Frugality: The Green Swan and The Frugalwoods

Frugalwoods

Frugality: The Green Swan and The Frugalwoods

Hello folks! Welcome back to The Green Swan. I appreciate you stopping by, as always. In today’s post I want to chat about how frugality has been my means to an end. First, let me acknowledge there are numerous great personal finance bloggers out there and I’ve been enjoying reading many of them the last couple years. One of my favorites is the Frugalwoods. Their frugal lifestyle is very inspirational and thought provoking, Mrs. Frugalwood’s writing style is very easy to read, and the blog posts are always filled with great pictures (especially of Frugalhound). Although, I am still waiting on a picture of a moose out in the woods from their motion camera! 🙂

Mrs. Frugalwoods wrote a post recently how to them, Frugality is Not Deferred Spending. I loved the post and not unlike many of her other posts, it got me thinking. I love the frugal lifestyle philosophy her family espouses and lives, but I couldn’t help but draw a few differences from my thought process and lifestyle philosophy. Ultimately, it boils down to whether it is temporary or permanent; whether it is a means to an end or an overarching life philosophy.

My Frugal Philosophy

Let me start by giving you my vision of frugality. Similar to the Frugalwoods, frugality is not a necessity but a choice. Frugality does not mean you are poor, you don’t know how to manage your money, or you’re a cheap-ass. In fact, it may be the exact opposite. Frugality is the delicate balance of comfort and cost. It’s not easy and some folks do it better than others.

According to the Frugalwoods, frugality should be tailored to meet your individual long term goals and spending priorities. Also, frugality is a way of life, but not to the point of depression or anger. I couldn’t agree more with these points; life wouldn’t be much of a joy otherwise!

Lucy and I have embraced a frugal lifestyle since college. We’ve focused on keeping our cost of living low, managing our expenses, and we’ve gotten better and better at finding areas to save as the years have gone by.

While admittedly, Lucy and I have chosen to allow some lifestyle inflation in our lives in recent years and have focused our spending more on comfort and experiences than just to meet our needs. We touched on this in my recent How I Got FIRE’d post, but we still focus on living a frugal life and in fact have introduced new “frugal measures” to help reduce or control spending.

For example, for the last couple years I began getting my haircut at home which saves us ~$150 per year. And that is not temporary, no reason it should be. I don’t plan on ever paying anyone to cut my hair again. I think the Frugalwood’s would be proud of this! There are numerous other examples too, we are always looking for new and creative ways to save.

The Core of Frugality

Frugality is about examining expenses, determining if they are necessary and add some level of comfort or happiness to your life that outweighs the alternatives. And frugality is about constantly searching for better alternatives. While getting my haircut is necessary and doing it at the barber does add some convenience, when I realized we had a feasible at home alternative (my wife and a few YouTube videos) I quickly called quits to that!

Saving money by spending less on haircuts means we can sleep better at night when we spend money on a new dress for Lucy for a recent wedding. Saving money by cutting cable helps us feel better by spending a couple hundred on swim and gymnastics lessons for Jr. Saving money by evaluating our cell phone options and cutting our plan in half means we can splurge on craft beer instead of the cheap “Light” or “Lite” beers.

The point of frugality is to find less expensive ways to enjoy your current quality of life!

The Same but Different

I commend the Frugalwoods. They’ve embraced frugality and it has allowed them to reach their dream of buying a homestead in Vermont. They’ve tailored their life perfectly to allow them to reach their long-term goals. They’ve tightened their belt and have learned to love it.

Lucy and I aren’t much different from the Frugalwoods. Until recently, we’ve never been high wage earners. We’ve used frugality as a way to get ahead, as a way to save money and build our net worth. Slowly, but surely. And now that we’ve reached a more comfortable stage in life, in terms of incomes and net worth, and are nearing early retirement we want to loosen the belt just a bit, maybe just a notch.

And that’s where I start to see some differences.

“Frugality isn’t deferred spending; it’s a wholesale transformation of how we interact with our money.”

– Frugalwoods

“But does it have to be permanent?”

– The Green Swan

And while the point of frugality is to find less expensive ways to enjoy your current quality of life, the point of retirement and the goal of financial independence is to spend more time doing hobbies and things you enjoy more often and to cross some things off the bucket list.

My Financial Independence

Most things in life worth having are difficult and require hard work and that includes reaching financial independence. But once I hit financial independence I don’t want to work as hard, I want to embrace it! For me, that is why frugality is a means to an ends, not an overarching life philosophy.

It’s not about buying a lot of things, but buying a life time of experiences. Frugality allows me to boost my investments so that one day it will provide me a never ending supply of happiness and experiences. For me, frugality = temporary simplicity which expands gradually to full-fledged lifestyle inflation driven by experiences and what brings me the most happiness. It’s never going to be spending just to spend, I will still be calculated and considerate of how to spend, but just a lot more of it…it being life experiences. Camping trips with the kids, traveling across the country, a membership at the golf club, and a trip to the super bowl / national championship game / Olympics whenever my team makes it or when I ultimately decide it is a bucket list item. Why not? You only live once!

Conclusion

My approach to frugality is the same, but slightly different from the Frugalwoods. My frugal endeavors have been difficult and uncomfortable at times (including boarder-line starvation). I am now ingrained with life-long frugal habits.  But in the end, I plan on having more spending priorities than I do today. I don’t plan on blowing my nose with hundreds, but my spending on travel, family and fun will increase. I plan on kicking back one day. It’s not being satisfied with less for simplicity’s sake, its being satisfied with less in order to indulge more later on.

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The Green Swan

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Dividends Down Under

I agree with your line of thinking JW. What is the point of all this saving, investing etc if we’re not going to end up spending any of it? Like you, we plan on spending a lot more on things like travel when we do reach FI – but that’s we’re aiming for, we will be FI with an investment balance that can support that lifestyle.

The earlier we can live the life we want to, the better. That is worth putting more money towards investing now, rather than spending it on short-term things.

Tristan

Mr. PIE

I think everybody has to work out what makes them sleep easy at night without excessive worrying. As you have done.

Every family is different and we have taken the approach of just being savvy about intentional spending. We cut cable a few weeks ago and honestly don’t miss it much at all. I got rid of my personal cell and use my work phone for everything anyway. Travel hacking also helps lower our travel budget without any impact on the priority we place on great vacations.

That being said, I admire folks who happily live on less than a third of our annual expenses. Just not our chosen way to live.

Matt @ Optimize Your Life

Agreed 100% on the intentional spending. I was trying to place myself somewhere in the Green Swan to Frugalwoods scale and was largely coming up blank. We cut mercilessly on things that don’t bring us much happiness, but spend freely in other areas. On the one hand, we cut cable and drastically dropped our eating out budget, while on the other hand we increased our spending on vacations and we live in a very non-frugal city. I’m not actually sure how that all fits into the frugality lifestyle framework.

JW

Well I think the Frugalwoods and I would both agree on finding your spending priorities, but cutting back elsewhere to help offset it. I think that sounds like a sensible approach to spending. I think the difference comes into where your frugal goals lie and if they are permanent or temporary in nature. Thanks for stopping by, Matt.

JW

Very true. I have a similar approach to sensible spending. Some areas are worth spending on while others aren’t so we might as well cut them out. I like your approach and it sounds like your family has a good balance. Thanks for the comment Mr Pie.

Fulltimefinance

In the cases of my frugal nature its as much about saving money as it is about what I want and will actually use. I ask myself before every purchase will I actually use it or will it end up in the corner. That answer drives my spending. To relate to your hair cutting, I too cut my hair at home. However it is because I can cut the style I like easily and I don’t care to sit in a shop.

JW

Yeah that’s pretty key in weeding out the needs vs the wants. Getting that right is a challenge for many, but can be a great way of saving considerably. Thanks for sharing!

Physician on FIRE

Right on, Green Swan. I’ve been cutting my own hair for years!

Frugality in our household means not wasting money on things that don’t improve our lives. But we spend $5,000 to $6,000 a month on average. As a physician, that is relatively frugal.

One of the reasons I am aiming for an oversized nest egg prior to pulling the plug is to allow for some lifestyle inflation. If I retire with 40x anticipated expenses saved up, we can increase spending by more than 50% without violating a 4% SWR.

Super Bowl, here we come!

Best,
-PoF

JW

You bet, I too want plenty of cushion. 40x is pretty stout and should set you up well… Especially for a spend physician 🙂

Assuming you’re a Vikes fan, you may be thinking Super Bowl after that win against the Packers!

Thanks for stopping by!

Financial Panther

I’ve also been getting my haircut at home for the last 4 years! It wasn’t even a frugality thing, so much as it was me just trying to save time. Those savings probably do add up!

I always liked Marie Kondo’s book, the Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, when thinking about frugality. Her book is a minimalism book, but it’s helpful to use it as a way to think about how to spend your money as well. Essentially, she takes each item when she’s cleaning, and decides, does this thing bring me joy. If it doesn’t, she gets rid of it. The same thing can be used when thinking about your money. It’s about spending your money on the things that bring you joy. Each person has their own ideas about what brings them joy, and you want to spend your money on those things, rather than on stuff that doesn’t really make you happy.

JW

Oh nice, thanks for sharing the book. That definitely applies, and if we can use that logic on the front end before buying the unnecessary items we’ll be sitting good. Thanks Financial Panther.

Stefan - The Millennial Budget

Think we share a very similar definition of frugality and where our spending may head closer to FIRE. Like you, I plan on starting out frugal with a goal of saving 50% of my salary out the gate. I do not see myself saving 70% or more of my salary like some other people do but that is a personal choice. I want to experience the Olympics, go to a soccer world cup and do a lot of travelling. Rather allocate my money to travel and memories so I need to plan for lifestyle inflation.

JW

Very nice Stefan. That sounds like a good balance of enjoying life and still saving a considerable amount. The Olympics and World Cup are gray bucket list items for me too! Thanks for sharing.

Amanda @centsiblyrich

Using your money in ways that align with your own life goals and values is the key.

Frugal living was a necessity for us when we cut back to one income and started paying down debt but, over the years, it has become a lifestyle we love (DIY is our passion). Frugal living brings us joy. But so does vacation…

Kalie @ Pretend to Be Poor

Frugality is a great tool, but it makes a poor controlling value for life. There are certain thrifty habits I’m happy to do now, but cannot foresee doing as a senior citizen, for example. Life will change and so will the choices we make with our time and money. Leaving room for those changes in our plans is important. Great post!

JW

Yes, great point Kalie. Our frugality will change in retirement and ore spending priorities will change as well. It’s certainly important to think hard and long about the impact of such when building in cushion to retirement accounts. Thanks for the comment!

JW

You bet, Tawcan. That’s been our approach, living very frugally for years after college which helped considerably in getting our investments a jump start. Thanks for the comment!

Kelsey @ Tealmama

I love that you are finding ways to be frugal like haircuts at home and cutting out cable. But not spending countless hours to save a buck. Because your time is money too! And also that you plan to enjoy life with special trips and bucket list items down the road. We can definitely relate. 🙂

Harmony@CreatingMyKaleidoscope

Personal finance is all about the spending and saving idiosyncrasies that make each of us unique. The majority of people don’t seem to give much thought to their money, earning and then spending their paychecks, over and over again. I think that anyone who has taken the time to really evaluate their priorities and come up with the best way to use their assets to facilitate their dreams, is on the right path. We’re going to have different plans and goals, but being smart about money goes beyond being frugal or spendy. There is a deeper understanding of the power of conscious spending or saving among most of us in this community. This knowledge is what gives us the chance to live extraordinary lives.

Taylor

I cut my own hair and I save $20/month!!!

I like that you discuss how frugality is determined by each individual’s situation. For my wife and I, we like the idea of being able to retire early and go back into education when we are in our 40s. Therefore, we are busting our tails now and saving ALOT. Then we can achieve our goal of going back to teaching.

JW

That’s very admirable that you and your wife want to go back to teaching to help the next generation. And that’s great you’ve defined the goal and know the purpose of your frugality and efforts today. Well done and thanks for sharing, Taylor!

Vicki@Make Smarter Decisions

Interesting read and I think it’s great that everyone’s end goals are aligned with what gives them the most enjoyment. If you enjoy simplicity – then frugality aligns with a long-term lifestyle. But I also see your side too – where you have done everything you can to get to FIRE and then it is time to enjoy your life and what you want from it. I actually think we will fall somewhere in between – lifestyle inflation in some areas, but probably cutting back more in others!

JW

Thanks Vicki! For those like us that expect you see some lifestyle inflation, the next key is building in cushion to our retirement accounts to allow for it. Thanks for stopping by and sharing!

Josh @MoneyBuffalo

It’s always refreshing to hear about others on the frugality bandwagon. My wife started cutting my hair when we got married, it’s a small savings. If I could cut her hair I would, as that’s where the real savings is. But that’s not my talent.

Another way we try to live frugally is cooking from scratch. We used to enjoy going out to eat, but honestly, our waistlines are slimmer & it’s healthier to eat at home with nutrient dense foods.

JW

My wife wouldn’t let me get close to her hair with a scissors either… Oh well, at least we are saving a bit.

Isn’t that the truth about eating in. We’ve been much more focused on this and making sure our nutrition is there, especially with a little one now. It’s so important he gets good nutrition and build healthy eating habits so we try to lead by example. Thanks for sharing Josh!

Mustard Seed Money

I totally agree. What’s the point in being a miser and never spending a penny? Having recently read the book Empty Mansions, about the life of the recluse Huguette Clark, daughter of silver mining business man William Clark, fun fact Clark County in Nevada is named after him, I definitely want to spend the money I earn while I’m here on Earth. I want to be a good steward of the resources I’m provided while also enjoying the fruits of my labor.

Finance Solver

I’ve avoided cutting my own hair for the fact that I know I would mess it up. Jokes aside, I agree. I’m sacrificing present consumption for future consumption and if I’m ever lucky enough to reach financial independence, I will pop out the champagne and splurge on a little. Just have to make sure my passive income is more than my expenses, right?

JW

You bet, that is key! If you expect a bit more lifestyle inflation once in retirement, it’s best to plan for it and have that cushion. Thanks for the comment, Finance Solver.

ADI

The word frugality has always conjured up images of people scrimping on things purely for the sake of spending money. Your notion of frugality (I think Matt above called it intentional spending) is very similar to my view though, so I guess this is a hang up of mine.

I’ve always thought about controlled spending as being sensible as opposed to frugal, but it is interesting to see that there is a spectrum of frugality, so to speak.

JW

Yeah there can be a negative connotation associated with frugality, but boiling it all down for me it’s just intentional spending and I still have my spending priorities that I don’t skimp on. Thanks for the comment, ADI.

Emily @ JohnJaneDoe

I think there are some ways I’m happy to save now, because we need to build wealth. There are some ways I’m happy to save forever. I also think that some of my forever ways become temporary (I used to do home haircuts and hair dyes until I developed an allergy to the dye.) and some of my temporary ways look to be permanent decisions because they aren’t the sacrifice I thought they would be.

Ms. Montana

There are a few things we do that probably seem quite frugal to other people, but none of them are a hardship for us. I think it’s great to test a frugal activity and see if you like it just as well. I’ve only had cable TV in a a couple month blocks a few times in my life. So I can’t really say I miss it, I feel like I’ve never had it. Beings it’s been over a decade since it was in our home, I had no idea what shows are even being made. But we did eventually spend that money on something else. Enter the very lovely and beautiful classic car. I love our life without cable (even if it was free, we wouldn’t do it) and Mr. Mt LOVES his new car. I enjoy cutting my own hair, gardening, and I love having a whole bunch of raspberry bushes in the backyard. I can’t imagine a world where I am going to start washing my ziplock baggies. That’s just not me. So for us, it’s finding the frugal things we enjoy and funneling money to the other things we love.

JW

Right on Ms Montana. Cutting back where you can and supplementing them with more valuable or desirable things. The new car looks pretty nice, I must say! Sounds like you folks have a nice balance. Thanks for sharing.

Financial Slacker

I have always considered frugality to be purposeful spending. I would not say we don’t spend money. At times, we have been known to spend money in amounts that others might consider excessive, but it’s done with purpose, planning, and foresight. Making a trade-off by giving up something to spend that money on something else.

True frugality is getting away from mindless spending and instead focusing on what your needs are and what makes you happy.

JW

Absolutely. As long as we’re considering all relevant facts and know the impact of purposeful spending on our long term plans and goals, I think we’re all in good shape. Thanks for the comment!

Matt @ Distilled Dollar

Fantastic post and an interesting question!

I’m glad you reiterated life time of experiences as I hold a similar belief. Money can buy a lot, but the experiences of traveling with friends and family rank real high for me.

Similarly, Financial Samurai has talked about being financially independent also means you can spend time with parents as they become older. Depending on the person, it might be expensive to visit family, so being able to spend at that stage of life sounds like all the earlier belt tightening would be well worth it.

JW

Absolutely, great point about visiting patents as well. I think it’ll be great to be able to reach FIRE and spend more time with aging patents, that’ll definitely be of primary importance. And yes, perhaps expensive travel, but I could spend longer periods of time together. Thanks Matt!

Cheryl

I don’t know why, but when people hear I have my husband but my hair at home, they are taken aback. He gave me the first haircut in his kitchen shortly after we started dating, it was a combination of saving money, I didn’t have the $60 in my budget, disdain of going to the salon, last haircut was bad and interested if he could really give me a good haircut. Fortunately he did a great job, I have not had anyone else touch my hair since. He does it every couple months, so between cost of the haircut, tip and transportation I figure I am not spending over $600 having hubby be my stylist. Never a bad haircut and I had him take over cutting my children’s hair even before we got married. That saves me hundreds more a year.
Hubby is a die hard frugal guy, no cable or satellite tv, antenna and Internet only, cooks single ingredients, hates eating out and we grow an organic garden. We moved into a new home and now he wants me to use a clothesline. Old school.

JW

Ha I love it Cheryl! Good for him and good for you too. Maybe I can watch a couple YouTube videos and get my wife comfortable with me cutting her hair. My guess is that amounts to about $600 per year also.

You folks are doing all the right things living the frugal life. Thanks for sharing and glad you enjoyed the post!

Cheryl

Actually a lot more if you factor in transportation costs and hair color is involved. When I saw the grays, hubby said they were fine, I said nice try, I’m not going grey yet. So we researched safe hair color. The over the counter box color and salon versions as well are loaded with toxic chemicals that are known carcinogens. So we went the henna route. My hair is long, reaches to my elbows so it takes more henna, mixed with apple cider vinegar and coconut oil to color my locks. Being my husband does the cutting, I advised him colorist falls under that category. He did the full application, threatened to take photos with me all mudded up, but I told him no. Net result was great color, shine and my hair felt really soft. Cost $15 for materials and root touch up with leftover amount can be frozen for 6 weeks later. So I’m at about $60 a year for hair color. The salon charged a friend of mine over $350 to cut and color hers and mine is about a foot longer than hers before she had it done last winter. Well they fried her hair and it was breaking off. I get better results on the cheap. As hers started to grow back and recover from the damage, she asked how mine looks so good and I shared my frugal secret. She was surprised at first, not that my husband could do it, but that I actually got him to do it for me. Well she asked him for help and he agreed to help. He now cuts her hair and he was showing me how to mix and apply the henna and her as well. I think his motivation is so readily agreeing is that it gets him out of doing the coloring business. I came up with excuses that he does a great job, he is the best, etc. but he said next time, we have to apply the color. My husband has been cutting my best friend’s hair now since last spring and another friend saw the results after the weekend salon day my friend posted of the after results and wanted to know where she had it done. We were at another friend’s house together and I told her it was my hubby. Well she went over to him while he was talking to her husband and wanted to know when she could get him to cut her hair. I laughed and told him he needs to start a side business. So yes I am saving big bucks, but I don’t want to drag my husband into being the hair guy for all my friends. My friend was quite nice, she offered to barter for the haircut. She offered to clean my house. I said ok, but felt a little funny about it. But bartering for things saves money and she was very happy with the haircut my husband gave her and she liked the way he cuts my children’s hair. She asked if he could give her some instructions and tips on how to cut her son’s and daughter’s hair as she was not happy with the costs or how the haircuts looked that she was paying for. So being frugal is a great thing when you get great results with saving money. So I don’t get weird stares when I tell people that my husband does my hair, I get asked if he could cut theirs too. So I have to be careful who I tell. My best friend gets a lot of compliments on her hair and she tells people her stylist is not taking on any new clients, and she can give out his number. I should use that line too.

JW

Wow what an awesome story, Cheryl, thanks for sharing that. That’s pretty amazing! Give your hubby kudos from my for the impressive work. I’ll share this story with my wife too. Maybe I can get as good as your husband and start my side biz! 🙂

Lady Locust

Great insight: different strokes for different folks:) We each have our own preferences/values, reaching financial independence means those goals (whether frugal or opulent) are attainable.
Also, I second what Financial Slacker said.

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