An Evening with The Mustachians

You only get one birthday a year.  I spent mine with Mr. Money Mustache.

Reclamation By the Bay

The meetup was planned for a Friday evening, 5pm, in a small park on a reclaimed industrial site along the Bay.

The EcoCenter environmental center at Heron's Head Park 

The location just happened to be convenient for MMM; him and his family were staying with friends nearby in the city.  But to me it seemed symbolic of what this movement is all about: reclamation.  Reclaiming our finances from the credit card companies and the student debt and the car loans and the mortgages.  Reclaiming our time from the folly of the forty-hour workweek, from the office cubicle, from the hour-long commute, from two weeks paid vacation.  Reclaiming our culture from the destructive insanity of consumerism, from those damnable Joneses, from the rotted-out carcass of the American Dream.

I came out here to meet a man that has inspired me to change how I live, and to inspire others to carefully consider their own paths.  I came out to meet those similarly inspired and see if we might build some community.

I was not disappointed.

Getting There is Half the Battle

The trip out to the park was a long one.  Google Maps told me I would need to be on a 3:30 BART train to make it from the East Bay to the meetup in time for it to start.  I left work early and didn't feel particularly bad about it: it was my birthday, after all.  Priorities!

Accompanying me was Melanie, my own Ms. Mustache—fellow grad student, rent-splitter, textile repairer, bike rider, and cash-stasher extraordinaire.  She made PB&J sandwiches while I poured salsa into Mason jars.  We grabbed a bag of tortilla chips ($4 for 5 lbs at Costco) and the remnants of my birthday cheesecake (homemade; ate the other half for breakfast), tossed everything into a bag, and jogged downtown to catch the BART.

Ninety minutes and one overfilled bus transfer later, and we arrived at Heron's Head Park.  As soon as I stepped off the bus, I knew I had made an error in clothing selection—the wind was whipping over the Bay, and I had only a t-shirt and a short-sleeved button-down.  No matter!  It would keep me moving around to stay warm and meet new people.

Initially there were less than a dozen of us.  Most had come by bike, but as we began the first of many introductions it became clear how varied this group was going to be: age 20 to 50, students and marketers and reporters and Army soldiers, pretty much evenly distributed over the Bay Area.  A few had come even further—one guy road his bike from Sacramento to be there.  Computer scientists, engineers, and tech people were overrepresented, but that came as no surprise—Silicon Valley is not so far away, and anything related to personal finance and lifestyle engineering will bring Keirsey's Rationals out in force.

Mustachians converge on Heron's Head Park

After about the fifteenth introduction, it became obvious that no one was going to remember anyone else's name.  I found some notecards in my backpack, someone else had a Sharpie in their pocket, and a third produced a roll of medical tape from a bike bag.  Nametags!

Thinking it might come in handy, I taped a notecard to a park bench and wrote "EMAILS (for future ???)" along the top.  By the end of the night, the notecard had been joined by a sheet of cardboard, and I had 73 email addresses.  Build it and they will come!

"I thought you'd be bigger!"

Running a little late, Mr. Money Mustache himself arrived.

MMM standing on a park bench (he's not, in fact, 10 feet tall) [photo by Asi Behar]

He introduced himself by his real name, and prior to drawing a mustache on his name tag, some of the funnier moments occurred when people who didn't know what he looked like failed to realize who he was.

One attendee with a leatherworking connection brought him a custom leather belt as a gift.  "I had to guess on your size, so I picked 42 inches," he laughed.  "I thought you'd be bigger!"

A Very Cool Group

Many others brought food and drink to share: pastries, homebrews, homemade hard cider, and things to grill.  A few had been MMM readers since the beginning, but just as many had recently discovered the blog and come to the meetup to see what was up.  Some had families, some were well underway in 'stashing for retirement, while others were just getting started.

For the next four and a half hours, we milled about, meeting eachother and talking about the investments we were making, the skills we were building, the books we were reading, the strategies we were using to cut expenses, and what motivated us to live below our means and seek financial independence.  Some wanted freedom to travel; some wanted time for family and community; some wanted security; others wanted to save the world.

Over a hundred people showed up to the meetup

Much discussion centered around the sharing economy: how we might do more with less by sharing rarely-used items with others in our communities.  Members of Peerby and ProjectBorrow were there, and it reminded me of the experiments I've done with web-of-trust–based peer lending systems.  Lending is an underutilized cost-cutting measure, and since most of us in this country already have so much stuff, I think there is tremendous room to grow the concept.

There were also journalists afoot, and a reporter from MarketWatch interviewed MMM.  When Melanie mentioned that it was my birthday, they pulled both of us aside to talk about why we came to the meetup and what we were doing to save money.  "Do you ever feel like you're missing out?, they asked.  Not at all!  Real life isn't the newest smartphone and a big house full of Ikea furniture.  Real life is out here!

Wrapping It Up

Mr. Money Mustache gave no speeches, preferring to mill around and talk to people in small groups.  He never addressed the crowd directly, except to suggest that we move the party someplace warmer as the sun went down.  We ended up at a bar a few blocks away; many people biked, and I caught a ride with one of the few drivers.

From the discussions at the bar, it was pretty much unanimous: we definitely wanted to meet up and do something like this again.  Cycling, hiking, a skillshare, a potluck, a reading group, a stuff-I-don't-use-anymore swap, a volunteering event?  I had the emails, and I promised to compile them and email everyone to get the planning started for next month.

Before I headed out a little before midnight, Melanie took the requisite photo of me with MMM:

(she's a lot better at saving money than she is at operating my camera)

Going Forward

Financial independence, early retirement, Mustachianism—whatever you want to call it, the concept is the same: spend less than you make and invest the difference, and you'll reduce your impact on the planet's resources, minimize your reliance on the social safety net, and eventually eliminate your reliance on a full-time job and free up more time for friends, family, community, and the projects that you really care about.  MMM is an easy-going, genuine guy who figured this out and made sane living work for him.  I want to make it work for me too, and I want to make sure that as many people as possible realize that it's an option.

We're living in—and I only learned this term later (thank you Craig)—what the Buddhists refer to as the Kali Yuga, the Age of Vice, the Fallen Age.  Many of us have forgotten to consider what we really value and how our lives impact the world.  Only 0.0015% of the Bay Area showed up to the meetup, but the people I met there and the things we talked about were encouraging.  People are starting to wake up and realize:
It's awesome to hang out in a group where not having a cell phone is 'cool', where learning how to do things yourself instead of paying for them is laudable, and where going car-free, reducing your rent, and cooking your own food are things to aspire to. I have high hopes for what we might accomplish if we put our diverse set of interest, abilities, resources, experiences, and connections to work.

With the email addressed I collected and a post on the MMM forum, we've set up a Google Group (email list) and a G+ Community (social network share page) to share ideas and organize events for Mustachians in the Bay Area.

The tentative plan is to hold a potluck meetup planstravaganza in Mission Dolores Park on June 21st.  Join the Google Group if you're in the area and want to stay in the loop!