Suze Orman vs. Mr. Money Mustache – a tale of two shoes

The following is a post from my wife.purple shoes

In 2008 when I first started working for myself as an independent contractor, I went from a decent salary to a very decent salary almost accidentally.  I had just left a terrible work situation that put a dent in my self-confidence and was feeling shell-shocked*.  I was fortunate to return to work at a former employer to help with a merger project.  It took a few weeks for me to get back to my normal rhythm but I did eventually.  Better yet, I began receiving some nice pay checks.

In the early weeks of my new job I was still feeling the sting to my self-confidence left by my former employer so I partook in a classic American pastime:  retail therapy.  On one of my work trips to Chicago, I came upon a pair of fantastic $600 shoes at Nordstrom’s.  I became obsessed with these shoes.  I needed to have them.  They would prove that I’d made it.  They would prove that I was worthy**.  So I bought them.

Buck obviously thought I had lost my mind.  He was so embarrassed that I was instructed to never tell anyone in his family now much I paid for the shoes.  My argument in return was, “Suze Orman would say that I could afford it!”

suze_ormanSuze Orman does a section on her show called “Can I afford It?” whereby listeners send in details of something they want to buy, how much it costs and how they plan to play for it.  Then Suze proceeds to tell them if they can afford it or not.  There was no need for me to go on the show, Buck and I agreed that we could afford the shoes and left it at that.

This interaction pretty much described our former approach to buying things:  Can we afford it?  Do we need it, or really, really want it?

Yes?  Okay then, buy it!  After all, we were in good financial shape maxing out retirement accounts, contributing to 529 education plans, had an emergency fund, paid off cars, no student loans, and still had money left over.  Why not spend it?

This is where Mr. Money Mustache (MMM) comes in.  Buck turned me on to Mr. Money Mustache’s story early in 2013.  MMM and his wife socked away over 70% of their income during their early work years and retired around age 30 before starting their family.  They continue to keep their annual spending low, and fill their time with a slew of personal interests.  MMM is pretty hardcore and doesn’t put up with complainypants.

I started reading the blog and was intrigued. We suspected that we were on a typical life treadmill that looked like this:  go to college, buy some stuff, get a job, buy some stuff, get married, buy some stuff, have kids, buy some stuff, etc.  Even with our typical American mindset we were unique in that we were maxing out retirement savings early in our careers.  We had effectively hidden money away from ourselves which would have otherwise gone to buying more stuff.

As the years went by this retirement nest egg grew like crazy.  We were starting to feel like we were really “bucking the trend”.  What we realized in looking at Mr. Money Mustache’s blog was that we were still on the corporate work treadmill.  We were still looking at retirement as beginning in our early-50s, which is fantastic by any standard measure, but maybe the standard measure was screwed up?  Maybe instead our current middle-class life was, as MMM puts it “an exploding volcano of wastefulness”.

Back to the shoes.  At the time my purchasing habits were geared like the Suze Orman show, Can I afford it?  In 2013, my purchasing habits evolved so that now I’m asking myself, should I buy it or would the money be better saved to give our family life options down the road?

We are not a family that will get down to MMM annual spending amounts soon, but it definitely gives us pause to think about how we are spending our money and whether our money is helping us achieve our long-term life goals.  We’ve spoken openly with many friends about tightening up our spending so that we can buy our year-long family sabbatical to Spain.  Several have readily said that they can think of plenty of spending that they could trim from their budgets.  What they lack at this point is a greater goal or greater motivation.  It took some big family goals and some hardcore bloggers to make us question what we thought of as status quo, we’re hoping that our story helps some others do the same.

What is your Suze Orman vs. Mr. Money Mustache purchase?

* The terrible work situation steadily got worse for most of my former co-workers and it turns out that I happily escaped a quickly sinking ship and landed on a wonderful new career path.

** Yes, I realize the ridiculousness of these thoughts and am happy to report that I no longer base my professional worthiness by my shoes.

14 thoughts on “Suze Orman vs. Mr. Money Mustache – a tale of two shoes”

  1. This is a great post that l can relate to. I’ve pretty much gotten over spending gobs of money on clothes. My purchase has to be this one Gucci hand bag. One of my customers had one and l seriously considered mugging her for it! It costs $2395. I obsessed over it. In the past, l would gave gotten it, charged it and made payments because l love hand bags, even though that would been the most expensive one. My husband tried to talk some sense into me, especially because we were serious about early retirement. I went to the stores, nobody had it in stock. Finally, someone told me they had it in Austin. That weekend, we drove from Houston to Austin to get this bag. I will forever be thankful to the snot nosed bastard salesperson. When he put the bag down on the counter for me to examine, something shifted in me. I realized l did not really need this bag, or even want it that much and that guy’s attitude irked me. I ended up buying a $300 Brahmin bag to add to my collection. My husband is like MMM which irritates me sometimes, and l am more Suzie. I used to like that segment, but we don’t get it here!

    1. Great story Kemkem, thanks for writing. Sounds like everything worked out in the end! I have a mild hand bag obsession as well which I have managed to curb in the last year 😉 Mine were mainly custom designed cloth purses from a retailer that recently went out of business, http://1154lill.com/. Looks like we’re not the only ones cutting back on our hand bag purchases.

  2. I’ve been a Mustachian/minimalist/early retirement nut for six months. Outside of computers which I built myself, we never spent extravagantly. Our problem was having money at all.

    We never racked up consumer debt, but student loans and an underwater house really eat away at the monthly cashflow. I thought we were living frugally. We never ate out. We had cheap cars. But since discovering MMM, we changed our lifestyle to be even more environmentally responsible. I bought a bike and bike everywhere I can. I even recently modified a bike trailer to fit all three of my kids in it to use the minivan even less.

    We went from a perceived frugal zero monthly cashflow to around $500-600+ monthly.

    Good luck 🙂

    1. Wow, sounds like great progress. While working a budget for a family of 5 as well which is even more impressive! I’m bad at the transition to using our bikes more. Winter lasts forever in WI, and frankly I’m a wuss (yes, I sound like a complainypants). We’re getting better with other things. We got rid of our cleaning service and we’re doing home repairs ourselves which we would normally farm out. So now we’re saving more money, and we’re setting a lower annual spending budget.

  3. Kudos to Mrs. Buck for pulling together a great post! Your first?

    This quote resonated with me: “We had effectively hidden money away from ourselves which would have otherwise gone to buying more stuff.”

    I think this little psychological trick is the hidden key to reaching financial independence at a fairly early age. If you don’t see the money in your hand or your checking account, you probably won’t spend it. I know when we were accumulating wealth during our working years, we had savings on autopilot. Our monthly take home that was available for spending was around $2500-3000 per month, and we were piling two times that much (or more!) into tax deferred accounts or the brokerage account.

    We simply lived like we only had a take home pay of $3000/month.

    It’s great to see your hard work at saving pay off. Hope you guys enjoy the year in Spain! It may motivate us to try something similar.

    1. Best trick ever: hide the money from yourself! I’m kicking myself for not saving more money in non-retirement investment accounts when I was younger. I knew enough to max out my retirement accounts, but the thought of retiring very early and needing money in non-retirement accounts never crossed my mind.
      Congrats to you and your wife for socking away such a large percentage of your salaries!

  4. “We are not a family that will get down to MMM annual spending amounts soon, but it definitely gives us pause to think about how we are spending our money and whether our money is helping us achieve our long-term life goals.”

    YES!

    I used to spend money on silly stuff too occasionally too. Now, every time I want to buy something that I don’t really need, I put that money on a scale in my mind. I could have this thing, but it will set my retirement (life really) back a month. All of a sudden, I don’t need that thing so much anymore.

    1. This change in mindset has probably been most noticeable in me particularly over the past year. I think Buck was already pretty good at weighing his spending. We still have more spending changes that we could make as a family so plenty of room for improvement
      BTW – I love seeing your home remodeling posts. Very motivating!

  5. My big spending in the past decade has been international travel. Every Saturday night I tune in to Suze Orman to make myself feel guilty about not saving every dime, and she often denies people who want to spend on travel. But despite my life savings amounting to what she would consider a pitiful total, I have no desire whatsoever to deny myself trips to places I have dreamed of seeing for years, and here’s why: Items I was given years ago have turned out to be extremely valuable and I am slowly selling them for awesome amounts of cash, most of which goes to retirement savings (and very large taxes), and which funds each international trip. So none of the travel comes out of regular income. This windfall money has allowed me to multiply my retirement savings by a factor of five in under five years. I admit to being slow to catch on to my opportunity with IRAs and Roths, but I’m making up for that now. The randomness of this money windfall makes me doubtful about the rationale of getting on a stern savings treadmill; it simply does not suit my financial situation. I try instead to be very mindful that eventually this source of bonus income will come to an end, and I try to educate myself about the best investment vehicles, and after that, I just try to have some fun, because otherwise life isn’t worth living.

    As to buying expensive things, I have inherited so many lovely objects that I am weighed down by the responsibility of housing and caring for them. There’s almost no consumer item that I yearn for sufficient to take on either the cost or the cost of caring for it. Instead, I look forward to divesting myself of some valuable and beautiful items to a younger generation. If they can ever afford to move out of Grandma’s basement.

    1. “I try instead to be very mindful that eventually this source of bonus income will come to an end, and I try to educate myself about the best investment vehicles, and after that, I just try to have some fun, because otherwise life isn’t worth living.”

      This is a great point. I think each person/couple/family defines their own path for financial responsibility, and for having fun in life. The key is being mindful. Our own family has prioritized international travel as an expense that we personally are willing to pay. We are mindful of our money in other areas to ensure that our money can meet our goals.
      It would be fun to hear about some of the places you’ve visited and about some of the items that you have since sold. Sounds quite fun.

  6. I follow both Suze Orman and Mr Money Mustache online. I think they’re both inspirational and great teachers. When you boil it down, they both have the same message: spend less/save more.
    They have different tones and various catchphrases which they want to catch on(e.g. “you have been denied!”/”your hair is on fire!”) however, the core is still really the same. (sorry for this off-topic bit, but “stop trying to make fetch happen! it’s never going to happen!” just randomly popped into my head, hahaha :p )

    I personally think they are good for different situations and stages in your life. To summarize:
    – Suze Orman is good for people who have hit rock-bottom, have huge debts and don’t have the slightest clue on how to handle money(which is a LOT of people – many of us didn’t have the advantage of good teachers early on in life). She teaches people how to budget, how to handle money in relationships, how to survive financially through a divorce or death, how to cut expenses, how to increase take-home pay, gives a beginner’s guide to investing and insurance, and most importantly, that people should confront their fears and other emotional issues directly rather than hiding from them via retail therapy(so I reallyyyyyy doubt she would have told you to buy those shoes, Mrs. Buck, lol).
    Whenever someone calls into the “Can I Afford It?” segment saying they want to buy expensive hand bags or jewellery, Suze has given the caller a hard time. Even the ones who turned out to have enough spare cash to buy the car/holiday/toy they wanted still often got a “what you’re buying is really silly, you don’t need it”-style lecture.
    I also often get surprised because there were people who I thought would for sure get approved still got denied. Her criteria for approval is pretty tough, there’s so many rules, i.e.: minimum 8 months emergency fund, need to have hundreds of thousands in retirement accounts if you are past your mid-20s, have your own home outright or only have a small mortgage, much smaller chance of approval if purchase has ongoing maintenance costs such as petrol, monthly fees or pet food, etc. You get a higher chance of approval if your purchase will generate income for you, e.g. equipment for a hobby which earns you money.

    – Mr Money Mustache is great for people who have already learned the basics, so they can now focus on an early retirement strategy. It’s really exciting to see the numbers he lays out about being able to structure your finances in a way so that you can be free from wage slavery within 10 years! Because let’s face it, many corporations don’t really value their employees and would fire them if it meant the tiniest increase in their quarterly profit statement, so the faster you are financially independent the better. Being laid off in your 40s and 50s with nothing to back you up so you have to go begging for a job when age discrimination is rife is an extremely scary prospect. However, Mr Money Mustache doesn’t really have any patience for people who still don’t know the basics or have gotten themselves into deep trouble – they’re dismissed as non-retired dumbass complainypants who may as well roll over and die in a fire, lol.

    When I was a newbie to personal finances, I think Suze Orman really helped me pull myself together and get out of debt, as well as stand up to people who were walking all over me both emotionally and financially. Now that I’m debt-free, surrounded by people who truly supported and loved me through the good times and the bad, I feel ready to focus on the rest of my life so I’m reading Mr Money Mustache’s guides on lowering expenses and investing so I can be free from relying on a boss giving me a pay cheque as soon as possible.

    I think their tones are due to their different backgrounds. Mr Money Mustache according to his bio is someone who made very intelligent decisions through his late teens and his twenties, had an equally smart and supportive partner the whole time, and thus was able to retire at age 30 which is probably why it’s harder for him to empathize with people who didn’t always know how to do the right thing. Suze Orman was a waitress with very low income up until she was 30 and had to start all over again, so she knows what it’s like to have made huge mistakes and what you need to do to pick yourself up again.

    Overall, I’m glad that the both of them are around and grateful for their lessons 🙂

    1. “I personally think they are good for different situations and stages in your life.” Absolutely agree. Buck and I first watched Suze over 10 years ago. Her energy was great, and I liked her no nonsense attitude. “Suze Orman is good for people who have hit rock-bottom, have huge debts and don’t have the slightest clue on how to handle money.” Also agree. This wasn’t us however so we slowing stopped watching her show. Side note, I really appreciate how intense Suze is regarding the issues with student loans and the fact that they can’t get discharged in a bankruptcy filings. Hard for me to imagine that financial institutions are being very careful with their lending when they know that there is no way that someone will be able to discharge a bad student loan debt.
      “Mr Money Mustache is great for people who have already learned the basics, so they can now focus on an early retirement strategy. It’s really exciting to see the numbers he lays out about being able to structure your finances in a way so that you can be free from wage slavery…” Exactly! Buck and I had both been thinking of retirement since our mid-20s but still thought of retirement as being 40 years off. By our mid-30s we realized that maybe we were ahead of schedule but we needed more data points to support our thoughts. MMM along with various other bloggers gave us more detailed numbers to consider and some alternative lifestyles to ponder.
      “Overall, I’m glad that the both of them are around and grateful for their lessons” Agree again. One of my favorite things about the Internet is the fact that people around the world can share their varying thoughts and approaches to life. Buck and I are near the mid-point of our lives if the age calculators are to be trusted and I hope that we continue to grow in our learning and experiences. What fit our family a decade ago may be different in a future decade.
      Thanks for the great comments Spencer. Sounds like you’ve had a bit of a financial turnaround so congrats to you on that! Cheers

  7. The quote about “just because I can etc. ” should include anything and ALL that concerns our lives, others lives, the planet etc. “Just because I can, should I?” could be, and encouraged to be, everyone’s mantra. Legally and financially many things can be done, but when looking at the entirety of ones life, and the world’s, is it in the best interest of the universe?

Your Thoughts?