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Mr. Money Mustache’s Big Mistake

“The problem with Mr. Money Mustache”, some people say, “is that he has led this blessed and privileged life where nothing ever went wrong for him! He never makes any mistakes, and that’s just not the case for most people.”

I can see why you might think that, since I tend to write to you about only positive things. It’s a habit I picked up about twenty years ago after reading The Magic of Thinking Big, and I’ll never let it go. People who know me will notice that I’ll never say “I’m coming down with an awful cold”. Instead it will be something like “I’m just recovering from a bit of a cold, hopefully I will have its ass kicked by tomorrow morning”. You simply get no benefit from telling others about the problems in your life. At the borderline between useful and non-useful things to talk about, you might mention a life problem you’re working on solving, while talking about what you’ve accomplished so far in your plan to fix it.

But since you asked, I think it would be educational to share the story of The Biggest Fucking Mistake I’ve Ever Made In My Entire Life. Just to show how even a BFM doesn’t have to ruin your life, and indeed you will almost certainly come out happier in the end after you get through it. So pull a log up to the campfire and start roasting a marshmallow – because this is a scary one.

It was the year 2004. I was happily working as a software engineer, and my new wife and I were living a great life. We had no kids, great friends, great jobs and we were  busily ‘stashing and just a couple of years from financial independence.

“This is fantastic”, I thought, “What will I do next, after finishing my regular working career?”

One day, while passing the time between flights in an airport bookstore, I picked up a discounted copy of “Rich Dad, Poor Dad”, by Robert Kiyosaki. Despite the more recent widespread criticisms of that book and its author, at the time the book screamed to me, “You should start your own business and lead a big exciting businessman life!!”

To me, starting my own business meant turning my most cherished activity into a job, which of course meant building houses. I already knew a few custom house builders at the time, and they were all doing great business here in Boulder County buying empty lots in good locations, and building luxurious but not overly large houses on them. When I reviewed their numbers and toured their houses, the work and the profits looked great, so I decided to jump in as well.

I happened to have a very good friend at the time, let’s call him Dean. Dean and I had met five years earlier, when we randomly ended up as cube neighbors in a high-tech company in Boulder.  We had both come to Colorado at the same time in the fall of 1999. He was just off the plane from San Francisco and I had arrived from Canada. We had a good run together in that little company, working on innovative projects together and mocking the more Dilbertesque aspects of our company’s senior management. We bought houses at the same time and helped each other with the renovations and hosted alternating parties almost every weekend.

Even after I moved on from the Dilbert company and started a more serious engineering job in the same city, we remained close friends. We hiked, biked, and snowboarded together. And we both had entrepreneurial dreams, inventing dozens of hypothetical plans together and working out sketches of the business ideas.

So it was natural that when I decided it was time to start a house building company, that I’d invite my best Colorado friend to be a partner. I thought he would do great, because he had a beat-the-system attitude that I valued. He was the one who taught me that you can argue with credit card companies to have charges removed, that you can buy whatever you want at the hardware store and just return whatever doesn’t work out, and that you could call the town council and ask to have a rule changed instead of just obeying it.

Of course, looking back I can also see the obvious warning signs that I was blind to at the time: he was also the one that taught me you can slack off at work, and still get paid the same amount. He used to award himself extra vacation days as “comp time”, even while his regular working hours were 9:30am – 4:30pm with plenty of time for personal phone calls and web surfing in between. He even told me of the time he worked as a bank teller in college, and recruited friends to come in and impersonate the owners of dormant bank accounts, recovering the abandoned funds – vaguely reminiscent of Richard Pryor’s scheme with the half pennies in Superman III.

“Wow, that sounds kind of illegal”, I thought at the time, but I figured it was many years in the past and it was just a typical young person’s testing of society’s boundaries. And he justified it all with such intellectual and socially-responsible explanations. He did volunteer work and helped out friends in need. Wise and honest readers will of course recognize the signs of a shifty and sociopathic character, which I now see in retrospect.

But at the time, I was just star-struck, as we took two-hour lunches to eat Jamaican food on sunny Boulder restaurant patios and play basketball with our coworkers in the court behind the building, in the time I’d normally assume we should be writing software.

So when I presented my new House Building Company idea to this adventurous guy, he immediately latched onto the idea and the planning took off. He persuaded the owner of perhaps the hottest New Urban Design neighborhood in the country to sell us two plots of land despite being unproven new builders. I negotiated with one of the best and most well-known architects in Colorado to take us on as a customer at a drastically reduced rate. The owner of the firm had a soft spot for the young fresh-faced businessman with the same goals as he had – to build housing that was Human and Earth-friendly instead of ostentatious. We teamed up with a sagely old builder as a mentor to watch over us as we built the first house, to prevent newbie mistakes. We were on a roll as we signed on subcontractors to help out, selling the dream to everyone and pre-selling the house before we had even finished building it.

But in the background, little warning signs were continuing to pop up. Our financial agreement was that I’d bankroll the whole downpayment for the project, while my friend would only put in the $20,000 or so he happened to have sitting around. We worked on arrangements for compensating me for my increased risk in the project, until he came up with this “brilliant” idea:

“Well what about this, if the company loses money, we’ll share the losses equally, so you are NOT at any more risk than me. I’ve got my 401k as a backup plan, and I’ll cash it out in the worst case if we get into hot water”.

“Good idea”, I thought, “Now we can just be equal partners! I sure feel good not being the only one at risk”.

Ahh, naive little Younger Money Mustache. Trusting to a fault. I never thought my best friend would go back on his word – we’d done everything together for the last half decade!

So the project went on. I put in a heap of my own cash and also took out a $90,000 line of credit on my house. I poured every paycheck into that company for a year, to minimize the outstanding balance on the high-interest construction loan. “What could possibly be safer than investing in your very own company at a guaranteed return?”, I thought.

One day, an email came from my friend, entitled simply “Need 17k”.

It turned out he wanted to move out of the place he was renting and buy a house instead.  I expressed some concern about this, since it would take his investment down to zero even while mine had now reached about $200,000. He pooh-poohed my concern, reminding me that I already owned a house, and of course it was only fair that he should be allowed to have one too.

We worked like DOGS on that construction company. Well, I did anyway. I snuck time out of my office job to answer emails and work on marketing materials. I worked every night until midnight on budgets and material selection and design ideas. I negotiated a four-day workweek from my employer and started spending every Friday building alongside with the framing crew, to learn, prevent problems, and speed the house along in any way I could. I worked on the site with a carpenter friend on weekends to get even more done.

My business partner also seemed devoted at times as well. He made some good contributions throughout the project, and he was a smart and organized guy. But I couldn’t help notice that he was still taking weekends off, still volunteering in local organizations, and he happened to take two trips to the Caribbean during the first year of the company. While I worked on our company’s house, he worked on renovating his own new house, drawing a handy monthly salary from our company even while I made contributions to it every month.

But our success masked these problems. We sold our first project before it was even complete, for our full asking price. My own labor had cut our costs considerably, leading to a healthy profit margin. But then a long argument started about dividing the profits. I had kept track of my labor hours, and I suggested that I be paid for them at a low rate, since I had used them to reduce the cost of outside contractors. He disliked this idea, thinking that the profits should simply be split 50/50. “It’s not an hours competition”, he said. “We each contributed in our own way. What you brought to the company was your ability to work like a workhorse, and what I brought is strategic ability. If I make a phone call to the city that saves us $2,000 in re-zoning fees, and you do fifty hours of work that saves us $2000 in contracting fees, should you get paid more than me?”.

Of course, my own phone calls, such as the one that I made to the architect that saved us $30,000 in architecture fees, and other similar efforts negotiating with subcontractors and materials suppliers, were somehow not considered equal to his own strategic brilliance.

By this point, I realized that our partnership was not meant to last, but our company still owned one more plot of land and we were already building the second house on it. The housing market was strong, and I figured we could finish it, sell it and I’d be out of this little situation. So I gritted my teeth and tried to smile.

But it happened to be the year 2006, and the US housing market was just about to take a plunge into the shitter.

The second house went up beautifully, and problem-free. My now-semi-friend did a competent job at repeating his role in organizing the contractors. And being fully retired from my day job by this point, I was able to spend every day at the site watching over things and building. Potential buyers toured the house every day and we came close to selling it several times before it was done.

Then the recession hit, and the house began a long period of sitting on the market. It was shiny and new and luxurious, with its airy, empty superinsulated rooms and cool thermal mass effortlessly battling the hot dry summer of 2007. Then its huge South-facing windows and bright halogen lighting and warm bamboo floors challenged the cold winter of 2007. So much work and care went into that place, and yet there was absolutely nobody interested in buying it. And every month we were going $3000 further into the hole.

We got desperate and rented the house out to a group of tenants who eagerly promised to buy the house very soon, as soon as their current financial problems were resolved.

Chase Bank backed out of their promise of an open-ended construction loan and insisted that we refinance into a mortgage. This would be no problem, they explained, as long as I could pay down the principal by another $67,000 so it would be a conforming loan of $417,000. At a 7.25% interest rate.

My friend was of course grateful that I was able to come up with the $67 grand, since he was in debt from having to live on the low pay our company had given him for the past two years. I noticed, however, that he did not offer to move out of the house he had renovated for himself, or even to sell the top-of-the-line stainless steel LG appliances he had purchased for himself with money drawn from the company. His wife still worked, of course, and her former condo which was now serving as a rental house for them, was also not up on the auction block. “Her finances are separate from mine”, he explained.

Tenants came and went from this house. We kept trying desperately to sell it, and dropping the price. For every showing, we had to visit the house and clean up after the tenants in hopes of having a presentable house. Every month, we split the difference between the $3,000 mortgage payment, and the $2,100 rent, in order to keep the house out of foreclosure. He reminded me often of how ethical he was to keep making these payments, despite his own financial hardships. This went on for a little over two years, but it felt like twenty. But somehow I adapted to the “new normal” and managed to lead a happy life, focusing on raising my young son and taking on carpentry projects to help rebuild my savings. We cut our family’s spending drastically and Mrs. Money Mustache increased her work schedule to increase income as a precaution as well.

Finally, in late 2009, we caught a lucky break. A wealthy US businessman who was returning from a long overseas corporate position fell in love with our house. He toured it extensively, spent hours running his eagle eyes over any potential flaws, and eventually made us a lowball offer. He was a shrewd negotiator, but given the state of the housing market at the time, his offer of $450,000 was not that far below market value (which was  in turn about $200,000 below our original budgeted selling price). But after the hell we’d been through, I was ready to make a counter-offer and get the deal done.

But guess what Dean said?

“Ohmygod, guys, my accountant just told me that because I’ve taken so much out of this company, I have a negative tax basis in it. If we sell this property, I will owe over THIRTY GRAND in income taxes, and I just can’t handle that. I’ve already got 50k in credit card debt!! Since I’m a co-owner of this property, I’m not going to sign off on the sale. I think we should hold onto it for a few more years, and sell it for $650k instead. Then I will get enough share of the profit to pay my income tax bill”.

“Umm.. Buddy”, I said, “Do you realize my wife and I have over two hundred thousand lost already in this company, and you have about negative fifty, and that you have proven yourself less than faithful in coming through for the company when it is in financial need?”. “I would firmly suggest that you fuck off about your petty thirty grand, sell your LG appliances or your rental house, and let me end the personal hell that we’ve all been battling for the last several years.”.

“Well shit”, he said, “That’s just like you, MMM, always thinking everything has to be your way. I wish you could see things from something other than your own perspective. I wish you could hear yourself right now!”.

I actually recorded the three-hour conversation where he said this – our final business meeting for that company. Someday I’ll listen to it again, but for now the very idea still upsets my bowels.

To make the rest of this long story shorter, I hired a lawyer friend to apply the necessary pressure to have him sign off on the deal. Even so, the deal still required me to pay off the mortgage on this property because both of our names were on it. To accomplish this, Mr. and Mrs. Money Mustache had to scrape together a final $409,000 in cash, the outstanding balance on the mortgage, and pay it to Chase Bank.

Dean would still owe me over $100,000 because of the difference between in our investments in the company, but he quite confidently informed me that he did not intend to pay me back, because he was already on the verge of bankruptcy. He reminded me that if he did file for bankruptcy, his creditors would very quickly lay claim to the house we had built, because he was a part owner. My lawyer confirmed that he was right, and that I had no legal way to force him to keep his original promise of splitting the company’s losses. The best we could do is get him off the property’s deed to avoid further problems. Dean had an opinion on this as well:

“I can’t sign off ownership on the house”, he explained, “while my name is still on the mortgage. That could be disastrous for me.”

Yeah, we wouldn’t want a disaster, would we?

But then an interesting thing happened. The SECOND we all signed those final papers at the title company, shutting down the home building company, wiping out the mortgage, and separating my fate from Dean’s forever, I felt a weight equivalent to the entire chain of the Rocky Mountains lift instantly off of my shoulders.

Finally, the emotional damage could start to heal. During the peak of the crisis, I had lost my ability to sleep, lost my appetite, and lost 25 pounds of bodyweight over a period of just a few weeks. I could think of nothing but rage, revenge, and worry. To fight back I read several books about stress, its underlying causes, and how to deal with it. I also learned more about happiness, and started keeping a journal where I’d write about my level of worry and my goals for the next day – one day at a time, and then one week at a time.  I was feeling better every day, even before the underlying problem was solved.

After the deal was done, all this preparation and research compounded with the natural relief of the situation and made me a freakishly happy man. And when I say happy, I mean jumping up and down, sprinting around the block, and then punching a punching bag while laughing out tears of joy until you collapse, happy. I’ve continued to be roughly this happy for the two years since then, taking a life that was already pretty good, and ending up with one that is as good as being a an immortal superhero who lives on a cloud playing a Golden Grand Piano while his best friends accompany on the bass and drums, as the entire population of Earth gathers  below the cloud every evening at sunset for an all-night dance party*.

And the financial damage has slowly healed too. Extra work, frugality, and even a big boost from the developer of the neighborhood who took pity and decided to forgive a loan my old company owed him, all contributed. I took good care of my expensive new rental house, the rental market grew strong, and I found great tenants who now pay reliably even as they add gardens and lovingly maintain the house as if it were their own. It took a long time, but we’re now finally ahead of where we were before making The Big Mistake.

In the end, I spent somewhere in the range of $150-$200 grand on this educational experience. But in the long run, I would dare to say that I’m going to make a huge profit on it when measured over a lifetime.

I learned mind-altering lessons about business, law, personal character, and hardship. I learned how to be more frugal and button down when a storm hits. I learned how to be happy even when on paper, very shitty things are going on in your life. And I learned to appreciate the incredible good fortune I have now that I’ve come though that hard time.

I’m also working on learning about forgiveness. My goal is to someday be able to see this “Dean” character, pat him on the back, and say “Hey man, I’m sorry about the hard times we went through together. I know it was a tough time for you, and I forgive you.” I’m not yet at this stage, since I still have the odd fantasy about breaking his neck in the crook of my arm after stabbing 450 ballpoint pens several inches deep into his eyes, abdomen, and neck while calmly reciting a poem I would write about how selfishly he handled our business situation. Oh yes, it would be an event that would have Hannibal Lecter himself taking notes. But over time, as I become wiser and more mature, I will grow past this, and I’ll be a happier man, and a better father and husband, for it.

The best revenge is living well. So I make a point of exacting this type of revenge with gusto every day that I live.

So why, you ask, has Mr. Money Mustache, the Commander in Chief of the No Complaints Nation written this novel-length complaint to you?

It is meant to be an example of how even bad situations can turn good, how pain leads to happiness, and how expensive lessons can still lead to riches. You just have to keep working at it, and hammering through it, one day at a time. Just make sure you end up a bit further ahead each night than you were when you woke up that morning, whenever you can.

Your problems WILL. BE. CRUSHED!!

 

 

*I do not mean to imply that I am anywhere near as cool as this hypothetical piano player, just that I have been roughly that happy.

 

 

 

 

  • Shawn February 1, 2012, 6:40 am

    Your mustache grows thicker through experiences like this. Thanks for sharing

    Reply
    • JJ February 3, 2012, 6:52 pm

      And greyer (Aussie English)…

      Reply
    • Stephen November 9, 2012, 2:50 am

      You know whats funny about this comment (and one in the article about Hannibel Lecter), I’ve been reading the Hobbit all day and they make many references to beards growing longer. And I just got done watching Hannibel.

      Small World.

      Great article btw.

      Reply
    • Big Mac December 6, 2012, 9:58 am

      Great post MMM!

      I’ve known “biker-type thugs” with more morals.

      That “Dean” dude doesn’t deserve “forgiveness”…he deserves “forgetness”.

      He does not sound so brilliant that he would avoid getting screwed over himself, as those people eventually attract someone like themselves but not recognize them for what they are…takers, not collaborators.

      The big lesson here is to address problems as they arise vs wait and hope it gets better, or worse, be afraid to raise it. Takers play on and hide behind your good will.

      This is a typical ploy and being honest people we fall for it at a personal level and at a societal level.

      The twisting around of the “fairness” and “greed” argument against you reminds me of a lot of what I heard from the Occupy folks (many just misguided, but also many “Deans”), while much of their behavior said the exact opposite – to name one example of this on a large scale.

      Reply
  • OrdinaryNurse February 1, 2012, 6:42 am

    Have been reading your blog for awhile. LOVED this post, not only the story but the honesty and the way you wrote about it! Thanks for a lot of lessons and a good laugh on the side.

    Reply
  • Knince February 1, 2012, 7:00 am

    Thanks for your story MMM!

    I’ve followed your blog from the beginning and this story has inspired me to post for the first time. I am in pursuit of a manly money mustache of my own and it’s nice to be reminded that mistakes, whether small or large, can be overcome. It just takes self-control and some good old-fashioned Badassity.

    Reply
  • Petra February 1, 2012, 7:00 am

    Thanks for this great story.

    Reply
  • Ragnor February 1, 2012, 7:02 am

    Great story!

    Reply
  • Jeh February 1, 2012, 7:03 am

    “The best revenge is living well.”

    This is indeed some of the best advice ever given!

    That was a very inspirational story MMM, thank you so much for sharing those dark and dirty details with us. I too have had my fair share of mistakes, but one particular BFM in my life that we’re only just now this past year starting to move past (it all started about 6 years ago). It doesn’t involve business, or even money per-se (though in our modern life, everything seems to involve money on some level), but it left in us a desire for revenge every bit as deep and dark as yours. It tore families apart, ruined friendships forever, and put is in a precarious situation for many years, but we’ve found that living well has indeed been the sweetest revenge of all!

    Reply
  • gestalt162 February 1, 2012, 7:05 am

    This story espouses everything I love and cherish about Mr. Money Mustache. Thanks for the writeup.

    I’ve started taking a class in entrepreneurship for my MBA (entirely paid for by my employer, provided I pass my classes), and this story seems to be not-too-dissimilar to the Case Studies I have been reading, namely, that failure always seems to precede success, and hard work and dedication will win the day. Thanks for being a great real-life supplement to my education!

    Reply
  • John February 1, 2012, 7:22 am

    Thanks for having the character to dwell on the postive aspects of a very bad situation.

    Reply
    • Morgan February 2, 2012, 2:40 pm

      This completely sums up my feelings after reading this. I appreciate you: your honesty and your humanity and you are helping people in ways you can’t even imagine. Keep on letting your success speak for itself.

      Reply
  • Marc February 1, 2012, 7:41 am

    Sweet story. I’ve learned that forgiveness is same as letting it go and moving on. Hardest part is leaving it in the past for good. Holding on to problems like anger is akin holding on to heavy rock with both hands trying to prove something. Not realizing that holding on to the rock will eventually take a physical toll. The sooner, the better. Also forgiving others will also free others as well.

    Reply
  • rjack February 1, 2012, 7:52 am

    “In the end, I spent somewhere in the range of $150-$200 grand on this educational experience. But in the long run, I would dare to say that I’m going to make a huge profit on it when measured over a lifetime.”

    That is a great attitude! I need to look at some of my negative experiences as educational.

    Reply
  • tjt February 1, 2012, 8:01 am

    MMM – When I had the fortunate opportunity to meet you and the rest of the MM family, there was one thing that stood out to me. I felt this strangely positive, joyful, alive vibe from you and Mrs. MM. I thought it was because you guys were so far removed from the corporate world, but now I’m realizing that it something you guys earned.

    Thanks for sharing this story. While I haven’t had a major financial disaster like that, I can relate to finding greater long-term happiness through sobering hardship.

    Reply
    • MMM February 1, 2012, 8:58 am

      Haha.. Thanks for that compliment about the Aliveness. Remember that you met us on the first day of an exciting family roadtrip, just two hours into it. If you had peeked into my car on the way BACK through your area, ten days later and on hour six of a long day’s drive, that glow of happiness might have been somewhat harder to detect :-)

      Reply
      • James February 1, 2012, 10:08 am

        It does get harder to detect under duress, but that low level calmness and satisfaction with life is still noticeable. It’s something I’ve noticed in my dad, and I’m only now realizing how he got that. It wasn’t something he was born with, he earned it through his many dealings with crisis and stress. He handled them well, came out on top eventually, and has much less to fear than the whiners and the wimps.

        Reply
    • Mrs. Money Mustache February 1, 2012, 11:53 am

      Thanks for the lovely compliment, Brave! MMM’s joy for life is contagious. It’s the first thing I noticed about him when we met back in 1994.

      The great thing about this particular difficult and draining experience is that it brought us together instead of driving us apart. It’s good to know that during dark times like these (that can go on for what seems like an eternity), your relationship can survive and possibly even thrive.

      It was also a reminder of how having the financial means to get out of a tough situation (in an ethical way) was wonderful (otherwise our options would have been very limited), but also that ultimately the loss of the money was not as big a deal as the loss of the friendship. The personal part of this whole ordeal was what caused the stress and when that was gone, the loss of the money actually didn’t seem to matter very much.

      Reply
  • steveinfl February 1, 2012, 8:12 am

    Well done. Good reality check for those of us who are envious of your stache

    If you think you feel great now, just wait until you have fully forgiven “Dean” and can look him in the eye and sincerely wish him well. In my experience it doesn’t get any better than that.

    Reply
  • Will February 1, 2012, 8:23 am

    Man, it is incredibly painful for me to read this. My wife and I went through a similar ordeal with two, “friends,” we started a business with some years ago. We lost our shirt on the business while we ended up supporting said jackasses for some years. I still can’t talk about it at length without being filled with a similar murderous rage. I’ve worked hard on the forgiveness aspect but I just think that the best I could hope for is not to kill them on sight.

    I will say it was the most expensive but probably the best lesson I ever paid for. At heart I am an entrepreneur and I learned more about business over the three years we ran the company then 10 years of working in various other companies for others. The most important thing I learned is that everyone has to equally share the burden or else you end up in a situation like this where you kill yourself to break even and know you are being taken advantage of.

    Having been in that exact situation I can say that if you survived without killing anyone you are truly a superior human being.

    Reply
    • Mrs. Will February 1, 2012, 10:03 am

      In our situation there would have been jailtime involved if we had construction equipment at our disposal….

      Reply
  • Geek February 1, 2012, 8:24 am

    It’s amazing that you had the strength, self-control, fortitude, and bad-assity to do all of this.
    And anyone on the internet complaining “I can’t do this” is a pathetic whiny complainypants. Certainly I know exactly where my faults are and my instinct is to shout about how my case is So Very Different from yours and it’s So Hard to save money but I don’t, and that kids is self-control lesson #1. Because Seriously, I work at Giant Software Company in Redmond WA, coming from the geek path. If I don’t have what it takes for early retirement should I choose it? Pathetic.

    I have heard arguments that not all can maintain badassity, and things such as iq, privilege at birth (loving parents), good school districts, and even birth order can affect your position in life. What do you think of the Justice talks at Harvard? Specifically #8 in this series. The hand-raising exercise is telling, and I AM a first born so it hits hard. http://academicearth.org/courses/justice-whats-the-right-thing-to-do .

    Reply
  • Kevin M February 1, 2012, 8:46 am

    Wow, what a story! I had no idea you lost that much, which makes your current ‘Stache even more impressive.

    Reply
  • Stevo February 1, 2012, 8:46 am

    I have been following your blog for a few months now. Just wanted to thank you for sharing this personal story – what a ride! Much respect to you and I wish you and your family all the best!

    Steve from Toronto.

    Reply
  • Mr. Frugal Toque February 1, 2012, 8:52 am

    An uplifiting grin-and-bear-it story.
    I think I’ll print this out and put it right next to Gattaca on my “Shit to mull over the next time you feel whiny” shelf.

    Reply
  • Adrienne February 1, 2012, 8:52 am

    Wonderful story. Thank you for sharing all the dirty details (must have been slightly painful to have to write it all). I have an even greater respect for you now. (and have gotten a little kick in the pants to stop worrying over my own much smaller issues)

    Reply
  • Joe O February 1, 2012, 9:06 am

    I’ve read every post. Many more than once.

    This may be my favorite.

    Thanks for sharing. I felt for you.

    And what a difference the MMM lifestyle makes. While you were able to weather the problems, your “friend” fell into massive credit card debt and potentially bankruptcy.

    The best revenge is living well.

    So live well, my friend. Live well.

    Reply
  • jlcollinsnh February 1, 2012, 9:24 am

    we all have hard times and experiences. These are tough and unrelenting mistresses. trick is to look them unflinchingly in the eye and pull every possible lesson.

    great gifts are there for the taking, too bad the price is so damn high.

    Reply
  • Jeff February 1, 2012, 9:27 am

    Funny that I should read this today. My best friend and I are going in on a property together. We had initially thought that I would do a lot of work on the house to save money, but after thinking about it more, we decided that it’s not worth my time. Hours of work to save $2,000 and one phone call to save $2,000 really are the same thing. It’s all about the results, not the effort.

    Reply
  • Val February 1, 2012, 9:32 am

    Thank you for this story! I am one of those who initially thought MMM could have never made any financial mistake. I used to think “well, if he had been through all I have been through, his story would be different and his “stash” not as big”.
    Now I know MMM is also human! There is hope for the rest of us who’ve messed up our finances in the past :-)

    Reply
  • James February 1, 2012, 9:59 am

    Thanks much for sharing the experience. It really does make my email to you from last month seem quite petty… The prospect of losing $130k selling my house now seems positively calming compared to your ordeal.

    Seems like every person I respect has stories of crisis along those lines, I’ve had a few major areas of crisis in the last couple years and am attempting to look at them in a positive light. I can spend the second half my life applying those lessons in positive ways, and in time I may very well thank my lucky stars for those experiences. But, I’m not there yet… :)

    Reply
  • FreeUrChains February 1, 2012, 10:12 am

    What an experience to share, thank you!

    You know the Navy Pilots learn the most from watching videos and briefings of fatal failure experiences of other pilots. I mean “breaking rope line cutting off heads” fatal.

    I personally learned a lesson from Netflix Stock this past year, which is now under investigation and class action lawsuit pending to investors. Luckily it was only 2 months worth of frugal savings lesson, not 6 years worth. Though, if you dont’ learn your lessons completely it can turn into a cumulative 6 years worth.

    Also, I have learnt from nearly a year of no local friends, that it requires two people to meet half way and risk trust to find out the character in each other whether or not your past experiences with bad people have put your heart in a sheath.

    Reply
  • Peter February 1, 2012, 10:18 am

    In my years I’ve learned there are certain kinds of people to just avoid, this Dean guy seems to be one of them. Although you didn’t specifically write it down, my guess is this is the kind of person that has no problem telling you what you are doing wrong, what you should change about your life (even though very little needs changed and what may need changed probably isn’t noticeable). They tell you things like how you should be more empathetic, how you should reflect on your decisions and how they affect other people.
    Meanwhile, you know they wouldn’t be able to reflect on their own decisions, actions, beliefs, etc. if their life depended on it.
    To me, it’s the hypocrite to the nth degree. It’s like being told by someone in six figure debt, on the brink of bankruptcy, what YOU are doing wrong with your finances, what is wrong with your current plan in life.
    At the very least it’s frustrating just looking at and talking with this person. What’s the point? Yes, one day you will be able to see this guy again and pass off the disaster as another of life’s stepping stones. That will be a good day. My only advice is, don’t let him linger around.

    Sorry if I’m coming across as cold or if I misread that bit of Dean. But it’s just something I have seen around me lately and all it does is bring you down. Luckily I am not out the same amount of money you were or dealing with as much stress, I am glad you and your wife got past it without losing everything. Good job!

    Reply
  • mikenotspam February 1, 2012, 10:46 am

    He was the Grindlewald to your Dumbledore. Thanks for the story, I’ve had BFMs that I have been able to eventually handle and learn from quite well, but even more so after seeing that they happen to others, too.

    Reply
  • DreamBig February 1, 2012, 10:49 am

    Thanks for sharing MMM. It’s these real life stories that keep me coming back to your wonderful blog.

    Reply
  • Dave February 1, 2012, 10:57 am

    This story reminds me of a quote I read many years ago…

    “The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, the education, the money, than circumstances, than failure, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company… a church… a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice everyday regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past… we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude. I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it. And so it is with you… we are in charge of our Attitudes.” – Charles Swindoll

    Reply
    • Danny January 8, 2014, 2:44 pm

      I read a respected study somewhere that argued about 35% of your happiness can be attributed to genetics, 35% can be attributed to your attitude, and 10% can be attributed to your circumstances. Yet we focus so hard on improving our circumstances, when there is a lot about life that is difficult or impossible to control! Better to address our attitude, which we have total control over.

      Reply
  • Michael February 1, 2012, 11:13 am

    As someone just starting out their ‘stache and having recently followed your advise on removing unnecessary expenses, it’s great to see posts like this. Posts like this definitely help those that have gone through problems and need that extra motivation to fight through.

    Reply
  • DollarDisciple February 1, 2012, 11:13 am

    Thanks for sharing your story, MMM. I’m sure it was hard to dredge up all of those old feelings and put them down in an article.

    Dealing with people in business is always hard, and probably harder if you have a strong personal relationship with the person. In these situations, it’s really hard for the success of the business not to affect the success of the friendship. I almost entered into a partnership with some friends to flip a property but with unequal shares of both cash and effort, it would have been difficult to manage. We ended up leaving it open for the future.

    Reply
  • Marcia @Frugal Healthy SImple February 1, 2012, 11:28 am

    awesome story. Painful, truly. But also also awesome. Attitude it so important!

    Reply
  • Dragline February 1, 2012, 11:31 am

    Good story. No, great story.

    Beware of the psychopathic personality! And yes — they are everywhere. Especially in business.

    If I had my druthers, I’d make all potential partners take the Hare Psychopathy test described here: http://thinkcreatedesign.wordpress.com/2011/05/25/the-bob-hare-psychopath-test/

    Someday I’ll have an app on my phone that does it automatically . . .

    Reply
  • Amicable Skeptic February 1, 2012, 12:02 pm

    The ballpoint pens bit of your essay reminds me of a piece one of my other favorite Canadian writers did. It was a fake job application for a security officer role. It starts normal, but at the end it builds to:

    I am a man of my word, and I have strong convictions. You will not find a more honest and trustworthy employee anywhere. I murdered Jimmy with a kitchen knife, and I would do that again. He did wrong by me, and it made me so crazy. It still makes me crazy. I stabbed him again and again in the face, and I used the knife to carve a small poem about my feelings on his back. “I went to rent a movie / but they said I had fines / so many fines / I couldn’t / rent again / until I paid / you said / you took that movie / back / I trusted / you ”

    http://www.asofterworld.com/oq-display.php?id=21

    That seems crazy and ridiculous right? Obviously a movie return is worth less than what you lost, but hopefully someday when you look back and read the ballpoint pen line and wanting to do that for money will seem just as crazy and ridiculous to you as this does.

    Reply
  • Jobo February 1, 2012, 12:15 pm

    The story about this Dean fellow really got my blood pressure up. I can imagine the hit your health took through this experience. Thanks for the inspiration-through-desperation story.

    I will revisit my attempts to be more positive.

    Reply
  • DP February 1, 2012, 12:30 pm

    Wow. This is impressive on many levels. Thank you for sharing the experience. One of my favorite things about your blog is your constant positive attitude: it really is contagious and has made a real difference in my own financial perspective. And this story is no exception–somehow you managed to present a situation where you got completely and totally hosed into a learning experience which can now inspire others. Bravo.

    Reply
  • Jenny February 1, 2012, 12:37 pm

    Glad you finally posted about this. We’ve all been curious. What happened in our life was really, really sucky too, and threw us completely off course, financially and in every way. Am I happier now? I don’t know, I was pretty happy before. I sure am different now. But I certainly have learned a lot, and we have buckled down and made our “new” life work for us, and I think a lot of people are surprised at “how well we handle everything” when it’s really just what we need to do to be happy.

    Reply
  • Chris February 1, 2012, 12:38 pm

    Great post, thanks for sharing!!

    If I didn’t know any better, it sounds like Prospect New Town… a home builder friend of mine took a huge bath on that development too, about the same time as you. (He’s not Dean though!)

    Reply
    • MMM February 1, 2012, 12:51 pm

      Yup, you guessed it, Prospect New Town.

      But you are right, your friend could not be Dean, because good ol’ Dean never even lost any money – my accounting books show he made a net profit off of our company over the years despite all his complaints about hardship. The loss was all mine. :-)

      Reply
      • Sean February 1, 2012, 4:11 pm

        Actually the real loss was all his – losing you as a friend and partner.

        Reply
  • Tyler February 1, 2012, 12:52 pm

    Wow, this was an amazing article!

    Reply
  • Brian February 1, 2012, 12:52 pm

    Great post! Wow, that is hardcore.

    If you can have a lot of wins, and minimize the big losses or turn them into learning experiences and opportunities, it seems you are set.

    The Buffett snowball book has been mentioned a few times lately, and I’m also reading it now. You realize how many mistakes Buffett made, but he always learned from them and kept improving. For instance, the company Berkshire Hathaway was a clothing company he purchased that taught him clothing is a cut throat and difficult to maintain business. He struggled with what to do with the company for a while and eventually learned that he had to take the money it was throwing off and put it in an insurance company he bought. With the two companies, he could now float cash back and forth when needed.

    Also, as a side note, you learn that Buffett’s idea was to retire young several times. But it just so happened he enjoyed something that could make him a ton of money. He enjoyed doing it under his own rules and not reporting to anyone.

    A few years ago, I had my salary cut big time and was not enjoying my job at all (think Glengary Glenross), with no prospects of finding another job in the middle of a recession. I felt like I was in a pressure cooker. It led me to YMORL, and all of these blogs. That experience is so appreciated now.

    Reply
  • No Name Guy February 1, 2012, 1:12 pm

    Great post there MMM.

    Old adage, I think my father passed it on to me:

    “Don’t work where you play. Don’t play where you work.”

    It can be taken many ways, of course, but in the money sense its the old friends and money (or family and money) don’t mix too well.

    Reply
  • Mary February 1, 2012, 1:37 pm

    Amazing story, MMM. I’m very, very impressed that you clawed your way back from that hell hole.
    Onward and upward!

    Reply
  • Ross February 1, 2012, 1:49 pm

    Great Post. Best advice to take from this (legal or otherwise) is to put your agreement into writing. A quick e-mail or fax confirming what you agreed to can save alot of hassle down the road. Or avoid doing business with a partner at all.

    Good job in telling your story without resorting to being a complainypants, well done.

    Reply
  • the Neva river cheapskate February 1, 2012, 1:54 pm

    that part where you described how happy you were when the final papers were signed and the Rocky mountains took off you shoulders, it actually made me laugh and feel good for you, like I’ve experienced a bit of your happiness too.

    and when you mentioned you recorded the last business meeting with so called partner, it felt weird. perhaps you did it for the legal reasons, I don’t know, but it also somehow feels a bit masochistic. and strangely I don’t know why but I’d done the same if I were you.

    thank you for this story.

    Reply
  • GetRichard February 1, 2012, 2:34 pm

    Wow, that certainly is a BFM (with bonus patch of bad luck added). Congratulations on getting through it and growing because of it.

    A piece of advice I was given when money issues revealed a friend’s true character for the worst was that I should consider the amount the situation cost me as the price of getting rid of someone toxic. Maybe it doesn’t apply when the amounts have commas in them though.

    Either way, TY for a great post on a great blog.

    Reply
  • Alan February 1, 2012, 3:04 pm

    Your badassity index is raised by several quanta for sharing this story. Thank you for this and all of your posts. Enjoy reading your material.

    Reply
  • Matt February 1, 2012, 3:07 pm

    Wow, incredible story. Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
  • Jackson February 1, 2012, 3:14 pm

    This got me interested in your spousal relationship. Every girlfriend I’ve ever had just feels like a part-time job. Maybe I am just dating the wrong type of girl.

    Reply
    • guitarist86 February 1, 2012, 8:17 pm

      Most part-time jobs pay me…

      Reply
    • TLV February 3, 2012, 7:21 am

      Imagine that instead of being a jerk, Dean had been more like MMM – optimistic and willing to sacrifice and work hard toward a worthy goal. Instead of the above betrayal, they could have experienced together the thrill of selling the first house, the pain of _not_ selling the second despite it’s insulated badassity, and the relief when the whole thing was over. They’d have come out of the experience faster friends than Woody and Buzz Lightyear.

      Now imagine instead Mr and Mrs MM, working together towards financial freedom, having a baby, and surviving the BFM.

      Experiences like these can be divisive if one or both parties are selfish – but on the other hand, they can also turn a fledgling relationship into a rock-solid union of joy and fulfillment.

      Reply
  • PJBChicago February 1, 2012, 5:25 pm

    Great post. Very well written as always. Mistakes can lead to great things. Getting out of debt has made me so much happier than I could imagine.

    Reply
  • Daniel Luan February 1, 2012, 6:26 pm

    Wow!

    Long time reader of your blog. First time poster.

    Thank you for sharing.

    Reply
  • Chris February 1, 2012, 8:05 pm

    I suspect every successful person in life “walks with a limp” at some point.

    Great story, my mustache is bristling!

    Reply
  • Frank C. Modica February 1, 2012, 9:14 pm

    Wow, I was feeling whiney about teacher stuff today, and reading your blog put things in perspective.

    I’m glad that you didn’t end up in jail, a psych ward, or the hospital because of all that stress and aggravation.

    Reply
  • PavelR February 1, 2012, 9:28 pm

    Awesome post, MMM! Read most of your postings so far, really enjoyed this one, kudos to you for being able to benefit from this experience. Keep up the great blog.

    Pavel
    (former Torontonian now living in Seattle)

    Reply
  • Dark Sector February 1, 2012, 11:06 pm

    I’m intrigued by the thermal engineering you put into the house:

    “It was shiny and new and luxurious, with its airy, empty superinsulated rooms and cool thermal mass effortlessly battling the hot dry summer of 2007. Then its huge South-facing windows and bright halogen lighting and warm bamboo floors challenged the cold winter of 2007. So much work and care went into that place, and yet there was absolutely nobody interested in buying it.”

    One of the problems with our house is that it’s really old with 3 metre ceilings and huge windows. I can get replacement windows wholesale for $150 each, but I’m really turned off by the idiocy of traditional window design. It is not that difficult/impractical/expensive to add more panes. Why should I have to buy two whole window frames for each window opening to enjoy the benefit of 4 pane windows?

    At the same time it’s a big hassle and irritation to have to buy and install special window plastic every winter to add another (yet still insufficient) thermal layer to the windows.

    We’re subjugated to commoditized inefficiency because that’s the characteristically conspicuous American Way. What did (do) you do about your windows?

    Did you also thicken the framework of the exterior walls for insulation purposes? I suppose that 2×6 stock and R19 can’t be much more than 0.3 of the standard 2×4 and R13 budget. This would be a one time investment that preserves decades and generations of occupants from unnecessary thermal frustration.

    Reply
  • Marie February 2, 2012, 2:37 am

    Youch, that was a painful read. There are so many lessons in that story, as above posts point out. For me, I take away the hard earned life lesson of learning to recognize and avoid toxic people. I, like you, am very grateful for my happiness and my job and I’m especially awed by the good fortune of having a wonderful man in my life. We live together and often say to eachother, “wow, we are so lucky to have met eachother”. We have great friends, a bunch of crazy cats and good jobs. What more could you ask for?

    But it came at a cost. For years I was a naive overly generous friend, stepmother and wife to people I finally realized were so toxic they were sucking the life juice out of me. Financially and emotionally. It took me years before I finally left but I was pretty depressed and my ex took full advantage. He talked me into not getting a divorce lawyer and guilted me out of getting any part of the retirements savings (over a mill) by saying over and over how he was older than me and didn’t have years to make up lost retirement savings. My friends were appalled and months after the divorce one of them left a glossy magazine article my office chair. Seems my ex was seeing a wealthy divorce lawyer while we were divorcing and six days after the divorce they bought……….a multimillion penthouse together and married shortly thereafter. The magazine had a full oooh-and-aaaahhh feature spread on how lovely it was.

    That was a costly mistake, but I learned so much from it. Buckets and buckets of wisdom. And happiness. I am surrounded by wonderful friends because…..now…..when I meet someone I have the experience to know if they are great people….or not. You can’t put a price on that ability.

    Love your blog. Totally honest and lots of great information. Thanks for the link-sharing to dividend mantra and others. I enjoy all of them.

    signed, use-to-be-dumb-boo-boo-bear.

    Reply
  • poorplayer February 2, 2012, 6:54 am

    You deserve a lot of credit for sharing this story. Thanks.

    Reply
  • JaneMD February 2, 2012, 8:27 am

    Great story. I have a feeling my husband went through a similar situation which he won’t talk about. Right before I met him, he was also 10K in credit card debt . . . from what I’ve heard he was helping a ‘friend’ who never paid him back and won’t reveal any information about who it was or what things it entailed. His father bailed him out and I only learned about it from a passing comment from his father. We discussed it once and, while he won’t tell me anything, he assured me that he would never make any mistake like that again.

    Some people would say I should press harder and find out the truth because our futures are together so I should know all of his past. I’ve chosen not to because that is now almost 6 years ago. He has a clean credit score, is extremely frugal, and I pay all the bills. He’s never given me a reason to doubt him and you have to respect someone who won’t tell which person ‘wronged’ him in order to keep others from judging them.

    Reply
  • Ken February 2, 2012, 8:56 am

    Hey MMM,

    Very great read/post. It is very inspiring to me how you managed to stay positive and got thru this mess. I know “Dean” and maybe one day you all will be cool again…maybe not. That is life. You learned a huge lesson.

    However, I thought you would be playing golden drums…with some good buddies playing some bass and guitar. haha.!

    Thanks for sharing this, MMM.

    Reply
    • MMM February 2, 2012, 12:12 pm

      That’s a good point Kenny. My Superhero-Musician-On-A-Cloud fantasy would be much more realistic and attainable if I had mentioned an instrument I actually play like the drums. Playing jazz on a golden grand piano would take many more years of practice.

      Reply
  • Mike February 2, 2012, 9:08 am

    Great post. I offer this is from today’s Word a Day:

    Mistakes are part of the dues that one pays for a full life. -Sophia Loren, actress (b. 1934)

    Reply
  • copycatobe February 2, 2012, 12:16 pm

    Since January 1st 2012,I have given up listening to all news and have stopped reading all newspapers-I have decided to create my own “positive energy” journey towards FI ,(without the constant negative drip feed from the media on the state of the world).

    Naturally reading your blog everyday is a vital part of this positive journey.

    This post is the first time I have ever commented on a blog-it just blew me away.Now I really know that everyone can sort their “crap” and live a life of freedom. It’s just a choice.

    Thank you for my everyday motivation.

    Reply
  • MMM February 2, 2012, 12:17 pm

    I just wanted to give a GIANT THANKS to all of you for the kind and understanding comments above. I had hesitated to write this post for a good part of the last year since it’s a long, scary, and personal one.

    But to see all these great and supportive people coming out of the woodwork – WOW – the Mustachians are indeed a force to be reckoned with. BEST BLOG READERSHIP EVER!!

    Reply
  • Rolf February 2, 2012, 12:27 pm

    Hello MMM,

    just curious, which books about stress management would you recommend?

    My stoic calm needs some support from my body, which is refusing to accept what is not under my control..

    Reply
    • Boon Doggle September 17, 2013, 10:55 am

      Wondering this too. What are you of the stress management books you found helpful?

      Great post. Thanks.

      Reply
  • Hils February 2, 2012, 1:22 pm

    I really need to start writing a blog for myself, which I imagine will manifest as a sort of appreciation collage featuring you, Mrs MMM, Brave New Life, Nerd Fitness, and several others who are inspiring me not to give up on turning my finances (and physique) around. My default nature has always been melancholic, but reading your posts gives me a bracing feeling of realistic good cheer. Thank you, Mustache Family! And commenting mustachians!

    Reply
  • JaneMD February 2, 2012, 2:05 pm

    This type of post makes it easier to relate to you as a person. As that article from your blog that got featured on MSN, it made it seem like your path was superhuman and relied on being phenomenally luck in the housing boom too. It often came off to some as you were a person who did some planning and got in and out at just the right times – not knowing the economy was going to fold. The reality, obviously, is quite different and not so smooth.

    It’s good to see this type of truth in general. For example, though Larry Winget’s over the top attitude/tough love approach is hard for some people, he’s very upfront and honest about when he had to declare bankruptcy for investing all his personal funds into a business that failed. (His book “You’re broke because you want to be” is generally too much of a beginner level for the average MMM reader)

    Reply
  • economically humble February 2, 2012, 2:36 pm

    Makes for a manly mustache!

    Reply
  • Carrie Hetu February 2, 2012, 5:05 pm

    wow, thanks for sharing this story it is an awesome testimony of what one can overcome and I agree, the best revenge in a situation like this is coming out on tiop and living well!

    My favorite post to date!

    Reply
  • Dee February 2, 2012, 6:27 pm

    Thanks for the candid post, MMM! Learning about your obstacles — your very real, very monstrous, obstacles — makes your whole approach all the more inspiring. It humanizes the process of FI and does give me greater belief that I, too, can do it!

    Reply
  • Market Timer February 2, 2012, 8:14 pm

    Bravo! Your best post yet.

    Reply
  • Financial Samurai February 3, 2012, 12:46 am

    Wow…. hilarious ending and I can feel your pain! Partnering is BRUTAL in tough times!!!!

    I’m impressed with that one line that you “had to scrape together $409,000 CASH to pay the bank”. I’m impressed you had $400,000 in cash lying around! How’d you do it?

    Sam

    Reply
    • MMM February 3, 2012, 8:06 am

      That was tough even for Mr. and Mrs. Money Mustache, given that we already had 200k sunk into that company and we generally keep zero cash lying around!

      We had to sell our two other rental houses, liquidate a good chunk of stocks in our taxable accounts, work extra hard for a while, and top it all up from the line of credit on our main house.

      Reply
  • Lara February 3, 2012, 10:19 am

    Ty for posting. Made a mistake in a similar way 2 yrs back. Reading this made you more human, and an easier role model to follow.

    Reply
  • Monevator February 3, 2012, 2:35 pm

    As others have said, this sort of thing is what makes MMM such a read.

    Also, even if you’ve never spoken about your mistakes, they frame the things you do speak about. We’re all wiser for our mistakes.

    Hey, you should write to Dean and thank him! Maybe cut him in on MMM, with some useful posts on strategy or similar?

    ONLY KIDDING!

    ;)

    Reply
  • smedleyb February 3, 2012, 9:30 pm

    MMM, that was the single most inspirational piece of blogging I’ve ever had the pleasure to read. We all got a Dean in our lives and the scars to prove it. It’s how we navigate the treacherous waters that counts.

    Reply
  • cashflowmantra February 4, 2012, 9:22 am

    Great story. Glad I took the time to read it and know that I am not the only one who has made big mistakes. Actually, this makes mine look a little bit smaller. I am still fighting my way out of mine, but the education was worth it as well.

    Reply
  • AGil February 5, 2012, 12:40 pm

    Wow that’s so bad ass. Thanks for the incredible article! Makes one look at their own financial situation and say, hey this is no problem at all!..Seriously though, I’m still going to pretend MMM is super human and incapable of mistakes. It’s easier to make financial decisions when you are trying to compete against a super money hero.

    Reply
  • 5inatrailer February 7, 2012, 10:54 am

    Thanks so much MMM. I found your blog off of a link (millionairejourney.blog)Its an unreal story and not too un similar…
    A friend told me; once firemen and teachers start getting into condos to flip them somethings not right out there…I did the same but managed to keep a friendship (after much cursing and hexing).
    Mine was an expensive education but I managed to keep my shirt. I learned how to tile/ pound nails etc but more importantly the value of friendship, the dangers of ambition, the value of charity and the price of contentment (priceless).
    Keep it up dude.

    Reply
  • Elaine February 9, 2012, 12:38 pm

    Wow. I’m really sorry this happened to you. Hopefully the lessons were well worth it and, who knows, the real estate market may eventually come back and reward you with some appreciation. (pun intended!)

    Reply

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