Rent More. Own Less.

Wanderer
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Wanderer

The Wanderer retired from his engineering job at a major Silicon Valley semiconductor company at the age of 33. He now travels the world, seeking out knowledge from other wealthy people, so that he can teach people how to become Financially Independent themselves.
Wanderer
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FIRECracker was supposed to write today’s post, as she does every Monday, but since she’d been fiendishly working on her Chautauqua UK talk, coming up in August, I’ll be taking over today’s post completely of my own free will (and NOT because she totally bullied me into it).

So without further ado, here goes:

Have you ever noticed how certain people just have bad shit happen to them so much more often than other people? Financially, I mean, I’m not talking about health issues or something, but there’s always some people who just can’t seem to catch a lucky break if their life depended on it.

GODDAMMIT! NOT AGAIN! Image by Tony Webster @ Wikipedia

These are the people who are constantly complaining about a pipe that burst, so they had to run to get a plumber, but then that means they have to pull their kid out of daycare, and then on their way they get into a fender bender, and now they have a repair bill to take care of, and on and on. They’re trying to make things work but shit just keeps happening to them outside their control. It’s like they ran over a bunch of black cats in a previous life.

And then there are others who just to cruise through life. At the end of every month they always have money left over and their big decision is whether to put it in a savings account or go out for a fancy dinner.

If you’re like us, you probably think the answer is simple: Some people are Spendy, and others are Frugal. Spendy people are the first group who are always running on empty while Frugal people are the second group. What could be simpler?

That’s what I thought too. Until we started this blog and hundreds of people starting writing into us asking us to analyze their personal financial situation.

And as we did more of these, a third group started to emerge that I couldn’t explain: People who were Frugal, yet shit kept happening to them.

These are the people who will send their spending to us in a ton of detail, indicating they actually kept on top of the finances, and will do things like cut out all their eating out to put $500 a month in an emergency fund, but then will keep having emergencies each and every month. One month it’s the A/C. The next it’s a flat tire. Then the next month the cat is sick and needs to go to the vet.

“No matter how hard I budget, I just can’t seem to get ahead. Shit keeps happening” is something this group tends to say.

And what I realized over time is that the thing that determined this “Unlucky” group is not their Frugalness but rather how much shit they owned.

What Shit Really Costs

When people buy something big and shiny, like a flat-screen TV or a car, they think that this is what that item costs.

It’s actually not. If you own something like a car, you have to feed it with gas. You have to protect it in a garage so that nobody steals it. You have to insure it in case you crash it, and on and on and on. So your actual ownership costs look like this.

You have not only the initial cost, but also these other costs that recur over time, sometime even randomly. And generally, the bigger the initial cost, the bigger the other costs are as well.

For example, let’s take a bunch of typical items you might buy, like a hair dryer, a cell phone, a car, and a house. A hair dryer typically only costs the buy price and that’s it. But a cell phone, you need to buy it, and then feed it continuously (the data plan). But you don’t need to insure it, and there’s usually no ongoing maintenance cost. A car, on the other hand, you HAVE to insure. And maintain. And repair when it breaks. And of course, for a house, all those costs are there and are ginormous.

Item Buy Price Ongoing Cost To Use Ongoing Cost To Maintain Insurance Repairs
Hair Dryer $ 0 0 0 0
Cell Phone $$ $ 0 0 $
Car $$$ $ $$ $$ $$
House $$$$ $$$ $$$ $$$ $$$

But these are only costs that apply to you when you OWN that item. If you own a car and you hit a pole, you are responsible for getting it repaired. But if you rent a car via a car sharing service like AutoShare and you hit a pole, that’s someone else’s damned problem to fix. And this effect is even bigger for housing, where unexpected repair costs like the roof leaking can cost $10k+ to fix.

But don’t think that I’m just using this as a thinly veiled excuse to bash housing. There are plenty of other things that have this effect. I know someone who collects art, and he regularly stresses out about getting the right display case for his paintings, getting the right lighting, spending money insuring it, etc.

And I have another friend who collects purses. One time I was visiting and after she was done showing off her purse collection, she took me to a place that dry-cleans purses.

That’s right: a dry-cleaner. For purses.

When I asked why she was spending money on this in my usual subtle way of pointing directly at the cashier’s face and screaming “WHHHHHYYYYYYY?!?!?” she replied “Well, I need this! How else am I going to keep my purse in showroom condition?”

So yeah. Purse Dry Cleaners. Apparently a thing that exists.

But anyway, enough about me and what a terrible friend I am. What I noticed over time was that the less items people owned, and the more they rented, the less they tended to get hit with these crazy recurring expenses that keep setting them back. Which is why I came up with 1 simple rule that will make you richer.

Rent More. Own Less.

Types of Spending

There are 3 basic types of spending that can occur in someone’s personal finances.

  1. Baseline Spending. Things that regularly occur every month, like food, rent, etc.
  2. Splurges. This is optional spending for luxuries, like fancy booze or a trip to Hawaii.
  3. Emergency Spending. These are unexpected expenses that come up randomly, like a broken window or a leaky roof.

These 3 types of spending and which ones dominate your budget determine how “in control” and happy people generally feel about their finances. A typical budget of someone who rents most of the big items like housing, cars, etc. tends to look something like this.

This is spending data I copied over from when we were still working. Rent was $800 a month, our other baseline spending was about $1500 a month, and twice a year we went on vacation costing around $5000.

But this is what the finances look like for someone who owns those big items like houses, cars, and *eye roll* designer shoe collections.

 

Every few months, something unexpected would happen to something expensive they owned, and they’d have to spend money fixing it, or repairing it, or cleaning it.

And here’s the big difference between these two types of spending patterns. Despite the fact that the total amount of money spent is actually the same in these 2 examples, one person is far happier than the other.

When you spend money on a splurge, you enjoy the Heck out of it. If you know a vacation’s coming up, you anticipate the upcoming trip to Hawaii or whatever, you enjoy it while you’re there, and then afterwards you’re happy reminiscing about what a kickass trip that was.

When you spend money on an emergency, however, itΒ never makes you happy. Because first of all, unlike splurge spending, emergency spending isn’t your choice. You were forced to do it for reasons outside your control. And second, if your car breaks down and you have to spend $5000 to fix it, once the spending is over you don’t get a fancier car back, you just get your old beater back but with the problem fixed. So you just spent money to be right back to where you already were.

So if we were to overlay happiness over the renter’s chart, it might look something like this.

Note: The axis for “Happiness” is on the right, and I’ve defined 0% as a baseline “normal” level of happiness. 10% means they’re 10% happier than normal, -10% means they’re 10% sadder than normal.

So the renter floats along at a normal amount of happiness, and as their vacation approaches, they get happier. Then the vacation arrives and they get even happier. And then when they come back their happiness level gradually comes back down to normal and the cycle continues. So they get these happiness spikes caused by their splurge spending.

Now look at the owner. If we were to overlay happiness over their chart, it might look something like this.

Every time an unexpected expense happens, their happiness goes down because they just set a bunch of money on fire and got nothing in return. In the months where nothing bad happens, their happiness starts to float back to normal, so in theory a long enough stretch of nothing bad happening will result in a normal amount of happiness, but in practice because they own so much shit and bad stuff keeps happening to this shit, their happiness never really gets to float back to normal. Hence, they’re seemingly stressed and upsetΒ all the time.

So What To Do?

So what is our unlucky bastard supposed to do? Simple. If something you own never breaks and doesn’t keep costing you money each month, keep it. But if you constantly find yourself having to patch and repair and insure and maintain something, sell it and rent it instead. This will convert a source of continuous unexpected spending into a more normal, predictable spending pattern. Once you have that, you’ll be able to breathe easier since your life isn’t a rolling series of fires you need to put out.

Rent More. Own Less.

And once you’ve mastered that rule, you can apply a Second Rule in kicking your budget’s ass, which we’ll reveal in next week’s Monday article.

 

81 thoughts on “Rent More. Own Less.”

  1. I definitely agree with you about renting more things, or simply having less things. If you end up renting a ton of things, but life still gets cumbersome.

    Given I’m focused on building income and wealth and maximizing lifestyle, I do believe in buying utility, and renting luxury.

    1. I raised two kids pushing a stroller, wearing one on my back, and taking transit or walking everywhere. Did grocery shopping with a double stroller and a backpack. This kept me fit and my kids learned what shopping is about and that if they whine for candy at the check out line, they won’t be getting it. You only need a car occasionally – family trips/outings, heavy shopping trips at Costco, etc. That’s what Uber or ride sharing are for. If you want to save, you have to be a badass like MMM.

  2. This article seems counter-intuitive when it comes to many people’s second biggest expense: cars. If you follow the conclusions drawn in the article, the best thing to do would be to lease your car, as it’s a “rental,” the costs are fixed, and any major defects are someone else’s problem.

    At the same time, it’s also the most expensive way to have a car constantly available. You’re continuously paying for the steepest part of the depreciation curve, you’re paying the highest cost possible in insurance, and the payments are perpetual. When you buy a car, be it new or good-condition used, you get to enjoy (usually quite a few) years of reliable service at a point in the car’s life where depreciation is minor after the initial steep depreciation is over. As one example, my 18 year old sports car is worth about $2,000 less than when I bought it 6 years ago. I put money into it during that time, but nowhere near what leasing would’ve cost. Depreciation, maintenance, and repairs have come out to about $100/month, and that includes voluntary suspension and brake upgrades – I drive the car enthusiastically and have done about 12 hours on the race track with it. It’s in better shape now than when I bought it. And I pay $500/year for full insurance on it, a fraction of what a leased new car would cost.

    You could make similar calculations with a newer non-sports car to the point that in the car world it’s taken as a given that buying and holding a car is cheaper than constantly leasing (renting).

    If you’re a city-dweller who only needs or wants a car a few times a year, sure, renting is cheaper than owning one, but then you’re comparing having a car a few days/weeks out of the year to having one constantly available, and those are not the same thing.

    1. I think their statement about “renting” a car is unclear for people unfamiliar with “car sharing” services, which is what Wanderer is referring to.
      Yes, leasing a car is expensive; however, new car sharing services are very affordable–speaking from experience. Zip, Car2Go, CommuneAuto (here in Quebec) offer cars throughout an urban area; you pay a reasonable membership fee and then reserve a car whenever you need it. You pay small fees for the distance you drive; you return the car to its safe parking space when you’re done and simply forget about it. For us, even gas is included in the fees. There are no worries about maintenance, insurance or whatever. It’s totally the frugal way to go. We will never own a car again.

      1. Correct, I was referring to car sharing services that are popping up all over the place, but it can also apply to leasing a car vs owning it. I’ll tackle this in a future article.

      2. Again, that works well in the city (where you arguably don’t need a car to begin with). How does it work when you live (or want to go) somewhere outside the home area where there is no car sharing nearby? Even Car2Go with its weedy little lunchbox-sized Smarts costs $60/day (plus tax). That adds up quickly when you’re using it regularly, and you still have to figure out how you’re going to get to and from where the car is parked.

        You also pay a deductible for car damage ($600 for Communauto, $1,000 for Car2Go), so you do have some responsibility even though you don’t own the car.

  3. I think this logic applies to material objects. Just own less in general, be frugal and have fewer possessions.

    For homes, I feel it kinda misses the point. If you set yourself up for success and buy a home you can afford, then rent out the remaining rooms to cover the costs of your mortgage, maybe some bills or even the entire housing costs…then you’ll be in a better position financially. After 2 years or so, make that home a rental and repeat the process.

    1. Hey if owning a house MAKES you money and you can control the unexpected surprise expenses cause you’re super handy like MMM, go for it. But if you don’t have those skills and a pipe bursting costs you hundreds of dollars, maybe being a homeowner isn’t for you.

  4. Hi Millenial Revolution,

    I really like your blog and totally believed in your lifestyle design. Because reading your blog, I have begun to save more and am making for attempts to cut down my spendy lifestyle. However, I can’t seem to make sense out of a few things this post and blog advocate. For instance, I live in the city, I’m young and single, part of my lifestyle is going out a lot to socialize with other people in my city. Car and apartment are must have’s. I don’t know how renting a car will cut down on my spending. If anything it’ll increase my monthly cost if I decide to get rid of my car now and rent another one ( it’ll add about 350-400 per month, numbers based on my friend who’s renting her car now). As for the apartment, the rent is 1,400 on average for a 500sq apartment in the city. It’s almost equal to buying a small condo with a 30yrs mortgage. I don’t have any fancy needs, I just want to have the basics like washer/ dryers in unit and garage protect against snow and hail ( happens every year here) I’m wondering what’s your take on the whole situation.

    1. Heya,

      I have a strong hunch that what they mean by “renting” a car is simply using car2go or Evo or equivalent – Very different than leasing a car. I do car2 go in Vancouver and I spend maybe 20$ a month to do grocery trips. It’s 32cts a min and caps out at 12$/hr and that means if I go with my boyfriend then it’s surprisingly Cheaper than taking a bus or skytrain. I’ve been car free for 5 years and I can’t believe how much more money I can rely on having each month.

    2. I was referring to using public transportation and using a car sharing service like Autoshare to “rent” a car. I only used the car when I needed to haul groceries like twice a month, so my car costs were something around $40 a month.

      And you’re making the exact mistake I was warning about when you compare your rent to just the mortgage cost. There are a TON of unexpected costs that come up when you own a condo instead of renting. Just ask any poor condo owner in Toronto who’s been hit with $10k special assessments for no reason.

      1. that’s true about any kind of strata situation, you need to consider that strata fees when weighing out the pros and cons of renting vs buying, you can’t just say “renting is the same cost as a mortgage” because the strata fees will add hundreds of dollars a month and it varies widely depending on the age of the building and the amenities. New town houses with no amenities (pool, clubhouses, etc.) will have the lowest fees, condos have higher fees and the bigger your unit the higher your fees are within that strata. Older buildings can have really high fees the highest I’ve heard of is $500 but I’m sure at could go higher. I owned a townhouse for 6 years and during that time the strata fees went from $135/month to $217/month and there were also 2 special assessments but each unit only had to pay about $1200 for those they weren’t huge but everyone knows they can be.

  5. I don’t really buy this whole spending on a house you own makes you unhappy notion. Every time I make a big spend on my house I feel happier for doing it. For example I replaced all the windows in my house, sure it wasn’t cheap, but it also wasn’t some emergency. I knew the old windows were crappy and I saved money to buy new ones. Now that I have them I’m happier because they look nicer, more functional, and more energy efficient. They will make my heating and cooling bills slightly lower for many years to come.

    Also, I got rid of my ridiculous hot water tank rental, and purchased a tankless water heater. It was expensive too, but now I don’t have to pay a monthly rental fee for a giant tank that was taking up precious floor space in basement, now I have a small tankless heater mounted on the wall and it gives me more room in my basement to hang up laundry, and it uses less natural gas which saves me money and makes me happier too.

    The only way I could see these purchases making anyone unhappy is if they were putting themselves into debt to pay for it. And if that is the case then it is not the purchase that is making them unhappy, but the debt.

    1. I think you may be missing the point. I used to own and now rent (proceeds of sale invested and making me money). I was in the same boat as you and I agree, they are planned expenses for your home as you can estimate when you need them. You expect it and there is little stress other than some grumbling about the money tossed at the issue. Now, current state. I rent. I know my exact cost for that. Windows need replacing, hot water needs to be changed, etc…NOT my problem. Hello landlord, please fix. If said landlord is a douchebag and decides to become a slumlord and not take care of things, then I move and find something that suits me at my own pace. Also, there’s the landlord tenant board to back me up if it really comes to that. My only expense is the move if that’s where things go, nothing more, which is not significant. It’s also a planned expense I expect it so I have little stress. If I don’t have to move and things are good, happy dance as I saved the move money for a year. Windows $10-15,000, hot water tank, $1000-$2500. Replace shingles on roof. $10,000 give or take. That just cramps my budget so no thanks. And yes, my rent is the same that I paid for having a house but now that same equity is earning me dividends and potential capital gains which costs my housing costs, lower and lower and lower. I respect that you’re happy to spend on your house and if that works for you, great. For me, I’ll pass. Been there, done that. I’m happy the shackles are off now. 😊

      1. You get happy buying new windows? I don’t think we can be friends.

        But honestly, if those purchases make you happy, then they’re really splurges for you aren’t they? I’m talking about when the windows get SMASHED and you HAVE to replace them.

  6. This reminds me of the $17k we had to dump into repairing the foundation of our 95-year-old house a couple years back. $17k into a sleek new bathroom or a stunningly-landscaped backyard would’ve been alright! …but no, we spent five figures so that our house wouldn’t drop out from under itself. That blew.

    On the bright side, every time I go downstairs to do laundry I see all those I-beams carefully set to prevent anything short of a nuclear disaster (we live near DC; it could happen) from knocking down our house, so that’s cool, at least. Sort of.

  7. I really enjoyed this post. The car is definitely a big expense to maintain (like the $600 I just paid for tires). But it even goes down to the tiny items for me that I often rant to myself about. Like new batteries for the remote, dryer sheets & laundry soap for the machine, soil for my plants, a new screen for my phone (because I just dropped it. the plus is that I have learned how to repair the phones myself for reduced price). It’s always something. In my circumstances, every little thing can be a pain.

    I don’t know if rent more works overall for me. but it definitely does for the home because I am not responsible to fix. And rent is cheaper than owning right now.

    The message I would take away from this post is: are the items I own and/or purchasing conducive to the lifestyle I want to live? Am I willing to spend the money to maintain?

    1. And is that thing a net cause of joy and happiness, or panic and frustration? If something makes you happy, keep it. If not, get rid of it and rent it only when you need it.

  8. Owning less stuff is a great way to start getting life under control. I’ve known several of these kinds of people that always seem to run into trouble…one thing I’ve always noticed about them, they’re not “handy”.

    They always need someone else to do the fixing, or the cleaning, or the repairing. So they have to pay people high prices to do that for them. “Handy” people can do a lot of this for themselves.

    When the budget gets tight due to unexpected expenses, handy people usually come out on top.

    1. This is bang on… the cost for the simplest car repairs these days is outrageous. Over 1000$ to do all sets of brakes pads on a car? That doesn’t even include rotors!

      Whereas the cost to do it yourself breaks down this way;

      Torque wrench – 50$ (1/2 inch drive)
      Jack & Stands – 50$ (buy a simple 2 ton set)
      New brake pads, front and rear – 150$ approx (depends on quality etc)
      Tube of grease – 10$
      Watching about 100 YouTube videos – Free

      So for about 260$ and a bit of elbow grease, you can do your own brakes. This is just an example… Please trolls, don’t post for the sake of posting or shit on my made up prices. My point is to completely agree with Mr Tako. I fix everything myself, from my fridge, to my coffee maker, to my computers (I can’t believe the computer repair prices at Staples).

      Do it yourself… save money.

      1. “Do it yourself… save money” is true for many things, and cars’ brakes are one of the better examples. It’s true that a simple brake job requires few tools, skills, or time, and garages charge a fortune for them. It’s actually their bread and butter for revenue.

        You have to consider the safety issue and make sure you don’t get in over your head, but my 1999 Mazda hasn’t seen a garage for anything but tires, an alignment, and to weld a broken exhaust in the 6 years I’ve owned it. Brakes were $250 (pads and rotors) for stuff that’s good enough for the race track. Suspension was done in about 4-5 hours.

        All the information, including forums to answer your questions, are readily available. No doubt this is true for home repairs and renovations and all kinds of other things, too. I managed to fix my Keurig coffee maker just by Googling the problem I had. I changed the battery of my iPhone in about 20 minutes and $25.

    2. Yeah, totally agree. MMM would come out on top owning a house because emergency costs don’t apply to him. When a pipe bursts for him, he just rubs his hands with glee and gets to work. By the time it’s done, the pipe is fixed and for some reason now generates power somehow and also heats the house with the geothermal power, and now somehow he’s MAKING money.

  9. I’m completely with you. Not only do I see a sharp contrast between my happiness and the stress levels of my friends with a lot of stuff , but also a huge difference in our amount of free time. And free time is very important to me :). This past Sunday one of my friends was complaining she had to work on her house for the 5th weekend in a row (good on them for DIYing, but still) before she has to do maintenance on her husband’s boat (yes boat :). they’re fancy). I read a book all day. It was glorious.

    1. Completely agree! Unless you love house maintenance and yard work and that’s what you want to do in your free time, owning a house does rob you of your free time. Free time that you used to have to enjoy all your hobbies! We think about selling all the time and the day that the downside of having less free time outweighs the benefits (and for us there are quite a few) of owning, we will sell.

      And I agree with “TheOneInDebt”‘s commment. Even the little things can become a burden, the more stuff you have. Also, as homeowners, it seems we are always fixing something. It seriously never ends. If it’s not something on the house, it’s something used for the house, like a lawn mower…

  10. I’ll add one more piece here from my previous comment. Owning stuff was never liberating for me. Owning nothing except my investment portfolio is. Also, some people will always look at the negative side of things no matter what. I just don’t have time or patience anymore for that. Life is short. Be happy. That is definitely within your control. Just accept it. πŸ˜ƒ

  11. Wanderer and FireCracker, I understand your stance on renting over buying, but can you provide your opinion on being the renter? For example, what is your opinion on being a landlord? Yes, the landlord owns the house and has to maintain a material thing, but they are earning money on the material thing. Do you condone owning something other than index funds to generate an income stream?

    1. If you’re Paula Pant from http://www.affordanything.com and can calculate Cap Rates in your sleep, or if you’re MMM and enjoy fixing burst pipes, then yes. If you don’t know what a Cap Rate is, then absolutely not. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that a rental real estate is a passive investment, because it absolutely isn’t.

  12. Had to leave a comment because I noticed a few fairly negative comments. I think this article presents a great philosophy to follow. Live simply, have less stress. I think maybe some readers are taking it a bit too literally. Obviously, it would be silly to rent a car everyday or even lease a car… But Wanderer is right, the more “things” you own, and the more expensive they are, the more stress you are creating in your life. I own a house now and I often miss the days when I had absolutely nothing to worry about regarding my “home” other than paying the monthly rent. I got lucky so far though, in the 7 years I’ve owned my home, I haven’t had any emergency spending to do. But when I purchased that house, I set myself up with more risk. Risk, that I could have to sink all my precious savings into emergency repairs or, my biggest fear, a natural disaster that is not covered by insurance! Something to think about for sure.

    1. People are taking it literally, because Wanderer *literally* said that renting is better than owning for all kinds of things, including cars.

      I’m all for the idea of living simply, of minimizing unneeded possessions, of considering the TCO (total cost of ownership) before buying something, and living well within one’s means. If he had said, “Many people don’t need a car, and they’re expensive,” I’d agree with that completely, but I continue to take issue with the stance that it’s better or cheaper to rent/lease one if you’ve decided that you need or want one. As far as I can tell, car sharing only works well if you need a car only rarely and for short distances, and if you don’t care about driving satisfaction. Those things are all fine, but they don’t apply to everyone who’s looking to use a car.

      Similarly, I feel like the anti-house bias is creeping in a bit too much here, too, and that’s coming from a renter. There are lots of places where house prices aren’t in a bubble, where owning one’s house can make excellent financial sense in addition to the other advantages of owning one’s own house. As long as you’re buying a structurally-sound house which you can afford, and plan on living there for a while, it’s hard to go too far wrong buying a house in Canada.

      1. “It’s hard to go too far wrong buying a house in Canada.”
        BWAHAHAHAHAHA ask the people in Toronto who just saw 15% of their equity shaved off over the last 2 months.

        1. They didn’t lose anything unless they just happened to have to sell it right at that moment.

          Again, I qualified with “can afford it,” and “plan on living there for a while.” Basically for people looking at a house for what it is: long-term shelter, and not a slot machine.

          My brother and his wife bought a 7 figure house in Oakville a year or two ago. They budgeted so that they can pay for it with one income (both he and his wife make good money), and it’s a house in a location that they want to raise a family in. The paper value of the house declining in the short or even medium term doesn’t affect them much.

          And here we’re risking Toronto-syndrome again, where people pretend that there aren’t plenty of places not suffering from the problems that that particular city is facing.

  13. Interesting advice.

    I immediately thought of my sister when I read this. She tries so hard and nothing (well very few things) seem to work out for her. It makes me feel so bad I don’t even want to tell her about my successes.

    Last week her car window broke and air filters needed to be replaced. The month prior she had to replace all of her tires. But she needs her car everyday. She rents a room pretty far from the city because that’s what she can afford. There is no public transportation there (because gentrification has moved poor people to the suburbs and previous suburb dwellers all had cars). So, she has to drive to the train station, pay to park her car, then head into the city for work. A few months ago someone threw a large rock into her car to break-in damaging the front door and the window. Someone asked before why I pay my sisters car note. This is why. Things always seem to unexpectantly happen to her and I don’t always have a solution for helping. I did suggest she let the insurance fix the car repairs since that’s why she pays it, but she didn’t. 😑

    I’m sometimes less reluctant to help my family members who don’t take my advice, but who the hell wants their baby sister, daughter, aunt telling them what to do all of the time. No one in my family; and to be honest I totally get that.

    I think about all of the kids I grew up with and we were all pretty much in the same boat. We were all poor, none of our parents were educated or knew much about finances, and yet a few of us have done better. Thanks to FB, I know what’s going on with most of the kids I went to school with that are still alive and success doesn’t seem to have had anything to do with intellect, determination, or a desire to succeed. I’ve noted 2 things:

    1. Successful people had a mentor/someone else to guide them. Mentors told them what they needed to know or what they didn’t realize they didn’t know. Helped them navigate their education, family issues, and other things.

    2. They were willing to listen.

    I was hella determined to get out of the south side of Chicago as a kid. I literally used to repeat to myself on my long 1.5-2 hour walk home in the cold, “My life won’t always be like this.” However, I think it was my social skills that helped the most. I’ve had mentors throughout my academic and professional journey and allies in every workplace. Who knows what my life would have been like without them. People have offered me great advice, I recognized it as good advice, and I took it.

    My sister is much smarter than I am. She has a heart of gold and did her best to protect and look out for me when my mother didn’t even though she was a child herself. But people being as awful as they are sometimes (and even worse to children), she survived by isolating herself and avoiding people. So, she lacks in social skills, which makes it damn near impossible for her to seek out and find a mentor. Believe me we’ve discussed it often. So, she doesn’t know how to find a job in her field and capitalize on her education and skill set. When life (“read crazy sh*t”) happens, she doesn’t have anyone to help her think her way through it. So, she has to rely on her own thinking or maybe listen to her baby sister at times.

    All and all, I think poverty and financial strain are pretty complicated.

    I think the best thing someone can do is mentor/ teach someone else and help them to think through how to better their lives and those of others. That’s why I appreciate this blog and those who comment on the posts!

    1. That is a really great point MAS. I know with the right mentor I could have succeeded much more than I have, someone who could recognize my skills and guide me into a career that would suit me rather than my parents trying to force me to follow my dad’s career path which I rebelled against. In hindsight I think I would have excelled in an engineering/design technologist career, particularly mechanical. It is something my dad has encouraged me to pursue in recent years but not really worth pursuing anymore at 30 years old as I am semi retired and now have the luxury of working from home when I do work and the freedom to passion projects rather than chasing some high paying career that would have a bunch of annoying elements like annoying coworkers and office politics.

      I have a lot of friends who are aspiring artists and it is largely about who you know in that field since the market is so flooded. Having a good mentor would be a huge leg up.

    2. Your case study is actually what inspired this post, because there are readers who also grew up in the projects, and have a similar story to your sister’s, and it got me thinking “Why is MAS not complaining about stuff blowing up all the time and those other readers are?”

      You also inspired the “Using your 401(k) to pay you student loan” post. So when we wrote to you calling you inspiring, we really meant it.

      1. That’s so cool. Thanks for telling me!

        I’ve been thinking about this more and I wonder how much delayed gratification plays into it.

        I’m trying to talk my sister into staying in her current housing situation, but she’s really unhappy. I told her that if one thing goes wrong she won’t be able to afford rent and to wait until she has a better job or more saved up.

        I’ve definitely been in bad living situations, but it motivated me to work harder to get to the point where I knew that a few setbacks wouldn’t force me to choose between rent and food. This was especially tough in graduate school because I wanted to focus on school and not drama. … but then again that’s why I took out student loans so πŸ˜‚ maybe I should’ve waited longer still myself.

  14. This is inspiring me to create an “unexpected” tag in my budget tracker and do some analysis on how much is “expensive thing” related!

  15. We live and work downtown. We have gone from owning two cars, down to one and now none for 11 years and counting. This is a lifestyle choice that saves us more than $10,000 per year. We have Fitbit to count our steps, a granny cart to haul groceries plus public transportation and ride shares to get around if needed. While the cost saving is nice, one of the best things is not having to think about the obligation of possessing a car. Like a child, you would constantly wonder if it is safe and secure, healthy, needs washing or feeding. One less thing to think about in our busy lives.

    1. Can you imagine owning a Rolls Royce or one of those crazy expensive things? I’d be petrified of driving it anywhere! If I scrape the paint job I’m probably out $10k.

      1. That’s all relative. My guess is that the typical Rolls-Royce owner, which costs about $400k, can afford to scrape up his car more easily than the typical C-Class Mercedes owner, which costs about $45k. You don’t buy a car like that unless you’re worth very big money.

        I’m not saying it’s worth it, and I’m the first to find it silly when I see guys cramming their Ferraris and what-not into traffic on St Catherine Street during Grand Prix weekend, but the average Rolls Royce owner isn’t counting his pennies in order to make his payments or pay the repair bills at the end of the month.

        In the meantime, I’m sure there are people in the (third) world who find it crazy that I have a $9,000 car which I file under “hobbies” in my expenses, but it’s well within my means, and I consider it to be worth the expense.

        I still park at the far end of parking lots to keep it from getting scratched, though.

  16. While we own two cars, and a Motorcycle, they are all remnants of our previous choices. We’re firmly in the housing rental camp. And we’re shedding items constantly to attempt to trim it all down. I will say, most folks I know that own houses and tons of other stuff, just spend most of their time taking care of their stuff. We’ve made it a point to just enjoy our lives as much as possible, that doesn’t typically include taking care of and cleaning stuff.

    1. I know! FIRECracker’s parents deliberately don’t travel because they’re like “But what if something happens to the house!”
      I’m like “WHAT? You’re just gonna stay here to guard the house?!? Who owns who here?”

  17. Perfect timing- I was just reading about how appreciating what you have right now (without feeling the need to constantly buy things) can help you achieve a more fulfilling life and avoid hedonic adaptation in “A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy” (recommended by Mr. Money Mustache!)

    Vanessa

  18. I only paid $1,100 for my whole roof replacement. So booyah! πŸ˜‰

    Of course I keep dumping $600/yr into homeowners insurance and they finally paid up (about $4,500 toward the roof). About time they paid out some $$$.

    But yes, when you own something it’s always a hassle. So far I don’t mind it too much with our primary residence because the fixed costs are very low and I’m able to anticipate the “unexpected” pretty well. I’ve already mentally written the $4,500 check to replace my AC and furnace in the next 5 years and $2,300+ to upgrade my hot water heater to something up to code that works (perhaps in a year or two, or perhaps after 20+ years).

    Same story with the car – it’s cheap to own a lightly used Toyota but it’s always something even if it’s just the routine maintenance stuff and state mandatory inspections. Soooo glad we dropped from 2 cars down to 1, which cut my “time spent managing cars” in half.

    1. OK Justin, the rules don’t apply to you. You’re some crazy animal that somehow finds a way to hack the hell out of every transaction you do. I read a BI article about you that said you got a student loan at 0.75%. Everyone else has student loan rates of 7-8%. I still don’t know how the fuck you pulled that off.

      1. Right place, right time. North Carolina’s loan provider offers 2% off if you pay on time (like, I guess they’re okay if you just don’t pay your loan, but you pay full rate?? πŸ™‚ ). And another 0.25% when you pay with automatic draft (how else would you pay a 30 year liability?). So a 3% rate that I locked in for 30 years becomes a 0.75% rate. And now I pay based on my income and household size, which means $0 payments right now while the kids are in the house. And someone once accused Canada as being socialist πŸ™‚ In the US, we’re socialist for wealthy people and upper middle income folks.

          1. Yes and no. Simple interest until you leave the IBR then they add it to the balance. So no compounding on that interest, but I’ll eventually have the 0.75% interest added to my principal balance. When inflation is running 1.9-2% per year, I’ll gladly take a 0.75% interest rate and make 1%+ real return πŸ™‚

            And under current law, the remaining balance will be forgiven after 25 years of repayment (possibly less if they ever streamline all the different income based repayment plans since some have 10 or 20 years of repayment then forgiveness).

  19. This post reminds me of someone I know who has too many pets. They have so many pets that the cat shelter I used to volunteer at wouldn’t adopt any cats out to them because of how many pets they listed on their application (birds, geckos, cats, etc.). This person doesn’t make enough money to support all the pets she owns and she is always trying to guilt people into buying art commissions from her and recently started ebegging on some crowd funding site to try to raise money for vet bills because one of her pets got sick and blew through her emergency vet fund and then another one got sick and she couldn’t pay for it. I am all for having pets and I have one who is like my own child (and the closest I will ever be to having children as I don’t want kids of my own) but if you can’t afford to look after an animal then don’t get one and instead give that animal the opportunity to have someone adopt it that can afford to give it a good home.

    1. Yeah, pets and kids also have this property, but I deliberately avoided that comparison. Because, what’s my advice here? Sell the kids? Eat the pets?

      1. Sometimes I wonder how often people find this blog and look at their situation and then regret having kids. I think that much like home ownership, people get brainwashed into having children as if it’s something they are supposed to do. I don’t think that it’s a case with all or even most people but I think that there have got to be quite a few out there who either caved to the pressure from their family/peers to have kids or who maybe didn’t want kids but their spouse did so they had them and being surrounded by many other like minded people they might not even question their decisions until they encounter the type of out of the box thinking this blog offers. I often suspect that is the reason behind a lot of the the vile comments: people who have taken the conventional route of a house they can’t afford, kids, mountain of debt and then see what you guys have achieved and are jealous, they want what you have but feel like it is too late for them.

    2. The whole pets things was my first thought while reading this. Pets are wonderful and have tremendous emotional value. That being said, I don’t own one because my lifestyle isn’t pet-friendly (too much travel). So – I “rent” other people’s pets by housesitting or petsitting, and offering to walk the neighbors’ dogs. I get a pet fix and the pet get loved…and it costs me nothing.

      1. Hi MarciaB, that is a great solution. Another way you could do that is by volunteering at an animal shelter. My uncle used to walk dogs for the SPCA and he said they were always looking for people to walk dogs. I used to volunteer at a no kill cat shelter as a cleaner/feeder but after the cleaning and feeding was done we were welcome to stay and socialize with other volunteers over coffee or socialize with the cats at the shelter. It was a great experience and so rewarding to get to know the different long term cats personalities and see shy cats transform into attention loving cats as they got more comfortable there. I would still volunteer there if I hadn’t moved away. The place a live now is really remote and there isn’t a shelter nearby.

  20. Hi Wanderer,

    Love your blog, especially the investment section. Excellent!

    I think you overlooked the most important thing to rent versus own discussion – kids! The cost of ownership is enormous – daycare if both parents are working or surviving on one income with a stay-at-home parent, the cost of locating yourself in a decent school district (important in the U.S.), costs of all of the lessons, activities, etc. while they grow. Of course, college costs. And that’s if things are going well! There are plenty of parents who have children with expensive unanticipated health problems that aren’t covered by insurance and/or require a lifetime of care.

    I highly recommend renting children a few times a year as needed for family gatherings so you can avoid those pesky questions from relatives about when you are going to have kids. Undoubtedly there are other situations where it’s handy to have a tot or two in with you to “fit in”. And you can skip the teen years and college entirely, just go for the fully functional adult children, who may even come with rental grandchildren to show off!

    My point is people can have a mismatch between their incomes and expenses that have nothing to do with being owners versus renters. In fact, they may rent everything and still not come out ahead. If I have a beef with the FIRE movement, its that a lot of the well-intentioned rhetoric ignores people in less than ideal situations more often than not brought about by circumstances that are not their fault. I think the FIRE folks need to step out of their bubble more often if they really do want to reach “regular” people, who may not have always made the best decisions or had the best luck but they are trying to cope the best they can. I just hope those who’ve made it to FI can understand the rest of us.

    1. Readers like MAS started off in a less-than-ideal situation brought about by circumstances that aren’t their fault. And we analyzed her situation and now she has a pathway to FI in 10 years.

      The difference was that she actually DID something about it. Nobody can change what happened in the past, they can only change what they do about it.

  21. This is going to be weird: my first comment on something written by Wanderer, not Firecracker. Go easy man.

    This post really resonated with me. I was born and raised in an automobile-is-survival prairie city, where a car is closer to a need because public transit is el-crap-o. For centres with good transit, imagine having to wait for 1 hour for a bus during non-peak hours, and no “night bus” during wee hours. Yeah – rock on Edmonton: your public transit blows. Case in point: the clusterfuck of your LRT expansion project. When Montreal with its crumbling bridges can laugh at you in English and French (“ha-ha” and “hihi”) because your public transit project screwed BOTH users and commuters, you know you have a problem. But I digress…

    So I had a car since I was 16. In fact, I had three cars, and even though my last car was a reliability dream, I still had the emotional swings in the owner graph above:

    – Regular maintenance? Oil change = minor hit to happiness. Less wine this weekend.
    – 64K servicing for $1,000 = major hit to happiness. FUUUUUCK!! Why didn’t I budget this?
    – Rock in the windshield = what the shit? I just shelled out 1K for my 64K maintenance.
    – Invisible-chip-in-the-windshield-that-spidered-because-of-the-heater-in-dead-of-Edmonton-winters-three-weeks-after-I-replaced-the-first-windshield = what the double shit?
    – Door’ed in a parking lot two weeks after I got my new windshield = me wondering what crimes I committed in a former life.

    So when I moved to Montreal and left my car behind, I was somewhat anxious on being able to get around AND was (significantly) more anxious about my image: “What will people think of me if I have no car? Public transit is for the slovenly!! The metro? GAAAASSSSP!!”

    But I pulled up my pull-ups and left my car to collect dust in a friend’s garage. The short term withdrawal-hit to my happiness eventually normalized and then started to climb when I realized that (at least in Montreal) public transit was way better that driving! It was more efficient, cheaper, with no shame, and I could car share when I had to run to Club Price for a 20 kilo bag of quinoa.

    So you’d think I had figured something out, right? Nope! And this is why I look up to monkeys: they LEARN.

    I went back to Edmonton, dusted off my car and replaced the oil, charged the battery and drove it all the way back to Montreal with one of my besties in tow. We enjoyed a pretty awesome road trip and I got MAJOR happiness boost… with a five-day shelf life. Anyone ever try and figure out parking signs in Montreal?

    https://shawglobalnews.files.wordpress.com/2016/12/ddoparkingsignsresized.jpg?quality=70&strip=all&w=720&h=480&crop=1

    After three parking tickets in two weeks, I started renting an underground parking space at $150 a month… just to never use my car. Like ever.

    The one time I went to drive it, the battery was dead from non-use! So I got a boost, and then let the battery die again after many MORE months of non-use.

    And did I learn? FUCK NO!! I went to Canadian Tire (on the metro no less) and bought a $120 BoosterPack so I could ALWAYS jump start my car, once again proving the superiority of monkeys. I used it twice. Amazing ROI.

    While Buffet clearly ain’t got nuthin on me, I (eventually) learned and sold that bloody albatross to someone who “needed” a car and paid for it with a balance transfer check on his credit card.

    And although I broke my own cycle of idiocy, it continued for another Sisyphean schmuck.

    1. This is a pretty accurate depiction of car life in Montreal. I live just outside of downtown (St Henri), own two cars, and when I go to my university classes twice a week downtown at Concordia, I take public transit.

      After buying my first car at 18 when living in the suburbs, I went for years with no vehicles when I moved downtown at 23, and it didn’t bother me. Then I got a motorcycle because they’re fun toys which can also occasionally be used as transportation. When I realized that it was only a matter of time before my immaturity would cause me to die, I went from a bike to a convertible as a toy. This offered a bit more utility, but I lived close enough to all stores and the metro that it didn’t make much difference – the convertible was a toy and a tool for escapes from the city. At one point the garage where I parked the car was a 10 minute walk from my apartment, which made it a further walk than the metro, school, stores, restaurants, and bars. Even after I moved to a place that had underground parking, I didn’t even use it to drive to work at the airport; I preferred to take the bus to risking the dents and scrapes of leaving the car in employee airport parking.

      I only now have “an airport car” because my parents, frugal people that they are, only replaced their old car when it was pretty close to the end of its useful life for people living in the exurbs. When the dealer offered them $250 for it, they gifted it to me to run out the clock on. It’s perfect for Costco runs, leaving at the airport, and parking on the streets of St Henri. There’s something very liberating about a car I barely give a second thought to. In the 22 months I’ve owned it, I’ve put $14 into maintenance and repair, and it even survived a round-trip to Toronto. It’s nice not to have to take the two buses to work with my luggage anymore, especially when coming or going very early or late in the day, but if it hadn’t been a near-worthless gift, I wouldn’t have bothered with it.

  22. When renting, you’re always only a guest in someone elses place. There may be financial pitfalls to owning but this is often offset by the qualitative benefits – for example, renovating a place to your liking (i.e. building your own castle), hosting guests/parties under your own rules, and raising a family in a place that you can’t get kicked out of translates into ‘pride of ownership’. We can talk figures all day but some forms of happiness are priceless. Finding a place, signing a lease agreement, and hoping a landlord will rent to you, is not something I’d like to do ever again for a place to call home.

    Renting by choice rather than need usually seems suited to those that seek a transient lifestyle or are non-family oriented.

    Public transit is dirty and unhealthy. A recent report showed that the air quality in Toronto subways is essentially toxic. I remember very well the days before I owned a vehicle how inconvenient it was. You can get close to, but rarely right to the destination you want, stinky dirty people all around, dirty seating, waiting waiting waiting, delays. I like having my own car ready to go at the drop of a hat, tailored to my liking (tinted windows, 12 inch subwoofers) without concern for car pickup and drop off locations.

    When I was young and poor, I rented because I had no choice. In doing so, I saved since it is cheaper to rent than to have a downpayment, car payment, mortgage, insurance, property tax payments and so on. Yet once I could afford these things, there was no looking back. I would never voluntarily go back to renting merely to save funds that I already purposefully set aside for the expenses of owning.

    1. There are good reasons someone might want to buy, and it sounds like there are also good reasons not to live in Toronto.

      In the 10 years I’ve been renting, I’ve never been in danger of getting kicked out. In fact, in Quebec it’s nearly impossible to kick out a tenant unless they’re doing something (really) illegal.

      I just had my annual inspection, where the management company comes in to check fire alarms, sprinklers, for anything that needs repair, and to change the air conditioner filter. That’s the only time anyone ever enters my apartment.

      My building is a concrete build, I moved in when it was brand new (2012), I have a nice view of the city and am right on a recreational waterway. My rent has never gone up more than $30 in a year. Now that the girlfriend has moved in and a bigger place might be on the wishlist, we’ll just wait until one becomes available in the building and switch out – no transaction costs.

      When it comes to city living, I have very little desire to own a box in the sky, and it’s not because I couldn’t afford a 20% down payment on something comparable to what I’m renting now.

    2. I agree, we recently just sold our house and are renting but under special circumstances where the rent is cheap and the landlord is family who is just grateful to have some rent money coming in and someone they trust taking care of their property so it’s win-win and we sold at the right time to profit huge off the Vancouver housing market spillover in BC.

      If we didn’t have this prime opportunity we wouldn’t have sold our house and looked for a place to rent for all the reasons you mentioned.

      Same with the car, we only use ours about once a week now but it’s a luxury we can afford and are willing to pay for as the remote location we live only has a volunteer bus that operates on certain days and the cab service is really over priced and walking and biking aren’t very safe because the roads are narrow with almost no shoulder.

    3. Taking the TTC is definitely much better for my mental health than sitting on the 401/Gardner/DVP. Not to mention my biggest risk on the subway/streetcar is being sneezed on, while my biggest risk on the 401 is being run off by a truck and dying. I’ll take my chances with the air quality.

      1. Yes and no. The homes I buy have been in Toronto, and in locations that have appreciated tremendously over the years (which location in the city hasn’t, for that matter), and likely will into the future as the city grows. On that basis, the decision is financial. I don’t know if I would feel the same way about owning a home in a city with little potential for price gains. There are the other usual financial considerations that may lessen or eliminate the costs of ownership altogether that have been discussed previously such as renting out whole or portions of a home.

        But that’s as far as the financial considerations go. The old saying is that a house is four walls and a roof but a home is much more, and it’s true. At a fundamental level, a home is determined by who lives in it, how much control they exercise over it, and the level of stability it provides. There is no rental substitute for a home. A renter only ever really lives in a house though it can certainly take on the illusion or strong resemblance to a home. In this way, the decision is an emotional one just as spending funds on trips is. We must find time and money to spend on the things that make us happy whether that’s a home, or trips, or hobbies, since that is true success, and it differs for everyone. You won’t get back the money you’ve spent on vacations but the experiences they’ve given you supersede the financial costs. Likewise, a home (not merely a house/property) gives many people a lifestyle and experience that is worth far more than the price tag.

        “There’s no place like home” – Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz

  23. I experience zero happiness hits with house maintenance and repairs. We have budgeted for these items and we hire folks to help when needed.

    I do agree that if you want time freedom renting a house is going to give you more than owning does. That said, our house has paid us to own it and we experience a sense of enjoyment and security that we did not as renters. Although TO may have declined recently, the majority who did not buy in the last year are way up overall. Just like stocks, RE needs to be purchased with a buy and hold perspective and pointing out a recent decline is like pointing out a stock market decline – short-sighted. And we do enjoy home ownership way more than expensive vacations – jut love my gardens and pets and entertaining here. Each to his/her own.

    We also enjoy owning a used car. It gets little use but when it does the costs of ownership pay off in the form of local inexpensive family vacations and trips and visits to friends. I agree the costs of ownership are often miscalculated and if you can go car-less and use public transit this will generally save you money unless you have a large family.

    I also strongly agree that owning fewer possessions frees up your time and money and think you guys have done a great job of creating the life you want.

  24. We’ve been home boners for 14 years and let me tell you I wish I could go back in time and stay renting. We are going to sell and go back to renting BUT I am spending a lot of time cleaning up the STUFF out of the basement. I am selling and donating stuff we accumulated all these years. It feels liberating and free getting rid of this stuff. We also need to replace the kitchen floor and patio door before we sell. What a joke and a pain in the butt. It’s easier to buy a home and accumulate stuff compared to getting rid of the stuff and selling the home! The good news is the home as been paid off for 3 years. When we sell and get the check at closing I’ll put it right into our taxable account which holds Vanguard Total World Index fund. I retired from my IT career(Systems Engineer) at 41. I work part time and love the freedom. Wife will go part time in a few years. Getting rid of this house will be icing on the cake.

  25. Love owning a home !! Kids it’s home. So renting is not an option.

    Interesting article tho. Do you two ever plan on having kids ? To miss the joys of parenthood would be a shame !

    1. Why does everyone think kids = house? My parents raised me in rentals for most of my life. Never had a problem with it. In fact, it made me more resilient and adaptable.

    2. Hi Mary,

      Being child-free was the best decision my wife and I ever made. We enjoy the freedom. Rather than keep up with the Jonses, being slave to our employers, lenders and kids we have the freedom to do and go wherever we feel like. It’s a personal choice.

  26. This post makes me think about two things in my life. The first is the difference between driving and maintaining my 2009 Honda Fit vs. my husband’s 2011 BMW 328i. The Fit is waaay cheaper on the rare occasion it needs any maintenance. It gets better gas mileage AND the insurance is cheaper. More expensive car has higher associated costs. Who cares if the BMW dealership gives you a loaner to drive when you have to spend $1100 on maintenance on a regular basis?

    The other thing is a particular part of our house. We had a swimming pool in our backyard- bought it that way 10 years ago. The time and expense that went into maintaining it were really bumming me out considering I rarely even used it. I paid a few thou to have it filled in this year. Now I have a bigger space in my yard to grow veggies AND no time spent on cleaning, no money spent on maintenance! Simplifying life and having less stuff to take care of has been very lucrative for me! I would like to sell the house and rent instead but it’s still not financially practical with low home values in our area.

  27. The American dream is discontinued. Many people I know are crawling up to 65 in a wheelchair….
    F That
    I found your site by looking for my company / blog to see if it showed up on the search . engines.
    I want to hug you guys!!!
    Im 51 and am a rat race retiree. I knew the American dream was a nightmare!
    https://scottsthoughts12.wordpress.com/2017/08/24/the-lifestyle-revolution-is-on-be-happy/
    YES I wrote that before I saw your site.
    you have not only a follower but an (older) brother here>
    Bravo

    1. Welcome to the blog, Scott! Just checked out your blog and how cool is that we used the same word! πŸ™‚ Get out of my head! πŸ˜›

      I totally agree with you. The American dream is more of a nightmare and I’m so glad we could both escape!

  28. Mary. You cannot miss something you do not desire.
    Having Kids is optional.
    Your two statements are appreciated.
    Realize that a Revolution by definition is a “sudden and dramatic change.”
    The old GOTTA own GOTTA have kids GOTTA anything is over. the gigs up.
    The Boomer ideas are now as relevant as a payphone.
    Glad shits a changing!

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