A Weekend With Mr. Money Mustache on Financial Independence

And you may ask yourself
Am I right?...Am I wrong?
And you may say to yourself yourself
My God!...What have I done?!
(Talking Heads - Once in a Lifetime)

I spent last weekend with Mr. Money Mustache and a group of like-minded individuals, and then I returned to downtown Seattle to meet with the Tiller team. As I cut through Nordstrom towards our meeting space across the street, I heard Talking Heads diffusing through the speakers. Were the Talking Heads early Mustachians before their time, the counter-cultural voices asking us all to wake up?

Today, Mr. Money Mustache is encouraging that from his millions of readers, pushing them to wake up! After working as a software engineer in his twenties, Mr. Money Mustache saved most of his earnings. By age 30, he had saved enough to perpetually cover his spending, and he retired. He’s now a thought leader in early retirement, financial independence, and financial efficiency.

And you may ask yourself
Well...How did I get here?

Despite his popularity, Mr. Money Mustache is anything but a loud promoter. Friendly, funny, and self-effacing, he spends most of his days enjoying his personal definition of retirement: family time with his wife and young son combined with carpentry as he renovates his house, helps friends with projects, and enjoys putting his hands to work. He continues to blog, but you won’t find the latest 2016 blog techniques at work for Mr. Money Mustache. No online courses or webinars. No pop-ups asking for your email address. His blog is, in Internet speak, old school. It has great content with no gimmicks.

Mr. Money Mustache and Little MM - Photo via http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/about/

Mr. Money Mustache and Little MM - Photo via http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/about/

Last weekend a group of fifty Mr. Money Mustache followers gathered in Tiller’s home territory, the foothills of the Cascade Mountains in Washington state. Mr. Money Mustache isn’t one to organize events, he’s not that kind of a promoter, but Joe Goldberg, Emma Pattee, and Kristin Hoeflin are. The three fans and readers, who live the Mustachian philosophy, organized the event, invited Mr. Money Mustache, and sold 50 tickets at a price point just high enough to cover their costs. What happened next was magic.

I’ve been to many conferences, but never such an un-conference. We spent the entire Memorial Day weekend gathered in a cozy retreat lodge, living dormitory style with roommates, sharing meals in the small dining hall, and talking about money. Realizing that all of us had something to share, the breakout sessions were led by attendees rather than hired guests. Everyone had an amazing story to share. We were all curious about each other. It was a beehive of conversations all weekend.

Camp Mustache Gathering in Issaquah, WA

Camp Mustache Gathering in Issaquah, WA

Into the blue again
After the money's gone
Once in a lifetime
Water flowing underground

Society has funny values around money. We all sometimes chase the dollar. Everyone is trained to want more, lots more, and to compare ourselves to each other. Among polite company we’re also trained to not talk much about our money. As a result, there’s a certain mystery as we observe the spending choices of others and sometimes infer things about their relationship with money.

Camp Mustache is completely different. We all talk about money. Our societal relationship with money is like our relationship with water. Run out of water, and in three days you’ll die. We NEED water, but in the United States we don’t wake up stressed about water. We’re lucky to have an abundant supply of nearly free drinking water. So anyone who organizes their life around collecting more and more water would, well, seem weird. Why? There’s water everywhere!

Money is also everywhere. So why covet money? Focus on making sure you always have enough, and then stop worrying about money and start thinking about everything else. Ask Mr. Money Mustache how much water he drinks, and he won’t blink. It’s not an awkward question. Ask him how much money he spends, and the same is true. In fact, he’ll point you to his blog where he outlines in detail how his family spent $25,000 last year.

Time isn't holding us
Time isn't after us
Same as it ever was...
Same as it ever was...

Sitting at dinner on the first night a stranger, soon to be friend, shares with me his own financial underwear and then asks me, “what’s your FI date? Where are you on your FI journey?” FI is short for financial independence, and most everyone at this gathering is working towards an “FI date.” The goal: having enough saved to cover their expenses so they no longer need to work.

How can a 30 year old possibly talk about early retirement when he’s so many decades away from being 65? Simple. The basic math of the Mustachians is that if you save 64% of your income, you can retire in 11 years. With that stash of savings you’ve accumulated in little over a decade, assuming a 4% annual withdrawal, you’ll likely never need to make money again. The math works out, you can withdraw 4% a year and more than cover your annual expenses.

And you may ask yourself
Where is that large automobile?
And you may tell yourself
This is not my beautiful house

So rather than wonder how our neighbors the Jones can afford that fancy new car, the folks at Camp Mustache are focused on their own counter-cultural journey with money. I didn’t meet any hedge fund managers at this gathering making seven figures. I’d actually bet that most folks are making five figures a year, and yet they’re talking about retiring in just a few years!

That’s inspiring. A group of people holding the reigns of life, deciding what’s important for them, and deciding that freedom for them is not constraining their days, months, and years to focus on a paycheck. It's not about enjoying or hating work. Some will always work because they love their work, but in a matter of years almost all of the folks at Camp Mustache won’t need to work. If they haven’t hit FI, they’ll be there soon. They will have enough money. At that point life isn’t about punching the clock, it’s about living your dreams. Be that as a parent, a carpenter, a teacher, a hedge fund manager, a care giver, or a circus performer.

What’s the dream you’re working towards?

Mt. Si hike with the Mustachian Crew

Mt. Si hike with the Mustachian Crew