How to Retire in Five Years: Mr. Money Mustache’s Lessons in Frugality

Calm day on the Indian ocean with beautiful cloud reflection in the glassy water.

Frugality will get you here.

If you couldn’t already tell, I’m a budget traveler and I plan on being one for life. I like to travel alone or in a small group, I take buses instead of flying, I stay in hostel dorm rooms, I use frequent flyer miles when I need to fly and I travel light. I’m always thinking that every dollar saved can be used towards future travel or other fun stuff, especially when you travel to places where you can live for $20 per day. I’ve been thinking a lot about how to incorporate that frugality into my daily life and I stumbled upon this awesome site run by a guy who calls himself Mr. Money Mustache:

He calls his readers “Mustachians” and they talk about things like setting yourself up for early retirement by saving and investing:

What 38 year old, retired blogger Mr. Money Mustache would do if he woke up broke tomorrow.

He’s really into reducing flashy, wasteful consumerism and I’ve poked around quite a bit on his site and recently took a lot of his recommendations to heart. In my new job in Portland, Oregon I’ve done the following things to reduce my cost of living and improve my savings rate, which I might not have done had I not read a lot of his material:

  • I moved into a two-bedroom apartment that is right across the street from my job. The project is way out in Hillsboro, about 20 miles from Downtown Portland. By moving so close to the job I cut out potentially 2 hours of commuting time (had I lived in the city instead) each day. I can use that time to work out, write more stuff for the blog or just sit and stare at the wall and decompress every day. I can wake up later and be less cranky when I go into work early. I can walk home to grab lunch, saving lots of money if I cook for myself. The downtown area is still accessible by a 30-minute light rail trip (public transportation!) if I do want to grab drinks on the weekends. I reduce temptation to go out to eat at all the super tasty restaurants all over town, but can still access them once in awhile. And I save loads of money on fuel and vehicle maintenance costs.
  • I got a roommate. I really enjoyed my time living alone in Phoenix but this deal just made sense. I’m splitting rent with a fellow employee who will be traveling home to California most weekends so I get the best of both worlds – split rent and utilities, and the place almost to myself. The lease is only 6 months which affords us great flexibility if things don’t work out after that amount of time but I think everything is going to work out wonderfully.
  • I canceled my $70 per month cell phone bill. Work gave me a smartphone so I’ll be using that as my primary phone as well. I simply don’t have enough pockets to carry around two phones all day and the small amount of stress that having two phones to check will be nice to rid myself of.
  • I wont be signing up for cable. Most of my entertainment comes via the internet these days anyways. I stopped watching programmed television a couple of years ago and the things I do with my time in lieu of that seem to be much healthier. I tried to watch TV in my hotel room the other day but I shut it off during the second commercial break when someone tried brainwashing me into buying a new car. I don’t miss it at all.
  • Complete 10 weeks of the “You Are Your Own Gym” workout. Based on the recommendation of my very fit soldier cousin I downloaded the $1.99 app titled “You Are Your Own Gym” which teaches you how to work out using your own body weight, no free weights or gym membership needed. I did the first 40-minute workout last week and couldn’t move my arms for 4 days. I think it’s going to work. It takes less than four hours per week and it prevents me from having to go to a gym – saving fuel, time and gym membership fees. It can be done anywhere, which means I can keep it up while traveling and It will produce an all around athletic appearance, which I prefer to the top-heavy muscle man look.

Some things I’m considering doing in the near future:

  • Selling my truck and buying an economical hatchback. I really like my truck so this is a tough one. It’s been a great, reliable vehicle for the last 6 years for me. I think it looks really cool. It has four doors and a sweet camper shell. I think girls kind of dig it too. However, the beast gets 17-20 mpg which is really unacceptable to me, it hurts my frugal heart and our emissions damaged planet. I’ve seen some of the same model 2002 Toyota Tacomas with higher miles selling for more than I originally bought the truck for back in 2006. At that price it would easily cover the cost of the used hatchback I would like to get, a 2012 Ford Focus. The truck has given me great mobility to move around the country, after selling everything to travel. Downsizing to a hatchback would require that I get rid of even more stuff. A new challenge!!
My 2002 Silver Toyota Tacoma

Potentially for sale very soon in Oregon.

  • Buying a house. You may be saying to yourself “but Brandon, didn’t you once write an article titled “Why I May Never Own a Home”? The operative word there is may. I’m going to analyze the market based on my own recommendations and it may prove profitable to own a home in Hillsboro where I can live for the duration of the project and rent after if I need to move. I wouldn’t want to impede my freedom to leave the country at any moment by committing to a life-strangling mortgage that I cannot afford and that I couldn’t cover by renting.
  • Learning to cook for myself. This is one of those things I do in lieu of watching TV. I can already cook some things, especially bbq’d trip tip but I’m planning on cooking/preparing way more vegetarian fresh stuff. This will help with one of my life goals, never getting fat, which should reduce future health care costs and lead to a more enjoyable retirement.
  • Getting a library card. I used to have one of these as a kid and my Mom would take me there whenever I wanted. I had library books on my nightstand at all times, and I was always allowed to read whatever I wanted for a half an hour after bedtime. I think this was a genius move by my parents, which played on my desire to stay up later and promoted a good reading habit. While I was selling my stuff to travel I got rid of many of my books and started buying kindle books. While the cost is small, between $5-$15 dollars each, it ads up over time. I did a bit of research on the Hillsboro public library and realized they have free downloadable books (gasp), even some that I want to read. Combine that with the ability to check books out and it’s a killer deal. I won’t be amassing a freedom- destroying library and I get to read cool books. Win-win.

All of these things are really exciting to me. They make me happy, happier than a trip to Vegas. I enjoy thinking about them and sharing them with you guys, I hope these tips will help in some way in your life.

These decisions were easier to make once I prioritized my goals as follows:

  1. Stay healthy – without my health the following goals would be very hard to achieve.
  2. Take care of my family, and start one of my own
  3. Do the best job I can – This will help with numbers 4, 5 and 6 below. Being a kick-ass employee will give you mucho freedom in your life. You’ll make more money, you’ll be presented with better opportunities and you’ll have more negotiating power when you want to stop working and take a big trip.
  4. Save more of the money I earn – to retire early and to travel more.
  5. Build freedom into my life – by reducing and/or eliminating my physical possessions, memberships and addictions; and by making smart investments that grow my net worth.
  6. Travel
  7. Maintain strong friendships – I love my friends, and I really enjoy making new friendships. However, if those friendships got in the way of numbers 1-6 above I would seriously reconsider the relationship.
  8. Continue to pimp out this blog by writing sweet stuff.
  9. Get a dog. Just kidding! I freaking love dogs but they are not conducive to goals 1-6 above, although a puppy might help me meet a girl (#2). I’ll resign myself to dog-sitting my friends’ well-behaved dogs from time to time, like a grandparent watching the grandkids for the weekend.

What are your goals? Have you ever prioritized them like I did above? Do you have any other frugality tips? I would really appreciate your responses in the comment section below!

  • Paul Littlefield

    Hey Bud, Im proud of you. I always knew that awkward kid I met back in high school would get his shit together one day. Wanted to give a personal thanks for the continued conversations revolving around investment strategy. It has helped me grow the most important aspect of personal finance, enthusiasm. Unfortunately it hasn’t seemed to apply to my goals with health & exercise, but with this ridiculous figure of mine is it really that important. Also I might be interested in a mutually beneficial trade in which you get a few of my dogs and I get a little more freedom.

    • Brandon

      Thanks for the comment brother, glad I could help. Love the conversations we have around money for sure. Dude, you’re going to have a six pack for life thanks to those Littlefield genes, so I don’t blame you if you’d rather spend your time dominating at COD instead of pumping iron. As long as you’re offering, I’ll take Chase.

  • Phil Meyer

    Awesome post! Point 3 made me think of one of my favorite books… “so good they can’t ignore you” by cal newport. Great read, worth checking out when you rejoin the working world. The more time goes by the more I believe in the power of goals, love that you put em out there.