Wealth Advice that Should Be Obvious

incensedWe have been having a lot of fun around here, and thus straying into topics that are only loosely related to building financial freedom. These lessons can be handy, since getting rich is only the first baby step in living a long and prosperous life. After all, if you adopt a Mustachian ethos fairly early, you will spend most of your life in a permanent bath of surplus money, and thus your challenges and growth opportunities will lie in areas other than the financial.

But still, all this big thinking can cause us to gloss over the details a bit, and we don’t want to lead any new arrivals astray. With that in mind, this article will serve as a review of some of the basic principles that we don’t usually cover around here, because to many people they are already obvious. Read ’em over, and see if they are already obvious to you.

1. You Don’t Try to Gamble Your Way to Wealth:

I read a fascinating article about the state lottery system the other day. It described life in the small low-income towns and rural  areas throughout the US. People struggle from paycheck to paycheck, frequently encounter medical bankruptcies, and almost everyone in town buys a shitload of lottery tickets every week.

You gotta be in it to win it

When my numbers finally come up in the powerball, I’m gonna get my life turned around

…and other such tragically misinformed nonsense.

A similar phenomenon occurs in Las Vegas and on every cruise ship on the planet. People feed their hard-earned little green employees into the slots and cashiers of these rigged games, impoverishing themselves and enriching the sneaky owners with mathematical certainty.

So let’s just put all of this to an end right now: You never, ever gamble if your goal is to get richer. It’s as simple as that.

Most gamblers and lottery winners I have quizzed believe in superstitious concepts like “luck” and “magic numbers”. They don’t exist. Every single person on the planet is equally lucky and just as likely to lose money in rigged games of chance. The only way to win, is to not play. The only way to get “lucky” in life, is to understand the odds in all areas, and place your own chips on the side where they are in your favor.

Gambling and lotteries are actually a double-whammy of loss: you are sticking your fingers into the spinning blades of poor odds, and you are handing over psychological control of your wealth to something out of your control. You are making yourself the victim: “I will become rich if the system decides I will, and otherwise I will remain poor”. It’s the wrong way to think.

Here’s how to get rich: earn as much as possible, waste as little as possible, and invest the difference. And no, investing doesn’t mean buying a hot tech or penny stock because you think it will triple – that’s just gambling again with only-slightly-better odds.

2. Windfalls are for buying Freedom, not Jet-skis

Almost every hard-working person ends up with a lucky break or two in his or her lifetime. You might get a raise or a bonus at work. A hefty insurance settlement for cosmetic hail damage on your car. A gift or an inheritance from family or friends.

Most people promptly go out and spend these windfalls.

“Thanks for your generous gift! I took my lady out to the restaurant we thought we would never visit!”

The annual bonus was hefty this year, and I’ll remember it every time I see that new Infiniti G37x sitting in my driveway

Shoes, shoes, shoooooes!”

and other such blunders.

No. None of it. When you get a windfall, it goes straight to your highest-interest debt, or your mortgage, or to buy your next chunk of index funds or your next rental house. Why would you inflate your lifestyle, when you haven’t even bought your freedom yet? Windfalls should be viewed as giant Groupon discounts on Freedom Itself.

For a windfall over $5000, you may get yourself one gourmet coffee or a Chipotle Burrito, but that’s about it.

3. You Don’t Buy Shit you Can’t Afford

“I can afford it, and I deserve it”, is a common refrain from people with high incomes and virtually no savings. So just a couple of reminders on how to tell if you can afford something:

If are in any sort of debt emergency, you probably can’t yet afford “it”

If you still have to work for a living, and would prefer to have a choice in the matter, the diagnosis is the same.

Occasionally, we will all break this rule if something is really important to us. But in general, it is a good guideline. It helps you avoid things like buying a new car or that $3000 set of cobalt-blue LG laundry machines on credit.

4. You don’t buy shit you don’t need

A more gentle version of rule #3, is to really think about what it means to “need”  something. For example, on a recent trip to Ecuador, my heart was captured by a very manly drinking flask made of leather and animal horns, and emblazoned with a badass South American face.


AND it had a Huge Mustache, AND it was only ten bucks.

“Gasp!”, was my first response. “This thing is perfect! I must have this. I could fill it with wine and sling it over my shoulder for the weekly Longmont Bike Night.  I would be considered hilarious and become more popular with this product.

I indulged the fantasy, felt the temptation wash over me, then proceeded to not buy the flask. Why? Because I didn’t go to Ecuador in search of a flask. Digging deep into my past, I realized that I have never felt that my life was lacking in any way due to the absence of a carved leather-and-horns drinking flask, and I distinctly remember being perfectly happy in the recent past without owning one of these things.  I also remembered the storage room in my basement filled with other cool objects I never use yet still seem to have a hard time parting with.

Every material object must be looked upon as a lifelong burden. Will its benefits outweigh the lifelong burden? Consider carefully.

To put this principle into profitable practice, just remember this rule: You never, ever go “shopping”. You go to the grocery store and get stuff for salads and the healthiest meals you can dream up. And that’s it.

For everything else, you start a list. Replacement parts for the broken faucet. A new pair of hiking boots next year because your old ones only have a few hundred miles of hiking left in them. And eventually, when the items on the list become urgent, you go on a fast and targeted mission to buy only that item. Then you return and cleanse yourself with a hot shower to wash off the Shopping Juice.

Other things you never need to buy: bottled water, packaged desserts and convenience foods, soda, juice, status watches, jewelry,  and anything ever found in a “gift shop”.

5. You don’t Pay to Have Shit Stored

I was shocked to learn that many people pay to maintain a permanent storage unit in this country. No, not just for a month after selling one house and before buying another one. They do it for years. At $100 per month or more.

This is a sign from the Stuff Gods that you have too much stuff. There’s a new way to store stuff that actually makes you money instead of losing it: Craigslist. Use it to store the stuff you don’t need. Re-buy it in the unlikely event you ever need it again.

6. You Don’t think of Restaurants as a Source of Food

I love eating out as much as you do. Possibly more, because I appreciate the true amazing decadence of it every time I partake. “Look at me, I am renting this huge venue and paying an army of servants to prepare food for me!“, I marvel every time I do it.

But the world is not your personal buffet. It is a forest filled with bear traps designed to ensnare and impoverish your ass. And thus, you don’t go out on the town with no plan for where you’ll get your next meal.

This summer my wife I disregarded this advice while spending the day in Montreal. After several hours of walking, we ended up getting very hungry and still couldn’t find a reasonable place to eat. Everything was either fried foods, pizza, or closed on Sunday. Finally we found a cafe and gratefully sat down. Two shitty salads and $30 plus tip later, I reminded myself to follow my own rule. Sustenance comes from your backpack. Restaurants are for carefully planned experiences with good friends.

A very similar rule exists for Coffee.

7. You put the Good Shit on Automatic

When visiting family members recently, I was intrigued by the ubiquitous piles of opened telephone and utility bills. They explained that they still paid bills by mailing checks. This is crazy: your utility bills and credit cards need set to automatically pay themselves, just like your 401(k) deductions and other investment programs. Why waste time and risk late payments? There is no benefit to doing these things manually – free your brain and your cashflow for the task of actually getting rich.

Update: In the comments, some people shared scary stories of being overcharged for things like AT&T phone bills. To protect against this, I always do the automatic payments through a credit card (preferably a high-reward credit card to get some cash back). This gives you a 1-month buffer to review charges, plus you can simply block payment to any vendor that comes up with a charge you disagree with. The credit card companies are pleasantly ruthless on your behalf when you do this – it is up to the vendor to prove you owe them that money, rather than vice versa.

8. You Stock Up When Things are On Sale

In Canada, cheese is very expensive. 200-300% of what we pay in the US. But everyone still eats it. This summer, the country’s largest grocery chain had a sale on cheese, where it went down to US-like prices. This has never happened before.

“Wow, look at that”, my brother marveled, as he threw one pack into his shopping cart. “Good deal!”

What is missing in this picture?

Cheese lasts at least 3 months if you keep it closed in the fridge. His family uses about 1 pound per week. So the correct amount to put into the cart is twelve pounds of cheese, not one pound.

You must apply this philosophy in all areas of life, whenever presented with savings on an item you already use. It minimizes both the time and cost of shopping.

These are the obvious tips that have scribbled themselves into my notebook during our travels of the past year. None is worthy of an article by itself, but I hope that together they will instill some of the background fabric of efficient living that is essential for stitching together a happy and efficient life.

Once you get that happy and efficient life deal going, the fabled 50-75% savings rate that scares so many people away from this blog becomes automatic rather than torturous. And that is when the real fun begins.

What are your things that should be obvious? Lifestyle tips that are powerful, self-explanatory, and yet overlooked by most of the population?

  • Fellow travelling mustache September 20, 2013, 7:26 pm

    Great post.

    I have a friend who’s been hit hard by the recession. He’s in his middle 50’s, lost a good job, and now has a low wage job as a delivery man. Fortunately, he has no children to support and has been single for many years.

    All the detritus of the middle class life that he lived but couldn’t afford even when he did have a well paying job is in a storage bin for which he pays a monthly fee out of the tips on which he lives.

    We were talking the other night, and he said he planned on retiring two days before he dies, adding that he figured that the financial mistakes he’s made in his life have cost him a million dollars. I agreed and suggested he start trying to save a little money now.

    He said it wasn’t possible on what he makes.

    “Are you sure?” I said.

    “Oh, I could save if I tried,” he replied, in a tone suggesting he couldn’t possibly make the effort.


  • Rich M September 20, 2013, 7:57 pm

    One of my favorite posts!

  • dodojojo September 20, 2013, 8:04 pm

    I pretty much got out of buying tchotkes on travels due to a backpack. Not much to be being frugal. I bought the wrong type of backpack for backpacking traveling and it was too damn heavy. The thought of buying stuff, any stuff, to add onto the weight sent shivers down my back. I had a no buying crap rule just because I didn’t want carry it around for the rest of my trip.

    As I grow older, I just have a no buy crap rule period.

  • lentilman September 20, 2013, 8:21 pm

    Fantastic article.

    The best item was about people who pay to store items. This has always baffled me, although I have family that does it.

    The weakest item was about gambling – your examples such a the lottery were correct, of course, but too simplistic. There are many types of wagers that you can make where the outcome is uncertain but have a long-term positive expected value. Examples include the market (as a poster above pointed out), loaning money P2P, laying insurance (those 100 story insurance buildings are paid for by profits), poker (assuming proper skill), and blackjack (assuming a competent counter).

    • KMB September 21, 2013, 5:52 am

      Excellent point Lentilman

      With a small amount of study, the typical house edge in blackjack is about .5%. However, with additional study and the willingness to think while you play this edge is pretty easily reversed.

      This actually makes for a nice metaphor to mustachianism. The House, aka society at large, expects you not to think while you play, and actually, some people are so brainwashed as to consider it illegal!

  • mike September 20, 2013, 8:47 pm

    I was going to post in the forums if anyone bought a lottery ticket this week at $400MM.

    Boy, I’m sure glad I didn’t post that. I would have been in deep doo doo;-)

  • alison September 20, 2013, 10:06 pm

    I got a small raise this year, cost-of-living adjustment kind of thing. I immediately figured out the monthly difference between new paycheck and old paycheck, and increased my automatic monthly deposit to Vangaurd accordingly. I’ll never know the difference. (I imagine the cost of living will catch up eventually, but until it does, this seems like no-brainer to do every year when the raise happens)

    • Spoonman. September 23, 2013, 1:17 pm

      Don’t forget the power of asking for a raise. I did that last week and got a big-ass raise – more than I asked for.

  • Numbers September 20, 2013, 10:21 pm

    I’ve been a lurker for a few months now and have a basic question as well as a comment.

    I was thinking through the 50-75% savings goal that is referred to and realized you have to be talking about after tax income %. Is that correct? In our household we have something like a 30% federal and state combined rate… That said, we are on track for ~51% savings of net income this year.

    Secondly, after some thought I think you have the terminology wrong. You are NOT retired (though the main stream media will pick on that term better for sure). What you are is: Financially Independent. How else can you explain all the ‘work’ you do?

    • Mr. Money Mustache September 21, 2013, 9:53 am

      Yes – I always define savings rate as a percentage of your take-home, rather than gross, pay.

      As for retirement: I hear you – that’s why we decided to redefine the word to something more suitable for modern times (after all, who wants to retire early and then do NOTHING??)

      This happened in February, 2013: http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2013/02/13/mr-money-mustache-vs-the-internet-retirement-police/

      • Kenoryn October 4, 2013, 2:37 pm

        I think this is a mental block/bias issue, actually, and not a definitions issue. People don’t REALLY think that you only count as retired if you spend all your time playing golf or watching TV. But they basically think you can’t be retired when you’re so young. If they were talking about a person who put in a 45-year career and retired from it at age 65, and in retirement took the occasional odd job helping someone build a deck, I’m willing to bet they wouldn’t be pointing fingers at that guy and saying, “Aha! That’s work! You’re not retired!!” – It’s just that you don’t fit their mental stereotype of a retired person. There is no real logic to their definition. Retired means you are finished your career and no longer work for a living, and I’m pretty sure that it means that to the Internet Retirement Police as well. They’re just taking the opportunity to nitpick about things that don’t fit into their current worldview.

  • 5inatrailer September 20, 2013, 10:22 pm

    I actually derive pleasure by paying my bills individually through a mobile app on my phone when the bill arrives in the mail. Mind you, i only have a electric bill (no water/sewer//gas/garbage, ) and the monthly credit card (at 3%cashback).

    I know they did a psychological study once that proved the same thing- people like paying their bills….

    • Wrecked September 21, 2013, 7:40 am

      I absolutely hate paying bills. Unfortunately in my country it is only possible to put bills on automatic if the monthly amount is fixed.

  • Anne-Marie September 20, 2013, 10:26 pm

    My obvious lifestyle tip: You don’t pay someone to do jobs you can (learn to) do yourself.
    My husband and I have repaired our dishwasher, remodeled our bathroom, diagnosed a major electrical fault for the power company to fix, replaced a gear in the mixer, etc., etc. Google, the library, and Youtube can teach you how to do almost anything.

    • Leslie September 21, 2013, 12:26 pm

      My hubby and I were cleaning our townhouse today, and figured that we save $350/month doing it ourselves, based on the rate we were quoted for biweekly basic cleaning from a national franchise service in Rockville MD (a ridiculously overpriced area in which to live and we can’t wait to move back to Colorado). $4200/year! makes us feel better when we’re swabbing out those bathrooms.

  • Survive The Valley September 20, 2013, 11:19 pm

    I have a PUYOS philosophy… i.e. “Pick Up Your Own Shit”! What I mean is stop outsourcing tasks to others… whether it’s cleaning your house, hiring a gardener, or even buying a latte every morning on the way to work. Learn to do these things for yourself and not only can you become a worldly renaissance man, you can also save tons of money!

    • meagain September 21, 2013, 12:32 am


    • Osprey September 21, 2013, 4:09 am

      Exactly this. The idea of insourcing and “muscle over motor” is unfortunately very unpopular. But once people change their mindset about these things I believe there will be an amazing ripple effect into all areas of society.

  • Ann Stanley September 21, 2013, 1:19 am

    Last week I decided to quit my well-paying job to pursue the simple life I’ve imagined for years. We have a house and are debt free but have very little savings so I’ll still have to work for a living and spend less. Bring it on! Being able to pay for restaurant meals and expensive gifts is not the road to happiness. I’m changing my habits with MMM and ‘Your Money or Your Life’ for support and here is today’s success:
    I walked with my husband in the sunshine to the op-shop at the end of my street and bought Katharine Hepburn’s autobiography for 50cents. This is to read on the plane tomorrow and replaces the $20+ book I always buy at the airport for holiday reading. (Books in Australia are like cheese in Canada). I walked away from the set of beautiful crystal glasses in the same shop, saving myself $15. We sat in the sun at the river for a while without paying for coffee and muffins at the nearby bakery, as is our wont. This saved $12. I made an omlette with two eggs from our hens and parsley and chives from the garden, instead of buying pies from the bakery to bring home for lunch. We’re usually so freakin’ extravagant! That’s another $8. I also borrowed three CDs from the local library, but I wouldn’t have bought three CDs today anyway, so that’s not really a saving. I would like another hen, but I’m waiting for a ‘free to a good home’ ad. on Gumtree.com. So much free stuff there. It’s crazy! Anyway, thanks for the inspiration. I saved $55 today. I’ve been tracking what I spend. Now I’m going to track what I don’t spend too. Could be very edifying. Here are my tips: 1. If you want something see if you can get it for free or sell something to pay for it. 2. Write down each day all the things you could have bought but didn’t.

    • lentilman September 22, 2013, 9:43 am

      You couldn’t have gotten Hepburn’s autobiography at the Library to save the $0.50?

      Just kidding :) – good job on the nice day.

  • Georgina Goosen September 21, 2013, 6:39 am

    Powerful! I do read through older posts often just for the encouragement which saves me a lot of money especially when the older posts give me a guilty conscience. A healthy dose of remorse is a great way of spending less. So reading your blogs make me spend less and save more. Great job Mr. Money Mustache.

  • MoneyAhoy September 21, 2013, 6:48 am

    Great article! I really love the example of the man-wine-flask!

    I’ve gotten so many trinkets like this over the years that are such a waste of money. More recently, I’ve been able to get into the same mindset as you and prevent wasting money on junk stuff that doesn’t have a half-life over a week.

  • jestjack September 21, 2013, 7:01 am

    Thank you for another insightful article. You are so correct that these things we buy do become a “burden”….and to go a step further if you own enough stuff…it owns you. However i will share there is no better feeling, for a “pack rat” like me, than being able to fix a broken item with “inventory” from a salvaged item. I just did this when our very large patio umbrella cord broke as a result of dry rot. I was able to replace this with salvaged cord from a broken umbrella left behing in a rental. Pretty gratifying and saved quite a bit of money. I do have a request/question….recently it has come to my attention the price of building materials specifically exterior paint has gone thru the roof. I am in need of some white semi-gloss exterior. I went on line and Behr white semi-gloss approaches $40…a gallon. True this is good paint but MAN…$40! Your thoughts and strategies are appreciatted…

    • Cindy September 21, 2013, 11:49 pm

      Often you can get free paint at landfills or other locations where people drop off their “household hazardous waste”.

  • Derek R September 21, 2013, 7:11 am

    If you like buying Lottery tickets there is a way of doing it without losing (much) money. Just follow these steps.

    1) Open a high-interest savings account
    2) Pick your lottery numbers and write them down.
    3) Whenever you would normally buy a lottery ticket, pay the money into the savings account instead.
    4) Check the numbers when the draw is made.
    5) If you win, pay yourself the winnings out of the savings account.
    6) Once the savings account is paying enough interest to cover the cost of a lottery ticket, use that interest to buy a lottery ticket as well as doing steps 2 & 3.

    Step 6 is optional of course but the ticket can act as insurance in case you actually win the jackpot. Good luck with that!

    There is a small chance that the savings account will not contain enough to pay your winnings but it is very small. Normally you will win small amounts on the lottery and after a few weeks you should have enough in the account to cover that possibility. If you actually do get the jackpot numbers before reaching step 6, you’ll just have to shrug your shoulders and write yourself an IOU, I guess.

  • Mr. 1500 September 21, 2013, 7:34 am

    Use your own power to get everywhere. Walk or bike. You’ll be saving on car expenses and also getting exercise. Win-win.

    If you must drive, be as efficient as possible. Don’t hit the gas to jockey for position when pulling up to a red light. If you have a manual, keep the RPMs low. I have mine in 4th gear when I’m only going 25 mph all the time (make good use of the downhills).

    A well maintained car will last at least 200K miles. If you spend your miles wisely, your car (which you hopefully bought used) should last you for decades.

  • Britt September 21, 2013, 8:14 am

    I never play any lotteries often described as taxes on people that are bad at math. But in the case of powerball lotteries above $385M the expected value actually does become positive. Nonetheless, assuming a polynomial regression, accounting for splits, and then incorporating taxes, virtually all lotteries are futile for players. That’s the math, then add all the above relevant comments on the psychological and emotional negatives and the case is clear. I have included a link to a full analysis for any that are interested in exercising (torturing) their brains a bit.


    • PW September 21, 2013, 3:44 pm

      Here’s the lottery math as I see it. You’re chances of winning, rounded to the nearest sixth decimal place, are 0%. Sending the money to me would give you the same odds, so why not try that?

    • LLBigwave July 1, 2014, 2:30 am

      Business Insider did a poor analysis. Here’s a much better one (third question down on the page).


  • Will September 21, 2013, 8:14 am

    I agree with the “don’t buy bottled water” part as far as buying it for regular consumption. However, I do have 4 cases of bottled water on hand for “emergency use” in case something happens which results in our water supply being cut off. No crazy “end of the world” scenarios or anything, but things do happen, plus it is on sale at Costco atm!

  • heinz234 September 21, 2013, 8:32 am

    I just saved a bunch of money, buying in season vegetables, which reminded me that buying fruits and vegetables in season is THE way to get highest quality for lowest Euro/Dollar!

  • Dude September 21, 2013, 9:48 am

    Go vegan. Price of cheese now irrelevant (beans and the like do not have such price fluctuations), and it has the added benefit of no casein to give you cancer (expensive in the US!) and doesn’t contribute to torture and suffering of thousands of cows, either. Win-win!

    • Laura September 24, 2013, 6:02 pm

      Ditto. We are vegan, too. $30/week grocery bill – no meat, no dairy – not even soy. Except for the gourmet dog’s food. Starchivore’s naturally save $.

  • SwordGuy September 21, 2013, 11:13 am

    “You don’t pay to have your shit stored!”

    We cleared $10,000 at a yard sale one day.

    We didn’t collect $10,000 from the sale, but we avoided spending $10,000 to add on to the house to store our stuff and still have room to move around in the house.

    Fun stories or quotes from our “priced to get rid of it” yard sale:

    Person: “How much is that piece of tupperware?”
    Me: “That piece of tupperware is $2. However, if you buy every single piece of tupperware on the table, the total price is $0.50.”

    Two guys show up, obviously out to furnish their first pad:

    Guy: “How much are those chairs?”
    Wife: “The chairs are $5 apiece. But if you want to buy them, you have to take the exercise bike, too.”
    Guys: “?!?!?!?!”
    Wife: “You can SIT on it!”
    Guys: “Uh, ok.”

    That was sweet! That bike was darned heavy and I wasn’t looking forward to loading it up and donating it…

    Elderly Man with accent: “How much is that?”
    It was the end of the day, this would be the last sale, so…
    Me: “Name your price and I’ll accept it.”
    Man: “No, how much is it?”
    Me: “Name your price and I WILL accept it.”
    Man: “$0.50”
    Me: “Sold!”
    Man: “Wait! $0.25!”
    Me: “Hey, this wasn’t hard. You named your price. It’s $0.50!”
    The guy just couldn’t deal with this. I guess it offended his old world bargaining upbringing.
    I ended up taking the Israeli shekel he offered me just so he would go away. Still have the shekel somewhere.

  • smiling vulture September 21, 2013, 11:57 am

    I think it’s about choice,I sacrifice the big house for smaller flat,so I can whack heating full on winter,and go to nice restaurants

  • PawPrint September 21, 2013, 12:17 pm

    I so wish I could convince my husband of #5. We “had” to rent a storage unit ($35 a month) for the boxes of china (never use it), family papers and miscellaneous family stuff (his father’s old briefcase, his father’s Shriner’s sword, etc.) that we’ve been carrying around since 1986. We moved out of state for the next 4 years, and have no storage capability in the apartment we’re renting.

    • Christof September 29, 2013, 2:45 pm

      Get the $1700 the storage is costing in $1 bills, put them on a pile on the table and declare proudly that you organized the storage rent… Maybe that is making him realize how much money he really spends…

  • Jon September 21, 2013, 12:22 pm

    Well, at long last you said something that I can’t agree with, and I know a lot of crooks that will love you for suggesting it: Setting your bills to be paid automatically.

    I pay my bills online to save the time and the stamp, but I NEVER automatically pay any bill. I look at every one of them, which is how I have caught mistakes in bills and some ‘products’ that scammers added to my phone bill.

    I never let someone else take control of my money.

    • Kenoryn October 8, 2013, 7:38 am

      To be fair, he didn’t say to stop checking over your bills. :)

  • Emma September 21, 2013, 12:30 pm

    I read this post and cannot agree more. I wonder if Mr. MM would ever do a post about a couple like my husband and myself. We are kind of doing it backwards. We both worked full time and I then had three children back to back. I always thought I would be a working mom, but I decided to quit my full time job to stay home. We live VERY frugally so I can be home. This means no cable, no eating out, no extras of any kind. We live on cash only with NO debt. I will return to work in one year when my youngest enters school. Then we will begin the mad race to catch up on saving for retirement ( we do have lots stashed away already for kids’ college and retirement). What happens to those of us who may have to return to work after many years of staying home to raise kids? How does one make up for years of lost time and income? A future post maybe?

    • Marcia @Frugal Healthy Simple September 21, 2013, 7:20 pm

      “How does one make up for years of lost time and income? A future post maybe?”

      It depends on what you mean.
      You don’t, really. If you lose those years and income, then you miss out on:
      compound interest during those years
      experience and raises during those years

      And you never really get those back.

      But that’s not the end of the world. Because you are used to being “frugal”, this will be a big help when you have more income coming in. The big deal will be not increasing your expenses like eating out and such (though you may have after school expenses depending on what type of work you get). That may be hard to avoid completely.

      Keep living your current standard is the big tip.

    • CincyCat September 23, 2013, 11:18 am

      MMM has actually written an article about what he and Mrs. MM would do if they lost their entire ‘stash, and had to start all over. (Don’t have the link handy, though.)

  • Rita September 21, 2013, 12:38 pm

    Stay home. Garden. Read. Make stuff, make peace, make love. Boredom is a major component of unnecessary spending.

  • Alexandria September 21, 2013, 1:10 pm

    I will disagree with the automatic payments (should probably pay more attention to money outflows). BUT, why on earth why you would receive bills and pay literally with checks and so on?… You got me! Reminds me of like when people are talking about getting their credit card and only having so many days before due date and so on. Seriously? All our credit cards close around the first of the month. I always login and double check the balance around that time, and just pay it off. Same kind of thing for all our bills – all very electronic – don’t remember the last time I waited for a bill or paid with a paper check.

  • D312 September 21, 2013, 2:09 pm

    1. Exercise–every hour spent exercising is one less hour you might otherwise spend on the couch, shopping, etc. The health benefits are obvious, and if you adopt it as a part of your lifestyle you have a guaranteed way to fight boredom any time it hits.

    2. Read–like exercise, it diverts time from wasteful activites and can also be free or at least inexpensive, depending on your method of obtaining material. It’s a possible income producer as well, depending on how you apply knowledge gained.

    3. Make something–how cool would it be to have a framed picture of a handmade South American flask on your wall? Double bonus if you learn to improve the photo with software or an online program, then teach yourself how to make the frame, cut the mat, and put it all together. This way, you get to preserve the memory without possessing the item, possibly create a cool conversation piece, decorate your house inexpensively, and possibly learn a handful of new skills. The same principle applies to renovating a bathroom, building a garage gym with inexpensive equipment, sewing a new set of drapes, restoring an old car for profit, etc.

  • Jeff September 21, 2013, 2:51 pm

    Superb advice in this article.

    Best of all “never ever go shopping”

  • victorious secret September 21, 2013, 8:09 pm

  • Jocelyn September 21, 2013, 9:14 pm

    I live in Montreal and your cheese example coudn’t be more apropos! It is always on sale at some place and there used to be a web site listing the deals (now became payable), so you could always find cheap cheese. As per your 3 months rule, I don’t believe it, it actually lasts forever in the fridge. Yogurt as well last pretty much forever, we tested it at great length and survived (sofar…). So I am a firm believer that expiry dates are a scam…

  • Julia September 22, 2013, 10:45 am

    I like this article. I think it points to getting creative and realizing that YOU decide what happens with your money, not the grocery store or the department store. Things cost what you pay for them.
    As for stocking up, that’s a good idea and I do it. The downside is when you have a lot of something, you may start consuming it faster thus reducing your savings. I also cook and freeze some things when they’re cheap (I don’t eat mushrooms raw, so why not?).
    I think a good exercise in frugality would be to go to a thrift shop, look around and never buy new the things you can easily get used (bread maker, dehydrator, fondu pot, scrap booking materials, and other artifacts of pipe dreams). I have bought clothes at thrift shops that look fairly new and cost 90% of the retail price.
    My problem with saving is finding a permanent teaching job (I am on my sixth long term position in four years). The money is ok when I have a job, but that’s only a couple months at a time, then I’m back to day to day subbing, thus earning annually the equivalent of $10/hour.

  • Edward September 22, 2013, 12:41 pm

    My thing that “should be obvious” I point out to friends is: You don’t pay for a gym membership. EVER. Until you eat healthy all the time, bike/walk everywhere you go, own a few used workout DVDs you bought for $2, some dumbells or a treadmill you got off Craigslist for $5, use all of this equipment daily, become explosively ripped with muscle throughout your entire body, and need to take it to the next level because you have the Mr/Mrs America pagent coming up, then (and only then) should you maybe think about a gym membership.

    There are people (and students who just received *loans* for tuition) who pay upward of $800 a year for a gym membership they use maybe once a month. They have somehow convinced themselves that having the gym membership/personal trainer and paying all that cash is in itself the primary motivation to get into shape. Insanity, I say–insanity! Whenever a flabby somebody with a gym membership starts to complain about money, I have to restrain from the proverbial face-punch. There’s a fancy gym across the street from my house and I’ve actually seen people fighting over the parking space closest to the door. WTF?

  • Iron Mike Sharpe September 22, 2013, 1:22 pm

    My side income comes from gambling: mainly playing poker.

    It’s also possible to be a long term winner in sports betting, horse betting, blackjack, and certain video poker or video blackjack machines that can pay back over 100% or when casinos run certain promos for higher comp levels on machines that pay slightly less than 100%.

    But, yes, for most people gambling is a losing proposition. Those of us that do make money understand our games and the way to profit off of them. We invest a lot of time into the study of our games of choice and the mathematics behind them. We have bankrolls that are big enough to protect us during stretches of negative variance. We have good emotional control so that if we are experiencing a stretch of “bad luck” aka negative variance, we can keep our emotions in check an d continue to make the correct mathematical plays.

    Being a successful gambler is not as sexy as Hollywood makes it look. You need to be in control and analytical. You need to keep learning. I am always reading poker literature and running different simulations to guage what the equity of different plays are in different scenarios.

  • Dan September 22, 2013, 8:31 pm

    Buy things when the seller really wants to sell. Whenever it rains where I live, the streets are dotted with entrepeneurs who sell cheap umbrellas ($5 or so at Walgreens) for fifteen bucks. They’re selling to people who desperately want to buy. So, the converse here is true – buy from folks who really want to sell. A couple of examples

    1) Today I went to the big downtown farmer’s market where I live – it goes from eight in the morning until five pm; I showed up at 3:30. At about that time of day all of the vendors are dropping their prices. Why? Because they have to throw away anything they don’t sell. Organic tomatoes for $0.75/lb, six onions for a buck,

    2) Buying winter clothes? Get ’em towards the end of winter when retailers are desperate to clear shelves, or (better) secondhand stores are full of things that people have decided they don’t like.

  • aaron barton September 22, 2013, 9:30 pm

    When I read articles like this, I get a sense of team america like “frugal living – fuck yeah!”.

    These are 8 actionable truisms I can comprehend and implement (almost) despite the fact that I have indulged in that particular pleasure Mr. Money Mustache has alluded to but not unnecessarily overtly endorsed as certain users tend to do.

    I sense that a Pareto principle like affect could be achieved if these remarkably simple 20% could be fully and faithfully implemented.

    For some trumped up and soft personal finance reading on the virtues of automation (which I believe is stronger than people give it credit), see good Mr. Bach’s “the Automatic Millionaire”

    But by all means, ride your ass to the library on your bike and check it out.

  • Jay R September 23, 2013, 1:28 am

    Sometimes, maybe once per year the value of the division 1 prize in the lottery exceeds the cost to buy every ticket in the lottery.
    When this occurs I am allowed to buy a ticket. You cannot know how many winners you will have to share the prize with though, so I still couldn’t consider it ‘investing’ rather than gambling. It’s simply cheap entertainment.

    But I can assume just a single winner (just for fun) and know that buying tickets only when the prize is larger than the cost per ticket multiplied by the number of tickets, in the long run means you will be ahead.

    But yeah, doing the calculation and assessing it from a financial sense in the fun part. It’s just a little quirk for me.

  • Darrow Kirkpatrick September 23, 2013, 8:14 am

    Re: avoiding lifestyle inflation. This was essential to my early retirement at 50. If you can avoid spending those raises and bonuses on nicer houses and cars, you’ll supercharge your path to financial independence.

    Re: the lifelong burden of material objects. This is so true. Consider maintenance, repair, and storage. Every thing in your life costs time and money. Make sure it’s worth it!

    One of my most powerful lifestyle tips: Avoid recurring expenses! The math is that you need to save approximately 300 times any monthly expense, to provide for that amount indefinitely in retirement. So just a $1/day expense means you have to save about $9,000!

  • Alicia James September 23, 2013, 8:59 am

    Mr. Money Mustache,

    Speaking of stocking up, do you go to Costco? How do you feel about it? Obviously some people use it well and others don’t.


  • Christie September 23, 2013, 9:24 am

    WOW. Thank you so much. I just started reading your blog recently, a friend of mine linked to you on Facebook and I’m hooked on your common sense approach. The thing that REALLY struck me on this one was your story about not buying the souvenir in Ecuador. At first I thought that was crazy… but your explanation makes PERFECT SENSE. This is something I can ask myself next time that temptation washes over me… Have I been happy without this thing? Will this thing become a useless burden once I get home and the novelty has worn off?
    Keep up the great work, I look forward to reading more!

  • Tara September 23, 2013, 12:54 pm

    Sage advice, wish I could discipline myself to follow all of it, but I am doing pretty well, just a few slips on buying things for pleasure occasionally, like a bottle of perfume. :-)

  • Rachel Erin September 23, 2013, 3:26 pm

    I’m surprised no one’s mentioned keeping a low maintenance appearance. I’m amazed at how many nail salons there are, and how many people get their nails and toes done 2-3 times a month, and 30-60 dollars a visit. I understand wanting neat nails and toes, but a weekly trim and weekly or bi-weekly DIY manicure is perfectly good. Ditto for crazy expensive highlights done every 6 weeks, and so on.

    Also, never waste food. I think grocery shopping should be done like every other type of shopping. Make a meal plan (plan for packing lunches and cook for the freezer as necessary), make a list, buy what’s on sale/in season, and get out of there.

  • Steven of Chicago September 24, 2013, 8:13 am

    Great Post.

    There are more storage units in America than there are schools.

  • Subversive September 24, 2013, 1:17 pm

    Question for the experienced mustachians in the bunch, if I may.

    If I have not yet liberated myself of all debt, does one count debt pricincipal repayment in a savings rate calculation?

    Like, if I earn $5,000 take home a month, and spend $1000 on mortgage principal reduction, $600 on vehicle principal reduction, and a further $1000 on other debt principal reduction, along with $400 into investments, would my savings rate be considered to be 60%? Or 8%?

  • Dave September 24, 2013, 2:29 pm

    The concept of value for purchases is to me as fundamental as not purchasing things that aren’t necessary. In other words, when it comes time to replace an item, I do research to make sure the item I am buying gives me the most bang for my buck in terms of longevity and utility. I even do this for many smaller purchases. I’d rather pay more up front for something that, over the course of its useful lifetime, will add a greater degree of value to my life. Case in point, you can buy hiking boots at Payless but I doubt they’re going to hold up very long – whereas something you get at REI may last a decade. That makes it actually cheaper if averaged over its lifetime as opposed to new cheap hiking boots every year.

  • Laura September 24, 2013, 6:06 pm

    Definitely my fav – Never Shop. I’m a Buyer not a shopper. Also, Create a Budget – and live with it. I always tell my mom friends, when the weekly food money is gone, don’t go out and buy more OJ or _fillintheblank_ – just because the kids want it – tell them it’s not in the budget until next week – water will due.

  • krissie September 25, 2013, 5:43 pm

    MMM, I think you should of bought the flask for $10. If it was made by the locals, you would of been supporting the local economy. $10 for them is like $1000 for “us” meaning Americans. I understand your philosophy and agree completely. I constantly think before I buy something and wonder if it is worth me working more to have that particular item. When I am lucky enough to travel, I always buy at the local markets to try and support them. It is a somewhat watered down philosophy of a friend of mine who let the baggage guy at the airport help her with her bags! I looked at her like she was crazy knowing she would have to give him $5-$10 and said “I can carry those in for you” and she said “it’s an employment opportunity”, (she definitely bleeds blue) . I still have never checked my bags nor accepted the help of a bellman but I can see her point. The only solution here is for you guys to go back next year!

    • Christof September 29, 2013, 3:10 pm

      Depending on what numbers you look at it’s more like $30 to $110 instead of $1000…

    • Mark Schreiner December 3, 2021, 12:16 pm

      You could instead just give the vendor $10 and not take the flask; that way, you need not manage/store it for the rest of your life.

  • Evan Lynch September 26, 2013, 1:55 am

    Excellent article. I confess that I actually did buy lottery tickets once, but I did so only for three reasons: I was keeping a strict limit on the amount of money I was spending (no more than $20), I happened to be walking by a place that sells them on the way to appointments (I almost never go by places that sell lottery tickets), and while I was knew the odds of winning were so small that they were basically zero, I also didn’t care if I lost.

    Here’s why I didn’t care: I know what lottery ticket receipts are spent on in California, where I live, and a large portion of it goes to Schools. So, in the extremely unlikely event that I won, I’d be rich. If I didn’t win, which of course is what happened, well, I’d still be supporting schools which I like to do anyway. So I treated it as a form of charity with a minute chance of winning a lot of money, and it’s also something that was a one time deal, yes I did it because the lottery was at $200 million at the time, but a few years later when it went up to $600 million, I didn’t bother doing it again because I had already gotten it out of my system.

    I used to do automatic bill payments, but then I switched banks and didn’t switch credit cards, so that’s no longer an option. I used to use Bank of America for both my checking account and credit cards, but when I started the grad school program that I’m in now, I decided to hunt for a new bank account. Mostly because the “free checking” with BoA has so many catches that it’s not free at all, you get charged monthly fees if you keep less than $1,000 in there. I like to be able to keep most of my money in an account that’s earning at least a little bit of interest, so I didn’t want to leave $1,000 in there that I couldn’t touch while being unemployed.

    I eventually decided to switch to Schwab, which has totally free checking, no minimum balance, and while they don’t have an ATM network, they reimburse the fees on all ATMs, including international ones. It’s an online only bank, but the only thing I did in Banks was deposit checks anyway, so that doesn’t bother me. The other nice thing is that Schwab will send you free checks, unlike BoA which charged me $30 every time I needed new checks, thus I’m able to keep more of my money earning interest, and save money every time I need new checks. Their phone and email customer support has been excellent, I highly recommend them if you are thinking of switching banks. (They’ll automatically open an investment account if you do this, but you’re not required to use it just to have what they call a “high interest checking account”. It’s not actually high interest, but overall, I’m pretty happy with their service. That investment account is where they’ll make money off you if you decide to use it, their trading fees are kinda high at almost $9 / trade.)

  • Mark Abner A. September 26, 2013, 4:36 am

    Awesome. I have made all of these mistakes at one time or another but what is working for me is tracking all spending in about 20 categories via YNAB – then systematically smashing each category. (YNAB = the You Need A Budget software.)

  • dahlink September 26, 2013, 12:34 pm

    To add to bill paying portion of the article; I recently discovered that I can have my bank cut a check to the address of the few bills only take checks or money orders. You can even setup a reoccurring payment if it is a set cost. This service is free, alleviates stamp costs, and can even be used as way to bypass fee’s for external account transfers (BoA charges for checkbooks last time I checked).


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