October 17, 2011

Average or Above Average: It's Your Choice

Being average means doing what is expected, following the ordinary path or making the usual choices.  Few people decide they'd like to grow up be be average. But average is what most of us become. Don’t rock the boat, don’t stand out, don’t make waves, reduce your risks.  It is the safe choice. It is the average choice. 

I’m guessing you want more. You want each day to be special, to mean something. You’d like your life to follow a path that you create. You aren't looking forward to an average retirement, you want a truly satisfying retirement. If so then here’s my answer: ignore common wisdom. Just forget it. Common is average. Your life can be more by being different. Here are 4 things to consider if you truly want to break from the pack and create a satisfying retirement lifestyle that is under your control.

Short cuts can will get you lost. Too many people think they have figured out how to get something for nothing. Hard work is for other people. The path to glory and greatness lies through other's efforts or money. Don’t bother perfecting your skills. Don’t waste time learning what you need to know. Look for the easy way to your goal. Look for the shortcut.

Just don’t be surprised if you find yourself in a forest with no easy  way out. I am afraid there are no shortcuts on the road to a non-average life. You have to want that life enough to be willing to work hard for it. There is no bypass on this road. You see the sign for the shortcut, and choose the other path.

Experts often know less than you. Our society worships experts. If someone is an expert, whatever he or she says must be right. It is certainly better than what you think or believe. You can save a lot of time and worry by just doing what they say, buy what they think is best, and live how they have determined is best.

Bunk. An expert is often self-identified. That label may not be backed up by a track record or experience. That person has no idea what works best for you in your unique set of circumstances. Is it possible that maybe you are the best expert in figuring what is right for you? Stop blindly listening to every "expert" talking head. Start listening to yourself more. After all, you are more than average.

Newer isn’t always better. Isn't it true that we sometimes upgrade, replace, or redo out of boredom with the old? Commercials have convinced us our life will be a whole lot better with the latest.... whatever. Newer is always better. Our clothes will be whiter, our teeth brighter, and our home life more pleasant if we just replace this with that.

I don't believe that. Today’s appliances are made to fail, whereas the stuff from 20 years ago would last forever. Getting most home appliances or electronic equipment is impossible. You will be told it would cost more to fix something to just replace it. 

But, guess what? Sometimes you can resist that siren call and be just fine. Computers will work years after Microsoft wants you to upgrade to Windows 10 or 11 or whatever. Often all those updates do is make your other equipment like printers or disc drives obsolete. With decent care, your car can easily go 125,000 miles or more and be fully paid for. But, to resist the constant call to buy what is new and improved takes above average will power.

You can’t spend your way out of debt. This is not what our consumer society wants you to do. In 2006, back before our last one (or is it now two) recession the average household spent 133% of what it earned. I haven't seen any more recent figures but I’d suggest there is a very direct correlation between that kind of mindset and the economic mess of of the last few years. Our entire average way of life is built on  credit for housing, cars, giant TVs, vacation, just about everything. Waiting is just so..... unnecessary. 

Sometimes credit is helpful and necessary. Few of us can buy a home with cash in our checking account. The problem arises when we attempt to fund our day-to-day lives with credit we can’t pay back. Suddenly your life is out of your control. Decisions you make are predicated on how you can balance this bill against that credit card, against that obligation. Your entire lifestyle can collapse in a week or two if you lose your job. The solution seems rather obvious. But, with the average American household having total credit card debt of $15,000, apparently not.  

Do you want to be more than than average?  Do you see the flaws in the 4 ways of thinking and acting listed above. Do you have the desire to excel and exceed expectations. It does take above average will power, determination, and a clear vision of what you want to accomplish. You will have to ban average from your vocabulary.  

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This post is supported in part by Reader's Digest Canada: 8 tips for saving money


  1. Steve in Los AngelesMon Oct 17, 11:47:00 PM MST

    Hi Bob,

    I do have some debt. I still have a mortgage on my condominium, which is my residence. However, my debt goes down every month. Eventually, I will be out of debt completely.

    It is true that retiring early takes a lot of work and planning. Retiring early also requires making smart financial decisions and making some sacrifices. There is no such thing as a "free lunch". If a person wants to save money for the future, then a person may need to cut back or even eliminate unnecessary spending.


  2. Steve,

    It is taking the long-term view rather than the immediate view that tends to separate those who are really serious about their financial well-being and those who are not.

    The economic mess we are in is, in large part, caused by folks (Wall Street & Main Street) who attempted to live on credit, forgetting the bill eventually comes due.

  3. You hit the nail on the head again.
    I am pretty sure we are in for an above average retirement.
    Now, if I could figure out why I NEED to buy t-shirts at Target when they go on sale for $6, my life would be in line :>) One in - one out....maybe that is the fifth truth.

  4. I spend about 130% of my income right now, but that's because I only spent 70% of my income for most of my working life. My wife and kids called me "cheap." Now they just call me for money!

    Just to clarify, that's my 20-something kids and my ex -- and you know what, I'm such a sap I usually give it to them, all the while thinking there IS something to be said for spending your kids' inheritance. But then again, as I've always said, if you don't have kids, what do you spend your money on? So, as you can see, I'm conflicted about this. Oh well, it's only money.

  5. Janette,

    The reality is most folks are content with average, making it much easier to excel.

    I bought 5 new T-shirts and 3 Hawaiian shirts on Maui. Did 8 get rid of 8 old ones? No...more like 4.

  6. I was nodding my head in agreement all the way through this article, especially the last point about spending your way out of debt. No wonder no one can understand what's going on with the national economy when common sense tells us that running up our own debt is not the way to financial security. Which only reinforces what you said about experts!

    I love the above average concept and ignoring common wisdom!

  7. Galen,

    Common wisdom only makes you common and it often contains little wisdom....like spending more money we don't have helps reduce the deficit.

    I am confused!

  8. Sightings,

    It's only money...and you won't take it with you. So, spend it your way. I disagree with folks who have a marginal retired life so they can turn over more money to their kids.

  9. Just remember that by definition, half of everybody is BELOW average. ( That explains why the guy in front of me is such a bad driver). However, I would wager that we always think it is the other guy who is the one below average. (because, of course, I am a GREAT driver). Have mercy on the OTHER guy. (sometimes it's me or you!)

  10. Dr. Keith,

    I saw a study that said 90% of those surveyed believed they were above average. If true, the remaining 10% must have been rocks.

    All other drivers are dangerous..that much is true. Not withstanding that truth, you can be above average just by showing grace to someone else. Thanks for that reminder.