Day 6

Mr. Money Mustache's guide to badass frugality and retiring at 30

This week, federal and provincial finance ministers came to an agreement to expand the Canada Pension Plan. But Peter Adeny, aka Mr. Money Mustache, has what he thinks is a better path to financial security.
Day 6 guest Peter Adeney, aka Mr. Money Mustache, says extreme saving makes pensions moot. (Bloomberg via Getty Images)

When it comes to planning for retirement, Canadians have a big problem. They're not saving enough. Young people, middle income workers, people with student loans, they're all in danger of going into retirement with no security or having to work well past retirement age just to make ends meet.

Finance minister Bill Morneau and his provincial counterparts set out to change that this week when they announced reforms to the Canada Pension Plan. They see a solution in higher premiums yielding larger benefits. That is, when you're over 60 and old enough to qualify.

That would never have worked for Peter Adeney, the charismatic financial blogger who retired at 30.  He says when planning for retirement, you should leave the government out of it entirely.

Once you are off the mill, you'll feel like Neo did when he unplugged the suction cups from his pale naked body in The Matrix and looked around at the other imprisoned humans.- Peter Adeney, aka Mr. Money Mustache

"I think it's better to seek your own solution to retirement," he told Brent Bambury. 

"If you're in a rush, like I was, it's more like increasing your savings rate and shaving decades off of your own financial independence day, rather than seeing what might happen from the government's coffers when you're 65 years old."

He should know.

On the wealth he grew in just a decade, Adeney supports his family and enjoys a lifestyle that he finds infinitely preferable to the debt-ridden rat race so many of his contemporaries bought their way into. 

Here's how he describes it on his blog: "Once you are off the mill, you'll feel like Neo did when he unplugged the suction cups from his pale naked body in The Matrix and looked around at the other imprisoned humans."

A grand bargain with yourself

Adeney and his blog are known online as Mr. Money Mustache, and thousands of readers pore over posts with titles like 'The Shockingly Simple Math Behind Early Retirement' and 'Join the Cult.'  But it doesn't seem like a cult when he describes his approach to spending and saving. It's more like an adjustment, recalibrating to a different kind of stimulus and reward.

Peter Adeney, aka Mr. Money Mustache (@mrmoneymustache)

Adeney shifts the pleasure in consumerism from the act of obtaining the product you spend your money on to the joy you experience when you hold onto that cash and exert control over impulses.

"There's a lot of joy in self-control," he says.

"If you think you're getting rewards from buying their cars and buying more junk for yourself, then you're going to keep seeking out that reward," he explains. "If you train yourself to get rewards from self-control... then you'll find that you get better and better at those behaviours."

How to be a financial badass

Adeney has a word for the mastery of the difficult decision: Badassity. When you execute a money-saving workaround, it's not a hardship or a deprivation, it's a ninja move. It's the act of being a badass.

"It's because the most efficient way to be frugal in a rich society like ours is to embrace hardship. The most common type of car that gets sold in Canada is the compact SUV, because people are like, 'Well, I don't want to have to bend over slightly to sit down in the driver seat.  I don't have to wait like 10 seconds to get to highway speed. I need something that will get me there at 6.'"  ​

"Just these little tiny indulgences. They get more and more ridiculous, and instead he can take the opposite approach and say, 'I'm going to take my bike out in a blizzard and get groceries and impress my family.'"

"That's kind of the spirit of badassitude. You end up happier having to do these difficult things instead of pampering yourself and getting lazier and lazier."

For most of us, deeply imprisoned in the matrix of consumerism, that's a big adjustment. But Adeney says it came easily to him.

"I was kind of born with this mentality, which is just a desire for efficiency, to be making something happen.  Efficiency is a form of beauty or art, so I just enjoyed maximizing my fun and finding ways to make it not use up all my money."

Holding onto that money is how he and his wife managed to retire from careers that spanned a single decade, and that accomplishment drives followers into his guru-like online presence. Everyone wants to know how he retired at 30.

"When I look back, it looks like we were spending about $40,000 a year as a couple before we had kids, and a lot of that was going to the mortgage," Adeney remembers.

"We were saving 50 to 60% of her income. So these are software engineer salaries, fairly good income. By the time we quit we had savings up somewhere around $800,000 or $900,000. Some of that was owning a lot of our house, and the rest of it was simple index fund Investments which can generate cash flow through dividends."

Four wheels bad

But wait. How do you end up banking 60% of your income? Adeney says a lot of families are throwing their money away on their cars.

"I definitely noticed that I'm an anomaly, and I didn't think I was until after I retired and I noticed that everybody else in my age group was still broke and living from car payment a car payment," he says.

Adeney thinks the North American reliance on the car is worth challenging. For him a bicycle is more than another mode of transportation. He calls it a "money-printing fountain of youth."

Mr. Money Mustache says you probably don't need the $100,000 Tesla. (Getty Images)

"The classic example I like to give is instead of depending on car transportation, replacing some of it with the bike. Instead of having hundreds of kilometres of travel every day, see if you can find ways to have the same amount of fun within a small radius of your home. And just that little trick can cut $10,000 to $20,000 off your annual spending, which in turn cuts 10 to 20 years off your retirement date."

"If you do it right."

They're frugal, not ascetics

Adeney says his family spends about $25,000 dollars a year now. Their house is paid off and work is something he does when he's inspired. But he doesn't think his family lives an ascetic life. He says it's fine to indulge in the occasional high-end coffee, as long as it f doesn't go too far.

"A latte at Starbucks is a pleasure if you go out one weekend with your friend and savor that. However it's a destructive habit the way most people do it, which is idling in the drive-thru in their $30,000 Ford pickup. And they do that on their way to work and instead of being a $4 per month, which is a nice luxury, it will become a $300 per month. Or it will become happy hour, that's $100 every Friday."

"We have to draw the distinction between the short-term treats that are genuinely happy, and long-term destructive habits that cost a whole bunch of money."

See? It is shockingly simple.