Frugalwoods – Making Frugality Fun

Frugalwoods - Making Frugality Fun

The original frugal weirdos – Mr. and Mrs. Frugalwoods – stop by for an episode of the Financial Independence Podcast to share their financial independence strategies and early retirement plans!

For many, frugality is seen as a form of depravation – something that you have to endure in order to achieve your larger financial goals. The Frugalwoods completely debunk that idea and show that frugality can actually improve your life and increase your happiness, even while helping you achieve financial independence sooner!

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Highlights

  • How to maintain a high savings rate while living in an expensive city
  • Tips for avoiding frugality-induced isolation
  • The importance of large goals
  • Keys to making frugality fun
  • When to give up a good thing
  • How to get a free graduate degree
  • The multiple fringe benefits of frugality
  • How to have children without delaying your early retirement

Show Links

Full Transcript

Mad Fientist: Hey, what’s up, everybody? Welcome to the Financial Independence Podcast, the podcast where I get inside the brains of some of the influential personal finance writers to find out their take on financial independence.

I’m excited to introduce my guest today. It’s the Frugalwoods. If you read their blog, you know they refer to themselves as a couple of frugal weirdos that live in Cambridge, Massachusettes and they’re planning to retire to a homestead in Vermont over the next couple of years.

I actually had the pleasure of meeting the Frugalwoods in September when we were both at a conference together. We spent the whole weekend together and had a blast. They’re really great people. I’m so excited to get them on the show and talk about their extreme frugality. If you read their blog, you know that some of the stuff is quite extreme, but it doesn’t seem to impact their life at all. And if anything, it enhances it. So I’m excited to chat about saving extreme amounts of money by limiting your spending and how to do that without ruining your happiness.

So without further delay, Mr. and Mrs. Frugalwoods, thanks a lot for being here.

Mr. Frugalwoods: Oh, yeah. Thanks for having us on. We’re excited.

Mad Fientist: So for those of my listeners that may not know, Frugalwoods.com, can you guys just tell a little bit about yourself and how Frugalwoods came about?

Mrs. Frugalwoods: So we are Mr. and Mrs. Frugalwoods. Frugalwoods is all about our journey to financial independence and a homestead in the woods. So we talk a lot about the things that we do to create a joyfully frugal life and we talk about our desire to live amongst the trees in the woods of Vermont.

It’s kind of just a walk through of what our lives look like on a day-to-day basis and the kinds of things that we think about it and the philosophies that we espouse and the really granular stuff that we do too like how we wash our own dog and take our lunch to work every day.

Mr. Frugalwoods: Yeah, and it’s also a debunking of the idea that it has to be prodigiously expensive to live in a city. We live in Cambridge, Massachusettes right outside of Boston, a very high cost of living area. And other than our mortgage, we spend very little and we have a really good time doing it.

And so I think the blog often serves as a chronicle of how to have a really good time for not very much money or living in a big city and saving a bunch of your income so you can run away to the woods, which is the whole plan.

Mad Fientist: Nice, yeah. And Cambridge is such a cool time as well. It must be a lot of fun to live there. I used to live in Brooklyn, Mass., but it was always fun to get over to Cambridge and check it out every once in a while.

So what do you guys do for fun then if you don’t spend much money in Cambridge (which I know you could spend an absolute fortune)?

Mr. Frugalwoods: All sorts of things. We have a dog, Frugal Hound. She was a retired racing greyhound. He makes plenty of appearances on the blog. And so we often find ourselves doing things with her, whether it’s like walking her around or getting together with other dog owners and hanging out.

New Englanders know how to take advantage of the summer. If it’s nice weather outside, people are outdoors. And so there are all sorts of different things that go on all the time that we get to go to for free and hang out. We meet our neighbors and do things like that.

We also tend to host a lot of potlucks. That’s been one of the things that we found to be a really good way of getting around a very common expense in the city which is going out for drinks or going out for dinner with other people. I think a lot of people think that frugality is isolating because people think you have to spend money in order to hang out with friends. And certainly, some money is spent in pursuit of hanging out with friends. Our grocery bill might be higher because we hold potlucks.

But it’s a great way of having that same benefit while spending less money. So we hold a lot of potlucks too.

Mad Fientist: I’m looking forward to the ultimate potluck as well, which Mr. 1500 from 1500 Days likes to call ‘Frugal Woodstock. When you guys eventually make it to Vermont, we’re looking forward to the biggest potluck of all with Frugal Woodstock.

Mrs. Frugalwoods: Yes. No, I think that’s actually a great example of how frugality has actually brought us a larger community of friends and of people that we know both here locally, but also just around the country and around the world. Yes, there really is a group of people who are interested on focusing on things that don’t have to do with spending money and interested in focusing on what the good life really is.

And I think for us, we’ve also just espoused a lot of frugal hobbies over the years – hiking, yoga, cooking, doing home improvement. Well, that’s kind of a necessity perhaps more than a hobby. But I think we find that frugality really lends itself to being entertaining because you have to be so much more creative when you just don’t take the easy solution and pay for everything to be done for you.

Mad Fientist: That’s a great point, yeah. I completely agree. It makes you much more interesting people. Exactly, everybody can pay to do something, but to learn how to do itself and help others do it as well is a great thing.

Were you always as frugal as you are now? I know on the blog you call yourself ‘frugal weirdos’ and things like that. You have a really high savings rate, which I think your most recently update was 71%+. But when you factor in 401K contributions, you’re actually talking like 93% or something. Is that right?

Mr. Frugalwoods: It depends on how you calculate it. On our blog, we weight out our method for calculating a savings rate. I know the Internet loves to have little Internet fights about the best way to calculate a savings rate. We have our own preferred method. But everyone else’s is fine too.

But what it comes down to is we both make very good, solid income, middle class – not middle class. I don’t have a class. We both have white-collar job. But neither of us are investment bankers. In fact, we both work for non-profits.

And so we have managed to rapidly advance our career and get to a point where we’re making a very solid income and then saving almost all of it, so that very soon now (in the next couple of years), we won’t have to work at all for income. We can pursue our passions full-time.

But as to whether we have always been frugal, I think both of us naturally started out pretty frugal. If you think about frugality as a scale from zero to ten where zero is the most spendiest person imaginable and ten is like living in a van down by the river (which some days, honestly, I think would be kind of nice)…

Mrs. Frugalwoods: It’s a nice river.

Mr. Frugalwoods: It’s a nice van. But some people naturally are somewhere along that scale. I think everyone is. For us, we’re probably already naturally a seven. And maybe we’ve turned that up to a nine by paying attention to it.

So for us, it wasn’t that much of a change to become as frugal as we are, but we started out pretty frugal.

Mrs. Frugalwoods: Right. Yeah.

Mr. Frugalwoods: When we first got married, we could’ve afforded a much nicer apartment, but we chose to live in a very dark, somewhat dank basement apartment for years because it was affordable and it allowed us to save money.

Mrs. Frugalwoods: Yeah. Because I think some people say, “Oh, how are you doing this so quickly? You just decided to work on this path? You just decided to start on this path in the spring of 2014 and you plan to be there by 2017?” But the thing is we’ve really been living this way for over ten years. We’ve never had debt other than the mortgage that we have on our primary home. We’ve never been very spendy people. I think neither of us has ever derived much pleasure from the simple act of spending.

So we’ve spent more and less money over the years and we certainly used to have a lower savings rate. But I think we’ve always had that internal psychological feeling that money is a tool and that money does not replace human emotions or success or happiness. It’s really a vehicle that you can use to extract the type of life that you want.

Mr. Frugalwoods: And I will say too that I can see several periods of our life where we were more or less frugal. And I think it relates to whether or not we had a goal or not for our savings during that point of time…

Mrs. Frugalwoods: For sure.

Mr. Frugalwoods: So when we first got married, our goal, I think a lot of people was to buy a house eventually. And so we buckled down and were very frugal. We saved money because buying a house in Cambridge, Massachusetts is not a cheap affair even if you do it carefully. We bought a house three years ago…?

Mrs. Frugalwoods: Three and a half, yeah.

Mr. Frugalwoods: Three and a half years ago. And after we bought the house there for a period of about a year, we started spending more money because I think we suddenly had lost that goal. We were naturally frugal people, so we weren’t getting credit card debt or anything like that, but we were spending more than we needed to. And when we came up with the goal of early retirement to a homestead, then suddenly, it was very easy to be incredibly frugal again.

I think that’s one of the most interesting realizations. One of the keys to making frugality fun I think is having that goal. Without having a goal, at least for us, we felt rudderless. We felt like we were saving a bunch of money, but what were we going to do with it? And now we have a really good answer.

Mad Fientist: That’s right. Yeah, that’s a huge point. Actually, in some of my notes I wanted to chat with you about, I think in one of your post, you had mentioned frugality with a larger aim. I think that’s definitely key because it doesn’t feel like deprivation at all if you’re working towards something that is bigger and better than what you may be sacrificing in the short-term.

I know I’m a frugal as well and it doesn’t even feel like sacrifice anymore. But to outside people looking in, it absolutely makes no sense when there is no larger aim.

And for people like my wife who wasn’t really onboard with the whole early retirement thing, she’s like, “Why would I do that? I’m quite happy with my job. I don’t see why. Save all this money now for what when I’m going to keep working?” But when I sort of reframed it as like, “Well, we could do this, this and this with our lives if we just saved a ton of money,” then it made sense to her.

Yeah, it’s a lot easier to just be working towards a big goal which I think is a huge point.

So, let’s just talk a little bit about your plans. Obviously, I want to dive a little deeper into how you’re getting there and things. But maybe some people haven’t read and don’t know the big homestead’s plan. So talk a little bit about what you see yourselves doing after early retirement.

Mr. Frugalwoods: It all started a couple of years ago. We were sitting down and we said to ourselves, “We’re approaching 30” – at that point, I may have already been 30, “We’ve been in the workforce for almost ten years.” We were looking at ourselves and thinking, “Is this really what we want to do for the next 30 years?” Call it a third of a life crisis. Hopefully, it wasn’t a mid-life crisis. We’re not quite at the midpoint of life yet. But it was really a realization that life is going by really fast.

We sort of gotten into the groove with our careers and with our home life. Both of us looked at each other and realized that we could very easily wake up the next day and be 55 and doing the same, exact thing.

Both of us didn’t really understand why, but we didn’t feel like that was what we wanted. The more we talked about it, the more realized that both of us have a very intense desire to pursue a myriad of different, not very revenue-positive things.

Mrs. Frugalwoods loves to write. She loves, loves, loves to write. Writing can bring in some money. But as plenty of writers would tell you, if you hope to have writing as your lifetime income, it can be a tough road.

And for me, I have so many completely worthless, but so much fun hobbies that I don’t have any time currently to put the time towards – amateur astronomy, amateur radio, welding and metal working, things like that that I would love to spend more time at but can’t currently.

So combine that with the other part of our plan which is that we’ve always loved hiking and we’ve always loved being the outdoors, one day, we were sitting and talking to each other and we were like, “If we could snap our finger and have exactly what we wanted, we would live in the woods. We live in a beautiful location in the sort of place where every morning, if we felt like it, we could walk out our front door and take a hike.” That’s just it. For both of us, we looked at each other and we’re like, “Yeah, that would be it. That’s what we would choose.”

And the more we thought about it, the more we were like, “We could actually do that.” It was just a really weird feeling because at that point, we were thinking of it in terms of like, “What would we love to do when we retire someday?” And then, we’re like, “Well, what if that someday was in three years?”

Mrs. Frugalwoods: Right.

Mr. Frugalwoods: We kind of looked at each other with the Neo-from-the-Matrix face of like, “Whoa!”

That’s where it started. We were like, “If we actually buckle down, if we increase our savings rate and lower our expenses rate,” we can make this happen.

And so, from there, the plan coalesced and we decided that we wanted a large amount of space, 20+ acres, somewhere in Vermont (either southern or central Vermont) close enough to civilization, grocery stores and everything else, that we wouldn’t be so disconnected, but far enough out that we could own a lot of land and pursue our various passions full-time. So that’s where we’re headed.

Our plan is to be full-time no longer employed by 2017, mid-2017, which is not that far away at this point. It seemed farther away a couple of years ago. But now, it’s really coming up. It’s pretty exciting to see the plan coming together.

Mad Fientist: And yeah, you guys document all your homestead searching on your blog, which I’ll link to in the show notes obviously. Everybody can check out what goes into searching for a homestead in Vermont. I’m just sad I’m not going to be there to live in there anymore and be your neighbors. That’ll be a lot of fun. But no, it sounds like an amazing plan.

Did your employers know of this longer-term plans or have you kept them quiet.

Mrs. Frugalwoods: Well, we initially kept them quiet. But earlier this year, we had some media attention. Apparently, people read Forbes. They happened to read about us and say, “Is this you?” and I couldn’t very well say, “No?” It was like clearly me and my dog. So we came out of the bag, I would say.

Mr. Frugalwoods: The cat is way out of the bag.

Mad Fientist: I got to mention, I had an article on Forbes and I saw that there’s a bunch of traffic coming in from Forbes one day and I went to Forbes.com and my stupid face was smiling right back at me. I freaked out. It was the worst day ever. I was in the office at the time. I don’t worry about anyone I know reading Mad Fientist because it’s small enough, but Forbes.com is big. I can just imagine my boss right there being like, “What is he saying?” I didn’t say very nice things about dealing with managers and things. It wasn’t a good situation. I can’t even imagine what that felt like for you.

Mr. Frugalwoods: It turned out actually fine. I think it helps that I’ve always been known as the money and financial nerd in my office, so honestly, I don’t think people were that surprised. I’m the person actually every year who volunteers to give a talk about why saving for a retirement is really important, how to choose and why index investing is a good idea. So I think my office wasn’t totally surprised.

It is sort of an awkward situation though where I’m saying, “You know, I plan on being here for a couple more years, but I’m probably leaving in 2017. That’s a long way away, but it’s not.” I manage people, so I think it’s an unusual situation. But everybody is taking it pretty well. Again, I was always pretty unusual, so I think that helps.

Mrs. Frugalwoods: Very true.

Mr. Frugalwoods: Yeah, it’s uncomfortable. It’s kind of weird, but it’s fine.

Mrs. Frugalwoods: But at the same time, I think we realized when you write things and put them out on the Internet, eventually, people are going to find out. We knew that that would eventually be the case.

But I think what kind of is the comfort is that we have always been honest on the blog and very transparent. We don’t make things up. And so I’m not uncomfortable with anyone reading the blog. My family reads it. I don’t know if my boss reads it because that’s fine because it’s what I believe. I really don’t have a problem standing behind that and behind what I write.

Mr. Frugalwoods: Yeah. And for me too, it was actually interesting. The whole experience of being unveiled in the office made me think more about what I felt about working in an office and more about my motivations for wanting to move to something else in the future.

And what it came down to is I honestly, really enjoy my job. I have a good time. I work with cool people doing interesting work. I get paid well for it. I think a lot of that situation and be like, “Why would you want to stop doing that?”

There’s some logic to that, right? It’s certainly not a bad situation. It’s not like I go to work every day and I’m like, “Oh, God! This is terrible. I can’t wait to leave.” I don’t. I get to do really neat stuff all the time, which is fun.

But that being said, I don’t want to do that 40, 50, 60 hours a week. I have more interests than just this. I think that’s really cool that you’re paid for one of your interests. But for my personality, it’s hard to let one particular interest (even if I like it a lot) take up that amount of my life.

And so what it really made me realize is that, “Man! If I feel like this is wrong for me when I have this good at work, it’s a good sign that the whole idea of working one 40-, 50-, 60-hour a week job for the rest of my life is probably really anybody for me. I can’t imagine having a better workplace. I really can’t. I mean, I basically designed my perfect workplace.”

Mrs. Frugalwoods: Yeah, I don’t think it would be possible for you to get better.

Mr. Frugalwoods: And so at the end of the day, if I feel like I’m not fully fulfilled by this, there’s no standard job out there that would give me the fulfillment that I’m looking for. And so that actually made me feel more comfortable in eventually moving on from that. I felt like, “If I can’t be fully fulfilled here, I wouldn’t be fully fulfilled anywhere.” And for me, that makes me feel better about the decision.

Mad Fientist: Definitely! Yeah, that’s an excellent position to be in. Do you think you started to enjoy your job more now that you’re getting closer? Do you think that’s played a part, that you don’t feel trapped there for the next 30 years? Do you think you’ve started enjoying it more because of the savings that you’ve built up or do you think that you would’ve liked it just the same no matter if you had zero dollars in the bank?”

Mr. Frugalwoods: I was thinking about this the other day actually. I honestly think I’m a better employee now that I don’t have – shackles are way too strong a word, but I don’t have a better one at this point.
But feeling like you are economically tied to a job I think is an unusual dynamic in the workplace. I think I feel more enabled to take risks (which I think a risk well thought out can be a really good thing to do in a lot of cases in business). I feel like I’m in a much better position to do that sort of thing than I used to be. I’m less risk-averse in all parts of my life now than I used to be.

It’s funny how having a financial cushion can allow you suddenly to feel like you could take risks in all parts of life and be fine with it. And it turns out taking a risk often leads to lots of neat rewards. So it’s been a good thing.

Mad Fientist: Absolutely! No, I completely agree. I find myself being a lot more honest as well. I’m not worried about stepping on somebody’s toes and pissing somebody off because I just don’t care.
It’s really the office space scenario where you’re just telling Bob and Bob exactly what he thinks, saying he’s just not coming in and doing stupid things and they love him. That’s really what I found as well.

Everybody else is so scared and so timid. They don’t speak up when something’s obviously wrong and it turns into a disaster. But when you have power and freedom and care-free attitude, you can take more risks and you can tell the truth, then you get glowing performance reviews which is weird but funny.

Mr. Frugalwoods: It’s the Tao of Peter Gibbons.

Mad Fientist: Exactly! Yeah, that movie is so much deeper than I ever realized. Yeah, that’s awesome.

So I want to get back a little bit ot the frugality aspect. People think extreme frugality and they think you can’t really do anything, but Mrs. Frugalwoods, I know you got a free grad degree just I think in a similar situation that I was able to get one. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Mrs. Frugalwoods: Sure! I decided a couple of years ago that I wanted to get my master’s. And so I started scanning around, alright how can I do this because I’m obviously not going to pay for it, I’m not going to go into debt. We didn’t have an undergrad debt, so I wasn’t about to take on any for grad school. I realized that if you work full-time for a university, they will pay your tuition.

So I set about doing that. Mr. Frugalwoods and I were moving to Washington DC for his job. And so I just applied for jobs at universities and I got one. And then I had to be accepted into the graduate program, so I applied and I was accepted. I ended up working full-time and going to school full-time, which is not that I recommend that schedule, per se, but I really wanted to just get it done as quickly as I could and as efficiently as possible.

You do still have to pay tax on graduate education. You don’t on undergraduate education if you’re working in a school, but you do for grad school. However, it’s a fraction of the sticker price of the degree. So that was one of those ways in which we always look for an opportunity not to pay full price.

I think that’s really how we approach most things. There’s usually a hack or some kind of strategy that you can employ to reap savings. And there’s often just an efficiency that you can create there as well because working at the school and going to school is a lot easier than trying to work somewhere else and then commuting over to school every night.

So thinking strategically about all of these big life changes for us has always been a part of our frugality. It’s really just always been part of our personalities I would say.

Mr. Frugalwoods: We’re optimizers, we’re degenerate optimizers. It’s fun for us to figure out how to do something better, faster and cheaper. It’s a game.

Mad Fientist: Absolutely! Yeah, I know. That’s an excellent point. People think frugality, they think depravation and not doing things. But it’s just a whole other way of looking at life and not just assuming it’s the paid ways. There’s always another way. Usually, it’s more fun. Yeah! And like you said, it’s easier. Well, I don’t know if full-time work, full-time school would have been a nightmare. I did full-time work and half-time school, so that was tough. I don’t even know how you did that, but yeah, it’s a lot easier than trying to hold down a job somewhere else and then trying to fit your classes around that.

Mrs. Frugalwoods: Right! That’s what I often find. With frugality, there’s often a double or triple benefit. It’s not just saving the money. You’re going to reap an advantage in some other way. And whether it’s your own personal creativity and fulfillment or the connections that you make with other people or skills that you develop…

Mr. Frugalwoods: Or health…

Mrs. Frugalwoods: …or health, sure, absolutely, it’s amazing how – I call them the side benefits of frugality, the fringe benefits because it just shows up almost in every single aspect of our lives. It’s so much healthier to cook your own food than to eat in a restaurant. Okay, alright, there are some restaurants that I’m sure are healthier. But by and large, cheaper, healthier, faster to cook at home, plus you’re building that skill, plus you’re avoiding all the other attendant expenses when you’re eating out.

Mad Fientist: That’s a great point. And that’s what I like most about Mr. Money Moustache’s message. Don’t just pick the easier route. Pick the harder route not because necessarily they’ll save you money (which in most cases, it will), but just because there are so many other benefits. You’ll grow as a pesron and you’ll enjoy it even more if it’s harder. So don’t take the easy, paid route.

So I just want to dive a little bit into investments and things. You mentioned index funds. I imagine a lot of your portfolios may be invested in low cost index funds. You said you have a house in Cambridge that you’re going to rent out after you move up to Vermont. Is that pretty much the core of your investing approach?

Mr. Frugalwoods: Yeah. I mean, we have the world’s most boring investment portfolio, which is kind of how I like it. If it’s boring, then I can understand it. I feel like I always do better with things that I understand.

So our core, we run a very standard boglehead three-fund portfolio. So I think we do 60% broad market US equities, 30% broad international non-US and 10% bonds/cash. I don’t think we actually have any money in bonds right now. I think I’m holding it in cash.

But yeah, just a very standard index portfolio, add money every month and don’t pay attention to the balance. That’s the world that we have.

We both maxed out our 401K’s. At our income level, it’s a no-brainer to take that tax advantage. Both of our works have pretty decent 401K matching. So that’s a really nice benefit that we’ve been able to use at all. It always boggles my mind when people don’t take advantage of matching funds in their 401K. It’s just free money and there’s not many times in life where people will offer you free money. Take it when it offers.

And then we have, obviously, a taxable investment account that we keep the remainder of our money. It’s just invested that way.

And after we retire, we plan on doing a ROTH conversion ladder and things like that. But we really don’t do anything exotic right now.

And then the house, the house is a good question. So, one of the reasons we bought our current place when we were looking several years ago was that we felt like it had a very good potential to be a rental house someday. We’re located here in Cambridge about half a mile from MIT and about 1 ¼ mile from Harvard. And so, there’s a very big rental population here. About 65% of residents in this city of Cambridge rent. And so, we can rent this place very easily for a very good rate.

Even when we bought it in 2012, we could’ve immediately turned around and rented the house in cashlfow positive.

Mad Fientist: Oh, wow!

Mr. Frugalwoods: But today, the real estate market here has gone nuts for the past three years. So today, we can rent it and make it frankly a ridiculous amount of money keeping it as a rental.

So for us, it’s a no-brainer to keep it as a rental. If it turns out several years down the road that we hate being landlords, we could sell it and roll the capital gains to something else.

But I feel like our particular neighborhood is still very much on the way up. It’s still gentrifying. And so I think even the capital value still has a lot of room to grow, so we’ll keep it.

Mad Fientist: That’s excellent! Do you plan on managing it yourself from Vermont or do you think you’ll hire out to a property management company?

Mr. Frugalwoods: We’ll manage it at least at first.

Mad Fientist: Just to try.

Mr. Frugalwoods: I feel like we should try it. We’re going to be able to charge probably between $4000 and $4300 in rent. I can’t honestly see the value in paying a manager $400 a month. I’m willing to wake up in the middle of the night a couple of times in order to avoid paying somebody $400 a month to answer the phone.

Mad Fientist: That’s true.

Mr. Frugalwoods: And I could call a plumber from Vermont just as easily as a property manager can call a plumber from Cambridge.

I say all these now having not done it, but we’ll see. We’ll come back in a couple of years and tell everyone how terrible being a landlor is, but…

Mad Fientist: Yeah, I’ll have you back on the show.

Mr. Frugalwoods: But at the same time, it’s going to be so profitable that I think we’re willing to put up with a certain amount of hassle compared to – I’ve done the calculations of if we were to sell it. Obviously, if we were to sell it soon, we would still have the capital gains exclusion on the profits, which is a big deal. And if we could roll out that money into the index funds, for example, would that be a better deal? At the appreciation rate and the rental cashflow rate that we project we can get out of the house, it’s still a much better deal to keep the house than put it into index funds.

Mad Fientist: That’s great.

Mr. Frugalwoods: So we’ll try it.

Mad Fientist: Yeah, absolutely. It’s worth a shot, having a place in Cambridge. Harvard and MIT aren’t going anywhere any time soon.

Mr. Frugalwoods: You would hope not.

Mad Fientist: That’s great. And that leads to the Frugal Baby that is on the way as well. So you guys have lots going on these days.

Mrs. Frugalwoods: We do. We want to stay busy. It’s funny because we sort of joke that we always like to do everything in life at once. We’re pretty good at that. So we always knew when to have kids and we hoped to have Baby Woods even a little bit earlier than we were having her. She’s due in 2 ½ weeks. So, if we abruptly ran off of the podcasts, that’s because we went into labor. So yeah, we’re really excited to be parents and just very excited for the adventure and the journey and the different experience that that’s going to bring into our lives.

What we found with pregnancy and baby prep is that it’s exactly like everything else in life. You can do it really expensively or you can do it really frugally. We have done it really frugally. It’s just entirely possible to spend almost nothing on pregnancy and baby prep.

Mad Fientist: That doesn’t really move the needle at all? No, that’s great.

Mr. Frugalwoods: No, it’s funny. It’s the sort of thing where everyone tells you, “Oh, my gosh! This is going to be the most expensive thing in your life.” I’m sure it will be. We don’t spend a lot of money on other things, so it wouldn’t be hard.

Mrs. Frugalwoods: Yeah, it wouldn’t be hard.

Mr. Frugalwoods: But we also know people that are relatively frugal that by this point in their pregnancy had spent many thousands of dollars on outfitting a nursery and all the myriad of little things that the books tell you you must have. We’ve managed to avoid that for the most part. What’s our total spend so far on the baby?

Mrs. Frugalwoods: We have actually prepaid the co-pay for her birth.

Mad Fientist: Nice!

Mrs. Frugalwoods: I learned from the hospital that – and this is a great frugal weirdo tip. If you pay in full and advance for stuff, you can often get a discount on anything. I did this with my Lasik surgery, we’ve done this with car repairs, anything. Any time you say, “Hey, if I pay you in cash now, will you give me a percentage off?”, they’ll usually say yes.

So we got $50 knocked off the birth of Baby Woods. So our co-pay was $450 for the birth. And that’s low largely because we have good insurance and we’re really fortunate to have that. So her entry to the world is paid for.

And then we’ve spent $20 on some cloths and other baby things from a garage sale, so that brings us up to $470.

Mad Fientist: That’s amazing.

Mrs. Frugalwoods: And that’s inclusive of everything for pregnancy and prep for her. We have entirely outfitted everything with hand-me-downs. We’ve just been totally open to anything that anybody wants to give us. Boy clothes, absolutely! Sheets that have cars and trucks on them? 100% It just does not match. This kind of stuff, in the grand scheme of things, is completely immaterial.

Maternity clothes that aren’t 100% my style, totall fine. I didn’t buy any maternity clothes. I just the took the hand-me-downs that people gave me. It’s the same thing with pretty much everything in her nursery.

A lot of it is just being creative and being open to what people might want to give you. And also, just telling people, “You know, if you have stuff you don’t need, I will gladly take it. I’ll come pick it up from your house” and they’re usually very happy to get rid of it. This is what I found.

Apparently, when your kids turn about five and you’re not having more kids, you want that baby stuff out. A lot of people just very, very happily dumped carloads of stuff with us, which we’re so, so grateful for.

And I also discovered my local Buy Nothing group which I highly recommend anybody check out. It’s an international organization that is just all about neighbors freely giving to each other. I have given away ton of stuff through the group and I’ve received just a huge amount of things for Baby Woods. No money changes hands. There’s no recording of who gives or takes what. It’s all about just freely sharing with your neighbors.

I think it’s a wonderful thing because there’s just too much stuff that’s manufactured and bought. And nine times out of ten, you have something that someone else can use and you can just share it with them.

Mad Fientist: That’s amazing! And so is there a specific website to find these types of groups?

Mrs. Frugalwoods: Yeah, they’re run through Facebook, so you can just check to see if there is a local chapter in your area. And if there isn’t one, you can actually just start one yourself.

Mr. Frugalwoods: I think there is a website describing the idea. Is it like BuyNothing.org?

Mrs. Frugalwoods:I think it’s BuyNothingProject.org.

Mr. Frugalwoods: Oh, you can google it.

Mad Fientist: Yeah, I’ll look it up and I’ll put it in the show notes. That’s really cool.

Mr. Frugalwoods: It’s really neat too because it also lowers the barrier for decluttering your own place especially in the city where it’s like, “Okay, you’ve got to try to get a car to get your stuff to Goodwill and then you can’t park at Goodwill so one person stays in the car while the other one takes the stuff in and you’re double parked and people are looking at you.

Mr. Frugalwoods: You can tell we’ve done this!

Mr. Frugalwoods: But with Buy Nothing Project, you just post something on Facebook and someone from your neighborhood comes to your house and takes it away. They’re always super excited about it and you’re super excited to get rid of it and everyone wins.

Mrs. Frugalwoods: It’s been ideal for getting rid of bigger, bulkier stuff that we’ve wanted to give away. Or even perishable things…I’ve given away food, given away toiletries we’re not going to use, that I bought the wrong brand and of course I bought twenty of them from Amazon. Just that kind of stuff you would normally throw in the trash. I’m so happy it goes into the hands of someone who could use it.

Mr. Frugalwoods: My favorite thing on Buy Nothing is that people when they’re going on vacation or are going on a trip, will post the entire contents of their refrigerator that was going to go bad before they get back, “Here’s a half-gallon of milk or some bananas.”

Mrs. Frugalwoods: And people take it!

I just think there could not be a better way to create community and go through life than to be so focused on not wasting and sharing. I just think it’s amazing!

Mad Fientist: That is amazing. I’m going to check it out and see if there’s anything in Scotland like that.

Well cool, I don’t want a baby to start popping out or something like that

Mrs. Frugalwoods: We’re doing okay. It doesn’t happen like that fast.

Mad Fientist: Haha, I don’t know how it works. I haven’t read about it or anything.

Mrs. Frugalwoods: Don’t read about it until you have kids.

Mad Fientist: That’s probably good advice too!

So I usually end all of my interviews with the question…if you have any advice for someone starting on the path to financial independence, what would that be?

Mr. Frugalwoods: Well, I think we found the entire process so much easier once we had a concrete goal. Without having the goal, I don’t think our frugality would be nearly as entertaining, honestly, and having a goal is a wonderful boon to our relationship because we love to work together towards something and this is the ultimate thing to work together towards.

I think having a concrete goal – not just a goal like I hate my job and want to quit and still have money – having a goal that’s broader than that – what do you want to do once you’re retired. Writing it down, researching it, planning for it, making it almost real enough that you can touch it. That’s the sort of motivation that could allow you to look at the rest of your life and realize what’s keeping you from that goal, and then optimize it.

That’s what’s worked for us and that’s what I’d encourage people to try.

Mad Fientist: That’s excellent advice. I actually just interviewed Todd Tresidder from FinancialMentor.com and one of the things he had said is retiring to something is a lot better than retiring from something because once you retire from something, then you’re sort of left “what do I do now” and “I’m not as happy as I thought I would be. Yeah, I got rid of the job I didn’t want but now there’s really no point to life right now” and then you get depressed and maybe just go back to work. But if you retire to something, then you have a much higher success rate and are a lot happier so I think that’s amazing advice.

Mr. Frugalwoods: I have a long list of things I want to do and some of the things sound pretty crazy. Like one of the things on the list is build 8-meter satellite dish to bounce radio waves off of moon. So I plan on well-occupied.

Mad Fientist: Hopefully that takes place before Frugalwoodstock because I want to see the setup.

Mrs. Frugalwoods: Maybe you can help him with that.

Mad Fientist: The ultimate party – bouncing radio waves off the moon

Mrs. Frugalwoods, would you agree with that or is there anything you’d like to add or are you in full unison with Mr. Frugalwoods?

Mrs. Frugalwoods: I am in full agreement. I think it’s very much about what do you want your life to look like? What do you actually want to do? What do you want to look back and say, “These are all the things that I tried and didn’t work about but gosh it was interesting and fun to do those things.” Rather than, “Well, I had this boring and safe and conventional existence.” For us, it’s “Yeah, let’s do some stuff in life and let’s do what we really feel called to do.”

I think there’s something really powerful about when you’re doing what you’re really meant to do, you put a lot of good out into the world and you’re able to help people and impact people because you feel good and you’re positive and you’re contributing in your own personal way whereas if you’re slogging away at this job that you really don’t enjoy, you’re probably not generating a lot of good will and joy on a daily basis. That’s another focus for me – thinking about how can I give back and find ways to translate the happiness that I’ve discovered into a happiness other people can find.

I think that for so many people, money is the core of what makes them unhappy and finding a way to turn money into something that’s liberating and freeing, as opposed to something that’s a depressing topic, is important to me too.

Mad Fientist: That’s great. Very well put. Now if people want to find you, they can obviously go to frugalwoods.com. Is your email address there?

Mrs. Frugalwoods: Yes, you can always reach us at [email protected] We are also on Twitter – @frugalwoods. We’re on Facebook. I think it’s facebook.com/frugalwoods. We’re on Instagram as Frugalwoods.

It’s not very creative. It’s just the word frugalwoods everywhere so you can find us. We have a lot of dog pictures.

Mad Fientist: I can’t wait to meet Frugalhound. She’s the coolest looking dog on the internet.

Mrs. Frugalwoods: Why thank you. She looks sort of like a deer or a raptor. Greyhounds are just awkward, I don’t know what to tell you.

Mad Fientist: They make for some hilarious photos, especially when you dress them up like mummies, as you have been doing.

Mr. Frugalwoods: Wrapping her in a roll of toilet paper is the best use of a roll of toilet paper I’ve had in a long time.

Mad Fientist: That was a genius idea

Mrs. Frugalwoods: Justin from Root of Good said, “Are you going to reuse that toilet paper”. I was like, “No, we’re not going to reuse the toilet paper. There’s a limit, you know!”

Mad Fientist: That’s amazing. You also do a podcast too every once in a while, Mrs. Frugalwoods

Mrs. Frugalwoods: I do. I’m on the Financially Blonde – Martinis and Your Money monthly happy hour podcast where we talk about various different topics and it’s primarily focused on issues women face. I think women kind of have a unique set of relationships with money and there are a lot of stereotypes about how women handle money and we sort of debunk that and talk about how you can be a financially savvy woman, whether you’re in a partnership or not, and just how you can create a really meaningful life.

Mad Fientist: And it’s a lot of fun. I caught some of your live broadcasting at FinCon and it was pretty amazing. You guys were all drinking martinis and having some amazing discussions about funny things.

Mrs. Frugalwoods: We’re pretty silly.

Mad Fientist: It’s really good.

I’ll link to all of that, all of the frugalwoods all over the internet (twitter, facebook, instagram) and that podcast, in the show notes.

I just wanted to thank you both so much for taking the time to talk with me. I’m busy tie-dying my clothes in preparation for Frugalwoodstock.

Best of luck with the baby and thanks again, I really appreciate it!

Mrs. Frugalwoods: Thank you. This was a lot of fun

Mr. Frugalwoods: Yeah, thanks.

Mad Fientist: See you guys, bye.

Mr. Frugalwoods: Bye.

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20 comments for “Frugalwoods – Making Frugality Fun

  1. December 11, 2015 at 6:44 am

    I’m so excited to have the listening pleasure of this podcast to and from work today! Not only have they coined awesome terms like ‘frugal weirdo’, they’re also a great inspiration to everyone trying to get ahead in this world! Kudos to them!

    Mrs. Mad Money Monster

  2. December 11, 2015 at 8:47 am

    Frugalwoodstock! Oh yeah!! Bring it!!!

    • December 11, 2015 at 1:32 pm

      Frugalwoodstock. Nice. I’m assuming tickets will be free and we can BYOB. :)

      • December 11, 2015 at 2:32 pm

        Of course!

        Also, rumor is that your band, Rusted Root of Good is going to part of the evening musical entertainment…

        • December 11, 2015 at 5:33 pm

          That would be quite an interesting concert given my complete lack of musical skills. :)

  3. December 11, 2015 at 4:25 pm

    Great episode! Loved their positivity and enthusiasm!

    I especially enjoyed the discussions about the fun side of frugality. While it’s definitely important to have a goal to shoot for, I think focusing to hard on only the results can be a detriment to happiness. Relax, and enjoy the process (as they clearly do)!

  4. Tim
    December 11, 2015 at 4:36 pm

    Great Interview MadFIentist!! Great hearing from both MR. and MRS. Frugalwoods!! Incredible savings rate and it sounds like you have a very nice income stream in your house as a potential rental. Thanks again for all your great perspective all the way around and thoughts on “Retiring to something”.. I certainly have that plan in mind.. but I’ll be honest I don’t know what that yet is… Not for that lack of creativity, but I have hundreds of things I would like to do.. Cheers all!!!!

    • December 12, 2015 at 11:12 am

      I have the feeling that there’s some sort of competition among FI seekers about who has the biggest savings rate. While it’s interresting and sometimes impressive (and yes, I know abouth the 4%SWR and all that strategy), my opinion is that people should focus more on MAKING more money and less on SPENDING less.
      We track our expenses in detail. It is very important but finding ways to earn more smart money from side hustles is soo much more important if you want to reach FI sooner. It’s not an easy way though…

      • Tim
        December 12, 2015 at 11:37 am

        Could be.. Spending is one element and this often is most easy for people… Only have to just stop buying stuff… Making more is a lot more work and so most don’t really try that avenue.

        I give the side hustles an up vote as for be they are things I really like doing.. They don’t pay a lot but I get more fun and enjoyment from them.

        • December 12, 2015 at 1:16 pm

          Unfortunatelly to “stop buying stuff” seems to be an incredibly difficult a task to do for sooo many people. Esecially now before christmas. It’s so mad.
          Ther’s also a different category of volks: those who find it easy to make money and can’t stop spending it all at the same time. In hungarian we have a saying (i’m not religious but i like that one): “God’s zoo is very very big!” :) All the best!

  5. December 12, 2015 at 11:03 am

    You mentioned something really important, along the lines of: “do it the hard way, you learn so much that way”. That’s exactly how I feel. Investing in real estate and starting my own online business was not easy, but I learn a hell of a lot and I feel in a very strong FI position that’s based on several pillars. Really enjoy your podcasts, you talk to people that bring so many different approaches/strategies to the FI journey.

  6. Dylan G
    December 12, 2015 at 2:43 pm

    As always, a solid and insightful podcast! One of the best out there Mad FIentist!!

  7. December 13, 2015 at 1:03 pm

    Can’t wait to listen. Keep the podcasts coming!

  8. December 14, 2015 at 3:29 pm

    Awesome interview, so many good points from the Frugal Weirdos!
    Also, thanks for the transcript as always!

  9. December 14, 2015 at 11:18 pm

    MF,

    Really enjoyed this episode, one of your best and definitely the funniest. I was laughing out loud at several points, especially the part of losing your anonymity to your co-workers!
    I try to steer folks to your work or others that have been so helpful to me and they often don’t seem to get it. I’ve read a bit of Frugalwoods but have felt that it is content overload and I prefer more technical information so haven’t followed them very closely. After listening to this, I’m going to give them a closer look and make the Frugalwoods the gateway drug to help get people hooked on the concept of FIRE as their message is great.
    Keep the podcasts coming. Love the different perspectives!

    EE

  10. MMD
    December 15, 2015 at 8:02 pm

    Great podcast episode! The Frugalwoods seem like an adorable couple.

    My favorite part of the whole discussion is when the three of you were talking about being less risk adverse now that you’re on the path to FI. I can completely identify with this. I’ve felt like Peter Gibbons for some time now – having the ability to say and do what I want because I know that ultimately if I were to ever actually lose my job I’ve got enough savings to make it work (yet another FU-Money nod to Jim Collins).

  11. December 21, 2015 at 8:52 pm

    Fun podcast! Thanks for the introduction to the Frugalwoods, but darn it, another blog to read! I’m running out of free time – I may have to retire just so I can read all the blogs on retirement. That is such an odd sounding statement…

  12. Joanna
    December 22, 2015 at 3:39 pm

    Great podcast, I’ve been introduced to so many great sites and people through your podcasts! And I love that you have transcripts of them so I can read them stealthily at work :)

  13. kev
    February 10, 2016 at 5:47 pm

    Great post! It is true at times people have to endure through difficult periods in order to achieve their larger financial goals. It is highly advised for people to try and maintain a high saving rate and to have fun while doing it and to understand there is a line to avoid pushing it too far. I liked how you explain how to budget in children into the early retirement plan this way the plan remains the same. I always look forward to your podcast I can’t wait for the next one. KEEP THEM COMING http://happylater.com/financial-independence-frugality/

  14. David Lippman
    November 27, 2016 at 10:51 am

    One of the key takeaways for me, was the decision to rent the house they own in Cambridge. For instance, if they can receive $4,000 a month from their rent (as stated in this podcast) they can put all that money to their lifestyle in Vermont. On their blog, http://www.frugalwoods.com, they state that their monthly expense for living in Vermont in October was $2,734.40. From a prior blog post, they spent approximately $460K for the house in Cambridge in 2012 with a 30 year mortgage at 3.8% which would equal about $1715/month. Thus, a home rental of $4k a month would cover the mortgage in MA and pay all but approximately $450 of their monthly expenses in Vermont. The value of the house as a rental could be a major component of their ability to achieve financial independence.

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