Oh boy, look at that headline.
Sounds like another one of Mr. Money Mustache’s trademark brash claims based on chronic overconfidence, doesn’t it? I can already hear you saying “Oh, thanks for the insightful advice, Mr. Money Mustache. I’ll get right on that assignment of kicking the asses of 95% of people”.
But while I do mean that headline almost literally, the challenge is not as daunting as it seems. As long as you set the right goals in the first place, choose your battles carefully, and understand a bit of the math behind what you’re trying to accomplish. As usual, the concepts are best illustrated with a little Story.
Earlier this summer, a dear family member found himself in the hospital for a few days (he’s fine now, thanks). My older sisters and I met up and traveled there together, surprising him with a visit in the recovery room. It was a great way to support each other and spend some much needed time together as well. But the family meeting is just the backdrop for this particular story.
One of the things about Ontario hospitals is that they are often set up as the Crushing Singularity at the center of a Parking Black Hole. If you are foolish enough to drive there instead of biking, you arrive to find a parking garage priced at $12.50 per hour, with a daily maximum of $25.00. In other words, to squeeze the visiting family of any inpatients to the maximum possible amount during the period of a typical visit. If you smoke your tires out of there in fear and disgust, you’ll find street after street of “No Parking At Any Time” signs strategically arranged, designed to exhaust your willpower and eventually suck you back into the black hole.
My sisters and I did drive to this hospital, since we were coming from another city. And we knew about the parking situation in advance, deciding to pay it on philosophical grounds since the revenue goes to the hospital, which is publicly funded. Since our family was actually using this hospital, we felt it was not unfair to make a contribution.
But this good samaritanship had faded by the next day when we decided to visit the hospital again. Two $25.00 parking bills would be excessive, so Mr. Money Mustache was called into action.
So before departing for the hospital on that second day, I pulled up a Google Map of the surrounding area. I saw the grid of streets that were probably the no-parking zone. It was a ritzy lakeside neighborhood with large commercial strips nearby. But I also saw bigger trees and quieter locales just a few blocks inland. Then I spotted my target: a neighborhood soccer field with a small and old-looking parking lot. It was well under a mile from the hospital. I programmed this parking lot into my GPS navigator in advance and brought it with me, since my sisters have not yet learned to always travel with a GPS.
As we neared the hospital, the GPS effortlessly guided us through the residential neighborhood to the parking lot. It was free, and empty. We parked the car and enjoyed a twelve-minute stroll through the shady streets of a rich neighborhood, lined with huge oak trees and stone mansions. Mulberry trees were hanging over the sidewalks, so we stopped to harvest a few handfuls of ripe berries. It was a beautiful contrast to the cramped concrete parking garage, even before considering the victory of avoiding a $25.00 charge.
At that moment, I was struck with the inspiration for this article. We, the Mustachian Siblings, were enjoying a privilege and benefit that less than 5% of visitors to that hospital would ever experience. And it was available simply because we were willing to walk about 0.7 miles (1.1km) to get to our destination.
During the online research of the neighborhood, I had estimated in advance that free parking would probably become available as soon as you got far enough that most people would consider it too far to walk. At this radius, the cranky high-income residents would not be seeing their pristine curbsides polluted by non-German cars, and thus they would not have lobbied city council to make the streets No Parking zones. Using a 95% rule of thumb, I figured that this radius would fall at just over 1km, and I was right in this case. Now let’s just repeat that to realize how crazy it is:
The willingness and ability to walk 0.7 miles to save $25 on parking put the Money Mustache Siblings in the top 5% of the population.
That is a very significant realization, because it means that we kicked the asses of 95% of our competitors with virtually no effort.
Is it always so easy to kick everyone’s ass? Not always, but much more often than you think. It all depends where you choose to do battle.
Let’s take “putting the nose to the grindstone and working more than anyone else in the office” as one category. It’s an honorable pursuit, and I’ve even dabbled in it myself back in my engineering days. People still do it all the time in their quest to get ahead. But the average US professional workweek is already around 40 hours. To be in the top 5%, you’d have to put in about 65 hours*, which works out to.. hmm.. pretty much your entire waking life, after accounting for sleep and other bodily functions. Since happiness decreases beyond a certain threshold of hours worked, there’s a high cost to so much dedication.
It is of course possible to earn more income more efficiently than simply working more hours at your current job. But adding more income still takes some work, and that effort should still be weighed against other Top 5% options.
What about owning a ‘Top 5%” car? That’s a goal many people fantasize about in their quest for more money. With the average new car(truck) purchase in the US hovering around $30,000 today, you would need to spend well over $60,000 to have a car so nice.
Unless you’ve got a job you absolutely love, and no family or friends you like spending time with, neither of these contests are as profitable to enter as the parking and walking example above. But let’s not despair: maybe there are other battles where more asses are readily kicked.
Health and Fitness: to reach the top 5% of fit people in the US populace, you don’t have to sacrifice nearly as much. I’d love to get more charts on the matter to add this article, but for now let’s assume you need roughly to accomplish this:
a bodyfat percentage below 17% for men (28% for women)
the ability to jog 2 miles
the ability to do 10 consecutive pull-ups and 25 push-ups
We haven’t even qualified for a beginner’s crossfit competition yet, but I betcha** a person with those stats is already within the top 5%, even if you’re counting only people under 50. And yet, from personal experience I know almost anyone can reach this “top 5%” status with less than a year of putting in less than 2 hours a week of effort into it.
Compare that to an extra 25 hours a week for decades to be a “top 5%” office worker, and I think you can start to see where it’s better to invest your time. Especially if you compare the benefits of top working hours to those of top fitness.
Moving on throughout your life, you can do additional comparisons of Effort vs. Asskicking Potential in many different areas:
- Optimizing your spending: how many hours would it take to figure out how to spend less than 95% of people of your income level, while maintaining equal or greater happiness? Reading most of this blog might already get you there, and with 262 articles at 1000 words each and an average 200WPM reading speed, you’re looking at less than 24 hours of work. (But do space it out over at least a couple of weeks, because my shit’s not so good that it’s worth staying up all night for!). The hours you spend building your Frugality Muscle will probably deliver the highest hourly wage you’ll ever earn, because you build it once and it pays you back for life. Mine has already saved me at least $1 million, with many decades of payback still to go.
- Caring for your Children: I’ve got one myself, and I’ve heard that they are only young for a few years. How well are your peers raising their kids? Can you think of any areas where you could do a better job than most of them? How about if you measure it in “hours spent together outside” or “how little time we spent sitting in cars”? It’s not a contest, of course, but it can still be rewarding to put a few hours a week into improving in the areas you think are most important.
- Trashing the Earth Less: How efficient are your friends are family? How much work would it take to do less Earth-destroying than 95% of them? Is a healthy living environment worth any of your time?
- Wasting Less Time: The average person wastes about 4 hours a day on TV. How little TV would you have to watch to be in the bottom 5%? How difficult would that be to achieve?
- Learning more: Most people only read actual books for a few minutes per day. If you read for 45 minutes a day, how high would you rank?
- Becoming Happier: what is the underlying purpose of everything you do in life? Is it to get stuff done, or is it to be happier? Now, how much time do most people devote to the study of happiness itself? Would you be able to out-learn 95% of those people?
In the end, we’re all going to build our own Badassity Portfolio in a slightly different way. We may prioritize income, spending, generosity, or entirely different areas. But in all cases, the return on investment, and the competition in the playing field, should be assessed first. And in most cases in the modern world, people are currently fighting the wrong battles.
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