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Why do delusional people think their spending will be different than other people’s?

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It is an indisputable fact that anyone who drives a BMW 2-door coupe is an asshole. They talk on their phone loudly, drive recklessly, and wear extremely large sunglasses. In fact, an even better litmus test is observing how these drivers park: If they back into a parking spot instead of parking nose-first like normal people do, you can be 100% certain that you have an asshole on your hands.



Photo by puyo

To find supporting evidence for my theory, I Googled “bmw asshole” and got 1,500+ responses, including this one. I rest my case.

There has only been one exception (he was a startup CTO…who by definition cannot be an asshole). Also, Asians don’t count because they don’t drive BMWs.

The point is this: There are patterns you can recognize. We like to believe we’re individual and different, but the entire field of social psychology illustrates how we mistakenly believe we’re in control of our own lives while systematically underestimating situational and social influence.

As we get older, the vast majority of us fall into predictable patterns: We become more conservative with our investments. We have kids. We spend on things we never imagined we would (like window treatments, homeowners’ insurance, and childcare).

Recently, I wrote a post about the 10 Year Savings Strategy, where I recommended that people who are already saving and investing and maxing out their retirement accounts do one simple thing: Find some people who are 10 years older and ask them what they wish they’d saved for. Then start saving for those things.

This isn’t as sexy as alternative investments or currency arbitrage, but it works. It also forces us to confront the fact that most of us will live very similar lives as everyone else. We’ll start really paying attention to our money around age 40. Our wedding cost will be far higher than we planned. We’ll buy a house.

Sure, there are exceptions. But chances are you’re not going to be one of them. None of us is.

The comments that people submitted to the post were some of the most interesting and infuriating I can remember, prompting me to write a 456-word comment in response. Here are a few selected comments from the original post:

Delusional Guy:

“First of all, I’m not getting married. No, this isn’t just the talk of someone who can’t see far enough into the future. We all know the only benefit of getting married is in avoiding divorce. If you get divorced, you’re screwed. For anyone who would ever put themselves into that situation, I have no sympathy because it is completely avoidable. Marriage is a contract and (especially for guys) if you enter into it, you will be on the losing end from the get go. You recommend getting advice from your elders. What do they tell me? Don’t get married. That’s some advice I’ll be taking because I care too much about my assets.

Actually I see kids as a complete waste of money, time, and freedom. There are many people out there who live child free (and loving it) and I will be one of them. Don’t believe it? Believe it when i get a vasectomy sometime in the near future.”

Smart Person Who Understands The Point of the Post, Not Just The Superficial Words

“Ramit, I really liked this. The take-away was still the same despite that I don’t intend to have children (and neither does my g/f). Plan for large expenses I will encounter on my path in life, whether or not it’s children or lots of travel or whatever hobby I choose. The action is not, “save for children.” The action is: ask and try to predict what your major expenses will be in 10 years and save for it. Don’t think you’re going to be above average and beat the system. Reality is sometimes harsh on us 20-somethings. Realize I am not an exception to every rule. Realize that reality will bite me sometimes and I will want to be prepared.”

Hilarious Person I Want To Marry

“Good lord….To pretend you know exactly what you want now (at say, 25) for when you are 50 is the equivalent of adamantly stating when you are 5 that you hate all boys/girls and will never like them. It’s utterly ridiculous. All you can do is acknowledge that your current self cannot predict everything that will happen in your life, or everything that you will want, but it’s probably going to cost more than you think. So instead of spending so much energy being defensive, why don’t you critically think about his point, and whether you want to apply it to your finances?”

And finally, here’s the response that I left in the comments:

“Exactly. Some phenomenal comments on this post and some very, very stupid ones.

The most absurd thing about many of the negative comments is the inability to take a strategy or tactic and apply it to the commenters’ own lives. If you’re not going to get married (which you probably are, despite what you think now), you’re still going to have many other expenses that you simply can’t predict yet. If you claim you’re determined to have a frugal wedding (which many people say, by the way), then the question to ask is this: “Under what conditions might I find significant future expenses that I didn’t predict?” Ever hear of the hedonic treadmill?

I’m willing to bet one of the commenters who complained this post is “obvious” hasn’t cut costs, automated, created a Conscious Spending Plan, earned more, optimized his spending, maxed out investments, and created sub-accounts for his future 10+ year spending. I’m not being sarcastic — if you have, please let me know and I’ll call you because I’d love to profile you for my readers.

“Obvious” doesn’t mean “easy.” But that’s the point of the post, isn’t it?

As commenter Sara said:

“To pretend you know exactly what you want now (at say, 25) for when you are 50 is the equivalent of adamantly stating when you are 5 that you hate all boys/girls and will never like them. It’s utterly ridiculous. All you can do is acknowledge that your current self cannot predict everything that will happen in your life, or everything that you will want, but it’s probably going to cost more than you think. So instead of spending so much energy being defensive, why don’t you critically think about his point, and whether you want to apply it to your finances?”

Now that I’m writing, let me go on a little bit: One key insight of writing a blog for a large audience has been how entitled people feel in getting a tip that’s exactly written for their specific situation. “I’m 60 and widowed!” people say. Or, “But I’m gonna have a vasectomy!”

A post addressing your specific situation is not going to happen here — you need to use your imagination and think about how to apply them to your life. And I’m not going to water down this blog with equivocations and qualifications (as ec213 points out).

The sad thing about this is the smart people already know this. I have to write this comment for whiners who (1) constantly complain about this site, (2) will never buy anything, and (3) repeatedly threaten to leave.

With that said, I LOVED writing this post and I love reading these comments even more. Look for MORE posts like this.”


* * *

By planning to live an ordinary life, you give yourself the means to be extraordinary.

The original post on the 10 Year Savings Strategy is here.

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  1. This just got my vote for Greatest Post Ever!!!

    I really have no comment besides I couldn’t have said it better. Keep writing Ramit – these posts are what we need to hear: the truth.

  2. Woah now, hold on a second. Reversing into parking spaces is a sign that the person is a competent and responsible driver, concerned about safety and considerate of other drivers and pedestrians.

    In other words, if you ever see a BMW reversed into a parking space, it must be on loan.

  3. I’m 25, married, with a kid already. At this point, I’m 100% certain the my ability to predict my future is in ten years is utterly useless. I’m also convinced that they advice of anyone who is 35 (and was in my shoes at 25) would be absolutely priceless.

    I’d rather come to terms with the fact I have no idea what I’m doing than be “delusional.” Great topic.

  4. I’d love to say that when I was 16 years old, I said I’d be an 8 year military vet considering the option of reenlisting for another 4. But of course, I’d be lying. My biggest concern was finishing the next level of whatever video game I was on. At least that hasn’t changed in 10 years. XD But I definately have gotten more saving conscious. And I certainly don’t believe I know what I’ll need 10 years from now.

  5. Sorry, but I beg to differ on the characterisation of people who drive 2 door coupe BMW’s – I can give some specific examples. If you want a class of inconsiderate car owners, look no further than people who own SUVs and park them in spaces designed for smaller cars or who complain about their petrol costs.

    As to the more substantive part of the post (which I think is great), no one can predict the future with sufficient certainty to be able to accurately predict where they will be financially 10 or more years into the future – I would have failed miserably at such an undertaking and failed repeatedly. To assume that we can is just silly. But not to at least make an effort to guess at the future (i.e. to plan) is financially irresponsible (and stupid). So should people guess knowing that they will probably get it wrong or just be a dead fish and go with the flow by assuming they will be like their parents, peer group or other “typical” person ? The latter may provide a degree of guidance (and is a useful exercise) but it is not a crystal ball either.

    Take retirement spending as an example – there are plenty of opinions on whether people more or less after they retire – and plenty of people who have experienced both ends of the spectrum. Even with retirement less than a few years away and plenty of examples to look at and speak with, I’ve still only got a pretty vague idea – but I do have a plan to deal with that uncertainty and that is good enough for me.

  6. in some areas, you are required by law to back into reverse angle parking spaces…. seattle has them, DC has them…

    The point about spending patterns is a good one – we all look back and say “boy do I wish things had been different” meaning, I wish I would have done something else… so, if you’re in one of those younger age groups, listen to what this is telling you – realize that later on you’ll most likely have some of the similar remorse. Plan accordingly!

  7. Parking backwards is much safer, it prevents accidents when leaving the space, and if you’re lock-to-lock manouvring whilst the cv boots are warm, instead of cold after you’ve returned to your car, they’ll last longer. Preventing accidents and prolonging the life of your car can save you money.

    Occupying two spaces, on the other hand, can get you a fine.

    My uncle once offered me this money saving tip: Instead of buying a BMW, just write “asshole” accross your forehead, it will have the same effect.

  8. People are funny like that. They want help but they don’t want to spend 5 minutes thinking of how a strategy could apply to them if their situation isn’t EXACTLY described in said strategy.

    Show a little creativity and thoughtfulness, people! Don’t expect someone else to do all the work for you.


  9. Like I tell my younger siblings all the time, we are all trying to follow the easy path and do the things they want. Sometimes the easier long-term path means making slightly more difficult short term decisions. You might want that big screen TV right now, but can you make the payments if something unplanned happens? You might want to go home with that hot guy across the bar, but do you really want to put your relationship with your fiancé in that kind of tension? You might really want to get a few extra hours of sleep, but do you really want to risk your job because you didn’t call in sick?
    Life is like driving a car, if you want to get somewhere, you can’t always look directly in front of the car. You run the risk of swerving because going forward is not the same as going in a straight line. You also run the risk of missing those road signs that were clear to see in the distance, but you just didn’t look up and pay attention. People change lanes, get on/off the freeway, drive too slow, drive too fast, and if your are only concerned with what is immediately in front you , you can get blind sided by something that was easily avoidable. But most people that focus only on what is in front of them play the super victim when something bad happens. It’s not their fault they can’t see reality when it hits them in the face. (Super sarcasm alert!) You are supposed to understand how bad their situation has become and do everything that you can with the resources you have saved for your new car to help them pay their medical bills and even repair their car!
    Society has reached a level of intelligence that allows it to displace its blame and guilt outside of itself. “It’s not my fault I didn’t see that car coming, it should have known better” “Well, I wasn’t the one swerving” this time… Only when it is undeniably our fault do most of us accept responsibility. But even then, we justify the circumstances leading to that car crash. “Well, I had just gotten dumped, so I understandably got wasted, you can’t blame me for that” “I was tired, so I slept through work and didn’t feel like calling”
    It is so easy to give up on the future and live for today, everyday. They understood that there was a time to party with Dionysus, but you had to account for it properly and then get your ass back to work with Apollo.

  10. Funny, that is one of the few posts where I actually read the comments knowing people would have all sorts of “This doesn’t apply to me because…” retorts and I wanted to see Ramit give them he\\. Today’s post cracks me up even more (whether it was intended to or not). Thanks for the uplifting post!