The Washington Post

We’re following Mr. Money Mustache’s advice — though not always because we want to

I can’t remember what kind of expense we were discussing earlier this year when my son pointed out how much it would really cost.

“Mom,” he said in the tone 15-year-olds use to explain basic facts to ignorant parents. “Thirty dollars a month would amount to $5,190 after 10 years.”

No, I countered, it would be $3,600.

“You could invest that money if you weren’t spending it and make 7 percent interest, compounded.”

How did he know this?

Plant your own garden to save money on groceries, advises Mr. Money Mustache. (Diana Reese for The Washington Post) Plant your own garden to save money on groceries, advises Mr. Money Mustache. (Diana Reese for The Washington Post)

“Mr. Money Mustache.” My son explained that Mr. MM had retired at the age of 30 and now writes a Web site with advice on how to save money using what I’d call principles of extreme frugality. I can understand the site’s popularity; it’s written in an engaging and down-to-earth (and sometimes earthy) style.

Mr. MM’s advice on how to live without giving into rampant consumerism — my parents called it “keeping up with the Joneses” — does make sense, and, frankly, we’ve followed a lot of his advice over the years, although sometimes by necessity, not choice. Layoffs due to jobs outsourced overseas and subsequent stretches of unemployment for my computer-programmer husband plus my sporadic career in freelance journalism have put our once-firmly-middle-class household alarmingly close to the poverty level where income is concerned.

If you don’t have money coming in, you need to figure out how to have less going out. I think Mr. MM would support much of what we’ve done, although I suspect he would push us to do even more.

Our “newest” vehicle, purchased used almost five years ago, is a 2004 model with nearly 134,000 miles on the clock. In his blog on “short term-itis,” Mr. MM explains how a new Honda Pilot would end up costing you $57,000 more than a nine-year-old Honda Odyssey minivan. I remember years ago when I made the last payment on my Ford Escort, and my boss told me I should replace it with a brand-new BMW. “After all, you’re a senior editor here,” he said, making “big bucks.” I disagreed, knowing that I was planning to launch a freelance career soon and wanted to be free of debt.

Despite our efforts, we’re not at Mr. MM’s level. He advocates bike riding instead of driving whenever possible. We’ve yet to fully embrace that, although my son wants to start biking to school.

Then there are all those trappings that people tell themselves they deserve, like restaurant meals and fancy coffees and trendy new shoes (sigh). We rarely eat out, although that’s one luxury I do miss.

We have cable, though Mr. MM prefers Netflix and keeping his young son away from television commercials, but we don’t subscribe to any premium channels, and I see it as cheap entertainment.

We have “antique” cellphones, according to my kids. They’re the basic models; I’ve refused to pay for phones that send e-mails and surf the Web (although sometimes I want one, too, but then again, do I really want people to be able to reach me anywhere and anytime?) Mr. MM recommends prepaid plans, which I need to investigate.

We haven’t splurged on furniture or clothes. We don’t redecorate on a regular basis, as some of my friends and neighbors do. The couches in our family room are older than our kids. We still have a picture-tube TV … that someone donated to my uncle’s church and the church didn’t want.

When you think about expenses, it’s key to look at the long-term cost, according to Mr. MM. That means multiplying a weekly expense by 752 or a monthly expense by 173 to find out how much that money would have amounted to if invested at 7 percent after 10 years.

That puts a new spin on “it’s only $10 or $20 a month.” And that’s why middle-class people don’t get ahead, Mr. MM believes.

I’ll admit it was a lot easier to embrace frugality when it was just me. It’s hard to deny your kids. There’s always a request for lunch money, a check for a field trip, equipment for a Scout camp-out, tuition for dance lessons…. The list is endless. I feel like Scrooge for saying no.

But as Mr. Money Mustache points out in an interview with The Washington Post, “Realize that happiness comes from accomplishment and personal growth, rather than from luxury products.”

Diana Reese is a journalist in Overland Park, Kan. Follow her on Twitter (it’s free!) at @dianareese.


Diana Reese is a journalist in Overland Park, Kan. Follow her on Twitter at @dianareese.

The Freddie Gray case

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Campaign 2016 Email Updates

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!
Show Comments
The Republicans debated Saturday night. The New Hampshire primary is on Feb. 9. Get caught up on the race.
Highlights from Saturday's GOP debate
Except for an eminent domain attack from Bush, Trump largely avoided strikes from other candidates.

Christie went after Rubio for never having been a chief executive and for relying on talking points.

Carson tried to answer a question on Obamacare by lamenting that he hadn't been asked an earlier question about North Korea.
We have all donors in the audience. And the reason they're booing me? I don't want their money!
Donald Trump, after the debate crowd at St. Anselm's College booed him for telling Jeb Bush to be "quiet."
Play Video
New Hampshire polling averages
Donald Trump holds a commanding lead in the next state to vote, but Marco Rubio has recently seen a jump in his support, according to polls.
New Hampshire polling averages
A victory in New Hampshire revitalized Hillary Clinton's demoralized campaign in 2008. But this time, she's trailing Bernie Sanders, from neighboring Vermont. She's planning to head Sunday to Flint, Mich., where a cost-saving decision led to poisonous levels of lead in the water of the poor, heavily black, rust-belt city. 
56% 36%
Upcoming debates
Feb. 11: Democratic debate

on PBS, in Wisconsin

Feb 13: GOP debate

on CBS News, in South Carolina

Feb. 25: GOP debate

on CNN, in Houston, Texas

Campaign 2016
State of the race

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.