I realized something a little while ago: It’s good to be me.
What do I mean by that?
Well, sometimes it’s a bit easy in our gotta-have-it-right-now culture to get caught up in focusing on the things we don’t have in life. I can be guilty of this as well. I really crave financial independence. I want it right now. But I can’t have it right now. While I’m perfectly aware that something as grand as financial independence requires plenty of time, patience, persistence and perseverance, that doesn’t make it any easier to deal with the frustration in the mean time. However, I continue to realize that I’m not delaying gratification at all by avoiding material goods in the now for freedom in the future. I’m living below my means because I want to own my own time and freedom more than a big house, a fancy car or the latest and greatest gadgets.
But the real amazing thing is that I’m in a position to actually live below my means.
How is it that I’m in that position? Well because basic needs like housing, food and running water are easily accessible and relatively cheap here in modern day America. That means as long as I can develop some minor self-control I can skimp on the stuff that can easily eat away at a budget.
However, what if basic needs aren’t easily and/or cheaply acquired?
Let’s compare a modern American to some great figure in history.
Let’s say you really love Roman history, and if given the opportunity you’d love to be Julius Caesar for a week. I think after a day you’d probably change your mind. At the height of his power he was the most powerful ruler of the most powerful Republic in the world (soon to be an Empire). Yet, this guy had no access to electricity; it hadn’t been invented yet. Internet? Forget about it, obviously. And while he lived in a grand palace, I’d rather have my 900 square foot apartment here in Florida where I have modern-day amenities like running hot water, air conditioning, a refrigerator where I can keep food cool, an oven where I can quickly heat and cook food and insulation to keep the elements at bay. I have access to a 16 year-old car that can whisk me away to far-away locales with ease and swiftness. I have boundless access to food from all over the world, and I don’t need to be a dictator to afford it. Neither do I have to worry about conspirators trying to kill me!
You can compare your own situation to almost any great historical figure and I think you’ll find that your middle-class life likely far exceeds the standard quality of life of just about anyone you can think of that died at least 100 years ago. From Abraham Lincoln to Alexander the Great – if you live in a developed country in 2013 you’re living a life far better than any of these great historical figures with all their power and/or wealth could have ever dreamed of.
It’s good to be me. But it’s also very likely good to be you.
This concept doesn’t just extend out to people who’ve lived and died long ago. Compare your situation to the thousands of people suffering right now in the Philippines after Haiyan did its damage. Compare your quality of life to people in Sub-Saharan Africa or many of the poor subjects within China’s border – you know, the country that’s supposed to save the world with enormous growth. It goes on, as there are millions of people living in India that right now, in 2013, do not have access to running water, electricity or other basic needs.
This article isn’t meant to inspire you to sell everything you’ve got and move to India or China to help people in need. However, I do think having perspective is important. I try to keep this perspective handy when life gets “difficult” – like when I’m eating sandwiches for dinner for the 20th time in a row or I miss having cable television because my OTA antenna isn’t picking up any football games on Sunday.
Similarly, I pulled this perspective out of my pocket when people made fun of me after appearing in national media after it came out that I moved halfway across the country to change my life, save money on state income taxes and have access to a beneficial climate allowing free entertainment and ease of public transportation. I found it amusing when people were wasting their time questioning my voluntary frugality to acheive a first-world goal like financial independence when billions of people are currently starving because they have no choice, and financial independence is nothing but a pipe dream.
I was extremely lucky to be born in America in 1982. We’ve experienced some of the most dramatic advances in human capability over the last decade. When I was in high school in the late 90s the internet was still a relatively new phenomenon. Cell phones were expensive and service was spotty. Cars that can practically drive themselves were limited to Jetson reruns. I could have just as easily been born in India 50 years ago or Africa when humans still communicated in caves. But I wasn’t. I was born in the wealthiest country humanity has ever known at its absolute peak. While hard work is ever important to success, luck certainly has a role to play. You could say success is where hard work and luck meet.
First-world problems are wonderful to have. Savor your ability to actually save money and live below your means as you aim to acheive whatever it is you’re after – whether it be financial independence, early retirement, greater wealth or simply flexibility. The fact that you’re reading this article means it’s highly likely you’re after one of the preceding concepts. And while I applaud your efforts (as well as my own), I also encourage you to keep perspective when things get difficult. When living frugally becomes difficult or the stock market’s run-up makes it hard to find attractively valued equities remember that you’re experiencing first-world problems which are truly wonderful problems to have. Trying to decide between paying off your mortgage early or investing excess capital can be a difficult decision depending on personal circumstances, but at the same time this is preferable position to be in rather than someone who lacks access to food on a regular basis.
Keep perspective. Try not to take things like the internet, cell phones, cold food that should be cold, warm food that should be warm, running water, electricity, clothing, transportation, housing or running water for granted.
Again, this article isn’t meant to call out anyone trying to build wealth. I’m actively trying to build mine as fast as possible as I seek a way out of the rat race – building up six-figures in under three years on a middle-class income. However, I do aim to inspire you and keep us grounded together. I hope to one day be in a position to help those less fortunate, but this is still many years in the future for me. I first need to buy my own freedom before I have the available time and capital to help others.
So remember the next time living below your means gets you down, or freedom still seems so far away: it’s good to be you!
How about you? Do you also aim to keep perspective?
Thanks for reading.
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