The Privilege Of Pursuing Financial Independence

Achieving early retirement isn’t something everyone can do. I wish I could say that if everyone would just save a little more, and live a bit farther below their means, and avoid buying an SUV, they’d be able to quit their jobs and live the life they crave. But that’s not the reality. There’s structural privilege inherent in our ability to pursue financial independence at a young age.

Mr. & Mrs. FW gussied up

Mr. & Mrs. FW gussied up. Yes, I’m wearing garage sale pearls and a thrift store dress.

Mr. Frugalwoods and I have made a lot of amazing financial choices, but the game is rigged. We were put in a position from birth to make these wise decisions and it’s not because we’re naturally brilliant people. Our financial advantages are the products of our socioeconomic status, our education levels, and most of all, the benefits we both had while growing up.

I don’t buy the argument that if people would just save more money, they wouldn’t be poor. I don’t think that everyone who’s poor is poor because they’ve made bad decisions. Just as Mr. FW and I aren’t successful only because we’ve made good decisions, people aren’t unsuccessful simply because they’ve made a few bad decisions.

Yes, I believe in personal responsibility. And I believe that everyone should take control of their own finances and not blame their parents, the government, or their employer for every problem they face. However, I can’t deny the privilege that’s intrinsic in charting the financial path Mr. FW and I have.

I write Frugalwoods fully cognizant of how incredibly fortunate Mr. FW and I are, and always have been. And yes, I do sometimes feel ill at ease about the fact that many folks will never be able to acquire the level of wealth that we currently have and don’t even need to spend.

Our privilege stems from so many different sources that I feel it’s appropriate, and honest, to acknowledge what those sources are.

Advantaged From Birth

Mr. FW and I were both raised by parents with college degrees. Both of our mothers are registered nurses and Mr. FW’s mom also has a teaching degree, my father has a PhD, and Mr. FW’s dad has an MA. Thus, we were reared in educated households with lots of books. We both heard upwards of the 30,000 words per day that experts have divined is a fairly accurate predictor of a child’s achievement in life.

There's never been a shortage of books in our homes

There’s never been a shortage of books in our homes

Our parents taught us to read, write, think creatively, question, and pursue our passions. Sure, we both went to school, but we were already well ahead of the curve by the time we entered kindergarten. Never underestimate the power that parents have over the crucial early learning years.

We didn’t grow up in poverty. Neither of our families were wealthy, but they were solidly middle class. My family bought clothes from the thrift store, went camping for vacation, drank powdered milk, and had at-home birthday parties with frozen pizza and homemade cake. Mr. FW’s upbringing was remarkably similar to mine and his parents tell stories of pawning their TV after Mr. FW was born in order to pay bills.

But we never went hungry, we never missed gifts at Christmas, we were never teased or ridiculed for “being poor,” we never lacked health, dental or vision care, and we were able to participate in the hobbies that interested us (ballet, horseback riding, boy scouts, band, choir, speech and debate… and the list goes on). We certainly don’t have trust funds or inheritances, but we were lucky little kiddos.

Frugal Hound: always a bridesmaid

Frugal Hound: always a bridesmaid

We had (and still have) loving, intact families. Mr. FW’s parents have been married for 34 years and mine for 47. The solid foundation of love, trust, faith in God, and respect that both of our parents built for their three children (Mr. FW and I each have 2 siblings) has served us well. My sister and her husband have been married for 14 years, my brother and his wife for 13, and Mr. FW and I for 6.

Mr. FW’s siblings aren’t married yet (good thing too since the youngest is 18 😉 ), but I’m sure they’ll both choose lifelong partners when the time comes. There’s nothing wrong with divorce and sometimes it’s absolutely the best option for everyone involved. I merely want to share why I think the background of married parents set Mr. FW and I in the right direction.

We both grew up with superb examples of loving marriages. Our parents modeled that for us every single day and we in turn brought those lessons to bear in our own relationship. While I know that many people overcome horrendous backgrounds to accomplish great things, Mr. FW and I didn’t have to fight those battles.

Yep, we're quite vanilla

Yep, we’re quite vanilla

We are white. Mr. Frugalwoods and I are what you might call racially vanilla. We’re both of European descent and we have a bland, English last name (it’s not actually Frugalwoods, although that would be freaking awesome), bland English first names too come to think of it, bland Caucasian faces and bland brown hair and blue/green eyes (yes, people have asked if we’re siblings).

I share this because I realize that, thanks to our race, we’ve never had to endure racism or prejudiced judgements about our ethnicity, our names, or our backgrounds. It’s not fair, it’s not right, and it doesn’t make me comfortable. But it’s the truth. We’ve never experienced discrimination first hand, but it’s a horrific thing many people do endure, often to the detriment of their employment and educational opportunities.

Smart Decisions We’ve Made Thanks To Our Privilege

Yes, we’ve made savvy decisions to put ourselves in the position to reach financial independence by age 33, but our elite backgrounds set us up to make those informed choices.

We’re smart and we went to college. Due to our parents, and very likely our genes, Mr. FW and I are smart cookies. We excelled in high school and college and never grappled with a learning disability or lack of access to resources, tutors, or stellar teachers. We both have BAs (from an inexpensive state school) and I have an MA. This fact alone launches us into a higher earning category than many other people in the world.

I'm glad I married this guy

I’m glad I married this guy

We married the right person. While this is a decision we made of our own free will, it was informed by our socioeconomic status and our parents’ fruitful marriages. In light of the educations we both received, we were able to select a partner of equal intellect and financial earning power. Plus, we chose each other in part because we have the same financial viewpoint and similar values and aspirations.

Marrying a partner who supports you, encourages you, challenges you, loves you, respects you–and is your equal in all things–gives you a stunningly powerful position in life. Also, none of this “leader of the family” nonsense. One of us doesn’t “lead” the other, we walk through life side by side and make respectful, joint decisions about our future. As a result, we’re both 100% on board with our financial plans, homestead goals, and general life philosophies.

On the Franconia Ridge summit

We have a $0 entertainment budget, yet we get views like this.

We’ve never been in debt (other than our mortgage). Here again is a situation that’s a combination of luck, privilege, and judicious decision-making. While we both attended an inexpensive state school for undergrad, our parents were able to help us pay for it. I tell my parents to this day how deeply grateful I am that they enabled me to emerge from school debt-free, which set me far above my peers after graduation.

Mr. FW and I have subsequently made careful decisions to stay out of consumer debt and live well below our means. I was able to work full-time at the university where I earned my MA in order to receive free tuition. But, the origin of our debt-free lifestyle traces its roots to our stable, non-poverty ridden childhoods and our decision to marry the right person.

We have high-paying jobs. While this alone isn’t a predictor of financial health, or the ability to achieve financial independence at a young age, it sure does help. Yes, we’re extreme frugal weirdos and yes, we save 71% of our incomes every year and yes, minus our mortgage we spent $13,000 in all of 2014. But, we recognize how fortunate we are to be able to do this.

Lots of people work much harder, longer hours than we do for vastly less money. They might live just as frugally as we do–forgoing cable, restaurants, haircuts, and cars newer than 19 years old–but they won’t be able to save at the high rate we do. I never lose sight of the other side of the frugality equation: earnings. You’ve got to make something in order to save it. We don’t make investment banker salaries, but we don’t make peanuts either. And for this, we’re thankful.

For the record, I'd prefer not to be bathed

For the record, I’d prefer not to be bathed

We’re healthy. Mr. FW and I are healthy and darn happy about it. Neither of us has a chronic illness, nor do we take prescription medications on a regular basis. This yields rewards in two ways: it costs less to be healthy and, our health enables us to work hard both at our jobs and at home by insourcing just about everything.

We’re able to do our own home improvements, cook our own meals, shovel our own snow, clean our own home, bathe our own Frugal Hound, and more–all of which saves us money. I don’t take doing these things for granted because plenty of people struggle to complete the rudimentary tasks that comprise an independent life.

I'm thankful to be healthy enough to do yoga

I’m thankful to be healthy enough to do yoga

We started young. Since we married young (at 24), Mr. FW and I were able to grow up together and devise our financial approach as a team. We didn’t have to spend money on dating throughout our 20s in order to meet a partner and neither of us had the chance to make any major financial mistakes before we got married. We created a super frugal yet fun life, which at first simply sustained us and kept us out of debt, and then yielded ever-higher savings rates as our salaries increased.

We’ve waited to have children. Delaying parenthood has been a calculated financial choice for us. Children are amazing, and amazingly expensive. I fully recognize that not everyone in the world has the luxury to plan their families and many women are forced into motherhood before they’re fully adults themselves. And for some couples, a baby arrives as a surprise.

Trust me, their parenting needs improvement

Trust me, their parenting needs improvement

Since we live in a first world country with access to health education and preventative care, Mr. FW and I thoughtfully made the conscious and considered choice to delay kids until we were financially stable and emotionally mature. People can be excellent parents at any age, but I think I would’ve been a terrible mother at age 24. I wasn’t mature enough and our marriage was nascent and not yet the secure fortress it is now.

In addition to the financial benefits of waiting to procreate, we’re setting our future children up for the same trajectory of affluence our parents did. As older parents, we’ll be more educated, mature, patient, and giving (both financially and emotionally) to our children–or so I hope! There are many young parents who do these things beautifully, but I don’t think I would’ve been one of them.

But Can’t Everyone Control Their Own Life?

There’s a lot you can control about your finances. You can choose to live below your means, to exist simply and avoid the carousel of consumerism, to track your expenses, and make every purchase a conscious decision.

But there’s a lot you cannot control about your finances. You can’t always control having a dual or single income household, when or if you’ll have a health crisis, a catastrophic home repair, or an unexpected job loss. These are all reasons to have a well-stocked emergency fund. However, one of these crises could devastate a standard emergency fund whereas for us, it would likely be a mere blip in our cash flow.

Frugal Hound might look down her nose at you, but we won't

Frugal Hound might look down her nose at you, but we won’t

Given the fundamentally unique nature of everyone’s personal financial journey, I don’t believe in judging people for their money missteps. Sure, I like to give advice when solicited (and sometimes when I’m not…) and yes, I think plenty of folks throw money away on a regular basis, but I’m not quick to judge them.

I don’t know their story and I don’t know why they’re struggling or spending above their means or in poverty or on food stamps. Who am I to say I know best? I’ve been incredibly advantaged and I know nothing of the grinding cycles of poverty that families get trapped in. I don’t make fun of people who are poor, I don’t judge them, and I don’t tell them to get a job.

For all I know, they already work three minimum wage jobs and can barely afford food and clothes for their kids. For all I know, they suffer from an untreated mental illness compounded by years of undernourishing food and the absence of a safe, warm place to sleep. For all I know, they didn’t have loving parents, encouraging teachers, and a supportive spouse to motivate them to stay in school or guide them in their pursuit of a more lucrative career.

Plus, judging people makes you bitter and pits you against the world. It’s a negative and demoralizing way to look at society. When you judge others, you’re only poisoning your own thoughts. They probably don’t even know you’re judging them–only you are internalizing the harmful vibes of your judgment.

Transcending Your Past

Acknowledging privilege isn’t a license to be defeatist. It’s not an excuse to simply give up and stop trying to improve your finances. Just because a person didn’t have an ideal childhood doesn’t mean they can’t become a better version of themselves. It’s not impossible to reach financial independence on a small and/or single income and it’s not impossible to transcend debt or a rough upbringing.

Our homestead goal is a luxury

Our homestead goal is a luxury

I think that through sheer determination, people can work their way into the life they want. But I also think it’s important to acknowledge how lucky we–and others like us–are on our journeys to financial independence and early retirement. It’s a luxury to have these goals and it’s a blessing to attain them.

Our lives are an amalgamation of our experiences and I think the elements of our past shape the people we become. I don’t know how Mr. Frugalwoods and I would’ve turned out had any one of the factors I listed been missing from our life stories. Perhaps we’d be just fine, but, I kind of doubt it. I’m not ashamed of the lives we’ve led and I’m not ashamed of our financial successes, but I am acutely aware of how uniquely fortunate we are.

Has privilege played a role in your life? Do you think anyone can achieve financial independence?

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208 Responses

  1. Christine says:

    Thank you for your honest and great writing. Being a black person, I deal with racism. But, my upbringing (single parent household), determination and ambition has helped me in the road to striving for FI. I don’t blame others, I change my attitude. The world may not be a fair place but life goes on. My white boyfriend & I are loving to each other and live simple frugal lives. Ethnicity, childhood does not define me. I’m unique and I create my own journey. Keep up the good work, I enjoy reading your blog. From Australia

    • I love your statement Christine, “Ethnicity, childhood does not define me. I’m unique and I create my own journey.” – so true.

      • I’m Indian (not of the Native variety) and thus face some of the hurdles but likely not as much as you have. My parents had to work fast food while I was growing up but that just instills work ethic. Your upbringing has so much to do with how you fare in life as Mrs. FW mentioned.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      That’s absolutely awesome, Christine. I love that you’ve forged your own path and this is beyond powerful: “I don’t blame others, I change my attitude.” Thank you for sharing, I really appreciate it.

    • Christeen says:

      The internet still amazes me sometimes. Another Aussie Christine reading the same blog written in America. Love your attitude Christine. Do you think that frugal living and striving for FI is starting to gain a foothold in Australia? I tell friends and family that we are getting serious about building a FI future and that means some changes in our spending now and I get looks like I’ve grown two heads.

  2. Nicola says:

    I absolutely love this post. We are in a similar position in terms of privilege as you are; me and my husband both have loving, supportive families and have never known financial difficulties such as not enough food or heating. I think that being born into a certain path makes the journey easier, straight from the offset.

  3. paige says:

    This is a great read. I grew up and am in the same ‘privledged’ group as yourselves. I’ve always considered myself lucky to have grown up in a house full of books and been thoroughly encouraged to pursue higher education. My fiancee grew up in a single parent household, has experiences with racism and never pursued post-secondary education. Our approaches to most decision making is very different, but, thankfully, we usually end up at the same conclusion.

    Thank you for this post.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      That’s very interesting that you and your fiance arrive at the same conclusion through a different process–I feel like that’s such a learning process in a relationship. Thank you for reading!

  4. Cheryl says:

    Thank you for this honest look at your lives and acknowledging the hard truth that everyone being equal does not equate to equal opportunities for all. We have two young kids and we are constantly wondering about “nature vs nurture” as we see them grow and develop their personalities and preferences. I think everyone has the potential to overcome difficult circumstances, but not everyone has the opportunity or support to do so.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Well said–equality definitely doesn’t mean equal opportunities. Nature vs. nurture is absolutely an element to this as well and I can imagine that weighs on one’s mind as a parent. Thank you for reading and sharing.

  5. Thanks for your honesty Mrs. FW. Looking back, Mrs. FR and I have had similar privilege. My parents divorced while I was in high school and I had debt to pay off, but aside from that I’d say we’ve both led relatively privileged lives especially in comparison to what others have faced. I believe that if you work hard enough and are committed enough to what you want that it is possible to reach somewhere close to where you want, but so much of the equation is also what you’re born into and what socioeconomic status you’re surrounded by. I also think it can be easy to forget that in comparison to other places around the world that we have so much more which does provide a ton of opportunity…but again luck is at work in creating something out of that opportunity. 🙂

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      That’s a great point about our good fortune as Americans–I forgot to mention that :). And, I agree, it’s all a balance of luck and hard work. I appreciate your thoughts.

  6. Mrs SSC says:

    Thanks! That was great! Mr SSC and I often feel guilty for how fortunate we are… and we have to remind ourselves we worked hard to get here. Granted I grew up in a situation more like you and Mr FW, but Mr SSC grew up quite poor. One of our biggest hurdles in getting to FIRE has been Mr SSC’s background, filled with debt, bad financial decisions, and even fear of quitting our jobs and running into some bad luck that will put our kids in a poor situation like he had to endure. I think it is great to reflect on and appreciate some of the circumstances that led us to where we are today – but no matter who we are and where we came from, a good portion of it still has to do with hard work!

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      That’s really interesting how Mr. SSC’s background has impacted your FIRE goal. I too feel guilty sometimes for our good luck, but like you said, it’s a combination of fortune and hard work. You definitely have the frugality dialed in, which is absolutely a testament to your own hard work. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  7. Amy says:

    My husband and I both grew up in white, middle class families. While neither of us have any sort of college degree, we make healthy salaries that allows us the privilege of doing the things we love and saving for the future. I know that the money we have allows us to make better decisions, but I also know that making better decisions has allowed us to have more money. My husband has a sister that has lived the complete opposite as he has even though they both grew up in the same household. Debt, divorce, several children out of wedlock, payday loans, title loans, theft, eviction…you name it, she has done it. And continues to do it. So here lies the question of….which is more powerful…Nature or Nurture?

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      I think you’ve brought up a great point–nature vs. nurture absolutely plays into this discussion. That’s awesome that you and your husband have done so well and made good financial choices. Like you said, it absolutely becomes a cycle whereby money enables good decisions which enables money… etc. Likewise, the cycle sadly works in the opposite direction, as evidenced with your sister-in-law. Thank you for sharing these thoughts, I appreciate it.

  8. I definitely feel as though I had a privileged path in life that has led to where I am now. My sister taught for 4 years at a Teach for America school and she said that it was difficult to figure out how to motivate students to read Romeo and Juliet when they didn’t know if they would eat dinner that night and that the school breakfast and lunch programs were sometimes the only meals those kids had. It definitely puts your life and opportunities in perspective.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Absolutely puts things in perspective. I am so keenly aware of how fortunate I am just to know where I’m sleeping and what I’m eating every day. That’s wonderful that your sister did TFA–awesome!

  9. Julia says:

    Thank you for this compassionate and thoughtful post. My husband and I share many of the privileges you list, although we grew up slightly lower on the middle-class scale. Only one of us has the degree and experience to make good wages (more than enough, but nothing spectacular), and over the years of our marriage, we have valued time together over making money.

    Which means we will likely never reach FI or early retirement, but we enjoyed working part-time jobs while our kids were small so that we could spend plenty of time with them in those years. Now my husband works full-time while I am home full-time for our school-aged kids. We live frugally and funnel just over half our income to paying off our mortgage early so we can work less than full-time again in about four years.

    So, in answer to your question, I don’t think financial independence is reachable for everyone, but there is a continuum between early retirement and working 40+ hours per week all your adult life until you reach 65. And privilege at least partly influences where you fall on that continuum.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Wonderful point about the continuum of full-time work to financial independence. I definitely agree that it’s not a concrete distinction. There are so many different ways to create a life that’s fulfilling and meaningful. I love that you’ve valued time together over money–nothing could be more important. Also, congrats on living so frugally!

  10. Hubs and I often talk about the fact that our parents and grandparents are all still married. (If they are still with us.) All of our examples for marriage are to stick with it and when things get hard to pull together rather than push apart. Our financial models were quite different but both good. One of the reasons we decided for me to stay home was because of the value that Hubs saw from growing up with a stay home mom. We make sure to count our blessings every day. Both of our parents taught us how to creatively solve problems.
    I would like to think that financial independence is possible for everyone but I do not think that it is a reality for everyone. Intelligence plays such a role in decision making and problem solving. Not being able to solve problems or learn the information necessary to solve problems results in paying for services so others can help solve problems. Being able to teach ourselves how to do things like home/car repairs and manage money would be detrimental to our success.
    Great post!!!

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Those examples of a loving marriage are so powerful! Same goes with good financial examples! It’s a wonderful thing to grow up surrounded by those positive reinforcements.

  11. I have realized that I had a somewhat privileged path in life but I chose to fall into the trap of consumerism and to not save money. Now, I am spending the time to dig out from those poor choices. I now know just how fortunate that I am to be able to make better financial choices unlike some who have a harder time. This post really spoke to me so thank you so much.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      That’s awesome that you’re making those choices now–it’s not easy to change the way you view money, so congrats! And, I agree, there’s a certain amount of privilege simply in the ability to make wise decisions. Thanks for reading!

  12. Sarah says:

    Ok this is officially my favorite post ever 🙂 Thank you for your honesty! I can relate to an extent, for sure. My dad has always been great with money and taught me the value of a dollar from a young age. He has always saved first, then paid his bills and then enjoyed his earnings. Interestingly about my dad is he comes from a low-income home with divorced parents and is the oldest of 6 kids. Every single one of his siblings (and himself) are engineers. They all learned from their past and chose to live life differently.

    Without getting into too much detail, though, I do believe that your childhood and past STRONGLY shapes who you are today. While my dad is an “exception,” most people live similarly to how they were brought up. Your post was incredibly inspiring for me to be a better mom, thank you for that 🙂

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Thank you so much–glad you enjoyed it! Sounds like your dad really found a way to succeed despite the odds. And it’s wonderful that he passed along good money wisdom to you!

    • Mysticaltyger says:

      One thing that seems a constant is that IT’S ALMOST ALWAYS THE ENGINEERS who seem to have a relatively easy time handling money. They seem to understand the difference between need vs. want and they really don’t care what other people think.

  13. Mr. 1500 says:

    My story was in many ways, the opposite of yours. My father was frequently laid off from his job in construction. To my knowledge, we were never on public assistance, but we probably weren’t very far away from it. My parents weren’t very good with finances either which had a lot to do with the lack of money.. The most striking example is when they inherited $400,000 when I was in college and somehow managed to spend it all in a couple years with nothing to show for it but an unreliable convertible..The worst part was the alcoholism though. I have no idea how my dad didn’t end up in jail more frequently or kill someone. It was really horrible.

    However, all of the bad examples were powerful lessons that made me hungry. Even at a young age, I remember telling myself that I’d be a better person. While no one in even my extended family had gone to college, I knew it was my way to a better life. I went and graduated magna cum laude (biology and chemistry baby!). I worked my ass in my career and was able to earn a healthy income in a short amount of time. I also saved my ass off. None of this lifestyle inflation crap, living check-to-check stuff that I saw as a child.

    While my family may not have set me up for success, I’m thankful to have been born in a place that presents opportunity for those that work their butts off.

    Your post reminds me a bit of the famous Buffett quote in which he talks about winning the Ovarian Lottery. You and the Mr. clearly won that one. Combine that with being born in the Land of Opportunity and you’d have to try NOT to succeed!

    “I’m not ashamed of the lives we’ve led and I’m not ashamed of our financial successes, but I am acutely aware of how uniquely fortunate we are.”

    Beautiful!

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Wow–your story is inspiring. Thank you for sharing it. The alcoholism is absolutely heart-wrenching and I’m so sorry you had to endure that. I’m in awe of people who do transcend their backgrounds and chart an entirely different, and successful, life. Seriously, that’s awesome.

      And, you make a great point about being born in the US–there are so many opportunities available to us here that just don’t exist in some parts of the world. I think you’re right that Mr. FW and I would have to try harder not to succeed!

  14. Frugal_canuck says:

    Very well written article and a concept that is often sorely missed with the FI crowd. I’ve found the tone of the mmm forum to bend towards the philosophy of us vs them and I think you captured the fact that many people who make poor financial decisions are not starting on equally solid footing since financial decisions always have an emotional element to them. Keep up the great work and I would also add that the concept of Early FI is a very positive one to help those around us as you encourage minimalism, and hopefully are able to free up traditional work positions so that others are able to take on your job after you’ve left rather than sticking in them for 35-40 years as past generations have done.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Thank you so much, I appreciate your kind words. I agree that it’s something we don’t talk about enough in the FIRE community. And, good point about freeing up jobs for others post-early retirement–that’s very true!

  15. I feel like there is a sweet spot of privilege for achieving financial independence. If your parents are TOO wealthy, then you don’t have a good frugal example. My parents took us camping for vacation, did their own household and furniture repairs (my mother can reupholster things), made some of our clothes (including formal dresses), etc., and spoke often about avoiding consumer debt. My millionaire-next-door grandparents (and what an example that was–they had become wealthy by just not spending their modest incomes) sometimes chipped in for special activities, like the year I went to Space Camp. We were quite blue collar when I was very small (my father was an auto mechanic and my mother worked in a men’s store), then in later years my mother finished her college degree and started teaching and my father was promoted, and we gained a more solid footing in the middle class. (My parents today are quite comfortably off, able to spring for some nice vacations and my mom’s first brand-new car since 1973.) So I had the benefits of at least one educated parent, good middle-class schools full of mostly middle-class kids, plus a strong example of frugality.

    Mr. FP, on the other hand, was raised by a hardworking single mom with a GED. She kept him in a good school district, but he had no example of the benefits of long-term stability or delayed gratification, so he’s had to teach those to himself. If I was raised right in the sweet spot for financial independence, he was raised a bit below it!

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Very interesting point! I think your theory makes perfect sense. Having too much or too little rarely works out well. Sounds like your parents and grandparents were amazing frugal role models–how awesome! I’d be curious to know, do you find that the differences in your upbringings cause you and Mr. FP to approach your finances from different perspectives?

  16. It definitely helps coming from a middle class family. I’ve seen the advantages versus the disadvantages of coming from a lower income class. But what I’ve realized is that most of the time is the difference of accessing knowledge. Even though I came from an low income immigrant family, I think the fact that I loved reading and would always check out books from the public library really enabled me in my development. Reading is so important. Reading helps you develop critical thinking skills and those skills will help you evaluate life. It simply opens up your mind to new possibilities.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      You’re so right–accessing knowledge is vital. That’s wonderful that you were a reader and made the public library your friend! It really is the best way to learn. Thank you for sharing!

  17. I believe it is all relative. While some people may have a “head start” in their financial goals, I don’t use that as a crutch or to have pity for myself. At the same time I know people will always have it worse. There is always someone out there that will have a bigger head start, or bigger hurdle to cross than yourself, and just putting that into perspective helps me take 100% responsibility for my personal financial future.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      That’s true–there usually will be someone in front of and behind you, in all things really. Keeping that perspective is definitely a good strategy, and, I find it’s motivating to me. Thank you for your thoughts.

  18. We are definitely privileged but also take advantage of the privileges. Middle class family and very little debt (I had 25k in student loans which we paid off in under 2 years). Now we’re saving a good amount, but less than we could have if we waited to have our daughter. She’s kinda cool though, so no regrets there. It’s good to check your assumptions about others though. Just because something was easy for you, it’s not for everyone else. Great stuff!

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Taking advantage of privileges and opportunities is absolutely key! It’s definitely a two part equation. And, so true that not everyone finds the same things to be straightforward and/or easy. Thanks for sharing!

  19. Lucky and smart indeed! I have no doubt having good role models and a good upbringing not only gave you advantages, but more importantly it set YOU up to make good decisions about your life. I had a bit of a mix. I never wanted for anything financially, but had a a very rocky home life. But it taught me to be fiercely independent…maybe to a fault? Not sure, because you deal with the cards you are dealt. Still, I have no regrets and resentments and feel like a very lucky human. I was around several examples of people choosing to make some bad decisions for themselves this past week and it make me feel very grateful for my life, even with it’s financial challenges.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      It’s so difficult to watch other people make bad choices–ugh, not fun. But, hey, it’s good that it had the side benefit of making you feel grateful. I love that you have no regrets or resentments–that’s an awesome way to go through life!

  20. Thank you for this post. One of my favorites by far. As a Puerto Rican woman, with an accent and dark skin who grew up in one of the poorest city in PA till last year I have experienced racism is out there. Heck my white husband’s family is still having a hard time accepting me after 2 children. It hurts like crazy when someone treats you like this because of your background, they way you look etc. That being said, my family was poor, we hardly had any food at home, but with hard work my parents made sure we did the right thing. I had goals and I had dreams that I have been accomplishing on my own. If I sit here and blame others I wouldn’t of be where I am right now. I wouldn’t be married to my husband. If you don’t like me because of the way I look, your problem not mine and I’m going to keep on going. Great post.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Inspiring words, Joyce. Wow! Thank you for sharing. That’s awesome that you’ve created the life you wanted and are accomplishing your dreams!

  21. Amy says:

    I love this incredibly well-written, insightful, and honest post about society! We are all shaped by our backgrounds and forces outside our control, yet we also make our own choices. This combination informs most – if not all – of our life experiences.

    Like you, I’m white, healthy, educated, and was born to educated parents. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, and have managed to incur other debts along the way, the fact that my parents paid for the entirety of my private college education was a huge gift.

    And now as the parent of a young child, I’m keenly aware of how the choices I make about things like reading, new experiences, and even feeding well-balanced meals, will give my daughter a strong foundation for life.

  22. CBuggle says:

    This is a great read and I’m glad that you have taken the time to acknowledge the role that privilege plays in how one’s life trajectory unfolds. It’s interesting- I grew up in a divorced family that was fraught with alcoholism, mental illness, and abuse, but I still feel privileged. Despite the challenges, my family was very committed to education and we got generous doses of words per day just like you did which I feel might be THE thing that kept me afloat. I see adults who have had the same disadvantages I had who struggle in life because they simply lack the ability to say how they feel, and communicate effectively with healthy people in personal relationship as well as in professional environments.

    My journey to frugal living and financial success/independence is very different from yours. I only recently emerged from a life of credit card debt, and I am far from retirement (I’m a single white female, age 32). Despite this, I feel very proud of what I’ve accomplished largely because of what it took to get me here and where I started. I had horrible relationship modeling as a child and have had a series of unhealthy relationships throughout my adulthood. I had equally terrible guidance with money. I don’t feel angry because of this, actually. I don’t even resent my friends (or you) who have had smoother starts in life. I’m just proud of what I’ve accomplished so far and I hope for the same kind of success for my siblings and friends who still struggle with finances. What really impressed me about this blog post is the acknowledgement that being poor isn’t always a result of crappy decisions. Some people are born into nearly hopeless odds that they will never break the poverty cycle. It’s an all too common tendency for those with wealth to show a lack of understanding and compassion toward those who struggle financially. It’s a complicated mess, poverty. I am an intelligent, education woman and I still managed to get into big debt (and thank God I managed to get out, too). I simply did not have the tools or awareness or information around finances that could have prevented that mistake. In a way it was almost a blessing in disguise because now I am on a journey that I may not have been on were it not for the challenges I faced.

    Anyway, I’ve rambled long enough. Thank you for this post.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      I love this: “It’s an all too common tendency for those with wealth to show a lack of understanding and compassion toward those who struggle financially.” YES! Thank you. You’ve perfectly articulated essentially why I wrote this post. It’s far too easy for me to fall into passing judgements on people when I know nothing of the struggles they face on a daily basis.

      Your outlook on life is inspiring and, frankly, awesome. Btw, congrats on getting out of debt–that’s fantastic! Thank you so much for reading and sharing.

  23. This was a great read. I agree that determination goes a long way, but I think a lot of people give complete credit to it and their hard work, without acknowledging the role of luck and privilege, and I’m so glad you addressed that. I’ve worked very hard to get where I’m at. I couldn’t have found financial security without working very hard. But I can’t deny that a great deal of it has to do with luck. And even privilege. I didn’t grow up rich, but I didn’t have to contend with the massive obstacles some folks do. In the end, though, I think it’s about determination mixed with, as you mention, focusing on what you can control. If you haven’t checked it out already, the book “Scarcity” discusses a lot of these issues. I think it’s a good read for anyone who writes about money. Anyway, refreshing post. Very refreshing!

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Thank you! Yes, I think it’s a combination of the two: hard work and privilege, which sadly isn’t always recognized. I haven’t read Scarcity, but sounds like I should–thank you for the recommendation!

  24. Norm says:

    Yes, yes, and yes. Marge and I have similar backgrounds to yours, so we were set up for success. But I woudn’t be a true northeasterner if I didn’t have white guilt!

    But no, I don’t think everyone can achieve financial independence. IN THEORY, yes. Hard work determination blah blah blah. But it makes me sick sometimes the number of barriers we put up in this country to prevent people from being successful. The problem, as I see it, is the lack of a social fabric, lack of empathy, unwillingness to understand the lives of others. Call it what you will, but here we all live under the mistaken assumption that this is a meritocracy. And more and more, we believe in the mistaken assumption that everyone can achieve everything totally on their own. But the problem is that we don’t give people the tools to do these things!

    It starts from birth. Why isn’t there a universal pre-K program for all kids? Studies show that this has a huge impact on your future learning, but only kids from families who can pay for it get this crucial education. How about college? If it were truly a level playing field, college would be free for everyone, and you would only be competing on which school to go to based on grades. But it’s not free, and parents are basically expected to pay for it on their own, or kids work their way through college. Good luck with that. Meanwhile, saving all that money for college probably means spending less time with your kids as they’re growing up, leading to even more problems.

    Healthcare? You’re expected to pay for that, also. Under a meritocracy, this wouldn’t be a concern either, and your health wouldn’t be connected to your pay. Luckily, we are just starting to move in that direction, but it’s insane that the employer is the one making most people’s healthcare decisions. Retirement? Most people used to have a pension, so that was all taken care of. Now, you have to do it on your own. The problem is that the pension rug was yanked out, and no financial education was put in to replace it. Luckily, some of us (yes, you, reader!) figure it out, but you have to admit, it isn’t something they teach in school.

    You’re expected to pay for all of these things on your own, but without the minimum wage being a living wage, and locked into the consumer price index, I don’t understand how people are supposed to be able to do it.

    • MEL810 says:

      You have incredible insight into our modern American conundrum: We are the land of opportunity yet these days we handicap anyone born without it.
      I worked for a number of years FT without health insurance and didn’t have the money (if I could get it without being turned down for my age and pre-existing conditions, which I couldn’t) to pay in excess of 1K a month premiums. HUH? I went to the free clinic. They gave me the best care possible but my health still slid downhill because I couldn’t get the specialist care I needed.
      The local state university, which even 10 years ago was affordable, is now priced out of sight of many people.
      I make more than the minimum wage and have no dependents, but because my salary is controlled by the VA General Assembly, I haven’t had a raise since 2005. And they do NOT give those raises to my previous job status, the lowly P-14. VA somehow rigged a way to work people FT hours yet never give them benefits and overtime. The ACA put a stop to that. The poor P-14s still don’t get benefits but now they are true part-timers,, working under 29 hours a week. I have nothing against part time work. There is a place and reason for PT workers but employers should not use PT in total lieu of FT benefitted workers.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Preach, Norm. Totally agree that it starts from birth. The first few years of a child’s life are absolutely pivotal developmentally. I once read a study stating that a child’s likely trajectory of success in life can be determined by the time they enter kindergarten. Kindergarten!

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

  25. Kim says:

    Background and parental support are probably the most important predictors of future success. Anyone can overcome, but it’s much easier if you never have to. My Mom’s family were dirt poor farmers, as were most of my Dad’s up until my Grandfather decided to become a dentist. I’m not sure what caused him to decide that in the 1940’s, but he always said he wanted a better life that wasn’t so hard as his upbringing. Then my Dad went to college, and so it goes. My Mom was not very educated and always made it a point that my sister and I would go to college and be able to support ourselves, and I am eternally grateful for that!

    Jim’s poor parents have made just about every financial misstep imaginable, so in a way, their hardships have made us better financially. We see what we don’t want to be in later life. We’ll get there eventually, even if we had a few fits and starts along the way.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      It’s inspiring that your grandfather charted that different path for himself–it must’ve been quite the departure from the rest of the family. That’s wonderful that your mom was so adamant about college for you.

      And, like you said, learning in reverse works too in terms of seeing what you don’t want to be. We’ve had some of those examples in our lives and it really does reinforce for us the things we do want to accomplish.

  26. Laurie says:

    Here, Here!! Beautifully done. Thank you for this contribution, Mrs. FW.

  27. Are you reading my mind? We had a conversation about privilege and finances with friends on the weekend. The four of us (almost) have all of the privilege you listed above and it really does place us in a lucky situation.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      It’s been on my mind a lot lately too, so I just wanted to get my thoughts down in words somehow :). I definitely feel like I’ve been extremely lucky!

  28. Andrea says:

    I love love love love love LOVE this post. Thank you so much for feeling this way and expressing it.

  29. Kate says:

    This was a thoughtful and sensitive post. Thanks for writing it, Mrs. Frugalwoods. May all who are working on their own journey to financial independence find peace and joy in the process. I do believe that privilege makes a difference, and that all efforts to lift yourself out of whatever muck you find yourself in should be respected.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Thank you so much for reading it and for commenting! I agree that there’s plenty of peace and joy to be found along this journey 🙂

  30. Jeff says:

    I think this is something that often goes unmentioned, so good on ya for writing about it. There are a lot of people who learn money from mistakes (others or theirs) and a lot more people who were taught and got it from the start.
    One of my favorite warren buffet quotes is when he talks about the advantage he was given early in life – He was born in a place that he didnt have to worry about food or shelter, and that had adequate markets for him to invest in. Had he been born into a war torn country or some place less stable, he probably wouldnt be where he is today.

    I had many of the same privileges you all enjoyed growing up, though didnt always take advantage of them.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      That’s a perfect Buffet quote–I definitely feel the privilege of the time and place into which I was born. Thanks so much for sharing!

  31. Wow, what a another great post. I certainly think you background/up bringing plays a major role in your own life good or bad, but it’s not something that can’t be changed or shifted if you are willing.

  32. Sounds like I had a remarkably similar upbringing as you two. I won the birth lottery (right family, right color, right country, etc) but still had to work hard to get ahead.

    My wife, in contrast, didn’t learn to speak English until age 7 when she left the refugee camp in SE Asia destined for America. She still managed to do well, graduate college then law school and achieve the American dream. If she can do it, surely anyone who is born here can too.

  33. The Roamer says:

    You truly are a great writer. Your post are usually long but they flow so well its hard to notice.
    That is so important because you really couldn’t have done this topic justice with a short post.

    Yes privileged does have a role. I was talking about it the other day though I was focusing on education. How its much more difficult to break out of a history of lack of education.

    I didn’t have all the privileges you had , I have and recognize that I have to break out of things that were instilled in me growing up. But I did have advantaged and those did help.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Thank you! I was worried this one might be too long, but I just couldn’t shorten it :). So, I appreciate your kind words about it!

      I agree-I think it’s extremely tough to transcend a background devoid of educational opportunities. I frankly can’t imagine my life without education.

  34. Lauren says:

    A rare topic in the pf blogosphere! Thank you for writing about it and acknowledging the role of privilege. It seems to be lost on so many others.

  35. Kara says:

    Man, y’all two kill it with this blog. I love this post! I’m writing a similar one about my own privilege. I have it in spades, though my experience is different than yours. I really admire you two, your lifestyle and your philosophy. Recognizing privilege can be uncomfortable but it’s so necessary to changing the unfair dynamics. Definitely something that deserves attention and you delivered perfectly!

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Thank you so much, Kara! I agree that it’s important to recognize the advantages we’ve had because it’s just not an even playing field. Many thanks for your kind words and thoughts!

  36. Fig says:

    Love this post because it’s something so many people ignore, especially in the personal finance blog world. It’s always “just do what i do and you’ll have the same successful results!” But that isn’t always the case and sometimes isn’t possible. Privilege is real and it’s something that definitely helps a lot of us achieve these large goals like financial independence.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Thank you! Agreed–privilege is absolutely real and it plays a legitimate role in our success. Thank you for reading!

  37. Felix Money says:

    Great post! I’ve enjoyed it so much.
    My story is different than yours, I am an immigrant, came to America when I was 21. Although I’m white, I do have an accent that gets noticed right away, and although most people are very welcoming, I did encounter some negative misconceptions about immigrants. I come from a broken family, with parents who divorced right after my birth. Mom never remarried, and I was raised by my grandparents. We were poor, but the whole country was very poor, so the concept of FI never existed. My only plans for the future would have been to get a good education and try to make a few hundreds of dollars per month, enough to live modestly and maybe save a little. But never achieve FI.
    Coming to America meant years of adapting, starting from 0 with no support, losing my education prospects, and working lower end jobs to make ends meet. Still, I was making and saving more money than I could have ever done with even a PhD back home. Finally, I met my spouse and now have the family support I need, and am happy to say that I am confident in our future.
    Everybody living in America is privileged, and you might not realize that until you live in a poor country. I am looking forward to being a business owner, and I think even with a combined income of as little as $50,000/year, we could live comfortable lives.
    Anyway, this post has stirred up a lot of opinions in me, and I often think about this topic of success, what it really means, and how privilege plays a role….

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Thank you for sharing your experiences, that’s really powerful. You’ve overcome a lot to get where you are today–congrats to you. I definitely feel extremely fortunate to have been born in the US and you’re 100% correct that there’s privilege just in the very place you’re born. I’m so happy to hear that you’re feeling confident about your future–that’s a wonderful thing.

  38. I do think anyone can achieve financial independence. My hubby is an example of that. His dad died when he was eight and his mom turned to alcohol. Life was pretty rough for him and he knew he wanted more and worked super hard for it. Sometimes, being in super tough situations, give us the determination to change our outcome.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      That’s wonderful that your husband was able to overcome a difficult past–congrats to him for his hard work! I think it’s inspiring when people do take inspiration from bad circumstances and turn their lives around. Thanks for sharing!

  39. Preach! I wrote a post on class and privilege a while back and I know it’s not as simple as “work harder and save more”. If it were, we’d all be rich. I am definitely privileged in some ways — I’m white and college educated and my parents are together. There has been some generational poverty and a scarcity mindset that has been passed down. I also had to pay for all my college, which I feel has seriously set me back (though it was my decision to go to NYU, an expensive school). I find that privilege is glaringly missing from most PF posts, so I appreciate you bringing it to the table.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Thank you! I agree–the “work harder, save more” trope just doesn’t hold true in all circumstances. This concept of privilege has been weighing on my mind, so I’m glad I was able to share it.

  40. ThriftyD says:

    Excellent piece. One of my favorites from you so far (as difficult as it is to rank them). I grew up with similar privilege. I grew up in a comfortable, loving, middle class environment. Both of my parents were well-educated and stressed the importance of hard work and education. We never went without. They were both very socially conscious people who had a strong sense of community, helping others, and working for social causes.

    However, on the downside of this comfy middle class lifestyle and contrary to my parents’ social/community views, I grew up around and went to school with a lot of kids whose families had the old “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” mentality. I went to a moderately expensive parochial school and most of my peers’ families (peers, not close friends) had much higher incomes than my family. They lived comfortably way out in the far suburbs/next county over and thought ill of anyone who did not look, dress, live, practice the same religion, etc as them. I chose a core group of friends in high school who shared similar values as my family and me but I had a lot of repressed disdain for many others in my class. I would never dare to express my political or social views or challenge one of the other kids’ positions otherwise I would have been gotten caught up in pointless, trolling arguments.

    Needless to say when I went off to college I formed some good friendships with like-minded, respectful people who were more empathetic and understanding of people who aren’t just like them.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Thank you, ThriftyD, I appreciate that.

      You raise an interesting perspective–that of witnessing what sounds like great affluence. I’ve never had much personal experience with it since I went to all public schools and we always lived in solidly middle class neighborhoods, but, I think there are levels of wealth that isolate people from the daily struggles people of lesser means face.

      And, I agree with you, there’s a lot of grace in empathizing with and understanding people who aren’t identical to you. Thank you, as always, for sharing your thoughts.

  41. Such a candid post. You tackle the subject better than I have.

    There’s a paradox in all of this. We can’t help where we came from…but we don’t have to end up like the people we grew up around. We can’t help what our parents did or did not do…but then we can embrace it or overcome it. We can’t help who we are…but then later, we can.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Thank you so much. I’m a big fan of yours, so I really appreciate that :). It’s definitely a paradox and can be something of a chicken-and-egg debate as well I think. Safe to say it’s a balance of the things we’re given and the things we work for.

  42. MandalayVA says:

    Excellent post. Although I was brought up in a middle-class home thanks to both good and bad life choices I’ve experienced literally every economic level from on-the-streets poverty to soirees at a yacht club. Sometimes I’ll overhear someone sneering because a poor person is smoking or drinking or doing drugs or eating fast food instead of spending money more wisely, I think back to those spirit-crushing days of living in a welfare motel and working at Walmart when that small bottle of cheap vodka brought me some respite. You take pleasure any way you can get it because it’s rare when you’re poor. I live a very good life now, but I still keep my journals from what I call the Dark Days so I can remember when having ten bucks in my wallet made me feel rich, and the memories from those days help me make the best financial decisions possible.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Oh wow–you really have experienced the gamut! Thank you for sharing your perspective. I think it’s so easy for us to judge people when we know nothing of their story or their background. You make a great point about the scarcity of pleasure for people who are in poverty–so true and something that I should remind myself of. Congrats to you for overcoming your dark days and creating an awesome life for yourself. No small feat.

  43. Tarynkay says:

    I would love to see guest posts from your parents regarding raising such financially savvy children!

    This is such an excellent and insightful piece. In answer to your questions: 1) yes, privilege has played an enormous role in my life. I had a similar upbringing to what you describe and I have definitely seen the effects of that in my life. 2) No, I do not believe that absolutely anyone can achieve FI. There are many reasons for this, and some of them can be overcome and some cannot. Included in my personal knapsack of privileges is good mental health. I didn’t do anything to earn this or deserve this. My younger brother does not have this- he has a number of mental health issues that have crippled his ability to achieve. Even though we have the same parents, grew up in the same house, come from the same gene pool, and share most of the same privileges, that one piece of mental health is sadly lacking in his case and that has made all of the difference.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      I should ask our parents if they’ll be interviewed! Thank you for the idea :).

      Mental health is a good point and a true gift to those of us blessed with it. Thank you for bringing that up.

  44. Catherine says:

    Totally agree. Though I can relate to most points- my mom is a pharmacist, brilliant woman who could have done anything so post secondary was important. She was frugal because she had to – single parent. She made terrible financial and personal decisions (like not taking care of her house, spending money on stuff she didn’t need just because it was on sale…the lisf goes on). I had to unlearn a lot of this and teach myself most of the financial base I know today. Unfortunately this took me until about 26 to get facts straight. Again zero blame on my upbringing (though some things deserve an apology). Because of my education and strong people in mu life I was able to make conscious decisions and forge my own path.
    Great post 🙂

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      That’s awesome that you were able to forge your own path and create the life you want to live. Sounds like your upbringing was almost a lesson in how you don’t want your life to be, which is probably valuable in and of itself. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences.

  45. I just have to say, you really are a fantastic writer. While it seems that y’all did have an upbringing that set you both up for success, you had to reach out and take it. There are many others in your situation who are content to not work hard, not to sacrifice, and not work towards building a future. There is a lot to be said for taking control of your finances and setting aggressive financial goals – no matter how you were raised.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Thank you so much, Brian. That’s very kind of you to say. And, I agree, it’s certainly a blend of both the advantages we were given coupled with our hard work. Thank you for reading and sharing!

  46. I grew up in a smart household that expected me to go to college. Like you, I’m white, so I’ve never experienced racial discrimination. My education and middle-class upbringing left me well-spoken (most days), a good writer and smart (again, most days). During tough times, my mom provided support. Those things are huge, and I truly don’t think I’d be where I am today without those.

    But I also ended up with chronic fatigue when I was 19, plus PTSD from the illness that gave it to me. It also took years to get me diagnosed as bipolar II. So I spent a long time undermedicated and struggling to function.

    The man I fell in love with also has chronic illnesses, and I had to change his views about money pretty radically. His main illness caused him to go on disability. Another issue (severe calcium deficiency) meant $8,000 of oral surgery plus dentures. And we had to pay off about $20,000 of student loans.

    Because of our issues, we aren’t able to do our own home repairs, which adds up fast on a late-1960s house. We also don’t make much from scratch. Because of bad luck, we’ve had to buy (used) cars twice in the last 5 years. And my husband needs to get full-mouth implants this year, which will run about $25,000.

    So I’m a mix of privilege and some of the uncontrollable factors that you alluded to. But for all of the impediments I have, I am doing well because of so many inherent advantages. So important to remember.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      You’ve really gone through a lot! I can’t imagine how difficult it must’ve been for you to navigate all of that. But, it’s wonderful that you and your husband are charting your own path together. I love your positive attitude–very inspiring. Thank you for sharing your experiences, I appreciate that.

  47. MEL810 says:

    Wonderful. honest, compassionate post!
    I was just reading another financial blogger the other day that contends we are only ‘poor because we want to be.”
    That made me ad as a hornet! While there are slackers out there that repeatedly cause their own financial grief (My partner’s brother would be one of those people. He’s a real f***up)) many, if not most people are not that way.
    The people I have met that had the most self-caused debt grief were middle-class types trying to live a consumeristic lifestyle and keep up with the non-existent Jones. I’ve also met rich kids who pissed their inheritance off through drug use and living a Paris Hilton lifestyle.
    But I have also met people whose retirement nest egg vanished in the 2008 meltdown, people with huge medical expenses and no insurance and people with huge student loans.
    I and you can not overstate what coming from a stable family does to aid one’s future! I work in the social services (not a high paying gig but I get by) and every study every done points to intact families as the key to upward mobility.
    I know this from personal experience. Even though I am Caucasian (I’ve done the DNA & Mr. & Mrs. FW, I am 65% British! LOL!) I don’t have any of the other marks of privilege other than a decent education (but no degree). I am lucky to be an autodidact who is self-taught in many areas. I do well in interviews.
    However, I came from a broken home with an adulterous, abusive father that refused to pay child support once my parents separated. My mother was a depressive, My father refused to buy my clothes and pay my medical bills. One year I had only one dress to wear (summer and winter) because my dad ‘punished’me by refusing to buy me new clothes. (the buy no clothes for a year thing would be painful for me coming from that scenario!) He let my teeth rot.
    This is why I decided not to have kids. I didn’t want kids to grow up in an unstable, impoverished environment. I just didn’t have the role models to be a good parent. Now that I am older, I realize I might have been a good mom but now I am too old to be one. I have thought of doing respite foster care, especially after I retire.
    I am now far from that background and am proud that I made it out alive and doing reasonably well. I don’t use it as an excuse to slack off. But I do understand how hard it is to feel good about yourself when you start out at the bottom and how hard it can be to climb out of it and thrive. Not everyone has my resourcefulness and intelligence. I credit that and my faith in God with my current success.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Ooo yeah, the “poor because you want to be” mindset rubs me the wrong way as well. Like you said, sure there are irresponsible people, but there are also plenty of folks who are trying very hard NOT to be poor!

      This is what I’ve read and believe as well: “every study done points to intact families as the key to upward mobility.” Thank you for sharing that!

      I’m so sorry to hear about your childhood. It’s awesome that you’ve completely overcome those circumstances and created a great life for yourself. Thank you for reading and sharing your experiences.

    • mysticaltyger says:

      Thank you for the point about stable, two parent families. I think this is one of the biggest advantages kids can have. But until recently, those who pointed out that having kids out of wedlock was a disaster were regularly skewered in the media and pop culture. I am old enough to remember the Murphy Brown episide that mocked Dan Quayle for saying as much back in the early 1990s.

      • MEL810 says:

        I’m from the gen that just didn’t dare ‘get into trouble.’ Although I acknowledge that some stable people come from single parent families, especially those who have extended families and friends who can help out, starting a family without a spouse or partner is a handicap for that family. Starting a family when you are financially shaky is just as much a handicap, even with two parents. We can predict what future personal and financial problems might come up, but we can control our present actions, which help our future be more stable. Having a baby when you are single, too young and too poor is not good for you or the child.
        That Murphy Brown comment always rankled me. It’s easy for wealthy Hollywood types to hire nannies, etc. to help them raise a kid. But the Hollywood set in general (there are exceptions) don’t have the best track record for family and personal stability despite all their acclaim and wealth! Nuff said!
        I do give exceptions to older stable women whose bio clock is about to expire. But hey, instead of having a baby, why not foster or adopt one of the many kids who need ANY parent?

  48. Mrs FI says:

    What a lovely written and compassionate post! This is the part about reaching FIRE that Mr. FI and I tend to forget about. Between trying to stay on budget and thinking how hard it is some months to reach our goals, I often don’t think about how fortunate we are to have these first-world (or perhaps “higher-class” is more appropriate here) problems. Thank you for sending out this much-needed reminder and bringing privileged minds like ours back to a more thankful perspective.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Thank you so much, Mrs. FI! I appreciate your kind words. I definitely have to remind myself that my problems are first-world–it’s so easy to slip into forgetting about how lucky I am. And, I agree with you, it’s easy to get caught up in our FIRE strategies!

  49. Andrew says:

    Love the white guilt…

  50. Michelle says:

    Immensely enjoyed this! I too come from a privileged background that has afforded me some steps ahead of others. Sadly I caught the shopping bug and married the wrong man who was not financially minded. We’ll just call him an enabler.
    Crap happens but it’s how you pick yourself back up and stay tenacious towards conquering your misgivings.
    And that is why I’m rewriting my past and working to create a better future for myself 🙂

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Thank you, Michelle! I love that you’re rewriting your past and looking toward the future–that’s an inspiring way to be :)!

  51. Isabelle says:

    Great post. I find that very few people realize how privileged we are, how we were lucky to be born here in families that valued education. Thank you for also mentioning the ‘white’ factor. It certainly is a plus, even though it shouldn’t be. Very few people admit that.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Thank you, Isabelle. I wanted to acknowledge the privileges I have in my life and I’m heartened to hear I’m not alone in feeling this way.

  52. Mrs. PoP says:

    Funnily Mr PoP and I were just reflecting on this on Saturday evening. (Privilege is an appropos topic for post Valentine’s Day dinner, no?) My childhood wasn’t idyllic and much of my family still struggles financially, so I’ve got one narrative in my head. But then I’ll be biking home from work and it’ll start to rain and several commuters will pull over and say something like, “I see you every day riding, but hate to see you bike in the rain. Do you want a ride?” I always say no, but I’m also sure that while they’re pulling over and asking the young blonde girl in proper biking gear riding in the posh neighborhoods if she wants a ride, they’re probably not pulling over and asking the (mostly Mexican) day laborers wearing jeans and grungy shirts from working all day riding their bikes home to less well-off neighborhoods if they want rides. And that difference doesn’t always sit well with me.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Sounds like you two had a very similar Valentine’s Day conversation as Mr. FW and me ;).Your bike experience is an interesting one and I imagine you’re correct in your assumptions. I’ve had similar experiences of strangers offering to help me, which I’ve always assumed is attributable to the characteristics you mentioned.

  53. JD says:

    Another thoughtful and well written article that I appreciated reading. I did not come from a family that even had a high school education and most definitely do understand the fine art and accomplishment of those that have. It is indeed a blessing and a privilege not to be enjoyed by all.

    After saying that I would add we all are accountable for how well we manage in our lives whether large or small. Hugs to frugal hound, beard muffler or not!

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Very true! It’s absolutely a blend of the two–privilege (or lack thereof) and personal responsibility. Glad you enjoyed the post, thank you for reading! And, Frugal Hound thanks you for the hug (she’s a very huggable dog) ;).

  54. 3E says:

    I enjoy this post very much. I’m your avid reader from Hong Kong.

  55. Jeremy says:

    My childhood experience was much different. I was born when my Mom was 16, we never had money ever, I have no idea who my biological father is. I grew up on government cheese and free school lunches. Sometimes in the winter the whole family would sleep together in the living room to stay warm. I was the first child in our extended family to go to college, paid for with debt.

    But… I was born in the right country. Even poverty in the US is luxurious living for much of the world. We had clean water. I wasn’t malnourished. I had a roof over my head. I could take a bus to school. My Mom would read to us everyday, and take us to a library with FREE books! And the economic system rewards hard work

    I consider myself to be one of the most privileged people ever born, and feel grateful for it daily

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Wow! You have an incredible story–thank you for sharing it. You’re a testament to the power of determination and hard work. And, what a great point you make about being born in the US. That’s absolutely an advantage. I love your mindset of feeling like one of the most privileged people ever born–that’s a wonderful way to go through life!

  56. Becca says:

    Great post, and such an important topic. I know that I wouldn’t be on the track I’m on today if it weren’t for the advantages given to me by my birth and upbringing, and the occasional setbacks that also came along. Being raised in a household where finances were part of the discussion from a young age if nothing else taught me that everything has a monetary value, and that no matter how “comfortable” I perceived us to be, at a point we’d have to trade some comforts/luxuries for others. I think this has really made a huge impact on the way I think about my own financial choices – what do I want most, what do I need, what am I willing to give up or go without for a while to get there?

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Hearing about finances from a young age is a wonderful thing. I’m grateful to my parents for doing the same and I think that’s definitely a great advantage. Thanks so much for reading and sharing!

  57. That’s the way to go, Frugalwoods. I’d like to focus on the educational attainment. I very much agree that education attainment can make or break out financial independence. It’s good to know that you have an MA, but I wonder how you did it because I know you’re very busy having side hustles. That being said, congratulations Frugalwoods. Have a plan pursuing PhD?

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      I think education is absolutely crucial and I’m very grateful for all the opportunities I’ve had in that regard. I actually did my MA while I was working full-time at the university in order to receive free tuition. It was pretty hectic, but well worth it! No plans for a PhD 🙂

  58. Reflecting on privilege is good, but I firmly believe that ‘more can but do not than wish they could but cannot’. On the global scale, most poor people in America are still fantastically rich. It’s a failure of education and/or the success of the advertising/consumer culture that keeps many poor.

    Yes, I won (to some degree) the ovarian lottery, but both myself and one of my brothers had kids very young. He and his wife were 23. My wife and I were 21 and 22. We were well and truly (American) poor for the first few years. He’s taken the more mainstream frugal route, but he’s ridiculously successful now. They now have 7 kids and a somewhat palatial house. The Alchemist and I are frugal weirdos, but despite having 3 kids in quick succession and an income that’s only just now crested the median we should be FI by 40.

    It’s good to express gratitude for what you’ve been given, but I tend to focus on how much of it is universal, and can be achieved by anyone regardless of circumstance 🙂

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      You’re truly a testament to the power of frugality. I think it’s awesome that you’re on track for FI in 10 years.

      And, I agree that we’re uniquely wealthy and fortunate here in the US–I just think I’ve been given so many advantages and I want to acknowledge and be grateful for them. Thank you, as always, for your insights.

  59. I come from an upper middle class, highly educated family. Broken home, but still, lightyears ahead on the advantages.

  60. I come from a distinctly working class background, however I’m not from the USA and idealistic as it may seem my country is more egalitarian. Your financial background doesn’t dictate your future in such a big way. We have national free healthcare and everyone can access interest free student loans so going to university is a possibility for everyone.

    I went to school with some kids who didn’t have shoes because their parents couldn’t afford them and some kids whose parents owned massive companies. It was a real socio economic mix.

    My mum went back to school to get her nursing degree in her forties so she could become an RN (she was an Enrolled nurse before that) and the pay rise from that made a big difference in our lives. She is my inspiration. Now that I have travelled the world and seen how rich we really were relative to a lot of people on earth I feel privileged to have grown up with a roof over my head and food on the table. But as a child I was ashamed of how poor we were.

  61. Sabrina says:

    We did not start in the same good position as you, but we are doing our best in order to achieve a better financial position. Many thanks to you and to your blog!!!

  62. Great post Mrs FW! There are a great many parallels in here with my life, except getting married young! It can be difficult to admit that middle class status and other factors really set people up to succeed. Either way, it is up to you to either take advantage of that head start or not. I know a great many people that are drowning in debt and oblivous to why it happened.

    I try to help people with their credit, budget, or retirement planning with no preconceived notion of their circumstances or how they got there. I just want to help and share my knowledge! If they are interested in retiring early like I am great, if not I can deal with that as well.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Thank you! It’s true–you do have to take advantage of the opportunities you’re presented with. Success is certainly a multi-part endeavor. Thanks so much for reading!

  63. That was refreshingly honest. I look so forward to your homesteading posts. I wish the three of you (and the little FW’s to come) a bright, happy, and successful future. 🙂

  64. Even Steven says:

    Do you think anyone can achieve financial independence? I might be the answer to that question, I mean I was loaded with student loans, car payments, credit card debt, personal loan, started with a low paying job, etc and we are looking at July 2020 for financial independence. It’s like losing weight for people, it can be done, but you have to have a plan and make sacrifices, you can’t do it eating junk food and blaming others.

  65. Henry says:

    The journey to financial independence can be a lonely one. Having a partner makes it much easier. What you guys are doing is really awesome and inspiring. Keep at it! Cheers.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      I think that’s very true. I’m grateful every day for Mr. FW’s partnership on this journey. Thank you so much for reading!

  66. Tawcan says:

    It’s awesome that you guys found each other. You can say the same for me and Mrs. T.

    Good idea on delaying having kids. I can’t imagine myself having a kid when I was in my 20s. Now I’m in my 30s I’m more mature to be a dad. 😀

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      It’s a wonderful thing to be married to your best friend, isn’t it :). I can’t imagine me with a kid in my early 20s either… I think I would’ve been a disaster!

  67. Jessica says:

    Thank you for such an honest and thought provoking post. I grew up in what I’d call a lower middle class family in a poor state (Kentucky). My dad was a blue collar laborer and my mom was a nurse. Even though we didn’t have a lot of money, I never went without. I think my parents probably sacrificed some of their goals to make my childhood comfortable, which it was. I saw lots of other people who were much worse off than we were, so even then I knew I was lucky.

    Other than my mom’s Associate’s degree, I am the first person in my family to complete college and go on to obtain a professional degree. That means I had to pay for that education myself, which resulted in about $85k in debt that I’m currently repaying. It looks as though my parents are both going to have to work much longer than they would like, and that’s motivated me to be proactive with eliminating debt and saving for retirement. I never really had to face any difficult challenges, but I know to appreciate what I have and to work to make smart financial decisions.

    I’m not sure if everyone can reach financial independence because some have to contend with many factors outside of their control, but I do believe that with hard work and sacrifice everyone can reach a comfortable position with their lives.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      I think it’s great that you’ve taken inspiration from your parents and decided to have a proactive approach to your own finances. And, it’s awesome that you were the first person in your family to finish college. I think you’re right–hard work and sacrifice can yield amazing things.

  68. I appreciate you mentioning that your high income comes into play. While high income DOES come from work, it does come from a little bit of luck and your personal situation. If you can have a high income it becomes much easier to have a higher savings rate. I can’t say thank you enough for making that point! I know people who are grinding like crazy working 2 (or more) jobs but are doing so in lower-paying jobs. In particular I know a single mother of 3 who works 2 jobs and honestly it’s really difficult to get a good education ON TOP of working and taking care of your kids. Yes, there are choices that impacted where she’s at but it doesn’t change the fact it’s very difficult for her to break out of that situation to a higher income – and, ideally – a higher savings rate.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Totally agree. It’s just not possible to save a lot when you don’t make a lot. You’ve got to have something to work with in order to make it tenable. I feel for the single mom you mention–that’s a tough life and I’m sure she works much harder than I do.

  69. Yes, I do believe so. Education plays an important role and usually, those who are privileged are the ones that prioritize education. We should be grateful and give back because we’re the lucky ones.

  70. It sounds like you both are also very humble and grateful for the advantages you enjoyed.

    But as you know those advantage could have and from my experience are more often then not squandered. I grew up in a very different family setting then you and most people tell me that I am the exception to the rule.

    And maybe I am biased because I broke away from the pack and beat the statistics. I grew up with drug addict parents. We were on welfare and bought groceries with food stamps. Neither of my parents completed high school. My brothers and I slept on the floor of my grandmothers two bedroom apartment (that the floor without any sort of mattress).

    I remember adults telling me as a kid that statistically I would end up on drugs and probably in prison like my dad one day. But somehow I broke away.

    I may not had been as lucky as some to come from such a wonderful family upbringing (really it sounds amazing). But I was determined to do better than my parents. But I will also be the first to admit that it was not with out help of some really awesome mentors and stand in parents (parents of friends).

    Until recently I had always believed that everyone has the same opportunity and that the playing field was level. But looking back I was just lucky to find people that cared enough to guide me through a difficult situation. My life could had ended up way different if it weren’t for this man Dan who owned a Pizza place, where I would hang out and fold boxes for free pizza and soda, that took me in under his wing. He even made me bring him progress reports when I was in middle school I went from having a GPA of 1.33 to being a 4.0 student because someone cared.

    I eventually even went on to live with he and his family for a year. Then my grandparents (on my dads side) took me in shortly after. The short story is that I went to live with my dad and brothers, and three months later he was put in prison for meth labs. My grandfather was a great role model. He was a decerated soldier that served 20+ years in the Marine core and retired a Major. He was a POW for 5.5 years in Vietnam. He was also a successful business man.

    I was lucky to have in in my life as I entered high school. Between Dan and his family and my grandfather they help shape and mold me into the person I am today.

    Like the Frugualwoods, I went off to college, before this my grandfather was the only one in the family with a degree (well actually his daughter, my aunt also had one). This opened up a lot of doors and increased my earning potential exponentially.

    Anyways, just wanted to say thanks for sharing. Made me think about how lucky I was but in a completely different way. There are some really amazing people out there.

    Cheers!

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      You really did break away–that’s awesome! Congrats to you for charting a different path for your life.

      I think your experience with your GPA increasing because someone cared is such a telling thing. You were able to create your own adult role model/mentor, which I imagine not all kids in your situation are able to do. You have an inspiring story–thank you for sharing.

  71. mysticaltyger says:

    Yes, I hate to admit it but I do think privilege has played a significant role in my solid net worth for my age. I grew up in a stable, two parent family who stressed the importance of saving and avoiding debt. I didn’t realize not everyone had those values.

    I don’t think anyone can achieve financial independence. But I do think many more people can achieve financial independence than currently do. I’d say at least 50% of the population could achieve financial independence by age 65 if they really wanted to. By that, I mean accumulate enough assets that they could get reasonably close to their current lifestyle without the need of Social Security, employer sponsored pensions, or an inheritance. And I think 50% is a conservative estimate.

    At the same time, some people really aren’t capable of achieving this. There are some people who are retarded or are otherwise just not smart enough or emotionally equipped to achieve this.

    I’ll also say I think being gay really worked against me. I somehow picked up that certain professions were less gay friendly than others from the time I was young. It turns out many of the gay friendly ones don’t pay as much (a coincidence? Heh, I think not). So despite my being in a lower paying profession than I might otherwise be in, I have made the most of it.

    One other important factor in all of this is I definitely believe that frugality is, at least in part, a genetically inherited trait. Certain Myers-Briggs personality types (notably INTJ, ISTJ, INTP) are much more likely to retire early than others. Most engineers and computer programmers fall into one of these (usually INTJ). And the PF blogosphere is dominated by engineers and computer programmers. I don’t think this is a coincidence. My sister has a net worth that’s a fraction of mine, despite the fact that she’s two years older and has always out-earned me by a pretty wide margin. I think personality type, while not the whole story, definitely plays a role in our vastly differing levels of wealth.

    I really think the biggest single factor in achieving more wealth and income equality in this country is to start admitting the devastating effects that out of wedlock births and divorce have on kids. Yes, I know sometimes a single parent family is the least bad option. But when you have 40% of children today in America being born into single parent families from the outset, that is not a prescription for a strong middle class.

    I appreciate your well balanced post. You admit that privilege has had a major positive impact on your life while not letting those from less privileged backgrounds use it as an excuse to fail. That’s a tough balancing act.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Thank you for these thoughts. I really appreciate you sharing your perspective as a person who is gay. I should have included the inherent privilege of being heterosexual, which is another one that I wish with all my heart weren’t true.

      I agree with you on the Myers-Briggs types. My theory is that efficiency is actually the trait, which can manifest itself as frugality (as in, the most efficient use of resources, etc). But, I could be wrong. Interestingly, I’m about the farthest thing possible from an engineer/computer programmer, but I’m extremely efficiency-oriented, which is essentially what guides our frugal lifestyle. And, Mr. FW is a software engineer.

      Thank you so much for reading and for taking the time to share your insights. I appreciate it.

      • Mysticaltyger says:

        You’re welcome for the thoughts. And yes, I do agree efficiency is the trait. People who get a kick out of being efficient are good at saving money. It turns out most humans don’t like being efficient, which puzzles and frustrates those of us who are efficiency oriented. The gay thing cuts both ways. If you’re gay you may end up in a lower paying job (less true for the younger folks today, more true for my generation, Gen X, and older). But on the plus side, gays don’t have to worry about raising kids, having kids “by accident” etc. And lets face it, kids are demanding in terms of time and money. Yet at the same time there are tons of gay men with kids from heterosexual marriages. This was another area where being an INTJ was an advantage for me. I didn’t care what other people though, so I came out of the closet young, at 18. It took me until my 30s to start realizing that it took most gay men of my generation a lot longer to work through the coming out process. I was basically a generation ahead of my time without realizing it.

        I also see that despite the financial advantage of not having to raise kids, I don’t see that most gay men I know are any better off than their heterosexual counterparts. The money just gets spent on different stuff.

        • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

          “The money just gets spent on different stuff”–I think that’s true in so many different instances. It’s always easy to find ways to spend money.

          Congrats to you for coming out so young. That’s awesome.

          • mysticaltyger says:

            Yep, I have seen it over and over…Kids can actually give some people a kick in the pants toward thinking about the future. You start thinking about your kids’ futures, and it spills over into thinking about your own. When you don’t have kids, you often don’t get that kick in the pants until it’s too late to do much about it.

            Thanks for the compliment. Just like you admit you had a certain amount of privilege that helped you get to where you are, I think I had some on the gay front as well such as:

            –Educated, middle/upper middle class parents. An environment of reading helps in a lot of different areas, not just financial ones. Educated folks tend to be more tolerant on the gay issue than the uneducated. My parents were pretty conservative, but not uber conservative, and they’re educated….it makes a difference. They did kind of freak out at first, but I knew they’d come around. Not so for many other people.

            –My parents encouraged us to be fiercely independent (sometimes too much so) and to not follow the crowd. This helped with both money issues as well as my coming out process.

            –Eh, let’s just say I’m not the most butch guy on the block. I was made fun of from elementary school on. It did some damage, but it also helped. The guys who can pass for straight are more likely to stay closeted for longer and then get into hetero marriages with kids (and then make a mess by getting divorced down the ling…UGGH). I never passed for straight so I didn’t have the luxury of hiding.

            –INTJ personality type. Generally brutally honest and just doesn’t like doing stuff that goes against internal sense of integrity. I thought it was self evident that pretending to be straight would be a complete and utter failure (and it is). Where I was wrong is that I assumed everyone else would see this, too. I had no clue how delusional people can be! (Eh, but I discovered along the way I had some of my own delusions about things that were rudely popped. Ouch!)

            So, as you said about your financial position, you had to put in some hard work, and character was involved. But there was definitely some luck there as well. When I was younger, I used to think my coming out process was mostly due to my own character. Now, I know better. Sure, my own personal integrity played an important role, but it most definitely was not 100%.

            Thanks for reading my rambling posts.

  72. Meredith says:

    I’ve been reading FW for a few months now – I’m a 29 year old married lady looking to get herself & her husband in good financial order, so your blog is inspirational! I really appreciate this post; it’s rare to see personal finance bloggers admit and reflect on their privilege, which accounts for so much of our daily lives. Thanks for it! 🙂

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Thank you so much for reading and for saying hi! Nice to meet you, Meredith! I appreciate your kind words. Frugal on :)!

  73. Brittany says:

    Wow, incredible post. You fairly summed a reality that makes a lot of people uncomfortable. My best friend once hurt me very deeply by her comment that she just “smarter” than me by not taking out any student loans, and that’s why she was in a better financial situation. I had to very *patiently* explain to her that 1) the vast majority of Americans don’t have a trust account, like she does; 2) most of us do not have a fully-funded college account set up by their grandparents; 3) most of us don’t have our debit card directly linked to their parent’s account; and 4) most of us do not have stock returns in the tens of thousands set up by our parents when we are still teenagers. She was shocked; she honestly had no clue how privileged she was. I think a lot of these viewpoints are results of unintentional ignorance.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Thank you, Brittany. I think you’re right about unintentional ignorance. My parents taught us to recognize how fortunate we were and would take us to volunteer at soup kitchens and shelters, which helped me to form my beliefs. If families can afford to fund their kids like your friend’s family, that’s great, but, I think it comes with the responsibility to also educate your kids on how lucky they are. Thank you for reading and commenting–I appreciate it.

  74. Thank you. This is something that doesn’t get said enough in the PF blogosphere.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      You are most welcome, I appreciate that. I really wanted to share this, so I’m glad to hear you enjoyed it.

  75. Frugalwoods,

    This is by far the best post you guys have ever written. The amount of truth is just uncanny.
    95% of the reasons why I’ve gotten to where I am now are based on pure luck or external forces outside my control. I think it’s important to remember that, even when you celebrate achieving another life goal.

    Love the humble tone!
    NMW

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Thank you so much, NMW! That’s very kind of you. We feel that we’ve lived very fortunate, charmed lives and it just seems unfair not to acknowledge that fact.

  76. Chonce says:

    Very honest and thought provoking post! I agree, sometimes in the PF blogosphere it seems as if becoming financially stable is a simple black and white process, but privilege definitely comes into play. I wouldn’t consider myself as privileged as some, but I definitely grew up with some privileges that made me into who I am today.

    My parents grew up in the inner city and didn’t go to college. Growing up we moved around a lot but my mother always fought to keep my sisters and me in the suburbs and at good schools so we could get a good education. My older sister, me, and my cousin made family history by being the first people to graduate college in our family. I took on a small amount of debt but I’m in a good job and in a position to pay it off, learn more about personal finance and teach my son to do the same and offer him some of the privileges I didn’t have.

    But some people aren’t as lucky to have realized this or had the opportunities I had. I’ve seen plenty of people stuck in the cycle of poverty, unable to do better for themselves and earn more, and some even don’t want to do better or can’t see a better future. My main point with this super long comment is that my family taught me that even if you’re not as privileged as others someone has to start changing things around and passing it on so people no longer have to be victims of their circumstances, what ever they may be.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Well said. Thank you for sharing that. I love your attitude of taking charge and charting the life you want to live.

  77. Anyone can be debt free, no matter what their background. I grew up dirt poor, but had a mother who worked 80+ hours a week. It’s all a matter of the values that are taught to you.

  78. Kayla says:

    I loved your story-like bullet list of causes to your current situation. It’s nice to compare it to mine, and makes me grateful that I could be in a worse place. Sure, I have a ton of student debt, but I can only move forward, right? Sometimes I focus only on my personal cons and poor-comings, instead of what I’ve got going for me: I’ve educated myself about finance even though I made some poor decisions in the past, I don’t live beyond my means anymore and am not accumulating more debt, I have a like-minded significant other when it comes to money and lifestyle wants, etc. Hopefully, as time goes on it will all add up and be a grand financial future!

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Sounds like you have a wonderfully positive outlook, which is such a crucial part of success. That’s awesome!

  79. Heather Booth says:

    Thank you for this! It is rare for anyone to acknowledge that poor people are not just poor because they have made bad decisions. Another way to see that this has to be true is to think about the millions of dollars spent every year by corporations and people like the Koch brothers to influence elections, kill regulations, etc. They wouldn’t spend that money if it didn’t work. They’re not stupid. So the basic rules of the game, so to speak, are set up so that money flows away from those who can’t pay to write the laws towards those who can.

    Also it’s very expensive to be poor. Many poor neighborhoods have more expensive groceries. If you don’t have an emergency fund, then when something happens, you may have to do something that is more expensive than it should be. And there are lots of companies (and individuals) preying on poor people who are not savvy about finances or who are so desperate that they have no choice.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      These are great points, Heather. Thank you for adding them to the discussion. It’s very easy for those of us in a stable financial position to overlook or underestimate how incredibly difficult and expensive it is to be poor. Nothing (or very little) is in your favor when you’re in that situation. You’re right, the system is not fair.

  80. Thank you for your post. This is something that is not spoken about enough on blogs like this. We can only make the most of what we’re given…but what we’re given matters a good deal.

  81. I love the knitted beard for the dog! I recently got a yarn kit as a gift, and I have absolutely no idea how to use it.

  82. ShireFolk says:

    I can appreciate that if you grew up “privileged”, this might be a world view that makes sense. However, I respectfully submit that identifying FI as largely attributed to being white, or from a traditional family unit, is a corrosive idea, actually the opposite of compassionate. Its appears compassionate and empathetic at first glance, but in fact it perpetuates the unproductive notion that the deck is stacked against everyone other than white males from Martha’s Vineyard. It feels to me too much weight has been given to the uncontrollable and not enough to the controllable. This leaves people who are not “privileged” lacking hope and with a skewed view of their own capabilities. At 16 I was homeless and below the poverty line, living with a mentally ill mother on the streets. I made a conscious choice not to accept that fate. I’m 36 now and, only to emphasize the point, I will share that I’m in the top 3% of American earners. I don’t say that to boast, quite the opposite. I did not have parents, I do not have a high IQ, I’ve never step foot on an ivy league campus, and I have bipolar disorder. There is nothing exceptional about me; yet here I am. The world gives way to those who choose to impose their will upon it. No privilege necessary, nothing is given, all must be taken. I can see you are a kind and warm person, hard working and diligent, so I mean no offense with this critique and particularly respect what you had to say about lack of judgment, there is definitely too much of that going on. Just consider one thing: if we tell someone a large portion of their fate was already decided before they took their first step, we have stripped them of their freedom, made them slaves to circumstance.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      You make great points and I really appreciate you sharing your perspective and experiences. There are certainly all types of people pursuing FI and I’d never want to imply that it’s a closed option to people who aren’t from a privileged background–only that they’re likely to have more obstacles to overcome.

      I am very cognizant of how fortunate I am and also how unaware I am of the struggles that many people endure. I’d also point out that while I was raised “privileged,” I’m not male and my family couldn’t even afford to visit Martha’s Vineyard :). We were very solidly middle class and rarely took any vacations that didn’t involve car camping :).

      I think it’s awesome that you’ve transcended your upbringing and created your own success. Thank you for commenting!

      • ShireFolk says:

        You are an exceptionally talented writer. Yours is my favorite of the FI blogs, has the most personality. My wife and I also live in MA, Hopkinton. And we have a hound! An 11 year old basset, Charlie. He’s not quite as frugal as Frugalhound but we are working on it 🙂

    • Darren X says:

      ” but in fact it perpetuates the unproductive notion that the deck is stacked against everyone other than white males from Martha’s Vineyard. ”

      Well, whether this notion is “unproductive” or not, that’s the story the numbers seem to tell. Your explanation is that there’s no racism and no sexism, but rather than blacks and women just bring themselves down? You did it, so why don’t they?

      “I will share that I’m in the top 3% of American earners. ”

      Out of curiousity, what do you do? I ask because if you took a sample of 10000 homeless 16 year olds with mentally ill mothers, average IQ and bipolor disorder, your outcome is, to put it mildly, a bit of an outlier.

  83. Diana says:

    New reader here. I’ve been looking for this post for a long time- beautifully written. Usually the frugal folks just think the poor should just frugal themselves out of their situations and it will be fine. I see a surprising lack of empathy in the MMM forums around this. When I choose to not buy a snack because I don’t want to spend the money, and there is food waiting for me at home, that’s very different than not being able to because i actually don’t have the money and couldn’t spend it if i wanted to. Literally the only bone i have to pick with MMM (who i adore) is that he seems less that willing to fully acknowledge his privilege, so i’m so glad to see you recognize and honor your good fortune.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Thank you so much for this comment, Diana. Everything you said about the ERE/MMM community, and your general thoughts, are exactly why I wanted to write this post. I think it can be far to easy to overlook our privilege and cast aspersions without fully understanding just how fortunate we are to even have the ability to pursue these FI goals.

  84. fruplicity says:

    I pretty much stopped reading pf and frugality blogs because no one (that I found) wrote anything like this. Thank you so, so, so much. I finally have another blog to read again!!! So glad I found you! (via my old fav Frugal Babe).

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Many thanks for your kind words! I really appreciate you reading and commenting. I think it’s so important to acknowledge how incredibly fortunate we are to even consider the path of financial independence and I feel that it’s a central part of my writing. Thanks again :)!

  85. Darren X says:

    This was a refreshing post. Mr. Money Moustache would do well to read it.

  86. JH says:

    6 months late to the party, but I’m loving this post. It says what I’ve been thinking but haven’t been able to articulate well. I totally agree with you that no one is defined by their circumstances but that the circumstances can require a little more effort to overcome. No matter where we start, zero effort nets zero result. Listening to your podcast today made me think of something that I grew up with that I consider a “privilege” as well as those that you mentioned, and that’s attitude. Our God-given personalities play a role, to be sure, but I think one learns a lot about how to react to things from our parents and others around us. It’s an amalgamation of being optimistic, learning to problem solve, having confidence, counting blessings rather than focusing on the negative, knowing that less than perfect can still be really good, and having a “tomorrow is another day” mindset. My parents certainly modeled how to treat something negative as a speed bump rather than a brick wall and how to be resilient. Life is always going to be a roller coaster and some of us have a little steeper hills than others, but learning to enjoy the ride is something I’m privileged to have witnessed growing up. Love, love, love your blog!

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Thank you for sharing these thoughts! Attitude is certainly a key component of this journey. And, I think you’re right that our upbringings do a great deal to foster and form our personalities–for better or worse.

  87. Gracie says:

    There is a word I don’t think I’ve seen used here: expectations.

    What did my parents expect of me when I was growing up? What did I/do I expect of myself? What expectations do other people put on me that I either thoughtlessly embrace and dutifully struggle to live up to, or thoughtfully accept or reject? What expectations have been frustrated, and how have I responded to that?

    I grew up in an impoverished, abusive, neglectful environment. My parents did not expect much of me…and regularly told me so. Yes, I am Caucasian, but that did not guarantee me an easy life. I am also female which, in the era in which I grew up, put roadblocks and limits in my way.

    But I cannot describe the joy and wonder of the gradual realization that I do have the power to choose my attitude and my response to my circumstances. It is very empowering to find ways to either circumvent the walls around me, or to grow and thrive within the limitations I cannot control…..and, as the Serenity Prayer says, acquire the wisdom to know the difference.

    We don’t always get what we want in this life, and things don’t always go the way we planned (which is sometimes a good thing, because what I wanted and planned when I was young was not always, as I realize now, the better thing). But once you discard “ought to” and “shouldn’t have” from your vocabulary, you find so many, many good choices available to you.

  88. Aaron says:

    I absolutely believe anyone can achieve financial independence. I grew up in a low-middle class household at best. I remember a few years where we did our grocery shopping at the food pantry. Despite never skipping school and always studying I barely made it thru high school with a C average. State universities required a 19+ on ACT and top 50% of class. I was near 60% of my class and after 3 tries could only achieve a 18 on my ACTs. I realized college wasn’t for me so I got a factory job. I worked my way up to an income of $40-something/yr but always lived on less than $12K/yr. At age 31 I lost my job. Luckily after 10 years of LBYM I had a paid-off condo, paid off car, and low 6-figures in the bank. It wasn’t planned but I figured out I didn’t need to work full time anymore. I now(age 35) do contract work for less than 100 days/yr and that covers my expenses (<$12K/yr) while my investments grow. The point is I was raised poor and not book smart enough to go to college but I still was able to stop full time work in my early 30's and enjoy life. It can be done.

  89. Valerie says:

    Another excellent post. My boyfriend and I had vastly different upbringings (me-middle class/white/two parents; him-at times in poverty/hispanic/single mom) and it’s been so interesting looking at our differences from spending (he likes to spend as soon as he has money, something that we have since worked quite a bit on) to talking to professors when needing help (I was always taught teachers wanted to help, while his teachers and their attitudes taught him that he was on his own). As you said, privilege cannot fully explain why one person succeeds while another fails, but it certainly plays a part in our own journey and I appreciate that you acknowledge it. Again, I really enjoy reading your blog! 🙂

  90. Broken says:

    Asian Americans are often considered the model minority. But I’ve dealt with racism my whole life, even in the supposedly progressive city of San Francisco. I have no job, though I went to good schools and a good college. Like you guys, I grew up surrounded by books, with college-educated parents who cared about me. I’ve always been a reader; I’ve always been an information whore. I grew up obsessed with Jeopardy. I’m curious and fascinated by everything – different cultures, religions, art, music, etc. I stereotype a lot less than others because I have an accurate idea of different peoples and cultures from reading about them all my life.

    My Asian American peers are doing pretty well, but I’ve been unemployed for years. I have social anxiety and awkwardness. People see me as a scared, awkward loser, so they don’t want to hire me, befriend me, date me, or have anything to do with me. The discrimination and stigma against me is extreme, and not just from white people – it’s from all people, including Asians.

    You’re right that as white people, you get a lot farther with a lot less work and struggle. I’m very American culturally, but people keep thinking I’m a backwards, fresh-off-the-boat accountant. Where ever I go, I’m judged harshly and wrongly. People don’t want to interact with me or get to know me. I’m denied jobs at interviews. When people see my name, they’re more rude than if I put a fake “white” name. I’m passed up for friendships, jobs, dates, and everything else. White people are the “wanted” people in society. I’m a shy, unattractive, awkward Asian person, and people simply do not want me. They discard me, treat me rudely, and judge me much more harshly. Because I’m someone considered the bottom of the hierarchy, I suffer in all areas of life – financially, socially, occupationally, romantically, and emotionally.

  91. Tudor Eynon says:

    Really impressed with the way you admit your initial advantages; thanks for saying it. So many who are either time or money or both rich seem to be unaware or in a kind of denial about their good luck and starts.

    I followed the link from Vox. Not a topic that interests me greatly, not directly, I follow a vocation I suppose? I wish you both all the best of luck though, well done.

  92. Mindy says:

    I wish I could send this to my white, blue -eyed, upper middle class, religious, Republican Brother-in-Law who thinks ANYONE can do what he did. I think he WON’T understand how everyone does not start out on an even playing field. SO frustrating.

  93. Uber Goober says:

    Mrs FW, I cannot tell you how refreshing it is to read your blog. A friend (a frugal friend) sent me a link to your site saying “I might like it”. I do, more and more with every page I read. Me and my wife have a savings rate of 77% and we feel like fish out of water. It’s so nice to see we are not alone;)

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Thank you so much! I’m so glad you found us :). Huge congrats on your savings rate–that is absolutely amazing!! You’re in good company here :).

  94. Helen in OZ says:

    Hi Mrs FW, Yes I too am late to this party but encouraged to see that you are still keeping it going. I have been reading your blog for a few weeks now and I am finding it a source of inspiration. For example, finding it coincided with a decision I made to sort through my clothes and organize them in a better way by categories. In doing this I found, or rediscovered, many items I had bought years ago that still fitted and seemed new to me. Then I read your blog posts regarding clothes and decided that I too would not need to buy any more, ever.(Well maybe more shoes someday, but frugally of course!) Very exciting and I know it won’t be difficult to do this after considering all the points you raised. I think it’s a similar deal with whether or not FI is achievable by all. Like the person above, who said he could forgo buying a snack when he knew he had good food waiting at home, I am lucky enough to have bought lots of good clothes over the years and I have had the room to store them securely etc Here in sunny Australia I haven’t had to contend with natural disasters, war, displacement, financial crises and so on. There are parallels with most other contextual aspects of building towards FI. So many crucial components are beyond our control and vary enormously across time and place. Even though I am a female, I was able to be tertiary educated, work professionally, marry a man who understood that we are equals, plan our family, borrow money to buy property, invest in superannuation, etc. and so becoming FI for us was not difficult. All of these factors are not universal unfortunately. I think all of those factors have been more potent than childhood factors in enabling me to reach this stage. But I agree it is an interesting question and childhood experiences carry through and color our lives, and we tend to either repeat patterns or react against them more than we know. Or some mixture of the two, until we find the path that suits us best.
    Thank you for raising the topic and thank you for the blog overall. I like how you make frugality both fun and thought provoking. Growing up on a mixed farm in Australia, we grow much of our food, butchered our meat, caught fish in the river, preserved and bartered any surplus and knew we were wealthy, at least in the terms we 4 children could understand. We also enjoyed books and music and lively discussions. Our mother had been raised and educated in Sydney and knew how to foster our intelligence and creativity. Our father was from the bush (the outback?) and knew how to live with the seasons. We were rich in our freedom and hard work, even in the years when a bad season meant there were some financial constraints, perhaps no holiday in the city that summer. I think your homestead in the woods plan will be a life like that and it is the best recipe for happy children!
    And may I say, every good wish for the coming of your baby!! I hope it is a wonderful birth and the beginning of even greater happiness and awareness for you all. Please find time to keep blogging, but I will understand if you need to nest quietly for a while.
    PS. Also I am glad that you don’t blog under your real names and only post partial photos of people. Much as I would like to see baby pics I think her anonymity should be kept also.
    Helen in OZ.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Thank you so much for reading and for sharing your experiences! I think that recognizing our privilege–in its many different forms–is such a key aspect of understanding our lives and our finances. And, many thanks for your good wishes on Babywoods–we’ll be back to writing here before too long after she’s born :).

  95. I really appreciate that you took the time to write this post. Many of us do not take a step back to recognize the level of privilege we’ve had that has made our lives easier or harder to attain. Despite the privilege you recognize in yourself, I also love that this post was full of motivation for those who may be struggling to persevere regardless of their situation.

    You also read my mind when you said, “When you judge others, you’re only poisoning your own thoughts. They probably don’t even know you’re judging them–only you are internalizing the harmful vibes of your judgment.” I’ve always believed that judgment and hate are wastes of energy. And, really, if we’re so disapproving of others’ lifestyles, why aren’t we trying to help? What good does it do to silently look down on others?

    Thanks for this and all of your posts. I’m in the process of crawling out of debt to move toward financial freedom. You and the whole FW family are a constant inspiration.

  96. Cate R. says:

    I found your blog the other day after googling about how to stop spending money on eating out, and some of the things you said stuck with me. I came back to look around some more and I have to say, I am really thankful for this post. Thank you for acknowledging and admitting these things. It takes humility.

    My husband and I have been married for 8 years and have 3 young children. We are dealing with what is honestly a combination of poor choices and unfortunate life circumstances. We both come from very broken homes, abuse, neglect and in my case several years of hardcore drug addiction just to name a few aspects of our backgrounds. We are now both aiming to change our trajectory and living how we believe God wants for us. At the same time, there’s just so much lingering financial (and other) mess and uphill battle that I sometimes struggle to know what the point even is of trying.

    Things like home ownership (or even moving out of the ghetto), and debt reduction are so far out of reach that it’s really hard to not just say “Whatever”. It feels like we can’t have goals, so why not just keep getting fast food when I’m depressed and hopeless anyway.

    But I want to try. Something in me says that there’s a reason to try. It’s just so hard when it seems like any efforts we can make result in basically zero progress. And some people cannot see past their privilege and give “helpful” advice like just make more money. I wish it were that easy. And I wish it were easy to make people see that how relatively little control we have over the hand we’re dealt. But at the same time, yes, I do think that the choices we make each day going forward are crucial and that’s part of why I’m reading this blog. I haven’t completely lost hope.

    In some ways it’s easier to have black and white, all or nothing thinking. But thanks for admitting that there is such a thing as profound disadvantages, and yet it’s not a financial death sentence. Choices matter. The financial progress that my husband and I make will probably look rather unimpressive, and maybe even unnoticeable. But I don’t want us to lay down and accept defeat.

  97. BrooklynFan says:

    I adore your transparency and acknowledgement of your inherent privileges.

  98. Becca says:

    Thank you so much for this post. It is wonderful to see a frugality blogger who acknowledges that everyone might not necessarily be able to achieve the same as them if they just pull themselves up by their boot straps. This I say as a highly privileged, white grad-school student and mama, trying to live frugally to pay off student loan debt!

  99. Sherikr says:

    Well said Ms. F.

  100. Mrs.S says:

    It’s humbling when you realize what’s normal for you can be a privilege. Have you tried explaining to people that the life they have been complaining about is far comfortable than what many can even dream of. We are blessed with some of these. I believe having well educated and and stable parents is perhaps the biggest one of all.
    Though we don’t have the white privilege (which would probably shoot our earnings high) we are still have the blessing of a good bachelors, excellent language skills and experience in a highly specialized niche. We don’t earn Software engineer salaries (the bar in our country) but we earn enough to support ourselves, one set of parents and still save over 50%.
    Another one I relate to is that we have pushed having kids as well. Everyone thinks we should be hurrying along and get it over with, we simply couldn’t fathom why we would bring in a child in a situation when we didn’t feel we were on firm ground. We are getting there with the loan over and us getting settled in the new city.

    It’s awesome to see someone reaping the benefits of their wise decisions so similar to ours. 😉

  101. I love this – I feel like it is a much kinder way of saying what I would say: “Don’t complain about what you have. Move on and be grateful for the cards you were dealt.”

    It is easy to whine about the past. It takes more self-control to move forward and accept that things could be way worse.

    Two thumbs up!

  102. Post-Grad Student says:

    Whoa. I am so incredibly impressed by this post. I never leave comments, but just had to. This post is so telling, so revealing of why and how you reached your financial success, savvy and overall happiness. You two are so great. This post is just right, just correct. I am literally personally honored that you take the time to recognize that saving money does not make a person rich.

    I have no debt; I worked SO hard for no debt. I was raised with feuding, debt ridden parents with high school educations. To this day (I am now in my late twenties), I am forced to worry about how *I* will care for them financially. I have a BA and two MA’s (both fully paid for by myself/scholarship) and I have worked full/part time since I was 16. People are saying to me,” time to get married and have children, move and buy a house, take vacations, etc….” — um, what!??? Where is the money for all that going to come from? I have delayed marriage, delayed children, delayed homeownership, delayed traveling, delayed nearly everything to fully pay for my education and stay out of debt. I’m super proud to have done this as I have close friends who are vacationing literally three times a year with 200,000 dollars in school debt and others having children and buying homes with mega-debt and financing EVERYTHING. People quite literally congratulate these people, then ask what is wrong with me.

    Love you blog. Keep up the great work.

  103. Kelly says:

    My mom was a single mother of three with a high school education, my partner grew up on a farm and his father had an eighth grade education and his mother even less. I have a Ph.D. and he has an M.D. We are both very hard workers and were very good students. Neither one of us had tons of books in our house although we were both ravenous readers. I think in many ways we had an advantage over our peers because we knew how to work hard and how to manage our time (we both had jobs as soon as we were able to get them). Many people in the world do not have the opportunities we have in the US but many of us have more opportunity than we take advantage of. I was very fortunate to have opportunities but I think in our case the experience of living in poverty made us more determined, independent, and creative than our peers. Not being middle class in not always a disadvantage.

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