On the forum section of this blog, we’ve got a section called “Antimustachian Wall of Shame and Comedy”. This category became necessary, because sometimes the real world out there just begs to be mocked. MMM readers around the globe are dutifully reading and absorbing the world’s information, and sometimes we come across crap that is so frustrating, so pull-out-your-hair-by-the-roots and slap-yourself-in-the-forehead-because-there’s-nobody-else-around-to-punch-in-the-face stupid, that we must share it with each other as a stress-relieving outlet.
So, these articles get shared on the aforementioned Wall, and then appropriate sarcasm is combined with helpful proposals about how the problems described in the articles could easily be solved with simple application of the principles of Mustachianism.
The trend in recent years is for newspapers and magazines to write touching case studies based on the theme “Life has become so hard and expensive these days, that even the high-income people are having trouble making ends meet!”
Let’s summarize a few choice examples:
Almost Rich: an Examination of the True Cost of City Living (in Toronto Life magazine)
That article details five Toronto families, struggling supposedly due to the incredibly high cost of housing in that city. I won’t deny that houses are a ripoff in the Toronto area, but check out these snippets from the monthly budget from a $196,000-per-year family that is just scraping by:
Mortgage : $2,500. Utilities: $500. Gas for their Jeep Commander and Ford F-150 truck: $440. Street parking and two parking permits: $200. Home and car insurance: $300. Cleaning lady: $160. Groceries: $1,000. Baby supplies and toiletries at drugstores: $75. Wine: $400–$500. Eating out: $400. Home phone, cable, Internet and two cellphones: $280. Dry cleaning: $50. Haircuts, nails and waxing: $170. Gifts: $200. (“You have kids, you spend money on toys for other kids. That’s how it goes.”) Daycare for both kids: $2,500. Kids paid activites and lessons: 200. House maintenance: $410. Clothes: $250
Savings: $0 (“Ha! We live month to month. When we have money left over, we go out.”)
Next we move on to The Real Cost of Living: $150,000 per year at money.msn.com
This a news venue where Mr. Money Mustache himself was once featured unexpectedly, and was roundly criticized in 14 pages of comments for fabricating his ridiculous story of spending less than he earned during his 20s and early 30s.
The Real Cost of Living MSN article basically talks about the results of a recent survey done on the US populace, with the following result:
The survey asked respondents to choose which of four categories best described them: I can’t even afford the basics; I can barely afford the basics and nothing else; I can afford the basics plus some extras; and I can afford the basics and the extras, and I’m able to save, too. It is only at that $150,000 level that the survey found the vast majority of consumers, 88%, saying they could buy what they need, afford some extras and still be able to save a bit.
Finally we have a feature from the Bloomberg financial publication entitled “Wall Street Bonus Withdrawal means Trading Aspen for Coupons“.
In that article, they describe the tragic fate of a man named Andrew Schiff :
Schiff, 46, is facing another kind of jam this year: Paid a lower bonus, he said the $350,000 he earns, enough to put him in the country’s top 1 percent by income, doesn’t cover his family’s private-school tuition, a Kent, Connecticut, summer rental and the upgrade they would like from their 1,200-square- foot Brooklyn duplex.
“I feel stuck,” Schiff said. “The New York that I wanted to have is still just beyond my reach.”
The smaller bonus checks that hit accounts across the financial-services industry this month are making it difficult to maintain the lifestyles that Wall Street workers expect, according to interviews with bankers and their accountants, therapists, advisers and headhunters.
“People who don’t have money don’t understand the stress,” said Alan Dlugash, a partner at accounting firm Marks Paneth & Shron LLP in New York who specializes in financial planning for the wealthy. “Could you imagine what it’s like to say I got three kids in private school, I have to think about pulling them out? How do you do that?”
Now obviously, the first thing that you’d need to do if any of these people came to you to express their problems, would be to cry out “WAAAAH! WAAAAAAH! POOOR BABY!!” while slapping their face back and forth for 15-20 minutes. But after that initial theraputic session, you could probably get into some real insights.
Why is it that almost everyone in this ridiculously rich country feels that they are just scraping by?
Why do only the top 1-2% on average feel a bit better about their situation?
Why do the Wall Street people feel like they are STILL scraping by when they are in the top 1%?
and equally significantly,
Why do Mr. and Mrs. Money Mustache feel they are NOT just scraping by with a monthly spending level of only $2,000, about 80-90% less than most of the people profiled in this article? In fact, they claim they are leading an exorbitant lifestyle with spending that is almost double what they would consider to be “just scraping by”. And what’s more, they are not even spending all of the money they are earning, even with no full-time jobs!
What the hell is going on? One of these two sides of the argument is crazy. And if it’s the big income people that are crazy, that means all the newspapers are crazy too, since they regularly sympathize with the commonly made case that life is too expensive these days, profiling family after family that just can’t make it.
I think I’ve figured it out. Not many people realize it, but food, clothing, housing, durable goods, travel, and a host of other things are cheaper today than they have been throughout most of history. These prices have actually been dropping in inflation-adjusted terms for decades. So if you focus your spending on meeting your needs, as the MMM family likes to do, you couldn’t have been born at a better time. Life is fantastic.
On the other hand, corporate marketing skill and consumer envy have been rising faster than inflation for quite some time. On top of that, the very richest slice of the population has seen its income rising much faster than inflation. They have fallen for the natural human instinct to live very lavish lifestyles with this giant income, which sets an example for the not-quite-as-rich people just below them in the income distribution ladder, who then influence the next level down, and so on.
This Antimustachian Trickle-Down Effect has been so effective, aided by the lubricant of excellent marketing, that we now have people who make $40,000 per year thinking it is appropriate to hire a housecleaner and pay $45 for salon and spa treatments on the weekends. Teenagers who earn $8 per hour drive jacked-up pickup trucks that cost more than the MMM family’s entire vehicle fleet and consume more than $8 per hour in gasoline alone.
So when you see all these articles which measure the number of people who are in debt and struggling to get by and unable to save for their own retirement, what does it mean?
It is NOT a measure of how the cost of living has suddenly reduced its decades-long trend of marching downwards due to technological progress. What you’re seeing is a measurement of how well marketing and natural human envy is doing in our current society.
Isn’t that interesting? All of these complaints and stories actually have nothing to do with making ends meet. They’re really just measuring our insatiability. And it is indeed very interesting to see that it is rising – this data may in fact be more interesting than what the news reporters thought they were writing about, i.e. cost of living.
Of course, there are still a few people around who realize how good we have it. Most of them are right next to you on the Internet reading Mr. Money Mustache today. But they get a lot less newspaper stories written about them. That’s because people who have got their shit together are considered “Smug”. Newspaper stories do much better when they make people feel like their problems are not their own. Better to blame our terrible and expensive society. Waah, Waaah!
Because of their sensationalist leanings, I’ve pretty much given up on most newspapers. But I’m thankful to have the Wise Mustachian Readers still out there combing the Internet, and reporting the worst of the worst for our amusement.
Happy Monday, and Enjoy your Plentiful week!
*I looked it up, and Andrew Schiff happens to be the brother of and an employee of Peter Schiff, megamillionaire owner of Euro Pacific Capital and author of the bestselling yet rather insane book I just read called Crash Proof 2.0.