One year from now, I'm quitting my job and traveling around the world for 12-18 months. It's a lifelong dream sparked by the tattered yellow covers of National Geographic, an abiding love of adventure and sheer wanderlust. I'm headed to Africa, New Zealand, SE Asia....and wherever else the mood takes me. The realization of my dream would not have been possible without living below my means for my brief (I'm 27) adult working life. Many posit that LBYM is merely a series of money-saving devices where the bywords are cheap, sacrifice and, most of all, ENDURE: getting furniture at garage sales, cutting coupons, refusing to run air conditioning in the middle of the summer, going to matinees, zealously balancing your checkbook, eating pasta three times a day. LBYM is an ascetic discipline in which you stoically grit your teeth and pray that one day you'll be rewarded for your years of martyrdom. By God, it develops character too! Not for me. I don't doubt that these things are helfpul but frankly I find them stifling: there is a bigger picture which supersedes the penny pinching minutia; to be truthful, my AC runs at Ice Age levels, I've never balanced a checkbook in my life, I like nothing more than blowing money on a nice dinner out and I don't cut coupons. And yet I save more money than anyone I know with comparable earnings. How? Because I know that LBYM is not what you DO, it's what you ARE. LBYM doesn't build character -- it IS your character. Your essential makeup. How you feel about yourself. The ways in which you try to shape the world to your advantage. LBYM is not a mechanistic process of adopting piecemeal changes to your life: it's embracing an entire philosophy which values freedom over serfdom, responsibility over avarice, a basic championing of reality over fantasy. I would argue that LBYM is as much a philosophy as it is a process -- if you can master the big picture (essentially just the rules of basic reality) it's extraordinary how everything else falls into place with little effort. Reality #1: If you want something and you can't afford it, you can't have it. At least not yet. Save. If it's still unobtainable, ask yourself again why you wanted it. Status? Prestige? Perception? Most likely. Would something similar but less extravagant suffice? Most likely. Reality #2: There's a word for those who are constantly saying,"I want! I need! I must have!" The word is not greedy. Nor is it materialistic. Nor is it evil. The word is child. Children are not bad. They are not unintelligent. They just have little acquaintance with reality. And often, little sense of temperance. If they want a firetruck, by God they no see no sensible reason why they shouldn't have a firetruck. Now. Now! Most people in debt own firetrucks. Many, many firetrucks. Living within your means is a basic acknowledgement of reality; it's basically being a grown-up. Unfortunately, we increasingly live in a society of children. Reality #3: Debt is serfdom. We live in an incredibly prosperous free country with the liberty (economic, social, cultural) to essentially do as we please. Folks, we won a genetic lottery where the odds were far more likely that we'd grow up in a place like Angola than Iowa. We're 4.5% of the Earth's population. The First World as a whole is perhaps 15-20%. Instead of celebrating freedom by embracing it, (in all of it's forms) we sell ourselves into bondage for the sake of baubles, trappings and toys. Anyone taking umbrage? Tell me Mr. Debtor, what happens to your life if you don't show up to the fields for the next month? What is "freedom?" Can you sincerely say you have it? Reality #4: Yes, you are poor. When I got my first job -- a pretty good one -- I literally had nothing to start me off in my apartment. So I bought a bed, weaseled a crappy coffee table out of my brother and got an old couch at a clearance sale. There went the furniture fund. All of my friends were going to Sharper Image and decorating their places: leather couches, chic artwork, big screen televisions, $3,000 stereo systems. Most put it on their credit cards -- they promised they'd "pay themselves back" as the year progressed. They "needed" these things. They'd all grown up in upper-middle class homes, were graduates from a fine university and they were ready to be Yuppies. They also had no net worth. We call that poverty. They were middle-class because their parents were -- they had nothing to do with it. Yes, you are poor. Live like it. Reality #5: It's probably your fault and even if it's not, it's still your problem. "I'm in debt because of bad luck. I got laid off because of industry cutbacks and they repossessed my car." Oh you mean, that $25,000 new car that you financed with no down payment despite the fact that you make $35,000 a year? Oh, ok. Bad luck. I see. "I bought Amazon.com on the margin and it ruined me. Oh well, the market's unpredictable -- it could have happened to anyone." Oh. Could it have? Refer to Realities 1-4. If you accept them, you'll only rarely find yourself at #5. I hope my analysis isn't too critical or self-aggrandizing. I'm no authority. I've simply stumbled onto a worldview which I find incredibly empowering. Best of luck to you all. Maybe I'll see you in Namibia!
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