Monday, November 14, 2016

Viceland, Payday, and the Hustle

Viceland, Payday, and the Hustle
This weekend, I heard about a new show on 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.

23 comments:

  1. I started watching this too. I also got hooked on a couple other shows on viceland. I feel I can relate to both worlds a little because I was worried about how I would pay my rent when I was a freelancer, but I also think they found some extreme cases. To me, and maybe this is what happens when you are in your 40s, it felt like a bit of a pity party. Hey man, I had to clean toilets for my friend to earn some extra case, so you DON'T necessarily have to masterbate in front of a camera. That is a choice. But I also understand that now that I earn a pretty high income, it's easy for me to start to not relate to those situations too. Plus, I never had student loans and mounds of debt, even when I was struggling.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I hear you, Tonya, and it's important to call out that none of these people were probably forced into the choices they made. I was happy to hear that the young GOP chair gave up his post after Trump won the nomination, and he now has a paid position in the Libertarian party.

      I'm always torn when I see people who are making a lot less than me also make choices that are a lot different than mine. On one hand, I want them to make the choices I would: I get paternal. Do the right thing, kid.

      Then I remember all that advice I heard when I was twenty. And I just wanted to be autonomous, and one way to do that is to make choices that make sense to you but, also, are visibly distinct from the kind of advice you always here. Because then that's an expression of being independent, and shows you can make it your own way.

      Delete
  2. I did the day job, part time school, night job thing for a while when I was young. I was never so skinny or so tired as that time. I never want to do it again. Now, I need to simplify. I have too many money-sucking expenses like my house, rental house, property, car, truck, pets...but I like my pets. I want to get off the treadmill and get more time to enjoy the life I've made. I'll have to check that show out.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Totally get it. At a certain point, I wanted the hustle to just end, too, and aim for simplicity rather than more money. It's a pretty recent change and I don't know what happened.

    There are still a lot of things pulling me in different directions and I want them to be fewer (hence the path to FI) but it's way better than it was.

    The first show's in the blog post if you want to check it out. I'm not sure if all the shows will be up on Viceland.com, but maybe the first few?

    ReplyDelete
  4. Cool! I've never heard of this show before. Your thoughts sounds as if it's worth checking out! Thanks for sharing with us:)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah, we liked it. Always nice to get a view into someone else's financial life.

      Delete
  5. I'm with Tonya on stripping in front of a camera. There are other ways to round up cash, though they might not be as lucrative off the bat.
    I'm also with you on the privilege thing, though. It's a lot harder to get ahead and think about things like FI when your starting line is further back. I really think awareness of programs that provide opportunity to change this would go a long way, but there's also some MST that could help fight anti intellectualism. Not because intellectual people are inherently better, but because in our society, when you feel capable of achieving it, you're less inclined to get in front of a web cam.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's a great comment, and I personally hope I'd not actually masturbate for others for money. Still, I try to be sympathetic.

      Your point about intellectualism is well taken, though I find it interesting that the one person of the four on the show who is currently attending college is also the one naked in front of a webcam. And she, from what I can tell, is ecstatic about it. It takes all kinds, I suppose.

      I'm trying hard to take the position of understanding when I'm in the privileged spot (being a man, or being half white half Asian raised in the suburbs, or being well off financially). Because it's hard to be too critical of someone just trying to better their situation, even if their choices are way different than mine.

      Delete
    2. I have friends who are strippers, and they're really good people. It is interesting the one in front of the webcam---most of the people I know didn't have that same access to opporutnity opportunity, and the few who did---the whole thing eventually went poorly for them.
      If that's what a woman wants to do to make money, cool. It's not the choice I would make, but like you said, all kinds. I just always hope it's not because they feel they have nothing else to offer.

      Delete
    3. And that's the rub. Sometimes two people doing the same thing might be doing it for totally different reasons, and context is everything. Feeling like it's your only option seems like a sure-fire path to regret, while almost any decision can be a good one if it's intentional.

      Delete
  6. Insightful as always. I'm glad you focus on the nuanced and more philosophical aspects of our shared goal. Too many "repeats" out there on what the formula is, or how to save money by reusing shoelaces as hair-ties.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for that comment, Abandoned Cubicle. I always wonder if anyone's going to get something out of a post, and some sure seem to get more comments than others so it's hard to know when something hits home or misses.

      As you noted, there are already a lot of great resources out there for the "how" of early retirement: how to cut costs, how to invest, how to budget, etc. I have nothing to add there, and in fact am often just running plays from their playbooks in our quest for FI.

      Delete
  7. Sounds like an awesome show! It's good to gain some perspective by seeing other people's financial struggles and understand where they're coming from.

    We were talking to some expats we met in Cambodia and they told us how much they were struggling to make ends meet in UK and Canada (one got hurt at work and was relying on disability checks but the insurance company kept trying to push him to go back to work and cutting his pay). Luckily they discovered south east asia and now their quality of life has significantly improved. Not always an option for everyone, but I was inspired to see them find a solution to their financial problems and happiness.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Geographic arbitrage really does open up a ton more options. We've definitely think about pulling that trigger, but it's probably only a short term option for us. We'd like our future kids to be in the US for certain parts of their lives...still, a few years abroad would make for a great education.

      We need to pick your brain about our upcoming trip to Asia. Maybe we'll be in the same neck of the woods for a part?

      Delete
  8. Good post. The hustle is real in your 20s, gets far better in 30s and hopefully puts you in a FIRE worthy position in 40s.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's the hope! I struggle with the idea that financial independence is attainable for anyone. I get the feeling that the idea that ANYONE can achieve an early FI date is a little optimistic.

      Delete
  9. The reality of hustling to make it is very difficult to process if you're in the middle of it. I'm glad these shows are shining on a light on what it takes to make in 21st century capitalism.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Or at least what it takes for 20 something millennials. I think I'm very technically right on the cusp of being a Millennial (born in 1980) but there's a big gap between my reality and those of my younger cohorts. For people who entered the workforce right around 2008, I hear a less optimistic take on our economy.

      Delete
  10. I agree with you that early FI is not possible for everyone. I mean just look around you, it's clearly not. No expensive studies needed on that one IMHO. But it IS possible for everyone to improve their financial lot in life from the current situation they have. As you have done from when you were in your 20's and now are staring down the final straight to FI. And surely when the people featured in this show in 10 or even 5 years will look back and magically found things have gotten easier for them and also they don't really know how. It's not guaranteed but they are obviously hustling hard so I'm sure it will come for them.

    The comment on capitalism is telling though, I'm sure we've all felt like that at certain points of our lives and when I look out at other people I often still do which is sad that this is the best system we can come up with (to clarify I'm not against capitalism but the certain version of it we have "chosen" to follow can surely be improved upon, I think we can all agree with that!?)

    Sounds like a great show though, and one I may even persuade Mrs TFS to watch as she loves having a nosey into other peoples lives like this :)

    Thanks for the recommendation, as always you manage to dig out lot's of interesting stuff from the interwebz!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for saying that early FI is not for everyone, FIREStarter. I always feel like a pariah for having that view, but it seems obvious that it's simply not possible for some (most) people. We bloggers are just as likely to get caught in our own unique bubble as any other group though, so we see an unrepresentative sample and think, "See, anyone can do it!"

      As you said, the better goal is to aim for people to simply improve their financial situation. Get out of consumer debt. Earn more income. Invest more into retirement accounts. Basically, get their future selves in a better spot, as you noted.

      I read a story yesterday about the slow demise of Cadburry, one of the real good examples of an ethical, successful capitalist company, and it makes me wonder if things really are different now. Hard to say, and I'm no historian.

      You can see the first episode right there in the blog post -- give it a look. I think you and the missus would like it.

      Delete
  11. Yep I spotted it don't worry ;)

    Ah yes we've been to Cadbury world. They used to house all the workers in Bournville village (I'm assuming you're talking about the British company here) the remains of which looked very quaint.

    I don't know of any companies that would go that far today but it has to be said that although it feels like we're in a race to the bottom in many areas, Idiocracy style, but there are many good people and groups of people out there pushing to improve things. I think we'll be alright and capitalism will morph and adapt into something more sustainable. Certainly hope so at least.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Positive site, where did u come up with the information on this posting?I have read a few of the articles on your website now, and I really like your style. Thanks a million and please keep up the effective work. http://www.transactionworld.net/vehicle-can-make-extra-money/

    ReplyDelete