My Deprived Life: Raising a Family on Under $27,000 per Year

One of the biggest objections we get from new readers around here goes something like this:

“Yeah, I guess Mr. Money Mustache has a point. Spending less than you earn really is a good idea. Too bad he’s so hardcore, though. I’m not ready to cut back my own life to the bone like he has, so I could never live on less than $40,000 per year – let alone raise a child on that budget!”

This lament comes up again and again, no matter how many times I insist that the Mustache family leads a pretty fancy lifestyle, with no cash constraints of any sort. People still don’t believe me, and they don’t have time to read the older posts which explain things step-by-step. So let’s just present a summary of what life is really like when a family of three lives on well under $30,000 per year in early retirement. This post will then become a piece of reference material, so I can link back to it whenever the topic of how deprived our life must be comes up again.

Please don’t take this as a celebration of materialism and excessive spending. My point is not to say “Yeah! Look at all the fancy things we have!”. It’s actually with a certain amount of guilt that I present this series of pictures, because I know it’s far from the minimalist ideal that many of the happiest people of the world pursue. All I can say is, “this is where we are now, it’s obviously more than enough, and over time we’re finding we want less and less, rather than more and more”.

Following the style of those Forbes Magazine top ten lists, we’ll cover each aspect of the lifestyle with a picture and description, then follow up with notes on how we try to get the most out of each area of life while minimizing the cost. After all, just as important as the amount of money you spend, is how efficiently you are able to spend it.

The House

This is our most excessive piece of lifestyle, as we live in a 2600 square foot house worth about $400,000, in a city where the average is a little over $200,000. Around here, that buys you a 4-bedroom house in great condition, in any of the nicest neighborhoods of the city. The house has four bathrooms including a master suite that is straight out of a design magazine. All of the city’s best amenities, as well as high-paying jobs and fast bus lines to other cities, are within a short walk or bike ride.

A quick note from 2021, nine years later: WOW, things have sure changed! Due to a long housing boom that is still happening, the house we lived in back then would now be worth over $700,000, and even tiny houses in this neighborhood start in the mid-400s.

Of course, to early retirees this housing “feels” cheaper than ever because our investments have grown even faster than housing prices. It’s a lesson to invest early, and often, in assets that appreciate (both houses and stock index funds). But it’s also a lesson to shop around before settling down somewhere: there still plenty of other nice cities where houses are still cheap.

How we get it for less: We bought this house for $350,000 about six years ago. At the time, it was underpriced by almost $50,000 due to a motivated seller and a lack of market research on the part of the agent. We toured the house on the first day it went to market, and had the offer in on the same day. Since then, I’ve spent almost a thousand hours of my own time renovating the house to add upgrades like wood floors instead of carpet, ornate tiles instead of plastic shower pans, and other details that make me happy. It all came at minimal cost due to the fact that carpentry is my idea of a good time – it feels like play rather than work to me. This also means home maintenance and repair costs virtually nothing – I can often find the materials through Craigslist and the labor is free.

The house is also strategically located: property taxes are only $2400 per year. Good solar design and insulation in a sunny but moderate climate keeps our combined heating and cooling bills under $450 per year. Understanding our electric use and low local electric rates means electricity bills are under $25 per month. Is housing much more expensive where you live? I had the same problem – I had to move here deliberately to find the right combination of good and affordable.

The Toys:

We have all the stuff we need. Too much stuff. Five working computer systems sharing a high-speed wireless network system stocked with movies and music. A video projector in the basement with an 11-foot screen for movie nights. A stereo system that can reproduce the richest and most detailed music you’ve ever heard, and five other systems which also play music. A complete Ludwig classic 1994 maple drum kit. Two guitars. Microphones and mixers. A frickin’ five-foot-long Didgeridoo bought directly from its Aboriginal maker in Australia, who also taught me how to play it. A set of carpentry tools complete enough to build an entire house from scratch. An enviable set of educational toys for the little boy.  Six bicycles*. A Sevylor inflatable kayak. Great camping gear. Workout gear. Snowboarding gear. Too much!

How We Get it for Less:

At 37 years of age, I’m getting old. I’ve been earning adult wages (and/or investment income) for about 17 years now, and every year I have been tempted or tricked into acquiring more of the luxury items listed above. I bought most of the things used from Craigslist, inherited them for free from friends or family or rental house tenants who abandoned them, or traded for them through barter arrangements. For the rest, I did agonizing comparison shopping, considering each purchase for months before making it. Everything is of fairly high quality, which means it tends to never break, which means it ends up accumulating over the years as you get older. I’m not proud of having so much stuff. But I’m mentioning it just to show that we do not lead a life of deprivation.

The Place in the World

The Money Mustache Family lives, in my own humble opinion, in one of the nicest places on Earth. The Boulder County area of Colorado sits on the edge of the Rocky Mountains, where constantly sunny weather lights up the sparkling glacier-fed streams. You can ride your bike out of your driveway and soon be in a canyon where 2,000-foot cliffs tower on each side of you, a river rushes along at their base, and rock climbers look like tiny ants strung up in the sky above. Bike just a little further and you can set up a tent in an area of wilderness that shows absolutely no sign of human influence as far as the eye can see. Yet you’re surrounded by cities and small towns which connect you by trade to the richest economy in the world with minimal taxation and regulation. And yet, it costs almost nothing to live here relative to the wages available, since food and housing are so cheap and land is plentiful. As with many places in the United States, this place is Pure Freedom, expressed as a series of geographical features.

How We Get it for Less:

We settled down not in the city of Boulder itself, (where a house like mine goes for over $1 million), but just 12 miles down the road in Longmont. It is drastically less hip and fashionable, and the richer Boulderites mock it endlessly, imagining it as a dim expanse of mullets and meth labs. But they’re dead wrong: living here for six years I mostly see towering trees, clear streams, natural people and happy families. And even a little bit of hipness creeping in, if the growing number of cruiser bikes, Subarus, beards, and packed microbreweries can be considered a measure of such things.

The Vacations:

As your life changes, your travel preferences will probably change as well. As twentysomethings, my wife and I saw a bit of the world including Australia, New Zealand, Italy, Hawaii, Mexico, and of course Canada and a great amount of the US. Now that we’re parents to a six-year-old, we keep things a bit more tame by staying mostly within North America. But that doesn’t mean sitting at home at all times. Even at this age, our son has been to four countries and about 20 US states. We spend about 3 months traveling each year and plan to do more as he gets older.

How We Get it for Less:

Mrs. Money Mustache is a travel planning enthusiast. Travel is one of her interests, which is why we do so much of it. She combs the Internet and gets ridiculous deals on flights and hotels. We use high-reward credit cards to get free flights and cash back. We sometimes travel by road in a fuel-efficient small car, bring our own food, and camp out in Nature for some of our US-based vacations. We aren’t impressed by valet parking or $20 drinks and $100 steaks, but we ARE impressed by 14,000 foot peaks, coral reefs, wilderness preserves and untouched beaches.

The Cars:

I write about bikes pretty often, so I must be one of those wacky car-free people right? Wrong again! I actually love cars and am a closet gearhead. Throwing aside practicality, I would own an all-electric Tesla Model Y (a practical 7-passenger crossover which also just happens to be one of the fastest cars in the world) and a custom-built Mercedes Sprinter cargo van converted into an RV for extended travel.

How We Get Them For Less:

But instead, I have forced myself to acknowledge that expensive cars are a big drain on the wallet and don’t actually deliver lasting happiness, so I focus on practicality rather than the latest luxury. We have a 2005 Scion xA (“Xena”) for most of our rare driving, and I also have a 1999 Honda Odyssey minivan (“La Mujer Azul”) for hauling the tools and lumber for my part-time construction business. The Scion can carry us all in great comfort at over 40MPG. The van occasionally gets to come out on camping trips, which makes her happy as well.

Both vehicles were bought used, and yet are in nearly-new condition and have never broken down or demanded much beyond oil changes and wipers. Part of this is the fact that combined, we drive less than 7,000 miles a year and it’s mostly for long highway roadtrips. Despite a combined current value of less than $12,000, they are far more than we could possibly justify needing.

The Food:

Oh, the luxury of good food. We don’t need it to be happy (I could live just fine on beans, rice, fruits and vegetables), but somehow we manage to buy fancy food every week and go to great lengths to prepare it in entertaining ways. We invite people over for parties and feed our expensive food to them frequently as well. Most of our food is organic these days, and gluten-free due to my wife’s dietary needs. All of these things cost more.  I enjoy and appreciate them, but they are far beyond being basic needs, which is why I’m acknowledging them here. Dig in!

So What’s Missing?

Many people who are new to this blog add up their own budget, and find it’s a lot bigger than that of the Mustache family. So what are we doing so differently that allows this seemingly-normal lifestyle to occur at such a low cost?

Most notable is the virtual absence of a “miscellaneous” category. We have a lot of stuff, but it was bought only once, and most of it long ago. I often go for months with no need to visit any store beyond the grocer, and the hardware store for construction supplies.  We don’t buy high-heeled shoes or massages, and probably eat out at a restaurant once a month on average.

Then there’s the absence of driving. We drive only when it’s time to go to another city, which is only once every week or two. No trips to the store, no commuting to work back in the working days, no driving just for fun. That shit is what BIKES are for. This paragraph alone can cut some people’s expenses in half.

Then there’s the child-raising. Having only one kid is obviously less expensive than having more (child-related stuff has averaged $300 per month for us for the 6.5 years of his life so far). But there’s great variability in how much you choose to spend on being a parent, and spending more doesn’t make you a better parent. I like to call it Avoiding Ivy League Preschool Syndrome.

Finally is the absence of interest payments. I’ve never been in debt, with the exception of one year of car-related foolishness when I was young and a few years of paying off a mortgage. A lifestyle like the one in this article could easily cost $60,000 or more per year if you jumped into it by borrowing for everything.  But by owning the stuff you use, life becomes much cheaper.

Of course, owning things is not exactly free either: besides the annual spending, there’s real money tied up in this house and stuff. If we sold it all and moved to a rental house and rented the cars, bikes, and furniture too, living costs would rise. But in the end, it’s just one of the two parts of the savings required to pay for a lifestyle:

  • the stuff you own outright (the things in this article cost somewhere in the mid-$400,000s, mostly in the house)
  • the income-producing assets you own (stocks, bonds, real estate, businesses, etc.), which pay for your annual outflows. To provide $27,000/year in income using the 4% rule, you need an additional $675,000.  (Since I have a rental house as part of my income that provides at a much higher than 4% rate, I could get by with even less than this).

In other words, a lifestyle like this can be sustained indefinitely on around $1M in savings, with no need for any additional income. A million dollars – remember that number? That’s the amount that used to be big, but that everyone says is far to little to retire on these days. My whole point here is that it’s still way more than enough.

The Future:

Life is full of change, and I’m looking forward to lots of it myself. We’re still only beginners in this life of not working for a living (although still working plenty for other reasons). And there’s still lots of baggage left over from the days of being more consumption-oriented.

In the long run, I’d like to live a simpler life in a smaller house with less stuff. As our boy gets older, we want to involve him in more work and adventure, so he doesn’t grow up knowing only this life of easy material abundance.  So while the doubters will continue to accuse the Mustache family of living an overly frugal lifestyle, you’re only going to see it get simpler from here. Even as income and happiness is rising over time, excessive spending and materialism can drop away as you figure out what’s really important in life.

* after hearing that part of the article, my son informed me that I should count his new bike in the total and be sure to include it in the picture. So make that seven bicycles.

  • Grant June 1, 2012, 6:21 am

    The photography is absolutely beautiful for this article! No wonder you can sell things on craigslist! Was that you, the Mrs., or both?

    • Mr. Money Mustache June 1, 2012, 8:45 am

      Thanks Grant! We both take the pics around here, but this article has a real mix of quality. Some of the pictures are from junky cameras, and some from good ones. Many are from just the plain old iPhone, which is actually a reasonable camera.

      I’m going to have the blog buy a good used digital SLR later this summer, so all future pictures can look like the food one (I took that with a borrowed SLR).

      • GregK June 1, 2012, 11:15 am

        Before you go crazy (not that MMM would)…


        or perhaps:


        Ken’s got a lot of good info on why your camera doesn’t matter… worth some poking around on his site.

        • Mr. Money Mustache June 1, 2012, 1:17 pm

          Haha.. the $25 example is funny. He used a FILM camera, which in my lifestyle would rapidly become a $5000 camera at 5 bucks for every 24 exposures!

          I used to think camera quality didn’t matter, which is why I have never forked over for an SLR until now. I’ve had digital cameras since 1997 and enjoyed playing with film cameras for at least ten years before that. And indeed, for most purposes (like snapping quick pictures during vacation), quality is no big deal.

          But now I notice a big enough difference, and SLRs are cheap enough, that it is a worthwhile upgrade for me. I’ve done loads of comparisons. The biggest things are in the physics – SLRs have a much larger sensor, which means more sensitivity, much greater dynamic range (i.e. less blown-out whites) and less fringing and noise. And a larger aperature, which means a sharp foreground and blurry background.

          The resolution is way more than enough in any digital camera, but the difference is in things OTHER than the resolution.

          I mean, look at this picture, taken with an 8-year-old borrowed digital SLR. It looks WAY better than my 2010 Nikon P100 compact digital can produce:

          • GregK June 2, 2012, 8:55 am

            Yeah I don’t disagree (I own a DSLR that was gifted to me). The optics you can get, the huge apertures that allow for fast shutters and low ISOs (the only pictures you have in this article that aren’t great-looking are the indoor ones that are full of noise), the gorgeous depth of field you can get in a picture like the one you link to from a DSLR make a huge difference. You’re also 100% right that once you get to about 6MP, higher resolution makes no difference.

            Great shots, though, take creativity, being in the right place at the right time (not by luck), and pointing the camera in the right direction. That’s Ken’s point. You have that (as evidenced by the great shots you’ve taken), so a DSLR will only make it easier for you to get those shots consistently and in a broader range of situations.

          • Brad June 5, 2012, 3:36 pm

            I know where that picture was taken; Colorado’s Great Sand Dunes!

          • BTR April 7, 2014, 7:45 am

            Ken has an article in his site that shows he is a Mustachian too :)

      • Praxis June 2, 2012, 12:39 am

        How do you justify the iPhone? I vastly prefer it as a product, but in the U.S. AT&T and Verizon’s rates are highway robbery. If my work didn’t comp my cell I’d strongly be looking at spending half as much on a carrier like T-Mobile or Sprint…

        Genuinely curious, as a fellow iPhone user.

        Side note: best thing about the iPhone is the resale value! Since the iPhone actually has the biggest subsidy of any phone, the price gap is huge to get one out of contract. You can update your iPhone every year and at the one year mark sell your year-old iPhone for more than you are paying for the new one.

        I need to write up a post about how I’m getting unlimited calling/texting to the US for $9 a month in Europe with my iPhone later.

        • Mr. Money Mustache June 2, 2012, 8:03 am

          iAgree! I am definitely dropping the AT&T plan and switching to a pre-paid one or some other alternative in September. We’ve been enjoying almost-free cell phone plans through work contracts for several years now. But that ends shortly, and I’m not paying $50+ per month per person for mobile phone service after that.

          • Marcia @Frugal Healthy Simple June 3, 2012, 6:05 am

            I’d be interested to read that post. My husband got a prepaid smart phone (Android I think?) with ATT, but a month after he got it, they changed their plan. So no more “pay as you go” for data, you have to pay monthly (which is something like $25?) Really, I didn’t want the monthly payment, so I’m a little bit bitter. My cell is just a plain old prepaid, no data plan, but he travels quite a bit for work.

            That would be another interesting topic…the costs of working in the digital age (vs. the standard “clothing, child care, etc”. While I have refused to get a smart phone to make life easier for my office (every other person I work with has one, and whether our company covers some of the monthly cost is spotty…they used to, not sure if they do anymore). I figure if they want me to have one, they’ll get me one. Even though it’s almost expected now that you’ll have a smartphone, you can answer your email from anywhere, and you’re happy to pay $70/month for the priviledge. I point out that even if they covered the “extra” cost at $30/month, then I’m still paying $40/month, which is $380 a year more than I pay now.

            But now I have a boss who’s all for that. He got me a company laptop and offered up a docking station too. We ended up buying our own docking station and new monitor (since we both can use it and it’s linked to our home computer too). But I’m still not sure how I feel about that, since the first day it was set up I spent 3 hours doing work on a Saturday.

            On the up-side, I have 2 doctor’s appointments, a school awards ceremony, and kindergarten graduation to attend this week, plus half of friday off (no school), so the ability to get stuff done at home should afford me a LOT more flexibility in my hours and telecommuting, a MUST if you are working and have kid(s).

          • Michael June 11, 2012, 8:41 pm

            Virgin Mobile Prepaid just announced the iPhone. I’m personally not pretentious and hip enough to use one yet, but even buying the phone up front with cash you’re about $500 ahead over the term of the 2-year contract. If you use data and text more than voice it’s a great deal. Data and messaging are unlimied, though there is technically a throttling at 2.5 GB (I have yet to notice it). They do count *every* minute, so the mobile-mobile, nights, weekends, etc count against your monthly usage.

            Having said that, I’m quite happy, and am saving about $30 a month over my old plan.

          • Segmond January 20, 2013, 1:38 pm

            I was on pageplus pay as you go, if I wanted unlimited calls, I would pay $40. If I only need about 1200minutes, I would pay $30. Works on verizon networks. I just recently switched to tmobile, pay as you go as well. I use their data for my voip calls, I can make and receive calls. Plus internet, unlimited text messaging. $30 a month. Tmobile doesn’t have the best reception, so signal can be of concern if you don’t live in a big city. $30 a month for cell phone is great. Best of all no contracts.

            • Dean December 20, 2013, 10:34 am

              Why did you leave page+? I’m thinking about switching over to them and I’ve only heard the good. Can you enlighten me on the “bad”?


    • investlike1percent June 2, 2012, 2:11 am

      pictures do a great job showing its not how much you spend, its how you spend. kudos for showing us how being smart about stretching your dollar enables a family to get what they want.

  • Jeff June 1, 2012, 6:27 am

    That’s a beautiful life. I think the major difference between you and me is you don’t have a mortgage. I pay over $800/month for that, and that’s cheap compared to what most people in my area pay. But I wish it were a lot smaller. I wish I were in a smaller house closer to work.

    • FreeUrChains June 1, 2012, 1:32 pm

      I live in a 2 bedroom 900 sqft Townhouse, for $400/mth and Next to my job. Mortgages can make or break your Savings Rate for 30+ years, unless it’s an income stream! Mortgage means “Death Lock” in French. I am happier in this townhouse then i was paying $800/mth in an Apartment Complex with less sqft, no washer or dryer, and depleting parking spots!!

      Just a little motivation if you need it!

      • JMK December 3, 2013, 2:56 pm

        Unless you signed up for a mortgage with absolutely no prepayments allowed then 30yrs to mortgage fee is a worst case scenario, not a mandatory sentence. If you were paying $800 before, then continue paying it, just put the extra against the mortgage.

        Here in Canada they’ve recently changed the mortgage rules and you can’t even get a 30yr mortgage any more – 25 is now the max. When we got our mortgage 12yrs ago we took the pay every two weeks option – not to be confused with the bimonthly option. Bimonthly means twice a month (or 24 pmts per year) whereas every two weeks, which conveniently matches our pay deposits means 26pmts/yr so 2 more than the bi monthly option. Then we asked them to increase the standard payment up to the next even hundred dollars (something like $630 rounded up to $700). Doing those two things before leaving the bank immediately knocked about 6 years off our mortgage before we’d made the first payment. A couple of years later after some pay increases we bumped the payment from $700 to $800. A couple of years after that we bumped it to $900. On top of that our mortgage allows us to pay extra (any time, as many times as we like as long as the total annual payments don’t exceed 15% of the original amount of the mortgage. So theoretically we could whack another ($235k x 15%=$35,250 against the mortgage every year without penalty. We’ve never managed to use the full amount but typically we do contribute an extra $12k per year above our normal payments. Based on all of the above the mortgage will be paid off in another ~2yrs after a total of 14yrs. We could have done it waaaaay sooner if we discovered the way of the mustache years ago, but our total disinterest in restaurants, designer clothing and new car smell has meant that for almost a decade now we’ve lived quite comfortably on 60% of our take home and spent the rest on those extra mortgage payments, retirement savings and our one luxury – the annual European trip with the kids.
        Anyway, all that to say READ YOUR MORTGAGE DOCUMENTS. See what you can do to reduce the length of time you are caught in it’s grip! Our early-ish retirement is based entirely on getting rid of the mortgage and getting our savings to our freedom number. The mortgage will be done in about 2yrs and the savings in another 1-2 years after that assuming no stock market crashes or wild surges.

        • Dean December 20, 2013, 10:42 am

          For us, paying off the mortgage faster doesn’t make financial sense. We were able to get a 30 yr conventional loan a 3.3%. Why pay that off early when you can take that amount and put it into the market which, on avg, returns 8%? I’m making over 4% by **not** paying more into my mortgage.

  • Emmers June 1, 2012, 6:36 am

    I don’t understand how people think living off that little (or, that much!) money is difficult, because — and this is a BIG because — you don’t have a mortgage! Seriously, the cost of a place to live is the highest expense, hands down. Once your house is paid off, you are good to go forever. (Well, okay, not forever, but you get my point.) It’s aspirational. (Or is that inspirational? Or both?)

    • Mr. Money Mustache June 1, 2012, 8:48 am

      Yup, paying off the mortgage is just another form of retirement savings.

      It’s not magical or even all that great of an investment, at least not for US residents with interest rates below 4% (in theory you could keep the mortgage or rent a house forever and get higher cashflow from certain investments).

      But it’s very calming to own the place you live in, and it’s a nice guaranteed return on your investment, inflation-proof, can be tapped for cash flow by renting out rooms, etc.

      • Marcia @Frugal Healthy Simple June 1, 2012, 1:17 pm

        I agree completely. I was going to point out that your lack of mortgage is a big factor for how you keep your expenses so low. I should probably see what our expenses are after our mortgage. Hopefully would be encouraging

        Even with interest rates so low (our mortgage is at 4.75%), I still feel better paying it off early vs. paying the minimum and investing – piece of mind means a lot to me.

        • JMK December 3, 2013, 3:17 pm

          Yes finishing off our mortgage in another 2+ years will be FAB-U-LOUS. Between the accelerated (higher) regular payments and the additional $12k we pay off each year on top of that we’re laying out nearly $35k just for the mortgage. We’ll have paid it off in 14yrs but at the moment it continues to be the major financial commitment in our lives. However, we’ll still have $6k per year in utilities, $5k in property taxes, plus insurance, 2 cars (because our totally unmustachian house was chosen for it’s wooded location and with total disregard to needing to get to work, get groceries, well go anywhere really. The utilities and property taxes alone would quite nicely pay for a regular 2 bedroom apartment. I’d quite happily take the equity out of this place and retire tomorrow if I could get agreement at home.
          Seeing the end of the mortgage will be great, but it’s by no means the end of our hefty bills. That requires giving up our “forever house” and he’s just not there yet.

      • FreeUrChains June 1, 2012, 1:46 pm

        My cousin’s landlord built 3 single (300 sqft) studio apartment/houses (himself; one per 6 months) on his lawn to rent out at $1500/mth on a beautiful cliff view property of North Shore, Oahu, HI. I happily sleep in a tent when i visit my cousin for a few weeks :)

        • Baughman June 1, 2012, 5:51 pm

          This is inspirational. I’ve thought about doing this myself. If anyone can provide details on the feasibility (and legality) of this, I’d love to hear about it. I plan on living in a college town for the rest of my life where I can surely get a good wage for a 300 square foot place like the one you described.

          After doing some quick math, that would be 6 yards by 6 yards. I would suspect that the quoted square footage is a bit low.

          • GregK June 2, 2012, 10:11 am

            Not necessarily… I had a 10 sq. m. (just over 100 sq. ft.) studio apartment when I lived in Paris.

            • Jordan June 4, 2012, 11:58 am

              This. I currently live in a studio that’s about 260 sq ft. It’s perfectly livable for one person, There’s just not room for much extra stuff.

            • EarningAndLearning May 16, 2017, 1:18 pm

              I love alone in a 600 square foot one-bedroom apartment with a good sized balcony, and frankly, sitting in my living room looking around, it feels huge! Like the commenter above, I rented a studio in Paris too that must have been 200 square feet, with 2 tiny balconies. The couch became the bed, there was a tiny kitchen, with a shower IN the kitchen, and I had to go out the front door to the toilet room a few steps away. Honestly, it was enough — and kind of fun! I love small, simplified living!

          • Nighthawk2 March 5, 2016, 8:09 pm

            Comment on legality- not likely to be legal. Check your local zoning maps to see how your property is zoned, then read the regs for that zone/category. In most cases, adding a second dwelling structure is not legal, but there will be exceptions. Of course, non-conforming apartments are everywhere, but I can’t recommend it as you risk legal action, insurance claim denial, and not getting your investment out because you can’t advertise it as it really is (see MMMs article on honesty for another reason).

  • Donovan June 1, 2012, 6:37 am

    Great summing up of what you can do with even a tiny budget if you just spend carefully. I’ll have to show this article to my fiance (she’s still a bit leery on the idea of early retirement).

    Too many people budget highly for certain things that just don’t need to be bought very often. One tiny example from my own past was school supplies. My parents would always take my brother and I out to buy folders and such at the beginning of the school year, and I was the one who had to step in and say “No, all of our stuff from last year still works perfectly fine so why on earth would I need a new binder or pencils.”

    And now, provided I don’t lose it, I keep the same mechanical pencil for over a year at a time :P Just apply this to every item you own and presto! You now spend less money.

    • FreeUrChains June 1, 2012, 1:49 pm

      Most girfriends hate obsessions with Early Retirement, so it is a great idea to wait til engaged to start persuading them ( in very small moves, like this blog)

      • Emmers June 1, 2012, 3:27 pm

        Orrrrr, you could date a person with similar values to your own. Take it from advice columnists: never, ever *expect* to change someone else.

        (My friend’s mom, after the friend got engaged, told her “That’s great! Now you can work on fixing him.” My friend was not amused.)

      • Christine June 1, 2012, 6:54 pm

        There are women who like the idea! I agree, find someone with similar values. We all have our vices. I’ve dated men who are movie, gadget and video game obsessed. Its a money drain just as clothes shopping is.

        • Eric June 22, 2012, 2:06 am

          What you say is true.

          It was my wife who lead me away from the consumerist lifestyle. The problem is that there are just so few of us in general that it is rare for any two of us too randomly meet.

      • KB June 2, 2012, 9:47 am

        That may be true, but there are plenty of us girls out here that are very into early retirement! We just aren’t out at bars/clubs dressed to the nines every night! lol

        • Garrett May 13, 2017, 9:35 am

          As one wise exchange between 2 people once went…

          Person 1 to Person 2: “I never see you at the bar!!”

          Person 2 to Person 1: “I never see you at the bank!”

          Bars and nightclubs are a drain on finances. Thank you for being a woman who cares about the more important things in life :-)

      • Joy Host June 5, 2012, 1:07 am

        Agree with the other ladies…you are probably just looking in the wrong places. Though you would have to wait and look longer to date the right person, and I understand how this would lead to mismatched situations and “girls” OR guys who really disagree.

        On a more positive note: Mr. MM explained in one post that Mrs. MM needed some convincing early in their marriage, but came around. The key is to NOT choose someone who bases his/her worth on material possessions. If the principle is in place, the rest will follow.

  • Neo June 1, 2012, 6:39 am

    Didgeridoo mate :) Great looking life

    • Chris O. June 1, 2012, 8:29 am

      Dude, MMM, your badassity grows… as a huge fan of Mr. Xavier Rudd, I too can appreciate the Didge.

      Also, very inspiring article and photos (like usual), thanks!

  • Jeh June 1, 2012, 6:44 am

    A beautiful life indeed. Wow. And amazing photography to boot.

  • Jimbo June 1, 2012, 6:50 am

    Before I started my professional career, I was wondering how people making an average of 40k/year (out of college!) could justify this as not a truck load of money. I still can’t! Cars, housing, children… All these things do not have to be expensive. Unless you build your life to be expensive.

    Good point about having 17 years of accumulation in there… Spacing out big ticket item purchase helps a lot. Time to shop for them, to save for them, to enjoy them.

    I am in the process of doing that. I want a new bike (mine is getting pretty beat up, i did not purchase quality the first time around), but I can’t seem to convince myself to spend a 1000$ on a bike. The math does not work. With this technique, I rarely buy anything anymore…. Maybe even too little. Oh well, better this way than the other way around…

    • Jimbo June 1, 2012, 7:06 am

      Hey MMM, what did you use to secure your rake on your bike? I wanna do something similar for my hockey stick… :-)

      • Mr. Money Mustache June 1, 2012, 8:27 am

        Haha.. you must be referring to this silly tweet I made yesterday: https://twitter.com/mrmoneymustache/status/208220271973380096/photo/1

        That was just two bungie cords. It worked great (it was only for a 3-mile ride down to the rental house).

        • pachipres June 5, 2012, 9:19 pm

          Thanks MMM. Since your blog, I started biking more and since I am carrying a hockey stick, I just been tucking in on the side of the bike but then sometimes it swings with the wind. So I am going to do the bungie cord thing too.

          • Ann Q June 17, 2012, 9:35 pm

            If you bungee it so it pokes out front a good length, you look like you’re jousting, and cars give you WAY more room. :-)

            Also good for winning extra space on the street: bike down the street carrying a sledgehammer in one hand. No really, I was just coming home from the hardware store!

  • Joe @ Retire By 40 June 1, 2012, 6:58 am

    Thanks for the reminder. I firmly believe you can live a good life under 30k. The absent of a mortgage payment really help there. Unfortunately, we still have a mortgage and are still working on paying it down. We’re not ready to move at this time, but will consider a cheaper location in the future.
    We have a similar travel plan as well. Our kid is only 15 months old and we’ll travel more in the US until he’s old enough to appreciate international travel. Maybe 10?

  • rjack June 1, 2012, 7:16 am

    MMM – You are my role model.

    I estimate our annual expenses at $50K and I have my house paid off! I have alot of work ahead of me.

    • Arbor33 June 1, 2012, 7:39 am

      That’s a pretty hefty annual expense rjack! You definitely do have some work ahead of you. However, you don’t have to go it alone. Check out the forum here. There’s all sorts of great input and creativity whether it be from mini-mustaches or mega-mustaches. Ask some questions or start a personal case study. Weird as it sounds, we all want you (and everyone else) to succeed. It’s equally as inspiring as Mr.MM’s posts. Maybe even better :D

      • Mr. Money Mustache June 1, 2012, 8:50 am

        An Rjack reader case study? That would be fantastic, since we all know him so well already from the comments :-)

  • Chris Turner June 1, 2012, 7:34 am

    Damn. I’m pretty envious of those low monthly expenses. I didn’t realize property taxes were so low in CO. I was feeling pretty good about my Gas & Electric Bill this month (90$), until I saw yours.

    Nice article BTW. Frugality is not Deprivation!

    • Leigh June 1, 2012, 7:45 am

      My most expensive electric bill (bimonthly) has been about $70. I love not needing heat or A/C :)

  • Leigh June 1, 2012, 7:42 am

    Ignoring mortgage and travel, my monthly budget would be about $2,000 per month. I would hardly call playing 3-4 sports, living in a city neighborhood in a 1,200 sqft condo, having a smartphone, keeping a nice wardrobe, etc. living a deprived life either. Having no monthly mortgage payment sure makes a huge difference on monthly expenses!

    But I save 50% of my monthly net income and 100% of the net of my bonuses and I should hopefully have a future mortgage paid off in 4-5 years while still traveling the world with my meager vacation days.

    • DaftShadow June 1, 2012, 10:38 am

      No need to brag! ;-)

      Actually, your comment makes me think of the truth about all this: the point is not to recreate MMM’s lifestyle, the goal is to understand WHY it works.

      It works because you constantly work to minimize expenses, you save large amounts and use them in helpful ways (like paying off your house). Simultaneously, you spend efficiently, only putting money towards things which bring you exceptional additional value. And you do it all over long periods of time… so you accumulate a lot.

      Remember: you’re not trying to live MMM’s life TODAY… he’s been collecting money and assets and skills for 20 years. You are trying to built the foundation that LEADS to a life of accumulated strength,

      On a related topic, which I think you might enjoy, there was a comment in MMM’s post, about “fancy high heeled shoes.” It’s an interesting comment because it’s also a value-judgement about clothing. MMM considers fancy clothing expenses to be a waste of time and money. But the thing is: *you* don’t have to!

      As long as you purchase efficiently and it’s something that matters to you, then you can do it in a mustacian way. Many people enjoy dressing well. They feel better about the way they look and come to enjoy the artistry of it. Yes, a lot of these are likely over-consumers, buying because it fills their momentary need to feel better about themselves. But others can approach things in a mustacian way, planning a wardrobe that will look good and last for ages. Purchasing the exact pieces they need for their program. Buying items that will not need to be replaced for 7-20 years. Fixing clothes instead of replacing them. Buying a pair of fancy high heels that are perfect in color/shape/durability; which will last you for 10 years or more, can be the perfect investment, if it’s important to you.

      • Leigh June 1, 2012, 11:57 am

        Agreed :) I don’t want to live MMM’s lifestyle of a house and biking everywhere when I could live somewhere and _walk_ everywhere.

        I like your description of how to buy clothes in a way that appears expensive, but isn’t really. The importance really is to spend money in a meaningful way, while saving well and enjoying life. To me, saving money is the easy part, but I think I’m finally getting better at the spending money to enjoy life part.

        • Mr. Money Mustache June 1, 2012, 1:23 pm

          Good point. I didn’t mean to make a value judgement against any particular type of shoes. And I also like high-quality clothing.

          I use the high-heeled shoes stereotype because of a scene I saw once on Sex in the City. The main girl had something like 100+ pairs of $300+ shoes.

          Fancy shoes and similar items are often collected out of a compulsion or addiction instead of a calculated need/want, and they’re done WAY out of proportion to a person’s income. That’s the aspect that I was trying to make fun of, rather than just the idea of having something fashionable.

          • DaftShadow June 1, 2012, 4:19 pm

            Like collecting bicycles, perhaps? :-D

            The clothing topic actually comes up often with my GF. She’s still in the Stop Spending Money and Don’t Buy Clothes phase of her financial literacy. No matter how many times I say “Go Spend Money On Clothing” or “You hate that shirt; throw it out and get one you like” she’s always hesitant, even when it would come in way under budget.

            hmm… now that I think about that last paragraph, perhaps I may have found a keeper!

            ~ DaftShadow

            • Mrs. Money Mustache June 1, 2012, 5:35 pm

              Ha! That bicycle collection is nothing compared to most people around here.

              I’ve had my bike since the year 2000 – I paid about $900 for it from REI at the time. The cruiser bike was purchased from a friend for $90 – MMM and I can both ride it and use it a lot. The kids bike was $14 used. I got my road bike from a friend for $300 and one of the reasons I bought it is because it’s worth way more than that.

              MMMs bikes are also reasonably priced and been around a while. One of them might have even been left behind by a prior tenant.

              One great thing about having so many bikes is that we always have one for visiting guests. They all get used a lot more than you might think. :)

            • JP June 3, 2012, 8:59 am

              One of my “someday” purchases is definitely going to be an extra bike that I like to ride, but that I can also loan out to visiting friends!

            • Cass June 5, 2012, 5:42 pm

              Don’t throw out old clothes!
              Repurpose them. The more re-use you get from your clothes, the less you need to spend (time or money) on buying the up-cycled items.
              Jeans can be cut into squares for scrubbing rags, cotton clothes can be turned into wash rags, t-shirts can turn into tote bags, mesh turns into protective-covers for plants.
              There are many more uses! A simple Internet search can help spur creativity.

  • Jen June 1, 2012, 7:43 am

    What do you do with so many bikes? Just curious.

    • Mr. Money Mustache June 1, 2012, 8:40 am

      There is no great reason for all those bikes.

      They theoretically have different purposes (mountain bikes with big tires and suspension, super-aerodynamic road bikes, cruiser bike for coasting downtown to the tacos stand, etc). They’re just fun. And they motivate us to do more biking. Definitely excessive though.

      • sarah June 1, 2012, 1:20 pm

        When your main mode of transportation is bikes, you “need” about 3. A road bike for speed, a mountain bike or similar set up as a commuter (slick tires, no suspension) for pulling trailers, and a mountain bike for fun. Yes, I had just a road bike for my first year or so of transportation cycling, but having more bikes for different purposes is so much more effective. That is because it’s easier to go fast on a road bike when you just want to get home quickly, or go on a longer ride, but I’d much rather pull a trailer or go on a social ride (e.g. Critical Mass) with my commuter. The mt. bike is just for fun. None of these is a big cost if you buy used and know how to fix your own bike. And don’t forget the little kids bike with a long seat-post and high handlebars that you use for trips of a mile or less, to avoid walking ;)

  • JasonR June 1, 2012, 8:04 am

    Those are nice photos indeed…

    Getting down to brass tacks: can you fit a 4’x8′ in the Scion? In the van? How much sheetrock fits in those vehicles? If you haul it on your bike, what’s the setup look like?

    Also, workshop/garage photos?

    • Jeh June 1, 2012, 8:25 am

      No way a 4’x8′ is fitting in the Scion. MMM uses the van not the car for construction work, and yes a 4’x8′ fits quite nicely in a Honda Odyssey (I own a 2001, though I mostly use mine to transport people and alpacas…lol).

    • Mr. Money Mustache June 1, 2012, 8:35 am

      Yeah, I wanted to show off the rolling workshop system (everything is on wheels so I can fit it in the van).. but the existing number of pictures already took me hours to put together.

      The Scion or even a bicycle could carry plenty of 4x8s – with a trailer!

      The van can carry as much drywall as you like right in the back, where I added a removable plywood loading surface. Realistically you’d be limited by weight – I wouldn’t exceed 2,000 pounds or so in the van, meaning about 40 sheets.

      But really, you rarely need to do large runs of basic materials like that – most building material stores deliver to your job site for free. I’d rather focus my time on the actual building rather than loading.

  • T-Lou June 1, 2012, 8:18 am

    Like rjack I estimate our family expenses at $50K, and our house is paid off too. But we hire out our carpentry needs as our skill set doesn’t include construction/home repairs, we live in Canada, where heating needs are greater, house taxes double, insurance less competitive, gas and alcohol taxes higher, etc.

    I love the point to the blog though is to focus on living well by not just buying stuff aimlessly but buying only the things that bring value to ones lives and
    then using those things mercilessly. We own camping gear, kayaks, bikes etc. but they do not come out as frequently for our family.

    Since reading this blog, I’ve changed my spending habits, which my family viewed as pretty frugal to start with. They’re not loving the new wife/mom way. For those readers with children – it’s easier to start the way you plan on continuing as teenagers are not such a fan of pulling their allowances/ spending sprees on designer clothing etc.

    • Mr. Frugal Toque June 1, 2012, 12:45 pm

      I’m not too sure you can blame that on Canada, unless you’re living so far north that your food bill is costing you $10k and your heating is $15k.
      We’re a family living in Canada with two kids.
      We’re far enough north that we have to spend money on heating (which we do with a geothermal system).
      Including a nearly $6k property tax bill, we’re living on just under $30k/year. The rest goes into the mortgage and RRSPs.
      Your heating bill may be higher on oil or propane, but it should only add about $2k to what I pay.
      That being said, we’re not living in the Lap of Luxury that MMM has. We only have two functional computers, five bicycles and no drum sets, but I think you get the picture.

      • Mr. Money Mustache June 1, 2012, 1:29 pm

        Haha.. way to work in “blame Canada”!

        There’s lots of room for shuffling these numbers around for other luxuries. Frugal Toque has a bigger house and a newer car than me, but I probably spend more on travel. He gets nearly-free health care through the excellent Canadian health system, while I get cheaper gasoline. It all mixes out.

        In harsher climates, you can mitigate the heating costs by being more selective about the house you buy – there are still people in Sudbury and beyond who get all their heat from the Sun with just a bit of wood heat backup from tree branches that fall on their own land.

      • Lisa January 2, 2013, 9:09 am

        I live in Hamilton. My property taxes are $2300/year, my heating costs are $660/year, and my grocery bill for me and two kids is $5000/year.

        • Marianne May 19, 2014, 1:58 pm

          I live in Whitehorse, yukon where my property tax is $1400 (before the $400 rebate, heh heh) but I filled my oil tank 3 times last winter, at $950/fill…it was our first winter in our new to us 1974 house and you better believe the other 8 tabs open on my computer are about insulating rim joists etc. food isn’t too bad here since we get it tucked in from BC rather than flown or barged in, we spend about $4500/year for three of us and there’s room for improvement there.

          With a 1 year mat leave coming up (my husband is a stay at home dad so lots of family time is coming our way!) it’s going to be worth our while to be super organised and waste NOTHING! :)

  • kolorado June 1, 2012, 8:44 am

    Awesome. Beautiful house and great thoughts on how you live on less than $30K a year.
    We’ve never had an income like yours, nor do we have the level of quality tools and toys you have, but we are also very content on less than $30K a year. We employ the same principles as you do at our income level. We are renting now but had a mortgage in NJ and still lived under that amount.
    It is very frustrating when people don’t “believe” our budget. I don’t think even showing them our bank account balances would satisfy them. Some people just have to cling to any minute sliver of doubt they have about others’ successes so they can justify their choices.
    Not talking about any particular person here but if a person is happy at their level of spending and it’s less than their means, great! But don’t complain when it’s not as low as mine or imply that I’m somehow being deceitful about how we live or on how much. I get it most about my $300 a month food budget and no matter how many times I’ve posted my menus or exactly what I’ve bought at the store and what I cook(did this at another frugal site)people just have to comment and explain why it would never work for them. The implication is always that we’re deprived and living unhealthily on just beans at that level of spending.
    The attitude of some people is fascinating because so many of us just want to help. They ask for help and then they find a million reasons why we can’t help them. We’ve truly found a lot of joy and that’s what we want to bring others to. Hard to see the wonderful peace that’s there when you’re constantly worried about money and making excuses. It must be some kind of Stockholm syndrome. Why do people love their chains so much?

    • PeteyP July 17, 2012, 8:52 pm

      I’m actually in the process of putting together a budget for myself, due to a massive (and wonderful) change in living arrangements and I was trying to think about a monthly food budget for two beginner Mustachians – I was coming up with $400 a month (including household basics like toothpaste, shampoo etc, and living in an expensive city). Do you mind posting a link to yours on that other frugal site?

  • M June 1, 2012, 8:56 am

    I was pretty bummed, too, to compare my electric bill to others My family and I live in a rural area of central Ontario. We’re just on the Canadian Shield and our well is 200+ feet deep. We’re all electric with supplemental heating with wood. By far our largest cost is electricity to deliver water and heating. But we’ve also been mortgage-free since 1998.

    Our total annual costs are approx $50,000 for the same reasons that T-Lou outlined. Most consumables are about 20% more expensive than the States. But that just challenges me to find creative ways to be frugal.

    We stumbled into rental properties a few years ago. I was hesitant about being a landlord, but it’s been a great experience. We do all the maintenance ourselves and I really enjoy watching our investment flourish.

  • Geek June 1, 2012, 9:04 am

    I do believe your CS/high paying/code/geek jobs had a big impact in your 20’s of being able to retire in your 30s and spend so little now. My DH is back to looking for “regular” work in high paying computer jobs and hopefully we have <5 years to Fuck You Money after that.

    • Emmers June 1, 2012, 9:17 am

      Very much so! CS is a pretty solid field, if you’re any good at it — you might need to hop companies a lot (some shut down, some have layoffs, sometimes you just want/need a raise) so it’s not the most stable thing necessarily, but it can be lucrative.

      • Geek June 1, 2012, 9:25 am

        Yeah, DH took a couple of years to try his own biz and the marketing didn’t work out. I’m in a big enough company where the ebb and flow isn’t terribly worrying (knock on wood) but the 2 years off brought us down from saving 50+% to saving 20% and that’s primarily 401k.

  • chetbodet June 1, 2012, 9:25 am

    Great post, I really appreciate you sharing your experience and I am definitely working to lean out my own lifestyle. Two questions that hopefully you can help me with.

    Do you plan on letting your son play competitive sports as he grows older? I ask because in my area playing on a good soccer team costs between $1,500-$2,500 just for the team fee and then up to another thousand or two in gas, hotels, food, etc… There are cheaper options, but in less competitive leagues with worse coaching. Basically how do you expect stuff like that to effect your spending?

    Also, in making my rounds through the financial blogosphere it seems that more and more people are discounting the idea of owning your own home just for personal use choosing instead to invest the money in order to get more returns to finance spending. Would you still buy a house if you could do it again? And do you think it is a good/smart way to go for a young person in their 20’s trying to work their way to financial independence?

    • Jamesqf June 1, 2012, 12:44 pm

      Shouldn’t the first question be whether the kid will even want to play competitive sports? Not everyone does, and given the number of more interesting alternatives the MMM family has available (plus a bit of discreet brainwashing from dad) it’s quite possible that he won’t.

      But you could always start the kid off with an activity investment account – put in so much per year, kid gets to use income to pay for his choice of activity,

    • Emmers June 1, 2012, 5:19 pm

      I like the other suggestion (save specifically for that — and it can be used to purchase a musical instrument, etc. if the kid is so inclined) — but I’m also a big fan of the lower-stress, lower-expense sports; YMCA and such. I’m slightly horrified at the whole travel-sport phenomenon. Perhaps my opinion will change when I spawn?

    • Mrs. Money Mustache June 1, 2012, 6:21 pm

      I guess we’ll see, but what you’re describing sounds pretty competitive to me…

      Right now, our son takes swim lessons through the rec center. They are under $4 per lesson. There are a lot of great activities offered through the rec center at a great price. His school also has tons of great activities and sports teams that they can play on for free. I know when I was a kid, I played on a lot of my middle school and high school teams at virtually no cost.

      You can pay a LOT for your kid to do something (for example, I looked into karate lessons and things of that nature and the prices were absurd!) or you can be active and do great things for a lot less.

      We hike, bike, run, swim, etc. and those activities don’t cost much. We run around and play at parks. We let our kid play independently with other kids. Apparently a lot of kids don’t get that kind of free time anymore because they are always being “instructed” by an adult in one way or another.

      Our son happens to be the type of kid that doesn’t like to be told what to do by an adult… as a result, he doesn’t like organized games or teams at all. Birthday parties with organized games are torture for him. He just wants to run around with other kids and be free to come up with his own games.

      If, down the road, he did end up being interested in a competitive sport, we’d just see how it goes and figure it out as we went along. With my parents, I had to choose one sport to pursue competitively. I chose gymnastics. At the time I was playing soccer, ringette, and also doing figure skating recreationally. I think that choosing one thing to focus on makes a lot of sense and keeps the costs down. Plus, as others mentioned, once he’s old enough, he can help pay for these activities himself.

      It’s really easy to spend a ton on your kid with everything that is available these days. But, everything is still a choice… I don’t think I started any organized activities until I was 8 or 9. Now they seem to be starting at 2!! :)

      • Marcia @Frugal Healthy Simple June 1, 2012, 6:48 pm

        My 6 year old son is very similar. He will get involved in games at parties and such, but really isn’t into team sports yet. But then again, neither were we.

        I played volleyball in HS, and my husband played tennis. We like organized sports for the discipline and teamwork factor, but I don’t care if they are at all competitive. As my spouse puts it “I like the fact that I’m proficient at a few sports.” He can swing a racket, spike a volleyball, and hit a ball with a bat.

        I can play volleyball, but I can’t dribble and walk to save my life.

        We are hoping to play with our kid enough so that he’s proficient enough to have fun with his friends in sports. But we also plan to wait to let him “choose” a sport until he’s old enough to try them out. And when he tries them out, they will be at school or at the YMCA. He tried karate at school, didn’t really like it. Next up: maybe soccer.

        • Sara June 2, 2012, 4:07 am

          Both of my kids play rec sports through our town. Very cheap, like $10 or $15 a season for each sport. Usually 2 or 3 games or practices a week. It is fun to watch the games, my kids get some basic coaching and they get to try out everything. Plus they start to play team sports for their school (mandatory at their school) in 7th grade. Sports equipment is generally availlable used from other parents. All of the benefits of sports with low stress and low cost.

      • T-Lou June 2, 2012, 10:08 am

        So I took some heat for the “blame it on Canada” post above. I’m going to switch gears and change/add to that the “blame it on the kids competitive sports” instead. Our eldest was a competitive gymnast and we estimate we spent almost 10,000 per year on fees, travel, fundraising and volunteer obligations (which we chose to pay rather than harass friends/family with). But our family sucks at travelling on the cheap.

        When our eldest got out of it last year so as to do a 3 month exchange to Europe, our youngest signed up. But given her lower level, the expenses aren’t as high. Now our youngest is planning her exchange.

        Yep those are expensive kids we got. But my husband and I both choose to continue to work and we can afford it so I don’t sweat it too much.

        I can say our neighbours are too busy biking and skiing with their children to have the time to sign them up for group sports and they have awesome, grounded, fit children.

    • Curtis June 3, 2012, 6:41 pm

      Buying your house can be one of the best investments in your retirement planning you can make. I my case, I would have to have an additional $210,000 in my portfolio pulling in 4% dividends to pay an equivalent of $700.00 p/mo. rent on the same house.

      However, my house cost $74,000. If I had invested that same $74k in stocks paying a 4% dividend thus choosing to rent, I’d only be getting $250.00 p/mo. I could use toward my monthly rent.

      In some areas it still make more sense to buy your home rather than rent.

    • George June 3, 2012, 8:31 pm

      Competitively, I would recommend running/racing. Most people never learn how to run properly and so when they decide they want to run for exercise later in life they just end up getting hurt right away. Its best to develop technique when you are young, light, and recover quickly. Plus it helps to develop bone density for your legs. Now (at 25) I spend about $200 on shoes and shorts and another $200 on races. It is money well spent (in terms of health and fitness).

      Fun story. I knew a high school kid that went to a school district that did not offer cross-country as a sport. At the time he was average to above average at that distance and he really wanted to race kids his own age. So, instead of sulking about not being given the chance to race he just started calling up high schools and asking if he could run in their invitational. Then on the day of the race he would simply drive there, warm up, race, cool down, and go home. Eight years later he ran 13:57 in the 5k. Point is, he didn’t need to sign up for some expensive league to be a competitive athlete.

    • Nicole February 22, 2016, 3:50 pm

      Your second question is one I wonder about myself, having bought my current condo at 26. Can I share my story with you?

      I’m a 27 year-old who bought a 900 sq ft., 1-br condo in Chicago for $113K last year. My logic was this: i was living in ~400 sq. ft. 1 -room studio directly across the street for $775. Now, my monthly payment of mortgage, int, prop taxes and HOA fee are $805 – I have more than double the space and a property I plan to rent out in the future instead of selling. Once the mortgage is paid off, it will be nice to have the small chunk of change every month to help with bills, savings, etc. If I have a $2K/mo. lifestyle, this small chunk of change will be great to accelerate savings or supplement a few lines of my budget.

      For me and this situation, it was a quality of life decision. And, because of the low monthly-obligation (~8.5% of my income) in a high-opportunity city, I’m still able to save aggressively (40%) for when I need a 2-BR + in the next 7 – 12 years! My hope is to put down 50%+ on the next home.

      Based on my own experience, you’ll need to crunch the numbers to decide if owning early is the right fit. If you plan to move within the next 5 years, if you can’t afford the 20% DP, or if the responsibility is not one you want yet – buying might not be the right option.

      If looks like this post was from about 4 years ago though, may I ask what you ended up doing and how it’s turned out?

  • Nick June 1, 2012, 9:43 am

    Love this. My biggest takeaway was the section on LIVING DEBT FREE as early in life as possible. This pays enormous dividends later in life, even if one is relatively young.

  • Monika June 1, 2012, 9:45 am

    Thanks for feeling comfortable sharing so much of your personal life with us.

    I’d love to see an article on Mrs. MM’s process for planning your low cost, high awesomeness travel.

    • win June 1, 2012, 1:36 pm

      Yes, I just paid $500 to fly to LAX on Airtran. Please have Mrs MM explain how she travels cheaply.

      • Mrs. Money Mustache June 1, 2012, 5:16 pm

        It’s not really that complicated… The biggest thing is that I enjoy it, so I don’t mind spending time to do the research.

        We have a Travelocity credit card that accumulates points pretty quickly, so that ends up being $400 off travel about once or twice a year. There’s another good travel credit card on the MMM credit cards page that we’re thinking of getting for a future trip as well…

        The other aspect is to plan WAY in advance. For example, I know that we’re going to Canada this summer and Little MM and I decided to fly (while MMM drives). I have an alert on Travelocity that tells me when the price of a ticket goes below a certain price. Right after we got back from our Canada trip last summer, I got an alert telling me that tickets were ridiculously cheap — WAY cheaper than I’ve ever seen. So, I bought our tickets nearly a year in advance one way. We’re going to drive back all together.

        Finally, if you’re flexible with your dates, like we have been in the past, then finding good flights and deals is a lot easier. You travel when others aren’t traveling. Go to Hawaii in the summer, fly out on a Tuesday or Wednesday, etc. Some airlines have a price by date, so you can look at how much it will cost if you leave 3 days earlier, etc. Flexibility is really important for good deals.

        Now that little MM is in school, things are a bit trickier. For example, it is very expensive to fly anywhere at Christmas-time. So, we’ll probably just stay here or drive somewhere. I would never pay $700-$900 to fly to Ottawa in the summer just because that is the usual price. If we hadn’t found a deal, we would have driven all the way, or flown to Detroit and driven from there (which we have done in the past) or looked at other airports like Buffalo.

        I hope that helps!!

        • Marcia @Frugal Healthy Simple June 2, 2012, 9:04 am

          Those are great tips. Last year we went to Hawaii on spring break, and it wasn’t a bad deal (not a super duper deal though). This year it was $1200 more for the 3 of us. So…we drove to San Francisco and Yosemite instead.

          As much as I like the idea of going somewhere at Christmas because of the “time-off from work” factor, we aren’t likely to fly anywhere either. Though we may take a long weekend and drive to San Diego – someplace close.

        • GregK June 2, 2012, 9:08 am

          Flexibility like this is super-important. We practice it exclusively for our vacations (we fly out and come back in the middle of the week, go to the caribbean in the summer, etc), and I see it a lot when I’m at the airport here in Buffalo (for pleasure or work trips); It’s very unusual that I’m with any other Americans on the shuttle from the parking lot to the terminal; TONS of Canadians drive down to Buffalo to fly to U.S. destinations, because flights are much more affordable. This summer, I’m visiting family in France, and we’re leaving from Toronto (nearly half the price of leaving from Buffalo, and it’s a direct flight!).

          • Gerard June 5, 2012, 12:20 pm

            I agree with all the above. Flexibility (in terms of destination, departure city, method of transport, and timing) is the travel equivalent of “fuck you money”. Paris expensive in mid-July? Go in April. Or go to Barcelona. Or stay in an apartment instead of a hotel. Or fly to Frankfurt and take a train/bus.
            This is where early retirees have an advantage, of course… they can adjust their travel time to suit their needs and financial reality, rather than to suit the convenience of employers. Which is another reason retirement that costs less than claimed by the Pantses of Complaint.
            @GregK, in your specific situation, you might also want to use the “multi-city” airline website option to investigate overseas trips that start in Toronto and return to Buffalo, or vice versa (and then travel yyz-buf on Megabus or Neon). This takes advantage of the bizarre tendency of airlines to under-price the fuel surcharges on such 3-country itineraries. Google “fuel dump” for almost-opaque commentary and tricks from frequent flyers based on this scheme.

  • Matt G June 1, 2012, 9:50 am

    Dear MMM,

    Thank you for giving us something to strive towards. It’s refreshing to see such a wonderful life you have on so little.

    From Matt G.

  • Nunayo June 1, 2012, 9:54 am

    Honestly, $27,000 seems like a normal spending level to mean, not super frugal at all. I know lots of young families living on less because that is all, or more than, they earn.

    My partner and I were liberal arts major in college, so our annual combined income is in the low $40,000. We spent about the same as the mustache family last year, including a $950 a month mortgage payment. Some of our low paid friends find our lifestyle extravagant, because we do have a house with a yard and feed our dog fancy raw food, eat organic etc.

  • mike crosby June 1, 2012, 9:56 am

    MMM, I wish you could have mentioned the 10 weeks you take for vacations every year too;-)

    My wife is retiring this year, and with her retirement and applying the SWR to our savings, it would be over $100K/year. And she’s worried it won’t be enough.

    Here’s the thing, she is not a spendthrift. She’ll just have to find out once she settles into retirement.

    BTW MMM and Mrs MMM, thank you so much for the greatest blog on the planet. You guys rock!

  • brkr12002 June 1, 2012, 9:58 am

    Really like the site. I need to go through the forums sometime. I have some tips to cut back on expense, as an example, my cell phone cost me about $40 for the year, no typo. Currently living very comfortably off $7000 a year, but plan to retire and move within 45 months and get that cut to $5500.

    • win June 1, 2012, 12:33 pm

      $7,000 Wow. Can you list your budget?

      • brkr12002 June 1, 2012, 2:48 pm

        Basically the breakdown is:

        HOA $225 month
        Utilities $40 month
        Property Tax $700 annual
        Internet $30 month
        Food $100 month (don’t eat out and cook all meals from scatch)
        Car Insurance $250 year (older car that i play with for fun and work on)
        Gas $20 month (ride a bike most of the time)
        Gym $21 month

        Those figures added up annualized should total $6182. Misc will make up the rest (birthday gift for the nieces, a little to go out with friends-no crazy tabs at bars, $40 for prepaid cell/skpye combo annually, etc). Most hobbies I have don’t take much money… like to workout, go for long bike rides through Dallas, visit the nieces. Condo is paid off, rent income coming in from another place. Will eventually move to a small house with a yard and get rid of the HOA budget, but pick up a little in the form of Home Owners Insurance, but overall save on that expense. Still working, so insurance is picked up through work. Pocketing basically all earned income and building my income producing portfolio. Keeping it simple, to get out of the rat race.

        • Emmers June 1, 2012, 5:24 pm

          Also with no rent or mortgage payment — bravo! Your HOA seems a little high when compared with your property taxes, though; how does that work?

          • brkr12002 June 5, 2012, 12:18 pm

            Emmers, that’s exactly the reason I want to move out of Dallas to AZ. Money down the drain with the HOA dues. Covers outside maintenance, trash pickup, management fee. etc. I could buy a house in Dallas, but then the property taxes would be way higher to get a decent place that is conveniently located. It’s a trade off I am having to put up with right now. I do have my eye on a place that would cut the HOA down to $100 month, only problem is there isn’t a unit available to purchase at the moment.

            The $225 does stink, but you wouldn’t believe how ridiculous some HOA dues can get in some places… think big mortgage payment.

            Property taxes are low, b/c of constantly fighting every year to keep them down, plus my place isn’t that expensive to begin with. Not the most expensive home on the block. No mortgage is nice, extra $ to invest every month.

            • MooseOutFront November 26, 2013, 2:00 pm

              Thanks for posting your budget. I love it and it makes me want to be young and single and free.

            • brkr12002 November 26, 2013, 3:05 pm

              Ironically, about to mail off the earnest money check for my “retirement home” today. Picking up a nice house in Tucson close to my parents. The place will be big enough if one of them wants to move in when that time comes, with some extra space.

              Expenses will go down.

              New home taxes $2300, HOA $12 monthly, Home Insurance $500.
              Total $2944

              Will lose the condo expenses when I sell:
              HOA is now $233 monthly, Taxes now $750.
              Total $3546

              Annual savings of $602. Annual expenses should drop to about $7k ish.

              Planning my exit from the rat race right now. Sold the rental property and invested in the market, just have to sell the primary residence condo and I’m out.

  • fiveoh June 1, 2012, 10:03 am

    How do you feel about buying more expensive furniture for someone not inclined to carpentry? I promised my wife some furniture for a special occasion and am having a hard time bringing myself to plunk down the $$$ for it. I kind of feel like its part of the home and it will be something we use a lot… but she is wanting mid range stuff not ikea so its not cheap.

    On another note, I have the same weight bench! Walmart?

    • GregK June 1, 2012, 11:40 am

    • Mrs. Money Mustache June 1, 2012, 5:23 pm

      We had a dining room table from Home Depot for years and years and years and finally when we moved into this house, we decided to get a nice dining room set.

      We went to World Market when they were having a sale and got one at a great price (including chairs) and it is all real wood. I think it cost us $399. I’m sure we’ll have it for the rest of our lives. I don’t think it has to be expensive to be nice…

      A lot of the furniture we have is stuff we’ve had ever since we met — much of it is Ikea stuff. You can refurbish old stuff to look pretty good too and if we’re going to buy something like furniture, we give it a lot of thought, look for something used first, and then buy something that is reasonably priced and can last forever. Since furniture is not usually an emergency purchase, you can shop around for a long time to find the right thing.

      • fiveoh June 1, 2012, 8:45 pm

        Thanks for the insight! I’ve been scanning craigslist daily trying to find pieces that we like. I’ll keep looking.

        • GregK June 2, 2012, 9:15 am

          We have some great furniture that we picked up from a furniture store near Saratoga Springs, NY. We walked straight past the showroom to the scratch and dent warehouse in the back. I still don’t know where most of the pieces we got have their “scratches” or “dents”. Great maple dining room set for under $200, a full-sized bed frame with headboard and footboard for around $150, etc. A couch and chair with ottoman for $200. All this brand new… that’s almost all the furniture we’ve ever bought. We have a tv stand (don’t worry, we cut our satellite tv umbilical cord about 6 months ago), kitchen table and bedside tables from IKEA, the rest were gifts or hand-me-downs.

        • Heather June 26, 2014, 12:12 am

          You might want to look around for an old-fashioned farm/estate auction. Nice furniture often goes at very reasonable prices…and is often better quality than any but the priciest new. The auctions are where antique dealers get their stock. Hint: much of the reason very dark-stained furniture is in style seems to be to hide the awful quality of materials and construction, even in the mid-level stuff. No matter how much you tart it up, pine and birch are never going to wear like oak and maple.
          If you live in the SF Bay Area, keep on shopping craigslist till you see what you want. Don’t forget the free section. We got some amazing cl freebies when we lived there, from the deep freeze keeping my food frozen as we speak, to an antique Hoosier cabinet that you couldn’t touch for $500 in an antique store, free because one of its doors needed to be glued back together, which was a 10 minute job with glue and clamps we already had.

  • TK June 1, 2012, 10:09 am

    Great post. I don’t see how anybody doubts the spending as MMM has been pretty transparent and openly admits he has stuff. Sure there is still some side income that comes in to help either save more or splurge a bit but it is not needed – its awesome. Aside from all the ideas I am bummed that I don’t live in CO. Taxes on a $400k house in my area, which wouldn’t be nearly as nice, would be close to $12k a year, which also results in rental properties not penciling out so well here. Fuck it maybe I’ll just have to move to CO….wish I was in tech or health care then it might be easier. Can’t really be unemployed yet as I am not FI yet. MMM do you need an apprentice…..

  • andrew June 1, 2012, 10:17 am

    How about an article on how a family can earn more than $200k per year before they retire like you and your wife did. I don’t understand why anyone finds the fact that you’re retired unbelievable. Earn an average american household income of $50k and you’d still be working, and for many more years to come. Earn an average income and work for 45 years before retiring, earn 4x the average and retire in 10-12 years. Duh.

    • Jee June 1, 2012, 10:43 am

      Well given earnings of $50k and expenses of $27k the family you described could retire in 17-19 years not the 45 years you’re estimating.



      • Elias June 1, 2012, 1:14 pm

        Ignoring Taxes (add 6-10 years) and housing (essentially not included in the MMM budget) (add~6-10 years)

        I’m not saying it can’t be done, but it’s a shitpot easier to retire in 10-15 years (or less) with a household income of $120k than half that, and at half that if you want to retire in 15-20k you have to kick the Family Mustaches collective ass in the frugality department.

      • andrew June 1, 2012, 4:52 pm

        I’m optimistic that many of the regular visitors to this site will get there within that time frame, myself included.

    • Mr. Money Mustache June 1, 2012, 10:47 am

      Good points, Andrew, but it’s not as bleak as you portray.

      First of all, Mrs. M and I earned an average of $61,700 each during our working years: http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2011/09/17/the-race-to-retirement-revisited/ That’s still great earning, but it’s not $200k as you say, except at the absolute peak.

      Secondly, if you want financial independence on a lower income, you just spend less! It’s all about the percentage of your income that you spend, not about how many dollars you earn or spend. The point of this article is to say that we spend a LOT of money. If we had earned $50k per year, we wouldn’t have gone out and bought a $400,000 house, wouldn’t have owned cars, would not have gone on international vacations, etc. In fact, given a much lower income I would have taken some more radical steps in order to be able to afford to have a kid – living with roommates and going car-free for several more years while I saved up.

      But also note that there are many people – almost everyone I know in my age group, in fact – who earn more than we ever earned, yet can barely pay the bills. So it’s not obvious to everyone that under $30k buys a nice lifestyle.

      As for “how can a family earn $200k per year” – that’s another tricky question. In my case, I deliberately chose a career that I knew would pay well. I started working towards that at age 15 by taking certain math and physics courses, not getting drunk on weekdays, etc. That part of it was conscious choice, but there’s obviously lots of luck in there too: not everyone is born with the right type of mind to be an engineer, doctor, banker, business owner etc. But still, that’s not reason to throw in the towel: there’s still quite a bit of “luck” going around in the world these days. If you’re sitting at an internet-connected computer right now reading the Mr. Money Mustache blog, there’s a good chance that you’re a lucky person as well.

      Just don’t get too attached to high earning and spending. It’s not a necessity of living a happy life. Just one of the numbers in the toolkit of life hacking that this blog tries to be about.

      • Elias June 1, 2012, 10:57 am

        $61,700 each is $120k household income – not $200k but certainly getting there. That beats the median household income by something like 2.3 times.

        Personally, I don’t know anyone except the owners of the company I work for bringing in that much money. 2 or 3 couples are close with 2 professional incomes in the household…

        • Jon June 1, 2012, 12:17 pm

          MMM shows that it doesn’t take as much money as people think to live a great life. But yeah, if somone only has a household income of $30,000/year during their working years, then they’re probably not going to retire very early.

        • Anna June 1, 2012, 12:37 pm

          If you ever happen to check out the ERE blog, you’ll see you can hit FI very quickly even without a huge paycheck. Jacob (of ERE) hit FI in his early 30s and I think he has said that his annual income rarely exceeded $40k. Of course, he does live a lifestyle that people might more readily think of as “deprivation” but he still seems pretty happy on it.

          I don’t think high earnings is really the whole solution–I have met plenty of people who earn $100k+ per year and still have trouble making ends meet. Obviously, if you have the right mindset, a high income can really accelerate your process, but the saving/low consumption mindset is the most crucial part of the process.

        • Bill June 1, 2012, 4:03 pm

          It’s not unheard of for couples in their 20’s to be earning $120k+

          Obviously it depends on where you live, but I know many couples in their 20’s making $120k+ here in the DC area. And many of them don’t have any savings of significance. So it’s not automatic – you still have to make a conscious choice to save.

          Wife and I are very fortunate to be earning $160k+ from day jobs and another $15k from side hustles. (after taxes = $105k or so)

          Both of us were fortunate enough to go to 4 year colleges. I worked at a gas station to pay for it though (no debt!)

          I got a BA in Religion (basically zero career prospects) but I got myself out there and eventually landed a job (took two years, worked odd jobs at less than $25k/year before that) and then busted my ass. I went from $50k to $100k in 3 years. Of course I was lucky, but luck wouldn’t have mattered if I didn’t work hard. “Chance favors the prepared mind.” If you know you’re working hard but not getting the income you want, maybe you have to make some changes and apply that hard work elsewhere.

          Wife went a different route: borrowed for undergrad, borrowed for grad school and came out with a doctorate in a health profession – earning $64k now. We’re working on paying off that debt ($110k originally).

          Can everyone achieve this income level? No, probably not. The point is, many people who don’t can, and many who do waste the opportunity.

          I have friends who are teachers. They will never earn the income I earn – but by no means do I begrudge them or think they’re lazy – they’re doing something noble (and working very hard). On the other hand, they live in a nicer house and driver nicer cars than my wife and I. Everyone has choices.

          I’m not saying it’s easy for a person to earn $100k/year. Most people have to bust their ass to do so. But it can be done.

      • Matt June 1, 2012, 4:28 pm

        Another point that has been made several times before, but is worth repeating: high wage-based income is increasingly less efficient (at least in the USA) due to income taxes. Once you break into the 35% marginal tax bracket, plus social security and Medicare, and depending on state income taxes, your “huge” income might only be 50% efficiency.

        On the other hand, saving money is generally 100% efficient.

        Unless your income is so low that you have no income tax obligations, saving money will almost always be a more efficient way of having “more”.

      • andrew June 1, 2012, 5:54 pm

        I’m just giving you shit, MMM. I’m totally with you on this stuff.

    • Fangs June 1, 2012, 3:55 pm

      Yes! It’s easy to retire when you made over 6 figures a year. I know PHDs who never get close to that. And most people I know are working class, earning less than $30,000 a year and that is with college degrees.

      • Victoria June 1, 2012, 5:21 pm

        Without the adequate mindset, it doesn’t matter what you earn – earning 200 k can be the same of earning 50 k (in terms of retiring early, of course)

    • Stashette June 1, 2012, 5:53 pm

      If you want to make more money and dislike your job, than a career change could be a possibility. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Dental hygienists,medical sonographers, and registered nurses all make a median income of $64-$68k a year. These careers all require an associates degree for career entry, and nursing in particular has lots of room for advancement. Obviously starting salary would be less than the median, but working less desirable shifts (like weekends or nights) can bring up your pay significantly.

      Two nurses making $64k a year will be close to what the MMM family was making. Plus, the flexibility of healthcare jobs would make it easy to work around childcare, or to work part time after FI.

      I mention jobs in healthcare, because that’s what I know, but there are likely other fields as well. If you are younger, paying for extra school will make more sense than if you are older, but it could still pay off.

  • Samantha June 1, 2012, 10:18 am

    Hi Mr. and Mrs. MMM, From my little frugal heart to yours, thanks for continuing to pump out inspirational content!

    I am a nuts and bolts kinda of girl and sweat the details on things, so I have a question and a request: 1. Do you have a chest freezer, or an extra fridge, in addition to the one in your kitchen? 2. In a future post, I would love it if you would break down your exact routine in dealing with electricity.

    We have a smallish/medium side-by-side fridge (side-by-side is not a good choice). Currently the freezer side is PACKED with a half pig that we purchased from a farmer/rancher friend. I’ve resisted getting a chest freezer b/c of the electricity costs. I know they are add only about $15 a year to the electric bill, and around $200 to the year’s expenses…but still…we can make do with what we have, But! It is freaking PACKED and a bit inconvenient. But being frugal is about being a bit inconvenienced some times, ya know? Which makes me think about our electricity bill. We do the usual: all lights off, turn off computer/tv stuff at the wall when not in use, CFLs, energy star, home energy audits done and fixed, use appliances when full, low flow shower/sink heads, insulation, minimize electrical stuff in general, etc etc. We live in Portland, Oregon and pay 10 cents a kWh and average $63 a month. I think the MMM family is kicking out butts and you have five computer systems!!

    So…when you are ready, I’d love a detailed electric strategy from you. I find this stuff fascinating!

    Happy summer!

  • mike crosby June 1, 2012, 10:23 am

    MMM, an aside to your post please.

    After one is retired, if one wishes to travel, the greatest expense would be lodging and transportation.

    Websites like couchsurfing, airbnb, and homeexchange are useful but what if there was a website dedicated to retired people who wanted to travel and be willing to share their home?

    Like if you wanted to visit where I live, come and stay at my house. But beyond the introductions, you’re free to do as you wish.

    So now, lodging would be free, then figure out how to lower the cost of transportation. Then the only expense would be time, and that is what ERs have with abundance.

    • Dancedancekj June 1, 2012, 11:04 am

      Here’s an idea: What if you first set up a network of Mustachians willing to let people crash with them? Call it Mustachiocrashing or something. In addition to the traveller finding a place to stay, they could swap Mustachian tips and stuff. Granted, it might not be a very big network, but seeing as how the community is growing and there is an interest in meeting up in RL, this might not be that big of a jump..

    • AGil June 1, 2012, 11:29 am

      That would be sweet. I’m such an airbnb junkie, would love to have a cheaper solution.

      • AGil June 1, 2012, 11:50 am

        A section on the forum would probably suffice. Who wants to stay in lovely Easton, PA? There is a real live Mikado steam train, canal boat ride and you can take your kids to the crayola factory for hours of fun! I’l pretty much travel anywhere, we have an 8 month old now and traveling any place is a vacation.

    • win June 1, 2012, 2:26 pm



      “Servas is divided into nine regions around the world, each with its own coordinator. Each Servas coordinator maintains a list of approved hosts and travellers for their region.

      Through Servas, travellers have opportunities to meet hosts, their families and friends, and join in their everyday life. Where convenient, hosts may offer two nights (or more) accommodation and invite travellers to share a meal.

      Names and addresses of hosts appear in annually produced lists which are made available only to approved travellers.”

  • kris June 1, 2012, 11:07 am

    You didn’t mention the best part of the Tesla roadster, which is that it is all electric powered.

    • Mr. Money Mustache June 1, 2012, 1:35 pm

      ..except how I referred to it as the “all-electric Tesla Roadster” .. :-)

      • kris June 2, 2012, 1:45 am

        Whoa I totally missed that, my bad. Yeah I too have always wanted one but then I think of wayyyyyy better things I could do with $100,000 . (especially since I bike everywhere)

  • fumoney June 1, 2012, 11:14 am

    An interesting bathroom design… Looks like your closet is right next to the shower stall. The clothes don’t get damp this way?

    Mustachian morning… Need sugar for coffee to start the work from home day. Get on the bike and pedal the 2 miles to the store instead of driving. Notice construction traffic all along the way to the supermarket and realize that it was faster to ride to the store than drive, aside from the other benefits. On the way back, notice that a neighbor put out a perfectly fine, albeit a bit dirty, high chair at the curb. Come back and carry it to the house to be cleaned and shine like new. Hope to sell my wife on the fact that “dumpster diving” ($400K homes around here) is perfectly acceptable even for an unborn precious baby.

  • DaftShadow June 1, 2012, 11:15 am

    Hey MMM, I had a thought, and it’s something that I think you are ignoring in your post. It boils down to this:

    When people look at your lifestyle and say “well, it’s crazy for me to think I could live like that.” In many ways, they are RIGHT, because they are not making the connection that you live this lifestyle because you have been accumulating this “stuff” for 20 years. They cannot see themselves living in a $400,000k house spending less than $30k a year, because if they tried to do that today, they would fail miserably. Proving you live on $30k a year doesn’t help them, it just says “ha, you’re wrong, I can! so there!” :)

    The problem, I suspect, isn’t that you must live like a pauper… the problem is that people do not make the connection between “live on $30k per year today” and “20 years from now you will live like a king, and still spend only $30k* per year!”

    People who are new to The Lifestyle**, see this post of beautiful pictures and think “I want that too!” This is the same thing that happens on TV shows like MTV cribs, checking out mansions and $100,000 cars. They don’t see the blood, sweat, and tears that went into building that life, they only see the totems and idols, so they naturally think “I want that.”

    Saying “I can do it, so can you” ignores the fact that 15 years ago, you didn’t have 8 bikes, snowboards, a drumset, a $350k house, a rental house, 2 cars, and a partridge in a pear tree***…

    For example, there were some comments from rjack and others, hardcore readers, about living on $50k expenses. Rjack probably feels like he’s still failing, because he can’t hit that magical $30k. BUT, in fact he’s probably succeeding quite well, it’s just that his “house expense” hasn’t accumulated enough yet to pay the place off, so it’s still an expense rather than a savings account. He can’t put up a post saying “look at my $400k house” because the annual cost of such a house, bought right now as a newbie, is going to $15-20 grand!

    If you want to show new people that they can live a fantastic life on $30k/year, perhaps instead try showing them people who are at their same “level” of financial fitness, and what their lives look like… How they are planning for the future, what kind of houses they are buying and when they expect to pay it off, how long it takes to gain new skills, what sorts of long-term consumer assets they are acquiring and why, etc.

    Only when someone can connect the dots from novice to expert, will they truly be capable of understanding how they could do it for themselves.

    ~ DaftShadow
    * or whatever it would be adjusted for inflation.
    ** probably the wrong term, but I like it ;-)
    *** what *is* a partridge anyway!?!

    • GregK June 1, 2012, 11:49 am

      • DaftShadow June 1, 2012, 12:59 pm


      • abc June 1, 2012, 7:32 pm

        DaftShadow’s post is why MMM comments need an upvote button. I’ve read every post on MMM and over 90% of the comments and this is one of the best ones yet. Succinct, accurate, and illuminating.

        PS I can’t believe I read 90% of the comments. ouch.

        • ClubberLang June 2, 2012, 7:50 am

          Wait… what? I’ve been lurking for a month or so but feel compelled to comment. To be blunt, if one needs MMM to lay things out so they fit a particular situation then sorry but either someone’s reading comprehension skills or their reasoning skills suck. Or they’re a complainypants and need a face punch – which as Clubber Lang, I can deliver.

          Yes this post has some specific examples in it, but I don’t recall reading anywhere on this blog phrases along the lines of “this is how you do it” or “this is the one true way”, in fact I believe MMM generally throws in a healthy dose of “this is how we do it, you situation may differ but you get the idea.” This is *A* was to do it that works for the MM family, not *THE* way to do it.

          This is not Dave Ramsey, if a reader cannot comprehend that it’s the ideas that are important rather than the actual specifics then at least in my opinion they’re missing the point. Even if you wanted to look at specifics it’s not hard to observe $30K plus no housing costs… hmmm, okay so if I take my housing costs of $x, then $30+x gives me something to shoot for!

          Shit, this blog is probably *least* applicable to me – DINK, pay over $USD 40K in rent/year, gas is over $8/gal, regular old chicken breasts run about $10/lb (let’s not even talk about organic) and I manage to figure it out!

    • Dancedancekj June 1, 2012, 12:07 pm

      I think this article is a great starting point, and also it does illustrate the fact that a lot of the items (House, toys, cars) were accumulated over time, which is a very important item that I did not know of before!
      MMM has alluded to what his life was like when he was beginning the road to FI/ER, but I agree that perhaps a case study of a before, during, and after of three different individuals/families would be a great post for the future, to compare the similarities in terms of spending habits, mental attitudes, and life circumstances.

      • DaftShadow June 1, 2012, 12:54 pm

        Fair point DD… I guess it really depends on the type of information a person needs to “connect their dots.” Some people probably find it easier to learn if they see the end game and hear “if you keep doing X for 20 years, approaching life from a mustachian philosophy, this is what eventually happens.”

        I’ve heard it said that people’s opinions are usually more a reflection on the person than the topic… perhaps that may be the case in my OP as well. :)

        Your post structure does sound very intriguing; I think you’re on to something with the idea. Illustrating the entire model, phase by phase, would make quite an interesting post.

    • TLV June 1, 2012, 1:47 pm

      There are several of us on the forums that keep regularly-updated journals with varying levels of detail/distance to FI. I think you have to be registered and logged in to see the journal forum though.

    • Mrs. Money Mustache June 1, 2012, 5:51 pm

      We worked for 9 years at those salaries and then retired: http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2011/09/15/a-brief-history-of-the-stash-how-we-saved-from-zero-to-retirement-in-ten-years/.

      So, we didn’t accumulate the stuff for over 20 years (we’re only 37 right now). Most of our accumulating happened in the first few years of having jobs (probably the first 5 — then we got it out of our system and wised up). Besides the house, the stuff in our house is not very expensive.

      So, our high earning salary days were pretty short lived. We also LOST a lot of money at one point: http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2012/02/01/mr-money-mustaches-big-mistake/

      As others have pointed out, it’s not about how much you make, but how much you save compared to your salary.

      Many folks in their 30s have everything we already have (or at least they have what makes them happy) and some have way more stuff, yet they keep buying extra stuff anyway. I meet people like this every single day.

      I am always amazed when people are buying xmas decorations, for example. Don’t they already have decorations?? Why are they getting more and more every year? It’s bizarre and confusing. And, who goes to furniture stores? It must be people that don’t have furniture yet. What about dishes and cutlery? We have the same set we’ve always had… why not get your stuff once and then have it forever?

      I understand what you’re saying, but I think that regular readers of the blog get what this post is all about. It’s not about the stuff at all…

      • Sara June 2, 2012, 4:21 am

        I wonder the same things. I have so many things I should never need to replace. Kitchen pots and pans (my cast iron pan may last for my kids lifetime as well…), furniture, musical instruments, etc. I never upgrade (tv, etc) until mine dies and then I will usually look for used. If I could live somewhere I wouldn’t need a car, then that expense would be gone. As it is I will only replace with a used car when this is one is pretty much beyond repair. This effectively takes most of my household spending down to replacement items and many replacement items can be purchased used. People do shop recreationally and it seems to fill a void created by working so hard and thinking they don’t have anything. A horrible trap, really.

        • Dancedancekj June 3, 2012, 12:12 am

          I am thinking that if I ever get married and people decide to give me gifts, it will be very difficult due to the fact that I already have everything I could ever want for kitchen supplies. I saved a set of stainless steel pans that my friend inherited from her inlaws that was back from when they were in college – still in great condition, and of solid construction, but they were going to get tossed since they got a new set.

      • Nina July 7, 2013, 3:39 am

        Half of my dishes came from a flea market. It was a fairly popular design of dishes that I already had bought as a set on sale. A plate new would be 12 EUR and I bought 7 addional plates for 8 EUR total on one occasion and smaller plates would be new for 12 EUR as well and I bought 4 for 2 EUR total on another occasion ;-)

  • RichUncle EL June 1, 2012, 12:01 pm

    Great article you keep pushing the envelope with all the great posts. Simple yet effective explanations to how you live your life. WIth great pics to boost.

  • Liz June 1, 2012, 12:04 pm

    Most of my spending is on rent, getting to work and student loan payments. Otherwise we live on less per year than MMM I think.

  • Anna June 1, 2012, 12:30 pm

    I think the pretty obvious area of low-cost here is that you have the mortgage paid off. If my rent were equivalent to your property taxes, I (a single person) would be living on well under $10k/year! Obviously as a renter I also don’t have to directly deal with the cost of home repairs, but I’m pretty sure homeowners with the mortgage paid off are coming out ahead :) Anyway, really drives home the benefit of saving aggressively early on so you can avoid accumulating a huge load of debt that takes years to pay off later.

  • TLV June 1, 2012, 12:36 pm

    Do you drive slower than the speed limit (or any other hypermiling tactics) to get 40mpg in the scion on trips? I just got back from a road trip in ours, and we only got around 35 overall. I’m mostly wondering because in a previous article you said that for cross-country roadtrips you valued getting everyone to the destination sooner over gas mileage.

    Edit: After reviewing the hypermiling article, here are the possible culprits:
    -Automatic instead of manual
    -70mph speed limit for most of the trip (we don’t speed, but we don’t go slower than the limit either. This also means very little big-truck drafting, since the speed limit for trucks was 55)
    -Air conditioning
    -Tire pressure (we use the 29 it says on the door of the car, instead of the 40+ the tire can handle)

    • Mr. Money Mustache June 1, 2012, 1:41 pm

      Interesting Scion comparison! I think you’ve found most of the differences:
      – the trucks around here do about 72, which is perfect for me
      – my tires are at 42 PSI or so
      – I have one of the two front grilles blocked to improve aerodynamics
      – it’s a manual of course (why would they even MAKE a great small car like this with an auto!?!.. this country still baffles me :-) )
      – cars get better mileage at high altitude due to lower air density. Most of my trips are at least half done above 5,000 feet elev.
      – weight in the car matters too. There are only 3 members in the MMM family, and our total weight is only 318 pounds due to my skinny wife and son.

      • TLV June 1, 2012, 2:19 pm

        We weren’t patient enough to wait for a manual on craigslist where the seller wasn’t smoking crack when they picked their price*.

        I didn’t know that altitude made a difference. The highest point on our drive was only at 4300 feet.

        We’ve got you beat on person-poundage (only ~285 for 3 people) but we tend to pack too much stuff even for short trips. It also occurred to me just now that our electric cooler (plugs into the cigarette lighter) probably doesn’t help the gas mileage.

        We’ll be taking another road trip in September, so I’ll have to try making some changes and compare.

        *I saw asking prices as high as $11k for a 2005. Even with Edmunds to back you up, those folks aren’t going to be reasonable. The one we got had $6500 as the asking price, and it was the first non-salvage that had come up under $8k in over a month of looking. We talked them down to $5300 – just under blue book but still way over Edmunds. I consider it a fair deal because we also sold our previous car at more than blue book at the same time.

      • Matt June 1, 2012, 4:17 pm

        Some of the newer cars advertise that the automatic transmission actually gets better gas mileage than the manual. One example that I was looking at: the 2012 Subaru Impreza (the “pedestrian” version, not the turbo ones).

        I can rationalize this, though I’m not sure if I’m correct: an engine will naturally have a mode where it is operating most efficiently. The manufacturer ought to know this, and could design the transmission such that it tries to keep the engine in the high efficiency range as often as possible. I assume technologies like CVT make this tuning even more precise (and perhaps it’s no coincidence that the Impreza I mentioned does in fact have CVT).

        The kind of design philosophy might make for a less-than-thrilling driving experience, but I think hypermiling and “thrilling driving experience” are mutually exclusive. :)

        • slowth June 1, 2012, 10:17 pm

          Check out the hypermiling technique known as pulse and glide. Try that on an interstate with cars zooming by you at breakneck speed and you just might be thrilled to death.

          CVT is designed to be most efficient at every speed, but it’s not quite perfected. I liken it to the automatics of the mid to late 90s. Pretty good, but there’s still room for refinement. CVT should be excellent when all of the kinks are worked out.

      • Sarah September 18, 2012, 1:30 pm

        Ok, I’m a little behind because I am still working my way through the articles and comments, but I had to pause and take note. According to this my 2 person family weighs 50-60 pounds more than your 3 person family. I’d like to pretend this ~20% difference in weight accounts for the ~20% extra in food spending I haven’t been motivated enough to slash all the way down to your mustachian levels.

        Phew, you’ve become such a giant in my mind that it didn’t occur to me you were normal sized in reality (which makes me wonder again what you do in such a giant space like your house, are there rooms you never use? ;-)

      • Mike June 3, 2014, 4:05 pm

        The bottom or the top grill? I’m trying to think of ways to make my Fiesta more aerodynamic, without possibly overheating the car.

  • Taylor June 1, 2012, 12:41 pm

    Interesting Post, MMM. I’ve followed your blog pretty much from the beginning, and I’ve never thought that you had a “deprived” life. I read that you worked hard and had a very high salary at a young age and were able to save enough so that now, you have no mortgage, no car loans, and have accumulated many very fine toys to enjoy :)

    I think the complainypants comments about the MMM spending level does not take into account that you already have paid-for luxuries due to your frugality. Paying for a car, a house, vacations and toys on $27,000 would be difficult, but you have set yourself up well :)

  • Tony June 1, 2012, 12:58 pm

    Great timing!

    I’ve been hounding all of my coworkers to come and check out your site, but I know that they won’t immediately jump in at the first post and read their way to the current one like I did. I think this is just the perfect place post to start them off. Once they see what is possible and understand the basics to how you accomplished it, then maybe they will get to work on their stache’s.

  • Matt June 1, 2012, 1:44 pm

    I think we can all agree that perhaps the “magic” of the MMM lifestyle is largely about *efficiency*. Just about everything you do is framed in a long-term perspective. It seems that most of your behaviors (of any consequence anyway) are generally quite deliberate. You treat your life as an optimization problem.

    It’s been noted in the comments and forums that engineers seem to be over-represented here in the MMM community. Perhaps this is due to the fact that engineering types naturally gravitate towards optimization problems. When you treat your life as an optimization problem, it requires being carefully objective. Perhaps the analytic mind finds it easier to look at his life without bias. Alternatively, most people are naturally interested in their own life, so for the engineer, there is naturally an immediately interesting problem (life optimization) at hand.

    Based on my observations of the people around me, it seems that many people never put in the time for introspection that I believe is a requirement of an efficient and optimal lifestyle. And this isn’t a fault, it’s just not their personality. I recently had a conversation with my wife, and I told her that I am constantly thinking about all kinds of things. As I told her this, I realized it’s a big part of who I am; I love analyzing things in my mind. Much of this analyzing is about myself and my life and where I’m headed (i.e. introspection). I suspect MMM does this to some degree as well.

    • Leigh June 1, 2012, 2:55 pm

      I most definitely do this too, though you worded it far better than I did :) One of my favorite things to do on a long run is math in my head!

    • Mrs. Money Mustache June 1, 2012, 5:57 pm

      Great comment! I suspect you are right. ;) MMM is all about optimization all the time.

      I’m sure he’s already thinking about the perfect time to open our windows to ensure our house gets optimal cooling tonight (it’s hot here today!). Then we’ll wake up to a freezing cold house and huddle under blankets all morning. :)

    • Christine June 1, 2012, 7:56 pm

      And engineers are used to tracking results. What gets measured, gets managed…

    • Marcia @Frugal Healthy Simple June 3, 2012, 6:08 am


  • Kath1213 June 1, 2012, 2:41 pm

    Your house is the epitome of ‘badassity’.

    Having a place of my own is my #1 goal and one as gorgeous as yours would be a dream come true.

    Thanks for the motivation and inspiration!

  • Ginger June 1, 2012, 3:09 pm

    My husband and I have no problem living on less than 30K, even with saving for retirement but I want to go back to grad school and that costs about $11,000 and if we do so, our future child will have to go to daycare, another $400-$1000 per month. It really depends on where you are in life, if you can live under a certain amount.

  • John June 1, 2012, 3:16 pm

    I think you need to spend another 10-15 minutes and post up a recipe for that (Indian?) chicken and vegetable salad for us! Haha, it looks so good.

    • Mrs. Money Mustache June 1, 2012, 6:02 pm

      It’s Chicken Tikka Masala and it’s ridiculously good. Here’s a recipe similar to the one I used:


      The salad is just a bunch of veggies chopped up with feta cheese sprinkled on top. I’m not a big fan of lettuce salads, so I just chop whatever veggies I have around. Usually it includes: tomatoes, cucumber, avocado, red/orange pepper, green onion, and cilantro. Then, MMM makes his own dressing with olive oil and balsamic vinegar and some other random ingredients and spices.

  • Lisa June 1, 2012, 3:35 pm

    Nice article MMM! I wanted to know if you include health expenses into the mix? Do you and your family carry health insurance of any kind? I am looking forward to a life of early retirement one day, but have become used to great health benefits from my employer such as health and dental. How do you work this into your family budget?
    Keep on being badass!

  • Indy June 1, 2012, 6:00 pm

    Mr. MM,

    I’ve been a reader here for about a year and have greatly appreciated the majority of your articles. The one above is probably the most beautifully demonstrative so far. You and your family are truly blessed, but only because you have chosen to be. Kudos and thanks for all the great reading!


  • Andrew June 1, 2012, 7:32 pm

    Being a closet gearhead, you’ll love the wikispeed car:


  • Mr. Mark June 1, 2012, 8:27 pm

    MMM, thanks for the honesty and inspiration.

    But, you don’t live on 27k. If your house is worth 400k, then you are not getting your 7% return on that money. That house investment costs you 28k a year in lost yield. So isn’t it more accurate to say you actually live on 55k?

    Which is ok by me, btw :-)

    • Mr. Money Mustache June 2, 2012, 8:11 am

      True Mark.. but to be really accurate you’d have to back out EVERYTHING I own, and factor in a price of renting it – rather than just the house.

      That’s why instead of thinking of annual spending, I prefer to think of retirement planning as a single chunk of net worth. As mentioned in this post, a lifestyle like this can be funded by about a million dollars. Drop down to a $200k house, and it is down to $800k. Reduce the annual spending by $4000, and you can subtract another $100,000 in required assets. It all depends on how you allocate money between physical possessions (which just sit there) and investments which provide income.

      • Mr. Mark June 2, 2012, 10:22 pm

        I agree you can extend to all your used assets, like cars too. But the house is an order of magnitude bigger…

        It’s a lot easier to understand your lifestyle when you account for that ‘missing’ 28k.

  • Dragline June 1, 2012, 8:29 pm

    Nice pics! My best man used to live in Longmont. But they HAD to move to Boulder. Oh, well.

  • G.E. Miller June 1, 2012, 8:37 pm

    I’m at under $20K/year and sinking. I feel the same way. I have (just about) everything I need. I have a hard time understanding how people can spend much more than that….. but then I talk to people and I’m easily reminded how.

  • JCamasto June 1, 2012, 10:30 pm

    I’m a bit late to the party – searched the comments for any mention of health insurance. I’m married, self employed, 45, and my high deductible health insurance comes in around $3000/yr – my second largest expense after property taxes ($5000/yr). Thoughts?

    My total utilities (gas, elec, water, sewer, refuse) are less than $1000/yr – mostly attributable to weatherization improvements and a PV system that supplies 2/3 my elec. The elec. will soon zero out as our city moves to time-of-use billing (where I can sell back my daytime surplus at a profit).


    • Mr. Money Mustache June 2, 2012, 7:35 am

      Sounds like we’re on a similar plan! My family is just about to switch back to paying for its own health insurance (we had been coasting off of a program from Mrs. MM’s part-time employer, but she’s retiring from that role very soon). We have a new policy lined up that will come in in the mid-$2000s per year, plus there will be some doctor copays occasionally as well.

      That sounds like a lot of dough, but it’s only about the same as the Kindergarten tuition that will now be dropping out of the budget, so our annual costs should still fall slightly. While I’d still prefer Canadian-style public health insurance, our lot here in the US isn’t entirely awful. If you make mental allowance for reduced income/property taxes and durable goods costs, and assign some of those savings to the private health insurance premiums, you still come out financially ahead. As long as you don’t get unlucky in the health care department and require chronic medical care. In that case, you’d have to take other actions (move to a state or country that has good coverage for pre-existing conditions, or go back to full-time work with an employer whose policy will cover you).

  • Jay June 2, 2012, 5:45 am

    Turn your testicles in now MMM! We learn something about your inner your psyche with ever post. Now we’ve learned that you watch Sex in the City. Turn your man card in now!!!

    Great post (otherwise). I do appreciate the view inside the cathedral of frugality. While our spending exceeds yours (for a family of 3) we really don’t live that extravagant of lifestyle. I do like my tech toys and we both like to take nice vacations. I’m a firm believer that while you save money, it will prove useless to you the day you die so you should enjoy some of it in the present. Luckily my wife agrees with me and even spends less than I do. You have turned me on to the fact that is possible to retire early and live a decent life. While we don’t live in a expensive area (Ohio) we live in a fairly high tax area. We do want to get the hell out to somewhere else, but could never go to Colorado since my in-laws live outside of Estes Park!

    Keep up the good work. But one last question – a didgeridoo? Why??? I think they are pretty cool sounding, but as far as owning one and storing it – that’s another story!

    • Mr. Money Mustache June 2, 2012, 7:59 am

      A manly man must be willing to watch (and enjoy) the chick shows if his wife likes them. Better than sitting in two rooms watching separate shows. But that was years ago – we worked through a few seasons of it on Netflix before becoming parents. Now there’s no time for TV anyway.

      A manly man also befriends the inlaws. Living close to them is an advantage, not a disadvantage. But Estes Park is a solid 45 minutes from where I live. In my book, that’s not “close” – that’s a once-or-twice-a-year car trip. In fact, it has been 8 months since I last passed through Estes Park on the way to a camping trip.

      But you’re right about the didgeridoo – I play it rarely and it’s mostly just a decoration. I’d never buy something like that with my current values. (Hmm.. I wonder how much it’s worth to sell?)

      • Jay June 2, 2012, 8:53 am

        As long as you repent, we will forgive you for the Sex and the City watching. Your penance is to go change the oil in the your vehicles.

        As far as the in laws go, I can’t bring myself to befriend them and my wife would agree. But you’re stuck with family! And 45 mins would be way to close that they would insist on seeing the grandchild every month. Hell we are anti mustache in our work commute – 30 mins each. But the house we bought worked well for us while my wife back to school and it was equidistant between my work to the north and her school to the south. Now though real estate is not selling in our area and we would take a huge loss on our house since we bought at the height of the market in 05. If it weren’t for our desire to move out of state, we’d probably take the loss and move closer to our jobs.

        Congrats to you and the wife though – seems like you’ve made a very nice life for yourselves and I now realize that we don’t have to work till 67 to wait for retirement! At least I don’t – the wife can keep working while I could purse other things since her job is pretty sweet, in my opinion.

    • IAmNotABartender April 23, 2015, 4:31 pm

      Toxic masculinity is toxic.
      I usually ignore comments like these here, but damn.


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