During the 2008 primary season, MSNBC host Chris Matthews experienced something rapturous as he listened to a speech being delivered by then-candidate Barack Obama. He described the feeling as follows:
“I have to tell you, you know, it’s part of reporting this case, this election, the feeling most people get when they hear Barack Obama’s speech. My, I felt this thrill going up my leg. I mean, I don’t have that too often.” [Emphasis mine.]
Ah, yes, the Chris Matthews leg tingle, or CMLT for short.
Mr. Matthews caught a lot of flak from his political detractors for describing the jolt of happiness he experienced as a “leg tingle.”
But why? The catalyst behind his leg tingle wasn’t malevolent. It was a speech—from a great orator. Had he gotten the leg tingle from robbing a bank, it would have been an entirely different matter.
CMLTs Are Cool
It seems to me that CMLTs—short-lived bursts of joy derived from wholesome endeavors or things—should be coveted by any thoughtful person. After all, CMLTs are a great way to smooth over all the pain that accompanies the human condition. Heck, CMLTs are even enshrined in our glorious Declaration of Independence.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS.”
With this in mind, then, I decided to review the CMLTs in my life.
When I was younger, my CMLTs were largely connected to testosterone. I would get a CMLT whenever a pretty girl smiled at me, whenever I broke a personal bench-press record, or whenever the Dallas Cowboys won a football game.
My youthful CMLTs were also connected to consumerism. Buy a case of Genny Cream Ale? Wow—CMLT. Put a new electronic gadget on the credit card? Yeah, baby, what a CMLT. Book a trip to Vegas? Super-duper mega CMLT.
But as I aged, and drifted farther away from my fortieth birthday, my best CMLTs began to stem more and more from the core tenets of financial independence. Here are just some of the FI-related CMLTs that have sustained me over the past ten years or so.
- Increasing the percentage of my pay earmarked for my 401(k).
- Filling out the paperwork every year with my HR department so I could take advantage of the 401(k) catch-up provision for employees over 50.
- Checking off the months of our Freedom Countdown chalkboard.
- Calculating our net worth.
- Entering expenses in our expense tracker.
- Driving down my block and mentally noting that my car is by far the worst in the neighborhood.
- Mailing our property tax payment to the county every fall.
- Mailing our estimated tax payments to the feds every quarter.
- Getting a text message from my bank confirming that my monthly pension check has been deposited.
- Re-balancing our portfolio every year to maintain our desired asset allocation.
I could, of course, wax eloquently about my FI-related CMLTs for a lot longer. But that would be rude. So let me leave you with just one more FI-related CMLT. It has to do with Mrs. Groovy and my bedroom.
Yes, Mrs. Groovy really knows how to get my leg tingling in that citadel of nocturnal tranquility. The other day I walked into my bedroom and found 63 cents lying on my dresser. “Holy loose change,” I exclaimed. “Mrs. Groovy really does love me!” I then took that 63 cents and plunked it gleefully into my change jar. My legs nearly buckled as two ferocious CMLTs had their way with my innocent legs.
CMLTs and Financial Independence
There’s no way a young Mr. Groovy would have ever gotten a CMLT from putting loose change in a jar. No, back in the day, CMLTs only seemed to come my way from beer, Mighty Tacos, and securing phone numbers with cheesy pick-up lines (“Gee, your hair smells terrific“).
So what changed? Why did anything related to personal finance and FIRE suddenly make my heart go pitta-patta?
I like to think that my financial renaissance was the result of Mrs. Groovy and the FI community. And they surely played a major role. But my turnaround from a beer-swilling colossus of mediocrity to a raging FIRE enthusiast was so abrupt, I have my doubts.
In other words, my concern is this: My transformation wasn’t a long drawn out battle with many dispiriting setbacks. It was an overnight capitulation. A rout. So, did Mrs. Groovy and the FI community fundamentally change me, or did they merely awaken something that was already inside me?
The answer is critical. What if no amount of education will convince someone without the “FIRE gene” that the CMLT from maxing out a Roth IRA is just as fulfilling as the CMLT from buying a new SUV? What if few or any natural-born spenders can be turned? What if those denied the FIRE gene at birth are forever destined to be the pliant servants of big business? Must the government step in and protect them from their innate consumerism?
Damn, it’s no fun being someone who is pained by the economic tomfoolery of others. Fixing humanity is hard.
Okay, groovy freedomist, that’s all I got. What say you? Can anyone be taught to appreciate FI-related CMLTs? Or are they something that only those born with the FIRE gene can appreciate? Let me know what you think when you get a chance. Have a great weekend. Grease for peace.