Mr. Money Mustache » The MMM Blog Early Retirement through Badassity Mon, 22 Sep 2014 21:18:15 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Lessons in Badassity from a Night in Houston Mon, 22 Sep 2014 18:30:48 +0000 almonds

almondsThe great thing about this unusual lifestyle you and I lead is that it automatically reinforces and rebuilds itself from all directions. Although Mustachianism is built on the idea of embracing hardship, it becomes so automatic that it is soon the only way you could imagine living. Because of this amazing tendency, it is often easier to live on 25% of a professional income (and save the other 75%) than it is to try to scrape by on 90% and save 10.

Everything just falls into balance once you get the basic philosophy, and today I have brought a little Story about a recent experience, which is annotated with links to all the other articles that fill in the background of what is really happening. For the full experience, you can right-click each one and open it in a new tab, then go on to catch up after you have finished this story.

Not long ago, I found myself in the semitropical metropolis of Houston on a steaming summer afternoon. It was just a flight transfer on the way to Ecuador, but this time there was some trouble in store for those of us on the plane.

The jet was pointing straight down the runway and I was looking forward to a timely departure. But instead of the excellent blast of power followed by liftoff, we just kept idling. And idling. After quite some time, the pilot crackled on to the speakers to inform us all that we had to wait out some thunderstorms. And sure enough, I saw lightning bolts here and there, shooting from a line of clouds off in the distance. The rest of the sky was clear.

This tarmac delay dragged on for two hours. The sun went down. One engine was eventually powered down. My longish limbs were folded politely into a miniature middle seat way back in the cheap section of a United Airlines plane. Stretching whatever body parts I had room to move, I pondered the consequences of this delay. I sent an email to the people I was expecting to meet at the Quito airport to let them know I’d be late. Hopefully not too late.

I really don’t like sitting still for too long, and I’ve already been up for two little walkaround breaks and a wee bit of second breakfast since I started writing this article. But there in that seat, I found myself perfectly content as I had cracked open a can of Stoicism much earlier in the day and been mentally sipping on it ever since.

“This may not be my idea of perfect comfort and convenience”, I reminded myself, “But it is infinitely nicer than starving to death (or being eaten), and indeed it is just a tiny blip in a life of incredible good fortune.

Dude, you are on your way to South America to meet an amazing group of people, an experience you earned by occasionally typing some shit into the computerThis is what you do instead of working now. Can you remind me what you are complaining about as your healthy body sits in a padded chair awaiting the takeoff of this immense flying machine?”


Reminding yourself of your blessings is an essential part of any worthwhile life philosophy, and Stoicism is just one of my own personal favorites alongside Buddhism and some of their more modern incarnations.

The flight was eventually canceled and our jet sulked back to the gate to disgorge its unhappy cargo into the terminal building. “We’re sorry folks, but the flight will run tomorrow morning at 7:00 am.” All 200 passengers immediately formed a spectacularly long line at the service desk, perhaps to request flight rebooking or a credit towards overnight accommodation.

I watched the line for a short while and noticed that it took almost a minute to process each person. A quick back of the napkin calculation told me that this could be a 3-hour wait, and it was already 10:00 in the evening. Besides the fact that I don’t do lineups, I had been up since five that morning and knew that the chance for a night’s sleep was rapidly eroding.

Luckily, technology and psychology were there to save the day. Since I had a Republic Wireless smartphone with an unlimited data plan in my pocket (no good wi-fi in Houston), I was able to confirm booking on the next morning’s flight, making that immense lineup completely optional.  Then I used the phone to find the nearest hotel, a Mariott Courtyard just a few miles away. At $115 per night, it was a bit of an unplanned expense. But thanks to the Gift of Not Worrying about Money, I paid it with glee, thankful that I had the luxury of purchasing a bit more sleep when it was most needed. Besides, everything about this trip would be fully tax deductible, thanks to the Joy of Self Employment. I headed out to find some transportation.

Bypassing the gigantic lineup at the taxi stand, I fired up the Uber application on my phone and called for a driver (I have amassed a surplus of free ride credits so all my trips are free). Since modern transportation options aren’t allowed in the taxi pickup area, I had to sprint a fair distance through the evening heat with my heavy backpack and hop over a few hedges to get to a suitable meeting point. It was sweaty work, but I viewed it as an ideal caveman workout, Mark’s Daily Apple Style. Instead of cursing the humidity, I viewed it as a positive opportunity to work on heat tolerance, which is the world’s most efficient air conditioner.

The Uber driver and I had a great conversation during our short time together and exchanged life stories and 5-star ratings. Stepping at last into the air conditioned hotel lobby to pick up my room card, I suddenly remembered that I had not eaten since lunch and there would be no chance for a real meal until arrival in Ecuador the next afternoon.

Again the solution materialized: I always travel with a big Ziploc of raw almonds (since I know the world is not my personal buffet), and there were still a few small handfuls remaining. While this would not be enough food to sustain a man for the next 15 hours, the situation would be considered exceptionally easy when judged by the standards of fasting.

Of all the badass concepts I have come across in recent years, fasting is one of the best. You simply shut your mouth and relish the feeling of mild (or strong) hunger instead of complaining about it. Suddenly, you can travel the world and do almost anything without the standard rich-world obsession of planning your next meal. Because if you lift up your shirt and inspect the area just above the belt, you’ll see that the next several meals are already pre-installed. The physiological and mental benefits of this are profoundly good. And as it goes for eating, so it goes for gorging upon modern luxuries of any type.

By the next morning, this eerie but educational vortex of hardship over Houston had cleared, and we took off into the clear sky without a hitch. Life since then has continued to be abundant yet inexpensive. Not because of superlative effort or any sort of smarts, but rather just because prioritizing experience and challenge over convenience and consumption is a natural human behavior if you let it develop.

A wealthy lifestyle is really built on rich habits. And it doesn’t take much of this change in attitude, to completely change your life.

]]> 40
Great News: You’re Allowed To Have Only One Kid! Wed, 10 Sep 2014 15:50:11 +0000 hands1

hands1It was a black and frosty night, sometime in the dead of winter 2007. I was in the rocking chair holding my baby son, who was about one year old at the time. I was offering him a bottle and I knew he needed food, but he was upset and had been screaming for much of the night. My wife and I had been trading off baby shifts as usual so each of us could get half a night’s sleep, which is a very helpful tactic since the sleep deprivation stage of raising a child can go on for more than a year.

“Wow, raising kids is an incredibly difficult thing”, I thought to myself, “But worthwhile in so many ways. Every day this little guy advances through more milestones, and it’s amazing to think he will be walking and talking pretty soon, bonding with his parents over common interests and learning, and maybe even staying up at night to care for his own son or daughter someday. It’s too bad we have to start all over in only a year, to have a second child and go right back to zero. I’ve survived this first year of sleep deprivation, but can’t help but to dread two more years of it”.

Time went on, and we continued to reap all the joys and strains of parenthood. We took him on hikes and reacquainted ourselves with the joy of being alive, through the eyes of someone who is seeing it all for the first time. The three of us took trips together, read books, made snow forts and blanket tents and wooden boats, and mixed it up with family and close friends often.

But it wasn’t always easy, or even fun. Our marriage was stretched to the thinnest of threads at times, as the needs of the child displaced the needs of a relationship. Personal interests and even a moment’s peace and quiet were long forgotten. Social and travel opportunities were postponed for years, or indefinitely, because they weren’t compatible with our son’s temperament or limited diet, no matter how much we worked on the various issues. In the thick of the bad times of raising a young child, you sometimes feel like your whole life has been one long screaming, screeching, smashing, crying argument.

Luckily, you tend to wake up the next day and it’s back to joy. But it is still essential to say what most people avoid saying: parenting is more than just curling up on a couch with their cute little faces gazing at you while you read them an adventure novel (which is the way I always pictured it).

So anyway, one day we had a two-year-old son and thus it was time to produce the next child. He was sleeping well and flourishing beautifully, and the two children would be spaced closely enough that they could be friends eventually. We dutifully started making the arrangements, and I braced for the next round of caring for an infant. I looked far into the future and pictured my future 8-year-old explaining scientific concepts to the 5-year-old using the teaching medium of Lego, and determined that all would be well. Then I pictured them at 28 and 25, and it was even better – helping them with their houses and careers, traveling together meeting their girlfriends or boyfriends or spouses, and a lifetime of friendship. If only there were a way to get there without the torture stage.

At that moment, my wife came home from the library with a nice load of books. One of them was “Parenting an Only Child”, a book about only children and how most of the conventional assumptions about them are wrong. They do exceptionally well as children, flourish socially, and end up with lives that are at least as happy as people who grew up in larger families.

Thinking about it, this was the main reason I was assuming we’d have two kids. You have the second one as a gift to your first one, so they can go through life together. After all, I have two older sisters and a younger brother, and my wife has a younger brother as well. We both have fond memories of our childhoods together and we get along with them well today.

But on further reflection, most of my social life as a kid was with other kids that were closer to my own age. And my relationship with my parents was probably diluted by the high effort (both financial and emotional) they had to put into raising such a large flock of us. Their marriage broke up towards the end of that multi-decade effort, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the strain of kids was part of it. Hell, a full 40% of my own friends and acquaintances who had kids when we did in 2006 are already divorced. So once again, there are negatives to be considered alongside the positives.

The bottom line is that we read the book, and then poked through a few other books and articles on the same topic, and I was sold on the idea.

“Honey! This is amazing news! We’re allowed to have only one kid, and everything still turns out great! This is what WE should do!”


Mrs. Money Mustache was thrown slightly off balance, since she had brought home the book expecting discussion rather than such an immediate transformation, but the more we discussed the issue, the more we realized it was the right one for us.

Having (or not having) kids is an extremely personal decision, and it’s not something that I (or your friends, parents, in-laws, church, government, religion, or society) should really have much say in. It’s between you and your partner, and even then it is questionable practice to try to force a partner into having more of them than he or she wants.

As a person who tries to put things into a logical perspective, kids are a tricky one. After all, it may seem somewhat illogical to voluntarily create a new being, and make such a big sacrifice to your own life to support it. Especially since there is no shortage of need in the world – why not help others instead of creating still more need?

On the other hand, if your goal of living is to understand what being a Human is all about, reproduction is pretty logical. It is the reason for all life on the planet, and it really the sole purpose of your existence from an evolutionary perspective. It would be hard to say you’ve had the full experience of humanity without experiencing this core part of it. Every cell in your body exists just to allow this to happen. That still doesn’t mean that you should have kids, it’s just an explanation for why it could be considered logical at some level.

The bottom line is that there are enormous positives and negatives that go along with your baby-making decisions, and it helps to step back from our dumb evolutionary programming (see the part about every cell in your body above), and realize that following your immediate emotions is not usually the path to the happiest life. You could even make an oversimplified decision-making chart on the issue. For me, it might look like this:

Figure 1: My own family planning chart.

Figure 1: My own family planning chart.


For others, the chart will look totally different, and that’s fine too. The real point I wanted to make here is that it was nice to find out that One Kid is a wonderful way to go, and how nicely it has been working out for us. If you didn’t know you were allowed to do this without being perceived as a weirdo, I hereby give you permission.

Further resources:

Parenting an Only Child: the Joys and Challenges of Raising Your One and Only by Susan Newman, can probably be found in your Library, as well as possibly on Better World Books (used) and Amazon. And there are many other great books, documentaries, interviews and videos about the idea.





]]> 405
The Colorado Meetup (and a report from behind the scenes) Sun, 31 Aug 2014 20:26:51 +0000 newhouseAfter almost two months on the road, the Mustache family is really glad to be back in Colorado where we belong. Our extended absence (and the corresponding lack of updates to this blog) has fueled speculation among people with a bit too much time on their hands.

“He used to post way more often, but recently there have only been a few articles a month” … “Has Triple M run out of ideas?” … “Maybe he sold the blog!”

As is usually the case with speculations, these are all wrong. The list of partially written articles is longer than ever (I see 164 of them, or roughly a 3-year supply in the queue). I’m more charged up than ever about this job, the blog is reaching more people than ever with about 6 million pageviews last month, and I’m selling off the rental house and other distractions so I can devote more time to this fun stuff as well as writing The Book.

But I’ve also been trying my best to uphold the promise I made to myself before starting all of this: Real Life always comes before Internet Life, and family and real life friends come before Internet ones. So let’s start with an event where those of us in the immediate area of Longmont, Colorado can get together for real:

The Colorado Meeting of Mustachians
Saturday, September 6th, from 3PM – 9PM
At a public park right here in the historic district of central Longmont.

 I’d like to invite the locals out to come hang out.   I’ll gather a few BBQs for cooking and provide an acre or two of beautiful grass and trees for gathering.

You can bring along your family, friends, kids, food and drink, folding chairs and frisbees, and maybe even a slackline or two. Beer and wine are permitted as long as they are in inconspicuous non-glass containers.

Because of the size of past events and our town’s limits on public-park events, we’re setting it up on an RSVP basis using the EventBrite link below. There are 100 ‘tickets’ (which are free of course), and once you sign up your spot will be reserved. Then we’ll email you the final location on the day before the event.

Update: This event is sold out! In a single day on a holiday weekend. Nice work, fellow Coloradans – see you on Saturday.

(and my apologies to anyone who wanted to come but didn’t see the note in time. It just raises the bar for next time – we apparently have enough people around here to get a real venue .. and imagine what else we could accomplish with such a group!)

Come out, bring your best ideas and even optional business cards, as I find the Mustachians are a like-minded, fun, and entrepreneurial crowd.

Bike transportation is highly encouraged, and we’re just a few minutes walk/ride from the central transit station at Roosevelt Park with direct buses to Boulder and Denver.

To finish up this weekend edition, here is a report on the the rest of the Real Life events that have been getting in the way of responsible blogging.

San Francisco (May 2014)


To celebrate the end of the school year and the arrival of summer, we hopped on Amtrak’s California Zephyr sleeper train and headed West, just to experience long-distance train travel for the first time. It was a very nice peek into the past and a great adventure. While the train was quite slow and the dining car’s food selection was uninspired, the beautiful views from the observation car made up for it. And the novelty of turning in after a good night of conversation and wine, then being gently rocked to sleep while the train travels through the night was one of my favorite parts.


Bay Area Mustachians, enjoying sunset at Heron’s Head Park

Once in California, I had the chance to meet with quite a few interesting people including one of the officials who plans out San Francisco’s bike network. His department must be doing a great job, as there were cyclists of all ages everywhere, and I was able to bike comfortably even in the densest parts of the city. San Francisco is truly moving toward Badass Utopia status.


I also hosted a gathering of Mustachians at the beautiful Heron’s Head park, which was amusingly enhanced by the arrival of a WSJ MarketWatch camera crew who did a few interviews to find out what we are all about.

The North Coast and Redwood Forest


At this point we rented a small car and headed North for a peaceful week of hiking and exploring the forests and coastlines of Northern California. The experiences and beaches were incredible, especially the harrowing cliff climb from our seaside VRBO rental down to the secret beach. Another highlight was a glorious Antimustachian indulgence at the Petaluma Whole Foods. We blew $30 on prepared luxury foods from the buffet and ate it in the meticulously crafted flagstone patio, overlooking manicured subtropical gardens and a parking lot packed with high-end hybrid and elecric cars and some of our country’s liberal elite ultraconsumers. Just for a moment, I envied their pleasant and convenient lifestyle.redwood

Portland, Oregon

3 Blog Night

A moment from Three Blog Night

After the family leg of the vacation, I parted ways from the wife and boy and took a short flight to Portland. Upon arrival I had the pleasure of meeting with a group of local readers for dinner, and spending the night on a couch in a basement apartment. The next day I walked across the precarious Sellwood bridge, stopped in at J.D. Roth’s apartment, wrote an article, then borrowed a bike in order to do a full tour of the city.

In the evening we hosted the Three Blog Night meetup and then went to dinner with Ryan Carson, the founder of a glorious online learning company called Treehouse.





Camp Mustache

The next day, J.D. and I carpooled North to Tacoma, Washington with Joe (RetireBy40) for the incredible honor of attending an event entirely organized by readers of this blog.


J.D. hosts a discussion called “Crazy Rich People Talk”

There were about 50 of us, and we shared beautiful lakeside views at the foot of Mount Rainier, food, friendships, and some excellent learning sessions on topics like real estate investing, bikes, home brewing, and advanced credit card hacking.

Moving to a New House (June)

house constructionUpon return and recovery from this blast of travel, we were suddenly faced with the emergency task of moving out of our old house, preparing it for sale, and then listing it on the open market. The incredible volume of stuff we had accumulated triggered the article called Recovering from the Pat Rack Years

Summer in Canada (July)


Members of MMM Extended Family demonstrate our version of motorboats.

This was the usual mixture of family, friends, and Carpentourism. This year’s projects were a new roof on my Mom’s house as well as a new kitchen, plus assorted things at a scenic cottage owned by the inlaws.

9 Days in Ecuador (August)


Just to push the limits on this ridiculous travel bonanza, I had to head straight from Ottawa, Canada to Quito, Ecuador in order to get to the Chautauqua event on time. A thunderstorm in Houston added an unexpected night’s stay in that city, but the magic of smartphone hotel reservations and some free credits I had amassed for UberX transportation ensured it was a pleasant break.

The Ecuador trip itself was spectacular and packed with lifetime memories.

And now, back to real life (right now)

I am so glad to be home, it is ridiculous. The boy has gone back to conventional school for the first semester (an update on the Homeschooling experiment is forthcoming), which gives me 6 peaceful hours each weekday to finish more of the house, meet with friends, write to YOU, and live a proper retired life.

We’re just getting started around here, so I hope you’ll stick around for the journey.

Mr. Money Mustache

]]> 92
Introducing IndexView: Become One with the Economy Mon, 25 Aug 2014 16:56:34 +0000 old_king

punditGood investing is really simple: get yourself into the position of owning a portion of a profitable business or property, keep it as long as possible, and live off the resulting stream of dividends and appreciation. For even greater wealth, just reinvest the earnings into still more profitable ventures.

This high-level view is liberating because it allows you to tune out of what the politicians and financial pundits of the day are up to. Joe Trader is raving on his TV show about interest rates and technical analysis, and Josephine Doomer is speculating about the role of precious metals “once all this fiat currency goes up in smoke”. While they keep speculating, we’ll keep quietly owning the show and working in our garden or woodshop while our stable of thousands of companies and their millions of employees remain innovative and productive on our behalf.

Although you don’t need to know much more than the above for successful investing and even early retirement, many of us enjoy going further and learning about  how it all works behind the scenes. I still like to read a book or two on investing, economics or the stock market every year, and I am also fascinated by the trends of world history and finance that slowly evolve over the decades and even centuries. This helps you take the long view on finance, which in turn brings you back to the start of the first paragraph so you can remain relaxed.

To make this Long View even more fun and convenient to absorb, I’ve commissioned the creation of a very handy (and free) interactive piece of software called IndexView, because I think it paints the picture of US economic history in a uniquely useful way. Let’s go straight to the tool itself, and then explain what is so cool about it immediately afterwards. To use it, try rolling your mouse wheel, pulling that scrollbar left and right, and using the pulldown and date boxes.

First of all, let’s give credit where it is due: This tool was entirely programmed by a young (and completely brilliant in my opinion) reader named Tristan Hume. I met this guy last year at an Ottawa MMM meetup, and he whipped out an iPad running a slick app he had created called StashLine. It is a financial planning app designed specifically to help plan the early financial freedom that is so rare outside of readers of this blog. I mentioned my own idea: a web-based graph that lets you really easily see the returns of the stock market with and without dividend reinvestment, as well as other useful data, over recorded US history. He emailed me a few days later with an early version, and we’ve been developing it ever since*.  At this point, I think it is great enough to share with you.

Why This is So Important

The stock market is still widely misunderstood. Beginners dive in and think you can outsmart it by identifying the next “head and shoulders formation” (you can’t). Others repeat common misunderstandings like “The stock market actually returned nothing for 25 years between 1929 and 1955″. This is incorrect, because companies were paying dividends like crazy during those years, and if reinvested the wise shareholder would have returned almost 7% compounded – not bad for the famously worst period in recent investing history.

To look at a more contemporary example, I like to be able to identify when stocks are on sale. This golden opportunity pops up when the stock market’s overall price is cheaper than average. In June 2011, I did the analysis for you and determined that they were priced just about right: the 1-year price-to-earnings ratio was about 16.2. If you had bought stocks then, you’d have seen compounded annual returns of about 16% to today.

Just two months later, the pundits and doomers got scared and caused a crash, and the stocks were on sale. I wrote about it again in an article called A Summer Clearance on US Stocks! Plugging the dates into IndexView again, smart readers who bought at that moment would have seen returns over 20% per year to this point.

Understanding history is useful, but it is still only a general guide in predicting the future. Right now, for example, our stock market is more expensive: the P/E ratio is over 19, and the even more meaningful trailing 10-year P/E (also called “Shiller P/E” or “P/E10“) is over 25. Is this a scary bubble and a terrible time to invest?

Consulting the IndexView oracle above yet again, we can use the dropdown to select “Shiller P/E ratio” and see what happened the last time stocks were this expensive. Roll that mouse wheel to zoom way out. It was at a similar price in 1903, then again in the ’20s, 30s, 60s, 70s, and then way more expensive for much of the time since the Internet was invented. The peak of overpricing was in the year 2000, when the P/E10 was over 40.

Going back to S&P500 with dividend reinvestments, we can see what has happened to people who invested in these situations before:

Investing in the worst time of 2000 (P/E10 was over 40), you would have a seen annual compound returns to date of just under 4%. Pretty terrible by stock market terms, but still an overall increase in your money of 64%, because 14 years is quite a long time, and compounding is some powerful shit.

More significantly, let’s see what happens if we invest at some earlier time the market was at its current moderately expensive P/E10 of around 25. Set IndexView to invest from 1996 to 2014. Over that 18-year period, investors have made a compounded 8.2% return, or a total of 321% before inflation.

You would probably get quite excited and proclaim yourself to be a real estate genius if you bought a $200,000 house in 1996 and found it to be worth $642,000 today. But to the long-term stock market investor, this is just typical performance.

I think IndexView is a great educational and investing tool, and thanks to Tristan for building it. If you like it, set yourself a bookmark and share it around the web so others can share the benefit and encourage further development of a promising** new set of financial tools.


*and it’s still a work in progress, of course. If you have suggestions or bug reports for Tristan, feel free to mention them in the comments  for future development.

**And by the way, this guy just finished high school. If you’re running a tech company and in search of unusually bright talent, you might get in touch with him before it’s too late ;-)

]]> 128
We Sold the House! Here’s How I’m Investing the $400,000. Thu, 21 Aug 2014 01:18:48 +0000 014061775_640x480

014061788_640x480The good news is, we sold our house. The bad news is that the net proceeds (just over $400,000 after all related costs) are on the way to the bank account, where they will immediately become a sea of donut-munching, water-cooler-gossiping Idle Employees doing no useful work for anyone other than the bank.

If you’ve been reading here for a while, you know that I view this as a bit of an emergency. Financial independence and early retirement are built on the concept that your money can work harder than you can. Money invested into productive assets begets more money, which pays for my groceries as well as rolling itself into still more productive investments. This cycle allows the MMM family to ignore money entirely and instead focus on living life how we see fit.

But money in the bank today earns under 1% interest, which means it is shrinking after accounting for inflation, and not benefiting me at all unless I want to start draining away that precious principal instead of living off of the returns. So I always try to keep all available money at work.

This brings up a big question. How do we put such a large batch of money to work in today’s financial environment? Checking and savings accounts are no good. Bonds are paying very little as well. Stock Index funds like my own favorite VTSAX are at record highs, and everybody and their barber is forecasting a crash in the near future, so we have to hold out and wait for the crash before we buy, right?

The best time to invest in stocks was long ago. The second best time is today. The basic reason is that on average, the stock market always goes up, and it pays you dividends all the while.

This is the mental game that holds many of us back. But it tends to be a losing one, because it involves trying to predict the unpredictable movements of the stock market. When you wait for a crash, you are betting that you can guess when the market will drop, even though we all know that it tends to go up over time.

For an example, let’s take one of my own proclamations of ‘high’ share prices. Way back in March 2013, I wrote a post called “How About that Stock Market!?“. At the time, the S&P500 index teetered at a dizzying 1450, and we were all sure it was done rising until the next 50% haircut. The graph looked like this:


1974 to 2013: surely a crash is coming, right?

But now as I take a  peek at Google Finance, I see that same index is at 1981.60, not even counting the dividends that have been paid in the meantime. A further 37% rise in just 18 months.

In fact, when you look at a graph of any bit of exponential growth, you tend to see a mountain just at the right hand side that proves you are in an unsustainable bubble. If you don’t believe me, take a look at this graph:

Ahh, it must be a bubble! (1993 edition)

Ahh, it must be a bubble! (1993 edition)

Here we have backed up the time machine by exactly 20 years to look at the spring of my final year of high school.  What an unsustainable stock market thought we had those days. If only we could have invested in stocks back in 1954, instead of this ridiculous high we have here in 1993. We’d be rich.

But what if the market crashes right after I invest my life savings?

There are two ways to respond to such an event: kicking yourself because you failed to predict the timing of the crash, or patting yourself on the back because you still own a bunch of stocks and you are now collecting dividends on them, which are rolling back in to buy more of the low-priced shares.
Seriously: what do I care about the sticker price of some shares I just bought? I am investing this money for the long haul, and the shares I buy today won’t be sold for 30 years or more. By that time, I’ll happily place my bet that they will be worth much more. Stock market crashes mean nothing to long-term investors, other than perhaps a reminder to buy a few more shares if you have any idle money.

Investing can easily become a psychological head game. Even I feel it, with this large stock purchase looming in my immediate future. But if I would delay a lump-sum purchase in current market conditions, would I also cancel regular 401(k) contributions if I were still employed? Would I go even further and sell all my shares and wait until the market drops to reinvest? Precious metals anyone?

No, of course I wouldn’t – to me, these are easy questions to answer and thus the answer to whether to make a lump-sum investment is also an easy “Yes.”

Shouldn’t I buy small lumps of shares over time instead via Dollar Cost Averaging?

This can be a good compromise for those still not willing to take the plunge with a single investment. As long as you realize that on average, the historical odds are that you’ll do better with a lump sum purchase according to this Vanguard study*.

With all that conventional stock wisdom out of the way, I will admit that I’m not putting the whole $400k straight into VTSAX. My own investing picture includes domestic and international index funds and real estate, as well as a preference to be absolutely debt free except in a few rare exceptions. So here is where it’s going:

Paying off debt: Your ‘return’ on this is equal to the interest rate on the loan. I happen to have a line of credit that I used to partially fund the new house we moved into (the rest was paid with cash). The credit union has been charging me 3.5% on the $160k balance, which is about $466 per month. In this case, I paid it off, which accounts for the first chunk of that $400k. The reason: I value safety and stable cashflow above higher returns, so I only used this loan as a temporary measure to bridge between the two houses.

Maxing out the Self Employed-401(k) for the year: As semi-retired/self-employed people who now find ourselves in a higher tax bracket**, Mrs. MM and I have the opportunity to contribute up to $51,000 per year(!) of pre-tax money to a separate Vanguard retirement account we created for this purpose. This is a powerful way to defer taxes, especially since we don’t expect to need this surplus money before age 60. But if that expectation proves wrong, you can always withdraw from a 401k early without penalty if you’re in a pinch.

Investing in Rental Properties: this is a profitable and adventurous field for many, and I have enjoyed it myself for almost 10 years (we still have one rental house left in the collection). But with this blog taking more of my time  these days, I’m getting out of this business to free up more time for other adventures. Instead, some of this dough will be allocated to  a Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) – a passive way to accomplish the same thing.

Lending Club, Prosper and other alternative investments: These have grown into promising new asset classes that I am hoping will be around to benefit investors for decades to come. Returns of over 7% seem very easy to achieve (mine are sitting at 11.3% on a loss-adjusted basis after two years). This type of investment is essentially just a high-risk/high return junk bond. But it’s fun and performance seems promising, so I do plan to put at least a chunk of the idle cash into this class, perhaps in an IRA account. (You can read more about my ongoing Lending Club Experiment here)

So the final distribution might end up something like this:

40% VTSAX (US stocks of all sizes)
40% VGTSX (An even bigger basket of International stocks)
10% REIT fund
10% Lending Club or other bonds

There’s a lot more to say on the subject of investing and the stock market. In the next post, I’ll share a new interactive tool developed by one of your fellow readers which allows instant visualization of historical market behavior, dividends, housing prices, and much more. But for now, I’m off to put some employees back to work.

While I believe the Vanguard study, I’m wondering if the retirement researcher Wade Pfau has done any more advanced calculations on the matter. Given the current P/E10 ratio of the market, does it change the probability of success when comparing dollar cost averaging vs. lump sum? Maybe he’ll get back to us.

** Don’t tell the Internet Retirement Police about that, though.

]]> 248
Is Mr. Money Mustache Ruining Your Marriage? (Part 2) Wed, 30 Jul 2014 23:44:05 +0000 Scene from a recent sunset, where I paddled out on the lake and wrote down a few things.

Scene from a recent sunset, where I paddled out on the lake and wrote down a few things.

In our last episode, we reviewed a particularly spirited example of the classic battle over frugality, cheapness, and the freedom to spend one’s own money the way one sees fit. Some version of this same clash is surely occuring a thousand times over in every city of the world on a continual basis, for it lies at the root at human nature itself. This is why I find it so interesting.

For example, while some couples end up at war and never get anywhere, others find that frugality brings peace. Check out this quote from an email someone sent me the very next day in response to that last article:

“My wife absolutely loves Mustachianism too, even though she has never read your stories or visited your website. She just loves the man I’ve begun to transform into (biking to work, fixing things in the house, carpentry, no more TV, long walks, etc.)”


Another woman shared her story of sudden Mustachianism-induced change the same day:

“Since then, we have sold the SUV and bought a used compact car, paid off all of our debts, sold the house and gotten another (1000 sq ft total!) in the city, close to transit and work, and live on 30% of what we used to. I have lost 30 lbs in the process, hubby lost 40 lbs, happier and feeling so much more accomplished. (…) I’m not planning on retiring soon as I’ve made my priority working one day per week for now until my daughter gets into school, but with the changes I will have my home paid for in 5 years and will be retirement ready by 48. This is truly a 180 degree change from before.”


We could write a whole encyclopedia about personality types, feelings, and relationship dynamics before we even got to the start of what is going on here, then move on to take an expensive series of counseling sessions. But to take a massive shortcut and just go right to the answer, I believe that the biggest cause of fights like this is in our different responses to authority.

Through a combination of genetically-inherited temperament and socially programmed character, we all end up at different places on the obedience scale. Some kids actually listen to their parents and do things like eating whatever is put in front of them at dinnertime, whereas my own son will gladly enter a battle to the death before accepting verbal commands to do something he feels is irrational or unfair.

I could write this off as childish, but unfortunately I am the same way*. If a person or society  imposes a rule on me, it had better have some identifiable logical reason behind it. Otherwise, I find myself digging in and willing to fight against it – quite enthusiastically to the death if required. Watching the response of Gimli (that Invincible Dwarf with the Giant Beard in Lord of the Rings) when the prospect of battle comes up, I feel an eerie kinship with the diminutive badass.

So let’s suppose you are the frugal one in your relationship, and your spouse is prone to wasteful spending. Hey, I’m on your side too – most of the shit we spend our money on is rubbish and you end up richer and much happier if you just simply stop buying it. But how do you spread this obvious logic to your spouse?

Well, for starters, you don’t do it by watching over his or her spending and then nagging every time you see something you don’t like. While this is your natural temptation, and it does work for those who happen to have obedient spouses, it will backfire miserably for the other 75% of us. This is because you are trying to impose authority on someone who does not like to be bossed around. Note that in the success stories above, each side was fueled by the positive results of frugality rather than just obediently following the instructions of a spouse.

So instead of nitpicking the symptoms (individual spending decisions), you need to address the root cause: Your Goals in Life.

Your first task is making sure you both are working towards the same common “Why?”

This step may take minutes, or it may take years.

There are plenty of good Whys out there, but they can be elusive at first. My own Why is simply “to live the best life possible”, from which stems a desire for health, personal growth, free time to explore my interests and even more free time to raise my son. I found that none of these could be optimized with a full-time job getting in the way, so my very first task was eliminating dependence on that job.

When you add in the environmental side of things and the fact that to waste natural resources is quite simply to be an asshole to all other humans and other living beings on the planet, the choice for me became even clearer.

Some people might get stuck with irreconcilable differences at that very first step. A vegan might find it unacceptable for moral reasons to live with an omnivore like myself, for example. And I’m personally stubborn enough that I couldn’t live with someone who insisted on a full-sized SUV for personal transport. Better to just sidestep such lifelong conflicts instead of spending a lifetime fighting them. But if you’re already locked in with a wife and kids, it is time to be more patient and creative because honoring your responsibilities comes above serving your own personal ideology**.

Once you can agree on your definition of The Best Life Possible, it often helps to start by Painting the 10-Year Picture.

For example, one brilliant reader named Andy wrote in and shared a story of his own success at flipping the frugality switch. His approach in a nutshell was, “If we keep doing what we are doing now, here’s where we will be in 10 years. But if we do it this other way (sell the expensive car, pay off our debts, live a different way), we will be over $200,000 further ahead, which will make our lives much better.”

He conveyed this message by giving a slightly silly Powerpoint presentation to his own wife. And the results were so good, he sent in the slides to share with you:

Make Our Money Sing: A Money Mustachian Adventure

Most people cannot see the connection between lattes, sandals, V-8 engines, and a million dollars. But it’s really there – changing relatively simple spending habits will indeed make the difference between Broke and Millionaire over a reasonably short time period. A slideshow like that one makes the math clear.

Other people might be more impressed by emotional appeals rather than monetary ones. The fact that you start living more happily immediately when you spend more time outdoors, for example. The relationship between debt, stress, and death. The idea of retiring in your 30s or 40s instead of after you get your discounted senior citizen bus pass. Or the incredible benefit of not having to worry much about money and careers when you’re busy with the bigger job of raising your kids.

All of these things are the direct result of living a frugal lifestyle, which is in turn just a slight change to a few dozen little daily life habits. These little changes are ridiculously effective, and also ridiculously easy, which is why I find it ridiculous that almost everyone is broke in this country except those with such ridiculously high incomes that they can’t manage to spend it all.

But the enforcement over those little decisions needs to come from within each person, rather than from an outside authority or an angry budget. You can make yourself save, and Mr. Money Mustache can make you save because you’re reading this freely and then independently deciding whether or not to implement it. But your husband or wife can not make you save. At best, they can only inspire you to want to save.

On the other side of the coin, the Frugality Enforcers among us may need to sit back and do their own math. If you are already saving over 50% of take-home pay, for example, the odd indulgence will not derail your dreams of early retirement. And if your income is really high, you can indulge almost constantly – you just have to be a bit strategic and avoid the biggest money pits like luxury cars, long commutes, and yachts. My own frugality is hampered by my taste for luxurious housing and food, for example. But by approaching these luxury add-ons as part of a generally calculated and frugal lifestyle, the bank is not broken and the family’s spending still ends up around $2000 per month.

In fact, I find that allowing yourself to be imperfect enhances the experience of being human. Beer and wine are bad for me, but I still get drunk occasionally. I know that luxury is just another weakness, but I still indulge in it occasionally. The key to all this is to acknowledge that you are doing something unnecessary and slightly wimpy, laugh at yourself, and then do it anyway with full gusto. Then you’re free to get back to your normal disciplined self in regular life.

Strategy for Frugality Without Deprivation:

Start with your regular life. Start introducing challenges for yourself which build your Frugality Muscle. Embrace the successes and laugh at the inevitable failures. Note how quickly this becomes fun and makes life worth living. Now throw in the odd unnecessary luxury and laugh again at how large and decadent your life is. You could do this all day. What were all those other people whining about who said this would be hard?


*And have been since birth according to Mom. This is why I cut my own son some slack for his stubbornness, and attempt to use rational logic rather than fist-backed discipline to do my half of the family’s management.

**Which sounds a bit Unyielding and Old Testament, but the science on happiness seems to back this up: being honorable and consciously choosing to serve others leads to a happier life, because you’re constantly challenged and reassured that you are doing the right thing. Making selfish choices is like having that third piece of cake: thrilling initially, but quickly followed by a much longer period of unhappiness and repercussions.


]]> 158
Is Mr. Money Mustache Ruining Your Marriage? Thu, 17 Jul 2014 13:14:59 +0000 hoopty

octoThe following is an actual conversation from my email. Abridged a bit for sanity and privacy.

An Enraged Reader Writes:

Subject: Please Stop

Dear Mutilator of My Monies,

Please stop writing. My husband is enthralled. I am watching all of my dreams of a mommyhood filled with Tahoes, lattes, endless monogramming, and a pottery barn dream house go up in smoke. I am tired of hearing about your stupid blog. My husband actually used the phrase “the power of positive thinking” in conversation yesterday…like it was his original thought!!! Vomit.

I stopped by my husband’s office to visit him yesterday. I walked into the lobby there were patients waiting, so this is good. I walk through to the back, more patients waiting in chairs, so this is good. I walk back to his office. There he is! “Hey Ba – ” What is he doing??! He was reading your stupid blog!!! (I was secretly pleased that he was doing this at work during his time and not in the evenings during our time.) I now watch movies by myself. He lays beside me with one eye on the screen and one eye on his computer. He wakes up at 0500 bc he “can’t sleep” and reads the blog. Wahhhh You’re ruining my life.

I thought I was the most wonderful spouse on the planet because we recently paid off 6 years of student loans. And now here we are planning to scrape by for the next 50 years. I do not want to talk about money every hour of every day for the rest of my life. I don’t want to buy already crapped in cloth diapers for my baby on Ebay!

Please think about female spouses. There has to be a limit to the money talk, and the money supervision, and gearing our whole lives around counting dollars. We already live in one of the cheapest apts in town. We sleep in a double bed that was bequeathed to me at age 8. Our “couch” is a blow up bed. A broken blow up bed. WE ARE TOO CHEAP TO REPLACE OUR BROKEN BLOW UP BED COUCH. I dream sometimes about just coming home from work and stabbing it with a kitchen knife and watching it deflate.We live in a stifling, muggy, suburban town that takes 20 min to get to work. I am NOT riding a bike. I do drive a Prius which is as far as I go. No need to punch me in the face.

There has to be a balance. Your theory is flawed bc it is based on men. Families are comprised of men and women. The number one reason a man is able to save adequately is having a wife who saves adequately. How does a modern, style conscious, professional woman thrive with a male-infused idealism of mustachianism? The two cannot coexist. Women and men have different opinions about what is valuable. I value Starbucks as a treat. However, my husband and I literally drive away from the drive through to the same tune every time “This is RIDICULOUS! I can’t believe people pay this much for coffee!”

Don’t be mad. Just consider that a blog for men is only 50% of the fight. Maybe your wife wears a mustache like you, but this is rare. Very rare. Where is the other 50% for normal people?

I was both interested and amused by this submission from a non-reader. While there were definitely some misinterpretations and complainypants in there (especially with that incorrect attitude about biking), I also thought I sensed some light-hearted humor. So I wrote back:

Mr. Money Mustache Replies,

Dear Enraged Reader,

I sense a mix of sarcasm and real problems in there. Obviously no sane person would mourn the loss of a GMC Tahoe, but an inflatable sofa could be a valid source of long-term concern. Can you tell me more?

You can turn the tables on your husband and have him read ‘Frugal vs. Cheap’ to you. My lifestyle has always been pretty luxurious, after all. (I’m on a train to California drinking wine as I type this on my fancy phone).

On the other hand, you might want to explore your feelings towards challenge. I mean, who is so soft that they prefer a gasoline-powered throne to a muscle-powered bike? And is this weakness something to cherish and cultivate, or to overcome so we can live a more fully human life? We should talk more. I think there is a happy middle ground.


Enraged Reader Replies,

Hmm. Well, first to address the Tahoe issue which seems to be the most concerning to you. I drive a Prius. I drive a Prius with 4 hubcabs.

Correction, I drive a Prius with 4 broken, cracked, bent, hubcaps. Actually, I believe I still have a piece of one of them stuck in my side door pocket. Why? I seem to have a blind spot for curbs and large rocks next to curbs. I can’t seem to miss them. I have friends that have the same problem and also want SUVs. SUVS allow you to ignore conventional road side barriers as well as get elusive parking spots other sedans cannot get. The reverse can also be true I suppose. I like the thought of being up high, and I like knowing that I would be safe in the event of a wreck. I just recently discovered that people in SUVs can see TWO cars ahead of them. My whole life, I thought that we were all on an equal playing field, but we’re not. The SUVs know what’s going on before I do. They’re all in the fast lane, while I’m stuck in the slow lane!! I also like the thought of just being able to throw my whole life inside a Tahoe without having to tetris-pack my belongings. For example. “We need to go borrow a latter to paint the living room? Sure! Let’s pick it up in the Tahoe!” Or, “Let’s go by some large bushes or small trees at Lowes, and we can put them in my Tahoe!” Or “I don’t have time to pack- just grab everything and throw it in my Tahoe!” Or, “Girl trip to the beach? Everyone pile in my Tahoe!” When we have little kiddos, I want to be able to keep everything they could possible need in there – diapers, small stroller, jogging stroller, baby toys, extra wipes, etc with extra room for groceries. Sounds great, right?!!!

Also, I fear that the comment, “who is so soft that they prefer a gasoline-powered throne to a muscle-powered bike?” has quite missed its mark. I like “soft.” Remember, I am a woman? I put conditioner in my hair so that it’s softer, I shave my legs, so they’re softer, I put lotion on my arms, so that they’re softer. I even smudge my eyeliner a bit to give it a softer look. “Soft” is a feminine thing to be desired and in no way is it a turn off. Sooo YES! I am SOFT! And if a Tahoe makes me softer, bring it on!!! Also, I’ve never had muscles in my life and am totally ok with it.

Also I feel like you may not have tried to transport yourself by bike through a large suburban town. That means it’s 10 minutes by car to the grocery store, 20 minutes to work by car, 20 minutes to church, 15 minutes to our friends’ house, and 10 minutes to the canal in your car, where most bicycle enthusiasts then unload their bikes from their cars and then go biking along the river. What would be your solution to biking in a sprawling suburbanopolis?

And I guess it’s not just the blow up couch that drives me crazy. It’s the cumulative effect of a cheap life where we scrutinize every penny and are reticent to indulge in simple life enhancing pleasures. We are poor. Not financially, but outwardly, we are poor. My husband has an orthodontic practice, I work full time as a nurse practitioner, and yet we live like going out to eat at a restaurant with waiters will bankrupt us.

We were listening to a podcast last weekend, and you said that some people have a predisposition to the MMM lifestyle. I would like to introduce you to my husband. Watching him research different financial strategies has been like watching one of those toddler toys where you have to match each different shaped block to the appropriate shaped hole in the container and push it through. Mr. C is an MMM block. He didn’t know it until he tried to fit into several different financial holes without really fitting all the way around, and then finally found the MMM shaped hole and slid right in. He wants to retire early and take up hobbies, and travel, and be at home. He wants me to jump on the band wagon. That’s great. Except for the fact that I’m tired of self-induced poverty. My understanding of the MMM lifestyle is that you work hard to be poor while your young so that you can be poor without working when you’re old.

Being poor is okay if that’s what you’re called to or that’s what you’re life situation is. I would be okay being poor if I could stay home and have babies or was doing overseas missions or something. But I work hard Monday-Friday, and I can’t even enjoy a bottle of coke once a week! It is not a lifestyle that I want forever. And my husband would have to loosen up with the little things before I could throw my block into the MMM shaped hole. Something has to give.



park_cityAs you can see, quite a battle has formed between the three of us, and it scares me a little, since it’s a battle in a much younger couple with a much newer marriage than my own. Are these folks doomed?

They may be. Some people just develop drastically different perspectives, which may not be compatible. For example, my own wife would take strong offense at the idea that women are supposed to be soft. I would personally spend my time shooting holes in those amazing misconceptions about cars, bikes, and SUVs and the concept of “scraping by”.

At the same time, it sounds like the husband depicted in these letters could also use some tips on Selling the Dream of Frugality, as well as the difference between Frugal and Cheap. And if you are battling over monthly spending allowances while simultaneously feeling the desire for $100 golden sandals, something is bound to give.

But by gaining a broader perspective, there may still be hope. Every time I get a chance to meet with readers, I see couples who have arrived from both sides of the gender gap. About half the time, it is the girl who was frugal, and wrangled in the dude. Sometimes (as in this case) the man is the instigator. In my favorite stories, a high-income person, couple, or family spontaneously sees the light and chops a $200,000 lifestyle down by 75% or more, then shows up to report how much happier their lives have become. Doctors and successful financial advisors sell their golf course McMansions and move into the neighborhood next to their practice, and start walking to work and setting priorities straight in life at last.

Successful frugality must come from an alignment of philosophies, not an ever-stricter regime of bean-counting. So in Part Two of this article, I’ll share another story of a different confrontation between partners – one which led to much greater agreement and better results.  Until then, we can all chill out and realize that even the worst of financial disagreements is still a tiny detail in the grand scheme of our excellent lives.

Update: A Word about Internet Troll Speculation

A few dozen comments into our morning here, I can see quite a few speculations about the true intent of this email. Some think our author is a “troll”, which is someone who writes something artificial and inflammatory just for the sake of getting a reaction.

While I can’t prove it because I don’t know these folks personally, I would strongly disagree. Trolls are common on Reddit, but rare in the Mustachian community, because we are a smaller group with a more focused mission. Plus, this was a series of personal emails where the author had no idea it would get published.

More significantly though, is the fact that I hear about battles exactly like this one every single day. The perspective of the typical non-Mustachian consumer really is exactly as you read it here: frugality is deprivation, SUVs are valid road-going vehicles and little luxury purchases make you happy. When you try to spring a low-spending lifestyle on a person with this perspective, this is exactly what happens, and this is why we see effects like 90% of cars in the US being bought on credit. People are buying depreciating mechanized sofas that cost more money than their entire net worth. By the million. Every single month.

This shit is for real, and that is why I believe the sentiments here are genuine. The question remains, then: how can you completely turn this perspective on its head and end up with a person that actually enjoys frugality?


]]> 472
Necessity Is The Mother of Badassity Mon, 07 Jul 2014 11:06:00 +0000 wood

woodBy this point in our conversation, it should be pretty obvious that Badassity is a trait to be treasured and cultivated. Although it is only a fabricated word, the underlying meaning of bold determination and persistence in the face of difficulty is one of the most real and useful tools in the mixed bag of attributes they hand you when you sign up to be a Human being.

Living your life with a properly Badass attitude makes all the difference in the world when it comes to achieving anything worthwhile, or attaining any sort of satisfaction. Without this philosophy, you are stuck perpetually chasing temporary comforts and luxuries and never feeling quite satisfied because there is always more to chase. Your money is drained and yet your heart is never filled. With it, you can properly say “Fuck It” to all of those fiddly details and start getting something done at last.

But our society and its marketing engine work ceaselessly to program this toughness out of us, and offer us pampering instead. You need it. You deserve it. Here, lie down on this table and let us give you a massage and soda. Or maybe you’d prefer a massage table and a soda dispenser built right into your automobile?

You can see the results of this all around you in the types of lives it produces, and you don’t want those results. But perhaps you still find your own badassity to be lacking in some ways. How can you get more of the good stuff?

The answer is sitting right next to you right now. In fact, it’s packed around you as part of the very air you breathe. Because just like Oxygen, junk, household budgets, or any other free-flowing substance, Badassity Expands Automatically to Fill Any Space Made Available to It.

How is it that some people find that life becomes strained to the limit after their first child is born, but then manage to go on to produce and raise several other children simultaneously? How do some runners that can barely jog out a few blocks go on to finish a marathon less than a year later? How do some people go from married, affluent lives of comfort, through divorce and perhaps career loss, then rebuild everything from scratch better and simpler than before?

It’s all through the simple fact that these people were faced with a feeling of necessity.

Some of us are self-motivated enough to create this drive out of thin air, but most people need do be dropped into a cold pool of urgency before they respond. Either way, the necessity forced them into action, whether they were ready for it or not. Then they pushed and this action made them tougher, which made the next bit of action all the more effective, and so on. Before they knew it, each had become a badass in his or her individual way, and the benefits began to flow.

Let’s use a recent story to illustrate this principle at work in my own life. The MMM family showed up here in Canada for the usual summer vacation just a week ago. In keeping with the tradition I call Carpentourism, I scheduled some work to allow myself to stay active and help out a few friends and family members at the same time. The big one this year is a replacement of the shingles on my Mom’s 150-year-old house in downtown Hamilton, and a new kitchen inside that same house. Both things have been crying for rebuilding for at least a decade.

Since it is my summer vacation, I figured I would be Mr. Executive Carpenter and make things easy on myself. We arranged for the invincible local rocker (and handyman) known as The Kettle Black to do most of the re-roofing work with the help of my brother and just a bit of guidance from me. Shingles would be delivered to the rooftop right on cue. Meanwhile, the cabinets would be ordered from Ikea well in advance, fully assembled by my equally hard-working mother (who is celebrating her 70th birthday in two weeks), and I would concentrate simply on rebuilding the kitchen, reworking a few electrical and plumbing fixtures and popping in the new cabinets. Piece of cake.

Of course, as with most construction projects in foreign territory, it didn’t go down quite so smoothly.

I secured my brother in law’s old VW Golf Diesel and filled it with tools for the 500 km trip from Ottawa to Hamilton. I found that the car had a barely-functional rear hatch, a cassette deck radio, noisy snow tires and broken air conditioning. So instead of my usual roadtrip style of riding in abundant comfort with a custom-crafted MP3 playlist, I had the opportunity to adapt to the vehicle’s 37C (100F) interior temperature and rely on my own singing and Kazoo playing for entertainment. Miraculously, I still arrived at the same destination, and in great spirits and with the benefit of improved heat tolerance. And I was going to need plenty of tolerance. Badassity Through Hardship: Score #1.

That cabinet pre-order never happened, as my Mom’s best efforts were thwarted by the Kafkaesque beauracracy* of IKEA’s kitchen department. We also had to start from scratch on the roofing  – the color and style had been chosen from Lowe’s, but no materials were on site or in stock and the friendly but incompetent staff had no interest in getting them there in a timely manner. It was Wednesday morning and we were ready to rip off the roof, so a delivery the following Thursday would be of no use for us.

The Kettle and I left the Lowe’s parking lot in disdain but immediately noticed a smaller professional roofing shop right across the street. Within minutes of stepping in, the knowledgeable owner had our order completed and scheduled for a next-day rooftop delivery, at $300 less than we would have paid at the big box store. Now we had the roofing materials we needed, and an improved knowledge of how to do roofs in Ontario next time. Score #2.

So we hit the roof just a few hours later than planned and began to strip the crumbly old shingles, heaving them down into the dumpster. There was only a single layer of them and we were speedy and feeling efficient again. Until the following horrific scene confronted us:

Ho. Lee. Sheeyit.

Ho. Lee. Sheeyit.

So in other words, when this house was last reshingled sometime in the early 1990s, the previous guy who was obviously completely off his rocker, saw this same expanse of shitty 150-year-old wood and decided “yeah, that looks pretty good. let’s install some shingles.”

So the hardship had returned. We now needed 1400 square feet of 1/2″ OSB to build ourselves a proper roof deck atop this aging expanse of barnyard scrap. That’s 45 sheets, or about 2300 pounds worth, which is not going to fit onto the tiny roof rack of the Volkswagen Golf. And the clock was ticking as this area has a very temperamental climate with frequent torrential summer rainfalls.

I made some telephone inquiries around Hamilton to see if anyone could get it delivered by the next day**. No dice. My distant second choice was to make the 10km trip up to Ancaster Home Depot and carry the sheets home in an HD rental pickup truck, so I headed up there at 7PM to avoid traffic. Only to find out that they wouldn’t rent the truck to me since I only carry a Colorado drivers license.

So my mother and I returned the next morning at 7am to catch the store opening and rent the truck in her name. Someone else beat us to it and rented the truck minutes before we arrived, but we were able to secure their van instead. Massive paperwork and delay ensued, but I rallied a forklift and some staff to help fill the van more quickly. I broke the rules and did the driving myself, since my mother had no interest in piloting the 7000 pound behemoth through the downtown streets and backing it into her steep narrow driveway. She did however help me unload the full metric tonne of wood sheets, the Kettle arrived at that moment and we were back on track. After just 6 hours of lifting cutting and nailing in the blazing July sun, our rooftop looked like this:


Badassity Score #3: This new OSB roof will permanently improve many aspects of the home’s performance. And the Kettle and I got an incredible day of weightlifting and more practice in production framing techniques as a side benefit.

At this point, we were finally able to get to work on the actual roofing job. Since we both have the same general attitude towards summer construction work (you get up at 6am, eat something, then work as hard as you can until just after it gets dark at 9:30 with occasional pauses only to drink gallons of water and barbecue a few pork chops), this part went quite smoothly.

We finished the thing just in time, at the very end of the fourth evening. The lines were straight and the ridge caps gleamed tidily in the sunset light. I woke up this morning to a heavy rainfall on the properly flashed skylight over my bed, and knew we had been wise to take on this job.

Experiencing hardship and the rewards that come from overcoming it are quite simply what makes life worth living. As an almost-40-year-old with some dough in the bank, I should be seated comfortably in a Lexus and cruising around between the golf courses and restaurants and starting to pile on the pounds and disabilities each year. Instead, I feel better than ever, and the extreme nature of this project coming right at the end of 8 months of construction on my own house has whipped me into the best shape of my life. But I still have much to learn by gaining inspiration from those more badass than me. The Kettle Black just turned 50, and while I went straight to bed after work each day, he went out to the live music venues or worked on his own gigs through the night. 10 years older than me, he looks like this:

A Canadian Badass at the half-century mark

KB: A Canadian Badass at the half century mark

This week’s lesson? Plunge in over your head and do something you’re not quite ready for. With the right attitude, you can only come out ahead.



* Ikea kitchen cabinets are great products at an excellent price. But they make it infuriating to order them. If you visit a store, they’ll make you wait in line for a helper, use their clunky kitchen designer software, fuss around for hours, then maybe get your stuff after the end of a long and sweaty day in the store.. if the stuff you want is even in stock. OR you can order from their website, but in this case the local store is not even involved, and you pay a $200 delivery charge and wait at least a week to get everything. Why not arrange it so you can order from the site, have the closest store collect the appropriate cartons in your absence, and you show up later that afternoon so they can quickly help you load it into your hatchback or truck?

** I have become spoiled by the incredible service of Alpine Lumber in Colorado. If I’m up on my own roof and suddenly realize I need something, I can whip out the phone and tap an email to the stupendously efficient and personable B.J. Hart. The order will go straight to the construction credit card and a truck will drop it off on the back driveway within a few hours. It has been an amazing boost to my own building productivity.



]]> 156
How to Carry Major Appliances on your Bike Mon, 23 Jun 2014 16:11:45 +0000 old_range

Right around the same time I bought this new fixer-upper house, I bought a special piece of equipment to help make the project more efficient.

With the new house a five minute walk from the old one, commuting time was not an issue. But with the hundreds of trips carrying tools and materials required for a project like this, I didn’t have the right vehicle.

On foot, although I try my best I am simply not badass enough to drag a table saw and miter saw along with a stack of 2x4s for much distance down the street. My old Burley bike trailer will easily carry a load of cordless tools or a few weeks worth of groceries, but does not have the capacity for real construction work. But my construction van,  a 1999 Honda Odyssey with seats removed and a plywood floor, is overkill for minor daily hauling. This is a luxury construction rocket, a leather-appointed 220 horsepower Rolling Cavern. It is well-suited to carrying thousands of pounds of goods or people on multi-state voyages at 75MPH, but I would be a wasteful car clown if I used it to haul a tool belt and a compressor up and down the small hill in old-town Longmont*.

So with your entertainment in mind, I acquired this extremely large and badass bike trailer from a small Iowa builder called Bikes at Work:


These things are highly configurable due to the modular design. Lengths range from 32 to 96 inches, width is 19 or 27 inches, back wheel can be mounted in various spots to accommodate an overhanging load up to about 15 feet (such as a canoe), and you can even get a Duallie version with two wheels on each side that will roll 600 pounds.

I picked the longest 96A model but skipped the “wide” and “heavy” options since this still provides plenty of space and I figured 300 pounds is plenty of capacity. The empty weight of my 96A is 47 pounds – very trim given its size.

The idea was to test both the trailer and myself over the duration of my fall/winter/spring construction season and see how well we perform together (measured by just how much duty we take away from the big Honda). And I can now say that the results are very positive. A few shots of the trailer in action:


A complete patio set including 4 chairs, a 6-person table, and an umbrella (250 lb)


The kit for my radiant heat system (2000′ of PEX pipe, plus various pumps, tanks and valves)


The old electric range that came with the house, on its way to be donated to the recycled building materials store .

Note that for some of the loads pictured above, I used the trailer in bare form – no load floor. But for strapping down smaller items, you’ll want to cut and mount in a piece of 1/4″ to 3/8″ plywood to create a flat surface more like a pickup truck. Another option is to just get a few 17-gallon Rubbermaid bins with lids – the trailer is designed to hold these perfectly and they barely need to be secured.

What I Like About This Trailer

These Bikes at Work trailers are solidly made and trouble-free. That would make them ideal for the owner of a bike-based business that needs performance without maintenance downtime. There is also some nice Bling in the form of well-finished fenders and a beefy curved aluminum hitch arm.

The trailer shipped with a bountiful set of the best bungie cords I’ve ever used. Plenty to strap down almost everything, although you’ll want some racheting straps if you are carrying really awkward items (like last week, when I brought my gas barbecue up from the old place:)


Plus a few spare propane tanks, added after this picture was taken.

A trailer like this also comes with some unexpected prestige. People tend to smile when they see you riding by, the unfortunate drivers of jacked up F-250 farm trucks stare in envy, and cool people inquire earnestly about the features. In mid-December, I was strapping down a Christmas tree and a bunch of ABS drain pipes in the Home Depot loading area as a crew of bearded carpenter/snowboarders was preparing their own cargo for a work trip to Vail. They strolled over to see the setup.

“Kudos Dude, that is awesome”, was their assessment. And while I had become pretty accustomed to the trailer by this point in my ownership, the comment reminded me that yes, it is pretty awesome to be able to carry large stuff around town without a car or truck.

Things That Could Use Some Improvement

The most glaring problem with Bikes at Work stuff is that it is expensive. At $750, my 96A trailer cost me more than twice as much as my bike. Financially speaking, I’d need to displace at least 1500 miles of van driving before this trailer pays for itself, and this will take me about 5 years given the current rate of use.

On the other hand, a more casual carpenter or homeowner could use a trailer like this to completely replace a pickup truck or SUV, and live with only a small car (or no car at all)  in which case it would pay for itself instantly. When I finally finish building my current house, I may sell my own van and reap the life simplification benefits.

Plus, measuring the benefits of biking in strictly financial terms is a foolish exercise. We are comparing sitting on your ass pushing some power-assisted pedals and levers to pulling some fucking major appliances up a steep hill using the power of your own bulging quadriceps. This is the difference between a slow passive death and a long vigorous life. Obviously, any time you can replace driving with cycling, there is some powerful winning involved.

The other thing that really needs re-engineering is the Bikes at Work hitch connection system. They provide a sturdy welded stainless steel bracket that clamps to your bike frame, but installing and removing it is a fussy and haphazard affair. Let us compare their hitch installation to the excellent one that comes with a Burley brand kid trailer by taking a look at this picture:


Although “several minutes” sounds like a fussy thing to whine about, it is a significant issue for me because I switch between the two trailers (and riding with no trailer) on a daily basis depending on the size of my cargo. Luckily, with the power of Welding, I can create a new hitch for the big trailer that installs quickly. I’ll update this article once I get it built.

A Clever Upgrade

The obvious drawback of a huge cargo trailer is the huge amount of human energy required to pull it any significant distance. This isn’t much of an issue for me, since my building supply stores and the recycling yard are all within 3 miles of my house, and the elevation gain from the lowest point in town to my house is only 100 feet. But for larger cities or those days when I’m in a rush and tempted to drive instead of cycling, an electric bike conversion kit** (or a complete electric bike) would make an ideal companion for a trailer.

A Frugal Do-it-Yourself Alternative

Close inspection of the Bikes at Work trailer reveals that it looks an awful lot like a half of an aluminum extension ladder, with a hitch and axle bolted on. While not completely trivial, a handy person could make a trailer like this by combining an old ladder with some reused and reinforced parts from a Burley trailer. In fact, one reader wrote in to share his own photos of such a project here. Or you could mix various home-sourced parts with components from Ebay or the Bikes at Work parts list. Complete trailers also very occasionally show up on Craigslist, but as a very niche product, this is a rare occurrence.

My hope is that as we move the United States further towards its inevitable future as a Badass Utopiaeveryone will need a good bike and a trailer or two. Pickup truck sales will drop by 95% as they return to farm-only use, and bike trailer prices will drop as the market grows.

Here's the new place in its current state, seen from a guest's vantage point as the summer party season begins.

Here’s the new place in its current state of construction, seen from a guest’s parkside vantage point as the summer party season begins.


* I can only imagine how embarrassed people must be to use one of these Odyssey behemoths to drive 50-pound kids to school, and yet it seems to be the most popular vehicle for this task.

** I’ve been pondering the systems at EBikeKit for inclusion in a follow-up science experiment. I even contacted the company with the hope of getting them to send me one for evaluation purposes so I can share the results with you here. But they never wrote back. If some of us click that link to let them know how interested Mustachians are in learning about electric bikes, it might get their attention and they could send me an email :-)

Update: that did the trick. Company founder Jason Kraft got in touch right after publication to rave about an unprecedented rush in  traffic to his site. Thanks Mustachians! Now we have some great plans in the works for an E-bike experiment in August, when I get back from the upcoming trip to Canada.

]]> 180
J.D. Roth: How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love Mustachianism Thu, 19 Jun 2014 13:57:56 +0000 JD Camping

Today our mutual friend J.D. Roth has stopped by to tell a story. I am happy to share this one with you because in real life he is the real deal and a very nice guy. If you weren’t already aware of his fame, this is the guy who who founded the blog Get Rich Slowly in 2006, then later sold it and went on to dabble in early retirement,  write some books, and do a bunch of inspirational presentations at various cool events like the World Domination Summit

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Mustachianism

My name is J.D. Roth, and I’m a Mustachian. But unlike many of you, I wasn’t born this way. In fact, I’m only a recent convert to this budding “religion”.

When I was young, my parents were poor. Mom stayed home to raise us three boys in our single-wide trailer. When Dad could find work, he sold staplers and boxes and chocolate bars. When he was out of work, he dabbled with starting businesses.

Even when my parents did have money, they spent it all. My father once sold a business for a tidy sum, but he didn’t save a dime. He squandered the proceeds on a sailboat, an airplane, and a new stereo system. In a short time, he was just as broke as before he experienced his windfall.

Some kids might have learned from their parents’ mistakes. Not me. I left home and promptly adopted the same habits. In fact, mine were worse. I had access to credit cards and personal loans, which allowed me to take on debt — something my parents had avoided.

Get Rich Slowly
Eventually, I realized the error of my ways.

In 2004, I was 35 years old and carrying over $35,000 in consumer debt. I resolved to turn things around. Because I’d done well managing a couple of businesses, I decided to manage my personal finances as if I were managing a small company called JD, Inc. I set a goal to eliminate my debt by the end of 2007.

I read everything I could about personal finance. I began to make smarter choices. I found ways to cut my spending and boost my income. I paid off my debts, one by one. I learned how to flex my frugal muscles.

As I turned my life around, I documented my progress at a blog called Get Rich Slowly. I hoped my story would help others — and I hoped that others would share what they knew with me.

My plan worked.

In December 2007, right on schedule, I repaid the last of my consumer debt. But I didn’t stop there. As Get Rich Slowly grew, my income grew. Instead of spending the money, I saved it. I quit my day job to write full time. And eventually, I was able to sell the blog for a large sum of money. Today, ten years after deciding to get out of debt, I’ve achieved financial independence.

Over time, I developed a financial philosophy, a smart, safe set of guidelines designed to help people develop smarter money habits. For a while, I thought I had things figured out.

But then I met Mr. Money Mustache.

Intro to Mustachianism
I first encountered Mr. Money Mustache at a blogging conference in September 2012. I liked him right away. While the other speakers were talking about monetization and search-engine optimization, MMM spoke about building a cult through the power of story — a topic near and dear to my heart.

A sound blogging philosophy
MMM’s conference presentation


After his presentation, MMM and I sat down for a chat. I learned that not only did our blogging philosophies align, but so did our financial philosophies.

For instance, I believe that:

    • Smart money management is more about mindset than it is about math. Financial success comes when you master the mental game of money. It’s not about understanding the numbers. The math of personal finance is simple: spend less than you earn and invest the difference. We all get it. Instead, it’s controlling your habits and emotions that’s difficult.


    • The road to wealth is paved with goals. Without financial goals, you have no direction. If you have no direction, it’s easy to spend money on things you’ll regret later. But if you’re saving for a house, your daughter’s college education, or a trip to Europe, your goal will keep you focused, making it easier to spend on what’s important and ignore the things that aren’t.


    • Financial balance lets you enjoy tomorrow and today. You don’t have to choose between spending today and saving for tomorrow. You can do both. Strive for moderation in all things: Pursue your goals, but don’t forget frugality; be frugal, but don’t forget your goals.


    • You can have anything you want  but you can’t have everything you want. Being smart with money isn’t about giving up your plasma TV or your daily latte. It’s about setting priorities and managing expectations, about choosing to spend only on the things that matter to you, while cutting costs on the things that don’t.


  • It’s more important to be happy than it is to be rich. Don’t be obsessed with money — it won’t buy you happiness. Sure, money will give you more options in life, but true wealth is about something more. True wealth is about relationships, good health, and ongoing self-improvement. Everything else is a lower priority.

While many parts of the Get Rich Slowly financial philosophy were Mustachian before I met MMM, others weren’t. Or, more precisely, they weren’t Mustachian enough.

I hadn’t yet learned the power of badassity.

Learning the power of badassity


You CAN Get Rich Quickly
Most financial advisers urge people to save ten percent of their income. The bold ones recommend twenty percent. For years, I’ve followed suit. Since 2008, I’ve encouraged people to set aside twenty percent of their income for retirement, and I believed I was doing a noble thing. Since converting to Mustachianism, however, I’ve changed my tune.

Mr. Money Mustache taught me that traditional saving advice is far too timid. Slow and steady finish the race, but they don’t win it. Fast and focused finish first.

The shockingly simple math behind early retirement clearly demonstrates that with a saving rate of ten percent, it takes nine years to save enough to fund one year of living. (Or, to put it another way, if you maintain a saving rate of ten percent for nine years, you accumulate enough to take one year off work.) At this pace, it takes about fifty years to accumulate enough cash to retire — and that’s only because the power of compounding comes into play.

Compounding is great, but it’s still an external force — something beyond your control. MMM helped me see that the more you save, the more you’re taking matters into your own hands. Compounding becomes icing on the cake.

  • With a twenty percent saving rate, it takes only four years of work to fund one year of expenses. At that pace, it takes nearly forty years to prepare for retirement. Again, at this level of saving, you’re relying on compounding to boost your nest egg.
  • If you make the leap from timid to badass, something amazing happens. With a fifty percent saving rate, you save enough each year to fund another entire year of normal spending! And at 75 percent, each year of work would fund three additional years. If you can save half of your income, you can reach financial independence in just seventeen years!

I’ve argued for a decade that it isn’t possible to get rich quickly except by chance. My philosophy has been that the only reliable path to wealth is to get rich slowly, and my motto has been “slow and steady wins the race”.

Today I realize that what I’ve been opposed to for so long isn’t the “get rich quick” mentality; it’s the “get rich easy” mentality. If you follow the principles of Mustachianism, you can get rich quickly. By altering your lifestyle so that you’re able to live on less than half your income, you can save enough to become financially independent in fifteen years — or less. That’s quick, but it’s not easy.

Saving Is NOT Sacrifice
The trouble, of course, is that it’s tough to save so much money — especially if you’ve already bought into the modern adult lifestyle.

If you’re just starting out in the Real World, you can simply continue to live like a college student for the next ten years, and you’ll be golden. But if you’ve already spent time and money embracing the Western way of life, getting to a fifty or seventy percent saving rate can seem like real sacrifice.

That’s how it used to seem to me, anyhow. Mustachianism, however, has taught me that saving is not sacrifice. Instead, saving is deferred spending.

My friend Jim (better known as jlcollinsnh to most of you) explained it to me this way: “Saving isn’t deprivation. That money is still spent. It’s just not spent on a Mercedes or a big house. It’s spent on the future. Saving is money spent on buying freedom.”

I recently had a chance to chat with Tom O’Donnell, a senior vice president at Chase Bank. We talked about personal finance and our shared interest in travel. O’Donnell told me that a lifetime of saving has bought him freedom. “I get to choose what I do now because I saved when I was younger,” he said.

Saving is the choice to spend on tomorrow instead of today. (And debt is the choice to spend money on yesterday.)

The Mustachian salute!
Mustachians in Ecuador!


Financial Freedom Is a Process, Not a Place
I used to believe that financial independence meant just one thing: Having enough money that you never had to work again.

But Mr. Money Mustache taught me that financial freedom exists on a continuum. It’s not “all or nothing”, but an ever-increasing range of options. The more you save, the greater independence you achieve.

    • At one end of the spectrum, you’re completely dependent upon others for your financial security. As a child, for instance, you’re dependent on your parents for support.
    • When you no longer need financial support from your family, you achieve one degree of financial freedom. You still might be dependent upon other creditors (your bank, your credit card company), but these are companies and not people.
    • When you break free from the chains of consumer debt, you achieve another degree of financial freedom.
    • Further along the continuum, you achieve greater freedom when you do things like eliminate your mortgage or have enough money saved that you’re no longer glued to your job.
  • At the far end of the spectrum is complete financial independence. Here, you have enough in savings that you could fund your lifestyle for the rest of your life.

The more money you save, the more freedom you have, and the greater risks you can take. As your financial independence increases, you chip away at the wall of worry. You’re able to make decisions based on happiness and not on dollars. “The ability to let go of doing things purely for the money is a life booster,” MMM told us last year in Ecuador — and he’s right.

When he was young, the afore-mentioned Jim Collins wanted to go to Europe, so he saved $5000 from his $10,000 annual salary. Financially prepared, he went to tell his boss he was quitting. When his boss learned that Jim could afford to take the time off, he offered to hold his job for him. Saving gave Jim power he never knew he had.

“When you have even a little fuck-you money, the balance of power begins to shift in your favor,” Jim says. “You lose your fear. Fuck-you money buys freedom.”

Money Won’t Solve Problems — YOU Will
Still, money isn’t some magic pill that will make all of your problems go away.

I used to think that if I were rich, all of my problems would magically vanish. I’m not alone. A lot of people believe this. The mass media tells us that money can solve any worry. But it’s not true.

When I was younger, I wasn’t just deep in debt. I was also fifty pounds overweight. I had time-management issues. My relationships were built on a false projection of myself. When I achieved full financial independence, these problems didn’t disappear. Quite the opposite.

Supplied with what seemed like limitless time and money, I realized that I was the one responsible for fixing everything that was fucked up in my life — and it had been up to me all along. It was a harsh epiphany.

Todd Tressider (the Financial Mentor) told me recently that when he achieved financial independence at age 35, he had a similar insight. He felt directionless for a while, and it wasn’t until he realized that only he could solve his problems that he found his way again.

Money buys you freedom, no question. But you have to seize the freedom or it all goes to naught. (See: Lottery winners and professional athletes who piss away their fortunes.) You may have a a billion dollars, but that won’t make a difference to your health if you still survive on a diet of donuts and vodka.

Make Decisions as If Money Didn’t Matter
MMM slept on my sofabed last Thursday night. In the morning, as we packed for Camp Mustache, I mentioned that I was thinking of selling my condo.

“Hmmm,” said MMM. “You have a beautiful place here. I like your view of the river and all of the nearby parks. Yesterday, you and I walked through the neighborhood to do our shopping. To me, your home seems almost ideal. Why would you want to sell?”

“I don’t really want to move,” I said. “But I think I can make a lot of money on the deal. It seems crazy not to cash in on this market.”

“I see,” said MMM. “You know, I prefer to look at things in a different way. When I’m faced with a decision like this, I ask myself what I’d do if money weren’t part of the equation. What decision would I make then? Since you’re financially independent, you should make decisions based purely on your personal values. You should ask yourself: If you could live anywhere, where would you live?”

My condo in autumn
A lovely place to live


I thought about it. While I mulled things over, my girlfriend chimed in. “I’d live here,” she said. “I love this place.”

I nodded in agreement. “I love it here too,” I said.

“When you don’t have a shortage of money, you should make your decisions as if money didn’t matter,” MMM said. “You should choose to do work that you’d do even if you weren’t getting paid. And you should make buying decisions as if everything were free. I mean, if TVs were free, would I go pick up 37 of them? Of course not! I wouldn’t even have a single TV if they were free.”

The bottom line: Once you’ve achieved financial independence, you’re free. You can make decisions based purely on happiness. If you keep this ultimate reward in mind, the pain is worth it. It’s like going for a run. It takes effort. Sometimes it even sucks. But you do it because you know a short burst of effort will lead to a lifetime of health.

Maximum Mustache
While Mr. Money Mustache was in town last week, I got a chance to meet many local readers. I was pleased to learn that a large portion of these people are current or former readers of Get Rich Slowly.

But I noticed something interesting. When I met a Mustachian, the conversation often went like this: “I’m so pleased to meet you, J.D. I read Get Rich Slowly all the time…” …awkward pause… “…or I used to, anyhow. I guess you could say I graduated from GRS to Mr. Money Mustache. I don’t read your site anymore.”

“No worries,” I’d say. “Neither do I.” And it’s true. I’ve moved beyond the Get Rich Slowly philosophy. There’s nothing wrong with the site or its advice. But more and more, I find myself has moved beyond the basics. I believe more people should aim for maximum mustache.

In fact, I’m ready to retire from the world of personal finance. Based on my conversations with Mr. Money Mustache, I want to shift my focus so that I’m pursuing my passions. I want find other ways to improve the world. I still intend to expand my knowledge of personal finance and to help other people improve their money skills. But with a 8 years of writing about it under under the belt, I’m going to hang up my spurs. I’ll become a quiet Mustachian.



Mr. Money Mustache’s Afterword:

Part of financial independence is that you don’t have to advertise yourself anymore. So while J.D. didn’t mention all of his other work, I don’t mind sharing it with you: He recently finished an edition of the Unconventional Guides series called the Get Rich Slowly course, as well as Your Money: The Missing Manual and is the “Your Money” columnist for Entrepreneur magazine. 

The Get Rich Slowly course features recorded interviews with various personal finance and business personalities including the unusually honest and spectacularly productive web business guru Pat Flynn, my charismatic frugality arch-rival Ramit Sethi, fancy company founder and all-around cool guy Jesse Meecham, a beer-fueled session with Mr. Money Mustache, and various other more famous people.

]]> 110
Mr. Frugal Toque on why Tax Freedom Day is Bullshit Mon, 16 Jun 2014 13:11:53 +0000 "Badass Mustachian Eagle of Freedom" by M. Mustache. 2013, 8.5"x11", Kid paint on scrap paper

A Foreword from MMM:

I’m taking some time away from the computer this month as I swim in the torrent of self-imposed work caused by moving to a new house and selling the old one. But my friend Mr. Toque insisted that we run this rant on Tax Complainypants Disease, a topic dear to my heart. I’ve never really liked the whole practice of complaining about the government, since it is a distraction from our real job of living rich lives, which is obviously easier than ever. His numbers are Canadian, but you’ll find exactly the same complaints in the news here in the ‘States and elsewhere. So take it away, Toque.toque

Tax Freedom Day is Bullshit

If you’re not familiar with the concept of Tax Freedom, it is best explained thusly:

Imagine that your employer had to remit your whole year’s worth of taxes, to all levels of government, up front, before they could give you a single penny.  How far into the year would you be before you actually received any of your income?  That day is your “Tax Freedom Day”.

What you’re doing, essentially, is figuring out what percentage of your income goes to taxes and expressing that as a percentage of a year.  In previous years, I’ve calculated my own tax rate to be somewhere in the 25% range by counting all possible payroll and income taxes, property taxes, alcohol tax and sales taxes.

My more recent job came with a higher salary and that tax rate is hitting about 34% these days.  Since I’m now earning an “above average” salary, my personal Tax Freedom Day (May 5, 2014) ought to have been much later than the average one put out by the right-leaning Fraser Institute, shouldn’t it?

But no.  I’m being told that the average Canadian has a Tax Freedom Day that only just passed: June 9, 2014.  How strange.

These calculations were based on an average Canadian couple making about $100k.  Apparently, such a couple would be paying 43.5% of their money in taxes.  The first thing we have to establish is that this number is wrong.

If you were a married couple who came to Canada and were promised salaries combining to $100k, would you pay $43 500 of taxes to various levels of government?

Unequivocally:  No.

There are a number of utterly fatuous factors involved in arriving at that number and I want to hit a few of them right now.

Payroll Taxes  $9903

In Canada, the government collects a certain percentage of your income for the Canada Pension Plan and for Employment Insurance.  These have upper limits which, even for two people, can’t reach the $9903 in this document.  What the Fraser Institute has done here is to add the CPP and EI that your employer would separately remit to the government and claim that this is your tax burden.  So, of your $100k combined income, you lose nothing because of such employer remittance, and yet this is considered part of your 43.5%.

Sales Taxes $6764

In Ontario, where I live, the combined federal and provincial sales tax is 13%.  In order to spend $6764 on sales taxes, you would have to spend over $52k on items which are fully taxed.  Note that raw foods like meat, fruit, bread and vegetables, are not taxed.  Given that you’re probably spending at least $4000 per year on such food, I don’t see how you even have enough money left over to spend $52k on consumables.

Profit Taxes $3709

The bullshit grows heavy and rank here.  You don’t actually pay this tax at all.  You can’t even pretend you do.  Although I can’t be completely certain, because there is no clear explanation, the implication is that the Fraser Inst. is taking all of the taxes that corporations pay on their profits and then distributing this evenly across the population.  This $3709 is “your share” of corporate taxes because, I suppose, when corporations pay taxes, we all cry a little inside.  Or something.

Liquor/Tobacco/Excise Taxes $2335

Holy Shit!  Are you kidding me?  I’m not even going to talk about Tobacco.  But who the hell buys enough liquor that the tax bill comes to more than $2000?  Even if the taxes are 25% on liquor, and I don’t see any reason to actually pay them, you’d still be spending TEN THOUSAND DOLLARS per year on booze.  Shit.  Get some help.

The Fraser Institute vs the Toque Family

Here’s a chart indicating what my life was like, just a few years ago, when the Toque’s family income was approximately $100k. All figures on an annual basis.

Tax Fraser Institute Toque Family
Income $14,140.00 $16,758.00 This is for a $100k/$0k split[1]
Payroll + Health $9,903.00 $3,947.82 With one income, only one set of payroll taxes[1]
Sales $6,764.00 $1,800.00 13% of 24k of expenses, minus groceries[2]
Property $3,620.00 $5,000.00 We could have picked a smaller house
Profit $3,709.00 $0.00 No
Liquor/Tobacco $2,335.00 $0.00 I make my own wine and beer now[3]
Vehicle Fuel $1,135.00 $600.00 We still drive way too much
Other $953.00 $0.00 No[4]
Import Duties $346.00 $0.00 No[4]
Natural Resource $529.00 $0.00 No[4]
$43,434.00 $28,105.00

[1] In Canada, you can’t split income with your spouse, so people with a 50:50 division of income pay quite a bit less income tax, but more payroll tax.  I suspect they come out a bit ahead.  There isn’t much a salaried Mustachian can do about this, but there are some other areas where we make significant changes from the supposed “average” tax bill.

[2] The big savings, obviously, are on the sales tax.  Sales tax is not charged on real, non-processed food.  When you buy meat, dairy, vegetables, fruit and bread, you pay no sales tax.  This makes about 25% of the Toque household’s expenses sales-tax-free.  The rest of our expenses total roughly $14k for the year for a sales tax bill of $1800.  In order to run up a sales tax bill of $6764, you’d have to spend $52030 on taxable items – on top of any non-taxable groceries.  No Mustachian could possibly brook such idiocy.

Property taxes are obviously a self inflicted wound.  Mrs. Toque and I could move from our unexpectedly expensive house any time we like, but we’re settled in here and we’re willing to pay that premium.

I already commented on the bullshit “Profit Taxes”.  You do not pay this out of your $100k income.  It does not belong in this list.

[3] The cost of 48 bottles of wine from one of those make your own wine stores is about $200.  Even if you drink twice as much as we do, that’s still $400 a year for wine – and zero liquor tax because you don’t pay tax when you make your own.  What are “average Canadians” doing that they pay over  TWO THOUSAND DOLLARS in liquor taxes?

The amount I spend on gasoline is embarrassing.  I must learn to drive less.  I consider myself chastened.

[4] As for the “Other”, “Import Taxes” and “Natural Resource Tax”, I doubt very much that I see these in my spending anywhere.  This is probably one of those mystery taxes, like the Profit Tax, that someone else pays and the Fraser Institute believes “filters” down to me somehow.  If you wanted to take that concept far enough, I’m sure we could delude ourselves into believing that 100% of our money is eventually tax.

Summary of Taxes

So there we are.  We have a study that says “Oh. My. God!  43.5% of your money is going to taxes!  How will you ever live?!” and we have a Mustachian who has looked at his actual taxes for a similar year and determined that the number is close to 28%.  My point is that you shouldn’t freak out when you see studies like that.  Don’t worry, you still get to keep a lot of your money.  But even if you didn’t …

But wait, what about my Services?

I don’t know if you knew this, but governments actually do things for you.  In Canada, for instance, they pay for all of your doctor’s visits, surgery and hospitalization, public schools, police, fire departments, libraries and road maintenance.  The Toque family has two children.  If we had to send those two kids to a private school, I’m dead certain the cost would come to more than the tax bill you see there.

How come that isn’t part of the Tax Freedom calculation?

I’m sure it’s not because we’re just trying to freak everyone the fuck out about taxes, is it?  I’m sure it’s just an oversight.  Because that would be totally irresponsible if it was on purpose.

Stop Whining about Your Taxes

We’ve already established that we live in one of the most prosperous eras in the history of humanity.  The selection of food you can eat on any given night dwarfs anything the richest kings of the past could have commanded to appear at their tables.  There is a certain cost associated with maintaining the society that makes that possible.  There are people to heal, children to educate, roads to build and banditry to prevent.  When you start making a lot of money, it’s your turn to pay into the fund that got you here, so the next impoverished kid to come along can have the same shot your impoverished, post World War II refugee grandparents had.

What about my Mustache?

That’s the question you should now be asking.  Mustachians are not the sort of people who sit around moaning about how the government is keeping them down.  We’re the people who look at what we got, figure out what we don’t like, and fix it.

Does your local government have a high property tax rate?  Move to a smaller house.  Those are almost always cheaper.

Is the income tax rate high?  Put as much money as you can into tax sheltered retirement funds.

Sales taxes are high?  Why are you even talking about this?  If sales tax is a problem for you, stop buying so much shit.

But, but, but, gasoline tax!  Hm.  If only there were a way to live that avoided gasoline tax.  Help me out, here.  Anybody?  Bueller?  Bueller?

And if you really, really can’t stand the way the man is keeping you down in your province or state, you can always pick a different one.  Mr. Money Mustache did that and he’s quite happy with his adopted home.  I’m living in Ontario and I’m quite content with life here as I finish my final leg on the road to retirement.  But if I wasn’t happy, I wouldn’t just complain about it.  I’d rearrange my finances or move my family.

Why are you telling me this?

“Tax Freedom Day” is a disingenuous, selfish, short-sighted bit of fear mongering.  Every year I see the numbers and dates come out, I think “What privileged jackass decided to count only the taxes being paid and completely ignore the services being returned?”  Who, in either of our countries, has arrived at the point of having to pay taxes without having also been helped along on the path to becoming a taxpayer?

It wasn’t until I did the calculations, however, that I realized how truly out of whack the “Tax Freedom” percentage is from the actual experience of an actual Canadian.  So I should thank all of you for making me want to do the math.

I will be over here enjoying by 28% tax rate, even while others less informed are crying over their make-believe 43.5% rates.

Toque, out.

MMM Afterword: I should also note that if you are a rich do-gooder who is frustrated with the inefficiency of government compared to your own capabilities, it is still possible to evade taxes for the good of humanity: Simply have your business(es) operate as a separate entity from yourself (or even a nonprofit), pay yourself a small salary, then have the business go to town for the social good of your choice. You can choose to treat the employees really well, all while inventing better electric cars or solar panels, curing malaria and polio, or any number of other things – with high efficiency and very little tax burden. 


]]> 256
Recovering from the Pack Rat Years Sun, 08 Jun 2014 16:26:14 +0000 How could you let go of something so cute, made by your big sis 35 years ago?
Moving Day

Moving Day

It is finally Moving Week for the Mustache family, and we’re right in the thick of it. The new house, while still sporting plain plywood countertops and missing some frilly extras like doors and trim, is finished enough to sustain life so we decided to make the jump as early as possible.

But the rush to empty and clean the old place while simultaneously compressing our lifestyle by 1000 square feet has been a very revealing exercise. Despite our best efforts to live a sensible, frugal, and minimalist life over these past eight years, we have somehow still ended up with an absolute shitload of unnecessary crap. Boxes of it. Storage rooms, closets, and nooks full of it. Even now as we try to ruthlessly triage the stuff between sell, donate, recycle and trash bins, the torrent seems unlimited. How did we end up in this odd position?

A deeper archaeology of the debris has revealed some useful details. There’s a pair of underused Men’s hockey skates. I haven’t skated since I left Canada in 1999, so these particular bits of life baggage have tagged along for 15 years and 5 US addresses while never seeing a patch of ice. Why do I still have these? Two pairs of rollerblades (his and hers) have a similar history. We’re already up to one medium-sized box.

Then there are the sentimental items like photo albums, mementos from high school romances, cute candle holders that never seem to work in your current house, a once-fancy Yamaha player for the antique digital media known as “CDs”, several hundred discs written in this format, a translucent skull with a strobe light mounted inside (?), and a wooden devil pitchfork that I made hastily for a 1997 Halloween costume that somehow never gets lost*. Plus a well-stitched horse head that my older sister made in home economics class sometime in her early teens.


How could I let go of something so cute, made by my big Sis 35 years ago?

How could I let go of something so cute, made by my big Sis 35 years ago?

And all that is before we get to the real source of Stuff: kid-related objects. I have fiercely avoided buying battery-powered plastic toys throughout my son’s lifetime, but somehow these things have still entered our life by the dozen thanks to the generosity of others. An enormous honking driving “Turbo Rig” that got a few laughs around his third birthday. Various other vehicles, humanoid figures, and swords. A pair of detailed pirate ships that he bought with his own money before realizing that his building kits (most notably Trio and Lego) provide longer-lasting entertainment.

My family is living in the happiest and most fortunate of situations, and I actually love the cleansing and organizing effort of moving to a new house. So the above should not be read as a complaint. More of a self-mocking and a reminder that we can do better in curating the things we bring into our lives. After all, most of my own junk turned out to be from my earlier adulthood, when a high income teamed up with a large living space to produce a very low threshold for acquiring new things. In the most recent three years, a stricter approach has delivered much better results.

Minimalism – Isn’t That Just for New York City Millenials?

Even a casual embrace of Minimalism will bring great improvements to your life, so in reality, every smart person should be dipping their toes in its refreshing waters. There are mental benefits: a clearer mind so you can focus better on the experiences and people that mean the most to you. And financial ones too: with less stuff you can live larger in a smaller space, which frees up hundreds of thousands of dollars over your lifetime. These dollars feed back into your freedom, allowing you to live wherever and however you like.

Even a vague and fuzzy adoption of minimalist principles can make a huge difference. Without it, I’d be in a cubicle under fluorescent lights on this fine Monday morning in June, furiously typing brackets and function calls into a compiler, still 26 years from the finish line. Instead, I’m currently sitting under a shade tree, 9 years into retirement and casually typing these thoughts into a thin silver laptop which will promptly be folded closed whenever my family wakes up so I can make them breakfast.

So if you haven’t done so already, you might want to change the way you think about new stuff. The tricks that work for me are as follows:

A Lifelong Burden

When presented with a spiffy new object, most of us think only of the present pleasure it may offer. The Sharper Image Digital Bluetooth Wine Bottle Opener will get you drunk while fostering a futuristic vibe at your parties. I try to look past that first thrill and imagine the rest of the life of that gadget – taking up space, restricting future moves to new homes, causing your worry and pain when it eventually breaks, then finally sitting in a landfill for 100,000 years as it burdens the next 3,000 generations of humans. This scenario should be mentally reviewed for all non-recyclable plastic items and bits of electronics.

This applies equally well to gifts: when you give objects of questionable long-term use, you are really handing out lifelong burdens. Similarly, you can safely declare all weddings birthdays, and religious holidays Free from Manufactured Gifts, if you’re the planner.

Some Objects Actually Simplify Life

Adding a handy Yang to the above bit of bummer Yin, you can acknowledge that we are not perfect and you might as well make the most of the society you are born into. So you can let yourself slip and participate in our group silliness in a thoughtful way. For example, I happen to like certain gadgets like digital cameras, sound recorders, music players, and GPS navigators. I also make good use of a phone and a computer. But nowadays the smartphone has integrated all of these things into a very smooth and humanist single object. Owning this one simple thing lets me forget about many complicated things, so I do it gladly.

Similarly, one good resharpenable knife will replace a lifetime procession of cheap ones, a reasonable bike will replace a lifetime of car upgrades (and purchases of ever-larger pants and belts), and a set of core tools and skills will eliminate a lifetime of having to find others to maintain the stuff you do choose to keep around. Sometimes more is less, in a good way.

Never, Ever go “Shopping”

My greatest ally in buying less stuff, has been not even knowing what I am missing. Since 2000, I have done virtually all shopping online. No shopping malls, no clothing stores, and construction materials only when I couldn’t find an Internet or e-mail based way to get the same stuff. We’ve also been without broadcast TV or radio service, and had no magazine or newspaper subscriptions.  This is still no magic shield: Amazon still makes buying stuff far too much fun, and library books, The Economist, Nature, Wired, thoughtful comments and emails from MMM readers, and other geeky online information fountains still provide way more information (both useful and useless) than my limited brain can properly absorb. But making our best attempt at a low information diet can at least allow us to choose which information and products we consume, rather than having them pumped into us.

Preventing Works Better than Purging

Combining the two points above into a single action, I find that the best cure to a cluttered life is to avoid letting the clutter in in the first place. It’s easier to prevent than it is to cure.

So instead of running a “budget”, where you allow yourself a certain amount of waste allowance or “fun money” in various categories every month, I enjoy starting with the idea that Zero is the ultimate budget. Then you carefully evaluate each potential expense and happily admit it only if it truly meets your goals.

As a beginner in a debt emergency, this filter will be very tight because very little is worth more than your sanity and freedom. On the other hand, here in my old age with greater wealth, spending on things like luxury food and more expensive experiences is very open, but the acquisition of new objects is still heavily scrutinized because that “lifelong burden” effect never goes away no matter how rich you get.

Occasionally I slip, and the pain is noticeable. For example, last year I bought a used “Roku HD” video streaming player, and it didn’t work with my projector**. This device has taunted me from my office shelf ever since, as I have tried to sell it and give it away without success. The lost $45 is negligible, but the mental burden is palpable. I should have known better than to buy the thing in the first place, because I already had a perfectly functional way to watch movies by plugging in the laptop.

Still, life goes on and is grander than ever. We are shedding material burden and moving up in the world as we transfer our lives to the new house. I just wanted to share the experience with younger readers so they can learn from our mistakes. A lighter storage closet leads to a lighter heart.


Further Reading:

This piece in UCLA magazine studies our clutter culture and shares some juicy pictures of houses thankfully much worse than mine.

How Big is your Circle of Control, an article I angrily typed out last fall, looks more closely at the benefits of mental minimalism, which is surprisingly similar to careful curation of your physical crap.


* And as you can see if you look carefully at the picture at the top of this article, that damned pitchfork made its way to the new house, when a friend found it while helping me move and brought it along for his lawbreaking rooftop couch ride up the hill.

 ** because of the bullshit invention called “HDCP” copy protection that the movie studios snuck into our consumer products, which ironically makes it much easier to play pirated movies than legally purchased ones unless you happen to have the newest viewing equipment.

]]> 203
Give Yourself the Gift of Not Worrying About Money Thu, 29 May 2014 18:55:47 +0000 addmorewine

This wine rack in J.D. Roth’s place (which is also where I am sitting as I type this) summarizes the philosophy nicely.

For most people in this country, financial problems are caused by not thinking enough about money.

One of the guys I hire occasionally to help me build houses, for example, is permanently broke and always requires full payment in cash at the end of each workweek. Yet at the beginning of each workday, he arrives with a fresh cup of Peet’s coffee from the gourmet shop he drives past on the way to my construction site, and a $5.00 pack of cigarettes that will get smoked in a hands-free manner as he runs the saws and nailguns with those talented hands.  He makes casual purchases without worry, but then must confront a gut-dropping wall of worry whenever the money runs out, which is every Thursday.

Although white-collar professionals may scoff at the obvious folly of this particular lad’s behavior, they tend to follow exactly the same script by signing up for monthly payments on cars and furniture, and voluntarily creating car commutes that send even more money up in smoke than a daily pack of cigarettes. The money may not run out every Thursday, but it does run out every Recession, when the job evaporates or the housing market crashes. Same problem in a different package.

But you’re totally different. As a fellow Mustachian, you join me in peaceful laughter at all forms of self-imposed money shortage. Those problems are not part of our world. You make a good income, but continue to ride your bike, cook your own food, and conduct your commerce on Craigslist. This creates an incredible money surplus, which increases your net worth more every month than the average person saves in a year. Even if you’re just starting out, financial independence is less than ten years away, and if you’re an old person in your 30s who has been doing this for a while, it is even closer. So how could life be any better?

If I could go back 12 years to visit my past self in the midst of this scene, there is a bit of wisdom I would love to share. It wouldn’t be stock tips or the sports almanac that Biff used to make himself rich in Back to the Future. Rather, it would be a bit of mental adjustment that could make the journey even more fun. It would a message something like this:

Dude. Chill out. You’re already rich, and thus it is time to start living that way.

This seemingly Antimustachian sentiment is not an endorsement of bullshit luxury spending. You don’t suddenly “Deserve” a new Mercedes, and you’re not about to go hire someone to cut your lawn and fingernails for you. But what you can do is give yourself permission to stop worrying about money, forever.

Once you have established the habit of non-ridiculous living and the correspondingly pumped set of frugality muscles, you are out of the woods. Riches are inevitable. You may not see it yet, because you are still climbing the ladder. Your naturally cautious and calculating nature requires you to hedge all bets thoroughly.

But you know that spreadsheet of yours that predicts a net worth in the millions in a surprisingly short time? That shit is for real, and it really does tend to come true. There is a future you out there, that looks almost exactly like the present you except with slightly grayer hair and more experience, and the future you has more money than you know what to do with. How does he or she live that future life?

Bringing that visualization back to your present life, you can use the knowledge to relax a bit. When you are faced with an unexpected expenditure or an unavoidable ripoff, you can laugh it off rather than pounding your fists against nearby objects.

Suppose you somehow end up downtown, and your spendy friends want to go to hit the $50.00 restaurant, sip a few $7.00 drinks and then take a taxi home. You’re out of your element: there is no nature around and there are no bikes in sight. Everything is bullshit. People idle their cars in unnecessary lines and pay $25.00 to park them in frustrating concrete mazes. How do you react?

The old me would start to sweat. “Inefficiency! Irrational spending! A week of grocery money flying out the window! Must escape situation and be unhappy until inefficiency is resolved!”

The new me would react differently. “Hey! I recognize this situation. It’s one of those ‘lots of money’ deals, and money happens to be one of my specialties. While my friends are about to spend 10% of their entire net worth this evening, I will lose a negligible fraction of a percent, and still go to bed tonight further ahead than when I woke up. So I might as well have some fun with it, because my financial position is so secure.”

The key bit of wisdom here is to take the relaxed perspective of your future rich self, and transport it into your current frugal one. You don’t have to start deliberately spending more, just deliberately worrying less.

As an advanced Mustachian, Money is your specialty. You are an expert at earning and accumulating money, and not wasting it. It will never be a problem for you, and this is a rare and incredible advantage. But in order to maximize the advantage, you need to convince your naturally cautious mind to let go of worry and embrace the surplus. Start feeling rich. Allow yourself to laugh at your occasional mistakes and indulgences. Notice how much better life feels with this constant companion.

But then when you’re done reveling in your wealth, you can fold up that fat wallet of yours, return it to its designated pocket in the backpack and hop onto your commuter bike so you can get back to work.


]]> 240
Republic Wireless becomes 50% More Frugal with the Moto G: A Review Tue, 13 May 2014 12:00:33 +0000 moto_G_photo4

line_of_gsIt is nice when the answers for frugal and efficient living become simple and obvious, so as to free your mind for more complex and worthwhile pursuits. For example, when investing in stocks, Vanguard index funds is all you need to know. For cars, a compact hatchback like a Honda Fit will almost always suffice. The ultimate cable TV package is quite obviously no TV service at all at $0 per month. And for US mobile phone service, Republic Wireless has become my default answer for anyone who asks because it just plain works and the $5/$10/$25 unlimited pricing plan reigns supreme in value. I simply love how boring the mobile phone world has become for me: my phone works great, I never pay attention to usage, they never pull any stunts on me, and the monthly bill is a constant, negligible amount. Republic is becoming the Vanguard of mobile phones in my mind.

The bland simplicity of their pricing scheme. No talk of "minutes" or "texts".. you just use the damn phone as you see fit.

The bland simplicity of their pricing scheme. No talk of “minutes” or “texting packages”.. you just use the damn phone as you see fit.

I am hesitant to write about something so boring when it has already been covered on this blog before, but a new release from the company warrants this one last update. Republic has released a new phone that costs half as much as the previous new one, and readers have been asking me to review it here. So here we go!

Until this month, you had to buy a $299 Motorola X running their customized software in order to use the company’s hybrid calling network. While the math still worked out in your favor and you’d save money, it still hurts some of us to fork over $300 for a depreciating smartphone, as beautiful as it is when you first open the box.

But very recently, they released a new phone called the Motorola G, which is priced at $149. I assumed that it would be about half as good, and being a gadgety former engineer that I would be disappointed by the step down. Still, I dutifully requested that the company send me a review version so I could do some in-person evaluation for the benefit of curious Mustachaians.

To make a long story short, The Motorola G is almost exactly the same as the Moto X, which is to say an amazing smartphone, which means you really aren’t missing out much by saving the 150 bucks. Let’s start with a quick comparison of the tech specs:

Moto G vs. Moto X

Moto G vs. Moto X

Although some of those numbers look bigger in the right column, the “Display” section is what matters most. The phones have virtually identical screens that run at exactly the same resolution. In practice, what that means is this:

Moto X vs. Moto G - screens were equally bright and clear.

Moto X (left) vs. Moto G – screens were equally bright and clear.

This Identical Twins experience continues as you pick up both phones to tap on some stuff, swipe back and forth between various screens, take some pictures and videos, play music, and make some calls. For typical use, there is no noticeable difference between these phones.

Both are incredibly useful due to the full Google integration that allows you to talk to the phone in natural language: “Ok Google, when is my flight to Portland?”, brings up a futuristic summary with full details and realtime flight status, based solely on an old Southwest Airlines email receipt from a ticket purchased weeks ago. “Navigate to the Shiner Brewery in Texas” brings up full directions to the Spoetzl brewery, a 16 hour drive from here. The GPS fires up, 3-D satellite imagery loads and shows a bird’s eye view of my current location with a line showing the way, and we could be on a roadtrip within minutes.

About that Network

If you’re new to the whole idea of this mobile operator, you might wonder if it will actually provide coverage for you. After almost a year with the company, I can say the answer is probably yes, for these reasons:

  • Republic service uses the Sprint network when available, which blankets the US pretty well (voice and 3G data almost everywhere and 4G data in the cities).
  • But if you don’t have Sprint coverage, the phone will automatically roam to the nearest Verizon tower for unlimited voice (plus up to 25Mb/month of roaming data) – seamlessly and at no cost to you. So it is really like having both Sprint and Verizon accounts.
  • If you’re connected to Wi-fi, the phone uses that (and thus the Internet) for all its calling and data needs. This means buildings and basements which were formerly outside of cell range are now great places to make a call. It also means the phone works internationally at no cost whenever you have good Wi-Fi. You can make and receive calls exactly as if you were still in the US – your friends will never know. I tested this feature successfully in Ecuador last year.

So what’s the difference?

The Camera: The Moto X has a better camera. While “megapixels” don’t really mean anything in modern marketing, the X takes sharper images and has a wider lens angle as well. Here’s a comparison of an identical indoor shot with each phone :


Moto X (top), vs Moto G (bottom). Click for full image if you want to compare in detail.

Moto X (top), vs Moto G (bottom). Click for full image if you want to compare in detail.

Futuristic Gee Whiz Features:

The Moto X has a few things that I have grown to like, which are absent on the G:

Active Display is a periodic update where the phone gently fades in stuff like the time, date, and your calendar/SMS/email/twitter status even when the phone is sleeping. It also does so immediately when you pick it up. Sort of convenient, since it saves you from unlocking the phone.

Touchless Control means the Moto X is always listening to you. You can give out commands even when the phone is in your pocket. It also detects when you’re driving or biking, and can do things like automatically answering (or telling the caller you cannot answer because you are driving). I had a neat experience where I was riding down the bike path, and my phone said “Incoming call from WIFEY, do you want to answer?”

“Yes”, I said, somewhat off guard. It answered, and I had a surreal speakerphone conversation with Mrs. Money Mustache while riding my bike with the phone in the pocket of my jeans.

The X also has a nifty feature where you simply twist your sleeping phone back and forth along its vertical axis a couple of times to immediately activate the camera. Better for catching short-lived moments and looking less dorky doing so since the twisting motion can be done subtly with the phone at your side and then Boom, you take the picture before anyone notices.

Even with these things missing, the Moto G is an amazing and intuitive piece of technology, and is a good choice for those of us who are not online media extremists for whom tiny details* make a big difference. So Republic wireless service just became drastically cheaper**, and I welcome the new option.

September 2014 Update:

Republic has now added a third, even less costly phone called the Moto E. Smaller specs in exchange for a $99 price tag. While it won’t be the choice of most 20-something software engineers, this simpler smartphone may be a great choice for people who have no need for gadgetry, or families who want to give phones to their kids and relatives.

If you’re still paying over $25 for your mobile phone service, you can remedy that situation with this link.

You can also find the previous Republic article from November 2013 (which also covers Ting) here.


* So which one would I buy? In my pre-blog life, it would have been the G, hands-down. Now that I use a phone so much for this gig, especially taking pictures that people actually look at sometimes, I’d have to suppress my natural cheapness and spend the extra for the X. It’s the usual tool-vs-toy calculation. Just remember that within a year or two, even better phones will cost even less than these ones, so weigh the steep depreciation on a per-photo (or per gee-whiz) basis.

** you can also now buy a used phone from another Republic member if you can find one and re-activate it on a new account, a further increase in frugality.

]]> 231
‘Stashtown, USA Sat, 10 May 2014 05:02:44 +0000 bikenight

bikenightA big part of the recipe for a good life is to love the place you live. Although you can compensate for almost any living conditions with a strong Stoic attitude and some training, it sure is nice to be surrounded by an environment that truly agrees with your constitution. After all, all five of your senses are fueled by nothing more than the physical environment right around you, and every atom in your body is replaced every few years by atoms that happen to be nearby.

After fifteen years of living next to the Rocky Mountains, I am definitely still in love with my own patch of the world. Colorado in general, and old-town Longmont in specific, agree very well with me. The fine balance between warmth and cold, freedom and social order, affordability and fanciness, and even perfection and ugly flaws, seems just about right to keep life vigorous and interesting. After all, the happiest life is not attained by soaking yourself in the deepest possible tub of comfort. Instead, you win the game by extracting the most personal growth from yourself. This means doing hard stuff. Experiencing voluntary discomfort. Getting off your ass once in a while. Colorado seems to have been geologically formed with exactly this ethos in mind.

Finding a Great Place to Live (and Retire)


A marmot chills on South Arapahoe Peak during one of my hikes

The goal of this article not to share just one example of a location that provides a good life, but learn about more great ones from you. I’ll describe the typical factors that make it possible for me by describing my own town. But this is only one place. There are thousands of other great towns and cities around the world that offer amazing advantages. The idea is to draw some of them out here. You may be inspired to check out one of these destinations, or to find new life in your own home city. Sometimes a move across town can be just as life-changing as a move to a new continent.

Why I live in Colorado


View from Rabbit Mountain at the edge of Longmont

Back in 1999, I toured some of the country by attending job interviews in Massachusetts, Georgia, North Carolina, California and here in Colorado, and found the lifestyle of my potential coworkers to be the most enviable here. People keep active duty mountain bikes with dried red mud on their treads leaned casually inside their engineering cubicles, and CEOs wear sandals. This is a place where Life comes first, and Work is allowed to coexist as long as it does not show up wielding its characteristic Clipboard of Bullshit. Obviously there will be exceptions, but it is amazing how strong the regional cultural differences are even within the borders of a single country.

Why Longmont?

I stumbled across this place while living 13 miles down the road in its much more glamorous neighbor, Boulder. My coworkers and I used to take group motorcycle rides out here to visit the legendary Mexican restaurants, but I also noticed the big trees lining the creeks, beautiful public parks, and the historic downtown. With house prices at least 50% lower than Boulder, I noticed I could afford to have my pick of neighborhoods and live within walking distance of downtown. But unfortunately, this would mean voluntarily signing myself up for a car clown commute to the job in Boulder, so I dismissed the idea.

Until retirement in 2005, when suddenly we could live anywhere with no commute at all. So Longmont it was.

The City at a Glance

The shady sidewalks of Old-Town

The shady sidewalks of Old-Town

Longmont is a compact, historic city that fits within a roughly 5×5 mile footprint. Its population of 92,000 means it is big enough to have all your retail and restaurant needs covered, great Internet access and mobile phone service, and an urban feel in places. But small enough that you can fit the whole thing in your head – knowing all the streets and neighborhoods, and mayor and the owner of your favorite brew pub (who are coincidentally the same guy). Most importantly, it is small enough that you can bike from anywhere to anywhere in the city within minutes. My own rule is that Intra-Longmont car trips are only permissible if you are carrying more than 100 pounds of stuff – otherwise, use the bike and a bike trailer. But you’re still only 20 minutes from Boulder, 50 from downtown Denver and the same distance from Denver Airport, one of the largest and most well-connected in the world. The continent’s largest mountain chain begins about 10 miles to the West, which means you can be in a canyon within the confines of a lunchtime bike ride.


This is the bike path running through the high tech employment zone.

This is the bike path running through the high tech employment zone.

Here we benefit from our location next to the venture-capital-happy money fountain of Boulder. Small and large tech companies have offices nearby including Microsoft, Google, Cisco, Amgen, Seagate, and trendier ones I don’t keep track of due to the fact that I haven’t worked in tech in almost nine years. The area is also a minor hub for solar and wind power companies, and creative industries as well. But more interesting than the physical office situation is the number of people who live here but work remotely for companies in New York, Boston, LA, and Silicon Valley. It’s not a bedroom community since you don’t have to commute out of it to work. More of a Patio community.



Autumn in Thompson Park, across the street from our elementary school

In a word: Invigorating. Right now it is spring, which means a stream of warm sunny days (60-80F) with very occasional rain and clouds. Summer is a series of very dry hot sunny days (80-95F), with even less rain. Fall is back to the warm sunny days with occasional rain and surprising dumps of snow towards the end of it. Winter is mild sunny days (44F) with cold nights (15F) and occasional vigorous snowstorms and colder days. Annual precipitation is only about 15″, about the same as Los Angeles and a rather extreme difference from NYC’s 45″. On average, there are only a few days each year where weather makes it impractical to ride your bike, which is the most important measurement for me. But it’s not a great climate if you are a palm tree or a year-round outdoor vegetable garden.


The New Urban development known as Prospect, where I built some houses.

The New Urban development known as Prospect, where I built some houses.

Single family houses in this city start in the upper $100s. In the low $300s, you can find a quaint 2-3 bedroom house in the downtown region or a solid 3/3 modern house in a close-in suburb. The low $400s gets you one of the very nice houses* in the better neighborhoods and you can pretty much have your pick of the town if you show up with $500k or more. Full houses rent for $1500-$2500 per month, and apartments are less.


Property taxes are fairly cheap at about 0.8% of a property’s appraised value per year, so you’ll be paying $1600-$3000 rather than $5,000-$15,000 as they do on the East Coast. The region has an 8% sales tax, 4.6% state income tax, and no local income taxes. Colorado is very friendly to small business, with easy online LLC registration that costs me about $10 per year to maintain. And, not that you care, but gasoline is consistently some of the nation’s cheapest – about $3.30 per gallon at the time of writing.


This guy (the elementary school art teacher) is one of my favorite people ever.

This guy (the elementary school art teacher) is one of my favorite people ever.

Saving the best for last, this town has a real culture of caring for other people. It is expected that if you pass a stranger on any street, you will both exchange at least a greeting. You generally become friends with the people who work at your favorite stores, and your own neighborhood can be the source of your social circle. My own area has a rotating “porch club” which is an open invitation to gather at a designated front porch bearing food and drink, spouses and kids, and just shoot the breeze as the sun goes down on a summer night. We also have a good bike culture beginning: parents bike their kids to school, and the weekly Bike Night event draws over 200 people in the peak of summer. (I’ll be there on May 14th, by the way).




Keep in mind when reading all of this that I am an incurable optimist. There are plenty of things in Longmont that still suck. People drive their cars way too much, and far too few of them ride bikes. Some neighborhoods are run down, and plenty of the commercial buildings in the fringe areas are vacant too. It’s not a cultural hub and there are decidedly fewer beautiful people in restaurants than you will see in Boulder. Because of the family demographic, it would be a boring place to be a 20-something single looking for night life. And in the dead of winter when this place is brown or snowy, I have been known to long for San Diego or Hawaii.

Your Turn!

Do you live in a city that provides a nice base for the Good Life? Affordable living, good jobs and culture, and an outdoorsy and health-oriented vibe? Share it in the comments below and we can all learn from each other. Try to address the general areas above and link to a demographics page like these two for Longmont.

Looking to move HERE?

I’ll admit it right now: I’d actually like to help create a Badass Utopia right here in my own town. Several people I know have already moved here after reading about it on the blog, and I’d be happy to facilitate the trend, because Mustachians are good people. We will share fermented ciders on our respective porches and lend each other power tools and project advice. Get in touch via the contact form if you are one of these people and I can help you learn about the area, find a good place to live, etc.

* Speaking of nicer houses…

There are two coming to market right now that might be of interest to those at the higher end of the price scale:

Since we’re about to move 3 blocks over to our new place, the Official MMM Household of the last 8 years will soon be on the market at $429k. This is a 2600SF 2 story newer house in the middle of the central old-town neighborhood. Built brand new in 1998 and then thoroughly upgraded over the past few years. 4 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms, 2 car warm garage, energy efficient, nice gardens, amazing Man Shed out back, etc. If you are serious and in this price range, get in touch and I’ll send you the secret webpage with full photo tour. Discount possible if you save me from listing it and dealing with showings!

Right next door to me, a very good builder is completely rebuilding a pleasant 1950s house virtually from scratch. It is a 1400-square foot 3BR/2BA place with a great floorplan, amazing post and beam front porch, high-end finishes and nice yard. Probably will go for around $400k. I have no stake in this project, I just think it will be a good house when he’s done (probably about 3 months to completion based on their progress so far).

Both places would allow you to walk/bike to school, library, downtown, and everything else. 







]]> 429
Beating the Stock Market – With DIY Insulation Thu, 01 May 2014 16:06:47 +0000 A Honda Odyssey with all seats including front removed, holds exactly 41 bags of insulation.
A Honda Odyssey with all seats including front removed, holds exactly 41 bags of insulation.

We learned that a Honda Odyssey with all seats including front removed, holds exactly 41 bags of insulation.

Well, I’m almost done rebuilding that house I have been working on since last fall. There was a big push through the electrical and insulation stages, and then I happily handed the place off to Agustin and his crew for drywall*, which is now in its final days as well.

Insulation was a big step for me, because I’ve been talking a big game throughout this project on energy efficiency. Sure, we have plenty of high-solar-gain glass on the South side, radiant heat, loads of thermal mass from interior concrete and brick features, and a metal roof to keep heat out in the summer. But all of this goes to waste if you don’t control the flow of heat between inside and outside – which means a tight air seal** and a lot of insulation where it counts.

Where it Counts

In most houses, the attic is the first place to seal and insulate. In the winter, your warm air rises and tries to sneak through the ceilings. In summer, the sun blasts down upon the roof and your ceiling becomes a radiant heater when it is least needed. And the area is especially large: in my long, flat house, ceiling is the dominant feature.

How Expensive is a Leaky Attic?

As explained in the old classic about Destroying your Heating bill, this depends on how fast it leaks, and what you pay for energy.  But using figures from where I live in Colorado is a good generalization, since it has a climate about midway between the cool and warm parts of the United States.

In the dead of winter, we might have an average temperature of 32F (0C) here. The days are warmer than that, but the nights are cooler, and in energy consumption it is the average that matters. If we maintain the interior of the house at 68F, it means we are keeping our house constantly 36F warmer than the outside.

Now comes the fun part: for every square foot of house that is exposed to the cold (or heat in summer), we have heat leakage. The speed of this heat leakage depends on the r-value of the walls and ceiling. Higher R-value is better. Skipping directly to the answer to the puzzle above, a 1000 square foot ceiling with just drywall (roughly R-1 insulation)** loses 36,000 BTU of heat per hour, 24 hours a day. That is about $260 per month of energy loss.

Adding another R-1 of blown cellulose, one of the cheapest and best kinds of insulation, cuts this in half. This amount of cellulose over 1000 square feet costs about 14 bucks. This is a silly theoretical example because that would only be about 1/3 of an inch of cellulose, an amount too small to apply practically. But it sets us up for the handy chart below. We’ll approximate the total annual heating/cooling cost by using my “Four Januarys” method, which usually works out well.

Insulation Return on Investment (ROI)

(values shown are per 1000 square feet of surface area)

R ValueExtra Cost to upgrade to this levelAnnual Heating CostAnnual Return on Investment for this upgrade
0$0 Infinite0%
50$252$21About 8%

Pretty interesting stuff: every time you double your insulation, your costs double and your additional lump of savings is only half as big. But even so, the math works out that you should still insulate your attic to at least R-50, because cellulose is so cheap. And this table is for a relatively moderate area of the US, a country with the cheapest natural gas in the world. In other countries (or  if you use oil or electric heat), this equation tilts even more in favor of better insulation. In other words, you can generally accomplish that almost-impossible feat of beating the stock market, just by insulating your own house. 

All this is why my friend Mike, who reads this blog, needs to get with the program and insulate the shit out of the leaky attic in his 100-year-old house before the next winter season hits – no excuses!

With all that theory out of the way, here’s what I actually did in my own house. Since I built my ceilings in vaulted style, there is no traditional attic. Just 14″ roof rafters with roof deck and metal roof screwed to the top, and drywall screwed to the bottom. With about 20 recessed light fixtures in this ceiling, there is lots of potential for air leakage. So I did this:

A cross section of my own roof. 2" of spray foam plus 12" of cellulose gives me almost R-60 total insulation!

A cross section of my own roof. 2″ of spray foam plus 12″ of cellulose gives me almost R-60 total insulation! With this method, you don’t need the plastic vapor barrier below the rafters.

Spray Foam Insulation

Here is my ceiling with 2" of the amazing foam applied.

Here is my ceiling with 2″ of the amazing foam applied.

When you want to go really hardcore on insulation, closed-cell spray foam is the way to do it. It is about 10 times more expensive than cellulose for a given amount of R-value, but it has advantages that nothing else can match: a perfect air seal, double the R-value per inch, and structural rigidity.

I started my roof insulation job with 2 inches of spray foam to seal the numerous gaps in the roof framing and create an airtight roof structure that needs no venting. I also had the foam contractor fill assorted cracks around the rest of the house, and spray all exterior joist bays in the crawl space. This was expensive ($2700 for the whole project), but it accomplished the most important part of insulating: stopping air leaks. You can buy do-it-yourself spray foam kits from Amazon and Ebay, but I found that hiring a local contractor ended up being about the same price (90 cents per square foot at 1″ thick), so the decision to outsource that task was easy.

Blowing your own Cellulose

Now for the most useful part of this article: contractors were bidding upwards of $3000 to blow the 12″ of cellulose insulation into that area beneath my spray foam. Cellulose is just shredded newspapers, so it is incredibly cheap. It is also incredibly easy to install. I calculated that about $700 of the stuff was needed in my place, which left $2300 to cover a day or two of labor.

Mrs. MM loads a 20-pound chunk into a homemade cardboard hopper (long story)

Mrs. MM loads a 20-pound chunk into a homemade cardboard hopper atop the blowing machine (long story)

Anybody with functional arms and legs can blow cellulose, so it is an ideal DIY task. You just follow these four steps:

  1. Buy the bags of stuff at the store. It looks like this, but the Lowe’s in my area has it at the ripoff price of $14.25 per 18-pound bag. The same stuff was $9.47 at Longmont’s Budget Home Center. Each bag gives you 20 square feet at R-38. I bought 71 bags for my house. Consider delivery, because the stuff is bulky.
  2. Rent the blowing machine. This is just a giant reversed vacuum cleaner with a hopper on top. Most building material stores will lend you one of these for free if you buy at least 10 bags of insulation.
  3. Round up your spouse and have each of you put on a good breathing mask. This stuff is dusty – too dusty for the crappy fabric masks, in my opinion.
  4. You climb up into the attic with one end of the firehose, while your spouse hangs around outside opening the bags and heaving them into the machine. Blow the light fluffy material evenly across your attic to at least a foot deep. Pro-tip: a good headlamp makes this easier. Use mobile phones to communicate (or a remote controlled power switch) so the attic person can turn the machine on and off.


Cellulose in a Vaulted Ceiling

Here I'm blowing cellulose into the vaulted ceiling, supported by fabric.

Here I’m blowing cellulose into the vaulted ceiling, supported by fabric.

My own job was a bit more complicated, since there is no attic. I picked up a huge roll of landscape fabric and stapled it tightly to the bottoms of the rafters with the help of a friend. Then I cut ‘X’-holes near the top of each bay and fed the blowing hose down to the bottom of the slope. Turned on the machine, and slowly filled each cavity from bottom to top. It was a bit of a pain, but in the end a rewarding day of high exertion and a worthwhile way to save a couple thousand dollars while learning a new skill.

To round out this (hopefully) well-insulated house, I caulked the interior faces of all multi-stud columns to reduce air leakage, used R-15 and R-19 batts as appropriate in the exterior walls, stapled up sheets of plastic vapor barrier across all walls before drywall, and glued up sheets of foil-faced rigid foam insulation in strategic areas where batts would not fit. I’m also adding a 1″ layer of rigid foam on the outside of the new wood framing before adding siding, which adds even more R-value and even more importantly will cut the thermal bridging effect of all the studs and headers.

If I have done my job right, we should end up with a house where the winter sun (plus the heat given off by the people and appliances) provides for most of our warmth needs, and simply opening the windows at night provides all of our summer cooling. But if I’m wrong and further tinkering is required, that won’t be such a bad outcome either.



* This is always a semi-religious experience for a Colorado housebuilder, as you typically get a word-of-mouth drywaller referral from another builder. An earnest Mexican guy comes out to appraise your project and gives you a very fair (yet very informal sounding) estimate. You’re not sure if you conveyed everything properly due to your respective lack of Spanish and English comprehension. But the next day, when you show up at 9am to make sure they are doing well, you enter a scene of blaring mariachi music, flying drywall panels and cutting tools, and a house that is already almost done. I’ve worked with every housebuilding trade and learned to do each of them myself over the years. But the speed and skill of Colorado’s Mexican drywall crews remains beyond my comprehension. Maybe it is an informal brotherly competition that arises just like in real sports, since hanging the sheets it is probably the most physical and athletic trade. Either way, these guys are the superheroes of construction.

**Airtight houses still need ventilation. In the olden days, houses were so leaky that you’d get more than enough fresh air just through the cracks. Modern houses fixed the leaks, but that caused indoor air to become stale: the various smelly and toxic gases from products, cooking, and humans build up and you end up with a building that can actually make you sick. In my climate, you leave your windows open for 6 months of the year, which leaves the 6 cooler ones to deal with. I plan to vent out the house during daylight hours (warmer), leaving it more sealed during winter nights.  Part of the strategy involves these silent Panasonic Whispergreen bath fans, which can be set to run at a very low rate without you hearing them.

*** Sounds pretty ridiculous, but it is not far off the truth for my new house when I bought it. It had drywall ceilings, and a 1″ thick layer of sawdusty wood fiber batts from the 1950s (labeled “extra thick!”). Then a vented attic right above. And even that was poorly installed with no vapor barrier and lots of gaps and holes in it. Net effect might have been R-2 or 3. I cringe when imagining this home’s previous 55 years of energy bills.

]]> 165