My holiday wandering took me down to a big new Marina where the super yachts, Ferraris and heliports decorated the harbour. Apart from tourists like me, gawping at the wealth we’d never have even a snowball’s chance in Hell of attaining, the place was deserted. Maybe the billionaires are too embarrassed to be seen here by the poor people, mouths agape and slavering at the sheer vulgarity and colossal tastelessness on display?
Nobody else seemed to be bothered by the absence of those who control this wealth. In fact, other people were strolling the harbour side looking very happy, smiling at the deckhands and pointing at the display of ostentation in what seemed to be admiration. Clearly they derived some sort of pleasure from looking at objects that they would never, could never have the slightest hope of attaining and a lifestyle that will never be theirs. Whereas I was wondering more why we, the people, weren’t forcefully boarding these obscene gin palaces? After all, we paid for them. This harbour, built no doubt by the Spanish government and EU cash, is being hogged by these monstrous boats that none of we citizens can board. I wondered if it galls the billionaires that they can’t stop the hordes wandering along the harbour? I was also wondering why they couldn’t build their own damn harbours? The state can only go so far in its cosseting of the billionaire class of course, and needs their connivance to dangle the carrot to the people that one day, in our democracy, all this could be yours too. Just ask Tony Blair. Come look, admire and aspire. But don’t dare touch.
So what has any of this to do with Early Retirement, I ask myself? Well, if I’m retired I can absolutely kiss goodbye to the aspirational lifestyle of monetary and material possessions. It was one that I used to be somewhat comfortable with and ensconced within. I worked, I earned and I bought the kind of stuff that could be posed with as a measure of my wealth. Okay, relative to the super-yacht set my splurges were laughable. But I have to say the sentiment was the same: Look at how much I’ve got!
Over the years, however, my goals and priorities changed more toward the Dave Ramsey mantra, “…where the status symbol of choice is the paid off home mortgage.” I stepped out of the rat race, I like to think. Maybe now I rant against ostentatious displays of wealth in the same way a recovering alcoholic might rant against the evils of drink. I recognise my vulnerability to accumulating wealth and must protest against it.
Or is it simpler than that? Is it still basically envy? I remember an old colleague of mine stating his opinion on being offered BUPA through our company scheme (which I was thinking of declining.) “Jim, I’d only protest against it if I couldn’t get it”, he said. As I looked disdainfully at the Ferraris, was it just jealousy that was bothering me so much?
You know, I have no idea. But retirement brings home certain financial realities, that’s for sure. Living with less ambition for material goals is, I think, a “good thing”, but I still can’t completely shake the feeling that having money as a measuring stick is something I’ve completely left behind.