Traditional recipes

A Ruinously Good time at Mother's Ruin

A Ruinously Good time at Mother's Ruin

On a gorgeous Saturday night after a movie, my date and I decided to check out this little bar in Nolita. You could easily walk by Mother’s Ruin since it has no visible sign outside and never know that you’re about to walk straight pass one of the best experiences of your life.

We walked in and there’s a small crowd; young and preppie and definitely chatty. The cacophony of voices nearly drowns out the 90’s eclectic music blasting. The place was spacious enough for us to find a cozy spot by the bar without the crowds overwhelming us. I had heard about the wonderful fried spicy chickpeas and I knew I was definitely going to get them even though we had eaten before coming. The question was what to drink? The female bartender adorned in suspenders kept slamming down doctored cans of Mexican Tecate beer in between rhythmic gyrations and I thought; I’ll have whatever she’s making.

I had my Tecate served up Michelada style with a generous dousing of Tabasco, lime juice and salt just as my chickpeas arrived. My date and I dug into the hot, garam masala spiced chickpeas and I patted myself on the back because they were the perfect accompaniment for my beer and my date’s Captain Lawrence brew.

The crowd slowly trickled in as I greedily licked my spice-covered fingers in between swigs of beer. The music seemed to get louder throughout the night and even though there was no one dancing besides the bartender and my occasional attempts at booty shaking on my date, the vibe was definitely energetic.

My date and I surveyed the patrons and wondered who was on their first or second date as we kept eating the chickpeas which made us want more Tecate which made us want more chickpeas…it was going to be a good night. I wish I had ordered gin as a nod to the bar’s prohibition era styled name, but next time for sure.

This bar is worth visiting for the good conversation, strong libations and the food. I wish I had come on an empty stomach because the crab dip the guy next to us was eating looked delicious. Overall, it was a fantastic experience and I highly recommend you get down to Nolita before everyone else does.


Political Ornithology.

It is sometimes both amusing and instructive to study the analogies which exist between the different departments of nature the comparative habits of beasts and birds, for example, and the organic structure and modes of life which are common to the animals and vegetable kingdoms. An interesting study of this sort, in natural history, has recently been furnished us in a new and unexpected quarter. One would hardly look for ornithological analogies in the developments of a political party -- the great unterrified Democratic party, for instance -- unless, indeed, it might be found in the memorable attitude of that famous rhetorical eagle who, standing on the highest peak of the Alleghanies, stretched one wing to the Rocky Mountains and the other to the Atlantic ocean -- and split in a blaze of glory. Nevertheless, the pages of the naturalist do furnish us with a coincidence which, though less imposing, enjoys the advantage of being more definite and comprehensible, than that which is formed in the fierce gray bird, with the bending beak, the fiery eye and the very peculiar shriek.

There is a bird, well-known in Europe, and, with some modifications, in our own country, called the cuckoo. This little "snoop" is distinguished for a trick of intrusive loafing. He abandons his own nest -- if he ever had any -- and lays his eggs in those of other birds and the young cuckoo, when hatched, illustrates anew the usurping instinct of his parents, by elbowing every mother's son of the legitimate family out of their rightful home, and taking individual possession for himself. Can any one fail to see the completeness of the parallel? Here is a party which has tried out all its own issues, and been beaten upon all. It claimed for slavery a limitless and uncontrolled power in the land the issue was fairly made, and it was beaten upon that. It resorted to physical force. by a wise division of labor, one portion of it flew to arms while the other, abandoned by all the elements of public virtue it had ever contained, labored no less assiduously and effectively in weakening the hands of loyalty, and sowing discord and distrust in the counsels of the patriotic. It was beaten again. Its blows were ruinously returned its efforts to respond to revolt at the South with riot at the North were baffled its open challenge of the rightfulness of the war for the Union was triumphantly answered at the polls it was unequivocally beaten -- routed "with hideous ruin and combustion" by an indignant people and it had not a pretence of principle or policy left to shelter its nakedness. Now was it not an "ill bird" that had thus hopelessly "defiled its own nest?" And would you not suppose that the only decent resort of a party so denuded and with such a record, was that so piteously suggested by the songster to "lovely woman" when she "stoops to folly" -- namely, just "to die?" Then you were never more mistaken in your life. Let the Latin poet sing what he will, there is no such thing as a "monument more lasting than brass." The Winter of Democratic discontent becomes glorious Summer by a very simple expedient: yea, and we recognize the present as the very Spring-time of Democratic immortality, for lo! the voice of the cuckoo is heard in the land! Noiselessly it chuckles, as it drops, one by one, its resolutions in the Republican nest, and waits in hope till they shall be warmed into mischievous vitality by the fostering bosom of the great mother-bird at Washington, who, in her blind beneficence, is fondly expected not to know that there is a burglarious young cuckoo-Democrat in every blessed egg of them. And it is no divided empire, of which the callow usurper dreams. The young bird is described as being quite blind, but as gifted with a wonderful sensibility in the tips of its wings, with which it feels about, to discover if anybody besides itself is enjoying possession of the nest. Now, isn't this all over Democratic -- this muddle-headedness to all distinctions of light and shade in political philosophy, combined with this supersensuous faculty for the absorption of "spoils?" The Pro-slavery, Anti-coercion, Anti-draft, Anti-war-failure, Chicago platform party wants possession of the creed, the candidates and the standard-bearer of the popular organization which it has been fighting to the teeth for the last five years. Why? Because it wants the emoluments that are supposed to accompany them. It would "conjure" with the language which, to its wonder and dismay, it has repeatedly beheld so potent with the people but, like the drunken Indian in the missionary's kitchen, though it talks theology, it means cider, all the time and if the patriotic electors will only allow it to deposit its eggs this Fall in the snug receptacle it has so judiciously selected, we may soon look out for a specimen of cuckoo "sharp practice," to wit --- the promiscuous tumbling of both candidates and principles -- all that savors of enlightened liberty and national faith -- over the edge of the nest into space profound.

Now this is a very pretty parallel as it stands but, did room serve, we could carry it further. The books represent the cuckoo as a bird with "a bill of moderate size, and a tail composed of ten feathers." As for the "bill" of the Democratic party, we can judge better of its "size" if the managers of that party, North and South, ever have a chance to present it -- which may Heaven forfend! Judging from the portentous significance of their first movements toward the subjects of the national and rebel debts, taken with what we know of the past financial obliquities of the party, we are not sanguine about its being "moderate." The "feathers" at first seem to make against our analogy, but there is nothing military about them they are white feathers, and worn in that portion of the person which the Democracy, through all our late struggle, were fond of presenting to the enemy. "The color of the cuckoo's eggs," it is also remarked, "is extremely variable, some being indistinctly covered with bran-colored spots, others marked with lines of black, &c.," and this may account for the different promise given by the Democratic embryo in different localities, New-York and New-Jersey, for instance but the watchful elector will please observe that they all hatch the same sort of bird, and nothing but a cowardly and treacherous little bully comes out of any of them. We are told also that the probable reason of this singular trait in the cuckoo is the short stay it makes in the country, which does not permit it to rear its own family "for if it took care of its own eggs and young, the newly-hatched cuckoo would not be fit to provide for itself, before its parent would be instinctively directed to seek a new residence." But here, we fear, the comparison breaks down, We know what ought to be but such a consummation were too good to be true.

Suffice it, however, that our parable is made out, and the name and nation of the new party is definitely set down for the future. It is the Cuckoo party, and nothing else and JOHN VAN BUREN, as its spokesman, is the very man to utter what WORDSWORTH calls the "erratic voice" of the bird of Spring. Let him henceforth bear, in all the party processions, a ring-streaked and speckled banner, inscribed with the eloquent versicle of the nursery:


A Ruinously Good time at Mother's Ruin - Recipes

RITA award-winning BESTSELLER . . .

A little trifle for all those wordsmiths and curious souls who read Historicals and want to know the meaning behind some mysterious Regency terms and phrases. The author has tried, with varying success, to keep her oft-times nonsensical opinions to a minimum.

Addle-pate: foolish or stupid fellow. Also “not right in the upper stories.”

Almack’s: That venerable institution in London whose vaunted

doors were closed to all those people not deemed suitable by the

seven patronesses of the day: the Ladies Cowper, Jersey, Castlereagh,

Sefton, Princess Esterhazy, Countess Lieven, and Mrs. Drummond

Burrell. To receive a “voucher” granting entrance to the place was of

supreme importance to all those balancing on the tipsy social ladder

in Town (especially those on the Marriage Mart.) The food and drink

were abominable: watered down lemonade and stale finger food.

Antidote: an unattractive woman. Also known as an “ape-leader in hell” if she was past her prime. Whoever says the modern age is awash in bad manners has never been called an ape-leader in hell.

Article: “She’s a prime article.” A beautiful woman. Sounds more like a compliment for a horse.

Bandied about: gossiped about

Bang-up: dashing, or quite the thing, i.e. “We had a bang-up, good time.”

Billet doux: French for love letter.

Bird-of-paradise: a mistress or kept woman, aka, a light skirt, a bit of muslin, a high flyer, or fancy piece, doxy, a

Cyprian. There were so many words for prostitutes that one wonders if gentlemen had so little to do that they spent a ridiculous amount of time just sitting around their clubs thinking up new words to describe the oldest profession in the world.

Blue Ruin: Devilishly bad—or good—gin, depending on whether or not a man liked to feel ruinously drunk one evening followed by ruinously ill the following morning.

Bouncer: a lie, aka, a clanker.

Bottom: courage, grit (makes you wonder what “top” meant . . .), i.e. “The gentleman had bottom when he rode “neck

or nothing” to win the race.”

Busk: a long rod (usually ivory) used as support in the front of a lady’s corset. They made today’s Victoria Secret lingerie look like child’s play.

Cake: “make a cake of himself.” To make a fool of oneself.

Carriages:
* Cabriolet: Designed in France, a light 2 wheeled carriage drawn by one horse.
* Barouche: A carriage that could be driven by 2, 4 or 6 horses, this vehicle featured a

fold-back type top.
* Curricle: Similar to a cabriolet although it is drawn by 2 horses. The Prince Regent

favored this vehicle.
* Landau: Very common and versatile coach which was pulled by 2 horses and could

seat 4 people. The vehicle had a hood which could be folded back.
* Drag: Resembling mail coaches, they were 4-wheeled coaches with extra seats on the

back to carry 2 grooms. Often they had crests emblazoned on the sides.
* Phaeton: A light 4-wheeled carriage drawn by up to 3 pairs of horses. They featured a

very high seat and seem like they were the “sports car” of the “fast set.”
* Town Coach: Used for formal occasions, this elegant, large carriage could carry 4 people and was drawn by up to 6 horses.Two ladies in a Phaeton Carriage

Carte-blanche: French for “blank check.” English for “If you come with me, little lady, I’ll give you a platinum American Express card with no spending limit.”

Cattle: horses, usually carriage horses.

Cicisbeo: a very pretty word for a very bad wife’s boy toy.

Class system:
* The Upper Ten Thousand, the ton, the haut ton, the Beau Monde, the aristocracy, peerage, upper crust society: Many words for a distinctly small number of people lucky enough to be born to titles usually earned by their courageous ancestors.
* The Gentry or the landed gentry: Those who wish they had a title to go with the property they own or inherited. As with the aristocracy, most property was entailed meaning property had to be passed down to the relative outlined in the Patented Letters of Nobility. They at least got to snub their noses at people who practiced a trade.
* The Merchant class or “in trade”: The next level of the food chain. In England, the merchant class was considered vulgar. Yes, it was considered in poor taste to actually go out and earn your living. (Why wasn’t I born during this time, I ask you, when being lazy was considered chic?) But they at least had the pleasure of having servants and ordering them around.
* Servants: Need one explain? Servants’ working hours were atrocious, typically. If you worked yourself to the bone, with little time off, no vacations, etc. but were lucky enough to work for an “enlightened” master you might get a small pension after 20 or 30 years of hard labor.
* The masses: None of the above.

Coup de foudre: French for love at first sight. Literally it means: a bolt of lightning.

Curtain lecture: A man in bed received this frequently if he had a nag for a wife. A man like this was known to “live under the cat’s paw.” Most women who dared to behave this way risked having a switch taken to them. The law allowed husbands to beat their wives as long as the switch was no thicker than a thumb.

Dandy: an overdressed male prig sometimes called a “macaroni.”

Dressed in “the first stare” of fashion: someone on the cutting edge of fashion.

Dun territory: about to face creditors with empty pockets. Also known as “under the hatches.”

Facer: a punch in the face (not a face in the punch.)

Fischu: a cloth (usually lace) draped around the neck and tucked into a lady’s bodice to give the illusion of modesty.

Fly into the boughs: to become very angry or upset.

Foxed: drunk as a skunk. Other terms for the same condition: top heavy, fuddled, flustered, cup-shot, to be in one’s

altitudes, or deep in one’s cups. When this occurred, the lucky devil sometimes “cast up his accounts,” a nice way of saying he tossed up his cookies.

French leave: to leave without notice. As if the dear French (who were kind enough to let the English use their pretty language to hide some rude English behavior –see Congé, carte-blanche above) would leave without saying “au revoir” or “adieu!” That’s fustian (see below.)

Go aloft: to die. Way too many words for this final state: to cock one’s toes, go off, go home, got notice to quit, pop off, put to bed with a shovel.

Green girl: an inexperienced, young girl. Not to be confused with “green room” which was where the young bucks in London went to meet the women/actresses who were the very opposite of green girls.

Gretna Green: the first town after crossing into Scotland. Couples could marry there without a license or without benefit of reading the banns in their parish church for several weeks.

Hoyden: an outrageous girl.

In a pickle: used when one is tired of saying “in a coil.”

Incomparable: an incredibly beautiful woman. Also known as a “diamond of the first water” which makes NO sense at all.

Inexpressibles: a man’s breeches. And men’s trousers were called unmentionables. Why did no one want to talk about men’s pants?

In high dudgeon: very angry

Jointure: a woman’s monetary settlement after her husband died. This was usually negotiated prior to the wedding so that the poor dear did not end up a pauper when the heir stepped forward to kick her off the estate.

Laudanum: Opium used for pain relief. It could knock a person unconscious if given in large quantities. Not surprisingly it was also addictive if taken too frequently.

Leg-shackled: married (a term first coined by author Georgette Heyer.) Also called

Parson’s mousetrap, or tenant for life.

Megrim: a migraine head-ache.

Men: a brief classification (so many, so little time . . .)

» Buck: Not a male deer but rather a male human—usually a young, spirited one.
» Captain Sharp: a gambler and a cheat.
» Corinthian: a well-dressed man who prefered sports to everything else (I like to think that they evolved into the fanatical television football fans of today but dressed in tuxedos.)
» Coxcomb: a silly man who is full of himself.
» Dandy: A fop.
» Fop: a dandy (Okay, they’re both clothes horses.)
» Fribble: one step worse than a fop since his manliness is in question.
» Beau-nasty: a fop who doesn’t bother to clean his clothes.
» Nob: a rich man of importance.
» Nonesuch: short for “none such as him”—a person to be respected.
» Out and outer: You had better be willing to fight when you challenge this fellow. He never turns the other cheek.
» Rake, Rogue, scoundrel, hellion, blade, bounder: What all fathers try to shield their innocent daughters from and consequently what all females want to know more about. Usually a good looking alpha male bent on amusing himself with one or more vices: women, gambling, and drinking being the primary choices in that order.

Mésalliance: an elegant–sounding word a gossip uses to describe a marriage between two people of differing classes.

Nightrail: a woman’s nightgown.

Nipfarthing: a miser’s miser.

Not a feather to fly with: ruined, destitute

Not care a fig about: to care less about

On-dit: French for “one says,” i.e. gossip.

Out: Short for “allowed to mingle with society,” i.e. “Is your daughter out yet?” Not to be confused with today’s

shortened version of “out of the closet.”

Paragon: a person who behaves with the utmost propriety.

Parvenu: pushy social climber

Pay addresses: to propose or to court a lady.

Play fast and loose: to act without thought and in an inconsistent way, i.e. “Sophia was playing it fast and loose when

she said she could draft a witty lexicon in one day.”

Portmanteau: French for “carry coat”. This was a trunk that usually opened into two halves.

Posting banns: to announce or publish in church an upcoming wedding (usually done for 3 consecutive Sundays before the marriage.)

Rag-mannered: no manners, unpolite.

Ratafia: weak, fruity brandy liqueur. No self-respecting rake would be seen drinking such a feminine brew.

Ready, the: money, aka, “blunt,” “wherewithal” or “rhino.”

Reticule: a purse that was considered lovely in its day. It looked rather like an ugly, long tube sock which leads one to

wonder what Regency-era designers were thinking. . .

Ring a peal over his head: to reprimand or scold loudly.

Scandalbroth: tea—the gossip-monger beverage of choice. Also known as cat-lap or chatter-broth.

Sixes and Sevens: chaotic, i.e. “The house was at sixes and sevens when the cat got into Father’s snuff (see below.)

Snuff: The legal cocaine of 200 years ago—usually carried in ornate snuffboxes.

Squabs: the upholstered, cushioned portions inside a carriage.

Take the King’s shilling: to enlist in the military.

Tendre: French for a budding affection

Tiger: a groom (usually a boy or small man) who rides on a small platform on the back of a cabriolet or a curricle.

Town bronze: to acquire a facade of clever sophistication.

The Marriage Mart: Each season ambitious mothers trotted out their unwed daughters who were determined to do

their families proud by “leg-shackling” (marrying) a peer of the realm with plump pockets. And every season

gentlemen proclaimed their desire to avoid the old ball and chain but succumbed eventually—especially in proper

Historical Romances—as they should!

The cut (the cut direct, the cut indirect, the cut sublime, the cut infernal): No, this is not about cuts of meat. It’s all about precise levels of renouncing a person’s acquaintance. These supremely offensive maneuvers are still practiced today at most American Middle schools.
» The cut direct: crossing the playground to avoid someone approaching you.
» The cut indirect: Looking the other way as you’re crossing the playground.
» The cut sublime: to remark on the new blacktop to your other acquaintance while you look the other way while crossing the playground.
» The cut infernal: to stop and tie your shoe while looking the other way on the playground as the offensive person passes.

To boil one’s lobster: When a man of the cloth trades in his career and his robes for scarlet military finery.

Ventre à terre: French for “belly to the ground,” meaning traveling (usually on horseback) very fast.

Vowels: IOUs when gambling.

Wag: someone who is impish or mischievous.

The regency period is generally acknowledged to be between 1811 – 1820. The period is named after the eldest son of King George III, the “Prince Regent”, who took up the reins of power in England after his father was legally declared mad and incapable of governing the country. This fun-loving Prince of Wales loved food, fashion, and of course, entertaining despite the winds of war with France. This era has been frequently likened to our generation’s 1960s – a period of free love and war. Although, of course, in 1815 one did not engage in “free love,” there was a greater freedom in dress prior to the starched up Victorian period. During the regency, ladies still had to be properly chaperoned, and thank goodness for that, otherwise how would the dashing young gentlemen of London have kept their hands off those dainty misses with gowns cut low enough to inspire feverish poetry, and dampened petticoats to encourage a better view of feminine charms. Gentlemen also revealed their physiques in form-fitting coats and pantaloons or breeches for formal occasions. Sometimes the men even used girdles or padded their calves to improve their appearance.

Social standing was everything during this era. If you were lucky enough to be one of the titled “Upper Ten Thousand,” you led a charmed and usually leisurely life indeed. In ton circles, wit, and good manners vied with beauty and intelligence. And everyone seemed to know exactly how many “thousands a year” each member was worth. Marriages were to be entered into with great foresight to ensure an excellent blend of fortune and title. These were the days of Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice. Of course, the lower classes led an existence altogether the opposite of the aristocrats: ungodly type working conditions with very little pay, very long hours, and almost no time off. The middle class, often rich merchants, were considered vulgar and beneath the notice of aristocrats. And although marriage between classes occurred, it was beneath contempt for a title to marry a “cit”and the subject of intense gossip. It was increasingly done to fatten the ever shrinking purses of members of the beau monde whose ill fortune or over-indulgence forced them into this inescapable fate.

England was at the height of the Napoleonic wars during this period. Regiments were formed all over the country and sent to face Napoleon’s sword. Brightly colored regimentals turned many a young girl’s head. In turn, the atrocious evils of the battlefield scarred the psyche of scores of young men. Tories and Whigs battled it out in the political arena, arguing over such issues as the regency, the Corn Laws, and the Luddites.

Regarding the sciences & medicine, it was certainly a period of “survival of the fittest.” Average lifespan was between 19 and 26 depending on where you lived. Science was reaching new peaks at this time – often times making discoveries they did not know how to put to good use. One example of this was the discovery of nitrus oxide, commonly known as “laughing gas.” Despite the discovery, people still underwent barbaric, unsanitary surgery without any pain relief other than alcohol. And apothecaries still “bled” the sick and infirm and prescribed horrendous concoctions such as cobwebs or snail tea. One of the most notable discoveries was that of the small pox vaccine. In other sciences there were many advances: steam engines for trains, factories and boats were invented as well as gas lighting.

The Arts and education flourished during the Prince Regent’s reign. Music from artists such as Beethoven and Mozart was in high demand. Art collectors brought paintings and sculpture to England by the masters of the Renaissance period. Byron, Shelley, Keats, and Coleridge were the poets of the day, Austen, Edgeworth and Scott were the novelists. Young boys, as early as six were sent off to be educated at schools such as Harrow and Eton. Girls were typically given less formal education, focusing on writing and accounts, music, dancing, geography, drawing and French.

As you can tell, I could go on and on about this great period in history. But I shan’t!

Witness the wild Beauty of Cornwall . . .

It’s no coincidence Cornwall is the setting for my new series featuring the mysterious

Widows Club. I love Cornwall because it reminds me so much of the wild beauty of

the Pays Basque region of France which is where I spent a good part of my childhood.

The vast French seascapes featuring crumbling palisades look very much like the

Cornish coastline. The English coasts must have appeared very much the same during

the Regency period. Cornwall is still untouched by development in many areas. Visitors

(especially during the non-tourist season) may soak up the beauty of the cliffs and the

sea and experience the magic of the county.

Cornwall comes from the word “Cornovii,” meaning hill dwellers, and “Waelas,”

meaning strangers. Contrary to popular belief many suggest Cornwall has never been

a shire county of England. It is in fact a Duchy, i.e. ruled by a duke — Prince Charles

to be precise. As late as 1856 the Duchy of Cornwall was still asserting its rights as a

This is a mystical land of farmers, fishermen, tin miners, and smugglers. For more than 2,000 years tin mining was a major industry here. Today there is only one working mine in the area. Pilchards, a type of fish, ran in shoals off the Cornish coast for centuries. The 14th century Huer’s Hut in Newquay was inhabited by a hermit who was entrusted with lighting beacon fires to help guide fishermen as they placed their nets. The fisherman’s motto was, “Pilchards are food, money, and light, all in one night!” But the fisherman shared the sea with smugglers during wartime. Smugglers traded warm English wool (for uniforms) for fine French brandy.

A Cornish proverb suggests, “There are more saints in Cornwall than in heaven.” And if the ancient churches, holy wells, stone circles, standing stones, and pagan burial sites are any indication, this is indeed a place of legend and lore. One of my favorite stories is that of St. Guron’s Well in Bodmin. It is saithe groom drinks from it before the bride, then he shall have the upper hand. If a bride gets there before him, she will be in charge. One smart bride secreted a bottle of the well water to her wedding and drank from it before her new husband left the church!

Cornwall truly is breathtaking – a spot not to be missed. My hope is that readers will enjoy an “armchair’s view” of this beautiful place while reading the Widows Club series!


Is Mr. Money Mustache Ruining Your Marriage? (Part 2)

In our last episode , we reviewed a particularly spirited example of the classic battle over frugality, cheapness, and the freedom to spend one’s own money the way one sees fit. Some version of this same clash is surely occuring a thousand times over in every city of the world on a continual basis, for it lies at the root at human nature itself. This is why I find it so interesting.

For example, while some couples end up at war and never get anywhere, others find that frugality brings peace. Check out this quote from an email someone sent me the very next day in response to that last article:

Another woman shared her story of sudden Mustachianism-induced change the same day:

We could write a whole encyclopedia about personality types, feelings, and relationship dynamics before we even got to the start of what is going on here, then move on to take an expensive series of counseling sessions. But to take a massive shortcut and just go right to the answer, I believe that the biggest cause of fights like this is in our different responses to authority.

Through a combination of genetically-inherited temperament and socially programmed character, we all end up at different places on the obedience scale. Some kids actually listen to their parents and do things like eating whatever is put in front of them at dinnertime, whereas my own son will gladly enter a battle to the death before accepting verbal commands to do something he feels is irrational or unfair.

I could write this off as childish, but unfortunately I am the same way*. If a person or society imposes a rule on me, it had better have some identifiable logical reason behind it. Otherwise, I find myself digging in and willing to fight against it – quite enthusiastically to the death if required. Watching the response of Gimli (that Invincible Dwarf with the Giant Beard in Lord of the Rings) when the prospect of battle comes up, I feel an eerie kinship with the diminutive badass.

So let’s suppose you are the frugal one in your relationship, and your spouse is prone to wasteful spending. Hey, I’m on your side too – most of the shit we spend our money on is rubbish and you end up richer and much happier if you just simply stop buying it. But how do you spread this obvious logic to your spouse?

Well, for starters, you don’t do it by watching over his or her spending and then nagging every time you see something you don’t like. While this is your natural temptation, and it does work for those who happen to have obedient spouses, it will backfire miserably for the other 75% of us. This is because you are trying to impose authority on someone who does not like to be bossed around. Note that in the success stories above, each side was fueled by the positive results of frugality rather than just obediently following the instructions of a spouse.

So instead of nitpicking the symptoms (individual spending decisions), you need to address the root cause: Your Goals in Life.

This step may take minutes, or it may take years.

There are plenty of good Whys out there, but they can be elusive at first. My own Why is simply “to live the best life possible”, from which stems a desire for health, personal growth, free time to explore my interests and even more free time to raise my son. I found that none of these could be optimized with a full-time job getting in the way, so my very first task was eliminating dependence on that job.

When you add in the environmental side of things and the fact that to waste natural resources is quite simply to be an asshole to all other humans and other living beings on the planet, the choice for me became even clearer.

Some people might get stuck with irreconcilable differences at that very first step. A vegan might find it unacceptable for moral reasons to live with an omnivore like myself, for example. And I’m personally stubborn enough that I couldn’t live with someone who insisted on a full-sized SUV for personal transport. Better to just sidestep such lifelong conflicts instead of spending a lifetime fighting them. But if you’re already locked in with a wife and kids, it is time to be more patient and creative because honoring your responsibilities comes above serving your own personal ideology**.

Once you can agree on your definition of The Best Life Possible, it often helps to start by Painting the 10-Year Picture.

For example, one brilliant reader named Andy wrote in and shared a story of his own success at flipping the frugality switch. His approach in a nutshell was, “If we keep doing what we are doing now, here’s where we will be in 10 years. But if we do it this other way (sell the expensive car, pay off our debts, live a different way), we will be over $200,000 further ahead, which will make our lives much better.”

He conveyed this message by giving a slightly silly Powerpoint presentation to his own wife. And the results were so good, he sent in the slides to share with you:

Make Our Money Sing: A Money Mustachian Adventure

Most people cannot see the connection between lattes, sandals, V-8 engines, and a million dollars. But it’s really there – changing relatively simple spending habits will indeed make the difference between Broke and Millionaire over a reasonably short time period. A slideshow like that one makes the math clear.

Other people might be more impressed by emotional appeals rather than monetary ones. The fact that you start living more happily immediately when you spend more time outdoors, for example. The relationship between debt, stress, and death. The idea of retiring in your 30s or 40s instead of after you get your discounted senior citizen bus pass. Or the incredible benefit of not having to worry much about money and careers when you’re busy with the bigger job of raising your kids.

All of these things are the direct result of living a frugal lifestyle, which is in turn just a slight change to a few dozen little daily life habits. These little changes are ridiculously effective, and also ridiculously easy, which is why I find it ridiculous that almost everyone is broke in this country except those with such ridiculously high incomes that they can’t manage to spend it all.

But the enforcement over those little decisions needs to come from within each person, rather than from an outside authority or an angry budget. You can make yourself save, and Mr. Money Mustache can make you save because you’re reading this freely and then independently deciding whether or not to implement it. But your husband or wife can not make you save. At best, they can only inspire you to want to save.

On the other side of the coin, the Frugality Enforcers among us may need to sit back and do their own math. If you are already saving over 50% of take-home pay, for example, the odd indulgence will not derail your dreams of early retirement. And if your income is really high, you can indulge almost constantly – you just have to be a bit strategic and avoid the biggest money pits like luxury cars, long commutes, and yachts. My own frugality is hampered by my taste for luxurious housing and food, for example. But by approaching these luxury add-ons as part of a generally calculated and frugal lifestyle, the bank is not broken and the family’s spending still ends up around $2000 per month.

In fact, I find that allowing yourself to be imperfect enhances the experience of being human. Beer and wine are bad for me, but I still get drunk occasionally. I know that luxury is just another weakness, but I still indulge in it occasionally. The key to all this is to acknowledge that you are doing something unnecessary and slightly wimpy, laugh at yourself, and then do it anyway with full gusto. Then you’re free to get back to your normal disciplined self in regular life.

Start with your regular life. Start introducing challenges for yourself which build your Frugality Muscle. Embrace the successes and laugh at the inevitable failures. Note how quickly this becomes fun and makes life worth living. Now throw in the odd unnecessary luxury and laugh again at how large and decadent your life is. You could do this all day. What were all those other people whining about who said this would be hard?

*And have been since birth according to Mom. This is why I cut my own son some slack for his stubbornness, and attempt to use rational logic rather than fist-backed discipline to do my half of the family’s management.

**Which sounds a bit Unyielding and Old Testament, but the science on happiness seems to back this up: being honorable and consciously choosing to serve others leads to a happier life, because you’re constantly challenged and reassured that you are doing the right thing. Making selfish choices is like having that third piece of cake: thrilling initially, but quickly followed by a much longer period of unhappiness and repercussions.

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Aligning dreams and starting with a goal was exactly what I though the couple in the last post needed to do! It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you put your mind to something. Challenging yourself with how frugal you can be is actually a fun exercise.

We’re getting rid of law school loans by being crazy frugal. When you and your spouse are on the same page, you can make a pretty powerful team!

Exactly! My wife and I have been getting closer and closer aligned with frugality and efficiency. Because of this, she is now able to go part time and spend more time with the kids and we are going to be able to retire 2 years earlier than planned! All because we took the time to get on the same page.

This has definitely been our experience. At first when I started reading this blog, ERE and others like them I was actually driving my wife and I apart as I became a bit obsessed with it. Since I’ve been able to get her to see why I wanted to do it, it has become another challenge for us to take on together and has made our relationship better while also improving our finances.

Yeah, I can’t imagine how difficult it would be if you’re not on the same page. Fortunately, my wife has always been pretty frugal so it wasn’t a big deal for us. We also are doing pretty well financially so we don’t have to cut everything out. I cut my own and the kid’s hair, but she goes to a nice salon once in a while. She needs to look professional for work. Anyway, I think it’s best to marry someone with similar financial value, but not everyone can be that lucky.

My wife is naturally pretty frugal as well. She likes to shop at yard sales and came up from a pretty poor family. I lucked out here as well as 80% of the work was already done for me :-)

Your advice reminds me a lot of the advice in Your Money or Your Life, which also reminds me of Mindfulness meditation. They talk about just being aware of what you are doing and how you feel about it, not necessarily trying to change anything. Once you are aware of things, you often magically auto correct.

Gee, I sure do spend a lot on this, is it proportional to how happy it makes me? Huh, I guess it doesn’t make me happy, somehow it’s less appealing than it was yesterday.

I was thinking about the connection between Your Money or Your Life and this post in particular as well. I think making the connection between life hours and expenses can be very helpful when approaching a hesitant spendypants. This could be particularly effective when it comes to recurring payments. For example, for someone who nets $25/hour, a $500 per month luxury car lease payment means he or she effectively loses 20 hours of your life every month for the privilege of driving in something that provides diminishing marginal utility. 20 lost hours every month over the course of years really adds up.

Miss Fit July 31, 2014, 9:11 am

There’s a calculator (Time For Money) for the iPhone that shows you how much something costs in hours and also translates your monetary budget to hours. It can be very eye opening to look at your finances from a time standpoint.

Jazzy October 2, 2014, 9:52 pm

Hey Miss Fit, thanks for the heads up about the app. Just downloaded it and can’t wait to use it. I’m very visual, so this will help drive the point home for me. Thanks again!

mountainjillian July 31, 2014, 12:50 pm

Adam, the hours of your life argument is SUPER HELPFUL! That’s a cool way of reexamining your expenses.

A fascinating look at the underlying principles of the mustache. The part that sticks out to me is the simple step of determining the ‘why’. My wife and I have spent a lot of time thinking through this part of the equation. The interesting part is that our reasons are quite different. My wife’s primary why is to have more time, live a healthier lifestyle, and to be able to stay at home with the kids. My why is driven by the painfulness of the waste around me and simple inefficiencies that many people live with. The great part is that a simple lifestyle allows us to both achieve our goals at the same time. Oh, and being outside is great. All that talk about CO made us visit- that whole state is built for people that live outside.

deepseafalcon July 30, 2014, 6:36 pm

another great article, thank you!
I especially appreciate that you are lately promoting to occasionally indulge, or allow some “waste” … made me think about my own habits. I am likely overdoing it here or there, driving my better half nuts (who is really also quite frugal herself) … and creating unneeded strain. So thank you.
Looking at the math, I am wondering about one thing though: 70k debt, paid back over ten years at 1.9k monthly …. leads to an interest rate of 25%. wondering if that can truly be the case, or the provider of this PPT made a math error … or did I??

CalculatedAgain July 31, 2014, 6:18 am

Looks like it. Either it’s all credit card debt, or there is some math error..

Rich August 1, 2014, 6:12 am

The PPT didn’t say it would take 10 yrs to pay it off. It just looked ahead 10 yrs and said that at that time the debt would be zero. It might hit zero at the 8 yr mark, or 5 yr mark. Looking back at it again, I’m guessing it will hit zero by the 8 yr mark, since it points out what 8 yrs of debt repayment will total.

deepseafalcon August 2, 2014, 11:09 pm

well, I guess it doesn matter …. at the end …. the strategy to use the liquid savings to repay debt, and focus on dept elimination asap … is sound.

bit I am still wondering about the math:
it says 70k debt
23.4k debt repayment p.a.
==> at this rate, I would have expected any reasonable dept to be paid off after around 3 years
but then it says 𔄠 years of debt repayment = 187k” … really?
that would translate to a whopping interest rate of 30% p.a.
if this was true, I would highly recommend this couple to not only pay off the debt asap, but refinance first! there should be plenty of options out there to do better than that, including zero interest credit card intro offers like Chase Slate or others

jessica July 30, 2014, 6:55 pm

This is really great. (As a post and a follow up)

Loretta July 30, 2014, 6:55 pm

“…honoring your responsibilities comes above serving your own personal ideology.”

This phrase is so true, and actually doing this makes for a much more peaceful marriage! I tend to get on my soapbox about environmental issues (no need to nag about frugality as fortunately my husband is naturally fairly frugal) and was giving him a hard time over his choice of coffee brand: he insisted that I buy a non-Fair Trade/organic brand, and I was insisting that he had to drink what I thought was the ‘right’ brand. We had months of sniping and bad feelings over this (oh the pettiness!) until I realised that making him happy by doing what he asked was more important than my principles. I buy fairtrade loose leaf tea for ME though:-). Again, he loves his cable TV (ruinously expensive in Australia) but as he is the bread-winner and makes a good salary, I have to stop nagging him to get rid of it. I’ll just keep borrowing my books and DVDs from the library.

Kenoryn August 2, 2014, 5:49 pm

I get the point about choosing your battles and not causing strife over little things. But in this case I feel like principles win, since technically you have no responsibility to honour by buying a certain brand of coffee. (And since you’re the one doing the shopping I think you have the right to get what you prefer.) Still I feel like there must be a happy medium on that one… there are so many fair trade/organic/shade grown coffees out there these days, surely he could find one he likes!

Awesome stuff. Another classic!

And that slideshow was just genius! Big props to the guy who put that together. I’ll have to remember that little tip if I ever run into a scenario where a little convincing is necessary.

I actually have a post all drafted up that’s going live tomorrow. And it follows the same lines. I think it all comes down to the hedonic treadmill. Some people fail to realize that they do in fact have this baseline happiness level. The big SUV and fancy house may seem nice for a while, but eventually their happiness reverts back to where it was and they’re stuck holding the bag (the bag being massive debt and a brutal work schedule). Some people continue running faster and faster, but others (like yourself) realize that’s pointless.

Yep. The stubbornness gene is certainly correlated, to some degree, with the counter-consumption frugality mindset. I can attest to that attribute in my own dear, sweet husband :).

You hit the nail on the head (per usual) with the “Your Goals In Life” root cause. Our rationale and approach to early retirement is pretty simple. We don’t want to work for the next 30-40 years, be miserable and thus inflate our lifestyle to soothe the balm of our job-hatred, and exhaustedly retire at 65 to a homestead in the mountains to live a simpler life. Through frugality, we’re just going to cut out that whole middle part and bolt into it at age 33.

This: ” If you are already saving over 50% of take-home pay, for example, the odd indulgence will not derail your dreams of early retirement.” In my humble opinion MMM can and should emphasize this point more often. The constant face punching has its merits but showing the other side once in a while can be very motivating as well. People might not want to be constantly told to drop that latte or ride a bike to work or hundreds of other little things that make sense but may not be for everyone. Truth is, once you are at a 50% or higher savings rate if you want to buy that coffee once in a while you shouldn’t feel or be made to feel guilty, you are doing great as is. You are afraid to ride that bike to work? No problem drive your car and you will still retire early if you want to. Our savings rate hovers around 65% so if my wife wants to go out for an expensive dinner with her girlfriends I’m not going to bitch about it even if it falls outside of my definition of what’s reasonable.

Personally, I would look at the table in http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2012/01/13/the-shockingly-simple-math-behind-early-retirement/ then pick the Savings Rate and the corresponding Years to Retirement that I’m comfortable with, achieve that savings rate and then not really worry about other expenses/indulgences that crop up as long as the savings rate remains on target.

Marie July 31, 2014, 10:11 am

I think this is exactly right and a good thing to note for the original couple in particular–maybe she came off poorly, but her husband is also making the family use an inflatable sofa, which seems crazy to me.

” You are afraid to ride that bike to work? No problem drive your car and you will still retire early if you want to. ”

What are you afraid of? A life lived in fear is a life half lived.

While I’m not afraid to ride a bike sharing a road with cars, there are many that do. Look up any article MMM posted about biking and you’ll see lots of replies from those that will not do it no matter how much nagging is dished out. Some are afraid because there is zero biking infrastructure – I can sympathize with that as that’s the case where I live. To go 4 miles from my house to an office park you have to be on a 4 lane road with a 3 foot shoulder where cars are flying by at over 50mph and then navigate a cloverleaf clusterf$#%^ entrance/exit ramps on a bridge over an interstate. Some might have a disability preventing them from riding. The point is, bitching about biking vs. driving and “fear” won’t get them on a bike. What I’m saying is that a better approach would be to focus the conversation on the savings rate and let these “indulgences” be. If someone is saving 50% or more and wants to drive a car or go out to eat, just stop your nagging – they are doing GREAT already!

BananaMuffin August 1, 2014, 9:45 am

I believe you need to take these suggestions and advice and apply them liberally to your own situation. Everyone’s story is different and one size doesn’t fit all. The point is, if you realize the end goal and can manage your path to getting there effectively, most certainly a savings rate > 50%, you don’t have to feel guilty if you’re not following the suggestions 100%. I view most MMM articles from a philosophical viewpoint and am totally on board. From a practical and implementation view, I choose to do some and choose not to do others. and of course… your mileage may very.

My story: I’m frugal, wife hasn’t totally bought into it yet. The arguing over money isn’t worth it. 3 kids approaching college age(14,17,18), because of our past savings rate, college is for the most part already paid for. Now I’m focusing on what to do in retirement (I’m 50). I like my job and get paid well for it. At a loss at what I want to do in retirement. But I know that until I know, continuing saving for the future opens up more and more options and that’s a good thing.

I”m going to suggest that having a single fear (or vice) does not a life lived in fear make.More importantly, it’s possible to “live the party line” and be successful without doing every.single.thing suggested by any specific person or blogger. For some people following that party line rigidly may be the kick in the pants they need. For others, fear of not being able to do it all may hold them back from doing it at all. I say that as a regular reader and rare commenter on MMM.

I am afraid of biking in traffic, as well as around the block. I also have a late life fear of flying (probably from living overseas for ten years and flying thirteen hours every time I wanted to visit family). I absolutely refused to touch (even with bags) the raccoon my three dogs jumped in the backyard. On the other hand, I’m not afraid of taking the subway in New York alone, no matter the end destination, I leave my car and house unlocked in a inner suburb until I go to bed, and I’d be happy to have a pit as my next dog, if I didn’t have three already. I’ve hitchiked and hosteled across Europe alone.

I have severe knee damage so badly from falling previously that if I fell again, I could end up in the scooter category. I however, am not the best example. Some people live where there are no bike paths, some live in weather completely different from what we have in Colorado. Personally I have lived in Washington DC (great bike paths in the suburbs but deathly in other areas as my late husband could have attested to), Germany (safe everywhere and legal everywhere and bikes allowed on trains and streetcars), Connecticut (yea, right. ) and southern Texas with triple digit weather for three months.

My general feeling is that we’re all allowed our own fears, vices, hobbies and versions of needs and wants as long as we match our personal savings rates (or know the consequences) and are on the same page as our partners.

JB September 5, 2014, 12:58 pm

I need to ride my bike to work more once it cools down a bit in the fall.

Just returned from visiting a friend on the East Coast. She and her husband live in a 1.2 million dollar home in the suburbs, are members at the local country club, own a Porsche, Mercedes, and $100,000 sports car he just bought during what she calls his “midlife” crisis. I asked him how fast his new car goes (figured my husband might want to know). He said he really didn’t know b/c he’s always stuck in traffic with it. Comical. But wait, it gets better. She knows how frugal I am. We often have a good laugh over it. During my visit she constantly pointed out how “cheap” her husband is and how proud I should be of him b/c “he’s just like me”. Pffft. Examples: he brings hotel shampoo home from his business trips, uses one paper plate five times before throwing it away, and turns the A/C down from his iPhone at work so she’s always hot and sweaty in their 4000 sq ft McMansion. I thought, “Honey, your husband knows NOTHING about frugality.” I believe my grandma used to call these kinds of behaviors, “penny wise and pound foolish”.

Worst part of it all was during the entire visit the guy never exhibited any genuine happiness. He was constantly preoccupied or agitated or I don’t know what. It was sad. His kids barely know him. His son would say, “Watch this dive, or watch this soccer kick.” I’d ask, “Did your dad teach you that? Does your dad play with you?” Kid would say, “Nah, so -and-so coach taught me.” I so badly wanted to play that song, ‘Cat’s in the Cradle’. Uggghhh.

So what do you do when BOTH spouses embrace the consumptive lifestyle? I wanted to counsel the whole family. Instead, I returned to my modest – almost paid off – home, retired (@ age 44) husband, kids reading free library books on the couch, and financial independence. Thanks for the affirmation MMM. You certainly bring sanity back into the lives of those who seek it!

jessica July 30, 2014, 8:35 pm

I grew up with parents like that. I think it’s not all there fault. Once you’ve set up that life, with the friends and social circle, kids included, it’s really hard to scale back. American salaries and access to Stuff make it really easy to soothe our emotional deficits, continuously up until and after the mid life crisis car. Is there a problem? Throw money at it!

Have you had a discussion with your friend about her rudeness. I can’t tell if it’s judgmental, misunderstanding, or maybe jealousy? It’s easier to be unhappy with her spouse and then blanket anyone that doesn’t spend lavishly as the same, unhappy. Which is ironic because it’s the stuff making him unhappy. Regardless, it’s not very classy to speak like that about ones husband or friend. If she’s saying it to your face then it seems to be a fundamental misunderstanding because I couldn’t be friends with someone like that if it is ill-willed.

MrsMoreWithLess July 31, 2014, 9:49 am

Makes me think of the classic children’s book The Biggest House in the World. One of my favorites. A great book for teaching kids about mustachism.

saralibrarian August 1, 2014, 9:28 pm

Thank you so much for this suggestion! We are big MMM followers and recently moved closer to our workplaces to reduce commutes but ended up in a bigger home that will suit our needs for a very long time. My four year old is obsessed with being in a “big house” and I would love to nip that in the bud. I just reserved this book from my library. Leo Leonni is a classic.

That is happy and sad at the same time. Happy for you, sad for your friend and her kids.

JB September 5, 2014, 1:02 pm

That has always been my issue with fast cars. Where can you really drive them fast without getting a ticket. I tell my wife to be thankful I don’t like boats or watches. Those can be saving killers. Maybe the 1.2M house could have been a $3M dollar house and they scaled back. :) We have a 2,400 sq ft house and I wonder when we will move to scale back a bit. We have no kids with a 4 bd room house. one bedroom is an office, one a guest room and one a guest room/office. Taxes will probably be $7,000 a year when we retire.

Schmidty July 30, 2014, 8:13 pm

Posts like this and the positive responses to them normalize my frugal lifestyle when it feels like everyone around me is in consumer mode. This has refocussed me on my goal and reminded me that I should go outside and enjoy the summer–now. I’m going for a bike ride. Thank you.

Ms. Must-Stash July 30, 2014, 8:50 pm

Just turned down a job offer today that would have paid “more” – but currently I work almost entirely from home, and the new job would have entailed a 30-mile commute (15 mi. each way) 4 days a week. Do the math and it’s surprising how “more” becomes “less.” Also by losing at least two hours each day (including having to wear actual clothes, pack a lunch, and then actually do the commute) – I would end up losing a full 8 hours a week – equivalent to working an entire extra day every week! I celebrated my decision by working the entire day outside at my patio table, in my comfortable work-from-home clothes, admiring the flowers in my garden and enjoying a delightful breeze.

It’s so true that the more I flex my frugality muscles, the easier and more natural it becomes. That being said, I’ve also mentioned that I’m a big fan of monthly “mad money” for my husband and occasional eating out / other fun stuff. Just like everyone is saying, the crucial thing is to get the big goals to line up. As long as you’re in good shape there, it’s delightful to enjoy some small luxuries every now and again.

I had to weigh these options not long ago…. I used to live in the mid-west and I was living in a GREAT neighborhood 3 miles from work. Many days I would run and cycle to work easily and going by the grocery store on the way home.. I had no commuting costs to speak up. Except in the dead of winter then I would resort to driving… November thru most of March…

I recently took a job in California north of LA a bit. I’m making a little bit more annually with my new job.. but you factor in expenses and commuting and other things and at the end of the day I am making less… (I did know this going in as I had worked out the numbers…) I do attempt to cycle to work 3 days a week. I am challenged with this due to 105 degree heat in the summers… but I am keeping in mind I expect I will be able to do this year around even in winter… so somewhere in there that seems to offset the 5 months of year I had to hang up my bicycle in the Midwest.

However, the I couldn’t pass up this job opportunity. It is a career defining position with a company that is doing things that have never been done before and is laying the ground work for future commercial space travel.

A good thing that has come out of the higher expenses that I knew I would also encounter it is in another way forcing me to be even more Mustachian in other areas that I haven’t been before. Great Stuff.

LadyStache August 2, 2014, 1:11 am

I moved from a city where I was working from my apartment full-time, with a very frugal lifestyle, to Silicon Valley for a job promotion with my employer. I grew up here, so I was fully prepared for the high home prices and the massive commute – big change from no commute! I had to move further out of town to afford a home my childhood neighborhood is in the range of $2M now. Yes, 2 million dollars for a 2500 sq ft house. I know. You definitely “can’t go home again” if you grew up in SV.

But my new higher salary and benefits far outweighed the downsides, as did the opportunities for upward mobility at my job, and the chance to see all my old friends more often.

My hubby and I are a SINK couple (with me working) for the moment, and life couldn’t be better. With all the years of working at home and saving like fiends, we have a good ‘stache growing on the side. I’m enjoying the new challenges of finding different ways to be mustachian, since riding my bike to work (30+ miles one way!) is out of the question. I still work from home 1-2 days a week, and carpool the rest of the time. I have a garden, and swap goodies with my neighbors who also have gardens and chickens.

I have no regrets about this move, as we now have a home of our own (in a place where 2 bd apartments are $3000 or more) and among other positives, we did the math and found that if I work a few more years I can still retire early and pay off the mortgage in time to enjoy the rest of my life.

Some may see “Silicon Valley” and immediately call our decision stupid, or face-punch-worthy, but it’s about the long view to us. I’d rather take this chance now, work my butt off with the best job opportunity offered to me, and get FI the way we want it, despite the higher cost of living. It’s a trade-off worth making for us.

LadyStache August 2, 2014, 1:13 am

I moved from a city where I was working from my apartment full-time, with a very frugal lifestyle, to Silicon Valley for a job promotion with my employer. I grew up here, so I was fully prepared for the high home prices and the massive commute – big change from no commute! I had to move further out of town to afford a home my childhood neighborhood is in the range of $2M now. Yes, 2 million dollars for a 2500 sq ft house. I know. You definitely “can’t go home again” if you grew up in SV.

But my new higher salary and benefits far outweighed the downsides, as did the opportunities for upward mobility at my job, and the chance to see all my old friends more often.

My hubby and I are a SINK couple (with me working) for the moment, and life couldn’t be better. With all the years of working at home and saving like fiends, we have a good ‘stache growing on the side. I’m enjoying the new challenges of finding different ways to be mustachian, since riding my bike to work (30+ miles one way!) is out of the question. I still work from home 1-2 days a week, and carpool the rest of the time. I have a garden, and swap goodies with my neighbors who also have gardens and chickens.

I have no regrets about this move, as we now have a home of our own (in a place where 2 bd apartments are $3000 or more) and among other positives, we did the math and found that if I work a few more years I can still retire early and pay off the mortgage in time to enjoy the rest of my life.

Some may see “Silicon Valley” and immediately call our decision stupid, or face-punch-worthy, but it’s about the long view to us. I’d rather take this chance now, work my butt off with the best job opportunity offered to me, and get FI the way we want it, despite the higher cost of living. It’s a trade-off worth making for us.

Ladystache Sounds like the two of you made the right decision!!

OH How I miss the garden back in my previous home. I rarely bought produce as I grew most everything I wanted and froze it for use thoughout the year.

Not much grows here in the desert… but I might try next year.

One of the benefits of living in a place where Everything is more expensive… is that I do plan to leave here once things with work and life seems to be on the outs… The next place I move to will surely be cheaper and thus all the financial planning will go even further. So there is an upside to it from that sense I think.

LadyStache August 2, 2014, 3:29 pm

We kind of went the other way – we plan to stay here after we reach FI.

Even though I have a crazy commute and the higher costs that come with being near SV, we chose this town and our little 900 sq ft house to be “retirement friendly” for when we’re not working anymore. Except for my drive to work, we don’t need a car at all to get everywhere here, even the hospital and all the recreation areas. Our home is small enough to maintain cheaply, it will be paid off sooner rather than later, the taxes should be manageable, there is no HOA, and we can grow our own food in the yard.

I’d be curious to hear what MMM and the other mustachians think about this plan, as it’s kind of backwards from MMM’s philosophy of living near work, downsizing later, and all that.

I just had a conversation with a coworker about this early last week, as he is thinking about buying a house an hour away. Of course, it’s the difference between affordable and not.

I have another friend/ former coworker who is interviewing for a job an hour away. She’s not happy about that, but she has been unemployed for a year and needs income.

It’s a topic I think about a lot. I live 10 miles from work. My husband and I work a block from each other. We drive separately – our schedules are different because of school/ childcare drop off and pick up schedules – it’s not possible to do both and work an 8 hour day (and currently our companies will not let us cut our hours).

I really wish we had purchased a house near where we work. At the time we bought the house, it was between our jobs, closer to his, and he biked. That company went out of business. In theory, I think that having your house and work be near each other is ideal, but in reality, people don’t necessarily stay at the some job for long periods of time. That makes it harder. If you are a homeowner, when do you cut and run? Selling/buying a house incurs quite a bit of expense, and of course you may be underwater.

If we lived closer to work, our house would be larger with a garage (simply because the houses are 2 decades newer), our commute could be done by bike or on foot, and we’d have much less driving overall. But at our prices, the real estate agent’s fee is $40,000, and it means pulling our son out of his current school and finding new child care. It just doesn’t seem worth it to me. At least not yet. Plus, I hate moving.

I’ll start out by stating that I love your website and the whole mindset that it encompasses. When I first read the previous post I realized that these two people were out of sync with each other, and that is not a good recipe for a happy marriage. They need to get their goals aligned before they can work out their reasons for her unhappiness.
My situation: I’ve been married for 41 years (!), and amazed my poor hubby put up with me for that long. We are both retired, with nice pensions and plenty of $ stashed away. So we don’t need to be really frugal, but I still have pangs when we do have to take money out of the IRAs, even though the spending is perfectly justified. (house repairs, so we can fix the house to sell it and leave So Cal and go to CO, where my daughter lives w/ granddaughter and future grandbaby). I can’t wait to downsize and live in a smaller house, walk everywhere, revel in the CO outdoors, and cut my cost of living by about 25%. But the big issue is that my hubby and I are in perfect agreement. This complaining lady needs to figure out what is going on in her marriage, ’cause it ain’t good! I’ll spend money on something if I think I really believe it makes me happy, but only if the hubster agrees. That’s the point, both partners have to agree on the need for both spending and frugality. That is what makes for a happy marriage and a long successful life.

The ** you shared is very deep. I was looking for that. Thank you.

I agree. I liked that part. “being honorable and consciously choosing to serve others leads to a happier life, because you’re constantly challenged and reassured that you are doing the right thing. Making selfish choices is like having that third piece of cake: thrilling initially, but quickly followed by a much longer period of unhappiness and repercussions.”

Also the part about how you deal with your son because I guess the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

The ** mainly made me want to eat cake…

Claire Bonk July 30, 2014, 9:09 pm

When my husband and I first met, I wore ski clothes that I had owned for 16 years but lived on $40,000/year. He lived on less than $30,000 but had super nice high quality gear. A match made in heaven. He has learned to appreciate that old is sometimes better than new and I have cut down other spending.1

Megan July 30, 2014, 9:15 pm

This is one of the better posts you have done in a while, MMM, and I generally like them all. I think you captured the philosophy and motivation so well and I also love the fact that you acknowledge and embrace our human foibles. Sometimes it can be off-putting and demotivating when starting this journey to compare yourself to the super mustachians on the forums who can always find a place to cut, a side of your face to punch, etc. Most of the times it is good, but like with a diet or starting an exercise regime, you have to build in failures and indulgences otherwise you won’t stick with it in the long run. Thanks for this column. I am sure it will go a long way for those half of couples who are trying to get their other half on board.

Carter July 30, 2014, 9:36 pm

I think we need a dating forum to link single MMMers. So hard to find women who share my enthusiasm for the MMM lifestyle.

Amy K July 31, 2014, 7:44 am

Carter July 31, 2014, 8:28 am

Awesome! Did not know about that. Thank you.

I do have to say though that it is helpful to have one spouse be a bit more Mustachian than the other. I am totally on board with this philosophy in spirit. I see the value, and I want to accomplish paying off debt and being able to retire early. But in practice, I find it really hard to buckle down. My husband has always been much more naturally in line with these practices, and so it helps a lot for me to be accountable to him. He’s not a dick about it, but he’s good at reminding me WHY I shouldn’t be wasting money at Old Navy or Target when I get the urge to shop for stuff I don’t need.

Mike July 30, 2014, 10:53 pm

You know Pete, for 2 years I haven’t had an alcohol drink. (Not that I have a drinking problem, I’m just careful with my health.)

Perhaps this Friday, I’ll go to my local beautiful clubhouse overlooking the valley, waterfalls and golfers, bring my 2 dogs, and drink a beer. Cheers, my friend.

George July 30, 2014, 11:16 pm

so you did not take off the full 2 weeks? It is ok by me (and possible others), you are allowed to take a vacation to relax from the constant blog writing. In fact, I am ok with closing the blog during the summer months (June-Aug) if you want, that gives you a break and us the readers a break from worrying that we missed a new article. After all, the sun is shining and there is plenty of outdoors fun stuff to do.

The only thing I ask is that a clear “re-open” date be established in writing, i.e. Sept 1st would work well. Something about the start of September always invokes a sense of responsibility or work should be done. If people want more action in the mean time, there is always the forums to check out. Cheers!!

Good points, MMM. 5 years ago my marriage ended. I was in my late 40s, had been a stay at home mom for a long time. We lived frugally, though, and separated frugally as well. I went to grad school on scholarship, while I worked part time and collected alimony and child support. Took a job with a start up just a couple of months out of school. When I left the marriage I had $400 dollars. My refrigerator that I had bought used died and I couldn’t replace it unless I charged it. I borrowed the money from a friend at no interest, bought the cheapest one I could find. Five years later, I am still not making great money but I have solid work experience and some great volunteer work as well. But the truth is within 5 years with an income the first two at around $25000 (sometimes lower) and now at $50000. I own my 4 year old car outright, no debt of any kind. Still have my 790 (probably higher now) credit score. I have purchased everything we need, including several luxuries such as an expensive camera, annual series of classical concerts, and a personal trainer. I am about to buy a modest house in a relatively inexpensive area where I figure I can live for the next 30 years or so. I don’t drink much or smoke anything, I eat cheap but healthy food, my high credit score has kept interest rates low when I have decided to finance (such as my car at 1.9% but now paid off). I did get a windfall inheritance but it wasn’t that large and it simply moved my financial goals about one year and a half. My favorite (and cheapest) local supermarket sent out coupons for $10 off $100 purchase — one coupon per week for 10 weeks. A very nice deal if I couple it with loss leaders or buy things that normally don’t go on sale at great prices. But I couldn’t use all of them, because spending $400 a month to feed the three of us (and one little cat) was too much money, even when I stocked up on things. Whole foods diet, cheap or free (and very enjoyable) entertainment (even the symphony only ends up being around $20 a ticket and the ushers will often move me from the cheap seats to the ones in front if there is space), very heavy library use, cheap redbox movie rentals if the library doesn’t have what we want, no cable, furnishing the entire house with yard sale purchases, cheap cell phones (love the Republic wireless plan), cheap town recreational sports for my kids and lots of fulfilling and cheap recreational interests (quilting and other sewing, knitting, cooking, lots of homemade music, gardening, photography, journaling walking and running, reading and reading aloud to and with my kids, etc.), living in a tiny rental house (under 500 square feet with no additional storage), hanging laundry, and lots of other frugal hacks learned over the years. Anyway, I can’t say we suffered, it was all a lot of fun and now we should be moving into a larger house (1300 square feet) within the next month. I estimate that mortgage can be paid off in 12 years at my current salary, but I don’t plan to stay at this salary at all. I figure with a little effort I can make at least 15K more a year with a lateral career move and also pick up some benefits that I don’t have now such as a 401K. I max out my Roth IRA every year and will continue to do that my investments are well researched and appropriate balanced. I am still kind of shocked about how successful the frugality and smart planning has been for us. If I had known at 20 or 30 what I know now, I certainly would have been retired a long time ago. (Actually when still married we were living entirely on savings/investments/pension, none if it in large amounts). mmm is right. This stuff works.

You GO girl! I felt inspired just reading about your accomplishments!

I’ve only recently started my journey and trying to convince the other half to come along for the ride has been difficult. Instead of nagging about spending I’m trying to “be the change you want to see” by demonstrating to her that I’m perfectly happy without the spending and she can be too. I’ve also started mentioning about the future goals, especially as she wants a child and I’m sure would love to be able to stay at home with it each day.
Bringing a partner along can be a challenge at first, but i’m sure its well worth it in the end!

Another way to look at this:

Everything that we do is because of motivation. And motivation can be either positive or negative (or the proverbial carrot and stick). When we do X because of positive motivation, then we want the reward that we get when X is done. When we do X because of negative motivation, then we’re afraid of the punishment that will befall us if we don’t do X. Note that both positive and negative motivations can be internal or external. I’m not just talking about the external motivation here.

And the thing is – if you want to motivate another person, then it’s much easier to come up with a negative motivation (threaten them, often unintentionally, indirectly or subtly) than it is to come up with positive one (tempt them).

But negative motivation has negative side effects. It will cause the person to resist, and even if it’s successful, the person will only do the minimum amount of work needed to avoid the punishment, since it would be pointless to do more. And in the longterm negative motivation causes either apathy (it doesn’t work anymore and you need stronger and stronger threats) or general unhappiness and fractured relationships. And more deviously – fear reduces rational thought. The extreme example – panic – makes this obvious, but even light fear will drastically reduce mental and creative capacity. This is why negative motivation works badly for tasks that require cognitive skills. Such as, say, figuring out how else we can save while being happier.

Positive motivation on the other hand has the exactly opposite side-effects. It makes person want to do as much as possible, to increase the reward as much as possible. It also gives a nice, happy feeling because you keep having pleasant thoughts about the reward. However it is also easier to abandon sometimes, because if you don’t do X, then you’re not any worse off. You don’t get the reward, sure, but you also don’t get punished.

So, to really get someone on the Mustachian bandwagon, you need to tempt them. Don’t ever threaten them with “don’t you see how BAD it is, when we spend”. That’s negative motivation with all the negative side effects. You need to get them salivating over all the sweet, sweet rewards that they can get from being frugal. But that’s much harder.

And, to add to the difficulty, not always a positive reward results in a positive motivation. For example, take a typical employee whose boss tells him than they will get a raise if they perform well on the next project. Sounds a lot like positive motivation, but it’s not. The employee will actually experience fear, not temptation. He won’t be tempted to “get the raise”, but rather he will be afraid to “lose it”. From his point of view, the reward is almost his, he just needs to avoid screwing up. And that’s negative motivation.

Zoltan July 31, 2014, 5:47 am

Another great article! Greetings from Hungary! Yes, there are MMM fans over here, too (at least one).
My transformation to a Moustachian happened about 5 years ago and I had to make a very hard decision: I divorced my wife partly because she did not share my view of future (she is a big spender and very materialistic). Luckily we did not have kids. This may sound brutal but believe me this was the best decision of my life. Since then I have married a fantastic girl who thinks the same way, we have two beautiful baby daughters. Finding the right partner is absolutely crucial. We have no debts whatsoever, we live in a beautiful not-too-big house nearby a lake and we are saving up as much as we can. We still have at least 7 years to financial independence but at least we have a common plan.

It’s been really gratifying to see my wife slowly but steadily coming on board. When she saw her 401k balance recently (after I suggested changes and increased contributions), she was pretty surprised. And more and more, she’s learning from her friends how little they have and how deeply in debt some of them are, and it’s given her a ton of satisfaction to not be in their shoes. She acknowledges my efforts for that, which is nice. She recently got a significant pay raise and said she intended to save/invest all of it. That’s my girl! Believe me, she wasn’t always this way — she was $25K in credit card debt at one point on a $60K salary. And spent, spent, spent. But as she’s seen what saving can do over the last 8 years of our marriage, she’s really turned it around. If she can do it, anybody can.

This article is awesome, thanks! Even more impressive was the slide deck – that guy knows how to build a solid presentation. +1 for the correct use of Powerpoint!

Just a note on the ‘why’. It doesn’t actually need to be common for your plan to move forward. For example, in our case my wife can’t give a crap about retiring early. Not interested as she loves her job and doesn’t get what everyone else is whining about. So were my dreams crushed? Nope, we found another angle that means much more to her: freedom from money worries. She grew up in a single parent household where money was always an issue. If the washer broke they couldn’t afford to fix it without help from family. So she loves our ‘early retirement’ plan after I explained for her it would be the ‘never worrry about money again’ plan. So our reasons on the why are totally different, but they can work together to get a similar result. Hopefully that helps a few people out there. Good luck.

Great advice. Should be read by everyone considering marriage. Going into it, you really have no idea how important it is to be on the same page. Ruin my marriage? MMM is like free therapy for mine. Many times, your posts are a launching point for important discussions and realigning of goals.

But my favorite part of the post is how you honor your kids’ questioning of authority. It’s one of the things I love most and hate most (when it’s me she questions) about my eldest daughter. Tough quality in a kid. Awesome quality in an adult. If she makes it there.

I talk to a lot of people at work and they all say they can’t retire because they don’t have enough money. It always surprises me because our company pays fairly well, and most of them are part of a dual income couple. So where is the money going. Some of our visitors have commented our parking lot is full of really nice cars. They are right. My boss just recently told me he plans on buying an Audi, but he always complains how he will never retire. And during bonus and salary negotiation time, he says are you glad you received a raise? A measly 1-2% raise at that. It’s so odd! And it has put into super saving mentality. I don’t want to be stuck in corporate forever.

Do you work in my office? I constantly hear co-workers say they don’t know when they can retire while they drive leased cars and buy $400 handbags. In one recent discussion my boss scoffed at the idea that I could retire if I had $1 million. I keep quiet about my plans for early retirement as well as my lifestyle at work. Most people just don’t understand.

Blair July 31, 2014, 10:49 pm

It reminds me of the people at my office who think they get an “extra” check when there are 3 Fridays in a month.

mariarose August 9, 2014, 3:55 am

? When are there not 3 Fridays in a month?

Patrick August 9, 2014, 2:03 pm

Assuming they are paid every 2nd Friday, then for August 2014 (for example) they would be paid 3 times that month (the 1st, the 15th and the 29th).

Some people actually do imagine they get an “extra” check that month. “Yay! I deserve a treat!”

WoolAnon September 23, 2019, 6:01 pm

See now, I think of that third paycheck that I get twice a year as “extra” (mind you, I go yay! and put it in my savings), but that’s because my budget is wrapped around only receiving a paycheck twice a month. It’s “extra” in that it’s not yet allocated.

Yet another great post MMM. For me, being frugal has been relatively easy all my life. I grew up in a relatively wealthy middle-class family and always had a sense of guilt when my mother would spend money on me. My wife, on the other hand, grew up with a family that didn’t have much money. So when the two of us started to become wealthy, I actually found pleasure in acting poor (opposite of my childhood) while she found pleasure in indulging (opposite of hers). Not that she spend tons of money, but more than I would have liked.

Being naggy certainly didn’t help. I found much more success helping her see the big picture. “Should we buy this new $3,000 couch?” “We could, but I really like our couch and would rather spend time going for walks than sitting inside”. I find that framing the naggyness with the big picture in mind really helped.

bob werner July 31, 2014, 8:30 am

What if spouse does not want 450K in 10 years? Some spouses do not get the difference between having money and not having it. “So we have money but drive shitty cars and live in a subpar house?” “umm, I’ll take the very nice house, nice cars and lattes over a number on a piece of paper.”

quiviran August 2, 2014, 7:20 am

Depends on the meaning of “have the money”. If it means “we have cash to buy the house and car free and clear”, then go for it. If it means “we can qualify the loan and earn enough to cover the payments”, then spouse is completely missing the point of MMM. It’s about freeing oneself from the bondage that “covering the payments” brings with it. The “numbers on the piece of paper” are measures of how far away that freedom is. Voluntarily enslaving oneself is sometimes necessary, but should always be done with a worthy goal in mind.

I have some work to do. My wife enjoyed Pt. 1, but I think she was on the side of the complainer lady. I asked her to read Pt 2 and she declined. Sigh. I have some creative work to do to get us to a more “Mustachian” existence.

misterfancypantz July 31, 2014, 8:37 am

MMM… I have never felt more Mustachian than I do now after reading this post… I have always connected with your ideas about saving and living beneath your means, but never considered us even close to Mustachian due to our spending levels and some other “bad” habits. However as a high income and net worth family we definitely spend a lot more on the luxuries we find important and since we can afford them we rarely think twice about it.

Your perspective on this is eye opening and comforting.

Thanks for always being inspiring to people in all walks of life

Going2ER July 31, 2014, 8:57 am

My spouse and I are not always on the exact same page, but getting closer. We each get a monthly allowance that we are free to spend on anything, it can be a latte or saved up for a new car, if that’s what we really want. We are a one car family, and have been for a number of years, I work 26Km away from home so it is currently a neccessity, although I am trying to get work to move me closer to home, which would be ideal. DH works within walking distance and we live close to downtown so we are also close to the library and grocery stores, we really don’t spend much time in other stores. Because of our allowance we don’t feel like we are deprived, we have the option to get treats and I think this saves alot of friction in a marriage. Like all things in a marriage money should be discussed and sometimes compromises are necessary, but such is life.

And to the original poster in part 1, I am the female and I am the one who is more frugual, so no, MMM is not a hard sell to the females.

I know some religions have a 10 commandments, but these are the 20 which I strive to live. This goes along with what you are saying in terms of responses to authority (#1 – #4) below.
1) We all have a genetic makeup which helps us determine who we are (personality, health, etc.)
2) Our personality and temperament are derived from your upbringing, and all social interactions.
3) Our personality, responses, memories, perceptions are all the sum of our experiences.
4) With extreme effort, where you come from does not have to define you going forward if you have a goal in mind (and drive to achieve it).
5) Life is a journey and a series of choices.
6) Life is like walking down a corridor of doors (being different possibilities). Many times the doors are left opened, but through action or inaction, doors can close. If you enter one door, you enter a new corridor of doors, with different possibilities awaiting you.
7) When choosing a mate/partner, you want someone who has similar to you in the following ways (or have understandings in place prior to making the relationship official) as it will stave off 95% of all fights:
* Child rearing (methodology, how many, how to raise them, etc.)
* Religion
* Money (how much, how to life, lifestyle, etc.)
* Ability to communicate (Can you have rational conversations? Can you talk about the weather? This is all you will have when you get older)
* Attraction (and sex drive)
8) Every time a person gets angry at you, the reason is they feel they have a right to something, and you are impeding their right to what ever it is. I have never found a case for this to be wrong (be it armed robbery, too much spending, etc.)
9) Have a goal in life. IE. Have a 1, 5, 10, 25, 50 year plan
10) When choosing a career, college degree, etc. pick something you can stand which will help you get your goals.
11) Spend less than you earn.
12) Pay off all your bills every month.
13) Only take on debt if it aligns with your long term goals.
14) Do onto others as you would have them do unto you. (This is family as well as strangers)
15) Do things for others you don’t want to do, as it will come back to you 10 fold.
16) There will always be someone richer, smarter, faster, better than you at almost everything. What do you don’t see is how miserable or what the sacrificed to get to where they are at.
17) No matter what you do, try your hardest, and it will work out.
18) Practice makes perfect. You need to spend 10,000 hours to become an expert at something.
19) Everything in life is balance of trade offs. If you spend 5 hours video gaming, you are not spending 5 hours w/ the family or 5 hours learning a new skill
20) Always strive to learn new things, or understand things more deeply. There are many levels to everything, and understanding what makes up a problem, solution, etc. makes you a more well rounded individual.

Niusha July 31, 2014, 9:33 am

MMM, I think when you say “But if you’re already locked in with a wife and kids…” it’s better to change “wife” to “spouse”. With “wife” it feels like your audience is only men which we all know is not true.

Red August 4, 2014, 10:18 pm

Vickey November 5, 2014, 12:31 pm

Yes, and make that “partner”, as not all committed relationships have been formalized by church or state, nor are they all hetero.

This was a great post. At some point I realized I had to stop nagging my spouse.( I’m still working on it) amazingly it was the hypermiling challenge that open the doors and now today we were talking about getting into peer lending. It has been a journey.

I like what other have said about figuring out your saving rate goal and then relaxing. My problem is that if I can up it I want to, cutting out any extra work time but we are hovering around 60% so really I can and should chillax.

Also that PowerPoint was amazing! Thanks so much Andy and thanks MMM for sharing. You ate right MMM your temperament has so much to do with behavior. It amazing I still find it so curious your family dynamic with food, you always alude to the fact that you prepare separate meals for little mm. (that seems like such an American practice, I know your Canadian). I’ve always been of the you eat what everyone else eats and I feel like in most parts of the world that is the practice. But I usually draw the line at food that I myself can’t stomach. However I also read a parenting blog and the author pretty much agrees with your perspective ( offer your kid healthy options and trust your child to eat what he needs) so I’ve been loosening the reins I certainly don’t want my son to have a traumatizing experience with any one food and then close the door on it forever. You should check it out MMM I think you’d like it. Google Janet Lansbury .

Ok great post. It’s great to hear your voice again.

We have an uneasy peace in our family regards frugality. We have managed a great deal on a middle-of-the-road income. I was able to stay home with the kids for twelve years while working odd jobs (editing, beekeeping, writing) on the side. I can now work part time and still be home for my kids when they get home from school. We have paid off our house and have zero consumer debt.

However, I would classify myself as a minimalist and certain habits of my wife’s drive me crazy. Chief among these is the grocery list. I shop by deciding how much money I have in my grocery budget and then plan accordingly. My wife writes whatever she wants on “the list” and tells the kids that they should write down what they want on the list. It’s a fundamental difference in ways of life. If I run out of milk, and I only have twenty dollars left in the food budget, I either don’t buy more milk or make soy milk. Now that I’m married – and while I sound like I’m complaining, I’m happily married for 18 years – if I don’t come home with milk, or anything else on the list, it’s a major issue. I simply cannot get my wife excited about living on a budget. I think it boils down to a difference in family background. When we visit my in-laws, I hear my mother-in-law constantly saying “put it on the list.”

We have the same issue with stuff, to a lesser degree. Granted, I would use the same stuff until it was literally unusable, whether I had the money to replace it or not. My wife does like to shop, but she does do it at thrift stores. We now have three couches. My wife wanted a leather couch. We found one at the thrift store that looked horrible. We offered $75 for it, and they accepted. I picked it up on my bicycle using our bikes at work trailer. It cleaned up to look almost like new. I am constantly trying to dump possessions, and my wife is constantly trying to fill the house back up. I’d like a relatively empty, Zen-like house. My wife likes full and plush.

My wife is grateful for my frugality, and she likes the fact that I manage the money. (She was bouncing checks regularly when we first got married), but I can’t get her excited about approaching savings as something we can do together. I have to squirrel money away behind the scenes while buying everything on “the list”.

That’s a pretty interesting story, Paul. I’m like you in the furnishings department (I like airy indoor spaces and hate tripping over things), but like your wife at the grocery store (never had a budget and enjoy bountiful food). But with the help of Costco and cost-per-calorie calculations, we still come out OK.

Miss BNE August 1, 2014, 11:36 pm

Maybe some sort of nesting mentality going on there? I used to be like that until i read an anti-consumerist book that suggested a 3 month no spending challenge or something like that?. Can’t say I made it all the way through the challenge but gee it opened my eyes and made me more aware of my spending.

Excellent post! Very well said. I am, by nature the kind to live & let live controlling anybody is just not in me. My husband, although not wasteful, also is not very frugal. If he decides he wants something the price doesn’t even factor into it. He has what I call American Entitlement Disorder (AED), the rationale of this disorder: I work hard, I should have/deserve it. I could pitch a fit and forbid such purchases, but what good would come of it?
As posted– these purchases are not enough to derail us. We are debt free and I (he has a few too) have enough daily frugal habits well established to see us through.
Thanks for the reminder and the “You can catch more flies with honey than vinegar approach”.

I never heard of American Entitlement Disorder but my husband freely admits that he has G.A.S. (Gear Acquisition Syndrome). He has a high end camera and some how “needs” new lens and other photography related gadgets when they are first released. He is aware that reading photography forums creates a sense of urgency and desire and he rarely succumbs but he still longs for the stuff. We have no debt and both retired early so he can buy whatever he wants so I never encourage or discourage him. Still….an interesting term for it and we both use it to defuse our spendy desires. My syndrome would involve craft supplies…..

I am finally getting this stuff – and I hit my fifties last year. I’m glad that it’s never too late to make a start, but I do regret the fact that careers, job loss, and money stress were very much present as we raised our children. What an immeasurable bonus to have financial freedom – or at least a very solid financial foundation – before raising children. It’s something that I used to think only the aristocrats among us could do.

Theobromine August 11, 2014, 9:32 am

Yes, MMM please see if you can encourage the “starting over” crowd. Failed or stalled careers, jobloss, medical bills, divorce, moves that didn’t work out and bad credit suck up a lifetime of money and motivation.
We all want to keep getting back up for another round – but I meet many middle-agers that have no hope of retirement and are just getting by or are needing help from family and governnment. I don’t want to be one of those people – and have tried but failed to pick jobs or investments that didn’t steal my future -again and again. I don’t need you to roll your eyes – it can happen and does all too often-you just don’t know or see it. I’m checking out your system to make a run for it again and its my last ditch effort. Yard sale is my middle name. The kids are gone and 2nd hubby and I are all go for the gold -but we live in a depressed area where pay and opportunity is low and taxes are high. Just letting you know that we are not all spring chickens anymore but still appreciate any encouragement and advice. I know people determined to die with as much debt as possible – but my stress levels are too high with debt and I need to get them both under control. Becoming a subscriber and pushing the reset. Thanks in advance.

Mike B July 31, 2014, 10:35 am

MMM had a suggestion in one of his articles a while ago that really connected for my wife and me: Make a list of everything that you could do with your free time. Sort it by cost. Do the free/cheap ones (or better yet, do the ones that make you money).

Once you have a list full of free museum visits, hikes in the park, etc., it became hard to justify mindless consumer experiences (“shopping,” movies, casual dining). The remarkable thing too is that often times the free experiences as fun or more fun than expensive ones. I enjoy going to the free outdoor movie watches where you pack your own picnic far more than $10 movie tickets and movie theatre junkfood.

Michelle July 31, 2014, 10:58 am

Loved the slide “No more Whole Foods–this place is killing us.” I was just thinking the same thing last night.

Tricia July 31, 2014, 2:49 pm

I found the Whole Foods slide interesting as well but for a completely different reason. I started shopping Whole Foods rather than the Safeway because, for me, it is close enough to walk to vs. driving to the Safeway. Ditching the whole car thing. ..

Knowing I have to haul everything home… I started buying only what I needed for that weeks recipes from the bulk bins. I didn’t change what I chose to eat, I just bought 2 cups flour vs. 5lb bag sort of thing. And after all is said and done a few months later – I ‘m eating organically, seriously cut down on food waste, walking more and saving about 30% off my previous grocery bill. It surprised the hell outta me.

jessica July 31, 2014, 5:49 pm

I really don’t think whole foods should be classified as a grocery store. It gets away with it, but it’s really a specialty market. But yeah, when I do go there, it’s so good. I find I don’t like Going there often because the novelty of fresh baked food wears off.

that’s why it’s called Whole Paycheck.

Brandon July 31, 2014, 11:13 am

Just yesterday I was working on my house that I am in the process of flipping. It was a perfect Wednesday afternoon with cooler than normal weather for July. I began thinking about how much fun it would be if just one of my friends could be here with me, instead they are locked away at their job, working 40+ hours a week, spending their life doing something they don’t want to do. If they could just figure out how to live a good frugal life like I have, we could be out enjoying a relaxed afternoon, laughing, working, and making money at the same time. Then today I read this MMM article and it says, “These little changes are ridiculously effective, and also ridiculously easy, which is why I find it ridiculous that almost everyone is broke in this country except those with such ridiculously high incomes that they can’t manage to spend it all.”

Wow, that’s exactly what I was thinking! If my friends could change their life a little bit just as I have, we could all be enjoying our free time and living life. Please keep on giving out this good advice and spreading the word Money Mustache… maybe someday we can all have friends that can enjoy life with us!

It’s amazing to me how many people never ask “why?” They just grow up, work all the time, and consume. My wife is totally on board with my desire to get to “enough” so that we can break free from financial slavery.

I couldn’t agree more. My husband has always been frugal and he knew that pushing me to share his perspective would not work because I’m stubborn as hell and do NOT appreciate being told what to do. Instead, he patiently let me “discover” the benefits of frugality on my own.

Now that I’m a convert, well, let’s just say he’s one happy worry-free fellow. I might be even more frugal than he is :).

Edith Esquivel July 31, 2014, 11:52 am

I believe Mustachianism gave me the goal. I didn’t have debt, I had an emergency fund, savings, paid up house, car, and when a lot of well-paid extra work started coming in, I didn’t feel motivated to keep working more than my 8 hours. Mustachianism gave me a reason I had never thought of: financial independence, in the real sense of the expression. Before, I thought financial independence was the ability to get a job. How silly! But maybe I was not the only one. So this mustachianism allowed me to see the whole picture, the whole meaning of money. I feel empowered, clear, motivated. Thank you.

YES! We had virtually no debt (mortgage!), money in our accounts, paid off car, enough money, seemingly, to do all the necessary work to our house. What else to do with the money? It kept getting spent in ridiculous little purchases. £2 there, £20 here.

I read Rich Dad, Poor Dad, and it jarred against me. I didn’t want to work and work to buy a fancy car or a humongous house. That just seemed like a lot of cleaning and maintenance to pay for! He said to put rich above secure and comfortable. I would much rather be secure.

Fortunately my partner and me are working towards the goal together. He doesn’t know it’s called Financial Independence yet, he just knows that the more he has the longer we can survive if he loses his job. (I am on a sick leave form my job at the moment, so we are relying on him, as much as I hate it.

And fortunately for us, I have recently received an inheritance roughly equal to our (small) mortgage, so we managed to clear it, just 18 months after getting it (He’s 30, I’m 24, he supported me through University, and we accidentally saved a house deposit – people in the real world HATE me when I say that, but it was true!), so now our housing costs are just maintenance and council tax (equivalent of property tax). Our savings rate has now hit 40% for long term stuff (We are waiting for some more data points before calculating how much we’re saving in cash – inheritance messed up the figures!). Pretty good for a SINK couple in the UK when he’s only just below the median wage

I was the first one to find MMM, but once my husband came on board, it was awesome–no more ME being the naysayer for things he wanted! There’s an outside authority now! I think it was just too abstract for him to see that small sacrifices (a) weren’t really sacrifices at all and (b) would be worth it later. Neither of us is perfect, but we hold each other accountable–I try to do that without being the “boss.”

CathyG July 31, 2014, 12:24 pm

Great article and one that resonates with me – especially the bit about response to authority!

Money management is a very tricky business when you have a one-earner family, with one member a dyed-in-the-wool Mustachian, and the other a spender. Since the earner is Mustachian, and the spender is not…(and spender has her own unique set of baggage surrounding the money=love problem) it can be a sticky wicket at times. However, I must say, the JOY that I witness when my dude is saving money is very real and tangible. And slowly, I am learning to change my habits to help us as a family to cultivate that kind of joy and contentment.
I have an incredible talent for finding ways to spend money. Thankfully my spouse has an innate ability to see the long game, to put money away, and then show me the benefits! Since he is the earner, it’s sometimes easy for me to feel like he has “authority” over the spending. But he reminds me that we are a team, and my contribution, while not measured in dollar bills, is just as great.
I have to remind myself at times that frugality is not a personality flaw – but rather something that makes him such a great guy to be married to. He’s got the long game plan for us – and it doesn’t include credit card bills or long hours of work.
And, just for the record, Mustachianism has not ruined our marriage! Having a community, a name, a WAY to identify the life-goals and strivings, has been an amazing gift to us. I may still be a “wannabe”, and definitely have a long way to go, but damn! I think I have some peach fuzz.

Interesting discussion going on here. I guess it’s a matter of this couple learning the difference between frugal and downright stingy. However, it appears they have other issues besides internal spending policies, primarily a lack of will to discuss mutual goals and how to achieve them as a team. So many useful suggestions in the above articles and replies that I won’t belabour the point.
But heck! if it was me, I’d go at that stupid blow-up sofa with a steak knife, buy a good, used second-hand one and make some big comfy cushions to match. (With an old sewing machine and decorator fabric found in the discount bin).

tallgirl1204 July 31, 2014, 3:13 pm

I’m with you, completely. Really? A blow-up sofa? I think this is an example of two people who are frugal in different ways, each trying to impose his/her “right way” on the other.

Our current sofa was a freebie from the neighbors all that was wrong with it was that it didn’t suit them any more. It is way comfy, and better yet is about 30 years into “off-gassing,” so that my husband feels satisfied we’re not being poisoned by chemicals (this is something I don’t buy into so much on the other hand he was insistent on glass baby bottles, about one year before the BPH issues in plastic bottles because widely publicized, so maybe he knows stuff I don’t).

And maybe this is the point: when you live with someone, you have to spend a fair amount of time considering that they know stuff that you don’t and vice versa, and if you think your way is best, you need to figure out how to share that in a way that still honors their thinking.

Dean July 31, 2014, 12:57 pm

Did I view his slides correctly? No more going to the dentist? I’m not sure I can go along with that one…

Rachel July 31, 2014, 1:37 pm

I think it was eliminating dental debt. So they probably had work done on a payment plan.

I didn’t get that feeling, but I hope you’re right.

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If You Think Socialism’s Unaffordable, You Don’t Understand Capitalism

In this essay, I’m going to challenge (wait, I mean smash) the funny, foolish, backwards myth that “socialism is too expensive!!” — which no one should believe.

See that poor guy above pushing a wheelbarrow full of money to pay for basic things? That’s what Americans have had to begin doing, now, too, only to capitalism — and maybe they don’t quite understand how or why yet. If you think socialism’s unaffordable — you don’t understand capitalism.

(So drop your ideological biases right here — if you want to learn something, that is. That myth, by the way, isn’t economics, my friends. It’s just financial engineering. The economics are very, very simple. I am going to explain them to you in a very straightforward way — but one which I think no one has taught you to really think about yet.)

There’s a principle which I don’t think anyone’s explaining to Americans — at least not well. They’re already “paying” for the very things that social democracy would provide. That money doesn’t have to be “found” or “raised.” It’s already pouring out of their pockets, like a huge river, into the coffers of predatory capitalism. There’s no need to worry about “how to pay for socialism”, because Americans are massively, gigantically overpaying capitalism, to a degree unseen in modern history, for the basics of life (and they are paying not just with money, but with time, energy, trust, meaning, purpose, belonging, health, their kids, and life itself, but we’ll get to that).

Americans face a situation of eudaimonic hyperinflation. I put in pompous italic because I want to make a point. In Venezuela, prices have risen by thousands or millions of percent, for consumer goods. And Americans — especially fringe conservatives — make fun of those dirty, foolish Venezuelans, and blame socialism for letting it happen.

Yet in America, the prices of all the basics of a good life — “eudaimonia” — have risen by hundreds or thousands of percent. Perhaps you think I exaggerate. Very, well, let’s review the evidence. Healthcare has risen by two thousand percent. The price of education has gone up by 1000%. Food, 300%. Rent and house prices, 400%. Childcare, 500%. Those are all conservative estimate, too, from what I reckon. You can add to that list as you see fit.

Now, that’s over a few decades. But that’s hyperinflation, too — only of a creeping kind, which is all the more dangerous, because it gets normalized. The hyperinflation Americans face isn’t for consumer goods — like it is in Venezuela. Shampoos, deodorants, socks. It is for something more fundamental still — the basic goods that people need to live decent lives. All the basics of life have skyrocketed in price in a kind of epic way that the world has never really seen before, outside of hyperinflationary episodes, like the Weimar Republic.

Do you see what I mean by eudaimonic hyperinflation? Even people in Pakistan, Chile, and Kenya don’t face such a thing. If you need healthcare there, it hasn’t risen in price by two thousand percent. So America, weirdly, funnily, tragically, like Venezuela, is going through it’s own hyperinflationary collapse. One which it doesn’t see, let alone understand yet — and one not brought by socialism, but, it seems, a lack of it. How ironic. How strange. How can that be? We’ll get there. Let’s continue with the economics.

Hence, life in America has become a grim exercise in living at the razor’s edge of ruin. A full 80% of Americans — even nominally affluent people — live paycheck to paycheck. A whole nation, more or less, is one emergency, illness, or unforeseen expenditure away from ruin. And ruin in this case means genuine ruin: bankruptcy, homelessness, going with healthcare, and so forth. Americans are broke, my friends. That is what a nation living paycheck to paycheck means.

Why are Americans broke? Why has America become something like the world’s first poor rich country? Median incomes in Europe aren’t higher than in the States, really — but Americans don’t seem able to make ends meet, and Europeans do, at least more so.

It’s not because Americans are wastrels, fools, gamblers, or even the much derided consumerists they’re sometimes made out to be. They aren’t spending their money on even more Paul Manafort style Ostrich leather jackets, summer homes, and yachts — instead of socking it away wisely. Nor are Americans broke because the price of technological advancements, like TVs and computers, has risen — in fact, it’s fallen, by multiples. So Americans aren’t broke because they’re choosing to be.

Americans are broke because they have to be. The reason a nation is living paycheck to paycheck, at the grim edge of ruin, is because the price of the basics of life has skyrocketed — catastrophically, epically, ruinously, in a way nowhere else the world has seen. America is going through a nightmarish episode of eudaimonic hyperinflation. The price of the basics of a decent life have gone through a kind of massive, creeping, relentless inflation, to the point that each and every one of them has gone up by at least hundreds, if not thousands of percent.

Yet at the same time, average incomes have been flatlined. They haven’t risen much, if at all. And that means that Americans have had to try to afford hyperinflationary basics on incomes that haven’t risen. The results? Crippling debt. Kids that can’t afford to move out. A whole class of elderly people who are going bankrupt.

What caused eudaimonic hyperinflation in America? Capitalism did. Not mom-and-pop capitalism, the kind that keeps my neighbourhood buzzing with bars, cafes, restaurants, and shops. Predatory capitalism. In industry after industry, consolidation has been the norm. Huge monopolies have been built. Those monopolies have raised prices relentlessly every year, because that is what monopolies do — because capitalism demands rising profits, no matter what the cost to human beings is.

Take HMOs as a simple example. There are just a handful now, and they’re gobbling up whole hospitals at this point — yet most of them barely provide “healthcare” of a standard that would be acceptable in any other rich country. That’s how having a kid end up costing $30K — fictitious charges, like “holding your baby, that’ll be $1000”, quite literally invented, by predatory monopolies, to jack up profits. Americans ended up getting squeezed for every last penny — for the simplest of human acts, like holding their own newborns. Until, finally, quite naturally, they went broke.

Now. What’s hidden in all that? Americans are already paying for the things socialism should have long ago provided. Healthcare, education, transportation, media, retirement, pensions, safety nets. Only they’re paying through the nose — ruinously, to the point of living paycheck to paycheck. The money doesn’t need to be found. Nor will socialism won’t raise the price — it can’t.

How are Americans overpaying? Obviously, there’s the direct cost — they’re broke! But then there are the indirect costs, too — the “opportunity costs”, as Americans say. Americans live five years less than Europeans. The suicide rate is skyrocketing. They don’t trust their institutions or their society. Their kids can’t afford to move out. Mistrust, despair, loneliness, rage, futility, depression — right up to life itself. These are costs, too, that American pay predatory capitalism. They are massively overpaying capitalism for the basics of life, not just with money, but with their potential — their time, energy, minds, bodies, and lives.

“Socialism” — minor-league social democracy — just as in every other rich country, will lower the prices of the basics of life massively, systemically, and permanently. It reduces the price of all the basics of life, which American faces severe eudaimonic hyperinflation for now, because capitalism keeps jacking it up. How so? All these markets tend naturally towards monopoly — it’s more efficient to have just one giant HMO than a thousand small ones. Only a social monopoly, instead of a capitalist one, uses it monopsony power to lower prices for people, instead of constantly raise them. Drugs, textbooks, classes, tuitions, and so on, drop in price. So much so that, for example, Denmark pays students to go to college.

(And the quality goes up, too — because where capitalists have an incentive to cut corners, systems with social incentives, where no one’s being rewarded for how many bills they generate, or how much of a profit they turn this nanosecond, have suddenly have an incentive to keep really put care, attention, decency, and humanity into their work.)

Hence, people in the rest of the rich world haven’t faced eudaimonic hyperinflation like America because they didn’t make the fatal choice of trying to make capitalism provide the basics of life. Instead, socially administered public goods, like healthcare, education, transport, finance, media, kept the price of just living a decent life down — and the quality far superior to America.

It’s true that Americans’ “tax bills” will go up by 5 or 10 percent if it chooses some kind of social democracy. But it’s truer to say that the costs are not even half the equation. That 5 or 10 percent increase in taxes will begin to undo the thousand percent hyperinflationary increases in the basics of life. Hmm, five percent for a thousand? Does that sound like a good deal to you? It should — there’s rarely been a better one in history. Americans will have more income, not less. Yet it’s a challenging thing to explain to people in politicans’ soundbites, and so in a very real sense, I feel America’s future depends on Americans really explaining to one another and understanding it.

America really did become something like a new Weimar Republic. We don’t talk about it that way, but we should. Eudaimonic hyperinflation took a flamethrower American prosperity — to the point that Americans went broke as a nation. What does poverty do to people? A collapsed middle class looked to a fascist for salvation. And if America is to have a future, it’s going to have to undo all that — beginning at the beginning, with the soaring, devastating, life-crushing eudaimonic hyperinflation that capitalism caused.


A FRANK Tale: NYE 2013

Many of my readers have said they love my FRANK blogs more than any other, so I’ll try to blog about every FRANK dinner so you can all get a hint of what the experience was like for our diners. Please note that there are only a few photos of plated dishes on this blog…Jennie, who is a food stylist, normally photographs the final plating on the final night, but her phone decided it didn’t want to live any more last week, so we lost all those photos. *sigh*

We try to do FRANK on most major holidays that people celebrate by dining out, and that definitely includes New Years. Since our menu on NYE 2012 was Italian, we figured we’d keep that tradition around, since both Jennie and I love Italy and the cuisine there. This was our menu from 2012:

We wanted to draw inspiration from our previous menu, but also introduce some new elements and additional courses, including some of our now-signature housemade cheeses. We were just coming off the tails of our 3-seating epic Bread-themed menu from Dec 13-15 and had less that 2 weeks to dream up the menu and cook for 4 holiday seatings Dec 27-29 and Dec 31. We had never done 4 back-to-back FRANKs before, but that extra prep day on Dec 30 would definitely help, and our Dec 31 menu would be expanded from the menus on the previous weekend because we were asking for a higher donation for that seating due to the holiday. That didn’t leave us much time to conceptualize before we’d have to start sourcing and preparing, so as soon as we finished wrapping up FRANK business on that Monday, we headed out to The Truckyard, a funky outdoor dining spot new on the Dallas scene, where food trucks cycle through what is basically a playground for adults, with a massive treehouse (complete with bar), and people bring their dogs and get food from the trucks and drinks from the bars and have an amazing picnic. The weather was impossibly gorgeous for mid-December, and Jennie and I brought about 50 pounds of classic Italian cookbooks to begin dreaming. We knew we wanted the theme to be The North and The South…an exploration of how vastly different the cuisines of Italy are between these two regions.

As a very special treat, we flew in our buddy Adrien Nieto, who you’ll recognize as the 2nd place winner from our season of MasterChef. Our normal sous chef, Natalie, was out of town for the holidays, and we needed someone brilliant and skilled. Then, to our surprise, the incomparable Alvin Schultz notified us that he would be in Dallas for NYE, so we pre-empted him to help with that night. It turned into a spontaneous MasterChef reunion.

We didn’t finalize the menu until after we had begun cooking for this one, but it came together so beautifully. (This is the expanded menu for the special NYE seating, the 3 dinners the previous weekend didn’t include some of these components and courses.)

We knew we’d have to do oysters again for the amuse-bouche. It’s so traditional for NYE, and our oyster purveyor always has such an amazing selection. And Italians love oysters, especially in the South. But instead of the typical French mignonette (a tangy sauce for oysters with shallots, Champagne and vinegar), Jennie decided to Italianize it by adding some minced basil and using Prosecco (Italian sparkling wine) instead. And while it’s customary to serve oysters with Champagne, we decided to offer a special cocktail this year…a play on the classic “French 75” which is gin, Champagne, lemon, simple syrup, and bitters, but we turned it into an “Italia 75” by using vodka, Prosecco, lemon, simple syrup, and a very, very special housemade bitters we’ve been working on.

Yours, Truly, with an ancient tree

Some of you have seen my videos visiting the oldest trees in the world, the Bristlecone Pines. These trees live on high desert mountaintops in the American Southwest in California, Nevada, and Utah. Because they live in a hostile environment, high above the tree line where other trees stop growing, in blasting winds and with as little as 3 inches of rain a year, these trees grow very, very slowly for incredibly long periods of time. The oldest Bristlecones have been alive for over 5,000 years, meaning they were already 500 years old when the great pyramids of Egypt were built! They have witnessed virtually the entire march of human civilization. (I have to place a disclaimer here, because someone is going to claim there are much older trees alive in both the US and Scandinavia, but these are clonal trees, meaning their root systems may be 10,000 to up to 1m years old, but the actual trees you see above the ground live no more than 500-600 years.) So when you approach a Bristlecone Pine, you’re looking at a tree that has been alive for many thousands of years. If you haven’t watched my videos on them, you can watch this short one, and there’s another one here.

So what does this have to do with our FRANK menu? On a recent trip to Burning Man this summer, my buddy Ross and I stopped to visit the oldest grove of Bristlecone Pines, high atop the White Mountains in the Inyo National Forest in remote eastern California near the Nevada border. And as you saw in the video, the trees were producing cones that were overflowing with sticky, pungent sap. I gathered a few downed cones and did a double extraction on them with grain alcohol…first, an 8-hour extraction to remove that rich sap, resulting in a golden, piney tincture…and then a 3-week extraction to remove woody, bitter compounds from the cone wood itself. I combined these two tinctures carefully with 2 other tinctures I made from Texas juniper berries (from the trees in the park behind my house) and from Cascade hops I grew in my garden. And thus was born what may well be the most epic bitters ever made…Bristlecone bitters, the essence of the oldest trees in the world. (With NO harm done to the actual trees, I must emphasize. ) So this very special cocktail accompanied our oyster to complete a Southern Italian course for the amuse-bouche.

For the next course, we wanted to do a salumi plate. “Salumi” is the Italian word for cured meats. (You may be more familiar with the French word “charcuterie” which means the same thing.) One of our mentors at FRANK is the legendary French chef André Bedouret, famous in this part of the country for his classes on meat curing. Chef André was present at the very first FRANK almost 2 years ago, and we can always rely on him to give us his very French (ie…VERY honest) opinion about things! He always challenges us to move to new levels of competence and vision. We were incredibly fortunate to acquire some of his spectacular cured meats to serve for this course. The first was lonzino, which is the cured loin muscle of the pig. This lean, tender cut cures out to an incredibly silken texture, and Chef André used some warm spices like nutmeg in the salt rub. The second was coppa, which is more commonly called cappicola here in the US. This muscle comes from the neck of the pig, and has big regions of pure white intramuscular fat which balance the texture of the neck muscles which are frequently exercised (and can therefore be tough, but incredibly flavorful…and when sliced thinly, renders one of the most extraordinary types of salumi). And the last was a spicy cured sausage, the most challenging of all meats to cure properly, somewhat similar to salame, where our English word “salami” comes from. Each one of these meats was truly incredible, and when we called for a vote each night on which was the crowd favorite, a solid winner never emerged…they were THAT good.

We served the salumi with a housemade cheese we’d been curing for several months, in the style of an Italian ricotta salata, or “salted ricotta.” This is NOTHING like the ricotta you’re familiar with…this is an aged, firm cheese that begins its life as fresh ricotta, and is then salted and pressed, and carefully aged. In fact, because this cheese starts out as a fresh cheese that anyone can make at home, this is an excellent starter cheese if you want to learn to make aged cheeses. You can read my blog post here on how to make it. Traditional ricotta salata is not flavored with anything other than salt, but we added a liberal amount of cracked black pepper to the cheese before pressing it, and then we cured it on the outside with a bleu cheese mold to transform the flavor and texture. We called the resulting cheese “black and bleu ricotta salata” and our diners loved it. And, as with so many ingredients at FRANK, the only place in the world you can taste it is…at FRANK. This course was typical of southern Italy. While salumi is made all across the country, pigs tend to be raised more often in the warm south, where cattle are rare, and salumi tends to be more boldly spiced.

As you may have read, our soups at FRANK tend to garner the most votes as people’s favorite course, so Jennie and I have become obsessed with making sure each soup surpasses the last. Our soup at Bread Frank was the runaway favorite: a silky-smooth garlic soup thickened with sourdough bread toasted in garlic oil, so we had big shoes to fill for this FRANK. After reading countless traditional Italian soup recipes, we still didn’t feel we had found the right one, so we invented a new soup based on several traditional Italian soups: porcini, chestnut, and parsnip soup. Each of these 3 ingredients is revered in Italy, and are seasonally appropriate this time of year in the US. Porcini mushrooms look like this:

They grow exclusively in the wild and no one has figured out how to cultivate them, so every porcini mushroom eaten anywhere in the world was found in the wild by a mushroom hunter. In the US, porcini are called by a portion of their scientific name, boletus edulis, or more commonly, boletes. They are found most commonly on the west coast, and this is the prime season for California boletes. However, because of the awful, unprecedented drought happening there, not many boletes are being found this year, so we used dried boletes. (Many species of wild mushroom lend themselves very well to drying, boletes and morels among them. And this is the only way they can be used outside their normal growing season.) Boletes can also be found wild all across the US, including Eastern and South Texas, primarily in the spring. Many, many people believe that boletes or porcinis are the most delicious of all wild mushrooms species, with their earthy, spicy flavors.

Chestnuts are a fixture in the holiday season here in the US. They pop up in the song lyrics we hear all season: “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire…” and “We’ll be singing the songs we love to sing without a single stop, at the fireplace while we watch the chestnuts pop!” In northern cities, people look forward to sidewalk chestnut vendors during the winter who serve these creamy, rich nuts freshly roasted. In Texas, however, chestnuts aren’t nearly as prevalent, so my very first taste of chestnuts was in New York in my mid 20s. All it took was one taste to fall in love with these extraordinary nuts, which are typically imported from either Italy or Korea. Chestnut trees used to be widespread in the US, but in the early 1900s, a disease called chestnut blight wiped out nearly all of the 4 billion trees across the country. Today, it’s incredibly rare to run across a mature chestnut tree, though genetic scientists are engineering a blight-resistant tree with genes from Asian chestnut trees, and new domestic chestnut orchards are being planted. (Unfortunately, this means that if you find US-grown chestnuts in your market, they are genetically modified.) If you’ve never tasted a chestnut, you don’t know what you’re missing. They must be roasted or boiled before eating, and I actually prefer cooking them the way my partner’s mother taught me: in my pressure cooker, and the extra moisture that method contributes to the nut fixes my only criticism of dry-roasted chestnuts…I find the nut meat a bit too dry with that preparation. Chestnuts are highly perishable, unlike other nuts, and are ONLY available fresh during the late fall and winter months. But chestnut flour (roasted, dried, and ground chestnuts) is available year round. Chestnuts are very sweet, with a creamy texture and unusually robust thickening power…a perfect base for a thick, luxurious soup.

To bring together these two unique ingredients, we felt like the perfect bridge would be the parsnip, as it is both sweet and creamy, and earthy and spicy. So with our sacred trio, we pushed forward with this creative soup, finishing it with olive oil, celery leaves, fried leeks, and a dollop of luscious housemade mascarpone cheese. And although it had some competition on the first 3 nights, on our New Year’s Eve seating, the majority of our diners said it was their favorite course and they had never tasted anything like it. The ingredients in this soup are all typical of northern Italy’s mountainous, cool climates, where porcini grow in abundance, chestnut orchards are common, and parsnips mature slowly in the long, cool autumn months.

Chestnut, Porcini, and Parsnip Soup with fried leeks and housemade mascarpone

Now let’s stop for a moment to talk about mascarpone, because most Americans are in dire need of a pronunciation lesson. There is one, and ONLY ONE, proper pronunciation for this Italian cream cheese:


A Dutch almond pastry called Banket

Second Update: We’ve just posted a cautionary tale on what NOT to do when making this banket recipe. THIS recipe is perfect. Barb’s experiments were much less than perfect. Read about what NOT to do.

If you were to ask any of my family, nuclear or extended, what is THE most important family heirloom recipe, I think almost everybody would answer that it’s Banket. (Pronounced bahn-KET.) In my house, it is not Christmas until we’ve made Banket. Banket is a traditional Dutch pastry (have Barb and I mentioned that we are 100% Dutch? Our grandparents came over from Holland!) that is made in long tubes of pastry, with an almond paste filling. Some people shape the tubes into letters–into “Merry Christmas”, for example. We just do long skinny “baguettes”. It is unbelievably delicious, and any time I have served it to non-Dutch people, they have just about died from the deliciousness. (Now THERE’s a news headline for you–“Woman dies after sampling exquisite pastry, autopsy shows pleasure overload.”) Anyway, this is a wonderful thing, and is totally worth the very involved and time-consuming preparation.

•1 lb. butter (Update: I just had TWO batches of this fail because I used warm butter. It needs to be cold, and cut into smaller chunks, so that it breaks into sorty of grainy granules, rather then just creaming into the flour.)

If using a Kitchenaid mixer, mix the butter, flour, baking powder, and salt first, then drizzle in the ice water a little at a time, JUST until the dough forms a ball. (It might be a little less or a little more than 1 c., and it MUST be ice water.) If mixing by hand, cut the butter into the dry ingredients with a pastry cutter until all the butter is mixed in and the mixture is grainy. Then add the water a little at a time.

Roll the dough into a long oblong strip. Fold it in 1/3’s (fold the ends in 1/3 of the way) and let the dough rest in the fridge for 20 minutes or more.

Roll out into a long strip again, and fold in 3 again. Let rest for another 20 minutes.

Roll out 3rd time in long strip, fold in 3, let rest in fridge. Make filling (see below.) In a small bowl, whisk 2-3 egg whites with 1/4 c. water.

•1 lb. almond paste, crumbled (don’t use marzipan–it has to be almond paste.)

Mix completely, then let chill in the fridge for 20 minutes or more. Divide filling into 8 equal parts.

Cut dough into 8 equal parts. Take one part and roll into a long strip (around 15-18″ long and about 6″ wide.) Put 1/8 of the filling along the strip in the middle, making an even ridge of filling about 1/2″ wide. Leave 1/2″-1″ of dough free on the ends. Fold the ends of the dough over the filling. Fold one side up over the filling, then the other. Using a pastry brush, brush egg white/water mixture along the seams, and use fingers to seal. Place tube (it will be around 1-2″ in diameter) on a long cookie sheet, seam side down. Brush top with egg white/water mixture, and sprinkle with a little sugar.

Repeat procedure with each of the 8 dough/filling portions. (I usually bake 4 sticks on a cookie sheet, but if you shape the tubs into letters, you’ll need to do each one separately.) Pierce the tops every 3-4 inches with a knife.

Bake at 450ºF for 15-20 minutes, until the top of the pastry is golden brown. Don’t be alarmed if some of the almond paste spills out–it is a favorite sneaky-snack in our house to eat the spilled almond paste after the pans come out of the oven. Let the pastry cool completely, then wrap tightly in plastic wrap or aluminum foil. To serve, cut in 1″ slices and serve on a beautiful plate. (or alternately, if nobody is looking, eat half a stick as fast as you can, skipping the plate. :-D)

P.S. Here’s a picture of my 3rd batch of the season–turned out prettier than the first 2:


Recommended Reading

The Coronavirus Will Be a Catastrophe for the Poor

Isolation Is Changing How You Look

The Four Rules of Pandemic Economics

One obvious example is that the pandemic is accelerating the retail reckoning. Over the past 50 years, the number of American malls grew almost twice as fast as the U.S. population, to the point that in 2015, the U.S. had 10 times more shopping space per capita than Germany. Such abundance makes no sense in the age of Amazon. Overleveraged, overbuilt, and oversprawled, American retailers had a long way to fall as the country moved toward online shopping. In 2017, and again in 2019, physical-store closures reached an all-time high, led by the decay of suburban totems like Sports Authority and Payless.

The year 2020 may bring the death of the department store, marking the end of that 200-year-old retail innovation after decades of decline. Macy’s has furloughed more than 100,000 workers. Neiman Marcus has filed for Chapter 11. More legacy department stores and apparel retailers will almost certainly follow them to bankruptcy court or the corporate graveyard. As these anchor stores shutter, hundreds of malls that were already wobbling in 2019 will be knocked out in 2020.

The pandemic will also likely accelerate the big-business takeover of the economy. In the early innings of this crisis, the most resilient companies include blue-chip retailers like Amazon, Walmart, Dollar General, Costco, and Home Depot, all of whose stock prices are at or near record highs. Meanwhile, most small retailers—like hair salons, cafés, flower shops, and gyms—have less than one month’s cash on hand. One survey of several thousand small businesses, including hotels, theaters, and bars, found that just 30 percent of them expect to survive a lockdown that lasts four months.

Big companies have several advantages over smaller independents in a crisis. They have more cash reserves, better access to capital, and a general counsel’s office to furlough employees in an orderly fashion. Most important, their relationships with government and banks put them at the front of the line for bailouts.

The past two weeks have seen widespread reports of small businesses struggling to secure funds from the federal government. Larger companies do not seem to be experiencing the same delays. In one particularly controversial case, Ruth’s Chris Steak House—a public company with 159 locations and $87 million of cash on hand—announced that it had secured $20 million from a small-business rescue program that ran out of money before it could help countless independents. (Ruth’s Chris later pledged to return the money, and the federal government replenished the pot, though it will likely run out again quickly.)

These preexisting strengths will continue to matter during what will likely be a shaky recovery. As stores face new demands—like the installation of temperature-taking devices at entries, or additional sanitation controls—larger companies will have the resources to invest without becoming insolvent.

What’s more, by holding on through the next few months, America’s largest companies will be in a stronger position to incorporate millions of workers when the recovery picks up. “In the medium run, it’s probably going to be larger companies and chains doing the hiring,” Arindrajit Dube, an economics professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, told me. In fact, at a time when the economy is shedding several million jobs per week, Amazon, Instacart, Walmart, Dollar General, Walgreens, and Kroger collectively have job postings for more than 700,000 full-time employees or contract workers. In the David-versus-Goliath battle between big and small businesses in America, COVID-19 is, contrary to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s recent assessment, no “great equalizer.” It’s a toxin for underdogs and a steroid for many giants.

Sweet Auburn Barbecue on Highland Avenue, open for carryout, in Atlanta’s Poncey-Highland neighborhood (Joshua Dudley Greer)

2. THE FLATTENING OF THE AMERICAN CITY

The growth of online shopping and big business will be hard to ignore for many city residents. It will make cities feel more desolate and less singular, for the next year or longer.

As e-commerce grows, it will pull more stores out of ground-floor retail locations. Many of these spaces will stay empty for months, removing the bright awnings, cheeky signs, and crowded windows that were the face of their neighborhood. Long stretches of cities will feel facelessly anonymous. With fewer independent stores and more Americans working from home, the streets will be quieter, too. Some urban residents might enjoy the feeling of a half-filled city it will carry the eerie vibe of an awkward, permanent holiday. But even those cheered by the ample sidewalk room will find, in the darkened windows to their left and right, a shadow of the city they knew before the plague.

While mom-and-pops and department stores will close, those industries that survive and are resilient to e-commerce encroachment—such as grocers and restaurants—are more likely, in the short term, to be dominated by chains that survive the flood. Cities will still be convenient, but their conveniences will be homogenous: a dependable array of CVS locations, bank branches, fast-casual franchises, and coffee shops. (This development is not entirely new: From 2008 to 2018, New York City added a new Dunkin’ Donuts franchise approximately every 12 days.) Everything that urban residents typically despise about chains—their cold efficiency, sterility, and predictability—may come to feel like mixed blessings during a period when people feel stalked by murderous pathogens.

For decades, American cities have fought a battle against monotony, and, according to some, the war was lost long ago. It was Tennessee Williams who allegedly said, “America has only three cities: New York, San Francisco, and New Orleans. Everywhere else is Cleveland.” In a period where many mom-and-pop stores die and chains expand, it seems inevitable that what once separated the New Yorks and San Franciscos will be flattened through the mass commodification of the streetscape, as everywhere you go feels even more like everywhere you’ve been.

A steep drop in immigration could also homogenize the urban experience.

President Trump seems to want to stop immigration to the U.S. entirely, and the administration has now closed the southern border to migrants. Many Central American countries have implemented domestic curfews, making most border crossings impossible. But even without these measures, the pandemic has effectively frozen international travel and migration.

Curtailed immigration will hurt immigrant families and communities first and foremost. It will also change the face of American cities. Immigrants aren’t just more likely to start companies than native-born Americans. The companies they start are twice as likely to be restaurants and retail outlets like bodegas and nail salons. In some places, like San Jose, California, 60 percent of all new companies, including new restaurants, are started by immigrants, according to research by the economists William Kerr and Sari Pekkala Kerr.

“If we shut the door on immigration because of the pandemic, something important will be lost on American streets,” William Kerr told me. “What’s obvious is that this will be really bad for immigrant communities and for people who live in cities. What’s less obvious, but also important, is that talent flows to these cities because of these amenities. If immigrants in New York suffer, that makes the city less attractive to young immigrants, but it also makes the city less hip-seeming to some 20-something in Albany thinking about moving.”

If the pandemic has a strong hangover effect on global migration, American cities like New York, Los Angeles, and Miami will not be the same. And nowhere would the absence of new immigrants be felt more in our cities than in the restaurant industry, which is perhaps facing the most serious crisis of all.

Young Blood Boutique on Highland Avenue in the Poncey-Highland neighborhood inside Taqueria del Sol in Decatur, Goergia, currently closed, and not doing carryout (Joshua Dudley Greer)

3. THE END OF THE GOLDEN AGE OF RESTAURANTS

Exactly 100 years ago, the U.S. dining industry faced its first extinction-level event with the ratification of the Eighteenth Amendment, which banned the production and sale of alcohol.

While it lasted only about a decade, Prohibition cast a long shadow over the restaurant landscape. The war on alcohol forced hundreds of fine-dining establishments to shut down, by eliminating their most dependable source of profit. The number of restaurants in the U.S. still tripled in the 1920s, in part due to the rise of “lunch car” diners that specialized in food that kids could enjoy with their sober parents, like hot dogs, hamburgers, and milkshakes. As the economist Tyler Cowen explained in his book An Economist Goes to Lunch, the ban of alcohol sales put children at the center of our culinary culture. For decades, he contended, Prohibition infantilized the American palate, making every meal fit for a kid.

Over the past few decades, U.S. restaurants have become world class. Dining out in America has become a kind of art form, leading the writer Eugene Wei to declare, in 2015, that “food has replaced music at the heart of the cultural conversation.” Food critics have noted a restaurant renaissance in Portland, Oregon New Orleans San Francisco Chicago Washington, D.C. Los Angeles and New York City. Honoring this achievement, Americans before the crisis spent more money dining out than in grocery stores—something that had never happened before 2015.

But COVID-19 could bring this golden age to an abrupt close. OpenTable reservations have collapsed all the way to zero. Restaurant spending has fallen by about 60 percent across the country, with the sharpest declines in fine-dining, lunch, and late-night food. The situation is especially bad for independent restaurants. “There’s no question that mom-and-pops have disproportionately suffered during this time,” said Jack Li, the managing director for Datassential, a food-and-beverage-research firm.

In the past month, chains have taken $3 out of every $4 spent eating out. That figure is significantly higher than average, according to Datassential. Chains don’t just have more cash flow they also have more cash savings. The typical local burrito joint barely has enough money to cover a few weeks of employee pay and utilities. Chipotle, meanwhile, has public stock and more than $900 million on hand. The companies that survive the recovery will be those that can hold their breath, with or without government assistance, and there is no doubt that chains have a significant advantage in lung capacity.

Things may get even worse this summer when restaurants are open for business but customers are scared—or local laws require dining establishments to operate at 50 percent capacity. “A lot of restaurants might come back in June and realize they can’t make a profit all summer, during their peak season,” said H. G. Parsa, a restaurant consultant and professor at the University of Denver. Most people I spoke with expected cities to enact social-distancing rules that will limit restaurant capacity in order to discourage large crowds. Several chains are saying they plan to stagger seating and reduce the number of tables in their establishments. Others are talking about installing dividers between booths or adding temperature checks at the door.

Empty space is bad enough for downtown restaurants, where thin margins require filling every square inch with paying customers. But at a deeper level, these adaptations will create a whole new ambience, making restaurants more awkward, more expensive, and less fun. One of the joys of getting a drink in a crowded space is the soundtrack of a hundred strangers’ conversations humming underneath the intimacy of a private exchange. Social-distance dining prohibits the thrum of a full house. “Until there’s a vaccine, I don’t think dine-in restaurants and bars will get anything back to normal in this country,” Steve Salis, a Washington, D.C.–based entrepreneur who owns several restaurants, told me.

“I think that retail capacity will be reduced, relocated, and repurposed,” said Daniel O’Connor, a veteran retail adviser and visiting executive at the Harvard Business School. Reduced means that thousands of restaurants will go out of business. “Flat out, I’m telling you a lot of today’s restaurant locations are going to become gyms,” O’Connor said. Relocated means that many restaurants that hang on will recognize in the next few months that they can’t survive in expensive downtown areas. They’ll look to open new locations in the suburbs, or shift their business to a food truck.

Repurposed means the restaurant of 2010 isn’t going to be the restaurant of 2025,” O’Connor said. “The pandemic is going to accelerate the shift to contactless delivery of meals, groceries, and products of all kinds.” As more restaurants recognize that they cannot make rent by filling hygienically spaced seats, they will become, simply, for-profit kitchens—a place where food is prepared but less commonly eaten.

Once again, this shift was already happening slowly, but is being accelerated by the pandemic. Last year I wrote that given the growth of “off premise” dining, 2020 would likely be the first year that American restaurants made more than half of their revenue from delivery, drive-through, and takeout. Nobody could have predicted that this milestone would be reached due to the absolute zeroing-out of on-premise dining.

Like Prohibition did 100 years ago, a delivery-first restaurant business could change the American palate. Pizza and Chinese food are well positioned for the transition, since they already account for 70 percent of the U.S. delivery market, according to a report by the investment firm Cowen and Company. But not every entrée is made to be left in a car for 30 minutes. Grilled salmon and medium-rare steak don’t benefit from a microwave zap. Neither do Michelin-star entrées, which is why some of America’s most famous restaurants have gone back to basics. Alinea in Chicago has scrapped its $395-per-person menu and replaced it with comfort foods, like beef Wellington and mashed potatoes. In a strange historical rhyme, the kid-friendly fare that became hegemonic in the American diet after Prohibition isn’t so different from common delivery food: pizza, wings, burgers, and pasta.

It would be glib to suggest that most restaurants can survive by simply pivoting to delivery. Indeed, many won’t—and not just because some consumers might be afraid of lukewarm trout. The bigger problem is that the most popular delivery items (appetizers and entrées) tend to be the least profitable, while delivery consumers rarely order the higher-margin items, like dessert and booze, that actually pay the rent.

One solution: takeaway booze. “I’ve spoken to lots of restaurants who say that alcohol delivery has saved their company,” H. G. Parsa, of the University of Denver, told me. “I think there is room for innovation here. Imagine a restaurant delivers to you the ingredients for a fancy cocktail, with the right amounts of each ingredient, with instructions for you to shake it up yourself.” Parsa sees this approach—half delivery, half DIY—as a possible evolution for more restaurants that want to expand their delivery business. It is a vision of restaurants as prepared grocers, from whom you might order several finished sides, the bottled ingredients for three cocktails, and a sirloin you’ll sear at home.

Summarizing these dizzying changes to the food industry, Parsa said: “Food that travels is the future.” As sweeping as that statement is, it might even be an understatement. In the past month, the all-delivery economy has gone from a notion to a necessity.

An employee runs carryout for the Iberian Pig in Decatur (Joshua Dudley Greer)

4. THE ALL-DELIVERY ECONOMY

The spatial logic of a plague is unforgiving. If crowds are toxic, then stores cannot be crowded. And if stores are off-limits to the masses, then mass commerce must shift to the internet.

In the past month, online shopping has gone from a regular habit for a minority of consumers to a crucial part of America’s recreational infrastructure. One-third of Americans bought groceries online in the past month, and tens of millions of them did it for the first time. Walmart deliveries have skyrocketed, and Amazon now delays deliveries of nonessential items to deal with unprecedented demand. Online shopping’s share of total retail sales has been increasing approximately one percentage point per year, but a recent UBS analysis predicted that COVID-19 will immediately increase that share from 15 percent to 25 percent—a decade of change concentrated in several months.

Dan O’Connor, of Harvard, believes “offline” activity will increasingly be geared to online delivery, and will transform almost every aspect of urban retail. He pointed me to Hema, a Chinese supermarket chain operated by the e-commerce and technology giant Alibaba. Hema triples as a high-end grocer, restaurant, and fulfillment center. When you walk into a typical store, it looks like a Kroger or Whole Foods. But Hema delivers more than half of its volume through an app, making it more like a walkable fulfillment center than a traditional grocer. “If you asked me where retail is headed, I would encourage you to look at China,” O’Connor said. “If we’re going through 18 months of social distancing, which makes crowded stores impossible, then we need to significantly repurpose our retailers for increased delivery.”

This all-delivery economy will require either a quantum leap in autonomous vehicles and drone technology or a significant increase in delivery workers. In the short run, I’m betting on the latter. Instacart is currently seeking to add 300,000 contract workers in the next three months—more than the total anticipated new hires by Amazon, CVS, Walmart, and Walgreens combined. The delivery industry, including not only Instacart but also Uber Eats and DoorDash, has received substantial criticism for its treatment of workers, who are typically denied benefits like health care and paid leave. If social distancing accelerates the delivery economy, it will also expedite policy conversations over how to adequately compensate the essential workers who are allowing Americans to remain safely distanced.

By obliterating the face-to-face economy, the coronavirus will return Americans to a blend of virtual commerce and home prep that is reminiscent of the late 19th century. In the 1890s, Sears, Roebuck delivered a bible of goods to the doorsteps of families who cooked at home. In the spring of 2020, Amazon and its ilk deliver an infinitude of stuff to the front steps and mailrooms of families who couldn’t dine out even if they wanted to.

The return to the Sears economy will chill the kinetic energy of downtown areas. Cities are built for touch, yet we are entering an era of what Tim Wu, a law professor at Columbia University, calls virtually assisted “touchlessness.” Movie theaters, crowded gyms, full-capacity stadiums, packed clubs and bars—all of these features of urban life will have to be paused, or downsized, to reduce viral spread.

In a plague, the social returns to density flip from positive to poisonous. In the next few years, some people who can work remotely at tech, media, and marketing companies may try to save money by moving their living-room office to the suburbs. Young college graduates may feel that moving to a city with dense public transportation is an untenable risk. Or they’ll decide that “socially distanced downtown” is an unappetizing oxymoron. If they do move to America’s largest metros, they may prefer those—like Nashville and Phoenix—where distance is already designed into the city’s sprawling infrastructure.

First Class Barber & Salon, currently closed on Flat Shoals Avenue the Wing Bar, open for carryout on Flat Shoals Avenue in East Atlanta Village (Joshua Dudley Greer)

5. AFTER THE FIRE

The song of American urbanization plays on an accordion. Americans compressed themselves into urban areas in the early 20th century. By mid-century, many white families were fanning out into the suburbs. Then, in the early 21st century, young people rushed back into downtown areas. But in the past few years, American cities have begun to exhale many residents, who have moved to smaller metros and southern suburbs. As with so many other trends, the pandemic will accelerate that exodus. Empty storefronts will beget empty apartments on the floors above them.

The American cities waiting on the other side of this crisis will not be the same. They will be “safer” in almost every respect—healthier, blander, and more boring, with fewer tourists, less exciting food, and a desiccated nightlife. The urban obsession with well-being will extend from cycling and salads to mask design and social distancing. Many thousands of young people who might have giddily flocked to the most expensive downtown areas may assess the collapse in living standards and amenities and decide it’s not worth it. Census figures will show that the urban exodus went into hyperdrive in the COVID years. There will be headlines exclaiming the decline of the American city or, more punchy, “Americans to New York: ‘Drop Dead.’”

Then something interesting will happen. The accordion will constrict again and American cities will have a renaissance of affordability.

“Right now, you see rich people literally fleeing New York for their upstate homes,” Jeremiah Moss, the author of the book Vanishing New York, told me. “What’s happening to New York is traumatic, and strange, and post-apocalyptic. But I reserve a dark optimism about all this, if cities become less expensive over the next few years.”

In the decade after the Great Recession, American cities became very popular—and very expensive. Neighborhoods that were once jewel boxes of eccentricity became yuppie depots. Wealth elbowed out weirdness, and rents soared to suffocating levels that pushed out many of the families and stores that made the cities unique.

“Cities have historically been places for outsiders, but they became ruinously expensive in the last decade when they became popular with mainstream people,” Moss said. “If cities become less expensive in the next few years, it might allow artists and weirdos and the counterculture to come back to New York and places like it. It could make cities interesting again.”

As Moss spoke, I thought of a forest fire that rages through the underbrush and leaves a legacy of ash. To look at the aftermath of the fire is to see little but death and ruin. But in time, the equilibrium of the environment is reset. Sunlight reaches the forest floor. New things grow that couldn’t have before the fire changed the landscape.

The COVID-19 pandemic will leave two legacies for the American streetscape. In the next few years, the virus will reduce to rubble many thousands of cherished local stores. Chains will surge, restaurants will feel desolate, and the density of humanity that is the life force of cities will be ruinously arrested by the disease.

But the near death of the American city will also be its rebirth. When rents fall, mom-and-pop stores will rise again—America will need them. Immigrants will return in full force when a sensible administration recognizes that America needs them, too. Cheaper empty spaces will be incubators for stores that serve up ancient pleasures, like coffee and books, and novel combinations of health tech, fitness, and apparel. Eccentric chefs will return, and Americans will remember, if they ever forgot, the sacred joys of a private plate in a place that buzzes with strangers. From the ashes, something new will grow, and something better, too, if we build it right.

The Plaza Theatre, Atlanta’s oldest operational independent cinema (Joshua Dudley Greer)

Related Podcast

Listen to Derek Thompson discuss this story on an episode of Social Distance, The Atlantic’s podcast about life in the pandemic:


Necessity is the mother of invention - A short one-shot

Hey folks, been a long time lurker, and this is my first post. It's a short piece inspired by the prompt:

[WP] It has been ten years since aliens have arrived, but they still won't talk to puny humans because they just can't believe they are the top predators of Earth, it is not possible. All attempts to convince them are going nowhere. You are tasked with proving it to the aliens.

If Kal had a dollar for every time heɽ faced off against a cow while naked, heɽ have two dollars - which wasn't a lot, but it was weird that itɽ happen twice.

"I don't get it," he said for the hundredth time, turning away from the cow in front of him and towards Zayanna. "Why is any of this necessary!"

The tall, long-featured alien curled her thin lips in exasperation as she looked up from the clipboard in her arms. She plucked a thin rectangular device from the belt at her waist and hissed into it. At least, that's what it sounded like. Scientists said that these creatures could move parts of their body, including their tongue, at inhuman speeds. The grunts and hisses he took for their simplistic language was apparently thousands upon thousands of complex syllables compacted into the brief space of a few seconds.

Done with her tirade, Zayanna held the device out in front of her impatiently, waiting for it to translate her words back to him. In the few moments that the process took, Kal couldn't help wonder what. other activities would be like with the super-fast spacefaring race. A lifetime of video games and the Avatar movie had nurtured a soft spot in him for their physique. Their women especially looked quite good. Their long legs, slim humanoid figure, and luminous flowing hair certainly brought to mind certain -

"Listen carefully for the last time you ignorant amoeba." Kal's thoughts were quickly rent asunder by the harsh robotic voice coming from the translation device. And not a moment too soon, he figured, his face feeling hot. He was, after all, naked.

"You come to us claiming you represent this planet. You wave around your metal sticks and point to your huts and expect us to believe such drivel? You, who cannot face down a simple grazing creature. You, who all but burst into tears as your clothes were taken from you, would dare claim superiority over the beings of power, strength, and agility who roam this land? No. Show me your proclaimed power firsthand if you want me to believe it."

The rant concluded with a sharp beep, indicating the end of the translation. Kal sighed and turned back to face the large cow that had begun chewing on some grass idly. Its pale cowhide was splotched with back spots and it's large bovine eyes held a gentle warmth that bespoke its ability to give back to mother nature in ways not many humans could. It was also a metric ton of raw strength that could crush his ribcage in a heartbeat if it was so inclined.

But Kal wasn't a man to be underestimated. He nodded resignedly to Zayanna who hefted her clipboard in preparation to take notes, her eyes looking oddly eager. Countless men had failed this trial. No doubt it was a spectacle for these aliens. He took a step towards the cow, feeling his stomach churn, heart race, and palms grow slick with nervous sweat. Yet he was determined.

His was the determination that came from knowledge of a terror far worse than bovine inflicted death. Far worse than the supposed horrors the aliens spoke of that lay in the shadows of broken galaxies. No, the terror lurking in the back of his mind, sending tendrils of fear through every taut muscle of his body, was that of his friends and family seeing him naked. Every attempt by humans to prove themselves was recorded by the aliens. Failures were broadcast to the entire world, while successes were kept private for them to monitor and study. The problem was simple Kal was a grower, not a shower.

Thus, it was with a grim focus that he approached the grazing cow. The pastoral winds tousled his hair and set the blades of grass and stalks of corn in the background swaying hypnotically. The sun was still high in the sky, yet the giant observatory set up by the aliens here in the rural farmland cast deep shadows over him and his fated opponent. According to Zayanna the Galactic connection was good here, hence their outpost's odd location. The building of flashing lights and futuristic architecture hummed a steady, somber note that resonated in his bones.

Finally, he stood in front of the animal. It looked up at him briefly before lowering its head to the ground to sniff out another patch of grass. This close, its size and girth were even more impressive. That thick neck. rippling calf muscles. this would be hard.

Gritting his teeth, Kal slid his foot back into a fighting stance and raised his fists.

"Hear me," he began, "you simple creature of the land. I have no quarry with you, but unfortunately. "

He trailed off as the cow began plodding away from him, flicking its tail lazily. Behind him, he heard Zayanna hiss, and shortly after the translation device's robotic voice followed.

"The powerful beast does not even acknowledge you. Pathetic." Somehow the monotonous robot managed to sound mocking.

"It simply flees in fear," Kal said, trying to project his confidence and masculinity. Zayanna made a sound that even across the intergalactic language barrier he could make out to be a scoff. They watched as the cow ambled over to a particularly lush patch of grass, circled it a few times, and lowered itself down. Then it closed its eyes. The bastard had gone to sleep.

Kal glanced at the alien who was furiously scribbling on her clipboard, looking like sheɽ just had an hour of her life wasted. This wasn't good. Kal hurried over to the cow and it's ears wiggled, one eye raising open to stare at him.

"Listen," he said in a low whisper, "you need to help me out here, okay?"

The cow didn't answer. Of course it didn't. He felt himself blush, but gazing into the creature's intelligent eyes he couldn't help but feel like it could understand him.

"Look," he continued hurriedly, "it's for the greater good. I need you to let me knock you out."

The cow snorted through its nose and flicked its tail. Disagreement. Kal blew out his cheeks and clenched his fists in frustration. He was thinking about this all wrong. He shut his eyes for a moment, thinking furiously.

His eyes shot open. He had an idea. He stood up and turned back to where his belongings were being kept, near Zayanna. She noted his approach and began to speak, but he held up his hand to forestall her.

He reached into his bag and she made a disapproving noise - weapons and clothes that might allow for cheating were not allowed in these trials - but she stopped when she saw what he pulled out. An apple. It was meant to be a snack for him later in the day. The rules didn’t say he couldn’t be fed, and he planned to take advantage of that. He took a large bite, pretending to eat it, and put the rest of the fruit away before strutting back to the cow, noticing Zayanna's trailing him curiously.

Discreetly, he spat the large chunk of apple into his palm and stood in front of the cow. It's sharp nose picked up the sweet scent immediately and it clambered to its feet. It nudged against him and Kal exaggerated stumbling backwards.

"It's strength is unmatched!" he said, arms flailing. Zayanna stepped to the side, watching keenly as the cow followed him, chasing the hidden apple in his clenched fist. He made a show of dodging the cow, and it plodded after him insistently. The chase might have been exciting if it hadn't been so damn slow. Nevertheless, it was all he had. The heavy cow threw up clods of dirt, clouding the air around them.

He angled himself such that the cow was between him and Zayanna. With an overly loud grunt he flung his fist at the cow's face, lightly grazing it. He let go of the apple and it shot out behind the animal and vanished into the field of corn. The cow let out a moo of annoyance and with surprising speed turned and charged into the stalks of corn after its delicious treat.

Kal stood in the aftermath, puffing his chest out and pointing impressively at the confused alien who couldn't have seen the tiny slice of apple through the flying dirt and large prancing cow.

"One punch," he said solemnly, "that was all it took to vanquish this beast you set before me. Do you deny that it ran away in terror this time?"

Zayanna squinted at him, and he knew she didn't buy it. But these aliens were nothing if not meticulous about their experiments. All data from her perspective pointed to the cow having ran away at a strike of his fist. She nodded grudgingly and motioned with a free hand for him to have a seat.

He plopped down on the ground, feeling faint with relief. Heɽ done it. Zayanna walked over to a large telescope-like camera that had been recording the entire trial, and popped out what heɽ come to recognize as a memory-card of sorts. She pocketed it and strode into the observation building. His clothes and belongings were left outside. He was free to go, having earned humanity another victory on the rung of creatures they had to battle to prove themselves. The burden was on someone else now.

Kal lay on his back, the grass tickling his bare body. His dignity, his pride, his manhood. all safe for today. What a terrible ordeal.

"Holy cow," he muttered reflectively, a small grin unfurling on his face.


The Wager: Visions of Ruin

Hello and welcome to chapter 2 of what I hope will be an enjoyable series. I was planning on the first chapter being a one off, but I enjoyed writing it and wanted to keep going with it. You can find that here: The Wager

As I said before, I hope you enjoy it! Please let me know what you liked or think needs work as I am always working to improve my writing!

It’s been 137 years since that conversation.

When we accepted the Seeker’s help, it felt like the best option. The only good option, really. We were made aware of an existential threat that couldn’t be met with diplomacy, couldn’t be avoided, and couldn’t be escaped. What else could we do? Despite all the encouraging words and rousing speeches we were staring down the barrel of fighting a world war as ants.

With our backs against a wall we didn’t know was there, any help that could make a difference, a god in this instance, seemed like a good horse to hitch our wagon to. Except in this case, it wasn’t a horse. It was a rocket.

The Seeker spent the first month assessing our science, industry, and military capabilities. It said we should be encouraged. Its favorable assessment stated that we were among the more advanced of the various species it had encountered before meeting us.

At least one peg above failing spectacularly, I mused. Maybe we’ll just fail adequately.

Over the next few years, the mysteries of our universe were uncovered like a flower in bloom. Several of our brightest minds remarked that they felt as if they had been previously blind and for the first time could truly see, such was the incredible enlightenment our science achieved.

With our new blueprint of the rules governing universe, we began to build. Slowly at first, but gaining in momentum until it felt as if we would be torn at the seams by the sheer magnitude of acceleration.

In the span of several decades humanity collectively advanced so quickly, we looked like a science fiction fever dream. We didn’t just defeat common adversaries like hunger and disease, we beat our oldest enemy, Death, to within an inch of its life. We learned how to rewrite matter and shape it to our needs. The Hyperion Initiative created and deployed a Dyson swarm. After that, energy limitations evaporated. There wasn’t a single sector of human life, research, or industry that wasn’t affected. Using the near unlimited power of Sol, we even learned how to bend space and in a single lifetime had set foot on every solid celestial body in the system.

It was a time of prosperity, of wide eyes, hopeful hearts, and brilliant minds driving humanity forward at the speed of imagination.

It was tempting to try to forget.

To allow myself to be swept up in the tsunami of progress, cooperation, and increasingly unlimited possibility. However, for myself and other military and civilian leaders, a vision was branded into our minds. We witnessed what was coming. The Seeker had shared its first hand witness of the destruction of its previous charges.

Even now, I can still feel the cold, hard pit of fear in my stomach. I can remember a silence so heavy, it was paralyzing. Then, like a sea wall breaking, the roar of hundreds of voices in a deafening cacophony. Cries of disbelief, sobs of horror, and shouts of terror. The only reasonable responses to staring directly into the yawning maw of oblivion.

I remember pondering the nature of the phrase “as inevitable as entropy” for what felt like a century.

Eventually the commotion died down and gave way to stillness. The Seeker’s voice broke the silence, its calm voice sounding clearly, filling the chamber. Its voice was almost gentle, like a parent soothing their child waking from a nightmare. As it spoke, a warmth formed in my chest, melting away the icy fear, and spread to my limbs.

“Now you see and understand. Despite what every instinct you have may tell you, the fight is not lost before it begins. We must be ready to make them regret their mistake of encroaching on the Sol system for the rest of their existence, however brief that may be,” a small smile forming with the last few words.

With that brief reassurance, the tension lessened, the mood lightened, and the room swelled with the buzz of conversation.

As the scientific community learned and grew their understanding of the universe, our various industries applied these discoveries to build wonders to propel us forward. The collective leadership of humanity poured the bulk of these tremendous resources, human and otherwise, into Projects MJOLNIR and SVALINN. The asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter provided a large part of the raw materials to fuel our combined efforts of civilian and military advancements. Project MJOLNIR was tasked with developing, expanding, and implementing offensive capabilities, while SVALINN’s role was focused on defensive capabilities.

We have worked tirelessly from the moment of their respective inceptions to apply the bleeding edge of our technological and scientific prowess to prepare humanity for the impending arrival. A previously unimaginable amount of progress has been made on both projects, often driven by the assertive impetus asking “why not” rather than the focused introspection that comes with the birth of new, exceptionally dangerous technologies. Fear is a powerful motivator, and I can only hope that in our haste we don’t become reckless.

There never seems to be enough time.

What I’m about to show you is the reason for our efforts. It will likely frighten you, but it is for a purpose. My hope is that it will inspire a dedication to a tireless march forward. An unceasing struggle to improve what seems perfected. To never be satisfied with enough. To be thoroughly committed to this endeavor of survival. You will need every ounce of your creativity, zeal, and will to be ready.

Let us begin.


The Londonderry Plantation from 1641 until the Disengagement at the end of the Nineteenth Century

The events that led to the Londonderry Plantation had momentous consequences, not only for Ireland, but also for the political development of England. The far-reaching effects are still very much with us today. Professor James Stevens Curl will consider the Londonderry Plantation from 1641 to the end of the nineteenth century, demonstrating how the behaviour of the King led to the alienation of the City of London and its support for Parliament, and explaining the long period of disillusion in the face of the Land Agitation and political ferment of the latter part of the 19th century.

Professor James Stevens Curl has held Chairs in Architectural History at threeUniversities. He is Visiting Professor at the School of Architecture and Design,Ulster University. He read for his Doctorate at University College London, and in 1991-2 and 2002 was Visiting Fellow at Peterhouse, University of Cambridge.

In 2017, Professor Curl was awarded the British Academy&aposs President&aposs Medal for his contributions to the study of the History of Architecture in Britain and Ireland.The Medal is only awarded to those who have made an &lsquooutstanding contribution&rsquo to the Humanities in these islands.

Further information about Professor James Stevens Curl, as well as other public engagements or publications, can be found on www.jamesstevenscurl.com.

Transcript

The Londonderry Plantation from 1641 until the Disengagement at the end of the Nineteenth Century
Professor James Stevens Curl


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