happy monday, amigos. we’re freshly returned from our favorite way to travel while we’re still employed: the add-on weekend. work pays for our flight, we stay the weekend, everyone’s happy.
this weekend, though, was a total eye-opener. call it our sliding doors weekend. you know the concept even if you haven’t seen the movie: you rush into a train station, and just barely catch the train. but then in an alternate reality or parallel universe, you rush for the same train, but the doors close before you can hop on. that triggers a sequence of events that leads you to a completely different future.
this weekend, we were back in the city in the east where we each lived for a number of years.we’ve been away for quite a few years, and for the first time, we got a clear-eyed view of what our lives might be like if we’d stayed. our expensive future that could have been. we’re suddenly feeling especially glad that we caught our train to the west!
this particular city in the east is definitely a pricy place. the mandatory stuff like housing and transportation is expensive. and the optional and tempting stuff like restaurants and bars are decidedly upscale too. plus, there’s the culture: people definitely like their labels, their hand bags, their luxury cars. people have nannies, get fit at yoga and barre studios, and regularly visit the spa. we left said city in our 20s (though at different times, if you’ve been following the history of us). but not before racking up pretty major credit card debt to keep up with the young joneses. we felt like we had to dress a certain way for work, but also outside of work. we felt like we had to get our home decor up to a certain standard. one of us (ahem) felt compelled to drive a very fast car. and then there were all those happy hours and dinners out. so many. so so many.
here’s a sense of the weekend: to celebrate a friend’s milestone birthday, friends stayed for the weekend at a very upscale hotel. on day one, there was high tea ($50+ per person), then drinks in the lounge ($16 per cocktail) followed by dinner (entrees starting at $30). but before getting to those meals, there was the primping. people came down to dinner in name brand clothing, $500 shoes and much make-up. there were expensive clutches, expensive haircuts, expensive suits. a few of those engagement rocks were knuckle-sized.
then there was us: simpler clothes, unfancy shoes from dsw, minimal make-up, no expensive haircuts. and let’s be real: we felt a little self-conscious. it never feels great to be underdressed. (though nothing a few $8 beers couldn’t fix.) it’s not like it was a black tie event and we dressed for a beach party. we were dressed just as appropriately, but it was a little like going to the prom in your hand-me-down tux and feeling upstaged by the rich kids with the brand new duds. or maybe not upstaged, since didn’t care whether we impressed anyone or not. just different leagues. like we were visiting the big leagues from the farm.
and the conversation was even more striking: nanny drama, private school decisions, deliberations over whether to vacation in the caribbean or europe, tales of extravagant home renovations. as you all know, we can talk finance with anyone, but this was different: this was the talk of people who spend a freaking huge amount of money and see no problem with that. or no alternative. people who’ve let their lifestyle inflate so much it’s floating away. we kept our mouths shut.
it’s not the city’s fault, per se. in fact, we moved from there to a more expensive city in the west. maybe it’s just the people we know in the east, or the industries we work in. though research shows that where you live significantly influences your values and your politics, so it makes sense that it would affect your spending too. but this weekend showed us that, if we’d stayed put, there’s a good chance we never would have figured out how possible early retirement is, gotten our spending under control, and forged ahead with our fire plan.
so much of your life is influenced by whom you surround yourself with. people whose friends and family are thin tend to be thin, and those with heavier friends and family tend to be heavy. it turns out that the people we were friends with back in the day are on the heavy side — the heavy spending side. and if we’d stayed, there’s a good chance we’d be heavier spenders now than we ever were before. our lifestyle inflation might compel us to say absurd yet often stated things such as “earning a quarter million dollars a year makes you basically middle class.”
granted, this was a big group gathering, which is rarely when people share their insecurities or troubles. it’s all too often a time for strutting, and showing off how well you’re doing. maybe if we’d had time for more one-on-ones, we would have heard some tales of financial anxiety, or attempts to turn things around or deflate lifestyles. but we didn’t. and we felt one thing over and over:
all we could think was: thank goodness we got out when we did, when we could still form a new perspective. thank goodness that where we landed was somewhere that made us feel more grounded, that let us get outside more and figure out that that’s what we really care about. thank goodness we now surround ourselves with people who know the value of a dollar, and don’t care what we wear or drive. thank goodness we can go back into that lion’s den now and see it for what it is: a living example of rampant spending and poor financial planning. thank goodness we can see that and not want to keep up with the now-older joneses.
thank goodness we caught that train. because we’ve seen our alternate sliding doors future, and it’s bleak.
have you had any moments in your life like this? have your friends gone off the spending deep end and seem entrenched in that way of life? do you ever wish on some level that you could still drop that kind of cash? please share!