Poisoned Just Enough: Why I’m so Optimistic About 2021

A close friend of mine was diagnosed with cancer this year. It was the serious kind, where you need to treat it quickly and aggressively or it will spread through your body, stick to all of your organs, and kill you.

The diagnosis was a shock to my friend and her loved ones – she’s fairly young, had always been healthy in the past, and had no warning it was coming. But she decided against self-pity and just took the diagnosis with complete seriousness. 

In the brief week of calm that she had before the storm of chemotherapy, she warned her children and her colleagues that she would need to make space, because things were going to be much more difficult for a good part of the next year. And then she laid down to accept the intravenous injection of the Red Devil – a chemotherapy medicine so toxic that the doctor needs to wear a hazardous materials suit to administer it.

Every two weeks for the next four months, this primitive and painful treatment would be repeated, beating her down further every time. She lost all her hair, strength, energy, even some of her cognition and ability to speak. Or sleep. Or eat. Then there was some painful surgery and a couple dozen sessions of searing radiation.

And finally, when there was just a faint wisp left of her physical form, some very fortunate news came: the cancer was completely gone.

Thankfully, the very bright spark of her soul remained. It had been kept alive by her own incredible will to survive, but also by the superhero dedication of her family and closest friends, who stepped up in almost unimaginable ways to support her and pull her through that dark tunnel. So this spark began to rekindle as the body around it was allowed to start rebuilding itself.

Her recovery gathered speed as the poisoning receded into the past, and many of the long-lost pleasures of the past felt new and better than ever before. She appreciated physical strength, and good food, and most importantly connections with loved ones in a way that she could never have done before having it all taken away. 

And now this woman is back, like a truly badass superhero emerging from the flames and smoke of a wrecked city, ready to make Act Two a thousand times better than her admittedly impressive first act had already been.

This is a real story, and I’m elated and happy that this loved one is still alive and feeling well again. But it’s also a hell of a metaphor for what has just happened to our world in 2020. As one of her doctors put it, she was “poisoned just enough” to cure the cancer, while the underlying human being survived and now has a chance for an unprecedented rebirth. 

You and I are now presented with this same opportunity, should we choose to accept it.

Because of COVID-19, billions of people worldwide have just been through a pretty shitty year. The effects have been very unequal and unfair – the world reported about 1.7 million deaths from the virus this year, increasing the human race’s death toll by a full three percentage points compared to a normal year. Here in the US, deaths are a full ten percent higher than normal. But hundreds of millions of people are also unemployed, some having lost their business or livelihood forever. And almost every person on the planet has had to give up some of the most fundamental human need of all: contact with each other. 

From the US CDC: The ongoing forest fire of COVID-related deaths (blue) versus our deaths from other causes (green).

Friendships, family gatherings, people in love, companies, collaboration, hikes, even kids playing together in nature – they have all been strained and pulled apart to varying degrees. Some of us were lucky to have a big enough bubble of close family and friends to sustain our mental health, but many were not. And we watched the fabric of society get torn apart as we battled and shamed each other over two sides of an issue that are inherently impossible to resolve: a desire to protect other people, versus a desire to have human contact – which is at the core of being human itself. 

This shit has gone on for month after month, wave after wave, just like the poisonous flow of chemotherapy, stripping us down relentlessly and fraying nerves and sanity everywhere. But thankfully, it is Just. About. Over.

And instead of mourning and throwing ourselves a pity party for this past year, I think it’s worth looking at all the positive things we have put in place to help us survive, which will start to look even more positive as the Coronatimes recede rapidly into the rearview mirror. (Note: some of these points were provided by my cancer-beating friend, who happens to be a director at a human resources startup firm.)

The Future of Work has suddenly accelerated: working from home has been greatly expanded, with almost universal approval. In the future, we will still be able to hang out with our coworkers in person, but we can do it on our own terms instead of 9-to-5 every day just because the boss says so. 

I believe this is much bigger than most people realize – the drastic reduction in commuting, the ability of people to leave expensive metro areas and repopulate small towns that provide a better quality of life, and the ability of companies to lock in the best talent regardless of geography. On top of greater happiness, these changes all provide huge increases in productivity and efficiency, which are the building blocks of all future human prosperity.

Education: Remote learning has shown us that kids can often learn more quickly when we set them free to run at their own pace, and that some (although certainly not all) kids feel safer without the social pressures of school environments . The pandemic has accelerated education-related technology, something that had been lagging in the past just because we were too complacent to make the changes.

Health Care:  Phone, video and text calls with your doctor, which should have been a thing since about 1995, are now truly a thing. I hope this trend continues, because it’s more pleasant and more efficient. And you know how I feel about efficiency – it’s the highest form of beauty.

On top of this, the massive infusion of money and effort that went into creating and distributing the COVID-19 vaccine has permanently blazed some useful new trails. For example, the “messenger RNA” vaccines from BioNTech/Pfizer and Moderna are just the tip of the iceberg of some incredible new stuff based on the same technology. It could even become the eventual cure for cancer.

Slowing Down: When the pandemic shut down most of our travel and busy appointments, suddenly the streets and parks filled with people, just out there enjoying a stroll with their kids and their friends. Bicycle sales went through the roof, and remain there to this day. 

This is how we should have been spending more of our free time in the first place, because while some travel is valuable and important, to be honest a lot of it was just bullshit. People were packing too much into their lives. Travel and appointments should be like a hot sauce you shake upon your life to add a luxurious layer of spice, rather than the basis of what you do every single day. The reward is greater health, happiness, and wealth and more connected communities. 

A More Resilient Economy: 

The 2020 roller coaster for US large-company stocks

In just one month leading up to March 23rd, more than a third of the value of all US businesses was erased in a Ten Trillion dollar ($10,000,000,000,000) nuclear explosion of fear. Even Warren Buffett, famous for the world’s steadiest investing hand and for the expression “Be greedy when others are fearful and fearful when others are greedy”, became fearful and dumped all of his airline stocks at the worst time. 

Five months later, that same stock market was back at an all-time record, the future of the largest companies was looking rosier than ever, and even the regular economy was experiencing a faster rebound than almost anybody had expected.

How did this happen? With the simple combination of human resilience, and the safety margin that is inherent in any well-run life or business. People couldn’t go to movie theaters, so they spent more on Netflix. Lumber prices spiked, but steel prices dropped so we changed some of our house construction to reflect it. Restaurants were forced to close their dining rooms, but we supported them by ordering more take-out. 

(Note: some parts of the economy, especially in other countries, are still in the middle of an economic and humanitarian nightmare – there is still much more we can do to help out and we’ll get into some of that below.)

And the toilet paper hoarding? That was just plain herd-mentality stupidity and it should never have happened. But even that eventually came back to the shelves.

So I’ve now watched us come though the Corona Crash, on top of the 2008 Great Financial Crisis and the 2000 Dot-com bubble and bust, all in my investing lifetime.  And we just keep going, and we get a bit better at everything with each passing year. Despite all of the disasters, the pockets of corruption, and the dim-witted and power-hungry politicians that we are all too aware of. This has galvanized my confidence that in the big picture, we are not really all doomed

The world is a good place, humans are fundamentally good creatures, and the more we can nurture this goodness (and avoid fanning the flames of fear, which is the only thing that causes us to be bad), the faster we will continue our rise to an ever-better state of existence.

IMPORTANT: Speaking of Making Things Better!

2020 was a year of increased inequality, which pushed many people further into poverty, while making many rich people even richer. Because of my investments and my ownership of this website, I was (yet again) in that lucky second group. And I suspect you were probably on this side of fortune as well.

Because of these high earnings, and the fact that the total bill for my lifestyle keeps coming in at only around $20,000 per year, this means that I now have the chance to give away yet another $100,000. This brings the total of this blog’s donations to over $400,000 in the last five years, which is starting to sound like some real money!

Where the money went:

$95,000 to GiveWell via my Betterment investment account.

Betterment’s super-convenient charitable giving interface.

This is by far the most effective way I’m aware of, to make each dollar do the most good for people. The nonprofit organization GiveWell does tireless ongoing research on world charities, and keeps an updated list of which can do the most work with your money, right now.

On top of this, donating appreciated shares from my Betterment account gives me the maximum tax benefit – on my 2020 taxes and all subsequent years. This further multiplies my money’s ability to do good. (And it’s a very easy way to give – overcoming one of the biggest hurdles to getting it done)

$2500 to Bicycle Colorado – it’s not solving world health, but increasing bike friendliness here in the US is deceptively powerful, because we have so much low-hanging fruit. There is still far too much car clown behavior and far too little cycling, but that is changing rapidly in Colorado and other states because of organizations like this one. Our numbers have been growing by enormous percentages every year, and now the city planners and governors have learned to consider bike (and foot) transportation when they allocate their massive transportation budgets each year.

 $1500 to the Against Malaria foundation. Although similar to the GiveWell donation above, I gave this amount to support an effort put together by readers of the MMM forum, who have collectively given over $20,000.

$1000 (doubled to $2000 because of an external donor) to plant TWO THOUSAND MORE TREES! to the National Forest Foundation.

Total: $100,000

Bonus: In last year’s philanthropy summary, I planned to invest $5000 in building and expanding a local solar farm. I didn’t fully reach that goal, but I did manage to add almost 3 kilowatts of extra capacity to the MMM-HQ solar array (my co-owners and I split this expense and my friends at Shaw Solar gave us a great deal on the equipment).

Coworking members help me install another eight panels of solar panel onto more of the roof of the HQ building.

We also upgraded other aspects of the building’s energy efficiency, and we are soon about to “cut the pipe” – by switching the old gas furnace over to a high efficiency heat pump system ($3200), and canceling our entire account with the gas company. This allows us to be a 100% clean-energy facility, as well as ending the surprisingly high monthly fee that Xcel Energy charges us as commercial customers, whether we burn any gas or not.

Where the money came from: 

Initially, the sudden recession slammed the brakes on almost all of my income. Many of the companies that allow this website to earn money had paused or canceled their referral programs, most notably things like travel and rewards credit cards, which were sometimes the biggest source of cash.

On top of that, many of our cherished members of the HQ Coworking space paused or canceled their memberships as they either lost their jobs or decided to work entirely from home for childraising or virus-related reasons.

But then an unexpected boom rose in its place: the aftermath of absurdly low interest rates. I encouraged readers to take advantage of them and refinance their mortgages and student loans, and thousands of people did. This led to a different but equally sized windfall, which has brought in enough profit to keep my donations going.

(Note: although my personal spending doesn’t increase, I did also invest the rest of my earnings this year into other businesses, and gave or loaned some to personal, local projects. )

You Should Do it Too!

If you have more than enough money, you should give some away.

Try it. It feels good and this good feeling lasts forever, making your entire life feel more worthwhile. If you are willing, please share some of your donations in the comments (you can do so under a pseudonym if you like).

I will also list this blog’s own main sources of income for 2020 – if even a small portion of readers find these companies useful as I do, it will generate tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars, which I will get to keep using to try to do some more good!

Credible: super efficient (good user interface) and low-cost originating and refinancing of
Mortgages <-Well under 3% these days, under 2.5% for 15-year
Student Loans <-temporary $1000 bonus(?!) currently in place with this link!
(See their mortgage disclosure here) (NMLS No. 1681276)

Travel and cash-back rewards cards: aside from the usual benefits, one good hack I have discovered is to put some of my charitable giving on a new high-roller card, to instantly reach the minimum spend requirement. The charity gets a large gift, and I get the big signing bonus and things like airport lounge access, free hotel stays, etc.

The Coverage Critic mobile phone comparison page: This has been unexpectedly successful, with thousands of people upgrading to cheaper phone plans thanks to my friend and HQ coworker Chris Smith’s expert nerdy-detailed-level advice.

Bluehost web hosting: the place I got my own start blogging, this company offers super-cheap $3 per month web hosting with easy point-and-click site design and setup, year after year, while maintaining a generous referral program that keeps many websites in business. (They also sponsored one of our pop-up business schools!)

Sedera health share organization: my friends serve as advisors to members who they refer to Sedera though their group The Fire Guild. They have agreed to share proceeds with me, and I’m donating 100% of this year’s share to RIP Medical Debt. Every $100 you donate here, forgives about $10,000 of medical debt, so I hope we will be able to get to $1 million of wiped-out-debt within a year.

That’s it for ol’ MMM for 2020 – I will see you in the bright and sparkly future of 2021!

  • Bill G December 19, 2020, 6:46 am

    Please think twice before suggesting a cancer survivor made it due to their incredible willpower or similar. Too many sufferers are desperate to defeat the disease but fail to do so, not because they lacked the will, or the desire, but because the disease was too advanced.
    The suggestion that someone else made it because they wanted it enough can easily be misinterpreted by a victim, or their family, as a lack of desire or grit on their part to recover from the illness. I am confident that this was not your intention but when dealing with the seriously ill you must tread extremely carefully.
    All the best and please keep up this wonderful blog!

    • orenbu2 December 19, 2020, 2:24 pm

      Hi Bill,

      As the friend from MMM’s story, I felt moved to reply to your comment. I share your sentiment about how a person gets to a miraculous recovery from cancer, and the language around that.

      In absence of knowing what the right thing is to say, and with nothing but good intentions, a lot of people told me that I was a fighter. I didn’t begrudge them the language even though the last thing I felt like was a fighter – I felt quite helpless and completely at the mercy of the drugs and doctors’ choices and the whims of the universe. I know that one can define “fighting cancer” in different ways such as choosing to have treatment and making healthy choices to support the treatment’s success. But I absolutely knew that I could be gritty as hell, the best decision maker and have the most helpful support system and I could still come up short.

      So I appreciate what you said, including the acknowledgement that there were only good intentions in MMM’s language. Your comment leads me to believe that you have had close experience with a situation like this and for that I am sorry.

      • Mr. Money Mustache December 19, 2020, 2:51 pm

        Also, I’d like to clarify what I meant by “fighter” as well. I wasn’t talking about, “yay, beat back them cancer cells and get better”, but rather, “Wow, I am so impressed that you were able to summon the will to live even when under the neverending and recurring torture of chemotherapy”

        As I heard about Ms. O2’s treatment, I was rooting so much for her progress and survival, but also had a sneaking suspicion that I might not have fared so well myself – I might have either said either “fuck this, I will take my chances with cancer before I’ll go back under the chemo needle”, or “I feel so sick from this chemo that I think I will just die right now to spare myself the pain”

        However, for now I am healthy and in a strong enough position to decrease my *risk* of a lot of diseases, so I am trying my best to stay on the lucky side of fate.

  • Millie December 19, 2020, 10:34 am

    I am the widow of a Mr. Pete cyclist who died from a rare cancer that was diagnosed too late. He loved cycling and was a commuter cyclist for many years and yet he was “risk averse” hmmm? Mr. Pete was hit a few times but never gave up his cycling–sigh. My question is should I spend money on researching WHY he got this rare cancer. He did work for the fossil fuel industry–electric utility before he went “straight” and became an accountant. Or should I put his money into do good industries like solar or bioNtech?? I would like to donate but I gotta eat! Mr. Pete did not like suing so I’m refraining from trying to get answers from his old company about the different acid cleanings or other projects that might have put him in harm’s way. His daughter and I just want to know did his career kill him or was this cancer lurking in his DNA and as he aged it just came out and killed him? It was too late to give him any poisons to “cure” him. What to do now? Thank you. A chemical engineer/accountant’s very sad widow looking for answers
    Sincerely, Millie

  • Angela December 19, 2020, 12:05 pm

    Love it and agree with most of it. What I disagree with, namely, is “fear” being the only thing that makes us bad. I think “greed” goes a long way there, too.

    Anyway, thanks for reminding us of how far we’ve come.

    • Mr. Money Mustache December 19, 2020, 2:12 pm

      Hmm, good point Angela. But I often think that greed comes from fear. If you are afraid that you won’t have enough, or that you are not good enough, or that people won’t respect you unless you show off, it leads to greed.

      As a flawed human, I have certainly felt greedy in the past. But as the years passed and prosperity and abundance and the reassurance of friends carries on, I have been able to give some of it up, buy less stuff for myself, and share more with others. I think it’s because I am less afraid of being “poor”, because I am confident that my needs are modest enough that I will always be able to meet them, no matter what happens.

  • NJ December 19, 2020, 12:53 pm

    I have been a reader for of this blog for 2-3 years. I believe I’ve read every post and many of the comments on each post. I started with the first post and worked my way forward. Thanks MMM for sharing your knowledge, research, and insight.

    I am probably not in your “niche” readership. I’m probably older than most of your readers and retired due to age not FIRE. Shortly before Covid I relocated to an area with a lower cost of living. When the lockdowns happened I had not had time to connect with many people and build the strong friendship base I had where I previously lived. Some of the things that helped me get through that time were phone calls with friends in my previous location, a friend who was in this location, a couple of family members in this location, and social media. Once restrictions ease I’m hoping to find a local charity that has a cause I’m interested in and volunteering a few hours each month.

    I donated to the following due to special circumstances:

    A GoFund Me for a young friend who’s car was vandalized.

    My previous hairstylist who’s shop was shut due to the lockdowns.

    Here’s the charities I donated to in 2020 and plan to donate to in 2021.

    The church I’m attending.

    A Christmas Families Project done by a second church in the area.

    A monthly food drive for needy families done by a third church in the area.

    Hearts and Hands for Humanity. They drill wells in Africa near schools so that there is fresh, clean drinking water for people in the community. That way kids can go to school and take clean drinking water home to their families. They hire local people in the community to do the drilling so they’re also putting money into the community.

  • Tonja Steiner December 19, 2020, 12:59 pm

    Hi MMM,
    Thank you so much for your latest post. I started reading your blog about 7 years ago and it has had a profound impact on my life. Since then we have paid off the mortgage and eliminated all debt. I left my job teaching elementary school and now I work part-time from home, helping kids with learning disabilities. I bought a bike trailer for getting groceries. I start my days with a beautiful walk in the forest. Your blog has really helped me gain a different perspective!
    My husband has been more reluctant to share this world view….until this year! He still wanted to commute to his job downtown because he said he enjoyed it. (At least I talked him into an electric car!) He admitted that we had enough put away that he could leave work at anytime, but he could not pull himself away. Then when covid hit, he was forced to start working from home. He was amazed at how much extra free time he had, when he was not spending 2 hours a day commuting. He started taking walks in the morning and bike rides at lunch time. He started taking a more active role in managing our investments. He became more relaxed and nicer to be with! Now he is suggesting that we could spend part of the year living on the ski hill and working a lot less!
    So while 2020 has been terrible for the most part, there has been a silver lining! Thank you for all you do!

  • Tony Mac December 19, 2020, 1:51 pm

    I agree, things are looking up for 2021. There are so many positive things learned from the craziness of the ‘rona pandemic. Lots of people will figure out how to live a better life… More in line with Mustachian ideals. I started reading your blog from beginning to end back in August, and I just finished. First time I have ever read a blog, it was great… As it turns out I have many Mustachian qualities – therefore I found so many articles relatable, and inspirational. I am 46, four kids, divorced 4 years ago, figuring it out and living a happy and productive life. I plan to achieve FI and retire to better things in 6 years. Thank you Mr Money Mustache for occasionally typing shit in your computer, and giving us all so much food for thought.

    Your friend in central Illinois.

    PS, I have always been a bicycle enthusiast, however as a result of your blog, I found a used kiddie trailer, which I am now proud to call my grocery getter – and I am always looking forward to my next trip to Aldi’s!

  • Brian December 19, 2020, 6:02 pm

    Hello! Maybe not the place for this, but my family officially crossed over the $1MM net worth threshold. This comes just 11 years after graduating college with about $124k worth of student debt. Feels amazing to live a simple and frugal, while opulent life. A life of intentionally. Just wanted to share that with someone. This is a wonderful article, I am strongly optimistic about the future.

    • Lindsey December 20, 2020, 2:06 pm

      Good for you!! And so young compared to some of us (like me) who took a lot longer to get where you are after only 11 beyond college.

  • Ben December 19, 2020, 7:19 pm

    I donated 250 bucks to worldwiderecovery.org They bring addiction recovery all over the planet.

  • Miles December 19, 2020, 9:49 pm

    Whenever someone still talks about toilet paper hoarding I cringe. Total toilet paper use didn’t change. But industrial use went way down while commercial use went way up. There was a legitimate shortages because the industrial suppliers take an order and partial payment before they make anything. So the total amount of toilet paper went down the toilet, and there was a shortage. Eventually the industry figured out what was happening and the industrial suppliers worked out ways to become part of the commercial supply chain but the hoarding was never real, except the little bit that was happening in response to a legitimate shortage.

  • Soltist December 20, 2020, 6:30 am

    That’s a motivational piece. In the past months, I compared COVID-19 to wars. Here in Europe, we’ve enough stories about being occupied by a foreign power (the Germans, in our case). The big difference between then and now is that this enemy is invisible and doesn’t discriminate between ethnic groups. Everyone has to stay inside as much as possible, whether you’re young, old or have some kind of other ethnic origin. Pretty crazy when you think of it, isn’t it?

    I really like the development of the ‘Future of Work’ concept, I see it as a really positive development. Crises really speed up necessary developments, and this one was really needed. I especially like the link to education. I’m still busy with finishing my degree, working in project groups doesn’t feel like such an enormous drag anymore. I don’t have to do all the hassle to sit together with them anymore, it frees up a lot of time. I really didn’t like the 45-60 min travel to my university just to spend a lot of time on fellow students I don’t like. Besides that, not everyone benefits from learning at home. Schools have been and still are pretty important in learning social skills (I can imagine MMM saying that it isn’t necessary). A healthy mix between at home and at school could be really beneficial. Especially for nerdy types like me, who risk a lot of rejection just because we don’t really want to fit in with the popular shallow types.

    In the meantime, we have another lockdown in the Netherlands. Probably at the most difficult time in the year, as most people want to be in contact with all kinds of people. 5 weeks will pass, I can keep myself busy during this time without worrying about all kinds of stuff. Not everyone has this luxury, however. We should help those out.

  • Emily December 20, 2020, 6:49 am

    Thank you for spreading the word about GiveWell! Once I discovered effective altruism and GiveWell several years ago I’ve never really considered donating any other way. My husband and I are not FIRE yet but donating a significant percentage of our income each year feels important to us before reaching FIRE rather than waiting, so we give 15% of our gross income to GiveWell recommended charities each year. Occasionally if we get requests from friends for other contributions we’ll do that as well, but that’s in addition because we see our GiveWell donations as the top priority.

  • Dave December 20, 2020, 7:55 am

    Regarding the toilet paper shortage: It should not gave been a surprise. (It was not a surprise to me.) every time there is a hurricane or other natural disaster there is a run on toilet paper.

  • Lindsey December 20, 2020, 2:04 pm

    This year was the first year we could give beyond local causes, like our food bank. We gave the bulk to https://www.ripmedicaldebt.org , a non-profit that uses donations to negotiate payment of medical bills for cents on the dollar, sparing millions from having to declare bankruptcy or live with the anxiety of being dunned for hospital and doctor bills they cannot afford to pay. As someone where both the husband and I have had catastrophic illnesses that completely obliterated our finances not once but twice, this is a non-profit close to my heart.

  • Dawn December 20, 2020, 2:14 pm

    I was inspired to give this year also, far away from FIRE but it still felt amazing. One donation was to the Marine Mammal Center, I found a wounded sea lion, and got to see them in action, my guy didn’t make it, humans can be so cruel, so I decided to give in his honor.

  • Dave Newgard December 20, 2020, 7:14 pm

    Has to be in your Top 10 posts ever Pete, my God. Just awesome.

  • Chris December 20, 2020, 7:57 pm

    Terribly sorry to hear about your friend and her family, but also happy to hear that she’s on the mend. That was a rollercoaster. As you said, a lot like the past year has been!

    I think there’s a lot of wisdom in your comments about the future—I think we need some optimism around it, too.

    Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, thank you for the giving work that you’ve done these past years. You, along with Physician on FIRE and a few others in the personal finance space were a big motivation to us starting our own reader fund. Our goal is to donate 1 year’s worth of our expenses (around $41K) by May of next year. We’re on track, with over $30K transferred so far.

    Like you said, in a year where the rebound has been entirely unequal, it’s incredibly important to give where you can. Have a wonderful holiday.

    -Chris & Jenni

  • VA Camper December 21, 2020, 5:05 am

    Each holiday season, our family purchases items no one wants or needs out of habit. It took Covid to do something this year with my extended family that I have been lobbying to do for a decade. With the lack of celebrating together, everyone agreed not to buy presents. My household used the extra present money to donate to various charities.

    We donated to Nicholas Kristof’s Impact organization, a few local no kill shelters, and the Capital Trail Foundation (which offers an awesome cycling opportunity). We told our family if they still wanted to buy something for us to donate to the local food bank instead. All of this felt incredibly more fulfilling than buying junk.

    Wonderful post, MMM, and I’m glad your friend is doing well.

  • Marc December 21, 2020, 9:34 am

    Regarding the sections on donations, have you been seeing and taking part in the great work our local news fav Kyle Clark of 9 News has been doing with his Word of Thanks project every Wednesday? Since March, it has raised over $2 million combined in weekly micro-giving campaigns for different local charities.

  • Melisa M Jaris December 21, 2020, 6:04 pm

    I am so happy that your friend arose from the flames of the Red Devil and cancer. My mom died last year after complications after just one dose of Red Devil and of course the cancer. My mom was a very generous and charitable person, teaching me to be the same. I normally give things or money to those who may have less than myself when the opportunity arises. During the holiday season I like to give a little extra to those who work so hard so I planned to give a little extra to the grocery workers. Today I picked up my groceries at the curbside service area and handed out $50 tips to every curbside worker there. These guys have brought out our groceries in the rain and extreme weather so that we can maintain a safe distance and be socially responsible. Not only does it feel awesome to give to others, it also makes me feel a little closer to my mom.

  • Courtney December 21, 2020, 8:16 pm

    Interesting insights and I’m so glad your friend beat the beast! Thank you for sharing your giving strategies.

    This year with family and friends I convinced (almost) all to forgo gift giving and instead multiply donations to those in need. You pick recipient organizations carefully and then write an eye-popping check to help others. We’ve really gotten into this and keep increasing the amounts as we can. It’s fun to learn about organizations doing great work, and I’ve already laid a marker to forgo gifts henceforth. Wishing peace, good health, and happiness to all in 2021.

  • Tim December 22, 2020, 1:34 pm

    MMM, Great article overall. It’s a good reminder of the struggles so many have gone through this year and how we can rise better than ever after a challenge.

    I was a bit surprised to see your comment about the human race’s death toll rising by a full 3% this year due to Covid. The article you linked was from Dec 2019 so I’m assuming you just took the 1.7 million deaths attributed to Covid as a percent of the 56 million who died in 2017 (per the article) which is indeed just over 3%. The numbers I have seen show that the actual total deaths for the year are much more in line with the last few years. (certainly not 3% higher) This could be because many of the people who died from Covid would have died from something else if not for Covid and because the behavior changes have reduced other deaths.

    • Mr. Money Mustache December 22, 2020, 6:35 pm

      Hi Tim – this may or may not be true on a worldwide basis. We won’t know for a while since the data is so delayed. But in the US, we have indeed seen excess deaths that are pretty close to the level of reported Covid deaths, so I took a guess that the world situation would work out similarly.

      CDC reports that the median Covid death age here has been around 78 years old, and if you live to that age, you typically have 9.5 years of life remaining (just based on actuarial tables). Although this does not account for Covid’s tendency to hit those with the strongest underlying conditions the hardest.

      So anyway, what a cold-hearted mathematician might predict is that 2020 will see higher deaths, and then the next 5-10 years will see an almost exactly corresponding reduction in death rate as today’s Covid victims are passing away right now, instead of at the age they would have normally reached.

  • plewis10 December 22, 2020, 2:37 pm

    I make a new loan through KIVA with each bi-weekly paycheck I receive. A loan is $25 and KIVA asks for an optional $3.75 donation per loan. These loans support folks in underserved communities throughout the world. The best part is when the money comes back you lend again (how’s that for efficiency)!

  • Justin December 22, 2020, 2:53 pm

    This post was a much-needed breath of fresh air. I seem to have two groups of friends. One group used this time to dig deeper into their political ideologies’ cavern of mind-melting propaganda. This group is more fearful than ever. The other, much larger group, has used this time to take a step back and re-evaluate what is truly important in their lives. Many are making moves towards living the life they’ve always wanted but were too busy on the hamster wheel to pursue. I’m optimistic as well.

  • Impersonal Finances December 27, 2020, 1:21 pm

    As Joan and Josh mentioned, the CARES Act’s $300 deduction for those who don’t itemize their taxes is a good way to dip your toe into the charitable waters. I’d like the see the IRS increase that amount in years to come to incentivize giving among “regular” folks who take the standard deduction. Great work, MMM.

  • dave December 27, 2020, 4:49 pm

    The remote learning and work are only temporary. Employees simply do not trust employees to work remotely. If they have to pay them you better believe they demand they show up to work in person and on time.

  • Markus December 28, 2020, 3:00 pm

    My “donations” are crowdinvesting with ecoligo.
    They finance Solarsystems in developing countries. Most of them for small to middle size businesses who would otherwise not get the financing.
    The companies lower their energy costs by using solar and the investor gets a little roi.
    I don’t mind if an investment goes bad as I see it as an donation. Every Cent earned goes straight back to the next project.

  • Quest December 28, 2020, 7:58 pm

    Wow that’s such a positive post! Your charitable giving is incredible. I feel so much better already for reading and you’ve given me much to think about. You are like a voice of reason. I hope your friend continues to do well, her experience sounds absolutely harrowing. I am still trying to secure my financial future and, with a large extended family who also need a helping hand after the devastation of this past year, my income is spoken for into the foreseeable future. However, I do try to help my community whenever I can and, due largely to people who have abandoned their pets over the past year for whatever reason, I have found myself rehoming, adopting and spaying/neutering CATS wherever possible! Our animal community needs help too. I recently saved a litter of kittens and the mother cat from certain death by just bringing them into my home, caring for them and rehoming them to excellent homes far and wide. That doesn’t count the other cats I have rehomed or adopted myself, and the medical care that these animals have needed upon entering my little bubble world. This is the extent of my charitable giving for now. It gives me joy to see how these animals have improved lives in their new homes and how much their humans really love them.

  • Imran Chaudhry December 29, 2020, 4:27 am

    Great optimism from MMM – and good to read about your friends road to recovery! I somehow didn’t get an update for this article.

    It sounds like she has experienced “Post Traumatic Growth” – this is something experienced by PTSD survivors (I’m reading “Flourish: Positive Psychology” right now). Those people flourish with greater resilience than before.

    Oh, and I fitted a Swytch kit to my bike recently, turning it into an e-bike https://ejectdisc.org/2020/12/28/swytch-to-an-e-bike/

  • Ottawa Reader December 30, 2020, 9:26 am

    Long time reader, first time commenter. Thanks to you and commenters who shared their giving stories.

    I have always been a firm believer in having a giving plan, I’m not a religious hindu, but I do believe in karma. Over the years, I moved from giving 5% when I started working and had a mortgage to increase my giving gradually. I now give 10 percent of my pre-tax income, split 50% (local and national) and 50% internationally . My priorities are education, healthcare and international development.

    Here is where I give:

    Local (Ottawa):
    Ottawa Public Library – I still come out of ahead based on my ebook borrowing habit, support helps (in a normal year) with adult literacy and newcomer integration programs.
    Ottawa Riverkeeper – Monitors water safety and pollution
    Helping with Furniture – Coordinates furniture donations to provide furnishings to people leaving shelters or refugee families
    Lowertown Resource Center – Community resource and health centre in my neighbourhood
    Sit with Me Rescue – Dog rescue group
    National Arts Centre – I specifically give to their programs for schools and educational outreach
    Hidden Harvest – Volunteer organization that coordinates harvests of privately-owned fruit trees in Ottawa and donates produce to food banks etc.

    My old high school – I set up a scholarship for graduating students at my old high school in Toronto. It is a large public high school in mixed income neighbourhood, with a high number of English as a Second Language learners and first generation immigrants. Canada post-secondary tuition is still (relatively) cheap, so what feels a like a little to me, will make a big difference to a student putting themselves through school.
    My university – Although this in the US, I still count this as local as this is an institution that has benefited me. My alma mater has one of the largest endowments in the US, so I don’t give more than a nominal amount.

    Ontario Clean Air Alliance – Advocates for renewable energy alternatives and promotes transparency around costs (dollars and environmental) of conventional electricity
    Book Clubs for Inmates – Organizes book clubs for prison inmates.
    Churchill Northern Studies Centre – Research and education centre in the sub-arctic. I took one of their learning vacations a decade ago and highly recommend the experience.
    Canada Helps – Online platform for charitable giving. Many of the organizations I donate to use this as their preferred platform.

    Doctors without Borders – Amazing work done by truly dedicated people
    Seva Canada – Blindness treatment and prevention in developing countries. I discovered this organization while looking into the Aravind Eye Hospitals, which is a truly incredible social venture that continues to reduce the cost of cataract surgery ($25 per eye last I checked) in India. 32 million surgeries and counting
    Room to Read – Literacy in Developing countries
    Goonz – Indian NGO that provides disaster relief , humanitarian aid and community development
    UNHCR – The UN Refugee Agency
    An unofficial animal rescue organization active in Kolkata, India

  • Louise December 30, 2020, 12:18 pm

    I’m genuinely perplexed by the idea that this pandemic is almost over. Can you expand on that? There is absolutely no evidence of this. Yet I, too, am optimistic. I agree that there have been so many positive impacts from this time–it has shown many that their priorities were completely out of order, and I agree working from home offers huge benefits. But I’m also not deluding myself into thinking this is almost over, or “in the rearview mirror.” Not for years, I don’t think. The effects of millions of Americans going into poverty, losing tens of thousands of kids who fell through the cracks of remote learning (I work in education), the increase in child and spousal abuse due to lockdowns…Yes, optimism is warranted because we were not functioning in a healthy way as a society before, and this has been a big wake up call and some of us have used it as a fantastic opportunity to give more, question our values, and spend time on what and who we truly love, etc. But this is nowhere near over, and part of being a force for good is being clear-eyed about the very real struggle many people will experience moving forward. Our country as a whole is extremely wounded, divided and in a precarious situation. It does nothing to deny that, and to say we are “almost out of this,” is dangerous. This is the beginning of an enormous rebuilding. I believe we can get to the light at the other side, but in this moment, we are at the start of this work.

  • A schrader December 30, 2020, 12:49 pm

    Thanks for your years of posts. Definitely has opened my eyes to a new world of possibilities for my life.

    Great comment I heard last week while driving around looking at Christmas lights. We can’t go to that blue collar neighborhood, they can’t afford nice christmas lights. We have to drive around the nice neighborhoods. If we could only see who can actually “afford” hundreds or thousands in lights & electricity.

  • Londonder December 30, 2020, 2:48 pm

    Thanks for the inspiring post. With the “News industrial complex”, it’s easy to miss how genuinely positive things are in general for most people.

    I did a lot more giving this year. Almost every month since the pandemic started, I’ve donated to my local food bank. There is a food distribution centre near where I live, and every week I could see the queue getting longer and longer as the pandemic rolled on (and we live in the UK, where there was significant government support for the unemployed). I felt it was a small way to help struggling families where I live.

    The nuance and the thoughtfulness with which you tackle these tricky subjects is admirable. I wish there was more of that sort of thinking.


  • Greg January 1, 2021, 10:55 am

    Has anyone looked into geothermal heat pumps (using the earth’s constant temps to both heat and cool)? They seem super efficient and earth friendly. My dream would be to have the geothermal heat pump driving radiant floor heating.

    • MEB January 20, 2021, 5:25 pm

      We’ve had a geothermal system for 10.5 years now and it’s been great. So nice not to worry about fuel oil or propane prices, and your heat comes from the earth. We live in central Ontario where most of the winter is in the minus 10-30C range, and the system copes beautifully with it. And AC in the summer costs very little as the earth does the cooling part. It’s a big up-front investment, but the payback didn’t take long, and you’re being nice to nature at the same time. We’re in the process of building a new house and it will have one too.

  • late_savings_bloomer January 1, 2021, 10:56 am

    3 notes here: on toilet ppr, women, and education.
    – toilet paper. Having witnessed the remains of what seems as mountains of toilet paper floating sadly after roommates, I always wonder why other people use so much. In my family, we wash. It’s so much nicer a feeling than sandpapering your sensitive parts, and much cleaner too. It’s weird that a civilization that considers itself the most advanced in history and in the world still hasn’t figured out proper poo hygiene.
    – women. The pandemic has had crushing consequences for women who are in the workforce and especially for mothers of children with special needs, who are disproportionately caregivers even against the backdrop of the already grim overall care discrepancy between the sexes. There is no silver lining for many mothers. Working from home may sound as a blessing for bachelors, but paired with domestic work and homeschooling becomes an unbearable burden for women. In addition, such children are deprived of activities of crucial importance to their development.
    – education. Online education has pros and cons. The pros are that it’s cheaper and it can reach otherwise unreachable areas. And the benefits end there. The biggest con is the quality. If it was that easy to get educated, we would be all doing it simply by reading books. Leaps in learning happen in two ways: by supervised doing and by supervised thinking. The common denominator of them is feedback – human interaction. Watching a video on a screen is neither. As a student as well as an educator, I assert that online education is worse, much worse. It can only be regarded as last resort and not as a full replacement, let alone improved version of education. And I suspect that it’s much worse at school than at the university level.
    MMM is right that this pandemic has increased inequality. People under a certain treshold became poorer and those above – exponentially richer. Misery per capita has increased substantially while happiness has not spread proportionately. The bottom line of this pandemic is negative for the masses and positive mainly for those who didn’t need it in the first place, such as Amazon, Google, Ikea etc.

    • Mr. Money Mustache January 2, 2021, 8:51 pm

      Perhaps we can split those thoughts on education into different types for people with different needs.

      For people like me, and my son, and his friends, UNsupervised learning is the only kind that works. I have always learned quickly from books, and by doing, and by making mistakes, and more recently from YouTube videos. In school I would doze off in class but still always got good grades because thankfully, I could just read the book.

      My son is like me but with double the brainpower – at age fourteen, thanks to books and YouTube (and Ableton and Blender) he is already well above college level in most fields of study.

      For people like us, School. SUCKS. (although I do try to get him out of the house as much as possible to get some exercise and socialize with friends and hopefully someday discover the magic of dating :-))

      But I do have several friends who have more extroverted, wiggly kids who are struggling with home learning but do much better with in-class learning. Some of them even LIKE school, which is amazing to me. For them, I am all for it.

      • frank January 3, 2021, 2:39 pm

        But isn’t part of life learning to do stuff we find boring or not useful? I hated certain parts of medical school, sixth form and school but it was still useful being in those situations. Sitting through a lecture forces you to concentrate for a particular legnth of time. It forces you to learn at a different pace to what you want to learn – although I was still free to learn from books, etc afterwards as well. These are skills that are needed in the big bad world. Someone who has learnt to concetrate at a particular pace is going to do better when forced to sit in a work meeting/ group work/ conversation when in the world of work. I wouldn’t be where I am finacially or professionally if I hadn’t been forced to learn these skills.

  • SavageHappy January 2, 2021, 10:31 am

    Another wonderful post, MMM. I especially dig the slowing down part. I think a lot of us needed a good kick in the ass on how we’re driving ourselves crazy.

    Along those same lines but you hadn’t mentioned, is that pet adoptions have sky rocketed since the quarantines started. Not only were cozy homes offered for thousands of shelter animals (who were struggling to find homes before), but those pets will go on to force countless people to just embrace the moment when their furry little friend needs some attention!

  • Johan January 2, 2021, 1:27 pm

    Hi MMM,

    Have you considered migrating to a green web hosting? I personally switched to GreenGeeks but I’m sure there are others! The internet is a huge source (as big as the airline industry) of pollution: https://climatecare.org/infographic-the-carbon-footprint-of-the-internet/

    Thanks for the charity recommendations! Even with my job loss this year I was able to donate $1600 to various places.

  • drplastickpicker January 3, 2021, 7:12 am

    You summed it up beautifully MMM. Wow. Here is to a better 2021 and for a decade of planteary healing. We haven’t been at 400K a year but we are doing targeting donations as well, and know that your FIRE environmentalism is having a ripple effect. I realized now that I’ve been able to active at least 30 MDs to become climate activist but espousing personal fiscal responsibility and climate action that go hand in hand. Kudos to you for keeping up the great work and making the world a better place.

  • Rhian January 4, 2021, 11:46 pm

    Your post really struck a chord. I’m happy to hear that your friend survived her ordeal. I told my son if I was treated with “a chemotherapy medicine so toxic that the doctor needs to wear a hazardous materials suit to administer it” I’d probably want to curl up in a ball and give up then and there.

    As for giving money, each year my workplace has a charity drive and I typically derive a sense of satisfaction in contributing money to two or three charities of my choosing. Uncharacteristically, I waited to the last possible moment in 2020 to contribute. I don’t know if I felt depressed, or sorry for myself, I simply didn’t want to contribute! But finally I did, and I increased my modest annual contribution by $500. “Great oaks from little acorns grow”

    I’ve also donated bags of clothes, knick-knacks and kitchen wear to my favorite thrift store since their proceeds go directly to helping homeless cats.

    BUT, more importantly, reading about people’s generosity made me realize that I’d like to contribute more. Throughout 2020 I’ve struggled with thoughts of ‘what am I going to do in retirement?’ I think I’ve found my answer, find a cause that really speaks to me.

    Thank you

  • Token Young Person January 8, 2021, 8:01 pm

    High school senior here–the consensus, at least at my school, is that digital learning has been almost horrific. We spend 7 hours a day straight online MTTF, but homework often adds another 15 hours to the week’s workload. We live in a suburban area especially infamous for so-called “helicopter parenting”. It seems like most people I know either jump off the deep end in terms of reckless socialization, or go the opposite way and have seen three or less different people more than once since quarantine began, despite the very low risk that results from properly planned small gatherings–outdoors the entire time, masks on the entire time unless ardously exercising. Many of my own friends simply seem stuck in a cycle of wasting time online and not going outside or seeing friends, while simultaneously being aware of the negative impact this has. Why is it that people seem to fixate on either coronavirus’ risk to physical health or mental health, then ignore the other? It doesn’t seem too difficult to respect both.

    Anyways, in defense of digital schooling, the experience I had with my school’s barebones digital setup at the end of last year was actually quite enjoyable. We had very few lectures, if any, and any classes one found insignificant could be near completely ignored while maintaining an A. At the same time, there were ample resources for studying to excel in the most important courses. I was able to do better on two of my AP exams than I would have without going digital at the end of last year thanks to this freedom. It’s worth noting, however, that I had trouble focusing on classes that were moderately important but did not assign much material (or else, the work was easily short-cutted in a digital setting). I’d give that system mixed reviews, but I hoped at the end of that experience that a refined system would soon iron out the cracks. Of course, this year, school was attempted to be made as close to in-person norms as possible (mandatory lectures all day) which was an insane, fatal blow to its ability to nurture students both academically and personally.

    I believe digital school can work, but many of the systems schools have drawn up are deeply flawed. Even at its best, I have doubts that the benefits of in-person school, such as socialization, greater student accountability, escape from potentially tyrannical or abusive households, and the psychological boost of a building dedicated to learning, will be hard for digital school to eclipse. Being in-person matters, and I’m very excited to return at some point.

    • Mark January 20, 2021, 12:17 pm

      Great share! As a secondary school technology teacher I appreciate the feedback

  • David January 10, 2021, 2:39 pm

    Thank you for such a motivating post!

  • Camilla January 12, 2021, 2:32 am

    I donate to the United Nations Food Programme, because hunger is still a problem in the world (in 2021!) Check out their impressive work on wfp.org :)

  • JJ January 15, 2021, 3:07 pm

    I really appreciate your commitment to giving back to your community and agree sharing might encourage more giving. We choose to donate to several places for 2020. We choose Lake Washington United Methodist Church homeless parking lot program-seemed like a good choice during the pandemic. Equipment Connections- who match desperately needed special needs equipment with families who for several reasons could not obtain what they needed for their special needs child (many important items like beds, bikes, bathing equipment are consistently denied/not covered by health insurance). Maryland Community Connections -their program to help disabled people obtain jobs which are very difficult for them to obtain for a variety of reasons. And lastly, the North Carolina Special Olympics. Let’s keep it going in 2021!

  • Nagasaki January 17, 2021, 4:23 am

    With the gift of hindsight I believe the toilet roll crisis was in fact sensible forward planning. All this additional time at home has led to increased eating and drinking. This has in turn led to more frequent visits to the bathroom combined (in some cases) with a growing area with which to apply the product’s attributes.
    Post lockdown my money will be invested In Fitness companies and associated well being, as shedding those additional pounds may be a priority for many…….

  • Megan J January 19, 2021, 6:53 pm

    I agree… being able to give back feels good. A year ago we decided to purchase a home for an elderly family member whose previous living conditions were unhealthy and unsafe. While this adds to our monthly mortgage payments and reduces what we invest each month, it has paid dividends in knowing that she is safe, warm, and in a home where other family members can visit. Can I claim to be donating to a charitable cause? Nope. But I feel much better about living my fancy life with A/C and heat and such because she now has these things too.

  • IGMR January 21, 2021, 3:48 am

    Love it. Looking forward to 2021 and to leaving 2020 behind.

  • Sean Fraser January 21, 2021, 10:43 am

    I agree with everything except the education piece. As a teacher (middle school so it may be different for older students) I found that online learning was a complete and utter failure. A few of the wealthier students faired OKAY but most students did very little and floundered. I do see technology as an integral part of education, however, distance learning was ineffective and not a replacement (for the vast majoroty of students) for inclass instruction.

  • Andy January 25, 2021, 8:46 am

    Steel prices dropped? I disagree. I’m in the commodities world in automotive manufacturing. The cost of HR steel was $437 / ton in August of 2020, and is currently sitting near $1100 / ton as I write this . The strain on steel mills is unprecedented, and leading to reduced production at my employer. Regardless of price, we simply cannot get our hands on enough steel.

    • Mr. Money Mustache January 25, 2021, 10:44 am

      I agree, the drop I was talking about was in the summer 2020 timeframe – I took advantage to stock up on a year’s worth of steel beams for my local projects.

      I’m hoping that reduced work restrictions and *fingers crossed* reduced trade tariffs will get supply and demand balanced again within the next year. What do you think?

  • Gordon Lu February 3, 2021, 8:39 pm

    In the interest of really being effective with your donations, have you considered looking into methods to attack the root cause of poverty, inequality, etc. which stems from political corruption? After which use your donations to push for healthcare, education, living wages, etc. as a human right. Probably takes more effort from your end but may ultimately help more Americans.

  • Julie February 17, 2021, 11:42 pm

    Great use for a car! Definitely not clown cars.

    For anyone living in the southern US near the coast: sea turtles are in danger from the winter vortex. The cold snap stuns them and they aren’t able to swim or eat. If you happen to live near the turtles and want to help out please contact your local bureau/rescue center.

    Photo of Subaru with many sea turtle passengers: pic.twitter.com/xaDRNjLDoQ
    Link to article from Sea Turtle, Inc. on South Padre Island: https://www.msn.com/en-us/lifestyle/pets-animals/people-are-filling-their-cars-with-sea-turtles-to-save-them-from-the-winter-storm/ar-BB1dLYwg

  • Sue Thompson February 20, 2021, 11:31 am

    Hi, I gave all my income last year to the Doris Ark Rescue in Greece, Kefalonia.

    They rescue the kittens and puppies, had a typhoon, and were having a hard time. They are an inspiring group of people.


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