The Twenty Dollar Swim

Gratuitous mid-lake selfie from yet another day of nearly-zero-dollar “motor”boating, earlier this week.

It was mid July, and I had just finished a sweaty run on the trails which criscross my older sister’s farm in Canada. I was overheated and heading straight for their swimming pool when she saw me walking across the lawn.

“Oh yeah, please do use the pool! You’ll help get my cost per use down because it’s still way up there in crazy territory”, she joked.

Moments like these are why I love being part of this family. The self-deprecating Spock-like humour where we can make fun of our own flaws and indulgences, while simultaneously enjoying them just as much.

But it also sparked an interesting conversation, because I knew they had been running this pool since the early 2000s, raised their two now-adult water loving boys in the house, and hosted gatherings for family and friends throughout every summer. And it wasn’t an exorbitant pool. Surely this was one of the more affordable indulgences, right?

“Has the cost per swim really been that high?”, I asked.

“Every jump into that pool has cost almost twenty bucks, if you average it out.” she replied.

“Wow, how could that be true?!” I mused.

So I did some rough calculations like those you see in the box below, which you can totally skip right over* if you just want the final answer.

The pool originally cost $30,000

But that money could have been invested instead, which would have compounded at 7% for these 18 years.

$30k compounded at 7% (30×1.07^18) is an amazing $101,300!

Electricity at 10 kwh/day x $0.20 at for 100 days per season is $200 per season or $3600 total
Chlorine and other chemicals: $600 per season add to $10,800
Maintenance like vacuums, nets, a new liner: $800 per season $14,400

We’re already at $130,000

Not even counting the hundreds of hours that went into scooping out bugs, spiders, mice, and even raccoons, and potentially higher home insurance premiums and water bills (in my region a 25,000 gallon pool costs $125 in water to fill – once!)

And how many swims were enjoyed in the pool? If every family member swam every day for every season, you’d still only end up at 18 years x 100 days x 4 people = 7200 swims.

$130 grand divided by 7200 is $18.oo


So the final number is about 18 bucks per person per swim, just as my sister claimed.

Looking forward to a refreshing dip with Mom and Dad and the kids? That’s $72 bucks that you ended up burning, by the time all the chips fell.

I know this is a strange way to think about a swimming pool. But this is a Mr. Money Mustache article, and this site is all about different ways to think about your life decisions.

Most people just say something like, “Well, we’ve already got it so we might as well enjoy it, right?”

The problem is that they also apply this to other purchases, even those they haven’t made yet. The richer our tastes become, the more likely we are to buy ourselves little upgrades “just because it would be nice”, or “just in case”,  or because Joe Jones next door or a magazine article mentioned the idea.

“Okay Mr. Money Mustache, What Are You Taking Away From Me This Time?”

Don’t worry, I’m not necessarily going to strip you of your dreams of that swimming pool, or anything else. But I do want you to start thinking about these costs in a much more visceral and explicit way, so you can really make sure you are not fooling yourself. For example, let’s step through a few more common blunders. Note that these are real numbers that I can back up with a spreadsheet, but I’m just presenting the end results here so as to keep you awake:

  • “We had a great time visiting the Smiths in their ski house last weekend – LET’S GET ONE OURSELVES!” – sure, as long as you are ready to devote your financial life to the activity and the activity is worth $890.00 per night you actually spend there. But if this number sounds like anything other than chump change, you and your friends might want to just share an Airbnb for your ski weekends, or even better, take up local mountain biking instead of far-away skiing.
  • “I like these two houses equally, but one of them has a much bigger yard which is better for Junior to play in. They’re the same price and the bigger yard is just ten miles down the road!” – okay, but make sure that Junior’s time in the extra yard space is worth $150 per hour.
  • “I’m thinking of springing for the $9000 long-range battery in my upcoming Tesla Model 3 order” – this one strikes straight at my own heart, because I crave a long range Model 3 myself. But even for a serious roadtripper, this works out to $125 per hour of charging time that you manage to avoid. Aren’t you willing to take a few minutes occasionally to walk around and admire your beautiful car if you get paid $125 per hour after tax for it? If you are, standard range will do.
  • “I live in an area with snowy winters, so I need all-wheel-drive” since we already learned that all-wheel-drive does not make you safer, the only time it actually helps you is when it prevents you from being stuck. But this could work out to between $50 and $500 per time the AWD actually gets you out of a bind. Aren’t you willing to shovel your driveway a bit more thoroughly (or work from home on the worst days) for $500 a pop?
  • “We’d love to have an extra bedroom as a way of accommodating Grandma’s Annual Visit” Sure, but if you spend $90,000 extra on a slightly larger house and use that guest room 20 nights per year, it’s about $210 per night that you use it. 
  • “I live in Chicago and we just love to spend weekends on the Boat.” Even if you go all-in and give up all your weekend activities on the land to maximize your time down at the marina, those nights in that little wedge-shaped cabin bed will average out to about $500 per night. Or more if you opt for a bigger boat or more time with the motor on.
  • “We love to explore and be free for a few months each year, so we’re getting an RV and towing the car…” But a three month, 15,000 mile RV trip works out to about $200 per night that you sleep in that vehicle – why not pick up a fairly new Prius and a good tent and hit the road, and treat yourself to beautiful rental accommodation whenever you want it along the way?

We could go on and on with these examples, but the real thing to understand is that making commitments usually comes with a bigger cost than you expect. There are a shitload of dollars at stake, but also a substantial portion of your focus and mental energy which will go into furnishing, maintaining, insuring, and cleaning these pleasant weekend distractions.

“But How Can I do It Better While Keeping My Life Fun?”

As a Mustachian, you have way more options open to you than you realize. But to take advantage of them, you need to stop doing what other people are doing, and live differently.

At the most frugal level, you can just cut yourself off cold turkey. From now on, just start doing all leisure within biking distance of home, and preparing all of your own food – no exceptions. You can still organize and host parties, however.

If you’re in a stressful debt situation right now and want to be out of it, you should just do this right now as a mental reset and watch the incredible results on your wealth. Most people who hit this reset button end up between $20,000 and $100,000 further ahead within just the first year, with many happy stories to share about it, so if you’re in need of a quick life boost, do this instead of dilly-dallying around with my rich person suggestions below.

But if you’re a debt free person with higher income and just want to accelerate your path to financial freedom, you can still dabble in the spendier life and keep up with your peers, by simply shuffling the luxury deck a little bit differently. A few principles that can still cut your budget by 75%:

  • Prioritize the healthy stuff first: It’s the weekend and you are ready to celebrate. But first, what’s on your to-do list? Are you fully caught up on your workouts, grocery shopping, and various nonsense with the incoming mail? If not, budget a full day for that rather than packing up the car for a road trip. How’s your yard looking? Have you fixed that door that doesn’t latch correctly? And OH YEAH let’s do one giant batch of your favorite dish and freeze it in portions so you’ll have easy lunches and dinners for many days to come. Well, look at that, your whole weekend is booked after all and you’ll feel better for it.
  • Muscle over Motor: If you like being on the slopes, learn to mountain bike. If you like being on the water, try a big, cushy sea kayak complete with cupholders for your sunrise coffee or sunset beer. Invite your fit and funloving friends and start exploring waterways everywhere. Or if you want a night out on the town, choose somewhere close and grab your bike rather than somewhere far and looking for your car keys or your Uber app.
  • Rent Instead of Buying: With Airbnb or even plain old hotels, you can still have weekend getaways when you truly deserve and can afford them, and yet the cost per use is much lower. The numbers will still look big, and that’s a good thing because you will be reminded that it is always expensive to leave your already-perfectly-good-home and go out to do even fancier things. When you’re living large, it’s best to joyfully acknowledge it rather than pretending it’s normal.
  • Make Special Arrangements: If you like cottages, make yourself useful to a friend who owns a cottage, by always being the one to bring the food or the wine, or donating your time to help with the maintenance or renovations. I helped build a cottage for my inlaws in Canada a few years back, and have enjoyed the fruits of our combined labor ever since – at no cost to the MMM family. Similarly, if you like boats, volunteer as part of the crew on a real yacht. If you like houses, specialize in building or renovating them, or hosting paying guests in the unused portions. If you like cars, become a car expert rather than just a car consumer.

The Final Word:

If you’re already eating and sleeping well, chances are that you already have all the basic ingredients for a happy life.  So as you go on to start adding some spices to the dish as all of us do, just be sure you look at the price tag. The advantage you’ll gain will last a lifetime.

Epilogue: Just this year, after her boys had grown up and flown from the nest and all the fun had been had, my sister filled in the pool and is in the process of replacing it with trees , a super-cool natural pond, and other landscaping instead. A bold move that few people would be rational enough to take – live long and prosper, Sister.

Extra Credit: Here are a few of the cost-per-use calculations I made for this article. Share some of your own in the comments!

Mountain house: $24,000 per year mortgage and/or capital cost, furnishings, utilities and maintenance divided by 30 nights per year. Plus $90 in car costs per roundtrip drive for a weekend.

Bigger yard: 1 hour per week of activities that really could not have been done in a smaller yard or an outdoor park, compared to 100 miles of extra driving ($50) and 3.5 hours of your time ($100) spent doing that driving.

Tesla Battery Upgrade: The only time you use the longer range is on roadtrips over 230 miles. If you do a 600-mile trip once every month, you have to make two extra 30-minute charging stops per month. Figure the $9000 battery costs you about $1500 in extra capital cost and depreciation per year, or $125 per month. However, if you are a Tesla fan like me and you want the company to make more profit to continue their mission, you may still opt for the extra options since you have nothing better to do with that money anyway.

All wheel drive car: if the car costs $5000 more up-front plus an extra $200 per year in fuel and maintenance, you could estimate it as about $500 per year more expensive to own. Then, how many times do you truly get stuck in a front-wheel drive car with really good dedicated snow tires on winter rims? (because snow tires always come before buying AWD!)

Grandma’s bedroom: a $30k more expensive house might consume about 2% of that extra cost in maintenance and taxes annually ($300), plus 5% annually in financing/capital costs ($1800), for a total of $2100 per year. Strangely enough, this extra bedroom works out to be one of the cheaper indulgences in this list, especially if you can use that room as an office too, or rent it out occasionally.

Boat: It costs about $15,000 per year to own, dock, store, transport, maintain, depreciate, and fuel a 26-foot motorboat with a little sleeper cabin in the front. If you spend each of the sixteen weekends of Chicago’s warm seasons exclusively in the boat, you’ve still done only about 32 days there, which yields the surprisingly high cost of almost $500 per night.

RV: Even a relatively small $50,000 RV depreciates about $0.50 per mile and burns fuel and oil and tires at another fifty cents. And that’s before you even pay for supplies, maintenance and nightly parking fees! Large RV travel is even dumber, financially speaking – note that the fanciest tour-bus-sized RVs you see cost about $500,000! The physics are simply against you if you are trying to travel in your own personal rolling building. Although stationary living in a not-too-expensive RV or trailer can be a highly Mustachian choice.

* I let you skip that one just so you would keep reading and see my point. But now that you see it, hopefully you also see that you do need to look at the numbers in life and figure this stuff for yourself, because it’s a way bigger deal than you might think!

  • Angie July 26, 2018, 11:33 am

    Love this!! I think the problem though is that few people are aware as your sister to understand the cost per use. I’ve tried to explain similar concepts to friends/family and they just tell me they don’t have the same math brain I do. If only these things were sold with a ‘Per Use’ price similar to a ‘Per Ounce’ price at the grocery store. I think pools in my city are especially silly since we have 2 *free city pools. Similar to expensive gym memberships; are you really getting enough out of your $150 per month membership versus getting a squat rack yourself. It’s all these somewhat trivial decisions that end up snowballing into early retirement.

    *By free I mean I already pay for it with my property taxes so I might as well enjoy it! Same attitude I have towards city parks; trails; libraries etc

    • HeadedWest July 27, 2018, 12:13 pm

      You can do one or two of these things without going overboard. The local YMCA doubles as an incredibly cheap daycare provider, and being in a room with super fit people is a great motivator to get fit myself. In my case its a net positive.

  • LivelyFL July 26, 2018, 11:43 am

    We live in Florida and have a beautiful pool. When I hear of someone thinking they want to put an inground pool in their at their home, my reply is always the same, “If I could lift my pool out of the ground, I would give it to you for free.”

  • Nathan July 26, 2018, 12:52 pm

    How did the pool example not make it into the “Rent Instead of Buying” point? I understand that the connection can be made, but it’s SUCH a difference.

    For several years, we bought a pool membership at a local campground for a family of 5 for less than $300 for the whole season. Even if we only went every other day (it was more than that), and even if the kids swam and the parents read a book, actual pool use came in around $2/person.

    Over the years, the campground raised their prices, and our kids cared more about seeing their friends at the pool, so we finally joined the fancy-schmancy country club pool (chortle, sniff, sniff). $450 for the full season for two years, then $600, so our cost might be as high as $3 per use and could rise to $4.

    Still nowhere near the cost (in just $$, to say nothing of time) of owning our own pool, and our kids get to see their friends over the summer without having to schedule “playdates”.

    I never want to own a pool. I would consider a pool as a huge point against a house, and if I were to consider buying a house with one, I would want the price to reflect the cost I will incur filling it with dirt and putting a nice garden or something there.

  • Lance July 26, 2018, 1:39 pm

    MMM, wasn’t a backyard pool an integral feature of the best summer of your life (’92)? What monetary value would you place on that? I get that people often overestimate the pleasure they will receive from a major purchase, but there are also value considerations beyond reducing everything to dollars and cents. That said, it’s a good rule of thumb for those on the determined path to FI.

    • Mr. Money Mustache July 26, 2018, 3:02 pm

      Yup, my parents’ brief period of feeling flush and spendy in 1987 was definitely a positive factor in my summer of 1992. In this case, they sacrificed their own financial wellbeing for that of their kids. However, the pool was just one little part of the backyard experience – the firepit was free and even more fun happened back there. A big outdoor hot-tub would have been cheaper and offered more fun than the pool. Allocating the pool money towards other things could have possibly boosted our childhoods even more.

      The point isn’t that a pool is always the wrong decision. It’s just that every big spending decision should be made in context, which I believe DOES benefit from breaking stuff down to dollars and cents.

  • Grin and Barrett July 26, 2018, 1:48 pm

    Love all the articles! I am a new reader – stuck back in 2012 somewhere in the blog, but this post caught my eye. I had a pool with a house here once in SC – it was lovely for the 6 of us (4 kids, 2 parents), but a huge maintenance hassle and expensive. I traded the pool and the house for a home within walking distance of the local pool, but the price per year to be a member is about the same as the operating costs of the pool at the old house. So now I am thinking of not buying a membership (useful from April – November here), but paying per visit. I think I will break even (about $15-35 per visit, at $5 per person, 7 in the family now) as we go almost daily in the summer, but I am hoping that the pain from the daily cash outlay keeps our visit count lower simply because it will appear to “hurt more”, as opposed to considering the swim “free” because we already paid for it, and now need to play catch up and use what we paid for.

    Here’s to a life of frugality, headed toward independence! Keep up the good work!

  • Mark Baldridge July 26, 2018, 1:56 pm

    My home-built airplane will come to around $35/hr to operate, and $50/hr if you consider build cost after 1,000 hours of flying. As a mustachian family with FIRE goals, I think frequently about the apparent conflict between saving and my aviation passion.

    The only claim to sanity I have is that I am very conscious of these costs, and I’m trying to not let the spending overflow into every category of life. In order to achieve FIRE AND enjoy aviation, we must drive 10 year old cars and buy smaller houses, bike to work, and live in cheap Midwestern towns.

    And if I AM going to pursue aviation, home building is the cheapest way (if you enjoy the time spent building) because you can repair and maintain the aircraft yourself.

    (Yes, I have considered a career in aviation, but the cost of training is much higher before you can start making almost ANY money. Becoming an engineer and home building on the side has seemed more reasonable to me.)

  • Jessica July 26, 2018, 8:50 pm

    Today, I paid the deposit on a direct vent gas fireplace for the condo we have purchased that’s currently being constructed. The idea of cost-per-use has been on my mind as the fireplace ended up costing more than we’d expected (not including framing, installation, plus stone or tile or whatever we opt to use for the surround and eventual usage costs).

    The only redeeming factor is that we live in Michigan, where cold days far outnumber warm days, and on a less practical note, I believe it will make for a more comfortable living area during the dark winter days.

    It was because of this cost per use mentality that we also purchased the fan option, a relatively small price increase, to hopefully make the purchase as functional as possible.

    Making comfort-driven decisions like this is just a bit more palatable when viewed and evaluated through the realistic lens of cost per use … before the investment is made.

  • JD Martin July 26, 2018, 10:28 pm

    Let me preface these comments with two things:
    1. I love the site, and Mr. Money Mustache in general. I think he’s doing a great service to the country.
    2. I don’t disagree with the basic premise of doing a cost/benefit analysis before purchases, especially big ones.

    That said, I think some liberties are taken trying to make the point that don’t need to be invoked. First off, judging the cost of the pool should really be done on an hourly basis of enjoyment, maybe offset by hourly misery cleaning the pool, etc. Costing it out “per swim” is unfair compared to other options. For example, let’s say a guy has $1,000 worth of mountain bike and he goes biking 4 hours every weekend, versus the family of 4 with the $30,000 pool that spends 8 hours each weekend swimming and lounging, and let’s say this goes on for 10 weekends a year. The first guy is spending $25/hour for his biking, while the family of 4 is spending $93.75/hour for pool privileges. Still a big difference, but not the disaster that is implied. And the ancillary costs of the alternatives are ignored as well – maybe you have to spend 1 hour walking to get to the pool, or (even worse here) have to drive there. What’s an hour of your time worth?

    Second, you could make this same argument for virtually everything you do. Drink a beer instead of water? Do a CBA. Buy a house instead of living for free in a tent? Do a CBA. Virtually everything that we do and consume is a luxury, since at its essence a person could live a complete vow of poverty and require virtually no money whatsoever. At the end of the day, who is to say what represents value to each of us except ourselves? Something doesn’t get to be valuable just because MMM says so – it’s up to each of us to determine if the trade of hours for product/service is worthwhile. There is a tendency on this site for people to act sanctimonious towards others who have made alternate choices than themselves. I wonder if MMM’s sister wishes she had no memories of her boys swimming in their pool and having fun as a family? Sure, you might say they could have had an alternate experience, but that is true of everything in life.

    Anyways, keep up the good fight MMM. Most people don’t think of these things at all, and for that I think you’re performing a very valuable service.

    • Mr. Money Mustache July 27, 2018, 9:54 am

      Yup, you got it JD – I really do think people should have a little Cost Benefit Analyzer running in the back of their heads at all times, during the earlier years of life when they could benefit from a more solid financial standing.

      Now the good news is that many, many times your analysis will come up as a YES. You don’t have to be monk-like, or even all that badass with your spending, to end up wealthy enough to retire while you’re still quite young. You just have to be slightly less ridiculous than average – and that’s why I use that phrase so much.

      • JD Martin July 30, 2018, 11:57 am

        Agreed 100%. At the beginning of life is when people *really* need to run their CBA on just about everything, because missteps here are going to be magnified. Paradoxically, that is the time in life when most people are misinformed, willfully ignorant, or ten feet tall and bulletproof, and don’t realize the importance of considering those purchases before making them. No question I would take back dozens, maybe hundreds, of my purchases over time if I could get in a time machine and travel back 20 years!

  • Chris July 26, 2018, 11:39 pm

    Although I’m familiar with the notion of cost per use (particularly with regard to clothing), it never occurred to me I apply it to everything I buy with the intention of keeping. I’m now looking around at my collection of bikes – including old faithful build up from a £10 frame and spare parts that’s ridden a couple of times a week to my £300 recumbent that’s been ridden only 4 times. Similarly, entries in my DVD & Blu-ray collection are also looking highly variable in terms of cost per use.

    The article also stopped me buying a new secondhand 4K projector until I get the cost per use of my current one down a bit. Currently at roughly £5 per film viewing. Still cheaper than the cinema but…

  • Siebrie July 27, 2018, 5:34 am

    I did a similar topsy-turvy calculation for transportation when I started working after graduation. I kept track of all my transport related expenses to see if a buying car would be a good option. Small disclaimer: my city and country have great public transport, for which I had a discount card and I owned a bicycle.

    The discount card, the public transport trips, the occasional taxi, a new pair of walking shoes, rain gear, and the bicycle maintenance (including the rare fine) came to €350/year; a secondhand Fiat Panda was estimated to cost €50/month just to stand still (depreciation, insurance, tax) which comes to €600/year.

    It was a long time before the car made sense; in fact, not until we moved abroad 10 years later and had a baby in a city with less safe surroundings and a lesser public transport system.

  • The Bordeaux Kitchen July 27, 2018, 11:36 am

    Great article on making deliberate and well-informed choices in our purchases and lifestyle. Preparing all your food at home is a no-brainer for financial independence and better health. Especially if you learn a few kitchen skills like how to debone a chicken or filet a fish. And find a butcher or farmer who will give you, or sell you for nearly nothing, their unpopular, but highly nutritious, organ meats and fats. Just learn how to render the fats yourself (not difficult) and a few winning recipes for liver, etc and you’ll be eating richly for pennies! You’ll also be helping out small farmers by eating nose to tail.

  • Andrew July 27, 2018, 12:13 pm

    Welp, no way I can justify buying a Model X.

  • Brad July 28, 2018, 2:56 pm

    Great post. I’ve always had that damn boat itch. I also sometimes look at cabins in the woods and fancy RVs with some envy. To deal with these itches, I just do the math. What helps even more, is using business credit card points hacking to travel extensively. While others are cleaning, pumping out toilets, dealing with maintenance and eye popping 3 digit gas charges, we are checked out of our free hotel room and on to the next adventure. Boats, RVs and cabins also have a litany of related stuff that doesn’t play well into traveling with one duffel bag.

  • Colin July 28, 2018, 5:51 pm

    I’m happy to let the city of Philadelphia handle all my pool needs. They take the needed money out of my tax dollars, and in return I get a great place to swim seven days a week during the summer. It’s a two block walk from my house to one of the best pools in the city.

  • Camper July 29, 2018, 2:43 pm

    I know my RV is not cost effective. My cost per night is probably more than a hotel. But my memories camping with my kids are priceless. And because we own it, I feel the pressure to use it and I haven’t regretted a single moment. It gets me off my butt. We vacation in our RV about 3 weeks a year. I likely wouldn’t get out that often if I had to pay for a hotel or cabin every time. I consider myself to be pretty frugal but $$$$ aren’t the most important thing to me.

    • Mr. Money Mustache August 3, 2018, 11:25 am

      Sounds like a solid start to questioning yourself, Camper!

      As long as you have the money side balanced on the other side: what are your feelings towards working extra decades through your 40s and beyond, versus having the freedom to do whatever you like. If you love your work and/or have thought about this side of it, your decision may indeed be rational.

    • Married to a Swabian September 2, 2018, 6:24 am

      My wife son and I have always tent camped and had a great time doing it. That’s just how we grew up and our parents and grandparents did the same to get away and enjoy nature. Everyone has to figure out what works for them. For us, getting caught up on retirement savings, so that we can retire in about 6 years is a big priority….because THEN, we’ll have the luxury of TIME and be able to go hike in the mountains for as long as we like, without having to rush back into the rat race!

  • Stephanie P July 29, 2018, 5:17 pm

    Very interesting post and definitely something we should all consider with purchases we make. Everyone’s inputs however, will vary drastically based on their situation. I live 15 miles from the nearest hotel so that is something to consider when decided where my out of town guests will stay. I also have a truck. My husband hunts nearly every weekend from October thru February and needs it to access the spot he hunts, which are deep in the woods. Generally rental companies frown upon taking their vehicles off road. The benefit is fresh meat (I can’t remember the last time we purchased store bought meat) that is free range, grass-fed and with no growth hormones. I have calculated those costs which work out to about $5-$6 per pound which is pretty good to know exactly where our food comes from.

    With the comments and post about electric cars I began to consider the following:
    1) Is using electricity from the power grid (In my state of Virginia 44% of electricity is generated from natural gas, 18% from coal and 2% from oil) more efficient use less of fossil fuels than a gas powered cars? What is lost in producing electricity and then getting it to your house and into your vehicle. I am guessing it is more efficient, but have not been able to find any data on this.

    2) The cost of electricity would need to be considered in the cost of use and running an electric vehicle. How much electricity does it use to charge the battery?

    • Mr. Money Mustache August 3, 2018, 11:24 am

      Hi Stephanie – the quick answers to that are:
      – YES, you would still be burning a lot cleaner in an electric car, even with that power mix.
      – You might be able to check a box on your power bill to purchase cleaner electricity.
      – The electric car charger and battery are about 90% efficient in getting the energy into your car.
      – Thermal power plants like coal and gas are about 40% efficient, but they still beat gas engines which are only about 20% in standard cars, 30-35% in the best hybrids.
      – Electric cars burn about 3 cents of electricity per mile of driving, compared to 7 cents in a Prius and 30 cents in a bigger truck.

      The most important benefit to most people after switching, however, is that they are WAY more fun and peaceful to drive than gas cars :-)

  • Mark T July 29, 2018, 8:35 pm

    You have probably covered this in another comment, but Haven’t been able to find it:

    With your economic analysis of things like this pool, how do you discount the pleasure component?

    For example, you have attributed the cost for the family swim in the below:

    “Looking forward to a refreshing dip with Mom and Dad and the kids? That’s $72 bucks that you ended up burning, by the time all the chips fell.”

    That takes into account the financial cost, however wouldn’t it reward with some pleasure? Not necessarily the whole $72 bucks, but you would think that there would be some benefit to it – bonding of family time, memories, improvements in mental health, etc that should be included in the cost? I know there are other things that can be done as a family that bring these results, but this is the one they chose.

    Not trying to give you grief over it, I’m just interested in how you account for this in your analysis. For example, we bought a new house 2 years or so ago, and almost EVERY house in the area had a pool – we did the numbers financially, weighed that up against the pleasure we would get out of it, and determined that it didn’t work – not enough pleasure for the financial cost.

    • Mr. Money Mustache August 3, 2018, 11:18 am

      That part is pretty easy: Once I arrive at a guess of the financial cost, I just ask myself: “Would I pay 72 bucks for a swim tonight?”

      When I was a 25-year-old just diving into my first house and trying to renovate it and save for an early retirement, the answer to this type of question would usually be No – I would prioritize entertainment that cost less than 20 bucks, most of the time (although I still went snowboarding occasionally at more than $100 per time, I didn’t do it every weekend).

      Nowadays, with saving all done and no use for extra money (aside for charity, which I need to remind myself is indeed probably even more important than my own pampering) – I do say Yes to blowing $100 a bit more often.

  • Michelle July 30, 2018, 8:39 am

    In general I’m with you, but your assumptions for your larger yard scenario are WAY off. Only one hour in a whole week doing things in the larger yard space? We moved rental houses a few months ago, and went from a rural place with a very big yard with lots of variety to the landscape to a suburban lot with a nice, decent-sized yard. My kids still like to play outside and have built a fort and planted a garden and learned to ride bikes and roller blades, but they probably spent about two hours more per day playing outdoors when they had room to roam and a much more varied landscape with mature trees, a hillside, and a tiny creek. That’s $150/14= $10.71 per hour, if you have an only. For my family with four kids, it comes to $2.68 per hour of outdoor play.

  • Jeff fielhauer July 30, 2018, 9:28 am

    We bought a vacation house in the mountains of North Carolina. In our first year it’s coming close to paying for itself using AirBnB. Next year we should be breaking even.

  • ejhw July 30, 2018, 11:54 am

    My husband and I run everything thru the ‘MMM filter’ before buying it. Potentially considering a ModPool in our future life. This blog post came at a great time – curious your thoughts on those storage container sized options?


    Thank you for encouraging a different way of thinking.

  • Dividend Nomad July 30, 2018, 12:31 pm

    This is where Air “Anything you own” would probably be useful, as a societywe think too much about our property as personal rather than making itaccessible for public or business use. Sites like Getaround.com etc already exists for cars, just needs to be extended out to anything you own that someone might want to use temporarily.

    If the website was there MMM’s sister could have put the pool out for rent for birthdays, weddings, bar mitzvah’s to pay it’s way and improve the math. Just needed to probably be ok with the occasional drain in the event of a fecal event etc. Same with the kayak if she lives by a river frequented by tourists, it too could be rented out all summer to pay its way.

    Our own deal is furniture. When we leave the UK in a couple of months we have accumulated a few items of furniture that we would prefer to rent out than sell on and re-buy in the event we return. Anyone new to this area with no furniture could rent it for a time period until they got themselves settled. Air “furniture”.com to facilitate and store it between rentals would help.

  • Oedge July 30, 2018, 3:48 pm

    This post reminds me of that old advert
    Pool chemicals $150
    Additional power usage $400
    Being able to skinny dip in the convenience and privacy of my own backyard whenever I want … priceless.
    There are some things money can’t buy
    Never forget to reap your own personal pleasures from your frugal lifestyle.

  • Cyrus July 31, 2018, 1:13 pm

    These calculations are misleading as they are not taking into account the depreciation schedule for resale. A $20K RV does not depreciate to zero dollars after you are done using it after X years.

    I bought an RV for $18K all in, used it for 3 years, and resold it for $14K. My use per day is based on $4K not $18K. Granted you still need to take into account opportunity cost, but the starting point is different.

  • Andrew Ulvestad July 31, 2018, 9:52 pm

    I prefer to think of it in terms of $/hr of fun, not $/use. After all, you’re going to do something. If they consistently swim for 4-5 hours (granted, probably unlikely) then it works out to 4-5$/hr, which is pretty good for doing something fun.

  • Jamie August 1, 2018, 10:49 am

    I made a Pool Cost Calculator:

    • Mr. Money Mustache August 3, 2018, 10:51 am

      Cool James! Note that I think your electricity portion of the formula is wrong – I’d suggest at least 1800 days of operation, your formula seems to cover only a single year (100 days).

  • Popcorn Sally August 1, 2018, 3:42 pm

    We moved to AZ from cooler places 12 years ago. Me and spouse both wanted a pool (but never considered fact that neither were very into swimming) so we bought a house where the small/medium pool consumed 2/3 of our back yard. One or two years in, I got sick of battling algae without hardcore chemicals, sick of replacing broken equipment, sick of worrying about the damn thing. It was getting to the point it needed some refurbishing, plus we had almost no space to do anything else in our 30×50 foot back yard (like gardening which I’ve always loved).

    We paid probably 1/3 the original cost of the pool to have it filled in. I’ve taken criticism from people who say they’d kill to have a pool. Or people who say it will hurt the value of our house when/if we can ever sell it (bought at near height of the market and values plummeted and never recovered in this area).

    I haven’t missed the pool for even one minute. I love not worrying about keeping it usable every day of the year even though we actually got in it maybe four times each summer. It’s nice to have a vegetable garden and more space in general. I will never ever ever buy a house with a pool again. I don’t value swimming that much and fooled myself into thinking I would spontaneously become a person who did if I owned a pool. Expensive mistake #4,351.

  • Virg August 1, 2018, 7:38 pm

    I think you’re all missing the real point when it comes to pools, public or private. They’re basically toilets you swim in. Chemists in the UK verified this by testing urea levels in several public pools. The average public pool had about 75 liters of urine “released” into it over a three week period. Yay.

  • Mark August 2, 2018, 3:48 am

    You’re getting soft, Mustache. A few years ago you would’ve beaten anyone with a pool over the head with a calculator, called them a pool clown and thrown in a few expletives and plenty of exclamation points just for fun.

    As you have mentioned before, though, this country is awash in money. It is everywhere, but to keep it near you takes careful thinking through of what is really valuable to you and how much those things will actually cost you, now and in the future. Money goes where it is treated well.

  • Car Jack August 2, 2018, 8:17 am

    100 days of use per year of a pool in Canada. LOL Friends of mine, here in New England get 30 if they’re in it every sunny summer day. So I’d guess it’s costing them $60 per swim. One of my co-workers just demolished his in ground pool that was with the house when they bought it. The town requires that it be completely removed, not buried, so removal of the gunite, of all the plumbing, everything. Cost to remove? $20k.

  • michael August 3, 2018, 8:33 am

    I live about 0.5 miles from Lake Michigan, and go swimming there a couple times per week for from May to October (I love cold water swimming). I also just like the ambiance of being by the water & the lake front trails. I think it ends up being about a $30/sq. ft. premium over relatively comparable neighborhoods that are not by the lake. So about 45K for my house. Assuming that could be invested at 7%, it’s about about a 3.1K/yr spurge. Is that how you would look at it?

  • Emma August 3, 2018, 12:25 pm

    How would the calculations differ if you were getting a pool for health reasons? My mother has lymphedema and was advised that the best treatment (there’s no cure, only management) is exercise in the water (she got knee replacements which did not heal properly so weight bearing exercises are painful). Last year she got a very small endless pool (it runs on electric motors and is cleaned with this oxygen thing instead of chlorine). She runs it on solar power (because that’s the source of her electricity) and she deducted it as a durable medical device on her taxes. The alternative (as she lives in a rural area) was driving 60 km roundtrip (in a fuel efficient fiat) to the public pool. She thinks she is saving money this way. And,while maybe she isn’t, how does one factor in health outcomes that may not be so easy to price?

    • Mr. Money Mustache August 3, 2018, 2:57 pm

      I would agree that almost anything is cheaper than driving 60km roundtrip each day – not even counting the mental and emotional stress of such a commute!

      I wish your Mom the best in her treatment.

  • Simon August 4, 2018, 7:58 am

    Love doing the Cost Per Use analysis for family entertainment. For example we just went for our annual waterside camping trip. Admission is $100 for the three of us. 9 hours of fun, equals about $3/hour. Since nothing is more fun than watersliding, that’s my baseline by which we compare other activities. Go-karting for $200/hour? No thanks. Swimming at the lake or ocean for free? Yes, good deal. Hiking for free from our door? Yup. Geocaching? Yup. Taking a ferry, booking a hotel and buying tickets to a Canucks game for $350/hour? Never.

  • LAValley August 4, 2018, 11:36 am

    We bought a fixer upper house with a very large pool in 2011… so the pool was basically free, but needed an overhaul which cost $10k. New plumbing, new plaster, new pump. To build this size pool from scratch in our area would cost $40-$50k easy. I do all the maintenance myself using the wonderful TroubleFreePool method. Requires about 5
    -10 minutes of my time daily. We do use the pool regularly from April thru Early October. We live in the San Fernando valley and been in a 100 degree heatwave for over a month now. We project movies onto the house and night swim a lot of summer nights. Turn the AC off so we aren’t chilly when going back inside. I know I’m rationalizing the expense… but it’s also very pretty to look at and calming. . Water wise… a lawn would be much more wasteful. Oddly evaporation of pool water isn’t as big an issue as you would think. Anyway… since it came with the house and didn’t add a premium cause it needed work… our average swim cost starts much lower.

  • Jenn August 6, 2018, 8:47 am

    Way to put things to into perspective. I agree with you on most of it. As long as you go into the purchase knowing the costs, it’s ok. I was on the fence over buying a Travel Trail myself. After doing the calculations, realizing we’d be spending close to 2K a year for it while we are financing it, I realized we could stay in a couple fancy hotels for that price. But then I remembered, I’d rather be spending my nights around a campfire than in the finest hotel. It’s money we’ll spend to me!

  • Jessi August 8, 2018, 9:32 am

    This article made me feel better about my guest room. The $70-100 a night we pay for it, is less than a cost of a hotel, and I don’t inconvenience my family. Plus it’s hard to find small houses with garage space for a woodshop.

    It also makes me feel better for the $3 we have to pay every time we go to the community pool. I’m always baffled by my neighbors with pools. They are useable like 4 months of the year.

  • Financially Free, Pharm.D. August 8, 2018, 10:24 pm

    I can’t wait to read your blog post when you get your Model 3. It’s going to happen eventually right?! I wonder how many Mustachians are longing for a Tesla… I’m hoping my 2001 Honda Accord will hold out long enough until there is a Model 3 used market ha! Dibs on Missouri license plate VTSAX! :D

  • Latenightreader August 9, 2018, 2:42 pm

    Screw paying to swim in any pool when for most people, there are lots of stretches of open water nearby which aren’t besieged by alligators, where you can have a beautiful swim for free and often by yourself. With the added bonus of seeing the sort of wildlife that avoids chlorinated pools and built up areas.

    I’m a big fan of rent when you need it. We’ve a 2 bed apartment. No car (we are members of a car club for when we need it), no second home, no unnecessary sports equipment (we live in a small space and whilst I’d love a canoe, it is easy enough to rent one when I want to), nothing much beyond clothes and books.

  • Jessica Zeiler August 10, 2018, 5:57 am

    A bigger back yard assumes it’s more costly because it’s further away from town. But I was lucky to find a house with a large backyard that us conveniently located near a library/grocery store/park and trail. We got a broken lawn mower for free ( we fixed it up) and free hand me down toys from neighbors with older kids. So the only added cost is the extra landscaping supplies and gas for the mower

  • KT August 11, 2018, 10:45 pm

    What about the opportunity cost of the pool? That yard space could have been a productive garden, orchard, or provided shade or hobby space. Or it could have been the tank for an aquaponics garden and fishery.

    Other big crazy cost: personal aircraft. Have fun calculating that one. Good alternative: join a gliding club and your civil air patrol chapter.

  • Cathleen Hutchins August 14, 2018, 5:05 pm

    Luckily ,I live in Hawaii- where public pools are free all year round- and swimming lessons are, too! Of course there’s always the beach, and the very economically priced Y’s. I’ve never understood the lure of a pool (above ground or in ground). They cost a ton to maintain, and can leak. Especially if you are in Hawaii, and there are so many free options. Sure you won’t be swimming in someone else’s pee. Just in your own. But other than that, and maybe being able to skinny dip, the costs are huge. Plus you give up part of your yard. And here, that’s a premium. Instead, you could have a fruit tree provide summer or winter fruit, and shade, that reduces electricity bills (extra shade means you need less or no AC). A vegetable garden can provide food for the table, and a hobby to keep you occupied. These are the residual things you give up for the pool. Not only that, but the storage of the chemicals, the weekly chemical testing, and the occasional wildlife that decide to use your pool….are not attractive to me. Let mother nature provide me my swimming spots- or I go without, as I did when I was in Texas and DC (or just find a low-priced gym that had a pool. I also hate cold water, so in the winter, I didn’t swim in the indoor pool, any way).

  • RLH August 16, 2018, 7:16 am

    One caveat for the battery / tech minded involving the Tesla (or any other EV) battery upgrade:

    Getting the upgrade will make your battery pack as a whole last much longer (lifespan before degredation and replacement) if you use it correctly. This goes for any lithium battery, but doesn’t apply to lead-acid or NMH chemistries.

    The lithium battery chemistry LOVES to be used in the capacity range of 30% – 80%. This middle range of the battery capacity is so gentil on the chemistry (avoiding extremes in either direction 0% or 100% charged prevents some of the artifacts and defects from occurring, like cathode / anode degredation that builds up over time) that you can 2x – 5x the useful lifespan of a pack.

    In general an EV’s battery may need to be replaced after 100-200k miles (depending on care given to % charge and discharge cycles), where the electric motor will last between 400k-1million miles. # of miles is a very rough estimate here since battery lifespan is measured in “cycles” (charge and discharge) with Li-Po providing an average of 300-500 cycles over its life before being considered “degraded”.

    By getting the bigger battery, more of your travel time will be spent in the “gentil” range of the % charge (30-80%). If you always managed to charge it as soon as it hit 30% (or higher even!) and stop that charge when it hit 80% full (or even lower like 70/75%) then you could get anywhere between 900-4000 cycles. That’s like a battery pack that last 400k-1million miles instead of 100k-200k miles.

    This saves you $ in the long run, and conserves our natural mineral resources.
    Who knows, if you can make your EV battery last that long then by the time it will need a replacement we could have new carbon based batteries to use.

    MMM – since you have the Leaf, I’m guessing you’ve looked up some of this battery stuff already, but for others Battery University – specifically their “How to Prolong Lithium-based Batteries” page – has been an amazing (and I’d say moustachian!) resource.

    • Mr. Money Mustache August 17, 2018, 10:23 am

      Thanks for sharing that RLH – the “keep it in the 30-80% range” guideline is indeed something electric car owners should know, for this current generation of them, at least. That is really easy to do during normal commuting and errand cycles (even with my little 30kwh Leaf), and then you can exceed that when you really need to do it for highway travel.

      I still feel that the $9000+ extra on the battery would still probably be wasted in most use cases though. Especially if the eventual replacement is going to be 10+ years in the future anyway.. by that time the new stuff should be much better and cheaper.

  • NB August 16, 2018, 8:51 pm

    One cheap vacation option we’ve found is cabins & cottages at state parks. My wife is very bug averse so camping is out, but a 3 bedroom cabin for a week during peak season is less than $1500. Split that with a few friends, plus groceries, and we recently did a 1 week vacation for $340/person +transportation (left out because it was so variable, and difficult to calculate- we carpooled with a friend flying back from overseas, another friend drove his big inefficient off roader, etc. )

  • James August 17, 2018, 6:50 pm

    Dang. The pool example makes me feel a little better about the money I spend on our family’s YMCA membership. If I swim three days a week and lift three days a week, I’m only paying about $7 per swim. But my pool is in the heart of New York City and is also twenty five yards long. I’d say that’s a fine deal considering the location!

  • Isaac August 23, 2018, 10:16 pm

    We have utilized a couple of things you mention in this article. Most notably what I’ll call “cabin hacking” My grandparents and my wifes parents both have a cabin less than 1 hour from our home that we visit often with our kayaks. When we do use motor boats, our parents have already paid for the gas, insurance, upkeep, etc. And we are simply there to use them and provide company for our family. It sounds terrible, but we get alot of benefit from them rather than using our own money. In fact going to the cabin for us can many times be a money saver on a weekend as the fuel to drive there in our fuel efficient ford focus is far less than the cost of food we would have eaten or other activities our friends may have invited us to over a particular weekend. Call it mooching, but its a win for both sides. (Just only a financial win for one side) Thanks Pete

  • Adam September 2, 2018, 10:58 pm

    We bought a home with a pool already. You don’t pay a premium for a house with a pool in southern ontario. Honestly it wasn’t a selling feature for anybody. However, we have been running it four seasons now and our costs are MUCH LOWER than those quoted by your family member. We are still using all the original pool equipment that came with the house. Our seasonal costs are about $100 for chlorine, $100 for the salt water generator amortized over 7-8 years, $150 for electricity (we try to only run it at night) Total is about $350 a year. Still a lot of money but WAAAY less than $20 a swim.

  • Adam September 2, 2018, 11:04 pm

    Also wanted to add that all the water in the pool is rain water, didn’t have to turn on the hose once to fill it this summer. But I can definitely see how replacing the liner for a few thousand in a few years will make cost per swim much more expensive!

  • Mark Ferguson September 3, 2018, 8:43 am

    My wife wants a pool. Pools tend to decrease the values of most homes in Colorado. I told her no way.

  • Alex Fortna September 3, 2018, 12:44 pm


    1). I see the S&P 500 and DOW JONES only doubled between 2000 and 2018 so the 7% annual return is more like 4.5% correct?

    2). How much does your sister value the pool in terms of resale value? How much are was her home worth when she put before she put the pool in and after she put the pool in? How much are similar homes in her neighborhood worth without pools compared to with pools?


    • Alex Fortna September 3, 2018, 12:46 pm

      at 4.5% annual return the opportunity cost of the pool is more like 60k instead of $101,300

    • Mr. Money Mustache September 5, 2018, 2:05 pm

      Hi Alex,

      Those two dates are a bit cherrypicked depending on when you picked your start point. It’s better to look at longer periods – and don’t forget the very important effect of DIVIDENDS, which are not reflected in the index price. http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2014/08/25/indexview/

  • DS September 9, 2018, 5:52 pm

    An $18 swim? I would say no to your logic, but it’s still an interesting thought experiment, MMM. I would argue instead that the commitment to build the pool is what cost $130K. More or less swims in it don’t change that expense. Still, working it out to a cost per swim is valuable because it calibrates how much enjoyment your pool provides per dollar which I believe is your point. So, for example, if you have 10 kids that are all swimming fanatics and will use the pool year-round then your pool might a be a good deal for you.

    I think the debrief takeaways here are:
    1. $130K is the cost of a bad decision, not the cost of swimming. So know what all the costs will be before you start and you are more likely to make a good decision instead. Don’t get fooled into thinking that the initial costs are the only costs.
    2. Ask yourself if the investment will still be what gives you joy 5 years from now. Is it “the having” or just “the getting” that you are excited about?
    3. Predict the utility of your investment: will the cost of each swim project as $200, $18, or $0.50? Over how many years? Be realistic.
    4. Some investments needs to be evaluated by the heart also, not just the mind. For example, you mentioned a family cottage. Having two homes where one is always empty makes no logical or financial sense. But so many families find that the cottage is what bound their family together past, present, and future which is priceless and therefore and excellent return on investment. That’s what makes trading your free hours for earning hours worthwhile and provides a justification for (reasonably) delaying that early retirement.

    – Skip the AWD. Snow tires are much more effective. And with two sets of tires you will be wearing out each tire half as fast so the extra cost is very little. Put your snow tires on a second set of rims so you don’t need to get your tires mounted twice a year at the tire shop.
    – Grandma’s room? If the market in your area demands that houses need 3 bedrooms, buy a 3 bedroom house. There’s no economy in holding an asset that no one wants, unless you get it for really cheap. If you need an extra bedroom build one in the basement yourself for the cost of materials, or put a murphy bed in your home office.
    – Boat or RV? I agree, terrible idea. Unless you have a real passion for it (see point#4 above).
    – Renting? I agree again. The economics of renting do make sense. It’s also a way to try before you buy, so it’s rarely money wasted to at least start by renting. “Renting” an expert’s time to get you through the crux of a tricky DIY project can also be a great investment!

  • Neil September 10, 2018, 10:59 pm

    MMM’s calculation reveals that most of the $18/swim cost is the result of the initial capital investment. But is it fair to charge 7% per annum, a fairly generous assumed rate of return? And is it fair not to deflate that nominal return over a span of 18 years? A more reasonable assumption and calculation would greatly reduce the apparent unit cost.


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