The epic lunch with a financially screwed friend

Published November 23, 2015   Posted in How to Save How to Think

I seriously held my tongue so hard that it started to bleed.  I just sat at the table sporting a half “Totally man, I understand” smile on my face just to keep things happy and jovial during the lunch. But inside, I was like, “What the crap?”

I just wanted to slap him across the face. And then once again in case he’s one of those “hard learners”.

Chicken dish

I love spicy food!

Here’s the story. I had lunch with a friend of mine the other week who happened to be visiting from out of town (Virginia). We hadn’t seen each other in several years and it was time to catch up. And what better time to catch up than over lunch? I like lunch. So far, everything’s cool.

We sat down at the table and started in with the customary small talk, same course of questioning asked at virtually all similar social engagements.

Standard stuff, like:

“How have you been?”

“How are the kids?”

“How’s work?”

Then, talk of retirement came up, and this is when things started to get real. I had mentioned to him before about our goals of early retirement. He mentioned something about travel, and I chimed in with “We’ll be doing quite a bit of travel in the next couple years”.

He quickly picked up on what I was saying. “Retiring, eh?”

“Yep”, I responded. Then, the shot heard ’round the world.

“I wish that I had a plan that I could keep. I stopped contributing to my 401k at work“.

Immediately, the “holy f-ing crap” sensor rang loud and clear in my head. What do you mean “stopped contributing”? This is your f-ing retirement! Is this guy serious?

Composed and from well behind a thick cloak of cool, I responded, “Oh yeah? Why’s that?”

“I have too much shit to pay for. Our hobbies are expensive”.

Crazy man

Seriously, this is madness!

He went on to detail the true nature of the insanity that he just hoisted upon me while I mentally processed the gravity of the situation. He didn’t seem too shaken up by it, either.

This guy is literally never going to retire. 

Here we have a grown-ass-man with a family, a home owner who is fully employed making GOOD money (yes, I know around what he makes). The guy is perfectly capable of making sound decisions, and he has – I’ve personally witnessed this. He’s not stupid.

He’s not stupid, but he is single-handedly sentencing himself AND his wife to the torture of full time work for years longer than what would otherwise be necessary. It hurt to hear this. Seriously hurt.

And for what? Hobbies? All that discretionary spending, all that shit he buys to forget about the job that he hates? Screw the traditional definition of insanity. This…this has got to be the true meaning of the word. To treat your future self this bad for the sake of your present self?

He is a car guy. No, not a “car guy” like I was who once drove a supercharged Corvette ’cause I like speed. He is a genuine car guy and has many of them – so many, in fact, that he rents garage space outside of his home to store his cars. The monthly cost for that garage? Close to $1k.

That is nearly $12,000 a year down the drain to store a bunch of cars and car parts. And that doesn’t include the parts he replaces and the ticky-tack equipment that adds up into something much larger. A new wrench here. A replaced engine lift there. New tires, new spark plugs, new windshield, new this…new that.

Every day after work, he is there – sometimes with his wife, messing around with those cars, installing stuff, moving crap around, whatever. The garage is about 20 miles from his home and he drives there in a 15 MPG vehicle. Phew.

It’s a hobby. We all have hobbies. But, should we let our hobbies yank retirement out from underneath us? Should we willingly allow them to give our future’s the royal F-U?

Sometimes it seems like retirement is that crappy printer from the Office Space movie, and our hobbies are Peter, Michael and Samir beating the shit out of it.

You might as well just kick your future self right in the crotch. Twice. And your present self, too.

Granted, there may be legitimate reasons to avoid contributing to your 401k, but I know for a fact that’s not what’s causing this insane decision to blow off his retirement. In fact, he admitted it.

His expenses are too high.

He has too much crap to pay for. Too much stuff. Gas guzzling vehicles. Hobbies. Restaurants.

But yet, he also hates his job. He wants to retire. He, like so many others, truly wants the autonomy to control every facet of his life. He does not want to be controlled by his wallet.

The problem? It’s too easy to have wants. We all have wants.

The real issue is he’s using money to forget about life. His position in this world has evidently made it worth while to fund an extravagant lifestyle to forget not only about life, but about his financial situation, his success, his job, his family.

And it’s sad.

It probably seems like I’m just using this post to crap on my friend. And in a way, I suppose it comes across that way. But the funny thing is we tend not to devote attention to a lost cause, or a one-off, or something that is so unimportant that it is not worth the time to write about.

The larger issue is how closely he represents so many Americans today. Most of us want a bright future for ourselves. We want control over our lives. We crave autonomy.

But, how many of us actively strive towards those goals with the choices that we make?

I can’t help but think about the situation that I am in.

That lunch makes me appreciate what my wife and I are doing. But more than that, it makes me appreciate you people – all of my readers, my Twitter followers, everyone who has ever offered encouragement and commented on my writing.

Seriously, each and every one of you is a breath of fresh air – not just because you’re budgeting or saving money. Honestly, it’s more than that. It’s much more.

I like surrounding myself with people who care about their future and are disciplined enough to make substantial changes in their lifestyle because they recognize the power that these decisions have over their future selves. The ability to prioritize our future selves is an amazing trait that far too few people possess.

Every time I read a new comment, I’m heartened to be a part of this wonderful community.

That lunch made me realize how powerful our decisions can be, and how lucky I am to be in the position to contribute and benefit from an outstanding group of people.

And no, I did not lecture my friend on saving money. He is an adult and is capable of making his own decisions. He has every opportunity to turn his life around – once he wants it bad enough.

Once he does, I’ll be there for him in every way that I can.

Thank you for reading. Truly, thank you.

We track our net worth using Personal Capital


57 responses to “The epic lunch with a financially screwed friend”

  1. Charity says:

    It’s so hard to not say something. Just a couple months ago a friend was complaining about her spoiled daughter (her words) and then she and another friend said the only reason my husband and I could entertain the idea of retiring (we aren’t ready to retire now, but want to do it sooner rather than later) was because we don’t have kids. Today we had a conversation about how these friends are buying their kids iPads, iPhones (6s), and high end purses for Christmas. I couldn’t even respond without feeling like I was sounding condescending so I just waited until they finished and changed the subject.

    • Steve says:

      Wow! Unfortunately, that’s all too common, too. Kids are expensive, but they don’t have to be THAT expensive. It might make them feel better to use their kids as an excuse, but you and I (and the rest of us reading this blog!) know the true reason why they won’t be retiring any time soon.

      Thanks for the comment!

    • Kim says:

      My husband and I are on track to retire early in the next couple of years and we have two kids. They have iPads and iPhones and are well travelled for their age. How do we do it? The kids save up their own money for their gadgets. Yes, we pay the monthly phone bill but the initial purchase of electronics is from their birthday and christmas money. Which means said electronics are not an impulse buy since it may take them a few holidays to save up the money. Same with travel, we pay for the tickets, hotels, etc but the kids use their own spending money for trinkets. They also use their savings to invest in stocks so hopefully as tweens they are well on their way to their own early retirement!

      • Steve says:

        Hi Kim – good call on the kids buying their own things! I remember doing this same kind of thing when I was younger. Our folks worked the travel and spending money the same way – except for a treat here and there, which was the exceptions. 🙂

    • Hannah says:

      I see many more childless couples pursuing early retirment, but I think a lot of that has to do with mindset rather than money.

      My husband and I are on track to have more than enough to retire, even with a pile of kids in the next decade. However, we are unlikely to retire early because we we don’t want our kids to grow up with a disdain for work.

      I think financial independence can free you to many things including early retirement, but those with kids (including me), may not see that as the wisest choice while they have kids in tow. Nothing wrong with it for other parents of course, but I see a personal conflict of values.

      • Steve says:

        Hi Hannah – it could very well turn out that way, and people’s interpretation of values will always be a bit different. Though my dad worked while I was living in the house, he retired from work very shortly after, and that actually motivated me in a very real way to pursue early retirement. Basically, I learned to despise work on my own by experiencing what it means to NEED a job.

        But, I definitely understand your point of view. 🙂

        Thanks for commenting!

    • Stockbeard says:

      +1 in the group with kids here. I agree with the concern that this might teach our kids to not like work, and this could screw them up in the long run, but I do intend to keep some level of professional activity once I FI.

      But the point is, some of us have kids, and are on track to get FI. It’s slightly more difficult maybe, but it’s a matter of how you run your household.

    • Mysticaltyger says:

      I find that a good question to ask people who are aware of their destructive behavior is “What are you getting out if it?” In this case, spoiling her daughter. If they protest they’re not, you can say “Well you must be getting something out of it, or you wouldn’t do it?”. Why don’t you think about it for a minute and tell me.

      If said in a non-judgy tone of voice, this can really get people thinking. I know it helped with a friend of mine who wanted to lose weight. I asked her what she was getting out of being fat. It turned out, it had to do with her relationship with her dad. She signed up for Overeaters Anonymous shortly thereafter. She lost 60 lbs in 10 months. That was 6 or 7 years ago. She hasn’t gained it back. And she improved her life in a whole lot of other ways too (got her bachelor’s degree, got a job overseas, etc.).

  2. Steve, can I slap your friend in the face!!? 😉 Kidding aside, I think you handled the situation properly. I have many friends that make great money as well, but can’t help themselves. They literally may as well flush money down the toilet!! It drives me nuts.

    But, I also realize that people come to financial consciousness on their own terms when they’re ready. As friends we’re there to support them no matter what, but perhaps we can also nudge them by asking them the right questions to accelerate their long term thought process. If they can ultimately see the pain they’re setting themselves up for, it could act as a catalyst for a true decision to change.

    • Steve says:

      I completely agree, Michael – everyone has their own progression towards building wealth. And even if some people never end up building up much of anything, it’s their choice and certainly not my place to lecture. There life. Their choices.

      Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment! 🙂

  3. This is unbelievable. I actually had a similar experience with a co-worker a few years ago. I was in my 20s (okay, it was longer than a few years ago, ugh) and she was in her 40s. One day she told me that she wasn’t contributing to her 401k. Instead, her and her husband were planning to sell their NASCAR collection to fund their retirement. No, that wasn’t a typo. This seemed ludicrous to me, mainly because it was. I was dumbfounded that an actual adult with a college education, working in a great field (think: pharmaceuticals) was dumb enough to NOT take advantage of this incredible wealth-building tool. Sad. So sad. Like you said, the best we can do is to be there for these people when they change their minds.

    Great post!
    Mrs. Mad Money Monster

    • Steve says:

      Thanks Mrs. MMM. Wow, I would agree that’s an incredible story. Of course we are all entitled to our own opinions, but I do find it fascinating the ideas that some of us get into our heads, and this includes finances and retirement. But hey, maybe it’ll work. Maybe. Then again…

      Thanks for writing!

  4. Jack says:

    Yeah, collecting cars is probably the most expensive hobby I’ve heard of for quite a while. I hate stuff, so even collecting stamps is a waste in my mind, but cars? I thought playing music with the lessons and instrument maintenance was an expensive hobby, I’ll put that in perspective the next time I have to buy a $200 set of cello strings.

    • Steve says:

      Ha! Totally, Jack. I’ve never really been a collector of anything really. Okay, I might have an old vintage camera or two that I like to display, but that’s literally it when it comes to anything that might resemble a collectable with me. 🙂

  5. “He is a genuine car guy and has many of them – so many, in fact, that he rents garage space outside of his home to store his cars.”

    I am not joking when I say that a piece of banana LITERALLY fell out of my mouth when I read that. It was kind of gross, but there you have it.


    Renting storage space on its own is ridiculous, but whoa. $1K a month to store more cars than you could possibly drive?

    I think it’s amazing and admirable that you turned this lunch into something positive, i.e. being grateful for this community! I’m sure everyone will agree that we’re all equally grateful for the wonderful writing and support you contribute to it as well – maybe next time I see a friend making a colossally bad money move I won’t say anything, inspired by your example 😉

    • Steve says:

      Ha, thanks Des! I think the decision to say something depends on the situation, but I’m just not someone who will initiate a lecture unless it’s a life or death situation. Now…if someone asks my opinion on something, then watch out, cause things will probably get real…quickly! 🙂

  6. GUUUUUUHHHHH. I mean if he really liked traveling he wouldn’t spend thousands of dollars a month on a car collection. I forget where I heard this, but when people say “I don’t have time for working out” they really do have time, but they chose to watch Netflix or tinker with cars or work instead. Their actions show you where their actual priorities are, not what they say. Same thing with this guy. If he really wanted to retire and travel he wouldn’t have a multi-thousand dollar a month hobby which is inhibiting that goal.

    • Steve says:

      Hey Fervent – I agree, the “I don’t have time” is kinda a pet peeve of mine. What people really mean is “I prioritized something else over that”, which is really what it comes down to. MOST of us have time to do whatever we feel most strongly about.

      Thanks for the comment. It’s true, if it wanted it bad enough, he would make it happen!

  7. Oof. I feel for him, because so many of us who are now chasing early retirement and are more financially aware were there once too. I have to believe there is still a chance for this guy, right? But what kind of epic wake up call will it take?? If he sold these cars and dropped the $1k/month expense, he may be able to recoup a good portion of the 401k savings he has missed out on.

    Immersing myself in this online community of like-minded people has been key in creating and sticking to my financial goals. It is impossible for me to say “this is pointless” or “this is too hard” or “I can’t do this” and give up when I wake up each morning and read about all of these other people doing it, making it and succeeding. It removes the opportunity for excuses. It really is about getting in, and staying in, the right mindset. Thanks for being one of those huge motivators, Steve!

    • Steve says:

      Thanks ID, I appreciate the kind words – and you have a really kick ass blog name. 🙂

      Motivation is a huge factor within this community, and it’s one of the things that I like most about it. Every week I get to top off my tank with fresh content about kicking ass with money, and it’s a wonderful thing to be a part of. 🙂

  8. Its terrible. Its really hard to watch ppl burn themselves like this and hold your tongue and as you said, hold back from slapping them across the face. There are wayyyy too many ppl who do this. I hear stories, esp from my wife’s work – where they are in their 50s and getting into fights with their husbands and wifes because they just realized that they cant retire. They didnt contribute anything to their retirement funds and own huge McMansion houses and lived like kings and queens for decades instead of saving. Its my biggest nightmare!


    • Steve says:

      It’s true, R2R. I didn’t have a McMansion, but I did have a house in the suburbs with three different vehicles just for me, so I was living quite the life just like many of us continue to do. But ultimately I asked myself what I really have to show for it. I have cars. A motorcycle. A house. Okay, but so what?

      Eventually, people need more than that…well, I did, anyway. 🙂

  9. Maggie says:

    It’s awful isn’t it? I had a similar conversation about the PFD this year. “We make a decent salary, but it’s never enough. We don’t have any retirement savings and we use our PFD to pay rent.” I am so grateful for this community as well. It buoys us up to face the people we care about that won’t change. We mourn because we know what they are giving up.

    • Steve says:

      Truly is, Maggie. While I do concede that early retirement isn’t for everyone, the truth of the matter is I haven’t personally met a single person who wouldn’t jump at the chance to quit work early – if only they could, financially.

      Being a part of this wonderful community is one of the most supportive and helpful things that a future early retirees could possibly do – even if you aren’t a blogger.

      Thanks for commenting!

      • Maggie says:

        Even non-future retirees. It just keeps things in perspective. We’re all looking for more. Money will get us there but “more money” isn’t always the answer. That’s hard to remember sometimes.

  10. Unless they ask your advice (and probably not even then), it’s always better to nod and smile than to try to interject in to the other person’s bubble on a better way to do it. You can’t force people to change if they’re not ready.

    We have lots of friends like this.

    • Steve says:

      I completely agree, Adam. Basically, my feeling is we are all adults and capable of making our own decisions. It’s not my place to tell someone else how to live their lives, just like it isn’t there place to tell ME how to live mine. 🙂

      • Claudia says:

        Wow! The story itself is all too familiar. And your response (and Adam’s) are most gracious. When we were not financially savvy, which we not too long ago, we could have used a good friend offering another perspective to help get us on the right course. I hope your friend has the wisdom to seek your help soon!

  11. Sounds rough. I’m a car guy too, but I scratch that itch with an old Volkswagen in my own garage. Who needs more than one project car? I don’t think I’d give up this hobby to retire just a smidge earlier, but compared to your friend I have essentially no expenses!

    • Steve says:

      Yup, I don’t think there is anything wrong with a project car either…so long as the project car isn’t a total drain on your pocketbook. If it keeps you busy doing fun and productive work, I’d say that’s worth the expense…so long as it’s reasonable. 🙂

  12. Tawcan says:

    I would have probably said something and pushed him a bit to get him started thinking more about putting money aside for retirement. Having said that, I think you holding back is a good idea as well. I’ve seen so many people like your friends and it’s definitely challenging to keep my mouth shut.

    • Steve says:

      It really is challenging. Honestly, we’ve spoken about retirement before and I have eluded to the easy changes that I’ve made, just to throw something out there to see if he catches it. Honestly I think he DOES get it, but is just unwilling to make the chances necessary.

      Thanks for writing!

  13. Hey, I stopped contributing to my 401(k) months ago as well. They don’t let you put in more than $18k each year!

    Oof, what an insane story. Your friend acts as if he’s the victim of his own hobby — as if there’s no possible alternative to spending so much on cars. Yet he seems aware that he’s making a massive trade-off, too. I just don’t get it.

    • Steve says:

      You and me both, Matt. What I think is behind his unwillingness to give up his hobbies is, well, it’s a way for him to forget about life, his mindless job and family drama. Just a guess, but this might explain his steadfast refusal to make a change.

  14. I always assumed everyone was like me and saved most of their money, but come to find that I am the “weird” one. I remember riding in a car with several neighbors and they were all talking about their consumer and school debts and how one guy was down to $30k and everyone congratulated him. I just couldn’t relate and it felt uncomfortable when I said I have zero. The look of shock was amazing. “How did you do it?” I save more than I spend, in fact I save a whole lot and I invest a whole lot. Not many folks can relate. Too bad because this life is awesome.

    • Steve says:

      Hey Lance – Yup, I completely understand. I didn’t have student loans either, but that was based on nothing that I did, however – my folks didn’t want me starting out life in debt. I’m totally thankful for that. 🙂

  15. Jim Wang says:

    I get the need to vent a little, it sucks to see a friend go down the path of instant gratification (and the whole “I can’t save for retirement because I have too many hobbies” is definitely insane) but that’s what they want to do. Not everyone wants to retire early, some people just want cars.

    • Steve says:

      Hey Jim – yeah, I totally get that not everyone’s goal is early retirement. But, I would argue that spreading yourself so thin that if anything should happen to your full time job, you might be out on the street. There is definitely wisdom in the idea of financial independence even if you have no intention of retiring early.

      Thanks for the comment! 🙂

  16. I feel a little nauseous thinking about this. Both for the bad decisions you’re friend is making, and for the position it must have put you in — I’m sure you wanted to give advice so badly, or at least smack him, but good for you for holding back. It sounds like your friend is ready to hear the truth yet. As much as it’s hard for us to relate to this kind of thinking, it’s clear that *some* people truly love working, and are not daunted at the prospect of working forever, and then spend their money on toys or extravagant travel. And you know what? Good for them! It’s the folks like your friend who need to wake up — if you don’t love working, then why are you trapping yourself into a situation in which you must keep working forever? It seems so obvious! :::face palm:::

    • Steve says:

      It really does seem so obvious! If there is a bright side in all this, people like him are spending the money that are making the stocks that we own continue to go up!

      But yeah, this wasn’t the time for a lecture – just a sympathetic ear and that’s about it. This time! 🙂

  17. Raymond says:

    I have to admit, I used to be a car guy. It is a really expensive hobby. There were always new parts I wanted to add here and there, then of course theres maintenance costs, gas, insurance, parking…. Etc etc. Looking back at it, I feel totally terrible about all that money I poured down the drain for years.

    Thank god I found this thing called financial independence, or I would have gone down the same dark path as your friend. Just wish I had started earlier and didn’t waste all that money 🙁

    Thanks for this great post. Cheers!

  18. I started feeling bad for the guy until I got to the storing cars part! $12,000 a year to just store extra cars that he might not even drive! Wow. There are people in this country whose yearly salary is that much.

    Our hobbies tend to be more outdoor things like backpacking, camping, and gardening. Those can get a little pricy with gear, but just a drop in the bucket compared to your friend. That sounds like out-of-control spending to me. Maybe he should put it all down on paper or put it in a Personal Capital pie chart. Seeing expenses displayed over a year is eye-opening.

    And yes, it’s great seeing how active and encouraging everyone is in this community!

    • Steve says:

      It very much is out of control spending to the extreme – to forget about life, maybe. I think he knows full well what he is doing, too – he just has no intention of changing it.

  19. Ryland says:

    Bravo, Steve. Your articles are wonderful. Keep going.

  20. John says:

    Not sure why but only the first 3 lines of your blog post appear in my email and then I have to click the link to read the entire post which defeats the purpose of email subscription.

    Is it an issue with your email provider or a setup to drive page views?

  21. John says:

    Thanks for your post, Steve. Through planning and hard work (and the miracle of compounding) I’ve been able to retire in my late 40’s and can now pursue my interests instead of a dollar. I, too, had lunch with an old friend recently and early retirement came up. He’s a few years older than me and was my former boss (twice actually). He seemed stunned about my situation and maybe even a little envious. I wondered (to myself) how close to retirement he was, but his ensuing comments about “investing” in various risky ventures clued me in that he’s probably got a ways to go. He wanted to know how I did it. My reply to save regularly, keep costs and taxes low, diversify, and rebalance periodically didn’t seem overly impressive to him. It seemed like he assumed there was some secret I knew. But like most of us, more is in his control than he thinks! It all comes down to the choices we make!

    Keep up the good work.

  22. Jason says:

    I had an experience like this last week at the conference I went too. I was having lunch with a friend. She and her husband are looking for a bigger house (there house is double my 1300 sq ft house) and they only have ONE child. I was like why? Her answer was because they have too much stuff. At that moment, while I sometimes think we need a bit more space (more like 1700 sq ft) I smile to myself and realize I don’t need that. I am not just going to buy stuff to buy stuff. But I did want to scream what the hell are you doing.

  23. Wisdom Junkie says:

    Simply put, the difference between you and your friend is the difference between wisdom and intelligence. I have no doubt that your friend is very intelligent, but his priorities are clearly out of alignment (pun intended).

  24. Great post Steve! Everything comes down to priorities and whether you can delay gratification. Giving in to gratification now to the detriment of other priorities, such as retirement, shows what is really more important to you.

    • Steve says:

      It’s true, priorities are the 100% factor in life. If you want something bad enough, we tend to find a way to get it done. Otherwise, it’ll fall by the wayside under a mountain of excuses.

      Thanks for writing!

  25. Chris Muller says:

    Honestly man, I think you did the right thing by not offering your opinion. If he asks, then offer it, but you’re right… he’s a grown-ass man. I’m the same way – I want to surround myself with people who think like me, or who can at least appreciate things like frugality. It’s really hard to see people doing this to themselves, but there’s nothing we can do. We can offer advice, but at the end of the day, they have to want to change. This is my parents… I stopped offering advice and help because nothing ever changed. They still live beyond their means, and they’re closing in on 70 and still working. Some people never change.

    • Steve says:

      That’s exactly it, Chris – we gotta want the change. I just don’t believe that there is anything that I could say that would magically change his tune. It’s his tune to change.

      Thanks for the comment, as always. 🙂

  26. […] wrote about The epics lunch he had with his friend that stopped saving for retirement. It's insane that some people do not save and plan for their […]

  27. Jaime says:

    So I listen to Dave Ramsey and every couple of months he’ll have someone that’s 62+ calling him because they haven’t saved enough for retirement. Some people work with him but other seniors refuse to budge and he’ll actually end the call saying that he can’t help them if they aren’t willing to do their part.

    I think you were right to not say anything. If he wants your help then he’ll ask for it. Or go online and search how to do it. A lot of people don’t like advice unless they ask for it.

    • Steve says:

      Yup, I agree Jaime – a lot of people just don’t want advice, and I’m not one of those people who insists on giving it to those who don’t want it. And you’re right, it’s a problem with willingness, not know-how. He knows what he has to do to retire, but he willingly chooses to spend his money elsewhere.

      Sad, but he’s an adult and capable of making his own decisions. Just like me. 🙂

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