Buy and buy We buy and buy Ain't nobody buying time We spend our lives Dollars and dimes But ain't nobody buying time - Ross Ellis
I was watching a Mr. Beast video with my kids today when I realized there has been a shift in our culture. It might only be the beginnings of a bigger movement, but something is brewing. For those not familiar, Mr. Beast is a 22 year-old YouTube personality with over 40 million subscribers. He gets more daily views than the most popular TV sitcoms. Most of his videos involve “contests” where he gives money away or sends his friends, or strangers, on elaborate shopping sprees. He’s the ultimate Zoomer.
He hands people thousands of dollars and sets them loose in the store to spend as much as they can. Most stock up on electronics like game consoles, TVs, phones, etc. much as you’d expect. But the real story is their reactions. Most are feigning excitement. Most already have TVs and Playstations. There is no marked increase in their quality of life from hitting the so-called “jackpot”. He gives out over $1 million in a single 20 minute video. He makes Jeopardy prize money look like pocket change.
Consumer goods have become a commodity. Owning a Playstation is as ubiquitous as owning a toaster or an Instant Pot. Air Fryers cost a hundred or more dollars yet people buy them without hesitation. The $499 cost of a Playstation 5 is no match for the demand as they’ve sold out well into the future. Every household, save maybe the bottom few percent, owns a flat panel TV and scrolls endlessly on a smartphone. When’s the last time we were impressed by anyone’s phone or TV?
Luxury cars no longer feel luxurious when even base model sedans come with leather and heated seats. Even experiences like cruises and tours across Europe have become commoditized. No one is impressed by pictures from the Eiffel Tower. And cruises are sailing away with the Boomers who take them. There’s nothing novel in the goods and experiences on offer.
I find myself as a leading figure in the online personal finance community, though it feels like it was an accident. How did I get here? However it happened, the traffic is surging with people, young and old, looking into how they can escape the proverbial “rat race”. Spending hours commuting, alone, to drab office jobs. Dying a little each day to support a consumer lifestyle they don’t even like.
It goes deeper than that, however. The crux of the movement is the reclamation of time. How can I stop wasting my life away in a cubicle or job I despise? How can I become financially independent, not so I can live a lavish lifestyle, but so I can control how I spend my time?
What if Mr. Beast was handing out ‘one week off work’ credits instead of TVs and Playstations? Now you’ve got my interest. For decades, the idea was we should go to college, work hard, and get a good job that pays good money so we can have a house, car, vacations, etc. What they failed to mention was the time cost associated with it.
The new luxury is time freedom. I’m not sure there’s a term for it yet, but it’s replacing consumerism the same way gig work is replacing traditional employment. And perhaps the two go hand in hand. In a traditional job you can’t take a month off whenever you feel like it, even if you have the money to cover your bills during that time. Your boss might not like that too much, they want butts in seats. But in the gig economy, where we get to choose when to jump in and out of paid work, that might be the very luxury many enjoy the most.
Could this also be a necessary reset? We begin to once again connect our time to our money? Particularly in salaried jobs, there’s a significant disconnect between productivity and pay. It used to be we would work 40 hours and receive a physical paycheck for the time worked. A satisfying end to an honest week’s work. Now we get numbers on a screen, a digital tally that goes up and down depending on the day of the month, with no real connection to our daily lives.
What if we were paid in real-time? Pick up some work in the morning, complete it, and see the money in our account that evening? If we know we need to make, say, $200 a day to survive, why couldn’t we make $400 one day and decide to take the next day off? Or make $1000 and take the rest of the week off? Buying our freedom is the consistent theme in the finance community, and I anticipate it will spread much further as the twenties roar on.
Perhaps, in the not-too-distant future, we will lament our lack of time freedom the way we sheepishly try to hide our lack of money. Time broke will replace actual broke. Of course, the two are eternally linked, which is why people seeking freedom over their time find themselves in the personal finance corner of the net. A corner ready to burst as consumerism fails to satisfy the soul. Many more will find themselves “buying time” to do that soul searching.
Read more at markallanbovair.substack.com.