Two Things Not Unrelated

Matt Miner

I'd rather be on Crabtree Creek (which runs through my backyard) than at Crabtree Mall.


The first thing

On Saturday after their basketball game, my boys and I visited a friend who’s been in the hospital.  By God’s grace, our friend (who spent more than three weeks in ICU) is doing much better, and we were all thankful for the visit.

Although it is February, the weather was mind-bogglingly beautiful this weekend.  It was about seventy degrees and sunny.  The wind blew gently.  My boys and I crossed the skybridge, hopped up in the truck, and eased out of the parking deck, stopping to pay the kind-looking older man in the guard shack.

“How are you today?” he asked, adding, “That’ll be $1.”

“I’m well!  I hope you are,” I replied.  Basking in the beautiful day, and wanting to share my thoughts, I added: “We were here to visit a friend.  A month ago we really weren’t sure he was going to live.  And now he’s made a big recovery.  You never know what the future holds, but I’m thankful for whatever time I have.”

“You’re right,” he said soberly.  “I wish I’d done some things differently with the time I had.”

“Oh?” I said.  “Like what?”

“Well, I wish I'd done more fishing.”

Looking at the beautiful weather I asked him, “Can you go fishing later this afternoon?”

“Nope,” he told me.  “I’ve gotta work.”

I pulled out into traffic a little less buoyant than when I’d left the hospital.  I was glad he had work, and his dreams sounded a little different than mine, but I was sorry this gentleman was stuck in a booth on a day like we were having when he’d rather be fishing.

I think it was actually this brand of booth occupied by our wistful attendant.

I think it was actually this brand of booth occupied by our wistful attendant.

The second thing

Ten miles later we were nearing our home.  Our return trip required traveling through a notable traffic spot in Raleigh: Crabtree Valley Mall.  For anyone unfamiliar, several arterials come together around a sizeable mall where many people from Raleigh and around the region seem to love to spend their weekdays, weeknights, and weekends, to say nothing of their dollars!  It’s such a known trouble spot that there are formal reports in existence that relate to a plan for infrastructure in this area between now and 2035!  It’s too bad MMM is not consulting on this project!

When I did visit this mall, I couldn’t find what I wanted anyway.  True story: We needed sneakers for my boys.  It took me twenty minutes to find parking.  Then, after diligently checking out five stores with five similarly indifferent clerks, we returned to the house empty handed and with two hours gone.  The bride and I chatted and we decided the boys’ shoes could last one more sports season with the addition of some shoe goo.

The following Saturday, the people in this mall engaged in mutual mass hysteria, imagining there was an “active shooter in Crabtree Valley Mall”.  These folks trampled each other a little in their stampede for the exits.  Everyone was embarrassed later to learn there had never been a shooter at all.  I have not been back in the months since, and have no plans to visit in the future.

The connection

I have no idea what circumstances conspired to keep the gentleman who served us in the parking garage from accumulating adequate resources.  He may never have had the opportunity or skills to do so.  He may have had to spend all his income caring for an ailing spouse, child, or parent.  He may not have known about savings rates.  He may have been ripped off in a scam, or by a broker or high-fee mutual fund company.  I am in no way judgmental of his past.  I am sorry that he has to be cooped up in a booth on a fine Saturday in February when he’d rather be fishing.

On the other hand, the young, trendy, physically fit North Carolinians who are spending all their money at the mall are signing up to work in a guard booth in a parking deck on a glorious morning in February thirty or forty years hence.  Mall spending usually goes hand-in-hand with spending with the cable company, meals out, car payments, and way-too-big homes.

Circumstances may force you to work longer, or in a job you don’t love.  But who willingly signs up for that program?  The answer, of course, is a shockingly high number of people.  It’s my hope that my efforts at Design Independence can help people wake up and think critically about income, spending, savings, investments, debt, and all the choices they make that will alter the course of their lives – for better or worse.

If you spend most or all of your income, you are signing up to sit in a booth, metaphorically in the short term and possibly physically (if such jobs even exist, which they likely won’t) in the long term.

Don’t do it!  Learn about getting out of debt, saving money, and making good investments.  You may not achieve all your dreams, but you’ll achieve more than if you mindlessly follow society’s script for how you should spend your time and money.  When you reach for one more shiny object you don’t really need or can’t really afford, the result will be predictable.  I’ve always preferred Leo Burnett on this one: “When you reach for the stars you may not quite get one, but you won't come up with a handful of mud either.”