Even if you are not a fan of the TV show The Office,(we can’t be friends BTW…) this quote should bring a smile to your face. It sounds so simple, and we probably espouse this to others all the time. But do we follow our own advice? As with almost all of my blog posts, I am speaking from experience on this topic too.
There appears to be several stages of this, with the highest level being something that is a life-long pursuit and not a destination. It is easy to fall into the traps of society’s influence and not truly think for ourselves, and it is easy to be tricked or just misinformed. There are those who have a hard time telling the truth; others struggle with measuring their worth or standing in the world by what they have versus who they are. Here are my thoughts on the other levels, starting at the bottom:
Stage 1 Idiot – Allowing outside influences to dictate your behavior.
As a kid in middle school, I remember falling victim to this, or having it drilled into me by others…maybe a little of both. When my birthday or Christmas would roll around, I would want only specific brands of clothes or shoes. Since my family didn’t have a lot of money to spend on things like this, I would literally sacrifice getting lots of stuff for one or two things with the “right” label on them.
Think about that, I was more concerned about what others saw me wearing, even if I wore it twice a week because I didn’t have other stuff, than to have more (equally good and function) stuff with a different label on it. I operated this way throughout my middle school and high school years. What I perceived as peer pressure was allowed to take root in my brain. I don’t remember being overtly picked on because I didn’t wear certain things, or teased for being “poor” even though that was not really the case. I just thought that’s what others thought…and I was wrong. Everyone else had the same thoughts I did, and it was just a viscous circle. I am sure there were a few times it happened, that one of the “cool kids” said or did something, but my lack of self esteem took that and ran with it.
Stage 2 idiot – The trend continues…
Once I graduated high school and moved on to other things, a different version of this same thing crept in. Now it was about looking successful to others. It literally is the same “illness” measuring my self worth through the judgement of others. Pretty soon I was leasing more car than I could afford, just to roll up in something cool looking.
Many people operate like this their whole lives, and financial standing has nothing to do with this one. Rich people and poor people alike allow others to influence their behaviors all the time. We all do, to an extent. At what point you reign in that extent has the biggest impact on your life. For example, if you have $20 in the bank until payday (regardless of how many days away that is) and the first thing you do is go buy a new pair of Yeezys or take someone out to a fancy dinner, you are living in Stage 1. I did this too. Reality check: you are consumed with the opinions of others, and allowing this to dictate your spending habits. As a kid, we can all let this slide. As a young adult, your life is in desperate need of a priority realignment if you are still thinking this way. If you are barely paying bills, and you think a new pair of shoes is a top priority, your life is going to be a struggle.
Keep in mind, children do what makes them happy as often as possible, regardless of the consequences of these actions. ADULTS DON’T. Or at least they shouldn’t. Don’t be an idiot. If living in the hip part of town in an apartment with barely any furniture, or leasing a car you cannot afford is a priority, you are victim to this mindset. Nearby where I live, Scottsdale, AZ is known as “home of the $40,00 millionaire”. This is the perfect example of what I am talking about; living a lifestyle you cannot afford just to impress others. “You’re being an idiot…sorry, but I don’t know how else to put it.
Stage 3 – Diminished idiocy, aka Getting your shit together. When you start to prioritize things for the great good of your life, you are making progress. Whenever it is that you get sick of living paycheck to paycheck, or not being able to help a family member in financial need, or whatever the circumstance, you hopefully will have a shift in perspective. Maybe you will even start listening to some outside advice, like an older friend or family member. Maybe you stumble across Dave Ramsey‘s website, or get a copy of Ramit Sethi’s book and you start to realize that you have fallen for the traps that life sets. But good news… there is a way out. You may finally have realized that continuing down the same path will yield the same results, and you will get more of what you already have (debt, crappy job, no savings, limited options).
When that light bulb goes on, you need to pay attention and capitalize fast. It is easy to slip right back out of this new view of life, and default back to what you were doing before. If you truly don’t know what to do, and don’t feel bad because I didn’t either, you need to seek outside help such as I mentioned above. I had to learn these lessons the hard way too, remember? If you have been living a certain way for a while, regardless of your financial status, and you see the error of your ways, GOOD FOR YOU. Change only can begin when you realize that what you are doing is not the best way to operate.
At some point you are going to be far better off engaging in the game instead of fighting against it. This doesn’t mean you have to don a button down shirt and tie and work 50 hours a week, but you may want to rethink that low paying job that affords you a ton of time, but no money to show for it. There is a happy medium to be found, and I encourage you to find YOUR balance in this area.
Stage 4 – Breaking free from idiocy, or Taking action and righting the ship.
Once you starting following a better game plan for your financial future, life will get a bit easier. Now your struggles will be staying disciplined enough to continue walking the path to freedom. And when I say freedom, I mean that. It is so freeing to no longer feel the need to meet the standards of others, to adjust your own lifestyle to meet a goal. The goal is freedom of choice, which tends to provide a fair amount of happiness. When you have options, you feel much better about things in general. If you have money in the bank and are no longer living paycheck to paycheck, you now have something you may not have had before: option. Now you can quit that crappy job, or you can take a vacation or get your car repaired and it is not a major financial undertaking. It is part of the overall plan you are now following.
Employing the tried and true tactics that many financial advisors would tell you, such as get out of debt as quickly a possible, open a Roth IRA and fully fund it as soon as you can, and other common advice will give you a peace of mind you had no idea you were missing. You will sleep better at night, and as you chip away at the debt and make some real progress, the process will reinforce itself. You will have truly turned the corner when you start sharing with your friends the steps you are taking and the results you are achieving. Some may scoff, a few will acknowledge out loud that they are impressed. Many will stay silent, but the majority of your circle of influence will respect and admire what you are doing, even if they never tell you so.
If you are looking to start the conversation with your friends about this, here is one example of how to broach the subject. If you get invited to a dinner party with friends at their house, don’t show up with an $100 bottle of wine that you splurged on. Show up with a great $15 bottle that you actually love, and they likely will too. Know why? Because anyone who isn’t super rich doesn’t want to spend $100 a bottle on wine outside of a special occasion. Bring them something they can appreciate on a weekly basis because it is good and yet financially sensible. THAT is a much better gift. And now you can say something to the effect of: “this wine fits in my monthly entertainment budget” and see where that leads.
Stage 5 – Leaving the idiots behind
Congratulations, you have broken free of the masses and are setting yourself of for long term success. The less debt you have, the more freedom you have. If you can make the statement that you have no credit card debt, you are already in a small percentage of the population. If you have no student debt, even better. The ultimate goal, in my opinion, is to be totally debt free, including my house. There are different schools of thought on this, and varying quite a bit. Grant Cardone and Robert Kiyosaki would tell you to borrow as much as you can to buy income producing properties and/or businesses. Dave Ramsey will tell you to cut up your credit cards, never borrow money and be debt free. My wife and I chose the second option, as we feel this is best for us. Either way, one you have people to model yourself after to achieve the goals you want. Personally, don’t care to be super wealthy and have tons of responsibilities. My preference is to be wealthy and anonymous, and have as much free time as possible. The Grant Cardone approach, to me, doesn’t appear to fit this agenda. Clearly it works for him, and he is going to accumulate much more wealth than I ever will. But…I don’t care. I’m aiming for happy and financially comfortable, not world domination.
As I said at the beginning of this post, I learned this the hard way. I am 50 years old, and just recently ran through this process to hit stage 5. Do you know what the number one topic married couples fight about is? MONEY. If you are living your life with just you in mind, that is just fine. But whenever you get coupled up, and even more so if it is permanently, you owe it to yourself, your partner, and your collective peace of mind to change these habits mentioned above. I am trying to get you to not have to learn the hard way, but instead figure things out by learning from my mistakes instead. As I always say, I don’t have all the answers but you are welcome to the answers I do have. Reach out if there is something I can help with.