The Joy That Comes When Less Is Enough
Welcome to any new folks joining us for the first time after our feature in Forbes yesterday. We’re delighted you’re here and we hope you’ll frugal on with us. Feel free to say hi in the comments!
Ours is a culture of excess. The relentless barrage from the media tells us that our happiness is dependent upon our ability to consume and conform.
There’s no glamour in doing without. We’re consistently told there are ways we can improve our lives and that we should enter a perpetual arms race of purchasing in order to demonstrate success and worth.
Contentment isn’t part of the equation. Achieving a sense of ‘enough‘ isn’t feasible since there’s a continual manufactured need for more, better, newer. But far from this commonly accepted mode of stuff-acquisition, I think the rarity of something’s occurrence serves to enhance its enjoyment.
Happiness Is Relative
As humans, we calibrate ourselves to the state we’re in and although we all have the capacity to experience pleasure, our ability to fully appreciate it becomes deadened by routine exposure. Money can be traded for neat stuff. That’s fine and we all do it. But when we always trade money for neat stuff, it’s easy for neat to become normal and for us to require even more neat stuff in order to attain the same level of thrill that our initial purchase wrought. For example, what starts as a once-a-week latte treat can escalate to a daily caffeine fix that we feel we deserve and must have.
This harkens to the concept of hedonic adaption–the idea that by constantly giving ourselves rewards or exposure to happiness, we reduce the overall effectiveness of these positive events. Related is the idea of abundance denial, whereby we negate the importance or value of wonderful things in our lives. For example, we look at our refrigerator full of food and declare we have nothing to eat and should order take-out. We can all construct a reality in which we’re deprived. I could look down at the hand-me-down clothes I’m wearing right now and feel that I’m somehow underprivileged when in reality, I’m far more fortunate than most people in the world.
Rarity As A Good Thing?
I don’t experience rarity as a negative; rather, it’s a means to calibrate my internal pleasure metrics. With incessant shots of consumer-driven short-term pleasures, our expectations creep up. We begin to assume we’re eternally owed a treat or a surprise. Frequent stimulation of our pleasure centers through food, going out, or new clothes permanently dulls our ability to recognize and appreciate the state of contentment.
This past weekend, Mr. Frugalwoods and I spent a delightful few days in Burlington, Vermont. Our expenses were covered in full since Mr. FW was attending a work conference and I was a tag-along spouse. He received a daily allowance to spend on food, which was ample enough to cover our meals and coffees out on the town. Being frugal weirdos who essentially never eat out, we seized this opportunity to sample delicious restaurant meals all weekend. We dined on pub food, Indian food, sandwich food, Italian food, brunch food, Thai food, and coffee after coffee. In short, we lived it up.
I actually wrote this post while sipping a divine café au lait in an art gallery/bike storage facility(?)/coffee shop (in other words, my kinda place). Although we don’t eat out regularly, we know good food when we taste it and we relish the flavors a restaurant is able to provide. However, Mr. FW sagely pointed out over a scrumptious lunch of spinach feta garbanzo bean salad with Vermont cheddar and smoked turkey sandwiches that our enjoyment of these meals would’ve been dampened if we ate out all the time.
We likely would’ve found something wanting with the food, complained about the service, and otherwise experienced less of a high with our weekend of decadence. But as it was, since eating out is so very novel for us, we got a kick out of every minute. We savored each morsel and raved about each meal. Were they the very best meals ever? Probably not, but the key is that they were for us. The rarity of our eating out augmented the dose of pleasure we received from every bite.
Frugality Breeds Contentment
Our lifestyle of extreme frugality simplifies our existence and decreases our reliance on the ephemeral consumer euphoria that most people consider rote. It’s through this simplicity that we experience greater, more meaningful long-term contentment.
We’re remarkably charmed by our comfortable daily routines. Waking up together, taking Frugal Hound out for her morning walk, and then settling in at our kitchen table for a leisurely breakfast of $0.10 oats and Costco coffee is our ideal morning–and it’s what we do every single day. Our plan to retire early in a few short years, at age 33, to a homestead in the woods of Vermont will further solidify this creation of our optimal life.
We’ve permanently built contentment and a sense of enough into our lives. We don’t crave brunches out because we’re consistently at peace with our mode of living. When we do eat brunch out (as we did last weekend), we marvel at its novelty and differentiation from our norm. But it doesn’t supplant what we consider our key to lasting gratification–straightforward frugality and an understanding of what we truly want out of life.
Road Bump Opiates
The easiest way to assuage pain, compensate for an aggravating day at the office, or cure boredom is to buy something. I won’t deny that. There are plenty of afternoons at work where I find myself thinking “ugh, I’m so frustrated, maybe I’ll just go buy a muffin to make this day pass more quickly.” Fortunately, I manage to stop myself with the realization that a muffin can’t make my afternoon any better–in fact, it’ll end up irking me further. I’ll have spent money and consumed calories I don’t need. Then I’ll feel sluggish from the sugar and disappointed in myself.
While the cost of a muffin is relatively negligible, it’s a perfect example of what I like to call “road bump opiates.” In my mind, a road bump opiate is anything that clouds our ability to reach our true goals.
A road bump opiate is something we buy that’ll make our lives easier in the short-term, but that’ll ultimately detract from what we’re trying to accomplish. That muffin would serve as a double road bump opiate for me–it would thwart both my healthy eating regimen as well as my financial goals.
Where road bump opiates really gain traction and derail us is when they’re substantially larger than a muffin. Cars, houses, boats–things of that sort. They amp our adrenalin, animate us, and we want to have them… now! But if we stop to question why we want them, we might discover that we’re hoping they’ll fix a problem they were never designed to ameliorate.
Let’s take the classic American example of the car. What is a car’s intended function? To transport humans when other modes of transit (biking, walking, public) aren’t accessible or practical. Owning a car is something Mr. FW and I enjoy. We have no intention of ever going carless (been there, done that, don’t need to try it again). But we don’t expect our car to execute any role other than transportation.
We like our car because it takes us to the grocery store and Costco with ease, it provides a means to escape the city and hike, and it gives us the freedom to go anywhere we want. In short, we value our 19-year-old Frugalwoods-mobile because as as car, she performs her intended purpose. We don’t use our car as a stand-in for status, beauty, or to demonstrate success (though she is pretty rocking with all of her rust stains, dents, and blemishes). Those are not the duties a car is supposed to offer, yet many people employ their cars as such and pay handsomely for the privilege.
When we try to force material goods to serve as stand-ins for human emotions, we inevitably find ourselves sorely disappointed. A car can’t love you or bring you real friends or make you powerful or attract a partner of any merit. But it’s ridiculously easy to walk into a dealership, sign a lease (the horror!), and drive away. It’s far more challenging to concentrate on the root of what’s troubling us.
The Joy Wrought By Our Dishwasher
Mr. Frugalwoods confessed to me the other day that he gets a rush of excitement every time he loads the dishwasher. I smiled because I love my husband and adore that he both cooks dinner and cleans up the kitchen. I wondered briefly if he might have a new dishwasher fetish we’d have to contend with, but he quickly explained himself. You see, we haven’t always had a dishwasher.
We lived without one in our first apartment and hence, washed every dish by hand. This wasn’t a massive hardship and we didn’t really mind. But, when we bought our house complete with a dishwasher, our eyes were opened to the glory that is mechanized kitchen clean-up.
Since we lived without one, we’re able to genuinely appreciate and revel in the wonder of this household appliance. Conversely, if we’d always had a dishwasher and never experienced the glee of hand washing every fork we used, we’d probably be somehow dissatisfied with our dishwasher since it’s not top of the line or particularly stellar in any respect.
After Mr. FW explained his dishwasher philosophy, I realized I feel the exact same way about our washer and dryer, which are located in our basement. In the city, it’s not terribly common to have in-house laundry facilities and we lived without them in our early apartments. We’d trek to the laundromat every week and shell out quarters to watch our clothes spin around in communal machines.
Now, I just pop downstairs anytime I want to run a load and then, I have the extreme luxury of hanging our clothes to dry on the lines we’ve installed in the basement. I’m thankful when I do the laundry now because it’s nearly effortless, accessible, and most of all, because I know exactly how difficult it is to make that weekly laundromat sojourn. When you’ve had to do without something, you recognize and appreciate the satisfaction its presence brings to your life.
Fighting The False Need
Our consumer culture inculcates the message that we can’t be happy if we’re without. That we can’t experience joy if we’re lacking in any of the million products vended to us on a daily basis. But more often than not, these products fill false needs, created by marketers to convince us of our shortcomings. From beauty products, which are sold on the premise that there’s something wrong with how we look naturally, to baby supplies, which are marketed to new parents primarily on the basis of fear, to the countless items touted as “treat yo’self” balms. None of this stuff creates fulfillment or enduring bliss.
All this spending circumvents the authentic question of what we want out of life. These purchases eat around the edges of our lives and pull us inter ever-deeper and more intractable webs of consumption. The more we buy, the more we perceive we need.
Our culture espouses continual consumption as the answer to all ills. But in reality, it only serves to chain us to the consumer carousel of endless buying. Conversely, if we allow ourselves to step outside of this buying-focused mindset, we can start to address the actual stuff of life. How are we fulfilled? Where are we happiest? When are we appeased?
For Mr. FW and me, achieving financial independence is about achieving the life we were meant to live, not the life we have to live. Through frugality, we all have the option to pursue a passion outside the norm and chart a non-traditional path that brings us internal satisfaction. When we remove ourselves from the “shoulds” of consumer culture, we open our minds to the possibilities of what we want to do with our lives, not what we want to buy.
How do you determine your ‘enough’? What brings you lasting contentment?
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I absolutely agree that the principle of diminishing returns applies in lifestyle choices. We enjoy special outings or gifts more because they are rare. And we find a lot of contentment in viewing our life as luxurious, privileged, and plenty. From a global or historical perspective this is without a doubt true, even if people today could call us frugal. I am so overjoyed that I got a free outdoor laundry tree from a friend who didn’t want it. A few years ago I was annoyed at hanging the laundry. It’s all how you look at your circumstances, as you said, and we are capable of adapting our view and habits to actually enjoy having less, DIYing more, and reveling in the contentment & accomplishment that comes with this. Great post & congrats on Forbes feature!
I agree with Kalie. I reflect on how lucky we are to have so much. There is always someone out there with less than what you have. Be grateful is my mantra.
I like how you both mentioned gratitude–it’s so true that seeing privilege in our lives makes us appreciate everything we have. And, it’s definitely all about how you look at a situation. So easy to see the negative in a chore like laundry when in reality, we’re so fortunate to have washing machines :)!
We just got new stands for the washer and dryer at our new house which I thought was a big luxury until my back disagreed by having a fit when I was doing laundry. I am now so happy to do laundry in my little laundry area and even though it is a task that isn’t the most fun, it puts a smile on my face. I love to read about how the Amish used the hand machines and the process of doing laundry took a whole day and it makes me really grateful that I can do two loads which is our weekly amount in an afternoon without a problem!
“Lifestyle creep” – it’s what happens when you live a high flying lifestyle all the time. Rooftop mojitos watching the sun set over [somewhere beautiful] sounds great. Unless you have that every night. Then it’s kinda ordinary. We like our luxury in small doses too. Otherwise, it stops being a luxury and simply becomes our new ordinary.
Absolutely! ‘Lifestyle creep’ is a perfect phrase. Rooftop mojitos sound pretty good right about now… I’ll take mine in, oh, 3.5 months or so 😉
Great post 🙂
I definity agree on the dishwasher! I love to cook, but my house does not have a dishwasher and sometimes I think about how much more I’ll appreciate it when I actually have a kitchen with a dishwasher again.
Yes! I feel your pain on the absence of a dishwasher. And, you’ll definitely appreciate it all the more once you have one!
Great post and I loved the article on Forbes too! I’ve been reading your posts for some time and love to see them pop up in my email. I can’t wait to see more about the homestead too. All the best Frugalwoods! FB
Thank you so much! I really appreciate you reading 🙂
I definitely think living a frugal lifestyle makes life’s much more special. Since we don’t eat out often, it feels like a super huge treat when we do. When we ate out all the time (many years ago), it didn’t seem like a big deal at all!
Absolutely! The rarity really does serve to make it special. It’s way too easy for that special experience to become rote.
We used to “celebrate” everything with Starbucks (if it was purely my win) or eating out (all other wins). Turns out, you become so accustomed to those treats, you find new reasons to celebrate. Friday becomes a celebration. The end of a hated job duty. You celebrate saving $25 dollars with a $50 meal.
This is something we’ve had to curb. We celebrate just by being happy 😉 Funny how that’s every bit as rewarding.
I can totally relate to the “celebration” approach–we definitely used to do that with meals out too. It was absolutely our go-to treat for just about everything. And, you’re very right that celebrating through happiness is just as fulfilling!
Frugality really does breed contentment! I feel like since we don’t go out to eat as often or treat ourselves to too many thing, it makes it that much more special when we do! 🙂 Congrats on the Forbes feature, that is so fantastic!!
Thanks so much :)! I definitely find that we’re more content people now that we’ve embraced frugality–its been an awesome change in our lives.
Congratulations on the Forbes nod! I saw it on Twitter yesterday and was so excited for you!
Thank you so much :)!
This is the 3rd post I have read about “enough” in the last week (all in different contexts) and I have been thinking a lot about enough. I think we are pretty much there. In some areas we may have too much and I will be working to fix that.
Having lived without convenient laundry, no car and no dishwasher, I am with you on these machines bringing so much joy. Of all the chores, washing dishes is my least favourite so I value my dishwasher more than many things I own!
Happy to report that while hubby and I are not 100% on the same page with changing services, we have made some progress. We are going to increase our savings next month (modest but a start) and he is willing to look at a few more small ways to cut back. Slow and steady changes may win the race!
Slow and steady changes are definitely the way to go! I think that’s a great point, Kristen! Mr. FW and I didn’t make all our frugal changes at once–and in many ways, it’s still an evolving process for us. That’s awesome to hear that you and your husband are planning to increase your savings next month–woohoo! I wish you all the very best :). Your frugal team here will be cheering you on!
Congratulations on the Forbes feature! Love all your posts but especially love this one. As the mother of two kids, I feel as if I’m “going against the tide” to teach my children the opposite of what our culture teaches them. Somehow, despite the fact that we don’t have the “best” as far as snacks, sports equipment, a multitude of toys, etc…, my kids friends always prefer to play at our house. What we do have is land – woods and a little lake – and the sacrifices we made to buy it have been worth every penny.
That’s such a telling experience that your kids’ friends want to hang out at your house! Your place sounds ideal for kiddos–very similar to what we hope to have on the homestead :). It’s amazing how wonderful the simple things in life can be. Thanks for sharing!
We went the first ten years of marriage without a dishwasher, then got one. Oh, how I love the dishwasher! I love the glorious sound it makes, the sound of me not washing the dishes. When we were kids, we used to complain about having to load and unload the dishwasher. My dad got heartily sick of this and duct taped the dishwasher shut. He said that we could do all of the dishes by hand until we could learn to do it cheerfully. If we complained about that, he said he would shut off the sink and we could start doing them outside with the hose. It worked- I still do not complain about doing dishes.
Haha, yes! I too love the glorious hum of the dishwasher :)! Also, your dad sounds like an awesome guy–that’s a pretty great way to teach a lesson. And it’s totally something I could see Mr. FW doing someday… ;).
Another great post….and one I can identify with. Dishwashers weren’t even around when we were young and first married. Consequently, I learned to wash and dry dishes all day, every day, and I still do that today, and I don’t mind it. Our dishwasher sits empty. As a young, and very broke mother, we had next to nothing for our new baby, and I learned that couch cushions on the floor made a great protective play area for our toddler. There are ways to make do and find peace from debt and spending. I think the big problem for many is finding that “place” you speak of where you no longer feel denied of life’s pleasures because of it. I hope you enjoyed Burlington. Isn’t Vermont a beautiful state!
Well said! There are definitely so many ways to make do and enjoy the things we have–I find it’s rare we actually need to buy something new. We absolutely loved Burlington! We kept saying to each other, “these are our people ;)!”
Oh my gosh, I just read Tarnkay and what her dad did with the dishwasher. Love it!
I love that too!
I think everything here boils down to a very, very simple – yet hard to achieve – concept. When is “enough”, enough? Most people have a pretty comfortable equilibrium between having “stuff” and feeling happy (the “enough” zone), but the problem is most of us proceed far, far beyond that point into greet and gluttony at great expense. It’s the “more” society. Gotta have more. Gotta get more. Gotta make more.
More, more, more…
And as many of us have found it, most of the time, it’s just not worth the effort. 🙂
Totally! We definitely live in a “more is better” society. It’s tough to make that realization that more just doesn’t bring happiness or fulfillment.
We didn’t have a dishwasher at our last house, and spent 8 years hand washing dishes! So, I’m ridiculously grateful for our dishwasher now and when I get annoyed at having to unload it I remind myself that it used to be worse!
Gotta love the dishwasher :)! It’s one of those things you really do appreciate if you’ve lived without!
I always love your posts, but this one hit home – big time. I am pathetically addicted to Road Bump Opiates and I never even realized it – or I did, but in my mind they were labelled something more innocuous – treats, pacifiers, things I ‘deserved’? Thanks for the clarity. It was just what I needed today.
So glad to hear it resonated! I think we all have our own personal road bump opiates to overcome and it’s certainly an ongoing process for me to recognize them in my life.
> “As humans, we calibrate ourselves to the state we’re”
What a succinct description of a one of the most interesting human characteristics! One that can allow us to deal with great change stoically (no matter the direction) or get suck into the insatiability or negativity vortexes. Great writing.
*typo in the quote*
> “As humans, we calibrate ourselves to the state we’re in”
Thanks so much, glad you enjoyed it :)! And, I think you’re right that we can either get dragged down by the negativity inherent to just about any situation, or, we can choose to react positively and proactively.
Less perfection is a big part of our “enough”. Often I find that when items come to us in 100% perfect condition, I get disappointed later when they are inevitably banged up or otherwise start to show age (like my Instant Pot that I managed to dent the side of). But if they come to us pre-dinged, like a scratched appliance picked up at a thrift shop or used clothes that show they have been worn (but not worn out), I don’t mind nearly as much when we add to those.
Absolutely! Letting go of perfection was definitely a huge component of this approach for us. I’ve become so much more OK with the imperfections of life as I’ve aged and as we’ve become more frugal. So much of that stuff just doesn’t matter in the big picture.
I’ve definitely reached this point with material things, but I’m still working on it with food. I’ve said it to y’all before, but I want to feel that rush of excitement that comes from a rare meal out. Right now my road bump opiates are food — snacks, meals, etc. Getting it under control will no doubt help my budget, but also my weight.
I feel your pain there–food was our big road bump opiate for a long time. Eating out was our #1 form of celebrating/making ourselves feel better and it was probably the toughest thing for us to give up. It’s funny though, now that we no longer eat out, it’s amazing how little we miss it. It’s weird how we can trick our minds… :). I wish you all the best on that journey!
Love, love, love!! this post. So many words of wisdom and thought-provoking ideas. Thanks for your awesome writing!
Awww, thank you! So glad to hear you enjoyed it 🙂
So many great points in here. I think you’re absolutely right that things you do every day cease to become special after a time. I recently experience this while on an extended vacation, where I ate out for nearly every meal. At a certain point, I just wanted to cook and eat dinner at home! It has made it that much more satisfying to come home and be able to enjoy the pleasures of at-home cooking. Now I am hoping to get in a habit where a rare restaurant meal feels like more of a treat, instead of something I am owed on Friday after a long work week.
That’s the perfect illustration! We actually had that same feeling after our weekend of eating out–we were ready to get back to our healthy, home-cooked meals! It’s so true that we can become inured to the pleasures of something if we do it too often.
Dishwasher? What is this magical machine you speak of that washes dishes? All kidding aside, we’ve been living without a dishwasher since 2010, and if/when we have a dishwasher in the future I will NEVER AGAIN take it for granted. Ever.
Oh it’s such a magical machine :)! I give you props for living without one!
HEADY TOPPER!!!! But I digress…
Yep, all of that stuff that costs money gets mundane. Eat out too much and you don’t appreciate it. Drink too much beer and you don’t appreciate it (and your gut gets bigger). Drive expensive cars and you just want a better one. On and on. Spending begets spending and you get numb after a while.
You know what never gets old though? Going for a hike in the woods (or mountains in my case). Runner’s high is a real and wonderful thing, There aren’t many better things in life than exploring the wonders of the world with a loved on on foot.
With that said, I wouldn’t turn down a Heady Topper this weekend.
I knew you’d like that Heady Topper photo ;). When I took the picture I said, “I’m not sure people will know what kind of beer that is” and Mr. FW said, “oh Mr. 1500 will.”
Hiking in the woods (perhaps followed by a Heady Topper) never does get old. So true. I think it has to do in part with the fact that hiking has numerous benefits (health, peace of mind, etc) whereas eating out only has one immediate taste benefit and a slew of negative side effects.
I think as a culture we have convinced ourselves that sustaining from excess is akin to punishment when that’s not the case at all. We, personally, live a fairly simple life as well. My absolute most enjoyable past-time is simply hanging out with Mr. Crackin’ and this would not change no matter the amount of money we had. Living simply, I am also amazed by how much more I enjoy simple pleasures such as my morning coffee or our home cooked dinners when I stopped partaking in all the excess, i.e. lunches out, Qdoba every week, etc. On the rare occasions something like that does come to be, we enjoy it oh so much more!
Exactly! You’re describing the perfect life to me–time spent with loved ones and happy simplicity :).
Congratulations on the Forbes feature, that is incredibly exciting!! My loved ones and family bring me lasting contentment. It’s wonderful because my memories of youth are encompassed by spending hours in backyards for BBQs and neighborhood events built around conversation. Time spent with family & friends rarely focused on high entertainment costs. These themes still ring true today, where my fiance & I will head up to Portland to visit my immediate family – and the next think you know, 12+ hours have gone by just from playing in the backyard with my niece & sitting around the table for a board game with everyone. With times like these, we do not have to trade money to enhance our time spent together. 🙂
Absolutely! I completely agree on the importance and joy of time spent with family and friends. There’s nothing better!
When I saw that you guys were headed to vermont, I almost suggested some good places to eat (like the farmhouse – which it kind of looks like you went to) but I figured you wouldnt go, so I didnt bother. I hope that you got to experience that place .
Also, I hope you enjoyed that cafe/art gallery. My companies office was in that building, up the ramp behind the restroom. Very incredible building there, and so close to the lake. I really enjoyed my time up in that office.
I’m with mr 1500 on this one – Enjoy the heady topper while you can, that stuff was fantastic.
You guys also make a great point about stepping off the spending treadmill. It’s not easy, but once you do it, the joy of learning new skills ( I finally cut my wife’s hair – thanks for the final kick I needed) you feel empowered, where as when you’re buying something, you’re giving away your power (your money & not learning new skills, thus ensuring you’ll do the same thing next time you’re in that situation). I’ve always found that friends, family and good food are more than enough to make me happy.
Oh that’s so cool your office was in that building! I’m in love with that cafe. And so close to the water! I’m excited to hear you cut your wife’s hair :)!! Woohoo!
I love the term “road bump opiate”, and I am going to think about that concept every time I’m tempted to spend money to make myself feel better or help address an inconvenience.
Your post also reminds of a blog post I read a while ago where the author talked about how he views his vegan lifestyle as a “practice” or a “discipline”, like a yoga practice. What I took from his post is that, like yoga, my pursuit of a vegan lifestyle addresses a deep need I feel to live the “life I am meant to live” (in your words). For example, sometimes the vegan choice (e.g., an amazing veggie stir fry) is completely delicious and fully satisfying – a wonderful experience where my values and my taste buds are in complete harmony.
But sometimes, frankly, the vegan choice isn’t quite as tasty. (I still haven’t found a great cheese substitute, for example, although I often eat meals quite happily without dairy-based cheeses.) Similarly, I imagine that there are occasional moments for you when the trash-found object fulfills a need on your list but is only “good” or “adequate”, not “awesome”.
And so I am tempted to deal with this road bump (craving for cheese) by eating dairy. But, as you say, eating dairy cheese is an opiate that clouds my ability to reach my true goals. And that’s when I need to remind myself that this lifestyle takes discipline and it’s a daily practice – but that it is worth pursuing because I am aligning my behavior with my true goals.
It might seem strange to link your post to a comment about living a vegan lifestyle, but I have been finding that there is a common thread, in that many vegans and frugal aficionados like you are rejecting the “false needs” that our society presents to us and are making more thoughtful choices that align our consumption with our long-term values and objectives. Sometimes it’s easy, sometimes it’s harder (in the moment), but it’s always worthwhile.
That’s a wonderful reflection, JH! I think your sentiments about committing to a vegan lifestyle are perfectly in line with these ideas and I love hearing about how that journey feels for you. Anytime we decide to change habits to improve ourselves, I think the road bump opiate description is apt. Many congrats to you for making these changes!
This post brought out “comparison” to me. We compare our lives to others, media, etc. I hear at work a lot “what are you going to do, where are you going”. I start to feel bad that I am not traveling every weekend and going on exotic trips. I went back east to visit family last week and when I told people, they were not impressed. We have to be content with our own decisions and way of life and not let the lives/words of others impact what is meaningful and important to ourselves. I know that I have to be more thoughtful about these types of things and more steadfast in my decisions about my life. Good post…
Comparison is a great point, Mary, thank you for bringing it up. I think that’s so true that we can all get caught in the trap of thinking that everyone else is living an awesome life/has it all figured out. It’s tough to turn that off and focus instead on what’s awesome in our own lives–that’s definitely something I have to bring consciousness to all the time.
I also find when something becomes rare (like eating out), you make better choices about it. My parents were in town recently and decided they wanted to go out to eat and we let them choose the restaurant. They seemed to like it just fine, but I was disappointed because I could make better pasta than that at home! If I go out to eat, it’s not to replace my homemade dinner, it’s to experience something I cannot replicate at home.
We feel exactly the same way about eating out! When we do go out, we love choosing a place that cooks something we never do at home–makes it even more special! Of course that’s also probably why I always order french fries… it’s a darn good thing we don’t make those at home ;).
Here in Georgia where it’s 97F, our a/c recently went out. It was 87 in the house and nights were miserable. I found myself thinking deeply about Southern women in years past with their long sleeves and corsets and dresses, and how difficult they had it. As a white woman I would have been privileged, how much worse life would have been for the slaves working in the scorching sun.
My fridge has broken twice this year which meant we were putting meat on ice in coolers. My dishwasher went out twice so we were washing dishes for 9 people.
I secretly love it when these things happen. And I feel the same thrill about my appliances!
Thinking about the historical comparison is a wonderful thought exercise–thank you for mentioning that! So true that we have it vastly easier on a daily basis than our ancestors. Indoor plumbing alone is amazing :). I admire your fortitude in the face of a broken air conditioner in August–that takes some introspection and dedication!
When I visited Burlington EVERY.SINGLE.PLACE was out of Heady Topper. Very jealous over here…
Oh no!! That should be against the law ;)!!!
Forbes feature was great. It’s counterintuitive to think less = more, but once you simplify you can see the benefit (less stress, less clutter) and appreciate regular experience better. Nothing is more important to me than time with my loved ones.
Absolutely! It’s so true that the simplest life is often the happiest and the most content.
I think the real question is are you guys moving to Vermont so Mr. FW can drink Heady Topper at his leisure?
It’s true though when you have things that are consumed every day it takes away the importance of the item. Trying something new or having a special treat makes it a special occasion and those moments are better in my humble opinion.
Haha, YES, you’ve figured out the real reason why we chose Vermont ;). But I know you and Mr. 1500 won’t complain when you come visit :).
Another great post! And, I must confess, my favorite part of your blog is the pictures of Frugal Hound!! She’s so cute!! 🙂
Thank you so much :)! And, Frugal Hound thanks you too 😉
Great post! Congrats on the Forbes article, and the coffee shop where you wrote the post is my favorite little spot in Burlington. 🙂
Many thanks :)! I am absolutely in love with that coffee shop–I actually went there no less than three times over the course of the weekend ;).
Hooray for perspective. Love the take on hedonic adaptation and perspective. When the great and miraculous becomes normal and expected, any small problem can frustrate us. (This muffin is stale! Do you know who I am, you sniveling barista? Bring me fresh pastries, coffee boy!) But when we have a reasonable and intentionally chosen baseline, then even small treats can make us feel lucky…as they should.
It’s all about choosing your “normal”.
So true! I love the “muffin is stale” concept–that’s absolutely how it would work! I’m all about relishing the small stuff (especially the small pastries… 😉 ).
Ad people who read this are crying “no, no… NO!” But they’re not internalizing, or feeling any shame. I don’t begrudge them their earning a living. Gotta keep the wheels of commerce turning, I guess, but it’s sad so many people feel like they have to incur debt just to be seen as “normal.” Can frugality be marketed?
I wish frugality could be marketed! That’d be the day 😉
Great post Mrs. FW. I am learning to be happier with what I have instead of always seeking more, more, more. False “needs” are definitely something that I struggle with from time to time.
It’s a struggle for me as well–I feel like it’s an ongoing journey for me to identify the false needs and root them out!
I just wrote a post based on Gandhi’s belief that the fastest path to freedom is simple living and having enough. Like you said, I don’t want to feel entitled to anything or give into the whole instant gratification. Recently my husband bought an iPhone. At first, I thought it was really cool and was tempted to upgrade my phone and plan and then after a week, the novelty wore off and I saved myself a lot of money and hassle!
What a great idea to write about Gandhi’s philosophy on the topic–I’ll have to check that out! I think what you said about novelty wearing off is also very telling. Sure, something seems so exciting in the moment, but after awhile, we usually realize that it’s not something we really need/want in order to make us happy.
Yes! I whole heartedly agree with this post! My frugal journey has also started sort of a journey into minimalism, so I’ve been paying a lot of attention to what is “enough” for me. Enough is a simple lifestyle… one that doesn’t involve “keeping up.” Been there, done that and it was too much time, money, and work!
Awesome! Yeah, figuring out our ‘enough’ has certainly been an eye-opening and rewarding experience. That’s awesome you’re venturing into minimalism in your journey!
Your writing is getting to be more about the philosophy of frugalism instead of frugal hacks. I know I for one find this type of writing a lot more compelling.
Many thanks! I do find that the more routine our frugality becomes, the more I reflect on the philosophy and the ‘why’ behind our beliefs. Living the simple, frugal life has made us infinitely happier people and I just love sharing that with you all. Of course I do still like to write about the frugal hacks from time to time too–like in today’s seltzer post ;). Those are fun for me to share too :).
Loved the Forbes article. It did a nice job summarizing your lifestyle philosophy!
Thank you so much :)!
Being debt free and providing a safe, positive and healthy environment for myself and my daughter gives me lasting contentment.
Those are wonderful things, Grace! Sounds like a perfect life of contentment to me 🙂
So true. Things that are a given, aren’t appreciated. It is definitely nice to take a step back from time to time, and ask yourself if something is necessary or ask if it brings you happiness. Dishwasher is definitely a necessity 🙂 I’ve always had one so I probably take it for granted.
Haha, yes, I’m inclined to agree that a dishwasher is a necessity ;). I definitely love being able to appreciate it for its awesomeness!
Oh, I think this is so true! We used to eat out about 1-3 times per week (one to THREE! Every week!) and it had definitely reached a point where I at least was no longer appreciating it for what it was. I’d get annoyed at the service, disappointed in my meal, etc–rather than enjoying what should have been a special (and far less frequent!) treat. Now we are down to about 1 meal out per month, and it feels GREAT to go on a “date night” together. This past weekend, on an endless car ride to visit family, we stopped for fast-food Mexican and then took it to eat at a gorgeous city park with an amazing dog run area. It was such a special experience for everyone (I’m including our dog here) and an awesome memory. I love being back to “happy and infrequent restaurant diner” instead of “harried and insensitive restaurant regular.”
Yes! You’ve captured it perfectly! “Happy and infrequent restaurant diner” is us to a T. And, I have no doubt your dog enjoyed the Mexican food picnic–I know Frugal Hound would :).
Like many people say, consumerism is akin to drug consumption. After the first high, you slowly get inured to the pleasure. So you have to go bigger and better.
I’m certainly susceptible to this, I’m sure. But I try to find joy in the small things. Like realizing there’s a whole, unwatched season of a show on Netflix/Hulu. Or that my blog got a comment. (Yes, I get comments every day, but each time I’m reminded that it’s real people reading my stuff and talking to me.)
Now I just have to get my husband on board with this mentality. Since he doesn’t have chronic fatigue yet is home all day, he consistently wants to go out.
You’re so right about consumerism being akin to drugs–it’s very true that you can become immune to the “high.” And I love that you find the joy in the small things. That’s totally where it’s at :)!
Congrats on the Forbes Feature and enjoyed this post! My enough? Realizing that all the stuff that got me into debt won’t allow me to quit a job I can no longer stand. That’s my enough. No more, no more stuff to take away my freedom to change directions with the wind if I so choose. I choose less stuff and more freedom.
“Less stuff and more freedom”–sounds absolutely perfect. That’s exactly how we feel in a nutshell too. Kudos to you for having that realization and making those changes. It’s awesome!
Wow – I loved this post! Very insightful and honest. I can’t say I never fall victim to the forces you’ve described, but I’ve gotten better over time.
And sign me up for a spinach/feta/garbanzo bean salad – yum!!
Oh that salad was SO good :). We should recreate it at home actually…
And I fall victim sometimes too :). I think it’s all about having the awareness–that’s definitely what helps me the most.
so much love for this article, and the Forbes article, nicely done! I feel like MMM is really busy being retired and has kind of fallen off the frequent posting, so I’m glad to see that I like your blog just as much (my husband would tell you that me saying I like your blog just as much as my hero MMM must mean that your blog is like the best ever in the world). It’s amazing that people just have such a hard time accepting that you’ve figured out what works for you, and it isn’t the same as what works for them. I’m at a conference, and I just finished some cold leftover thai food in my hotel room rather than go out and spend $ on another unnecessary meal out. It genuinely makes me happy not to waste that food. I have zero desire to sit in another restaurant. I’m fine, I’m great, I just spent 3 hours in the hotel pool. Life is fantastic, cold thai food is fantastic, I am literally not deprived in any way. I am so much happier when I decide to be grateful.
Thank you so much for your kind words, Diana! And, the comparison to MMM is very flattering ;).
You make a great point that people do sometimes have a tough time accepting that the simple, frugal life really does make us happy! It’s so true that we’re not deprived and we love living this way. It’s always wonderful to hear from a fellow leftovers-eater ;). Thanks for sharing!
I agree with this post so much! And congratulations on the Forbes feature.
My road bump opiate was coffee (the joy of working next door to a coffee shop) and I have been making a conscious effort for the last few months to not go down that road. And, as difficult as it is sometimes, it’s worth it. The coffee I will have with my mother this weekend will taste wonderful due to the rarity.
I was just reading back through comments after I posted and noticed that your road bump opiate is coffee, too. 🙂
Mmmmm coffee!! I must say, I do love my coffee. While I don’t plan on giving it up anytime soon, I have found that limiting myself to just one cup a day in the mornings (and sometimes decaf in the afternoon on weekends…) has definitely enhanced my enjoyment of it. I look forward to that AM cup of coffee like nobody’s business :)!
I love that you’ve created a life where this appreciation of the ‘little’ that you have is a default perspective. Most of us need some sort of circuit breaker to stop and appreciate how much we truly have, and to avoid the danger of things becoming a ‘need’ like that daily coffee. I’m finding trying to be more ‘present’ is helping me avoid getting carried away, and forces me to stop, appreciate and enjoy whatever I’m doing / eating / experiencing, rather than thinking about wanting more or the next thing. It’s not easy, but it’s absolutely how I aspire to live, and thanks for being a real, living example of this great attitude.
Ahhh, yes, that’s a wonderful point. I struggle with being ‘present’ in the moment and it’s definitely something I’m working on right now. My mind almost constantly wanders to the future and I find myself planning and list-making (full disclosure: I have a list I just wrote right next to me as I type this… gah!).
My partner and I have lived in places with and without dishwashers. We relish the convenience of popping the dirty dishes in and kicking back and enjoying an evening with each other, rather than the sink. And although relaxing and washing aren’t mutually exclusive, we find one more enjoyable than the other. 🙂
I like your simple breakfast. It sounds like mine. I would have to say, though, that as frugal as I am with my coffee, I drink a lot of it. And it is one of my road bump opiates. And as you mentioned, it usually doesn’t make me feel any better, especially when I buy it at 3 PM and it keeps me jittering ’til night’s end.
Thanks for sharing these anecdotes. They’ve given me food for thought.
Gotta love the dishwasher!! I too am a confirmed coffee fanatic. See my above comment reply on my plans not to give it up ;).
The word is spreading, that is great news about your Forbes feature! At the end of a long day, I’ve come to look forward to the ping of your posts, a reminder to keep it real! Occasional treats are the best. I nearly jumped out of my skin when my manager bought me a thank you coffee in an actual cafe yesterday, something I gave up a while ago. It reminded me how much more I appreciate the small luxuries these days, and more, see them as luxuries.
Thanks so much–we were pretty excited about the Forbes article :)! You’re so right about appreciating the small luxuries as significant treats. It really does give us an outlook of gratitude, in my experience.
Soooo with you on “enough.” Our new house came with a fairly old, low-end washer and dryer. But they are in a nice finished basement! I once had a washer and dryer in a cellar. I was 8 months pregnant and cloth diapering my 15 month old. There was no place in the house I could safely leave him or put him down while doing the laundry, so–I am not making this up–I loaded him into a back carrier fastened under my bump, and down the stairs we went to do the wash. Boy do I appreciate (a) my finished basement (b) my now preschool-age children and (c) the end of cloth diapers.
Oh my goodness–that experience’ll definitely make you grateful every time you do the laundry :)! There really is something to be said for having a basis for comparison. Makes us appreciate life so much more!
Thank you for another great article (and a great Forbes feature, too)! I follow Frugalwoods now for some time and always enjoyed your writing.
I have to admit though that lately, it feels difficult for me to relate. And I just figured out why: You embrace frugal imperfections – but you live the perfect frugal life. I read your blog and can’t help but wonder: Do you never struggle? Do you never fail? Have you ever bought that muffin?
I struggle all the time and though it is encouraging to read about your frugal success, it is also kind of sad to know that I will never be able to reach your level. How to you sustain such a willpower? I would be glad if you ever felt light addressing this question.
Thank you so much for reading, Mia :). And to answer your question–I fail all the time! To be honest, our frugality is so ingrained at this point that when we do spend, it’s a conscious choice we’re making to spend. My struggles mostly stem from my own personal feelings of anxiety, crises of confidence, insecurity, etc. Those are my battles to fight!
I know I’m an imperfect person and coming to accept those imperfections has really helped me to see my failures as leaning opportunities. I think the big change for me was moving from beating myself up over mistakes to deciding to make positive changes as a result of mistakes.
I don’t think anyone should feel they have to compare themselves to anyone else–we’re all on our own unique journeys with our own individual goals. And I firmly believe there’s no “one right way”–we’ve all got to find the path that makes sense for our lives and ultimately, that fulfills us.
Your site has been a wonderful discovery for me. But on an entirely different note, when Baby November (or is it October?) grows up and looks back at her childhood photos, I wonder if she’ll wonder why her parents were always looking away from the camera… or maybe she’ll always have been drawn to seeing something more “out there” as well. (Actually, I get it, but it still looks a little Twilight-Zone-y to me.)
Glad you found us :)! Haha, I know the photos are funny, but since we don’t show our faces on the blog, the back of the head has been the best solution for us. Fear not, we take plenty of pictures looking at the camera too, so Babywoods will know what we looked like ;).
For many years, I thought the best way to happiness was to have stuff and go do expensive things – go buy dresses every week and spend lots of money to go out dancing & drinking. I got myself in a lot of debt because I was seeking those things that I thought would make me happy. Now, as I’m working to pay off my debt and live a more frugal lifestyle, I realize how unimportant those things are and how little happiness they truly brought me! Life is much easier without worrying over those unnecessary purposes and trying to live a simpler life is making me happy & feel like a better person. This is something I’ve been reflecting on a lot lately, as I’ve been cleaning & purging all the STUFF my husband & I have accumulated, so this post is perfectly timed! 🙂
Well said, Meredith! Thank you for sharing! I think it’s so easy for us all to assume that stuff will bring us joy, when in reality, I think it’s quite the opposite. Congrats to you for paying down your debt and minimalizing (is that a word ;)?) your life. You’re on an awesome path!
I don’t remember how I discovered your blog as I am from Paris, France (yes in Europe!). I am neither a minimalist nor a frugal person but I should as I realise that I buy mostly to comfort myself in difficult periods. Perhaps it is easier to do it with a partner and when you are still young and full of expectations. I am older (past 50) and had some difficult years. So cutting expenses is an effort difficult to embrace. As for the dishswasher, for years I didn’t have one. Then a friend who stayed at home offered me one and it was so nice….!! I could probably live without for some weeks or months, same for washing machine, but it is so good to have them. In contrary I don’t have an expresso machine and won’t buy one, or a rice cooker, or a huge robot/blender/mixer to cut vegetables/meat, etc….
I am pleased to read your posts and hope the best for your baby, your husband and your dog!
Thanks so much for finding us–we’re glad you’re here :)! I think we all have to strike the balance that we’re most comfortable with in terms of cutting expenses. For us, it’s not about deprivation, it’s about choosing only to spend on what we value. And I think that equation is different for everyone. There’s certainly no one right way :).
This is my first visit to your blog. My bf suggested me to read this because we often use the word “frugal” to describe ourselves and that’s the platform of our relationship 🙂 Loved reading your article on forbes and now I am here. Will keep visiting often Ms. FW 🙂
Thanks so much for reading! I’m glad you found us :). And, that’s awesome you and your boyfriend have a wonderfully frugal relationship!
We just moved in with some roommates (yay for communal living to pay off student debt!) from a tiny, older condo, and I actually squealed the first time I saw their full-size washer and dryer. My friend was constantly apologizing for the state of their home, and I assured her that this was a huge upgrade for us, and we are so thankful. It gave both of us a new perspective on how lucky we are to have even basic appliances, and gave her some appreciation for what she thought of as ‘too old.’
That’s a great perspective to have! I can totally understand squealing over a washer and dryer–I did the same thing :). And, kudos to you for having roommates in order to pay off your debt–woohoo!
Hi, I found your blog because someone posted the Forbes article on an MMM Facebook group. I’m going back to the beginning to read every post and am thoroughly enjoying your blog. As a fellow Cantabrigian, I can relate to many of the advantages of living in this area that you write about. I liked Mary’s mention of comparison. For years, I was in a curatorial office of a major museum, surrounded by colleagues of independent means and wealthy donors with summer homes, designer clothes, etc.. On my pittance salary, I always felt like a have-not. Plus my lifetime of being frugal out of necessity was looked at as an oddity. Even though I was upset about being laid off from that job, it was such a relief to be out of that environment and not feeling like I had to live up to the lifestyles of those around me!
When we moved to the more frugal lifestyle, the first thing that I cut out was going out to eat. It was easy because we had a little one at home now and no time to go out and do it. We have adapted and normally get take out once a month. It is a great treat to pick up a $5 pizza or $20 chinese food because it tastes so special instead of being the thing that we eat because we were too busy to make dinner. I try to do a meal plan every week and work in some of the family favorites made at home so that no one feels like they are missing out. I also make so many things from scratch to try to make up for the less. Who wouldn’t love to have a fresh out of the oven chocolate chip cookies instead of store bought (overpriced and not as fresh) cookies? I make homemade bread every week for my husband’s sandwiches and although it is a lot more work, I feel like we are really enjoying things more and wasting less. We used to throw out bread all the time because it was starting to mold but now with the homemade bread, we are enjoying it while we have it and paying attention to when it gets to the end so that we make toast, bread crumbs or freeze it for garlic bread. When you stop to appreciate the things that you have, you figure out how to use them better and enjoy everything more!! Great post 🙂
Aw, it’s a nice perspective Frugalwoods that you construct your own reality and see goodness and positivity despite any situation. I think everyone should be like you so that whatever crisis or problem they’re dealing with is easy to solve.
Great site, just stumbled upon it! We have a fawn-colored whippet that looks just like Frugal Hound!
I agree with everything you wrote. “Enough” varies from person to person, but it doesn’t have to be much. It’s just– and I don’t know how to put this without sounding snotty– it all sounds sort of obvious to me. I’m 64, and my husband and I have always lived economically, working for ourselves, spending money on visiting our families, and travel Foolishly, I never realized I could have marketed our simple lifestyle into a livelihood by writing about it and creating a blog and ebooks and all the rest of it! I just lived it. It was no big deal. So all the “wow, I can be happy without spending a ton of new money on a new car!” epiphanies seem a little obvious to me. Yeah?
If the world was more like you there’d be no one to read us! 🙂 Plus the planet would be in great shape and the average american would be looking forward to retirement instead of worrying about how they’ll pay for it. Sadly, you are in the minority. But hey, maybe you should start a blog! There’s not much money in it, but it sure is fun to write and learn from others.
A little late in the game, but you make me laugh. It’s great we’re all reading you! I have written blogs, btw, but none that have endured the test of time. Be well.
Hello Mr. & Mrs Fruglewoods! First of all, allow me to say that I’ve spent a few hours poking around your blog and love it. You are two people with a plan and your THINKING!
Now, you asked here “What brings you lasting contentment?” and my answer to that is simple. Time. Free time to be specific.
And I say that because it ties back in to your post, your life philosophy as well as your plans. The dishwasher and washer/dryer are perfect examples of things that free up our time. This is why so many people insist on having them. People have filled their time with “other things” to do. As we’ve all heard “Time is Money”. Most people spend their time trying to earn money so that they don’t have to spend their time doing things they don’t want to do. They spend their money paying for something (or someone) else to do that for them. Instead, people fill their time with endless television, entertainment, travel, (excessive blog reading! 🙂 ), etc…
I *think* perhaps you’ve realized this even though I didn’t see it articulated anywhere in your blog entries. Homesteading, is a lifestyle choice that rejects much of that. More time is spent “doing” than “paying to have done for me..”. As someone that spent better than a decade living in a 1 room cabin in the North Maine Woods, I can tell you that your time will become both an asset and a liability.
I wish you luck with your plans and adventures and I’ll be following along via your blog. I’ll just suggest that you consider being as frugal with your time as you are with your money. Money can always be earned and budgeted. You can’t earn extra time. Budget your’s well.
Thanks Jim! Definitely agree that time is the most precious commodity we have. That’s a driving factor in our plans.
I take your point on homesteading. We’re planning a “homesteading lite” style, at least at first. On grid, multiple rooms, a dishwasher. We hope to eventually get to the point where we’re producing much of our produce, but we’re not counting on it in our budget. Like all of our other hobbies… we plan to do it as much (or as little) as we desire. But man, I’m an inveterate tinkerer so the thought of more “doing” appeals to me.
I love the sentiment that frugality breeds contentment. It’s so true that we are happy when we don’t waste things—our money, our time, our emotions. For many people—including me—-happiness also comes from having money, or a savings account, in the bank. Around 12 years ago, when both of my daughters were in private colleges at the same time and my husband and I were financially strapped, I started saving $5 bills as a way to have some control over what little extra money I had at the time. In those 12 years, I have now saved almost $36,000, all in $5 bills.
Thank you for your work!
Wow, that’s a lot of $5 bills! Good on you for taking control!
Lucky you that both husband and wife are on the same page. It gets really hard when one is frugal and other is spendthrift. I am in that situation, where one my significant other wants to spend on luxuries, like truck, deck etc., on the other I plan on paying off debts and mortgage. He read through your article hope that motivates a little into saving also… And we have family visits most often and every visit comes with a list of requests to buy and send… Sometimes your thoughts can never turn into actions with out the help from other…
Have to admit that my take is a bit different. Putting on my economist hat, I don’t necessarily subscribe to frugality for its own sake. I decide based on ROI which may involve higher sunk costs but with outsized returns.
To use the dishwasher as example. Having hand washed dishes, I too appreciate the auto dishwasher. But I would and have spent an extra $300 dollars for a $989 Kitchenaid that has bells and whistles like extra water jets for cakey pots and pans emitting just 39 decibels.
If I just applied frugality as end all, I would have to save that $300. But a few economic principles inform me otherwise. The value and opportunity cost of those $300 amortized over a decade or two of peace and quiet and drama free dishwashing is great ROI. I could save the $300 but to what end? Stored on the cloud magnetically for me to potentially use in the future just in case? It feels good but also neglects the ROI that is the sum of the present and future value of services such a durable good provides. Is a quiet house and kitchen worth that money? Why isn’t it? It is heightened long-lasting quality of life enhancement that yields value day in and out.
When the future value far exceeds present value, I choose to spend accordingly. And while I am frugal, I apply the Pareto 80/20 principle cutting 20% of the stuff that account for 80% of the costs. That means paying off the car, minimizing housing payments (I would not pay off a mortgage with interest rates so low), and eating out less and cook more buying in bulk at Costco whenever possible. Ntm we cut our cord now Netflixing.
We also bought a $500 bike, a pricier Mac with accompanying 27″ screen, a 61″ Sony LED TV (a decade plus ago), and a whole host of durable goods that cost quite a bit, like 2 Korean SUVs with attendant 10-year bumper to bumper warranties.
We also have our 1,600 sq ft co-op apt in a nice LA suburb with a $1,500\mo mortgage, our cars are paid off, and we buy in bulk and eat out once or twice a week if the restaurant is worth it e.g. delectable food we cannot muster ourselves, of which LA is a wondrous smorgasbord unlike Seattle our previous home of 15 years. But for the other 5-6 days the week we eat at home. Korean supermarkets nearby have pre-marinated meats and fresh Asian veggies that let you prep a wonderful delish dinner in a half-hour. We also pay extra for that; every penny is worth it.
I’m 40 and retired. We’re millionaires. Drank the cool-aid working at Microsoft for a decade+ and moved back to LA a couple years after we had our now 4 year old son. We didn’t accomplish it just by frugality. I also spent a lot of time investing aggressively maximizing the ROI of my portfolio, and powered through 2007-9 by applying lessons of economic history and theory that I learned at university.
So I don’t do S&P index funds. I spend a lot of time as a macro long investor making our money work much harder for us. Something that the book Millionaire Next Door nicely documented as a big habit for everyday millionaires who made their own way. They spent a lot of time growing their wealth in addition to curbing wasteful spending. And that is something I think doesn’t get touched on enough even though it is a powerful way to achieve financial independence. In addition to spending time with my son, priority one, I also spend hours daily a la Warren Buffet reading all things business economics. Having a dozen virtual Mac desktops open is typical. There’s so much to learn. So much to do to make your money vs. you work harder.
Consider this chart http://bit.ly/1IPnFcp and econometrics white paper http://bit.ly/1NgT0b9. And consider the opportunity costs of not focusing on wealth building through investing one’s income. For those who check out the links, best not to have any drinks near the keyboard. Last year my portfolio return was 48%. This YTD it’s 28% though I expect a 4Q V-shaped rebound like last year; the power of business cycles and seasonality and all.
We have a short life and only a few hours in a day. I think pareto optimizing one’s frugality and wealth building is the best of both worlds. I think the long tail of frugality (and investing) is subject to unforgiving laws of diminishing returns. I also regret that in my 20s I subscribed to other dogmas like Roths and 401ks. Now the irony is ⅓ of my liquid wealth is available to me while ⅔ of it is stuck in retirement accounts. I have to resort to SEPPs to siphon the money incrementally every year. Curry Cracker has done some good posts that outline the math on why Roth and/or 401Ks don’t make as much sense as popularly believed which I found out the hard way earlier. But that’s not the end of the world for us. We can live on 50-60k a year incl mortgage; we know that is more than plenty.
What has served me well so far is old school critical thinking Socratic-style. Always questioning, always digging into the counterfactuals. Because in economics and life, few things are ever black and white. And I think the key thing is maximizing preferred big-rock life choices which will yield a sense of control and equilibrium that afford contentment and self-satisfaction. And to give back to the human flow of things that made all this possible, enjoying what buddhists dub the unity of opposites – the beautiful and not so beautiful things – that is life.
I might as well throw in that I splurged on an Apple watch. For the same reason people don’t lug around their laptops everywhere and rely on mobile phones, I also appreciate not having to lug out my phone every time. The watch is a remote for iPhone, and most importantly I am better able to carry on with life at full speed and momentum without letting more technology than needed get in the way.
Kid screaming, text wife. Stock market gyrations, I’m apprised immediately. Pay at drug store, skip wallet swipe with Apple pay. Reminder to stand up and\or exercise with visuals to motivate along. All priceless.
I think the converse to saving money is also the fact that money ‘saved’ is potential energy that is dead doing nothing stored on some computer disk somewhere. It yields no value intrinsic or otherwise. The key is to balance present vs. future value, and not get enamored with minimalism for its own sake. After all, why not skip the dishwasher, washer, and dryer altogether and go full manual? Because value is accrued now and for the decade to come. Doing more of what you want while paying certain sunk costs automating the rest paying the least amount of money to do so I think is a perfectly legit way of deploying one’s money.
What a great article that was. I have been trying to convince my wife on this for a long time as happiness is really relative. We can always find our happiness from small things such as hanging out with our old friends and drinking beers with my wife while my greyhound tries to snatch some peanuts in the air etc… One thing for sure is that money is absolutely necessary to do what we want to make us happy but more money does not always mean guaranteed happiness. Thanks for sharing!
With your husband on the dishwasher…We did not do without a dishwasher BUT did “tolerate” a leaky dishwasher for about 3 years as we waited for the “perfect storm” in appliance purchases. That is… a dishwasher on sale….that provided a rebate for buying energy star from our electric utility…that we could use our “credit” from GE on a faulty microwave ….that we could get a rebate from GE for the new dishwasher AND could synchronize this with our credit card offering 5% cash back on Home Improvement Stores. It was worth the wait…
It was worth it monetarily and emotionally. For after three years of catching the water under the dishwasher with a “cookie sheet”, purchased for 25 cents at a yard sale, we can now load the dishwasher and only hear a quiet hum. I swear you can barely hear it run. And not have to worry about dumping the water and mopping up any mess from spillage. I guess it just makes us a bit more appreciative…..
I STILL get a kick out of having a dishwasher… and we’ve had one of one sort or another since before we were married (nearly 11 years). Washing up is a chore, and much more so once children arrive, so it’s just a wonderful thing to have, and my engineer dad calculated – he was the soul of thrift, though extremely generous and kind – that if you pack it properly and fully before running it, you use LESS water than doing the equivalent amount of crockery / cutlery by hand. You use less soap too. It sounds crazy, but it IS the money and environmentally-savvy way to clean dishes. The newer models are even more water/ power efficient, so that’s even more of a win.
I live in South Africa where’s hot much of the time so no tumble dryer – most people just use a line, but trekking to a Laundromat ESPECIALLY once Babywoods shows up would be a total drag, and actually waste your valuable time, which of course, is money!
Yes! So true about using less water–we’d read the same thing! I feel the same way about our washing machine and dryer too–so incredibly thankful to have them in our house 🙂
My husband and I laughed at Mr. FW’s thrill over the dishwasher – every single time. Because that’s how we feel about our garage door openers! We snicker to each other over what a thrill we both get over these devices, and have decided we are weird. We are both relieved to know there are other people in this world strangely thrilled with ridiculously simple things! We never had a garage door opener before – we’ve never had a GARAGE before. We tell each other this is how we know we have it made! LOL!
Where I am, in South Africa, desperate poverty and hunger and all those horrifying things are absolutely par for the course for many, and there is a real lesson to be learned when seasons such as Christmas roll around and gifts are bought / food and drink is ramped up… that there are instances where there is genuine elation and joy at receiving a pack of basic toiletries ”all for me!” that would shatter your heart. Not that anyone should have to be in such need, but the idea raised in the article of finding happiness with ”less” rings true; if every little luxury is there always, with no thought to cost or budget or necessity, it would soon be boring and blah. Finding a happy medium where the good things (such as dishwashers!) are around, where there’s enough good food to eat and a secure home etcetera are there BUT where getting and spending and throwing away and wastefulness are avoided seem to be the ideal we should be striving for. I love a bit of luxury, don’t we all, but being satisfied and happy with ”enough” is perfect 99% of the time!
HI ! I am really fascinated with your lifestyle. I hope the best for your lives. God bless you !
I have been so interested in this idea of enough. My family did a buy nothing month last month and it was so interesting. I began to really enjoy the things that I did have. When my mom took me out to lunch one day, I savored every bite and every second of the experience. I honestly believe that a key to happiness is being grateful for what you do have without constantly expecting something more. I love finding other weirdos like me. Thanks so much for sharing your story.
Funny about this, my wife and I started our company to help us on our way to FIRE. The name of our company is The Good Enough Empire. We’re much like you. Enough is great! Any more than that is simply amazing. Here’s to our shared goals and mutual success!
I feel the same way about my ice maker! So appreciate that little baby. When first married, we lived in a travel trailer 8×12 with cold water only and a very teeny fridge. Easy to clean but boy all those appliances and hot water sure are nice.
I love that you pointed how going without something for a long time makes you appreciate it more when you have it. My husband and I bought an 1895 fixer-upper house, we decided to live in it while we made it “liveable.” For the first 8 months that we lived there, we didn’t have a shower! It seems incredible to even say, but every night or every other night we went 6 blocks to my in-law’s house to shower. Every single time I step under the hot water now, I think thank you Jesus! I don’t think I will ever take my shower for granted again. 😀
I totally forgot (how could I…) that you two were located in Vermont, so I did a double take when I saw that coffee shop, as it’s a 5 minute walk from my apartment. Isn’t it great! 😉
This was such an amazing read! made me feel both empowered and only an inch tall at the same time because I’m guilty of all the self soothing shopping you talk about. I’m late to the frugal game but I’m looking forward to taking the uber challenge and I’m committed to breaking my (self admitted) shopping addiction! Thank you!
I love all of your posts, but this one is definitely my favorite!
I love your statement that everyone should decide for themselves what enough is. When we were young &raising kids We were frugal because we had to be. The kids are raised & we are retired and I do spend more but not tons more . My main entrainment is reading so I give myself an Amazon allowance for ebooks. I use the library for the expensive ones but arthritis in my hands makes a kindle easier on me. Dh loves old movies so cable is worth it to him. We dont eat out often,pay off credit cards monthly &only buy what we really want ( the key). We both love the simple life we lead,
Purpose in life, true contentment starts with less that is more because clutter is avoided. You spend your time outdoors, digging in the dirt and creating healthy food, a balanced lifestyle with moderation. Room for fun. The things that reward that involve Nature.
WHY oh why couldn’t I have found this website about 6 years ago? Lol, at any rate, I’m so thankful to have stumbled upon it. I’m so excited to read through everything you have and to get focused on creating my own lifestyle of frugality (a term I’ve always associated with cheap, but something I’m starting to see in a whole new light.) Thank you so much for doing what you do, I know it’s going to change my life!
I laughed when I read about the Dishwasher, although I understand the psychology behind it. I had a dishwasher for over 30 years and my current one died a few months ago. I thought about replacing it but decided it was a luxury item for a single person. I would load that thing until it couldn’t hold anything more, put it on rinse until I had a full load, rearrange the dishes until Incould get everything in…etc. Ridiculous rituals for me! Now I just wash the few items I use, let them air dry and put them away. Why didn’t I realize this before? I was truly a slave to the machine!!!!
I love everything about this couple. I was a single mom for many years receiving almost nothing as child support, but I decided in 2004 that I would take every dime of raises I received and put it into my 401K. I maxed out the 401K, then I maxed out my HSA, and then I maxed out the Employee Stock Purchase Plan. I ended up being able to save about 50% of my normal take home pay. After doing this for 13 years, I am happy to say that I am now able to retire at 55 years old. I started a business using all of my own capital and I am getting rid of stuff and definitely not looking to buy any more stuff.
I just wanted to say that this is the most eloquently written post I’ve read in years.. It was so refreshing to read a post that was well thought-out, used a vocabulary above the first grade level, and wasn’t completely riddled with errors. Well done!
Thank you! I needed to read this!
Great post!!! I really feel inspired and hopeful after reading this… hit it spot on with what I needed to hear and feel. Thanks!