The interwebs are filled with financial advice, cautionary tales, and success stories beyond my wildest imaginings. Amidst all that collective wisdom, though, are some sayings that seem significant but might actually be problematic oversimplifications. Here are five tweetable money truths that simply don’t ring true for me.
You’ll be happier when you’re not working.
Maybe I will be, maybe I won’t be. But until Santa brings me my time machine, I can’t know, can I?
What I do know is this. I don’t relax well. (Correction: Mr. P would like you to know that I don’t relax ever.) While I could funnel my energy into lots of things that aren’t teaching, the thought of not working towards something makes me want to peel my skin off. I like learning. I like being productive. I even make to-do lists on vacations.
Truth be told, I’d rather worry about making myself so happy now that there’s no point in worrying about hypothetical levels of happiness in future scenarios.
It’s all about spending less and earning more.
In fantasyland, yes. In real life, no. For some people, this is absolutely all there is to it. But for a lot of other people, there are so many other obstacles to overcome, money isn’t even close to the entire picture.
Time and health are two of the biggest ones that come to mind. And then there are entire systems that work for or against certain people. So while this saying might make for a good tagline, it’s not a universal salve.
Money can’t buy happiness.
I put this quote up at the start of class one day and has students journal about it. There were lots of poetic responses about how the best things in life are free. Love, friendship, family. And that’s not wrong. In fact, it’s the feel-good response that we start teaching kids from a really young age. But my favorite response of all said this: “You know who is never gonna say something like that? A poor person.”
And that’s how you get schooled by a twelve-year-old.
It’s all about effort.
I’ll set the scene. It was junior year honors physics. Aside from learning that unless you’re taking biology, every high school science class is actually a second math class in disguise, I also learned that this bootstrap ideology is bunk. At least from a high school level science perspective. You can’t physically lift yourself in the air.
Why we are so married to the metaphor is beyond me. I mean, sure, there’s the American Dream. I get it. I’ve taught entire curricula based on it. But spoiler alert: it’s usually a sham. Just ask Gatsby.
And let’s circle back to the physics of it. Force upward equals force downward if we’re just talking about me lifting myself. But it’s true that I could build momentum. I could use the ground or another higher-mass object. But that’s not all effort then. That’s knowledge and circumstance and ability and maybe even a little bit of luck. I’m not saying effort doesn’t matter. But it’s not everything.
Using cash is best.
Credit cards, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. There’s earning LOFT rewards cards for a few cents at the grocery store. There’s fronting myself a zero-percent loan for my first Master’s degree. And wedding. There’s even a bit of travel hacking. Credit has served me well and in ways that cash simply cannot.
Of course, I completely understand that credit cards aren’t for everyone. But cash definitely isn’t for me. It runs through my fingers like water one dollar bill at a time. And it makes tracking a bit more complicated. Hey, if you can run on the honor system all the time, you’re a far better person than I.
So Tell Me…Is there any financial wisdom that you could do without?
The first one is two sided for me. I do really love working, and will always work in some form. But I am happier now that I don’t HAVE to work. Now that I get to pick the quantity and quality of work, I like it much more. It’s kind of the perfect balance for me.
I can totally see that, Ms. Montana. We all like to feel like we’re in control of our lives and our commitments.
Mrs. Picky Pincher
I think the key to work happiness is to do things you ACTUALLY love to do. I wouldn’t laze around the house all day after achieving FIRE; I’d just work on stuff that I love to work on.
I also adore our credit card rewards points. There was definitely a time when we paid for everything in cash. We just eliminated our $14,000 credit card debt and said, “Never again.” But then we developed a healthier relationship with money and realized we could save our rewards points to pay for Christmas gifts. It’s made the holidays much easier on us. 🙂
There’s an art and a science to credit cards, that’s for sure!
Way to tackle those sacred cows! And I’m definitely on board with Ms. Montana- work is good, but it’s the freedom to work when you want, where you want, and how much you want. And I like your point about credit cards keeping you accountable! You get a nice little paper trail at the end of every month. My wife has always said that she’s far more likely to stop for a latte if she has cash, since she knows that I won’t see the entry on the credit card statement!
I think you and Ms. Montana are both right. Humans like choice. I have to work right now (and for the foreseeable future), but I love what I do. And I choose to do it long outside the hours and days I’m contracted for. I know I’m fortunate to find so much happiness at my job. But I work at being really happy there, too!
Girl – thank goodness our lives aren’t one size fits all! Those that preach sometimes have the right intent but the wrong delivery…I’m sure I’ve fallen victim to doing the same. That being said, without a crystal ball nobody really knows what lies ahead. It’s all a guessing game and your guess is as good as mine. I’ll be happier knowing I don’t HAVE to work, but as then others said, it will be nice to choose when and how I want to work.
I love your students response in regards to #2. I’ve heard it said by adults but hearing it from a kid is refreshing. It’s true that money doesn’t buy happiness but it can buy security. Shelter, safe water to drink, food for every meal…money for some (or the lack thereof) is exactly that. I wish there could be a day when everyone knew their enough and spread the rest to those who don’t have it…until then, the kid is right!
Thanks for speaking your mind…I’m guessing you’ll soon have A “5 Truths From Parents I Don’t Believe” post. You know everyone knows how to raise your kid better than you!!! 😉
Oh, I know I’ve done the same. I had to call myself out in a tone deafness post last month. Lately, I’ve realized how downright hurtful and unhelpful oversimplifications can be. So I’m trying to not spout off too many of them unchecked!
Gary @ Super Saving Tips
I’m a frequent preacher of earning more and spending less, and yet as you’ve so rightfully pointed out, obstacles like poor health can get in the way, and I know that as well as anyone. I still try to earn more…I’m not up to working a regular job anymore, but I can do some side hustles and manage my credit card rewards. And I still attempt to spend less, even while as much as a third of our budget goes toward healthcare…there are other places to cut back to try to make it all balance. But overall I’m just fortunate that things still (more or less) balance for me. I realize it doesn’t work that way for everyone, and I appreciate your shining a light on that.
I think it’s a very helpful mantra, Gary! Truly, I do. I also love when I see people in the PF community advocating for change or support in other areas that can be factors for some but not all. 🙂
I think credit cards can be both a blessing and a curse. I like that I can get points and cash back on credit cards, but I firmly believe I spend less when I hand over cash.
I think figuring out what works for you as an individual is key. I have 20 $1 in my purse. I will be SHOCKED if I have them all by Friday…or if I’m really positive on what I spent them on. Likely, it’ll go in my phone as “spending – Target” or “spending – Walgreens”. Oof. But that’s just me!
And if I were really smart, I’d take them out now 😉
A huge myth is that home ownership is always a good idea. I do like our home, but I have second thoughts every time something leaks. This week it was just the washer, which is much better than the walls/windows/plumbing that have leaked in the past.
That’s a terrific one! Owning a home can be wonderful. It can also be a huge money (and time!) pit.
I loves me some good platitudes and cliches, Penny! I need to be careful when using them though. I tend to spout them off as a universal truth, but just because something is true for me doesn’t mean it will be true for anybody else.
One that I don’t like, which can be related to finance, is “Winners never quit and quitters never win.”
Baloney! Winners often know exactly when to abandon a project and course correct. Those that can “fail fast” and move on, at least in the business world, are the ones that finish best.
That’s SUCH a good one, Ty! Saying no is something that I’m terrible at. I’m trying to learn that skill and to also learn how to cut my losses and move on in certain situations.
Yes yes yes m! Especially #3. Only the rich (or chronically broke) ever say this.
Thanks, NZ Muse 🙂
Life we learn
Great post! I couldn’t agree more.
Using cash doesn’t work for me either as it’s so hard to keep track of expenses. I don’t like using credit cards either though despite the rewards as there are always surcharges involved. My preference is to use a debit card.
A debit card is a great compromise!
I always feel sad for the folks who scrimp and save to attain FIRE because they don’t enjoy their work. I’m sure I’ll finish my career in the next few years, but I’m lucky I have other business interests that really excite me. I’ll definitely be “working”.
Without good health and relationships, it’s all sort of worthless.
Kudos for taking on the conventional wisdom and giving it a perspective!
Thanks, Ian. I worry about that, too. Especially when people are slogging it out for 10-15 years. That’s a long time to put your life on hold.
Paying off your mortgage if you live in the US. Assuming you’re already taking advantage of a 401K, then it’s your next best bet for reducing your taxes.
I’d rather keep my low-interest mortgage and increase my investments that provide twice as much in returns.
I also don’t believe money can buy happiness. In some cases, it can do the reverse. What it does buy is time, independence, choice and better health. People with financial security can choose what situations they put themselves in. They can say “no” to things that don’t serve them. They can sleep more because they can hire help where they need it. THey can tell a waffle-turd boss to go stuff it. They can buy organic, spend more time in nature….. the list goes on.
I guess we define happiness differently. If I can do all those things that you listed, I’m going to be a pretty happy camper. It might not be a direct purchase off a shelf in a store, but money is the tool you leverage to get those things.
I have to say work is SO MUCH MORE FUN when you don’t have to work. It was my hypothesis before negotiating a severance, and it is absolutely true after several corporate consulting stints.
I have a feeling everything will be OK b/c our parents are the wealthiest generation on Earth. And that’s the truth!
Bill @ Wealth Well Done
Great comment by the 12 year old! It reminds me of maslows pyramid. If you don’t have a solid foundation in your life,you can never reach happiness. However even of you’re rich, but you can’t reach the top of they pyramid of purpose and fulfillment, you will never reach happiness either. It’s all about balance, awareness, and being purposeful with the direction You’re heading in. Thanks!
Single Income Life
‘You know who is never gonna say something like that? A poor person’. I want my kids to be like THAT kid.
Right? I am constantly blown away by my students.