The 1992 book Your Money or Your Life by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez (a.k.a. YMOYL) is considered by many in the financial independence space to be one of the most influential bodies of work in this realm.
Joe at Retire by 40 reviewed the book back in 2011. Mr. Money Mustache wrote about the book in 2012. More recently in 2016, Coach Carson shared his thoughts on the pivotal paperback.
I knew it was a book I would likely enjoy reading, but I wasn’t all that interested in reading a book published 20 years ago. A lot has changed since, then, and to be honest, I thought it was quite a bit older than that based on some of the buzzwords like “life energy” that were being tossed around in reference to YMOYL. What kind of hippie talk is that?
This spring, however, I ran out of excuses. The book had been updated for 2018 with a foreword by the aforementioned Mr. Money Mustache, and I was offered a copy to review by the publisher. I couldn’t say no to that!
So I got out my pet rock, lit some intense incense, and got comfy in my bean bag chair to dig into this groovy guide to a better life.
Your Money or Your Life? Both, Please.
The subtitle of this book is “9 Steps to Transforming Your Relationship With Money and Achieving Financial Independence.” I would say the target audience is the reader in a financial rut, living paycheck to paycheck, and wondering how to somehow get ahead or why it’s important to do so.
In other words, the target audience is not me. And if you’re well on your way to financial independence, or you’ve already achieved financial freedom, it’s not you, either.
While this book was first published in 1992, it’s roots are in the 1970s, which helps explain the new-age vibe that survived the more recent update. The co-author, Joe Dominguez, who sadly lost a battle with cancer in 1997 at age 58, actually retired at age 31 from his job as a financial analyst in Manhattan. He was Mr. Money Mustache before Mr. Money Mustache was born. And yes, he had a mustache.
Not long after Joe retired as a young man, he and Vicki Robin teamed up to help others learn to think about money and life in a new way. They put on seminars, recorded cassettes, and eventually published YMOYL after about 20 years of teaching, changing lives, and raising money for their non-profit, the New Road Map Foundation.
The premise of the book is to examine your relationship with money and answer the question of what’s more important: your money or your life? Assuming you choose life, the book goes through the nine steps to help you achieve financial independence for yourself.
I won’t detail the individual steps — that was done well in some of the reviews linked in the introduction, but I will share some of what I learned, what I liked, and what I didn’t like in the newly revised 2018 version of YMOYL.
It’s only fair to point out that when it comes to either your money or your life, the book doesn’t really force you to choose one or the other. In fact, on page 4, you’ll find:
There is a way to live an authentic, productive, meaninful life–and have all the material comforts you want or need. There is a way to balance your inner and outer lives, to have your job self be on good terms with our family self and your deeper self. There is a way to go about the task of making a living so that you end up more alive. There is a way to approach life so that when asked, “Your money or your life?” you say, “I’ll take both, thank you.”
What I Learned from Your Money or Your Life
I want to reiterate that there is so much that can be gleaned from YMOYL if you’re naive to the concept of financial independence and haven’t yet begun to master money. If I weren’t reading this from the perspective of being “post-FI,” this section would be a few thousand words long.
Still, every day is a school day, and I still learned a number of interesting tidbits, and many of my money beliefs were reinforced by what I read in these 300-plus pages.
For example, in their seminars, they would ask people to jot down how much money they had and how much money would make them happy. They were also asked to rate their happiness on a 1 to 5 scale.
The results? Everyone, regardless of their current status, would be happy with about 50% to 100% more, regardless of their starting point. And their current level of happiness level didn’t vary by income or net worth.
Similarly, when asked for monthly income and a 1 to 5 life rating, the ratings at their seminars did not improve with increasing income.
|Avg. Life Rating||2.81||2.77||2.84||2.86||2.63|
adapted from Figure 1-1, YMOYL
A related fact is that those who complete the 9 steps report reducing their spending by an average of about 25%. In spite of the lower “standard of living,” most feel happier and find their relationships with family and partners improve.
Do you see how there might be a disconnect between happiness and money?
From Vickie and Joe, “These results astounded us. They told us that not only are most people habitually unhappy, but they can be unhappy no matter how much money they make. Even people who are doing well financially are not necessarily fulfilled.”
Sadly, we’re a sad lot, and according to YMOYL, the number of people who describe themselves as very happy in the United States has been steadily declining for the last 6 decades.
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What I Liked About Your Money or Your Life
The book and its steps are truly a great roadmap to transforming the way you approach money and improving your life’s circumstances if you’re not where you’d like to be in terms of saving, spending, and living.
There is a great section on how marketing has stressed the importance of consumption for the better part of a century.
in the first chapter, the 1929 progress report from Herbert Hoover’s Committee on Recent Economic Changes was quoted:
“The survey has proved conclusively what has long been held theoretically to be true, that wants are almost insatiable; that one want satisfied makes way for another. The conclusion is that economically we have a boundless field before us; that there are new wants which will make way endlessly for newer wants, as fast as they are satisfied… Our situation is fortunate, our momentum is remarkable.”
That was written nearly 90 years ago, and it holds true to this day. It’s only become truer as time has marched on.
In another oldie-but-goodie quote, we have a 1955 quote from retailing analyst Victor Lebow:
“Our enormously productive economy… demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction, our ego satisfaction, in consumption… We need things consumed, burned up, worn out, replaced, and discarded at an ever-increasing rate.”
The revised edition also cleverly incorporated lessons from books published in the interim, including one of my favorites, The Millionaire Next Door. She mentions how Drs. Stanley and Danko noted that “people who have achieved a high net worth relative to income know how much they are spending on clothes, travel, housing, transportation, and so on, and those who don’t achieve high net worth relative to income have no idea how much they spend. It’s a stark contrast.”
The movie The Matrix also gets some love. After quoting Morpheus describing The Matrix to Neo, including the excerpt “You take the red pill–you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.”
She says that understanding that money is life energy is the equivalent of taking the red pill. You can see your choices and their consequences more clearly. Taking the blue pill would be akin to maintaining a work, consume, replace, repeat sort of existence where you carry on without intention or financial progress.
I also like the fact that the final step, Where to Stash Your Cash for Long-Term Financial Freedom, was updated. When Vicki and Joe were traveling the country giving seminars, treasury bonds offered high-single-digit to low-double-digit returns. The 1992 book pointed to them as an easy way to have guaranteed income.
Today, you’d be lucky to find guaranteed returns that can keep up with anticipated inflation. In the 2018 revision, low-cost passive index funds are touted as one of several viable options to place in your portfolio. The Bogleheads get a well-deserved shoutout.
She also discusses the benefit of DIY investing and fee-only advisors, spends a few pages on real estate, and touches on socially responsible investing.
Finally, I’ll mention that I liked the real-life examples sprinkled throughout the book. Vicki and Joe touched many thousands of lives, and they’ve clearly got ample stories to use to demonstrate a dilemma or success story from any angle imaginable.
What I Disliked About Your Money or Your Life
While it’s a great book, it’s not perfect, and a review of the book would be incomplete if I didn’t point out what I perceive as a few imperfections.
Both Mr. Money Mustache and Joe from Retire by 40 mentioned that it took them longer than usual to get through YMOYL. I had a similar experience. I imagine that has more to do with the fact that all three of us were reading it from a perspective of understanding the concept of Enough and having it. It might be more of a page-turner to the uninitiated.
I alluded to this earlier, but there were times I swore I could hear “…this is the dawning of the age of Aquarius… the age of Aquarius…” despite the fact that no audio source was powered on anywhere near me. YMOYL was written by two free spirits, and it shows. In general, that’s a good thing, but the talk of gazingus pins, economist-gods, and life energy didn’t resonate with me as well as I’m sure it does with others.
At times, some of the well-intentioned updates seemed like anachronistic add-ons to bring a book from the 1990s with roots in the 1970s up to date as we approach 2020.
Can you tell which one thing was added here? “When we are bored, we buy something. A magazine. A cruise. A mobile app. A bet on the horses.” Or here, when recurrent spending was addressed? “Your phone plan, your Internet plan, your car payments, your insurance, your energy consumption in your car and house, your rent or HOA dues or property taxes, service people to fix your car, clean your house, or soothe your soul, your tickets to concerts and conferences and vacations…”
Even capitalizing the word “Internet” is considered outdated by some, including the New York Times. I appreciate the edits to freshen up the text with modern-day objects, but it felt a bit forced in certain places.
Some of the details in the steps are a bit rigid for my taste. Track spending down to the penny. Add up your belongings and assign a value to absolutely everything you own with a value of a dollar or more. I think you can benefit from the steps without following them as precisely as indicated.
There’s a concept I really like about calculating your “real wage.” It’s how much you earn per hour after accounting for all the time you spend directly at your job and in job-related activities. You also subtract money for taxes, commuting costs, work-related clothing costs, meals, and more.
While I believe it’s valuable to think about all the time that goes into your job and all the money you spend or lose to taxes related to work, the formula offered is skewed to give you a very low real wage. For example, you’re supposed to add time and subtract earnings for categories that include decompression, escape entertainment, and vacation.
I don’t know about you, but I’d be traveling with or without a job, I’ll need to decompress with or without paid work (I’ve got kids!), and I don’t know exactly how I am to distinguish “escape entertainment” from the run-of-the-mill entertainment I’d be enjoying whether or not gainfully employed.
My Review of Your Money or Your Life
I didn’t mean for the negatives to take up as much or more space as the positives. There is truly a lot more to like in YMOYL than I could mention here, and I had to reach a bit to find things I didn’t love. All in all, on a 1 to 5 scale, I’d give it 4 stars. If I had come across it ten years ago, it would have gotten an extra half star, maybe even three-quarters of a star.
This book would be an excellent gift for a recent graduate who is just now embarking on the next chapter in life, whether that’s further schooling or a first job. It’s also perfect for someone who is discontented with their current lot in life and is open to making some changes to improve it.
While the book was not a revelation to me at this stage in my life, I can see how it has been life-altering in the most positive ways for many who have discovered it over the last quarter century.
To learn more about the book and it’s author(s), visit vickirobin.com, join the YMOYL Community on Facebook, or get yourself a copy from your local library, neighborhood bookstore, or find it here online. That last link is one of several affiliate links in this post; any purchases via my links will support my site’s charitable mission.
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Have you read Your Money or Your Life? Have you followed the 9 Steps? Share what you learned, liked, or disliked below!
34 thoughts on “Your Money or Your Life? Both, Please.”
I read YMOYL at age 26 in 1997 and it completely blew my mind at the time and still lives on as the BEST FIRE book around to introduce someone to the concept. I don’t know why people are dissing the hippie feel. I love that about the book. Hippies know what enough is but rarely embraced wealth. What Vickie and Joe did was change that and made wealth creation cool. They also donated all their proceeds to charity. They are revolutionaries. Had I not read this book I wouldn’t have achieved FI. There was nothing else like it when it came out and it completely changed my life.
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It’s great to see what appears to be a fairly unbiased report on this book. I haven’t read the original yet, as, like you, I was introduced to it when I was a little further down the rabbit hole. I can think of a few people in my life that could benefit from it, but those same people would probably be turned off by the hippie lingo. I’m guessing The Simple Path to Wealth would. be a good alternative, but as I haven’t read that yet either (gasp!) I can’t say for sure. One of these days I’ll make it that far down the reading list; in the meantime I have a whole mountain of excellent FI blogs to tuck into.
I just saw a quote (in Tim Ferriss’s 5-bullet Friday) that relates to the Life Energy concept:
Of course, Thoreau would probably be considered a hippie or recluse hanging out at a pond nowadays too.
I read the original edition a few years ago. I finished it… but it wasn’t a riveting read.
But I bought the new edition for one of my sons. He loved ‘The Millionaire Next Door’ and he wanted another ‘meaty’ personal finance book.
He seems to be enjoying it.
Does anybody really know what time it is? Does anybody really care? Vanguard wasn’t founded till 1975, and took decades to become respected as a viable investing alternative. A round trip into and out of IBM or GE could cost you $400. It was really hard to make money investing because to a large extent you were working for your broker not vis versa. Thus was the creative destruction 1975 Jack Bogel brought to the world, that and the fact corporations decided to rid themselves of pesky pension obligations and the people to whom they were obligated. We now live decades into the age of Aquarius. A new order exists. It’s no longer at it’s dawning. One might consider what age is dawning as of today.
I read an interesting article. People were unable to bring themselves to shut off a robot if it was begging for it’s “life”. A robot doesn’t have a life. My guess that is the age that is dawning today. An age of super sophisticated social manipulation. Seems like a perfect opportunity to pick someones pocket. Gazingus pins?
I read the original version. I liked the overall feel of it but felt it was particularly dense and had a hard time getting through it. I couldn’t track my expenses to the penny norwould want to.
I read a prior version about a year or so ago. The over-arching concept of viewing money as a life-energy resource that you should be incredibly purposeful with is beautiful and well worth the read. If you convince the reader that this philosophy is true and worthwhile, and the reader has not yet reached FI (and doesn’t know where to begin that journey), then the ensuing nitty-gritty discussion of tracking expenses, net worth, effective hourly wage, etc., will be very useful. For those of us that are well past that point the detail-discussion was, as you say, slow-going (I had to check it out of the library TWICE). So I agree that this book is perfect for the new graduate or maybe even better for someone that has spent a year or two toiling as a servant for someone else and has little to show for it (except a small amount of equity in a rapidly depreciating hunk of metal that takes him to and from his cubicle every day). At some point, as income rises, the reader can/should graduate to The Millionaire Next Door. And while I don’t have an ounce of new-age-grooviness in my entire body (PoF: if I did, could I take a pill to fix that?), I did find myself post-read referring to various “gazingus pins” that my kids had wasted some of their life-energy on. –Joe
Required reading for my four preschool aged daughters prior to high school graduation will be the Millionaire Mind/Next Door, and If You Can. It doesn’t sound like this one will bump those off the top of the list.
I can’t argue with those choices, although Bernstein’s “If You Can” lists several other books as recommended / required reading. You might have to expand it to a six-pack of paperbacks.
Suddenly, I’m thirsty.
Great review. I read the non-updated version right before the updated one was released. I have to agree that some of it felt a little “hippie-dippy” but overall, there are some great lessons throughout the book and it does a good job of communicating to people that more money (once you have a certain amount) isn’t going to necessarily make you any happier.
It makes sense that this book wouldn’t be life altering for you – you already jumped on that alternate path years ago 🙂
Thanks for the review. I read both the first edition and the updated edition. The investing information in the first edition was way outdated. I too found that section hard to read. The new edition is current and will be more helpful to readers. I also agree whit who the target audience is. It is more for those who are new to getting their financial life in order. If you have been saving and investing for a couple of decades, it won’t be that interesting to you. I gave up the hippie act when Jerry Garcia died, but I do like the money being your life’s energy concept.
Great Review POF
I borrowed the original book from the library 4 months ago, and just couldn’t get through it. I laughed out loud when you wrote “I swore I could hear “…this is the dawning of the age of Aquarius… the age of Aquarius…” despite the fact that no audio source was powered on anywhere ”
I think I couldn’t get through it because the concepts were not new an exciting to me. Glad I am not the only one, because most FIRE walkers have this book as their “bible”.
I don’t blame you for trying… or for quitting. Anyone who’s been reading personal finance and FIRE blogs for a little while has probably done parts of many of the 9 steps, or has already determined they don’t need to.
It would be different if this book were your introduction to the concepts held within. In a way, the book is a victim of its own success. It helped popularize the FI concept and now Joe & Vicki’s revolutionary lessons are more widely known and understood that the original book doesn’t have as much to offer. This once groundbreaking information has become much more widespread than it was 25 years ago when the book was first published.
Thanks for the thoughtful review. Like most people in the PF/FI community, I have no desire to read the book. I feel like I got the gist of the book by reading so many PF blogs who allude to it. I do respect the fact that Vicki and Joe are pioneers in the field, though. I remember listening to the Mad FIentist interview with Vicki Robin and thinking “she seems really cool and interesting.” Nowadays, I do see certain purchases as “how many hours do I need to work to buy this.”
Funny how you mentioned “Age of Aquarius”… again, with the music references. Do you have a soundtrack for every post? 🙂
I actually considered having a song title as part of the title of all my posts. I figured out really quickly that wasn’t going to be feasible, but I did publish “It’s Good To Be King” The Benefits of Financial Independence in my first week.
I am glad I read it, even if it wasn’t life changing. Seems that everyone else in this space has read it at some point. Now I need to get my hands on a copy of The Simple Path to Wealth. 🙂
The book is great. I’m making my way through the FI cannon and spent a month reading this one. I did each of the Steps and wrote about each one on my site.
I really wanted to get the most out of the 9step program so took my time. I obviously made my own spreadsheets to tabulate my spending and I now do that every month.
I think the audience for the book is a little larger than you say. Definitely anyone pre-FI mind explosion and anyone on the path to FI would benefit from considering what ‘enough’ is, thinking about their own values and if their spending aligns with them, and understanding the devils bargain of trading your time for money.
I agree that the term life energy sounds a bit hoaky but the concept is powerful and just might change how you relate to money!
Overall I found the story telling and messaging compelling and am very glad I read it and can’t recommend it enough!
I’ll admit that if I hadn’t been immersed in the FIRE blogosphere for the better part of three years, I would have gotten a lot more out of it.
The time is money concept is an important one to understand — and that’s essentially what “life energy” is — units of time you have remaining in the one life you’ve got.
I’ve had the same pause you previously described. Ive heard a ton about the book, but never really had any strong desire to read it given where I am on my journey. I “get it” and know that if I continue to be content with what I have, stash away a high savings rate, and avoid massive consumerism… We will get to our goal quickly.
I do, in theory, like the idea of coming up with how much each hour at work is really worth. Helps me decide if picking up that one extra shift is really worth not being home with my family, going to the movies, or playing golf.
Interesting that they are updating it, but I’ll probably stay away.
We may not need the advice, but the sources we found that taught us about financial independence may very well have been directly or indirectly influenced by this book, so it deserves its proper place in the history of the FIRE movement.
You are right. A certain amount of reverance is probably warranted for opening up so many minds to the possibility of financial independence …
And I still love the idea of valuing each hour.
I read the original version when it first came out. Of course, being born in the ’60s I’m a hippie by definition I suppose. Like a lot of original, ground-breaking works they don’t impress as much in retrospect because we already know what they taught us. I remember at the time learning about the option of FI and ER. I had never seen the term “FI” in print before that book. The concept was likely around but they popularized it if not invented it. Do you know? Did they invent the term? Even if not we all owe those folks a lot for changing thinking. Joe was a really funny guy. I think there some audio recordings out there. You would have liked him more in person. He would have liked what you are doing too. He wanted to spread the word to teach others how to be FI.
I don’t know when the term “financial independence” was first coined, but that’s a great question.
As far as you being a hippie? I’ve met you and I don’t think there’s an ounce of hippie in you, but I wasn’t around when you were growing up in the 70s. Maybe you were a regular Tommy Chong back then.
I think Your Money or Your Life was the first place I saw FI. The concept wasn’t new though. Ben Franklin did it in the eighteenth century. The first whole book I read about it was in the ’80s called Cashing in on the American Dream by Paul and Vicki Terhorst. The Terhorsts successfully retired young and have been traveling ever since. I’ve written about Franklin and the Terhorsts and how they influenced me on my blog.
As for the ’70s., I have no comment. I will say that I’m glad digital cameras and social media were not around then.
Thanks for the review POF. This was a book I heard so much about but didn’t go ahead and purchase because I felt at my current stage of life it would not add much value or impact.
That is sad to hear about Joe but it stressed the importance that time is not guaranteed and you really can be trading your life for money if all you do is work and not enjoy the journey.
His premature death was indeed tragic. I take some solace in the fact that he was able to enjoy 26 years of retirement, which is probably longer than average.
I also love the note he wrote to friends a couple days before his demise:
“Joe Dominguez has been given a clean bill of death. Please direct your attention to the living and to the things that need to be done.”