Over the past year I’ve become a fan of the Mr. Money Mustache blog. Mr. Money Mustache (not his real name) is a former engineer who retired at age 30. He didn’t win the lottery or sell a company for billions of dollars. He simple lived far below his means, invested in index funds, and when he accumulated enough wealth to the point where he could live off the his returns indefinitely, he retired to Colorado.
He describes the history of the “stache” in this post but, his strategy basically comes down to saving 50% or more of your income by not doing stupid things with your money, summed up by his catchphrase, “Financial Freedom Through Badassity!” What’s interesting is, a lot of the strategies he recommends to achieve financial independence are the same strategies Epicurus recommends to achieve ataraxia, “a lucid state of robust tranquility, characterized by ongoing freedom from distress and worry.”
A primary strategy Mr. Money Mustache advocates is foregoing luxury, not because he thinks they are inherently bad but rather, they don’t actually bring that much pleasure. Things like fancy restaurants, tech gadgets, and nice cars give you very little value for the price you pay.
Here’s an excerpt from his excellent post, Luxury is Just Another Weakness:
When you wriggle yourself into the narrow nook of luxury, your perspective on the world, and your ability to survive and thrive in it, also constricts dramatically. Like any drug, it can be fun to indulge in occasionally. But to seek to constantly maximize luxury in all areas of your life to the limits of what you can afford? Pure insanity. Just as it would be insane for me to say, “Since I can afford it, I need to start taking drugs for as many of my waking hours as possible. Alternating shots of espresso and fine scotch all day, with hits from the bong every hour on the hour!”
Luxury is a drug that can lead to addiction, a form of self-inflicted slavery.
Now here’s Epicurus:
Poverty, when measured by the goals that nature has set, is great wealth, whereas unlimited wealth is great poverty. – Epicurus
Here, Epicurus says that great wealth is a form of poverty. The desire for stuff breeds more desire for stuff. You are never satisfied.
Mr. Money Mustache is a big fan of eliminating sources of pain in your life. Debt is obviously a big stressor, and he takes the point of view that your debt is an emergency. He also advocates leaving your job, or rather, being able to leave your job if you want to.
So yeah, I would have to say that the dull and neverending nature of big-company work is what did me in. It was definitely pleasant enough to endure for as long as I needed a paycheck. But after that point was passed, the gain was less than the pain so it became logical to leave.
So Mr. Money Mustache did his own Epicurean calculation and decided that big-company work, on balance, was not pleasurable.
The Epicureans in general thought so as well. A high status, well paid career didn’t fit well into their minimalist lifestyle:
How unhappy are the lives of men! How purblind their hearts! In what black ignorance and dark peril their small lives are spent! They do not see how little Nature cries out for. She demands only the secession of pain from the body; she requires only that the mind be secluded from anxiety and dread and enjoy feelings of pleasure. We see, then, that few things, all told, are necessary for the body’s well-being— in fact, only those that shut out pain. – Lucretius
The modern Epicurean then, wouldn’t spend his time looking for his dream job or career; he would limit his needs so that he didn’t need a dream job. He could eliminate much of his daily irritations by simply not working for the man. This would then increase the quality of his life significantly.
Fill life with true pleasures
We’ve established that Mr. Money Mustache adopted the Epicurean ethos by minimizing needs and eliminating pains. But what does he do all day if he’s not at work?
Well, since he was smart enough to move to Colorado, he is able to take advantage of such free activities like….enjoying nature. He spends a significant amount of his time biking and being outside.
Learning to appreciate Nature is one of the most Mustachian skills you can build. Nature is a hub that pulls in the good aspects from every corner of life and combines them for you automatically. You get healthier, because the fresh air and great physical effort that are part of being outside are exactly what your body has been craving. This leads to a draining away of your stress and worry. You are challenged more often, because Nature is full of puzzles. The weather is not constant, the light changes, the ground is not flat, and there is water and air spraying in every direction at various times. Challenge, far from being something to avoid, is also one of the biggest sources of happiness. All of this makes you stronger and more productive and feeds back into the start of the cycle as you step outside at the start of the next day.
He doesn’t spend all his time outside, of course. But the things he chooses to do for fun are pleasure accessible to everyone. He spends time with his family, reads, learns new skills writes on his blog, cooks and eats delicious home-made meals. His life seems full and purposeful. He could attempt to spend his way to happiness, as he is fairly wealthy at this point, but his wealth mainly buys him lots of time to enjoy the “simple things in life” (I apologize for the cliché).
Though Epicureans place more emphasis on removing pain from your life, they left some room for positive pleasures, so long as the negatives of the pleasure did not outweigh the positives.
No pleasure is bad in itself. But the things that make for pleasure in certain cases entail disturbances many times greater than the pleasures themselves. – Epicurus
So Mr. Money Mustache, like the Epicureans, is very cognizant of the experiences that truly bring pleasure. On that note, remember to use the best beard oils if you want the best results!
Overall, I would say that Mr. Money Mustache is a modern-day Epicurean. If you’re trying to find ways to replicate a true Epicurean lifestyle in modern life, read through his blog archive for concrete examples on how to do so.
Here’s to pleasure through badassity!