During my obsessive consumption of social media coming out of #FinCon15, I caught pictures of the full faces of two of my favorite anonymous bloggers: The Frugalwoods and J. Money. Neither of them looked anything like I’d imagined (which is surprising because I’ve seen a lot of profiles, partial faces, etc). But instead of being disappointed, I thought “how refreshing!” The financial blogger world (and especially the early retirement world) is such an interesting microcosm because people talk about real money. People share their net worth. People share how much they spend, down to the penny. Savings and Debt payoff are celebrated! Financial Independence days are a thing! But we don’t know or care about job titles, home sizes, or even what these people look like!
Compare that with your Facebook feed. Selfie. Travel pic. Dinner out. Selfie. Selfie with friends. How many of your friends are announcing debt payoffs or savings amounts? Is anyone patting them on the back for making wise financial decisions? Our society has decided that talking about how much we make, how much we spend, how much debt we have, and how much we save is not okay. It is, however, perfectly acceptable to brag about expensive dinners, new cars, new houses, impressive job titles, and all the stuff we have.
One of my all-time favorite books is The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery. It’s about a concierge in a fancy French apartment building. She’s a philosophical person, but makes sure that she maintains the stereotype of being a dumb, fat concierge. She keeps the TV droning on so people will hear it while she reads in the other room. A few of the tenants discover her secret and try to get her to be more honest about who she is. (I recommend it whole-heartedly if you’re looking for an awesome read.) Based on this premise, how can we live our lives more true to ourselves in this world of “Facebook Finances?” Here are a few commitments I’m going to make:
Stop Living a Secret Life
Of course I’m not saying you should post your net worth on Facebook for your friends and family or tell all your co-workers (or your boss!) you intend to leave for early retirement soon. But you can also be an influencer. If you’ve figured this whole saving/retirement thing out, you’re definitely in the minority. And more people are interested in talking about money than you think. They just don’t want you to talk about YOUR money. But you can certainly say: “I’ve read that [insert good financial sense] and I think it’s a good idea. We’re going to try it out. Don’t you think that’s interesting?” You don’t need to mention you’ve been doing that thing for ten years already.
Anyone around you could be living a secret life. Is your next-door neighbor actually a millionaire like the book title? Maybe next month, your co-worker will surprise everyone and quit 20 years before everyone else. I like to test the waters by casually mentioning things like “They say if you save 25 times your income, you can retire.” To date, I have not sniffed out anyone planning to retire early. But isn’t it exciting to think I might? And I like talking about personal finance. So I plan to keep the discussions going and occasionally share something smart and pertinent with people around me.
Don’t Glorify Consumerism
With the upcoming PFD, things in Alaska get pretty crazy. People will take that giant check, walk it into Best Buy, and spend the whole thing.
It’s hard to have a discussion with anyone that doesn’t involve “stuff.” That’s all we talk about these days. Shouldn’t consumerism be up there with religion and politics on the “worst topics to discuss publicly” list? But it’s not! When people start glorifying stuff, I plan to change the topic to experiences. “I’m sure your kids will love their new tablets for Christmas. That’s awesome. I’m pretty tired of helping my kids organize all the stuff they already have. I think I want to start saving up for a trip instead. Wouldn’t it be cool if my kids got to see the real Eiffel Tower?” When people start talking about money spent, I plan to change the subject to interesting ways to save. “We’re experimenting with raising our automatic retirement payments from our paycheck. I’ve read it’s a lot easier to save when you don’t ever see that money. I love that idea!” Again, I don’t plan to reveal my entire secret life.
Stop the Selfishness
I’m not that in to the selfie craze, so I don’t have a big problem there. I’m more guilty of the “kid selfie” where I post all the funny pictures of my kids (because, of course, my children are funnier and more adorable than all the other kids in your newsfeed). As a society, we’ve decided to focus on ourselves. And that’s the opposite of the message I want to teach my children. My kids know I am more proud of any indication of selflessness than any academic, artistic, or physical achievement. My favorite moments are the ones where my kids all play together because, despite their age differences, they come up with something that would be fun for everyone. When they get home from school, I ask them what their favorite moment of the day was, but I also ask them if they helped anyone.
As adults, we need to “play together.” I would much rather have important discussions about problems in the world or ways we can help people we know than have conversations where we all trade off talking about ourselves. Let’s change the discussion. We can be influences for good in the world. If you get someone to look at their retirement plan or save $50, you’ve helped. If you’ve figured out someone you know that could use some help and had a discussion with someone else about an action plan, you’ve broken more than one person out of the usual rut. Good for you!
What do you do to avoid “Facebook Finances” or the prevailing discussion of selfishness and consumerism?