I’m willing to bet that your goal in life isn’t to move to a homestead on 20+ acres of wooded land in southern Vermont by the time you’re 33 (although if it is, email me since clearly we have a lot in common). But I’m also willing to bet that you have a higher purpose guiding your financial decisions beyond merely slogging through life as a mindless consumer.
Mr. Frugalwoods and I haven’t always known that our ultimate dream would be homesteading, but we’ve always believed that our money could do more than simply churn through the endless onslaught of “things” that our culture tells us comprise a life. Because as it turns out, the real stuff of life isn’t actually stuff at all.
What Frugality Can Do For You
Through talking with and learning from all of you, I’ve gleaned that no matter what precise path you’re on in life, the universal truth is that–without fail–frugality gives you options. The only demographic this doesn’t ring true for are the billionaires of the world–after all, they can pretty much afford to do anything. But for the rest of us, there’s a limit to our spending capabilities. And it’s alarmingly easy to fritter that spending away on seemingly innocuous things like lunches out at work, new cars, manicures, haircuts, and the list goes on…
Our culture makes it ridiculously accessible to spend money and unsurprisingly, it’s the default mode for most folks. Conversely, not spending takes more effort but yields the benefit of putting you in a position of power. Instead of being ruled by your money, you’re fully in control of it. I, myself, prefer to be in charge of most things in my life (Mr. FW can attest to this… ) and so the thought of letting my money dictate what I can do is abhorrent. Yes, indeed, I’m the dictator of my money. It’s not a democracy around here.
I firmly believe we’re all on our own unique journeys and I advocate the philosophy that there’s no one right way to execute your financial decisions or set your spending and saving targets. But there is no denying that frugality makes life easier. Full stop.
What Frugality Will Do For The Frugalwoods
Frugality will enable Mr. FW and I to reach financial independence by age 33. For quick reference, financial independence (commonly abbreviated as FI) means you have enough money saved that you can live indefinitely off the passive proceeds of those funds. For an average family earning a typical middle-class income, frugality is the most important component of becoming financially independent.
Thus for Mr. FW and I, frugality and financial independence are intertwined and it’s hard to think about one without considering the other. If we made millions of dollars, we could be financially independent without frugality, but for us normal folks, you can’t have one without the other.
When you don’t spend a lot of money–and are joyful about doing so–you don’t need a lot of money. And I think it’s important to note that financial independence takes many different forms for many different people–it in no way only means retiring early or quitting your job or moving to a homestead. You don’t have to have our precise goal in order to garner the benefits that frugality and financial independence will bring to bear in your life.
Freedom Within, And From, Our Jobs
Principally, and above all else, frugality grants us freedom. As interdependent human beings, we’ll always be beholden to someone or something else in our lives in one way or another–or, possibly, just to ourselves. The key is to have the discretion and freedom to choose who, or what, that’s going to be.
The vast majority of folks are beholden to their employers. When you live paycheck-to-paycheck, or nearly so, there’s not much room for error as far as your job is concerned. You can’t quit, you might not be able to change professions, and you’re certainly terrified of being fired. That’s a type of dependency I never want to feel. If your spending and lifestyle ramps up to such a degree that you need your job in order to sustain your daily operations, then you’re in a tough spot and you’re going to have to keep working that job for the longterm–despite how you might feel.
“But, I like my job!” And that’s awesome! I hear this refrain quite often and I’m genuinely happy for people who feel this way. But the concept of financial independence isn’t about whether or not you enjoy your job–it’s about how reliant upon it you are. It’s a wonderful thing to relish what you do each day, but, you don’t have to be beholden to it in order to enjoy it. After all, jobs are mercurial. Positions can be downsized, outsourced, re-organized, or otherwise evaporate. Frugality is the crucial difference between a job loss being a financial disaster or merely an inconvenience.
Additionally, while you might love your job right now, are you certain you’ll love it in 10 years? In 20? In 40? That’s a long time to pin your aspirations on someone else’s willingness to fork over a paycheck. While you might always envision yourself working a traditional job, what if you decide you want to change career paths? Perhaps you’ve always wanted to work with underprivileged kids, but feel shackled to your corporate gig by your paycheck. Frugality gives you the option to seek a career that might be more personally fulfilling, but less monetarily lucrative.
I’m quite familiar with this evolution in one’s career. When I started working ten years ago, I was convinced I’d found my ideal job and would happily work in the same field for my entire life. Mr. Frugalwoods felt exactly the same way about his profession.
But, we both knew that being financially stable, and now financially independent, would grant us the flexibility to explore other parts of our personalities if we ever chose to do so. We’ve always had a higher purpose in mind for our money–even though we spent about eight years completely unsure of what that purpose was. Speaking from personal experience, there’s nothing more liberating than realizing you want to pursue an unusual dream and simultaneously realizing you’re able to afford it.
Frugality and financial independence isn’t just about saving up a bunch of money and never needing to work again (à la me and Mr. FW), it’s also about making your living expenses match your values and hopes for the direction of your life. It’s about having the prerogative, if you so desire, to quit your job as a lawyer and work instead as a yoga teacher. If you’ve lived frugally it won’t matter that you’re only making, say, $20,000 a year as a yoga instructor. If your living expenses are low enough, you can grant yourself the freedom to make as little money as you want. Don’t let your spending prevent you from doing what you want with your life. Rather, let frugality sculpt the life you crave.
Living way below our means for nearly a decade puts Mr. FW and me in the position to live a life outside the ordinary. Even when we were both making a pittance in our first post-college jobs, we still managed to save decent percentages of our earnings. To put real numbers to it: I made a whopping $10,000/year in my first job as an AmeriCorpVista in New York City and saved $2,000 of it. Our margin of savings has certainly increased commensurately with our earnings over the years–and we’re keenly cognizant of the privilege this connotes–but we’ve always lived the frugal life.
While Mr. FW and I plan to quit the traditional workforce in favor of our frugal weirdo path of homesteading, writing, welding, AirBnB-ing, landlording, woodworking, and gardening, this dream is relatively new within our financial trajectory. We’re grateful every single day that we had the foresight not to spend ourselves into debt, or even into low savings, when this ambition was still unformed. After all, you don’t need to have an early retirement objective in order to reap the freedoms of frugality.
Freedom From Worry About Money
Another fabulous gift of frugality is that Mr. FW and I never worry about our money. Frugality provides a buffer between our expenses and our savings that simply makes life more comfortable. Liberating ourselves from fear over being able to cover bills or manage an emergency is an uncommon thing in our “spend all the money now!” culture.
The mainstream media teaches us that our money is meant to be spent immediately and that we should constantly be on the lookout for ways to treat ourselves through spending. I subscribe to the opposite philosophy. I think money is meant to be saved and only meted out when it’s truly warranted and in service of our broader goals.
Personally, I’d much rather have decades of living expenses stashed in the bank than a closet brimming with new clothes or a high-end nursery for Babywoods. Nope. I’ll take the route of knowing we’ll be able to readily provide for our daughter’s actual needs over a $4,500 crib (yes, those do in fact exist–you’ll especially enjoy the one review of this crib, which I swear I didn’t write, but one of you might have).
Thanks to our years of savings, Mr. FW and I are able to handle any emergencies that come our way. I don’t want to tempt fate here, but if we were to encounter a health crisis or some other radically unexpected expense, we’d be able to take care of it with our cash on hand. Having the luxury to not worry about money is practically unheard of–except among the super rich–which, rest assured, we’re decidedly not.
And our frugality also liberates us from the more mundane aspects of money-worry, like budgeting. Since not spending is so ingrained in our personalities, we just coast on frugal autopilot and never fret over exactly how many pennies we’re spending at the grocery store.
Freedom To Take Risks
When your basic living expenses are extraordinarily low, and you’re living the debt-free frugal life, there’s a world of rewarding risk-taking open to you. Maybe you want to quit your job and travel the world for a year. Thanks to frugality, this could become a reality and not a pipe dream. Maybe you want to move across country to pursue your hope of becoming a country music star. Frugality, again, can make this a possibility.
The ability to take risks extends beyond lifestyle choices and into financial opportunities. If you set yourself on firm financial footing, you have the capacity to deploy your capital in revenue-generating ways. Real estate is open to you as is investing or perhaps starting your own business. Money begets more money.
Mr. FW and I started our married lives together seven years ago with no debt and not a single asset (not even a car) other than roughly $8,000 in a joint savings account. We then doggedly stockpiled our cash over the years and put ourselves in the position to become financially independent by 33. Yes, we’ve been extremely lucky in our careers and with our health, and yes, our privilege plays a key role in this. But the other thing that plays a role is our concerted frugality.
Every bonus and every raise we received over the years was plowed straight into our savings and our investments. By avoiding risky spending behaviors early on in our lives, we’re now in a position to take extreme risks. We were, in fact, so risk-averse early on that we lived in a dank, one-bedroom basement apartment for over three years before finally moving above ground. We didn’t own a car, we didn’t spend much on entertainment, furniture, clothes, or the other trappings of success that our culture expected us to buy.
Mr. FW and I have always had the sense that we wanted to do something unique with our lives. People often ask how our family and friends feel about our plans to retire early to a homestead in the woods and the honest answer is that they’re not surprised in the least. We’ve been frugal weirdos from the start. And we’ve always craved adventure.
In retrospect, we could’ve saved even more if we’d been on board the extreme frugality train, but I’m grateful for the evolution we went through in our approach to our money. Financial independence wasn’t even a concept on our horizon when we were starting out our adult lives, but the idea of enabling ourselves to take risks and experience the world on our own terms always trumped immediate consumer spending.
Frugality Gives You Options
Mr. FW and I never wanted to rely on anyone else for our financial well-being. Not debt collectors, not our parents, and not our employers. Both the practice and the attendant results of frugality are different for everyone. But the common truth of living a frugal life is that you’ll always have options.
Frugality is the difference between being forced to work a job because you’re entirely dependent upon every cent of your paycheck to having the freedom to explore a career you’re interested in, but that’ll perhaps pay less. Frugality is the ability for a family to have one parent stay at home with the kids.
Frugality is the difference between an unexpected job less being a crisis or just merely an inconvenience. Frugality is the difference between a plumbing emergency in your basement being a financial devastation or simply a hot, wet mess (speaking from personal experience, it’ll definitely be a hot, wet mess).
Your goal, most likely, is not to move to a homestead in the woods of southern Vermont by age 33, but I’m certain you have aspirations for your life. And while money doesn’t buy happiness, it does facilitate the ability to live the lives we want to live–not the lives we have to live. By living below our means, never skating too close to the line with our savings, and avoiding debt, Mr. FW and I created a life where we have a choice in how we spend our time, which is our most precious resource of all. My hope is that through frugality, you can discover this same freedom–though I imagine many of you already have.