Your money or your life (book review)

Just finished reading “Your Money or Your Life” (1992), by Joe Dominguez and Vicky Robin:

I first heard of the book last year from the Mr Money Mustache site and then from many other sources in the financial independence movement. It turns out 2017 is the 25th! anniversary of the book, and the authors had been organizing seminaries and workshops for years before the book, so this “thing” has been going on for a long time.

Before I babble any longer, I’ll say that everyone should ready it (at least everyone living in a developed country). It would be fair to say that it is foundational for the financial independence and early retirement movement in every possible sense.

The book is basically about our relationship with money. Our dependency on money. But it is a lot more about life (and ourselves) than about money so, be aware, you will have to go through some soul searching.

There are two aspects to this book. The most obvious is the 9-steps program, the self-help part of the book. I confess I never had the intention to follow the steps but I read it anyways for validation of my own process. The steps make sense and I agree with them, mostly. But the really “meaty” part (many times I felt I was really “chewing” the content phrase by phrase, it took me some time to go through the whole thing, not because it was boring but because it took me some time to assimilate many of the concepts) is the “philosophy” part.

Some concepts that stuck out:


“We dedicate this book to all the people who are actively engaged in leaving our planet in better shape than they found it”

That is the book’s dedication in the very first page (I read the “New Edition” so the first page is a remembrance of author Joe Dominguez, who died in 1997). No mention of money, retirement or independence. Surprising? Maybe, maybe not. Actually if you think of it, the lifestyle changes suggested (pushed?) by this book will make you more environmentally friendly. You could think of this book as a manual on how to become “green” while improving your financial habits.

The three FI’s

You will learn of the other FI’s: there is “FI thinking”, or being aware of the money coming in and out of your life, then “financial intelligence” or challenging assumptions and emotions about money (even assumptions planted in you by others) and “financial integrity” where and when your financial decisions are true to your values and you eliminate excess and clutter to spend at the peak of efficiency, the “enough” level. If you do these financial independence will follow as a by product.

The four perspectives of money

Since you will re-evaluate your relationship with money it makes sense to ask what is money anyway? Well, there are four levels to understand it:

At the “street level” you get the operational, transactional and physical aspects of money. This level contains most of our problems and worries about money.

At the “neighborhood level” you start putting more thought into it, here you have your emotions and your “financial personality” at play. At this level you can see money as a source of security, power or even evil.

The “citywide level” is the cultural aspect of money, the assumption that we value it to save and exchange, and thus we relate with others through money. Then we can use money to compare us with others, and we know some of us are poor and some are rich.

Finally the “jet plane level” will take you high enough that you will be able to free yourself from the constraints of the lower levels, conquer your fears, defy assumptions and own your relationship with money. One enlightenment from this level is the concept of “life energy”.

Life energy

Your life energy is the time you have on earth. And you decide to trade some of that life energy for money (time is money). But how much do you really get? You may simplify and think you get your hourly wage, or:

rate=\frac{salary}{{hours worked}}

Wrong. There is a lot that goes with having a job (or with an activity that involves making money). We have to subtract from the salary the “costs of having the job”: commuting (gas, fares, etc), business attire, work lunches, etc. And we have to add to the hours a “hidden overtime”: commuting (again commuting but now the time it takes), grooming time (to look “professional”), etc. Even get-away vacations that mainly you take to escape from “reality” are suggested here. So the formula becomes:

rate=\frac{salary-cost of having a job}{hours worked+hidden overtime}

Don’t be surprised if you make close to half your apparent rate, and decide accordingly: you can determine if it is worth spending on something calculating how many hours of life energy it costs.


I’ve always joked that I am not cheap, but frugal. It is a lot of fun to play with the English language, specially when it’s not your first language. It turns out I was being funny but I never knew the difference between cheap and frugal until I read the book: if you enjoy ‘it’ (saving money) then you are frugal, if you suffer then you are cheap. I “kid of” enjoy it so I felt relieved learning this.

Budgets, like diets, don’t work

Another big surprise, since everyone else will tell you that you need a budget. Budgets, like diets, don’t work because they attack the symptoms not the problem. Better and more effective than surrendering your decision making to a budget (or a diet) is to gain awareness and dominate your desires (of eating and spending) like a grown up. I hate budgets (and diets) so I liked their stance on this.

 The meaning of work

You can work for money, fulfillment, sense of duty, whatever. But don’t confuse work with paid employment. You take on employment for the money, you can get fulfillment and all the other great things from unpaid activities. If you break the link between work and wages (money) a world of possibilities awaits: ditch your “career” and work on something that gives meaning to your life.

Incidentally, breaking the link between work and money, besides letting you realize you can work for fulfillment and no pay, also will show you you can earn money without work (and then you will be financially independent!).

Know your purpose and mission in life

Last but not least, right?

What is your purpose? It can be the easiest or hardest question to answer. And is the answer to the most important question: not what or how but why? Why do you do what you do? Why are you what you are? Your mission usually comes from your passion, your pain or what’s at hand.

There is a lot more to learn, but hopefully I got you curious enough to get you to read the book to save yourself from money, and save the planet from yourself.

Oh, by the way, the book is cheaper on eBay than on Amazon

Have you read it? What did you learn?

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