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Stages of Learning; Stages of Earning


Late playwright Tennessee Williams, who created such memorable works as The Glass Menagerie, A Streetcar Named Desire, and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, once quipped that, “You can be young without money, but you can’t be old without it.” What did he mean, and was he right?

Personally, I think he “nailed it!” Why? In order to illustrate my thoughts on this, consider the stages of life and the corresponding stages of providing a living for ourselves and others.

Starting before birth, we are cared for by others. All of life’s necessities are unavailable to us without outside help from parents, other relatives, or total strangers. Humans must learn to become self-sufficient over the course of many years.

At some point we begin to contribute to our own maintenance. Lack of age, education, and experience generally dictates that we earn money with our labors. Physical labor is about all that most young people can offer in the workplace. Our “softer skills” remain relatively undeveloped for the next few years. The likeliest financial circumstance among young people is to be working for very low wages. This time of life is characterized as “pay as you go,” rather than wealth accumulation. It is not intended to be a “living wage.”

Transitioning into making a living more with brains than brawn is a function of age, education, and experience. As time goes by, the pace of transition depends upon our motivation and course of study, formal or otherwise. College, trade school, apprenticeship, or other form of skills development determine our pace and degree of transition from brawn to brainpower. In “middle age,” most of us are still in good enough physical condition to generate at least a portion of our income through physical prowess, but over time there is a notable shift toward “white-collar earnings.” Here we (hopefully) have begun to save for our future financial independence.

As we age and develop our skills, an increasing percentage of financial success is attributable to brain over brawn. This is something of a self-fulfilling prophecy, in that our brawny capabilities fade over time, and even more quickly as they become under-used. Individual abilities to provide for our own necessities become increasingly based on brainpower.

Over time, lost or diminished physical abilities directly affect our ability to sustain life as we know it. In other words, we need to transition to a financial “maintenance program,” using partly our previously-earned money.

Thinking about the Williams quote, my conclusion matches perfectly with Williams’ theory. Life without money is much more problematic at an advanced age, where earning a living with brawn is difficult at best. A lifetime of learning and saving is the formula for having money (and, therefore, security) when we get older. Apparently, Tennessee Williams understood this very well.

Van Wie Financial is fee-only.  For a reason.