Monday, November 26, 2018

Embarrassment

I should be proud of my financial situation, right? I've worked hard, saved and invested, and reaped the benefits. But one thing I left out of my post the other day about some of my friends who remind me how lucky I am, is that I can't help feeling a little awkward or embarrassed sometimes when I talk about money matters with them. For all that I can empathize with their struggles, my own life is totally different. I don't have their fears and worries right now. And I wonder if they resent my situation or feel envious. I've realized that I share a lot less about my life on social media now because I worry that I'll sound like I'm bragging or rubbing people's noses in my good fortune. Perhaps that is also why my writing on this site has lagged so much in the last few years (though I have no excuse for losing momentum several years ago, well before I retired!). It's one thing to be striving and working and in the fray of trying to get ahead. But once you just stop and say "I have enough money and I'm just going to chill out for a while" it's not very relatable!

On this site, I can be quite open about things-- that's always been the whole point. And in "real life" I have always tried to be realistic about finances, if not totally transparent. Because our culture can be so caught up in materialism and keeping up appearances, I felt like I was doing a civic duty in a way whenever I'd say "I can't afford that" or "I've been saving a lot of my paycheck so I can afford that" or "I've been maxing out my 401k since a very early age." So many people fall into cliches when talking about money, somehow reinforcing the idea that it is okay and normal to be constantly spending money on nice things and having lots of debt-- I don't want to be part of that. But sometimes it's easier to tell little white lies about one's situation. I've met a number of people in our new community that have asked if I'm retired, with a sort of doubtful look, like "I don't want to insult you by implying you are older than you look but you don't seem to be working and you're not at home with children and I also don't want to insult you by asking if you've been laid off..." In a couple of these conversations I've ended up downplaying my financial freedom and talking more about being "between jobs" or "trying to change careers" or "doing some consulting projects" or "hoping to start a new job soon but it's dependent on funding..." The latter is basically true, but all of these things are easier to say than "well, I don't really have to work right now and yeah, I've basically retired 20 years before most people do, but no, it's not because I've inherited great wealth, I'm just a normal person who was fortunate enough to have parents who could support most of her education and give her a happy childhood while imbuing her with a lifelong penchant for saving money, and I've never been afraid to invest..." That's all kind of a mouthful, a bit TMI!

Ultimately, I can't control what people who don't know me think about me. The truth is too long a story. But I wish there was a way to convey it. Some of my situation is due to luck/privilege, but a lot of it is due to controllable factors. I suppose what would embarrass me most is to be seen as someone who has benefited from pure luck and doesn't "deserve it." But I feel proud if I can serve as an example of someone who has made good choices-- choices that anyone can make.

4 comments:

T'Pol said...

Madame X,
You have been my inspiration for many years and needless to say I miss your posts a lot. I am 52 and pretty much where you are. Although I intend to do project work on a part-time basis for another few years, I no longer have to work. When people ask how it was possible, I usually tell them I live simply, have no kids or expensive hobbies and do not need a lot of money. Being single, I have diligently saved as much as I could. I try to set a good example for the young people like my ex-team but I guess people in their 20s and 30s have a different outlook on life. I hope you will write more and share your experiences. If you do not find me too nosy, I have always wondered how your mom handled her finances after a few posts you have shared. Thank you for being such a good influence and inspiration.

JP said...

I've followed your blog since the very beginning (I don't even remember how I found it). Your long absences of posts actually have had me worried about you but I keep telling myself that you have a real life and I could never maintain a web audience - thanks to an RSS feed, I am still here.

You've lived a completely different life than me (married, two kids, suburbs of the western coast) but we share similar financial prudence.

I'm 51 and have been the primary bread winner with a 6 figure salary for the last 10 years or so. My wife stayed home with the kids for 10+ years and has barely broken $40k since going back to work about 5 years ago.

We have paid for both kids to go to a state school ($25k per year) and we paid off our mortgage at 42. We don't have a boat or a vacation house somewhere and we go on vacations using frequent flyer points or the airline credit card deals.

My wife and I drive crappy old cars and our house is nothing to get excited about (but it is paid off) and we are worth over $2 million. We are "the millionaire next door" that people talk about.

I have some health problems and really need the insurance my company provides so I think I will keep working. Still, I keep looking at our net value spread sheet and I think we could really live off the interest and part time work (I'd love to work at Home Depot) but the health care situation scares us.

Thanks for sharing all your info. I think a lot of your readers like me lurk in an anonymous world, but we still follow your path religiously.

All the best to you and "sweetie". You should be very proud.

bethh said...

I love that your long time followers are commenting - I've also followed for who knows how long! I'm about your age but still a decade away from paying off my house & getting out of the workforce, but I'll still be quitting work in my mid-to-late-50s if all goes well (and depending on health insurance options).

Your post makes me think of someone I know locally who doesn't seem to work and I have to admit I've been rather skeptical that one partner works, one doesn't, and they don't have kids. But maybe the non-worker has saved hard, or they're doing something that works for them!

If I were in your shoes, I might answer any curiosity by saying I'd saved for my whole working life and that I was on a self-funded sabbatical. That sounds like you've left the door open to working, but that you're taking time to consider your options, and it's a result of having saved a long time, without getting into too many details unless they are persistent.

Anyway, it's a nice problem to have and I wish I had it :) Enjoy!

Anonymous said...

Also a longtime reader and happy to some new posts. I an a couple of years younger than you, but are stats are very similar. I will probably pull the plug on my job in a couple of years and understand your predicament. The few people I've told of my early retirement plans just don't seem to get it, so I'm sure it will only become more awkward to explain when I actually stop working.