I’ll be the first to admit it: Mr. Money Mustache is known to indulge in a few luxuries. Hell, I’m doing it right now, with my fingers tapping comfortably on a brushed aluminum keyboard while the letters instantly pop up on the 1920×1080 pixel screen of this feathery “ultrabook” laptop. I’m on the front porch of my luxury house, looking over the hundreds of beautiful plants in the front garden, my belly is comfortably full from a breakfast of espresso with frothed organic milk, almonds, mangoes and avocados. Aren’t I Mr. Fancypants?
No, actually I am not. This stuff isn’t anything to brag about. Although I am enjoying it at the moment, it is actually an indulgence of a weakness, and I had better watch myself, lest I start to depend on this sort of pampering all the time.
When you really look at this fancy picture, I’m sitting around on my ass, consuming stuff. This seated position is bad for my bones and organs. My muscles are atrophying away as the body takes the hint that they are no longer needed. The typing is straining my wrists and nibbling away at the joints, trying to lay the foundation of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. The laptop is wearing out and depreciating and the luxury home is tying up close to half a million dollars of precious capital.
In fact, the most rewarding part of this exercise is the fact that I am working to create something – this article for you, for which most of the surrounding luxury is not even necessary.
If I were to get used to all of this, to feel like it were my inalienable right to have it, and become unhappy if I could not have it, I would be pretty much screwed. Because at that point, I would have designed a lifestyle so narrow and delicate, that it could easily be toppled by something as trivial as an economic collapse.
And yet people do this all the time. Most people, even. When you borrow money to buy a consumable product, you are instantly teetering atop the ultimate house of cards. You are getting yourself used to the rare luxury of your new toy, even while you are speeding up the treadmill you have to run upon even to get close enough to use it. This is why I laugh and cry with frustration at the absolute insanity of borrowing money for a car, and the fact that ninety percent of Americans do it.
But it’s not just borrowers that are the fools here. Even those of us with a comfortable ‘stash who can fork over a few thousand dollar bills for the odd treat here and there would be wise to watch ourselves. And yet, here is Mr. Money Mustache talking about his own luxuries. What gives?
In fact, the relatively material-rich lifestyle of the MMM family is one of the primary reasons this blog doesn’t scare everyone off. People say, “Oh yeah, they have a kid, cars, and a nice house – seems like a reasonable lifestyle, I guess we can dip our toes in as well.” For a blog that preaches living a larger life with a smaller footprint, the contradictions are rife.
Fortunately, there is a way to reconcile the ideal and the reality. You can dabble in luxury, without becoming a whining slave to it, just by understanding the concept that luxury is a drug.
Most of us have tried drugs in one form or another, right? Coffee gives you a little boost. Alcohol makes you a bit more silly and friendly. Ibuprofen lowers your swelling and fever and can really cut down the misery of a cold or flu. Marijuana is amazing for bringing out creative ideas and highlighting the texture and humor in life, and the list goes on. But the key to all drugs is that they come with a balance of positive and negative effects. So only a fool would overdose on any of them in a breathless pursuit of their positives, while ignoring the well-documented negatives.
Luxury behaves in exactly the same way. I remember taking a big hit of it on a business trip a while back. I stepped off the plane in an exotic destination and smelled the warm air off the sea as I watched the palm trees and flowers blowing in the wind. A black Lincoln was waiting right at the curb to pick me up. I threw my backpack into the back seat and climbed in, noting the contrast between my sandals and shorts and the black leather seats of this business-oriented car. The driver zoomed me through the city to the luxury hotel while I casually flicked through emails on my phone and watched the skyscrapers roll past.
“I am Mr. Bigshot”, I thought to myself. “I sit in bigass cars, with muscular V-8 engines which waste huge amounts of gas while people drive me around. I sit upon polished strips of sliced-up cows, dyed and stitched together by workers who earn far less than me. When I get to the expensive hotel, I will be presented with an internationally-sourced meal prepared by chefs, and a large private suite, while others bow down and wait and pay me for the priceless solutions I deliver from my powerful mind. THIS is the treatment I deserve! Why have I been taking the bus and riding my bike and setting up tents all these years?”
A scientist could probably measure exactly the rush I was receiving from this drug. All the chemicals that come from the feeling of being powerful, pampered, and getting used to it.
It was fun, but it was an experience to be tucked away and cherished and laughed at, just like being drunk off your gourd in the company of friends or high on any other substance. Because even that one executive pampering was enough to start me idly pondering the option of luxury airport transit on my future trips. Tentatively sorting the list of hotels from “high to low” instead of “low to high”. Chuckling at the dowdy furnishings of the Best Western or cowering away from the heat of a Houston day in August.
And while constant pampering of this level would soon make me flabby and dependent, there are ready examples of even more pampered people further along the scale. Some kings and queens of the past grew so dependent and accustomed to their ornate surroundings that they would imprison or execute any servant that failed to deliver their luxuries exactly as ordered. Some movie stars today add special clauses to their contracts, specifying that they only be sheltered in the top grade of limousine and hotel, and the demand is backed up by threat of whining and legal action. My experience with the Lincoln Town Car and the Marriott would be deemed an upsetting step downwards. “Lincoln! Don’t you know those are made by Ford? .. And the Marriott is a place for middle managers and tourists.. not A-list movie stars such as myself!”
When you wriggle yourself into the narrow nook of luxury, your perspective on the world, and your ability to survive and thrive in it, also constricts dramatically. Like any drug, it can be fun to indulge in occasionally. But to seek to constantly maximize luxury in all areas of your life to the limits of what you can afford? Pure insanity. Just as it would be insane for me to say, “Since I can afford it, I need to start taking drugs for as many of my waking hours as possible. Alternating shots of espresso and fine scotch all day, with hits from the bong every hour on the hour!”
Even more insane is for people with financial problems to seek out luxury and even buy it on credit – exactly like a man with a damaged liver reaching for the bottle of vodka while the surgeons are trying to perform a transplant.
So by all means, if you’re not tough enough to abstain totally, go ahead and dabble in luxury just as you might have some fun with the other bits of naughtiness. Think of it as part of an exploration of the full human experience: many luxury products are, after all, the culmination of the art and science and effort of your fellow humans. But approach it from a position of strength, rather than the whining dependence that most of your fellow rich people develop.
Luxury is best appreciated as a strong and interesting contrast to, rather than the fabric of, your daily life.