Can you retire early through extreme frugality on a normal salary? Yup.

If a Buddhist monk moved out into the secular world, he’d be leading a life similar to the one Mr. Money Moustache (MMM) leads.

Now in his early 40s, this Canadian retired about 10 years ago by using his own form of extreme frugality. He saved at least 50% of his take-home pay and invested the remainder. He wasn’t making crazy money. His starting annual salary was $41,000; his income peaked at $100,000. By the time he retired, his investments had grown to more than $700,000.

To get there, MMM didn’t live in a tent, nor did he skip meals or wear clothes with holes in them.

Here’s his philosophy: saving at least 50% of your pay so you can retire early and do what you love instead of being a slave to a job you hate is doable once you realize consuming doesn’t bring lasting happiness. “No matter what you buy, you’ll soon adapt to the new level of luxury and be no happier than where you were before,” he writes on his blog.

The Moustachian way of life comes down to redefining affordability. “If you still need to work for money, or at the very least, if you’re not saving at least 50% of your take-home pay, you cannot afford it. Where ‘it’ is anything,” he writes in another blog post. “In certain cases, you will still buy things you can’t afford. Groceries are a good example.”

$27K Annually for a Family of Three

MMM lives near Boulder, Colo., with his wife and young son. His wife is retired, too. (Her annual salary was $70,000 at its highest.) The three of them spend about $27,000 a year.

But they don’t live in poverty.

They own a sleek 2,600-square-foot house, which MMM renovated himself. Their monthly electricity bills are under $25 because they closely watch how much they consume each day.

They eat out—occasionally.

They drive their second-hand car less than 7,000 miles a year and mostly for long road trips. Most trips are by bicycle, in line with MMM’s “muscle over motor” philosophy.

The family can go for months without visiting shops other than grocery stores, so they don’t splurge on impulse buys.

They don’t buy books (that’s what the library’s for). Nor do they frequent movie theatres (that’s what Netflix is for).

More wisdom from MMM’s blog

“Today’s parents believe they need a 7-passenger SUV for the ‘safety’ of their children, they need to take trips to Disneyland for family entertainment and they need to put their kids into exclusive private schools and even fancy preschools, as well as horseback and violin lessons from trained professionals in various surrounding towns, in order to keep them ahead in ‘the increasingly competitive world out there.’ By pure coincidence, all of these needs happen to be very expensive ones that clever entrepreneurs and companies are making a lot of money from.”

Their son goes to public school, even though they can afford private school. And he doesn’t attend pricey extracurricular activities. Instead, he reads, watches science documentaries, explores nature and builds robots from scrap metal.

When it comes to vacations, the couple looks for travel deals and avoids luxury.

“Some people say I am too extreme in my optimizations. ‘Waah, waah, my quality of life will be affected if I don’t get to live near the fancy hipster pubs and coffee shops!’” he writes on his blog. “To them I say, ‘You’re the extreme one, for what has a bigger effect on your quality of life: spending every single day in a car and an office building just so your headlights can light up the trunks of the big trees of the historic district as you drive home red-eyed and tired each night? Or being willing to make some changes NOW, to optimize your work situation, in exchange for a permanent life of freedom?’”

I couldn’t agree more! I was poor until my mid-20s, so I know that not consuming wildly encourages you to have fun in other ways. Reading. Walking. Having coffee with friends. And it teaches you to think twice before dropping $5 for a latte.

Even before finding MMM’s blog a year ago, I already had a pretty simple life. I still do. I’ve never owned a TV. I don’t buy many clothes—I have one winter coat and two pairs of boots. My phone is three years old. I eat homemade breakfasts and lunches. I use public transportation or walk. And I do save.

But I’m not yet 100% Moustachian. I spend extra money on organic produce. If I walk into a bookstore, I always part with some money. And I spend about 40% of my income on rent because I want to live in the city and be within walking distance of work.

So here’s my resolution during this financial literacy month: figure out how to get out of this expensive housing arrangement and save half of my take-home pay. What’s yours?

Yaldaz Sadakova is associate editor of Benefits Canada.

Get a PDF of this article.