Recently I shared 7 lessons I learned from saving my first $50,000. Number 7 on the list was:
I want to expand on this.
When I was in high school and my early years of college I thought that my peers were constantly analyzing what I was wearing, what I owned, and how I looked.
I avoided wearing the same pair of Nike’s two days in a row because I didn’t want my classmates thinking I only owned one pair. I stopped letting my mom cut my hair and started going to Sports Clips to get the perfect fade. I stopped shopping at the thrift store and started spending more time at the mall.
My ego was running rampant.
I was my own biggest fan of the Daily Zach Show. But I failed to realize I was the only fan. Nobody remotely cared about what I was wearing, how my hair looked, what backpack I owned, or how many pairs of Nike’s I kept in rotation each week. How do I know this? Because everyone was too busy focusing on their own daily show.
Nobody had the time or the energy to keep track of my life because they were too busy focusing on their own. Everyone was worried about their own clothing, hair, shoes and appearance. They were the stars of their own show and I was just some background character to all of them.
When I first had this realization I thought it was only applicable to college. Of course everyone from age 18-23 struggles with an inflated ego because we’re young and we think it’s all about us. But the more I have thought about it, the more I realize this behavior extends well into adulthood.
Nice Truck Tires, John. I Didn’t Even Notice.
Many of the guys I work with talk about the trucks they own as if everyone around them is sitting on the edge of their seats waiting to hear about them. One guy I work with was recently telling me about the new tires he had put on his new 2018 I-Don’t-Want-to-Know-How-Much-It-Cost Truck as if I was a subscriber to John’s Lifestyle Magazine. Nice truck tires, John. But I wouldn’t have even noticed if you didn’t point them out.
Each time I log on Facebook I grimace when I see a new college graduate posting a picture of a new car they just bought “as a gift” to themselves for all their hard work. Not only did they just create plenty of more hard work for themselves to pay for that new car, but most of their friends and followers don’t care as much as they think. Everyone is too occupied thinking about their own new car they want to buy to stare at your car for more than seven seconds.
I have the same reaction when I see someone I graduated with showing off their new engagement ring on Instagram. To them, posting a picture of their ring and receiving hundreds of likes is a great feeling…for about a day. Then the picture is lost in the sea of other Instagram photos and the spotlight is gone. The worst part is, most of the people who liked the photo only looked at it for about 12 seconds before scrolling on.
We’re Just Background Characters…but that’s Wonderful News
Most of us overestimate how important we are.
We’re the main character in our own lives but in every other person’s life we’re just a background character. We have an irrational belief that our house, our vehicles, our family, and our belongings are on constant display for the world. The truth is, nobody cares about the intricate details of our lives quite as much as we think. That might sound bleak but I think it’s a wonderful insight that has some amazing financial benefits.
There is a tremendous sense of freedom that comes with the realization that most people are too busy with their own lives to care about ours. It means we have permission to only purchase stuff that adds value to our life and ignore how it appears from the outside looking in. It gives us permission to focus on what our life feels like and not what it looks like.
For me this personally means owning less stuff. It means owning way less clothing than I used to and reducing my shoe collection to four shoes instead of 20+. In fact, when my roommate and I moved into our apartment I was happy to take the smaller room (and pay less rent) because I didn’t need a walk-in closet for all of my shoes and clothing. I simply don’t need much stuff because I realize that there’s nobody to impress. Nobody has any idea how extensive my clothing or shoe collection is, nor do they care to know. I only buy things that add value to my life, which just happens to be very few things.
I drive a Honda Civic because it gets great gas mileage and is a fairly cheap car. I do have the money to go out and put a down-payment on a sports car, but I don’t have the urge to impress my coworkers or my social media following with my vehicle. Most of my coworkers and followers couldn’t care less about what car I drive, so I prefer to drive one that suits my needs.
Saving Money is a Natural Side Effect
Recognizing that I’m not as important as I think means I can keep my ego at bay. It means I can save a ton of my income because I don’t feel the need to go out and buy new stuff to impress my peers. It means I focus on quality and usability when I spend money instead of appearance. I focus on things that make me feel great, whether or not they look great. This means a tiny wardrobe, a cheap car, nice headphones, a decent laptop, and a few shoes. I don’t need anything else.
Once we realize we’re not so important, saving money is simply a side effect. There truly are only a few things each of us needs to live a high-quality life. Once we stop buying unnecessary stuff we don’t need just to impress others, we find that there’s plenty of money to be saved (and invested).
Recognize that you’re a background character. Eliminate your ego. Focus on feeling, not appearance. You’ll find that your bank account and your happiness will both swell.
Zach is the author behind Four Pillar Freedom, a blog that teaches you how to build wealth and gain freedom in life.
Zach's favorite free financial tool he's been using since 2015 to manage his net worth is Personal Capital. Each month he uses their free Investment Checkup tool and Retirement Planner to track his investments and ensure that he's on the fast track to financial freedom.
Although the bulk of his net worth is invested in index funds, his favorite place to invest in individual stocks is M1 Finance, a site that allows you to build a custom portfolio of stocks for free.
His favorite way to save money each month on his recurring bills is by using Trim, a free financial app that negotiates lower cable, internet, and phone bills with any provider on your behalf.
His favorite micro-investing app is Acorns, a free financial app that takes just 5 minutes to set up and allows you to invest your spare change in a diversified portfolio.
His favorite place to find new personal finance articles to read is Collecting Wisdom, a site that collects the best personal finance articles floating around the web on a daily basis.
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