Viceland thanks to a tweet from J Money. It's called Payday, and the show "follows twenty-somethings over the course of a single pay period to see how they spend, struggle, and thrive."
Mrs. Done by Forty and I are hooked already. It doesn't hurt that the show is shot beautifully, like a film that's just artsy enough to be visually cool, but not pretentious and distracting.
And the show's subjects are genuinely interesting. A punk-rocker turned funeral director trying to save for a down-payment, a valet driver with a mullet and a dream to break into the rap game, a female student who strips in front of a webcam to make ends meet, and the youngest GOP Chairman in the US who also happens to be the son of a Pakistani immigrant. The show is chock full of telling quotes about money, and its place in our consumer culture. Here are just a few.
"In capitalism, you either work your ass off and get treated like crap, or you die. I mean, that's pretty much the way it works."
"Spending my hard-earned money on having fun is what gets me through the month."
"You want something so bad that you're going to do whatever it takes to get there."
"The only thing that makes me happy in my life is paying my bills and having enough left over to eat. Money's absolutely essential for both of those. So from my standpoint, my goodness, money does equal happiness." [Emphasis mine.]
"Every month I feel like there's just not enough. After we pay our bills and everything, we have, like, no money left."The thread that binds these four twenty somethings in Reno seems to be financial struggle. Every one of them knows they need to be making more money to lead the kind of lives they want. So they'll volunteer countless hours at unpaid positions, or take off their clothes in front of a camera, or take on too many clients and too much stress in the process. They're all hustling, from paycheck to paycheck, trying to carve out a better life. It is cool, and exhausting, to watch.
This is not the sort of life I'm leading these days. I know it makes me sound like a rich jerk, but I am not tempted to park cars as a second job, or masturbate on camera to make an extra $650 this month and make rent on time. And I'm sure as hell not working an unpaid position just to get my name out there. If anything, I'm looking to work and make less to get some of my time back.
The only financial pinch we feel these days is if we spend too much on date nights and restaurants and booze, and maybe we invest a little less than the stupid spreadsheet said we were supposed to this month.
I'm in my thirties now, so maybe that's to be expected. Maybe I'm supposed to feel a sense of calm and order in my finances. Maybe this is being a grown up.
Back in my twenties, my life was a little more comparable to those shown on Payday. I moved out to California with a girl I was dating, without a car and hardly any money. I worked full time at the WIC office during the day and then at Hollywood video at night. When I finally saved up enough to get a used car, financed at 22% interest, I was over the moon. Later, I worked full time at the university during the day, and then took on a 12 credit hour course load at night to earn my bachelor's. After a little break, I did the same for my teaching credential.
Basically, I hustled. It was rough. Still, it seemed normal in San Diego. Everyone I knew was killing themselves to live there. It's how you made it in a pricey, cool city when you had no skills. And hey, at least the beach was free.
That life of hustle is all over now. We have a home. A steady job with a salary, benefits, and paid vacation. A paid-for car. Investments. Security.
To my twenty-something self, it looks like we made it. At some point, and I can't really say when, things got easier. Then they got downright cushy. Finally, we were making enough money that when we stumbled across a blog that told us we could retire in under 10 years if we just stopped wasting money, we decided to run the numbers. Turns out he was right.
But this quick, simple path to financial independence isn't going to work for everyone. I have a hard time imagining a little frugality and some crafty budgeting will solve the kind of financial problems the four twenty-somethings in this show are dealing with. When you're hustling just to make the rent, and wondering how you're going to deal with the mountain of student and medical debt you've buried yourself under, it seems a little obtuse to talk about an extremely early retirement.
There's a thread that binds the FIRE community, too. Almost by definition, we're all doing pretty damn well financially. A hell of a lot better than people who are living paycheck to paycheck. Most of us seem to have above-average incomes. We're pretty well educated: most of us seem to have college degrees, which are still rare. And sure, maybe we're doing better because we're a little older. We have more marketable skills because we're not all twenty-somethings anymore, and that's fair.
Still, if the recent election has taught us anything, it's that our country is bifurcated. Some of us are doing really well financially, and some of us are struggling. Some of us have educations and careers that provide us with abundance, and some of us have to do things we don't like just to keep up with our bills.
The small personal finance circle that I tread in, the one that's optimistic and brave and wants to retire by some ridiculously young age, is not typical. Retiring by forty is not normal, and it's good to remind myself of that. Some people are hoping just to have a steady job in their field. Or to own a home. Or to send their kids to school in a good district.
To achieve a big, impressive personal finance goal, it's likely that you are enjoying some pretty material advantages already. I do, at least. I'm in my own little bubble most of the time. I guess I'm happy to get a glimpse at people who are just trying to make it, and remember that we're not all living the same American life.
If you want to see the show, it's embedded below (NSFW). And as always, thanks for reading.
*Photo is from Loco Steve at Flickr Creative Commons.