In social circles I am often hesitant to discuss the fact that I own a beach house. I feel like the dynamic changes once people find out I own a vacation rental home, so I usually keep this information to myself. (This was certainly more true in my late twenties. It’s a little less so now that I have reached my fourth decade of life.)
When people find out about my property they typically respond in one of three ways.
- A few folks seem genuinely happy about my accomplishment.
- A few will invite themselves to stay in my house for free.
- The remainder respond in cold tones with statements like “that must be nice” even though their body language implies they don’t think it’s nice at all.
I don’t want anyone to feel bad about their own financial situations. It certainly isn’t fun to listen to someone talk about their wealth, especially if you are struggling to pay for food or rent. I completely understand that fact and try to remain quiet, but sometimes friends and acquaintances dig for further details.
When I outline the finer points of our acquisition I am often met with scrutiny. Here are a few things I’ve heard over the years:
- Oh you bought your primary house in 2001? Well that was long before the housing boom right? Try buying a house now.
- Oh you worked as a software developer in the late 90s? Jobs were easier to come by back then. Anyone could find a job.
- Oh your parents paid for college? If I graduated without debt I could buy a beach house too.
Here’s what I think about those comments:
- I purchased a house when I was twenty-two years old. How many college grads, fresh out of school, have the fortitude to sign a thirty-year contract and the willingness to forgo fun in favor of adulthood? I bet painting walls, digging up rose bushes and raking leaves weren’t high on your list of activities when you were twenty.
- Plenty of my friends struggled to find jobs after college. I personally spent hours in the career center combing through plastic binders full of jobs. (Yes, that’s how college students researched jobs in the mid-to-late 90s.) Monster.com and other online job boards weren’t packed with job listings back then so you had to, (brace for it), call employers to ask about open positions. In some ways looking for a hiring company was much harder then clicking a couple of links and sending out resumes.
- Graduating without debt gave me a huge advantage in life, but there are plenty of grads that still go deep into debt after their parents pay for school. I lived in a shitty, 9-by-9 room and shared a bathroom with five other people in order to save money on rent after college. The day I graduated I was off on my own. So yes, I had a job, but $30,000 wasn’t a whole lot of money to live on.
I wholeheartedly believe that part of my financial success is due to hard work and perseverance. Another part is due to my birthplace, the U.S., and to parents who took care of my needs throughout my youth and provided me with lots of love and support. Choosing a financially savvy husband who earns a high wage has certainly played a role as has some old-fashioned good luck.
I try my best to look at the whole picture. I am grateful for the advantages I’ve been given, but I am equally proud of what I’ve accomplished. Given the same set of circumstances I know plenty of people who would not be in the same financial position.
I try to remember that discounting someone’s success is easy. It’s much harder to perform an introspective evaluation of your own life. You can be the type of person that knocks others down or the type that builds others back up.
I am grateful for the FI community who listens openly to stories of financial success and weighs in with insightful thoughts and comments. I wish I encountered more people like this in real life.