In Praise of Deceiving Your Audience

Giving advice is tricky. First, you might not know what advice to give. Then, even if you know the absolutely right solution, the asker might not follow your advice. This has led some people to give advice based on what they believe the asker might follow instead of what may be more useful. I guess for me, that rings false because lawyers don’t get to give illegal advice just because we believe our clients are crooks.

Others believe that people may follow their advice but will be disappointed if they get different results. These people are very wary of giving advice of the “I did this, you can too!” varietal. They say insinuating similar or even positive results could be misleading. I’d like to think that people have seen the Etsy Fail blog  and/or understand the term “your mileage may vary.”  You train as hard but you don’t run as fast in the race. You study as hard but get different grades. You can diet and exercise and still not be as skinny as someone who eats whatever they want and lays on the couch. This is something we all learn about pretty early in life – life is not a simple cause and effect machine.

My thoughts on this: if the advice is solid, I don’t think we should concern ourselves with the results. First of all, none of us can guarantee or predict results. (The only people who try to do so are selling something.) If you write solid advice to a group of people, you can’t take on too much responsibility for what happens. We can’t predict the future for ourselves, let alone anyone else. The only thing we can control is our choices.

Second, the process is more important than the results.  I believe in teaching good habits, even if the results will inevitably vary.  If we focus too much on the end result, if we get too caught up in “well she has these advantages” or “he has these deficiencies,” no one will ever start anything. And that may be the worst kind of advice. If we focus on the journey and the good habits, I think it would be exceedingly rare for anyone to get to the end and think, I wish I hadn’t even started. 

I think about the call for transparency in personal finance blogs and I wonder if that’s beneficial. Let’s say someone reads the Frugalwoods, who have gotten some heat for pretending to be middle class while earning a $300k salary, and the reader is inspired to live a simpler, less expensive lifestyle and save more. Is there a bad outcome in this scenario? To me, the ends justify the means.

Some might say, bloggers can be inspiring while being honest. But I’ve disclosed that I have a high salary, and I’ve already heard a few comments that imply that  I’m unrelatable. I think people get most inspired by those who seem similar to themselves. If you broadcast you have a high salary, fewer people will think they can follow you, even if the advice and the steps are the same. If you broadcast your high salary, other people will focus on the results, see it as unobtainable and they might not even start. That’s a bad outcome. So if some bloggers want to create a facade of being low-income and that facade helps more people, who am I to judge? They are helping people. I am unrelatable.

Some might also say that bloggers could more transparently advertise the difficulties in their paths, but I wonder if this is also counterproductive. When I think about everything I’ve ever accomplished in my life, I’ve never thought about the obstacles or my deficiencies. For instance, my friends wanted to run a marathon, and I figured I would join them.  I had never run more than 10 miles before but I followed Hal Higdon’s program and I was fine.  I think if someone had told me that I wouldn’t make it, I probably would have backed out.  Some people like to prove people wrong – I am not one of those people. Lots of people are easily discouraged.

This is the beautiful thing about tiger moms. They assume their kids are capable and make their kids keep trying. Usually the kids soar because the kids have no idea that they can’t do it. I think it’s also true for adults – if you have high expectations, people will reach them more often than you would expect. Part of it is that you have no idea what the other person can accomplish and the other part is that people stretch to achieve what they believe they can achieve.

I think there are enough naysayers in the world that I don’t need to be one of them. And I think the basic tenets of personal finance are something that nearly everyone can do.

In fact, succeeding in personal finance is not that surprising, even if you start from the bottom. When I think of all the amazing things that people have accomplished when they really shouldn’t have, personal finance seems easy. Like Spud Webb never should have made it to the NBA. There are guys who are 6’8″ who don’t make it to the NBA. So someone who is 5’7″ generally has no chance. And no way would he ever have the chance to compete or win a dunk contest. I’m sure everyone told this to Spud Webb. I’m sure the number of people who believed in him making it to the NBA was very small. I’m sure there were a number of people who told him to do something easier. If he focused on the results, he wouldn’t be Spud Webb. He just focused on being an awesome basketball player. (See also Muggsy Bogues)

I think of the pianist with only one hand. There are people with two hands who aren’t pianists. Hey buddy, let’s steer you to painting instead (I mean, you don’t need both hands for painting and there’s a quadriplegic painter, so one hand doesn’t seem so bad). There are tons of things that someone with only one hand can do easily – playing the piano is one of the hardest. But that guy said no, I want to play the piano. And he did.

I remember I heard an interview with a man without limbs who became a wrestler and when I tried looking him up,  I couldn’t figure out which search result was him because there were multiple successful limbless wrestlers.  

I’m following the budding career of Shaquem Griffin, the first one handed-NFL player in the modern era. Now, if I had a son with one hand who wanted to be in sports, I would direct him towards running or soccer. And those would have been the safe choices. But it’s also less inspiring.

Shaquem Griffin was selected in the fifth round – he wasn’t a sought-after prospect. He knew the odds were against him in the draft. But from what I read from his interviews before he got drafted, the results of the draft, which he couldn’t control, were not the most important thing. He had already created a life for himself where he didn’t say, this is my disability, what can I still do? He started with, this is what I want to do and I won’t let my disability hold me back. And that’s the kind of mindset that is going to get him far and inspire others. That’s the kind of mindset I want to cultivate in myself and others.

It would have been very good advice to tell any of these people why they couldn’t do what they were trying to do. Why waste your time? Try something easier. That’s focusing on the results, not the process. All of these people succeeded because they focused on the process and weren’t too afraid to start.

So when people say, people can’t save money, I’m surprised. There are countless dyslexic authors, but telling someone they can save money is setting people’s hopes up. Because saving money, that’s impossible.

I’m not saying the message should be, you will get a million dollars by age 35. The message should be, if you develop these habits, you will have a great chance at succeeding no matter where you start from. Yes there will be obstacles and challenges and setbacks. I have no idea what those will be like for you. But I believe in starting and I believe in the process. And I believe anyone can. I also believe in the great Rumi quote:

Live life as if everything is rigged in your favor.

Jordan B. Peterson describes a very optimistic view of life whereby a person thinks that all one’s problems are caused by oneself. That way, each person is totally in control of his/her own destiny. I mean, it’s not true. We are not the masters of our own fate. But what if we acted as if we were? Those who think they are the protagonists in their dramas have a lot more say in their outcomes than those who see themselves as victims.

People say you can encourage people but the ethical thing to do is to stifle their expectations lest they be disappointed. I say, why? If more people believe they can, more people will.

Photo by Josh Calabrese on Unsplash

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Yes, Frugality is Only for the Rich

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Let’s imagine two families that each spend $46,000 a year. If that family makes $46k/year, they are a cautionary tale. But if that family makes, say $250k/year, they are paraded around as frugal experts.

This is basically how I read the uproar about the Frugalwoods, i.e. the latter couple. There was an article critiquing them because their situation is unrealistic to most people. Then there were critiques of that critique, stating that frugality was for everyone.

These latter articles made it seem like the lower and middle class should aspire to the “extreme frugal” habits of the Frugalwoods.  One article even says the Frugalwoods should be applauded because “they’ve exhibited a level of self-restraint and stick-to-itiveness that the rest of us can only dream of.” I mean, I guess the rich can only dream of it. The lower income and middle class live this reality every single day.

Consider that 50% of U.S. households earn $50k or less, representing 70% of the population. Captain Obvious says, that’s the vast majority of people in this country. Some of these households are going into debt, sure, but if we assume 50% of this group is living below or at their means, that’s 44 million households (34% of all U.S. households) living on less than what the Frugalwoods spend per year (assuming $50k after taxes is around $40k. Some commenters have stated the Frugalwoods are living on a bit less than $46k but it’s still around this figure).

If frugality were actually about living on less, then these 44 million households should be as equally vaunted as those making more. But living off <$46k when you’re making <$46k is stressful. No one wants to follow advice on how to be struggling, even if the actual budget would be the same. What’s better is living a bucolic Instagrammable lifestyle where one can talk about minimalism and having “more time for the things that matter” on $46k. The only people who can live that life are the rich.  


I love love love this comment by Dr. McFrugal:
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On Reddit, this sentiment is echoed:
Being frugal really starts to apply when you make enough money that you could afford luxuries, but you turn them down to save money. That’s frugality. The college kid who is eating Ramen every day because he doesn’t have a choice – that’s not frugality, that’s survival mode.

Frugality is only for the rich because the poor and middle class are just surviving.

I have nothing against the Frugalwoods. It’s not their fault that they’re celebrated for something that millions of other people are forced to do. It’s like a couple that’s celebrated by living on $12/day traveling to another part of the world, even though the general populace lives on $2/day. It’s like an able-bodied person using a wheelchair for a day, and being average at it, and everyone saying, hey people in wheelchairs, look and learn from this guy.

It’s not the couple’s fault that they’re feted. The problem lies in the lack of understanding of what is normal for the majority. There are millions of families with even lower than “extreme frugality” budgets, but it’s the rich people with higher budgets who are getting celebrated. That means it’s not the budget that is celebrated but the income and the percentage. Lower and middle incomes may win on absolute spending but if you define frugality as percentage saved, the rich will always win. 

This is not to say that the lower or middle class should give up hope and spend willy-nilly.  Saving money is obviously good and should be encouraged even if you don’t get a book deal. What I’m really critiquing is the critiques of the critique.  If “extremely frugal” people like the Frugalwoods are spending more in absolute terms than lower and middle income people, then the lower and middle income people are just as frugal. At some point,  you hit the threshold for how little money one can spend. If well-educated, book-selling, rich “extreme frugal” people are spending more than you, even with all the advantages that the rich have for saving money (like better rates because they can pay for their house in cash) than maybe the 44 million households making it work on less have hit the absolute limit. Let’s not chastise them regarding “learning frugal habits” just because their savings percentages are low. The savings are low because of lack of income, not lack of frugality.

We also need to question why we inexplicably praise rich people for doing the same thing as the middle class as if that’s a huge hardship for them. We have impossible, standards for the lower and middle class and very low standards for the rich. This is unfair. There are a few takeaways I get from this situation.

1. Let’s stop pretending rich people have all the answers.
I know someone might say, well saving a lot of money on a high income is more difficult than living paycheck to paycheck on that same income. I don’t even know if I need to explain this but here are 4 reasons why being rich is easier than being poor:
  • There’s a lot of comfort from the idea that you can just solve problems with money if you want to/have to. You can’t do that if you are lower income.
  • There’s comfort in knowing that saving money can produce tangible results soon. If you’re rich, you can live like a pauper and possibly retire in a few years. If you’re poor, living like a pauper means you can retire in 45 years. It’s the difference between sprinting for 500m and sprinting a marathon.
  • Being rich makes saving money easier. I got a coupon in the mail for a free meal at a new fast casual place that opened up. That would never happen if I didn’t live in a fancy area where people can be expected to come back for paying meals in the future. Living in a rich area means you’re treated better and have better perks. And don’t tell me “avoiding lifestyle inflation is hard.” No, figuring out if you can afford rent next month is hard. Not buying new things when your old things are getting faded is easy.
  • Being rich means you can screw the poor. My friend told me that when he was a kid, his mom paid way too much for a beater because she had bad credit. If I wanted that beater (this never would have happened because I was 10 at the time, but let’s say this happened today), the dealer would have offered it to me for less because I have excellent credit and could pay cash. Not only would I have gotten a better deal on that car, but if I had gotten that car, which was just one option for me, she would have been screwed. That was the only car available for her. Being rich means you have all the options that the poor have and also the options of the middle and upper classes. Being poor means you hope the rich don’t take your options in their quest for frugality.

So yes, being rich makes everything easier. Don’t let anyone tell you differently. It’s more impressive to live on a lower income if you’re lower income. It’s easy being rich.

2. Everyone should first seek to understand.

I’m weirded out by bloggers who talk about “nonfrugal” people as if they are some single entity that is obsessed with conspicuous consumption. Some people are like that, for sure. But others are making all the right choices and are constrained by their circumstances. Others are making most of the right choices. Others are recovering from some of the wrong choices. Some people just make different choices.

And most people suffer from the simple malady of not being rich.

The middle and lower class have tips and tricks that the rich can’t even comprehend and it’s a bit sad that they’re underrepresented in personal finance blogs.  Poorerthanyou started a group highlighting articles geared for lower or middle income folks but it shouldn’t just be people with lower incomes that read it. Everyone should read this. Personal finance shouldn’t be about lower income people needing to learn from higher income people –  everyone should be learning from everyone else.

 

Change Your Money Story; Change Your Life

pexels-photo-261889.jpegI unashamedly love watching America’s Next Top Model. To me, it’s not mindless entertainment. I have learned a lot from Tyra Banks’ timeless wisdom over the years (although I still haven’t perfected “smizing”) and from watching the contestants talk to themselves in their confessionals. It’s easy to see the patterns because the formula for how ANTM picks its contestants always stays the same: they pick stereotypes.

There was always the one who struggled with doing “girly” things (yet wanted to be a model). There was the one that struggled with her age. There were others who thought they were too heavy, too thin, too short, too tall, too pale, too weird-looking, too foreign.

And every model thinks that, of all the models, she was the one that fit in the least.

I always wanted to take them all home with me and tell them, can’t you see that everyone else is as insecure as you? But I don’t think the ladies would believe me. The producers don’t feed these stories to the women; instead, the producers pick women who have these stereotypes deeply ingrained inside themselves.

At some point in their lives, these women had interpreted things about themselves based on their situations. And no matter how wrongly they had interpreted the previous set of circumstances and no matter how things had changed since their initial investment, they keep looking for facts to confirm these ideas to themselves. This is known as confirmation bias.

So the lady who thinks she only likes boyish things – that has become her identity no matter whether she actually still likes stereotypical masculine things or not. It doesn’t matter that she is trying to become a model, which is one of the most stereotypical feminine activities ever after, say, giving birth. She is, in her mind, boyish.

And perhaps it wouldn’t matter if this belief wasn’t holding her back. But she tells herself that she can’t wear a dress, which is a big problem if you’re a model. She can’t have long hair. She can’t even act the part of a pretty lady in photographs, which, again, are basics of the job of being a model. These are thoughts that come from the past but they’re ruining her present and her future.

I remember listening to a woman talk about manifesting success and I was ready to tune out. She said, she was manifesting a call from Oprah to be on her show. (eye roll). But then she said something that made her belief seem normal.

She said that she had spent years creating a great product, a great company, a great story, and that she had applied to be on the show and had been networking with the producers. It wasn’t like she was sitting on her couch dreaming of being on the Oprah show – she had put in a tremendous amount of legwork to get on the show and, when she basically had nothing left to do, she was thinking good, positive thoughts. Any bit of further contact she had with the producers or anyone connected with the show, she kept this thought in her mind – I’m going to be on this show. And what do you know, she got on Oprah.

I don’t want to get all hippy-dippy on you, but I don’t think it’s too controversial to say that you’re more likely to achieve your dreams if you believe you can and you’re less likely to achieve your dreams if you believe you can’t. Both Ms. Manifesting and Ms. Tomboy Model both had the raw skills it would take to achieve their dreams. But one of them used her thoughts to move herself forward while the other used her thoughts to hold herself back.

And now, how this applies to money.

I can tell you all sorts of reasons I would be bad at money.

I never had any financial education in school. My personality type makes me a likely victim of financial abuse and overindulging. I’m a minority woman. I like being generous. I didn’t grow up rich.

I could tell myself all these things, which are all true, and come to the conclusion that I am bad at money. In fact, I could believe that I have to be bad at money and there’s nothing that I can do about it.

But I could also look at some other facts. I have very simple tastes. I don’t “get” FOMO. I have good financial role models. I earn a salary that far exceeds what I need.

And it turns out, I’m pretty good with money. I save 70% of my salary mostly because I don’t know what else to spend money on. When people say I shouldn’t be good with money, that’s a story that I don’t agree with. I’ve created my own story.

So what happens if you have a bad story? I think the thing to remember here is that we are all telling ourselves a story, every minute of every day. I’m this kind of person. I’m not that kind of person.

Maybe these stories are based on past events. Maybe they’re aspirational. Maybe people have told you things and you believed them. Maybe you think you’re like your family or your spouse or a certain TV show character.

The important thing to realize is that 1) the story you tell yourself might not be true and 2) the story you tell yourself can change. Maybe you were a big spender before, but you aren’t necessarily a big spender now and you don’t have to be a big spender in the future. Maybe you were a responsible kid, but that doesn’t mean that all your decisions now come from that same responsibility framework.

So I would question the stories you make up in your minds. You can ask if the stories are rooted in truth, but perhaps the more important question to ask is are they serving you. I have this belief that I’d rather lie to myself to get what I want then to tell myself the truth and miss out. The dirty secret of Asian American success is that everyone expects Asian Americans to succeed. Asian American C-students become A-students merely because the students are inundated with the belief they will succeed.  (Based on this, I’m wary of all the reporting on minority underperformance because I think it’s creating a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure for other minorities).

Are you good with money? Don’t look at your bank statements. Tell yourself you’re good with money. Think of the reasons that you should be good with money. Envision yourself being good with money. Envision everyone believing you are good with money and watching you. Create the story that you are good with money. Then act like you’re good with money. See what happens.

I think people often underestimate how important our thoughts are in achieving our goals. Our thoughts become our words and our words become our actions. Thus, the stories we make up in our minds become our lives. 
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The Huge Financial Privilege No One Talks About

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When we think of the haves vs. the have-nots, we assume that the “haves” hold all the financial advantages. Obviously tons of money is a huge financial privilege, but having money is no guarantee for proper management. There is no amount of money that is so large that it cannot be lost. See, e.g. pro athletes, lottery winners, MC Hammer.

People who succeed in careers often have good mentors; people who succeed in finance often have good role models. So while I did not grow up with a trust fund, I did have a huge financial privilege that set me up for financial success:

I had the privilege of being raised by financially responsible parents.
My parents didn’t have a lot of money when they came to this country but I grew up in a middle class family.  In the years between when my parents emigrated and when they had children, they saved every penny to give their children a more comfortable life, and they continued to model this behavior as we grew up.

What did this mean for me?

Lifestyle inflation is a foreign concept.

Before going car-free two years ago, I drove an 18-year old Honda Accord. I also used a 7-year old laptop. This was a few years after I had started working as an attorney with a six-figure salary and after I had paid off my law school debt. Someone asked me once why I didn’t upgrade and I honestly thought, you CAN’T buy something new until the old thing falls apart.

When you’re raised by immigrants, you never let things go to waste. My parents kept the same threadbare artificial Christmas tree for 20 years. My nephews sleep in the bunk bed that I slept in until I was 22. I still sleep with the same comforter I received when I was 8.  This idea of upgrading for upgrading’s sake is new to me and it honestly seems like too much work.

In fact, lifestyle inflation makes even less sense when you have judge-y immigrant parents. People talk a lot about peer pressure to spend. In my family, it was peer pressure to save. My parents routinely criticize me for spending on some pretty “normal” things, but they never encouraged me to buy more than I need to. Thrift is next to godliness.

They taught me that money is not love.

My parents never gave us gifts for Christmas or birthdays. While it would have been nice to have some new gadgets and gizmos, I never felt less loved. And my parents weren’t stressed about buying my love through gifts.

There’s obviously nothing wrong with gifts but I think some families really do get caught up in buying gifts, thinking that without spending $X on their kids, then they would have failed. But what’s more detrimental to children is being raised by stressed parents and learning that bigger gifts mean bigger love.

Money is an important tool but it’s not a cure-all.  Money is money and love is love. Confusing the two can only lead to disasters for your financial accounts and your heart.

They taught me that money isn’t shame.

My parents, they weren’t perfect (let me tell you!). But they never used money as a bargaining chip. They’d always ask if I needed money when I went out in high school (In fact, they still ask. They know I don’t carry cash). And they’d just give it to me. There was no “what are you going to use it for” or “didn’t you already get a new sweater?”

As a kid, if I needed money, they just gave it to me, no questions asked. I mean, they’re lucky I wasn’t into drugs or big shopping sprees, but maybe I wasn’t into those things because I didn’t grow up ashamed of needing money or of having needs.

I know some other people are raised to think that earning a lot of money is shameful. I obviously wasn’t raised that way and, well, obviously earning a lot of money is a lot easier than getting by on very little. It’s also easier to save when you aren’t ashamed of having money. I would argue that shame is the biggest obstacle to proper money management. (Maybe in a later post.)

They make me optimistic about my future.

Everyday there are countless articles/tweets/memes written by Americans throwing America under the bus. And yes, I know there are a ton of problems in this country. I don’t want to get all patriotic on you (but I’m not afraid to) but I love America. I was raised to love America.

Were my parents lucky? Sure. There’s an element of luck. Did they also make a lifetime of hard choices that had a high probability of success? Yes.

My dad served in the Navy and then studied accounting, a very stable career. My mother worked at the supermarket and various fast food restaurants to pay for her degree in math. They took English classes at night. We moved when they got better jobs. They commuted an hour each way to get to work. They drove their cars to the ground. They packed their lunches. We rarely went out to eat, and when we did, we went to a Chinese restaurant, which is not as expensive as many other kinds of restaurant. We would vacation wherever we could drive to (which explains why I’ve been to so many U.S. states). When my mom got fired (she was probably the fourth Asian person in a row to get fired), she picked herself up and refashioned herself as a computer programmer in her 50s.

And though my parents’ life hasn’t been that easy, and they get frustrated with certain things, they are incredibly proud of the life they have made for themselves. America is their home and they wouldn’t have been able to have this life where they once lived. They never speak ill of America and neither do I.

I know the “privilege” police would disagree, but I honestly think my life is the easiest life anyone could live. The hardest things in my life were minor medical problems, doing well in school and paying off my law school debt. And whenever I’ve thought even for a second “woe is me,” I just look at my parents’ life and think, this will work out. I’ll just work harder. So what if I eat ramen a few nights? My mom used to eat rice and soy sauce. (I also flippin’ love ramen and rice and soy sauce.) If my parents could be optimistic for so long, then what excuse do I have not to be? If my parents can make it, I can and will too.

Were you raised by financially responsible parents?

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Yes, You Can Retire Early With a Low Income: A Guide to Saving Money by Not Having Expenses

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**THIS IS A SATIRICAL ARTICLE.**

The FIRE (that’s Financially Independent, Retire Early) crowd has gotten some blowback for not offering enough content to the lower-income folks. Well, I saw some other rich person write an article about how to FIRE on a low-income and I thought, if that guy can do it, so can I. #GIRLPOWER

And just because the poor don’t have that much money, doesn’t mean they can’t click on my affiliate links and make me money, right? Wait, did I type that out loud?

I know you must be thinking, this girl grew up middle class and never had to live on a low-income; she can’t have any good advice for me. But just because I’ve never had your life experiences doesn’t mean I don’t know everything there is to know about personal finance as it applies to everyone no matter how much they make, where they live or what their circumstances are. I’ll have you know that I lived on minimum wage in law school and I had an entry level salary once upon a time and I saved 105% of my income. Here are my tips so you can be as rich as me!

1. Housing

People will grouse that the rent is too darn high! Well, we’d all like to live in Park Avenue penthouses but sometimes we have to suck it up and ask our parents to rent us a modest apartment in Tribeca. Or, if you’re really daring, you could live rent-free at your parents’ Park Avenue penthouse or maybe their summer house in the Hamptons. It’s still a sacrifice because it’s annoying to live with your parents. Guys, I know it seems like you should be able to afford your own apartments at this stage in life but, remember life just isn’t fair sometimes.

If your parents are renovating their houses or otherwise won’t let you live with them without paying rent, I’ve looked up some low-cost-of-living areas where you can rent. This article says Wichita, Kansas has the lowest rents in America. I bet you could live there. Just get your parents to pay for your moving expenses and furnish your apartment when you get there. Easy peasey.

And I know you’re thinking what if I need to fly home because my parents get ill or because I scored Hamilton tickets?!?! I mean, how much could a last-minute ticket cost? Ten thousand dollars? Just take it from your trust fund. You know it’s there for emergencies.
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But even if you want to live in a city, there are areas that are more affordable than others. Even where I live in pricey Washington, DC, there are 2-bedroom apartments that are going for $1000/month in the pre-gentrified locations. Yes, the crime rate in those areas tend to be twice what you’d have anywhere else in the country. But you still have a 11/12 chance of NOT being a victim of crime. Those sound like good odds to me. And you can’t beat the price for this area.

2. Vacations

I can tell you’re already zoning out over how many sacrifices you already have to make with housing. Taking away your vacation too? I sound like the strictest parent ever. Like the one that would make you end your parties at midnight on school nights and not let you drink scotch before you turned 15.

But I don’t want to be the parent that tells you that you can’t make it to Cabo every year or that your Vail ski pass will go to waste. Realistically, though, having a low-income requires a certain level of sacrifice and prioritization. Maybe you can only afford to take three vacations a year and only one of them is international. I’ve found some great travel deals ***AFFILIATE LINK*** where I’ve only spent a couple grand to stay in a resort for a weekend. But yeah, realistically, only one or two times a year, guys. Try to stay off Instagram so you don’t feel too #FOMO deprived. It’ll be worth it when you can live in Cabo year round, I promise!


3. Food

Guys, you can’t go out to eat every meal, ok? That’s for rich people. Instead, act like I did in middle school – sushi ONLY on weekends.  Or if you really want to save, look into hiring a private chef. You can find affordable rates on TaskRabbit!

4. Insurance

Insurance is boring. Just stay on your parents’ plan to save money.

Oh, you’re not over 26? What’s that like?

Well, if you’re over 26, I don’t know. Isn’t insurance free? It’s not? #ThanksObama. Maybe just don’t get insurance then. I’m healthy and it’s not that hard! Work out at your home gym and lay off the seasonal Starbucks frappaccinos – they’re loaded with sugar and you won’t get as many likes on Instagram as you would expect. #truestory Also some doctor on Oprah once said that being sick is all a matter of mindset (and then he jumped up and down on this lumpy couch so you know he has good abs). So think positive thoughts – if you get sick – it’s your fault for thinking negatively!!


5. Dependents

Don’t have kids. Kids are expensive. And kinda gross. If you already have kids,  and can’t afford them on a low-income, I’m not sure what to tell you. Maybe you can go back in a time machine and make better choices? Or take the time-machine forward until they’re old enough to leave your home.


6. Debt

Did you go overboard on your credit cards for a shopping spree? Well, you should probably go ahead and get your parents to pay for that debt before it accrues too much interest. If they won’t, I saw a documentary about a shopaholic where she got a job as a financial advisor and sold all her stuff to pay off her debt. I mean if it worked for her, it should work for you too, right? I also saw this other documentary where a woman got into really big debt and her friend sold her engagement ring to help her out. So it helps to have rich friends!! Also, in that last documentary, everyone with low-incomes married wealthy. So we’ll call that Plan B.

7. Cars

I know, it’s hard not to get jealous when your friends are all driving the latest Audi but again, you can’t afford that kind of payment on your low-income. You’re poor now! Deal with it.
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My advice: just keep driving the Lexus your parents bought you. Just tell everyone you think it’s better for the environment if you don’t change cars too often.

8. Clothing

They say dress for the job you want but Megan Markle’s fashions literally sell out in  seconds. My advice: just wear last season’s clothes. It’s ok – the fashion cycle lasts at least a year, maybe two years if you’re poor.

But definitely make room in your budget for an investment bag. It’s called “investment” for a reason, right? It’ll only go up in value. And, as Her Majesty Anna Wintour has said, mixing high and low is the trend du jour.  Who’s going to notice that you’re wearing a cheapo $200 J. Crew sweater if you’re flashing a $20,000 Birkin?
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Managing your money is all about prioritization and smart sacrifices.  But I promise it’ll be worth it because you can literally save thousands of dollars a month with these tips and then you’ll only have to work, probably five years before you early retire.  So you’ll be old at 26 when you retire, but I promise you can still do things.

And last but not least, if this seems like too much sacrifice for you, just ask your parents to ask their friends to get you a better job. Preferably something in the seven figures with lots of vacation time. Life shouldn’t be all about sacrifices, you know?

**THIS IS A SATIRICAL ARTICLE.**

Gifs via Giphy.

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The Unexpected Reason Why It’s Easier for the Rich to Save and Harder for the Poor

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That feeling when you see a low-income person with nicer stuff than you

My mother had heard that some kids at our church couldn’t afford new clothes. She asked me to help her pick out some clothes to give to them. This was the 90s so we went to the typical teenager stores of the time – Old Navy, Guess, Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger.

When she gave them the clothes, I noticed that they discarded the Old Navy duds but were quite excited about the name-brand items. The name brand items weren’t better looking but they were emblazoned with the brand name (this was the 90s when that was the style). I thought this was peculiar because new clothes are new clothes. I proudly wore (and still wear) stuff from Walmart and would have been grateful for the gift.

Similarly, when I visited a child for whom I was performing pro bono services, I couldn’t help but notice that she was wearing a Helly Hansen coat. That coat was probably more expensive than the one I was wearing, as her attorney.

Something similar happened when I was talking to a woman I mentor at an event for our mentees. Nearby was a child of another mentee decked out in a shiny rose gold shirt with matching rose gold accessories, including cat ears, hair trinkets and shoes. I definitely never had such nice things when I was a kid, and I’m sure my parents earned at least quadruple the income that hers did.

Why the Rich Can Have Worse Stuff

When I was younger, I didn’t quite understand the dichotomy. When you don’t have anything shouldn’t you be grateful for anything? Why spend a lot on clothes, particularly children’s clothes, when you are worried about the rent, the electric, the car, etc.? Shouldn’t these families learn to be minimalist and frugal?

But sometime after seeing my mom donate those clothes, something clicked for me. Yes, I was wearing cheap hand-me-down clothes. But I also never had to worry about where I was sleeping for the night. I never had to worry about where my next meal would come from.

Most importantly, I never had to worry about someone accusing me of being poor.

My family wasn’t rich, in absolute terms or in comparison with the people in my middle-class public school, but we were safe – both in terms of living in a safe neighborhood but also in terms of social status. I could “afford” to wear cheap clothes because I had confidence that if someone even joked about me being poor, my classmates could vouch for my living in their neighborhood in a suitably sized house.

Why the Poor Have Nice Stuff

If I were poor, I’m sure being called poor would be absolutely terrifying. I wouldn’t have the self-confidence of a middle-income person. I wouldn’t have people who could vouch for the size of my house or the white collar-ness of my parents’ jobs.  Because of this anxiety, I’m sure I would change my lifestyle so I would never fear being accused of being poor. I would wear nicer clothes, eat fancier meals, drive a nice car. I would do these things not because it made mathematical sense, but because, I would want to avoid anyone second-guessing my social class, and thus, subtly second-guessing my worth. (I’m not saying a person’s worth is dependent on their social class, or that it should be that way – I’m just saying that many people feel this way).

You try to keep up appearances to bolster your own self esteem. Maybe you can barely afford rent but no one needs to know that. The very last straw isn’t homelessness or even when others stop believing in you; the last straw is when you can’t believe in yourself. And if you can’t have the stable life, you can at least look the part, to others and to yourself.

Some Caveats

This mindset isn’t only held by the poor. You can grow up at any income level and still have a chip on your shoulder. There are people who grew up far richer than me that might identify with it. But it’s a mindset that has got to be easier to overcome as a rich person than as a poor person. It’s a simple matter of looking around and being grateful for having the roof over your head. It’s much easier to be confident when you have some constants in your life.

Changing your Perspective About the Poor

When a rich person says that he could pull himself up by his bootstraps if he had a reduced income, he may be right. To be more specific, he is right that he may have the skills, health, education, connections and confidence that if he were put in a situation with low income, he could lift himself up by his very own bootstraps. He could visualize where he was before and say, well I got there once and I believe in myself to get there again. But the poor aren’t “rich people pretending to be poor.” The poor are the way they are.

When people point at the poor and say, why do you have the newest iPhone or the big SUV when I, as a rich person, have a flip phone and take the bus, this is part of the reason why. It’s not that the poor are secretly not poor. They very much are. In fact, they are acting in ways that very much show that they’re poor, though perhaps not monetarily. They are poor of mindset. And that can be harder to fix than a cash flow problem. They may very well not believe that they can get out of their situation so the thinking may go, I might as well have my fun now. You may not have hope, but at least you have an xBox.

When people say, the poor shouldn’t care what other people think, that’s a fallacy too. The rich don’t need to care what people think of them. The rich can insulate themselves from people they don’t want to have around; the poor cannot. The poor have to see social workers, teachers, school administrators, government workers, neighbors and family because they rely on all these people to survive. So the poor have more people judging them than the rich. Thus, the poor have more people they want to view them positively. In fact, the poor likely get a lot more bang for their buck by spending extravagantly on appearances.

Additionally, being rich drastically changes how you’re viewed even without spending any money. For instance, I can be frugal because I have so many indicators to show that I’m wealthy. When people come to visit, they don’t care that my furniture is secondhand Ikea because my apartment is in a neighborhood where the median home values are $1 million.  They don’t notice the lack of TV, because I have a laptop laying around that costs over $1000. When I say I don’t have a car, the understanding is that I choose not to, not because I can’t – because everyone knows I’m a lawyer and I make bank.

Similarly, when I say my clothes are several years old, low-priced and sourced from ignoble locales like Payless and Walmart, it doesn’t affect others’ views of me because I’m young, thin, pretty and rich so my humble clothes seem more expensive when I wear them. Everything seems more expensive in my life because of me. It’s actually a waste for me to spend on more expensive things because I will get compliments whether my dress is from Target or Gucci. The purpose of expensive things is so people think you’re rich. If you’re already rich, you don’t need people to think anything of you. People will come to you if you’re rich. If you’re poor, you still need to prove yourself to get a job, friends, connections, business partners, etc.

The dirty secret to being frugal is not caring what people think. The secret to not caring what people think is being rich.

If you don’t have these indicators of wealth, it’s a lot less likely that being frugal seems like a worthy goal. Having the junky items I have just makes you look poor, and no one wants to look poor without secretly being rich.

 

How to Meet Excellent People, Eat and Drink, and Support a Fantastic Cause for (Basically) Free

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Last night, I got dolled up in an evening gown and heels, got my makeup professionally done, and went to a $1,000/seat gala. For dinner, I had amazingly tender short ribs, bright green beans, creamy mashed potatoes and finished it off with a deliciously rich tiramisu.

Total out of pocket cost: $5.

How did I accomplish this? I was a volunteer.

Sometime last year, I was decluttering and I thought, I have too many fancy dresses. And then I figured, ok I’m single and I don’t actually have places to wear such fancy clothes. I should get rid of them. OR I should start attending events where I can wear these dresses.

And because I love my dresses, I was set on option number two. Lucky for me though, Washington, DC is a hotbed for fundraiser galas. And not having a date is no obstacle – all galas need volunteers.

One of my 18 Resolutions for 2018 was to attend a gala. The first one came in January with a charity that I perform pro bono services for. I had so much fun meeting the other women and dancing the night away (during our dead time in between volunteer services) that I signed up for another and then another.

I have volunteered at four galas this year. At the first, we danced the night away (but spend quite awhile loading way  too many decorations into vans). At the second gala, I ran into my old boss (haven’t seen him in 10 years and he’s a great guy) and had amazing tastings from some of the best restaurants in the city. At the third gala, I was truly impressed with the honorees, and I got to explore a hotel close to my apartment, which hosts A LOT of galas. At last night’s gala, a vendor advertising their makeup services touched up our makeup. I took home a beautiful leftover bouquet of flowers including orange roses, my favorite.

Throughout the whole adventure, I’ve met a number of great ladies who love doing things by themselves. I’ve done a lot of work helping great causes and had a great doing it. Total cost – cab rides home (which may be tax-deductible).

I should mention that I did do work at these events. I stood at information booths and walk around silent auctions helping the rich and semi-powerful spend too much money on good causes. There’s a lot of work involved in volunteering but it’s typically not laborious and it’s for a good cause.

So if you are bored of another Netflix and chill night, have too many unused ball gowns and dancing shoes, consider volunteering your time to a gala near you.

What do you think of this idea?

 

 

 

Believing This Myth is Keeping You Perpetually Broke

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Photo by Luca Zanon on Unsplash

An equity partner at my firm once asked me how I was and I replied with what I thought was the perfect answer – “Good. Busy.” He gave me a quizzical look and walked away. I still don’t know what he meant by it.

This was years ago but I still remember the encounter, likely because I’ve never been one to say I’m “busy.” Sometimes I have conflicting plans, but I’m not busy. I spend a few nights a week sitting by myself in my apartment, writing this blog, cleaning, doing work, cooking, etc. To me, busy people are the social butterflies who have way too many invitations to make time for whatever boring thing I’m up to. I’m sure you have busy friends that are the same. Maybe you’re that busy bee.

I started to wonder about busy people several years ago when I noticed that the people I saw most often were 1) the med student I was dating, who I would see once a week between 7pm and 9pm, in between his hospital shifts and classes and studying for tests; 2) my sister, who was working full time and pregnant with her second child, her first son a rambunctious 3-year old; or 3) my lawyer and consultant friends, who I would meet up with around 11pm at night to get a break in during our 80 hour work weeks. Still, we were not the busy ones. These people always were ready and willing to meet, because their schedules left so little downtime.

I know what you’re thinking – the people who were “busy” had the time, they just didn’t make the time to see me. YES! Exactly. I wasn’t a priority to them so busyness was a good cover. But I wonder if they really thought they were too busy. A lot of people do.

I wrote a comment recently that I didn’t understand why people didn’t make their own peanut butter. It takes literally 30 seconds of blending peanuts with oil and salt and you have a much tastier, fresher, cheaper product. I got a reply – the reason people don’t make their own peanut butter is “time.”

Do people really not have enough time in their lives to spare seconds to make something better? Again, I see what you’re thinking. Of course they have the time, they just don’t care about the difference between store bought and homemade peanut butter. And that’s fine. But why not just say that? What would happen if that person said, I do not care enough to spend 30 seconds to have a tastier, fresher, cheaper product. If you don’t care about pleasure, health or expense, then it seems you care a lot about time. But what are you using that extra thirty seconds for? Probably nothing. People fritter their time away in worse, more meaningless ways than they fritter away their money. Maybe if we’re honest, we would say, I care about convenience more than anything else.

What if we were honest about all our “busy” excuses?

I have time but I care more about convenience than getting out of debt. I have time but I care more about having an easy comfortable life than my health. I have time but I care more about watching junk TV than learning by reading books.

What if we said, I have everything I want and need to achieve my goals but I choose not to?

It’s very difficult to save money if you are stuck on convenience. Making food is less convenient than buying food. Taking a taxi is faster but more expensive than taking public transit. Accepting the salary given to you is easier than negotiating a higher one. If you think you have little to no time to do the things that are cost-efficient, then it’ll be very difficult to save money. Hence you’ll always be broke. But if you can learn to carve out some time to reach your goals, that’s the start of something possibly life-changing.

Are you suffering from the cult of busyness? Is it keeping you from admitting what your true priorities are in life? Or are you actually so busy that you can’t spare 30 seconds to make your own food or read this blog post?

 

The Unexpected Childhood Lesson that Makes Frugal Living Easy

I remember my very first doll. I was 9 or some age that is quite old for a first doll. My dad had won some raffle with the booby prize of two dolls. Luckily he had two daughters. My sister, by then 12, was too old for dolls so I took both. They wore purple and green ball gowns respectively but I worried about their lack of wardrobes to get their day-to-day errands done. And so I came up with the only solution I could think of. I cut up my old clothes and glued or pinned or sewed the dolls new ones for going to work and running charity boards and exercising. I had a lot of fun designing and creating. Not having anyone teach me how to play, I figured this is how girls were supposed to play with dolls.

I told this story to my friend recently and she expressed sadness that I was forced to make my own doll clothes. She had had countless Barbies each with their own store-bought wardrobes. It  had never occurred to me that other kids’ parents bought them premade doll clothes or that dolls had full wardrobes. That seemed like the stuff of princesses in their castles.

But my friend was the normal one and I was the oddball. Our family was very used to creating our own fun.

My siblings and I were watching bowling on TV and wanted to play. My brother had collected box tops and sent away for a miniature basketball. Then we set up used 2L soda bottles as pins and bowled to our heart’s content. A decade later, my cousin bought her son a bowling set. That’s strange, I thought. Your kids can make those for themselves, you know.

Another weird thing my parents did is have vacations where we would drive to random cities. As middle class parents with three kids, we couldn’t go balls-to-the-wall every year. So while we did travel to Hawaii, Disney World, and Asia, we interspersed those trips with lesser known vacation spots like Kitty Hawk, NC, Dayton, Ohio  and Pigeon Forge, TN.

You know that annoying parent advice that “only boring people are bored?” I was never bored. I had no idea what kinds of awesome toys other kids got and though I understood how lame our vacations were, I didn’t have social media to help me gauge how incredibly lame they were. If you have no idea what the exciting options are, how can you know that you’re supposed to be bored?

I think I would have been a completely different person had I not learned to entertain myself. Entertainment is often an exercise in passivity. You go to a city that’s so exciting that it entertains you. You have so many toys that you keep playing until they let you down. But when you have limits to how entertaining the city is, how many toys you have – you have to be more creative in how you have fun.

This may have mad me more creative but it also made me more active in determining my happiness. To be fair, Disney World was way more fun than Dayton Ohio. But I also have fond memories of Dayton. I know that I could have fun everywhere.

My nephew enjoys when I make up new games. Once we played the classic Whose Line is it Anyway game where you come up with different pantomines for the same oddly shaped object. And one day we went “bowling”: I set up some random bottles of lotions and conditioner at the end of the floor and rolled a stability ball. If he ever recalls this incident, maybe he’ll think, what a strange family this is. Our family is boring. Our family is poor. But I hope he will look back at this and remember how much fun it was, even though he didn’t have a proper bowling set.

Yeah going to a bowling alley is fun but if you can have fun spending less, you can have fun doing anything.

Do you get bored?

This Stupidly Easy Tip from My Parents Has Saved Me Thousands of Dollars

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It’s remarkably easy for me to feel ashamed. And the problem when I’m ashamed is that I clam up. And the problem with clamming up is that I don’t get help. But one time I told my parents about a problem and it helped. A lot. (But for whatever reason I never tell them my problems anymore. Maybe I should look into that).

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