My son and I are having a beautiful Saturday night here at home. The sun is setting over the mountains outside my bedroom window and I’ve just finished baking a pizza which I am about to serve up for his dinner.
Although our day has been very simple, there has been an underlying magic within it that triggered an epiphany that I just had to write to you about. Because within this simple moment seems to be the secret to pretty much everything.
We woke up to a cloudless blue sky and were treated to summer-like warmth even though it’s October. I served up a French toast breakfast and then we ate together as we made plans for our day. We decided the first stage would be some computer work for him, while I went out to do some yard work and a bit of maintenance and cleanup on my construction van, to get it ready to lend to a friend.
Stage Two was our big walk downtown. Little MM wanted to get some shots of old buildings as part of an assignment for photography class, and I wanted to fix a minor leak in the roof of the MMM HQ Coworking building, so we decided to combine the errands. The walk was long and adventurous and we even stopped for some exorbitant ice cream cones on the way, courtesy of a gift card I received for helping someone last month.
We got it all done – Little MM got his 24 required shots, I fixed the roof and also ran into my co-owners Mr. and Mrs. 1500 who were setting up the building for a group breakfast tomorrow. So my boy and I strolled the 1.5 miles home through the sunny leafy autumn streets of Longmont and settled in for the night.
I popped one of my homemade pizzas into the oven. Because it was a big one, it was going to take at least 25 minutes to cook so I figured I’d use that time to shower off the day’s dust and sunscreen. But then I noticed my hair was starting to get a bit out of control so I gave myself a quick haircut before the shower.
And as I stepped out of my room, dressed in clean clothes and feeling sharp and healthy and arriving in the fancy kitchen I built last month just as the oven beeped to indicate the pizza was finished, I realized that this is the secret to wealth. Days like today. Monetary wealth for sure, but also every other kind of wealth.
We had just enjoyed an almost perfect day almost effortlessly, just by having the right habits in place.
We had a shitload of fun, socialized and exercised and advanced the projects that are important to us. But simultaneously, we spent very close to zero dollars, and left the world mostly unscathed as we finished our day.
The beeping of that oven full of homemade pizza was what really set off the epiphany in my head.
“Damn”, I realized, “even with all this excess money building up over the years, it didn’t even occur to me to order a pizza. It’s just automatic, and thus faster and cheaper and healthier, to make my own.”
Plus by avoiding the delivery I am saving my neighbors from one gas-powered car bringing an unnecessary extra serving of danger and pollution onto our street. It’s a three-way win with no losing involved.
Ordering a decent extra-large pizza including tax, tip and delivery: $20
Dad’s Homemade pizza: about $4
Sure, the difference here is only sixteen bucks, but I wanted to highlight the percentage difference instead. Because if you apply this philosophy of efficient, automatic habits all through your life, it really does tend to cut your costs so that your life becomes 2, 3, 4, or even 5 times less expensive.
So I thought to myself “WHY does anyone who is not even a millionaire yet, or even worse who has a mortgage or credit card debt, still do something as frivolous and easily avoided as ordering a pizza?*”
With that example drawn out in detail, let’s look at some of the other details of this day:
My new kitchen which made that pizza cooking so enjoyable was built on a total budget of about $6000 including changing the floorplan, electrical, plumbing, cabinets, countertops and all the appliances.
This is less than half of what custom-ordered cabinets alone would have cost, and a full kitchen remodel of this type usually tops $25,000. But by getting assemble-it-myself cabinets from Ikea and my appliances from Craigslist and doing all of the work myself, I cut the cost by about 75%, while earning plenty of great physical exertion and satisfaction at the same time. Savings: about $20,000 or 80%
My son is in the public middle school rather than in the private school across town, which is where some of the other multimillionaire parents send their kids. If the private school were better for his needs, of course we could afford to send him there too. But we gave the local option a chance and it has turned out to be an incredible place for him. Savings: about $20,000 per year or roughly 100%
We chose walking as our means of transportation, and if we were in a rush we would have ridden our bikes. This habit of not driving doesn’t just save me gas and maintenance money, it also allows me to keep an older vehicle. I have a 1999 Honda van that is still in sparkling new condition.
It stays new because I barely use it, because I have designed my life to be within an entirely muscle-powered radius. But this brand-new van is worth less than two grand and insurance is about twenty bucks a month. Maintenance is less than $10, registration is $5. Savings versus owning an “average” $35,000 American car and driving an average amount: about $600 per month or 90%.
We didn’t go “shopping” (100% savings), watched a movie at home instead of the theatre (100%), I cut my own hair for the something-hundredth time (100%), we advanced our health rather than chipping away at it (100%), and built this warm caring relationship with each other as well as with our friends (priceless).
And there were all sorts of other less tangible things working in the background too. I bought a commercial building and started this coworking space as a way to pass the time and spend time with old and new friends – the same reasons that someone might buy a vacation home in the mountains or at the beach.
But instead of costing me a few thousand dollars per month and requiring 100 miles of driving every time I visit, this building is just a pleasant walk from home and it generates thousands per month in cashflow and appreciation. It is great for the mental and physical health of all of our 75 members and growing, and we all save money by being a part of this community.
The funny part of all this is that today was a completely normal day for us – most of my days are very similar to this one. The only unusual part was that I happened to take a step back and actually notice it. And that is really the point of this whole article:
We get used to our daily routine, and think of it as “normal”, even if it is completely ridiculous.
In recent months, I have just had my eyes re-opened as I have had more contact with people who are living more typical American lives than me. Their normal is different than mine, so when I visit I happen to notice the differences – more car trips and impulse purchases and pizza deliveries.
These people are not living lifestyles that appear exorbitant at all, and their houses aren’t packed with expensive things. But these little 5-to-1 differences just silently happen, quietly and consistently and add up to perhaps $100 per day, when compared with a more streamlined lifestyle.
And $100 every day becomes $36,500 every year, and if you invest that conservatively it will compound into about $520,000 every decade.
$520,000 per decade. Just from the tiny mindset switch between “hey lets order a pizza” versus “Hey, let’s throw a pizza into the oven.”
I really think this is important, and as this whole “FIRE Movement” thing grows, some people are getting soft and complaining that Mr. Money Mustache is “too extreme”, and so we should take a gentler and easy path and let our spending get sloppy if that is what’s right for us.
The thing is, this is usually just wrong. It’s laziness rather than practicality. Because Mr. Money Mustache is already plenty spendy, and plenty sloppy – well beyond the level required to live a happy life.
I can afford to live this way, because I’m old and wealthy now. If you are still young and poor, you should be spending less than me, not more.
So, pizza delivery is for millionaires, and it’s also time to put away those car-clown keys and get back on your bike. We’ve still got work to do.