The man who retired at 30 has some tips on how you, too, can escape the drudgery of work.
Mr. Money Mustache, the flamboyantly named blogger with a growing cult following, says the path to financial freedom can begin with something as simple as a New Year's resolution to walk more and use your car less.
It's all part, he says, of realizing that most of us can enjoy the good life on much less than most middle-class wage earners believe is necessary. He estimates that he, his wife and his nine-year-old son spend less than $30,000 a year.
"We don't live like this to save money. We do it because it's a happier way to live," says the financial blogger, whose opinionated and wickedly amusing posts at mrmoneymustache.com have attracted an army of followers across the United States and Canada.
The Mr. Money Mustache phenomenon has been covered by The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post. Behind it all is a 40-year-old Canadian engineer who now lives in Longmont, Colo.
Mr. Money Mustache will reveal only his first name – Pete – but is otherwise happy to tell his personal story. He graduated from McMaster University in Hamilton with a degree in computer engineering. He and his wife (also Canadian, also in the computer field) then moved to the United States at the height of the tech boom.
This is where things get interesting. The young Mustaches made decent although not overwhelming salaries. Unlike most of their friends, however, they lived on a tiny fraction of what they earned and saved the rest.
In 2005, when Mr. Money Mustache was 30, they had accumulated about $800,000 (U.S.) in savings and said good-bye to the working world. For the past decade, they've been retired, living off the proceeds of their investment portfolio.
Just about anybody can follow a similar path, he maintains, although a bit of initial shock therapy may be required to rein in your spending habits. With dedication, "you can go from zero wealth to having the option to retire within 10 to 15 years, depending on your income and expenses," he writes.
To help get you started, here are some tips for the New Year, direct from Mr. Money Mustache.
Hi, Pete. What's the single best resolution that people can make to help put their financial lives in order during 2016?
I like to focus on living a better, happier life first, and allowing that to flow through to produce a life with drastically more free money available. If you start with money as your goal, you'll feel deprived, which makes you want to go back to your old ways.
So the single best resolution for 2016 is to stop trying to make things as easy and convenient as possible for yourself, and instead shift to doing the most challenging things that your abilities allow. The idea is to force yourself to become stronger and start learning again, which brings immediate happiness. It also just happens to cost a lot less, because you don't have as much time to pamper yourself.
How does that work in practice?
Anything that gets you more active, more connected with nature, away from the TV and Internet, and allows you to develop more skills is good. It sounds like fitness advice, but it brings surprising monetary results as well.
For example, try walking that two kilometres to the grocery store and bringing a few things home in a backpack.
Pretend you're a hunter-gatherer and try skipping two entire meals in a row tomorrow. Instead of searching for the closest parking spot, always choose the most distant parking lot. Resolve to spend at least two hours outdoors every day, regardless of the weather. Challenge yourself to do more of your own cooking, cleaning, home maintenance, and so on. Cancel your TV series and start reading books again.
I know some people feel that doing the full Mustache is just too severe. Are there smaller changes that can make a big difference?
The biggest cash leak for many people, especially in Canada, is the automobile.
So, Level One is just to start finding ways to drive less. Fewer errands and more local activities. Question yourself every time you reach for the keys – is there any way to delay or avoid this trip?
Level Two is to sell your debtmobile and get a fuel-efficient, awesome used car from Craigslist or Kijiji (good choices include the Honda Fit or Mazda 3) that you can buy with cash. Resolve to be free of car loans for the rest of your life.
Level Three is live close to work, build your network of friends close to where you live, and take up cycling year-round for at least 90 per cent of your travels.
For example, even with a wife and nine-year-old son, a mortgage-free house and plenty of surplus savings and income, my family only burns about four tanks of gas in our 2005 manual transmission Scion xA hatchback (value under $5,000) in an entire year. We don't live like this to save money. We do it because it's a happier way to live.
I will admit to wondering: What does a Mustachian Christmas look like?
My family is big on the "celebration" side of things. We just kind of skip most of the part about "buying manufactured items for each other."
I've got two sisters and a brother, and my wife has a brother as well. Every one of them has married and had kids of their own, which means there are just way too many people to keep track of for a gift exchange.
So in conjunction with the grandparents, we all just made a peace treaty where nobody is expected to get gifts for anybody else. With this as the baseline rule, there is always a little bit of cheating if somebody finds something perfect for something else. We also do lots of repurposing and hand-me-downs of things like high-end winter clothing and adventure novel series.
I think of the gift exchange as a byproduct rather than the focus of the season. One upside of this is that my wife and I generally set foot in a shopping mall less than once a year.
Thanks, Pete. If you don't mind me asking, what are your own resolutions for 2016?
To become more efficient and make better use of every morning. I got a little bit bogged down in 2015 when dealing with the information overload of running the Mr. Money Mustache blog while also trying to keep my family and local friends as the first priority. As a result, I got less done and my plans to write a book were neglected. I recently got things sorted out again and want to keep this momentum going through all of 2016.
The trick for me was to go cold turkey on reading stuff on my phone while at home. I was burning over two hours a day on things like pointless news and finance stories, blog comments and Twitter.
Instead, I sit down at the big, old-fashioned desktop computer and do the hard stuff like writing first, then distracting stuff like e-mail at the end of the session – all with a timer running so I know there's no time to waste.
When the beeper goes, I shut it all down and head outside into the sun to get back to real life.