The Grass is Always Greener

The Grass is Always Greener on the Other Side of the Fence

Exciting and exhausting at the same time. That’s the best way I can describe maintaining a blog and putting yourself out in the open like I have the past year. It’s been a tremendous experience that has brought me into contact with tons of like-minded individuals and great people and for that I’m thankful. However, a Dutch proverb also teaches us that tall trees catch much wind.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t consider myself a tall tree at all, but I still attract a lot of readers to this blog that want to interact with me – awesome! As a result, I’ve been working through a massive back log of e-mails and comments to get back to all of these great people. Offering everyone an extensive answer takes up a lot of my time, but it’s totally worth it.

However, sometimes I receive messages or comments that I find hard to understand – this is the wind part of the proverb. I’ll give a made-up but totally plausible example:

Ha, still single! Wait until you’re in a long-term relationship and have children. We’ll see where all those savings go then!

It might be because of my bad nature, but those kind of comments sound quite negative or sometimes downright envious. Maybe even like outright complaining.

Envy and resentment probably aren’t the right words, but even with a thesaurus I couldn’t come up with anything better. As you may know, expressing emotions is one of the hardest things in a foreign language, apart from vegetables and spices – seriously, try to think of three spices in a language different from your own.

Madness, I tell you!

Anyway, I find it difficult to interpret remarks like the one mentioned above. Are they out of envy, ridicule, or simply to troll? I’m not sure.

I suspect that some of the e-mails I receive are a way for the writers to rationalise their own behaviour. Rejecting other people’s choices and actions is a timeless and proven tactic to feel better about your own life stance or success, after all.

Unfortunately, or should I say fortunately, that’s not the goal of this blog. I wish to inspire and motivate other folks, not to have them feel bad about themselves. I feel as if my savings rate is one of the main culprits here.

Look, I’m not going to lie and say my monthly savings aren’t high compared to my expenses, but that’s still no reason to compare yourself one-on-one to me. Savings rates are nothing more than a percentage-based number to see how fast you could become financially independent. It’s not a measure of interpersonal success and it certainly can’t be used to match yourself against others.

You’re very likely to be a fish out of water when you try something as daring as financial independence or early retirement, and I understand that you try and see how you’re doing by checking other folks’ progress, but never ever make a one-on-one comparison. It doesn’t tell you anything and you quite possibly feel discouraged afterwards.

Situations differ immensely and ultimately the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.

In reality, though, that’s not the case. My grass isn’t greener, it’s just a different kind of grass, without that having a positive or a negative implication. I’m a single guy right out of university – keep telling yourself that, NMW, you’re getting old – of course I manage to put away a lot more money than a single income household with three children!

Besides, does it really matter what my grass looks like? Money is just a means to an end, and your end may differ from mine.

Even Aristotle got that right in his famous Ethics:

The life of money-making is one undertaken under compulsion, and wealth is evidently not the good we are seeking; for it is merely useful and for the sake of something else.

The only reason we’re trying to make and save as much money as we are, is because we need it to pursue our dreams. Your own dreams, not mine. Therein lies the crux of the entire financial independence game.

You should try to focus on expanding your comfort zone as much as possible to make your own wishes a reality without turning the financial aspect into the primary goal or driver of your actions. Focus on what you want and what makes you happy rather than the money.

Let’s put it another way. Imagine you had a loving partner and three children, would you trade away any of the children for an extra 10% in monthly savings?

Of course, you wouldn’t! Your family makes you happy even though they have an obvious impact on your savings potential, but that’d be totally worth it – totally worth it, bro.

Besides, look at Dividend Mantra. Jason’s current savings percentage is lower than mine, but he is actually living his dream already – how awesome is that? Another great example is Jason from Islands of Investing. Yes, he saves less than I do, but he and his family now own their dream home. (Sidenote: based on this small sample size we could also determine that guys called Jason are quirky lads, but let’s stick to the point.)

What I’m trying to say is; everyone’s savings rate is just a number that doesn’t tell you anything without the right context. Focus on that context rather than the number itself and you’ll learn far more from other people than you previously thought possible.

Thank you for reading! This post was a long-time coming, but it took a while to find the right words since it’s partly born out of a small annoyance of mine. Of course, if I decide to write a small rant you guys better get something out of it too – and I hope you did.

41 Comments

  1. Grass is always greener until you get to the other side. Having a family might mean dropping of your savings rate but at the same time it also means the possibility of double income. When it comes to savings rate, it’s easy to find excuses why you’re not saving enough money.

    1. Tawcan,

      So very true! Of course having a family demands higher expenses since you have more mouths to feed, but there’s a high chance your partner will also earn an income.

      However, all of that doesn’t even matter. I shouldn’t be making assumptions based on someone else’s situation. What’s important is my situation and how I can improve myself.

      Glad to hear we’re on the same wave lenght.

      Cheers,
      NMW

  2. Ciao NMW,

    Nice piece! I agree totally with you, investing is a bit of a “selfish” thing. By this I mean that what works for me may not work for you and vice-versa. I was talking to a friend lately about investments, and he kept asking how much I was saving/making with the investments, I kept telling him that this is totally useless to ask, because what’s good for me might not be good for another person…
    I guess that the sames goes for saving rates and so on…

    ciaociao

    Stal

    1. Stalflare,

      Thanks for the kind words. Glad to hear you enjoyed my post.

      I understand what you mean by “selfish”. Personal finance is personal, it even says so in the name, so why would I try and compare myself to other folks?

      It seems like your friend is eager to compare your performance to his. I don’t like doing that as it could lead to bigger risk taking and feeling like you’re underperforming even though you’re still doing well. Hope he understands that too now!

      Best wishes,
      NMW

  3. Great post! Yeah I agree. We tend to compare ourselves to others, but that’s not realistic. It’s best to have a goal and focus on completing it. Not what others are doing. It’s good to use others for inspiration though!

    1. Henry,

      Using others for inspiration and to get yourself motivated is good indeed – I’m all for that, which is why I decided to start this blog. Comparing yourself one-on-one, however, isn’t a good idea at all.

      I’d rather reach my own goals than some unrealistic goals set by someone else!

      Cheers,
      NMW

  4. This is the first time ever I commented to one of your posts even tough I’m a faithful reader. I know exactly what you mean.

    The thing is that there are some people in the endless spheres of the internet that are just gonna piss on your leg. You can be the most positive person there is but that doesn’t matter to them. It’s not necessarily jealousy – people can envy you and still be respectful, polite and self-reflected (is that an English expression? oh well..). I think it’s just a matter of bad manners.

    There was this one guy who made rude comments on my blog and when I deleted them he was like “hey, where did my comments go”. Guess what: The politness-spam-bot ate them all! 😉

    Love your blog, love your style. Keep up the great work! Alexandra

    1. Alexandra,

      Thank you for being a long-time reader and for taking the time to comment – I appreciate that greatly! I just check out your blog and it’s a fun read, even with the little German I know. Awesome name too. 🙂

      You hit the nail on the head with your comment. I always try to be respectful and supportive even if I don’t fully agree with someone, but that doesn’t seem to apply to everyone. If you are mean or envious on purpose, well, then that’s on you, but I often fear a lot of these people don’t know any better, which is why I thought I’d try to put a positive spin on the issue with this post – I’m always trying to teach people things.

      Could you send the politeness-spam-bot my way some time? He’ll have a field day in my mailbox! 🙂

      Best wishes,
      NMW

  5. NMW,

    I’m a frequent reader of your blog, although I rarely comment. This time I feel I should react.
    The key thing that makes your blog interesting is your authenticism and optimism.
    You have the commitment, the focus and the discipline. The 3 elements That ultimately lead to succes. And Succes works attractive to people. This applies regretfully to less friendly individuals as well.
    It’s never nice to receive the comments you refer to but don’t let them distract you from your drivers to write this blog nor from the focus needed to achieve sustained performance.
    You’ve become part of a community which grows, finds symphatisants, followers Will gather to discuss your blog, fan clubs Will be started, trainings given, a movement is founded, … You get the drift. Please keep going

    1. Mark,

      Thank you for being a frequent reader and taking the time to respond. You’re exactly the audience I’m doing all of this for!

      I’m glad to hear that you see the optimism I’m trying to put into my writings – it’s one of the most important parts of making something like financial independence happen in my opinion. If you’re a debby downer all the time, chances are you won’t maintian the fortitude and commitment over the long run to make it happen.

      Don’t you worry! I’ll continue writing and posting just as I have in the past. As long as the fun readers outweigh the few “bad apples” there’s no reason to quit just yet.

      Best wishes,
      NMW

  6. Thing is NMW, you have a savings rate of around 70% right now. Many people your age in your situation probably have a savings rate closer to zero.

    The chances of you now radically changing your mindset and frugality when/if you get married/have kids I think is very low. You will still not waste money, but your expenses will naturally increase.

    As a result, your savings rate might fall because of these extra expenses but even if it HALVED, you will still be on 35% which would still be a great savings rate!

    I’m all for feedback but when such people give negative feedback with no logic, it saddens me as their only desire is to try to get you down in some way, perhaps to make up for their own inadequacies.

    1. Weenie,

      Spot on! It’s not so much about the percentage number, but rather about the mindset and the way of life behind achieving that number. Even if I have children later on and that halves my savings rate, I’ll still be in fantastic shape.

      Besides, why wouldn’t I try now because something hypothetical might or might not happen in the future? I’d rather take action based on what I know rather than on something that’s a distant possibility.

      Thank you for your support and always optimistic point of view!

      Cheers,
      NMW

  7. NMW,

    I know how it feels, my friend. I get nasty emails all the time. Just fuels my fire, though. 🙂

    And you’re right in that it makes no sense to compare yourself to someone else. That’s something I’ve touched on quite a bit over the last few months or so. The only benchmark that matters is your best. If you’re doing all you can do, then that’s it. What someone else is doing who may be in a totally different life position matters not.

    As far as the savings rate goes, it looks like I’m going to clock in my second 70%+ monthly savings rate in a row. I’m catching up. Better look out. Ha!

    Best regards.

    1. Jason,

      I can imagine you receive quite a lot of negative or downright nasty e-mails! I’ve also seen the same type of negative outbursts in your comment section that I’ve described here.

      Great attitude in that they only fuel your fire! 🙂

      I remember you writing about not comparing yourself too much to others – or benchmarking standards like the S&P500 for that matter – and they were all spot on. Why would you even care about someone else when your own life and the way you go about things is concerned? That just doesn’t make any sense to me, except when you try to get inspiration and motivation out of other people’s actions of course.

      I’d be thrilled to hear you caught up with my annual savings rate, man! It still amazes me how fast you got to where you want to be in life. A true inspiration for all of us.

      Cheers,
      NMW

  8. NMW,

    You know what they say; haters gonna hate! The majority of people just don’t get it. They don’t see how someone can save so much money while they can’t. I find that this is true regardless of how high their salaries are… They often either assume you’re lying, or that you live in semi-poverty and you’re depriving yourself by saving too much. Keep doing what you’re doing mate, and don’t be discouraged by what anyone says (especially not some random internet person!).

    I also get what you mean about writing and in another language to your own; it can be tough! Even though I’ve lived in England for about 9 years, I sometimes feel like I can’t fully express myself as eloquently as in my mother tongue. Speaking of which, I’ve always wondered – how come your English is so good?! Did you go to an international school or something?

    PS. You should write a compilation of hateful/silly e-mails one day!

    DL

    1. DL,

      You’re probably right. Although I don’t really undertand why you would criticize someone else’s goals simply because you can’t get behind them. I guess that’s the nature of humans.

      Your English is pretty perfect, buddy! Dont’ worry about it – no one can tell you’re not a native English speaker.

      My English is pretty good because I’ve been online for as long as I can remember and playing video games in English since I was four years old. On top of that I also hold a master’s degree in English (both linguistics and literature).

      Cheers,
      NMW

  9. NMW,

    You have one of the best attitudes and perspectives of anyone I’ve come across on the blogging scene. It would be a terrible shame for you to let any remarks along these lines affect you in a bad way. One of the hardest things to do in life is live in a way that means something to you, whether that involves high savings rates and achieving FI, caring for a family, creating your own ‘dream’ living situation or any number of things, and you definitely seem to be doing what matters to you at this point in time.

    Comments like the example above are such a waste of everyone’s time, because even if your savings rate was to fall – who cares? As long as at that point you’re doing what’s important to you, be it a relationship, a family, a dream home, travelling around the world for two years and savings nothing.

    I know it’s not always easy when there are so many strong winds or storms that can blow through your life to try and knock you over, but in my view the only way to respond is to keep living in a way that matters most to you, whatever that happens to be at this point along your journey.

    Keep doing what you do NMW!

    Cheers,

    Jason

    PS thanks for the mention – although to be more accurate you probably should have said “he saves waaaaaaay less than I do”! (but don’t worry – life can definitely be wonderful even with a low savings rate 😉 )

    1. Jason,

      Ha, your comment is almost as long as my entire article! 😉

      Don’t worry about these type of comments or e-mails changing my determination for financial independence or even blogging for the worse. My skin is thick enough – I hope. Besides, in some weird way they just push me forward to show everyone who disagrees with what I’m doing how wrong they are.

      And you’re 100% correct: who cares about a lower savings rate? It’s what you want out of life and adjusting your spending accordingly, not just savings as much as possible.

      Next time I’ll make sure to accentuate the fact that you save waaaaaay less, ha! 😉 Keep on trucking, buddy, you’re doing awesome over there.

      Best wishes,
      NMW

  10. NMW,

    I believe what we see in our blog life is exactly what happening in our day to day life, people will thrill about what and how you are, they will support and be happy about your success on the other hand you have the others that are not accepting that you are different from they lifestyle, difficulties and envy.

    Even if it’s hard to read and probably even harder to respond, don’t let these bad energies bringing you down.

    Look at some of the reader, you have been able to make them post with this article, this is the best thing that we bloggers do, bringing people to react, and it will will always good or bad.

    Your are fantastically well, the content of your blog is excellent, and I am alway happy to discover a new post.

    Take care,

    Cheers, RA50

    1. RA50,

      Thank you for the kind words, appreciate it.

      I believe you’re right. In real life there are a ton of people that think what I’m doing is just silly. The big difference with being online is that they sometimes loose sight of the fact that there’s still a human being on the other end of their computer screen. Some of the messages I receive… No one would ever tell them to my face.

      However, they’re just a minority and I’m glad to continue posting and interacting with like-minded and good-natured individuals.

      Best wishes,
      NMW

  11. Interesting post, NMW.

    It is a hard one to respond to. Certainly, my savings are not as high as they would have been if it was just me and not me and Miss DD. Obviously, a child compounds that especially as–I suspect–my baby would not be earning a wage for a while (unless he/she becomes some kind of child film star…).

    However, that does not stop the journey. It can slow it, but you develop the skills up to that point to help ensure that the savings rate does not plummet. What is more, for me, part of the reason I am looking to save so aggressively is precisely in preparation for any Mini DD’s of the future. I think messages of that kind often misunderstand what is trying to be achieved.

    It is not the point of getting the highest savings figure than anyone else but rather that is possible at that moment in your life.

    Anyway, thanks for the post and glad you’re still enjoying the blogging journey. I for one am enjoying coming along with you.

    1. Dividend Drive,

      You’re probably right in that it’s easier to save a ton if you’re single rather than a family with children – the children obviously cost a ton. However, I don’t believe you’ll become a spendthrift all of a sudden. You’ll still apply your frugal ways and try and save as much as possible, all the while enjoying life to the fullest.

      Just make the most of your current situation and you’ll get to where you want to be – no reason to compare yourself to hypotheticals since they’ll only keep you from actually getting started. Glad to hear you feel exactly the same way.

      And I’m also to have you on board because of your positive attitude!

      Cheers,
      NMW

  12. NMW —

    Those who call you out for saving too much, or saying that it won’t work … who are these people? It’s hard for me to fathom. There seem to be a lot of them; all bloggers hear it. They’re not worth listening to (though they’re still annoying). They must be seriously jealous. If you read Mr. Money Mustache, you’re already familar with MMM’s problem with “the Internet Retirement Police.” In other words, these guys insist that MMM isn’t FIRE-certified, because he still makes money. It’s ridiculous. Your blog is great. Thank you, and keep it up!

    1. Smith,

      Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment, much appreciated. You’re the kind of reader I write this blog for.

      The Internet Retirement Police, what an awesome name for every sour internet troll on financial independence websites out there. I don’t think I’ve read that post by MMM yet, so I’ll definitely make sure to check it out.

      In my opinion there’s nothing wrong with making a little money on the side when you’re FIRE, especially when it’s mostly passive income or when it’s a hobby that pays you a small salary.

      Cheers,
      NMW

  13. Hey NMW. Thank you for sharing this post and logging your efforts on this blog. I always enjoy it and love listening to your life. I hope you continue to update us with your progress towards financial independence.
    As for comments like that, use it to fuel your journey and hustle it up to crazier heights.
    There’s 2 sides to every story so let’s look at it from his point of view. He’s just stating a fact I believe but his choices of words and how he said it seemed a bit like he’s envious.
    Also, the fact is, he took the time to email you so you did a bit of a number on him.
    Whatever the case, grow some thick skin, and build your mental state to greater levels as this is just a petty remark. Success requires you to move on and not let small things like this phase you. Be mentally tough. Our journey has just begun my friend so let’s prepare for even worst things.
    Take care my friend and thank you for the post. Cheers bud.

    1. Tyler,

      You guys aren’t getting rid of me this easily, so you can be sure I’ll stick around to update you on my progress and financial independence journey. Ha!

      Jason from Dividend Mantra also commented that he uses these kind of comments and e-mails to fuel his hunger for financial freedom, which is a really good attitude. What better way to prove someone wrong than to actually show them how it’s done?

      The example above was rather polite still. I receive much worse e-mails with a lot of swearing even, but that’s just the way of things I guess.

      Best wishes,
      NMW

  14. Couldn’t agree more! Personal finance is so PERSONAL. We are married, but have no kids, and sometimes hear snarky comments about that. But guess what — we live in a very expensive part of the U.S., and so could complain about how others are able to save more who have access to cheaper food and housing. But we don’t because we love where we live, and our dream is different from everyone else’s. Your point overall, though, is why we choose not share our numbers on our blog. Part of it is because we plan to stop blogging anonymously after we retire and it feels weird to us to have the world know our finances, but equally important is the fact that we think those numbers would entice people to do the comparison game, and we don’t want to foster that.

    Thanks for this rant. 🙂 And ignore people who try to pull you down. They have their own issues, and you don’t need to take that upon yourself.

    1. ONE,

      Exactly! It’s personal finance, so why worry about someone else?

      Situations differ immensely like your example clearly shows. Children or no children, low cost of living versus expensive are, married or not, high income or low income, … There are so many determinants for someone’s life and savings rate that it simply doesn’t make any sense to compare one-on-one.

      I understand why you don’t want to disclose the numbers since you mention some good points that almost kept me back from publishing mine. However, I feel they add a ton of credibility to my writing, which I thought was more important. And I believe they can be a huge motivator for readers.

      Thank you for dropping by and taking the time to leave a comment!

      Cheers,
      NMW

  15. I love it when people spew excuses and envy about why they can’t do something – it’s my source of schadenfreude!

    My advice would be to respond to all emails of this nature by quoting Britney Spears:

    You want a hot body? You want a Bugatti?
    You want a Maserati? You better work bitch
    You want a Lamborghini? Sippin’ martinis?
    Look hot in a bikini? You better work bitch
    You wanna live fancy? Live in a big mansion?
    Party in France?
    You better work bitch, you better work bitch
    You better work bitch, you better work bitch
    Now get to work bitch!

  16. I really don’t get all the negative wipes you get from the comment. I am a 15 years older and married and I can tell you there is some truth in the comment.
    You are doing a good job but be prepared a nice young lady could bring some big challenges to that savings rate. It certainly does to mine.
    Sometimes I have to spend money just to have have my peace of mind.
    Take it as a warning.

    1. Killepitsch,

      You are absolutely right that there’s some truth to the statement I posted as an example. I’ve said as much in the post. However, it’s the tone and the way in which it said rather than the actual message that bothers me. Besides, there are much worse e-mails in my mailbox, so this was just an example.

      Every decision (marrying, children, high income job, expensive are to live in, etc.) has an influence on your savings rate, so unless your lifestyle is exactly the same as mine it just doesn’t make any sense to compare savings rates directly. And that’s what makes the grass always looks greener on the other side of the fence.

      Even if I ever get married and/or have children and make my savings rate drop, I wouldn’t care one bit. I’ve got the FI mentality down, which is all you need to actually make it happen. Yes, it’ll take a bit longer, but that’s totally worth it if you’re living the life you want to be living.

      Thanks for chiming in and taking a contrarian point of view.

      Cheers,
      NMW

    1. DFG,

      Exactly! I should have taken you as a prime example too, completely forget about doing so. You manage to save with five children, which is absolutely fantastic. Granted, it might not be as much as I save, but that’s not the point.

      Keep it up on your end too,
      NMW

  17. After slaving myself for 2 years in highly demanding above average income job, I have only come to realize that money shouldn’t be the most important thing in life. Maybe it’s a little bit too late for that realization but I am glad that I can finally see it. Awesome post NMW!

    1. Jeff,

      I’m glad to hear you’ve found what works for you and that you decided to do something about your situation. It’s never too late to realise something as long as you take action upon acquiring that information. I’m sure you’ll be amazed to see how fast you can turn things around for yourself.

      Best wishes,
      NMW

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