Sinners in the Hands of an Angry Moustache

George_Whitefield

George Whitefield wonders why you’re not riding a fixie.

Eric turned me on to Mr. Money Moustache, a kind of hipster Suze Orman. MMM’s animating insight is that financial planning is not just choosing where to spend your money, but whether you should spend it at all. Actually, that’s me being charitable. The guy is a censorious, unforgiving scold:

On the way home from work, she had picked up a bottle of wine and purchased a DVD containing some episodes of a
popular TV show. This may sound like a normal Friday night to most people, but note that the purchasing of expensive
beverages, DVDs, and video games was put at a higher priority than paying off the debt.

If MMM was someone I knew in real life, I’d tell him to lighten up.

I understand it’s important to be mindful of your priorities, but there’s a difference between mindfulness and mortification:

The bottom line is this: by focusing on happiness itself, you can lead a much better life than
those who focus on convenience, luxury, and following the lead of the financially illiterate
herd that is the TV- ad-absorbing Middle Class of the United States today (and most of the other rich
countries). Happiness comes from many sources, but none of these sources involve car or purse upgrades.
No matter what the herd or the TV set tells you, this is the truth. Far from being a social outcast,
this new perspective will make you a hero among your friends. This is not a fringe activity anymore –
millions of people are fixing their lives these days. And the earlier you can accept it, the
sooner you will be rich.

In this one paragraph, he’s defined an “other”, told me that I’m in a state of sin, and provided me a path toward salvation and wealth. There’s nothing practical about this advice. It’s straight-up Calvinism, with MMM and “millions of people”‘s judgement as my Angry God. You there, with the Doritos: convenience and comfort have made you soft, poor, and unworthy of your our love. Pull it together and eat an apple, you depraved sinner.

What should be a series of self-conscious, considered choices about what tools to use or food to eat have become, through the power of MMM’s disapproval, predicates for my sense of self-worth. Literally nothing could be more materialist.

[via Konklone.]

5 responses

  1. Well…I had a different reaction. :) There’s an ideal to aspire to here, not a laundry list of ways to stoically suffer. Over the last few years, well before I found MMM a couple weeks ago, I have been coming to a steady and angering awareness of a few basic truths:

    * From when I entered the private tech sector workforce in 2005, to 2010, I maintained a constant supply of ~$3-5K in savings. (You can see the $4,000 frozen in stone in late 2010, when I shut down http://ohnomymoney.com.)

    * I make more than 2x as much as I made in 2006, and feel 1x as pampered and comfortable. The sentence that first perked me up on MMM is the “Exploding Volcano of Wastefulness”. This is what I am living (and I knew this well before MMM articulated it).

    * In the most challenging time I’ve ever undergone, from Nov 2008 to Mar 2009, I entered joblessness with $3,000 in savings, went down to 0, freelanced back up to $3,000 before landing my job at Sunlight, and then my savings didn’t budge for *years*.

    So what I have realized is that I am just not good at saving money, and that it is largely all mental. Sure, I’ve had sharper constraints on me in the past, and I am saving more now, but that I still only manage to save 20% of my income despite having all the advantages in the world (well paying job and no family chief among them), and haven’t managed to budge that despite 3 years of feeling really angry about it, is deeply frustrating.

    How I’m channeling MMM is simply to give me the emotional impetus I need to make a few reasonable behavior changes. Such as: actually cooking, ever. Bringing lunches instead of buying them. Reducing my impulse purchasing. Taking car2gos a little less frivolously. Basic stuff, that really just requires an emotional foundation of really wanting to do it. That foundation’s been very difficult for me to construct, and I’m welcoming it being shored up.

    And I really just don’t read his personality the same way; he actually sounds like an awesome, level headed guy who is noting how many people there are like me around and what kind of patterns they fall into based on the subtle cues and norms that we all have. It couples well with my own long-held sense that we keep ourselves in both collective and individual dysfunction by not talking about it – we can’t even properly recognize our groupthink and patterns, because it’s all underneath the surface. Thus ohnomymoney, and thus why I find MMM a kindred spirit in empowering people to live a little more deliberately and honestly with themselves when it comes to their money.

    • I’m glad he was able to get you thinking in a more critical way, I think that’s genuinely great. I’m just not sure what’s empowering about rhetoric like:

      “Learn to mock convenience.”

      “…you can lead a much better life than those who focus on convenience, luxury, and following the lead of the financially illiterate herd that is the TV-ad-absorbing Middle Class.”

      That’s not refreshing transparency, it’s arrogant and insufferable. You can reduce your consumption without calling your neighbors idiots, or cultivating a Calvinist sense of personal shame. Likewise, you can have sensible finances without obsessing over privation and this silly goal of retiring at the earliest age possible. I mean, consumption smoothing, amirite?

      • You certainly can! I have no desire to retire early, if at all, ever. And I agree that he allows his rhetoric to wander outside what’s strictly necessary (there’s a place to criticize excess TV consumption, but it doesn’t make much of a difference to financial excess beyond one’s cable bill), but I do consider “Learn to mock convenience.” a completely reasonable and non-cruel piece of advice. How far you follow it is up to you.

        In general, his approach is to be loud, provocative, and to not pull punches about what he sees as self-sabotaging, entrapping behavior. It’s harsh, and it’s not my personal style, but it’s getting through to a lot of people, myself included, in a way that a firm inner monologue never did.

        To bring it back to TV – most sage or stern financial advice, not to mention actually facing my money itself, has the same effect on me as The Wire: sobering, even gripping, but ultimately representing an expenditure of energy. I need to recover afterwards. Mr. Money Mustache’s articles, especially ones like http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2012/10/03/the-practical-benefits-of-outrageous-optimism/, are more like Breaking Bad: I internalize terrible truths, but they are delivered with such potent force by people living so far outside of what is considered normal that the world’s possibilities seem vastly larger than before. I don’t know if this is most people’s reaction to Breaking Bad, but it’s why it’s the only TV show I’ve ever binged on in the last 10 years – I leave every one with twice the energy I went in with. I can accept some rough edges for that effect.

        • That last graf makes me realize that maybe there’s another way MMM works that I hadn’t considered. If I understand the Breaking Bad reference, you’re saying that you’re already holding an unease about your ability to make sound financial choices, and MMM makes the right choices seem not only blandly “right”, but also gives them a moral and emotional weight that makes them much more attractive. Am I getting it?

          I was imagining MMM whispering in your ear each time you reached for your wallet, mocking your natural desire for comfort and convenience and making it something emotionally and morally revolting. This probably says more about me than it does about MMM.

          • Yeah, this is how it feels to me – MMM’s ideas are naturally resonant with my own, but delivered by someone who’s actualized it already. It’s taking the currents of motivation that have been swimming around in my brain’s crust and finally working them down into the mantle. No self-loathing required! All of my emotions here are positive ones, and that’s really what gives me the energy: taking what has been directionless anger and turning it into something constructive.

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