A Bitter Sweet Symphony

Cause it’s a bitter-sweet symphony, this life, try to make ends meet, you’re a slave to money, then you die.  ~~The Verve,  Bitter Sweet Symphony

So is it all a waste of time?

If we wake in the morning, any morning or every morning, and want to pull the covers over our heads the question to ask is “why”?  What is it about this day, or every day, that we want to avoid?


In a Bitter Sweet Symphony, the subject was earning money.  What do you earn your money for?  Other than a roof over our heads, some good food and a few comforts like heat and electricity life shouldn’t be so complicated, or expensive.

One thing I learned from the book Your Money or Your Life was assessing the value of my spending by how many hours I had to work for that item.  Will I really get the same satisfaction from a $30,000 new vehicle versus a used one costing me $5,000 with plenty of life left?


My last car cost me $4,500 and ran for 11 years, my son now has it.  In total repairs I paid less than $700 the entire time I had it.  Sure there were things wrong with it.  The one door was missing a hinge so the door would be caught by the wind if you weren’t holding on when opening it, or it could be blown back at you.  The speakers weren’t as good as what I had before.

Let’s say I was able to earn $20 an hour.  My last car then would have cost me 260 work hours to pay for it.  That’s actually shocking to me now that I’ve done the math.  That is a full 6.5 weeks of work at 40 hours per week.

Now if I went with the $30,000 car that had all the bells and whistles I would have had to work 1,500 hours and that’s not including the higher insurance and other costs associated with a new car. This would have cost me 37.5 weeks to afford, not including the interest if you had to finance it.  That would nearly double the hours I needed to work.


What about that new flat screen 46 inch television?  There is a sale!! I can buy it for only $800, wait a minute that means I would have to work another 40 hours to pay off that TV, that’s okay it’s only one week of my life.

If I am completely honest, my biggest expenditure used to be on books and magazines. I could easily spend $200 or more per month, or each time I walked in the bookstore. To break my habit I began to call the only book store close to us and ask if they had certain books I wanted.  They would hold them at the front desk for me. I would go straight to the checkout, pay for my books and leave without ever letting myself look at anything else. That’s really how bad I was about buying books.  Everything and anything in a book store could potentially come home with me if it was reading material. But using my $20 an hour formula that meant I had to work a minimum of 10 hours every month just to support my book addiction.  Many months it was much more than that.

And so it goes.  With every purchase we make we are selling ourselves into slavery, to paraphrase Verve. 

There are many things I don’t want to live without.

  • Nature,
  • a sense of community,
  • my family and good friends,
  • HEAT,
  • food when I am hungry,
  • art on my walls (it doesn’t have to be expensive),
  • soothing colors around me,
  • and yes I want the internet.


What I didn’t need included:

  • Television and cable hook-up,
  • a big home,
  • expensive jewelry,
  • new clothes (second-hand works just fine),
  • credit cards which are too easy to use for spur of the moment purchases,
  • expensive, or even new, furnishings,
  • stereo system,
  • monthly manicure or pedicure,
  • eating out (I know some people enjoy this, I never did)
  • any thing considered a status symbol
  • or anything I could borrow for free

This is how I broke the feeling that life was a vicious cycle of waking; rushing off to work, often times jobs I hated; coming home to clean, cook, and get some sleep–only to do it all over again the next day.

On your journey to simplicity what did you decide was robbing you of a better life?


14 thoughts on “A Bitter Sweet Symphony

  1. Another great post Lois…and I love that song too. Such a great reminder that everything is a trade-off! I LOVE to travel so I am happy scaling back everything else just to do it… We all have our “things” and it is so important to be aware of what it is we will work for (and pay for) versus something we don’t need, want or even care about. Thanks again for your ideas…kg

    • Thanks, Kathy. I have pretty much wore out my desire to travel. My grandparents traveled with me from very little and I continued the wandering as I became an adult and had my boys.There are only a couple of places I still want to visit, but other than that I am finally satisfied to stay put. Having less now means more free time to try new things.

  2. Another great post! Maybe we should all ask ourselves that question “is this really worth it?”. I buy the absolute best quality that I can (when I actually purchase something) like my Bernina sewing machine, bought it 21 years ago, its made in Switzerland, and put together like a Swiss watch, a REALLY good machine. I have never bought another machine and use it daily. I know other quilters who’ve bought inferior machines and have replaced them over and over again. You know where those poorly made machines end up? In the landfill. I call that the Ikea mentality, cheap, cheaply made, made to end up in a landfill. And not a wise economic choice as you will have to keep replacing it. I hit Goodwill, tag sales, consignment shops and find quality made pieces for very little that I can pass on to my children.
    I share your love of books and find myself at the library, it’s free!

    • Thanks,Jayne. I don’t have a goodwill near me but I have plenty of other options to choose from and was happy a couple of years ago after losing some weight to build an entire wardrobe from the consignment store for $40.I do believe if I am going to buy something new it has to be of good quality so it will last and be able to be repaired. I do shop at Ikea, mainly for ideas for small spaces, but I buy very little. I have purchased a lamp, piece of art, a wooden cabinet and CD storage boxes (which are really surprisingly strong while inexpensive), I have one thing I want to buy from there for out of the way storage in my vanity area which is a metal cabinet. But yes, you have to be careful of what you buy from them.

      I’m sure you are like I am, a home and a life are empty without books. Thank goodness for the libraries.

  3. You were lucky to get such a good car. $700 in repairs in 11 years is highly unusual. Did that include maintenance like new tires and oil changes?

    You have talked about two good strategies for spending your money wisely, that we use around here. Thinking through your priorities of how you want to spend your money and thinking about it in terms of work hours.

    • Live and Learn, that car was the most amazing car I ever owned, and yes that was all maintenance! When I gave it to my son I knew it was going to need exhaust work, the total for him will be close to $500, but the mechanic (his father-in-law) insists there is nothing else wrong with the car.

      Doesn’t it make you stop and walk away from things when looking at the cost in those terms?

  4. Sometimes I think in the opposite way – I like to buy things that last, so if I am buying a computer desk and it cost me 12 hours of work, or attending a concert that cost me 3 hours of work, I often think “Was it worth it? Hell yeah!”

    • I tend to look at it differently, an expensive computer desk I would make instead, the concert… I’m with you there. Experiences are worth it, as long as I don’t go overboard trying to have my fix all the time.

  5. Yep, I remain entranced by eating out – as much for convenience, as the decision making being that much easier, and the lack of clean up. I love the Verve :D

    • I love the Verve too as you can see. The lack of clean up is one point, but I enjoy the casual conversations that can take place with more privacy and knowing people who have worked in the restaurant industry I have to say I like to know what is done to my food before it is given to me.:-)

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