Readers of this blog are committed to financial discipline. They save a large portion of their money and invest it wisely in index funds and real estate. Whatever is left after investing they consider spending . . . maybe.
Before long the value of the index funds grow significantly and the investment properties gain more equity while throwing off a steady stream of passive income. People begin to notice. You, one of the mentioned readers, drive a less than fancy car and have a modest home or apartment. People also notice you brown bag lunch at work and rarely party with the crowd. Instead of the bar scene you invite friends over for a cookout and a few cold ones.
Everyone around you notices how much less stress you seem to have compared to them. You make it look easy. And you have money. Of course, you do. Because you don’t spend every penny you earn. It starts with one person feeling resentment and spreads like a bad rash. For the first time you feel the sting of jealousy. People you care about and admire now have turned against you because you are clearly no longer like them. You lack the fancy house, expensive car and endless nights of fine dining. And how dare you live without cable TV. Is there something wrong with you?
What Are Friends For
Life in the FIRE (financial independence, retire early) community has its challenges. People inside the community are eager to welcome you and understand your plight. They have felt they same sting of words from people they love and complete strangers. You are not alone.
The FIRE community is by no means the majority. As a group, we are maybe 5 to 10 percent of the population and I probably inflated the numbers to make myself feel more normal. It’s not that everyone in the FIRE community is the same. We’re not. You will be hard pressed to find a more diverse group of people anywhere. Many in the community love to travel and then there are guys like me who like to sit at home with a good book. Our hobbies and personal preferences and tastes cover a wide range. The only common denominator we share is the personal habit of spending less than we earn and investing in simple and effective investments. Index funds, investment properties and side gigs are as common as ticks on a hound in the FIRE community.
Work is the worst, even for business owners. I love my work and can’t see myself doing anything else, yet I have had instances where clients were jealous of my wealth and left. There have been a few employees over the years who think I have it too good and that I don’t deserve it. All I ask is: What don’t I deserve? I live on less and invest the money. This feeling of “deserve” is the real problem in my opinion. When you feel entitled you overspend and destroy your own independence. Debt is the cruelest of taskmasters. Yes, debt makes you a slave.
Where work is the worst because you spend so much time there, family cuts the deepest. A parent or child knows exactly what to say or do to hurt you most. Siblings and extended family also know how to make you jump highest. Jealousy doesn’t come from buying a new car or a fancy vacation. Jealous people around you have no problem one-upping you in the car or vacation department. What really rubs their fur the wrong way is the countdown clock. You know, the one ticking toward the day you quit your job or at least have no need of the job anymore.
Now resentment sets in. People who were jealous before secretly hate and loath you. If it strikes too close to home it can be devastating. If your significant other is not on board it can lead to death rattle for the relationship. It always amazes me when a significant other gets jealous and loathes a partner who manages to reach financial security at a young age. Don’t they understand they are along for the ride? Oh, that’s right. They want to spend all that money impressing the neighbors. Me bad.
Dealing with the Jealousy
There are steps you can take to handle the jealous people around you. The FIRE lifestyle is the best lifestyle you can choose (and the most responsible one too). Sure you get to travel more and have an exciting life of your choosing. But you always feel happy and satisfied no matter how much money is flowing into the checkbook. Money isn’t a problem because you don’t let money be a problem. In our modern world that resolves about 97.24624% of all issues in life. Remember, money destroys more marriages than infidelity. You might forgive a tryst; you’re human, you know. But fuck with my money? Katy bar the door!
I was fortunate I reach FI early in life and to do so while owning my own business doing work I love. It makes a difference. I have suffered rebuke from family, friends, clients, employees, and even complete strangers for my lifestyle. I feel blessed Mrs. Accountant and my children have never felt that way so nothing else really mattered to me. Water off a duck’s back. Having success early in life after starting life in a poor part of the country and born into a poor family, I have learned a few skills to handle jealous people. If I can be so bold, let me share:
Learn what you can control: It all goes back to the Stoic philosopher, Epictetus, from nearly 2,000 years ago. What Epictetus said was we need to know what we have control over and what we don’t. One of the things he said you have no control over is your reputation. People will say nasty stuff about you for a variety of reasons. Because you have no control over your reputation you shouldn’t worry about it. Worrying will not fix what is out of your control. What you CAN control is how you respond. Emperor Marcus Aurelius said, “Choose not to be harmed and you haven’t.” Socrates said, “They can kill me, but they can’t harm me.” In other words, don’t let other people control how you feel about yourself.
Fire employees: It seems cruel, but if you are a manager or business owner and an employee is consumed by jealousy over your success, fire them.
Disenfranchise co-workers: Just because you work with someone does not mean you are required to socialize with them outside work. I talk about my finances now more than ever due to this blog. Generally, if you did not know all the facts and circumstances, you would not know I reached FI long ago. The same applies at work for you. If people are jealous about your growing wealth and impending early retirement, stop talking about it at work. When the subject comes up, play it down. I understand how hard this can be. We want to talk about who we are and what interests us most. Might I recommend greater involvement in the FIRE community? We like hearing your stories and your journey to independence. We are not jealous either; we are walking the same road.
Get new friends: If your friends don’t respect your decision to live the way you do, get new friends. Better to have no friends at all than to live in self-inflicted poverty and slavery.
Get a divorce: That sounds like harsh advice from a man approaching his 29th wedding anniversary. Don’t think I make this recommendation lightly. Let me make it clearer from my side of the desk. I’ve seen this stuff play out for over 30 years in my profession. If your spouse or significant other refuses to live the FIRE lifestyle, she will loathe you. When someone loathes you, they will eventually leave you. May as well pull the Band-Aid off fast. Or, you can always choose to give up the FIRE lifestyle, but then you will have lifetime of money worries which usually ends in divorce or separation. So, you want a divorce now or later?
Choose a partner wisely: If you are in the market for a lifemate, do not settle. Take your time. There are a lot of things you can overlook, but how a potential partner lives their life is not one of them. I had plenty of opportunities to date before I met Mrs. Accountant, but did not waste my time with ladies who would never accept my lifestyle. I planned and prepared. I always had my eyes open. Then, when I least expected it, Mrs. Accountant showed up and it was blaringly obvious I found the woman I would spend the rest of my life with. In the 30 years I have known Mrs. Accountant we never once argued about money. We have discussed purchases and investments, but never once did we complain or fight about finances. I’m a lucky guy who happened to create much of his own luck.
Move: Or rather, pick the neighbors you want to talk to and act polite to the rest. There is nothing wrong with having nothing in common with your neighbors. There is nothing wrong with treating neighbors with respect and talking politely with them. It is also okay to not socialize with them either. If all else fails you can always move.
Lay down the law and make no excuses: Make it clear to those around you how you feel. Whether it be a friend, co-worker, or family, express your desire to spend responsibly. You don’t have to tell them your net worth. But you can clearly state you don’t want to spend on certain items or activities and will not. If you are firm with people they will respect you more. When walking the mall is something you refuse to do as a pastime, your friends will either do something different with you or you will soon have new friends.
I understand much of this comes across as harsh advice. It has to. Over the years I have seen good people live responsibly and build a nice net worth only to find a gold digger who destroys it all in a few short years. This is a lifelong journey. You are not alone. We are out here. We are few, but not extinct. You will find the person to spend your life with who shares your values. You can have the work you enjoy, as an employee or employer. You can travel or stay home. You can live the life you want to live. The one thing you have some, but not complete, control over is who you travel this road with. Most family you can’t choose. You have some control over who you marry or date. I could say, better to be alone than with the wrong person, but that is bad advice. You are NOT alone. Seek us out. We would love to have you.
And when you work toward your FI goal we will cheer you on. We are more excited than you are as you live the life of our dreams.
Wednesday 26th of September 2018
Wonderful article! My take on the spendy friends issue is to hang with people making a lot less than I do, and not ever mention my net worth. It works fine!
Success is the Best Revenge | The Wealthy Accountant
Wednesday 11th of July 2018
[…] People are jealous of other people’s success. The people closest to you can be the worst, secretly delighting in your misfortune. Building financial success is one thing. As the market claws higher, over-spenders of the world secretly pray for the day when the market collapses or at least your investments take a serious haircut. A jealous brother or friend despises you because you had the discipline to spend less than you earn and invest the excess in index funds. […]
Perceptions of the Wealthy: Learning to Think Like the Rich | The Wealthy Accountant
Thursday 28th of June 2018
[…] early) community will implode. The group is diverse with people from all walks of life. Jealous and selfish people have plenty to gain by harming the movement. Perceptions are all […]
Dealing with Resentment | The Wealthy Accountant
Monday 19th of March 2018
[…] time was different. Interpersonal relationships cause deeper wounds. Flesh is blown from the body. The wound may scab over, but a deep depressed scar is plainly […]
Sunday 5th of November 2017
How timely an article. My wife and I are selling our home next Spring. We're embracing FI and minimizing clutter from our life. The house is paid off. We have no interest in maintaining a home anymore. We have better things to do. With that said my wife's side of the family are huge in "keeping up with the jonses". We are visiting them now as I write this. My wife is embarrassed to share with them our lifestyle so we decided not to tell them until we actually sell the home. We feel like outsiders. He parents just bought a massive retirement home on lake property and we're witnessing how stressed they are dealing with maintenance and all of the extra stuff and where to put it. Anyway thanks for the article. You nailed it on the head. We're a minority!
Tuesday 30th of July 2019
You can't please people. My spouse and I reached FI at 35 years old. We retired at 45.
We always lived well but were frugal. No one noticed a major difference in our lifestyle to theirs. We just didn't waste or let money slip through our fingers like many do. We didn't declare our net worth/ financial position to others because it's none of their business, rude to boast and, in truth, the topic rarely comes up in casual conversation.
When we retired early several people were offended because they had assumed (based on no evidence) they must be wealthier than us. They were even miffed we achieved it by our own efforts rather than winfall or inheritance.
I learnt to perverse lesson that being too subtle and modest doesn't win friends. I no longer unduly protect others feelings by minimize reports of the fun we're having. I had to learn not to feel guilty for retiring early.