The California Effect

One of the reasons I don’t write as often these days is that my life has gradually evolved into a Personal Finance Bubble. 

The people around me have learned to be purposeful with their money, which means they now have plenty of savings and never have to stress about the stuff. Good ideas have naturally spread between the old group of friends, and new ones with similar values have drifted in over the years. 

And it has happened so much that that it’s almost normal for everyone in the neighborhood to have their own CNBC Make It feature*, which they don’t even get around to mentioning because we’re too busy helping each other with bathroom renovations or sharing the latest golden scores from Craigslist.

Because this is my everyday reality, I have mistakenly come to assume that this must be normal, and that perhaps these ideas of Mustachian living have just become universal out there in American life. Job well done MMM, time to hang up the keyboard and retire!

Until last weekend, when I took a short trip out to San Francisco and plunged deep into the astonishing reality of life outside of this bubble. And I realized that wow, we still have so much work to do. And there is so much that both sides – the Ultraconsumers and the Mustachians – can learn about human nature by studying the differences in our lifestyles.

A recent “winter” day at the Bay

The city of San Francisco is often called “The City” by locals, but it’s really part of a megalopolis  known as “The Bay Area”. Both of these nicknames are somewhat telling because they imply that there is only ONE bay and ONE city on the planet, and thus those embody the social and spending norms to which we should all comply.

To outsiders like the rest of us, The Bay Area is a bizarre and wild human science laboratory, in which our most beautiful and most ridiculous traits are simultaneously revealed. Artificial boundaries aside, in reality it’s all one teeming urban area which sprawls across ten thousand square miles and houses eight million people in an incredibly wide range of conditions. 

The median house price is about $1.5 million, but that figure masks even more amazing differences because it includes “bad” neighborhoods where you can get in as low as $750k as long as you don’t mind a long commute and/or trash-strewn streets and keeping your house locked behind a steel gate at all times. And nicer ones with where the prices start around $3M. 

Locals have become accustomed to $6.00 gasoline over the past year, $7.00 slices of pizza at a grungy restaurant if you shop around, and similarly surprising prices on most other services. One new homeowner lamented the $90-per-hour rate that his housekeeping company was now charging him to clean the house, and I enjoyed the opportunity to pick up a brunch tab for three ($148 including tip) on a nice sunny patio at a modest restaurant. A young single professional in the finance industry asked me whether he should downsize to just one seven-passenger Mercedes SUV to escape the second $1200 per month car payment from his monthly expenses (and free up a $200 parking space to boot).

With stories like these, it’s easy for the average person to just fall in line and repeat the standard Bay Area lament:

 “This is just a high cost of living area so it’s impossible to get ahead”

But as my visit progressed and I looked in with my usual outsider’s perspective, I couldn’t help but notice an awful lot of holes in this argument.

Just as I do at home, I spent the majority of my leisure time with good friends, exploring beautiful parks and neighborhoods on foot.  Sometimes we walked just to get to our appointments and meetings, arriving to hear stories about how bad the car traffic was or how late and expensive the Uber ride had been for the other attendees. Interesting.

Other times we hiked purposefully along cliffs and ocean shores. These days of fresh air and tens of thousands of steps left us feeling lean and healthy, with endless happy memories, enormous appetites and legs of sculpted steel. And yet they somehow cost absolutely nothing. And then we’d run into somebody who mentioned how hard it was to find time to get in shape, or how impractical it was to walk or ride a bike in a city with such steep hills. Curious.

We shopped in local grocery stores and I checked in on Costco prices in the area, and I noticed that despite the high cost of almost everything else, actual food was only a few percent more expensive than it is in the affordable middle of the country where I live. Strange.

On top of this, Northern California  happens to be blessed with a climate where the leaves and flowers bloom year-round (often hanging low with free fruits and vegetables), you rarely need heating or air conditioning for your home, and bike transportation is easy year-round because you’ll never encounter conditions more challenging than a bit of mildly cool rain or mist. 

Where I grew up in Canada, people would cry tears of joy if they woke up in January to discover the streets were free from snow and shimmering with actual liquid water. We would don our swimsuits and spend the day dancing in the streets in a spontaneous block party.

But in California, everybody** dodges even the slightest weather, drives cars even though they are the slowest and most expensive way to get around, eats most of their meals at restaurants, considers a $150 bottle of wine to be a reasonable indulgence on a Friday, lives far away from work and signs up for activities that are far away from home. Which means that despite the area’s nation-leading salaries, the average person is no further ahead than the rest of us.

On the grander scale, the California government is a supersized example of its spendy populace: they just keep building more titanic roads and cathedral-like networks of overlapping arched bridges and ocean-sized parking lots. All to subsidize and disguise the preposterous use of the massive, stupid, personal racing lounges that people call “cars”, which they think they need because they haven’t stopped to consider how ridiculous the whole situation is. The cars and roads ruin the vast majority of their beautiful land, turning everything into a screaming, crashing, toxic din of expensive and purely unnecessary bullshit. 

Of course, all that driving causes thousands of violent deaths due to crashes, and requires hundreds of thousands of police officers, ambulances, and fire trucks to patrol. The sedentary lifestyle and the body destroying nature of sitting down in a car for several hours per day causes millions of early deaths due to heart disease and diabetes and related conditions, which requires hundreds of additional hospitals and thousands of doctors and surgeons to mop up the carnage. And they pay for it all with some of the nation’s highest tax rates. 

Then the people blow the rest of their income on buying even more expensive cars and gasoline to race around on the unnecessary trillion-dollar road network.

So yeah, that’s the California effect. But lest you think I’m beating up unfairly on the people of this fine state, it’s really just a magnified version of the Everywhere Effect. It is an astonishing wasted opportunity for the growing billions of people who are trapped in and perpetuating the illogical and self-defeating systems of our modern rich world. 

But if you think of it from the opposite perspective, it is simultaneously the biggest life opportunity in human history: the understanding that all of us live in a bubble which we incorrectly perceive as “normal”.

Mr. Money Mustache lives on a quiet street where millionaire early retirees still prefer old cars and do our own housework, and we think that is normal.

San Francisco professionals live in a place where 25-year-old tech workers enjoy $200,000 starting salaries, yet still have credit card debt and car loans, and they think that is normal.

In a recent podcast episode, the researcher Lex Fridman described his experience interviewing Ukrainian people in the occupied war zones of that country, asking them if they felt it was safe where they lived. They generally said it was, despite frequent bombings and the occasional deaths of friends and family members. They have already started feeling that even war is normal.

From TV addicts who binge watch for five hours per day, to ultra endurance athletes like Tony Riddel who sometimes runs two marathons per day for nine consecutive days (mostly in bare feet), to alcoholics who can consume 30 beers before lunch time, to video gamers and bluegrass banjo players and olympic gymnasts with unimaginably fast neural circuitry and muscular control, it’s all the same thing: when a human brain experiences a stimulus, it quickly rewires and adapts and starts to think:

“This is normal.

The ultimate lesson, then, is to remind yourself that no, your current life is not normal.

It’s super weird and super specific, and you can completely change the damned thing in as many ways as you like and you absolutely will adapt and be able to handle it.

There was a huge line for the escalator but the 5-storey staircase was wide open. So of course I took the stairs. Then turned back and was happy to see people had started following my example once they saw it was “normal”

The cool part about this is, it means if you put the right things into your life (health, fitness, sensible spending, learning, socializing, and helping people), you’ll get used to those just as quickly as everyone else adapts to screen time and sodas and car loans.

Your Assignment:

Write a list of everything in your life that is expensive, bad for your physical or mental health, or both.

Consider how normal these things feel to you, but then imagine a totally different person, who is happy and successful self-actualized, who does not have or need these things in their life. Interesting. How do they do it?

Start noticing your own bubble, and study the California Effect in your own lifestyle. Where do you see ridiculousness masquerading as normalcy? How can you extract the best of life in your area, while shedding the unnecessary downsides? 

How can you create an entirely new bubble of normal, that serves you better?

That simple mindset is the underlying backbone of not just Financial Independence, but the best possible life all around.

Oceanfront views and leg sculpting classes – FREE!

Super Special Note:
The MMM Boot Camp Email Series is Finally Ready!

I spent most of the past year combing through this blog’s 500+ posts, picking out the best 52, polishing them up, and arranging them into a weekly series
… which you can now join for FREE, right here with this link.

No spam or salesy stuff because I have nothing to sell. Just a year of gradual, pleasant lifestyle transformation delivered right to your inbox.

 * congrats Amberly and John! Their CNBC story is available here – I recommend the written version as it has more accurate details than the video.

** Everybody. It seems this word has triggered a few sensitive souls who don’t fit into this generalization, my apologies for that. Definitely not literally everyone, just the vast majority of them – as with all American cities. San Francisco is actually among the top cities where people walk to work (ten percent), but California as a whole had only about a 3.9% walk+bike to work rate according to this 2016 article on Streetsblog. While my word choice here obviously backfired a bit, it was supposed to be a deliberate attempt to play up the idea of the whole “normalizing” trend. Most people see their peers driving cars to work, or even to the grocery store with a painfully crowded parking lot less than one mile away, and they adopt that behavior without evaluating whether or not there is a more effective option. When in reality, for at least 90% of potential car trips, there is.

In the Comments: What changes do you struggle with? Things you know would be good for you but seem “too hard”. Are they things that would be outside of the social norm for your area and peer group?

  • Alec S December 10, 2022, 5:50 pm

    I dunno. The Bay Area tech companies run shuttles that keep thousands of cars off the freeways. Most allow working from home a few days a week if not permanent remote. The traffic is honestly still pretty good when you compare to pre-pandemic. I also think that when you compare to Southern California and the rest of the country, you’ve got a lot more accessible open space (and people who take advantage of it) than most urban places. You’ve also got more electric cars, more renewable electricity and stricter environmental laws than just about anywhere. The high cost of living is a drag, but if you watch your spending, you can live a very high quality of life (outdoors!) year-round. I wouldn’t live anywhere else!

    • Cat December 10, 2022, 7:05 pm

      Agree. San Francisco and the guy with two Mercedes doesn’t represent California, one of the most diverse states in the union from climate to people. I live here and have lived the frugal life since before Pete was born. Yet, I do get his point and understand his rant. His experience just isn’t representative of all of us Californians.

    • Joe December 10, 2022, 7:28 pm

      I was able to visit the Bay area last June, and loved it. We walked everywhere, always felt safe. There were homeless people, but they were so spaced out, they never felt like any threat at all. The best part of the week was going up into Marin County for an afternoon ( we walked to the pier and took the ferry across, where a friend who lives there picked us up ), hiked up Mt Tam and did some sightseeing in that beautiful area. Housing prices were really the only negative that I could see. Restaurant meals were real pricey, but I don’t want to eat out more than twice a month or so anyways. And restaurant meals are pretty expensive back home in the upper Midwest, too. For day to day living, could definitely make a go of it in the Bay area, but the home ownership entry fee is insurmountable. I live in a great area already, but look forward to visiting SF and the Bay area again.

      • Profit Greenly December 11, 2022, 3:52 am

        CA’s state law that caps the growth of property tax is also partly to blame for the issues there as it strongly encourages people to never move after they’ve bought a home. Even if they get a new job miles away they’ll do better financially driving to it then buying a new house near it because they will owe tens of thousands more in property tax on the new house. This seemingly well meaning law has really distorted the housing market there and led to a lot of problems.

        The even bigger issue with SF is that for decades its local gov has made it illegal to build dense housing in much of the city and the suburbs have mostly followed suit. If you only allow low density housing in a city with tons of jobs and huge salaries then the pricing of the few close in houses will be bid through the roof and everyone who works there but can’t afford that will be forced to commute long distances, or even worse, become homeless because there are simply no homes they can afford.

        There has been a small amount of progress on this in recent years, but in reality SF needs hundreds of thousands, if not millions more homes to be built. The only way this can physically happen without extending the car based sprawl of the city is to allow more density. When you house 10 families in the amount of land of a single detached home you enable biking, walking, and eventually affordability (though there’s so much pent up demand to live in SF that it’ll take a LOT of building before it becomes affordable). I wrote about how my town of State College PA is in the infancy of a situation like this and why it needs to change ASAP. All this applies triply to SF which should have legalized more dense building decades ago.


        • Marcia December 12, 2022, 12:31 pm

          I enjoyed this blog post. That area of PA is so beautiful, let’s not waste the land on SFH.

          • Profit Greenly December 18, 2022, 11:50 am

            Glad you liked it, and totally agree about central PA. It truly is a hidden gem.

            I recently visited Cumberland MD and thought the same about it. It may be even better since is the connection point of two amazing bike trails and has a beautiful downtown with dense buildings and walkability. Oh and there’s an Amtrak stop right in the downtown there.

            The big issue with Cumberland is that in the 50s manufacturing moved to the coasts and it lost a lot of jobs and thus population. They somehow managed to maintain a nice core (maybe through tourism?) even through this exodus. Now property there is amazingly affordable while the town is actually still quite nice.

            There was a beautiful, multi-story bank building from the 30s right down town there (71 Baltimore St) that I bet could be bought for $600-700k (pretty amazing value for 30,000 sqft in a walkable downtown). Seems like some Mustachian could buy it and convert it into multiple homes and a co-working space to kick off a renewal of that downtown. That’s a topic for a future post though.

        • Mary Ann March 9, 2023, 6:18 pm

          Check my data but I read where 40,000 of the homes in San Francisco are currently empty. Owners are either investors, second home owners, or those do not wish to live in the city anymore. Rent is so high that they cannot find tenants. The issue is NOT building more homes. Local government has caused chaos by trying to solve these issues with rent control, permissive behavior with criminals who terrorize small shops and local homeowners, and a killer local taxes. Walgreens is moving out of SF because it refuses to enforce laws against stealing. Diseases that haven’t been seen in years are resurrecting because of “rights” homeless have to defecate in the streets and possess illegal , unhealthy or unsafe “personal property.” In my mind, SF has succumb to the same government chaos of entitled small interest groups that Santa Monica did five years ago. Santa Monica was my birth place and the most lovely little city around. I grieve its loss.

          BTW: When talking about homeless it is better to differentiate between those who are housing insecure (which programs try to address and we in the school system try to proved a safety net); mentally or physically ill, and those who choose to remain apart from social responsibility either by addiction , criminal behavior, or entitlement ethos. The last category hurts the first category more than any other group.

          • Frank May 4, 2023, 10:32 am

            I loved SM too. I went to SMCC and was a regular at 4th street stairs in the 90s. Chrissie Hyndes, “…but my city was gone”

      • Chris December 11, 2022, 11:40 am

        Why would homeless people be a threat?

        • dina December 11, 2022, 12:35 pm

          I understand your point, but I lived in SF for several years and felt unsafe a number of times around homeless people. The combined issues of mental illness and drug abuse can lead to some pretty aggressive and unpredictable behavior. I was shouted at a number of times and had a box of food thrown at me once. Maybe those don’t count as *real* danger, but as a female walking and taking public transit alone, I was always on guard.

          As to the rest of the article, I think it’s pretty spot on. I was one of the very few in my social circle who earned a meager salary. No car, always lived with roommates, took my lunch to work almost always, skipped a lot of the activities my more spendy friends were doing. It was an interesting time in my life but I wouldn’t want to live there now!

          • Lindsey December 11, 2022, 3:39 pm

            Maybe it is women who feel more threatened. I know men who shrug off having street people grab at you, throw things, shout rude remarks, and bump into you with some force. However, those behaviors leave me feeling vulnerable and at risk and always, as you say, on guard. It is a crappy way to have to be when strolling through a city, just trying to be a tourist.

            • Westly Scott LaFleur December 12, 2022, 7:42 am

              Nope, men feel this way too. If anything else, we’re even more anxious about these sorts of encounters because they’re much more likely to escalate if you’re male. Hence men being the majority victims of violent crime.

              Unfortunately, you are right to insinuate that some of us play it down. Those of my brothers out there putting on airs are doing a disservice to the rest of us by spreading this misapprehension. Many of them still haven’t learned the very basic lesson that fear is a requisite for courage and that, by denying it, they’re only perpetuating a gross parody of masculinity.

        • Will December 16, 2022, 10:21 am

          I lived in Redwood City on the Peninsula for 9 years and over the last three years the homeless population has exploded and the police are less able / willing to do anything about problems this causes. We had three break ins to our apartment and several break ins to units around us that resulted in fires, floods, fights, stabbings, etc.

          Some of these folks are unfortunately mentally unstable and there are few safety nets to help them.

        • tyler February 11, 2023, 7:53 am

          Mental illness and, they have nothing to lose. Think about it. When I assess a situation I think, do they have anything to lose by attacking me? If they are already bottom of society and they commit a crime, ruined credit score? Lose their job? Lose their home? Shamed by their friends? Nope on all accounts. Those are the people you need to be afraid of.

        • kyle February 13, 2023, 7:49 am

          Well… Chris… They are often desperate people in desperate situations. They are often struggling with mental health and addiction problems. They are struggling to meet their basic human needs… And.. never-mind… see if they’ll agree to babysit your daughter to make some extra cash.
          (Purposefully asinine question, Chris. [face-palm emoji])

        • Miles April 5, 2023, 1:17 pm

          This stigma against the homeless is another one of these super weird and super specific things we treat as “normal”.

          If someone has a mental health issue that causes them to attack someone they don’t end up homeless.
          They end up in jail or shot, or on the news if they’re a police officer, pro athlete, C-level, or another profession that allows someone to avoid the normal consequences.

          I’ve gone out and talked to some of the local homeless people around here, and guess what? All of them have been lovely people. Some are going through pressure that most of the rest of us can barely imagine. Cancer can happen to anyone and will likely blow your imagined “worst case situation” out of the water.
          Others are living their best lives. One was traveling the country with no possessions but what’s in his backpack. Another was living out of his Semi. A third was living out of his boat and covered expenses by ferrying tourists around various destinations.

          These stories are actively being erased by political pundits who want us to think about the homeless in a certain way, in the hopes that it influences us to vote in a certain way. But it’s all manipulation. If you haven’t actually gone out and talked to these people, and gotten to know them, what you think you know are just strawmen and strawwomen (strawpersons?)

      • Steve December 18, 2022, 12:51 pm

        “There were homeless people, but they were so spaced out, they never felt like any threat at all.”
        Oh boy, this view is exactly what MMM means when he talks about the “new normal”, the bubble that we need to leave.

        • Matt January 10, 2023, 3:10 pm

          No, it’s a totally reasonable reaction. There is a population in SF that essentially lives outside of the law: tent encampments, open drug dealing, theft, violence. Not saying that homelessness per se leads to threatening behavior, but it is in fact a risk with that particular homeless population.

    • nicoleandmaggie December 11, 2022, 9:50 am

      Also agree. I lived in the LA area for a few years and the SF area for a few years and I visit both pretty regularly for work. LA has a consumer culture and a driving culture. The SF bay area for the most part doesn’t. There’s so many free government provided services, especially when you have kids. It is super easy to get around without a car and to find free things to do. We went out every weekend and still left the year with things we wanted to do but hadn’t got a chance to. I cab/uber when I’m in LA, but I BART when I’m in Northern CA.

      Plus I was shocked the last time I went to LA how cheap produce is, but I’m always shocked about that when I go to California.

      And if you’re lucky enough to have rent control and to be a SF native (or to have bought early enough that your property tax is trivial) you can live an extremely frugal life while making all the money you need with possibly illegal sub-lets/roommates. There’s definitely an early retirement extreme sub-culture out there that isn’t really possible elsewhere, especially with people who benefit from rent-control and small-time landlords outside of the rent control zones.

    • Imac December 12, 2022, 12:09 pm

      I am also a bit disappointed with this article and the falsities. As someone who lives in the northern bay area and has lived in Denver, this just doesn’t make any sense. After graduating from college in Denver, I moved back to the bay area because I could not afford to live in the neighborhoods that I wanted to live in because the pay was much less for the same work in Denver as it was in the bay area. The cost of living wasn’t any less in Denver than it is here in the bay area. I also found that the traffic is worse in Denver than it is here. The city I live in is constantly improving the bicycling infrastructure and the outdoor activity opportunities are immense year-round.

      • Bohemiana November 11, 2023, 3:08 pm

        I agree that his experience in the Bay Area is a tiny look into one California city. I lived 25 years in Long Beach (southern CA) and was able to live very frugally and save money. In just the same way as all MMM followers and FIRE believers, my husband and I spent much less than we earned. (We still spend much less than we earn.) We made sacrifices by initially living in a tiny home (520 square feet) in a semi-sketchy but artistic neighborhood with wonderful neighbors just 2 miles from the beach. We could walk to several groceries and lots of stores and restaurants. For many years we earned way below what any of our friends were earning but we enjoyed camping, cooking, doing our own renovations, walks on the beach, bike rides, etc. and saved, saved, saved. It takes sacrifice to get into the housing market but it’s SO worth it. I don’t want to get into boring details, but we purchased other houses and condos that were in need of work, rehabbed them while we lived in them 2-3 years and then sold them for a nice profit. Only one was a bad investment but even that, we didn’t lose money. I’m not sure young people today are willing to sacrifice no dinners out, buying only discount food, no fancy phones, etc but if they do, nowhere except maybe NYC can you reap the rewards of LA real estate! We ended up purchasing three other rentals over time, which are now all paid off over the period of 20 years and provide 100% of our income in retirement rarely dipping into our long-term savings. We moved to the Phoenix area to a 55+ community but we still own in Long Beach and may end up there a little later in life. We have plenty of frugal friends living in Long Beach, raising kids and living a good life while also saving money. It’s possible! Just as possible as being broke living in a “cheap” city in the middle of nowhere USA.

  • Shaz December 10, 2022, 5:55 pm

    Thanks MMM since viewing your work over past months am so glad you are paving a way for new NORMAL. Glad to read the details on California. When I decided minimal life furniture free many around took me for not being normal ? So am isolated in a way and trying to find new group of friends

  • Marcia December 10, 2022, 5:58 pm

    Hey now…I live in California. Some of those tech folks are leaving the Bay for Santa Barbara (yay us) because they can work remotely. Of course our housing is nuts now too. Thanks!

    In the meantime, I read on any news message boards how the “bicycle lobby” is going to run the town! We’ve already shut down State to cars. But now, gasp! Those crazy bike folks want to put an actual bike path on the major crosstown road (where my teen bikes home from school), AND they want to remove a car lane through the next town over to put in a bike lane! (Where dh and I bike to work sometimes.) The horrors!

    It’s not a bicycle lobby folks, it’s regular folks who commute by bike…

    • Michael December 10, 2022, 8:16 pm

      I wish we had a bicycle lobby…I live in California in the Northern Bay Area. Our daughter started third grade this year and we thought it would be great to ride our bikes to school with her. We’re in a suburban, residential area and live about a mile from the school. The main road to get to school has a 25 mph speed limit and we ride on the sidewalk. We were told that kids are NOT allowed to ride their bikes to school, even with their parents! We took it to the school board and our 8 year old spoke about biking in front of everyone…and the board still would not even consider it. Interacting with non-Mustachians can be so frustrating.

      • Mr. Money Mustache December 10, 2022, 8:22 pm

        Wow, not even ALLOWED to ride to school!?! We had a “Walk n Roll” bike program at my boy’s elementary school where volunteers handed out reward stickers to each kid to arrived on bike or foot. And even so I felt that the roads should be completely closed to cars in the first few blocks around the school to discourage the ridiculous driving, almost 100% of it unnecessary since most of the students lived within a ten minute walk of the place.

        I guess you could ride to just outside the school grounds, lock up the bikes somewhere nearby and then walk the rest of the way?

        • Chris B December 11, 2022, 1:31 pm

          This may be a case where thinking for oneself involves refusing to follow the rules laid down by other people. Who are these school board people, the grand poobahs of intra-neighborhood transportation?

          @Michael: “arrest me then” is a reasonable response. These people only have the power you give them.

          • lurker January 14, 2023, 1:10 pm

            guy who wrote Walton might think about civil disobedience
            in this situation
            kids and parents on bikes rolling up to school to ask why this rule exists
            in a time of climate crisis…

        • Mary Hollendoner December 11, 2022, 7:57 pm

          My daughter went to public school in the Bay Area (Mountain View) and we biked to school every day. The school encouraged kids to bike (or walk) to school with a day similar to what you’re describing where they got stickers & prizes for doing so. That is really odd that the previous poster’s daughter couldn’t bike to school! I’d be curious where they live. Generally my experience in the Bay Area is lots of bike lanes and lots of bikers!

          • nicoleandmaggie December 12, 2022, 11:11 am

            Ditto! And alone at a much younger age than would be allowed where we usually live too. The culture is just so different in terms of what they let kids do on their own. Lots of elementary schoolers biking themselves.

            And the dedicated bike lanes everywhere, especially the ones that don’t share road with cars, are so much safer than biking around her.

      • Lindsey December 11, 2022, 3:42 pm

        I don’t understand how they can control what you do outside of school? What happens if you bike to school, they won’t let you in the door? You have to wear a dunce cap all day? Honestly, I don’t know how they can enforce such an idiot and controlling rule outside of school. I have never heard of such a thing.

      • Gareth December 12, 2022, 6:59 am

        I’m utterly confused, flabbergasted even, that a school might attempt to dictate what method of transportation their pupils employ. I read these anecdotes here and on the Forum and I’m left wondering just how free is the “Land of the Free” in comparison to many other countries (most of western Europe for example). Back on topic, I was on public transport to school (bus -> tube -> walk) 1 hour each way from age 10. Unless I was commuting by helicopter my school couldn’t have given two hoots (England).

        • Suzie December 22, 2022, 2:47 pm

          Hilarious response from a fellow Brit! The idea of not being “allowed” to cycle, even WITH YOUR PARENTS just… does not compute. I mean, really, what is the school going to do? Not let your child in if you turn up with them on a bike? Not “allowed”?! It’s meaningless if they don’t do anything and ridiculous if they do. I’d love to know how this pans out for the OP.

      • `Hadilly December 12, 2022, 12:08 pm

        I would encourage you to look at the city of Palo Alto’s bike coalition. The schools, PTAs, city, and police department all work together to encourage kids biking to school. The Safe Routes Partnership in Palo Alto is really something! Check it out. Maybe you can start talking to city council members about setting up something similar.

        I wouldn’t call Palo Alto a mustachian place at all, but there are a lot of fervent bikers.

      • Donna December 13, 2022, 11:31 am

        I live in Southern California and had a similar experience when my now 19 year old son was in elementary school.
        1. Students were not allowed to ride bikes to school until 3rd grade. I allowed him to do it anyway as soon as he wanted to.
        2. Students were not allowed to skateboard to school. He did it anyway and hid his board in the bushes near the campus entrance.
        3. When Grandma had to pick him up, she would have him walk a block and a half to meet her, so she didn’t have to deal with the crazy pickup crowds. In first grade, the school called me and said they could not release him to walk, that he was too young. I called the police department and confirmed that there was no age requirement for walking to or from school. The busybodies in the office let him walk.

        • Mr. Money Mustache December 14, 2022, 2:54 pm

          Nice! I love these examples Donna, thanks for sharing.

          When the rules are clearly Wrong, it is healthy to do a bit of gentle civil disobedience to live in a better way. And of course, to work to change those wrong rules to help clear the way for others.

      • Kay December 15, 2022, 7:22 am

        I’ve lived in SoCal for just under 19 years now – originally from the Chicago area. I know what I’m about to say also happens outside of California but it is extremely common here. Children are driven everywhere – especially to and from school – roads and freeways are extremely congested as a result of that due to all the parents on the road at the same time. Especially the streets around the schools – it’s nearly impossible to get through. So one of the unintended consequences of charter schools and stranger danger is this. What you describe MMM that the most of the kids live nearby is not really the case. It was the case for me and my generation growing up and it was great. Sometimes I think people (in this example – parents ) define their value by the ‘time’ they put in to their childrens days – especially transporting them back and forth. IMO everyone is suffering from this – all the way to the fact that kids have not time alone – away from screens. Someone in my neighborhood – a great SD neighborhood that had huge potential to be more bikeable – tried to organize a bike to school program.. I went to the meetings and was sadly faced with the reality that this was not a concept shared by most of the neighbors. The vitriol of neighbors towards bikes and towards children in general being out in the wild – is intense. So sometime I think do i need to move to Longmont?

      • Martin February 2, 2023, 12:56 am

        In Germany we were told that it is okay if the parents escort their kids, but they mustn’t ride alone until they were in 3rd grade and passed a bike riding test. There must be some insurrance issue: if the younger kids get alone into an acccident, it would be the lack of supervision of the parents… So if someone driving his luxury SUV against something to avoid running over your kid when it doesn’t behave appropriat, you would have to pay for it…

      • tyler February 11, 2023, 7:56 am

        You choose to live in a commie area…. Move

    • Kate December 10, 2022, 8:28 pm

      I don’t have a car (and ride a bike) but where I live, the cyclist political lobby has become extreme. It has made me stop affiliating with them, of which I used to be a paying member. I have always understood that not everyone can or should ride a bike for daily needs, but the bike lobbyists seems to profess that everyone could and should, which basically comes down to judging people; me=good, you=bad. I wish city leaders would do something rational, like put both sides together and talk about shared ideas, and treat each other with respect. Instead, the new normal is bikes wars vs cars/retail stores. I see both sides and I think they are both valid – but sadly just like politics these days – it’s turn into extremism, anger and shouting. Just like congress.

    • Josh December 13, 2022, 10:25 am

      Hey, a Fellow Santa Barbarian! (Although I live in Goleta)

      • Marcia December 13, 2022, 12:07 pm

        I work in Goleta, and am looking forward to the bike lane addition to Old Town!

  • Andrew Clayden December 10, 2022, 6:02 pm

    Thanks for this rant MMM! We always need to be AWARE of what is going on. As you stated, if we are always around our same-thinking/living friends we forget that not all people think as we do. The absurdity of the automobile culture continues with the influx of electric vehicles…..yup, they’ll produce less greenhouse gas, but the absurdity of everybody “needing” one remains.

    • Mr. Money Mustache December 10, 2022, 7:40 pm

      Yep, that’s why we merely changed the official name, from “luxury gas powered personal racing sofas” to “luxury electric personal racing sofas”

      I admit to owning a very luxurious electric car myself, and it’s super fun and convenient at times.. but definitely not normal or necessary. Just an indulgence for a lifetime of being careful with money.

      • Annika December 17, 2022, 12:49 pm

        So apparently you lost your ongoing battle to not buy a Tesla? 😁

      • Chris December 18, 2022, 9:08 pm

        There is a fair bit in the pipeline in the electric vehicle field that seems in line with your values and interests, MMM. For example, the concept of using an EV’s battery as a store for solar power that can then be used to power your home, rather than taking power from a non-renewable source. It might be less than perfect still, but it’s a long-way beyond where we were 20 years ago and even now in terms of energy efficiency. Coal-burning power stations will become museums and petrol-powered vehicles will be solely for enthusiasts. Like you, I’m pretty optimistic about the future and the things that are being done to essentially eliminate electricity and transport bills from household budgets are exciting! So rather than EVs being another source of derision, the benefits to society should generally outweigh the negatives and may, in time, be worthy of high praise.

  • Ann Leach December 10, 2022, 6:16 pm

    Before 19 April this year, the second most expensive line item in my (free spreadsheet) budget was personal car and all of its related expenses.

    This while living in a 20 minute community, being healthy enough to walk everywhere, owning a bicycle and bicycle trailer, and having access to inexpensive and frequent public transportation. What was I thinking?

    Well, I wasn’t thinking until I woke up on 19 April and said no more.

    19 April is the day I moved into a smaller apartment, gave up car ownership and changed my life path. I walk thousands of steps/10s of miles each week and am enjoying all of the mental, physical, environmental, and financial health improvements of my new lifestyle.

    When choosing where to live, the “location, location, location” mantra means a different set of priorities to me than it does to most others. But my life is simpler and healthier for me.

    • Laura Sonnier December 12, 2022, 10:39 am

      Do you mind sharing the name of your town? We are looking for a 20 minute city

      • Kay December 15, 2022, 7:32 am

        The city of Chicago and most of it’s surrounding suburbs along the various train and rail routes are incredibly 20 minute lifestyles. Except for the lack of sunshine i miss it greatly. But if you’re not willing to be cold and surrounded by clouds often.. it wouldn’t work. Otherwise it’s a great place!

  • Kate December 10, 2022, 6:46 pm

    I’ve lived in the bay area for most of my life and whenever someone asks me about moving here, I advise them: “If you can do only these 2 things, you will have a good life” 1) Stay out of a car and 2) find a place to live. Everything else is easy. But I am suspicious that your experience of dining, wine and fancy cars was your own bubble of high-flying companions :) That is not a scene I’ve experienced here.

    As for driving cars: Some people can’t take public transit, such as my neighbors who are visiting nurses, electricians, sales reps, family with 3 kids going to different schools. I used to take the Bart Train but no more. It has turned into an unsafe hell-hole. Now I gladly take Uber rather than risk dying on Bart.

    While the Bay area is an expensive area, it’s also cheap in a lot of ways. My uncle (who lives in rural Indiana) and I compared living expenses once, and he actually had more expenses than I did. Most of his were car/truck/snow/heat related. Even my house is paid off and his isn’t. I’m not a tech millionaire – just a teacher/artist who saved money. BUT I could make my own list of OTHER insane things going on here that aren’t in your article.

    • Mr. Money Mustache December 10, 2022, 7:36 pm

      Great perspectives. Although I remain a big BART (train/subway system) fan – we put untold dozens of miles on that thing! And as more people use and support any form of public transit, the funding and service quality tends to go up too.

      So, for anyone who DOES still feel safe riding their transit system, please do so whenever it will get you there conveniently. And of course, consider a bike or e-bike, which is usually faster than not only public transit, but faster car and uber riding in most cities.

  • SF Moustachian December 10, 2022, 6:56 pm

    Glad to see my hometown of the last ~7 years featured here. The endless options for free activities you described are one of the main reasons why I love living here so much, despite the higher cost of living (mainly housing). My GF’s family is from Chicago and I am always saddened to see how most of their activities/hobbies involve spending money (eat out, comedy club, Topgolf, etc.). Now surely Chicago has plenty of free activities one could participate in too, but I think it’s undeniable that the weather and natural geography in SF is a lot more inviting.

  • Aditee December 10, 2022, 7:01 pm

    I am a Mustachian in the bay! Its so cool to see a piece on the bay area, the land of contrasts on your website. One thing thats constantly awesome here is the weather. I am so happy you got to enjoy some nature out here.

    • VolleyDoc December 10, 2022, 8:05 pm

      The weather is constantly awesome… where? I’m a native San Franciscan living in NC and I can assure you the weather in the western portion of the city itself is NOT constantly awesome. I’ve so enjoyed experiencing seasons out here!

  • RedStateConsumer December 10, 2022, 7:08 pm

    I just struggle with consuming little in general. It’s so antithetical to how most Americans live, it’s antithetical to how I was raised, and I don’t have a tribe of like-minded people.

    • Meg December 10, 2022, 10:53 pm

      I was exactly the same way. I like to say I brainwashed myself, with the help of MMM, the ChooseFI guys, Physician on Fire, the Playing with Fire documentary, JR Collins, Vicki Robbins, and the excellent Paula Pant at Afford Anything. I spent a few years consuming this media on my own, and they became my tribe of like-minded people. My whole life has changed for better since then and we’re about 7 years away from FI (honestly probably less given how serendipitously a mindset shift and habit shift compounds positive outcomes!). Check those guys out if you haven’t! And good luck.

  • paul December 10, 2022, 7:36 pm

    Good message. Wherever you happen to live you can choose to avoid the health destroying, money wasting pastimes in favor of inexpensive, healthy ones. In my case regular racquetball is a super inexpensive and healthy activity. Roasting my own coffee is cheap, enjoyable and good for health. I had a really hard time this Black Friday because I could not think of anything I needed to buy.

    • Brian W February 28, 2023, 2:35 pm

      I enjoy reading people’s MMM-esque stories. The other day, I had a “Buy Something Day:” splurged and spent $25 on frivolous things for my cat.

  • Nina December 10, 2022, 7:38 pm

    I’m disappointed in the over-generalizing in this post. You say “everybody in California drives cars, eats most of their meals at restaurants, etc”. That seems a bit unfair. I’ve lived in San Francisco for 15 years and have never had a car here. I live on 40-45k a year and save 75% of my income. Most of my friends also do not have cars and life here for many of us looks like what you mentioned – lots of walking (built-in exercise with the hills, along with stunning views) and public transit is actually quite good here. We enjoy our amazing weather and beautiful nature, virtually all my meals are home-cooked from farmers’ markets. You can make your points without excessive stereotyping and hating on California.

    • Sara C. December 10, 2022, 9:37 pm

      Came down to the comments to make the same points! Definitely not everyone. And probably not even most.

    • Marisa January 2, 2023, 5:16 pm

      Really interesting to see the mix of people who say BART is great vs BART is too terrible to use.

      • Bill T January 10, 2023, 7:47 pm

        I’ve lived in the Bay Area since 1969, and BART has not gotten better over the years. Sometimes you get onto a newer train and the crowd happens to be alright and you feel like BART is the way to. But then, on another day, you’ll encounter urine on the train floor, broken glass at the station, and really scary people hanging around. If you just google, there has been a lot of criminal activity on BART, including an attempted rape mid-day last month (Richmond line in that case). I want to like BART, really, but I don’t think it’s very safe. It could be improved pretty easily with some patrols. I forgot to mention that cars are regularly broken into at the BART lots, which you have to pay to use. I took the S-Bahn, busses, streetcars, etc. in Munich last summer and LOVED that system. BART is nothing like that.

    • Emily January 29, 2023, 5:01 pm

      I want to back Nina up here. I’ve lived in SF since 2013 without a car. My partner has been here much longer and doesn’t even have a driver’s license. Both of us walk/run/bike/take transit everywhere. We live in an urban neighborhood next to a national park (!!) that is filled with the most majestic blue herons, hawks, frogs, banana slugs, coyotes, and eucalyptus trees. It’s true that our rent is steep, but otherwise we barely spend much money on anything else. My partner wears his socks through until they have 3 holes on each foot.

      Our idea of a good day is taking a long walk through our gorgeous, nature-filled city. We utilize “Free City” (our free community college program) like most people take vacations. We are vegan and have access to the best quality, freshest produce at the co-op I co-owned, as well as our weekly farmer’s market. I agree that SF caters far too much to the living-rooms-on-wheels set, but we also have an active safe streets movement. Just look up car-free JFK Drive, for instance.

      My point being: we are not heros or anything, but it’s quite possible (and enjoyable!) to live a frugal, low-waste, car-free lifestyle in SF. Your post here is full of generalized Fox News-style condemnations based on what I assume was a quick visit. Please do better. Nuance exists, even in San Francisco.

  • Liam Rosen December 10, 2022, 7:41 pm

    The adage that you need to have a bazillion dollars to make it in the Bay is so tired. I’ve actually heard several people say that making below 100K was “poverty level”. Idiotic.

    Using Mustachian principles, I *thrived* for 7 years making an average of 48K a year.

    I made a thread about my first year, where I made 32K: https://www.reddit.com/r/Frugal/comments/2x2v42/i_survive_in_the_bay_area_making_32000_a_year_and/

    • James December 11, 2022, 9:08 am

      I just read through this AMA post and I can’t believe how many broke minded people replied. Half of your comments were in the negative even though they were very true and thought provoking comments… I think MMM was speaking about those people because the comments on his own blog post are from his type of demographic anyway. I highly recommend reading through Liam’s link on Reddit… the majority of people out there will never get it #consumersuckas

    • Chris B December 11, 2022, 1:23 pm

      Sounds like you kicked ass! I don’t mean to take anything away from your experience by saying this, and in fact I think it adds something to the point you made, but you beat the game with the settings turned all the way up to HARD. There are easier ways.

      Where I live (Deep South city) it is possible to live off of about $15-20k if one were willing to go car-free and live in a rented room, like you did in SF. I was earning about $32k in about the same timeframe when I qualified for a 5.5% mortgage on a 3/2 house, and then I paid cash for a fixer-upper later that same year with savings I had left over AFTER making my down payment on the main house. I was in my mid-20’s.

  • Mr. Nomad Numbers December 10, 2022, 8:11 pm

    As a European who grew up in France and spent 10 years working as a Software Engineer in San Francisco, this article totally resonate with me.

    While I could afford to live comfortably with my salary during my working years in California (2008-2018), I did not find that the value of living in California was as good as other countries in the world (especially after spending my childhood in Europe).

    I had the chance to meet you Pete (Mr. MM) with my wife at the wonderful Chautauqua retreat of 2017. You and the other speakers who attended this week long experience gave us the confirmation that were had saved enough to become financially free and could embark on our dream of slow traveling the worlds for many years.

    Flash forward to today, my wife and I have been traveling the world for 4.5 years and never spent more than 40K USD per year! For us this was half of what we used to spent to live in San Francisco while working full time and way below our expectations.

    We do return to San Francisco every year to connect with parents and friends and every time we return, we find San Francisco less and less attractive to us. The city has changed a lot, the inequality keep growing (which bring a fair amount of safety issues in the city) and things are getting expensive for no clear reasons. I guess once you live outside of California it is really hard to find places that are as expensive (even Sydney is cheaper overall).

    For people that want to see what our life have been like since we FIREd and become full time slow travelers, you can check out our blog (linked in our bio). We do share every thing we do and every dollar we spent. We would also be happy to help answer any questions you might have about this lifestyle and our we transitionned into it.

    Last but not least if you are part of the lucky people living in California that make good money by working in tech, keep in mind that you can probably reach financial independence relatively quickly if you focus of the things that really matter to you. It is crazy to see how much you can save by earning so much with a Tech job if you focus on spending what truly add value to your life and bringing you happiness. (Breaking news: a 1.5M+ condo or big car usually do not for the time you have to spent to pay for it).

    • Michelle C December 13, 2022, 2:29 pm

      Hi Mr. Nomad Numbers! :) One of your longtime fans commenting here, a fellow Bay Area Native. As I read through this comment I realized it must have been left by you and scrolled up and saw your name. I agree that San Francisco is less and less attractive each time I visit. The city gets dirtier, things get more expensive, everywhere gets more crowded, etc.

      Thanks Mr. MM for all these insights in this post. I agree with them completely.

  • Melissa December 10, 2022, 8:15 pm

    I live in Berkeley and am fully mustachian. In fact I live on less than $2k/month. Cheap studio apartment, no car, bike everywhere, cook my own food, and there are lots of free events and stuff to do. And I make a ton of money so I have 70% savings rate. We aren’t all crazy consumers, just find better friends.

    • anna December 11, 2022, 5:01 am

      love this:) I’m the same! And I also buy everything in thrift stores, or find on the streets of Boston – people leave out the craziest stuff, you just won’t believe what rich households store.

    • Kate December 15, 2022, 11:52 am

      I agree on the free events: clothes swaps, Garden produce swaps, fixit clinics, Multiple faith worship, Berkeley City College was offering free classes (health insurance and a buss pass) for free temporarily (because of covid,), Berkeley Adult school classes are almost free. I even have a neighbor who works at Acme bread and brings home all the unsold bread everyday and distributes it to neighbors!

  • Phil December 10, 2022, 8:15 pm

    Oh come on Pete, you sound like a current day journalist – picking only the facts supporting your story. There i said it: fake news! There are over 15 million peeps in both the Cal mega-cities and the median income is still below 50K. So prob 3/4 of the folks here don’t live the story you describe. Stop hanging with the bourgeois crowd and stop recycling your old stories…

    • Dan H December 10, 2022, 9:27 pm

      I like to think that Pete knows he’s embellishing to prove a valid point. But yes it’s definitely sensationalized.

    • Joe December 10, 2022, 10:46 pm

      Agreed, for those of us that live here we hear this tired story all the time. The bay is massively diverse, and there are people here that live more mustachian than even overlord MMM himself. For a self styled optimist I would have figured he would have found us and focused on all of the amazing good things happening in California. I’m disappointed in you MMM :(

    • anna December 11, 2022, 5:02 am

      Nowhere did he say that this lifestyle is applicable to each CA resident. He pointed out that there are plenty $200K / year earners who are struggling financially, and complain about being fat, and the doctors are to help them out due to their diabetes / heart problems, for no good reason.

      • Joe December 11, 2022, 12:29 pm

        He literally said, “But in California, everybody dodges even the slightest weather, drives cars even though they are the slowest and most expensive way to get around, eats most of their meals at restaurants, considers a $150 bottle of wine to be a reasonable indulgence on a Friday” Then he gave a sarcastic apology to “a few sensitive souls” who didn’t like his ignorant article. You can say you didn’t mean it as a bash on California specifically, but the anti-California crowd heard your dog whistle. Read the comments, I see a lot of weird rants piggybacking on the hate. I think MMM is actually the sensitive one who doesn’t like being called out on this and is trying to deflect instead of realizing the real reason he doesn’t like CA has nothing to do with frugality.

        • Mr. Money Mustache December 11, 2022, 1:17 pm

          Actually Joe, I think the real situation is the opposite of the way you summarize it:

          The reason I don’t like herd-mentality behavior (including consumerism) in Human beings has nothing to do with California.

          Like many things, it’s a universal phenomenon that is baked into our species, *BUT* I believe that by becoming aware of our own traits, we can learn to rise above them somewhat and lead happier lives – regardless of the exact spot on the planet we happen to live.

          • Giuseppe February 21, 2023, 4:44 pm

            well stated recap

  • Junie Curtiss December 10, 2022, 8:41 pm

    As a Bay Area person, I am super frugal in my life, not to retire early, but just so I can fully enjoy the amazing food and wine culture here. Full Mustache except when I hit the farmers market!

  • Bryan December 10, 2022, 8:55 pm

    Please don’t essentialize the area or how people live by techie standards. I live a frugal life. The bay area is EXPENSIVE primarily due to HOUSING. I don’t care if you rent, own, or whatever – the cost for this versus what NORMAL people wages are does not add up to many other places. For example, my teacher wages here in the north bay are a bit lower than my sister companion in Chicago, yet I could easily buy a literal mansion over there with what my tiny 3 bedroom house cost here, in perhaps one of the less desirable “suburbs” of “the city” – i.e. Santa Rosa. With that said, you can still make it here on a modest income – but good luck building wealth without some help from mommie or someone else.

    • Chris B December 11, 2022, 1:10 pm

      Yea, the housing is expensive because the whole system (laws, infrastructure, taxes) is oriented toward making it expensive.

      What I don’t get is why people choose to buy the more expensive thing, when they could have a better life by buying the cheaper thing? I.e. there are people in The Bay Area who would like to buy a home, but homes there are increasing in price at a faster pace than they can save. These same people could buy a home in 80% of the U.S. right now if they would just be willing to leave the land of artificial scarcity. Similarly, there are people earning $200k in the bay area, but are only able to save maybe $10k a year. Many of them could get a $100k job in the Midwest, live the same lifestyle, and pocket $50k/year. Yet their rationale for living where they live is to make a lot of money. For what? Tax purposes?

      I appreciate the can-do attitude of Mustachians in HCOL areas, but they are definitely doing it the hard way.

  • ChoiceBeef December 10, 2022, 9:17 pm

    This post reeks of elitism, ironically the same elitism California is stereotyped for. Most of these problems are just systemic to North America urbanism as a whole.

    > Then turned back and was happy to see people had started following my example once they saw it was “normal”

    Jesus Christ, did they all break out into applause afterwards?

    Please spend more time in the state before you sneer at it so purposefully.

    • frank December 11, 2022, 10:10 am

      I dont get the sense that MMM is being elitist. Just making the point that even in high cost of living of places efficiencies can be made. There are times I disagree with MMM but even then its possible to look at what he says and apply some lessons to your own life.
      The example with the stairs wasn’t an example of MMM being sneering but just making the point that taking the stairs isnt something people commonly do

  • Danielle December 10, 2022, 9:26 pm

    I agree with everyone. Your report is both “true” and “untrue.” Because you are a human being, were here for a short time, and therefore, by necessity, have a limited POV. Which is fine. I mean, who can have an objective view of what the experience of millions of people could be? Considering some are elderly, some are young, some are foreign, some are disabled, etc. It’s too complex. I believe what you have spoken about would be highly beneficial for the tech crowd to hear. Also, for those of us living in the “bay” who don’t have high incomes (like myself), it’s a nice reminder that is more of a mindset shift. I mean, you are basically talking about neuroplasticity and changing culture via changing how we view “normal” behavior. Since I’m autistic, I don’t fall into that trap of following what’s normal thankfully. That is probably why frugality and mustachianism make perfect sense to me.

    But to get your point, I do believe it can be harder to reach FI here if you aren’t a high income earner. The housing cost really is a barrier. It is super beautiful here and pretty much all we do is free stuff but still, that housing cost is tough. We’re definitely considering moving to a place that is #1 beautiful and where you can have fun outside year round and #2 where housing is significantly lower. It seems like the most sane approach. I also grew up here and I’m tired of always being low-income compared to everyone. What’s funny is that I started a podcast with a friend from Florida and we are both super frugal and her living expenses are about the same as mine… but I live in a really small condo with my family of 4 while she owns 2 duplexes (and lives in one of the units) so my expenses are remarkably low but if I ever needed to move into a larger space here, it would increase my monthly expenses tremendously.

  • geno December 10, 2022, 9:50 pm

    Pete’s story is emblematic of the lives many of us live, especially in the United States, not just in California. I don’t think he’s bashing California in particular but of the lifestyle we live.

    I have recently echoed his sentiments with my kids so that they can live a more meaningful life. What I mean specifically is to avoid being a consumer of materialistic bullshit that adds very little to no value to our lives. We are constantly bombarded with advertising all around us telling us we need XYZ which will makes us happier, attractive, sexier, insert whatever adjective you’d like.

    A man who has little wants or needs is truly a rich man, as the saying goes. I see people all around me from the well off to middle class, working a job they despise to pay for all the things they think they need. It’s such a time suck, slaving away, exchanging your life energy for so many frivolous things like new cars, dining out on overpriced meals, name brand clothes etc., etc.

    Then to decompress from this hedonic treadmill, they spend thousands on a vacation from which they get a two or three week reprieve per year, going into further debt, so at Christmas time they can send out post cards showcasing their summer ventures.

    And like Pete said, this is somehow all been normalized. It’s insanity! I yearn for a simple life where I can have some land, raise some chickens, spend time outdoors and escape the hustle and bustle of the big cities.

    We are addicted to a lifestyle that brings us a lot debt with little life satisfaction because of the stress and poor health outcomes. We are much sicker and more obese as a nation than we were in the 60’s and 70’s. Look at that time period and how many people were obese? Not many. Today being overweight, is the new normal.

    Technology has made us lazier in may regards from Uber eats to binging on your favorite on line streaming service or scrolling on Instagram for the dopamine hits. And for the most part, we are all paying a price for this with our health and with are wealth!

    End of rant.

  • Johnny Austin December 10, 2022, 10:17 pm

    MMM! My Man, great post, I really enjoyed it as a “Non-Normal” for many years now.

    With that compliment posted, I wanted to take this post as a chance to actually say thank you for your blog! I had posted a comment here nearly a decade ago about my goal of early retirement and after searching for hours to post a comment on that comment, I’ve just decided to share with you today that I reached that goal 2 years ago right before the Pandemic hit! The key to success for me was to be abnormal.

    Specific example’s of this… As a life long musician I’ve been climbing uphill against an income curve. But no excuses, as a bass player in a band called Leatherhand with my two brothers back in the early aughts, we would habitually collect and split cash tips after every gig, performance fees and merch sales were deposited in our business account to be split and doled out at the first of the month, we somehow were able to eat and pay rent with actual band earnings here in Austin Texas. But that sweet tax free tip cash was fun money immediately after the show. My two brothers would promptly drink that cash away and I would deposit mine in an ATM on the way home from the gig in the middle of the night. $20, $10, $5, even a single dollar, right in the bank, my youngest brother would balk and I’d say, you’ll see…

    My wife and I have been going on after dinner walks every night our whole relationship and we will find penny’s, nickels, dimes and even quarters. We have a jar that these go in, free money from the street. Someone is surely reading this shaking their head. But the rest of the story is after a long read through of this inspiring blog, top to tale, I took a few ideas and set some solid goals, mainly to have no debt as soon as possible, specifically my home mortgage and my income property mortgage. I’ve never really carried credit card debt. The two things I did were, One, refinance the high interest rate on my house, 8% down to 5% and a 30 year down to a 15 year. So paying more each month, with more going to the principle. Everyone including my wife kept fighting that decision, but I was stubborn AF! I then put my cash tips, and those pennies and dimes that I mentioned on the principle of my mortgage the day that I got them. Hilarious right? Change, like actual change, it was a game for me. Someone is still shaking their head I’m sure.

    One time when I was telling this story to my multi-millionaire oldest brother he laughed so hard milk came out of his nose. He asked me to come work for him at his software development company in Utah to make way more money and I passed saying I enjoyed singing even though it wasn’t as lucrative.

    That tangent aside, there came a time for us to move near my wife’s aging parents, I didn’t want to leave the music city and the cool little cottage that I was paying off with extra pennies each day, but we found the right place and bought a 3rd house. We rented the cottage just incase we wanted to come back to the music city one day.

    Here’s the climax! 2 years later our renter gave notice she was moving to San Fran and we decided our new home was now our dream home, so the little cottage was put on the market, offers were made that first day and the sale was final within the month. Our profit in the bank after taxes and fees was more than all of our mortgages and auto loans combined. You can guess what the peanut gallery was saying… sock that in a savings account… house rich & cash poor is loosing money… We knew years before our ultimate goal, and literally 4 months before Covid hit, we were completely mortgage and debt free!

    Our net worth was officially over a million dollars. And I felt like a millionaire. We tallied up the total amount I actually paid over time with my tips and street pennies and it was just north of $6k, so not a lot, but over that time with interest savings and hitting the exact number of equity earnings to payoff almost to the penny all debt was surely a marker of the good habit that seemed “Not Normal”. I still sing and make money performing and releasing my indie music, and we still have the income property, but with no debt at all, I will say my favorite reward from this position is how much more money I seem to have all the time when I don’t have to make a payment on something. And now I’m the bank, if I want a new hot tub, my high interest bank account is where I’m saving for it. Be The Bank! It’s an amazing place to be and I feel richer everyday, not just monetarily, but mentally, my days are filled with memory making moments like you described in this post! Keep moving the positive needle forward for those of us that become inspired by your words and deeds!

    Rock On, Johnny John!

    • Sfiso December 11, 2022, 2:27 am

      Pennies do count. Inspirational story!

  • Meg December 10, 2022, 10:47 pm

    I love this article and completely agree! As a Bay Area native who left over a decade ago, I was shocked while visiting my family over Thanksgiving. We stayed at a modest airbnb, brought our bikes (along with our trusty 25 year old toyota that still gets 40 miles to the gallon), and had a wonderful time in a beautiful place with great people. But we also spent almot $100 for four people to eat pizza and beer before a comedy show in the city, and spent over $70 on a modest breakfast one morning (which we swiftly biked away from miffed but happy to at least be self-powered for the time being). I’ve noticed the lifestyle inflation of my family and friends in CA. A new car, trendy clothes, and a dwell-worthy house are all of highest importance (you will be assured they are all electric, fair trade, and have the newest environmentally friendly upgrades, respectively). There is a real hunger for consumption that can’t be overstated. I know many people are thoughtful and grounded, but in San Francisco and specifically amongst those who enjoy large tech salaries, there seems to be a definite culture of buying the shiniest shit available. I gotta say, all that shiny shit sure is pretty, and it doesn’t take much for me to work up a healthy envy, but then I look at my nice bank account and very low mortgage and go on a bike ride along a wild Oregon river and thank my lucky stars I got out when I did!

  • Bay Area December 10, 2022, 11:11 pm

    “Both of these nicknames are somewhat telling because they imply that there is only ONE bay and ONE city on the planet, and thus those embody the social and spending norms to which we should all comply”

    “But in California, everybody dodges even the slightest weather, drives cars even though they are the slowest and most expensive way to get around, eats most of their meals at restaurants, considers a $150 bottle of wine to be a reasonable indulgence on a Friday”

    I’ve been a huge fan of your writing forever. As a mustachian who has been living in the bay area for over a decade, I appreciate this post’s attempt to draw attention and reflection to our hedonic treadmills, but it reads like a gigantic straw man. You have painted a caricature of bay area and California residents with a very monochromatic brush.

    The behavior you describe is in abundance in California, but it’s also prevalent in many other places as well. It is important to reflect on the luxuries on our life that have become normalities, but you could have just as easily made this point without claiming that a 7 million person region or a 40 million person state are a homogeneous group of folks driving mercedes to get $20 avocado toast every morning.

    The bay area is a great example to establish this point, but in these divisive times, it would benefit us all to introduce more nuance to your writing rather than resorting to clickbaity nonsense like this.

    • Dharma Bum December 11, 2022, 8:37 am

      In all fairness, MMM did specifically mention that the behaviour of decadent self indulgent Californians is prevalent in other places as well:

      “So yeah, that’s the California effect. But lest you think I’m beating up unfairly on the people of this fine state, it’s really just a magnified version of the Everywhere Effect. It is an astonishing wasted opportunity for the growing billions of people who are trapped in and perpetuating the illogical and self-defeating systems of our modern rich world. ”

      He is merely pointing out that the Bay Area is a microcosm for the rest of the consumercentric parts of the world.

      As a Californian, you are in the eye of the hurricane and perhaps have lost perspective of how a once great state has actually declined into a cesspool of despair of off-the-charts homelessness, crime, pollution, extravagance, decadence, high taxes, high gas prices, squalor, opulence, hedonism, Gavin Newsom, skid row, police brutality, and narcissism.

      Just like MMM said: a microcosm of the USA (and Canada, for that matter).

  • StevenA December 11, 2022, 12:11 am

    “But in California, everybody dodges even the slightest weather, drives cars even though they are the slowest and most expensive way to get around, eats most of their meals at restaurants, considers a $150 bottle of wine to be a reasonable indulgence on a Friday, lives far away from work and signs up for activities that are far away from home.”

    With respect, this is a sweeping generalization not supported by the facts and one that is unbecoming someone with your knowledge and self-awareness. So I must infer that you did it for effect. If so, it could have been done much more artfully and for a far greater return. Perhaps you might want to rethink your investment strategy for such phrasing in the future.

  • Daveed December 11, 2022, 12:47 am

    Welcome MMM to our hood In “The City”, The Outer Richmond, Ocean Beach /Avenues area in SF where we still have frugal familias like ours living in homes with up to three generations (Cultural) packed in 1500 sq. feet homes where many of us have converted a dining room and/or kick the cars to the street and use the garage into extra bedrooms… not complaining, just the way of life if you want to keep families from moving elsewhere, like across the bay 20+ miles away in the slightly more affordable and sometimes depending on your crime tolerance scale, a happening place called, “The Town” aka Oakland. The SF Bike Coalition has political influence here making bikes more accessible on the streets while the emergence of the E-Bike help assist less fit riders flatten the 42+ hills for their trips. Still Livin Abundantly Large in $F !

  • Lee December 11, 2022, 1:26 am

    Great article. I live on the west coast of Scotland, and though life is different here, we are still subject to the same issues – everyone has a car (or two), large mortgages, too much stuff etc. I was in a bad place a few years back with £30k of debt but following you and some other personal finance accounts, I turned mega frugal and paid it all off in about 3 years. I’m still debt free and now have some savings, albeit not as much as I ‘should’ considering the time that has past. While I’m not in debt I have slowly started spending more than necessary, partly as a means of combating what was a pretty stressful job for a couple of years (comfort spending!). I’m 47 now, and still rent, and I’m saving for a deposit on a house. The market is a bit crazy at the moment here, and the way it works you need to offer quite a bit over the asking price, so need even larger deposit (or down payment in you lingo!). So for that reason it will take me a while to save enough, but that’s okay. I decided to chose lifestyle over money though and decided to go part-time at work, now working 4 days instead of 5. I tightened the budget and it just means I’m saving a bit less, but I didn’t reduce my pension payment and I’m saving 22% a month in there. Life balance is SO much better, so it’s worth it. All of that was to say that I live a little different to the norm, and I’m very happy with that. I’m not a millionaire, not sure I’ll ever reach that, but also okay with that too! Having no debt and savings is key to me, and I’ve achieved that, so I feel really lucky.

  • Rafe December 11, 2022, 4:02 am

    I sold my car live off my ebike in car crazy la. I like bikes which are light and fast. 33c3 is 33lb ebike goes 33mph and has 1500w motor. Its my daily driver

    Roadies mad because im cheating
    Ebikers mad because im cheating
    Drivers mad because im cheating
    And im cheating..

    • Mr. Money Mustache December 11, 2022, 7:59 am

      Yeah! I need to write about electric bikes again soon, because the field has advanced so much since I last did so many years ago.

      Nowadays you can get great, fast reliable bikes for under $1500 (Ride1Up and Rad bikes are good options these days).

      For people who are mechanically inclined who are also experienced cyclists, I still recommend something like the BBS02 Mid-drive kit from Luna Cycle. I put this 1500 watt motor (and a 52V/710Wh battery – best deals are on Amazon) onto a really nice full suspension mountain bike in 2019, and have been riding it like crazy ever since, amassing 2000 miles of local and inter-city errands.

      The key for me is that the underlying bike is designed for bombing up and down rough mountain trails, which means sturdy frame and suspension and powerful brakes. The Luna kit provides me with enough power to get up over 40MPH, which allows me to “take the lane” and ride it like a motorcycle along with the flow of traffic – eliminating the problem of cars whizzing past you when there are no bike lanes available.

      Essential for doing this somewhat safely: super bright flashing lights on both front and back of bike, and training/experience riding a two wheeled vehicle motorcycle-style with traffic. I started this pastime young with motocross dirt bikes starting at age 14 and then graduated to road motorcycles at 16 (32 years ago!), so to anyone reading this as a new rider, don’t jump into fast e-bikes too casually. Start with a nice slow one and stick to bike paths or very quiet streets initially.

      • frank December 11, 2022, 10:14 am

        Any cahnce on doing something on the best small electric cars ? I have a renault zoe which is perfect for my lifestyle but your thoughts would be appreciated

        • CaptainFI January 4, 2023, 5:18 pm

          Hey mate check out the Nissan Leaf articles that MMM has published already

      • Chris B December 11, 2022, 12:52 pm

        I always scratch my head when people do electric conversions on cheap department store bikes, when there are plenty of high quality but technologically dated machines out there like the one you converted.
        If you’re spending hundreds of dollars on a motor and battery, why would you choose a Huffy as the bike you upgrade? Why not something with light wheels, functional suspension, gears that shift reliably, sporty handling, etc?

    • Marcia December 12, 2022, 12:45 pm

      Ha this made me laugh. One of the reasons people are complaining about the new planned bike paths (besides the hatred of the “bicycle lobby”) are “those damn E-bike kids are a menace!”

      Which, I totally get. Yes, there are a number of middle class and rich families who bought their kids $1500 E-bikes (the horrors!) Those kids ride too fast (up to 20-25 mph), sometimes with other kids riding on back, often without helmets. They don’t follow the rules of the road and almost hit people. Plus I NEVER see them actually pedal. Those are all good reasons to be frustrated, and to support (1) education and (2) enforcement. But what the NIMBYs want is for E-bikes to be illegal or require people to be 16 and have a license, or to limit the top speed. The E-bikes are here to stay folks.

      Most of the people I know with E-bikes are actually adults who commute by bike. Most of them are even 60+ years old. One of them doesn’t even have a driver’s license. My husband and I share a new E-bike that we ride when weather and health permits. (Though a 33 lb one would be glorious! Ours is 60lb, so there’s no tossing it in the back of the car when you want to take it somewhere.) The thing that it has done for me is take my 10 mile commute down from an hour to 45-50 minutes (and my husband’s down to 38 minutes, and yes it’s the same commute.)

      Every “kid on an E-bike” is one kid whose parents aren’t driving them cross town to a friend’s house or to school. These same people complain that kids are always playing video games or are always on their phones…

      E-biking is so much more fun than driving, and one of my biking coworkers said it’s cheating. I said “not when it’s replacing a 10 mile car trip AND you are in your 50’s it’s not!”

  • Anna December 11, 2022, 4:59 am

    I love everything about this article, just – THANK YOU.

    I live in Boston, and it has so many parks, museums, beaches, free lectures, concerts, exhibitions at MIT, Harvard, all other fine establishments. We have a decaying, but functioning transit system, so I happily sold my car the year I moved (that’s actually why I moved here from Nashville). Yet, each friend who moves from abroad (I’m from Belarus so we have lots of refugees coming to the US these days) puts ‘buying a car’ as their #1 goal, and each (often financially struggling) friend complains how they need to buy a newer car, because the old one breaks too often, and fixing is expensive..

    However, last I heard, California abolished minimum parking requirements, so you guys should have more housing, and it will be transit oriented? Yaw!!!

    One tiny note is that for the disabled population, walking is still not an option. They need quality transit.

  • Nancy Jones December 11, 2022, 5:48 am

    I was able to change jobs early this year. I traded a one-hour-each-way drive (no public transit in our area) for a WFH job, just as gas prices started to rise. Unfortunately, I also lost the subsidized gym membership, and somehow we weren’t able to make it a priority to go after supper. But along with that came a huge raise and my husband is driving my smaller car most days instead of his big pickup truck. My “normal” is way too much sitting. My treadmill is in the same room I work in, but I need to get it cleaned off (the study often becomes the place where everything lands, so that needs to change), and I’ve gotten my husband a home gym system for Christmas, which we’ll put into the bedroom vacated by our last-remaining-home son. Financially we’re fine and I love my job so I don’t have plans to quit, and we wont’ have to replace a vehicle as soon as we otherwise might have. I got both vehicles paid off this year and I’m working on the mortgage, which is six more years at the current rate, but I may amp that up as well. I’m not even sure what normal is anymore except too much sitting, and I have a plan for that.

  • Dharma Bum December 11, 2022, 8:21 am

    As a long time reader of and adherent to the MMM blog and lifestyle, the process of changing habits and adapting to a revised lifestyle of sensible spending, investing, healthy eating, exercise, appreciation for the wonderment of everything we are surrounded by, and having a great sense of humour to view the ridiculousness of the absurdity of how most people live there lives is now ingrained in my brain. I am definitely a MMM convert and disciple. It’s just normal now.

    The problem I encounter, however, is in dealing with my “former” friends and colleagues. The majority (okay – almost all of them) just don’t get it. They think I’m nuts. They sneer at my frugality, snicker at my simplicity in activities, scoff at my choices, and have generally shunned me due to my reluctance to participate in their choice of lifestyle (expensive vacations, dining out, excessive drinking and drug use, consumption of horrible non-stop mainstream media news, fancy vehicles, social media addiction, etc.).

    Socializing has become increasingly difficult for me. I have some trouble finding new friends and like minded people to share experiences and ideas with. The MMM lifestyle can be lonely at times.

    Speaking of Californians complaining about the weather, I just spent a month in Arizona (Greater Phoenix Area) and talked to a random guy who, when I told him that I was a visiting Canadian, he said he used to live in Virginia, and couldn’t stand the weather so he moved to Arizona and loves it. He then suggested that I should come visit when “the weather isn’t so cold”. I told him that this was my ideal weather! About 74 degrees, sunny, no humidity. He said, no, this is too cold – and then pulled up his pant leg to reveal that he was wearing LONG UNDERWEAR! Hahahahahah!

    Thanks again MMM for the valuable insights you consistently provide us with, and the regular reminders to constantly gauge our habits and improve our efficiency in all of our lifestyle areas including finance, mental health, physical health, fitness, nutrition, spirituality, work, leisure, friendship, education, travel, recreation, and humanity.

    • Kristine December 11, 2022, 6:06 pm

      Dharma Bum,
      I can relate 100%. From my work colleagues, immediate family even my son who is almost 30 think I’m a nut job for saving and being totally debt free. Mortgage paid off last year, it’s a feeling I’ll never forget. However it’s also a bit lonely being “different”, I’ve worked on finding a new tribe so far this hasn’t happened. Too many people enjoy crying how broke they are as they drive 2 hours to work, buy the latest gadgets financed by credit cards or the new button you click which automatically bills your credit card the easy low amounts every month. Pathetic. Good luck!

      • Dharma Bum December 11, 2022, 9:23 pm

        Hey, maybe we should start our own tribe!

    • Chris December 11, 2022, 10:59 pm

      Sounds like a move to Longmont is required ;)

      …my favourite weather is less than 10C with light rain. Honestly! Perfect conditions for walking or running through forests.

      • lurker January 16, 2023, 4:13 pm

        my welsh terrier loves that weather too….she has me out in all kinds of buster and I must admit I am starting to like it…lol

  • Alexis December 11, 2022, 8:55 am

    Once I visited that area and had the same wow you had MMM. A frugal like me to see what it’s considered the norm of spending it’s just mind-blowing. California as a whole it’s something out of this world, on one hand they like socialism and the sharing nature but on the other hand if you’re not a millionaire there you don’t fit in and you’ll count the days to get out of there and never come back!!!

  • Samantha December 11, 2022, 9:23 am

    This was a disappointing piece to read. The multiple use of “everybody” is unfair and incorrect. Speaking for myself, the middle parts of the US feel unsafe and hostile because I don’t have white skin.

    Summarizing this behavior as everyone else’s in the end makes the “California effect” an even less accurate label. I’ve seen this behavior in other countries also. Yet, I visit with an open heart and appreciate whatever I can learn from the people. Perhaps you should not visit any place that feeds your sense of superiority. It’s bad for your character and humility.

    • Mr. Money Mustache December 11, 2022, 1:45 pm

      Thanks for the feedback Samantha. I can see how some of my rants can come across as being about feeling superior or being judgmental – especially to newer readers who don’t know why this blog really exists. And I can certainly keep working on my writing style to make the message clearer. But for now, I’ll just try to summarize it for other new people who might see our conversation here:

      None of these stories are about ME being particularly good personally or judging others or anybody being superior to anybody else.

      Rather, I’m trying to get across a few basic points to encourage readers to consider trying new behaviors, which will happen to make them a lot wealthier and lead more satisfying lives, while ALSO consuming less natural resources, especially fossil fuels.

      So, the whole blog is a giant marketing campaign for lifestyle changes that I think will help humanity. My own little world is fine already as I had the joy of retiring over 18 years ago so I don’t have much to prove to anyone or much motivation to strive and achieve conventional success. But I still occasionally like to dust off the keyboard and type some shit into this computer in the hopes of sharing the strategies with others, to the best of my ability.

      If my style doesn’t come across well, there are thousands of other finance blogs out there with different, milder-mannered writers at the helm. Many of them are just as good or even better than me at the nuts and bolts of personal finance. So you should only stick around here if the style works for you!

  • Laurel December 11, 2022, 10:36 am

    I had to laugh because sooooo many people want to live in California! I have lived in Southern California all my life. My husband and I live 5 blocks from the ocean and 45 minutes to beautiful mountain trails. Our house is paid off and we are financially secure with no debt. But the kicker is we’re both social workers! Not careers you go into for the money! It can be done!

    I do agree with your comments about how we normalize things…. Mass shootings in our schools for example. Not normal, but we just live with it and hope it doesn’t happen at my children’s school, but we’ll try to teach kids how to protect themselves from a barrage of bullets. Homelessness. Not normal, but at least they’re not camped out in my neighborhood. I could go on, but let’s not think about it!

  • Chris December 11, 2022, 11:49 am

    Coincidentally (as California features heavily), I just finished reading The Grapes of Wrath. Best novel ever! I reckon John Steinbeck was a Mustachian.

  • Chris B December 11, 2022, 12:45 pm

    Use of the internet for socializing and entertainment is my vice. I should be using real-world friends for these things. The difficulty with this particular thing arises because transforming my life in this way depends in part on them agreeing to transform their lives in the same way. I’d have to lead them out of the smartphone wilderness of normalcy.

    Yet, I can envision it, and this is a lifestyle change worth working for.

  • Bob Reilly December 11, 2022, 1:30 pm

    I live near Boston and recently worked for 4 months in the Bay area – living in Marin county.
    I am now trying to figure out how to move to SF. At age 60, it is a big step.
    If you think traffic in SF is bad, do not visit Boston, which, by some metrics, has the worse traffic in America, if not the world.
    Making it tougher is that the subway system is a complete shambles, and bike lanes minimal (Assuming you want to ride your bike in Boston weather)
    SF is sunny most of the time, rarely overbearingly hot and humid – you can ride a bike from Sausalito to SF over the Bay bridge in 20 minutes (Electric bikes being extremely popular there). The range of restaurants is infinite – even for folks on a budget the food trucks are phenomenal.)
    I have deep, deep buyer’s remorse for spending so much of my life in New England after 4 months in SF.
    The homeless situation in SF is terrible. That much is true.
    Housing is overpriced – but it is one of the only places in the USA where prices are going down. And the passage of a statewide housing laws in September (SB 8,9, and 10) are going to change things, I suspect. (Look them up). We’re going to rent when we get there and look for opportunities.

  • Dave December 11, 2022, 1:36 pm

    Car culture around the world eh! I’m from the UK, where in general its perfectly normal attempting to cross most roads and highways. However on my various trips the States and Canada, I’ve often been baffled about how convoluted and downright unsafe it is for a pedestrian to simply get from one side of a highway or one block to another!
    At least the bay area has cycle and running lanes around the waterfront in many areas!

  • Neener December 11, 2022, 1:55 pm

    I agree with the critique here that you have made broad sweeping statements about a particular bubble in the Bay Area which has no relevance to the majority of people who call California home. I’m a life-long resident of a suburb of Los Angeles which is comprised mostly of immigrants from various countries and continents, Mustachian values are widely practiced here. People live below their means, pool their resources, and enjoy the simple pleasures of life. Affordable immigrant food markets and restaurants abound. People entertain mostly at home. Many of my neighbors are professionals that could afford to move to more affluent areas, but remain in their 1950s 1500 SF homes and live modestly. Some people here even brag about how long they’ve held onto their cars. We do drive a lot unfortunately. But public transportation is not a viable substitute for commutes, as a one-hour drive by car would take 3 or 4 hours using public transportation.

  • Jen December 11, 2022, 3:13 pm

    ” We would don our swimsuits and spend the day dancing in the streets in a spontaneous block party.” :D Love this. One of my favourite articles, very thought provoking and strangely hopeful (a world with less roads?). I love my car on the weekends, but I also love that my commute to work is always on foot or bike. MMM is correct, it is a dose of sugar for your life.

  • Paul December 11, 2022, 3:15 pm

    I live in San Francisco comfortably on 22K per year. All due to following your advice MMM. Thank you. One big wrinkle is that I’m lucky to have an affordable rent controlled apartment. Without that I’d need 60K per year to live here.

  • Sandra December 11, 2022, 7:12 pm

    I have a relative who lives north of the Bay and riding a bike is incredibly unsafe. There are a lot of hit and runs so it really isn’t an option. He used to ride routinely and would ride to work but the fear is real.

    I live in Toronto and ride my bike, but it’s getting pretty bad too. Not all drivers care and when a cyclist dies, they get a slap on the wrist. The laws need to change.

    Transit has become pretty bad too, similar to the BART in San Francisco. Homeless living in the subway cars and a lot of people with mental health issues roaming the system. Random people being stabbed (and killed sadly) or pushed into the tracks. We don’t have a car so I walk and cycle as much as possible, and occasionally take transit. But Uber has become my friend too given the current state of affairs. It’s actually getting scary for my older kids. Not sure if the city will bounce back after Covid.

  • Mary Hollendoner December 11, 2022, 8:31 pm

    I think you may have been accidentally hanging out in a rich/lazy bubble while you were in the Bay, LOL! When I lived in SF, I didn’t even own a car, and most of my friends were the same. Eventually I got one but only for weekends to go to Yosemite, I still didn’t use it during the week. I rode my bike to work almost every day for 10 years and loved it! We usually went out on weekends to cheap dive bars in the Mission, or camped/climbed in the many beautiful mountain areas. I’m sure you’re right that there are people spending all their money on cars & fancy restaurants, but it’s far from “everyone”, in fact I’d guess that it’s less than in a more typical American city.

    The big issue in SF is the cost of housing – most people live too far from work to be able to bike. I was lucky to buy a home before prices went crazy, and therefore I could live close enough to my job to bike to work every day. But so many people I worked with had to live far away, just to afford their house, and then they were stuck driving their car to work. I remember encouraging one of my employees to take public transport to work but it would have taken him 2 hours instead of 1 and taken up too much of his day. The teachers at my daughter’s public school similarly had to live far away to afford their home, and thus had to drive long distances to get to work.

    So we have to recognize that driving to work isn’t a sign of laziness or unwillingness to bike, it’s a sign of not being able to afford a house closer to your office. (But you’re certainly correct that there are tons of people who *could* bike to work and choose not to!)

    In response to your question of what do *I* struggle with: now we’re living in SLC, Utah, and I really struggle to bike around in the long, dark, cold, snowy winters! I need to toughen up haha!

  • Bob Reisner December 11, 2022, 9:04 pm

    The number of people in the bay area who have income above $300k is relatively small. This small group can survive comfortably in the bay area and even save for an early retirement (or at least FI).

    60% of SF metro households have less than $108k annual income. And it’s the most expensive area in the USA to live. This makes it hard for ‘average people’ to succeed in FIRE, at least harder than for most. Somewhere in the process of giving life advice, we need to suggest that if FIRE is a goal, success will be easier in a lower cost of living area.

    Teachers, office workers, police, plumbers, and just about every other ‘average worker’ professsion can be found in another area where the salary / income difference will be small but the cost of living much lower. A new home in a northern Atlanta suburb might be a third or less of the cost of a similar home in the bay area. The general cost of living might be a third less … taxes, groceries, gas … everything.

    There might be real reasons not to move out of the bay area. Family, weather, or whatever. But most people would be far better off not in the bay area and most likely don’t have a really strong reason to stay.

    A lot of my relatives moved from the NYC metro area to the Atlanta area over the last 20 years. All have a better quality of life than the folks they left behind and even higher incomes. Changing geography might be the best path for many.

    In the case of the bay area, there can be too much discussion of saving in a tough environment rather than discussion of getting out of a ‘bad’ personal economic situation.

  • Pedro December 12, 2022, 6:21 am

    It was particularly nice to read this new article because I keep dreaming about moving to California one day. I am a Brazilian wanna-be-surfer working from home (in Brazil) but being paid by a SF Start-up to work as a Software Engineer. Somedays, I see myself daydreaming about surfing in Trestles and living the American dream in American soil.

    Reality in Brazil is pretty different from the provided description.

    Maybe my current position (Californian Salary, Brazilian high quality of life with low cost) it is the thing that I consider to “be normal” and might be quite rare. You can have a great life with 1,000 USD/month. The only downside might be security, but some places are quite safe. And, apparently, some places in SF/Bay Area are not “that safe”…

  • Ali December 12, 2022, 7:37 am

    It would be fun to make a list of all of the names MMM has come up with for cars. Personal racing lounges has to be in the top 10%.

    Thank you for another fine article sir!

  • Kristi December 12, 2022, 8:34 am

    Respectfully, this post blames the individual above the government and car industry. I believe what you’ve missed is that the US has built for cars, cars, cars and it’s hard for many people to incorporate cycling and walking because not only do they feel it’s unsafe, it actually IS unsafe. I’m a confident, committed cyclist and I live in NYC without a car. When I visited my brother near Oakland I plotted out beforehand how I was going to commute between where I was staying and his house with a rental bike. It was about 8 miles. No biggie. When I got there, I immediately saw it wasn’t going to happen–the roads were too fast and there was no accomadation for any mode other than cars (like shoulders). Now, if I feel its unsafe, how are you going to get a Mom to bike her kids to school when the only connecting road between her neighborhood and the school is a fast, dangerous stroad? I”ve checked out other cities for a potential move and the first thing I do is figure out how hard it’s going to be to walk and bike everywhere–it usually would take a real effort. The effort is worthy, yes. But the blame isn’t on the individual because look at the Netherlands–when cycling is built for, people do it. Zoning laws need to change, the way we build needs to change. Check out Not Just Bikes (a Canadian in the Netherlands compares transportation there to North America) and City Nerd (transportation engineer) on YouTube.

    • Kristi December 12, 2022, 8:40 am

      p.s. I’m talking about the areas around San Fran, I have no experience directly in the city.

  • TinaP December 12, 2022, 10:20 am

    Since I sold my car (transparency: I have access to my husbands car) in July 2021, I started tracking the miles I drive. It has now become a challenge for me. When I used to hop in the car for a big grocery run on a rainy day or even a small grocery run on a snowy/icy day (I’m just not comfortable riding my bike in traffic with ice on the ground), I now either adjust my plans to use whatever is in the house or walk to the store for a backpack sized hauling vs a bike trailer sized hauling. Bonus…I also walk more now! I hate the thought of having to track those miles! This is a little subjective because when my husband and I take a road trip, I don’t track those mile or when he drives to visit parents an hour away, I don’t track those miles…but I do track, to the tenth, every I mile I drive even when I have zero other option (our recycling center prohibits walk/bike up drop offs of hazardous materials and I prefer to dispose of things like empty backpacking butane canisters as responsibly as I can). In 2022, I have driven 24 trips for a total of 418.7 miles…and over 300 of those miles were in the first 4 months of the year so I am clearly improving (and/or getting more stubborn?!)! It’s just a fun little personal competition, but also proof that what you track will improve!

  • rh December 12, 2022, 11:10 am

    Most these comments are going way off topic.

    MMM is asking: “What changes do you struggle with? Things you know would be good for you but seem “too hard”. Are they things that would be outside of the social norm for your area and peer group?”

    1. I could drive a lot less. How? Get my bike set up to haul groceries and to haul my dog in a trailer. Most my car trips are < 2 miles.
    2. Pay for entertainment with cash. That would stop me from having one or two extra beers when out.
    3. Meal plan so that I eat our less
    4. Stop binge watching Netflicks from 7-10 pm. Use that time for way more productive things.
    ….the list goes on and on.

    How about you?

    • Heidi December 13, 2022, 6:47 pm

      I agree. Was expecting to see more comments on changes people struggle with.
      As for me, your number 1,3, and 4 are right on target.

      1. I drive a 10 year old SUV 1.06 miles to work everyday with the excuse that I need to do errands with it on my lunch break. Reality is my kids are older now and there is less pressure to get stuff done. Just need to park the gas hog and walk. Could use my lunch hour to read.

      3. If I walked to work, I would have to bring my lunch since I wouldn’t have a car to run out and grab over priced, processed junk.

      4. I don’t really watch any tv but love my YouTube channels. Got a new phone this week (early Christmas present from son #2) and it as a “screen time” feature. I’m going to limit myself and am going to be embarrassed by how much time I have wasted. Have some house clutter to clean out instead of watching interior design channels.

  • Evan December 12, 2022, 1:33 pm

    I have always lived in places with low costs of living comparably, so I don’t understand the California experience. One question for all of these California commenters, why don’t you rent? The price-to-rent ratio in California and especially in SF is insane, I’ve heard 50:1 in some areas, that’s a 2% return on investment with a lot of risk. A savings account might be a better way to earn 2% return. There must be a reason why people keep buying houses at ridiculous prices when rents, though high, are much more reasonable in comparison. In comparison, in Detroit the price-to-rent ratio is just 6:1. Is everyone just speculating that prices will continue to rise? If you want to live in SF, why not just rent and invest somewhere else? Any insights?

    • Sarah December 12, 2022, 3:56 pm

      6:1 is extremely large ratio, but I understand the mentality generally. There is a sense that owning a home is the only long term way to stability. Whether that is true or not, if you are a person who has lived in poorly maintained rentals with landlords who don’t care or are just “too busy” to fix things in a timely fashion, you frequently need to maintain things at your own expense. Then there are moving costs as you will be bounced out of your living situation at some point (for us it happened several times, because landlords could get more money from strategically turning over units). Then there is the main reason for me, which is basically locking in a price for cost of living. I’ve had two landlords try to bump up rent $200/month every year (was living on the East Coast at the time). Then you have to play the is-moving-cheaper-game? We will be pushed farther out yet again to a less walkable area/farther from work. If you can get an affordable mortgage, every raise at work is an actual raise and not tied to “cost of living” to go in the landlord’s pocket. It doesn’t always make sense, as in Detroit, but home ownership represents hope for a lot of people.

    • Michelle December 12, 2022, 5:42 pm

      That’s exactly what many of us do! I live in the Bay Area, rent, and I actually own a house in another state that I rent out to others. It’s actually pretty great–following many of the mustachian points in this blogpost (ie, I bike to work, pay like $20/month on utilities, enjoy hiking in the ridiculously good weather on the weekends, and make a bay area salary) leads to a pretty great life situation. At least for me.

      • Evan December 13, 2022, 7:06 am

        That makes total sense. That way you get the financial advantages of homeownership with the perks of renting. That’s a good plan!

    • Josh December 13, 2022, 6:17 pm

      There’s scarcity built into the rental markets in California, and tourist areas like The Bay have competition from short term rentals as well. This leads to a situation where the vacancy rate is super low, so choosing to rent can be scary, because not only are your living costs going to go up over time, but if the place you rent is lost for some reason (landlord wants to move back in?) then finding another place can be almost impossible.

      Also mortgage rates have shot up but rent vs. buy wasn’t as cut and dry as you might think. In my area you could rent a 3/2 house that’s 1200 / 1400 sq. feet for $3500 / $4000 per month. That $3500 /$4000 per month would get you about $800K in mortgage in the 3%ish range. Annnnd, guess what, the houses at that point in time at that size cost around $800K -> $1M.

      All that said, I consider myself mustachian and i have a $400K mortgage on a house that’s currently worth ~$1.8M. I will 100% admit a lot of that is right place right time (I live in Santa Barbara)

      2011 bought my first house at $559K, $110K down, 1200 Sq. foot 3/2
      2018 sold my first house at $800K, bought new house at $1.1M, $650K down. (4/2, 2200 Sq. Feet)
      2022, current comparables in my neighborhood are 1.7-1.8M

  • Sarah December 12, 2022, 3:37 pm

    I would wonder how MMM would react to the Great Lakes region, where I am from. It’s a sea of big box retail jobs, and bartending jobs, and MLMs (and of course the remote working yuppies who have “moved home” and now own 4 rentals). Ok I admit that that is also pretty reductive, but trust me when I say that everybody has NOT figured it out yet. Take me. I just started my own PF/FIRE journey. I am better off than many but I didn’t know that I didn’t know anything about money. I just thought it wasn’t there. Ha. Anyways don’t give up writing and wish me luck!


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