The Extraordinary Benefits of Being Uncool

by Chris Tecmire

Nerd

 

Most people’s every thought during their teenage years is centered around how to become cool, stay cool, or befriend someone cool.  I was no different.  When I was in 8th grade I asked my dad to buy me a pair of Reebok Pump basketball shoes.  This was an unusual request.  We had always gone to Kmart every August to buy the essentials, but $120 shoes had never once appeared on the shopping list.  But, I HAD to have them.  Do you realize what those shoes would do to my “street cred”?!

My dad’s response was, “Get a job.”  So, I did.  I volunteered to get a job as an 8th grader!  That’s how badly I wanted to be popular.  I worked my paper route for a couple of hours each day after school and even woke up early on Saturdays to make the rounds.  Who was that kid walking in the rain with the 30 pound bag on one shoulder?  That was me…in my $120 Reebok Pumps.

 

Here’s my point.  We ALL want to be cool, but sometimes chasing popularity backfires.  Turns out those expensive shoes didn’t make me any more popular, nor did they last any longer than my usual Kmart variety either.  I wasted about $90 and spent countless hours delivering papers when I could have been perfecting my Mario Bros. skills on the Nintendo.

 

But, here’s the kicker.  Our craving to be cool rarely dies when we blow out 18 candles.  Or 30 candles.  Or 50.  The debate is still raging as to whether 100 year olds’ still desire to be cool…but I’m guessing they do.

I could tell you very similar stories about my mid 20’s and $65 ties that looked an awful lot like the $20 ties I buy now.  As adults we no longer worry about being “cool”.  Now we simply want to be “accepted,” “admired,” or “make a good impression.”  But, deep down they’re the same thing.  Just different lingo.

 

Keeping up with the Joneses

(or is it the Kardashians?)

 

In our rush to be accepted by our peers, most people sacrifice wisdom for an image.  Houses, clothes, and cars are perfect examples of this reality.

 

Consider the average home.  The majority of the world admires the guy who owns a 4,000 square foot home more than the dude with the 1,500 square foot home.  A 60” TV is considered superior to a 30” TV.  If you want respect from your peers, simply display a $10,000 painting or a $7,000 vase.

 

How about clothing?  Does anyone else find it peculiar that we’re expected to adapt to new trends each and every year?  Why are we so afraid to wear clothing that was popular 5 years ago?  The entire fashion industry is based on making you cool.  Wear the right stuff and you fit in, wear the wrong stuff and you’re out of touch.

 

Is there a bigger status symbol than our car?  Judgments are instantly made based on the vehicle we arrive in.  There are multiple reasons why people choose to pay $20,000 more for a Lexus sedan over a Toyota Camry, but one of the most important is image.  A Lexus signals success.  People are willing to pay to be noticed and respected.

 

I’m Uncool

 

I’m not cool.  So, here’s what I decided:  I’m OK with that.

A few years ago, I gave up trying to keep up with everyone else’s image of what I should be.  And you know what happened?  My wife and I have increased our net worth over $60,000 in the last two years on a below average income.  A good portion of that success can be contributed to lifestyle decisions that aren’t always popular.

 

The Benefits of Being Uncool

 

1.  We have a home well below our means

A couple years ago, we chose a fairly modest 1300 square foot house about 4 blocks from my employer so that I can walk to work.  It’s not shabby or run down – there’s no need for that – but it’s not going to be in Architectural Digest any time soon either.

How much money should you spend on your mortgage/rent?  The standard rule of thumb varies from 28% to 35% depending on who you ask.  So, what do most people do?  They spend every cent of that.  However, the best way to get ahead financially is to live below your means.  We may need to sacrifice granite counter tops or an extra 1,000 square feet for a few years, but it’ll be worth it.  Our mortgage, taxes, and insurance equal about 14% of our gross income and it has helped us breathe a sigh of relief.  I’ll take peace over granite counter tops every time.

 

2.  We have a TV that’s the shape of a box

I’m fully aware that a flat screen TV is a one-time expense and it certainly won’t prove to be the difference between rich and broke.  I’m simply using the TV as a symbol for a more frugal lifestyle in general.  The real issue is that we’ve learned to be content with what we have.  Desiring little is the key to a frugal lifestyle.

Again, that was not always me.  I piled up over $10,000 of credit card debt in my 20’s on all sorts of trinkets and gadgets.  It’s easy to do.  It’s not like I was making big, flashy purchases either.  I nickel and dimed myself into debt.

It took getting married to change my financial priorities.  All of a sudden I realized that I NEEDED to change because I was now responsible for someone else.  Sometimes it takes losing a job or something worse like a medical emergency to make people realize the benefits of the simple life.

 

3.  We have a car that’s older than Justin Bieber

Justin Bieber was born March 1, 1994 (I had to look that up – I promise I didn’t know it by heart).  My car was born in a Mercury plant sometime the year before.  We own a 1994 Mercury Grand Marquis named Stella.  She’s a beauty.  Well, maybe not, but we’ve grown quite fond of her.  Why?  Because she’s held up well over 175,000 miles, doesn’t cost much to insure, and doesn’t come with car payments.  No one’s going to mistake us for a celebrity or millionaire, but that’s ok.  We don’t belong to either of those groups anyway.  Our car’s job is to get us from point A to point B, and she does that well.

 

 

The Bottom Line

 

There’s a lot of pressure that comes with keeping up with an affluent image.  I see this all the time at the small-town bank that I work for.  I’ve seen example after example of families who got used to the good life and the image that comes with it, only to burn through their cash too quickly, and not know how to back out gracefully.  Their image is set and it’s far too embarrassing to let people know the truth.  So, what do they do?  They try to keep up the best way they know how.  They ride the line between acting wealthy and being bankrupt.  Keeping up with the Joneses is hard.

 

So, that’s why I stopped.  There’s something very liberating about being uncool.  It’s like a colossal sigh of relief.  Take a deep breath in and then let it all go.  That’s what it feels like.

 

Come to think of it…maybe it’s cool to be uncool after all.

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{ 28 comments… read them below or add one }

Rebekah B July 25, 2012 at 6:12 am

Well said!

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Chris Tecmire July 25, 2012 at 6:44 am

Thanks Rebekah!

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Dena July 25, 2012 at 7:59 am

You always make me laugh….I especially love the picture. Excellent article again. Keep it up!

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Chris Tecmire July 25, 2012 at 6:03 pm

Glad I could bring a chuckle Dena :) Saving money is good, but laughing is even better.

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Heather July 25, 2012 at 12:40 pm

I have learned to be content with what I have and stop chasing the almighty dollar. There has to be more to life than making money to buy more stuff that I don’t need.

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Chris Tecmire July 25, 2012 at 6:02 pm

I think one of the biggest lessons that I’ve learned over the last few years is how little money most of us really need. We’re continually told that we don’t make enough, when it’s simply not true. It’s only true if we’re not content. Contentment makes life SO much easier. Thanks for the input Heather.

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Kevin Jones July 25, 2012 at 1:39 pm

This article serves as a great reminder to me why I live the style of life I live. It makes everything so simple. It’s so easy to get caught up wanting bigger and better possessions. But those possessions take away from what can be a wonderful life on even a modest income. A Fight Club philosophy without the edge.

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Chris Tecmire July 25, 2012 at 5:59 pm

A wonderful life on a modest income – exactly. Thanks for the comment Kevin.

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Lisa Hanley July 25, 2012 at 4:46 pm

Great article Chris! It made me feel so much better about being uncool! LOL!

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Chris Tecmire July 25, 2012 at 5:58 pm

You can join my uncool club. We’re always taking membership applications :)

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Jo July 25, 2012 at 5:29 pm

Ha! Our 1996 Mercury Sable is named Mabel and we think she’s finally going on us. We live near and are partially involved in a fairly affluential town (lots of two-parent professional families, chemists, engineers, etc.) of 30,000. I am constantly amazed at how the money flows like water. There is always a sense of desperate panic when lay-offs happen, like what would happen at the very blue-collar, low-wage Midwest area I grew up in. But most of these families are nicely above $100,000 per year and would die before they “looked” or “acted” poor. When I looked at their two new vehicles, new house, expensive kids activities, and $1,000 per season kids’ wardrobes, and on, I know that even with their incomes they are up to their eyeballs in debt. Peace of mind in worth a fortune.

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Chris Tecmire July 25, 2012 at 5:57 pm

I couldn’t have said it better myself Jo. My job allows me to see behind the curtain, and it’s amazing how many of the people with the cars, clothes, and accessories are living off credit.
Sorry to hear about Mabel (good name by the way).

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Tim July 26, 2012 at 12:24 am

Hey Chris. It’s a small world. Not sure if you remember but you and Trish photographed my and Heather’s wedding last August in Saginaw. Anyways I’m a big fan of minimalist/simplicity blogs and when I saw a guest post of yours on Man vs. Debt I was very surprised. Well keep up the good work. Love your site and I now have it bookmarked, take care.

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Chris Tecmire July 26, 2012 at 7:24 am

Absolutely! It’s good to hear from you Tim! I’m glad you’re enjoying SFF so far :)

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granpa tecmire July 29, 2012 at 11:48 pm

Dear Chris: I have had 4 Lexus GS 350′s in the last 25 years. Ieep the 5 to 6 years each and usually change when they come out with a New Model. In all those years, I have NEVER had to make a repair of any kind on them, so I have saved Thousands of dollars in maintenance. Am I cool??? (I just bought a new 2013 GS 350 and I love it.)

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Chris Tecmire July 30, 2012 at 9:34 am

You’ve always been cool in my book, Grandpa :) I’m just making the point that while Lexus is a fine vehicle, there are other fine vehicles out there that would also help people save money on maintenance costs if properly taken care of for 5 – 6 years…for much less than a Lexus. There are many people who CAN’T afford to purchase a Lexus, but stretch their finances and credit too far in order to do so for reasons of image. This is a message to those people.
Thanks for the comment.

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granpa tecmire July 30, 2012 at 10:12 am

Dear Chris: I don’t get many chances to kid with you so I took advantage of this situation. I agree with your financial advice and am proud of your website. However, if you ever get to the point where you can buy a Lexus, I can assure you that you will not be sorry. A lot of people tell me my car is so PRETTY that the take extra care not to damage it. This makes my insurance costs lower. I took the savings I got from lower repairs & lower insurance costs and invested them in Embrige Energy stock. I doubled my money and if I am still around in 2018 I want you to come out and push my wheelchair down to the dealer to pick out the NEW model. FRIGID GRANPA

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Chris Tecmire July 31, 2012 at 10:36 am

“Frigid Granpa” I like that! :) Alright – that’s a deal. You fly me out there and I’ll help you pick out a new Lexus ;)

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Lisa August 7, 2012 at 3:48 pm

Just came over from MSM and LOVE this article. I used to work full time at a good job and now stay home with the kids and that has taken us to a new uncool level! I let go of the paid off luxury car to buy a HUGE older car for cash and have extra for savings (and to fit our very large double stroller-it wasn’t all about the $ the kids were involved). We live like no one else so like Dave says someday I hope to live like no one else-just getting there can be embarrassing, uncool and not always the most fun. But reading articles like this re-fills my tank that I can do it, it is worth it and I will press on. SOOO what I needed to hear today!!! Love your site.

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Chris Tecmire August 7, 2012 at 5:57 pm

That’s awesome Lisa! Glad I have someone new to talk to in the uncool club :) Life is better without the burden of other people’s expectations.

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Sarah T. August 7, 2012 at 4:41 pm

I also came over from MSM! So glad she had you on! Totally digging your site. Our 1992 Buick Le Sabre died a month ago on a cross-country move. So we’re doing without. Bought a house close to hubster’s work so he can bike. Newer home in the ‘burbs but smallest in the neighborhood. We’re the oddballs since I don’t work and we don’t need both stalls in the garage (well, except for bikes and tools/lawn equipment). I’ve discovered the garage sales are great though, because they spend a fortune to keep up appearances, and my kids reap the benefit at .50/item. :) Looking forward to many more posts, and reading your archives! Our goal is to pay off the home mortgage as quickly as possible and pay for my husband’s continuing education debt-free.

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Chris Tecmire August 7, 2012 at 6:05 pm

I’m thrilled you like SFF so far Sarah!
So sorry to hear about your Le Sabre – it’s a sad day when an old vehicle passes away :( We’re hoping Stella can just keep on going forever.
By the way, God bless you on your journey to be debt free. It sounds like you’re doing pretty well so far.

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Angie August 7, 2012 at 7:11 pm

There is one big example you could have had fun with: technology.

We are led to believe we need to keep up with technology in order to be cool. I’m one of the few people I know who doesn’t own any type of smart phone. I don’t mind the initial one-time cost of the phone itself; its the monthly data plan I don’t want to pay. Just one more bill hanging over my head.

I do have an Ipod, which I got with a combo of gift cards I got from my birthday and swagbucks. Nevertheless sometimes I feel really uncool, and downright “old” not having a Iphone. (I’m only 37.) I was one of those people who was using email back in 1994 (when you got your car) so sometimes I hate how I went from being one of those people who was ahead with technology to someone who was behind. But we just can’t afford it. I hope to have an Iphone someday. They seem really useful. The Ipod is nice, but not having access to the 4G networks makes it limiting.

But you’re right – trying to be cool is sort of silly. Strangely once I started wearing my “uncoolness” like a badge of honor, I began to feel less “uncool” and lost some geek-chic cred :)

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Chris Tecmire August 7, 2012 at 7:24 pm

Very true Angie. I’ve never had a smart phone either. For me, a lot of it is the monthly bills that are attached and some of it has to do with the influence that smart phones tend to have over their users. There noses are always in them, and I’d rather not live like that even though it would be really helpful at times and there are some really cool apps.
Great point – thanks for the comment.

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Melissa October 18, 2012 at 9:21 pm

Just found this article and loved it. When my husband and I bought our house (1290 sq ft) we had two children and with taxes it ran about 15% of our combined incomes. When we paid it off in only ten years, we had 4 children, one income and it cost about 7% of that single income. When we purchased we thought “starter home.” 12 years later and mortgage FREE, we realize that three bedrooms and one bathroom really are enough. I’m with you, I’ll take financial peace – leading to freedom – over granite counter-tops any day. I feel sorry for all the people that have been convinced that each child needs their own room, that no one can wait two minutes on someone else to leave the bathroom and that children need a play room. I wonder if the parents realize that if they turn off the tv and the noise the kids make playing won’t be a problem.

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Chris Tecmire October 19, 2012 at 7:57 am

Good for you Melissa! I’m so glad you learned that important lesson early on. Thanks for sharing.

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Jack June 24, 2013 at 5:24 am

Added this article to the facebook group I started about purposely being uncool (and not doing so as an act to appear cool!).

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Chris Tecmire June 29, 2013 at 9:04 am

Thanks Jack

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