Not having a job gives me a lot of time to think. Sit and think. Walk and think. Cook and think….there’s just a lot more time in my day for thinking.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about what makes me different financially from all the other humans in my social sphere. What is it that makes me different? What are my financial differentiators, and how can I further capitalize on them?
Answering this question adequately is harder than it sounds because I don’t have access to my neighbor’s financial statements. However, 3 main differences definitely stand out from that of my friends and neighbors.
1. I Don’t Have Cool Stuff
OK, I’ll admit it – I’m not “cool”. I’m the opposite of “cool”. When it comes to acquiring cool stuff, I fail miserably. Functional is more important to me than aesthetics. I prefer to avoid that hedonic treadmill. Most used things work fine for my lifestyle. Over time I’ve learned to enjoy the imperfection.
A lot of people measure the worth of their lives by the awesomeness of their possessions. The fancy house, the new car, the clothes, the big screen tv, nice furniture, and so on. Sometimes they even acquire these items with debt!
My stuff isn’t “cool”, unless you consider old and well-worn “cool”.
Let’s start with where I keep my stuff — my home. Does Mr. Tako live in that cool new downtown condo with great views of the city?
Nope! We live in a modest 3 bedroom home, in a cheap suburb. The house is 30 years old. There is nothing fancy about it. We don’t even have an alarm system for our house, because we have nothing valuable to steal.
The stuff inside my house is even less interesting. Practically everything we own was either free or purchased used. Most of it’s so old I probably would have trouble trying to sell it on Craigslist. We buy almost nothing new.
Here’s a few examples:
- TV – Free. Adopted when my last company closed the local office.
- TV stand – $10. Handmade by myself.
- Bed – Free. A hand-me-down from my sister.
- Shelves – We have various shelves around the house, nearly all were free (like our board game shelf).
- Dining table – Free. Given by a friend who was moving.
- Baby’s Crib – Purchased off Craigslist. I think it was $50. We’ve used it for 2 kids now.
- Dining chairs – Free. Adopted from my last company, just like the TV.
- Child’s dresser – Free. Hand-me-down from grandparents.
- Recliner – Gift. I was told it cost $0.50 at a garage sale.
- Rocking Chair – Free from a friend who was upgrading to nicer furniture.
- Kid’s toys – We seem to have endless piles of toys in the house, and 90% of them were free.
- Tools – Most of my tools were free, or purchased off craigslist. I even wrote a post about my tools.
- Clothes – We get most of our clothes from thrift-stores these days.
I could go on, but I think you get the point. None of my stuff is cool or new. We take the cast-offs and unwanted items. None of our furniture matches and almost everything has scratches, or stains….and I absolutely don’t care! I’m not out to impress anyone.
In contrast, when I visit the home of a neighbor or friend, they always have the nice stuff. Their furniture is a expensive “collection” from the department store. They always seem to be wearing new clothes too (without holes)! Rather than give their kids used toys, they buy new. Anything with a scratch or blemish is simply replaced with new items.
When it comes to our regular monthly expenses, after the mortgage and childcare are taken care of, we spend around $700-$1000 per month. At the heart of this low monthly spending is my desire to do everything more efficiently.
Efficiency means using our resources more effectively than the next person. From the electricity we use, to the stores we shop at, there are literally hundreds of efficiency gains to be made around the home.
I’ll give you a great example — All of my neighbors have outdoor lights set on either photo-cells or motion sensors. Every night of the year, the houses on my street will have the outside lights burning bright, all night. Rain or shine.
My house doesn’t. While the rest of the neighborhood will have the lights burning bright year round, our house has the outdoor lights off. Why bother wasting my precious resources lighting up an empty yard that no-one is using?
Some people might cite “security” as the reason for leaving the lights on. Well, my home has never been broken into (yet). I think that’s partly because we having nothing of value to steal. Other neighbors (who keep the lights on), have had break-in’s…so I consider the “safety” theory pretty bogus.
While this is only one example of efficiency, you can rest assured that I won’t be putting up Christmas lights outside my home when the holiday season rolls around.
I seek out efficiency everywhere in my life — Time efficiency, resource efficiency, and yes, even financial efficiency.
3. Entertainment & Social Life
While I don’t debate that having a social life is important, much of social activity is very expensive. Like most expenses, social expenses can be avoided by those of us who put in a little effort.
You won’t find me out at the bar on Friday night, or dining at fancy restaurants.
Yes, some people might say our social life isn’t very interesting, but when I look at our social calendar it always seems full. We try not to overfill our life with too much activity. One activity per day is generally enough to give us a full-life without too much stress.
Our family tends to avoid expensive social activities — we do things a little different. Instead of meeting up with friends at a restaurant, we have potluck style dinners, and play board games for entertainment. Or, maybe we just meet-up at a local park for a picnic.
There are tons of things that people can do to be “social” without falling into traditional (and spendy) social conventions. Cultural conventions are made to be broken (just like rules).
Combining It All
All of these differentiators combined made for a really good savings rate over the years. They provided us with financial independence, even though we didn’t make big salaries. I’m pretty proud of that fact.
But don’t I worry that people will judge me because I’m different?
They probably do judge me, but I don’t worry about it. Long ago, I decided that my happiness would not be derived from the approval of others.
Humans fear the strange and different. They crave social conformity and the comfort of “sameness”. I can’t escape those facts.
I’ve probably missed out on having a few friends over the years because I was a little different. But you know what? I don’t have a problem with it. It’s not the number of friends that’s important, it’s the quality of friends that matters.
Generally speaking, the kind of people who would judge me I don’t wish to associate with anyway. I would rather befriend the sort of people that are open to new ideas and new ways of living. Someone I could learn something from! The kind of people that don’t define social status by the things we own, the amount of money we earn, or how much we spend.
That’s the kind of person I would like to call a friend.