Social norms help guide and direct our behaviour. Unfortunately, for many of us, simply looking to the people around us, whether they be family, friends or work colleagues, won’t provide good examples or guidance.
“Normal” often means spending more than you earn, consuming more than you need, relying on debt and living paycheck-to-paycheck. It may be easier to just do what everyone else is doing in the short term, but it isn’t typically the optimal answer in the long run.
In fact, focusing on being normal is likely to set you on the path of mediocrity, the average and ordinary. Mindlessly following the herd is a receipe for drift and a life without direction or purpose.
When you make the decision to avoid “normal” and realize that you don’t have to live up to the expectations of others, or follow the unwritten rules of society, then you can begin living your life on your terms.
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition”Steve Jobs
10 Things to avoid and why you should stop trying to be “normal”
These are some things normal people are comfortable with:
(1) Being in constant debt and living on borrowed money
The stigma around debt no longer exists. In fact as a society we are more comfortable than ever living on borrowed money. We transition easily from student debt to credit card debt to a car loan to a mortgage. Most “normal” people spend the majority of their lives in some sort of debt.
It is easy to get stuck in and used to the debt trap. Consumer debt is at record levels and a reality for most people. They are spending more than they can afford, and having this debt in turn costs them even more money in interest payments, which impacts their ability to save for the future. Associated with these financial problems are money worries, stress and other health impacts.
Prioritizing paying off debt should be a focus. Don’t be “normal” and take on more of a financial burden than you can sustainably afford.
(2) Living paycheck-to-paycheck
It’s estimated that ~78% of workers are living paycheck-to-paycheck. This is a disaster for your finances, mental and physical wellbeing. Among families earning more than $150,000 per year, ~25% still live paycheck-to-paycheck, so even the wealthy aren’t immune. Needless to say this isn’t a situation you should be looking to emulate by being “normal”.
The big problem is that living paycheck-to-paycheck gives you no ability, beyond perhaps using your credit card, to handle unexpected surprises, bills, or emergencies.
(3) Not having a budget or understanding of where the money is going
1 out of 3 people don’t have a budget, even though 93% of people, surveyed by Debt.com, say that you need one. So “normal” people don’t budget, even though most of them recognize the benefits of following a spending plan.
The fact is, that if you don’t know what you are spending your money on, it is extremely difficult to correct course. Having a budget helps you prioritize your spending so that you have a plan and focus. It also lets you track actual costs against monthly goals, and be more aware about what is going on with your money.
(4) A YOLO mentality
“You Only Live Once” is a popular saying used by many people as an excuse to do something ill advised. Justifying an action and seizing the moment because YOLO is often the epitome of short term thinking.
The YOLO mentality puts immediate happiness ahead of any future needs or concerns. This is, more often than not, a poor decision for your health, relationships and finances.
The fortunate reality is most of us live long lives. Start making adult decisions because, as the other saying goes, “Easy decisions, hard life; hard decisions, easy life”.
(5) Not paying themselves first
Paying yourself first means putting a portion of each paycheck into a savings account or investment. Most “normal” people don’t do this, as evidenced above by the high levels of debt and majority of people living paycheck-to-paycheck.
Paying yourself first is an important financial discipline and a healthy habit to adopt. Rather than spending money on stuff, you can see your wealth build. Instead of the normal approach – saving what’s left – you allocate money to savings or investments immediately. Ideally, this can be automated via payroll deductions directed to a pension or other tax effective account. Easy, effective and out of reach, avoiding any temptation to spend the money on other things.
(6) Acknowledging the difference between wants and needs
Many “normal” people, often classify wants as needs. I need the newest iPhone or I need to wear the latest fashion or I need a luxury car. Trying to keep up with the Joneses can blur the lines betwen wants and needs.
The difference between wants and needs is a subjective but an important distinction. When it comes to your finances, needs should be budgeted for whereas wants can be a discretionary expenditure. Be conscious of the difference between wants and needs as it can help with budgeting, mindset and spending habits. Being clear on the distinction can also help you better appreciate the things you already have and reduce the desire for more.
(7) Having no emergency fund
According to a recent PWC study, 45% of people surveyed have less than $1,000 saved for unexpected expense. Unfortunately this situation is worse for women, with 51% not having this relatively small amount of money put aside vs. 38% of men.
An emergency fund is a stash of money put aside and is readily assessible for any unplanned expenses. Whether it be car repairs, a broken washing machine, unexpected medical costs or losing a job, there will be inevitable bumps in the road. Establishing an emergency fund is a fundamental step in getting your financial situation in order and minimizing money related stress.
(8) Spending too much on housing and other living expenses
Housing is likely the largest expense for “normal” people. Housing accounts for ~40% of the average budget, leaving little money for other expenses or indeed savings.
Making some sacrifices on housing expenses today, such as downsizing to a smaller home or renting an apartment in a lower cost location, can lead to significant savings. These savings will accumulate and lead to a much more comfortable financial future. Keeping housing costs low, regardless of your income, is a smart choice.
Apart from housing, cars and their associated costs are also likely to be a major expense. Driving older/used vehicles and shopping around for insurance are great ways to save on transport costs. You can also consider using public transport more, riding a bike or moving closer to work to reduce the amount you drive.
Other living expenses where being “normal” really doesn’t make sense are things like cable TV bills, needing to always upgrade to the latest gadget, the unused gym membership or eating out constantly. There are lots of areas where a leaner lifestyle will positively impact your savings and financial wellbeing.
(9) Prioritizing stuff over everything else
We unfortunately live in an increasingly consumerist, disposable society. Marketers employ sophisticated techniques to convince us that new is good and old is less desirable. “Keeping up with the Joneses” mentality is unfortunately common place and, as consumers, we are conditioned to buy, buy, buy.
Normal comes at a cost with ~262m tons of waste generated in the US alone, a growing shipping-supply chain carbon footprint and record levels of consumer debt. At the individual level our mental wellbeing is being budened by growing amounts of clutter and pressure to always have the latest and greatest things.
Just because we can buy something doesn’t mean we should. Our wealth, health and environment would be much better off if we stopped obsessing about possessions.
(10) Working until 65+
Most “normal” people expect to work until they are at least 65 and realistically beyond that. It doesn’t have to be that way!
The financial independence movement has clearly mapped out an achievable and pragmatic path to “retiring early”. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to stop working but rather being financially independent provides choice and freedom, allowing you to pursue dreams and ambitions, without the week-on-week burden of paid work.
If you do want to be ‘normal’, try this social hack
Normality is subjective and is largely determined by your culture and social circle.
“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with”Jim Rohn
The people who surround you shape how you act, think and behave. With this in mind, superpower your ‘normal’ by hanging out with people who have similar dreams and ambitions. Collectively you will hold each other accountable, reinforce good habits and help each other succeed. Build your social network with people who you admire and who support and encourage good behaviour.
Embrace your own unique path and avoid the mistakes most “normal” people make
I’ve been actively trying to eliminate many of the activities, expectations and behaviours of “normal” people and am happier for it. I’m not purposefully counter culture, but I am trying to be more mindful about the type of life I want to live. This means avoiding drift, lifestyle creep and unconscious spending.
I’m no longer just doing what everyone else does. Being normal means limiting yourself and your potential. The abnormal path may just be the smarter route through life.
Thanks for reading
Mr Simple Life.