Today our mutual friend J.D. Roth has stopped by to tell a story. I am happy to share this one with you because in real life he is the real deal and a very nice guy. If you weren’t already aware of his fame, this is the guy who who founded the blog Get Rich Slowly in 2006, then later sold it and went on to dabble in early retirement, write some books, and do a bunch of inspirational presentations at various cool events like the World Domination Summit.
How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Mustachianism
My name is J.D. Roth, and I’m a Mustachian. But unlike many of you, I wasn’t born this way. In fact, I’m only a recent convert to this budding “religion”.
When I was young, my parents were poor. Mom stayed home to raise us three boys in our single-wide trailer. When Dad could find work, he sold staplers and boxes and chocolate bars. When he was out of work, he dabbled with starting businesses.
Even when my parents did have money, they spent it all. My father once sold a business for a tidy sum, but he didn’t save a dime. He squandered the proceeds on a sailboat, an airplane, and a new stereo system. In a short time, he was just as broke as before he experienced his windfall.
Some kids might have learned from their parents’ mistakes. Not me. I left home and promptly adopted the same habits. In fact, mine were worse. I had access to credit cards and personal loans, which allowed me to take on debt — something my parents had avoided.
Get Rich Slowly
Eventually, I realized the error of my ways.
In 2004, I was 35 years old and carrying over $35,000 in consumer debt. I resolved to turn things around. Because I’d done well managing a couple of businesses, I decided to manage my personal finances as if I were managing a small company called JD, Inc. I set a goal to eliminate my debt by the end of 2007.
I read everything I could about personal finance. I began to make smarter choices. I found ways to cut my spending and boost my income. I paid off my debts, one by one. I learned how to flex my frugal muscles.
As I turned my life around, I documented my progress at a blog called Get Rich Slowly. I hoped my story would help others — and I hoped that others would share what they knew with me.
My plan worked.
In December 2007, right on schedule, I repaid the last of my consumer debt. But I didn’t stop there. As Get Rich Slowly grew, my income grew. Instead of spending the money, I saved it. I quit my day job to write full time. And eventually, I was able to sell the blog for a large sum of money. Today, ten years after deciding to get out of debt, I’ve achieved financial independence.
Over time, I developed a financial philosophy, a smart, safe set of guidelines designed to help people develop smarter money habits. For a while, I thought I had things figured out.
But then I met Mr. Money Mustache.
Intro to Mustachianism
I first encountered Mr. Money Mustache at a blogging conference in September 2012. I liked him right away. While the other speakers were talking about monetization and search-engine optimization, MMM spoke about building a cult through the power of story — a topic near and dear to my heart.
MMM’s conference presentation
After his presentation, MMM and I sat down for a chat. I learned that not only did our blogging philosophies align, but so did our financial philosophies.
For instance, I believe that:
- Smart money management is more about mindset than it is about math. Financial success comes when you master the mental game of money. It’s not about understanding the numbers. The math of personal finance is simple: spend less than you earn and invest the difference. We all get it. Instead, it’s controlling your habits and emotions that’s difficult.
- The road to wealth is paved with goals. Without financial goals, you have no direction. If you have no direction, it’s easy to spend money on things you’ll regret later. But if you’re saving for a house, your daughter’s college education, or a trip to Europe, your goal will keep you focused, making it easier to spend on what’s important and ignore the things that aren’t.
- Financial balance lets you enjoy tomorrow and today. You don’t have to choose between spending today and saving for tomorrow. You can do both. Strive for moderation in all things: Pursue your goals, but don’t forget frugality; be frugal, but don’t forget your goals.
- You can have anything you want but you can’t have everything you want. Being smart with money isn’t about giving up your plasma TV or your daily latte. It’s about setting priorities and managing expectations, about choosing to spend only on the things that matter to you, while cutting costs on the things that don’t.
- It’s more important to be happy than it is to be rich. Don’t be obsessed with money – it won’t buy you happiness. Sure, money will give you more options in life, but true wealth is about something more. True wealth is about relationships, good health, and ongoing self-improvement. Everything else is a lower priority.
While many parts of the Get Rich Slowly financial philosophy were Mustachian before I met MMM, others weren’t. Or, more precisely, they weren’t Mustachian enough.
I hadn’t yet learned the power of badassity.
You CAN Get Rich Quickly
Most financial advisers urge people to save ten percent of their income. The bold ones recommend twenty percent. For years, I’ve followed suit. Since 2008, I’ve encouraged people to set aside twenty percent of their income for retirement, and I believed I was doing a noble thing. Since converting to Mustachianism, however, I’ve changed my tune.
Mr. Money Mustache taught me that traditional saving advice is far too timid. Slow and steady finish the race, but they don’t win it. Fast and focused finish first.
The shockingly simple math behind early retirement clearly demonstrates that with a saving rate of ten percent, it takes nine years to save enough to fund one year of living. (Or, to put it another way, if you maintain a saving rate of ten percent for nine years, you accumulate enough to take one year off work.) At this pace, it takes about fifty years to accumulate enough cash to retire — and that’s only because the power of compounding comes into play.
Compounding is great, but it’s still an external force — something beyond your control. MMM helped me see that the more you save, the more you’re taking matters into your own hands. Compounding becomes icing on the cake.
- With a twenty percent saving rate, it takes only four years of work to fund one year of expenses. At that pace, it takes nearly forty years to prepare for retirement. Again, at this level of saving, you’re relying on compounding to boost your nest egg.
- If you make the leap from timid to badass, something amazing happens. With a fifty percent saving rate, you save enough each year to fund another entire year of normal spending! And at 75 percent, each year of work would fund three additional years. If you can save half of your income, you can reach financial independence in just seventeen years!
I’ve argued for a decade that it isn’t possible to get rich quickly except by chance. My philosophy has been that the only reliable path to wealth is to get rich slowly, and my motto has been “slow and steady wins the race”.
Today I realize that what I’ve been opposed to for so long isn’t the “get rich quick” mentality; it’s the “get rich easy” mentality. If you follow the principles of Mustachianism, you can get rich quickly. By altering your lifestyle so that you’re able to live on less than half your income, you can save enough to become financially independent in fifteen years — or less. That’s quick, but it’s not easy.
Saving Is NOT Sacrifice
The trouble, of course, is that it’s tough to save so much money — especially if you’ve already bought into the modern adult lifestyle.
If you’re just starting out in the Real World, you can simply continue to live like a college student for the next ten years, and you’ll be golden. But if you’ve already spent time and money embracing the Western way of life, getting to a fifty or seventy percent saving rate can seem like real sacrifice.
That’s how it used to seem to me, anyhow. Mustachianism, however, has taught me that saving is not sacrifice. Instead, saving is deferred spending.
My friend Jim (better known as jlcollinsnh to most of you) explained it to me this way: “Saving isn’t deprivation. That money is still spent. It’s just not spent on a Mercedes or a big house. It’s spent on the future. Saving is money spent on buying freedom.”
I recently had a chance to chat with Tom O’Donnell, a senior vice president at Chase Bank. We talked about personal finance and our shared interest in travel. O’Donnell told me that a lifetime of saving has bought him freedom. “I get to choose what I do now because I saved when I was younger,” he said.
Saving is the choice to spend on tomorrow instead of today. (And debt is the choice to spend money on yesterday.)
Mustachians in Ecuador!
Financial Freedom Is a Process, Not a Place
I used to believe that financial independence meant just one thing: Having enough money that you never had to work again.
But Mr. Money Mustache taught me that financial freedom exists on a continuum. It’s not “all or nothing”, but an ever-increasing range of options. The more you save, the greater independence you achieve.
- At one end of the spectrum, you’re completely dependent upon others for your financial security. As a child, for instance, you’re dependent on your parents for support.
- When you no longer need financial support from your family, you achieve one degree of financial freedom. You still might be dependent upon other creditors (your bank, your credit card company), but these are companies and not people.
- When you break free from the chains of consumer debt, you achieve another degree of financial freedom.
- Further along the continuum, you achieve greater freedom when you do things like eliminate your mortgage or have enough money saved that you’re no longer glued to your job.
- At the far end of the spectrum is complete financial independence. Here, you have enough in savings that you could fund your lifestyle for the rest of your life.
The more money you save, the more freedom you have, and the greater risks you can take. As your financial independence increases, you chip away at the wall of worry. You’re able to make decisions based on happiness and not on dollars. “The ability to let go of doing things purely for the money is a life booster,” MMM told us last year in Ecuador — and he’s right.
When he was young, the afore-mentioned Jim Collins wanted to go to Europe, so he saved $5000 from his $10,000 annual salary. Financially prepared, he went to tell his boss he was quitting. When his boss learned that Jim could afford to take the time off, he offered to hold his job for him. Saving gave Jim power he never knew he had.
“When you have even a little fuck-you money, the balance of power begins to shift in your favor,” Jim says. “You lose your fear. Fuck-you money buys freedom.”
Money Won’t Solve Problems — YOU Will
Still, money isn’t some magic pill that will make all of your problems go away.
I used to think that if I were rich, all of my problems would magically vanish. I’m not alone. A lot of people believe this. The mass media tells us that money can solve any worry. But it’s not true.
When I was younger, I wasn’t just deep in debt. I was also fifty pounds overweight. I had time-management issues. My relationships were built on a false projection of myself. When I achieved full financial independence, these problems didn’t disappear. Quite the opposite.
Supplied with what seemed like limitless time and money, I realized that I was the one responsible for fixing everything that was fucked up in my life — and it had been up to me all along. It was a harsh epiphany.
Todd Tressider (the Financial Mentor) told me recently that when he achieved financial independence at age 35, he had a similar insight. He felt directionless for a while, and it wasn’t until he realized that only he could solve his problems that he found his way again.
Money buys you freedom, no question. But you have to seize the freedom or it all goes to naught. (See: Lottery winners and professional athletes who piss away their fortunes.) You may have a a billion dollars, but that won’t make a difference to your health if you still survive on a diet of donuts and vodka.
Make Decisions as If Money Didn’t Matter
MMM slept on my sofabed last Thursday night. In the morning, as we packed for Camp Mustache, I mentioned that I was thinking of selling my condo.
“Hmmm,” said MMM. “You have a beautiful place here. I like your view of the river and all of the nearby parks. Yesterday, you and I walked through the neighborhood to do our shopping. To me, your home seems almost ideal. Why would you want to sell?”
“I don’t really want to move,” I said. “But I think I can make a lot of money on the deal. It seems crazy not to cash in on this market.”
“I see,” said MMM. “You know, I prefer to look at things in a different way. When I’m faced with a decision like this, I ask myself what I’d do if money weren’t part of the equation. What decision would I make then? Since you’re financially independent, you should make decisions based purely on your personal values. You should ask yourself: If you could live anywhere, where would you live?”
A lovely place to live
I thought about it. While I mulled things over, my girlfriend chimed in. “I’d live here,” she said. “I love this place.”
I nodded in agreement. “I love it here too,” I said.
“When you don’t have a shortage of money, you should make your decisions as if money didn’t matter,” MMM said. “You should choose to do work that you’d do even if you weren’t getting paid. And you should make buying decisions as if everything were free. I mean, if TVs were free, would I go pick up 37 of them? Of course not! I wouldn’t even have a single TV if they were free.”
The bottom line: Once you’ve achieved financial independence, you’re free. You can make decisions based purely on happiness. If you keep this ultimate reward in mind, the pain is worth it. It’s like going for a run. It takes effort. Sometimes it even sucks. But you do it because you know a short burst of effort will lead to a lifetime of health.
While Mr. Money Mustache was in town last week, I got a chance to meet many local readers. I was pleased to learn that a large portion of these people are current or former readers of Get Rich Slowly.
But I noticed something interesting. When I met a Mustachian, the conversation often went like this: “I’m so pleased to meet you, J.D. I read Get Rich Slowly all the time…” …awkward pause… “…or I used to, anyhow. I guess you could say I graduated from GRS to Mr. Money Mustache. I don’t read your site anymore.”
“No worries,” I’d say. “Neither do I.” And it’s true. I’ve moved beyond the Get Rich Slowly philosophy. There’s nothing wrong with the site or its advice. But more and more, I find myself has moved beyond the basics. I believe more people should aim for maximum mustache.
In fact, I’m ready to retire from the world of personal finance. Based on my conversations with Mr. Money Mustache, I want to shift my focus so that I’m pursuing my passions. I want find other ways to improve the world. I still intend to expand my knowledge of personal finance and to help other people improve their money skills. But with a 8 years of writing about it under under the belt, I’m going to hang up my spurs. I’ll become a quiet Mustachian.
Mr. Money Mustache’s Afterword:
Part of financial independence is that you don’t have to advertise yourself anymore. So while J.D. didn’t mention all of his other work, I don’t mind sharing it with you:
Update: A year after writing this guest post, he realized that he couldn’t stop writing about money after all – so he created his newer blog called Money Boss – his most refined work so far with some great free downloadable guidebooks and such.
Before that, he wrote an edition of the Unconventional Guides series called the Get Rich Slowly course, as well as Your Money: The Missing Manual and is the “Your Money” columnist for Entrepreneur magazine.
The Get Rich Slowly course features recorded interviews with various personal finance and business personalities including the unusually honest and spectacularly productive web business guru Pat Flynn, my charismatic frugality arch-rival Ramit Sethi, fancy company founder and all-around cool guy Jesse Mecham, a beer-fueled session with Mr. Money Mustache, and various other more famous people.
What a thoughtful observation of the ethos of Mustachianism and why people pursue FI! I agree it’s not about money–it has nothing to do with accumulating a heap of cash. Rather, it’s about money enabling you to live a life of purpose and intention–not a life dictated by consumer culture. I like “Fast and focused finish first,” what a perfect distillation of early retirement and the idea that you can create the life you want to live. Thank you for this inspiring piece!