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The Arizona Experiment!

The thing that drew me to early retirement is freedom, and that’s still the best part of it. 

Back in 2005, the primary reason for this freedom-seeking was being able to devote my best hours to being a Dad – I had a feeling my career in tech would be too demanding to sustain once the full-time job of raising children kicked in.

Eighteen years later, wow has that guess ever turned out to be right. Early retirement has proved to be the most amazing, worthwhile adventure and it’s still just getting started. It was an astonishing thirteen years ago that I wrote to you about Little MM starting kindergarten, and now he’s done with high school.

It has given me the space to enjoy so many new experiences, working hard and playing hard sometimes, but also slowing things way down when necessary, to deal with and grow through some real hardships.

But now, with that child-raising phase finally almost done, I’m cashing in a few of those Freedom Chips for a particularly big change: moving to a warm sunny place for the winter to try out a new life in the walkable, bikeable, car-free community you’ve probably heard me raving about in the past: Culdesac Tempe.

So on the first of December I’ll be packing up the essential clothes, tools and gadgets, and throwing my very best mountain bike onto the Model Y to make the epic road trip across the mountains. Just in time to escape the incoming Colorado winter. And my son will be joining me for the trip!

Looking for updates? I have added a separate tracker page here.

Heading West…

We’ve booked ourselves a spacious two bedroom apartment there, for four full months. Little MM will be roughly alternating his months between Arizona and Colorado so he can still have time with both parents, while I’ll be there the whole time. 

A big part of the fun is that this will force me to invent a whole new life for myself, away from the easy comforts of the big community and plentiful construction sites that keep me so busy here.  It will be both a big change and a significant challenge, which is exactly what all of us need on a regular basis to keep life full of meaning and joy. 

So What Are You Going to Do in Arizona?

Looking forward to replacing this with a *real* Arizona mountain biking picture I will be taking soon.

The exact details are still in the works, and I’d love to hear your ideas and feedback (see the “get in touch” note below. But here’s what I’ve got so far:

  • Meet as many new people as possible, and answer the burning question we all have: what kind of people choose to move to a car-free neighborhood in the center of a super-car-based metropolis?
  • And of course hang out with existing friends who live in the area – did you know our own Coverage Critic (aka Chris Smith) already lives in Culdesac?
  • Share some of the experiences, whether good or bad, here on MMM and on places like Twitter and Instagram so you can live vicariously through this experience.
  • Use my newly liberated extra free time to visit their kickass on-site gym to get in extra good shape. 
  • Use more of that free time to write more blog posts and sweep some of the cobwebs off of this neglected online persona of mine.
  • Look at the weather app on my phone periodically to cackle at the blizzards I’m missing in Colorado and celebrate my good fortune in comparison (the typical “winter” day in Tempe is typically in the mid-70s which means sandals and palm trees and outdoor dining the whole time)
  • Host a few meetups in Culdesac’s outdoor plazas like we did last March
  • Start a quirky free handyman business where I help new residents set up their IKEA furniture and move heavy stuff and hang paintings, as a combo of meeting people and being useful and exercising my compulsion to build stuff.
  • Ride bikes! A lot. Explore the distant corners of the Phoenix metro area and the surrounding desert valley and mountain trails on mountain bikes, regular bikes, and the e-bike that comes included with the first 200 Culdesac apartments.
  • And perhaps most importantly, help my almost-adult son get all sorts of new experiences during his visits, by living in a brand new city for the first time since he was born waaaay back in the same era as my own early retirement.
One of Culdesac’s main “parking lots”, adjoining a restaurant patio
My future gym (specifically the stuff in the far background)

Is There a Bigger Picture To All This?

Okay, you’re onto me. If I’m going to go to the trouble of typing shit into the computer and sharing it with you, there’s usually a purpose behind it other than just journaling my own personal life, and this another one of those cases. 

First of all, there are the first-layer selfish goals: I want to have the best winter ever, meet a bunch of smart new people, and I also want Culdesac to be a huge success so they will build more neighborhoods like this around the country and set an example that permanently improves the way US cities build and expand themselves in the future.

Much Better than Parking Lots

But even if you don’t care about all that, I also want to use this as a little statement about trying deliberate life changes.

By throwing myself into a new community which aligns so nicely with my own values, I hope to serve as a reminder that maybe you might want to try the same thing. Or just try anything new.

In a comfortable, prosperous country like ours, some of the built in tendencies of Human nature tend to work against us, saying,

“Hey – I’ve noticed we have plenty of food and reasonable shelter and that’s good enough.
So let’s just double down on the Netflix, comfort foods, and occasional luxury purchases and that will keep us safe.”

Instead, I want you to set your life treadmill to just a bit of a steeper, healthier incline setting.

That means questioning the status quo and doing your best to keep at least one little experiment on the go in the background. Maybe that means forcing yourself to move to a better place, or taking steps towards getting a new job that gives you a better work-life balance.

The biggest move I ever made was leaving family and friends and my old job behind to move to the US, alone, at age 24. Looking back, I’m shocked I had the courage (and the organizational skills) to pull that off back then. I’ve become older and a bit slower, and so comfortable that it’s hard to imagine doing something so bold now.

But even today 24 years later, I thank my past self every single day for doing it. My present life is an incredibly different and better thing because of that past bit of courage.

The spirit of positive experimentation might also mean starting to challenge your body more regularly – giving it harder work and exposing it to a wider swath of temperatures and movements. Or joining new Meetup groups to expand your circle of friends and experiences. 

It doesn’t really matter exactly what you do, as long as you point your feet in what feels like a good direction and just start moving. Create some purposeful change, which will surely feel a bit difficult, simply because change is hard. And hard things are good. 

Future Arizona Neighbors: I’ll see you in four weeks!

Further reading: I’ve been reading books, doing life experiments, and writing about the value of strategic hardship for a while now. But the latest is a book called Dopamine Nation by the talented psychiatrist/author named Dr. Anna Lembke.

To summarize: your brain creates a baseline for happiness based on the HARDEST thing you do, and then compares everything else to that. So if you do hard things, life in general seems fantastic because of this perspective. If you eliminate all hardship, suddenly even the pleasures of life seem bland, and you live a spoiled and unmotivated life.


To get in touch: send me a DM on Instagram or use the email address “newsletter” at the domain of this website. (Newsletter subscribers can also just reply to this post if you received it via email.)

Interested in stopping by for your own Mini Culdesac Experiment? They have a few short-term rentals available at rather reasonable rates (less than nearby hotels) – check em out at book.culdesac.com

What will you do with your car?

I’m bringing the car just as a convenient electric moving truck to carry two people and four months of living supplies. Once I get there, I’ll find a safe place to park it offsite and live the full car-free lifestyle of Culdesac, much like I do when I’m here at home. I typically only use cars to carry really heavy stuff or for trips to other cities and states, but it’s even easier to accomplish this in Tempe with its location right on the light rail and with their onsite bike, scooter and even car sharing lots.

What about your house?

My place in Colorado is currently set up as a two bedroom house on the main floor, plus an apartment with a separate entrance on the walkout lower level. When I’m at home, I use the whole thing as one home – the apartment just makes a great place to host a fairly constant stream of visiting friends. But for the winter I’m hoping to rent out one of these spaces to a friend or trusted acquaintance who will take good care of everything, while I leave the other section free for the occasional visits I’ll be paying to this area over the winter. Aside from keeping an eye on the place, it will be a great way to practice the age-old Mustachian technique of making money while taking vacations!

What Happens at the End of March?

As it stands, I have no plans beyond this point. I’ll head back to Colorado for my home base, but with this being a new phase of life I’ll be layering on new adventures. Aside from the two mountain properties that I’ve been helping to build out, I just teamed up with a friend to help him create an intentional (and somewhat experimental!) living community in Denver called Wild Life Ranch

We’ll have to cover more of that in a future article, but the basic idea is that he is converting a 13-acre former horse ranch in a relatively prime part of the Denver area, into a future village of higher-end tiny houses and other dwellings. These will be arranged around nice common amenities with a big emphasis on people actually enjoying the process of living together, as opposed to just living separately side-by-side as we tend to do in normal neighborhoods.

  • Loony Luna November 21, 2023, 4:14 am

    Long time lurker, first (and probably only) time commenting.

    @MMM — I’ve been a reader since I was a college student, almost a decade ago now, and your blog heavily influenced my financial choices in my earlier 20s and made a lot of my current life possible. A huge thank you from a very grateful reader.

    “Hey – I’ve noticed we have plenty of food and reasonable shelter and that’s good enough. So let’s just double down on the Netflix, comfort foods, and occasional luxury purchases and that will keep us safe.”
    ^ THIS!! My husband and I are American but live in Europe. Next year we will be moving again, this time to Asia (we work in tech which helps make these lifestyle choices possible). When friends from the US come to visit, they spend their time doing exactly what you describe here… very unsettling. It feels that many of our hometown/university American friends (despite being late 20s like ourselves), have somehow decided to coast through the rest of their very comfortable lives? It is sad for us to see, when our own lives feel like a wonderful mix of challenge, chaos, hard work, and opportunity. Perhaps this is more common in the US than in Europe? I only see it in these visiting friends and our families back home.

    Reply
  • Daryl Herbert December 8, 2023, 11:06 am

    Hey MMM. great article and always enjoying reading your perspectives from a fellow Canadian! I just wonder if getting away from “easy comforts” and giving yourself a “significant challenge’ would be to use this time to leave North America? and trying something even more challening in a different culture without the comforts of a advanced economy like the US? Using your incredible skills to help others? I offer this as a credible thought not as a crtitism of your lifestyle.

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache December 10, 2023, 12:09 pm

      I totally agree! This will be a bigger and better step for me in the future. Arizona is a good beginner level for me and especially my son. But in the near future, I’d love to do some international living – ideally with friends and with a partner along for the ride too. Building up a business or a housing situation that also benefits the local community would be an ideal background framework for such a year.

      Reply
  • Mary Alice December 12, 2023, 6:37 am

    The Fire community is changing…..I was so excited about Econome after listening to the latest episode of ChooseFI but when I went to sign up I got so frustrated. Half a grand for the conference? Really? Once more I realize that the old frugal days of the FIRE movement is over and now it’s about showing off what they call “quality of life” and “value spending”. I feel like this is not my community anymore! Where are those who seek FIRE through hard savings and living WELL below their means? Frugals and minimalists? It seems everyone in the community is already at fat FI/a multimillionaires w/ their Teslas and we beginners or struggling low middle class are left out once again! Sorry about the rant but I wish so badly I had a place in this community.

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache December 12, 2023, 9:37 pm

      Yeah, good point Mary Alice! Depending on what you’re reading and listening to, it does seem like simple living is being downplayed these days and the spendier stuff is being emphasized.

      And you’re right, this approach may be fine for people with higher savings and incomes, but to be honest some of it is setting the wrong example for people still stuck with with crippling car loans or mandatory work sentences that they’d like to shorten.

      The funny part is that I still live the old MMM lifestyle. I JUST biked to Trader Joe’s today and came home with a backpack full of great finds for home cooking, before spending the rest of the day riding bikes around Tempe with my son. I’m living in a nice place for the winter on a very low cost vacation just as I have done in past years.

      I should probably write about happy, frugal living more often so thanks for the reminder.

      Reply
  • Brian December 12, 2023, 5:16 pm

    So, it just looks like a 55+ community with no age restrictions. It also feels like living on a college campus without the classes. LOL.

    Reply
  • Amy December 14, 2023, 2:56 pm

    Welcome to the valley! We are in Mesa, somewhat neighbors :) There are some fun mountain bike trails and hikes near Usery Park and the area surrounding the Salt River, and in general it is pretty bikeable here. I think you are going to love it!

    Reply
  • Justin December 29, 2023, 5:07 pm

    Looking forward to an update on your “quirky free handyman business.” Late last year I lo-key tried the same (with more of a landscaping bent), and though my sample size was admittedly small, I found that people fell into two camps. Either A) “Work for free? That’s weird. No, I’m gonna pay you.” Or B) “Oh, wow, the stars have aligned to send you to us,” but then they’d dillydally and the project would go nowhere. I ultimately came to the conclusion that it helps for people to have some skin in the game. Doesn’t have to be a lot of skin (I charge a nominal hourly rate), but then at least my time has some value in the face of wishywashy behavior or constant course corrections. In case you’re interested, I just posted a sort of annual report on my blog: https://justinsomnia.org/2023/12/accidentally-unretired/ Cheers!

    Reply
  • Jay December 29, 2023, 7:23 pm

    Awesome! What does your son plan to do after high school? I have one in college and one starting next year. Would love to hear some tips on making that as affordable as possible!

    Reply
  • Aub January 4, 2024, 4:18 pm

    As an Arvadan, I’m curious to see what will happen with Wild Life Ranch. It seems isolated (kind of the opposite of Culdesac?) Maybe that’s the idea?

    Personally, I like living closer to Olde Town Arvada: the convenience of the G-line into downtown Denver, many new apartment complexes courtesy of AURA (Arvada Urban Renewal), promotion of bikeways by Bike Friendly Arvada advocacy group, plenty of public natural areas to explore (Van Bibber Open Space, Two Ponds Natural Wildlife Refuge, Ralston Creek trail connecting to the Clear Creek Trail, Majestic View, etc.)

    Reply
  • rh January 18, 2024, 11:37 am

    Hey MMM, any updates? How is the AZ experiment going?

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache January 19, 2024, 10:29 am

      So far so good! I added a tracker page here https://mrmoneymustache.com/culdesac/ and also added a link to the article.

      It’s a bit different than my preconceived expectations, but that just makes it more interesting. Will keep experiencing things through my stay here (It’s January 19th as I type this) and have more useful thoughts by the time I finish it out.

      Reply
  • Anne-Marie January 26, 2024, 4:08 pm

    It strikes me that although Arizona is a new location where you don’t know many people, in other ways it’s not a big change in lifestyle: different scenery but still lots of biking, still very car-optional, still lots of congenial people. If you had moved to a food desert with no public transit or bike lanes in a deep red state… now there’s a challenge!
    (This is not meant to criticize or minimize what you did–I have moved to new places where I knew no-one 5 times since finishing university, so I know how much energy it takes to find your feet!)

    Reply
  • David Ann Arbor February 4, 2024, 2:09 pm

    ok so you did buy that Tesla after all.

    Reply
  • Fred Tydeman February 4, 2024, 11:29 pm

    I suggest you look into visiting the Musical Instrument Museum (https://mim.org/) in the Phoenix area. My wife and I spent 4 hours there and did not see it all. We found it very interesting. They have displays on almost every country.

    Reply
  • Taconite February 15, 2024, 9:39 am

    CNBC’s Fast Money did a story on this on the 2/14/2024 episode.

    Reply
  • Chase May 19, 2024, 3:56 pm

    Any update on how this went? I’m moving to Arizona in about six months and am considering applying here.

    Reply

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