Nothing Lasts Forever
Last week I wrote about financial independence over the conventional thought of retirement, and I detailed a series of uncomfortable truths about wealth and money in the United States from Nick Maggiulli from Of Dollars and Data.
Nick did a great job on Twitter through a series of charts, as he always does, of showing us why it's far more important to raise your income versus cutting your spending to achieve wealth.
I think it's only fair to go the other direction this week, and we start with one of Nick's colleagues at Ritholtz Wealth Management, Ben Carlson, and a piece he wrote on why sustaining wealth is much more difficult than achieving wealth for A Wealth of Common Sense.
"After the initial rush from new circumstances, such as making more money, people become accustomed to their new situation. Once people begin making more money they can get the feeling that those funds will continue to flow indefinitely." ~Ben Carlson
This is a phenomenon known as lifestyle creep. Nothing lasts forever, indeed. We, humans, have an insatiable desire to consume resources, and when we're given more resources, we quickly learn how to incorporate that into our lifestyle.
There is no definition of rich in America. You have your own definition, and I have mine, and they're not going to be the same. Doing a quick scan of the internet will give you a lot of surveys and articles like this that will give you the basic conclusion that nobody knows how to define what "rich" actually is, but you can bet that it's probably easily summarized as "somebody who makes more money than I do" -- no matter how much money you make.
A big problem with the human condition is reflective in this story by Jeff Spross from 2015 about people not realizing whether or not they're considered rich.
"How can people earning $250,000 a year think of themselves as middle class? Half of all American households make $53,657 a year or less. Those that make $157,479 or more are in the top 10 percent, and those making $206,568 or more are in the top 5 percent. Yet people making $50,000 to $100,000 say they'd need to make $260,000 to feel rich. People making over $100,000 say it's half a million. Only 28 percent of investors with $1 million to $5 million in assets consider themselves 'wealthy.'" ~Jeff Spross
It's difficult for people to feel wealthy. Unfortunately, that keeping-up-with-the-Joneses mentality never goes away. Buying a new car, moving into a bigger house, purchasing new clothes and other stuff is not a sign of wealth. Wealth is actually defined as the things you don't see -- the money that is not spent.
"There are plenty of ways to get rich — start a business, save & invest wisely, inherit money, get lucky, etc. But staying rich involves just a few simple things — self-awareness, modesty, and the ability to delay gratification with a portion of your capital. Money can corrupt even the best of intentions. No matter how much you make, you still have to save to build actual wealth." ~Ben Carlson
One of the things that I spent the majority of my day thinking about in the early stages of my career was how ridiculous some of the things required of me actually were. Even later in my career, I thought I a lot of those things were ridiculous, too.
Expense reports, time sheets, staff meetings, weekly conference calls, making sure cover reports on my fund accounting packets were properly checked off...
Ironically, the bigger the company, the even more ridiculous some of the tasks became.
Mostly because I think it's a real issue, but also because I find it so entertaining to ready about, I felt the need to close this week with a piece from the New Yorker's Nathan Heller about The Bullshit-Job Boom.
"Now, all day, you get e-mails about “consumer intimacy” (oh, boy); “all hands” (whose hands?); and the new expense-reporting software, which requires that all receipts be mounted on paper, scanned, and uploaded to a server that rejects them, since you failed to pre-file the crucial post-travel form. If you’re lucky, bullshit of this genre consumes only a few hours of your normal workweek. If you’re among the millions of less fortunate Americans, it is the basis of your entire career." ~Nathan Heller
Make no mistake, a bullshit job is not the same thing as a tough job. In fact, it's the opposite. A poll of British citizens by YouGov in 2015 discovered that 37% of workers felt their job was completely unnecessary.
Humans need a sense that they have a purpose and our society can't continue to function at a high level if a solid percentage of the population is going through the motions on a daily basis.
Famed economist John Maynard Keynes penned an essay in 1928 that stated technology would become so powerful in the next century that the efficiencies created in the workplace would render workers bored out of their minds with too much free time.
It's been 90 years since that essay was written, and maybe that day is upon us.
So go be great this week and, maybe more importantly, go find a way to be useful.
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