Things I Learned From Camp Mustache II

X marks the spot to self-discovery and life-hacking.
X marks the spot to self-discovery and life-hacking.

“Dear Mrs. Neubz, camp is swell. Thank you for sending us the candy. Everyone shared the chocolate and we made s’mores by the campfire…”

Just getting back from Camp Mustache II. Overall, I’d have to say it was a wonderful experience with wonderful people. Most of my goals were met. Most of my questions were answered. Many of my expectations were validated. Many of my concerns, even fears were eased. I learned new things about myself, my wife, Mustachians, FIRE, life, and happiness. I don’t have enough space to go into any detail, but I do want to hit the highlights.

One last word before I start, for anyone who is on the fence about these sorts of things. There is no magic bullet. Camp Mustache won’t change your numbers and it won’t change the math. You will build networks, but you won’t meet someone who is going to solve all your problems. It does cost money, and if you travel, it’s not the absolute most frugal way to spend a weekend. However, if you want to meet some people to add some humanity to your numbers, if you want to meet some people at various stages of the path, if you want to pick Pete‘s brain in person (worth it), or if you just have some wisdom to share, it’s a great way to spend a weekend away from American consumerism and refresh your frugal energy.

Finally on to the highlights!
1. Mustachians are very wonderful people. They come from all backgrounds, but generally, they seem to be incredibly well-read, intelligent people. Many are very reserved, but aching to open up and share themselves and learn about you. Almost all are driven to grow and achieve amazing things. They have tremendous vision, and want to share it. Many want to do it for themselves and therefore are not worried about competing with others. They are the opposite of the ambitious, driven, political coworker you might have who is only concerned with getting to the top of the ladder because

2. FIRE is not a race. FIRE is definitely a path that you travel, but it is more like a bunch of people wandering around an open field. Everyone starts in a different place, some of which is in your control and some not. Everyone is free to wander around aimlessly or set their sight on a goal/destination. Maybe this tree looks nice, or maybe that pond would be great. And, at the end of the day, even people as aligned as Mustachians, with a commonly labeled goal like FIRE, will define it for themselves. Maybe they’re all headed toward nice, shady trees, but some want the ones with the fruit, or the songbirds, or the low branches that they can climb.

3. MMM is a really cool guy who works really hard on what he cares about. When “on the clock” at Mustache camp, he is tireless and passionate. In short, he is a walking example of someone in a state of continuous Flow (look for the Ted talks on happiness).

4. While it does take some luck to become a celebrity, there is no magic key or unbreakable door to success. Put yourself out there. You never know until you try. Even the tax wizard, Madfientist, still feels that same feeling of uncertainty when he goes to send in his tax return to the IRS, but it never stops him from actually clicking “send”.

5. FIRE is not an identity. FIRE will not bring happiness on its own. Happiness comes from within. Happiness comes from overcoming fear and challenge; it comes from growing and producing and helping others do the same. Even for someone like MMM, who seems like he defines his life around early retirement admits that he probably would still be happily working as a corporate programmer if he had never had kids.

6. Taxes are a sure thing but not necessarily a huge thing, especially if you don’t have your own business. For regular W-2 employees, taxes are fairly simple. You earn a salary, your employer takes some witholdings, you take advantage of tax deferred retirement accounts, employer matches, and hsa’s as your circumstances allow. If you don’t have all the options at your employer, you can ask for them to be added (much easier to institute at smaller companies). All of this is fairly simple, guaranteed, and probably minor when you’re pre-FI (your frugal lifestyle should allow you to save way more than the accounts are limited too, right?). However, the game can get much more creative once you have income from your own business. The larger a portion of your income comes in through Scorp/Ccorps, the more potential upside (and downside if you do it wrong). And you will never be able to shield your salary through a company.

7. You don’t have to be an investment banker to FIRE, but you may want to be an engineer.
A higher salary (assuming you don’t just spend more) will bring FIRE sooner. However, many people who earn the highest salaries also seem to have the highest cost/standard of living. If I thought I needed millions upon millions of dollars, I’d realize the only mathematical way to get there (without extreme leverage or a trust fund) would be the $400k+ salary of a physician or banker. That would require tons of stress (and for a physician. school) and a longer career. However, many Mustachians strike more of an “Easy Does It” path of least resistance toward regaining control of their time and life as quickly as possible. That balance ends up leveraging efficient (cost of) living to lower the FI number closer to $0.5-3M, which is achievable on an engineer salary by an age when many doctors are just getting out of residency.

8. Lastly: YOU too can create your own Camp Mustache!

60 people seems the right amount for a weekend of meaningful campfire networking, but there are many more Mustachians around the world. If you have the interest in doing the legwork, Pete seemed very open to expanding the tour.
Just to name a few: DC and San Fran have huge local meetup markets. Atlanta generally would have the most frugal flights.


3 thoughts on “Things I Learned From Camp Mustache II

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