Spartan wealth

One of the surprising benefits of making respectable money is you stop lusting for a lot of the frivolous junk you thought would make you happy when you were not yet wealthy.

Unless you live in a kleptocracy where conspicuous consumption and general social status-signalling wankery is more important than enjoying life.

“I love your tie, Boris. How much was it?”
“Thousand rubles”
“Fuck, too bad. I’d get one if it was ten thousand though.”

What I see practically every time someone in my social circle gets rich(-er than they previously were by a lot) is, they indulge a few aspirational dream purchases that rattled around the old cranium since age twelve, get a largely “wait, that was it?” impression, realize that stuff is just stuff and doesn’t substantially help who they are or how they feel about life and themselves, and move on to things that do. Like building a happy family, improving themselves as human beings (which tends to result in yet more money), helping other people, and experiencing what the world has to offer. All stuff you need a certain baseline of wealth for, to be sure, but inherently more valuable in themselves (means vs. ends), and certainly smarter uses of money than Louis Vuitton bags.

Maybe it’s a biased sample because my friends are smart people with only the normal sort of psychological problems common in smart people (crushing self doubt, maniodepressivity and barely contained rage at the idiots ruining everything all around you), but in all instances, they turned frugal and minimalist – almost spartan – pretty quickly upon getting wealthy.

It’s great they fulfilled their dreams and concluded “huh I don’t feel any different”, because if they didn’t, they would still be victims of a quasi-religious belief in the magical, life-changing powers of expensive things. It’s good to get it out of your system with first-hand experience. Few things make you less materialistic than a comfortable income.

The best cure for enchantment is exposure. Luxury goods are one example, but people do the same thing with romantic partners – they expect that external stuff – cars, houses, shoes, sexy mates – will save them, in literally a religious sense, from the human condition, elevate them to a higher existence and identity, and the cure to that illusion is to succeed and realise the only thing that changed is you now have some new stuff in your life, but pretty soon the car needs service, the house needs maintenance, the shoes are starting to wear through and the boy/girlfriend is occasionally irrational and leaves the toilet seat in the wrong position.

This belief in the numinous nature of the numismatic (I am really proud of that one) is, of course, hammered into you by advertisers on a daily basis – what they promote is literal fetishism.

Car commercials especially are a notorious example of “this is the better world you will enter” marketing, because of course getting people to spend what amounts to several percent of their total lifelong income on what’s ultimately only a way to move around cannot rely on reason and facts. There has to be enchantment, a sense of magic, of transcending mundane existence and entering into better things. “Look at this better identity you can buy along with this vehicle, which is merely … well, a vehicle for the life-changing metaphysical properties it carries, which are what you’re really buying”.

No. You will stay in your world, this world, and there will be an extra bunch of shockingly expensive metal in it. And that’s that.

Disenchantment is a good thing. It means you’re seeing real value instead of hallucinating things that aren’t there.

By the way, I suspect this is what the only relatively poor in rich economies (who objectively have decent living standards) envy the rich: alongside envying the social status (rather than wealth per se), they imagine wealth does something it doesn’t.

It’s a halo effect, and I can assure any budding social revolutionary that no amount of nice stuff will do anything about the gnawing feeling inside. That’s the human condition, and one feels it as readily sipping champagne in St. Moritz as one does downing a bottle of atrocious potato brandy almost naked in a forest.

Don’t imbue stuff with supernatural significance.

Especially when you can’t really afford it.

Unfortunately, those who can least afford it tend to buy fetishised things the most, because they hope it will catapult them up the social ladder. In reality, wasting money on stupid crap is one of the most effective antidotes to social mobility.

Whole huge article on this coming.

Nothing you can buy, at least until commercial gene therapies come along, will make you a different person.

Don’t pay for narrativium. Pay for utility.

Your ego is the worst shopping companion.

Massive disclaimer – this is not an argument against money (au contraire), but against stupid uses of it. It’s an argument for using money in smart, good, useful ways.

Nor is it an argument against luxury goods. But luxury is a word with multiple meanings so far apart it’s practically homonymy: there’s the superior quality kind of luxury, as in a Saville Row suit, and there’s the overpriced rubbish designed to part tasteless fools from their (boyfriends’) usually debatably deserved money kind of luxury, as in “luxury bottled water” and golden iPhones. Leave the latter to morons.

Good luck finding a golden Rolex on Elon Musk. Some Albanian gambling boss, on the other hand…

The way to overcome consumerism is by building wealth.

Your hippie/commie friends are wrong about money in exactly the same way your religious friends are wrong about sex – the way to a healthy relationship with anything is having enough, so it’s not an issue and doesn’t bother you. Abundance mentality.

Like with food, you have a few sick bastards who overindulge (and then food isn’t the problem, but an outlet for some underlying problem), but most people don’t give it a second thought once reasonably saturated.

Pathological obsession is usually a product of deprivation, not indulgence.

Sexually satisfied people do not abuse altar boys or blow themselves up in busy streets for the promise of virgins in paradise.

Gold-plated Lamborghinis are like that, but with wealth.

The most passionate overindulgers of such junk tend to be nouveau riche – painfully aware of their origins they seek to distance themselves from by overcompensating in ways that paradoxically make them laughable in the eyes of those they most want to impress.

Luxury brands such as LVMH are legal channels of funnelling money from China and the Middle East back into Europe, (alongside the illegal channels of monumental political bribes), so thank fuck for that. China might have obliterated our manufacturing base and stolen our know-how, but at least we get to sell them expensive handbags and cognacs they will mix with coke (both kinds of coke).

But don’t fall for it if you’re not a villain (‘s sex toy) yourself.

Most luxury goods (type 2) are sold to people who can’t really afford them, because those who can see no reason to.

Thing rich people will not say: “I need to buy this thing to prove to myself that I am wealthy and important.”

Thing rich people will say: “My life is already a case study in chaos theory. If you add one more layer of complexity, I will personally chew your head off in your sleep”. By the way this is the main reason Apple can get away with outrageous pricing. If you want to sell anything to rich people, make their lives easier.

As my income reached levels in the global top 1%, which is a lot less impressive when you realise virtually the entire western middle class makes the cut and there are good odds so do you, my ideal home went from a Manhattan penthouse to this:

Still won’t say no to the Manhattan penthouse, but I’d probably spend more time here.

How people spend their money is a reliable guide to their character. It’s also a good way to evaluate yourself.

Imagine for a minute what you would do if you had infinite money. Really imagine it, go into details, and think long term, beyond the initial phase of getting your dream car, beachfront villa and mega yacht. What do you do afterwards? You’ll learn a lot about yourself from this exercise.

Money doesn’t change people – all it does is, it shows who they really are. Pursue money for what it can do, not what it can “make you”, because it can’t make you anything you, deep down, are not already.

The idea of “spartan wealth” is not ascetic. It is smart hedonism, because it’s about getting more enjoyment by focusing on efficiency, real value and merciless, nuclear-grade bullshit-cutting. Like everything I write.

Money, responsibly used, buys the ultimate luxury: freedom and perspective. Including perspective about money, and freedom from obsessing over material things.

Money won’t make you happy, but it will enable you to do the stuff that will. Do the stuff that will, not buy the stuff that will. Stuff won’t make you happy. That’s the most important thing you learn when you can buy any stuff you want.

One of the good uses of money is supporting authors whose work you enjoy. Wink wink.