How to Make Money Buy Happiness

What are you spending all that money on?

After reading this blog for a while, you already know what’s good for you, but there is still the odd slip-up. A few hundred disappear here and there for the odd fancypants luxury, or a few thousand on trips or keeping the BMW X5 around because hey, you deserve it, and Mr. Money Mustache can’t actually see you driving it and bike over to punch you in the face.

And if it’s not you, it is your spouse. You were born with spartan tendencies and actually enjoy line-drying your clothes and chopping wood on a crisp winter day. But he or she was raised differently and just feels better with those leather seats, or the extra-large sports television, or the nutritious $10 single servings from Whole Foods or the air conditioning set nice and cool all summer. You’ve tried to bring the issue up gently, but a marriage is worth more than money, right?

The best way to get to the root of all this spending is to realize what we are all really trying to buy. In fact, it is the reason for every single action we take in our lives. It’s happiness.

When you finally upgrade to that 4500-square-foot custom dream home you have always wanted, you are not doing so because it will provide more space for your family to gather, or for the killer parties you can host there.  You’re also not doing it to earn admiration and respect from your colleagues and neighbors. The whole deal is signed because of the feelings you anticipate it will bring you.

When we buy anything beyond the most basic ingredients for life, we are just buying feelings.

If this sounds like a stretch, consider the counterpoint: Let’s say that the mansion on the golf course did indeed have more room for family and friends, and it even impressed others. But it made you feel like a horribly wasteful idiot every time you looked around at all the empty rooms, and the worries kept you up at night. Imagine that its very presence in your life was a constant drain on your happiness. Would you still make the purchase?

Of course not! And indeed, this is exactly the feeling I happen to have about giant luxury houses, which is why we’re moving to a place that is 1000 square feet smaller next month now, despite an increasing level of wealth. Better feelings.

Two different people can have opposite feelings about exactly the same situation. And in fact, one person can completely reverse his or her own feelings about exactly the same situation in a surprisingly short time. This is an enormous clue in the puzzle we are trying to solve here.

So let’s solve it. If we are really just buying feelings, who has the best ones on sale at the lowest price? Different people approach this problem with different levels of sophistication.

At the bottom of the pyramid, you have people who seek stuff at all costs. Long ago, some of my rental house tenants could not pay the bills and had debt collectors coming at them from all directions. They spent their entire short tenure in my house trying to put up a smokescreen to dodge me, their creditors, past landlords, and everyone else. And yet inside the modern luxury house they had rented from me was the latest designer furniture, sleek electronics, high-end clothing and a completely customized brand-new Corvette. They were good at fooling me and fooling themselves, but as the sheriff unceremoniously kicked them out on the street after the eviction court case, they may have briefly realized they were not buying happiness.

Slightly higher on the consumer thrills ladder is the new slogan of, “Don’t buy things, buy experiences! Travel! Take Cruises! Go to all the happy hours!”

It’s a nice idea, and it does work to a certain degree: experiences are more memorable than things. After all, your favorite trip still glows warmly in your memory, even while that iPad2 you purchased just a few years ago is hopelessly outdated now and sitting in a storage bin under the shipping boxes from your iPad3 and iPad4.

In the mainstream media, the analysis ends there. Spending on experiences is better than spending on stuff, so just spend all your money on experiences and you’re set.

But there’s an even more satisfying thing you can do with money, which is rarely mentioned: not spending it.

Huh? But what about all the slogans “Money is no good if you don’t spend it”, “You can’t take it with you when you die”, and “It is better to spend money like there’s no tomorrow, than to spend tonight like there’s no money“?

It turns out that these catchy bits of folk wisdom aren’t in line with much of the science. More recent research on the matter* is revealing that people with money in the bank (or its more Mustachian form of productive, growing investments) receive much more happiness from it than people with the more fleeting pleasures of a high income or high levels of consumption of stuff or experiences.

From my own perspective as a lifelong saver, this seems completely obvious. The average consumer now lives a life that is balanced upon the razor-sharp bleeding edge of just-in-time cashflow. Incoming paychecks are closely matched with a nearly-equal list of mandatory outflows. Rents, mortgages, loans, utilities, subscriptions, gas, and “fun money”. If the inflow of money is cut off, even for such a trivial period as a single year (and let’s be honest, in most cases a single week), the consumer slips on the blade and you have a whimpering pile of entrails on the floor complaining about how difficult life is for the middle class these days.

While most people assume that this is just a normal modern life, it is actually a life of incredible and completely unnecessary stress. Families with young children get torn apart, abdomens balloon, arteries clog, 45-minute commutes occur, cars crash, and crimes are committed, all because of the imminent financial doom that lurks over almost every shoulder. Even your average earnest, educated, hardworking high-income adult endures daily stress, decreased health, greatly reduced freedom and a generally less happy life, all over the very simple issue of an extended shortage of money.

The solution is equally simple: keeping your money. Quite contrary to the bartender’s advice, every single dollar you manage to keep for yourself contributes to your wellbeing. The dollars bring peace, because they eliminate the worry of not having enough of them. They bring freedom, because you can wield them like a sword to cut new paths for yourself in life that were formerly closed. When invested properly, they multiply automatically and decrease the amount of your time you need to devote to earning a flow of them. You don’t have to be an early retiree to feel this effect, because benefits begin immediately. Every dollar you manage to save between zero and financial independence contributes to this peace and happiness.

Of course, it is possible to screw up even this simple equation, so beware:

  • Dollars saved beyond the level of “Enough” don’t bring you even more happiness, because Enough is Enough.
  • People with fully secure and happy lives may not need the psychological crutch of financial independence to live completely free from worries**.
  • And those who cross the line from “Frugal” to “Cheap” may end up compromising personal relationships in pursuit of dollars, which is an unprofitable tradeoff.

But the point remains: if you are currently in search of more happiness and wondering how to put your growing professional income most efficiently to work in this search, the first thing you should might look into buying with that money is Nothing.


This is just one paper from one individual, but I enjoyed the pretty thorough take on connections between savings and happiness: http://www.r2research.com/Home_files/Roth_2011.pdf

 **For some of us, this can be a chicken-and-egg problem: I was more prone to worry in my youth, because I didn’t know much about life. The freedom offered by financial independence gave me time to relax, read, and build closer relationships. This led me to learning much more about happiness. Now I know enough that I could be happy even without all this money. But I give the money the credit for getting this whole process started. And now I get the fun of giving it all away over my lifetime!


  • Becky April 15, 2014, 2:18 pm

    I really appreciate you pointing out that spending on experiences is still spending. Both in the blogosphere, and in real life, “experiences” seem to have been quite popular for the past few years. I’ve noticed that on several financial sites, spending money on travel is somehow touted as acceptable, even if someone is still paying down massive debt – solely because it’s an “experience” and not “just buying stuff”. I don’t have anything against travel and agree that it’s pretty fun to experience new cultures and meet new people. But, especially now, while I’m paying off my mortgage, there are lots of inexpensive “experiences” to be had closer to home, and everyday moments to enjoy.

    • Mortgage Free Mike April 16, 2014, 11:14 am

      Becky, I couldn’t agree with you more. When I was paying off my mortgage, I considered going to my aunt’s house a vacation! HA! I did take one trip toward the end of the mortgage payoff, but it’s when I knew I was going to reach my goal and the trip cost $1,000 for 10 days in Costa Rica. You have live a little, right? As you said, there are many experiences you can have in your own backyard.

  • Mike S April 15, 2014, 3:00 pm

    OK, here’s an overdue “Thank You.” We’ve been followers of this blog since close to it’s inception, and though we’d already achieved FI before finding it, we attribute it to helping us craft a post-employment life that exceeds our expectations on a budget that underutilizes our portfolio.

    But the “Thank You” is actually on behalf of what this blog appears to be doing in our adult daughter’s life. After years of living paycheck to increasingly-robust paycheck, she has recently gotten on the MMM bandwagon, and after just a few months of putting the pedal to the metal, her consumer debt is gone. She just informed us she expects to retire her student loans within the next year, about 25 years ahead of schedule, and after that has plans to begin saving for a small condo. Her goal is to exit the rat race in her early-40’s, beating us by a good 10 years if she makes it. Years of financial ‘preaching’ from us went largely ignored, but just a few months of following this blog resulted in an entire lifestyle change.

  • phred April 15, 2014, 3:11 pm

    I like leather. I stick to the vinyl on hot summer days.

    Agree that buying a pre-packaged ‘experience’ is a bigger waste of money than buying ‘stuff’.

    • John April 16, 2014, 7:33 am

      You know you are being a complainypants, right? Unless you mean that you stick to your vinyl bicycle seat.

  • Polly April 15, 2014, 4:02 pm

    I will temper my inclination to rhapsodize, but after years of thinking about changing, I’m finally changing. And it’s because I recently spent hours–in bed with my laptop, moonlight streaming through the window–reading every blog post here. Thank you! Other websites have led to small changes (shared fajitas rather than ordering my own), but your website has led to more substantial changes (canceled cable; switched to better plans for cell phone, internet, and all types of insurance; began making gifts; began cooking from scratch; stopped shopping for entertainment). So much extra money! So much extra time! And after this post, I’m less eager to pay for experiences. I live in a Salt Lake City suburb, and I find myself wondering if there’s anything MORE fun than grabbing the dog, the husband, and a picnic basket full of BLTs and snickerdoodles, and heading up one of the canyons for a springtime picnic. In the Honda Fit! I’m dizzy with anticipation!

  • Vanessa April 15, 2014, 4:40 pm

    Every once in a while I will find myself slipping and going back to my old non-MMM ways but thankfully – BOOM! There’s the good old MMM face-punch in the form of an post! We don’t care if they are regurgitated or recycled. Some hard heads like me need constant reminders! I foolishly suggested drinks at Fancy-pants bar to a friend today who looked at me strangely and said – “You want to pay an arm and a leg for one glass when we can purchase entire bottle at Trader Joe’s for way less and drink comfortable at home?” That was before this article. I walk amongst MMM disciples.

  • Darren April 15, 2014, 5:45 pm

    If we don’t smoke, don’t drink, don’t have kids to put through college because we have none, have no country club dues… if we drive a 98 Honda Accord and live in a 700sqft apt (our house with the other apt rented) while the house it paid off, why can’t we blow a few dollars a few times a week eating out or on fairly cheap experiences or even travel? We are in our early 40s.

    One size doesn’t fit all. Spending depends on where you are in your financial independence (FI). I’m not there, but it is easily within earshot. Beside that, I’m in no hurry to retire because my job is just too easy and although I don’t love it, I don’t hate it either.

    We don’t subscribe to cable either and my employer pays for internet and phone and we have a cheap daily use cellphone that we use 5 to 10 times a month.

    Okay, just saying, I know you can’t tailor your posts for each and every category of reader.

    • insourcelife April 15, 2014, 8:13 pm

      Darren, personally I’d say do what you want! From your post it’s obviously a conscious decision and not a mindless credit card swipe like it is for so many people. Huge difference there and we all need a break from our awesome “frugalness” once in a while, don’t we?

    • just call me al April 15, 2014, 10:00 pm

      Here here. I admire MMM and all that he does. He is altruistic and his style is rare. He offers an archetype and some guidelines of a life well spent. And he has mostly catered to those in the money, because lets face it–he, too, is in the money. Now that the blog has exploded, he has some recruitment work for the enhanced army. It’s a good thing. Face punches are required for the newly enlisted. The site has a mission and the messenger preaching has an established doctrine. I read the first paragraph over my morning joe and nearly spit the screen. I happen to have that X5 parked, at least MMM reveres the engineering involved in that thing, but that is no excuse, he’s right about the waste and expense. Does the vehicle bring me massive joy and a life’s tank of never ending smiles? Only when I step on the peddle! So, yeah. I’m with you, one size will never fit all. We all have our weaknesses. But the letter of the law is not the spirit of the law. I like the spirit here. We all make our own money and spend it and save it independently. It is my mission to die with only 2 cents to my name (all final expenses covered, of course). Because that’s really all any one is worth. They can plop those final 2 pennys on top of my ashes. Those bitches are mine.

  • Dad April 15, 2014, 8:42 pm

    Two comments from the article and comments section….

    1. If you choose to have a tv, an old cathode ray tube tv is not just as good as a flat screen HD TV. Sorry — but it’s not.

    2. If you surf the internet, an ipad 2 is in fact a good and worthwhile purchase. ( it doesn’t mean you should upgrade with each new iteration.)

    I can truly say years later I have never regretted those purchases for a minute.

  • Dan April 15, 2014, 10:14 pm

    It is definitely a great feeling to not spend money and have the security of money in the bank. As I get closer to financial independence, I enjoy it even more!

    I try to focus on free or low cost experiences. Going to the park, the beach, tennis, playing cards, etc. i try to keep things simple and enjoy freedom to do what I want more than anything money could buy.

  • Philip April 15, 2014, 11:58 pm

    This has to be one of my favorite posts in the past several months. Why? Because there is some actual, thankfully respectful, disagreement and conversation about what enhances different peoples happiness. Thank you Mark for sticking to your guns about your love of cars.

    For the past several months it felt like the majority of comments were simply concurrence with and cheering what MMM wrote. I was honestly losing some interest and was skimming the articles.

    I love that many of today’s comments are going against the “one size fits all” approach while still adhering to what one poster called the spirit vs letter of the law. Anyway, well done MMM!

  • dude April 16, 2014, 5:43 am

    Amen, brother MMM! I remember those stressed out days of overspending early in my career. I was one car breakdown from a real shitstorm. Saving and investing and watching those assets grow has provided a new lease on life, and put me solidly on the path to FIRE. My happiest moments are invariably those nights sitting by a campfire, drinking beers with friends and exaggerating the tales of our rock climbing boldness that day — which costs almost nothing!

  • Dan April 16, 2014, 6:56 am

    The more you get in the habit of saving, the easier it gets and the better it feels. I have found I keep needing less and less to be happy. I value free time the most and I am having more and more lately.

    It feels so good to not have any money worries and focus your time and attention on things that matter.

  • Stan April 16, 2014, 8:09 am

    Happiness is being debt free, a paid off house, income to support yourself and being able to give to others that truly need and deserve help.

  • Syed April 16, 2014, 8:53 am

    Wonderful article. Debt is indeed slavery and having money is indeed freedom. Many people scoff at the idea of money buying happiness, but having enough of it is the quickest way to find guaranteed happiness. It will give you peace of mind and a calm heart to better pursue the other sources of happiness in your life, be it family, religion or just chilling.

  • George Seamans April 16, 2014, 12:01 pm

    I’m driving from London to Mongolia this summer (Mongol Rally). I imagine I will spend over $5.000 (hoping for closer to 3000) and that is making me feel guilty. We plan on camping out mostly and driving a relatively cheap Nissan Micra, but plane tix, visas, car, food, vaccines and some prep costs add up.

    I’ve been wondering if I should save the money instead, but I’m going to spend it on the experience. I am pretty financially secure; does this still sound like a waste of money?

    • Ellie April 16, 2014, 12:36 pm

      Were you feeling guilty before reading this blog post?
      It sounds like an incredible adventure to me. If you can readily afford it, why are you thinking of denying yourself the experience?

    • Jessica April 17, 2014, 6:07 am

      It sounds like the kind of thing I would want to do if I were financially secure. I don’t care about TVs or cars or expensive restaurants or skiing or Disney World, I save my money to some day take trips like that.

    • LoneStarStateWorkerBee April 17, 2014, 1:00 pm

      Well, using the rule of 300, this will cost you roughly $16.66 a month spending in early retirement. So, if you really need that extra $16.66 then you will need to keep working longer to save the extra $5000.

      Whether that sacrifice is worth it totally depends on your personal situation. But this sounds like one of those “once in a lifetime deals” and personally I wouldn’t think twice about such a small step back for such a big and interesting trip.

  • Sarah April 16, 2014, 12:25 pm

    I thought this was interesting piece…..http://tressiemc.com/2013/10/29/the-logic-of-stupid-poor-people/

    I also think it is a very valid insight as to why people buy shit, other than happiness. I guess when you are lower down on Maslows hierachy of needs these things can almost seem like an investment. I don’t know, I am still trying to figure it all out. While I love the saving and we are on decent money, I find it hard to believe that as animals living together in a society that the relevant status symbols pertaining to that particular society don’t matter.

    I recently just moved my daughter from a private international school in France to a local French school and I have noticed a strong distancing in the relationships from the friends that we made at the first school. It has nothing to do about money but rather status.

    Don’t we have “stuff” and behave in a certain way to show which “club” we belong too?

    • CTY April 16, 2014, 3:59 pm

      Can’t say that the abandonment of the private school friends surprises me. But I do think your daughter will be better for it. The elementary school our children attended was an at risk school. Poverty, crime, broken families abound. Later years were in a very successful and prominent (though still public) middle school, with middle class people deep in debt for sure. High school ended up with all the kids together. The Mr & I volunteered extensively through all the schools. Funny how when we were at the high school the “at risk” kids always said hi and stopped to talk to us. The middle school kids acted as if we weren’t even there. Also most the volunteers were the parents/guardians/family of the poor kids. The middle class parents just wanted to write checks and bring in professional photographers for the events.

  • Ellie April 16, 2014, 12:29 pm

    A week ago was my 60th birthday. I had 3 glorious days off from work. It was a celebration of life, friends, and doing what I love most: puttering around in my garden. Today I am back at work, bored, fidgety, unhappy and wanting to flee. I believe my husband and I have ‘enough’ money, because we saved and saved in our early years. Yet I cannot seem to pull the plug. My husband and our very conservative financial advisor encourage me to hang in there until I reach 65. I tell myself that there are family members I still want to help, which will not be happening when we begin living on our savings and investments alone, and other excuses to keep doing something I fundamentally want to quit doing with my life. So reading this MMM post has set off the internal dialogue. Ack! Thanks a lot, Mr. MM! ;)

    • Stacey April 17, 2014, 11:13 am

      Perhaps the best way you could help your family members is to introduce them to MMM. Perhaps it’s time to “teach a man to fish.” Go enjoy your garden!

  • John Dwyer April 17, 2014, 7:38 am

    As far as a true MMM lifestyle I’m bought in. My biggest expense for activities is a can of tennis balls. I’ve got no debt or mortgage and quite a bit saved. However, my wife loves horses. To describe the finances of horses imagine taking a large 50 gallon drum and filling it with 100 dollar bills and setting it on fire. Well, a MMM response would be to get rid of the horse. The result being my next big un-MMM expense is a divorce lawyer. I have to agree that one MMM size doesn’t fit all.

  • Eric April 17, 2014, 7:39 am

    **For some of us, this can be a chicken-and-egg problem: I was more prone to worry in my youth, because I didn’t know much about life. The freedom offered by financial independence gave me time to relax, read, and build closer relationships. This led me to learning much more about happiness. Now I know enough that I could be happy even without all this money. But I give the money the credit for getting this whole process started.

    Hey MMM,
    In regards to the second asterisk, you credit the money for providing the time to learn about happiness to the point where you know you could be happy without all the money. Reading through all 150+ comments, 90%+ are just focused on money. I get the feeling that some people get hung up on money = happiness.

    My question is: Do you think you could have reached this same point in your maturity to understand what happiness is if you didn’t have the money? I know ‘what ifs’ are hard and completely speculative but I’m interested.

  • The Smaller Dollar April 17, 2014, 11:07 am

    You often see people with an unstable financial base turn cash into stuff as quickly as possible to do as you say, buy happiness. They try to skip the step of earning a solid living and being sensible with their finances and go straight to owning all the things on credit.

  • Michael Santiago April 17, 2014, 11:33 am

    Thanks for the article. I especially enjoyed the paper you cited, gives us science-nerds something to process.

    My experience with things=happiness is often worse than just “they don’t buy happiness”. Last year I went on a buying binge of stuff online, and I was so excited to get all these things in the mail. Except that, when I actually got them in the mail, I said to myself “I was so excited about this?”. Felt a little sad even.

    I’ve had the same experience a few times since, and every time it reminds me of the true sources of happiness: friends, family, and money (in the bank!).

  • Cara April 17, 2014, 1:36 pm

    Posts like this keep me coming back for more!
    Found out about your blog last May from Washington Post article. I was hooked immediately… read all previous blog posts in a few days and currently check your blog weekly to stay up to date on the latest. Since last May we’ve paid off a car, paid off ALL credit card debt, sold our home and are in the process of transferring to a new city. There my husband’s commute will be minimal and I’ll be able to bike our son to school and walk/bike to the grocery store. Our life has changed for the better in too many ways to list here. We’ve never been happier and I give you 100% of the credit! I can’t thank you enough for how you’ve helped to changed our lives. Please keep up the good work.
    SAHM/RN and Coast Guard Pilot in the Sunshine State
    P.S. Would love to hear more from Mrs. MMM!

  • Tara April 17, 2014, 7:44 pm

    I would add that if it comes to a point that you have saved more than enough, find a respectable charity you believe in that spends its money wisely and donate to them. It’s amazing how great it feels giving your well-saved money to a great cause that you know needs the money! The smaller the charity, the more good your dollars do. :)

    • lurker April 18, 2014, 8:30 am

      you can also look into the Slow Money movement and invest locally in small businesses you believe in…..

  • Happy Wanderer April 18, 2014, 7:21 am

    Would love to hear more from people about frugal experiences/travel (live in Michigan) as I care much more about that then accumulating stuff. Less than two years from retirement and am a little nervous as I ponder the possibilities of the next chapter because all I know is what it is to work. This blog has changed our lives, attitudes towards money and we are in a good place financially. Thank you MMM and fellow Mustachians for your sharing.

    • Ex-Sgt Pepper April 18, 2014, 9:21 am

      Happy Wanderer, to paraphrase Churchill and FDR, there is nothing to fear but fear itself! Traveling, especially internationally, is so frickin’ easy compared to even 20 yrs ago. As I mentioned above in a comment, my wife and I were also unsure what to expect, but quickly discovered that life is pretty much like it is anywhere else, with a bunch of usually interesting (sometimes frustrating) new things to get used to. We lived in two towns in Mexico for over a year, and spent a couple months traveling around most of the rest of the country, and LOVED it! The US hype about “dangerous Mexico” is just that, media hype. (Do innocent people sometimes get caught in the crossfire? Yes, in Mexican border towns and drug-kingpin towns, in Baltimore, in LA, Oakland, NYC, Wash DC, etc etc.) So – as far as being frugal, it’s pretty easy in Mexico. Just about everything is 10-25% cheaper than the US, so it’s way less expensive than California. The people are in general very kind and friendly, and they love to celebrate! Lots of holidays and lots of fireworks. It’s a great place to be retired. And there are many organizations that one can get involved in, because there’s a lot to be done there. My wife and I saved a lot by taking a vacation rental for the first few weeks (that can be done on sites like vrbo.com), then once we got there, meeting people and asking around will guide you to a place that’s for rent much cheaper. If you’re near one of the larger cities, there’s going to be a Costco (or a Walmart, but Costco’s better), so you can save a ton by stocking up on bulk food staples, these days they even have lots of organic stuff. Health insurance is easily affordable everywhere in the world (except US), you can check a really good UK company that we used and liked, Bupa, you can buy it locally, or just look for int’l health insurance on http://www.ehealthinsurance.com. We’re in S Africa now, and we’ve found that the dollar is strong here too, so our budget is way under what we thought we’d need. Anyway, there’s a decent newsletter that has a lot of info about many places — Live and Invest Overseas. Good luck, hang in there for the final 2 years, and get ready for life to get very interesting! Let me know if you have more specific questions…

  • Angela M. April 19, 2014, 10:21 am

    MMM, I’m sure blogging takes an incredible amount of energy.
    But I just want to say that even though you may feel that you are saying the same thing over and over again- I benefit from this!
    I’ve been educating myself about finances for years now, but before I came across your blog, I was not even aware that people could reire early, or understand how that was done. Limited thinking! ;)
    In a world where it seems everyone is buying fancy cars, big houses, expensive clothes- your blog reminds me to keep focused on my financial goals. For beginners, it can be tempting to go with the flow. Hearing your thoughts on the FI-inspired theme grounds me. So as long as you keep writing this blog, I’ll keep reading. Thank you for writing!

  • Phil April 20, 2014, 11:06 am

    I am 58 and all I can say is I wish this blog had been around 40 years ago though I am sure your concepts were well established even then. I too am one of the many trapped into a pay check to pay check situation at a job I grow to dislike more by the day due to circumstances and decisions made. I am however making sure my kids and grand kids see this blog so they too can gain financial independence before they are 40 or at least by 50. At the very least have the concepts in mind. Great blog, and I enjoy reading it, and shall continue reading it in spite of some times kicking myself for knowing better back then, but not living it. Am making changes I can to get a little more control over my future, and even though I don’t have a lifetime in front of me, will make the best of the time I have. Wish there was a blog for later in life starters!

    • Jackie April 22, 2014, 6:41 am

      Right where you are at….we are learning much….but lots of regrets…..working every day at doing better. I have gotten very vocal with my kids…I don’t hesitate anymore to tell them what kind of future they could have with a few different habits. I hope and pray they are listening. I don’t want them to have to look at their old age the way we are looking at ours….with fear and trepidation. It can be so different for them.

      • Living the life... April 22, 2014, 1:24 pm

        I spend most my money on women and race cars, the rest I waste.

  • Big P Dawg April 21, 2014, 4:42 am

    These are my favorite posts. The philosophical ones. What use is a life not examined. Frugality isn’t really about saving money for me. It’s more of a lifestyle choice. Not being dictated to by advertisers, marketers, bosses, neighbors, friends, family. It really is a massively powerful thing frugality. The less I need the more freedom I have. More about empowerment. Simplicity. It’s a complex life. Frugality gives us less to concern ourselves with. Trivial things I mean. I just love the philosophical posts and I’m getting better all the time. Not many books or blogs or films give you actual advice you can use to empower yourself. They are just usually trying to sell you something. MMM along with two other blogs I read are the only ones that give info you can actually use. And for that you deserve all the best in the world.

    • Bobwerner April 21, 2014, 12:13 pm

      Could you share the other two blogs?

  • David April 21, 2014, 8:22 am

    Wow, my favorite article so far! Inspirational.

    My friends are always trying to get me to spend my money on travelling. I learned a long time ago that travelling is one of the most expensive things a person can do. I learned to find pleasure and joy in the places that are local to me. I’ve lived in the same city for decades and am still discovering things I did not know about my city. There is no end to the discovery.

    Thank goodness for people who do not have an off switch. They are powering my investments with their spending. I hope that isn’t being cynical but those of us who value freedom need the people who cannot control their desires.

  • Brian April 21, 2014, 8:50 am

    I suppose you’re familiar with the Blaise Pascal quote?

    “All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views. The will never takes the least step but to this object. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves.”

    I’ve always been awed by this idea, but I guess it’s right.

  • Bobwerner April 21, 2014, 11:45 am

    I don’t bike due to age and living in a very hilly and dangerous area of Missouri. Just for fun, while listening to NPR radio on the way to work (12 miles of hills and highways) I did some quick calculations.

    If I rode a bike to work (very unlikely) I figured I would burn about 600 calories more than just sitting for 1 hour ( at 12 miles per hour). I then figured the average amount spent by us average American types on food at around 6 dollars per day. (yes, I know it can be done much cheaper). Since I’m totally average in every respect, I use exactly 2,000 calories per day without the added biking. So my cost per 100 calories is 30 cents.

    Since I would burn 6 of these units and my cost for biking round trip would be $3.60 in calories.

    I kinda think that about 75% of food costs are associated with fossil fuels through, farming, fertilizing, processing, transportation, etc.. So that 3 dollars and 60 cents of food equates to $2.70 of fossil fuels.

    Amazingly, my 13 year old Toyota Camry with 370K on it still gets 32 MPG.
    At today’s price here of 3.25 per gallon, my 24 mile round trip costs $2.43 in gas.

    So the fuel consumption only number on my trip is $2.70 for biking or $2.43 for carring.

    Of course I could spend less on food but I also could take my motorcycle at one half the amount of gas.

    My question is — “hey, could you do a column on this, or am I a complete clown and already missed the definitive answer to why biking saves energy?”

    The assumption would be — that like you, one already has a car, insurance, property taxes on the car etc..

    It seems to me that from a cost and carbon foot print that motorcycling is far superior to biking?

    Your thoughts?

    (By the way, from a math standpoint, since I earn $50 per hour the cost of peddling vs. carring would be off the scale. Biking would cost me $100 per day in lost wages/time, while carring would only cost me $25. The annual cost difference of this would be around $18,000. Not a trivial amount.)

    Your thoughtful consideration is greatly appreciated.

    • gizmonte March 13, 2016, 12:14 pm

      Good points Bob. Like youself, I always compute the differential cost of driving versus biking as it relates to 1) lost wages due to extended time biking (I get paid by the hour) and 2) the cost of calories to fuel my cycling.

      With regard to #1, I’m guessing that the average mustachian would argue #1 is a moot point, extra time biking should not be drawn from workable hours, those remain fixed; the extra time is drawn from another pool of time (leisure, sleep, etc).

      However, #2 is a significant calculation to be made. My caloric cost to bike is always factored in, and usually reduces the cost spread between biking and carring. An important variable in this calculation is the cost per calorie. If one were to get this # really low, such as the case might be from fueling a bike ride from a bag of cheap rice, then cycling would always win out in the cost comparison. However, I have found that for long bike rides (25-50 miles), the most efficient way to fuel my muscle is though liquid carbohydrates. In my case, this method of glucose delivery prevents muscle fatigue better than any method involving solid form delivery (absorption is much more rapid and smoother). As such I buy powdered carbs in bulk (e.g. TwinLab UltraFuel / Cytomax) and formulate them at an optimal concentration that depends on the anticipated workload. Compared to bulk rice for example, these carbs are much more expensive and narrow the cost differential between biking and driving. But caloric cost for biking should always be computed in such calculations.

  • Ted Hu April 22, 2014, 2:46 am

    I beg to differ a bit: “the pursuit of meaning is what makes human beings uniquely human. By putting aside our selfish interests to serve someone or something larger than ourselves — by devoting our lives to “giving” rather than “taking” — we are not only expressing our fundamental humanity, but are also acknowledging that that there is more to the good life than the pursuit of simple happiness.”

    “How do the happy life and the meaningful life differ? Happiness, they found, is about feeling good. Specifically, the researchers found that people who are happy tend to think that life is easy, they are in good physical health, and they are able to buy the things that they need and want. While not having enough money decreases how happy and meaningful you consider your life to be, it has a much greater impact on happiness. The happy life is also defined by a lack of stress or worry.

    Nearly a quarter of Americans do not have a strong sense of what makes their lives meaningful.

    Most importantly from a social perspective, the pursuit of happiness is associated with selfish behavior — being, as mentioned, a “taker” rather than a “giver.” The psychologists give an evolutionary explanation for this: happiness is about drive reduction. If you have a need or a desire — like hunger — you satisfy it, and that makes you happy. People become happy, in other words, when they get what they want. Humans, then, are not the only ones who can feel happy. Animals have needs and drives, too, and when those drives are satisfied, animals also feel happy, the researchers point out.

    Happy people get a lot of joy from receiving benefits from others while people leading meaningful lives get a lot of joy from giving to others,” explained Kathleen Vohs, one of the authors of the study, in a recent presentation at the University of Pennsylvania. In other words, meaning transcends the self while happiness is all about giving the self what it wants. People who have high meaning in their lives are more likely to help others in need. “If anything, pure happiness is linked to not helping others in need,” the researchers, which include Stanford University’s Jennifer Aaker and Emily Garbinsky, write.”

    Meaning is not only about transcending the self, but also about transcending the present moment — which is perhaps the most important finding of the study, according to the researchers. While happiness is an emotion felt in the here and now, it ultimately fades away, just as all emotions do; positive affect and feelings of pleasure are fleeting. The amount of time people report feeling good or bad correlates with happiness but not at all with meaning.

    Meaning, on the other hand, is enduring. It connects the past to the present to the future. “Thinking beyond the present moment, into the past or future, was a sign of the relatively meaningful but unhappy life,” the researchers write. “Happiness is not generally found in contemplating the past or future.” That is, people who thought more about the present were happier, but people who spent more time thinking about the future or about past struggles and sufferings felt more meaning in their lives, though they were less happy.

    Having negative events happen to you, the study found, decreases your happiness but increases the amount of meaning you have in life. Another study from 2011 confirmed this, finding that people who have meaning in their lives, in the form of a clearly defined purpose, rate their satisfaction with life higher even when they were feeling bad than those who did not have a clearly defined purpose. “If there is meaning in life at all,” Frankl wrote, “then there must be meaning in suffering.”

    There’s More to Life Than Being Happy

    “Happiness without meaning characterizes a relatively shallow, self-absorbed or even selfish life, in which things go well, needs and desire are easily satisfied, and difficult or taxing entanglements are avoided,” a study in the Journal of Positive Psychology found last year.

    While happiness is an emotion felt in the here and now, it ultimately fades away, just as all emotions do … Meaning, on the other hand, is enduring. It connects the past to the present to the future.”

    Meaningful Activities Protect the Brain From Depression

  • Alex April 24, 2014, 3:07 am

    I think there is a fairy tale where one has three free wishes and uses two of them and keeps the last one forever, because knowing to have this last wish makes him happy.

  • Ronda April 29, 2014, 9:13 am

    I have read your blog sporadically, along with many others, and my husband and I have gone through the Dave Ramsey course. We’ve always been frugal, living on quite a bit less than most of our friends, so it’s just a matter of the challenge for us rather than any kind of reform. My question may seem simplistic, but it’s something I’ve wondered about a lot. We have no idea how to invest–where to go, how to find the right kind of thing to invest in. Right now, all our money is just in a savings account. We used to do CDs, but there’s really no point anymore, no more interest than you get. So we would be interested in investments, but we are pretty leery of it because we know that some are very risky. How does one go about finding a fund that is conservative and yet returns at least SOMEthing worthwhile, unlike the banks? We tend to avoid the issue, because we both feel a little intimidated and have no idea where such things can be found, plus we don’t want to get taken by some shyster! We live in a small town in the middle of nowhere and don’t really know many people. We don’t have a great deal to invest, so how and where can you do this on a small scale without big risks?

    • Stacey April 29, 2014, 9:12 pm

      I recommend T Rowe or Vanguard funds due to my own good experiences (great websites, easy to use, good performers, etc.). For one investment you could pick a Retirement fund 2040 (or whatever year you expect to no longer have job income) and as you age the portfolio would decrease holdings in stock and increase holdings in bonds.

      Others on the blog would likely recommend some sort of index fund due to lower fees.

      But please take some investing action other than a bank account or else your money is eroding…Even if you invest in I-bonds via http://www.treasurydirect.gov at least you’ll have a shot at keeping up w/inflation.

      Since you describe yourself as frugal, I will assume you have no debt or only a mortgage. Never hurts to throw some money at that. After 2008 someone used this unattributed quote which has stuck with me: “Soft assets, hard debt”…In an economic downturn, investments can decrease, debt doesn’t. So if losing a job would devastate you, put the money toward the debt and maintain a healthy emergency fund. Good luck!

  • Joe (yolfer) April 29, 2014, 11:25 pm

    Here are two more academic (but accessible and interesting) reads on the link between money and happiness:

    “How Not To Buy Happiness” http://scaview.org/pdf/How%20not%20to%20buy%20happiness%20frank.pdf

    “If money doesn’t make you happy, then you probably aren’t
    spending it right” http://www.wjh.harvard.edu/~dtg/DUNN%20GILBERT%20&%20WILSON%20(2011).pdf

  • Rachel May 27, 2014, 9:42 am

    A few months ago we got an email from our company – there was an issue with payroll, and we would all be paid 1-2 days late. I heard the news and shrugged and went about my day. The people sitting around me went NUTS!!! Everyone jumped on the phone with mortgage companies, car companies, etc – saying they had to extend their payments because they wouldn’t have enough money to pay things on time. Someone saw me sitting calmly and asked why I wasn’t freaking out – I said, they are still paying us, right? So why is it s huge deal? Then the person started making fun of me, saying I was ‘Miss Fancypants Independently Wealthy’ who didn’t even care if I got paid. Then other people heard I wasn’t freaking out, and started making fun of me too. I was like – what in the world. How is this the appropriate response.

    In that case, my saving certainly brought happiness and calmness. I remember looking around and thinking – what if you get laid off? Will you not be able to make a single payment on anything? It was crazy! Saving definitely makes me happier!

  • Ugly American July 22, 2014, 6:12 pm

    The link to the PDF is broken because it has an extra “%20” at the end.


    Feel free to delete this once it’s fixed.

  • Thehappyphilosopher December 16, 2015, 9:18 am

    Just spending some time re-reading old articles and I love this one. Most of us have a rather dysfunctional relationship with happiness, freedom and money. I know I once did.

    I like to think of saving money and investing as buying freedom, and I believe for most people increasing their freedom will bring them more happiness, or at least create that space in which happiness can naturally develop. Of course the more advanced philosophy is the realization that much of our freedom is probably already here in front of us even if we are not yet financially free.


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