The Surprising Effect of Small Efforts over Time

May 2013, standing on the addition we built

May 2013, standing on the addition we built

In case you hadn’t noticed, this blog has been sucking a bit recently. I just haven’t been putting in the effort that this thing deserves, and I feel the patient eyes of all of you watching. “Come on, Mustache. Get back to work. Give us something GOOD!”

But there’s a good reason for this: For all of 2013, the blog has been forced to coexist with other bigger projects.

The moment I returned from that carpentourism gig in Hawaii, a friend of mine decided to build a long-awaited addition on the back of his house. And a big addition at that: 2 storeys and 750 square feet of it, with a 30-foot-high peaked roof, a big master suite upstairs, and a couple of nice rooms below. We’re good enough friends that I agreed to be his builder, since the cost difference between teaming up to build it ourselves and hiring an outside contractor would be upwards of $100,000.

So in mid-January, we broke ground. And since then from the hand-dug pier footings all the way to the shingles atop that high roof, we have built almost everything ourselves. I have had the opportunity to sling thousands of pounds of soil, mix and pour a similar amount of concrete, weld the steel columns into place, frame the entire structure, install all the supply and drain plumbing, build up a completely new electrical panel with about 40 circuits, install windows and doors, nail down 1500 pounds of shingles, build in a top-of-the-line EPA woodburning fireplace, and a hundred other tasks. (We’ll get into some of the most useful projects in upcoming posts).

Just before I left for vacation in June, we passed all of our critical inspections from the building department. While standing with the two friends who built this thing alongside me, basking in the moment’s success, we looked up and were amazed. How could this massive, hulking structure come from just the three little dudes who now stand in its shadow?

I was especially amazed myself, because much like my recent performance in blog-writing, I felt that my efforts on the addition project had been lackluster and somewhat unsatisfactory. I worked only while my son was in school, between 9 and 3 on weekdays. Plus, I usually started late in the day due to blog-related distractions. Often went home early. Biked home to take long luxurious Latte Lunch breaks with Mrs. MM a bit too often. We all skipped work whenever our kids were out of school for any reason, or when the weather was bad, or during the Seattle and Utah vacations that happened to fall during this time period.

And yet, through daily perseverance and always returning after each delay, somehow the addition got built. And in a not-overly-slow manner: 4.5 months from that first shovel in the dirt until Inspection Day, when we handed it over to a drywall crew to work their magic much more quickly (and cheaply) than we could do ourselves. About 270 hours of my free time went into it, and a similar number from each of the other two fellows.

And thus another life lesson materialized, with applications to Mustachianism as well. And that lesson is that small efforts, repeated over time, will almost always surprise you.

It’s a natural weakness of the human brain that we don’t recognize this, because we have our leftover instincts of survival in the moment. But a ten dollar lunch each workday compounds to $37,600 every ten years. An extra beer or slice of bread beyond your base calorie requirements adds up to 152 pounds of fat* over the same period. A habit of being just a bit rude to your spouse in certain situations can brew itself into lifelong resentment and divorce, while a slightly different habit of patience and respect can keep you happily married for life.

For me, the habit of occasionally typing some shit into the computer has resulted in an enormous pile of articles on this blog. 360 of them, or over 1000 pages if you were to make it all into a (repetitive and poorly edited) book.  It’s a whole empire now, which automatically brings in readers and generates surprising quantities of money, and all caused by a series of individually insignificant efforts over time. And although things seem slow to me right now, with continued efforts I can surely make this place far better, finish the book that really needs to be written, and reach the right people. Then, of course, we can save the human race from destroying itself through overconsumption of its own habitat, which has been the plan all along.

So how can everyone benefit from this effect? By watching where your time goes, and making small adjustments to make sure most of those minutes are aligned with your real life goals.

Watching TV, for example, or playing massively multiplayer online games, can feel relaxing and even stimulating at times. But those hours spent relaxing and stimulating yourself can really add up, and when you tally the eventual sum of the life benefits, it ends up awfully close to zero. Many other leisure pursuits (complaining, ATV riding, shopping) often end up the same way.

The key is therefore to trick yourself into doing more things that are good for you. Not just more good things, but over time having your life be almost entirely good things.

Tiny things, like learning one new thing you were afraid of trying before. Fixing the screen on your upstairs window. Or taking a very short walk when you don’t really have the time or inclination to go for a real walk. Reading just a tiny amount of the investing book before you eat a tiny amount of raw vegetables.  I have some gymnastics rings hanging from straps mounted to part of the high ceiling in my kitchen. When I don’t feel like really working out, which is quite often, I will walk over and do just 5 pull-ups on those rings.  Over the past month or two, I’ve done this lazy cop-out routine about 100 times, which adds to 500 pull-ups, which is not such a bad thing after all.

Sooner than you think, you’ll find that your days are starting to change shape. These constant needlings from Mr. Money Mustache seemed annoying at first, but you will end up getting rid of your TV and replacing it with a library card after all, and poking around in the Reading List area of this blog. Over time, you’ll become a Self Improvement Machine, a miniature Dalai Lama with happiness beams shooting out of each of your orifices, which in turn shine onto others and make them happier. All in all, a surprising effect for such a small effort.



 * For every 3600 calories that you eat beyond what your body can use, about 1 pound of fat gets stored. So if you multiply 150 calories x 3650 days, you’d have a 152 pound gain. Of course, real physiology is a bit more complicated, but it doesn’t matter – the tiny change of skipping the beer is the most important part of the equation.

  • Andy August 13, 2013, 7:59 pm

    This was a nice little post to come home to after a business trip today…

    I was dismayed today to realize that my business expenses from last week wouldn’t be fully approved and paid by this week’s paycheck. As a BTW, my company is great at approving and paying expenses; usually fully approved in 4-5 business days and automatically rolled into next pay check.

    That being said I was annoyed because I knew I wouldn’t be getting that cash for another 18 days. After months of getting out of whack on cash flow due to stupid spending (years of wastefulness, really) and huge amounts of remodel debt, my monthly credit card, which I used to take great pride in always paying off, has been carrying a reasonable balance with a high interest rate for the past 4 months.

    I finally started tackling this issue after getting real with myself and being inspired by this blog. The stupidity has to end!

    Anyway, I set and met a budgetary goal for the first time in eons and was planning, with the aid of getting reimbursed, to get my month to month cc balance back to zero in just a few days, thus relieving a huge amount of stress and clearing the way to start more aggressively tackling the larger, more long term stuff. To find out that wasn’t happening stunk. Every time I look at my balances and massively complicated tracking spreadsheet (almost daily) I wish it would all disappear immediately. Then I read this and took heart in the reality of the situation and the effort and progress made so far, and take comfort in the fact that little by little, with perseverance and consistency, it will all start to take shape.

    And hopefully the little gains will be building blocks for more aggressive action and larger gains (or, more accurately, reductions).

    So, great post! Keep em coming.

    • Blaze August 14, 2013, 2:18 pm

      Do you charge everything to a company credit card?
      My husband travels about 50% of the time and everything goes on the corporate AMEX card. He submits his receipts (sometimes from the hotel room) and we always have the reimbursement in our account before the credit card bill is due. The day the deposit goes in, I check his CC account online and immediately transfer over the required amount. I never leave it sitting in our account or it might start to feel like ours to spend.

      It isn’t reasonable for you to personally have to cover the company expenses while they are processing claims (as long as you submit everything quickly). If this is your own company you really need to keep those expenses completely separate from your personal funds, and it may mean maintaining a large float to cover the CC invoice while you await payment from customers.

      • Andy August 14, 2013, 3:30 pm

        No, we don’t have corporate cards and it’s not my company. I actually never liked corporate cards because I feel you lose out on the benefits (if I’m not mistaken, which I could be). I use a chase freedom, which has a solid cash back reward program.

        Anyway, not really griping about my company– I submitted around midnight on Thursday and it was fully approved today, unfortunately two days after it needed to be in to meet payroll, but still very quick–was more just the inciting incident, the thing that made me go, damn, it’s going to be another 18 days before I fully clear this backlog.

        Although, good points, carrying another person’s or company’s expense on top of your own for periods of time adds a challenge to maintaining positive cash flow, forecasting, etc, especially if you get out of whack, like I have, and have to start paying interest. If nothing else, perhaps a second, business only CC would make sense.

        On the other hand, now that we’re way off the topic of the blog post, the extra burden does seem to put an extra level of pressure to drive down spending. Wonder if that’s of benefit or if MMM or others have an opinion…

  • LAL August 13, 2013, 8:23 pm

    Very inspiring and color. I’d still like time at night to watch TV. Instead with two small kids and a dog I spend nights putting them to bed, cleaning, cooking, paying bills, prepping the next time day stuff. I never understand how so many of my friends have hours to watch a movie a night that’s 2-3 hours of tv watching or going to bed at 830 when I’m still cleaning or doing stuff around the house. Tonight I had solo kid duty prepped dinner and lunch for rest of week, and my dh is making sorbet. How do people have so much free time?

    • Georgia Boy August 15, 2013, 10:46 pm

      You’re doing it right-I suspect many of those with the free time never actually prepare a meal for their families, to the detriment of both their health and their pocketbooks, or spend much real time with their kids-everybody just zones out in front of the TV or video games.

  • Kevin August 13, 2013, 8:24 pm

    Excellent post that brings home how small steps translate into big milestones.

    Too often we’d rather sit and complain about how bad our ‘[job, health, relationship, finances, etc] ‘ is or blame others for what is occurring.

    Spending less time complaining and more time make small incremental improvements over time translates into big milestones.

    Look once at the destination & five times at the steps in front of you. Then keep repeating until you get there.

    Great post MMM.

  • lentilman August 13, 2013, 8:30 pm

    Thank you MMM! Excellent post.

    (BTW, I noticed) :)

  • Chris August 13, 2013, 9:24 pm

    During a Physics course in college, we worked problems that would take a page and a half to complete, each. Inevitably, people would complain that it was “TOO HARD” and “TOO LONG” and how did the professor ever expect them to finish such a beast of a problem. His answer was always, “How do you eat an elephant?” Answer: “One bite at a time.”

    This has always stuck with me and I think about it often when tackling big problems.

  • JayBee August 13, 2013, 10:48 pm

    This is very, very true.

    Three years ago, we started a small business. We were very consistent in our daily behaviors toward the business, and as such, built it very quickly. In that time, we have built it to a 6 figure revenue and a high 5 figure income for ourselves.

    Honestly, it’s just about being consistent.

  • Darren August 13, 2013, 11:16 pm

    I’m a big believer in the principle of this post. I dabble in a fair number of crafts and hobbies and people often comment that they don’t have the talent to make or do what I do. I always tell them, you don’t need talent, you just need patience. Patience and persistence are the keys to watching small things grow into great things. When people say they don’t have time, I like to put things in perspective. Take your age, subtract it from 79, multiply by 5840. That is how many waking hours you can reasonably expect to have left on this planet. Do you want to watch sitcom reruns or do you want to DO something?
    (I only have 216080 hours left, tick tock)

    • Catherine August 15, 2013, 8:43 am

      Yes! I knit and people are always amazed that I can produce sweaters. Fact is, that once you master a couple of basics, making a sweater is not much harder than making a potholder or a scarf, you just have to have the stamina to see it out over time. I have one sweater I’m working on right now that’s pretty complicated and when I started it did seem like a huge project. But I’ve been plugging away, putting in a row or two whenever I can, and suddenly I have half of it done!

  • Sandy August 14, 2013, 1:17 am

    My husband and I paved our own yard after receiving ridiculous quotes from professionals. It took us a few weekends, with work and all getting in the way, but we got it done and it looks really nice.
    Granted, it doesn’t look as good as when a pro would have done it but it cost a fraction of what we were quoted AND we enjoyed getting our hands dirty together.
    Furthermore: we are confident that the next time we pave the yard, it will look even better because we’ve developed a skill!

  • Dan August 14, 2013, 6:42 am

    Yep. We have two kids under the age of three, and as you can imagine, free time is in short supply. But I have managed to complete a new downstairs bathroom, created out of half of the utility room. By forcing myself to do at least one job every day, I manged to complete the job in just a couple of months. Even if you only can spend 30 minutes doing something, that’s 30 minutes of work in the bank. Eventually, there’s nothing left to do!

    • CincyCat August 16, 2013, 1:05 pm

      LOL! Your story brought back memories of home improvement projects we did when our kiddos were tiny. It’s amazing how much work can get done between the hours of 9pm and midnight! :-)

  • Diedra B August 14, 2013, 7:44 am

    when you’re feeling tired of writing and stuff, I’m sure others would agree with me that Mrs. MM is more than welcome to share a thought or two. I appreciated her discussion of how to avoid the commercialization of parenthood. Anything else she’d care to mention would probably go over decently.

  • The Warrior August 14, 2013, 8:13 am

    I’ve been implementing small changes more and more as I get older (wiser) and the benefits have paid huge dividends.

    Another one that I stole from Tim Ferriss is to do the one thing you don’t want to do the most. That one thing you don’t want to do the most is often the thing I need to do the most. Plus I feel relieved and excited once completed. This is another small action that can be implemented that pays huge dividends.

    I looked forward to more consistent MMM articles. ;)

  • Ron August 14, 2013, 8:21 am

    This is my favorite of your many excellent posts. To me it’s the single most important insight in part because it applies to all aspects of life. I know you’ve grown accustomed to my critiques, but I’ve got nuthin’. Sorry to disappoint. :)

  • Ying-Hong August 14, 2013, 9:05 am

    I totally agree.
    I used to live in Montreal for 4 years without being able to speak any French. Then I left and started learning French only because I miss Montreal. My self-study is easy: every morning I turned on the radio of some French website and had the radio as the background for 30 minutes. After 1 year, I was able to understand 50% of the content. All those 30 minutes morning session added up!

    And numerous examples in study and life…

  • Jeff August 14, 2013, 9:32 am

    Those who realize and understand the wisdom of small efforts over time are at a distinct advantage. The difficult part is being patient before the payoff starts to occur. For one, most of us seem hard wired for instant gratification. Additionally, we like to know if we are on the right track. In other words, if the small efforts we make are misguided then we might not realize it for a long time. Because of this, many start off fast and furious and then end up quitting. Keeping things in perspective is key.

  • Wes August 14, 2013, 9:49 am

    I loved this post. More and more I see MMM as the anti-Ramit Sethi (of I Will Teach You To Be Rich). They have a similar tone, but MMM actually helps people become rich, contrary to Ramit’s blog title. This post is a great example. Ramit loves to talk about “big wins” and how focusing on small expenses is for suckers. After all, you’re a cognitive miser so don’t sweat the small stuff – spend your money without guilt. And oh by the way, since you’re not worried about how you spend your money, maybe you’d like to buy one of my courses that costs thousands of dollars? In the meantime, MMM is like tough personal trainer, screaming at us to do “one more!” dip/pushup/curl/pullup so that our frugality muscles become ever so slightly more defined. The incremental exercise might not show up right away, but in 10 years time, Mustachians will be rich while Ramit’s disciples will be wondering why all of their “guilt free spending” has left them just as broke as they were before.

  • Jen G August 14, 2013, 10:23 am

    I’ve developed a personal system (mostly stolen from your philosophy) that helps me stay motivated to do the little stuff in order to reach bigger goals. I collect “badass points” throughout the day. Biking instead of driving to the grocery store? One badass point for me. Washing and reusing that ziploc bag? Score one mini-badass point. Yesterday when I was sick but still cooked dinner for the family (instead of succumbing to the temptation of takeout) and managed a 20 minute strength workout? Two super-sized badass points. It may seem very silly as I don’t even track my points, but it does help keep my momentum moving forward and keeps a positive spin on the hard work that is involved with frugality and personal health.

    • Sir Osis of DeLiver August 15, 2013, 6:54 pm

      I used to do something like this — push myself to stick with daily commitments no matter what — but I urge caution when you start dealing with health issues. At one point I had told myself I was going to run a certain distance every day for 30 days, no matter what the weather or my mood or whatever other excuses I might dream up.

      One night I went out running after having done something slightly funky to my foot during the day. It was a bit painful but I told myself, hey, I’m committed, no backing down now. And ended up injuring myself to the point where I had to see a doctor and couldn’t put weight on one of my toe joints for about 6 weeks.

      So now I’m all for being badass, but I also try to listen to what my body is telling me and realize that sometimes the best way to make long-term progress is to stop and rest, or sleep, or otherwise rejuvenate.

  • cowtown2011 August 14, 2013, 10:46 am

    I think this video is fitting after such a great article by MMM, keep up the good work. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BOksW_NabEk

  • Jon August 14, 2013, 10:50 am

    First, congrats, that is some seriously impressive building work!

    You are especially right when these small things can either work for us or against us… it’s easy to justify something like watching TV for a short amount of time… but then that makes it easier to justify the next day, and the day after that. Pretty soon, it’s a full blown habit.

    Thanks for the post!

  • Clint August 14, 2013, 10:58 am

    The happiness beams shoot out of my orifices every time I read a great post like this! … At least I hope they’re happiness beams.

  • debtfreeoneday August 14, 2013, 2:35 pm

    I really enjoyed reading this post. It’s amazing what changes can take shape over time with just a small amount of effort each day. Since January, when I had my lighbulb moment about being in debt, I stopped watching TV. I now spend my evenings researching ways to make money, blogging and crafting. Basically using my time more productively. And I feel like I’ve achieved so much more this year than in previous years!

  • MJ August 14, 2013, 7:51 pm

    A wise man once said:

    You often overestimate what you can accomplish in a year. But you’ll underestimate what you can accomplish in five years.

    I find this to be amazingly true.

  • Mark B August 14, 2013, 10:40 pm

    After casually reading each of the new MMM posts when they arrived, I decided to get serious and register for the MMM forum, and I’ve also been plowing through the archives. Three things have really struck me about the overall MMM experience:

    1. How many incredibly bright, together people read this blog. It’s of course a theme around these parts that most people live in a sort of fog, like pieces of driftwood pushed along by the currents of peer pressure and advertising and convention. I’m continually amazed, though, by the sheer number of readers of this blog who really get it and whose comments contribute to the discussions. Hell, just read the comment section of most other blogs–they read like, “Youre stupid! No, YOU’RE stupid!”.

    2. There’s so much great content here I almost feel as though I need an MMM 12 step. It’s like, yeah, yeah, I’ll mow the lawn, I know it’s getting dark, just let me get through the June of 2011 posts and I’ll get right on it.

    3. Some dude in Colorado lived his regular, anonymous, mustachian life, under the world’s radar, until one day he decided to write his thoughts down in a blog, and the result has: a.) created an amazing community of like minds who are collaborating in such a positive way, and b.) affected the lives of god knows how many people, to varying degrees. Frigging amazing.

    Which brings me to my point–I want to marry all of you. Ok just kidding, my post was kind of heavy so I thought I’d end it on a light note.

    • Nicster August 15, 2013, 6:14 pm

      You totally hit the proverbial nail on the head. I love the positive attitude and insightful comments on this site! Pretty inspiring. I think no matter where you are on your path to FI, there is a lot to learn from everyone. This is the first blog I have ever really spent the time to follow.

    • Doug August 18, 2013, 12:52 pm

      Great post! Well, I don’t think I want to marry you, but there’s really no need to as we’re already like an extended family. That’s what I thought when I started reading this blog late last year.

  • Mrs EconoWiser August 14, 2013, 11:56 pm

    Ever since I started reading MMM I decided to watch less and less TV. It has been months since I watched TV and the urge to switch the damn thing on has disappeared! Now, I’m doing lots of fun stuff in during my evenings…like reading lots of books (double benefit!) and crafty things or practical things. I also started to ride my bike if I need to go anywhere within the city and sometimes even beyond that radius. The power of these small efforts are amazing indeed. I’ll think about my next challenge!

  • mattbkk August 15, 2013, 1:35 am

    “you’ll become a Self Improvement Machine, a miniature Dalai Lama with happiness beams shooting out of each of your orifices” – MMM, you have a beautiful turn of phrase sometimes :-)

  • Sandra August 15, 2013, 6:06 am

    I don’t think your blog has been all that boring. The one about the fifty jobs thing was good.

  • Noodle August 15, 2013, 7:33 am

    I inadvertently stumbled into this a few years ago. I love to read, but for various reasons had never gotten around to reading many of the classics. I would bring them home, but then bog down in the complex language etc. and give away or return the book unread. I stumbled across a website that would email, or put in your blog reader, a page or two of a classic every day. I just went back to count and over about five years I have read almost fifty classic books, some quite long, along with another 15 or so modern ones the site happens to have. I was shocked the first time I realized how much I had read…

  • Mr freeze August 15, 2013, 8:14 am

    It just clicked that the software development industry has been stormed by this principle in the past couple years, at least in the larger corporations I work/worked for.

    Everyone is using Agile development process which basically says take an “epic” application and break it down into chunks that can each be completed in a couple days. As you go if you realize something is going to take more than a couple days, break it into smaller chunks again.

    Over several months or more, when all the small chunks are complete, the result is an “epic” application, but for the most part the focus was just completing a bunch of small and relatively simple tasks.

  • Catherine August 15, 2013, 8:55 am

    I’ve had a big small efforts payoff in the past few months. I decided to start doing two “mini workouts” at work: 2x a day I walk down and back up 10 flights of stairs. It takes less than 10 minutes each time, so this is basically my substitute for the morning and afternoon cigarette, coffee, or snack breaks that many of my co-workers take. After two months, my legs are looking amazing (comparatively), and I’m walking/biking around faster too. Plus the immediate energy boost from getting my blood flowing has meant more productivity at work.

  • Anthony McDougle August 15, 2013, 9:24 am

    Ain’t that the truth! Big projects or a long list of chores/tasks/errands always seems so daunting and even stressful, but if you just break a task down into “what do I do next?” and keep doing that until it’s complete, it becomes easy! Big tasks are tough, but anyone can do one small task, can’t they?

    As John C. Maxwell said (and probably quoted from someone else, I forget), “Make your tasks line up in a single file in front of you and deal with them one-by-one”

  • Ruston Raybon August 15, 2013, 9:24 am

    I didn’t take the time to read all of the other comments, but if it wasn’t mentioned above this book is definitely worth looking into.
    the slight edge by Jeff Olson

    It’s a short book that compares the compounding effects of very small easy tasks added over time to not doing these same simple easy tasks. Very motivating and eye-opening. Right on target with what this post is about.

  • Sgerbs August 15, 2013, 10:30 am

    I’ve found this advice to be true in many areas of life as others have already said.

    One area that I’ve found valuable is in scripture memorization. I’ve wanted to memorize the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew, but was daunted by how much it was. So I memorize 2 to 3 verse a week, and I’m 1/3 of the way done. It’s been great, and now that I have so much memorized I’m excited to memorize more.

  • Art Guy August 15, 2013, 2:28 pm

    Wow. The more & more I think about this post, the more it blows my mind. I have been working on various self improvement ideas over the years, but since finding your blog a few months ago, the amount of small changes I have made, well, it’s a lot. Started with riding my bike to work (only 3 miles each way, but I have only missed 4 days in 3 months) From there, I have quit wheat & corn & cleaned up my diet, and lost 10 lbs. I have shortened my gym workouts & now lift more than I ever have. I have read probably 10 books on MMM’s list, doubled the amount of money I save to my 401k, done a ton of reading on financial matters on other blogs, reduced both my home & car insurance. Its a snowball, but it started with the idea of riding my bike to work. I am so glad for this reminder as I just finished 4 Hour Body, and I want to add a daily small swim ( Like Tim Ferris, I have always hated swimming but always wanted to learn – tried numerous times and the instructors always ended up telling me to not bother. The idea that I might swim 1 mile in the ocean like Tim did…..well thats an exciting thought ) Anyway, thanks so much for continuing to write such great inspiring posts. I so glad I foundya.!!

  • Joe August 15, 2013, 5:04 pm

    Today, I did some concrete work for the first time in my life, and I’m 50 (hard to believe that with my Italian roots). DIY projects are things I put off doing as I fear I’ll screw them up. I didn’t do a “pro” job here by any means, but it doesn’t look bad and will be paving the way for additional work outdoors.

    And by the way, your posts are almost always terrific. If I ever thought you were coasting, I’d just hit the archives once again. Those are articles that just keep on giving.

  • Georgia Boy August 15, 2013, 11:06 pm

    Great post and a great blog.
    I love your attitude, ideas, and this community.
    I’m mid-50s and have always been pretty frugal, and am ALMOST FI, so when I lost my long time job months back, there was no panic, and I realized it was an opportunity to really evaluate what I wanted to do going forward, and this blog has certainly been a great inspiration, given me lots of good ideas, and helped reduce the stress even more. Thanks!

  • Gill August 16, 2013, 1:32 am

    Hi – been lurking here a good long while in the UK, and this article was great!! I gave n up the dreaded one eyed monster a long time ago, so you’re preaching to the converted here. The little thing that most spoke to me was this one though,

    ‘ A habit of being just a bit rude to your spouse in certain situations can brew itself into lifelong resentment and divorce, while a slightly different habit of patience and respect can keep you happily married for life.’

    As a fairly recently divorced person myself, I can tell you that this, along with my spouse’s love of the TV was what killed it stone dead. It’s not hard to be nice is it? x

  • Juanma August 16, 2013, 6:29 am

    Hi MMM, this is my first post here, although I’ve been reading the blog for some months now.

    It seems that you published this article exactly in the right time for me, because lately I’ve been working (for several months now) on the final project for my engineering studies, and I’ve been realizing how BIG the thing has become (it’s an Android app to control a lightning system), and it actually feels like I haven’t worked on it that much. But the sum of all the effort makes something big at the end. So this has helped me to realize the importance of keeping on doing little things every day to reach a big goal.

    Thank you very much for the blog.

    Greetings from Spain!

  • Katie August 16, 2013, 9:04 am

    Personally, I like that you don’t post every day. It seems the bloggers that do post daily burn out after several years. I would rather you post every 3-4 days with awesome content than try to get in the habit of posting daily and reach the end of your rope in a (relatively) short amount of time.

  • frank August 16, 2013, 12:56 pm

    Absolutely.. Doing just a little at a time since I emigrated here in 97 I have 1) Paid off the mortgage, 2) Built two airplanes, 3) doubled the size of our house 4) Sat both professional engineering exams (the first of which your supposed to sit in the last year of University.. Not 25 years after graduation! 5) Saved up enough to retire!


  • David August 16, 2013, 3:26 pm

    Hi, I’m new to the blog and loving it. This reminds me of a favorite Adam Carolla quote. You can eat an entire Cadillac if you do it a bit at a time. Just grate a little bit over your cereal each day.

  • John August 16, 2013, 4:27 pm

    I don’t want to get hit with sunshine from one of those orificii.
    Your blog is great.

  • krista August 16, 2013, 6:16 pm

    I just went and took a quick look at your book list. A few that I think you are missing are The Compound Effect and The Tipping Point. I’m new here(the past few weeks) and convinced my husband we needed to sell out custom home and downsize so we can sock away more money. Thanks!

  • Doug August 18, 2013, 10:20 am

    Good posting, proof this website doesn’t suck. A lot of comments here are about TV. I never subscribed to cable, as it was a needless expense and would lead to me watching even more TV than I do now. I’ll be brutally honest, I waste too much time watching TV as it is. While I’m not about to quit watching TV altogether, a good start is to only watch shows I really want to see and allocate more time to other things I want to do. You have to start somewhere. A good plan is to make a to do list, and actually try to accomplish the things on the list.

    Some of you have mentioned how this idea of a bit at a time applies to expenses. I couldn’t agree more. I’m more or less retired at age 52, and that’s got a lot to do with why. A lot of people still don’t understand how a dollar here, a few dollars there all adds up over time.

  • PJ August 20, 2013, 9:06 am

    Not sure if’s been mentioned but there is a very good book/audiobook on this topic called ‘The Slight Edge’ by Jeff Olson

  • Giddings Plaza FI August 22, 2013, 10:35 am

    I haven’t gotten the impression that you’ve dropped the ball with your blog lately. BUT, I fully understand the feeling of thinking you’ve let yourself down. In the meantime, you’ve built an amazing new part of a home, and been a great dad, so really, you’re doing well!

  • WalletEngineers August 22, 2013, 1:31 pm

    I am embarrassed at how many of these leisure activities that do nothing for me I am guilty of doing. For instance I am 25 and have spend ATLEAST 3 entire months of my life playing MMORPGs. Although I enjoyed myself and actually met a lot of interesting people from around the world the payout has definitely not been worth the cost. My wife and I are expecting our first child in 5 months and I need to start conditioning myself to do more things that are not at the top of my list for being done, wish me luck!

    As for the skipping the extra beer tip, I recently stopped keeping beer in my house and have lost about 15lbs over the past 2 months. I made a few other healthier changes in my life also but skipping the after work beer has helped the most.

  • Ann August 22, 2013, 7:14 pm

    What a great post! I definitely agree with this. My ideas and values in this area are very similar to your own, however, when I married my husband, I realized that he valued video games and watching TV in his leisure time too much, since we have been married though, I have slowly tried to work in different leisure activities that are good for us as a family (spending time outdoors, etc) and I think he has really grown!

  • Claudia August 28, 2013, 11:02 am

    “Small efforts over time produce big results” could well be the definition of “badassery.”
    See the bottom of this article for the emerging awareness of badassery:


    • Mr. Money Mustache August 28, 2013, 1:18 pm

      Very nice.. except here we use the word “Badassity”, which may or may not have subtle differences in the meaning, since I invented it myself :-)

  • Gleason August 28, 2013, 10:47 pm

    I have traded my 2nd car for a bike and all but ceased driving, TVing and shopping. But skip my daily beer(s)! Them’s fighting words, Mustache.

  • Subversive September 12, 2013, 9:40 pm

    Gosh I love this post. I’m a recent reader but first time commenter who has made some mustachian progress in my life, after digging a nice big consumer debt financed hole for myself and my family. In any case, we’re on the upswing, but this post really resonated with me, and convinced me to pick up the guitar for at least 15 minutes every night, no excuses. Working away on Blackbird and loving the process. Keep up the good work, MMM!

  • Mira September 25, 2013, 7:36 pm

    In a similar vein, there is a TRULY fascinating read out there by a smart chick named Laura Vanderkam. She definitely has at least some thick stubble.

    She actually tracks her 168 hours over time and wrote a book exactly about how small efforts can yield big results if you’re consistent and strategic about it.

    Reading this book is a great use of 2 of your weekly hours…i also think the quantitative approach she takes may appeal to many of the mustachians.


    Imagine if you could do this with a full day and not just a few hours a day….working hard on my ‘stash….


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