Which Part of the Money Wave do you Surf?

Hawaiian Early Retiree Nords from the-military-guide.com demonstrates how to handle your money

Hawaiian Early Retiree Nords from the-military-guide.com demonstrates how to handle your money

One of the silliest objections I run across to the Mustachian lifestyle, is the concept that it is Extreme.

Mr. Money Mustache needs to go out and buy more shit right now, because otherwise he’s depriving himself. And his family too.

You only live once, and what good is money if you don’t spend it on yourself – you can’t take it with you!

You might imagine my fists starting to clench at such a statement, but in reality I admire the sentiment behind it. Yes, we really should live life to its fullest, and I’m doing my best to do so right now. My disagreement is only regarding the detailed tactics on how to do it.

So today we’re going to take a trip to the beach for our lesson. You see, I spent this past winter in Hawaii, and pretty much every day I jumped in the ocean to play in the big waves of Kailua’s beaches.

Although I haven’t learned to surf yet, I still did my best to catch rides on the waves – on a stand-up paddleboard, on boogie boards, and even with just my own frantically swimming arms. Sometimes, you get your timing wrong and the wave just passes under you or crashes on your head. But in certain magical situations, you can wedge yourself into the sloped wall of water and just stick there, roaring diagonally across the shoreline for free until you are deposited way up in the shallows next to all the sandcastles. What an amazing feeling!

Eventually, the Hawaiian vacation ended and the MMM family had to pack up our stuff and return to Colorado. But the feeling of the waves came home with me, and I have noticed that the same pattern comes up in our financial lives as well: your life and mine, and the very different lives of our spendypants opponents.

Some people just can’t seem to get ahead. They get up early every weekday and get to work on time every day. On the second and fourth Friday of each month, they collapse into the couch, having earned a much-needed paycheck. Despite the 80 hours invested, they won’t be keeping any of that money, because it is already all spoken for. Student loan payments, car payments, credit card interest, a mortgage or rent, and any number of additional bills. They could stop the work, but the bills would keep coming, leaving them rapidly swamped.

Other people have a sensible cushion and are not so afraid of losing their jobs, but still could not imagine retiring early. Where would the money come from? And they enjoy the luxuries they have earned at this point in their lives. Best to keep working so as to afford them.

Finally, there are the wealthy people. Many of you are among them, and some have even retired early. They’ve got a pretty cushy life. It’s the full American Middle Class all-you-can-eat buffet, with just a few of the fatty edges of the steak trimmed off. We don’t even have to go to work to sustain this lifestyle, and we can go anywhere, or do or buy whatever we want, at any time. Considered on a practical level, it is as complete a freedom as any generation of humans has ever known.

The funny part is that in theory, all three of these groups could be living at exactly the same level of spending. The only difference is the portion of the wave upon which they are surfing.

The struggling person has debt. It’s an absolutely destructive and useless thing to bring into your life, unless done on an investment basis with a calculator firmly in hand. Debt used to finance luxuries just creates a backwards current on your life. Suddenly you must paddle fiercely just to stay in one place.

Just a few feet forward on the exact same wave, rides the debt-free person. Everything they earn can be applied to spending, which means they have much more power to buy things when compared to the indebted person.

A few feet ahead of the debt-free surfer is the Investor. This person doesn’t subscribe to the statement, “money is no good unless you spend it”. Quite the opposite, their belief is “money does you no good if you just go out and spend it”.

Because the investor has put most of her past earnings to work, there is now an unstoppable wave behind her, pushing her along whether she decides to work or not.  Any additional work will push her forward very quickly, and spending in moderation won’t knock her off the wave.

All three of them may be moving along at the same speed, buying the same stuff and living the same lifestyle. And they’re only a few feet apart. They can converse freely over the roar of the water, because the difference between wealth and poverty is only really changing a few spending habits until you amass a sufficient ‘stash. But the level of  struggling and cubicle-sitting and clock-punching and money-stressing is completely different, just because of how they have positioned themselves.

The lesson is therefore to get yourself to the front of that wave. Whether you value the simple living philosophy of Mr. Money Mustache, or your goal is a Wal-mart-sized-garage full of Bentleys*, the only efficient way to get there is on the front of the wave.

If you do your shopping too early in life like the 99% tend to do, you’re screwed. Instead, why not lie down and paddle a bit first?  You’ll look better when you eventually stand up anyway, sporting a well-pumped set of Frugality Muscles.



*In reality, I am just writing this to tempt the young spenders enough to listen. By the time you get rich enough to afford such a thing, you will have freed yourself from the desire to buy it. Which makes you end up even richer.

  • Mama Mac June 14, 2013, 8:58 pm

    “Many a man thinks he is buying pleasure, when he is in really selling himself a salve to it.” -Benjamin Franklin

    Rather mustacian sentiment from a clean shaven man…

  • Mama Sprout June 26, 2013, 8:42 am

    This is a great way of looking at it. I feel like we’re just starting to get ahead of the wave and into the Investor category, but unfortunately we have a habit of family vacations in Europe that we can’t drop because my husband’s parents live there and are too sick to travel here.

  • Heather October 12, 2013, 11:57 pm

    Thank you for this!!!! I’m a new-career-woman and currently struggling with the want vs. needs of life. Debt is something I’ve always struggled with because I was never taught to be frugal and to save my money. Your posts are giving me hope and encouragement for better financial days! Also I really liked the “wave theory”. It’s fantastic! Anyways just wanted to express my appreciation!

  • Garrett March 19, 2017, 8:23 am

    I love this post!! And I also love how you wrote the #3 surfer (the Investor) to be a ‘she’. That put a smile on my face. More financially savvy women! yes please!


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