Mr. Money Mustache on Retiring at 30 By Riding a Bike

His claim to fame is that he retired at age 30. He swears that you can achieve greater financial freedom too, if you follow his example by eliminating unnecessary expenses and investing wisely. He calls himself Mr. Money Mustache. And he says nothing is more essential to his philosophy and wealth-building strategy than riding a bike.

Mr. Money Mustache rides through the snow with 85 pounds of groceries. Pin this picture up next to your car keys. Photo: ##

Mr. MM (his real name is Pete, but that’s no fun) has been dishing out lifestyle advice on his personal finance blog for two years to a faithful following that now numbers about 300,000 regular readers. In a recent interview with the Washington Post, he counseled prospective early retirees to live close to work and “of course, ride a bike.” In fact, MMM says, it’ll take you forever to retire if you keep wasting money on cars. He estimates it costs a person $125,000 and 1.3 working years’ worth of time to drive 19 miles each way to work.

Living so far from work that you “need” to drive is a result of bad planning, he says, and should be remedied — or, optimized — as quickly as possible. Riding a bike is the boiled-down essence of everything he preaches. He rejects the idea that his readers can “just follow the rest of his advice, while ignoring the bike parts.”

“It’s time for this silliness to come to an end,” he wrote earlier this month. “You must ride a bike. We all must.”

I’ll let you read on your own about how driving a car is like throwing away 24 blackened salmon salads, and the three questions you should always ask yourself before getting behind the wheel.

Streetsblog caught up with Mr. Money Moustache recently to talk more about how sensible transportation decisions fit into an economically sound lifestyle — and, of course, early retirement for us car-free Streetsblog editors.

Tanya Snyder: Last month was Anti-Automobile April. What did that consist of? How did it go?

Mr. Money Moustache: Anti-Automobile April was a little experiment where I tried to make the readers of my blog track their own driving for the month. My hope was that they would become more aware of it and hopefully consider canceling some of their trips, combining some of the smaller trips into fewer ones, and most importantly, replacing some of the local ones with bike trips.

TS: You take a refreshingly reasonable view of cars — that if a trip’s benefits outweighs its costs, it’s worth it, but most don’t. But obviously, there are times when you find taking a car worthwhile. What are those times?

MMM: Yeah, I am certainly not an anti-car zealot. I secretly love those machines. I love driving them, sitting in them, and reading about them. And for some reason, I have the technical stats for almost every model available in the U.S. memorized.

But you just have to realize what they’re good for.

These are 3,500-pound missiles designed to shoot you and your friends in great comfort across the entire country on life-changing vacations. You don’t just take such a thing down to the drive-through or drop your kid off at school in one. They’re for special occasions when all other options fail. So the question you ask is, “Could this mission reasonably be accomplished WITHOUT a car?”

If the answer is no, VROOM, have a good time.

MMM calls this morning traffic jam "a lineup of Clowns waiting to drive their kids a few blocks home from school, on a beautiful Hawaiian afternoon." Photo: ##

TS: You separate road trip driving from clown driving. What defines clown driving?

MMM: In a post called “Curing Your Clown-like Car Habit,” I defined Clown driving as any car trip that could have been accomplished by bike — or more broadly, any unnecessary car trip. In my city of Longmont, Colorado, which is basically a 5×5 mile square with nice weather and bike paths, pretty much any car trip within the city is a Clown trip, because you can bike anywhere easily here. And yet the clowning persists.

TS: Most Americans would hear your story, for example, of biking in snow with 85 pounds of groceries and think you’re just a little loony, and you should just drive. When trying to get more people to ride bikes instead of drive, do you try to convince them they can bike in any conditions, or does it make sense to just get them started in ideal conditions?

MMM: I like to work it from both angles: Encourage beginners to head out on the easy spring days for leisure rides, but also remind people that bikes are serious tools that can cover great distances in any weather, and carry heavy loads if you have racks or a trailer. If I set an example as the guy who always rides his bike, regardless of weather or cargo conditions, it gives people fewer excuses not to ride their own.

One reader told me he printed out a picture of me biking up my driveway in the blizzard with the 85 pounds of groceries, and put it on the cabinet where he keeps his car keys, to remind himself to reconsider driving.

TS: You’re a big fan of biking and walking to replace car travel but you don’t talk a ton about transit. Do buses and trains fit into your badassery?

MMM: Uhh, the word is “badassity.” But you’re right, I don’t talk about transit much. Mostly because it doesn’t apply much in my own 5×5-mile city.

In many metro areas, a bike ends up being much faster than a bus, because you get to take a direct route without stopping to pick up other passengers — the same benefits of a car, without the drawbacks. But public transit still works wonders in other places. The subways in big cities work wonders, and I’ve really enjoyed the light rail in Denver, the San Francisco area, Seattle, and Phoenix. In general, public transit always comes #2 in my book — it’s the second choice after riding a bike.

TS: People come to your blog because they want to learn how to retire at age 30, right? Then you also have all these treatises about nutrition and driving and whatnot. Do they come for the investment advice and stay for the clown-car rant, or do they sort of check out after the get-rich-quick part?

MMM: Retiring at age 30 is a bit of a special case, as at least half of the readers are older than me — I’m 38 now. But the blog has always been more of an “efficient lifestyle” blog rather than just a financial one. To me it seems pointless to talk about just spending less money or investing more of it if you don’t balance it out with the reasons you would actually want to do this. So I write about how to live a good life in all areas — from a slightly engineering-minded perspective with the math thrown in when appropriate.

TS: The organizing principle for your argument against cars is that people can save money — and hence, retire at 30 — if they drive less and bike more. And yet, you own a car and you drive it a lot for your leisure trips. So, should someone look at you and say, “I guess driving a car can fit into a frugal lifestyle”?

MMM: Yeah, they sure can. Cars certainly aren’t a necessity to live a good life, but I like to point out that you don’t have to be particularly hardcore and minimalist to get ahead financially. You just have to be conscious of where your money is going, and not let it slip away without benefit.

For example, most people sign themselves up for car commutes, not realizing that they have made a losing bargain, cost-wise. If there’s one thing I argue against most strongly in the automobile department, it is that: Don’t use them for commuting. If you do, you’ve probably done the bigger-picture math wrong.

TS: Do you think car-sharing, like Zipcar or Car2Go, is a financially smart way of making sure you have a car for the few times you do need it, or do you think it makes more financial sense to have an old beater in the driveway?

MMM: This probably depends on your location as well as your financial situation. Where I live, my car insurance is under $30 per month, and driveway space is free. So I do have two vehicles — a 40MPG Scion xA and a 1999 Honda minivan I use occasionally for hauling construction materials and camping trips. Neither one gets driven more than once every week or two, so in reality they could both be ditched and we could just rent cars when needed. For many people, this is a financially smart decision, and the slight inconvenience of renting makes you even more likely to plan your life well and bike more.

39 thoughts on Mr. Money Mustache on Retiring at 30 By Riding a Bike

  1. Renting is less inconvenient and more economical than many might think. Enterprise will pick you up, plus they have weekend deals, Fri-Mon. for like $50. Non-owner liability insurance costs me $12/month; credit cards take care of the rest. Don’t base your assumptions on airport prices, which are much higher than the neighborhood locations.

    After 20 years as a >20k/year driver, I optimized to under 5k/year, and have owned just 3-4 of the last 10 years. But now I am completely car-free, coming up on my first zero-miles year since age 18.

  2. yeah!!! two of my favorite 7 blogs meet!

    (For the record: StreetsBlog, MMM, SCOTUSblog, PodiumCafe, JapersRink, NunesMagician, FiveThirtyEight)

  3. Big props for use of “Badassery”. Love it. And that is indeed the correct term, not “Badassity”.

  4. Right now I bike to my main job (teaching kindergarten), bike to my weekend job (leading a children’s service at a synagogue), walk to the gym and supermarket, and my wife takes the subway. We both just signed up for bike share. I love our Honda Civic, but I do wonder how much we are actually paying to keep it and barely use it (okay, maybe 6- 10 round trips to Nyack to visit my parents per year, plus handful of trips to the Catskills during snowboarding season.)

    One weekly music lesson in South Brooklyn, which I hate driving to, but I do.

    Maybe it’s time for me to find a music student near me who I can bike to. Is it time for me to ditch the car?
    BTW I have a baby and a large beautiful dog.

  5. I sold my second car ten years ago when I moved to my new house and could not afford a second car. Just my wife and I, and an occasional ‘boomerang’ kid. With a rental place two blocks away, I figured I would rent a car when I needed. In 10 years, I have rented 3 times.
    The idea of ditching a car totally may seem foreign to some, but even consider ditching the second car many have. Even in ‘bikecentric’ Portland, most households have 2+ cars.

  6. I also have a USAA non-owners policy, and can’t recommend it enough. Nothing beats getting the sales pitch from the rental agents, and getting to tell them “no thanks, for the price you want to charge me for two days of insurance, I am covered for the entire month in any car I happen to drive”

    The profit centers in the rental car business are weekday business travelers and daily insurance. If you just rent on weekends, and carry your own insurance, its a very cheap option

  7. The whole premise of the article is lost on me. According to his own account, MMM owns two cars and has a job, so why is he telling people how to live car free and retire at 30?

  8. This is a return to what we used to do. I grew up in Montana where biking and trudging through the snow was normal. My family had one car, and it was regularly unreliable. I don’t ever remember getting a ride to school from kindergarten to high school, and I don’t remember having any friends who did either.

    Something happened in the past 30 years, and I’m not sure what it is.

    I haul two little girls plus a week’s worth of groceries about 3 miles from the Commissary with a bike trailer, and we love it. We look forward to it, and I get to haul 100 pounds of sundries + kid up the final cat crawl to cheers and encouragement from the peanut gallery. I love it, and so does everybody we pass. We constantly get the thumbs up and waves.

    What’s most amazing about these stories is that everybody is amazed. This is the future, People, and it’s probably best to adjust now. This is normal. Long lines of air conditioned cars to crawl 3 miles at 6 mph is completely insane.

  9. “Something happened in the past 30 years, and I’m not sure what it is.”

    I am sure about what happened. We as a society became both lazy and risk averse. Suddenly it was considered a “hardship” for kids to walk 1/2 a mile to school, so they had to be bused or driven. And their parents considered any walk much over one or two blocks “too far”. We used excuses like crime or child predators to justify this behavior, but in the end those who chose to walk or bike were no less safe than they were 30 year ago. The media just made it seem like things were worse with every major crime being sensationalized. And if indeed things were worse, perhaps it was exactly because fewer people were out and about.

    I think it’s funny how we think of biking as some kind of modern movement when 75 years ago it was how people often got around. Even the mailman used a bike to make deliveries. You’re right-we’re just going back to what we used to do. Only with modern equipment we may well greatly extend the range and speed over which human power is viable. I think we really are on the cusp of a golden age of active transportation.

  10. Yeah, Joe. You’re right.

    Reminds me of a book I read awhile back called, “Free Range Kids.” Pretty good read.

    “I think it’s funny how we think of biking as some kind of modern movement…” I think the same thing. And I love the term, “active transportation.”

  11. I think badassery is the behavior, and badassity is the quality of being a badass in general. One can possess a great deal of badassity while nonetheless refraining from indulging in gratuitous badassery.

  12. I really like biking in the winter and argue for it by mentioning how people spend money to go skiing, without considering wearing the same clothes and using the same muscles/coordination to get a little taste of that adventure every day on a winter bike commute!

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