Beware the 99 Percent

Beware the 99 Percent

99 percent

What up Debt De$troyers! Today I have a killer guest post by my blogger buddy Mr. Groovy. As you know, there has been a lot of blame towards the 1% lately in the media. While this post’s view isn’t the popular opinion of a lot of Millennials, it’s an opinion that comes from wisdom and experience. Before you give in to your gut instinct to point fingers solely at the rich for our personal economic woes, at least give this premise and perspective on the 99 percent some thought! Enjoy 🙂 ~ M$M

~~~

We humans are very self-centered and tribal. And because of this, we have a hard time finding fault with ourselves and our fellow tribesmen. If something is wrong in our lives, it’s not because we screwed ourselves. Nor is it because one of our tribesmen screwed us. No, it’s because someone from another tribe screwed us.

Nowhere is this tendency to ignore self-sabotage and friendly fire more apparent than in the realm of income inequality. “We would be fine,” we assure ourselves, “if the dreaded 1 percent didn’t rig the system, deny us opportunity, export our jobs, and fleece the treasury.”

The 1 percenters, of course, aren’t angels. And I’m fully aware that they don’t give a rat’s a$$ about my well-being. But have they been largely, or even partially, responsible for the economic headwinds in my life?

To find out, I took fifteen minutes to catalogue the events and circumstances that frustrated my economic advancement. Here, then, is a quick stroll down misery lane.

 

    • When I was in the sixth grade, fat Tommy Mullen stole my bike. And there was nothing I could do about it. I couldn’t prove it. And he was older, bigger, and stronger.

 

    • My high school had the perfect environment for learning—competent and caring teachers, first-rate books and supplies, and a nerd-friendly atmosphere (no one was going to beat the crap out of you if you decided to use your brain). So what did I do with this wonderful opportunity? Squat. I had no stomach for work, so I did just enough to maintain a C average. I did do well enough on my SATs, though, to have a second-tier university take a chance on me. We’ll see how that gamble turned out in the next two bullets.

 

    • My grades for my first semester at Buffalo University were three Cs, a D, and a withdrawal. I did much better in my second semester, managing to obtain a solid B average, but that didn’t stop me from getting expelled. You get completely blotto one night and smash a toilet in your dormitory and you can expect a stern rebuke. Fortunately for me, the school’s judicial system took pity on me and let me back in, providing I paid for the damage.

 

    • When my junior year at Buffalo rolled around, I decided to major in sociology. Yes, I knew it was a lame major that had little value in the labor market, but I chose it anyway. Why? Partly because the girl I was in love with was a sociology major. But mostly because I was the same slacker I was in high school. I had no stomach for work.

 

    • In the late 80s, I drove into Queens, NY, to watch a hockey game with a friend. When I returned to my car after the game, I found both windows on the driver’s side shot out, presumably by a BB gun.

 

    • Not too long after the BB gun incident, a mechanic at Sears told me I had to replace my car’s drive shaft. The day after the alleged replacement, I left my house for work and found one end of my car’s drive shaft resting on the pavement. Not only had the mechanic failed to attach the drive shaft properly, he failed to install a new one.

 

    • When I reached my thirtieth birthday, I had neither an emergency fund nor a retirement account. I did have a car loan and plenty of consumer debt, though.

 

    • When I reached my fortieth birthday, I had neither an emergency fund nor a retirement account. I did have a car loan, plenty of consumer debt, and a mortgage, though.

 

    • Within one month after moving to Charlotte, NC, I got a nice dose of southern inhospitality. Some brute smashed the passenger-side window of my Jeep and stole the radio.

 

Okay, that’s it for my tale of woe. Did you notice who was responsible for those economic setbacks? It wasn’t the 1 percent. That unscrupulous Sears mechanic who tried to rip me off was a 99 percenter. Fat Tommy Mullen, the BB gun vandal, and the radio thief were 99 percenters as well. And who forced me to be so utterly irresponsible with my education? It wasn’t George Soros and the Koch brothers. Likewise, who forced me to be a beer-swilling idiot who lived paycheck to paycheck and used debt to inflate his lifestyle? Hint: it wasn’t our most ostentatiously paid CEOs or hedge fund managers.

When it comes to assigning blame for the economic futility that characterized most of my life, here’s the unvarnished truth. First place goes to yours truly, by a wide margin. Second place goes to my fellow 99 percenters. And third place—a very, very distant third place, I may add—goes to the dreaded 1 percent.

You, of course, may scoff at the idea that the 1 percent had nothing to do with the economic storms in my life. And you’re welcome to that opinion. All I know is that once I got my financial act together—once I began to embrace the habits and strategies championed by the FI blogosphere (spend less than you earn, take advantage of your company’s 401(k) match, live modestly, stay out of debt, etc.)—the winter of my economic discontent was over. In fourteen years, I went from a financial basket case to a financial rock star on the cusp of early retirement. If the 1 percent really had it out for me, they’re not very formidable.

The ability to see faults in others while being blind to your own is something behavioral economists call blind spot bias. And we all, to one degree or another, suffer from it. This bias, in turn, is particularly troublesome when it comes to personal finance. So be on guard. You instinctively crave a scapegoat for any economic hardship you’re facing. And since this is an election year, there will be no shortage of politicians serving up the 1 percent as that scapegoat. You’ll be much more likely to conquer your financial demons, however, if you point the steely finger of indignation at yourself and your follow tribesmen.

Beware the 99 percent.

 

Mr. Groovy blogs at FreedomisGroovy.com about financial independence, saving, investing, education, and occasionally, government. Three years ago, he and his wife realized they could accelerate their path to retirement by tweaking their spending and saving habits. They plan to quit their jobs this year, after Mr. Groovy turns 55 in October.

Mr. Groovy has a master’s degree in public administration. He worked in local government for twenty years as a Highway Supervisor in New York. He hacked his way into learning database programming on the job, and is now a Program Manager for a company that does cost containment for Medicare and Medicaid.

What financial troubles have you had that were caused by yourself or the 99 percent? What do you think the 1 percent should take blame for? Please – no personal attacks and for the sake of everyone’s sanity here…no political debates!

 

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37 comments… add one
  • Jaime Jan 28, 2016, 9:49 pm

    I agree. The reason why I’m where I am financially is because of poor financial and life choices that I’ve made. I’ve met very few people of the 1% and they were privately wealthy friends & acquaintances of my parents. Not everyone in the 1% is famous. Anyway, no one from the 1% did anything to me. It was all me honey! But the good thing about that is I know how to take care of my problems and that’s what I’m doing right now. =)

    • Mr. Groovy Jan 28, 2016, 10:14 pm

      You are so right, Jaime! You know, I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone from the 1%. If I did, they hid it pretty well. You definitely have the right attitude. I wish I had that attitude two decades ago. Thanks for sharing.

      • Jaime Jan 28, 2016, 11:15 pm

        Don’t let the opinions of the average man sway you. Dream, and he thinks you’re crazy. Succeed, and he thinks you’re lucky. Acquire wealth, and he thinks you’re greedy. Pay no attention. He simply doesn’t understand.

        Robert G. Allen

        • Mr. Groovy Jan 29, 2016, 6:46 am

          Nice, Jaime! I’ll have to keep that kernel of wisdom handy.

    • Millennial Money Man Jan 28, 2016, 11:01 pm

      I financed too much while I was in college and put myself in a hole after I graduated. I could have easily had HALF as much debt as I did when I was 23. Life is about choices. Thanks for stopping by! 🙂

      • Mr. Groovy Jan 29, 2016, 7:07 am

        Hey, MMM. The choices we make are paramount. And one choice we can make is to start questioning the higher education business model. Why do we have to pay for more schooling than we need to get a credential? To get a typical undergraduate degree, you have to take 40 classes. Of those 40 classes, less than 20 will pertain to your major. The non-major classes are mostly nonsense. I actually filled a science requirement at Buffalo U with a class called the Geology of Dinosaurs. And why do students have to pay the same price for a class taught by an adjunct? Colleges pay adjuncts peanuts. Shouldn’t the price of such classes be discounted? College debt is killing millennials. Is the 1 percent forcing colleges to be so inconsiderate of their students time and money? Beware the 99%!

        • Millennial Money Man Jan 29, 2016, 8:31 am

          Ha I’ve never thought about the adjunct discount! That makes SO MUCH SENSE. Hey, at least you know more about dinosaurs now. 🙂

          • Mr. Groovy Jan 29, 2016, 8:41 am

            Good point, MMM. One of the only things I remember from my undergraduate education is the definition of a dinosaur. Here it is: an archosaurian diapsid reptile with a perforated acetabulum. Pretty impressive, huh? And yet I still think that most of my college classes were a waste. The nerve!

  • MrFireStation Jan 28, 2016, 10:34 pm

    The only real way that you get to the 1% club is by providing value to your employer, or the rest of society. There is no free lunch and very few people inherit significant wealth. I have worked hard and reached the 1% level, and certainly did not do it at the expense of anyone. I worked hard for my employers, paid the highest tax rates, benefited from very few deductions, and discovered no amazing loopholes.

    • Millennial Money Man Jan 28, 2016, 11:03 pm

      The only way that I make money is by providing value to people. That is a great point.

    • Mr. Groovy Jan 29, 2016, 6:42 am

      I love it, Mr. FS. Rule #1: Learn how to serve your fellow man. Rule #2: Learn personal finance. Rule #3: Don’t apologize for mastering rules 1 and 2.

  • fehmeen Jan 29, 2016, 12:55 pm

    Very interesting observation!!! It is human nature to point fingers at the intangible, inaccessible and seemingly aloof 1% because it’s easier to blame to system, rather than ourselves. Yes, some of the people within the 1% group may have benefited from the system (i.e. they had good connections or were born into the super rich class) but there are definitely self-made people who struggled their way into that class. We don’t hear them blaming anyone…

    • Millennial Money Man Jan 29, 2016, 2:11 pm

      I think there is a ton of unrealized potential and opportunity in this country. If some random guy like me can start a business and make a decent living, how many other people could do the same or better?

    • Mr. Groovy Jan 29, 2016, 3:35 pm

      Hey, fehmeen. Thanks for sharing. We definitely have problems with our system. (What creation of man doesn’t?) But even that has to be put into context. I read recently from the BBC website that over 500 million people in India don’t have access to a toilet. Talk about problems with the system! So, yes, we gotta make things better. It should be much harder for the 1% (and, sadly the 99%) to turn the government into an instrument of plunder. But until that day comes, do we have license to act like fools and blame others for the consequences? I’m with you, fehmeen. Here’s to more gumption, more initiative, and less blaming.

  • Jen @ Frugal Millennial Jan 29, 2016, 4:33 pm

    I agree! We sometimes have bad luck (like being screwed over by a mechanic), but most of the time, we are the ones to blame for our own problems. I majored in a useless subject (psychology) and took on way more debt than I needed to. I would be much better off financially if I had made better decisions.

    • Mr. Groovy Jan 29, 2016, 10:30 pm

      Hey, Jen. I hear ya. Up until my early 30s, I was a total jerk. And I really didn’t figure it all out until I married Mrs. Groovy. But once I did figure it out–once I became a better person, a better employee, and a better steward of my money–things turned around fairly quickly. So there is hope. And it sounds like you figured things out a lot sooner than I did. Thanks for stopping by.

      P.S. I loved psychology. Skinner, Maslow, Piaget–those cats rocked. And I still remember sitting in psychology 101 and being captivated by the Milgram experiment.

    • Millennial Money Man Jan 30, 2016, 9:23 am

      I took on more student loans than I needed to as well. Kinda sucks, but it was a choice I made at the time. I’d bet you use that psychology major more than you think you do! 🙂

  • Michael Belk Jan 29, 2016, 8:18 pm

    I am responsible for every bad decision I have ever mad. Sure the one percenters protect their investments and set up institutional blockades, but it has no direct correlation on my situation.

    I am paying my bills because I dug this ditch.

    • Millennial Money Man Jan 30, 2016, 9:20 am

      I think that’s a great way to look at it. Many of the things that make Millennials upset about their financial situation are directly related to the choices they make. Nobody forces us to buy new cars, buy an iPhone, spend too much eating out, etc. I could have spent WAY less in college and been debt free sooner. Good luck!!!!!

    • Mr. Groovy Jan 30, 2016, 11:12 am

      Hey Michael, I’m with you. Once I realized I was my problem, I also realized I was my solution. We can compare ourselves to people who have more, or complain about them, but in the end that does nothing to improve our own lives. It looks like you’re doing more than just righting the ship. Love your website.

  • kwenksa Jan 30, 2016, 9:07 pm

    Thanks for the post! I appreciate the insight in this politically charged season! And, I agree with virtually everyone else here – my financial status is my own fault, not the 1 percenters’. I’m 30 and finally getting my act together. I’m in a job that requires an entry-level doctorate (a medical profession) and my student loan debt always felt insurmountable. My strategy involved ignoring the debt, because I felt I worked so hard for my degree that I “deserved” to spend my money on nice things instead. After all, after 25 years, the remaining debt just gets forgiven, right? (Ugh, what was I thinking?) Fast forward 6 years and I’m wishing I had jumped on this “get smart about personal finance” thing a long, long time ago.

    • Millennial Money Man Jan 30, 2016, 11:15 pm

      Welcome to the club! Glad you’re here. 🙂 I like the premise of this post a lot – it’s easy to blame someone else for our problems when they are painted as the villain by political candidates. Regardless of how much the 1 percent does or doesn’t do, we should always focus on ourselves first.

    • Mr. Groovy Jan 31, 2016, 9:30 am

      Hey, kwenksa. Thank you for the kind words. And congratulations on getting your act together at such a young age. I was 40 when I finally got my act together. But now that you’ve changed your mindset and habits, it’s only going to get better. There’s a great website on personal finance called, The White Coat Investor (www.whitecoatinvestor.com). It can help anyone with his or her finances, but it’s geared for those in the medical profession. Check it out if you get a chance.

  • MB @ Millennial Boss Jan 30, 2016, 11:34 pm

    I used to think “woah is me, I have all these student loans” but have since been empowered to pay them off and realize how my choices can help pay them off faster. I went from $25k-$1k (leaving the last little bit on purpose) and now have switched to help my fiance with his $40k loans.
    Now when I hear people complaining about the government, the student loans, etc. I have a different attitude. I don’t think I had the wisdom to see it at 18 when I signed to take out these loans (and I can imagine most 18 year-olds don’t have the clarity at that age) but it was my choice.

    • Mr. Groovy Jan 31, 2016, 9:19 am

      Thanks for sharing, MB. Awesome job on conquering your student loan. And I’m sure you and your fiance will slay his debt dragon soon enough. I get so pissed when I hear stories like this. The 1% aren’t running our colleges. College administrators and professors can dramatically reduce the cost of their credential by simply allowing students to unbundle. Just let the students who can’t afford (or don’t want) to be “well-rounded” take the 12-15 classes that pertain to a given major (accounting, programming, nursing, etc.). But doing that would threaten too many jobs on campus. Better to maintain the status quo and foment rage against the 1%. Sigh.

      P.S. You are so right about 18 year-olds lacking clarity. Parents right now are their only defense. Our colleges have no problem turning our young people into debt slaves.

    • Millennial Money Man Feb 3, 2016, 1:33 pm

      What a great point. I probably would have been in the camp of “the 1% is screwing me! The establishment is making me poor!”, if I hadn’t been so aggressive about paying my loans back. I’ve realized that there is still so much opportunity for people to get ahead financially in this country.

      I started this blog with no writing experience, and it supplements my income nicely now. I started my marketing company with NO marketing experience, and I make much more than I did as a teacher. I educated myself and have worked REALLY hard to get where I am over the past year. Most people who say they can’t do the same or that the establishment is keeping them down hasn’t tried it yet.

      • Mr. Groovy Feb 4, 2016, 7:59 am

        I think the key takeaway here is that problems are opportunities. While growing up in the vicinity of New York City, I always heard complaints about the cab industry. Cabbies drove like psychos, fleeced tourists, and discriminated against minorities. But I bet you hear less complaints about that today. Uber and Lyft saw that the existing ride-sharing model sucked and came up with a better mousetrap. Saying there are no opportunities in America is the equivalent of saying there are no problems.

        Another key takeaway is that we got to guard against protectionism. The beauty of the web is that there are no barriers to entry. You believed that the money concerns of millennials were being poorly addressed by the existing media. So you created this blog to fix that. And you didn’t need a permit or a license from the government to do it. Problems plus protectionism equals stunted opportunity. If we want to increase opportunity in this country, we need to minimize barriers to entry. Let the Davids take on the Goliaths.

        • Millennial Money Man Feb 4, 2016, 8:28 am

          I can’t disagree with any of that. I don’t have license to blog and I have had some decent success early, and I definitely didn’t have a license or experience marketing and I’ve had GREAT success early on. I’ve always thought that if you want to get ahead and see the real “American dream”…start a business. The tax benefits are incredible and available to anyone who wants them.

  • Bobby Feb 5, 2016, 9:37 pm

    This was an epic post.Thanks for writing this ! I have made a lifetime of financial and personal mistakes. All of them my fault ! The last financial one cost me well over 100,000 and would have ended most marriages. Fortunately, my wife stuck by me again(25 years now).This was a very dark period of my life.Recall the movie ” It’s a Wonderful Life” when old man Potter laughs and tells George he’s worth more dead than alive.In a nutshell that was how I felt depressed and defeated(listening to non stop Joy Division songs….)

    It would be easy for me to blame Peter Schiff since I invested and lost a huge sum of money with his brokerage. While I’ll never endorse that guy or his business ever again, it was 100% my fault for not doing more due diligence. I accept responsibility for my actions.Time to “Toughen up Cupcake” as JL Collinsnh would say.

    I’m grateful that I found Hal Elrod’s book “Miracle Morning” during my darkest days. That book inspired me to change my life. I’m still a work in progress but through that book I started finding blogs like this one.I feel empowered now. So much great content that I was not aware of 4 months ago.

    I wish blogs like this one existed when I got out of college. I could have saved a lot of heartache and money !

    • Mr. Groovy Feb 6, 2016, 9:41 am

      Hey, Bobby. Thank you for your very kind words. And thank you for sharing your very inspiring story. Coming back from a financial hit that severe isn’t easy. Many people would become a victim and stay one after a blow like that. I admire your intestinal fortitude. You’re a better man than I. And I couldn’t agree more with you about Hal Elrod’s “Miracle Morning.” I’ve been practicing the miracle morning now for six months and it’s a game-changer.

      P.S. It sounds like your wife is pretty amazing too. I hope you let her know.

    • Millennial Money Man Feb 11, 2016, 1:07 pm

      Thanks for stopping by Bobby! Glad you liked Mr. Groovy’s post!!!!!

  • Tom Feb 11, 2016, 1:38 am

    A good reality check article. For me, my largest financial loss was because of the GFC. And while I knew there were risks around investing, I think the factors behind the GFC are reasonably well understood/agreed upon (people borrowing more than they can afford, banks accepting too much risk). The problem with blaming the 1% is that it is often not a specific person, and often not even a specific group. It is much easier to look at a broken window that know that someone broke it than it is to look at a global market correction and point fingers. Therefore people make generalisations. In the GFC the banks got bailed out by the government (aka everyone), but the banks were only in trouble because people couldn’t pay their bills. Makes for some interesting arguments when trying to assign blame.

    The bit I care about is that I have leaned one or two large lessons/mistakes that I will not make again (I hope).

    • Millennial Money Man Feb 11, 2016, 1:09 pm

      That’s why I love this post – makes you think a little past the common rhetoric on why we have failures. I think a lot of the 1% talk is politically charged to unite people around an enemy. Of course there is some truth that there is greed, but I can’t point to a specific situation where the 1% has completely held me back from being successful.

    • Mr. Groovy Feb 12, 2016, 11:53 am

      Hey, Tom. I like where you’re going. MLK didn’t complain about the “system.” No, he fought against specific laws and customs that were unfair to black people. He didn’t have to rail against unknown villains and vague injustices. So when I hear people complain about the “1%,” or the “system,” or the “privileged,” my cop-out detector starts buzzing. Who’s forcing children to neglect their school work? Who’s forcing people to buy more car or more home than they need or can afford? Who’s stopping anyone from going on the internet and learning about personal finance? Real villains and real injustices aren’t hard to identify. Anyone, therefore, who blames a bogeyman like the 1% for his woes is likely deluding himself.

      • Tom Feb 17, 2016, 7:32 pm

        Yeah – generalization often means inaccurate, but can often lead to a better story and easier grouping. The trick is to make sure that the generalization does not include too many “errors”. And when talking about an entire financial system that is probably too generic.

        A more specific example where I think you could argue that a 1%-er was at least partly responsible is the Palmer refinery in Aus. (http://www.afr.com/business/mining/clive-palmer-and-the-nickel-refinery-collapse-that-wasnt-20160124-gmcur4). Some very interesting information in that company collapse especially when you consider Palmers political party donations from that company.

        • Mr. Groovy Feb 21, 2016, 11:41 pm

          Hey, Tom. Excellent point. And thanks for the link. It was an all too familiar (and depressing) read. Rich people do buy favors from the government. The question we should ask ourselves is this: why are our politicians allowed to sell favors? Sadly, the 99% are just as guilty as the 1% for turning our politicians into whores. Our tax code is a great example that. The 99%, for instance, are very indignant about the carried-interest loophole for hedge-fund managers but have no problem with the mortgage-interest deduction and the capital gains exclusion for home sales (up to $500,000 tax free).

  • Chad Taylor Jan 4, 2017, 1:11 am

    I can honestly say I can blame a 1% person for a financial hardship at one point in my life. It was brief but a hard 3 weeks in my life. I took my first job in a new city 500 miles from home after college back in 2014. I looked on craigslist for a roommate and found one to live with. Upon arrival I had very little in savings. The guy I was going to lived with was a 28 year old that received a condo from his parents to live in. His father was a CEO of Exxon and lived right on TPC Sawgrass. I stayed with his family for 3 nights before moving into the condo. Our first day moving into the condo, the spoiled child that the 28 year old was, kicked me out. I drained my savings and maxed my credit card staying in a hotel for 5 nights and paying a deposit for a new apartment. I lived off $200 for 3 weeks before receiving my first paycheck from work. That 1% family sent me through a hardship for a short amount of time but I eventually recovered and it no longer affects me. Today, I have a nice savings built up and saving for retirement. I don’t blame the 1%. I just learned how to live better as a 99%er.

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