These letters from readers are as interesting as they are varied. Some of them I read aloud to Mrs. Money Mustache, or to my son, or to friends. Although I only get a chance to respond to about one in ten, they’re inspirational to all of us, and I like to think of them as fine, sparkly paychecks that I get for writing this blog.
The main reason I write this thing is in the hope of inspiring a bit of social change. Improvements in our way of life by shifting away from buying and wasting, and towards learning and sharing with other people. With unusual wealth just being a convenient byproduct. So when I read that people are actually putting this stuff to use in real life, and getting great results, it makes it all seem so much more real, and worthwhile. So thanks for those letters.
With that introduction, here are just a couple of interesting ones that came in from beloved Mustachians recently:
Letter 1: Avoiding a Lifetime Habit of Commuting
Comments: Hello Mr. Money Mustache,
I am a just-out-of-college, single, working, commuting woman with debt and a full-time job. I was beginning the job search for something closer and got offered a job. I did not necessarily like the job offered to me, so I thought, why don’t I just stay at my job for another year and see what I want to do after a year of commuting?
I googled, “is commuting worth it?”
Your blog post about the truth of commuting was one of the first options on the list given. I read it from top to bottom and I will never be the same. It shocked me that the cost of commuting was so high. I have grown up in a suburban neighborhood where everyone always commutes. Everyone does it. That’s just what you do…at least I thought. Never did I factor in the cost or the price of the time wasted.
Thank you for your inspiring post. I look forward to reading more as they are written! Hopefully your posts will help me get out of college-debt as well…if you’ve got any advice, I’ll take anything you’ve got!
I’ve decided to take the closer job (4 miles away instead of an hour commute one way) and buy a bike! WOO!
MMM Comment:WOW!! Avoiding this one-hour commute alone will save her about $75,000 every ten years in direct costs alone, or several hundred thousand dollars after factoring in the value of the time wasted. And that’s every ten years. All from one blog post? Astounding.
Especially when I look at the stats for that article and see that at least 103,000 other people read it on this site, plus ten times as many on the bigger sites that posted it like Lifehacker. The era of the long car commute MUST DIE!!
Letter 2: The Log-Cabin Mustachian
Comments: Dear MMM,
You have inspired me to submit to you my three favorite ways of being frugal:
My wife and I are really good at not spending money. We live on quite a bit less than $2k a month and have three sturdy, round-faced little brats.
Frugality is an important virtue to practice when you are a farmer and a musician, respectively. A taste for rice and beans six nights a week is also helpful. If I were more willing to learn the song “Freebird,” we could probably scale back our rice and beans intake to five nights a week, but alas, I have principles.
I say we are backwards Mustachians because we both grew up in families where consumerism wasn’t an option. I had nine younger siblings. My wife’s father saved money by buying expired meat at the store that was labeled “crab bait” and not using it for crab bait.
So we’ve always found it easy to live below our means – we’ve never had the means to do anything else. In fact, only recently have we had enough means for credit card companies even to be interested in us. We’re still working on the Mustachian practice of making lots of money and not spending it. We’ve got the “not spending” part down. I will keep reading your blog to help me figure out the other part.
But here are my 3 favorite ways of not spending money that I think Mustachians could appreciate:
1. Chopping my own firewood to get buff and heat my house
2. Having very nice neighbors who own tools (we owe them a lot of pies, but no money.)
3. Living in a nice house that I built for $30k in 2 years with no loans.
I’m not sure if #1 works in Boulder, but here on the west side of the Evergreen State it’s lunacy not to heat with wood- because it’s everywhere.
Our electric bill is $50 to $80 a month. Splitting and stacking firewood is great exercise and a full wood-shed is very satisfying thing to behold. Also, fresh chopped wood smells great.
Processing firewood is also a great neighborhood activity, after which, beer tastes wonderful. Making firewood saves more than electricity- it saves you the cost of a gym membership and I think it might save coal in some part of the world- though I am no expert in that department.
#2 is somewhat blind luck, but good relationships with helpful neighbors can definitely be cultivated, (or squandered. Non-monetary debt can be abused. I admit that I may have tested the line here on occasion.)
#3 is something Mr. Mustache probably knows more about than me, but every house has its own story and here is ours, briefly:
We built our house out of boards, beams, nails and “Simpson Strong Ties” and we own it. It even passed inspection – so we’re legal.
I used a lot of salvaged “free” lumber and other materials which were great, but time-consuming to collect and figure out how to make work. But these materials also give the house more quirkiness and character.
For example, every visitor to our house raves about our bathroom sink which my wife found at an auction for cheap. It is very colorful. A joyful sink. If it had come from Home Depot I doubt it would inspire that kind of enthusiasm from our visitors. My kids, however, are happy spitting their toothpaste into any handy receptacle.
Our house is wonderful to live in, even if I see a few of the boo-boos I made during the building, every single day. It is easy to heat with our wood stove. We incorporated an “inefficient” cathedral ceiling in our design which we have made efficient by stringing an indoor clothes’ line up there – eliminating the need for a clothes dryer.
Since we paid for all the materials out of our own shallow pockets and with $10k of generous gifts from family, we own it outright and have no loans to pay off.
The county values it at $120k. Since we spent $30k building it, you could say we made $90k building it ourselves. It was a very fun and satisfying way to earn $90k – even though it took us two years to build.
(Not two years of full-time carpentering mind you, but two years on the calendar. We also did other things to earn actual cash during this time. It would have taken me more than two years to earn $90k playing guitar gigs at the time, I can tell you.)
Now here’s the trick, since we took out no loans to build the house and it is all paid for, could we say that we earned a lot more than $90k? How would we figure the interest not paid on this deal? Perhaps you could help us out here Mr. MM.
I would like to think that we did better than a measly $90k, but I’m not sure.
MMM Comment: you are correct! For most people to amass $90k of home equity, they have to earn a much larger amount, then pay taxes, pay for their living expenses, battle the backwards treadmill of mortgage interest, and only at that point can they pay off principal of the mortgage. For most, it takes many years and several hundred thousand dollars of earnings to accomplish this.
You did it in just two years, while also working your regular jobs. That means you outpaced most $200k earners during those years, or leapt ahead more than a decade towards financial independence compared to most people with lower incomes. Congratulations!
I hope you’re having a great weekend.