The Financial Empowerment Game™

Wanna know one of the best ways to feel better about your money?

Walk into a store and see if you can buy anything in it :)

If you can – you’re doing great, congrats!

If you can’t (and you’re not at a Benz Dealership) keep working at it until you can.

When I first started paying attention to this stuff I used to do this all the time… I’d walk into a Walmart or CVS or wherever and see if I could afford the most expensive thing in there (usually a TV or stereo or something). I’d never spend my money on it or anything, but MAN did it feel empowering knowing none of it was out of my range!

And when you think about the reasons to pay attention to your money and grow it, isn’t that what it’s really about in the end? Empowerment?

And having enough to afford whatever you need, mixed with what you simply want at times?

I was reminded of this game again over the weekend when I took the boys to Petsmart and came across the following (hopefully mind blowing!) bird:

fancy conure bird for sale

“$600 for a bird??” I screamed internally. “Who has the money for that?”

“Oh yeah – I do.” I smiled back to myself. “Let’s see what else I could afford in this place!”

And just like that I felt on top of the world again… and $600 richer too, knowing I’d never pony it up for an exotic animal :) (And btw – pet stores? One of the best ways to entertain your kids! Not only FREE, but super convenient! Where else could you hit up a Zoo-quarium every time you run errands?)

So next time you’re at a store, look for the most expensive thing and see if you can buy it. As your wealth goes up, so does your status in The Financial Empowerment Game™!

Here are the levels you can achieve once you can check off each store:

Level #1: The Noob

  • McDonalds
  • Starbucks
  • 7-Eleven

Level #2: The Up & Comer

  • Your local thrift store
  • CVS/Walgreens
  • Liquor store
  • Pet store

Level #3: The Hustler

  • Walmart/Target
  • Costco
  • Bed Bath and Beyond
  • Any clothing store

Level #4: The Wealth Builder

  • Any furniture store
  • Best Buy
  • Home Depot

*** After this, you start entering Baller Level status**

Level #5: The Baby Baller

  • Any mall!
  • Any (non-luxury) car dealership!

Level #6: The Master Baller

  • The Stock Market (Watch for these)
  • Any luxury car dealership!
  • Any middle class home lots

Level #7: The Baller Baller

Level #8: The MACK DADDY Baller*

(*Does anyone say Mack Daddy anymore?)

  • Any home lot in the world
  • Any art store in the world
  • Any jewelry store in the world
  • Anything AT ALL in the world :)

With around $500,000 in savings/investments (let’s forget about taxes/etc for the sake of having fun) I’m hovering around the Master Baller status, trying to figure out how the hell to enter Baller Baller status? Which, arguably, is quite the jump most of us will never be able to achieve.

But that’s okay.

Once you can buy pretty much anything you could ever want at any normal store you go to, who cares about the rest? You’ve done a fine job and now get to enjoy your spoils! That being mainly FREEDOM. Which, though you can’t buy at any store, is the one item you should actually be striving for. And the only cost you control too!

So. Want to start feeling better about your money? Head out to the stores! Which will be the only time you ever hear me say that :)  You might not be at a Baller status yet, but just getting a few McDonalds’ and liquor stores under your belt will help get your mojo flowing in no time… (also something you’ll never hear me say again, haha…)

And remember – if there’s anything better than being able to afford something expensive, it’s being able to afford something expensive and NOT buying it!

Freedom > Stuff. Always.

Master Baller, out…

[Fist rising by lamdogjunkie]

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  1. The Green Swan September 19, 2016 at 5:20 AM

    That is a crazy expensive bird. A pet store recently opened up near us and we strolled through it one day. I can’t remember which animal but I was shocked by some of the prices. Never thought of the empowerment angle though! Now time to hit some luxury car dealerships! :)

    1. J. Money September 19, 2016 at 6:50 AM

      It is an easy way to get rid of some of that wealth :)

  2. NZ Muse September 19, 2016 at 5:49 AM

    HAH I love this so much!

    Birds can be crazy expensive. There’s a bird store nearby and I’m pretty sure there are a few there that cost in the thousands…

  3. Brian @ Debt Discipline September 19, 2016 at 6:07 AM

    Do they throw in a cage with that bird? $600 is crazy! Financial Empowerment is a great way to look at it, just don’t have a weak moment. :)

    1. EL September 19, 2016 at 1:34 PM

      Haha I know right, give us the cage too Pet (mark up) store. Master baller for sure. I wonder if your a baby buffet in the making. He still lives in the same house since the 50s.

      1. Yetisaurus September 20, 2016 at 3:07 PM

        Haha! I had to read your reply four times before I got that you were calling him a baby Warren Buffett, not a buffet (as in unlimited food-eating). At first I was thinking “what do buffets have to do with this? Wait–is it a buffet that serves babies?” And then I smacked myself in the forehead when I realized that of course you meant Buffett. LOL.

        1. J. Money September 22, 2016 at 6:44 AM


  4. Dividends Down Under September 19, 2016 at 6:26 AM

    We’re in level 5 I think, but like you said – we definitely won’t be spending anything at that level! It’s very nice to be able to know we have the financial security to be able to afford that.

    But, it does make me cringe a little seeing that people DO go into those places to buy something. I try not to judge, it’s their money (or debt) to spend as they will. But why don’t they want to retire early?!


  5. Vicki@Make Smarter Decisions September 19, 2016 at 6:45 AM

    Hey – everyone is mocking the bird price – it’s a 15-20 year bird, so $30-40 bucks/year :) And it’s “vocal” too (yet limited speaking?) meaning it will annoy you for that long too. Who wouldn’t want that? I think we’ll be stuck at Level 6 too – no worries, we hate going out and spending money on stuff!

    1. J. Money September 19, 2016 at 6:51 AM

      Haha yeah – it BETTER last that long for $600!

  6. Tara September 19, 2016 at 6:48 AM

    Great idea! One thing about eBay in regards to their high prices…. I swear some of that is money laundering. I’ve searched for things I want and see crazy high prices for said items worth a fraction of their listing price (and it’s nothing with rare value). I think the TV show Elementary did an episode involving money laundering on an online shopping website so perhaps I have that to blame for my beliefs.

    1. J. Money September 19, 2016 at 6:53 AM

      Ooooh that’s interesting actually! I’ve never thought of that before but you never know??? Although wouldn’t it make it easier to track down having it publicly listed/sold/etc for anyone to see?

  7. Apathy Ends September 19, 2016 at 7:00 AM

    Somewhere between baby and master right now. I can see this being empowering, make you feel like you have some power and control.

    Not a fan of birds……

  8. Roy Largo @ Band of Savers September 19, 2016 at 7:07 AM

    I love going to pet stores just to look at the exotic animals with my boys.

    If I were to liquidate all of my taxable accounts I think that we would be bumping up to baby Baller status.

  9. Kalie @ Pretend to Be Poor September 19, 2016 at 7:32 AM

    A $600 bird! That’s crazy! Glad you can afford it, though :) I learned this trick from my friend: she says when she walks into Target, rather than feeling deprived about not buying what isn’t on her list, she tells herself she can have anything she wants there. That freedom takes away the urge to impulse shop. Reminds me of your game–I love it!

    1. J. Money September 19, 2016 at 11:06 AM

      YES! Exactly!

      You can *afford* a lot of things if you really wanted to, but it doesn’t mean you have to go out and buy everything. There’s so much power in just knowing that!

  10. Miss Mazuma September 19, 2016 at 7:35 AM

    That bird has a long lifespan! Totally worth it on a year to year breakdown. ;)

    I used to do this with billboards. The fancy jewelry, perfume, Calvin Kleins (I was hoping to buy the guy not the underwear )…then I realized eventhough I could buy these things , I didn’t really want them. Such a great headspace (and financial position) to be in. How much does one of those underwear models cost anyway???

    1. J. Money September 19, 2016 at 11:07 AM

      Haha… I don’t know, but it would make for a helluva line item in your budget :)

  11. Matt @ Optimize Your Life September 19, 2016 at 7:40 AM

    I feel like “Habitat: Large Parrot Cage” is not actually the habitat in which that bird can usually be found. Maybe that’s just me.

  12. Penny @ She Picks Up Pennies September 19, 2016 at 8:09 AM

    Oh, that bird. I wish we had pets sometimes. We have the money, not the time. What a most excellent game. I play a version of this in Las Vegas whenever we go. First, we like to guess if we’re going to see more Starbucks or Louis Vuitton stores down any given stretch. Then, I like to try to guess which designer has the most expensive window display. Last Christmastime was particularly…errr, pricey?!

    1. J. Money September 19, 2016 at 11:08 AM

      I bet!

      They’re good at trying to snatch all your money before you jet out of there :)

  13. geckovision September 19, 2016 at 8:24 AM

    I’ve heard “you can afford anything, but not everything”

    1. J. Money September 19, 2016 at 11:08 AM

      Smart author right there :)

  14. Josh @MoneyBuffalo September 19, 2016 at 8:32 AM

    Like the game. If I think about buying something I want instead of need, I think of what I can spend the money on instead. Normally I don’t buy it. Of course, I think of myself more as a cheapskate or stingemister instead of a baller. I’ll take this approach next time I go out.

    1. J. Money September 19, 2016 at 11:09 AM

      That’s the other version of the game ;)

      “What SHOULD I be buying right now, but won’t because I hoard all m pennies??”

  15. Team CF September 19, 2016 at 8:34 AM

    Same as you we are in the Master Baller, “aiming for the Baller-Baller” category. This is actually a fun game to play. And yes, it is a great feeling once you get to the point that you could virtually buy anything that’s in store (with a few notable exceptions, obviously).

  16. Paul September 19, 2016 at 8:36 AM

    Right now I am focusing on seeing the things this world is selling but transcending the desire for them. It also helps that once you can afford something it seems easier to not want that thing at all. Similar to how before you are 21 all you want to do is drink massive amounts of cheap beer, but once it is legal you don’t really care anymore, its lost its luster.

    1. J. Money September 19, 2016 at 11:11 AM

      Haha, yup… I remember dreaming about McDonalds cheeseburgers my entire life, swearing I’d go out and buy them every single day once I had my own car :) This of course changed later when girls and parties came into the picture.

  17. Ms. Montana September 19, 2016 at 8:45 AM

    There is a house on Flathead lake that the owners tried to sell for 79 million, but is now in foreclosure for the bargain price of 44 million. We love hanging out on that lake, hiking and swimming. There is nothing like the Flathead valley to make a person feel rich in lifestyle and poor in housing.

    1. J. Money September 19, 2016 at 11:12 AM

      And you both can use the lake – with the same water! – for free!

  18. Ms. Liz September 19, 2016 at 9:05 AM

    This is hilarious and awesome – thank you! We need to be careful when we try to call you a Master Baller after having a few beers, it could be bad.

    Looking forward to meeting you at FINCON!

    1. J. Money September 19, 2016 at 11:13 AM

      I’ve been called worse! :)

  19. Sarah @tortoisehappy September 19, 2016 at 9:12 AM

    If it lives for 15 to 20 years, you also gotta feed it for that long, pay vets bills or insurance, bedding for the cage. Too often, people at level 1 spend a lot on animals or other luxuries, and their mindset keeps them from getting to level 2.

  20. Tonya@Budget and the Beach September 19, 2016 at 9:15 AM

    I just had this thought this weekend when I was thinking, when I know I’m to my ultimate financial level is when if work ever becomes bad and I can say, “ok, I won’t be in tomorrow.,” and be totally at peace with that. According to your chart, I’m at about a #6, maybe a #7 with homes in Michigan. :)

    1. J. Money September 19, 2016 at 11:14 AM

      It’s a good position to be in :) Even just *knowing* you could quit at any time – even if you don’t – makes life much more easier. Always best to hold the power if you can.

  21. DailyGrindFree September 19, 2016 at 9:19 AM

    Very creative. I guess I am a Master Baller like you. :-)

  22. Fulltimefinance September 19, 2016 at 9:23 AM

    Very cool post, and a great way to look at things. Ultimately.its less about the amount of money you have, and more about the feeling of empowerment/safety/freedom it gives you. Money doesn’t buy happiness but it does allow you the security to focus on what does give you happiness.

  23. Stefan - The Millennial Budget September 19, 2016 at 10:24 AM

    Gah I am only a wealth builder but not bad for a new college grad!

    I am surprised at how expensive that bird was! Those are fairly common back in the Caribbean, not that exact breed, which baffles me. I hope that price included a cage and a couple years of food!

    1. J. Money September 19, 2016 at 11:16 AM

      Not bad at all! I couldn’t have even told you how much money I had (or didn’t have) after the first few years of college… It all went into trying to survive NYC anyways :)

  24. Linda @ Brooklyn Bread September 19, 2016 at 10:36 AM

    I am stoking a serious love of birds right now by cultivating a bird watching hobby. Which is free. But if I had never ending moolah, I would fully be quitting my job and spending cash on falconry lessons. I can see how bird lovers can go off the deep end and start thinking it is reasonable to spend $600 on a bird.

    But in any case, this line of thinking reminds me of how when you go into a store with no money, you see a hundred things you want. But then when you have money to shop, and a mission, you don’t like (want?) anything. There has to be some kind of subconscious mechanics there… You brain feeling fewer material wants when having money in the bank gives you some sort of mental security or feeling of power.

    1. J. Money September 19, 2016 at 11:19 AM

      Or you realize just how much effort went into *getting* those dollars that now the items have lost their luster :)

    2. DEC1 September 19, 2016 at 11:25 AM

      agreed…it’s kinda like the stingy rich person stereotype (in some cases)…they got there by pinching pennies and can’t stop “being that way” no matter how much they end up with…

      I know it has certainly had the same effect on us…you almost get a shot of adrenaline when you see your dollars start to build and want to continue to “win” in that way…like “ok that worked…what else can we do to save more”?

  25. ESI Money September 19, 2016 at 11:06 AM

    So how many birds did you buy?

    The Noob says, “None.”

    The Mack Daddy Baller buys a flock!

  26. Amanda @centsiblyrich September 19, 2016 at 11:31 AM

    GREAT idea! I do something similar with the “Joneses”. When my husband’s cousin was proudly showing us his new boat, RV and ATVs this summer, I smiled and said how much fun that must be for the kids. And inside, I’m thinking, I “could” do that, but…I’d rather have freedom! Freedom from debt and freedom from maintaining all that “stuff”!

    1. J. Money September 19, 2016 at 11:35 AM

      Plus, you can always just borrow it from him :) For free!

    2. Mystery Money Man September 19, 2016 at 11:56 PM

      I chuckle when I hear people brag about how much money they spent on stuff, like wasting money is an accomplishment to be proud of. A buddy of mine told me he spent over $8000 taking his family on a 3 week road trip this summer. It was quite satisfying to let him know that we spent less than $750 on a 2 week road trip that was probably equally as enjoyable.
      I love frugality. : )

      1. J. Money September 22, 2016 at 6:45 AM

        Damn straight!

  27. Fiscally Free September 19, 2016 at 11:42 AM

    After owning a home for a few years, I’m pretty sure I have purchased everything in Home Depot. I think that makes me a “Wealth Builder” for life.

  28. DEC1 September 19, 2016 at 11:48 AM

    At first glance I was ready to pounce on you J$ for being so “stuff conscious” and supporting what appeared to be a competition of who can buy more crap……but after further consideration I understand that it is simply motivation to save more and feel the freedom and impact of the exercise…in valuing what has been saved…rather than abstractly knowing you have a few dollars socked away.

    Well done as usual. Although I’d still rather see it as “how close am I to getting off the work treadmill and how far do I have to go?”

    1. J. Money September 19, 2016 at 4:42 PM

      That’s a fun other game altogether :)

  29. Financial Panther September 19, 2016 at 12:50 PM

    I hope one day I can be at the baller status! Although even if I could buy that baller stuff, I don’t think I would unless it was something I cared about!

  30. BeachMama September 19, 2016 at 1:14 PM

    What’s even crazier than spending $600 on a bird? Realizing that’s it’s a very noisy,messy creature and surrendering it to your local animal control to get rid of it!
    It happens all the time at the shelter where I volunteer. The same bird is then available for an adoption fee of just $60.00!!

    And I totally use the “we can go to the pet store and look at the fish after I’m done with my errands” bribery trick with my little dude all the time – works like a charm!

    1. J. Money September 19, 2016 at 4:40 PM

      Woahhhh, really?

      Frugal hack right there – pick up your exotic pets at the local shelter!

      I didn’t even know they had birds at those… what else do people turn in? Panthers? :)

  31. Tawcan September 19, 2016 at 2:55 PM

    Gee that’s one expensive bird. Does it lay golden eggs that I can sell later?

    1. J. Money September 19, 2016 at 4:41 PM

      Maybe you can mate them and then sell the offspring out in the parking lot for half off :)

  32. Melanie @ Dear Debt September 19, 2016 at 4:55 PM

    I’m definitely an up and comer…and think we should def bring back “mack daddy” lol

    1. J. Money September 22, 2016 at 6:49 AM

      You got it, Mack Daddy.

      (question #2: can girls be mack daddys? Mack mothers?)

  33. Done by Forty September 19, 2016 at 7:27 PM

    I think we’re with you in the Master Baller category but it sure doesn’t feel like it sometimes, when I’m actually in the stores. :)

    Will try this the next time I’m out.

  34. Finance Solver September 19, 2016 at 9:43 PM

    I’m in the baby baller status! (I don’t think I’ve been able to see a non-luxury car dealership that has more than a $33k price tag on it so hopefully I’m being truthful). If not, then one step down. I want to get to master baller status within the next 7 years! That 1 share of Berkshire Hathaway is all I want in life.. jk.

    1. J. Money September 22, 2016 at 6:49 AM

      It is pretty sexy, not gonna lie :)

  35. ZJ Thorne September 19, 2016 at 11:07 PM

    Level 4. Some couches are expensive! This is a fun game. Probably a great distraction tool, too.

  36. JoeTaxpayer September 20, 2016 at 10:21 AM

    Art. That’s the one thing that literally can cover the entire spectrum of costs above. From a $5 poster on a teen’s wall to the Mona Lisa.

    When I graduated college, the first grown up purchase I made was a lithograph by an artist I had loved even as a teen. $600. In comparison, for my 50th birthday, my wife bought me an original work by that same artist. Add a zero to the cost. Like anything else, the things you buy reflect your values. Friends or neighbors who are a level at or above us, and drive cars that reflect that, but art isn’t a priority. As our friend Paula Pant would say, “You can have anything, just not everything.”

    1. J. Money September 22, 2016 at 6:50 AM

      You know it, brother.. And I hope to see your handsome self this week in San Diego! I still rock your pen!!

  37. Yetisaurus September 20, 2016 at 3:04 PM

    Fun game! You might need to move Costco up the list, though. They’ve got quite a few jewelry items listed for $99,999. For example: That probably beats out Best Buy and Home Depot, and moves it into level 5. :)

    1. J. Money September 22, 2016 at 6:51 AM

      Dammit Costco! Messing up my game!

  38. Financial Canadian September 21, 2016 at 11:54 AM

    I like this post because it emphasizes that it’s not REALLY about purchasing power, but moreso about FREEDOM.

  39. Pengepugeren September 22, 2016 at 8:17 AM

    My local pet/garden store sells (live) fish for $1,500+ I always wonder who’s buying those.
    Oh, and I think the most expensive item there is an $8,000 giant palm tree. I could buy that, and sometimes I dream of doing just that.

    1. J. Money September 26, 2016 at 4:37 PM

      I’ll take five, please!

  40. jennydecki September 23, 2016 at 7:30 AM

    This was a great kick to my mindset! At first I was reading and being a little mean to myself, “Yeah, I could do that at the Dollar Store..maybe even Dollar General (where everything isn’t a dollar but close, LOL).” Then I read the list and was like, “Oh, wait, I have savings. Oh, hey, look at me! I found myself trying to figure out the most expensive thing Target sells because I think I might be able to buy anything in there.” Thanks for the perspective. When I’m in the, “I can’t afford anything, ever” midset I tend to spend more recklessly, too, so this will help keep me back on track!

    1. J. Money September 26, 2016 at 4:38 PM

      GOOD!!!! We need all the motivation we can get! :)

  41. stillatwork September 23, 2016 at 10:17 AM

    I work in finance, so I like to play this game by considering how long it will be until I will be eligible under the SEC rules to invest in private equity or hedge funds like the big dogs. Here are the rules:

    You are an accredited investor if:
    You have an individual net worth, or you and your spouse have a combined net worth, in excess of $1 million.
    You had individual income, excluding any income attributable to your spouse, of more than $200,000 in the previous two years, and you reasonably expect to do the same this calendar year.
    You and your spouse had joint income of more than $300,000 in the previous two years and reasonably expect to do the same in this calendar year. Institutions and pension accounts are subject to more complex criteria, and should consult an accountant.

    You are a qualified client if:

    You have an individual net worth, or you and your spouse have a combined net worth of $1.5 million
    You have at least $750,000 in assets under management

    Generally, a hedge fund manager would much rather solicit to a qualified client than an accredited investor. Why? Because managers may only charge their 20% performance fee to qualified clients. While an accredited investor may still invest in the fund, they will only be charged a 2% management fee.

    A Qualified Purchaser (or super-credited investor) is one or more of the following:

    – an individual who own $5 million or more in investments, including investments held jointly with a spouse.
    – a family-held business that owns $5 million or more in investments.
    – a business that has discretion over $25 million or more in investments.
    – trust sponsored by qualified purchasers.

    1. J. Money September 26, 2016 at 4:41 PM

      Fascinating! Would be a helluva title to achieve for sure – even if you never end up harnessing it!

  42. Beth September 23, 2016 at 10:54 AM

    (And btw – pet stores? One of the best ways to entertain your kids! Not only FREE, but super convenient! Where else could you hit up a Zoo-quarium every time you run errands?)

    HAHA! Love it! My son BEGS me to go to the pet store EVERY time he is out shopping with me!!!!

    1. J. Money September 26, 2016 at 4:41 PM

      If only adults were entertained so easily :)

  43. Warren Franklin September 24, 2016 at 7:44 AM

    We used to take our son to the pet store, it was a great form of Free entertainment. It’s so funny to recall those times and great memories.

    I agree with you J, being able to afford something and not buying it is a great feeling. Part of the self control and awareness more people need. The purchase is short term satisfying and immediately gratifying but long term empty.

    Practicing patience, temperance, and moderation with personal finance are not qualities that are SEXY these days. You can’t make a reality TV show about someone not buying something and being financially prudent…or can you??? In one of your book recommendations – “Millionaire next door” these qualities were continuously highlighted – everyone can learn a lot from this blog.

    1. J. Money September 26, 2016 at 4:57 PM

      Fo sho.

  44. Ten Factorial Rocks October 4, 2016 at 1:43 PM

    Good one J. Don’t know what it takes to get to ‘Baller baller’ or ‘master baller’ status, but sounds naughty! I like to think I am somewhere there. You always make these topics interesting.

    1. J. Money October 4, 2016 at 2:34 PM

      It’s just nice to have an outlet for these crazy ideas as my wife is tired of hearing about them :)