[We’ve got a killer article for you today by my new friend, A. Noonan Moose, over at FrugalFringe.com. I figured it would be much more fun (and educational) to read than a post on spit up rags and poopy diapers ;) J. Penny II does say hi though. He’ll be making an appearance soon…]
A consumer’s life is a life of many choices—hundreds of them yearly. It’s difficult to grasp the lasting effects of so many decisions if you look only at a few months or a couple of years.
To see financial outcomes and see them clearly, your purview needs to widen so that it encompasses at least a decade. I’m here to help with that. My first adult job began in 1984. So at this point, I’ve got three full decades of consumption under my belt (yup, that means I’m probably much older than you).
To help stretch your powers to peer into future decades, I’ll summarize my own past 30 years in 30 bullet points (as in ESPN’s “30 for 30“). When I’m done, I’ll provide a real short conclusion. How you respond to that conclusion is entirely up to you. As I’ve said, a consumer’s life is a life of many choices.
30 Years in 30 Bullet Points
- Never bought McMansion (did buy 1,631 square foot home in Colorado mountains).
- Never bought Subzero refrigerator (did buy Amana fridge that came with mountain house).
- Never bought Viking gas range (did buy Jenn-Air stovetop that came with mountain house).
- Never bought cappuccino maker (did buy milk frothers recently).
- Never bought wine refrigerator (did get cardboard wine box for cool basement closet).
- Never bought upscale Reidel wine glasses (did buy huge supply of Arby’s 1997 holiday goblets—purchased for $1 each and still in use today).
- Never bought built-in bookshelves for many volumes collected at used book sales (did buy five Billy model bookcases from IKEA—and they look great).
- Never bought BMW or other luxury automobile (did buy Prius in 2009 using $7,500 in governmental incentives, mostly from “Cash for Clunkers” program).
- Never bought Harley or other motorcycle (did buy Trek Single-Track 930 bicycle in 1991—ridden ten hours this past week).
- Never bought motor boat (did buy kayaks).
- Never bought All-Terrain Vehicle (did buy many pairs of hiking shoes).
- Never bought Recreational Vehicle (did buy sleeping bags).
- Never bought snowmobile (did buy cross-country skis and snowshoes—wife is excellent snowshoer).
- Never bought snow blower (did buy snow shovels—wife is excellent snow shoveler).
- Never bought Apple computer (did buy succession of affordable personal computers).
- Never bought computer tablet with color screen (did buy Kindle e-Book readers with black-and-white screens).
- Never bought smart phone (did buy prepaid dumb phone—in use since 2007).
- Never bought nights at Ritz Carlton (did buy nights at Microtels, Motel 6’s, and, more recently, Air BNBs).
- Never bought cruise vacation (did kayak with wife along many beautiful shores).
- Never bought first class airline ticket (did fly first class several times with free upgrades).
- Never bought noise blocking headphones (did buy earplugs).
- Never bought matching luggage (did buy matching Ziploc bags to corral personal care products).
- Never bought new high-end metal driver for golf (did buy one used at yard sale for $3).
- Never bought cast iron golf irons (did buy set of forged irons in 1985; still hack away with them).
- Never bought high-end stereo (did buy modest system that sounds good in background, which is how we usually listen to music).
- Never bought diamonds (did buy diamond needle for record player; it still sees regular use).
- Never bought anything from Tiffany’s (did see Breakfast at Tiffany’s; have Moon River on vinyl).
- Never bought Rolex (did buy succession of Timex Ironman watches).
- Never bought perfume for wife or cologne for me (did buy lots of antiperspirant; we’re not heathens, after all).
- Never bought clothes designed by Ralph Lauren (did buy many Dockers from Levi Strauss).
Each bullet reflects a decision to grow our household’s net worth (a long term benefit) instead of depleting it with the purchase of a tempting material luxury (in most cases, one that provided only a short term benefit).
Don’t get me wrong, sometimes we splurged. We made memorable trips to Banff, Yellowstone, Monument Valley, Acadia, London, Paris, and Salzburg.
We also had our share of missteps: a $250 motorized pasta maker that never got used, a portable baseboard heater that spiked our electricity bill, a $4,000 Danish couch that goes with nothing else in the house, and there’s more as well.
But despite making mistakes, my wife and I dodged most of the frills that the consumer economy threw at us. And so we were able to afford an especially ostentatious purchase: we bought our own personal freedom. I retired at age 48 and she at age 46.
We now indulge in the greatest luxury of all—the pure extravagance of deciding for ourselves how to spend our waking hours each day.
It’s not all couch potato time. Last week, for example, we spent a day in service to her father moving six tons of top soil into raised garden beds (without the extra height, he couldn’t have gardened this year). Our only tools were shovels and a wheelbarrow. Few would equate moving dirt with luxury, but I do. Were we still cranking away at our jobs, we wouldn’t have been able to help out in such a meaningful way. The luxury we enjoy nowadays is the complete freedom to pitch into anything anytime we see fit (and hopefully to stay fit in the process).
The Real Short Conclusion I Promised
So here’s the real short conclusion I promised—the one that presents you with yet another choice in your life as a consumer:
Consider taking into account long term consequences the next time you’re tempted by the likes of Ralph Lauren or RVs or Danish couches or anything else that’s labeled “upscale.” Think in terms of decades instead of mere months or years. If you build each day for the future, the short term will take care of itself soon enough—and the fleeting allure of material luxuries is something you’ll never miss.
A. Noonan Moose blogs at www.FrugalFringe.com and is the author of Spend Less Now!—A Checklist Program for the Decidedly Unfrugal. As his friends will tell you, his favorite word is “free” and his second favorite word is “cheap.”
[Awesome squirrel pic by ankakay]
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Wow, we are about the same age and you’ve shown me how I did it all wrong. I will be working for the man until I’m at least 60. Possibly I have more kids than you. Ya,that explains it. ;-)
Completely agree and this is very relate-able to a conversation I was having with my wife yesterday regarding an upcoming move we are making: rent vs. buy, she wanted to know. I said, why not buy a multifamily and do both?
I’m kinda liking that idea recently myself too, actually. I’d totally rent out a room out of our house to make some extra bucks but the wife would divorce me in a heart beat ;) So your route would def. more do-able, haha… especially if you’re gonna live in that new area for quite a while.
I’ve never bought any of those fancy things either. Does that mean I’m on my way to being you?? I hope so! That’s our goal anyway- we want to exit the rat race as early as possible and hope to have enough streams of passive income to take us there. Thanks for sharing your story!
Thanks Dee! (BTW, I very much like your color!)
Oh man, luxury pasta maker. I don’t even know what that would look like. I’m at 28 now, and I’ve got a lot of the same NEVERs as you, though I do have a mac and love it.
And as Brian notes below, every household’s choices will be a little different. But the basic thrust of it all stays about the same: if you don’t buy into luxuries, you’re better able to buy your personal freedom.
Ha ha, that one made me laugh. We all make mistakes I suppose!
I’ve got an array of kitchen gadgets that go unused but most of them cost under £10 so it’s not the end of the world, just clutter to get rid of!
I love the golf club choices by the way! I’m an avid golfer myself, I have friends who upgrade their clubs every 1-2 years at a cost of around £1000 or more each time. I don’t really understand this mentality, I am still playing golf with them and enjoying it just as much. They buy brand new Titleist V1’s at £3 per ball, what an extra kick in the wallet every time you dump one into the water!!!! I can’t be doing with that, if I find a ball I will pop it in the bag for later use, and therefore I am still only about half way through the box of 50 lake balls I got 2 christmasses ago. Again the bottom line is the same game is being played (and I presume the same enjoyment is being had) but a vast difference in the amount of money being spent, and this applies across all areas of life as you have expertly summarised. :)
Thanks tFs! I love your approach to the game of golf!
Good stuff. All about choices and making the ones that are right for you and your family.
I have to say, you are terribly poor consumers. How sad it must be for you to not have all of that stuff. I’m sure you’d trade in your early retirement and financial freedom in a heartbeat if you could go back and do it all over again. :-)
Thanks Laurie! And as you already know, farming has a way of distracting you from the mainstream consumer mentality (I grew up working in potato fields).
Great post! This is what I mean when I tell people to think like the rich. The rich look at the long-term when they buy while the poor look at the short-term. For example, when buying a car, if you can afford the monthly payment, you can afford the car (short-term thinking, keeps you poor). If you look at the overall cost of the car, you are looking at the long-term. By looking at the long-term, you save yourself the most of your hard earned money.
My goal is to financially independent and before I buy things, I ask if it is going to get me closer or further away from my ultimate goal? That helps me to think before I buy instead of making impulse purchases that I will later regret. Unfortunately, I’m human and still make those dumb purchases every so often!
“The rich look at the long-term when they buy while the poor look at the short-term.” – love that!! And totally tweeting that right now, haha… I’ll credit you though, don’t worry ;)
That concept is well covered in the “Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much”. When you have immediate financial worries: 1. You can’t think long term because you are trying to solve the puzzle of the immediate. 2. The struggle is exhausting and you are more likely to self-sabbotage because your willpower is all used up.
Very nice! I think we have purchased two of the things on your list, and never see ourselves going beyond that. My wife and I work in marketing and the last thing most advertisers want us to think about is what’s going to happen next week, next year, etc. If we all did then many of them would be out of business. :)
This is great! All of those choices really do add up. I’ll forgive you for paying $250 for a motorized pasta maker =)
And even with the motor, it still took more than an hour of futzing around for it to extrude four servings of rigatoni. So it delivered the double whammy of being expensive AND being labor intensive!
Congrats on being retired at such a young age. I know we all make mistakes, so I’ll save mine for a rolex that will look nice on my wrist one day. I truly understand why you lived consumer frugal for 30 years, and Im hoping to be where you are in 12 years as well. Good luck.
Reading through your points, I decided to use them as a test: it seems I passed since I haven’t done most of these things either. Still may buy a Harley Davidson one day though :).
Sounds good Maria! Financial freedom down the road leads to freedom OF the road!
And a Harley surely adds some sexiness to your image too ;) So I give my seal of approval as well, Maria!
Oh man I wish I read this least before because I have bought many of the products on your list and that’s what got me into debt. But I’m glad I read this list now because it will keep me from buying the rest of the stuff on your list.
Sounds like you’re well on your way out of mainstream consumerism. As you’ve discovered already, luxury is a harsh mistress (you have to keep on buying her fur coats, jewelry, designer products, roadsters, etc.).
Good article and I agree with ALMOST everything. I did buy DD2 an Apple computer about 4 years ago for what seemed like entirely too much money at the time. However, it’s almost 4 years old, has performed flawlessly, allows DD to do homework, entertain herself, communicate with family and friends, take pictures and store skads of info all while not being infected with even one virus. I know first hand of no less than 10 parents went with “non-Apple” products that are now considered obsolete, inoperable, too slow or so “infected” with viruses as they aren’t worth fixing. Sometimes it does pay to spend a bit more…
Thanks very much for the comment. Unlike the friends you mention, I’ve generally had good luck with PCs (my current desktop is 5+ years old). I concede that Apple puts out a better designed product. But as a consumer, I just can’t bring myself paying the hefty premiums the company demands for its products. As an investor, however, I wish that I had picked up sooner on the devoted passion that Apple inspires and bought the stock (AAPL:NASDAQ).
We own both a PC and a Mac and are fairly happy with both (does that mean I fail the test though, Noonan? Owning two comps? ;) Actually, we also own a laptop and an iPad too….. we’re screwed.)
No….it simply means…”you’re covering your bets”…LOL
This is a brilliant and interesting approach to looking at consumerism. I really liked how you paralleled the “luxury item” with the more practical option, which makes a lot of the splurges seem absurd. I can only imagine how much money you saved by actually thinking about your purchases opposed to just buying whatever the market dangles in front of your face.
Congratulation on retiring early!
Thanks Girl! As to how much I’ve saved, it’s just enough to be able to work the wheelbarrow myself instead of paying someone else to have all the fun! ;-)
Thanks for sharing this! I’ve written before that my definition of financial freedom is the ability to do what I want with my time, and you’re a living example of exactly that! I love too how it’s not one single thing that got you there. There was no lottery ticket or big stroke of luck. It was a series of consistent, little decisions that compound to something really big. Nice work!
Thanks Matt. It looks like we both value incremental hours of freedom more than we value incremental boxes of consumer goods!
Have to agree. Too many people get into debt buying things they can`t afford to try and impress people they don`t even like. Heard that somewhere, from a movie probably.
I have used my “dumb phone” for years now and it serves me well, best of all it does not distract my short attention span when I try to do things that will take me towards reaching my goals. Too much emphasis is placed on owning the right brand or certain types of things. Luckily when I am older I will have enough money to buy things I really want while the other people will pay off the debt for things they thought they wanted.
Thanks so much Bobby. I get a lot of good-natured kidding about my old dumb phone.
I tell everyone that it works pretty much like their newer models; so like them, i can look up baseball scores—the only drawback is that all the games were played back in 2007. ;-)
I love that quote too, Bobby :) So true.
I like the list and comparables. I would throw a few more frugal buy/frugal hack like the one you had, here’s a couple of my own:
Never bought first class airline ticket (did fly first class several times with free upgrades).
Never bought clothes designed by Ralph Lauren (I did buy Ralph Lauren from the thrift store for $3 a polo).
Never bought nights at Ritz Carlton (did stay at the Ritz on the friends and family discount, thanks familia)
HAH! Yes – brilliant. Nothing says you can’t live a luxurious life by working the system :)
Awesome post. Especially love ‘Moon River’ on vinyl :)
I’ve passed most, but I have gone a cruise (Carnival deal!) and bought a MAC. I love my MAC and did buy at a discount. I have had PCs before, and MAC are where I will continue to be.
“Think in terms of decades…” This is so hard to do, especially for teens and 20 somethings. Thinking long term is the one big thing I try to impress on my high school personal finance students. Their lives are so lived in the now, they can’t imagine life at 40 or 50. The one thing that seems to get their attention is when I show them how saving and investing at an early age can impact their life later on. Most of them have never run any calculations on what it takes to be a millionaire by retirement.
Excellent points. I agree it’s vital to show concrete examples and not merely to tell or lecture. One specific suggestion to turbocharge the process: open a Roth IRA on behalf of the youngster. The kid needs to have income to support any amount contributed, but there’s no law against parents reimbursing him or her with gifts for whatever deposits get made. I convinced my niece to do this when she was 12 or so and hauling lobsters for summer work on the coast of Maine. The opening of a Roth opened up a lot of conversations about how much she will likely accumulate by the time she reaches age 59.5. She graduated from high school last year and despite her tender years is well on the way to a secure retirement. I like to think that when she finally starts taking distributions—some time after 2057!—she’ll be thanking me.
Nice! Are you a finance teacher, Brian?? I didn’t know they do personal finance classes these days – they didn’t when I was in school, other than “here’s how to balance a checkbook” haha…
I love it. All of these bullet points show consistency and the long-term outlook. This article paints the picture of a certain mindset which allowed Fringe to retire before age 50 (age 50!)! Congrats and thanks for the article!
Interesting. It sounds like you made some good decisions. What’s funny is. . .I truly never wanted any of those things. It all just seems like more work packaged as shiny objects. I did buy Tiffany jewelry though when I had my first child. Cool list.
Is that a Red Sox hat you’re wearing? I live out of the Boston market so I can’t get the games on TV without paying $200 extra each year. My workaround has been to pay $15 annually to become a member of Red Sox nation. With the membership, I get the Red Sox home radio broadcasts via the internet. Go Sox!
Thanks for this post! I nearly always choose the frugal option and it’s motivating to see where it has lead you! I don’t want for much in terms of things and get more enjoyment out of activities like crafts and the outdoors. I also keep things for a loooong time (my iPod is from 2006) since I never crave an upgrade. Not caring about electronics is a blessing really. Most of my decorating is DIY which satisfies my itch to create and be entertained by something and also gives me the excitement of making my living space a little cooler. I’m trying gardening this summer which will entertain me and hopefully feed me too! One other thing I do is try to have more than one purpose for as many things as possible.
Not craving stuff def. helps :) Though I’m sure other areas you crave more than other people (which is totally fine – just goes back to “conscious spending” and choosing where to send your money, and where not to based on priorities).
Great post. There is more to life than work. Often you spend decades trying to find what you are looking for, only to find out you had it all along.
You and I have nearly the same list of things I never bought. Except i did buy a snow blower a while back…
I’ll be on my 30’s next year and these are all great lists! I’m not a big fan of signature clothes either, I choose a clothes that I’m more comfortable to wear and not by the brand.
We splurged more on some stuff, but we’ve also rented out a spare bedroom for 4 years out of the last 7 years. It’s all about your priorities – what are you willing to sacrifice and what do you want long-term?
Love that! You’re finding ways to fund your “splurges” which is perfect :)
Oofff I’m guilty of buying items on this list. So far I have three apples and have gone through two smart phones. Part of my work life though because I’m a designer and have to keep current. Can’t design apps when I don’t use them! Hmm hmm hopefully I’ll do better from now on!
Christine: In your particular case, no worries about the Apple products and smart phones. If you need them for work, then they bring in income and help pay their own way. Moreover, if you need them for work and you’re self-employed, then usually you can buy them using pre-tax dollars instead of post-tax dollars. Depending on your combined state-federal tax bracket, your effective discount may be as high as 50%. If, on the other hand, you need Apples for work and you’re employed by someone else, you have a good argument that your employer should be buying the equipment. If it won’t, then you have a good argument with the irs that the equipment is a condition of employment which likely entitles you to a tax deduction. Bottom line: consult a professional tax advisor about your Apples and smart phones. If they’re necessary for your job, they may be putting you in line for some favorable tax treatment.
Thanks Noonan! I was self employed and I was able to write off my most recent purchase. The other ones were for school mostly. In my industry it’s standard to use macs. I’m a designer so that’s how it is! I budget pretty well and save in other areas so I’m doing pretty well even with buying macs!
Guilty of a few things on the list, but luckily it’s less than five! It’s great to hear that by not indulging in these luxuries, we all can get to no boss land! I’m definitely looking forward to that day.
Great post Noonan. I am going to borrow your “30 for 30” and use it later this year, if you don’t mind. I will have the opportunity to talk with 20-something business students. The ability to show that someone can forego all these “expected” purchases is powerful.
As for what was or was not purchased over the years, the question is whether someone continues to derive a great deal of 1. utility and 2. lasting joy out of a purchase. I’ll give you an example of two “luxury category” goods I have that I absolutely love:
– My Mac/MacBook Pro/iPad/iPhone – I use them for writing/blogging/designing/reading/researching/commenting ;)/communicating, etc. I likely use them 6-12hrs a day, depending on the day (and they fall under a business expense). I will certainly run them to the ground prior to purchasing replacements but I doubt that will happen any time soon.
– My Coach pursue. I purchased it 2 years ago at a crazy good price. I waited 4 years to make the purchase to make sure I REALLY wanted it and came across the deal of the century a year before I intended to buy it – perfect! It is the purse I intend to use for decades (yes, you read right…decades). I love it to bits every time I take it with me somewhere and I made a deal with myself that this is it – no more purses, so I’d better take extra good care of it.
As long as you make a purchase that you truly enjoy on a regular (read “daily”) basis over the long term, I say go for it. It should be affordable (no debt or strain on your budget) and fit in with your long term goals. Careful: no room for regrets!
I agree with you. We have had our Mac since 2007 and use it everyday..all day, along with other Apple stuff and will run them to the ground..lol
Designer bags- love them, have a few and have had for years, will also use them till they crumble.
Ralph Lauren clothing – they last forever, hubby has shirts he bought in 1995 that look great today, he is a big fan of few but quality things.
We never regretted buying used BMW’s – those babies were workhorses, we sold when we moved and kept them for 10 years and 7 years and sold at great prices.
It’s all about choices. We made quite a few mistakes along the way, but still reached FI by 49 and 42. Now, we want more passive income. Nothing better than having the freedom to do what you want, when you want.
(I’m definitely getting a used Benz or Bimmer one of these days – or even a Range :) But only when I make more money and/or cut out more expenses… There’s def. a joy factor that can amplify decisions – as long as you don’t go overboard!)
I will keep my fingers crossed on the Range so l can live vicariously through you! It is a sexy beast!
Great list! Making sacrifices is a big part of life, especially in our finances. I have my own list of sacrifices that I have made to be where I am today financially. Of course, I am talking about “American sacrifices”. It’s all about wants, not needs.
What I consider a sacrifice is not really a sacrifice at all. Things like “never bought a BMW”, “did buy a Nissan Sentra”. For some reason, when I consider my own list, it’s sad what that I consider a Nissan Sentra to be making a sacrifice, only because I didn’t buy the BMW.
For me, and most Americans, what we consider to be “making a sacrifice” would be a luxury for someone else.
I probably thought way too deep into this. lol This is a great article!
Has anyone ever used a pasta maker? I mean, of all the things to spend time on…..making pasta?
That being said, going on 5 years without using our $150 Kitchenaid Pastamaker attachment.
We ought to start a support group! Think of all the pastabilities! ;))
I’ve always toyed with the idea of buying that. Then again all their attachments can be bought for less as just the actual appliance itself. It just seems cooler to be an attachment! Use it tonight so at least you’ve used it before!
This is great! I’m curious about your early retirement and how you have income now to support you. I just graduated from college this past year and am starting to aggressively pay off my loans, which are relatively low compared to my peers (a little more than $20k). My goal is to have them gone in 3 years. People are shocked that I pay off about 3-4 times the minimum every month (not even in repayment yet!) and still have enough money to save, travel, have fun! It’s easy, don’t buy designer clothes and eat out at fancy restaurants all the time :) I get all my clothes secondhand, from discount stores, and through trades with friends and strangers and make most of my food. So I’m working on it…
But I’m curious, is your retirement income mostly from retirement accounts and your blog or do you have other passive sources of income? I’d like to get a head start in my planning as quickly as possible!
Excellent question Betsy. I’ve posted my rather lengthy answer over at FrugalFringe.com. Look for the May 8, 2014 post entitled “The Thelma and Louise Guide to Personal Finance.”
It’s actually a GREAT article – I enjoyed it myself :)
Inspiring, thanks! This makes me believe that my partner and I are on the right track. We’ve made trade offs that many would never consider simply to increase our net worth. If we get to retire in our mid to late 40s, it will all be worth it.
I wish I had found you seven years ago when I lost my job and decided to live on a lot less rather than get another job I hated. Still, I’m happy that I’ve done everything on this list except I own a smartphone since it makes my business much easier (google voice, whatsapp, skype are free and I pay $50 per month) and I bought a Nook HD when they were on sale for $79 just for fun. It amazes me how much better my life is on 1/4 of my previous income.
Now I am following you because I need to create more income. I love this blog. You rock.
Glad you figured it out, brotha :) Thanks for stopping by and the kind words – have a blessed weekend over there.