Last year, I wrote a post called, The Housing Downsize Challenge. And in this post, I explained how Mrs. G and I want to sell our house in Charlotte and buy some land in the Wake Forest area so we can build a small home (1,200 to 1,400 square feet). If we do manage to pull off this downsize challenge, and our Charlotte house sells for more than our total building costs, we’re going to use the surplus to travel to Ecuador, Vietnam, and Australia.
Well, last week we began the downsize challenge in earnest. We met with a realtor and started looking at land. And what I discovered during this initial hunt wasn’t very appealing. I’m a freakin’ snob. Yes, it’s true. The man who loves dive bars, pork rinds, and The Trailer Park Boys is nothing but a snooty blue-nose. I wish I could say otherwise, but I can’t. Let me explain.
Proof of Snobbery Number One
We saw six properties with our realtor. All were in our price range and all had the desired acreage. So the realtor was adept at finding land that met our criteria. Perfect! The only problem was the people who bordered these properties.
Case in point. Take a look at the Google Street View below. If we bought the property we liked best, this would have been our neighbor.
Now my problem with this potential neighbor wasn’t an income thing. It didn’t bother me that the owner or renter of this home wasn’t a hedge fund manager. Most people living in rural North Carolina aren’t going to have prodigious incomes. I get that. What bothered me was the lack of tidiness and the clear evidence of deferred maintenance. In other words, my problem with this potential neighbor was a stewardship thing.
To show what I mean, here’s a Google Street View of a humble home not too far from mine in Charlotte. It’s obviously not a large home. I doubt it has more than one bedroom. But every time I drive by this home, the lawn is cut, the grounds are tidy, and the structures look cared for. Had the steward of the above property maintained the house and grounds as well as the steward of this one, Mrs. G and I would now be in contract for some land in the Wake Forest area.
It’s perfectly true, of course, that I may have totally misjudged this potential neighbor. He or she may be the salt of the earth. But how am I to know? I’m not an X-Man. I can’t see into the souls of strangers and extract their true characters. All I can go by are the clues they present. And the clues presented by this potential neighbor were hardly encouraging. I didn’t see stability, peace, and bird chirping. I saw drama, chaos, and obnoxious music blaring at obnoxious hours.
Proof of Snobbery Number Two
Okay, my second example of snobbery has been brewing for a while now. I don’t know why it is, perhaps my fussiness has unaccountably spiked, but it seems to me that the cleanliness of fast-food restaurants has declined sharply over the past six months or so. Every time I go into a McDonald’s now, I’m dismayed by the condition of the soda fountain area. Errant straws, discarded lids, spilled ketchup, and syrupy seltzer water sprinkled everywhere—it looks as if a six-grader’s birthday party just concluded a search and destroy mission.
And the grubbiness never stops at the soda fountain area. Nor does it stop, as I’ve already suggested, at the feet of the Golden Arches. Every fast-food joint I’ve visited lately—be it McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Bojangles, Taco Bell, or Sonic—appears to have been overrun by a malaise of ickiness. The bathrooms are icky. The floors are icky. The tables are icky. And the staff is becoming increasingly icky too. Just a few days ago, Mrs. G and I saw a very grimy and dishevelled young man slip past the “Employees Only” door at a local Sonic. Yep, one of the line cooks just returned from a cigarette break. Oh, yummy!
Again, I get it. Fast-food isn’t fine dining. But must an assault on my waistline be accompanied by an assault on my sensibilities?
I can handle questionable food cooked and served by clean people in a clean environment. But questionable food cooked and served by questionable people in a questionable environment? That’s a bridge too far. And that’s why Mrs. G and I have decided to enact a trade embargo against all fast-food restaurants for the foreseeable future.
I don’t like pooping on fast-food workers and rural North Carolinians. It doesn’t speak well of me. But I went down this dark alley for two reasons. First, I’m human, and I needed to vent. Second, there just might be a personal finance angle in play here. Let’s find out.
Some years ago, I came across a book called, Two Cheers for Capitalism. And in this book, if I remember correctly, there was a chapter called, The Utility of the Rich.
The author’s premise in this chapter was rather straightforward. The rich are good to have around. And one of the reasons behind this premise that stuck in my mind was this: fancy restaurants. If it weren’t for the rich frequenting fancy restaurants on a regular basis, there’d be no fancy restaurants for Mrs. G and I to frequent on the rare birthday or anniversary milestone that warrants a special indulgence. The rich, in other words, have money, ideas, and habits that we can all exploit, providing we have the right attitude, and providing we have access to them.
Now a question. What attracts rich people? Do rich people like to be in the company of those who are “rude, lewd, and crude”? Do rich people move to or frequent neighborhoods with high crime?
The rich, of course, aren’t sadists. They don’t want to be around base people. And because they have the means to mitigate their contact with the great unwashed, they do so.
The good news is that today’s rich are more repulsed by cultural poverty than fiscal poverty. A great example of this is public education. The rich, by and large, are big proponents of public education and diversity. If their neighborhood public schools are competent and safe, they’ll send their kids to public schools. If their neighborhood public schools are unruly and chaotic, they’ll send their kids to private school.
So memo to people who are both fiscally and culturally poor: Whether you’re a fast-food worker, a rural North Carolinian, or an inner-city resident, you need to do a better job of attracting and exploiting the rich. And the best way to do this is to clean up your act.
Okay, groovy freedomists, that’s my lame defense of my recent embrace of snobbery. Does it hold water? Or am I just being a jerk? Let me know what you think when you get a chance. Peace.