A Brief History of the ‘Stash: How we Saved from Zero to Retirement in Nine Years

I have been asked many times to provide some more gritty details on how I became Mr. Money Mustache at such an early age. Commenters and email writers have asked me to provide Salaries and Savings amounts through the years, as well as describe any windfalls or unusual maneuvers that made it all possible.

I have hesitated to share the details until this point, mostly because I didn’t keep a written record through the years and it seemed pretty complicated and imprecise in my mind. Also, it’s embarrassing to walk around in your monetary underwear in front of thousands of people. But fuck it, many financial bloggers have graphs of their net worth right on the front page, so the least Mr. M. can do is provide a vague summary of some ancient history.

And for my own benefit, it is worth sorting things out just for the record, so doubters can be convinced, voyeurs can be entertained, and aspiring Mustachians can compare their own progress. So here it is, my best effort at retelling the story. From the fresh-faced new graduate in the earliest days of the Internet,  right up to the leathery and bossy carpenter with grey hairs in his beard that types for you today.

Year 0 (1997): The Full-time working career begins. Mr. Money Mustache has just finished a grueling computer engineering degree and is now ready to party. He gets right to work in early May, skipping even the University graduation ceremony because he does’t want to miss any work (he had already moved to a new city 300 miles away from the university).
Age: 22
Starting Salary: $41,000.
Student Loans: Zero – due to low spending, about $10k of help from parents and scholarships, and good high school and summer jobs.
But also absolutely ZERO net worth. No bank balances, never owned a car, just a bike, a backpack, and a diploma.

Year 1: In this first year I foolishly started out by buying a  3-years-new 1994 Ford Probe GT sports car for $16,000 with tax.  And I borrowed money from my older sister to do it (what a clueless young man!!!). It took most of the first year to pay off that loan. I also flaunted my new salary around town with frequent bar-and-restaurant-hopping, purchases of computer equipment and furniture, accessories for my car, and a trip to a resort in Mexico. Fortunately, I did enroll in my employer’s retirement savings plan.  I also worked like a crazy company slave, enjoying weekends and late evenings in the office. Because of this, and a rising tech market in general, I got a raise to $57,600 at some point in the first year,  resulting in a Year 1 ‘Stash: $5000 (in a retirement account).

Year 2: Through both of these first two years, I lived with roommates by sharing a series of nice houses, which we called Nuthouse 1, 2, and 3. The rent averaged about $350 per month, plus some negligible share of utilities. With the unnecessarily expensive car paid off and the higher salary, I was able to save more: $5000 into the retirement account, $3000 into an employee stock purchase plan, and $10000 in cash. Year 2 ‘Stash: $23,000 ($13k cash/shares, $10k retirement).

Year 3: This was late 1999, and both the job and stock markets were on fire. I got a new job and moved to the United States for a salary of $77,000. I drove the ol’ Probe GT down to Boulder, Colorado, and used the local newspaper to find another nice roommate situation, so my rent was only $400/month. I decided to buy a house – but was disappointed to learn that I would need $47,000 in cash for a downpayment on a starter home, which would cost a minimum of $235,000. I cashed out the stock purchase plan shares from year 2, which were now worth $10k, and saved up a few of my new higher paychecks. After a few months in the new job, I had the $47k downpayment. By that May, I closed out the year by moving into my first house. Year 3 ‘Stash: 67k ($47k home equity, $10k retirement, $10k cash).

Year 4: At this point, my future wife finally graduated from her longer and more meandering education up in Canada and decided to join me in Boulder. She drove down in her 1993 Civic hatchback, and hunted for a job. She found one for $44,000. And I was recruited to another nearby high tech company for the ridiculous salary of $83,000. Now things were getting crazy in the income department, although we weren’t thinking about early retirement yet. During vacations, we toured much of the US including Hawaii, and took a trip to Australia and New Zealand at some point too. I saved 20% of my salary into the 401K and got a $5k match from the company, as did the girlfriend. We both started Vanguard accounts to capture any extra cash. We also made some extra mortgage payments occasionally. Year 4 ‘Stash: $150k

Year 5: We were still hard-working Career Beaks at this point, so we both scored raises. I earned $100k including company bonuses, and she earned $60k. I was also working heavily on the house renovations this year. We hosted many great parties at that house, and life was grand. This year, I foolishly took a $10,000 step backwards by buying a brand-new motorcycle with some of my easy-earned cash. But the investment gains on stocks started accumulating, adding about $10k to our earnings this year. So we still ended up increasing the savings by close to $100k after tax. Year 5 ‘Stash: $250k.

Year 6: Salary went up slightly because of an unexpected company bonus, and girlfriend earned a raise to $65k as well. AND, we didn’t buy anything silly this year. In fact, I finally wised up and sold my car, and we became a one-car couple. I didn’t miss the second car for a moment. Investment gains on the existing savings contributed another $20k. It is complicated to remember what portion of income was taxable salary, and what was non-taxable gains inside of retirement accounts and such. But a reasonable estimate of the total is Year 6 ‘Stash: $365k.

Year 7: No increases in salary, but similar amazing earnings and moderate spending, combined with $30k of investment gains. Year 7 ‘Stash: $490k.

Year 8: A raise to $70k for the now-wife(!). Meanwhile, I actually switched to 4-day-per-week work this year in exchange for a 20% pay cut – my first test of the waters of early retirement. But it was still a bumper year for me due to cashing out stock options, stock purchase plan, and annual bonus. My earnings must have been something crazy like $125k this year. Investment gains $40k. Year 8 ‘Stash: $600k.

Year 9: I quit my job!!! And I start a small house-building company as a semi-retirement job. It earns me about $50k in the first year, and wife still works for part of this year until the baby comes, earning $60k. In addition, we move to a new town and buy a cheaper house, renting out the first house for a very high positive cashflow due to a low mortgage and its increased value.  At this point in the accounting, we will add in the appreciation of this house – which is about $100,000 after subtracting for the cost of the materials I used to renovate it. About $50,000 of this was due to market appreciation, and 50k due to renovation appreciation. Investment gains continued at about $35k. Year 9 ‘Stash: $720k.

Sometime during Year 9, we declared ourselves as “Retired!”, as we quit full-time work to care for the baby. The rent from the previous house was more than covering the mortgages on both houses. However, part-time work also trickled in after the first few months of baby raising. Eventually we moved one more time to our current house and had two rentals. Eventually both rentals were sold and the gains were put elsewhere. And I became even wiser and sold my motorcycle, to free up both cash and garage space for my greater love: my workshop. Year 10 ‘Stash: 800k or so

Mixed in with those later years, but left out for clarity, was this house-building business of mine. It was a firecracker of success in the first year, then a firehose of disaster in the second year. I’ll save the details for another time, but the end result is happy.. I’m just stuck with one newly-built house that is tying up a certain percentage of our retirement savings, while yielding a nice $2400 in monthly rent. Nowadays I do not build full houses and try to sell them – I closed the old company and the Mrs. and I started a cozy new two-person company that does whatever we want it to do. Custom renovations and finish work only for local, nice people on my side, and Real-estate sales for local, nice people on her side. This low-stress career agrees very well with us, and keeps me from sitting on the couch typing to YOU all day.

Some people will say, “But Wait! You just said you still work sometimes! That’s not retirement!”. To these people, I can only say, “You’ll see”. Because when you quit your corporate job, you end up with even more energy, which means you want to do more stuff! If some of this stuff happens to earn you money, so be it.

I define us as Retired, because that is a novel word to throw around for those under 50 that sounds much more interesting than “Financially Independent”. Also, the cashflow from investments is much higher than our spending.. so work is only done for fun and on our own terms. For example, this year I stopped taking on carpentry work altogether for most of the year and just started typing this blog and doing other unpaid work like school volunteering. Other years, I may accidentally earn hundreds of thousands of additional dollars by starting another company. Who knows!? Even then, Mr. Money Mustache will still be retired, so there.

Since year 10, several more years have passed, and because the rental house pays all bills and we still do some work on the side when the boy is in school, the investment gains and income have just been building on themselves. We also paid off the mortgage on the primary house.

So.. even if we refuse to let ourselves do any more enjoyable part-time work from this point onwards, at some time in our lives we will either have to drastically increase our spending, or more likely, do some generous and worthwhile things with the surplus money to put it to good use.

Isn’t that weird? That I would rather give money away completely, than spend it to hire a bunch of guys with noisy gas mowers and leaf blowers to cut my lawn for me every week so I could sit inside and watch them? Yes, folks, I point this out to show how frugality can grow on you, to the point that you’d rather live an efficient and self-sufficient life even if money were not an object.

I’m sure the questions will come about where these investment gains came from (I don’t remember exactly, but I do remember doing a bit of accelerated buying of the S&P500 during the big tech recession in the early 2000s, as well as a few buy/sells of Cisco stock when it went down to $7 and subsequently recovered to $30). Most of it was just plain old dollar-cost-averaging and dividends. And the amount saved from capital gains is still small compared to the amount saved from old-fashioned not-buying-things. The fundamentals of this plan mostly involved the two of us living on a shared $30-40k of spending money per year, including housing costs, and saving the rest. The biggest single factor producing this low living cost was probably deciding to live close to work and not commute excessively by car.

Other people will scoff at the high salaries involved, compared to the US median level. I won’t deny that – we had it easy, which is why we retired in our early thirties. But many people I currently know earn much more than us, and software engineering salaries are much higher than they were when I quit. I may have lucked out on the tech boom, but people working in high-tech today are lucking out even more. Yet many of these people don’t even own their cars, let alone their financial future. So I still think it is worthwhile sharing these details. More normal salaries, of course, would require some adjustment to this plan. You might decide to settle down in a house that costs less than the $400,000 that is tied up unproductively in my current house, for example. Or you might decide to work as late as 40 or even 45! But in almost any middle-income situation, retirement is something that can be earned drastically earlier than age 60-65, if you start early enough.

 * Photo: the spiral stairs leading to a third-floor loft on one of those houses I built. Photo credit goes to friend Intiaz Rahim who whipped up a very fine series of pics during a visit in 2010.

  • SEVY March 4, 2014, 10:58 pm

    I’m a new follower and have started all your posts from the beginning. After reading this post all I can say is BRAVO to you. I love the fact you put it all out there for all to see. I see to many posts, friends and even family members piss and moan about why they can’t get ahead as they drive away in there $40k car. With your higher salary you can get there faster than most but we can all get it done. I have to admit I only have a A.A. But that didn’t stop the wife and I from from being debt free and mailing in our last mortgage payment!

  • LAL March 5, 2014, 10:13 am

    MMM did you ever write a breakdown post of how you organized your retirement portofolio? What percentage retirement accounts, taxable, housing?

  • Jennifer April 19, 2014, 12:47 am

    Hi MMM, Mrs MM and Junior MM (tickle)

    I can’t believe people are still posting to this original 2011 article!! It’s great!

    In 2011, this article caused my brain to reshuffle, the bike got dusted off and your principles/preachings/cussing/humour/proddings/goadings were all taken on board.

    Fast forward to 2014 and my net worth has gone up $300k!! WooHoo!

    I hope you wear a big red cape and your undies on the outside because you’re bloody entitled to!

    • Mr. Money Mustache April 19, 2014, 7:40 am

      Wow, congratulations Jennifer! Now we’ll just have to discuss my customary 10% fee … ;-)

      Yeah, I encourage people not to pay attention to the date of the articles – there is nothing that makes a current article any more comment-worthy than an older one, and they all get seen by many people each day, because of search engines bringing people in, and the steady stream of slightly crazy people that read through everything from the beginning.

      • Oh Yonghao May 19, 2014, 5:55 pm

        Yup, another slightly crazy here, started reading through from the beginning last month. :-D It’s great to see you still reply to older articles. See you next week in Portland.

        • ov November 30, 2014, 12:39 am

          Same here. A friend innocently shared http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/the-lending-club-experiment/ with me when I happened to ask about people’s experiences with lending club. Then I spent a full 48 h0urs reading posts (the interlinking between post is very addicting!).

          Now I’ve spent the past month or two gradually working my way from the beginning. At some point a week or two ago I realized that the comments actually add a lot of value and entertainment too. Worth it even though it makes each post take considerably longer to read.

      • Whiskers November 30, 2014, 7:07 pm

        Hi MMM, another crazy here! Found your blog through The Billfold a few weeks ago and obsessively reading through every post from the beginning.

        I already had the natural proclivity towards savings and I’m quite frugal by the average consumer standards, but I never saw it quite in the “big-picture”, FI terms you put it here. It’s blowing my mind! Plus I haven’t invested my savings – just sitting in a bank account, earning 4% interest (in NZ).

        I am loving your blog and your writing. My own modest success at putting your ideas into action began last week: I walked the 14km roundtrip to work instead of driving. Can’t wait to start watching my ‘Stash grow exponentially :)

  • Larissa May 4, 2014, 8:50 pm

    Hi MMM,

    I am one of the steady stream of slighly crazy people that read through everything from the begining.

    I’m from Brazil and I found out about your blog last week. Since then, I cant stop reading it. I identified myself with you, because I’ve always liked economy, saving money, and so on, but hate corporate jobs. For instance, I cut my own hair, do my nails (although you and the Mrs. dont), have a 2005 Honda, avoid spending unnecessary money even if it’s cheap, unless I need it etc.

    Although this was the first thing I read about your blog, as it was copied on the site I read about you, now I am back to it , from reading every article of yours from the first one.

    What really got my attention was that my savings are really alike yours, as much as my wage. I must say that the dollar is a bit more than twice the value of the Real (Brazilian money) and I am not counting that, for one reason: I will spend my money in Real, as I retire. Looking back, as I actually have everything on an excel document, I was instinctively saving more than 65% of my salary and, adding the interests, about 75%. My wage it is also considered above the average, but it is not hard to beat at all with a university degree.

    I am planing to have a bit less than you and the Mrs. in order to retire, since I cant take corporate job any longer. I am making myself stay until march/16 (by 7,5 years working there), when I will hopefully have 476,000.00 plus an apartment paid about 20% off. However, with your help, making me even more frugal, I hope to have the apartment paid at 30-40%. All this with no family or partner money, as I am single. Not to mention the money I gave it away for my family well being. Like you said previously, being frugal doesn’t mean not helping others, especially family.

    You are a terrific writer and you ant the Mrs. seem very nice people. Congratulations for it all and thank you for this great blog.

  • Ben May 6, 2014, 6:55 am

    I am slightly confused, do you include the value of your house in your stash amount? Would one try to have a paid off house AND 25 x yearly expenses, or 25x yearly expenses including the house value?

    • Mr. Money Mustache May 6, 2014, 8:01 am

      The quick answer is No, you don’t include the value of your primary house in that “25 times expenses” calculation.

      But the more accurate answer is that it’s actually the same thing: if you have a mortgage (or rent a place) instead of owning a house, your annual expenses will be higher. So you’ll need more invested in stocks or other income producers to pay for your lifestyle. You’ll need 25 times this total expense to fund the lifestyle.

      If you transfer some money to pay off your house, then you have less income generation, but you also have no monthly payments. Now you need 25 times the lower cash outlay in income-producing assets.

      For my own lifestyle, I need a paid-off house, PLUS 25 times my expenses in other investments (25 x 25,000 = $625k) to be financially independent. Got both of those covered plus a nice safety margin, so we are all set.

      Either strategy will work.

      • Jekkoh January 10, 2015, 10:19 am

        Hi MMM,

        Long time listener, first time caller.

        Would you mind expliciting the stash numbers for us as I believe you integrated home equity in some stash numbers ( y3) and phased it out in later stash numbers? I’m in agreement with what you explained above – Just unclear as to the effect of this transition on the numbers you posted.

        Many thanks!


  • shaurz May 30, 2014, 8:58 am

    Whoa, you were earning 25% more (or 36% inflation adjusted) in 1999 than I earn now in 2014 in the same field (and that’s after 5 years in the industry). And I guess you probably had a much lower tax burden than here in the UK. You were doing insanely well early on despite the unfortunate car purchase (at least I didn’t make that mistake!) I wish I had discovered this ER/FI stuff 5 years ago, unfortunately I have been a spendthrift and only started a pension plan last year (still kicking myself about that considering the company I work for provides a generous 7.5% match). I have been lucky to do well on some company shares so I have managed to ‘stash £25K in an investment account and £9K in my pension (just recently increased my contribution to 22.5% of my salary to make up for lost time). I guess there’s always someone else doing better or worse than yourself. I’m glad to have finally finished paying off my student loan this month even though I could have easily paid it off a few years ago with extra payments. I’ve been selling off a lot of the stuff I bought in the hopes of recouping some of the lost money over the years of my eBay addiction.

    • LoneStarStateWorkerBee September 9, 2014, 12:36 pm


      You’re right – there’s always someone doing better/worse than you and it can be frustrating if you focus on the former. My fiancee and I are basically in the same position that Mr and Ms MM were in at Year 9 of this story, and we currently have good incomes. As a 35 year old attorney, I do get mad at myself for not being closer to Brave New Life levels of net worth (I estimate his family has at least 1.5M USD,based on his posts) because frugality didn’t kick in for me until a few years ago. But when I step back and look at the big picture, the picture still looks pretty good.

      Now as I face the prospect of work drying up at my firm, I can take solace in the fact that I am protected – my net worth is 6 times what it was 5 years ago, not because I invested in the stock market, but because I changed my spending habits. Now is a great time for you to change! Keep at it and in 5 years you’ll be thanking yourself every day for the freedom you’ve bought.

    • ukMM July 26, 2018, 4:54 pm

      As a fellow UK software engineer I’m earning more than MMM was. I suggest you negotiate a higher salary. Maybe watch some of Ramit Sethi’s YouTube videos about salary negotiation, and switch jobs a few times. Your salary is determined by your negotiation skills, not your coding skills.

  • Aaron November 28, 2014, 4:12 pm

    So I’ve spent the last few hours reading post after post, and find it inspiring, but definitely do not seem to enjoy the income levels everyone else here has. How do you connect these dots if your current situation’s earning potential is $13/hour? I went into cooking and spent many years and long long hours chasing dreams and kept hitting glass ceilings. This situation is what lead me to the MMM blog and I particularly like your quote saying (paraphrasing) “Don’t spend like a poor person, spend like nothing you could buy could make you happier.”

  • Steve Adcock December 21, 2014, 8:16 am

    Your early days are almost exactly similar to mine. I graduated college and started working with a nice salary and immediately bought a car – a used Corvette convertible that, unfortunately, probably took $150,000 in eventual retirement out of my hands. At the time, of course, retirement wasn’t really one of my concerns so the purchase did not bother me.

    Now, I’m on the 7-year plan, hopefully retiring by 40.

  • Gen Y Finance Guy January 8, 2015, 6:10 pm

    I wish I would had found your blog a long time ago. I probably would had made some of the moves I have made in the last year a lot sooner. This past year my wife and I decided to do things differently and move out of Orange County to a simpler and richer life. We were able to buy a house that was 4X the size and half the money. I think all in all we have been able to maintain our lifestyle while spending $3,000 less a month. We have a plan to have the mortgage paid off in 7 years (the stretch goal is 5 years).

    We have been very financially responsible, but realized that we could had made some decisions that would had put us further along towards “early retirement”. To me retirement is the option to work, it doesn’t mean I will stop working. But based on our goals we should be there before we are 35…but if we started what we are doing now right out of college, we could had been there by the time we were 30. But hindsight is always 20/20.

    Glad I found your blog. It is awesome and gives me inspiration for my blog that I started late last year. I am still finding my way, but I have some big ideas for it in the near future.


  • Lonestarstateworkerbee February 21, 2015, 6:42 pm

    What a difference this article made in my life when I read it a couple of years ago. I was an unhappy lawyer planning to drain my savings for a trip back to school (for medicine) because I thought I needed a new career to make me happier. Reading this blog, and this article in particular, changed all that. I started thinking about all the things my wife and I could do if we had financial security before a traditional retirement age. Fast forward to now, and I just quit my job with no immediate plans! My wife plans to work until we have kids – her job gives great insurance. But otherwise, we are there. I’m busy wondering what I’d like to do with no regard for what kind of income it might generate. I’m working on teaching myself to code (through code academy and coursera), gardening more, and thinking about eventually working at a nonprofit or starting my own firm. The possibilities seem wide open!

    • Kevin March 24, 2015, 4:21 am

      I’m a student at Berkeley and they have a great computer science program. I know coursera and edX have a lot of courses from a lot of universities but Berkeley has a bunch of CS and electrical engineering subjects and resources available online (I don’t ever go to class except for tests, lol). Here’s a link to all their courses, http://www-inst.eecs.berkeley.edu/classes-eecs.html. The archives give all the semesters the classes were taught (not all have webpages) so you can get a full array of homeworks, projects, tests, etc. To begin for coding, you can do the 61 series (61A then 61B then 61c). John Denero and Dan Garcia are great intuitive professors, in case you were looking at what classes to look into.

      Anyway that’s a lot of info on a comment to a comment of a four year old article. Hopefully you had the Notify me of follow-up comments box checked. Your comment is recent enought that I feel like I might not entirely be talking to myself…maybe.

  • Kevin March 24, 2015, 4:02 am

    Rereading these articles years after having first learned their lessons (thanks to a chance link from Lifehacker in 2011*) gives me an opportunity to enjoy my new perspective. Like how can people seriously accuse you of being ultra frugal? You state in this article you both lived on 30-40k a year. How is that ultra frugal? I know you have written about this in later articles but, seriously, if critics were going to take anything away from this story it should be how easy it is to retire in a decade. That this lifestyle is denounced as some kind of frugality fetish shows the level people will stoop to maintain our consumer culture.

    *Seriously I owe Lifehacker and MMM big for that. First found this blog in my freshman year of college when I was 20k in debt (I started college at 25). Graduating this May with 25k ready for down payment on a fixer-upper when I move for my new job. Sidenote – complainypants beware: you can still get a great job with a college degree and you can even SAVE 45 grand in the process.

    **I like your footnotes… consider them stoled

    • Lynne January 7, 2016, 12:52 pm

      I know, right? THIS ISN’T ULTRA FRUGAL, PEOPLE. This level of spending gets you a moderate, normal middle class life. It’s not even hard. You have to get much closer to Jacob at ERE’s budget to be ultra frugal. :)

      My sister thinks an income of $24K a year, which is what I’m aiming to have enough investments to support, isn’t enough. Um…I live a comfy middle class life on a fair bit less than that *now*; it seems quite luxurious to me (especially since this would be like magical money I don’t even have to work for!)

      She probably thinks I’m ultra frugal too. Pfffft. I live alone, in a two bedroom condo far larger than any one person needs…enough said. :P

  • Paul July 29, 2015, 6:56 pm

    I don’t understand how you managed to save $100,000 in year 5.
    You and your wife earned a combined $160,000 including bonuses.
    Your $10k motorcycle purchase canceled out the $10k you made in the stock market.

    After taxes (assuming a 40% tax rate), you were left with $100,000 of the $160,000 you earned.
    How did you save 100% of your after-tax income?

    • Mr. Money Mustache July 30, 2015, 9:17 am

      Hi Paul,

      I probably need to make this into a spreadsheet to make it all clearer. But US overall tax rates on a couple in this income range are nowhere near 40%.. probably closer to 15%. You might be confusing marginal tax rate (we were probably in roughly a 25% bracket) with overall tax, which is progressive starting at zero on the first big chunk of income.

  • Newtothis August 10, 2015, 11:06 am

    I am new to your blog as of July 2015 and am learning a lot, and loving it. When you mention “We both started Vanguard accounts to capture any extra cash.” – can you be more specific about which type of Vanguard Account? Also, if I’m further along in my career but still want to retire in 10 years, which one would be best for me? I’m looking for a between “cash-earning-nothing” and “401K that I can’t touch yet” stopgap, that I could also potentially draw from for an emergency fund.
    Thank you MMM!

  • Sara August 19, 2015, 3:39 pm

    It seems that much of your success came from investments and return on investments (your rental properties), is that fair to say? Can I suceed without those? I now recognize my debt emergency and am working at paying it off but even after that, I am not sure I can have nearly the sucess you have had without those. I am going through all your posts for a way to get started. I wish there was a diagram! I am new to this blog but have already recommended it to all my friends. I want to shave 10 years off my retirement. I hope this is possible…..thanks for all the tips!

  • Adam September 16, 2015, 11:37 am

    Inspiring post, MMM! I am very late to discovering your blog, but I have been reading from the beginning to catch up (still in 2011 though, yikes!). I am a career changer, and I unfortunately am starting from an older age than normal (32) for my field (which required a doctorate). I am earning about $50k after taxes, and my aggressive goal is to save $1000 out of every paycheck (I get them every two weeks) and then try to live below even the remaining amount so that I can push that minimum of $26k to hopefully $30k/yr if possible.

    Most of my early priority is paying off my student loans (about $55k), but I will be working out my frugality muscles hard over the next few years to get out from under that debt. Fortunately, I do have a $46k Roth IRA from my previous job in my 20s, so I’m nearly “worth nothing” (ha ha).

    My goal is going to be to “retire” by age 45 (working further only if I want to, and then probably part-time if at all). I am hoping $30k/yr will get me there, and potential raises over the next 10+ years could help since 100% of that will just go into building the Stache. I love minimalistic living, which to me still feels luxurious, and I thank you personally for this extraordinarily inspiring blog!

  • Mark LeGear November 30, 2015, 8:45 am

    Great post MMM. I am a working professional and currently gross about 85000 dollars. I sadly have not had my eyes opened until my early 30’s but have a plan to retire (well mostly retire) by 50. I work as a physiotherapist and really love my job and likely will continue working in some capacity until I can no longer. However, living on less aligns with my core and I am enjoying it more than I could ever believe. I have just started following your blog but have literally completely changed my life in so many ways. The great thing is that I also got my brother and his wife on board and they have also made some great positive change.

    Thank you :)

  • JD February 22, 2016, 3:36 pm

    Well, this was enlightening. Pardon my skepticism but no wonder you could pull this off.

    I’m ten years out of college, making $45k a year and seemingly unhirable to every company in my city…

  • Julie August 2, 2016, 9:15 am

    I love your blog! I am a recent graduate making right under $50,000 as a logistics analyst, but I am looking to go back to school or a coding bootcamp or get a software engineer apprenticeship to get into DevOps. I currently save about 40% of my pay (35% in 403b, the rest in savings). I know that switching careers will create a big salary dip for my year or two of “education” but I really think it will pay off in the long run. Plus, I really enjoy programming! Do you still do any programming? Also have you heard of any coding bootcamps/Do you think they are valuable?

  • kindoflost August 8, 2016, 4:44 pm

    I’d be curious to know the IRA/Taxed breakdown of that year-10 stash. I am very close to match it but with most in IRA and Roth. How would I convert that into money I can spend? Been reading/learning about the 72t/SEPP and IRA to Roth ladder. You may have touched on those… I am 5 years behind on the reading!

  • Konrad August 10, 2016, 2:01 am

    The concept of thinking is nice.
    But as someone who has just started with his first job just above the average income I dont really see the likelyhood of being able to follow your path.

    I mean, common, who on earth just “gets” a 39% raise in the first year.
    Sure thing, Germany is different to US and M.Sc. in renewable energy might not be as worthy as computer engineering but simple as it is the salaries your stating here seem insanely high for me.

  • Chris August 10, 2016, 9:53 am

    What you’ve accomplished is certainly impressive. I also had some minor questions about investments, but everyone is going to have winners and losers in their portfolio over a long enough time frame. It’s more important to simply have the portfolio and actively contribute to it. Your plan is basically what financial planners have preached for a couple of decades, but significantly ramping up savings to shorten the timeframe. You did have a tremendous advantage in terms of household income. While there’s many tech people earning more than you did, your combined income still put you into the top 5-10% of US households.

    Have you ever calculated or published how much of the stash came from direct contributions (savings) or earned income (flipping) or buy/hold real estate vs. investment returns? Ten years is a such a short timeframe, I would expect the large majority was contributed directly. At 8% returns, you’d have to contribute over $5K monthly for ten years to come pretty close to a million dollar investment portfolio with $600K coming from direct contributions.

    However, you have investment properties which significantly changes things. Few households in the bottom 90% can save $5K net monthly for ten years regardless of income vs. expenses. I don’t think even your household (Top 10%) quite accomplished that feat. If the $1M in ten years was done with significant help from owning a few houses along the way, that’s something you should talk about in more detail for other people trying to follow in your footsteps. Since you talk about most of the investment dollars going into plain, ol’ reliable index funds and dividend stocks, it seems like a significant portion of the stash came through real estate inveseting. That’s an approach possible for most households – unlike savings $5K monthly for a decade.

    Inspiring blog, Mr. MM!

  • Neil August 16, 2016, 3:08 pm

    It has been a year and a half since i started following your ways. Jan 12, 2015 to be exact. It is crazy to look back and see how i started with zero and now I am at

    40K Equity, 10k cash, 10k retirement. This is all CAD dollars though. I wish i started earlier Im 27 and feel I have a long way to go.

  • Maria September 1, 2016, 10:52 am

    When I started reading this I thought it’s a story about average people or may be average poor people like me who made it. It seems more like a fairy tale of 2 people who had more than a great start in life. At age 22 when I had no money and was living in a poor country with a job for 200$ per month (yes that’s real this is how much we get in Eastern Europe). So at that point you already had somebody give 10 000$ in retirement and the chance to graduate with a nice computer degree diploma. I moved to USA at age 25 with 0$ and 0$ help. I had to work 2 jobs with no days off for the amount of 600$ per week. Now after 5 years I thought I have made a success with my amazing 1000$ per week salary. I’m trying to save 50$ of it, which is hard because of all the payments and expenses we have. My question is do you know how a person like me who has no help from parents (actually I am helping them now) can make it to retire early. That would be a real challenge. Your start is great I’m happy for you but not all of us can afford this start. If we could we probably wouldn’t be readying this blog now.. I’ll appreciate any help and advice from you! Thank you!

  • Dividend Family Guy September 12, 2016, 7:56 am

    Hey MMM,
    Just wanted to say your writing has been an inspiration to me to change my life. Also I will teach my kids not to be consumers but producers in society. Keep at it as your work is bettering the world one Jr. MMM at a time.
    DFG (Mark).

  • Mr. Baby smooth facial skin January 6, 2017, 9:32 am

    this comment section of this post probably got messier than I think it needed to be. To me, your point, MMM, could not have been clearer and can I just say the following:

    mr and mrs MM – you guys (despite being on higher salaries than I ever dream to be on) are a true inspiration to me.

    I’m from London, a year out of uni with a Master debt of £3k, other debt of £4k and £3k of assets (FTSE100 mostly).

    I am 24 years old and started reading this blog from the beginning last month. My girlfriend (who has more facial hair than me*) and I are avid fans of the MMM way of life and the posts give us fuel for many a fantasy on financial independence.

    Hopefully over the course of the next year, I can change that net worth from -£4k to something more stubbly. We aim to have full on Gandalf/Dumbledore/Merlin beards by the time we are 40 (16 years away, as we have not yet bought a house).

    Please keep this blog going – as it is a source of true inspiration to us both. And you, Mr. MMM and Mrs. MMM should be so proud of what you are doing in an increasingly capitalist world.

    *I of course mean this in a money moustache sense. If my girlfriend truly had more facial hair than me, our short-term goals would probably go from first home, to laser hair removal…

  • Robert Donovan January 9, 2017, 10:14 pm

    I was amused by your minor quandary about calling yourself retired rather than financially independent. I had an idea for that. It’s a term from economics: post-satiety. That point at which current personal economic abundance makes attaining further wealth less important than quality of life.

    All the best to you and the missus.

  • Tat February 14, 2017, 2:11 pm

    Hi there,
    Just joining the movement and trying to sort things out. I wish I started about 10-15 years ago. Now, that I still have 60K in school loans (originally 100K), a house, a car, and kids, I’m trying to find a way to save at the level you were. I’m reading your story and trying to put together the numbers. Year 3, when withing a year you manage to come up with 47K down payment? And then, year 4 – you pretty much triple your investment in a year? And then it just keeps going at the rate that sound crazy to me.

  • Steve June 27, 2017, 8:12 am

    Thanks for the rundown. Makes me want to go back in time and try to piece together exactly how I accumulated wealth. I would have an equally hard time knowing precisely year to year numbers, but I do know we always lived on much less than we made, and invested the excess earnings, consistently, year after year.
    Just doing that alone causes things to work out well.

  • JB October 2, 2017, 8:58 am

    You may have addressed this, but how did you gain access to money from an employee retirement account? I have saved an amount I am proud of between a Roth IRA and 401(k), but wonder how you got around penalties for accessing these accounts early? Maybe you were using a different vehicle?

  • Melissa May 29, 2018, 6:48 am

    Just discovered your website – what a treasure trove of knowledge to go through! Thanks a million (heh) in advance.

    I am also kind of pleased that the trajectory seems to have been fairly similar for us up until year 4 – though I seriously doubt we’ll now be able to make the jump from 150k to 250k in just one year. If anything, with the stock market at an all time high it may be more likely to see the value of our (meagre) investments dissipate a little.

    We also hail from the Nordics, so taxes on income and capital gains are fairly high (around 25-35 % for the both of us, and it gets progressively tougher as you go along. It helps not to have to worry about schooling or healthcare though – wouldn’t change this for the world tbh.) I’ll be sure to go through the resources on the page. We’ve always been thrifty, with no car, cooking at home etc. but the key right now, I guess, would be to achieve a steady flow of passive income. The S&P 500 doesn’t seem to be with us though, we seem to have started the game a little late…

  • Greg June 1, 2018, 4:02 pm

    Holy cow, I just realized – re-reading this after about 6 years of working post college now – I’m pretty much where MMM was after 6 years. Never would’ve thought that can happen – it helps to be flexible and move to where the opportunities are and making saving and investing one of the priorities I guess.
    Anyway…to all ya college kids out there – it’s possible; even if it requires some hard work, determination and of course definitley some luck.

  • MrsMM July 31, 2019, 6:44 am

    Dear MMM,
    It might be a salary diffference but reading what you call “normal wages” in 1998-2008 is what would be classified as HIGHLY high paid in my country (Sweden) today. I´m well educated and a good saver, (Isave more than 50% of my salary) in stock, funds and gold, but there is no way in h*** I could (together with my husband who has the same mindset and saving percentage) ever save up the amount of 7,4 dollars (!!!) in 4-5 years like you did. That would be astronomical over here, so I really wonder what you mean by “average salary”? You even call one of your salaries (83k dollars/year) ridiculous, which I interpret you feel was ridiculously high for you? I´m sorry but 60k + 83+ dollar/year is far from average salary.

  • StarShine February 4, 2020, 6:08 pm

    Hi All

    Just to present an Australian perspective on this (there were a few posts saying it’s impossible to achieve similar outcomes), I would like to juxtapose my own scenario to prove it really is up to you.

    I have been self-sufficient from around 16 – as one of 4 kids, working class family and mum at home, I always knew things in life would be up to me. Having said that, my parents made every dollar stretch and sent 4 kids to private schools (local private) on 1 salary.

    My parents gave me NO money from 16. From 18 I was paying board and attending uni/working insane hours just to live, compared to my friends whose parents gave them free cars, interest free loans and a free ride into life. I funded my own university exchange, cars, board, food etc from 18 whilst studying an maintaining decent grades, from which I was able to gain a few scholarships (few thousand)

    I graduated end 2006 with a HECS (university) debt of around $30-40K. First job was 2007 on $45000K AUD. From

    Starting Mid 2009, I put a 10% deposit on a 1 bed apartment (low $200s) in Melbourne. No one in my circles thought it was good enough – I just got on with my own reality and constraint of borrowing less than 3 times my income. I needed extra money so took up a part time job to earn some more coin to help avoid as much LMI as possible. Full time job salary was approx $80K inc super. Owned a small japanese car. Net wealth $50,000AUD

    2010: Furiously paying down debt/saving, Net wealth $84,000AUD
    2011: Furiously paying down debt/saving. Changed job, new salary $100K inc super. Net wealth $125,000AUD
    2012: Furiously paying down debt/saving. Took on a part time job. Net wealth $156,000AUD
    2013: Furiously paying down debt/saving. Net wealth $205,000AUD. Sold japanese car, bought German car. Paid off HECS debt, reallocated HECS repayments to saving.
    2014: Furiously paying down debt/saving. Was looking for another property to future proof for kids etc. Purchased for just under $400K with existing tenant (avoided LMI as I had enough equity). I prepaid interest on 30 June and quit my job due to stress, lived off tax free rent in the next financial year and savings. Sold German car, bought cheapo japanese car. Net wealth $287,000AUD.
    2015: Spent year unemployed but enough savings to pay rent and 2 mortgages. Started working part time. Property market went nuts on second property. Net wealth $42K
    2016: Got a contract job earning $150000 package, paid for a post grad qualification (OUT OF POCKET), worked 2 part time jobs. Got my act together after 2015. Met future spouse.Net wealth $456K.
    2017: Got a new contract job with sporadic earnings. Property market continued to increase. Renovated property 1 doing as much labour and shopping around, spent only $7K and increased rent by $50 pw. Sold japanese car, bought german car. $550K net wealth
    2018: Got a ‘proper’ job with company car. Renovated property 2 with my own cash, spending approx $30K. $606K net wealth
    2019: Continued with property job, continued part time work which experienced a boom and as a result was able to save alot. Paid for fairly extravagent wedding in cash. Property market still growing. Bought third property for $60K under value, paid no LMI. Net wealth $826K.
    2020: On track for net wealth of $990K.

    I never borrowed more than 3-3.5 x my income. I never owned a car worth more than $11K. I have constantly contributed to my superannuation. I travelled A LOT (around world 5 times, trips to HAwaii etc) but always researched everything and got the best deals, planned far ahead, never wasted my money and worked a second job most years as it was too difficult on my own.

    Everyone in Australia was whinging that ‘you can’t do it’ especially not a single person. It’s really just up to you. Comparing to friends who were smarter than me, more prestigious occupations, the above proves, slow and steady really does win the race. It was slowly accumulating over time and having cash available to make good choices that really made the difference.

    So it was $0 wealth to $1M in 10-11 years, on my own and in an expensive major city.


  • Lori C February 12, 2020, 2:54 pm

    Interesting, my reaction was embarrassment.. my husband and I earn more than you and your wife did, almost twice as much, yet we don’t have nearly the same amount saved. Granted housing costs are high here- our house is valued over $600k and only about 1700 sq ft- but there are other costs we’ve been foolish with. Our food spending is ridiculous and needs to get under control. Travel can also be better optimized. No time like the present I suppose. The good news is that with high incomes we can turn the ship around relatively quickly. Cut expenses and increase our savings rate. Look out Craigslist my stuff is headed your way! Lol.

  • johnnybumblebee July 24, 2020, 5:16 am


    As a father of 4 kids, the best thing I can do for them is share/force feed them this blog but I am quite proud of where they are heading. My 20 year old daughter just got her first cell phone, goes everywhere with her bike (she cheated and bought an Lectric bike but that really extended her range), and only buys used stuff which, by today’s standards, is pretty impressive. My 17 year old son has started his own stash to save up for his first house whereas the 2X12 year olds can’t figure out what to ask their grandmother for Christmas. She was astouded last year when they finally came up with a request for comfortable pillows. Strangely enough, these pillows incur some small costs for me as they enjoy blowing them up in the dryer once in a while and calling their grandmother the next day to talk about how well they slept.

    I’m later in the game but it took me a while to shoot for early retirement instead of relying on one of the best canadian pension plans to retire in…after 35 years of service. I see there is a blog article about this exact same topic (judging by the title only) but I’m a bit of a maniac when it comes to method and orders so I’m resisting the temptation to skip forward and read that one right away.

    Thanks again

  • Mr. Skeptical Scepter July 28, 2020, 2:33 pm

    This is all very nice and all but in my part of the world making 100.000$ / year is not even close to a “normal salary”. I’m betting the same is true for a lot of people in the US too.

    Saving money on that income is not really giving up on things now is it? I wonder what the average American wastes every year on unnecessary stuff then.

    Cutting coupons is not gonna cut it for people making 24.000 or less per year.

    • Mr. Money Mustache July 31, 2020, 10:24 am

      I totally agree. While coupons and frugality become even MORE important when you are living on a lower income, they won’t get you to a big million-dollar early retirement as I did here in the US.

      However, in this situation job hunting and entrepreneurship can pay off more, because increases to your income are very valuable.

      This blog is targeted towards mainly the US consumer, because my main goal here is to get rich people to consume fewer natural resources. The early retirement part is just a carrot of enticement (and I admit that it’s pretty damned nice to be retired early as well)

  • Nick July 30, 2020, 8:54 pm

    I’m sure this is a dumb questions, but I’ve been reading for weeks, and everything I read says contribute to 401(k) to get match, then max Roth IRA’s, then back to 401(k) to max, etc. Normal (taxable) investment account is the last to get funded. I’ve been saving for 12 (?) years and have about $350k saved…..alllll in retirement accounts. Are people who are retiring early off of investments forgoing the retirement accounts, or at least forgoing maxing them out, and putting all into taxable accounts?

  • JasmineSoonToFIRE September 23, 2020, 4:17 pm

    Hi Mr. MMM. I really enjoy your blogs. There are so many of them and I will try to read them all….No it comes to a big question. From 2011 to 2020. What is your current net worth now? Our family of 3 has about 1.6 mil including the equity of the house. We are thinking of an early retirement and living overseas/travelling the world for some time in 2023. I really admire your low monthly expenses. We need about $3,000-$3,500/month incl. travels but excluding a mortgage/rent. I look forward to hearing from you. Thanks

  • LeeC November 24, 2020, 12:20 am

    Thanks for the blog, I’m really enjoying it. Wow, I found this post super interesting and I basically plugged your figures in against my own for the same years (1999 – 2007). I didn’t manage to achieve anywhere near the growth you did over those years so started diving into the returns of our respective indicies. I’m Australian, and the Australian market managed to achieve 15.3% pa over that time. Conversely, the US market lost ground to the tune of -0.5% pa. You shouldn’t have made ANY money on your index-based investments (if indeed they were). Certainly not a criticism, just trying to wrap my head around it. Cheers!

  • Sara April 8, 2021, 12:18 pm

    Loved reading about your journey! This is very encouraging to someone who hopes to retire early one day and to know that you were able to do so in 10 years is quite inspiring. Thanks for sharing.

  • Matthew Vedder September 5, 2022, 7:37 am

    Thanks for this post! I find it to be one of the most inspirational posts on your blog. Is there any chance you can add 2022 dollars to it? Maybe in parentheses next to the real dollars? Or re-post in today’s dollars and link back to this? It always requires a bit of a mental leap in order to put the post into the context of today’s dollars after so many years of inflation.

  • Alex October 12, 2022, 5:35 am

    Took the liberty of adjusting this for inflation for anyone reading in 2022.

    MMM Inflation Adjusted Journey to Retirement (2022 dollars)

    Year: Income, Net Worth
    1997: $75k, $0
    1998: $105k, $9k
    1999: $105k, $41k
    2000: $137k, $119k
    2001: $212k, $251k
    2002: $263k, $412k
    2003: $275k, $588k
    2004: $275k, $768k
    2005: $296k, $910k
    2006: $162k, $1.06MM
    2007: $????, $1.18MM

    MMM, if you’re looking for help, I’d be happy to go through your back catalog and develop a web app that will automatically adjust any dollar figures you provide for inflation.

    Example: “This was late 1999, and both the job and stock markets were on fire. I got a new job and moved to the United States for a salary of $77,000 ($137,000 in 2022).”

    Source: https://www.in2013dollars.com/us/inflation/1999?amount=77000

    • Mr. Money Mustache October 12, 2022, 5:11 pm

      Cool Alex, thanks for doing that! I have been thinking about doing exactly that upgrade for a while – just have all key dollar figures update automatically based on when the article is being read in the future. I have your email so I can contact you about this directly.

      Also: wow it’s kind of amazing to think about the current day figures – little 24-year-old MMM getting a starting salary of $137k and then going up from there. Engineering was a good field (and still is)

      • Alex October 20, 2022, 11:59 am

        No problem! Yup, I can just read in the dollar value and year from each post, and make an app that’ll manually update the figure each year for inflation. I’ll have to manually go through and check for special cases (ex. articles you may have written in 2015 that reference a figure from 2008). But, that just gives me an excuse to reread the blog :)

        I had the exact same reaction! Just got out of college at age 22 as an engineer myself, making $80k/yr. If I can turn that into $137k/yr in two years I will be a VERY happy man.

  • Jeff January 1, 2023, 11:47 pm


    Thank you for sharing this. I’m currently a burnt out 49 year old desperate for FI. I’ve been saving for 6 years now with good results but nothing close to the rate you have despite having a higher salary. Canada’s tax rate is effectively 65% once all the taxes are throw in the total. I figure I need 1.2 million in investment to earn the 4% salary we need to make it here in socialist North.


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