Samurai September: Welcome To Your Financial Cheat Month

After gaining 12 lbs during my freshman year in college, I had to spend $35 to buy a pair of new jeans. $35 might not sound like a lot to you, but it was a lot to me at the time because I only made $4/hour working at McDonald's.

Wasting 10 hours of my life because I couldn't resist the buffet line pissed me off. So of course I did a lot of dieting research and discovered the magic bullet to weight loss: eat less.

With such simple logic, I decided to keep track of what I ate and slowed my food intake as I approached 2,000 calories. I also educated myself about world hunger. Knowing there are over 700 million malnourished people in the world made it harder to stuff my face.

By the middle of sophomore year, I was back down to my fighting weight of 160 lbs. Given I'm not an infallible machine, I'd have a cheat day once a week. This release day has helped keep my pants size the same for the last 22 years. Although I admit, old jeans are getting very snug nowadays!

Samurai September: Your Financial Cheat Month

If you've been following Financial Samurai since 2009, you've seen your net worth surge higher because you've been focusing on saving and investing as much money as possible. The S&P 500 is at a record high and most real estate markets around the world are also at record highs.

While many people were spending big bucks on cars, clothes, and other things they didn't need, you've been feeding your investments like a hungry hippo and watching your returns compound like a champ.

Heavy spenders missed out on one of the biggest recoveries in history. As a result, they are stuck in the muck, while you've come that much closer to financial freedom, if you're not there already.

Since many of you have done so well since the financial crisis, I'd like to propose a brief respite from your financial ways. At the rate you're going, you will die with way too much money, or you might simply burn out. It's time to course correct a bit and spend more than usual.

Let's not let all those people who take on massive credit card debt to fund their fabulous lifestyles have all the fun!

Samurai September Challenge Rules

The Samurai September Challenge simply encourages you to spend more than you usually do on yourself and the people you care about for one month, once a year.

Samurai September is a challenge because after years of practicing good financial habits, it's hard as hell to spend up. Samurai September is also a challenge because in order to participate, you must meet at least five of the following conditions:

1) Grown your net worth by at least 100% in five years

2) Read Financial Samurai for three years or longer

3) Saved at least 20% of your after-tax income for five years or more

4) Tracked your net worth every month for at least 12 quarters

5) Own your primary residence for at least three years

6) Have a side hustle that earns at least $100 a month for at least two years

7) Worked on building an after-tax passive income portfolio for at least five years

8) Spent no more than 1/10th your gross income on your current car

9) Have a net worth of at least $250,000

10) Maxed out your 401(k) for at least five years

11) Maxed out your IRA for at least 10 years

12) Haven't blamed anybody for your failures for at least three years

13) Got a graduate degree part-time while working full-time

14) Spent at least 20 hours a year volunteering

15) Donated at least $1,000 to charity for at least five years

16) Negotiated a severance instead of quitting

17) Did not vote on a law to raise taxes on others without paying more yourself

18) Got promoted at least twice in the past five years

19) Can wear the same pants from 10 years ago

20) Shared this post with at least 10 friends for good karma

If you've met at least five of these conditions, congratulations! You are now free to spend more money for one month. If you haven't met at least five conditions, better luck next year.

To those eligible for the Samurai September Challenge, here are some guidelines for how much more you can spend in Samurai September compared to usual. The goal is to reward your performance and enjoy life a little more.

Net Worth Growth Condition

  • Boost spending for one month by 5% if you have increased your net worth by 100% over the past five years.
  • Boost spending for one month by 10% if you have increased your net worth by 200% over the past five years.
  • Boost spending for one month by 20% if you have increased your net worth by 300% over the past five years.
  • Boost spending for one month by 50% if you have increased your net worth by 400% or more over the past five years.

For example, if you increased your net worth from $200,000 to $600,000 since 2010, you can now spend $500 more this month on whatever you want if your normal monthly spending is $5,000. But if you increased your net worth from $200,000 to $1,000,000 since 2010, then you're free to increase your spending by 50% to $7,500 in Samurai September.

Savings / Investing Condition

  • If you have been saving and investing at least 20% of your after-tax income every year for five years, you can boost your spending by 5% in Samurai September.
  • If you have been saving and investing at least 30% of your after-tax income every year for five years, you can boost your spending by 10% in Samurai September.
  • If you have been saving and investing at least 40% of your after-tax income every year for five years, you can boost your spending by 20% in Samurai September.
  • If you have been saving and investing at least 50% of your after-tax income every year for five years, you can boost your spending by 50% in Samurai September.

For example, if you have been maintaining a 50% after-tax savings rate every year for five years and have plowed a majority of it into the stock market, you are free to raise your monthly spending from $10,000 to $15,000.

Reasons to sell stocks chart, wall of worry

Home Ownership Condition

  • If you've owned a primary residence for two years, you can increase your spending by 5% in Samurai September.
  • If you've owned a primary residence for three years, you can increase your spending by 10% in Samurai September.
  • If you've owned a primary residence for four years, you can increase your spending by 20% in Samurai September.
  • If you bought a primary residence between 2010 – 2012, you can increase your spending by 50% in Samurai September because you bottom-ticked it baby!
  • If you've been renting since 2010 when you could have bought, then you need to go run a marathon and think about what went wrong.

Home price appreciation since 2014 from various top cities in America

Car Ownership Condition

  • If you purchased a car for up to 30% of your gross annual income, you can buy yourself a cookie.
  • If you purchased a car for up to 20% of your gross annual income, you can increase your spending by 10% in Samurai September.
  • If you purchased a car for up to 10% of your gross annual income, you can increase your spending by 20% in Samurai September.
  • If you don't own a car and use public transportation and the occasional rideshare, you can also increase your spending by 20%, provided that you've also increased your net worth by 100% over the past five years.
Car Depreciation Chart For Cars Average
Depreciation Chart

Starting Your Own Side Hustle / Business

  • If you started a side hustle this year, you can treat yourself to a nice business expense dinner.
  • If you started an online business last year and stuck with it, you can spend 10% more in Samurai September.
  • If you started an online business two years or more years ago and stuck with it, you can spend 20% more in Samurai September.
  • If you've had a side job after normal work hours for a year, you can spend 10% more in Samurai September. With Fivver, Upwork, Craigslist, Task Rabbit, WordPress, Uber, and Lyft, it's easy to make extra income if you want to.

I firmly believe that anybody who sticks with their online business or side hustle for at least two years will see meaningful financial reward. You will learn from your failures, build your endurance, and find your “lucky” break.

Boosting Spending With A Combination

The above items are not mutually exclusive. If you increased your net worth by 200% since 2010 (+10% spending boost), consistently saved 20% of your after-tax income since 2010 (+5%), bought a primary residence in 2013 (+20%), purchased a car that cost 20% of your gross annual income (+10%), and started a side hustle in 2015 (+20%), you are free to increase your spending percentage by 65% in Samurai September or until you spend 100% of your after-tax income, whichever comes first.

Emergency $400 dollars

You are encouraged not to spend more than 100% of your after-tax income during Samurai September because then you might turn into the average American who lacks impulse control and gets easily triggered by other people's opinions. Seriously folks. It's important we never relapse!

Moderation is key.

The typical American is doomed to financial misery with a median retirement balance of less than $100,000.

Excessive spending is one of the reasons why roughly 41% of Americans can't come up with $400 in an emergency according to the Federal Reserve. I can’t fathom this to be true for the Financial Samurai community.

Have Fun, Don't Get Carried Away

September is the chance for you to buy or do those things you've been putting off because you're overly frugal. Use this month to have fun! And if you can't stand spending more on yourself, you can always spend more on other people in need.

Here are some small and large things I plan to spend money on this September:

* New boxes of daily contacts for $200. I've been reusing my daily contacts to save money for years. Now I just throw them out and use a fresh pair even if I've just used them for three hours to play tennis.

* Flights for parents and in-laws for $1,000. Given I don't want to travel on a plane with our boy until he's at least three, I'm happy to pay for my parents and in-laws to come visit us.

Samurai September Challenge* Supreme unleaded fuel for $10. I drive around 150 miles a month. My vehicle gets about 20 miles a gallon. Hence, I'm willing to see if using supreme fuel makes a lick of difference. It probably doesn't, but who cares. It's only $10.

* Toro sashimi for $200. Tuna belly tastes so good, but paying $10+ per slice feels like highway robbery when I can get a filling In N' Out cheeseburger for $2. But gosh darn it, one evening I'm gonna eat to my belly's content.

* Tinted windows in the house for $1,400. It turns out having magnificent western-facing ocean views has some downside: heat and glare. Although the new windows I installed in 2015 have some tint, I'd like to have more. It was a scorcher last Fall.

* New jogging pants with zippers for $130. Nowadays, I just like to wear athletic gear. But I need pants that have zipper pockets. Otherwise, my wallet will end up falling out, and that would be a disaster.

* Two couple massages for $400. Massages are the best, especially if you work out a lot or play sports. I have an app on demand that sends the masseuse with massage table to our house for $99 / hour, including tip.

* New air conditioning units for my parents in Hawaii for $8,000. My dad told me several of the AC units in their house died due to geckos getting stuck in the units. Ouch, this is a big expense.

* Take four personal days to save my sanity: priceless. Recently, I've had too many 6am – 1am days due to my writing schedule, reader and business requests, and fatherly duties. Fall is the time to take it easy since San Francisco weather is so good and the kids are back in school.

Total cash outlay: $11,439, $9,000 of which is going to my parents and in-laws. Hmm, I think I need to come up with more things to spend on my family! Any ideas? The only thing I really want are more good experiences. This challenge to spend more money than normal is going to be harder than I thought.

Related posts:

Practice Taking Profits To Pay For A Better Life

The 10X Investment Consumption Rule To Follow

42 thoughts on “Samurai September: Welcome To Your Financial Cheat Month”

  1. Rachel Bier

    No splurges for me, I’m razor sharp focused on a soft FIRE June 2020!! I would recommend treating yourself to some camping gear for some local camping trips if you don’t want to fly with your son, especially as you can enjoy less crowded campsites during the week. We love the family friendly Cassini Ranch on the Russian River. Napa’s fun, but not a lot to do with kids, we love Armstrong Woods in Guerneville…think Muir Woods, but way less crowded. Sonoma is also a great day out…Train Town followed by a picnic in Sonoma Square, it has a nice playground in the middle too!

  2. If you don’t have one already you could buy a fantastic bed. 10 years ago I bought my bed for about $5000. At the time it seemed so out of whack compared to everything else I was saving money on. Fast forward 10 years and I have had so many good nights sleep because of it. Hotel and other peoples beds make me realise just how much I enjoy sleeping at home.

  3. Family focused splurge: a professional photo session with the three of you. Will pull double duty as presents for the family in a few months if you can keep from sharing them immediately. Enjoy!

  4. Charleston.C

    If by supreme fuel you mean higher octane – no it would not make a difference (unless your car is designed for it. Save yourself $10 for something else because higher octane only means the fuel mixture would not combust sooner than the engine is designed for. If your car’s engine is designed with higher octane in mind, you should always use higher octane.

    If you do in fact want to splurge on fuel, buy name brand fuel such as Mobil or Shell even in regular octane. The name brand fuels have additives which makes the fuel burn cleaner and in the long run your engine will have less internal build up of gunk.

  5. John Morris

    I definitely love this idea. Trying to stay disciplined in anything for me is becoming harder and harder these days. My cheat month has been this entire summer. I wish I could cheat more lol.

  6. I love this post, and think it’s a great idea. I would consider myself a recovering spend a holic where I would spend a lot on toys, computers, games etc, or any other hobby rather than watching it slowly grow. Now, I have always saved, but when I look back at how much spent, versus where I would be with regards to FIRE, if I had just spent a bit less. For me, I always have to be careful when I open up the wallet a bit, because I have strong tendencies not to close it!

    My spending for this year is for sanity. A glorious walk behind leaf blower. I have many beautiful large trees on and around my property, but every fall I want to take a flamethrower or a chainsaw to the lot. A nice walk behind leaf blower should greatly reduce the amount of time I spend this fall, and the following ones chasing leaves! That will have a significant increase in my happiness this year!

  7. Great post! We are using September to elope in SF then head to Hawaii for honeymoon. So much cheaper than a wedding would be – I still have heart palpitations though because my finance apps keep reminding me I’m spending more than usual!

  8. I’ll never balk at spending $$ for toro! ;)

    Fun post, Sam. It is relevant though because sometimes we get so focused on habits of saving that we wake up one day and realize the point wasn’t to hoard $$! Love that you are giving a nice chunk to your family. You’re doing it right my friend.

  9. Lewis Horwood

    It didn’t feel good reading that checklist. Then I realized you’d written I’d need 5, not all of them. Oops.

    I’m continuing as normal since I’m under 30. Although, ‘normal’ doesn’t preclude fresh toro here in Korea, so it doesn’t hurt at all. Nice idea, by the way.

  10. Sock Monkey Posse

    Sam – love the Samurai September idea! I think we realistically hit close to half the criteria. We splurged LAST week though (in August) to celebrate our 24th wedding anniversary (with our kids) on a road trip that included ferry boats, VRBO homes, hiking to waterfalls, touring museums and visiting old friends. Precious memories. Love your work Sam – sending your post to more than 10 friends for the extra Karma!

  11. These days I feel like I never spend any for myself.

    I’ve been so obsessed with a possibility of the ridiculous cost for my boys’ college education. So I just can’t justify any spending. I hope my boys to go to the in-state universities, but just in case for their entering private schools I have to prepare at least $250k per.

    It’s hard for me to spend a lot specially when the CD rate is so high and the stock market is every rising. I have $1.2M net worth at the moment and expects to add at least $100k every year but nothing is guaranteed. We don’t know when this good mood in the markets – stock and real estate – ends abruptly.

    This year I could’ve got a luxury car easily, but ended up with a moderate Japanese sedan which cost 10%-15% of my gross income.

    After all, I have an urge to spending time to time after this my life long frugal mode. So I recently made a habit of spending a couple of hundreds bucks for nice shoes every few months.
    A few days ago I picked up nice dress shoes from Allen Edmonds only because they had additional 40% sale on their clearance items. Yesterday I bought a nice pair of sneakers from Magnanni, also in clearance. This year I’ve picked up 3 pairs of shoes, including very nice-looking James Harden Ls Vol. 2. Maybe total is under $500 and I’m already feeling guilty…

  12. Daniel Stein

    I would just like to say if you want a gorgeous platter of toro sashimi for peanuts, come visit Vancouver sometime! Almost makes our house prices worth it ;)

  13. siliconvalleyscrooge

    Treated myself to In-N-Out today, net worth down $10.93, calorie intake up 1250.

    Now rolling around on couch, like a dog after bath, trying to rub back on the scent of frugality and thrift.

  14. Sounds fun. I just spent $3k for a conference and the bill is due September.

    After that we will have an Orchid October.

    Come on Uncle Sam, you know I’m the daughter you always wanted!

  15. Great idea! However, with the addition of my newborn daughter this month, I’ve had to do my financial cheat early preparing for her arrival! What a blessing now that she is here.

  16. Judith Wilson

    Hi Sam,

    An idea for your September splurge – I think I remember you’d got a cleaner in an earlier post?

    If you haven’t – get one for September :)

    If you have – spend more on your cleaner – get her to do some of those cleaning jobs that have been annoying you for months (vents, garage, patio, windows, dusty tops of cupboards, sorting your clothes, replacing all your moth killers, etc. etc.). You can apply this to all those annoying jobs actually – get someone in to do gardening, fixing broken knobs, fixing lights, painting chips in paintwork…..I could go on and on!

    Get someone in to work their way around the whole damn lot.

    It will be so satisfying to see them all done! :)

    ….and then you’ll decide you need it every month because it frees up so much of your time!

  17. I’m laser focused on a soft FIRE in June 2020 so no extra spending for me! I would suggest splurging on some basic camping gear and taking advantage of the NorCal area for some relatively low cost weekend getaways. We bought sleeping bags as Christmas gifts for our little ones a couple of years ago and they thought Santa was awesome! Drop me a line if you take a day trip to Napa :)

  18. This might be a silly question but I need some clarification or help defining “maxing out” my 401(K)…

    Are we talking about maxing out the IRS limit (18,500 for 2018) or just the amount that maximizes the employer match? Let’s work with some easy numbers…

    Assume I make $100K, and my employer matches 80% of my contributions up to 5% of my employee deferrals. In the eyes of The Samurai – does “maxing out” mean $5K (max amount an ER is willing to match) in this case or $18.5K (this year’s IRS limit).

    I wasnt sure if shelling out 18.5% to after taxed assets that cant be touched till Im 60 makes any sense (ignoring ROTH conversions ladders etc) – so instead the proposed route is rather $5K to the and $13.5K to after-tax investments not locked in an IRA . I know the math is simplified and ignores the tax benefit of contributing the full $18.5K to a traditional 401(K) but I think the point has been made.

    Thoughts and clarification would be much appreciated!

  19. I qualify to cheat in September but I’ve been cheating all summer. Recently spent $$ on business class tickets from LA to Barcelona. I think I will pass on this challenge. Have fun. Hopefully I will be able to join next year

  20. This is a timely article, especially for us long-term FS disciples! I just hit a net worth milestone I set for myself years ago (one year early, no less), but the mere thought of celebrating it with a splurge brought a wave of guilt.
    It’s almost harder to spend on yourself after such an incredible period of net worth compounding, as frugality/saving provided such consistent gratification for a decade. It would be much easier to splurge if it felt like frugality wasn’t yielding much!

  21. Neat idea Sam! I was thinking about a splurge month and December isn’t far off but September is closer hah!

    I wanted $200 for a fancy restaurant trip with my husband either in September or December when we go back to Cali for family.

    Add some more money into my Robinhood play money account.

    Spend some time on a cruise (next year) and try going to Alaska – $2500.

  22. Love your creativity Sam and what a fun way to spend September! (Ha I threw a pun in there without realizing it until now) Smart list of requirements. I haven’t spent much over the summer and it’ll be fun thinking of some things to get. Some new clothes for my little one and I would be nice. I want to fill a bag of things to donate first though. Feels good making some space before getting new things.

  23. Simple Money Man

    I cheated in August while celebrating my Anniversary so I’m good. :-)

    $130 for jogging pants from $35 jeans, you’ve come a long way. I hope you enjoy the month!

      1. Thanks! Keep up the good work -love reading your posts. Saw you got a shout-out from Marketwatch the other day.

  24. I really like this idea. You can’t take all of your hard-earned savings when you die, so why not take a little bit for yourself and celebrate yourself? The criteria for participating seem fair given the idea is to treat yourself with your compounded investment dollars. If you haven’t had any of that, you might do best to skip the September Splurge for a couple years to build your wealth.

    I meet 10 of your 17 criteria but am so close to having another 2 on your list. I imagine in the next 5 years I’ll meet almost all of them. My wife and I are splurging by going to London and Greece for our 1-year anniversary later this month. That trip definitely qualifies. However, we’ve found creative ways to defray some of the costs and make the trip more reasonably-priced. We’ve earned a little bit of splurging after the past 3 years of saving and investing wisely. Our net worth has doubled in that time. May it double again in the next 3!

    1. As a follow up to my original comment, I think it is important to note the importance of your recurring message about how one should live frugally and wisely. Consumption shouldn’t be seen as a primary expression of happiness. By foregoing the usual purchases accompanied by increasing wealth, you choose to prioritize non-financial possessions and how you use your time.

      Not to sound repetitive, but your theme that consumption shouldn’t be seen as a substitute for happiness resonates with me. As stated above, it’s common form to increase your consumption as more disposable income becomes available. This is a vicious cycle, however, as this enslaves you to the trappings of wealth and moves you away from enjoying the moment and not worrying about who’s wearing what or going where. Not to mention, this locks you into a lifestyle you might someday find tedious to finance. By that point, however, you might be forced to continue because your expectations have normed to it. Stated simply, this sticks you somewhere you don’t want to be.

      When looking at consumption, what I find intriguing is the most successful brands have demonstrated that people don’t buy products because of what those products do, they buy products because of what they can do- or what they envision they can do- with them. Perhaps what’s needed is a redefinition of what can be accomplished with what you have and not about how you should buy something new to feel happy and feel attached to some material possession. Sometimes it pays not to spend anything at all and have peace of mind with what you have.

      All that being said, it is sometimes nice to treat yourself to a nice reward. One month of allowing yourself an indulgence can do the mind some good. For the other 11 months of the year, living frugally can be a constant reminder of the importance of valuing what you have and not being dependent on making new purchases to find happiness.

  25. I cheated a lot during June, July and August and I didn’t save very much. September is the start of my getting back to a normal budget.

  26. Recovering Engineer

    Why wait until your son is 3 to travel? We had been on 3 different trips (6 flights) with our son before he was a year old. You have the money, pay the extra for a seat for him then you’ll have a row to yourselves. If you want experiences I say don’t limit yourself to staying in SF.

      1. Sam,

        You need to fly to Hawaii. Little samurai would love it so much even if he doesn’t remember it. I have been fortunate to take my son every year (now 3) and he loves it. We paid for extra seat when he was younger than two. Direct from SF in 5 hrs. Plus… think of it as a business expense for real estate purposes.


    1. So agree. Our three year olds been all over the place. Before two they travel free. It’s about teaching them how to travel and the places us adults want to go that are still kids acceptable. Ie Disney’s our but Germany, France, Hawaii, and the Caribbean have all worked well.

  27. Oh man, cob webs might appear now that I can finally open my wallet :) I’d question this one: “If you’ve been renting since 2010 when you could have bought, then you need to go run a marathon and think about what went wrong” – I sold my paid off house a few years ago, investing the proceeds, in favor of renting a condo in an amazing location for my wife and I. The equity gains from selling the house have exceeded all rent payments and our standard of living has significantly improved. Oh, and we are planning on running a marathon too! I’m looking forward to the challenge and see if I can actually find experiences worth spending on!

  28. Great idea Sam. I like the conditions you’ve set for participation. Happily, I can say I hit well over the required 5. However, having just quit to pursue FIRE in August, spending more in September would be a real challenge for me. Maybe I’ll put it on hold until next year…

  29. Hahaha. I like it Sam. I missed requirements 8 and 16. I can check the other boxes. Based on the cumulative calculation, it looks like I can spend up to 45% of my after-tax income?

    That would be absolutely painful. Your idea of toro sashimi sounds pretty good. My better half is a foodie. While I usually spring for designer ramen at $10 – 13$ per bowl, she’d totally be down with living it up this month.

    She brought up dim sum this weekend. I guess it’s a start. Will Saturday be the official cheat month going forward or are you planning on moving it around?

  30. I love the idea. My default mode is being cheap and I need to blow off the steam once in a while. Having a designated month to do that sounds good. I got 11 of those FS conditions. September is going to be a high spend month already.

    $5,000 to my dad – he wants to buy a piece of land in Thailand and needs a little extra cash.
    $250 to get new glasses for my mom
    $200 for Mrs. RB40 to visit her mom
    Now, I need to figure out what to spend on myself and Jr. I’m way overdue for a massage.

  31. What a great idea Sam. Much like dieting where you have a cheat day so you don’t restrict yourself so much that you are likely to quit, a cheat financial month accomplishes the same thing.

    After saving so much, I know a lot of readers, including myself, are going to have problems spending as we are natural savers at heart. That Toro tuna belly sounds amazing. That is one thing that I have no issues spending money on is food experiences. My favorite are those sushi chef tasting dinners that have multiple amazing courses of items I would have not likely tried on my own. It can get pretty pricey pretty quickly (I think the most I have gone for was around $250/person) but it is so worth it because even now I can fondly remember the experience.

    Sounds like you have your cheat month planned out pretty nicely.

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