Poisoned Just Enough: Why I’m so Optimistic About 2021

A close friend of mine was diagnosed with cancer this year. It was the serious kind, where you need to treat it quickly and aggressively or it will spread through your body, stick to all of your organs, and kill you.

The diagnosis was a shock to my friend and her loved ones – she’s fairly young, had always been healthy in the past, and had no warning it was coming. But she decided against self-pity and just took the diagnosis with complete seriousness. 

In the brief week of calm that she had before the storm of chemotherapy, she warned her children and her colleagues that she would need to make space, because things were going to be much more difficult for a good part of the next year. And then she laid down to accept the intravenous injection of the Red Devil – a chemotherapy medicine so toxic that the doctor needs to wear a hazardous materials suit to administer it.

Every two weeks for the next four months, this primitive and painful treatment would be repeated, beating her down further every time. She lost all her hair, strength, energy, even some of her cognition and ability to speak. Or sleep. Or eat. Then there was some painful surgery and a couple dozen sessions of searing radiation.

And finally, when there was just a faint wisp left of her physical form, some very fortunate news came: the cancer was completely gone.

Thankfully, the very bright spark of her soul remained. It had been kept alive by her own incredible will to survive, but also by the superhero dedication of her family and closest friends, who stepped up in almost unimaginable ways to support her and pull her through that dark tunnel. So this spark began to rekindle as the body around it was allowed to start rebuilding itself.

Her recovery gathered speed as the poisoning receded into the past, and many of the long-lost pleasures of the past felt new and better than ever before. She appreciated physical strength, and good food, and most importantly connections with loved ones in a way that she could never have done before having it all taken away. 

And now this woman is back, like a truly badass superhero emerging from the flames and smoke of a wrecked city, ready to make Act Two a thousand times better than her admittedly impressive first act had already been.

This is a real story, and I’m elated and happy that this loved one is still alive and feeling well again. But it’s also a hell of a metaphor for what has just happened to our world in 2020. As one of her doctors put it, she was “poisoned just enough” to cure the cancer, while the underlying human being survived and now has a chance for an unprecedented rebirth. 

You and I are now presented with this same opportunity, should we choose to accept it.

Because of COVID-19, billions of people worldwide have just been through a pretty shitty year. The effects have been very unequal and unfair – the world reported about 1.7 million deaths from the virus this year, increasing the human race’s death toll by a full three percentage points compared to a normal year. Here in the US, deaths are a full ten percent higher than normal. But hundreds of millions of people are also unemployed, some having lost their business or livelihood forever. And almost every person on the planet has had to give up some of the most fundamental human need of all: contact with each other. 

From the US CDC: The ongoing forest fire of COVID-related deaths (blue) versus our deaths from other causes (green).

Friendships, family gatherings, people in love, companies, collaboration, hikes, even kids playing together in nature – they have all been strained and pulled apart to varying degrees. Some of us were lucky to have a big enough bubble of close family and friends to sustain our mental health, but many were not. And we watched the fabric of society get torn apart as we battled and shamed each other over two sides of an issue that are inherently impossible to resolve: a desire to protect other people, versus a desire to have human contact – which is at the core of being human itself. 

This shit has gone on for month after month, wave after wave, just like the poisonous flow of chemotherapy, stripping us down relentlessly and fraying nerves and sanity everywhere. But thankfully, it is Just. About. Over.

And instead of mourning and throwing ourselves a pity party for this past year, I think it’s worth looking at all the positive things we have put in place to help us survive, which will start to look even more positive as the Coronatimes recede rapidly into the rearview mirror. (Note: some of these points were provided by my cancer-beating friend, who happens to be a director at a human resources startup firm.)

The Future of Work has suddenly accelerated: working from home has been greatly expanded, with almost universal approval. In the future, we will still be able to hang out with our coworkers in person, but we can do it on our own terms instead of 9-to-5 every day just because the boss says so. 

I believe this is much bigger than most people realize – the drastic reduction in commuting, the ability of people to leave expensive metro areas and repopulate small towns that provide a better quality of life, and the ability of companies to lock in the best talent regardless of geography. On top of greater happiness, these changes all provide huge increases in productivity and efficiency, which are the building blocks of all future human prosperity.

Education: Remote learning has shown us that kids can often learn more quickly when we set them free to run at their own pace, and that some (although certainly not all) kids feel safer without the social pressures of school environments . The pandemic has accelerated education-related technology, something that had been lagging in the past just because we were too complacent to make the changes.

Health Care:  Phone, video and text calls with your doctor, which should have been a thing since about 1995, are now truly a thing. I hope this trend continues, because it’s more pleasant and more efficient. And you know how I feel about efficiency – it’s the highest form of beauty.

On top of this, the massive infusion of money and effort that went into creating and distributing the COVID-19 vaccine has permanently blazed some useful new trails. For example, the “messenger RNA” vaccines from BioNTech/Pfizer and Moderna are just the tip of the iceberg of some incredible new stuff based on the same technology. It could even become the eventual cure for cancer.

Slowing Down: When the pandemic shut down most of our travel and busy appointments, suddenly the streets and parks filled with people, just out there enjoying a stroll with their kids and their friends. Bicycle sales went through the roof, and remain there to this day. 

This is how we should have been spending more of our free time in the first place, because while some travel is valuable and important, to be honest a lot of it was just bullshit. People were packing too much into their lives. Travel and appointments should be like a hot sauce you shake upon your life to add a luxurious layer of spice, rather than the basis of what you do every single day. The reward is greater health, happiness, and wealth and more connected communities. 

A More Resilient Economy: 

The 2020 roller coaster for US large-company stocks

In just one month leading up to March 23rd, more than a third of the value of all US businesses was erased in a Ten Trillion dollar ($10,000,000,000,000) nuclear explosion of fear. Even Warren Buffett, famous for the world’s steadiest investing hand and for the expression “Be greedy when others are fearful and fearful when others are greedy”, became fearful and dumped all of his airline stocks at the worst time. 

Five months later, that same stock market was back at an all-time record, the future of the largest companies was looking rosier than ever, and even the regular economy was experiencing a faster rebound than almost anybody had expected.

How did this happen? With the simple combination of human resilience, and the safety margin that is inherent in any well-run life or business. People couldn’t go to movie theaters, so they spent more on Netflix. Lumber prices spiked, but steel prices dropped so we changed some of our house construction to reflect it. Restaurants were forced to close their dining rooms, but we supported them by ordering more take-out. 

(Note: some parts of the economy, especially in other countries, are still in the middle of an economic and humanitarian nightmare – there is still much more we can do to help out and we’ll get into some of that below.)

And the toilet paper hoarding? That was just plain herd-mentality stupidity and it should never have happened. But even that eventually came back to the shelves.

So I’ve now watched us come though the Corona Crash, on top of the 2008 Great Financial Crisis and the 2000 Dot-com bubble and bust, all in my investing lifetime.  And we just keep going, and we get a bit better at everything with each passing year. Despite all of the disasters, the pockets of corruption, and the dim-witted and power-hungry politicians that we are all too aware of. This has galvanized my confidence that in the big picture, we are not really all doomed

The world is a good place, humans are fundamentally good creatures, and the more we can nurture this goodness (and avoid fanning the flames of fear, which is the only thing that causes us to be bad), the faster we will continue our rise to an ever-better state of existence.

IMPORTANT: Speaking of Making Things Better!

2020 was a year of increased inequality, which pushed many people further into poverty, while making many rich people even richer. Because of my investments and my ownership of this website, I was (yet again) in that lucky second group. And I suspect you were probably on this side of fortune as well.

Because of these high earnings, and the fact that the total bill for my lifestyle keeps coming in at only around $20,000 per year, this means that I now have the chance to give away yet another $100,000. This brings the total of this blog’s donations to over $400,000 in the last five years, which is starting to sound like some real money!

Where the money went:

$95,000 to GiveWell via my Betterment investment account.

Betterment’s super-convenient charitable giving interface.

This is by far the most effective way I’m aware of, to make each dollar do the most good for people. The nonprofit organization GiveWell does tireless ongoing research on world charities, and keeps an updated list of which can do the most work with your money, right now.

On top of this, donating appreciated shares from my Betterment account gives me the maximum tax benefit – on my 2020 taxes and all subsequent years. This further multiplies my money’s ability to do good. (And it’s a very easy way to give – overcoming one of the biggest hurdles to getting it done)

$2500 to Bicycle Colorado – it’s not solving world health, but increasing bike friendliness here in the US is deceptively powerful, because we have so much low-hanging fruit. There is still far too much car clown behavior and far too little cycling, but that is changing rapidly in Colorado and other states because of organizations like this one. Our numbers have been growing by enormous percentages every year, and now the city planners and governors have learned to consider bike (and foot) transportation when they allocate their massive transportation budgets each year.

 $1500 to the Against Malaria foundation. Although similar to the GiveWell donation above, I gave this amount to support an effort put together by readers of the MMM forum, who have collectively given over $20,000.

$1000 (doubled to $2000 because of an external donor) to plant TWO THOUSAND MORE TREES! to the National Forest Foundation.

Total: $100,000

Bonus: In last year’s philanthropy summary, I planned to invest $5000 in building and expanding a local solar farm. I didn’t fully reach that goal, but I did manage to add almost 3 kilowatts of extra capacity to the MMM-HQ solar array (my co-owners and I split this expense and my friends at Shaw Solar gave us a great deal on the equipment).

Coworking members help me install another eight panels of solar panel onto more of the roof of the HQ building.

We also upgraded other aspects of the building’s energy efficiency, and we are soon about to “cut the pipe” – by switching the old gas furnace over to a high efficiency heat pump system ($3200), and canceling our entire account with the gas company. This allows us to be a 100% clean-energy facility, as well as ending the surprisingly high monthly fee that Xcel Energy charges us as commercial customers, whether we burn any gas or not.

Where the money came from: 

Initially, the sudden recession slammed the brakes on almost all of my income. Many of the companies that allow this website to earn money had paused or canceled their referral programs, most notably things like travel and rewards credit cards, which were sometimes the biggest source of cash.

On top of that, many of our cherished members of the HQ Coworking space paused or canceled their memberships as they either lost their jobs or decided to work entirely from home for childraising or virus-related reasons.

But then an unexpected boom rose in its place: the aftermath of absurdly low interest rates. I encouraged readers to take advantage of them and refinance their mortgages and student loans, and thousands of people did. This led to a different but equally sized windfall, which has brought in enough profit to keep my donations going.

(Note: although my personal spending doesn’t increase, I did also invest the rest of my earnings this year into other businesses, and gave or loaned some to personal, local projects. )

You Should Do it Too!

If you have more than enough money, you should give some away.

Try it. It feels good and this good feeling lasts forever, making your entire life feel more worthwhile. If you are willing, please share some of your donations in the comments (you can do so under a pseudonym if you like).

I will also list this blog’s own main sources of income for 2020 – if even a small portion of readers find these companies useful as I do, it will generate tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars, which I will get to keep using to try to do some more good!

Credible: super efficient (good user interface) and low-cost originating and refinancing of
Mortgages <-Well under 3% these days, under 2.5% for 15-year
Student Loans <-temporary $1000 bonus(?!) currently in place with this link!
(See their mortgage disclosure here) (NMLS No. 1681276)

Travel and cash-back rewards cards: aside from the usual benefits, one good hack I have discovered is to put some of my charitable giving on a new high-roller card, to instantly reach the minimum spend requirement. The charity gets a large gift, and I get the big signing bonus and things like airport lounge access, free hotel stays, etc.

The Coverage Critic mobile phone comparison page: This has been unexpectedly successful, with thousands of people upgrading to cheaper phone plans thanks to my friend and HQ coworker Chris Smith’s expert nerdy-detailed-level advice.

Bluehost web hosting: the place I got my own start blogging, this company offers super-cheap $3 per month web hosting with easy point-and-click site design and setup, year after year, while maintaining a generous referral program that keeps many websites in business. (They also sponsored one of our pop-up business schools!)

Sedera health share organization: my friends serve as advisors to members who they refer to Sedera though their group The Fire Guild. They have agreed to share proceeds with me, and I’m donating 100% of this year’s share to RIP Medical Debt. Every $100 you donate here, forgives about $10,000 of medical debt, so I hope we will be able to get to $1 million of wiped-out-debt within a year.

That’s it for ol’ MMM for 2020 – I will see you in the bright and sparkly future of 2021!

  • Jackie December 17, 2020, 6:47 pm

    I’m glad that your friend is recovering. In light of her experience, would you still recommend the alternative health insurance strategy that you wrote about recently? I’ve also been curious as to whether you use that coverage for your son, since child well visits and unforseen health crises are the main reasons I carry traditional insurance. Thanks!

    • Mr. Money Mustache December 17, 2020, 7:54 pm

      Hi Jackie, a few different answers:

      The cancer survivor in this article happens to live in Canada, so her treatment was covered by the universal health system. Interestingly enough, she mentioned that because Covid had cleared out the hospitals (people were postponing all non-essential services), she got much better attention and quicker treatment by having to go through it this summer.

      Here in the US, my existing coverage (direct care plus Sedera health sharing), would have covered the chemotherapy just as well, so it would not break the bank for either health share member or a conventionally insured person.

      If I were TOTALLY uninsured and got cancer, the cost would be high of course – although I did notice that this treatment was not very labor intensive for the doctors, so a large part of it might be the drug costs, which are notoriously variable (sometimes a 100-to-1 markup), meaning it would be very wise to shop around.

      My son is fully covered under his Mum’s conventional insurance plan.

      • Anonymous FIRE December 18, 2020, 8:34 am

        When considering alternate health plans I always consider:
        * A perfectly healthy person (such as in this example) can get very sick through no fault (eating or lack of exercise)
        * Such an event can cost $1M (as COVID has shown)

        Most health sharing plans only cover $250k per incident, leaving you $750k on your own.
        Sedera looks somewhat better in this regard.

        For our family we have health issues that are not our fault (e.g. children born neuro-atypical, and we ended up with 4 surgeries this year) and all specialists in network are more than 30 minutes drive away with 1-2 year wait times, and we average 15-17 medical appointments per week. All out of network providers charge more than the “maximum allowed” by our insurance (PPO) so in the end half the appointments are out of network and we still need two clown cars and still end up responsible for $80k-$100k per year after insurance.
        Luckily being FIRE we can afford it, but I do admit sometimes articles in this blog feel like they are blaming us for our situation (2 cars and high expenses).

      • bestclare December 18, 2020, 12:32 pm

        Mr Money Moustache has clearly never gotten seriously ill in the US. When I got a my lymph nodes biopsied to rule out cancer, I got a $6000 bill from a pathologist that I never even met. It still gives me high blood pressure when I think about that.

        I’m glad that your friend recovered and she won’t have to stress about medical bills.

        • orenbu2 December 19, 2020, 1:41 pm

          Hi bestclare (from the friend who had cancer),

          I am sorry to read about your lymph node biopsy and the ensuing horrific bill – I had one as well and it was unpleasant enough on its own. I wish I had something more helpful to say apart from that sucks and I hope the experience pays off in excellent health karma for you. I know how fortunate I was to not have that kind of stress on top of everything else; I thought about that plus what it would be like to go through all of the intricacies of diagnosis and treatment if I was elderly or in cognitive decline, especially since you have to go to all appointments alone these days. Take care and sending good vibes.

        • Lisa C December 30, 2020, 5:48 am

          As a Pathologist (that you’ve never met) I would like to share with you a bit of the procedures which may be involved in the evaluation of a lymph node biopsy: macroscopic examination, touch prep for cytology and frozen section (for sentinel node), tissue processing for histology, paraffin embedding, cutting on a microtome, placement on a slide and routine staining, then depending on the suspected tumor, metastasis, or lymphoma – immunohistohcemical stains to characterize the tumor, then microscopic examination. If a lymphoma is suspected, there will be some cellular material placed in nutrient transport media (to keep the cells alive) for flow cytometry. Depending on the diagnosis, there may also be cytogenetic studies done to detect any translocations or mutations. Also, depending on the circumstances, next generation sequencing may come into play. The bill is not for the biopsy, but for the diagnostic modalities.Hope this helps you to undertand your bill.

          • Irina January 1, 2021, 3:05 am

            As a pathologist who will also never be met as well, I was about to write the same stuff! Also, generally every pathologist is cognizant of additional costs to the patient with every ancillary study/stain ordered and therefore we do our best to order the most necessary stuff. Unfortunately to rule out specifically lymphoma and say that everything is normal may take almost the same effort/cost as say that you got one, esp on a small biopsy… Most of other biopsies are way cheaper, I promise! So have no fear and go do your cervical pap, breast biopsy and screening colonoscopy 😉

            • Lisa C January 4, 2021, 12:06 pm

              Thanks Irina. We even use things like Immunoquery (at subscription cost of about $500 per Pathologist annually) in order to narrow down the number of antibodies ordered (saving the patients’ money) while at the same time getting the most robust diagnostic specificity. I just wish people understood a little better what goes into making an accurate diagnosis and how companion diagnostics/prognostic markers are used and then there wouldn’t be these shock moments.

          • Steve July 11, 2021, 7:36 pm

            Yes, but what are the real costs involved here. My car mechanic also runs tests on expensive equipment – and takes time to troubleshoot — but, I don’t get a $6,000 bill. That is, unless I was vastly overpaying for the same service at the Ferrari dealer (which I’m not – I drive an old Honda). I suspect that 98% of what you’re doing — e.g., “cellular material placed in nutrient transport media (to keep the cells alive) for flow cytometry.” is really not that much of a complex process in 2021 — The fancy terminology does not actually make the tests you’re talking about that much more complicated than baking bread or making nice pottery. Putting cells in a centrifuge for 5 minutes is not rocket-science in today’s world.

        • Helena June 2, 2021, 9:23 pm

          What the!!!! This is absolutely astonishing to me, I live in Australia granted, so have universal health care provided by our government but to keep the system honest we get a copy of the bill to sign to say we have used the service. My biop came in at $587 ! What is this constant mark up that the American medical keeps putting on people, how are you not all protesting in the streets. All I can say is if you have a medical treatment You have to pay for I would be ring a Canadian hospital and asking how much because you may have to pay travel cost but it could still be cheaper.

      • Jason R Beck January 12, 2021, 9:55 am

        Not sure how chemotherapy infusions go in Canada, but my guess is they’re similar to those in the US. I’m an oncology nurse. I can absolutely guarantee all of the MMM readers that chemotherapy treatment is labor intensive for nurses, not doctors. Doctors write orders. Nurses put in IVs, educate patients, monitor patients getting infusions (which can cause death), and work around these toxic medications that if administered incorrectly can cause irreparable harm to patients and the very nurses who administer them. I realize this is an investment blog, so I’ll stop. And from afar MMM, so glad you’re friend had desired outcome from treatment.

        • Kristin May 12, 2021, 10:18 am

          Fellow nurse here! Totally agree. Doctors write the orders, but pharmacists mix the toxic brew and nurses administer it–pharmacists and nurses should get the credit for handling this poison. Happy Nurses Week! :)

      • Anna W June 22, 2021, 8:00 am

        Throwing it out there, that my husband had a “minor doctor effort” cancer–a lymph node biopsy, putting in a port (minor surgery), 2 months of chemo (including the “red devil”), and 2 months of radiation is the standard of care. Very tame in the land of cancer. Side effects from chemo hospitalized him twice and he ended up needing a super pricy drug to support his immune system so he wouldn’t die (10/10, recommend).

        All in all, his care was >1 million. Even if you assume a 50% discount for uninsured, that’s an enormous price tag for one of the easiest to treat, super early stage, cancers out there. So throwing that out there as a harsh reminder that health care in the U.S. is expensive and living without insurance is potentially ruinous for many folks, even folks of relatively substantial means.

  • Gwen December 17, 2020, 6:49 pm

    Love that you’re donating to so many good causes! Given that I’m still in the stache-building phase, my charitable giving was considerably less. This year I donated to my home church, some local unhoused support programs, and people in need in the community. I also gave away many wonderful items in my Buy Nothing Group which I could’ve sold instead. But the look on the lady’s face when I gave her my old bicycle was well worth forgoing an extra $200-$300 in my bank account. I hope things continue to go well for you and your family going forward! Miss you and hope to see you next year!

    • Melissa The Roamer December 17, 2020, 8:05 pm

      Hey Gwen

      I’m with you still in the stash building stages. But giving where I can too. We have also been using the buy nothing group to relieve ourselves of things that others could use.

      I honestly feel like these groups are so valuable!

      Hey MMM
      While I agree with the sentiment. I do feel rough patches help people evaluate their lives and push forward. I also agree with the great thing that so many people will forever have the social proof that working from home is feasible.

      I don’t believe schooling has seen such a renaissance. If anything requiring small children to spend 6-7 hrs in front of screens has been super in effective. If it really was more self lead maybe it would be better. My older son is doing fine keeping up with things but he definitely missed the social aspect.

      I hope people do make changes based on this that will improve their lives.

      • Joel December 29, 2020, 2:46 pm


        I agree! As a teacher, virtual learning is not going well. Many of our kids are falling behind fast.


      • Krista January 15, 2021, 9:46 am

        I second the fact that the schooling part has been horrible for many children, especially those that don’t have the technology or the money for wifi. The mental health of children has suffered greatly! It appears you are speaking from your experience since your son has had a non-traditional schooling experience. There are many children that enjoy school, the socialization and their teachers. Many that have never learned online are struggling. Those that need Special Education services are not getting them. There are many that get free and reduced lunches and breakfast at school that will go hungry. Many children have committed suicide in our community. While I’m all for positivity, your post on this comes across as a bit tone deaf.

    • Art December 27, 2020, 1:47 pm

      I think giving locally during your wealth building phase is one of the best ways to donate since you can possibly see things happen on a smaller scale and impact your community directly. It also helps lead to the habit of donating so when you start building MMM level cash flow, doing good things will just be second nature.

    • Adam February 15, 2021, 8:10 pm

      Same here! I did start donating blood this year though. With so many people staying home our local blood bank needed more diners. Best part is it’s free!

  • Melissa December 17, 2020, 6:50 pm

    Glad your friend is ok. I had the “red devil” chemo and it was rough. I am now 10 years in remission. Hope she continues to do well!!!

  • Stache2025 December 17, 2020, 6:51 pm

    “Like a Hot Sauce you shake upon your life…” So pertinent. As someone who traveled every week in 2019 for work, the realization of my personal failures to my family happened as a result of a ‘terrible’ 2020. I’ll never go back to that sort of professional pressure, many thanks to what I’ve learned to practice here! Great Post!!!

  • Charlie Cleveland December 17, 2020, 6:59 pm

    Thanks for the incredible posts you make here, MMM. I always leave inspired.

    This year marks the first one that I start giving. I decided to “tithe” a good percentage of my income. I lived for a long time with very little, but now I finally have the ability to give back some.

    I’m giving $160,000 in total to:
    – Chrysalis Uganda (social entrepreneurship in Uganda through schools, games and computers in https://cyen.org.uk/chrysalisuganda)
    – Heifer International ( farm animals, food, shelter, restorative agriculture, https://www.heifer.org/)
    – SF-Marin Food Bank
    – GiveWell (at your recommendation)

    I’ve been resistant to giving for so long, I don’t know why. It’s like the mindset that got me here now has to relax and open myself up to something much bigger. I can tell you it’s waaaay more fun looking for charities and people that need money and actually giving it to them then stashing it away for some big splurge. I’m just beginning, but it feels great.

    • Mr. Money Mustache December 17, 2020, 7:45 pm

      WOW, that’s a BIG start Charlie – mega congratulations!

    • Axile January 3, 2021, 12:17 pm

      You really hit a note about how awkward it feels to transition from building wealth to giving away some of that wealth. I found Peter Singer’s ‘The life you can save’, totally essential for breaking down all the barriers we have constructed to avoid giving. The real take away was in how to give effectively to maximize the number of lives saved. Highly recommend it for anyone with that niggling feeling they should be giving some of their wealth to people save, for example, the life of a 3 year girl in Botswana. It’s free to download: https://www.thelifeyoucansave.org/the-book/

  • Kim December 17, 2020, 7:15 pm

    I absolutely love this. I spent my 2020 donating on a regular basis to a local charity called Urban Gleaners that collects unused food and distributes it to people who need it. I’ve also donated to various other local causes, helped a friend with cancer bills, and made recurring donations to the ACLU and The Bail Project. You’re right: giving fills me up like nothing else. I’m so lucky to be able to help when I can.

    Thanks for making the world a better place, MMM!

  • Shawna December 17, 2020, 7:16 pm

    Hey MMM, been a long time reader but first time commenting. Thanks for all of your advice over the years, I’ve been able to translate your philosophy into a serious snowball of investments that set us on a 5 year path to FI.

    I’m curious though about your comments about remote work and learning. I agree that these opportunities will have certain benefits but are we failing to account for the impacts on people of color and the poor? Internet access is still a major issue in rural America, limiting remote work opportunities. With children at home due to COVID-19, there has been a documented disproportionate burden on women who are being forced to leave the workforce in numbers that reverses the progress of the past several decades.

    My main takeaway is that I completely agree there have been some advances we’ve needed during COVID times but we should also recognize that we still lack the resources, social support systems, and political will to really maximize the benefits of these advances in a equitable and fair manner. Thanks for your time.

    • Mr. Money Mustache December 17, 2020, 7:43 pm

      Thanks Shawna – I agree with all of that. I hope the jobs and the schools open back up as quickly as possible so that working parents can return to work.

      And you are right – women still end up doing most of the work in parenting far too often. One of the little side missions of this blog is to encourage men to step up to that task as well, by saving money in advance and then either retiring or at least putting their careers as second priority during the years they are raising kids.

      (Edit: AND, even more important, just changing their attitudes towards child-raising. If you work at the office during the week, plan to be home almost 100% of the time on the evenings and weekends – take the kids to the park, get up with them in the morning, put ’em to bed, do the housework, get the groceries, and so on. And let their Mum have some free time, because (as my co-parent and I learned from sharing both of these roles) kid raising is MUCH harder than adult career work.

      Finally, there IS at least some hope for worldwide internet access – I’ve been following the SpaceX Starlink project, which is already well underway. When complete it will offer nearly Gigabit-speed Internet from anywhere you can see the sky. If we combine this with subsidies to make sure everyone who wants access can afford it, it would help equalize a lot of areas.

      • ABC December 18, 2020, 7:25 am

        Men (vs women) taking care of their children isn’t really a monetary issue. It’s predominantly a reflection of your priorities. This is not an issue in many Nordic countries where the societal norm is to share the responsibility more equally.

        • Laurie December 18, 2020, 12:40 pm

          But it is a monetary issue when you look at the continued wage discrepancy (in the USA at least) between men and women.

        • Marcia December 18, 2020, 2:54 pm

          Like Laurie already said, there’s a wage discrepancy at play here. If my husband makes more than I do, it just makes more sense for me to take the hit to care for the kids (financially).

          Since we are both working at home with 2 kids in virtual learning, we are suffering equally, though our house is so small I share an office with a 3rd grader (aka, the kids’ bedroom).

          • Nebilon December 19, 2020, 3:35 pm

            But the assumption that as a woman you would be more likely to take time out to care for the kids if needed may in fact lead to the wage discrepancy in the first place. Do employers assume men will be more reliable employees?

            • JG December 21, 2020, 11:57 pm

              The wage issue is definitely a chicken and egg kind of problem. My wife is a doctor and makes far more than I, so guess who’s career path we’re following? However, as a practice owner she also employs a large majority of females, where the turnover is greater for family/pregnancy reasons is higher although pay levels are the same across the board. So to assume that all women are paid less than all men, or that women never leave the workforce voluntarily in order to raise children rather than hiring that out, isn’t accurate.

            • Rey December 31, 2020, 4:33 pm

              I was a stay-at-home dad back in the late 90s and for the entirety of our kids’ growing up. Wife a teacher, me an artist, so a very easy decision. One of us wasn’t forced to stay home and be with our kids, it’s how we wanted it, and it’s made for a wonderful life. Don’t think of kids as a career impediment; the rewards are many.

      • alapool December 19, 2020, 3:44 pm

        Please know your writings have reached that goal in at least one household! I started reading 6 years ago (I left a teaching career to care for a then 1-year old). We immediately starting working on household efficiencies and upping our game of financial defense. I started tutoring on the side because (a) I love teaching math and (b) it was an easy way to augment our income. Five years later, we had the financial freedom for my spouse to leave his high-stress job to be a stay-at-home dad, and I’m able to support our family quite comfortably with my little tutoring business. It’s a life filled with flexibility, time, family, and lots of outdoor time. Thank you, thank you for giving us the courage to take a different path!

        • Irina January 1, 2021, 3:15 am

          You go alapool! What a success story, dearly precious coming from a woman. I wish all the girls could be financially savvy to have more freedom and less worry

    • Chris I December 17, 2020, 11:05 pm

      Increases in remote work will reduce VMT for commuting, but it is likely to increase sprawl. People will no longer be concerned about a long commute to the job, and they will want a bigger house with more space. People in the suburbs drive a lot more than people in the city, so total VMT will increase. This is on top of the extra CO2 from construction and heating/cooling of these additional suburban and exurban houses.

      • Bcook December 18, 2020, 4:31 pm

        Not to mention we typically have lax building restrictions and protections of our forested lands, meaning we will see so much more habitat destroyed so that we can have more homes on 1 acre of poorly manicured monoculture grass crap. Then complain about coyotes eating our house cats, bears knocking over our garbage cans, bobcats who we’re scared of because ‘they might eat little timmy’ and deer who we shoot because ‘they just eat all of my plants!’
        Ya, urban sprawl in the seattle metro area sucks. And our local ‘governments’ are too happy taking the developers money to ask, ‘are you even paying fair value?’

        • Chris I December 18, 2020, 6:04 pm

          Don’t forget about wildfires. Hundreds of homes were lost in Oregon this year, and many of them were dispersed in the forest and impossible to defend. It happens every in almost every state in the West.

  • Dan S. December 17, 2020, 7:23 pm

    I’d love to hear more about that heat pump after you’ve used it through a heating season!

    Will you be gathering performance data and comparing it to the old gas furnace? I see that the rated HSPF is 10.5 Btu/Wh, for a unitless COP of about 3.1, but my understanding is that’s a seasonal average, and I really wonder how the performance depends on the temperature difference between indoors and out. My local HVAC expert tells me that here in northern Utah, where the climate is pretty similar to your location, he doesn’t recommend heat pumps unless either the building is super-insulated or you have a supplemental heat source for the coldest weather. I hope heat pumps have now gotten good enough that he’s wrong!

    • Mr. Money Mustache December 17, 2020, 7:59 pm

      Great research Dan, I see you know your stuff! From what I understand so far, that Mr. Cool heat pump is just fine even down to 0F, and there are only a few hours in the dead of night during the coldest of cold spells here where it gets that cold.

      It definitely gets less efficient at those temperatures, but even at its worst, it is still better than an electric resistance heater. Then most of the time, it’s great, and in the summer it becomes a super efficient (and super quiet) air conditioner.

      And the real value is that solar power is so cheap these days, I can just over-produce right on my own roof and not worry about it. Electric heating and cooling, electric cooking and water, electric bikes, electric car. All free, from your own rooftop. Heck, I’m even thinking of adding an outdoor hot tub!

      • Dan S. December 17, 2020, 10:03 pm

        Well, if you should happen to collect some day-by-day (or hour-by-hour) data, I’d still love to see it!

        I’m a big fan of solar power and have solar panels on my own roof, but I also have the data to show that they don’t generate much in mid-winter, when my gas furnace is working hardest. Most of my winter electricity still comes from Utah’s coal-fired power plants, whose efficiency is only 33%.

        • JJ December 18, 2020, 1:45 pm

          Dan S. — Make sure your HVAC guy is specifically referencing the cold-weather models that Fujitsu and Mitsubishi offer. In west-central Montana I use a cold-weather Fujitsu ductless minisplit heat pump as the sole heat source in a small (700 sq ft) and decently insulated/airtight home. Runs to about $200/year for heating. Colder here than UT but not artic cold. HVAC guys typically use -10 F as the design temp in our locale. We’ll get a week or two each year of lows at -20/-30 and highs at 0, and the fujitsu just chugs along. The 16k btu fujitsu will run in the neighborhood of $3,700 installed. Greenbuildingadvisor.com has great coverage on heat pumps.

          • Steve F. December 19, 2020, 8:20 am

            How did you decide on the Mr. Cool brand? I was quoted $17K recently for a Mitsubishi P-Series 2.5 ton Hyper Heat Air Source Heat Pump System (installed) here in Minnesota (Twin Cities.) I’ll definitely be getting more quotes as I just started looking at options to replace my 12-yr-old gas furnace (which is also fueled by Xcel Energy.) Then I would just need to replace the 40 yr-old Kenmore gas dryer (which would probably outlive all of us, plus a nuclear holocaust) with a heat-pump electric dryer and I’ll have an all-electric house.

            Thanks so much for the blog, which I’ve been following for 7 yrs. I’ve gone from $20K in debt to $250K net worth in 10 yrs in large part thanks to your writings.

          • Dan S. December 19, 2020, 9:11 pm

            Thanks — I’m gradually getting up to speed on heat pumps. Learned what a mini-split is, and found someone here in Utah with a Mitsubishi and plenty of operating data. My HVAC guy probably assumed a central system because it would be more awkward to retrofit my old house with a mini-split. New construction is, of course, a different ballgame. Meanwhile, I’m in no hurry until we can lower the carbon intensity of our electricity here in Utah.

          • Stephen January 5, 2021, 3:37 pm

            Wow! Thank you for the info. I’m in Red Lodge, so my weather is about the same. I had no idea these air source heat pumps were that effective at our winter temperatures. I assumed I needed to bury a loop in the groundwater below the frost line.

      • Neil L December 30, 2020, 8:32 pm

        I am heating with mini splits here just north of Calgary in a reasonably well insulated 2 year old house, nothing exotic. We use a combination of Danby and Senville units 36000 btu total, will heat down to -22f or -30C with central electric backup and we do have a wood stove. We did not install a gas line or propane which caused the local trades and everyone else a lot of concern. I “invested” 20k into 6.4 KW of grid tie solar while building ( Saved almost that on doing the kitchen cabinets myself) $602.00 total power bill last year… Looks like my math worked and very happy with the result ( still optimizing and planning for expansion). Thanks for the blog, thanks for the life changing site that I share when people are ready to listen.

    • James Meehan December 18, 2020, 11:13 pm

      Yeah your hvac guy is wrong albeit he sounds more progressive than most hvac contractors. The hvac field needs an infusion of knowledge and training. Basically you just need a properly insulated and air sealed home; not super insulated. Back up heat isn’t necessary but I agree it’s a good idea for resiliency. There’s a whole movement for this. I work with some NYSERDA programs and they’re making this the future path in NY state. I just need to get them to let me do an air to water system for my hydronic heating clients

  • Chris December 17, 2020, 7:28 pm

    I love the perspective on this past year. As I reflect back in light of this post, I have a lot of things to be thankful for: We spent more family time outside and hiking then probably the last few years combined, I started a blog that I have been wanting to do for years, and I redefined what I see as a successful life (a family oriented life). Its crazy how slowing down (like the pandemic forced us to do) helps re-evaluate where we are and where we want to be.

    The charitable giving is amazing! This only exemplifies the true benefit of being at FI. FI is not a selfish goal, it allows for crazy generosity through both giving of money but also time. Thanks for the inspiration!

  • Josh December 17, 2020, 7:28 pm

    Loved hearing you talk about some of the causes you were considering donating to last year at Jillian’s event in Montana.
    This year, I donated to the ChooseFI International Foundation, the Plutus Foundation, the Association of State Floodplain Managers, the Florida Floodplain Managers Association, RAICES, the International Rescue Committee, and my alma mater. And 2020 is a good year to make those charitable donations, since the CARES Act allows a $300 above-the-line deduction on your taxes!

  • Liam December 17, 2020, 8:00 pm

    Thank you for giving to GiveWell. I believe our money can go the furthest when donated only to those in the most need, and GiveWell is the most evidence-backed way to do that.

    Though this has been the worst year of my life, I’m excited to start healing the world in 2021 so that humanity can emerge better than ever.

  • Julia REinvestor December 17, 2020, 8:49 pm

    What a positive way to look at the past year! It’s great to hear about everyone’s donations.

    Before the end of the year, donors can check if their company offers a donation match. Mine started a program earlier this year which doubles my contribution! Pretty badass.

  • Primo December 17, 2020, 9:43 pm

    “Five months later, that same stock market was back at an all-time record, the future of the largest companies was looking rosier than ever, and even the regular economy was experiencing a faster rebound than almost anybody had expected.

    How did this happen? With the simple combination of human resilience, and the safety margin that is inherent in any well-run life or business.”

    Sorry, but not really. I think it has more to do with the 700 billion in ‘liquidity provision’ (Quantitative Easing) that the fed has started in March and still continues, among countless other stimulative supports like cutting interest rates and an alphabet soup of credit provision programs, including directly buying corp bonds.

    About 18% of all the US dollars in existence were created in 2020.

    It’s an economy on life support. So healthy that near 0% interest rates and endless money printing is required.

    • Mr. Money Mustache December 17, 2020, 9:54 pm

      These are the same criticisms that people with the fed-hawk (and Austrian Economics) perspective have had for many years. And yet we’ve had very low unemployment (on our way rapidly back to that state), low inflation, rising productivity, and loads of technological innovation leading to improving living standards.

      Yes, the underlying monetary conditions are unusual, but I’m still pleased with the results. And if creditors eventually get spooked and liquidity dries up and we have another financial crisis? The house of financial cards will blow up as it does periodically, but we will still have the factories, the growing children, and the knowledge that we produced during this time of prosperity. As usual, we are not doomed.

    • Garrett January 17, 2021, 11:26 pm

      I agree, there is no “normal” to this stock market. 1M unemployment claims a week, 12M unemployed from pre-Covid levels, zombie companies abound, this is no normal recovery. There will be insolvency and pain left to be have and maybe even a Japanese like economic recovery… I don’t see the short to medium term picture very rosy. Stock market is a proper up distraction.

  • Jed December 17, 2020, 9:49 pm

    Since we’ve got a lot of bicycle fans here, may I suggest one of my favorite charities? https://worldbicyclerelief.org/

  • AnotherLoonie December 17, 2020, 9:57 pm

    After the Spanish flu killed millions, what came next was a period of tremendous growth – both technologically and societally. I think we’re already seeing the same thing happen with COVID: everyone is working from home, the delivery of medical care is changing, and even things like how we buy groceries is transforming. I think many of these changes will be permanent and positive for us going forward.

  • Ali December 17, 2020, 10:09 pm

    I can heartily agree that giving back to others is one of life’s treasures. After hearing a story of a local man in my community raising $14,500 for the local cancer ward, I thought, “dang, we should all take a note out of his book”. So I sponsored a family for a Christmas hamper that consists of the food you need for Christmas dinner, as well as some extras. It sure made me appreciate that I don’t have to think about the grocery bill when I saw their list for the hamper. It consisted mostly of nonperishable canned goods, and honestly wouldn’t have lasted me long. I also bought a gift for a senior in my community; its a program to help support seniors who might not have family locally. I was one of the lucky ones; the pandemic didn’t hit me financially at all. I still have my job, my spouse, my golden retriever. I’m thankful everyday.

  • Zach December 17, 2020, 10:41 pm

    Great article MMM. A leader of my company keeps harping finding the opportunities and not concern ourselves as much with the difficulties. Change creates opportunity. This coming from a company that has been 95% fully wfh since March and thriving.

    My wife and I had a long term goal to FIRE in a remote/vacation town in Utah. The main thing stopping us pre COVID was being able to WFH. It now seems like it is a total possibility with both our jobs. I hope to speak to my boss in January about plans to build a house and move out there to work.

    Wish me luck!

  • Chris December 18, 2020, 1:07 am

    I personally would not underestimate the appeal to return to the previous normal.

    For example, in the midst of the pandemic, we’ve had a flurry of media articles here in the UK talking about how bad home working is for the economy, mental health etc, tugging on heart strings from shop keepers who cater for commuters and even had some pundits talking about how it can be discouraged through taxation. In addition, some colleagues are absolutely desperate to run to the office – often the younger ones – and for good reason, they like the separation of work/home, the chance to mix with others and/or have small living spaces. As a home worker myself, its been great to have a level playing field.

    Somethings will definitely change and I would not be surprised to see something like a repeat of the roaring twenties from 2024/25 onwards.

  • Paultigs December 18, 2020, 1:12 am

    Great article MMM. Recent history again and again proves that the foundations of outrageous optimism are deep and well founded. Reading your articles keeps my FI motivation high and provides a shield against the constant barrage of spending influences (the Joneses and any new car from Tesla). Thank you for improving my and many others lives! I look forward to reading your posts and continuing my FI journey next year. All the best to you and yours! Paul from the UK.

  • Catprog December 18, 2020, 5:21 am

    Toliet paper shortage is actually very easy to explain.

    First a lot of demand that was being met by commercial style toilet paper was suddenly replaced by domestic toilet paper.

    Then you start getting into the real shortage. Assuming people buy a pack a month then people deciding to buy a pack when they are at a half pack instead of a quarter increases demand by 700%.

    It gets even worse if people buy a pack every 2 months. Demand has now increased by 1400%.

    And their is no hording going on yet. Everyone is buying just a little bit extra and the supply is completely gone.

    Then of course the hording starts but the supply is gone even before then.

  • André December 18, 2020, 5:26 am

    I donated money for “Give a christmas” in Norway. It is a charity organization facilitating to give away food, drinks, snacks and presents for a family in our neighborhood. My wife and I donated to a single mom and her two daughters, five and six years old. It warms my heart that this will make it possible for them to have a better christmas in this in every way special year.

  • W Dean Pulley December 18, 2020, 5:40 am

    Being a South Louisiana native, I think of hot sauce as a Basic Food Group. My wife and I travel a lot, happily and always conscious of the wonderful experience we’re privileged to have.

    For us, that flows right along with the ability to work remotely, so recreation and commerce become pretty seamless. Being good FIRE folks, we use every hack possible to keep costs surprisingly close to staying home. Our preferred mode is cross country in a tall van (bought second-hand and renovated ourselves as a stealth RV.) It’ll park in any standard spot and has no exterior tells of the interior comfy cabin.

    The upshot of this is a lot of time spent on the Blue Highways and small towns of our incredible country. While I’m excited and encouraged by your take on all of the changes in our society’s approach to work brought about and accelerated by the pandemic response, the potential Renaissance of neglected rural communities is the most interesting to us. We have an immense wealth of underused buildings, community centers and natural settings in the US, all poised for rediscovery and improvement.

    As you’ve detailed, the advent of cheaper photovoltaic power, the coming Starlink satellite internet service and normalization of remote medical care mean that the logistics of modern life are within reach of an increasingly broad footprint of the country.

    Interesting, exciting times, indeed. Thank you as always for your optimism and pragmatic perspective.

  • Amy December 18, 2020, 6:05 am

    This year we kept our donations local and personal. Gave money to my son’s school, family member who had her husband unexpectedly pass away (not COVID related but still awful) and a local family going through cancer treatments for their 4 year old. I plan to give even more next year and it does feel great to be in a position to help.
    Thanks for the Credible recommendation. So far the process has been incredibly easy! Just signed paperwork to refinance our mortgage to 1.99% 10 year payoff. Fees will be $2500- 2900 depending on if appraisal is needed (not likely due to equity in home but not final just yet.). Closing in January. Saving of thousands and thousands of dollars and day to day life not a bit different!

  • David December 18, 2020, 6:09 am

    There are two charities I donate to each year both of which are environmentally focused. The first one seems like a no-brainer and the second one a little controversial.

    The rainforest trust lets you choose a project and 100% of the money you donate can go to the goals of that project. My preference is for land purchase, putting into permanent conservation. This land is typically South America, Asia or Africa. Some of the richest biodiversity and carbon storage per acre in the world. Land prices are also very cheap. Sometimes donations are matched or even quadrupled by another donor. I would assume a philanthropist, corporation or foundation. Making an annual donation of perhaps $90 that’s quadrupled by the other donor, would put one acre into permanent conservation per year. It’s a cheap thing to do on an annual basis and a good legacy for anyone. Likely some issues around local’s occasionally poaching and cutting trees in conservation land, but no setup is going to be perfect.

    The second environmental issue is world population growth. Much less of an issue today with growth rates tapering off. Many developed countries are not meeting their natural replacement birth rates and the world is slowly reaching that point. The elephant in the room is Africa, which is likely to add a couple of billion people to the planet by the end of the century. I donate to Marie Stopes International, which provides contraceptive services and education on a purely optional basis to those that want it. In the poorest countries, unwanted babies are often lack of education or access to things like condoms so just an “it’s available if you want it” kind of scenario.

    The approach is putting the richest biodiversity (and lowest cost) land into conservation, along with slowing down by far the most destructive thing to this planet (growth of human population) or even developed world levels of services for that area.

    • Mr. Money Mustache December 18, 2020, 8:28 am

      Yeah, I agree with you that access to birth control (and in the control of the woman) is still one of the biggest issues. If you are a Gates Foundation fan, track down the episode of the new Dave Letterman long-format interview show where Melinda Gates is the guest.

      She gets quite fired up about her experience working with women in Africa, and how much of an advantage it is for them to be able to control their pregnancies – even when they can’t necessarily control their husbands, as unfair as that sounds. To make the best of the situation, many of them will walk all day for access to birth control shots. These should be easier to get, for those who want them.

  • Mike December 18, 2020, 6:44 am

    This post is wise and positive (and we certainly need both), but early. The year may be almost over, but the pandemic isn’t contractually obligated to stop on New Year’s Day. It will continue well into 2021. Do not lower your guard yet!

  • Angela L Wilcox December 18, 2020, 7:02 am

    After wringing my hands for years I decided to make a small automatic payment to local landtrusts’.
    North Florida Landtrust and Alachua County Landtrust.
    Both seek to preserve ecosystems vital for biodiversity.
    It’s not much but I can’t wait until I can afford to donate.
    Rather than just helplessly scrolling through environmental posts on Facebook I will be better off removing myself from social media and get on with Life knowing I’ve done something other than wring my hands.
    Goal this year : Wright more letters to powers that be
    ( environment).
    Pick up trash- litter , be an example rather than part of the cacophony of complainers.

  • Landon.Packrat December 18, 2020, 7:51 am

    I’m still saving up for early retirement, and am within a few years of making my number. This year, the amount I give to charity has gone up. Especially in October when I bailed out two people within my circle of friends who were in deep financial distress.

    It felt good.

  • SimpleYoung December 18, 2020, 8:17 am

    I donated 2k, matched at 50% by employer to make it 3k, to GiveDirectly – specifically their UBI trial in Kenya, which I am very interested in since it’s the largest research ever on the subject. (It’s also cool to be able to do research while literally helping people at the same time!)

  • Bryan December 18, 2020, 9:13 am

    Excellent article. We have certainly been in the second, more fortunate group. Although I must admit I did blink and panic sell some in March. Good to know even Warren makes mistakes still sometimes. The good news is it is a lesson i will NEVER forget, and we have a plenty big safety net to survive and thrive…. I just try not the think about how costly a mistake it was :/

    This marks one of the first ever private GoFundMe pages that I have ever donated too. After reading the description and knowing these sweethearts personally, I started badgering the wife to let us take a HELOC and give the whole 50k, but I was outvoted 1 to 1 🙂. I cannot think of a more worthy cause than a precious new life.


    We are expecting our own little bundle of joy in January, so this one tugs at my heart strings even more than normal. When my parents asked what i wanted for Christmas, I just sent them this link. I also plan to keep my own Christmas gifts to family to be charitable donations to individual causes that mean the most to them…. retaining the thoughtfulness of gift giving but reducing the clutter and wastefullness

  • veronica December 18, 2020, 9:40 am

    Glad to hear that your friend pulled through. So many people had their treatments and surgeries put on hold, so many have had their conditions get worse as they had to wait – I am grateful to hear that there were people with serious medical issues that received the care they needed in a timely manner.

    While the amount of my charitable giving is no where near your league, this year my donations went in equal parts to the Toronto Public Library (the TPL ROCKS!), the Daily Bread Food Bank (no one should go hungry in this country) and Second Harvest (which tackles my two favourite pet peeves, hunger and food waste).

    Have a safe and happy holiday everyone!

  • Aposente Cedo December 18, 2020, 9:59 am

    Congratulations for your donations and sharing incentive! Glad to read you’re able, year after year, to live way below your means and employing excess to somehow make a difference (as you’ve been long doing with words in this blog).
    Hope your friend gets a 100% healthy very soon.
    Regards from Brazil.

  • Ron Cameron December 18, 2020, 12:16 pm

    I’ll be interested to see in the years to come if Warren Buffet was “fearful”…or smart. He often acknowledges his mistakes, and if this turns out to be one I think he’ll say so. I think, like in the late 90’s, he’s looking dumb now but will look like a genius in the future. Time will tell. The fact that he’s barely bought anything all year is my personal big warning flag for current stock prices.

  • Thomas R. Arneberg December 18, 2020, 12:24 pm

    2020 was a great year for me! When all my marathons were canceled, I decided to try a solo “thru-hike” and backpacked 343 miles on the Superior Hiking Trail, from Canada to Wisconsin. I got the four weeks off because my boss knows I have enough savings to retire, but he’d rather give me more vacation than see me quit, and I enjoy my engineering job and usually work from home anyway.

    • Shon January 10, 2021, 4:39 pm

      Good job on the thru hike. I did the opposite this year (and probably next year too), I canceled a thru hike because of the virus, and did a marathon instead (virtual marathon – it sucked!). I didn’t do the hiking I wanted
      because I didn’t want to be exposed to other people while getting to / from the trail’s start. I’m not so concerned while out on a trail in nature, but being apart of public transportation is another thing. I did do a remote 320+ mile hike in Idaho/Montana, but I drove there and back, and saw 4-5 people in 17 days of hiking. I’m not saying anyone shouldn’t travel, but for me, I didn’t want to get on a plane, then hitchhike/taxi/bus to a trailhead this year. I did consider doing a thru hike where all I’d do is fly there, then walk to the trailhead, then yo-yo and fly home. If I ever do the SHT, just to save money (no taxi), I thought I’d fly to Duluth and road walk south to the southern terminus (25 miles), then yo-yo. This would cut out any other transportation other than the flight. If a city bus gets me closer to the TH, then all the better. But not during the coronavirus. I want to protect my family. I’ll drive, but not fly or bus myself around.
      By the way, what time of year did you do the SHT? It’s on my “to-do list” but not for a while.

  • Cultivating Happiness December 18, 2020, 12:26 pm

    I love this hopeful take on 2020! I am so glad to hear your friend is recovering and doing well. I can’t imagine facing cancer on top of everything else this year had in store.

    I work in healthcare and 100% echo your point that in some ways, this year has positives. We had been trying to increase the adoption of virtual care for over a decade and made huge strides this year; both from patients’ and physicians’ perspectives, I think everyone now appreciates the value of telehealth more than ever. Another benefit is that many people with chronic conditions have a new level of motivation to try to be proactive about their health.

    I listened to a podcast about the neuroscience of generosity that really stayed with me. It said being generous sends a signal to our brain that lessens our anxiety about our own situations. Even though this has been a tough year in many ways, I’ve seen so many examples of kindness and generosity that have touched my heart. I hope that is something else that continues into 2021 and beyond!

  • Joan December 18, 2020, 12:38 pm

    Great post, very inspiring! For those of us without a lot of income these days, and therefore do not itemize, I would like to point out that the CARES act will allow $300 charitable deduction without itemizing. Now that I don’t itemize, I make a lot more donations to political and non-deductible groups. I will also be donating my relief checks to food banks.

  • Kristina December 18, 2020, 1:43 pm

    I’m so happy you are talking about charitable giving. It’s the natural extension of what your website teaches about the power of capital. Your readers likely appreciate how valuable capital or the lack there of has been in their own lives and how freeing it can be to have your own stash. Hopefully a lot of us are appreciating how crazy it is to be able to dramatically increase our wealth by pretty much doing nothing, just profiting from the hard of the people in the companies in which we invest. It’s such a joy to be able to share the wealth in a powerful and effective way to make the world a better place. Peter Singer and the Life You Can Save have inspired me to give more and give effectively https://www.thelifeyoucansave.org/. I’m up to $22,000 a year to charities they recommend as well as local charities and land trusts. You and your readers are inspiring me to up that amount.

    • Little Pumpkins December 18, 2020, 3:46 pm

      Yes, we love Peter Singer’s work and thank you Kristina for reminding us that it is *joyful* to be able to share. Some of our friends have given their homes over (after they pass on) to land trusts, and it’s beautiful what is being manifested in these times.

  • Ian December 18, 2020, 1:53 pm

    In the interest of efficiency, if you wanted to have 10x as many trees planted per dollar, you should check out Eden Restoration Projects https://edenprojects.org/. They work in the hardest countries and consistently grow trees to 8 year maturity for an impressive 10 cents, typically by bringing the whole community behind the project.

    • Mr. Money Mustache December 18, 2020, 5:24 pm

      Thanks for the note Ian – I will definitely look into this. (And if anyone else wants to share more right here, please feel free)

    • Nick December 19, 2020, 9:28 am

      Yes! By focusing their efforts in the world’s poorest and most ecologically sensitive regions, Eden Reforestation Projects has found a super efficient way to combat 3 of the world’s biggest problems at once: climate change, extreme poverty, and loss of biodiversity.

      I too recently made a $1,000 donation (with donation matching) toward reforestation, and it resulted in 20,000 trees planted and maintained!

      My personal goal is to plant 1,000,000 trees in Madagascar.

      • Shon January 10, 2021, 4:51 pm

        I just checked out their website, and I’m very interested. I’ve never heard of this charity.

        When the coronavirus hit and lots of people suddenly began donating money to food banks and/or citizens of their own country (ie. Americans giving money to American charities), I predicted that charities in, say, Africa, would see a drop. I turned around and donated money to Givewell and other charities that work out of Africa. A month or two later I did read that charities that work out of some of these poorer countries were seeing less money being donated to them by private donations (but some countries stepped up). I felt good about doing that.
        Next, I want to donate money to some charity that does work with nature/climate change/wild life ect, but I’ve been debating about were to sent my $$. This charity sounds like one that might get some of my money. At least it’s on my list now, and I’ve never heard of it. Thanks.

  • Astrid December 18, 2020, 3:07 pm

    Thanks for highlighting the power of giving. I’ve made small donations to the local Foodbank and an Aboriginal truth telling organisation here in Western Australia. I did make a monthly donation to our local domestic violence refuge but thankfully they have had an increase in State funding so I’ve redirected that contribution to Lotus Outreach Australia to keep girls in school. My goal is 25% of gross income and I’m working full time at the moment so have the privilege of being generous.

    • Astrid December 18, 2020, 3:10 pm

      Lotus Outreach Australia support girls and their families in Cambodia. I lived there for 12 months, witnessed their work and so saw first hand the benefit.

  • Shelby December 18, 2020, 3:26 pm

    Big thanks for the Credible link!

    I had previously used LendKey and refinanced my student loans from 6ish% to 4.72%. I just used your link and was approved for 2.79% with no fees through Credible. This is my win of the day!

  • Little Pumpkins December 18, 2020, 3:31 pm

    So glad your friend was able to receive the care she needed, and that her country prioritizes affordable care.

    Thank you for your blog (we’ve read *every* post after getting serious 7 years ago with $200k in student loans – now gone). Your blog encouraged us to keep growing our careers towards international remote friendly transitions, and we are getting closer and closer to Scandinavia or Europe relocation (where we want to raise a family).

    On giving…

    This year, we’ve been asking ourselves, What is enough progress? Saving without giving never felt enough for us.

    Last year was our biggest giving so far (until this year!). Our work moves us across states every 1-2 years and in the past, we’d buy IKEA new furniture and resell at almost the same cost. As of last year, we’ve committed to finding a local refugee, LGBTQ or homeless nonprofit that can benefit from *a whole apartment full of almost new everything*. The smiles and gratitude last year when a LGBTQ shelter picked up everything was a heart-full experience.

    This year, we committed to giving at least 10% of our pre-tax income. We didn’t transition into IT to hoard and *not* change what we didn’t appreciate about our previous teaching and nonprofit roles / salaries / compensation.

    So, what has ended up being 20% of giving this year has all been *surprises*:
    – $2,500 to a local mental health therapist who works on fully sliding scale with BIPOC communities.
    – $2,500 to a Black estate attorney to take care of our estate. (We found a very kind, white dude who would do it all for under $1,000 but we’re doing our best to make sure our money moves locally and to POC communities).
    – $2,000 to local refugee, undocumented, children, nonprofits. We did major Costco and Trader Joe’s runs and dropped them off at different shelters.
    – $1,200 to 3 friends working in nonprofits (free lunch sent monthly!)
    – $1,200 to 2 Buddhist nonprofits that have lost all income and work on fully sliding scale
    – the rest to GoFundMe requests and Kickstarters that friends have sent over.

    I think the “biggest” giving / the biggest transformation of our hearts (not judging anyone, just what we had to come to for ourselves), is we canceled Amazon and reallocated 75% of our estate to nonprofits. Inside and outside of our cultures (we’re a LGBTQ POC couple), it is expected to give your estate to your next blood family, and we’ve decided that if we want to be of greatest contribution to our local communities, we need to give back and invest in the wellness of our local communities. That being said, with how ridiculous elder care is in America (should we die before our siblings), the 25% and their paid off homes should cover end of life. We’re simply changing course and *not* giving the majority to siblings and their children.

    Thank you MMM for all that you have seeded, harvested, and composted in our hearts. This is our first time commenting and we were very moved by you sharing about your friend and how we can all be a part of the change (while growing our stash!) in any ways we can, which is inside and outside of financial capital. We honor all of you who are generous with your time capital, child raising capital, social capital, energy capital, knowledge capital, skills capital – we honor you!

    With gratitude,
    the little pumpkins

    Age – couple, mid 30s
    Household income – $130k
    Location – Moved to Texas recently, but financially would’ve benefited from CA or NY where we have free housing and higher incomes.
    Stash – $300k (all VTSAX)
    Life insurance – 3 million
    Debt – Paid off $270k in student loans and doing free presentations at high schools and colleges ever since on *not* doing education the way we did :)
    No kids, responsible for elders on both sides of the family.

  • gofi December 18, 2020, 4:03 pm

    Incredible friend – and to your giving, thanks. Though I’m not quite sure on how the positives of this year will eventually pan out. This is an old argument, but what is to stop companies from remoting even more work abroad? I tried putting myself on Fiver only to see that someone in Pakistan was willing to do the same thing for $3.

    But the possibility of cheaper medical consultation (to foreign doctors), acceptance of online (cheaper) education, all the commuting hours saved, gas unused, and so many changes – I’m not sure how these will play out. I’m guessing they’ll all be for the better in the end.

    • Mr. Money Mustache December 18, 2020, 5:23 pm

      Exactly – that designer in Pakistan may be getting huge benefits from making $3 for a task, and a human is a human regardless of which country they happen to be born in. And in practice, outsourcing rarely harms skilled workers in the long run. I remember in 1994 through 2005 as I worked as an engineer, there was endless talk about us being the last generation of lucky six-figure North American engineers. 15 years later, tech workers in all countries are doing better than ever.

      The pie can keep growing (as long as we preserve the pie plate of the Earth that is supporting us all)

      • Kim December 18, 2020, 8:55 pm

        I am a Canadian who has been building software remotely for silicon valley (or Seattle) companies for 15 years. Taking advantage of the local brain drain in those areas, and bypassing the crappy engineering salaries offered by my local (Vancouver) companies. I fear that free-ride is coming to an end:


        There are alot of hungry and talented software developers all over the world – my timezone and specialized skills might protect me, but I expect in every field from tech to admin we will see a general fall in salaries as companies look for the “hungriest” worker world wide. This will bring up a standard of living for some and bring down others. Which raises that philosophical question of whether I am willing to lower my standard of living for others to be raised.

        Thanks for a great post, your metaphors were uplifting.

        • Little Pumpkins December 19, 2020, 2:34 am

          I’m with you Kim! My partner and I are both UX designers and in 2015, friends were receiving *fresh graduate school* offers of $90-150k (madness!) in HCOL cities. Now in 2020 (we’re on the hiring side), our companies have decided to create a new salary structure based on location. For us, it hurts us since we thought we’d be able to retain our HCOL city salaries (now based in Texas). Our companies don’t do international visa sponsorship, and if our lower salaries were such that newer pipelines were created for “under represented” groups to transition to this field, we’d be onboard for that! The broad you’re working from home “privilege” and salaries based on location doesn’t make sense to us, which is how our companies presented the transition to lower (almost half) salaries for everyone outside of HCOL cities starting next year – hence, our job search now. We’ve been planning from the beginning for the leveling out of salaries, and hope to find another company that offers a reasonable remote friendly salary, competitive enough to the tech field as a whole.

      • gofi December 19, 2020, 12:07 pm

        Perfect, agree, helps to be positive. And all the more reason to go FI, just in case.

  • B December 18, 2020, 5:56 pm

    You seem to be taking covid a bit more seriously compared to your post back in March. Better late tha never i suppose.

    • Mr. Money Mustache December 19, 2020, 2:04 pm

      No change at all. With all three of my posts that mentioned the pandemic, all I have done is encourage people to look at the sources (like CDC charts and medical papers and preprints) rather than the newspaper headlines.

      Throughout the whole pandemic, my personal feeling has been that while Covid is a big public health problem, others like heart disease are even bigger, and thus we should not simply consider “staying at home” to be the holy grail of staying safe.

      Instead, we should get outside as much as possible, ride bikes, walk at least 10,000 steps every day, do squats, avoid sugar, eat giant salads, supplement with vitamin D, and minimize emotional stress, and still maintain close emotional ties to your friends and family.

      *AND* avoid attending or creating large, close gatherings of people, especially indoors.

      I just want people to keep things in perspective. It’s counterproductive to prioritize one health intervention when ignoring all other aspects of health, and I have felt this is happening too much in the Covid era.

  • Cynical CPA December 18, 2020, 7:08 pm

    It’s great to see how open you are about your giving. William MacAskill was recently on the Sam Harris podcast and they discussed how important it is to be public about charitable giving. For some reason we think it’s more virtuous to remain anonymous, but really that doesn’t do anyone any good. I personally find how much you give very motivating and pretty awesome.

  • Megan December 18, 2020, 7:20 pm

    My husband and I set a goal of giving away 5% of our income each year. We’ve prioritized Black-led organizations in our community for most of our giving. We also donated to the local Occupy group for their construction of affordable, quick tiny homes to get people off the streets this winter. And the Loveland Foundation, which connects Black women and girls to Black therapists with free sessions. We did not suffer financially this year and for that we are hugely grateful and recognize our inherent privilege as white educated Americans.

  • Entrepreneur December 18, 2020, 10:09 pm

    We decided to increase our charitable giving 50% this year over last year. It does feel good!

  • James meehan December 18, 2020, 10:52 pm

    I donated to Tom Catena for his Sudan relief fund. He’s my old neighbors son. Tom has forgone an easy upper class living to dedicate himself to giving. He’s the only medical provider in a crazy large war torn area in the Nuba mountains. People travel for days to reach him. He’s been expanding his service and training natives to be medical providers. Unfortunately they don’t have nearly enough resources to save everyone. The money donated to his cause is put to very effective use and donating even a small amount is highly likely to be utilized to save a life, or many actually since he’s creating a medical program over there.

    On a different note. I feel bad for those who have lost their life and their loved ones…At the same time I also agree this was a wake up call for building a more resilient world. We need efficiency in all forms. Better air quality will saves lives and cut medical costs (and I don’t even mean the virus). Working remote makes sense and I have long not understood it’s avoidance. Enhancing internet delivery systems . Putting the need for journalism integrity into discussion. The weakness of the federal governments ability to protect us was shown. The weakness of individuals was shown too. Those living on the edge struggled most. Buisness that didn’t have safety margins and weren’t geared for the future floundered. Do we need movie theaters, gyms, massive airlines? Maybe we’ll learn to compensate on personal and local levels. The pandemic has not been a defeating time for me personally. I embraced the challenges and got a lot done at home. I know there’s a lot more improvement I want to do personally and would like to assist the local community in. Things such as emergency preparedness, local food systems, fossil fuel free housing/transportation. Or my current big pet peeve with my city. Their poor use of the water resources. For which the local administration doesn’t see the connection in solving the cities debt issues.

  • George Choy December 19, 2020, 1:51 am

    I’m glad your friend pulled through. My wife and I recently donated 600 meals to children and their families who can’t afford to buy food in the UK. Your donations inspire me. I can see we need to do more!

  • Eugenio December 19, 2020, 5:34 am

    Hi, I recently read some criticism against efficient health care systems, it was said that you need some unused capacity for cases like a pandemic where if you are efficient you become overwhelmed very easily. What do you think?

    • Eugenio December 19, 2020, 6:56 am

      Sorry, after I read what I wrote I realized it sounds imposing and disrespectful. The thing is after reading all your posts I feel like just asking something to a friend even if I had never written here before. Thanks!

  • Angela Rogers December 19, 2020, 5:57 am

    The answer to the toilet paper shortage of the spring is that most people (Working age and school) used to spend 50% of their time at work, where they use industrial-sized toilet paper rolls. Suddenly everything shut down, all were home but the supply chain couldn’t instantly increase for this different need in quantity. Some may have been hoarding, most just trying to get by. Buying more because more people at home.

  • Lifetap December 19, 2020, 6:18 am

    Thank you for the motivation!


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