When I was in my mid-20s in the early 2000s, a friend of mine mentioned that she had purchased $800 frames for her glasses. Considering how incredibly frugal this friend was, I asked her what made her decide to pay that much. What she said has stayed with me to this day, and that was, “I wear these on my face EVERY DAY, It’s the face I put out into the world and so I want to buy the ones I want and the ones that are comfortable and look the best.”
Since then, I have often applied those parameters to my own life. While I like to save money, I try and save money in areas that don’t matter to me. But in areas that matter? SPEND!
Mr. Tucker has not been getting much sleep lately. He suspects that the cause is that his pillow has lost some of its firmness causing a restless sleep and a sore neck. So he has been researching pillows online. Ideally, he would like to go somewhere and actually physically hold the pillows but so many things have moved online during the pandemic that nothing he wanted to check out were available locally. It sucks but many places have great return policies so I’ve encouraged him to just buy them, try them and then return them.
What I soon discovered about his search though was that he was actively dismissing some pillows due to their cost. Now, usually I always search by price and then add in other parameters as I see fit. But I feel like Mr. Tucker actively was discounting ones that fit all of his criteria but that he considered too expensive. But it soon came to pass that there were no pillows that filled his needs so he either had to deal with buying a cheap but subpar pillow or spend more.
If this was a case between no name brand frozen peas and name brand frozen peas, this would be a no brainer (how do peas know if they are no name or name brand anyway?!). But we are talking about quality of sleep here. We spend ONE THIRD of our lives asleep and a good night’s sleep is one of the best predictors of overall health. In other words: don’t go cheap on your sleep! So I encouraged Mr. Tucker to find the best pillow for him and not worry too much about the cost of it. Even a $350 pillow that only lasts one year is still only a dollar a day!
So while I encourage people to always balance their spending, you should never cheapen out on things that will add to your quality of life. Mr. Tucker ended up buying (& returning) one pillow and just bought a 4-pack of Canadian-made pillows which we should get shortly. The hunt continues.
I subsequently read Sean Cooper’s book about his experience …and discovered nothing of note. Basically his plan was simple: be young, single, child free, able-bodied, know how to live frugally, have a high paying career, be able to give up what makes life worth living and have enough energy to work multiple jobs. It’s hardly rocket surgery. Obviously, not everyone is able to tick off all of these boxes on the “pay off house quickly” list. Few of us – if we’re honest – are able to do more than a couple of things that he did, let alone all of them. But outliers make for great copy so he soon found himself clenching onto his 15 minutes of fame in his paid-off house.
An (ex) friend of mine wrote a particularly scathing commentary about the article denouncing him. In fact, many people did including this particularly vitriolic piece in Slate. When I asked my friend why he cared what other people did, his response was that if everyone did this than capitalism would expect us all to do this! I didn’t think that was true but I let it go. What I find hilarious is that in retrospect, when all this was going down we were in one of the largest Bull Markets in history. For most people, life had never been better: interest rates were low, equities high and compared to today real estate was way more affordable. In fact, reading that Slate article as we claw our way out of a global pandemic feels almost quaint.
Here is the rub though: I think that Slate article is bang on. Individual actions not structural inequalities drive our morality when it comes to money and it shouldn’t. Yes, absolutely I would love to see some real change, some real support for people who are struggling. But let’s also be realistic: only people who are like Sean Cooper in every way have the ability to do what Sean Cooper did. But only them. Being angry at Sean Cooper for his accomplishments is like being angry at David Beckham for being better than you at football.
The real issue is that we are extrapolating his very constricted set of circumstances and trying to apply them widely. Clearly, a single parent of two children in an expensive city with a minimum wage job is not going to be able to pull this off and no one is saying that this is what they should aspire to. Similarly, I – as a middle-aged disabled woman – will never be a famous footballer. That’s why it got any press at all: he accomplished something only available to a select few people. Cooper was featured because he deviated from the norm and deviation from the norm gets eyeballs on your news pieces which in turn generates advert dollars. That’s all. But even if we can’t apply every single idea into our lives there is still a lot of value to see people doing things differently. We can extrapolate a few ideas instead. Maybe someone reading that article will realize that they rarely use their car and that they can give it up and instead buy themselves the model railroad they’ve always wanted. Who knows?
A couple of weeks ago, I watched Marie Kondo get raked against the coals for daring to say that she isn’t as tidy anymore now that she has three kids. No duh. Of course, the internet jumped all over this. The same thing happened when her book (and subsequent Netflix show) came out. My facebook lit up like a Christmas tree at the fact that she only had fifteen books. “JUST FIFTEEN!” people lamented, “That’s bullshit! I could never live like that!” But she never claimed that everyone needed to have a maximum of fifteen books. She stated that fifteen books was the right amount of books FOR HER. If rooms full of books “spark joy” for you, then her perspective was: you do you. The catch was that you needed to actually watch the shows and/or read the book to know that she wasn’t insistent on just 15 books. Instead people succumbed to internet outrage and social media soundbites. But her recent decision that tidying was a lower priority for her now that she had three children set the trolls ablaze. “AHA! was the collective response to the news, “clearly it was all bullshit!”. Really though, her choice not to prioritize tidying over time with her small children in no way means her system doesn’t work. It just means that right now spending time with her kids “sparks joy” more than a tidy house does.
Finally, this week I was unsurprised to watch the trolls come out in full force when I read the comments about this Vancouver couple. While some of the comments are cruel, some of them are just nonsense. “Well she isn’t retired now, is she?” Well maybe she doesn’t want to retire yet. “There is no way they can retire on 800k.” Had they used the BTSX strategy, a quick back-of-the-envelope calculation pegs the dividends at over $40000/pa. “They won’t be able to travel on that kind of income.” Geographic Arbitrage is cheaper than living in Vancouver full time, for sure.
Unfortunately, a lot of online interaction leads itself to Crab Bucket mentality: because I can’t have it, I’m going to drag you down. Like the metaphorical crab who sees another crab escaping & stops them, people in similar circumstances who won’t do the work end up in comment sections dragging the people in the article down. Their goal is to shame people who do things differently and hope that other people agree with them. Groupthink is incredibly powerful and the message is, “if I can’t have it, you shouldn’t either!” We love watching successful people get dragged in what the Australians/New Zealanders call Tall Poppy Syndrome.
People are completely missing the point of all three of these examples. They’re just ideas, tools and goals that these individuals used to give themselves options. Maybe their lifestyle isn’t for everyone but SURELY they have to have some insight that we can potentially apply to our own lives? Also, we make the assumption that we are the audience for every article when clearly we are not. These articles have value because there are people out there who don’t know that they can pay off the mortgage early, or that there are better ways of folding t-shirts or that a high savings rate is achievable for mid-income folks with a few short cuts. But smart people realize that there are nuggets of wisdom everywhere so they take what they can from a resource and leave the rest. I see this a lot in popular personal books (PF) that are written for an audience outside of the author’s country. Inevitably there is always a review that says, “ONE STAR: this doesn’t apply to me because I don’t live in that country. You need to write one about my country.” But I’ve read personal finance books from all over the world and inevitably I take some gems out of all them. Most PF books are US-based but I just swap the terms for Canadian versions, IRA to RRSP for example. I don’t need to be spoon fed every single detail about my particular situation, I can just apply the larger idea to my own life by adjusting it.
The reality is that no matter how often you get angry that your house isn’t tidy enough, or it’s not getting paid off as quickly as you’d like, or you feel stuck in your life with your finances awry, no number of negative comments you post will change that. Sure, you may get a little shot of dopamine when someone agrees with you or you can get jacked up on the arguments with the people who don’t agree with you but it adds zero value to your life. You would be better off taking notes or figuring out who else is achieving the goals you’d like to achieve and reading their books or blogs.
I didn’t pay off my house in 3 years, it’s an absolute tidiness disaster with two kids and two dogs and I certainly don’t have close to $700000 in investments. I am still grateful for these people who’ve given us a window into their lives. The value in reading these stories is not making a carbon copy and applying it to your life, its value comes from seeing that maybe you could try and do things differently and that it could be life-changing. When you have applied some of these tips and tricks the value becomes one of seeing that you aren’t alone – other people are doing it to!
So I encourage everyone to get out of the metaphorical crab bucket. Glean the wisdom that may be helpful to your life and focus on how you can make your situation better. It’s much better time spent.
You may have come across the Canadian study this week that no amount of alcohol is safe. It’s been heavily reported everywhere and, naturally, there has been a lot of pushback and a myriad of opinion pieces have been writing either denouncing the study or lauding the study. But in the end I think that all the chatter about alcohol consumption is good, people are starting to review their own habits and question them and I think that is important.
My own relationship with alcohol is a strange one. I drank a bit as a young teen and then I drank rarely until I was about 22. If I am honest, by the time I met Mr. Tucker when I was a month shy of 27, drinking had become a huge part of my life. All of our friends went out a few nights a week to bars and we always binge drank. By the time I was 30 I felt that I had a problem with alcohol and felt that it had become an unstoppable force in my life.
Making the decision to get pregnant is what completely halted all alcohol in our lives (Mr. Tucker mostly quit with me). I didn’t drink during my pregnancies but I did continue to drink afterwards. For a lot of my kid’s younger years we still were pretty social drinkers hanging out with neighbours a lot and cracking beers. But never did I again reach the worrisome levels of drinking that I had in my late 20s. I think because our environment and priorities changed so much that over time we just drank less and less overall but weekends we did engage in a lot of binge drinking. Wine Mom culture was strong during those years.
When we moved into this house and had our first summer with the pool, we found ourselves hosting quite a few parties. Over time though, our desire to do this waned and the party atmosphere went with it. As our kids got older as well, we found ourselves driving to activities and hosting sleepovers so naturally drinking fell by the wayside. We were still drinking a lot the odd evening and weekend but it was way less than our previous habits and we found ourselves drinking higher quality alcohol.
Then the pandemic hit and like many people we soothed our anxiety with alcohol. In fact, during the pandemic alcohol sales shot up & increased by 2 million dollars a day in our province. Like many people, we also saw our alcohol consumption skyrocket. By the time October rolled around Mr. Tucker and I realized that our consumption had become a habit, that we didn’t really enjoy it as much anymore and that we felt crappy and lethargic. So on October 31, 2020 we made the decision to quit drinking for one year.
In general, the first couple of days of drying out were just boring and flat but we got over it quickly. In fact, my skin got better, my spasticity got better, I slept better and we weren’t exhausted and cranky all of the time. We also found ourselves more productive and we ended up reading more books and doing more creative things. Sure, there were times where it was difficult, such as when we rented cottages with friends (we quarantined beforehand) and Christmas was a bit strange but overall it was a really good year and we saved a ton of money and I shed quite a few pounds.
Halloween 2021 saw us consuming alcohol again but we never really got back to our previous levels of consumption. We had a small Christmas in 2021 which was drinks and cards with family, more outdoor social events over 2022 with friends that were punctuated with drinking and so most of 2021 was phases of drinking followed by weeks of non-drinking. By the fall the shine had worn off on our consumption just around the time we ran the numbers and discovered that we had spent $5500 on booze that year, or about $105 a week.
$105 a week doesn’t sound like much and indeed for what we drink, it really isn’t. It’s about 2 cases of 24 beers, or 4-6 bottles of wine, depending on what kind we buy. Given that we have also hosted a bunch of pool parties and dinners with family, that doesn’t seem like a ton. We also tend to be pickier in our old age and don’t want to drink cheaper alcohol so that adds a premium to the bill. That amount includes the wine I got on my wine tour in Prince Edward County (including Christmas gifts) but not the drinks we had when we ate out (which were few, due to cost).
The truth of it all though is that alcohol just doesn’t work for us anymore. In middle age the hangovers are brutal and long – sometimes even multiday. We also find it gives us low-grade depression, lethargy and crankiness if we drink multiple times a week. In my case as well it causes my muscles to seize & gives me horrible spasticity. In the end, we can find a ton of other ways to get value out of $5500 than to buy alcohol with it.
So are we planning to be teetotalers forever? No. While I don’t see us drinking regularly again I do plan to travel in the future and that travel will probably include some alcohol. It’s also nice to have a drink on holidays, birthdays and other celebrations. What I do realize every time we have chunks of time where we don’t drink alcohol is that I find myself less enamoured with it overall. I prefer feeling clear minded and doing other stuff with my time. Of course, the fact that it can cause even more health problems than the immediate ones should encourage everyone to drink as rarely as possible.
I am not the boss of anyone by all means but like everything else in your life such as consumption, budgeting and investment strategies it’s worth doing a periodic review of things to make sure that they are still serving you instead of just doing things out of habit.