The CBC recently ran 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. They acted as money bosses. The decision 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 to many CBC readers, Kristy and Bryce are phonies. They’re scammers. They’re trust-fund babies who got a lucky break. They did nothing to deserve their financial success. They’re going to squander their riches…and soon!
I wish I could say the responses to this article are 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 apart.
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. 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
Yesterday, I asked Justin from Root of Good if he could introduce me to Kristy and Bryce, the young Toronto couple profiled by the CBC. 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 them. 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 has achieved financial independence — whether it’s by cutting costs, boosting income, or both — commenters on these major articles will rip them to shreds. I’ve been watching this happen for a decade. It’s what I expect when I read a success story.
- If the story emphasizes that the subject achieved financial independence 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 hole.”
- On the other hand, if the story profiles somebody who retired early 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. (You can, however, tame the trolls by dealing constructively with comments on your own site.)
And it’s not just bloggers who face this sort of criticism. A common topic on the /r/financialindependence forum at Reddit is how to handle friends, family, and co-workers who diss on folks who are financially successful. Financial independence is a radical idea to most Americans, and many people find it threatening.
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! My goal is to help you hold onto your wealth, and to help you use it in a way that supports your goals and priorities. (And, of course, if you haven’t reached that point yet, my goal is to help you get there.)
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!