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The other 1%
October 22, 2011 1:33 AM   Subscribe

This guy lives off of $20,000 a year. This guy lives off of $11,000 a year.

Joseph Fonseca wanted to live in 10 cities in 10 years on his $20,000 a year income. It's year 7 and he is now in Seattle

Glenn Morrissette wrote to yahoo finance that he was living off of $11,000 and got a lot of attention on his blog.
posted by elemenopee (128 comments total) 41 users marked this as a favorite

 
It brought a smile to my face to see him sitting at the front bar at Shorty's.
posted by Jawn at 1:56 AM on October 22, 2011 [5 favorites]


I'm supposed to be impressed that a guy can drop 14 grand on an RV but talks about how frugal he is?
posted by Cyclopsis Raptor at 2:00 AM on October 22, 2011 [12 favorites]


They failed to ask Morrissette where he parks that RV. All the rest makes sense. Here's his blog, with pix of the interior ... newly overhauled.
posted by Twang at 2:00 AM on October 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


the correct link to "wrote to yahoo finance"
damn
posted by elemenopee at 2:03 AM on October 22, 2011


I'm supposed to be impressed that a guy can drop 14 grand on an RV but talks about how frugal he is?

Yes, because it is his dwelling.
posted by tractorfeed at 2:27 AM on October 22, 2011 [21 favorites]


Single much?
posted by fistynuts at 2:32 AM on October 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


Huh, 10 cities 10 years, eh? I'm winding up my 15 nation states in 15 years, usually making about that much, and never thought of it as a project, I'm just living, you know?
posted by Meatbomb at 2:33 AM on October 22, 2011 [28 favorites]


elemenopee, check your metafilter mail.
posted by taz at 2:33 AM on October 22, 2011


I live off of $11,000 a year. And I pay rent. And it sucks.

I'm running an ~$200 a month deficit which, over the last five years I've worked around various ways. At first, I had a big back payment of disability benefits. Later, I had some inheritance from my late father. Recently, I had a friend staying with me while he was getting back on his feet after losing his job, and he managed to contribute a small amount of money each month—until he got into an accident in my car (which I let him drive every day without paying me anything for it) and didn't tell me about it, which I later learned about only when the insurance company called me. Then, after a week of deliberation, I decided that it would be best that he didn't drive my car. Then he decided that he would live somewhere else, leaving me scrambling to pay rent and find some way of covering the deficit in the future. I've avoided being homeless the last couple of months by doing something I've never before done (and plan never to do again): I explicitly wrote to select friends and family and asked them for charity.

Good times.

It's just a great neverending party, living here under the poverty line.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 2:38 AM on October 22, 2011 [89 favorites]


Incidentally, I'd love to live in an RV and I've thought about it. A lot. But I don't have the money to buy one, first of all. Second of all, it would be impractical and expensive to drive day-to-day. (I guess I could live only in cities with good public transportation.) Third of all, also because gas is so expensive, the exciting promise of driving around the US and staying in interesting places is probably also unrealistic.

But I still think about it. With a guaranteed social security disability income, even though it's small, it's tantalizing to think about somehow living without paying rent and just having that money come in without it going right back out to rent and utilities. It's especially frustrating for me because I would be happy in a small space as long as I have a comfortable bed, books, computer, and internet access. And my cat.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 2:44 AM on October 22, 2011 [9 favorites]


I'm a bit confused by the second article - is the message that all someone needs to do is own a nicely furnished RV that won't need to be replaced for the rest of their life?
posted by gronkpan at 2:47 AM on October 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


I really admire $20,000-a-year man's ability to not worry about where the next month's rent is coming from. I lived off around £10,000 a year for half my twenties (like him, through choice more than necessity - I was doing a PhD and trying to get an academic job afterwards) and money was a horrible gnawing void of worry the whole time. To roll into a new city with no money, no job, and a home you've never seen with total strangers, and be able to enjoy the experience, is impressive.

On the less wonderful side, though, it's interesting how both articles make a point out of universalising the mens' financial decisions as though one person living off $[low-amount] can teach valuable lessons about money management to everyone else:
"As common-sense as this seems to me, experience tells me that across this country people are living beyond their means. The national debt doesn’t concern me much. It’s individual debt that I find so confounding."
and:
"I don't understand young people who say 'I can't afford health insurance'."
I don't know how much of that is directly from the men themselves and how much is the interviewer or editor shaping things to make them look more clueless than they'd have chosen, so I'll refrain from getting all "you REALLY can't understand that some people's poverty is non-optional?" about it, but, yeah, interesting all the same. Then again, I suppose "I live off $[small-amount] a year with my three children in an inner-city ghetto, and God this is not how life should be" wouldn't have made it to the lifestyle section.
posted by Catseye at 2:48 AM on October 22, 2011 [48 favorites]


In the RV guy's blog he makes clear that his RV cost a lot more than 14 grand. This similar one, same size but a little older and not yet decked out, is 30 grand.

But I don't really want to tear into this guy's living situation or his financial choices. I think living on the open road in a great RV could be fantastic. Retired people have been doing it for decades. The 20k writer, who has primarily decided to live like a college student for ten years (but without the tuition) is doing what inspires him.

The problem I have with these stories is the way they are framed as some kind of judgment or motivation for others. These are singular stories and do not teach much about "financial fitness" as Yahoo presents them. Glenn the musician is diligent about saving for retirement, while the writer doesn't think about that at all. One has health insurance and thinks it is essential, while the other saves quite a bit of money not having it, although he has generous support from family and friends. For one this is a permanent way of life and the other has a definite time limit, after which presumably he'll use his degree or do whatever else he wants.

These specific stories don't have much in the way of practical advice on frugal living nor do they bear any resemblance to how most people end up trying to survive on these amounts of money. They planned to live this way and it's obvious that they could each make significantly more money if they wanted, but they want to maintain a certain lifestyle. These are not disabled people, or single parents (or parents at all), or convicts unable to find work, or immigrants. I'd bet most adults living on small amounts of money are there because they suffered a loss. Loss of a job, loss of health, loss of support. I know I and many other MeFites could talk about what it's like and what you have to do to live on less than 20k a year. The other 1%? More like 20% live on less than 20k.

It's a shame that the musician has angry hordes descending on his personal blog because the media chose to frame his story as "frugal living that anyone can/should do" rather than a unique and interesting story of life in America. A much better example is this LA Times story on his life.
posted by Danila at 2:49 AM on October 22, 2011 [49 favorites]


GOOD LUCK TO THE COLLEGE EDUCATED WHITE GUY WHO NEGLECTS TO MENTION ANY FAMILIAL OR PARENTAL CONTRIBUTION
posted by fullerine at 3:10 AM on October 22, 2011 [23 favorites]


It would be highly helpful if the guy would please identify which insurance company sells him a policy for $80/month, which also pays enough toward an appendectomy (an operation which can easily cost north of $20,000, inclusive) to allow him to still live the year on only $11k. I mean...I've had high individual deductibles of $8000 in the past, and the policy cost was still 10-times his $80/month.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:31 AM on October 22, 2011 [19 favorites]


I pay $550 a month for a self-employed person's health insurance where I have contributed roughly an additional $3,000-4,000 out-of-pocket this year for my care. I'm roughly this guy's age. I'm guessing by the end of next year my monthly premium will be north of $700.
posted by maxwelton at 3:35 AM on October 22, 2011 [5 favorites]


Regarding health insurance, it's great to be a student. My husband and I pay $1654/year ($138/month) for health insurance and $381/year ($32/month) for dental insurance.

If you're wondering how to afford the tuition, check out my tips for "gaming" student financial aid in this old Ask MetaFilter answer.
posted by Jacqueline at 4:02 AM on October 22, 2011 [6 favorites]


The national debt doesn’t concern me much. It’s individual debt that I find so confounding.

His budgeting plan makes sense if and only if you can start out ahead. A lot of debt doesn't arise because people have beers and meals before they can afford it. It arises because you need dental work, new shoes for your new job, or a car repair to get to your job, and you have no help from family and no cash reserve. The cumulative effect of starting out behind makes debt sometimes the only solution to getting ahead.

This is my ill-advised life, one part Kerouac, one part Darwin, two parts whiskey and a splash of luck.

I was willing to take him seriously until I got to this line, which just make my stomach turn. Be in your 20s with no serious goals and be broke, fine. Think it has something to do with Darwin, and please. Maybe this guy could volunteer down at the homeless shelter teaching folks to be as smart about money as he is, and perhaps they will become fit enough to survive as well.
posted by Miko at 4:17 AM on October 22, 2011 [33 favorites]


Summary of the first link: Young, healthy, white, college-educated dilettante with no dependents imagines himself an adventurer for living on more than 39% of individuals (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Personal_income_in_the_United_States) in the US do, and has the gall to lecture real poor people on how they don't plan or save enough.

He never mentions any student loans in his budget, even though he graduated 7 years ago. My guess is, ONE real crisis and he will be running home to mommy and daddy who likely paid for him to graduate college.

Ditto if he gets sick. No health insurance mentioned in that budget.

Like Fitzgerald, Hemingway and Kerouac before me
Oh my god, seriously?? No one else but you is EVER going to compare you to those people.

What originated as a, frankly, self-indulgent attempt to avoid adult entanglements has morphed into something complex and unwieldy

No, it's still self-indulgent as fuck. You've just rationalized that it's all deep and writerly.

Fuckhead.
posted by parrot_person at 4:42 AM on October 22, 2011 [73 favorites]


I really admire $20,000-a-year man's ability to not worry about where the next month's rent is coming from.

I thought he made clear that he does worry, in the sense that he budgets for lean weeks and generally would always have next month's rent because he sets aside money and plans ahead. It is only when he can't find a job in a new city that after a few months he is in danger of being unable to pay his rent.
posted by Falconetti at 4:44 AM on October 22, 2011


he budgets for lean weeks and generally would always have next month's rent because he sets aside money and plans ahead.

Where did the very first month's rent come from?
posted by Miko at 4:50 AM on October 22, 2011 [5 favorites]


I thought he made clear that he does worry, in the sense that he budgets for lean weeks and generally would always have next month's rent because he sets aside money and plans ahead.

I was thinking of 'not worrying' more in the sense of 'not lying awake until 3am panicking about how the rent's going to get paid the month after next if he doesn't have a job', rather than in the sense of 'not thinking about it ahead of time'. He definitely does plan ahead, but he comes across as relatively anxiety-free about the whole thing and confident it'll work out.
posted by Catseye at 5:02 AM on October 22, 2011


POVERTY TOURISTS TELL WHAT A WONDERFUL TIME THEY ARE HAVING.
posted by ennui.bz at 5:23 AM on October 22, 2011 [67 favorites]


This guy just put ketchup on his Mac & Cheese.
posted by Fizz at 5:31 AM on October 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


I really admire $20,000-a-year man's ability to not worry about where the next month's rent is coming from. I lived off around £10,000 a year for half my twenties (like him, through choice more than necessity - I was doing a PhD and trying to get an academic job afterwards) and money was a horrible gnawing void of worry the whole time.
I'm pretty sure this guy doesn't have to stay up nights worrying, because he's fully insured by the Bank of Mom and Dad.

Does he mention whether he has health insurance? I didn't catch it, but that seems like an important question.
posted by craichead at 5:38 AM on October 22, 2011


Re Miko's comment: Exactly- Isn't that the premise to "Nickel and Dimed"- that you can't get ahead if you start out behind? College educated white guy able to depend on other people's bourgeois conventionalism- not exactly starting out behind. And yeah, Kerouac...no.
posted by bquarters at 5:41 AM on October 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


Kerouac often lived with his mother, FWIW.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 5:49 AM on October 22, 2011 [18 favorites]


Where do you park an RV without paying rent? I guess he has no electric or water. Even a crappy campground without hookups will be $20/day or $600/mo.
posted by desjardins at 5:54 AM on October 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also, what about the costs of insuring/maintaining the RV?
posted by litnerd at 5:56 AM on October 22, 2011


This guy lives on $7000 a year
posted by exogenous at 5:56 AM on October 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


So clearly the answer to all of my financial woes is kill my family and buy an RV. Thanks internet!
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 5:57 AM on October 22, 2011 [9 favorites]


So 1 out of 4 people in my city (and most other cities) lives below the poverty line ($10,830 for one person, $18,310 for a family of three). They aren't there as a lifestyle/blogging experiment, they're stuck there and can't out.
posted by octothorpe at 5:58 AM on October 22, 2011 [6 favorites]


Am I the only one who thinks "nest egg" when I see or hear of a guy living in an RV?
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 6:00 AM on October 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


First guy is a shitty writer. On to the second.
posted by nathancaswell at 6:04 AM on October 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Am I the only one who thinks "forever alone" when I see or hear of a guy living in an RV?
posted by PenDevil at 6:05 AM on October 22, 2011


Struggling on $250,000.
posted by Obscure Reference at 6:06 AM on October 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


And this guy lives of $7000, in an RV, and isn't single (though he too lacks dependents and debt). Here is my favorite quote:
The second and more important aspect is the $7,000/year. The Wheaton Eco-scale explains this in a brilliant way. Consider people living at different budgets, e.g. $100k, $80k, $60k, $50k, $40k, $30k $20k, $15k, $10k, $7.5k, $5k, $2.5, $1k, and $0k. Now, what Wheaton observes is that people who spend one or two levels below you are inspiring to you in terms of budget reductions. People who spend three levels below you are slightly nutty and people who spend four or more levels below your level are crazy or downright extreme. This holds no matter where you are. If you spend 60k, then 50k and 40k is inspiring, 30k is nutty and 20k is crazy. If you spend 30k, then 20k and 15k is inspiring, 10k is nutty, and 7.5k is crazy. Conversely, people who spend a couple of levels above you are considered prodigal and wasteful.
And this is probably why we see articles venerating frugality on the scale of $10,000 to $20,000 a year, but no glowing analyses of how smart and frugal the folks in Uganda who live on less than $365/year are. And why a lot of people think that $250,000 a year isn't wealthy (despite only about 2% making that much). And how rich people are happier than poor people, but only if they aren't surrounded by other rich people to compare themselves to.
posted by yourcelf at 6:06 AM on October 22, 2011 [28 favorites]


Single middle-aged guy living in his RV? I bet he studiously avoids parking anywhere near a school zone.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:11 AM on October 22, 2011 [7 favorites]


Second guy seems fine. Can we talk about Like Fitzgerald, Hemingway and Kerouac before me, I felt a little worldliness would go a long way?

What a pompous douche. Guess what bro it's not working. Kerouac hopped trains and Hemmingway shot giant game and went to Spain. You're moving a lot (to exotic locals like Seattle "land of computers and coffee"). So much second hand embarrassment.
posted by nathancaswell at 6:16 AM on October 22, 2011 [9 favorites]


No, it's still self-indulgent as fuck. You've just rationalized that it's all deep and writerly.

I find the level of fury directed at the first guy a bit surprising. He comes across as quite annoying, but then so do a lot of people! I also don't think his experiment is invalidated by the likelihood that he had many privileges in terms of upbringing — he is setting an interesting example to people who had similar privileges and spend far more, even if it would be ridiculous to use his case as some kind of lesson to the truly disadvantaged. And pointing out that he has no kids as if that's a privilege, too, is slightly weird. It's a choice with financial ramifications; he's just choosing for now such as to facilitate the lifestyle he wants.

Also he is a young novelist with a pompous romantic idea of himself. Not exactly war crimes.
posted by oliverburkeman at 6:20 AM on October 22, 2011 [6 favorites]


I have an acquaintance in my circle of friends who is doing something like this. And goddamn, if he isn't the most irritating person I've ever run into. His facebook updates are constantly about how frugal he is compared to everyone else, and hint strongly that the rest of society is wasteful and should follow his example.

Sure, let's follow his example. He owns his house outright, has a generous pension and benefits package thanks to decades of work in the civil service. He has no wife or dependents of any sort. Despite that, he steals apples and nuts in the autumn from the local arboretum rather than spend the $ on them at the store.

I live frugally, but there's taking things to extremes to feel superior as well. No thanks.
posted by LN at 6:24 AM on October 22, 2011 [2 favorites]



Summary of the first link: Young, healthy, white, college-educated dilettante with no dependents imagines himself an adventurer for living on more than 39% of individuals (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Personal_income_in_the_United_States) in the US do, and has the gall to lecture real poor people on how they don't plan or save enough.


The better comparison is probably to household income, rather than individual. He alone earns more than about 20% of households (and most of those households have more than one person relying on that income). Most likely though, although he sleeps alone in his RV, functionally he is still part of his parents' household, which would place him a long way up that scale.

I know that I thought I was a lot more independent than I was in my early 20s. I was living on a lot less than $20k/year, and although my parents never sent me money (and couldn't have afforded to, unlike the parents of many people I went to school with), they were definitely there as my safety net. So I could take risks, travel, and live like a bum, because I had a solid backup plan.

Around here, there are quite a few genuinely poor people living in old vans and RVs. I see them parked around town and in some of the close-in forest areas, wherever they can park safely for a couple of nights before the sheriff's deputies make them move. One of my neighbors has a brother in law who uses his driveway as a periodic stopping point for a few days, in fact. It's not a glamorous lifestyle, but I can see the advantages if, for example, your only income is SSI and you want to be able to keep your dog and not deal with the restrictions on subsidized housing (even assuming it's available).
posted by Forktine at 6:28 AM on October 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


And this guy lives of $7000, in an RV, and isn't single (though he too lacks dependents and debt).
He also lacks pre-existing health conditions, which allows him to claim to have health insurance while relying on a plan that would not work for anyone who needs regular medical care. He has free live-in domestic labor: his wife, who unlike him has a full-time job, does all the cooking, for which he doesn't pay her, although he does brag about how much money he saves by not eating out. He pays half the cost of maintaining his wife's car, but he's coy about whether he contributed to the cost of actually purchasing the car. I'm guessing he's not factoring the car to which he has unlimited access into his $7000 a year. He pays $425 a month in rent, which is super, super low and is only possible because he owns an RV. I'm guessing the RV was a pretty big investment, which he made when he had a $70,000 a year job.

In my experience, all of these "it's easy to be frugal if you start out pretty rich!" people are assholes.

(And FWIW, I spend less than $20,000 a year on living expenses and have a pretty normal, middle-class existence which is nothing to blog home about. I also have a lot of advantages, including a job with super-generous benefits, so I'm not going to get on my high horse about it.)
posted by craichead at 6:32 AM on October 22, 2011 [15 favorites]


Where do you park an RV without paying rent? I guess he has no electric or water. Even a crappy campground without hookups will be $20/day or $600/mo.


When I traveled cross country, I learned, to my somewhat surprise, that Wal-Marts offer free RV parking overnight. And especially in the case of the 24 hour ones, that means bathrooms, ice, and food nearby.

How long you could extend this for, I don't know; since it's at the discretion of managers, there are probably limits.
posted by Miko at 6:35 AM on October 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's easy to make a lot of assumptions. That he lives on $11,000/yr does not mean he makes $11,000/yr. It's his outcome, not income. The van didn't necessarily cost $14K, that was his initial expense. A hint in the article:
I'm an avid investor. I guard my nest egg like crowned jewels.
posted by tremendo at 6:41 AM on October 22, 2011 [4 favorites]


I live in Baltimore and I live off about 6000 a year (this year I've literally only made 6000 and unless there's a miracle I don't foresee making more). I do not have debt or dependents. I just hustle and barter. I try not to buy anything new other than food and much of that is dumpstered.

Rent = 250/month
Utilities = 40/month
Food = Food Stamps
Fun = The rest

Poor people type amongst you.
posted by cloeburner at 6:42 AM on October 22, 2011 [22 favorites]


He really should consider cooking up some killer meth in that RV to earn a little more.
posted by Horselover Phattie at 6:51 AM on October 22, 2011 [6 favorites]


I'm unemployed. I've spent a little under 8000 bucks in the last year. I pay rent, I pay off student loans, am not receiving any government assistance, am including help from parents in that figure, and I live in Chicago. I'm (thankfully) still on my parents' health insurance (but that runs out in a month, eek!) and my phone costs $10 a month on a family plan. I'm not living a super-glamorous life or anything, but I'm living and eating decently well. (In Chicago!)

$11,000 a year would allow me a pretty significant lifestyle upgrade. Mr. Fancyboy RV Dweller's living pretty high on the hog.
posted by phunniemee at 6:57 AM on October 22, 2011


It's definitely worth taking from these articles, that there are choices you can make that free you from a lot of the larger expenses of modern life, like utilities, property taxes, rent, and others, provided you're willing to give up many of the amenities those choices also provide. That's valuable, if not universal - living in a van is basically untenable in a Canadian winter, for example, and it's a space you can comfortably raise a family in - but it's still a real thing.

Having said that, I hope that when I make my own tradeoffs in life, that they're done so that I'm happier being me, and not so I can seem more like a dead author whose old black-and-white pictures I envied but whose books I barely skimmed.
posted by mhoye at 7:01 AM on October 22, 2011


Of course. As per long Metafilter tradition, the one word I leave out of my comment is 'not', allowing me to contradict my whole point.

Go me.
posted by mhoye at 7:04 AM on October 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


There are two issues in play here: 1) Do people with privileged backgrounds and implicit assets (parents, spouse, educational and social capital) have the right to live on what appear to them and their peers to be pitifully small sums (but are in fact what a quarter to half of the population of the U.S. live on) and lecture the poor about frugality and prudence? Hell no. 2) Do the same people have the right to live on less and lecture their wasteful and status-obsessed peers? Yes, a thousand times yes.

Kerouac lived with his mom. Thoreau's mom did his laundry while he lived at Walden, for crying out loud (it's a short walk from the pond into Concord along the railroad tracks; I've done it). For me the worst moment in Walden is when Thoreau lectures an "Irishman" on how he could live better in his shack if he were just less uptight about money, without noticing that the guy has a family and no mom to do his laundry. But you have to forgive Thoreau that slip and look at the real point, which is directed to the rich, not the poor.
posted by sy at 7:36 AM on October 22, 2011 [14 favorites]


Back in 2005, when I was midway through my failed attempt to transition from being a cubicle farming government contract drone to being a gentleman craftsman and building contractor, and as the reserves I'd set aside for this project were dwindling, I whipped up a set of spreadsheets and starting running numbers. See, I've got this little postage stamp of property up in West Virginia, .62 acres as the surveyors make it out, and a broken-down cabin with a decent well and Berkeley Springs just 24 minutes' drive around the mountain. Property taxes were about $250 a year, the electric bill was usually $8-10, and I heat with nice carbon-neutral fallwood. The cabin is a foul-smelling, lopsided, swiftly disintegrating mouse-infested wreck, but it's there, and was at least marginally habitable in '05.

I ran the numbers, worked out my expenses and my potential for income and projected my future expenditures and investigated things like satellite internet, which would connect me to the media world in which everyone lives these days, and in the end, I found I could live up there indefinitely with health insurance, internet, food & clothes, and basic vehicle maintenance for around $4800 to $6000 a year.

I'm a hippie at my core, my helmet-friendly crew cut notwithstanding, and a devotee to the lingering worlds set out by people like Lloyd Kahn. I've worn my copy of Shelter out till it looks like a literary Raggedy Ann for the disaffected white guy, studied (and practiced techniques for) earthship "biotecture," and otherwise bought wholeheartedly into the whole "man separated from nature" origin story for stress. I was a tiny house freak before there was a Tiny House Movement™, I live simply and with great frugality (email me if you want my kickass homemade laundry detergent recipe), and yeah—I was there, ready to beat The Man at the plastic fantastic megacorporate rat race…except, well, you really don't beat The Man. You just sort of redefine your life in opposition to the plastic fantastic megacorporate rat race and live off the leavings of all the poor suckers who don't do that.

I ran the numbers, and I could have done it—sublet my apartment in Maryland, moved my life out to a postage stamp of land that is so green and wonderful and rejuvenating, where the freight trains rumble through all night, playing a tune of steel and mass over rails that's as reassuring to me as the sound of my mother's heartbeat, heard from the womb, and where I can swim in the Potomac at five in the morning, when the clouds are still in the river valley, playing at being a fog, until the haze lifts and the clouds go from blue to blue to blue.

I'd have been alone, but hey—I'm a lone wolf. I'm kind of a misanthrope, best suited for human company only in small doses. I'll have my books, the woods, the zen of hand work, the simplicity of living without debt or obligation, and I'll just need to sell some writing here or there, and do a few renovation jobs and kitchen improvements when I need the cash, and oh, it just sounds so perfect, right? Just like a monk, at peace with the world and...oh oh oh—the stars at night up there.

So I started building, and I started spending more and more time up there, and...my god, I missed being annoyed by idiot coworkers, and missed being bothered by my mother's endless calls for help with her computer, and missed seeing people out on the sidewalk and around. There's activity up there, of course, with trucks and ATVs trundling by on the gravel road that follows the rails, and neighbors, whose lives are very, very different than my own, and there's Berkeley Springs, a lovely town with good food, good coffee, and cheap mineral baths at the country's only spa run by the Park Service, and yet—

—I could live on that $4800 a year, but my life would revolve around that conceit. You can live in a tiny house and make it work, and you can live in a converted school bus and make it work, or live off the land like a pioneer, and you can live a great life, but most of these things, just like being a cubicle farming government contract drone, rewrite your life to suit those rhythms. I like to think I'll eventually make some fraction of my income from my writing, but what of the fifteenth year in my remote cabin lifestyle? Will I be writing about anything people can understand and relate to, or will I just be writing a fantastic travelogue, the kind of thing that makes boxed-in-feeling people of my current socioeconomic class daydream and sketch out that perfect off-the-grid, free, open wonderful home made of salvaged materials and bamboo day after day in the in-between moments, when the pen will wander?

Where it all goes wrong for me is when you look at the roots of so many of the escapees, who so easily fall into the role of the wise sage, offering up the suggestion that everyone could choose to live the way they do, and choose to be free, completely adopting the absurd Western trope of the self-made man, independent of all the world because of one's staggering genius and/or adoption of some world-changing single idea. Hell, I'm a middle-class (as of last year, for the first time in my twenty-eight years in the workforce) white guy with a college degree (in poetry, for fuck's sake), and I catch myself being lured into that smug sense of cleverness even after I've realized that that's a trap for us.

I inherited my wreck of a cabin, as it happens, so I pay $250 a year instead of the $250 a month it would have been to mortgage the place, which would add $3000 to my expenses. I won a genetic lottery in being unusually healthy, freakishly strong, and generally dextrous, and I won a socialization lottery in having parents that were smart, resourceful, successful, and diverse in their interests. I won the luck lottery in some of the friends I've made and the opportunities that have arisen in my life—if you'd asked 16 year-old me what I'd be doing at forty-three, he would have probably shrugged and suggested something in computers, or maybe performance art. I'd like to think I chose to get involved with the museum that saved me when my freelance business collapsed, or that I chose to get the $3000 award for a stage show I wrote in 2005, or that I chose to get the job I have now, running a giant clock tower built to advertise a tranquilizer-laden fizzing hangover cure, but...these things happened because of good fortune, good friends, good family, and my being in a position to grab them when they occurred.

This discussion, of living on less that is, too often turns on the old American Dream (Some restrictions may apply. Do not use if operating motor vehicles or heavy machinery.) and brings out the interminable lie that, for some reason, informs so much of the discourse about living simply. When we fail at it, we blame the system, and when we do okay, we pretend nothing was there, holding us up.

Thoreau was not in the woods alone. In fact, it's arguable that without the safety net of his wealthy associates, who lived just outside that place where he settled, he would never have succeeded, but that's never in the narrative. It's always just "look at the miracle of the self-sufficient individual," alas.

In the end, I no longer had a safety net in 2005. I'd burned through my 401K, burned through my savings, and everyone in my family who had any extra money had either died or lost it.

So I returned to the rat race, albeit from a much different direction, in a much less stable field, considering that I hold the highest available civilian security clearance and could triple my money by heading over to the nearby NSA with an application in hand, and I have never been happier. The thought and research I did to plan for a completely independent life set me up for a very comfortable and stable life, albeit one that's not quite there in terms of liberating me from the fear of poverty, and one that's comfortable to someone who lived without much for twenty-five years before finally being able to spend money on wild fripperies like underwear that actually fit properly.

I've also learned how easy it is to be arrogant, and to feel like I know something no one else does, and to sneer at people who make bad decisions. Even writing this, I feel the tug of that, wanting to judge people who live wastefully, and who expect things they have not earned, but that's because we're all trained to forget what we're given, and what our providers have been given. Where would I be if my grandmother hadn't had a generous railroad pension and Social Security to be able to help my father start his business? Where would I be if I hadn't been lucky enough to take my GED test on a good day, so I won a state senatorial scholarship to college by a hair? Where would I be if all this had not come together to put me where I am right now?

I make great choices about how to spend my money, on how to live simply, and on how to be happy with less, but I didn't invent these things—I took what I was given and I ran with them, and I was able to do so because I was lucky, not because I'm one of the last true individualists, walking in the footsteps of imaginary Beat heroes.

If I've got any advice, it's to people under 25. Live cheap, take advantage of having the best health you'll ever have, and the least financial responsibilities, and do it wholly, and without reservation, until it's no longer possible. Times will change, things along the way will suck, but who you'll become in the end will be worth it. Doing it once you're already set up in the world is something else entirely. I have to wish that more people who lucked into the ability to be so frugal would share tips about how to be frugal, not arrogant assessments of the failings of the rest of the world and smugness about how they're able to live.
posted by sonascope at 7:37 AM on October 22, 2011 [456 favorites]


Why are people so angry about this? I didn't think it was social commentary, just slice of life pieces that are interesting. I certainly don't have any desire to live like either of them, particularly since I'd like to have a family. The good lesson I took from the $11,000 guy is that good healthy food is worth splurging for.
posted by melissam at 7:41 AM on October 22, 2011 [8 favorites]


With parental assistance as a back up plan, I'm cruising through grad school on a cool 10,000 a year. This makes me privileged, not a role model for poverty proficiency. Knowing that mom and pop have got my back if something terrible were to happen makes a huge difference. I don't have the chronic stress of absolute self-sufficiency gnawing at my optimism for the future. It's a poverty vacation, not a permanent move. Confusing the two does a disservice to the many many people who have no other options and trivializes the very real effects of poverty's mental and emotional strain.
posted by pugh at 7:45 AM on October 22, 2011 [11 favorites]


One thing I'm noticing in these pieces as well is the mobility involved. IME "poor" very often means you can't just pick up and move. You have family that you have to stay near (to help them or for them to help you); you have a job you have to stay near; you have subsidized rent you can't lose by moving; you need to stay close to local resources (if you have disabilities or your kids have disabilities)...

Both of these men are single and are doing this by choice. I mean, I know why Yahoo is highlighting their stories (they're "inspiring", they're unusual) but it's kind of insulting for people who clearly (if you look at the comments) are reading these pieces hoping to get actual ideas they can use - and it trivializes their struggles. They can't just pack up and move to a new city. They can't just sell everything and hop in an RV.
posted by flex at 7:48 AM on October 22, 2011 [6 favorites]


Why are all these people dudes? Are there any stories of thrifty ladies living large on little?

To the man spending 11,000: life is a whole lot nicer when you have a wife willing to do all of your homebody shit for you while you laude the carefree ease of life. Don't underestimate that luxury.
posted by pugh at 7:50 AM on October 22, 2011 [7 favorites]


It's amazing how relative all of this is. Once you've spent a year living at a certain income bracket, that's your set-point and you forget that everyone's situation is different.

I'm finishing up my Ph.D., and most of those years I would have killed to make $11,000 a year. $100 a month for food would have been unimaginably luxurious. I used to walk by Starbucks and wonder how on earth someone could buy a coffee and not have to skip two meals afterward.

I have a real job starting in January (yay!) and after six months at my new salary, I'm sure I'll wonder how I ever got by on less. I think we're supposed to find it enraging when Fortune 500 CEOs complain about being broke, but I completely get it. Most people spend everything they have, and their income level (whatever it is) is their baseline. Anything outside of that (higher or lower) seems inherently strange.
posted by venividivici at 7:51 AM on October 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


The takeaway when you read Nickel and Dimed,
"you can't come out ahead when you start off behind;
It's quite easy to win as a poverty tourist,
But those tricks are worth bugger all to our poorest.
posted by Meatbomb at 7:52 AM on October 22, 2011 [22 favorites]


I reallllly don't get this. I live on about $20k without even trying to be particularly frugal. Here are the secrets: get married or live with a partner so you can split the rent, don't have kids, get music and TV and books for free, get a job with health insurance, and don't live in an uber-expensive city. Obviously not everyone can do all that stuff, but not everyone can live in an RV either.
posted by miyabo at 7:55 AM on October 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


sonoscope: The thought and research I did to plan for a completely independent life set me up for a very comfortable and stable life [...]

I frequently do this mental exercise. It helps me plan my life sensibly and prevents me from feeling as if I'm losing control over my finances. I think everyone should do this.
posted by Jubal Kessler at 7:56 AM on October 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Why are people so angry about this?
Well, because of things like this:
Do you have health insurance?

Yes. I'm self-employed so I purchase my own plan. I have a high-deductible plan and pay $80 per month. It would be even cheaper if I was 28. I don't understand young people who say, "I can't afford health insurance." Last year, my appendix ruptured, and the insurance was a life-saver. I learned my lesson.
Well, see, a high deductible plan is only smart if you can pay the deductible. And nobody is going to sell me any plan for $80 a month, because I've got a preexisting condition.

I guess my annoyance comes from two sources. One is that I do feel like people use stuff like this to justify a punitive attitude towards people who are genuinely struggling, many of whom have challenges that these guys don't have. And the other is that it makes frugality look like some sort of heroic quest, and it doesn't have to be that way. Were it not for Mr. $20,000-a-year's insistence on moving every year, he'd just be another ordinary young guy living in a big city with roommates. He could own some furniture and shit. These people make it look like middle-class people can only be frugal if they make it into some sort of competitive lifestyle, and that's silly. It's not like the only choices are to live in a McMansion drowning in credit card debt or to live out of your van eating roadkill.
posted by craichead at 7:57 AM on October 22, 2011 [23 favorites]


your favorite subsistence income level sucks.
posted by condour75 at 7:57 AM on October 22, 2011 [5 favorites]


Goddamn there are some fucking crabs in here. Though found guilty of being white, the writer and RV guy have tiny carbon footprints and contribute nothing to the Military Industrial Entertainment Complex. Lighten up, Francis.
posted by Scoo at 8:00 AM on October 22, 2011 [6 favorites]


Why are people so angry about this?

Because discrimination of those living in poverty is real, and when people foray into these lifestyles for the "experience", or even to plump up their nest egg, they further add to the hurtful stereotype that hey, these people don't have it so bad! What do they even have to complain about? Clearly they are just whiners because if look! These guys are having a great time!

It's thoughts like these that lead up to discriminatory tax practices and punitive welfare "reforms" that perpetuate the cycle of poverty and make life harder for people already having a shitty time of it.

By refusing to clearly acknowledge their privilege, they insinuate that their experience can be generalized to everyone- if they are doing well, then everyone else must be Doing It Wrong.
posted by pugh at 8:18 AM on October 22, 2011 [31 favorites]


Because discrimination of those living in poverty is real, and when people foray into these lifestyles for the "experience", or even to plump up their nest egg, they further add to the hurtful stereotype that hey, these people don't have it so bad! What do they even have to complain about? Clearly they are just whiners because if look! These guys are having a great time!

I didn't the impression that the $11,000 guy was only making $11,000. I didn't get the impression he was a real poor person or even pretending to be one. I thought his story was about living below your means.

I agree that these stories are not about poor people, they are about middle-class or upper-middle class individuals who have chosen to live unusual lifestyles that are applicable to few. It would be silly to even suggest these are stories about poverty and I didn't feel like the stories tried to play it that way.

I mean you could spin these stories all kinds of ways. Like if you live a frugal lifestyle you will be forever alone and never have a family. But the original articles don't contain much spin.
posted by melissam at 8:35 AM on October 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


You can live in a tiny house and make it work, and you can live in a converted school bus and make it work, or live off the land like a pioneer, and you can live a great life, but most of these things, just like being a cubicle farming government contract drone, rewrite your life to suit those rhythms.
Your post overall was quite well-thought out and definitely enjoyed reading it. This sentance specifically speaks volumes and for me was the key point. We have slight control over which direction we choose (tiny house, RV, pioneer, drone) however that is the extent of the control.

Once one embarks on a direction, that direction will shape you to its necessities. And that goes for whichever part of whichever % you end up inhabiting. Investment banking will shape your life in one mould; working in a library will shape yourself in another mould. Regardless, there will be requirements to each situation and often those requirements are non-negotiable.

Witness the small business owner -- the true backbone of the global economy. There's a chap at my local off-license, he and his family run several off-licenses in the neighbourhood. He awakes every day at 5am to commute into Central London from East London. He arrives at half-six to receive the newspapers and milk. He is unofficially open from that point, however the lights out front don't click on until 8. He works until five thirty in the evening, which his brother takes over and runs the shop until 9pm, when they shutter. He does that six days a week, they are closed on Sunday.

Stupidly, I asked him once why he wasn't open on Sunday, as the neighbourhood is packed with tourists on Sunday and there's probably a fair whack of money to be made.

"Too tired, my goodness. Money isn't everything. You can buy your cigarettes elsewhere on that day. My friend owns the shop around the corner. On Sundays, you go see him."

His friend who works five days a week and has his teenage sons staff the shop on the weekends. That shop is open 24 hours and the lads are there the entire time, taking turns sleeping in the stockroom.

I often think about this decision. Surely, there are easier jobs -- civil service for instance -- that would afford the former chap an equal quality of life to owning his own shop. But it's not about that. He is supporting a family in London and extended family in India. And each year, in the winter when business is slow, he takes two months to go home. The brother runs the shop whilst he is away. That is my best guess as why he does it. He has greater economic opportunity here and the ability to live and work in the UK. That is of tremendous value. Yet, family means everything to him, and he's not willing to give that up.

So perhaps he started with his criteria. "What can I do that will allow me to make good money here, and take two months off. I can't work for someone else. So I need to own a business. What kind of business can I buy for a low initial investment and is relatively low-risk that generates a fair amount of cash each month?"

Point being, I don't think he set out to wake up before dawn every day, work 14 hours a day six days a week. I think he started from "how do I live here and not lose my connection there" and worked backward to something that enabled him to do that.

He rewrote his life to suit those rhythms, so to speak.

And it's the same for everything. Investment bankers don't have it any better. A friend was interning at JP Morgan over the summer and said,

"It's not hard work. Anyone can figure out the work. The biggest challenge is on your body. How can you work 100 hours a week and be ready to meet clients at any time of the day or night, looking good and making sense. I don't think I can do it. I don't think physically I am capable of it."

In the end, he gave up working in finance, returning his offer letter unopened (to avoid the future mental anguish over what could have been, I imagine). He went back to advertising and chilled out. He had always been driven, always on the go, always pushing for more -- wanting the rockstardom that being in the global financial elite awards. And he got all the way there -- as a self-made man, his roots in a small village in Africa -- only to see that indeed, he was not willing to rewrite his life to suit those rhythms, not by any stretch.

And finally, Steve Jobs, who apparently delayed cancer screening by an essential nine months because he thought there must be a way to heal himself naturally. He rewrote his life to suit a set of rhythms that has him selected as one of the leading businessman of the modern era. His version of philanthropy was to create 50,000 direct jobs and countless indirect jobs. He lived his life by pushing the envelope. And in the end, the rules he chose to follow shaped the end of his life.

I realise there is a lot of emotion in here, and indeed everywhere at the moment about winning and losing, about wealth and poverty, about security and insecurity. Yet one thing that applies to everyone, no matter where one is in any measure of income, social strata, etc.

There are rules that must be followed. There will be external forces operating in whatever life one chooses, in whatever decision one makes, in whatever manner one decides to live their life. Some are unnatural, some are very natural, but at the end of the day, your life will be rewritten to suit those rhythms, thus whatever that rewrite looks like, it is probably best to be at peace with it and know that going in.

And that's the real impact of the two stories in the original post. For me, the brilliance in their actions is nothing inherent in the decisions themselves or in the economic situations they share. Rather it is in their alignment of their circumstances with their desires -- their acceptance of the rules by which they have chosen to live.

Chap is not in an RV bitching about anything. The writer has made a game of it. And as the cards continue to fall and the global financial mess continues to be... surprising... I think there is a lot to learn not from the decisions of they live their lives but rather from their acceptance that very finite bits of the journey can be influenced, and for the rest, it's best to acquiesce and allow your life to be... rewritten. There is a huge difference between 'rewriting' and 'rewritten', after all.
posted by nickrussell at 8:38 AM on October 22, 2011 [41 favorites]


I do feel like people use stuff like this to justify a punitive attitude towards people who are genuinely struggling, many of whom have challenges that these guys don't have.

It's thoughts like these that lead up to discriminatory tax practices and punitive welfare "reforms" that perpetuate the cycle of poverty and make life harder for people already having a shitty time of it.

I suppose I see this point. But it seems like pretty serious mis-targeting of your outrage to focus on a few relatively privileged people who choose to live frugally relative to their equally privileged peers. It seems to imply the absurd conclusion that these guys would be acting more public-spiritedly if they lived more luxuriously.

The real causes of the perpetuation of poverty and discriminatory tax practices, etc, lie elsewhere.
posted by oliverburkeman at 8:50 AM on October 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


God, I hate the term "poverty tourist." It's as if anyone with the means to go out and make money and be a good consumer ought to do so and live with their own kind. Nice. How very... Republican.

People have all kinds of motivations for the choices they make. Fuck you if you're going to judge mine. Neither of these guys advocate this is how people *should* live, they talk about how they are making it work for themselves. FWIW the writer doesn't sound particularly Hemingway-esque to me, but all this criticism towards him sounds like a bunch of self-loathing and projection to me.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 8:53 AM on October 22, 2011 [4 favorites]


Neither of these guys advocate this is how people *should* live, they talk about how they are making it work for themselves.
Well, the $11,000-a-year-guy says that he maintains his blog "to spread my message of happiness through simplifying," so I think he's advocating something. And presumably his piece was posted on Yahoo's personal finance site for a reason, because that's generally the part of the site where they dispense financial advice. He's also the person who says that he doesn't understand young people who say they can't afford health insurance, which sounds like a value judgment to me.

I've got no issue with these people's choices. I think the articles about them were a little bit disingenuous about their choices and the un-discussed factors that make those choices available to them. I also think you tend not to see as many articles about the choices of people living reasonably frugal lives in more conventional settings.
posted by craichead at 9:04 AM on October 22, 2011 [4 favorites]




But it seems like pretty serious mis-targeting of your outrage to focus on a few relatively privileged people who choose to live frugally relative to their equally privileged peers.

I'm in school for social work and currently have a lot of pent-up frustration with attitudes about poverty, so my anger is probably misguided. To clarify, I think it's a great idea to try out socioeconomic statuses different from what you're used to. I did it in AmeriCorps, and I'm doing it now. Making a lot of money and living a simple lifestyle can be an amazing way to live, and it looks like these two are making it work.

What upsets me, and what I've probably dont a poor job of articulating, isn't how these people are living. It's the lack of openness about the advantages that have made this lifestyle a choice.
posted by pugh at 9:08 AM on October 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


By the way, I'm ready to try out the lifestyle of the upper 1%. You know, for the sake of research and all.
posted by pugh at 9:11 AM on October 22, 2011 [14 favorites]


Lots of us are living like this as a result of a confluence of factors. I myself am currently working two jobs that each pay $9/hour. My weekly hours fluctuate between 52 and 77 depending on how many shifts I want to take at Job #2. I've been roughing it since moving to Austin, and have been grateful for kind friends who have given me a futon and bedframe (props to immlass and lefty lucky cat for those and to Devil's Rancher for a SXSW temp job). Relatives gave me generous loans to fund my move. My mom co-signed for my apartment when I didn't have a job, on faith that I would find one. I keep running into people who are getting by like this -- working hard along with the support of a network of friends and family. It's the new normal and as an (ex?)-journalist, I'm a bit surprised that these two guys are being singled out as in any way unusual.

Every single day on the job (I'm a political fundraiser), I ask people for money who say, "oh, honey, I'd love to contribute, but I'm living on $700 a month of Social Security." Or, "I've been unemployed for three years and I'm trying to wait another three until I turn 65 for the benefits to come in." Or, "I'm putting my granddaughter through college." Etc.

Why is it only newsworthy when it's someone's choice to live frugally? I'm not going to judge these guys because more people who don't have to live below their means probably ought to. But they ain't superheroes.
posted by xenophile at 9:12 AM on October 22, 2011 [7 favorites]


He alone earns more than about 20% of households (and most of those households have more than one person relying on that income). Most likely though, although he sleeps alone in his RV, functionally he is still part of his parents' household, which would place him a long way up that scale.

You're confusing the $20k guy with the $11k guy.
posted by parrot_person at 9:22 AM on October 22, 2011


(It should be noted that Morrissette himself says that the RV did not cost $14k.)
posted by fragmede at 9:24 AM on October 22, 2011


Neither of these guys advocate this is how people *should* live

I don't know about $11k guy, because I found the first link obnoxious enough that I don't care to read the second.

$20k guy attributes his success solely to his ability to "stretch a dollar" and "live within my means". The implication is that anyone who struggles on similar income must not be frugal or must not know how to stretch a dollar; they should do so, and if they don't, it's their own fault for suffering.

He states "while some might spend their money before they make it and hope they have a good week, I plan on a lean week and reward myself with a meal out or an extra drink at the bar if I surpass my target. As common-sense as this seems to me, experience tells me that across this country people are living beyond their means. " Sure, some people have financial problems because they overspend on extras. But many people have difficulties because of medical bills, or student loans, or a car that suddenly needs expensive fixes, or the inability to get a job for an extended period of time. He does not even hint at the existence of these reasons. He implies that anyone can and should live as he does.
posted by parrot_person at 9:40 AM on October 22, 2011 [10 favorites]


I don't think the first article is meant to disparage those in poverty although he may not have thought through the consequences of his article. He's just downright plucky to be seeing the world.

Looking at his numbers makes it appear that his frugal lifestyle is pretty tight - $200/month for food and sundries while making $350/week and keeping $300 for each move. He doesn't mention rent which might be $1000/month, depending on where he lives, or transportation, utilities, health care, or whiskey. He might be earning about $1500/month, but he might be paying out about $1300. If he didn't get paid for a month, I'm curious exactly how he survived without money in the bank or from mom and dad.

He's walking an unstable equilibrium. One small tragedy and the whole thing goes belly up. Slip on the ice and that could be $5,000 in emergency room costs. Get the flu, miss a week of work and that's your travel money. If his book doesn't get picked up or doesn't sell, without the money to travel he'll be re-evaluating his life and his day to day existence working for the type of people that just don't feel like paying their employees.
posted by destro at 9:59 AM on October 22, 2011


The most annoying thing about the first article was the dead-boring writing--from someone who styles themselves a writer.
posted by maxwelton at 10:03 AM on October 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Third of all, also because gas is so expensive, the exciting promise of driving around the US and staying in interesting places is probably also unrealistic.

This threw me for a second. Gas in the United States is not particularly expensive.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 11:04 AM on October 22, 2011


Gas is expensive in comparison to not spending every day on the road, is what I imagine he means.
posted by psoas at 11:36 AM on October 22, 2011


I think the hate here is really misplaced. When they guys talk about how they do what they do by stretching their money, I really don't think they're disparaging the poor or claiming that everyone should be able to achieve the same lifestyle with the same amount of money. Their audience isn't the poor. Their audience is the middle class, and they're advocating a non-traditional way of thinking about your lifestyle and priorities. To me it's quite obvious that the articles are talking to people with privilege and money, and encouraging them to rethink the lifestyle that our society sells to us. It's people on Metafilter who took these articles and made them about poverty.

Do none of you know middle-class people who say to themselves “I wish I could escape the rat-race,” but don't know how? Maybe not, but I can't help but think there's some willful ignorance going on here.

I don't understand all the people claiming the guy has no savings and is living on the edge; both articles explicitly mention that the authors have money saved up in different ways.
posted by !Jim at 12:25 PM on October 22, 2011 [6 favorites]


For more background on Morrissette, check out this LA Times article on his life and his career, which gives a bit more detail about how he lives and his work. I was curious about where his resources came from and did a little poking around, and he's a composer who's doing music for Family Guy, among other outlets.
posted by sonascope at 1:08 PM on October 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm guessing it's unlikely anyone involved will want to spend $5 on an account, but I'm pretty sure this blog post is a response to this thread from one of the people mentioned in the comments here.
posted by rollick at 1:29 PM on October 22, 2011


Sure, these stories could, and possibly should, be understood as vaguely anti-materialist, follow-your-dreams kind of parables. But I think to ignore the current social environment in which up to 1/3 of the US - and on effing Yahoo Finance, probably a lot more than that - has nothing but seething contempt for the poor is pretty naive. If it's not explicitly stated that these stories aren't intended as a condemnation of those impoverished whiners, then they're going to be interpreted as such.
posted by mellow seas at 2:12 PM on October 22, 2011


I'm pretty sure this blog post is a response to this thread from one of the people mentioned in the comments here.

I think so too. And while I would have phrased it differently, this paragraph:

"The privileged person will use his resources, skills, ability to plan, ability to strategize, etc. to spend less. In other words, he will substitute social, technical, economic, etc. capital for spending money. The unprivileged person will not have these substitutes already available and will therefore not have anything to substitute."

shows a lot of insight. He's specifically saying that this isn't a way for poor or disadvantaged people to be comfortable, but a way for moderate-to-high earners to get out of the rat race. Those are two different populations with two different goals.

Now, is he an enormous jerk? Maybe so, I don't know. But I do think he's at least not saying that his solutions are workable for everyone.
posted by KathrynT at 2:29 PM on October 22, 2011 [4 favorites]


From that blog post rollick mentions (by the $7,000 a year guy) where he discusses the rude remarks his story generates when it appears on big websites:
The unprivileged person [eventually] lashes out with insulting remarks, this method being his usual method of settling arguments. [...] [Mine] is not a blog/book that can help the unprivileged build resources. Most of them would not read nor maybe even be able to read it in the first placeJacob
That post started off a bit rocky, then I was with him when he discussed the important difference between a privileged person who chooses frugality and an unprivileged person who is forced into it. Then I got to the parts I quote above.

Charitably, perhaps he gets some antagonistic reactions because he sometimes chooses spectacularly poor ways to express himself. Less charitably, it might be because he's actually a jerk.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 2:29 PM on October 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


Best motorhome shower ever!
posted by furtive at 3:13 PM on October 22, 2011


I don't necessarily think these individuals are trying to sneer at the wasteful debtmongering hordes so much as I think pieces like these tend to be popular because they allow privileged types to feel more comfortable in their privilege, and more dismissive of the concerns of the poor as whining.

And there's also the veneration we have in this country for "thrift" that I find a little offputting; at some point you could cross over into Scrooge-like levels of miserliness and start using thrift as an excuse to treat those around you badly.
posted by emjaybee at 4:15 PM on October 22, 2011 [4 favorites]


A few years ago, when my cohort were all well out of school in their professional jobs, a friend of mine announced to our email group "I've saved $250,000". I couldn't help replying that I'd taken at least $1.5 million out of the economy by not working those years. That's what it's about for me.

Anyway, anybody surprised at the anger here isn't paying attention. This is the land of Apple everything, and Moleskines, and god knows what other frivolous wasteful bull shit.
posted by Chuckles at 6:50 PM on October 22, 2011


And I sure miss andrew cooke:
i realise it's not one of your valued "what stupid piece of crap for my kitchen should i waste money on today because i can't cook for shit but boy i know how to use my credit card like a pro?" questions, but it still has a valid answer.
Also, MetaFilter hated Freegans too....
posted by Chuckles at 6:56 PM on October 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


Okay okay I get it. These articles and the advice and judgments within are not aimed at "the unprivileged". It's for people who are used to "living well" (and thus, deserve to live well) who want to do it on less money so they can lecture others living the same on more money.

I THOUGHT the articles would be relevant to me because they'd be about people like me, you know, living in the US on small amounts of money. Nobody interviews people like me! It's so strange, even with Operation Wall street you'd think people might want to talk to the poor now but no, poor people are as irrelevant as ever. I originally clicked the link in the FPP because there had been so many OWS posts that I thought this was another one but this time someone talked to "the other 1%", the poor who have more at stake than anyone.

You'd think they'd take all that extra money they're using and help those who they must see shopping for bargains at the thrift store just like them, but as EarlyRetirementExtreme (ERE) says, "I think I can do more good (judging by the number of nice emails and comments I receive) in the long run by using the money to support my own work on ERE than donating it to nonprofit groups where I fear it would just be eaten up by administrative salaries and other inefficiencies." Yes, he can do more good devoting his money to helping the rest of the "non-poor".

I wasn't really angry at the first two guys, moreso at Yahoo (and what else is new) but that ERE blogger is repulsive. I spent an hour on his site earlier today (before his recent post), reading his thoughts on dental insurance (for people too stupid to save money for a dental visit) and healthcare in America (health insurance is completely unnecessary, it's just that people don't take care of themselves the way he does and that's why he doesn't get sick but those idiots do). What he writes is totally about everyone but he pretends his audience is more exclusive.

He's specifically saying that this isn't a way for poor or disadvantaged people to be comfortable, but a way for moderate-to-high earners to get out of the rat race. Those are two different populations with two different goals.

Now, is he an enormous jerk? Maybe so, I don't know. But I do think he's at least not saying that his solutions are workable for everyone.


No, he's disingenuous about that, and so are Yahoo! and anyone else claiming "oh we weren't talking about you" when they claim to speak for "Americans wasting money". He can't maintain this "above-it-all" facade for long. He gets a lot of digs in at "the unpriviledged" (although according to him we shouldn't be able to read his stuff anyway because we think reading is for losers). For someone who claims his stuff is not meant for the likes of "the unprivileged" he sure has a lot to say to us.

When he says "the unpriviledged" do not have the resources to take advantage of his advice, by "resources" he means the desire to learn.

http://earlyretirementextreme.com/angry-people-online-insults-frugal-lifestyles-and-the-poor.html

It is not a blog/book that can help the unprivileged build resources. Most of them would not read nor maybe even be able to read it in the first place. The reason is that it assumes that some capital is already present, namely the ability to teach yourself using books. For some, this capital does not exist. Some will not encounter this “idea” until they hit grad school (where it hits you in a sink or swim fashion) excusing their lack of knowledge with the comment that nobody has taught it to them yet. I have seen a father tell his 12 year old son that reading is for losers. With that attitude the kid will grow only being able to read at a 6th grade level if that. Incidentally, most mainstream books are written for a 6th grade reading level. Go figure.

Man, why we so dumb? Oh:

Effort is directed towards obtaining privilege by political means and looking outwards to others (a faceless system) instead of looking inwards to oneself. Helpful advice is NOT appreciated because it means accepting responsibility and the slave-mentality (as defined in the link) hates that implication. It is easier to complain.

We aren't imagining the disdain and animosity. And if a mainstream site like Yahoo! or The Washington Post think they can publish things "only for some people" as if the rest of us don't exist then I think it comes from that same hateful place. You can't publish an article entitled "How to live well on " and then expect the majority who have to live that way not to read it. And if we do read it, we're too stupid to understand it.
posted by Danila at 8:07 PM on October 22, 2011 [12 favorites]


Vonnegut, from his "last interview":

We live in a very visual world today. Do words have any power left?

I was at a symposium some years back with my friends Joseph Heller and William Styron, both dead now, and we were talking about the death of the novel and the death of poetry, and Styron pointed out that the novel has always been an elitist art form. It’s an art form for very few people, because only a few can read very well. I’ve said that to open a novel is to arrive in a music hall and be handed a viola. You have to perform. [Laughs.] To stare at horizontal lines of phonetic symbols and Arabic numbers and to be able to put a show on in your head, it requires the reader to perform. If you can do it, you can go whaling in the South Pacific with Herman Melville, or you can watch Madame Bovary make a mess of her life in Paris. With pictures and movies, all you have to do is sit there and look at them and it happens to you.


My point is that these stories, whether on the Web or elsewhere, are probably not being read by the very poor or the working poor. They are aimed toward the elite who still care about literature and print.

There are many many poor people. This problem, if solved, will not owe its solution to men like these, as likable as they may be, and as practical as their lifestyles may be.
posted by kozad at 8:56 PM on October 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


"I don't understand young people who say 'I can't afford health insurance'."

Totally. I do all my own prostate checks.

Er...to save money.

By refusing to clearly acknowledge their privilege, they insinuate that their experience can be generalized to everyone- if they are doing well, then everyone else must be Doing It Wrong.

I caught a show on a bit ago. "Survivorman" or something like that. Apparently an ex-special forces survivalist blah blah in an urban scenario where things have gone to hell. And he jumps over bridges and rappels, etc.
He even offers, as a "tip" to have a maglite, carry it in one hand, and use it as a weapon.
I don't know how many people who have not heard of that, but it's gotta be small.

I'm watching the show and I'm thinking "Gee, the concept is one lone very fit, well trained, adult male, trying to survive in a city after an apocalypse. Boring. Give me a 45 year old office manager with two kids (8 and let's be bastards and say 4) a wife, her invalid mother and her father who is a diabetic.
Have at that one survivorman. Let's see you get that wheelchair over the bridge. Fight off those thugs with that flashlight for food. Let's bust into a drug warehouse for insulin. Go!

Aint gonna happen.

So too, you have to have the proper circumstances to pull this off. Some guy taking care of his mom, has to live near her, doesn't have the option of not having a place. So the freight is more than just making choices.
posted by Smedleyman at 9:26 PM on October 22, 2011 [8 favorites]


This conceit (and conceit is what it is) that those of us who feel anger at these writers do so because we're wasteful consumers who hate to have our consumerism challenged is incredibly offensive smug bullshit.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 9:40 PM on October 22, 2011 [8 favorites]


Have been reading the ERE guy's blog. On the one hand, Jacob has some distasteful libertarian/Austrian economics ideas. On the other hand, if you accept that his advice is aimed at middle class people who *start* with a reliable income stream that they can live below, then it's very interesting. I am one of those people and I am shooting to give up a day job as soon as I can, so he's potentially speaking to me. On the gripping hand, if you are not in the starting place he assumes (a sound education, no social ties and reasonable prospects for steady work) and someone has waved his ideas at you as a solution to your problems then I fully sympathise with your urges to punch both Jacob and the recommender in the snoot.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 9:47 PM on October 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's kinda curious that lots of grad student came out of the woodwork in this thread; the "frugal" dude really trolled us.

I think that a more interesting project would be to see how far an "X" limited amount of money/income goes from one community to another; different states, different sized communities.

Personal peeve; the governmental guidelines for graduate student pay in Canada is based on a nation-wide average. It's helluva lot more expensive to live in Vancouver, BC., than it is to live in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Fuck, the CIHR student salary in Saskatoon is fucking rich.

The same number in Vancouver is a couple of dollars above the poverty line.

There are, so I'm told, life-sciences work in Skaskatoon, paying the same money as the relatively rarer jobs in Vancouver, BC, but those jobs are in Saskatoon and they're paying Skaskatoon levels.
posted by porpoise at 9:47 PM on October 22, 2011


People are angry when they read this because these people are getting praised for temporarily and voluntarily living below their means, when there are truly poor, suffering people who are living at or below those levels, who receive no praise, attention, or help at all.

It's like someone who thinks it's a fun novelty to roll around in a wheelchair to see what it's like, getting praise for doing something so unique and interesting and isn't it a fascinating, innovative lifestyle choice? While some people are stuck in wheelchairs, suffering, and no one cares. They can't go where they want to because buildings have not been retrofitted with ramps... they are suffering and no one cares, while someone who pretends to be like them gets an article in the Washington Post.

Can't you see how incredibly offensive that is?

It's not about "being afraid to see life differently". It's about taking abuse and seeing others get praised while you suffer.
posted by 3491again at 9:49 PM on October 22, 2011 [7 favorites]


People are angry when they read this because these people are getting praised for temporarily and voluntarily living below their means, when there are truly poor, suffering people who are living at or below those levels, who receive no praise, attention, or help at all.

So it's a zero sum game then? No writing articles about anybody except the destitute and/or severely disabled? What's your emotional reaction to TMZ?
posted by Chuckles at 10:06 PM on October 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


I found thevERE guy particularly annoying. His phrase 'complainypants' made me want to give him a sound spanking and send him to his room. I raised two kids alone on ~7000 a year. It was rough, but I am not complaining about that. What makes me angry was how hard it was to get a job
when I can't drive. There were
times when getting to and from
work was harder than the actual
job. The kind of work I could get
and keep was affected by my
disabilities. I also at times had
really horrible co-workers and a couple of bosses who really made
everyone's life Hell.
The idea of taking off in a van really was appealing, but I can't drive.
Know what I call my SSI award letter? I call it my 'Free Papers' I live on less, but I am actually pretty happy. I live in subsidized housing. It is allowed to have a pet or two here. There's a garden area, and I have very good neighbors. Yes there is sometimes gossip and grumpery, but mostly people are good and helpful to each other.
It makes up for not being in such a great neighborhood.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 10:25 PM on October 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


People are angry when they read this because these people are getting praised for temporarily and voluntarily living below their means, when there are truly poor, suffering people who are living at or below those levels, who receive no praise, attention, or help at all.

Actually, my take is not that they are getting praised, but that they are praising themselves. And I am angry because they are looking on anyone with less fortune as being inferior rather than unlucky. There is nothing like Just World Theory to make me want to wring necks.
posted by parrot_person at 10:36 PM on October 22, 2011 [11 favorites]


People are angry when they read this because these people are getting praised for temporarily and voluntarily living below their means, when there are truly poor, suffering people who are living at or below those levels, who receive no praise, attention, or help at all.

It's like someone who thinks it's a fun novelty to roll around in a wheelchair to see what it's like, getting praise for doing something so unique and interesting and isn't it a fascinating, innovative lifestyle choice?...Can't you see how incredibly offensive that is?

Except that, since these guys never make the claim that they're solving the problem of poverty across society, all this fury seems to be based on some idea that any newspaper article about anybody doing anything interesting should only be published if it's applicable to every reader. If that's the case, there's some Homes & Gardens and Travel coverage you really ought to be attacking first. These men's lives are notable compared to how most people like them live; in all other contexts that's considered ample justification for a newspaper lifestyle feature.

This way that, among the population of wasteful and self-indulgent privileged people, the ones who are singled out for condemnation are the ones who are being a little less wasteful and self-indulgent is completely fascinating.
posted by oliverburkeman at 12:36 AM on October 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think there might be less singling out if the (reasonably) notable and (passing) interest was balanced by a little more grace and a lot less hubris.

Neither are doing anything particularly remarkable, given that many other people do similar things out of necessity rather than choice, but things like this are always interesting enough to read about.

I think that chap #1 has drawn people's ire though because he really is living quite an ordinary life, apart from the moving once a year, is obviously mooching off others, and yet gets all romantic and Kerouacean about it all as if he is the Last of the Wandering Poets. I think he's quite sweet and harmless, but that kind of thing doesn't go down well.

And chap #2 has drawn people's ire because, although frugal, judging from the quotes above he seems to have plenty of contempt to spend on people who he considers aren't as smart as he considers himself.

(Have you done voluntary minimalism in This Column Will Change Your Life yet?)
posted by reynir at 2:00 AM on October 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


Apparently an ex-special forces survivalist blah blah in an urban scenario where things have gone to hell. And he jumps over bridges and rappels, etc.

And also stays in hotels while he's supposed to be roughing it.
posted by desjardins at 6:54 AM on October 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


I think a big part of the frustration with the guys in these examples is that there's a difference between being presented as an example and volunteering yourself as an example.

#1 submits himself as the next incarnation of Kerouac, when he's pretty much just living the lifestyle of any twentysomething with a college degree that is either unmarketable or unmarketed. It's all fine for him to live that way, and it's definitely a way to get out and see the world, but when you set yourself up as a sage with openers like "In such dire times, how do I survive year to year on customer service wages and tips from waiting tables? I know how to stretch a dollar," you've pretty much got to expect that you're going to be challenged.

#2, again, isn't just out there, living what appears to be a pretty good life. In response to the $20K lifestyle guy, he wrote in, playing the classic American game of oneupsmanship. You think that's cool? I'm doing it on $11K! The thing is, what he's done is to set himself up as an example. There would be a world of difference between someone who knows him and is impressed by his lifestyle writing this up, because there's ego involved in putting yourself up for admiration. It's certainly justified ego, to a large extent, but with that, the context is shaped before the first word is spoken or written.

I am, of course, guilty of many of those sins here, chiming in with my own experience, but I'm also sanguine when it comes to being told that I'm being a dick for describing perfectly legitimate office work as "cubicle farming," which is a bit of poetic excess that's only semi-serious. This is particularly true for the moments in my museum career when I was stuck working with whiny self-described visionaries who badgered me about their work being hung too close to the bathroom because "the great guru" told them on some cosmic level that they were displeased by the juxtaposition of art and defecation.

"Namaste, Mr. Wall," they'd say, hands clasped in a pained gesture of disapproval, "I've traveled on the astral plane to speak with The Guru, and he's resolute that his image must be placed somewhere more respectful."

I'd think, as I often did, dude, you're from fucking Malvern, Pennsylvania. You don't get to appropriate "namaste" for your little snits, because you're from MALVERN, your family came from England, not India, and you're a spoiled new agey sell-out making a fortune scrawling mumbledy-goo on posters photoshopped from vacation clip art with a gold paint pen, but I'd say, with my soul crashing on the mooring mast in flames as I cowtowed to the messenger of The Guru, "I'm sorry. I will speak with the curator about that."

Those were the days I remembered how wonderful cubicle farming was, when I'd set up processes on my film scanner and have an hour to sneak in some writing, with Eno in my headphones and friendly faces that, while largely concerned with things I found dull, genuinely liked me and my goofy manner. Within the rat race, I resented the whole of it, but on the other side, I'd reflect on how lovely it is to have a job that ends promptly when you punch your card and drive away.

It's in how you frame these things, and also in the realization of where you really fit into the machinery of the world that's how this can go from good advice to self-aggrandizement. Part of my job now is giving regular tours of the machine room for the clock tower I run, and I have to admit, I'm pretty damned good at it when I've had my caffeine, because I'm knowledgeable, gregarious, and a decent storyteller. I bring my groups up into what is, to me, like a chapel of passing time, with sunlight streaming through the giant glass faces of the clock, and I read the crowd, respond to what I know will entertain, amuse, and inform, and I'm popular in this context.

"This must be the best job in the world," I hear, and I hear it pretty often. Sometimes, I want to say, "well, it's great, though I'd rather not have to drive in at 2 AM in a blinding snowstorm when I've got the flu because one of my resident artists is stuck in the elevator," but that's just part of the territory.

"How do you get a job like this?" visitors ask, and my short form response is to say that I got a college degree in poetry and beekeeping, which is sufficiently cryptic and amusing as to leave them smiling without going into how I got a job like this.

As it happens, I love this job. It's grueling, sometimes, and frustrating, and being a facility manager means subverting your entire life to the demands of your aging, troublesome, complicated buildings, but I love the job, love my boss, love the challenges, and make enough doing it that I'm finally in the middle classic income bracket after more than twenty-five years in the working world.

I could say that I got this job because I'm smart and clever and because I plan things out, but those things are only partly true. I really got this job because I know how to build theremins.

You can follow the links of the chain backward here: I run a giant clocktower full of artists because I was a highly effective facility manager for the nation's official museum of "visionary" art, and because a staff person there with a connection to my current employer knew I was bored in the job and knew, by direct day-to-day contact, that I was very good at that job. I took the job because my building is an icon of goofy architecture, because my grandmother loved it with a childlike glee, and because my predecessor was Baltimore's number one drag king, which I found intriguing and poetic, seeing as I'm also a male impersonator, albeit with more equipment and presumably a head start in the role.

I was the facility manager at the musuem because the beloved existing facility manager's heart condition synchronized neatly with the end of my year-long contract as the engineer for the museum's enormous mosaic project. I'd been hired as the engineer of the museum's mosaic project because I'd become close enough to the people at the museum that they read my blog, and knew, in general, what I was capable of, and knew that my attempt at being a freelance businessman was disintegrating.

They knew me at the museum because I'd spent eight years disco-dancing for them in a monk's habit, performing robot weddings, interviewing dogs while dressed in a silver lamé replica of a 1913 ladies' motorcar driving outfit, building sound installations, and running sound and video for large, garish fundraising events. I'd had the opportunity to interview dogs because my arts patron had brought me on board as her technical adviser during a series of concerts she'd been commissioned to perform at the museum, and I got an unexpected role impersonating a crazy spurned lover who'd filled his yard with signs lamenting his wicked wife's departure because the man who would eventually become my poetry mentor flaked out of the concert at the last minute, which led to the museum trusting me to produce dramatic mayhem at a moment's notice.

I had an arts patron because I was building theremins back in the early nineties, first for my friends, then for more people, albeit on a very small scale. My arts patron, an award-winning composer and performer, was working with the local music school and found me while searching the then-primitive web for local theremin experts, looking for someone to repair the school's original 1929 RCA Theremin. I'm not a theremin expert, but we became fast friends, and remain so. She had the resources to keep me in synthesizers and stompboxes during our prime years as artist-and-tech, and that relationship branched off into other opportunities, too.

My theremin-building prowess, such that it was, existed because my father, desperate for some opportunity to bond with me after he'd failed with sports, Boy Scouts, camping, whittling, and learning a trade, in case I ever needed the work, sat with me and helped me build a tesla coil, and then a theremin, being very patient and teaching me to be patient as I hand-wound the fussy coils with magnet wire. He had experience with theremins from when he was living in Birmingham as the kept man of a wealthy woman with a white Jaguar XK140 and had somehow schmoozed his way into the symphony as a backup tympanist and theremin player for a Saint-Saens piece they performed, but that's neither here nor there.

Joe, it looks like you're living a pretty happy, successful life. How'd you get there?

Well, it's easy. I don't know why everyone can't do it. It's as simple as choosing the right path, and making good decisions. You gotta grab those opportunities and make something of yourself. Sheesh, everyone's so lazy and stuck these days, because they just won't make any effort to live a better life! I mean, I really know how to stretch a dollar, and how to maximize my scooter-riding skills by careening around Baltimore on a Vespa while dressed as a nun. Really, more people should live this way, but people just want to be stuck in their drab lives.

Oh, and make sure your father is fascinated by Jaguars so he'll become a gigolo in the mid-fifties to a woman in Birmingham with an XK140. That's pretty important. It wouldn't hurt you to brush up on your sewing, soldering, and disco dancing skills, either.

You know—take the bull by the horns, for Pete's sake.

Of course, that's as stupid as it sounds, but we get a little tone deaf when we're doing well, and we're trained, as post-neocon Americans, to believe that we're the last true individuals, the Atlases who ought to be shrugging. It's a pervasive belief, alas.

I was having lunch with one of the young folks who worked on the mosaic project at the museum as an assistant, and I was sort of marveling at the simplicity and airy openness of his life. In your mid-twenties, if you're healthy and you're engaged with the world, there's just so many directions to go, and those years don't come back, at least for virtually everyone but a handful. He was having a hard time with money, having to cut back and find work and just scrape by, and I caught myself, as I was giving him the kind of advice you give someone like that after having come through those years relatively unscathed, and felt the words dry up as if something had just turned off the valves in my chatter manifold.

I can say "you'll treasure the memory of these times," but that's because I'm out of them, myself, and can filter out the frustration and the fear far too easily. In my twenties, I had times when I spent whole days so hungry that my stomach knotted up in pain, because I literally didn't have a dollar to buy a package of ramen and wouldn't until payday. I had strategies, like chugging a half gallon of water fast enough that my body would momentarily be fooled into thinking I'd eaten, and little tricks, like buying a Buckaroo Burger at Roy Rogers, then filling my bag with Fixin's from the Fixin's bar, tearing the burger and bun apart and shaking up the whole bag to make a sort of iceberg, pickle, and hamburger salad.

I got by, even when my car died and I had to walk four miles to the Metro station each morning in the snowiest winter I could remember, and I got by when I paid the rent because I'd lucked out by way of a friend and found a kind, effeminate local priest who would pay young guys to sit and let him play with their feet for an hour and who paid me double because I have the exact same feet as Fred Flintstone, albeit with five toes instead of Fred's four. I got by, and the things that were humiliating then, and dispiriting and just totally, totally unpleasant, are now great fodder for storytelling, but it's too easy to forget how often in those days I'd curl up on my shitty foam folding chair that I used as a bed and just feel like I'd rather be anyone else in the world. Of course, I was healthy, too, so there's a degree of middle-class entitlement there as well.

Here, I submit myself as an example, but not of a good thing, or for celebration, even though I have lived a life that can, at times, be described as hilarious, calamitous, and worthy, but there's nothing in here that'll be of use to anyone planning a life of their own except one thing—humility, and a real, honest grasp of how you got where you are, which, if you're somewhere good, is a very, very good thing.

We don't need more self-help books, more gurus on how to get by and prosper, more advice columns, and the rest of that bullshit—we need to ask questions, not offer up advice for the life-lorn. So I'm still finding fault with these guys' tales, even though there's worthy information buried within. It's all in how it's laid out, and in the bigger story that's detailed enough to make it possible to know what's really involved. To each their own, of course, but still.
posted by sonascope at 7:00 AM on October 23, 2011 [31 favorites]


I'm not understanding the assumption that these ideas are not being read by the poor or the very poor because of an assumption that anybody in a lower socioeconomic status is unconcerned with the written word.

This is the discrimination I'm talking about! I'm poor. I can read. Many of my friends with college educations are unable to find jobs and are living below the poverty line with no parental assistance. They also like to read. Many of the poor people that I work with are highly intelligent but never had the opportunity to attend university. They read too.

People's financial status does not determine their intelligence or predilection of the written word. In fact, there is a growing prevalence of blue-collar poverty because oftentimes, college degrees and full-time jobs still won't cut it if you have multiple children and medical bills. Sure, there are general trends, but making that assumption is deeply offensive to many people. Stop conflating socioeconomic status with skill.
posted by pugh at 7:56 AM on October 23, 2011 [9 favorites]


@ Pugh: HEAR! HEAR! (my little contribution to intl. caps lock day)

Seriously, it really upsets me that poor people and disabled people are assumed to be uncultured, uneducated and unintelligent!

That's what all those guys do.

Oh at the person who shared the Bear Grylls info, I suspected he was fake!
Can't wait for the Dual Survival and the Man Woman Wild folx to be outer!
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 8:08 AM on October 23, 2011


outed*
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 8:09 AM on October 23, 2011


we do need stories like this. When I was on a generous graduate scholarship, I had friends who were getting even more than I did (22k compared to 18k) who were stuck at the end of the year because they hadn't budgeted properly. There are a lot of people - like graduate students - who have $15-25k and who could make it stretch but don't know how or don't want to, and who end up with unnecessary debt because they don't know how to budget, comparison shop, etc.

no, these examples don't hold any value for people in very different situations - like having a disability or children, etc. But they are good examples for many of the people who read these publications (aka the middle and upper classes) on how one can live on less, and reduce your lifestyle to fit within your means when your means are much greater than what truly poor people have to live with.
posted by jb at 8:13 AM on October 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Why are all these people dudes? Are there any stories of thrifty ladies living large on little?

This always sticks out to me, too. If I lived alone in an RV, I would be in constant fear for my safety. In addition to the advantages of a nicer background, these guys also have the advantage of just being able to walk around outside at night without worrying, of not giving a shit if others know where they live.
posted by Metroid Baby at 8:51 AM on October 23, 2011 [5 favorites]


Yeah, and fuck the Buddha, too!
Let's fuck all the poverty tourists!
posted by kaibutsu at 9:10 AM on October 23, 2011


Um- they're respectively a writer and a musician whom before this you've never heard of.

It's PR, no more, no less. Everybody's doing it. Given the number of comments here, it's clearly working.
posted by IndigoJones at 9:23 AM on October 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Are there any stories of thrifty ladies living large on little?
Oh god, yes. There are zillions of thrifty mom blogs out there. They just tend to depict thrift as an aspect of domesticity, not as a heroic manly quest.
If I lived alone in an RV, I would be in constant fear for my safety.
I don't know whether I would be or not, but I do know that Morrissette's life sounds really lonely to me. I assume that a pretty small percentage of the population, of whatever gender, would want a life that is predicated on having nothing and nobody tying you to a particular place. I mean, Joseph Fonseca sounds fairly lonely, too, but at least he stays put for long enough to establish some sort of human connections.
posted by craichead at 9:40 AM on October 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


As a Euroweenie, what I find annoying about those two stories is not so much that they trivialize poverty and extreme frugality, but that they romanticize it.

Fuck that. We should all strive to live comfortably, without fear of being bankrupted by ill health. And it should be a common goal for our society to help everyone do so. This is the 21st century. There exists a middle ground between living from food stamp to food stamp and owning four Escalades.
posted by unigolyn at 10:10 AM on October 23, 2011 [12 favorites]


If I lived alone in an RV, I would be in constant fear for my safety.

It is an interesting point. I know the way I conduct my business would be impossible if I wasn't who I am. But then, the whole point in life is to do the best you can with what you have.

That said, I think most of the fear has been instilled by media and well meaning nanny types. Stranger attacks are actually pretty uncommon regardless of your sex, size, or age. North American society is built in large part around stoking fears, it is a fantastic motivation for consumption...
posted by Chuckles at 3:52 PM on October 23, 2011


"That said, I think most of the fear has been instilled by media and well meaning nanny types. Stranger attacks are actually pretty uncommon regardless of your sex, size, or age. North American society is built in large part around stoking fears, it is a fantastic motivation for consumption..."

I agree that stranger rape is hugely overemphasized as a threat to women, but I disagree as to the reason.

In my opinion, it's a displacement mechanism as a means to avoid the reality that the overwhelming danger women face with regard to sexual violence comes from people they know, not people they don't know. But facing up to that reality would force us to both accept some very uncomfortable truths about our society, and then to do something about them, as well as being simply terrifying. As bad as living in constant fear of being attacked in dark parking lots and such, which is a horrible fear that we men don't live with, having the statistically appropriate fear of being afraid of being attacked by men you know and associate with every day would be, frankly, disabling.

But then, again, maybe it's our collective avoidance of what would be a terrifying awareness is what partly allows the horrifying and unjust status quo to continue.

Note that this is exactly paralleled with regard to sexual assault of children. We're suspicious and terrified of strangers, when 90% of all assaults are committed by people (mostly men) who are both known to the children and are trusted by their parents. Very often, of course, it's a family member.

We don't want to face that reality, either, and so we displace our fears onto terrifying figures waiting in dark alleys.

Mind you, strangers commit rape and sexually assault children every day, and I don't mean in any way to diminish the wrongness or horror of those assaults, nor the trauma and fear that the survivors have experienced.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 5:23 PM on October 23, 2011 [5 favorites]


sonascope: I like to think I'll eventually make some fraction of my income from my writing

Let's hope so; at this point I think I'd actually pay to read your Metafilter comments.
posted by lalex at 7:31 PM on October 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Sonascope's writing is one of the things that keep me coming back to MeFi.
posted by arcticseal at 7:46 PM on October 23, 2011


Where it all goes wrong for me is when you look at the roots of so many of the escapees, who so easily fall into the role of the wise sage, offering up the suggestion that everyone could choose to live the way they do, and choose to be free, completely adopting the absurd Western trope of the self-made man, independent of all the world because of one's staggering genius and/or adoption of some world-changing single idea.

Kind of like the Randroids, really. Which, I guess, is why they get under so many skins in much the same way.

This always sticks out to me, too. If I lived alone in an RV, I would be in constant fear for my safety. In addition to the advantages of a nicer background, these guys also have the advantage of just being able to walk around outside at night without worrying, of not giving a shit if others know where they live.

You have a rich fantasy going on there that appears entirely untainted by anything so mundane as the reality of being male. You are obviously unaware that street violence is overwhelmingly more likely to claim men than women as victims.
posted by rodgerd at 1:22 AM on October 24, 2011


You have a rich fantasy going on there that appears entirely untainted by anything so mundane as the reality of being male. You are obviously unaware that street violence is overwhelmingly more likely to claim men than women as victims.rogerd
So, I take it that you're normally afraid for your safety whenever you walk around at night, whatever the neighborhood? Feel free to be honest.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 5:08 AM on October 24, 2011


There are a number of possible rebuttals to the claim that men are more likely to be victims of street crime, exploring things like the relative likelihood that men will be alcoholic, or involved in crime themselves, or not taking precautions a woman would. Note that these are not arguments - I don't know if they are true - they are just things that came to mind that I would research if I wanted to argue against the claim that men are more likely to be victims of street crime.

I think we can all agree that "it doesn't feel that way" is not a very valid argument, though.
posted by Nothing at 7:23 AM on October 24, 2011


"I think we can all agree that 'it doesn't feel that way' is not a very valid argument, though."

It is in this context.

Metroid Baby asserted that a woman would feel unsafe while a man would not. Rodgerd's comment asserts two things (the first implicitly): first, that men feel not only as unsafe as women, but moreso because, second, they are more likely to be victims of street violence.

Even if the latter is true, the first doesn't necessarily follow. And, as a matter of simple fact, far fewer men are afraid of random street violence than are women of being sexually assaulted in the same environment.

Rodgerd could have made his point much differently than he did. He could have said something like, "it's ironic that you and other women would feel unsafe in that environment while this writer and other men generally do not because, in fact, men are far more likely to be victims of street violence than are men."

But, instead, this is four-fifths of his entire response: "You have a rich fantasy going on there that appears entirely untainted by anything so mundane as the reality of being male. You are obviously unaware...".

The first part is not only egregiously rude and combative, but it's egregious in the separate sense that, in fact, the mundane reality of being male is not to be afraid in the same situation, as described in the article, that women are. We have the article and this thread as compelling evidence of this: no men mentioned how they would live in fear living like this while, in contrast, several women did. It's rodgerd who is unmoored from reality, while being boorish and smug and bullying, to boot.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 9:21 AM on October 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


I do think that it's interesting to hear stories about people living well, on their own terms and that we often forget that living like this is even an option.

I know that when I attended college and after I graduated, that it was expected that I'd hop on that treadmill of job, apartment, debt, lather, rince, repeat.

I'm that American tragedy: a middle-aged lady whose retirement was ruined by reckless corporations (I worked for MCI) and starting over as cheerfully as possible.

I'm making half of what I used to make, and I'd move out of my house, except that it's worth 25% less than what we owe on it, so we made the decision to suck it up, stay put and not jet off to parts unknown like we used to.

I fantasize about living in a smaller place, but that's all that is, a fantasy. For some of us, there's no happiness in doing laundry in the bath tub. There's no romance in shopping in thrift stores. There's no fun in cooking lentils. Basically, I got used to a certain standard of living and while I do make some sacrifices, I think we've made a decent compromise.

For now, we muddle through. Sure, we eat out in neighborhood joints, we still buy nice clothes (on sale, with discounts) and I use the coupons combined with store specials to save 50% or so on groceries. I know I could live WAY more frugally, but I don't want to. Not yet.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:21 AM on October 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


I've been following Morrissette's blog off and on for quite some time now. A few points to be made:

1. He started off in a class B RV Van that was in pretty rough shape.

2. I know he sold a relatively new miata shortly before taking off on his adventure.

3. He has since sold his class B and upgraded (I just realized that from reading the article and going back through his archives). His van was on offer for $9k and he had put a lot of work into it.

4. His current rig (which looks like a class C but ???) may have parking problems and require more care overnight but a class B with good curtains? In most cities, you can park that just about anywhere without hassle as long as you are quiet, courteous, and move on after a day or so. Once a week, hit the RV park for a dump and fill. It's cheap living.
posted by screamingnotlaughing at 1:00 PM on October 25, 2011


Turns out his current rig is a class B but it's not nearly as "vannish" as his old one.

I "aspire" to live in a class B at some point (hopefully down by the river...RIP CF) and I wouldn't want one that screams "RV" the way his new one does. I'd like one that says "just a van...nothing to see here...why don't you go downriver a ways now?"
posted by screamingnotlaughing at 3:49 PM on October 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


I "aspire" to live in a class B at some point (hopefully down by the river...RIP CF) and I wouldn't want one that screams "RV" the way his new one does. I'd like one that says "just a van...nothing to see here...why don't you go downriver a ways now?"

First, just to get it out of the way.. "Is this something I'd need a driver's license to understand?"

But also, I think the current version could be quite stealth if he just painted out the stripes and let it look like a plain white cube van.
posted by Chuckles at 4:36 PM on October 26, 2011


I have respect for anyone who lives within their means, and I don't get the animosity against these people who are doing it.

So the one guy had an expensive R/V, so what? He could have bought a more expensive house and gone into debt, but he didn't.

Should people have to survive on an income below the poverty level in the U.S.? No way. But I don't see what the point is in getting mad at those who, for whatever reason, are making a success of it.
___
rogerd, Ivan_Fyodorovich: Males had *slightly* higher, though similar rates of violent crimes committed against them in the U.S. during 2010.

This was a shift from the past: "Historically, males have had higher rates of violent victimization compared to females. For example, in 1994 the rate of violent victimization for males was 59.6 per 1,000 and 42.5 per 1,000 for females." (source: Criminal Victimization, 2010; Bureau of Justice Statistics. September, 2011).

Women are overwhelmingly more likely to be raped; men are overwhelmingly more likely to be the victims of assault, robbery and homicide.
posted by misha at 7:25 PM on October 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


In 2010 I made about $20K. It sucked. Anyone who says it doesn't is bullshitting on some level.
posted by Sara C. at 9:53 PM on October 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Misha: Yeah, I didn't really want to get into the specifics of all that. Rogerd's comment had that "men's rights" vibe of "men have got it so bad!" that I really didn't want to wade into.

But if I had, and I guess now I am, what I would have said is that the distribution of violence against males across the population is different than is the same for violence against females. I'm pretty sure that a very large portion of violent crimes committed against males occurs among certain socioeconomic groups, and in certain locations. Whereas assault and sexual violence against women is not perfectly evenly distributed across socioeconomic groups and geography, but is much more evenly distributed in comparison.

Also, it's worth pointing out that things like suffering assault and similar, for men, also includes incidents where men have actually initiated the violence, and otherwise placed themselves in violent circumstances.

Personally, I think that comparing rates of violent assaults against men and violent assaults against women is apples and oranges and is absurd and likely intended to deceive.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 1:28 AM on October 27, 2011


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