There are two types of people in this world: cheap f***s (CFs)—people who spend a little—and high rollers—people who spend a lot.
That shouldn’t surprise anyone. We all know examples of each. What is surprising is that there are so few people in the middle. And the people in the middle, the tiny minority of them, are the only ones with a healthy relationship with money.
I have stories. Boy, do I have stories of mind-bogglingly stupid financial behavior out of CFs and high rollers. Unfortunately, many of them read my stuff, so I will not be able to share them here. Maybe over drinks sometime.
Let me just say that your relationship with money is important because it affects all your other relationships. If you cheap out on college for your kids, everyone is going to end up in therapy. If you blow cash on six-figure cars when you make five figures, everyone is going to end up in therapy.
Master Your Personal Finances
I came from a CF family, at least on my mother’s side. I got a passbook savings account at the age of eight and started depositing my allowance in there. The only money I didn’t save was the quarters I plunked into the Xevious machine at the arcade. I graduated high school in 1992 with $2,000, which was compounding at 8%. My friends blew their cash on garbage, and I laughed at them. This was my life.
You might say that I had an unhealthy relationship with money. Do you know how you know when you have an unhealthy relationship with money? When someone borrows 10 bucks off you, and it causes you stress. When paying for something, even something as simple as parking, causes you pain. You are not in control of your money—your money is in control of you. It is your master, and you need to be the one who masters your personal finances. So, change how you think about money and start living a more stress-free life today.
I’ll go further and say that you know you have an unhealthy relationship with money when you are living below your means. When you have a seven-figure bank account, and you’re living in a 1,200-square-foot house and driving a Saturn of the early 2000s vintage. When you can afford the JW Marriott but stay in a dilapidated Super 8. When you are causing yourself discomfort in order to save money, when there is really no reason to be saving money. That is how you know that you have an unhealthy relationship with money.
The converse is also true, naturally. These are the people who live above their means. The fancy cars, the fancy houses, the fancy vacations. The person who spends too much is a bit of a terrible cliché because these are the people that Dave Ramsey belittles all the time.
Yes, people spend too much money. But people also spend too little money. I bet if some social scientist ran a poll somewhere, what he or she would find is that the latter far outnumber the former. Ramsey isn’t the only one. We’ve farmed literally thousands of personal finance experts in this country, and they all say the same thing: Make your coffee at home. Consume less.
Consume the Right Amount
There is a pervasive belief that consumption is bad. This belief exists on both ends of the political spectrum. The left wants you to consume less because consumption is bad for the environment. The right wants you to consume less because luxury is considered a sin.
The solution is in the middle: to consume the right amount relative to your income and to live at your means. Not above your means, not below your means, but at your means.
There is another pervasive belief that people are not saving money unless they’re denying themselves small luxuries. People will be thirsty instead of spending a dollar on an Arizona iced tea at the gas station. The discomfort that they experience by being thirsty reinforces their belief that they are virtuous by forgoing consumption.
I know because I used to do this. Now, if I am hungry, I buy food. If I am thirsty, I buy something to drink. If I am sleepy, I get a hotel room. That is literally what the money is for.
Yes, there are people who have problems with spending and going into debt. They are the object of ridicule by thousands of personal finance experts. If you fall into this category—if you’re burdened by debt—I’m here to help. The Ramsey types can kick rocks.
The goal here is to have a healthy relationship with money. You don’t want the porridge to be too hot or too cold, but just right. How do you know when you have a healthy relationship with money? When you no longer stress about money.
People who spend too much experience stress—they’re always worried about how to make the next credit card payment. People who spend too little experience stress—they’re agonizing over every penny.
The goal is not only not to experience stress about money, but to not even think about it at all. I have an assignment for you: Try to go a week without even thinking about money. I bet you can’t do it. It’s a lot harder than you think. Everywhere we go we are bombarded by financial decisions.