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Rationing with small reserves

August 22nd, 2013
giving

When you're close to your limits you have to ration, and rationing sucks. It's not as bad as actually hitting your limits, but the pain of having to make the tradeoff adds to the pain of the tradeoff you're making. If I'm on a long bus trip and didn't bring enough water, every time the thought of thirst comes into my head I have to judge whether the gratification of drinking now is worth the potential for even worse thirst later. Drinking all my water now is bad, but so is ending the trip with extra water I would really have liked earlier.

When we're farther from our limits, decisions are much easier. In asking myself whether I want to walk somewhere in the morning I don't need to consider whether I will need to walk more later in the day. My walking limit is high enough that I can basically ignore it. Similarly I know there's enough food around me that I can wait until I get hungry and then eat something. I might bring some food with me to save on the cost of eating out, but if I don't bother or perhaps stay out longer than planned I know I'm not risking going hungry.

Life is most relaxing when we're far from our limits. There's excitement and a potential for flow in pushing right to the edge of your abilities, but it's mentally exhausting to keep it up for very long. Consider driving down a narrow road: the narrower the lanes are, the more attention you need to put in and the more it stresses you. If the lane widens it gets easier, and after a point it's wide enough that you can relax and trust you'll have plenty of time to fix mistakes.

When handling money I need to make choices and I do have limits, but I'm rationing with enough reserves that the decisions are longer term. What level of consumption can I afford to let myself get used to? How much can we spend on rent? Would a car be worth it? These aren't easy decisions, but having savings means I can stay out of the super painful world of rationing with small reserves.

This is part of what makes poverty and disability so hard: you're much closer to your limits, and you don't have the ability to pull back and give yourself a break if you need to. I might have a similar typical level of activity as someone living with a chronic illness, but while I can just do things if I feel like it they have to keep track of spoons and they can't dip below zero. Julia and I spend less on food than you'd get in food stamps, but because our low level of self-spending is voluntary it doesn't have the accompanying mental burdens of real poverty.

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