Less But Better

I’ve always been fascinated with the concept of parsimony. Parsimony is often confused with cheapness, but its not about cheapness. Minimalism is often conflated with doing without aka don’t buy anything for a year. Not my gig. I’m more interested in buying the right thing, the thing that is a long term solution to a need. The right solution is the parsimonious solution.

In high school I drove a 66 Ford Mustang. I didn’t have the V8, I had the V6. I didn’t have the 4 speed shifter, I had a 3 speed. My straight 6 engine was indestructible. My straight 6 didn’t fill the engine compartment like its V8 sibling. I could almost climb in next to my engine to work on it, making it easy to work on, a key consideration for a kid who had to do his own repair work. I could tune it up for just a few bucks. The torque of the 3 speed would not allow 30 ft of rubber to be laid so the tires lasted longer. The car was lighter, so easier on brakes and got better mileage. Parts (like mufflers) were cheaper. It was still a ton of fun to bomb around in and I had it up to about 115 more than once so it went plenty fast. It cost less to purchase used. It was just the right thing for a 16 yo punk kid with a part time job working at a gas station. Not too much, not brown Betty the station wagon–Parsimony.

When we moved to my present town after I exited the Navy, my wife wanted a treadmill. I bought one for maybe $700. It was consumer grade. It had a component in the motor speed control which would overheat and eventually lead to malfunction. I gave it away. I bought a commercial grade gym quality machine for just under $5000 in 1992. That machine never broke down and we used it every day even 27 years later. It’s been about 2/3 the way across the planet in terms of miles covered my cost is about $185/yr. Later I added a $120 factory second weight vest which allows for excellent control over the metabolic load. I bought one for my wife as well as weight vests are good for protecting against osteoporosis.

The next year My wife wanted a weight machine. Having learned my lesson regarding buying cheap crap, I bought a small machine that had multiple stations (about 22 exercises) and could be set up to move from station to station with only a weight stack adjustment consisting of 1 pin. It was easy to maintain a metabolic load while lifting across every muscle group. We both use it all the time. It’s not quite as good as free weights but it does quite well and nobody need spot you. It was the kind of machine you would find in a motel gym, low end commercial and it fit the space I had perfectly. It cost me about $4500 or $173/yr. Those machines plus some other minor ex equipment live in my home gym. It was easy to stumble out there any time day or night before work or after on my schedule. I never had to go anywhere and was not tethered to some other gym’s schedule. It removed the energy hump excuse. Even more so now that I’m retired. 10 grand for exercise equipment = parsimony? 27 years of availability with no gym fees or hassle = parsimony. I have another half dozen examples where buying the right thing, not the cheapest or most expensive has paid off over the long haul.

There is a concept called essentialism. It comes from an educational philosophy where what is taught is a function of the teacher not the student and the curriculum is the classics of History English Language Math Sciences Humanities Logic and Philosophy as a core and a few electives. The core was considered essential to creating a well informed and capable adult. I trained my children using this concept. The concept moved out to business. Southwest airlines for example made specific choices to eliminate the noise in service compared to other airlines. No food, no first class, point to point, not all cities covered, first come first served, just the essentials. Southwest made a killing providing just the essentials. Less but Better.

I went to med school in Chicago. There are like 8 med schools in Chicago most with teaching hospitals attached and plenty of duplicated services. My hospital was run by Jesuits, steeped in the essentials. It was part of the reason I chose to go there. It was a classical style education none of organ systems group think approach. Each student needed to experience neuro-anatomy both gross and microscopic, it was not a group experience.

The Jesuits understood in the 80’s the money was in cardio and cancer so they specialized in those. We had every other service like NICU, Peds ICU a big burn unit, Neuro Medical OB Trauma unit etc but in Chicago there were specialty hospitals like Children’s Memorial and Prentice for OB/Gyn and we were set up to rotate through those institutions and see the zebras. Those folks rotated to my place for hearts and cancer. Our hospital had its own affiliated nuclear accelerator at the VA across the street. This is an example of essentialism, doing more with less, and doing that less better. I rotated through all the specialty centers several times and got my chops and pimps from the experts and a much more varied education.

I think this concept could and should be attached to FI. So much of FI is a hodgepodge of conflicting concepts, incomplete and chaotic knowledge. Often it over promises and under delivers. There is an article describing the concept on the Forbes site. The author speaks of Greg McKeown who as written on the topic and is a guru in the field. I have his book and can recommend. Instead of going in 48 different directions each fairly ineffective go in one direction balls to the wall ignoring the noise. Learn the JOMO joy of missing out and the benefits it promises.

Delta tried to beat Southwest at it’s own game by creating a competing “lite” version. It flunked. It flunked because of economy of scale. Delta wanted to be all things to all travelers and so couldn’t be the best to any. Does this apply to your portfolio? Are you so busy attending to crowd funding or silly side gigs which require a ton of risk and work for not commensurate return (FOMO) that you miss the supercharged thrust of sticking to the essentials?

Gym Time! CYA

6 Replies to “Less But Better”

  1. I think it is wise to buy something that may be more expensive and lasts than something that is cheaper but whose lifespan is limited.

    Something that costs more therefore really doesn’t cost more when you break it into dollars/yr of service like you did.

    Of course the caveat is that you have to use it as well. Many an individual buys expensive gym equipment that ends up being a clothes rack instead.

    1. Yea I thought about that problem with coat racks, but that kind of points out the problem. If exercise is a priority, then the machine gets used. If not used it’s just another dodge in a sea of procrastination, and the time goes to TV or booze or endless unproductive work. To actually order exercise as a priority something else has to go to the end of the line or off the map completely. To maximize less means you can’t have it all, but you can have a really good something like some time to work out. We’ve been sold a bill of goods about having it all. Having it all is an advertising gimmick.

      In investing you need to make a choice and once chosen optimize the choice relentlessly. In investing you need to understand the essential thing/s like what your actual need is, and will be, and what it isn’t. From there you can plan how to get there. People talk about “multiple income streams” as if that’s easy. Why you just start multiple businesses, and then set your self up for multiple failures. From the ending you can plan back to the beginning.

      FIRE wants to do it the other way around not understanding the ending, but only understanding something about the middle and sort of hoping the middle will carry you through. Less but better means to hone the variability out of the equation so the result is predictable and solid by making the essential right choice. In the Southwest Air example the essential right choice was to create value and every subsequent choice below the essential was deliberate and pointed to that goal. Southwest wasn’t to be the most versatile travel medium with fine dining, elegance, and up-charge. It was to get you to the destination as effectively as possible but for that, you can’t have it all. People understand the value of essential value, and are willing to forgo the unessential to own it. Deliberately forgoing the unessential is called the joy of missing out.

  2. Hey Gasem,

    I am at the stage where I gladly miss out on most things. I want the essentials in my life now.

    Keeps things simple.

    I like using kettlebells now. If I had those during med school, I would not have ran outside during weird hours as often.

    It would have been much safer.

    1. You are the queen of the essential. I have a set of bells too, extremely metabolically taxing and excellent for HIIT type training as well as cardio. Kettle bells and a jump rope, maybe a step bench is all you need. Probably $100 total purchased off of Craig’s list. The only problem with KB’s are what direction you are swinging. Launching a 20 or 30 lb projectile because you slipped can be a hazard.

  3. This is timely, resonant with a lot of what’s been on my mind lately.

    Early life and career are about exploring and preserving every option.

    Now we’re pruning away what detracts from the high quality pursuits: relationships, interests, experiences that bring our family together, developing mastery of new skills.

    Appreciate the reflection,


    1. When you’re young you have no assets and I don’t mean just financial assets. There’s all kinds of negotiations necessary to create a functional system. The functional system is the asset. After creation of the asset the goal becomes to protect the asset and the asset is best protected by the choosing the essential.

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