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Why we should think carefully about money and engineering

Photo credit to Michaela Baum

The relationship between finance and engineering

Manufacturing and engineering are the only two disciplines that add value to the material world; there is just "making stuff" and "figuring out how to make stuff better." Everything we do for work is an attempt to do one of those two things or it is an attempt to redistribute the products of those activities (advertising, most jobs in finance, etc). If we had unlimited time and money we would never be motivated to build anything efficiently because there would be no constraint pushing us in that direction. All engineering, from Exxon and Boeing design plans to the budget at the kitchen table, is an attempt to answer the question "with the resources I have, how can I produce the most value?" The resources available and what we value in each of those circumstances differ but I believe the thought processes used in the first case have enormous and largely ignored applicability in the second.

This blog is about applying principles of engineering common in the industrial world to the domestic one. This blog is not about making money, it is about how to think about the available choices once money is acquired. It is not about guidelines, it is about finding the most correct answers to questions of domestic engineering. Because almost all such questions are bounded by financial constraints, this blog focuses heavily on personal finance.

What is enough?

The critique often levied against people of my temperament is that I am obsessed with money, that my obsession robs my life of value, that the experiences and pleasures I forgo on the basis of expense are the ones I will look back on with regret, and that because nearly every aspect of my life is structured to some degree with money in mind, my life has been robbed of some essential joyous or numinous quality. Whether it is true to say I am obsessed is debatable (like all people with an obsession, my first thought in defense of that charge is to outline exactly how much more obsessively I could have behaved) but for whatever consumerist pleasures I am missing, I say I have gained some security and lost a significant source of stress.

My friends are often irritated or angry when I decline invitations for financial reasons. "The restaurant is too expensive" "The tickets cost too much." And when they complain that I am stealing quality from my own life I have to wonder - how much money do I have to spend before I have a happy life in their eyes? Can that joyous life be had for $10,000 per year or does it cost $100,000 or $250,000 or $1,000,000? How much is enough? Or is it the act of truly stretching the budget that buys happiness? Am I supposed to only be happy when I have seen every show, taken every vacation, bought every toy, and experienced every pleasure that my credit limit will allow?

Let me be clear, everyone on this planet who interacts with other humans is limited by their wallets. We will not witness every show we could see, take every vacation we could book, buy every product we could purchase, or experience every euphoric pleasure we could embrace. The financially obsessed killjoys make decisions in advance with this fact in mind; the whimsical discover this truth when the credit card bill arrives. Ignorance of limitations, deliberate or otherwise, does not make anyone limitless.

Do not ever allow yourself to say "If I had enough money I wouldn't need to worry about it." Thousands of people have tried (lottery winners, athletes, celebrity actors/musicians/comics, and astronomically lucky heirs) and the evidence is clear - if you think you have so much money you do not need to think about it, you will soon have so little you will do nothing but think about it.

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© MC Byington