The United States has a paycheck-to-paycheck financial culture. The truth is that 76% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck, with virtually no emergency savings to their names, and roughly half of all Americans will die with virtually no assets, not even a house.
This is considered the norm in America, and that norm pervades a lot of the elements of day to day life. People spend until they can’t find any more money to spend and they follow people in the media who spend even more than they do. Most people have a social circle full of those who spend in the same way. It’s an endless cavalcade of spending on whatever the flavor of the moment is – restaurant expenses, drinks, gadgets, shiny cars, nice clothes, a huge house, and on and on and on.
When someone decides that this routine isn’t for them – a decision I made several years back – it can be hard to pull yourself away from this routine for cultural and social reasons. Most of your friends likely have no interest in changing their spending habits. The vast majority of news and culture focuses on continually spending more and more money, too.
The truth is that the road to financial independence can look like a very lonely one. Many of the things that are obviously things that you can give up when you look to cut your expenses are social expenses – going out to eat, going out for drinks, and so on. This can cut into your social life, and it’s a tradeoff that many people struggle with. Even worse, there are often few positive role models out there for people making good choices with their money. Watch the news and you’ll see an intense focus on people with exorbitant wealth and the incredibly flashy ways in which they use that wealth, with almost no attention to the ordinary person making ends meet with smart moves.
Our thoughts are greatly shaped by the people around us. As Jim Rohn famously said, we are the average of the five people closest to us. We are also greatly shaped by the media sources we absorb, from the content itself to the perspective behind it and the advertising shipped with it. If we can shape those influences to push us toward having thoughts that are as conducive as possible toward financial independence and personal growth, it’s going to do nothing but help us on our road to financial success.
There are three main strategies I’ve found in fighting that sense of social isolation and building a positive network of people and information around you on the road to financial independence. The first is meeting people with positive financial mindsets through community involvement. The second is to change how I socialize so that I’m more likely to find people with whom I share financial perspectives. The third is to intentionally look for media that shows me thoughtful perspectives. Let’s look at each strategy in turn and see how they all fit together.
Meeting Positive Financial People
The first prong of this strategy is to simply meet people with positive financial habits and viewpoints and put yourself in position to build positive relationships with them.
The biggest question people often have is how do you find other people that have positive financial views? What do frugal people do with their time that’s social? In general, they’re not going to bars and they’re not going to clubs – those places are expensive. Where do people who are planning for financial independence go to socialize?
I’ve found a few answers to that very question over the years. Here’s how you find those people. Note, of course, that you’ll also find some people who aren’t geared toward good financial choices at these things; you’ll just find a pretty high proportion of people with a good financial mindset at these events.
Volunteer Whenever I volunteer for anything, particularly things that are not directly connected to sporting events, I often find a lot of people who are at the very least frugal in their lifestyle choices and I find a surprisingly large number of people gearing up for financial independence.
If you don’t know where to start, look for the food pantry or clothing pantry in your area, or check out your local Habitat for Humanity group. You can often find pointers to these groups on your community website.
Library programs Many local libraries sponsor a number of programs that are free and of interest to the community. There are probably a dozen book clubs sponsored by libraries within fifteen miles of my house, along with lecture series and discussion forums and other events. Plus, there are always library volunteer programs.
Visit your library’s website and see what kinds of programs they have and join one of two that seem interesting. Almost all library sponsored book clubs are very welcoming, and you can probably find a club that matches your interests. If not, look for any other meetings hosted by the library and see if any of them click with you. Many libraries have investment clubs of some kind as well – those are almost always loaded with people with financial independence goals paired with a reasonably frugal lifestyle.
Civic organizations, such as Toastmasters People who participate in civic organizations tend to be doing it for two reasons: personal growth (mixed with giving back to the community) or career networking. It’s pretty easy to figure out who’s who in those groups, and the people who are in the personal growth/giving back to the community side of the coin often tend to be oriented toward financial independence.
Toastmasters is a great example of that dichotomy. Some people are there to simply become more well-rounded people; others are there to use it for a career boost. You’ll usually find more financial independence mindsets in the group focused more on personal growth. (That’s not to say that people interested mostly in personal growth aren’t career oriented; it’s just that they realize if they become better and more rounded people, better outcomes will naturally come their way.) You’ll likely also find personal growth and financial independence minded people at other civic groups such as the Lion’s Club.
Churches and other religious organizations are also often a haven for frugal and financially sensible people. There are some, of course, who preach things like the prosperity gospel that are far out of alignment with frugal and financially independent values. A good way to start is to talk to the religious leader of that organization and find out what they believe and what values they espouse.
Meetup.com This is absolutely the best tool around for finding hobby-specific interest groups in your area. All kinds of groups in your community, many of which you’d never hear about otherwise, are listed on Meetup. Whatever hobby you might have, you can probably find something on Meetup if you live in a metro area.
While Meetup is a great way to find groups devoted to your interest, it’s not necessarily a direct ticket to people making good financial choices. Groups like these tend to attract people with their financial life in balance, but it’s far from a universal thing. It’s just that Meetup groups tend to have their focus on doing things rather than acquiring things and on personal growth and community spirit rather than attaining pure pleasure, and those types of environments tend to attract people who are committed to building a better long-term life.
You’ve now found some sources for meeting financially responsible people with a personal growth mindset in your daily life… so what’s next? For many people, particularly introverted people, knowing how to move from simply being in a room of people with similar interests and values to building strong social relationships with them can be a challenge. (I know… I’m definitely an introvert.)
I’ll start off by suggesting two books that have helped me enormously with moving from feeling really uncomfortable in group situations where I didn’t know many people to being able to enter a room and build at least a few good relationships.
First, How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie (check the link for my detailed summary of the book) is useful in terms of the mechanics of how exactly to, well, win friends. I honestly believe this book was written for introverts like myself who find it difficult to strike up conversations with unknown people and the book breaks it down mechanically, something that’s really, really useful for introverts and can seem a bit… mechanical for extroverts. If you feel nervous starting a conversation with someone you don’t know but you really want to unlock how to do it so that you can build some new friendships, this is the best book I’ve ever found on that subject.
Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi and Tahl Raz (again, check the link for my detailed summary of the book) is useful for discussing how to maintain friendships and connections once you’ve built them. Again, it feels like a guide written for introverts, because it really spoke to me in terms of maintaining social relationships but for others it can seem a bit mechanical. I feel like it pairs very well with the Carnegie book above.
Here are a few of the key strategies I’ve found that really work well for building relationships with unknown people and following up on them.
Be positive I try very hard to be at least 90% positive with the comments I make in mixed company. If I can’t find something positive to say, I usually don’t say it. I especially avoid being critical of people who aren’t present, though I may lightly self-deprecate and occasionally make a joke with someone who is present.
Negativity almost always pushes people away, especially when it’s a repeated habit. The guy or gal who criticizes everything might get a few listeners at first, but those are rarely going to build into real connections (it can happen, but it’s rare).
You don’t need to be “fake positive,” either. Just look for genuinely positive things to say.
Ask questions and listen to answers If you’re struggling with something to do to extend a conversation with someone you find potentially interesting, ask a question. Ask them a question about themselves that isn’t deeply intrusive, and take advantage of the fact that you’re both at this event to find a useful question to ask.
For instance, if you show up at a meeting of a book club and you’re mingling afterwards, don’t be afraid to go up to someone who made a good point and tell them so, and then ask them what other books in the genre they’ve liked. Following positivity with a question almost always puts the other person in a positive mindset, and if you’re both positive, then you’ve done a lot to open the door to a potential friendship. (Remember, not everything will blossom into friendship, so don’t feel bad if it doesn’t.)
Avoid sticky subjects One of the worst ways to throw a potential friendship away is to delve into a sticky subject and find that you have differing viewpoints on it. Just avoid subjects of potential controversy where you may have different opinions unless you’re at an event where it’s almost required for you to have similar viewpoints.
The thing to remember with sticky subjects is that they’re often greatly informed by the circumstances within which that person grew up. People from different backgrounds are simply going to value different things differently than others, and that’s okay. The problem comes when you haven’t established a strong relationship with someone and you find out that you disagree on a single key value, which will probably put that relationship in a rough place when it doesn’t need to be there. Give it time and build to real conversations on sticky issues when you know each other well and understand each other’s values.
I can talk frankly with my closest friends about my political and religious viewpoints, even if they disagree with me, because even if we do disagree on some things, we know each other well enough over a long period of time that we understand that we do share more values than we disagree on. We may not have found that if we dug right into sticky areas upon our first or second meeting.
Pave the way for meaningful follow-up If you find that you’ve had a great conversation with someone, find an avenue to follow up. Suggest becoming friends or followers of each other on social media and, if you have a smartphone, do it immediately.
Another strategy I follow is to make a note of a reason or two to follow up with that person. I’ll use Evernote to write down a thing or two that we were talking about that I can follow up on and then, in the next day or two, I’ll use that as a starting point for a subsequent conversation on social media or via text or whatever method of communication we’ve exchanged. It provides a great way to follow up with a subsequent conversation.
Making Better Media Choices
The third strategy that I use is to be very careful about what media I absorb. Television, radio, books, film, magazines, newspapers, websites, social media – all of it is a powerful influence over the way we think, but we have the power to control that influence by choosing what media sources we actually bother to give our valuable attention to. Here are some tactics that have greatly helped in terms of selecting media options that encourage financially smart moves and personal growth.
Less “quick” media, opinions, or headline news I almost never watch or read the “news” any more, for several reasons. One, the current events of the day have basically no impact on my daily life. The ramifications of those events might have an impact, but those ramifications are rarely very clear in the first few hours after an event, and that’s what the news reports before they move on to something else. There’s very little value in that. Two, what passes for news is often deeply intermingled with opinion. Sometimes, pure opinion is presented as fact; at other times, the person writing the article presents only carefully selected facts to push you toward a particular conclusion. This, again, is most prevalent in opinion columns and “quick” news sites.
Anything that packages a complex issue into a brief sound bite isn’t worth my time. Anything that presents people yelling at each other isn’t worth my time. Anything that talks about a new development or a new product release isn’t worth my time because there hasn’t been adequate time to evaluate it. Anything that tries to encourage me to buy things or be jealous of the things that others have isn’t worth my time. Anything that presents a particular perspective on an issue without being very up front about the fact that it is a particular perspective isn’t worth my time. I just avoid all of it.
More (and better) books and long-form articles Instead, I invest my time in trying to understand the things that affect my life as deeply as I can. I constantly try to understand why I make the choices that I do, what my sense of right and wrong is, and where that comes from. I try to understand as deeply as possible the core issues affecting the world, and those core issues aren’t talked about on headline news.
Understanding those issues comes from quality reporting and deep thinking, and those things are usually slow and they usually are long. I tend to trust well-sourced books and long articles, or books and articles that carefully walk me through their logical process. I get far more value out of a book that carefully explains an investment strategy than a talking head on CNBC telling me about the hot mutual fund of the day. I get far more value out of a book on philosophy and values than from a moralistic rant on a political website telling me how half of the world is flatly wrong. I get far more value out of a well-reported long article on how someone different than me lives than I get out of a reality television program. I consciously choose to spend my time on the things that give me value in life and I try to avoid spending time on things that do not.
Selective blogs, podcasts, and social media These things tend to be a very mixed bag, with a few examples being very good (like NPR’s Planet Money podcast) and most not being worth the electrons used to transmit them. Again, the key isn’t timeliness, but thoughtfulness. The key isn’t anger, but levelheadedness. The key isn’t insisting that you’re right and they’re wrong, but in everyone trying to understand all sides better.
Mostly, I use these tools as recommendation engines of a sort, as the better items push me toward well-researched and well-considered books and long articles on things that genuinely matter to me.
It all really comes down to a single question: what media is worth my time? For me, the answer comes down to whether or not it actually impacts my life and my true understanding of the world and the issues in it. An awful lot of media doesn’t do that at all. If I spend an hour or two reading something or watching something, it better have contributed something positive to my life; if it doesn’t meet that threshold, it’s really not worth my time. I generally find those values in books, long-form articles, music, and occasional movies and television series without commercial interruption. Most of the rest of it is just filler that usually just confuses my values and doesn’t contribute to my understanding of the world.
The goal of all of this is a very simple one. It’s all about filling my life with influences that encourage me to continue on the path to financial independence while still having fun, being social, and enjoying life. By intentionally finding people who share those key values with me and throwing out media sources that don’t share those values, I can live a life where financial independence seems to be the norm, not the exception.
I find it in civic organizations and volunteering, not in going to clubs. I find it in dinner parties with the people I meet from those experiences. I find it in well-researched and well-written books and articles, not from headline news and reality television. Those are the things I consciously choose to fill my life with, and because of that, good financial decisions, frugality, personal growth, and trying to understand the world and make it a better place feel like the norm to me. And when those things feel normal, you’re far more likely to stick with them.
Your path to financial independence is guided by the people you spend your time with and the media you absorb. Make sure those things are actually helping you along that path, not hindering you. Good luck!