we've learned

moving on from badass

today we’re going out on a limb, but it’s something we feel strongly about. let us know — do you agree? think we’re crazy? or does it not bother you one way or another?

the word “badass” gets thrown around a lot in personal finance/financial independence circles. and every time we see it, we have this… reaction. a little like nails on a chalk board. because it glosses over so much, assumes so much, and doesn’t acknowledge something super fundamental: all of us who are working toward or have achieved financial independence — collectively, “the badass” — have one big thing in common. we’re LUCKY. like, crazy lucky, in ways we can’t ever fully see or acknowledge.

yep, we’ve made good decisions. you bet we’ve zagged when others have zigged. and for sure we’ve questioned the conventional wisdom more than a little. good for us, truly. these are all things we’re doing consciously that plenty of other folks are not doing, many of them for no good reason.

but there’s no escaping the fact that we’re all lucky, every single one of us. how? here are a few possibilities, and this list could easily be several times longer:

  • we were born in countries where it’s possible to change your path in life, at least in many instances
  • we’ve had the benefit of good or at least passable schools, while many people haven’t, and most likely were able to go to college (meaning we weren’t forced to go straight into the workforce after high school to help the family make ends meet)
  • we were empowered from an early age to make our own decisions and *feel* in control of our own destiny (this is not very common!)
  • we haven’t lost everything because of crippling health care bills or natural disasters
  • we’re able minded and able bodied, at least enough to have been able to earn the money needed to become financially independent
  • we are able to get jobs that pay us enough that we can save money and pay off debt (try doing that on minimum wage, which tens of millions of americans are forced to work for)
  • we have access to information about financial independence, which isn’t on most people’s radar at all
  • we’ve benefitted from lots of other help along the way that we probably aren’t even aware of, like the GI Bill that helped our grandfathers go to college and enter the middle class, or the suburbization of america, which let us grow up in safe communities away from the problems of the inner city

we love the post that frugalwoods did on the privilege of pursuing financial independence. they’re so right that doing what many of us in the fi space are doing isn’t achievable for a huge number of people in the u.s., in canada, and in the world. most people all over the world are scraping by, in the most literal sense of scraping. not because they’re dumb, or make bad money decisions, but because they weren’t born into any definition of privilege, and because society didn’t help lift them up in the ways it helped life up you and us. (don’t believe us? check the global rich list, to see where you rank. $32,500 annual income, which is the u.s. federal poverty level threshold for a family of six, puts you in the global 1 percent.)

we would love if our collective fi community could take a new stand, one that is a little less self-congratulatory and preachy, and acknowledge that we’re privileged to be able to do what we’re doing. let’s remind ourselves that we’re not better or smarter than everyone else, even if we’re making some better decisions than others. we’re lucky in more ways than we even know. let’s talk gratitude more.

here’s the best part: starting to acknowledge more openly how lucky we are, and expressing more gratitude accordingly, will be so good for all of us. how easy is it to get frustrated when we aren’t reaching our goals fast enough or when various first world problems get in our way? if we shift our mindset to realize how lucky and empowered we are, we’ll get a huge collective mood boost. and the benefits to our well-being of practicing gratitude are well established.

badass of the world, we can do this!

Don't miss a thing! Sign up for the eNewsletter.

Subscribe to get extra content 3 or 4 times a year, with tons of behind-the-scenes info that never appears on the blog.

No spam ever. Unsubscribe any time. Powered by ConvertKit

26 replies »

  1. I’m an accountant so I don’t think I’ve ever described myself as “bad ass” :) I definitely agree with you that I and others have been lucky in our paths, no doubt about it. But I also don’t want to take away from the fact that our “bad ass” choices have been instrumental in where we are today. I totally agree that we’re not better than others just because we’ve “figured out” this financial independence thing. But there’s nothing wrong with patting yourself on the back for figuring out what makes you happy, just the way a mother or father would brag about their child :)

  2. First off–I don’t think this will ruffle many feathers. It’s hard to take a stance against being grateful for the positions we’re in. Though I’m not ruling it out from happening ;-)

    That said, I’m going to assume that referring to “badass” is a glance in Mr. Money Mustache’s direction and his followers. While I agree that, within the forum especially, people have gotten too extreme, and too critical of others, Mr. MM doesn’t come off that way to me. He’s stated from the start that he has always targeted the upper middle class and their wasteful ways.

    It just so happens that the middle to lower middle have heeded the call to early retirement, and I think it’s changed the dynamic. I think Mr. MM’s advice is spot on for his target audience. They don’t need to drive financed $35,000 SUV’s to haul their 2 kids around. They don’t need the $150 cable package. Etc. Once those frills are cut, it’s about optimizing. But the further you get down the salary ranks, the less fat there is to cut. Then you start getting people claiming you should make your own shampoo, etc. for most, that is extreme. And in my experience, they’re the people toting their bad-assity and shouting down people in the forums.

    I don’t believe ER is for everyone, but I do believe everyone can handle their finances better. Be grateful for where you are, but don’t be complacent either–and that’s at any level of income. For the poorest among us, there is no such as retiring–retire from what, exactly? Eating? Having shelter? It’s a different mindset, for sure. So we are certainly fortunate to be in the positions we are, but I don’t think that there is anything wrong feeling good about optimizing what’s been given to you and what’s been earned. It’s not like we all lucked into a college education and careers. Many people have squandered their position of fortune. And if we can help people by giving good financial advice, then it’s less money wasted and hopefully more money used for the bettering of society. I don’t think we should skittle off to the beach after 10 years of working to relax away our lives. I don’t think people who are attracted to ER have that mentality…

    This is a really long response! But I think I’ve gotten my main thoughts across. Thanks for the thought-provoking post–we should all be grateful for what we have.

    • We have no issue with MMM, and like most on the ER path, were heavily influenced by him. We think, overall, the badass attitude is getting a bit out of hand. Nothing wrong with being proud of what you’ve accomplished, but we’re sick of reading blogs that out and out criticize anyone not making the same badass choices, as though success is only determined by your choices, and not by the circumstances you were born into or invisible ways in which society helps some but not others. (Just look at college going rates. Even in 2015, kids whose parents didn’t go to college are still far less likely to go. So while going to college itself isn’t just about luck, it’s certainly lucky to be born to college grad parents. That’s not badass, but those privileges are rarely acknowledged.) It’s becoming a very entitled world view, and we think we can all do better. And LOVE your points about the poor retiring from what? Okay, a long reply to your long comment. :-) have a great weekend!

    • P.S. Hope it goes without saying, but we don’t include you in that entitled bunch. And thanks for saying that this isn’t too feather ruffling. :-)

  3. Well said. As you probably know, I agree with this sentiment entirely. I think we’re an extremely fortunate bunch of folks and I’m fully cognizant that financial independence is absolutely out of reach for many, many people for a variety of reasons. I think it’s a true luxury to pursue one’s dreams, whatever they may be. And financial dreams are an especially privileged aspiration. Thanks for writing this!

    • And thanks for writing your post on privilege! You all have a louder megaphone, and we love that you’re willing to speak out to many of those who would prefer to judge people who simply can’t pursue FI. When we recognize our privilege, we’re all so much better for it — more grateful, more compassionate to others, and maybe even more able to change the system to make FI a possibility for more people. Thanks for stopping by!

  4. Yeah, I think any feathers you ruffle with this are worth ruffling :-) I think that there’s significant overlap between the FI community, on the one hand, and the tech and finance worlds, on the other. And, to put this reasonably nicely, people in tech and finance are often (not always) people who really believe in the myth of the meritocracy — who believe that they’re in the (financial) positions they’re in because of their own decisions and hard work entirely, and not because of a combination of factors including those you cite. Personally, I haven’t got much interest in any field that’s well-paying (alas) so I work at doing the best I can with the money I do make, and enjoying my life instead of cutting out every last money-costing pleasure.

    • Thanks! That’s such a good way to put it, re FI vs tech/finance. What a better world it would be if we could just see and acknowledge the factors helping us get ahead (or doing the opposite)! Fwiw, we know from personal experience that the are well paid jobs that contribute good not evil to the world. But they aren’t too common. :-)

  5. Glad you posted this. I struggle with the concept of privilege because I don’t know what to do with it. Even if I acknowledge that I may sit on a mountain of privilege, what then?
    Here’s a thought:
    Join me at the end of Good Will Hunting where Chuckie threatens Will that if he doesn’t make the best out of his situation, he’s going to kill him. From that I gather that I may have drawn a good card in life, but that’s my card. Maybe its all of our duty to make the best out of our situation. …Because any of those guys would do anything to have what we have.

    • It IS a struggle to know what to do once you acknowledge your privilege, but love your answer. We’d add to it slightly and say: Make the best of your situation, and don’t judge others. (Not that you do that, but some bloggers do.)

  6. This was an interesting post.

    I definitely agree with much of the message. We all are fortunate and should all be grateful. There is nothing to be gained by sitting in judgement of others.

    However, I hate to attribute my successes or failures to luck. “Bad luck” gives too easy of an excuse to accept things when they go bad. “Good luck” of others may make you envious or feel that you can’t be successful in your own way.

    Rather than buying into the idea of luck, I think it is better to realize that there are things you can control, and those that you can’t. Play the cards you’re dealt and make the best of it.


  7. In the interest of full disclosure, I have used the term “badassery” in a couple of my posts. When I do, I am not necessarily implying that we are “better” than anyone else. Rather, it is a way of stating that the decisions that we are making are setting us up to achieve our radical goals of early retirement. The willingness to achieve such radical goals of early retirement is, at least to me, pretty bad ass.

    But, there is no denying the fact that some people have it much harder than others. For some, saving is easy due to their upbringing, stable family life, education and the like. For others who are building themselves up out of nothing, savings will be tougher – there is no doubt about that.

    I will say that people generally have MUCH more control over their lives than they may care to realize. Every decision that we make affects our lives, and I have found that my life gets better when I make decisions that are *in my best interest*. I didn’t always do this and I definitely noticed the pattern that was emerging.

    I was fortunate enough to have a very stable upbringing. I was taught to budget and the value of a hard-earned dollar. I truly was fortunate in that my childhood set me up to pursue higher education quite easily and moving into the professional working world and earning a respectable paycheck was the natural next step.

    But for my dad, he pulled himself out of a very, very financially poor family with parents who did NOT teach him about the value of money. They lived paycheck to paycheck. Big spenders – with their last dime, they’d sooner buy another television than invest it for the future. My dad certainly wasn’t fortunate to be brought up in that environment. The decisions that he made, though, over the course of his life set it up to retire by 49 with substantial wealth. He did that all himself. His family was certainly in no position to help.

    In the end, I largely agree with your post and I appreciate how well thought out it was. It cannot be denied that this all comes easier to some than it does for others. But through consistency and good decision-making, MOST people can overcome their circumstances and turn their lives around and live to the absolute fullest – if they want it bad enough.

    • Wow — what an incredible story for your dad! And how great that you got to learn from all of that. What a great influence and role model. Do you think that influenced your decision to retire early? Seems like it must have, but won’t assume too much. We both had dads who retired early, one from military, one from disability, and it took us a while to realize that that actually had a big influence on both of us, and made us feel like there was just no way on Earth we could possible work until “retirement age.”

  8. Binge-reading today after I discovered your blog via the Mad Fientist’s podcast that featured you. Great interview. This post definitely resonated. Even though I didn’t grow up with the kind of privilege one associates with children of the upper class — far from it, actually (here’s the interlude: parents were one H.S. grad unskilled laborer, one H.S. dropout, they divorced when I was 11 after several years of a downhill spiral; mom was left with 3 boys (11, 10, 7); we lived in an old rental apartment; I was the kid in the cheap sneakers that sometimes got made fun of for it; mom eventually re-married when I was 15, which yanked me away from all my friends; graduated in the lower half of my H.S. class and went into the Navy for lack of any other opportunity) — but yet, I had SO many things working in my favor, including a mother who just wouldn’t give up, extended family (esp. my dear grandmother — my hero) who gave financial, emotional, and availability support, I was born white in a country with clean air and water, good public education, etc., etc., etc. These were the necessary pre-conditions that allowed me to overcome the hurdles placed in my way earlier in life. So yes, privilege (and a lot of luck).

    • Wow, you made it DEEP in the archives! I think it’s super admirable that you can acknowledge your privilege despite also growing up with some pretty huge disadvantages. That’s pretty amazing. :-) In a post last year I wrote about how we can have both things be true: We can acknowledge our privilege AND be proud of what we’ve accomplished. It’s not an either/or. Sounds like you are well grounded on this stuff. :-)

  9. My first generation college educated parents decided in the early ‘60’s to pursue a “Frugal Woods-esque” life moving from the Southern California suburbs to an 80 acre farm in a rural Oregon town with a population of 400. While we had the great privilege of growing up learning the values of hard work, self reliance, sustainability and education; we were certainly at the poverty level most of my life. All 5 of my siblings have lived extraordinarily good lives as adults because of the experiences we learned from. I think we are all grateful for the life skills we learned growing up. Our children however were given everything that we didn’t have growing up and that is where I see privilege doing a disservice.

    I do think it is interesting that the word “Badass” is used to promote your new podcast, which I am excited to begin listening to.

    • I admire you for having that perspective on your upbringing, and not begrudging the fact that your parents willfully raised you in near poverty. And totally fair call-out on “badass” on the podcast! I’ll credit Kara with taking an attitude of reclaiming a word for the ladies rather than letting the guys coopt it to mean all the icky things I talked about in this post. ;-)