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Get Rich With: The Position of Strength

Mrs. MM destroys a portion of our new house in a recent work session.

Mrs. MM destroys a portion of our new house in a recent work session.

A few weeks ago, the MMM family lost about $12,000.

While this might sound like quite a bummer, the event wasn’t upsetting in the least. In fact, the days between that fateful event and today have been some of the most joyful and free days of our lives so far.

As you know, Mrs. Money Mustache keeps an old real estate license handy in her toolbelt. While she maintains the appropriate retired woman’s approach to the field, turning down business except in the case of helping the occasional friend who is buying or selling a house in our immediate neighborhood, she still finds herself helping out with a deal or two every year.

For the last few months, she has been touring houses with some friends who are currently renting a place nearby. They were shopping on the nicer side of our local neighborhood, which implies a 3-4 bedroom house in good condition at a price of around $400,000.

They shopped and shopped. Some places were perfect, but sold too quickly at a price just out of reach. Others were shabby and overpriced. There were various squawking battles from the colorful real estate agents and sellers involved in the process. Going through the all-too-familiar complications inspired my own article on how to buy a house.

At the end of it all, our friends decided to simply buy the nearly-new house they had been renting right in the same neighborhood for the past year. Their landlord had bought it just before the housing crash, and was happy to unload it now that our prices have recovered.

But the landlord proposed it as a private deal: cash would flow from buyer to seller, with no real estate agents on either side. With Realtors normally tacking a 6% commission onto every deal, this simpler arrangement would create a huge win/win situation for our friends and the homeowner.

The only problem was that Mrs. MM would no longer be eligible to receive her 2.8% paycheck, which is how a buyer’s agent normally earns a living. With a purchase price around $400k, this implies a loss of almost $12,000 in income. This fact was not lost on our friends.

“How should we handle this?”, they asked. “We don’t want you to get shafted after doing all this work – should we raise the selling price so you can get your commission? Should we renegotiate the deal harder so the landlord will pay you out of her cut?”

“Bah… don’t worry about it!”, said my wife. “We’re just happy that you found a place you like, and that you are getting such a great deal on it. Enjoy your new freedom from the grind of shopping and moving, and congratulations!”

That night she told me of her decision, and we both toasted some heartily filled wine glasses and had a laugh over the whole situation. We were glad our friends had finally found a house.  We both knew that they would benefit from the lower purchase price much more than we would benefit from an extra twelve grand of before-tax income. There would surely be other deals and other windfalls in the future. And more importantly, we value the friendship and were very thankful that the sticky issue of money did not have to get in the middle of it. Friendships, businesses, and even families have been broken apart over much smaller sums.

I share this story because it is a particularly sweet illustration of the Position of Strength. It is an example of why financial independence, freedom from an addiction to ever-increasing luxury, and when you really think about it, all forms of strength are such incredibly useful things to build into your own life.

Looking back at my list of all the articles, I am starting to realize that this isn’t a personal finance blog or even a lifestyle design blog. It’s a neverending sermon on the joy of strength.  Strength, also known affectionately as Badassity, is at the root of most of the joy in a human life. And weakness, which also manifests itself as Complainypants and Wussypants diseases, is what makes you unhappy. The solution to leading a great life is therefore so simple, it is almost insane that our entire society is geared to run directly against it.

So let us browse through a few of life’s most powerful sources of strength to soak up its amazing connection just about everything:

  • Money is the most acknowledged source of strength in modern society, for it gives you the power to get other people to serve you, and to do so with a smile.
  • An Abundance of Money is even more powerful, because you no longer find yourself feeling the need to act like a weenie in the pursuit of more of it. With this Abundance power, you can properly align your earning and your spending with your values, rather than just seeking out the cheapest option or trying to squeeze more money out of your customers, employees, or fellow citizens.
  • The Desire for Ever-Increasing Material Luxury is therefore a serious weakness. In the playground of life, there is a giant teeter totter. Mr. Abundance sits at one end of it, with his casually ripped physique, faded skateboarding shirt and scruffy facial hair. Mr. Luxury sits directly opposite him, clean-shaven in a 3-piece suit with those shiny pointy-toed business shoes and a rounded little beer belly tucked in behind a tight belt. You can never satisfy Luxury – there is always another level of fanciness to attain, and thus he can never have quite enough money.
  • Giving is a form of strength. When you say, “I have more than I need, and thus my desire to take should fade away as my desire to help out grows”.
  • Taking is therefore a form of weakness. On the playground, Luxury maintains just a little more desire to take,  which competes with his desire to give. Meanwhile, Mr. Abundance is always working on needing less. The “taking” weakness continues to shrink, allowing him to invest more in his “giving” strength.
  • Health is a form of strength. With health comes a clearer mind, more energy, a greater range of options and comfort zones, and a longer time alive to enjoy the offerings and mysteries of this planet. Life can dish you a blow, and you can get up and get back to work.
  • Physical Strength is the part of health that is mostly ignored in the United States, yet it is the most useful and efficient component. Sure, aerobics and bicycling can keep the worst effects of early decay at bay, but lifting heavy old-fashioned barbells and dumbells is a much faster and more thorough way to keep all of your systems in working order and create a foundation for the rest of your life’s strength.
  • Skills are a form of strength. Each thing you learn to do improves your quality of life in astonishing ways, because it makes you stronger. If you are good at your job, you have the ability to earn lots money. But if this is your only skill, you need to outsource your food preparation, transportation, relationships, entertainment, and the repair and maintenance of everything you own including your own body. If your money supply fails or your hired specialists don’t do their jobs perfectly, your life falters. By insourcing all the basics required for happiness, you build a self-reinforcing resilient mesh of power that makes you happier, wealthier, and more interesting as well.

By now you are probably pretty excited about the Position of Strength, and you are ready to step into it. But there one point that underpins everything above, and it is the one our marketing engine works so hard to hide from you.

  • Voluntary Discomfort is the secret cornerstone of strength. We build our whole lives around increasing comfort and avoiding discomfort, and yet by doing so we are drinking a can of Weakness Tonic with every morning’s breakfast.

Discomfort is generally regarded as a bad thing. If you’re a mother of five in a developing country and you run out of food, or your children are injured or killed by disease or war, saying it absolutely sucks would be a great understatement. This is involuntary discomfort at its worst, and the resulting unhappiness makes perfect sense.

But when you, as a privileged rich-world resident walk into hardship and discomfort willingly, the feeling is completely different.

My favorite part of every weekday is cycling with my son to school. The morning temperature at this time of year is right around the freezing mark, and I make a point of wearing just a bit less warm clothing than I need for complete comfort.

“Don’t you need a bigger coat?”, my wife asks. “It’s freezing out there!”

But the feeling of cold wind on my skin is exactly what I need to feel alive in the morning. Pushing the frontier of comfort is a simple way of building strength, preparation for the coming winter, and by extension, happiness.

After all, my son and I could just as easily drive the car that 0.77 mile distance to the school, thereby avoiding all discomfort completely. Heck, I could start driving for all my errands around town just like a Car Clown. I could avoid the burning sensation of trying to lift the barbells in my garage and be more comfortable too. Sitting in my office typing this blog article is much more comfortable than lying in the crawlspace under my new house welding up the new structural supports, and it pays much better too. Perhaps I should also outsource the hard physical activity to a specialist. A 2014 Mercedes would be more comfortable than my 2005 Scion, a $2000 bike would out-cozy my $300 one, and in the summer my house would be more comfortable at 75 degrees than the 86 level where I currently consider turning on the air conditioning. It would be more comfortable to have a housekeeper and a chef, a private driver and a gardener, and these days we could even afford to add these comforts to our lives without the discomfort of having to work.

And yet we continue to not purchase any of them, and to do quite a bit of unnecessary work. Why? Have we developed some sort of insanity?

The answer is exactly the opposite: If you go back and look through those points which define the Position of Strength, you see that every bit of the conventional and comfortable path undermines that position.

Our entire culture teaches us to seek out all possible comforts, and to be unhappy when we don’t have them. And thus, it dooms us to a life of permanent involuntary discomfort, and therefore permanent weakness.

Living a life of weakness is not fun

Living a lifestyle of strength is extremely fun.

The only insanity is the fact that almost nobody chooses this option.

  • Diego November 16, 2014, 9:44 am

    You know MMM, I know this is not the point of the article (great article, BTW), but if your friends were concerned about Mrs. MM getting her payment, couldn’t they just pay her themselves, regardless of how the deal was done? I don’t know if there would be some sort of legal conflict in doing that (I am not from the US) but it makes no sense for me that they would lose a good deal because of this. 2.8% is stil less than 6%.
    I am not sugesting they SHOULD pay her or you should accept it. But I do expect they made you a nice pie or something :-)

    Reply
  • Antonius Momac March 20, 2015, 2:16 pm

    Mr. MMM,

    Everyone throws the term friend around. But let’s be clear: you WALK the walk.
    Well done guys. Its so nice to see human beings caring for others well being without self interest…
    Cheers!!!

    And live crazy strong Mustache, Live crazy strong.

    Reply
  • Mattyfu August 22, 2015, 5:56 pm

    When it comes to friends or family and money I will almost always err on the side of “don’t worry about it” but it’s definitely an attitude that took a long time to learn. I distinctly recall raging on my roommate/bestfriend over how to split up the pots and pans we had purchased when we were moving out, cooler heads eventually prevailed but it could just as easily have gone the other way and that would have been so incredibly stupid. I’ve seen many friendships ruined over petty garbage such as perceived slights in amount of times picking up the cheque, I have some uncles and their families who have some sort of feud regarding a repair bill for a tractor. 15 years of hating someone over a repair bill for a couple grand, how is that worth it?!

    Reply
  • Pam June 17, 2016, 10:01 am

    Great article. I keep this one book marked on my favorites bar. Thanks again.

    Reply
  • Frank September 25, 2016, 1:54 pm

    This is an old article but I read it because I am still settling my own emotions in this area.

    Last week I finished replacing the roof on my rental cabin. I am well beyond FIRE and could easily afford to hire someone to do it.

    At a recent meetup a fellow MMMer pointed out that working on a roof is inherently risky. I’m also 55 next month and lets face it roofing is brutally hard work especially in the hot Sun.

    So why did I do it?.. More to the point, why did I immediately price materials from Home Depot and take the big assed (but old, used for pulling the Wife’s horse trailer) F250 to pick up 1500lb of architectural shingles and start ripping the old roof off at the God awful hour of 6am the next morning? Did I call even one roofing contractor to get a quote?.. Nope!

    I’d like to think I have some high and mighty ideals about voluntary discomfort (it was voluntary and it was definitely back breaking).. But the honest reason is I did it out of habit.

    Habits of ingrained frugality built up over 30 years or so of learning and doing everything myself because I can. Naturally I have saved a fortune doing this over the years and these habits are just hard to break.

    I comfort myself in this apparent insanity in that 1) I didn’t fall off the roof, 2) I have a tractor with a front end loader that hoisted the 80lb bundles of shingles up onto the roof in complete safety 8 of them at a time 3) Hard work really improves your strength/stamina 4) It keeps the dexterity skills of this paper pushing ex-engineer sharp 5) Why pay somebody else to do something when your quite capable of doing it yourself?… This is in part why I’m FIRED after all..:)

    Reply
  • Mutha Duck December 31, 2016, 9:08 pm

    I love this post of yours – one of your best. You’re sending such a great message MMM, thanks so much for taking the time and effort to run this blog. My husband and I have spent the last 2 months selling off stuff we don’t use, including an expensive 4WD truck and caravan. Our finances have improved enormously and we are so happy to have found your blog. No longer weighed down by unnecessary stuff, and our debts are already much better. We are very grateful for your advice, so thank you.

    Reply
  • JamsODonnell December 31, 2018, 12:44 am

    MMM & co., the last couple weeks I’ve been drafting a ‘Thank you!!” comment in my mind, and this seems like the perfect blog entry to comment under. If I look back at all the things I’ve achieved in 2018, and how all these things have impacted our family savings and all of our life, well it’s quite unbelievable. And all of this without my family even realizing that I’ve got a plan.

    I probably won’t retire much earlier than the regular age – I’m 43 and just started on the road – but being able to put myself in the position of strength like I have done this past year already sort of feels like retirement already, after 20 years of having to beg some agency for my salary (aka “applying for research grants”). I have retired from my old fearful self, doubled my net worth, learned a ton of new things, and cut down our family’s CO2 emissions by half in the process.

    I can’t say that all of this happened because of this blog, I’ve always been quite a badass. What you, MMM, have done is give me focus, and pretty damn good practical suggestions to put the badassity to work. And this was life-changing, and for this I want to thank you. Thank you so much MMM. All the best in 2019 and beyond!

    Jams

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache December 31, 2018, 5:01 pm

      Wow, thank you James – that is all so great to hear and I love your attitude about life!

      Reply

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