You Can’t Cure Obesity with Bigger Pants

I was stumbling through my living room the other day, catching my feet on various building blocks, puzzle pieces, and a tangle of fishing line that had previously been used to suspend our homemade space station from the second floor balcony, when the thought occurred to me, “Damn, I sure wish this house wasn’t such an enormous mess!”

Mrs. Money Mustache must have read my mind, because right then she joked, “It looks like we really need to hire a house cleaner!”

All of us know this was said in jest, because come on, Mr. Money Mustache would not be seen outsourcing his floor sweeping even if he had wealth one hundred times greater than Warren Buffett’s bridge playing group. But just for a second the idea seemed comforting.

You see, we’ve been busy lately. I did a push to finish the carpentry work on the foreclosure project, we went away on vacation for part of the holidays, and Mrs. M. has been sucked into some honorable but rather draining work helping out her parents with a worker shortage in their family business. This means that nobody has been cleaning up the house for the last few weeks, and things have gotten crazy.

But instead of masking the problem with a housecleaner, we left it there to stare us in the face to remind ourselves that there is indeed a problem.

“Wake up, Mustache Family! You’ve overcommitted yourselves, and it’s time to scale things back to become more reasonable.”

Every day should include some time for peaceful reflection and reading, exercise, cooking good food, and a good night’s sleep.

If you scoff at this idea because your life is far too busy to allow it, let me put it this way: “Every person who is trying to saw through a twenty-foot thick tree trunk by hand, needs to take time occasionally to sharpen the saw blade when it gets dull”.

“But I’m too busy to sharpen the saw!!”, you say.

“Ok, fine, you keep sawing with that dull toothless saw, and I’ll take a rest while I sharpen mine, and we’ll see who gets through first”.

(hint: it will be me).

So we made some adjustments to our lifestyle, and today I had time to do a wonderful cleaning and reorganization of the whole main floor of the house. It’s beautiful again, and my whole schedule has opened back up to include more free time.

Our next example is a thirtysomething man who is busy advancing his office career. His metabolism isn’t automatically keeping him slim anymore like it did at age 18, and he doesn’t have time to exercise. He has started to gain weight, to the point that his favorite office pants are now getting tight at the waist.

What’s the solution? Does he buy bigger pants? This would solve the immediate problem of belly pinching, and allow him to get on with more pressing matters, like continuing to perform well at the office, right?

My solution is the opposite: put those damned tight pants on and keep wearing them. When they bite at you, it’s a reminder to take the stairs instead of the elevator, eat a piece of grilled salmon instead of a chocolate bar and bologna sandwich, and to start walking and biking more. Those tight pants are your biggest ally in addressing the underlying problem – if you give them up, you’ll be allowed to forget what the real problem is: your lifestyle has become unhealthy and you’re doing everything with a dull saw!

And there are so many more examples, once you start to view your life this way:

If you find it takes too long to get to your office by bike, you won’t solve the problem with a car. The problem is not that biking is too slow. It’s that you live too far from work! Keep biking to remind yourself of this, and the problem will solve itself, either through fitness or switching houses or jobs.

If the stairs to your 20th floor office leave you out of breath, the solution is not an elevator – it’s a stronger body that can get you up in a timely manner! Keep walking the stairs and the problem will be solved properly.

If you find you don’t have enough money to pay the bills or to afford something you really want, the solution is not borrowing the money! You have a problem of your wants not being aligned with your current financial reality. There are only two ways to fix this: earn more, or in many cases in wealthier countries, gain control of your wants, and therefore your costs.

On a bigger scale, when a city finds its road network overrun with automobile traffic jams, the solution is not to build more lanes for the traffic. The problem is that too many people are living somewhere that makes it easy to take a car to get to work. The solution is to reduce both the need and the incentive to drive! If the zoning allows plenty of  housing to be built near the jobs and stores (increasing supply which drives down prices), and the roads are left crowded and unexpanded (which makes people dread the thought of buying a far-away house), guess what choice they will start making more often?

In all areas of life, embrace your problems. Solve the easy ones as quickly as you can. And as for the more difficult ones: let them build up around you and stare into your face so you can do battle with them like a real man or woman. Make no mistake about it – you can either have a good honest boxing match with each of your problems, and win eventually. Or you can turn your back on them, and they will walk over and punch you in the back of the head when you forget about them and start watching TV instead.

If you keep your problems visible, you’ll automatically keep your life from getting unnecessarily complicated.

“Oh yeah, I can’t buy myself a horse for mountain trail riding, because I don’t have time to ride it – my time is already occupied by keeping myself in good shape. Hey! Maybe I’ll take up mountain trail walking instead!”

Problems are often incorrectly thought of as our enemies – things to be avoided and warded away with credit cards. But really, they are our best teachers. Do you like learning? There’s no better way to learn than to be forced to solve your own problems.

Once you stop masking problems and truly realize that they won’t go away until you solve them properly, you will find that you suddenly get serious about fixing them.  And when it really comes down to it, all of the most serious problems of modern life are caused by not solving their precursors when they first come up.

Because of all this, I still have a fence that I’ve been planning to build for three years, and the vegetable garden went unplanted last year. I have not yet attained the Vin Diesel level of fitness that I promised myself back in the Health=Wealth article, and I’m not yet the drummer in a funk band even though I deeply desire to be one. I’m far from perfect, but I leave all these shortcomings out there staring me in the face and challenging me to get more organized.

Every year I am getting a little bit ahead – and so are you!

  • rjack January 9, 2012, 6:50 am

    This article reminds me of the saying that I heard that went something like:

    “If you always do the easy thing, life will be hard. If you always do the hard thing, life will be easy.”

    • Ravi July 4, 2016, 3:48 pm

      Another one:

      “A majority of life’s errors are caused by forgetting what one is really trying to do” – Warren Buffett, 1965 BPL Partnership Letter

  • Tom Armstrong January 9, 2012, 6:50 am

    Several years ago, Northern Sun Merchandising had a bumper sticker that read: “Adding lanes to deal with traffic congestion is like getting a longer belt to deal with obesity!”

    A lot of folks don’t get the point or the joke, of course. Your post title immediately made me think of this sticker (which I never got around to buying…), AND convinces me (as if I needed convincing) that you would, indeed, get the point. Methinks many of your readers would, as well.

  • iterations January 9, 2012, 6:57 am

    I love the title to this post, and I completely agree with the message.

  • Banjo Steve January 9, 2012, 7:00 am

    Love that title – and the thought attached to it. Unfortunately, such logically productive thinking processes are getting far too scarce and now seem to be categorized as “thinking outside the box.”

  • drewstees January 9, 2012, 7:29 am

    Speaking of sawing through a twenty-foot thick tree trunk by hand…I just watched “Alone In The Wilderness” for the first time this weekend. That dude (Dick Proenneke) was seriously badass. I’ll spare details, but here’s a clip:


    After watching, I literally had to go outside and chop some wood…

    • The Fleetwood Project January 9, 2012, 2:39 pm

      Sharpen the saw is also the exact same teaching and title in Stephen Covey’s “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”! He uses just about the same example that MMM used in the article. True genius.

    • Jeremy January 9, 2012, 5:09 pm

      Yes! I saw that program 5 years ago on PBS and always wondered what it was.

  • Danielle January 9, 2012, 7:29 am

    This is great advice; not just for financial independence, but life in general. I’ve been needing a kick in the pants about things, and this article finally made me realize I need to face my problems. Big girl pants = ON. (The same size pants, not bigger ones of course!)

  • Wrecked January 9, 2012, 7:36 am

    “Our next example is a thirtysomething man who is busy advancing his office career. His metabolism isn’t automatically keeping him slim anymore like it did at age 18, and he doesn’t have time to exercise. He has started to gain weight, to the point that his favorite office pants are now getting tight at the waist.”

    Why did you have to single me as an example? :)

    • BDub January 9, 2012, 10:58 am

      Seriously? I thought that was directed at me.

      Yet another punch in the face…

      • Travoid January 10, 2012, 1:09 pm

        Whew! I thought it was about me, but obviously it’s about you two! Just kidding…

  • Chris January 9, 2012, 7:54 am

    I like to think of my “life problems/issues” as a monster. Whether it be work projects, fitness goals, school work, you name it. If I don’t go out every day and face the monster and give him a beat down, then he’ll do it to me! Some days I go to bed and the monster is weighing heavy on my mind and chasing me in my mind and other days I feel good knowing I gave him a serious beat-down.

    Bad news, problems, issues to be dealt with rarely get better with time. It’s better to turn and face them now, head-on, at the very least you’ll sleep better! :)

  • jlcollinsnh January 9, 2012, 8:09 am

    Mr. MM at his most badassedness. LOL

    I confess (seems like the right word here:) we have at various times:

    lawn services
    painters and carpet installers just this week

    and any number of other services. Indeed, we are much more inclined to buy services than things.

    We justify this with the idea that the most important thing money can buy is freedom and that the most valuable thing we have is our time.

    If I can hire somebody to do things I don’t don’t care to do that allows me to focus on where I can be more productive or just have more fun.

    That said, I envy Mr. MM his wide range of skills and his uncompromising approach. Were I at the beginning of my journey…..

    Many years ago I came to a fork in my life. I had just done the demolition on the interior of a Chicago 2-flat I’d bought and was restoring. My company offered me a major promotion and a move to other city. I took it, hired pros to finish the 2-flat (never learning the skills I had planned to) and focused on my career.

    It has been a great run, lots of fun and got me where I wanted to go. But looking back I’d likely have more in my stach if I’d continued with the RE.

    Oh, and I am guilty of buying bigger belts. sigh.

    • MMM January 9, 2012, 9:44 am

      “If I can hire somebody to do things I don’t don’t care to do that allows me to focus on where I can be more productive or just have more fun.”

      This is one of the few places Mr. Money Mustache and J.L. Collins significantly diverge in our thinking. His statement sounds perfectly logical, but that’s what makes it dangerously Antimustachian except in rare cases. (In his own case, I think it was a fine idea, but he’s a rare man if you go over and read his resume!).

      Many of my own friends, including double-Ph.D households where both people are considerably more intelligent than me, have used that argument to justify extra convenience and luxury spending. It has surely bought them some small joys and reliefs over the years. But guess where they are now, despite about 20 years of double six-figure salaries? STILL IN DEBT AT FIFTY YEARS OLD!!

      If you really want to apply the Collins Rule of Convenience, I suggest tempering it with this side rule: “As long as your day job pays at least $100,000 per year, and the decision doesn’t make your savings rate drop below 60% of your gross salary”.

      Below those levels, you’re better off getting your independence FIRST. Because there is a hell of a lot more convenience and joy to be had from 70 years of self-guided adventure time, compared to spending the cash earlier on housecleaning and lawncare.

      • jlcollinsnh January 9, 2012, 3:15 pm

        nothing I disagree with there, Mr. MM and thanks for your kind words.

        What made this work for us was our 50% savings rate, i.e. we didn’t trade dollars for convience unless we had those dollars in the remaining 50%.

        In fact, I’d go so far as to say spend your money on anything you like as long as:

        50% 1st goes into saving/investment
        You have no debt.

        and, while my path is/was a bit different than Mr. MM’s and my stach is bigger (and only ’cause I’ve been at it longer) at the moment, his road will get you there sooner and with more skills and money than mine.

        anyone just starting out is very lucky to have this model to follow. I made countless mistakes along the way that such info would have helped me avoid.

        It should be encouraging to any beginner, in spite of that, I got there around age 38. 50%, invest, no debt is all it takes.


  • Jeh January 9, 2012, 8:13 am

    A nice dose of inspiration, so refreshing. Thanks MMM for bringing a little joy and hope into this Monday morning.

  • Jeff January 9, 2012, 9:03 am

    Conquering problems makes you feel like a T. Rex – bring it on !

  • Questionable Goatee January 9, 2012, 10:42 am

    Chocolate bar and bologna sandwiches – you are a genius. Just typing that makes me both cringe and laugh.

  • Grace January 9, 2012, 10:51 am

    This made me laugh: they will walk over and punch you in the back of the head when you forget about them and start watching TV instead.
    Excellent blog. I appreciate the sharing of your every day life and humanity.
    Some one I shared your link with made up quite a story about who you are, your intentions, why the blog is successful etc. Hopefully they see this post and how your days are well, just your days and you are faced daily with the same decisions we all have. Happy Monday.

  • Matt January 9, 2012, 10:53 am

    I’m going to have to try one of those chocolate bar and bologna sandwiches :)

    As always, great post on treating the disease instead of symptoms in our personal and financial lives.

  • redeyedtreefr0g January 9, 2012, 11:03 am

    I also love the title of this post.

    I am guilty of not wearing some of my particular pants because they just don’t fit comfortably (actually, I was dealing with the discomfort, but the tightness of the specific pants I’m referring to seriously hinder bike riding, which I began as a commuter with the start of schools in August).

    I expected to lose weight with my commute, but I haven’t. Perhaps I changed eating habits while I added in the exercise. I’ve been told by various sources who may not be reliable that even if you only work out in 10-minute sessions in your day that you can get fit. I’m biking 12 miles a day in 4 sections- to work and back home, to work and back home. I’ve noticed that I’m a stronger rider (used to fight to work in 1st gear, now I can pedal along easily in 4th), but my body hasn’t changed shape.

    I am an amateur seamstress (sewer?) so I think creating a homemade body-double dress form from duct tape with be a real live 3D version of myself that I can see all the time to remind me not to eat that candy bar that keeps being bought, or all the bread that I love and don’t need. Plus then I have the dress form so I can fulfill my dream of making my own cute clothes that actually FIT.

    • Gerard January 9, 2012, 5:36 pm

      If you’re that much stronger a rider now, the reason you don’t think your body shape has changed is because the bits that are changing first are the ones that are hard for you to see without two mirrors! Stick with it!

      • redeyedtreefr0g January 10, 2012, 6:52 pm

        I shall choose to suspend my disbelief in the interests of happiness :P

        Also, for those crafty people on a budget who feel like being super thrifty, it’s amazing what you can create by chopping up old worn out clothes!

        • MMM January 10, 2012, 7:45 pm

          Ms. Tree you’ve definitely improved your health and probably have a faster metabolism now. Your body is surely telling you to eat more to compensate, so the trick is now to nourish it well while maintaining slightly less calories than you’re burning. One trick that works for me is to simply cut out bread entirely. Maybe pasta too. These things can be major appetite stimulants.

          Then eat as much healthy oily foods like almonds, avocadoes, olive oil, and salmon as you like to replace it. If you work the same way as many people, you’ll be less hungry even as your body busily vacuums away all your fat reserves to compensate for the extra energy you are burning.

          • Elizabeth September 11, 2012, 12:22 pm

            Plus, don’t forget that men tend to lose weight much more easily than women do. So we have to be more patient and just enjoy the process of becoming stronger while waiting for the outward manifestation of fitness to show up.

    • Renee August 5, 2019, 1:32 pm

      Don’t worry, if you’re biking 12 miles 2x a day, it’s only a matter of time with the right diet…

      I’m jealous of your commute, that’s some serious fat burning there. For everyone it’s different, but I live 5 miles from work and it’s taken 4 months of adjustments of diet and extra workouts to see sustainable weight management.

  • FreeUrChains January 9, 2012, 11:05 am

    I will have to sharpen my body as best as I can. It’s insane to think that I love to Quest in the Digital world after work, rather then clean the dishes (by hand), cook salmon and rice, and exercise (borrowed P90X Style) in the living room, then go to bed by 9pm for a solid 9 hours of sleep.

    I think it has something to do with being an 8 packed Warrior who Saves the lovely pure Maiden and becomes King of the World with unlimited Freedom and Time to enjoy his Maiden, Self developed Kingdom, and Sharpening of his skills that he actually uses on a day to day basis.

    Reality and intentionally Evil men, try to make everyone and everything into the complete opposite out of profit, corruption, and Greed!!!
    Most Governments encourage this because it keeps the modern man a slave to keep paying taxes while working.
    They give you the convienance of being fat, borrowing money, driving expensive vehicles everywhere, narrowing your majors to become more technical then giving you the chance to learn more or requiring you to have a $100k PHD or $80k MBA for entry to manager positions. They model and sexualize everyone to unhealthy and unmoral levels then sale their looks and behaviors (online, TV) to get others to out to party at Bars and clubs instead of chatting at your public library or public volleyball courts or at home. The whole basic theory of College is to get 18-28 year olds into one location, then charge them yearly for “teaching” them, and bribe them into a High Living High Luxury Life Style with the best technology with the worst living conditions, hoping that you mate and need a Big House and Big Car for your many families. Then after that awesome experience, You get thrown into boring, undereducational meaningless jobs with 30+ min commutes outside the expensive COL cities, where everyone at work is either married and has children and huge houses they can not afford while having to work and getting much fatter and aging dramatically.

    It’s not just people take the easy path instead of facing their challenges, but there are Evil Plans in place to control the Public Consumers, Their Entire Life Styles and Behaviors, and even many laws that guarentee that these behaviors ensue..

    This warrior wishes to destroy his prison and stop his enslavers, and believes most people will want to do the same once they wake up from their prison cells.

    • MMM January 9, 2012, 12:13 pm

      Whoa, that was confusing but interesting with lots of capital letters.

      The real world is less exciting. Nobody is strategizing to enslave you. There is no complicated plot to keep you in chains. It’s just plain old other people mostly clueless, some smart, everyone trying to make a buck for themselves in the relatively mild ongoing battle called capitalism.

      The only imprisonment is that which people do to themselves – by buying things they can’t afford, then insisting to everyone else (including me) that it’s the only way to live life.

      • jlcollinsnh January 9, 2012, 3:28 pm

        of course there is the huge and very successful advertising/marketing industry encouraging you to put those chains on….

  • Marcia @Frugal Healthy Simple January 9, 2012, 11:14 am

    I am so guilty of some of these things (hiring a housecleaner. I admit it.)

    But I do try to have some balance in my life too. I walk to the farmer’s market to get exercise. I used to bike to work a couple of days a week (taking a break over the winter). Sure, they both take longer, but they kill 2 birds.

    I am a quilter by hobby, and I just don’t have a lot of time to do it these days. My (mostly retired) quilting friends tell me that I need to make it a priority. They are right…but…I set my priorities at exercise, spending time with my family, and cooking healthy meals for my family. So, I may only quilt a few hours a month, but I spend 4-6 hours on the weekend cooking and baking. Most of them don’t cook.

    • MMM January 9, 2012, 12:06 pm

      You are BUSTED, Marcia! You already revealed that you live in Santa Barbara. No such thing as winter there. Just checked out the 5-day forecast for this lovely January week – mid 60s, sunny every day.

      No “taking a break for the winter” allowed from biking. Not for you, and not for me either, where the 5-day forecast ranges from 29-50F.

      • Angela January 9, 2012, 3:23 pm

        What’s the lowest temperature you bike in? Does it ever get cold enough that you decide to drive (or just not go out)? I live in New England and it gets pretty nasty up here… I can’t really picture myself biking through the slush in 10-20degree weather.

        • tjt January 9, 2012, 8:21 pm

          Angela – I’ve biked to work in -10 degrees, no problem. (And I’m new to colorado from texas). In fact, I found myself sweating when I got to work because of all the layers of clothes. If you’re not sweating, maybe you aren’t riding hard enough… :)

          Seriously, it’s not bad once you start pedaling. And I get to work with my blood pumping and I feel great.

      • Marcia @Frugal Healthy Simple January 9, 2012, 4:16 pm

        I know I’m totally busted. But man, it’s 30-35 degrees in the morning! And I have a 45 min bike ride! Brr!

        That’s not the only reason, but it’s the only one I’m willing to admit to right now.

        • tjt January 9, 2012, 8:24 pm

          35? C’mon… It was 38 degrees this morning and I decided not to wear a coat on my bike ride to work. 35 is not cold, it’s a perfect temperature for outdoor activities.

          • Questionable Goatee January 10, 2012, 8:43 am

            First, some words of encouragement: this is my first winter of consistently biking any sort of legitimate distance. It’s great. And I live in Wisconsin.

            Next, some layering tips. 30-35º means with only two layers I’m plenty warm, especially BECAUSE (not in spite of the fact that) I’m riding about 40 minutes at a time. When I start out, my face and neck are a bit chilly, but that feeling is gone after the first mile or two. I use a base layer, and then just jeans and a soft shell jacket. Beanie under the helmet, some leather driving gloves, and done. This was through trial and error, by the way. I started out with a similar setup but with winter gloves and a sweater, and it ended up being waaay too much until it dropped down to about 20º. I may actually ditch the beanie for temps over 30º…we’ll see.

            MMM has a fantastic post that I bookmarked on this very topic (http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2011/11/03/how-to-ride-your-bike-all-winter-and-love-it/). Your mileage may vary, both compared to mine and his, but hopefully that helps you weigh your options.

        • redeyedtreefr0g January 11, 2012, 11:06 am

          I also found out that I adjusted really fast to the cold. I’m from Florida now transplanted to Oregon. Below 50 degrees (all temperatures in Fahrenheit) my hands get chilly in wind. They might warm up along the way, but I start out with gloves. My jacket is a simple windbreaker by Faded Glory without any special venting- just a zip front. It gets unzipped to let in cool air along my short 15 minute ride all the way down to freezing temperatures. Below 40F degrees I wear long silk underwear under my jeans and shirt. It’s personal choice whether I wear short or long sleeves for my regular shirt.Below freezing I go for long. Also at 40 I add large $6 leather gloves over my little knit kid gloves. I have a cheap knit hat that goes under my helmet. Really the warmer temperatures don’t need it, but I don’t always have the thicker helmet pad with me to swap out for it.

          So that covers the really big variations from 32F-50. Really I’m good down to 20 with that. At 20 degrees, I’m wishing for a windbreak layer on my legs, but they survive. Below 20 I put on my snow pants. They were free hand-me-downs and block wind as well as water. I haven’t found a solution for my hands- they just get really really cold inside my two pairs of gloves. Wool is supposed to be great for insulation, but I don’t have any yet.

          I’ve biked down to 10 degrees so far this winter! It wasn’t exactly comfortable all the time, but I did it, and was glad I didn’t drive. One thing I have found is that somewhere around 15 or 10 degrees, your bike might be harder to pedal. Noticeably harder. I lose one or two gears and the only thing I can figure is that the grease inside starts stiffening up when its that cold. So just give yourself an extra 5 minutes or so to compensate (depending on how long your route is).

          That’s pretty much my version of exactly what MMM said in the post referenced above, but maybe it will help too.

  • Danielle January 9, 2012, 11:39 am

    Thanks for this post, MMM. Timely and kick-in-the-pants-y.

    One of the biggest ways I have, over the years, saved money is by teaching myself to cook really well. ‘Cause I really like to eat! I also read nutrition textbooks, so I can keep us healthy, too. I actually prefer to stay in and cook most of the time instead of going out. However, when I talk with people about cooking, I find that it’s either really unfashionable to admit you like to cook, or lots of people just dislike it.

    I try to take this I-can-do-it attitude into most things. Lawn care, house cleaning, home repairs, washing my car. All these little things end up being one big savings.

  • Jennifer January 9, 2012, 12:08 pm

    Love almost all of your posts but this one is one of my all time favorites (to dae). What a great way to address ‘problems’! I can even think of some ways to put this post to good use as inspiration today. Keep those insights (mixed with a great sense of humor) coming!

  • JJ January 9, 2012, 12:27 pm

    What’s wrong with all these lazy bums.

    When you find yourself being naked, what do you do? Buy clothes? Hell no. You start a nudist colony.

  • poko January 9, 2012, 12:37 pm

    I’m not super out of shape, but I started taking the stairs at my last job because of a ‘punch in the face’ by MMM. I was just being lazy, and wasting energy riding in the elevator. But it was a paltry two floors up, so not great badassery.

    I was excited to start my new job, since their office was on the 12th floor! Come to find out, that you can’t even take the stairs here if you wanted to — they are locked unless there is a fire drill!

    At least I can bike to work now, so I get a tiny bit of movement to start and end my workday.

    • Peter January 9, 2012, 1:47 pm

      Poko, I know it’s not your issue to worry about, but people aren’t supposed to use the elevator during a fire… Also, I’m sure that there is probably some ADA laws about those elevators having to be operational. Your company probably doesn’t own the building, so it’s probably not their problem but the situation seems fishy.

      As for me, I love watching people wait for the elevator (it’s one of those slow hydraulic ones) that only runs four stories. It’s pathetic. From the floor I come in on, you only have to climb two flights of stairs, tops. I can’t understand it at all. The stairs are right next to them! Oh well, it makes me feel better with every step. And being a little obtuse myself (physically, hopefully not mentally) I had started lifting last summer, at home with a bowflex I bought from friends for a good price. With the new year, I started a diet too, except I don’t want to really call it a diet because I plan to live by it from this point on, not just when I reach my desired weight. I’ve also decided to read A LOT more and put a plan on paper to reach retirement. 2012: Getting my life back in shape, physically, mentally, and financially. Hopefully the Mayans were wrong!

      • MacGyverIt January 9, 2012, 6:38 pm

        “As for me, I love watching people wait for the elevator (it’s one of those slow hydraulic ones) that only runs four stories. It’s pathetic.”

        I’ve been taking the elevator to the third floor. There, I said it. *exhales* No more! From here on out it’s all stairs, all the time. Thanks Peter (and MMM) for the virtual punch in the face.

        All Stairs in 2012!!! :-D

  • poko January 9, 2012, 2:13 pm

    Oh, I know that you can’t take the elevator during a fire, but I don’t understand why the stairs are locked during the rest of the time. Actually, I think only the stairs in the lobby are locked, as I just tried the one up on our floor and it was open.

    • jlcollinsnh January 9, 2012, 3:26 pm

      security and liability would be my guess.

      what I’ve always wondered is why, when a business has two doors in its entry is one always locked?

      • Peter January 10, 2012, 8:55 am

        Here’s one that I don’t get. I do some work in a courthouse with revolving doors (a great idea for energy savings) but on either side of them are regular push/pull doors… Ummm… What?

        • Brian January 10, 2012, 10:18 pm

          Handicapped people don’t get along with revolving doors.

    • Tom January 9, 2012, 4:14 pm

      This is also the case in my own office building.

      I tried taking the stairs a handful of times (I work on the 10th floor), but quickly learned not to as the doors usually can not be opened from the stairwell.

      This leads to a hurried 10 flight walk down again to get the lift*…

      * to some the lift, to others the elevator.

    • Peter January 10, 2012, 8:53 am

      Oh my, I’m sorry! I misunderstood you Poko! I thought you meant the elevators were locked unless there was a fire.
      Who in the world decided to keep the stairs locked?
      You might conisder finding out who in the building has the power to unlock the stairs, they may not have a good reason for locking them in the first place.

      MacGyverIt, don’t feel bad. If you see the writing on the wall and change the bad habit then good for you! My work sends out emails once a month encouraging healthier habits, this month’s was using the stairs, probably didn’t change a single mind. Oh well, more stair space for me.

  • MacGyverIt January 9, 2012, 6:51 pm

    Oh, and I’d like to take a moment to give a shout out to my latest electric bill which is under $67 for the first time in ghastly electric bill paying memory. A first for me as I’m exercising (pardon the pun) the badassity of a low low low heat setting in winter (65 while home, off while at the 9-5)… I never thought I could tolerate the lower temp but I made the decision to do it and made it happen. I’ve managed to acclimate just fine with extra layers of clothes and occasional spot heating.

    And you can burn more calories in cold weather, btw, which will help with that pants size as well: http://news.discovery.com/human/temperature-weight-obesity-fat-110126.html

    Next up: learn how to lower the heat setting on my hot water heater, lower the heat 63 degrees and give it a try. Let’s see if I can get the electric down to $60 or below next month!

    • Peter January 10, 2012, 9:10 am

      You are right about cold weather burning a few more calories as your body works harder to maintain it’s own internal temperature. Have you heard of superhydration?


      Warning: He is a salesman, but the information on superhydration is really everything you need to know about him.

      And be careful with lowering your water heater. MMM has an article and one of the comments mention Legionairre’s Disease. Look into it before lowering your water heater too much.

  • tjt January 9, 2012, 8:27 pm

    I liked the post, but I got most of my entertainment from the picture you chose.

    How is that fractional C02 laser skin resurfacing working out for you?

    • MMM January 9, 2012, 10:18 pm

      Thanks.. I scanned that picture from an ad for an actual Boulder-based comedic surgery boutique. (spelling is deliberate since I do believe there is comedy involved)

  • Oskar January 9, 2012, 11:42 pm

    I´m one of thoose 30 something office workers and I do see the risk of gaining a few pounds in all the wrong places. I actually allready use the MMM method and have committed to never buy a bigger size jeans than the 32 waist that I had at 19.

    Thanks MMM for another good post!

  • Hendrie January 10, 2012, 4:57 am

    nicely stated. Always looking for additional hacks. close to FI, under 6% bodyfat, 75 VO2 max, all 5 kids happy and great in school and clean and sober. Just keeps getting better and better. Now I keep adding areas of service to others and the world.

  • RatRaceBeGone January 10, 2012, 10:27 am

    Great blog MMM. I found you two days ago and I’ve been reading it every free minute I get.

    Here’s my situation and I am hopeful you and other MMMs can give me some MMM-like advice. I want to “semi-retire” in 10 years by age 50.

    We are a dual income household in NYC. No children. I bring in approx. 70% of our total income. I am 40 and DH is 46. I would like to semi-retire in 10 years at age 50–perhaps bring in some cash by going on a reduced schedule working 20 hours a week–but DH is happy continuing the daily grind so he may continue working full-time for another 20 years (unless he gets jealous).

    Here’s our financial situation: While hefty, our only debts are a HELOC and a 30 year fixed mortgage. We have an emergency fund in an online savings account that covers 12 months of basic living expenses. (Some may argue with keeping so much cash in a savings account earning a measly 1%, and I have debated this issue in my head as well, but I’ll save that one for another time.) We will contribute the maximum allowable by law ($17k in 2012) to our respective employer 401(k) plans ($34k in total for 2012). By the end of 2012 we expect to pay off our variable rate HELOC (currently at 3.25%) of $130k. But doing so will leave little, if any, room to put any other savings aside (other than the 401(k)s). By the end of 2012 our only debt will be the 30 year mortgage and we will owe approx. $400k on it (at 4.625%). So, that leaves us with 9 years to get us semi-retirement ready. If we have no house payment, and DH continues to earn the salary he earns now (adjusted for inflation) we could live on his salary alone, but frugally. I’d love to hear everyone’s thoughts on how to go about accomplishing my dream of getting out of this rat race using the assumption that we plan to live in the house indefinitely. (We have discussed selling the house and downsizing, but we haven’t made that decision yet.) So far we have approx $215k retirement savings and a few thousand in a taxable brokerage account.

    So here are my thought on possible approaches:

    (1) Do we aggressively pay down the house for the next 9 years, while continuing to max out our 401ks? As an aside, considering my desire to retire 10 years before I hit age 59 1/2 (which is when I can start taking penalty-free withdrawals from my 401k), am I contributing too much on a pre-tax basis to my 401k? Note that I get no matching contribution. Would that money be better invested in a Roth 401k (my employer has this option) or a taxable account where I can access the money penalty free between the ages of 50 and 60? Only the principal in the Roth 401k would be available penalty free; earnings can’t be withdrawn without penalty before 59 1/2.

    (2) Do we stop contributing to our 401ks and use the $34k (reduced by taxes) to pay off the house even faster? Possibly as fast as 6 years assuming we continue to make our same salaries (adjusted for inflation).

    (3) Do I split all extra money between paying down the house “somewhat” aggressively and stash the rest into a taxable brokerage account to get our savings junpstarted? If we choose this option, do we continue contributing to our 401ks (fully? partially?)

    (4) Do we do some combination of all of the above, or do we do something completely different that I haven’t considered?

    All thoughtful comments are greatly appreciated.


    • MMM January 10, 2012, 11:01 am

      Wow, nice question. You might also try posting that to reddit.com/r/financialindependence

      I’d personally do this, just for comparison:
      – start by cutting living expenses (other than housing) to $2-3k/month
      – if you cut living espenses, this automatically shrinks the size of the 12-month emergency fund. But that fund will soon become irrelevant, because:
      – use your emergency fund to pay off the HELOC – they are the same thing, it is silly to have cash in the bank when you can just write a check from a line of credit! My emergency fund has always been “whatever happens to be in the bank account”, which I try to keep below $2000 or so.
      – Continue to max out 401ks, then use half of your remaining savings each year towards paying off principal on the house, the other half towards index fund investments (Try Vanguard’s 60/40 stock bond split fund if you like).
      – Eventually, if you do care about financial independence, living in a house worth less than 400k is a wise idea for a couple. The property taxes on that in NY are probably half of my family’s entire annual living costs! But it’s not strictly necessary. Good luck!

      • RatRaceBeGone January 10, 2012, 2:56 pm

        Thanks MMM,

        Interestingly, our RE taxes are on the low side for NY standards at 4k per year. We live in a modest sized home but even a modest home will run 500k in NYC. I’m all for downsizing (and shortening my 1.15 hour long commute each way into Manhattan) but DH’s commute is 10 minutes in the opposite direction, so one of us will have a long commute if we get in to a less expensive housing situation.

        While I understand the logic of emptying our EF to pay off the Heloc, I have a great sense of security knowing that the money is there if I were laid off or just decided to walk away from the J.O.B. I don’t think I could sleep at night without at least 6 months of living expenses stashed away. But I could be OK with keeping one month liquid in the bank and investing the rest in a balanced Vanguard fund. It’s amazing how many financial decisions are tied to our emotions, isn’t it.

        Time to talk with DH about some extreme cutting of our daily expenses…wish me luck!

    • jlcollinsnh January 10, 2012, 3:43 pm

      Hi RRBG…

      It is a bit of a challenge offering specific advice without more detail on your finances that you (or I) would want to post online. that said, I’d offer the following thoughts.

      1. I’d lose the house and the debts associated with it. It is almost always cheaper to rent and better assuming you have the discipline to save the difference. It sounds like you do.

      2. Calculate what your house actually costs you each year. In addition to interest, insurance, taxes, maintenance, repair and the like be sure to include opportunity costs. OP is what you money would be earning you were it not trapped in the equity of your house. In this environment I use 3.5&. So if you have 100k in equity, you are giving up the $3500 it would earn elsewhere each year. Once you have the real cost to live in your house you can realistically compare apt rents to it.

      3. You are correct to be aware of the need for non-401k investments since you’ll be retiring before 59.5.

      4. since I don’t know your income or tax bracket it is hard to tell how valuable the 401k deduction is to you. just remember that you will have to pay tax on that money when you start pulling it out in retirement. give some thought to what your tax bracket is today and what it is likely to be when you retire.

      5. if you choose to keep the house, I wouldn’t worry about paying off the mortgage or HELOC early. You have low rates and paying off the house locks up your stash and makes it illiquid. Focus on your 401k and other investments. But, keep a close eye on that variable rate HELOC. When the economy begins to recover, and it will, rates could rise quickly. you’ll want to reevaluate then.

      hope this helps.

      sounds like you are on a great path and I’ve no doubt you’ll get there.

      Good luck!!

      • MacGyverIt January 10, 2012, 5:06 pm

        “3. You are correct to be aware of the need for non-401k investments since you’ll be retiring before 59.5.”

        If RRGB quits the J.O.B. then can’t he roll the 401k into an IRA(http://www.obliviousinvestor.com/should-i-rollover-my-401k-into-an-ira/), then roll the IRA into a 72t (http://www.72t.net/Home)?

        Again, it’s certainly about the tax deduction+taxable income but this may be an option to access that 401k money earlier than prescribed.

        • MMM January 11, 2012, 3:45 pm

          Also see the article right here on this blog: “how much is too much in your 401k?”

        • jlcollinsnh January 11, 2012, 6:22 pm

          yep, 72t plans would work to access the 401k/IRA money. but they have complexities and restrictions I don’t personally care for.

          but that’s me. it is good to bring them up and that’s a fine link on them.

      • RatRaceBeGone January 11, 2012, 9:45 am

        Hi jlcollinsnh. Thanks for your thoughtful response.

        If I were single I surely would lose the house in a heartbeat. The house is a bit of a sensitive issue because DH loves it and envisions staying in it for the rest of our lives. It is a drain on us financially, as costs including taxes and insurance and heloc run over 3k per month, but fortunately the payment isn’t crippling as long as we continue to earn as we do today.

        It seems that there are two camps when it comes to paying off one’s home. Those in one camp want to be completely debt free which necessarily includes paying off the house, and the other camp prefers to carry a mortgage (presumably indefinitely) and use the extra cash to invest theorizing that they can earn a higher rate of return than what they are paying in interest on the house. I haven’t quite decided which camp I’m in. I think I may be somewhere in the middle in that I’d like to eventually pay off the mortgage (ideally before we both retire), but I’m not in a terrible rush to do so. But, I agree that I need to keep a close eye on the heloc. It was a lofty 8.5% when we took it out and I would like to pay it off before rates go on the rise, which is why we’ve decided to pay it off this year and be done with it.

        Best of luck to you as well.

  • Canadian Dream January 10, 2012, 11:03 am

    While I agree with most of what you are saying I will fully admit I have had a house cleaner myself for the last four months and I love it.

    In our case, I wasn’t willing to cut back on the other items in my life beyond what I had….case in point, I’m writing less on my blog and for other blogs (which is why your guest post is still in draft form on my hard drive). In the end we decided I’m saving like 70% of my pay, I hate cleaning and it’s always the last thing on our to do lists. So we contracted it out and I’m much happier for it.

    So I agree with the concept, but would point out don’t let it remove options from your life if you really do want them. Save first, the play with the rest.


    • Mrs. Money Mustache January 10, 2012, 12:12 pm

      Does a house cleaner really save you that much time? They don’t declutter and put away stuff in the right spot, do they? That’s what I seem to be spending most of my time doing. If I had a house cleaner coming in, I’d have to clean the house to get it ready to be cleaned! :)

      I find this interesting, as I think some people have a very different definition of “clean” than I do… we don’t scrub our floors on hands and knees on a regular basis and I typically just sweep the house every now and then (which I find quite relaxing). Wood and tile floors certainly help with this. Toilets get a quick swipe every now and again and we don’t use chemical cleaners at all. I guess we probably live with more dirt than most, but I don’t have an issue with it. So, as your standards go up, perhaps your need to get a house cleaner goes up as well.

      For us, the cleaning that is time consuming is just the usual cleaning up the kitchen after meals, putting away toys, de-cluttering, daily type of stuff like that. I don’t think a house cleaner does that kind of stuff, do they? I’m not sure as we’ve never hired one.

      I also have this weird problem with people doing stuff for me. I would find it strange to have someone in my home cleaning (especially since we’re at home all the time, so we’d either be around when they clean or we’d have to leave in order to let them clean). I feel the same way in high end restaurants when there’s a false fanciness to everything. I wouldn’t want someone else cutting my toenails either. Even going to get a haircut is like a spa experience these days — all I want is my hair to be cut! I don’t need a special scented scalp massage or a fancy blowdry and straightening, complete with mousse and hairspray.

      Am I the only one that feels like this? Even if I had a billion dollars, I would still feel weird about it.

      • Canadian Dream January 10, 2012, 12:37 pm

        @ Mrs. MM,

        Yes actually I find our cleaner is saving us about 2 to 3 hours every two weeks. I agree they don’t declutter or wash our dishes, which we do daily. Picking up the toys is just standard operation at my house (my wife runs a daycare, so this just HAS to happen daily).

        I find the cleaner does keep us from having about a inch of dust on things and by the time I think about cleaning something, the two week cycle is up and its all done by the time I come home.

        I agree its werid to hire stuff that out that you can do, but we find our weekends are so much saner because of hiring this particular chore out. She comes by during the week while my wife is home. It also helps our cleaner lives behind me and is also my neighbour so I have no worries about stealing or letting her into the house as she comes over for coffee once and while anyways.

        It just works for us.


      • MMM January 10, 2012, 1:08 pm

        That’s a good point. When I say “clean the house”, I’m really talking about putting away all the random items scattered around the floors and tables and countertops. “Advanced cleaning”, meaning sweeping the floors, is more like every week or two. And “hardcore obsessive compulsive cleaning”, where actual cleaning products are involved, (some people call this “cleaning” and do it daily or weekly) might happen once a year or whenever we sell a house to move somewhere else, whichever comes first :-)

      • Mr. Frugal Toque January 10, 2012, 1:36 pm

        “I also have this weird problem with people doing stuff for me.”

        I’ve never been comfortable with the idea of having servants. I don’t care to be catered to as if I’m better than other people. Sure, it’s nice to get decent, adult-level respect from people you’re paying for work, but having a house cleaner, a butler or a maid would be very awkward.

        I may be privileged, but I’m not entitled.

        Hell. I even find it annoying when people do that “extended waiting” thing to hold a door open for me.

        Dude, it’s alright. I’m benching 195. I can handle an office door.

        There is a culture clash that I’ve seen when executives from other countries come to Canada and expect someone on the floor to fetch their morning coffees for them. We just don’t tend to do that here. The coffee machine is 20 paces yonder, my lord and master.

      • bigato January 11, 2012, 5:40 pm

        It is the education you’ve got. I also feel like I should help or do the work myself. Hell, that’s *my* work that the person is doing!

    • Dancedancekj January 11, 2012, 12:11 am

      Another approach that I have found useful is instead of simplifying the cleaning, I simplify the house and objects within :)
      I I find that decluttering my possessions as well as adopting a minimalist interior decor works well for not only decreasing my cleaning needs, but for making it easier to clean as well. Since I don’t have knick knacks and fifty picture frames and throw pillows lying all over my stuff, it’s much quicker and efficient to vacuum/dust/wash/scrub over large smooth surfaces.

      That being said, I also don’t run a daycare :)

      • EarningAndLearning April 29, 2017, 1:11 pm

        I agree with you on the minimalist approach! I hate looking at dusty surfaces, so I have avoided having shelves that I then have to populate with pretty things and objects arranged in threes. U gotta move it all, dust, and move it back, and I just don’t want that To Do in my life. I prefer the calming aesthetic of clean lines and simple decor. My home is beautiful & easy to dust & clean!

        My cousin has a husband and 2 young girls – she struggled with constant mess & chaos, until she started systematically decluttering & purging, starting with kids toys & books. Now her house is always clean, and when I complimented her on it, she said it’s just that there’s less stuff, so it just doesn’t get as messy as before.

        Own less, live more!

  • Naomi January 10, 2012, 2:35 pm

    Loved this post. I read it twice. I have never looked at things from this perspective before.

  • Marlene January 11, 2012, 5:38 am

    Well, I regularly have someone whom I´d call “cleaning-coach” because I rather am busy with other things than cleaning. But that approach left my flat in too much disarray – hence the coach: she mostly comes over when I´m there so that she and I clean up together.

    At first I also had that problem that in my country “cleaning-personel” might be looked down upon – I solved this with giving her respect, friendship and a decent pay for the time she puts in.

  • Fawn January 11, 2012, 5:32 pm

    I agree with not buying bigger pants/belts. Let the squeezing out of the essential breath be a reminder to eat/drink less.

    Re: housecleaning–I have trained my three teenagers to clean the house to my somewhat lax standards. They get spending money and motivation to aim better when they pee. I have time to cook for them, which saves tons of money to pay for their college. I think we all come out ahead, except for Merry Maids.

    They do a half-way decent job…in case any of you wanted to hire them out.

  • Jeff January 17, 2012, 11:07 am

    I really enjoyed this piece. I’m not sure all problems fit this description, but you really should take a step back and ask if this is a problem that needs to go away or a problem that needs to be addressed at a more fundamental level.

  • Mr. Minsc August 24, 2013, 10:21 am

    I fell off the MMM article reading bandwagon, time to get back on. :)

    Great article, I really like how it applies to anything in life. One thing I’ve started doing over the the past five years is mentally graphing my personal successes. The interesting thing is it seems to follow the same properties as compounding interest. At the start it’s slow grade. Over time each new success and skill you learn starts building upon and complementing each other. Life becomes easier and easier. It makes you feel envious of where you’ll eventually be later in life when you are exponentially more experienced than one is now. :)

  • François Dugas June 18, 2014, 2:36 pm

    I started reading this blog a few weeks ago from the 1st article. Very quickly I was deeply inspired not only to change my financial habits but general and health habits. Looking at how much I spent last year at restaurants seems so crazy now. Thinking about the nine years I’ve been working at the same place without regularly using the stairs seems crazy now. My tendency to take my car for every little thing, instead of the very nice bike paths in my city seem crazy now. I always wished I could meet someone with good financial advices. So I could pretty much say that this blog actually changed my life not only financially but physically by motivating me to exercise more. After I read this last post I finally couldn’t wait to finally post a comment to say: thank you MMM for you inspiration!!

  • Mike "Mustache" Reiche (rich) August 19, 2014, 9:03 am

    So… I heard of your blog several months ago but didn’t take the time to head your way. Then another mention of you on marketwatch.com, now I am hooked. Started from the beginning and can’t stop. I have been motivated to sell my 14 month new car (luckily a CR-V and was able to almost break even with that new of a car) and drop my insurance coverage on my paid off vehicle, saving me over $750 per month! I am continuously seeking ways to save more and more for my family to have a FI future!

    I thought of Arnold Schwarzenegger being unhappy with his calves, so he cut off the legs of his workout pants (don’t know why he didn’t just get shorts… maybe he was living mustachian???) so his undeveloped calves would be glaring at him, mocking him every time he looked in the mirror. He did this until he was satisfied with the size and shape of them! This is just another example of recognizing your shortcomings or issues and not just covering them up, but letting them flap in the open, until you are aware enough to make a permanent change and not just a coverup.

    Thanks for the motivation, I just feel lucky to have so much more to read!

  • mschaus October 21, 2014, 2:37 pm

    I am happy to report that Maximum Mustache has been achieved and I have returned to this post to make my very first mustachioed comment. Firstly, MMM: thank you.

    I agree with the methodology here but see the most difficult part to be actually determining the root cause issue, because if you get it wrong you just end up buying a bigger belt! There are many systems for root cause analysis, but in everyday life, I find a useful one to be the “Five Whys” — keep asking “why” until you get to an actionable root cause. In engineering you may need up to 5, but in real life I think 2-3 will typically do it. Example:

    Why are my pants so tight? Because my belt is too small. [uh-oh, this would be a problem if we stopped here]
    Why is my belt small? Because my belly is too big. [great, but we’re not sure what to do yet. let’s try another to make sure we’re on the right track]
    Why is my belly too big? Well, I don’t exercise enough and I sure do eat a lot of cookies. [now we can take action!]

    Obviously there is no one system to get you the right answer every time, but if you keep Mustachian principles in mind you’ll get there.

  • Ddub925 January 10, 2015, 9:51 am

    MMM, have you acquired a set of skins n sticks from CL yet? If i can achieve a mustachian level of badassity i will be your bass player. Im just waking up from sukkaville and got a long way to go, but I too dream of being in a funk (or reggae or hip hop) band

  • IAmNotABartender March 6, 2015, 3:59 pm

    “Do these complainypants make me look fat?”

  • Aimee November 30, 2015, 12:49 pm

    I hate you. Yup, I said it. I hate you because you just slapped me in the face and it hurt. AND then you slapped me again with every paragraph. You see, you hit a nerve over and over again. I know I have to do all these things to be happy and I just don’t, but I sit here and have been reading your back blogs and will read all the way to the new postings (it’s taking a while obviously) and know I have to get my act together.

    This article is going to make me jump start this! …………. I hope. :)

  • Steve December 23, 2015, 4:01 pm

    So True – In Los Angeles, they add on additional freeway lanes, which quickly fill up, because it encourages people to live farther and farther away from work.

  • EarningAndLearning April 29, 2017, 1:26 pm

    Thank you for this excellent face-punching post. I am definitely guilty of avoiding my problems, often with a Netflix binge-session, consuming consuming to avoid creating a solution to my problems. I am a terrible procrastinator — I need to develop my getting-started muscle, and just get started, rather than continue to put off what is difficult or uncomfortable, that requires time & learning to figure out.

    New resolution: no more avoiding my problems, I’ll take the first step & get started, before I turn on Netflix!


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