Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Just Beginning the Calculations

How much does it cost to exist? We have put a cash value on everything. How much does each breath cost you? No one has put the answer in a prominently visible place, assuming anyone has calculated it.

Just hacking together some numbers crudely estimated from quick research and accumulated experience, I figure adult existence in this country costs roughly three cents per minute. That includes a car payment on a 48-month note for $14000 at 4.9% interest, gas for that car, a median average rent of $500 a month, $60 a week for food, $80 a month for utilities (gas, electric, phone), and a paltry $250 a year for clothing.

This collection of figures dodges back and forth between a fairly comfortable life in a passable apartment, in a car that cost five figures, but does not include entertainment, health insurance, actual health care. The lump sums added up to $16,610. So $16,610 is your ante, the amount you plunk down just to be in the game. That's net. You really need to get paid more than that if you intend to declare it to the government and pay taxes on it.

You need to clear $8.30 per hour, working 40-hour weeks with two weeks of unpaid vacation each year to be a basically functioning element of society.

People get by on less, but they either have to draw from the money of others or find a place to hide out from the constantly-running taxi meter of modern life. Subsistence farming homesteaders might produce a lot of what they need from their land, directly drawing the resources rather than purchasing the raw materials, processed ingredients or finished products. Dumpster-diving urban hermits might exploit a resource-stream outside the direct commercial channels without laying claim to large acreage. You could say they are feeding off the commercial transactions of others, however, because they need to find processed or manufactured items.

Get rid of the car and you get rid of both the car payment and the fuel costs. But then you have to have alternative means of transportation, public or private. Your percentage of the cost of that needs to be charged against your existence account. You yourself may not be paying a huge amount for that commuter rail line or bus service, but someone is. Or if you own a bike you have costs that go with it. These go beyond purchase and maintenance to time you lose or gain by transporting yourself that way.

Every hour costs about $1.89. Realistically, it probably already costs you more. Every hour of every day for all the years of your relatively trouble-free life between the time you leave school at whatever level you leave it and the onset of the medical problems of advanced age, every hour costs you as much as a nice ballpoint pen. Say you get 30 good years. That's 262,800 ballpoint pens. Now you know what to ask for as graduation presents. But I'd suggest cash.

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