Get Rich with Subtraction (or when less is more)


One of the funny things about giving personal finance tips free to The World is that you know that lots of people don’t follow through.

How many people have read The 3 Numbers that can make you a millionaire and thought yeah, it would be good to be rich…and yet don’t track their spending to see where does it all go, don’t start investing in shares and don’t get round to firing a ridiculous financial adviser.

This is odd given that the people that stumble across The Escape Artist’s little backwater of the internet are generally smart enough to know when something’s real and valuable.

So why might this be?

One sticking point is that people’s lives are often already full up. So people often lack the time and the head space to add more commitments or more information into their lives.

If you are combining a full-time job plus any of the following (commuting, relationships, kids, exercise, friends, hobbies, pets etc etc) its no wonder you’re struggling to add more. If you are one of those busy people, you must first eliminate shit from your life. If your life is full up, you can’t add something new into it without first letting something go.

We have limited bandwidth. We evolved on the African Savannah….a simple, low information environment.  So we’re well adapted to wandering around in nature looking for food.  We’re not so well adapted to commuting, airport check-ins and stressful sales targets.

When we’re born, we all come into this world with nothing. No clothes, no commitments, no ingrained habits, no cable TV subscriptions and no debt. Then, when we are young, we are programmed by evolution to go out and get shit.

Imagine if all children, teenagers and people in their 20s were NOT acquisitive.  So instead of looking for new tools, skills and possessions, they just sat around, zen as fuck….sitting cross-legged, being mindful and listening to their breathing. Back in the day, that generally wouldn’t have ended well. No, our ancestors that sat around totally zen got eaten by sabre tooth tigers or massacred by the next tribe.

It’s a paradox of life that the people that want to get rich are generally people that want MORE in their life.  They may want more financial security, they may want more freedom or achievement. They may want more respect from the people that pulled their hair at school or an absent parent.  The motives vary, but we all want more of something.

So the first 20 or 30 years of life typically involve running around adding stuff into your life: clothes, life-skills, friends, hobbies, qualifications, degrees, jobs etc. These are all good things to add into your life when its empty.

how much is enough

But watch out! Its in these early decades that we are most influenced by advertising and peer pressure. So people get into the habit of adding more, more, more.

And pretty soon, you go past the point of enough. You’ve filled your life full of stuff and now the problem is too much. So now, to get rich you need LESS in your life. You need to make room for the good stuff.

What exactly do I mean when I say making room?  Well,  at its most basic level, I obviously mean space in your house or flat.  The less physical stuff you have, the more space you have.

But possessions have this funny way of not just taking up your physical space but also taking up more of your time…and your head space.  Every possession can be seen as a liability (as well as an asset). It comes with costs…a potential requirement for storage, cleaning, maintenance, insurance and so on.

Take holiday homes as an example.  The Escape Artist understands the attraction of being able to flit around the world like James Bond.  Its just that James Bond doesn’t spend his time filling in Spanish council tax forms and waiting on the phone in call centre queues to pay utility bills. No, he downloads his holiday homes from the Cloud.

And its not just possessions. The same also applies to entertainment, hobbies, jobs, colleagues, TV, social media, investments, social obligations, The News, employees and friends.

Derek Sivers has a nice way of looking at this. When you are young, you should say yes to just about everything. Parties, trips, new projects, meeting new people etc etc.

But eventually there comes a point in your career when you are busy and need to start saying no to stuff.  If you are Chief Executive (or even a mid level manager or professional) and go to every meeting and cocktail party you get invited to, pretty quickly you are gonna end up with a dodgy liver and no home life.

According to Derek, at this point in your life, when you receive an invitation your response should either be Hell Yeah….or No.  In other words, if you aren’t super-excited by the prospect of going, then just say no.  And if you wouldn’t want to go to an event tonight, don’t say yes just because its 3 months away and you might have died by the time it rolls around.

Its possible to have too much of a good thing. The Escape Artist is in favour of holidays and travel for example. But I’ve noticed that people often spend every weekend flogging up and down motorways on dutiful visits to friends and family or mini-world tours…the cumulative effect of this is to never give them any time for themselves, for thinking and for quiet reflection.

It’s great to go out and see the world.  But it partly depends on your motivation.  If you’re filling up your weeks with an intensive job and weekends with constant entertainment then maybe you’re trying to avoid someone: yourself.  But this is ultimately futile…because wherever you go, there you are.

This also applies to investing. Most people start simple (good) but then add more duplication and unnecessary complexity and fees into their portfolio (bad).  The cure is simplification via subtraction.

So investments, travel and experiences are all Good Things and The Escape Artist is not suggesting that you stack them all in a big pile, dowse them with petrol, light a match and then chuck it on.

But The Escape Artist IS suggesting that you periodically conduct a life audit to see whether things deserve 1) the amount you spend on them and 2) the space they are taking up in your head, your time and in your life generally.

And if you are looking for some things to cut down on…where to start?  Well here are a few suggestions:

The News

Bizarrely, the mainstream news media still exists…even after The Escape Artist revealed it to be mostly bullshit here.

Complaining about politicians

Personally, I wouldn’t want to go for a beer with Jeremy Corbyn nor a romantic dinner with Theresa May. Both of them would borrow the money…he wouldn’t pay it back and she’d keep banging on about strong & stable she was (Theresa…show, don’t tell!).

But all time spent complaining about politicians is time that you are not getting your own shit together.


If The Escape Artist gets elected as Emperor of All Galaxies, you will be allowed to watch as much TV as you want.   OR you will be allowed to complain about how you are not rich.

But you will not be allowed to do both.


Same as for TV.  You can spend as much money as you want on cars. Or you can complain that you are not rich.  But you can’t do both.



The correct way to think about Facebook / Twitter etc is as a nice green field in which you play frisbee in the sun with your friends for 10 or 15 minutes a week.

But watch out for the rabbit holes in the field. They lead you down into dark underground caves filled with trolls, fake newsreaders and amateur politicians.


Remember Dr Evil’s Money Mindset Mistakes.  Dr Evil has a love-hate relationship with Austin Powers and seems to enjoy the rivalry.

But Dr Evil is so busy focussing on the feud that he makes elementary mistakes and ends up as the loser.


Shopping as a leisure activity is the ultimate time and moneysuck. For more details, see here.


I get that commuting is sometimes a necessary evil.  The Escape Artist had to pull this trick himself for a while to combine the benefits of a free private education for our kids with working in central London. But if you set your life up so that you will be commuting for 20+ years, then you are doing it Wrong.


Bread, crisps, pasta, noodles, sweets, chips. These processed carbohydrates are all just sugar within 20 minutes of you eating them. Which your body then stores as fat.

I know carbs are as cheap as…errr…chips.  But, if you are overweight, its probably that stuff that’s fucking you over.


The Escape Artist has previously solved The Obesity Crisis. And it’s not like you have to spend a lot of money to eat well…they are basically giving away vegetables in supermarkets.

Remember…pursuing financial independence is like climbing a mountain.

It’s a lot easier, the lighter you travel.


  1. Great post. I’m not a chief executive yet, but I’m a VP. I say no to A LOT of things. I used to say yes to everything. I just learned the value of time, over time. There’s a lot of diminishing returns in life. And regarding feuding on the internet, lol. I see that so much; I just never saw the point. Why try to prove someone wrong or defend your position with strangers; especially if they’re trolling. Phenomenal waste of time!

    1. Thanks…I agree…you don’t need to be a CEO (yet) for it to be important to say no!

  2. I have to take issue with your assertion that there’s something inherently unhealthy about bread, pasta, noodles. As with any food, to much is bad for you, but the bulk of your energy needs should be sourced from carbs, of which you’ve listed some perfectly acceptable examples.

    1. Ladies and Gentlemen…I give you exhibit A….someone is WRONG on the Internet!!!! 😉

  3. dawnmartyne · · Reply

    Just brilliant again from TEA.
    Love the facebook bit. It always appears to me that people use it as a means of showing others ” look how wonderful my life is” why? Maybe they dont think their life is that good deep down.
    Im one of those readers who DOES take the action required. TEA posts are not wasted on me . Many thanks always enjoy reading .

  4. Damn it. I love theescapeartist’s analogies. The trying to overcome the inertia of shredding all the baggage is one hell of a work. I look around my room and can imagine that perhaps I can be happy with less stuff but some how we are hoarders. At some point in our evolutionary life we probably learnt that having stuff around is better for in case we need it even though stuff is never used most of the time (e.g 2nd, 3rd pair of shoes when you only have 1 pair of feet!) We need to learn to become more efficient.

  5. FrugalFox · · Reply

    Great article as always.
    Two points…. 1) I’ve notice i can’t focus on more than one thing at a time that’s why i have as much stuff as possible automated in some way. If I focus on my personal fitness (gym and eating) i get into great shape but things like house maintenance and family takes a hit. I read a “The one thing” which i really enjoyed and helped me understand the issues I had.
    2) Derek Sivers is a great guy! He personally replies to his emails and not just stock responses, we had a random discussion about naps!

    1. Yes, its funny….I heard Derek Sivers say on a podcast that he answered his emails and he invited the listeners to email him…which I then did and got a very thoughtful response from him. Thanks for the book recommendation…that is going on my list as you’re the 2nd person to recommend it recently

      1. FrugalFox · · Reply

        Was it the Tim Ferris podcast by chance?

      2. It was actually the James Altucher podcast interview with DS…although there’s also a couple of good interviews by Tim Ferriss as well

  6. Survivor · · Reply

    The siren call of advertising is just so difficult for most to resist, I implore certain relatives not to give me any gifts every year because my needs are met, while my wants are almost inevitably unhealthy [the wages of sin] …..& still the attic-fillers roll in right on time. Logic doesn’t work on them because the givers are fulfilling an emotional need in themselves – if it were really about you they’d listen to what you say you want – the point supposedly being to make you happy then.

    I know a medic who tells me they guess that probably half the people in their clinic every day for myriad complaints have psychosomatic root causes for those symptoms ….mostly from their lives going too fast for them to cope with. [at least mentally] Yet when it’s explained to them, they seem reluctant to change, even if they want to slow down …..there are so many psychological drivers behind our actions that we are mostly not even aware of.

    Practically, I’ve found it’s a lot easier to just say you can’t – to most things that aren’t even necessary – if you say no, you’ll be punished with social isolation. Often people are only asking you to do stuff to solve their problems in life which they should actually take responsibility for, so if that’s the case you shouldn’t feel guilty for evading the pain.

  7. FutureNomad · · Reply

    Would just like to say I love this blog and it has already saved me so much money, for which I’m very grateful. However I would like to say the one thing to leave out of saying no is social capital. I don’t want to sound like I’m a horrible person who uses other people (I like to think I’m not) but maintaining social relationships by going out for coffee when you actually don’t really want to hear your friend complain about their new baby etc may be a time-suck BUT often it pays back in real financial rewards.
    My partner, being somewhat of a stereotypical male and not really keeping in touch when he can’t see people, has let most of his old friendships founder. By contrast I’ve forced myself to social events I didn’t particularly want to go to, occasionally dropped comments on people’s social media feeds to keep the relationship going and not only has that been nice (in that I like having friends) but also I’ve so far translated it into free stays when on holiday in Toronto, New York, New Orleans, LA, Auckland etc- which has probably added up to thousands of dollars in saved accommodation and meal costs. Same networks have introduced my to cheap handymen, free hand-me down clothes and electronics, lifts to places, job opportunities and even (via Facebook message) this blog!
    So whilst there is a definite upside to not going to your friend’s housewarming when you’d rather be home alone, these events aren’t pure financial and time sucks because they can pay out at a later date in both financial rewards and fun social experiences.

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