Maybe Jimmy Was On To Something

Neither Dr. SJ nor I had much in our youth. She would make pot holders and I would take any job that I could, from shoveling snow to washing windows to being a warm body at a nuclear reactor. Somehow, we both figured out that hard work, education and goal orientation would serve us better than complaining about what we didn’t have.

By the time we married, we were first clawing our way to financial independence, which seemed like a wise choice given that nobody else was going to finance dinner every night. Over the years, we worked, saved and never lived beyond our means. But Jimmy was a different story. He bought a fancy condo on a good street that cost far more than he could possibly afford. He drove a fancy car, and got a new one every three years. He wore the best suits. Where I went to Brancrofts to look respectable, he went bespoke.

The problem was the bill collectors. Jimmy was always hiding from them, and they were always looking for Jimmy. He had no money in the bank, but he looked like a million bucks. When I asked him why, he told me life was short and he was going to enjoy every moment of it, living the best he could get away with. They might take away his car or his apartment, but they couldn’t take back the good times he had.

Dr. SJ and I talked about this. Were we wrong? Was our belief in our bourgeois values misguided. We would ponder whether any “extravagance” was worth it, and almost always decided it wasn’t. We would never let a bill go unpaid. Heck, we would never buy anything we couldn’t afford. Sure, we wanted stuff, like anyone else, but we wanted to be able to sleep at night too, secure in the knowledge that we wouldn’t have a bill collector knocking at our door in the morning.

It turned out that our frugality worked pretty well. We were able to save, and invest, and accumulate enough money to enjoy a pretty darned good life. Then we began to realize there was a down side to sacrificing immediate gratification for long-term security. This hit hard when our kids went to college and we had to fill out the FAFSA, realizing that had we pissed away our income for disposable toys, somebody else would pay our children’s tuition. You would, perhaps, but we wouldn’t have to because we enjoyed the good life we couldn’t afford rather than putting money in the bank.

Now it’s going to come back to bite us with a vengeance. Living in New York, the limitations on federal deduction for property tax, among other things, turned our plans upside down. It wasn’t that New York wasn’t a high tax state that was being financed by people in Nebraska, but that it was a fixed understanding of how taxes worked, and so we could plan ahead. Mind you, New York being a high-tax state didn’t really do much for me personally, as it’s mostly money pissed away with the best of intentions and the worst of executions.

Did New York State come to the realization that it wouldn’t be profligate anymore? Don’t be silly.

After weeks of intraparty bickering, the New York State Legislature and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo agreed to a $175 billion budget early Sunday morning, packed with a bevy of progressive programs, including changes to the cash bail system, a new tax on high-end homes and a novel plan to charge motorists to drive into Manhattan’s busiest stretches.

Who else to tax but the rich to transfer wealth to the poor, because the poor are poor and the rich are rich? You know who won’t get taxed? Jimmy. You know who will? Dr. SJ and I. You know why? It’s not about being rich, which is what Bezos is, but about having sacrificed and struggled to live within our means, to not piss away money on disposal crap but to invest it, to be as frugal as our circumstances demanded if we were going to sleep well at night.

Maybe Jimmy saw this coming, that some day the woke would decide that he had saved too much, sacrificed too much, worked too hard, and decide that the people who didn’t needed it more. Maybe Jimmy is going to end up enjoying what I suffered to accumulate, because he chose to live fast and loose rather than knit pot holders to pay for dinner at Lutece.

I’m informed by humanities majors on twitter that I don’t deserve the success I enjoy, that it’s just my privilege. And I can’t deny that I enjoyed a great deal of luck along the way, from being born white to living in the United States, where a kid without a pot to piss in could make something of himself.

Then again, not all white guys are millionaires. Not all of us chose to stay home on a Friday night to study rather than go to a party and get smashed. Not all of us chose to forego a fancy car to show the Jonses we were just as fabulously in debt as they were. Not all of us had to work as a towel boy in a club on 44th Street that paid cash at the end of every shift so we could eat our three-fishstick dinner during law school.

I have no regrets about the choices I made to get where I am today, even if the kids tell me us boomers are all greedy jerks who destroyed everything good in the world, the planet included. Maybe we are. Maybe we did. Maybe we would have done better to follow Jimmy’s example, because there doesn’t seem to be any respect for the choices we made.

42 thoughts on “Maybe Jimmy Was On To Something

  1. CLS

    It’s my understanding Governor Cuomo continues to scratch his head over why the financially independent are fleeing his state in droves while continuing to push greater taxation.

    Should you and Dr. SJ finally have enough of this nonsense, know the two of you will always be welcome in the Volunteer State, where we enjoy no state income tax, and even the slightest whiff of new taxes or “progressive programs” are enough to see elected officials voted out of office.

    1. SHG Post author

      As an old school lib, who believes in such archaic notions as the social safety net and equality and prosperity for all, not for some identities at the expense of other identities, I was all in favor of many programs provided by the state for the benefit of others. But between our pandering pols like Gov. Andy and the Menckian defects who have captured the progressive conscience, the rent is too damn high.

      Thank you for your kind offer. What ocean is Tennessee on, again?

    2. Casual Lurker

      “It’s my understanding Governor Cuomo continues to scratch his head over why the financially independent are fleeing his state in droves…”

      Believe me, notwithstanding any comments he’s made, he’s not scratching his head. At the Albany Luncheon on Feb. 7* the Gov. laid out what NY is up against. If I remember correctly, the top 1 percent of earners pay 41 percent of the entire state budget. The top 5 percent pay in excess of 75 percent.

      As the Gov. walked us through the numbers, he shows that the top 1 percent are not moving. However, the 4 percent between the top 1 percent and the remaining 95 percent are fleeing NY in droves. Mostly to Florida, and mostly because there’s no other good way to avoid the federal deductibility problem, according to data compiled by the state Comptroller.

      With a deadline looming, plugging a budget hole of about one third of the total — roughly equal to the above cited gap between 41 and 75 percent, not including any new spending — became the priority.

      Gov. Cuomo is far more moderate than most realize. However, given the hand he’s been dealt, he’s trying to appease a hard-left constituency, making the best of a bad situation. Unfortunately, his choices are extremely limited. When he had a Republican-controlled state senate he could hold the line on both spending and taxes by blaming the repubs’ to leverage a deal with the Dems’ in the Assembly. But those days are long gone.

      It’s always fun to watch folks from the Gov’s office cringe whenever it’s suggested that our license plates be changed from saying “The Empire State” to “The Vampire State”.

      *SJ: Casual Lurker Spills The Amazon Beans
      See final pre-endnote paragraph (triple asterisk)

  2. Richard Kopf

    To the Right Honorable Admiral SHG,

    What’s with the Nebraska crack? My goodness, it is there that you have been especially lauded and even commissioned to the highest rank possible.

    As an Admiral in our Navy, you should know that: “folks in 14 states, including Delaware, Minnesota, Illinois, Nebraska, and Ohio, get back less than $1 for each $1 they spend in [federal] taxes.” John Tierney, Which States Are Givers and Which Are Takers?, The Atlantic (May 5, 2014). In that study, New York suffered the same fate as Nebraska but it was slightly better off.

    So, you and Dr. SJ should not consider moving to Nebraska despite your high rank in our Navy and the love and esteem in which you are held in the land of flat waters. You should instead move to South Carolina. It “receive[d] $7.87 back from Washington for every $1 its citizens pay in federal tax.”

    Go south, young man! All the best.


    1. SHG Post author

      The tug of manifest destiny is strong here. Plus, I fear the good people of South Caccalacca would make fun of my admiral hat.


        Nah, we wouldn’t make fun of your Admiral’s hat…hell, back in the sticks, there’s folks who still swear by their Coonskin caps.

        Plus your Healy would love the curvy mountain roads in the Upstate…just watch out for the idiots on the crotch rocket motorcycles.

        And our Barbeque is much better than what they have in Texas.

  3. Ross

    I can suggest Texas, where there are beaches, the best BBQ in the world, a multitude of different donut shops, plus world class culture. Plus, we don’t give a crap how you got here, or where you came from, or how you made your money. In addition, for the price you can get for your Long Island hovel(I assume they all look like those Levittown houses I’ve seen pictures of), you could buy a giant house here, with a pool, and still have cash left over to buy some acreage where your Gator could make friends and roam freely. Oh, did I mention there’s no state income tax?

    On a serious note, I too believe we need a safety net and that government has to be paid for. The hard part is the balance between letting folks keep most of their money and providing “enough” services. The polarized views that get all of the attention are starting to make me despair that we will ever have balance again.

    1. SHG Post author

      The nice folks making decisions these days on how to spend the money I sacrificed to save leave me with little comfort knowing it will be used efficiently and effectively for the benefit of those for whom it was intended. And I do love Texas barbecue.

  4. Ray

    Reminds me of that book that came out years ago titled “Live Rich, and Die Broke.” It could have been written by Jimmy. He certainly appears to have lived by its principles. The central thesis of the work was basically the title, borrow, spend and don’t worry about debt. The last person you should stiff (pardon the pun) is the undertaker.

    My wife and I live similar to you model. While there is a certain meretricious appeal to Jimmy’s lifestyle, what he doesn’t get (and we do) is the satisfaction of being contributors and not spendthrift takers. He can have the fancy suits, fancy dinners and cars. I’m happy with what I’ve earned. At the end of the day I’m satisfied (maybe a little frustrated sometimes), but that satisfaction has real value.

    My father used to say live one level below your means, not two ( you are entitled to enjoy life a little) and you’ll be able to sleep comfortably at night. Is Jimmy really able to do that, regardless of what he says?

    1. SHG Post author

      That’s an interesting question, whether at the end of the day Jimmy is happy with his life choice. I don’t know.

      1. B. McLeod

        “Trailers for sale or rent,
        Rooms to let, 50 Cent,
        No phone, no food, no pets,
        I ain’t got no cigarettes. . .”

  5. John Barleycorn

    You crack me up esteemed one!

    Are you gonna cry when the inflation bomb goes off?

    Tears are a waste of time and so is bitching about things that are obvious as well as very predictable. You best just start working on the “legitimacy” of the top secret secrets to pass on to your grandkids when they arrive because Jimmy was wrong then and his “plan” will be even more misguided in 5, 10, 15 years from now,

    It never ends and no one said it was going to be easy…. Well, I guess that’s not true but what-sha-gonna-do? Move to Monaco? Nah! Now Gypsy Lawyer with a Doc on board sounds about right but what to do about all those licensing fees? Happy studying for those bar exams you haven’t passed yet.*

    P.S. Don’t forget to see all the recent articles about the tax audits NY State residents get the joy of experiencing when they relocate (soon to be mandatory?). Anyway, you might want to make sure your tax attorney has a look before you start designing the bus with the undercarriage pocket for the Healey. And you will definitely want to do an all roads scouting trip or two if South Dakota is on the list. But I wouldn’t really worry about it as New York won’t be a state for much longer anyway and there might be a little wiggle room during the transition if you get your shit together and take it easy on your donut habit and start ratholing a few bucks for a hydraulic systems the bus will need.

    *Getting smashed and studying are not mutually exclusive, there is always a middle ground…

  6. losingtrader

    Tennessee taxes unearned income. Texas and Florida have giant roaches. Neither are open late.

    Vegas, on the other hand, has no taxes, a dearth of honest attorneys , a dearth of honest judges (or even qualified ones

    great weather most of the year, and I’m even willing to let you borrow my Hyudai Equus with the flat tire until you can get your bearings. You’ll have to call AAA .

    Dr SJ’s concierge MD practice would be full in days. That’s $1800x 500 patients…not including insurance money.

    There’s a great reason Nevada is growing so fast: California.

    I even know of a 7000 sq foot home that would fit you well for a mere $2 million. Guard-gated. Strip view.

    The owner will throw in furniture and a friendly cloned dog for that price.

    Nevada also has it’s priorities right: We don’t tax convenience store pre-packaged food, only restaurant food. Your daily maple bacon donut fix would be untaxed!

    Oh, and the rural speed limit is 85…I think

    The links were sort of necessary as an inducement to move here.

    1. Grant

      So your pitch is, “Come to our state, where the lawyers and judges are criminals!”

      These are the people he would spend his workdays with.

      You need to say that Nevada clients will pay him and will listen to his advice, the judges are courteous and will read his briefs, the prosecutors are overworked and scared of his reputation, the experienced lawyers will be impressed by his stories, the baby lawyers are humble and will listen to common sense, and the metal detector line to enter the courthouse is short.

  7. Guitardave

    Simple Justice? about a simple life?..Come on down to beautiful shit covered Lancaster County, PA and join the covert witness protection program they call The Amish. The group i live around allow i-phones, so you won’t have to give up the twitter addiction. Maybe start a new blawg called, Plain & Simple Justice. They all got puppy mills too, and i know how you love the doggies….so come on down, I’ll show ya around.
    PS; Don’t fret over the Healy….we can hide it in my garage, and I’ll make sure its always properly tuned, test driven and ready to drive for you…

    1. SHG Post author

      Been there many times, kept getting stuck behind black wagons. But I do appreciate those Mennonites for driving the Amish to my home to build my pool house. Plus, the Philly Region holds the national Healey show, Encounter, so I’ll be much closer.

      1. Guitardave

        ..also very cool national car events are close by in Hershey, PA …just 20 miles up the road.

  8. Shannon

    This article reminds me of two events in my life. The first was when I was first hired after law school. I had to drive 50 miles each way to work and back and my beat up car could only last so long. So when the time came to purchase a new car, my eye was set on the newly released Infiniti G37. It seemed like a good combination of luxury, performance and price. On the way to the Infiniti dealer, I stopped by the Honda dealer to see if a used S2000 was available. Long story short, I bought a Civic Hybrid. Drove it for almost 10 years and through 2 gas price spikes.

    The other event in my life was when a client paid me a large sum of money. I could have used the money on a down payment to buy a small house. But my sister co-signed one of my student loans and I’m sure she’ll never forgive me if bought a house instead of paying her back. Now housing prices have more than doubled and I probably could have sold the house, used the increase in equity to pay off my loans and do something else. To this day, I sometimes wonder if I should have bought the house instead.

    But I just couldn’t see myself living the high and fast life. I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night and would probably end up drinking and smoking to excess. I don’t need that in my life. But where I live, if you don’t have certain assets within a certain age, people and potential clients look at you funny.

    1. SHG Post author

      When I moved into SJ World Headquarters, a neighbor from the down to road apiece invited me to play golf with him at the club. It was a club I couldn’t join, because I was Jewish, but I was more than welcome as his guest. He was from an old WASP family and his wife was a Rockefeller. He came to pick me up in a nasty old 1987 Buick. I was…surprised.

      So I asked him, “Why are you driving this old Buick, when you can drive any car you want?”

      The words he told me stuck with me every since, and have guided a great many of my decisions in life:

      “Because I can.”

      And he gave me the biggest shit-eating grin I’ve ever seen.

      Since that day, I have never let anyone else influence me into making a decision that was wrong for me. An S2000, of course, is a pretty cool car and would have appreciated in value.

  9. Pedantic Grammar Police

    Jimmy was just ahead of his time. Saving used to work; it does not work anymore. Saving can only work in an honest system. When the system is run by shameless grifters who are busy figuring out how to steal your savings, then saving no longer works.

    My dad saved throughout his life, and it worked for him. He is retired and it looks like he will die before his wealth is stolen and inflated away. You were born a bit too late.

    I was lucky; the conventional wisdom when I was a young man was that you should save, but I never trusted the system and I believed that they would steal my money if I saved too much, so I work and save sometimes and sometimes I relax and spend. I have nothing for them to steal, and like Jimmy says, they can’t take away the experiences I enjoyed. My childhood friends who saved are probably going to suffer substantially more than me. We will all be broke, but they will have been robbed, and I already spent mine.

  10. Casual Lurker

    “She would make pot holders…”

    I never realized that, back then, there was any demand for artisanal cannabis humidors?

    “…being a warm body at a nuclear reactor.”

    It was a particle accelerator (a/k/a an ‘atom smasher’), not a reactor/pile, as it held no fissile material. As someone under 21 years old, they wouldn’t have had you anywhere near anything actively throwing off neutrons. (Did they give you a Dosimeter badge?)

    In any case, Jimmy may unknowingly have understood what accountants refer to as TVOM (Time Value Of Money). The longer you hold onto money, the less its real value. Either spend it, lend it, or otherwise invest it. It’s why Insurance companies drag their feet making large payouts. Money they owe you may pay for itself by the time they give it up.

    1. Guitardave

      Aww… i thought we finally had an explanation for our hosts superpowers.

      Fun fact: Darth Cheetos’s uncle, John G Trump, was a major player in the invention of the magnetron and particle accelerators. ( You know ‘they’ only allow people of trusted bloodlines to guard their toys….. LUKE…I AM YOUR FATHER….)

    2. SHG Post author

      It’s banal comments like this that make it completely understandable why no one invites you to parties. Don’t be that pointlessly asshole pedant, smugly reminding others that you took Econ 101 like everyone else who went to college.

      1. losingtrader

        It’s banal comments like this that make it completely understandable why no one invites you to parties

        This definitely gets added to the list. Thanks.

  11. Aaron G

    A confession to make: Despite how interesting I find American law and politics, I am in fact Canadian. I can tell you stories all day about tax money leaving and never coming back. Personally I lose 25% of my gross pay every two weeks and I’m in the low bracket.

    That all being said though running up debt here in Canada is dangerous. A Jimmy in Canada would be locked out of any new loans until their first two were paid off. with centralized banking with government oversight you can’t borrow money from Peter to pay Paul. If you’re gonna have the law taketh might as well have them chaseth too.

  12. Oskar

    Move over here to the frozen North. We have no sunlight for half a year and a marginal tax rate of 70%+ on income. Great rates on capital and properties though.

    I guess Jimmy might have been onto something when it comes to respect. Frugality seems to be going out of fashion. What I don’t think Jimmy has, and which I guess and hope all the frugal people have, is pride. Pride of being self reliant. Pride of ownership, both of actual things but also of yourself.

    As our old prime minister used to say “den som är satt i skuld är icke fri”.

    1. SHG Post author

      We have a saying, “pride cometh before the fall.” As for the frozen North, that’s a pass.

      1. Oskar

        I thought you would go with the old school one “Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall”.

        Everything in moderation, a bit of pride is probably helpful for most people. Too much of it can kill you.

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