Mr. Money Mustache Receives the Gift of Hardship for his Birthday

I just had one of my stranger birthday experiences when I turned 37 earlier this week.

Things got off to an early start, when the doorbell rang at 12:01 AM, just as I was considering putting down my book and going to sleep. When your doorbell rings at that time of night, you answer it right away because it’s either someone with a serious problem that needs your help, or someone threatening your family that needs a quick beheading.

Fortunately I could see through the window that it was an old lady in a night gown standing outside, so I bypassed my samurai sword collection* and rushed directly to the door to answer. A blizzard of snow was falling and my neighbor was looking anxiously at the Maple tree in her front yard which had branches drooping almost all the way down to the ground. In fact, all the trees were sagging dangerously and great wooden cracks were ringing out through the night air as limbs dropped throughout the area.

You see, we’ve had a very warm fall here in Colorado this year, with beach-quality weather almost every day, meaning that the trees have not bothered to drop their leaves yet and many of them are still fully green. When you take a bunch of 80-foot-tall trees who think it’s still summer, and dump a foot of wet snow on them, you get some pretty serious trouble.

Anyway, my neighbor was just asking for some help to shake some snow off of the branches and evaluate whether any of the bigger trees might drop a limb through the roof of her little house. I walked around and shook and poked at various branches until the little tree sprung back up. I told her I thought everything else looked safe in her yard. Then I went back to bed. And somewhere in the night, a gigantic branch in somebody else’s yard ripped through a major power line and all systems in my house went offline along with the rest of the block.

The Mustache family woke up the next morning to a still-warm house, since the considerable thermal mass was still fully stocked with stored sunshine from the previous day’s warmth. But it was a chilly 32F (0C) outside with continued snowfall that had now piled up to well over a foot on the grassy areas. We learned that the elementary school had lost power too, and was therefore closed for the day.

We were forced to spend the day together as a family, finding interesting ways to have fun without power. My son was amazed to learn how many things required electricity to function (the garage door and blower for the natural-gas-fired furnace, for example). The gas and water service were still working, so we were still able to cook on the gas range and even get warm water for washing dishes. I learned that smashing coffee beans with a hammer is not a workable substitute to using a coffee grinder, since the grind is too coarse to get a good brew. Mrs. M and I became much stingier with our phones, knowing we had no way to charge them if the battery ran out. I emptied the fridge and freezer and stored the contents in coolers set into the deep snow outside.

Little MM gave me the birthday artwork he had secretly made for me (pictured above), and we spent the day using a snow shovel to build a mountain in the back yard, which we hollowed out to create a snow fort. The sun went down, so we came inside for a candle-light pumpkin carving session and dinner. The temperature began to drop further and the other homeowners on my block started either abandoning their homes to go stay with friends in other towns, or firing up rented generators to restore normalcy to their lives.

This was my favorite part of my birthday. We turned down a generous accommodation offer from some friends, even as the house temperature reached 58F, and the weather forecast called for a drop to 14F (-10C), an all-time record low for this date. We piled all of our warmest blankets onto the king-sized bed and closed the doors and shutters to the master bedroom to lock in as much heat as possible. I filled the 6-gallon glass carboy from my beer-making system with extremely hot water and brought that into the room to slowly release heat through the night as well. The boy decided that we must each tell one Jack-o-lantern-related story by candlelight, then we blew out the candles and closed our eyes. For the first time in I-don’t-even-know-how-many-years, I fell asleep at 8:00PM.

I woke up ten hours later as a distant light clicked on and the furnace started blowing. I could tell from my exposed nose and ear that the room was quite cold, but damn, was that ever a great night’s sleep.  I gleefully contemplated all the advantages of having the power back, and hell no, I’m not going to start living without electricity on a full-time basis. But looking back on it, that sure was a nice birthday present that Mother Nature gave to the Money Mustache family this year.



* No, of course I don’t actually have a collection of samurai swords. Oddly enough, I do have one black sword that appears to be for Ninjas, along with an enormous hunting knife, both left behind by an (evicted) tenant at one of my rental houses a few years ago. I sharpened them both up very nicely and use them for hacking down weeds, although they would also be ideal for unwanted doorbell-ringers.


  • Jeh October 27, 2011, 10:20 am

    That’s awesome. Happy Birthday to a fellow Oct. baby!

  • Matt from Buffalo October 27, 2011, 10:36 am

    Hey MMM,

    First off, great blog. Your combination of frugality and attitude (I’ll call it frugalitude) officially makes you my favorite finance blogger. I’ve been reading for a week or so, and already I’ve been convinced to buy a used breadmaker and move closer to work. Keep up the good work.

    Anyway, your story reminded me of the Buffalo, NY 2006 surprise storm, which many of my friends and family lived through (I was away for college at the time). The Buffalo Metro area got hit with 1-2 feet of snow about 2 weeks before Halloween. All the leaves were still on the trees, so branches came down everywhere. Although the temperature rose and all the snow melted within 48 hours, the ‘Arborgeddon’ was so widespread that schools were closed for a week, and power was out for some people for an equal length of time. I remember coming home 2 weeks after the storm and the place still looked like a warzone. Fortunately it wasn’t as bad in your situation.

    • Buffalonian2 October 27, 2011, 12:19 pm

      I still remember the “October Storm” like yesterday.
      My son was 10 month old back then and that week was one of the most fun weeks we had ever had.
      We made a fire in our fireplace, sang songs, made forts with blankets, cushions and hot water bags.
      Even scooping up water in the basement was fun looking back now.
      Although, it took months cleaning up the city, nothing like a good old challenge to bring out greatness in people in the community.

      • Buffalonian2 October 27, 2011, 12:22 pm

        And Happy birthday, MMM!

    • poorplayer October 27, 2011, 1:45 pm

      I got caught trying to drive home in that storm. A lightning strike right at Hoak’s restaurant rendered the entire area dark. Had to hole up in the Red Roof Inn, which had power. Next day found out that Angola had almost no snow at all.

  • Jenny October 27, 2011, 11:06 am

    Happy Birthday. I LOVE when it snows and we all stay inside – as a family. In fact, 2 years ago, October 29, I couldn’t have been more happy that it snowed and closed school for 3 days, so we could spend our first anniversary of a tragic family event, as a family, in our house, thankful for all we’ve been given.

  • Nik October 27, 2011, 11:15 am

    Great Story, and a very happy birthday it sounds like! Glad you enjoyed it with your family. Its not very often we get to live with out the buzz of electricity all around us. I bet it was quite that night….

  • Laura October 27, 2011, 11:15 am

    “even as the house temperature reached 58F”

    You keep your thermostat higher than that? How un-moustachian of you. I keep mine at 50F :)

    Also, thanks to your blog, I started biking to work EVERY day starting last week. I live in Denver and canceled my work parking pass on Tuesday ($60/month raise!). The guy thought I was joking when I said “I took a look at the forecast and decided to bike.”

    I don’t do it for the $$, I do it for the bragging rights at work ;)

    • MMM October 27, 2011, 3:45 pm

      Awesome!! .. and I will admit here in public, the MMM household thermostat sits at a negotiated rate of 67F on cold days. I would be perfectly comfortable in the 50s, but Mrs. M and Little MM would freeze. Perhaps because she is half Indian, so her genes are expecting heat, while as an English descendant, 50-60F is the perfect temperature for daily life to me :-)

  • Zach October 27, 2011, 11:16 am

    Nice work with the Carboy! I have done that before as well. Nothing like staying home on a crumby day with the family! Most neighborhoods in Greeley lost power but with young tress we lucked out. Cheers!

  • chrm October 27, 2011, 11:25 am

    Here is a interesting article about the “Japanese Way” of getting through the winter:


    • Dancedancekj October 27, 2011, 2:17 pm

      Interesting. Perhaps the kotatsu is to be the next project on my list. I had already started using passive heating and blankets and warm clothing to keep warm, but this is a very interesting item..

    • Gerard May 8, 2014, 7:04 am

      Interesting link, thanks. I’ve read about the kotatsu before but haven’t taken it any farther. I have read a couple of things about using a dog bed heater (uses about 35 watts) under your feet while working at a desk, and that seems like a smart, similar thing to do.

  • Sarah October 27, 2011, 11:32 am

    Something similar happened to us here in San Diego, but the outside temperature was too hot, not too cold. A major power outage occured (“operator error”) in our fair city affecting millions of electricity customers for about 12 hours. It happened on a particularly sticky hot summer afternoon when many were running their air conditioners (not us, of course, we just sweat it out and turn on the fans). At first, people panicked, but it turned into an amazing experience– neighborhoods came alive as people set up camp in their front lawns, emptied their fridges and freezers, barbequed, and yes, even talked to their neighbors! People walked their dogs, said hello to each other and kids were even spotted playing outside (gasp!) The local liquor store graciously stayed open and tallied up the much required booze (hey not much else to do!) by hand. My husband cooked an amazing dinner by candle light and we retired early to bed and joked about how many babies might be born 9 months from that night. It was a fabulous experience and I have to admit, I it was bittersweet when the electricity turned back on early the next morning.

  • BDub October 27, 2011, 11:51 am

    Welcome to the world of the 37 year olds.

    A little insight: it’s not much different than 36!

  • Mr. Frugal Toque October 27, 2011, 11:54 am

    Happy Birthday!

    Deprivation as a gift is an interesting concept. A kind of dislocated Stockholm Syndrome with masochism drawing from the sweet kiss of Mother Nature’s lash.

    Truly, we are blessed!


    This significantly increases the creative space should I ever have occasion to get you a birthday present.

  • David Robson October 27, 2011, 12:56 pm

    Happy Birthday MMM!

    My birthday is in two days. I wouldn’t mind some snow even if it meant no power. Seeing as I live in Seattle though, I’ll probably have to settle for more of the endless mist.

  • Rebecca October 27, 2011, 1:08 pm

    Happy birthday, MMM! That sounds so wonderful, and your birthday artwork is beautiful, well done little MM!

    And this is yet another reason why biking is so much better than driving: a snowstorm is a completely different animal when one does not have a car to worry about.

    I had to spend a large duration of Snowpocalypse shoveling out cars all around my suburban neighborhood, while my friends in the city who rely on bikes and public transportation spent the whole time sledding and having massive snowball fights. I definitely need to ditch the car-addiction before winter hits the east coast.

  • Heather October 27, 2011, 1:21 pm

    A very happy belated birthday Mr. M.

  • poorplayer October 27, 2011, 1:47 pm

    Pretty cool story and a good way to get us all to wish you a Happy Birthday!

  • Rich Schmidt October 27, 2011, 2:14 pm

    Thanks for sharing your Happy Birthday story with us! I didn’t realize that you and I are so close in age. I’ll turn 37 a couple days before Christmas.

  • Dancedancekj October 27, 2011, 2:21 pm

    A beautiful entry MMM. Almost makes me wonder if you could turn off the electricity for a day weekly/monthly as a form of mental exercise.

  • Bill October 27, 2011, 7:39 pm

    I have to admit, I thought this story was going to end with a branch crashing through your neighbor’s roof.

    • MMM October 27, 2011, 8:21 pm

      Haha… indeed.. it wasn’t very clear the way I had originally written it, so I have now fixed it up a little to explain her house was not at risk. And I’m not even sure where the tree was that tore down the power line, it might have even been on another block.

  • Yabusame October 28, 2011, 9:27 am

    Happy Birthday MMM. I think you had one of the best birthdays ever! I bet little MM will remember it for quite some time.

  • Chris October 28, 2011, 10:19 am

    A few years ago, my wife and I were living in Eagle River, Alaska, and the power went out one winter night. All we had was the gas fireplace and a backup kerosene portable heater. It was one of the best nights in that house. My wife and laid on the couch, next to the fire place, and just chilled with eachother’s company. It was as if time had slowed down and I was noticing everything going on around me. Without the tv on to distract me, we suddenly had time to just relax, talk and look outside. When I build our retirement home in Alaska, my goal is to make it off- grid and give the finger to the man on all utilities!

    Happy BDay MMM.

    • EarningAndLearning April 25, 2017, 3:10 pm

      I love reading the comments as much as MMM’s posts, and your comment was especially wonderful! Your description of just BEING with your wife & how time seemed to slow down, sounds SO romantic! That would be my dream evening, with a nice bottle of red wine to make it even more perfect! And your idea to be off-grid is very inspiring – I want it for the same reason you do & the way you phrased it made me laugh! :)

  • steveinFL October 28, 2011, 12:31 pm

    I grew up poor so we had no A/C and we kept the heat low in the winter . Our way of handling it was, if you’re hot, open a window or close the shades depending on the breeze and time of day. If you’re cold, put on some more clothes. My parents were the only ones allowed to “touch the thermostat” and they kept it at 58 degrees in the winter.

    Now that I am married and middle class, it’s a constant struggle with my DW to get her to turn up (or off) the A/C. We live in South Florida where it is hot and humid all the time. I’d like to turn off the A/C, acclimate to the weather and enjoy the fresh air. She wants the house to be a constant cool 75 degrees at all times- whether she is in the house or not. I hate AC – it’s always cold, always noisy and circulating dead air around my house and my office where I work.

    I think the ideal is a combination of MMM and the Japanese method — cool/heat your body not your whole building. Maybe when oil prices double we’ll move back to a more pragmatic way.

  • steveinFL October 28, 2011, 12:32 pm

    PS. Happy Birthday MMM and thanks for the great work. Your blog is inspiring. Ever thought about adding a forum for the fans?

  • CeridianMN October 28, 2011, 1:52 pm

    That storm closed the school my sister in law works at for a couple days. Was it the only elementry school closed in the area?

    I have to admit that we almost fled the house to a hotel room last winter when the heater stopped working. Of course, this was in Minnesota in December with kids 3 months and 18 months old. Also a house with lots of carpet, and no stone counter tops. Of course, if we hadn’t been able to borrow the electric space heaters we would have tried camping in the living room where a gas fireplace is located before fleeing. I think it wouldn’t have been quite as much fun due to the ages of the kids as it would be if it were to happen in about 2 or 3 years though.

    Anyhow, happy birth anniversary day. A birthday with family is the best kind to have.

  • John E. October 28, 2011, 9:00 pm

    Hello MMM,

    I’ve just discovered your blog, and am enjoying it. We had similar snow problems down here in Parker. I’m not ready to sell the car yet, but I may just go buy some groceries on a bicycle.

  • poko October 30, 2011, 7:28 pm

    I laughed for a good five minutes picturing this: “I learned that smashing coffee beans with a hammer is not a workable substitute to using a coffee grinder”

  • Kris October 31, 2011, 1:49 am


    Just wanted to say happy birthday (3 days late :( )

    I love your blog

  • Jason November 1, 2011, 7:40 am

    MMM – your article was timely for us in the Northeast this past week. While not quite as cold in our area we are without utilities for a few days as well. I took many of your ideas and put them to use. We are having a great time so far with no power. Charging phones and laptops at work, keeping the heat in a few rooms and playing board games with the kids.) Our one purchase was an LED lantern to keep the lights on for late night Battleship and Clue.

  • Jane November 8, 2011, 3:16 pm

    We’re still recovering from a similar storm (probably the same storm) that hit here in CT and resulted in HALF the state without power! Now, ELEVEN days later, 300,000 people are still in the dark.

    We live downtown in a small city, where I can walk to work (as well as many other places, like the library that’s a block away). And one of the terrific benefits is that the buried power lines we (almost) never lose power. During Hurricane Irene and then storm Alfred everyone else suffered and we stayed snug and well lit. My intention is not to rub it in as it’s a terrible inconvenience and cost for everyone else and I do feel very badly for them, but I do love that our oft-mocked decision to live in the city ends up being the envy of all our suburban friends, and paying off in unforeseen ways!

  • Jon Bendtsen January 14, 2012, 1:49 pm

    “although they would also be ideal for unwanted doorbell-ringers.” – like Jehovas witnesses?

  • Chris January 30, 2013, 12:30 pm

    Love the site, I’m reading through all the posts. I’m Portuguese, thus, frugality and making money are a part of my DNA.

    Anyway I had to comment because of your Samurai Sword. A few years ago someone stole my mustachian car (1986 Buick Century) while I was home. Luckily, I heard the engine start. I grabbed my Samurai sword and chased my car down 2 blocks. The car had very little pickup and I’m unnaturally fast so I was right on their tail for about two blocks. When the adrenaline subsided and I came to my senses I decided I should call the Police. They found my car abandoned, still running with the doors wide open. I like to think that thieves decided the car wasn’t worth being hunted down by some guy who actually has a Samurai sword. I got my car back and have a badass story to tell while taking down brews with my friends.

  • Alexander Stone March 1, 2013, 7:23 am

    Boy, this post and the comments just made me flash back to Hurricane Andrew in South Florida in 1992. We “got out of Dodge” for the hurricane itself, but drove back 48 hours later to Miami. The next 2 weeks or so we lived without power… and weirdly enough, enjoyed the hell out of it. Being big-time campers, we had the propane camping stove and all the other necessities to camp out in our apartment. How serene it was to experience the real darkness at night, and the relative quiet. And no work so it was an imposed vacation.

    The only bummers were (1) having to drive up to West Palm a couple of times to load up on water jugs (West Palm had power), and (2) navigating out of the Miami in-town area when all the traffic lights were out. (Can you say “bumper cars”? :D

    Alex in Virginia

  • Brad April 7, 2013, 3:54 pm

    Car power inverters are invaluable for stuff like that, as are uninterruptible power supplies. Easy way to get a charge if the power is out.

  • David March 17, 2015, 4:11 pm

    The part about using a hammer to grind coffee surprised me. I would have expected MMM to have a hand crank coffee grinder.

  • Dan April 4, 2016, 1:54 pm

    This may have already been posted somewhere, but be careful putting hot water in a glass carboy like that! Supposedly they can crack/shatter disastrously very easily with warm water; in fact, I’ve seen that putting in water at a temp of > 90F or so is dangerous. (one of the reasons wort is cooled post-boil before being put into them, also so you don’t boil the yeast) On a related note, happy to see that you do some brewing! It was my (one) Mustachian hobby prior to reading this blog and recently starting a daily bike commute to work. Take care.

  • FMaz January 13, 2017, 10:55 pm

    “weather forecast called for a drop to 14F (-10C), an all-time record low for this date.”

    Haha, that’s not winter…

  • Naomi April 18, 2017, 8:09 pm

    Hello from Central Florida! Here I was, reading this post, stealing a few minutes before going to bed, having glanced at the image at the top of the post and gone straight to the reading, when you mention that it’s the artwork your son gave to you. I had to go back and look again. It’s lovely! How jaded am I that I just plow through the post and don’t even notice the art? While I gave up TV decades ago and am gleaning all kinds of new Mustachian techniques (and I thank you for that), I am ever a consumer of internet content. My goal with this blog is to read it sequentially (more or less, I do occasionally flit about to read something out of order, or something more recent).

    All this to say, thank you for sharing your life with us, and for finding ways to keep it real.

  • EarningAndLearning April 25, 2017, 2:49 pm

    Ha ha I loved this post! What a great way to gain some serious appreciation for the abundant electricity coursing through our homes! I like your idea, mentioned somewhere else in the blog, of having an Electricity Free Day, I’m going to try that!


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