When I was a young startup entrepreneur scraping by on mac and hot dogs, a friend of mine told me he paid himself $48,000 per year out of his business. I remember thinking, “Gosh… that is a lot of money. What in the world would I ever do with $4,000 per month? I would have it made!”
But it wasn’t long… and I too had a $50k a year draw.
Turns out I acclimated quickly and no longer had the sense of “having it made” I thought I would.
And this cycle continued upward.
When I started thinking “When I earn $500,000 in a year – then I’ll have it made” I realized I might have an optics problem.
Just seemed like no matter how much money I had in my life, it was never enough.
The crazy part was how much my overall sense of purpose and well-being became married to the pursuit of more. New and shiny phone. Faster and more lux car. Bigger and better house. I became addicted to the modern day miracle of one-click purchasing on Amazon (in 2016 I made 109 orders… that’s an Amazon order every 3.3 days!). And I stopped doing a lot of basic things around my house… like yard work, house maintenance, cleaning, grocery shopping and food prep through the use of trendy new services and regular ‘ol hired help.
Always in the pursuit of “optimization.”
Even trading innovative service recommendations with other successful entrepreneurs that would eliminate more of the mundane tasks from my life. Always working to reduce responsibility or hard work outside of my chosen area of professional focus. I think in hindsight I was optimizing my own comfort, which I think I believed was synonymous with happiness.
Turns out it’s not.
When I got to thinking about it – most of my big breakthroughs and ‘ah hah’ moments came when my head was down doing manual work outside of my usual computer-based professional time. It’s when I’m painting my sons bedroom, mowing the lawn, or installing new tile for my bathroom floor that I get relaxed enough and away from the *immediate* problems of the normal business day that give my brain the Alpha boosts it needs for the next breakthrough.
In the days following the birth of my second son this past February… I began taking a fearless inventory of who I was, the thoughts occupying my head, and the general purpose behind my entrepreneurial pursuits.
I started to recognize that I really wasn’t happy. I worked a lot. My work is meaningful and fun and amazing. I had a lot of help around the house so I could work even more. And I had an insane amount of great things that made my life easier and more convenient.
I was comfortable, but not happy.
Admitting that you aren’t happy is not an easy thing.
Thankfully, in the wee hours of the night while watching my newborn, I stumbled across the movie Minimalism.
I felt like someone jumped out of the screen and punched me in the face. Perhaps it was because I was extremely sleep deprived with just a week old newborn. Or perhaps it was the beginning of the ultra-consumer soul buried deep within me dying.
The big takeaway from the film for me was:
“Love People, Use Stuff”
And it occurred to me how simple language like, “I love my car,” or “I love my iPhone” – although probably not meant literally – had actually crept into my life. How often had I wasted hours researching the newest device or gadget thinking that it would help me finally achieve a better state of happiness?
It’s easy to get sucked into not wanting to make radical change in our lives due to stuff holding us hostage.
A while back I read Essentialism which advocated a similar and simple idea of “Less but better” which I had applied to my business, but not so much to my life outside of entrepreneurship.
I wrote a personal manifesto.
Shared it with Emily.
She suggested the movie Happy.
This movie added a few more basic ideas to my new mindset. Turns out, I had been focusing a lot on extrinsic goals (money, status and power) – and most of us are better off when we pursue intrinsic goals when it comes to raw life satisfaction and true happiness.
The three intrinsic goals the film reviews:
- Personal growth
- Develop meaningful relationships with friends and family
- Serve your community by giving back or helping others
The final domino for me fell when one of the investing platforms I use, Betterment, raised their prices. To find out what was up, I stumbled upon a blogger covering the price increase.
Turns out this Mr. Money Mustache (or MMM for short) had a lot more in store for me. In hindsight, the increase in Betterment’s pricing – while annoying – will probably add at least a million dollars to my net worth over the next twenty years by implementing Mustachianism.
MMM “retired” when he achieved Financial Independence at the ripe young age of 30 through earning a pretty average amount of money and saving most of it through “badassity” or sophisticated frugality, investing his savings, and avoiding becoming an ultra-consumer like the rest of us. The crazy part is… he really never gave up any mainstream luxuries to achieve it.
AND, more importantly, much of this badassity, frugality, and more intentional living put him into an almost constant state of HAPPINESS and JOY.
One of the things MMM has helped me see is that most of us in the US make a boatload of money right now – not some fantasy future date we’ll eventually arrive at (the constant cycle I’ve found myself in for the last decade). We have just become accustomed to spending pretty much everything we make. To the tune that most people consider a 10% savings rate worthy of a high five (it’s not – it’s actually bare minimum and we should all probably be more in the 50-75% ballpark).
I am not pursuing financial success so that I can live a luxurious life full of bling. I don’t want to be a gagillionaire on a yacht with fancy martinis and a butler. That is one outcome of wealth (or perhaps just spending wealth). I want to become wealthy so my money works for me and I don’t have to anymore.
I want to spend time with my family, educating my sons about how to live a life with purpose, be an amazing partner and best friend to my wife, do great work that helps others with fun and interesting people, and leave the world better than I found it.
I want to be financially independent so I can live a life without compromise. I want each hour on this earth to build a deeper sense of freedom and happiness for myself and those around me.
I think one of the big shifts for me this year was realizing that I wanted to drastically move up my financial independence goal. Like many – I saw a more traditional retirement in my future. Something achieved at 55 or 60 or so…
What MMM helped me realize was that I could move that target up to something much more audacious – like 7 to 10 years by spending a lot less on all these things adding comfort (but not happiness) to my life.
So far this year, I have made a handful of Quickstart moves in this pursuit:
- Purchased a used bike on Craigslist and began using it for my regular transportation around town. This has been incredibly liberating. While it takes a bit longer to get places – the exercise I’m getting means I don’t have to go to the gym – a very time consuming (and expensive) activity. Another benefit so far has been working out my willpower muscle a bit more. Once you’ve biked to work in the freezing rain in a pair of shorts… all of the other challenges you have that day seem a bit easier.
- Cancelled almost all forms of domestic outsourcing (cleaners, yard help, food delivery, night nanny, etc). I say almost because there will undoubtedly be a need for childcare with our nanny from time to time.
- Kicked my takeout coffee habit. A lot of financial bloggers and luminaries proclaim that cutting small expenses like coffee is a fools errand on your way to becoming a millionaire – but MMM gives you a simple formula on how to calculate the lifetime return. Multiply any weekly expense by 752 (monthly by 173) and you’ll get the 10-year return of that money if you chose instead to invest it. The $30 per week I spent on coffee will add up to $22,560 or enough money for an all expense paid month in a castle in France, but I’m working on financial independence – not a cool vacation. By the time I’m 65 – this habit change will add approximately $160,148 to my net worth. This is a significant amount of money – which for most people would shave 2-5 years off the necessary working years. Buying coffee out doesn’t make me feel guilty – it’s more that I now realize that I can make coffee at home for 1/10th the cost and the effect is the exact same for me: caffeine in the blood.
- Cut way back on eating out. While this has required some additional time planning meals and my week, I don’t think it takes up more time – eating out is a time consuming affair after all. Doesn’t hurt that Emily is a fantastic chef (who loves cooking). Why do we ever eat out? Let alone to the tune of $6k+ per year! We live pretty active lives… and it can be easy to just run out of the house without thinking. Now we’re like, “what can we grab to snack on or for a meal on the run?” which is great because now we have small picnics on our outings regularly. And who doesn’t love a picnic!
- Created a list of 10 activities that make me happy and are healthy for me. Funny enough – not one of them costs any money. Already I have found myself looking here first when I have a smidgen of free time. And there isn’t a whole lot of time for things that cost money once I’ve cleared through the list.
- Cut several subscription services that were not helping me grow as an individual. Mostly news services… that if anything were distracting me from what’s important. And making my overall head a noisy place.
- Writing at least a few times per week again. Writing for U Gurus or even my own blog always makes me feel like I did something useful. And it’s an activity that is expanding my influence in the world and not just making my hair turn grey faster like reading the NYT.
I have a few other things in the works (some big, some small) that I’m really excited about which I plan to blog about in the near future.
And the good news is I’m finding my mojo again. I’m feeling more creative, driven, and happy each and every day. At a time when I am extremely sleep deprived and should be at my wits end – I’m full of energy and excited about life!
All without moving to a swank house, upgrading my car, or outsourcing another task around the house.
So there you have it. A taste of where I’m headed and why I think it’s awesome.
If you’re an entrepreneur pursuing financial freedom and happiness – I’d love to hear about it…
What’s working for you?
Kudos to you, Brent. I can relate to this a whole lot, and the comparison between happy and comfortable is super helpful. We spent over 10k in dining out in 2016 and I love cooking. Having spent 3 years in Argentina, we’ve seen a non-consumerist, happy culture and we strive to have that experience inform us, but as you mentioned, we spend way too much to give us that freedom here. We make good money, but we’re in more debt than ever. It’s insane and it eats at me everyday. Thanks for this post. I hope you have sustained changed toward happiness and not comfort. I’ll try to do the same.
So far – INCREASING THE DIFFICULTY for myself has been incredibly rewarding and the results have come FAST.
A couple weekends ago, we needed a couple of ingredients for some food on a Saturday morning. It was super cold outside and our usual selves would have just “gone out to breakfast.” Instead – I got on my bike and raced as fast as I could to the store to get the ingredients in the freezing weather… in SHORTS!
It was really cold at first – but then this BOSS-MAN came on over my brainwaves and was like, “you’re a bad man – you own this milk and syrup errand” and I felt pretty awesome. Muscles pumping. Wind in my hair. The bike ride dumped a heap of dopamine into my bloodstream and by the time I got home felt like I had drank 10 espressos.
Biking in the cold has become my ice plunge (http://www.businessinsider.com/tony-robbins-morning-routine-ice-bath-energy-cryotherapy-2015-3). At first my whiny brain says “that is going to be uncomfortable” and then my new MMM-powered brain is like, “YES, you go do that really difficult thing! You’ll thank me later!”
And I do.
Brent, I want to thank you for sharing this info. Tonight, after I got done working (well past midnight on a Saturday), I thought about the day and realized it was all starting to become a blur. I realize I am not happy, I am just pursuing … something.
And then I saw your facebook post. This is what I needed right when I needed it.
I need to take control and find my happiness.
Happy this came at the right time for you Duke.
Start doing difficult things. Uncomfortable things. Things that you’re future self will respect you for – and it will start to rapidly dial up the happiness meter.
Such an honest blog post. I can totally relate to this. Since turning 40, I realised that success means different things to different people.
For me, success is being healthy both mentally and physically, being able to see and spend time with my 3yr old son each and every day, being a good and supportive partner, and designing my work so that is supports all of these things, not take away from them.
With that in mind, for the past 6 months I’ve been reengineering my business, what I do and how I do it, in order to maintain those things that I value the most. I’m not there yet – and yes, it would be nice to have a better car, and a bigger house, but they are not my reasons for changing what I do.
I do not care about them when it comes to measuring my self-worth – not my net-worth, that’s not what’s important. When I look at your framed list – nice frame btw – I remembered back to when I was a kid, we used to take some of these things for granted. Grab your bike, go for a ride, for no reason at all – remember how exciting and freeing that was?
When we become “grown-ups”, sensible adults, we fall into a societal mould/trap and questions like these need answering; What should I do? What do my parents think I should do? What are my friends doing? Where should I go? Who should I be when I get there? And while we are not looking, these forces can remove some of that “joy” and “freedom” we felt and experienced as youngsters, because we are told we have to grow up and be responsible – and that’s precisely what we need to fight to get back to the simple things in life, that cost ZERO, but give us SO much back in return.
So often we try to fill those gaps with new iPhones, cool coffee machines, shiny cars, and invite our friends over into our consumer tourism so we can fell better about ourselves, net worth supplanting self-worth!
So BRAVO for realising this, calling it out, taking the reins, and publicly declaring your vision for your own future and that of your family’s. Respect.
Dude… Noel – I think:
You need to “Grab your bike, go for a ride, for no reason at all” and tell me how it was when you are done!!! Cause I think that sounds awesome.
Sometimes I’ll just start biking around downtown Denver. Pick beacons in my head like a park or river across town and then just start jamming. L-i-b-e-r-a-t-i-n-g.
Brent, great post. It’s also something I’ve been thinking a lot about… whether it makes sense to hire a cleaning or a lawn mowing company to free up my weekends.
That said, I was wondering why the disconnect between your business and personal life with optimizing and scaling. For example, I know you’ve either hired internally or externally outsourced a lot of the tasks in your business… as well as some bigger projects that you’ve hired outside firms for. Why does this make sense for your business but not for your personal life?
Couldn’t the argument be made that your weekends could be used for reading and personal enrichment rather than cleaning and mowing lawns? Which hypothetically could get you to your end goal faster due to the changes it may have to your income. I know a lot of the most successful people supposedly read a couple of hours per day.
Another question, do these types of household tasks ACTUALLY make you happy? Or is it more of a means to an end of eventual happiness?
Hey Jeff – thanks for the compliments.
I think a key thing I’ve learned over the last couple of years – leaning into domestic outsourcing a ton – is that there are limits to the work productivity increases it gets you. I don’t know about you, but for me, there is a diminishing return in my ability to add utility to my business after a certain amount of hours per week. Over the long term – anything over 45 hours per week I’m not as productive. Sometimes I work 60 to 80 hour weeks, but this is only in short bursts. But those are probably balanced with the weeks I only put in 30 hours.
For a while I was subbing domestic outsource time to get more productive work/biz time. Thinking – I can hire this food service over here and that will save me time going to the grocery store and I can put that extra 3 hours per week to work on the business and offset the cost with my higher earning. Did that over and over again until I was working all week, most of my evenings, and weekends. Then I burnout (hence realizing I hadn’t made myself happier). AND I’ve spent a grip of money on household staff.
I NEED downtime activities. Things that keep me occupied, ideally things that get me to move my body, provide me some personal satisfaction, don’t cost any money, and are not directly tied to my business.
Mowing the lawn is a great example of this. When I mow my lawn, I typically pop in my headphones, listen to an audio book (usually some good business stuff), and get a 20 minute workout in pushing my lawn mower around my yard. When I’m done, I feel accomplished. I flexed my willpower muscle a bit. And a fresh cut yard looks good which also makes me feel more connected to my property as a homeowner. And for me – the 20 minutes listening to an audio book, while doing something monotonous, gives me valuable time to think and process. Getting into my Alpha brain so to speak.
The alternative is I hire a lawn care service so I can read inside on the comfort of my couch. Slight flex in willpower – as I’m not just watching Game of Thrones or something – but doesn’t get all of the other benefits of being outside, getting some exercise, and connecting with the dirt.
And willpower is a muscle. Domestic outsourcing is like the antithesis of strengthening my willpower. Anything that is difficult or uncomfortable around my house was getting the same practice I use in my professional life of “delegate and elevate” – so I could avoid the uncomfortable demands of my household. But a household IS NOT a business. And my life IS NOT a business. A business is an asset that you own and work in. A machine you try and grow to be more productive, make the world better, and turn a profit for shareholders.
And since I’m pursuing true financial independence, I don’t have a huge interest in leveraging domestic outsourcing so I can go do expensive leisure activities as consistent habits.
Hi Brent, love this post. I’m always trying to go down this road of happiness and often have conversations about it with my wife. Like Jeff I find your new approach to household tasks refreshing. Completely agree with what you’re saying here. Would you still get a cleaner in once a week to give the house a refresh though?
Whilst we’re talking about Will power I think it’s one of the key parts to this whole subject, don’t you think? We often hear people talking about new exciting approaches to life which are usually so interesting and inspirational, but we don’t hear when in 12 months time, those things have stopped or aren’t being done to the same standard as at the beginning. Obviously I don’t know how good your will power is, I imagine it’s pretty strong! But do you have any targets in place to somehow hold yourself accountable. I.e. To make sure you’re still cycling in the freezing rain to grab something from the local shops in April 2018, or to still be doing the things on your list when your children have kept you up all night. It’s something I struggle with, would love to hear your thoughts 🙂
I’m not totally against having some domestic outsourcing – like a house cleaner periodically, but I think weekly or even monthly is a bit overkill. So far it’s been three months without and we’ve done a pretty good job at keeping the place orderly (or at least as orderly as you can with a toddler and newborn). I’ve also been getting rid of a lot of stuff. Clothes, unused appliances, and furniture. I still have a long way to go, but it’s easier to keep the place less cluttered when you have less stuff.
WILL POWER is definitely a big part of this shift for me. Which is why I have been taking on more hard things – in order to build that muscle. I totally relate to you that often times we get super motivated for a period of time to go hardcore on something and then not everything sticks. But even if a few new habits stick, it can have a lasting impact. I remember when I did my juice fast a couple of years ago, at the time I felt like I would continue juicing – and maybe even juice fasting – on a regular basis. That urge fizzled after about six months. BUT, that fall I ended up going full vegetarian and have kept that for almost two years now. I think the juice fast got me to appreciate vegetables enough that I was able to make a bigger commitment later on that stuck as a habit.
Holding myself accountable on the Financial Independence side, my first main goal is to get to a 50% savings rate on what I make today. Before I started this, I was at about 20% (plus an additional 6% that goes to my Simple IRA from the business) for 2016. As of writing this response, with the changes I’ve made so far, I have boosted this to 38%. And that doesn’t count week-by-week savings from my weekly non-fixed spending. Assuming that cutting out meals out, coffee, etc and other small changes, it’s possible that I’ll be at the low 40%’s already (and if you count my 6% Simple IRA – I could well be at my target 50%… however, my 50% goal is without my Simple).
On the biking side, I decided to “burn my boat” so to speak and sold my vehicle today which pushes us to a one-car family. So while I could still drive the family car or even Uber to work if necessary – this decision will limit my options and continue to force me to ride my bike instead of driving.
And in terms of accountability – it helps that Emily and I have gotten on the same page on all this. We have been working as a team for meal planning, making time for our afternoon walks, and encouraging one another to make good choices. She is a great accountability partner for me. I can see how it would be really difficult if someone had a spouse that wasn’t on the same page.
Epic bud. I love it and had many same realizations recently. Check out the book “Your Money or Your Life” which is the foundation of MMM’s principles.
I’ve taken a similar approach over the past two years with my wife. We cut our cost of living in half and are literally happier than we were before.
The most important thing we have done to do this:
1. Every month we track every dollar we spend and drop that into categories
2. At the end of each month, we ask ourselves “Did we receive adequate life satisfaction for the money spent in this category?”
Within a few months of doing this, our grocery bill dropped, our drinking budget almost disappeared, our shopping budget cut down to the essentials.
And after two years we started realizing “Wow, we are way happier than we were back when we were spending way more.”
Glad to see you evolving bud!
That’s awesome Jake. I have that book in my reading list. I have been tracking my spending really well since publishing my single number budget post. What I hadn’t been doing is really scrutinizing my habits in relation to that budget. And I think what I’ve learned is that the “guilt free spending” logic is really flawed. We had that mindset. If we were under budget, then we didn’t really think about our consumption habits in the slightest. And so that led to reckless consumption. I don’t think people should ever really feel guilty about their spending… but as I earned more and more, I consistently increased my spending.
And a lot of my spending was for comfort or for laziness. Even tonight we were low on food at the house (as we often are at the end of the week) and the thought of “let’s just go out to eat” seemed like the obvious answer. But then we thought for a minute. Looked at what we had in the house, got creative, and ended up having a great dinner AND had unexpected company over and had enough for them to enjoy dinner as well.
I can only imagine that your living abroad in low cost of living countries also helps right?