You could say I’m the black sheep of the family. I’ve always been a little different. Left handed, blue eyes in a sea of brown, unable to make “good” decisions on my own, and a super charged “overly frugal” penny pincher (at least according to my family).
While growing up, we weren’t given a regular allowance, but we did get money as presents for birthdays or occasionally Christmas. We also were rewarded with money for doing chores around the house. In retrospect, it was almost like having a job. You work, you put in your time, you do a good job and you’re rewarded accordingly.
My siblings would spend their money on toys or outings with their friends, and I would stash mine in random drawers in my bedroom. I only wish I had known about index funds back then! I can’t say for sure where my money saving tendencies started but I do have some theories.
My parents were careful not to fight about money in front of the kids. It didn’t stop them from whispering in the corner about this debt or that. Later, my father would move to another city to take a better paying job while my mom spent her nights at work and her days at school trying to get ahead.
Maybe without even knowing it, I was trying to have a different life?
“Pay yourself first.”
I adopted an attitude that I didn’t need new things and I certainly wasn’t going to spend my hard earned money on things I felt were a waste. The things I did buy for myself I deeply regretted most of the time. Or maybe it was because the thought of throwing things away hurt worse than spending the money in the first place. I will carry that burden my entire life.
Regardless, I learned early on that I felt better saving money than spending it. This was only reinforced by an interesting tidbit I learned from my father.
|“Pay yourself first. The cost and amount of interest you’ll pay will destroy any benefit you get from your shiny new toy because you spent money on something you couldn’t afford.”|
He then went on to give me an example.
| Let’s say you want to buy a new car that costs $25,000. |
A 60-month new car loan was going for about 4.74% (in the summer of 2019).
If I buy that new car I’ve been eyeing for $25,000 and zero down, I’ll end up paying $28,128.60 (excluding taxes & fees) over the course of my loan.
That’s $3,128.60 in interest.
Wait, what? I’m paying an extra 3 thousand dollars for the privilege of buying a car before I’ve earned it. Ouch.
What if instead, I was able to put $7,500 bucks down? Now, I’ll only end up paying $2,190.20 in interest. That certainly makes me feel better, as I can think of a lot of things to spend an extra thousand bucks on. What if I went even further?
What if I took that $7,500 and bought a used car instead? What if I found one for $5,000 and kept the extra $2,500 for potential repairs? Now that would be a smart $Mav thing to do. Sure, my used car won’t be anything to brag about to my friends, but I have my goals and they don’t include bragging. Financial independence is what drives me.
For all my father’s tendencies to spend every penny he earns, he was never one for credit card debt. I would say it turned out to be the most valuable piece of financial advice I’ve ever received.
My pursuit of FI
When I look back on my life, I’ve always been chasing FI. I remember after accepting my first real job out of college and making $32,500 (at the time I qualified for low income housing in the city I was living in), the first thing I did was to figure out my net worth. It was negative of course, because of all the school loans I had, but I still tried to figure out how much I needed in my bank account to stop worrying about money.
Back then, I never thought medical costs were going to rise the way they did and I certainly didn’t understand the power of compounding or the stock market. If we’re being really honest, I didn’t even add inflation into my magical number as I didn’t know what it was. I still value that exercise, as it was always in the back of my head when I went to purchase something. Was it something I needed or did I just want to keep up with the magical Joneses next door?
How my goals would impact my life
I am firm believer in the power of a goal. A SMART goal, but a goal nevertheless. Without goals and defining why you’re doing something, the odds of completing your task plummet into oblivion.
In my early 20s, I had way more frivolous spending than I do today. And if you were to go back and audit my “frivolous” spending, you’d probably smack me over the head chide me for being ridiculous. My spending didn’t hold a candle to most my age.
As I progressed in age, so did my penchant for saving money, having nights in, and spending most of my time working. Even after I met my now husband, that pattern of work and saving would only intensify.
And with it, the friction with my family would intensify.
| “You never have any fun.” |
“You don’t spend money on anything.”
Actually, I prefer smart.
Sticks and stones can…uhhh no. Calling someone cheap? That hurts, however you look at it.
I didn’t care. I had done the math.
I didn’t need the latest styles, a new car every few years or to mindlessly spend $100s on nights out on the town with my BFFs. Movie night, take-out, and trips to the gym became my go-to.
Getting close to FI and family resentment
Fast forward to really starting to believe I could pull the trigger and stop going to my 9 to 5 job (more like 7 to 4 plus the occasional weekend).
I floated the idea of financial independence to my family.
“Hey so, I think I might be done working in a couple of years.” After the blank stare followed by a WTH are you talking about look, I would usually get this:
“Why would you want to do that and what in the world are you going to do with your free time?”
Then the inevitable follow up:
“That’s dumb. How are you going to contribute to society? Or have enough money for kids? You’re being selfish. How could you possibly consider stopping working? What happens when something goes wrong? You’ll be back working before you know it.”
Enter stage left: cognitive dissonance
|Cognitive dissonance |
Anyone experiencing mental discomfort by simultaneously holding two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas or values at the same time.
ie: I want to save money for retirement, but I also need to live in the moment, so…yolo!!
Humans are guilty of using cognitive dissonance all the time. Myself included.
|“Oh, it took me an hour and 25 minutes to finish my 5K race, no big deal. I don’t care about that race anyway and besides everyone else is younger than me.”|
Never mind the failure of your race time was likely due to inadequate training or a terrible diet. We’ll just blame the “younger crowd.”
I finished that race in 35 minutes. #goals #passthebrie
|“Oh, you got the promotion and I didn’t? Well, you’ve been here longer than I have so of course you did.”|
Let’s ignore that your colleague had been putting in extra hours, saved your a$$ on the last project you were assigned and actually knows what they’re doing. Sure, it’s their tenure.
|“Oh, you can retire early? Well, you’ve never do anything fun anyway and live a miserable life. Plus you’re going to live in a shack and be worried about money the rest of your life, no thanks.”|
Huh, ok. We’ll just ignore the fact that I didn’t frivolously spend in my 20s and early 30s and that I can retire comfortably with as good of a life as you’re living today. Yep, we’ll ignore all that.
Cognitive dissonance is as dangerous as it is necessary for us to live our best lives.
At its best, it serves as a protection mechanism to keep us going. At its worst, we use it to justify our own failures and we don’t change.
Why I think my family ultimately doesn’t support my FI
Fear, denial, jealousy.
Tough accusations against the people I love.
Most people want the opportunity to live a life of freedom. Freedom from having to please others, freedom from being told what to do, and freedom to do anything they please at any given time.
If you came face-to-face with someone younger than you who didn’t live an extraordinary life, but instead saved (I did), “sacrificed” (I didn’t), and had the courage to stand up and do something different (I am), what would you do? How would you react? Would you be genuinely happy them for them? Would you harbor secret resentment or change the narrative in your head to justify your out of control spending and failure to plan? Would you expect them to share their good fortune or ask them to continue slaving away at their job because you have to?
Would you suggest they are making a mistake by not having kids?
|“If you give up your job, you can’t afford to have kids. They were my best life decision.”|
Or suggest this?
|“The people that give up working usually die a few years later.”|
|“Your older brother is not pleased with your decision; he thinks you’re making a big mistake.”|
Is that because he spends his money on his speed boat, weekly soirees with his best friends and spends every penny he has?
Sure, some of my family may be outwardly be happy for me, but deep down, I don’t think they are.
I’m different. I broke the family mold. To them, I made poor decisions in my life by not “living” in my youth. To them, I continue to make a bigger mistake by giving up my job and not following societal norms. To them, all that time I scrimped and saved and didn’t buy that shiny new toy was a waste.
Hmm, upon reflection, maybe I am an “overly frugal” penny pincher, but I absolutely take issue with being unable to make “good” decisions. Do I make different decisions? Yes, but not bad ones.
At the end of the day, I don’t really care. I’m done. I climbed the financial freedom ladder and found my F you money. You can too.