There's no reason to be smug

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secretwealth
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Post by secretwealth »

I don't think there's any point in sanctimoniousness against other people who have made different lifestyle choices. I think the extreme frugal community naturally feels a bit defensive in a consumerism-fuelled culture, but I think the golden rule should be our guide.
Yes, there are people spending a lot of money and going into debt and basically causing their own financial ruin--and there are people who laugh at us or look down on us for scrimping and saving and planning carefully for an early retirement. Yes, many of these people overlap.
However, that doesn't mean we should stoop to their level and feel superior to them. Everyone chooses their lifestyle, and I think we should respect that, instead of condemning others for not choosing the path we chose.


OurLifeInc.
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Post by OurLifeInc. »

I have learned a long time ago that it is futile in even attempting to explain our (being my wife and I) lifestyle to others...let alone feeling smug about it. Just the other day we heard that her brother and wife make about double what we bring home. Yet they live paycheck to paycheck...we have at least a 5 year cushion that grows each and every month. While I generally shake my head...I agree, no reason to be smug. We love them all the same! I tend to think that the example we set will be more powerful than being smug or trying to explain what we do. In fact, both my parents and my sister have taken an interest after seeing how freeing even starting down the path is. In 4-5 years when we are even further down the path, I expect more and more friends and family to inquire and start thinking about their own financial future. Lead by example!


J_
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Post by J_ »


jacob
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Post by jacob »

Yay! My favorite topic ...
Smug implies that one doesn't have a right to be happy about one's situation. Actually, the way it's used it means that other_people don't have a right to be happy about making different choices.
The word arrogance (my second favorite topic :) ) is used in a similar manner to imply that other_people don't have a right to be more informed about some topic than we are (even if they are).
The majority/cultural bias wins. One can be happy about and even show off certain things because that's ok and even encouraged (where are the vacation pictures?) but certainly not others, because that would be smug.
It's similar to how people can brag (and gain social currency) about their inability to do math but not about their inability to throw a baseball or get drunk.
The problem with the golden rule is that it takes a strong/selfsacrificial person to survive taking the sucker position in what is really a prisoner's dilemma situation. The best overall outcome is for both to either demonstrate happiness or both to keep quiet. However, happiness is frequently relative, that is, what matters not is not how absolutely happy one is but how happy one is relative to others. Accusing someone of being smug is thus a way of bringing them down.
Actually this is something I've thought about in terms of some of the negative flak I attracted on the blog. I think the right strategy to dealing with this is simply "show, don't tell". There's something about words that invites controversy/attack and something about pictures that does not. For example, what if I instead of having written about social analysis and strategies would simply have posted pictures of sailing, wood furniture I had made, etc. I think this would have worked better.


secretwealth
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Post by secretwealth »

"Smug implies that one doesn't have a right to be happy about one's situation."
I disagree. Smug implies that one doesn't have a right to feel superior to others about one's situation.
"The majority/cultural bias wins. One can be happy about and even show off certain things because that's ok and even encouraged (where are the vacation pictures?) but certainly not others, because that would be smug."
Again, I don't agree. There's a difference between showing off and condemning others for not making the same choices. Let's take the vacation pictures example. There's a difference between showing off and saying, "look--we had such a great time on this cruise, aren't these pics awesome?" and saying, "look--we had such a great time on this cruise, and you really should go because going on a cruise is awesome and everyone should do it."
This points to an important semantic issue, I think. How do we define smugness, happiness, etc.? I think the important point I'm trying to make is that there is a clear difference between being happy that you've chosen one lifestyle and feeling better than others who have not chosen that lifestyle.


jacob
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Post by jacob »

So under this, a statement like "You should spend some money. Live a little. Don't limit your lifestyle. Cut back on the austerity. Don't sacrifice so much." would be considered [possibly indirectly] smug?


aussierogue
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Post by aussierogue »

@jacob
yep that sounds smug to me. Passively smug...
@secretwealth - yes agree with the gist.
I just avoid getting into this type of tit for tat scenario with other people. I do understand however why minority groups (frugal, religious, whatever) need/tend to more vocal (and possibly) be seen as smugger than others....especially if they are successful. Get down to the status thing. Some people just need to yell louder to be heard.


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Post by jennypenny »

I'm guilty, but I don't feel guilty about it. Part of it is listening to "passive aggressive smugness" described above all_the_time. I'll admit as a woman, part of it is probably my disgust with the way women compete socially with each other. Spending $500 on a pair of shoes or a handbag improves your social standing, but saving $500 by knowing how to fix your own car doesn't. I don't think that's just a different choice of lifestyle. I think it's wrong. If that makes me smug, so be it.


secretwealth
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Post by secretwealth »

Yeah, Jacob, that is definitely smug. I think we should aspire to transcend that, not fight fire with fire.
I know it isn't easy, but it's still an admirable goal.


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jennypenny
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Post by jennypenny »

"I think we should aspire to transcend that"

transcendental EREistas?
Secretwealth, you're a much nicer person than I am. You always seem to believe the best of people. I wish I could do that. Most days I can't even fake it.


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Ego
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Post by Ego »

Some of the best lessons I've learned have been the result of poor decisions on my part. I experienced the consequences of my actions and I learned from my mistakes.
People are often accused of being smug at the moment they are being asked to help those who are experiencing the consequences of their actions. Those who are in a position to help have often been responsible, prudent and wise, and they are bailing out those who have been the opposite. So if they refuse - and sometimes even when they help - they are accused of being smug.
A refusal can be the most empowering thing one person can give to another. In some ways treating someone with smug contempt can be the exact opposite of enabling them to fail. It provides that little extra impetus for change - social pressure - that a compassionate decline does not.
We live in an interdependent world. Our actions affect one another. Certainly everyone has the right to choose their own path in life, but when someone wants to beg or steal from me to supplement the shortcomings of their chosen route, that's when I get smug.


Christopherjart
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Post by Christopherjart »

"quality of life" and therefore happiness seems to be defined very differently by the ERE people and regular people.
I've been trying to show by example to my new roommates the concepts I live by since one clearly doesn't understand but I didn't get it when I was 20 either.
We were talking about what we'd do when (or if) we find a high paying job. Many know that I haven't actually looked for a job for several years. I've been freelancing for several years. I did poorly when the economy was bad and relatively well in the last and first year. (although compared to most people here I'm dirt poor in income)
anyway, the one that just doesn't get my perspective said he'd rent an apartment in an expensive neighborhood and get a nice car.
I commented how I wouldn't do that because I'd just be spending all the extra money I'd be earning. He gave me a shocked look and said that I'd be living a better quality of life. Obviously to him, living alone(or with his partner) in an expensive apartment paying for an expensive car is a better quality of life.
I have nothing against those things, I just would rather have my future covered. I replied that if you change your expenses and later lose your job, you'd have no way to keep paying for those things.

He paused and said that it would be better to buy a house. I can agree on that.
One option is to be very prepared. the other option is to live as if it were your last day on earth.


george
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Post by george »

Smugness, well here I am, I've done everything "properly" lived frugally, saved. And now through a disaster I will sit here for goodness knows how long will be at the mercy of authorities. My home is worthless, at least for the next 5 years. Even going for a walk, you're confronted with destruction.
So I guess I have something in common with those who have lost money in banks etc.
I guess what can't be taken away from me is that I live such a simple life, I don't worry about work, negotiating with insurance companies, the bank. I'll sit here and wait. There is really nothing else we can do.
There are people who get on the phone every other day to chase things up, but I won't put myself through that.
And while I'm writing this Huge thanks to the Red Cross. While other organisations gave to those who cried the loudest. The Red Cross identified people who suffered the most in terms of damage and health and have given accordingly. Thank you Thank you, thank you.
But anyway what I'm trying to say is live the life you believe in, but this doesn't mean you can control everything and thank goodness for organisations who really know what they're doing.


BeyondtheWrap
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Post by BeyondtheWrap »

@jacob: So I guess when someone says, "You should spend some money. Live a little. Don't limit your lifestyle. Cut back on the austerity. Don't sacrifice so much," we should then respond, "There's no reason to be smug about it."


aussierogue
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Post by aussierogue »

@ego
great perspective as usual. Smugness is sometime a label rather than a fact. So anyones level of so called smugness depends highly on the perceiver of the smugness's (the other persons) issues.
Having said that - some poeple are just plain smug about many things which to me shows lack of empathy....unable to identify the way they act and the way this effects people.
So its a fine ine in some cases. Maybe we all have a spectrum of smugness depending on the situation, the topic and the poeple involved.
In some company i never fee smug (or made to feel smug) but in some I always feel smug.
I do get cheesed off that in some company i feel smug (am made to feel smub) and usually I put it down to a status thing. Ie when the other person perceives themselves (subconsciously) as being deficient....they get defensive, and the the successful person gets labelled smug.
Interestingly i tend to feel less smug around newish friends / friends that i have chosen over the last 10 or so years. So more like 'peers; from a social perpective.
Either way....i see the problem as one that is constantly evolving and we shouldn't be smug in our smugness. If in some company it is an issue then I feel i need to adapt a little, tone it down and hopefully when the social interaction has finished we are still friends. Not always possible though and as EGO has said above maybe its actually a good thing.


aussierogue
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Post by aussierogue »

@george
Sorry to hear about your troubles. I do not know what it is like to go through something like you appear to be ging through now. Timely reminder for those of us with more to give to those of us that don't.


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Post by irukandjisting »

@george - and with you aussierouge
Yes, sounds like you have had some problems of recent - best wishes with your recovery
And, some may not articulate as well as others or understand content as well as some, imho
If we were all fantastic at everything, how boring would we be


jacob
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Post by jacob »

I think it's important to emphasize that smugness is a two-party relation. Unlike happiness which is an absolute, smugness is something that A says about B; B is "too happy" according to A. Robinson Crusoe on a remote island can be unhappy or happy, but he can never be called smug.
It's very hard to control what other people think about you.
The practical problem is that extreme frugality (or enough savings to modify the risk profile/make it recession proof) is measured under the quality-of-life-is-a-(univariate)-function-of-consumer-spending assumption.
If you don't spend enough, you have no right to be happy. You should be less happy spending $10000 compared to spending $20000. And you should be less happy on $20000 than on $40000.
Being equally happy on $10000 as other people are on $40000 simply won't do. It's particularly egregious if the $40000 is unhappy that they're not spending more $50000. In that case the $10000 spender is too happy. Too smug.
There's really nothing they can do about it other than either hide their spending level or try to explain their spending in some other way, e.g. "I do it for some religious-like reason". People accept "crazy". They don't accept other people messing with their dollar-quantified-happiness-scale.
Time to revisit the Wheaton scale?
(I'm operating under the assumption that the accusation is unjustified based on the fact that the times I've gotten the "I prefer a less austere version of what you're doing"-comment vs the times I've said something like "I'm quite pleased that I live on less" is something like 50 to 1.)


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Ego
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Post by Ego »

I just went back and reread the original post after reading Jacob's comment above. When I read it the first time it didn't even occur to me that others would treat me with smugness because of my extreme frugality. I assumed it would be me treating them smugly for their spendthrift ways. Hah!
Hum, I wonder what that say about my social-awareness skills? Fiddly-dee.


LonerMatt
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Post by LonerMatt »

Jacob, I wouldn't consider "I prefer a less austere version of what you're doing" do be smug - while I'm certain that sentiment can be wrapped in self-assured smugness and smarm - that comment in of itself is quite reasonable.
I think the key here is that for something to qualify as smug is has to be a comparison that is also evaluative.
For example, "I prefer a less austere version of what you're doing - it's just better" smug central, and completely obnoxious. No qualifications, etc to reduce the righteousness smugness requires.


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