My dear and wonderful readers. I have been gone for too long and am apologizing for that. Some
health problems along with the Holidays became too much for me to be able to write. I have prepared a post that I have been wanting to write for you for a long time and hope you enjoy it.
Looking around at our friends, neighbors, acquaintance's life, I used to think they all are doing really good financially and have everything figured out. Wile I was very happy for them, it made me wonder. I wondered how they can afford such a large life while my husband and I, both Dentists, sometimes had a hard time making the ends meet.
Now fast forward years later and I know better. Now when I think about their lives, I notice that in reality, they couldn't afford that life.
Couple of years back, one of my high school friends was getting married in Los Vegas and my daughter and I flew there to attend her wedding. The wedding was beautiful and the food and arrangements were fantastic. We had a wonderful time and seeing my old high school friend was priceless. Later on, I was talking over the phone with another common high school friend of mine and since the Iranian culture is somehow unfamiliar and a very odd and curious culture, I ended up having this unwanted conversation with a friend from Iran over the phone.
It went like this:
She: So, how was the wedding?
Me: It was beautiful. She looked like a princess and the groom looked deeply in love. Everything was very nice and we had a wonderful time.
She: I heard the groom is pretty rich. Is he? ( I being out of Iran for over 23 years, felt pretty uncomfortable with this question)
Me: I don't know. I never asked about his financial situation.
She: But I heard that he paid for the wedding and he spent tons of money. So, he has to be rich. Is he?
Me (feeling frustrated with this question) : As I said, I don't know who paid for the wedding and honestly, I don't want to know. Also don't know if he is rich or not. But the wedding was beauti...
She (interrupting me): It is simple. If he was not rich, he would not be ale to afford such a nice wedding.
Me: Well, in US, spending money does not have anything to do with one's financial situation. People can spend tons and not be rich, since that money could be spent on credit card and they, be deeply in debt. Here, spending can never be a measure of the person's true financial value. There are people that don't spend much, but have good savings and retirement accounts and there are people that spend a lot of borrowed money. It is also true that there are some people that are truly doing good and can afford what they are spending money on. The reality is, one's spending has nothing to do with the size of their pocket. So, I truly can't know if the groom is rich or not, based on his spending. I don't want to know who paid for what.
Now when I think deeper about this conversation, I realize that what came to my mind that day from frustration and what I told her, was a huge reality that not too many people think about.
Since I became a frugal minimalist and changed my lifestyle, many people mock me, judge me and laugh at me. But many are feeling more comfortable with sharing their financial concerns with me. I guess the reason is that they feel safe and more comfortable about it since showing money is not a priority in my life and they know they will not become judged by me. Friends and family have told me about living paycheck to paycheck. They have told me about not having any retirement account at the age of around fifty years old. They have told me about their sleepless nights worrying about paying the bills. They have opened up about how un-calculated their financials are and how they can NOT reduce their standard of living. Many people tell me how lucky I am to be OK with downsized life and how they can not downsize, because they enjoy bigger houses. They enjoy their expensive car. They enjoy shopping.
I remember this sweet single mom that worked for us. Her car had problems and she needed a new car. She refused to buy a car for months and took rides from everybody, because she would not drive anything but a brand new BMW. As her boss, I knew exactly how her financial situation was and not to mention the cash advances she needed to pay for her electricity bill. But at the end, she bought a BMW with borrowed money. Now if I didn't know about her financial troubles and I was to see her in the street, I would see someone in a brand new BMW and would think she is doing great. Sadly, the reality of her life was far from her appearances.
But after many years of earning experience, I know better now. Living beyond our means can cause many damages that we are not aware of.
To name a few;
Raising the housing prices artificially:
When people live in houses that they can't afford, they end up paying a lot more for their house and this will cause the market to go up artificially. If every one stays within their means and only buy the house they can TRULY afford, more people will buy less expensive houses. The more expensive houses would become less desirable and the demand would drop. This would shift the market and bring it closer to reality. I believe there are too many people living in the houses they can't afford.
Raising the car prices artificially:
The same goes for the cars. We tend to borrow money and buy cars that are out of our range way too often. In reality, we should try to pay cash for our cars. But since we mostly live in cities where owning a car became a must by design, we have no other choice but to own a car to be able to commute and work. I understand one's need to borrow money to buy a car in order to be able to break this vicious circle. Going to work needs car. Owning a car needs money. Earning money needs work. Going to work needs car.... But in my opinion, this money must be paid back within one to two years. If you are buying a car on a loan and can not pay it in full within couple of years, it is too expensive for you. If people stop buying all these brand new expensive cars and start buying cars that are affordable for them, the demand for expensive cars will drop and the car companies will focus on making cars more affordable and the sales of luxury cars will not be artificially high. This will reduce the inflation.
Causing hidden sadness and suffering for people around us:
I have seen too many people feeling like a failure, believing that everyone else is doing great and only they, are the ones that can't afford living a luxury life. It is not fun to feel that you are behind in the " standard of living" competition, always feeling the pressure of not doing as good as others around you. I have seen husbands and wives separate. I have seen wives loose respect for husbands calling them lazy believing that their man is not good enough to provide and delivers as good as the neighbor's man. I have seen people divorce because one was frugal and one was seduced in to spending big and could not stand living frugally. I have seen too many suffering and sadness due to people living beyond their means.
Carrying a hidden financial stress and burden on shoulders:
Owing money and having financial pressure is a horrible feeling. It destroys one's self esteem and it becomes a heavy weight on one's shoulders. People with financial difficulties even walk differently and talk differently. There is a lot of stress and insecurity associated with living paycheck to paycheck and have to borrow money for life's expenses. It is one of the main reasons people suffer from sleepless nights. The financial stress can take an enormous toll on the body as well as the mind.
Not securing a solid retirement fund:
When one is constantly in debt and has to keep up with paying for the things one bought long time ago, one can not make time to think about retirement. Retirement becomes a far future that people ignore and drop to the bottom of their to do list. When you barely have money to pay for your expensive lifestyle and your debts, how can you put money aside for twenty years from now? Which one seams more like a priority to you? I have done that mistake and retirement have had been our last worry for a long time. Not any more.
Not saving enough for kid's college:
I completely believe in teaching our children to be responsible for their own life. It is important that our children not to expect all their college money to be handed to them. Children need to participate in their expenses and learn to value money. But on the other hand, it is a tough time for our children to become independent. Overpopulation along with technology, replacing humans, drastically reduced their chances of getting ahead in life. Life is expensive and I prefer not to force our children to borrow money and get in debt even before they secure a job. If we teach them the mentality of living debt free and not counting on debt to live a life, I truly believe we are teaching them an important life lesson. We need to save for our children's college or their other life needs and help them start a life. We also need to involve them in the process of saving for their own future. If we live beyond our means, how can we save for their future? How can we teach them to be involved in saving for their future and what kind of role models would we become?
Not having and emergency fund:
I have a wonderful friend that I care about and respect dearly. As long as I remember, she has had deep financial problems and never had an emergency fund. But she had the most extensive DVD collection I have ever seen. She said lots of these movies were ONLY $5 and it made sense to buy them. To me, owning hundreds of movies, even if they cost $5 while one does not have an emergency fund just does not make sense. Many people can not live their money alone. They get this itch to spend every penny. Then they borrow and spend the money they don't have. Then when an emergency arises, they are stuck. An accident, a sickness, a car trouble, an important house repair,... can ruin your routine and can turn your life around if you don't have an emergency fund. It can stress you and rob you from your life as you know it. Even the smallest un-calculated and unexpected expense can cause too much stress for someone without an emergency fund.
Being forced to stay in an unhappy job:
Too many people get burnt out and complain about their jobs and suffer from a stressful job without having the option to do something about it, because they live paycheck to paycheck. They don't have a breather. They can't look in to their boss or manager's eyes and say "I quit". Because they can't even afford a few days without a job. They are deeply in debt and are scared to become late with their bills. Unnecessary debt is the worst thing one can do to themselves. You might say "But we needed the money and HAD to borrow it". I would respond that if one is living beyond their means and is in debt, they DID NOT NEED the money. They could have avoided debt. Believe me. I have been there myself and I know how easily you can confuse Want with Need.Most people have a choice.
Feeling pressure to keep up with the artificial lifestyle we created:
People have a very easy time Up-sizing and an extremely hard time Down-sizing. Once one reaches a certain level of lifestyle, it is very hard to reduce and change that. That person becomes their own "Joneses" that needs keeping up with. In some cases, it is not as much about what others think as it is about what one thinks about themselves. When you create an artificial sense of achievement and luxury, you tasted that life and going back to your own real means is very difficult. The pressure of keeping up with that artificial standard of living becomes a huge burden and usually, not wort it. This artificially high standard of living, becomes too much to loose and keeping up with it become an stressful emergency.
Drowning in debt and ending up paying a lot more due to finance charges:
Unfortunately, most people are drowning in debt and it looks more normal having debt than being debt free. People react very interesting and very surprised once they hear we don't have any debts. They look at us shocked like they just saw a ghost. The truth is, debt means you will pay a lot more for the same thing. You still pay even when you don't own that thing you bought long ago. You pay for months and years and you pay interest. You pay interest to be able to borrow unnecessary money! How crazy is that? Think about it. Are the things you buy on credit card, to raise your standard of living, worth all the extra interest you are paying? Are they worth all the extra time you are spending working to pay for them. Are they THAT important that we have to pay such a high price for them?
Becoming surrounded by NOT so close friends:
I used to live in a very upscale part of Scottsdale, Arizona ( By default) for five years and never forget how hard it was to hang out with friends that dressed a certain way and lived a certain way. When we spent a lot and went with them to expensive restaurants, we had tons of people that believed we were worthy of hanging out with. But when we had to tighten our belts and become frugal to be able to pay for our Dental Board Exams, all those people disappeared. I always wondered, Don't they have ups and downs in their own lives? Do they ever just grab a sandwich and go to a movie with a friend? Does it have to be the expensive night club every time we get together? Back then, it affected our self esteem and self confidence trying to become accepted by all the people that wear nothing but brand name clothing, carried thousand dollars purses and drove luxury cars. But now, I look back and I feel sorry for them. Feel sorry for the fake cover they were hiding behind. Now I am not talking about people that can truly afford their lifestyle and choose to live like that, no matter how luxurious it might be. I am talking about people living beyond their means and were judging others that were not living as luxurious as they were.
Bottom line is, unfortunately. the power of advertising and Hollywood's fake reality had brain washed too many of us in to borrowing the money we don't own to buy things we don't have to have to be able to maintain a life style we can't afford. What a pressure!!! Exhausting to even think about it.
Stay safe and happy and please live within your means.