I’ve never been “cool” or “popular.” In certain situations with certain people, I can fake it for short periods of time, but the truth always comes out soon enough. Thankfully, I managed to get over this complex at the relatively young age of 16 and I’ve been benefiting from it ever since. In addition to all of the psychological benefits that come with not pretending to be someone you aren’t or trying to meet others’ expectations all the time, I’ve also found that being uncool can save you a whole lot of money.
As an uncool person, here are a few of the many things you won’t have to spend your money on.
1. A fancy car, or anything nicer than a functional junk bucket. Other people may laugh at my car behind my back, but I’m laughing all the way to the bank. My car does exactly what a car needs to do: it gets me to where I need to go. While it may not look pretty, it’s dependable and gets good gas mileage. Not only did I save on the purchase price, I also save on insurance year after year.
2. The latest cell phone. I must look like a total loser to everyone in the “cool” crowd that has the iPhone, but my cell phone works just fine, I didn’t have to pay hundreds of dollars for it, and I’m not hooked into any long term service contract. If my cell phone ever quits working, I’ll get a new (to me) one on eBay for pennies on the dollar. I may not be cool since I don’t have the latest and greatest toy that’s full of fun but unnecessary gadgets that I’ve successfully lived without for years (how many people use their phone’s built-in camera regularly?), but I do have a growing retirement account.
3. Anything at full price. While a lot of people are too cool to be buying things from the sale rack, eBay, Craigslist, garage sales, or thrift stores, this has never been a problem for me. Just because an item is on sale or has been used before doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with it, at least for those of us that are uncool. Thrift stores, even places like Goodwill and Salvation Army, are generally fairly picky about the quality of merchandise they’ll actually put on the sales floor (try donating a slightly broken desk to them and you’ll see what I mean). Most of their merchandise comes from nice upper and middle class homes and has been well cared for, but the original owner has simply gotten tired of their item, upgraded to something nicer, or had to get rid of non-essentials when they moved.
4. An overpriced luxury apartment or an expensive home in a prestigious zip code. I once lived in the “cool” expensive area of town, but after a year of paying overpriced rent, I decided to move to an average neighborhood where I get more bang for my buck. By doing so, I save lots of money, which I will one day be able to use for a down payment on a home. With every overpriced rent check you hand over, you’re putting yourself further and further away from owning a nice home instead of owning just a mediocre one or having to keep renting. If you’ve bought a home in a hip area, appreciation may make your home a great investment over the years, but that high mortgage payment may also be standing in the way of your other goals, like socking away plenty of money in your 401k or simply living comfortably instead of living paycheck to paycheck and praying you don’t get laid off.
5. Bottled water. While the “cool” people walk around with with their $1+ bottles of water, I know most of it is just purified tap water. Plain old tap water is fine for me in restaurants, and at home l use a water filter. I save a ton of money over buying bottled water, and it’s much better for the environment than manufacturing and throwing away (or even recycling) all those bottles. There’s no point in bragging about owning a hybrid car if you’re still drinking bottled water. That being said, I do like to have a couple of water bottles on hand that I re-use over and over again. Taking my own water to sporting events and carrying an empty bottle with me through airport security saves me lots of money on the other side of the gates.
6. Vacation homes. Vacation homes come with great bragging rights for those who are “cool,” but they’re not a good use of your money if they’re sitting empty when you’re not there. I stay with the uncool, less expensive option of renting my vacation lodging. Owning a vacation home isn’t necessarily a bad use of your money, however, if you make lots of rental income off of it while you aren’t using it, but it would also be uncool letting strangers who are too poor to buy their own vacation homes live in your house…eew!
7. Name brand clothes, shoes, and accessories. When I walk down the street, it’s rarely in brand name clothing that would make the “cool” people turn their heads in admiration. There are times when a name brand gets you a higher quality product, and in these cases I will certainly buy brand names. However, I don’t buy them just to impress other people. Why spend $300 to carry around free, unlimited advertising for Louis Vuitton?
8. Fashionably up-to-date clothes, shoes, and accessories. While the “cool” people are making sure their clothing color matches the latest trends, I have no idea if my pants are in style this season or not. All I know is that they fit well, and I got them for 75% off on eBay. While I don’t wear the latest styles or the hottest brands, my clothes cost a lot less initially and I’m able to wear them for longer.
9. Name brand groceries. Yes, I know I may look uncool purchasing the store brand instead of the ones advertised on TV, but I’m not really attached to the slight difference in the flavor of Oreos over store-brand chocolate sandwich cookies. I save a bundle while still getting perfectly good food by avoiding the brand hype. Many times, even if I have a coupon (being uncool again) to purchase a national brand, the regular price of the store brand will still be a
10. Expensive cosmetics. When you look into my purse, you aren’t going to see the “cool” expensive brands. The same companies often make both an expensive and an inexpensive line of cosmetics, with virtually no difference in quality between the two, so I buy my makeup at the drugstore. For cosmetics that are best tested before I buy (like lipstick), I go for the less expensive lines at Sephora or hit the Clinique counter because they’re the least expensive of the department store brands. Also, I take advantage of the companies that will give or sell you samples (like Mary Kay or Paula’s Choice).
11. Frequent haircuts and/or stylish hairstyles. I’m not advocating that getting one of those $15 haircuts is the way to save money – that’s a good way to get a hack job done on your hair and have to spend more money to get it fixed than you would have had to spend to
get it done right the first time. “Cool” women know from hairdressers and magazines that they need to get their hair cut every six to eight weeks. Maybe that’s true if you want to have perfect-looking hair all the time, but I find that I can stretch out the time between haircuts a lot by being a bit uncool and simply wearing my hair up or curling the ends under when my hair is getting scraggly. I also avoid the “cool” highlights, salon dye jobs, and complicated haircuts that require lots of styling products to save even more money. Besides, most people look better with their natural hair color, and if you really must dye it, the chemicals in the drugstore dyes are exactly the same ones that go onto your hair at the salon, so you might as well do it yourself for $10.
12. Dry cleaning. Sure, I know that “cool” people don’t do their own laundry or ironing, but at several dollars per garment, I’d rather remain uncool since dry cleaning is an incredible waste of money. I shop carefully to avoid buying dry clean only clothing, and I don’t let myself be too busy or important to do my own laundry. If I ever got super-busy, hiring someone to do my laundry for me in my home once every two weeks would probably be cheaper and faster than dropping off, picking up, and spending all that money on dry cleaning.
13. Constant home upgrades. When I buy a house, I know I won’t be keeping up with the “cool” people because my home won’t get a brand-new kitchen or a fountain in the front yard. I spend a lot of time in an upscale residential neighborhood, and I’m stunned by how much construction goes on there. By choosing a home in an uncool neighborhood where competing with your neighbors is not the norm, I plan to save a lot of money and avoid all that construction noise.
14. Going out. While all the “cool” people are dining at the latest trendy restaurant, bar, or club, I save a ton of money by being uncool and eating at my favorite local Thai hole-in-the-wall. This allows me to enjoy the pleasures of eating out while spending far less money. To maximize my uncoolness, I always take my leftovers with me in a doggie bag.
15. Alcoholic drinks. I know I don’t meet the definition of “cool” since I’m willing to fulfill my craving for a drink at home instead of blowing $10 a pop on bar drinks at the trendy clubs. My well-stocked home bar was purchased for the cost of several bar drinks, and it will last a lot longer.
The truth is that most financially successful people are very modest in their spending habits and don’t flaunt their wealth, according to Thomas J. Stanley’s excellent book (and audiobook), The Millionaire Mind. Their money is largely socked away, providing them with security and peace of mind, instead of being spent on showy things that will make them look cool to other people. If you make your purchasing decisions based on what really fulfills your needs and wants instead of based on what you’re told to purchase because it will make you cooler, you’ll not only save money, but get more personal satisfaction per dollar spent.