One Lesson From a Financial Whiz Kid

When Zac Bissonnette writes about how savvy he was about money in high school, I know his unusually precocious wisdom is not a put-on. I knew him back then. And, with his new book, How to Be Richer, Smarter, and Better-Looking Than Your Parents, I think you should listen to him.

Even though, admittedly, he only has one lesson to teach you.

I Knew Him When
Zac was one of the first writers I contracted for the fledgling BloggingStocks (an AOL-owned web site focused on news and analysis of “America's favorite stocks”), back in 2007. Since then we've become friends — well, I felt I knew him well almost immediately; he pestered me via IM to finish the paperwork and the pinging has never stopped since. How to Be Richer, Smarter, and Better-Looking Than Your Parents is his third book; both of the personal finance books he sold to Penguin have become immediate best-sellers and have given him, if not fabulous riches, fabulous riches compared to just about most of those people writing books.

Richer, Smarter and Better-Looking is targeted at 20-somethings like Zac, and though I'm not a 20-something, his statistics feel familiar and his arguments are persuasive. He begins the book by recalling a conversation he had with his dad in high school, where he asks him, “Who do you think thinks about money more? You or Bill Gates?”

The answer is, of course, his dad thinks about money way more. He was defaulting on his mortgage at about the time I met Zac; about the time Zac had started thinking about writing about money.

People Make Bad Decisions About Money Because It Sounds Too Hard to Learn Better
The reason there is so much room in this world to develop as a financial whiz kid is that it sounds too hard to figure out. As Zac learned, his dad and a lot of the parents around him weren't doing a great job of teaching financial literacy to their kids. (Luckily, he writes, his mom taught him a lot; more on that later.)

I see this a lot, especially among the 20-somethings I know; my little sister's friends, my babysitters, the young women and men who work in the coffee shops and co-ops and organic groceries around me (I can't help it, these are the only places I go!). Learning about money seems hard, so it's skipped in favor of learning about Dungeons & Dragons (my barista this morning) or how to grow every single kind of cruciferous vegetable (the co-op cashier) or philosophies of teaching English as a second language (my babysitter).

As Zac writes, “Managing your financial life is not about spreadsheets and compound interest. It's about your life. The financial decisions you make can give you freedom or make you a slave.” He goes on to list ways money problems ruin people's lives:

  • High credit card debt is correlated with high anxiety, physical health problems, and increased risk of depression and suicide.
  • Graduate students with high debt are more likely to have poor mental health and poor satisfaction with life.
  • One poll showed that ulcers and anxiety were three to eight times as likely in those with high debt loads than those with low debt loads.

So Give Us the Lesson Already!
Luckily, he writes, it's pretty easy not to get into loads of debt, especially as a twenty-something to whom he's targeting his book. Take a look at all the young people who populate the reality TV shows — who say things like, “If you're going to consume, why not do it conspicuously?” He writes about their crushing, awful debt (I think there were more foreclosures per capita for Real Housewives stars than even the most blighted neighborhood in Florida or Nevada or one of the other states famous for its terrible real estate market), and points to what one financially ruined star said “it was all props.”

“A house you can't afford can be a prop,” Zac writes. “Or a car. Or a watch. When you think about it, we spend a lot of money on props — stuff that makes us look like something we're not.”

“I started the research for this book with one simple question in mind: What should young people do with their money in order to have the best life possible today and for the rest of their life? After a year reading everything from the Bible to a nineteenth-century home-economics book that suggested using earwax as a free replacement for lip balm (seriously), I'm pretty sure I've found the answer: You shouldn't spend it. On Anything. Ever.

So That's It: Don't Spend Money?
Pretty much. Well, don't spend money on stuff, and don't spend it on education (at least not if it's going to crush you with debt), and don't spend it on cars (at least not a nice, new car), and don't spend it on anything that could be considered a “prop” — something to make people think you're rich. Perversely, that will keep you from being rich.

Zac goes on to cover lots of funny and useful topics, like banking (favorite chapter title ever: “The Financial Services Industry and You (Brought to You by the National Center for Domestic Abuse Prevention)”), debt, investing, cars, homes, careers, and financial things to think about when dating and marrying and planning a family. If you've read Get Rich Slowly for a long time, you won't find a lot of new topics there, though you'll surely find new information — Zac peppers his book with examples of reality TV stars, movie stars, sports stars, his parents, and the people he's dated.

Worth Reading, Even If You Already Know This Stuff.
When Zac and I chat via IM these days, it's usually about the crazy financial advice other people are giving. We talk a lot about how other people should spend their money. But we're us, and sometimes we spend our money unwisely. I will do Zac the favor of not linking to the signed print he wanted to buy to celebrate his appearance on the New York Times bestseller list.

One big piece of advice he has (that I love and have recently added to my repertoire of tricks): don't watch TV. “One reason we've gotten so profligate is that we've been exposed for our entire lives to examples of lavish consumption–whether responsible or not,” he writes. “Thanks in part to reality television, especially our favorite Housewives, we're bombarded with the message that spending equals success. In fact, according to one study, the more television you watch, the more materialistic you tend to become and the more distorted your perception of reality. Consumer researchers Thomas O'Guinn and L. J. Shrum found that the more television people watch, the higher percentage of Americans they think have tennis courts, luxury cars, maids, and swimming pools.”

OK: I do watch a little Netflix, but we try to keep our consumption to medieval shows like Merlin and fanciful animation like Miyazaki's highly non-materialistic movies. The important thing is to think about how we're benchmarking ourselves, and how we're measuring our happiness — and keep reminding ourselves of the very real, many-times-over researched finding that happiness from buying things never lasts (but debt-induced ulcers are forever) and the goodwill and benefits of financial freedom (from debt) are many-faceted and worth so much.

Now I'm Going to Go Dig in the Garden
One of Zac's ideas in his chapter on credit card debt — and the quest we so often have for high FICO scores — is to, instead of questing for better credit, to get a hobby. My credit is less than stellar for many reasons, but my garden is gorgeous. I love how I can turn $16 in seeds and plants (less than I spent on a rare dinner out with my boys at a kid-friendly restaurant yesterday) into years of bountiful, lush, photo-worthy awesomeness. And food too! What a bonus. I'm going to go dig in that garden right now.

What do you think: Do you believe in the mantra, “don't spend money ever”? How do you make that happen?

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Sandy
Sandy
8 years ago

My husband and I almost NEVER spend any money other than on consumables (groceries). And we eat home-made nearly every night. On the rare occasion that we do feel we need to spend money (most recently on a pair of bicycles for us both) we figure out exactly what we want and how much we are willing to spend and how often we’ll use the item etc. Every euro (we are Europeans) we get in and every euro that goes out is micromanaged in this house. I guess that’s what you get when pairing a budget analyst with a tax… Read more »

Jaime
Jaime
8 years ago
Reply to  Sandy

It sounds to me like you have a healthy and rich life. I’m not sure why people would pity you but its their loss. 😀

Nicole
Nicole
8 years ago

I like the idea not to spend money on props– that seems to be keeping a lot of DH’s lower SES relatives down. However, never spending money sounds foolish. What’s the point of having money? Not spending money on true investments also sounds foolish. Sure, having huge amounts of education debt is ridiculous (I like Liz Weston’s heuristic of maximum debt = one year average salary of your college major from your college), but education itself is a great investment. You can’t do much with just a high school degree these days, and not everybody is in a situation to… Read more »

getagrip
getagrip
8 years ago
Reply to  Nicole

I agree with the spending money part. Hoarding your money is as foolish as spending all your money on props. Sure you may get well off, but to what end?

You don’t get ahead without taking risks. Sometimes those risks are financial. Taking risks without serious consideration is foolish regardless of the arena.

Jacq
Jacq
8 years ago

If people never spent money on stuff, they couldn’t buy his book could they? Or let me guess – that’s different somehow?

Beth
Beth
8 years ago
Reply to  Jacq

Maybe they could get it from the library or borrow it from a now-enlightened friend?

I have no issues with people not spending money, but if their lifestyle relies on other people spending and not giving back then I think there’s a problem.

Jaime
Jaime
8 years ago
Reply to  Sarah Gilbert

Then why bother writing the book?

Just write the book and sell it to only libraries. Make it a business to business good instead of writer to consumer good. Or get a domain and put it on there for all to see for FREE.

Jay
Jay
8 years ago
Reply to  Jaime

Could not agree more. Let’s face it…everything is about money…everything outside of *time* spent with family and friends that is.

But I think it’s crazy to believe he didn’t want people to buy his book (or pad his bottom line)…that was evident early in the article when JD declined to provide the link to his NY Times best seller dealio.

Dogs or Dollars
Dogs or Dollars
8 years ago

I *don’t* believe in the mantra of “dont spend money ever”. Moreover, I think such mantra’s alienate young people from embracing personal finance concerns. Its easy to say, just don’t spend. But who wants to give up everything? For a lot of people, myself included, it doesnt sound particularly appealing. Moderation? Targeted savings? Priorities? I hope there’s some discussion of these strategies in the book. The not spending money extreme, is really no better than the celebrity alternative. We should all be shooting for somewhere in the middle – a life of thoughtful spending, and careful saving. Not watching TV?… Read more »

sweetea
sweetea
8 years ago

ah! i don’t watch tv either (haven’t owned one as an adult) and i feel that is the single best thing i have done to reduce my consumption of Random Crap, saving money along the way. the second i visit my family and start watching tv i find myself thinking that i need a new kitchen appliance/workout dvd/fancy vacation/etc. that said, i also find that not having some sort of connection to pop culture can be isolating. this was especially true in my 20s, not so much now in my 30s when all my friends have kids and have less… Read more »

Holly
Holly
8 years ago
Reply to  sweetea

Not all tv is the same!

Most of what I watch is on my local public television stations which are splendid, and don’t include advertising.

Amanda
Amanda
8 years ago
Reply to  Holly

There is even advertising on PBS kids shows.

Mom of five
Mom of five
8 years ago
Reply to  Amanda

Just walk down the toy aisle and Target and you’ll see that PBS kids shows ARE an advertisement.

Carla
Carla
8 years ago
Reply to  Amanda

Given that funding has been cut left and right from public television and radio stations, the increase in ads should be no surprise. Someone has to pay for it.

imelda
imelda
8 years ago
Reply to  sweetea

I watch a LOT of TV. And yet I spend very little money, in general. Maybe it makes a difference that I watch everything online, and therefore rarely see commercials. OTOH, product placement is rampant, and it does make a difference when you see TV characters with huge, fancy houses. Even so, I am not much of a consumer. So everyone is different, and I think people should try to analyze what influences them. I DO find that commercials influence me, whereas the idea of keeping up with the Joneses does not – whether those Joneses are my neighbors or… Read more »

Robyn
Robyn
8 years ago

Do I believe in the mantra, “Don’t spend money ever?” No. What would be the point of acquiring it? You may as well collect rocks. Then you could have a pile of rocks that you could have forever and ever and not do anything with. Saving money should be about prioritizing the things in life that really matter to you. A better mantra is “Don’t spend money on things that don’t matter to you.”

MelodyO
MelodyO
8 years ago
Reply to  Robyn

Your mantra is the advice I give my kids, word for word. :0)

TB at BlueCollarWorkman
TB at BlueCollarWorkman
8 years ago

The TV thing is definitely right. I have an aunt who watches all that crap and she is the most in debt in our entire family. She always feels like she needs new furniture, car, clothes, nails, … and she feels entitled to it. As though somehow merely being alive means she deserves a convertible and new living room furniture every year. And she pays for it 🙁 50+ years old and zero retirement saved. While GRS readers may know Zac’s advice already, many early 20-somethings may not… great idea for a book!

Beth
Beth
8 years ago

I watch TV and I don’t have any debt.

What I do have is an education in critical thinking and marketing techniques. I think it might be more realistic to teach people how to think for themselves rather than tell them to avoid all TV, magazines, media, etc.

If people don’t enjoy watching TV, that’s cool too. I don’t see why we have to judge each other. (I mean TV watchers versus non-TV watchers in general.)

Laura
Laura
8 years ago
Reply to  Beth

It’s the critical thinking and marketing education that makes the difference. Most people (too many) don’t have that. I agree there’s a definite correlation between watching t.v. and buying too much “stuff”, not only because it seems normal to consume conspicuously, but because it appears to promise a happier lifestyle. DH watches some t.v. and lots of DVD’s and is immune to modern advertising, but he watched lots of t.v. back in the ’60’s and is subconsciously convinced that the key to a happy family is a Cape or ranch house (popular in that era) and a car because that’s… Read more »

Carla
Carla
8 years ago
Reply to  Laura

I personally don’t have a problem with TV per se (though I only watch DVDs from the library), but I do have a problem with the stereotypes it perpetuates. As a black American woman, I am constantly told by international students and people visiting from overseas how they are shocked that I don’t dress, look and act like the hip-hip video girls, characters in movies, news and TV shows that always seem to show the worst of the worst. No, I don’t have 4 kids by 4 different fathers, never been on welfare, never been shot, don’t use drugs, not… Read more »

Beth
Beth
8 years ago
Reply to  Laura

Carla, I totally agree about media literacy in general, not just on the consumerism front. There are so many things society still considers normal to degrade, like women, homosexuals, people who are mentally ill, people who are overweight and people over a certain age. It’s quite scary how the stigma surrounding certain issues can stop people from getting help.

As an aside, it’s really funny to hear what some Americans think of Canada based on media representations 😉

Amanda
Amanda
8 years ago
Reply to  Beth

I agree about educating yourself regarding marketing. Even though I’ve done that, when I watch TV I have to work harder to not want things. I don’t like it so I’d rather avoid it. The biggest problem I have with shows is the food they eat. When I see people eating it makes me hungry. If I’m hungry I want junk food because it doesn’t require preparation. This leads to a large mid section. =) We have an antenna for watching football games. Other than that we don’t use our TV. We just canceled Netflix for the summer. After reading… Read more »

TB at BlueCollarWorkman
TB at BlueCollarWorkman
8 years ago
Reply to  Beth

Haha, that’s actually a good point, Beth. TV and non-TV watchers DO both judge eachother quite harshly. Like the other side “just doesn’t get it.” (sorta like politics, huh?) Haha, never thought about that before.

shalom
shalom
8 years ago

I don’t watch TV, have watched almost nothing on TV in 20 years. And you know what? I love to shop. A lot.

TV may be a source of consumer cravings, but so are magazines, social media sites, one’s friends, shopping itself, and maybe one’s basic personality . . . any number of things.

Not watching TV doesn’t make you a better person or even necessarily a more frugal person. It just makes you a person who doesn’t watch TV.

Kestra
Kestra
8 years ago

I think it’s about your default setting. You want to switch the default to: Don’t Spend Money, rather than: Do Spend Money. That way you think about every purchase before you make it, instead of afterwards wondering if you should have made it. The only way to be rich is to realize that you don’t have to spend money for…

Emily @ evolvingPF
Emily @ evolvingPF
8 years ago

While I understand that there is a correlation between watching TV and consumption, what’s the theory behind why? I watch a decent amount of TV and have quite low consumption levels (I think). All our TV is Neflix and Hulu so I almost never watch commercials and I never watch “reality” TV… are those the real triggers?

Christine, Random Hangers blog
Christine, Random Hangers blog
8 years ago

I think it’s the idea of “monkey see, monkey do.” If you watch stuff like Sex & the City, it makes you think that shoes that cost hundreds of dollars is something “everyone” buys. If you watch high-end, performance car shows, you think those are the cars “everyone” has, or should have. Even a seemingly innocuous show like House Hunters can have those kinds of effects: I found myself chatting with my husband about our dream house, and it suddenly has granite countertops and all-wood floors. I don’t even *like* granite countertops, but that’s what “everyone” seems to want, so… Read more »

Emily @ evolvingPF
Emily @ evolvingPF
8 years ago

Yes, I can definitely see how you might subconsciously want to imitate the lifestyle of the characters you are watching even if it isn’t reality TV. My favorite show is The Office, which I’ve noticed is quite low on the lifestyle ladder! Only a couple wealthy minor characters, very few scenes in homes, hardly any fancy gadgets, and surprisingly open discussion about the financial problems of some characters. The other show I’ve been watching recently is Law and Order from the mid-’90s – no trouble there, either!

Clint
Clint
8 years ago

Spot-on. The abstract concept of “everybody” and what they do/have has massive destructive potential. How many girls right now honestly believe their parents are going to hook them up with a brand new S-Class and a private Jay-Z concert for their 16th birthday, because of a show on MTV so vile I won’t even type its name? I’m sure some people are going to bristle at the “don’t spend money” line; they’ll read it as an extremist maxim, as in “dig your food out of the trash and steal your clothes from drifters,” in that Hyperbolic Internet Style that’s done… Read more »

Ramblin' Ma'am
Ramblin' Ma'am
8 years ago

Oh, House Hunters is the worst for that! It’s gotten to the point that I turn it off whenever I hear:

a. Kitchen is too “dated” (kitchen was built ten years ago)
b. Granite or stainless steel being described as “must-haves”
c. The phrase “man cave”
d. Someone describing a 2000 sq foot house as “a little tight” for a married couple with a baby.

Andrew
Andrew
8 years ago
Reply to  Ramblin' Ma'am

You forgot my favorite, the room dedicated to scrapbooking and crafts.

Susan
Susan
8 years ago
Reply to  Ramblin' Ma'am

But that room dedicated to scrapbooking and crafts is what keeps me from watching tv! 😉

Mom of five
Mom of five
8 years ago
Reply to  Ramblin' Ma'am

Hah! You forgot the master bath aka “the spa-like retreat”.

Ramblin' Ma'am
Ramblin' Ma'am
8 years ago
Reply to  Ramblin' Ma'am

I also forgot to mention when one member of a couple, usually the wife, looks at the huge master closet and says to his/her partner, “But where will YOUR clothes go?” Barf.

Amanda
Amanda
8 years ago
Reply to  Ramblin' Ma'am

I even had problems with shows on H&G showing low cost home makeovers or giving a free room makeover to someone. Even when they’d get the stuff at garage sales. It was making me jealous of the people for getting new stuff. It was also making me feel dissatisfied with my life and the things I have even though they’re sufficient & I’m happy.

Emily @ evolvingPF
Emily @ evolvingPF
8 years ago

orrrrrrr maybe it’s our meager income that’s keeping us from spending lots and it has nothing to do with TV or no-TV! 🙂

JakeIL7
JakeIL7
8 years ago

I apologize for making this comment a bit ranty. This article and some of the comments are sadly typical of the typical comments found in the sphere of personal finance on the ‘net. The basic assumption is “If (X) is hurting you, stop doing it altogether.” That could be watching TV, or using credit, or simply spending money. It is further supplemented by the “holier than thou” types who love to talk about how they are doing it right and people who are doing it wrong are going to end up destitute. The problem is that both those attitudes can… Read more »

Ramblin' Ma'am
Ramblin' Ma'am
8 years ago
Reply to  JakeIL7

The “don’t watch TV” advice seems to be brought up on these blogs a lot. And yet in real life, I know very few people who don’t watch. (Not all of them have cable; some use Netflix/Hulu/etc.) Some are materialistic and some are not. Some are in debt and some are very fiscally responsible. I agree with the sentiment that’s what important is how critically you watch, not whether you watch or not. I do have cable, but these days I mostly watch shows on DVR and fast-forward through the ads. I am not going to apologize for wanting to… Read more »

Samantha
Samantha
8 years ago
Reply to  Ramblin' Ma'am

I totally agree. I have a TV, with cable, and I watch shows with commercials. Yet somehow, I’m not impoverished on the street clinging to my cable box and withering away. I guess somehow I manage to make decisions about what I do and don’t want, and how I do and don’t want to spend my money, even while ads try to convince me to buy their product.

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
8 years ago
Reply to  JakeIL7
Jane
Jane
8 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

That’s great El Nerdo. Like the link says, I think one reason to watch TV is that it gives you something to talk about that isn’t politics or religion. I have found my broad knowledge of television to be very useful in interpersonal relationships and as a way to fill the empty spaces in conversation. It is sort of a social equalizer, although of course people watch different types of shows. The same person who watches Mad Men probably wouldn’t be caught dead watching Jersey Shore (or if they do, they wouldn’t admit it in public). And the quality of… Read more »

Bella
Bella
8 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

heh heh – that was AWESOME!

Steven
Steven
8 years ago

Hey! I happen to believe vegetable gardens grant an amazing amount of value — as long as you are willing to put in a little work. I’m willing to bet gardeners as a cohort also have fewer ulcers.

Karen
Karen
8 years ago

I like the advice of “don’t spend money, ever.” Several comments have focused on things like what’s the point of having money if you don’t spend it, and how you couldn’t live if you didn’t spend money, but I think they’re missing the point. No one can follow a rule 100% perfectly; we all fail at times. So if your rule allows any grey area, that leads to more justification and wiggle room, which just leads to more spending. By having an absolute, extreme rule, it forces people to really justify each expense. Incidentally, my personal mantra is a slight… Read more »

Quest
Quest
8 years ago

I love this post! I especially agree with the statement “Don’t watch TV”!! Despite my pathetic financial past, I always felt a certain kind of ambivalence at allowing advertisers into my home. In watching TV shows on netflix (minus the commercials), it is apparent that TV shows have become long stretches of commercials with a little bit of TV show thrown in because I can watch an episode of (fill in the blank) in what seems to be a fairly short space of time. Which means, the rest of that time slot (1 hour) would’ve been filled up with commercials… Read more »

Amy
Amy
8 years ago

I think don’t spend money ever is a great theory…..but it completely breaks down in the face of reality. Perhaps a better working guideline is spend your money consciously or even only spend money on things that make your life richer and align with your personal goals/beliefs (but even this is flawed…because if I followed it I probably wouldn’t be paying my taxes like I should!) As for TV – I love a good story – whether it comes through an audio book, book, movie or TV show, so yes I watch TV shows. What I DON’T like is reality… Read more »

Amy
Amy
8 years ago

I’m regular GRS reader who just graduated from college on Sunday. My parents gave me this book (along with the ability to attend the college of my choice, debt-free) as a gift. I read the book cover-to-cover in the span of a few hours and found it very appropriate for audiences in my age range (I’m 22). Sure, some of the information in it seemed old hat, especially because I’ve been reading personal finance blogs for about the past year, but just like Zac writes about, many people in my generation have never thought about money except in terms of… Read more »

Callie
Callie
8 years ago

Hey JD!

Do a post on not watching tv! I think it strikes a nerve with a lot of us. I’d love to see your thoughts on this. I gave my tv away a year ago and it’s been a great decision so far. I have far more time for personal endeavors and I’m not fatigued by the media, political coverage, reality show stupidity, etc.

Bella
Bella
8 years ago
Reply to  Callie

Really, are you kidding? I can’t even count how many times not watching TV has been written about on this blog. AND every time people like you jump all over the comments with how much smarter, funnier, and simply better they are then everyone else because ‘I don’t watch TV’. So for the record – I watch TV – I watch total mind numbing junk. Because it’s fun, because I had a long day, whatever the reason. It doesn’t make me stupid, it is a ‘waste of time’ but so are a lot of things.

Nicole
Nicole
8 years ago
Reply to  Bella

Oh yes, it does not take long for the tv thing to come up ad-infinitum.

Here’s our little meta-rant on the topic:

http://nicoleandmaggie.wordpress.com/2011/08/16/my-hobbies-are-not-statements-about-your-values/

Nicole
Nicole
8 years ago
Reply to  Nicole

Ah yes, we also have some posts on mama forum stuff in our surprisingly lengthy series “my hobbies are not statements about your values”… This one discusses parenting stuff: http://nicoleandmaggie.wordpress.com/2011/09/13/the-persecuted-majority-vs-the-vocal-minority/

Mom of five
Mom of five
8 years ago
Reply to  Bella

Here’s one of my reasons – because it makes me feel like a good mother! Every so often my husband and I will tune into MTV’s “Sweet 16”. If you think you’re a permissive, overly indulgent parent and feeling a little guilty about it, tune into this program. You’ll walk away feeling like Parent of the Year.

I’m not sure why I enjoy Sister Wives – maybe I like to play armchair psychologist. In any case, I’m glad I have a DVR so I never have to miss it.

Jacq
Jacq
8 years ago
Reply to  Callie

I think there should be more posts about giving up your computer / internet vs the TV.

Being on the internet too much causes strange “keeping up with the other Joneses” tendencies (and possibly depression in some people) by making you focus on being minimalistic, frugal, uber-productive, paleo and/or vegan, possibly earning less because you’re just so passionate… And that’s just from reading zenhabits or lifehacker.

Nicole
Nicole
8 years ago
Reply to  Jacq

But… blogging about giving up the internet is too ironic. I think I just saw a news story about some guy who is doing that. (He sends in paper copies of his posts to his editor to blog.)

Carla
Carla
8 years ago
Reply to  Jacq

I think a better idea is to be more mindful what you read and what you chose to follow on the internet. I don’t think throwing the baby out with the bath water is a good plan either. I made the conscious decision to stop reading Zen Habits back in 2008 when I started to feel that the blog was starting to feel more like a race than anything else.

I think the key is to be mindful.

Jacq
Jacq
8 years ago
Reply to  Carla

Carla – I was being facetious. I haven’t reached the end of the internet yet so won’t be stopping any time soon (although I do take sabbaticals). 🙂 Mindfulness and moderation in most things is probably a good modus operandi. Even moderation in your mindfulness. It’s got to be stressful to be thinking about how mindful you’re being all the time.

Carla
Carla
8 years ago
Reply to  Carla

Sorry, Jacq. I haven’t yet figured out how to read sarcasm though words at this point. Carry on. 🙂

Ben
Ben
8 years ago

Refusing to spend money just makes you a miser, which is another way of thinking about money all the time.

Jaime
Jaime
8 years ago

Personally I think the book sounds good, however, I’m more of the save and spend consciously crowd. I don’t believe in going into extremes and I like TV shows, I have a nice flat screen TV but we usually Netflix, ITunes, Amazon Prime and Hulu Plus everything. We don’t pay a cable package, we don’t even have a local channel package with the cable company. Anyway I don’t think watching TV shows is evil. I own less than most of my friends and family members. Just because its on TV doesn’t mean that I’ll buy it and it doesn’t mean… Read more »

Andrew
Andrew
8 years ago

It’s possible to learn about money and also about games, cruciferous vegetables, and ESL teaching techniques. The mind can expand; it’s not an either/or situation.

Most adults should be able to watch TV and also keep up with their finances. Maybe even at the same time. Maybe even while chewing gum.

Such low expectations!

PB @ Economically Humble
PB @ Economically Humble
8 years ago

Excellent post, especially regarding education debt. Rather than go into ed debit, work your butt off applying for fellowships and grants.

William @ Drop Dead Money
William @ Drop Dead Money
8 years ago

“People Make Bad Decisions About Money Because It Sounds Too Hard to Learn Better”

Oh man, how true that is!! I never cease to be amazed at how many people sincerely expect “it to work out for them” without any input from their side. It’s like expecting the DVR to automatically record the right shows…

The fact is good money management is not rocket science. It really isn’t. Us geeks call it pocket science 🙂

Laura
Laura
8 years ago

“Pocket science” – heh heh heh! I like it and am going to steal it. 🙂

Kirsten
Kirsten
8 years ago

“I see this a lot, especially among the 20-somethings I know; my little sister’s friends, my babysitters, the young women and men who work in the coffee shops and co-ops and organic groceries around me (I can’t help it, these are the only places I go!). Learning about money seems hard, so it’s skipped in favor of learning about Dungeons & Dragons (my barista this morning) or how to grow every single kind of cruciferous vegetable (the co-op cashier) or philosophies of teaching English as a second language (my babysitter).” I’m curious if you’ve actually talked to these people about… Read more »

amber
amber
8 years ago
Reply to  Kirsten

I don’t think sarah is stereotyping here, I believe she had the conversations, but I don’t really care. The whole paragraph is confusing. Like, what do those things have to do with the conversations you were having about money? All those people sound money smart to me. Two have cheap hobbies and one has a second job. Re the “don’t spend money ever” mantra, I think this is specific advice for your early 20’s. So many new grads get the job (if they’re lucky these days) and say “Wow~ $40,000 a year! I am RICH” and proceed to start racking… Read more »

Kirsten
Kirsten
8 years ago
Reply to  Sarah Gilbert

Thanks for the response Sarah. I understand what you were saying now.

Jeff @ Digital Nomad Journey
Jeff @ Digital Nomad Journey
8 years ago

Zac’s mention of props is spot on.

When we remove what others think from the equation,and focus on what makes up happy, it’s a whole different ball game.

Most of what people do is for props. Whether it’s to impress family, friends , bosses or mate’s. When we remove those expectations, we find a whole lot of stuff we can do away with, both physical and mental.

Beth
Beth
8 years ago

I think the idea that most of what we do for is “props” oversimplifies things somewhat. We live in complex logonomic systems of norms and expectations that we can’t always escape. For instance, I can say I don’t want a diamond engagement ring — the tradition is all due to diamond marketing, after all. That kind of thinking could save a couple thousands of dollars. The consequences of not having a diamond engagement ring aren’t all that harmful. Not wearing a suit to a job interview is a different story. That’s the norm in my industry, and yes, it’s all… Read more »

Tom
Tom
8 years ago

“Don’t Spend Money”

I had a thought like this recently discussing with another couple why my wife and I couldn’t think about spending $27,000 on a wedding, because there’s no return on investment.
Then I had an ‘aha’ moment where I realized calling a wedding an investment was kind of absurd.

Jamie
Jamie
8 years ago

Great article! I do not like to spend money on new things. There is way too much production out there when there already exists everything we need to survive healthfully. My boyfriend and I have a very lovely life in a tiny apartment with a garden we put out back. We live by a river, close to downtown, and ride our bicycles everywhere (given to us used by friends, or bought cheaply from Craigslist). We have dinner at home with friends a few times a week. My family is perplexed that we live with (what they consider to be) so… Read more »

Tia
Tia
8 years ago
Reply to  Jamie

I know – doesn’t it totally drive you nuts in Lost that Hurley didn’t start shedding the pounds like crazy, a la Survivor or Biggest Loser?? He only has a small supply of food, they have to walk everywhere, it’s like a built-in diet!! Although I admit that I got bored and wandered off after Season 4, so I never did find out if it’s all just in their heads or something…

Also, your life sounds awesome.

jessica
jessica
8 years ago

It’s not the TV per se. Its the commercials. I watch Netflix and I will admit that if I happen upon a show that I really like I will watch all of it in a relatively short amount of time. However, I still don’t buy all of that crap. It’s useless. With that being said, I hate reality TV and perfer to stick to science fiction. Dr. Who anyone?

Laura
Laura
8 years ago
Reply to  jessica

Dr. Who makes me envy the companion. 🙂

Ely
Ely
8 years ago
Reply to  jessica

I love Dr. Who, can’t stand reality TV.

I do spend more money because of the show however. As a direct result of watching DW, I have self-published my own (fan & original) fiction, I have bought fan art, I have paid to attend and participate in fan conventions.

And it’s worth every penny. I love this stuff. 🙂

Sarah
Sarah
8 years ago

Interesting article, I love the comments about TV both pro and con. I enjoy a little TV when I’m tired and want some entertainment. I think the real danger is in the type of media consumption. Far more harmful to me is actually Facebook…I see where my peers appear to have amazing lives, where if I were to post about my life it would be something like: Just finished cleaning the bathroom — yeah! FB sometimes sucks me back in to see photos, but it makes me feel a little sad when it seems everyone else is going on trips… Read more »

Beth
Beth
8 years ago
Reply to  Sarah

Big thumbs up! TV is often demonized on PF blogs, but any kind of media can portray a certain lifestyle we want to attain. I scratch my head when some people assume superiority because they read books instead of watch TV — as if books don’t have their own messages.(You should see some of the stuff I review) Then there’s the issue of our friends marketing to us, as GRS discussed previously 😉 Facebook is a great example of that. I stopped following updates from friends who mostly posted about their parties, home renovations, vacations and stuff they bought. It… Read more »

Laura
Laura
8 years ago
Reply to  Sarah Gilbert

I bet Melissa/Kelly/Jessica also carry a whole lot more debt than you do. While some people do indeed travel frequently and fund it from savings or a good paycheck, all the people I know who travel more than occasionally either have to as part of their jobs and/or carry credit card debt. Always look beyond the surface…

Amy F
Amy F
8 years ago
Reply to  Laura

I don’t think it’s fair to assume that most people who travel extensively are in debt. I live by one mantra…”live the life you have”. For me, as a divorced, single woman with no kids who has well-paying career and a home I take great pride in making lovely, I take at least one major trip per year (think overseas) and a lot of little trips throughout. My only debt is my mortgage. But since my lifestyle affords it, I do it. I don’t think sharing the details of my excursions on FB is any different than people showing pics… Read more »

Carla
Carla
8 years ago
Reply to  Sarah Gilbert

So, are you saying you make yourself feel better by convincing yourself that your life is better than theirs because they may not have XYZ? Isn’t that the very thing we get up in arms about when our FB friends is constantly eating at the French Laundry every week and telling the world about it?

If we are truly satisfied with our lives, we wouldn’t need to make the comparisons.

Jaime
Jaime
8 years ago
Reply to  Sarah Gilbert

Maybe your friends saved up for their vacations. How do you know that they put it on their credit cards? Well unless they told you they put it on their cards.

Growing up my family and I went to Hawaii, California, NYC, etc. We had a lot of fun vacations.

My parents were actually savers, they taught me you can make a good salary, save and spend. 😉

imelda
imelda
8 years ago
Reply to  Sarah Gilbert

It may be even more effective to remind yourself that you’re comparing your life to *everyone else’s*, not to one person. So yeah, at any given moment, someone is going to be on vacation! But that doesn’t mean anyone is living it up more than you.

Also, April wrote a post recently exactly about these comparisons, and the “fear of missing out.” https://www.getrichslowly.org/do-you-suffer-from-fomo/

She included a great quote, one that applies particularly well to the Facebook issue: “…we always envy others, comparing our shadows to their sunlit sides.”

Jason
Jason
8 years ago

I am 23 and only truly spend money on food and alcohol (I enjoy going to the bar with friends often — though the $1.25 beers at my local tavern aren’t exactly ruining my retirement plans). My hobbies are either free, or very cheap (such as a visit to the par 3 course by my place — $6!!!) and I certainly partake in the free activities far more than the others. I don’t have any television other than Netflix, and am currently trying to sell my tv, which will enable me to cancel my Netflix. I completely agree that the… Read more »

Andrew
Andrew
8 years ago
Reply to  Jason

You might have more money than that 33-year-old, but you might not. If I were similarly ageist, I might point out that making unwarranted assumptions about other people seems like a very 23-year-old thing to do.

Jason
Jason
8 years ago
Reply to  Andrew

Working with an extensive amount of people in their 30’s and 40’s, and knowing their income levels/assets vs. expenses/debt has been proof enough, not to mention all the random tidbits you hear in the news (i.e. high percentages of Americans who have no retirement savings, no emergency fund, huge debts, etc.). While I appreciate you letting me know that I act my age, do not call my short post an “unwarranted assumption,” as I am going off of facts that I am constantly bombarded with. I was really only trying to point out the fact that many people who seem… Read more »

Andrew
Andrew
8 years ago
Reply to  Jason

Using that logic, should I assume that, like many people in their 20’s, you are burdened with tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt, unable to find a job, and living with your parents? After all, I am bombarded with news stories that tell me such is often the case.

Many people who seem rich are not, as you state. But many are. In the long run, we should all just try our best to not screw it all up.

Jaime
Jaime
8 years ago
Reply to  Jason

@Jason-You really shouldn’t assume. Reading your post you sounded a bit snobbish.

Steve
Steve
8 years ago

“Don’t spend money” is a rule that you won’t follow for very long. You’ll either break the rule or be dead after a month or so. (You could, of course, survive a little longer by mooching off people and/or dumpster diving.)

Trish
Trish
8 years ago

It is all about moderation. Don’t spend money on things that you don’t need or that don’t bring you long term happiness. I’m not going to lie, I spend more than I need to on “props” or “stuff”, but I have no debt, Own my car & condo in full. I know I’m lucky in that sense. We took advantage of the bad real estate market in Florida! Regarding TV…I watch it, but I use DVR because I can’t stand the commercials. They are annoying, actually they do no want to make me buy stuff. The shows on HGTV do… Read more »

Marcy Blankenship
Marcy Blankenship
8 years ago

I have the daytime TV thing solved. I watch reruns of The Waltons, especially the depression years to motivate me and Little House on the Prairie, they are always having to tighten their belts because every year some disaster happens to the crops they were depending on to pay off the tab at the Mercantile.

Lance@MoneyLife&More
8 years ago

Definitely don’t buy props. Buy what you need for the utility. If you can do this you will save a ton of money and get ahead in life. If not, good luck keeping up with the Joneses

Jan
Jan
8 years ago

My daughter (28) and son in law (25) are both technical workers. No student debt, they make a great income. They just bought a house. Fantastic! If no one spent money then no one else would have a job. You shouldn’t be over the top (we used to call it keeping up with the Jones instead of watching ” the Kardashins”). You can have moderate, useful debt AND live to a good retirement. We have our house paid for, several vehicles, and a good nest egg (on one middle salary and one occasional other middle salary). Retirement is early and… Read more »

Matt at Healthy N' Wealthy
Matt at Healthy N' Wealthy
8 years ago

The idea of “never spending money” is quite absurd. The concept of personal finance isn’t to save as much as possible: it’s to find the best way to use your money to make you happy. In that sense, it has very little to do with saving! The reason why saving is discussed so frequently is that it’s the aspect of personal finance that most people tend to neglect. If one were to “never spend money,” then one could justify living homeless. As long as it’s warm and not a threat to your health, you don’t need an apartment: get a… Read more »

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
8 years ago

This is exactly how I plan on living my life. I’m a 20-something year old who this book is geared toward and I must admit that I wish I would have known some of the things at 18 that I know now at 22. I’m a recent college graduate who at the insists of my money mismanaging parents, applied for student loans to pay my way through school. Now that I’m out, I’m stuck. My major was international affairs, but thanks to mountains of student loans I can’t really go anywhere until I get them under control (a few of… Read more »

Janith Randeniya - Let's Learn Finance
Janith Randeniya - Let's Learn Finance
8 years ago

You can’t “never spend money” but you can be not stupid about it. Responsible spending and aggressive saving can be simultaneously done, regardless of which pay bracket you might be in if you are strict about your approach. It all comes down to your will-power.

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
8 years ago

I’m don’t think the issue is “do I spend or not” so much as it is “how much do I spend.”

For example, we all a place to live — but is it a modest home or McMansion? We need clothing — but does it have to be designer labels? Need versus want isn’t a dichotomy: it’s a sliding scale.

Bankruptcy Brisbane
Bankruptcy Brisbane
6 years ago

Great post, I have to remind myself of these simple tips often. Thanks for sharing!

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