Too much bad personal finance advice out there.

You ever read a blog post that went something like this…

You might want to think twice before you buy that brand new TV. It would set you back $2,000, and will likely only provide you entertainment for a handful of years. What if you invested that money instead? 

If you put $2,000 in to a Roth IRA and let it grow for 30 years, at 8%, you would end up with $20,000. 

I repeat, TWENTY-THOUSAND DOLLARS!!!!

Is that TV really worth $20,000 to you? I didn’t think so. Now go give yourself a spanking and put yourself in time out for even thinking that buying a TV was a smart move! 

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read some iteration of the post above. Maybe instead of a TV, it’s a vacation. Or a boat. Or a house. Or probably the most popular topic for an argument like this to appear, a wedding post.

Consider this my permission to flip those other PF bloggers the internet version of the bird and tell ’em to buzz off. Unless of course, your goal is to be miserable for the rest of your life. Then by all means, drink the kool-aid.

Personal finance bloggers commonly confuse the term financial freedom with wealth. THEY ARE NOT THE SAME THING.

Say I had $1,000,000 in my 401k right now. I am literally a millionaire. But am I free?

HECK NO!

My 401k isn’t going to pay my cable bill, put groceries on our table, or a car in my driveway for another 30+ years. Yeah, I’m a millionaire, but I’m no more free than the dude that bags groceries down the street at the local Safeway. We both still have to go to work tomorrow.

Do you get it? 

You need to be working towards financial freedom, not wealth building.

I think, at 28 years old, I’ve reached that place. My job provides the best work/life balance of anyone I know, I make a reasonable, but still down-to-earth five-figure income. We have a roof over our head. We contribute 15%-20% towards retirement. And we’re content living within our means, no pinching pennies, but we still have to be mindful of our spending. As far as I’m concerned; we’re retired.

It’s a beautiful place to be, and a place I hope you are in, or working towards finding. 

Don’t get discouraged by the PF bloggers who talk about how great early retirement is even though they are still slaves to their blog (or their portfolios), who make you feel terrible for buying a new car, or who tell you there is no such thing as saving too much.

Those bloggers suck.

You be the best you you can be. Make a plan. Stick to it. And enjoy the ride along the way…even if that means you end up buying that TV.

You don’t have to be a millionaire to be happy. Promise. 

35 thoughts on “Too much bad personal finance advice out there.

  1. I think I’ve noticed that there are different types of people following personal finance blogs and advice. Some are just scraping by, and every extra expense is actually a bad idea. But then there are many, like you (and, I think, me) who are making decent money, have decent savings, and so don’t have to figure out how to pinch every penny.

    We all have our own plans. I don’t intend to be in the “retire by 35” crowd. I’m planning on working until a usual retirement age, and hopefully my good choices early on (starting savings, stashing a bunch into retirement, paying off debts, not being crazily extravagant) will mean a decent life at retirement. But I’m not willing to go to any extremes to make that happen.

  2. PERFECT!
    When I first graduated from university owing thousands of dollars I completely deprived myself from living life to its potential. I missed out on a lot of outings with friends because I thought I couldn’t afford it. I paid off my debt in no time but it wasn’t worth the “cost” socially.
    I think it’s important to save and to get out of debt but don’t live your life and work your body into the ground just to do so!

  3. I’m confused. If I have $1,000,000 in investments, I’d be very close to not having to work for money ever again. How is that not freedom?

    I’d much rather “work” on my portfolio (index funds = little work) than wake up everyday and work a job.

    • $1,000,000 in a 401k does not help me out at 28 years old. Not unless I plan on paying penalties for early withdrawals.

      You’re a liar (I mean that in the nicest way). You would not stop working today even if you had sufficient savings/investments. Maybe you’d start a non profit, or write a book, etc, but you wouldn’t literally cease being a productive member of society for the next 30+ years I’d hope. Doesn’t seem like this is so much of a money problem as it is a loving your job problem.

      I love my job and work life balance, therefore I’m retired.

      • I agree with Ryan.

        If you elect to withdraw based on 72t rules, there are no penalties, regardless of your age. And if you were living on the nest egg, 72t rules would suit you perfectly. BankRate has a very good calculator here:

        http://www.bankrate.com/calculators/retirement/72-t-calculator.aspx

        Also, Ryan didn’t say he wouldn’t work, he said he wouldn’t work for money. In other words, he would be free to choose work irrespective of the salary offered. He would have the ability to choose work based on some other criteria, such as his enjoyment of that work, or his opinion that the work was worthwhile.

        The ability to cover your living expenses irrespective of what you choose to do with your time sounds like freedom to me, too. 🙂

        • I’ll have to look at the 72t rule since I’m completely unfamiliar with that process. Thanks for the share.

          I guess my point is I would rather be happy my whole life doing something I enjoy, than working a job I don’t enjoy for 10 years while stressing about money so that I can enjoy life later.

          You don’t need to be rich to be happy or to have the freedom to do what you want. You just have to practice contentment. Visit a third world nation and see the gratification people there have for even the simplest of things.

      • Thats why I wouldn’t only have money in a 401k. I’m sure I’ll have assets in my Roth and a regular brokerage account. Maybe rental income. There are also ways to get 401k money out without the penalty.

        I absolutely would stop working if I had sufficient investments. I do not like getting up at 5:30AM and I don’t like pretending to care about the stupid parts of my job.

        I would still do stuff of course. I would be pointless to save all that money and then just sit in bed all day. Maybe write a book. Continue blogging here and there. Definitely read more. Run more. Etc. But none of those things need to earn me money and most wouldn’t.

        You love your job and work life balance, but you’re not retired. You need a job or you couldn’t pay for your lifestyle.

        I don’t plan on living like a cheapskate or anything, but my eye is on the exit. I’ll give up a few things like an SUV, long commute, and pointless trips to the mall if it means I can retire at 35 instead of 55.

  4. Right on! Definitely agree. I needed to read this post today and keep it for future reference down the road. It is a good reminder to never lose sight of the preciousness of time, the quality of our lives and what it means to live with “enough.”

  5. While I agree in principle with a few of these thoughts, I hope no-one uses this as justification to buy a $2,000 TV!! That is not going to improve your life today or in retirement!! 🙂

  6. Hmmm. I don’t think your retired by the traditional sense of the word. But I do think you found a great balance. You make some great points! And it really depends on your financial situation at the end of the day. Like you and Girl Ninja, our incomes combined means we make a pretty good living. especially since we have no kids and only have ourselves to spend on. We’re not penny pinchers but we are bargain shoppers.

  7. Been following for years, not much of a commenter but I totally agree. I HATE that type of advice. Yes, be smart where you can, but enjoy your savings. I have had people say the same things to me about a TV and vacation, but they were I was proud of both. Saved up and paid for in full (no debt). Enjoy life, plus in the end something like a TV will save you money in the long run.

    Watch more sports at home instead of at a bar, more TV movies at home instead of out. And a good Friday movie and wine night instead of expensive dinner and drinks saves money. Enjoy life, screw those asses.

  8. Preach.

    I just spent a couple hundo on a bachelor party in Chicago. Was a bunch of booze a great investment? Not according to many PF bloggers and my liver. However, I budgeted for the trip, I enjoyed my time in the city and with friends. I spend many weekends seeking out frugal entertainment – or just plain staying in – precisely so I can enjoy some big spending opportunities.

    And my TV is my most valuable possession. 🙂 Sure, my bike might be “worth” more and actually get me out of the house, but when my TV died last year and I couldn’t watch my precious football and basketball for several months, I was spending big bucks at the bar. I’m not apologizing for loving my TV no matter how many PF bloggers try to make me feel bad for it!

  9. A tad off topic but I can’t help but notice how good you have it. Usually I would go off on one of my jealousy rants but for now I wanted to get your opinion regarding the state of this country in regards to everyone’s opportunity to bootstrap themselves. Even Larry has mentioned the failures of these current times of how life seems to be hard to live. Also, in one of your posts about hearing your youth groups struggles in life. Not to be a Debbie Downer but hearing about people’s good lives from either hard work and/or luck makes me ponder such things…

    • I get that through the filtered lens of Punch Debt In The Face it would appear as though my life is perfect. While I would definitely say life is good, my journey has plenty of hiccups and disasters.

      “I wanted to get your opinion regarding the state of this country in regards to everyone’s opportunity to bootstrap themselves.”

      No, not everyone can pick themselves up from their own bootstraps. Someone is always going to be working the bagger line at the grocery store, middle aged women are going to find themselves single moms struggling to make ends meet, people are going to lose their jobs, etc.

      While I don’t think everyone has the same opportunity to be financially successful, I absolutely believe everybody has the ability to be happy.

      Here I am, with a couple hundred thousand dollar net worth, a hot wife, and a pretty great life. I’m happy.

      But guess what, I was also happy as a 21 year old unemployed college graduate that didn’t know how he was going to pay rent next month (I had to borrow money from my mom). The entire purpose of this post is to remind people that happiness and wealth are not at all related.

      I guess a lot of this has to do with my faith. I know the Big Guy upstairs can take away my wealth and health in the blink of an eye. I don’t value these things, sure they serve a purpose and are a tool (which is why I’m trying to be responsible with them), but they aren’t my source of Joy. God, family, and friends are all I need, anything else is just icing on the cake.

      Otherwise how does one qualify what “enough” is? Exactly how big of a house does one need? Or how much does one need to make before they can be satisfied with themselves?

      You’ll always be left wanting more, if you’re never happy with what you have. <--- wow that's deep

      • I guess it all comes to getting that right balance. While it is good to be satisfied with what you have, it is good to have goals to push us to be a little bit “better.”

  10. Can i get a what-what for some middle ground? Hey maybe it isn’t terrible to be a little consumerist, but buying cars new generally isn’t the best idea either. There will be many making noise on the ends of any spectrum, because that gets the most attention. As for me, I’ll plant myself quietly in the middle and focus on the quality of my plan, and then focus on crushing every step on the way forward.

  11. 1. I haven’t gone back to re-read the comments on the last post, but since the example ninja posted was crazy close to the estimate I posted for my TV i have a question. Ninja, I want to know if this post is just a general post about these types of personal finance post or did someone write a reaction post using the 2k tv number and send you the link? If its the latter I feel personally involed and would like the link to the article.

    2. I love how people can have an unhealthy relationship with money being a spendthrift. Realize they need to change thier ways and start personal finace blogs to chronical the progress and finally end up with an unhealthy relationship with money being a money hoarders. I would say they are correct about themselves not needing a 2000 dollar tv. That money would be put to better use by getting some therapy.

  12. It is all about choices! You make good choices and you will undoubtedly do well in life. The Contrast is equally true! Let’s face it one indulgence will not screw up your goals, but it is the repeated mistakes that diverts you from the goal that will mess you up.

  13. People need to find the right balance between spending and saving. It all comes down to that, if saving everything makes you happy then no blogger can tell you differently and vice versa with spending. The diffference is the spending bug will leave you poor and the savings bug will make you look poor, but you can’t let it get out of control like extreme cheapskates. Tell yourself it will be a temporary thing until you hit your $ goals, then you have to live off the nest egg. Find a balance by being mindful of the future without sacrificing the present too much.

  14. Great post. I starting reading finance blogs a few years ago and saw a lot of this same vanilla info. I think it all starts with people like Suze Orman and David Bach who espoused these ideas in their books. Suze Orman has a freakin part of her show where she tells people if they should buy something! I hope I’m never guilty of doling out such info on my blog.

    By the way awesome post and awesome site!

  15. Personal finance is what it is, PERSONAL!
    So, the bloggers give out their personal opinion. If you are in debt you may not be buying that $2000 TV, when a $250 32″ can give you more or less same satisfaction.

    Saying that, appreciate your opinion, it’s your personal, and those bloggers’ opinions are also personal.

  16. Hear hear my good man! Speakethst thine truth!
    I feel like I’m kind of in the same boat although you guys have waaay more saved up then I do and I have yet to find the right girl to share with, my life is pretty footloose while still making a “down to earth” 5 figure income.
    Sometimes though you do have to reassess your situation as I recently had to. Turned out I was waaay overspending. Check out my latest post on what I did to cut back. And if you’ve got any additional advice on the subject, I’d love to hear it!

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