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How Not to Make Money

by diegocaleiro 4 min read24th Jan 201418 comments


Sarcastic Practical Advice Series: 1 How Not to Make Money

I'm calling this a series because I would like it to be a series, feel free to write your own post on "how not to do something many people want to do", especially you, future me. 


I'm very good at not making money, and maybe this is a skill you have found yourself needing to perfect

But worry not. Stop rationalizing! I'll teach you some of the craft before you can say all the palindromes in the Finnish language. 


(1) Be one of those people who actually turn knowledge, general knowledge, into personally designed actions/policies. The kind of people who, upon learning that driving is more dangerous than being attacked by spiders, and experiencing the first person evolved fear of spiders, understands that he should be as afraid of driving badly as he is of spiders, or much more, and drives accordingly.

(2) Understand that there is no metaphysical Self, only a virtual center of narrative gravity (Read Dennett), whose manner of discounting time is hyperbolic (Read George Ainslie), weirdly self-representative (Read GEB), and basically a mess

(3) Read Reasons and Persons, by Parfit, and really give up on your Naïve intuitions about personal identity over time. Using (1) act accordingly, i.e. screw future retired you

(4) Go through a university program in the humanities, so no one tempts you by throwing money at you after you graduate - This has happened to an academically oriented friend of mine who graduated a Medical Doctor, but actually wanted to be in the lab playing with brains. - If you can make into Greek Mythology, or Iranian Literature, good for you, Philosophy is ok, as are social sciences, as long as you do theory and don't get into politics or institutional design later on. If you go to psychology, you are dangerously near Human Resources, so be sure to be doing it for the reasons Pinker would do it, because you want to understand our internal computer, not to treat people. 

(5) Have some cash: This seems obvious, but it’s worth reminding if you are a machine discounting hyperbolically, you'd better be safe for the next two months. 

(6) Study research on happiness and money: Money doesn't buy happiness, and when it does, it's by buying things to others, regardless of Price. Giving a bike, a Porsche, or a Starbucks coffee to your friends provides you the same amount of fuzzies. Use (1) act accordingly. 

(7) Be curious: If you are the kind of person who knows by heart that the Finish language is more propense to palindromization, you are in a great route not to make money. If you get really excited about space, good for you. If you are so moved by curiosity you can't sleep before you finally figure it out, worry not, money ain't coming your way. Don’t forget all those really cool books you want to read.

(8) Avoid being Anhedonic: Anhedonia is one of the great enemies of those who don't want to make money. If all feels more or less the same to you, there is great incentive to go after the gold, it won't harm you much, and it will afford you the number one value of the Anhedonic, a false sense of security, and the illusion that happiness lies somewhere ahead of you in the future.  If you can be thrilled or excited by the latest Adam Sandler movie, if a double rainbow will make you cry like a baby even in a video, and if you watch this sax video with a young, healthy, fertile female more than once because it’s a good video, rest assured, you’ll be fine.

(9) What do you care what other people think?:
Feynman nailed this aspect of the no-money making business. You may not have noticed but everyone, especially your family, thinks you should make money, Graham says

All parents tend to be more conservative for their kids than they would for themselves, simply because, as parents, they share risks more than rewards. If your eight year old son decides to climb a tall tree, or your teenage daughter decides to date the local bad boy, you won’t get a share in the excitement, but if your son falls, or your daughter gets pregnant, you’ll have to deal with the consequences. - How to do what you love.

It’s not just parents; everyone gets more shares of your money than of your excitement. If this was not the case, Effective Altruists would be advocating roller coasters and volcano lairs with cat people, not high income careers.

(10) Couchsurf and meet couchsurfers and world travelers: If you never did it, go around couchsurfing for a while. As it happens, due to many factors, travelling all the time, a dream of the majority, is cheaper than staying in one spot. Meeting world travelers like 1Mac Madison, 2Puneet Sahani, 3Frederico Balbiani, and 4Rand Hunt  made me realize, respectively, that: 1 It’s possible to travel 2/3rd of the time as a CS major; 2 Indian Citizenship and zero money won’t stop you; 3 Not speaking English or wanting to work with what gave you degrees doesn’t stop you; 4 Spending 90 dollars in 100 days is possible. You’ll feel much less pressure to make money after meeting similar people and being one of them.

(11) Don’t experience Status Anxiety: The World suffers from an intense affliction. Alain de Botton named it Status Anxiety. You are not just richer than most people nowadays. You are unimaginably, unbelievably wealthy (in term of resources you can use) in comparison to everyone that ever lived.  But the point is, the less time you spend comparing, regardless of who you are comparing with, the happier you feel.

(12) Be persuadable by intellectuals outside traditional science, like De Botton and Alan Watts, but not by really terrible The Secret style self-help.

(13) Consider money over-valued: In economics, the price of things is determined by the supply and demand of that particular thing. The interesting thing is that demand is not measured by how many people want something how badly, but this multiplied by each person’s wealth…  If so many (wealthy) people value Rolex watches, they will be overpriced for you, especially if they are paying in luck, inheritance, or interest, and you are paying in work (though both use money as a medium).
Money is a medium of trade, how could it be over-valued?
Simple, there are many other mediums of trade (being nice, becoming more attractive, being a good listener, going to the “right place at the right time”, knowledge, enviable skills, prestige, dominance, strength, signaling, risk – i.e. stealing, Vegas, or bitcoin - , sex, time, energy). If you think these items are cheaper than money, you go for them as your medium of trade. And indeed they are cheaper than money, because everyone knows that money is valuable, and nearly no one thought consciously of the trade value of those things.

(14) Fake it till you don’t make it: My final advice would be to try out not spending money. Do it for a month (I did it for two), set a personal unbearably low barrier according to your standards. Dine before going to dinner with friends, by bike, of course. Carry water instead of buying it. Deny any social activity that would be somewhat costly and substitute it for some personal project, internet download, or analogous near-free alternative. Exercise outside, not in the gym. Take notes on how good your days were, you may find out, as did Kingsley that: “We act as though comfort and luxury were the chief requirements of life, when all that we need to make us happy is something to be enthusiastic about.”  Furthermore, with Barry Schwartz, you may find out that less is more, and when you have fewer options of what to do, this gives you not only happiness, but extra capacity to use your psychological attention to actually do what you want to do, do as Obama did, save your precious share of mindspace.


There, I hope you feel more fully equipped not to make money, should you ever need this hard earned, practical life-skill. You’re welcome.