Labels are tools that help us make sense of the world, and the links we create between and among us. These defined categories are one of the ways we cultivate belonging, but they’re also one of the ways we promote othering. When we mentally classify individuals or groups as ‘us,’ we automatically create the opposing classification – ‘not one of us.’ We use labels to connect with like-minded people, to justify or explain our own actions, or to provide support or criticism for someone else’s behavior.

Ironically, there is often a segment of followers of a labelled movement or philosophy who take the concept further than their leaders. If you fail to obey a rule or structure to the letter, you risk the strict adherents popping out from nowhere to enlighten you. I’ve probably done this many times myself – it’s a natural reaction in a species built on community. We somehow feel moved to defend the practices of an individual we’ve never met, clarifying their gospel for the masses. We do this even though the leader of the movement likely wouldn’t feel the need to defend themselves or their philosophy personally. We do this even though we might be missing the main purpose behind the movement while we debate the minutiae. Only now am I realizing how bizarre that sounds!

I’ve never followed any particular philosophy or method completely, so I often find myself saying things like “I’m not a minimalist, but I think it’s important to reconsider the value we place on our possessions.” These caveats help to preemptively steer the conversation away from any unnecessary, off-topic tangents, albeit limiting the usefulness of labels. I’m fine with adding a little human complexity to my interactions, so let’s talk about everything I’m not.

If you happen to identify with any of the following labels, I’m not criticizing you in any way by any stretch of the imagination. I just want you to know that it’s okay to admire someone and not strictly apply every component of their philosophy to your own life. You are not any less of a person if you’re more turtle intense than gazelle intense, or if you want to retire early but not that early, or if you’re only sort of a minimalist. If you’ve found a plan that works for you in its entirety, awesome! If you’ve modified that plan to fit your objectives and desires, fantastic!

I’m Not A..

Gazelle

Dave Ramsey coined the phrase gazelle intensity after reading Proverbs 6:4–5, “Give no sleep to your eyes, nor slumber to your eyelids. Deliver yourself like a gazelle from the hand of the hunter, and like a bird from the hand of the fowler.” Basically, the way to get out of debt is to realize that a CHEETAH IS CHASING YOU and then run like crazy in the other direction.

I get that the cheetah is chasing me, but I can’t run at a sprint for years before I finally stop to catch my breath. Dave Ramsey’s plan works for many people, and the average person is debt free (excluding mortgage debt) in 18-24 months while maintaining a high level of intensity. My debt will take significantly longer than 24 months to finish, and the risk of abandoning a debt payoff plan is higher on an extended timeline. Long term deprivation can lead to attrition, so I’m careful to keep my motivation high.

Instead of starting with the gazelle mindset, I’m gradually building my intensity over time. I’m not giving up absolutely everything, but I’ve increased my payments to the point that my debt payoff timeline will be reduced from 11 years down to 4-5. Decreasing my spending more wouldn’t reduce my timeline significantly, but it would increase the likelihood of debt payoff fatigue that could lead to abandoning the plan altogether.

I listen to Dave Ramsey’s podcast for 3 hours every weekday on my commute, and have been making bigger and bigger payments on my debt.. but I’m not a gazelle.

[Dave has so many haters it’s almost comical. Too religious, not religious enough; too harsh, not harsh enough. It’s tough to argue with those debt free screams though – he’s helped millions of people get out of terrible financial situations and start building wealth.]

Mustachian

Mr. Money Mustache is all about Financial Freedom Through Badassity, showing us that it is in fact possible to not be stuck in a 9-5 job for our entire adult lives. He’s one of the original voices in the early retirement world, and I’ve been a major fan of his ever since I stumbled on his blog. MMM was my introduction to the idea that working until age 65 was a choice, not an inevitability, and that one concept has completely changed my life.

I can’t say I’ve been entirely faithful to the ways of the mustache though. I don’t ride my bicycle nearly enough, for one thing. I also often buy items new rather than combing through the thrift store. I still go out to eat occasionally, I still buy expensive electronics like video games and smart phones, and I still purchase tickets for events and concerts. I have a massive amount of student loan debt, but I’m not treating it like the hair on fire emergency that it is.

Instead, I cut back on the things that weren’t as important to me and started to gradually increase my payments over the past year – from $1,300/month minimum payments in 2016 to an average this year of $2,800/month.

Despite my extravagant (by mustachian standards) spending, I’m still planning to retire in my early 40s. Could I cut back everything to the bare minimum and retire in my late 30s? Absolutely. The fact that I plan to only reduce the length of my career by 20 years and not 25 might be a point of contention for some, but it’s a compromise that works well for me personally. I’m not forcing anyone else to work 5 extra years to afford the things I choose to purchase, so no worries there.

I’ve read Mr Money Mustache’s blog from start to finish, and changed my lifestyle enough to shave (pun intended) 20 years off of my working life.. but I’m not a mustachian. I’m a spendypants consumer who could use a punch in the face.

[Ironically, I’ve also been criticized for calling out the comparison game in the early retirement community and encouraging contentment instead of competing for the highest savings rate (maybe I missed something, but isn’t contentment the underlying thread of mustachianism?). I’m not too worried about routinely failing to live up to the mustachian ideal though. It seems like a relatively unachievable target given that MMM himself gets hate from his own readers about not being mustachian enough.. on a forum that started because of his blog. He doesn’t let the detractors impact him though, which is pretty mustachian in itself. The whole thing is almost too meta for me.]

Minimalist

The Minimalists left their corporate careers at age 30 to live meaningful lives with less stuff and more of the important things: time, passion, experiences, growth, contribution, and contentment.

I’ve downsized many of my possessions over the years, even cutting out entire categories like hair tools and nail polish. As The Minimalists often say, minimalism is about only owning items that add value to your life. I think I’ve reached that point, or if not I’m close to it.

I still have an abundance of possessions though, and I still attach emotional value to them. Does a real minimalist keep decorative boxes and multiple copies of the same book? Do I fit in even though I own way more than 100 things? Probably not, according to many self-proclaimed minimalists out there.

I’ve read the blog and the books, listened to the podcast, watched the documentary, attended the live shows, and put many of their methods into practice.. but I’m not a minimalist. I’m a slightly more conscious consumer with slightly less stuff.

[Minimalism has been criticized as a movement for privileged white men with no children, despite the presence of minimalists of all backgrounds, genders, and procreation stances. There are endless forum threads dedicated to agonizing over lists of possessions, and shaming anyone who owns one superfluous item. Once again, finding contentment is a surprisingly controversial topic!]

If I’m not a gazelle, a mustachian, or a minimalist.. What am I?

I guess I’m just a regular person, trying to live my best life on my own terms. Aren’t we all?

Each of these movements is simply a path to one very important destination: freedom. On each path we’re informed by some overzealous followers that we should step exactly where they tell us. Even though so much time has passed that it’s impossible to see where the first person to walk this path stepped. Even though the path is so worn that there are clearly multiple tracks to follow. Even though there’s enough space along the path to forge our own way.

I can’t help but think that by socially enforcing these rigid boundaries, we’re alienating those we could be helping. Does everyone have to fit our perfectly constructed boxes or forever live in a Pinocchio-like state where they’re not real until they conform? Isn’t conformity the construct that most of these movements were opposing in the first place?

18 Replies to “Everything I’m Not”

  1. I’ve never been much of a joiner. I like to think of my philosophy as my own, but with influences taken from what I encounter throughout my life. I suspect thats closer to the truth for most people.

    1. Agreed! I take this approach too, but I’ve seen a surprising number of sticklers out there. Maybe I just spend too much time on forums and other online groups.. haha.

  2. There’s no right way to manage your life, whether that’s paying off debt, investing, establishing yourself in a career, etc. That doesn’t mean that it’s easy to stop comparing yourself to others who you view as being further down the path you’re following.
    I land more closely to you than to any of the ‘ideals’ you presented. Balancing my life right now and what’s to come in the future is more important to me than only looking forward. You keep doing you 😉

  3. I love this, Veronika! I also don’t find our philosophy or lifestyle fitting into a certain box or set of rules… but we seek options and we seek freedom. In order to achieve that, we try to optimize areas of our lives that will help us to reach our goals 🙂

  4. I feel the same way. I incoporate some of the ideas from Dave Ramsey and MMM but not to the nth degree. I will burn out if I go balls-to-the-wall for an extended period of time.

    1. Me too! If I tried to be as intense as either calls for, I’d probably have given up multiple times over by now. I’d rather take a few months longer than not finish at all!

  5. Freedom is right. And for some people (myself included), that freedom means that I’ve chosen to quit my side hustle that I had for 6.5 years and cut my hours to 80% NOW. I’m definitely not at FI and we *only* saved 22% of our income last year, but I have an extra 2-3 hours every week day to do what I want rather than be at work. And we’re still targeting FI by our mid 40s. Which is when our son turns 18 – I don’t want to go gazelle intense for the next 15 years and miss out on the years he most wants to hang with me just to have a ton of time when he goes off to college (or whatever he chooses to do after graduation).

    1. That sounds lovely! I totally agree – there’s no point in racing to the finish line if you miss out on too much along the way.

  6. Thank you for this amazing article.

    I can’t identify with any one ‘financial expert’ or whatever you wanna call them. When I started my blog, I wrote an article about Ramsey, not really to trash him, just because I had a different opinion than him. I never insulted him or anything, but of course I got some heat for it and heard some rude things.

    I, like you, feel its important to listen and learn and create your own thing. Im not saying that what these guys talk about doesn’t work, it might have worked for them… but they aren’t just giving out advice cause they love you… they have sponsors, books, etc.

    I was on this journey before ever listening or reading to these guys doing it my way, and I’ll share the way I do it, whether people like it or not. Theres more than one path to financial freedom. Im glad I’m not alone in my thinking…

    1. It’s important to incorporate advice into your life in a way that actually fits YOUR life.. I wouldn’t apply all of the fitness advice of an olympic athlete unless I also wanted to be an olympic athlete. I might add one or two ideas, but I’m not going to mindlessly apply the entire formula.

  7. Interesting post! I hadn’t really thought about whether I’ve become a disciple of any particular PF mindset. I guess I’ve always been inclined to soak up as much information as possible for a variety of knowledgeable and reliable sources and figure out how it might fit my own situation.

    I think a one-size-fits-all approach to PF is kinda silly. The strategies that Dave Ramsey teaches are uber-simple and designed for the masses. Nothing wrong with that. They make sense and work well for a lot of people, but that doesn’t mean everyone has to adopt them as-is. There are certain things he firmly believes in that I do too, but other things that I’d do differently. Ultimately, we still need to think for ourselves!

    1. I’ve always soaked up all of the information too. I find I hit a certain saturation point and then just make my own decisions based on what I’ve absorbed. Thinking for yourself is important!

  8. I’m a former gazelle, reformed partial Mustachian, and aspiring to be more Minimalist. But mostly, I’m just happy. My debt is paid, I have a great savings rate, and I’ve learned to be far more mindful in my purchases. That’s good enough for me!

  9. It sounds like you’re, shall we say, NORMAL? Great read, V. I think I fall into this category of an “aspirist” rather than “zealot” on these fronts. Though my wife would argue I’m too much a minimalist as I haul boxes quietly out to the car… “What’s in those?!?” 🙂

    Keep doing what you’re doing. Nothing wrong at all with an early 40s target. You’ll beat me by a couple of years at that rate!

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