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It’s Get Smart With Money Day!

Let’s jump right to the real news here:

  • There’s a Netflix documentary that just came out TODAY* called Get Smart With Money
  • Somehow old Mr. Money Mustache and several friends got lured into playing a role in making it. And I’m very happy with the results!
  • And you can watch the results here (which will be a huge help to the movie’s success!): https://www.netflix.com/title/81312877

Now for the real story behind this weird situation. Why did I agree to this? Aren’t I supposed to be retired? Do you get paid a lot to be in a Netflix movie? And does that mean you become “famous” and your life changes? Read on to find these answers and more.

The Origin

One sunny afternoon in December 2020, I got an email from the co-owner of a filmmaking company with this title:

Feature Documentary – personal finance

 Inside was a very well written description of her idea for a movie, and a heartfelt invitation for me to be one of the people featured in it.

I immediately went through my usual series of reactions: Feeling flattered that someone would actually want me in their production. Then dread at the idea of actually signing myself up for a bunch of “work” when I’m already way too busy doing fun, meaningful stuff as a retired person. Then a motivated excitement to write back immediately to say, 

“Thanks so much, I’m honored, but no thanks, and good luck and maybe I could help out by email just as a casual consultant if you need any ideas.”

Well, that failed. Because this filmmaker turned out to be Kristin Lazure, who then pulled her co-founder Stephanie Soechtig into the conversation, and together they run Atlas Films, not just another documentary company but one of the best ones in the country. 

Atlas has made super-incisive films on food, public health, guns, political cover-ups and so many more things, all of them watchable and action-oriented. As I watched their earlier titles, I realized that Atlas does not exist just to crank out entertainment or profit from cheap controversy. They are willing to do the real work to dig out the real stories, with the goal of creating positive social change.

“Shit”, I thought. “How can I say no to this, if my goal with this MMM hobby is really to try to make a difference myself?” 

I realized that sure, doing screen and camera work is hard and sometimes inconvenient and it would suck away some of the time I would normally put into writing blog articles. But in exchange it would almost certainly reach a lot more people for each hour I invested into it, and equally important it would reach new people, Netflix watchers who are probably a different group than blog readers. 

And, if you set aside my serious-eyebrows-pretend-grownup charade of being all concerned and logical, I also thought it would be a lot of fun to be part of such a big, exciting, new experience. And shit man, how neat to be able to go over to a friend’s house and dare them to put on YOUR OWN NETFLIX MOVIE!?!

So I said yes, and the giant ball started rolling really fast, and suddenly we spent the entire 2021 hopping through a series of occasional filming days, and recorded zoom calls, and other silly, interesting experiences.

Some of it was indeed hard (like being squeezed onto my deck along with a dozen production crew in the full blazing solar onslaught of a July afternoon, pretending to act natural while answering interview questions, pausing only to wipe away the occasional gallon of sweat from my forehead.) But almost all of it was loads of fun. And it led to wonderful new experiences and friendships for all of us.

One thing you’ll notice if you watch the movie, is that I talk a big game about how hard this all was, yet in the movie I just seem to pop in occasionally, do a couple of bike tricks and play with power tools, and oh yeah sometimes drop a few sagely financial one-liners to help my students along the way. This is because our content was edited down by probably a 100:1 ratio. They cover a lot of ground in this movie with a lot of people, and yet somehow it all feels natural and coherent. 

My favorite part is probably that my old concept of the “Purchase Justification Machine”, first described in this 2019 article about me not buying a Tesla, made it into the movie in the form of a glorious and silly on-screen animated graphic – grinding away at Kim as she browses Amazon while riding her Peloton.

Money and Fame

Oh, and no, we didn’t get paid much at all, especially if you work it out on an hourly basis. Documentaries like this have a high production budget when it comes to top-quality crew and equipment, but they somehow manage to get us on-camera participants to willingly almost donate our time. 

If you value fame or exposure, that alone could be considered a valuable form of payment. But in my case, any added fame would be a downside – there are very few real-world benefits and quite a few downsides related to privacy, which in extreme situations can even lead to danger. However I figured I’m just one of many people in this movie, and it’s a small fish relative to the overall ocean of Netflix. When I weighed that against the benefits of sharing better financial and lifestyle habits, I took an optimistic guess and decided that the good aspects outweighed the bad. I’ll let you know how this goes now that the movie is out!

So What’s The Movie About?

Atlas films rounded up four financial gurus, all of us with different backgrounds and styles (Paula Pant, Tiffany Aliche, Ro$$ Mac, and myself.)

Then they had us send “casting calls” out to the Internet, summoning our ideal students with the offer of a year of free coaching – in exchange for it all being filmed and shared with the world. 

Surprisingly, we got loads of responses – in the form of personal video stories from singles, couples and families, all of them charming and heartfelt and leaving me wishing I had time to welcome and try to help all of them.

 In the end, I chose a young family of four that falls into the same demographic to which I target these blog posts: people with high incomes and high spending, who are wondering where all the money is going.

I taught my couple, John and Kim, how to streamline their initial $13,000 per month spending budget (!!), through things like more efficient grocery shopping and dining, keeping a closer eye on impulse purchasing, thinking about housing and neighborhoods and school choices (private versus public), and whether to consider side income streams over the longer run to allow them to scale back on work.

Update: since publishing this post, many people have emailed me asking how to get in touch with Kim for the (non-financial) coaching she offers – you can find her here: www.kimmassale.com

 As you’ll see in the movie, the end results were both subtle and dramatic at the same time. And I’m happy to report that these subjects are now real-life friends and even live nearby so we get to enjoy the results of their more fun new lifestyle together.

So, I hope you enjoy both the movie and the backstory. I’m very happy that I said “yes” after all, even though I can guarantee that I won’t be coming back for a sequel or an ongoing series. The camera vans have long since left and my schedule is back to its normal blissfully open state.

With this little report to you now wrapping up, it’s back to my construction projects here at the house for the rest of this week, then off for some camping deep in the mountains this weekend. Seventeen years in, this version of retirement remains the right life for me.

And I wish you your own version of living the dream this week as well!

—–

*September 6th, 2022

In the Comments: Did you watch the movie? If so what did you think? How could it have been made even better if you were doing the cuts?

My candid criticism, being a details person, is that they tried to cover so much that they didn’t have much time for the details. But then again, you can’t teach all the details of such a broad subject with just a documentary, while also keeping it fun to watch. So I’m hoping that the easy breezy approachable nature of the movie leads people to start thinking about these things on their own. Once the right seed is planted, better money habits can catch on pretty easily.

  • Alina September 9, 2022, 4:06 pm

    Loved it, but wished they showed more of you, especially shopping at Costco ;) hahaha

    Reply
  • 9unk September 11, 2022, 4:13 am

    Thanks MMM for being part of a film like that. Some things I didn’t agree with but overall the more we start talking about money, being less consumers and more living our lives the happier society will be!

    Reply
  • Alexis September 11, 2022, 2:02 pm

    I just watched it..Amazing!!! I really liked it…Tyler didn’t even know what S&P500 is it’s hilarious!

    Reply
  • prof September 11, 2022, 4:33 pm

    IMO people are going to be bad at finances at least as long as there are such kneejerk reactions to math (i read “who actually uses algebra as an adult” in the NYT today). my mom’s financial advisors have a fiduciary duty but nonetheless try to impress her with monte carlo simulations. sometimes they look dodgy. i tell her that the pre-meds (who are usually not very quantitative) taking my classes have to create stochastic ODE models for homework.

    there are obviously tons of psychological and spiritual issues here as well, but as long as we have such a threadbare safety net (minimally paternalistic state), the U.S. is expecting way, way too much financial acumen from millions of people who think math doesn’t apply to them. frankly i’m tired too of overreliance on historical returns in such a nonequilibrium system.

    Reply
  • Brook September 11, 2022, 5:38 pm

    I just finished watching the doc which I found by chance on Netflix. I was happily surprised when I saw MMM and Paula Pant as part of the cast. I thought it was thoughtfully created–giving just enough detail to entice people to learn more. I think most people are easily intimidated and turned off by financial counseling. This film illustrated the before and after aspects well without sensationalizing them. I hope it reaches a lot of desperate, hopeless people and shows them financial security is possible for average humans.

    Reply
  • Jeremy K. September 11, 2022, 6:30 pm

    Very good production. I loved it despite some crazy advices like buy the S&P and Nasdaq + Apple and FB? What?

    I’ve got to tell you Pete, you’re the only person I know who became famous for being frugal ! And that’s what I aspire the most in my life.
    I’m extremely frugal I think. I live in Atlanta Ga with wife and 2 kids, I pay 1.1k rent a month and I manage to keep my monthly expenses below 2.4k. It’s not easy but we can. Saving 60% of my income in the name of FIRE. I can’t imagine how people can spend 12k a month in a family of 4? They must do their grocery at whole foods or an even higher up store. ? people need to value money more. It’s life time being spend

    Reply
    • Late bloomer September 13, 2022, 3:18 pm

      yeah the part about groceries was beyond me… and the amazon bill. Like when do you even have time to find and buy all that stuff. I bought a desk lamp from Amazon once and I was exhausted from comparing all kinds of effin options. Shoulda went to the local brick secondhand shop and bought the only one item they had.

      Reply
  • Greg M September 12, 2022, 9:16 am

    I really enjoyed watching this. By means of background, I am a financial advisor, but thought it would be interesting to learn about different tactics and strategies as I enjoy learning. I have since begged my wife to watch the documentary, as she has temporarily stopped working (by choice) and we have been focusing on spending less to help account for the lower income. In my profession, we are not incentivized to work with people unless they have “a lot of money” and I keep saying there needs to be more education that can get out to the masses. I hope this film helps!

    Reply
  • Late bloomer September 13, 2022, 3:08 pm

    I found the artist segment the most inspiring. The irony about it given the goal of the movie is that she actually didn’t wanna ‘retire’ as in ‘stop working’, nor make fortunes, she just wanted the opportunity to make art, which working the bar jobs to pay the bills didn’t leave her time to do. She has not only great talent but also the courage to hustle. I admire her for that.
    The other thing that really resonated with me was Teez saying his parents never taught him about investing and touching on the deeper racial roots of that. I had a similar experience. Grew up with nothing but learned to save save save. And inflation ate those savings away over the decades, and I thought there is no way to win at this game. I discovered investing much later and I started like Teez like wtf is an “index” fund. I felt exactly the same in the beginning about getting my feet wet. It was a huge leap that my parents still cannot accept and understand and think I gambled and lost all my money. These days I’m panic buying, that’s how far along I’ve come over the past two years. And if I had started back when, I’d be triple FIRE by now. Heck, quadruple.
    The other people seemed unreal to me. Maybe because I live in Europe where people still pay mostly in cash and even debit cards are not accepted everywhere (and definitely not for small purchases), and it’s simply impossible to take on so much debt (I’ve never even taken debt in my life). There are more bikes than cars in my town; when I saw that huge truck I was like why? Like who would do that or even want that… Maybe I just don’t understand that lifestyle, it’s beyond my imagination. And the amounts of money people were making were mind-boggling to me… Like, you make 300K per year and expecting more next year and you’re struggling financially?!? What planet are theses people living on? Anyway, if the movie represents the average lifestyle in the US, I guess it has its audience and I sure hope it helps them get out of all that debt.

    Reply
  • Ritu Shah September 14, 2022, 7:33 am

    Watched it- loved it! Was exciting to see you in-person on camera. :)

    Reply
  • HkK September 14, 2022, 2:52 pm

    I have read your blog sporadically over the last decade. I appreciate your perspective and what you have accomplished in your life and also for others. To me that’s the big takeaway with this film, even as someone who has heard of you and read your blog before, it hit harder and deeper seeing it presented this way. It left me with a great feeling of responsibility for my own life. Plus I have two children and I want them to create the life they love as well.
    I’m now in deep reflection about the lessons from each expert and how the advice was put into action and how I can apply it to my life, asap. I’m sharing the link with my family and friends so we can talk about it, encourage each other and live a life we love.
    Thank you for doing it!

    Reply
  • Lori C September 15, 2022, 7:20 am

    My husband (financial planner) and I (MMM fan) watched it last night. I LOVED it, however like many readers I wish it was just a documentary on you/the couple. My husband and I are in a very similar situation to the couple so I was excited to follow along and now I am all jazzed up to delete Amazon off my phone and cut my grocery bill in half. I was very impressed with the spreadsheet the couples were playing with – is that a nifty template I can find somewhere? Looked like there was a graph that showed years to FI? I love spreadsheets and would love to check it out!

    Reply
  • JR September 15, 2022, 4:28 pm

    Awesome movie! Thanks for the recommendation

    Reply
  • Jim September 16, 2022, 9:59 am

    Oh, I’m so watching this movie this weekend. Thanks for saying ‘Yes” MMM…or at least succumbing to the pressure!

    Reply
  • Steven A September 16, 2022, 1:07 pm

    I wanted to like this. I really did.
    But it was not good.

    Slow to start.
    Banal advice for the most part.

    Mr. Money Mustache was really the only redeeming part of the show.
    As well as the most handsome.

    Reply
  • Davin September 17, 2022, 8:17 am

    Not that my opinion matters much and I appreciate a doc that tries to help people with money… but aside from MMM the others were way too much “guru” for me. I had a hard time watching and just skipped to MMM parts.

    Agree with MMM, I feel like a story line covering one person/ couples financial journey in more detail would do better than trying to be everything to everyone. Maybe do separate doc’s with different advisors each targeting a different demographic.

    Reply
  • Daniel September 18, 2022, 1:43 pm

    I’ve been following MMM for a decade now and it’s great to see you in this documentary. Personally, I think you made the right choice to participate. I love the blog but you had almost no videos; especially early MMM. My wife and I just watched it last night and it was really, really good. I highly recommend everyone to watch it! Speaking of money we just successfully finished remodeling and flipping our home last month and paid cash for a nice (used) $35,000 40-foot 5th wheel with pop-out sides. We found an RV park out by the lake of the Ozarks that allows full-time RVing. We had more than enough to pay cash for the RV and the lot rent a year in advance. Currently, we are completely debt free; which is extremely important to me and thankfully my wife. Our monthly nut now is about $700 per month which includes everything! Lot rent, utilities, cell phones, internet, insurance, everything! We couldn’t be happier. If you don’t have to be in the city and work remotely I highly recommend going to the country, especially if you’re still building up your finances. It’s cheap out here. Just be sure you get a fairly large used 5th wheel (Don’t buy new!) and build an outdoor kitchen, lounge area, and firepit. Finally, we got those blood-sucking vampiric bankers out of our lives and we’re never going back to Brokeville. I’m watching the documentary your son made as well. It looks legit. As a musician and recording engineer tell him he did a good job! Keep it up MMM. Speaking as an atheist, you’re doing the Lord’s work. Cheers, from Missouri.

    Reply
  • Sayonara September 23, 2022, 2:40 pm

    FYI – pointing out a minor glitch – under the “Recent Comments” section on the homepage you used to be able to click on the specific comment and the link would take you to that comment to read the discussion. Now, it seems the links there are malfunctioning and just send you back to the homepage with no way to get to that discussion.

    Reply
  • martize smith September 24, 2022, 3:13 pm

    Great content. Anyone or organization that adds value gets a thumbs up for me. Most people must understand we can achieve the same or greater results than what we expect. Learn from the best and adjust our lives accordingly. Currently, top performers, based on research, are learning business skills like increasing productivity to get 10 times the result of average people.

    I love the FIRE movement it has changed my life and the dream is alive for those that believe it can happen. Remember strategies not just tactics will win the game.

    Reply
  • Carlos Canada September 24, 2022, 7:03 pm

    Saw it twice, your parts ar my favorite. Congrats to everyone involved in documentary

    Reply
  • willettagales September 26, 2022, 5:49 am

    Good morning.. Yes, I did see the movie… That’s how I’ve learned of you… Before the movie I had no idea that Mr Money Mustache even existed. I am excited to learn about how to save money and prepare for the future even though I’m already 65. I still work…. While retiring early may not be in my future… lol… my goal is to leave a legacy for my family. I’m excited and eager to learn.

    Reply
  • Matt G. September 26, 2022, 4:49 pm

    I watched the documentary and was really impressed. I’m a die hard mustachian and my wife isn’t. She found the documentary and suggested I come watch it with her. After, she said “We spend too much money on groceries!” which has always been a pinch point in our relationship.
    I do feel like the different stories illustrated very basic, but important tenets : Start getting better with money!
    Well done to all involved. It made me feel like I am on the right track in early retirement, and taught me a few new approaches that can only help me be better with money.
    FYI, I watched this with my nine and six year old daughters. They started asking questions and become engaged. That was more than I could ever hope for. Money is a tool to help you build a great life. It’s not life itself.

    Matt
    Monroe, WA

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache September 26, 2022, 8:57 pm

      Wow, great feedback Matt! I’m sure that’s what the filmmakers were going for – trying to get newcomers more curious about all this stuff while constrained to the very short time window of a documentary. So to hear these positive responses from three such people of different ages is pretty much perfect.

      The Atlas Films gang has have been reading these comments, so hopefully they will see yours too.

      Reply
  • Bonnie September 28, 2022, 10:46 am

    Enjoyed Get Smart with Money! I found it interesting to see those who used a more passive voice (my credit card got maxed our again vs. I maxed out my credit card again … yet I can’t limit myself to only buying what is necessary) .. and how difficult it was for the [to me] very high earning couple who just couldn’t seem to cut back.

    We retired early (thanks, MMM!) and the information is always a good refresher! Thanks for your participation in the project. You were the first resource I stumbled upon about 10 years ago with the idea of retiring early. We made it happen this year as we have been able to cut expenses while saving vigorously.

    Reply
  • Jon Seymour September 28, 2022, 4:13 pm

    Great documentary. I feel that the people you worked with certainly needed help to make a budget but the FIRE aspect was something they did not seem too interested in. Granted. if I was making 300K with a solid outlook in my career, it wouldn’t be too much of a concern. If you do this again, I suggest working with someone who makes the median salary of their state as this tends to cater to a large portion of FIRE devotees. Thanks again.

    Reply
  • Magali September 29, 2022, 9:06 am

    Gracias por participar en el documental. Gracias a ello pude conocer tu trabajo y poner en práctica tus consejos que han sido de mucha ayuda para mí.

    Reply
  • Matt Dernoga October 1, 2022, 10:10 am

    I really loved it but what’s most exciting for me personally, is that this is the first time I was able to get my spouse to be receptive to the idea of living a little more frugally. His (in my view) excessive spending is the number one challenge to our relationship. That said, he liked the doc so much that he wanted to watch some MMM videos on YouTube afterwards. Who would have thought? Maybe now is the time to try to get him to start shopping at Costco. Thanks Pete!

    Reply
  • Jams October 5, 2022, 3:53 am

    I was kind of hoping that they would have done a mini series instead of one long documentary. Either one episode per person or just a more drawn out series with all the diff stories, that way they wouldn’t have had to cut so much out ;) I will say, after the documentary I am WAYYY more conscious and excited for my financial life, being debt free asap!!!

    Ps- I’m a non car owner/bike rider to work and I’m ALL about this life and wish so many others were :( how do we start the movement!!??

    Reply
  • Alexis October 11, 2022, 10:32 am

    I watched the documentary and of course enjoyed you the most. I think they would’ve done better breaking the documentary down into 4 episodes instead of movie form and had each person that was being helped have their own episode. Then they could’ve avoided cutting so many details out. I think people would’ve found that more useful. I know I personally wished the documentary was longer and don’t enjoy the hopping all over the place from each different person until the end. Even though I would’ve changed some things, I still very much enjoyed it.

    Reply
  • FF October 17, 2022, 8:56 pm

    Congrats! I will definitely watch it. Reminds me the minimalist documentary I watched last year.

    Reply
  • EJ October 25, 2022, 2:50 pm

    I thought the documentary met its objectives given its audience (not mustachians) very well. Everyone was relatable and each story was hopeful. I think some people will be inspired by this film to change for the better and do all the real work to figure out how.

    I have to say I personally felt upset by the portrayal of the waitress with depression. Healthcare is not exclusively provided via health Insurance purchased by an employer. Why did it take a year to maybe get treatment and only happen by accident. 1) She made 52K a year and split expenses with a partner, room could have been made in that budget for mental health treatment at least via one of the online discount providers, 2) she was a waitress and almost certainly did not report her full income to the IRS. Not that you want your tax cheat status out and proud on film but since you are detail light anyway just handwave about calculating MAGI using business expenses HSA contributions, and IRA contributions. With a likely MAGI under 30K she could be buying nearly free ACA compliant insurance at the next open enrollment.

    Also 108K in student loan is still a hair on fire emergency not time to relax and take it easier.

    OK, I feel better now. Thanks. And overall still a very good use of everyone’s time to make the world a little better.

    Reply
  • Kate October 30, 2022, 9:26 pm

    Thanks for letting us know about this documentary! I watched it with my 11 and 13 year old daughters, and it led to some really good discussions with them. I also loved how you (and others) focussed on trimming extra expenses, and saving for long run, as well as some for shorter-term desires (like a nice vacation).
    All in all, much appreciated it
    Thanks!
    Kate

    Reply
  • ChrisD November 17, 2022, 11:51 am

    Hello MMM,

    The Netflix documentary led me to your blog/website here. SO, maybe they didn’t include as much as you wanted, but it was enough to direct me (and I’m sure others) to this place of infinite wisdom. Thank you!

    Reply

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