The boasting on social media about “extreme finance” is getting out of hand. Extreme measures include paying down a $200,000 mortgage in 5 years or retiring at age 35. Among the headline-grabbing stories, this one takes the prize: “Modern-day caveman lives on zero dollars a day.” Let’s agree that living off the grid and foraging for food are not viable options for most of us. Here are three main reasons why taking draconian steps with our finances is a bad idea:
Extreme measures are not sustainable
A diet of only ramen noodles may work for students but it’s certainly not going to work for a family with growing children. Similarly, eliminating clothing budgets and moving into a tiny house are unlikely to be long-term solutions. Generally, the more drastic the change, the more difficult it will be to sustain. It’s the same as following a diet: gradual change, such eating fruit between meals instead of sugary snacks, is easier to adopt and sustain than a diet that eliminates all carbohydrates.
If you live alone and have few social contacts, you are relatively free to take extreme measures that alter your lifestyle. For the majority of us with close family and friends, we can expect some fairly strong pushback if we propose to sell off the family car, restrict entertainment budgets and eliminate vacations.
Extreme measures reduce quality of life
Let’s take the example of a couple who wishes to retire at a very early age, say 45. By scrimping and saving for 10 years, perhaps they can achieve their goal of a frugal retirement. But let’s remember that life is not only short, but unpredictable. Enjoying life as you go is as valuable a goal as saving up for enjoyment down the road. Focusing exclusively on the future may cause extreme regrets if health problems or unforeseen circumstances interfere with future plans. Remember that one of the top regrets late in life is not travelling more at a younger age.
Extreme measures permit us to procrastinate
If we are lulled into thinking that a drastic change can be undertaken at a moment’s notice, we may put off making many reasonable and relatively easy adjustments that could improve our financial position. Instead of starting to save for retirement at slow and steady pace at age 35, we might procrastinate and tell ourselves we will take more drastic measures down the road. These measures are likely to prove much more difficult than we anticipated.
Can we learn anything from extreme finance?
Yes. All these extreme measures have one thing in common: reduced spending. To make money go further, cutting back is more effective than trying to boost either income or investment returns. There’s no shortage of good advice about how to restrict spending without sacrificing enjoyment of life. Setting a lower travel budget might mean more camping in national parks rather than winter beach vacations. A smaller clothing budget might spark an interest in thrift-store finds. Eating more meals at home is not only cheaper but is also likely to be healthier.
Extremely easy advice
Moderate and sustainable changes to our spending habits are the key. The age-old wisdom of paying ourselves first – setting aside the money for savings/investments and limiting our spending to what is left over – will always be a great strategy. Extreme personal finance measures challenge our thinking: Do we really need to spend that much?
The best advice is almost 100 years old, from Desiderata: “If you compare yourself with others, you will become vain and bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.”
Keeping up with the Joneses in extreme finance is extremely overrated.