What gripes do you have with Mustachianism?

post by adamzerner · 2020-06-11T23:42:42.472Z · score: 12 (5 votes) · LW · GW · 13 comments

I'm referring to Mr. Money Mustache's blog and the philosophy that he preaches there.

I tend to agree with what he says, and perhaps border on being a fanboy. However, I never really stress tested these beliefs, and discussing gripes that others have with him seems like a good way of doing that.

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comment by remizidae · 2020-06-13T00:16:20.168Z · score: 18 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Looks like no one has brought up yet the tension between Mustachianism and EA. They both advise frugality, but the theoretical Mustachian works the minimum time necessary to become financially independent and then retires to do less or no work for pay, because their priority is freedom. The theoretical EA person would work all their life because their priority is maximizing the good done/money donated.

I find arguments for both of these philosophies compelling, but they can't be reconciled: either you choose to focus your energy towards helping yourself, a (probably) upper-middle-class American, or you're altruistic and focus your energy towards helping the most needy. Yes, even altruists spend some money on themselves, and even Mustachians typically give some money to others, but there's a basic difference in what your main goal is.

A secondary criticism is that Mustachians tend to denigrate the role of work in people's lives (oh isn't it terrible that I have to put on uncomfortable clothes and drive far away to work with people I don't like), BUT, if you look at retired Mustachians or people who are rich enough not to work, typically they just find another line of work. Having some sort of work is crucial for most people's self-esteem, self-efficacy, social lives, and even physical health.

The Mustachian riposte to this is that, even if you want to work, isn't it better if you don't have to? I agree, but I think the honest description of their movement is that it's not about retiring early, which is only a true goal for very few of us--it's just about getting rich.

comment by adamzerner · 2020-06-13T00:52:00.496Z · score: 6 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Looks like no one has brought up yet the tension between Mustachianism and EA... and then retires to do less or no work for pay, because their priority is freedom.

MMM only advocates less or no work for pay after retirement to the extent that work for pay makes you unhappy. See First Retire... Then Get Rich. He also is a fan of EA. More specifically, he supports the idea of first saving up your money so that you can retire, and then spending your time on EA once you're retired.

The Mustachian riposte to this is that, even if you want to work, isn't it better if you don't have to?

Right. MMM talks about this in Retire in your mind even if you love your job.

I think the honest description of their movement is that it's not about retiring early, which is only a true goal for very few of us--it's just about getting rich.

I think his position is that it's ultimately about the freedom to do what makes you happy. Most of the time your normal career isn't that, but if it is it makes sense to just retire in your mind. For everyone else, it makes sense to keep busy doing what you enjoy, whether or not that involves making money.

comment by remizidae · 2020-06-14T23:33:23.242Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

>He also is a fan of EA. More specifically, he supports the idea of first saving up your money so that you can retire, and then spending your time on EA once you're retired.

You see, though, how there's a basic conflict between those philosophies. For the Mustachian, giving to charity only comes after you're a millionaire yourself (or however you define FI).

comment by Raemon · 2020-06-15T05:20:47.670Z · score: 6 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don’t think this is representative among established EAs (although admittedly common among newcomers)

I think it’s real bad that EAs ever pushed such a narrow conception of what EA means, and I think it’s a fairly common, although not necessarily majority viewpoint among EAs that donating as soon as you can is a mistake.)

My own article on this is here:

https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/3ijnLaws7mCEogD6H/earning-to-save-give-1-save-10

comment by adamzerner · 2020-06-14T23:51:00.224Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ah, I see what you mean. Although my understanding of the EA movement is that it's very acceptable, or even advisable to spend enough on yourself so that you're reasonably comfortable, ie. living a Mustachian lifestyle. In which case the difference is just a matter of timing: a Mustachian first puts their money towards their own retirement and then puts it towards EA, whereas an EA puts it towards both in parallel. That doesn't seem like a large difference in philosophy to me. What do you think? Am I thinking about this the wrong way?

after you're a millionaire yourself (or however you define FI)

This is tangential, but $1M seems like it's on the high end. I think that a lot of Mustachians would be retiring at more like $500-700k.

comment by korin43 · 2020-06-12T00:50:43.519Z · score: 15 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think Mr. Money Mustache is overly optimistic about how easy the path he proposes is. He retired in 7 years on two 6-figure salaries and a bull market. My stocks have been doing ok, but nearly even close to as well as his did in the years before. I think his advice is still good for people without two six-figure salaries, but the early retirement idea becomes less realistic the lower the income you're working with (but it's still not pointless, since having savings is still hugely helpful for reducing stress and creating options).

I'm also not sure if he's clear enough about how hard it is to find agreement between two partners on this. I think delaying gratification to buy freedom is a good choice, but a lot of people disagree, even after reading about Mr. Money Mustache.

Even for people who want to save money, some things worth having in life really are expensive, like living near friends. I suspect the mustachian path is much longer if you live in San Francisco, but it may be worth working significantly longer to live near your community.

comment by adamzerner · 2020-06-12T02:02:34.444Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I get the impression that MMM does agree with paying for certain expensive things. For example, friends and family:

For slightly older and more settled folks like the MMM family, moving is temporarily off of the menu

and a home:

Or you could buy a used RV for $20k and cut your housing costs down by 90% for life.

But I wouldn’t do it, so I can’t tell you to do it.  The Mr. Money Mustache way is not about living on the cheap. It’s about living the GOOD LIFE on the cheap. The fundamental lesson of this blog is that there is plenty of money to go around in this country, so you don’t have to eliminate your spending on everything to become financially independent. You just have to cut out your waste. And for the most part, buying yourself a home is not a waste.

I live in one of the nicer houses in my town’s nicest (to me) neighborhood

However, I agree that he doesn't do a good job of emphasizing these sorts of points, and I think that it would be good if he did emphasize them more.

comment by Raven · 2020-06-18T00:12:42.883Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

A high cost of living area is worth it if it comes with a proportionally higher salary. For example, if you spend 25k/year in a LCOL area and make 50k/year, then move to a HCOL area and spend 50k/year but make 100k, you're able to save 2x as much as before despite have the same equivalent salary. This will get you to retirement much faster, at which point you can switch back to the LCOL area.

Of course, the numbers are far more complicated than that because of things like taxes, but you get the idea.

comment by peter_hurford · 2020-06-12T15:53:10.934Z · score: 11 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Mr. Money Mustache has a lot of really good advice that I find a lot of value from. However, I think Mr. Money Mustache underestimates the ease and impact of opportunities to grow income relative to cutting spending - especially if you're in (or can be in) a high-earning field like tech. Doubling your income will put you on a much faster path than cutting your spending a further 5%.

comment by adamzerner · 2020-06-12T16:21:16.183Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yeah, that makes a lot of sense.

comment by Liron · 2020-07-08T02:30:38.967Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think the biggest correct takeaway is that most people don’t appreciate how rich they are because they set their standards on buying the latest crap. If they just set their standard of a good product to “used stuff from 5 years ago”, suddenly everything is 75% cheaper and still much better than anything that people 50 years ago could dream of.

comment by William Stonerock (william-stonerock) · 2020-06-12T05:32:23.552Z · score: 2 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

He lost me a bit when he argued, quite vehemently, against having a pet. He really believes that stripping every ounce of joy, except for what HE considers joyful, is the path to success. A lot of what he says makes sense, but maybe moderation on some of his more extreme ideas?

comment by adamzerner · 2020-06-12T16:34:23.769Z · score: 7 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think you may be misunderstanding his claims here.

He lost me a bit when he argued, quite vehemently, against having a pet.

In the Great News! Dog Ownership is Optional! article he doesn't argue against having a pet, just that "the benefits are generally understood, while the downsides and costs are vastly underestimated", and thus a lot of people may want to reconsider it.

He really believes that stripping every ounce of joy, except for what HE considers joyful, is the path to success.

I think this is easy to misinterpret because he doesn't do a good enough job of emphasizing this, but he doesn't believe in stripping joy away from life. I think this article on housing is a good example of that. He talks about why he thinks his nice four bedroom, four bathroom house is worth the large expense.