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How DARE they spend so much?

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People love to point fingers and act indignant about how much people spend on other things….until it comes to themselves.

  • “I can’t BELIEVE she spends THAT much on shoes.”
  • “$3,000 for an apartment! RIDICULOUS!”
  • “$28,000 for a wedding? I had 500 people over and we only spend $350” (by the way, every single post on wedding costs on the Internet has annoying commenters like this)

I cover this extensively in a past post, “Attention annoying hypocrites: Stop being judgmental about your friends’ money habits,” which almost led me to violence after writing it.

I prefer to talk about conscious spending, where you spend extravagantly on the things you love, as long as you cut costs mercilessly on the things you don’t.

So I found an article by Virginia Postrel from today’s Wall Street Journal particularly interesting. It turns out that broadly saying, “Spend on what you love!” is ok…until people actually describe how much they’re spending. Then things turn ugly.

Michael Pollan, the best-selling author of “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and a leading advocate of buying locally grown food, recently upset many of his fans by daring to put numbers on his oft-repeated prescription to “pay more, eat less.” Eight dollars for a dozen eggs? $3.90 for a pound of peaches?

Those figures were way too specific and way, way too high to go unnoticed…

Mr. Pollan’s critics sound a lot like Jackie Mason back in the 1990s, mocking Starbucks for “charging you three dollars for 50 cents worth of coffee.” Taste is subjective. So is economic value. The right price is the one you’re willing to pay…

Other buyers may not care, but I consider cheap peaches a waste of money. I don’t blame San Francisco foodies like Mr. Pollan for paying $3.90 a pound. They can always cut back on the cappuccinos.

Right on. Please, if you find yourself judging others for their spending, know two things:

  1. You are probably right that they are spending foolishly — not because you’re smart, but because, statistically, almost everyone is terrible at managing their money. It’s like me shouting out into a crowd, “YOU ARE ALL CARBON LIFE FORMS!!!” and then being pleased with myself when proven right.
  2. Please shut the hell up. You’re not the paragon of spending virtue, and if you gave me 10 minutes on the phone with you, I could identify 20% of your money being “wasted” on “ridiculous” things. Focus on your own spending, automation, and goals, and look in the mirror instead of your friends’ closets.

Related: See more rants about dumb people

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67 Comments

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  1. Thank you for this, was just ruminating over my wife’s expenditures. Sometimes this stuff drives me crazy. I will shut the hell up now.

  2. Haha, for some reason I imagine what facial expressions you must be making when you are writing this! o\ /o Love it.

  3. Amen!! Love that you actually say this, even if it may piss people off.

  4. I don’t give a sh*t what someone wastes their money on, as long as it doesn’t somehow fall back on me.

    With that being said, most middle class people’s wasteful habits almost ALWAYS affect those around them, even in subtle ways. For example, most of my friends make much less than I do, but spend like it’s going out of style. I feel obligated to pick up the check when we go out because they are perpetually “broke”. I also have plenty of relatives who love to go out drinking 5 nights a week, but then get angry at me if I won’t lend them thousands of dollars for whatever “emergency” of theirs comes up.

    Let’s not forget that these same people will very likely leech off government funds in one way or another if they can’t manage their money (case in point – the housing bubble burst, which is now being absorbed by the average person). Maybe this is why people get pissed off and judgemental.

    • The tax/housing point is fair, if overly simplified.

      But it also sounds like you’re judging others because you’re not comfortable saying “no.”

    • Uhh, I’m very comfortable saying No. I’m also very comfortable saying WHY I’m saying No. However, some of the subtle suggestions make me want to sever relationships I have had for years because I don’t respect someone who relies on others for support – plain and simple.

      I am annoyed because I prioritize my spending in a responsible manner and I consider it disgraceful to feel entitled to anyone else’s money (including the government’s). I expect the same in return, but most people in our generation seem to be selfish, greedy, LAZY and entitled. Let’s take the whole retirement issue, for example. I’m pretty sure I can find about 4 million financial “experts” who say that you should be saving for retirement right now. It is also common fucking sense. However, most people prefer not to think about this until it’s too late. What’s going to happen when they reach close to retirement age, or if there is some other emergency in their life? I suspect there will be some bailout for all the Gen X/Y folks who couldn’t bother to think about such trivial details while they are waiting on line for their new Ipad.

      Like I said, I don’t hate on anyone else’s habits until I see them leeching off society.

      OH, and if you are near 30 and living with your parents, I am talking about YOU too.

    • You can “suspect” it but that doesn’t make it true. It seems like a long time for you to be angry about something that may or may not happen for decades. What’s more likely is they will live a steeply reduced quality of life, due not only to their poor choices, but to the failure of society to nudge people toward saving more for their inevitable old age. More on this in the intro of my book.

      Then again, I’m the one telling people not to judge, so if your perspective works for you and keeps you focused on your goals, go for it…I guess.

  5. Oh, and I feel no remorse about judging people who spend ridiculously on bullshit but don’t have any savings put aside for themselves and their children.

    If I see a rich person popping 100k on a wedding, GREAT for them. When I see some douchebag making 60k a year spending 60k on a car, but buying a house with no money down and then foreclosing on it, YES I am going to get pissed and judge the shit out of them.

    • Come on Ramit, I never pegged you as the kind of person to blame “society” for this type of behavior, especially when you are perpetuating it! With that being said, there is no shame in judging others. If we didn’t use our own experiences to form judgements, we’d never learn not to play with fire.

      I think your blog is one of the best ones out there, because you encourage people to get off their lazy ass and actually EARN more money instead of whining. The rest of the blogs are all about how to split 2-ply toilet paper into 1 and how to transform cat urine back into drinkable water. They are short sighted.

      There is so much talk about retirement, the individual is solely to blame for not taking responsibility. Just like the stupid homeowner who can’t understand that getting a 5-year ARM means that their mortgage payment will likely INCREASE deserves what they get as well. Stop blaming others for individual greed.

      Your target audience is mostly Gen Y “kids” like yourself, who are nouveau riche. You should be teaching people to exercise *some* restraint and be responsible, rather than perpetuating bullshit consumerism.

      My financial philosophy – Do your absolute best to ensure you (and your kids) will NEVER be a financial burden to anyone else, and then spend away.

    • Thanks for the kind words, Anon. This is a good discussion and I appreciate your thoughtful comments.

      I believe in personal responsibility, but I also know that there are profound social, psychological and societal reasons for not doing the “right” thing. Here’s one example: Why don’t fat people just eat less? After all, it’s so obvious!

      In general, if MILLIONS of people aren’t making the “right” decision, there’s something more than “bad choices” going on.

      Perhaps I’ll write more about this in the future.

      Thanks again for a thought-provoking discussion.

  6. Clearly, people who get all judgy about spending $3k on an apartment have never lived in San Francisco!

    Regardless, you have a great point, Ramit. Spending money on things important to me and slashing things that aren’t was one of my major takeaways from I Will Teach You To Be Rich. I now buy organic meat, cancelled my expensive cable that I never use, bought a nice car, and switched to generic brands on medicines and many other things. I am now a lot happier and I don’t even miss the stuff I stopped spending on. Thanks, Ramit!

  7. Yes, I agree that there are deep rooted reasons why people do what they do, and I feel compassion and empathy toward people who have fallen on hard times (even through fault of their own). Believe it or not, I am both female, and liberal (well, maybe not fiscally liberal ;-)).

    You are in a unique position to influence young people positively, and part of that includes encouraging people to take individual responsibility for their actions and their habits instead of blaming society.

    This went way off topic from your original post, so I’ll step off my soap box here.

  8. You’re right on the money. How much money, I won’t say, though.

  9. My favorite example of this is the people who rail on billionaires who donate to charity…who they believe are donating to the “wrong” charity.

    Here’s a classic example via the WSJ:
    http://blogs.wsj.com/wealth/2010/07/21/will-buffett-gates-pledge-really-help-the-poor/

    More recently, I read online where someone criticized Mark Zuckerberg for donating to the Newark schools, saying that his money would have gone a lot farther if it was sent to third world countries.

    My thoughts on this? How about YOU make a billion dollars, get all the flack that comes with making it, have people talk sh*t about your company every day, and then you decide how YOU want to spend YOUR money.

    Don’t want to do that? Don’t want all the flack and negativity that comes with being a billionaire? Then, just like Ramit said, shut the f*** up.

    [end rant]
    -Erica

  10. Timely article reminding the readers about this fact: it takes minimal effort to perform better than average b/c most of them spent minimal effort (i.e. don’t do s*** in terms of consciously spend their money, or maintain the exercising habit). Many of those who complain about other people’s spendings are hypocrites, from my personal experience.

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