“Somebody wants you to do something, fuck you. Boss pisses you off, fuck you! Own your house. Have a couple bucks in the bank. Don’t drink. That’s all I have to say to anybody on any social level. Did your grandfather take risks? I guarantee he did it from a position of fuck you. A wise man’s life is based around fuck you.”
— JOHN GOODMAN, THE GAMBLER
Humphrey Bogart used to keep a $100 bill in his dresser drawer at all times—a decent chunk of change in the 1920s. He referred to it as his ‘fuck-you money’, because it meant he’d never be forced to take a crappy part. According to Bogie, the only good reason for making money was “so you can tell any son-of-a-bitch in the world to go to hell”.
Unlike Bogart, I am not a tough guy. One time I cried in front of my boss. She gave me the rest of the day off. In fact, all my bosses have been great. I’m struggling to think of a single person I’d like to say ‘fuck you’ to.
But there are plenty of people who I’d like to politely say ‘no thanks’ to. And I say it all the time! It’s great. If I think back on the last few years, fuck-you money has changed my life.
In 2016, I quit my job. Mostly it was because I wanted to travel, and free up time to work on my own projects. But I also felt like I was being made to write an increasing volume of bullshit. After doing my darndest to write a balanced article, I’d see it sexed-up on the page, stripped of nuance, with my name over words I hadn’t written. The ratio of meaty investigative stories to clickbait and listicles was moving in the wrong direction.
This was a great job, at a respectable media company, which produced quality journalism. I wasn’t exactly clubbing baby seals to death. And yet, there were some things that didn’t sit right with me. I can only imagine how conflicted other people might feel.
In my last post, I mentioned the cold pitches I get from companies wanting to run sponsored content. If I was on the bones of my ass, they’d probably look pretty tempting. Instead, I file them directly to spam, which I guess is the email equivalent of an extended middle finger.
Fuck-you money means you can walk away from a shitty situation. You can fire an annoying client. You can turn down offers that conflict with your values, or are just plain boring. You can call out any shady behavior in your company or industry, instead of being held hostage by a comfortable salary.
The concept is starting to catch on. Nassim Taleb called the John Goodman monologue I quoted up top “a critical one minute lecture”, and included a section on fuck-you money in his latest book. But there’s still a fair amount of confusion out there.
Fuck-You Money ≠ Financial Independence
Financial Samurai, a popular finance website, asked readers for their definition of fuck-you money:
Based on over 2,000 votes, $5m is the #1 vote-getter to feel financially free. I personally chose $10m because $10m is what’s necessary to generate $250,000 in risk-free income based on today’s interest rates. Somewhere between $5m – $10m seems reasonable, depending on where you live.
Somewhere between five and ten million dollars… seems… reasonable?
I like Financial Samurai, but I feel like I live on a completely different planet to these finance guys. Scanning the comments under the post, there are people who already have a ton of money but are still unsatisfied. One person who ‘only’ makes $100k complained that he’d never have enough to feel free, and was counting on dying young so it wouldn’t matter. What’s going on?
The first problem is that fuck-you money shouldn’t be synonymous with the amount of money you need to hit financial independence or retire early (often abbreviated to FIRE).
Unlike FIRE, there are degrees to this. You can improve your life right now, rather than eat shit sandwiches for decades while you try to reach some distant number. There’s no need to save ten million dollars. Even ten thousand is enough to change things up.
Let’s define fuck-you money as the amount of cash you need to feel a basic sense of security. Say, one or two years’ worth of living expenses—enough to walk away from a bum situation, turn down any gig, or re-train for a new career.
Now we’ve got a much more realistic target to aim for, but the finance guys are still facing an uphill battle. There’s one more missing piece to the puzzle.
“The three most harmful addictions are heroin, carbohydrates, and a monthly salary.”
— NASSIM NICHOLAS TALEB
If I were accustomed to living on $250,000 a year, my fuck-you money would last about as long as a fart in a hurricane.
Instead, I’m in a position where I could probably go five or ten years without lifting a finger, if I absolutely had to (not that I would—I like working, as long as it’s on my own terms).
My spending habits are just as extreme as the finance guys, but in the opposite direction. I’m living on about US$10,000 to $15,000 a year. Since my expenses are literally 20 times lower, so is my threshold for freedom.
That means there are two ways to open your options. You can either get more money, or require less of it. The first strategy is obvious, but the second doesn’t get enough love. For want of a better phrase, let’s call it ‘fuck-you frugality’.
Companies prefer hiring employees who have families, and mortgages to service, and who faithfully trot along on the consumerism treadmill. As Nassim Taleb points out, it’s the only way you can legally ‘own’ a person today.
This is not an argument for avoiding commitments, but it is a pretty great argument for keeping your life as streamlined as possible. If we’re our own jailers, deliberate living is the key.
I think this is massively underrated, but it’s not even the pinnacle of fuck-you. There’s one final level to strive for, so beautiful that it deserves its very own post. Tune in next week for Fuck-You Money Part II: Galaxy Brain Edition.
What about healthcare costs? Whatever you target to save think about a diagnosis that can put all your best laid plans to waste. That’s the scariest part of “f u “ money. How much can you have to hedge against that downside?
I’m at 6.2 million in my thirties. I have until I’m 50 at which point I should have between 30-40 million. I graduated debt free from college because I went to Jr college before transferring to a four year at which I had a free ride because of my grades. I don’t buy crazy expensive cars and my wife and I lived with my parents until we inherited the house. We both make under 60k a year and chose not to have children until recently. We shop at discount stores and we don’t pay for things with debt. We’ve vacationed in the same location for the past 15 years and we never went on a honeymoon. We still wear clothes from college. I guess the difference between us and everyone else is that we’re opinionated individuals that don’t go along with the crowd.
We don’t have “**** you” money but I still can choose to walk out the door without facing repercussions simply because we don’t owe anyone anything. Suppose that’s better than most.
It depends on context, as Donny pointed out in earlier comment.
For a person with family, especially if that family is somehow attached to a specific place, it can be difficult to cut costs to the point where 10k per year is enough.
A lot depends on your history, and the history of your family.
I can easily relate to that person for whom 100k a year is not feeling secure enough.
Lowering your costs approach, especially moving to smaller apartment, or a trailer, quitting travel and so on is only delaying the problem and helping the jailer by shrinking your own (and for everybody else on average) jail.
Damm Good Comment! I’m an older dude and had an easy 20 jobs before I started my own Business! Made nothing at first and kept Bartender Job for weekends!
But hating your job and not being able too be comfortable there is really going to make you miserable!
no Easy Answers but not blowing your money on Cars-Girls-Clothes-Booze-Weed is a good start!
The Job Market is of course the same as it was I started out!
The Boss wants Asses and Elbows! But stay on your toes-stay healthy and everything will be OK!
of course Much Easier said than done! But Doable-don’t ask Yur friends at the Bar! Read what’s going on in your Field!
and go with the Flow! Yur field might not even be the one you just got your Masters In! Stay Cool and Go with the Up’s and Downs! The Best TommyS
5 to 10 million sounds reasonable because the people saying this probably have families depending on them. Yeah I could probably live on 10-15k a year too. If I wasn’t married with no kids. Context matters.
Wow, a fellow journalist and financial independence seeker! I had to solemnly nod as I got to the bit of having nuance stripped out of a story in favor of sensationalism. Frustrating. Fortunately/unfortunately, these days I am pretty close to a one-man band so I don’t have someone messing with my stories (though I miss having a strong editor too; now I have amateur proofreaders).
I read that Financial Samurai post too. Basically, it’s wrong. FU money is unique to each person’s situation – silly to name a specific figure as if it’s universal. But thats’ FS’ brand – the hot take.
It’s interesting the idea of an external freedom vs an internal one. From my perspective, if freedom becomes attached to money and practical value rather than an ideal one, every identification of the self at money’s reference will become unsubstancial in one way or another, for the idea it’s limitless, and objects aren’t. Not an apology for the world of ideas, I mean, is not the healthiest way if we can’t have enough to buy some food, but an appeal for balance. I’m intriging about those quantities: 5m dollars, or more. Freedom to do what? Yesterday I had the opportunity to talk with the last Hopi, a man form a dying culture, and he seemed extraordinarily healthy. He has 86 years, and still, he talked with me about philosophy, and how the food we eat are getting us sick. I’m pretty sure he feels free with his community, sharing with others his knowledge, for he is a wise man. Maybe to have those quantities to feel free to share would be more appealing to me. Nice article!
Greetings, from your neighbor, coworker, ^^.
¡Hola vecino! I agree that “Freedom to do what?” is definitely the most interesting question, and the reason I’m no longer so interested in the idea of early retirement. Cool that you got to hang out with the Hopi hombre grande, you’ll have to tell me about it some time.
I’m glad that society has at least started to ask the question of how did we get here, the viciouse cycle of consumerism that controls our life. I was fortunate to have taken a mass media class in college in 1995 that opened my eyes and changed my life. I wanted to never need a salary, or a boss after that, it took a while but I now control more of my life than most people I know.
Congrats – sounds like you’re in a solid position now!
Come on, Richard. At least cite my name when you rip off my article.
Woah. Bold, and, after some research, entirely uncalled for. You both wrote about fuck-you money and mentioned The Gambler speech, but other than that, you use a wildly different context, narrative, and writing style. If this is how you act when somebody writes about the same topic as you, I’ll be avoiding your blog. I also say that because part of me feels like this is a bit of a marketing ploy to get people to read your blog. IMO, Richie’s blog is far better, including his fuck-you money post compared to yours. If you’d like to further substantiate why this is a “rip off”, I’m happy to listen.
Huh? Are you suggesting that you came up with the idea of ‘fuck-you’ money? Or that it can never be written about by anyone other than you? I’ve just read your piece, and I’m struggling to see much similarity, apart from the (fantastic) John Goodman clip.
Rich, Given this is an article about FU money there is only 1 real response – FU James!
Ha, the thought did cross my mind, but I don’t want to spoil my perfect record:
Everyone has their own shit going on – maybe James didn’t read the article properly, or was just having a bad day. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt!
I love your youtube clip James and when I saw Rich’s article I immediately thought of it and showed it to my daughter (15) and I have been thinking of buying your book The Simple Path to Wealth for my teens. But, it did not occur to me that Rich was trying to rip you off or plagarise you in any way. Everyone brings their own thoughts to the discussion and add to it to make it richer.
Been reading for about a year now, love the blog. It’s probably one of my favourites 🙂
I like Jim’s blog too, and have read his fu money article a few times. I don’t get where he is coming from with his comment. Your article is very different.
Keep up the great work!
Hey, thanks Mike. I appreciate the kind words!
“It’s the only way you can legally ‘own’ a person today.”
Why the scare quotes? House-car-wife-kids-college debt is as potent an ownership as any that existed in the days of old. Perhaps more potent, in that most forms of bondage then were clearly undesirable and imposed from above, as opposed to the contemporary cubicle farmer’s sorry condition, in that he thinks he saddled himself.
I don’t think it comes anywhere close to being the same thing as literal slavery, hence the scare quotes, but I agree that there’s a strange cultural blind spot in uncritically accepting the status quo. Or as Kanye put it: “400 years later, we buying our own chains.”
I’m not so sure about this “not coming anywhere close”. In some ways it’s arguably worse. At least a human being has real human emotions; the bureaucracy of a government or corporation, though populated by decent, upstanding persons, is nevertheless an unthinking, unfeeling entity motivated by little more than the unremittingly cold, calculating logic of profit and/or self-perpetuation. On certain axes of human freedom the end result is markedly superior; on others it’s at least notably worse. Certainly it requires more “influencing” of people’s thoughts to keep them on the straight and narrow, which as we speak an increasing number of people are departing, e.g. you, me, and the so-called “digital nomad” (ick) and FIRE crowds.
Bureaucracies and companies are bound by rules. They couldn’t have my tongue cut out or give me 30 lashes for breaking my boss’ favorite mug or something. If your fate is 100% dependent on one particular individual, there’s obviously much higher variance in outcomes depending on how benevolent or malevolent they are. Maybe you get lucky, maybe you don’t.
I think Nassim Taleb has come right out and said that [Roman] slaves had more autonomy than modern employees, but I’m not sure to what extent he believes it, and to what extent it’s just one of his hyperbolic rhetorical flourishes.
I’m pretty sure I agree with your broader point. The modern version reminds me of gas-lighting, in the sense that people are not only manipulated into forging their own shackles, but trained to say ‘thank you sir’ afterwards. That makes it extra creepy.
>On certain axes of human freedom the end result is markedly superior; on others it’s at least notably worse.
On a second pass, this is uncomfortably ambiguous. To be clear, it’s referring to what we have now, definitely not slavery.
It’s true that bureaucracies and such exhibit less variance in their behavior, and that’s a great improvement. Still, the examples you give, of the tongue and the lashes, strike me as something propagated in a “hey, we keep you from your family, work you into psychotic SSRI dependence, fire you at our whim, and generally you find yourself in perpetual bondage to us, but at least we don’t lash or detongue workers like the evil bastards who preceded us” sort of way. “Production is up 15% week over week, comrade, and Napoleon is always right.” Etc.
I don’t have any great knowledge on Roman slaves, but I think I recall once reading that they bore more resemblance to what we would today call “indentured servants”, having fallen into “slavery” through debt and with the ability to work themselves out of it, much as many American pioneers bought themselves passage to the New World in exchange for several years of “unpaid” labor. Whether this is equivalent to modern student loan debt I guess is a question up for debate.
Intuitively, I suspect that all pre-20th century laborers had far more autonomy than modern employees. When Henry Ford started up his first assembly line just a little more than a century ago, he had to hire something like 50 employees for every 2 he kept — the rest quit in disgust within days or weeks. It’s 2018, so we know who won that battle—: Ford is celebrated as a great industrialist, business genius, innovator, and jobs creator, and 20 years of pre-labor-force Prussified schooling is seen as absolutely normal and routine.
Gas-lighting is a great description. I couldn’t have put it better. And it is super creepy.
Btw, sorry for going all weird on you.
Weird is good.
That’s interesting about Ford. The version of the story I heard is that he pioneered the practice of paying workers well above market rates – the fabled $5 work day- so that they could afford to buy automobiles. On reflection, this makes no sense at all, and of course the real reason, as you point out, was to slow the ridiculously high rate of attrition.
I guess I don’t know enough about indentured servitude/Roman slavery to be able to make any sort of meaningful comparison. The modern practice of being able to declare bankruptcy does seem like a crucial safety valve to me; but then I was shocked to discover that Americans can’t discharge their student loan debt. If you have a six-figure millstone around your neck for life, based on decisions you made as a teenager with an undeveloped prefrontal cortex, maybe the whole slavery thing does start to become more than just a metaphor.