "at home" I'm assuming that they have a home and are required to pay fucking rent.

5 Reasons Money Can Buy Happiness

"Hell no! This baby's paid for in full."

See, I've lived that goddamned "simple life" and guess what: Every day of every month is mental torture because your mind is constantly fixed on A) how you're going to pay the bills and B) what you'll do about the ones that are going to be unavoidably late.

That life is a constant battle of stacking your basic services like electricity, phone, gas, rent and water on a scale, and trying to figure out which one will allow you leeway on your payments without cutting you off. It's keeping track of which bills were late last month and switching off to a different one this month to avoid building up too much of a hole with any one creditor.

You spend every pay period figuring out what you can physically survive without. Cable, telephone, Internet, pool boy. You learn to manipulate your checking account, using the overdraft system to pay off immediate debts and buy groceries, racking up $25 fees for every check you bounce ... which puts you further in debt on your next pay period.

5 Reasons Money Can Buy Happiness

That $50 worth of groceries just cost you $75.

And you spend every second knowing you're on a tightrope with no net -- you hold your breath every time you turn the key on your shitty used vehicle, knowing you can't afford to fix it if it decides not to start. If you get sick or chip a tooth or need new glasses, you're just shit outta luck because down here in the poverty hole, you don't get fancy things like insurance, and just the tests to see what's wrong with your bad back and the follow-up visits cost every last penny you make for the next three months. The prescriptions they give you to actually treat it would wipe out half of every paycheck.

So, you just ride out the pain and hope it gets better on its own. Or wait for a dipshit tourist investment banker to come along, then you can stab his ass and sell his organs on the black market.

But Add in Some Money ...

A few months after getting my first non-terrible job, I splurged and paid my electric bill early. When she said what I owed, I told the woman on the phone they had made a mistake. "Wait, the number you're giving me is less than what my bill says. WHAT SCAM ARE YOU RUNNING, BITCH?" After a moment she realized that I was looking at the "late payment" section of the bill, where they warn you about how much you'll have to pay if you don't get it in on time. Because that's what I always paid before. I was so used to my shit being late that I grew to just automatically look at that number, completely ignoring the normal part of the bill.

5 Reasons Money Can Buy Happiness

"You're kind of fucking stupid, aren't you?"

The fact that I suddenly wasn't "in trouble" with the power company and that they no longer had a guy with his finger hovering over the cutoff switch to my house, was like a knot untying in my gut. It was peace of mind.

When you've spent your entire adult life worrying about whose couch you can sleep on if you get evicted, or how to explain to your kids that they can't come over this weekend because there's no water or power ... you're goddamn right money buys peace of mind. Anxiety is the whip society uses to keep you paying your bills -- they'll send you threatening letters, they'll call you, they'll sue you, they'll threaten to turn off your heat in the middle of winter. You know what made that go away? Fucking cash.


Sometimes, I just sleep on it. Sometimes, I fuck the Abe Lincoln right off of it.

"But Money Can't Buy the Simple Pleasures of Life!"

5 Reasons Money Can Buy Happiness

The saying used to be, "The Best Things in Life Are Free!" but modern bumper stickers have modified it to the more clever, "The Best Things in Life Aren't Things."

The Best Things In Life Aren't Things NAND 192 SA MMine 9537

You'll get hammered with that message around the holidays. You'll see A Christmas Carol about the rich, bitter old cocksucker who works all through Christmas instead of enjoying the simple pleasure of his friends and family. Or look at Fight Club's Tyler Durden, portrayed as the coolest dude on planet earth because instead of taking some tedious job in a cubicle, he dropped out of society to live in an abandoned house (the narrator boasting about how after a month he didn't miss television). Shit, even the hero in Avatar is leaving a futuristic earth behind to live the simple, tribal lifestyle of the CGI aliens he's befriended.

It's a timeless message: Money and frivolous modern comforts are nothing compared to the simple pleasures of life.

5 Reasons Money Can Buy Happiness

Like a game of baby football.

But I've Been Poor, and ...

What simple pleasures are we talking about? A good night's sleep after an honest day's work? An evening spent with family and friends?

OK. Here's what they were sleeping on in Fight Club:

5 Reasons Money Can Buy Happiness

You know, because they're manly men who don't need any fancy "beds." And really, a worn old mattress recovered from a dumpster is all you really need. Sleep is free, and all those extras are bullshit wastes of money.

Only I've slept on mattresses like that. Because they're cheap, the padding is thin and wears out fast. And when it wears out, you have sharp metal springs digging into your back. You toss and turn, you wake up feeling like shit. Yes, when you're a teenager you can fall asleep anywhere. Wait until you're approaching your 40s, with chronic back problems. An expensive mattress and a cheap mattress is the difference between extreme pain and no pain.

OK, how about an evening with good friends, just hanging out and talking? That's fine if you're not planning on feeding everyone and, more importantly, if your friends happen to live within walking distance.


Like if you live in the field beside their house or something.

If your best friend moved two hours away because that's where his job took him, that's $40 in gas for the round trip to experience this "best things in life are free" simple pleasure. And when you're living check to check, that means the $40 is coming out of another of life's little pleasures -- groceries, or another bill that will generate harassment from bill collectors, etc. And this is assuming both of you can get time off on the same evening. The ghost of Christmas Fucking Past can lecture me all he wants, but if my job offered me holiday overtime to work on Christmas, I took it so I could keep the heat on.

But Add in Some Money ...

The sleep thing is a great example, because in all of these parables about money not mattering, the people are strong and healthy and, if left alone, would be comfortable. But me? I'm an insomniac, so getting to sleep is hard enough on its own, let alone factoring in a hand-me-down mattress with a human-shaped hole in the padding. I'm also six feet three inches tall -- not quite as tall as Michael Swaim, but about twice as tall as Dan O'Brien. That means the wrong mattress leaves my feet hanging off the end. You can bet that one of my first real paychecks went to a goddamned king-sized mattress. And some sleeping pills.

5 Reasons Money Can Buy Happiness

And an elderly couple.

And hey, what do you know: The simple, "free" pleasure of sleeping after a hard day was suddenly available to me. For the cost of hundreds and hundreds of dollars.

Oh, and suddenly, budgeting in the extra gas to see my best friend who lives two and a half hours away isn't an impossibility. Hell, once I'm there we can even eat dinner and rent multiple copies of The Minis without the stress of mentally doing the math to figure out which utility company was going to put a hit out on me. And having a good job means that I can afford to take a day or two off without being fired or setting off a financial crisis that takes three months to fix.

"The best things in life aren't things?" No, but they all require things, you fucking hippie.


"The best things in life are free. Except this guitar, that's an exception. And these beaded necklaces. And these sunglasses ..."

"Your Children Are More Important Than Money!"

5 Reasons Money Can Buy Happiness

Find me an '80s family movie that isn't about the career-driven Dad who is too obsessed with success to attend his kid's Christmas play. There's a whole TVTropes page listing the films and TV shows and songs (like "Cat's in the Cradle") about what fools we are to toil away at work when no paycheck can compare to the joyous smiles of our children.

But I've Been Poor, and ...

This is either the work of childless songwriters, or wealthy screenwriters who think that being broke means you have to go to Disney World instead of Paris for vacation this year. Yes, your children are more important than that choice, you shallow douchebag.

5 Reasons Money Can Buy Happiness

Well, everyone except her. Fuck that kid.

But in neither case are they really grasping that poverty isn't a number on your bank statement. It's a state of living that your kids are subjected to every day -- not only are you living in a shitty home, but you're living in a neighborhood with other shitty homes, populated by other poor people. People who are living with the same constant stress as you. Everyone handles that stress differently -- some do it with meth, some get drunk and smack their wives around until the screams echo for blocks.

In my experience living in these neighborhoods, police sirens are as common a sound as birds chirping, or a woman screaming in orgasm outside of my house as I change my shirt near an open window. You just don't let your kids play outside in these types of neighborhoods without being right there with them. They don't need to be exposed to the sound of some drunken bastard screaming the word "cunt" at his wife while beating her senseless. You don't give the drug pushers an opportunity to approach them, you don't give them alone time with the 12-year-olds who have spent multiple sentences in juvenile detention for burglary.

No, they go out and play when you have time and energy to watch over them. And that's when your own depression isn't kicking your ass so hard that all you want to do is lay around and pray for it to go away, getting frustrated and barking at them every time they spill the milk.

5 Reasons Money Can Buy Happiness

"I will fucking PUNCH YOUR DICK OFF!"

But Add in Some Money ...

Does this all sound obvious to you? Well, that probably means you've been poor at least once in your life. Because that's the thing -- everybody else, all of the middle class people who want to lecture me about the meaningless nature of material goods, is assuming a shitload of things that still cost money -- free time, safe neighborhood, peaceful evenings, an absence of chronic pain or anxiety.

So yes, all those rappers who rap about how awesome life was in the 'hood, as soon as they got their record deals they got the fuck out of that hell. So did I, and as you drive off with your last load of furniture, you raise your arm out the window, extend your middle finger and never look back.

I'm not saying that everyone in the nice neighborhood is farting rainbows and singing Disney songs to gathering forest animals. But that constant stress just isn't there, and you can feel it. When I step out to check the mail, my neighbors greet me with a smile and a wave. The only police car I've seen on the block is the one parked in front of an actual cop's house. If the 80-year-old couple across the street is cooking meth, they're doing it respectfully under the radar.

5 Reasons Money Can Buy Happiness

"Ahhhh ... time for my morning X."

My kids now have a freedom that took them a while to get used to. They can go outside without me being right up their asses. They can play with the neighborhood kids without any of us worrying that they'll end up coming home with knowledge on how to construct pipe bombs. When they break out the Nerf guns and start shooting each other in the living room, I have to remind them that we have a yard big enough to build three basketball courts on, and it would be much more fun to do it in that big open space, far away from my collection of priceless Faberge Eggs.

"The Best Hobbies Don't Cost a Thing!"

5 Reasons Money Can Buy Happiness

In that inspirational email forward about the investment banker and the Mexican fisherman, they made sure to portray the fisherman as playing the guitar in his spare time. In Titanic, when Rose leaves the stuffy rich people (quietly sipping their brandy and smoking their cigars) she goes below deck to find the poor passengers rocking out with their crude instruments:

TITANIC www.titaupmnviacum

Likewise, Phoebe in Friends was the poorest of the group (and was homeless in the past) but that's OK, because she had her guitar to keep her sane. The message is the same every time, of course: It doesn't matter how poor you are, nothing is stopping you from singing a song or writing a poem or sculpting some meaningful shit out of clay.

But I've Been Poor, and ...

First of all, there's the time issue. I write for a living now, obviously, but when I was trying to do it as a hobby? Yeah, ask me how much I felt like writing after 12 hours of work/commute and then all the other time spent doing home shit after that (eat, shower, tend to the kids, etc). Unless you wanted an article on "6 Ways I'd Like to Fucking Punch All the Truck Drivers in the Cock," all you'd get out of me is some low moans about my aching back while I stared sleepily at some Internet boobs. Creativity takes energy. Energy that a waitress or roofer or warehouse worker isn't going to have at the end of the day.


"Man, I can't wait to get home and do more shit."

And that's assuming that your hobby is the sort that doesn't require supplies. My fiancee loves to paint, but when we were living in that funk, paint and canvas were luxuries that we could only justify as a birthday gift. Most people don't make their own paint by extracting pigment from berries and squids, and a nice set of oil paint will run you several hundred dollars.

But Add in Some Money ...

I've written more in the last six months than in the entire 36 previous years of my life. Why? Because I got a fucking paycheck for doing it. Not because creativity requires money, but because time costs money -- the paycheck allowed me to drop the non-writing work so I would actually have time and energy to put into the writing.

5 Reasons Money Can Buy Happiness

"What are 182 other words for 'cock'?"

And even though you think of writing as one of those free hobbies, it's sure as fuck not if you want people to actually read it. That requires an Internet connection and Web hosting, both of which were at the bottom of the priority list when it came time to decide what utility we were going to get turned off this month. You can talk about how money is a bad motivation for creativity and how commercialism ruins art, but all I know is now I don't have to choose between expressing myself and what flavor of Ramen Noodles I'll be serving for every meal this week.

"Money Can't Buy Love!"

5 Reasons Money Can Buy Happiness

In Titanic, the hero was poor, the villain was rich and whenever there are two dudes competing for a woman, we're supposed to be rooting for the poor guy (also see: Dirty Dancing, Some Kind of Wonderful, Pretty in Pink and a shitload of others). The message is always the same: When it comes to love, money doesn't matter. Right, Bon Jovi?

But I've Been Poor, and ...

Let's start with the obvious: The less you're able to take care of yourself, the harder it is to find someone who will accept you into their lives, romantically. I'm not talking about gold diggers or materialistic assholes here, either -- I'm talking about the common sense that scares us away from somebody in a constant state of financial insecurity. Being poor obviously doesn't take you out of the running, but it does make it harder, as you're removing a part of that equation and relying on the rest of you to reel them in. Looks, personality, charisma, etc. Let's face it, you can't pay for dinner with a sweet crotch bulge.

But then you just have the practical matter that if your lover doesn't live in the same town as you, it fucking costs money to get close enough to them to touch their boobs. This comes up all the time now in the Internet age -- like millions of couples, my fiance and I met online and I found out she lived a few states away.

5 Reasons Money Can Buy Happiness

And also, she is a polar bear.

Shit, there was a time in my life when I couldn't even have afforded the webcam or Internet connection to do video chat with her. Bus and train rides are a couple hundred bucks over that distance, on top of sucking days out of your work schedule, and don't even mention flying -- when you're poor, you might as well be suggesting I just buy a helicopter.

But Add in Some Money ...

... and you can simply pay a whore.

Or, in my case, when my fiancee and I decided to live together, it meant her coming to a state where I was the only person she knew. That meant she had no job, which in turn meant I had to support both of us until she got one. That quite simply wouldn't have been possible before we started climbing out of the poverty dungeon.

5 Reasons Money Can Buy Happiness

Careful. Before we left, we shit all over the place.

No, money can't buy you the actual state of being in love. But a lack of money can most certainly fucking prevent it. It can keep you physically separated, and the unfortunate truth is that the overwhelming majority of long distance relationships don't last terribly long, for obvious reasons. So forget the romantic movies, forget the love songs about how no obstacle can stand between us. Bringing us to the same physical location required a shitload of cash.

I understand why those songs and movie plots exist. They're written by people with money to remind other people with money that money can't solve 100 percent of their problems. But they have nothing to say to people like us. Because even if you're a deep, thoughtful soul who appreciates all of the simple pleasures in life, money still fucking matters.

For more Cheese, check out 5 Internet Life Lessons Parents Need to Start Teaching Kids and 5 Reasons You Don't Miss Your 20s When They're Over.

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