The California Effect

One of the reasons I don’t write as often these days is that my life has gradually evolved into a Personal Finance Bubble. 

The people around me have learned to be purposeful with their money, which means they now have plenty of savings and never have to stress about the stuff. Good ideas have naturally spread between the old group of friends, and new ones with similar values have drifted in over the years. 

And it has happened so much that that it’s almost normal for everyone in the neighborhood to have their own CNBC Make It feature*, which they don’t even get around to mentioning because we’re too busy helping each other with bathroom renovations or sharing the latest golden scores from Craigslist.

Because this is my everyday reality, I have mistakenly come to assume that this must be normal, and that perhaps these ideas of Mustachian living have just become universal out there in American life. Job well done MMM, time to hang up the keyboard and retire!

Until last weekend, when I took a short trip out to San Francisco and plunged deep into the astonishing reality of life outside of this bubble. And I realized that wow, we still have so much work to do. And there is so much that both sides – the Ultraconsumers and the Mustachians – can learn about human nature by studying the differences in our lifestyles.

A recent “winter” day at the Bay

The city of San Francisco is often called “The City” by locals, but it’s really part of a megalopolis  known as “The Bay Area”. Both of these nicknames are somewhat telling because they imply that there is only ONE bay and ONE city on the planet, and thus those embody the social and spending norms to which we should all comply.

To outsiders like the rest of us, The Bay Area is a bizarre and wild human science laboratory, in which our most beautiful and most ridiculous traits are simultaneously revealed. Artificial boundaries aside, in reality it’s all one teeming urban area which sprawls across ten thousand square miles and houses eight million people in an incredibly wide range of conditions. 

The median house price is about $1.5 million, but that figure masks even more amazing differences because it includes “bad” neighborhoods where you can get in as low as $750k as long as you don’t mind a long commute and/or trash-strewn streets and keeping your house locked behind a steel gate at all times. And nicer ones with where the prices start around $3M. 

Locals have become accustomed to $6.00 gasoline over the past year, $7.00 slices of pizza at a grungy restaurant if you shop around, and similarly surprising prices on most other services. One new homeowner lamented the $90-per-hour rate that his housekeeping company was now charging him to clean the house, and I enjoyed the opportunity to pick up a brunch tab for three ($148 including tip) on a nice sunny patio at a modest restaurant. A young single professional in the finance industry asked me whether he should downsize to just one seven-passenger Mercedes SUV to escape the second $1200 per month car payment from his monthly expenses (and free up a $200 parking space to boot).

With stories like these, it’s easy for the average person to just fall in line and repeat the standard Bay Area lament:

 “This is just a high cost of living area so it’s impossible to get ahead”

But as my visit progressed and I looked in with my usual outsider’s perspective, I couldn’t help but notice an awful lot of holes in this argument.

Just as I do at home, I spent the majority of my leisure time with good friends, exploring beautiful parks and neighborhoods on foot.  Sometimes we walked just to get to our appointments and meetings, arriving to hear stories about how bad the car traffic was or how late and expensive the Uber ride had been for the other attendees. Interesting.

Other times we hiked purposefully along cliffs and ocean shores. These days of fresh air and tens of thousands of steps left us feeling lean and healthy, with endless happy memories, enormous appetites and legs of sculpted steel. And yet they somehow cost absolutely nothing. And then we’d run into somebody who mentioned how hard it was to find time to get in shape, or how impractical it was to walk or ride a bike in a city with such steep hills. Curious.

We shopped in local grocery stores and I checked in on Costco prices in the area, and I noticed that despite the high cost of almost everything else, actual food was only a few percent more expensive than it is in the affordable middle of the country where I live. Strange.

On top of this, Northern California  happens to be blessed with a climate where the leaves and flowers bloom year-round (often hanging low with free fruits and vegetables), you rarely need heating or air conditioning for your home, and bike transportation is easy year-round because you’ll never encounter conditions more challenging than a bit of mildly cool rain or mist. 

Where I grew up in Canada, people would cry tears of joy if they woke up in January to discover the streets were free from snow and shimmering with actual liquid water. We would don our swimsuits and spend the day dancing in the streets in a spontaneous block party.

But in California, everybody** dodges even the slightest weather, drives cars even though they are the slowest and most expensive way to get around, eats most of their meals at restaurants, considers a $150 bottle of wine to be a reasonable indulgence on a Friday, lives far away from work and signs up for activities that are far away from home. Which means that despite the area’s nation-leading salaries, the average person is no further ahead than the rest of us.

On the grander scale, the California government is a supersized example of its spendy populace: they just keep building more titanic roads and cathedral-like networks of overlapping arched bridges and ocean-sized parking lots. All to subsidize and disguise the preposterous use of the massive, stupid, personal racing lounges that people call “cars”, which they think they need because they haven’t stopped to consider how ridiculous the whole situation is. The cars and roads ruin the vast majority of their beautiful land, turning everything into a screaming, crashing, toxic din of expensive and purely unnecessary bullshit. 

Of course, all that driving causes thousands of violent deaths due to crashes, and requires hundreds of thousands of police officers, ambulances, and fire trucks to patrol. The sedentary lifestyle and the body destroying nature of sitting down in a car for several hours per day causes millions of early deaths due to heart disease and diabetes and related conditions, which requires hundreds of additional hospitals and thousands of doctors and surgeons to mop up the carnage. And they pay for it all with some of the nation’s highest tax rates. 

Then the people blow the rest of their income on buying even more expensive cars and gasoline to race around on the unnecessary trillion-dollar road network.

So yeah, that’s the California effect. But lest you think I’m beating up unfairly on the people of this fine state, it’s really just a magnified version of the Everywhere Effect. It is an astonishing wasted opportunity for the growing billions of people who are trapped in and perpetuating the illogical and self-defeating systems of our modern rich world. 

But if you think of it from the opposite perspective, it is simultaneously the biggest life opportunity in human history: the understanding that all of us live in a bubble which we incorrectly perceive as “normal”.

Mr. Money Mustache lives on a quiet street where millionaire early retirees still prefer old cars and do our own housework, and we think that is normal.

San Francisco professionals live in a place where 25-year-old tech workers enjoy $200,000 starting salaries, yet still have credit card debt and car loans, and they think that is normal.

In a recent podcast episode, the researcher Lex Fridman described his experience interviewing Ukrainian people in the occupied war zones of that country, asking them if they felt it was safe where they lived. They generally said it was, despite frequent bombings and the occasional deaths of friends and family members. They have already started feeling that even war is normal.

From TV addicts who binge watch for five hours per day, to ultra endurance athletes like Tony Riddel who sometimes runs two marathons per day for nine consecutive days (mostly in bare feet), to alcoholics who can consume 30 beers before lunch time, to video gamers and bluegrass banjo players and olympic gymnasts with unimaginably fast neural circuitry and muscular control, it’s all the same thing: when a human brain experiences a stimulus, it quickly rewires and adapts and starts to think:

“This is normal.

The ultimate lesson, then, is to remind yourself that no, your current life is not normal.

It’s super weird and super specific, and you can completely change the damned thing in as many ways as you like and you absolutely will adapt and be able to handle it.

There was a huge line for the escalator but the 5-storey staircase was wide open. So of course I took the stairs. Then turned back and was happy to see people had started following my example once they saw it was “normal”

The cool part about this is, it means if you put the right things into your life (health, fitness, sensible spending, learning, socializing, and helping people), you’ll get used to those just as quickly as everyone else adapts to screen time and sodas and car loans.

Your Assignment:

Write a list of everything in your life that is expensive, bad for your physical or mental health, or both.

Consider how normal these things feel to you, but then imagine a totally different person, who is happy and successful self-actualized, who does not have or need these things in their life. Interesting. How do they do it?

Start noticing your own bubble, and study the California Effect in your own lifestyle. Where do you see ridiculousness masquerading as normalcy? How can you extract the best of life in your area, while shedding the unnecessary downsides? 

How can you create an entirely new bubble of normal, that serves you better?

That simple mindset is the underlying backbone of not just Financial Independence, but the best possible life all around.

Oceanfront views and leg sculpting classes – FREE!

Super Special Note:
The MMM Boot Camp Email Series is Finally Ready!

I spent most of the past year combing through this blog’s 500+ posts, picking out the best 52, polishing them up, and arranging them into a weekly series
… which you can now join for FREE, right here with this link.

No spam or salesy stuff because I have nothing to sell. Just a year of gradual, pleasant lifestyle transformation delivered right to your inbox.

 * congrats Amberly and John! Their CNBC story is available here – I recommend the written version as it has more accurate details than the video.

** Everybody. It seems this word has triggered a few sensitive souls who don’t fit into this generalization, my apologies for that. Definitely not literally everyone, just the vast majority of them – as with all American cities. San Francisco is actually among the top cities where people walk to work (ten percent), but California as a whole had only about a 3.9% walk+bike to work rate according to this 2016 article on Streetsblog. While my word choice here obviously backfired a bit, it was supposed to be a deliberate attempt to play up the idea of the whole “normalizing” trend. Most people see their peers driving cars to work, or even to the grocery store with a painfully crowded parking lot less than one mile away, and they adopt that behavior without evaluating whether or not there is a more effective option. When in reality, for at least 90% of potential car trips, there is.

In the Comments: What changes do you struggle with? Things you know would be good for you but seem “too hard”. Are they things that would be outside of the social norm for your area and peer group?

  • Gary Grewal December 12, 2022, 4:59 pm

    I am in the Sacramento area, and we’ve been a popular destination for deep-pocketed bay area transplants, which as everyone knows has surged after the pandemic.

    I thought the Bay Area and S.F was one of the most eco-friendly, zero-waste, climate neutral places there was and that that’s how many residents felt as well. So, was shocked when Bay Area people moved here and felt it was “normal” to buy 2 or 3 cars since your in the burbs, and they “need” an $80,000 luxury SUV since their kids have activities and they “had to give up” life in the city so try to make their suburban life more normal.

    A few good things due to this is a lot more electric cars on the road (not sure if it’s just due to the migrant population) and also more restaurant options. The downside is obviously housing and traffic, but also as an avid cyclist I don’t see an increase in cyclists or users of public transit, just more cars.

    Pete, I’m just as shocked as you that our CA government continues to subsidize roads and cars more than multimodal transportation. I wish our burbs looks like Longmont, Boulder, or even Lone Tree (they have light rail at least). All I see is loads of single family cookie-cutter homes and the typical 2-3 cars, where people’s highlight of the week is a trip to Costco on a Saturday to fight Black Friday like crowds.

  • Rachel Turnbow December 12, 2022, 9:54 pm

    Wow but did I ever need to read this tonight. As usual you’ve hit on so many practical, no nonsense observations — reminders, really — about human potential.

    Tonight is the first night in more years than I can remember that I will not have had a drink of alcohol or a cigarette. I’ve been looking in to rehab but wouldn’t feel right going away when I haven’t tried my best to do this on my own, yet. I’m incredibly nervous about this (though well informed and as prepared as I possibly can be). This from your post resonates with me more than you could possibly know right this minute. I hope I remember to read it again when the going gets tough over the next few days. Thanks Mr. MMM!

    “The ultimate lesson, then, is to remind yourself that no, your current life is not normal.

    It’s super weird and super specific, and you can completely change the damned thing in as many ways as you like and you absolutely will adapt and be able to handle it.”

    • Mr. Money Mustache December 12, 2022, 10:08 pm

      Wow Rachel, that is great to hear! I have a few close people in my life going through the same thing so I know how hard the cravings can be. One thing I enjoy for increasing willpower is listening to podcasts which remind me of how GOOD whatever I am doing (or avoiding) is for me.

      Huberman Lab’s episode on alcohol is one great one, plus check out Rich Roll if you haven’t discovered him already – a former serious alcoholic who turned his life around to become an endurance athlete and many other interesting things.

    • Jessica Thompson December 13, 2022, 12:06 am

      YES Rachel, way to go! Getting healthy and saving money at the same time. There are sobriety groups that are is pretty awesome and almost totally free, and an amazing source of community and no nonsense advice as well as friends. I think you know who I mean. Anyway keep it up sista woot!

    • Chris B December 14, 2022, 2:01 pm

      Hi Rachel. Good luck on your journey. I would encourage you to go for the rehab option sooner rather than later. Maybe draw a firm line in the sand in terms of how many attempts you will make and how long you will make a solo attempt to beat addiction. Put it in the calendar, commit to it, and sign a contract with yourself if that’s what it takes. At the bare minimum, commit to the belief that you have a problem and fight back the denial whenever it arises.

      A relative of mine died 2 years ago – in his 30s – from alcoholism and chain smoking. I’m haunted to this day by the way he looked at us during his intervention and said he was going to try one more time on his own to quit. This came after years of attempting. That one snap decision to turn down the offer of external help cost him his life. He literally fell over dead in his house because his liver and kidneys failed.

      He was the stereotypical addict who lived in denial and had too much shame to accept external help. Don’t be like him.

    • Andreas December 22, 2022, 10:53 pm

      Regarding qutting smoking, I gave it up ten years ago with little effort.
      Google for “Alan Carr stop smoking”. The writer is dead due to lung cancer….but his advice works. Book is like 10dollars on Amazon.

      It helps you brainwash/de-brainwash yourself from smoking, and wihout those nasty crawings.
      Alan Carr is to smoking what MMM is to finance.

  • Jessica Thompson December 13, 2022, 12:04 am

    This is great, and I wish you’d do a burn on Reno, NV which somehow manages to be MORE expensive than SF considering the quality you get! Nonetheless, no state income tax, lower expectations, low traffic and easy to get around and tons of free entertainment in the beautiful Sierra Nevadas. Like you implied, food is affordable in many places if you cook your own. I wish I could do all my chores by myself but I’m disabled. So I try to work on my tolerance of disorder and chaos each day.

  • Samantha Cook December 13, 2022, 11:13 am

    Thanks for posting again MMM! I’ve missed reading your entries.
    I live in New York City, which is another bizarro social lab. One of the few budget perks here is that one absolutely does not need a car in order to live here, and yet I am constantly bemused by my work colleagues who rush in just as their shift is supposed to start saying “Omg that was so stressful I couldn’t find a parking spot!” Jeez, seriously?!
    Also, I’m currently making a ton of money working at a big hotel in midtown in the banquets services department. I am going part time soon because the schedule is ludicrous and I’m willing to trade a lot of the money I’m making for better mental and physical health. The weird “normal” thing I’ve noticed is that this change seems frowned upon by those I’m surrounded by. They cannot fathom why I would want to give up all that money just so that I could “do nothing instead.” While I might miss the camaraderie of the hard-core ride-or-die full time staff, I know in my heart of hearts that this is the right move for me. I’m ready for a new normal that will include park workouts, DIY housework, music playing, library perusing, and hopefully some FIRE community hangouts! :)

  • Jessica December 13, 2022, 1:30 pm

    Oh my! So many comments from people upset about generalities. Why can’t we get past being offended by observations and ideas that don’t 100% match our own observations and ideas. We learn and grow by sharing our experiences and they simply are not representative of every individual experience because they are UNIQUE. I guess we need to put a disclaimer on everything less it offend … but instead I’d rather see mature and generous interactions than all the “not me!” stuff.

    Honestly, most people would be in huge trouble after 1 month if they lost their job. Most people have no or very little savings. Most people drive to work and spend a huge proportion of their salary on cars. If that’s not you, that’s awesome! If it is you and you want to get control, there are things you can do and reading this blog could really help get you started.

  • Dan December 13, 2022, 5:53 pm

    I don’t live in California, and have only been there a few times, not for many years, but I did really resonate with the idea of living in a bubble, and being shocked when travelling outside the bubble. For me, the bubble is mostly my wife and I, and people at the food bank where I volunteer, and travelling outside the bubble can be as easy as watching commercials on TV. I don’t have cable, but do see them on free streaming services. Ignore the commercials, and enjoy the free TV! One of many ways to beat the system!

  • Amanda V December 14, 2022, 11:12 am

    I grew up in California (Napa Valley) and now live in Boulder County right in your little bubble. This article totally rang true. In the big/trendy cities, you can find people living a ridiculous lifestyle. But you can find those same people right here in Boulder (the city of Boulder) as well. My favorite quote of yours is when you referred to it as “living in a literal hurricane of cash”.

    Thanks for the article. A good reminder to be intentional with your spending choices and to ignore the Jones’s next door. Nothing is “normal”.

  • dll December 15, 2022, 3:31 pm

    1. I could be wrong, but I think that the trip to san francisco is just being used to make the same point in a different way that what is normal isn’t necessarily the way it should be if we want the planet to survive, which I believe is the whole point of the blog.
    2. I am not surrounded by mustachian people. I think quite often about what is normal. I work at a program for the mentally ill. Most have poor physical health. What is normal is to feed them a typical american diet of high fat, salt and sugar.The result is pre-diabetes, diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure etc. This is just one example of normal. For me it is nice to be reminded there are people who have the same values as me. It strengthens my resolve when surrounded by people who do not.

  • Aaron Hemry December 16, 2022, 6:04 am


    Thanks for traveling there and reporting back so I don’t have to. Your descriptions made the place come alive with the good the bad and the ugly.
    I love living in Ohio and I love traveling to new places.
    I’ll skip the bay area for now, as there are plenty of other beautiful spots closer to home.

  • Melissa December 16, 2022, 7:47 am

    Thank you for your article! I live in a suburb of the north bay and agree everything you said is spot on! Going out to eat is a favorite pastime in my town. “Hey- have you tried that new restaurant?” “Um, no”. I also love hiking in the rain- mushrooms, moss, fresh air, and on a rainy day we are ALWAYS the only car at the trail head. Californians really are scared of rain.

    But, I do get sucked into the bubble. Everyone here (yes, everyone, lol) has their kids in several extracurriculars – music, baseball, theater and, and, and), and I start to feel like simply taking my kids to the beach and playing Monopoly is doing them a disservice. For real, if I am not spending my life shuttling my kids around and spending 1000’s of dollars to do it, I am I even living? And I love my luxury, driving couch. I use it to get to “The City”, the beach, Tahoe. Driving to amazing places is the appeal of living here.

    Thanks for the outside perspective. I needed it.

  • Elizabeth December 18, 2022, 8:56 pm

    I live just north of Sacramento and many people in neighborhood commute to work in San Francisco. Electrician, prison workers, and tech so a car is a necessity for some. The prison worker lives in a trailer on prison grounds on his work days. The Electrician owns the company with his father and stays at his house when they have scheduled jobs. San Francisco is to expensive for the majority so they have to commute in.

  • Jen December 18, 2022, 8:56 pm

    I live just north of Sacramento and many people in neighborhood commute to work in San Francisco. Electrician, prison workers, and tech so a car is a necessity for some. The prison worker lives in a trailer on prison grounds on his work days. The Electrician owns the company with his father and stays at his house when they have scheduled jobs. San Francisco is to expensive for the majority so they have to commute in.

  • Matthias December 19, 2022, 12:12 am

    I’m from Germany and even though everything here is sized at a smaller scale (and I appreciate that), your observations sound similar also here. It’s a “lifestyle inflation” which everybody sees as normal, since the last decade made it too easy for them. They built houses that they can’t pay for, bought SUVs for which they cannot find a parking lot and live a life that doesn’t make them happy. And now with growing inflation and debts, they get into trouble. Slowly they realize that their previous life cannot be considered to be “normal” and that it’s more normal to cope with less money and more “real-life” problems, that go beyond their luxury problems. Well to those who are more “grounded” in some way and as I see it, in Germany that’s in general more the case than in the US. But on another level, I fear it’s a worldwide phenomenon for many people who do not suffer from war, poverty or money problems.

    I like your post MMM, it helps to reflect my own lifestyle at the end of the year. I think I’m good at not spending money for useless things, I have a beloved family and a job which I like and where my heart and soul go, but in general I have some areas where I could improve:

    1. In general, I want to take more time for children and family.
    2. For money investments, I want to act less as trader and more as investor. In 2022, I’ve beaten the stock market by some percentage points, but I also made many unneccessary mistakes which stole my nerves and made me angry. It’s not worth it, at least not how I handled it.
    3. Do more for my mental health by meditating or taking walks.
    4. Do more for my mental silence by less consuming social media and hectic news.
    5. Do more for my physical health by eating the right things and consuming less alcohol and sweets.
    6. Do more for my physical health by doing more sports (at least more than in the second half of 2022, which was really bad and frustrated me additionally).

    Greetings from Frankfurt area,

  • Asa December 19, 2022, 8:14 am

    Hey Pete, do you ever watch notjustbikes on YouTube? I think it would really resonate with you. It’s heavily linked to the strong towns movement, which is be very surprised if you weren’t aware of.

  • Secret Squirrel December 21, 2022, 12:18 pm

    I grew up in the Bay Area (Santa Clara,) it was a fine place to be a kid and grow up, but to try to make it as an adult it is very difficult. What no one seems to be talking about with the Bay Area culture is the busyness and workaholics. Many people work constantly and think they need to keep working when they get home. If you want to do anything outside of work and you don’t live down the street, you do TONS of driving to go hiking, see friends, go out to dinner. The Bay is such a spread out area it is very rare to have a tight knit close community.
    I moved to Reno, NV 6 years ago. My life is so much different, and better. I hardly drive at all because my jobs as a carpenter are literally in the neighborhood. We have 3 friends that live on our street. We could afford to buy a home in a nice area. We are close to Lake Tahoe and the mountains, and having 4 seasons is amazing.
    People need to calm down about generalizations. Generalizations are used because they are TRUE, and with generalizations there are always exceptions. I’m glad some of you can live in SF on $22k a year, but I CANNOT ascertain how you do, and you are an exception. Someone wanting to move to the SF Bay could not live on $22k a year, unless they were homeless. So your unique situation is great, but not helpful at all in describing the general life and culture in the Bay Area.

  • Larry Roth December 22, 2022, 1:39 pm

    After living in the Bay Area (San Jose–Cupertino School District) and working for a large defense contractor who had gone full Milton Friedman for several years, I moved to the Midwest (Kansas City) in 1995. I’d read Paul Terhorst’s book “Cashing in on the American Dream” and Joe Dominguez’s and Vicki Robin’s book “Your Money or Your Life” and had run the numbers for two years, so I knew I would live without a job. My coworkers thought I was crazy, and many of them waited for me to crash and burn as long as they were alive. I didn’t. My partner and I visited the Bay Area in 2018, and that confirmed what I already knew. Going full FI was the right choice for me.

    BTW, today’s high temperature in Kansas City will be below zero, and I still don’t miss California!

  • Dave December 23, 2022, 8:11 am

    Trading an electric car for an ice car. Your getting a slight improvement in emissions but you continue promoting all the bad habits of ice cars. Less exercise, gridlock, danger to pedestrians ect. Not much further ahead. Better to work towards a ban to all vehicles in dense urban areas

  • MKE December 27, 2022, 11:59 am

    MMM could have prefaced his comments with “Like everywhere else in America,” or simply replaced the word “California” with “USA” and then 90% of the comments would not be about how he supposedly is isolating California, even though he is not. The affluent neighborhood I live in is designed to create the same problems. Colorado is not as bad as California, but it’s headed there, and unfortunately Wisconsin is trying for the same sad shit. The entire USA is currently attempting to get as bad or worse as what he is describing.

    I read three well-researched and thoroughly documented books this year that basically confirm that the modern world is designed to make humans miserable. “Strong Towns,” “Confessions of a Recovering Engineer,” and “Stolen Focus.”

    I struggle now with when enough is enough. The mustachian lifestyle is normal to me. But I never had a high income. Covid cratered my businesses. It’s also tough to transition to less work after decades of never working as little as one job. It’s one thing to maybe have enough. It’s quite another to think you have enough. I am no match, net-worth wise, for the people described in the earlier MMM post who had eye-popping incomes and astonishing net worth, but couldn’t voluntarily stop. It’s too easy to look around and see (or read on the MMM blog) about people who made 5 to 20 times what I made and think I could possibly have enough to sustain.

  • CaptainFI January 4, 2023, 7:59 am

    Great read, definitely got flashbacks to my time living in Sydney, NSW Australia when I was flying full time. I was frequently ridiculed for riding my ebike to work (the airport) and was even told off by my manager as it was ‘unbecoming for a pilot’ – LMAO. Anyway, I feel since ‘FIRE’ing earlier this year and moving to Adelaide, SA Australia, my new (technically hometown) has a lot more in common with Longmont than I realised.

    I am currently visiting Manilla in the Phillipines (my partner is Filipino) and wow, it’s like Sydney (or California?) on steroids. Epic congestion, and it takes about two to hour hours to literally get anywhere. We sit in these SUVs and 4WDs whilst mopeds and various motorised contraptions rocket about us, yet somehow we are all stuck in gridlock. It’s ‘driving’ me crazy, and really reminding me why I hated Sydney in the first place

    It’s just SO inefficient. I’d rather actually be doing something than be stuck in bloody traffic all the time. I suppose a bit of culture shock is good every now and then, it certainly has made me reflect on just how bloody good I have it back home in Adelaide.


  • Geneva January 9, 2023, 10:46 pm

    1. The fact that SF has a far greater walk-to-work percentage than the rest of the country is itself evidence of how disingenuous calling it “the California Effect” is. MMM, this post shows less respect for your readership that I’m used to.

    2. Don’t hate it ‘cuz you ain’t it!

  • Leah January 11, 2023, 10:52 am

    I would have thought that biking for groceries where I live (Wildwood MO) was too hard – its quite hilly. But, thanks to my husband, it had become quite reasonable. Time is the biggest issue for doing this to me. I still catch myself saying or thinking things are ridiculous and out of the question, when of course they’re not. Reading this, and my husband’s easy adjustment to your attitude, are consistent reminders to check my “normal”. I appreciate it greatly.

  • Frederick January 11, 2023, 12:25 pm

    CA has 1.02 car crash deaths per 100 million miles driven. CO has 1.17.

    See https://worldpopulationreview.com/state-rankings/fatal-car-accidents-by-state

  • Diana January 11, 2023, 2:13 pm

    IDK how I missed this article- Pete we met at the MMM meetup in that new dogpatch park in SF in like, maybe 2014? Next time you’re here get on the new closed JFK in golden gate park during rush hour and count the number of Rad Power Wagons you see hauling multiple kids to and from school/daycare. It’s pretty frigging great. This is actually a very easy place to opt out of car culture compared to the rest of the country- go pick on someone else!!

  • Runs Beneath Shadows January 31, 2023, 6:48 am

    I moved out to Cali from the intermountain west to make that sweet sweet Cali paycheck knowing full-well that I wouldn’t last more than 5 years here. But I am paying off debt, saving like crazy, and have the time to really consider where I want to end up.

    This post hit the nail on the head. I really can’t stand it here in California, but had such a hard time articulating it. I say things like, “It’s so hot, there’s no water, it’s so crowded, people only care about flash, everything is hours away from everything,” which only sounds like complaining. This is articulated beautifully. Thank you for the writing.

  • Jon D. January 31, 2023, 7:55 am

    The absolute LACK of cycling in Los Angeles is astounding to me. Today is January 31, and their forecast is 65°f and SUN… Yet almost no one will use their bike to get around, but spend an hour in the car to cover 10 miles. WTF?

  • Colette February 1, 2023, 7:42 pm

    Interesting piece but as a longterm (>30 years) denizen of the Bay Area I have to disagree on many of your perceptions. Aside from the techies, who mostly aren’t from here & are culturally different, it’s far more common for folks here to bicycle & drive less, form TICs or be open to alt ways of cohabitation, and in general innovate in housing, transportation and income. What you describe to me–driving to far away appointments, not using public transport etc sounds much more like LA. And the “California Effect”- that’s kind of like someone watching a TV show set & made in LA and assuming that’s the whole state? It’s a large and diverse state in all ways. The Bay Area became prohibitively expensive for newcomers when tech grew, around the late 90s. There are many people here who aren’t part of that wave. Any way, new to your blog & look forward to reading more of your posts.

  • Chris February 2, 2023, 4:42 pm

    I don’t think I could live in a high cost of living area like San Francisco. I think once you do, you almost feel compelled to live like everyone else does or be the “cheap weirdo.” I live in a low cost of living area, its not the best, but it works. I am in Aurora, Colorado, which often gets goofed on as one of the worst areas to live in the Denver, metro. But, I have been here for 30 years and I don’t have a mortgage, and I get a break on my taxes because my husband (who passed) was a senior citizen. I often think of moving, or downsizing as I get older, but where do I go? Denver has become ridiculously expensive over the last few years. I love Denver, but my home and lifestyle works for me. Its not fancy, but who cares. Plus I don’t have an HOA, so If I want to park my camper in the driveway or have chickens, nobody cares.

  • Johnny February 3, 2023, 8:35 am

    hey MMM, you mention that we still have a lot of work to do. Does this not spur you on to write more? You’ve been pivotal in opening hundreds of thousands of people’s eyes to the way of FI. And I guess on the back of that, where do you think we can improve/innovate within the FIRE movement to help the ultraconsumers see the way of the mustachians?

  • Karthick February 6, 2023, 3:16 am

    The outrage police in this post is a big reason why I feel comments are a pointless feature. Like the story of the farmer, his son and the donkey, where he keeps changing who sits on the donkey to the whims and criticisms of various people, you need not give in to such critics as your tone and point of view will get lost. Sincerely, a fan!

  • Lady Coffey February 6, 2023, 3:41 pm

    What a strange assessment of the Bay Area. Many cities, including New York City and London, refer to themselves as “The City” for practical/conversational reasons. I spent many happy days in the Bay Area enjoying the student culture pretty cheaply, and this post does not capture the spirit of the area that I experienced. It reads as rather…bitter.

  • KC February 10, 2023, 8:08 am

    I get that the ethic with this blog is more on the “what you can do to make your life better,” which I find really helpful for me. The kind of change we need is systemic, though. Sure, people should walk and bike to work more, but we need more dense housing and mixed use and fewer single family homes to make it happen – especially where NIMBYs fight tooth and nail against anything other than McMansions and strip malls.

    • Mr. Money Mustache February 10, 2023, 3:29 pm

      Yeah! I agree – making cities that are NOT built for cars is one of my biggest interests these days: https://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2017/02/10/the-happy-city/

      However, every single time someone reads one of these articles and decides to replace one car trip with a walking/biking trip, that is one step towards systemic change. Because it changes the road use patterns, and possibly their future voting patterns, and normalizes the idea. If you carry this across twelve years and tens of millions of readers of this website alone, and hundreds of millions of impressions of similar ideas on other publications, we really start to see some change!

      It is definitely happening, just painfully slowly for my tastes.

  • Mandy Patinkin February 10, 2023, 11:22 pm

    I was born in Southern California and have lived between San Diego and Los Angeles my entire life. The cities offer so much diversity, not everything is rich this and rich that. That’s not to say I haven’t run into that way more than when I visit other states and cities, but this is the choice people make when living here.

    Here’s the thing though… I would caution you, as someone many look up to (especially those of us living and loving it in California), to not assume your bubble is the right one. The article came off as judgmental and ignorant of all the different ways someone can live and enjoy their life. This is coming from someone who has made a lot of great changes in their life thanks to your earlier articles. Please keep that up and come at it from a perspective of still wanting to help everyone.

  • Jen February 16, 2023, 4:06 pm

    It is extremely helpful to ponder the idea that one’s life is a little bubble that can change dramatically, and you can adapt.

    Two weeks ago I fell and badly fractured my ankle. One surgery later, I am hopping behind a walker for 6 weeks and looking at 6-12 months for recovery.

    When I get down about it, I reread this article and think: I can adapt to this and maybe make some long-term positive health shifts because of it.

    Thank you, MMM! Your words really help.

  • Jonathan March 1, 2023, 12:49 am

    I lived in the Bay Area but moved out after the last big financial crash and expensive health issues from renovating a toxic house left me a bit hobbled. I almost moved back for a woman who was lovely but broke and I didn’t want to do the financial grind again. I still live in California in Mt Shasta. I figure I’ve saved $200 grand in rent since I left and have about $200K of equity in a small house that I bought for $135K! that I’m fixing up slowly with no debt and building an ADU that I’ll live in and rent the house. I walk everywhere. The town has a new bike and pedestrian plan and a new ski lift though the backcountry is free and excellent. I miss the variety of the Bay but I’d never be able to afford my own place there again. My remote business is starting to take off and I’ll have about $70K or recurring contracted income and will soon be able to work from anywhere so Mt Shasta can just become a basecamp or a rental once all the work is finished. I do miss the girlfriend, it would have been really nice to enjoy freedom together outside the Bay but more than likely I’d have joined her life and we’d be stuck in an overpriced apartment in the Bay commuting in shiny metal boxes for the duration It once took me 4 hours to drive from SF to her home in half moon bay… It’s not really living. Last year I wen to Argentina for a couple of months and spent a total of $1000 for housing food and fun on an organic winery with a swimming pool helping a friend build his house. Muy divertido. That’s living.

  • Long March 13, 2023, 10:45 am

    I lived all over the Bay Area from 2005 until 2016 when I moved from Hawaii to Oakland for college. In that time, the San Francisco Bay Area epitomized gentrification. Luckily though, I was striving for FIRE in my finance career but didn’t know it was called that at the time. I made 1 non-mustachian purchase which was buying in April 2010, a 1-yr old used 2009 Mazda 3 for $12,500 right after I received my first “real” job after college. My job paid $14.42/hr + commission. My rent in SF was $600/month in 2011. I shared with 2 others in the home. I caught the train the first day to work from San Francisco to San Mateo, walked the 1 mile or so to the office, and thought “fuck this, everybody has a car” so I caved and took out a car loan to finance the car. It was my “normal” as MMM described.

    Fortunately I had the “all debt is bad” mindset at the time so I paid off that car within 2 years (interest was 5.5%, monthly payments ~$500!) and was completely debt-free after I paid off all ~$50,000 student loans…some were government 1.99% all the way up private loans of 10%+…I noticed my bubble was eating out paying for expensive meals, purchasing new phones, and catching Ubers before uber became mainstream. I ate ramen a lot, used a flip phone, and caught the BART/MUNI to get around when I lived and worked in San Francisco proper. I realized I’m not making all that much money but at least I’m saving it in my 401k and Roth accounts.

    Now, I’m married to my wife who I met in 2016 before moving to Miami (which is also worse bubble than the bay area). My in-laws are from Vietnam, and achieved FIRE. They’re in their 50s, definitely FIRE well before then but love their work so they continue it. I pick their brain as much as I can but if I were to summarize, it would be because they follow the MMM way. My wife has it good from a money standpoint (she always has a safety net) so she isn’t as frugal and financially conservative as me in some ways. She is more business savvy bc she was around to see her parents grow their businesses and real estate investments. I have an employee mindset which she points out to me. After she tells me this, I wondered what kind of bubble did I live in throughout the bay area that working in a cubicle after commuting 1+ hr to work is “normal”?

    I live in Miami now, making more than I have ever made in my lifetime. We have “good” debt, her student loans and the mortgage on our not-too-big 2/2 home. She also has 2 locations for her business that I am helping out with.

    The post from MMM doesn’t just apply to SF, it really is every big metropolis around the globe.

    Originally, I came here to see if MMM would update his blog regarding inflation and the recent SVB bank crisis. Pleasantly surprised I was sidetracked to read this instead because I was compelled to comment as I’ve been a long time reader/follower but this is my 1st time post/comment on his blog/forums.

    Thanks for your content and what you do for those striving for FIRE like me.



Leave a Reply

To keep things non-promotional, please use a real name or nickname
(not Blogger @ My Blog Name)

The most useful comments are those written with the goal of learning from or helping out other readers – after reading the whole article and all the earlier comments. Complaints and insults generally won’t make the cut here, but by all means write them on your own blog!


welcome new readers

Take a look around. If you think you are hardcore enough to handle Maximum Mustache, feel free to start at the first article and read your way up to the present using the links at the bottom of each article.

For more casual sampling, have a look at this complete list of all posts since the beginning of time or download the mobile app. Go ahead and click on any titles that intrigue you, and I hope to see you around here more often.

Love, Mr. Money Mustache

latest tweets