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Why you should Get your Shit Together Before you Make it Big

Think Deeply about the true recipe for a good life

Think Deeply about the true recipe for a good life

Tales of squandered success. Both Mr. Money Mustache’s mailbox, and the world at large are filled with them.

Every day another pile of $250,000 earners collapses from stress or goes insane, because they have managed to slip into an awful life of debt and time scarcity, despite the fact that they are living within a neverending nuclear explosion of cash. And every day another corporate bigwig directs his legions to take the evil path in search of more money, because he calculates that a lot of extra money is worth a small amount of evil.

In my view, there’s nothing wrong with kicking ass every day and reaching the top. In fact, for many of us, this is the most enjoyable use of our time.

“I love my job. I never want to retire, therefore I can safely ignore the advice of Mr. Money Mustache…” 

…Goes the common refrain.

But the Path of Successful Ass-Kicking is a narrow one, which runs between two perilous chasms:

  • The Pit of Pointless Materialism and Monetary Dependence
  • The Moral Void of Placing Profits Above All Else

How Good People Fall into the Pit:

You start off young, bright, and hardworking. This means you run with a crowd of similar people. For you, jobs have never been hard to come by – the real challenge is just making sure you select the best job. Big incomes come naturally to everyone you know, and this leads to a pleasant ongoing party of a life.

Sally and Joe get a mountain house so everyone can go skiing. You get the summer cottage and a boat for fishing in the summers. Bill impresses everyone with his new Audi Q7, and the rest of you reciprocate with BMWs and Acuras. Fine scotch is poured. Everybody has kids, and the best strollers, car seats, Gap clothing, lessons and private schools are naturally part of the program. Everyone is contributing to their 401(k) and 529 plans, so nobody has anything to worry about. Right?

The only problem is that everyone has already partied themselves straight off the cliff and into the Pit without realizing it. By locking in an incredibly expensive lifestyle, people who fall into this trap have become dependent on their high incomes to just to stay afloat. The slightest nudge to the unstable house of cards – unemployment, divorce, illness, or even a stock or housing market crash, can leave them broke and desperate.

And the overly-scheduled days that come with this lifestyle often leave out the slack that humans require for creativity, growth, and renewal. This leads to “I don’t do anything besides being great at my job” syndrome, which is a recipe for long-term unemployment as soon as the next great economic upheaval leaves your particular industry obsolete.

How Others Fall into the Profit Seeking Void

Some manage to avoid the Pit, by earning so much that they manage to handle all of the bills and still have plenty left over. But they end up lodged into a company with others to answer to who are not so lucky. A public company with shareholders, or an occupation with a boss who runs the show. Void-dwellers may even be CEOs themselves, but unfortunate ones who have come to equate “Profit” with “The Only Point of Corporate Existence*.”

People in the Void usually end up worn, stressed, physically unfit and unfulfilled. Despite leading such “successful” lives, they wonder why life does not feel like a complete success. So they keep seeking more profit in hopes of filling the void.

Neither option sounds great. But either chasm presents ample opportunities for recovery. The key is to figure out if you’ve fallen into one of them, or if you are just starting out, to get your shit together before you make it big. 

Step 1: Figure out if you’ve made it big already.

I love talking to the rising stars of Silicon Valley. With the current economic boom, they are all riding high on a raging river of business exuberance, shooting each other with Optimism Guns. “I’ve jumped over to a new startup. Salary’s a little better and the vibe is great. But the real story is we have a good chance of being bought. Then I’ll be ready to start getting ahead!”

News Flash: If you’re under 40 and making over $75,000, you’ve already made it big. Use this opportunity to start using the cash surplus to build your independence now, rather than spending everything like your coworkers do and hoping for an even bigger payout later. 10 years of slightly-less-ridiculous-than-average living will buy you financial independence for life. Meanwhile, your friends will still be waiting for their first big buyout 10 years from now, waiting to make it big while you have secretly been making it big all along.

Step 2: Pit-Dwellers need to learn The Power of No

The problem with the modern high-income lifestyle is the dizzying surplus of options you have available to you. You can have a luxury sedan or an SUV, a big house with a commute or a bigger house with a longer commute, a beach house or a ski house, private schools or private lessons, fine scotch or happy hour microbrews, and on and on forever. Most people just gleefully start checking off the boxes when presented with this menu. Doubled your salary? Great! Now you can check twice as many boxes!

The only problem is that you had already maximized your happiness from a material standpoint long before you even got the menu.

If you have food, friends, and a comfortable place to live, you are all set to live an incredible life. Everything you buy, and every experience and commitment you add to the plate beyond this point is a tradeoff: a guaranteed reduction in cash and free time, in exchange for a possible increase in thrills delivered by fun or novelty.

As your life approaches full booking, the tradeoff tilts so that the costs become higher. A busy family might be down to one day per week of free time, and adding a pleasant weekly trip to the ski resort might cut this to zero. Suddenly the activities you forgot to schedule like walking in the park or sleeping in no longer happen, and life becomes an unstoppable treadmill. Add in monetary stress and you’re really screwed.

The Power of No means saying “No” to even fun-sounding activities, when you realize your life is already full enough of good things.

In recent years, I’ve had the incredible good fortune of being invited on free trips to China, Switzerland, New Zealand, and other neat places. And the chance to go speak at various schools and conferences and even show up in the odd TV show. It was my absolute pleasure to thank each of these generous people, and then say “No thanks!”, because there’s already no shortage of things to do in my existing busy life. Adding even more will just take away from the things I already enjoy, like spending sunny days with my boy and getting a good night’s sleep. Life is not a contest to see who can accomplish the most. It’s simply a series of days where your goal is to wake up, have a great time, and go to bed even happier than when you woke up. You can still make the most of your life, but running on permanent overdrive is generally counterproductive.

Step 3: Rising Above Profit makes you the Richest One of All

It is a cliche for me to bring up old Warren Buffett yet again, but I’m often struck by the incredible contrast between the way he views profits, and the way most smaller CEOs do things. To paraphrase (and exaggerate) his approach, “Why would I give a shit about what the quarterly results are over some trivial time period like the next 20 years? We’re trying to run a BUSINESS here!”

Nobody questions his approach, because he runs the damned show. And he continues to run the show, because he is never subject to the fearful whims and hesitations of those stuck in the mentality of seeking short-term profit.

Fortunately, it is not necessary to become the richest person in the world to learn from this example. You just need to get your financial affairs in order so that your livelihood no longer depends on the demands of irrational people.

Don’t like working for fickle shareholders? Run your own company and retain the voting rights for yourself. Prefer working in a large organization? Go for it, but with the knowledge that you can stick up for your principles with no regard for what it will do to your paycheck. You may find that you get fired, but more likely, you will become the boss, because you freed yourself from the position of being bossed around.

Financial independence of any degree means just as much for people of all occupations. The free musician can delight when people share her music around the world, while the money-dependent one has to stand by and wince while her record company sues teenagers for downloading MP3s. The free lawyer can help people in need or fight for social justice while the money-dependent one might end up cobbling together questionable cases against a blogger, because that’s what the paying client demands.

So if you’re just starting out, heed the comical troubles of your elders and do not repeat them. You can avoid both pitfalls and walk straight through to the public park on other side, where the rest of us are just setting things up on the Picnic Table of Badassity. See you here!

 

 

* Which is of course part of the charter of public companies: to maximize value to shareholders. This usually leads to short-term thinking and other counterproductive Void-style diseases. I’ve seen one cool proposal to avoid this, which involves changing the charter to say something more like “maximize the value of the company over the next 30 years.” Then shareholders lose their leverage to push for meaningless goals like a short-term bump in the share price.

 

 

  • Pops March 19, 2014, 1:55 pm

    Well, if not being up to one’s eyes in debt driving around in bank-financed Chevy Tahoes and complaining about how hard it is to get ahead these days is all it takes to have one’s shit together, I think I’m doing alright. :-)

    We are Mustachians – we ride bikes and we don’t buy shit! Huzzah!

    Reply
  • Brandon T March 19, 2014, 1:55 pm

    MMM,

    I was already a fan, but after reading this last post, I have become a super-fan. You really lay it all out there and very well written. Thanks so much for sharing.

    ~Brandon

    Reply
  • FrugalCanadianGirl March 19, 2014, 2:02 pm

    I just found this blog and I’m thrilled – this is such a great post! Thank you MMM. I look forward to reading more. That a fancy-pants life equals happiness is “the big lie.” I’m grateful to read these perspectives (makes me feel less alone in the wilderness :)

    Reply
  • James March 19, 2014, 2:04 pm

    “If you have food, friends, and a comfortable place to live, you are all set to live an incredible life.” — Any additional thoughts on adding novel experiences to this list? Do you regret your early world travels and/or would you trade them for a shorter path to FI? This is a big tripping point for us (my wife and I) because we have this innate belief that novel experiences, hiking the Inca trail for example, would in fact add net happiness to our life.

    If I read the above correctly you’re basically saying that your cup is full-enough as it is, and the trade-offs involved in those kinds of experiences aren’t worth it (net happiness loss?)? I know you loved Ecuador for the experience aspect. Just curious to get more insight regarding your travel and novel experiences thought process. Thanks!

    Reply
    • R2D2 March 20, 2014, 2:30 pm

      Good point James, I would like to hear MMM’s views on that. In fact, the book Happy Money that has been mentioned in this blog before, touches the subject of new experiences and how it is usually more effective than material possessions in bringing “happiness” (provided you already have decent living conditions). Cheers.

      Reply
    • abc March 20, 2014, 10:41 pm

      Travel is always worth it. Especially while you’re young and can climb all those volcanoes in Nica!

      Remember just because MMM leveraged into property early and got FI out of it, you don’t have to slavishly follow his path. That full time job and mortgage in the early years precluded a lot of awesome multi-month trips in dirt cheap developing countries, and now that kids are in the picture that sort of travel is almost entirely curtailed.

      Check out the Salkantay trek instead of the Inca Trail– it’s actually a far better hike through multiple ecosystems, and you can book it in Cuzco the day before for approximately 1/8th the cost of the Inca Trail.

      Reply
      • James March 22, 2014, 6:16 pm

        Great info, thanks! I will definitely check it out. My wife and I are on the verge of having kids and trying to decide if a multi-month trip makes sense before we start a family. What are the opportunity costs, etc., especially because we are relatively young and might lose out on some compounding interest… Anyway, it is a tough decision, thanks for the input :)

        Cheers-

        Reply
        • Al March 24, 2014, 8:36 am

          Travel.

          I have never regretted going to Asia and Australia for nearly a year and a half before starting any of the steps of adulthood. My wife to be (traveling with her cemented the deal) and I worked crappy jobs for a year after university, saved our money and had a fantastic trip. When we got back, we had no career, no money, no down payment on a condo etc. It felt like it may have been a mistake when we got back and compared ourselves to our friends. However, a decade later all of those details sorted themselves out and I’m very thankful we did it and spend most of my time wondering what I need to do to arrange my life so it’s possible to do it again.

          Reply
  • Beric Maass March 19, 2014, 2:12 pm

    Almost a year ago, after a spectacularly epic interview failure (for me; the interviewer managed to get two hours of free consulting) I concluded that my career in buggy-whip repair had ground to a halt. Understanding that I lived in Canada’s most expensive city, I knew I needed to gather up my toys quickly and “do something”.

    I stepped back from the pit, took my equity and retired (early, at 52). Away from the Coast, I could reduce my costs by 70% and live a life more enjoyable while focusing on my income producing investments and writing about it.

    That said, I am still prepared to consult on buggy-whip repair strategies, from the comfort of my home of course :-)

    Reply
  • john March 19, 2014, 2:12 pm

    Great post MMM, this really shows how your principles can and should be applied to high-earners. I have recently found your blog and have slowly been getting through the old posts, but I am not usually one for making a lot of comments. I have to say that you have completely changed my outlook on a lot of things. I have always though of myself as being pretty frugal. But as I have started to make more money than I knew what to do with, I have struggled with how to make my values, finances and “lifestyle” jive.

    I work in medicine, where we all make embarrassing amounts of money. Amazingly, I know many colleagues who can’t seem to get enough. Many will use vacation time to moonlight at other hospitals so that they can spend more on private schools, expensive cars, and clothing that is used for a season and then donated. Most will say that they want to keep working anyway, so why deny yourself the opportunity to drive a new luxury SUV to a beautiful McMansion? The more money people make, the more they spend, and nothing really gets better. There must be a better way.

    Since reading through your blog, I have become excited about simplifying, and I think that my family could easily achieve FI within a few years. I don’t expect to “retire” at that point, but at least it will be my choice. That prerogative will be liberating in itself and will certainly confer a new level of confidence, not to mention sustainability.

    Reply
    • abc March 20, 2014, 10:46 pm

      Hi John, be sure to check out the White Coat Investor’s blog for similar-minded folks from your field. (I’m not affiliated, just a satisfied reader)

      Reply
  • Elizabeth Johnson March 19, 2014, 2:30 pm

    “The free musician can delight when people share her music around the world…”

    If the free musician is good enough to sell her music, she became that good by having private lessons as a child. I don’t think MMM should routinely poo-poo “private lessons”! Child-driven desire for musical skill is a good thing, Ivy League Preschool Syndrome is a bad thing.

    Reply
    • Aimee March 29, 2016, 8:00 am

      This is not always true as I know several self-taught musicians and other musicians who only learned in regular school. These people are making money off their music – no need for fancy private lessons.

      Reply
  • MiniskirtMurder March 19, 2014, 3:32 pm

    “News Flash: If you’re under 40 and making over $75,000, you’ve already made it big. ”

    Statements like that are why I keep coming back, MMM, and why I’m following your example for my own FI. I work in a place with much younger people than 40 already living paycheck to paycheck- even though we make well into the six figures in a locale with a very low cost of living… absurd.

    Reply
  • Lee Lau March 19, 2014, 3:42 pm

    “had the incredible good fortune of being invited on free trips to China, Switzerland, New Zealand, and other neat places. ”

    haha – same here. First world problem of living in an already nice place is that we turn down offers to go to other nice places because my wife and I already live in a nice place.

    But I do go on one travel junket a year because seeing other places is educational and cool. Do go to Switzerland – its very nice if a bit pricey.

    Reply
    • lurker March 19, 2014, 4:49 pm

      didn’t like the swiss…but it was pretty I will agree with that….the folks I met were snooty and rude….but that may have been plain bad luck….cheers

      Reply
  • happyfeet March 19, 2014, 3:43 pm

    Great post. So thankful I found this blog. Better late than never(I’m 55 and looks like retirement is at 60). Sharing this post with DH and DS. Just great to read the words and see the believers of stepping off the treadmill, not keeping up with the Joneses and saying “NO’ to consumerism. This is not who I used to be but I am a convert now. THANK YOU!

    Reply
  • Elizabeth March 19, 2014, 4:10 pm

    I read my husband the news flash in step 1 and he said “but how?! 10 years isn’t long enough. the taxes alone will kill you.” So I’m posing the same to you- but how??

    Reply
    • Schmidty March 19, 2014, 7:09 pm

      Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache March 20, 2014, 8:00 am

      Schmidty’s link is the right one!

      To retire in 10 years, you’d need to be able to live sustainably on about 35% of your take-home pay, and invest the other 65%.

      Where I live, a $75k gross might result in $55k take-home, or even more if you include the fact that the first $17,500 goes to your 401(k) tax free.

      That means living on 35% of $55k, or $19,250 per year. If you do things right, that would be a pretty spendy life for a single person.

      If you add dependents, the costs go up slightly, but the taxes go down (married filing jointly, etc).

      And remember, this is all for pretty extreme example: retiring in 10 years on a $75k salary where you never get a raise. If you allow yourself an extra year or two, or ever score a pay increase, real estate profits, or anything else, it gets even better.

      And for households with TWO income earners each making this much? It is comedy – early retirement is so easy once you learn about the obscure tricks such as the existence of bicycles, and ovens which allow food to be cooked in one’s own house or apartment.

      Reply
  • KimJM March 19, 2014, 4:31 pm

    “where the rest of us are just setting things up on the Picnic Table of Badassity. See you here!”

    I love that image. I have been reading the blog for awhile but have never commented before. Thanks for all the great inspiration.

    Reply
  • Razorrock March 19, 2014, 4:55 pm

    I found your blog after I became FI this past year at 48. None of my friends or family expected I would or could retire NOW! After the first nine months of retirement, I recommend it to everyone.

    How did I do it? Living the MMM way:
    Living below my means
    saving all raises and bonuses
    Buying assets, not liabilities
    Cars are appliances not status symbols, drive them into the ground
    Get rich slowly

    Thanks to MMM

    Reply
  • Karen March 19, 2014, 5:55 pm

    We became FI years ago. My husband retired but I have continued to work. I match my job against what I would do if I wasn’t working and the job wins each time. It is a learning experience each day with excitement and rewards and amazing friends to share it with. We watched our expenses while we were earning and saving and never bought things just because they were newer, bigger and better. We are still that way. We did sell our house of 30 years and buy a more expensive one that we plan to die in. I will never get tired of watching sunrises over the mountain and sailboats on windy days. We were able to pay cash for the new one and feel that it adds to our life quality. I still shop garage sales for items that we need to replace but that allows us the ability to travel and save. I have a feeling that in the next 20 years of my retirement healthcare costs will have the most impact on living expenses. I am in great shape but after working in healthcare for 35 years I have seen people’s lives change forever when a doctor walks in a room and gives them a devastating diagnosis. Our insurance plans that seem so good often are not and expenses skyrocket. I personally believe that people need to save more rather than less and it doesn’t hurt to work more when you are young because you don’t know what your future will hold for things that you can’t control.

    Reply
  • Jason March 19, 2014, 7:14 pm

    MMM,

    Another fantastic post!

    I couldn’t agree more with what you’re saying here. This post hearkens back to everything you’ve been saying about the hedonic treadmill, marginal utility, finding happiness, money as a tool, etc. Great way to wrap it all up in one great article.

    Best wishes.

    Reply
  • R.c. March 19, 2014, 7:21 pm

    Great post. I myself love cars but through harnessing the power of NO, I drive a quite lame Nissan Murano in the embarrassingly feminine gold color. I can afford a new BMW or whatever but part of me likes driving a car that I don’t love. Why? Maybe it reminds me I am able to say NO. Or maybe it’s a message to my buddies who cannot say no. One in particular has: 2014 BMW M5, 2013 Porsche Cayenne GTS, 2013 Lamborghini Gallardo, and 2014 Range Rover. Admittedly his cars are awesome. But man that’s a lot of excise and sales tax but more importantly a lot of weekend hours spent washing…..

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache March 20, 2014, 8:41 am

      Nice! But you might remind yourself that a Nissan Murano is still a huge ultra-luxury racing SUV that is so inefficient it might as well be shooting unburned fuel out its tailpipe as its means of propulsion :-)

      What would your friends say if you Craigslisted that bad girl and came back with a 2007 Civic.. or a $350 commuter bike from Nashbar?

      Reply
      • Insourcelife March 20, 2014, 9:54 am

        And for inspiration, check out http://www.nomoreharvarddebt.com where Joe sold his gas guzzling Murano as part of his journey to eliminate college loans.

        Reply
      • chattanooga cheapster March 20, 2014, 10:17 am

        $350??? Big Spender!!

        Get a comfort hybrid on craigslist for no more than $150.

        BTW – Based on your posts about bikes, it looks like you don’t have a comfort bike. I got one a couple years ago – friggin’ awesome. We’re close to the same age. Trust me, your back will thank you for it.

        Reply
  • Ryan March 19, 2014, 7:26 pm

    Another cool way for public companies to get around the pressure for short-term shareholder maximization: just tell shareholders you’re not going to do it!

    When AES went public (current market cap around $10bn, hundreds of thousands of employees, operating in hundred of countries etc.), it just flat out said it wouldn’t prioritize shareholder value above it’s other values. In fact, the SEC made them put their commitment to their values as a “risk factor” in its IPO prospectus. The company flatly said:

    “AES believe earning a fair profit is an important result of providing a quality service to customers. However, if the Company perceives a conflict between these values and profits, the Company will try to adhere to its values – even though doing so might result in diminished profits or foregone opportunities. Moreover, the Company seeks to adhere to these values not as a means to achieve economic success, but because adherence is a worthwhile goal in itself”.

    That. Is. Badass.

    Reply
    • Greg March 20, 2014, 1:39 pm

      FYI, many states now allow companies to incorporate as a “B Corporation,” that will allow “for-profit entities that want to consider society and the environment in addition to profit in their decision making process.”
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benefit_Corporation

      Reply
  • Mark March 19, 2014, 8:38 pm

    Great essay! Muttering to myself while reading it… “yes!”….”exactly!!”

    Was this inspired by a current ongoing thread in the forum? It is amazing how people have the ability to expand their consumption to match (or exceed) their income even as their income grows to ridiculous extremes.

    You mention the charter of public corporations. Make no mistake, regardless of what they claim in their charters, the purpose of a corporation is the enrichment of senior management. Any benefits accruing to employees, customers or other shareholders (so-called stakeholders) is simply a happy side effect of achieving the primary goal.

    I LOVED this: (Life is) “simply a series of days where your goal is to wake up, have a great time, and go to bed even happier than when you woke up.”

    I would simply add, in my case, “and make the world a better place.”

    Reply
    • Moonwaves March 20, 2014, 2:53 am

      112 comments and I’m only the third (I think) to comment on this meaning of life quote “simply a series of days where your goal is to wake up, have a great time, and go to bed even happier than when you woke up.” I’d like to have this on a t-shirt :)
      I spent many hours as a teenager contemplating the point of life (as you do) and came to the conclusion that having kids and, as an extension of that, making the world a better place (‘cos there’s no point in giving birth to the next generation while simultaneously destroying the world they live in) was the only thing that made sense. Not having ever met anyone to have kids with, I’ve been struggling a bit recently again with meaning of life thoughts – I think MMM has gotten it pretty right though, and your addition helps to tie it in nicely to my own thinking, too.

      Reply
      • Kelsey April 3, 2014, 12:58 pm

        Personally, your parentheses sentence of destroying the world we live in, is one of my reasons for NOT having kids. We can’t possibly keep living the way we’re living and NOT destroy our environment (and values, morals, goodwill…) Allergies, cancer, auto-immune diseases run rampant, people become famous for being ignorant, houses and cars keep getting bigger, food keeps getting worse, government is owned by money-hungry bribing corporations, education is getting worse, and I just don’t want to add another human being to the already too-large population or put them through that kind of life. I am married, and my husband would make a great father, but we’re sufficiently happy with our dogs at this point with no plans for children.

        Reply
        • Darren April 4, 2014, 9:30 pm

          Amen! I didn’t have kids either, because I do not think life on this earth, in this world, is a very good/nice gift and so I’d feel guilty bringing a human here that has to live through all the fighting. And as selfish as it sounds, since I don’t have kids, I am not concerned about what condition Ms. Earth will be in after I leave it. Personally, I feel she is doomed in the long run. I live with no fear about future conditions. That might be too much for some to take — I worry a little about expressing what I really feeling on here so I will leave it at that.

          Reply
  • Victoria March 19, 2014, 8:45 pm

    I was reading this article:
    http://nypost.com/2014/03/18/string-of-suicides-rocking-financial-world-baffles-experts/

    and wondering what happened to all this people who had seemingly successful lives. All the things that others would want and would not take for granted, but then I stopped by this site to look for a new article and found this eye opener.

    Thank you!

    Reply
  • Jon March 19, 2014, 9:06 pm

    What a fantastic post! Frivilous, baseless lawsuits raise your badassity even higher. As a current corporate lackey, I’m struck by contridiction that my very financial freedom somewhat counts on large corporations i.e. S & P 500 doing well by squeezing baby bitches like myself in the workplace. :/

    Reply
  • Pat March 20, 2014, 5:39 am

    Just personally witnessed another example last week of someone getting caught putting money ahead of virtue. Cost them their job. I’ve been working for 30 years and have lost count of the times people have imploded on themselves. Just lost sight or never really saw what life is all about.

    Stay frugal my friend.

    Reply
  • Stan March 20, 2014, 7:03 am

    I actually feel blessed. My full time job that I love provides me with more than enough income to live, my son is doing well, I am providing for my aging mother, my part time job as an electrician keeps me busy and people appreciate what I can do for them. My house is paid for, a choice of vehicles to fit my need, no credit card debt and 5 weeks of vacation a year plus a week of work-paid education/vacation around the country. When retire a fully funded pension awaits me, a very large 401(k) and I can live on what social security ‘promises’ to me.
    Quit my job? Not as long as my health is good. Retire? And sit around? Not for me! I can rest when I’m dead.

    Reply
  • homeinboca March 20, 2014, 7:22 am

    What a great post, thanks for sharing, this is exactly how I feel. I just left the company I was with for 15 years. (Rather, they let all the old timers go!) Made very good money, but was on the treadmill, traveling 100,000 miles a year, loved my work, but hated the new CEO.

    I was smart enough to live below my means, and at age 57, have 2 homes paid for, a nice dividend stock portfolio and a large 401k that I will start drawing down on. I am only doing some part time consulting work and wife and I are going to travel the world while we are young. I decided I don’t want to be the richest guy in the cemetery.

    Reply
  • MonicaOnMoney March 20, 2014, 7:25 am

    I agree that the power of saying “No” is so important!

    When I was in college, I said yes to every dinner, or party or vacation just because everyone else was doing it. Even though I didn’t have the money for it, I did it all anyway and I had no idea that they were all doing it on credit.

    I now realize that it’s ridiculous for me to live like that and I’m MUCH happier debt free.

    Reply
  • Yossif March 20, 2014, 8:16 am

    Great article, MMM. I’m slowly working towards starting a small biz myself and I’m always watching myself for greed and materialism. That’s a quick way to mess up your dreams by chasing things that don’t matter.

    By the way, have you ever looked into the tenants of Buddhism at all? Religious stuff aside, I’ve found that the minimalism and anti-materialistic aspects of it are very useful to anyone. It’s more of a philosophy than anything, a sort of ancient science if you will. I’d love to hear your take on it some time, as it agrees with mustachianism on many fronts. I think you might be one without realizing it, haha. There’s no such thing as a greedy Buddhist…

    -Yossif

    Reply
  • Robbie Moreland March 20, 2014, 10:49 am

    You sure having a way of hitting the nail on the head. Guess that’s why you’re such a good carpenter. In 2000, I left my $250K job because I saw the emotional, physical & family sacrifices that had to be there to maintain that level. Not worth it to me one bit. We figured it all out about a decade after you did (age-wise), but it’s never too late. We are now striving to live under $35K as of this year (normally under $50K), be as self-sufficient as humanly possible, and drive our car less than 50% of the time (winter mainly). Both are now semi-retired (49 and 54 yrs old) We were well on our way when we discovered your website. Thanks for the postings, support, encouragement. It’s needed and keeps us motivated.

    Reply
  • Jason Leake March 20, 2014, 10:58 am

    Your advice “Go for it, but with the knowledge that you can stick up for your principles with no regard for what it will do to your paycheck.” is so dead on. One of my best friends has done the corporate treadmill, and even though he was responsible and saved a ton of money in the process, he is just done with that and is prioritizing happiness now. He took a new job with a startup and they started changing the terms on him within the first few weeks (as in an 83 hour work week) and he just told the CEO what was up with complete detachment from the outcome. I’m proud of him.

    But hey since this is my first comment I also want to thank you for your blog and for being real. I’m on a pretty low info diet so don’t follow many blogs, but you are a voice of truth and reason which often gets drowned out in this noisy space. People need to hear what you say.

    Reply
  • Christine Moroski March 20, 2014, 12:38 pm

    “The free lawyer can help people in need or fight for social justice while the money-dependent one might end up cobbling together questionable cases against a blogger, because that’s what the paying client demands.” ISWYDT

    Reply
  • Sloth Girl March 20, 2014, 5:27 pm

    Learning the power of NO is huge. I have a fairly high tech job and my coworkers laugh over the fact that my husband and I don’t have every tech device under the sun- including cell phones. If the device doesn’t improve my life, reduce costs, or isn’t free (like my kindle- credit card sign up gift), we probably don’t have it. Its so easy to get sucked into lifestyle creep. Many (not all)of my peers make 6 figures, or close to it, and are very spendy. I have repeatedly and stubbornly said no to getting a cell phone because until recently, even pay as you go plans were more expensive than what we were paying for our land line. But that has changed, and thanks to The ISP, VoIP and Cellphone Superguide we’ve pretty much decided to join the rest of the world and get a cell phone because it will save us money in the long run.

    Reply
    • Leslie March 21, 2014, 12:48 pm

      Yep, we have VoIP for 5.40 a month for 2 phones. The best part is the carrier, Callcentric, has it set up so you can block phone numbers. The telemarketers go directly to voice mail. All other calls go to email as sound files. I made a call to Europe and talked for 10 minutes at a cost of about 16 cents. Incredible!

      Reply
  • Jon March 20, 2014, 6:24 pm

    Graduating student here. My priority after graduation is to support my family, and to do that I need a job… but here in the Philippines, it’s hard to find an IT job that doesn’t suck your soul, if not because of the 9-5 or the company culture, but the commute which is more than 2 hours each way (unless I get a condo unit which is not what I need at this time). I feel like I’ve been forced to sell myself just so that we could pay off our debts. I want to explore FI as well, but it looks like I have to build up my savings for a few years, and explore the corporate world and all the stress that it has to offer.

    Reply
  • Scott & Kenda March 21, 2014, 12:00 am

    I love nearly all your posts, MMM, but this one really resonated even more strongly today. Kenda and I got off the treadmill almost 2 years ago, rented out our house in the Bay Area, and have been traveling and living in Mexico, the Gulf Coast, and currently South Africa. What I wanted to say was this — even with this freedom, the insidious worm of “more more more” tries to creep in. E.g., we’re living in a wildlife reserve for 3 months (zebras, warthogs, mongoose, giraffe wander by our porch), 15 minutes from Kruger Nat’l Park which is absolutely amazing, and yet we find ourselves saying things like, “shouldn’t we go to Victoria Falls, or Botswana, or Namibia, or Mauritius while we’re all the way over here?”. Meaning, shouldn’t we spend another truckload of cash for another potential “experience”, rather than simply accept that we are BLESSED with this 3 months in a totally amazing place? Isn’t it funny…

    Reply
  • Fiador March 21, 2014, 4:14 am

    I feel great driving my fully paidHonda Civic 2009, I live in Dubai and for the standards here is a pretty old car.
    My fellow workers and subordinates look at me curious from their Q7’s and Porsche Cayannes that will take them ages to repay the loan.

    I get questions like , why don’t you buy a new car it is only a 1,000 Us per month perx years…..

    Reply
  • bc March 21, 2014, 8:00 am

    DH and I bought our first place–a modest home–8 months ago and I have been struck by the fact that every single one of our friends has asked us if we plan to stay in it because to them it looks like a starter home. To reach our modest neighborhood that was established in the early 1980’s you pass around 7 other neighborhoods from the early 2000’s that are packed with 3,000-5,000 sq foot abodes with 3 car garages, ridiculously high ceilings, etc. That has become the norm and in our area it’s actually relatively affordable so friends cannot fathom why our family of 3 didn’t go that route!

    Finance was a big factor for us, we wanted our housing expenses to be low enough to easily weather any nudges life sends our way. And it is: combined taxes/insurance/interest/principal = 9% of our take home pay. But in high school I was heavily influenced when I read the Te of Piglet which talked about the Taoist concept of the “Virtue of Small.”

    Somehow I packed that idea into my 16-year old brain and heart and have been on the quest for Small ever since. When I step back I see how as a family we are constantly striving for more simplicity and are drawn to Small over supersize options at every turn. It is not just a financial endeavor but a spiritual one as well. We draw so much peace and joy and strength from this, I cannot imagine it the other way of buying a perfectly great house and being forever unhappy in it–lusting after something larger, less sustainable, and more stressful to pay for.

    Reply
  • Marymack March 21, 2014, 1:21 pm

    I started reading your blog about 6 months ago and you have inspired me to make meaningful changes. Since that time, I went from saving $400 a month to $1500 per month. This has been possible by cutting my grocery bill in half, taking breakfast and lunch to work everyday, turning down the thermostat at home and doing things with my children that cost far less (attending free museums, going to the library, riding our bikes). In cutting down my grocery bill, I decicded to purchase a used freezer to take advantage of great sale prices of those items we constantly use. I went to Craigslist and found a curb alert within 2 miles of my house where someone had placed a fully functioning freezer out for the garbage. Needless to say, that freezer is now in my basement filled with all of my grocery finds. In addition, my bike hung unused in our garage for over 10 years. I took it to a local farmer market where they offer free bike tune-ups this past Fall and have been riding it ever since.

    This winter I decided to spruce up a powder room that I had planned on paying someone to do once I saved up enough money. Well, after reading your blog, I replaced the pedestal sink, painted the room and installed blinds myself. I even found the Kohler sink and faucet used on Craigslist for $35! May sound minor but I would never have attempted to do anything plumbing-related myself prior to reading your blog.

    Finally, I would like to add that I am a single mother and believe that these changes your blog inspired will really benefit me and my children. Heck, even my children now suggest looking at Craigslist first whenever we need to purchase anything related to their sports activities. Thank you.

    Reply
  • Craig Bailey March 21, 2014, 1:58 pm

    MMM, the Yahoo! Finance article (the ‘wealthy poor’) perfectly describes the situation you wrote about in this post.

    The article is at: http://finance.yahoo.com/blogs/the-exchange/how-to-be-poor–with-a-lot-160211942.html

    They ought to get their “stuff” together by reading and applying what they learn about in your blog.

    Thanks for the inspiration you provide in your writing. I love it!

    Reply
  • r-t March 21, 2014, 2:59 pm

    I love the philosophy of MMM but there’s one point I keep getting stuck on, that was repeated in this article when he says he turned down trips to various places all over the world because he already has a great life. I really think the value of traveling to and living in places you’re unfamiliar with is far above what it costs to get you there – you will learn things and gain perspective that you simply can’t access in your familiar environment. I’m working in a country I wasn’t born in, and putting over half of my income toward my (ill-advised) student loans, and I still think it’s important to try to see as many interesting places as possible while I’m here. I try to travel cheaply but obviously this money could be going toward eliminating my debt instead. However, I really do think the value of travel while I’m young is greater than possibly being able to retire earlier when I;m older and more settled. MMM, I would love to hear your perspective on this dilemma.

    Reply
    • Mrs. Money Mustache March 21, 2014, 3:10 pm

      Hi r-t,

      We did a lot of travel all over the place before we had a kid. We travel a lot now too, but more locally and to Canada to see family.

      MMM has received a lot of opportunities to travel, and if we didn’t have a child, we’d probably go all out. But, what he’s saying is: family is more important. Having to be away for so long and work on projects with others, would be really interesting, but it’s not worth the sacrifice of leaving his family. So, he goes on occasional small adventures, but first and foremost, he is a father.

      We could take our son with us on some of these adventures, and we’ve certainly done so and plan to do it more as he gets older. But, our family also values stability, particularly given our son’s disposition. So, that’s important to us.

      I hope that answers your question!

      Reply
  • FordTough March 21, 2014, 3:57 pm

    This blog is the best. I have me home paid off at 37 and I am constantly having conversations with co-workers who are amazed by this simple task of buying it at 25 and paying it off by 35. Now while they are complaining about $1300.00 rent in Houston. I pay taxes once a year and just switched to a 10 k deductible which dropped the premium by 1/2 (Insurance: A Tax on People who are Bad at Math?)

    Reply
  • Kathy Abell March 21, 2014, 9:54 pm

    Dear MMM –

    Love your blog. Been lurking for a bit before becoming brave enough to comment.

    But after I read this post I just had to let you know that “sleeping in” and “walking in the park” are the two highest priority activities on my current to-do list. I loved my job of 28 years, but I don’t miss it one bit since my retirement in August 2012.

    Pre-retirement, my co-workers would always ask me, “what are you going to do with all your free time?”

    Item #1: SLEEP a full 8 hours (or more) rather than only 6 or 5, with the result of going through the day like a sleepwalking zombie.

    Item #2: Take advantage of the beautiful, spacious park just up the street from where I’ve lived for 27 years but never made much use of because I was always TOO busy to enjoy it!

    You are so right to spend those precious sunny days with your son.

    Reply
    • Kathy Abell March 22, 2014, 8:57 pm

      Actually, I retired in August 2013. Lost a year already!

      Reply
  • just call me al March 22, 2014, 12:25 am

    “Every day another pile of $250,000 earners collapses from stress or goes insane, because they have managed to slip into an awful life of debt and time scarcity, despite the fact that they are living within a neverending nuclear explosion of cash.”

    That’s nearly metaphysical and should be posted on every single fridge of this category as a daily affirmation (unfortunately, we most likely have those fucking fridges that magnets don’t even adhere to). I think the greatest single element of this blog is the fact that it also accommodates to the upper income brackets that don’t want to make their own laundry detergent, where saying shit like that any where else would raise eyebrows, and make the collective PF world’s skin crawl and create pause for those who couldn’t possibly comprehend. It’s so fucking real. I remember it so well that I still can’t believe it took MMM (probably your first national introduction on MSN) to face punch my shit into order. It still haunts me, but I’m good now. I’m also glad you’re done playing with your food. Though, I would love the portrait of that dish to contain your face. It will require legislative action, not just a tweet –or this or that. There is still work to be done. You have supporters for the greater good.

    Reply
  • Frugal Paragon March 22, 2014, 5:51 am

    Washington Post article about people living in the Pit: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2014/03/21/living-paycheck-to-paycheck-its-not-just-for-the-poor/?wprss=rss_homepage&clsrd

    Note that the take-home message of the blog seems to be that rich people should be the targets of economic stimulus since many of them are spending every penny that comes in, so if you want to stimulate the economy, you should give them more money to spend.

    Reply
  • Megan March 22, 2014, 7:55 am

    ” Life is not a contest to see who can accomplish the most. It’s simply a series of days where your goal is to wake up, have a great time, and go to bed even happier than when you woke up. ”

    This is such a fabulous quote, I had to share it with my peeps on social media. What a great reminder of what is really important in life. I hope I am living up to this noble goal.

    Reply
  • imsharper March 22, 2014, 9:39 am

    Love this post (and all of the comments!) and am planning on reposting it on my FB page (with links back here of course) … since finding MMM I have “fixed” my ideas of spending and have had amazing results in paying down cc debt … I am still on the spindly legs of a newborn but am really enjoying this segment of my life … and what is better my husband is completely on board!!!
    Keep up the wonderful posts MMM … and your canadian counter part (for us northerners who need the “canuck” perspective lol) glad to see the lawyer issues have not dampened your sense of humor!

    Reply
  • " Pete the Mustache" March 22, 2014, 3:19 pm

    Mr. Money Mustache,

    A very sage like , well written article for such a young man. I have been reading your postings for about 3mo. now . I very much admire how you live your life and your values. You preform an excellent service for your readers.
    I have sent your link to a number of young folks.

    By the way I am 62 year old former CEO , now adjunct college prof. I grew a mustache at 18 years old the week my father died and never shaved it off, not once.

    Be well,
    Pete

    Reply
  • Free to Pursue March 23, 2014, 10:13 am

    I was part of the “pit crew” for about 10 years. I wish I could have read this post back in 2008-9!

    Now that I’ve escaped, life is much simpler, but was starting to get busier…I’ll be reviewing the reasons for the busyness creep.

    As a former spin doctor (yes, I am not proud of that), I appreciated you calling out the fact that most businesses do not focus on PRODUCING LONG TERM VALUE, preferring instead to spin information in such as way as to artificially inflate stock prices by acquiescing to the demands of the temperamental child–aka market analysts & speculative shareholders–for short term performance. If a leader truly is “minding his business”, short term performance offers little to no correlation to a firm’s potential for long term health and continued solid returns. I’ve seen it both ways first hand and will never work with or for someone who is a puppet to the whims of the market.

    Reply
  • eaw14749 March 23, 2014, 5:10 pm

    I love this post. I am a new reader and have spent the past few weeks catching up on historical posts. It inspired me to take a critical look at my finances. In January, I quit eating out and analyzed my spending. It was a very eye-opening event. I couldn’t believe how much I was spending. I realized that by making few adjustments, I could easily pay off my mortgage, and Tuesday of next week, I will write a check for $205K and have zero debt. In addition, I can easily put 60% of my salary into my mutual fund account. I wish I had found this type of support at an earlier age. However, the treadmill will stop in just 6 years with my new strategy – maybe sooner. Thanks MMM!

    Reply
  • Big Pauly March 23, 2014, 6:27 pm

    Thank you MMM.

    Since finding your site a year ago I now commute by bike. I moved into a cheaper rental closer to work. My wife’s on board. Dropped the restaurant habit and I’m now 100k up in index funds. Using the rule of 300 Ill be able to pay all future rent in approx 4 years time. A dream of mine to be rent/mortgage free before 40 will be achieved and I can then work part time and live by the coast. This blog is a real game changer.

    Reply
  • Daisy March 23, 2014, 8:43 pm

    I admire your attitude toward what is, essentially, keeping up with the Jones’ and competing for the bigger, better, and yes, busier, life, but I don’t know that I would be able to turn down free trips! Haha. I think the principle is great, and you’re right – life isn’t a contest and there’s no benefit to pushing yourself into pretty much burnout for the sake of success and one-upping others.

    Reply
  • john farmer March 23, 2014, 9:47 pm

    If you’ve read that the purpose of a business is “to maximize value to shareholders,” you’ve been misinformed. No doubt plenty of so-called business leaders believe it anyway, but in the words of the legendary Peter Drucker: “There is only one valid definition of a business purpose: to create a customer.”

    Steve Denning (Forbes) has written a lot about “maximizing shareholder value” in recent years. He calls it “the dumbest idea in the world.”

    For another perspective, read Steve Pearlstein (WaPo) on “How the cult of shareholder value wrecked American business.”

    More or less in sync with the MMM post. But don’t think that everyone in the business world is on board with the shareholder value canard.

    Reply
  • george varkey March 24, 2014, 1:11 am

    MMM, You are simply the best when it comes to frugal badassity and keeping living life the way it should be. I’m working towards FI. Grateful to chance on your blog via marketshare. I cancelled my WSJ subscription. Need to cancel a lot more things to achieve my badassity grades.

    Reply
  • LoneStarStateWorkerBee April 3, 2014, 8:50 am

    An article from the NYT/CNBC today provides another vivid illustration of a successful person who partied themselves into the pit:

    http://www.cnbc.com/id/101551271

    Reply

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