176 comments

The Surprising Effect of Small Efforts over Time

May 2013, standing on the addition we built

May 2013, standing on the addition we built

In case you hadn’t noticed, this blog has been sucking a bit recently. I just haven’t been putting in the effort that this thing deserves, and I feel the patient eyes of all of you watching. “Come on, Mustache. Get back to work. Give us something GOOD!”

But there’s a good reason for this: For all of 2013, the blog has been forced to coexist with other bigger projects.

The moment I returned from that carpentourism gig in Hawaii, a friend of mine decided to build a long-awaited addition on the back of his house. And a big addition at that: 2 storeys and 750 square feet of it, with a 30-foot-high peaked roof, a big master suite upstairs, and a couple of nice rooms below. We’re good enough friends that I agreed to be his builder, since the cost difference between teaming up to build it ourselves and hiring an outside contractor would be upwards of $100,000.

So in mid-January, we broke ground. And since then from the hand-dug pier footings all the way to the shingles atop that high roof, we have built almost everything ourselves. I have had the opportunity to sling thousands of pounds of soil, mix and pour a similar amount of concrete, weld the steel columns into place, frame the entire structure, install all the supply and drain plumbing, build up a completely new electrical panel with about 40 circuits, install windows and doors, nail down 1500 pounds of shingles, build in a top-of-the-line EPA woodburning fireplace, and a hundred other tasks. (We’ll get into some of the most useful projects in upcoming posts).

Just before I left for vacation in June, we passed all of our critical inspections from the building department. While standing with the two friends who built this thing alongside me, basking in the moment’s success, we looked up and were amazed. How could this massive, hulking structure come from just the three little dudes who now stand in its shadow?

I was especially amazed myself, because much like my recent performance in blog-writing, I felt that my efforts on the addition project had been lackluster and somewhat unsatisfactory. I worked only while my son was in school, between 9 and 3 on weekdays. Plus, I usually started late in the day due to blog-related distractions. Often went home early. Biked home to take long luxurious Latte Lunch breaks with Mrs. MM a bit too often. We all skipped work whenever our kids were out of school for any reason, or when the weather was bad, or during the Seattle and Utah vacations that happened to fall during this time period.

And yet, through daily perseverance and always returning after each delay, somehow the addition got built. And in a not-overly-slow manner: 4.5 months from that first shovel in the dirt until Inspection Day, when we handed it over to a drywall crew to work their magic much more quickly (and cheaply) than we could do ourselves. About 270 hours of my free time went into it, and a similar number from each of the other two fellows.

And thus another life lesson materialized, with applications to Mustachianism as well. And that lesson is that small efforts, repeated over time, will almost always surprise you.

It’s a natural weakness of the human brain that we don’t recognize this, because we have our leftover instincts of survival in the moment. But a ten dollar lunch each workday compounds to $37,600 every ten years. An extra beer or slice of bread beyond your base calorie requirements adds up to 152 pounds of fat* over the same period. A habit of being just a bit rude to your spouse in certain situations can brew itself into lifelong resentment and divorce, while a slightly different habit of patience and respect can keep you happily married for life.

For me, the habit of occasionally typing some shit into the computer has resulted in an enormous pile of articles on this blog. 360 of them, or over 1000 pages if you were to make it all into a (repetitive and poorly edited) book.  It’s a whole empire now, which automatically brings in readers and generates surprising quantities of money, and all caused by a series of individually insignificant efforts over time. And although things seem slow to me right now, with continued efforts I can surely make this place far better, finish the book that really needs to be written, and reach the right people. Then, of course, we can save the human race from destroying itself through overconsumption of its own habitat, which has been the plan all along.

So how can everyone benefit from this effect? By watching where your time goes, and making small adjustments to make sure most of those minutes are aligned with your real life goals.

Watching TV, for example, or playing massively multiplayer online games, can feel relaxing and even stimulating at times. But those hours spent relaxing and stimulating yourself can really add up, and when you tally the eventual sum of the life benefits, it ends up awfully close to zero. Many other leisure pursuits (complaining, ATV riding, shopping) often end up the same way.

The key is therefore to trick yourself into doing more things that are good for you. Not just more good things, but over time having your life be almost entirely good things.

Tiny things, like learning one new thing you were afraid of trying before. Fixing the screen on your upstairs window. Or taking a very short walk when you don’t really have the time or inclination to go for a real walk. Reading just a tiny amount of the investing book before you eat a tiny amount of raw vegetables.  I have some gymnastics rings hanging from straps mounted to part of the high ceiling in my kitchen. When I don’t feel like really working out, which is quite often, I will walk over and do just 5 pull-ups on those rings.  Over the past month or two, I’ve done this lazy cop-out routine about 100 times, which adds to 500 pull-ups, which is not such a bad thing after all.

Sooner than you think, you’ll find that your days are starting to change shape. These constant needlings from Mr. Money Mustache seemed annoying at first, but you will end up getting rid of your TV and replacing it with a library card after all, and poking around in the Reading List area of this blog. Over time, you’ll become a Self Improvement Machine, a miniature Dalai Lama with happiness beams shooting out of each of your orifices, which in turn shine onto others and make them happier. All in all, a surprising effect for such a small effort.

 

 

 * For every 3600 calories that you eat beyond what your body can use, about 1 pound of fat gets stored. So if you multiply 150 calories x 3650 days, you’d have a 152 pound gain. Of course, real physiology is a bit more complicated, but it doesn’t matter – the tiny change of skipping the beer is the most important part of the equation.

  • Mark Ferguson August 13, 2013, 8:33 am

    Very impressive! I imagine it feels great to accomplish something like that. I remodeled a home a few years ago by myself. It felt good finishing it, but didn’t make sense financially do to the time it took me compared to how long a contractor would have taken.

    The small steps lead to big goals idea is a great one. I came up with a goal to buy 100 rental homes, which seemed impossible. I wanted a huge goal to challenger myself. When I broke the goal down year by year and wrote down exactly how I would do it, it didn’t seem so huge anymore. It seemed doable.

    Reply
    • Luis August 15, 2013, 10:54 am

      Exactly right about the 3600 calories. That’s why four pints of Haagen Daz ice cream costs you one pound of fat!

      Reply
  • Kraig August 13, 2013, 8:37 am

    MMM,

    First off, you’re site doesn’t suck. Yes, we wish you wrote more, but you having all these other projects going on is what adds real character to this place. We all are foaming at the mouth when you write and that’s a good thing.

    Nice job on that house. That’s an awesome thing to be able to do, especially when it’s beautiful outside.

    This whole idea of getting into the habit of doing good things for you every single day is something that really intrigues me. I’ve found the same thing to be true that you talk about here, that by replacing your completely unproductive habits that aren’t good for you with ones that are, you can turn into someone who’s making serious progress and doing big things. I’ve found it in many areas of my life.

    Sometimes, these habit changes can even be scary, but we have to keep at them with the belief that they will “add up to something” significant, like you said.

    Hope you’re meetups went well!

    Reply
  • Done by Forty August 13, 2013, 8:38 am

    Great article! Small changes really do make all the difference.

    This reminds me of the Keystone Habits idea in The Power of Habit: find a small, good habit, and it starts to beget other small good habits.

    Get enough small wins, and one day you’ll look up, victorious.

    Reply
    • Emily Capito August 22, 2013, 1:17 pm

      You’re full of wise tidbits everywhere, Done by Forty!

      Small, good habits aligned with your real life goals…seems so simple, but how many of us actually get there?

      That’s why this community rocks. Happiness beams from every direction, providing a brief reprieve from the misery tractor beams shooting out the orifices of the bachelor-viewing, home refinancing, leisure complainers.

      Reply
      • Done by Forty August 28, 2013, 2:33 pm

        Thanks for the kind words, Emily. I should be honest and admit that one of my small, bad habits is watching the Bachelor & Bachelorette, and also running a fantasy-football like game involving the contestants. We’re definitely radiating some sort of crap in doing this…but it’s as good an excuse as any to have friends come over. :)

        Reply
  • Sarah August 13, 2013, 8:44 am

    This is absolutely true. June 21st I started riding my bike with a goal of 2 miles a day, yesterday I rode my bike 10 miles. I sleep better and I feel better. June of 2012 I started reading this blog and realized my hair was on fire. I stopped eating out (almost cold turkey). Last week I paid off the last of my debt and now I’m a Vanguard convert.

    Reply
    • Stephen August 13, 2013, 10:57 am

      I am the same way. I started ‘really’ riding my bike consistently to work and back (just 3 miles) after MMM April post. But I’ve been doing it for a few months now and it has almost become second nature. I just went for a long ride the other day because I had the time and it was nice. I’m impressed because the seemingly little amounts of effort each day have made riding longer easier and more fun.

      Reply
      • amber August 13, 2013, 11:57 am

        ! More cyclists over here !

        Husband and I have started biking many of our trips to work, church, and the grocery store – an hour each direction for each destination… (it was painful at first, but now our bodies crave it)

        Between that and changing our food shopping habits, our monthly spending just came in at a number lower than we can ever remember.
        And we don’t feel like we are ‘sacrificing’, just having fun living the good-old-mustacian-life. ;)

        This is our FAVORITE blog!!
        Huge THANK YOU to Mr. and Mrs. Rockstache. ;)

        Reply
      • GamingYourFinances August 13, 2013, 1:55 pm

        Three and a half years ago I also started biking to work. It seemed like a small thing at the time, but now I’ve created a life long habit that will surely add years onto my life! One small lifestyle tweak was all it took!

        Reply
      • Mike August 14, 2013, 10:29 am

        Me Too!

        I’ve got a ~17 mile commute and decided last year that if I couldn’t bike the whole thing, at least doing 3 miles of it would be better than nothing. While I don’t do it every day of the week, I try to do it at least 2 days a week while the weather is nice. Those first rides of the year are tough, but I’m finding that I’m running out of gears at the top end on my mountain bike, mostly due to better strength/endurance from all those ‘little rides’.

        Reply
  • Free Money MInute August 13, 2013, 8:45 am

    Love this article, it sums up a lot of what I try to fit into my daily routine. I try to add one more cent each day to what my blog generates. I try to shave just a little bit more each month out of my expenses. I try to add a few more dollars to each months worth of investment income. All of these small efforts over time do really add up to something big. Along with compound interest, they start multiplying by themselves to some degree.

    Reply
  • Mother Frugal August 13, 2013, 8:53 am

    Great article, MMM, and it certainly didn’t suck!

    Not only does interest compound, but often small efforts done CONSISTENTLY can as well. The efforts you made to build that home addition not only added up, but will let the enjoyment of that home compound ad infinitum.

    Reply
  • FI Pilgrim August 13, 2013, 8:59 am

    That sounds awesome to be able to spend time helping a friend build something, using valuable skills that you have in order to assist others, and not have to do it for money. I’d love to be there one day. So much of our contentment or discontentment in our jobs stems from our satisfaction with how much money we are getting for the work we do. If I separated that completely from my work I don’t honestly know how it would feel.

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache August 13, 2013, 9:08 am

      It is indeed a little bit weird.. trying to balance a surplus of work, with the concept of getting paid when you don’t necessarily need it. When working for family members, I always do things for free. For this project for my friend, it would have felt slightly awkward to both of us for me to work so many months for free, so we settled for a cheap hourly rate and I snuck in some liberal downwards rounding of those hours.

      Reply
      • phred August 17, 2013, 10:55 am

        with all your rehabbing & rebuilding projects, how do you keep from getting lead poisoning? The son of a friend of mine rehabbed two small houses in Denver; he now has trouble walking up the stairs?

        I wish your site had existed when I was younger

        Reply
        • Mr. Money Mustache August 17, 2013, 9:56 pm

          I did study up on the lead paint issue – you’d have to eat/inhale quite a bit of it over many years to have serious effects. I just wear a nice 2-cartridge respirator and try to avoid sanding/vaporizing the stuff. A friend of mine with a painting company has been quite cavalier with lead paint for 2 decades with no ill effects yet (knock on wood).

          Reply
          • A.J. August 19, 2013, 9:45 pm

            We ditched TV about 7 years ago because we found ourselves coming home and watching back-to-back Seinfeld re-runs, followed by some other mildly entertaining show. By the time we finally shut the thing off it was time to eat, maybe get a little work done, and then head to bed. I can not get over how much time I WASTED sitting in front of that screen.

            Since then I’ve started a thriving side business, have had two children (don’t even get me started on TV and kids), find time to read more than I probably should, and feel like I’m making things happen.

            There is so much more to do an see than that box could ever provide. I think I missed it for about a week and now I can honestly say that I will never pay for television again.

            Reply
            • David September 10, 2013, 8:59 pm

              Lots of people have ditched the tv, and that’s great. However, the computer often becomes the new box that sucks the life out of us.

              Reply
  • Howie August 13, 2013, 9:00 am

    Mr MMM,
    I really didn’t get the feeling that your posts were starting to suck. Don’t be so hard on yourself. You write much more than others and the quality is great. I am always trying to get my 20 year old kids to read your posts and look at different possibilities for their lives. I have 4 girls all different but starting on their own paths. The nice thing about your blog is you don’t give a blueprint or recipe on how to live it. Just concepts on how to look at spending money and environmentalism. I always tell them to make make it their own. I am disabled now but be ause I have lived carefully I don’t have pressing financial issues. Actually it is my wife and me who are in it together. I won’t be going back to work unless they find a cure to my condition which could always occur.
    It seems to me that many people that reply to your posts are the same people over and over. Although they are a small per centagemof your readers. Your message is getting out however the marketing machine of advertisers is a formidable foe.
    One way to try to make your footprint in your movement is to teach it to your son’s age group . Once a kid hits his teen years they are influenced by y social groups. Or maybe when they are Tweens would be better. Your child is still single digit in age so in a few years.
    Just some thoughts and nice job in the addition to the house. You are a genuine good friend to your buds
    Peace

    Reply
  • Mrs. Piggy Bank August 13, 2013, 9:01 am

    I completely agree. Me and my husband bought a foreclosure 2 years ago. We remodeled it ourselves and when my husband got his transfer and we had to move last month we sold it for a $60,000 profit over what we bought it for and only had it on the market for 24 hours! We averaged about a project a month and did small amounts at a time My husband works a lot and we have 2 kids so we squeezed projects in like it was a part time job that we made our own hours for. And over that time we managed to save another big chunk of money by saving every little bit. Little steps are huge. Whatever the goal.

    Reply
  • City Girl, Country Bloke August 13, 2013, 9:03 am

    Country Bloke and I are becoming more and more DIYers about everything. From creating a garden to feed ourselves, and neighbors, raising sheep to keep us in meat to building a deck ourselves despite the fact we both have full time jobs because we are receiving OUTRAGEOUS quotes. I feel as though more and more people are starting to wake up and live their lives this way but I’m not sure if it’s just me and I’m just surrounding myself with like minded people. Imagine what could happen to our lives and the planet if everyone put down the smart phones and computers and started building something that would be helpful to others as well as themselves. What a world that would be.

    Reply
  • Roxy August 13, 2013, 9:15 am

    Love your blog, very inspiring and positive…thanks! How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

    Reply
  • Jackie August 13, 2013, 9:17 am

    “Inch by inch life’s a cinch. Mile by mile life’s a trial.” I don’t know the author, but it’s a saying I use probably everyday at least once. I can be an impatient person. It reminds me to enjoy the process and before I know it my goal will be accomplished!

    Reply
    • Josh August 13, 2013, 7:38 pm

      Reminds me of what my Dad always tells me when I am having a tough time with something. He would say “Take it one day at a time.”

      Reply
  • Jimbo August 13, 2013, 9:17 am

    The longest trip starts with a single footstep, they say… I try to remind myself of that when I don’t feel like doing a time-consuming thing…
    Hope all is well in the MMM house back from the trip. I do admit to guiltily looking forward to you spending more time on the blog for my personal enjoyment. I am selfish that way.

    Reply
  • Lucas August 13, 2013, 9:19 am

    Made me think about this link I saw on pay vs job satisfaction recently :
    http://www.payscale.com/data-packages/most-and-least-meaningful-jobs/salary-versus-job-meaning

    You (Mr. MM), along with a couple other prior software engineers that are also in the blog sphere (1500 days, brave new life, etc. . ) have all taken up construction as a side or full job (in full or semi retirement). The chart in the link might give some view on why as it improves job meaning from the 35-50% range up to the 95% plus range.

    Just an interesting trend :-)

    Reply
    • Mr. 1500 August 14, 2013, 7:08 am

      Interesting observation. For me, it’s about building and creating. Whether it’s software, Lego or home additions, I get a great sense of accomplishment from creating and figuring out the puzzle.

      Reply
    • thegreenworkbench August 16, 2013, 9:45 am

      Found my job to be in the top 10. That was quite a surprise and a great reminder after a difficult week that I have a pretty badass, fulfilling career.

      Reply
  • No Waste August 13, 2013, 9:21 am

    Watch the pennies and the pounds take care of themselves.

    If it takes 10,000 hours to get good at something, I’m 9,986 hours away from being able to build a house.

    Time to get started.

    Reply
  • David August 13, 2013, 9:32 am

    Good advice. Also, it isn’t really necessary to always have something to say on a daily basis. It’s better to wait until you have something important to say, like you did today! I loved it. :)

    Reply
  • RhythmKat August 13, 2013, 9:45 am

    I’ve been reading and learning for a few months now. This post is a good reminder for us all to keep plugging away. Start small and you never know where things will go!

    Reply
  • Kio August 13, 2013, 9:49 am

    This is such a great article, thanks!

    Its funny, I recently had this experience. I have always wanted to learn Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag” on the piano. When I was a kid I practiced the piano an hour a day, but nowadays that isn’t a realistic amount of time. So I decided that I would work on it just 10 or 15 minutes in the morning before heading to work. I doubted I’d make any progress, but figured it was better than nothing.

    Well, here I am after a month, and I can now play the entire first page at tempo, both hands, together, with minimal mistakes!

    I watch my hands in amazement as they are playing the song and it is still a little hard to believe that I can actually do it.

    Reply
    • tallgirl1204 August 13, 2013, 11:01 am

      Great story about Maple Leaf Rag! I read a book on mindfulness last year, and one of the tasks was to do something for enjoyment (not productivity) a few minutes each day, very mindfully. I chose to start practicing the piano again, after a hiatus of a couple of decades.

      It wasn’t pretty. But I did it a bit each day, and just like you, after a month I was able to stagger through a new piece. Of course, then I got too ambitious (“I’ll work through Bach’s whole Well-Tempered Clavier!”) and started to feel like I should put in more time, and when I didn’t have the time I fell out of the practicing habit again…

      Now that shorter days are approaching, I will take your story as inspiration to start up again– 10-15 minutes a day really is an amount that (1) I could certainly spare and (2) allows for real progress.

      Reply
      • Ken August 13, 2013, 3:51 pm

        Wow, first time I’ve read through the comments, and they are really positive and inspiring. I’m so much additional things here in the comments. I just picked up a guitar, after not playing for 6 years. Last two evenings I started playing for about 1 hour. I learned “Stay” by Lisa Loeb. Just went on youtube and found a tutorial. I then downloaded the track from iTunes and played right along. It was great!
        So yes, I’m going to start small adding positive things to my life.
        Thanks
        Ken

        Reply
    • AnnW August 13, 2013, 1:09 pm

      I LOVE this idea. I’m going to get my piano tuned! Thanks!

      Reply
    • Golden August 13, 2013, 6:33 pm

      Ahhh I remember being able to play that song! Great project :)
      Try ‘Elite Syncopations’ next, very cool tune

      Reply
    • Kio August 14, 2013, 3:21 pm

      Awesome! Glad to see so many people getting on the bandwagon with music. Elite Syncopations is definitely a cool one, thanks for the rec.

      Reply
  • retirebyforty August 13, 2013, 9:51 am

    Small positive effect accumulate and compound. That’s why it’s essential to have positive cash flow every month. One of my reader need help with his cash flow because it turned negative after having a kid. This is not good and they need to turn it around fast. Any little negative can turn into a avalanche after a while.
    Every month should result in a small positive gain and eventually we’ll all get to a place we’re comfortable with.

    Reply
  • crazyworld August 13, 2013, 9:53 am

    Totally impressed! As someone who would not dare change out a light fixture, haha! Also jealous, as we pay a lot of $$ to a contractor to do our remodeling, sigh…

    Reply
    • CincyCat August 15, 2013, 12:43 pm

      Unless you are dealing with an older house, with weird wiring, changing a light fixture is something that I would encourage you to try & learn (as well as how to change a faucet, replace a faucet gasket). You may be able to get lessons at a local home improvement store. Both of these types of tasks usually take an hour or less of your time to do, and you could potentially save hundreds in electrician and plumber fees.

      Reply
  • Mr. 1500 August 13, 2013, 9:54 am

    Do the readers or MMM have any suggestions on where to pick up these fine home building skills? Library books and YouTube are great, but there is nothing like hands on work with someone experienced and good. Especially with older homes, you’re always going to run into funky issues. Getting the experience is the key, but finding someone to work with you seems to be difficult.

    Now I know what I should have been doing during my college breaks. Sigh.

    Reply
    • Ms. Must-stash August 13, 2013, 10:12 am

      Once we run out of projects on our own home, we will have no shortage of friends who could use some handy-man and handy-lady help with their own houses. Great way to build up expertise and they are often happy to trade work for things that we would really appreciate (like free babysitting every now and again).

      Reply
    • Mrs PoP August 13, 2013, 10:36 am

      Old people. Okay, that sounds kindof weird. But a lot of people a generation or so older than us did a LOT more around the house and are now in retirement. We learn so much from our friends that are a good deal older than us, and handy-man skills are high up on the list.
      Since we’re cognizant that they might not want to get up on ladders or down on their knees anymore, we often have them over for dinner when we’re starting a project and ask for inspiration. (We actually just did this with one of our friends asking for suggestions and tips on our planned garage reno after hosting them at our place for a nice dinner.)

      Reply
      • Mrs. Waste Not August 14, 2013, 8:20 am

        True! In our previous house, an older couple lived across the street. The husband was a retired mechanic. My husband learned a ton from him!

        Reply
    • Art Guy August 13, 2013, 1:20 pm

      I think MMM said it one time (or more). Just dive in. I needed to remove some big heavy windows yesterday. Had no idea how to do. Googled & utubed & really no help. Ended up just diving in. Cant say it went quickly, or that someone else would have a more professional job ( i have some screwdiver divots to repair), but it got done and 1) i know more than I knew before & 2) i have more confidence to tackle future jobs. As an aside, I have found myself reading other blogs more than usual recently, and had actually been a bit bored here recently (just a little)….silly me…another great post at just the right time (for me). Thanks Money.

      Reply
      • Mr. 1500 August 14, 2013, 7:12 am

        I do like the idea of diving in, but only to a point. I have done this with windows, tiling, electricity, plumbing, minor interior framing and a bunch of small projects. However, I draw the line at tearing the roof off my home and building a second story.

        I’d really love to build a house from the ground up one day. How fun would that be?

        Reply
    • Josh August 13, 2013, 7:47 pm

      Ten years ago I didn’t know anything. I started doing small projects. Each time try something a bit more difficult. Last year I built my own house, with plenty of help of course. One of my favorite things to do is drive (or bike!) around and look at houses that are under construction before they are closed up. You can learn a ton seeing the bones of a house.

      Reply
    • Claire August 14, 2013, 1:55 am

      Why dont you see if there is something like this in your local area or if not start one? http://www.odt.co.nz/lifestyle/magazine/208800/clubbing-together
      Could be for all ages!

      Reply
    • Dee18 August 14, 2013, 12:24 pm

      Volunteer with habitat for humanity.

      Reply
    • gutterbunnybikes August 14, 2013, 7:31 pm

      Volunteer with your local Habitat for Humanity. You’ll learn lots of the skills needed, and also meet people that can help with the other projects that you can’t or are weary to try yourself.

      And to top it off, you’re doing something good for your neighbors as well.

      Reply
  • Ben August 13, 2013, 9:59 am

    I wish I had found your site and countless others like it when I was in high school, college and in the period post-graduation. So many times, I used to feel like I couldn’t do something because the task seemed so gargantuan – getting good grades, finishing my thesis, learning new marketable skills, etc. I’m sure there are others like me who were paralyzed by fear to the point where years went by before they did something about it. We’d all be better off if we took the outlook that “although I don’t know how to do [random skill] right now, if I put in a little time and effort now, I will learn it and it will pay off in the long run.”

    Reply
  • Nords (The-Military-Guide.com) August 13, 2013, 10:04 am

    I’ve built my entire career from “95% of success is just showing up”…

    Reply
  • Ms. Must-stash August 13, 2013, 10:09 am

    I was thinking recently about this exact concept – but applied to something that seems really daunting to most (sane, non-runner) people: running a marathon.

    After I ran my first marathon several years ago, I realized emotionally what I had always known intellectually – it all comes down to the training. To run my first marathon, I had committed to a months-long training program in which I gradually extended my range and built up in sensible way such to minimize the odds of injury – and lo and behold, I arrived at race day with the ability to run 26.2 miles in under 4 hours without stopping – which by the way entails ~40,000+ steps total.

    That’s pretty amazing when you stop and think about it, and it all comes down to showing up and doing the work.

    Reply
    • CCA August 13, 2013, 1:58 pm

      Agreed. I went from not being able to swim, owning a bike, or even being particularly athletic to finishing an Ironman in about 8 months (and with a respectable time of less than 12 hours). The race itself was relatively easy. The tough part was getting up every morning and working out for the months leading up to the race. The workouts during the week weren’t long, maybe an hour or so, but it was constant…in good weather or bad, tired, busy or otherwise. It was incredible to consider how all those small days of working out added up to that accomplishment.

      Reply
      • Mr. Money Mustache August 13, 2013, 3:00 pm

        That blows my mind, CCA! .. but it is nice to know that many of us (even me) are potentially 8 months away from such excellent endurance with sufficient training. Thanks to your example, now that I’m back in the Rockies I will start doing some more serious bike rides and see how much I can improve.

        Reply
        • RRC August 21, 2013, 12:44 pm

          I did a similar thing, trained for 2 months and did my first ever half marathon.

          It’s amazing how fast your body will adjust if you’re consistent with your training.

          Reply
      • Marcia August 13, 2013, 3:49 pm

        That is awesome!!

        Reply
  • Insourcelife August 13, 2013, 10:14 am

    That is a great looking addition you guys built in a short period of time! I wonder if you feel busier now that you have retired from the 9-5 than when you were working as a software engineer simply because of the variety of projects that you get to work on. In any case, this must feel about a million times better than what you were doing in your pre-retired life because you see the fruits of your labor. That addition will outlive you unlike some computer code that is constantly changing somewhere in the universe of 0′s and 1′s.

    Reply
  • Holly August 13, 2013, 10:16 am

    Small changes do really add up. We cut cable television a few years ago and have accomplished amazing things in the extra 3-4 hours a day that are now at our disposal. Now, instead of watching trash TV, I’m able to pick up extra (paid) writing jobs and exercise more. 3 hours a day doesn’t seem like a lot, but over the years it is really a significant amount of time and life force that I’m glad is mine again.

    Reply
    • Melissa August 13, 2013, 7:17 pm

      Totally agree Holly. After cutting cable, I started noticing how many people came to work ready to talk about shows they’d watched the night before. I realized that was their lives: work and hours of t.v. A scary thought to me-I hoped I would never be like that, at least until I was around 85 years old. We find ourselves outside most evenings riding, weeding, playing with the dogs, or having a nice cool beverage. I can’t imagine missing the sunsets and the subtle changes in weather. It is, indeed, our priceless wonderful time.

      Reply
      • Chris August 13, 2013, 9:10 pm

        Very cool Melissa!

        Reply
  • No Name Guy August 13, 2013, 10:18 am

    Persistence pays off. A couple personal trail related examples of how sticking at the effort will get you to the goal in the end:

    – Thru hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. All you have to do is just keep walking north, each and every day. You don’t have to go fast…..just keep going. After a few days, you’ve made it to the next town / resupply stop. You get cleaned up, re-load the food bag, then set out again. 4 to 6 days later, you’re at the next town stop. A few town stops later, all the sudden, you’re no longer near the border, but you’re 700 miles into the thing, at the start of the High Sierra…..continue the process for a few months and before you know it, you’re in the central Cascades of Washington, and Canada is only a couple weeks away.

    – Trail crew (something I took up after the hike). We started on a project in 2010, clearing an overgrown section of trail. A first, to some folks, it didn’t seem like we were doing much good, clearing only 500 to 1000 feet of trail a day. And they were right, at first. 500 feet….you can hike that in about 2 minutes. “Ohhhhhh, great job…..2 minutes of brush free trail” the smart ass would say. OK, fine. But that was only one day. Add another day, then a 3 day weekend, then another day, and another….get more efficient, recruit a bigger crew of volunteers to do 2,000 feet in a day and fast forward to today….here we are in 2013 and 7 miles later it takes 2+ hours to hike through the section we’ve cleared. We’ll be back on this project in another week and a half and knock out another mile plus over 3 days.

    Reply
    • Marcia August 13, 2013, 3:53 pm

      This is really cool. I’ve been sorta obsessed with the PCT over the last few months. My niece did the Appalachian trail several years ago. I live in Cali. I’ve watched a movie about the PCT, read a book.

      Right now I’m reading 2-3 PCT blogs. “So Many Miles” is a pretty awesome one. I am just amazed to read about these hikers. Makes me want to vacation near the PCT next summer and be an “angel” for a little bit.

      I even read about a family that did the hike with a baby (1 year old ish).

      I will probably never ever do anything like this (step 1: get rid of achilles tendonitis. Step 2: uh, never mind, I have two little kids). BUT it is still inspiring and it would be awesome, once my kids are older, to take a several-day long vacation with them and hike a section of it.

      Reply
      • No Name Guy August 14, 2013, 5:51 pm

        Marcia

        Read the PCT-L as well. There are also a couple popular journal sites – postholer.com and trailjournals.com

        In re the Angeling. With “Wild” and the increasing popularity of the PCT, there are a LOT of angels out there, dishing out trail magic. As a former thru hiker, I can say with certainty that SOME magic is a good thing. But in hearing about how things are in 2013 versus when I did the trail in ’06, there’s just so much more of it today. Last summer, for example, up here in Washington, we were doing some trail crew. Well, a couple miles south of us, at a main forest road crossing, a fellow was set up with his magic. Our trail crew cooks brought a personal cooler of goodies to offer as magic. And then 5 miles north of us, was another couple set up doing magic at the next major forest road crossing. 3 magic opportunities in 10 trail miles – waaaaaayyyyyy too much IMHO.

        One thing we could have used more of was to have those 2 other angel parties on our crew, working the trail. That way, what they did would be out there, still, today and next year, and the year after that, and so on. In other words, the trail crew way of angeling sticks around long after the angel goes home.

        Consider coming out and doing a trail crew volunteer vacation. The Pacific Crest Trail Association (www.pcta.org) crews are free and feed you on the multi-day trips. And it’s a work at your own pace / own capability thing, so trail crew is suitable for almost anyone, in almost any physical condition – you just find a work party at the easier end of the difficulty spectrum. We have a couple 70+ year old’s on our crew…..we also get teenage youth who could run laps around everyone as well.

        Reply
  • Amy August 13, 2013, 10:20 am

    I am a recent lurker here. First time commenter. The posts are amazing and I am working towards FI. I am trying to work on my kids’ financial education (long overdue). My daughter will receive a whopping hundred dollars after reading all the blogs and writing a 5 pg essay. It is worth a shot.

    Reply
    • Insourcelife August 13, 2013, 11:52 am

      That’s one way to try to get them to understand :) Neat idea!

      Reply
    • Rob August 13, 2013, 1:52 pm

      Seems like a great time. I hope it works out. Personal finance wasn’t ingrained into me until post-college…and I’m still learning. Really wish they would teach it over say, Calculus III, in high school…the vast majority of people would be better off.

      Reply
    • FI Pilgrim August 14, 2013, 7:27 am

      I love this idea too, way to think outside the box!

      Reply
  • Tara August 13, 2013, 10:36 am

    This article is wonderful to read, very encouraging to those who think that small efforts won’t result in much. But I look now in amazement at my savings and think of all the years I spent putting in a little here and there and wow, it’s a big pile now! I am planning my retirement in 3 years and although it seems daunting I feel inspired to trim the budget more, work harder, and do my best to get there – it’s so close I can almost reach out and touch it. Slow and steady wins the race. :-)

    Reply
  • lacemyshoe August 13, 2013, 10:39 am

    Great and timely post! I’ve been really beating myself up lately for minor things, forgetting that we have made massive changes in the past 2 years. I just need to keep doing small things!

    Has anyone started out from scratch (skill-wise) to build or renovate their own place? My husband and I want to build a mini house but we are terrified. I’m very handy with tools but don’t have an advanced skill yet (I just built a great table but the edges don’t match up perfectly :) For several weeks I’ve tried to find a contractor in my area that is flexible and doesn’t want to build a stock “mini-mansion” but I haven’t had any luck. Anyone tried to take the tests and become their own contractor (building what they can, getting sub-contractors for what they need help with)? Thanks!

    Reply
    • Shortly August 14, 2013, 8:44 pm

      To gain the skills you describe, join a Habitat for Humanity project if there is one in your area. It might involve rehabbing an older house while occasionally they’ll build a new one from scratch. Some projects are managed better than others so it can be hit or miss but there’s a good chance you can get some good experience while helping someone else.

      Build an 8 X 8 tool shed in your backyard. Practice what you learned at Habitat and build it as if it would be your house. Offer to build one (for free) for a friend. One small thing at a time…

      Reply
      • Christine August 15, 2013, 11:49 am

        That is a great idea! Thanks :)

        Reply
  • MrMIlitaryMoney August 13, 2013, 11:04 am

    I have used this method to work on my Masters degree. It is not something that I was that into doing but I realized I know have some free time that I should take advantage of. Reading small amounts, a few times a day, and working on papers over time has helped keep my schoolwork from affecting my family life too much.

    Reply
  • Josh August 13, 2013, 11:19 am

    What you are saying confirms the adage that people usually overestimate what they can do in a day, but underestimate what they can accomplish in a year. I’ve found this to be completely true in my own life.

    Reply
  • Cole August 13, 2013, 11:20 am

    I recently read Gretchen Rubin’s book, “The Happiness Project” and your comments about some things that are considered fun (MMO games, ATV riding, etc…) but might not offer long term rewards matches well with what she dubbed as her “First Splendid Truth” (http://www.happiness-project.com/happiness_project/2011/11/the-eight-splendid-truths-of-happiness/).

    Namely: “To be happier, you have to think about feeling good, feeling bad, and feeling right, in an atmosphere of growth.”

    The project you mentioned offers the potential for happiness (a nice house for your friend, the mutual happiness of working on a project together, etc…) but it also offers “an atmosphere of growth” where you can learn new skills.

    I would highly recommend the book. The author is an incredibly practical and pragmatic person (she was actually on the path to be a lawyer) and I really appreciated how she took current research and put it into actionable steps.

    Reply
    • BamaHighLife August 13, 2013, 2:34 pm

      I sense a divergence in the mustachian force. I don’t agree with the following:

      “Watching TV, for example, or playing massively multiplayer online games, can feel relaxing and even stimulating at times. But those hours spent relaxing and stimulating yourself can really add up, and when you tally the eventual sum of the life benefits, it ends up awfully close to zero.”

      I agree that one should be conscious of how they spend their time. However, demonizing any particular activity isn’t productive. If someone watches 4 hours of TV a week or plays a online games 8 hours a week, it’s hard to argue that the sum of life benefits end up close to zero. Those activities can serve as entertainment, or a time to exercise one’s sense of fantasy, or even just down time to help rejuvenate and relax.

      Not every minute of every day needs to be spent improving one’s self or working towards some greater long term goal. Let’s not single out any particular activity as anti-mustachian when balance and conscious decision making are part of the overall message. I thought the point was “don’t discount your time, no matter how small the increments”, not “if you watch TV or play online games, you’re wasting your life.”

      Reply
      • Mr. Money Mustache August 13, 2013, 2:44 pm

        Hmm.. I’m pretty hardcore on the Anti-TV thing, so we’ll just have to agree to disagree there. But you might have a point about some of the better strategy video games, especially if you play them with friends ;-)

        Reply
        • Geek August 13, 2013, 10:38 pm

          Or if you’re a game producer ;)

          Reply
        • Richard August 15, 2013, 10:41 am

          Once again small steps do it. If you get in the habit of doing small positive things every day, eventually you’ll find that watching TV and playing games is such a low value activity that it’s annoying.

          Going back about 7 years I was probably spending 8-10h/day on passive “entertainment”, but now it’s a chore to force myself to sit down once every couple of weeks and watch something that I really want to see (especially a 3h football game).

          When you free yourself to create the right meaning in your life, you don’t need to do things like that to “rejuvenate and relax”. I recently had a week-long business trip where I worked long days and stayed out until 2-3am every night with some new friends (usually with some lingering effects the next morning). Then when I came back I had to work hard every day for a couple of weeks straight on a project for my business. At the same time I turned up the intensity on my weightlifting and started to beat my record times biking to my office 6 days/week, about 5 miles each way.

          Throughout all of this I had far more energy and motivation than I ever got after watching TV and playing games. And after this period I’m finding that I don’t get tired during the day anymore. A few small habits plus spending your time on things that create meaningful rewards will compound over time.

          I’m sure there are some good strategy games these days that I could play. But just like an anti-mustachian thinks it’s too hard to learn a valuable new skill, I don’t have the patience to find them when there are so many more exciting things to do in my real-life strategy game.

          Reply
          • Mr. Money Mustache August 15, 2013, 3:06 pm

            Yes! That badass attitude and the story of the good life that magically takes form after you give up passive entertainment is EXACTLY why I keep harping on people about the TV watching.

            And yet people keep watching their TVs, defying the will of Mr. Money Mustache.

            I think it’s one of those things you really need to try to even believe the effects. We need to do another article on this to punch some more faces.

            Reply
          • 9 O'CLock Shadow August 16, 2013, 8:26 am

            I wish this comment could be put in a syringe and fired like a tranquilizer dart into the ass of anyone who thinks passive entertainment is relaxing.

            When I moved for a job change many years ago, I didn’t sign up for cable, only a shitty internet connection. For 2 years, no TV and slow as turd video streaming left me with lots of time to focus on my job, friends, family, health, and romatic life. I slept better too after years of being a really bad sleeper – probably due to poor melatonin secretion from staring at a screen during circadian down time!

            It was happiness. I won’t say I was walking around with a constant erection, but close. Then I got cable. It was a very slow, but invasive pull for my attention – a small loss over time.

            I’m changing my habits more and more in the last year, and I hope to get my boner for ‘life’ back soon.

            Reply
      • Ken August 13, 2013, 3:54 pm

        I agree with you, I don’t think I will ever give up my tv watching. Got to have my drugs, shows like Breaking Bad, Mad Men, and Dexter. Lately I know I have been going down some deep rat holes tv wise. Watching shows I don’t even like, because I just want to procrastinate and zone out. So yes this article woke me up to the fact I need to balance this out. But if you love TV my personal opinion, is that it is ok as long as it doesn’t destroy your life…

        Reply
        • Sonny August 13, 2013, 5:15 pm

          I’m a big fan of “appointment TV”, having one or two good shows that you watch every week and discuss with friends/coworkers/whatever. Since 80% of TV shows are bad I don’t have a problem not watching it the rest of the time. The internet is a way bigger timesuck for me because it is limitless and one click can lead to another and another and another…

          Reply
          • tallgirl1204 August 14, 2013, 12:46 pm

            I think that there is a key phrase in there when MMM says that t.v. adds up to “almost zero.” Surely there is a law of diminishing returns that applies.

            For me, when I stick to appointment t.v. (for me, Mad Men,
            Nashville and Project Runway–) my life is excellent and I even come away inspired to write music and sew (although I’m afraid Mad Men only inspires me to drink manhattans…).

            When I start the endless mindless clicking and watching game, the return on investment dives to zero and even into the negative, as the things I could be doing (like sewing or writing music or attending to my work or family) are left to atrophy while I lie back on the couch sipping on the least nutritious mind junk possible.

            No judgment here– if Breaking Bad or Honey Boo Boo or whatever is that “thing” for you that seriously makes your life better, then go for it. Just consider that it’s all about optimization– for me, just like the first three french fries are WAY better than the whole rest of the pile combined, I find that limiting t.v. makes the t.v. I watch much better– and I have so much more time to do other things.

            Reply
        • durangostash94 August 13, 2013, 7:49 pm

          I have watched all three of these shows (BB, MM, and Dexter)–on DVDs from my library. Watching *anything* on TV is just too dangerous for me–I much prefer my life without commercials and without temptations to watch mind numbing stupid shit.

          Reply
      • Chris D. August 13, 2013, 6:10 pm

        I agree that not all TV and video games are a waste of life – but you need to be very conscious of what you choose to watch or play. Recently there was an article that correctly pointed out that TV today is where movies were in the 70′s and 80s. There is some very good content out there that adds to learning and creativity. The best example I can give is Mythbusters. When I have kids they will be raised on a heavy diet of the show because I recognize the benefits it would have provided to me as a kid. As to video games, there are two genres types that I see as beneficial. First, puzzle games are great for the mind and help you think outside the box in other areas of life. Portal 2 comes to mind as one extremely well crafted and written. Second, there are some video games that can be appreciated as interactive art. Recently Bioshock Infinite came out and was hailed as a gem of storytelling. Yes it had shooter elements, but the world created and tale told were brilliant.

        Reply
    • Golden August 13, 2013, 6:48 pm

      The same day I read my 1st MMM post I punched myself in the face and uninstalled World of Tanks.
      I don’t miss it at all.

      Reply
  • MonicaOnMoney August 13, 2013, 11:27 am

    Its true! I used to think getting my MBA would be impossbile and I’d never get there. But after a year of “small efforts” I was able to accomplish it. It’s just like the saying, “How do you eat an elephant”…”One bite at a time!”

    Reply
    • Rob August 13, 2013, 1:50 pm

      I was actually thinking the same thing about MBA. When I looked at the whole picture (time, cost, etc) it seemed extremely overwhelming. Only when I broke it down into smaller parts and kept going at it, did time fly and it was completed. 10 easy things are accomplished more readily than 1 difficult.

      Reply
  • WageSlave August 13, 2013, 11:39 am

    To me you are speaking to a “divide and conquer” approach to goal-achieving. Two sides of the same coin, perhaps. E.g., the work on your friend’s house: one side of the coin is breaking the big project up into a lot of small projects; the other side of the coin is the multitude of small efforts you put into completing the various sub-tasks.

    I don’t think I could make it through life without the divide and conquer method. Seriously. Being a software engineer, I think it comes somewhat naturally to me. I really enjoy the process of breaking down big tasks into smaller, more manageable pieces. That goes for just about everything I do, not just software.

    It’s been said so many times, but I think it’s worth repeating: people tend to fail at their goals because they are too big in scope. They need to start small: divide and conquer, which is I think the same thing as saying “start with small efforts that support the big goal”.

    Reply
  • Pretired Nick August 13, 2013, 11:56 am

    My personal mantra has always been to break big problems into little problems. It’s something I would always tell my employees back when I was working. It’s very destressing and allows you continue to make forward progress.
    That said, I think your most important point is about shifting habits: Just tiny shifts over time can lead to a better lifestyle.

    Reply
  • Brooklyn Money August 13, 2013, 12:05 pm

    I started doing this with cleaning. Instead of spending hours on the weekend, now before I go to work I do one thing — this am I cleaned the bathtub before I showered. It makes such as difference!

    Reply
    • Insourcelife August 14, 2013, 11:47 am

      I actually started doing the same with lawn mowing – backyard one day, front the other… I use a non-motorized reel mower so it feels like a quick workout more than a chore now.

      Reply
    • CincyCat August 15, 2013, 12:53 pm

      I used to clean the sink & toilet while my kids were taking their baths. I figured I might as well multi-task since they were too young to be entirely unsupervised in a body of water, but old enough that I didn’t have to sit right next to them with one hand in the tub. :)

      Reply
  • Christine Wilson August 13, 2013, 12:12 pm

    That’s very impressive! I need to keep doing all these little things to see more of these effects. Great inspiration.

    Reply
  • Green Money Stream August 13, 2013, 12:38 pm

    Small changes can really have a significant impact over time. Such an important concept but illustrates the differences in people who enjoy delayed gratification vs. those who seek instant gratification. One is a saver, the other is not.

    Looking forward to the book and helping to save the human race!

    Reply
    • rjack August 13, 2013, 4:35 pm

      I’m really looking forward to the MMM book also. I wonder how much will be new content versus existing posts.

      Reply
  • Mr freeze August 13, 2013, 12:41 pm

    I hope in a future post you’ll breakdown the actual cost and labor vs contractor estimates for this project. I’ve always had the desire to buy a smaller house in a prime location and eventually build a large addition such as this and have always been interested in how much this would cost compared to paying more upfront for a bigger house or hiring a contractor to build the addition.

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache August 13, 2013, 3:18 pm

      Yeah, that would make an interesting post, as I find myself running those numbers frequently and I see other people making the wrong choices sometimes. In general:
      - area with cheap real estate (i.e., Omaha): cheaper to buy a bigger house up-front
      - area with expensive houses (San Francisco): cheaper to renovate and/or add on to a junky existing house
      - the better relationship you can get with contractors and tradespeople, the easier and cheaper you can get work done.

      Reply
    • Basenji August 14, 2013, 12:46 pm

      I second Mr. Freeze’s request for a breakdown of “the actual cost and labor vs contractor estimates.”

      Also, this post has startled me awake on so many levels. Thank you.

      Reply
      • Giovanni August 20, 2013, 12:58 pm

        One of the most frequently asked questions on contractor forums is (or used to be) how much does it cost to…

        The best replies would go something like this: The only way to answer that is to know your real cost of labor and overhead including all the time spent setting up, organizing and managing the project. Once you know what your actual costs are then you can apply them to a specific project.

        To do that you also have to know what your actual labor productivity is and then accurately forecast how much work is really involved. Then you have to accurately estimate how much of what kind of materials are involved (It’s been said the best way to estimate 2x4s is to count very carefully and then add a truckload) and your specialty subcontractor costs will be…. and then add a fudge factor to cover unknowns.

        The point of course being that it isn’t possible to give an answer more general than ‘with my crew, suppliers and subs at our productivity for this specific type of job it costs me xxx. Now if you’re building whole subdivisions by subcontracting all the work via fixed price contracts, and buying materials in such large numbers that you can hedge your forward pricing you can get to pretty tight per square foot costs, but once again only on your projects in the locations you’ve been doing them.

        All these same things apply to doing it yourself too. One of the most commonly underestimated costs is the planning, setting up and managing category. People have no idea how much time is involved. So one of the reasons contractor prices seem so high is that most contractors have learned (usually the hard way) how much management time is involved and they charge for it.

        The other thing you pay a contractor for is the cost of running… and insuring… and licensing a construction business. Essentially the business has to earn a living to survive just like the contractor his or herself. Insurance costs, including workman’s comp can be huge and in many places growing faster than inflation year after year.

        So a good contractor has learned what construction costs really are and charges for them. The real cost of building something is pretty close to what they would charge less their net profit margin which really isn’t very high.

        This isn’t to say don’t do it yourself, as MMM has said the sense of accomplishment you get from building something is very rewarding, but be prepared to do the hard work of figuring out how much it will really cost you. Not just in money and time but in blood, sweat and tears too.

        Reply
  • Terr August 13, 2013, 12:44 pm

    As others have said, your blog doesn’t suck. As a matter of fact, I’ve come to warmly look forward to your post. I know that I consider your blog post part of my financial “inch by inch” self-improvement plan.

    I don’t have to resources to take some of your suggestions but I can read what you have to teach. I can also join your forum (And I plan to). I can read your post archives for more info. Making progress “inch by Inch” is better than no progress at all.

    Reply
  • Sergey August 13, 2013, 12:54 pm

    Skipping a beer? Did I read it right? :)

    Reply
  • AnnW August 13, 2013, 1:12 pm

    I think I’ll put up a sign in the kitchen that says “Plank”. I have an unusual ability to do this, not related to my body strength. We all need to adopt a more mindful approach to living. Ann

    Reply
  • Rob August 13, 2013, 1:47 pm

    As someone who just recently started a blog, I wholeheartedly agree that small efforts over time can create an empire (well, at least I hope so). I’ve seen it firsthand in friends/families companies, investing, learning a new skill, or picking up a new habit…starting small can have immense benefits. Too bad too many people think that if they don’t see immediate results, it isn’t worth doing. Great post, I look forward to reading along.

    Reply
  • GamingYourFinances August 13, 2013, 1:50 pm

    Gymnastics rings in the kitchen!?! My wife would kill me if I did that. But I really like the idea. A pull up bar would be great. Maybe I could sneak it in somehow. As long as that’s not one of those little things that leads to a divorce!

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache August 13, 2013, 3:02 pm

      The key is that your wife needs to enjoy the odd set of pull-ups and dips as well. And really, we should ALL enjoy such things.

      Reply
  • John August 13, 2013, 2:32 pm

    Good reminders, MMM. I’ve recently been getting myself into shape for a hiking trip in the Sierras. If I let myself slide and don’t complete my full workout, I force myself to at least to some pushups and crunches. I feel at least somewhat active this way, much better than watching YouTube clips or mindless entertainment on the internet. It’s time we all wake up and resist the “mainstream” powers of Mt. Bullshit!

    Reply
  • Gigi August 13, 2013, 2:51 pm

    Amen! People often ask how I’ve been able to travel to so many places, citing money as their reason for not going, and one of the answers I give them is that I have the cheapest phone plan I could find (with no data or text), I gave up cable years ago, and I make my coffee at home. Over the course of a year, those savings (and others) always add up.

    Reply
    • Blaze August 13, 2013, 3:13 pm

      Gigi – isn’t it annoying when they give you the “must be nice to be able to afford that” line? Meanwhile they are sporting a $200 hair color/cut, designer clothing, manicured nails, the latest electronic gadget, etc etc.

      Normally I respond like you do (explaining that we consciously choose used vehicles, no cable, old cell phones, eating at home, packing lunches and so on). All trade offs we happily make so that we can travel now and still plan to retire early. To be honest, there have been a few times when the person reeeealy irritates me and I have just answered, why yes, yes it is nice (insert evil grin).

      Reply
      • Gigi August 15, 2013, 11:00 am

        Ha! Next time I think I’ll take your tact.

        Reply
  • stellamarina August 13, 2013, 3:23 pm

    “How we spend our day is, of course, how we spend our lives.”

    Annie Dillard

    Reply
    • Mark B August 14, 2013, 9:53 pm

      Stellamarina, of the 115 comments so far, I like yours the best. It’s one of those quotes you hear and swear you’ll never forget, then 10 years later someone randomly posts it in the comments section of a blog.

      Reply
  • Micro August 13, 2013, 5:27 pm

    This is pretty much my entire line of thinking during running a marathon. If I thought that I was going to be spending the next 4+ hours on my feet running 26.2 miles, I don’t think I would do it. I just go through focused on getting to the mile marker and once I hit it, I move on to the next one. It keeps my mind occupied on small easily achievable goals.

    Reply
  • CALL 911 August 13, 2013, 7:02 pm

    I don’t have much to say today, but when you take breaks to live your life, we do too. But we all come together again here when it’s time!

    Reply
  • Andy August 13, 2013, 7:59 pm

    This was a nice little post to come home to after a business trip today…

    I was dismayed today to realize that my business expenses from last week wouldn’t be fully approved and paid by this week’s paycheck. As a BTW, my company is great at approving and paying expenses; usually fully approved in 4-5 business days and automatically rolled into next pay check.

    That being said I was annoyed because I knew I wouldn’t be getting that cash for another 18 days. After months of getting out of whack on cash flow due to stupid spending (years of wastefulness, really) and huge amounts of remodel debt, my monthly credit card, which I used to take great pride in always paying off, has been carrying a reasonable balance with a high interest rate for the past 4 months.

    I finally started tackling this issue after getting real with myself and being inspired by this blog. The stupidity has to end!

    Anyway, I set and met a budgetary goal for the first time in eons and was planning, with the aid of getting reimbursed, to get my month to month cc balance back to zero in just a few days, thus relieving a huge amount of stress and clearing the way to start more aggressively tackling the larger, more long term stuff. To find out that wasn’t happening stunk. Every time I look at my balances and massively complicated tracking spreadsheet (almost daily) I wish it would all disappear immediately. Then I read this and took heart in the reality of the situation and the effort and progress made so far, and take comfort in the fact that little by little, with perseverance and consistency, it will all start to take shape.

    And hopefully the little gains will be building blocks for more aggressive action and larger gains (or, more accurately, reductions).

    So, great post! Keep em coming.

    Reply
    • Blaze August 14, 2013, 2:18 pm

      Do you charge everything to a company credit card?
      My husband travels about 50% of the time and everything goes on the corporate AMEX card. He submits his receipts (sometimes from the hotel room) and we always have the reimbursement in our account before the credit card bill is due. The day the deposit goes in, I check his CC account online and immediately transfer over the required amount. I never leave it sitting in our account or it might start to feel like ours to spend.

      It isn’t reasonable for you to personally have to cover the company expenses while they are processing claims (as long as you submit everything quickly). If this is your own company you really need to keep those expenses completely separate from your personal funds, and it may mean maintaining a large float to cover the CC invoice while you await payment from customers.

      Reply
      • Andy August 14, 2013, 3:30 pm

        No, we don’t have corporate cards and it’s not my company. I actually never liked corporate cards because I feel you lose out on the benefits (if I’m not mistaken, which I could be). I use a chase freedom, which has a solid cash back reward program.

        Anyway, not really griping about my company– I submitted around midnight on Thursday and it was fully approved today, unfortunately two days after it needed to be in to meet payroll, but still very quick–was more just the inciting incident, the thing that made me go, damn, it’s going to be another 18 days before I fully clear this backlog.

        Although, good points, carrying another person’s or company’s expense on top of your own for periods of time adds a challenge to maintaining positive cash flow, forecasting, etc, especially if you get out of whack, like I have, and have to start paying interest. If nothing else, perhaps a second, business only CC would make sense.

        On the other hand, now that we’re way off the topic of the blog post, the extra burden does seem to put an extra level of pressure to drive down spending. Wonder if that’s of benefit or if MMM or others have an opinion…

        Reply
  • LAL August 13, 2013, 8:23 pm

    Very inspiring and color. I’d still like time at night to watch TV. Instead with two small kids and a dog I spend nights putting them to bed, cleaning, cooking, paying bills, prepping the next time day stuff. I never understand how so many of my friends have hours to watch a movie a night that’s 2-3 hours of tv watching or going to bed at 830 when I’m still cleaning or doing stuff around the house. Tonight I had solo kid duty prepped dinner and lunch for rest of week, and my dh is making sorbet. How do people have so much free time?

    Reply
    • Georgia Boy August 15, 2013, 10:46 pm

      LAL,
      You’re doing it right-I suspect many of those with the free time never actually prepare a meal for their families, to the detriment of both their health and their pocketbooks, or spend much real time with their kids-everybody just zones out in front of the TV or video games.

      Reply
  • Kevin August 13, 2013, 8:24 pm

    Excellent post that brings home how small steps translate into big milestones.

    Too often we’d rather sit and complain about how bad our ‘[job, health, relationship, finances, etc] ‘ is or blame others for what is occurring.

    Spending less time complaining and more time make small incremental improvements over time translates into big milestones.

    Look once at the destination & five times at the steps in front of you. Then keep repeating until you get there.

    Great post MMM.

    Reply
  • lentilman August 13, 2013, 8:30 pm

    Thank you MMM! Excellent post.

    (BTW, I noticed) :)

    Reply
  • Chris August 13, 2013, 9:24 pm

    During a Physics course in college, we worked problems that would take a page and a half to complete, each. Inevitably, people would complain that it was “TOO HARD” and “TOO LONG” and how did the professor ever expect them to finish such a beast of a problem. His answer was always, “How do you eat an elephant?” Answer: “One bite at a time.”

    This has always stuck with me and I think about it often when tackling big problems.

    Reply
  • JayBee August 13, 2013, 10:48 pm

    This is very, very true.

    Three years ago, we started a small business. We were very consistent in our daily behaviors toward the business, and as such, built it very quickly. In that time, we have built it to a 6 figure revenue and a high 5 figure income for ourselves.

    Honestly, it’s just about being consistent.

    Reply
  • Darren August 13, 2013, 11:16 pm

    I’m a big believer in the principle of this post. I dabble in a fair number of crafts and hobbies and people often comment that they don’t have the talent to make or do what I do. I always tell them, you don’t need talent, you just need patience. Patience and persistence are the keys to watching small things grow into great things. When people say they don’t have time, I like to put things in perspective. Take your age, subtract it from 79, multiply by 5840. That is how many waking hours you can reasonably expect to have left on this planet. Do you want to watch sitcom reruns or do you want to DO something?
    (I only have 216080 hours left, tick tock)

    Reply
    • Catherine August 15, 2013, 8:43 am

      Yes! I knit and people are always amazed that I can produce sweaters. Fact is, that once you master a couple of basics, making a sweater is not much harder than making a potholder or a scarf, you just have to have the stamina to see it out over time. I have one sweater I’m working on right now that’s pretty complicated and when I started it did seem like a huge project. But I’ve been plugging away, putting in a row or two whenever I can, and suddenly I have half of it done!

      Reply
  • Sandy August 14, 2013, 1:17 am

    My husband and I paved our own yard after receiving ridiculous quotes from professionals. It took us a few weekends, with work and all getting in the way, but we got it done and it looks really nice.
    Granted, it doesn’t look as good as when a pro would have done it but it cost a fraction of what we were quoted AND we enjoyed getting our hands dirty together.
    Furthermore: we are confident that the next time we pave the yard, it will look even better because we’ve developed a skill!

    Reply
  • Dan August 14, 2013, 6:42 am

    Yep. We have two kids under the age of three, and as you can imagine, free time is in short supply. But I have managed to complete a new downstairs bathroom, created out of half of the utility room. By forcing myself to do at least one job every day, I manged to complete the job in just a couple of months. Even if you only can spend 30 minutes doing something, that’s 30 minutes of work in the bank. Eventually, there’s nothing left to do!

    Reply
    • CincyCat August 16, 2013, 1:05 pm

      LOL! Your story brought back memories of home improvement projects we did when our kiddos were tiny. It’s amazing how much work can get done between the hours of 9pm and midnight! :-)

      Reply
  • Diedra B August 14, 2013, 7:44 am

    when you’re feeling tired of writing and stuff, I’m sure others would agree with me that Mrs. MM is more than welcome to share a thought or two. I appreciated her discussion of how to avoid the commercialization of parenthood. Anything else she’d care to mention would probably go over decently.

    Reply
  • The Warrior August 14, 2013, 8:13 am

    I’ve been implementing small changes more and more as I get older (wiser) and the benefits have paid huge dividends.

    Another one that I stole from Tim Ferriss is to do the one thing you don’t want to do the most. That one thing you don’t want to do the most is often the thing I need to do the most. Plus I feel relieved and excited once completed. This is another small action that can be implemented that pays huge dividends.

    I looked forward to more consistent MMM articles. ;)

    Reply
  • Ron August 14, 2013, 8:21 am

    This is my favorite of your many excellent posts. To me it’s the single most important insight in part because it applies to all aspects of life. I know you’ve grown accustomed to my critiques, but I’ve got nuthin’. Sorry to disappoint. :)

    Reply
  • Ying-Hong August 14, 2013, 9:05 am

    I totally agree.
    I used to live in Montreal for 4 years without being able to speak any French. Then I left and started learning French only because I miss Montreal. My self-study is easy: every morning I turned on the radio of some French website and had the radio as the background for 30 minutes. After 1 year, I was able to understand 50% of the content. All those 30 minutes morning session added up!

    And numerous examples in study and life…

    Reply
  • Jeff August 14, 2013, 9:32 am

    Those who realize and understand the wisdom of small efforts over time are at a distinct advantage. The difficult part is being patient before the payoff starts to occur. For one, most of us seem hard wired for instant gratification. Additionally, we like to know if we are on the right track. In other words, if the small efforts we make are misguided then we might not realize it for a long time. Because of this, many start off fast and furious and then end up quitting. Keeping things in perspective is key.

    Reply
  • Wes August 14, 2013, 9:49 am

    I loved this post. More and more I see MMM as the anti-Ramit Sethi (of I Will Teach You To Be Rich). They have a similar tone, but MMM actually helps people become rich, contrary to Ramit’s blog title. This post is a great example. Ramit loves to talk about “big wins” and how focusing on small expenses is for suckers. After all, you’re a cognitive miser so don’t sweat the small stuff – spend your money without guilt. And oh by the way, since you’re not worried about how you spend your money, maybe you’d like to buy one of my courses that costs thousands of dollars? In the meantime, MMM is like tough personal trainer, screaming at us to do “one more!” dip/pushup/curl/pullup so that our frugality muscles become ever so slightly more defined. The incremental exercise might not show up right away, but in 10 years time, Mustachians will be rich while Ramit’s disciples will be wondering why all of their “guilt free spending” has left them just as broke as they were before.

    Reply
  • Jen G August 14, 2013, 10:23 am

    I’ve developed a personal system (mostly stolen from your philosophy) that helps me stay motivated to do the little stuff in order to reach bigger goals. I collect “badass points” throughout the day. Biking instead of driving to the grocery store? One badass point for me. Washing and reusing that ziploc bag? Score one mini-badass point. Yesterday when I was sick but still cooked dinner for the family (instead of succumbing to the temptation of takeout) and managed a 20 minute strength workout? Two super-sized badass points. It may seem very silly as I don’t even track my points, but it does help keep my momentum moving forward and keeps a positive spin on the hard work that is involved with frugality and personal health.

    Reply
    • Sir Osis of DeLiver August 15, 2013, 6:54 pm

      I used to do something like this — push myself to stick with daily commitments no matter what — but I urge caution when you start dealing with health issues. At one point I had told myself I was going to run a certain distance every day for 30 days, no matter what the weather or my mood or whatever other excuses I might dream up.

      One night I went out running after having done something slightly funky to my foot during the day. It was a bit painful but I told myself, hey, I’m committed, no backing down now. And ended up injuring myself to the point where I had to see a doctor and couldn’t put weight on one of my toe joints for about 6 weeks.

      So now I’m all for being badass, but I also try to listen to what my body is telling me and realize that sometimes the best way to make long-term progress is to stop and rest, or sleep, or otherwise rejuvenate.

      Reply
  • cowtown2011 August 14, 2013, 10:46 am

    I think this video is fitting after such a great article by MMM, keep up the good work. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BOksW_NabEk

    Reply
  • Jon August 14, 2013, 10:50 am

    First, congrats, that is some seriously impressive building work!

    You are especially right when these small things can either work for us or against us… it’s easy to justify something like watching TV for a short amount of time… but then that makes it easier to justify the next day, and the day after that. Pretty soon, it’s a full blown habit.

    Thanks for the post!

    Reply
  • Clint August 14, 2013, 10:58 am

    The happiness beams shoot out of my orifices every time I read a great post like this! … At least I hope they’re happiness beams.

    Reply
  • debtfreeoneday August 14, 2013, 2:35 pm

    I really enjoyed reading this post. It’s amazing what changes can take shape over time with just a small amount of effort each day. Since January, when I had my lighbulb moment about being in debt, I stopped watching TV. I now spend my evenings researching ways to make money, blogging and crafting. Basically using my time more productively. And I feel like I’ve achieved so much more this year than in previous years!

    Reply
  • MJ August 14, 2013, 7:51 pm

    A wise man once said:

    You often overestimate what you can accomplish in a year. But you’ll underestimate what you can accomplish in five years.

    I find this to be amazingly true.

    Reply
  • Mark B August 14, 2013, 10:40 pm

    After casually reading each of the new MMM posts when they arrived, I decided to get serious and register for the MMM forum, and I’ve also been plowing through the archives. Three things have really struck me about the overall MMM experience:

    1. How many incredibly bright, together people read this blog. It’s of course a theme around these parts that most people live in a sort of fog, like pieces of driftwood pushed along by the currents of peer pressure and advertising and convention. I’m continually amazed, though, by the sheer number of readers of this blog who really get it and whose comments contribute to the discussions. Hell, just read the comment section of most other blogs–they read like, “Youre stupid! No, YOU’RE stupid!”.

    2. There’s so much great content here I almost feel as though I need an MMM 12 step. It’s like, yeah, yeah, I’ll mow the lawn, I know it’s getting dark, just let me get through the June of 2011 posts and I’ll get right on it.

    3. Some dude in Colorado lived his regular, anonymous, mustachian life, under the world’s radar, until one day he decided to write his thoughts down in a blog, and the result has: a.) created an amazing community of like minds who are collaborating in such a positive way, and b.) affected the lives of god knows how many people, to varying degrees. Frigging amazing.

    Which brings me to my point–I want to marry all of you. Ok just kidding, my post was kind of heavy so I thought I’d end it on a light note.

    Reply
    • Nicster August 15, 2013, 6:14 pm

      You totally hit the proverbial nail on the head. I love the positive attitude and insightful comments on this site! Pretty inspiring. I think no matter where you are on your path to FI, there is a lot to learn from everyone. This is the first blog I have ever really spent the time to follow.

      Reply
    • Doug August 18, 2013, 12:52 pm

      Great post! Well, I don’t think I want to marry you, but there’s really no need to as we’re already like an extended family. That’s what I thought when I started reading this blog late last year.

      Reply
  • Mrs EconoWiser August 14, 2013, 11:56 pm

    Ever since I started reading MMM I decided to watch less and less TV. It has been months since I watched TV and the urge to switch the damn thing on has disappeared! Now, I’m doing lots of fun stuff in during my evenings…like reading lots of books (double benefit!) and crafty things or practical things. I also started to ride my bike if I need to go anywhere within the city and sometimes even beyond that radius. The power of these small efforts are amazing indeed. I’ll think about my next challenge!

    Reply
  • mattbkk August 15, 2013, 1:35 am

    “you’ll become a Self Improvement Machine, a miniature Dalai Lama with happiness beams shooting out of each of your orifices” – MMM, you have a beautiful turn of phrase sometimes :-)

    Reply
  • Sandra August 15, 2013, 6:06 am

    I don’t think your blog has been all that boring. The one about the fifty jobs thing was good.

    Reply

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