Getting Started #2 – The Higher Cause

By Mr. Money Mustache

The Realist thinks he has me pegged. He’s right about the 1999 REI Bookpacker Plus backpack, but in his calm by-the-numbers approach he is missing a lot of the reasons frugality is great.

No. Not just great: it’s the only non-ridiculous lifestyle for the thinking person. And this is because for many of us who are happily frugal by choice, there is a higher cause beyond just money.

There are many reasons why the act of going to a store and Buying Yourself A New Manufactured Product should hurt a little bit. And while we’re all still going to do it, it should be done carefully and after some thought, and after considering the alternatives.

One big reason is The Earth. Many of us feel some sort of love for our planet and a desire to preserve as much as possible of its healthy ecosystem for the rest of our fellow plants and animals to enjoy. Maybe even our children.

Well, unfortunately, buying products and preserving the Earth are at great odds with each other. You’re not helping the Earth by buying a Toyota Prius. You just caused the burning of 1500 gallons of fuel and the mining of about eleven thousand pounds of Earth herself, just to produce a car of that size.. before you even buy its first tank of gas.

Eating meat, building a new house, and lots of other fun activities are equally destructive. Assignment: Watch a few of the great documentaries like Fast Food Nation and Food Inc., and An Inconvenient Truth. Then you might build up the appropriate level of guilty awareness to take the innocence out of shopping.

But then, you get to cheer up again. Mr. Money Mustache has got the solution for you. As luck would have it, not buying things is not only the solution for saving our planet, it is also the solution to your financial problems!

“But what about being happy?”, you ask.

 “I am buying these products to make me happy. Won’t my happiness level drop if I stop buying them?”

Great question! That brings us to the next Big Reason Frugality is Great: it actually makes you happier, and there’s science to back it up.

As logical people we probably agree that our main goal in life is to be happy. But what does happiness mean?

At the lowest level, it means that something in your body is releasing the right chemicals that wash through your bloodstream and make your brain interpret the situation as “good times”.

What triggers these chemicals? Usually, things that we evolved to think are good for us – eating rich foods, having various pleasant experiences with potential mates, enjoying social status among our peers, and doing satisfying tasks like nesting, building and creating things. It’s easy to understand how these things contributed to our survival in the past, so our brains evolved to reward us when we do them.

Shopping satisfies some of the later things in that list – you might get social status by having the latest trendy type of shoes, or you might trigger your nesting reward center by buying super cute shelving and accessories to organize your closet.  It’s a valid form of happiness, except it comes with the cost of taking away your freedom (money), which makes you have to worry more in the future – and in most cases, the short reward causes a longer period of suffering, so you’re not coming out ahead.

So what is the alternative?

What if you were to write down the top ten activities that make you happy and are good for your long-term happiness and health, then start spending most of your time doing those things?

You would probably find that most of them are not expensive, and that they take so much time you don’t have time for the expensive ones.

For example, for me the list would have things like:

  • have breakfast with my family every day
  • have plenty of playing, learning and reading time with my son every day
  • read 1 new book per week for myself
  • have fun playing and creating music with friends at least 1 hour per week
  • work out with weights at least 3 times/week and ride bikes and walk every day
  • family hike or other outing 2 times per week
  • try cooking a new semi-fancy recipe for the family or friends once per week

Wow, there is some wholesome but fun stuff there.. and it already adds up to more than the amount of time I have available!

Like most people, I still have material cravings. And my unconscious mind is automatically trying to rationalize each one even as my conscious mind resists. For example, right now I have inexplicable desires to buy

  • a new computer with a gigantic top-of-the-line monitor (for creative pursuits like music-making and blogging)
  • an Apple iPad (for the educational games for kids, and around-the-house convenience for us adults)
  • a few new high-end tools to add to my already-complete tool set (because I’m a professional carpenter these days… I shouldn’t have to compromise by using any of remaining amateur-grade Ryobi tools even though they still work.. should I?)
  • a $200 Zojirushi bread machine (to replace the rattly $10 garage one I use that still works fine)

But I just acknowledge the desires and put the research time needed for those purchases at the bottom of my to-do list. If I get everything else on the list done, I’m allowed to buy those things.

Meanwhile I can feel good about leading my existing simple life because the Earth doesn’t want me to buy extra things anyway.

See? There is a higher cause.

  • Tim May 26, 2011, 10:15 am


    I came over to your website from ERE, and like what I see. Sorry to post a reply to such an old entry, but better late than never. And, I’m going to stir the pot, so maybe it will be worth it, if people are still coming back to read older posts.

    I like frugality for money’s sake, not the environment’s sake. I know that part of the purpose of this blog is to bring opinion into the discussion, so here’s my part of the opinion…

    Taking the 11,000 pounds of Earth per Prius as a fact (I don’t know where the number came from, but I won’t argue that point), we can do a little math. I’ve read that the mass of the Earth is 1.3165 X 10^25. The Earth is therefore able to support the creation of approximately 1,197,000,000,000,000,000,000 Priuses (is the plural just Prius…?).

    If each existing person bought 4 Prius during his lifetime (a possible average between high American consumption with low 3rd world consumption – there’s no research on my part to this number), this could sustain for 43.4 billion generations of people.

    This equates to 1.3 trillion years. Since the universe herself is 13 billion years old, this conveniently translates to 100 universes. We have 100 universes worth of cars in the Earth. Therefore, the making of one car has an infinitesimally small impact on Her. Unfortunately, that chap buying the last car will have very little real estate to utilize… And I think we’ll be long gone due to asteroid or Zombie Apocalypse before we get to that point.

    Of course, this doesn’t factor in all the other products we buy and use. It’s just still so tiny whichever way you cut it. It’s for that reason that I don’t use the environment as justification for my frugality.

    And, gasp, I’m not even a Republican (just wanted to get that out before any replies to this post).

    This is supposed to be a thought provoking blog. So any replies to my comment (negative and positive) are appreciated and welcomed. Especially if I did my math logically wrong. Or just to tell me that I’m a selfish bastard.

    • MMM May 26, 2011, 4:51 pm

      Hey Tim, thanks for the very thought-provoking response. It really deserves its own article, since I think your line of reasoning is quite common. Also, all of these old posts seem to be receiving more views and comments all the time so I’m sure people will see what we’re writing right now.

      I enjoyed your comparisons to the mass of the earth. That’s exactly the type of math I like to see when people are making their points. You would be completely right if the issue with buying manufactured products was just using up chunks of rock.

      But it’s not – and you need to talk to a few more scientists, my friend. Or at least soak up a few books and documentaries on the way ecosystems work.

      Although you and I still see healthy lawns and smiling children here in the clean streets of the rich world, the truth of the matter is we have already fucked up an enormous portion of our planet just with the amount of consumption we’ve already done. The planet’s ability to support life is already significantly reduced, and even just continuing at the current level of consumption would render it completely uninhabitable in just a few generations rather than a trillion years as you suggest. The ability to support life is measured in things like species biodiversity, pollution, absorption of carbon dioxide relative to production levels, availability of fertile topsoil and the availability of fresh water in aquifers and on the surface.

      Even I am being selfish here, because I am mostly proposing that humans keep the planet in a state that is amenable to human life. If we destroy most of our population, the planet and its other lifeforms will of course adapt to a new equilibrium, but dammit, I want my children and grandchildren, and yours too, to be able to play in the mountain streams and live in a world that is relatively peaceful rather than engaged in a massive world war caused by the displacement of 2 billion people whose homes were flooded by the rising sea levels.

      To cure the problem, one scientific study I read suggested the entire rich world needs to stabilize on consuming about about 75% less of almost everything than the current US national average. I’m already doing this, and it’s pretty fun. So I’m trying to convince other people to try it too.

      Luckily, making these changes also makes you rich, which is also much more fun than not being rich!

      • Elizabeth April 8, 2013, 9:13 pm

        This comment is WAY late to the party, but I’m chiming in, because:

        While there are lots of green lawns and green cars in the US, here in China, we BREATHE the pollution created by the stuff that goes into making the stuff you use. And millions here work overtime in factories under generally crap conditions (supporting their families in the countryside) so you can afford to shop at the Gap – or almost anywhere – in the world today.

        MMM has shot to the top of my favorite blog list because A. I need to get better with what I do with my $ but also because B. he’s got an awareness of the impact the stuff we use has on the lives of the people who make it.

        • Ian January 11, 2014, 5:23 pm

          Just like to add that I agree with Elizabeth that I appreciate this blog is taking into consideration the impact of over consumption and it’s not just about buying cheaper crap at Walmart.

          Just found this blog now and working my way through the posts. Extra kudo points for mentioning eating meat as a point to consider when talking about saving money and reducing the impact on the earth.

          • John January 3, 2016, 7:27 pm

            I thought l’d keep the disussion going by adding that we should also think of having many children as “over-consumption”. At some point, we need to stabilize the world’s population. I’m thinking now. Perhaps 6 billion is a good target. In that sense l don’t totally disagree with China’s one-child policy. At least they tried to do something positive for the planet.

            I’d also like to add a reply to Tim by suggesting that any action, no matter how small, is still useful. Never under-estimate the power one person has, to make a differece. I like to think, for example, that every plastic bag l don’t use saves a drop of oil. Just one drop. But if 6 billion people save a drop of oil…well, you get the idea.

    • missj August 14, 2014, 9:54 pm

      Consuming less is both good for the environment AND good for our wallets. But I’ll be honest the main reason I consume less is for my wallet. The main reason I recycle is for the environment. The main reason I buy organic produce is for the environment (organic produce has a negative impact on my wallet and arguably a neutral impact on my health.)

      Prii as plural for Prius?


      • Megma April 22, 2015, 1:48 pm

        First, I also pluralize Prius as Prii. :-)

        I also enjoy the environmental slant of MMM’s advice. It’s not about being cheap and getting the cheapest product, sometimes you pay more and a get a better product. This includes something that will last longer oftentimes but also things that are nicer to the planet or the people who make them or ideally, all of the above.

        If you need a car, a used Prius is better than a brand new truck, MMM.

        Refusing to consume things of course has the biggest impact!

  • Jay Dugger September 9, 2011, 5:33 am

    I’ll agree with Mr. May’s comment. I think you gain more readers and teach more people by emphasizing efficiency and frugality than by wandering off-topic in the kind of higher power appeal you made in this post. You might find it compelling, and perhaps many other readers do too. It will annoy or alienate others, esp. those who’ve long enough memories to recall very similar arguments made in the previous century.

    Please focus your writing on frugality and finances. You have more to say, and more useful things to say on those topics than what you wrote in this post.

    • MMM September 9, 2011, 9:13 am

      Bwahahaha!! You are obviously new to Mr. Money Mustache, Mr. Jay Dugger, so I will let this one slide and even allow your naive comment to appear for the enjoyment of other readers.

      I appreciate your clear sentence structure and grammar, but Holy Shit, you’ve totally misunderstood this blog if you think I’m going to stop preaching about all sorts of nice moral and philosophical stuff whenever I feel like it! Mr. Money Mustache doesn’t change his style in order to avoid offending people. He doesn’t stop swearing or calling people Bitches just because some people find those words scary. Otherwise this would be the Mr. Sellout Sideburns blog. People who write blogs do it because they like writing.

      As a technical note for future readers: If you don’t want your web browser to display content you disagree with, you can try typing different URLs into your address bar. This will be much more effective than using the comments feature to attempt to try to change the blogger himself ;-)

      • m741 September 13, 2011, 8:35 pm


      • buzz September 21, 2011, 7:56 pm


        I hope you stay loyal to this philosophy.

      • pondy October 14, 2011, 2:00 pm

        Should be senor sellout sideburns?

      • MsTree October 14, 2011, 6:52 pm

        I ditto Awesome!

      • Dan L. May 18, 2012, 2:20 pm

        Best reply I’ve ever seen to a “you should completely change your blog’s MO” comment.

      • Mr. Meager Mustache March 2, 2013, 8:39 am

        I just found the blog last weekend and made my way through 30 or so posts before deciding to start from the beginning. Your blog kicks ass and so does your reasoning.

      • Elena June 17, 2013, 11:43 am

        “If you don’t want your web browser to display content you disagree with, you can try typing different URLs into your address bar.”

        That has got to be one of the single-most awesome responses to a complainypaints I have ever read! Way to go, Mr. Money!

      • Moonwaves October 2, 2013, 8:57 am

        I’ve only just found your website via a reference by Fiona (Declutterer) to doing something mustachian. I read it twice before I had to google because although I like to think I’m pretty good at English, I just couldn’t figure out what the hell mustachian was (I was wondering if it was some kind of a Greek or other classical myth reference and feeling terribly uneducated). Just catching up from the beginning now and only a few posts in I already have to stop and say hooray!
        “People who write blogs do it because they like writing.” This made me smile because it’s just the way the world should be. It just really, really is. So thanks for that. Looking forward to catching up on the rest of your writing, whether I agree with all the rest of what you say or not. :)

    • KittyWrestler June 18, 2012, 3:37 pm

      wow, this is probably the worst comment I have seen on this site (Well, I am digging through all old MMM posts so I got a long way to go still).
      But ,please.. the whole point of practicing an efficient way to live is to reduce waste.. Use minimal resources to produce the greatest life satisfaction… All researches have pointed out that hapiness does not link to material possesions. Actually it has negative effects on human being when they have too much crap in life..
      This actually has been my top 3 post so far.. I love it, love it, love it!!!

      Just for the fun of it, I want to do MMM’s excerise by listing out my most favorite things to do. So it will keep me on track and probably inprove my current state of life:

      1. Spent my time playing and teaching my kids, whether it’s drawing, or making stuff out of playdoh.. or playground trips.

      2. Have home made dinners at home with my whole family (well, just 4 of us. LOL) every night.

      3. Able to chansaw some baddies on XBOX Live playing Gears 3 Horde mode with my buddies once a week. or maybe twice a month at least.

      4. Chill with my husband or dumpster diving at vintage or used goods store finding and restoring mid century furniture and goodies.

      5. Sit in the backyard, read a book. or do nothing.Or have friends over for gathering.

      6. Volunteer and learn the non profit business so I know how to give to the ones in need.

      7. Hike with family and friends around Colorado front range or spend some time deep in the mountains.

      8. Travel around to see families or some interesting spots on the planet.
      (this is the only category that takes a little bit more money)

      9.. Painting

      10. Pick up a musical instrument or just listen to music.

      And you are right. Most of these activities don’t cost much at all. If I get to do all these everyday, man…. I am gonna be the happiest person on the planet!

    • Paul Herndon May 6, 2023, 12:52 pm

      I’m reading these posts very late in the game, but I completely disagree with you, Jay. In 2023, our world, and country are doing much worse than in 2011, and MMM presenting both environmental and economic reasons to practice frugality still engages many of us today. Hopefully, more good people will stumble across MMM and read and follow the precepts, in these posts.

      So MMM – please keep up the great work you do!

  • Richard October 12, 2011, 1:26 pm

    Really? Eating meat? C’mon. Eating anything you didn’t grow will cost you money and damage the earth, unless you know for sure that it was grown without fuel, and organically / sustainably.

    • MMM October 12, 2011, 4:03 pm

      Yeah, but it’s a matter of degree. Producing a standard supermarket steak uses up much more grain, fossil fuel, water, etc., than getting those same calories from a nice vegetarian dish. Even choosing chicken or fish will drop your resource consumption when compared to steak.

      I like eating all of these things, but it’s an indulgence I think about, make sure I have fun while doing it, and don’t do too often — just like driving my car.

      • Uncephalized June 7, 2012, 4:02 pm

        Sorry to comment on such an old post, but locally-sourced pastured/grass-fed meat and animal products are better for you and don’t damage the Earth when they are pastured conscientiously. Proper grazing practices actually improve the ecological health and diversity of grasslands–grazing animals are an integral and necessary part of this kind of environment. Plus grazers can be raised in many areas that are marginal or nonproductive for crop farming. So the real issue IMO is to support raising animals naturally, and buy quality rather than quantity when making your meat choices. :-)

        • BobTX May 22, 2013, 9:48 pm

          I’m actually an ecologist, who researches/specializes in the impact of human land-use activities, so I thought I would chime in on this. I apologize in advance if this gets a little long:

          “locally-sourced pastured/grass-fed meat and animal products are better for you and don’t damage the Earth when they are pastured conscientiously”
          -This is only true (with caveats) in a very limited context – only a very few underlying ecosystems are adapted for grazing pressure like even “conscientious” cattle raising could look like.

          “Proper grazing practices actually improve the ecological health and diversity of grasslands–grazing animals are an integral and necessary part of this kind of environment.”
          -Which shows you already pretty much know what I’m saying above. In short, yes, in a few regions of grassland that used to have buffalo herds and have not yet been wiped clean for corn etc., low-intensity beef production might have some place. However, this is really only a very small slice of the land used for grazing. Most of the time, cattle production of any type dramatically alters the underlying ecosystem to the point it is unrecognizable compared to what was there previously. Right now, beef production is causing great swaths of the Amazon to be cleared, clearing/homogenization of environments all over America, displacement of native grazing animals all over Africa, occupies tons of land already lost to any sort of native ecosystem in Europe, etc.

          “Plus grazers can be raised in many areas that are marginal or nonproductive for crop farming.”
          -Might be marginal for corn, but not so much for the huge list of native species and food webs already present in such places that such grazing on merely “marginal” land will displace. Seriously, cattle production comes in, and large portions of most native animals go into precipitous decline. I’ve studied it in exactly the type of situation I think you are referring to in TX.

          “So the real issue IMO is to support raising animals naturally, and buy quality rather than quantity when making your meat choices.”
          -This ecologist just can’t agree when we’re currently rapidly replacing natural environments world-wide to meet the rising demand for beef (and other meats). I would excitedly agree with you if the human population was much, much smaller (it would still take screwing up some regions of what could be natural habitat, but at least we could meet the needs of most people eating some beef etc. without using up too much land). Right now though, just the beef/meat habits of the developed world are way past sustainable on one earth – just imagine if we continue to add to the portion of humanity that can consume even close to what a “responsible conscious” westerner probably thinks is alright.

  • Teen Geek October 26, 2011, 8:51 am

    What are your thoughts on buying digital or educational products?

    I am major geek/techy and for the last few years I have been learning programming and website design, but as a teen I sometimes feel like some parts of my education are limited by not having money to spend. Between books, educational videos, training sessions, etc… there are a lot of products that I would like to buy not because it would be a “new shiny toy” but because I want to continue learning and developing my skills. I understand that some books are available at the library and that there are a lot of free resources online, but overall I believe that the quality ends up better and the coverage more complete in the higher priced products.

    Would succumbing to those sorts of desires completely defy all ideas of Mustachian Badassity or would they be more acceptable? I really am enjoying this blog and I would love to know your opinion on this.

    • MMM October 26, 2011, 10:18 am

      Nice question! I feel that investing in your own education is almost always a great idea. It’s still good to do it consciously, to get the most for your money, especially since you can learn almost everything for free with the help of the Internet (sometimes even YouTube), and the library. But formal education and books and software are still great things and they should pay off in the long run too. You are particularly lucky, since there seems to be a continuing long bright future for techies out there.

  • Paul Wylie December 9, 2011, 9:04 pm

    I keep a 30 day cool off list on my phone. If I want it – but dont need it, and its more than £5, It goes on the list. Few of the things on the list ever get bought.

    • KittyWrestler June 18, 2012, 3:42 pm

      That’s a brilliant approach mate!
      I have been practicing a “I didn’t get it” list on my phone these days.
      Anything I wanted to buy but fought the urge to buy, I list the item name and cost on my phone. By the end of month, I added up all the things I didn’t buy and throw the money at mortgage..
      last month, I had more than $500 entry in my list.. pretty sad.. but exciting as well!!

      • missj August 14, 2014, 10:02 pm

        brilliant! I am going to begin this immediately.

        I already cancelled some of my entertainment type accounts (Had Hulu Plus AND Netflix AND Amazon Prime…don’t need all 3)

        I’ve already paid off my credit cards as of last night and pledged to never carry a balance again.

        This is item #3 I am going to implement in less than 24 hours of reading this blog!


    • Natalie G September 14, 2022, 7:43 pm

      Love this blog and love this idea! Got mine started today.

  • Tim September 28, 2012, 8:18 am

    My top ten most favorite things to do:
    1. Spend time with my kids!!!
    2. Karate – $3,760 per year for the kids and I (once you pay for 2 family members the rest get in for free) – 2 times a week with one week off every quarter equals 96 times a year – times three (2 children and myself) is 288 times a year – this equals 13.05555.. Per class.
    3. Skiing – expensive with the kids (my gear is older than MMM backpack) but it’s something I think has greater value than just a day on the hill.
    4. Bike riding with and without the kids.
    5. NFL football games. I buy 2 season tickets and try to sell one for enough to cover the cost of both. I have done great in the last couple seasons I have even come out ahead.
    6. Reading MMM and MDA blogs. I’m new to MMM but I love what I see.
    7. Hiking with and without the kids
    8. Cooking new recipes.
    9. Hanging out in my back yard and read or just stare into space.
    10. Trying to figure out ways to save money and still do numbers 2 and 3. I actually do enjoy crunching numbers. For example I know I will have my credit card debt ($37,581.55) paid off in 27 months or less depending on profitability bonuses. 27 is assuming that I will get no bonuses in the next 9 quarters.

    Number 10 is probably closer to the top of the list. Maybe even number 2. I spend hours in front of my excel spreadsheet.

    Number 2 I actually go 4 to 5 times a week. To fill the time I’m not with my children. Stupid ex-wife, I want to retire early and live the good life to piss her off…..don’t get me wrong that’s just one of many reasons.

    • Everett October 25, 2013, 3:55 pm

      Tim, you obviously like crunching the numbers (shit, you have your karate costs calculated to the 1/100000 of a cent; yes the FI crowd will tell you that margins matter, but you aren’t amazon, you can just call those karate classes thirteen bucks. If the nickels matter, add them in). My point is that I used to be just like you, constantly watching the numbers and calculating wealth and returns for varying interest rates, etc. The opportunity cost of spending all that time running numbers was huge. Just sign up with Mint or a dozen other websites like it, put it on autopilot and spend more time doing what you enjoy. The real key is to figure out a way to get PAID doing what you enjoy. Ever think about joining the ski patrol? The difficulty of qualifying will very with location, but once you are on, you can ski ANYWHERE for FREE. Or work out a deal with the karate studio and teach some beginner classes. Sell beer at the stadium and take in those NFL games free (granted, you will miss all but the 4th quarter) but the key is to turn your expenses in to income. You need to know where your money is going and have a plan, but after that, don’t spend too much watching the numbers. I wasted a lot of time doing that, and time is a finite resource.

  • subramanyam October 15, 2012, 8:27 pm

    Nice to see Americans talk of reducing waste. Your portion sizes, homes, cars, are all much more than what you really ‘need’. Sad to say but the big pharma, big auto, big food, big Money, ….have mad the ordinary person a slave. Get away from your media and you will have a great life. Waste less, want less….

  • Kyrie Robinson February 12, 2013, 1:55 am

    Bread machine?? How about a bedpan & catheter to go with that.

    Get “artisan bread in 5 min per day” from the library. No fancy equipment required. My goal this year was to teach myself to make bread – I mean, how can I call myself a human being much less a cook if I can’t make BREAD? This book is terrific – you will love it.

    Sell the bread machine on Craigslist.

    • MJB November 3, 2014, 7:49 am

      FYI – The bread machine is actually a very mustachian asset, as MMM points out himself in another post. Consider the low cost of the machine, and the low time input – a win win. We use ours a couple times a month to make pizza crusts. Works great. Saves money. Saves time!

  • Ivan July 4, 2013, 3:12 pm

    Finally, a frugalist with a higher cause!

    I find that being frugal SEEMS hard at the beginning, but it’s actually very easy once you get into the habit (and you get all the financial rewards that comes with it). I used to think that being frugal means you have to cut this and give up that. But in reality, you’re not really cutting anything. Instead, you’re merely making a trade.

    Take the example of using transit to get to work instead of driving. On one hand, you’re giving up some convenience and privacy by sharing your ride with others during the rush hour. But in return, you save money, reduce pollution, and virtually eliminate the stress you would have gotten from road rage.

    For some people, this trade works. For others, perhaps not so much. That’s fine, as long as the person is making a conscious decision with their money.

    I think this blog is cool in that Mr. MMM tries to teach people that there is another way. We don’t have to buy into the consumerist mentality if we choose not to. More importantly, as Mr. MMM tries to teach us, we shouldn’t blindly follow whatever the mass media tells us to do without first thinking for ourselves what it is that we want.

  • Garrett October 17, 2013, 8:44 am

    It looks like my comment didn’t get posted for some reason. I’ll try again. I’m curious if you apply your ethics to your investing, as well. Do you, for instance, buy stock in oil companies or weapon manufacturers or companies that use sweatshop labor (Nike) or companies that profit off of child slaves (Nestle)?

    Or are you only ethical when it’s convenient to be?

    • Mr. Money Mustache October 17, 2013, 8:57 am

      A frequently asked question indeed.

      I do buy the whole index which means owning all stocks. Not because I agree with every business practice of every company, but because I can more efficiently do good if I apply my time in more direct activities (fir example promoting energy efficiency or philanthropy), instead of watching over every board meeting of every company. Thanks for the reminder, I’ve never written an article about this specifically and it could bring out some good discussion.

      • Garrett October 17, 2013, 7:59 pm

        Couldn’t you engage in what you term “direct activities” *and* not contribute to horrifically unethical companies? You might have a tough time making a lot of money (which is merely a social construct with no intrinsic value anyway) by avoiding those stocks, but I figure ethics should trump personal profit.

        • Jake F. September 20, 2014, 1:11 pm

          With the People’s Climate March happening tomorrow and Naomi Klein’s new book just released, I think it would be timely to see an article like “MMM divests from fossil fuels,” or maybe, “MMM punches fossil fuel companies in the face.”

          I can’t be the only one looking for a little guidance in ethical investing and some kick-ass motivation to do it. Hell, with your weight, MMM, Vanguard might even put together a new socially/environmentally responsible fund just for Mustachians. They’ll name it whatever you want. Hordes of us will quickly move our money. The companies that didn’t make the cut will cry briefly, then jump on the mustachian-mandated bandwagon. Future generations will cheer as they exit the womb and find themselves on a healthy, badass utopia planet.

          While I may have gotten carried away there, I think that this move would have a bigger positive impact at this point in the blog’s history than any other new or revisited topic, globally speaking. Your audience trusts you, and for good reason. You’d certainly take some flak, but you don’t need me to tell you that. For the record, I think you totally rock!

          • Trifele September 21, 2014, 4:53 am


        • Janne August 25, 2017, 2:10 pm

          Owning a stock bought from the stock market doesn’t really contribute to the company in any way. The company got their money when they first issued new stock, but after that the company is just paying dividends to whoever happens to currently own the stock. The company would actually benefit if the stock was not owned by anyone, because they’d have to pay out less money. I think that the best place for money coming from unethical companies is in the hands of ethical people.

          • Darren August 26, 2017, 3:01 pm


            This is and isn’t true. As you say, a share doesn’t know/care who owns it and hence it isn’t an explicit endorsement to own shares in a company.
            And, as you say, taking dividends and directing them to an ethical purpose could offset their origin if need be. However, these arguments are only valid after the transaction occurs. There is more nuance to the discussion at the moment of buying shares in a company. For one, some companies issue equity to fund ongoing operations. Hence the higher price (spurred by demand, i.e. investors buying stock) the more money to the company for fixed amount of dilution. So, in a very real and direct way, buying stock in a drilling/exploration oil company could lead to more drilling/exploration for oil. Furthermore, higher ups in a company frequently have both bonuses/options tied heavily to the stock price. Hence, buying stock in a company is a tacit vote of support for the CEO/board of directors/others as buying increases the stock price.

  • Rica July 29, 2016, 8:10 pm

    Thank you for this article MMM! I totally agree with you, we have seriously f*cked the planet. I will definitely saving and sharing this entry. My husband lives and breathes the frugal lifestyle so he’ll probably gloat when I send this to him. Good luck and enjoy retirement!

  • Marushka November 9, 2016, 11:35 pm

    I am Australian and my husband and I (57 & 52) are mortgage free, live in a lovely energy-efficient house planned extremely well to maximise light and save energy. (Placement of the house on the block in relation to the sun, lots of large double glazed windows, designed for solar gain in winter from the tiled (not carpeted) floor, solar panels, solar hot water, good air flow to clear out any hot air at the end of a summer day…).

    We have about $26,000 income a year which isn’t enough for our expenses, so is supplemented each year with a withdrawal from my husband’s super. (Health expenses alone last year were well over $7000).

    The problem is that my husband’s super isn’t enough to last us into old age if we keep on withdrawing at the rate we are now – nowhere near enough. I am working on an income and hope that I can soon start making some money. I hate to say it, it seems so cliché, but I am building a website. Not a blog, but a lot of information and tutorials (for which I am creating all the illustrations from scratch) on a niche subject (which of course I am passionate about). It’s taking me a long time because there’s a lot of content. Hopefully up April next year. I only need to earn enough to pay the bills…. If that doesn’t work, well, I’ll have to try something else.

    Back in 2011, we lived in inner-city Sydney, earning $150,000+ between us, with a $330,000 mortgage. We had a car (we do still have a car and need a car) and lots of credit card debt. My husband was made redundant and I was sick on and off with flare-ups of my auto-immune condition, and in the end, could only work part-time. In 2012 we sold up in Sydney, moved 1400 kms away (about 850 miles)) to a small country town. That was so we could be mortgage free and also live only an hour’s drive from an large hospital with a good outpatient Rheumatology clinic (smaller and regional hospitals don’t have Rheumatologists).

    My husband’s family thought we were crazy and would regret our move, as we would never be able to afford to buy back in to Sydney’s real estate market, and we wouldn’t be able to earn anywhere near what we could in Sydney.

    I remember trying to explain to one of my husband’s relatives that working full-time at a stressful job to earn the money to pay for an expensive annual overseas holiday to relax and get over that stressful job just didn’t make sense to me. (Note: Here in Australia we get four weeks paid leave, plus if you’ve been in the job over 10 years you also get additional long service leave, so you might have six weeks leave a year. These relative often go overseas for 3 or 4 weeks, and even go twice a year). Why not forgo the overseas holiday, work less and be less stressed, and spend time playing the guitar, walking, reading, studying…?

    We haven’t regretted the move and the down-scaled lifestyle for a second. Best decision we ever made!
    I found MMM’s blog in 2013, about 18 months after we moved, and was so pleased……

  • Anonymous November 6, 2017, 10:50 am

    I too, have a 1999 backpack. My former business partner used to make fun of it and was constantly on my a$$ to get something like a TUMI backpack. Needless to say, we are no longer business partners. I though about retiring it in 2019, but I don’t know if I’ll be able to emotionally do it.

    Onto the next article on your new super duper app as I wait for my flight.

  • wolfgang March 4, 2018, 5:20 am

    Higher Cause – Favorite Things & Useful Activities FREE
    Sound advice MMM (as always!) Agree with those of you who submitted a list. Most of mine are included in them but would like to add another activity under “free cool stuff” I don’t think I saw mentioned. – that great American institution the Public Library. No need to buy books via Amazon as 99% are already available for FREE. Also, our library has lots of evening adult talks/presentations and an there’s almost unlimited number of kids activities scheduled. I’m pretty sure yours does too. Plus its our tax dollars spent in a good way.
    Learning new stuff and being intellectually inspired = happiness.

  • Yanis June 28, 2018, 7:38 am

    My list has so far grown to 7 activities that make me happy – and all those activities involve spending more time with family members. I am going to have the husband write up a list too, and hopefully encourage him to save more money and to put more into his retirement account. I also love the fact that you mentioned food consumption in your previous post. The food we eat has a dramatic impact on our planet. I watched the documentary What the Health, and I also follow many vegans on Instagram. Those Instagram followers, plus the many documentaries I often see, encourage me to eat less meat. I did not realize how purchasing new items affected the planet, but it makes sense. Thank you for spreading your message!

  • Wendy March 26, 2019, 11:57 am

    Some of my favourite free and cheap activities:

    Going to an old abandoned apple orchard with my family and filling bags with apples and blackberries
    Sharing a tasty apple crumble that the whole family earned together!
    Walking in the beautiful hills near my home
    Relearning how to hula hoop like I did when I was a kid
    Reading a book with my son that I probably wouldn’t have picked myself because it’s a kids’ book
    Making a quilt out of old shirts then snuggling up with it when it’s cold


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