I’m not a cultural relativist. I don’t believe all cultures are equal.
Now before you pillory me and go all SJW on my ass, I’m talking about culture in a financial sense, not in a aesthetic sense. In other words, I’m not saying that jazz is better than Mongolian tribal music, Italian food is better than Mexican, and rompers are better than burkas. I might prefer jazz to Mongolian tribal music, but you might not. What delights me will not necessarily delight you.
Since there are no objective standards when it comes to aesthetics—it’s all a matter of personal taste—it doesn’t make any sense to say one aesthetic culture is better than another.
When it comes to financial cultures, however, there is an objective standard to measure their worth: Does the financial culture in question increase one’s ability to honorably earn money and build wealth? If embracing Financial Culture A makes it easy to earn money and build wealth honorably, and embracing Financial Culture B doesn’t, it’s perfectly reasonable to say Financial Culture A is better than Financial Culture B.
A Prime Financial Culture Vs. A Subprime Financial Culture
What I’d like to do now is contrast two financial cultures. The first, which I call a prime financial culture, is a wonderful tool for earning money and building wealth. The second, which I call a subprime financial culture, isn’t. Let’s begin with the tenets of my prime financial culture.
Prime Financial Culture
- Be noble. Respect your fellow man. Don’t lie, cheat, steal, or inflict bodily harm.
- Be nice. Smile. Open doors for people. Tip servers well. Don’t drive like a maniac. Keep your warped opinions to yourself. In short, be the kind of person that others enjoy being around.
- Learn a skill or trade that people in the legal/ethical economy value. Think doctor, accountant, or mobile app developer. But don’t forget the trades and unglamorous vocations. I have a friend who became a millionaire cutting grass. And J. Money over at Budgets Are $exy recently featured a post on someone who makes six figures a year picking up litter.
- Procreate when you can afford to. You know that raising children is a time-consuming and money-consuming task. So you don’t have children willy-nilly. You enter into parenthood mindfully. To show what I mean, here are three blogging friends who are doing this parent thingy right.Penny over at She Picks Up Pennies.
Harmony over at Creating My Kaleidoscope.
JW over at The Green Swan.
- Have wimpy vices. You know that man doesn’t live by virtue alone. But you also know that some vices are harmless and others aren’t. Better to be addicted to the Game of Thrones than crystal meth.
- Work at least 40 hours per week. You’re not a Walton, Rockefeller, or a Kennedy. The only way you can get ahead is to work. So you put in the time. Tending to your job or business and honing your skills easily consumes more than 40 hours a week.
- Live below your means. You loath exaggerated displays of wealth, and you have a pathological distaste for debt. Moreover, you know that frugality isn’t synonymous with deprivation. You therefore do all you can to increase your income and decrease your expenses. The bigger gap you have, the more you’ll have to invest.
- Invest the bulk of your savings. The only way to outpace inflation and make your money grow is to invest in the stock market. So you invest any money you don’t immediately need in a mix of stocks and bonds that reflects your age and risk tolerance.
- Protect yourself from risk. You know stuff happens—even to decent, hard-working people. So you have an emergency fund, all the proper insurances, and an appreciation for healthy eating and exercise.
- Always be learning. Skills atrophy or become obsolete. Learning how to be a great investor takes time. So you are constantly upping your game by reading, going to school, or practicing something you haven’t yet mastered.
And now the tenets of my subprime financial culture.
Subprime Financial Culture
- Be cruel. Prey on the weak and unsuspecting. Plundering and pillaging is perfectly okay when the victim is a stranger or a member of a hated tribe.
- Be surly. Being pleasant to coworkers and strangers is a sign of weakness.
- Don’t bother to learn a skill or trade that people in the legal/ethical economy value. Just enter the labor market with a pulse and a functioning back. That should hold up well against hungry immigrants and automation.
- Procreate when you’re broke. Sure kids are expensive. But you’ll have WIC, food stamps, and Section 8 housing to tide you over while you figure out how to improve your finances.
- Have hardcore vices. You only live once, right? Besides, you know how to turn things off when you have to. So by all means smoke, gamble, party hard, and sleep around.
- Work less than 40 hours per week. If you can’t find full-time work, it’s cool. Part-time work is fine. And never consider having two or three part-time jobs to make sure you work at least 40 hours a week. Only a chump becomes a slave to “the man.”
- Live paycheck to paycheck. Remember, you only live once. So immediately buy all the stuff your paycheck and credit limit will allow.
- Never save a dime. You’ll be able to work well into your 70s. And if not, Social Security will provide you with plenty of money.
- Ignore risk. Bad habits and luck will never turn against you. Having an emergency fund and health insurance is stupid.
- Always be blaming. If things go wrong in your life, never look inward. It’s always someone else’s fault. And why shouldn’t it be? After all, for your entire life, your family, friends, neighbors, teachers, news reporters, politicians, movie stars, and favorite musicians have been telling you all about the “isms” that plague this country and how our system is rigged against the little guy. And all these people can’t possibly be wrong.
Okay, groovy freedomists, I have a question for you. If you embraced my prime financial culture, how likely would you advance financially over time? If you said very likely, go straight to the head of the class. In fact, barring some incredibly bad luck, I don’t see how you wouldn’t make great strides in your net worth as you aged. Conversely, how likely would you advance financially over time if you embraced my subprime financial culture? Your odds would have to be terribly small. Again, barring some incredibly good luck, I don’t see how you would avoid dying miserable and broke.
Having a Subprime Financial Culture Doesn’t Make You Evil
Suppose for a moment that you embrace all of the habits in my subprime financial culture except the first two. You’re not a predator and you’re not an unpleasant person. Does this still make you a bad person? No. You’re not a bad person if you procreate while in high school. You’re not a bad person if you’re lazy. And you’re not a bad person if you spend all of your money on unnecessary crap. I should know. Prior to my fortieth birthday, my financial culture was more subprime than prime (providing, of course, you removed subprime habits 1, 2, and 4 from consideration). And I don’t have an evil bone in my body.
But just because you’re not a bad person doesn’t mean you’re not a foolish person. If your financial culture is more subprime than prime, you’re going to struggle financially. And don’t believe the bullcrap being hurled around by the propagandists in academia, journalism, and entertainment. The United States has a lot of problems, but you’re still the master of your destiny. The evil One Percent can’t stop you from building wealth. Only you can stop you from building wealth by embracing a lame-ass financial culture.
Okay, groovy freedomists, that’s all I got. What say you? I say for Americans with a prime financial culture, the world is their oyster. I also say for Americans with a subprime financial culture, the world is their gulag. Am I right? Horribly wrong? Let me know what you think when you get a chance. I’d love to hear your thoughts. Cheers.