“Laughing all the way to the bank” is an expression I learned from my parents. They are intensely frugal people. When I was a kid, they would say this quite a bit, but mainly in reference to other people. People who had figured out a really easy or very lucrative way to make money were laughing all the way to the bank. It was an ironic, grudgingly admiring comment. I would picture someone grinning, walking down the street in a pinstripe suit, holding a wad of hundred-dollar bills and fanning through them while chortling with glee.
Not such a bad image, is it?
(It’s even funnier if it’s a woman)
The fascinating thing about this concept of people who were laughing all the way to the bank was that it was so contrary to everything else my parents taught me about money. They taught me about the value of Hard Work. They taught me that if you can’t pay in cash, then you can’t afford it. They taught me that credit cards are extremely dangerous. Every time I got in trouble for being disobedient at school, they would tag-team the “when they say JUMP, you say HOW HIGH?” lecture. “If you don’t follow orders, you get fired, and then you don’t get a paycheck, and then you don’t eat!” My parents took money extremely seriously. I don’t recall them laughing on the way to the bank, even one time.
I’m proud of my folks, and justifiably. They’ve been married for nearly 45 years now, never divorced, never married to anyone but each other. They took turns working to put each other through school, got jobs in their chosen professions, and they have indeed worked very, very hard. Their credit scores are off the charts and they’re really good savers.
The thing is, though, that hard work is only one authentic, effective way to make money.
I won $15 in a coloring contest once. That probably sounds like a dumb example. I also won $500 worth of prizes in a costume contest. I’ve won a package of Red Vines, a case of root beer, a $50 gift certificate to a book store, and a bunch of other stuff. I’ve learned that I have a pretty strong intuition about what kinds of contests and raffles I can win, and if I’m interested in the prize, I might.
I have a jar with about $66 in it, all from coins and cash that I found on the ground. Most of it was pennies. Granted, that’s 12 years’ worth of pennies, but I did not work hard for them. Most people won’t pick up a penny, but most people would pick up sixty dollars!
This attitude that winning is easy extends to other areas. Negotiation is one. I once asked for 10% off a furniture purchase, since I was paying in cash, and they agreed to discount me $16. (It was worth more in 1996). I moved into my first apartment without having to pay a deposit. A couple of years ago, we moved out of a rental house and the property managers tried to charge me $150 in cleaning fees. Now, see here! Nobody cleans like me. I wrote them a sternly-worded letter with half a dozen photos attached, and they sent me a full refund the next day. I simply expect that it’s worth my time to ask. I’m friendly, low-maintenance, and easy to please, and I’m a generous tipper. Who wouldn’t want to incentivize my business? Everyone could use more customers like me.
I like to speculate in the stock market. Well, kinda. But I did pick something recently that increased 300% in a year. I wasn’t even expecting it to start making money until the second year! I’ve doubled my money on a few picks. I remember very clearly that fifteen years ago, I didn’t even have forty bucks in my retirement account, and the day I hit three figures I was pretty excited. Woohoo! I can retire for… one entire day! Don’t spend it all in one place, honey. It never ceases to surprise and amaze me that I can earn money just by putting it in a special account and being good at trend analysis. That history degree may pay off one of these days…
Careful readers may have noticed a pattern here. I started with dumb, silly little ways to make tiny amounts of money. Then the payoff started picking up a bit.
I used to work in social services. My entire job was processing paperwork so that people could get a subsidy on their power bill. I helped elderly widows, families with handicapped kids, even a woman on an iron lung who was about to get her power cut off right before a four-day weekend. Sometimes they sent thank-you notes or candy. Sometimes they called in tears, saying how grateful they were. I felt like a fairy with a magic wand. There was really nothing hard about that job at all. I knew that my work mattered to people. A couple of times, it’s possible my work was actually a matter of life or death. The faster I typed, the faster the checks went out. Working your values is more than fun, it’s addictive.
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about this concept of laughing all the way to the bank. What if it were possible to make a living off hilarity? For instance, I start laughing if I even see or think about Steve Martin. He doesn’t even have to do anything; he can just stand there. I hope he makes tons of money and spends it on all his favorite stuff any time he wants. He deserves it. When I think of all my favorite authors and musicians and actors, I want them to do well. I want them to feel happy and proud. I want them to be in a good mood so they work on more projects that I can enjoy. (George R. R. Martin! Hi there! Would you be perhaps needing any fan letters or pizza deliveries? Anything I can do for ya?).
What if, though, what if this was also true for me?
What if I could contribute to the world in such a way that people rooted for my success? What if society generally agreed that I deserved my compensation, even at a high level?
I’m playing with this idea. What if I made things that were fun to make, and people had fun buying and interacting with them, and then I had fun spending the money? What if people paid for stuff because they wanted to endorse it and encourage more of the same? What if financial transactions really meant Yes Please?
What if I, too, got to laugh all the way to the bank?
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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