Mr. Groovy and I got out of debt (including our mortgage) almost ten years ago. As Dave Ramsey would say, we are freaking WEIRD!
We’re weird because we don’t follow the money rituals of the Normal-Poor folk, whose habits revolve around those of their Normal-Poor friends. We are part of the Weird-Wealthy sect. Which would you rather be—Weird-Wealthy or Normal-Poor?
In honor of Dave, today I’m keeping it weird by sharing with you my guiding principles for leading a Weird-Wealthy lifestyle.
Model yourself after Lieutenant Columbo
Modeling behavior after someone you admire (fictitious in my case) is a good rule to live by. Find someone who does what you strive to do and copy his strategies. I know it’s weird, but I like to model myself after the TV character, Lieutenant Columbo.
The series, Columbo, initially ran from 1971 to 1978 and centered around a murder case under investigation by Lieutenant Columbo. Lieutenant Columbo was a raggedy but likeable LAPD homicide detective, who drove a beat up Peugeot and was never seen without his dirty, beige rain coat and a cigar. He wasn’t trying to impress anyone with his clothes or his stuff. He was totally weird. Each episode included big name guest stars, whose characters looked down their noses at Lieutenant Columbo, especially when he showed up uninvited to their swanky country clubs or mansions.
Like Lieutenant Columbo, I wear a messy costume. Most days you’ll find me in worn out jeans, sneakers, and no makeup or jewelry. I’m easily overlooked. While the Normal-Poor are all dolled up or trucked-up (this is the south, you know, where Mary Kay Cosmetics and F-150 pickup trucks abound), Mr. Groovy and I go merrily through life as the millionaires next door. No one suspects us of being financially free. And we’d like to keep it that way.
Lieutenant Columbo never took things at face value. His biggest asset was that he saw the endgame almost immediately. That is, he immediately pegged the murderer, and then reverse engineered the crime with the available clues to prove the suspect’s guilt.
Mr. Groovy and I have had our eye on the endgame for the last three years. We determined how much money we needed to reach the Mustachian Threshold (25 times our annual spending). Then we reverse engineered our saving and investment requirements to reach that figure. And now the endgame is in sight and we’ll finally put the 9 to 5 life behind us in October.
Don’t buy the newest, most expensive shiny objects
When it comes to cars and electronics, think utility and value. Spend what you need to get the job done. Our car is an old-man, 2004 Toyota Camry. We recently had a fender-bender in a parking lot with an SUV. The other vehicle had absolutely no damage but ours had a nice little dent. We didn’t even exchange insurance information with the other driver. Isn’t that weird? I asked Mr. Groovy if he wanted to fix the dent and he actually laughed at me. He said the dent adds character and makes our car even less stealable.
If you must buy expensive, shiny objects, don’t be careless with them and don’t advertise to criminals you have them. Every so often we have a rash of car break-ins in our neighborhood. The victims keep their laptops and other valuables in the back seat of their cars, which are left in their driveways overnight. And the reason being? Their two-car garages are packed with stuff!
And during our daily walks, Mr. Groovy and I often pass the cardboard packaging of newly purchased widescreen TVs out on the street, days ahead of trash pick up. It seems to me the size of one’s TV in our neck of the woods is inversely related to how Normal-Poor the person is. Don’t they realize they’re hanging the proverbial sign on the door which says “Please come burglarize me!”? What other big, shiny new objects might be inside to grab a criminal’s attention?
We have four flat screen TVs we bought eight years ago. They’re at least three times as thick as the new ones out now. We don’t intend to upgrade them until they die. Amazon, Panda and Showtime do not automatically appear when we turn them on. We don’t even have cable, which is good for our budget, and our souls, because it means our Normal-Poor friends feel compelled to stay in a hotel when they visit.
As for jewelry, aside from my engagement ring, I have one treasured necklace consisting of a small diamond in a delicate setting. Years ago I told Mr. Groovy I wanted him to buy me a diamond for my 50th birthday, and he remembered. We’re not normally gift-exchangers, but for this request, Mr. Groovy not only complied, he picked the necklace out himself without any hints.
Take driving vacations
Mr. Groovy and I have gone on road trips to Georgia, Alabama, and Kentucky in the last two years. Several of Mr. Groovy’s Normal-Poor buddies from Long Island chided him with, “Why are you going THERE?” We don’t take their taunts personally. They chided us when we left New York for the backward, hillbilly south, too. They think we’re weird. But typical of the Normal-Poor, they’ll work until they’re 65, squeeze in a vacation to Cancun or St. Thomas every other decade and convince themselves they’re doing just fine. For us, cherished vacation time does not revolve solely around getting wasted on umbrella drinks, then returning home to plaster photos of ourselves on Facebook, in swimwear we shouldn’t be caught dead in.
Call us weird, but we’re in love with this country. We plan to take a few adventure trips to more exotic lands, but our largest mutual goal is to see all 50 states. We’re only up to 27 and have much catching up to do, with many Diners Drive-ins and Dives restaurants to see along the way.
We’re suckers for small towns that still serve Hershey ice cream, for taking scenic drives, and getting tips from locals on the best regional foods and sights. On our last vacation to Louisville, KY, we passed the same bar every night as we returned to our hotel. It sat on a busy avenue and was lit up like a movie set. It was staged like a beach club, complete with a regulation size volleyball court on white sand! While cars were whizzing by, serious league competitors only had eyes for the ball and their beer. On our final night we stopped in for a drink and had a blast schmoozing with the bartender and being regaled by students with their dorm stories. Our Normal-Poor friends would find this very boring. It certainly doesn’t make for exciting FaceBook fodder. What do they talk about with strangers they meet on vacation? Their homes? Their jobs they can’t stand?
Only gamble with money you can afford to lose
Whether you’re buying lottery tickets, or shares of stock, assume you’ll never see that money again. Mr. Groovy is excellent at spotting trends early on and has pumped up our savings with a few individual stock investments. But it’s like a game to us. We invest only a small portion of our portfolio on flyers. Once the trades are made, we don’t even think of the money as ours. Isn’t that weird?
But the fun part is dreaming. Mr. Groovy’s latest find is a penny stock called Western Lithium (don’t buy it!). During dinner sometimes we excitedly discuss, “What if our lithium mine hits big and we walk away with $600K?” What—indeed! We get very creative and concoct some intricate plans. But in reality, we know we’re not going to score big with a lithium mine. We know it’s gambling, but it’s fun.
Recognize that your home is not your lifestyle
A home should house you. Its purpose is to provide comfort, protection, a sanctuary for sleeping, eating, relaxing, and enjoying good times with friends and family. You define your lifestyle, your choice of home does not. We’ve all been a little too brainwashed by HGTV into believing we’re entitled to live in palatial surroundings.
When I hear people say renting is like flushing money down the toilet I want to throttle them, because it’s a lie. It’s perpetuated by folks who have the largest stake in the home ownership business—mortgage brokers, realtors, home builders, and friends who have spent too much on their own homes seeking to make you suffer too.
I grew up in an apartment where four people shared one bathroom. The horror! Later, I lived in a nice studio on Manhattan’s east side for seventeen years where I was very happy. The neighborhood was 24/7 and I was surrounded by friends, Starbucks, and good pizza. When Mr. Groovy and I got married, he had the better job, and a condo—and so I moved in with him.
Believe me, I understand renting is not for everyone. It will be a cold day in hell before I ever share a wall, hallway, garbage/compactor room, stairwell, stoop, or parking garage with another human being (aside from Mr. Groovy). I’ve been greeted by the strangest neighbors, foulest cooking odors, the loudest noises—and I even had a neighbor who chased her toddler down the hall screaming, “I’m gonna ‘F’ you up if you don’t get back in here.”
But I was 48 when I moved into my first home, the one we’re in now. After we quit our jobs we plan to downsize and either buy or build a small home. For kicks, I ran our numbers in several mortgage calculators and was stunned to find out we can “afford” a home ranging from $500K to $700K. NO WE CAN’T!!!! These widgets lie!!! Who concocts these things? I’ll tell you who—the mortgage companies and banks that have the most to gain from “how much house you can afford.” Don’t pick a number based on these calculators and then back your purchase into that number. Decide how much you are comfortable paying and look for a house that meets the majority of your needs.
Mr. Groovy and I wouldn’t spend more than 30% of our monthly net income on a mortgage payment, if we were considering one. I know many experts say you should base the percentage on your monthly gross income, but I don’t agree. I also recommend putting at least 20% on a down payment to avoid private mortgage insurance (PMI).
We paid PMI in New York, and that’s what I call flushing money down the toilet.
You also need a second emergency fund, in addition to your personal one, if you buy a home. Be prepared for the many expenses you’ll be responsible for on top of your mortgage: Taxes, repairs, insurance, association fees, etc. As Dave Ramsey says, a home can be a blessing or a curse. If you buy one without having a substantial cushion, it’s a guarantee that Murphy and his three cousins Broke, Desperate and Stupid will be moving in with you.
Ask the couple who bought our New York condo. Less than a month after closing, the HVAC system died and it cost them $6,000 to replace it. They had already taken out two loans for the purchase and put only 5% down. Of course, Mr. Groovy and I felt badly when we learned this months later. But the HVAC system was working just fine when we sold the condo, and we told the buyers the unit was as old as the condo itself. Sh*t happens. They ended up short selling the condo after living there a little over a year.
Be grateful for the life you have
Tony Robbins’s best-selling book Awaken the Giant Within continues to inspire millions of people. In it he says “When you are grateful, fear disappears and abundance appears.” I don’t know any other way of chasing fear away than gratefulness. If you do, please tell me.
Be grateful for life. For the air you breathe, the food you eat, the people you love who love you back (and even those who don’t; there are lessons to be learned there). Keep a journal or say out loud the three things you are grateful for each day. If you’re in a funk and can’t dig up anything to feel grateful about, go do some volunteer work in a nursing home—not so you can thank your lucky stars it’s not you in there. No, it’s to witness the meaning of life.
I’ve been profoundly affected by visiting my aunt, who has dementia, in a nursing home. She can’t walk and has to be lifted out of bed. But when asked how she is, she answers “good.” She used to complain about everything, both real and imagined. But by now she has mostly forgotten what annoys her. We kiddingly asked her if she made any New Year’s resolutions, and after reminding her of what year we’re in, she scrunched her face and then said with a smile “I guess I want to live to see 2017?”
Realizing my aunt is still glad to be alive shows me how strong the will to live is. Because when everything you or I might associate with joy is gone from their lives, people fight for their last breath. Don’t take that for granted.
I’m not as new age-y now as I once was. Years ago I went to several of Marianne Williamson’s lectures on A Course in Miracles, in New York. These were held in a little church on the Upper West Side, before she moved to Town Hall, or appeared on Oprah. She’s a powerful, funny, charismatic and mesmerizing woman in person. And she’s become a beloved writer of inspirational books. I’d like to leave you with a quote of hers from Return to Love.
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.”
Now before you go being Weird-Wealthy, I have some questions for you.
What rules to live by help you on your journey to Weird-Wealthy?
Do your Normal-Poor friends make fun of you?
Is there anyone you model yourself after?