We are not Mr. Money Moustache

We got a link from mothers in medicine the other day.

The link was about how one of our DH’s has an allowance, but it also seemed to contain a misunderstanding of our financial selves.

In case there are widespread misunderstandings, we thought we’d clarify a few things.  We are not the FrugalWoods.  We are not Mr. Money Moustache.  We don’t think you need to spend nothing.  (Nor do we think you need to outsource everything!)

We have a strong belief that you should spend where your utility curve hits your budget constraint in a multi-period model that includes the possibility of negative income shocks.  We understand that each person has his or her own utility curve and budget constraint and probability of positive and negative shocks.  In other words, do what makes you happy in both the short-term and the long-term (so long as it doesn’t hurt other people).

What we do doesn’t mean that’s what you should do.  Our utility curves and budget constraints are probably different than yours.  Which is a good thing or Paradise would sink into the ground from too many people.

Yes, for our sins, we are doing just fine with our finances.  How do we know?  Our use of money aligns with our values.  We’re on track (or getting on track) with retirement savings and so on.  We have contingency plans and emergency plans and so on.  We’re going to be ok in most scenarios (and have, so far, been financially ok when life throws curve balls).

No, we’re not planning on retiring early.  No, we don’t think you need to pay off your mortgage (or even have a house at all!)

We spend a ton of money.  Are we frugal?  Well, if frugality means spending in accordance with our values, yes.  But we’re frugal conditional on making a ton of money.  What we spend these days wouldn’t be frugal for say, us even 5 years ago (even 2-3 years ago), because we didn’t have as much money then.

Yes, we’ve sacrificed in the past which means we can spend more now.  Yes, savings and other kinds of cushions have helped immensely when job plans have changed and we’ve been grateful to our previous selves.  Savings has meant that one member of each of our family units has been able to escape terrible jobs without a new job lined up.  Money really can buy freedom and peace of mind.

Are you doing ok?

Well, we don’t know.  If you’re complaining a lot, then no, you probably aren’t.

Otherwise, that’s something only you can answer.  We recommend checking out financial calculators and maybe the balanced money formula and so on.  Make sure you’re doing the basic good things with your retirement savings (ex. low fee index funds).  That sort of Money 201 stuff.  If you’re not doing ok, then it’s time to rejigger the Money 102 stuff, or possibly even Money 101.

We’ll only judge your spending habits if you’re perpetually bragging about how much you make, complaining about all your debt, bragging about all the luxuries you spend on, and talking about how nice people who make less money than you do are continually buying you necessities because you had an emergency but spent all your money on luxuries.  We find high income people who complain about the consequences of their bad choices and treat other people badly to be irritating.

But otherwise, you buy whatever lattes or fancy vacations or nice cars you can afford (given on-track savings) if that makes you happy.  It’s your money!

And what *we* do is irrelevant to your financial well-being.  Either you’re saving the right amount for your situation and spending on the right things for you or you aren’t.  What we spend or don’t spend isn’t going to affect that.  So even if we were the Frugal Woods, that wouldn’t matter for your bottom line.

Still, we’re not.  And we like it that way.  :)

Do you feel judged by other people’s financial choices?  Also– did you think we were super-frugal low spenders?

53 Responses to “We are not Mr. Money Moustache”

  1. Revanche Says:

    Feel judged? Only in that I know we are actually judged by some family for various reasons, but since I don’t care what they think, that doesn’t matter. Feeling judged by their choices, though I know it’s a popular gripe among some folks, is a weird concept to me. Their finances are nothing to do with my life, just as mine are my business and nothing to do with what I think of anyone else. It’s as weird as taking offense that someone isn’t drinking with you. What does that matter?

    I think you’ve made it abundantly clear you’re not super-frugal all the time but I’m a longtime reader :)

    Am currently fantasizing about the ability to quit a job without causing undue stress. I am positing a theory about which my $10M wishful-thinking mental number is the biggest obstacle to doing so but honestly it may have more to do with the realization that I have some fairly stringent requirements for happy employment so it’d take quite some time to find a good new job and I suppose I wouldn’t enjoy the sabbatical nearly so much if it was all spent job hunting.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      People really do seem to take offense when someone isn’t drinking. What’s up with that?

      • chacha1 Says:

        The recent Men’s Health magazine addressed that, in the context of people who are not technically alcoholics but who feel that alcohol is having a negative affect on their lives, and who therefore want to control their drinking better.

        Essentially it’s the “crabs in a bucket” syndrome. People who are not managing [X] often seem to feel compelled to impede other people’s methods of managing (or even desire to manage) [X].

        It is unfortunately human nature to want to be the best-off in any given situation. If person A is drinking a lot and has any degree of consciousness that maybe that’s not so smart, person B’s resistance to drinking makes person A feel judged, even though person B probably couldn’t give a shit how much person A drinks as long as person A is not then driving.

        “Feeling judged” is, IMO, generally an emotional knee-jerk irrational response to a subconscious understanding that you are not doing the right thing. When it’s not that, it’s an emotional knee-jerk irrational response to a subconscious desire to have your own choices (even if not damaging and not overtly stupid) validated.

      • Ana Says:

        Yes to what chacha1 said. I only feel judged when I’m I’m not living my own values yet I am not ready to change or own up to it. It hurts because it hit a sore spot.

  2. First Gen American Says:

    I think our spending/saving plans are similar to yours. I spend according to my values AND my income. Yes, I am now in a very expensive town in a very expensive state. The value was to be in a good school district in a well run town…..BUT and it’s a big BUT. I didn’t move there til I could comfortably afford to and by comfortably, I mean having a mortgage balance under $100k.

    If I couldn’t afford good school district, there are other options to fill the education need that won’t break the bank. Libraries and field trips and home experiments etc. I know my kids would be fine in the end even with a suboptimal education. Living in a place one job loss from ruin, overshadows everything else. I just couldn’t get how an ex tenant of mine was okay spending money on her daughter’s dance lessons while getting evicted from apartment to apartment every 6 months. Yes I get you want more for your daughter than you had, but you have to have he basics covered first….food, shelter, etc.

    i am getting the urge to blog again. I Might make a whole post out of this.

  3. Emily "Frugalsworth" Kiang Says:

    Thank you for this great post about money. I agree with you when it comes to spending and investing money in a way that is congruent with values. I had a conversation about this issue with a colleague of mine on Friday. Judging another on their spending habits is for the birds. The only person I am in charge of is me.

  4. bogart Says:

    Haha, this made me laugh (in a good way), “We have a strong belief that you should spend where your utility curve hits your budget constraint in a multi-period model that includes the possibility of negative income shocks.” It just rolls right off the tongue, doesn’t it?

    Short answers … no, I don’t feel judged, and no, I definitely did not think you were super frugal low spenders. Just sensible, educated people with a good understanding of many things related to living the “good” life (as defined by that quote above), and an ability to write entertainingly and informatively about them.

  5. becca Says:

    I don’t think there’s anything terribly wrong with enjoying living like a physician, if you have a physician salary. But I do think there is a danger there, inasmuch as you need enhanced self-awareness to avoid feeling trapped by it.

    What I’ve gathered from reading this blog and watching people I know is that walking away from a tenured position is not easy and requires a lot of soul searching. That is in part because of how much you invested in getting there, in part because of how hard a job it is to get, in part because it’s a respected job, and in part because it offers benefits not often found elsewhere… it’s not a trivial thing. The same is true of medicine, with the respect factor perhaps amplified and also because of the money issue- leaving medicine usually means a huge pay cut, and it’s not even something most can consider as an option until the loans are gone.

    I also think many physicians live in consumption echo-chambers. “I work hard, so I deserve X” is very common thinking. I, personally, think it’s morally suspect (people either haven’t thought very hard about it, or don’t realize how hard their starbucks barista works). I think to hear the message “If you can afford X, and you want it go for it, but realize you might be choosing between more consumption and more freedom to pursue opportunities” can be jarring, inasmuch as a lot of that “I work hard, so I deserve X” thinking is driven by a consumer culture that *needs* people to not think very hard about getting their lattes.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Those are really great points.

    • chacha1 Says:

      very good points!

    • anandar Says:

      I really agree with Becca’s points, and I will admit to being (IRL mostly silently) judgey of people who in my view let their values get set by a consumerist society or professional community in an unthinking way. One question I ask myself is whether the lifestyle I am living one is one that, in a more just world, would be within a reasonable range (since utility curves do vary) of consumption that could be made generally available to most people, without either assuming our current level of income inequality or resulting in major environmental damage. So, for instance, considering the wages and working conditions of the people I hire (directly or indirectly) is important to me (though I do not always succeed on this). I don’t think this is the only right way to think about things, but I also don’t have a lot of respect for privileged people who ignore the moral dimension of spending.

    • Rosa Says:

      I have been really struggling to figure out how to say to a friend that there’s no such thing as “a commitment to not spending money” – it’s always a commitment to spending the money on something else. Even if the something else is something abstract like freedom or security.

      If people didn’t have a plan for the way the money would eventually be spent, we wouldn’t have so many charitable foundations with tons of strings on the money, set up by people who were committed to not spending it til after they were dead.

  6. Sara Says:

    My fiance hates the term budget so much that he’s the one who prefers to call his free-spending money an allowance. Before we were together, he was the type of person who decided how much to spend by looking at the balance of his checking account. He steered clear of credit cards so he’d never go into debt but never did much saving outside of a small retirement account. When we combined finances, he has part of his paycheck sent to a joint account (that he never looks at) for paying the bills, IRA contributions, and even saving for future vacations. The rest goes into his old checking account, where I have access but don’t plan to touch the money, and he can spend the way he always has out of it without my Type-A personality going nuts from the fact that he will never track his expenses or plan for Christmas giving before November. So much of personal finance is about what works for you! This keeps me from going crazy, keeps him from feeling like he’s on a short-leash financially, and lets us both be happy. (I would personally hate being on his side of the equation…but it’s what he wants. No fear I’ll judge his purchases since my budget just calls all of that money spent, whether it is or not.)

  7. middle_class Says:

    I never thought you were super-frugal, but I guess a casual reader might think so. For some people, anyone who even spends time thinking about budgeting/spending is frugal.

  8. Linda Says:

    As a long time reader, I know you’re not super frugal.

    “Do you feel judged by other people’s financial choices? ” Not really. I think people should be able to do what they want with their money, although I can shake my head over poor choices and hope the person learns eventually. I do feel that other people judge me, though, and it’s not comfortable.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      heh, what gives it away? All the discussion of fancy cheeses? The Italian honeymoon that wasn’t purchased with credit card rewards? The private schooling for the kids? Paying 48K in rent while on half salary? … I could go on…

      • Leigh Says:

        I have to say that purchasing a fancy trip without credit card rewards is so much less complicated and stressful. You just hit book and then you go!

  9. gasstationwithoutpumps Says:

    “Do you feel judged by other people’s financial choices?” I may judge other people by their financial choices, but I don’t see their choices as judgements on me.

    “Also– did you think we were super-frugal low spenders?” No way. You even mention owning a car, which is almost never a frugal choice. (Reasonable if you want one and can afford one, but not frugal.)

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Well, where we normally live it is actually a necessity. The luxury where we normally live is having a second car (and, of course, having brought one of our cars out here for the year is a luxury).

      When you’re living someplace where everything is close together and there are bike lanes and buses and light rail and heavy rail and all sorts of public transportation, it’s hard to imagine a world where poor people need cars to get to work (especially in the summer/winter where temperatures are such that a person outside could literally die walking to work), but that is the truth of it for much of the country.

      • xykademiqz Says:

        I went to grad school in a place that was very, very hot. My first week there, I attempted to walk to the grocery store, because I didn’t want to wait for a friend with a car. It was 6 miles one way in 105 degree weather, all concrete and no shade; I almost passed out. There was no way I was walking back with all the bags. I ended up having to get a cab.
        There are many places like that: no public transport, everything is far, and the weather is punishing (I now live someplace where it’s really cold 6 months of the year). I would say having a car is a necessity here, and is offset by the lower cost of living than on the coasts.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        At least our town has a taxi company (the one where I grew up didn’t), though last time I almost didn’t make it to the airport because they were overbooked. Not reliable!

      • gasstationwithoutpumps Says:

        Understood. But though I now live in Santa Cruz, I grew up in Illinois, did my undergrad at Michigan State, and taught for 4 years at Cornell, so I am familiar with harsh winters. Everyone told me a car was essential in all those places, but I did not find it to be the case.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        I didn’t need a car when I could live on campus, get all my food from a dining hall, and could walk to classes/work (or take a campus shuttle) either. I never had to leave campus.

        However, when living in affordable (non-campus) housing, needing to get kids to preschool, needing to buy groceries, and needing to get to work (which is generally not close to affordable housing because nobody wants to put a business near a bad neighborhood) in a town without buses, light rail, etc. That is a very different proposition. Reliable transportation is a necessity for people with low wage jobs.

        In my case, I had the option to live in a nice HOA instead of a low-income neighborhood which also means I’m not near anything. But if I wanted to live in housing near campus, I would have had to pay about 3x as much for a much crappier house (and would still have had a lengthy commute to work and to daycare because neither is close to main campus, and they’re also not close to each other, also the grocery store in that area went out of business and another chain bought and demolished the building in order to consolidate its market power).


      • Leah Says:

        Yes, what NM says. When I was in grad school at Michigan, my car was a luxury. I walked to school each day and could have taken a bus to get food. But my life is far different in a small Minnesota town with a toddler. I literally could not get her to daycare in order to work during the winter. I don’t see any safe way to bike with a trailer (plus it’s not recommended to trailer bike before the age of 1) across town to her daycare. The nearest daycare that maybe would have worked but would have required a compromise of values is still a mile away down a “steep” (for here) hill — I’ve slid through the stop sign on that before in icy conditions.

        I don’t find our winters here horrific. I go for walks and don’t let the cold scare me. But there’s also a cap on how far one can reasonably, and safely go, given road conditions. If I could wait to take my kid to daycare until 11 am, that’d be wonderful. But I think my job would frown on me teaching with a toddler in the room on the regular.

        That said, my husband and I do share one car. I consider car sharing in our area to be frugal. We both work at the same place and don’t see the need for a second car that would mostly sit idle. But a lot of our coworkers are spouses too, and almost all of them own two cars.

  10. Rented Life Says:

    It never occurred to me that you were super frugal low spenders so it’s interesting that somehow people think that. Maybe because you are low spenders for your economic class? If I had to guess how much you made and compare it to others I know that make roughly that, I’d say your a “low” spender, but I know people that buy a lot of stuff and make money with the goal to afford a certain lifestyle. (The people I am thinking of are also oblivious to the fact that others around them don’t have that much expendable income…such as my boss who suggested a $500 dress for a work event. Beautiful dress not gonna happen.)

    We are judged by relatives because we spend money differently than they do. My parents have been very open about their disagreement with our choices, which gets OLD FAST. We have one car. We rent. We use a CSA (which is actually significantly cheaper but they don’t seem to understand that because they are looking at the amount we pay all at once…which is peanuts to what I would pay at the store). We spend our fun money on books, music, travel (small trips is all we can do now), and activities with LO. Instead of doing one large haul of gifts for holidays or birthday we spread out toy buying for our kiddo throughout the year–a decision we made early and for now makes the most sense to us.(maybe when gifts are big ticket items it will make sense to do something different.) I think part of the problem is that our choices “hold us back” in my parents eyes from doing what they want us to do. I can’t visit whenever because I don’t always have the car. we both work long and goofy hours. We can’t afford the closing costs/downpayment on a house (in a place I’d want to live in anyway, and that matters)–but they were able to get their property at a steal years ago. It’s become less important to us to own again. I’d rather do things.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I suspect we also make less than most doctors, especially doctor couples, but who knows.

      (I also have never owned a $500 dress! Though I’m sure #2’s gorgeous wedding dress cost more than that.)

      I’m often glad we don’t live all that close to relatives.

      • Rented Life Says:

        It’s increasingly my biggest regret–moving back to an area where we are close to relatives. We moved here for a lot of reasons, some good, some (hindsight) not. I don’t anticipate making a big move anytime soon but even if we did, that too would be up for judgment as has every other major move we made. (A good child stays close to home. I even picked a crappy college that I had to transfer out of instead of my first choice because I kept hearing how I would never be able to handle being away from home…Not having self esteem to make better decisions sucks, I believed I had to do what mom and dad said.) If we could go back in time we’d still be living out by Major City but moving right now just to move away would be a bad financial decision.

        My boss doesn’t register that she makes several times what I do which creates these interesting moments. I’d love a dress like that but even if I did make as much as her I’m not sure I could swallow that price tag. But she can afford a month in Italy every summer too. Now that I would do if I had her income.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Wow! A month in Italy every summer does sound nice. Does she get the entire month off work or does she telecommute?

      • Ana Says:

        “I suspect we also make less than most doctors”—not necessarily. very very large range depending on specialty, type of practice (academic center vs private) and location (desirable place to live vs. craptastic wasteland with low COL…the wasteland obviously makes $$$$$)

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Well, I definitely make less than the median doctor, according to average physician salaries on the internet, and I make less than the average for any specialty or GP. And it looks like most specialty physicians out-earn DH and me combined, so… Yeah. On average, I probably make less than those women on MIM except for the residents and fellows. And I make way less than the ones who are also married to doctors.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Oh hey, my regular income (this year I’m actually not making as much as residents and fellows), puts me making less than about 3/4 of doctors. So of course we seem frugal. We’re in a different order of upper-middle-class.

      • Rented Life Says:

        She takes the whole month off. Actually that is one example she sets very well: when she is on vacation she is ON vacation. She might have access to email but she doesn’t promise anything to anyone during that time. Sometimes she and her family are camping and there is no good cell service.

    • Rosa Says:

      My family is amazingly judgemental of our spending habits whenever it means saying no to something they want us to do. I am pretty sure they actually enjoy rescuing some of my siblings with cash, because they get to put strings on the cash. It really bothers them that they can’t do that with us.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Ugh, yes. Of course, my BIL’s in-laws try to control *without* the cash, which is even worse! (This is why they went into debt for what was a miserable stressful wedding.)

      • Leigh Says:

        Ugh yes! My mom and I were planning a trip (and we usually split trips 50/50) but then now my sibling is also going on said trip and my mom doesn’t think sibling can afford it and now there are all sorts of rules on the trip. Sigh.

  11. J Liedl Says:

    I am a bit judgey of people who accumulate a lot of debt. I hear of people who spend up their entire line of credit and can’t fathom it. In my marriage, I’ve learned better money management techniques (as well as seen my earnings increase more than threefold). We’re not perfect: far from it! But we try not to go into debt for too many things – mostly just the house which we’re steadily paying down.

  12. retirebyforty (@retirebyforty) Says:

    Heh heh, I never had the impression that you’re Mr. MM. You have to do what’s right for you. Not everyone can live super frugally.
    I try not to judge how other people spend their money as long as they’re save some and don’t flaunt it too much.
    Also, you know how to make sacrifice and could cut back if you really need to. I guess it just depends on where you are in life.

  13. Leigh Says:

    My impression is that you guys seem to do a good job of spending in line with your values, with little regard to what others’ values are. :-) I mostly don’t care what people do with their money, but I will judge them if they live beyond their means.

    I get flack sometimes for spending too little, i.e. not wanting to buy a nicer house or a nicer car. My parents like to tell me how they would spend money as they would have if they were my age with my money. But I’m not either of them – I’m a unique combination of the two of them. So advice from one of them just doesn’t help me. And I’m past the point of wanting financial advice from my parents. My primary concern at this point is if I’m saving too much in Roth accounts with the Mega Backdoor Roth IRA or whether paying off the mortgage is a good idea when if we bought a place together later, we’d probably go 50/50, which would mean that most of my condo equity would end up in investments and not into new equity. And those aren’t really concerns my parents can help with. They mostly try to convince me to spend more money in the ways that they would value: a bigger and more expensive house, fancier new cars more often, less travel, etc. I would rather spend it on freedom, education, and travel than stuff. This condo I have is pretty nice as it is, as nice as my parents’ house really. Well maybe fancy towels and a nicer couch. I would like to replace some of the towels with fancier ones and to get rid of my six year old couch that is really really sagged out.

    • chacha1 Says:

      I still have not replaced the bath towels we got when we got married … in 2001. LOL I guess I am waiting for ALL of the bindings to fray.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        We beat you on that, DH’s blue towels from college are still going strong. (Though they are not our *only* bath towels. DH’s mom sends me new towels for Christmas every few years.)

      • Leigh Says:

        LOL yeah I still have some from when I started college in 2005 that we use. It’s nice to have some old towels around too.

      • Linda Says:

        I still have a few towels I bought during my undergrad years, over 25 years ago. I used to work at a nice department store and purchased quite a few quality home goods at reduced prices with my employee discount at sales. Recently when I was using one of my steak knives to cut up a piece of cooked chicken I realized that the reason it probably wasn’t working so well anymore is that it was purchased over 25 years ago during that same time period. They weren’t the best quality knives at time, either. I guess it’s time to replace them, but I haven’t found anything that seems like enough of a bargain at the thrift and consignment stores around here.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        if they’re serrated, probably not worth trying to sharpen

      • Linda Says:

        Yup, they’re serrated. That’s exactly what I was thinking, too. ;-)

      • gasstationwithoutpumps Says:

        We still have a couple of our towels given to us as wedding presents in 1987 still in rotation. (They’re hand towels—the bath towels wore out much sooner.)

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        ok, you win on towel age

  14. Jay Says:

    Coming late to the party. I know you’re not “super-frugal” and I didn’t mean to say that I felt judged. What I meant was that my own anxiety about the way we live (which is mine, and I own it) is activated by reading posts by people who are “better” at saving than we are. it’s my stuff.

    And yeah, “allowance” pushes my buttons, for the reasons I explained in the post in the comments. And yeah, they’re my buttons.

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