This week’s New Yorker had an interesting profile on Peter Adeney, whose wildly successful blog, Mr. Money Mustache, promotes achieving financial freedom. His methods may be extreme, but, ultimately, if you follow them, you’re a lot more likely to get that freedom than you are by signing up for some get rich quick scheme. (Think all those folks who were going to become mini-Trumps by flipping houses. And all the people who get caught up in Ponzoid programs that are little more than chain letters.)
No, Adeney is about achieving financial freedom the old fashioned way: by saving rather than spending. And he’s serious about it, living an amazingly frugal lifestyle that enabled him to amass enough to retire quite young and to live (by his frugal standards, in a fully paid off house) quite comfortably. His approach has paid off handsomely. His blog earns him $400K a year, but he continues to live a pure, non-consuming life. For Adeney, having time to do whatever he wants is more important than sporting around in a fancy car (mostly he walks or rides his bike). Or even owning the pedestrian items that most Americans consider necessities of life, like a clothes dryer.
It’s not explicitly stated, but Adeney’s a big believer that you don’t own your possessions; they own you.
Hmmmm. Where have I heard that before?
While I don’t think anyone would ever have used the word frugal to describe my husband – his personality was way too expansive, and he was exceedingly generous - he was one of the only people I’ve ever known who had absolutely no interest in acquiring a lot of stuff.
Occasionally, he’d make a weirdly extravagant purchase – as when he got that crazy massage chair at Brookstone. And then there was that flat-screen TV that used to
grace dominate our living room. (Sorry, hon, it’s gone. These days, the TV chez nous is a bit smaller, and it’s in the den.) But mostly Jim couldn’t have cared less about things.
Like many men, he hated to shop, but even by male standards, he was extreme.
As for clothing, Jim had the bare minimum. Take shoes. He had one pair of dress shoes (to wear with his one and only suit). He had one pair of casual shoes, a pair of sneakers, and a pair of winter hiking boots. When they fell apart, he’d replace them.
He had enough underwear and socks to get through the week, a handful of long-sleeved shirts, a handful of short sleeved shirts, a couple of pairs of jeans, a couple of pairs of cords, a couple of pairs of socks. A light jacket. A winter jacket. A few fleeces, some hang around sweats. Although I would occasionally augment his clothing repertoire a bit with a purchase, he mostly didn’t want anyone buying anything (clothing or anything else) for him. He did allow my mother to get him an LL Bean shirt every year for Christmas.
He didn’t mind free stuff, however.Quite a bit of Jim’s wardrobe was corporate swag I picked up. He loved the canary-yellow slicker I got at some work event. The long-sleeved grey shirt from the defunct product. He especially loved the exceptionally soft polo shirts one of my clients had in their marketing closet. Whenever I’d visit the company, they’d give me a new one in another color. Jim was wearing one of these logo-shirts when he died.
During the 40 years I was with him, Jim didn’t own a car. (Except for a few years when I worked in the ‘burbs, I didn’t either, for that matter.) No need for one. We lived in city so we could walk or take public transportation. Rent a car as needed.
Jim liked to buy books. That was about it.
He was quasi-interested in helping pick when we needed furniture. Mostly he wanted to make sure a couch was comfy. With the exception of a poster we got in an antique store in Vermont, and the street artist poster we bought in Berlin when we were there to witness the fall of The Wall, virtually every decorative anything in our home was my doing. Mostly he liked what I put on the walls or placed on the mantel. But left to his own devices, he would have lived a less decorated existence.
Jim’s indulgence was travel and eating out, both of which we did plenty of. We generally stayed in pretty nice places, and ate in pretty nice restaurants. (I won’t get into frequent flyer miles here. That’s a tale for another day.)
But Jim from the get go was a saver. His first year working after college – this would have been 1966 – he made a bit over $5K. And saved $1.3K. I have proof of the former (his tax return), and his word on the latter. But I completely believe it.
Jim was very careful with his money, which enabled him to work only when a project that interested him came his way, and/or he decided it was financially worth the effort. He valued his time, and he valued his freedom. So he made sure he had plenty of both. Having minimal consumer desires let him achieve this.
I am nowhere near the non-consumer that Jim was. I’m not a crazed, obsessive spender, but I do like stuff. And sweaters. And having more than four pairs of shoes.
Of course, if given the choice between more stuff and more time with my rag-bag of a husband, the choice would be pretty clear.
Jim didn’t have a mustache, and he wasn’t as extreme as Peter Adeney, but reading about Mr. Money Mustache reminded me – as if I need a reminder – of just what I’ve been missing the last two years.
You may need a paid subscription – another luxury, I suppose – but here’s the link to the New Yorker article.