Smoothing Out The Happiness Curve

Babywoods and me enjoying our fine summer weather

Babywoods and me enjoying our fine summer weather

In June, Mr. Frugalwoods and I celebrated 8 years of marriage, Frugal Hound turned 7, we marked Mr. FW’s first father’s day, Babywoods hit 7 months old, and we passed the one month anniversary of moving to Vermont! All wonderful things, all reasons to celebrate… and the subtext would typically be: reasons to spend money.

I’ve discussed before that Mr. FW and I made the determination not to give gifts to each other on such occasions, but that decision is much more about our broader philosophy than it is about simply saving cash. As we hiked through our land the other day, I realized that our mentality is about smoothing out the happiness curve. Let me explain.

Spikes In Happiness, Followed By Valleys

On one extreme, gifts–or spending more generally–can be used to generate massive spikes in one’s overall contendedness levels. You buy a diamond bracelet (do people actually buy those? I have no idea, but it sounds right for this analogy) and you experience a commensurate jolt of excitement.

It’s akin to giving a kid (or me) a pile of candy corn: huge rush followed by equally huge crash. Essentially, by buying that diamond bracelet/new car/greyhound At-At costume, you’re sky rocketing your happiness graph–for the moment. The problem with this approach is that it’s impossible to sustain that level of hedonistic glee.

Rather, it’s much more likely you’ll dip back down and perhaps even feel worse for several reasons:
1) You now need to work more/harder/longer in order to pay for said purchase;

Our peonies are in bloom!

Our peonies are in bloom!

2) You will require an even greater bit of consumerism next time in order to achieve the same spike in mood, which will necessitate working even more to earn even more money so that you can buy even more stuff.

This second factor is hedonic adaptation, which I’ve analyzed previously, and which is the notion of continually upgrading our requirements for pleasure. It’s essentially lifestyle inflation for your brain.

We’re all programmed to return to a baseline mood–what I’d call our baseline happiness level. When blissful episodes in our lives occur–weddings, births, graduations, vacations and the like–we ride those thrilling moments upwards, but after the event is over, we return to our status quo emotional level.

Thus, knowing that we’re destined to spend the vast majority of our lives at our equilibrium, what I posit is–why not do everything in your power to make your baseline level a very happy one?

Hence, your happiness curve would be higher and more stable overall, sans the spikes of joy and valleys of discontent.

Road-Bump Opiates

Frugal Hound scopes out our neighbor's cows

Frugal Hound scopes out our neighbor’s cows

What I’m describing is the “avoiding the road-bump opiate” path. I have no idea how I came up with the term “road-bump opiate”–it sounds ridiculous–but what it references is anything that serves to thwart the achievement of a long-term goal. So, buying lunch out everyday would be a road-bump opiate to a goal of saving more money every month. You’re favoring a short-term pleasure (lunch out) over the long-term gains you could realize with your savings (financial freedom!).

Road-bump opiates give us little perks and spikes in our happiness graph, but they usually do nothing to significantly alter our baseline happiness level.  Lavish gifts are perfect examples of road-bump opiates.

And I’m not all high and mighty–I absolutely fall victim to road-bump opiates–the key is that I don’t do it very often and when I do, it’s not for anything super expensive. Case in point? After a somewhat harrowing trip to the Vermont RMV the other day (we transferred both cars, changed over both of our licenses, and got both cars inspected… ), I absolutely bought myself a strawberry banana smoothie to drink on the drive home. Classic example of a road-bump opiate: did nothing for my goals of health and financial wellness, but was quite tasty in the moment. 

One-off road-bump opiates are not a big deal, but if I were to start buying a smoothie every single week and then every day and then if I started requiring ever-fancier smoothies with–I don’t know–like Reece’s Pieces on top, I’d be falling victim to hedonic adaptation. And thus would commence the cycle of spending more and more money in order to keep pace with my newfound requirements for happiness.

How We Spend Our Days

Love this ancient maple in our woods

Love this ancient maple in our woods

There are myriad factors extending far beyond money that substantially impact our mood; however, something that profoundly impacts our well-being is how we spend our days. Are we stuck working a job we don’t enjoy because we need the money? Or are we pursuing a vocation/career that leaves us fulfilled and energized for the next day’s work? The difference between those two diametrically opposed camps is–quite simply and most often–money.

Granting yourself the financial freedom to quit a job you’re not passionate about to instead follow your dream of… fill in the blank: teaching yoga, training dogs, farming, starting your own business… is how you get at changing that base, root level of happiness. Money does not buy happiness–plenty of miserable wealthy people sadly demonstrate that for us–but financial freedom grants you the leeway to construct a lifestyle that keeps you at an overall happier baseline. In this way, money facilities a happier life by making you less reliant on it (yay, frugality!).

Don’t get me wrong here–Mr. FW and I aren’t deliriously elated all the time (no one is), but what we’re crafting is a life in which we delight in the simple things and aren’t dependent upon consumerism to deliver highs. It’s about being content with our daily routine. We often joke after a vacation that, yeah we had fun, but we’re ready to get back to our routine!

Evening view from our porch

Evening view from our porch

Our days aren’t filled with riding unicorns in green pastures, but they are filled with the things we find most rewarding: playing with Babywoods, hiking in our woods with Frugal Hound, eating dinner together every night, and trying to figure out how to catch a moose on camera without getting too close to said moose (so far they’ve thwarted our game camera)… you know, typical pursuits like that.

It’s Always About More Than Just Money

Our decision not to give gifts is certainly about the money we save–I’d estimate thousands over the years–but it’s much more about this life philosophy. And it’s not as though we knew this at the outset–we stumbled upon the concept after deciding to not give gifts under the auspices of saving money. But then, as so often happens with frugality, we quickly discovered the tertiary benefits that accrue with not purchasing gifts. We’re taught over and over that buying things is how we extract pleasure from our money. But in our case, it’s through not buying things that we experience greater, more lasting happiness.

How do you elevate your baseline mood? Is your happiness curve smooth or spiky?

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78 Responses

  1. Ashley says:

    Do you intend on still giving some gifts to Babywoods for birthdays and Christmas?

    • erin says:

      I am curious about this as well. We do ‘something you want, something you need, something to wear (or share), something to read’ for kids birthdays. It’s often a time to get them something we need/want to get them anyway, like a bike or shoes or tools…

    • Ann says:

      I am a book lover, lit teacher & hub & i are both highly educated. We think books are the best gifts @ many levels for many reasons. Children should see their parents read, be read to, & have some books of their own to read. For Christmas this year, we are giving 2 granddaughters, “books in a bag.” Each time we go to Goodwill, i pick through the children’s books. I buy classics based upon age & level of interest for $1.00 each. Many are brand new. I enjoy providing new life & new love for great books. Sometimes I include a small item to include with the book. So, tote full of books = < $20. They can enjoy them over & over. Oatmeal is one of our favorite breakfasts. Hub finely chops a firm apple & puts in bowl first, cooks oatmeal with milk & served over apples. Cinnamon, butter, whatever you like.

      • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

        Ann–I couldn’t agree more about the book approach! And, finding them at Goodwill is perfect! Your granddaughters are very lucky girls :). And, that oatmeal sounds delicious!

    • KB says:

      When our kids were babies/toddlers, they would receive far too many toys for birthdays/Christmas from aunts, uncles, grandparents, etc. We would allow them to choose 1 or 2 to play with immediately. The rest went into the “toy closet” to be pulled out periodically (and, let’s be honest, when I was in desperate need of some quiet or personal space).

      • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

        This is a great idea, KB! I think I’ll be stealing this 🙂

        • KB says:

          Thanks. It works until they’re old enough to realize you’ve taken all of their presents and hidden them. 🙂 For us that was around 4 or 5. And that’s when we implemented phase 2. A few weeks before a birthday/Christmas, we’d help them go through their toys. We told them they needed to identify the toys or games they didn’t play with anymore. Broken or otherwise obliterated items were recycled and the ones still in good condition were donated to other kids who weren’t as fortunate. This taught them some good lessons, offset the avalanche of stuff coming into the house, and kept me from picking up/stepping on the same random parts and pieces over and over.

  2. So true! Many of us have addictive personalities. Maybe our addiction is sugar or pretty shiny things instead of heroin, but there’s something we often crave and look forward to. It then takes more frequent and larger doses of this to sate our cravings. The trick seems to be to focus this energy on something positive, so if we’re going to need this chase and reward, to make it something good for us–homemade fresh food, walks outside, travel, yoga, etc. That way we still feel good about ourselves and are making positive progress in our lives but still get the little ‘opiates’ and they’re no longer road bumps.

  3. Tara says:

    have you ever done a reading level analyzer of your posts? this article is a good topic, but sometimes when I’m tired in the morning, reading posts with too many collegiate level words can turn me off from finishing the article and then I forget to check back later when my brain is more ready. just a thought. although I will say you are definitely someone who fits the bill for quality long-form journalism.

    • Jodie says:

      You should download an app called Pocket ( If you find an article, video, website that you can’t read at that moment, but want to come back to it later, you just “put it in your pocket.” Very handy.

      • Dorothy says:

        Also, an RSS reader that aggregates all your blog posts together can help. You don’t have to chase all over the web for blog posts you may want to read; they’re presented to you all together as your favorite sites have new posts.

        If you start an article and want to save it for later, just mark it Unread. I use an RSS reader called Feedly which syncs across all my devices.

    • Lissa says:

      Another reader’s two cents: I could not disagree more with the person who suggests that you should cut back on your “many collegiate level words.” You have a great writing voice. I might even describe it as a humorous and mellifluous. Please don’t change a thing!

      • Holly says:

        Agreed. I always look forward to reading your post because I enjoy your writing style so much.

      • Tara says:

        I didn’t mean to offend–just suggesting it as something to consider. But if writing for the sake of writing, not writing for the sake of more page views and more affiliate $$$ is the goal then, she’s doing fine.

        • Marla says:

          Luckily, there are endless numbers of blogs offering “top ten reasons” style posts to attract the readers you reference. I come here to get inspired by the quality themes and excellent writing. Keep up the great work Mrs. FW!

          • Diane C says:

            Wait! I just woke up and I must not be thinking clearly. Did someone really ask Mrs. FW to dumb down her posts? Or should that be dumb up her posts? Oh, those small words are so confusing!
            And then that someone made it worse with that half-baked apology, grrr! Off with her head!
            Mrs. FW, you’re doing better than “fine”. I am only in possession of a lowly AA Degree, but my third grade teacher, bless her every day of my life, taught me a deep love of reading, comprehension and how to use a dictionary. Now that I carry one in my pocket at all times, improving my vocabulary with minimal effort is a breeze . And, it’s light as a feather. Perhaps that’s why it’s called a smart phone. No fancy college degree required.

  4. Craig says:

    You really hit the nail on the head with this post! Enjoying the simple things, looking around and really seeing things, do a good deed, say “Good Morning” to people and meaning it. Life is good…simple is better.

    I am in my mid-sixties and after years of telling the kids that I don’t need anything, they are finally getting it. For Christmas my daughter gave me (discounted) tickets to a LEGO Brickfest for me, her, and my oldest granddaughter. We had a very nice time enjoying the day together. For Father’s Day my daughter gave me a picture she took of me and my granddaughter taken at said Brickfest in a cheap frame. It was the best gift.

    I hope your younger readers take the advice you give to heart. Thank you for your posts. Take care.

  5. lena says:

    Hubby and I are in the process of eliminating gift giving for each other. He has a pretty large extended family who every year on Christmas simply buy us something off of our Amazon Wish List. Super nice, but to return the favor we end up spending so much money. Also, I can’t help feeling like simply buying something off of a wish list defeats the whole purpose of finding a meaningful gift. It almost seams like a business transaction. I’ve tried to convince them that we should just buy gifts for the kids but the message never seams to get across. How do you deal with gift giving with your extended family – parents and siblings?

    • Katie says:

      I used to feel that way, too, about Amazon wish lists and baby and wedding registries. But from a frugal and junk-reducing perspective, I’m in favor of them. I have gotten so many gifts over the years that were meaningful… to the giver. As the recipient I ended up with clutter when I could have really used (fill in the blank here). So our family started doing Amazon wish lists so we can really help each other out with our gift giving. I do agree that it makes it seem like a business transaction though which I don’t love. We’re working to make Christmas more about the quality time with each other. Definitely a work in progress though.

  6. Joe says:

    Congratulations! You have made a truly beautiful life for yourself and your family. Not many people can say that. Doing things your own way and not paying attention to the nay sayers takes a lot of courage. Not giving gifts? That’s too frugal for us. It’s hard to say no when RB40Jr begs for a set of Lego. We keeps it to the important days, though. Enjoy riding your unicorn. 🙂 Life is good.

  7. Rose says:

    Great post! This is slightly off-topic, but I have a question about happiness and parenting (no kids for me yet, but maybe in the future): I’ve heard that the highs are higher and the lows are lower once you’re a parent. So average happiness is lower than before kids, but the variance is higher—and that’s the data point worth considering. Has this been your experience so far?

    • erin says:

      I have to say, with 4 kids my highs are sooo much higher and lows sooo much lower. For me I feel it makes my life so much richer. I am extremely happy but it might be hard to tell sometime. I also find a lot of pleasure in simple things, much more then before I had kids, but that may just be a part of getting older/wiser.

      • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

        Interesting! Having only been a parent for 7 months thus far, I can’t say I have a huge range to draw from, but that theory probably does bear out. I agree with Erin–we delight in the simple things even more now! Seeing how excited Babywoods gets over a spoon or a funny face is enough to ground me and make me realize how happy life can be.

  8. Love love love! We’ve been thinking about this lately since over the past few years we started doing the same. At first it felt a little weird not to go out and buy gifts at Christmas or other special holidays, but since we have just about everything we could ever want, those extra gifts wouldn’t bring huge amounts of extra happiness.

    What a great analogy thinking about it like a sugar high. So true! Nowadays, we want more experiences and memories than things.

  9. Debbi says:

    I try to elevate my baseline mood through conscious gratitude. I think about everything that is wonderful and sometimes force myself to write down 5 things I am grateful for every day if I get in a slump. I totally agree about trying to avoid hedonic adaption. I adore getting a latte or chai at Starbucks and savor every sip. A big part of my enjoyment comes from the fact that I have one roughly every month and a half. I know lots of people who have them almost every day and then it becomes a routine, not a treat. I am trying to use this strategy in more and more areas of my life – I cannot speak for others but it definitely helps with my overall happiness. The more things I think of as special treats, the more joy I get out of them and the more fortunate I feel! BTW, please do not try to change the level at which you pitch your writing. I love the current level and you writing style. I find your work both accessible and intellectually engaging.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Debbi–thank you for this comment! I LOVE the practice of conscious gratitude–what a perfect way to elevate your mood on a regular basis. And, I so agree with your latte approach: the rarity makes it special. Many thanks for your appreciation of my writing–I don’t think I could change it if I tried, so I’m glad to hear it works for you :)!

  10. Congrats, what a great month! Yes a lot to celebrate, but celebrating doesn’t have to be expensive. We aren’t huge into big elaborate gifts, but just nice cards and something thoughtful. I don’t know that we experience highs and crashes in happiness, but special events are great to celebrate and give you something to look forward to.

    I’ll keep waiting for the great moose photo!

  11. I like that term … road-bump opiates. I fall victim to that with eating out all the time. It’s not furthering my savings or wellness goals. But it feels good in the moment when I’ve had a long stressful day. Maybe the key is asking myself, “how are the tacos bringing me closer to my goals?” If I have trouble answering, maybe it’s time to make a better choice 🙂

  12. i totally agree with you about the spikes and trying to then re-spike to the same level….especially in gift giving. it’s nice when your ‘work’ brings you pleasure as well as monetary benefits so that you don’t feel quite so dependent on vacations to bring you not just rest, but spikes in pleasure. farming for us is that way. it’s tiring, so it’s nice to have time to rest, but the work is pleasure as well so we are much more likely to be content with life in general than if we had to do work that was not enjoyable. love reading all the discoveries you are making on your homestead!

  13. Jillena says:

    Excellent perspective! Since getting completely hooked on your blog we’ve stopped giving each other gifts and started actually spending those special days together with fuller attention to each other. Having some sort of family outing or experience. We’ve had Much more meaningful mothers and fathers days this year! I do feel it adding to a more constant underlying happiness. So much more joy can be felt during an entire picnic day than getting a new iPod.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Glad to hear this! I totally agree with the joy that comes from just spending good, quality time together 🙂

  14. Sabbaticalia says:

    Mmmmm, that evening view off the porch. Solid foundation for a high happiness baseline, congrats! Reminds me that my pruning saw and I have some sight-line improvements to make in the front yard.

    That pet-costume provoked a strange mix of giggles and head-shaking. I hope someone’s at least paying off their student loans from that brainstorm ….

  15. Holly says:

    I agree. Since I’ve scaled back on purchases while paying off a large credit card bill, I’m a lot happier without the daily/weekly indulgences of the past. Seeing debt go down makes me far happier and gives me more peace of mind than buying another new top. Now I really examine any future purchases and make sure they are worthy of spending my money on.

  16. Mendy says:

    Just what I needed to hear today! Just thankful for your words!

  17. I fall prey to the addictive, hedonistic adaptation though I’m trying hard to stay on the frugal path. It’s quite hard! I’ve discovered there are highs and lows – I go on a month-long “short-term-pleasure” spree with money, and then don’t spend any for a month or two. Still learning how to even that out and I love reading about your adventures in frugality. It’s quite inspirational! And in response to Tara’s comment, above, please keep the collegiate level words coming! One reason I love your blog is because it engages me on a higher level than most blogs out there – an active brain is a happy brain!

  18. Laura Gail says:

    I agree, please don’t change your writing! I absolutely love your style!

    My hubs and I just were discussing this same thing last night. We are on an intense journey to pay off his student loans and our mini van. Thanks to inspiration from you and Cait Flanders, we have finally buckled down and cut everything including eating out. But I’m pregnant and have two boys out of school right now and I feel like I’m losing my mind. I told Steve that the thought of us going out for sushi just sounded like the perfect moment for me, my opiate. However, while it will taste good and be a great experience, it will eventually be eliminated through my body and I won’t be any closer to being debt free and in fact I will be further away from it. Not to mention that I will eventually have to return to my home of two crazy and wild little boys so while I may have a peaceful moment, it won’t last forever and thus nothing may be changed by it. But, going for a walk every morning around our neighborhood lake for 45 minutes at 6 a.m. has brought me more peace and joy. It’s my time to pray and get clarity and vision for the day whole my husband gets ready for work and starts breakfast for the boys.
    Your posts are so eloquent and succinct and you truly hit the nail on the head every time! Blessings on your sweet family!

    P.s. Because of you, we eat oatmeal every morning during the week and it has saved us a bunch of money and is way healthier. I was never a big oatmeal fan but I add a splash of milk, fresh peach from farmers mkt and almonds: delish!!! So thank you for that money saving tip!

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Huge congrats on having this concerted focus for paying off your debt!! I’m so happy for you!! And, I’m a big fan of Cait’s too :)–glad to hear you’re drawing inspiration from her, she has a lot to share. That’s awesome about the oatmeal 🙂

  19. The Roamer says:

    Great post . I think for my happiness curve to smooth out I am trying to be more grateful.

    I get overwhelmed and it makes lows super difficult. But none of it is from buying stuff. I found out early on that I’m happy just window shopping.

    I think my road bump opiate right now is tv… and sometimes Facebook…. so not things that cost me money but kill my time.

  20. Cindi says:

    Practicing gratitude and learning to appreciate the blessings of every day are two of the most valuable life-skills anyone can cultivate. Most of the time I would rather eat at home than eat out, and playing a game at home or relaxing on our back deck, talking appeals to me more than going to the movies. The other night we went into town for ice cream after dinner. We sat on the deck of the ice cream shop, watching a beautiful sunset over the mountains and it was pure bliss. It wouldn’t be nearly as special if we did it every day. I also think finding happiness in every day blessings makes you more resilient when tough times come around (as they will.) When it seems like your world is falling apart, having the deeply ingrained habit of looking for the good in every day won’t make your grief or distress less, but it will lend a kind of perspective to help you see that all is not lost.

  21. Marion says:

    I admit it, I checked out the greyhound costume and now I sit here snickering. So much for making a profound comment. I’m to busy laughing.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Bahahah, I’m so glad you did. Sometimes, we just need to see a photo of a greyhound dressed like an At-At!

  22. diana says:

    the dumbest area in my budget is definitely food at work. I don’t enjoy it at all, but there are so many evenings/mornings where I don’t feel like grocery shopping and packing a lunch, so I just don’t get to it. So, it’s not that I get a jolt of happiness from buying $10 whole foods lunches, if anything it feels like an annoying errand. (need to start keeping pb&j fixings in my desk to keep me out of trouble) $10 Friday martini after work is another story entirely. huge happiness jolt, so I’m happy to occasionally spend that money.

  23. Jess says:

    Somewhat off topic but your peonies are beautiful!

  24. Chris says:

    Oh I love that saying “delight in the simple things”. My husband recently started feeding the birds. We have hummingbirds also that come. We moved our seldom used picnic table my father-in-law gave us nearly 20 years ago onto our deck and started eating lots of meals out there. We have enjoyed being outside so much more the last two years. It is awesome to read my Bible, drink my coffee, and watch the hummingbirds in the morning.

  25. When my old Ipad died last week I had to go out and buy a new replacement. I got the top of the line large one because it will help my business, plus the insurance plan. When my husband asked, “Are you happy with your new ipad?” I replied, “Yes, it’s fine for what I need, but I don’t feel $1600.00 happier.” Big expenditures do not make me happy! I hang on to my old computer/phone/car as long as possible. But when I am forced to get a new one I either get a good used one or with computer I get the best one out there. A painful necessity.

  26. Elizabeth says:

    Yes, yes, yes! Finding happiness in the simple beauties of routine and nature. And yes also to the comment about conscious gratitude. When I was a teenager, before I really even had an understanding of gratitude as a concept, I used to keep a list of the things that made me happy. And it was things like the way the sunlight hit the stairwell at dusk or the way my mom would make me a bed on the couch when I was sick. So I think I may have always had an inclination to look for simple things that make me happy. A few years ago my family and I moved from the east coast to the Midwest and it was a surprisingly difficult move for me (I’d moved a lot as an adult and always adjusted quickly but this was my first time moving with children and I think that made it more emotionally charged for me). After months of waking up really sad to find myself here I decided that I would be proactive and learn how to embrace where I was. I started by keeping two lists (I love lists!) that I would write in every night before bed. One was something that I was grateful for that happened that day, even if it was something like noticing how pretty the leaves looked when the wind blew them. The second list was an experience list…an experience that I had here that I wouldn’t have been able to have at “home”. Every night I wrote those lists and every morning I read those lists and before long they really worked to help me see that happiness can be found wherever you are. You just need to have eyes willing to see those opportunities.

    Great post on one of my favorite topics…happiness, gratitude and being happy with having enough versus wanting more.

    • Lee says:

      Thank you for this comment. Your humility and determination to “look on the bright side” are inspirational. I have kept a gratitude journal in the past but the idea to write down something that happened that is unique to where you live now is brilliant. I am extremely happy geographically, but there are so many amazing things that happen where I live, I almost take them for granted now. Maybe if I write them down consistently, I can re-read them when I get frustrated or disappointed and it will enable me to move on faster.

      • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

        I love lists too and I love your idea, Elizabeth! Taking a positive, proactive approach is certainly the best balm for discontent and frustration. And I really like this: “You just need to have eyes willing to see those opportunities.” Yes!!! Thanks for sharing.

  27. I’m proud to say we don’t derive our happiness from purchases.
    I do, however, find a great deal of happiness from giving gifts to my wife. As a quick aside, this is one of the things that makes me feel like a “grown up.” When I was a kid, I loved to receive presents, but now I tend to enjoy giving them much more.
    Anyway, the key to giving gifts is to focus more on giving something thoughtful than something expensive. For example, I recently got my wife a regular old pepper mill as a gift, and she adored it, because it was something she had mentioned wanting but never got around to buying. The fact that I noticed what she wanted meant more than the gift itself. She probably would have liked a diamond bracelet too, but not as much as the pepper mill.

    I guess the moral of the story is that you don’t have to refrain from gift giving, because we certainly experience a happiness peak when we exchange gifts, but we avoid the valley by giving reasonable, useful gifts, like a $10 pepper mill. By experiencing the happiness peaks but not the valleys, we bring up our average level of happiness.

  28. Nim says:

    Really enjoyed that post. It resonated a lot for me. I stopped buying gifts a few years back in an effort to save money, yes, but mostly to not participate in the buying of ‘stuff’ to give to people who don’t really want or need that stuff, for them to then feel the need to reciprocate and give me ‘stuff’ which I surely don’t want and definitely don’t need.

    We were a massive sack of gifts at Christmas kind of family so it was a MASSIVE against the curve move, but mostly people have respected my decision and it feels good to not be on that consumer merry-go-round, feeding the beast as it were 😉

    Thank you for the post!

    ps. I love your basket of flowers, especially those peonies! Wow!

  29. We’ve also toned down our gift-giving a lot too. When I was a kid, I remember it was a game at Christmastime over who got more presents. Clearly, the sibling with the least number of presents was the least well-loved. I remember counting up into the 30s one time. How the heck did my parents pay for all that??
    I don’t have kids, but me and my husband agreed on spending limits. We set aside $200 each in a Christmas and a Birthday fund, and most of the time, we don’t even use half that amount on gifts.

  30. Jenny says:

    Hi Mrs. F! As a fellow Vermonter, just wanted to mention something in case it piques your interest. The best gift my husband and I have received the last few years from my in-laws: season passes to VT State Parks! I am honestly not sure what you have for State Parks down in your area, we are in NW VT. But I’m willing to bet there are some nice ones nearby! This is a great solution if you have family who absolutely HAVE to get you something for the holiday. Oh, and beautiful peonies!

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      That’s a wonderful gift to give (or receive)! Love the idea of sharing nature with family. Thanks for the idea!

  31. I have totally given up on buying gifts for Mr. FP. If he wants it, he has already bought it. If he hasn’t bought it yet, then he’s not sure he wants it and doesn’t want our money spent on it.

    I’m a little different. I generally have a list of things I want but haven’t gotten around to buying, and I can also be surprised with, say, concert tickets.

    I keep my baseline happiness level up with pleasant cheap routines. A homemade scone with a cup of tea. Sunday morning cooking with the boys. An impulse-bought $1.99 baguette to liven up dinner. (And maybe some $5 Chardonnay. Love Trader Joe’s!)

  32. Kim from+Philadelphia says:

    Beautiful post, Mrs. FW.
    I wholeheartedly agree; we can become immune to purchased treats if we have them all the time.
    Loving the pic of you and your 2 legged girl.
    Ah, sitting on your porch viewing the lush woods with good company and a cup of home brewed coffee? Yep, that would be my happy place

  33. Eric Bowlin says:

    I agree that consumerism takes people off the path toward financial independence…but I also think it’s important to celebrate important milestones in life.

    Certain things will only happen one time. We should take a moment to share these with the people around us. Does it require expensive jewelry, or a new car or something?… no, of course not. But, a dinner out with the family to celebrate that once in a lifetime milestone?… Sure, why not?

  34. Kolleen says:

    It seems to me that what makes a “road-bump opiate” is the lack of consciousness about the purchase. Of course, it is your term so you are free to define it. What strikes me in your post DMV smoothie purchase is that you very consciously made the decision to offer yourself this treat or reward. Perhaps it is a temporary comfort…but it is a comfort all the same (ask Baby Woods who probably finds a “snack” after a little stress to be very helpful). It was conscious, non-habitual, and hardly budget breaking. This doesn’t seem very “opiate” like to me…but quite human. Wonderful blog!

  35. Frugaldevotee says:

    I normally never ever comment on blogs, but I discovered yours recently and am so amazed! As an MD/PhD dual degree student, I think I’ve a good start on frugality by choosing a medical path that has the benefit of being tuition free + stipend (and is the coolest job ever to boot!) I’ve been trying to be more frugal in my life and do a weekly “no eat out” challenge-which has helped a lot :).

    I keep challenging myself every month to try and find new ways to be frugal! It’s so hard to turn off the part of my brain that responds to advertising and consumerism-especially when I do have a very easy to conjure excuse of “I was in lab/hospital all night so I deserve Xyz”.

    So long story short-I just wanted to say your blog is awesome and I love watching how your sweet family is thriving as a really great frugal family 🙂

  36. Sandy says:

    Just want to say how much I admire you and enjoy your posts. I see so much consumerism these
    days and keeping up with the Jones’s and just cannot understand the need to do that. My husband and I raised two boys on a middle class income. Most of our vacations where camping and small time boating, nothing fancy. The memories we have from this is priceless.

  37. ZJ Thorne says:

    I am a creature made out of joy. It is particularly lucky. Unfortunately, some things out of my control (for the moment) attempt to rob me of my joy. I am working hard to set up my life to increase my control over the things that rob me of my joy.

  38. Audrey G says:

    I think that sometimes a road-bump opiate might be necessary-not to give a happiness spike-but to help get back to a happy baseline level!

  39. Congratulations!

    I think this is something that Mr. Picky Pincher and I need to work on. For example, for our anniversary we rented a nice cabin in the woods, and we splurged a little more than we typically would. All of the purchases were justifiable in our minds, but in the end they set us back financially. We didn’t beat ourselves up over it, but it was definitely a lesson for next time!

  40. DoultonMyra says:

    I am an old lady and what does it for me may seem too antiquated for you: the following are easy ways to get a great big endorphin hit without investing a lot of money:
    1) educate yourself to love some form of music that you can listen to on streaming radio (I love classical and opera myself, but it can really be any form)
    2) Learn a new language—minimal investment of funds can turn into maximum investment of enjoyable time
    3) Learn the history of English poetry and see if you, too, can find pleasure in the sublimity of Wordsworth or Pope or Shakespeare or WH Auden

    Even if you don’t have a library near by, you can invest in a Kindle and get all kinds of pre-copyright books for free. Or if you can read on line, Project Gutenberg or Bartleby are excellent

    4) become an expert: in frogs or bats or French history or the geography of Australia. Yes, it takes some basic materials to get your information, but you can learn a lot for very little

    5) Investigate Coursera or other MOOCS and see if they are for you.

    6) Write letters! Write a longhand letter to Baby Frugalwoods once a month. Or write to relatives, friends, or anyone. Join a pen-pal club! A US postage stamp is a great investment in friendly communications.

  41. Economists call this the law of diminishing returns.

    I also love this excerpt from a book written by Art De Vany: “Modern life leaves our minds restless and under-utilized because we are confined, inactive, and comfortable. We cannot be satisfied with more and more, because we are evolved for another lifeway in which material goods do not matter. The result is that we are deeply unsatisfied with modern life and don’t know why.”

  42. laura says:

    I would love to know if u r happy with your Apple laptop? I really need to replace my 10 year old laptop & even though it’s a big expense( & a tax deduction)- I want to make an educated choice

  43. Charlene says:

    Road-bump opiates is such a great way to describe it! I definitely fall prey to these but am in the process of being more conscientious about it.

    I’m a relatively new mom still – my son will be turning 2 in the fall. One suggestion I have for birthday presents for kids is to give them the gift of experiences. This is what we request of family who insist on gifting our son with something for his birthday or for Christmas. We’ve been gifted memberships to the Arnold Arboretum and Mass Audobon Society – both of which we use regularly and our son loves being outdoors so the gift is something our whole family can enjoy.

  44. Debra Campbell says:

    I agree! Please don’t change your writing style! Your writing is erudite and informative, and you have a grand sense of humor. I would have never guessed I would look forward to reading a blog devoted to finance (and one which also includes fascinating asides, an intriguing world view and the ever personable Frugalhound and the adorable newbie Babywoods). Thank you for brightening my days!

  45. Debra Campbell says:

    Where can I find the column about Frugal Hound and the At-At costume?

  46. I think riding unicorns in green fields would probably be a really frugal activity. Until someone starts to catch all the unicorns and charge for rides… ;0) I love the notion of road-bump opiates. It’s so true.

  47. FrugalwoodsFan says:

    Moose love salt licks! That’s what my in-laws in Alaska use to attract moose to their game camera. Just make sure to set it up far enough away from the house for safety. Love your blog :).

  48. Kelly says:

    Agreed! I think I need to start that habit of getting pleasure from not buying things I want, though it might be hard as I am very materialistic. What goal do you set to get this kind of habit? What has been the obstacle you always deal with?

  49. Jamie says:

    I absolutely love this post. Also, I’ve now read almost all of the blog. (I skipped a few on home improvement pieces since I live in an apartment.) I found it super useful/educational and just plain fun! It’s really helped me to evaluate ALL the line items in my budget to help understand where I can cut back, and I adore the emphasis on doing what you love and what is most important. Frugality isn’t about deprivation; it’s about focusing on what matters the most. You and Mr. FW really followed your dreams, and it’s inspired me to think I can do the same!

    One question: Is Mr. FW planning to stay with his remote job long term? (I also work remotely, from home, and LOVE it. The only thing I really didn’t like about my job before was commuting to work!)

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