I am privileged to have a job where I get to argue for a living. It is great. I get to have some really in-depth intellectual debates with colleagues and students from across the country. I often get into very intense conversations with my colleagues at my university. In particular, I have a colleague where we often debate the economy and retirement. We “argue” but it is always done civilly. And this person is one of my closest colleagues at my workplace. This makes my workplace better because they are there and I don’t know what we would do without this person. I would generally call this person a true friend.
We even have very similar dispositions toward politics. I would say that we are both progressives/liberals, but my colleague is probably much more so than I am. I jokingly say this person is a communist (although that may not be far off–ha, ha). Our discussions/arguments often end in personal discussions of investing/retirement. Without going into too much detail I think it is safe to say that I do a bit more investing than my faculty compatriot. Although this person does save for retirement.
While this person doesn’t think the whole stock market/investing thing is a scam s/he does believe that we should have to work so hard and rely on investments so much for retirement security. We should have much more security built into our system like the Nordic countries do. In fact, I think it is safe say to say my colleague would like to rip the system to shreds in many cases.
While this person doesn’t totally condemn capitalism. They do condemn its excesses, the fact we have student debt, debt in general, a consumer based culture, and high income inequality. All of which, I think are pretty valid arguments.
My colleague, I think, would also like to quit working and go into another field. This person would like to move somewhere else and not have to worry about money. S/he wants to do something else with his/her life beyond teaching. Perhaps impact the world in a different way.
And there is the rub. My friend wants to fundamentally alter and change the system for the better.
I think that is a wonderful thing and I agree with many of her critiques of our economy and how we “retire” in the United States.
However, this person also resists the pressure put on them to invest for retirement; the need to have to save more in order to have a good retirement. This person would like to change the rules of the game when it comes to the economy, personal finance, and saving for retirement.
We definitely have a disagreement in this area.
While I agree with this person on the breakdowns of the system and the need to make some changes, I also believe that we can uses the system to our advantage. We can use different retirement saving vehicles to make the system work for us.
In my opinion, the best way to make those changes are being within the system itself and acting for change, but also planning to leave it. Unfortunately, most of our wage slaves to some extent. We get by on our wages. I want to get to the point where my investments grow larger than my wages. Certainly, I think this would qualify as Fuck You Money.
Once that FU money is in place then I think you can truly liberate yourself to do what you want to do. If you want to work for greater income, social, cultural, racial, religious, political, and other forms of equality then you have much more liberty to do so. Having FU Money or the saving a great deal for retirement gives you much more freedom to work within the system or tell the system to fuck off in general.
I try to take advantage of the things the system has to offer. I make a decent enough wage that I force myself to max out my retirement accounts. I may miss that money in the short-term, but it gives me more options in the long-term. I also reduce my taxable income. I increase my net worth. I increase my ability, hopefully, later on to fight/do what I want.
That doesn’t mean you don’t fight for things in the moment. However, can’t we do both? Can’t we try to save the world and change the rules of the game, while at the same time use the rules the system has set up against itself?
You might argue that is easy for me to say. I have a privilege that others do not. I am a well-educated, heterosexual white male, who has never really suffered the slings and arrows of racial, ethnic, class, or religious oppression.
At the same time, if you have the means I would encourage people to do both. Change the system from within, but also learn the rules of the game, play them, and use them to your advantage. Then you can accumulate enough assets to decide what you really want to do. I think people can win with money in that respect, but I also think that we as a society have made personal finance such a foreign language for people that it becomes overwhelming and they give up. There can and should be a happy medium between both.
We should be able to change the rules of the game, but also use those rules to benefit us. Then we can then take the benefits we have received and help others.
Maybe what I am saying is all a pipe dream. Maybe we can’t do both. Maybe my colleague is right and the system is so screwed up that we cannot overcome it.
Or maybe I am right. We can do both.
In the end, I have to believe that we can do something. I have to believe we can do both. I have to believe that we can achieve financial independence. I have to believe that most people can retire with dignity. I have to believe that it is still possible and always will be. If this blog only convinces one person to not make some of the mistakes I have and puts them on the path of saving, investing, and financial independence then it has made all the difference.
What do you think?