Frugality as a Muscle
It’s because he just stumbled across a competing personal finance blog that espouses blatantly Anti-Mustachian principles! And yet it has the audacity to call itself IWillTeachYouToBeRich.com
Here’s the article, called The Psychology of Cutting Back on Lattes, if you want to compare it to your own value system. And now we’ll have some fun celebrating what is right about that article, and crushing what is wrong about it, in the rock-hard crevice between our biceps and forearms. Or perhaps sweeping the wrong parts off of the street and into the sewer with our stiff bristling Money Mustaches.
First a word on the author, Ramit Sethi. I’d never heard of this guy before, not being part of the regular commercial world, but it sounds like he has some MMM-type attributes himself, which I must admire. He is bossy, opinionated, and wise. He’s a self-described Best Selling Author, which is also impressive, but not something I wish upon myself, because I don’t want to try to take from you the very money I want you to save!
But it turns out he has a different take on frugality. He is more into “Focus on the Big Picture! Spend your time figuring out how to earn more money! Then live a big guilt-free spendy life going to restaurants and buying things – deet-dee-deet-dee-deee, yeah! Fancy car, vroom, all right, Martinis tonight, let’s go! Hop on my jet, let’s fly first-class to London baby!!”
I must admit, he had me caught up there for a while. It did sound like a lot of fun, and it could be a worthy goal to aspire to if the entire world was one big USA and money really could buy happiness and there was nobody more worthy to spend money on than myself and no shortage of natural resources for us all to burn up by increasing our lifestyles beyond the 500%-of-sustainable level that we’re currently running at.
So anyway, in the article about Not Cutting Back on Lattes, I found lines like these:
“….What is the point of saving money on obsessing about small expenses like lattes? Is it to truly save money, or is it to reduce guilt?….”
“…. these trivially expensive beverages…”
“… yo-yo of spending, cutting back, and starting to spend again…”
“…The whole point of money IS to spend it on things you love. Pleasure purchases should not be a source of shame…”
Aha.. I see what Mr. Sethi is getting at. He shares the common misconception that buying things makes you happier, and not buying things makes your life suck, so it’s hard to cut back on this Pleasure Purchasing.
If this were true, Mr. Money Mustache would not exist. I wouldn’t be writing every day about this absolutely golden lifestyle that will both catapult you to Ultimate Happiness and save our entire species and planet, if it weren’t actually fun!
The problem with the Big Income/Big Spender (BIBS) solution to riches is that it is a hollow victory. You are putting effort into earning ever-increasing amounts of income that could have been put into finding a meaningful life for yourself. You are buying shit that builds up in your closet (or in your arteries and your abdomen). You are channeling your precious mental energy into consumption rather than producing ideas and things of your own.
I will admit that the Big-thinking / Be-great-at-everything-you-do component of this philosophy is worthwhile and does bring happiness. And after watching some YouTube videos of Ramit Sethi, I actually really like the guy. He is very funny and in real life seems to be quite down-to-earth. That’s probably why people are excited about his blog and the bestselling book. But a true Mustachian can go much further than that.
You see, the Anti-Frugal ranting is the error. BIBS believers imagine frugal people as tragic little beings, whining and suffering out in the street in their potato-sack clothing, as they harvest leaves and sticks from the gutters and try to pound them into pulp with rocks in order to make their own toilet paper so they can save 26 cents per week. And they extend this 26-cent mentality even into rather big expenditures, like $1000 per year on take-out coffee.
Then these believers show what happens when the typical clueless Ultraconsumer tries his hand at frugality: “Oh! I want to cut back my budget this week, so I’m buying less lattes. But Waaah! My stomach craves a latte! Oh, this frugality stuff sucks! I’m going back to my comfortable old life!”. And that’s the end of the person’s attempt.
Well, yeah. It was hard for that person because their Frugality muscles were so weak and flabby and hidden beneath folds of Consumer Fat that they could not even flex properly. Just as I would be whining and falling down in the desert sand if I packed up tomorrow and decided to run the Death Valley Ultramarathon – (a 135 mile running race done in temperatures up to 130 degrees Fahrenheit).
But what does Frugality feel like to someone who has developed their muscles? It feels absolutely amazing. It is Badassity itself, which means it is Happiness itself.
For example – today I got up, cooked breakfast at home, then went out on a bike errand around town. I visited my rental house to sign a lease with a new tenant, then biked to the bank machine to deposit some checks, then to the grocery store to buy some fruits and vegetables. It was a fantastic errand, since I took the scenic creekside route and ended up traveling almost 20 miles in a loop of half of the city to visit all of these places. And I did it at the highest possible speed, carving corners, jumping curbs, wind roaring in the ears, burning almost 1000 calories in the process. Afterwards was lunch, then I did the week’s load of laundry, which I enjoyed hanging up to dry as part of my personal anti-electric-clothes dryer vendetta. In the afternoon I played with my son in the living room, had some nice conversations with my wife, finished a woodworking project in my garage, then cooked a delicious dinner and later found myself typing this MMM article.
If you look it over, this was a perfectly frugal day – I didn’t drive a car, I didn’t buy anything other than carefully-chosen food from a grocery store.. no lattes, no martinis and steaks, no golf clubs or BMWs. I used very little energy and threw out no trash. And it wasn’t hard at all – I did not suffer or whine, or deny myself any form of pleasure. In fact, it was an absolutely stellar day. And I ended up healthier and richer at the end of it than when I woke up this morning. Sometimes I can hardly sleep at night, because my days are so fun and energizing. I have to get back out of bed and read and write some more stuff, just to process all the joy.
And as it turns out, almost every day is like this. There really is no suffering here, in this highly frugal life. Just a lot of rewarding work and effort and accomplishment. I’m not a Death Valley Ultramarathon Frugalist like Jacob from Early Retirement Extreme, but I still run a good race compared to my fellow countrymen, because my Frugality muscles are healthy and well-developed.
So how can we get the latte-swilling car-financing whining flab-bombs described on Sethi’s website to start developing their own muscles? Your guess is as good as mine. Part of my attempt – this MMM blog – is to show people that there is a desirable end goal – early full or semi-retirement in full material comfort.
After capturing their imagination, we throw them into the Triple M Gym and lock the door. The workouts are a neverending stream of amusing reminders that you can’t get here by buying your way in. Because it is far more efficient to save your way in instead – cut your big expenses like car costs first (as our competitor also advises), but then continue the accelerating trend as your muscles develop, until you find one day you are saving 75-90% of your take-home pay.
This Acceleration phase is what makes the difference between “early” retirement at age 60, vs. true Early Retirement only 10 years or so from when you do your first lift. Age 30 if you start at 20. You get happier even as you get better at the methods, and richer. Rinse, Repeat, Retire Early.
I’ve discovered from the comments that many of us already are fairly muscular in this department. But it is still fun to work out together, and to welcome any new folks just coming in on their first guest pass.
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