Get Rich With: Profitable Leisure Time

Here at Mr. Money Mustache, the word “Leisure” seems to come up quite a bit. This is not only because it is a classic and amusing old-fashioned word, much like “Fancy”, but also because it is at the core of what we are promoting – it represents the freedom to do things that make you happy.

But in our rich society, leisure time has become confusingly mixed with massive spending. Partly because it is a natural human instinct to show off one’s power and wealth, and partly because millions of clever companies are advertising to us every day that we need to buy their products in order to enjoy leisure time.

So let’s break it down logically. When you are not at work, you need to do SOMETHING with your time. The possibilities are endless.

You can eat and sleep and watch TV, which are very low-cost activities, but they can be depressing in large doses.

So many higher-achieving people take it up a notch and actually get off the couch.  They hop into their cars and head out to the shopping mall, the restaurant, the golf course, or the ski resort. Some hitch the powerboat or the trailer full of ATVs to the back of their full-size pickup and head for the lake or the mountains. The added challenge of any of these activities over watching TV is invigorating and it helps to make these people happy. Leisure!

The only problem is that expensive leisure activities like these will burn off your Money Mustache (not to mention the polar ice caps) faster than you can say “Louis Vuitton”.

What if there were a way to get the same happiness out of different activities? What if we thought about our leisure time as a blank slate on which to paint a picture of happiness, instead of just a clean lake through which to drive our motorboat? It is easier than it sounds. The key is to  make a list of all the things you think you might enjoy doing. I’ll try it out right now on myself.

Learning to fly an airplane
Playing in the sparkling glacier-fed local creek with my son
Surfing on Kauai’i’s North shore
Carving through canyons on a silent bicycle
Downhill mountain bike riding at a ski resort
Renovating my own kitchen
Picking out a new outfit at a high-end men’s store
Planting a garden
Carving through canyons on a sporty motorcycle
Canoeing in the local lakes
Mountain bike riding in the mountains at the edge of town

All of the things above sound fun to me. But now I can sort the list based on how expensive they are, cheapest ones first:

Playing in the sparkling glacier-fed local creek with my son ($0)
Carving through canyons on a silent bicycle ($0 – $10 if you break up the cost of bike ownership across many rides)
Canoeing in the local lakes ($0 – $10)
Mountain bike riding in the mountains at the edge of town ($5 to cover round-trip car mileage)
Planting a garden ($100/year of plants and materials – averaging to $2 per hour of gardening)
Renovating my own kitchen ($4000 of materials but actually a NEGATIVE cost if you do a good job and eventually sell your house)
Carving through canyons on a sporty motorcycle ($100 if you average out motorcycle ownership costs and gas)
Downhill mountain bike riding at a ski resort ($100 for transportation and lift tickets)
Picking out a new outfit at a high-end men’s store ($400?)
Surfing on Kauai’i’s North shore ($200/day)
Learning to fly an airplane ($300/day)

Wow, reviewing the list, I see that there are already more than enough activities in the first half of that list to use up ALL of my free time. But they are just as much fun to me as the expensive ones at the end of the list.. especially since I like things that are peaceful and give my mind a rest. And if you care at all about the Earth, there are obvious advantages too.

Many people where I live in Colorado have mountain activities as their default or only leisure activity. They typically visit sites that are 100 miles into the mountains, away from the cities at the base of the mountains where we live. At the IRS standard rate of $0.50 per mile, they are spending $100 per weekend on transportation, on top of a restaurant meal or two, various outdoor gear purchases, ski passes in the winter, etc. The average mountainist probably spends $250/month on the mountain habit.

Let’s compare a Mountainist to a Money Mustachist – the MM goes deep into the mountains only four times per year, but really makes the most of it those four times. For the rest of her outdoor leisure, she enjoys the closer locations that require minimal driving and no overnight condo rentals. Her average mountain costs are $50/month.  This $200/month savings becomes $35,400 after ten years with compounding. Yet both of these people get outdoors every weekend, enjoying amazing scenery and fresh air that would make most of the world’s population jealous.

As an expansion of this idea, consider hobbies that actually EARN you money. If you like renovating or gardening, blogging to a big audience or selling stuff on ebay, you can actually reverse the treadmill of leisure spending. For example: over a five year period in the early 2000s, I spent about a third of my weekends remodeling my first home. It was incredibly fun and it got me started on the path to more serious house building work. But it also helped increase the value of this house, after subtracting materials costs, by about $50,000. I also moved out of this house and rented it out for five additional years, which brought some appreciation. All-told, this hobby brought in about $120,000 over ten years. And it provided countless hours of entertainment, which could have been spent in more costly ways like shopping or airplane-flying.

The mountains are amazingly beautiful. But so are so many other things, including the feeling of waking up on a Monday morning and realizing you don’t have to go to work unless you want to – today or any other day. So make your own leisure list. And share it with your fellow readers in the comments, if you like.

Welcome New Readers! Take a look around. Feeling Hardcore? Start at the first article and read your way through using the links at the bottom of each article. Casual Sampler? Browse the complete list of all posts since the beginning of time. Hope to see you around here more often. ~ Love, Mr. Money Mustache

Where to next? Check out a Random Article

Stay in Touch: Subscribe to posts by e-mail, RSS Feed, or follow MMM on Twitter and Facebook.

Join the Conversation: Learn from Like-Minded Mustachians in The Money Mustache Community

Get MMM automatically
by email:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Tags: ,

19 Responses to “Get Rich With: Profitable Leisure Time”

  1. Peach Fuzz May 6, 2011 at 9:19 pm #

    Alright – I’ll go first.

    After putting my son to bed I decided to engage in one of my favourite leisure activities – taking a bubble bath. I decided to take your list challenge while I was at it. I shall here transcribe my (slightly soggy) list.

    Here are things I might enjoy doing (in no order) as well as some discussion of their relative cost.

    1. Bubble Bath: not sure exactly – energy cost of heating water, small squeeze of bubbly stuff and the cost of my rubber duckie divided by the number of baths in which he has kept me company – let’s say pretty cheap.

    2. Reading – I recently discovered all the free books at the library, plus I read the Internet a lot but we’d have Internet anyways so… Free?

    3. Yoga – now this COULD get expensive. And to be honest, I used to spend way too much on it. But since I have all the yoga gear I could need and a few good DVDs – free. I used to spend silly amounts though. Not Lululemon silly (seriously, who spends $100 on stretchy pants?), but silly.

    4. Knitting – yarn can cost money, but I would argue this is a hobby that can save and possibly even make money. If you sell stuff (on Etsy for example) you could make more cash for your ‘stash. I’m not that good. But I have given things I have knit as gifts, thereby saving myself from spending even more money on gifts. I would argue that that is a hobby that earns.

    5. Cooking/ finding recipes – this one can get costly too. Because I often spend money on recipe magazines. And because instead of making cheap stuff I end up spending more on gourmet grocery items than I might otherwise. I try to curb this urge and make cheaper stuff and freeze/reheat leftovers. And I’d be cooking anyways. And it is cheaper than going out. But still. One for special occasions, not everyday.

    6. Hiking trails – this is one I always want to do, but never actually do. Where I live I am surrounded (apparently) by trails and green space. But I never explore it. Shameful, really. Cost: free, but I could use a pair of hiking shoes. Most of my shoes have heels.

    7. Playing with my son. Free. And super-fun.

    8. Gardening. I am learning this skill too. Plants cost a bit, but I am planning a veggie garden which may save me cash on groceries. And the landscaping will add some value to the house, I suppose.

    9. Learn to play Bass Guitar. Free since I have a bass I could use and I think I know someone who would teach me for free!

    10. Go out to movies. This one is a weakness of mine. Love to see movies on the big screen. Never have time or childcare anyways lately, so big saving in this department.

    So, it would seem that I, too, have a long list of free or fairly cheap leisure activities. More activities than I have time. I can feel my whiskers growing!

    • MMM May 7, 2011 at 7:40 am #

      Wow! Excellent comment Mrs. Fuzz. You are an inspiration to all of us!

    • Yvonne May 23, 2013 at 12:50 pm #

      I agree with knitting as “free”. I too am not great unless I stick to prayer shawls or baby blankets, but both can be given as gifts, or donated to shelters, St. Jude, etc. Also, our library has a crochet club that meets montly. No charge; I can bring my knitting or crochet, and others often have excess yarn to give away.

      No mountains or hiking trails around here, and I have physical limitations but I can still walk, and my husband and I walk along the levee and watch the Mississippi river.

      My favorite is mixed media collage (and I use only re-purposed materials). Habitat for Humanity in a nearby city has a yearly “Art with a Purpose” repurposed art auction, with all items made and donated. At least one part of the piece has to come from Habitat’s Re-Store, but they give you a voucher to the store!! This is one of my favorite projects, and I get a lot of pleasure out of it….use up some stuff that otherwise would be in a landfill, and then Habitat makes money off my project. Leisure time and volunteerism with just the cost of the gas to get to the Re-Store and then back to drop off my artwork.

      Gardening/edible landscaping–amazing what can be re-purposed into garden material when you think about it.

      Reading MMM……fun, thought-provoking and unlimited potential for saving money!! So glad I found this blog.

    • Elaine January 28, 2014 at 6:06 pm #

      Cooking/finding recipes need not be expensive these days.

      My husband does most of the cooking in our house (he’s retired and I’m not, and he’s a great cook) and is always finding recipes on the internet. I’ve taken to looking up recipes for things that need to be used up.

      Last weekend I decided to find something to do with some of the overload of raspberries we had from our garden last year. I thought that muffins might be good, so Googled raspberry muffins and then looked through the many things that came up. So pretty much free recipes and free food (planted the 10 raspberry bushes in 2000 and they produce mounds every year).

  2. El Beardo Numero Uno May 9, 2011 at 2:09 pm #

    Hola MMM,
    I really enjoyed this post. My version of The American Dream involves getting out to the mountains almost every weekend. Living in Washington state and preferring non-motorized sports, my weekend adventures are a mix of mountain biking, climbing, backpacking, and backcountry skiing. And let me tell you, life is good!

    As great as these “off the grid” activities are, they aren’t free! The gear is expensive, and there is always pressure to upgrade to the latest, greatest stuff.

    But reading your blog, and ERE, have helped me get my mind set on the idea of maintaining quality gear, and staying off the upgrade cycle. I am happily at peace with the decision that my 2002 Kona Stinky will be with me for a long time now. It rides great, and I feel good replacing small stuff here and there, rather than causing another bike to be spit out of a factory in China.

    The other big cost is transportation. We typically drive 45 minutes each way for the “after work” biking or climbing once a week, and up to 3 hours for the more epic weekends. The irony of loving the unspoiled outdoors, but driving an automobile hundreds of miles each week just to get there, is not lost on me.

    So, 18 months ago, I started to experiment with driving techniques and modifications to my car, to see how I could reduce my fuel consumption. (I also commute by bike whenever the weather is reasonable). I started out getting 27mpg average, and my most recent 3 tanks have averaged out to 36.2mpg. About half of these gains are from driving technique, and half from modifications. It has become quite the hobby, in fact – I am completely engaged in this pursuit! It feels good to drive mindfully, and to have my car working exactly as I would like it to. I’ve learned a great deal about all of the systems on my car, by chasing after several 2% fuel savings modifications.

    Description of my car work:
    http://ecomodder.com/forum/emgarage.php?do=details&vehicleid=3436

    Fuel Log:
    http://ecomodder.com/forum/em-fuel-log.php?vehicleid=3436

    One final note. As engineers, we love efficiency, but we should not forget what Mr. Jevons told us – that an increase in efficiency does not reduce, but actually encourages us to use more of a resource. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jevons_paradox

    Thank you for your thought-provoking words, MMM. May we all live mindfully and frugally!

    -EBNU

    • MMM May 9, 2011 at 2:32 pm #

      Hey Señor Beardo,

      Amazing! You are even more like me than I originally thought. Perhaps even a candidate for the future Senior Mustachian Advisors Cabinet.

      I am also a somewhat avid hypermiler – I run an UltraGauge in my cars and find the results very interesting. I have an article in the works that will try to build some interest among readers in getting better mileage out of existing cars. You are right, there is a lot you can do once you understand how your car is behaving. For example, on a ski trip to Utah (700+ miles roundtrip) I squeezed 31 MPG out of a massive 1999 Honda Odyssey minivan with some minor modifications and by watching the UltraGauge to find the sweet spot in highway speed. The EPA highway figure for this vehicle is 23MPG and many US drivers claim that EPA figures are optimistic! I also get 45MPG on both city and highway from the Scion Xa, vs. the EPA rating of 27/34.

      To get those numbers of yours from a boxy 4WD Subaru wagon is even more impressive! I’d like to read about the modifications, but your ecomodder links seem to require login. If you like, cut and paste the info and send it to me directly so I can learn more.

      Mountain travelers like ourselves can still save lots of fuel just by squeezing into one vehicle. I remember roadtrips of the past where everyone drove separately with only 2 people per car. If people are actually into ‘stashing and polluting less they can get creative and strap the gear to the outside of the car, leaving the interior free for 5 people.

      • El Beardo Numero Uno May 9, 2011 at 2:48 pm #

        MMM,
        Sorry about the links. Here’s my abbreviated list of modifications. I’d be happy to chat more with you about cars!

        A/C Delete (pulled the fuse so it doesn’t turn on when I hit Defrost)
        Fuel Injector Kill Switch
        Coolant Temp Sensor Potentiometer – trick the car into providing less fuel on open-loop warmup
        Clutching Fan Delete – Added Electric Fan
        Power Steering Pump Delete – not as bad as you would think!
        Side Mirror Delete – Added Internal Mirrors
        Mostly-Flush Hubcaps
        Mud-flap Delete
        Flush Turn Signals
        Lower Grill Block
        Heated O2 Sensor
        Synthetic Engine & Transmission & Diff Oil
        Synthetic Wheel Bearing Grease (F)
        Idle Air Control Valve Restrictor – reduces warm-up idle from 2000 to 1100
        Block Heater 400W (costs $0.02/hr)

        The aerodynamics of my car are pretty bad (Cd 0.38). I’m planning on building an undertray. My car has a high front bumper, and I want to keep it that way for logging road clearance, but the airflow is very dirty as-is.

        For a while I considered getting a newer, more efficient car. But anything that carries as much people & gear, has 4wd / AWD, and gets similar MPG just costs too much. So, it’s down the rabbit hole of modifications & maintenance that I go. And it’s fun!

      • El Beardo Numero Uno May 9, 2011 at 3:51 pm #

        Also – Wow, great work with your Odyssey and Xa!

        Now, how do we spread the word to the masses of non-engineers out there?

        • New Reader #453757 October 17, 2011 at 12:49 pm #

          Not to burst your engineering bubble, but as a fellow (and former automotive) engineer, I’d like to point out that using less fuel and decreasing idle speed during warmup significantly increase your NOx emissions, because (very directly) your catalytic converter doesn’t get up to operating temperature as quickly. The heated O2 sensor likely plays the same tune, tricking your ECU into thinking the catalytic converter has already warmed up. Anybody wishing to increase their fuel economy should be made aware of the trade-off involved in those modifications (and may want to check out related legality issues).

          All the rest of the modifications are appealing to me, though. It’s neat to see how much improvement can be made. You could also consider rear wheelwell covers like those on the older Honda Insights for further improved aero.

          • Bakari October 17, 2011 at 6:02 pm #

            In order to be fuel efficient, one should avoid ever idling in the first place, making idle speed moot.

          • New Reader #453757 October 20, 2011 at 12:27 pm #

            In retrospect, I don’t know why I isolated NOx. All emissions are highest during a vehicle’s warmup period.

            On a side note, another benefit of hybrids is that the batteries are powerful enough that they can be used to significantly help the warmup time of catalytic converters. Standard car batteries can be tapped into for this purpose, but they don’t have all that much impact.

  3. Bakari Kafele June 2, 2011 at 8:03 pm #

    You have been inspirational to say the least, but this time I see some savings for you:

    Planting a Garden: plant perennials or annuals that have saveable seed
    $0-10 averaged out over many years

    Sporty Motorcycle ($100 per year – $1000 EX250 from CL, over 10 years – cost per ride depends on how much you ride it. In a two car home, it can take the place of the smaller car, so the net cost is closer to zero)

    Downhill mountain biking ($10 in fuel, when carpooling with 3 other people, and your former boss who owns a successful bikeshop pays for food, lodging, and lift tickets, and you ride gnarly steep downhill singletrack on your $250 front suspension mountain bike)
    well… I guess that only works if you happen to have formerly worked in a bikeshop with a very generous owner…

    • Bakari Kafele June 2, 2011 at 8:07 pm #

      Almost forgot to mention one of my biggest hobbies recently: ecomodding – I got my work truck up from 15mpg to 30mpg. It cost several hundred in parts, but it saves me approximately two thousand a year on fuel.

  4. CG December 5, 2011 at 8:05 am #

    Vegetable gardening is just as interesting as flowers and you can eat your landscape.
    Doesn’t anyone craft as a hobby? I’ve saved thousands of $ on clothes, gifts, home decor & diapering babies by having a sewing machine and knowing how to use it. The most profitable items to make are usually the simplest: cloth napkins, handkerchiefs, curtain panels, etc. All of these items can be made from free recycled clothes and bedsheets so your only investment is the thread and a needle.
    Next up for me is to learn basic woodworking with borrowed tools. I’m building a King sized storage platform bed. :D
    I also exercise as a hobby. Walking, hiking, ocean swimming and yoga from library books are all almost free.
    Drawing is another favorite pastime of mine. I use regular school pencils and copy paper. I love to put a documentary on Netflix($8.50 month) and listen while I draw.
    I live with an entertainment junkie. My DH buys too many video games and discs for playing disc golf. His spending money is always in the red every month. I always have several months worth of my spending money available because my hobbies are free.
    I haven’t converted him yet to my way of thinking but I won’t stop trying. ;)
    And, OT, but I am so glad to have found this site! My family will be moving from NJ to CO in the summer so the CO related information on the posts and comments is of great interest to me in planning our move. So thanks!

    • MMM December 5, 2011 at 9:02 am #

      Nice! Let me know when you do get to Colorado, we may be able to do some woodworking vs. sewing bartering ;-)

  5. Coach Adam May 11, 2012 at 1:32 pm #

    Man, this site is so inspirational. Thanks MMM for slapping our collective middle-class faces and waking us up to the possibilities of frugal living and intense saving!

    One of my hobbies that helps me save money is home brewing. I love good beer, but that stuff can get expensive – about $21/gallon (and people think gas is expensive). I can buy the ingredients and brew a beer of equal quality for about half that price. And I use malt extract. If you brew all-grain, the savings are even more ridiculous.

    Also, as MMM knows, writing a blog about something you like can be a good way of actually earning some extra money by doing a little enjoyable work. The caveat is that you have to have pretty decent traffic, and it’s only realistically going to generate some extra pocket money unless you devote an inordinate amount of time to it.

    I like having a beard, so I write a blog about helping other guys grow one (click my name above to check it out). I can write when I feel like it, and all my old posts still earn me money even if I don’t do anything. That’s called free money. That free money goes straight into investments where it earns more free money.

    Thanks again MMM, for the great tips. Time for me to get back to reading every single post on your website and figuring out what else I can do to fuel my early retirement rocket!

    • Mr. Money Mustache May 11, 2012 at 4:27 pm #

      Beard Coach! Haha, that is a hilarious concept!

      Is that how you found Mr. Money Mustache – through some web searching in the Mustache and Beard arena?

      I’ve been really getting into this facial hair thing in the last few months as well. It’s one of the benefits of becoming a not-quite-as-young man – you get to wear this big bushy mark of seniority, and not look quite as silly as the high schooler with the baby face and scraggly mustache.

      And yet the beard and mustache is still a moderately silly feature, which shows you are an interesting person. “Look at this interesting decoration I have added to my face! Hahaha.. let’s have a beer together”.

  6. Erin October 2, 2012 at 10:27 pm #

    You made me nervous with the skiing comment. Namely that it is too expensive. I currently live in salt lake and my dream is to live in a little ski town, where you take the bus (free!) to the mountain, you buy skis and boots and poles from Craigslist, and you become a ski instructor! At least that the dream!

  7. BC March 7, 2013 at 1:16 am #

    This post does bring up a good question; whether it is better to make less money but save more because of what you do and/or the time and benefits it provides, or to make more money but have to spend more because of the job, not to mention how much you love what you do. I LOVE the mountains! My hubby and I currently live and work in the mountains which means I walk across the street on a powder day after sleeping in and still get fresh tracks OR I get to work at 6:15 by walking across the street, throw bombs for avalanche control and get super fresh tracks. In the summer I trail run on the Pacific Crest Trail from my front door rain or shine, and if the weather is good, I’ve got some fun single pitch granite to climb a 20 minute hike from the front door, or ride our new touring bikes as far down the pass as we are willing to bike back up it. : ) Sounds great, but I earn $10.25/hour- the downside. Luckily my hubby earns more so with that and our frugal living, in the last three years we’ve paid off $6,000 in debt on my car (the only debt either of us had when we got married), saved about $40,000 which was going to be a down payment for a house but turned into the go-back-to-school fund, started cash flowing me going back to school (prerequisites for nursing at the local community college). Three years from now, my husband will have his Masters (he just started last month), I’ll have my RN, more than doubling my hourly wage immediately, we’ll have paid cash for school for both of us, and I’ll still have the flexibility to patrol über part time to get our ski passes for free and still have fun in the mountains with people we love. Oh, and then we’ll be able to earn back that $40,000 down payment in less than 6 months and throw more than half of our income into savings and/or paying of the mortgage early! Thanks MMM for just encouraging our weird ways of living and loving life!

Leave a Reply

To keep things non-promotional, please use a real name or nickname (not Blogger @ My Blog Name)

The most useful comments are those written with the goal of learning from or helping out other readers - after reading the whole article and all the earlier comments. Complaints and insults generally won't make the cut here, but by all means write them on your own blog!