In a prior post I wrote that money is like religion for a lot of people.

In fact, money IS religion for a lot of people.

We’re all familiar with the concept of conspicuous consumption: consumption as social status marker. We don’t talk as much about conspicuous asceticism: extreme frugality as gateway to financial nirvana. There’s a kind of yin and yang thing happening here. The internet is full of arguments about whether it’s better to increase income or cut spending. These arguments will rage forever, for the same reasons we will always have religious wars. (aside: most modern religious wars have secular optics)

Here is my favorite zen story dealing with personal finance:

A man visited a local monk and said, “my wife is so stingy, she’s making life miserable. Please help.”

The monk visited the wife. First, he held out a closed fist. “What would you say if my hand were always like this?” he asked.

“Your hand is deformed,” the wife replied.

The monk opened his hand so his fingers were outstretched. “And what if my hand were always like this?”

“Deformed,” the wife replied.

“If you understand this then you are a good wife,” he said, and left.

From then on the woman helped her husband spend as well as save.

At its core, this stuff is pretty simple. However, the business of religion and the business of personal finance are a lot like the business of golf instruction. They tend to deliberately overcomplicate things. People want Answers. The more confused people are about what they’re trying to accomplish, and how they might accomplish it, the more money there is to be made selling Answers. Maybe that’s a gap wedge with a diamond dusted face. Maybe it’s healing crystals. Maybe it’s rental real estate.

Don’t get me wrong. I, too, am selling something. I just happen to be selling process.

Ask yourself: am I living the life I want to live right now?

If the answer is Yes, then STOP. You are done! Keep doing what you are doing. Enjoy the journey.

If the answer is No, then ask: what can I do right now to move myself in the direction of the life I want to live?

People will claim they can’t answer these questions. I call bullshit. You’ve thought long and hard about this. We all have. If you think you can’t answer, I’d suggest you just don’t like the answers. Probably because the answers imply you need to endure some material hardship, or confront some deep-seated fear, or acknowledge some personal weakness that threatens your ego.

You can sit on your ass and shell out subscription fees to some grifter and wait for Answers to fall from the sky, or you can get off your ass and do something about it.

Religion can offer real value. But you’re not going to realize that value obsessing over esoteric doctrinal issues.

The value is in the praxis.