A fuck-you money attitude


There’s an irresistible allure to the concept of fuck-you money: Being able to tell anyone off for any reason without risking your livelihood. What’s not to love about such audacious freedom?

But is this actually happening? Who are all these newly-minted millionaires that suddenly start telling people to go fuck themselves? I don’t recall many notable examples. If anything, it’s the opposite.

Shortly after that glorious fuck-you check clears, they’re off to the next thing. With new venture capital chains. Yanked about by a new board. Shackled to a new set of hockey-stick growth expectations. You do what you know.

So the fuck-you money dream doesn’t so much seem like a goal as a perpetual fantasy. And excuse for why now isn’t the time to rock the boat, bolstered by the illusion that some day you will. Yeah right.

If you look beyond a specific amount, fuck-you money can be a state of mind. One that you can acquire well in advance of the corresponding bank account. One that’s founded mostly on a personal confidence that even if most of the material trappings went away, you’d still be happier for standing your ground.

Yes, talk about privilege. There are certainly many people who choose to bow their head not for their own sake, but for the sake of those that depend on them. That’s a noble retreat.

But there are surely also plenty of people who are privileged enough that taking a risk isn’t going to lead to a destitute situation. That cling to a fear of going out on the limb but fancy themselves the kind of people who would with fuck-you money. That’s who I’m talking to here.

The irony is that, in many situations, having a fuck-you money attitude is exactly the path that leads you there.

Milton Friedman on the four ways you can spend money

  1. You can spend your own money on yourself. When you do that, why then you really watch what you’re doing, and you try to get the most for your money.
  2. You can spend your own money on somebody else. For example, I buy a birthday present for someone. Well, then I’m not so careful about the content of the present, but I’m very careful about the cost.
  3. I can spend somebody else’s money on myself. And if I spend somebody else’s money on myself, then I’m sure going to have a good lunch!
  4. I can spend somebody else’s money on somebody else. And if I spend somebody else’s money on somebody else, I’m not concerned about how much it is, and I’m not concerned about what I get.

The day I became a millionaire

I grew up lower-middle class on the outskirts of Copenhagen. Anywhere outside of Scandinavia, the socioeconomic label would probably have been ‘poor’, but Danish safety nets and support systems did their best to suspend the facts and offer better.

Me in the middle in home-made clothing to go with home-made ninja weapons… oh yeah!

But don’t worry: This isn’t a rags-to-riches story. I loathe the I-did-it-all-by-myself heroic myth mongering. I got where I am thanks to government-sponsored maternity leave, child care, health care, education, and even cash assistance. I grew up in housing provided by AAB, a union-founded affordable housing association. And my mother was a damn magician at making impossible ends meet without belaboring her tricks (like biking an extra 15 minutes to find the lowest price on milk).

Keep reading