Family Treasure

The difference between wealth and treasure is that you can’t take wealth with you when your days are up, but treasure lasts forever. Wealth over time might grow or shrink depending on who is managing it. Treasures over time are kept safe because they are worth remembering and preserving. Wealth is gained by knowing that money does not grow on trees, but treasure is gained by remembering that a family does grow on family trees.

There is a tradition in our family that started when I was a kid. My Noni, not sure what to gift individually to each of her 14 grandchildren, placed money in an envelope for Christmas. This gift was then perfect for each of us to buy our heart’s desire… new clothes, a bicycle, a backpack, or just savings for a rainy day. It simplified the burden of shopping, or offering something as a gift that was not really appreciated by the receiver. For Noni, it was a way of turning wealth into treasure for her family. For us kids, it was great, but I can’t say I really remember what I spent the money for. For me, the memories blur and the gifts are forgotten except for the honorable tradition. It was a fun way for us to celebrate the holiday with our Noni and each other.

The history of money and the future of money are very interesting stories, and have shaped many a lifetime on planet earth. For the last few Christmas holidays, feeling kinship with my grandmother, and not knowing what gifts would be truly appreciated by my family, I have been bundling money with stories. One year, I shared the stories of Benjamin Franklin’s face on the bill, pleasing I hope to our very own namesake of this founding father, Ben. Next I looked into the seeming magic of $2 dollar bills, and found that, historically, there was none. This year, I am once again sharing the wealth and the treasure, but in a new way.

One thing about money – over time it becomes less valuable unless you find a way to spend it on things that increase in value. That is a flaw of wealth in the current economy. Prices go up as more and more wealth is added to the economy to keep pace with growth and spending over time. Value is subjective, and people always have an incentive for prices to go up, and never down. That creates endless inflation, which is hard to predict and often causes problems in the form of boom and bust. What I mean by this is illustrated by a couple of facts of modern history.

For instance, when the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ended the Mexican American War, the forced Mexican Cession of the territories of Alta California and Santa Fe de Nuevo México to the United States cost our government $15 million. In addition, the United States assumed $3.25 million of debt owed by the Mexican government to U.S. citizens. Look how much wealth has grown since 1848, when 18.25 million dollars in cash and debt was enough to buy the rights to govern and sell all the land in the states of Texas, California, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and Nevada plus parts of Colorado, Wyoming, and Kansas. Today, there are mansions on just a few acres that cost as much.

The value of a dollar inherently goes down over time, and keeping pace with inflation is something that makes planning wealth for old age very challenging. Senior discounts were invented to have compassion for people on a fixed income. The common belief in the last 100 years was that a senior could plan to have enough income for their needs  if they owned their home by the time they retired, and saved enough wealth to have a monthly income equal to their salary at retirement. But as pointed out by economist Jeremy Sachs in his book “”The End of Poverty,” the per capital income required for a basic standard of living increased by a factor of 8 between 1960 and 2000. That means a person who retired in the 60s with an annual planned income of 10,000, which was lavish at the time, would need $80,000 annually in 2000 to live at the same level. Instead, social security levels only increased to $12,000-$20,000, or twice what they were. So a few decades of retirement can cause someone on a fixed income to lose three fourths of the value of their saved money. Thus, our treasured elders may find themselves in need of wealth, or face the tragedy of poverty. Same as it ever was.

Income is different than savings. Income is the receiving end of consumption. Every time a dollar is spent, somewhere, a dollar is earned… well, less taxes, discounts, rebates, and giveaways. But, in theory, the best antidote to poverty is income, rather than savings. Thus, as the economy grows, and the value of a dollar inherently goes down over time, there is a constant source of new revenue that keeps pace with real values. If inflation is a disincentive for savings, it is just the opposite when it comes to debt or consumption. While inflation creates a “use it or lose it” attitude about saving money, it rewards people who are looking to close a deal now before the price goes up. And that is good for business.

This is probably the main lesson one learns in running a successful business. If there is more coming in than going out, you can stay in business. If you spend more than you make, at some point, the business dies because it has to consume more resources than it makes. Businesses that know how to price things high enough to cover cost and sell with a profit. The flexible and subjective price must be low enough to get rid of inventory before the bills are due, spending money to make more… well now we are getting boring.

Wealth can be boring, but wisdom says that if you take care of the pennies, the dollars will take care of themselves. Pennies do not go very far in today’s world. The other great wisdom for business owners is called economy of scale. Some people create a tiny amount of value for a huge number of people, while others create a huge amount of value for a single patron. The bottom line means that when you add up all the time and effort, you have reaped a profit from the seeds you sow with the irreplaceable treasure of your time.

If you eat a lot, and never use the energy to exercise, you get fat. If you count your calories, you can see the relationship between the energy units you ingest, and the energy units you expend. My dad used to say that he stayed skinny even though he ate a lot because of a blessing of his anatomy. He ate like a horse, but he shit like an elephant. That is equivalent to binging and barfing. For him, it was built in. Sorry, I could not resist saying that.

I am offering you all a story for this holiday, and for the next one, Christmas, I am offering you a new idea for creation of personal wealth and family treasure. For me, treasure is made of memories, and memories are made of stories. I am inviting each of you to receive wealth in exchange for a story. I would like to meet our family ancestors, especially ones who have passed, like our grandparents. If you send me a story of your ancestors before Christmas, I will send you an envelope with money.

Write the full name of your ancestor(s) on the title of an email, or a letter. Place the story inside and send it to or Sun Marian McNamee Lundell, Box 1176 Boulder Creek, CA 95006.

And check out this link. Happy Thanksgiving. Love, Auntie (SUN) Marian

TEDx Black Rock City, Woergle Experiment