Everyone hates a winner: How to cope with haters

A couple of years ago, the CBC published an article about how Kristy Shen and Bryce Leung got rich and retired by not joining the home ownership ‘cult'.

The couple, who blog about travel and early retirement at Millennial Revolution “managed to save $500,000 by working hard and living modestly,” writes Sophia Harris. “The couple was ready to spend it on a down payment — until they saw what was on offer. They scoped out dilapidated houses selling for half a million dollars.”

Instead of buying a home, they invested their savings…and got lucky. Their portfolio doubled in four years. (Even without the good fortune, they were well on their way to financial freedom.) Today “they live on $30,000 to $40,000 a year, money that largely comes from dividend payments generated from their stock portfolio.”

This young couple made some out-of-the-box choices. Those decisions paid off. Sure, they enjoyed good fortune with their investment results, but so did many of us from 2010 to 2014. If you ignored the relentless negative news stories about stocks, your total market index fund jumped 90% over those four years. This couple's story ought not be unique; it ought to have been the norm for personal investors during that time span.

Market Returns from 2010 to 2014

To me — and to most of you, I hope — this is a success story. It's something to celebrate.

But many CBC readers thought Kristy and Bryce were phonies. They were scammers. They were trust-fund babies who got a lucky break. They did nothing to deserve their financial success. Commenters were certain that they were going to squander their riches…and soon! (Newsflash: Kristy and Bryce are doing just fine — despite the haters.)

I wish I could say the responses to this article were unusual. They're not. In fact, they're the norm when major news outlets feature stories about early retirees (or others who make unconventional choices with money). When people are brave enough to share their story in public, the public usually tears them to shreds.

But why?

America's Love-Hate Relationship with Wealth

Retiring isn't easyPeople in general (and Americans in particular) have a complex love-hate relationship with wealth. We want to be rich — but we're suspicious of those who already are.

Nearly everyone who achieves financial success believes they've done so through justifiable means. They believe they've earned their money (or deserve it), and they don't feel guilty for having it. Too, we're generally supportive and appreciative of our friends who make it big. (I can think of a handful of folks I know who have managed to acquire wealth, and I'm proud of each of them.) But when it comes to strangers who get rich? Then our attitudes change.

Most of us want to be rich, yet we resent it when other people manage to achieve their financial goals. We complain that they had advantages that we didn't, or that they cheated, or that they don't deserve the money. But what if the same thing happened to us? What if we became rich? How would we feel about such judgment and criticism?

Take my father, for instance. He was a serial entrepreneur, and managed to build two successful businesses during his short lifetime. He worked hard and dreamed big. He wanted to be rich so that he could provide his family everything they wanted.

At the same time, Dad bemoaned other people's success. He didn't resent everyone who made it big, but he often complained that this fellow was successful because he'd caught a lucky break or that gal earned her fortune because she knew the right people.

There's no question that some people have lucked into wealth. I have a friend whose family owned a large manufacturing business; as a result, she's benefited from a huge annual stipend from her trust. This has turned her into a slacker and layabout. She's frequently out of work, and makes all sorts of excuses about why she can't find a job. It's difficult to be around her.

But at the same time, I know folks who have worked like dogs to accumulate their wealth. I know others who have scrimped and saved for decades to build their savings. Do I begrudge these folks for having a million dollars? Or three million? Hell, no. They've earned it. They deserve it.

The media demagogues would have you believe that this rush to judgment is a partisan thing. That's nonsense. Being a Democrat doesn't necessarily mean you hate the rich, and being Republican doesn't mean you're all for the wealthy. My grandmother was the most conservative person I've ever known, and she hated the rich. I have a good friend who is as liberal as you'll ever meet, and he's pro-business, pro-capitalism, pro-money to the core.

But if this love-hate relationship with wealth isn't political, what is it? Is it a part of our Puritan heritage? I don't know. For myself, I've decided to suspend judgment when I hear about the wealth of others. I exercise financial empathy. There's just too much I do not (and cannot) know. I'd rather assume the best than assume the worst.

CBC Comment

Everyone Hates a Winner

After Kristy and Bryce were profiled by the CBC, we connected by email. Kristy's first question was about how to handle criticism. “How do you deal with the haters?” she asked. “We've been getting a ton of them since our article went live, and even though I expected it, it's getting a bit exhausting.”

Great question — and not just for money bloggers. Here's what I wrote back:

Your best bet is simply to ignore the financial trolls. You know what you've done and you know how you did it. You know it works. These fools know nothing about you. Their opinions don't matter. Let them live their blissful lives of ignorance funded by debt and fifty years of working for The Man.

You can't reach everyone. In fact, you're only going to be able to help a handful of people. That's okay. Those few are your peeps — and you're their peeps. Ignore the haters and focus on the fans.

It took me a l-o-n-g time to learn this, but the realization changed my life. It gave me a lot of peace.

The thing is, it doesn't matter how a person achieves financial independence — whether it's by cutting costs, boosting income, or both — commenters on major news sites will rip them to shreds. I've been watching this happen for a decade. It's what I expect when I read any sort of financial success story.

  • If the story emphasizes that the subject met their financial goals by cutting costs, by living on less than, say, $20,000 per year, then the commenters will rail about how miserable the subject must be. “What's the point in retiring early if you have to eat cat food,” they'll write. “Fine for them, but I want to live in a house and not a hovel.”
  • On the other hand, if the story profiles somebody who succeeded because they worked hard at a high-paying career, then the commenters will grouse about how anyone can get rich if they earn big bucks. (Not true, by the way.)
  • And if you're somebody like me, someone who made the leap to full financial independence because of a windfall? Well, we're the worst kind of people. We didn't earn it! Our wealth was handed to us! (Never mind the stats on how most people squander windfalls.)

When I read comments from folks who think this can't be done, comments ripping on folks who have done it, I don't think less of the subjects. I think less of the commenters. I see them projecting their own inadequacies and insecurities on people who have managed to make things happen.

Anonymity on the internet brings out the worst in people. They do and say things that they'd never do and say in person. You can't control what people think of you, and you can't prevent them from attacking you in a space you do not control, such as the CBC website.

Here's a recent example of people hating on success. My friend Gwen from Fiery Millennials was recently featured in a MarketWatch article about people retiring early. Gwen is only 27, but she's been saving aggressively for years in order to achieve financial independence.

Commenters on the article wrote things like:

  • “Sorry, but you can't retire at 27, unless you want to live like a pauper.”
  • “This talk of people retiring at 27 is just stupid. Nothing I read in the example given will allow these people to retire at that age and have enough of money for their lifetimes. That is just Facebook hype.”
  • “This is such a silly article. Retiring at 27? Unless you inherited millions of dollars or won the lottery this is a stupid idea. The bottom line is that a lot of these Millenials jusr dont want to pay their dues.”

It doesn't matter what the story is. There's always somebody out there ready to hate.

Shake It Off

It's not just financial independence that brings out the trolls. It's any sort of financial behavior that seems outside the norm. Decide to become a car-less family and you're going to get flak. Decide to downsize from a 3000-square-foot home to a tiny house and people are going to think you're nuts. Tell your co-workers that you buy your clothes at thrift stores and they'll rant about how gross that is.

I believe we need to be celebrating success stories, not denigrating them.

I don't care whether you achieved early retirement by having a $300,000 income or by spending just $12,000 a year. I don't care if you won the lottery. However you did it, good for you. Bravo!

I don't care if you paid off your student loans by working three jobs. I don't care if you cut housing costs by moving in with your parents. And you know what? I don't care if you didn't go on a vacation for five years so that you could save up for a new sports car either. If you set a money goal, made a plan, then achieved that goal — well then, I celebrate your accomplishment!

If you do what's right and you do your best, it doesn't matter what anyone else thinks. Stay focused on your own life, your own goals. Ignore the haters. Shake it off.

Sidenote: Yes, it's true. I'm a Taylor Swift fan. Deal with it!

More about...Psychology

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Accidental FIRE
Accidental FIRE
2 years ago

I learned a long time ago to never look at the comments section of an article on a major publication (or YouTube etc). But sometimes I look nonetheless, like a car crash on the side of the road. You sometimes can’t not look. It never fails to reinforce how many spiteful, jealous, and just plain mean people there are out there. I was following Gwen’s feature on Marketwatch and the comments did what I expected. She seemed to handle it well cuz she’s a pro. I can only imagine you’ve had quite a bit of hate thrown your way as… Read more »

Kevin Rhoads
Kevin Rhoads
2 years ago

JD, I have been reading this blog since you launched, and while I totally get the point about “haters” its also important to talk about “liars”. There is wide divide between the financially independent and those who are barely getting by, and this blog does a decent job talking to both. However the reason the couple above is getting pilloried is because they are being actively disingenuous. They have a livestyle brand built out of the same formula of “I GOT RICH AND SO CAN YOU!” so they are already setting off the “I want to sell you something” alarm… Read more »

CalLadyQED
CalLadyQED
2 years ago
Reply to  Kevin Rhoads

That’s one of the big problems that trolls, jerks, and downright mean people create for skeptics and critical thinkers: y’all get lumped together.

WantNotToWantNot
WantNotToWantNot
2 years ago
Reply to  Kevin Rhoads

Dear People:
For all of us who have taken the road less traveled, who have had the discipline to save and invest, who have had the patience to set a course and stick to it, and who have built wealth thanks to the almost incredible power of compound interest——just remember that not only is success its own reward, it is also the best revenge.

Dave @ Married with Money
Dave @ Married with Money
2 years ago

Hater’s gonna hate. Smile and move on, because honestly what does entertaining their comments accomplish? Nothing.

Everyone’s always got an opinion and some people love to hate what they don’t understand or can’t achieve themselves.

VinTek
VinTek
2 years ago

“This young couple made some out-of-the-box choices. Those decisions paid off. Sure, they enjoyed good fortune with their investment results, but so did many of us from 2010 to 2014. If you ignored the relentless negative news stories about stocks, your total market index fund jumped 90% over those four years. This couple’s story ought not be unique; it ought to have been the norm for personal investors during that time span.” Not if you kept a 60/40 stock/bond ratio during that time, which the original CBC article states. They should, by the numbers have gotten a 54% increase in… Read more »

maria@moneyprinciple
2 years ago

Love your message, J.D. Yep, people can apply different strategies, have a different time line and select different life styles. What is important is to be clear about the life one wants and go about achieving it putting all you have behind. (I don’t think I ever told you that when we paid off $160,000 worth of consumer debt in three years, some people called me ‘stupid’ for paying it off and not going bankrupt and others said: ‘yeah, she can do it because she has her fat, professorial paycheck’. The last time I was called ‘stupid’ I was five… Read more »

Joe
Joe
2 years ago

Heh heh, I’ve been listening to that song too. It’s very motivating. Yeap, haters are going to hate. The anonymity of the internet makes it risk free to leave those comments.
I ignore those comments too. You have to learn to grow thicker skin when you put yourself out there.

For Kevin and VinTek, you probably can find the detail on their website. Many young people has 100% in equity. That worked out well over the last 10 years, but it’s going to be a bumpy ride over the next decade.

VinTek
VinTek
2 years ago
Reply to  Joe

But the original article actually said that they kept a 60/40 ratio, not a 100/0 ratio. I do my homework, you know.

Kevin Rhoads
Kevin Rhoads
2 years ago
Reply to  Joe

“For Kevin and VinTek, you probably can find the detail on their website. Many young people has 100% in equity. That worked out well over the last 10 years, but it’s going to be a bumpy ride over the next decade.” Their website catalogs their stratospheric income climbs which I pointed out in my comment: 2006:$66,500 2007:$125,000 2008:$131,000 – They complain about taking the 2008 haircut but actually made more and entered the biggest bull rally ever recorded with jobs when most people got paid less. 2009:$136,000 2010:$145,400 2011: $167,500 2012: $168,680 – They only returned 6-8% on the investments… Read more »

ALe
ALe
2 years ago

I spend less than $12k a year living in one of the most expensive cities in the country (san jose, ca). I don’t eat cat food, I eat just fine. Of course, I do rent in an older more beaten down neighborhood, but I see it as temporary. I’d say 5 more years of aggressive saving and investment and I’m going to “retire.” By that I don’t mean quit the job entirely, but I’ll probably go part time and just enjoy life.

Kevin Rhoads
Kevin Rhoads
2 years ago
Reply to  ALe

Sounds like a smart choice, work for health insurance and a modest income in exchange for flexible hours and the ability to travel.

Jason
Jason
2 years ago

JD, way to bury the lede with that TSwift revelation.

As for the rest of the story, people always hate what they don’t understand, especially if it suggests that their way of life might not be optimal.

jim
jim
2 years ago

People hate on the poor too.

The local newspaper had a series of articles on the problems that housing costs cause for low income families. The comments were full of personal attacks on the families featured.

S.G.
S.G.
2 years ago
Reply to  jim

Yeah. Welcome to the internet.

JENNIFER LAUTZ
JENNIFER LAUTZ
2 years ago

Good for them; I got my first inspiration via Joe Dominguez, so I don’t have a problem with their story otherwise. However, I noticed that these were Canadians, so they have Canadian healthcare, which lowers their required annual costs. They don’t have to worry about buying medical insurance as an individual, through the ACA, or whatever, because they already have it. When we weren’t employed, our U.S. family-of-four has paid as much as $20k (COBRA if we could get it and we’d already hit the deductible, or ACA) for health insurance. Even in an otherwise-affordable area, that definitely affects our… Read more »

Bill
Bill
2 years ago

I think the past few years the main stream media has also been peddling the idea that if you have earned or save a fair amount of wealth, that somehow you have gotten it ill gained, or at the expense of others. Many become resentful based on that, ignoring the fact that there are many accounts of those with low to moderate incomes building wealth by budgeting and investing wisely over time.

CalLadyQED
CalLadyQED
2 years ago

HGTV used to have a blog and discussion forum for people following their home giveaway. One year the winner was not a regular HGTV watcher (or she stumbled when interviewed) and the envious and covetous bashed her. How dare they award a randomly selected winner a no-purchase-necessary prize when she couldn’t name a favorite show on the spot! Plus she didn’t look needy. I needed that house! Another year, the winner was a older, working-class, black woman who was supporting a grown son with some kind of disability. Commenters complained that she would not be able to afford the upkeep.… Read more »

S.G.
S.G.
2 years ago

I dunno, J.D., I think plenty of people feel guilty for their wealth.

Remember my guest post? That was a lesson for me. One of the big things about the internet isn’t just the anonymity. It’s the tone you get with back fence gossip but right in front of you. It’s jarring and feels rude because it is. But it doesn’t always FEEL like it to the people saying it because it’s what they would say in real life, just not necessarily to someone’s face. The experience is totally different on either end.

Hugh Johnston
Hugh Johnston
2 years ago

Good on this young couple for getting a hell of an education and making a voracious amount of money when they were young. Their income may be rare but their saving prowess is within reach of any young couple. The magic in what they did was in spending like they were making $11/12 bucks an hour and stuffing most of their pay away. Their investment returns, according to their website, were modest indeed. Its that almost $900k in personal savings that made it all work. So you are a college grad and you find you salary makes you $25 an… Read more »

treo
treo
2 years ago

That reminds me of a series of billboards aimed against drunk driving in my area which read:
“Life is competitive, keep your edge”.
I think that’s just it and that’s the motto I’ve been living by ever since. I don’t hate anyone that tries to get ahead as long as they do it inside the law (and morals, to a degree).

firecrackerrev
firecrackerrev
2 years ago

Taylor speaks the truth, yo! Since that CBC article was written, we’ve learned the longer you are retired, the more confident you become, and the haters no longer bother you. In fact, when we first retired, some frenemies even refused to speak to us. BUT, they’ve seen what we’ve done in the 2.5 years since we retired–travelled the world, increased our net worth, became speakers at Chautauqua, met tons of awesome friends in the FIRE community, and just recently signed a book deal with Penguin Random House. The last time we went back, they actually asked “how do you do… Read more »

Kate
Kate
2 years ago

Well said! I have had my first financial troll and it struck me at first. I was upset, then I realized they have no vested interest to learn the background story or follow along. It made them feel good to say something unkind, but in the end, I’ll be enjoying my freedom sooner than they will. Great post JD!

Steve @ ThinkSaveRetire.com
Steve @ ThinkSaveRetire.com
2 years ago

As someone who’s been featured on Business Insider, Forbes, CNBC and CBS MarketWatch, I feed on the hate – which I’m unconvinced is actually a good thing. But, I still do.

I’ve found that a small percentage of the haters actually have something legitimate to say. Unfortunately, those comments are usually buried underneath a pile of drivel written by those who absolutely wish they were in your position, but they chose to make decisions that drove them in the opposite direction. They know it, too. That’s why they resort to hate.

RayinPenn
RayinPenn
1 year ago

Just Another Mr Money mustache story set to some snappy music. Save, minimize and build a pile to retire on it. Oh and then there’s that build a website and podcast and fully monetize them and live off them thing. Funny thing Mr. MM says he lives on about 20-30k a year but in the fine print it says plus $3k a month for healthcare so $60k all in. Last time I checked @ a 4% withdrawal rate you’ll need 1.5 million to retire. And if you use a more conservative 3% (I think you should) you’ll need a cool… Read more »

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