It seems that Mr. Money Mustache attracts quite a few of the already converted. Every week I write out more of the biggest and most amazing secrets that have allowed me to hop effortlessly across the minefield of American Middle Class life and become rich at an early age. And you, the Mustachians, usually chime in saying “Yeah, Mr. Money Mustache, that’s some good shit, and I’m already doing it. Thanks for entertaining me by reminding me how smart I am.”
From reading the comments, you’d assume that the world is already fixed and it is time for ol’ Triple M to retire from blogging and find something else to do.
Until you step out of the air-conditioned comfort of this blog and the heat wave of the real world hits you in the face again.
Take, for example, this mainstream newspaper article that has been making the rounds in social media today:
The article tells us that most people in the US could not handle a $1000 emergency. Not only is their monthly budget tight enough that there isn’t $1000 of savings each month, which I would already find quite scary, but there isn’t even $1000 ANYWHERE in their lives to scrape together.
That could be explained if we were actually in a place with a shortage of money, or if the survey covered only people in a certain category, like the long-term unemployed. But no, this was a random survey, meaning average people, meaning an average income over $30,000.
The last time I had less than $1000 available was in April 1990. That’s because I had just started my first job working at the local gas station in March, and my $4.15 per hour wage only added up to about $120 per week since I was also attending high school full-time. Thus, it took me about eight weeks to get up to a thousand bucks.*
The reason I never dropped below $1000 is because YOU DON’T GO OUT AND BUY SHIT WHEN YOU HAVE LESS THAN A THOUSAND BUCKS!! NOTHING AT ALL!! IT’S AN EMERGENCY!!!!
At this level, you’re not allowed to buy yourself cigarettes, or any food other than bread, peanut butter, bananas and tap water.
You need to sell your car, and bike or walk to work, regardless of distance. You can’t have a cell phone, you can’t go to Target, you can’t drink a can of Coors Light, and you can’t even buy your kid a $2.00 toy.
These are all things that can wait until you have more than a thousand goddamn dollars, which you will very quickly if you are an Average Income American and you stop spending money even for one week. Then you continue saving most of your money until you are financially independent. If something insane happens and you ever drop below one grand, you go back to the start of this section and repeat.
But even that is not the scary part. The scary part is in the whiny complaint-laden comments made by readers after the article. Like this one:
“Is this a surprise to most people? Are Americans living in fantasy land? Americans are getting poorer andpoorer and the places to borrow money more and more inaccessib
Nice, very nice. First, we are getting “poorer and poorer” (unless “andpoorer” is a word), but then places to borrow money are more inaccessible. Because… um.. borrowing money is the solution to your financial troubles when you are poor?
We are not getting poorer and poorer. Wages, by all measures and at all levels, have kept up with inflation through even recent decades. The wages of the rich have gone up much faster than inflation. Some people consider this an awful, unfair thing, saying “The wages of the middle class have stagnated since the 1970s”. But that’s silly, because we already had plenty as a society back then. We were just as happy. We don’t need to keep earning more and more, even if the ultra-rich continue to do so.
Now, I’m not just making fun of this “poor-old-me” attitude because I find it annoying. I also see much bigger consequences.
A people who spend so carelessly that they are always within $1000 of doom is going to have a very short-term view of the country’s future. Even a slight change in the price of gasoline, or corn, or other world commodities, or a recession, can send them down in flames.
With little understanding of world economics or politics, these people will naturally (but incorrectly) turn to the political party currently in power to place their blame. We’re seeing this now, with approval rates of Obama among the uneducated at incredibly low levels. I can guarantee that if gasoline happened to be $1.49 per gallon and unemployment was 4.2 percent, my man would be rolling in record approval rates.
But the President doesn’t set crude oil prices, nor does he dictate the short-term unemployment rate. So the only solution for these unfortunate politicians is to pander to the chronic overspenders, and pretend their problems are not their own. The political party which does this best, and most vigorously promises low gas prices and instant improvements in employment, wins. Despite the fact that low gas prices are actually awful for the country, and unemployment is controlled by the natural business cycle combined with longer-term effects of government policies (longer than a single presidential term).
It would be nice if the ultra-rich would use their money for social good instead of just passing on wealth to their offspring and buying jetskis, and to their credit, Warren Buffett and Bill Gates have done just that, giving more than 99% of their wealth back to humanity. But you’ll notice that they aren’t donating it to the American middle class so we can continue to “make ends meet” by buying tanks of gas for our 14MPG Chevrolet Silverados and keeping our cable TV service active. They’re using their money to fight malaria in Africa and provide medical care and education and birth control to families there. People in situations like that are the only ones allowed to complain that there isn’t enough money available in their society.
The rest have to shut up and start taking lessons from the Mustachians.
*Actually I admit this is an oversimplification. I already had at least $500 saved up before starting at the gas station, because I had also saved a portion of my $5 per week lawnmowing money and $30 per week paper route money for several years before starting at the gas station. Doing the math, you’d expect me to have thousands by the time 1990 rolled around, but you have to give me a break, I was only fifteen and thus still had 21 years of learning to do before becoming qualified to become Mr. Money Mustache. By the time I finished at the gas station and the subsequent convenience store, I had about $10,000, most of which I blew on my first year’s university education.