This Bloomberg report on the impact lower bonuses are having on Wall Street’s finest serves as another reminder that, like elected officials in Washington, Americans throughout much of the rest of the country have more of a spending problem than a revenue problem.
Andrew Schiff, brother of doomsayer Peter Schiff of Euro Pacific Capital, laments the high cost of private school tuition, living in New York City, and four month long summer vacations in Connecticut that have become difficult to bear on his $350,000 income.
While Andrew won’t get much sympathy from the rest of the country that struggles to make ends meet on a 10th of that income or less – and that is, perhaps, the more important story here – it does illustrate the point that, at just about every income level, many Americans are doomed to financial failure simply because they spend too much money.
I’ll never forget Lakers owner Jerry Buss who, back in the 1980s, famously said that all you have to do to become wealthy is to spend less than you make and to keep doing this over many, many years.
It’s a simple formula, actually.
Yet, in a society where image seems to be everything and buying things you don’t need with money you don’t have is a way of life, that simple wisdom seems about as relevant today as the idea of paying off your mortgage.
I find it hard to conjure up much sympathy for people like Schiff and the primary reason why is that, for decades, I’ve approached personal finances in a completely different way, one like Jerry Buss recommended and which may someday soon come back in style.
Not long ago, a high school buddy of mine who worked on Wall Street for many years asked me how my wife and I were able to quit our cubicle jobs while still in our mid-40s and my answer to him was simple — it’s not just about income, it’s about spending.
Of course, he lives in New Jersey where property taxes are sky high and, as is the case in New York City, other living expenses make a low-cost lifestyle nearly impossible.
I don’t know.
To me, it’s just simple addition and subtraction (with only a little multiplication and division) and having the ability to be flexible in your decision making, but, focusing more on the spending side of one’s personal finances over the long-term seems to be a much better approach to managing your finances than trying to always grow your income and then watch your spending rise to that same level.
Not surprisingly, some who adopt the latter approach find themselves “freaking out” somewhere on a California freeway as Andrew Schiff did not long ago.
Of course, not many Americans like the whole idea of spending less, so, I wouldn’t expect that a new austere culture will develop here in the U.S. very rapidly.
If there is one thing the U.S. is not, it’s Germany (though, if you’re half German, as I am, that seems to be helpful in this particular situation).
More likely, it will be a forced change, but one that will surely come, and not one that many will enjoy, though, embracing this change sooner rather than later might be a good idea.
I can’t tell you how good it feels sometimes to sit back and think how comfortably my wife and I could live here in Montana (if need be) on such a little amount of money – gasoline is relatively inexpensive, taxes are low, and outdoor activities are abundant, cheap, and uncrowded.
Having zero debt is key – another foreign concept to most Americans.
Clearly, it’s all a matter of personal preference and happiness. For all I know, maybe some people are truly happier when they’re griping about one thing or another that they have the ability to change, but, for whatever reason, choose not to.
My advice to young professionals – think hard about what you do with the money you earn because little things over long periods of time really add up.