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Wednesday, 12 January 2022


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For most of my life I have believed that the ideal financial condition was independent poverty. Little income, few possessions, and no worries about money.

To me, being rich means you don't have to live in your car—like a lot of Americans do in SoCal.

At a young age I helped my grandmother use a mangle https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mangle_(machine) to wring out clothes. Our dryer was a line strung between two poles in the backyard. BTW this was during the 1940s in Los Angeles, CA. BTW2 my family got it's first car in the late 1940s, when I was seven years old.

Today's cooking lesson. Buy a bag of 16 bean soup mix. Boil a pot of water and dump in beans. A nutritious meal made from just boiling water—simple as that.

When in conversation about the merits of money - having too little, just enough, or plenty of it - someone I worked for observed, "Money/riches/wealth gives you options." He also advised (especially appropriate in these times), "Never waste a good crisis."

Great post. Love it!

This is an off-post-off-topic comment. I can't tell because I didn't get further than the second mention of washing machine.

In the UK, when I grew up in the 50's-70's acquiring a washing machine was one of the ultimate status symbols. Despite the fact that communal laundry facilities were a rich repository of social interaction.

Then in the 1990's I moved to Europe (Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, and 15 years in Switzerland). It was then that I became a devotee of the communal laundry room that is often part of an apartment block. It frees up space in your apartment if that is limited, no noise while the laundry is going on, industrial quality washing and drying machines whose maintenance was the landlord's responsibility etc etc.

Some people who recognize this might have different opinions. In Switzerland for example there might often be a rota system where you could only use the laundry room on your designated 'laundry day'. Trick is when you decide on somewhere to live, first thing is to check the ins-and-outs of the laundry room.

I suppose in the land of abundance every house probably has it's own utility room, but not all of us are so lucky

Did you ever buy that Speed Queen?

Due to side effects from receiving cancer treatments, I've switched to using a laundry service called Family Laundry. I load up to 20lbs a bag. They come collect it, and return in a day or the next. The results are lovely clean clothes, folded, grouped together and tied with twine. It's not cheap, but it works very well and saves me from lugging a laundry bag up and down four flights of stairs.

Good post! Very poetic and visual in my minds eye.
Write more not fewer.

Emmie's start-stop driving is a perfect metaphor for most people's financial lives. Driving smoothly (despite life's inevitable ups and downs) requires an extra bit of knowledge of how best to manage the 'gas pedal', while avoiding the common pitfalls.

I've had an eventful life, that should have left me homeless, but (almost unbelievably) instead left me a retired multimillionaire (and it's great that my offspring – that also followed this advice – didn't have to go into debt for education or to purchase a home), so I'd like to try to help others to replicate my investing experience, as a complete amateur, which almost everyone can do for themselves (it's likely the best gift you can possibly give yourself).

I got sick in my 30's, made about the same income as you, much less in early years, and was forced to quit work entirely in my early 40's due to disability, and shortly thereafter a natural disaster destroyed my home.

The trick is starting in your early 20's to invest at least 1-2 hours per day's worth of your salary and keep doing this (while also not neglecting needed insurance). Starting early in your career to invest every month, especially in your 20's is critical because it takes decades of financial compounding before the small amount you invested, overcomes the ups and downs along the way, and really gets to grow fabulously huge.

I got very scared about what would happen to me financially when I got sick so young, so spent a year while sick reading books about the basics (there were no websites then), and upped my savings to 50% of my income for the additional few years I was again able to work, before being forced to stop working completely.

But I didn't do anything financially that most people can't copy. Nowadays, its even much easier with widely available index mutual funds. The wonderful free Bogleheads website now tells you all about how to get started, explains it all, and has endless discussions, but the key is to get started investing that 1-2 hours worth of your daily income relentlessly into a very few low cost index mutual funds, do it automatically by computer every month, and stay the course over your entire lifetime. If you use a pay raise to fund that savings, instead of starting to spend more, it's even painless. Worked for me – kind of amazing! Hope that this helps.

A story well told. No need to apologize for the quantity of words needed to tell it. We come to read and think. Occasionally a striking (photographic) image gets included here @ TOP. The words do the job quite nicely, thank you.

A very evocative and relatable post. Leaving aside the various laundry methods, of which I've experienced many, the story of Emmie's driving hits home with me.

When I met my wife to be in 1968, she had been given a Ford Falcon by her father. It was the very, very most basic Falcon except for an automatic transmission (it was even the most basic brown/tan/dirt colour). She drove it like Emmie drove her car, with the accelerator being used as an on-off switch, which bothered me as Emmie's driving did you but was also doable as the car lacked power. I had a VW Beetle and she drove it the same way. One day as we were on a long drive through the interior of British Columbia and she was behind the wheel to relieve me, she suddenly woke me up to tell me that there was a policeman by the side of road ahead. I said 'Slow down!' as the accelerator was still in the 'on' position and had been for a while. The policeman congratulated her on clocking fastest time of the day. In a VW Beetle. We had it in writing that the car was capable of 92mph.

She has adjusted, though as she currently has an Audi TTS and in accelerator 'on' position she wouldn't stay on the road long enough to encounter a policeman.

Mike: You can probably already tell this is going to be the weirdest post I ever wrote . . .

Close, but there may be other viable contenders. Maybe grist for a different kind of “Baker’s Dozen” post?

"Around—the world—in eigh-ty days...." "ta-tah-tah-ta, ta-tah-tah-ta...."

Occasionally I sing exactly the same words. I never knew that I was wrong and I even saw the movie in Todd-AO!

The depth of this blog never ceases to amaze me.

Wealth, riches… money. A loaded topic for sure. Alongside sex, one of the big, existential issues in relationships. How to get it; how to use it; how to deal with not having enough of it… There are entire books, numerous self-help courses, workshops, counselors, computer apps, free “advice” from family and strangers and much more that focus on money.

But I’ve never seen or heard of anyone distilling wealth in all its many phases (i.e., to have or have not) down to washing machines. Never. Real estate. Exotic cars. Travel. Antiques. Stock market. IRAs. Retirement. Yes, all that and more. But never washing machines. To say nothing of household help, young and old.

Reading the various types of laundry adventures you shared brought to mind my own. One of the advantages of getting older (66) is you get stories of one’s own to tell. For instance, I recall being a boy and charged by my single mother (5 kids) to haul, by Radio Flyer wagon (we had no car), the family laundry to the laundromat a couple miles away. I’d stuff the clothes into as few machines as possible so I could use the “savings” at the liquor store next door to buy some candy and a soda. At the time, I thought it a fair exchange for my doing the chore.

You may have stumbled onto the next big financial thing, Michael!

Or not…

But I certainly enjoyed the post. Worth every penny.

Wonderful post

I really enjoyed reading that Mike. My mother used to say "money doesn't bring you happiness but at least you can be miserable in comfort".

This reminded me of some old analog cameras I started with and came back to value their simplicity years later. I guess it’s the value of any tool that works well for the experience. I miss that consciously or not if the photographic process gets too complicated. When you have the time and control of it, complication can be a benefit.

Hi, are you sure she wasn't singing the opening song of https://youtu.be/TxFY4PCk3Ew? It was quite a big thing for children in Europe... And their older brother ;-)

[Emmie was American, born in the US, and the time frame would have been more like 1968 at the latest, so I doubt that was it--but who really knows where she got the song? I presume she was just singing the title of the show tune with its melody, but of course I don't really know. --Mike]

Wait a minute, doesn’t off off topic= on topic

That was beautiful Mike.

This is so much better than a gear review site!

An excellent, remarkable piece of writing. One of the true joys of TOP is that I never quite know what will be on the menu. Today, it was something truly delicious. Wealth through the lens of laundry is an excellent theme.

I hope you are submitting work like this somewhere else where they pay you to publish it. You would know much better than I where/what that might be.

Ah - washing machines. In my early married life, we bought used washers and dryers. When they broke, I could fix them with a couple of screwdrivers, a wrench or two, and a bit of common-sense. When the tub in the washer didn't want to turn any more, it was easy to replace the bearing holding up the back end (a few bolts and a readily obtainable replacement part) or to replace the drive belt that connected tub to motor. Our current machines are essentially user-unrepairable, just like current cars. The used machines cost maybe a couple of hundred dollars apiece. That's about the minimum service charge for the current ones. Ain't progress wonderful?

Having read a number of comments, I suddenly had a light-bulb moment: that the need for a washing machine is itself a sign of comparative affluence.

I’m in my early 70s, and I can remember my school days in the 1950s and early 60s in the UK. I’m pretty sure I only had at most two shirts to wear to school, plus another to wear to church on Sunday. My father, too, just had a couple of shirts; he used to hang them over the back of a chair “to air”. Trousers simply never got washed; in my case I just grew out of them first. I don’t know what my father did - he was an office worker so presumably had to get his (only) suit cleaned occasionally, but that wouldn’t have happened often. Underclothes got washed out by hand, and hung to dry wherever was handy. I remember clothes rails suspended from the ceiling in the kitchens of houses - in winter, the kitchen was likely to be the warmest room.

I don’t think my family was unusual in 50s England: Dad had a regular job working for the railway, Mum worked sometimes when she was healthy enough, and there was my sister and I. Pretty much like millions of other British families at the time.

As we got into the 60s and 70s, it all changed - I had more clothes, enough to change out of school uniform (or out of work clothes, later) when I got home. (These included a pair of Levis, which could be washed, of course. And later tie-died T shirts and coloured loon pants; but we won’t go into that phase here….) And that’s when we got a washing machine. Up until then it hadn’t been necessary, for the limited amount of washing we did. As we got more money we bought more clothes, which in turn required further expenditure - on either a washing machine; or the laundrette (Britspeak for Laundromat); or even dry cleaning! It’s a slippery slope….

I loved this essay, and the perspective it relates is one I have long cultivated and usually phrased as, "Money can't by happiness, but it can often by some freedom from unhappiness."

On the laundry front specifically, I have dealt with the good (my mom doing everything) to the moderately bad (an apartment building with totally inept management and frequently-broken laundry machines). My current situation isn't too bad (fairly expensive coin op machines one flight of stairs down), or, at least, it wasn't until the pandemic quarters shortage! My bank wouldn't give me more than 1 roll at a time, and they rarely had any on hand; the grocery store would give me 4 quarters (!) maximum at a time. I literally resorted to feeding dollar bills into vending machines at work and hitting the money return button over and over at one point. Finally, I decided to wield my (limited) affluence to subdue the problem: I bought $500 worth of quarters on eBay. With shipping, it cost me over $600. Whatever. I haven't had to think about laundry quarters in the better part of a year. Even when (if?) the quarter shortage abates someday, I may just buy another massive brick of them so as to get another year of not thinking about the damn things again.

Possessions are funny things. My mom was frustratingly unattached to things. She made ok middle class money but lived like she was poor. The gambling didn't help. The one nice thing she had I talked her into buying, a new 1986 Nissan pickup.

She rubbed off on me though, I think. Not the gambling, fortunately, but I always enjoy giving away stuff, or selling it cheap. When my best friend drove my car off the road and totaled it in high school (uninsured and unlicensed) I felt almost renewed as I started to imagine my next stage in life. I ended up getting into mountain biking instead of car ownership, at least for a while.

My wife and I both come from similar class backgrounds, but she was a little more poor growing up. This leads to a sense of financial panic. She's a physician now, but that feeling can come back. For us, the first time we felt at ease shopping was realizing we could buy whatever we wanted in the grocery store, no problem. And retirement is still a concern, even for a physician. 401k's suck compared to the older pensions, and for class jumpers like my wife there is zero generational wealth to fall back on. We look at all these middle class Minnesotans with cabins around here like they are millionaires, but they likely just got them from grandparents.

Caught this one late Mike but it's a great bit of writing.

And one thought - I don't make much in the hotel biz but one underrated benefit is that I can do my personal laundry in the hotel washing machines. Saves an incredible amount of time and money.

Lovely post, Mike. Thank you!

I have been thinking about the cost of being poor. Not because I am, though I have been in the past and know what it’s like, how painful and mentally and emotionally debilitating it can be. Rather I think of it because I have a very dear friend in Europe who is a single mom, working freelance jobs (one of which is currently precarious) which don’t actually cover her monthly needs; she lives in one of the most expensive cities in the world. (It would be easy to say “jut move somewhere less expensive” but even a move is expensive and there would be job complications as well as others. Free advice is often very cheap.)

I do what I can to assist her, but still I worry about her and her precious child.

"The main reason I would like to earn some money is so I could leave something to my son"

Admirable, Mike. What do you hope you son will say about you after you're gone? If someone was to ask him "whet did your dad leave you? He'd probably say, if he's as you've described him all these years, "Alls I care about is that he never left me"


What a delightful slice-of-life post. So many cultural points of reference that have touched your readers, particularly those of a certain age.

And the song referenced was composed in three-quarter time, so, indeed, it is a waltz.

Enjoyable post,- and comments. It made me think of the book, that I hope your writing. I’m really anxious to see you finish it, especially when I know the writing will be as good as this last post.

Washing machines.

My Mother died a few months ago. Seven weeks before her death she’d been driving around as normal & going on five mile walks with my aunty. She spent the last few weeks of her life receiving excellent care & pain management in an NHS Macmillan Cancer ward.

She was receiving morphine to deal with her pain & was hallucinating at times but was calm & lucid. She recognised the hallucinations for what they were & didn’t find them frightening.

At one point she said ‘I love my washing machine’ & proceeded to talk about it.

When she was first married she had to do all her washing by hand. This could include boiling clothes in pans & wringing dry using a mangle. Hard work to keep a family’s clothes clean this way. I think she bought a washing machine as soon as she possibly could & always appreciated having one.

She told me about how much my Grandmother hated washdays. For much of her life it was a day long job heating water, hand washing using a poss tub ( poss tub ), wringing them out with a mangle & then attempting to dry them. I think she also acquired a washing machine as soon as she could. In the mid 60’s I remember a large white thing with an electric mangle above the tub & a separate free standing spin dryer in her kitchen.

My Great Grandmother didn’t trust the new fangled washing machines. She didn’t believe they cleaned clothes properly. She was also outraged when some of her neighbours started doing their laundry on a Sunday.

I’ve gone through a couple of periods without easy access to a washing machine. Doing laundry by hand eats up a lot of time & energy which could be used for more interesting, fun or life advancing activities.


I suppose I’m a fairly feckless bastard who, if the world was a fair place, should have ended up homeless.

My partner & I are looked on with a mixture of bemusement & irritation by a least some of our family & friends who have more stuff than us. We live in a small house, don’t go on expensive holidays & don’t pay ourselves much from our small business. However, many of our interests & pursuits are part of our business activity and are therefore paid for by our business ( for example; art books, life drawing sessions, decent camera equipment & well specced computers ).

Our house is paid for & costs very little to run ( solar water heating & lots of insulation ) so with don’t have to worry too much if work is slow.

A few days ago I received an email from a friend who recently got in touch after nearly thirty years. She attached a photo of me taken when I was 27 or 28. At that time I owned the clothes on my back & not much else. I was living in a single room in a shared house. ( The inmates of that place were a rum bunch ). I had some health problems at the time but it was an interesting period & I knew a lot of fun people.

That night my partner Deb & I were sitting in our living room front of our wood burner drinks in hand. Referring to the old photo I said, ‘Y’know, if someone had told me when I was 28 that this would be my life at 58 I’d have said ‘Yeah that’s OK ‘.

[A fine story, thanks for sharing it. Good health and long life to you both. --Mike]

For me, I preferred going to the laundromat, because I could use 3 or 4 washers at once, then 2 big dryers, and get it all done MUCH faster than at home. I didn't spend much time at home sitting around, when I could have used a single home unit in the same time I was doing other things.

This is writing I'll remember, thanks.

I came here around 2012 for everything related to photography, but by now I'm pretty sure I really stayed and became a patreon for the way you write about your own life. Amazingly, you manage to make me feel like I can relate even though my life has never been anything like yours.
Thanks for the stories, way to go!

"*You know how they talk about off-Broadway, and off-off-Broadway? Well, this post is off-off-topic. We'll have no more of this!"

I keep coming back here, only for these off-off subjects. So, please more of that!

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