Why invest in your relationship with your partner today when you can work a little bit extra in the office?
Consider the hypothetical: My partner has health issues that requires me to earn more money to support us both/cannot work. Or I need to earn more money to pay for daycare/college for my children. Or my field is very demanding and also job prospects are slim, so I need to work longer and harder than average to avoid being laid off during the next restacking.
Some more familiar hypothetical: I work at a startup and if we succeed my partner will be set for life.
Why wait to pay for a phone in cash, when you can put it on your credit card?
Consider this hypothetical: I don't have the cash, ever, but I need the phone to get a better job so I could pay off the debt I enter when investing in a phone.
Why go to the gym when you can go drinking with your friends?
Consider this hypothetical: Due to working 12/14/16 hour days normally, I can only see my friends when I go out drinking with them on certain days of the week. My job is extremely stressful and my friends are my only emotional support.
Essentially, I'm not impressed by the reasoning displayed here. It's a general advisement that does not contain enough nuance, or even the option of a more nuanced life context.
While this advice suits a minority of people who are well-off enough such that they have stable, long-term gainful employment and enough time/resources to plan their lives, I would suggest an additional nuance that there are contextual situations that justify behaviors against the traditional short term vs long term sensibilities, in the same way that there are contextual situations where getting a codebase to work should be prioritized compared to getting a codebase to function in a readable, clever, efficient, well-thought-out architecture.
A poverty trap is a circumstance where people are forced to take a more costly short term move. The canonical example is buying a $35 pair of shoes twice a year instead of a $50 pair that might last two years.
“The reason that the rich were so rich, Vimes reasoned, was because they managed to spend less money.
Take boots, for example. He earned thirty-eight dollars a month plus allowances. A really good pair of leather boots cost fifty dollars. But an affordable pair of boots, which were sort of OK for a season or two and then leaked like hell when the cardboard gave out, cost about ten dollars. Those were the kind of boots Vimes always bought, and wore until the soles were so thin that he could tell where he was in Ankh-Morpork on a foggy night by the feel of the cobbles.
But the thing was that good boots lasted for years and years. A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that'd still be keeping his feet dry in ten years' time, while the poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet.
This was the Captain Samuel Vimes 'Boots' theory of socioeconomic unfairness.”
You can’t stock up when soup is on sale. Or tuna. Or other x canned item.
Shoes, do you buy lightly used, or do you buy whatever is on clearance ?
Clothing: nothing from Walmart ever seems to fit right. Used shirts and pants always seem to fit just a little off. Is there a Burlington coat factory, or a Gabe’s, or similar near you? Maybe you can grab something cheap. If not, you may have to spend entirely too much of your paycheck to replace some pieces of clothing you probably have to have for work. (Example of this, I used to know people making barely more then minimum wage, who didn’t have a car, and had to pay way too much to keep buying cheap pants when they got holes in them so they wouldn’t lose their job ).
It is simply a very incomplete description for why some people have more wealth and income than others. It is one piece of a large and complex puzzle.
If you’re stuck in the short game poverty trap, it’s harder to even realize what your (underlying) big ticket items are.
Or to put it from another perspective: you have to be able to afford to minimalize. In the West, there are no Buddhist temples in the ghettos.
Like the boiling frog, that's an attractive illustration that is literally untrue.
I personally know many people, some with very tragic life stories, who find it very hard to work up the motivation to invest towards their future, precisely for the reasons given in the article. Each act in isolation seems so insignificant, and the future feels so abstract. Why bother when you can just sit on the couch and watch youtube instead.
Sure, everyone has reasons for why they ended up where they are now. Everyone has a great story to tell, for why their present circumstances aren't their fault. But ultimately, the only way they can overcome their circumstances is if they feel the motivation to sacrifice short-term pleasure for long-term investments. Well intentioned do-gooders telling them that their circumstances are hopeless and they are doomed, are not doing them any favors.
Of course it will do them favors. The problem is not the people, it's the system. Once people fully recognize that the system doesn't work, they might get the courage to change it. Right now nobody is trying to change the system because everyone blames themselves.
FWIW, many people are indeed trying to change the system, and I'm fully supportive of that as well. Many Democratic front runners have called for proposals such as single payer health insurance, guaranteed employment, increased minimum wage, and other such proposals. I certainly hope they win and enact those proposals.
In truth, both are broken.
In the first, working late isn't for short term gain (overtime, hitting a deadline) for its own sake, it's for a longer term (or more critical) objective: money for the partner or daycare or college. Especially the college one, setting up that money early by working overtime now means having to work and stress less when that bill arrives. It is the long game.
And you're right, as written it's not nuanced, but that's why there are questions to answer.
Why do I go out with friends every Monday/Wednesday instead of doing BJJ like I used to? Precisely the same as your answer: That's when they're available to hang out with (reliably). And yes, it's a hit to my fitness, but I haven't abandoned the gym I'm just doing it less (and not BJJ). My mental and emotional health is important, along with my physical health. So this socialization is (for me) part of my long term objectives, not just because I can.
This is precisely the point I wish to make; without these nuances of understanding the tradeoffs, the article weakens its argument. While it is entirely possible for a person to prioritize short-term vs long-term in a way that isn't advantageous to themselves, the situations provided do not explicitly state the argument the author tries to make with them.
> In its simplest form, the long game isn’t really debatable. Everyone agrees, for example, we should spend less than we make and invest the difference.
Which conveniently brushes aside the fact that there are good reasons not to play the long game.
Here's a very non-standard example: If I do not have nor can I afford health insurance, then I shouldn't invest the difference between expenses and wages:
As time goes on the probability that I have a bankruptcy due to medical bills approaches unity, so any money I save I will likely never get to see the results of.
I read that as "in general" it is accepted that one shouldn't spend more than what one can afford. Generally on luxury. But if it's a necessary need. Then you will indeed need to make a deal with the sharks.
I'll copy paste the last paragraph:
> In everything you do, you’re either playing a short term or long term game. You can’t opt out and you can’t play a long-term game in everything, you need to pick what matters to you. But in everything you do time amplifies the difference between long and short-term games. The question you need to think about is when and where to play a long-term game.
Under what circumstances do you need the latest smartphone to get a job?
> Consider this hypothetical: Due to working 12/14/16 hour days normally, I can only see my friends when I go out drinking with them on certain days of the week. My job is extremely stressful and my friends are my only emotional support.
You can't function without going out drinking several times per week? I don't have a whole lot of sympathy for that.
Note that the article did not mention a smartphone. The article mentioned any phone, include pay-by-minute or similar.
Unfortunately, the stress and pressure of poverty or borderline poverty is a wonderful bed for which addiction can take place. Especially given that the culture of america promotes drinking regularly as a past time.
If all you need is a commodity phone, that is quite cheap and isn't really going to impact your playing of the "long game".
> Unfortunately, the stress and pressure of poverty or borderline poverty is a wonderful bed for which addiction can take place. Especially given that the culture of america promotes drinking regularly as a past time.
So just don't engage in it? The point of this article is that through power of will you can achieve great things. You've got to actually exercise some will to do them, though.
This is why we the lucky intellectuals who have time to discuss this over hacker news have a responsibility over those who are dealt with a really bad hand.
- The Responsibility of Intellectuals
- Noam Chomsky
- The New York Review of Books, February 23, 1967
The general recommendations I've seen are:
1. Get a good smartphone, its required to get a job these days.
2. Get a gym membership so you can get a place to shower and look good for your potential jobs.
But smartphones are consistently on the recommendation lists for the homeless. Its not a secret, its their life. People in poverty already know the importance of smartphones.
In my experience: its more useful to ask questions from people actually living in homeless / poverty conditions. They tend to know more about homelessness / poverty than people who have never experienced it. In general: people who are on poverty websites / homelessness websites are incredibly resourceful and understand how to play the long game very well.
In any case, short-game vs long-game is a basic issue that's understood at all levels of wealth. Some people are just bad at playing the long game.
But in any case, a good phone, with up-to-date internet access to keep connected to today's workforce is ABSOLUTELY necessary, even at the lowest levels of poverty (ie: homelessness) in today's culture.
That sounds like a risky tradeoff -- if you're taking a paycut in return for some possible future return, you're essentially gambling, since no matter how hard you work, you have limited power to affect the outcome. The company may succeed and ear you a lot of money... or it may fail due to market forces outside of its control.
I work for a startup (though it's late stage enough that they pay market salary), but my partner works at a more traditional job.
For example multiple longitudinal studies have found that alcoholics usually begin to drink heavily, then develop life problems, then revise their memories and remember it as they developed life problems before they started to drink. Therefore if you talk to alcoholics, they will usually claim that they were driven to drink. They aren't exactly lying - this is how they remember it. But that usually isn't what happened.
Agreed, the examples aren‘t perfect. But what I liked about the article was it’s intended interoperability and non-specifics.
It thus clarifies it’s main statements (for me at least):
- starting the long game appears never as worthwhile as keep playing the short game
- but playing long, compounds day by day
- but sadly, playing short does so too
Other commenters already mentioned it: those are the same mechanics of the poverty trap
> In everything you do, you’re either playing a short term or long term game. You can’t opt out and you can’t play a long-term game in everything, you need to pick what matters to you. But in everything you do time amplifies the difference between long and short-term games. The question you need to think about is when and where to play a long-term game. A good place to start is with things that compound: knowledge, relationships, and finances.
And if you have played the short game for awhile already. Then the choice of short vs long is now harder as you point out.
Lifestyle is big factor, imo. There is a lot of things people pay for nowadays that isn't "a must". Especially paying tons of money for a wedding (I never understood why people would go thru all that hassle, but I do appreciate the beauty in it, but too extravagant I think). Paying tons of money for a wedding ring that you would likely drop in a sink or misplace anyway. Any tons more.
> Consider this hypothetical: I don't have the cash, ever, but I need the phone to get a better job so I could pay off the debt I enter when investing in a phone.
Companies don't want them green bubbles too?
Personal example: I'm an aspiring hobbyist composer. Over the years, I've consistently tried to look for "quick" ways to learn composition, ignoring all the boring hard stuff. Relying on common patterns, guides and other "cheatsheets" to getting a good sounding tune. the result? I don't have any deep understanding of what I'm doing, nor can I really stretch myself beyond the cheat sheets and guides that I follow. Recently, I've been reversing course and starting from the basics and going into detail on the fundamentals of music theory. It's painful, it's boring, it's tedious, but I know that in the long term it will pay off a lot more. Just my 2 cents.
Everything has opportunity costs. For every lament about "I should have worked more on this long term project instead of going out with friends", there is a "I wish I hadn't spent every moment working on a long term goal, and spent more time with my kids"
The real answer is finding the balance. You are going to be unhappy if you neglect your short term goals just as much as if you neglect your long term ones.
This is most important lesson I have learned as an adult. If you are always working for the future, you will never enjoy the present, because the future never actually arrives. If you ignore your future for your present, the future will be here before you know it.
You need to build a sustainable pace - the now has to be enjoyable, because that is all you have, but the future has to be prepared for, because the future will be now before you know it.
But it's amazing to me how much I've learned over the last 20 odd years just doing a little bit every day.
If it helps, the more you know, the funner it gets, at least for me. It's gotten continuously less boring the more I figure out.
Who gives a fuck if I have a million dollars when I retire. There’s no amount of money at 70 that will buy me the experience of djing for a crowd of 3000 people or diving off of a cliff in Nicaragua. You have to live while you’re young.
I’m never going to look back at my life and regret that I didn’t live it.
This is a version of the "time diversification fallacy" in finance.
The debate over time diversification has been longrunning
and remains unresolved. However, there is
little empirical evidence to support the claim that time
moderates the risks inherent in risky assets. In
actuality, a longer investment horizon increases the
magnitude of potential outcomes, both negative and
positive. That being said, other factors may warrant
the consideration of an investment time horizon in
the asset-allocation process. 
Also, the article suggests "doing what everyone else is doing pretty much ensures that you’re going to be average." Math check. In the case of the stock market, the "average" return of the S&P 500 index outperforms 95% of active managers' returns. Turns out ensembling informed opinions is a pretty powerful tool. Who would have thought?
 conclusion of https://www.vanguard.com/pdf/icrtd.pdf?2210045172
The "greater rewards part" looks to me like a reference to compounding results, which I don't think is very controversial. I don't know much about time diversification, but it looks interesting. I'll have to read more about it sometime.
Those MIT guys who turned blackjack into a business is a great example of the former, and amateur day trading is a great example of the latter.
It's not what you do, it's how and why you're doing them.
I worked insanely hard for 8 years; most nights after work and almost all my weekends. I can't say that the long 'game' works. It really doesn't feel like a game anymore though.
Most successful people I've met play the short game. People like to play the short game because it works.
Sometimes it's not obvious at all. There are many cases of people who were failing for decades but they persisted and then out of nowhere they got their big break. There are also many cases (probably even more of them) where people persisted but went nowhere. It's only sunk cost in hindsight.
Live! At least a little. Life can be short.
1. i.e. exercising in a way I find fun (jujitsu, dancing, swimming)
2. plan going out in a way that develops my social skills
3. save money but buy nice things that have low amortized cost (quality clothing, vacations, a computer that works...)
4. I think there's also value in making mistakes
I'm sure other mental models are possible.
Edit: Forgot another point: the further away in space/time an effect of your actions is, the weaker its emotional response in you. You can motivate yourself to act by finding strategies to amplify that response. To me, it is what sets us apart from animals, who operate mostly in the here-and-now.
You can either choose to do things that'll make you happy now, but also in the future (like exersize or working on a coding project), or you can do things that make you happy only now (like playing a video game).
That's an obvious choice. But things like "exersize" are not things that make most people happy "now". They are things they have to force themselves to perform (at least initially).
No one guarantees that after years of suffering you'll reach your desired goal
This is flippant, but intended to be helpful:
There are no guarantees. Each person has to use their own judgement on what's likely to happen in X amount of time, and then re-adjust on a regular basis.
This is true for the short or the long game, it's just the distance to the horizon that's different.
Some people play the long game and it never pays off.
Kind of a wasted life then, no?
The issue is to try to understand the risks, and know what activities benefit whom. If you like working, and derive self worth and identity from it then great. If you don't ... it might be hard to justify working 80 hours a week until you're 65 to do what exactly?
Edit: as a counterpoint to my own -- ulta-frugalness may be a completely necessary strategy for anyone but high net worth/high pay individuals need to survive an environment that is cutting entitlements and shows increased long term employment risk.
Or maybe... She got lucky with some investments, maybe real estate. That reminds me all the stories of engineers who retire early by "saving instead of spending" that start by "I got 500k from stocks when the startup I worked for got bought out".
Sure, saving every year and investing instead of buying everything credit is a good thing, just like avoid to sink all your savings + 25 years mortgage when you buy a house, and many Americans especially need to be reminded that. But showing a lady who end up with 6M "just by playing the long game" sounds a lot like the old Adam Smith/American dream bullshit. "If you work hard and save, one day you'll be a millionaire". That's bullshit. You can't become a millionaire just by saving your blue collar salary (or school teacher salary) and saving up instead of overspending.
I've always been surprised how much traction this saying gets. If you look around, not only is it untrue, it's actually the opposite. The hardest, most boring, most unpleasant jobs are generally the lowest paid: custodian, service industry, tellers, cashiers, csr's, etc. The most fun, desirable and easiest jobs are generally the higher paying ones: management, tech, academia, etc. Optimizing life for hard work is misguided and reaps only coincidental benefits. It's more directly about value, moving up the value chain, which generally ends up reducing "hardness".
For one thing, your hardest examples are easy to learn and execute. The barrier to entry is low and a lot of people can do it. Not so much with tech, for example. There's a lot of work you have to put in before anyone is going to pay you and you may be breaking new ground. The ongoing work is often very hard, very complex and not fun.
Ignoring inflation for the moment, if you invest $1750/month and the stock market returns 10%, after 35 years, you'll have roughly $6 million. So that means the teacher only needed to save $21k each year, and dump into index funds.
(The pre-inflation annualized return for the S&P 500 from 1980 to 2015 was 12.97% - if you use that for your assumptions, you only need to invest $875/month or $10,500 each year. Obviously after 35 years, that money will have lost some steam due to inflation, but it will have grown a ridiculous amount).
Footnote: The "retired teacher" article didn't seem to mention investments, beyond a few savings bonds and calling it a "portfolio", - or the actual time span of saving money. Just that she "worked" for 35 years.
However, the numbers aren’t totally bonkers. Suppose she invested $15,000 saved from her first year, which would be hard but not totally impossible on a teacher’s salary.
If that makes 7 percent per year for 35 years, it will be worth about $160,000 at retirement. That’s just for the first year. Money earned and invested the next year will earn a bit less, though with raises, etc, perhaps she could invest a bit more....
The perverse reality for many professions is that, when you are youngest and best able to take advantage of the magic of compound interest, you are barely paid enough to survive independently. After paying for loans to cover college and graduate school, a public school teacher would be lucky to save $15,000 a year 10 years after starting their career.
Appendix A  contains the salary schedule for Chicago Public Schools, which shows that in the current school year a first-year teacher ("step 1") with a bachelor's degree ("lane 1") earns between $57,000 and $69,000 per year, depending on the length of the school year in the particular school they are appointed to. A master's degree ("lane 2") bumps the pay by somewhere in the range of $4,000-5,000.
Being a coach on the sports team earns an additional $26.21 per hour of coaching, participating in after-school non-coaching, non-instructional activities earns $40.90 per hour, and after-school instructional activities earn $47.62 per hour.
It appears as though a teacher could add $5,000 or more per year with only an hour of extra time per school day.
If a teacher wanted to be frugal and save money, it surely appears possible.
It would not be particularly pleasant, but as I said, it would be hard (possibly hard enough to merit a newspaper article), but not impossible.
Why would i skim off all money in the first 10 years of my working life if i know the pie gets bigger, but my share as a working class person is getting smaller and smaller?
Also it looks like half or more of th emoney cam from a relative that happeded to move in with her yeaars before dying.
the lady got given a house to live in for free and had no requirement for money.
This article can be summed up as: long term efforts chipping away at something can ALSO pay off.
I am yet to see a success story that is not heavily leaning on situation or luck. our system is simply not fair and i really tire of bullshit like this trying to pretend that it has some purpose or value beyond exploitation.
But at the head of its concluding list,
"A good place to start is with things that compound: knowledge, relationships, and finances.", should be an altogether more important item -- health.
Without your health, all the money, knowledge, and relationships in the world will amount to little.
And health is the ultimate long game, literally playing in ltiile bits today for the ultimate goal of a long healthspan and long lifespan.
And, considering that virtually every study points to a single factor as being as close to a magic elixir as we get -- exercise . . .
When you're only worried about being re-elected in 4 years, there's zero pay off to playing the long game. The only thing that matters is the short game. Yet as citizens we need governments who will eat their proverbial veggies and show up to the proverbial gym every day.
(Btw this applies to the whole political spectrum, so don't go thinking that because you're right/left wing you're superior to the other.)
I don't have a solution to this. Obviously we don't want people leading the country for life (those tend to become tyrants and dictators).
But if the negative effects of the short game are so obvious on a personal level, extrapolate that to entire nations and the world as a whole.
Climate change? No one in charge when it matters will be around when we pay the price. Long game issue.
National debt? We're so in debt already, what's wrong with a little more? Long game issue.
Education? Please, it takes 20 damn years before the kids show up for work. Long game issue.
Poverty? Even Jesus didn't think we could solve that one. Long game issue.
Healthcare? Why should I take the political risk today when most of my consituents won't get sick until I'm gone? Long game.
She seems like a nice lady, I think its good to be sensible but having a family, spending some money to enjoy life while you're here is a better strategy imo.
I am wondering if the definition of "The American Dream" hasn't significantly morphed over the decades (I am a US citizen), arguably for the worse.
As I tend to be more impulsive, I find pursuing the long game to be a grind.
I follow my interests for the most part, at the expense of maybe not maximizing my wealth.