Not All of Us Are Wasteful

A few people sent me this interview in the Washington Post with a personal finance blogger named Mr. Money Mustache (real name Pete) and asked me what I thought about it. To sum it up: Pete and his wife relocated to Longmont, Colo. in search of a lower cost-of-living, and cut down on expenses by doing things like biking to work and cooking meals at home. They put the money they saved into investment accounts and bought a house to rent out that generates $25,000 a year for them. Pete quit his computer engineering job in 2005 after discovering that he didn’t like working in a corporate atmosphere. Thanks to passive income from his rental property and from stock dividends, he has been able to retire in his 30s and have a nice life.

I think it’s great that Pete wanted to retire at 30 and figured out a way to do it. I think it’s great that he and his family can live off of $25,000 in Longmont, Colo. and invests in index funds and is living the life he wants to live. Good on him.

But there’s this in the interview:

You describe the typical middle-class life as an “exploding volcano of wastefulness.” Seems like lots of personal finance folks obsess about lattes. Are you just talking about the lattes here?

The latte is just the foamy figurehead of an entire spectrum of sloppy “I deserve it” luxury spending that consumes most of our gross domestic product these days. Among my favorite targets: commuting to an office job in an F-150 pickup truck, anything involving a drive-through, paying $100 per month for the privilege of wasting four hours a night watching cable TV and the whole yoga industry. There are better, and free, ways to meet these needs, but everyone always chooses the expensive ones and then complains that life is hard these days.

And the conclusion:

In short, what are the main ways to live well on less?

Embrace challenge and shun convenience for its own sake. Ask, “Will this really make me happier in the long run?” about all life decisions. Realize that happiness comes from accomplishment and personal growth, rather than from luxury products. Seek out voluntary discomfort as a way to become stronger, rather than running from it. Develop a healthy sense of self-mockery, and acknowledge that you are a wimp in many ways right now (and only by acknowledging it can you improve). Practice optimism. And of course, ride a bike.

That’s pretty high-level stuff. If you just want the meat and potatoes: Live close to work. Cook your own food. Take care of your own house, garden, hair and body. Don’t borrow money for cars, and don’t drive ridiculous ones. Embrace nature as the best source of recreation. Cancel your TV service. Use a prepaid cellphone. And of course, ride a bike!

That’s all fine, but if you’re not sure why I find those parts problematic, I’d like you to take a look at the conversation I had with Helaine Olen.

Nobody disagrees with the idea that we should all know how to manage our own money. If you work for a company that offers a 401(k) and a match, you should be contributing to that 401(k) and getting that full match. If you are spending more money than you take in, you’ve got a problem.

But it’s a myth that the typical middle class life is an “exploding volcano of wastefulness” and that “everyone always chooses the expensive ones and then complains that life is hard these days”. This is the myth that’s driving and funding the personal finance industrial complex.

It is true that there is a segment of people out there who need to learn to live within their means. This segment of people can certainly learn a thing or two from Pete. I know a few of these people.

But the majority of people I know aren’t wildly irresponsible. They’re not buying luxury cars and designer clothing and $5 lattes every day (ah, the latte factor!—every personal finance guru’s favorite example). They’re dealing with shrinking salaries, skyrocketing health care and education costs, a weak economy that has resulted in job loss. Indeed, some of these people are the ones who tried to do it right—who saved up six months’ worth or a year’s worth of emergency savings only to drain it all during the financial crisis and housing crash; who cashed out their retirement accounts because they needed to pay their mortgage and didn’t want to lose their home. All the bike-riding and TV cable canceling wasn’t going to help them. Quitting your yoga class isn’t going to fix pay inequality or result in employer-supported maternity leave appearing in the office. And we can go on about the 401(k) problem.

And then there’s the idea that if you find happiness or value in something considered a luxury—eating out every week at restaurants—you are somehow doing it wrong. It’s totally judgmental, and as we’ve learned, totally untrue.

You can dine in the nicest restaurants, invest in your retirement, and enjoy what you do for a living while living in the big city.

You can invest in a rental property, eat at home and bike to work, and retire at 30 by living off of passive income from a rental home.

You can, as I once learned from doing an interview with a prominent video game designer, support your family on less than $15,000 a year by living very simply and growing your own food.

You can decide you never want to retire.

You can develop a debilitating condition, rack up a ton of medical bills and complain that, yes, life is hard these days.

Our financial lives vary, and we each have different ideas of how we want it to be. Personal finance is personal for a reason. Some of the problems we come across have to do with things we can control, namely living within our means, but a large part of it—pay discrimination, skyrocketing health care costs, the 401(k) problem—are simply out of our control and are things that typical middle class households are really dealing with. It’d be nice to recognize those problems while telling people to get out of their F-150s and get on a bike.

Photo: vaxomatic

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74 Comments / Post A Comment

readyornot (#816)

I think I like Mike Dang on a soapbox. Go get ‘em, tiger!

Beans (#1,111)

Slow clap.

ellabella (#1,480)

Thank you Mike.

The $140/month I spend on my yoga classes allows me to “Realize that happiness comes from accomplishment and personal growth, rather than from luxury products. Seek out voluntary discomfort as a way to become stronger, rather than running from it.”

Yeah, if I were a better person I could do all this by doing yoga on my own, for free. But I wouldn’t actually do it, and then I would be more likely to have higher health costs and depression, which are cost even more.

Also, I am able to bike to work because I live close to my work. My rent is $1300 because of this. My coworkers have less stable financial situations (because they have families and more responsibilities than I do) and they pay less rent to live farther away, so they can’t bike to work. So in my case, biking to work is absolutely the expensive option.

@ellabella

Yes, this! Yoga helped me get off several pricey medications and greatly improved my quality of life and while yes, I could do it alone, I value both the routine and community of attending classes, and the heat/quiet/space of the yoga studio and my instructor’s experience and training, which are real costs for which they deserve compensation. Maybe he’s coming from some belief that all yoga studios are run by gurus fleecing their followers or that most yogis are flying to international retreats, but most of us just go to a class at our gym or a local storefront studio that gets by on a few bucks per student per class. None of the yoga instructors I know are living extravagant high-profit lifestyles, and I’m happy to pay them to provide me with their assistance and support in my practice and also with, you know, an actual space to practice in. I could do this in my living room, yes, but I’d have to crank the heat up to 105 and run a couple of humidifiers, find a place to send my dog and boyfriend, and hope I didn’t hurt myself learning new asanas without a mirror or an instructor to correct my posture. So… Yeah. $7 a class seems reasonable to me.

As hobbies go, most yoga practices are very cheap, very low-accessory, and very high-return in terms of health and happiness. How is this so different from biking?

nocs (#3,734)

@emmycantbemeeko @ellabella BRINGING. IT. I don’t even do yoga and I’m all “Hell yeah” to every word of both of your comments.

Dancercise (#94)

@ellabella
Similarly, I used to live 30 miles from work because that’s where I could afford rent. I got a new job recently and it’s now 11 miles (yay!), but I still can’t move any closer. And I spend $265/month on dance classes that keep me sane and healthy. I genuinely couldn’t live without dance, so I make room for it in my budget. This is how life works.

ghechr (#596)

@ellabella Yeah but if you can’t afford it, then you probably shouldn’t be spending money on it.

melissa!@twitter (#3,807)

Executive realness.

lalaland (#437)

MIKEEEEEEEE *tear*

sunflowernut (#1,638)

Mike, you are the best. Thanks for writing this.

*stands up, applauds furiously*

Excellent.

Also: everything has a cost — time costs, opportunity costs. Unless you are immortal and own a time machine, you are constantly making decisions about what is most valuable to you at any given moment. For example, you would have to pay me a lot of money to live in Longmont, Co. Conversely, I work in a field that I enjoy and think is important, so I’d rather work than not work (even if I could afford to not have the paycheck).

honey cowl (#1,510)

@stuffisthings Hey, Longmont is actually pretty awesome.

Worker Parasite (#2,292)

@stuffisthings I also think that his message isn’t don’t work at all, but spend your time doing things you value and enjoy. So if you were financially independent you could still volunteer at what you do, while having more freedom, and freeing a paying position up for someone else?

Haha OK well replace what I wrote with “What Mike said” because that’s pretty much exactly how I feel! I’m sure Longmont is great for some people but not for me, is the point. And just as benefits aren’t always measured in money, neither should costs always be.

Dancercise (#94)

@stuffisthings
Time costs are so important. Without going into the crazy details, a business owner friend of mine was in a position just last night to either pay someone $400 to do some repair work or just buy the materials and do it herself for much cheaper. I asked her if it was worth her time to go to Home Depot, go home to get the tools, pull out the ladders from the back, etc. She hired the guy, and it was done it 10 minutes. Totally worth it to not have to do it herself.

KayleighS (#3,805)

As a longtime follower of both MMM and The Billfold I’m a little disappointed to see that the two of you don’t get along. For a lot of Billfold readers (myself included) MMM is pretty aspirational—his target audience is more along the lines of older, upper middle class, Washington Post readers—but I think his larger points are still really helpful: 1) if you get over the idea that buying things creates happiness, you can have more of what it really does create, which is security, and 2) If you want to retire early, cutting back on habits that require spending money is more powerful than earning more money, because it both increases the amount of money you’re saving now and decreases the amount of money you’ll be spending in the future. Yeah, he’s a judgmental dick, but that’s part of the fun!

MMM is also a valuable perspective for me because his family is living off of not much more than I am now, at the age of 24 (though they own a house, which makes a big difference). It’s a good reminder me that the life I’m living right now is actually really great, and that when (if?) I start earning more money later in life, I should think long and hard before assuming that I *need* a car or a bigger house or a gym membership just because I can afford it.

Mike Dang (#2)

@KayleighS I’m happy for Pete and wish him nothing but good things. I just think he’s only telling half the story.

spex (#1,159)

@Mike Dang I’d kind of love to see a Mike Dang/Mr. MM interview, if such a thing were possible!

KayleighS (#3,805)

@Mike Dang Half the story? I’m not sure I get that from your article. He is definitely only telling *his* story, but as you say, personal finance is personal! I love the billfold for the fact that it doesn’t judge anyone and is never trying to say that one person’s money thing is more correct than another, but MMM’s point of view is unique and not something a lot of us in the US grow up hearing, so the fact that he’s actively trying to convert people to the “right” way of thinking doesn’t bother me at all—it’s balancing!

Mike Dang (#2)

@KayleighS If he’s going to describe the typical middle class household as an “exploding volcano of wastefulness” then yes, I think he’s telling half the story about the problems they’re experiencing. And he should provide real data—such as I have when discussing the dismantling of the middle class—to back up his claims.

@KayleighS The problem is that this dude is telling me about my life and how it’s all wrong when he’s never met me. He’s making assumptions and judging my decisions assuming that I go through life blindly and unthinkingly, accusing me of unconsciously consuming for consumption’s sake. And there’s a subtle classism about it (F150? drive throughs? cable?) that really makes me grind my teeth. His way of thinking isn’t right. It isn’t wrong either. It’s just his. It’s fine if it’s yours. It’s fine if it’s anyone’s. And it’s fine to be out there talking about how you live and how people with similar aspirations can achieve what you have achieved. But don’t tell me I have a problem because I’ve decided on a lifestyle that doesn’t match up with your ideal. Don’t talk down to me like I’ve never thought about the tradeoffs my lifestyle entails.

Mae (#1,769)

@Mike Dang Also, if you read his posts, his hypothetical wasteful middle class families are all squandering six figure incomes (the level of income that he and his wife were earning before they quit their jobs). If you’re earning that much and living paycheck to paycheck, then yeah, that bears some examination. But he doesn’t admit that that level of income is far from the reality for most middle class families.

zimm (#2,228)

THANK YOU. Mike, you said what I wanted to say when I first saw Mr. Money Mustasche a year or so ago but more eloquently.

Also.. Mr. Money Mustache is the softer version of Early Retirement Extreme. http://earlyretirementextreme.com/

Mae (#1,769)

@Nicole Zimmerman@twitter The Early Retirement Extreme guy is. . .interesting. I think one point in his favor is that he more readily acknowledges that he is far outside the mainstream.

joyballz (#2,000)

I like this Mike.

The Mole (#2,633)

There’s nothing quite like an appropriate call-out of an overly smug dickball that can’t understand there are different strokes for different folks.

pterodactylish (#2,321)

Mr. Money Mustache is the worst. Also, really, that’s your pen name? Even Pete is a better name and that is saying much.

pterodactylish (#2,321)

@pterodactylish I mean, COME ON: “so far, we can’t seem to spend more than $25,000 no matter how much we let loose”

YOU ARE THE WORST AND ALSO LYING

@pterodactylish Yeeeeah. I mean, I get that it’s possible to achieve a lifestyle zen when you really just don’t want/need more stuff and have avoided debt and live in a nice house and ride a bike or whatever. But he’s making two huge assumptions: your desires and situation won’t change in the future (What if you have triplets? What if you meet the love of your life and decide to sail around the world for a year together? What if a tornado ruins your house?) and 2. everyone should have the same desires as him (No TV! Only bikes! A job you can walk to!)

For instance, we are about to move to Africa for work. We’ll even be able to bike to work there, probably! But guess what? It will cost SEVERAL THOUSAND DOLLARS for our parents to visit us there. I know, first world problems, but my point is that NOT ALL OF US ARE YOU, MR MONEY MOUSTACHE, and also, you have no imagination! Some of us can think of MANY MANY WAYS to spend $25,000!

Worker Parasite (#2,292)

@pterodactylish Sadly not everyone can have dinosaur-related pen names.

TheDilettantista (#1,255)

Thanks Mike, this guy’s judgmental and smug tone is a huge turn-off and something that I think the Billfold has succeeded in avoiding. Some of us *can’t* live close to where we work and ride a bike For instance, I live 15 minutes away from work and definitely cannot bike to work. But I live a 15 minute drive from work so that my Spousal Candidate can access the bus system to get to the university at which he is taking classes. If we lived closer to where I work then he wouldn’t be able to bus into campus, and then he’d have to pay for parking privileges and ultimately the money cost and time cost would probably be worse. Ideal? No, but it is what it is.

Additionally his judgey-judgey tone about television is ALSO a big turn-off and so snobby. Yes there is a lot of crap on TV but there are also a lot of AMAZING stories being told and great art being made so to trash the entire genre is pretty short-sighted. So I’m going to stick to my TV, and he can stick to being a pompous ass.

@TheDilettantista I love your use of Spousal Candidate.

chic noir (#713)

@TheDilettantista – Logging in to add that I love “Spousal Candidate” too.

dudeascending (#1,921)

Yikes. So much hate for this dude! His lifestyle isn’t for me, but I think Mike and others are missing out on the fact that his advice and perspective are obviously directed to fulfilling his lifestyle.

If it’s not for you, then feel free to skip his advice. If you want to retire at 30 on a non-hedge fund salary, then, yes, it probably would be a help to cut out the lattes and cable and all the other small luxuries that make up a part of many of our lives. Because… how else could you retire after working for only eight years?

It’s funny how keenly we feel everyone else’s truths about money.

Worker Parasite (#2,292)

@dudeascending A thousand times yes. I’m more MMM than typical Billfold, and I don’t understand the venom directed his way. His schtick is a bit over the top at times, and he’s had some very fortunate things happen to allow him to be in the position he’s currently in, but his “meat and potatoes” message is good, and he does have some good specific advice. If it doesn’t apply to you, so be it.

Though to be fair, a fair number of people at MMM’s forums have deemed this site “whiny”: http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/forum/antimustachian-wall-of-shame-and-comedy/'is-there-anyone-on-earth-with-as-much-debt-as-me'/

CubeRootOfPi (#1,098)

@dudeascending I don’t think Mike dislikes the guy, just that how he’s been presented lately comes across as yet another “you can pull yourself by your bootstraps and be like me” shill (not that MMM is) and that one can do everything perfectly but get screwed.

(I don’t hate the guy either and thought his WaPo chat today was pretty good. )

Mike Dang (#2)

@dudeascending @Worker Parasite As I mention above, I’m happy for Pete, and think it’s really great that he was able to retire so early and figure out a way to do so. And in my post, I mention that I think there are a segment of people who can certainly learn a thing or two from Pete’s advice. I just think there are crucial issues that aren’t being discussed when we talk about the problems with money within the middle class.

Worker Parasite (#2,292)

@Mike Dang I feel I should clarify, I think your response is fair, while I don’t 100% agree with it you are correct there are a number of issues that MMM doesn’t tackle, just as there are a number of issues that the Billfold doesn’t cover.

I do think there’s a lot of hate for MMM in the comments, and I don’t understand that. Not all of his stuff is for me, so I skim over that. Just like not all of the Billfold’s stuff is for me, so I also skim over that. But both sites provide me with interesting discussion about money, and I feel that I’m better equipped to handle money in a way that’s best for me as a result.

dudeascending (#1,921)

@CubeRootOfPi Haha, I don’t think Mike dislikes ANYONE, but I’m sensing a lot of dislike from other commenters who feel like Mr. Money Mustache is judging them for being wasteful. But to me–and perhaps it comes through more clearly for me because I read his site and am used to his hyperbolic way of writing–it seems like the message is more, “If you want to retire very early, you need to be very frugal.”

dudeascending (#1,921)

@Worker Parasite We’re probably just inured to the MMM style of speaking. I think a lot of personal finance strives to be soft-lit and judgment-free because it’s such a sensitive topic, so it’s jarring when someone writes the way MMM does. But lots of people do better with a tough love approach, so I’m glad that his voice is out there.

CubeRootOfPi (#1,098)

@dudeascending Yeah, definitely see that. My first thought was that the tone of some of the comments were like those in the “having it all” post.

Worker Parasite (#2,292)

@dudeascending Good point. Had I not already been living a watered-down MMM lifestyle I may have taken more issue with his style to start. I’m also glad that his voice is out there!

dudeascending (#1,921)

@Mike Dang @Mike Dang I’m not sure if it’s fair to judge the guy on the merit of one interview, which was probably condensed. Nor do I think it’s his responsibility to consider every single issue around personal finance or the economy. It would be awesome if he did, but that’s also unrealistic?

MMM, for better or worse–but certainly through his choice and his perogative–is speaking to higher-earning professionals who want to retire as quickly as possible, so his message is oriented to that audience.

Again, I don’t “aspire” to his lifestyle. It’s too constrained for me. But he’s definitely helped me see how incredibly luxurious parts of my life are–and how wasteful, too. I think it’s shameful that so many people in this country can’t live within their means because their means are so limited, and I advocate for all kinds of policy and grassroots solutions to that. But I do believe that the segment of people who can learn something from MMM is huge.

Worker Parasite (#2,292)

@dudeascending Yet another good point; I think the demographics of the Billfold and MMM are very different.

olivia (#1,618)

@dudeascending Exactly. Not every financial website has to cover every financial situation. His is for those who are lucky enough to have stable employment. I don’t think it’s fair to blame him for not considering every possible financial state ever. He’s writing about his experience and what worked for him!

And I am no hardcore MMM type, I just found the blog a month ago. I mean my husband and I spent $1200 on food last month. FOR TWO PEOPLE. So we’re definitely an exploding volcano of wastefulness.

dudeascending (#1,921)

@CubeRootOfPi I think that we assume that writing is prescriptive, and that the author is addressing us personally with his or her truths–probably because most of the time, they are, and that’s the aim of their writing: to convince us of his or her point of view. So, the “having it all” writer writing about her personal experiences somehow translated (erroneously, I think) across the Internet ether to commenters as “You shouldn’t have babies if you want to have it all” (and my questions about whether or not her self-doubt might have to do with the possibility of a latent discomfort around the idea that she could buy her way into having it all translated to some people as, “You shouldn’t spend your way into having it all”).

It’s different here because MMM’s writing IS prescriptive–but it’s only prescriptive for people who want his lifestyle.

honey cowl (#1,510)

1. I like lattes.
2. Mike, you da bomb. Doctors say you’re the illest, cause you’re sufferin’ from REALNESS.

chic noir (#713)

@honey cowl – Well someone has been watching vintage episodes of Yo MTV Rap.

cjm (#3,397)

I’m a MMM reader and a Billfold reader. I do prefer MMM to other articles that focus on “do without and suffer because you are in debt!” MMM says, do without and DON’T suffer!

But, I also think student loans need to be a part of the conversation. MMM didn’t have them. And of course, he worked to earn money in high school and college to pay for school. That’s totally cool. But it doesnt’ actually work for most people in the US:

Say you work 20 hours a week 9 months a year, and 40 hours 3 months a year at Oregon Minimum wage ($8.95!) Hurray, you have earned $10,740 before taxes. You can pay Oregon State (in state) tuition, books and supplies for a total of $10,503. No food, car, health insurance, bus pass, soap, toilet paper, or entertainment for you! Once you pay those other expenses total a very low $1,000 a month you are now graduating with $48,000 of debt. Even if you worked 2 years in high school and earned those same amounts and saved 100% of your income them, you’d still be $28,000 in debt.

And, his high and immediate income obviously helped.

scn231 (#1,705)

I second pretty much all these comments. Also, can I request an article on the 401(k) issue and what we are supposed to do instead of them? As a person who has finally sort of gotten her act together financially and is starting to save money, I feel like I get to choose between a savings account with zero interest, or some investment vehicle that I don’t trust because it circulates my money back into the same crummy system that screwed us all so badly three years ago (not to mention companies propped up by fossil fuels, sweatshops, and many other things I do not want to profit off of), and potentially is a scam in even being a reliable retirement option. I put some money in lendingclub and prosper, but there’s not much liquidity and fairly high risk, and they’re also pretty new companies without a good track record. Sorry, this has become off topic, but the bottom line: please explain alternate places to put money once you have it, other than in lattes. Because with a latte at least I know what I’m getting.

Madge (#1,677)

@scn231 it’s not that you need to do something “besides” a 401k, you just need to make sure you’re investing in funds that have low fees associated with them.

Madge (#1,677)

people like to paint MMM as some kind of smug self-satisfied bastard who’s screaming at everybody telling them they’re doing it wrong.

but, if you actually read his work, you will see that’s not what he’s doing at all. he’s simply sharing his experience, like so many people on this site do. he’s not saying “everyone should be like me” but more something like “hey i figured out some useful shit that may help you reach your goals.”

the face punches, the swearing, all that stuff is just stylistic. he’s actually got quite the moderate, eco-conscious, happiness-creating philosophy. you should read more about it before you dismiss it.

and what is up with all the sour grapes in this discussion? as MMM is fond of saying, if he comes across someone who does something way better than him, he’s going to TAKE NOTES, not bitch about why he can’t possibly do the same thing. the idea is to get inspired and to do what you can, saving money and becoming a more badass and much happier person in the process.

yes, we need to be on elizabeth warren’s side, working to make financial products more transparent and fair. but we also need to look in the mirror and see how OUR OWN CHOICES impact where we are in life.

ghechr (#596)

@Madge I completely agree. No one is saying “never go to a restaurant” but rather, going to a restaurant and paying the associated inflated prices has a cost beyond just the price of the meal. The $30 could have gone elsewhere, including on saving for a future away from being a wage slave. Ditto with other choices, such as living by yourself (rather than with roommates to split the cost with) or commuting a long way or living in high-cost area.
This is the message I get from Mr. MM.

highjump (#39)

I like to read MMM but the way he ignores structural problems like maternity leave and the pay gap kind of rankles. Though he is Canadian and has said the US should have socialized healthcare. I think he practices what he preaches and enjoys it but the MY WAY IS THE BEST stuff is all persona.

I love the ‘there are many paths to enlightenment’ ethos of The Billfold and I really LOVE LOVE the way Logan in particular has been examining power relationships in our economy. That is why The Billfold is a daily read for me and MMM is something I catch up on once a month or so.

Beezus (#1,007)

I don’t know, I really like the point about cable. It’s kind of been surprising to me to learn that cable is considered such a necessity among certain types of people. Whenever I tell my friends or coworkers that I don’t have it, they look at me like I’m Amish or something. (NOT EVEN BASIC? is what they ask a lot. I don’t really know what that means but, no, not even basic.) It just seems like such an indulgence to me – again, that’s just ME, PESONALLY, if it makes you happy, hooray for you! But it’s just not necessary for me. Sometimes I get very very jealous of people who get to watch things like Girls or GoT as they air, but then I think to myself “Ohhh so you want to spend hundreds of dollars on TEEVEE a month, so you can watch your darling precious TEEVEE shows? Shut up, me.” And then I find something to stream on Netflix.

In conclusion, why isn’t there an option to pay a monthly subscription fee for HBO Go.

cjm (#3,397)

@Beezus Agreed. Also, I used to be jealous and used to “consider” “alternative” options for watching those shows. But other than HBO, you can just buy most things the day after now: I spend $16-20 downloading shows from amazon instead of $50-120 paying for those same shows and a bunch of other shows I don’t watch.
HBO- Get on it! Charge $4 an episode! I want my True Blood!

olivia (#1,618)

@Beezus I couldn’t agree more! I just cancelled my cable about 2 months ago when I realized we were paying $130/month to sit on our asses and watch it. And boy did we watch it! I don’t miss it AT ALL. Okay, I miss HBO a little bit. But that’s what friends are for! I will be going to their places to watch True Blood.

loren smith (#2,300)

@Beezus I agree – I wish we could have more honest discussion about consumption and what’s “expected”. I get so tired of those looks, and the comments about my old computer, and futon… It reminds me of the comment thread about the game of trying to make it through the month at the poverty line. The thread got out of control when someone mentioned that walking to work might be an option. Of course not everyone can, but our consumptive patterns are so hegemonic that they’ve become almost sacrosanct.

ThatJenn (#916)

@Beezus Meanwhile, I am astonished by friends who have gone without internet at home to save money. I mean, I get it intellectually, but… no. I’m sure others feel that same way about cable TV. Neither is truly a necessity, both make me sit on my ass at home when I could entertain myself for free, but one of them I am very, VERY hesitant to live without.

olivia (#1,618)

I do think that quite a lot of middle class people with *stable jobs* are an exploding volcano of wastefulness. To deny that is kind of silly. And I am including myself in that group. I mean I usually spend hundreds of dollars on clothing EVERY MONTH. That’s ridiculous.

I found the MMM blog about a month ago and I really like it. It’s really helped me start to adjust my thinking towards money. I don’t know that I’ll be able to retire in 10 years, but I do know I’m going to stop pissing away so much money.

I don’t think MMM would deny that times are tough for a lot of people, but that’s not the focus of his blog. His focus is people who have stable jobs who truly can cut their expenses and save enough to retire early. He doesn’t need to be all things to all people.

eagerber (#1,958)

Ehhh Mr. Money Mustache. Why can’t he just go by “Pete”?

Mrs. Beeton (#320)

Cable’s great. I love cable. TV makes me happy. Worth every penny I pay.

Mae (#1,769)

Thank you for saying all this. Mr. Money Moustache and his ilk have a lot of practical advice about living frugally, but their refusal to acknowledge structural problems like stagnating wages and rising education/health care costs is really infuriating.

@Mae

Yeah, I get very tired of hearing that the problem with the middle class is lack of frugality, when my *merit* raises, which have always been the highest rate available in the organizations I’ve worked for, haven’t even kept pace with inflation for my entire working career. Even by being a top-performer in my job, I effectively lose spending power every year. That’s a structural problem, not a personal one (and my job is absolutely in the “someone’s got to do it” public service category so even if I were to, say, save like mad and retire early, or go to some more lucrative field, the not-keeping-pace-with-inflation problem would still be plaguing whoever took my spot. Or nobody would take my spot and it would be not good for society.) So no, I don’t think the fundamental problem is that too many people drink lattes or go to yoga class.

scn231 (#1,705)

@Madge, yes, after reading the articles linked to by Mike on this page, I do definitely want to put my money somewhere besides a 401(k).

Madge (#1,677)

@scn231 not sure that makes sense. the frontline piece that has been going around the last few weeks is not saying that 401k’s in and of themselves are bad, just that fees can add up if you are not careful about what you invest in.

invest in your 401K and just make sure you’ve got funds with low fees — aka index funds rather than actively managed funds.

stonetongue (#3,580)

There’s an article on the front page of MMM right now about a 20-something guy working in finance, in London. He makes $78,000 and is able to save about 20% of his income.

MMM’s narrative? That he’s a great example of a ‘solid-middle income’ person who’s making the fruality lifestyle work while surrounded by consumerism.

WTF

Stina (#686)

Sidenote: *Squees!* The picture! That’s the Wisconsin protests! I was there for all of the big days and some of the smaller ones.

Shout out to Mike for article. We live pretty frugally and plan for the future. I have known people who are, as I’ve put it, “wrecking balls in their own life”. But I know that if I had come down with Multiple Sclerosis or had a child with Autism or got broadsided in a car accident like some people we know did, that not buying lattes would not be enough to cover it.

You do need to be responsible but at the same time life can be mind-blowingly unfair and cruel at times.

I couldn’t imagine wanting to retire so early.

Amanda S (#3,836)

Having found MMM and Billfold a couple months ago I can say that both websites offer two different perspectives. MMM was definitely lucky in that he grew up in a time and place where going to school and landing a successful career was much easier and provided a much steadier way towards retiring early. However, those of us who read the billfold are in a slightly different boat and might not share those same wonderful opportunities. We are young and face challenges that might not have been thought of 20 years ago. What I guess I’m trying to say is that his advice are great for those that have about the same life formula. Take it for what it is!

trexguy (#5,998)

I recently came across the MMM blog and my first impressions were, great this guy really did it. It brought me hope that the system is beatable. But I started digging deeper into his “story” and a few things didn’t pass the smell test. First, he is really an advocate of index funds (Vanguard specifically) and it was apparent that he was and is heavily invested in this type of fund, leading up to 1999 and through 2001 and 2002. He writes that his stock investment gains were on fire during this time, which unless you suffer from financial amnesia you will recall that the markets entered a nearly 2 year bear market and the S&P dropped a whopping 43% after the bursting of the tech bubble, even worst if his investment was in nasdaq related index funds (which being that he worked in tech and claiming that his stocks were on “fire” makes me think he was). But how did Mr MM fare during the 2000 recession…he doubled his net-worth from 150 to nearly 300k which in large part includes equities. Also Mr MM was working in the tech industry, a sector that got decimated after the tech bubble burst, but how did Mr MM fare career wise? His salary increased nearly 50% in 2 years, yup, during a recession, same year he took trips to Australia, New Zeland bought a new motorcycle and brags about having partys in his house all the time! You can’t make this stuff up! Housing bust in 2008 you ask? Mr MM not affected, his house went up! Stock crash in 2008-2009 you ask since his income is “passive” which to me means mostly real-estate rental income or dividend income…no sir, Mr MM not affected! What happens if we see the value of all his paper assets and real-estate drop like in 2008 again and NOT COME BACK? Ooops, he now has to figure out how to live off 12,000 instead of 25,000 overnight.
But the biggest WHOPPER, is the one where he claims he eats for less than $1/day! That’s right folks, that are not a typo, that’s one dollar per day eating healthy, oh and wait, he eats “organic”, and has parties all the time in his house! His budget is 667 calories per meal. He can tell you how many pennies a calorie is. Can you imagine living your life like that, were if you eat 668 calories instead of 667 you went over your budget! That’s right, eat a tic-tac that you weren’t supposed to and now you got to go refigure your monthly budget! That’s also a pretty crummy way to live, there’s got to be some happy medium between retiring at 70 being a slave and being like this guy. But hey, as long as he’s happy counting his 667 calories, then more power to him!

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