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.

  • Tara October 23, 2013, 12:47 pm

    To the credit of your son, he’s at that sort of adorable age where things are still very about following the rules. I would actually take that as a compliment that you raised such a rule-abiding kid!

    But yes, there are many times in life, as you have mentioned historically, where rules were established that perhaps over time should be broken. That’s where morals really come into play, as there are some laws that never should be broken, like those involving hurting others.

  • Rebecca B October 23, 2013, 12:49 pm

    Fantastic Article.
    I fall into the Lawful Good quadrant but want to be less lawful because in my head I believe “the system”/many laws are total bullshit.

  • Boy Toy October 23, 2013, 1:33 pm

    To sum up this brilliant article in 3 words:

    Fuck the system! ;-)

  • mpbaker22 October 23, 2013, 1:36 pm

    It would be a pretty silly assumption to say gay rights don’t exist today.

  • bluegrass spartan October 23, 2013, 1:43 pm

    Hey everyone… I’m new around here. I just discovered the site a few weeks ago and have read many of the posts already. I’m 33, from Kentucky, and am enjoying recently-achieved financial independence. I’ve been amazed at how much I have in common with MMM with respect to views on the world.

    Reading this post about his son made me recall a similar incident that happened to me as a sophomore in HS. I was in a class where all the other members were seniors. There was a final report due that was required to be handed in on the day that the final exam was given. The seniors finished the semester a week earlier than the rest of the student body, so when the day of the final exam came, I was the only student in that class. I took the test and then handed it along with the final report I’d already written and stapled together in the upper left corner. The teacher informed me that he could not accept my final report because it needed to be presented in a folder labeled with my name and the course name.

    Of course this was not a previously-disclosed requirement and to this day I’m not sure why the teacher threw it on me. With everyone else already done with the class, I could not prove that he did not enforce the same requirement for them. I’m guessing he did it just to watch me squirm a little. And I did squirm. As a shy first-child who had always made straight A’s, I asked him how he expected me to fulfill the requirement. He had no answer, but insisted that the paper was due before the end of class, but wouldn’t let me leave the room to go to my locker or try to round up a folder. Once I left, he said, the class was over for me.

    Once I was convinced that he wasn’t joking, I emptied my sprial-bound notebook of all my papers, ripped out the inside front and back pocketed manilla covers. I borrowed his stapler to staple them together then wrote the required info on the front and turned in the report in a hand-made folder.

    He smiled at me when I turned it in and said “ingenuity” as he shook his head.

    I still think the teacher pulled the stunt just to be a jackass. I’m not sure if he really would have given me a zero for the final report or not. I do think he had a different level of respect for me because of the way I handled it.

    It’s satisfying to head into a final exam fully prepared, but I’d done that dozens of time before. It was empowering and enlightening to know you can handle unforeseen challenges you didn’t expect. Even if they come in the form of rules or requirements that don’t make any sense. Sometimes it’s a great feeling to completely break the rules. But a conservative person like myself has learned that bending the rules just enough to keep the authorities happy can be more rewarding.

    I’ve been able to achieve financial independence at an early age (although not quite as early as MMM). Mr. Money Mustache is right on. A whole new world of opportunity will present itself to those who realize it’s OK to break (or significantly bend) the rules if that’s what it takes.

  • FreeRangeAnt October 23, 2013, 1:55 pm

    Hey, great article. Had a rubbish day today and this article made me smile! Good to see references to the A-team and macgyver lol. Come to North Cornwall UK sometime and let me buy you a beer.

  • MonicaOnMoney October 23, 2013, 2:53 pm

    Wow, MMM you have a very smart kid! But you already knew that :)

    I love this article because we all go through a phase where we consider the rules that we have to live by! But all rules don’t have to be followed exactly. I love how you mention not buying stuff for Christmas. I want to do this!

    Take care and keep building up that house the way you want it. Can’t wait to be renovated pictures too.

  • Occams Chainsaw October 23, 2013, 2:55 pm

    I recently read the perfect article (http://finance.yahoo.com/news/why-65-too-young-retire-201857684.html) on the “rule” you are trying hardest to break (and get others to break by reading your blog) – and then you wrote this post. Great timing!

  • Elyse October 23, 2013, 3:08 pm

    I will agree on one condition: you perfectly understand the rule.

    I work in reliability and safety engineering. Most injuries are from people that think they know better than one of our rules. If they would just say “hey, you should make an exception for this” so I can explain why that is a good or bad idea…several people would not be in the hospital.

    We have had training on why these rules are important. We’ve had weekly and daily discussions with every employee to take comments and suggestions. We try to make the reasoning behind the rules as clear and as well posted as we can.

    People still break the rules and go to the hospital with missing fingers, burnt faces, even in a coma.

    Some rules are there for a reason, and we welcome challenges. We welcome anything that keeps employees from just ignoring them. Come in my office and argue with me. Maybe we will give an exception. But please don’t disregard my safety rules.

    But for a rule that you completely understand, I agree that you can go around it as long as you know you can do so safely. This is just a difficult issue to deal with when you have to explain to a grieving wife that her husband isn’t coming home because he ignored a safety rule.

  • serious coinage October 23, 2013, 3:51 pm

    As a personal injury lawyer, I disagree with its placement in the “lawful evil” category. Perhaps your use of the adjective “predatory” is meant to differentiate the “evil” personal injury lawyers from the “good” personal injury lawyers.

    Are there bad injury lawyers out there that give us all a bad rep? Sure. There are bad apples in every profession. The best injury attorneys, and I strive to be among them, uphold the best rules of society by championing the causes of the weak and powerless who have been injured by the carelessness and greed of others.

    I’ve helped people who’ve been injured by drunk drivers and children scarred for life by incompetent doctors. I will fight to uphold the rules in place to prevent these types of injuries every day of the week.

    Some injury lawyers who pursue frivolous claims deserve to be in the “lawful evil” category. My experienced view from the trenches, however, is that most of us are in the lawful good category.

  • Rob Eisner October 23, 2013, 4:00 pm

    Let’s go back to number one son’s writing assignment. There is another way to approach the bad directions. A crisis is a terrible thing to waste. So too is a mistake, even if the teacher made it. MMM’s two approaches were great, but there is a third. Even a second grader can improve his work with rewriting. Transferring his work from paper to notebook need not be a rote exercise in copying, but an opportunity to reconsider what he said and how. But of course there’s no obligation to do so, especially when life beckons. Still, it could be enlightening to highlight a worrisome issue as a possible opportunity in case a like problem occurs again, which it will.

  • payitoff October 23, 2013, 4:20 pm

    Life is fun when you hang out with couple friends getting drunk every weekend, and then one by one gets married, gets pregnant, baptism parties, first birthday parties and every weekend birthday party of every year, not to mention Christmas, and ‘playdates’ where you have to bring in a potluck, and then here comes conversations about your kids school and what’s SUPPOSED to be, discussing how theyre supposed to be brought up and Ah i cant think anymore,. this has made me and my husband decide to move away, where we dont have to be at every party, at every scrutiny of the now so-called The Joneses friends.

  • Maverick October 23, 2013, 5:46 pm

    I also question the rules. The police officer said I was going the wrong way on a one way street. I said I was only going ONE WAY! The police officer said I went through a red light. I said it wasn’t red yet, it was only PINK!

  • Karl October 23, 2013, 7:26 pm

    Nice. I often break certain ‘rules’ because I do not recognise them and see them as either discriminatory or pointless. Doing this as a society is called Civil Disobedience and is how we can force change for the better and throw out useless rules.

  • T-Lou October 23, 2013, 9:52 pm

    I laughed when I saw where you placed personal injury lawyer. I am a criminal defence lawyer. But I articled with a large West Coast insurance litigation firm. When I explained to my mother what I was doing, she was disappointed as she expected more good could be done with my training (ie than bilking people out of their insurance claim).

    My father escaped Germany before the 40’s with his father. Regrettably his father was captured in Holland and shipped to Auschwitz. I expect this experience left him with a healthy critical eye regarding “conventional norms” and right and wrong and when you should and and shouldn’t follow societal rules. Immigrants don’t share the same conventional norms in any event, being transplants from another culture.

    He outraged many parents in the 60’s by speaking out vociferously after the showing of “reefer madness” at the local high school by suggesting that such a film could not realistically be thought to curb teenagers from experimenting with weed.

    Anyway, my kids are now teenagers. They sometimes write themselves notes explaining absences or giving parental consents for this and that. They are mature good kids (At least I think they are) that know what lines can be pushed. If they are unsure they will talk to me about it. Once my daughter called me to say that the penalty to jumping into a lake unsupervised and swimming while at a horse camp was that parents would be called to pick them up. She asked for my permission, which I refused given my schedule and unwillingness to drive 2 hours to collect her.

    My oldest was born more of a rule follower but as she gets older, she too is able to discern which rules are important (ie that keep her or others safe) and which rules can be pushed.

    In the end being comfortable with however you play it, so long as you act for good is the balance I hope my kids achieve.

  • Shandi76 October 24, 2013, 5:03 am

    Love the D & D reference :-) Took an alignment test a few years ago (can’t remember where I found it now) and came out as True Neutral.

  • HealthyWealthyExpat October 24, 2013, 5:25 am

    Congratulations MMM – this has got to be one of your best posts so far!

    I have been voraciously reading as many of your older posts as possible since discovering your website a few months ago. Up until now I have stayed quietly on the sidelines, but you hit the nail on the head of so many important issues in this post, that I couldn’t stay quiet any longer.

    Our lives and philosophies, MMM, are so strikingly parallel that I feel you are talking directly to me with almost every post. I am also a transplanted Canadian (but living in the UAE, not US), have a daughter the same age as your son who has no cable TV and so can read up a storm (she read all the Harry Potters in the space of a few months this spring), have been saving since I was a kid, am frugal as hell, etc, etc. I even started implementing some of Timothy Ferris’ advice after reading his 4 Hour Body book a couple of years ago (more like Geek to Freak stuff for me though, being a high-metabolism human).

    One of the only points of difference for us is that I front-loaded my “early-retirement” by spending all my money on two full years of hedonistic backpacking around the world in my 20’s. That set me back a bit on the savings plan, but I’ll have made it up in just a few more years.

    But the point of my comment isn’t to point out our parallel lives, as I’m sure many readers have written you on this topic already. What I want to do is point out to your readers the salience of your point of moving somewhere where you have the advantages you need to live the lifestyle you want. I moved overseas, and especially to the UAE, because I could earn my income TAX FREE and have my housing and most of my bills paid for by my employer. That will allow us to achieve financial freedom much, much sooner than if I lived in Canada. Of course, I love Canada and miss its nature, etc., but we’re not exactly suffering here with all the travel opportunities (yes, we take the kid out of school early for those trips!) and the life-enriching experiences of meeting new people from all over the world almost every day.

    So, my advice is if it isn’t working for you where you are now, make a move just like your ancestors did – they moved to a new country or continent to find new opportunities and a better life.

    Looking forward to more of your incredible posts, MMM!

  • Chuck October 24, 2013, 7:33 am

    I just wanted to say this is a great post/topic. Breaking silly rules is what helped me land my first job out of college but failing to challenge pointless conventions and presuppositions is such an easy habit to slip back into, thanks for the reminder!

  • Judi October 24, 2013, 8:20 am

    One of your best articles to date. Anything that brings in D&D alignment is total win in my book. :p It is very difficult to free your mind from social conventions. I get a lot of strange looks when I tell people that I buy my furniture used on Craigslist….

    As an aside, I learned about what this article is talking about in college during a moral development class. Kohlberg’s six stages of moral development outline how most people grow through different ethical dilemmas. Stage 1 is infantile: “I want it now, and I don’t care about you.” Stage 2: Bartering “Give me this and I’ll give you that.” Stage 3: Emotional reasoning (this one is a bit controversial) Stage 4: Law and Order – “The law says this so I will follow the RULES”. Stage 4 is similar to the Lawful Good (or neutral) alignment. Stage 5: “There is a moral authority outside of the law, and I choose to obey that.” This is more like your definition of chaotic good. Stage 6: “Golden rule – do unto others etc….” like Gandhi, Mother Teresa etc….Stage 6 is almost impossible to achieve for humans. Apparently, most people are ranked between stage 3 and 4.

  • Jim October 24, 2013, 9:32 am

    Man Mr. Money, you show those peeps who is boss, love it! Society wants to fit your square personality into a round peg, so you conform and are easily managed, like sheep! Phooey, creativity and being a non-conformist is what defines leadership, great post!

  • dan October 24, 2013, 9:47 am

    Why do the pictures on the main page so often feature super-fancy cars? Not an insult or complaint – genuinely curious.

    • Mr. Money Mustache October 24, 2013, 3:48 pm

      Hmm.. good question. The picture on this post was a Bentley and a Ferrari I happened to see parked next to each other in front of the “Love” hotel in Montreal. I mostly thought it looked catchy. But I also thought you could interpret it to imply that the rules insist that you love really expensive cars and must always strive to attain one.

    • phred October 25, 2013, 8:33 am

      it’s a guy thing!

  • Lisa Laser October 24, 2013, 10:33 am

    I need to know that your son broke the rules and without fear and loathing glued his story into his notebook (or turned page in as was). Please.

    • Mrs. Money Mustache October 24, 2013, 12:11 pm

      He decided to re-write it in his notebook – sorry! It was his decision and that is the one he made. :)

  • Huck October 24, 2013, 2:25 pm

    I love the chart MMM…and I want to be in the upper left!! My favorite do-gooding, rule breaker (Chaotic Good) was Jesus. He repeatedly broke the Sabbath. He hung with the “unclean”, prostitutes, tax collectors, etc. He “retired” (by MMM definition) at about 30. He called himself King but acted as a servant. His rule breaking got him killed…but, He became the center of the most populous religious group to date and the central focus of the worlds best selling book of all time. Christians who are facing lots of rules should carefully evaluate if the One they follow would obey those rules or break ’em!

  • Jonny October 24, 2013, 2:59 pm

    Great article! This hits very close to home and I find some of the comments to be very interesting. My parents are both “lawful good”, while I’m “chaotic good”. I definitely see the advantage into not buying into so called “rules of society” and blazing one’s own path. I’ll gladly disobey any law as long as it’s not harming anyone else and I think the downside consequences to getting caught are outweighed by the positives.

  • MacGyverIT October 24, 2013, 3:13 pm

    Hey MMM,

    Again, a great article and always food for thought… And a great photo there at the top of said article ;-)

    – Mac

  • Warren October 24, 2013, 6:59 pm

    Nice pic of the Love Hotel in Montreal!

    Ah Montreal…We’re hoping to head there soon for a little vacay!

  • Mitch Lewis October 24, 2013, 8:13 pm

    Cheers for the dose of possibility, Mr MM. I was retrenched earlier this year and it’s forced me to rethink pretty much every rule I’ve lived by. I have a much more fun job now but I’m earning a lot less money so we’re having an edited Christmas this year, focused on experiences instead of getting things we don’t need or overeating.

    I don’t know how it is in the States but here in Australia, charities like suicide prevention and depression lines experience a huge spike in calls over Christmas. It’s a genuinely painful time for so many people and it’s all because we’ve bought into this idea that ‘stuff’ equals love.

    Somebody told me we give gifts because the three wise men did but I think it’s important to remember they were wise men. They didn’t duck out to Target when they heard the news of the baby; they probably just reached into their cupboards and took a handful of gold, frankincense and myrrh from their emergency stash.

  • unconvenshenl October 24, 2013, 8:31 pm

    By far your absolute best post!!

    Viewing the world like this, and actually thinking about things is probably the most important step you can take for personal growth. Thanks for reminding us all.

  • TSR Capital October 24, 2013, 11:52 pm

    It’s nice to see that I’m not the only person who occasionally applies D&D concepts to real life! (TSR ring any bells?).

    Halloween Fun: 9 Alignments (some videos Rated R)

    Chaotic Good
    Neo http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aTL4qIIxg8A

    Chaotic Evil
    The Joker http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xnOLhXmhkyA
    T-Bag http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yS-E8WdpqjM

    Chaotic Neutral
    The Punisher http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bWpK0wsnitc

    Neutral Good
    The Dark Knight http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xnOLhXmhkyA
    Michael Scofield http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VsudUkgB9zo

    Neutral Evil
    Agent Smith http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hUAie-X3u8I

    Han Solo http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bosSsgzgenA

    Lawful Good
    Superman http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ewwWvQCP1HQ

    Lawful Evil
    The Architect http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2wdKlWXyUkc

    Lawful Neutral
    James Bond http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XzFz-gLoycI

  • Ricky October 25, 2013, 11:37 am

    Great article MMM and you really drive the point home with great examples however I have a minor nit to pick with you :)

    (puts on complainypants)

    In one of the examples you mentioned sacrificing Mercedes SUVs and for some reason it just got stuck in my mind while I finished reading the article and comments. From what I have read on this blog in last couple of years (I started late) I don’t take you as a person who ever held Mercedes or SUVs as valuable or important so not buying them is not really a sacrifice but instead a demonstration of belief in MMM value system :)

    I apologize for trying to hold you to a higher standard but with influence comes responsibility and I hope you agree with me that no one should be feeling like they have sacrificed when they give up something like SUV following MMM principles. Instead it should be a decision that gives the feeling of doing the right thing or they shouldn’t do it since they are not “ready” :)

  • Freeyourchains2 October 25, 2013, 11:47 am

    There is a fine line between chaotic good and lawful evil. Usually this line is dependent upon the governing’s body political decisions over various problems.

  • Helene October 25, 2013, 11:52 am

    Loved this article. People who justify unethical actions by deeming them lawful sicken me. Do what matches your moral fabric and overall, the world becomes a better place. You think in wonderful ways MMM. That’s what keeps me coming back.

  • Robert October 25, 2013, 2:10 pm

    Rules are there to be broken. Actually I hate it when people say “it’s the law” as if “the law” has been handed down on stone tablets by some creator and can never be changed. What the “law” is depends on 2 things – the latitude and longitude of where you are standing, plus the date on your calendar.

    Stuff that was once legal is now illegal and vice versa, Actions that are perfectly legal in one country will land you in jail in another country. Most laws are basically control mechanisms, nothing more. The sensible laws were pretty much all passed several hundred years ago.

    I reckon we only need one law anyway – the Golden Rule, which is thousands of years old – “Treat others as you would like to be treated yourself”.

  • Alexander Harris October 25, 2013, 4:27 pm

    This might not be particularly relevant to the actual article, but I have just finished reading through the archives, from the beginning to today, and I would like to thank MMM for keeping me hooked for a month. I’ve just started university in the UK, and am going to be on the hook for over £40,000, or $65,000 by the end of my 4 year engineering course. I couldn’t even imagine how I was going to pay it back and get on the housing ladder within 30 years a month ago, but now I’ve slightly revised my goals.
    MMM has shown me that it’s possible to retire early, so my plan is to continue to live like a student once I’ve left uni. If the savings rate calculations are the same in the UK as in the US, that would let me retire by 35, and I would be free to do what I want, all of the time.

  • jestjack October 27, 2013, 3:24 pm

    Holy Cow!…I’m almost famous! LOL… Thanks for the mention! MMM ,my apologies if I offended you on any level. I certainly did not question your abilities just the subject. I have been in the real estate biz for over 35 years and have had some success “buying the ugly duckling”…and I am the kind of guy that does get his hands dirty. I was merely pointing out the many pitfalls in RE…but of course I fully understand…”no guts…no air medal”. I am not certain of your market …but in this neck of the woods, settlement costs are indeed in the 5-6% range. In my 16 years as an agent I never got to cut commision costs in half, as you mentioned, as the commisions were split 50% between selling and buying brokers. Then my broker would split the proceeds depending on our agreement with me. During my time as an agent I did a lot of “bank work…ie. repossesion work.”.. and should have wrote a book on the adventures I had cleaning up projects that started out well meaning. I wish you nothing but the best in your new project.

  • Good Morning Quotes October 27, 2013, 9:57 pm

    This has a lot to do with questioning the status quo. I’m all for this. The revolutionaries in history, the ones who changed the world, were the ones who didn’t follow the rules.

    Now, where do you draw the line with your son? I come from a third world country where corruption is extremely high and breaking the rules turn into breaking the law.

    When is it good and bad?

  • Debt BLAG October 28, 2013, 8:59 am

    That complaining comment that you got just confuses me to no end. To me, he’s basically saying, “You’re going to spend too much money (to pay off engineers); you’re going to spend too much money (on transaction costs); but why aren’t you spending more money (on a bigger house)?”

  • Tom October 28, 2013, 1:32 pm

    “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.”

    This is a very interesting idea! And one I’ve never heard before. You’ve inspired me to look into this but I would be very interested to hear a narrative of how it worked for Mrs. MM.

    In any event, thanks for the idea.

  • chops October 28, 2013, 2:47 pm

    Been reading your site from the very beginning and this is among the best articles you’ve written. Really makes one re-think “the rules” they’ve grown up with in this country.

    It’s not easy to offer an alternative view of how you can live a happier life in America without a high-paying job when you’re up against a trillion-dollar media machine that spews fear and consumerism in equal doses. However, with your passionate writing and numerous specific examples (along with some well placed swearing!) you’ve managed to illustrate this much maligned concept better than any other personal finance/happiness/FIRE blog there is. Your blog has the power to change lives for the better. Looking forward to future posts.



  • Willis Montgomery III November 1, 2013, 5:44 am

    What a lovely post. Ammo for fighting against the selectmen in my town who want to prevent bike lanes and safer bike commuting and who are working to shut down the local farmers market.

  • Jess November 2, 2013, 9:28 am

    I had to show my 12 year old son this article. He came home from school with a project to do, use a 2l pop bottle and a 50ml water bottle to make a “flask” to keep water as warm as possible for 10 minutes. After first acquiring the materials which took a few days (we don’t have any pop or water bottles) the building commenced. At the writing up stage, we hit a road block, we’d been approaching this as a (shock) scientific experiment and it turned out that it was actually an advertising campaign and he got dead stuck because he couldn’t think of a sexy name, slogan or USP. We have no tv so he hasn’t the exposure to ads like his classmates do. So, I got him to read this article to try and help him understand that the important thing about this school exercise was to see the insulating properties of different substances, and not the cool name. He understood the difference but feared the laughter of his peers and condemnation of the teacher. I reassured him about the teacher side but the peers … well, let’s wait and see.

    Thank you for a great blog. Many things have changed in this household thanks to it.

  • Kill The Grind November 2, 2013, 6:27 pm


    I feel like you’re absolutely right on a child’s education. I went through private schools and public schools, and honestly I felt no difference other than the private schools were very strict with rules and assignments. I felt the public school system was more relaxed and left more room for creativity and room to grow into being your own person. With all the gadgets at a parent’s disposal as well as the child’s, it’s very easy for people to forget that they actually have to interact with the kid, not just give it a screen to play with.

  • Strick November 5, 2013, 4:47 am

    I assume your kid got a C- for not writing it in the notebook? That would also be a good lesson.

    My son was kept in from recess for not ‘showing his work’ on some math problems (“who doesn’t just do simple multiplying of fractions in their head?” is what he told me). When you’re kept in from recess you arent allowed to bring home your laptop over the weekend (laptops in school, crazy times). He had homework over the weekend on his laptop, which he of course couldnt do, which of course led to him being kept in from recess again. You should of seen his eyes when i asked him if that meant he was now in a cycle that meant he would never have his weekend laptop or Monday recess ever again…. its a good lesson

  • Cara November 27, 2013, 5:08 pm

    I love that you worked the guy who screwed you over into the Lawful Evil insights of your table. You are badass. Big smiles.

  • Jon H January 7, 2014, 3:18 pm

    A few comments about the rules:
    1. I went to college graduated and could barely get a decent paying job. (the rule in my family was you go to college and you get a job and you work work work and you end up living a nice lifestyle).
    College was fun. I’m not going to lie. However my true passion and what i’m embarking on right now as i work my full time job is Creative real estate. Basically buying houses cheap and selling or holding them for profit. I’m spending more money for a year long class that will hone my skills and will allow me to do these deals.
    My friend did this last year and has made double his salary. So in conclusion if you take risk there is reward. You don’t have to go to college to be successful. You can start your own business. Its risky but as long as you work your A$$ off and educate yourself on what your trying to accomplish you will succeed. You might lose a few battles but in the end if you keep trying you will learn from your mistakes and you will eventually succeed.
    As for being a good person. Its strangely funny how if you go through life trying to help others (without letting people walk over you of course) and sharing your knowledge with others the opportunities that will come.
    I’ve met some great people in my life and had alot of success in business by just meeting people and getting to know people on a friendly basis.
    You never know when you’ll meet someone who might be the head of HR or has money they will lend you to invest. However if you don’t have character and aren’t a good person these people won’t think twice about helping you out.
    Our society teaches fear. They want us to be afraid of everything and follow the rules. The great people in life where ideas and innovation are created are the ones that take risks and live their lives to help others and are happy with themselves.

  • Pete April 16, 2014, 8:50 am

    I would like to hear more about Mrs. MoneyMustache’s “Real Estate License to Save Money” adventures. My wife and I are considering the same thing, as the fees paid to agents to the quality of work they perform is ridiculous.

    Last year we purchased a low priced property, 54K. Our agent earned 3% plus 500 for like 10 hours worth of work. While some of that has to go to the “home office”, paying someone upwards of $200/hr to point out the kitchen seem quite silly. And this was on a low cost property!

    Does she use her license to earn some side income? Is she affiliated with an office.

    • Mr. Money Mustache April 16, 2014, 9:49 am

      Yeah, we’ll definitely share that story in the near future. Mrs. MM has her own “office” these days, as she completed the mandatory 2-year tithing period of working under another agent. Having your own license is a great way to go if you (or someone in your circle of friends) buys or sells a house once a year or more.

  • Joggernot April 21, 2014, 11:01 am

    Complainypants here. When I tried to take the kids out of school for a week’s vacation, I talked with the principal who said that they wouldn’t be allowed to advance to the next grade because they hadn’t attended the required number of days. Come to find out they were paid by the government on the number of students in class each day, so it was to the principal’s advantage to force every kid to be there regardless of what was best for the students. You had a good principal at your school..

    “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.”

  • Nathanael September 22, 2015, 11:27 pm

    For reference, ISIS and al-Qaeda are chaotic evil. Hitler was lawful evil. (Lawful evil generally wants to be in charge of *writing* the rules — they think that if they change the rules formally, then it’s OK if the new rules are evil.)

  • Be October 11, 2016, 7:58 am

    I like to think I’m true neutral or neutral good – I have always examined the origins of rules and traditions then rejected those that did not align with my personal philosophies. Most of the Christian-originated ‘holidays’ (as they are the most widely commercialized) have been known to me as ‘religious and commercial propaganda’ days since my teens and are noted as entirely optional.
    Forcing oneself into debt annually to encourage children to chase after stuff and things has never seemed like a wise investment. All of the items on your list seem obvious to me but I suppose my opinions of the matter are not as common place as I should like them to be.

  • Jorge February 26, 2017, 5:10 pm

    I agree with the basic premise of what you are communicating here. Not to split hairs, but I do want to make a clarification of something I consider critical. I very much like the concept of thinking outside the box. Great leaders, inventors, innovators, have been mostly people who dared to think outside the box.

    However, in matters of morality, one must be aware that we don’t always get to make our own rules just because we like things one way better than another. This way of thinking can easily lead to anarchy, and as you correctly pointed out, to all sorts of evil practices that have been adopted as acceptable in the past.

    Whether we like it or not, there are absolutes and laws of nature that govern the universe, and most civilized and thriving societies have done so because they wisely observed certain principles, rather than fighting against them.
    We may dislike gravity all day long, but if we set our minds on denying or fighting gravity, we will live very short and frustrated lives.

    Then you have social and moral absolutes and principles, without which, societies have collapsed and entirely failed. Principles such as not killing, not stealing, respecting the property of others, etc. You know… The stuff of the ten commandments.

    If we don’t have a set of absolutes to live by, then anything goes. Your truth may not be my truth and what is right for you may not be right for me, because in the end it is all relative. In that scenario, if it “feels” like truth to me and makes me happy, then I call it good, and I reject anything contrary to it. Obviously there are myriads of problems with that philosophy. If you say something is good or evil, what do you base such assessment if you don’t have a moral compass that you can reliably gauge as true North? If right and wrong are a shifting concept, then what the Nazis did to the Jews was “good” for them because it was the law of the land in Germany at that time and in that setting? Heck NO! A million times NO!

    I believe that thinking outside the box within certain absolute guidelines is an excellent way to live our lives. If we think there are no boundaries whatsoever, or that no rules apply to us if we simply reject them, that’s what gets us into trouble.

    Anyway, enough of that rant. Great article man! Keep up the great inspiration!


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