You Know What Really Sucks? Cubicles.

Cubicles absolutely suck. Being chained to your job is no way to live. Spend in a way that allows you to live the life you want. Here's how to do it.

You Know What Sucks? Cubicles.When I was 21, I bought a car on Craigslist for $400. That’s not a typo. I didn’t put the decimal point in the wrong place. My car cost four hundred dollars. I negotiated it down from the asking price of $450.

I drove it for a year and a half, and I didn’t put a dime into it other than standard oil changes. Of course, I didn’t drive much — I used it to get to the grocery store, the laundromat or a few friends’ houses who lived on the outskirts of town.

Most of the time, though, I walked everywhere. To be able to lead that pedestrian lifestyle, I needed to live in the center of town.  But square footage in the center of town is expensive, so I lived in a tiny, tiny apartment. It was was so small that I could reach my kitchen sink from my bed. I could literally stand on my mattress and wash the dishes.

My rent cost $400 per month, including all utilities. I hated writing rent checks. “I could buy 12 cars a year for this money,” I thought.

When people hear about those days, they often share the same reaction: “Your life must have sucked.”

You know what sucks? Sitting in a cubicle all day. Wasting your youth in bumper-to-bumper traffic. I never have to do that again, and you don’t either, but only if you quit believing that consumption is the meaning of life. Spend your money on experiences, not stuff. And embrace work for its mission and purpose, not its paycheck.

Plot the Dream

My life was pretty awesome during those years. I hung out with friends. I snowboarded. I grew plants and read books and had long, leisurely breakfasts.

And I plotted out a dream. I wanted to visit all the places that I read about: Europe, Asia, the Middle East. At the time, I had zero debt and a 50 percent savings rate. Fifteen percent of that went into my 401(k), the other 35 percent went to my travel-the-world fund.

Every time someone looked at my junky old car or my microscopic apartment and said, “Wow, that sucks,” I’d think:

You know what sucks? NOT having the choice to see the Pyramids, snorkel the Great Barrier Reef, roam the Taj Mahal grounds, or see the Colosseum in Rome — all of which I did by age 25. Those experiences are leagues better than driving a new-model car.

Notice that I said “having the choice.” Not every Afford Anything reader wants to hop on the next flight to Paris, and that’s fine. Because the name of the game is about having the freedom to do whatever the heck you want.

That’s why I became a money blogger instead of a travel or real estate blogger. Rental properties are a means to an end, one of many possible tools in your arsenal. Travel is an option. But money is the underlying thread. It’s what makes everything possible. Money buys choices.

Keep Your Eye on the Prize

If you’ve been reading me for awhile, you’re probably thinking: Paula’s not saying anything new in today’s post. Yep, that’s true. If you’re thinking that, congratulations — you understand the core Afford Anything philosophy.

Many new readers have been e-mailing me with questions about real estate lately. I guess I’m developing something of a reputation as a “rental property blogger.” I’m happy to answer specific questions. But I also want to emphasize that everything I discuss here — investing, real estate, entrepreneurship — is not what this website is about.

This site is about a mindset: Cut ruthlessly on things that don’t matter so you can spend lavishly on what you love most.

It’s nearly impossible to find the motivation to go against the social norm, to spend money in ways that are considered “abnormal,” unless you know your Big Why. For some people, that “why” is financial independence. For others, it’s debt freedom. And for some it’s a dream that’s pressing and immediate, like a desire to move to New York or London or Los Angeles.

Dreaming big is abnormal. Most people have debt. Most people feel stuck. Most people say self-defeating things like “I can’t afford it.” People are prisoners of their own habits and minds.

Abnormal dreams demand abnormal effort. If you want to quit your job and travel in Spain for several months, drive a $400 car. Or drive a car that costs ten times as much, and whine that you “can’t afford” your ideal life. The choice is yours.

Thanks to In 30 Minutes Guides for today’s photo.


  1. says

    Amen Paula! I think most people have gotten entirely bogged down with the “expectation” that we all have to put in 40-years of work to justify a tired and short post-work existence. Not true! Break from that mentality and you will be rewarded with an unbelieveable revelation. Freedom is good and freedom is for keeps!

    What does surprise me is the constant kickback from people who are stuck in the 40-year rut. Wake up folks!

  2. says

    There are days when I disagree, like when it is raining, snowing, especially cold our windy, or during my 3-4 month annual unemployment. Most mostly I she about cubicles. I have pretty much no interest in traveling, but I enjoy being outdoors. So I have a job where I work – long, sometimes hard hours – outdoors. Because, yes, cubicles suck.

    • says

      Oh, wow. I should just stop trying to comment from my phone. If I didn’t already know what I meant, I would have no clue what that said. Let me try again:

      There are days when I disagree, like when it is raining, snowing, especially cold or windy, or during my annual 3-4 month unemployment. But mostly I agree about cubicles. I have pretty much no interest in traveling, but I enjoy being outdoors. So I have a job where I work – long, sometimes hard hours – outdoors. Because, yes, cubicles suck.

  3. says

    Spending on experiences, not stuff – that’s one of the main parts of my philosophy as well.

    No money-saving and money-making strategies will make you happy if you are only focusing on your numbers.

    On the other hand, when you focus on experiences, memories, emotions and helping others – you become happy even if your moneyvault is not full yet.

    Great post!

  4. says

    Cubicles DO suck, for sure!

    I agree that we so often get sucked into expectations and what success “should” look like. It took me a good while to figure that out because, lets face it, there’s a lot of ego involved in being traditionally “successful”. You may envied or praised by others; for your paycheck, car, house, trophy spouse, designer dog, personal vegan chef… But really, if that’s the basis for your self worth, you’re pretty much a performing monkey for everyone else. You may be a well-dressed performing monkey, but if you’ve sacrificed your dreams to fulfill society’s expected norm of success, you are still a monkey. I know this because for over a decade, I was a monkey. Thankfully I no longer dance to that beat! And I have a strict, no-cubicle policy! =)

  5. says

    Yes! Keep up with writing about money – I have zero interest in real estate and I don’t particularly enjoy travel but I love your blog because it specifically focuses on mindset, choices and freedom. That’s the important stuff, the rest are just variables.

  6. says

    I get the point of the article, but I actually enjoy working in my cube. I am surrounding by some amazing co-workers and that is something that I really enjoy. I don’t hate my job, so I like coming to it. Yes, I would like to travel more, but that is not a requirement for me.

    But as I stated, I get the premise of the article.

    • says

      @Grayson — That’s awesome!! I loved my job, too, back when I was a 9-to-5-er. Like you, I had some awesome co-workers and a boss who played the role of a wise mentor and teacher. I credit much of my success as a writer to him. And I love what I do right now (running my own biz, working from anywhere with an internet connection). So, yes, I definitely understand (and applaud) the experience of enjoying your job.

      But — as I’m sure you know — there’s a huge difference between working because it’s fun / rewarding /fulfilling, vs. working for the money. It’s the difference between being a cog in the wheel vs. contributing, learning and laughing. Working for money sucks. Working for fulfillment rocks.

  7. says

    amazing post Paula. I had a tiny place and no car at all before I left to travel the world. Many of my friends still have the “I would love to live your life BUT” speech all ready when we meet, and those few years they wouldn’t spend in relative discomfort are now stretching for them into decades of salaried boredom.

  8. says

    Such a great point that the way you handle your money allows you to live the life you want. That life won’t be the same for everyone, but for you to even have the choice, you have to have your finances in order. The freedom to make choices is really what having financial security is all about. Thanks for the reminder.

  9. says

    I love the statement Money Buys Choices. Absolutely correct! Mr. 1500 currently doesn’t love his job, but he likes working. I stay home with our girls, and sometimes I kind of miss working. (And not talking about boogers.)

    With our saving strategy, we will have the option of retiring soon, around age 43. (We got a late start on this retire early thing.) I would really like to open a bakery, which some might consider work, but I would consider a dream come true. Not something I could do if I was stuck in a cubicle, which does, in fact, suck!!!

    I, too drove a crappy car forever (I won 2nd place in our high school’s crappy car contest, but there was NO WAY anyone would ever beat Todd Knezovich.) and if the car gets you from A to B, that is all you need it to do. What kind of crappy car did you have? I drove a Chevette. Remember those? The car no one has EVER dreamed about owning? (Side benefit of owning a crappy car? You can cut off expensive cars in traffic and they will ALWAYS let you in. What is one more dent to me?)

    Great post!

    • says

      @Mrs. 1500 — I love the “what’s one more dent?” attitude!! My car’s exterior is a mess: dings, scratches, peeling paint, whole body sections that are indented. Random people in the Home Depot parking lot flag me down to ask if I’d like car-body repair. I think that’s awesome. I LOVE being laid-back about what my crappy car looks like, while everyone else freaks out about the smallest scratch.

      I drove a Corrolla that, at the time, was older than I was. I was 21, my car was 22. These days I drive a Camry that’s only 15 years old, which is relatively “new” by my standards!

  10. says

    Awesome article, thank you for reminding me to have my mindset that money buys choices. I’m still far from financial freedom, but I am def not where I was yesterday.

  11. says

    No doubt! Cutting on the things that don’t matter, like point A to B transportation, can help you live the life you think you can’t – like seeing the world! Our 50 hour a work week culture has fed us some major lies. Thanks for bringing a true message that we all need to hear.

  12. says

    I do not dare buy a $400 car because I seem to have a car-killing aura and those cars die fastest of all, and the repair expenses would kill *me*. But, my goal is to save up enough that I can throw down about $5k for a used car, pay up my insurance for a year and then have something aside for repair expenses, BEFORE I ever get the car. And I still will spend less than someone who gets a car for status.

    My thinking is that if the car starts looking iffy I will still be able to trade it in, not just junk it, if it comes to that.

    • says

      Dana — That’s what I’d do right now, as well — now that I’m out of college. My current car is 15 years old and has more than 200,000 miles on it, so I recently opened a savings account specifically earmarked for buying my next car. I’ll probably throw down $5K in cash, whenever my current car kicks the bucket. That’s enough money that I can get a decent, reliable car that should last for another 5-10 years … :-)

  13. says

    As someone that has collected more experiences of “what I don’t want to do for a living” than I care to count I can tell you that they all are a result of trying to fit in the ” normal” , they are all about doing something because everyone else does it too…

    But when I realized several years ago the concepts that Paula is talking about here I recognized that cubicle nation was a dead end. However there are plenty of people that have not.

    But at the core of it all is this nation of people that are doing work because they feel there is no other choice, because there is debt to pay and because there is plenty of stuff to buy so that they can be like everyone else…

    Paula and all of you that have commented before me are a minority and we will always be. There are and always will be people that are willing to trade their freedom for money…more power to them. But for those of us that wake up from that dream then not trying to keep up with the Jones becomes

  14. says

    I love this post. It’s weird because I knew what my big “why” was when I was younger and since I didn’t have any other frame of reference it was “easy” to work 70 hours a week and then go to Europe more than once. The older I got the further I moved away from what my big “why”. Perhaps because people change. Now, I have found it again and I refuse to be distracted from my big why. I will do anything (legal) to move towards my dreams. I have one life to leave and am glad that I rediscovered my drive and focus when thinking about my dreams.

    • says

      @Michelle — Sounds like the “boomerang” effect — when you’re young and full of energy, you know your Big Why. As you get into the thick of the slog, though, you lose it. But as you age, you gain clarity and find it again. :-) Welcome back to the Big Why!

  15. says

    Recently my father met a gentleman in the airport. My father noticed all of these people coming up to the gentleman saying how much they loved his speaking, etc, etc. Short version, my father told the gentleman that I am a writer. The gentleman told him he would send me a book to read.

    He did what he said he would do, because I just received the book in the mail this weekend called, “The Power of Intention.” I just started the book, but he speaks to this EXACT idea that you are talking about in this post, Paula. One part in particular really resonates to this notion of trying to be what society wants us to be.

    In this section which is 6 points, but I’ll only write up three he mentions:
    “By allowing ego to determine your life path, you deactivate the power of intention…here are the six ego beliefs.

    1. I am what I have. My possessions define me.
    2. I am what I do. My achievements define me.
    3. I am what others think of me. My reputation defines me.”

    As I said, I’ve only started reading the book, but it’s fantastic and full of a lot of sharp nuggets of wisdom.

  16. says

    Bought my first car in 1980 for $200. New wheels were $50 and the insurance for 1 year was $220. I drove it for a year and sold it back to the previous owner for exactly what I paid for the car and wheels. It got me to and from college and anywhere else I wanted to go. It was a 2 door Ford LTD, a monstrous car that made me feel safe even though the gas tank was wired onto it with a coat hanger for a couple months. I even slept in that monster a couple times. Always seemed to do more damage to the other guys’ cars when they threw open their doors into it. Ahhhhh… fond memories.

  17. says

    Yes, I agree with you that spending our life in cubicles is really sad. There should be more in life then just doing that. I like the idea of doing what makes us happy instead of just buying things.

  18. says

    Yes, most people are sheep in the sense that they just do what the TV tells them to do and do what seemingly richer people than they are do because hey. If you wanna be rich you gotta follow rich people, right? .. opposite is true

    These people don’t stop to reflect or challenge their life and work, pay taxes and consume until they die thinking this is a successful life. Not unlike the cancerous cell whose only purpose in life is to multiply not knowing it will be its own downfall

    We, are different. We seek what the soul wants. We seek experiences. Adventure. Fulfillment. Etc

  19. Sam says

    I loved the post. I agree with everyone of you. I am from Inida and Indians work lize crazy in their cubicles. I already spent some 6 years in my cubicle learning technologies, IT for the sake of my pay check.
    Even after woking so hard I have saved only 10L Rs. Which is equivalent to almost 16000 dollars. I have not seen the world , have not travelled, staying away from Kid, etc etc to save this $16000. I am doing this cubicle work not for anyone in the world but only for my daughter.

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