Sean Cooper’s Frugality & Hard Work Lead to Early Mortgage Payoff – and Online Hate

Man pays off mortgage early

Just over two months ago Sean Cooper paid off his mortgage, and it hit the news: “In 2012 Cooper bought a house in Toronto for $425,000,” reported Sophia Harris for the CBC in early November. “He then embarked on a painstaking financial plan — including working three jobs and living like a pauper — to pay off his $255,000 mortgage as soon as possible. [He had saved up a down-payment of $170,000 by working hard and living frugally.]  He achieved his goal in just three years and two months — at the age of 30.”

Cooper’s story includes memories of his mom’s financial struggles as a single parent who lost her job and almost lost her house in the early 2000s. His strong desire to avoid that stressful situation fueled him as he took on 100-hour work weeks and settling in the basement of his home so that he could rent out the the rest of it. Cycling to work, brown-bagging lunches, foregoing nights on the town and travel . . . Cooper subscribed to an extreme level of frugality. And it paid off.

Online hate

The most liked comment for Sean Cooper’s story is this one: “Hats off to you, Mr. Cooper. You put in the hard work, sacrifice and dedication to get out of debt . . . ” But there were other comments – 1170 of them. Not all responses to Cooper’s debt-freedom have been cheerful.

  • “But the story is a weapon to promote hate against normal people who are struggling financially. It’s the ‘you are lazy because you are not like him’ kind of hate speech which the wealthy use to demoralize the lower classes. This story is hate speech.”
  • “I question why a single man gets into a 425K house in an overpriced real estate market in the first place if he is willing to live in a basement and make sacrifices. He is putting himself through the meat grinder . . . for no reason if you ask me.”
  • “What is he going to do next, buy a car and sell one of his kidneys to pay for it?”
  • “Sean Cooper is the most boring man on earth. Life’s [too] short to live like a hobbit.”
  • “He’ll probably die young.”

Last week, Sophia Harris wrote a second story about Sean Cooper – this time about the online hate that came in reaction to his early debt-freedom. In trying to understand the backlash, she interviewed financial writer Kerry K. Taylor. According to Taylor, Cooper’s “feat inspired hate because many of us don’t want to confront our own money problems. It’s easier to poke holes in his lifestyle rather than take nuggets of advice from it.” Bankruptcy trustee Doug Hoyes explained it this way: “[S]ome people find Cooper’s story offensive because they are not in a position to achieve the same goal. It could be interpreted that the finger is being pointed at me. Why am I not working 100 hours a week?”

Frugal success: Why so provoking?

I remember once telling a colleague about Mr. Money Mustache – about how he and his wife had saved hand-over-fist for nine years and then retired at age 30. “Those people don’t even know how to live,” was the response. Clearly, there is something extremely provoking about frugal money-management – especially when it leads to great success and freedom. This is not the case with other forms of greatness. Great athletes, great singers, and people with great business ideas don’t get the same kind of  hate. What is it with this reaction to people who do great things in their personal finances?

Hostility, resentment, contempt?

Is it because, as Kerry K. Taylor says, we “don’t want to confront our own money problems”? Do success stories make those of us who aren’t being proactive with our personal finances uncomfortable in our denial – and as a result, hostile? Is it because, as Doug Hoyes says, “they are not in a position to achieve the same goal” – and as a result feel resentful? Has the marketing machine – that thrives on our debt – brainwashed us into a view that frugality is repressive and spending is liberating? Or do we really have bad associations with frugality – based on experience with penny-pinchers who gave a truly negative image to all things frugal – and as a result inspired contempt?

No one is saying that in order to be self-respecting, you have to work three jobs and be mortgage-free by age 30. Cooper, admirably humble in his frugal achievement, certainly doesn’t. Not afraid to be human, he says he’s looking for love. “He admits if he had do it again, he’d probably take a couple of more years to wipe out his debt so he would have had more time for socializing.” And it is understood that very few people can manage Cooper’s feat. “While [Hoyes] applauds Cooper’s accomplishment, he said the 30-year-old’s extreme methods are out of reach for many. ‘That is not realistic for a single mother of a two-year-old kid.'”

Why not goodwill & inspiration?

We don’t have to compete with Cooper anymore than we have to compete with an Olympic athlete. But isn’t it cool to watch what is humanly possible? Doesn’t it inspire your own desire for fitness – financial in the one case, physical in the other? I’m in no position to do what Cooper did, and I wouldn’t choose to even if I could. But I’m eager to take “nuggets of advice” from his story. Live frugally. Work hard. Choose to make sacrifices. Manage money well. Tough it out. That’s the way debt-freedom and financial freedom become a reality instead of a dream. So I say well done, Sean! And I hope you find the love of your life!

How do you respond to stories like Cooper’s? Have you ever had a negative reaction to frugality? What would you say accounts for all of the online hate Cooper has received?

Your comments are welcome.

*Image courtesy of Thugvillage.


9 comments on “Sean Cooper’s Frugality & Hard Work Lead to Early Mortgage Payoff – and Online Hate

  1. When our debt free story got picked up by some of the bigger news outlets I had to stop reading and replying to the comments because they were mainly negative. Some attacked my family. It was disappointing. I believe it is a defense reaction because these negative commentators are not in a position for themselves to be successful with their money, and the only way they know how to handle that is to lash out, or they could be just everyday internet trolls.

    1. I’m sorry to hear that you have been subjected to this kind of negative backlash, Brian. What a weird, weird response. You’d think people would capture a vision for their own success after reading of someone else’s. I guess the consolation prize is that you know you’ve done something significant when people get upset because of your success.

  2. I read some of the comments when Brian’s story ran, and when Kim from Eyes on the Dollar’s story ran too, and I was absolutely amazed at the downright cruelness of the commenters! I do think it’s conviction for most of them. They know they could be managing money better, and these types of stories hit them in the gut. That’s not to say that everyone has to live like Sean Cooper in order to be successful, but even little changes add up to success after awhile.

  3. I think you must be right about people feeling a conviction. There’s a whole lot of pride involved in the kind of false self-preservation that refuses to consider the possibility that maybe there is a better way – and maybe someone else has taken it and benefited from it.

  4. It’s sad that so many people expressed feelings of hate and resentment. I would guess it’s due to plain old jealousy. And that’s a dam shame. Why can’t we cheer for one another’s successes? Why can’t we applaud someone else’s triumphs? After all, knowing that someone achieved something so amazing should inspire us to either do the work to get the same result – or shut the heck up. I don’t get it…

    Thanks for sharing the story!

    1. I don’t get it either, Laura. If I try to remember times when someone else’s good news has been uncomfortable for me, I fortunately have to think far back into the past – and immature jealousy is definitely the reason for it. Getting inspiration from others’ successes is a MUCH better option.

  5. I completely applaud Sean Cooper’s success! It only serves to drive me to accomplish my own success in my situation. He did what he needed to do and so will I. It’s so sad people would take this awesome moment to task and hate on his success. Well done, Sean!!! Congratulations!!

    1. I’m with you in applauding Sean Cooper’s success, Cava. People in very different circumstances from him can get inspired by his story if they choose to. I’m one of them. And I’m glad you are too.

  6. I think it’s jealousy, and for many people, feeling like his story is highlighting their own less-than-frugal ways. To a certain extent, feeling this way is normal and understandable. But reacting with such negativity and hostility is not.

    Everyone’s “personal” finance is different, and we all have different comfort levels with debt. I work very part-time, even though we’re trying to pay off a lot of debt, because our daughter is young and I want to be available to get her on and off the bus every day, help her with her homework, cook boring-but-reasonably-healthy dinners for our family, and participate in her school and extracurricular life. But I can understand how this would be incomprehensible to some people, who would prefer to pay off the debt as quickly as humanly possible.

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