So minutes, hours, days, month, and years,
Passed over to the end they were created,
Would bring white hairs unto a quiet grave.
Ah, what a life were this! How sweet, how lovely!
-- Henry VI, Part 3, II.v. 38-41.
I was watching the ... documentary? filmed series of mostly one-way conversations? I'm not sure what to call it ... Examined Life on Netflix the other evening (because I am a pretentious jerkwad)*, and one of the speakers in the film, Peter Singer, said something obvious in a way I hadn't considered before. He posed the following hypothetical situation, and he then asked people how they would handle it.
Here's the scenario:
|A screen that offers time to reflect.|
I'm fairly certain that approaching 100% of the people reading this would decide to save the child's life because, on a very basic level, most people agree that the direct saving of a life is more important than shoes, expense be damned.
However, Singer, as philosophers are prone to do, doesn't let the question stop there; he goes on to ask, basically, if you would allow your money to be lost by ruining your shoes to save a child's life, why not, in the first place, instead of spending the money on the expensive shoes, spend that money by donating to one of the various, valid charitable organizations that use your money to feed starving children?
I know some of you reading this will immediately claim that Singer's question poses an absurd reduction. After all, why go the movies when you could help at a soup kitchen? Why read a blog post when you could be learning first aid? Why do ANYTHING immediately gratifying and enjoyable when you could be helping others?**
But to react in this way is to miss an opportunity for reflection. There is truth in what he says. After all, economics studies how people spend their finite resources, and it follows (by definition of finite) that spending money on one item necessarily means that that money is unavailable for other expenditures (credit cards work to make people feel like they're circumventing this, but as anybody who has read a personal finance blog knows, the reckless use of credit cards frequently ends in disastrous results).
It is important to realize that each dollar we spend is a dollar we can't spend another way, and I think it's worthwhile to remember this on a weekly, daily, or even a transaction by transaction basis.
What do you think? Do you consider where each dollar you spend could have gone, and/or what help it could have provided? Let me know in the comments.
*Though, to be fair, you could probably add that clause to the end of nearly any sentence I've written on this site, and it would remain accurate. "Should I Drop Chase Bank?" because I am a pretentious jerkwad? Here's my Lending Club update because I am a pretentious jerkwad. Here are 6 things you don't know about me because I am a pretentious jerkwad. You get the idea. Apt, no?
**I would argue that helping others can be both gratifying and enjoyable; I find that little in life is truly an either/or situation.
Photo by psd.
**This post was featured in the Carnival of Personal Finance #364.**