If you have a somewhat-above-average professional salary, saving at least half of your income is totally doable. I’ve been doing it for many years, even while I was the sole wage earner for a family of four living in high-cost California. Recently, I have become rather open about my finances in conversation. The most common reaction I get when I tell people I save 50% of my income is a wide-open-mouthed blankish stare. I really don’t feel different, but when I tell people I save half my income, they seem to think I’m from another planet.
Mind = Blown
After my recent coming-out at work, I’ve had more than a few private financial conversations with colleagues. People want to know how is it possible to just quit your job and travel for a year without any income? Engineers who make way more coin than me can’t understand how it is possible that I save 50% of my income.
Two colleagues confided in me that they don’t save anything at all. After paying for Costco runs, private piano lessons, 5-star vacations, a bigger house, and a new car every few years, they have no savings left over to speak of. They’re worried about how they will pay for their kids college in a few years.
It’s amazing to me the role that social pressures play in convincing us to spend money. We all strive to fit into one social group or another, and if your circle thinks cars reflect your personal worth, then you’ll probably be putty in the Tesla dealer’s hands.
One of the biggest lessons I want my kids to learn during our Family Gap Year in South America is that happiness does not require a Tesla. Where we’re going, people cannot dream of affording a Tesla. And yet, they are perfectly happy – at least, no less so then the people in our suburban California neighborhood. People around the world all face social pressures to spend money, just on a different scale.
The Annual Restaurant
I had lunch last week with one of my work friends. He’s an engineer who grew up in India. He always has amazing stories about his childhood, and how vastly different it was from how his own children are now growing up in California. I can tell he had a very good childhood, and he is nostalgic for the good times he had.
He told me that growing up, he never went to restaurants. Not even for coffee or tea. He ate every single meal, every snack, every crumb at home or at a friends’ or neighbor’s home. Eating out was practically unknown.
There was an annual fair that came to his city – a celebration of sorts. Each year, his father took his family to eat in a restaurant at the fair. This was the one time of the year that my friend ate in a restaurant, and it was an experience that he still cherishes as an adult.
Needless to say, when he came to America as an adult, he was shocked to find that so many restaurants are always full, and that many people eat out for lunch every single day. What a difference!
Making money in America is easy. The median income in the United States is massive compared to most of the world. The typical American family makes about 30% more than a German or French family, and more than double the income of families in Spain and Italy. Working adults in the United States earn about 6x what a typical worker earns in Mexico.
So, why then do so many people in America not save any money? And how are highly paid engineers worried about paying for college?
Making money is easy, but so is spending it! You really have to pay attention in this country if you want to save a lot of money. You have to be a little different.
Large retailers like Costco and Amazon are insanely good at separating you from your hard-earned dollars. (See why I quit Costco). They really are ingenious. Many people don’t have the time or focus to fight back, and it can take years to learn how to do it.
Of course, I can’t just blame it on the retailers. There are many reasons why Americans don’t save money: social pressures, lack of financial knowledge or education, and many people just don’t want to save – they don’t think about it at all, or they think it’s boring.
So when you meet someone who makes less money then you, who suddenly quits his job to go travel the world for a year, you may tend to think he’s a bit of an oddball. Perhaps he’s from another planet.