A few weeks ago, the MMM family lost about $12,000.
While this might sound like quite a bummer, the event wasn’t upsetting in the least. In fact, the days between that fateful event and today have been some of the most joyful and free days of our lives so far.
As you know, Mrs. Money Mustache keeps an old real estate license handy in her toolbelt. While she maintains the appropriate retired woman’s approach to the field, turning down business except in the case of helping the occasional friend who is buying or selling a house in our immediate neighborhood, she still finds herself helping out with a deal or two every year.
For the last few months, she has been touring houses with some friends who are currently renting a place nearby. They were shopping on the nicer side of our local neighborhood, which implies a 3-4 bedroom house in good condition at a price of around $400,000.
They shopped and shopped. Some places were perfect, but sold too quickly at a price just out of reach. Others were shabby and overpriced. There were various squawking battles from the colorful real estate agents and sellers involved in the process. Going through the all-too-familiar complications inspired my own article on how to buy a house.
At the end of it all, our friends decided to simply buy the nearly-new house they had been renting right in the same neighborhood for the past year. Their landlord had bought it just before the housing crash, and was happy to unload it now that our prices have recovered.
But the landlord proposed it as a private deal: cash would flow from buyer to seller, with no real estate agents on either side. With Realtors normally tacking a 6% commission onto every deal, this simpler arrangement would create a huge win/win situation for our friends and the homeowner.
The only problem was that Mrs. MM would no longer be eligible to receive her 2.8% paycheck, which is how a buyer’s agent normally earns a living. With a purchase price around $400k, this implies a loss of almost $12,000 in income. This fact was not lost on our friends.
“Bah… don’t worry about it!”, said my wife. “We’re just happy that you found a place you like, and that you are getting such a great deal on it. Enjoy your new freedom from the grind of shopping and moving, and congratulations!”
That night she told me of her decision, and we both toasted some heartily filled wine glasses and had a laugh over the whole situation. We were glad our friends had finally found a house. We both knew that they would benefit from the lower purchase price much more than we would benefit from an extra twelve grand of before-tax income. There would surely be other deals and other windfalls in the future. And more importantly, we value the friendship and were very thankful that the sticky issue of money did not have to get in the middle of it. Friendships, businesses, and even families have been broken apart over much smaller sums.
I share this story because it is a particularly sweet illustration of the Position of Strength. It is an example of why financial independence, freedom from an addiction to ever-increasing luxury, and when you really think about it, all forms of strength are such incredibly useful things to build into your own life.
Looking back at my list of all the articles, I am starting to realize that this isn’t a personal finance blog or even a lifestyle design blog. It’s a neverending sermon on the joy of strength. Strength, also known affectionately as Badassity, is at the root of most of the joy in a human life. And weakness, which also manifests itself as Complainypants and Wussypants diseases, is what makes you unhappy. The solution to leading a great life is therefore so simple, it is almost insane that our entire society is geared to run directly against it.
So let us browse through a few of life’s most powerful sources of strength to soak up its amazing connection just about everything:
- Money is the most acknowledged source of strength in modern society, for it gives you the power to get other people to serve you, and to do so with a smile.
- An Abundance of Money is even more powerful, because you no longer find yourself feeling the need to act like a weenie in the pursuit of more of it. With this Abundance power, you can properly align your earning and your spending with your values, rather than just seeking out the cheapest option or trying to squeeze more money out of your customers, employees, or fellow citizens.
- The Desire for Ever-Increasing Material Luxury is therefore a serious weakness. In the playground of life, there is a giant teeter totter. Mr. Abundance sits at one end of it, with his casually ripped physique, faded skateboarding shirt and scruffy facial hair. Mr. Luxury sits directly opposite him, clean-shaven in a 3-piece suit with those shiny pointy-toed business shoes and a rounded little beer belly tucked in behind a tight belt. You can never satisfy Luxury – there is always another level of fanciness to attain, and thus he can never have quite enough money.
- Giving is a form of strength. When you say, “I have more than I need, and thus my desire to take should fade away as my desire to help out grows”.
- Taking is therefore a form of weakness. On the playground, Luxury maintains just a little more desire to take, which competes with his desire to give. Meanwhile, Mr. Abundance is always working on needing less. The “taking” weakness continues to shrink, allowing him to invest more in his “giving” strength.
- Health is a form of strength. With health comes a clearer mind, more energy, a greater range of options and comfort zones, and a longer time alive to enjoy the offerings and mysteries of this planet. Life can dish you a blow, and you can get up and get back to work.
- Physical Strength is the part of health that is mostly ignored in the United States, yet it is the most useful and efficient component. Sure, aerobics and bicycling can keep the worst effects of early decay at bay, but lifting heavy old-fashioned barbells and dumbells is a much faster and more thorough way to keep all of your systems in working order and create a foundation for the rest of your life’s strength.
- Skills are a form of strength. Each thing you learn to do improves your quality of life in astonishing ways, because it makes you stronger. If you are good at your job, you have the ability to earn lots money. But if this is your only skill, you need to outsource your food preparation, transportation, relationships, entertainment, and the repair and maintenance of everything you own including your own body. If your money supply fails or your hired specialists don’t do their jobs perfectly, your life falters. By insourcing all the basics required for happiness, you build a self-reinforcing resilient mesh of power that makes you happier, wealthier, and more interesting as well.
By now you are probably pretty excited about the Position of Strength, and you are ready to step into it. But there one point that underpins everything above, and it is the one our marketing engine works so hard to hide from you.
- Voluntary Discomfort is the secret cornerstone of strength. We build our whole lives around increasing comfort and avoiding discomfort, and yet by doing so we are drinking a can of Weakness Tonic with every morning’s breakfast.
Discomfort is generally regarded as a bad thing. If you’re a mother of five in a developing country and you run out of food, or your children are injured or killed by disease or war, saying it absolutely sucks would be a great understatement. This is involuntary discomfort at its worst, and the resulting unhappiness makes perfect sense.
But when you, as a privileged rich-world resident walk into hardship and discomfort willingly, the feeling is completely different.
My favorite part of every weekday is cycling with my son to school. The morning temperature at this time of year is right around the freezing mark, and I make a point of wearing just a bit less warm clothing than I need for complete comfort.
“Don’t you need a bigger coat?”, my wife asks. “It’s freezing out there!”
But the feeling of cold wind on my skin is exactly what I need to feel alive in the morning. Pushing the frontier of comfort is a simple way of building strength, preparation for the coming winter, and by extension, happiness.
After all, my son and I could just as easily drive the car that 0.77 mile distance to the school, thereby avoiding all discomfort completely. Heck, I could start driving for all my errands around town just like a Car Clown. I could avoid the burning sensation of trying to lift the barbells in my garage and be more comfortable too. Sitting in my office typing this blog article is much more comfortable than lying in the crawlspace under my new house welding up the new structural supports, and it pays much better too. Perhaps I should also outsource the hard physical activity to a specialist. A 2014 Mercedes would be more comfortable than my 2005 Scion, a $2000 bike would out-cozy my $300 one, and in the summer my house would be more comfortable at 75 degrees than the 86 level where I currently consider turning on the air conditioning. It would be more comfortable to have a housekeeper and a chef, a private driver and a gardener, and these days we could even afford to add these comforts to our lives without the discomfort of having to work.
And yet we continue to not purchase any of them, and to do quite a bit of unnecessary work. Why? Have we developed some sort of insanity?
The answer is exactly the opposite: If you go back and look through those points which define the Position of Strength, you see that every bit of the conventional and comfortable path undermines that position.
Our entire culture teaches us to seek out all possible comforts, and to be unhappy when we don’t have them. And thus, it dooms us to a life of permanent involuntary discomfort, and therefore permanent weakness.
Living a life of weakness is not fun
Living a lifestyle of strength is extremely fun.
The only insanity is the fact that almost nobody chooses this option.