Every now and then, I come across a blog that is fresh, original, witty, and worth following religiously. A recent website that caught my eye is www.mrmoneymustache.com run by a guy named Pete in Colorado (I believe he doesn’t include his last name out of safety concerns).
First of all, Pete understands that time is worth something. A lot of people that discuss frugality/personal finance discount the importance of our time when advocating a particular technique. I don’t want to spend three hours brewing my own toothpaste that might save me $3.50 per month. First of all, I don’t have the confidence that I’m going to come up with anything that is effective on my teeth as Colgate or Crest, but more importantly, my time is worth more than that. I’d make more money in the here and now if I spent that time writing finance articles than making my own toothpaste. Or, if I spent that toothpaste time studying law, I’d probably be able to command a higher salary years from now thanks to that knowledge acquired.
On the Mr. Money Mustache site, Pete makes sensical arguments about why you should engage in certain behavior. For instance, when he tells you to take a two-mile walk somewhere, the rationale he provides is that there aren’t too many of us that are in such good shape that we couldn’t benefit from more physical activity in our life. If we can add some habits like walking a few miles into our daily routine, we’re effectively creating our own insurance policy against missing the gym for a week or two.
By the way, the best way to benefit from the Mr. Money Mustache website is to refrain from reading it with all-or-nothing attitude. The best way to read his site, or really any informational site in general, is with this mindset: “Is there anything this guy is saying that I can incorporate into my own life?” When he tells you to bike ride to work and the grocery store, the wrong response would be “I live thirty miles from work and can’t pull it off logistically, therefore the article was a waste of time.” The right way to react would be something like this: “Hmmm, I may not be able to actually bike ride to work, but I might be able to bike ride to a grocery store on Saturdays if I only need an item or two.” If you want to optimize your life, you won’t read things literally and will instead try to capture “the spirit” of what someone is arguing and then determine if that can improve your life in any way.
Secondly, Mr. Money Mustache is one of the only writers to have an audience that I like as much as my own.
When I first started writing finance articles in 2011 on the website Seeking Alpha, I got really lucky with the caliber of commenters that I was able to attract. At the time, I wasn’t even old enough to legally drink alcohol, and yet I had people on Seeking Alpha like David Van Knapp, David Fish, Robert Allan Schwartz, and Chuck Carnevale—just to name a few—that would regularly comment and interact with me on articles that I’d write. Those guys—likely millionaires in their own right—were the equivalent of having free financial tutors that I could bounce ideas off. Many others showed up along the way, and I’ve just been really blessed to have a readership with common sense and general financial savvy, especially compared to the population at large. It’s been for me to interact with people that have a sense of humor, a desire to become better investors, and want to get a little something for themselves in an honest manner while they’re here on earth.
When I read the regular commenters for a Mr. Money Mustache post, I see a lot of optimism borne out of having a good perspective on the state of life today in relation to past world history. Very few of his commenters complain about the world—they generally state a problem and then try to come up with a methodical way to solve it. The comments on most websites are trash—think Yahoo—but Mr. Money Mustache runs one of the few websites where it is worth the fifteen minutes to read through the comments after an article.
Thirdly, Mr. Money Mustache understands that money is more about psychology than pure logic and data. The basic information is not enough—we all know that eating well and exercising is the key to good health, yet we’re not all a bunch of supermodels. We all know that creating a sizable gap between what we make and what we spend is the key to financial prosperity, yet we’re not all giving Warren Buffett a run for his…erm, money.
Pete will point out the stupidity of idle spending. I see a strong overlap between the consumerism culture he mocks and my recommendation to think in terms of the passive income you could get out of each dollar (i.e. every additional $100 you can save each month buys you $8-$10 per year in passive income from a well-chosen energy pipeline).
And fourthly, the Mr. Money Mustache voice and brand is very unique in the personal finance realm. When you read an article that Pete writes, you can already tell it’s him. Given the generic content that tends to pervade the personal finance space, Pete’s ability to differentiate himself is a huge advantage.
In the early days of the blog, he accomplished this by cussing profusely. In recent months, his language has tamed down considerably (if you read his archives, you will notice that a typical post from 2011 contains far, far more swearing than a recent post in the summer of 2013). My guess is that this comes with the territory of explosive blog growth. When your appeal becomes mainstream, you may want to protect the brand and stop dropping f-bombs on a regular basis because there is little need to alienate part of the readership. I respect that tactical decision. From what I can tell, Mr. Money Mustache gets somewhere around 400,000 page views per day. That is absolutely nuts for a one-man operation. Depending on how well monetized the site is, that should bring in $1,000-$1,500 every single day. It’s entirely possible that he brings in a couple hundred dollars every night while he sleeps. That’s what can happen when you write compelling, original content for a couple years without hiatus.
Of course, this does not mean that I agree with everything he writes. Take a post like this, when he argued in favor of higher taxes:
If I were king of America, I’d do the exact opposite. I’d completely eliminate all taxation on dividends, since taxes are already paid at the corporate level and it doesn’t make sense to me why corporations should have to pay taxes for handing money over to their owners after paying taxes for generating the money in the first place. Most of my political philosophy stems from the idea that money is the product of your own labor and ownership stakes, and since you earned it, you deserve to keep it. I’d keep the government down to the basics—roads, national defense, etc.
Mr. Money Mustache reaches the opposite conclusion, but so what? That doesn’t mean there isn’t something in that post I can learn from. For instance, he points out that tax rates aren’t what ruins the middle class, it’s the interest and debt payments that drain cash flow that cause the problems. That passage was useful for me to read—not to go all Emerson on you with “I can learn something from everyone”, but I do truly learn something from every Mr. Money Mustache post that I read.
Check out this recent post on his site, titled “Fear Is Just A Chemical”, that is absolutely brilliant, original, and witty:
I won’t even try to summarize it, because it’s something you just have to read.
Mr. Money Mustache’s advocacy of walking and bike-riding, irreverent sense of humor (mixed with anti-corporate zeal) reminds me of the late senator William Proxmire. He was the guy that replaced Joe McCarthy as Senator of Wisconsin in the 1950s, and held that spot until 1989 or so. Proxmire was famous for his “Golden Fleece” awards where he would highlight the most wasteful government spending program he could find that month, and Mr. Money Mustache does a great job ridiculing the types of folly expenditures that have become a typical part of middle-class life. Proxmire wrote a book titled “You Can Do It!” that discussed how incremental exercise—namely, walking at 4-5 MPH for an hour or so each day—can radically change your overall fitness level, provided it is mixed with a moderate diet. Mr. Money Mustache’s advocacy of walking and bike riding plays to that same theme. Come election time, Proxmire would win with 70% or more of the vote, which is insane (the only thing comparable I ever saw in my lifetime was Robert Byrd’s victory margins in West Virginia). Judging by his comments and page views per day, it’s fair to Pete is quite the popular guy. It’s worth your time to spend a day or two going through his archives—he delivers great information in a highly entertaining format.