Is it Mostly About the Money, or Philosophy and Environment?

I am a member of the MrMoneyMustache Forums. I don’t post much, and try not to read it too much. It’s something of a guilty pleasure. The threads with people asking for legal advice always get me going, but I guess that’s to be expected.

I used to be big into forums back in the day. They still have their place, but I found them to be a gigantic time suck, plus I don’t care for the anonymity, group think, and status “hierarchy” of many forums. They can be a great place to find entertainment, ask questions, learn about a subject, or buy and sell things, but they can also be one big pissing match. These days I prefer blogs because the people that maintain blogs typically put more thought and care into their work product, and there is a greater measure of accountability. So I try not to screw around on forums too much. But I digress.

Whilst trolling the MMM Forums I found this interesting post.

Ultimately, the question here is, “Why practice frugality?” Is it solely means to financial independence, or is there some deeper philosophical or social reason for doing this?

MMM has stated that part of his philosophy is reducing impact on the environment. Others may choose to be frugal for reasons like practicing minimalism, stoicism, vegetarianism, or some other “ism” that I’m not attuned to. If I was handed $10 million tomorrow, would I still cook all my own food, mow my own lawn, drive a Honda, and agonize over every dollar spent?

It’s an interesting question and I thought I might hazard an answer here on the blog.

If I Won $10,000,000.00…

If I won $10M, the first thing I would do is take a break. I would not make any major financial decisions immediately. I am sure after 6 months or a year of reflection, especially in the cocoon of complete and utter financial freedom, my perspective will have changed.

But for arguments sake, I would probably buy a nice house on the water here in Florida. Thankfully, I’m in the part of the country that I like. You can do a lot worse than Southwest Florida.

Lets say I budget $2M or less. That will get you a pretty extravagant place. I wouldn’t need anything big, but would be paying a premium for the location. A nice waterfront lot here will set you back anywhere from $500k-1M+. Hell, maybe I’d build something if money was no option. I like the peace and serenity of the water. I think a property like that would provide value to me mentally.

I would also consider a summer house up north (which I would spend no where near $2M on), and then bank the difference. Say I spent a total of $3M on real estate. That would leave me with $7M. I’d invest the bulk of that $7M in a mix of stocks and bonds (index funds – similar to what I am currently doing) and live off the portfolio. Based on a 4% withdrawal rate that would leave me with around $300K a year gross, which is an absolute shit ton of money. I’d be set for life many times over.

I’d likely quick practicing law. Really it would make no sense financially. My investments would make as much or more money for me than practicing law. Plus practicing law is exchanging time for money. I would already have the money so I’d prefer to keep my time. But that doesn’t mean I would stop working.

I’d like to think I would do a lot of reading, writing, spending time outside, and working on some sort of business. Maybe I would be developing my online business further. Whatever I do, I think it is important to create things, versus to simply consume things. The world belongs to those who ship. I think if I were to turn totally to consumption, and not create something, then I would die a slow death. For me I would probably write. Maybe I would spend some time to do more video, a hobby I enjoyed when I had more free time. I would like to also build something physical. A physical product or develop a more physical skill.

I would probably also do some real estate investing. Maybe buy an apartment complex or some commercial real estate. I’d also like to do some slow travel. The kind of travel where you pack up and fly somewhere, race around to see as much as you can, high the highlights, and then fly home never really appealed to me. I’m doing it now because I run my own business and can’t take the time away. But if I was financially independent I’d take the time to really get to know a place.

I’d very likely spend more than the 20-30k a year I am currently spending. First of all my housing costs would be much higher. I’d probably eat more red meat and seafood than I am currently eating. I’d spend some dough on furniture to go into the house. I don’t think an Italian sports car, bottle service at “tha club”, and flashy jewelry would be on my horizon, but I’d probably buy that Rolex I have always wanted. I am sure there are a few other “nice things” that I wouldn’t turn down. Still, I wouldn’t piss money away.

Basically, this would be my like my current vision for financial independence, yet scaled up slightly on the real estate front. I’d have a nicer house, a place to stay when it gets hot as hell here in Florida, and maybe travel a little more exotically.

Why I Really Do This

My main goal is financial freedom. The ability to tell everyone to fuck right on off. Growing up I never cared for school. I am reasonably intelligent and was able to get buy without too much brown nosing or hard work in high school. In college, I more or less got my ass handed to me in pre-med. If I didn’t transfer to business school, my grades would have been an embarrassment, and I would have never gotten into a decent graduate school. In law school I straightened myself out a little, buckled down, and ground it out for 3 years. I walked away with a B average. But I never enjoyed any of that. I like learning things, but becoming a professional test taker was never my bag.

I never particularly enjoyed working for other people either, and was always relatively lazy in all my jobs. Self employment turned out to be a blessing in disguise as it motivated me in ways going to school or working for others never had. So my main goal in “practicing frugality” is to achieve independence and not have to answer anyone. I enjoy practicing law, but I can see that this is a hard field. Especially divorce law and civil litigation. It’s a grind and big game of Tetris. If you don’t stay on top of things the pieces will come flying down on your head. I have already seen people have nervous breakdowns and become alcoholics. This profession is high stress and high pressure. Self employment and the business of exchanging time for money is tough, and I don’t want to have to do that for 30+ years. If I reach financial independence and want to continue to practice law, then that’s great. But I want to be able to walk away if I want to, or be able to practice on my terms.

I also like frugality. It has simplified my life. It has shown me that there is another path to building wealth that doesn’t require that I make $500,000 a year. It has shown me a different way to view the world. I view the trappings of wealth much differently now than I did even a few years ago. I call it the “practice” of frugality, because I view it as a practice. I haven’t mastered this discipline. I work at it, and am tested by it every day. I have managed to embrace it over the past couple years, but I am still a material girl in a material world. I could always spend less money, I still like nice things, and I still have the desire to spend and consume. Thankfully I’ve been able to stick with saving more than I earn. I am saving now so I can have options later. I think it is especially important to save now because I have few needs as a single 31 year old man, and time is on my side. If I can continue to live like a student now, I can live like a king later.

Also, I readily acknowledge that I have an ego. I want the power that being financially independent brings. That is the ultimate rip cord. I am hot headed, impulsive, and insecure. I have to remind myself on a daily basis not to compare myself with others. To focus on the path head. We are all on the same road, just at different points in the journey. I need to put one foot in front of the other.

The environment, and being frugal for the sake of being frugal, aren’t primary motivators. I do care about the environment. I try not to waste things unnecessarily. But I’d be a liar if I said that is why I am doing what I am doing. I think that the practice of frugality has taught me lessons. And I hope that I don’t lose sight of those lessons as my net worth and income grow. While I readily acknowledge that I am not a frugal monk, and have material desires, I also don’t want to pursue money just for the sake of spending it.

Money can’t buy happiness. I just read Mike Tyson’s autobiography (excellent, but you have to have thick skin as 90% of the book is a drug and prostitute infused train wreck). That man squandered every last sent of his $300M in boxing earnings, and he was miserable throughout the entire process. Money is a tool. It can make life easier, or vastly difficult. You have to work on your mindset and your approach to money. I think it has to be holistic and genuine. Otherwise it slips through your fingers like it does for so many professional athletes, lottery winners, and most normal people caught up in the rat race.

I think of this like guys at the gym. Some guys just go to the gym so they can look better for girls. They focus on their chest, abs, and biceps. All they do are isolation exercises focusing on those 3 muscle groups. But the truth is, to truly develop yourself in the gym you have to work out your entire body. You have to do the core exercises: squats, deadlifts, and leg presses. If you ignore your legs and back, your two biggest muscle groups, you will never reap the true benefits of weight training. You will be underdeveloped. You may eventually get that six pack, but you will never become a fully developed athlete by just doing curls and crunches.

The same philosophy applies to money and wealth. Some people want to appear wealthy, so they buy a nice house, lease a foreign car, spend money on designer clothes, go on exotic vacations, and eat out all the time at trendy restaurants… and post it all on Instagram. They have the illusion of wealth. They have a nice “lifestyle” for as long as they can continue to earn a living to meet the payments on these things, but they have no real financial foundation. It’s an illusion propped up by debt and monthly payments. As Robert Platt Bell says, they have the “trappings of wealth” but no true wealth.

I am here to develop true wealth. That way I can create options for myself and my family. At the end of the day, to me the practice of frugality and the pursuit of financial independence is all about creating options. That is why I am doing what I am doing.

Wearing Uniforms to Reduce Decision and Wallet Fatigue

We live in a world full of choices. Everything from what we want to do, who we want to do it with, to what brand of toothpaste to buy at the grocery store. And if you are like me, you make dozens (if not hundreds) of choices every single day.

In my case, I like to think they are important choices. As a business owner and lawyer, I have to make critical decisions for my business and clients on a daily basis. Everything from accepting or declining a case, to prioritizing tasks to making important strategic decisions on a client’s matter. Some of these decisions can have a grave impact on my future, and the future of the people who have hired me. And then there are the more mundane choices. What to have for lunch, what exercise to do next at the gym, etc. These choices can be nice luxuries, or in some cases they can become an anxiety laden burden leading to decision fatigue.

Personally, ever since I got out into the working world my goal has been to simplify my existence. That’s what attracts me to paying off debt and pursuing financial independence. That’s what attracts me to trying hard not to focus on acquiring a lot of “stuff”. The end result is cutting out all the bullshit that can consume people. The endless hamster wheel of the rat race. Maybe it’s because deep down, I’m lazy. Keep up with the Jonses? Fuck that, I’d rather stack some cash so I can eventually check out. Regardless, the goal for me is to try and declutter and simplify my existence wherever and however possible. You can argue it’s to free up mental CPUs to make better decisions when it really counts, or a deep desire to avoid bullshit at all costs.

One way I have been able to cut down mundane decisions and to free up mental CPUs is to wear a uniform. If you were to see me at my office on any given day I’ll be wearing dark gray or navy blue slacks, a blue or white long sleeve button down dress shirt, a black leather belt and black leather shoes. I basically rotate through all my clothing and grab whatever is next on the rack. I won’t claim to be the first person to come up with this. Plenty of successful people wear uniforms.

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The trick for me is to buy quality clothing that fits well and is comfortable, and then to stick with what works. I like solid colored shirts because people will notice if you wear the same patterned shirt all the time. I have 4 pairs of the exact same shoes, which extends the life of the shoes dramatically.

Granted, all my work stuff is relatively expensive (Brooks Brothers clothing and Allen Edmonds), but it looks good and holds up well. I also have a tailor by my office, and I make good use of her to mend and alter my clothing as needed. It’s money well spent because clients and other lawyers notice and appreciate the fact that I look like a professional. It sounds a little ridiculous, but in the working world image is important, and it all goes to the bottom line.

So while I am generally pretty cheap, work clothing is one area where I don’t want to be a tightwad.

But even if the clothing is expensive, it all gets used regularly and I get my money out of it. I think this is far better than buying a bunch of clothing that never gets worn. This happens, especially if you buy a lot of trendy or one off pieces. I have cleaned tons of stuff out of my closet that I bought on an impulse and then rarely or never wore. Eventually that stuff gets chucked to Goodwill, and it’s like throwing money in the garbage. I know exactly what dress shirts I like, what pants I like, etc. Everything gets worn and nothing gets wasted. At the end of the day I think it saves money.

I have enjoyed having a work “uniform” so much that I have instituted the same policy for my after work and weekend clothing. On the weekends I’m a lot less formal. It’s shorts and t-shirts for me year round. I used to wear cotton t-shirts when I was younger and assembled an impressive wardrobe of graphic t-shirts. Stuff I thought was cool.

Once I got a little older I was able to step out of my own mind a little and stop trying to be so “cool”. I switched to plain t-shirts and polo shirts. This approach worked well for law school. It was a little more mature than the sweet wolf t-shirts I wore in college, and I began to appreciate the simplicity of having a uniform of sorts.

img-sweet-wolf-shirt

I also found some plain cotton shorts at Wal-Mart for under $10 a pair that I really liked. I bought several dozen pairs. They are called Wangler “Timber Creek” shorts. Wal-Mart no longer carries them, instead only selling goofy cargo shorts, but I was happy to see that K-Mart stocks them, and that there is still a K-Mart in my town.

These days I wear a gray quick-dry shirt and plain shorts on the evenings and weekends. These are perfect for working in the yard, going to the grocery store, working out, etc. I pair these with some dark brown Sperry Topsider boat shoes and I’m basically ready for anything.

As an aside, I have had my Sperrys for 5+ years now and they are still going strong. The soles are surprisingly tough, and although the leather has worn and cracked a bit, they are still semi-presentable. I like the fact they are closed toed (a must if you have any common sense), plus there is no need to wear socks with them. They have held up way better than a pair of tennis shoes. I think what I will do is acquire another pair and keep them as my “nice” pair, if I go out to dinner or do something that requires looking sharper. The old pair is still perfect for mowing the lawn or tooling around on my bicycle.

And if you live in the South, then I highly recommend shirts made of “quick dry” material. For whatever reason it took me a while to jump on this bandwagon, but I am never going back to cotton t-shirts for casual wear. I sweat like a pig, and while these quick-dry shirts still take a while to dry out, they are a lot better and a lot cooler than cotton shirts. Just don’t put them in the dryer (they shrink).

While I can never say I spent a ton of money on clothes, if you are looking to shore up your budget, this is one place to look. Some people go on clothes buying bans, or only wear rags. I’m not that extreme (or that rich), and probably spend under $200 a year on clothing (including shoes, underwear, etc.) and I’m comfortable with that level of spending. I have never been a big clothes shopper so if the stuff works I’ll pay for it and get on with my life.

Work clothes I’m probably at $500 a year or so after building up a base line of suits, shoes, etc. This is for 2 or 3 dress shirts and couple pairs of slacks. Throw in a pair of good shoes and I’m probably pushing a grand. It’s a fair amount of money, but in my business you have to look the part. The acquisition of the clothing may be a little painful, but I never wake up worrying about what I am going to wear. I argue that the peace of mind is priceless.

Republic Wireless – A 1.5 Year Review and Thoughts on Smart Phones

I made the switch to Republic Wireless in late 2014. I was paying something like $110 a month for an iPhone through Sprint, and cut that bill down to $30 by trading in my iPhone for an Android device. 1.5 years later and I don’t regret the decision at all.

For some people, the transition from a brand name cell service to Republic Wireless might sound kind of scary. Smart phones have become a huge part of our lives, and you get what you pay for, right? I am not so sure, but frankly I may also not be the best person to ask. I was never one of those people glued to their smart phones. That bullshit always bothered me. I’d rather be present and in the moment, than have my head up my ass smartphone.

So the decision to switch to a low cost provider was probably easier for me than most normal people. I don’t use the phone all that much. Maybe a couple dozen text messages a week (half of which say “I am on my way home”), a handful of phone calls, and no apps besides banking apps.

For a while there I was on Instagram for my income producing website, but I found myself getting sucked into Instagram. It was the first thing I looked at when I woke up. I began checking it compulsively when I had a minute. It was a complete waste of time, a mental crutch, and a bad habit that I decided to kick like cigarettes or video games.

I also decided not to put work email on my new Republic Wireless phone. Again, when I had work email on my phone, I found myself compulsively checking and responding to emails – emails that weren’t even time sensitive or particularly important. I have always been good about getting back to people. My work computer is a laptop, and I take it home with me at night. Invariably, I find myself checking email on my laptop every time I am on the computer; whether it’s in the evenings or on the weekends (don’t tell my clients). So I feel like I check my email too much as it is. I never put work email on my phone and haven’t regretted it.

I did have my personal email on my phone for over a year, and decided relatively recently to uninstall it from my phone because, once again, I was compulsively checking my regular email. And 9.5 times out of 10 there were no cool emails in my inbox. The vast majority of my personal emails are spam, bill notifications, website/social media notifications, etc. Occasionally I’ll get a nice email from a friend or family member, but most of the time it’s just a bunch of crap. Yet I found myself instinctively checking my email on my phone every time I went to the bathroom. After a while I had to ask myself “Why?” What does having email on your phone do for your quality of life? And how does it impact your present state? Your ability to concentrate or appreciate the people and things around you? For me, the answer was clear – regular email had to go.

Despite my reluctance to use any kind of app on my cell phone, I still find having a smart phone handy. The maps feature has gotten me out of a bind plenty of times, and it’s nice to have access to the web for quick searches, light browsing, etc. Even the calculator gets some use.

But I don’t listen to music on my phone, watch TV, constantly feel the need to be in communication with people via text or social media, etc. I think that makes me something of an exception to the rule, but I also think that is a good thing. To have uncommon results you need to do uncommon things. Only dead fish swim with the current, and I feel that so many of us are just swimming with the current because it is the path of instant gratification and the least resistance. This is the antithesis of everything I am trying to accomplish in life.

The Review

So I guess this is my way of saying that if you are one of those people who really care about smart phones, use them for work, etc., then this is going to be a pretty shitty review. I use my smart phone less than most people. For work I have a landline that doesn’t even have caller ID. That phone is my lifeline to employment. Thousands of dollars pour through that phone every week in the form of current and prospective clients, adverse parties, etc.

Ok, with all of that out of the way, lets talk about my experiences with Republic Wireless. Republic Wireless is a low cost provider that claims to keep the cost down by encouraging it’s customer base to use their phones through WiFi when they can, and only use cell service when they need to. If that sounds reasonable, then they can offer you phone service at a fraction of the cost of a household name like Sprint, AT&T, etc.

This proposition sounds damn reasonable to me. First of all, I don’t really use my phone (so why pay for a fancy service if you are hardly going to use it?). But when I do, most of my time is spent at home (where there is Wifi) and at my office (where there is wifi). Whenever I have needed to send a text message or make a phone call outside of my home or office, Republic Wireless has worked fine for my purposes. To be completely honest I was never that impressed with Sprint, and would say the cell coverage of Republic Wireless in my area seems to be comparable to Sprint.

Of course, this is the big variable, as the United States is a massive country and Republic Wireless may have better reception some places than others. I was lucky to get pretty good reception where I live, and I represent a single data point.

I have noticed that the Republic Wireless 3G internet is usually pretty slow. I try not to use it much, but I distinctly remember getting frustrated with the phone when trying to do a basic search and not being on WiFi. This is probably not the best choice if you are constantly searching stuff on Google and don’t have WiFi handy. When tapped into my home or work WiFi, the phone works wonderfully.

Also I think it’s important to talk about the cost of the phone. I ended up buying an Android equipped Motorola “G” phone through Republic Wireless for $180 when I signed up for the service. I bought an Otter Box for an additional $30. This was my first Android phone and I’m (obviously) not a big phone geek, but I have no complaints about the phone. The operating system is responsive, the screen is big and bright. It does everything I need it to and a lot more. Paying cash for a cheaper phone is preferable to paying for a $600 iPhone. Whether you buy the iPhone outright or whether it comes “free” with your plan, you pay for it regardless.

Republic Wireless – Final Thoughts

All said I am really happy with my decision to switch to Republic Wireless. Assuming I paid $100/month for Sprint and $30/month for RW, I save almost $1,000 a year with this service. For most people that is a significant money. Even if you make $100k a year, $1,000 represents almost 1% of your gross annual income – for a single stupid cell phone. I’m very happy to slash that bill down to $350 a year.

If you run a business that is heavily reliant on cell phones, then I would not recommend this service. In that case I think it makes sense to pay for a more consistent and reliable offering. If I didn’t have a landline for work, I’d probably have a $100+/month cell phone bill. But for most people I think this will work out fine. And if you are one of those people glued to your cell phone then I would encourage you to not only reduce your cell phone bill by switching to Republic Wireless, but to also reduce your cell phone use. It’s a big world out there – try being present for a change rather than obsessing over Facebook statuses and non-time sensitive communications.

If you have trouble weaning yourself off of your cell phone one tip is to simply turn off the ringer / notifications. I’m talking about making the phone completely silent (and no vibrations either). Like Pavlov’s dogs, we have begun trained to respond to sound and vibration. The best way to rid yourself this affliction is to turn it off. Another tip is to uninstall time wasting email and social media apps. I used to be as into this stuff as the next guy, and I can tell you with confidence that I don’t miss it. I also don’t miss my ~100/month cell phone bill either.

Bicycles: God’s Gift to Transportation

One thing I have always enjoyed about MMM’s blog is his appreciation for bicycles. I grew up riding bikes. I remember spending a lot of time on my Costco mountain bike, riding around to various creeks in my neighborhood, fishing for bass and generally getting into trouble. It was my first taste of freedom as a child.

That fell to the wayside somewhat in high school, but when I went to college I really grew to appreciate the bike, and it was there that I determined this was a superior means of transportation. I had a car, but in the middle of my junior and senior year it blew a head gasket on the way to work one summer, and for my final year of school I was stuck peddling my way to class. I really enjoyed this and loved riding around the city of New Orleans; whether it was riding to the grocery store or sweating out a hangover. New Orleans is a visual feast, and no 2 streets are the same. One moment you are in a charming part of town with beautifully maintained historic homes, the next you are dodging potholes and riding by dilapidated shacks. After Katrina the shacks might be literally piles of rubble. Razed buildings or shells of what once was.

And there are so many little sections of New Orleans to explore. What is so great about a bike is that you don’t “need” to go anywhere – you simply need to have a desire to explore. I recall turning on to streets because the mood struck me, riding for hours only to stumble on some interesting park or graveyard, or an old abandoned factory. Without a doubt

And in law school I also rode around quite a bit. By that time I had bought a new vehicle (an old beat to hell diesel pickup truck). The nice thing about pickup trucks is that there is plenty of room to throw a bike in the back. Gainesville is a small quiet town, where it is easy to get around on a bike if you pick your routes carefully and don’t mind arriving at your destination covered in sweat. At first this was a problem for me, but I quickly got over myself, as a student no one really cares – especially when the uniform was shorts and a t-shirt.

Compared with New Orleans, Gainesville is a pretty boring place, but still I recall many lazy afternoons spent peddling around the quiet tree lined streets. Really the entire town simply circles the university, and it’s one big trap to collect all of the student money. Restaurants, bars, head shops, convenience stores; the staples of a student. Still, Gainesville had its charms sorta, and riding beats driving… and it sure as hell beat walking.

I decided to buy an old road bike when I arrived in Gainesville. I bought an old Schwinn World Sport off Craigslist for $75. I took it to a bike shop to buy a light, and the old man behind my counter told me I shouldn’t waste my money on an old bike like that. I still have that bike, but he was probably right. I spent a lot of time (and a little bit of money) fixing that bike up. It immediately got a flat, so I bought kevlar tires for the bike (which cost as much as the bike itself did). And other pieces slowly broke or fell out of tune. I recently bought a nicer road bike (again, used on Craigslist – only this time I spent $350 instead of $75). This new bike is much better, and I’ll likely try and sell the World Sport sometime soon.

I never really thought of bikes as a means to save money. I enjoyed riding them and appreciated both the exercise and the connection to the place I was riding. I think bikes are the best way to get a know a town. Some might argue that running is the best way, but I never liked running, and always liked riding, so for me riding is the way to go if you want to explore a city, cover some ground, and have fun doing it.

But the monetary benefits of riding are undeniable. There is no fuel spent, insurance, or monthly payments. When a bike breaks it’s typically cheap to fix (unless you have a real fancy bike, I suppose). And there is a sense of accomplishment and adventure in riding somewhere that your friends will only drive to that’s tough to beat. For example, I think I was the only person to ride a bicycle to the bar exam when I sat for the exam. The exam was held in Tampa, and as usual I was a little late in securing hotel accommodations. There are plenty of hotels right by the convention center where the exam is held, and I am sure people pay top dollar for the rooms.

I ended up staying at a hotel a few miles away. Too far to walk (and too time consuming). Driving to the exam would be too expensive. Parking was hard to find and cost prohibitive. There was a shuttle service, but that would involve riding with other people. Plus, I hate buses. I like to be the captain of my own ship, and riding a bike was the perfect solution. I didn’t see anyone else ride when I got to the exam, and a few people thought I was nuts, but it all worked out and I (thankfully) passed on my first try.

These days I mostly ride recreationally and to run errands after work and on the weekends. I live a good 15 miles from work, and need to make court appearances, meet with clients, etc. Plus I’m an Italian in South Florida; I sweat just thinking about the commute. One day I’d love to live within biking distance of my office, but for now the bike is more of an evenings and weekends for of transportation. But as I think about frugality and lifestyle design I realize that I would like to have more and more cycling in my life. More peddling, less time idling in traffic.

Yes bicycles are my favorite form of transportation. God’s gift to transportation.

I look forward to writing more granularly about bicycles in the future. How to buy them and maybe even a little on how to fix them.

Wet Shaving for Fun and Profit

If you are a guy who is still stuck in the corporate world like me, then you probably need to shave. And if you shave regularly with cartridge razors, then you are probably somewhat dissatisfied with the process.

I never enjoyed shaving with cartridge razors. First of all, they were always damn expensive. I have seen them anywhere from $3-5 a cartridge for the Gillette Mach 3 razors (basically, the standard of the industry). Highway robbery really. And more importantly, they never worked that well. I have sensitive skin and am prone to razor bumps. I never liked shaving with cartridge razors. Even the fancy $3-5 ones.

In short, shaving sucked and was expensive. That’s probably why I never shaved in school and just used clippers a few times a week.

I had heard of using an “old school” safety razor before, but never gave it serious consideration until my father introduced me to them a couple years ago. He had been bitten by the safety razor bug and had amassed a small army of razors, brushes, soaps and different blades. I think he gave me a starter set for Christmas one year. This is sometimes referred to as “wet shaving”.

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After using a safety razor for a couple years I can “safely” say that this is far superior to shaving with a cartridge razor. But I didn’t start this blog to write about grooming. There is a personal finance lesson in here. Once you get over the initial start up costs of shaving with a safety razor (which can be minimal if you shop smart), it is much cheaper to shave with a safety razor than with disposable cartridge razors. So this is also a great frugal hack for guys that want to upgrade their shave while keeping dollar bills in their wallet.

And the odd thing is that it is not only cheaper, but you get a far superior shave. My problems with razor bumps have largely disappeared. Shaving is still a chore for me, but it’s less of a chore with the safety razor. In some cases I’d even call wet shaving mildly therapeutic (some people really enjoy it).

Wet shaving may be one of the best frugal grooming hacks for guys, right up there with cutting your own hair. The goal of this article is to give you a quick primer on the subject so you can stop throwing money away with expensive multi-bladed cartridge razors.

The Gear

So you need a few items to get up and running with wet shaving. You can probably get everything you need for under $50 if you buy your safety razor on ebay or at a garage sale. If you were to buy all of this stuff brand new I think you are looking at $100-150 – so there is an upfront cost. But once you have your razor, brush, mug, and stand, expect to pay about $30 a year for consumables (blades, soap, and after shave).

Compare that with what you are currently paying for consumables and my guess is this setup will make financial sense for most people. Plus, the shave is going to be a lot better than with disposable cartridge razors.

The Razor

There are a ton of safety razors out there. Companies still manufacture them, and they have been in production for decades. This is where the “collector” aspect of this activity can emerge, and if you aren’t careful you can quickly amass dozens of safety razors.

Thankfully, that never appealed to me.

There are 2 major kinds of safety razors; adjustable and non-adjustable. I was initially given a Merkur Model 178 non-adjustable razor. This is about as simple as it gets. I actually did not care for this razor all that much and eventually obtained a vintage Gilette “Big Boy” adjustable razor. I liked the adjustable, found that I was able to adjust the razor to obtain a superior shave.

safety-razors

If you want to go adjustable, but not the vintage route, then consider something like the Merkur “Futur”. It’s an adjustable model.

Let me close this section out by saying that this is a rabbit hole if you are into collecting things. There are so many different brands and models of razors, and the vintage element of them means there are far more models than I can possibly discuss in a single article. There are entire websites and forums dedicated to safety razors.

The Blade

The blades that go into safety razors are somewhat similar to the kinds of blades you find at the hardware store. They are wafer thin double edged stainless steel blades, sold in packs of 5 that can be bought in boxes of 100.

Much like the razors themselves, each blade is different, shaves a little different, and offers the end user an endless variety of options.

Personally, I like Astra Blades. My dad gave me half a dozen different blades to try, and I found Astra suited my purposes the best. Astra blades shave nicely, and you can buy 100 for $10. That’s 10 cents a blade. I typically use one blade a week (5 shaves), so $10 worth of blades is good for approximately 2 years of shaving. You can quickly see how economical it can be to shave with a safety razor.

razor-blades

At any rate, if Astra blades aren’t your thing, experiment with a few others (often you can buy sampler packs on e-bay and Amazon and try out a dozen different types of blades), and then you are all set.

In addition to the Astra Blades I also like Gillette Blue blades and Pohl Silvers. They seem somewhat similar to the Astras, but I still prefer the Astra blades for some reason.

The Brush

Real wet shavers don’t use shave gels or shave foams in a can. Instead, they use traditional shave soaps, and they apply them with a shave brush.

Much like razors and blades, there are a ton of different shave brushes out there. There are 3 major types: badger hair brushes, boar bristle brushes, and synthetic brushes.

badger-brush

I started out with a cheaper boar brush (the Semogue 830 – which can be had for around $20), but upgraded to a Semogue badger brush once I realized that I liked wet shaving. Brushes can range anywhere from $10 to $100+. I believe my brush was around $50.

The Soap

Like I said, to get the full experience you will want to pick up some shave soap to use with your brush and shave mug. This soap is a lot better than the foams and gels you buy in a can at the grocery store.

Again, you can really go down the rabbit hole with this stuff and buy all manner of fancy boutique soaps.

shaving-soap

Personally, I like C.O. Bigelow shave cream made by Proraso. I use about a dime worth of the stuff for each shave, and a $10 tube is good for a years worth of shaves. This was after trying out a couple different soaps.

Aftershave

This step is completely optional, but I really like Osage Rub as an after shave. Osage is alcohol based, and experts will tell you to not use an alcohol based after shave as it dries out your skin. For this reason, many shaving gurus recommend shave balms (like the Nivea balm shown in the picture). I never liked Nivea shave balm – go figure. I say do whatever works best for you.

after-shave-stuff

Certainly, after shave isn’t a requirement, and I know many people prefer shave balm instead (notably, Nivea shave balm comes highly recommended by folks in the know – I never cared for the stuff).

Stands, Mugs, etc.

You will also need to acquire a shaving mug / bowl, and a stand for your brush and razor. These are items you can find inexpensively online or at a garage sale or flea market.

I believe I have the Omega 226 brush and stand and I use a mug very similar to this one by Edwin Jagger.

That’s basically it. I use an old toothbrush and some dishsoap to clean my razor, brush and mug after each use. I also use a rubber stopper for my sink, and a little isopropyl alcohol to further disinfect my razor after use.

You may also want to pick up a Styptic pencil or an alum block for the occasional nick.

Technique

Entire websites are dedicated to shaving tutorials, so I won’t pretend to offer a comprehensive guide here. Plus, I consider myself an amateur. I get the job done, but there are people who take this a lot more seriously then me. I’ll briefly describe how I shave for posterity.

Prep

I like to soak my razor, and brush in hot water for several minutes before starting. I fill my shave mug with hot water and stick the brush in there, and leave the razor at the bottom of the sink in hot water.

Ideally, I do this while I take a hot shower. This prepares your face for shaving, and softens up the brush. At a minimum I left the brush soak in hot water for a minute or two.

Lather

After my brush has soaked I go ahead and dump out the water in my mug and knock some of the excess moisture off my brush. I then squeeze a small (maybe a dime size) dollop of shave soap into my mug, and work it around in circular motions with my shave brush to build up a lather. If the cream is too thin I might add a little more. If it’s too thick and won’t build a lather then I add a couple drops of water. I work the soap for 30 seconds to a minute until I have built up a nice lather.

Shave

After building up the lather I apply it to my face with the brush. I spend a couple seconds to work it in. I then grab my trusty razor and do a light initial pass over my face. I follow the grain of my beard and wash off the razor every stroke or 2 (the bottom of my sink is filled with an inch or 2 of hot water so I just dip the razor in the water). The goal with the initial pass isn’t “beard removal”, but “beard reduction”. You aren’t going for a finished product with one pass.

After the initial pass I apply more shave cream and go over my face again. You can work the razor perpendicular to the grain on this pass, or against the grain. I usually don’t bother with that and go with the grain to minimize irritation. I pay special attention to areas that need it (my neck line, underneath my ear, etc) on this pass.

Usually, 2 passes is enough for me to get a presentable shave. Some people like to do 3 passes. I say, do whatever works for you. In shave circles the goal is a “baby bottom smooth” shave. I don’t particularly care if my face is baby bottom smooth. I just want to get to the office and not have people look at me as if I were a hobo. I find 2 passes actually gives me a real nice shave.

Again, I am not going to pretend to be an authority on wet shaving technique, but I will say that it is real important not to put any pressure on your face with a safety razor. Unlike cartridge razors, you don’t need to apply pressure to shave with a safety razor. Go slow and experiment with an easy surface like your cheek first. If you can’t get a perfect shave at first with a safety razor, then finish up with your cartridge razor and watch some YouTube videos on the subject. It took me a couple weeks to get the hang of it, and I did better with an adjustable razor.

Post-Shave

After you are done shaving the first thing I like to do is take a wash cloth, wet it with warm water, and wipe off any excess shave cream. If I missed a spot then now would be the time to take care of that.

Once I’m satisfied with the shave and have washed off my face, I switch to cold water and wash my face with cold water. This closes up the pores.

I then liberally apply Osage Rub to my face. You can use any after shave or post-shave balm that you would like.

If you nicked yourself (which should be super rare once you get your technique down), then consider using an alum block or styptic pencil to help close up the nick.

Final Thoughts

If you have to shave, I think wet shaving is the way to go. It may seem somewhat complicated and time consuming at first, but after you get the technique down it goes really fast (5 minutes?). It’s well worth the time and effort for me.

And I think that safety razor shaving is a great example of how newer isn’t always better. Just because the TeeVee tells you that more blades are better, doesn’t make it true. These old school razors are cheaper and more effective than cartridge razors.

More Reading

Again, I’m not an expert. I’m a regular guy who found safety razor shaving and realized it was less expensive and better than using cartridge razors. Here are some additional resources if you want to explore the subject further:

Badger and Blade – This is the most popular shave forum on the web. They have a buy/sale/trade section which I have told can be quite addictive.
Sharpologist – This is Mantic59’s blog. He is known for being one of the first to create shaving “How To” videos on YouTube.