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The Cost of Living is Too High These Days, Waaah, Waaah!

Just one of the necessities of today's difficult lifestyle

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.

 

  • Jay Isaacson March 10, 2017, 12:15 pm

    Hi MMM,
    I am a new mustachian in training, and I am really enjoying your articles and commentary. My first exposure to your world was with your interview on the Tim Ferris podcast, and after that I have been an avid reader on your website. There is much catching up to do!

    I am 32, single, living in San Diego. I have always considered myself frugal and efficient in managing my living expenses. I am currently running a monthly nut of about $2800. This is baseline cost for me to exist right now, and does not include any of the optional FUN activities that I engage in such as playing golf, activities with friends, etc. Here is the breakdown:

    Rent- 1475
    Car- 575 (payments/gas/insurance)
    Food- 400
    Bills- 50
    Cell phone- 95
    Roman the cat- 60 (food/flea treatment/pet insurance)
    Laundry (including the occasional dry cleaning)- 15
    Misc- 100
    Health Insurance- Not even sure, but it is the cheapest high deductable/hsa plan and it comes out my paycheck every cycle.
    *I have zero debt :)

    Assuming 18% in taxes (federal + CA), I would need to make over $40k to exist on this budget. And this would be 0 savings and no spending on fun!! Luckily I currently make more than that, so I am able to save, but I think that is besides the point.

    I am always looking to get more efficient and save wherever possible, and that is why I am writing to you. Obviously your eyeballs will go to the 2 top line items which are rent and car. I would like to explain both:

    Rent- One obvious way to save on rent is to get a roomate(s). I have lived my whole life with roomates until I moved to San Diego and decided to get my own place. I can’t quantify how much happier I am to have my own place. Most people without mustaches fill the place with their junk, leave rotting food in the refrigerator, dirty dishes in the sink, and overall provide a major disturbance to the life I am trying to live. Having my own place has really improved my everyday mood and happiness. So I believe it’s worth the extra cost.
    I hope to someday have a roommate which is a woman that I fall in love with, but this courting process is not cheap either!!

    Car: I currently work in a corporate environment about 10 miles from my apartment. I often have to wear a suit and must be very presentable every day. I also have to carry my laptop and other work materials back and forth everyday. Riding a bike 10 miles (up some hills) every morning would leave me a sweaty mess, and there is no locker room to freshen up.
    I also use some of my spare time to drive uber, and needless to say this requires me to have a relatively new car in great working condition. This has been a great way to earn extra money, meet people in a new city for me, and it’s fun! However these things require me to have significant car expenses. For all intents and purposes, the money I make with Uber each month covers all of my car expenses and then some.

    Rent makes up over 50% of my monthly budget! You have stated that you have a house that is paid off, which is great for you but not a reality for most people. The numbers for saving for an early retirement do not work when you factor in cost of shelter that for me accounts for 50% of my budget. I live in an area of San Diego that I love, is safe, and I feel comfortable in. Sure I could move to cheaper areas, but they are cheaper for good reason! I would have to travel further to get to where I need to go, there is more crime, and generally not very pleasant places to be.

    So unless you can show me how to trim my budget significantly (while hopefully not sacrificing my current happiness), I figure I would need to earn over $200k pretax to save that 75% for an early retirement, which is not the case. I think I am making some sense here, but maybe I’m just a clean-shaven crybaby. Please let me know MMM!!

    Thanks,
    Jay

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache March 12, 2017, 10:18 am

      Hi Jay,

      I’d start by ditching that car, and replacing it with an electric bike ($1500 or less). You’ll save loads, and if you do the math, you are probably making little to zero profit with Uber (I have been driving occasionally for Uber as a test, and am astounded at how low the pay rate is!)

      Biking to work, you can always wear a t-shirt for the ride and change to your crisp dry office clothes when you get there.

      Secondly, drop the mobile phone immediately and replace with Republic Wireless or Google Fi, both in the $20/month range for superior service: http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2015/09/20/google-fi-review/

      Then, keep going through this blog and cutting more expenses. Use the time you were previously burning on almost-unpaid Uber driving to advance your skills, work harder, develop side incomes, etc.

      Reply
      • Other Jay March 13, 2017, 10:04 am

        I’d suggest a middle ground – everyone’s mustache is different and they don’t all require a 75% savings rate. Aim for a 50% savings rate and you will still be on track for an early retirement in your early to mid-40’s. Within that 50% savings, you max out your HSA, your 401k, and a Roth IRA.

        Also, if you enjoy your Uber side gig, keep it. But once you are sick of Uber driving, ditch your newer car and get a cheap used car with cash.

        Bike to work on Fridays to see if you like it (you probably will). As you get closer to financial independence, you start working on your own terms and you’ll find that you can set your own dress code.

        Reply
  • Friend July 14, 2017, 11:21 am

    I saw an article today that sure does remind me of this post:

    http://www.cnbc.com/2017/07/14/the-middle-class-is-struggling-even-on-six-figures.html

    A couple quotes from the article:
    1: “This just shows that if you are earning six figures and you feel like you are struggling, it’s not like you are crazy.”
    2: ‘I feel like I am making a lot of money but I don’t know where it all goes.’

    To be fair, I agree with Quote #1. After realizing that you are struggling on a six figure income, however, it would be crazy to not make appropriate lifestyle changes. My guess is that Quote #2 is probably a familiar feeling for many Mustachians (myself included), and likely the very thought that brought them here in the first place!

    Reply

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