The Cheap Ticket Into the Elite Class

elitekidsIf you ask a modern member of today’s American Elite to review Mr. Money Mustache’s childhood and educational history, the report would probably come back dripping with sympathy and disdain.

I went to public school (the only school, really), in a lower-middle income small town. I didn’t join many extracurricular activities or attend any private lessons.  I traveled by airplane only twice between birth and age 20. My parents didn’t buy me a car or act as my personal chauffeur and I paid for most of my own University education by banking the proceeds of minimum wage jobs starting at age fifteen. And I would never expect anyone to pay for my wedding or leave me an inheritance.

But despite this painful shortage of luxury and privilege, I always felt very well off. And now I have somehow ended up with a life that sits at the very pinnacle of good fortune. Swimming in an incredible surplus of wealth, happiness, energy, ideas, and a support network of other fortunate people.

As much as I’d like to chalk this up to some superior combination of personal moral character, amazing intelligence and Badassity, the truth is that much of it comes from a gift that my parents gave me as a child: an absolutely Elite education.

How Important is a Fancy Education?

A recent round of complaints in the East Coast media has been making the rounds recently, sparked off by an article in the Atlantic called “The Secret Shame of Middle-Class Americans“. In that lengthy tale, the notable and succesful author Neal Gabler reveals that he is actually broke, and has been for decades. He admits that his fate is self-imposed: he just spends money without thinking about the long-term implications.

But he also reveals a very common bias in US society: that spending an absolute shitload of money on your children is a necessary and advantageous thing to do. You could sum up our generous but financially suicidal belief system in this quote from his story:

“I never wanted to keep up with the Joneses. But, like many Americans, I wanted my children to keep up with the Joneses’ children, because I knew how easily my girls could be marginalized in a society where nearly all the rewards go to a small, well-educated elite. (All right, I wanted them to be winners.)”

A later article in the Atlantic called “The Circles of American Financial Hell” suffered from much the same bias: the story reviews the common sob story that the US Middle Class can’t get ahead. And its thesis is that the problem is not really our spending on personal luxuries, it’s our valiant attempt to sacrifice everything for our children:

“…parents will spend down their last dollar (and their last borrowed dollar) on their kids’ education: In a society with dramatic income inequality and dramatic educational inequality, the cost of missing out on the best society has to offer (or, really, at the individual scale, the best any person can afford) is unfathomable.”


Although I feel both of these authors are out to lunch financially, I have to agree with them that a top-shelf education is incredibly valuable. But not the type of education that comes with a $200,000 tuition bill. The best part of my education cost almost nothing to acquire, and yet it seems to have delivered a much greater benefit than any Ivy League curriculum. Are you ready to learn my secret weapon? Brace yourself.

Simply Knowing how to Use a Goddamned Computer.

To the average person, this would sound like a bizarre claim. Almost every rich-country resident uses computers in some form, and yet most of them are still broke. What they’re missing is that actual deep knowledge of computers and technology is still incredibly rare. And although it can take many years to develop, it costs almost nothing to do so.

This missing tool is so powerful and yet so overlooked that I consider it a loophole in society. A ticket to a more prosperous life that most people don’t understand, because they have never experienced the effects.  Let’s resume the story of my own cheap elite education to see some of them.

My Secret Advantage through Technology

Almost every one of the few million dollars I’ve earned in my life so far has been directly related to being unusually good with computers.

Sure, there were a few bucks around the side earned by operating gas pumps and cash registers as a teenager, and table saws and nailguns after retirement. But the rest of it comes from being able to take these machines and make them do valuable things.

If you have any rare skill, you can then easily create value that companies and individuals are willing to pay for. But if you have the rare skill of technology, you can also apply it to your own life, creating an automated money and happiness machine.

As a student, more comfort with computers allowed me to get better marks in less time and organize my life’s information. I could use the early versions of the Internet (which used to be difficult to use) to harvest ideas from Stanford students and professors while more traditional students were stuck with textbooks. Then the advantage helped me get better, more technical jobs and present information more clearly to the bosses, which led to even better jobs. From that vantage point I could research career opportunities in other countries and figure out how to do an international move. Using computers to get things done, and getting paid to write software for them, was an incredibly lucrative career path back then, and it’s even better today.

Even after retiring from the tech industry, computers help me automate my finances and purchasing, so I can keep more money at work with less wasted time and fewer expensive mistakes. They let me create better photographs and descriptions on Craigslist and real estate websites, which let me sell or rent things for more money, and buy them for less. Even this Mr. Money Mustache website, which makes money even as it persuades you to waste less money, is only possible at this scale with relatively complicated computer fiddling.

The Business World is Still Mostly Clueless

Earlier this month, I was booking a concrete truck so I could pour the foundation for my new garage. I did some online research to figure out which companies operate in my area, but I found that every one of their websites was just an online version of a Yellow Pages ad. There was no way to place an order and their contact page was a list of telephone numbers. Telephones!

So I called one of the bigger outfits. A guy named Joe answered.

Me: “Hi, I need to order 15 cubic yards of concrete for next Wednesday”

Joe: “Look, if ya need to order concrete for Wednesdee, ya call me on Tuesdee after 12 noon. Until 12, I’m workin’ deliveries for that same mornin'”

So I called back the following Tuesday. I thought I’d be an early bird and call at 11:45 just to make sure I got my order in.

Joe: “Naw, naw. If ya need concrete for tomorra’, ya call me back after twelve ‘a’ clock this afternoon!”

Concrete is not a niche cottage industry like homemade salsa – this is a $35 billion chunk of the economy that is critical to building almost everything. A single loaded truck carries $1500 of the stuff, and there are 50,000 of these trucks in circulation in the US. And yet not only have they not discovered computers, even the concept of a notebook with two separate pages (“today’s orders” and “tomorrow’s orders”) was foreign to this outfit.

This story is just an extreme example of a market opportunity that is still fresh and ripe in our society as a whole. We have computers, but a deeper understanding of how technology works is still rare. Almost every big company that I’ve observed is still clunking along, trying to adapt to technology rather than fully benefiting from it. Think about the concept of a car dealership network, for example. Millions or billions of dollars of land and inventory in every single city, devoted to.. letting people see cars they could easily buy online and have delivered?

On an individual level, if your phone starts acting funny after you return from a long vacation, do you call Apple support for help, or do you look at the at the device’s internal storage to see if you need to delete some stuff to free up space? Is it wiser to transfer music files over WiFi or Bluetooth? If your computer starts crashing right after you get a sprinkler system installed, do you start shopping for a new one, or go outside to verify that the ground cable from your power panel wasn’t accidentally disconnected? Mustachians probably know things like this, but what about the average person?

Everybody uses technology. But those of us who truly understand it down to the core have an immense advantage in all areas of life: making money, keeping that money, absorbing information, and even communicating ideas with other people. Whether you are an investor or a filmmaker, house builder, engineer, or attorney, mastery of this rare skill will multiply your efforts more than a technophobe can even understand.

When you apply this idea to a large group of people working together, you end up with companies that very easily vacuum up all of the business in their industry (Google, Amazon), while their less technically savvy competitors wither in a puddle of fax machines and expense accounts of traveling salespeople.

Computers aren’t just for nerdy introverts any more – they can be a ticket to wealth, success, even friendships and romance. In other words, the core of a truly elite education is becoming an absolute badass with computers.

Bringing this around to our middle class Expensive Wannabee Elite educational expenses, I believe that deep technical badassity is an even more useful part of an education than an expensive degree.

How To Become a Computer Badass

You don’t learn technology by taking courses or reading instruction manuals. You need to be immersed in the stuff. Using it constantly, and understanding not only how to use things, but how they were designed and what the person who designed it was probably thinking about as they came up with each aspect of the product. Only if you understand the designer, can you truly understand the technology they invent.

For example, if you’re a computer badass and you get a new gadget or program or an app, the first thing  you do is to try every single option on every single menu and submenu, and find out what it does. You don’t just dive in and start playing a new video game – first you have to check the graphics options and make sure you’ve set the resolution and texture levels to the very best that your video card will handle smoothly. Then you poke around on discussion boards and fan websites to see what the “modding” community is up to, and make some modifications yourself.

You don’t want an analog speedometer on your car, you want a spreadsheet showing every parameter that the engine computer is measuring, updated at least a few times per second, with complete graphable history since the car’s date of manufacture. To a technology badass, understanding how things actually work brings joy, power, and peace.

To provide an elite education for our kids, I suggest that we spend less time thinking about prestigious neighborhood and school districts, and more time giving kids access to complicated stuff early, and often. Then bringing these lessons, in the form of suggestions, presentations, donations and volunteer time, to your own school district.

My gift came in 1984, in the form of a Commodore 64 system my parents stretched the budget to bring home. My siblings and I worked that thing until its keyboard was blank and polished, and it kicked off a life of deep comfort with technology. I was given the freedom to spend hours connecting with these machines, and by extension the people who invented them.

Then in 1990 I found a Commodore Amiga for sale on a BBS newsgroup, a nerdy precursor to Craigslist that only technical people knew how to use. I traded $800 of my earnings from working at the gas station, for what would eventually be another six-figure quantity of computer experience.

Throughout high school, in addition to the normal curriculum of calculus and physics, pool parties and girlfriends, beer and marijuana, I also had countless late nights with my Amiga, which were getting me ahead in life far more than I could realize.

So in my house, I’m hoping to try the same trick.

The Mustachian Elite Education (for children and even adults)

  • No broadcast TV service, but very fast Internet access and a computer (and phone) you maintain yourself
  • Minimal access to cars, but always a very nice bike kept in perfect repair
  • Limited access to tourist attractions and gift shops, maximum access to Nature
  • Support but do not mandate sports teams or formal lessons. But keep sports and musical equipment handy around the house.
  • Less scheduling, more opportunity for self-guided activities. Boredom can be the trigger for creativity.
  • Whenever possible, say yes to  friends, sleepovers and late bedtimes.

Cost: Less than most families seeking elite status spend on their house cleaning service.


After a childhood education like that, college is more of an afterthought. Living a Mustachian lifestyle while raising kids will ensure that you would have plenty of money to pay for any education they want. But then again, so will your kids, so why not give them the advantage of paying for it themselves?

But they’ll also already have access to an unlimited supply of people, money, ideas and knowledge. Visiting a campus to take some classes in person is just one of the many options available at that point, rather than the desperate lottery ticket to the good life, as portrayed in the Atlantic.

Further Reading – a great Susan Cain book called Quiet recently made the rounds in our family. It’s about why introverts are great, and how to support their joyful and creative lives (especially if you are raising one, or are one yourself).


  • lurker May 17, 2016, 4:09 pm

    computers are nice but being a funny and insightful thinker and writer may have put you over the top Mr. Mustache!
    that and being an incredibly disciplined spender. ciao for now

  • Renee-Lucie Benoit May 17, 2016, 6:01 pm

    My husband and I are 65 years old. I am an artist and non-fiction writer. My husband is a cowboy, incredible fix-it guy and actually quite computer savvy having been “re-trained” in computers after being laid off from his government job years ago. Here’s our biggest problem (and here’s where I wish Badassity had been invented when I was a kid): we haven’t saved near enough to retire and now we are playing panic catch-up. (I have a modest 403B from a stint at a non-profit; my husband has about the same). We just bought a fixer upper near the new High Speed Rail Line here in CA. We’re hoping we can leverage this purchase into something lucrative (just exactly what, not sure) Maybe Real Estate (so we’re studying for our license.) I’m not a technophobe but because I’m artistic, technology has not been my strong suit. However, I really am very intrigued about how being a old lady Badass can help my husband and I live out our old age in a better way. I hoping for advice specific to older people. There’s a lot of us in this same predicament and for your efforts to help young people avoid our mistakes I commend all Mustachians.

  • The Vigilante May 17, 2016, 6:29 pm

    Fantastic post filled with great suggestions! One of my favorites! And a very similar upbringing to my own, only the Commodore 64 was a good 10 years or so before I could walk, talk, and click a mouse.

    I’ve repeatedly told folks that I learned less valuable information/skills in school from 3rd grade on than I did modding Starcraft, building my own websites for fun, and trying to figure out how to make things perform tasks that they shouldn’t be able to because they were “outdated” instead of just buying the latest gadgets. The kind of “make-it-work” mindset and the logical skills you get from doing those things are incalculably more valuable than memorizing facts from a textbook to be regurgitated on an exam and forgotten.

  • Wilkop May 17, 2016, 11:06 pm

    Found it interesting that one of the follow-up posts to Gabler’s article in the Atlantic was by a community college professor in graphic arts. In the post he includes a link to the outline for his class that, as you might expect, has a link back to the Mr MM website.

  • NewRN May 18, 2016, 12:43 am

    In my extremely small, very not fancy, school, the most worthwhile class I took was a semester of logic that was the lead-in for a semester of BASIC programming. I wish everyone took a logic class and learned about “if…then” and deductive and inductive thinking. Critical thinking, as opposed to believing whatever one reads or hears, helps in every area of life.

  • Wayne May 18, 2016, 4:27 am

    Great article. What online resources would you suggest for somebody just now getting serious about the tech game who wants to learn more about how computers work, at both hardware and software levels, from a very elementary level to the point that you’re talking about? I’m pretty well-versed in using my equipment and my resources, but I’d like to understand their construction, function, and programming better, and it sometimes feels like a needle in a haystack to find really helpful info online. 22M, US, college grad.


  • Jonathan May 18, 2016, 8:01 am

    There are a wide variety of money-making skills, not just computers.

    My nephew-in-law can do plumbing and electricity, weld and repair machinery, and work CAD/CAM. He is more of an outdoor, hands-on guy, but he has not shortage of money-making opportunities.

    Or, maybe you would like to learn to evaluate companies and design stock portfolios. That’s how I have become at least moderately wealthy.

    Another guy I know has a good business cleaning out old houses and selling the contents on eBay. He gets the business through local contacts, and then knows what to take and what to throw out.

    These sorts of practical, real-world skills, while they don’t necessarily lead to wealth, will always make you a good living.

    • David May 23, 2016, 2:51 pm

      Well said! The vocational trades are having trouble finding people and they pay very well. But vocational training is looked down upon as low class in this country. I have never found any newspaper reporter or tv reporter who talked about vocational jobs. Everything is college this and college that. College stopped being a good value over twenty years ago.

  • Matt May 18, 2016, 8:35 am

    The reason you can’t buy cars online has much more to do with legislation designed to protect well-connected dealerships and less do with with a lack of technological know-how. Planet money has a good episode on the topic: http://www.npr.org/sections/money/2013/02/12/171814201/episode-435-why-buying-a-car-is-so-awful

    • Mr. Money Mustache May 18, 2016, 9:49 am

      Thanks for the link, Matt.

      I agree there is some behind-the-scenes sleaze.. but if we were all a bit more technically (and financially) savvy on average, laws like this would not be possible to pass. For example if I were buying a car, I’d avoid supporting a dealership and prioritize anyone who sells online. Anyone who tries to skirt the preference wouldn’t get the business.

      Of course in the real world this is kind of irrelevant – there is such an oversupply of great used cars on Craigslist it would be hard to ever see the need a brand new car unless more of us started buying them used.

  • Diego May 18, 2016, 12:29 pm

    MMM, I hope I am not being too intrusive, but how relevant it is to be technically savvy to a blogger? Is it like carpentry to a landlord (very usefull but completely optional)?

    Background: I am brazillian and I’m about to leave my job this year and be retired (at age 30), and I really want to make a blog about early retirement since almost nobody talks about it here. I am not skilled with technology and had already noticed how advantageous for everyfuckingthing it would be if I was, but the FI theme interests me so much that I want to just try it and leanr about tech along the way. Is that wise?
    I also have a son (1,5 years) and I definetly want him to be not like me and learn how to use a computer for something other than videogames and porn.

    • Jay Holden May 18, 2016, 2:35 pm

      Buy a domain name on Godaddy.com along with Wordpress hosting. Install Yoast SEO plugin. Dive in. Profit.

  • Jack Land May 18, 2016, 2:41 pm

    Enjoyable post. Good perspective. I started with a Ohio Scientific Challenger 1P 8k basic in ROM, 8k RAM. Cassette tape storage. Great machine. Loved those PEEKs and POKEs into video memory, etc.

    But, I really wanted to second the recommendation for “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” by Susan Cain. It is validation for us introverts (not that we really need it, but it was nice to read) and insight for extroverts who don’t understand or value introversion. It is really a marvelous book.

  • Elena May 18, 2016, 4:21 pm

    Thank you very much for highlighting something that I was suspecting for quite some time. I am shocked at the article in Atlantic and am wondering on why parents are shy to tell their kids to pay for their own education themselves; why parents constantly look over the shoulder on to Joneses sacrificing not only their financial well being but also their health and life for something their kids should be able to do on their own.

    I thought about learning to code and decided that I am able to learn web design but am confused on where to start. The amount of free classes for web design is also overwhelming :)

  • magda May 18, 2016, 4:45 pm

    Great post and I totally agree, but one thing makes me wonder – when is the right time to start and how do you control the usage? I have a 2 year old and I know for a fact that if I allow her to play with iPad or a computer then she will want to do it all the time. And I obviously don’t want her to become one of those kids permanently glued to their devices.

  • Lenore May 18, 2016, 10:40 pm

    Great post! I’m a firm believer in letting kids learn how things work. I grew up on a fishing boat- 56 feet of everything from ancient technologies to high tech that had to be proofed against salt water. My Dad saw his children as free help who could fit in confined spaces and use small tools. My childhood wasting time on the docks let me excel in an experimental physics degree. Now I teach and I can’t believe how scared my students are of simple tools! By the way first time posting here- I wish I’d found this blog 20 years ago somehow. It’s seriously changing our lives.

  • Arjen May 19, 2016, 2:15 am


    Thanks for another great article! For aspiring programmers, overwhelmed by the sheer amount of programming languages out there, try this simple and nifty interactive guide:


  • BobReisner May 19, 2016, 12:32 pm

    “…Computers aren’t just for nerdy introverts any more – they can be a ticket to wealth, success, even friendships and romance. In other words, the core of a truly elite education is becoming an absolute badass with computers…”

    I like and support the general tone of the overall post but I take exception to the emphasis on coding/engineering.

    If you or your child has an IQ of 120 or higher, coding is a great life skill. Add in a good work ethic and you will prosper. Guaranteed.

    Half the population has an IQ below 100. I’d respectfully suggest that machine level or systems level coding might be an unreasonable challenge for many in this category. And maybe even application programming within a larger systems framework like Oracle. Yes, some will have other personal characteristics that will let them be accomplished coders and a few will be lucky. But, based on my experience, most will be setting themselves up for disappointment at best and possibly years lost going down a path that is a poor career choice.

    I started work programming at IBM when I was 19 (1967). Much of my working life was in mega company finance and technology. I also started a small enterprise software company. As a result, I’ve been a programmer and spent my life around programmers. I know what the qualities needed are and so do Google, Facebook and others who hire programmers….the interviews and tests are largely IQ tests (disguised as puzzles) or exercises in programming (that require IQ).

    Universally, good programmers are smart. The often have other qualities (focus, work ethic, etc.) but my experience is that almost always good programmers are smart.

    I’ve seen a lot of good people try hard to become programmers and fail…some horribly and some who make a career working in tech but not programming (running test decks, modifying scripts, etc.). And most of these folks fail because serious coding needs a certain level of raw IQ that they just don’t have. These lesser smart ‘coders’ and other second tier programmers are the ones who get fired or laid off at some point. Replaced by inexpensive foreigners, automation or cheaper kids just out of school.

    Nothing wrong with everyone getting a good measure of competence with technology and a set of skills that will let them work around/in technology areas. Nothing wrong with exposing ourselves and our children to the opportunity of a ‘real’ technology career/skill set. They might be a perfect fit. But let’s not say that this is the preferred path for all and that everyone can succeed in tech. And that failure to do so is a life failure. Learning is good, trying to master different skill sets is good and experience in different job/work environments is good. The goal should be to find what works. There is no right answer or ‘one’ answer.

    So yes, please encourage people to learn tech. But also let folks know that if tech ‘isn’t right’ that’s ok and there are other areas to explore and other paths to success.

  • Aiman May 19, 2016, 10:46 pm

    Forget about coding or electronics for a while, I have observed a bizarre reluctance on harnessing technology that can help you pay bills online! It’s something most of us take for granted nowadays, it’s hardly cutting edge stuff – but I still have older cousins and relatives who insist on driving up to the shop (and all the wastefulness that exercise brings) and getting in line to pay their utilities when they could have completed it in less than 5 minutes using their computers or phones.

    When I ask why they just can’t pay it online, the excuses I get are “they don’t trust it” and “they don’t understand how to use it”.

    You have to keep curious, keep being open to learning new tech and how it can help you – not in just generating money but in giving you convenience, which incidentally helps you to save money and time too.

  • Martin May 20, 2016, 11:56 am

    I was expecting you to delve deeper into the ‘why’ and ‘how’ having computer literacy provides people with a big advantage, but I get the gist of your message.

    However, I wonder if anyone could give advice concerning my own situation with computers and tech. As a 31 year-old communications graduate, I’ve always had more intuitive knowledge with computers than my parents’ generation do, yet I feel like I am missing out on the next big ‘revolution’ in computer and tech and that my employability in the workplace will rapidly diminish in the coming years if I don’t start learning code or such things. My current job isn’t really threatened by technology per se, but I have the feeling that tomorrow’s economy will be almost completely geared towards those who know how to design programs, code, software, etc. and that the others will be only left with crumbs.

    All that to say, given that I am excluding the possibility of returning to university, do any of you have suggestions on the type of venture I should embark upon to become familiar with code and such? And is doing it a few hours a week enough to become good at it a few years down the road? Anyone ever tried https://hourofcode.com?


    • Truth-hurtz May 23, 2016, 10:40 am

      With colleges graduating more people with communications EACH YEAR that the total number for jobs that exist for people with communications degrees, congratulations if “my current job isn’t really threatened” is really true! I may be the prophet of doom here, but as I see it, there are two different “the next big revolution in computers and tech” occurring more or less simultaneously. First is the elimination of jobs in computer and tech. Artificial Intelligence is getting much better at writing software. I was just reading today about a company in China that just replaced 60,000 factory workers with robots, but people think that “knowledge jobs” are immune from being replaced by “robots”; I think those people are going to be sadly surprised in the future. The second revolution is the Internet of Things (IoT), which will be “a bigger thing” than the Internet itself. Since IoT is going to be so huge and pervasive, and that since the application side is going to require a lot of hand-holding, there will be a huge demand for people that can code at the application end of things, without needed much “computer science”. That is, when the dough mixer says it is sick at 4AM, they need a person who can figure out what the problem is to get it back on-line, not someone who knows about compiler development.

  • MotherOfTeenageVideoGameAddict May 20, 2016, 4:44 pm

    I just recently earned a degree in Computer Science (at age 45) from one of the top engineering schools in the country, while simultaneously raising a son, single handedly. It wasn’t pretty. He spent a lot of time on the computer. He is completely addicted to games, which is a very common problem where we live (in the modern world) . I have to lock up his computer and smartphone, or he wont do anything else. I mean really, he won’t do anything else. He wont go to school. He wont sleep. He would be on the computer 24 hours a day if I didn’t take it away from him. I started noticing this problem when he was about 7. I feel like technology destroyed his childhood, yet I was in school, programming games almost everyday. Crazy.

  • Dan May 20, 2016, 8:18 pm

    I completely agree that having some technical ability is important today. Even some basic knowledge will put you ahead in a number of fields – sales, PR, marketing can all gain by having a basic understanding of, in my field the tech we are selling, or in others being able to scale your productivity. Do you have to code? Not really. Do you have to have developed some level of passion for exploring tech? Yes. The latter is what we are setting out to do with our kids. Love the robotics ideas, thanks for posting!

  • totoro May 21, 2016, 1:37 pm

    I don’t think you need to be a tech person to succeed more easily – solving problems efficiently will get you there too.

    I grew up without anything fancy and put myself through school. I disliked and still dislike learning new tech stuff. I don’t want a Tesla or an iPhone (although I have one received as a gift). I wasn’t that kid that took things apart and put them back together. I was; however, an information seeker and always looking for a better mousetrap.

    The internet, even without any advanced tech skills or interest in how tech things work, has opened up a world of opportunity for someone with some research skills and motivation. It is far better than the library was back in the day. It has allowed me to operate a couple of successful businesses using cloud-based technology. I pay someone to do the tech part and then I learn by using.

    This has worked out very well for us. Ability to adapt rather than ability to master tech has been the key.

  • Ed May 21, 2016, 6:21 pm

    Susan Cain’s book is a must-read. She demonstrates to how introverts can use their personalities to their advantage, and she alerts introverts to some pitfalls of introversion, such as the tendency of introverts to grow obsessed over time- and energy-wasting irrelavencies.

    MMM, While you don’t include it on your list, I assume, based on some of your other posts, you are teaching your son about Stoicism.

  • bogart May 22, 2016, 8:38 pm

    So, good post and good points (though I’d argue a bit the affordability of a college degree in Canada, i.e., MMM’s, versus the U.S., and think that a BA is often essential even to getting a proverbial foot in the proverbial door, so wouldn’t discount the significance of those two things). But beyond the value of learning to code, etc., I too have 100% noticed the absence of a web presence (etc.) of blue-collar trades, and it drives me nuts. And I don’t think the first or more pressing problem here is a lack of coding skills — I mean, sure, that. But the lack of an email?! (Which — I agree, widely prevalent). My hypothesis is that lots of the tradespeople I hire are not comfortable reading and writing responses to questions about their availability, pricing, work, etc. Drives. Me. Nuts. And I don’t mean to suggest that most are illiterate, I don’t think it’s that. But for many who (like me and many here) are college-educated, I think it’s hard to grasp (but nonetheless true) how little (many) others (including some who are college educated, but many more who are not, including many tradespeople) like to, or feel comfortable, reading and writing as a means of communicating information. So — could many of the tradespeople I work with read and respond to an email? Well, probably. But can they do so efficiently (quickly grasp what I’m asking and formulate a succinct reply)? I’ve come to doubt it. And further, to doubt that they want to, as compared to other alternatives.

    I would way, way rather write you (anyone) an email than talk to you on the phone, most of the time. And particularly if I’m inquiring about hiring you — first off, I want to be able to start making inquiries at times when I would never in a million years call someone on the phone, and when, if I did, they surely wouldn’t answer (e.g. now — 10:30 on a Sunday evening). And second, I do like (and I think this is part of what throws prospective responders off, except that I doubt many even consider using email in the first place) a “paper” (or in this case) digital trail, documenting what we discussed and, if applicable, agreed to.

    So — yes, count me among those who think the first hurdle (for many) is reading comprehension and writing skills. After those, probably (as other commenters have mentioned), logic, and subsequent to THAT, coding.

    As for the other parents asking in the comments about screen time … eh. If and when my kid wants to code (or compose emails), he can use the computer (so far, for emails — sometimes. Coding? Doubt he even knows what that word means). If what he wants to do is play a game or watch something, limits apply. And if he hasn’t been recently pursuing reading independently and enthusiastically as a hobby, plus engaged in some outdoor activities — whatever of those he may choose — those limits get enforced pretty strictly. When he’s making more balanced choices on his own, then I relax a bit. And yes, I do tell him why enforcement varies. In his case, in general I see no evidence that he needs additional opportunities to hone his video/game consumption skills (they seem pretty well developed), so have no interest in fostering opportunities to do so.

  • Gigi May 22, 2016, 11:04 pm

    I agree with most of what you have to say except for the technology thing. My parents were working class immigrants and my brother grew up with a public school education on the wrong side of town, very few structured activities but had library cards and lots of time on our hands. He and I had saved the $1.500 to purchase our first computer before anyone else did in those days. We consider ourselves fairly tech savvy but wouldn’t say that it’s what made us successful. That would come down to our parents pushing us to grow as learners, give us time to do it, and not treating us like investments. I’m doing it the same for my kids and hoping for the best. Computers and programming are part of their public education curriculum but ultimately, they just need to find something their good at and practice it so they actually are. In the meantime, they can figure out what that is.

  • David May 23, 2016, 2:47 pm

    I read that Atlantic article, too, and was just gasping at how the author wasted every dime he had on that stupid private education for his kids when he lived in New York City, which has some of the finest public schools in the entire country.

  • Vicki from NZ May 23, 2016, 8:17 pm

    Excellent article thank you, very relative to our own lives as we embark on homeschooling our four children I am looking at what to teach them etc, my 12 year old son is totally nuts about coding and computers! We haven’t owned a t.v. for years and have computers in the house, music equipment (hubby is a woodworker, drum maker), access to making electronic music, heaps of biking everywhere and one tiny car we can’t all fit in that is from before the year 2000, our collective family mustache is growing by the day….

  • Data Lore May 25, 2016, 6:31 am


    I’ve been on this site on and off, but never commented before. I just read this post. I don’t have kids, but I could in some way relate. I grew up liking computers (still do) and was interested in technology in my 20s. I even majored in computer information system at one point. Now, I’m in my 30s and for some strange reason, I haven’t kept up as much as I would have liked. However, I’m starting to slowly get back in understanding how things work. I am trying to learn web design and blogging and everything seems difficult at first, but slowly but surely I’m getting it. Even with how I try to save for retirement, I’m using technology more to achieve that goal. So, for example, rather than relying on traditional brokerages, I use newcomers such as Robinhood app to make trades.

    I am still definitely the one though who would call Apple if my phone doesn’t work rather than looking on the internal structure of the device. I guess some things won’t change.

    Anyway, you don’t need me to tell you this, but great blog and thanks for the opportunity to comment.

  • Howden May 26, 2016, 11:43 am

    Although I see a lot of value in this recommendation, at first I was expecting something more universal and fundamental like “conscientiousness”, or learning to love learning and working hard; or even just unconditional love and encouragement. It seems to me that many parents sacrifice core values in the fearful push to make their kids “elite”.
    Character comes before skill.

    • Howden May 26, 2016, 11:54 am

      PS: To be clear, my comment wasn’t intended as a rebuttal or even a critique, just something that comes to mind in discussions of parenting.

      Huge MMM fan; thanks for what you do. It’s been a transformative year since stumbling onto the blog.

  • Cindi June 2, 2016, 11:27 am

    My story for my two daughters is a bit different but a highly successful. one When it came time for my family to buy a computer in 1993, we had a battle: hubby wanted a PC. I wanted an Apple. I won. Raised my kids on an Apple Computer. When it came time for them to go to college in the late 1990’s, I would only let them attend a college that used Apple Computers. I would interview the computer lab techs at the schools. The deans thought I was crazy. Finally they found a school that specialized in Macintosh technology and sought careers on the Apple platform. My oldest went on to work for a well respected fashion company in NYC handling all their computers. What set her apart from all the other applicants was the fact she knew Macs. She made every single downsizing cut throughout the years because of her Mac knowledge. She now has ‘retired’ from the corporate world and has now become one of the top, well-paid, event photographers in NYC. All thanks to Apple Inc, their computers, software and technology.
    Ditto for my youngest daughter. She became a top notch video editor, thanks to Apple. Upon her graduation from college, it did not take her long to earn a six figure salary. Oh, and BTW, out of 4000 applicants who applied to work at the first Apple Retail Store in NYC, she, along with only 70 other employees were chosen for the job. She later married an Apple executive who happily retired at age 38 simply on his Apple Inc stock.
    Was their mother, me, a genius?
    I always knew Apple was a winner despite Wall Street, back in 1998, predicting the company only had 3 weeks to live. The stock at that time was $14 a share, and has split numerous times since then. 50 shares then for $700 turned into 800 shares @$97.08 (as of today) $77,664 plus all those lovely dividends.
    Yes! This mother, me, is a genius.

  • ZJ Thorne June 2, 2016, 10:47 pm

    We did not have access to lessons (etc), but we also had a computer fairly early. I like your Elite Education Guidelines. As an adult, I still have two types of cleats and shin-guards in my closet that are available for pickup games. I was in coordinated adult leagues for a few seasons, until I started a business. The men and women I met in those leagues have been my business’ greatest referral source – not because they knew I would be excellent at the business, but because they trusted my character after playing with me. The business now gets in the way of formally joining the league right now, but I stay on their sub list and keep on building things.

  • Mark June 3, 2016, 9:49 pm

    I like how you suggest buying a computer but don’t dictate the tasks your children have to complete. At school computing was very much do this, do that, no creativity, no interest and no understanding. This resulted in me being a little anti computers and have spent the last few years catching up fast. Still not quite there but when you realise you can connect with everyone on the planet, you realise how powerful this tool is in your hands and how valuable it is to know how to use it.

  • doug June 4, 2016, 11:58 am

    First, I wanted to say what a great community this is. To a first approximation, you-all are clearly overrepresented by people who are going to be just fine. It’s awesome to see.

    A couple of positive and a couple of cautionary comments:

    I just moved from a small town where I was encouraging the educational people to do just what’s recommended by mmm — take programming to be like a foreign language requirement. They were focused on getting 3d printers into schools and STEM, both of which have some value. The reality is, there are relatively few actual science jobs so understanding what’s foundation and what’s vocationally useful and what’s a problem solving skill is pretty important.

    We have a core problem with the focus we put on education. We’ve shifted from a place where education was revered, where educators were more highly educated than the parents of the children they were educating, and where education was rare, to one where it’s more often table stakes. If you have more applicants than openings, level of education is a simple way to sort resumes into two piles.

    That said, if we want better educated students, we need better teachers. Which means teaching needs to be a high status position. Various stats in here (http://www.cbsnews.com/news/us-education-spending-tops-global-list-study-shows/) and I don’t want to fire up a whole charter school discussion, but the fact is this is a societal problem and there are many, many positions US society rewards better (status or money or whatever) than teaching. And that’s ultimately a problem. Most elementary or high school teachers won’t be competent, either from training or ability, to teach anyone about programming. If you just provide machines, you’ve probably moved from having one problem to two.

    I love the emphasis on musical skills and reduction / elimination of TV. Getting kids to learn means getting them to think and not letting them waste their thinking time on non-productive outlets.

    Life is full of second chances, at least for the moment. Most people don’t get in gear with what they can really *do* with their lives until they’re past when their brains are going through big die-offs (late 20’s). So, teaching them to think first, then loading up on vocational skills later is probably a better idea. (Teaching them to program will help them learn to think, so that’s still a good idea.) Then, not tying them down with debt (I’d include avoiding starting families very young in that category).

    Programming is great and it’s been a good living for thirty years. I know — this is my fortieth year programming or managing software developers. I came from a steel town and I went to school in an auto state. It’s also important to remember that things don’t stay the same — both of those industries were leading edge sources of great jobs in their day, and both are basically gone (or faint shadows of their former selves). Especially not these days. Learning to work hard, learning to get along with people, humility, continuous sharpening of skills including more learning in and out of your field… these are all the critical things that are more important foundations than any particular skill.

    (IT is growing at its slowest rate ever, and likely to separate out with a small number of service workers, and a larger proportion of people developing new programs. And, it’s totally conceivable that AI could be applied to programming. So, best not to get comfortable,now or ever…)

    Teach your kids to be flexible, ambitious, but pragmatic. You have to be living in a world that is very fat to really make “pursuing your dreams” a realistic possibility. The US was that world for the century 1870-1970. It’s not any longer, and unlikely to ever see it again. That’s not tragic but telling kids they can “do whatever they want” or they should “find their passion” isn’t helpful. You can tell them the ceiling is only as low as their ambitions, but make sure they know that nothing comes for free.

  • Tatiana June 6, 2016, 9:15 am

    I have something to share regarding the work hard, get good grades, and go to a good college mindset as well.

    Expensive colleges are the riskiest investment ever. I know for some it pans out nicely when they are smart about money and know what their true passion is.

    However…let’s not all forget all of this is gauged on the future hopes and desires of an 18 YEAR OLD FRESH OUT OF HIGH SCHOOL.

    I’d say about 75% of my friends ended up with careers that nothing to do with their big college majors. I watched so many go to school after school changing majors as they went, money flying everywhere. Parents never saying no because, hey they are getting an education, right?

    A stunning number went all the way through, have the debt to show it and chose jobs that had nothing to do with their degree.

    The biggest head scratcher for me was that some spent 4 to 6 years in school and ended up with jobs they could have had if they had just started at the bottom and worked their way up out of high school. AND without all the debt! Getting paid to learn? How novel.:)

    From what I am seeing and reading more and more employers are looking for experience over a degree in many fields.

    But of course there are some who will graduate pay off and be happy with the career they chose. I just don’t know if I want to take that gamble with my kids so I very much agree with the perspective in this article.

  • Jay Walker June 9, 2016, 11:05 am

    Keeping up with the Jones’s kids is exactly what we are doing in Middle Class America when we try to expose our kids to all the activities that are now available through school, church, sports, and travel.
    I wish MMM would write and article focusing on the HIDDEN TIME AND EXPENSE associated with extracaricular youth activities. I am going make an effort not to “Keep up with the Jones’s Kids” anymore (while guarding against Parental Guilt). I wish I had heard this phrase before mine were almost grown!!

  • Scott June 23, 2016, 8:53 pm

    I have to disagree with the computer thing a little. While everyone needs basic skills, I don’t think high end skills are necessary for someone taking a non computer route. At my employer, there are a vast array of jobs folks hold; the tech dept is just another dept, just like all the rest. The tech pay is right in line with the other departments’ pay as well. They don’t command an extra premium for being tech folks. Just do what you want to do and enjoy life.

  • Jfig August 3, 2016, 4:30 pm

    That Atlantic article is profoundly sad. Not because he struggles financially, but because even after his “confession” it is painfully clear that the writer still does not understand that it is not “income inequality” or “stagnant wages” that are his problem. The real problem is he refuses to accept the reality of his financial situation. He claims that he over spent on his children because he was afraid of them missing out on opportunities, but fails to acknowledges that he was lavishing money on them because their scholastic accomplishments feed his own sense of self worth. Sot that when he is wife talk to their friends and family they can brag about their daughter at Stanford.

    I think this writer is the clearest example of the kind of delusional thinking that MMM is trying to address.

    There is nothing wrong with sending your child to public schools. My mother was a teachers aide at a prominent private catholic school and she always pointed out that the teachers were no better educated (or better paid) than public school teachers. The big difference was that the private school required parental involvement. If you take an active part in your child’s education it does not matter whether they are taught by Harvard PHDs or Junior College graduates. Again another example of people blaming “the system” rather than acknowledging their failures.

  • Science professor August 8, 2016, 10:49 am

    Just a small, belated point of fact of which I sadly think too few people are aware: Many of the really selective, private universities offer extraordinarily generous financial aid. At Princeton and Harvard, for instance, students who cannot afford tuition get grants–not loans. They do not graduate with debt. Many universities with big endowments are competing to attract students from “disadvantaged” (bottom 90%?) backgrounds. My husband and I are alumni of these schools, and it makes me sad when people assume it takes a lot of money to get there. It takes way less than most private universities and many public ones. My husband went to a not-amazing public high school and then Harvard. I took the stereotypical route mentioned here, attending an extremely expensive private school (where I burnt out) and then Pton, but plenty of my classmates were from public schools.

    FWIW, many law schools are the same–Yale Law offers extremely generous loan repayment if you end up drawing a small salary.

  • Sally December 30, 2016, 4:34 pm

    I agree. My parents are this way, even if they’re comfortably wealthy (millionaire next door type), but they never cater their children to buy/consume/use “stuffs”

    They don’t mind to pay for something as long as they can afford it (even if it’s a little bit expensive), IF that means I learn new skills/repairing/producing something/education, (ex : arduino, a set of wrench, drills, etc. They’re very diy-minded and will only pay someone if the job is very labor intensive/business situations).

    In contrary, if their children want “stuffs” (things only bought for consumed/used beyond basic necessities), even if
    it’s not that expensive, they ALMOST never buy us. Even as a child, I know that all of my toys always intended to stimulate me to learn, make, or be creative and active about something, not just using it (lego, diy small toys, books, cooking, early computer and internet, etc)

  • Jeremy January 30, 2017, 12:23 pm

    “Only if you understand the designer, can you truly understand the technology they invent.”

    As a creationist, I agree!

  • Mark March 8, 2017, 3:42 am

    What about people who hate coding and programming?

  • Maria August 21, 2017, 10:48 am

    What advice do you have for someone whose mother did work hard to help with school and study? What can you do to repay them? My mother was very frugal when we grew up in order to enable us to go to a good school and university. The downside was that she put a lot of pressure on us (not on purpose) to get good grades and a good job. Since we always had less money than other people I did not realize at the time how lucky I was that she provided for us. She is now enjoying a good life (not frugal, but not wasting money either) but I feel bad that my mother is still working all the time while I will probably be able to retire early if I keep on going this way (I have been working so much however, that I have not been able to have a family of my own). She, however, feels bad that I am frugal and sometimes stressed about money and not always able to enjoy life – which is in my system from watching her while growing up – so she still gives me money sometimes, especially when she gives my sister money. My sister indeeds needs the money because she is less frugal (not wasting any money either) and her job pays less. I feel like I am becoming an outsider in my own family because being so frugal and seeing them spend money with less stress or overthinking makes me feel ‘poorer’ while knowing that I have more money growing in investments and on my bank account makes me feel richer. What is the mustachian way in accepting money from family members and giving money to (or repaying) family members?

  • higginst October 11, 2019, 12:22 pm

    I’m thinking of upgrading our household’s computer situation. Currently have a bottom of the line Acer laptop that has basically nothing on it, but has been slow as molasses since day one of the box.

    I have an 11 yo and a 6 yo. What’s your recommendation for computer purchase that will give them the ticket? Why?

  • Tyler April 1, 2020, 3:24 pm

    I grew up with dial up and never felt limited in learning whatever I wanted to in regards to a computer.

    If anything I’d say the faster the internet, the more likely you are to waste time because the only things that really require super fast internet is video and downloading large games. Nothing wrong with entertainment consumed sparingly of course, but they’re obviously not as educational as just messing around with the computer.

    I remember downloading programs like 3DS Max and Photoshop back in the day on dialup and it taking like three days to complete. If I had got them instantly, I might not have appreciated them as much. But I was so excited when they were finally done and since I didn’t want to wait forever for new programs to download, I spent a lot of time learning each one that I got.

    And of course learning to code and coding takes hardly any internet at all unless you’re dealing with websites with larger-sized graphics (which you could still compress if your internet is bad). Still, the graphics are largely irrelevant to the core functionality of the website.


Leave a Reply

To keep things non-promotional, please use a real name or nickname
(not Blogger @ My Blog Name)

The most useful comments are those written with the goal of learning from or helping out other readers – after reading the whole article and all the earlier comments. Complaints and insults generally won’t make the cut here, but by all means write them on your own blog!


welcome new readers

Take a look around. If you think you are hardcore enough to handle Maximum Mustache, feel free to start at the first article and read your way up to the present using the links at the bottom of each article.

For more casual sampling, have a look at this complete list of all posts since the beginning of time or download the mobile app. Go ahead and click on any titles that intrigue you, and I hope to see you around here more often.

Love, Mr. Money Mustache

latest tweets