19 comments

Mrs. Money Mustache: The Secret Life of Frugality

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Introduction: Welcome to the first post by Mrs. Money Mustache herself. Long a lurker on this blog, she finally has some things to say to balance Mr. Money Mustache’s manly voice.
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There are many people that dream of retiring early.  I was never one of those people.  The idea of retirement in my 30s didn’t make any sense to me as I was just starting out in an exciting new career in software.  When Mr. Money Mustache spoke of retirement, I would think to myself: “Why?”  I like my job.  I like going to work and hanging out with co-workers, some of who happen to be my friends.  I’m challenging my brain and feel good about things.  I am happy. 

You might feel the same way.  I’ve met many people that do.  They are happy working and for them, it’s a good life.  Why retire?  For me, the reason appeared when we were ready to start a family.  I became frugal and saved money so I could be home with my child.  It was a no-brainer, as they say.

Early retirement is not about having a lot of money.  It’s about having choices.  It’s about finding yourself.  You need to discard that old stuffy image of retirement where couples buy an RV and take up touring the country, or just sit around at home and occasionally play golf.  Early retirement is a lifestyle and it is unique for everyone.  Frankly, I don’t really like the words “early retirement”, as it doesn’t convey the true meaning.  For me, it was life-changing and unexpected.  It changed me in unthinkable ways.  It brought me all kinds of things: happiness, balance, change, freedom, time, travel, family, motherhood, and health.  But, most of all, I found myself.

When you’re in the midst of all of this money-saving, a change comes over you.  At first it’s subtle and you barely notice it, but after practicing all these Mustachian principles for a few years, you find yourself suddenly free from society’s expectations of you.  You’re in another realm altogether.  You don’t care if you wear the same pair of pants three days in a row.  You don’t care if you don’t know last night’s hockey scores.  You might actually start to feel sick in big department stores from all the excess.  And, you are beginning to feel happier.

It takes a while to reach this level of anti-consumption, but if you keep it up, you’ll get there.  And, when you do, things start to make a lot more sense.  Saving money becomes ridiculously easy.  You will suddenly realize why depression and health problems so often go along with debt problems.  You learn about yourself because you’ve shed your skin of consumer culture.  You’ve taken a step back and you can finally see yourself and everything around you much more clearly.  You figure out what matters and what doesn’t.  And, you learn this much earlier than most people which means you have the rest of your life to be happy. 

One of the best compliments I ever received was when a wise older woman told me that I had figured out what life was all about much earlier than most.  We all know what life’s really about in theory, but until you can truly separate yourself from how we’ve been molded by society, you don’t really get it.

It often strikes me as quite incredible that our culture could have gone a completely different route — one where there was a greater sense of community and less emphasis on money and spending.  It also amazes me that in many ways, the ways we used to live were much more satisfying.  When you hear stories or read books about people who have less, who are sometimes struggling to make ends meet, there is always a common thread: a sense of community.  Groups of women sitting around canning tomatoes together and laughing, kids running around outdoors inventing games, farmers tending to the fields and helping each other out.  This might not seem like your idea of a good time, but these kinds of activities and unity feed our souls.  We don’t get much of this anymore and when we do, it is often based in an activity that revolves around spending money. 

You don’t need to have money to discover this.  You don’t need to retire.  But, for me, becoming frugal in order to save money helped me discover this hidden secret of life.  I have found myself and have found a lifestyle that benefits me and my family.  I can teach my child early on that you don’t need money to be happy.  Not just by telling him about it, but by showing him.  I can choose hikes instead of manicures and camping trips instead of Disneyland, and I know that I am much happier for it.

You can live this secret life too!

  • Lisa May 9, 2011, 11:05 am

    You hit the nail on the head. It really only takes a change in attitude to become “rich”. Having more things doesn’t equal having more.

    But some people would still prefer more things, over more time. I can’t understand why, but I think it is the prevailing way of life.

    You two do know the secret and I feel lucky to share your values (and advice) I just wish more people felt the same way.

    Reply
    • Mrs. Money Mustache May 9, 2011, 9:19 pm

      Hi Lisa,

      Thanks for your comment. I completely agree! Alas, there are many people out there that aren’t willing to change. They are caught up in the materialistic lifestyle and they can’t see through the fog. However, there are many folks that are somewhat frugal already that also happen to care about the earth. These people can be changed with just a little knowlege, guidance, and self-discipline, like I was. In retrospect, it really is just like a light switch going off in your head one day. I think people know what will make them happy, but they aren’t sure how to achieve it or how to balance everything. It’s important to understand that financial freedom is only one of the goals. The other rewards are actually much better!

      Reply
  • Steve May 10, 2011, 12:33 pm

    I’ve been enjoying your blog. My wife is currently staying home with our toddler, but having a child makes it much more difficult for me to do some kind of mustachean retirement. It isn’t a question of consumption…a lot of our consumption bills are modest.

    With a early retirement, we could use one vehicle instead of 2 etc and trim our budget some more. However, how to handle necessities like insurance?

    We could move into a cheaper house, but that’d be in a worse school district. Saving $50 per month is great…but what about the real expenses that kill you like replacing plumbing or a new roof? How to save for your children’s college?

    You seem very anti-consumption..but experiences are also expensive. Trips to see the Redwoods, Disney, Grand Canyon, etc. How do you handle those?

    Reply
    • MMM May 11, 2011, 9:39 am

      Hi again, Steve!

      I see that Mrs M. has already written back some of what I would have said, but here are a couple more points:

      – If you just get to the point of not NEEDING your income (house paid off, a bit of passive income from savings, etc), you can drop down to a super-part-time work schedule, self employed or with a company. This will give you time to be with your little one for his or her full childhood, and you just get to do some brain-energizing work one day a week or so. Sometimes you can negotiate some free health insurance from a company for doing this (as my wife did), if not you can buy it.

      – For health insurance, many early retirement people use a combination of a high-deductible plan (where you pay for the everyday doctor visits and such, and they just cover any crazy things that add up to more than 5-10k per year). A plan like that can be had for $500 or so per month for a family.

      – Note that just going down from two vehicles to one would already cover a big portion of $500 per month, especially if a drop in annual mileage went along with it.

      – Regarding university education and experiences and other vacations: you’re not giving that stuff up at all! Remember, the Mr. Money Mustache way is to continue to live the good life both before and after retirement, you’re just cutting out waste while you’re still working, to build up your savings (and thus your passive income) faster. With a paid-off house and 500k in index funds or other investments throwing off $35k of passive income, you will have plenty of money to go on trips around the country, and in theory you could write a check for a full Harvard education on a whim (not that I would recommend this wasteful practice!).

      The beauty of future expenses is, as an early retiree you will remain a happy and well-balanced person throughout your life. You’ll meet more people than ever. And you’ll have more free time than ever. That means you can turn on the income tap any time you like just by accepting a bit of outside work.

      But to get there, I find that people have to get excited about saving on things they formerly considered “little”, like $50 per month expense streams. By cutting a hundred or so of these $50 expenses compared to our US-average peers, we found we were able to ‘stash $5000/month instead of zero like some people with similar incomes.

      As I build up more of these ideas in the blog, I will add a feature where they get added to a readily-clickable online spreadsheet. If I can list a series of savings that add to $700k (compounded) over ten years or so, I think nobody will be able to say it can’t be done. And I know it can be done, because here I am typing away on a Wednesday morning having a coffee at home rather than in my old cubicle :-)

      Man, I typed so much for this little comment reply that it’s almost a full article in itself. I might have to come back and poach some of this if I run short on material later :-)

      Reply
      • Steve May 11, 2011, 10:59 am

        MM, I’d like to see that calculator.

        Looking at my own finances – I can see that there is a lot I’m doing right already and when I’m 65 or so, I can look forward to retirement, which is more than most of my friends can say.

        By the same token, I’m ill-prepared to get my mustache on. The bulk of my money is in Roth, Traditional, and 401K. There are penalties for early distribution..depending on how early, for most of these accounts. I think Uncle Sam wants me to continue to work until I’m dead…but I won’t swear to it.

        My biggest problem, is that I always thought it’d be nice to retire early, but I have no plan for doing so. Zero.

        I’ve made it a goal to quickly remedy that situation…and all thanks to this blog. Today, I opened a Fidelity brokerage account. Now, I just need to fund it with cash that’s just been sitting in my savings account drawing half a percent interest, and put it to work for a real early retirement plan.

        Reply
        • MMM May 11, 2011, 12:06 pm

          Inspirational! I am glad to hear this tale.

          If you do want to compare notes on more detailed strategy, feel free to send me a personal message using the contact section of the website and you can use actual ballpark numbers regarding income, savings and spending if you want.

          For example, one thing I had to do when planning for early retirement, is decide how much is enough in 401k/IRA, and thus when to stop contributing to them. To be conservative, I funded them to the point where they should be big enough to live on indefinitely by the time I reach 59.5, the penalty-free age you can start using them. Then I just had to save enough in regular taxable accounts to get from my current age to 59.5. Since I was done putting money into IRAs, that stream of dough helped fill up this “gap fund” faster.

          Cutting unnecessary expenses has a double-whammy effect, since it lets you save more each month, and need less each subsequent month of your life, since you have the new skill of living efficiently.

          Reply
  • Mrs. Money Mustache May 10, 2011, 1:01 pm

    I’ll let the Mr. answer this question too, but I will say that for me, the location of my home is very important. The reason that it’s important is for walkability and proximity to schools, parks, library, friends, and grocery stores. We have a 5-year old and for the most part, we can bike everywhere, including school. This means we end up saving a ton by not driving places.

    As for college, we both expect our son to pay for some of his own way. MMM and I both did.

    And, finally, trips to the Redwoods and Grand Canyon are not expensive. We love the experience of camping and enjoying nature. We travel with a cooler and buy all our food at the grocery store and have picnics on the road. With the extra time we have, we can easily drive and take multiple weeks off.

    I must say that I would never want to go to Disney. :)

    Reply
  • Jennifer May 10, 2011, 8:47 pm

    Awesome post! I feel the same way, especially realizing so after having my first child one year ago. I have a different perspective on life now & frugality can be fun!

    Reply
    • Mrs. Money Mustache May 10, 2011, 8:59 pm

      Thanks Jennifer! I’m happy to hear that you’ve discovered how fun frugality can be! Having children definitely has a huge impact on our perspectives as well, although sometimes people can get caught up in consumption when it comes to kids. I’m hoping to write more about having kids one of these days: the costs, cloth diapering, shared parenting, etc…

      Reply
  • Acorn May 25, 2011, 12:47 pm

    “To be conservative, I funded them to the point where they should be big enough to live on indefinitely by the time I reach 59.5, the penalty-free age you can start using them.”
    Would like to see a post on how to figure this out. :)

    Reply
  • Questionable Goatee March 15, 2012, 5:56 pm

    Mrs. MMM, I just wanted to let you know that this is still one of my favorite posts on this blog. Due to my frugality addiction, I decided to check the site just now (at home) despite having been on it this afternoon (at work). While there, the link in my bookmark bar is the homepage; at home, it’s this post. I harbor not-entirely secret fantasies that my live-in girlfriend will read it and be inspired by your words.

    Reply
    • Mrs. Money Mustache March 15, 2012, 6:17 pm

      You just completely made my day, Questionable Goatee – thank you!! Maybe you should “accidentally” leave the post up on your girlfriend’s computer one day. :)

      Reply
  • Cas February 3, 2013, 2:24 pm

    We are not anywhere near having our moustaches yet, but we are living the life of a lot less consumerism than our peers. Having had years of little income, we learned early on in our marriage to be frugal. We still definitely indulge ourselves, but not like many of our peers. I work in a very affluent community south of Canada’s capital, and it’s crazy to see people wearing very expensive sportswear as professional dress. Apparently, if It costs a lot, it’s considered professional… I’ve avoided that mentality where I can, and I spend as much time as I can with a social network of friends who do not care if I wear make up, have the latest brands, or wear the same outfit 2 days in a row. It is very “free-ing” to not get stuck in wanting. We are debt free this year (next month!) at 42; as I say, not moustachians yet, but I can see the savings start to snowball. Our biggest downfall is the commute. I drive 45km each way, as does my husband (in the opposite direction). We both actually like our jobs too. And, as we are not yet moustachians, we are both reluctant to give up our seniority and pensions at our places of work. Sigh. However, we are financially sound enough to not panic if either lost our jobs either.

    Reply
  • Pat February 24, 2013, 5:45 pm

    Mrs. MM – love the $1 with the queen, much nicer than using the loonie.

    Cas, where south of Ottawa? Kemptville? Brockville? I find Ottawa is nice compared to either Montreal or Toronto, adn I love the online library services. Toronto is big and expensive, Montreal is big and not expensive but living in Quebec is expensive, provincial income tax is huge.

    Reply
  • Cas Hout February 25, 2013, 4:48 am

    @ Pat: Ottawa’s south end… Along the scenic Rideau waterways. Not quite rural, not quite Barrhaven ;)

    Reply
  • Jeremy Doolin August 1, 2013, 9:32 am

    It’s been a little over a year since I last read this post. I’ve been reading them all again just as a refresher (and to recall the awesome feeling I had last year when the solutions to all of my life’s biggest problems were so eloquently laid out on a simple blog).

    Having read the entire blog and many posts several times over, I still LOVE reading this one. It is one of my favorites by far, and for two reasons.

    #1 – I remember reading this and getting very inspired and excited about life and what it will be like after living a while off the consumption treadmill

    #2 – I now read it and understand *exactly* what you mean, word for word. I’m learning so much about myself and the world around me, and I’m happier than I’ve ever been.

    Thanks again for posting this, and I’d like to encourage you to share your thoughts and words with us again some day.

    You and MMM feel like good family friends, even though we’ve only really truly spoken to each other a handful of times on the forum, email or radio. Thanks for sharing your enthusiasm for life and your means of living it efficiently.

    Reply
  • Jeremy Doolin August 1, 2013, 9:34 am

    Also, the photo of your creative “mustache” is awesome.

    Reply
  • Caroline G. October 27, 2013, 3:09 pm

    Dear Mrs. Money Mustache,

    Such a lovely post! It’s very nice to hear a woman’s voice too. For some reason, most frugal bloggers (at least those I find compelling and who’ve made radical lifestyle changes) are men. I guess it has to do with a certain archetype of the self-sufficient American male, a la Kerouac, Thoreau, etc. Anyway, all of this is to say that this article resonates deeply with me and is giving me courage to bring about more change in my life, so I thank you and wish the best for you and your family!

    Reply
  • Rollie August 2, 2014, 6:45 pm

    It wasn’t explicitly mentioned, but bears mentioning, that for some (i.e. anyone who agrees with “I like my job. I like going to work and hanging out with co-workers, some of who happen to be my friends. I’m challenging my brain and feel good about things. I am happy.”) retirement can look exactly like working! In other words if you have enough money that you don’t HAVE to work, you still don’t HAVE to quit either, if the job is something you enjoy. It’s just that it’s voluntary now. Which actually seems like something that, itself, could make any job more enjoyable.

    Reply

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