Elizabeth Willard Thames – Meet the Frugalwoods

Elizabeth Willard Thames - Meet the Frugalwoods

Today on the Financial Independence Podcast, I welcome back Liz Thames (a.k.a. Mrs. Frugalwoods)!

Liz was last on the show over two years ago and a lot has changed.

Since then, she’s made her dream of retiring to a homestead in Vermont a reality, she’s had two babies, and she’s just published a book!

Meet the Frugalwoods - Achieving Financial Independence Through Simple Living

It was great to catch up with her to hear about everything that’s happened over the last couple of years and to find out whether her early retirement dream is actually as amazing as she hoped it would be.

And since we’ve become good friends since our last interview, it was fun to challenge her on some of her more “borderline” frugal habits and also share my most embarrissing frugal hack :)

Listen Now

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  • Stream audio file here
  • Download MP3 by right-clicking here

Highlights

  • What’s changed since our last interview
  • Has the Vermont homestead reality lived up to the dream
  • Why you should just start things
  • How to embracing a $0 budget
  • Why you should eliminate everything and then add back the things you enjoy
  • How the Frugalwoods buy things
  • My super embarrasing frugal confession
  • The best way to deal with the long slog to FI after the initial period of excitement
  • How frugality can help build community

Show Links

And since I promised in the episode, here’s a picture of me and my brother in our onesies…

Embarrassing Frugal Confession

Full Transcript

Mad Fientist: Hey! Welcome, everyone, to the Financial Independence Podcast, the podcast where I get inside the brains of some of the best and brightest in personal finance to find out how they achieved financial independence.

On today’s show, I’m excited to welcome back Mrs. Frugalwoods. Liz was last on the show back in December of 2015. We had a great discussion about frugality and all the crazy plans they had of leaving the big city behind and moving to a homestead in Vermont to retire. And they’ve done all that.

It’s now two years later. They have a baby, another one on the way. They have a homestead in Vermont. And they’re living their early retirement dream.

So, I was excited to get her back on the show so that I could talk to her about everything that’s happened over the last couple of years and see if the reality of homesteading lives up to their dream of it.

And I’m also excited to hear about everything else she’s been up to because she just released a book that’s out today. And she was kind enough to send me an advance copy of it. And I absolutely loved it. It actually read more like a fiction book. And it was incredibly engaging. But it was still packed with all the great information that she has on her blog.

So, I highly recommend it. I’ll put a link in the show notes, so you can check that out.

I also have some rapid fire questions that I’m excited about. So make sure you listen to the end, so that you can hear those. I have a few funny stories that highlight the darker sides of frugality.

So, let’s get right into it. This is my interview with Liz from Frugalwoods.com.

Hey, Liz! Welcome back.

Liz: Hi! Thanks so much. I’m delighted to be here.

Mad Fientist: So, I looked into it, and it was exactly two years ago yesterday that you were on the show in episode #16. So, it’s currently December 12th we’re recording this. So yeah, December 11th 2015 is when you guys were first on the show.

Liz: Alright! We’re consistent. We should put something on the calendar for two years from now.

Mad Fientist: Absolutely! And maybe there’ll be another baby on the way because that’s something that’s similar between these two recordings.

Liz: I think let’s just go one baby at a time here.

Mad Fientist: So, when are you actually due this time? Last time, you were about ready to pop if I remember correctly.

Liz: Yes! I feel like we recorded right before our baby [Liz] was born. So the next baby—she needs a better name—is going to be born in mid-February.

Mad Fientist: Mid-February. So there’s some time left.

Liz: A little bit of time.

Mad Fientist: Cool! So, lots has changed. I’m really excited that you’re getting back on the show because it’s just been a crazy couple of years for you guys, which I’m excited to dive into. But the most important thing is that you wrote a book. So huge congratulations on that! Thanks for sending it to me.

Liz: Thank you.

Mad Fientist: And it is fantastic.

Liz: Well, thank you.

Mad Fientist: It exceeded all expectations, so well done. And I’m sure we’re going to talk a lot about it. But how does it feel?

Liz: It feels very good. It’s kind of been a lifelong goal of mine to write a book. And then, once I started writing it, I had no idea how hard it is to write a book. Everybody told me, “Oh, it’s really difficult to write a book.” I was like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. It can’t be that hard. I write all the time.” And it was a very challenging process for me as a writer. And I’m very grateful for it because I definitely grew and advanced kind of in my skill of writing and in my patience level too with my own abilities. Some of the chapters, I rewrote, oh, 15 or 20 times—you know, just a complete rewrite. And so it’s a very humbling experience to write something, send it to your editor, and have them say, “You know, really, just start over.”

So, it was a good experience. I really enjoy writing. And I still enjoy writing even after this process. And so it was eye-opening to me at the level of dedication that it takes to really do an entire book.

Mad Fientist: It sounds like that would kill me. So well done to you for surviving it. So, was it just like having a writing coach pretty much, I guess having an editor who’s scrutinizing everything? That would probably be pretty good for upping your skill level pretty quickly.

Liz: Yes. And I had a fantastic editor at Harper Collins who really understood the mission of Frugalwoods and the mission of what I was trying to convey in the book and helped me to hone and refine what I was trying to say.

What I realized is that, in blogging, I’m able to expand extensively 2000 to 5000 words on one very discreet topic. And you can’t exactly do that in a book or the book would be thousands and thousands of pages long. So, how do you really distill it down to the best kernels and the key points.

And so, it helped me to become, hopefully, a more concise writer too.

Mad Fientist: Oh, it’s fantastic. It wasn’t what I expected at all. And it exceeded all expectations like I said. It was more like reading a novel. You obviously packed in all of the good information that you do have on your site. So it’s also a finance book. It’s a life book and it’s many things. But at its core, I would say it feels like a novel. I was looking forward to reading it before bed and see what you guys are doing even though I know you guys and I know a lot of your story. I was still gripped by it. So yeah… fantastic!

Liz: Oh, thank you. I appreciate that so much. Thank you. I really want my writing to be interesting. I think we write about money and people are turned off by that. And so I really try to make it a story.

My background is in creative writing. And so I try to think, “Okay, what’s interesting to read? And then how can I kind of sneak the finance message in there?” So that’s always my goal.

Mad Fientist: Well, you definitely hit the goal. So congratulations!

Liz: Oh, thank you so much.

Mad Fientist: I actually learned quite a bit about you too even though we chatted two years ago and we touched on a lot of this stuff. But yeah, there’s a lot more depth to it. I could see the struggle. So I definitely want to talk about that.

But maybe for people who have just recently listened to your last episode—which I definitely recommend people doing because this will be like a continuation from that first episode—tell everybody everything that’s changed.

So, last time when we chatted, you’re still working Cambridge, you were thinking about moving to Vermont. You were both working, and you were childless. So what’s today look like for you?

Liz: So, today we are financially independent which I’m very grateful for and very excited about. I quit my job. My husband still works from home because we were able to move to Vermont. He’s able to work from home in Vermont which is really kind of the best of both worlds. So, we moved from Cambridge, which is a very urban area outside of Boston, Massachusetts, and we now live on 66 acres in rural central Vermont, which the Mad Scientist has been to visit. He can tell you just how rural it is!

Mad Fientist: Oh, it’s beautiful. We had a really good couple of days there. And you guys treated us to some of the best beer that Vermont has to offer, which we’re missing since it’s been 2 ½ years since we’ve been in Vermont. So yeah, it’s a gorgeous plot of land. And I still need to get there in the winter, so I can play some ice hockey on your pond.

Liz: Absolutely! The pond is frozen right now. So you be here. It’s snowing pretty hard today.

We’re kind of not any one thing at any given time, which is what we enjoy. So we’re homesteaders on this 66 acres. We also work what I call “computer jobs.” So we both chose to do work that involves us and a computer because it’s very intellectually fulfilling for us to do that work.

And then, we are also full-time parents. Well, everybody’s a full-time parent who’s a parent. But we’re stay-at-home parents to our daughter who’s two, and then our soon-to-be second daughter coming in February.

So, we sort of craft this life that’s very non-traditional, but that really works for us. And that is kind of the ultimate mission of the book and of my blog, helping people to figure out how would you structure your life—your time and your money. How would you use those two finite resources to their best advantage? What do you most want to be doing?

Before this, my husband and I were both working jobs, really good jobs, because that’s what you do. And we were spending money because that’s what you do. We were just sort of bopping along in this lifestyle inflation path that we’ve been on without any real acknowledgement of what it is that we actually want to be doing with our lives.

And so, having that watershed realization was key for us. And that was really the entire linchpin of us achieving financial independence. It was much less about the money and much more about making that determination of what we want to do. And I think once you establish that, your money will follow. You will find a way to craft a life that fits within the means that you have.

Mad Fientist: Perfectly summed up. And I think that’s the thing that people miss with frugality, especially if you’re just depriving yourself and you’re not buying all these things that you could be buying because you have the money, but in actuality, you’re buying exactly what you want, and you can have as much of it as you want. But you also realize that everything is a trade-off, so you don’t just go out and spend like crazy. And that’s the thing that I struggle to get across to my more spendy friends.

Have you found a good way of framing it or do you just live by example?

Liz: I think for me in my personal life, I live by example. My friends know what I do, and I’m sort of a passive resource. So if people want to come to me with questions, I am more than happy to answer them. And I do a bit of financial counseling with friends who approach me. But I’m much more of a sort of live-by-example type of person in my everyday life.

And I think it’s something that we try to espouse in everything we do. And if people are interested in kind of how we’ve structured our lives such as we have, I’m happy to talk about it.

And then, the blog and the book are really where my true zeal comes across. You can really dig into the specifics of what my husband, Nate, and I have done and the ways in which we’ve saved.

And I think what’s important to note—you know, my name is Frugalwoods, and so I talk a lot about frugality, but there is another side of the equation. Income is a necessary aspect of this equation. And I talk in the book about how it’s really all about income, expenses and time. And those are kind of the three variables that you need to bring into alignment in order to work towards financial independence.

The less you spend, the less you need. And the less you need for your lifetime. Obviously, the more you earn, the more you can save. But if you’re making high six figures and spending all of it, you’re no closer to financial independence than someone who’s making $50,000 and saving half of it every year.

So, I think it’s important to keep those variables in mind and understand how you can retrofit that for your own circumstance in your own situation.

Mad Fientist: Absolutely! So, you mentioned that Nate is still working. And back when he was on the program two years ago, he said he really loved his job—and he must if he’s still working now that you’re financially independent and in the words of Vermont.

So, does he still enjoy it as much as he did two years ago? And is he perfectly content continuing on because he’s able to do everything that he wants to do even while working?

Liz: He does, and he is. I think working from home is such a wonderful balance that I think a lot of people can take advantage of now with the way that the economy is trending and the way that jobs are able to be remote. It gives him so much more time in his day.

Just eliminating a commute is transformational. And just having those moments throughout the day where he can check in with the family and see what’s going on and having flexibility to work at night or early in the morning if that works better for his schedule. So, I think having that flexibility has been paramount in making it tenable.

And then, also, he enjoys the work. And I think that’s a really important thing, knowing what is fulfilling for you. I chose to continue working through writing the book. I certainly worked much harder writing the book than I ever did in my day job, let me tell you. And, for me and for Nate, it really was a choice of what brings us that fulfillment and that contentment.

And I am not happy when I am not writing. I can document this for you. Months where I have not written, I am not a happy person. You know how you get hangry, like if you’re hungry, you get angry? That’s me. I get that. Well, I also get this if I don’t write. It’s the same problem.

So, I think knowing that about myself and knowing that I need that work has been a very important aspect of both financial independence, but also of being a stay-at-home parent. I’ve learned that I’m not a person who can be a full-time stay-at-home parent. I really need that work. And I think Nate feels very much the same way, that we both need the stimulation and the engagement and really the intellectual fulfillment that comes from this type of work.

And then, we also love the physical labor of working on our land, the ability to get out there in the woods and either hike or do chores or work in the garden or clear snow. It’s such a great balance of life for us. And it’s very much what we always wanted, that wonderful symmetry of working with your body and working with your mind and spending a lot of time together as a family.

We’re so fortunate. We get to spend pretty much all day every day together which is just really a remarkable and wonderful thing.

Mad Fientist: That’s fantastic! And yeah, we’re going to get into life as it is now and dive a little bit more into that.

But I want to go back to two years ago. On the podcast, you said that you tend to everything in life at once. And after reading the book, I realized that you took that to the extreme pretty much right after we stopped talking.

So, can you talk about that period of your life?

Liz: I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I am continually layering life events on top of life events. And this happens over and over and over again with Nate and I.

And so, I think it’s just how we are. I think we’re both very driven, goal-oriented people. And we have these visions of what we want to bring to fruition. And we don’t have a lot of patience to kind of wait for it to happen. And so we tend to dive in and do a lot of things at once. But somehow, it does seem to work for us.

So, when we talked two years ago, we were just about to have a baby. And I cannot remember if I actually disclosed this on the podcast or not, but we were closing on our homestead at the exact same time. So we had located our property and viewed it when I was, I think, eight months pregnant. And it was the one.

We’d been looking for three years. We’d done so much research into rural homes. And this was it. We could not let it pass us by.

And so, the day that we came home from the hospital was also the same day of the inspection on our house up here. So Nate had to like hustle the baby and I home from the hospital. And so I’m sitting at home with this infant all day. Fortunately, my friend came over to hold her for a while. And Nate had to drive three hours up to Vermont and be sort of mentally alert in order to do the inspection on the property and walk the boundaries and make sure that everything was as we thought it was.

And it was! We went through and our offer was accepted. And we closed on it in January of 2016. And then we moved here in May 2016 with a 6-month old. And I was writing my book at this time as well. I continued on with writing my book. And then now we are having our second baby and my book is publishing a month after she’s born.

This is very much the trajectory that we often find ourselves on. I talk about it a little bit in the book where Nate and I would kind of make a decision to move or take new jobs or start graduate school. And it would happen immediately. I’ve looked back at our calendar, and it’s something like we make the decision, and then the next Monday, it would start.

I think that there’s good in that and bad. So I’m not necessarily advocating for this approach. But what I will say is that we very much have a philosophy of start now and don’t look back. You can waste so much time questioning if you want to do something or not. You can spend years deliberating about whether or not you want to change careers or pursue another degree or move to a new location. And that’s all sort of lost time. I think that’s very much the way that we view it.

And so, we might be a little extreme. I don’t know that you should necessarily write a book while you have two small children. But I also think that it’s very possible. And I think that sometimes we limit ourselves mentally because we think we can’t handle things. And I can say you can get a lot done in very short periods of time if you really want to be doing it and if it’s what you want to do.

The other day, I think it was in a 20-minute timeframe, I wrote something like 2000 words because that’s the time I had. I had to go back and edit. I mean, there were a lot of typos. But if you want to do something, just do it. And that’s really the philosophy that we live by.

And I would say I need to personally need to work on maybe tempering that a little bit. But I think it’s really useful in a financial journey. If you decide today that you want to work towards financial independence, start right now. Don’t wait until your next paycheck or until next season or until after Christmas.

That doesn’t make any sense!

Mad Fientist: Yeah, January 1st.

Liz: That doesn’t make any sense. That’s just lost time. Those are mental roadblocks you’re putting up where you could be making actionable progress starting this moment.

And I kind of enjoy that life philosophy because it lets me live without regrets. I really kind of do all the things I want to do. And sometimes I drive myself a little bit crazy, but it is an opportunity to recognize how much you can accomplish. And it’s also an opportunity to simplify.

So, I’ve radically simplified our lives in the last few years. There’s a lot we don’t do. There’s a lot we don’t own. We have a very simplified home and a very simplified routine.

And that’s kind of what lets us do these other things. I’d much rather be writing than dusting a bunch of knick knacks. So I just don’t have any knick knacks. You can make those trade-offs in your life. And you can make those very conscious decisions.

Mad Fientist: Even simple things that seem insignificant. In your book, you talk about throw pillows on your bed. You put them in the basement in your place because you’re like, “It just wastes my time. Every day, I have to take them off before bed. And then put it back on after I sleep.” It’s just like they don’t bring you that much joy.

Liz: Oh, a hundred percent. And you’re like, “Throw pillows? That’s five minutes!” Yeah, that’s five minutes, people. And if you kind of identify all those points throughout your day, it’s incredible how much you can get done.

I don’t brush my hair in the morning because it’s good. It’s up in a ponytail. It’s totally fine. I save time by doing that. I mean, it sounds a little bit ridiculous. But honestly, it really works for me because it lets me spend more time with my daughter. And that’s what’s important to me . I’d much rather do that than have coifed hair. Also, no one cares on the homestead. It’s not like the deer walking by have any opinion.

Mad Fientist: Right, yeah. That’s one of the great things about Vermont, just heading up to the shops and looking like an absolute state and not worrying about it because most people are covered in mud or whatever.

Liz: Et cetera… I have to say that living in Vermont very much facilitates like a simplified, frugal lifestyle because everyone here really kind of is focused on their highest and best priorities. There’s very little pretense. There’s very little consumerism. And there’s very little stock put into appearance.

And so, it’s funny. We’ll go somewhere, we’ll get there, and I’m like, “Oh, my gosh! We’re kind of scruffy. I don’t think I bathed my child.” And then we get there and I’m like, “Oh, it’s totally fine! Everybody else is in the same boat.”

Mad Fientist: Yeah, absolutely! I do miss that. It’s a good way to live.

So, you mentioned that you were planning this for years and looking for your perfect Vermont homestead. And then, all of a sudden, you found it. And pretty much, you’re there. It all seemed to happen very quickly. And your dream was realized.

And sometimes, when that happens, the dream wasn’t as you expected. Sometimes, it’s better. How did you find it? I know you’ve been there for over a year, so you have some sense I guess of what it’s like. But do you feel it’s exceeded expectations? Were there things that you would feel or think that you don’t?

Liz: I would say, on the whole, it has exceeded expectations and really been better than we could have imagined. However, I will give a caveat. That didn’t happen until really after we moved here and had lived here for a couple of months.

When we first bought the property—and I talk about this in the book. And I’m not going to tell the sort of terrifying experience that happened to us that made me think that this was a really bad decision with like a 2-month old baby. Suffice it to say, when we first came up here to close on the property, I very much thought we were doing the wrong thing, and I was extremely concerned that we’d made a really big mistake. I was very nervous about moving here. It is a very rural property. You cannot see a neighbor. The neighbors are miles away. We are deep in the woods, which we love, but we were going from an extremely urban environment and I got extremely nervous so much so that, on the way to the lawyer’s office for closing, I almost told Nate, “We can’t do this” because I was so overwhelmed at the prospect of this home.

And so, the reason that I was able to go through with it is that I did not want to live with the regret of having not done it because I knew what it felt like to live in the city and work those jobs that were not fulfilling to us. So I was able to sort of see past the moment of panic that I was in and understand that it was going to be okay.

But I mean, it was quite a gamble. It’s quite a gamble when you change your life so radically. And I think what gave us confidence again is the backing of financial independence. Nate and I like to say at the end of the day, “Okay! So it was a bad decision. What’s the worst that happens? You lose money.” You sold the house for a loss, and you’re out that amount of money out of your net worth.

That to me is the ultimate reason for financial independence, options.

Mad Fientist: Absolutely! The same thing happened with our Vermont house. It wasn’t selling. And then, we were like, “You know what? Just leave it here. We’ll go to Scotland. We need to get to Scotland, so we’ll just leave it there.” And then, it was like winter. It was coming. I was so stressed out about it. Little did our buyers know I probably would’ve given it to them for like $5 or $10 because I was just like, “The stress is not worth it. I’ll just take the hit. It doesn’t matter. It’s just money. I can’t do all this anymore.”

So yeah, that’s absolutely one of the best parts, being able to just realize that, hey, it’s not the end of the world if this doesn’t work out. It’s just a bit of money.

Mad Fientist: Oh, yeah. That to me is the most liberating thing when I can have that realization like, “It’s just money. It doesn’t matter.” Putting yourself in that position is to me transformational.

And so, people ask, “Why would you save 80% of your income?” I’m like, “Let me tell you… so I don’t have to worry about money ever.” It’s the most liberating thing in the world.

So, we got past that. We moved here. And then we were in this race to get things done. When you live on 66 acres, it’s an endless to-do list. I mean it’s nonstop with the work that you need to do outside, let alone anything you want to do inside the home like, for example, unpack dishes or organize your kitchen.

So, that was a challenging first few months of really trying to kind of do everything. And we’ve finally came to this realization that, at a certain point, you have to arrive at your life, and you have to just say, “I’m here, and I’m going to step back and enjoy it.”

And coming to that realization and really embracing that philosophy has been a big part of our first year and a half here. And we absolutely love it! We just could not imagine ever leaving. I can’t imagine that we haven’t always lived here. And we are so thrilled with being here.

But I will say it was very nerve-wracking at the beginning. Really, anything that’s worth doing I think is going to be difficult and scary at the outset because you’re taking a risk. But what’s the point if you don’t take these risks and if you don’t do these things in life? You’re always going to wonder or regret or wish that you’ve done these things.

Mad Fientist: Yeah. If it’s scary and really intimidating and you don’t want to do it, then you should definitely do it because it’s likely going to be worth it.

I’m so glad you guys did and are so happy. And when I read that part in the book, I just was picturing what would have happened to Nate if you said, “We can’t do this” after all those years of researching and stuff. It seems like you both are really detailed and scrutinizing numbers and so many different things to get to that point. I just imagined his head would have exploded if you were like, ”No, I can’t do this actually.”

Liz: Well, you know, actually, I’m married to a very zen person. If he had told me that, I would have lost it. if I had told him that, he would have said, “Okay… let’s talk it through.”

And so I think it’s important to know your strengths. Calmness is not really my strength, but it is Nate’s. So, in that way, we’re really able to balance each other out.

And I think being respectful of what your partner wants is an important tenet of working on this type of journey together. You need to really take into account what each person needs and wants. You can’t to a homestead in the woods if one part of the partnership does not want to be there. It’s not going to work out. You need to be on the same page.

And so, for us, choosing this dream together, choosing this home together, and then ultimately deciding to actually drive to the lawyer’s office and sign the papers was all very much a joint decision.

And also, I think in a partnership, you do have to think about what’s going to make your partner happiest. I’m happiest when he’s happy. And he’s happiest when I am happy. And so I think recognizing that and balancing that has always been important for us.

And it’s also true that then, your kids are happy. It of reflects throughout your whole home if you are able to live kind of a content lifestyle.

Mad Fientist: Yeah, definitely. So, you have your Cambridge house or a house in Cambridge, Massachusetts. So, when I talked to you last, you were planning on renting that out once you get the homestead. And you were planning on managing it yourself. I was just wondering how that’s going, if you’ve decided to hire out the management to someone in Cambridge.

Liz: That is going really well. We have been just thrilled with how that has worked out. And we did decide to hire a property manager which has been an excellent decision. We’re about three hours from Cambridge which is kind of on the edge. You could manage it yourself. But what we came around to realizing is that, ultimately, it’s money. And it wasn’t worth the time to us. I didn’t want Nate to have to be driving six hours in order to fix a leaky toilet which is exactly what would have happened.

And so, for us, it’s very much worth it to pay a property manager. And what we pay is—I think it’s a flat rate of $105 a month which is a really great rate for property management. So what I would say is if you’re looking for a property manager, call around to a lot of different managers. I found just wildly different rates in Cambridge and wildly different levels of service. And I think it’s a question of what do you actually need for your property, how much are you willing to do versus how much they’re going to do. And something like going down to clean in between tenants, we are willing to do that. But again, the leaky toilet in the middle of the night, we are not willing to do that. And so, outsourcing that to the property manager has been a great decision.

They also listed the home and rented it out for a higher price than what we would have asked. We’ve been doing a lot of research on the market to try and figure out where we would fall. And they priced us a couple hundred dollars above that. And they were able to rent it out to the first people they showed it to. So, I was like, “Great! You have earned your commission!”

Mad Fientist: That’s fantastic! And is it pretty much completely hands off for you guys then?

Liz: It is! So far—you know, we’ve only been doing it for a year and a half—it’s been a really passive source of income. And it’s really generating revenue at a great rate.

And I think one of the reasons for that is just the market in Cambridge. I’m very cautious about recommending real estate investing because—and I’m sure you’ve talked about this too—it’s so dependent on the market and the pool of tenants that are available to you. And I think Cambridge is great because there are a number of universities there. And there’s also a burgeoning biotech industry there. Places like Google and other tech companies are also headquartering there because of their proximity to MIT, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. And so, there’s kind of this upswell in the market.

And it’s also a very constricted housing market because there are a lot of historical regulations in Cambridge. And so there’s just not enough housing. And 60% of units are rented.

So, when you kind of look at all those variables, it’s telling you this is a good place to be a landlord.

And so, I think before you make a decision like that, as you know, it is not always a revenue-generating proposition. And so I never want people listening, “Oh, yeah. I can rent out this place in rural Vermont and make tons of money!” Probably not. I always want to kind of temper my enthusiasm for it. You need to have a deep knowledge of the market that you’re looking at.

And when we bought in Cambridge, this was our assumption, that that home would become a rental. And so we really bought with an eye towards renting it out, not with an eye towards it being our forever home.

Mad Fientist: That’s definitely a mistake I’ve made in the past. We’ve owned two houses. And each of them were bought just as like, “Ooh, this is going to be a great place to live.” And both ended in so much stress for me.

So, I said to Jill, I was like, “If I ever buy again, my first priority is that it’s a good rental investment because then if we do want to leave in two years, we don’t have to worry about any of this stuff. It’s hopefully a sound investment we could cash flow and not have to worry about selling if it’s a bad market or whatever.” And yeah, I think that’s a great piece of advice.

Liz: And I would say that we did very much the opposite with our Vermont home. I mean we consider this property zero dollars in our overall net worth. Even though it’s a great house and a great property, these rural places do not necessarily appreciate. They do not even necessarily stay static. And they certainly don’t sell quickly . It’s very unlikely that it would be a successful rental, probably impossible.

And so, we very much bought this place like, “We just want to live here.” And it’s worth zero dollars.

So, I think having that awareness when you’re buying, like “Am I buying this with an eye towards rental? Is this a great market where I could reseller? Or do I just really want to live here?” And it is not a bad thing to just really want to live somewhere. But then I think you have to understand what kind of investment it is. And for us, it’s an emotional investment in where we want to live, whereas the Cambridge house, I can’t say that we like loved that house.

Did you ever visit us there? I don’t remember.

Mad Fientist: No, I didn’t.

Liz: No. It’s kind of an awkward home, but it works really well as a rental because it’s a single family. And in Cambridge, a lot of units are condos. And there are a lot more restrictions on renting out condos in Cambridge than there are single family properties. So, we could have gotten like a much nicer condo to live in, but it would not have been as good of a rental opportunity.

So, again, having that awareness before you buy I think can be really helpful.

Mad Fientist: Yeah, no, definitely. And yeah that’s where we made the mistake for us. We knew that we would probably be there five years max. So it’s like, “Okay, this is not our forever home. And it wasn’t going to be a good rental.” So then it was like, “Oh, we want to leave right now. But it’s just not a good time to sell” and things like that.

So yeah, just knowing where you are in that space and having it all upfront in your mind and know what you’re going to do in that situation is I think key for not having all the stress that I had.

So, when we chatted last time, I think both of you said that frugality is a lot easier when you have a goal. So when you had the goal of buying your Cambridge house, that was easy to be frugal, and you were able to save a lot of money. But then once you bought the house, then you sort of got off the path. But then you realize that you wanted to retire to a homestead in Vermont, so then you have this other goal, and then you got super frugal again.

Do you have a goal now? Or is it so deep in your being, frugality, that it just comes easily?

Liz: I think it’s more that frugality is so ingrained in our lifestyle that that’s just the way that we live at this point. I would not say that we really have a concrete goal. I would say we have kind of personal goals, where we want to see our net worth go and the things that we want to do with our money.

We started a donor advised fund last year which is a tax advantaged charitable giving vehicle that I highly recommend if people are looking for a way to lower their taxable income. And that was a big priority for us, to be more strategic and mindful about our philanthropy. and that’s something we’d like to do more of in the future.

And so, I think we have monetary goals around that and around some different things we’d like to do around the property and in our community.

But overall, no, I would not say that we have another big goal. I don’t ever want to move again I don’t think for my entire life. No, I’m sure someday. But I think for us, it’s really just maintaining and creating this life that we want to be living. Our family is still growing, and so we’re very much kind of in those transition phases.

And at this point, frugality just brings us so much happiness and is so very much the way that we live that it’s natural for us.

And I would also say that we spend more money now than we did when we were working towards financial independence. And I think that that’s just kind of a course correction that happens over time. So, your first month of frugality, you’re going to probably save more than you will for years from that point. And I think that’s fine.

I think the key to finding tenable frugality is to first eliminate everything, and then to kind of add back the things that you really enjoy. Nate and I go out for dinner once a month now on a date which we did not do back when we were working towards financial independence. We spend more on farm equipment now because we need things for our property and it makes our life easier to have an apple cider press or a wood splitter or pallet forks for our tractor, things like that. We spend the money because it’s going to enable greater frugality and it’s going to allow us to live out here more sustainably and make our own hard apple cider.

So, I think our spending is certainly higher, but it is not at a level where I feel like it’s on frivolous things. So I think if you always have your parameters of goals-based spending guiding you, you’re going to arrive at a really good place with your frugality.

And I think it’s also not a static thing. Inflation, your family size increases, your needs increase, or they decrease. And I think you need to just be aware of that and you can keep an eye on your overall net worth and you can keep an eye on what your income is at that point and where you are in your journey. And you can adjust your spending as it’s appropriate.

Mad Fientist: Yeah, that’s exactly what I found as well. Our spending has definitely increased, but nothing worryingly. And I’m not worried about it because so many years of frugality, I know that I’m spending on things that make me happy and not anything more.

And I think it’s been a huge gift. I think it’s just being able to relax a bit because, before, I was super scrutinizing everything—just like I know you were. And now, it’s like, “Okay, just relax. You got this down. You know what you’re doing. So don’t stress about every single thing because, overall, you’re doing great. And it doesn’t matter if you spend an extra hundred bucks a month than you did a year ago .

Liz: Right, exactly.

I think, again, it’s like if you have that goals-based spending at the forefront, it’s kind of immaterial.

And also, for me, I think I’m moving into sort of being more of a minimalist. I think this is a new phase for me where what I’m recognizing is that I love the simplicity of frugality. And I really like owning less stuff and having less stuff that I need to care for and be concerned about.

So, I’ve been getting rid of a lot of things. I think it’s also because I’m pregnant, and I just do this when I’m pregnant. So talk to me again in a couple of years. I might feel differently. But frugality has made me a less stressed person because I’m just not worried about as many things in my life. Like it’s the Christmas season, and I do not feel stressed because I’m not buying gifts for my husband or daughter. I got her stuff at a garage sale like six months ago. She has no idea. So for me, it’s just a very stress-free time. And I’m like, “This is great! This is how I want to live all the time.”

So, for me, I think the goals have kind of evolved to be a little bit less about money and a little bit more about time and mindset and mentality and how do you find that inner peace and that inner serenity that I think stems from financial independence, but also stems from using your time exactly as you want. And frugality allows me to do that.

And so it’s kind of this whole cycle for me of spending less, needing less, desiring less, and then being happier with less. And I think that’s the ultimate destination for me.

Mad Fientist: Absolutely! We just actually utilized our minimalism just last month. It was time for our lease to be renewed. And the property management company emailed us and said, “Do you want to stay?” and we’re like, “Yeah, we like it. So we’d like to stay.”

And then, they replied and said, “Oh, the landlord has chosen to increase their rent.”

We’ve only been here a year, and were great tenants, so I was like, “This is crazy!” But of course, what they’re thinking is that we have all this stuff, we moved in, we’re settled. And for us, we could just have two small car loads and be out of here and be somewhere new.

So, I replied, I’m like, “No, we’re not going to spend any more. We can leave on February 2nd” or whatever our date was “…or we’ll just keep paying the other rent. It’s up to you guys.”

And she replied so nice. It’s like the nicest email I ever received from her. She’s like, “Oh, yeah. That would be great. You can stay.” And I said, “We’ll stay until May. And then we can reassess then.” She said, yeah, we can stay until May, “And I’ll be in touch soon.”

So, it was just like a 180. She thought she had all the power. And it’s like, “No, we have nothing. We could be out of here in two hours.”

Liz: That’s awesome. That’s awesome. No, I’m envious. I am not that minimal. Let me tell you, I could not be out of this house in like two weeks. So yeah…

Mad Fientist: Yeah, moving across the ocean twice is the best thing ever for not accumulating a bunch of stuff. It’s just like you do that twice, and you’re like, “I never want anything ever again.”

Liz: Like “I’m done. I own nothing.”

And you are the perfect embodiment of having that ability and holding the power. I think, in a lot of dynamics with a landlord or with an employer, they assume that they have the power. And you, time and time again, have shown them, “Actually, no. I don’t need this job. I don’t need this…”

Mad Fientist: Exactly! And that’s the thing. That’s the thing that I didn’t realize on my journey as much as I wish I had, just the power that that gives you and how it makes you so different from any one else and how you can utilize it just like I did with my landlord right there and like I did with my job.

You should utilize that power because you’re very rare if you have more than a few months saved up, let alone a few years or a decade.

Liz: Or a lifetime, yeah.

Mad Fientist: Exactly!

Liz: It’s incredibly liberating. And it really lets you make decisions because you want to.

Mad Fientist: Yes, absolutely. And that’s the best part.

Liz: Yeah. There’s a lot that we don’t do because we’re like, “Well, no, nope. I don’t want to do that.” It’s kind of like having a property manager for us. It’s like, “No, I’d much rather spend that than be driving back and forth.”

Mad Fientist: Yeah, exactly!

So, you were a bit more extreme at the beginning, as you said. So in the book, you talk about the zero dollar budget. I just wanted to chat a little bit about that because I think it’s a really powerful mindset shift.

Is that still similar to the way you think now?

Liz: Absolutely! And part of this stems from laziness. I do not want to sit down and create a budget every month. That would take a lot of time. And it sounds boring. And I think I would be setting myself up for failure. I don’t see any point in creating a budget because it is very much a zero dollar proposition for me.

So, any time we need to buy something, Nate and I have a process that we go through. We discuss it. If it’s a big purchase, we’re going to talk about it for a very long time, like buying a car, for example. We bought two cars in 2016. We have been talking about those cars for, I don’t know, five years maybe. And so by the time we came to purchase them, it was very easy to pull the trigger.

The same thing with buying both of our homes. The decision to actually purchase was made pretty quickly because we’ve been thinking about it, talking about it, and researching for years.

So, with large purchases, we spend a very long time. And then the time is kind of correlated with the size of the purchase price. So depending on how expensive it is, that’s going to be correlated with how long we discuss it and research it.

And our first step is always to wait. I never advocate buying something immediately—except for groceries which you’re going to need to buy pretty quickly. But I never buy something in the moment that I think I need it. I write it down on a list, and then I wait a while—at least two days. Even for seemingly insignificant purchases, I wait and I just see do I actually need this or was this just like a flash in the pan like, “I need this right now,” and I don’t actually need it. And I look back at the list and like, “What even is this? Why is this on here?”

If it is something that I feel like we really need, then I start to try and figure out if we have a substitute. Is there something in the house that can suffice, that we can use instead. Is it something that we’re going to need just once, like a tool, or something very specific that we could borrow from a neighbor? If so, borrow it, be done with it. Great!

If we’ve gone through all these exercises, and we feel like we still need to buy this thing, we start looking for it used. So I check Craigslist, a buy nothing group, which I highly recommend you join or start in any city you live in. I look on Facebook buy and sell groups. If you have kids, those parent buy and sell groups are just a gold mine. I get most of my baby stuff from there because people are looking to offload things. And it’s typically a better price in Craigslist. And it’s a better selection because there’s usually more people posting stuff.

Also find your local parents’ buy and sell group. I just got a changing table and changing pad and a diaper pail for like $15 which normally would be like a $300 expense. So I’m like, “Yes!” Then I almost could not fit it into my car, so there was a moment of stress. But I got it. I turned it around the other way.

But anyway, when you start to buy things used, you will recognize the depreciation curve is astronomical. It’s just on real how cheap you can get things used versus buying them new.

We live in a very snowy climate. We always need snow gear. And our child is constantly growing and eating a different size of snow gear. So anytime I see high quality snow pants, boots or coats at a garage sale, I buy them. I buy them in whatever size they are. And I get [lands] and $60 snow pants for $3. And that’s the kind of stuff where, to me, it’s just, “Why would you buy it new?” It’s so much fun to find it used.

So, utilizing the used market is one of the best tips I have. And then if it’s something you can’t find used—for example, the pallet forks for our tractor—do your research and find the best price, and then buy it. And don’t feel bad about it because you’ve spent all this time researching and thinking it through. You don’t have buyer’s remorse. Then you’re not questioning whether or not it was something you need to buy.

So, in that way, everything we buy is pretty mindful. And it is something that we ultimately do need.

Now, that’s not to say we don’t buy useless stuff. That totally happens to us. But usually, they’re pretty small purchases. I can’t say that we regret any of our large purchases.

Mad Fientist: Nice! So, let’s go back to when you realize that this early retirement was going to be your goal, and you’re doing all this cutting, and you have the zero dollar budget, and you’re probably all amped up, but then you realize that, “Hey, I’m pretty optimize now. And now I’ve still got a few years before this is actually going to happen.”

And there’s a quote in your book. You said, “I wasn’t living. I was just marking off days.” I think that a lot of people find themselves in that same situation. They find the idea of financial independence. They’re all excited. They start making these drastic changes that are increasing their happiness. But then they realize they have a long time to go.

What’s your advice for somebody in that position? How do they keep from just marking off days and not really living life anymore, just waiting for this end goal?

Liz: Yes. That was the hardest point for me. And that was one of the hardest parts of the book to write because I just felt depressed in that period of time. And so in order to write that, I kind of had to go back into that depressed time and remember how I felt—which is not super fun.

It’s difficult. You do, you have this heady euphoria of like, “Yes! Financial independence, I am rocking this,” and then you go a couple months, and you’re like, “Okay! I have done everything. I got my index funds. I’ve got my 401k. I’ve got my savings. Okay!” and there’s kind of nothing left to do with your money, so then you’re just sort of stuck sitting in your apartment wondering what to do next.

So, I think, for me, it was really important to have an outlet. And so my outlets during that time were Frugalwoods, the blog. And I really poured a lot of energy and enthusiasm into that.

Writing is my passion. Writing is what I’d always wanted to do and what I had not been doing because I always thought I didn’t have the time to do it. I had the time to do it. I just was not optimizing my time.

So, I think after you optimize your money, start to optimize other parts of your life and start to figure out how you like to be using your time. Pursue hobbies that you have not been able to do. Take on new projects that you previously thought you didn’t have time or money or energy to do.

And I think by focusing your efforts in other areas, it’s much more tenable to kind of get through that slog. And I think what it also does is it gives you a destination for financial independence.

So, for me, what I realized after I quit my job, “Oh, I’m going to be a writer.” And that was a very clearly articulated goal for me. And so it wasn’t just about reaching a dollar amount, which I think can become a little bit of a grinding goal. For us, those dollar amounts just kind of flew by, and we’ve kind of passed them by, and then it’s like, “Oh, that’s cool!” because we’re so focused on what we want to be doing with our lives.

And I think that that’s a really important thing. I think you’ve actually written about that really articulately, that you need to be retiring to something, not just from something.

So, figure out what those passions are as you’re waiting. So, for me, writing the blog was transformational. And also doing yoga, I got really into doing yoga at that time because I needed a physical outlet. And so I volunteered at the front desk of my yoga studio and got free classes. And that was another excellent way for me to kind of fill my mental energy and fill my space while I was waiting.

Mad Fientist: That’s fantastic! Yeah, that’s great advice. Did you ever feel like you’re in the deprivation zone? I know that happened to me. I was in a similar situation as you. I was like, “Oh, man. I’ve still got years to go. I’m not happy.” And the depression was just like growing, and I wasn’t content with anything. I was like, “Well, I’m not happy now. But I guess I will be happy when I hit FI. So I’m not going to spend money on anything,” which then obviously made me even less happy and it was just like this cycle.

Did you ever feel like you were depriving yourself with your extreme frugality? Or did you feel that you at least had that under control?

Liz: For me, the frugality was kind of the easier side of things. For me, it was much more difficult to keep working the job I was working and living in the city I was living in. That day to day reality, it’s like, “Oh, I’m imagining this life on a homestead, and yet here I sit in my cubicle.” And so, that was the hardest part for me.

Somehow, the frugality part was easier. And I think it’s because it is such a measurable goal that I really loved seeing how much we were saving every month. And so I was so motivated to get to the end of the month. It’s like, “Yeah! We spent so little.” That was kind of a motivation for me in and of itself.

But just going through the days and the weeks was hard for me. And what it ultimately did though is it made me so much more grateful to be in the position I’m in now. And I think one of the things I like to highlight and that I talk pretty extensively about in the book is the privilege of doing this.

I think there’s so much privilege in being able to pursue financial independence. There are so many people for whom working two and three jobs still does not cover their basic needs. And so the thought of putting away this much money is wholly divorced from their reality. And I’m very cognizant of how lucky Nate and I are, and how much privilege we have coursing through our lives—from the parents we had, to the educations we received, to the careers we enjoyed. It’s a really fortunate position.

And so, I didn’t want to lose sight of that, like, “Oh! So you don’t like going to your well-paying white collar job? Too bad! How sad…” And so, being able to step back and understand just how fortunate we were to pursue this lifestyle, and now how fortunate we are to live it out, is what I try to reflect on. And having that gratitude and then having that empathy for people for whom daily life is such a struggle that these types of dreams and questions are not even possible for them and just recognizing how lucky it is to even have the ability to craft a life you want.

Mad Fientist: Yeah, you have an excellent post called Deprivation versus Abundance. And I think that’s a really good one to read for anyone who is feeling like they’re depriving themselves or maybe just cut too much and aren’t happy.

I mean for me personally, travel has been huge with that. You go to these countries and you realize how much privilege you actually have. It’s easy to gloss over it when all your friends look the same as you and all your family are doing the same things. But when you get to some other country, it’s like, “Wow! They’re working so hard every day just to get some rice.”

It puts it all into perspective, focusing on that and focusing what you do have, not that goal, that FI goal that’s maybe five years away, but actually realizing, “Hey, I’m actually working on these things, I am working on these skills that allow me to do these things that I want to do. And I’m able to put food on the table,” focusing on that rather than the thing that you actually want.

And I think in my post you say something like greed versus gratitude, having gratitude for what you do have rather than being greedy for what you don’t yet have. I think that’s an awesome thing to keep in mind during that stage.

Liz: Absolutely! And I think what it also does is it kind of enshrines frugality and simplicity into your life because you recognize that you don’t need a lot, and that you can be happy with less, and that you can, as a result, give away more, and that you can find ways to impact your community and be helpful in that way.

Mad Fientist: And you mentioned community there. That’s something that I came across in the book that, one, I realize that’s lacking in my life. I’m a city dweller right now. We always move every two or three years. So we never really put in the effort to develop a community. But it was really cool to read how your frugality has helped you foster a community in Vermont. And it sounds like Vermont, it would be a bit easier than in Cambridge. But you gave the example I think of you could pay to have your dog watched while you go on vacation, which is just an expense, but then otherwise you could maybe create a community of dog owners in your local town, and you can all make a pact and say, “Whenever one of us is on vacation, we’ll watch the other one’s dog,” and then you’re saving money, but then you’re also helping other people in your community which makes you happier. You’re also fostering this community of people that you may not have had before.

I thought that was really cool. And that’s not a link that I’ve actually put together before, how frugality can foster and help you improve your community.

But can you give maybe some examples of how you’re doing that in Vermont?

Liz: Absolutely! The dog example is great. And we have availed ourselves of that for years. We’ve actually never paid to board our dog.

And I think recognizing that barter and trade is not dead. Our modern economy has created all of these opportunities to pay people to do things. But what we forget is that there’s a lot of people who would rather not be paying to do these things. I would much rather trade with you. And so, bartering and trading with my yoga studio is a great example, with dog watching.

I think in a rural context, it’s a little bit more at the forefront because it’s something that people are more accustomed to. But I would say that it’s entirely possible anywhere in any suburban/urban/rural areas because people are interested in building that community.

I think, especially in the US, we’ve come around to this idea that our unifying activity is to be consumers. That’s kind of the one thing that we all do. And when you step outside of that loop and start to realize that’s not true, you will find other people who are also interested in building deep connections and in working together and in being collaborative.

And so, what we found out here is that people are so much more open and willing to help you and also to ask for help and to be very frank, “Could you come over with your car and help us move?” or “Could you come help us move these pieces of furniture?” or “Could you come help us repair this well? We need to dig a ditch.” These are all things we’ve done, by the way. These are all real life examples.

And similarly, we say to people, “Could you come over and watch our daughter while we go to the doctor?” We’ve been able to sort of create these relationships where you are able to offer your skills to people.

So, one of the things we bring to rural Vermont is our tech skills. And so Nate is kind of like the tech guy. People stop by, call up with tech questions. Yeah, you need your Internet installed, you need your phone set up, we’re here for you.

So, I think finding what you can offer to your community, and then being very honest about what you need help with—people are very excited to help and to be part of your life. And I have been so pleasantly surprised by how much community we’re surrounded with out here.

And again, in a rural context, you really kind of need each other because goods and services and stores are very far away. And there’s a lot of work to be done out here. And so not a lot of money changes hands, but a lot of projects get done together.

Nate helped some friends move a wood stove from one person’s house to another person’s house. I don’t know how you even hire someone to move a wood stove. So they just got some guys together and were like, “Can you just come over and help us move this wood stoe?” “Sure!”

It’s things like that, just being open to it. And I think being available in your community is really important to us. And it’s something that we enjoy and have found a lot of deep fulfillment from.

We’ve created relationships with people of all different ages, which is another element of frugality that I really love, these intergenerational relationships. People know so much! Our friends who are 60 and 70 and 80, they’ve had incredible lives, and they have so much to offer us. Likewise, our friends who are 9 and 10 are just fantastic and hilarious. I looked out one day, and one of them was on the roof of our barn. I was like, “Okay… well, they got up there, they’re going to be able to get down.”

So, I think opening yourself up to that diversity of community is a wonderful thing. And it really does facilitate not only frugality, but also, I would argue, just a more fulfilling life.

Mad Fientist: That’s very cold. And yeah, that’s definitely going to be a focus for us over the next few years once we get citizenship here and we realize where we’re actually going to settle down. I think that’s the one thing that’s lacking. And as we said, it’s super important for overall happiness.

So, for someone who is a big achiever—and I can see that you’re maybe a type A personality and like setting goals and achieving goals—you’ve got your homestead in Vermonth, you’ve written your book, what’s next? And do you have a next? And if not, how do you feel about that?

Liz: Oh, my goodness! So, it’s true. I really try not to be type A. But I found that it’s actually very hard to change your core personality.

And so I quit working, but I just kind of translated my type A over into other things, which I have to be okay with because it’s very hard to fundamentally change who you are.

And so what I’ve tried to do is incorporate more simplicity and peace into the type A that I truly am.

Mad Fientist: So, how do you do that?

Liz: How do you do that?

Mad Fientist: Yeah. I feel like we’re quite similar.

Liz: A very patient spouse who grounds you and reminds you of how you want to be versus perhaps how you are being. And it’s something that Nate and I have a very open line of communication about. And he has his things that he works on as well that I help him out with, don’t worry.

And so, I think recognizing that you need that help from people to understand like, “Okay, this is a type A thing. You need to let this go,” I’ve really been able to do that by understanding how much happier I am when I am not stressed out all day long and recognizing how much happier I am when I make time to hike every day and to do things that I enjoy every single day.

And for me, it’s creating some really strong boundaries around my time, which having a child, like you are a hundred percent set, they will do that for you. And so having our daughter has truly helped me because I have these blocks of time during which I can “work” at my computer, and then I have blocks of time where I’m with her and blocks of time where she and I do household chores together or we play outside. And so my day is very structured in that sense. And so there are a lot of boundaries around what I can and can’t do.

I also have a strict bedtime. So Nate and I go to bed same time every night no matter what. And that’s really important. I used to think, “Oh, I’ll just stay up another hour, another hour. I can get all these stuff done. Okay, so it’s 1:00. Well, it’s kind of bad, but…” So having that strict bedtime puts just a real parameter on my day. We go to bed at the same time, we get up at the same time. And I think that helps me facilitate a little bit of a calmer approach.

And in terms of what’s next for me, having a baby, having the book published. And then, I do have some plans for Frugalwoods for the future of some new places, new directions, that I want to take the blog.

Mad Fientist: Very cool!

Liz: And I’ve gotten into doing a little bit more sort of what I would say maybe financial literacy. I don’t know if I want to say “financial education” because I’m not a formal educator. But I have an Uber Frugal Month Challenge which is a month-long free challenge to help you identify your goals and save more money than you ever thought possible. I guarantee you will save more money.

And having that Challenge, I’ve really enjoyed that because I’ve gotten e-mails and actually handwritten letters from people about how this has saved their marriage or transformed their lives or allowed them to pay back debt or sort of claw out of a depression that they felt around their finances. And that to me is why I do this work. It makes me so happy, and I get so excited when I read these letters.

And so, I want to expand my work in that space and expand my work in offering people some actionable advice on how they can transform their lives.

So, after I have the baby, and the book comes out, hopefully I will be able to focus a little bit on that.

Mad Fientist: Very cool!

So, I’m going to throw a few quicker questions at you. Do you have any frugal hacks that you recently found. I have one that I’ll share after which is super embarrassing, but it’s amazing.

Liz: I feel like I write about frugal hacks a lot, but I don’t know if I have—oh no, I have one. Let me tell you what.

Okay! If you pay for a good or a service to be delivered to your home—for example, propane or heating oil (which are two things that we pay for)—do not go with the same company that you used the year before. Do not assume that they’re going to give you the best price for being a loyal customer. Call around to every single service provider that you can find.

So, this is for Internet, electricity, heating oil—I don’t know, whatever you need at your house that’s essentially a utility. Call, compare prices. And then, ask if there is a pay in full discount because you would be shocked at how many people do not pay in full at the time of delivery for a service.

If you go on a monthly payment plan for something, it’s highly likely you are going to either pay interest or pay a higher price. And a lot of people don’t realize this because many companies do not advertise that fact.

And so, we needed to get propane and heating oil delivered to our home. And so I called every company I could find that would deliver to us. I compared all of their prices, I figured out their pay-in-full discounts. And I actually went with two different companies for the propane and the oil, neither of which we’d ever used before.

And so, it takes a little bit of legwork. But it saved us, I don’t know, a thousand bucks or something. So be really cognizant of things that we assume need to be on autopilot or need to always be the same and figure out if there’s something cheaper in your marketplace. Oftentimes, it’s real money that you’re going to save by doing that.

Mad Fientist: Yeah, that’s impressive. So, I will share mine even though it’s super embarrassing. So, I am currently talking to you while wearing a onesie.

Liz: What?!

Mad Fientist: Yeah. If you could see me now—that’s why we’re not doing us in video. I don’t want you to see me now. But it has changed my winter Scottish life.

My wife, Jill, got a onesie for Christmas last year from her parents. It was just like I guess a joke gift or something. But she wears it constantly. And I would, of course, always make fun of her because she looks ridiculous in it. But I started noticing like I would be freezing all the time.

The way it works in our house is I never turn the heat on. And then, when it gets cold enough, Jill’s cold, she turns it on. And then, I feel like, “Okay… well, I’ll enjoy the heat since Jill wants it.”

So, I thought for months that she was just doing it to spite me like. She’s got to be freezing. She’s just not turning it on because she knows I won’t turn it on myself.

Liz: She would not do that! Jill is the nicest person in the world, I have to tell your listeners.

Mad Fientist: She is! And she wouldn’t do that. It was me thinking that. And I’m like freezing. And every now and then, I would be like, “Are you not cold?” and she’s like, “No, I’m fine. This onesie is really warm.”

Liz: So, my brother came over to stay with us. He’s using his savings to just come and live in Scotland for a few months with us. So he obviously is not used to Scottish winters and Scottish houses with their terrible single pane windows and all that. So my wife was kind enough to buy us both onesies and surprised us one day. And it has changed everything!

I was like, “You know, a onesie is great. But then your hands and feet are still cold and your nose is still cold” and all that sort of stuff. But no, your core is so warm that your blood is able to then go to all your extremities again.

And we’ve probably saved 10x what the onesies cost in heating just since we got them. And that was like a month and a half ago.

So, for anyone out there who doesn’t mind looking ridiculous and doesn’t want to heat a whole house—Mrs. 1500 from 1500 Days, I saw that they were spatting about the thermostat again on Twitter, get yourself a onesie and you’ll never have an argument again.

Liz: Can you expand on this? Like what is the material of the onesies?

Mad Fientist: It is the cheapest fleecy material ever. I’ve already ripped the crotch out of it. So it’s not very robust in construction. But it is, yeah, the softest fleecy blanket you’ve ever you. And every time you use it, you’re like, “Oh, I love this material so much.” It’s that. But it’s your whole body.

And then, it’s got a hood. It’s got pockets. It just traps heat even though, like I said, I already have a crotch ripped out of it. It still maintains all the heat. So it’s fantastic. So, you will look like an idiot, but it’s worth it for the heating savings.

Liz: Does it have the footies in it, the little feet?

Mad Fientist: No, I don’t. No, it doesn’t. But I don’t even think I could handle that. I think that would be way too warm. It’s so super warm.

Liz: Wow!

Mad Fientist: Like I said, my toes are always warm and my fingers are always warm. And it’s because my core so warm that my blood is just doing its thing.

Liz: Okay, you have to send me a link to this. I need to see this…

Mad Fientist: Okay, I will link to it on the show notes.

Liz: Not on you. I don’t want to see it on you. Send me a link to where to buy it.

Mad Fientist: Yeah, I’ll put a link in the show notes, send you a link. And my wife took a picture of my brother and I wearing them. And having someone else there makes it look slightly cooler, so maybe I’ll put that in the show notes as well.

Liz: Oh, I would like to see that, alright.

Mad Fientist: Alright! So, second question. In the first interview, Nate said that one of the things he wants to do when he’s financially independent is to bounce radio waves off the moon. And that sounded like the sweetest thing ever. So has he done it yet? And if not, why not?

Liz: To be honest with you, I don’t know. We allow each other a lot of independent time to do our own stuff. So I got to tell you, he might have done it. I don’t know. He like goes out, goes to the barn. I don’t know what he does out there. So, it’s possible. I don’t think so. But he’s advancing in his kind of things that he wants to be doing around the homestead. And he does have a weather station that he installed, which I think that’s kind of like a space type of thing.

Mad Fientist: Okay. Well, I’ll follow up with him the next time I see him.

Liz: You need to ask him about that directly.

Mad Fientist: Alright! Third question. Frugalwoodstock, why hasn’t it happen yet? And when is it going to happen?

Liz: Because you have not organized it. You and Mr. 1500 need to organize it.

Mad Fientist: Alright, I’ll get on to Carl because I think that was his baby. I will leave that up to him. And he will definitely organize it to a much more fun event that I couldn’t probably even imagine.

Liz: Yeah! You know, it’s a wonderful idea. I love it! I am also kind of having another baby and being a little busier right now. But I would not rule it out for the future. I think it would be a lot of fun.

We’ve actually had a lot of friends come visit us. You and Jill came, the 1500’s have come, JL Collins has come to visit us, some other FI people (who now, can’t remember who all has come). But we’ve been really fortunate to have a bunch of visitors. I love having people come. It would be wonderful to have everyone come at the same time. It’s just the logistics elude me right now.

Mad Fientist: Cool! I’ll get on to Carl about that. He can start organizing.

Liz: Yeah, it’s all Carl’s fault.

Mad Fientist: So, I want to bring back a phrase I used in the first interview, which I’m super embarrassed about listening back to it. At the end of the interview, I said, “I don’t want a baby to start popping out,” so I’ll wrap this up—which we didn’t know each other back then. So it’s even more embarrassing. But now, we’re friends, so I’m going to say it again since we’re in the same situation. I don’t want the baby to start popping out. I’ve just got two more questions for you.

Liz: She’s not due for another two months. So hopefully, we’re okay.

Mad Fientist: Well, like I said before, I don’t know how this all works.

Liz: The last time, I think I was due the next day or something.

Mad Fientist: That’s true.

Liz: We’ve got some time this time.

Mad Fientist: So, I couldn’t let you get through this without you talking about the FinCon incident that keeps reliving itself every year we get a FinCon. So please, please, tell the dark side of frugality. Share that with the audience.

Liz: Alright! This is not the dark side of frugality. This is called strategic efficiency, alright?

So, if you go to, for example, a conference or some other event where there is free food at certain times, and then there is not food for other meals, during the time when there is free food, if you can take an extra sandwich or what-have-you, take it, and then you can eat it later in the day.

And this is the philosophy that we have followed in a lot of our travels. A lot of times, when we travel—we used to travel abroad every year. We use hotel points. And we had status with Starwood for a long time. And so breakfast is included when you have status. You get to go to the club, and you have an included breakfast.

Obviously, your lunch is not included. So when you go to breakfast, get some pieces of toast, make a little sandwich, take it with you, and have it for lunch. I think this is strategic. Brandon thinks that this is tacky.

Mad Fientist: No, no, no. I would share the dark side. This is very dark side. And it’s very personal to me.

So, if you are at a conference, and you tend to stay up later, and Mr. 1500 makes you drink—one too many beers than you actually wanted—and you wake up a bit late, and then you come to breakfast with your lovely wife who’s hungry and she’s travelled from Scotland to be there, you realize there’s no more food left. And then, you’re sad. So then you sit through these sessions very hungry and sad.

And then, you come to lunch, and you see Mrs. Frugalwoods bring out this amazing spread of what could have been my breakfast and eat that in front of you and enjoy it twice, that is definitely the dark side of frugality.

Liz: Okay, I shared it with people. And I would say that the dark side, this is just a lesson on waking up early, folks. I’ve written about this on the blog. You need to wake up early.

Mad Fientist: Yeah, that’s fair enough. Okay, alright.

Liz: I am sorry about that. I did feel bad about that. I’m sorry. I didn’t know they were going to run out of food.

Mad Fientist: Well, they didn’t expect everyone to be taking three meals for the next week of their lives. They didn’t factor that into their calculations.

Liz: I would also point out, this was like two or three years ago, and you’re still not over it.

Mad Fientist: Well, I think I have a picture from the hotel lounge where you’re sitting at this year. And it was a very similar scene. So I will also include that picture in the show notes. Luckily, I was there with you, so I did get to eat.

Liz: I was going to say, you were eating right alongside me.

Mad Fientist: There’s some poor soul that came in 10 minutes later and had nothing.

Liz: Oh no, that’s not true.

Mad Fientist: So, I always end all my interviews asking one piece of advice for someone on the journey to FI, what would it be. And since you’ve answered this before and probably didn’t revisit it, I always like to do it because it’s interesting to see if that one piece of advice has changed.

So, what’s your one piece of advice for someone on the path to financial independence?

Liz: Know what you want your life to look like. Know what you want to do. So the money side, obviously, is going to facilitate that. But the money is not going to tell you what you want out of life.

Money is just an enabler. It’s not going to make you happy. It’s not going to bring you fulfillment. You need to know what your passion is and what your calling is, why are you doing this, why are you working towards financial independence, and what do you want to do once you’re there.

Mad Fientist: Great advice… and consistent. That is exactly what you said two years ago.

Liz: Oh, is it really? I thought it evolved.

Mad Fientist: No, no, that’s timeless advice. And I think that’s the most important thing. And that’s the thing that I got wrong in my journey, just focusing on the money. Had I focused on the actual life itself, one, I would have had a more enjoyable journey. And then, I would’ve had a better idea of what to do once I got to that goal anyway.

Liz: I think you’ve done a pretty good job. I think you can say you’ve successful managed that and achieved that.

Mad Fientist: Well, thank you. I’m learning every day. But yeah, I’m trying my best I guess.

Liz, thank you so much for doing this again. It’s always a pleasure to chat with you. And I’m super excited for your book to be released. Congratulations again on that! It’s Meet the Frugalwoods. And by the time I release this, it will be out and people can buy it. I’ll put a link in the show notes.

Anything else you want to say before we wrap up or anywhere else people should go to see you? Obviously, Frugalwoods.com.

Liz: I think you can find me pretty much anywhere on the Internet, @frugalwoods. So I’m on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter. The blog is Frugalwoods. And the book is Frugalwoods. So, we try to be as consistent, make it as easy as possible.

So, feel free to be in touch with me. And thank you so much for having me.

Mad Fientist: Awesome! Alright, I look forward to seeing you again. Good luck with baby #2. And enjoy all the nice snow that I’m sadly missing. And yeah, I look forward to speaking to you soon.

Liz: Sounds good!

Mad Fientist: Alright, bye.

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20 comments for “Elizabeth Willard Thames – Meet the Frugalwoods

  1. March 5, 2018 at 5:12 am

    AHH! What a great way to start this Monday. I love her podcasts, she’s so calm sounding in all of her podcasts (harder done than you’d think).

  2. March 5, 2018 at 6:36 am

    “Oh, it’s really difficult to write a book.” I was like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. It can’t be that hard. I write all the time.”

    LOL. Yup, that’s book writing for you. After being in the writing trenches for 5 years, getting over a 100 rejections, FINALLY getting published, and then doing it AGAIN soon, I can tell you it’s not for the faint of heart. No regrets though!

    Great interview and can’t wait for Liz’s book! I pre-ordered months again and am waiting patiently (or rather not so patiently) for it to drop into my kindle so I can read it ASAP!

  3. March 5, 2018 at 8:30 am

    Wow, the fact that she almost said “we can’t do this” at he last moment is eye-opening. It goes to show that you’ve got to do things that put you out of your comfort zone, even really big things sometimes. The risk of failure is real, but the reward potential is too.

  4. C
    March 5, 2018 at 1:33 pm

    Where is the link to buy the onsies???? Make sure you have an affiliate link. I’m sure a lot of cold blooded frugal folks will be wanting them. Lots of fashionable onsies out there, but I’d much rather buy a Scottish winter tested one

    • C
      March 5, 2018 at 1:34 pm

      Oh, i found it. Thank you

  5. Semira
    March 5, 2018 at 3:21 pm

    Great podcast with some great advice and lots of laughs :). Thank you. Also now I’m eyeing a shark onesie…so there’s that lol.

  6. Drew Randle
    March 5, 2018 at 3:34 pm

    Elizabeth made a reference to following a “zero-budget” is this something that can be expounded upon? Maybe I just need to buy her book ;~)

    • March 6, 2018 at 1:38 pm

      Zero-budgeting is budgeting from income through expenses to zero. In my experience, this is the most popular form of budgeting that is recommended. It requires the budgeter to “give every dollar a name”. This mode of budgeting gives meaning to “pay yourself first” which otherwise would not be possible if the one budgeting was instead “paying bills, and saving the rest”.

      • March 24, 2018 at 8:56 pm

        I actually think in this case, she meant “assume you’re going to spend zero dollars in every single budget category and therefore, consider each and every expenditure very carefully as it would put you above zero.” In other words, your default would be to spend nothing or as close to nothing as you can. There’s more on her blog.

  7. Eazyebeneezer
    March 5, 2018 at 8:29 pm

    I really enjoyed this interview, especially around 49:00 when the two of you discuss how to approach that period when you’ve set up all your FI systems and are kind of…. waiting it out. That doesn’t get enough attention in the FI blogosphere, from what I’ve found so far. Personally I think I did a lot of that work first in life. I spent a lot of my earlier career optimizing my time, and ten years in I am finally getting around to the money part. This podcast has been so helpful for the latter. Of course I wish I had gotten started a little earlier, but it is nice to feel that you’re spending your time based on true values and priorities. Now to get the spending optimized by cutting out all those unnecessary expenditures that aren’t really bringing satisfaction! I look forward to reading this book as soon as it’s at the Somerville library ;-)

  8. Andy
    March 7, 2018 at 3:15 pm

    So, the dark side of fleece is that laundering it puts a lot of plastic microfibers into the water system (and thus, our food supply and the oceans). (https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2017/02/06/511843443/are-we-eating-our-fleece-jackets-microfibers-are-migrating-into-field-and-food ). Luckily, there is a solution. Patagonia (the original king of selling fleece) has a bag that catches the microfibers during washing. http://www.patagonia.com/product/guppyfriend-washing-bag/O2191.html and there may be other more frugal options out there.
    So, it is great that you are reducing your carbon footprint with the low energy use. Now, please consider adding some plastic footprint reduction.

  9. March 7, 2018 at 6:10 pm

    Awesome interview, guys!

    I also listened to your one on NPR and this is so, so much better.

    Congrats on the book! It is a great read.

  10. March 8, 2018 at 12:14 pm

    Informative and entertaining interview! The “Dark Side of Frugality” discussion starting at the 1:11:30 mark had me absolutely rolling. I must say that I’m with Brandon on this one. While “strategic efficiency” sounds like a euphemism I would likely employ while defending a frugal hack of my own, I’m afraid I draw the line at food hoarding. Chalk it up to an over-active conscience – probably the same one that makes me feel terribly self-conscious when shopping at a big-box retailer and walking out empty-handed.

    My wife, however, possesses an extremely active metabolism and has no such qualms. While I can conserve energy like a camel can water, Mrs. FFP needs to eat every few hours lest “hangeritis” make an appearance. Suffice it to say that I often leave the continental breakfast table first, in order to maintain a clear conscience and avoid an embarrassing appearance on the hotel security cams!

    Liz’s quote from the book – “I wasn’t living. I was just marking off the days.” rang very true in my own experience as well. While I’m that analytical, Type A that doesn’t mind hard-core saving or frugality in support of a goal, the grind in my case was a demanding job that stole my soul. I felt trapped in this job despite its demands due to the incredible 401K match of fifty cents on the dollar all the way up to the Federal limit. I gutted it out for years in support of reaching FI, but it was certainly a barren and exhausting time in our lives.

    Free of the job and finally FI, I’m now working on coming alive again. I look forward to giving Mrs. Frugalwoods’ book a read!

  11. Jacq
    March 12, 2018 at 10:38 pm

    The early blogger gets the breakfast!

  12. March 18, 2018 at 8:11 am

    You had a question about the “in-between” situation. Making your way to FI, but not there yet…and depression. You know FI is doable, but it’s still 2-3 years away. How do you find the happiness during the in-between. I find myself in darker places. How do you enjoy the present, while still at the soul sucking welling paying job? I’m open to thoughts and ideas on to combat the “in-between.

    Thank you,

    • Tracyl-5
      March 23, 2018 at 4:48 pm

      I don’t know what the answer is, but I wanted to say you’re not alone! We’re about 3-4 years from FI, and I hate my job and where we live. But we both have really well paying jobs with good benefits, so can’t give those up so close to our finish line. The plan after FI is to move closer to family and friends, but in the meantime, I just can’t seem to find happiness! I’m always just counting the days to FI or at least to our next vacation…

  13. March 25, 2018 at 1:08 am

    I’ve achieved financial independence, but I’m still waiting for my wife to be done school so that we can move to a cheaper city. Living in Sydney is ridiculously expensive. I think it ranks in the top 5 most expensive cities in the world. Plus I really don’t like the hustle and bustle of the big city.

  14. May 18, 2018 at 11:36 am

    I listened to this podcast and bought my onesie within the week! I haven’t turned on the heat once! It’s a whole new world!

  15. August 10, 2018 at 11:56 am

    UMmmm where can i get those bommmmb onesies??

  16. Micheal Temes
    September 5, 2018 at 9:25 am

    The world is full of odd occurences. I did not know of this person or anything about her. What I am writing about has nothing to do with her books or way of life. It is about her name. Elizabeth Willard Thames. The odd thing about that is my mothers name is Elizabeth and my Fathers name is Willard. Our last name at one time was spelled Thames as well but was changed 100 years ago or more. I guess one of those things that happen that are hard to explain.

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