The False Choices That Steal Our Future
I’ve been reflecting quite a bit lately on the various facets of my life that go against the grain. In many ways, I disagree with the fundamental notions of what our culture says ‘the good life’ is all about. Whether it’s my disavowal of the theory that all new parents want (and should buy) only brand-new baby things, or my negation of the pressures society levies on women to pay for manufactured appearances, I’m just not buying it.
As Mr. Frugalwoods and I continue on our extreme frugality journey to early retirement (at age 33 to a homestead in the woods), I find myself increasingly perplexed at the lifestyle lauded by our dominant consumer culture. And I think it all boils down to choice.
Choice: The Ultimate Luxury
In the hierarchy of luxuries, Mr. FW and I prioritize choice of our life circumstances above just about everything else. Choice is the ultimate luxury we have as humans and many people elect to place choice of their stuff over choice of their circumstances. We’ve flipped this approach on its head.
For us, surrendering choice over, for example, the brand of stroller we’ll use for Babywoods in favor of taking the first free one that comes our way is a fabulous trade-off for the amount of money we save. Sacrificing our ability to choose the precise color, size, or design of our material goods is just fine with us. The money we’ve saved over the years by utilizing hand-me-downs and buying used is nothing short of substantial. Each instance is a reflection of our decision to save our money towards what we consider the highest order choice: choosing how we want to live our lives every day.
Having a plethora of options to choose from in purchasing is, in many ways, a burden in and of itself. Mr. FW and I save a lot of time by circumventing the consumer selection dilemma–we don’t have to labor over comparing 15 different infant swings, we just take the one we find at a garage sale. We’ve liberated ourselves from the hassle of weighing the needlessly plentiful choices for everything from dental floss to t-shirts. I, for one, am thankful we’ve abdicated this mental burden. And in fact, I’m not the only one who feels this way–people far smarter than me have purported that “choice has paralyzed rather than freed us, leaving us dissatisfied instead of happy.”
If you’re extremely rich, you can choose to have everything you want. Conversely, if you’re desperately poor, you likely won’t have many options at all. But for the vast majority of us hanging out somewhere in the middle, we have far more financial choices than we realize.
The choice isn’t BMW or Mercedes–the choice is to not own a car at all (or to drive a 19-year-old Frugalwoods-mobile). The choice isn’t Ann Taylor or Bloomingdale’s—the choice is not to buy new clothes and instead wear something you already own. The choice isn’t cable or Netflix–the choice is to repudiate both in favor of creating your own entertainment.
Marketers want us to believe they’re offering choices of ‘the good life’ and that we need only purchase them to attain happiness. But the real choice is to turn our backs on the consumption machine and instead walk in our own direction. There’s a pervasive illusion in our culture that enfranchised, fulfilled people buy whatever they want, whenever they want it. This harkens to the idea that our self-worth and base pleasures stem from owning things. But I don’t think that’s true at all.
Rather, I think genuine happiness stems from doing what you want with the people you love and not hewing to the arbitrary standards established by corporations. There’s no freedom in buying a new wardrobe every season–that’s merely toeing the line of lifelong consumption.
Spending money in order to pacify ourselves because we’re dissatisfied with our jobs, our relationships, or our appearances is spending that only serves to derail us from attaining meaningful goals and that robs us of our future. It’s spending that does nothing to address the root of our discontentment.
A core tenet of effective frugality is embracing fewer options and choices where your stuff is concerned. The more you require a wide variety of perfect items to choose from, the more money you’ll spend. And this isn’t about deprivation–it’s about strategic purchasing and, more often than not, no purchasing at all.
One Right Way? Methinks Not
We’re all taught that there’s essentially one path through life: go to school, get a job, work hard, spend the money you make because you deserve it, continue working, retire at 65. And for many folks, this is the path they’re comfortable with, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
But contrary to popular belief, there isn’t just one right way to live, or one road to serenity. Our attainment of happiness as humans necessarily derives from our unique circumstances, personalities, and preferences.
To impose this one-size-fits-all consumer happiness model on everyone is a surefire recipe for disappointment. It doesn’t make Mr. FW or me happy and I think it doesn’t make a lot of other folks happy either. The key is to instead discover your passion and then find a way to make that your full-time vocation.
This non-traditional route is one of conscious frugality, concentrated earnings at the beginning of one’s career, and conspicuous non-consumption. It’s the trajectory of the frugal weirdo, of the person working towards early retirement, of the financially independent, and of all of us self-actualized anti-establishmentarians.
An Anti-Establishment Personality: Required For Financial Independence?
Mr. FW and I don’t like being told what to do–a central aspect of our personalities. Our parents will attest that this instinct began early in us both and that we could be stubborn, crafty little kids. We’re both streaked through with fierce independence and we like to make our own decisions. It’s part of the reason why we prefer to insource just about everything–we’d honestly rather do it ourselves than have someone else mess it up (and pay them for the privilege).
As you might’ve guessed, this trait chafes tremendously with our 9-5 white collar office jobs. We’re both dutiful, conscientious employees, but the inherent top-down corporate structure runs contrary to our very nature. I often feel that as soon as I arrive at the office, all of my creativity, energy, ideas, and life force drain out. For 8 hours a day, I follow directions from my boss, I issue directives to my team, and I churn out the products I’m required to (ironically 90% of my job is writing, but it’s entirely devoid of my personal voice and style–there’s no room for that in corporate communications). Hence, liberating ourselves from the constraints of a life dictated by others is the utmost aspiration for us.
I tend to think that fierce independence, anti-establishment convictions, and the fact that we don’t care what people think of us are all necessary–and perhaps required–components of our path to retirement at age 33. What we’re doing is counter-culture and just plain odd.
Plenty of people think we’re nutso frugal weirdos (oh if they only knew the depths of our true weirdo-ness…) and don’t understand how we can characterize our lives as joyfully and luxuriously frugal. But we don’t care. Haters gonna hate. And we’re going to continue on in our vein of not hating, not judging, and instead doing what we’ve determined is best for us.
Who Defines Our Needs?
While neither of us is terribly interested in money as an abstract concept or in the accumulation of great wealth, we’re both quite keen on what our money can do for us and in the life it can enable. Our economy perpetuates a fiction that it’s impossible for the average American family to save more than 10% a year and that we should all keep working in order to keep buying “necessities.”
Yet somehow Mr. FW and I manage to save north of 70% per year. How? When Mr. FW and I examined those typical “necessities,” we discovered that the vast majority of them–new clothes, new cars, meals out, coffees out, dry cleaning, haircuts, dog grooming, gourmet grocery store foods, cable, luxury vacations, manicures, car washes, central air conditioning–are completely unnecessary for us.
The myth of choice is that buying lots of stuff means you’re exerting your free will, but in reality, you’re just turning your money over to someone else. We don’t like to use our money or our time in methods prescribed by an outside entity.
Marketing creates needs for us that we don’t actually have. Once Mr. FW and I peeled away the premise that bolsters typical spending, we discovered there’s very little we need to buy on a regular basis. Most of these standard line items are based around ideas of keeping up with the Joneses, adhering to our own personal metrics of perfection, paying people to do things for us, and the flawed logic that material goods are what comprise a successful, worthwhile existence. And maybe they do for some people. But it’s important to arrive at that conclusion after considering if these purchases truly are rewarding and necessary and not simply ingrained in our psyches as “needs” by clever marketing and lifelong assumptions.
Mr. FW and I determined that what we need to feel gratified isn’t any of this stuff–it’s freedom over how we live our lives. For many folks, this sounds like a bizarre pipe dream that only the very rich or very lucky can attain. But it’s entirely feasible. I firmly believe it’s a privileged stance to pursue financial independence and I’m cognizant of the many advantages Mr. FW and I had growing up and continue to appreciate. At the same time, I think financial independence is within reach for far more people than the slim minority of us pursuing it.
Finding Your Bliss
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to life and there is no magic balm we can buy to ameliorate our problems. When we slough off the assumption of working jobs we don’t like in order to buy things we don’t need, we’re able to free our minds and imagine an alternative course. Learning what edifies our souls, brings us lasting joy, and enables us to project positivity into the world is the only answer to our problems. And I’m pretty sure it’s not sold in stores.
What choices do you value? Do you think there’s a personality profile of people interested in frugality and early retirement?
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The luxury of choice is a perfect way to express what so many of us are after. This is one of the reasons we write about financial flexibility–we want to be able to take opportunities and have options in our lives. While I believe you can live a great life without your biggest passion being your full-time vocation (as you’re doing now), loving your work certainly is desirable, and as you said, it’s probably more in reach than many people realize. I also agree that freeing ourselves from picky consumption (15 baby swings) and over-consumption leaves us with lots more time & less stress, in addition to saving money. (Looks like you came by a really nice free stroller!)
Financial flexibility is a great point in this conversation–it’s certainly what we’re after too. I really do find fewer choices to be quite liberating. Just makes life easier. That’s awesome you guys are in the same boat! Rock on! P.S. We’re pretty thrilled with our free stroller :).
This is a really interesting read. I was recently prompted to think about the role of choice in my own life. I even wrote a blog post about it!
I think the idea of consumer choices actually limiting lifestyle choices is an interesting one. We feel paralyzed by the many choices in what to purchase, without realizing that choosing to purchase is actually limiting our choices when it comes to how we live our lives. Choosing not to buy means choosing to save means the ability to choose how you spend your time, not having to work to pay the bills. You’ve (again!) given me lots to think about!
So true about the paralyzing nature of too many choices! It really is freeing to just walk away and not buy at all. Totally removes the hassle. I’ll have to check out your post!
As an immigrant from the former Soviet Union– who does not follow this type of lifestyle– I nonetheless found this a very interesting read, as is the rest of your blog. The paradox of choice that you are describing is something many immigrants from former communist or socialist countries experience, and the concept of extreme frugality in daily life as well (except without the early retirement plan :-)). In fact, I think many of the resources I learned from my own grandmother are things that you are employing, such as “hacking” electrical appliances, using hand me downs, etc.
Good luck to you in pursuing what is best for you! Although I have other priorities personally and live a very different lifestyle these days, I very much enjoy following your blog.
You hit the nail on the head about the corporate environment. I’m also “in the grind” so to speak, and most of my day is daydreaming about what I’d do if I wasn’t behind a desk. Soon, though!
Also I used to have a 96 “Frugalwoodsmobile”! That thing was bulletproof and was finally donated after nearly reaching 250,000. I miss it already!
That’s awesome you had a ’96 Honda Odyssey! We love ours! Frugalwoods-mobile is currently at 206,017 and still going strong. Fingers crossed she has a few more good years left :). Out of curiosity, what type of car did you get post-Odyssey? We’re coming to terms with the fact that she won’t live forever :).
I drive a Honda Shadow (motorcycle) and a ’72 Volkswagen Beetle now. It’s hard to beat the 50 mpg on the bike. (The VW I have because I like working on cars!) I’ve been thinking about a Honda Fit as a more “normal” vehicle though. Florida is the type of place where air conditioning is a perk, and none of my vehicles have it!
Nice! I think we probably better not get a motorcycle what with Babywoods on the way, but it sounds fun :)! We’ve been seriously considering the Honda Fit as well–its been option 1 or 2 on our list for quite awhile now. I wish the new Odysseys were as good as the ’96 vintage!
You could always get a motorcycle with a sidecar! Seriously though, I’ve really been digging the Fit because it’s like a mini-minivan. The new Odysseys get horrible mileage compared to the faithful ’96-era Odysseys, so I’d gladly take the size hit in exchage for the 40-ish mpg of the Fit. Good luck with your search though, hopefully the Frugalwoodsmobile lasts for many more years!
Since my husband and I got serious about paying down our debt, I have become much more content with and appreciative of all the things I have in my life. One truly doesn’t need to spend money to be happy, and as you’ve said, sometimes – like when you’re paying for things with credit – it actually detracts from happiness.
That being said, I’m a little more okay with the conventional life path than you and Mr. FW are. I’m a very conventional person at heart. 🙂
So true that money doesn’t buy happiness! And good point on the way that debt can detract from joy. I think everyone should chart their own path on the conventional vs. non-conventional spectrum. There’s certainly no one right way :)!
The research shows that all the little choices we have to make in life (like think how many choices of jam one is faced with) actually make it harder for us to make the more important choices. We are choiced-out. I totally agree that we are ‘pressured’ into having the ideal life by marketing standards and we all have to find our own paths.
I completely agree about being choiced-out. I’d much rather eliminate the worthless little choices and instead focus on the huge, big-picture options. Kudos to you for finding your own path :)!
Thank you for this post! My husband and I are new to this journey. We are in the throes of paying down debt and we are also becoming VERY aware of our tendencies. When, where and what triggers us to spend. We have unplugged from a lot of “consumer driven philosophies” and are embracing what we see as a frugal lifestyle. The one line of your blog which struck me in the pit on my stomach was “Marketing creates needs for us that we don’t actually have”! It’s like the masses know this (myself included, of course) but do they really know how embedded it is in our psyche…. Hope you’re having a good one!
Congrats to you for paying down debt and starting off on your frugal journey :)! That’s awesome! And, that’s great you’re unplugging from consumer-driven philosophies. I wish you all the very best!
For sure there’s a common personality trait of independence for those of us on the ER path. Interesting to see how it manifests for you guys. We see ourselves as less counterculture, and just more skeptical. But equally driven! 🙂
Ahh yes, skeptical is definitely another key trait for us frugal weirdos :)! Good point!
The privilege to choose how you want to live! As you said, a concept that eludes most of us. I will admit to that erroneous way of thinking….until I moved to Vermont and met my self-employed husband. Wow! An entire new world opened up to me about work. Like you, he’s fiercely independent (typical Vermont trait) and doesn’t like to be told what to do. While we still need to work to finish paying our mortgage, (poor choices earlier in life), once that’s done, we’re free. And the thing is…we’ll still choose to work because it’s our own business, and we get to decide how, what, when, etc. Being self-employed isn’t always easy, but he gets to do what he loves everyday and choose who his customers will be. That choice thing again. You are a gifted writer….I see you sitting in your home in the woods (maybe Vermont), woodstove going, snow piling up, sleeping baby at your side, snoring hound, husband in the barn making something, and writing to your heart’s content….all at your own pace in your own home! THAT is the good life!
Ahh yes, you’ve described the absolute perfect life for me, Bev! That’s exactly what I hope to be doing :). It’s wonderful to hear that you and your husband have carved out the life you want to lead. That’s really what it’s all about.
I agree with ONL above. I just always have asked “why”? It got me into trouble in school a lot 🙂 Why do I need to do this homework when I’m going to ace the test anyways? Why should I buy a new car just because I can afford one? Why do I need a new fancy suit, when no clients see me and it’s not required? This mindset of always asking why helps definitely eases my path to FI for sure!
Absolutely! I think being naturally skeptical of the things our culture tells us we have to do is liberating, and an important part of this journey.
One of the most important choices I value is how to invest in and spend my time. Whether that’s with my family, building new skills, on a new hobby, etc. With a 9-5pm job, sometimes I feel that allocation of how I would like to spend my time is stripped. That’s when I exercise my curiosity & creativity! Instead of just dreaming of the future, I switched my mindset of living fulfilled now. I may be in the office most of the day, but how can I spend my hours after? I continue to write, tinker, spend time with loved ones, and work-out. I’m working on limiting my choices to get back down to the real foundation of what my bliss is, but it can be challenging when most of life throughout schools & communities I was exposed to the phrase “the possibilities are endless.” That alone always brought me to a state of feeling overwhelmed. Thank you for yet another thought provoking post! 🙂
It’s definitely tough to carve out the time to do the things we want with that rigid 9-5 in place. It’s certainly something I struggle with. Sounds like you’ve got a great system worked out with finding a way to balance it all. I like the idea of limiting choices to where your bliss is–nicely put!
A great post and many truths about our consumerist society. Someone asked me what I wanted for X-mas/b-day or whatever holiday and I thought of the saying, “What do you get for someone who has everything?” But for me, it was, “what do you get someone who doesn’t want anything?” I have very little wants…I’m content with the things I have.
It’s a wonderful thing to be content with what you have. It’s certainly a pathway to fulfillment and happiness, in my opinion. Congrats to you for getting to that place!
Your section about being paralyzed with choices really perked me up. Yes, hello. This is me right now.
I’m an engineer. I research and compare data. That is what I do. so here we are, gearing up for the big move, but we’ve had a few things that we’ve had to make decisions on – hotels for FinCon and what kind of MacBook to get. I became so paralyzed by the options and fear of making a wrong choice that I basically farmed out the choices. I told my husband to book the hotel and I got my brother-in-law to tell me what kind of MacBook best suits my needs.
What cracks me up about this is that is goes against the grain of what I tell people at work: often, there is no wrong choice. And sometimes what is worse than the wrong choice is making a “good” choice too late. In other words, make a decision quickly and stick with it. I should take my own advice…
I can fall into that same trap of feeling paralyzed by choice. It’s tough to convince myself sometimes that there is no “wrong” choice. And, it is nice to eliminate a lot of the meaningless consumer decisions in my daily life. Helps me focus on the big picture–though I do still struggle with those choices too!
P.S. I’m excited to hear you’ll be at FinCon! Looking forward to meeting you 🙂
For years, I made choices that I thought were best for me, only to realize that they were best for a brief period of time and not for the purpose of creating a sustainable and happy life. It’s easy to get the choices confused when you don’t have an end goal in site. For you and Mr. FW, once you guys fully visualized your goal of early retirement, your choices became easy. Once I clearly defined my goal of financial independence and helping others, my choices became easier as well.
That totally makes sense to me–the ability to focus in on a larger, long-term goal definitely does help guild the smaller decisions in life. I certainly made choices I wish I hadn’t before we had our early retirement goal. I think it’s just tougher to think long-term when you don’t know what you truly want.
Yeah, I have to agree with you on the independence tip. I think my parents fostered this in me at an early stage. I wasn’t forced to do anything. Basically, my choice is what went. Hence, there’s always been something that grates at me whenever I have to be on a schedule set up by someone else, or do anything that’s part of a group. I can trace this back all the way to little league baseball when I used to dread upcoming games, partly because I stunk, and partly because I just saw it as a huge time suck. Each game would sit there on the calendar and I’d think “Well, there goes my afternoon.” I quit after a year. Fast forward to today and for 8 hours a day I’m thinking, “There’s so many actual things I could be getting done instead of pushing paper.”
Haha, yep! I can identify with all of that, except that for me it was soccer and not baseball :). Good thing we’re both charting our way out of the world of being told what to do!
I think you’re right that 2 of the most important traits for people interested in frugality/early retirement is an independent streak and not caring what other people say.
Absolutely! Gotta do what works for you 🙂
This is a great point – a lot of people are looking at the choice between X item or Y item, and dont see the crucial option of “nothing” in terms of buying something. They’ll look for whatever one promises more “savings” when in reality they’d have the most savings if they bought nothing.
People are so obsessed with making the “right” choice that they often stall too long looking at options, and one by one those options fall away.
Totally! It’s that myth of getting a “good deal” or something “on sale.” If you don’t actually need the thing, then you’re not getting a good deal at all. Good point too about stalling. Something you’ve just got to go with what feels right.
You’re on a tear of great posts lately, Mrs. FW! I love the way you’ve framed the “luxury of choice”: we weirdos forego inconsequential choices about our material possessions to enable a more meaningful choice about the structure of our lives. If we were to prioritize the exact color of our kitchen trash can or the hand-stitched leather seats of a luxury vehicle, we would be giving up something so much more important.
Many thanks, Robert! Perfect examples with the kitchen trash can and leather seats! Totally meaningless for our overall happiness yet they trip so many people up.
Awesome, work hard tomorrow to pay for today or work hard today to pay for tomorrow!
Totally! I’m much happier planning for my future than paying for my past with debt!
I had to comment as this is such a great and thought provoking post. It brings me back to a quote by Theodore Roosevelt, “Comparison is the Thief of Joy.” I don’t believe he used it in the context you are discussing, but it is still applicable.
Thanks for sharing that quote, Jessica! I think it’s very apt here.
I agree wholeheartedly. I admit I am more of a consumer than you both but have opted out of rampant consumerism that the majority of my family and friends embrace. The other day a cell phone salesman asked what kind of phone I had. I showed him and he laughed and said that is really old. He offered to upgrade. I scoffed at him. My phone is just over 2 years old, no cracks, pristine condition and does what it needs to…phones and texts. I hate our disposable society. If I pay my hard earned money for something I expect it to last a really long time.
Agreed–I want my things to last a long time too! It’s really disheartening how much planned obsolescence is in our products these days.
So true! I think “decision fatigue” is a real thing and being frugal can really eliminate that and is another reason we can find joy in so many of the little things. I used to love all the fancy choices in life, but as I’ve become more passionate about personal finance, I’ve found that is changing. Maybe they do go hand in hand? Your post also makes me think of brand loyalty. It’s kind of the opposite, as brand loyalty does eliminate some choices, but you can save a TON of money if you’re flexible with your brands and shop the sales or freebies!
Good point on brand loyalty! I usually buy whatever’s cheapest, regardless of the brand, which makes life easier for me :). It’s pretty simple to compare prices!
I can easily be overwhelmed by choices. It’s so hard determine the best price to value and make the “perfect” decision on stuff when you actually do want to buy / replace something. I hear you on buying used and how it reduces your choices. This year we replaced our microwave, dishwasher, and ceiling fans with ones we bought off Craigslist. The only real considerations were age, visual appeal, and price. That narrows down the choices real quick!
Absolutely! Way to go on finding all those items on Craigslist! I really do prefer the used market. It’s just so much easier to actually get a good deal and, so many of the totally unimportant aspects of a purchasing decision are absent.
I think you’ve hit it. When we are bored with where we’re at in our lives, we look to change what we have control over. If we’re dissatisfied with our job, we get new things for our houses so we feel like we are making a change. Purchasing is the easiest way to change a situation. But the satisfaction is short-lived.
That’s a really good way to put it, Maggie! Buying stuff is the easiest way to change a short-term situation, but it’s such an ephemeral happiness.
Another classic post. Man, you’re on a roll.
I personally am not always a big fan of choices/options in and of themselves. As you alluded to, there’s that pesky paradox of choice. Once we’re given too many options, we are less happy and more stressed, no matter what we choose.
I’m more a fan of plain-old autonomy. I don’t need a bunch of choices, per se, just the ability and authority to make the choice.
I also agree with your observation that, in general, we early retirees/FI/frugal folks kind of have to be anti-establishment, to some degree. When the dominant culture is all about consumption, it’s hard for just about anyone to achieve financial independence without rejecting the basic ethos. I suppose if you’re preposterously wealthy you can consume to your heart’s content and still have plenty left over to invest. But for most of us, we need to reject the consumer mindset if we really want to get ahead financially.
Thank you :)! Well said re. autonomy and authority. I certainly value those much more than a wide swath of what are usually essentially meaningless choices. And, I think the anti-establishment streak is strong in many of us FI/ERE people :).
I think those on the path to FI/RE value time and freedom of choice more than they value what today’s society considers valuable. Today’s society looks at big cars, boats, houses, exotic vacations, and new gadgets as you have made it, those on the path look at this in almost the exact opposite way seeing items that add to our time on our plan of FI, it’s almost an exact opposite effect in comparison.
Well said! We really do see the world differently.
I completely agree with your assessment of “choice” in today’s society; true necessities are a choice – old vs. new, brand name vs. generic, big house vs. small house. As you mentioned it’s also a choice not to care what other people think, which then helps create the mindset that it’s really ok to be frugal with your lifestyle. I am with you and choose to save my money now, so that I can ‘retire’ early and have financial independence, which will enable me to choose how I spend my time.
That’s awesome! Way to go on choosing to have freedom over your life!
I still care a bit too much about what people think — or rather, I’ve internalized it to the point that I care. So I grumble while I fork over money for beauty products and hair cuts/colors and such. Granted, I do it all relatively cheaply. But even cheap beauty items are pricey!
My husband, on the other hand, is probably a little too severe in not caring what people think. We have discussions about that sometimes. I’m rarely smiling when they happen.
It sounds like you guys have found the happy median.
Mr. FW and I used to fall into those two camps–me caring too much, he probably not caring enough :). But, I think we’ve managed to balance each other out over the years. It’s one of those areas for us where being opposites was really beneficial for us both in the long run. But, it took us awhile to get to this place.
I find it important to make sure my children are aware of these concepts. That they just don’t have to follow a path that others have, that they can define one for themselves. I know I fell into the cookie cutting approach for too long, and once I realized there were other choices to be made, money became less of a burden.
I think it’s great you’re teaching these ideas to your kids. I certainly wish I’d come to these realizations earlier myself!
This. Is. On. Point.
I sometimes try to explain my frugality to people truthfully, that’s it’s about making a life of choice. But people think I’m nuts. I explained to some friends last weekend that if you had $1m invested in index funds, with ye olde 4% swr, you’d be set for life. One of these individuals made $150k last year. Their response was: we need to start playing the regular lottery, as opposed to the mega millions. Not, jeez, I should stop spending $300/ weekend going out in town plus nearly bimonthly weekend trips (we live in hcol socal, no less) and jack up my savings rate. I feel like it’s one of those things people can’t recognize until they first recognize that so-called normality is effed up.
Thanks for this great post, solidarity, yeah!
Woohoo! You’re totally right, so-called normality really is f-ed up for the most part. Yeah, I’ve found this message doesn’t resonate with most people, but that’s OK. We can talk about it with each other here on the internet :).
Ummm, Mr. FW’s warrior 3 pose is, er different. (oh no I think I just broke one of yoga’s tenets of no judgement)
Haha, yeah, I think he was maybe going for half moon, but it’s tough to execute when you’re balancing on a rock with a pack on your back ;). A for effort though.
You may be abandoning some choice by settling for good enough, rather than perfect. But really, you are deferring your choices to the future. Then you will have the resources to make choices that are more valuable to you.
This is an old debate. Do things make you happy? Happier than people do? Then your happiness may be wide but it is shallow.
For sure. I definitely prefer having the option to make ‘real’ choices in the future and not meaningless ones in the present.
This is the best example of frugal way, Frugalwoods’. We have choices all the time and we should never forget it. And, I think it’s important that we acknowledge this power or opportunity before any thing else because this will determine whether we make our own way or follow others’ way.
When I renovated my house a few years ago, I remember thinking that I never wanted to make another housing related choice again (so. Much. Over-analyzing…. Too many choices!)
Although seeing your line about the choice to live without central A/C made me cringe since it is 7am here and already over 90% humidity….
Renovating is the worst for too many choices! I’m with you–love the end result, but it’s amazing how many little nuanced decisions there are to make. We’re fortunate that it just doesn’t get too hot here in the summertime–I’m sure we’d feel differently is we lived in a warmer clime :)!
You are on fire this week! Love it! I’ve never been a rampant consumer (I’ve always hated shopping), but over the past year, I’ve been very conscious in cutting back even more. What surprised me most was how much the stress level in my life dropped when I moved into a default mindset of not buying. I realized I had been feeling this societal pressure and expectation to “shop the sales” and “find good deals” and it was a tremendous relief to just let go of all that. As you said, when your mind isn’t cluttered up with countless consumer choices, there’s more room for awesome, creative thinking, and that’s where I’d rather use my decision making energy!
Thank you, I appreciate that! I feel on fire :)! I feel exactly the same way now that I’ve stopped shopping–so much less stress, so much less to worry about, and so much more time for doing things that actually matter to me.
“Marketing creates needs for us that we don’t actually have.” Marketers, unfortunately, succeeded where I was concerned for many years. I now find that if I deny myself a purchase, eventually the true or false value of it surfaces, and I can make a wise choice. Sometimes, I’m tempted to feel less-than-frugal as I choose, for example, to continue with a gym membership, but authenticity is what matters – for both the choice not to purchase and the choice to purchase.
Authenticity is definitely where it’s at–great point. If a purchase is meaningful, then I think it’s worthwhile. All about what you value and what brings you joy.
That there be some most excellent writing.
I was thinking about why FI appeals just today. Who would have thought my distaste in paying more for clothes because they are fashionable or buying a fancy car (after all you haven’t built the car you are sat in a traffic jam in, you’ve just bought it) would have become a powerful attribute 🙂
Too much choice definitely has the power to paralyze us, or push us into action (buying something when we don’t need it).
You’re right that working until 65 and having a big house and a nice car isn’t necessarily the wrong way to live your life, but as the seemingly default, it’s certainly not the only way.
(BTW, how long is it until the homestead adventure begins?)
Good point about too much choice making us think we need to buy things we don’t need–I think it can definitely work that way too, which is pretty scary. The homesteading adventure will begin by fall 2017 at the latest, but it could start earlier depending on when we find a place to buy (we’ve been hunting on and off for about 2 years now). If you’re interested in reading more about our homestead plans, you can check out our Frugal Homestead Series.
I agree that choices are important. I spent far too much time trying to explain that to people who complained that they couldn’t afford to travel on only $x per year (when $x was always far more than I made). I always went with a simple metric — $20 DVD now or one night in a hostel? It’s an easy decision.
On the trend of buying baby items . . . . I thought of something that, in the long term, might save you money if you didn’t get it as a hand-me-down. On clearance right now at Target are reusable swim diapers ($5). I picked up one in the next size up for our little one. We swim decently often (for free in lakes, swim lessons, or hotel/discount pool trips), and I’ve now bought three swim diapers, all on clearance because I bought them at the end of the summer each time. Definitely has saved me on buying disposable swim diapers, and the reusable ones actually work better too. They absorb some waste (unlike disposables) and are a closer fit.
Just want to give you the heads up in case you haven’t been lucky enough to receive those as a hand-me-down. No one I know knew about those. I definitely plan on handing ours down when we’re all done with them. They’ve been completely awesome!
Oooo, thank you for the tip on the swim diapers! I had no idea you could get reusable ones. Good to know :)!
Hmmmm, I made a choice today. I decided to not buy a baby gate. My toddler is all over the place, but I can’t part with $79 for a gate that we will only use for a few years. Baby no. 2 is on the way and I’m going to stay home this next go around so I’m definitely already having to shift my mindset. However, we were like you with the first and we really didn’t buy much for our first born. I know it irritated our friends, not our family so much. I don’t think they understood why we bought used things like the high chair when he have the funds to buy new. Now that my son is a toddler I’m so glad I bought used, that stuff gets messed up so quickly and I don’t have to worry about it so much.
Nicely done on getting used things for your kiddos! The new baby stuff market is just such a racket. If you’re desperate for a gate, you might try checking out Craigslist or your local Buy Nothing project to see if anyone is offering a free or cheap used baby gate. Someone just gave one away on my Buy Nothing group the other day!
Ignore those haters.Time and money is the same thing so I dont brag about either-not cool to do.My kitchen trash can defines me! Inexpensive, bought at that Swedish store. It’s not a cheap plastic one…those stain and can’t last. Mine is painted and washable.(no step lid) I put a cardboard base on it to stop rings forming on our linoleum.I glue gunned a cardboard liner for garbage bags…very
convenient (and invisible).No stainless steel-fingerprint-free expensive can for me.Hey! I’m a frugal
wierdo too! Yeah for us!!
Gotta ignore the haters for sure!
I really enjoy reading your blog. I keep a very long list of all the things I look forward to because there is so much to look forward to I might actually forget something if I didn’t write it down. Frugalwoods posts have been on that list for some time now. I just wanted to say thank you. Also congratulations on Baby Frugalwoods. Looking forward to pictures… from the chin down of course. 🙂
Thank you so much, Jana! That’s very sweet of you to say :). And, I love the idea of keeping a list of things to look forward to–that’s like an ongoing gratitude reminder. Great idea! Thanks for the congrats on Babywoods–we’re pretty excited :).
Hi Mrs. FW! Bit of an unrelated question, as someone who is considering kiddos soon. What will your daycare arrangements be? I seem to recall you wouldn’t FIRE until maybe 2017? Would love to see an article on daycare costs.
That’s a great question! You read my mind :). I’ll be writing about our child care decision before too long here. Fear not! I won’t leave you guys guessing ;).
I try to value the choices I make every day. I don’t believe that there is only one path in life, and there are definitely other paths than the societal norm, but I also feel that there isn’t only one path to financial independence either. I am not a full-fledged frugal-weirdo, and I don’t think I ever will be… But if my journey to financial independence takes a bit longer because I choose to keep cable so we can enjoy watching the hockey game at home (much more frugal than going to the pub to watch), or because I choose to purchase locally farmed and produced sausages which are pricier, or because I decide to spend over $2000 on a weekend away taking my soon-to-be-step-daughter and her friend to see a pop-star that she loves while she is still young enough to want to go with me… it shouldn’t make my path to financial independence any less valid.
(As you can see by the possible defensive undertones, I’m still working on the whole “not caring what other people think” thing…)
Hi, I have recently discovered your blog and am working my way through your brilliant blog posts, really enjoying reading them 🙂 any advice on how to get my other half on board with a more frugal lifestyle? We don’t have any debt (except mortgage) but I am interested in saving money and leading a simpler lifestyle, whereas he has adapted more of a ‘live for now’ (spending) approach. Keep up the great work, love this blog!
I’m glad we stumbled on ya’lls blog! I so often rant and rave to my husband about the world and the direction everyone feels they must flow in it. I quit a few years back, but I too found sitting in an office from 9-5 so mentally draining! My husband is retiring this year (at 40) so that we can travel full time with our kids for a few years, until we decide where we want to settle. After that we’ll buy a homestead in cash and live on the interest of our retirement accounts. We’ll always work here and there for fun, and to supplement…but it’s a totally different thing if you work by choice vs having to work to pay for your mortgage, clothing, coffee…whatever! The interesting thing is that NO ONE every once mentioned to me a possibility in life outside college->work->retirement. The idea that you could live without a mortgage or car payment was never even talked about! Thanks goodness we woke up and realized that there was another way! And glad to find some kindred spirits!
That’s a full and satisfying post. Another way of thinking about “If you’re extremely rich, you can choose to have everything you want” is that when you realize what you really want, it’s probably small/attainable enough that you can actually choose to have it. So you become “rich”.
(Just came over from a MMM forum post talking y’all up… lots of nice stuff here. Thank you for writing it.)
Great job getting the word out. The best years of our lives are from 18-65. What’s your time worth? Save everything you don’t have to spend to get on the other side of interest. Once you are flush, know when to stop. My goal has been17 years school, 17 years work, and 17 years retired. In 2 years when it is reached, my new goal will be 50 years retired.
You will find several years after reaching your goals the money part of life will take care of itself. You will care less about owning anything that has to be maintained. You will be frugal, but will be comfortable getting what you want. You can concentrate on relationships without outside stress.
Two things. If you build a cabin in the woods as a utopia, when you finally get the last thing done, you might both sit down, look at each other, and say what do we do now. We did that, were board for about 3 months and sold it. So buy it only in a place you want to be, and others want to be.
The other thing is instead of renting your house you have now ( pita ) sell it to someone who lost a business or just got divorced and is willing to pay you a 30 year mortgage at 2 percent higher interest rate than a bank. Go through a title company. Invest the payments.
Thanks for the advice Gary! It’s nice to hear from someone who’s done this, and is happy with the outcome! Renting does seem like a bit of a PITA, but it also seems like a stellar return given the cambridge market. Interesting idea on the owner financing angle though. I guess that could turn into a PITA too if they defaulted and you needed to foreclose, but definitely less day to day issues.
I love reading your blog! You give such inspiration on saving money. My husband and I are on our own path to self-sufficiency and frugality. I really get a lot of good ideas here. In fact after reading a previous post where you had mentioned the Buy Nothing Project, and I’m not an admin for my part of town. Thank for everything you write!
Oh so glad it’s useful! Buy Nothing is so awesome. We’ve gotten rid of soooo much stuff, and in turn been able to get a ton of baby related items for nothing. Plus nothing goes to landfills, which is the real win in my book. I always hate it when usable stuff gets trashed!
If they default you keep the down payment and any interest. I’ve had to repo a house and a 50 unit complex and have come way ahead both times. In the meantime they pay the taxes and insurance. Run the numbers. There is a reason the banks have nice buildings. In baveria now. Wife and I wanted to see Europe and the plane tickets cost the same for three weeks as three years. Been here since December. Leased Honda Fit and seen some pretty cool places.
You guys are thinking out of the box on everything. The signal to stop working is when the cost of your taxes make it not worthwhile to work anymore. Then
No payroll tax
No social security tax on unearned income
I have been slowly evolving to this life style for a long time, and just found your blog!! It’s nice to know that there are others like you out there! People treat me like I am crazy……so thanks for this great blog, I enjoy all your posts, puppy pics and trash finds!!
Very succinct article that hones in on all the major ways i’ve been thinking about life! I moved towards this naturally then read Your Money or Your Life and other books on Voluntary Simplicity and thought…I’ve found my people! I still have a long ways to go as I am naturally a visual and artistic person and so therefore appreciate clothing and jewelry more than others that are more functional minded by birth. Still I have scaled back tremendously and feel like I have more than enough. I want to try your no buying for a year but I don’t think I’d make it!
In so many other ways I am incredibly frugal though. thanks for encouraging me to keep going on this path!
That’s awesome, Stefanie! So glad to hear I can be helpful on your journey :). And, agreed, Your Money or Your Life is a real eye-opener!
Rereading this article as part of UFM, and in answer to the question, ”is there a person more likely to be frugal”, to me the answer is yes, if by frugal you refer to an approximation of how you interpret it, as in, quite happy to be generous, social and have nice things that fit into your goals and personal needs and truly valued wants, but also unwilling to keep up with the Jones’s or fall into the endless cycle of buy-get-the-latest-whatever. That sort of person is first and foremost a secure person. How do I know this? As I’ve got older and people have inevitably started the life comparisons, how so-and-so has the latest Land Rover and shame, those people still rent (NOT RENT! THE HORROR!) and so on, it occurs to me that I was raised in a very advantaged and happy home, in a gorgeous part of the world, and the best thing my parents gave me was complete security and confidence that I am in fact good enough. I am the one to aspire to be (not in a boastful way!), I don’t need to keep up with anyone in particular or any specific thing. This often shows up when weddings roll around, I have noticed. Otherwise completely sensible, normal and confident folk go demented, insisting on the very most lavish thing and ice sculptures and 3,000 guests and 2 bride dress changes and THE designer of the moment and… and… why? It’s insecurity, of being somehow not quite ”good enough” or classy enough or whatever. Real security and confidence in yourself and your values means that you know, bone-deep, that you are the gold standard for yourself. We all feel a bit insecure at times, maybe about certain specific things, and that’s normal. We’ve all got things we wish were different, but overall, some people can be much more easily marketed at because of their innate need to ”do the right thing” or get external validation for their choices.
As we all get older, I see this more and more. A very wealthy, secure person quite often may have a nice home or whatever, but they have no interest in a new car every 20 minutes or showing off… because… why?
My people!! What a magnificent post. This resonates to the letter with the last 20+ years of my life. Thank you so much for such an indepth examination of self actualized frugal weirdness.