The Dose Makes the Poison // Radical Moderation in Frugality, Saving and Spending -- not trying to save too fast or spend too perfectly en route to financial independence or early retirementwe've learned

The Dose Makes the Poison // Radical Moderation in Frugality, Saving and Spending

There’s a principle in medical science that’s most often cited as “the dose makes the poison.” Let’s talk about one example.

There’s a drug that’s a central nervous system stimulant, it’s massively addictive both physically and mentally and, when ingested, can cause aggression, heart palpitations, nausea, vomiting, disassociative and delusional behavior, even death.

Wow, what a horrible substance! Surely we must band together to ban this drug for the good of mankind!

Except, that will be kind of hard, and I will fight you over it. Because the substance we’re talking about is caffeine. And those effects only happen when ingesting massive doses. At least double what I ingest when work is buying me nitro cold brew. (Kidding. More like 1000x.)

Starbucks nitro cold brew with sweet cream

My chosen poison.

Now, let’s talk about another substance. This one is an effective treatment for such serious illnesses as bronchopulmonary dysplasia and apnea in premature babies, it protects against Parkinson’s disease, and it can safely enhance athletic performance and improve mental alertness.

Is my narrative device too obvious here? Because we’re still talking about caffeine. And the point is:

Something can be harmless, harmful or even beneficial, and what’s good or bad is not the thing itself, but the dose.

“All things are poison, and nothing is without poison, the dosage alone makes it so a thing is not a poison.” — Paracelsus

(And for you non-science, literature nerds, Hamlet said something similar: “For there’s nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” Looking out for you guys, too. #litnerdsunite)

The notion of the dose making the poison is the principle behind toxicology, and recognition that it matters whether we’re talking about a little bit or a lot of something. And it turns out that we can apply the exact same principle to money – and to all of life.

The Dose Makes the Poison // Radical Moderation in Frugality, Saving and Spending -- not trying to save too fast or spend too perfectly en route to financial independence or early retirement

Money Isn’t Good or Bad

Some of the happiest people I’ve ever known were those who were shortest on money. And some of the absolute worst, most miserable, least grounded ones were those with the most. We’re all here because we’re attempting to save more of our money than most people do, but I’ve learned this harsh truth time and time again:

Having more money doesn’t make a person any happier. Just as often, it can do exactly the opposite.

I’ve also learned that having plenty of money doesn’t make a person any kinder, smarter, more generous, more forgiving, more trusting or even possessing of better taste. And having little to no money doesn’t mean a person isn’t those things.

So money isn’t itself good or bad. It’s a tool, just like any chemical or pharmaceutical, and the dose matters.

Going All In, All at Once

This interesting thing happens when many people discover the idea of financial independence or early retirement: I call it the deep end effect.

We might first dip a toe in, then perhaps try out the shallows. But it’s such a powerful idea, that most of us end up beelining straight for the deep end. Which means: no playing around where we can safely touch the bottom, focusing just on how fun the water is. Instead: total commitment, foregoing the safety of the shallow end in favor of the big rewards of braving the deep end.

And lots of things encourage us: the loudest voices cheering us on from the side, shouting, “You’re good! You don’t need the lifesaver!” even if we struggle to keep our heads above water. Our own overwhelming desire for the glory. Our own pride, not wanting to admit that maybe we should have stayed in the shallow end a bit longer.

This is a thinly veiled metaphor for the addictive feeling of seeing our numbers go up quickly, the pressure that many of our FI blogs put on people to save at an extremely and perhaps unachievably high rate, and the goal of achieving the “perfection” of a fully optimized budget with no fat left to trim.

The deep end effect is going straight from nothing to the big dose. And it’s intoxicating, because we’re not used to it. Good intoxicating at first, but if we don’t moderate ourselves at some point, we quickly see the dark side of the dose.

Holding Back to Finish

If you have a headache, you don’t automatically reach for 12 aspirins. You take two, and if those don’t work, you maybe take two more. And for good reason: taking 12 aspirin is super bad for you. Well going straight to the deep end in your own finances could be bad for you, too.

The comments section of this blog, and my email inbox, are littered with people sharing their very personal stories of doing too much too quickly to save for early retirement, or of asking for tips in how they can possibly sustain their pace over the course of many years. And my answer is always the same: slow down.

My friend Maggie hates the marathon metaphor, but it’s apt here: If you want to finish the marathon, you don’t go out at a sprint. You go a lot more slowly than you could sustain for a short distance, and you pace yourself. You moderate. As everyone who has finished a marathon knows, a lot of the game is actually slowing yourself down so you never get going too fast. It’s hard sometimes, because you know you could run faster at that moment, but holding back is the key to finishing.

“Holding back is the key to finishing.”

It’s the same with all the stuff that surrounds money – frugality, savings rates, spending on “wants.” There’s external pressure and the pressure we put on ourselves to keep getting closer to perfect, but perfect isn’t sustainable.

The Dose Makes the Poison with Money Behaviors, Too

The personal finance community is as guilty as anyone of creating these idealized models of what life should look like, and creating our own enemy symbols.

Anyone who still pays for cable TV is an idiot, obviously, and really, if you even still have a TV at all, you’re probably doing it wrong. If you bought something from Amazon on Prime Day, you’re a mindless consumer robot. And if you haven’t given away half your stuff already, then you might as well just light your money on fire. Don’t even get me started on those lattes, which are a one-way ticket to financial hell.

A few weeks ago I wrote about those cooking boxes you can get delivered, and based on the responses, those are definitely next up on the list of “Public Enemy No. 1 for Money-Smart People.” (My caution against them was that they could make us lazy and rob us of an opportunity to learn and grow – but also acknowledged that we all need some convenience, and if that’s your convenience of choice, then great. Oh, and I’m opposed to the amount of garbage they generate – that’s a legit problem.)

But any of those spending choices – just like literally anything you could choose to spend your money on – should never be seen as about the choice or behavior itself, but about the dose.

Someone who pays for convenience sometimes isn’t lazy or stupid. You do not get more karma points for being a perfect specimen of frugality. St. Peter doesn’t greet you more warmly when you reach the pearly gates just because you eschewed cable and cooking boxes and the latest iPhone.

The Problem with Purity

Much has been written about all the pressure that young people today feel because of social media. Instagram hashtags like #eatclean make those who occasionally indulge in a burger feel like gluttons, and we see this play out in the rise of orthorexia (obsession with healthy eating that becomes an eating disorder). The only way to eat “correctly” is to make sure everything that crosses your lips is Instagram-worthy.

Except, that’s just false. Nutritional science is still incredibly nascent and inherently flawed because no one remembers everything they ate over the long term, so dietary behaviors can’t be studied with anything like scientific accuracy. Movies like What the Health purport to tell us “the right way” to eat, but they cherry pick the data to tell a compelling (and ideologically driven) story.

So pressure to be perfect around eating, to do it “correctly,” is based on a false idea of “correct,” because we don’t actually know what that is. We think that red meat and saturated fat are bad, but your risk of most diseases only goes up if you eat them often, not if you eat them at all. Eating them occasionally, in moderation, may not actually have any impact on your health whatsoever. So we collectively believe that the best thing we can do for ourselves is to eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, and to minimize the obvious junk, but we’re still feeling around in the dark on the rest. See the recent redemption of cholesterol from Public Health Enemy to eh-probably-NBD.

Mr. ONL’s doctor told him that the fact that he smoked in his younger days actually likely protected him and delayed the onset of his autoimmune disease. So we know cigarettes are bad as a habit, but apparently they might sometimes have the opposite effect.* The dose makes the poison. (*Please do not start smoking. The risk on that is too high to make any possible and theoretical upside worth it. Plus: So expensive!)

Focusing on the Dose, Not the Thing Itself

As much as any of us may try to tell the full, authentic story of our money lives here, there’s bound to be some editing and curation that happens. I do my best to be transparent here (without sharing our numbers, of course), but I’m positive that the Ms. ONL version of me is a lot smarter, nicer and cooler than real life me. That is just the nature of human storytelling. But it matters because I know that my sharing our money story – while inspiring to some – is increasing the volume of the chorus shouting, “This is how it’s done. Anything else is failure.”

Related post: Reconciling Our Online Selves and Real Life

It makes me sad when I see a blogger or tweeter write something like, “My goal was to save X amount this month, but I only saved 90 percent of that, so I give myself an F.” Like, what?! You saved a whole bunch of money, and you consider that a fail? This is crazy talk, people.

Focusing on the thing, not the dose, makes things black and white, when virtually nothing in life is actually either/or. Saving 100 percent of a goal is success, so anything less than that is failure. The latte factor is this big problem, so paying for a latte ever means being financially irresponsible and failing. Resorting to convenience products costs more than DIYing everything, which makes us less than. How about instead, we quit this toxic thinking?

A latte costs, what, four bucks? There is nothing wrong with spending four dollars unless you have less than that. There’s even nothing wrong with buying that latte often if doing so isn’t derailing your financial goals, and that’s something you choose to spend your money on mindfully. I’ve been guilty of posting pics of lattes with the faux-confession of “Look how naughty I’m being.” I will stop this, because it only reinforces this notion that a latte is a sin, when it’s not. It’s just a thing. The problem is buying them every day without thinking, regardless of whether they bring us real joy or happiness, and even then, they are only possibly a problem in relation to our context at that point in time.

For years, I was super careful to have only a half cup of coffee once each morning, because I’m a terrible sleeper and didn’t want to do anything to make sleep even more challenging for me. And in those years, if I had a full cup as an exception one day, I really felt that caffeine. I’d be jittery and talk too fast, and feel like everyone could tell that I was jacked up. However, in these last few years of work, I’ve relaxed my coffee rules just to be able to get through the long travel and work days, and I now have at least a full strong cup of coffee each day, but some days have two or three, often of high octane nitro while traveling. And if I add another cup to the mix now? Nothing. I’d have to get five servings deep to feel the jitters or to start talking like the Micro Machines man.

The dose matters – and so does the context.

I could buy, with my own money, a latte every day right now, and it would not affect my savings rate in any meaningful way. Because in my current context, that’s a drop in the bucket. That hasn’t always been true for me — I had my years of just scraping by, of accruing debt to buy essentials, of paying off that debt — but that’s where we are right now. For someone else, a latte every day or not could be the difference between getting ahead or falling behind. But the latte itself isn’t the problem, it’s the merely a symbol of larger money habits like mindless spending which, when viewed out of context, makes an easy target to hold up as This Thing That’s Wrong With Us.

The Power of Radical Moderation

If it’s not obvious, I think anyone who truly loves lattes should buy the damn latte, at least every once in a while. Whatever it is that you truly love should always be accounted for in your budget.

If you entirely give up something you truly love, you’re doing this wrong.

This desire to optimize our spending and achieve high rates of saving makes total sense because all of this is so exciting and motivating, but for many of us, perfect isn’t sustainable, if it’s even achievable to begin with. So let’s not even try to achieve it, because that way lies unhappiness. Rather let’s embrace the radical part of radical moderation, and be dogged in insisting on not being perfect, on making room in our journey for whatever is most meaningful to us that might not be easy to represent on a spreadsheet or in numerical form.

Instead of focusing on some thing or set of things as either good or bad, let’s focus on the dose, especially when it comes to:

Frugality and Spending — Instead of aiming for perfection and the banishment of all of the things raised up as symbols of Evil Waste, focus on what’s easy to give up in your context vs. what’s truly important to you. We gave up cable and most restaurant spending painlessly, but still spend a relative ton on travel for concerts, because we value that above most things. If we gave that up, our pace would only increase a tiny amount, but we’d feel that loss deeply. But, just because we love music, it doesn’t mean we have to go to every concert we’d like to see. That would be too high a dose, and would absolutely slow us way down. Concerts and the travel surrounding them aren’t themselves bad, and it’s up to us to calibrate the dose to find the balance, in our context, between getting to keep doing the thing we love without spending too much on it. You could apply this example to anything that brings you disproportionate joy, whatever that might be.

Saving — We have seen in our own journey how addictive it can be to focus on saving as fast as we possibly can, pushing that rate ever higher, and on making ourselves miserable in the process. It’s why last year was so hard — we saved too much, too fast, and we didn’t take enough care of ourselves along the way by actually taking time to relax or using our vacation days. It’s why we’ve actually slowed down our savings rate a tiny bit this year, because last year’s dose was too high for us. We decided this is our last hurrah with big disposable income, and so we’ve done a few things that we can’t easily do again, like take a ski trip to Japan this past winter and buy a few things that won’t be in the budget once we quit working. We couldn’t even tell you what our savings rate is this year, and we probably won’t ever calculate it, because the rate itself isn’t important. We don’t grade ourselves on a pass/fail system any longer, either. What matters is that we aren’t letting the journey to our big goal make us unhappy or unhealthy anymore.

What’s Your Moderation Story?

Have you embraced radical moderation? If not, what’s one thing you could loosen your belt on to increase your happiness or to make your journey more sustainable? If you have embraced it, what helped you get there? Anyone care to confess to having taken too extreme an approach — focusing on the thing, not the dose — and being forced to slow down? Want to stick up for spending money on something that you often see vilified in the media or on blogs? We’d love to hear from you in the comments!

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100 replies »

  1. Moderation matters so much. I’ve made myself utterly miserable trying to out-frugal myself and others in the PF world. The most maddening part is how many times I’ve done it. It’s like keeping up with the opposite of the Joneses. For some people like me, all or nothing is easier than moderation…but moderation is where I find I live my richest, fullest life.

    • Your last sentiment really hits home for me. I’m also an all-or-nothing kind of person (have you heard Gretchen Rubin talk about abstainers and moderators?), and it’s so much easier for me to make decisions when I have a loud and clear rule to fall back on, like “I never buy lattes” or “we save X% of our income every month.” But at the same time, I really, really like the occasional latte, and occasionally missing our usual savings target means we get to have some outstanding experiences and buy fancy things that make our lives so much better (looking at you, mountain bikes!). It’s easier to follow the rules, but more fun to be flexible. I’m working on choosing the more fun option.

      • I completely feel your pain! I definitely thought of myself as an abstainer for many years, and did find some things to be easier that way. But eventually, the dam would break, and then I’d want all the things I had abstained from. So I had to teach myself to be a moderator, which wasn’t easy, but it’s possible. Good for you for prioritizing fun!

    • If you read through these comments, you are far from alone! My extreme couponing phase comes to mind as my great lesson in this. I successfully achieved a truly tiny grocery budget, but we ate garbage, felt like garbage, and spent SO MUCH TIME looking for deals. I felt like a badass, but it was also making me so miserable. I don’t regret that phase because it was an important lesson, and sometimes I cringe at what we spend on groceries now, but I have seen that particular deep end, and I know it wasn’t for me. :-)

  2. I know a guy who almost died from caffeine. 4 days of non stop work, little to no food, no sleep and all the Red Bull. We could blame the Red Bull, but adjusting all of those extremes and he wouldn’t have been hospitalized.

    Calibration has been a huge part of this journey for me. It is too easy to say something is important and you can’t cut back. Certain things I thought brought me joy weren’t missed after zealous cutting. Other things I thought weren’t important were what I missed. Temporary extreme doses can be incredibly helpful, so long as they aren’t 4 day all day and nighter Red Bull binges.

    • Oh geez. I hope that guy has quit those deadly habits?? And I think you’re right that there’s no harm in trying out cutting different things — like I don’t actually think it’s bad to go into the deep end. The problem is staying there when we’re unhappy or unhealthy instead of admitting that we overdid things and dialing them back. But heck yeah, try giving stuff up and then see if you truly miss it or not!

  3. You post makes such sense. In my initial efforts to pay down debts and save more for retirement, I slashed our grocery budget down to $250 a month for a family of 4. While we did do this for months we weren’t eating all that healthy, or really anything locally. So I eased off our food budget so we now get produce weekly through our CSA which is local and organic, and we recently purchased a 1/4 cow which is organic and grain fed. Sometimes we even splurge for local cheese. All in I think we’re closer to $350 a month for groceries, but it aligns more with our values and will be better for our health in the long run. (We still eat boxed mac & cheese and store bought hot dogs because with kids we need out sanity too).

    I see no point retiring early just to live on rice and beans, working isn’t that bad.

    (I also turn into the Mico Machines man if I drink full sugar cola, I totally get what you mean there.)

    • I’m impressed that you can keep your food budget that low with all those great additions! But major applause for prioritizing healthy and local food. We went off the couponing deep end back in the day, which made us eat the worst crap and feel horrible. Now we spend TONS more on groceries, but it’s so worth it to us. (And everyone needs their equivalent of mac and cheese — no shame!) ;-)

  4. You hit the nail on the head here, Ms. ONL! Sometimes I find myself asking if saving “only” 45% makes me a legit FI blogger. (I’m laughing at myself here). For us, that rate feels comfortable. We don’t second guess everything we spend, we travel, we eat out. Mr. ThreeYear doesn’t feel poor, something he experienced quite enough while growing up. We have goals, yes, but we’re hitting them, and we get to do it in our time, at our pace. Thanks for the perspective on saving and spending!! And yes, Penny, I so agree with you–I’m an all or nothing person, too, but when I manage moderation, it feels wonderful. :)

    • Thanks, Laurie! :-) I think you already know the answer to your question, but, um, YES, 45% savings rate is AWESOME and makes you TOTALLY LEGIT. Don’t let the crazy freaky PF bloggers skew your perception. In the real world, YOU are one of the extreme outliers!

  5. Radical moderation is a good way to put it! I think sometimes we’re so used to extremes that it’s strangely more comfortable to adopt an all-or-nothing mindset rather than allowing a less rigid approach that requires more self-regulation. I know that’s true of me personally; I’m better off not having junk food in the house at all, rather than trying to self-regulate into moderate consumption of it. Same with buying coffees out! It’s definitely something I’m working on becoming more mindful of, just the idea of being ok with less rigidity.

    That said, foregoing junk food and takeaway coffees doesn’t feel like deprivation to me, whereas foregoing travel is utterly unthinkable! So maybe that’s a form of moderation in itself. Food for thought, as always, Mrs. ONL!

    • Oh I hear you on the junk food! I am equally powerless. (Though, I have had success with portioning out ice cream into little espresso cups. That actually works to let me eat it without plowing through the whole container!) And, as you said, you can be moderate in your moderation, not applying it to everything. ;-) You certainly don’t NEED junk food and takeout coffee, so why bend on that stuff?

  6. Yes!

    FIRE stories are so addicting that it was tough for me to realize that we’re not really FIRE people. Of course, frugality is a prudent way to live, and FI has some value for us too.

    We’ve also done the great moderation on the income side. I can hustle and work more but as a part timer I earn plenty for our family. I feel little desire to work more since my kids are so young.

    • Yes, moderation is so important in income, too! I definitely worked myself WAY too hard for all those years I worked this career plus had a hefty side hustle. I enjoyed the side hustle, thank goodness, but I finally had to admit that I couldn’t handle both. High five for prioritizing time with your young family over earning more!

  7. That’s pretty awesome that we’re so aligned on this. I just wrote a similar blog post about the ancient Greek wisdom “All things in moderation”. Spending, saving – what good is either if you can’t make the distance! Great points and great minds…

  8. I needed this post so much. I have become one of those radical savers in response to reading all these FIRE blogs. My educational choices left me with a mountain of student loan debt, and the FIRE movement was the pinprick of light I found at a time I needed it most. I have been giving up a lot to get everything paid in record time, and it is definitely taking a toll on me. I keep thinking, “If X blogger can do it in this amount of time, why can’t I? What is wrong with me?” Seeing this post has made me realize I’m still just trying to keep up with the (Anti-)Joneses.

    I’m still going to be a radical saver until my loans are paid. I am so close to having them gone, and debt is still a greater evil than anything else to me right now. However, I think I’m going to be a lot less intense after my debts are resolved. I can’t see myself being this radical for the long term and maintaining my health.

    • So glad I could be helpful today! :-) And as for those pesky Joneses, yep, they live here in FI land, too. ( I think your approach of keeping your foot on the gas while you’re paying off your debt makes great sense, given that you’ll give yourself some breathing room to reassess when the debt emergency is over. Take care of yourself, and make sure you leave lots of room for present tense happiness in your life, not just future tense happiness! :-)

  9. Sometimes I feel like you’re reading my mind :) For weeks I’ve been writing a post in my head about how I need a break from PF. For me, it’s not so much the spending/saving side but instead how much time I spend reading blogs and immersing myself into all the FIRE stuff.

    I’ve taken a break from my blog and tried to cut back on how much time I spend on reading about FIRE. I appreciate how much information is available but sometimes it feels overwhelming and all-consuming. I’m trying to spend time on other non-finance related activities to recalibrate my life.

    All things in moderation :)

    • OMG, you and me both. After almost 3 yrs of blogging I hit the wall last November. I only comment sometimes now and read way less blogs, and you know what? It’s been great on my end.

      Cheers to getting your PF focus moderated!

      • I definitely miss reading so many blog friends more regularly, but I had to accept that I couldn’t keep up! :-(

      • Totally agree! Glad you’ve found balance as well.

        I feel like I can add more to the conversation by commenting on posts than by writing posts of my own. There are so many other things to do than write so I’m trying to put my real life first, with PF second.

      • I definitely admire that view! Perhaps obviously, I feel like I need my own platform in the conversation, but I also recognize fully that this platform only is what it is because so many generous folks like you are willing to come and dig in deeply in the conversation here. <3

    • Aw, thanks, Kate! :-D Though maybe that makes me the worst blogger ever, driving you away from blogs?! ;-) Haha. Go with your gut — as today’s survey results post shows, LOTS of people read too many blogs initially and then find they need to scale back. You are not alone!

      • I totally agree with the survey results! Now that I have my plan in place to achieve FIRE, it’s time to back off and stop being obsessive. I’m maximizing everything I can so there isn’t much more to do. Not saying there isn’t something to be learned from other bloggers but I haven’t seen many new ideas, which is also part of the reason I’ve stopped blogging. At this point, I don’t feel like I have much to add so it’s not worth wasting my time or anyone else’s.

        Now my interest has shifted to withdrawal strategies (it’s been amazing to see so many posts lately about that) and the transition to early retirement. That being said, your blog is right up my alley at this point in time. It’s amazing to have people like you write about your experiences so that those of us further from FIRE have an idea of what to expect and how to best prepare. Can’t wait for your posts in the coming months :)

      • That means a lot! I’m honored to make the cut. :-) And yeah, at a certain point, you’re trying to squeeze blood out of a stone, and that’s just not worth it! Glad you’re taking care of yourself and not continuing to drink from the fire hose forever! :-)

  10. I love the idea of radical moderation. It is definitely far too common in the FI space to read about people going overboard and pressuring others to as well. Ultimately we are trying to achieve FI so that we can live a happier life. If we give up things that make us happy, then we are defeating the purpose.

    • Thanks, Matt! I sometimes wonder if we could rename FIRE to be something more happiness-focused, because that’s what’s underlying all of this… but that’s also easy to forget when we get caught up in the spreadsheets and optimization and impatience and competitiveness. “Financial Independence for the Sake of Happiness (FISH)” doesn’t have the same ring to it, huh? ;-)

  11. I definitely agree with the radical moderation idea. We should always enjoy life as it unfolds, not just living for a goal years from now. I’ve seen too many people put off quality of life until retirement (conventional retirement, usually), only to have an untimely death. And I agree that there is no shame in picking your “splurges.”

    • Same here! And that just feels so tragic, to see people sacrifice so harshly for a day that never comes. If we aren’t enjoying our lives on the way to FI, we’re doing it wrong.

  12. Amen sister! We used the “if we died tomorrow” test to make sure we found a balance that worked for us. We had to do some shifting early on when we failed the test. We still made the end goal but on our terms.

    • That is a great test! What would you regret having given up on your death bed? Glad you guys applied that and got to FI the way that felt right to you.

  13. I love the idea of radical moderation! I have fallen into a trap recently of berating myself because I haven’t saved ‘enough’ for my tiny house. After a lot of negative self-talk, I realized I can’t compare myself to other bloggers out there. Because I’m not them. I think it’s truly amazing that people in this space have been able to save huge sums of their money. But their success doesn’t degrade or lessen the importance of my smaller contributions to savings (though in my head it did). Going ‘to the deep end’ just doesn’t work for me because when I ‘fail’, it feels like a total disaster when it really isn’t. Thanks for flying the moderation flag!

    • Thanks! And I’m so glad you’re changing your mindset on this stuff. I know that exactly zero bloggers are trying to shame you for what you’re saving, which isn’t even important, but is worth remembering. But the fact that you’re doing this HUGE thing (tiny thing?) ;-) is what matters, not what someone else is doing!

  14. This reminds me of the bike challenge I just finished. I’m sure Mr. MM would be proud (and probably disappointed I didn’t bike EVERYWHERE, just to work), but the whole process backfired on me. I GAINED weight and it wasn’t muscle, which is the first question everyone asks me about why. One size DOES NOT fit all. I’m better with moderation as a whole. I eat bread (seldom), meat and cheese (occasionally), and subscribe to no particular diet. I mean I could go on and on. You have to find the right balance for yourself. I would never go on a vacation with consumer debt, but that’s just ME! For some that’s a non-negotiable. I still can’t get over the debate on renting or owning. Both camps are pretty damn sure of themselves. But the fact is real estate in LA for ME is a pipe dream, and one dream I’m not that interested in in LA even with the money. Some of my least favorite posts are things like, “Why I (do this thing) and YOU SHOULD TOO! ugh! OK, rant over! :)

    • I’m on an anti-bike-everywhere tear at the moment (just because I’m sick of the advice, which isn’t practical for everyone — not everywhere has good biking weather, safe drivers, bike lanes, etc., and not everyone can shower at work or carry multiple changes of clothes), so I feel you on this! And TOTALLY with you on both sides of all debates needing to have a bigger dose of humility and a smaller dose of certainty. Almost nothing is black or white!

  15. Man, I LOVE this metaphor. In many ways you can have too much or too little frugality in your life. You have to find your right “dose” (and everyone needs something different) for you to actually be successful.

    • Thanks! And totally true — we all have to figure out our own balance on this stuff.

  16. I think moderation can only be appreciated once you’ve thrown yourself in the deep end. We’ve oscillated between the poles on extremely high and extremely low savings rates the past two years. I think the months where we go extremely low expense it surfaces what is really important to us. As an example, I didn’t renew my yoga classes for two months, then realized, it wasn’t worth dropping that expense because those classes drive a lot of value.

    From my experience, throwing yourself in the deep-end and getting extreme on expense elimination is really the only way to figure out the right dosage on the right expenses. We went from dining out 3x per week for years to 0x per week for months, now we’ve figured out that we can dine out 1x per week and be happy.

    • I agree with Kate here. This is a fabulous post for many of the people reading your blog, who are likely super-savers and maybe saving too much, where I define too much as not spending on things that do make you very happy even when you can afford it. This is actually a real problem for a portion of the population, which is overrepresented in this audience.

      At the same time, most of the population has the opposite problem of spending too much (often mindlessly) on things that don’t actually make them happy. A kick in pants (or Mr. MM face punch) is the heavy initial dose of medicine often needed to spark the positive changes that will end up in higher savings and more happiness. A more moderate dose in many cases doesn’t have the same positive effect.

      • I agree with both of you. MMM is a great blog to get started on FIRE and I love the punch-in-the-face writing style. In fact I read his blog within a few weeks and was (and still am) totally hooked.

        Now, two years later, I see a lot of value in nuanced posts like this one by Mrs. ONL. Sort of an advanced FIRE blog. It’s OK to be imperfect. Once the money saving habits are established, buying a latte here and there won’t move the needle.

      • Awww, you know I will take the compliment any day of being called the advanced blog. ;-) But I think you’re totally right: we often need that punch to the face to wake up to what we’re doing and what’s possible, but things rarely stay that black and white. As we learn more, we need that nuance so we don’t make ourselves miserable. :-)

      • You’re right on both counts — MOST people do need the punch to the face, but those aren’t the folks reading here. ;-) See today’s survey results post for proof!

      • So true! And just a good reminder generally that we virtually always need people with different approaches — that’s so easy to forget sometimes!

    • I totally agree with that! I should have made that clearer in the post (but it was already 3000 words!), but I don’t think the problem is GOING into the deep end, it’s STAYING in there if you’re struggling or unhappy.

  17. A line that has stayed with me since a professor spoke it when I was a first-year med student in 1998: “Pharmacology is controlled toxicology.”

    Pretty much every drug I infuse in your IV has the potential to kill, yet anesthesia has become more and more safe over the years. Part of that is improved monitoring and vigilance, but a more thorough understanding of drug effects (and drugs with a wider therapeutic index) has played a role.

    But we’re talking about money and financial independence, aren’t we? I got a bit sidetracked, but we are certainly not among the most frugal in the FIRE realm. One of our bigger splurges might be pianos and piano lessons. We somehow own three digital pianos now, and spend a couple thousand dollars a year on lessons for our boys. I should really start to learn me some piano. It’s been great for the kids.


    • THREE DIGITAL PIANOS?! You’re kicked out of the club! Hahaha. Hey, if that makes you guys happy, then rock on. (Or classical on? Jazz on?)

  18. Wow, what great timing on this post. I really needed to hear this. Yesterday, after reading Brandon’s Mad Fientist One Year of Retirement recap blog post, I was surprised to find that I just felt discouraged. For me the “you’re doing it wrong” moments always crop up when successful bloggers start talking about how great their side-hustles have been for their retirement plans. That’s awesome for them (and I LOVE Brandon’s site) but that’s just NOT ME. I’m an introvert. I’m not a side-hustle person. I’ve tried and failed on a few because my need for privacy outweighs the benefits of spending every waking free moment hustling for a few more bucks.

    Yes, we want to achieve FI as soon as possible, but we’re starting to realize that it’ll take however long it takes and we need to be comfortable with our plans and our financial status before we cut the cord. I’m trying to work more on things that might cost a “little” money rather than putting everything on the “when we’re FI” list. And starting our weekly $20 date has been a great way to enjoy some moderation. $20 will buy some really delightful indulgences that we really look forward to, and it gives us a block of time every week to just enjoy those indulgences, and each other, and focus on the present. We’re both learning to be a lot happier with some small changes that let us enjoy right now.

    Mrs. ONL, you’re a delight. I love your sense of perspective on everything, your willingness to explore the gray areas. You are probably the most genuine blogger I’ve ever read, on any subject, and I truly look forward to reading your posts. Keep rocking! :)

    • I’m so glad I could bring you the right post at the right time! <3 I totally get it, and in case you haven't seen this post (, it might also be worth a glance. I do think FIRE blogs by their very nature tell a skewed story from a small sample size of people with heavy selection bias, so it’s important not to attach too much meaning to any of this! ;-)

      I love your $20 dates, and that you’re doing them weekly! That seems like a lovely way to dedicate time to each other without slowing down your progress, and I’m sure it’s fun coming up with creative date ideas.

      And, obviously, the end of your comment brought tears to my eyes and made me all kinds of happy. Thank you. Best compliment ever. :-)

  19. Everything about this is so true and it’s exactly what I needed to hear as a relatively new PF blogger. Reading everyone’s amazing stories absolutely makes me want to jump in the deep end, but it’s not feasible for me at the moment and absolutely would result in burnout. It’s easy to get discouraged as someone with a moderate income in a HCOL area to feel like I’m not doing enough. I had a good savings month but still only saved 15%? My rent is 50% of my income? Clearly I’m not doing enough to move to a place that’s cheaper (that’s a joke in this city)! Clearly I need to side hustle during all of my free time to make more money! Or go find another job that pays me more (which, okay, but that’s a different conversation)! It’s amazing how many times we in the PF community talk about not keeping up with the Joneses when in reality we’re trying to keep up with the FI Joneses. In my case, my apartment works for me, my spendy barre membership is good for my health, and I’m someone who needs alone time when I get home from my day job instead of rushing off to do something else that makes money. If that means I don’t reach FI IMMEDIATELY perhaps that’s disappointing, but so be it!

    • Hi Erin! Your comment made me think of this post: I think you’re exactly right that a lot of us, when we discover FIRE, trade one set of Joneses (the spending kind) for a different set of Joneses (the saving kind). Either way, it’s a toxic game of competition and comparison that’s good for no one. So it’s great you’ve recognized that, and aren’t pressuring yourself to do all whackadoodle things that the conventional wisdom would have you do, instead finding your own path. Plus, saving 15% is STILL SUPER AWESOME, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. :-)

  20. Thank you for this post. I think you just gave me a light bulb moment. My husband and I have been feeling very unsettled lately. We are so close to reaching our goal that we’ve been discussing making some radical changes to make it across the finish line sooner (like, now!). The problem is that we don’t really want to do these things (moving being the biggest change). We miss some of the things we’ve already given up, and maybe this unsettled feeling is just us realizing these changes aren’t in line with where we really want to be. We’re still in good shape and on track to retire much earlier and much more comfortably than we ever thought possible.

    Thank you Mrs. ONL, I truly look forward to your blog posts. I’m a relatively new reader, but you have quickly become my favorite blogger. I think your perspective is not only refreshing, but NECESSARY in this space.

    • I’m so glad for you guys that you’re listening to your guts and recognizing what that unsettled feeling likely means! That’s hard to do, so please celebrate that! The worst thing you could do is exhaust yourself or subtract the joy from your life, only to arrive at the goal line feeling miserable.

      And thank you thank you for your sweet note. That means so much to me! :-) <3

  21. I have a problem with moderation. I think it’s just part of my personality. I enjoy optimizing stuff so much that it is part of the fun. Think of it like those extreme couponers (which I am fortunately not one). I think the challenge is the game of saving… not the actual dollars that they save. It might not make them happier if they give up their coupons. (Although maybe it would, I don’t know… happiness is weird)

    I had to laugh about the spending stuff. I remember feeling really bad about including a flat panel television in my 2007 holiday gift guide. Spending $2000 on a 46″ TV was INSANE in the personal finance community.

    Getting to the caffeine thing, it is amazing the mark-up that people will pay to get it in various forms. I hate to go all latte effect, but it can be hundreds of thousands of dollars:

    Just don’t get me started on the people who spend big bucks on pink himalayan salt ;-).

    • Oh, dude, I did that coupon thing once upon a time. Don’t repeat my mistake! :-) And don’t dis my pink salt! (JK. You know we didn’t buy it for ourselves.) I totally get wanting to optimize stuff, and I think that’s mostly harmless, so long as you aren’t using optimization as a way to rationalize eliminating expenditures that you bring you unquantifiable joy. ;-)

  22. When I first started my career, I lived in an aviation-centric area and thought it was the perfect time to finally learn how to fly myself, which had been a lifelong dream. At $150/hour or so, taking lessons wasn’t cheap (the entire course of lessons is at least 40 hours). But spaced out over the course of two years, I can’t say I noticed the expense. I lived with two roommates three miles from work, I shopped at the low-end grocery store that none of my acquaintances had ever stepped inside, and so forth, each such deliberate decision saving as much money as the flight lessons cost. I’d be a tiny bit closer to our savings goal today had I not learned to fly, but I also wouldn’t know the liberation of literally feeling the wind under my wings.

    • I LOVE LOVE LOVE that you did that. I’m not sure I have the constitution to take the controls myself, but I love flying (and will miss it next year!), so I’m glad you invested in those lessons!

  23. Yes… I feel like I try to follow an 80% rule on things. Try to eat right 80% of the time, get my finances right 80% of the time, make sure I fit in a workout 80% of the days of the week (3 days off in 2 weeks is OK). In my work life, since I was in a production/sales position, I always tried my best to stay in the top group of salespeople but never strived to be the top person for a lot of reasons, just wanted to be very relevant. In my college days, I always studied hard enough to feel like I could get an 80 on a test or B- on a paper (or would work harder if I felt like it). Radical moderation is a great moniker for it – I always viewed it as a consistency thing and instead of striving for perfection, strive for an 80 and it was easier to stay consistent and not get disappointed because you weren’t perfect. Maybe that makes me sort of a slacker, but everybody’s 80% is different, you know?

    • I totally agree — we should all define what our own 80% looks like! Plus, if we don’t expect ourselves to be perfect or to succeed 100% of the time, then we don’t put ourselves through that feeling of being a failure. Instead, if we set the bar a little lower, we can often beat it, feel like winners, and that only begets more winning. :-) (Okay, now I sound like a certain orange monster, so I’ll stop talking about winning. Hahaha.)

      • Lol, not really. I am thankful that I’ve never leaned towards being a perfectionist and keep my competitive nature more inwardly focused. I view it more as a momentum thing… Just keep things moving forward and don’t get caught up on all the details…. Instead of setting the bar too high, make the goal reachable but still challenging, but then tweak it so it’s a bit higher next time (or not). Radical moderation sounds way cooler though.

      • Haha. Glad I can reframe something with a cooler title! ;-) I aspire to be less stuck on details in ER!

  24. My poor wife. What I’ve put her through in search of FI.

    I feel for her.


    A life of incredible opportunity awaits!

  25. I love this idea. Saving all my dreams for FIRE makes as much sense as Grandma saving her good china for someday as nobody knows what tomorrow will bring. A life must be well lived at every stage. And I totally agree with the others here that living without something is a great way to see how important to you.

    • Or those little guest soaps that just gather dust! Or the fancy towels! Or the couch you’re not allowed to sit on! (Okay, clearly you hit a nerve.) ;-)

  26. Love this perspective! It’s all too warranted around the finance community. We try to do the same: we cut back on spending, but still spend some on things we really really enjoy. It’s also key to moving forward: as we progress, we learn to love the standard (frugality). That’s the end goal.

    If we went too fast, we would end up hating it, and it wouldn’t work out. We’re human, after all. Your food analogies are apt: folks are inclined to engage in a binge/purge cycle with finances as well, and it can be unproductive. Much more than buying a few lattes.

    It’s also a learning process: like you, we’re learning what doses we can take, what we can’t, and what’s really important to us. We increased our spending on a couple of things this month for that reason, and are now considering a vacation as well, even though it wouldn’t be helpful right now financially.

    Like you, I rarely buy lattes anymore, but I bought one last week while out with a mentee, because every few months or so, why not?! It’s easy to get too caught up in the end goals, especially for the finance geeks out there…

    • Thank you, FWP! :-) It sounds like you guys have been through a similar trial-and-error process like we have, and have honed in on the things that truly add value to your life. Way to go in keeping those things in the budget, even if they slow you down just a little. It’s not worth it to get to the end of the journey feeling miserable about your life, even if you got there a little faster!

  27. I don’t know what we’ve gotten too extreme on either way. We’ve been able to keep it fairly balanced. If we use a cleaning service (gasp!!) whatever, it works great for us – or did, it’s been about 3-4 months now without one… Or a yard service – 2 years without one, or cable – just cancelled that last month, BUT when we were paying for these things, there were no F’s given.

    I don’t care about how I’m seen in the FIRE community any more than if I care what my neighbors think about my Jetta not being a BMW or Mercedes. But, it’s easy to get into the PF echo chamber, hold yourselves to those rules and then think you’re “failing” when in fact you’re still crushing it.

    Just because your/mine/their version of “crushing it” whether it’s savings rate, debt payoff, convenience services used or cancelled, may be different, we all do what we can and that should be good enough.

    I think we just need to give ourselves a break at times and if you want a Starbucks, buy a friggin’ Starbucks, lol. Our blog title/idea was born over a Starbucks on one of our Friday morning dates. Like you said, it’s the dose, not the thing itself.

    • THIS: “it’s easy to get into the PF echo chamber, hold yourselves to those rules and then think you’re “failing” when in fact you’re still crushing it.” YES. EXACTLY.

  28. This is a great post! You make a great point about people getting upset over not hitting an extreme savings goal when at the end of the day, they’re still saving–which should be a win!

    Moderation is a large reason why budgeting is useful to me. It’s a way to incorporate fun money, going out to eat, travel, gifts, etc AND saving into my life. On the average month, our budget is not restrictive at all. There are months where things feel tighter if we have a lot going on and others where there is lots leftover for extra savings if we wish. There’s no remorse about spending on travel or the occasional latte or going out to dinner because I know they’re already factored in. (Also, my husband loves to spend his fun money on Starbucks, and the point is he can make that choice!) Planning for savings also helps me make sure that we’re on track to hit our goals, and if we reach them more quickly, it’s great. The worse case scenario is that we’re on track instead of ahead, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

    • Thanks, Mollie! :-) I love that you guys have figured out a system that works well for you. We feel like budgeting failures and have an easier time with artificially constraining our spending, but I totally admire people like you who are budget pros! And you know I love that you give yourselves the freedom to spend a little fun money on Starbucks if you feel like it. ;-)

      • No need to feel like a budgeting failure! I totally admire all the folks like you that can do it without a budget! Every time I think about taking off the training wheels and trying a month without a budget, I panic a little bit about not having money for groceries or some other necessity. (It likely wouldn’t be that bad.) Someday I’ll be brave enough to try it!

        The most important thing is that you have a system that works for you. =)

      • What works for us is just keeping very little of our money in checking, and then we constrain ourselves to that. But it took us a lot of trial and error to decide that was best for us. I don’t think one system is better or worse — all that matters is if it works for you!

  29. I don’t moderate in rent and household consumables like groceries. My wife and kid spend most of their time at home and no compromise there. I live in one of the best places in the city and in a huge house. Hence rent is pretty high.

    Rest we are frugal. We don’t buy stuff unless really needed. Rarely eat out. With these 2 combination itself my saving rate is decent

  30. Dang…. what a power post. You sure know how to write a good wordy post, I need to prepare myself with a good cup of coffee to attack them ;) I really enjoyed your approach to the topic and feel that as long as the trend is in the right direction then you are doing good. Just be aware that the amount of latitude you give yourself affects the length of time until the freedom gets closer. I love my coffee stops and I love climbing gear :) That’s why I need to keep working on my post FI passion side hustle to make money…so in light on the insane twitter chat I saw you guys were in yesterday I am not FIRE at all lol

  31. I soooo wish I read this the day you posted it! I was on a trip this weekend and made myself MISERABLE worrying about unexpected costs raised by an big flight delay. I was so worried about extra expenses I forgot to dive into the snacks I packed (for JUST that kind of problem) and ruined the first night of a mini vacation I had been looking forward to for weeks.

    Luckily after dinner and a few hours of sleep, I was able to realize just what a dumb mental spiral I hit, pull myself out of it, and just roll with the unexpected costs and enjoy myself anyhow.

    When I was reflecting on it more the next day (I always try to learn from my mistakes), I realized I have been worrying about budgeting/savings rate a little TOO much. In the last year I’ve cut a lot of the waste out of my budget but I’m still agonizing about some things I spend on that give me a hell of a lot of value (like, GASP, a personal trainer … heresy in the FI community).

    I’m so going to remember that line, the dose makes the poison. I had definitely heard it before, but not in this context … and I like the phrase even more than ‘moderation in all things, even moderation’. ;)

    So anyhow, THANK you for such a great (and unexpectedly timely) post and tagline! :)

    • So glad this was helpful to you, Jason! And I’m sure virtually all of us can relate to that experience that’s so fresh for you: focusing on the minute details instead of the big picture, and making ourselves miserable by over-focusing on money. And, not that you need permission, but I’ll give it to you anyway: If a personal trainer adds value to your life, then spend that money joyfully and without shame! Money is just a tool, and you get to decide how to use your toolbox. ;-) Also, total props for taking that time to reflect on your bad attitude and making such a conscious effort to turn it around!

  32. I like this topic. I’ll see your radical moderation and raise you — I try to practice moderate moderation. Ha.

    But really, I think people who are serious about something or extremely focused will tend toward radicalism because it’s more interesting / revolutionary. We watch documentaries about climbing Everest, not hiking nice hills.

    There are some of us in the PF blogosphere that aren’t going for FIRE, and it can be difficult to explain what we want out of it, as in, what’s the goal if not retiring young? (And as you pointed out, the various dogma that go along with it — no lattes, index funds, and other doctrines of FIRE).

    For me and my family, moderation is the right course. What do we want out of personal finance? Mostly living our ideal lifestyles and being free from worry. We don’t worry about unexpected car repairs or the high cost of kids’ furniture or stock market dips. There are sooo many things to worry about in life, and if I can take money off the table as an area of concern for my family, I feel … moderately peaceful.

    • See, I bet taking that money stress off the table makes you feel RADICALLY PEACEFUL. ;-) (See what I did there? Haha.) I think ANY money goal is a worthy one, whether it follows the prevailing dogma or not, and seeking to be secure and free from money worry is hugely valuable and valid! Kudos to you guys for making that your focus and not caving to those FIRE extremists out there! ;-) (Wait, am I one of those??)

  33. Moderation in spending is a very, very important thing to have. It has to be cultivated & practiced in order for it to serve you well. I have so many examples of moderation that allows me to grow my financial resources when compared to my peers. My experience of actual events:
    Example (1) : Me – driving a Jap car (>8 years) , Others – driving a Merc/BMW/Audi/Jaguar (Car changes every 5 years or less) . And In the Asian country where I’m in, its probably the most expensive place in the world to own a car.
    Example (2) : Me – $50 for a dress shirt off the rack, Others – $250 for a bespoke dress shirt.
    Example (3) : Me – $200 a hotel night in Japan, Others – $500 a hotel night in Japan…and in both we are most likely to use it only to shower and sleep.
    Example (4) : Me – Public Housing under a quarter of a million dollars, Others – Private million dollar plus house.
    Example (5) : Me – $400 Compact Camera ( using for 5 years now), Others – Full Frame SLRs $3000 – $4000 & upgraded every 2 – 3 years.
    Example (6) : Me – Special occasion dining a hotel restaurant ( $300 for a family of 4), Others – $1,500 private dining affair.
    Example (7) : Me – $30 bottle of wine, Others – $100 / bottle. (I mean why spend $100/bottle when I can’t taste the difference)
    …and there are many others examples with similar situations.
    But in the end, its really about choices one makes.
    One earns the money and hence one has the full rights to decide how it should be spent.
    There is no right or wrong answer. Its just whether or not the choices made support the goals one has in life.
    For me, I decided that it was not going to help our family if we did not moderate our spending. In fact, it became paramount that we needed to do so if we wanted to have a better control over the increasing uncertainties these days. I’ve got friends who were working in the Oil and Gas sector who made lots of money years ago when oil was above US$100 a barrel and wages/bonuses were sky high. It made it easy to buy a new house/condo or upgrade to a luxury car or go for more exotic holidays, etc. But when the oil market went south, there were so many who were caught off guard. So many have not recovered and continue to be in some real dire straits. The “come-back-to-Earth” reality was really painful for them. Now, most have had to contend with new non oil/gas sector jobs with pay cuts of 50% or more but having to service a debt situation acquired when their incomes were at a far higher previous level.

    Moderation comes from increased awareness & mindfulness about what value means to you & your family. In truth, I have a weakness – a love of gold nibed fountains pens. For the most part, fountain pen collecting is a declining hobby around the world but I collect them for their “writability”… other words, it is the nib which is critical to me. If a particular new collection is released and if the nib is no different from what I have, I will not buy it, no matter how different or how much “better” or ” nicer” it may look. I value writing quality over visual looks. Because of this style of moderation, I have become very selective about how I part with my money.

    I think we owe ourselves some of life’s pleasures without burning massive holes in our bank account or putting some serious damage to future financial plans. Nor would we go to the other extreme end of scrimping like a Scrooge Mcduck. All in, It takes some time (and work) to find that path in moderation where we feel most comfortable in its sustainability moving forward. Sure, mistakes will be made but that’s where we learn.

    • Fellow fountain pen lover here! :-D Though I think I only have 1 (maybe 2) with a gold nib. That’s FANCY. ;-)

      I think the delineations you make here make sense — though there could even be moderation in that. Maybe staying in a nicer hotel once in a while is a nice treat for someone — it doesn’t have to be the cheap way ALWAYS… though certainly going the more reasonable route most of the time will serve anyone well!

  34. Yes! What you said here is so true: “The dose matters – and so does the context.” I would amplify that with – “To everything a season”. There have been times of high stress and busyness when we have hired out household services (yard or cleaning), but mostly not. We have typically stayed behind the cell phone tech curve, but recently upgraded and I even bought my husband the newest smart watch for his 60th birthday simply because he loves cool technology and I love watching the kid in him come out. He is now “James Bond” and I am “Moneypenny” and we are having lots of fun with the whole thing. In trying to take better care of my health, I have started making a weekly pilgrimage to a high end grocery store for excellent produce because it tastes better and I will actually eat it (while we still buy staples at Wal-Mart). And oh yes, I have had my latte phase and still enjoy one fairly often. None of those things changes our financial picture at this stage, but each is carefully chosen to add to our enjoyment of life. My husband and I come from very frugal families, so that part came naturally to us. The letting go is something we have had to learn in some respects. We are no longer in the accumulation phase, and honestly it’s been a little weird to no longer be focused on saving. But we are adapting, and evolving and will continue to do so. I have watched one family member in particular take frugality to the extreme while having a martyr complex and looking askance at anyone who does not live the same way. Love her, but nope, I don’t want to be like that when I “grow up” :). Money does not buy happiness, but neither does squeezing every last dime, especially when it is not necessary.

    • That’s a great addition! In our case, we know we have more money than time now, so have paid for some work we know we could do ourselves… if we had the time. It’s worth it to pay $$$ for that right now (though, admittedly, it’s painful!), knowing in the future we’ll have more time than money and can do it ourselves. :-)

  35. First, I wanted to say that I recently discovered your blog and I love pretty much everything you write. Thanks for such a great blog and sharing so many wonderful ideas.

    My husband and I recently stumbled into the FIRE community and it has definitely been a bit of a rush to the deep end! Eek. I find myself feeling anxious to see our numbers going up and work out the details of our plan. There is just so much information to take in and so much to evaluate in our own lives — it’s like trying to drink from a fire hose. I love this idea though of radical moderation and I needed the reminder that it is okay to slow down and breathe a bit in this process!

    • Thanks so much! :-D I hope you know you’re not alone in going straight to the deep end! Now the trick is deciding if you’re comfortable staying there, or want to work back toward where it’s a little more shallow. ;-)

  36. Great post, this is a fantastic reminder of how important moderation can be. I love the coffee example. I try to mostly drink tea for exactly that reason, trying to avoid becoming too reliant on higher doses of caffeine. It’s easy to get excited and get caught up in trying to speed up our journey and attain “perfection” with savings/debt payoff/etc, but we’ll miss out on a lot of life if we don’t slow down and practice patience.

    • Mmmm…. coffee. That’s smart not to get too reliant on it, delicious as it is. ;-) And so true that it’s all too easy to get caught in that perfectionism rat race!

  37. oh man do I hate the concept of “clean eating.” Nothing makes a human dirty. Nothing makes a human impure. My body has organs that process toxins, so no, I do not need a cleanse.

    (I know this is not what your post was about, but boy those concepts bug me. Life is to be lived. Food is fuel, but also should be enjoyed if you can.)

    When I first got out of college, I was too frugal. I almost needed to be, but I was harsher on myself than was necessary. My roommate/best friend had to tell it was okay to buy something because I wanted to. I had been so poor my whole life that this concept was hard to fully live out. Thankfully, I got there eventually.

    That said, I’m not the greatest FIREr. I’m not willing to do so much so quickly. I want to enjoy things now while also building a better future foundation. But my FIRE is so different from most. I just want to keep working on my little business and contributing to my community, which includes the local cafe.

    • I’m with you on #eatclean! Clean vs. dirty has been a toxic construct since the beginning of civilization that has been used to justify all kinds of horrible and wrong-headed thinking. Not that I think #eatclean is THAT bad, but how about we just focus on health, not some fake science that encourages disordered eating.

      And as for your pace on the path to FIRE, I think you have a far healthier perspective than most! Go at the pace that feels right to you, and that lets you live a life you’d be happy to have lived even if you never made it to FIRE proper. A lot of folks can’t say that.

      • Our focuses can get so out of whack. It’s true. Every body has slightly different food intake needs. Finding what feels good for you is most important, in my opinion.

        I hope the perspective stays healthy. It’s definitely hard to remember some days when I look at that loan balance. But I did not acquire the loans in a few months; they’ll take just as many years to destroy as they took to arrive.

  38. I love this post…. I can’t recall how many activities, projects, journeys which I ran into the deep end and then was like “what am I doing?”. I still go over my head but know when to swim back to where I can touch and I love reading FI blogs but they can lead to what I call dreaded comparison syndrome and need to remind myself that I’m doing my thing with my family may way… and its working…. all with moderation… and of course the occasional jump into the deep end. :)

    • Thanks, Chuck! That’s amazing that you can recognize when you’re in the deep end and pull yourself back. And I’m so impressed that you can turn off that comparison thinking — it’s so hard to do!