A couple of years ago, the CBC published an article about how Kristy Shen and Bryce Leung got rich and retired by not joining the home ownership ‘cult’.
The couple, who blog about travel and early retirement at Millennial Revolution “managed to save $500,000 by working hard and living modestly,” writes Sophia Harris. “The couple was ready to spend it on a down payment — until they saw what was on offer. They scoped out dilapidated houses selling for half a million dollars.”
Instead of buying a home, they invested their savings…and got lucky. Their portfolio doubled in four years. (Even without the good fortune, they were well on their way to financial freedom.) Today “they live on $30,000 to $40,000 a year, money that largely comes from dividend payments generated from their stock portfolio.”
This young couple made some out-of-the-box choices. Those decisions paid off. Sure, they enjoyed good fortune with their investment results, but so did many of us from 2010 to 2014. If you ignored the relentless negative news stories about stocks, your total market index fund jumped 90% over those four years. This couple’s story ought not be unique; it ought to have been the norm for personal investors during that time span.
To me — and to most of you, I hope — this is a success story. It’s something to celebrate.
But many CBC readers thought Kristy and Bryce were phonies. They were scammers. They were trust-fund babies who got a lucky break. They did nothing to deserve their financial success. Commenters were certain that they were going to squander their riches…and soon! (Newsflash: Kristy and Bryce are doing just fine — despite the haters.)
I wish I could say the responses to this article were unusual. They’re not. In fact, they’re the norm when major news outlets feature stories about early retirees (or others who make unconventional choices with money). When people are brave enough to share their story in public, the public usually tears them to shreds.
America’s Love-Hate Relationship with Wealth
Nearly everyone who achieves financial success believes they’ve done so through justifiable means. They believe they’ve earned their money (or deserve it), and they don’t feel guilty for having it. Too, we’re generally supportive and appreciative of our friends who make it big. (I can think of a handful of folks I know who have managed to acquire wealth, and I’m proud of each of them.) But when it comes to strangers who get rich? Then our attitudes change.
Most of us want to be rich, yet we resent it when other people manage to achieve their financial goals. We complain that they had advantages that we didn’t, or that they cheated, or that they don’t deserve the money. But what if the same thing happened to us? What if we became rich? How would we feel about such judgment and criticism?
Take my father, for instance. He was a serial entrepreneur, and managed to build two successful businesses during his short lifetime. He worked hard and dreamed big. He wanted to be rich so that he could provide his family everything they wanted.
At the same time, Dad bemoaned other people’s success. He didn’t resent everyone who made it big, but he often complained that this fellow was successful because he’d caught a lucky break or that gal earned her fortune because she knew the right people.
There’s no question that some people have lucked into wealth. I have a friend whose family owned a large manufacturing business; as a result, she’s benefited from a huge annual stipend from her trust. This has turned her into a slacker and layabout. She’s frequently out of work, and makes all sorts of excuses about why she can’t find a job. It’s difficult to be around her.
But at the same time, I know folks who have worked like dogs to accumulate their wealth. I know others who have scrimped and saved for decades to build their savings. Do I begrudge these folks for having a million dollars? Or three million? Hell, no. They’ve earned it. They deserve it.
The media demagogues would have you believe that this rush to judgment is a partisan thing. That’s nonsense. Being a Democrat doesn’t necessarily mean you hate the rich, and being Republican doesn’t mean you’re all for the wealthy. My grandmother was the most conservative person I’ve ever known, and she hated the rich. I have a good friend who is as liberal as you’ll ever meet, and he’s pro-business, pro-capitalism, pro-money to the core.
But if this love-hate relationship with wealth isn’t political, what is it? Is it a part of our Puritan heritage? I don’t know. For myself, I’ve decided to suspend judgment when I hear about the wealth of others. I exercise financial empathy. There’s just too much I do not (and cannot) know. I’d rather assume the best than assume the worst.
Everyone Hates a Winner
After Kristy and Bryce were profiled by the CBC, we connected by email. Kristy’s first question was about how to handle criticism. “How do you deal with the haters?” she asked. “We’ve been getting a ton of them since our article went live, and even though I expected it, it’s getting a bit exhausting.”
Great question — and not just for money bloggers. Here’s what I wrote back:
Your best bet is simply to ignore the financial trolls. You know what you’ve done and you know how you did it. You know it works. These fools know nothing about you. Their opinions don’t matter. Let them live their blissful lives of ignorance funded by debt and fifty years of working for The Man.
You can’t reach everyone. In fact, you’re only going to be able to help a handful of people. That’s okay. Those few are your peeps — and you’re their peeps. Ignore the haters and focus on the fans.
It took me a l-o-n-g time to learn this, but the realization changed my life. It gave me a lot of peace.
The thing is, it doesn’t matter how a person achieves financial independence — whether it’s by cutting costs, boosting income, or both — commenters on major news sites will rip them to shreds. I’ve been watching this happen for a decade. It’s what I expect when I read any sort of financial success story.
- If the story emphasizes that the subject met their financial goals by cutting costs, by living on less than, say, $20,000 per year, then the commenters will rail about how miserable the subject must be. “What’s the point in retiring early if you have to eat cat food,” they’ll write. “Fine for them, but I want to live in a house and not a hovel.”
- On the other hand, if the story profiles somebody who succeeded because they worked hard at a high-paying career, then the commenters will grouse about how anyone can get rich if they earn big bucks. (Not true, by the way.)
- And if you’re somebody like me, someone who made the leap to full financial independence because of a windfall? Well, we’re the worst kind of people. We didn’t earn it! Our wealth was handed to us! (Never mind the stats on how most people squander windfalls.)
When I read comments from folks who think this can’t be done, comments ripping on folks who have done it, I don’t think less of the subjects. I think less of the commenters. I see them projecting their own inadequacies and insecurities on people who have managed to make things happen.
Anonymity on the internet brings out the worst in people. They do and say things that they’d never do and say in person. You can’t control what people think of you, and you can’t prevent them from attacking you in a space you do not control, such as the CBC website.
Here’s a recent example of people hating on success. My friend Gwen from Fiery Millennials was recently featured in a MarketWatch article about people retiring early. Gwen is only 27, but she’s been saving aggressively for years in order to achieve financial independence.
Commenters on the article wrote things like:
- “Sorry, but you can’t retire at 27, unless you want to live like a pauper.”
- “This talk of people retiring at 27 is just stupid. Nothing I read in the example given will allow these people to retire at that age and have enough of money for their lifetimes. That is just Facebook hype.”
- “This is such a silly article. Retiring at 27? Unless you inherited millions of dollars or won the lottery this is a stupid idea. The bottom line is that a lot of these Millenials jusr dont want to pay their dues.”
It doesn’t matter what the story is. There’s always somebody out there ready to hate.
Shake It Off
It’s not just financial independence that brings out the trolls. It’s any sort of financial behavior that seems outside the norm. Decide to become a car-less family and you’re going to get flak. Decide to downsize from a 3000-square-foot home to a tiny house and people are going to think you’re nuts. Tell your co-workers that you buy your clothes at thrift stores and they’ll rant about how gross that is.
I believe we need to be celebrating success stories, not denigrating them.
I don’t care whether you achieved early retirement by having a $300,000 income or by spending just $12,000 a year. I don’t care if you won the lottery. However you did it, good for you. Bravo!
I don’t care if you paid off your student loans by working three jobs. I don’t care if you cut housing costs by moving in with your parents. And you know what? I don’t care if you didn’t go on a vacation for five years so that you could save up for a new sports car either. If you set a money goal, made a plan, then achieved that goal — well then, I celebrate your accomplishment!
If you do what’s right and you do your best, it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. Stay focused on your own life, your own goals. Ignore the haters. Shake it off.
Sidenote: Yes, it’s true. I’m a Taylor Swift fan. Deal with it!