52 comments

Frugality as a Muscle

Oh, Mr. Money Mustache is pissed off today.

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.

  • Jenny June 21, 2011, 9:35 am

    You know it was funny, Matt went to the mall with the kids yesterday morning, for something a little different, and there’s lots of space to run, and it was rainy and cold. I can’t remember the last time we went to the mall. He thought it was sensory overload, overwhelming, and a constant barrage of “BUY BUY BUY!” It WAS! He said that even HE (who rarely buys anything) was even tempted by things he knew he didn’t need! What a difference when you spend most of your days with the kids hiking and walking and playing outside and then visit the mall. We couldn’t get out of there soon enough. A perspective change for sure.

    Reply
    • MMM June 21, 2011, 8:35 pm

      Good point Jenny – once you tune out for a while (no malls or TV), you miss out on most of the world’s advertising. This also helps build your frugality muscle. But when you are exposed to regular advertising again, you say, “AUGH!! WHAT IS THIS CRAP THEY ARE PLAYING AND HOW CAN PEOPLE STAND IT!?!”. I kind of like having this sensitivity, because it’s letting you see the noisy and annoying TV ads for what they really are.

      Reply
  • Steve June 21, 2011, 11:02 am

    I was listening to NPR the other day and a psychologist was talking about this new method that marketing companies use now. What they do is take a person and hook wired up to their brain show them ads to see how effective they are on a deeper level.

    She went on to site studies that show how resisting these urges to buy was an effort. She went on to say that it was better not to waste all your mental energy over the Latte only to buy at $120 pair of pumps.

    Before I could shout out, “But $5 Lattes add up to a $150 pair of pumps if you have one every day of the month!”, she went on to say that resisting these urges is similar to a muscle, the more you exercise it, the better you will become at resisting.

    To put it in terms of working out, to become strong, you start with squats first, because that exercise works the biggest muscles. For saving, you start by identifying where you can have the biggest impact and starting there. Given time, you’ll have mustachean powers of frugality before you know it.

    Reply
    • Oh Yonghao April 16, 2014, 4:35 pm

      Recently I have been making shopping trips to the store after work. I noticed that before it was easy for me to justify getting a bag of skittles or some other unhealthy snack. Just last night I was there with the assignment to pick up 4 pineapples which were on sale and made it as far as getting in line at the checkout with the skittles in my hand before putting them back. I say this is vast improvement over what used to happen. I’m going to continue to flex my frugal muscles and not even pick up the bag to begin with.

      Reply
  • Mr. Frugal Toque June 21, 2011, 11:12 am

    The comments there are pretty interesting too. Somehow, they tell us, ceasing to indulge in expensive lattes and switching to high quality brew-at-home coffees leads you to “guilt” that makes you “less productive”?

    There are also a lot of comparisons to dieting and since we know everyone always fails to stick to a fad diet, therefore it is impossible to lose weight and therefore it is impossible to switch from expensive lattes to homemade coffee.

    Or, more tersely: “Wah-wah. Saving is hard, like exercising. Wah-wah.”

    Then there’s the odd argument that “being an American means we’re Awesome, so gimme my latte!”

    Reply
    • saudisimon June 22, 2011, 1:31 am

      I wonder if Mr Sethi et al can understand that there are lattes, and there are lattes. It seems to me that $4 for a latte used as an excuse to catch up with an old friend, to spend a pleasant hour in a social situation, is a latte probably worth having. To routinely part with $1000 a year just because one lacks the nous to buy a thermos and take some coffee from home seems a little lacking in self awareness. To then trumpet this thoughtless spending as some sort of defence of The American Way, as if mandated by some 28th amendment , seems bizarre on a PF blog. I don’t think anyone can realistically hope to argue that looking after the pennies will not help the pounds to multiply.

      Money is there to provide for needs and wants. If you really want a coffee, buy it. However, don’t do it every day and then complain you have no money. I suspect the blogwriter would not give that $4 a day to a homeless person, would claim that $4 a gallon is “outrageous” ( try living in the UK. $8 a gallon!) and so why pretend that thoughtlessly handing it over for a drink that casts a fraction of that amount is a public good?
      Like your site:)

      Reply
  • Fu Manchu June 21, 2011, 11:27 am

    Great post, MMM. I’m reminded of the Millionaire Nextdoor phenomenon of people who play “great defense,” and people who play “great offense.”

    Both offense and defense will help reach Mustachian glory, but just statistically, for the average American salary, you’re better off strengthening your defense (ie, guarding your spending), than trying to double/triple your salary.

    That said, I read in one of your comments that you and Mrs. Mustache were pulling in $200k a year towards the end of your career! Surely you both played great offense and are able to be where you are so quickly due to that.

    Currently I am pulling in $50k, and saving about 45% of that, which I am proud of. If I were making $100k, I would definitely be in the 75% – 90% savings range :-).

    Reply
    • Fu Manchu June 21, 2011, 11:54 am

      *I should say, while I am proud to be saving 45%, I am working hard to bump that into the >50% range. Especially after seeing the MMM household expenditures…!

      Reply
      • MMM June 21, 2011, 8:39 pm

        Nice! I’m glad to hear you agree that $100k and up is a Shitload of money and could easily be saved.

        I admit that our own top income was ridiculous too. It only lasted a year at that level – it was boosted by a 25k bonus for me because the company did really well. But I do know quite a few families who make in the high hundreds on a permanent basis and still complain about money. Hence the blog :-)

        Reply
  • Bakari Kafele June 21, 2011, 12:09 pm

    But there are so many tried and true sure-fire methods for gaining enough income to retire early and afford a immensely lavish lifestyle, without incurring any debt!

    Such as:
    -Inherit hundreds (or better yet thousands!) of millions of dollars
    -Become a mob boss
    -Get extremely lucky in the stock or real estate markets
    -Be a corrupt CEO or politician, and bend (or better yet, change!) the rules in your favor
    -Write a book and go on lecture tours telling people who to get rich by writing a book and going on lecture tours
    -Become the one in a million aspiring actor, athlete, or musician who is becomes famous.

    See?
    So many options, it must be easy.

    Sure, you can say that you wouldn’t want that lifestyle even if you could afford it, but you’re just saying that too make yourself feel better because you can’t!

    Actually, Jacob wrote something that has stuck with me: If you only spend 1/2 your income, then for every year you work, you can take a year off.
    I just looked at my Mint and realized that, after about 8 months of saving, I could go about 13 months without working a single day!!!!

    Reply
    • sarah July 5, 2012, 8:26 am

      I know I’m late to the game on this one, but I just had to respond. There are plenty of atheletes actors and musicians who blow through their cash, spend more than they earn and end up broke again. It reminded me of this Tank McNamara comic: http://www.gocomics.com/tankmcnamara/2011/12/09.

      Reply
  • Jerusalem Fansworth June 21, 2011, 12:28 pm

    Thanks for this. I read the original article when it came out, and looking at other views of personal finance can be a bit disorienting when you’ve created a bubble of frugality blogs. But it’s healthy to have to justify your beliefs to yourself all over again once and a while. And while I managed on my own to not run out buying frappucinos after reading Ramet’s article, I think this was the best possible response. Cheers!

    Reply
  • Eva June 21, 2011, 12:32 pm

    I’m surprised that you were unfamiliar with Ramit, I had the impression he was a major player in this arena. In any case, you’ve only got half his philosophy here. His platform runs on theories of psychology–negotiation and positivism and he’s a major proponent of “big wins” generally, not just in increasing income but on the saving side too. His view is generally that most people see a better benefit from large changes (bigger income, large saving moves) and from automation of finances (direct debit to Roth, etc) than from the latte factor because those things take less psychological and emotional effort and have a bigger impact anyways.

    I’m not an ‘earn 1k’ member but I did really enjoy a his e-book in negotiating your rent that had a lot of frugal ideas about downsizing and resource sharing (not just get a cheaper apartment but do work for your landlord, split an internet connection with housemates, write off repairs on your rent that save on utilities too, etc). N.B., his target demographic is young adults and I think maybe the presentation works best for them anyways.

    Reply
    • MMM June 21, 2011, 8:43 pm

      Hi Eva,

      I’m not surprised about my lack of other blog knowledge – I didn’t even know personal finance blogs existed at all until I started writing a few of these articles and throwing them up on the web. Then I looked up “frugal early retirement” and found ERE. I am glad there are many kindred spirits out there. But in a way, I don’t want to read too much, otherwise I might just copy everyone else’s ideas.

      Reply
  • Alicia June 21, 2011, 12:58 pm

    That article makes people sound like victims. Blech.

    The amount of time it takes to adopt a frugal mindset is shockingly short, I think. For a “need” to magically turn back into a luxury really only takes a couple weeks … if you’re genuine about wanting to be frugal. I’ve cut my spending in half (at least) over the last few months with no deep pain or regret. I definitely feel healthier now, in every way, and I look forward to tightening things more in the future.

    You just can’t succeed if you’re disingenuous about it–if you tell yourself you’re cutting back but secretly still want to live the super-fancy life, not caring how much things cost.

    Reply
  • Kevin M June 21, 2011, 1:18 pm

    Love the concept of the frugal muscle. I used to read his stuff regularly, but was turned off when he partnered up with Tim Ferriss. His style is fun to read for awhile, but at some point he just started shilling for his courses and the blog got repetitive. Increasing your income is a noble goal to have, but he makes it sound like people will be falling all over you to hand over their money. Living on less (money, energy, everything) is not punishment, despite what he and others seem to think.

    Reply
  • mike crosby June 21, 2011, 1:47 pm

    Dear Mr Mustache, I too was taken in at first with Ramit’s BIBS ideas but maybe it’s just me, I really don’t like using my time to chase after dollars.

    Had dinner with a friend who treated us. He’s a gambler and was up for the week. He can make a few thousand gambling, and then he parties and buys for everyone. Don’t know him well enough to ask what he does when he loses. Great guy but has no retirement and no investments.

    My life is really quite simple and I like it that way. In fact, when he took us out to dinner at a steak restaurant, I ordered the mashed potatoes and mushrooms to put on top. That’s it. I’m happy with simple foods and a simple lifestyle.

    There’s a park near my house with a beautiful lake and lighted tennis courts. Because of a $4 entry, the park is virtually empty. It’s almost my personal back yard, I walk the dog without a leash at night, there’s no one there to complain.

    Even at living the most simple of lifestyles, kings and queens could not even dream of living one day like my average day. Not bragging, it’s just a fact.

    Reply
  • Bakari Kafele June 21, 2011, 3:39 pm

    I think there is possibly a false dichotomy between working and frugality.

    Some people say “I like working, its worth it to get the luxuries I enjoy” – and then write off the ERE/MMM methods entirely.

    I am currently working a lot AND spending little, in order to have more to invest in not working in the future.
    It works great because I actually do enjoy my job, find it meaningful, get to control my hours, all the good stuff, and I also find the ways of frugality to be Inherently Good as well.

    Reply
  • Mr. Frugal Toque June 21, 2011, 4:00 pm

    Hey Mrs.,
    I think it’s almost a Magic of Thinking Big thing that’s gone too far.
    “What are you doing worrying about petty things like blowing $4 on a latte or a $40 dinner? You’re planning to be a rich, wealthy person, aren’t you? Stop worrying about petty crap!”

    Reply
    • MMM June 21, 2011, 8:52 pm

      It is true that the Magic of Thinking Big advocates thinking mostly about increasing income too. But you have to give the guy a break – it was the 1950s, the Environment hadn’t been invented yet.. nor had Exercise, or the idea of Dads being part of raising their own children. Back then, the choice was between extra time with the Newspaper, Pipe, and Whiskey, or more corporate success.

      I also think we should focus mostly on the big things – the main difference, I feel any repeated expenditure that adds to more than about $10 a month is a big thing. One of my own slogans is, “A millionaire is made ten bucks at a time”.

      Reply
      • Mr. Frugal Toque June 22, 2011, 6:23 am

        As I’m sure you well know, I’m a big fan of the Magic with its inherently unaware sexism and its various reminders to have a positive mental attitude and to value one’s own skills.
        My feeling is that this they’ve taken this “big time success at work” thing to an almost arrogant extreme in the way they ignore the small stuff that can have a huge impact on both finances and happiness.

        Reply
  • Rainbow Rivers June 21, 2011, 5:32 pm

    I suppose I am that potato sack girl, although I never thought of pounding sticks into pulp for toilet paper unitl now thanks for the clever idea! LOL although for the record I am NO whiner! Kiddin aside I take frugality pretty seriously especially since our car broke down a couple weeks ago and we have been biking 3 or 4 miles daily to work and to haul 40 pounds of groceries on my back, or laundry back and forth. So in this sense I won’t lie I myself am a big thinker and positive thoughts working towards wealth. My savings are extremly limited however my income potential is unlimited. However wealth means something different to everyone and while I am in no means a big consumer I do want some “things” in my life such as enough income to where it wont take me 3 months to save to get my car fixed. As an unschooling/homeschooling mom I would like enough to go to museums, camping trips, get my kids their chemistry kits , horse back riding lessons or whatever other experience they are passionate about learning about. I do like things in a big way though, I dream big, save big and hope one day to earn big but for me having a surplus of income also means I can be very generous and a help to others and causes that are close to my heart rather than always thinking of myself which at this point I have to think of myself and immediate family in terms of simply “making” it. The only thing I can be generous with now is my time such as helping a neighbor when needed on some project.

    I will have to check out this Ramit Sethi for I have not heard of him either but you have me curious now! Thanks again for yet another wonderful post!

    Reply
    • MMM June 21, 2011, 8:47 pm

      Hi RR,

      (Correction to my first response where I missed the part about your biking):
      It sounds like switching from the broken car to biking will be a nice boost for your frugality plan! I read on your blog that you were originally walking to town for errands. Now the bike brings you almost up to car speed, with none of the high costs of short car errands. 20 minutes on foot is only 4 minutes by bike.. so you might find that once you fix your car, it will stay fixed for much longer. Hooray!

      Reply
      • Rainbow Rivers June 22, 2011, 5:11 pm

        Yeah we still want the car fixed as biking in ice and snow with below zero temps for the winter does not appeal to either for us. Also I typically do a once a month shopping which left with only one bike, I can only bring enough food home for a couple of days and then with the heat no meat, most dairy or anything with too much weight which is really challenging my style of food shopping! LOL But yes we do plan on biking anytime we can even once the car is fixed. With hubby working 6 days a week at a job where he is on his feet his whole shift, the biking on top of it is really burning him out but I think if he could continue biking even a few days a week rather than driving it would help a lot!

        Reply
  • jDeppen June 22, 2011, 2:13 am

    In an effort to grow our frugality muscles, we are trying to find free things to do. Maybe a future post could be “XX fun things to do without spending money”.
    Here are a few things:
    We have a tent and plan to camp in our yard
    Ride bikes
    Walk trails
    Swim in our free pool (from a neighbor)
    Play board games

    — What do you guys do?

    Reply
    • Kevin M June 22, 2011, 8:28 am

      Our frugal family fun (F-cubed!) is trying out new parks. Not really free since we drive to them, but still much cheaper than going to a movie, mini golf or anything like that. My son loves chasing after wildlife and catching bugs – so parks are a perfect destination. Also gets us all out of the house and enjoying the outdoors. When the kids get older we are definitely going to go camping, hiking and biking as much as possible.

      Reply
    • MMM June 22, 2011, 9:25 am

      Great idea for a new article! I am glad you are getting used to doing free things as well. Just as Kevin says in another nearby comment, city parks and trails, or nearby nature areas are often one of the best sources. It is ironic that companies put billions of dollars into artificial entertainment, like arcades or Disneyland, yet even the best one is just a pale imitation of the real deal – Mother Nature. If you sit in a dense leafy forest and really marvel at the incredible detail that is part of every living thing, and start to interact with these things, it actually is very engaging. Kids pick up on this intuitively – a kid playing with rocks in a stream is in heaven.. happier than one watching even the best TV show ever created. But there are lots of free things to do inside as well. We must discuss it in a future article in order to have a complete blog ;-)

      Reply
    • jDeppen September 5, 2011, 8:12 am

      Reply
  • The Dutch Clean Shave June 22, 2011, 3:08 am

    MMM: sorry for going off-subject with this reply.
    Steve: if you’re interested in that stuff, check out “neuromarketing.” Psychology is ground into business-to-consumer marketing basics since 1964 so that’s pretty much old news and I’m mildly surprised that they had a psychologist do the talking. Cannot have been a detailed analysis of the field unless they had an advertiser joining the discussion as well.

    The application of neurological equipment for research purposes to assess the buying process (which is what you appear to be referring to), is, however, the latest thing in the European marketing research and communications communities, and has been around for a year or 5 in the States. Think (f)mri scanners and other, more experimental scanning devices checking which areas (anger, pleasure, reward, etc) light up during exposure to an advertising message, after various degrees of prior exposure to this message, in combination with factors such as buying intention pre- and post-exposure, types of advertising such as celebrity endorsement, etc, etc.

    As far as I know the research in this field is still ongoing but don’t expect a lot of ground-breaking publications since most of this stuff is done with corporate funding to get a competitive advantage. Since few universities are involved in these kind of research projects, the results are mainly kept in-house (I know one european business school that has recently started it’s research). Everything taken into account it’s an interesting subject, if you’re into research or communications, that is.

    Reply
  • Executioner June 22, 2011, 4:29 pm

    I read the following book (Spend ‘Til the End) a year or so ago:
    http://www.amazon.com/Spend-Til-End-Revolutionary-Standard-Today/dp/1416548904/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1308780869&sr=8-3

    The topic is consumption smoothing, wherein the practitioner attempts to avoid underspending in youth and overspending in old age. However, the underlying assumption is that increased spending leads to increased happiness. I found myself having a hard time buying into the book’s message because I wholeheartedly rejected this assumption. I think it’s more admirable to spend only as much as is necessary to cover needs and wants, and not sweat over any surplus savings. Anything left over could be donated to a cause or passed on to heirs.

    Reply
  • Early Retirement Extreme June 23, 2011, 1:46 am

    I like the muscle idea. The only problem is that the muscle isn’t patently visible to other people. Otherwise it would be more apparent that frugality isn’t a struggle.

    The analogy that I remember from a post on my site is swimming
    http://earlyretirementextreme.com/how-is-saving-for-extreme-early-retirement-like-learning-to-swim.html

    Hard for rookies. Effortless for elites.

    I can sympathize with the idea that it is hard to empathize with people who are in a completely different category. I used to find it incomprehensible why people would spend 20 minutes waiting for the bus to go 1 mile instead of just walking. Then I got a pair of dress shoes (oh the pain!) and imagined what it would be like to be 75 pounds overweight with those on. Then I could see the point of the hassle with the bus.

    Similarly, I can see the point of the earning and the spending as the only and main way of bringing meaning and enjoyment into their life for those who only know these limited ways. It is not surprising since nowhere does the educational system nor ppl’s parents offer a viable alternative. Ppl are taught to be good consumers and be glad that they have a job.

    It is still tremendously strange that people don’t see “the muscle effect”. For example, some people are really bad at math and so for them multiplying two numbers is torture. I was really good at it. However, I have never had anyone have the impression that doing a homework assignment in 15 minutes caused a tremendous amount of concentrated suffering for me. Why is it then that spending money wisely is thought of as being a horrible way of living?

    People are weird.

    Reply
    • MMM June 23, 2011, 8:09 am

      Hi Jacob!

      It is true, the Frugality Muscle isn’t always visible, although at least the principles and benefits can start to be appreciated by observers over time. My local friends and neighbors no longer pity me for biking to the grocery store, for example, and some are even starting to get bike trailers of their own to join the fun.

      The place it becomes entertaining is in a conversation between already-frugal friends. A battle of one-upmanship in Frugality can be really funny. I was camping with a friend in the mountains last year, and I marveled at the fact that he did the entire trip, including a long hike, in only very simple flip-flops. Then he pointed over at my water bottle, which was a cleaned-out milk jug with a piece of saran wrap held on top with a tight velcro strap. I hadn’t even noticed myself creating this contraption, I just did it out of habit because I couldn’t find my usual Nalgene bottle. When I thought about it carefully, I fell off my log and into the forest from laughing so hard.

      Reply
      • Heath April 25, 2012, 6:47 am

        HA! That’s a great story! I hope to be sharing similar stories in the near future.

        Reply
  • Samantha June 29, 2011, 2:02 pm

    Hi MMM.

    I will say up front, I am not a fan of IWTYTBR. Five, six years ago when I started reading personal finance blogs, I came across his plus a bunch of the usuals – Get Rich Slowly, Simple Dollar, ERE, etc. Ramit’s style just wasn’t my thing and that’s cool. Life is more interesting when we are different!

    That said, I do remember that (at least then) his philosophy, in addition to points outlined in your post, was to earn money to spend on what you love and enjoy. There is a posting somewhere in his archives about a friend who spends $10k (or whatever) on shoes and another whom loves to eat out and another whom travels extensively. I recall that Ramit’s point was these people do other things in their life to be able to afford that which they enjoy.

    Your version of this is the four bedroom house you live in. And a few other things you have in your budget that others would not consider frugal. Jacob of ERE lives in an RV and suggests having a mortgage and a larger-than-necessary place to live is foolish. See? There is your latte-a-day!

    I comment only to point out that perspective is everything in exercising one’s frugality muscle. Effective personal finance management for a single mom with three kids is different than is for you or Jacob or me (a DINKs with multiple rental properties). I am considered extremely frugal in my community (I’ve posted some details in the comments of your post about cars) but I have my splurges that you probably wouldn’t approve of (make-up and salon appointments for example).

    Cheers! Love your blog.
    Samantha

    Reply
    • MMM June 29, 2011, 3:11 pm

      Hi Samantha, nice to hear from you again!

      You are right, it is important that all of us (including me) acknowledge our luxury spending as a want rather than a need, and make fun of ourselves for it vigorously, in case there is ever some better use for the money.

      Just to clarify the difference between my current “Nice house” approach and the “Lattes are OK” philosophy I was making fun of:
      – I only advocate getting into big luxuries AFTER you have finished saving for retirement.. before retirement I lived in a much junkier house.
      – My house is also a deferred income-earning project – I bought it in slightly crappy condition and have fully renovated it to super-fancy condition using my own leisure time. When I eventually sell it I’ll get paid for this labor, while you can’t get paid for drinking lattes.

      – The main costs of a moderately bigger house are higher property taxes and more money tied up not paying dividends (I have no mortgage). But you get all the prinicpal back, plus any property appreciation, when you sell it and downsize in your post-child-raising years.. while you don’t get your latte money back. Also, when I go on long vacations, as I am right now, I can rent out my fancy house and pay for the entire vacation – which has happened again this year!

      Reply
  • Gerard September 5, 2011, 7:45 am

    Wow, your comments section is full of such nice, well-reasoned discussion. (Or maybe just by comparison with most of the rest of the online world.)

    Somebody asked about frugal/free fun, and I’d like to put in a plug for visiting art museums and galleries on their free/cheap days (in fact, some museums are free every day on the last half hour before they close, even though they don’t advertise the fact). Don’t spend ages reverently staring at each piece of art hoping its genius speaks to you; just stroll through and stop to look at whatever catches your eye. Half an hour might do. (Check out the museum cafe if you like; they’re often very attractive and reasonably priced and healthy.)

    I’ve never been an arty type, but I’m amazed by the payoff from doing this. For hours afterward, I see the world around me differently, tuning in to beauty and architectural intent around me. I even get the same buzz (to a lesser degree) from leafing through art and design books and magazines, which of course I get from the library.

    Reply
    • MMM September 7, 2011, 2:44 pm

      Thanks Gerard! I am quite proud of our intelligent commenters as well. Of course, if anyone did start spraying in a bunch of the thoughtless and misspelled crap that you see on Youtube videos and CNN articles, I’d just delete it anyway. But so far, I think only about 5 out of 1677 comments have gotten the ol’ Triple M Smackdown.

      Yeah, I’ve been to a couple of those Free Museum days when visiting big cities – they are fantastic! Kids love them, and there is no drawback to choosing the free day over the standard day. It’s a loophole in the system – luckily most people are not frugal, or they’d have to close it.

      Reply
  • Kjnanny January 7, 2012, 6:40 am

    HoWdy MMM:

    I find your post and article on you interesting. What is your opinion of Dave Ramsey, “The Money Makeover?”

    Reply
    • MMM January 7, 2012, 8:17 am

      Thanks kjnanny. I think Dave Ramsey does good work, although I still make fun of him occasionally. There’s a google search bar in the right sidebar of this website that will let you search for the article I wrote about our differences.

      Reply
  • Joy April 22, 2012, 7:42 pm

    I am braaaaand-new to the whole world of awesome frugality, and was led here by two friends who teach, save almost everything, own several homes and are set to retire in a few years.

    But…

    I feel ENORMOUSLY encouraged with every single article I read, and almost wept with joy (only a little bit sarcastic) when I read “Your Debt is an Emergency.” I was married to an idiot who had already declared bankruptcy, and then dropped me like the narcissist he was, in the most merciful move of his life. Unfortunately, I had to leave first because he was also dangerous and refused to leave. Then, being foolish and emotional, I compounded the debt I used to get away from him by buying all-new furniture (as in nothing from the home I shared with him), going on several expensive trips in the year after the divorce, and buying whatever I wanted. In just a year I created a $15,000 revolving debt hole, in addition to the $15,000 student loan and $2000 left on my car loan.

    Good news? I have now snapped out of it (as I once did in college, before The Jerk) and am now free to be as frugal as I choose. Thanks in large part to my friends and some experience a la Dave Ramsey (TRAINING WHEELS!), I am now a few weeks into a truly “mustachian” lifestyle, and loving it. It feels strange to exercise that frugality muscle, but some part of me is overjoyed. The point for me is not early retirement at this point, but getting rid of the debt and saving enough to move overseas and work for a non-profit or the Peace Corps. Regardless, I am now a new and very avid reader, and cannot WAIT to update you when I rid myself of the millstone and get to start saving like you!

    I am a teacher with plenty of extra ways to earn money and DESTROY this evil debt I’ve brought on myself. Here’s to a better future! Keep up the good work. I am so glad that you and the missus choose to share your knowledge & spirited lifestyle with the world!

    Reply
  • Aussie girl May 2, 2012, 5:29 pm

    Hello MMM and fellow Mustachians.

    Greetings from Sydney, Australia.

    I am brand new to your awesome blog and have spent a couple of hours the last two days getting up to speed with your blogs and all the comments.

    Fantastic! I’m feeling incredibly inspired. Hubby and I have begun a MMM May challenge to track everything we spend and reduce, reduce, reduce!

    I’m on mat leave with my gorgeous 8mth old, due back at my well paid corporate job in 2mths. Very excited at the prospect of saving almost 100% of my take home pay (after childcare costs), something I didn’t think possible before, but we’re living on one wage now, so why not?

    I am very glad I found you all.

    Reply
  • Clemens September 10, 2012, 1:44 pm

    Still catching up on your excellent blog and got so far within the first few days :)

    I want to add that a lot of the things rich people are supposed to do aren’t even that enjoyable: Playing golf? Boring. Driving an expensive car through town? Boring. Sitting in a dimly lit club sipping on a Martini? Unfulfilling. Driving a motorboat? The most boring thing ever.

    People only do these things to signal to the outside world that they have money (even if they don’t).

    Reply
  • subramanyam October 15, 2012, 9:12 pm

    I see your tirade against electric DRYING machines..why not carry it a little further..What about using your upper body to WASH clothes too? well to start with the smaller ones..then the bigger ones. If each person washes his/ her clothes you are left with very little for the wash machine to do. Is it a 3rd world idea and too intimidating? like you say…start small, what say?

    Reply
  • Neil Gussman October 23, 2012, 5:42 pm

    MMM–Now I understand. I am in the Army National Guard. I am 59 years old and have scored the maximum on the last two fitness tests. Every time we take a fitness test, a bunch of 20-somethings flunk. They smoke, drink, eat pizza, but mostly think because they are good mechanics or good at shooting or some other Army thing they really like, they should not have to do this fitness bullshit.
    When we deployed to Iraq, I was in charge of remedial fitness for these babies. Because I am in shape, have a good job, and serve in the Guard, I just think “Who gives a shit if I like lattes.” But if I want to quit commuting, ride my bike 10,000 miles a year instead of just 6,000, I will have to start flexing those atrophied, withered frugality muscles.
    There is a chance I am going to Afghanistan at the end of November. If I go, that’s a whole year with nothing I want to spend money on. If my ass is here December 1, I am on the MMM track.
    SGT G.

    Reply
    • Michelle May 5, 2013, 11:54 am

      Damn are you single?

      Reply
  • RichUncle EL December 26, 2012, 12:41 pm

    This is a classic that never gets old. Mustache power.

    Reply
  • Kristen November 14, 2013, 6:12 pm

    I’ve been reading this blog recently from the very beginning and trying to adopt any principles that can apply to my life. I’m on a very different track than most of the comments I’ve read. I’m graduating from college this year with debt and I just bought a new car on credit (because you know, that’s what people do! It’s normal… oops!) My degree is in studio art, so not one where I’ll be chasing a high paying career but more so trying to make entrepreneurial ends meet.

    Although I did enjoy this post! I’ve been trying to be more frugal for about a year now. This blog inspired me to go through bank statements from this year and last year. I chose a select few months when I knew I wasn’t spending heavily (like at the beginning of the semester, etc) and added up expenses. In the past year, I’ve managed to cut my spending by 50%! I’ve cut 75% in dining out alone. This blog inspires me to become even more frugal. My frugality muscle is getting there and I’ve definitely got some great ideas from your blog. I’ll be biking to work soon!

    Reply
  • Nick Leal March 31, 2014, 3:05 pm

    Hey MMM,

    First off, I’m a huge fan of how you tell the story of your journey through life with the ability to save so much. At this time my muscles are quite weak, but I currently hold no debt outside of mortgages. I’m going to take the next six months to really start to see what can be cut from there. At that time I would love to get your feedback in how to further adopt this lifestyle. As if I’m just start to workout when I hit that plateau, that is when we really take it up a notch. Thank you again for these amazing posts and keep up the good work!

    Nick

    Reply
  • Sarah C July 14, 2014, 4:05 pm

    Sometimes I have caught myself thinking “who is this MMM to tell me (or whomever) not to spend our cash on lattes if that’s what we want?” And then I remember what is the essence of this frugality lifestyle (and what I’m constantly at battle with myself to try to learn): little things add up. That’s the way that we amass hundreds of dollars from the coins I save in a yogurt tub, or the way I can blow through my whole paycheck just buying nothing at all worth noting. That’s the essence of why so many people feel like this MMM lifestyle is unreasonable: they forget that they’re spending lots of little amounts (that $2 app, that $4 latte, those $X on whatever) that add up over the course of a day or a week. The last few months my family’s spending got too high, but I couldn’t figure out why – I thought we were still being frugal. Turns out, it’s just a bunch of little things, little extra trips to the grocery store, etc. So I think that the “muscle’ of frugality is really related to awareness – paying attention to the little stuff. There’s a title for a blog post: “DO Sweat the Small Stuff!”

    Reply
  • Cruz is growing a mustache August 6, 2014, 3:44 pm

    This post and the comments really pumped me up. I can feel my frugality muscles starting to rip trough my shirt.

    Reply
  • Roland September 23, 2014, 2:02 pm

    One thing that unites his & your perspectives is the so-called 80-20 Rule or Pareto Principle. Whether it’s a savings a.k.a. avoided cost (MMM), or an income boost (this guy), focus on the 20% of opportunities that will do 80% of the job. On the income side, yes, look for the “big wins” as opposed to scraping by. You did this with an IT job from what I understand. Meanwhile on the savings side, look for the big wins there too, or the “big saves.” Those usually come at the beginning when you’re trimming the truly ridiculous expenses from your budget. Just like the really big gains in a weightlifting program as a matter of fact. Then as you get more advanced, your incremental gains are smaller and the work (or the saving, or perhaps the earning) you’re doing would be hard for a beginner. *BOOM* (sound of mind blowing)

    Reply
  • Pat October 10, 2014, 3:19 pm

    “And I ended up healthier and richer at the end of it than when I woke up this morning.”
    -I like this quote, and will make this a goal for every day.

    Also, many co-workers would often say “Man, you’re more hardcore than me for waking up early and bicycling to work every day. I couldn’t do it.” …I suppose some people don’t enjoy bicycling? I’m grateful that I do enjoy bicycling, and it’s not ‘a chore’ for me. Many times I’d be bicycling to work and seeing people in cars in traffic, and think “This is awesome, I’ve got the best commute ever because I’m having fun riding the bicycle rather than being grumpy in traffic, or getting angry at other people in traffic for cutting me off just to gain a couple car-lengths.”

    Reply

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