I remember the feeling of dread when I signed up for my first two graduate school courses at Baruch College in 1997. Those two courses would cost me roughly $1,200. Throw in the cost of the Long Island Railroad and books and my first semester in grad school was going to add $1,800 to my living expenses—$1,800 I didn’t have by the way.
Faced with additional expenses that couldn’t be avoided—given my desire to earn a master’s degree—I did what any rational person would do. I looked for a part-time job.
And as fate would have it, the perfect part-time job materialized just a few blocks away from my condo. The owner of the neighborhood car wash was looking for another crew member for the Saturday shift. He paid the minimum wage—$5.15 an hour—but with tips included, the typical crew member made about $100 a shift.
Sounded good to me. To paraphrase Rose Royce, “I might not ever get rich…but it was better than diggin’ a ditch.”
So for two Saturdays in a row I did the car wash gig. And it went rather well. The pay was as advertised; the work was harder than I thought it was going to be, but far from brutal; and my crew mates, even though they spoke little English, accepted me into their merry band of hand-drying and wheel-cleaning brothers.
But then something tragic happened. I got a visit from Mr. Ego.
Mr. Ego Doesn’t Like Slumming It
Mr. Ego is the fiercest advocate you’ll ever have. He’s also as impatient as a two-year-old and doesn’t give a rat’s ass about logic or reality. His soul purpose is to impress upon you how great you are, how you’re better than everyone else, and how your exclusion from the rarefied ranks of society is a crime against humanity.
And because he has such an elevated opinion of you, he’s tenacious as hell when it comes to protecting your image. I should know. Just look how he treated the news of my new part-time job.
Mr. Ego: “Hey, I hear you’re working at the car wash with all the other brain surgeons.”
Me. “Yeah? What’s it to you? It’s honorable work.”
Mr. Ego: “Sure, sure. It’s honorable work. Didn’t your best friend just get a monster promotion at the fire department? What is he now, a deputy chief or something? Why don’t you tell him about your great car-washing job so both of you guys can celebrate your glorious ascent up the career ladder?”
Me: “C’mon, Mr. Ego. You’re way out of line. If Jesus Christ can wash feet, I can wash cars.”
Mr. Ego: “Yeah, you keep telling yourself that. And tell all the girls you meet in bars how deftly you handle a shammy. I’m sure they’ll be very impressed. You’ll be getting laid left and right.”
Me: “Damn it, Mr. Ego. I’m not going to be washing cars for the rest of my life.”
Mr. Ego: “Duh. But why are you washing cars even now? You have a bachelor’s degree for heaven’s sake.”
Me: “I know, I know. But this car-washing gig fits my schedule and is going to pay for grad school.”
Mr. Ego: “Hey, dummy. That’s what credit cards are for. Have some self-respect. Put grad school on Visa and pay it off with overtime money. Don’t you get a lot of overtime during the winter plowing snow?”
Me: “Alright, Mr. Ego. You win. I’m quitting tomorrow.”
Egotrage, a word I just coined, is defined as follows:
The strategy of advancing your financial position by doing something that is “beneath” your socioeconomic status.
I should have kept that car-washing job. It would have saved me from a lot of revolving debt, armed me with a reason to moderate my Friday-night partying, and provided me with a wonderful opportunity to learn Spanish. But nooooo. My ego couldn’t handle it. A man of my stature—I did have an illustrious journalism degree from Long Island University, after all—didn’t wash cars.
Ah, the follies brought forth by pride. Thankfully I’m no longer consumed with my image. My car, phone, and clothes are ample proof of this. Better to look like a bum and have money to travel extensively than to look like a big shot and barely have enough money to leave my house.
Now, before I conclude this section of the post, I want to give you a few more examples of egotrage so you can wrap your brain around the concept. Here we go.
- Claudia and Garrett over at Two Cup House are two successful professionals in their early 30s who live in a 536 sq ft house. They weren’t always small-house people. Their previous home was 1,500 sq ft. But because they decided to go small and flout convention, they were able to eliminate all of their debt and they’re on track to be financially independent in 2019.
- Jillian over at Montana Money Adventures saved $200K with her husband Adam to buy their first house. But rather than buy a McMansion, they decided to buy a fixer-upper for $50K. And because they went for a house well below their means, they’re currently in their second year of a mini-retirement.
- Finally, my brother left New York in 2013 and relocated to Raleigh, North Carolina. He was 52 years old and basically broke. But Brother Groovy has always been a hustler. He got a good job and soon thereafter opened a gym with two of his workout buddies. He’s currently making just over $100K. And where does Brother Groovy live? In a trailer. That’s right. He makes six figures and lives in a single-wide. But because he decided to live in a humble trailer, he’s saving 65-70% of his income and he’s on pace to be financially independent by the time he’s 62.
On the second Wednesday of the month, I normally devote my post to something that my warped mind supposes will either lower the cost of government or make it less tyrannical. But this is the holiday season, and most Americans are understandably fed up with politics, so I decided to give this feature of my blog a one-month hiatus. I’ll return to the intersection of politics and personal finance in January.
Okay, groovy freedomist, that’s all I got. What say you? Is egotrage a joke? Or is egotrage a legitimate concept that all FIRE enthusiasts should be aware of? Let me know what you think when you get a chance. Cheers.