The forest versus the trees

The things I have been writing about with regards to the ERE-philosophy is more about the forest than the trees, but I sometimes get the impression that there’s a little too much focus on the trees.

What makes ERE work is how things are put together. If we take the 21 Day Makeover (as seen in the lower left sidebar), we start by reducing the amount of stuff we have. This is done in order to relocate to a place where 1) We don’t need to pay as much to store things we don’t use anyway; but more importantly 2) We don’t need the same level of transportation. This in turn means we can ditch at least one vehicle and maybe two. It also means we get more free time since less time is spent on commuting. This can be used to cook and since we’re closer to the supermarket, we can go with fresher food. This would allow us to ditch the fridge. Also, knowing what we eat will save on health care costs and medications down the line. This allows for a higher deductible. This goes well with not having the car since we can get around under muscle power thus reducing blood pressure and the chance of a heart attack down the line—destressing too. Having fewer things, there are fewer things that can break and if we dump the TV, we can spend our time learning to maintain and fix them. We have not reduced our expenditure on consumer durables to almost zero. As an interesting side-effect we’re suddenly saving tons of money.

This is the complete forest. It works because everything fits together and supports each other. That is what makes it a design rather than a collection.

However, often the focus is on the trees. Instead of thinking about how a method fits in with other methods, there’s too much focus on the particular method. Take cold showers, for instance. It’s not about the temperature. When there’s too much focus on the method, it becomes about saving $X in isolation. Side-effects are no longer considered. When people pick and choose—I’ll do this, but not that—the whole is not considered and thus a lot of benefits aren’t realized.

The forest is what makes ERE ERE. I’m not saying that everybody should do exactly what I’m doing. I am, however, saying that the big picture is enormously more important than, say, the specific temperature of one’s shower or how many cents that costs. If there’s anything to be taken away from this blog (or the book), it’s not specific techniques, which you can find in practically any book on frugality, but how they all fit together. It is the synergy between them that produces the 80% savings rates. It is not the independent sum of handpicked techniques.

The whole is much greater than the sum of its parts. Yet, this is only the case if the whole is well-designed. This is what I was trying to convey in book#1. I realize that reaching a frame of mind where one thinks of synergies is tough. This is why I’m thinking of writing a second book showing such an example, a forest.

My message, however, would be lost if book#2 would be seen as individual trees which could be cut down individually for lumber rather than a complete forest which must be appreciated as a whole. I think that’s the big danger. If this was the case, I would consider my time wasted. I’m not a particular spectacular writer of tips. I fear that I’d write out a plan and some will say … well, I’m not going to do that because … … but this seems interesting, so I am going to do this … that thing in chapter 3, maybe next year, and so on. If so, I’d consider book#2 a failure. In that case, it would be better to read “The Ultimate Collection of Money Saving Tips” or some other book like that.

The thing we, as designers, need to figure out is whether we’re A) Changing the structure of how things fit together; or B) Changing the things in our present structure.

The former is much more fundamental change than the latter.

What’s Extreme about ERE is that the structure is different. If I didn’t live in an RV; if I took the $150,000 which is throwing off $6000 per year that pays the $475 per month in rent for this place and instead bought a $120,000 house with $30,000 set aside in investments to pay the real estate taxes, I bet nobody would be able to see from the outside how our life was different. Our methods are almost the same. But the structure is much different, because I’m not working to pay for my home. My investments are paying for this place.

In many ways I have a lot in common with “the millionaire next door”. The only difference is that instead of working, I stopped. If I had kept working, I would have hit $1,000,000 at age 38 or 39. I am probably one level more “designed” than the millionaire style. I live(d) slightly closer. I live(d) slightly smaller. I go to greater lengths in terms of DIY. None of this would be visible from the “street level” though.

The structure and way of thinking, however, is much different from a consumer who’s trying to save 20% with a coupon or trying to reduce their APR from 15.99% to 11.99% or otherwise worry about their FICO score and what rate they can get on start-home mortgage. Much different than having a $200 car payment, and so on.

The structure/design decides almost everything. The details are just details.

Copyright © 2007-2021
This feed is for personal, non-commercial use only.
The use of this feed on other websites breaches copyright. If you see this notice anywhere else than in your news reader, it makes the page you are viewing an infringement of the copyright. Some sites use random word substitution algorithms to obfuscate the origin. Find the original uncorrupted version of this post on (Digital Fingerprint: 47d7050e5790442c7fa8cab55461e9ce)

Originally posted 2011-01-04 22:59:02.