Cheap is such a dirty, disgusting word, and most Millennials wouldn't dare have themselves labeled with it. No matter the venue or the social circumstance, we constantly pretend we have more money than we really do just to impress other people. Whether it's buying a new car and posting it to Facebook, showing pictures of that new house we financed that's just a bit out of our price range, or the sweet new kicks that we just bought on the department store credit card…it's all the same.
We hate looking cheap, because looking cheap means you don't look successful. We hate people that seem unsuccessful in this country.
I'll let you in on the dirty little secret about being cheap: the cheapskates that you know have more money than you – I promise. They're probably happier than you too. That hurts a little, right? All that financial posturing that we've been brainwashed into by years of ultra effective advertising has leached money out of our pockets so fast that we'll never get our heads above water. The young people that finance new cars screw themselves over for something as trivial and meaningless as a like or a share now. The constant swipe of a credit card “buys” useless things that we just HAD to have…with borrowed money.
Millennials are giving themselves a negative net worth without batting an eye, just to look cool for someone else that doesn't pay their bills.
I'd say that the people who support horrifically-financed purchases on social media should be ashamed of themselves, but they don't know any better. It's an epidemic that nobody seems to care about. Our government continually borrows too much money, our parents borrowed too much money, and we will follow in their footsteps. Millennials are so conditioned to think this behavior is normal that we never discourage hurtful borrowing. Instead, we hand out the word “congratulations” like it's from a Pez dispenser.
So, how do you beat the system and actually get ahead financially? How do you make sure that you'll be able to retire with some actual dignity and not work well into your 70's? The answer is really simple and strangely complex at the same time: You have to stop giving a crap about what other people think – especially with how you spend your money. You have to be cheap for a while.
Being cheap is your ticket to freedom.
I know that the above opinion isn't a popular one. Truth be told, most of the things that I say on this blog are not popular with the everyday person, and that's fine with me. The internet gods created a back button for a reason. I think buying stuff that you can't pay cash for (minus a house) is a really bad idea….sorry. What I've noticed from almost everyone that wants tips on money is that they want all the good things in life without having to sacrifice. Nobody likes to hear that they shouldn't buy the nice stuff. They want their cake and to eat it too, when they don't really own the cake or have a fork to their name.
Being good with personal finance isn't about being smart. It's not even about being creative or a budgeting master. Here's something I don't admit often: I didn't use a budget to get out of debt, which is the equivalent of treason in the personal finance community. I had $40,000 in student loan debt, and I paid it off by spending dramatically less than I made. I didn't need a budget because I was the cheap as dirt, and it worked. That's it. The real answer to mastering your money is ultimately more simple than any strategy you'll find out there – including some of the ones on my own website.
When you develop enough willpower to look at what your peers are doing and not do it, something special starts to happen to your bank accounts. When you have a friend that buys a new car, you aren't jealous. You're able to make a mental note that they just set themselves back 4-7 years and move on. When you see your friend's nice new house, you remind yourself that life isn't a sprint. Life is a freaking marathon, and a bigger house is completely unrelated to the finish line. Other people's goals in life and definition of success become separated from your own, and you feel happy.
The rat race fades to the background when you are cheap.
That's really the goal isn't it? Get the heck out of the rat race as fast as you can. My cheapness allowed me to leave a teaching career I knew could trap me financially. Being cheap has benefits other than bigger bank accounts. Cheapness keeps you from being suffocated by monthly payments and debt when you start a career you may not want to keep.
If you are new to M$M – I used to be a teacher (band director) and left my job after three years to run this site.
I can't even tell you how many teachers I knew that felt teaching had turned into something that they HAD to do instead of wanted to do. I have no shame in saying that teacher's do a job that most people wouldn't do, for less money and more hours than many people would work for. It's a challenging career that can be unbelievably fulfilling with little financial reward. Maybe I was too weak to stick it out, or maybe I simply lost my passion for it a little too early…I still haven't figured it out yet. But when the time came and I knew I needed to make a move, my “cheap guy” habits allowed me to change careers quickly with little consequence.
The fact of the matter is that most Millennials won't stick with their first line of work. There is a good chance that you won't like your first job. I honestly believe that one of the quickest ways to become unhappy is to find yourself trapped in a career that you can't leave for financial reasons. Every single day becomes a grind when you want out. Not trying to keep up with the “Joneses” helped me avoid that feeling and situation entirely.
People always want the magic bullet for getting out of debt or creating financial freedom. Well, here it is: Be the cheapest person you know. It's not sexy. It's not brilliant. It's really hard to pull off.
If you can find a way to embrace being cheap, you'll experience a form of living that most people rarely do these days. It's amazing and every bit as worth it as it seems. I promise.