Are You a Flaming Idiot When it Comes to Your Finances?

In my early 30s, I decided to play ice hockey. I was an okay skater to begin with, so it didn’t take me long to become a decent player. After two or three years in the over-30 league, my hockey skills were better than average. I was no Wayne Gretzky mind you, but I rarely if ever embarrassed myself or my team.

Around the time I turned forty, I got a call from the team captain. Norm was very excited. He convinced two ringers to join our collection of misfits for the upcoming season. “Great,” I exclaimed. “A couple of elite players is the only thing separating us from a championship.”

The night of our first game in the new season, I was in the locker room with a bunch of my teammates. We were all excitedly donning our hockey equipment. The ringers, after all, would be arriving soon. But I remember being somewhat disappointed when the first ringer entered. He didn’t quite look like an elite player. He was on the short side, and pudgy. His equipment looked like it had been sitting in his parents’ attic for the past ten years. And he didn’t talk much. He just said hello to everybody after Norm introduced him and quietly went about getting ready for the game.

Ringer number two, however, was a different story. He was tall and lean. His chin was chiseled and his hair was perfect. He looked like an elite athlete. And if by chance his striking appearance didn’t convince you of his awesomeness, his words quickly filled the void. His game was very, very fast he announced to everyone. And he needed two wingers who could keep up with his dazzling speed.

I didn’t find ringer number two’s schtick very appealing. I don’t like braggarts. But I was sold. And I was doubly sold after he slipped his jersey over his shoulder pads. He actually cut the bottom of his jersey into sharp-edged strips of various lengths to resemble flames. And I remember thinking that this guy had to be good. No one who sucked would dare make that kind of attention-grabbing alteration to his jersey.

Ringer number two’s schtick continued on the ice. He didn’t participate in our warm-up drills. He just stood by our blue line and gazed at our opponents at the other end of the rink. I remember skating over to him and asking him what he thought of our competition. He didn’t think much of them, of course. In fact, his disgust for their hockey skills was unequivocal. “They suck,” he sneered.

Well, I think you know where this is heading. Ringer number one, the short, pudgy dude with the ramshackle equipment, was a damn good hockey player. And a damn good teammate. He was always smiling. Always upbeat. And whenever one of us made a boneheaded play, he never failed to pat the perpetrator on the helmet and say, “don’t worry about it.”

Ringer number two, on the other hand, was a douche (pardon my French). He was a better hockey player than I was. But not by much. He certainly wasn’t an elite player. And his pedestrian skills only made his flaming jersey look even more ridiculous. But the worst part of his game was his attitude. Whenever he screwed up, it wasn’t because his skills were wanting. It was because we sucked. Our suckiness was sabotaging his hockey prowess. And he wasn’t shy about making this known.

In short, ringer number two was a fraud. He was all flash and no substance. Take away the chiseled chin, the attitude, and the flaming jersey, and there was very little there. Just an average hockey player with delusions of grandeur.

Happily, ringer number two didn’t stick around for long. By the third or fourth game, he stopped showing up. Playing with us was clearly too demeaning for him.

Ringer number two definitely had psychological issues. For one, he couldn’t honestly assess his skills. He really thought he was an elite player. But there was something else. In some way, he equated average with failure. And being average wouldn’t work for him. Average was for losers like me and the rest of my teammates.

Fear of average, the elevation of appearance over substance, is hardly confined to the denizens of over-30 hockey leagues. We find this illness in the personal finance realm as well. Do you remember Demi Moore’s character Jules in the movie St. Elmo’s Fire? Jules had a fear of average. So she adorned herself with fancy clothes, expensive jewelry, and a fashionable Georgetown zip code. But the young and fabulous facade was a lie. She had lost her job and attempted to maintain her lifestyle with credit cards. And when her abject poverty could no longer be hidden, she broke down and tried to kill herself.

The sad part about ringer number two and Jules is that they felt their value as human beings depended on being elite. Average, in their minds, would elicit disdain from the community at large. And that’s just not the case. We had no problem with ringer number two, for instance, because he was an average hockey player. Heck, he was better than half the guys on our team. And we were in an over-30 beer league, for heaven’s sake. We weren’t going for the Stanley Cup. No, we had a problem with him because he was a jerk. And I’m sure Jules would have remained a welcome part of the St. Elmo’s crowd had she lived in a dreary studio apartment and shopped at Kmart.

So here’s the lesson, groovy freedomists. Expensive equipment, an alpha-male personality, and a flaming jersey do not elevate your hockey skills and make you a valued member of a team. Likewise, expensive clothes, a hot car, and a fashionable zip code do not make you more worthy of friendship and admiration. Embrace your mediocrity. Don’t live a lie. If saving for retirement and building wealth means driving a crappy car, bringing lunch to work, and living in a mundane neighborhood, so be it. You will still be liked—at least by decent people. And, thankfully, there are plenty of such people around.

 

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20 Comments

  1. So many people forget that the majority of people are average. Average can get you through a happy life. Average can feed you and clothe you and be there when you say I do.

    • Mr. Groovy

      Hey, ZJ. You are so right. Amen for average, especially in the United States where average is opulence compared to most of the world.

  2. Mr Groovy – I don’t appreciate you talking about me like this – I really am the best hockey player in the world. 😛

    It is amazing how people can live in their own world and be oblivious to what is actually occurring around them!

    • Mr. Groovy

      Haha! Sorry I had to be so rough with you, Thias. But it made for a more compelling post. Great point about people being so oblivious to the world in which they inhabit. Self-awareness is an important skill that too few take the time to master.

  3. It’s really sad that people like player #2 miss the point. In his case, the point was that you’re in a league to be part of a team and have fun. In the case of our finances, the point of money isn’t to buy all the things. It’s to gain security and freedom, or at the very least, to handle our basic needs. Great post.

    • Mr. Groovy

      Hey, Gary. Nice! In three sentences you packed an amazing amount of wisdom. Substance over image. Why do so few get it?

  4. I love that you tied in one of my all-time favorite movies 🙂 So many lessons could be learned from those characters.

    Advertising has drilled false ideas into our heads and we have to consciously work to fight them off. I think that’s a benefit of getting older — you start to see beyond all that and realize what’s truly important.

    • Mr. Groovy

      The siren call of advertising! How many households has it destroyed? The only thing that saved me from it was age. Like you said, Kate, as you get older, you “realize what’s truly important.” Thanks for stopping by.

    • Mr. Groovy

      Exactly! Why over indulge on stuff and work until 67? To impress people? I’m with you, Stockbeard. I’ll take early retirement over flaming lies of grandeur any day.

  5. Average in America is wealthy to most of the world.

    That’s why so many immigrants want to live here. As a student trying to get a degree, even though I’m by no means wealthy, I enjoy a lot of privileges just by living in a first world country.

    If you live in the U.S. then you’re way ahead of most of the people on Earth!

    We already got the cake, I think a lot of times people are fighting over the icing on the cake (by trying to get to the 2%).

    • Mr. Groovy

      I couldn’t agree more. I’ve always said I won the lottery just by being born in the United States. Average in the United States is unfathomable wealth to much of the world. I guess it’s just human nature to compare yourself to those around you. I was certainly like that. But when you take a step back and consider that 500 million people in India don’t have access to a toilet, for instance, you realize that your 10-year-old car isn’t so bad. Thanks for sharing your wisdom, Jaime. I love it!

  6. Patty Z

    Reading this makes me feel better about my own struggles to be free of mortgage debt and start living a life of more financial freedom. Sometimes I feel so unworthy, so mundane. Living in a HCOL area can be stressful, but finding your blog has helped me hone my savings/frugality skills and keep my eyes on the prize. The prize you may wonder, is to pay off our bloated mortgage and buy a small vacation spot to get away from all the materialism we find ourselves mired in. Thanks for reminding me it is an attainable goal!

    • Mr. Groovy

      Hey, Patty. Thank you for your very kind thoughts. I once lived in a HCOL area as well (Long Island, NY). It was very stressful. And I felt unworthy and inadequate right up until the day I left. But with age comes wisdom. I finally figured out that things weren’t nearly as important as family, friends, health, and financial independence. So Mrs. Groovy and I live under the radar. We have the worst car on the block, we shop at Walmart, and a big Saturday night out for us is going to the Dairy Queen for a Blizzard. But we’re debt free and we’re retiring this fall. I love your financial goals. You won’t believe how less stressful life will become once you shed your mortgage. And that small vacation spot sounds absolutely lovely. Best of luck. I’m sure you’ll make your dreams a reality.

        • Mr. Groovy

          Hey, Patty. Yeah, I’m a Long Island boy. My parents moved from Queens Village to Plainview when I was 6. My last 8 years on the Island were in Long Beach. I have a lot of mixed feelings about Long Island and New York. There are a lot of awesome people up there. But the snow, crowds, and taxes eventually wore me down. Keep me posted on your financial adventures. I always love commiserating with a fellow Lawn Guylander.

  7. I was always taught to strive for perfection, be aggressive, and work hard. A lot of that is sports and military related, but I also learned to be humble along the way. I can see where the ringer number twos of the world come from, where they lose sight of doing things the right way. Ego gets in the way, clouds judgment and reason. I have seen “that guy” too many times. I have even been “that guy” on occasion. As I get older, I still strive for perfection but now the ego is worn down to nothing.

    I love the sports tie in with finances.

    • Mr. Groovy

      Hey, Brian. Agreed. There’s a fine line between playing hard and being “that guy.” When I was younger, I was definitely “that guy.” I almost came to blows with a dear friend over intramural volleyball. Yes, I was that pathetic. And fortunately for me, my friend kept his cool. He would have creamed me in a fight. But like you, I was eventually able to subdue my ego. So now I play hard but accept imperfection in myself and others. Thanks for stopping by, Brian. Always great hearing from you.

  8. Any article that references hockey is one I can get into! Great analogy by the way, Mr. G! I think anyone who has spent time in a locker room can relate to playing with guys like Ringer # 2. I laughed out loud thinking about his shredded Jersey. Must have been quite a sight. 🙂

    • Mr. Groovy

      Agreed, MMM. One of my favorite quotes of all time is from Badger Bob Johnson.

      “It’s a great day for hockey.”

      I used to use a variation of that quote in all my jobs.

      “It’s a great day for cutting grass.”

      “It’s a great day for plowing snow.”

      “It’s a great day for writing SQL queries.”

      My co-workers would like at me like I was nuts. But I didn’t care. It was my way of paying homage to the great sport of hockey.

      Thanks for stopping by, my friend. May the shredded jerseys in your life be few.

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