Me checking out my former apartment
The street where I lived in Brooklyn

Exactly nine years ago, I was on foodstamps and my husband-to-be was unemployed. I was living in Brooklyn, New York with two roommates in Crown Heights–a neighborhood that no one would describe as “safe” in 2006. Mr. Frugalwoods had just finished up a contract job in Kansas and was furiously applying for every position on the East Coast that he was even remotely qualified for (and a lot that he wasn’t qualified for at all). I was working with AmeriCorps, which is essentially the domestic Peace Corps, and receiving an annual stipend of $10,000 along with those foodstamps.

Mr. FW and I had graduated from college the spring before and weren’t quite sure what to do with our lives. When I think back, our future was fairly uncertain: we had no money, we weren’t married (or even engaged), and neither of us knew what type of career we wanted to pursue, or even where in the country we wanted to live. In many ways, navigating this period of extreme uncertainty is how we ended up so aligned in our goals–we had to create them together with the other person in mind.

A great deal has changed for us this past decade, but the constant throughout is our commitment to each other and the life we want to create. We’ve come a long way from being essentially broke to now being close to financial independence and I thought it would be fun to illustrate how we made it happen.

Our First “Real” Jobs

The block I used to live on in Crown Heights Brooklyn
The block I lived on in Crown Heights Brooklyn

I ended up working for AmeriCorps in part because I wanted to serve people and in part because, honestly, nobody else would hire me. I applied for more than 50 jobs at the end of my senior year of college and, shockingly enough, not a single one wanted to hire a fresh-out-of-college kid from Kansas with basically zero work experience (I had jobs and internships throughout college, but not the requisite “real” job).

So, I was thrilled when I discovered that AmeriCorps was desperate enough to would take me. After being placed with a non-profit in Manhattan, I packed up and moved to New York City having never been there before. Luckily, I had two friends from college also making the Kansas to NYC trek, so we lived together in a tiny, dingy apartment along with half a dozen mice and a coalition of cockroaches.

This was a tough decision because my boyfriend (aka Mr. FW) had a job in Kansas and wouldn’t be following me to the big apple. I worried that our relationship wouldn’t survive this geographic separation. But, it was the only job I’d been offered so I felt like I didn’t have a choice. I was bound and determined to support myself, even if it was with the assistance of foodstamps.

Mr. FW, for his part, was working 90-hour weeks on a political campaign for a pittance. He believed in the candidate and in the mission of his work, which is a good thing because he certainly wasn’t making much money. Since this job ended once the campaign concluded, he then spent two unemployed months job searching. He wanted to come to the East Coast to be closer to me and Boston was as close as he got. We are eternally grateful to the organization that hired him because he was coming dang close to being totally broke with a girlfriend who was also almost completely broke. It’s rather apt that he met the person who set him up with this job at a bar in Hell’s Kitchen that served free hot dogs… you can guess why we were there.

Frugal By Necessity (and choice)

In these first jobs out of undergrad, we both netted ridiculously modest salaries, but still managed to save a rather hefty percentage. Of my $10,000 annual “salary,” I scraped together a savings of $2,000 and Mr. FW similarly stashed away a tidy amount of his earnings. We were living frugally by necessity, but also out of an ingrained desire to avoid debt.

The Frugalwoods college graduation
Our college graduation

Our parents didn’t give us huge gifts of cash when we graduated college, nor did they subsidize our living in any way post-college. We were both on our own and proud to be that way. I do want to note, however, that while our parents weren’t supporting us financially, we enjoyed the inherent privilege of knowing that they would bail us out if something catastrophic happened. I can’t underscore this point enough because it allowed us to take risks and skate pretty close to the line of having almost no money in the bank. I believe that Mr. FW and I are extraordinarily privileged in many ways and it’s something I cover in depth in The Privilege of Pursuing Financial Independence.

How did we save so much on so little? In addition to the standard spate of extreme frugality tactics we now employ, we enacted some rather creative (stupid?) strategies. We both got especially inventive with furniture–I made myself a dresser out of old banana boxes and duct tape, which was pretty ingenious in my humble opinion (the major issue being that it was top heavy and fell over all the time… ). Mr. FW couldn’t afford a bed the first month he moved into his apartment and, rather than go into debt, he slept in a sleeping bag until he could comfortably pay cash for a real bed.

I slept on a yoga mat until I could afford a mattress (let me tell you what: I made sure to save for that mattress real quick–sleeping on a yoga mat basically sucks). We ate tuna and beans. We are more tuna and beans. And, hey, sometimes even some peanut butter! I was dependent on my $130 in foodstamps every month and stretched it to cover all my meals. We didn’t wash our clothes every week in order to save on laundromat expenses. I didn’t have internet at my apartment. We walked as much as humanly possible in order to avoid paying subway or bus fare.

In short, we trimmed every last extraneous expense (well not every expense, we did have to buy beers at the free hot dog bar… ). These lean, early years gave us a baseline for understanding just how little we need to live on. Although I will say, they also made us aware of how lucky we are to now be able to afford things like a real bed and furniture. While it was possible for us to live like this, I won’t say it was exactly fun.

I Said Yes! (don’t worry, we’re still broke)

My wedding rings. Btw, Mr. FW totally made fun of me for taking this pic.
My wedding rings. Btw, Mr. FW totally made fun of me for taking this pic of us.

After our first year post-college, Mr. FW asked me to marry him in the lecture hall auditorium at the University of Kansas where we’d met in a class our freshman year. It was a perfectly sentimental and frugal proposal–he didn’t spend money on a fancy dinner out or flowers or chocolates or even a ring (I have an inherited family ring)–yet it was the most touching proposal I could’ve imagined.

It was, in many ways, the ideal encapsulation of what our relationship and our lives represent: simple, genuine connections with people we care about and very few material goods. Money can’t buy a moment like that.

Also, it was hilarious because he was so worried about losing the ring that he carried an entire backpack around all day containing only the ring. Also, the lecture hall was locked when we got there and so he hunted down a janitor and begged him to unlock the room for us. The janitor then popped in during the proposal to ask when we’d be leaving. Really sums up our future as the Frugalwoods quite appropriately: squatting for free in a public building and then getting kicked out. Yep. Needless to say, we did not ask the janitor to take our photo…

Just How Much Money Did We Start With?

Ok moving past the mushy stuff, I estimate (records were spotty back then because I had no idea I’d be sharing our finances on the internet for you fine people… ) that at the time we got engaged we probably had a combined net worth of a whopping $8,000. This was the sum total of our savings from our first ‘real’ jobs, plus what we’d managed to save from our college jobs (which was obviously not a lot. Beer had to bought, ok people?).

Our alma mater: KU!
Our alma mater: KU!

Most importantly of all, we had no debt, thanks in large part to the fact that we had no student loans–a feat we managed by attending an inexpensive public university along with a combination of scholarships, working through college, and help from our parents. I’m extremely cognizant of how fortunate we are to have received assistance from our parents with our undergrad tuition and it’s honestly the greatest gift they’ve ever given us (thank you, mom and dad!).

In our second post-college jobs, we bumped up our salaries but continued to live the super frugal life. After getting engaged we moved in together, which dramatically reduced our expenses. We’d been maintaining our relationship long distance (first from Kansas to NYC and then Boston to NYC) so eliminating the cost of plane/bus/train fare to visit each other was revelatory.

Our housing costs plummeted when I moved into Mr. FW’s weird/gross one-bedroom basement apartment in Cambridge. It was a pivotal decision that we didn’t scale up our housing–splitting his cheap rent for three years was absolutely central to our ability to save the downpayment for our single-family home in Cambridge. Plus, who doesn’t want to start life together in a dank basement apartment with odd odors and tons (yes, tons) of house centipedes patrolling around?

I also want to note for the record that when I moved in, there were leaves in the foyer. Not a couple of leaves, I’m talking a whole pile of actual leaves that used to be on actual trees. I asked Mr. FW what the deal was and he said, “oh they blow in when you open the front door.” What went unsaid is that he didn’t bother to then sweep them up… he just left them there in a growing indoor leaf pile. And when I asked him where his toilet bowl brush was, I received a blank stare. Let’s just say housekeeping improved after I arrived.

Our Early Frugal Fails

Although we were smart about some stuff (principally our cheap rent and the fact that we didn’t own a car) we had some epic frugal fails in these early years together. Namely, I hadn’t yet discovered the awesome merits of Craigslist and the used market. We actually–get this–rented a car in order to go shopping at IKEA for our furniture. A totally dumb thing to do. Plus, we nearly broke off the engagement after fighting so badly at the IKEA over which bed frame to buy.

This, by the way, is the bed frame from IKEA that we agreed upon
This, by the way, is our bed frame from IKEA that we agreed upon

This is also about the time when we started up our dirty little habit of treating ourselves with take-out and restaurant meals. We figured that since we were both working hard, we deserved to treat ourselves… and so we did! I think we probably ate out once a week and a got take-out once a week, which was quite a lot considering how little money we were making.

Since I was working an office job, I reasoned that I should get expensive haircuts in order to look the part. So, I trotted off to the salon every few months for a $100 cut. It pains me to think about how much money I threw away on my hair, especially now that I know Mr. FW does a fine and dandy job cutting it for me himself.

And, I bought most of our clothes new. Yes, I shopped sales, but I could’ve spent far less if I’d gone the route of thrift and consignment stores. Another totally dumb move since I doubt we even wear most of those clothes anymore. Big time waste of money.

Watching Our Savings Grow (like a couple of frugal weirdos)

At this nascent stage of adulthood (we were both 23–babies!), we still had no idea what we wanted to actually do with our lives. We had some vague notions about hoping to pursue a non-traditional path and be “creative” blah, blah, blah… but those plans were essentially formless. What we did know, however, is that: 1) you need money in order to pursue dreams and, 2) we didn’t have very much of it. We’ve always had bigger plans for our money and we’ve always believed that spending money just because you can isn’t a very good rationale and doesn’t create a purpose-filled life. Buying stuff does not constitute creating a life.

As we navigated our early years together, we witnessed our peers increasing their spending on larger apartments, new furniture, bar tabs, lunches out at work everyday, restaurants, manicures, movies, concerts, and clothes. Meanwhile, Mr. FW and I slowly began the process of stockpiling our cash (even though we stupidly went to IKEA and ordered Thai food… ).

Every month we’d rejoice over receiving–and then saving–our paychecks. We had a little graph in our Fidelity account that’d tally our net worth and I remember toasting one another (at home with a $3 bottle of wine, thank you Trader Joe’s) when we crested $15,000. And then $20,000 and then $30,000 and so on. By never inflating our lifestyle, we were able to save at higher and higher percentages as our salaries increased. And while yes, we have a much larger margin for savings now (a post-tax 71%), we were always, always, always saving–even when we both made less than $20,000 a year.

Buying Our First Home

Our Cambridge home
Our Cambridge home

After getting married in 2008, we formulated the goal of home ownership. It was a pipe dream for us at the time–after all, our net worth was in the low five-figures and Cambridge is one of the most expensive real estate markets in the country. But we weren’t daunted, nay, we were invigorated! We now had a destination for our money and were penny pinching for a reason–a home of our own, which we also hoped would one day serve as a rental property.

It was another four years before we bought our first house, but we steadfastly saved towards this goal that entire time (and did our research by visiting over 270 open houses in Cambridge). Keeping this aspiration at the forefront is what enabled us–on two nonprofit salaries–to buy a home at age 28 in one of the country’s hottest real estate markets. When folks incredulously wonder how we managed this feat, the answer is pretty simple: straight-up frugality.

After settling into our home in 2012, and furnishing it with our sweet used furniture bought on Craigslist and found on the side of the road, we entered a bit of a lull with our goal-oriented frugality. The homestead dream was still a few years from coming into focus and our savings weren’t as robust as they could’ve been. But, our unshakable belief that financial security is tantamount to freedom guided our financial decisions through this goal-less period. We didn’t know what we’d be doing with our money, but we knew that frittering it away on stuff wasn’t a life we wanted to live. I will say though that I find it vastly easier to live frugally with a concrete goal–something about having a plan for my money makes the entire proposition more tenable and fun.

How We Went From $8,000 in Savings To Financial Independence

Our approach to life isn’t all that unusual and our young adulthood wasn’t terribly noteworthy or dramatically different from anyone else’s. But when I think back on our time together–both before and after “becoming” the Frugalwoods–there are a few key decisions we made that enabled our trajectory from meagre savings to financially independent stockpile.

Mr. FW and I on a hike
Mr. FW and me on a hike

Firstly, we embrace strategic risk-taking. Both of us took jobs in far-flung cities we’d never been to before. By going way outside of our midwestern comfort zone, we were able to eventually earn much higher salaries than we would have had we stayed in Kansas.

Secondly, our philosophy that major life events are not an excuse to spend money has served us well. Our culture encourages us to celebrate each new stage of life by treating ourselves to stuff we “deserve.” But we’re of the mindset that instead of treating ourselves to new stuff, we’ll treat ourselves to financial security. When we got our first promotions, we didn’t rush out and get a bigger apartment. When we each got a bonus one Christmas, we didn’t suddenly decide to lease a car.

We also practice the art of delaying. We’re notorious for waiting years (yes, years) before making significant purchases or life changes. In doing so, we’ve waited until we could afford to have a dog, a baby, a mortgage–much of what we do is an extreme long play.

We’ve managed to do well while doing good. Both Mr. FW and I have always worked for nonprofit or mission-based organizations, which has enabled us to do work that we believe in.

We’re not ashamed to accept help. A wonderful aspect of living frugally is the creation of community and the sharing that naturally arises between frugal folks. We’ve been so incredibly thankful for the assistance we’ve received from friends and family in the form of hand-me-downs, advice, meals, and camaraderie. My reliance on foodstamps during my AmeriCorps year highlighted for me just how transformational that money is each month and I was only feeding myself–not an entire family. I’m keenly aware that for many families, foodstamps are how they’re able to scrape by and so I’m glad that my taxes go towards funding government aid programs and I wish there were even more of them.

Most crucially of all, we’ve created a life that we consider to be frugally luxurious. We don’t deprive ourselves with our thriftiness and we’re not misers; rather, we feel that our lives are richer and more fulfilling now that we’ve incorporated the ethos of frugality into everything we do. The benefits of frugality extend far beyond the monetary, which is a philosophy I’m passionate about sharing.

We haven’t always been extremely frugal, we haven’t always made wise financial choices, and we certainly haven’t always had the goal of retiring at 33 to a homestead in the woods. But all of that is ok–our experiences, good and bad, have informed our choices and made us realize what we value and how we want to live our lives.

How did your early adulthood shape your finances and future?

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  1. If your big splurges in your early 20s were a bit of IKEA furniture and going out to eat a couple times a week, I wouldn’t beat yourself up too much. I’m more curious about any tips that enabled the rapid progress you both made in your careers, considering you didn’t go into “career” jobs right out of college and are in the non-profit world.

    1. That’s a good question. I think for both of us it was a willingness to move around for our jobs, for me getting a Master’s degree helped (which I did for free by working full-time at the university), working hard at our jobs (doing long hours and bringing work home), taking some risks, and asking for more responsibility and raises.

    1. +1.
      I find it impressive that you went from foodstamps to financial independence in 10 years. It makes me realize I’ve been pretty dumb with my money for too long, given that I had a much better situation than you did 10 years ago, and am still not financially independent despite lots of efforts in the recent years (but hey, getting there, and close to 70% post tax savings rate too, yay!)

      I think it’s also essential for successful people to remember that people who are in a bad financial situation do not necessarily “deserve” it. My family has always been pretty wealthy, but I have seen enough to know that wealth or lack of it are a mix of personal decisions and good/bad circumstances. Having seen both sides of the fence, I’m sure you know what I’m talking about.

  2. I love your story, thanks for sharing it! I especially like how it underscores the power of frugality, which sometimes gets dismissed when compared with the income side. It’s clear you worked both angles, but cutting needless spending makes the difference between saving or squandering any income. Oh, and that’s too funny about the leaves and the toilet bowl brush!

  3. ” I can’t underscore this point enough because it allowed us to take risks and skate pretty close to the line of having almost no money in the bank.” YES — our early lives draw very similar parallels (including the NYC frugal living) but this is key. I love how eloquently you phrased that having the ability to turn to the Bank of Mom & Dad really does open you up to taking leaps. Also, was the bar with free hot dogs Rudy’s?!

  4. These are my favorite kind of PF posts: The journey. What you’ve been able to do financially in 10 years is impressive. Thanks for sharing. Also, I loved the image of centipedes on patrol. They were your in home security team!
    I’d be interested to read how your frugality played off each other. You both made some significant decisions about saving. In those early years, did you make them independently? (2 people who decided on their own they didn’t want to buy beds) or did you make those types of decisions together?

    1. We definitely discussed all of our major decisions with each other and since we were planning our lives together, we agreed on the bed thing. We’ve both always been frugal, but we definitely got more frugal by being together 🙂

  5. A beautiful story. I also feel very lucky that my parents helped me with college. My husband worked a full time job to pay for his, which probably gave him a bigger appreciation for being able to attend than I had. At the time I don’t think I realized what a gift it was to be able to start post-college life without any debt.

  6. Holy cow, you guys are incredible! I was the classic “spend every dollar before it’s earned” person in my youth. I never saved and robbed Mr. Master Card to pay Mr. Visa. It was A TERRIBLE WAY TO LIVE! Luckily, I got a grip in my late 20’s and started practicing SOME frugal ways. As the years went by, I managed to change…change is hard, but worth it!

    Congratulations on being who you are and sharing that with the world 🙂

  7. Wonderful story! I felt as though I could give you a frugal and free pat on the back for your very generous sentiment toward food stamps and your understanding of how some people struggle so hard just to feed their families.

          1. Awww thanks guys! I just feel like it’s really important to acknowledge how crucial foodstamps are for many families to survive.

  8. What a great summary of how a series of choices led to your current life! I’m really interested in social programs such as food stamps, and how they have changed over time. I recently read that food stamps can now be used at farmers’ markets. What do you think of this change? When you were eating on $130/mo how would you guess your level of nutrition was? I think you have written that your grocery budget is now around $350/mo which is not an extraordinary increase, so I’m interested if you find that that small increase has provided a huge change in health.

    1. I’m a big fan of foodstamps being accepted at farmer’s markets–I think that’s wonderful. I would say that Mr. FW and I eat much more healthfully now, but the difference isn’t the amount of money we spend, it’s that Mr. FW is a really good cook and makes almost all of our meals from scratch. I’m a terrible, terrible cook and so I ate more canned and packaged stuff when I was living alone. Makes me realize how wonderful a skill being able to cook is! I really should learn… 😉

  9. I think that your parents must be extremely proud of you. You continue to show all of us how to live frugally and set goals. I would be interested in knowing more about how you were raised and how your parents started out. I remember hearing how my grandparents were so poor that when a baby came along, it slept in a drawer because there was no $$ for a baby crib.

    1. That’s a great idea for a post! Maybe I’ll have to talk to my parents and see what they think 🙂

  10. By far my favorite article you have written. It’s nice to know that we all stumble down the “frugal” path at times.

  11. Thank you for the look into the origins of the Frugalwoods! I’m always fascinated by your clothes – you’re 6 years younger than me, so 6 years closer to the current fashion. This line caught my eye, “I doubt we even wear most of those clothes anymore.” I know you haven’t bought any clothes in a while, did you stop wearing the purchased-new clothes because you trimmed down your wardrobe, or some other reason?

    I too slept on the floor of my first apartment. It was a 3 month sublet and didn’t seem worthwhile to lug a mattress into it and then back out a few months later. I tried an air mattress for the first week or so but that didn’t hold air so I ended up sleeping on several layers of blankets, and I think I moved to the couch when my roommate went away for a few weeks. I was 4 hours away from my parents, and when I moved into a “real” apartment shared with grad students in the Fall my parents brought the twin bed I’d used in my apartment my Senior year of college. Speaking of privilege.

    Thank you again for the insight!

    1. I think the clothes thing is mostly that my style/taste changed (I’m a lot more casual now) and I also lost some weight after gaining a bunch during grad school, so I’m a smaller size now. You’re reminding me that I should go through my closet and give away more clothes that I’m not wearing anymore!

      Oh wow, three months sleeping on the floor would be rough–I admire your resolve! I didn’t last nearly that long on my yoga mat…

  12. Thank you for sharing this story! I think it really helps complete the full picture of how you arrived to where you are today. A lot of people aren’t starting off with full time employment; they’re starting off unemployed or with next to nothing. Hopefully this will encourage people who aren’t there yet!

  13. To me what is truly inspirational is that you did this without the blogosphere of financially minded folks that you now contribute to.

  14. Amazing story. It’s time for the book! And I’m serious about that. And here’s the title…”How It’s Done.” How’s that for audacity! I just named your new book. But seriously, you love to write, you’re good at it, you have a story to tell, one that needs to be heard, one that proves that it can be done. Yes, it takes sacrifice, yes, it’s not always easy (I mean bed frames are a very difficult decision!!), but so many people could benefit from your story…..key words here….if they would choose to! And book sales are passive income once published and selling. Congratulations on your success, Frugalwoods!

    1. Haha, thank you! I’d be happy to have you title my book… I just can’t seem to get around to actually writing it 😉

  15. One of my favorite posts by you guys. I’m forwarding it to my newlywed son and his wife. Thanks for putting yourself out there so the rest of us can have a blueprint of a frugal life and inspiration for all us older folks!

  16. This post was such a nice background fill in for both new and regular readers. Thanks!
    It’s funny the things each of us who are now on an early FI path or living a joyfully frugal life look back on as “bad” younger decisions. To most they wod seem like totally normal things. Ours was we bought TWO cars just before our wedding (one NEW!) when we lived within walking distance of public transportation…which my husband used EVERYDAY. What were we thinking?!?! I think in this situation we were victim to following our upbringing. We live in Texas. People think you’re crazy if you don’t have a car. It’s just what you do and we didn’t question it. We eventually sold the more expensive one and still have the Honda Fit we bought new, still running great. I would rather have had some good Thai food, lol.
    Side note, we inherited the same IKEA bed from a college friend of my husband’s! I painted it white and used it for our 4 year old daughters “big girl room” recently. It looks great! Long way off for Estelle, but just sayin’. 🙂

    1. Hey, at least a Honda Fit is a great, reliable car :). Good to know re. painting the bed frame white–that’s a great idea!

  17. I love reading yalls blog. I’m a frugal 25 year old and would love to get an idea of how much you had saved when you were 25 up until now. I want to see if I’m on the right path to early retirement!

  18. Omg, I haven’t read the whole story yet but when I saw you lived in Brooklyn, I thought “Hey Brooklyn Girl, Represent!” LOL. Let me get back to reading.

  19. I didn’t finish my bachelor’s degree until I was 30, and that’s only because I finally broke down and took out loans. Just paying my meager living expenses took 60 hours of low paid work a week. Much of that was for health insurance. There’s nothing like working very hard and still going hungry to teach you the value of money.

    Interestingly I’ve become less tight in one area. I spent a few years in my 20s taking care of my dad before he died at 52. He put off most of what he wanted to do to save for retirement, and I had planned to do the same.
    His death taught me the value of time.

    Now I’m willing to spend to avoid putting off some of what I want to do. Now that I earn enough to save, I take a vacation each year. I frugalize it as much as possible, but I’m willing to spend on something that brings me a lot of joy.

    Thanks for sharing your story! I don’t know a single frugal person, so it helps to read other people’s stories.

    1. I think you make a very good point about not putting off things you want to do in life–that’s very much the philosophy behind our early retirement goal. We don’t want to wait to follow our dreams. Sounds like you’ve stuck an awesome balance between saving and enjoying life!

  20. When I read about your non-frugal life, I still see much more frugal then I have ever lived. It is amazing how in less than a decade you have done a 180 on your life. I look back from my 40s at my 20s and 30s and first, am amazed on how much I lived on before lifestyle inflation and how much I wasted. I take those lessons and apply them now and have found a good balance of frugality and living the life I want now.

    1. My first thought, too! Mrs. FW, I just discovered your blog. Very inspiring. I’m in Brooklyn — you might be surprised that your old Crown Heights babe is the hottness now. If you still lived there you might be tempted to eat out all the time. Rents are also skyrocketing and people are being forced out of their apartments by aggressive landlords. My DH, DS1 and I lived there, too, at a (really great for NYC) rent of $1800 for a 2 bedroom with a balcony and free indoor parking — rent stabilized, too. I think those prices are long gone. We moved, after saving for many years, to take advantage of the housing bubble popping and bought our house in 2011. GL with your new goals and dreams!

  21. I would love a post about your frugal wedding! Being surrounded by some of my friends that have spent small fortunes on their weddings, I’d love to read about one that most likely didn’t cost that much at all! 🙂

  22. I love this post!
    It is always good to look back on the days when life wasn´t as easy as it is now. It makes me even more grateful.

    And you reminded me of our frugal engagement:-) My husband proposed to me while we were on hiking trip in Slovakia and he waited until I went to pick blueberries (as my frugal snack + I totally love blueberries) and then he picked one blueberry bush with little tiny blueberries on it and gave it to me instead of a flower and proposed. And my engagement was a tiny one with a blue stone (which looks just like a blueberry).

  23. When my husband and I married, we had about 2,000.00. He earned 7,800.00 and I earned 5,600.00(teaching). We saved my salary and part of his. Our first surprise was a pregnancy 5 months after the wedding. I substituted for 2 years and we saved that money too. We bought our first house (29,000) 2 years later and paid off the assumed mortgage in 7 years. My husband worked in a family business and didn’t have any retirement fund, so when IRAs were initiated, he put the max in for both of us every year. When my last child was 12, I worked part time, and when they were in college, full time. When we were 54 , the other three owners of our family business wanted to sell, so we did. We have been retired for 16 years, turn 70 this year, and fortunately haven’t had to use our IRA until the RMD at 70-1/2. At a time in our lives when we could pretty much buy or do anything we wish, we still use coupons, buy on sale, and I still wash out plastic bags. I feel sorry for the earn it, spend it people, especially now that our economy just continues to get worse, and our government had mortgaged us all to the hilt. I love your blog, your dog, and the baby’s adorable. You both have my admiration.

    1. Congratulations to you and your husband for living the frugal life for the long haul–that’s inspiring to me :)!

  24. Thank you so much for always touching the human side of frugality, Mrs. FW. My partner and I take such heart from reading your stories. We’re both frugal weirdos and it can seem lonely when all the couples around you are being a car clowns or buying new kitchenwares or spending money on other things that are supposed to equate to intimacy, loving, and partnership. We constantly revisit your posts together, growing in our own frugal weirdness and love. We especially loved your interview by Financially Blonde ( Such a great listen and push to stick to our frugal principles, all to support a life of authenticity and presence with one another.

    You and Mr. FW are inspiring young couples. Please keep writing. You’re reaching farther than you know!

  25. “Spending money just because you can isn’t a very good rationale and doesn’t create a purpose-filled life. Buying stuff does not constitute creating a life.”

    “Financial security is tantamount to freedom.”

    These two statements encapsulate what has been at the forefront of mind. I wish I had figured this out in my 20s, as you had. It would have been so great to have sites like yours to visit for inspiration and a blueprint really. I am so glad you are putting your story out there for others to find. You may help people clarify something they feel but can’t quite fully grasp. Keep up the great work!

  26. Wow, I thought my post college start in life was a bit rough, you’ve humbled me. I was frugal like you during and after college and I got a very low, but livable, salary after college. I also dated a financial boat anchor who didn’t want to work for six years. Team work would’ve been much appreciated.
    Thank you for sharing your story.

  27. I’m so glad you shared this story. And I think it is immensely helpful to come from a background of understanding what it is like to live on very little. I think a lot of my success (with Mr. T) is that we got married young and broke and in school and then suffered through nearly a year of unemployment together. Those experiences change a person. Either for good or bad financially. Some emerge trying to overcompensate for those years and others try to keep up the same frugal habits to achieve something more. You guys have clearly done the latter. 🙂

  28. Lovely story…I always enjoy reading the journey of how a fellow frugal blogger came to be. And how things have changed in about a decade…with your story…and Crown Heights! My wife and I have always been relatively frugal too, but I think you guys blow us out of the water. I paid by way through law school while working full time which definitely gave me a good work ethic. It was tough not keeping up with the Joneses but I always had the excuse that I was still a student so I continued to live like a student. I didn’t change even when I graduated, but that was because I had a large student loan debt. Unfortunately there was no public school option at the time…well there was one but it required me to attend full time and I would have to quit my job. The big epiphany in my frugality was realizing that being frugal was only about sacrifice and deprivation…you can be “frugally luxurious” and live a rich life…cheaply.

  29. I love this story! I kick myself now for developing a frugal line of thinking so much later in my life (I’m in my early/mid-thirties), but your examples and lessons help to give all of us just discovering a new way at looking at personal finance ideas to grow from. Thanks for sharing!

  30. Great story! I also would like to hear about the FW wedding! I am in the midst of planning and paying for a wedding right now and am curious about how it all happened.

  31. As a 27 year old working in a nonprofit and trying to live that frugally luxurious lifestyle, this is so inspiring! If I keep at it and I’ll get to where you two are now (albeit a few years later). Establishing good habits young is so key to financial independence when you don’t have a sky-high income. I would also love to read about how you moved up in your careers in the nonprofit world!

  32. Very open of you to post this. It’s always interesting to see the backgrounds that people come from – especially fellow FI bloggers! My wife and I were not well-off either when we first got together, but this really goes to show you what time and dedication can do! It also helps explain a lot of the frugality that you guys have to this day.

    Thanks for the lay-it-on-the table article!

    — Jim

  33. I loved reading this story. It brings back so many good memories.

    When I graduated from college broke (in 1992, gulp), I had a similar lifestyle in many ways.

    I lived in an expensive town (the Washington DC area). I did buy a used car, and had a car payment. I also had modest student loans.

    I did have job stability, however – hello US Navy! My salary wasn’t high by any means (even in 1992, $19,000 a year did not go far). But here’s how I did it:
    1. I rented a cold, dark room in the basement of a house for $308.33 a month, plus utilities. It had a cricket. That chirped. Forever. I had two roommates. One of them annoying.
    2. The prior renter tried to sell me her bed. I declined because the other roommate (my college sorority sister), said “if you say no, she’s just going to leave it here anyway”. So: free mattress and box spring, that I slept, on the floor. At some point a year later, my step-dad gave me his old bed frame. I slept on that bed, with a dip in the middle, until after I got married. So, until 1997.
    3. No dresser. The room had shelves, and I used them.

    Contrast this to many of my young Navy Ensign friends, with new cars, and their own studio or 1 BR apartments, at $600-700 a month.

    My gym membership was the local community center, at $45 a YEAR (closed on weekends). I took the metro to work because it was cheaper than parking. I packed a lunch, and ate spaghetti for dinner (I did not know how to cook). I played volleyball for fun. I met my husband six months out of college. He was debt free and had his own 1BR apartment. Sweet!

    I paid off my loans in 4 years and got a free master’s degree to boot.

    Of course it wasn’t all that great perfection. As my income went up, I started eating out. Your 2 meals a week? Chump change. By the time I left the navy 5 years later, I ate out every day. And some times, for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Such a sad state of affairs. My fridge had bagels, cream cheese, diet coke, beer, and peanut butter. I was a danger to myself in the kitchen (burns/ cuts). I once cut my finger/ hand while trying to slice apart two frozen veggie burgers. I had to go to the Army base for stitches and a tetanus shot. The night before my 8 hour professional engineer’s exam.

    When we bought our house in 2004, I cleaned out a box and found a credit card statement from those years. $1000 a month, and $800 of that was eating out. Just for me. Ugh.

    This, my friends, is why I am going to teach my boys how to cook. See, my husband knew how to cook. But he left DC for CA when I still had 2 years on my military commitment, and I lost my cook.

    1. That’s some awesome frugaling–nicely done. I too ate a lot of spaghetti before I lived with Mr. FW–I am a terrible cook but fortunately he’s a great one! I really should learn my way around the kitchen though… 😉

  34. Wow, it’s so cool to hear this story! remember considering Americorps when I was in my early 20s but not being sure if I could really live off of that little (+ food stamps). I actually think it would have been good for me in the long run to do it, because I would have had to start budgeting, or at least start being really frugal, by necessity, and that would have taught me a lot about how much it actually costs to live from month to month — something I didn’t really figure out until ten years later. I’d be curious to know how much influence you think your Americorps experience may have had over your journey as a whole. Do you think you would have become as conscious about frugality if you hadn’t had that experience?

    1. Good question–I’m not sure, but living that frugally certainly made me realize just how much I could save if I was careful with every penny. It was absolutely a good way to start adulthood for me (even if I didn’t fully appreciate it at the time 🙂 ).

  35. Two things that struck me
    1. I have seen so many couples fight at IKEA. Stay away????
    2. Were you guys at Rudy’s in Hells Kitchen for the hot dogs? They are still free!

    1. IKEA is definitely the danger zone. For reals! And, yes we were indeed at Rudy’s! I’ll admit, I love hot dogs. A lot.

  36. Thanks for this great window into your frugal weirdo history!!

    I was definitely one of those people who went a little nuts in their 20s, and racked up debt buying clothes, eating out, and generally living above my means. I wish I could sit down with my younger self, and help her see what a profound impact this behavior would have on her life later…

  37. For us growing up in middle class America, then trying to find our own way, is daunting for most. Mr and Mrs Frugalwoods navigated their lives with discipline and wisdom. For typical youth, they stand out.

    How many immigrants can tell stories….

  38. What a great story. Reminds me a lot of our own. Even the time frame! Except when we started looking at houses in 2008, we bought a house that year, and when we furnished our apartment with IKEA, my dad delivered most of it in his pickup! We’ve both always worked for non-profits until Margie’s most recent job which started two years ago. Same pitfall of takeout Fridays. Very familiar. Pretty much leads me to believe we can do this too!

    1. Our story is pretty similar too, though we waited longer to get married. I did a year teaching in a high-needs school through a non-profit as my first “job” and we dealt with several years of underemployment both before we were married and in the first year and a half of our marriage as well. By the time we were both making good money at the same time, the habits that we had developed in those leaner years went a long way toward getting us to where we are today.

  39. My husband and I (then fiancé) almost broke up over an IKEA meltdown too. What is it about that place???

    But yes, I wish we had embraced simplicity and frugality much much earlier. I cringe when I think of all the money that has flowed through our lives. Better late than never I guess.

  40. I enjoyed this post a lot. I was a COMPLETE failure in my twenties. Between laziness, ignorance and a plain old bad attitude I bounced from minimum wage job to minimum wage job, at several points living in a welfare motel, in my (practically destroyed but it still drove) car and in a homeless shelter. On my thirtieth birthday I was unemployed (again) and, much like Blanche DuBois, depending on the kindness of strangers, and I contemplated suicide so hard I found myself tying a noose in a bedsheet, looking for a high enough place to hang it. But a tiny voice in my head said “it has to get better.” Slowly but surely, it did. I don’t want to write a book, but the journey involved swallowing my pride a lot and, as the kids call it now, “adulting.” Mr. Mandalay helped as well. Nearly twenty years later I have a great life–a wonderful husband who loves me and puts up with my crap, a lovely paid-for home, a good job, a super-cute cat, and a host of other awesome things I never dared to dream about in the dark days. I may not be retiring at 33, but I will be no later than 54. However, I won’t deny that when I reached a certain financial point I went a little crazy–eating out, frivolous trips like flying up to New York for a weekend to see Yankees games–but I know now it was a reaction to having absolutely nothing for so long. I believe that the journey to financial independence can always be started. Mine started at nearly 32. Don’t give up hope, peeps!

    1. Oh wow–I’m so glad that voice in your head kept you going and that you’re still here with us. Thank you for sharing this. I love hearing how wonderful life is for you now. I think that type of journey and success gives a lot of people hope.

    2. Mr. & Mrs, Mandalay, Are you still in the Richmond, VA area? If so, I am your frugal neighbor and if y’all want a local frugal buddy, just give me a holler.

          1. Oh, no, the ‘burbs! 😉 I’ve been to the Aldi on Parham Road–one of my sisters-in-law used to live out there. Not impressed. Are you on Mr. Money Mustache’s forum by chance? I go by the same name there and there’s PMing available.

        1. I’m not quite that far out in the burbs. I’m a tad closer to the city. Just using Aldi as a frugal landmark. I have been to the one on Parham Road and I like the one on Staples Mill better than that one. It’s good for cheap staples and for German made pastries. For the fancier stuff, I go to Trader Joe’s, which is now owned by Aldi!
          I get MMM’s emails but have never done his forums. I’ll check them out.
          Unless there is another MEL810 there, that’s what moniker I will use.

  41. You have an incredible story! While reading how you took a risk by leaving your comfort zone and moving to NY, it reminded me of when I lived in New York City. I got to live in Brooklyn as well, in East NY, after NY got cleaned up by Giuliani and I believe in the saying that if you can survive NY you can live anywhere to be true. I was able to avoid the roaches but mice traps came in handy!
    You didn’t give in to lifestyle inflation and instant gratification and I think that is key to reaching financial independence. I took a huge lifestyle deflation after I realized that material possessions weren’t making me happy and it’s amazing what can be accomplished when every extra money goes into savings instead of spending. Thank you for sharing your story.

  42. What a fun story! I just love getting a glimpse into the lives of others.

    In my early adulthood, I chose to go to work right out of high school. I lived with my parents and saved enough for a down payment on a duplex by the age of 21. I rented out half and had a roommate so it was super cheap living! I have to say, I was much better at saving as a single person than I am now but the decision to purchase a duplex served us well in our early married years. We sold it when the market was too good to be true and plunked the profit down on our family home.

  43. This was interesting. But, if you don’t mind me asking, what was your rent in Crown Heights? Spending only $8000 in one year (not including food) seems almost impossible in any part of the country.

    1. My rent was around $500/month (it was a seriously crappy apartment in a seriously rundown neighborhood 🙂 ) and I just didn’t spend much money beyond that. The foodstamps were a godsend because they covered all of my meals in full and I had very few other expenses.

  44. Love the story guys, from foolish to frugal to financial independence all in one short lifetime. Hope everything is well with you guys and the baby…..and can’t forget frugalhound:)

  45. Great post, nice read. I forwarded it to my daughters.

    But really, almost breaking up over a bed frame? I mean really……

  46. My early adulthood was marred by one of the worst decisions I have ever made and will ever be able to make. I went to law school. Funded purely with (private) student loans. My first year I was fairly unsuccessful, but I stuck with it because I felt like there was no way I would ever be able to pay back the loans I had already taken out unless I actually became a lawyer. I went the second year and ended up being dismissed due to my grades. So ultimately, I have 2/3rds the student loan debt with a non-attorney salary to pay it back.

    It sucks, but that is my path. On the bright side, it has lead me to a life focused less on the materialistic and more on the experiential. I have an amazing husband who has partnered with me to get us out of this hole, and I have the resources to find inspiring blogs, such as this one.

    In 18 months we have paid back $38k in student loans. We still have a little over two years to get out of debt. It isn’t the process I would have chosen, but it will forever shape my future.

    1. Paying back $38K in 18 months is awesome. Seriously, you should be proud! Rock on and look to the future :)!

  47. You’re an inspiration to me and I’m sure to others. I respect your tenacity and hustle. I’m going to share this post with as many people as I can.

    In my 30’s I realized how much advertisements ( commercials, logos, coworkers, fake friends, family) influence our purchases. It’s as if you have a plague when you don’t follow the herd.
    But in reality following the herd is like having a plague called IGNORANCE, a powerfully dangerous disease.
    Thank You Mr. and Mrs. Frugal-woods for sharing your journey to Financial Freedom.

  48. It was interesting to learn about the “journey” you took to your present destination. And thanks for being honest, telling us about your (few) fails. I read once that saying “I wish” is not enough, you have to find ways to make it happen. And you did that by focusing on your goal as it became clear to you.

  49. Totally laughing because my now husband and I almost broke up over a desk!!! He wanted this thing that was far too big and ended up taking off the door stops and was still pushing it in the door and smashed me under it so I understand the fighting over furniture…emotions run high. I totally agree that I hit a point when I had my first job after college when I was finally not starving and I figured that I deserved things. That was huge mistake because we ate out way too much and I bought so many things that were totally not needed for myself and others. There was luckily a very short time before I realized and we were able to save lots more after that so that we could afford our house and later me staying home with our little one with the extra savings in the bank!! Awesome post 🙂

  50. Loved this. I, too, appreciated that you took time to acknowledge the safety net of your parents that allowed you to “skate pretty close to the line”. As much as I admire Bill Gates for his philanthropy now, I’ll never forget how he described his entrepreneurial years. He had a trust fund (from his grandparents?) of a million dollars but it was a point of pride for him that never touched it to get Microsoft started. I thought it was extraordinarily obtuse of him not to realize that most entrepreneurs would consider such a safety net an amazing luxury, freeing and emboldening to boot.

  51. It is completely possible I met you guys one night at Rudy’s. I paid a high price for those free hot dogs when my winter coat got stolen and I had to hop around in the snow in a tank top waiting for a cab…

  52. You’re story sounds like you have been through a lot, but you must realize that you are very blessed people to overcome all that you two went through. Some people never do come out of those kinds of sutuations and stay stuck all of their lives in them do to unlucky circumstances. I know you guys are thankful for what you have now, but please always stay thankful.

    I am one of those unlucky people. Even though I am very blessed to be living with my mother on social security disability who doesn’t charge me rent, not a day goes by I do not think about my current circumstances. I may live a frugal lifestyle, but it doesn’t change the position I am in. Currently, I live in a small city that only has a few government jobs if you’re blessed enough to land one of those, but most of the jobs where I live are minimum wage jobs. Since at the age of 24, I don’t know what I want to do as a career yet, and getting college experience for most careers makes you take out a loan and get into debt (which I do not want), I am currently stuck. After doing extensive volunteering for a month, I hope to land a part time job where I don’t have to stand in place all of the time I work so I just get a salary high enough that cancels out my social security disability so I can start saving much greater amounts that goes over the $2000 dollar amount people on SSD are not suppose to exceed with their government money. I really hope to do that someday. But since no one in this country can even feed themselves anymore on the poverty wage that is minimum wage let alone save for returement, I’m not going to count on it too much. :C

    I just hope everyday with the new technology coming out and being worked on such as autonomous cars, delivery drones, and robots eventually automating jobs so we can finally get a basic income started for all people. This situation seems far off into the future and unlikely, or maybe not since there is a report that came out that 5 million jobs will be replaced by automation in certain countries by 2020. It’s a very interesting, yet scary report, but it’s something we are not prepared for that’s for sure. But I keep thinking as the years go by, a small voice in my head says things will get better for sure. It may take a while for humanity to get there, but it will.

    Well, I am very sorry for the wall of text. ^^; Thanks for letting me vent! Hopefully, things will get better for me! Even though I’m not allowed to save over $2000 dollars on SSD, I still save a small amount if money each month not exceeding the $2000 amount. Living with my mother helps me with that a lot. I even have an emergency fund saved up in case something happens! It’s small, but it worked for me before when I had an emergency which relieved me a lot! I can’t wait until ABLE accounts are available so I will be able to save even more money without it being taxed!

    Anyway, thanks again for letting me vent! I look forward to your future posts! I enjoy your blog a lot! Stay warm! C:

    1. Marissa, Check our vocational rehabilitation and also your local Goodwill. Voc Rehab is specifically targeted towards the disabled find employment and many times will pay 100% college or trade school tuition for you, as well as helping you find a reasonably decent job. Goodwill also has some resources.
      If your area has a workforce alliance, many of which were created during the last big economic downturn, they might also be a resource.
      Oh, and if you save money in the “Sealy Posturpedic” bank, you could discretely save more than SSI or SSDI allows. What Uncle Sam doesn’t know about, he can’t hassle you about.

      1. Thank you so much for your help! I have tried Goodwill’s services and unfortunetely, it didn’t stick as far as employment goes. After working for them for a while, I decided since I am an organized person that their thrift stores are one scary place, lol! Too much clutter! X_x; And working at one of their donation sorting centers made my feet hurt so badly since I stood in one place most of the time I worked there that if I was even offered the job, I would probably quit eventually. Besides that, I liked my job at the donation sorting center there, but Goodwill thought I didn’t fit in very well at their donation sorting center because I was not learning the job as quickly as they would have liked me to. So there’s that. : (

        I am currently working with a rehabilitation place to find me a job, but they want me to do some extensive volunteer work for 20 hours a week for one month first to gain more experience since they think I need it. I will go ahead and do that first to see where it leads me, but alas, I think it may stress me out if I don’t enjoy the work, plus I’m not even getting paid for it. :C I will be very frank with my rehabilitation place if I do not like the extensive volunteer work position though. Imo, I should at least enjoy most of the volunteer job if I will be doing it for 20 hours a week for a month if I am not getting paid for it. At first, they wanted me to do extensive volunteer work with no pay for 6 months! I obviously said no. : /

        No, I am afraid I can’t hide anything if I am making any money over $2000 or they will make me pay it back and I will get in trouble. But thank you for the suggestion! I’m just eagerly waiting for ABLE account to become available in California. In case anybody doesn’t know about ABLE accounts who is disabled, it is an account you can get to save money up to $100,000 and not be taxed on it. However, in ordered to have one, you must have a documented disability that was diagnosed when you were under 26 years of age and I fit the bill! Like all things that may be better for people in the future, this is one thing I eagerly wait for. But like all change, it will be slow to happen which sucks. :C But the good news is, all of the ABLE accounts may become available in February or March of this year, so this is very good news! ^^ But the waiting part is what kills me. xC I will probably use my ABLE account as a retirement fund since I don’t know how long I will be in SSD just in case I will never be able to get off of it. I say that’s a pretty darn smart idea. ^^

        Thank you for all of your help though! It’s nice to know some people care about my situation and try to help me. I really apprecite it a lot. Thank you again. C:

        1. The Federal Government now also sponsors tax-free retirement type accounts for those whose work or life circumstances do not provide retirement accounts. I can get you the information if you are interested.
          I have my own “Sealy Posturepedic” account: it’s mostly collecting any change I get from shopping,etc. and putting it in a jar. I also have a similar one for gifts of folding money that I have received at Christmas and birthdays,etc. It doesn’t seem like much at first, but after awhile,it adds up!
          It’s odd that the Abled accounts require you to be disabled before the age of 26, as many people do become disabled after that age, whether from illness or accident.

  53. I think all couples should go to Ikea before getting married. If your relationship can survive an Ikea trip, you can survive anything.

  54. What a sweet story. My DD2 just embarked on a voyage very similar to yours including a “short contract stint” with Americorp out west thru the US Forestry Service. She was hired at LESS than minimum wage…no food stamps. She made the most of the situation and landed a job at the local University….Actually a pretty good job. And like you, is planning on getting her Master’s “on the cheap”. She recently asked me what I thought. To which I replied that “I envied her” for the journey she is taking and all the challenges she’ll face. Thank you for giving credit to your folks. As a parent of adult children….it’s a tough time for parents when the kids are just starting out. The kids want to be independent BUT need to know that Mom and Dad have their back. Thank you for such a timely post….

    1. Your daughter sounds like she’s charting an awesome life! Congrats to you for raising a smart kid! And, I was (and still am) so grateful to know that my parents are there for me–makes a big difference to me still.

      1. I’m graduating college in May and have recently decided that I want to serve with Americorps. I was wondering if you have any tips or advice. I don’t know much about the program but I figured it would be a good starting point since I’m not entirely sure what I want to do with life besides that I know I want to help others. Thanks for these posts. I was sent her by my mother who said we seem similar and I agree!

  55. We started from similarly humble beginnings I guess. I got married (and pregnant) my last semester of university and decided to remain unemployed to take care of my new family. My new husband got accepted into a PhD program that same semester, but deferred it a year so we could save a little more (he hadn’t planned on getting married, much less having a baby, when he applied). The program required that one not work the first semester so my husband had to quit his full-time engineering job. He immediately got on a student health insurance plan, but my son and I couldn’t, so my father-in-law paid for a $1000/month private insurance plan for 6 months. I think he might of also helped with tuition, but not much. The following semester my husband was allowed to work and he found something that provided health insurance for all of us and I also found part-time work. We moved to student family housing -old military barracks I was told- complete with cinder block walls and industrial toilets. We got by.

    Towards the end of the 2nd year my husband was invited to a more reputable program in a different state. We would have to cover the cost of moving ourselves and we would have little financial help the first semester again. I sold my precious trumpet for $600, a relic of a former self, to help cover the uhual. Oh, and I was about to have another baby..

    We ended up at UW-Madison. I can’t remember all the details at this point, but I remember that it was a very generous institution. The student family housing there was extremely well managed, comfortable and picturesque. It had an active community center with onsite childcare and playgrounds spread out among all the residential buildings. I was able to access free childcare under a “respite care” program. My husband’s tuition was covered completely under his new RA position (after the first semester). The first year was still tough, so I applied to receive WIC. I used them a total of 1 time. It wasn’t right for me. Even though we were kinda independent of our families, we were still the children of millionaires, both of us. While we didn’t feel any conflict using the subsidized services granted to students and their families by the university, using WIC or food stamps didn’t seem appropriate: It was our choice to be a student family… it was our choice to be poor… we always had the choice to ask our families for support, but we didn’t.. because of pride. I decided it wasn’t right to take food stamps and WIC simply because I had a pride issue. Surely for us there had to be other ways for us to meet our needs without WIC or food stamps… and I was right!

    The community center had a little closet where people moving out would frequently discard their belongings (especially the foreign students). I volunteered to organize it, make it presentable and inviting. Of course I got the kickback of having first dibs on the stuff. After a few weeks more and more people started using it and inventory exploded… I was able to clothe our entire family for a couple years just from that closet! I also got toys, kitchen gadgets and even furniture…

    Most of use weren’t in the position to afford enrichment classes outside of the library system so I asked the community center if they would allow me to teach a weekly story time/arts and crafts for preschoolers. They did, and they even paid for supplies! It ended up being wildly successful and a lot of fun for the kids (and parents too).

    We had a community garden patch and only paid $25 a year for it. It was HUGE too… we learned to grow lots of vegetables and some fruits.

    So we did quite well even though we never had more than $5k to our name. We were frugal, but happy. Those were important lessons…

  56. Thanks for sharing your story! It’s fascinating to see how other people started on their path to frugality and financial independence. My husband and I definitely made some poor choices in the beginning that we’re paying for now, but we are working our hardest to pay off debt and get back on the right track.

  57. Great hearing your beginnings story! You mentioned going out for Thai food. Have you learned how to cook ethnic foods at home, to replace these going out ventures? I love getting a variety of asian foods and we tend to go out for all but basic stir fry at home.

    1. Yes! Fortunately Mr. FW is an accomplished cook and makes Indian, Thai, and Szechuan dishes for us, which I adore. I, on the other hand, am a horrible cook 😉

  58. I have a daughter who has graduated from university and is working. I encouraged her to continue “living like a student” – and she has for almost 3 years now. She’s given herself a savings cushion and a freedom to choose her next steps. SO gratifying to see our children make wise money decisions : ) Something you will no doubt experience yourself some day.

  59. I am LOVING your blog. I found it the other day and have been reading posts since! Only today I realized you are from Kansas…me too! Happy Kansas Day, coincidentally!

    I find your story really inspiring. I’m 26 and have been in the work force for about three years without much to show for it. (Darn all those pesky pedicures and lattes that I thought I “deserved.”) I have been doing a No Spend January this month and it is SO empowering. Since I can’t spend money, I’ve been doing an awful lot of thinking about it and figuring out a plan. My savings rate is much lower than yours (AMAZING, by the way!) but my goal is to save 15% of my pre-tax salary this year as well as make a hefty dent in my car loan and student loans.

    Anyway, thanks for sharing your story and helpful tips. I feel like I am in a very similar situation as you were starting out (my boyfriend and I know all about that dingy-basement-apartment-life!) and it so cool to see living proof that it IS possible to find financial freedom.

    1. Yay Kansas! It is indeed totally possible and that’s awesome you’re going to be saving so much–woohoo!!!

      1. I knew there must be a reason for the FW open and friendly demeanor! It’s a Mid-Western thang! Kansans, I’m originally from your neighbor state of Oklahoma.

  60. Aw, the baby Frugalwoods 🙂 So nice to hear the background story! I am actually 23 right now! haha. Through a mixture of extreme hustle and luck, I got a well-paying full-time job right out of college. (I literally started one week after I graduated in April 2015) Since working my grown-up job, I’ve been saving 50% of my income, freelancing on the side and aggressively paying off my student loans. I’ll be debt free 11 months from the day I graduated! 😀 It’s nice to read that salaries do increase over time and that the hard work pays off. Even though I’m happy with what I’m earning for now, I would like to continue to increase my earnings (hopefully by a lot!) Thanks for sharing; it’s nice to hear where you’ve been 🙂

  61. I really enjoyed this post! I only wish I had been as frugal and smart when I was younger as you were. I made plenty of financial mistakes, and am so glad that I got a little wiser about personal finance!

  62. I lived (or more accurately existed) in NYC for a short spell back in the day and I think my rat hole made your rat hole look like a palace! I lived on Spring Street in SOHO before SOHO was SOHO. Back then it was still the Lower East Side and the Bowery. I also spent one night camped out under the cube near the Art Student’s League in the East Village. Major hippie idiot, I was!

  63. Great story, Mrs. FW, and very inspirational. One of my favorite posts so far.

    I know it’s not quite on topic, but sometime could you elaborate a bit on your experiences with AmeriCorps? What sorts of projects do they have you work on? What do you think of the organization?

    1. I really enjoyed my year with AmeriCorps. I worked at a small non-profit that was focused on helping young people (at every socio-economic level) learn to give back to their communities through volunteering. My focus was on fundraising for the organization, which provided me with wonderful experience that I then translated into my career. I hope this helps :)!

  64. You guys have such a beautiful story. I’m so impressed with how you really bootstrapped through a lot of hard years, and how amazingly well that pays off just 12 years later.

  65. Incredible story! I especially like what you said about treating yourself to new stuff. “But we’re of the mindset that instead of treating ourselves to new stuff, we’ll treat ourselves to financial security.” Whenever I start feeling frustrated during my debt payoff journey, and I want to “treat” myself, I remind myself that what I truly “deserve” is financial freedom.

  66. Read this article from top to bottom, Mrs. Frugalwoods. Although I appreciate other frugal websites, I find yours most relatable:) Look forward to your next post whenever it may be.

  67. I seriously teared up reading this Mrs. Frugalwoods.

    My partner and I are just starting out together – we’re in the process of looking for our first home. When we decided to partner up on our finances, it brought out a different side from both of us – it’s amazing to know that my partner is on board and willing to make sacrifices with me so we can reach our goals. We are starting off in a pretty good spot so I can only imagine what we can accomplish in a few years if we keep this up. Reading this just made me feel even more grateful for having my partner 🙂

    Your story is so sweet and inspiring. It’s crazy how much you and Mr. Frugalwoods went through to get to where you are. Thank you so much for sharing your lovely story!

  68. What a great story. That was amazing and lots to learn from. That dedication and relentless mindsets make everything possible. Great job indeed and keep up the great work.


  69. Thank you so much for sharing your story and including the information about food stamps. It so refreshing to read how it helped you instead of article after article about ALL the people that just take advantage of the system!! I know that is far from the truth. I worked at a low income school and most of the families were on food assistance. They worked hard but mostly low paying jobs and just couldn’t make it at times. When people complain to me or ask me if these programs upset me I say absolutely not! I’m so, so, so grateful that I don’t qualify for anything and I had the opportunities I had. So many people don’t.

  70. I read a lot of personal finance/financial independence blogs, and this has to be one of the best posts I have ever read.

    Throughout the beginning of your post, I thought about a concept that I find applies to my own personal finance story.

    The fact that you were able to live on so little showed you just how strong you are and that you can work with any situation. This can eliminate a lot of the fear that paralyzes others seeking financial independence.

    You are crafty, you are smart, and you will thrive no matter the budget.

    I admire your story, and I love reading your posts.

  71. Great story! It’s wonderful to read about your journey. As someone who always managed to save while working at Boston-area nonprofits, I know it’s not easy but totally doable. Thanks for the reminder of just how worth it the effort is (even though some of us are still far from financial independence….)

  72. Ahhh, this is so refreshing to read. I love how you guys started from almost nothing and now you’re financially independent. 🙂 My husband and I made more bad decisions as far as debt, but I think we’ll be able to achieve independence in about ten years or so.

  73. I just found your blog this month and I was always jealous of how frugal you lived! And how you two had your life together so well. It’s really interesting to read more and realize you two weren’t 100% the “frugalwoods” at the beginning. It’s so inspiring to see you were really just regular broke college grads! This whole time it was hard to find you relatable since your life seemed TOO perfect, but it took a lot to get there 🙂 thanks for this post and the great content you provide!

  74. I’ve been enthusiastically following you guys for a while, but I particularly loved this article. You have accomplished so much that it’s hard to believe you were once in my (secondhand! ha) shoes.

    Down to not having student loans thanks to state school/scholarships/parents, meeting spouse as a student, being low-income out of college with no parental support (but having the ridiculous privilege of knowing they’d bail me out if necessary) and being interested in buying in a staggeringly expensive housing market, I am literally “you” 8-10 years ago.

    Your advice has never been more pertinent to me as I change careers and expect a significant income increase in the next year or two. We are two frugal weirdos and love it, but it is amazing to have an example of what can be accomplished when you don’t let your lifestyle inflate (as we are unfortunately watching many of our peers do). I’ve talked a lot about myself, but the point was to tell you how grateful I am for this site. I do hope you’ll keep it going!

    1. Thank you so much, Alex! And best of luck on your frugal weirdo journey–it’s a wonderful one :).

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