I was struck the other day by the level of FOMO and fight in the online personal finance space. Everybody seems to be looking upwards, towards a future that will surely be better once they have more money. The financial world is rife with speculation that we seemingly don’t want to miss out on. Bitcoin. Gold. TSLA.
By focussing on others who have more money (and occasionally less sense) than us, we sabotage our own capacity for virtuosity. For how can you focus on being a good person, caring for others, practicing self-control…. while at the same time constantly taking in the external denigration of your status?
We need to be careful of those preaching good financial practice, but on the most part, trying to out-advise each other.
After one look at the personal finance area of Twitter, I noticed a pattern. Once a user gets beyond a certain level of followers they want to start selling you something. There’s nothing wrong with trying to bring extra money in of course, and at some point I may also look to do the same.
But if their only message is that you should buy their product, they are assuming a level of mastery above yours. They are telling you: you don’t know what you are doing as much as me, so buy my course/ebook to educate yourself.
This is all fine if you genuinely need to learn, but the average user who might be well versed in personal finance will see this sensational product and get FOMO. After all, they want the edge to be able to master the subject themselves. Before they know it, buyer’s remorse kicks in and they realise that they knew it all along.
What is the difference between metaphorically ‘buying’ the status signaling and data overload of these high achievers, and buying a brand new Ferrari? Both enable you to be a status signaller yourself, except the latter (and not the former) is ironically the most derided in the FI/RE community. It’s easier to target someone outside the FI/RE group identity.
More to the point – nobody else cares about your own money unless they want to take some of it.
Fight for the Right Reasons
‘It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog‘Mark Twain
Many of us are competitive. That’s part of what makes us human and what draws us to financial goals like Financial Independence. But we can harness this spirit to give back to the world, rather than fan the flames of sensationalism.
I think the ability to do this is mostly derived from how comfortable you are in your own skin. There is no need to try to outcompete random people on the internet, and there is no need to be ashamed of what you don’t have. Ultimately we will all die with only our thoughts to take with us.
Instead, we can channel this competitive energy into fighting against the plight of others. We can fight for justice and use our assets to help those who are in need. We can forgo the ‘benefits’ of this dopamine conveyor belt and instead try to add value to other people’s lives rather than our own.
Sometimes life is a fight, but it’s better to fight as an underdog. Where you can see the bigger picture and realise that it’s often not worth fighting in the first place. And if you do end up doubting your status, you don’t have so far to fall.
Against a Personal Finance Arms Race
If we treat personal finance as an arms race, we will get so far but we will never run out of competitors. With a few exceptions there is always someone with more material wealth than you. Isn’t the core message of the FI/RE movement that of not buying unnecessary material things? And at what point does spending money on yourself become material?
And shouldn’t we think of our time as even more valuable that our money? Sure, money can ‘buy’ you time in the future, but what good is it if you’ve spent the rest of your life watching the progress of others?
If we subscribe to a FI/RE lifestyle there comes a point at which we are surely happy with our lot, and there is no reason why this can’t be reached before we hit a magic number. Endless hustle beyond this becomes a point of vanity. Nobody wants to hear about the money you have, other than people who are jealous of you.