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The High Cost of Flattery
Old 10-13-2004, 01:18 AM   #1
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The High Cost of Flattery

I put this post to the Motley Fool board on July 12, 2000.

Flattery is the enemy of Retire Early dreams. Once someone sees that retiring early is a goal within his reach, it is hard to talk him out of it. But flattery prevents many of us from ever seeing the possibilities.

The usual progression of thought starts like this. You hear a comedy act about "the high cost of living nowadays." You start feeling a little deprived. The idea gets reinforced by a politician, who says he wants to help the middle-class "deal with all the financial pressure they are under." You wonder, why did I have to be born at a time when ordinary people have it so tough? Finally, a neighbor kicks in with this thought: "You know, it's getting hard just to make a living." You shake your head, flattered.

Flattered, because the hidden message is that just the fact that you are getting by means that you must be a pretty tough character. It's like when a boy who survived a fistfight shows off his scars. We all enjoy this feeling, and the notion that we are struggling against a strong economic wind in our faces brings it on.

The next step is to reward yourself for all this toughness. As hard as your life is, you need to get away from it all every six months or so. And you need furniture which speaks for you, sending a subtle signal as to how special you are for having such survival skills. And a brand of coffee that gives you a lift through all the rough spots that come with making a living under such difficult circumstances.

At the end of the day, you're satisfied with yourself because you know you earned each and every one of those little rewards. But in examining my own attitudes from my free-spending days, what I think was really happening is that I was accepting unearned praise for a toughness I didn't possess.

Which wouldn't be such a big deal, except that the final step in this progression of thought was to blind myself to the consequences of my uncritical acceptance of flattering ideas. Once I spent the money on the vacation, the furniture, and the coffee, I didn't want anyone telling me that such spending might be a bad idea. "Hey, buddy, I worked hard for every dollar I've spent. I don't need you to tell me what to do with it," I would think.

Which was true, in a way. I didn't need anyone to tell me how to spend my money, and I still don't. But it would have been nice if my own mind had been functioning well enough that I would have made decisions that were in my long-term best interest.

I spend a lot of time trying to figure out why my mind failed me for so long. I now am coming to believe that it was flattery that paralyzed my logic. The only reason to have cut back spending on things I liked would have been to acquire some other thing I liked better in return. Early retirement, for instance. But early retirement is a threatening notion to someone who pats himself on the back for his courage in getting through hard economic times.

To accept even the possibility of early retirement is to cast doubt on the popular world view of economic hardship. If ordinary people are earning enough to retire earlier than ever before in history, it can't also be true that our financial struggles are tougher than ever today. To believe the former, you first have to stop believing in the latter.

It's surprising how powerful a force flattery can be. If someone tried to directly take away your chance at early retirement, you would resist with all your strength. But flattery slips in through the back door. It's a message pretending to be your friend, offering sympathy for your trouble.

Because it's not true, though, it doesn't help make the trouble go away. Instead, it makes the trouble worse. It's not true that the middle-class has it worse than ever before. The middle-class has it great, at least in financial terms. The biggest economic problem faced by the middle-class is that it is throwing away much of its financial rewards on things that offer little lasting value. It's paying for those things with its "Get Out of Work Early" card.

These thoughts were sparked by a report I learned about last week from a link on the Living Below Your Means board. It's called Time Well Spent: The Declining Real Cost of Living in America," published as part of the 1997 Annual Report of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.

www.dallasfed.org/fed/annual/1999p/ar97.pdf


The report is based on the proposition that it doesn't matter so much what something costs in dollar terms; what matters is how many hours of work it takes to earn the money needed to buy the item. The price of a pair of stockings was 25 cents a century ago, but the average worker earned less than 15 cents an hour. So it took 1 hour and 41 minutes of labor to buy those stockings, compared to 18 minutes today.

We've seen similar price drops for most other goods and services over the years, according to the study. The labor-cost calculations are based on the wages paid to production and non-supervisory workers in manufacturing ($13.18 an hour in 1997).
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Re: The High Cost of Flattery
Old 10-13-2004, 01:21 AM   #2
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Re: The High Cost of Flattery

The distance between common perceptions and objective realities is best illustrated by looking at what has happened to the price of housing. In 1920, the price of a new home was 7.8 hours of labor per square foot. In 1956, the price had dropped to 6.5 hours per square foot. In 1996, it was down to 5.6 hours per square foot.

These aren't huge drops, but they are significant. What's strange is that, if you asked the man or woman on the street what has happened to the cost of housing, you would hear that there has been no relief at all. You'd be more likely to hear complaints that prices had risen than satisfaction in our good fortune.

This seems strange in a way. Don't people want to hear good news? Aren't people naturally optimistic? It would make sense that people would trick themselves into believing that things are better than they are, but why would they want to think things are worse than they are?

My theory is that we're seeing the effects of the flattery that we're subjected to, in movies, in political speeches, in conversations with neighbors. We want sympathy for our struggles (many of which are real, just not the financial ones), and the little white lie we tell ourselves about rising costs gives it to us. Seemingly at no cost.

There is a cost, however, in the long run. The cost of not knowing the truth about our finances is that the decisions we make are based on incorrect information. A weak understanding of reality leads to bad decisions. If you know that living in a smaller house means you can retire at age 45, you might decide it's worth it to do so. If you've persuaded yourself that retiring early is beyond the reach of the average man, making such sacrifices is pointless (or "extreme").

Houses are cheaper today than they've ever been, but we've been flattered into thinking that we need larger houses to shelter our smaller-than-ever families. A lot of us really are economically pressed. But the reason is not that it's tough to make a living today. We make it tough with our choices. We buy houses twice the size of what people made do on 40 years ago, and then complain about there being nothing left of our paychecks after making the payments.

There is a logic at work in how we make our money decisions. If you are tied to a job until age 65 anyway, you might as well enjoy bits of fun where you can. If I've fooled myself into thinking that early retirement is not possible, why should I bother even worrying about how much that cup of status coffee is costing me? I might as well spend what I have if there is no possibility of making a significant change in my circumstances anyway.

I'm becoming more convinced that this is the reason for today's excess consumerism. People haven't allowed themselves to hear how good they've got it financially. So they act on incorrect understandings of their possibilities in life, and make decisions they would never make if all the information were before them.

If this analysis sounds harsh, that's not the spirit in which I think about it. More than anything else, I'm trying to understand why I made so many bad decisions for so many years myself. What was I thinking? I've come to believe that I wasn't thinking so much as I was feeling. Feeling flattered.
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Re: The High Cost of Flattery
Old 10-13-2004, 08:30 AM   #3
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Re: The High Cost of Flattery

The price of housing is determined by what the market will bear. The ability to pay is related to incomes and availability of mortgages in the market area. The desirability of a site and the quality of the home determine the demand for a property.

When you look at it, you'd be better off building a houseboat.
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Re: The High Cost of Flattery
Old 10-13-2004, 12:38 PM   #4
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Re: The High Cost of Flattery

Quote:
. . .
When you look at it, you'd be better off building a houseboat.
I recall reading once about a culture down at the southern tip of South America that lived almost their entire lives in their kayaks. I can't recall the name of the group, but I'm curious about the quality of their kayaks.
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Re: The High Cost of Flattery
Old 10-13-2004, 01:23 PM   #5
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Re: The High Cost of Flattery

Quote:

I recall reading once about a culture down at the southern tip of South America that lived almost their entire lives in their kayaks. *I can't recall the name of the group, but I'm curious about the quality of their kayaks. *
What is the sound of one kayak clapping?
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Re: The High Cost of Flattery
Old 10-13-2004, 01:32 PM   #6
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Re: The High Cost of Flattery

Anybody else buying a new printer lately?

I just bought a new color laser printer and I really like it!

Got a great deal at Sams Club...basically got the printer for the cost of the color toner cartridges in it. Which is kinda weird because in 5-7 years when they run dry, it'll be cheaper to buy a new printer and throw the old one away than to replace the consumables...
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Re: The High Cost of Flattery
Old 10-13-2004, 01:44 PM   #7
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Re: The High Cost of Flattery

I just returned from a brief vacation and learned Jacques Derrida, the father of deconstruction, died last Friday.
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Re: The High Cost of Flattery
Old 10-13-2004, 01:49 PM   #8
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Re: The High Cost of Flattery

Quote:
I recall reading once about a culture down at the southern tip of South America that lived almost their entire lives in their kayaks. I can't recall the name of the group, but I'm curious about the quality of their kayaks.
Wow, kayaking around Cape Horn. That would be exciting. But aren't you straying from the original topic of this thread a bit? I thought we were talking about kayaking around Cape Flattery.
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Re: The High Cost of Flattery
Old 10-13-2004, 01:56 PM   #9
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Re: The High Cost of Flattery

Not to mention the key question, is there a kayak made with a space for a color laser printer?
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Re: The High Cost of Flattery
Old 10-13-2004, 02:34 PM   #10
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Re: The High Cost of Flattery

Quote:
but I'm curious about the quality of their kayaks.
More importantly, could they get a folding bike into their kayack. http://www.bikefriday.com/

Then, if they also had folding kayaks, life would be perfect.

arrete - I know a guy who owns one of these - 2-3K.
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Epson Stylus CX4600
Old 10-13-2004, 03:12 PM   #11
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Epson Stylus CX4600

$99 after all the rebates & discounts. Our last printer, an Epson 400, was bought for $239 in early 1997. I didn't even realize that they'd had to expand to four-digit model numbers.

The new one has four individual ink cartridges, even displaying their remaining level on the printer status popup window.

The kid has already taken over the new printer to fax assignments to friends, enlarge copies for various projects, and touch up old photos. (Hey, all this stuff is new to us.)

Technically this is also our first fax machine (not counting our years of abusing government property). I even configured Windows' fax program to dial my phone calling card.

th, how's the cost on the color laser?
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Re: The High Cost of Flattery
Old 10-13-2004, 04:15 PM   #12
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Re: The High Cost of Flattery

I always had the impression that printers are like razors. Printer manufacturers make their money by selling the blades (ink, toner, etc). This stuff should cost about $20/gallon -- the same as paint -- and last for years.
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Re: The High Cost of Flattery
Old 10-13-2004, 05:05 PM   #13
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Re: The High Cost of Flattery

So if you can get a folding bike into a kayack can you carry a kayack on a folding bike?

ataloss - confused about folding sports equipment (and dryer sheets)
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Re: The High Cost of Flattery
Old 10-13-2004, 05:32 PM   #14
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Re: The High Cost of Flattery

Not that I am trying to get off the original thread (what thread?) but what kind of sex life can one have living on a kayak?
Informed and horny readers want to know!

MJ
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Re: The High Cost of Flattery
Old 10-13-2004, 05:49 PM   #15
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Re: The High Cost of Flattery

OK. I know squat about fold up kayaks, but here's a URL that at least discusses them.
http://gorp.away.com/gorp/activity/p.../exp100400.htm

I do not know about other "activities" aboard kayaks, but I think if an airplane potty suffices, so would a kayak.

arrete :
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Re: The High Cost of Flattery
Old 10-13-2004, 07:51 PM   #16
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Re: The High Cost of Flattery

This is one of the best threads I've read on here. Very high quality---my thanks to the starter!

8)
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Re: The High Cost of Flattery
Old 10-13-2004, 10:11 PM   #17
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Re: The High Cost of Flattery

Yeah . . . this thread is a nasal milk producer if there ever was one.
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Re: Epson Stylus CX4600
Old 10-14-2004, 09:11 AM   #18
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Re: Epson Stylus CX4600

Quote:
$99 after all the rebates & discounts. Our last printer, an Epson 400, was bought for $239 in early 1997. I didn't even realize that they'd had to expand to four-digit model numbers.

The new one has four individual ink cartridges, even displaying their remaining level on the printer status popup window.

The kid has already taken over the new printer to fax assignments to friends, enlarge copies for various projects, and touch up old photos. (Hey, all this stuff is new to us.)

Technically this is also our first fax machine (not counting our years of abusing government property). I even configured Windows' fax program to dial my phone calling card.

th, how's the cost on the color laser?
You know, its not bad. After a lot of research I got the Konica/Minolta 2300DL for ~$440 at Sams Club. It comes with the "supersized" cartridges instead of starters, and those are ~100-110 each (four of them) by themselves.

The problem I had with inkjets is I print a lot all at once and then nothing for a month or two...and the damn cartridges kept drying out on me. I discovered that they are, in fact, like razors...a newer better quality printer could almost always be had for less than the cost of a new set of cartridges. And it didnt matter that they're starter cartridges as they'd dry out on me before I could use 'em up anyway. Heck, I was buying refurb Epsons from Staples for ~$30 a pop.

Now that I have six inkjets in the garage with dried out cartridges in them, I decided to go laser since the toner is good for ~10 years, and the estimated toner life is 4500-7500 pages...I dont print that much in 10 years. My last full toner use was a laserjet IIIp I bought in 1991 that finally ran out in 1998, and that was a starter cartridge...

Besides actually getting full use of the ink supply, this prints semi-gloss photo quality on regular superwhite copier paper as the ink itself has a little bit of gloss. No need for special photo paper, although a semi-gloss photo paper is available for lasers that produces a more photo-like finish. Not water soluble and doesnt fade after a few years like inkjet photos do. In a glass frame you cant tell the difference from the output of this and a real photo. 2400x600 dpi. Speedy too, about 15ppm in b&w and 4ppm in color.

So I figure amortized over 7 years, this is the cheapest color printer I could possibly own. When the toners run dry, it'll also need a new $100 drum and $50 waste toner bottle...so I'll throw it away and buy another one.

The only downsides are it weighs 80 lbs, its a very tall printer compared to the average laser, and it clunks and thunks a lot when printing (has to change between the four toners for each page), so I wouldnt want to put it where someone would be seeking peace and quiet.

The bottom line is you cannot get a kayak to print a good color image at a reasonable cost, but I could chuck this into most any body of water and still be able to stand on it. With the appropriate body piercings and some fishing line, you could hook yourself up to it and use it as a superb kayak anchor.

Which raises a thought...has anyone considered making fishing lures and flies that could be worn as body piercings when not fishing? Just think, a careless fishing partner could pierce you at the same time you're relaxing and having a beer. I love multitasking tools and decorative fashionwear that also has a practical use. Just be sure not to wear a kilt during such an ad-hoc piercing fiesta.

I wouldnt use the laser printer as a body piercing though. Or a kayak.
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I'm joking, Cut-Throat!!
Old 10-14-2004, 09:20 AM   #19
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I'm joking, Cut-Throat!!

Thanks, th. I had a little buyer's remorse there until you mentioned 80 lbs and clunking noises.

Quote:
Which raises a thought...has anyone considered making fishing lures and flies that could be worn as body piercings when not fishing? *Just think, a careless fishing partner could pierce you at the same time you're relaxing and having a beer.
What really worries me about these musings is that Cut-Throat is going to follow up with a photo of a recent fishing trip demonstrating your point!
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Re: The High Cost of Flattery
Old 10-14-2004, 09:23 AM   #20
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Re: The High Cost of Flattery

I'll get back to kayaks eventually.
T.S. Mathew diverted my attention.
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