To Reach the Top 5%, You Must Simply Kick the Ass of the Other 95%

To get the Free Parking, you must be willing to walk along this street.

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.


Hastily Researched Sources:


  • James November 10, 2015, 10:00 am


    This link is dead. I am curious to see the source, can you please fix the link?

  • David Lawlor February 28, 2016, 11:21 pm

    Hi Mmm,
    Great story, not sure if you’ll even see my reply but you should see the complainypants community in this neck of the woods.


    I started on your blog in November 2015 and since then have reached a savings rate of 76%. I asked my 3 children if they felt they were missing out on anything and they all agreed that their lives were awesome. I’ve made every change you advocate and our happiness is increasing daily, knowing that we are on our way to early retirement and a fulfilling meaningful existence.

    • Matt (Semper Fi) August 23, 2016, 9:27 pm

      Wow, that link pissed me off. What a bunch of bitter, complaining harpies! So much negativity! I don’t know if it’s because they really, truly think that it is impossible to do what triple-M has done, or if, deep down, they know they are just too damned lazy and undisciplined to make the necessary changes to follow the Mustachioed Master. Wow. Complaining on an epic level – harpies, indeed!

      Dude, MMM, your blog has absolutely changed my life. In two months, I have become more aware of what is around me, what is inside of me, and what I am capable of, then any other time in my 44-year-old life. Now if I can just get the missus to get fully on board. She is eyeing the gangplank with some hesitation, and has one foot moving haltingly towards it, but could bolt like a startled horse at a moment’s notice! I finally convinced her that it is possible to save at least 50% of our income, and we actually exceeded it this month (63%)! But, I have to temper my enthusiasm just a bit, because the other day she exclaimed in exasperation, “You are always talking about this Money Mustache guy! I am sick of hearing about it! Can we talk about something else, please?!?!” Problem is, I don’t want to talk about anything else, lol! Such is life.

      • TunaFishTuesdays April 18, 2020, 8:34 pm

        “She is eyeing the gangplank with some hesitation, and has one foot moving haltingly towards it, but could bolt like a startled horse at a moment’s notice!”

        Pure poetry there, Matt!

  • 4TheBi$cuit September 26, 2016, 12:48 pm


    Your stats for reaching the fitness top 5% are not even close to correct, based on the sources you provide.

    The qualification “a bodyfat percentage below 20% for men (25% for women)” puts you roughly in the top 11% of men (or the top 2.5% of women) based on tables 1,3 and 4 in the source you cited, not the top 5%. A more accurate ballpark-qualification to make the top 5% would be “a bodyfat percentage below 17% for men (28% for women)” which is closer to 15% and 30%, than 20% and 25%.

    After doing the math on my own I found this http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/series/sr_11/sr11_250.pdf which actually lays out the percentiles for you.

    You might see this at nit-picking but this article really falls short of the level of attention to detail I have come to expect after reading all the older posts (in order, over the past 2 weeks).

    Also, I haven’t had the chance to looking into the other top 5% qualifications that you listed, so don’t take this as confirmation that they are accurate. Off-hand I can tell you that doing 10 pull ups is not even close to the same level of difficulty for women as it is for men. Depending on body type, some women could start out relatively fit and train for months before doing their first pull-up (others could do 10 relatively easily).

    • Mr. Money Mustache September 27, 2016, 12:31 pm

      Thanks Biscuit – I agree with your research so I updated the article. Although for the record, I still think that 17% is pretty close to 20% and 25% is pretty close to 28%. So my original guesses weren’t THAT bad.

      I also agree with you on the gender differences for the pull-up movement. But still, the most pull-ups I’ve ever watched someone do on a YouTube video (100) was a woman :-)

  • Garrett May 13, 2017, 9:23 am

    “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,…”

    Are we talking about total 65 hours? Or an extra 65 hours? Because most people who are in the top 5% are working 6 or 7 days. 65/6 = ~11 hours per day at 6 days working with a day free. Or 9.3hrs / day if working 7 days. Really not THAT much more time working. It’s like having p/t work on the side of your f/t work. Something you’ve even suggested to do when burning off debt.

    Now if it’s an extra 65 hours… that’s a totally different story.

  • Dominic June 26, 2019, 9:26 am

    Be the most badass person in the airport or subway station by taking the stairs instead of the escalator. I laugh every time I whiz up the completely empty stairs while everyone else crowds the escalator. Happens every time. I get an intense workout while everyone else misses their next flight or train. Haha suckas!


Leave a Reply

To keep things non-promotional, please use a real name or nickname
(not Blogger @ My Blog Name)

The most useful comments are those written with the goal of learning from or helping out other readers – after reading the whole article and all the earlier comments. Complaints and insults generally won’t make the cut here, but by all means write them on your own blog!


welcome new readers

Take a look around. If you think you are hardcore enough to handle Maximum Mustache, feel free to start at the first article and read your way up to the present using the links at the bottom of each article.

For more casual sampling, have a look at this complete list of all posts since the beginning of time or download the mobile app. Go ahead and click on any titles that intrigue you, and I hope to see you around here more often.

Love, Mr. Money Mustache

latest tweets