I just got off the phone with an accountant, and he gave me some unexpected advice.
“Don’t worry if you don’t have money for a 401K right now,” he said. “I’d rather you buy good green vegetables and eat healthy today.”
This is coming from an accountant—not a nutritionist.
His advice goes against much of what I’ve been told about saving money, which can basically be boiled down to: “Save now, you don’t know what you want, you’ll be happy you tucked it away when you’re older!” (Please read in the voice of your accountant, my mother, or some combination of the two).
But instead of buying stock indexes, this accountant suggested I buy stalks of kale. His theory being that living a healthy and happy life now will be more beneficial — to both my longterm health AND wealth —than sucking down cans of soup in order to hide away a few shekels.
I’m okay with that. Bring on the foliage!
This week marks six months since I quit my full-time job. In those six months, I worked my ass off, sure. I also traveled to Morocco, Spain, and Portugal. I followed a pretty girl to the Pacific Northwest. I took some risks, went to the Casino of Happiness, bet it all on black. And while writing for a living is going surprisingly well, I could have made significantly more money over the last six months—had I not gambled, had I not chased my passions, had I worried less about my immediate happiness and more about my bank account.
But instead of toiling in the trenches and wading up to my knees in cubicle drudgery, I’ve been snowboarding, surfing, mountain biking, fly fishing, and hiking. Life isn’t all rainbows and independence now, to be clear—sometimes the freelance thing is tough and lonely and I have my doubts just like you—but when my adventures were constrained to the weekends, I simply wasn’t able to attain this level of happiness and personal freedom. I still work quite a bit, but nowadays I can wake up early, work ’til 2 or 3, and then go for a mountain bike ride. Life is on my terms now, instead of someone else’s.
That said, I’m not saying become a freelancer.
I’m not saying don’t save money.
And I’m not saying blow it all on broccoli.
But maybe we should listen to this accountant guy. Eat a little more kale. Be healthy and happy in the now. Worry a little less about the future and trust that a healthy and happy you will cross that ominous bridge when you come to it.
And I don’t think my accountant was saying to eat vegetables just because it’ll pay off down the line—even though it will. I want to believe that he wants me to eat well today because vegetables taste fucking good and make you feel fucking good—today!
Because isn’t happiness the point of all this? This weird and wonderful, confounding atomic kaboom that is life? What’s the point of money saved if you aren’t healthy enough to enjoy it? What happens if you die before you cash out?
[Sorry Pharoahs, but we don’t get to take anything with us. Those pyramids my ancestors built you were bullshit.]
But seriously, think about it. Will your last seconds be tinged with regret? Will you look back contentedly on all the times you saved money? Or will the moment you look back upon be the one when you said screw it, I’m buying a one-way ticket to Nepal to go backpacking?
I’m sure aforementioned accountant (and some of you out there reading this) would consider my views extreme, a bit of a misinterpretation on an innocent comment regarding greenery. Well, forgive me, but more often than not, I think people in our country have misinterpreted happiness.
I know, I know, I’m not some vegan monk living off the grid, free from the confines of capitalism and the shackles of WiFi — lord knows I love my gear, my skirt steak, my friend’s dad’s HBOGO password. But these past six months have made me realize that I need a lot less structure and a lot less money (and maybe a lot more vegetables) to be happy than society would have me believe.
Some of the happiest people I’ve ever met live in vans and don’t know where they’re going to park it tomorrow. Some of the most generous people I’ve ever met have no savings at all. And some of the most empty souls have overflowing retirement funds.
Maybe when I’m 64, I’ll re-read this blog post on my state-of-the-art Brain Chip Holographic Kindle 3000 and shake my head at the idiocy and privilege of youth, lamenting for the bank account that could’ve been.
But maybe, by then, I’ll be dead.
Before I die, though, I aim to be busy living. I’ll be in Brazil chasing surf, or in Colorado snowboarding, or in Sri Lanka coping with yet another round of traveler’s diarrhea (courtesy of a questionable kale curry, perhaps).
Because sometimes, the risky plays are the only ones worth making.