There’s Something You Need to Know About The Rules

macgyverMy son is seven and three quarters years old. Having reached second grade, he is having a nice time defining himself in the little society of the public school system. He likes being the creative one who invents the games that his classmates play at recess. Defines himself as a good reader, a respectful class clown, and the guy who always gets his homework done.

Last week, when finishing up a writing assignment on the kitchen table, he asked for my help and I could tell he was frustrated.

“Dad, I just finished this big story and I thought I was done. But it says I have to write the whole thing out in my notebook now.”

I looked at the sheet where he had meticulously written out his story about a journey to the center of the Earth. At the top were the instructions: “Write a story in your notebook about travel.” Then the whole page below was filled with blank lines, implying that you were supposed to write the story right here on that worksheet, which is what he had done. The instructions were conflicting.

“Ahh”, I told him. “It looks like the instructions were not clear. But since you already wrote your story on this worksheet, you can just hand the page in instead of the notebook. Or if you want to get really fancy, we can cut out the story and glue it into your book!”

This suggestion seemed to bring him great unease. The instructions were telling him to write his story in the notebook, and he had clearly written his on the paper instead. He was in violation of The Rules, and this was scaring him.

I suddenly realized I had some teaching to do. It was time to share a deeper explanation of what The Rules really are, and I thought you might want to join in for the session as well. Because if you look around carefully, you will see that most of the problems of our society are based upon an incorrect understanding of these rules.

Let’s dig into the Money Mustache Mailbox for a recent example. When I first announced that I had bought a new 1950s house and was planning to renovate it, a complainypants comment came in with the juicy content:

This renovation you describe is no small feat and getting a structural engineer to “sign off” on the installation of new roofing system upon a foundation and walls (with 7 foot 8 inch ceilings no less) set over 50 years ago could be challenging as well. I can’t count the number of times I have seen plans similiar to these go haywire because of the unforeseen. And I question the reward by selling the old place and moving…in this neck of the woods “docs and transfers” are significant and sometimes exceed 6% of the selling price and those are historically paid/split buying and selling. And lastly ….am I missing something…this house seems small… very simple…a basic dwelling…80 by 80 lot….not a fan. I spend a lot of time working from and around my home…give me some space…

Wow“, I thought, “Is this person completely unfamiliar with the principles of this blog?” I went through the usual cycle of one raised eyebrow, two raised eyebrows, a clenched fist, a finger poised over the “delete” button, and then at last I calmed down and saved the text to share with you instead. For while the complainy can’t-do-attitude of this comment is inappropriate for my comments section, the underlying assumptions about rules are worth studying:

“You can’t get a structural engineer to sign off on renovating an older-than-50 house” – Here our friend has assumed that there is a rule that old houses can never be restored. The idea is silly, of course, because people renovate much older houses in the same neighborhood every day. In fact, a friend and I just finished a major addition on a 103-year-old one earlier this year. But if I had started the project with an imaginary fear of such a rule, I would be dead in the water. And at this point I can report that the structural design is just about done and will be “signed off” this week.

“Transaction Fees make house moving too expensive to be worthwhile” – the imagined rule here is that house transactions are always very expensive, so we should shy away from them to avoid this cost. But I have done eleven of these transactions since moving to this country, and some of them were done for only the $50 county recording fee. To tilt the scale further, my wife deliberately earned a real estate license seven years ago to cut the cost of most other transactions in half. Again, the imagined rule proves false and we are all free to move to a new house whenever we like.

“A small and simple house is not desirable” – Hmm, I wonder which society dreamed up this rule? First of all, a 1532 square foot soon-to-be-luxury home on an 80 x 80 foot lot adjoining a 1.3 acre public park overlooking the Rocky Mountains in the walkable central district of one of the most desirable cities in the world’s richest country is probably good enough for plain old Mr. Money Mustache. But if there is anyone who thinks that even a quarter of this standard of living is a key to happiness, you might want to check to see if your brain tissue is sparkly and white, because you have received a near-fatal dose of brainwashing, derived from a book of rules that helps nobody.

But I can’t win this battle with just a list of single-issue defenses. To cure the disease of Rules Excusitis, you need to elevate yourself to the next level and understand exactly what The Rules are. And a nice way to illustrate this is to turn to one of my favorite concepts from Dungeons and Dragons:

In D&D, your imaginary characters come with personalities defined along two different scales:

  • How Good or Evil they are, and
  • How much respect they have for The Rules

So you end up with descriptions like Chaotic Evil, Chaotic Good, Lawful Evil, and Lawful Good. If we put these into a colorful table with some insightful examples, it would look like this:


At this point, you may see the connection between The Rules, and becoming wealthy. I propose that the biggest advantage you can give to yourself and your society is to be as high on the Good Scale as you can be, but pay less regard to your score on the Lawful Scale.

Now, before the police officers among you pack up some handcuffs and begin a stakeout of Longmont, let’s explain that with a few examples.

  • US society has literally adopted the phrase “standard of living” to be synonymous with “amount of money you spend on yourself”. If you follow this rule, you permanently lock yourself into needing more money to feel happy, which dooms most of us to 20-40 more years of office work than we really needed to achieve it.
  • Far too recently, laws existed that made it illegal for African Americans and women to vote. But not long before that, it was legal to own human slaves. Somewhere in there, beer and wine became illegal for 13 years. We had philosophy, steam power, advanced astronomy and physics at the time, and yet these were the rules a lawful person would have to follow. Knowing this, is it logical to assume that our current laws on Marijuana plants, the rights of people who are not heterosexual, or what level of the natural environment we share it is acceptable to destroy are automatically correct? Of course not. In some cases, Goodness requires you to fuck the idea of Lawfulness and do what is right, working to change the laws in the process.
  • Religions impose their own laws, which were often designed with the most noble of intentions but now cause bizarre and impractical side effects. A historical famine or disease made it sensible to ration certain crops or meats at the time, yet the rules were set in stone and are followed blindly to this day. Political alliances or wars generated hate between people, and now their descendants continue to bomb each other’s vegetable markets even centuries after the original sins were buried. Some leaders were opposed to gay people a thousand years ago, and now their descendants still work to write the discrimination into their country’s constitution. Although these may be The Rules today, a quick questioning of their origins should reveal that there is great advantage to all if you are bold enough to break them.

And to collect all of this badass rule-breaking philosophy and apply it to making yourself richer today, just look around you and try stirring up some of your own shit. A few examples to get you started:

  • The Christmas Holidays are coming, and the crap has already arrived in the stores. You’ve been questioning whether you have to participate in the giant blizzard of plastic packaging and trinkets imported from China. You do not. You can go an entire holiday season without buying anything, and apply the spirit to sharing your skills and wealth with others who need it instead.
  • You’re getting married, and your family thinks you need the giant ceremony with the flower designer, the experience consultant, and the limousines. The amazing news is that you do not! You can get married for ten bucks at the county office and then bring 100 friends, some slacklines, fiddles, banjos, boxed wine and a stand-up bass down to the local park and make everyone shed tears of joy when they realize how much fun they are having.
  • You feel oppressed by the rules of your own city, family, or country. The cost of living is too high or the laws are restrictive, and you cannot achieve what you see the Mustachians here around you are doing because you are bound by different rules. You are not. You can move to a different city or country. You can earn a leadership position in your own family, or your own country.  You can work within your own system, or move to any other system, to get whatever advantages you like. With sufficient disregard for The Rules, you will find new avenues of freedom opening in your life wherever you live.
  • Everyone has told you that your kid will only prosper in the expensive school district where nobody speaks Spanish and the horseback lessons 20 miles out in the country are essential to round out the character to qualify for the eventual Ivy League school. Such well-meaning but tragic bullshit! Little MM’s officially-measured reading level is just about to hit the high-school level, and he can beat me at chess. And he shares a classroom with kids who don’t get enough for breakfast. He gets his advantage from parents who keep books instead of televisions in the house, and who sacrificed Mercedes SUVs and private schools in favor of having time to bike to school with him and help both him and his not-quite-as-lucky friends in the classroom when they get there.
  • Junior Money Mustache will have the grades and the financial resources to get into the university of his choice, but also knowledge that there is no requirement to get a college education at all, for either a happy life or for financial success. For this old rule of society is another one to disregard.

I describe these happy examples not as an attempt to boast or to criticize others, but hopefully as an inspiring example of what happens when you question and break the goddamned rules.

So I hope that as my son grows up, he will cultivate his own healthy skepticism for The Rules, and call bullshit whenever something smells foul. Because as it turns out, the people who have the balls to question the rules, find that they are suddenly in the position of making them instead.

* This is just me poking a little fun at Mrs. MM. In reality she is a truly badass woman who proudly defies most social conventions, and I love her for it. She can also bench press almost her bodyweight and squat 150% of it. But occasionally we debate on the issue of taking long and educational family vacations because The Rules say that you shouldn’t miss too much school. When interviewed in person, the teacher and principal admitted they thought travel was a great idea for our son and they would gladly bend the rules for us. Yet another example of how to approach things: if you don’t like the rules, talk to, or become, the boss.

  • Rachel October 22, 2013, 4:16 pm

    When my son was in 5th grade, he decided to run for student council. He worked very hard to outline a speech detailing his “platform,” which included proposed community service and volunteer projects. He purposely wrote this speech in a bulleted, outline form, because, in his words “Great speakers never read word-for-word.” The next day he was told by his old, crotchety teacher that he would not be allowed to give his speech and was disqualified from the race because he had not written it out, word-for-word, as the “instructions” told him to. He was devastated. I used this as an opportunity to educate him that to affect change in the world, often times you need to be the one that did not follow the rules. I also sent a very strongly-worded email to his teacher and encouraged her to look up the difference between democracy and tryanny.

  • Elizabeth October 22, 2013, 4:52 pm

    This falls right in with one of my favourite quotes.

    -Never confuse legality with morality.

  • Micro October 22, 2013, 4:56 pm

    Reminds me of the saying it’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission. Which fits right in line with chaotic good. It lets you aim to practice the spirit of the law rather than what it is actually stating.

  • Ragnar October 22, 2013, 5:01 pm

    I hope to one day earn the “Chaotic good” moniker. As of now I am not even sure I can claim good at all. If a category was added that said non-contributing, either good nor bad.. that would be me at the moment.. although things are starting to look up! ^^

    I think that my DNA and upbringing is on my side though, finally, in that I am much more inclined to own a small place and be happy with that, because it entails less work to keep it clean and functional than a bigger more expensive place. Although at 6’5 sometimes old beds and doorways can be a slight annoyance.

    I’ve always been somewhat of a skeptic when it comes to society’s norms and unspoken rules, and it pleases me to see that I’m not the only one. I guess being a self-elected social outcast back in middle and high school actually did amount to something positive after all, haha.

    Hopefully your advice combined with my effort will enable me to travel most of the world on a shoestring budget starting sometime next year…


  • Chris T October 22, 2013, 5:34 pm

    Awesome post and D&D reference! Me thinks you rolled an 18 in both Constitution and Wisdom, in life, sir! And perfect saving throws vs. whine.

  • Tosaguy October 22, 2013, 5:51 pm

    First comment but a reader of MMM since the start. You HAVE to pull your kids out of school for experiences. My Dad is now retired but a school Principal for over 35 years. His mantra was nothing replaces family time, pull your kids and go, work with them and help them when you get back if needed.

    I lost my child Sarah to leukemia when she was 16. She was my world but I find peace daily knowing we always lived life to the fullest. We are a family built on faith and we do not believe in being judgmental. We belong to mainline churches but that does not over-rule our individual beliefs. Living the MMM life is what we strive to do. We are getting our life in priority by simplifying and focusing on what is truly important. Thank you for the post.

    • tallgirl1204 October 23, 2013, 5:13 pm

      Thanks, Tosaguy. You remind me of a friend here whose son died at 21– at the funeral, he asked me how my kid was doing, then said “Treasure every day.” I remember that a lot. MMM is a good trainer for that, eh?

  • Justin October 22, 2013, 6:09 pm

    We just received a phone call from our 3rd grader’s school instructing them to “dress for success” tomorrow. They are having standardized tests and for some incomprehensible reason, they think wearing fancy clothes will somehow mask crappy teaching or failure to learn.

    My kids, of course, will wear whatever they want since the little bubbles on the Scantron will care very little about how coordinated their outfits are.

    Glad to see I’m not the only parent dealing with crazy B.S. rules at school. I usually say, “Do what you think is right, and if the teacher gives you grief, we got your back”. Short of the kids getting suspended or expelled, I don’t really care if they get nasty grams sent home. Although they are very well behaved, so it would be isolated incidents of idiocy (on the part of the school) that would get them in trouble.

    • Rick October 23, 2013, 7:31 am

      Does dressing for success mean they should wear clothes with test answers printed on them?

      (Sorry, couldn’t resist!)

    • TGod October 23, 2013, 12:12 pm

      I hear you on the useless rules. At my sons’ school they have agendas that get sent home every night, and the parents have to sign off to show that they’ve reviewed any messages. My husband spends an hour after school EVERY day helping them with their homework and doing extra math and reading stuff, we’re involved parents! But sometimes in between the homework, the playtime, the making of a healthy dinner, the agenda signing is forgotten. Last year we blew it on the teacher because we found out that our son didn’t get to play outside (as in get exercise in between sitting on his butt all day) because he had to write out lines in his agenda basically lecturing us about not signing his agenda. WTF!!! As it was explained to him, it is his responsibility to get us to sign his agenda. So zero outdoor fresh air time. I blew up on the teacher and principal. A) my son is not responsible for my actions and teaching him that is obnoxious. The kids in that school were stressed out because of that attitude, and the parents were feeling like we had homework and would be chastised through our kids if we didn’t behave. This was in grade 2. And b), my kid is 7, he’s a boy, he has enough energy contained in his little body to send a rocket to the moon, and that I NEVER want to hear that he is held in to write lines about something as stupid as a missed initial in his agenda. I unfortunately couldn’t attend the parent/teacher meeting around that one, but my husband said it was a joke. The teacher showed him a chart tracking how many times kids had missed having their agenda signed and if they went over 2/month they got held in. Crazeeee!!! She just didn’t get it that she was teaching my kid that he was accountable for my actions which was ridiculous. We feel like we have to unteach our kids when it comes to useless rules, but they’re freaked out about the consequences at school, more than they are ever freaked about the consequences at home.

    • Mike October 25, 2013, 11:36 am

      When my son was in 5th grade, his principal called us because a 1st grader accused my son of putting his lunch waste on this 1st grader’s tray on “zero waste day”, which was part of their “green” program, where they would reward the kids for having zero waste at lunch.

      First, my son did no such thing. He was nothing but confused and upset when he was called down to the principal’s office over this. Second, what the hell??? You really felt the need, and had nothing more important to do, than to pull a kid out of class, and CALL THE PARENTS when something like that happened? Seriously???

  • Cujo October 22, 2013, 6:46 pm

    I love how your writer conflates “is not desired by me” with “is not desirable.” Classic.

  • BCR October 22, 2013, 6:58 pm

    I don’t think there are simply rule breakers and followers as depicted. That seems a false dichotomy. I do not see these examples as cases of simply breaking rules or following them. It seems more accurate to say you are complying with a hierarchy of rules which you have established over the course of your life. In other words, no one can comply with all rules in all situations since they inevitably contradict one another and some rules are much more important to you than others. So you create a hierarchy of rules and never break your “golden rule”, the one at the top. You follow any rules that cascade from the golden rule without contradictions.

  • Joshua Spodek October 22, 2013, 7:00 pm

    I’ll see your D&D reference to rules and raise you 5 Calvin and Hobbes rules references — http://joshuaspodek.com/more-on-rules.

    If there’s one example of how making up rules leads to fun, it’s Calvinball.

  • Jen October 22, 2013, 7:23 pm

    Food for thought for me. While breaking some rules (which are not even rules to me – would never have a flashy wedding), I am definetely on “lawful good” side. I guess it is a personality trait – any career orientation tests I took had suggested I am most suited for accounting, audit, law etc similar jobs – surely for my inclination to stick to the rules. Now I am running a start-up and learning to break the rules daily – my fellow entrepreneurs are a chaotic crowd :) Getting there!

  • Accidental Miser October 22, 2013, 7:30 pm

    Bravo, MMM. Your much-discussed D&D reference is a great example of why this is the only blog (not the only personal finance blog, the only blog period) that I consistently read.

    I’m actually a Lawful Good trending toward the Chaotic… Wish me luck!

  • Kristin October 22, 2013, 7:53 pm

    ” Because as it turns out, the people who have the balls to question the rules, find that they are suddenly in the position of making them instead.”

    Thank you for this quote. I have been struggling with a rule at work that has been driving me crazy and I just got the ball rolling to fix it.

  • dan23 October 22, 2013, 7:58 pm

    I don’t remember MacGyver as being lawful good so much as chaotic good, but I my memory may be off as I saw the show over a decade ago.

    • joel October 22, 2013, 9:26 pm

      I still watch some re-runs of MacGyver. His words don’t agree with his actions/career. I don’t know many greenpeace, anti-gun humanitarians contracted as military demo-experts and CIA spies. He talks like Mr. Rogers and acts like Hannibal from the A-Team.

  • Chris October 22, 2013, 8:11 pm

    My wife and I go round and round over this topic. She likes to say, “you have no respect for the rules of life.” Correct, I don’t (wink)! The important thing to remember is “the world’s rules were made up by people no smarter than you or I (RIP Steve Jobs).”

    When we think about why things are the way they are, or rather, how they might be improved upon, based on the situation, we are departing rule following and living consciously!!

    • Chris October 25, 2013, 8:41 pm

      “Nonconformity is the highest evolutionary attainment of social animals.”

      Aldo Leopold (via my bro, sh)

    • Erwin Cuellar January 20, 2014, 4:17 pm

      People get scared that if the “rules of life” can’t contain us, then what will? A good conscience will. I wish we’d spend more time developing better consciences than better rules.

  • Noelle October 22, 2013, 9:59 pm

    I like to think I’m in the Chaotic Good quadrant. Although not too long ago I would have said Lawful Good. I’m learning to question the Rules and consider what other ways there are of accomplishing things. Thanks for the great post!

  • Jacob October 22, 2013, 11:24 pm

    You had to write this, didn’t you? I am the FOLLOW-THE-RULES-NO-MATTER-WHAT guy, and I even make my own when I don’t feel there is sufficient order in place during a given activity. My wife always has to slap me back into reality and help me realize that, not only am I making myself miserable by adding extra rules that don’t exist, but I’m stifling any fun we could be having, killing joy.

    It has taken some years, but i have learned that there are rules that benefit, and rules that are more of a CYA, and are really more guidelines. And some of the most fun I’ve had was breaking said “rules”, knowing that I was not harming anything or anyone. Sure, it still takes me time to get there, but I have finally been able to put down the list of all things not allowed during [blank], and just enjoy the ride.

  • Annonny Mouse October 23, 2013, 2:50 am

    I have always subscribed to the idea

    Rules are there for the guidance of the wise
    And the following by the stupid

    Meaning understand why you’re following them, but also think about why, if you decided not to follow them

  • Manuel October 23, 2013, 3:18 am

    This is one of the best articles I´ve ever read on this blog; MMM, I love you for it. Fuck those rules that are simply stupid! Ever waited for a redlight to turn green on an empty street as a pedestrian?

  • Manuel October 23, 2013, 3:20 am

    Actually I think Hitler might also fit into the “lawfully evil” scheme. He made every evil thing he did lawful befor he did it ;-) So much for becoming the boss

  • Frugal in DC October 23, 2013, 3:48 am

    Neil Gaiman gave a great talk recently about the importance of reading and libraries – http://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/oct/15/neil-gaiman-future-libraries-reading-daydreaming .

    We had a similar experience when we finally got rid of the TV back when my son was in middle school. By the age of 16 his reading level was up to grad school level. He got into the college he wanted to go to and is doing great with a demanding double major. He never participated in crazy-ass expensive or far-off “enrichment” activities.

    You will love your new house. Several years ago we downsized to a small home (that is plenty big for us) near a big park. We are so lucky to have our local government maintain miles of wooded trails, sports fields, a clean creek, a huge flower garden, and a well-stocked library just off the park.

    • Frugal in DC October 23, 2013, 4:35 am

      Forgot to mention that, in our school district, schools where students need help learning English and buying their meals have smaller classes, offer more help with reading, and provide lots of free after-school activities (with transportation home) to keep kids engaged after school. My kids thrived in such schools and made friends with great kids from other cultures.

  • MoneyAhoy October 23, 2013, 5:08 am

    Lol at Karl Rowe under lawful evil!!!

    So, what happened with his assignment? Did he copy it over or paste it in? I’m dieing to find out which way you convinced him to go.

    • Leslie October 25, 2013, 11:29 am

      There is always photocopying too. Put a piece of binder paper in the copier machine and press the button. We have the technology.

  • Anonymous October 23, 2013, 6:04 am

    What about family members who think they can’t break the social norms? If my mother in law found out that I was thinking about selling our 3000+ sq house she’s totally flip on my wife, who would flip out on me. I know we could live in 1/2 that space, and reduce our mortgage to less than half.

    I’ve tried to sell the family truck several times, but once my MIL finds out, she freaks and says “You need the 4WD for the snow storms!” But atlas, I get 15mpgs to drive 3 miles to work everyday just to throw it into 4WD 4 times a year. Crazy. Let’s not mention all the shit in the basement. Really, what are we to do with a sentimental set of encyclopedias other than injure my back?

    I want to be free to travel, to dabble in activities that interest me, to spend more time with my kids, and to help people/causes that I care about.

    Sorry ’bout the rant. But what do you do when the people you love won’t break the rules with you?

    • Kaye October 23, 2013, 8:21 am

      It doesn’t seem very mustachian to let your MILs fears dictate your financial future. I assume getting your chosen life partner onboard is going to make you life a lot simpler but there is no reason that once you two have agreed on something, your MIL should even know about it much less get to make that choice for you.

    • Sister X October 23, 2013, 12:39 pm

      About the vehicle, I have one response: Subaru. Way more fuel efficient and they’re all either 4WD or AWD. (I won’t bother asking why you drive 3 miles rather than bike or walk, and just assume you have a good reason.)
      About the encyclopedias: those are what libraries are for. If they’re old and/or valuable, there might be a library that would be willing to take them off your hands. I’m not sure what you mean by “sentimental” encyclopedias. If you can’t find a library willing to take them, try Better World Books.
      Finally, kinda sounds like you need to sit down with your spouse and talk about how much interference you’re willing to put up with from your MIL. I get it, I totally do. I’m saying this as someone who’s having similar issues with an in-law being a bit too presumptuous and pushy recently. It’s a hard situation, and you don’t want to alienate or insult your spouse. But it’s your life, and your shared life with your spouse. The only people you really need to please with your decisions are you and your spouse. If you’re keeping a vehicle or a house or ANYTHING just to please someone who (I assume) doesn’t even live with you, that’s a damn shame.
      Good luck.

      • Anonymous October 24, 2013, 8:18 am

        She comes from a culture where MILs are in everyone’s business, and if you don’t take her matriarchal advice you might as well cast a voodoo curse and leave her out for the wolves.

        But you’re right. I need to grow a pair. I can’t control what my MIL thinks, but I can control what stuff I hold onto, and what “rules” I personally abide by.

        I just need to grow a pair and break some rules.

    • L'Ingenieure October 25, 2013, 11:44 am

      So don’t tell the MIL. And live your lives.

  • Businessgypsy October 23, 2013, 6:23 am

    Sometimes the most important rules to break…are your own! Especially true when you’re in a position of sought or imposed authority. You can become trapped by your own mythos.

    Example: I pretty much parroted your stance on vehicles, for reasons you’ve repeated often. Then I started thinking about my dreams and interests. History, geography, geology, microcultures, regional cooking and agriculture do it for me. After pouring over old maps, road novels, travelogues and documentaries, I realized my time on the planet was now, and demographic shifts meant that small town America was in a state of unprecedented flux. If I was going to see for myself, it’s showtime.

    Indulging in the fun of considering hitching, van camping, trailers and even motor homes, I found a community of people online sharing tribal knowledge of the Mercedes Sprinter van. Yep, a big, expensive, luxury diesel. Except it gets better mileage than my 2000 Dodge Caravan, can be maintained (for the most part) by dedicated home mechanics, and will park in standard spaces while containing all the elements of a nice hotel room. I bought an 18 month old 2010 for 1/2 of the price the previous owner paid and custom built a stealth camper inside (that was big fun!). On the street in Manhattan, New Orleans, Los Angeles, Key West or Portland, you’d never suspect the plain silver van held a portable, endless vacation suite.

    The upshot? I’ve reconnected with friends across the continent without straining their hospitality, experienced communities, harvests and celebrations most only read about and immersed myself in the joy of backroad travel for months on end. I’ve followed the seasons across the breadth and width, and developed a love and appreciation for my country from first-hand knowledge. I’ve come to understand and maintain this ingenious machine in a way that brings great satisfaction and confidence in self-reliance. As a bonus, the online community of kindred spirits has become a resource and inspiration as well as a pipeline to give back in time, education and experience. Could I live a life of greater restraint and lower impact? Maybe, but to what degree? The ultimate act of reducing your footprint involves the cessation of breath. Could I live a life of greater joy and richer experience? Maybe, but damned if I can see how.

    Of course, all of this was made possible by 4.5 decades of careful saving and creative earning. You’ve done a fine job of pointing out that all this money stuff is a means to the end of living a joyful and responsible life, but don’t forget that interpretations of that goal are legion. As the ad says, your results may vary. Thanks for a good conversation and worthy example. You won’t be punching me in the face, but I’d be honored to shake your hand and join in a project when passing through.

    • Joyce October 23, 2013, 4:38 pm

      Oh Businessgypsy, I want to see pictures of that awesome vehicle! My husband and I were talking about the same sort of thing.

      • Businessgypsy October 24, 2013, 6:22 am

        Sure, send me a PM on the forum. Disclaimer: This path works for me, because I worked for it. I’m NOT encouraging spending on the part of others, just relating the joy of realizing my dreams – even if they do run counter to someone else’s code of conduct.

  • dude October 23, 2013, 6:42 am

    Killer article, MMM! Your placement of Karl Rove in the Lawful Evil box had me laughing out loud!

    I have always been one to push the envelope when it comes to many social conventions, and I’ve done just fine for myself. re: stupid rules, I hate the sadistic motherf@#$er who thought requiring guys to wear neckties at work was a good idea!

  • Mr. 1500 October 23, 2013, 7:04 am

    The Rules are something I think about often actually. It seems that in our safety/lawyer obsessed society, we get more of them thrown at us every day: Thoughts immediately come to mind:
    -> It’s probably OK to eat that food 2 days past the expiration date.(Why does bottled water have an expiration date? Why do people buy bottled water in the first place??)
    -> I love my children more than anything, but don’t cover them in body armor for every single activity. They will live through a scraped knee.
    -> In a past place that I lived, homeowners weren’t allowed to do plumbing work on their own homes. Great for plumbers, bad for tinkerers (is that a word?).

  • Matthew Pence October 23, 2013, 7:28 am

    Another great way of repeating one of the underlying principals of this blog and its motivations: The only limitations you have to abide by are those you impose upon yourself. The “Rules” are just GPS coordinates toward a mindless, artificially inflated lifestyle. Excuses, if you will, for living “normal”.

    Happiness is out there, folks. Are you up to the task of grabbing it, or are you still tripping on the leg sleeves of your “complainy-pants”?

    Every time I read stuff on this blog, I find more motivation to do things “the hard way”. Thing is after I get moving on any of it, it doesn’t seem so hard after all.

    Kudos, MMM, for bluntly kicking societal norms in the gonads, then coming back here to tell us how it’s done.

  • Le Dérisoire October 23, 2013, 7:34 am

    Wooo MMM. It seems to me that, this time, you did not push your thinking as far as you usually do.

    While I agree that social and religious rules can be disregarded on a personal level, I don’t think it’s true for the laws of the State.

    Just for a starter, here are some questions regarding the ‘right’ to disobedience:

    “How do I know a law is unjust and that I can or should disobey? Do I only have to feel it is unjust or does this feeling has to be shared by a great number of people?”

    “If it’s the latter, how much people have to feel the law is unjust before I can decide that I can break it?”

    “If the answer is ‘the majority’, then why don’t we change the law instead of breaking it? Why can’t we change the law in such circumstances? What is the reason why the laws can’t be changed solely based on the current will of the majority?”

    “If I do decide to break the unjust law, do I have to submit myself to the authorities or become a fugitive?”

    All these questions bring many more to mind and are extremely difficult to answer.

    Here is a list of good readings on the matter:
    – Crito by Socrates (very good short read and can be found on the internet) EDIT: Plato actually wrote it, but it’s a Socrates dialogue.
    – The Social Contract by Jean-Jacques Rousseau (kind of outdated, but some ideas are interesting)
    – Anything by John Rawls

    I would be happy to hear other suggestions since I would like to know more on this subject.

  • retirebyforty October 23, 2013, 7:36 am

    I’d say MacGuyver is Chaotic good. He improvise and doesn’t follow the rule on the bleach bottle.
    I don’t like rules much either, but I generally try to follow them. My dad always try to bend/break every rules and it’s a pain in the ass to hang out with him.

    Make your own rules, but be respectful to others is what I try to live by.

  • Rob G. October 23, 2013, 7:55 am

    This blog is now officially Chaotic Awesome.

  • regina ruttenberg October 23, 2013, 8:22 am

    I have been told “the rules” many times on many different subjects but when I ask to see this rule book nobody has one. Does anyone know where the original rule book went? I am still waiting to receive my parenting rule book.

  • S Beaverson October 23, 2013, 8:23 am

    I am a rule follower, and always have been. Breaking the rules always made me feel uncomfortable and anxious. Luckily for me, my interpretation of the rules was always pay bills on time, invest a little extra, put a little extra into the house payment, save a little more, enjoy your time off, try new things. With a spouse willing to listen to these sorts of rules (after many conversations), we see the possibility of an early retirement as happening in about 5 years.

  • phred October 23, 2013, 8:50 am

    What are slacklines (I’m feeling too lazy to look it up)?

    I always follow all the rules. In fact, my favorite rule book is “How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World” by Harry Browne. Everyone should read it so they learn their proper place in the world.

    I’d like to see a sidebar article on why people are so easily led — even supposedly educated people that were taught critical thinking

    • phred October 23, 2013, 11:40 am

      Oh, tightrope walking using webbing instead of rope

  • Debbie M October 23, 2013, 8:56 am

    As a lawful good person myself, I can’t help saying that most of the rules you are talking about are not laws but about traditions. So, while we may need to follow laws or seriously consider the consequences, the appropriate response to traditions are to question them. I’ll tell you that an extremely lawful person like me and your son can also be extremely suspicious of tradition.

    And there are millions of traditions, so many that it’s hard to realize when we’re doing stuff because of tradition instead of for some good reason. Just one example: Why does everyone put their poisons under the sink when poisons fit anywhere sometimes that is the only place big enough to put your cookie sheets?

  • Noodle October 23, 2013, 9:09 am

    I have to admit, I have mixed feelings about this one. If this post were titled “Question Assumptions” or “Break the (Unwritten) Rules,” I would be all for it. I absolutely agree that recognizing and questioning societal assumptions (I have to have a big wedding/work until I’m sixty-five/own a car) can lead to a happier and more productive life and have questioned many of the “Rules” myself to good effect. But as someone whose job includes enforcing and sometimes making rules that have underlying sense but may not look sensible on the surface, I think one needs to be mindful about this.

    For instance, at my workplace we handle a wide range of materials, some volatile or fragile, and we have a strict rule that gloves must always be worn, and no one who is not wearing gloves may handle materials. Now, some of these things could frankly be touched perfectly safely with bare hands, particularly in my specific area of work. If you were a new hire, and you knew that you handled these same materials at home safely, you might think this is the dumbest rule ever, especially because certain tasks are easier without gloves. But the reason we require all handlers to wear gloves is that not everyone who is certified to handle materials is also qualified to decide what materials are safe to touch (even if they think they are). In order to keep the most fragile materials safe, all materials are handled in the same way. In a big company where not everyone knows each other, it also gives us an easy way to identify those with handling certification, since only trained people have access to where gloves are stored, and anyone touching materials bare-handed is de facto not certified and needs to be stopped. Now, you might argue that all you have to do is ask, and then when you understand the rightness of the rule, you will of course follow it. But even though we try, not everyone who enforces the rule either understands the reason for it, or can articulate it clearly if they do understand, or has time on this given day for rule interpretation. So please just put on your gloves and get your job done! (Or keep your paws off!)

    Or maybe the value is not in the particular way of doing the thing, but in having everyone do it the same way, because that leads to efficiency somewhere else in the system. Or perhaps there is a better way of doing X, but the difficulty factor of getting 200 people to do it the new way is higher than the improvement value of changing. (And the situation of having half the people doing it the old way, and half the new way, is worse than either all old or all new). Maybe when a lot of people are doing X simultaneously, the rule is more important than when few people are doing it, but as an individual you don’t have enough perspective to tell when the tipping point has been hit.

    Just be thoughtful, try to see the big picture, and pick your battles, is what I’m saying.

  • Dan A. October 23, 2013, 9:21 am

    MMM, you hit yet another homerun with this article! Spot mother f’ing on! Even parents of today’s kids can be rational, anti-SUV, and logical. This just proves it! Throwing money at everything solves NOTHING (expensive school districts, overpriced colleges, BS credentials, etc…) All it does is guarantee more spending, stress, and more years working at an office taking the lowest form of BS from some materialistic, self-righteous A-hole boss who only got their because of who their parents were, who also happen to be clueless spend-thrifts. Just got back from a CHEAP and AWESOME trip to Holland (stayed with friends at apartment, cooked in, and traveled on a buddy pass) and was amazed at the amount of biking / FUNCTIONAL bike paths throughout the ENTIRE country – suburbs included. Didn’t see barely any single family homes, or SUVs, and rain or shine, 25 or 75, they ALL RODE BIKES, and >90% by my observation were FIT and HEALTHY. So refreshing to see that not everyone in the world is so wasteful and ignorant, like most Americans are. Thanks for this great read!

    • Businessgypsy October 23, 2013, 1:53 pm

      Dan A., I usually concur regarding over-rated educational facilities – but in your case, perhaps a bit more time with a dictionary and a bit less use of caplocks would come in handy.

      I live in the Netherlands three months/year on average. You’re aware of the work habits of the Dutch, and the 52% top tax rate, yes? Are you prepared to engage in the social contract that makes such a system workable? Combined with the extreme high cost and low utility of vehicular transportation, the transport choices you witness are not the exclusive product of higher consciousness, but rather economic and sociological pragmatism. They are indeed a great people, but not appreciably different than the fine folks here in the US.

      Comparing their geographically and demographically tiny country (which has plenty of single-family homes) with the expansive and diverse US is akin to comparing kumquats and laser beams. An ad hominem attack on the entire US population is ambitious, but to what end? Feel free to move there, assuming you would pass the immigration requirements, but if you plan on staying here in the US, perhaps a more constructive and less hateful attitude will make your stay more productive, useful and less tiresome to those of us who may have to share your space.

  • Brenton October 23, 2013, 9:30 am

    I find amazing how everything written on here I either endorse completely or vehemently disagree with. This article is one of the former. If a rule seems silly or even hurtful, find the root cause of why the rule was created. That should give you a better idea about whether its worth following, or how to change it to make it better.

    • Elyse October 25, 2013, 1:38 pm

      I work a lot with safety engineering. People need to know why a rule was made. If they break it just because they think the rule is stupid, they may lose a finger. If you know the root of the rule and believe the rule does not solve the problem, please try to fix the system.

      Some rules are stupid and put in place to serve someone’s agenda. Others are put in place to keep you safe. Please know the reason why the rule exists.

  • Liv October 23, 2013, 9:33 am

    Ahh yes the “play the system vs. play the rules”

    I was raised to play the rules, but as an adult, I’m definitely more of a “play the system” person. Within reason of course.

    It’s important to know both as your son will be in situations where he’ll be around/under the authority a rules person and so needs to know how they think and thus how to act.

    An important life lesson .

  • Retireme32 October 23, 2013, 10:47 am

    Amen to breaking the rules! To me – “NO” is just the start of negotiations – it’s where the fun begins. I personally don’t even like seeing the rules until I already know what I want to do then I’ll go and find out how “against the rules” my idea is – it’s my litmus test for whether or not I’m doing something worth doing at all – the more against “the rules” – the better the idea usually is!

  • David Schmidt October 23, 2013, 11:01 am

    Excellent article. My wife (no college degree) and her business partner (no high school degree) have made more money than me (degreed and well-paid engineer) and they work fewer hours. Rules are great guidelines for achieving mediocrity.

  • Joshua October 23, 2013, 11:06 am

    I truly love this post. There’s also the unwritten rules that young people should go out every weekend and spend all their money at bars and clubs. Foolish me followed this for some time but then I broke away. There’s a little known book on this subject titled, The Urban Hermit.

    I read it about 4 years ago and this book follows this blog’s philosophy. I read alot of books and this one is a great read.

  • Jacki Maynard October 23, 2013, 11:22 am

    You rock. Your kid rocks. Your wife rocks. Thanks for this blog. I think a lot about how I might make it through this life without bending my own personal rules (don’t want to slave for the man or look forward to a shopping spree that ultimately leaves me unsatisfied). It requires a lot more self-searching than I initially thought. But, I’m beginning to see where my rules end and society’s begin.

  • Josh October 23, 2013, 11:26 am

    Could you expand on this part a little?

    “A historical famine or disease made it sensible to ration certain crops or meats at the time, yet the rules were set in stone and are followed blindly to this day”

    I’m just curious about which religious rule you’re referring to and in what ways it’s followed by modern society. It was the one example you gave that I didn’t follow. (Don’t worry, I’m not trying to start a religious debate! This is strictly curiousity :) )

  • Gipsy Queen October 23, 2013, 11:29 am

    As I commented while shoving a screwdriver into the power socket (to ground electro-sensitive research specimen, AND AFTER MAKING SURE IT WAS THE GROUND SOCKET):
    “Rules are made to make you think before you break them”.

  • Nadia Kamal October 23, 2013, 11:32 am

    Bravo, MMM!!! I strive to be a part of the chaotic good everyday and encourage my 2 little ones to do so as well :) Thank you for having the guts to post what most people are so scared to admit.

  • Syed October 23, 2013, 11:35 am

    Excellent and thought provoking post. And a great point that so many rules and customs (like slavery) have existed that were considered the norm at the time yet are completely unacceptable now. People and politicians tend to forget this fact and think they know what is best. Challenging the rules is the only way to bring society forward!

  • Chelsea Gale October 23, 2013, 11:39 am

    Might need to stencil this on the wall. Well done, well done.

    “Far too recently, laws existed that made it illegal for African Americans and women to vote. But not long before that, it was legal to own human slaves. Somewhere in there, beer and wine became illegal for 13 years. We had philosophy, steam power, advanced astronomy and physics at the time, and yet these were the rules a lawful person would have to follow. Knowing this, is it logical to assume that our current laws on Marijuana plants, the rights of people who are not heterosexual, or what level of the natural environment we share it is acceptable to destroy are automatically correct? Of course not. In some cases, Goodness requires you to fuck the idea of Lawfulness and do what is right, working to change the laws in the process.”

  • Ron M. October 23, 2013, 11:53 am

    I want to comment on three areas of your great post, which I like because I am a contrarian myself.

    1. I was on a school board for a few years and learned from the PhD superintendant that research shows that children succeed academically not because of being in an affluent district but instead related to the education level of their mother.

    2. Another author that agrees with you about the questionable need for college is James Altucher. But there are fields where a degree is a requirement and college actually prepares you for the field–accounting, nursing, etc.

    3. Whenever someone talks about rules, I think back to the scene from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. You may be too young to have seen it. Here’s the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NPqhm36sjVE

  • Rus Anderson October 23, 2013, 11:57 am

    This exact same philosophy has been eating at my gut for a very long time. But I caved to the “status quo”. Unfortunately, that has been etched into my psyche, but I vow to move on.

    One of the best articles I have ever read. I know that sounds grandiose, but I can’t think of anything more motivating!

  • Sister X October 23, 2013, 12:27 pm

    ‘US society has literally adopted the phrase “standard of living” to be synonymous with “amount of money you spend on yourself”.’
    We’ve done a very good job of tying the phrase ‘quality of life’ to ‘amount of money you spend on yourself’ as well. (I think there are some major differences between ‘standard of living’ and ‘quality of life’.) And this is where the problems come in, because people have been told that to achieve a better life, they MUST spend X amount of money. (X always being, of course, just a bit more than they can afford.) Then you come along to pull the rug out from under them and show that, no, you don’t have to do that to lead a good life. I can see how that’s disorienting to some people. At the same time, it’s very, very sad that it’s so disorienting to them that they lash out and basically plug their ears shouting “LALALALALA I CAN’T HEAR YOU!” I’m not sure if I’d consider these people the ultimate rule followers, however. Just silly, stuck in their ways, and scared.


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