Grace: Even bare-lipped, Mr. Money Mustache spreads message of thrift -
Published Friday, August 23, 2013 at 1:00 am / Updated at 1:17 am
Grace: Even bare-lipped, Mr. Money Mustache spreads message of thrift

It's a Friday night at Dinker's, and I've come to this South Omaha bar to meet a man of mystery.

His name is Mr. Money Mustache. His game is living more on less.

Mr. Money Mustache retired at age 30. He and his wife and child live on $25,000 a year. They live in a 2,600-square-foot home in the eastern Colorado foothills. They take long vacations. They buy organic produce.

They do this because Mr. Money Mustache belongs to the church of Spend Less Than What You Have. He rails against the Great Satan, the automobile. He preaches the Gospel of Thrift and dispenses financial advice, such as move closer to work so you drive less, dump your cable TV and fancy phone, don't buy on credit.

Mr. Money Mustache on his blog says these things with religious zeal:

» “Your current middle-class life is an Exploding Volcano of Wastefulness …”

» “You're stealing resources from your own kids, and from the rest of the people you share the globe with …”

One might think that such a message from such a messenger would be a tad unpopular. One might think that only a masochist would tune into someone who sounds like your rubber-band-saving, Depression-era great-aunt. One might think that the last person you'd want to have a beer with is the guy who will make you feel guilty for putting it on plastic.

But one would be wrong. Once you start reading Mr. Money Mustache, you start liking him. He's funny. He's wise, like your aunt, who wrapped gifts in newspaper and always seemed to have a spare dinner roll in her purse. And he's right.

None of these lessons are new, of course. But in this supersized, put-it-on-credit era, the penny-pinching Mr. Money Mustache sounds, well, fresh.

Others apparently feel as fervently. Mr. Money Mustache has about as many followers as Omaha proper has people.

These acolytes call themselves “Mustachians” and post their own parables of financial sin and redemption on his website. Hundreds comment on his blog posts. The website has drawn the attention of mainstream news outlets like Yahoo, MSN and the Washington Post. Mr. Money Mustache says frugality is the new fancy and believes that eschewing consumption is becoming more mainstream.

He certainly has fans in Omaha.

Mr. Money Mustache recently posted on his blog that he was passing through — yes, in a car, which I'll get to later — and he needed a place to stay — yes, for free, what'd you expect? The offers came in.

He said he would meet anyone who wanted to make his acquaintance at Dinker's.

So here I was, thriftily ordering a $2 draw, along with about a dozen Mustachians. They were generally professionals in their 20s and 30s. None had a mustache, not even Mr. Money Mustache, whom from here on I'll call Pete.

Pete asked that I not fully identify him because he likes his relative anonymity in Longmont, Colo. For all the Mustachians of the world, there are anti-Mustachians, and Pete reminds me he's got a 7-year-old son who's got to live and go to school in Longmont.

So how did he go from being a guy named Pete in 1997 with a software engineering degree as his first job out of college paying $41,000 a year to Mr. Money Mustache, with a net worth probably over $1 million. (It was close to that several years ago; he does not share his current net worth.)

You can read the long answer on his blog. The short answer: He worked hard in a field that eventually paid him $100,000 and, with a wife earning $70,000, they saved like crazy and made smart investments. About eight years ago, the couple realized they could quit their jobs and do what they liked, which included work that “is only done for fun and on our terms,” he says.

Sounds great.

But what about the rest of us mere mortals who weren't software engineers in our 20s? Isn't it easier to save half your income when you make more of it?

Says Pete: “It's not the money that makes this easy, it's the gradual shedding of desire for fancier stuff.”

And that thing about driving. I can't imagine pedaling up steep California Street to ride my bike to the grocery store to load up for a family of five.

Mustachianism can sound impossible.

Not so, said Pete: “Live close to work. Cook your own food. Take care of your own house, garden, hair and body. Don't borrow money for cars, and don't drive ridiculous ones. Embrace nature as the best source of recreation. Cancel your TV service. Use a prepaid cellphone. And of course, ride a bike!”

Pete and his wife own two cars but use them only for hauling stuff, like Pete's construction tools, or traveling to their native Canada, where they just spent seven weeks.

His wife and child flew home. Pete decided to break up his 24-hour drive from Ottawa to Longmont by stopping in Chicago and Omaha, preaching his gospel along the way.

Ross Pesek, a 28-year-old Omaha criminal defense attorney and recent Mustachian convert, offered to house Pete for the night.

“I hang on his every word,” Ross gushed.

Columnists Michael Kelly, Erin Grace and Matthew Hansen write about people, places and events around Omaha. Scroll through more of their columns here.

Ross picked Dinker's, a bar they could walk to from Ross' home. (Walking is Mustachian; Ross' Lincoln Navigator is decidedly not Mustachian.) Ross served as a gracious co-host welcoming everyone from Amber and Alex, who drove all the way from Kansas City, to a Russian named Sergey.

Sergey Ratakhin is a 24-year-old computer guy who works at Peru State and drove the 70 miles from Peru to Omaha to meet Pete.

“I've always been frugal,” Sergey says. Pete's blog “reinforces my beliefs.”

Everyone is surprised that Mr. Money Mustache has no mustache.

Everyone is surprised that the man behind the moniker is so low-key given the brash tone of his blog.

And everyone hangs around for hours to ask one another about budgets, roommates, cars, savings and gifts. Alex says he traded a newer car for an older one (Mustachian). He and Amber talk about their careful budgeting and “walking-around money” (not Mustachian).

“I don't like 'walking-around money,' ” Pete says, explaining that it just gives people an excuse to spend.

Pete tells the table how important it is to rein in spending, ramp up saving and gain control. He said spending should hurt, that if you're paying in cash and taking money from savings, it's a lot harder than, say, plunking down plastic.

He said he and his wife have a $10 rule: If either of them wants to spend more than that, they have to ask the other and defend it. That act, as you may imagine, delays and many times just avoids extraneous spending.

The point is to be happy. The point is to use less and give back more.

As the night wore on, I realized the mysterious stranger was not Mr. Money Mustache.

The mysterious stranger is money.

What do we really know about how we spend and where it goes? I left Dinker's on fire, like the newly converted, eager to find out. That is the first step toward becoming a Mustachian.

Contact the writer: Erin Grace    |   402-444-1136    |  

Erin is a columnist who tries to find interesting stories and get them into the paper. She's drawn to the idea that everyday life offers something extraordinary.

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