Are Financial Bloggers ‘Suffering?’

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I remembered a conversation with an ex-girlfriend. I told her we need to cut our expenses to free up some cash flow. She replied that we should find ways to earn more money instead.

Years later, I read The Prince by 15th century Italian historian-philosopher-influencer Niccolo Machiavelli and came across the following line.

“Develop the strength to do bold things, not the strength to suffer.”

It immediately brought me back to the conversation I had before. I could relate to the quote immediately.

I am closer to the sufferance camp than to the bold camp. I am always on the lookout for affordable places to dine. Value matters to me most.

In another instance, I was meeting another friend and automatically directed her to a parking facility with per entry rates. She then rephrased her question and asked me where is the nearest car park. She did not mind paying a bit more for the convenience. I prefer to ‘suffer’ by walking a longer distance.

People who think boldly make choices very different from people who are able to suffer. As a result, they end up with very different outcomes.

We make many of such life choices every day. With a little reflection, it is not too difficult to know which camp we are closer to.

Are Financial Bloggers ‘Suffering?’

Recently, Seedly ran a number of AMA sessions with financial bloggers. During the session with SG Budget Babe, the following questions popped up “How do you balance saving money and having a social life?” and another “Do you have regrets in your saving path?”

Here’s yet another question posted on Seedly:

Over the years, I have made many friends in the financial blogging community. Lionel’s wife once remarked that unlike many of their other friends, we would always be meeting at Kopitiam or some other really affordable (read: cheap) places.

Chris Ng shared his story about saving 100% of his salary and relying only on his dividends. He also shared how he would order more vegetables instead of meat dishes for his economical rice so as to save cost.

And few of you would have the ability to meal prep for an entire week like Kyith Ng.

To many, financial bloggers have no life. They draw from their tremendous strength to suffer.

It even drew a response from Kyith in an article,

“Now let me challenge you with something: If we do not spend money does that mean we do not live a fruitful life?

A lot of times I been told you should go out travel the world, then you will live a rich life. Most probably think that is a good rich life because they experienced it and seen the virtues of it.

I went on holidays in the past. I came back. And I realize that my life happiness did not increase or stayed elevated.

I went out with some friends, talk nonsense for 4 to 5 hours and spend $10 on a meal and I enjoyed it a lot but my life happiness also do not stayed elevated.

What is wrong there?

I think we overestimate money and happiness a lot. A lot of times we just wished for some mundane satisfying kind of life. Better life satisfaction seems to be linked with autonomy (having adequate freedom in doing things), mastery (improving and being more proficient in areas of work) and purpose.”

The Starbucks Kerfuffle

Last week we published an article about this very issue. We put forward the idea that saving money by cutting down on Starbucks (and other little everyday ‘luxury’ items) can only get a person so far ahead financially. To really move ahead, one needs to learn how to invest. The article drew a lot of irk from the personal finance community with many accusing the author for belittling their strategies.

The emotionally charged response is not without reason. The ability to save has been an important success factor for many of the financially free people in the community. No one should undermine their strength to Suffer in their journey towards financial success. To have someone step in and make such a claim would be tantamount to a huge insult.

While I do not have the strength to Suffer like many of my peers, I see their strength as a virtue. It is not an easy task and few people would have been able to accomplish what they have achieved.

Are entrepreneurs and high flyers the bold ones?

Financial bloggers are like monks, who lead a rich life not because he has plenty, but because he needs little. Years of living in a monastery has taught him not to ask for more, but to crave for less. The monk’s prowess lies in being able to resist temptations. He does so in part by isolating himself against the outside world, by creating his own world inside the monastery, and in part by denouncing the secular comforts.

The Monk is strong in mind. He has the strength to Suffer.

The Warrior is the antithesis of the Monk. Instead of isolating himself against the outside world, he sets out to conquer the world. Instead of wanting little, he needs more. Courageous and self-assured, the warrior needs more recognition, more power, more money. To achieve that he has to make bold decisions and go where no one else has gone before.

The Warrior is also strong in mind. He has the strength to do Bold Things.

And who better to comment on the matter of Bold Things than a modern day warrior himself.

Der Shing is an example of entrepreneurial success, having started and exited his business for a handsome sum. He is also closely knitted with many other entrepreneurs. According to him, this group of people do not spend time and effort on saving money. Instead, they focus their energy on trying to make more money.

A tale of two Mindsets

Therein lies the distinct difference between the bloggers and the entrepreneurs. Both are strong in their minds. Both at the top of their game. However, that is where the similarities end. Their mindset differs significantly because one group plays not to lose while the other plays to win.

People who choose to suffer fear the unknown. They fear losing and hence they choose to play it safe. To them, there is no greater pain than taking an unnecessary risk and losing all that has been built up over the years.

Bold people are cut from a totally different cloth. While they do not like losing, they tend to have no fear of that. They embrace uncertainty. To them, losses are inevitable because they believe it is necessary for learning and growth. Bold people fear lost opportunities; they fear missing out. They fear running out of time and their greatest fear is that they will remain mediocre.

The mindsets are derived from personalities which are in turn partly shaped by family upbringing and financial situation. People who come from humble background would tend to play it safe while descendants of rich family tend to play to win because they have a safety net when they fail. This view was gathered from studies reported by Quartz.

The Role of Ability

Strength and ability are independent. Do not for a moment confuse them. There are as many instances of Bold people with low ability as there are of highly able people who choose to Suffer.

The best combination is when people with high ability also possess the strength to do Bold Things. Put together, add a dash of luck, and these two ingredients spell outlier success. We can easily identify characters from here. From entrepreneurs Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk and Jack Ma, to drug lord Pablo Escobar and dictator Adolf Hitler, these individuals have definitely made a difference to this world (for better or for worse).

There are also people with low ability people who choose to Suffer. I know it sounds rather depressing just reading that line but let me assure you that it is not what you think it is.

People choose to Suffer now for a better tomorrow. They choose to work hard and take lesser holidays so that they can retire earlier. They choose to forgo Starbucks so that they can build up their cash buffer for a rainy day. Many are performing well in their stable jobs. They do not make Bold career moves because they know they will take a longer time to learn and feel comfortable once again, or worse, failed moves have consequences.  

In my opinion, these people are highly admirable. They know where their strength lies and they are doing all they can to leverage on it. They stay the course and do not get distracted easily. People in this group are highly successful in their own right.

The Role of Ambition

It is the people who have high ability but choose to Suffer that left me torn.

I have met people who have proven themselves to be highly capable in multiple aspects. Yet the choices they make in terms of money and career and personal development over the years are often way too conservative. I say this not from my point of view but because they themselves admit to it. I feel that the world deserves better from them.

Perhaps it all boils down to ambition. Someone with high ability and low ambition would choose to punch below his weight and be contented with status quo. Or perhaps it has to do with confidence. The highly able person cannot shake away the feeling that he or she is but an imposter. It could also be for the lack of purpose. Zhuge Liang would have ‘wasted’ his life away had Liu Bei been unable to convince him of the greater end goal.

Who are we to judge if they have made a right choice?

I was chatting with Thomas Chang on this over Facebook and he is someone with high ability but low ambition in my view.

To Suffer or be Bolder?

We will learn more about ourselves as we progress in life. At some point in time we will be forced to choose our path. Some of us are still struggling and trying to reconcile our life’s work. For many others, the choice comes naturally and we just segue into our role often without even realising it.

For those who need help deciding, here are a few areas for you to think about.

First, be aware of the scripts you run in your head. Reflect on your daily decisions and position yourself on the Sufferance-Bold scale. Your behaviour speaks a lot, and you just need to figure out what your actions are telling you. Whether you choose to Suffer or to do Bold Things is a culmination of your personality (nature) and upbringing (nurture).

Second, determine your ambition. Where you are presently may not be where you really want to be. What if you are in the sufferance zone but want to do Bold Things? This is usually the biggest tension a person can have within himself. One way is to mix with people who are doing bolder things and hope to rub off some courage. Boldness is relative. In the presence of people much Bolder than you, you will be pushed out of your comfort zone and start doing Bolder Things.

You would have realised your potential when you recognised that the next bolder thing is beyond your ability. By then you would have found your peace and it is time to be contented.

The problem is that most people have neither the strength to Suffer nor the strength to do Bold Things. This is why success continues to elude them.

Strength is a virtue. It does not matter which extreme your strength is manifested in; you are more likely to be successful financially if you are closer to either edge. If you have none of the strengths, you are less likely to achieve your financial goals.

There is no right or wrong way to approach this issue. Society cannot function with everyone playing it ultra safe. Neither can society have every member making big bets. The society achieves harmony because of these yin and yang differences.

Bold is not always better. Sufferance does not last forever. The choice is yours.

  • Thanks Alvin, this is a very well-written article that I can relate to.

    Been following your work and articles and would like to personally give a shoutout to you on this one.

  • I totally agree with Der Shing. You can’t cut your expenses and hope to become rich at a young age (say 35), mathematically it is just impossible. Don’t be a spendthrift, but frugality is over-rated. Compounding takes a much longer time. Also, I’m quite disturbed to read that most people dream of financial independence because they hate their job, corporate politics etc. That’s just not the case for most successful people. If you stay on to the job you hate and dream of financial independence, you might be spending your entire working life hating what you do, quite sad.

    Most successful people first do something they enjoy doing (usually their run a business), they then become very good at doing it, then make a lot of money as a result, but never really interested in this “Financial Independence” concept. Many “work” into their 70s/80s and doing the same thing since they were in their 20s / 30s. Because they love their “work”.

    So my suggestion to financial bloggers who hate their jobs and dream of financial independence: have the courage to quit the job that you hate, and do something that you like, and learn to make a lot of money from there on. Then stop thinking about financial independence because it’s no longer relevant.

    To me, to try something bold and fail is better than the regret of not trying. YOLO. Maybe it’s our society and education system that creates too many people who want to play it safe. Hong Kong and Taiwan have many more entrepreneurs.

  • I really enjoyed this article. Like many things in life the income vs expenses debate is all about balance. Reducing expenses is more of a starting point in my opinion. Once you get the expense side under control focus needs to be changed to making more income.

    Call it a limiting belief, but making more income isn’t simple for everyone. There can be barriers that are tough to push through. Regardless, I agree with the overall point that the faster path to wealth is through income.

  • Earn, Save, Invest, Repeat. Simple formula that worked for me. Without the Earn, you can do the first invest ( so by default that makes it the most important) but the last three Save, Invest and Repeat are critical to success.

  • Hey really well thought out article! There’s much to be said about the monk vs warrior personality – everyone agrees that our downside can be limited to zero (saving, being frugal etc) but no one comments on how our upside (more income, wealth, investments) can be unlimited!

  • I think calling it suffering is a bit much. It implies that life is somehow lesser because we choose to be frugal. We’re not ascetics like the monks you’re talking about. We just avoid lifestyle inflation when possible and maybe don’t see the need for cable.

    For true wealth, yes you need to be bold. But many PF bloggers are also investing, so I don’t think any are suffering, even by your definition of suffer vs. being bold.

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