Financial Independence? Or Interdependence?

It’s my turn to write a financial blog post the week of Independence Day, and the obvious topic is to write about Financial Independence – which, for the average person, equates to retirement – the time when you have accumulated enough assets so that you can live on those assets rather than working. 

But when I think about it, I’m not convinced there IS such a thing as financial independence. I’m getting pretty close to a point where I might have enough assets to retire, but will that make me independent? I’ll still want to drive on roads that are paid for by my community, or county, or some other larger group of people. I’ll still want to use electricity, but I can’t pay for the electric grid on my own… I need everyone else to pay in too, or the whole system will fall apart.  

If I ever had a fire, I’d be grateful that the Red Cross showed up to help; likewise I’m grateful for the volunteers who make community beautification happen, and those whose volunteer work supports my public library, and those whose time and talents make community theater productions possible. An even less tangible example: my neighbors who have beautiful flower gardens that add beauty to my life. You get the point: even if we have more money than we need for ourselves, we still depend on others. And others depend on us. 

We value our independence as Americans. But I suggest perhaps we should give just as much attention to the importance of our INTER-dependence.  It’s worth remembering to appreciate all the services, amenities and intangible benefits we gain from being part of a larger community. It’s also worth supporting them. We support them financially in several ways: with our shopping (have you ever willingly paid a higher price in order to shop local?); with our tax payments; and/or with our charitable gifts. We may also support them with our time and skills, and just by being a good neighbor. That INTER-dependence is essential to keeping our communities and our country strong.  

Nearly all of us have had times when, if someone was “keeping score,” it would be clear that we RECEIVED more than we GAVE to this interdependent system. The nearly-universal example is when we were students in K-12 schools or at a college or university, especially if we received grants or scholarships. Many of us may encounter similar situations as we age. And certainly, when we have a serious crisis (like that home fire I mentioned above), we will likely receive more than we give or deserve.  

Thankfully, there’s no need to “keep score.” Instead, we’re better off simply celebrating the give and take that is central to the wellbeing of our communities and of our nation.  What INTER-dependence will you celebrate this week? 

Barb Wollan

Barb Wollan's goal as a Family Finance program specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach is to help people use their money according to THEIR priorities. She provides information and tools, and then encourages folks to focus on what they control: their own decisions about what to do with the money they have.

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