Everything is relative when it comes to money and determining what is “normal.” At least that is what we have been conditioned to believe over time. The normal financial outlook is very different for blue collar workers and executives, plumbers and CEOs, and teachers and doctors. Unfortunately, a statistical average generated among such a wide variety of professions and incomes does little good in helping us learn what normal looks like today.
Income, of course, is only half the battle. On the flip side, expenses complicate the search for normal even further. Even two doctors with identical incomes and living in $450,000 homes in San Francisco, California and Arlington, Texas, respectively, may have wildly differing expense to income ratios due to property taxes and cost of living discrepancies.
So where does this leave the search? Is a “normal financial outlook” definable?
A Normal Financial Outlook is a Fallacy
The other day, I spoke with a friend about the manner in which “normal” people manage their finances. After citing problem after problem, we came to a realization: We won’t want to be normal. Normal is broke, greedy, overconfident, and unfulfilled.
Following our conversation, I pondered the idea a bit more and came to a conclusion which I believe is tight enough to hold water: the average person’s desire to be normal is to be blame for his pessimistic financial outlook. Furthermore, normal is simply a self-defeating social construct which ultimately holds us back.
Consider the following connections:
*The desire to be normal drives us to take on a 72 month auto loan so we can drive the same car as our colleague; never mind the fact that the vehicle will be worth a fraction of its sticker value when the loan is paid off.
*The desire to be normal motivates us to take on the maximum pre-approved mortgage when looking for a home. It also causes us to spend at an unreasonable clip to furnish the home at high interest rates and rationalize it because “everyone else is doing it.” Many normal people will end up paying nearly twice the value of their home due to 30 years of interest accumulation (or more if they refinance to another 30 year mortgage after several years of paying on an initial 30 year mortgage).
*Because most normal people do not have any idea how much money they will need to live on in retirement, we adopt a normal mindset and rationalize that “it will all work out.”
*The desire to be normal leads us to go out with colleagues each day rather than brown bagging it for lunch. This kind of “normal” comes at a cost of over $100,000 over a working career.
These are only a few examples, but they drive home the truth that normal is bad.
Normal is the Worst
Statistically speaking, normal people are house poor, broke, in debt, and destined to slave away for 40-50 years only to retire in old age and poor health. And this is what most of us strive to become?
I have a different vision for my future. I don’t want it to be anything close to “normal.” As a result, I’m doing the sensible things now to ensure that my family’s future isn’t depressingly bleak.
First and foremost, I am consistently striving to challenge my everyday perception of “normal.” I know that if I surround myself with people and experiences which are “normal,” I will fight the desire to live abnormally. On the other hand, if I surround myself with people who share my view of what is “normal,” I am cultivating a healthier perception of the idea itself. This is vital.
Mrs. Superhero and I have intentionally taken steps to become good friends with others who share this mindset. For example, one couple we frequently spend time with also maintains an entertainment/dining budget. We have no qualms with being transparent about that among our families, which often leads to double dates at our home in lieu of expensive meals out. We look at as iron sharpening iron.
Secondly, Mrs. Superhero and I have worked at minimizing the frequency with which we experience luxury in our lives. We know that once we become accustomed to luxuries it can be very hard to give them up. Once luxuries become the norm, it can become very difficult to grow wealth and develop a favorable financial outlook; raising the bar in this manner is “normal,” but it minimizes satisfaction and happiness while permanently raising one’s bottom line required spending. We aim to make luxurious experiences the exception, not the norm.
Third, we are diligent in taking excellent care of the nice possessions which we have prioritized over the years. We have found that we appreciate these items for their true value, utility, and contribution to our overall happiness simply because we exhibit pride in maintaining what we have worked and sacrificed to gain. For example, I marvel at the fine condition of my 2008 Honda Accord while driving to work each day. Instead of dwelling on the fact that it is nearly nine years old now, I choose to take pride in its fine condition.
I often think that if we were resigned to a normal financial outlook, we would be far less mindful about these sort of things. In rejecting this kind of thinking, we choose to believe that there is a better way to live. It is a path lined with hard work, sacrifice, and self-control, but we firmly believe it is the best path toward happiness both in the present and in the future.
How do you define “normal” when it comes to money? Do you have a normal financial outlook? In what ways do you reject being “normal” on your path toward happiness both in the present and in retirement?