An interesting definition of the word 'retire'
March 8, 2018 6:14 PM   Subscribe

Guardian: Extreme frugality allowed me to retire at 32 – and regain control of my life. "Elizabeth Willard Thames abandoned a successful career in the city and embraced frugality to create a more meaningful life. It enabled her to retire at 32 with her family to a homestead in the Vermont woods" ... "It’s easy to discount your partner’s contributions until you’re standing side by side in the kitchen, watching them chop vegetables for forty-five minutes just to cook you up a stir-fry you love for dinner." (Caution for repeated use of the word 'frugality', and a 'tough crowd' Guardian comments section)
posted by Wordshore (118 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
 
Just finished reading this and was wondering when it would be posted here. The comment section links to their monthly expenditure. They both still work, have an investment property that they derive rent from and are paying off a mortgage. Book Deal, indeed.

Also, interesting definition of 'frugal'.
posted by liquorice at 6:18 PM on March 8 [40 favorites]


tbh anyone who takes 45 minutes to chop the vegetables for our stir-fry would probably become the subject of an "Is this working out?" AskMeFi question
posted by Wordshore at 6:22 PM on March 8 [112 favorites]


I'm gonna class these folk with those faux-Victorians who make a living off blog posts and books.
posted by cobaltnine at 6:27 PM on March 8 [37 favorites]


Their expense report does not strike me as especially frugal? I think I'm missing something.

I heard this person on NPR the other day, and you could tell that the host thought she was a bit insufferable. I guess that I would say that what they're doing is voluntary simplicity, rather than frugality, and nothing about it seems particularly extreme.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:30 PM on March 8 [11 favorites]


I mean this is how I grew up, in the woods of Vermont in a humbler house than their damn “homestead” and we just called it being poor. It had all of the hard work and none of the self-satisfied zen.
posted by Grandysaur at 6:40 PM on March 8 [80 favorites]


Well, the comments section in the Guardian is biting, even by Guardian standards, so am wondering if Twitter is kinder to them. Let's have a look...

@GuardianJessica: I laugh at your avocado toasts....

@MaryHartmanx2: her husband rode his bike to work every single day including Boston winters? I call bullshit.

@EricJafMN: From their blog: “Mr. Frugalwoods works from home as a software engineer and IT manager while I’m a writer (one who actually gets paid!).” They’re not a retired couple.

@awgaffney: Not all heroes wear capes.

I think that's a nope.
posted by Wordshore at 6:42 PM on March 8 [11 favorites]


How to live frugally. Step one: inherit a 66-acre estate in Vermont. Actually I'm just guessing about that part, but only because the article glosses over how they came to own this house and land. Family? Loan? If we're supposed to buy into their frugality--which is in itself highly admirable--they should at least acknowledge that being financially privileged is largely what allows you to be frugal in the first place. I dunno, I could be wrong and they bought the place themselves.

Also, interesting definition of 'frugal'.

Also the word "retire," which seems to be completely inaccurate. They both work and receive income.
posted by zardoz at 6:42 PM on March 8 [51 favorites]


Yeah. I absolutely love it whenever anybody figures out a way to organize their life the way they want it, and perhaps the use of the word "retire" is the choice of a bad editor, but they're working (in one case, full-time as a software developer) and their expenditures look to be on the order of $40-50K/year. A lot of this just seems to be treating the way many people live, by choice and/or necessity, as a series of unique lifestyle choices this couple has magically developed.

It would be nice to explore why this particular lifestyle is not an option for others who might want it, due to factors like access to education, student loan debt, child care, proximity to family (see also: child care), ability to earn an income while working remotely, the impacts of the great recession, good health and access to health insurance and care, etc...

I did come across one of their blog posts where they acknowledge the privilege that led them to this position. Which is great, but ultimately, this plan seems to revolve around already having a high income in a sought-after profession with a job you can do from anywhere with good internet more than anything else. 'Make a bunch of money, buy a place in a sought-after area, become a landlord, cash rent checks, buy more property, live how you want to live, be frugal' is all this boils down to, and that first step is really the essential ingredient.
posted by zachlipton at 6:46 PM on March 8 [32 favorites]


The extended section about how they healed their marriage through the painting of kitchen cabinets was especially delicious.
posted by xyzzy at 6:48 PM on March 8 [7 favorites]


This doesn't strike me as frugal as much as it strikes me as a pretty median millennial lifestyle. I mean, more power to them for living how they want, but it seems like a stretch to call it especially frugal.
posted by LSK at 6:49 PM on March 8 [7 favorites]


The answer to our hectic, frenzied, compulsive lives isn’t to simplify, it’s to pay other people to do stuff for us so that we can pile ever more on our already gluttonous to-do plates.

I think this is where I reached my limit. She writes about hiring people to do stuff for you as if it's some kind of universal symptom of modern culture - and something that she and her husband, uniquely, learned to reject. They painted their own cabinets! They picked up a dresser from the side of the road!

There's something so eye-rolling about well-to-do couples packaging their comfortable, expensive lives as frugal. They're so self-important and myopic that when they choose to do something that other people do out of necessity, it's a discovery that they think is worth selling.

Get over your fucking selves.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 6:50 PM on March 8 [99 favorites]




and perhaps the use of the word "retire" is the choice of a bad editor

Surely that word is the pivot and clickbait of the entire story? Most people would love to be free of paid work obligations, to then do what they want, in their early thirties.

As a Brit constantly horrified by stories and pictures of medical bills in the US, I'm curious as to what would happen if he did a roll in the shiny tractor he's on and breaks a few ribs and an arm? Can the insurance they get on their level of income cover this kind of mishap (let alone the fact that it would then take him even longer to chop the vegetables)?
posted by Wordshore at 6:53 PM on March 8 [13 favorites]




She definitely acknowledges her privilege, at least when she's asked about it, but I think she assumes that she's writing for an audience who shares her privilege and who therefore will take for granted that her old lifestyle was the norm and her new lifestyle is "extreme frugality." And that may not translate now that she's writing for a wider audience, which includes people who paint their own cabinets without considering it some sort of heroic act of self-sacrifice.
Can the insurance they get on their level of income cover this kind of mishap (let alone the fact that it would then take him even longer to chop the vegetables)?
My sense is that their level of income is not actually very low. She has a successful blog. He's a software engineer. They own a house in Cambridge, MA, which provides them with rental income. They can afford an ACA gold plan. They could still be screwed if one of them has health problems, but that doesn't make them different from anyone else in the US. The issue here isn't that they're irresponsible. It's that they're rich people who live like normal people and are clueless enough to think that's "extreme frugality."
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 7:05 PM on March 8 [21 favorites]


Hahahahahaha.

Ha.

I almost started writing a book about frugality in the depths of the 2008 Depression, but I got too depressed.

Dumpster diving and how to hide it from your middle school aged kids was one chapter. Another on how to feed your dog on next to nothing. And how to forage the woods for things to eat. How to get a free car from a dead lady you didn't know after your van dies and you can't afford to replace it (which was quite a project let me tell you...) etc etc ad nauseum.

I come from plenty of privilege in a lot of ways. But I've also made less than $10,000 a year for twenty plus years, so I'm the Mistress of Frugality. But I'm also pissed off about it, so that doesn't read all that well.
posted by RedEmma at 7:09 PM on March 8 [86 favorites]


Got a message from a librarian friend in Chicago who lurks on here:

"You do realise that only 273 people live in Vermont and most of them are MeFites who attend meetups, don't you? So this will be real awkward now when Mr and Mrs Frugal turn up for the next one, thanks to your post."

Momentary panic attack here, then "Wait a minute..."
posted by Wordshore at 7:13 PM on March 8 [28 favorites]


I knew a guy who was an intellectual property lawyer at a pretty high-end firm. He lived on ten percent of his income--which meant sacrifices like living in an SRO in downtown Los Angeles and eschewing all the trappings of the LA Law lifestyle--and invested the rest with the goal of retiring by, IIRC, age 35 when he would decamp to somewhere inexpensive and amenable to mountain climbing. I confess to thinking he was pretty odd, and also to being quite jealous when he succeeded.
posted by carmicha at 7:15 PM on March 8 [12 favorites]


As a Brit constantly horrified by stories and pictures of medical bills in the US, I'm curious as to what would happen if he did a roll in the shiny tractor he's on and breaks a few ribs and an arm? Can the insurance they get on their level of income cover this kind of mishap (let alone the fact that it would then take him even longer to chop the vegetables)?

I would expect that the husband's full-time software engineering job comes with health insurance. They list no expenses for it currently, and it looks like they previously said that his job pays the premiums in full for the entire family, including kids. Which some good jobs will do (though it's common enough to have to pay at least some share), but there's a lot of privilege in simply not having to think about health insurance for the whole family at all.

I don't know their plan, so I have no idea what their deductible is or what he'd pay out of pocket for such an injury, but they seem well taken care of on that front. It's another important part of what makes this lifestyle work.

And like I said, I think it's really great whenever anybody makes their situation work for them, and they seem very happy, but it's hard to overlook the benefits of things like "hey, we don't have to ever really think about health insurance."
posted by zachlipton at 7:17 PM on March 8 [4 favorites]


Through living frugally, I've managed to continue to eat even when paying more than half my income in rent (and occassionally 110% of our income - that wasn't sustainable).

can I haz book deal now?
posted by jb at 7:21 PM on March 8 [18 favorites]


Hold up. The link to their December expenditures shows they spent $3,459.51, which means a yearly total of $41,500 in money spent. Personally, that's 11k over the MOST amount of money I've grossed in a year. The median American household income in 2017 was $57,230, and if these folks are saving 20% of their income, they're just a few thousand bucks under that exact figure. These are not the appropriate folks to be writing about "extreme" frugality.

There is a deep reckoning to be done about how we treat and value actual poor folks, who could school this couple to Sunday and back on actual frugality. We find being poor a moral failure and yet when financially comfortable folks give it a go (why, we painted our own cabinets! we own a rental property in Cambridge!) they get to cloak themselves in moral purity and seem clever. It's not fair.
posted by missmary6 at 7:25 PM on March 8 [60 favorites]


The answer to our hectic, frenzied, compulsive lives isn’t to simplify, it’s to pay other people to do stuff for us so that we can pile ever more on our already gluttonous to-do plates.

Earlier this year, our dishwasher started backing up into the sink. First, we used the clog cannon, and then we had our septic tank pumped because we needed to have that done anyway. It's not possible to insource that, thank you very much. We tried using our snake, but that didn't work. We bought a longer one. In the meantime, we couldn't hand wash dishes, either, because the sinks wouldn't drain. So while we were working on getting out this clog that was deep in our pipes, we'd run the dishwasher, and every time the rinse cycle would start, we'd stick the hose of our wet vac into the kitchen sink. We should have hired a plumber.

Also, for a lot of DIY stuff that can be sourced out, there's a hefty upfront cost. We clear our own snow, but we have a snowblower because I physically can't shovel. We mow our own lawn and do our own landscaping, but that requires a lawnmower and hedge trimmers and so on. If you really want to live frugally, she writes as she takes a break from cleaning up the flooding in the basement, rent.
posted by Ruki at 7:28 PM on March 8 [4 favorites]


I'll embrace frugal living by not spending $10.99 on a book to explain how doing things with my wife can bring us closer together.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 7:42 PM on March 8 [18 favorites]


Found the bit about why they don't have student loans: "This was accomplished primarily by the fact that we attended an inexpensive public university–the University of Kansas–and both had scholarships, worked throughout college, graduated on time in four years, and had assistance from our parents (thank you, parents–that’s the best gift you could’ve ever given us!)"
posted by Wordshore at 7:48 PM on March 8 [20 favorites]


I was hoping for something that actually talked about frugality, not "we live within the means of the average US income, with bonus free health care."

It comes across like those "minimalist lifestyle" guides that basically mean "your home can be exquisitely spacious, as long as you have the money to buy a new wardrobe every season, and can afford replace damaged appliances instantly."
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 7:49 PM on March 8 [16 favorites]


They were very lucky to buy a house in Boston for under $400,000 that is now worth $800,000 and can be rented out for over $50,000 a year. I was surprised the Vermont acreage was only $380,000 though. That seem so incredibly cheap. So the rental income pays the mortgages on both properties and most expenses. It isn't like they discovered some secret way to be financially independent.
posted by saucysault at 7:49 PM on March 8 [28 favorites]


From the "student loan" link upthread:

If you apply for enough jobs, I’ve discovered, one of them is bound to stick. Took me upwards of 55 applications for my first job, 15 or so for my second, about 8 for my third, and 2 for my fourth.

Clueless. Completely clueless.
posted by saucysault at 7:57 PM on March 8 [29 favorites]


I just want to thank you all for this post and this commentary. Normally, taken at face value, this kind of thing would make me feel really blue and sad and bad and ashamed for having fancy needs (like coffee, and frozen microwave lunches that I buy on sale at Target) and for not ever wanting to do outdoor work up north. I am sincerely thankful for the reality check that Metafilter offers on ridiculous bullshit like this.
posted by witchen at 7:57 PM on March 8 [54 favorites]


Elizabeth Willard Thames abandoned a successful career in the city
Workin' for the man ev'ry night and day
And she never lost one minute of sleepin'
Worryin' 'bout the way things might have been.
posted by Naberius at 7:58 PM on March 8 [19 favorites]


I guess I'm happy that they are living their dream, but the smugness and self-satisfaction in the pieces I read was nauseating and I'm glad I'll never meet them.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:10 PM on March 8 [11 favorites]


She also admits that their "non-profit salaries" were pretty high non-profit salaries, a fact that she attributes to the fact that they are awesome. No, seriously. They were able to achieve financial independence because they earned a lot of money because they are just particularly great people.
for having fancy needs (like coffee
It's not like Smuggy McSmugface over here lives a life without coffee. She forgoes purchasing coffee outside the house, but she and her husband have rewarded themselves for that sacrifice with an exquisite home coffee setup that includes this $80 electric kettle. Here is her post about how they "bravely" (her word) decided to take a break from $10-a-pound coffee and venture into the uncharted waters of buying cheaper coffee from Costco. It turns out that it is possible to drink Costco coffee and survive! You really have to marvel at the sacrifices these people make for frugality.

Also, for an anti-consumerist, she sure does provide Amazon links for a lot of coffee-making gear.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 8:11 PM on March 8 [52 favorites]


Ha! I've got a $50 electric kettle with only three preset temperatures! Simple living really is more satisfying.

I'm being mean, but these articles usually make me feel like the dissolute son whose profligate ways will be his ruin, so I'm enjoying how transparently ridiculous it is to call this "frugality."
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 8:15 PM on March 8 [5 favorites]


It’s like cultural appropriation of poverty.
posted by Grandysaur at 8:16 PM on March 8 [93 favorites]


Well Marie Antoinette had a hobby farm too
posted by The Whelk at 8:18 PM on March 8 [61 favorites]


"This was accomplished primarily by the fact that we attended an inexpensive public university–the University of Kansas–and both had scholarships, worked throughout college, graduated on time in four years, and had assistance from our parents (thank you, parents–that’s the best gift you could’ve ever given us!)"

I say this not to mock them, graduating debt free is awesome, but because I think it illustrates the background behind a lot of seemingly well-meaning "well why don't you just..." advice.

If this data is accurate, tuition and fees at University of Kansas have gone up 268% since 2003, including double-digit increases during most of the 2000s. Inflation in the region has grown 32.3% during that time, and state aid to education decreased 1.4%. Resident tuition is now about $11,000/year, plus books, housing, food, etc... $18,204 is the low end of their annual cost of attendance estimate, and that's assuming $525/month for housing+food. Jobs for college students do not pay 268% more than they did last decade, and most parents do not have 268% spare cash to help out with their children's higher education.

It's possible here even for actual current older millennials to be all "we went to a cheap state school, worked hard, picked up some scholarships and, sure, some cash from our parents, and we graduated debt free" (and it does sound like she worked her ass off to make grad school work). It's way more common to hear that plan from people who are older. And they make it sound, not fun, but at least kind of possible. But it's mathematically more than twice as hard to do that now as it was even 14 years ago.
posted by zachlipton at 8:32 PM on March 8 [35 favorites]


knew a guy who was an intellectual property lawyer at a pretty high-end firm. He lived on ten percent of his income--which meant sacrifices like living in an SRO in downtown Los Angeles and eschewing all the trappings of the LA Law lifestyle

I'm all for resisting lifestyle inflation, but spending ten of your years with the greatest opportunities for enjoyment in this kind of exquisite immiseration is nothing to envy. I'm surprised he didn't have a nervous breakdown. Could he possibly have dated in that time?

But, yeah, this is "we're living like MIDDLE CLASS PEOPLE!" playacting. Which is fine, but not virtuous in any way. And I always say: if you need to write a book to profit off your frugal lifestyle/investment plan/other scheme to magic up money, it can't be working that well.
posted by praemunire at 8:47 PM on March 8 [10 favorites]


Also, for an anti-consumerist, she sure does provide Amazon links for a lot of coffee-making gear.

Even "frugality" is now subject to this very common "I'm just an average person" lie, in which some small number of people can promote an idea or topic on the internet, get famous among people who are interested in that idea or topic, make money from web sites n stuff, and then pretend that they're just like you and me. This option is available to very few of us. If you publish books and web sites and Youtube channels telling the world you're frugal, you're not frugal, you're selling a product and you're privileged.
posted by sylvanshine at 8:52 PM on March 8 [7 favorites]


I think there's some truth here, but we're not the right audience. I know people who make $250K+ and spend virtually all of it on stupid stuff. That's basically my nightmare, and the reason I drive a 15 year old car and bought no clothing last year despite making a decent income. And yeah, the "your undergrad college DOES NOT MATTER" is definitely advice that I wish more people would listen to -- in many states it's still possible to get an EXCELLENT education at low-ish cost (even if that is no longer true in Kansas). But no, they are not all that frugal compared to people who actually have to be frugal.
posted by miyabo at 8:53 PM on March 8 [7 favorites]


This Eidolon post seems apropos.

I can't hate on their plan itself, since something similar (albeit on much, much less acreage) is my own "retirement" plan... But I certainly can hate the smugness that comes with trying to pass off their tremendous privilege as the product of frugality.
posted by tobascodagama at 8:54 PM on March 8 [7 favorites]


They definitely are smug (and not very self aware), but I guess I prefer smugness to defeatism.
posted by miyabo at 8:57 PM on March 8 [5 favorites]


[S]pending ten of your years with the greatest opportunities for enjoyment in this kind of exquisite immiseration is nothing to envy. I'm surprised he didn't have a nervous breakdown. Could he possibly have dated in that time?

Thinking back on it, his lifestyle was kind of a pain in the ass for his circle of friends and colleagues. He was the guy who had water and a cup of soup when we all went out for dinner and then insisted that we each pay for our own meals instead of splitting the check evenly and trusting that it would all work out over time. He had an ancient Subaru that he kept in the office garage (law firm perk) but when he joined a practice that didn't cover parking he wanted to leave it at other people's houses. His thrift store suits were inadequate for the office culture/professional milieu but he dismissed sartorial suggestions. He pretty much opted out things like bringing a bottle of wine to dinner or kicking into office gift funds... the kind of things that are fine to skip now and then but that people notice when the instances stack up. He traveled (camping, natch) to mountain climb, which was his passion. Regarding dating, for awhile he squired around a very young woman he met in a youth hostel somewhere who was apparently enthralled by his single-minded devotion to his lifestyle, but it didn't last long; he admitted that his frugality was a factor.

As far as mental health goes, he was pretty smug about his workarounds and systems and self-denial. He could talk about it incessantly. He fended off the black dog by enveloping himself in a self-congratulatory cocoon.
posted by carmicha at 9:09 PM on March 8 [26 favorites]


AAAARGH. The conflation of moral with environmental, job-independent, and "frugal" is killing me. There is nothing inherently morally wrong about enjoying something expensive! Yes, thrifting can reduce waste, but DIY'ing and the activities she describes are not necessarily more environmentally friendly! (Here, I deleted a rant about economies of scale and the savings that can result from expertise.) Some people LIKE their job more than they like chopping veg for 45 mins, and that's okay! I can see how there's a potentially interesting story in her experiences. But by making her writing proscriptive instead of descriptive, it just ends up being insulting, (and possibly particularly so for those of us who grew up in immigrant households.)

Also, you know what? Despite some complex issues of toxic masculinity, I enjoyed this morality lesson a hell of a lot more when it was acted out by Brad Pitt in a movie.
posted by BlueBlueElectricBlue at 9:54 PM on March 8 [8 favorites]


This is utterly bewildering. She became a stay at home parent and part time blogger/author and they moved to the country. No one is retired and their monthly expenses are similar to mine for a family of six.

I have literally no idea what's supposed to be revolutionary here. I feel like I need to go read the blog to figure out what the hell is going on
posted by gerstle at 10:05 PM on March 8 [30 favorites]


all of the hard work and none of the self-satisfied zen

One must imagine Sisyphus happy.
posted by flabdablet at 10:16 PM on March 8 [8 favorites]


Is it possible there’s an element of subtle, straight-faced trolling going on here?
posted by Segundus at 10:38 PM on March 8 [4 favorites]


Just average middle class landlords owning 66 acres of Vermont real estate, an "investment property," and collecting income from rent.

Just normal things that the average frugal person does.

Why can't poor people be frugal instead of poor?
posted by Hiding From Goro at 10:53 PM on March 8 [35 favorites]


miyabo: I think there's some truth here, but we're not the right audience. I know people who make $250K+ and spend virtually all of it on stupid stuff.

Yeah, there are some frugality tips here, but they're just the basic low-hanging fruit of frugality: Don't buy espresso; make dinner at home instead of dining out; drive an old car; max out your 401k if possible; etc.

Pro-tip to the Frugalwoods: Everybody loves the fantasy of leaving their big city jobs and shacking up on a farm in Vermont. Write about that. You don't have to say you're "retired" or "frugal" to get eyeballs. You're living the dream. Grow some vegetables. Get some chickens.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 10:59 PM on March 8 [14 favorites]


Why can't poor people be frugal instead of poor?

I'm sure they could be, if only they deserved to.
posted by flabdablet at 11:26 PM on March 8 [14 favorites]


Ha! I've got a $50 electric kettle with only three preset temperatures! Simple living really is more satisfying.

Well I have a pot in which I boil water, that I then pour into my French press over ground coffee beans. Ha! What do I win?

The kitten I adopted last year is also very frugal, she makes toys out of earthworms. I'm thinking of collecting and selling them to fisherwomen and fishermen. I shall call our startup Le Décou-ver de Paris.

I live not far from Marie-Antoinette's play-farm. FWIW, it was kept intact by the thousands of actually-frugal peasant women who beheaded several palace inhabitants and put their heads on pikes.
posted by fraula at 12:21 AM on March 9 [15 favorites]


Ha! I've got a $50 electric kettle with only three preset temperatures! Simple living really is more satisfying.

What on earth is this? A kettle should have one switch, to turn it on, and it should turn itself off even the water is boiled. It should cost a fiver, yet still last through a handful of years of practically constant use.

I think my annual income is about the same as their monthly.
posted by Dysk at 12:22 AM on March 9 [15 favorites]


The real question here is why on earth has the BBC not rebooted The Good Life? It's almost painfully timely.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 12:24 AM on March 9 [13 favorites]


Everybody loves the fantasy of leaving their big city jobs and shacking up on a farm in Vermont.

I am totally one of those people. It is my lifelong fantasy. I was going to post on AskMe about how people make that happen, but I realized I’d rather not know, since the answer almost always seems to be “be a free spirit with a large income and an incredibly flexible job!”

It’s easier for it to be a fantasy if I don’t know that.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 1:12 AM on March 9 [7 favorites]


With any luck, the Guardian will soon start turning the comments from their clickbaity articles into articles themselves. And maybe the odd book or two, available from the Guardian Bookshop for £12.74, including free UK p&p.
posted by Juso No Thankyou at 2:25 AM on March 9 [2 favorites]


To be fair, she is being very frugal with her book marketing budget. But this really is Olympic class self-satisfaction and smugness, with the very middle class habit of taking personal credit for what was gifted to them. The Amazon reviews of the book are even more nauseating than the Guardian article.
posted by epo at 3:07 AM on March 9 [6 favorites]


I've just been thinking about hygge.

Thing is, I did not know this was a recent fad, this latest in the endless train of simple living "game-changing" ideas, until I was googling around for writing to help me explain the feeling of disconnection of rhythms and security I've been feeling over a year when thirty years of set patterns in my life were unexpectedly disrupted by my first new relationship in twenty years, which came with a kid in tow. I did not know that there were books all about how we're supposed to emulate a romanticized Danish lifestyle that's glowing just around the next bend like a Thomas Kincade house nestled into a blanket of snow, and man—I just don't get the need that Western folks have for elaborate books to explain simple concepts...like hygge, or the Tao, or frugality.

If you ask me my religion, the closest I can get to explaining it is to call myself a clockwork taoist, by which I mean a taoist with no faith in the supernatural, but man—back when everything was The Tao of Business and The Tao of Jogging and The Tao of Pooh and The Tao of Tantric Sex and The Tao of Books About The Tao (some of these are made-up books), I always had to wonder how you could write five-hundred-page books explaining an 81-page book that's small enough to fit in a back pocket. I don't know if we love the idea of advancing our existence in the world or just love the idea of perpetually reading about it, in the glossy words of True Believers™ who have achieved Dramatic Life Changes® through their discovery of some simple principle of being...that somehow requires a hundred thousand words to explain.

I'm just coming off my third retirement, a four-year stretch of pared-down economics after a career line wore out its welcome and I ended up working as a part-time manager of a small community theater and a freelance consultant/building contractor to make up the difference. I lived on a shoestring, managed to find genuine deep satisfaction in my life despite barely making a five figure income, and my tiny home (by which I mean the two-room apartment I've occupied for thirty years, not a twee porta-potty on a trailer frame) was full of home cookin', the attention of a faithful hound dog, comfy old furniture that I either inherited or turned up in thrift stores.

"What are you doing these days?" friends would ask, assuming they weren't on board for my ceaseless barrage of social media updates.

"I'm retired," I'd say, but that word to me means "way station between things" and not the usual "shifting down for the gravity-driven slog into death" so popular with the American set.

I did a lot of writing, took a lot of pictures, and revived my vocation as a stand-up autobiographer, telling tales and making quiet, drifting music on stages here and there. The lack of bigger income means that I had to step up my cooking game to make more of less, and I spent four years mastering Escoffier's mother sauces and the sauces of other cultures, too, which are as close to alchemy as I'll get. I read a fair amount of simple living texts and inspirational quit-your-horrible-big-city-career books and endless "look at how amazing we are" articles from privileged people who don't seem to understand that preemptively announcing your awareness of your privilege as the standard pre-pology of privileged white folks of a certain age (who know how it looks when they claim to be bootstrapping when they're heirs to big cash) does not mean that you are then exempt from admitting how much dumb luck and outside providence created the thing you claim to have created yourself.

I've existed in the fiscal realm of the official middle class in two stretches of the thirty-two years I've been an "independent" citizen of the world—once from 2009-2013, and again, right now. I could probably write some adorably twee little manual on living just like I do, and because I'm a writer with some facility with words, I could probably sell a few, but the advice I'd have to give would be—Step One: Be Me. That's the trouble. I am not a self-made man. I am the aggregate response of an organism to forty-nine years of outside stimuli that more or less have added up to now.

When a layoff kicked off Retirement #2, I picked up my tools and took up working in construction and pulling myself up by my bootstraps...buuut, actually, having inherited a huge collection of tools from my late father and skills I had from his own obsessions with handwork enabled that. Retirement #2 ended when a working relationship with a museum fostered by a wealthy woman who'd found my info on a theremin enthusiast site (which was mostly puffery about my less-than-expert theremin repair skills) turned into a series of professional costumed disco-dancing gigs and then a year-long community art project because the original candidate for the job asked for too much money and I was broke enough that the amount they offered seemed like pie in the sky.

Retirement #3 was made possible because my father was an amateur actor in the non-singing opera trade, and he started me off on a twenty-year paltry-paying part-time career in the non-singing opera trade, which made me familiar enough with the workings of theater to get a part-time job managing a small community theater, which paid the rent and utilities while I freelanced, wrote, and performed.

Retirement #3 ended when I was head-hunted for an office job in an absurd trade by someone who I knew through my professional costumed disco-dancing gig and who was patient enough to spend a year luring me in. Suddenly, I'm in an office again, with a forty-two thousand dollar raise and insanely good benefits and my schedule's a mess and I've got a ton of money burning a hole in my pocket and a thwarted desire to buy myself something right pretty because I've made thrift into something integral, not incidental, to my character (though I did buy myself a used Fiat, lest I seem too saintly).

Everything that is good about my life is the product of an endless number of threads of moments that come together in knots and tangles, go their own way, and return, unexpectedly, in others. Whenever I feel that rising sense of smugness that I'm happy and contented because of something I did, or that I chose, or that I created, I have to chuckle and remind myself that I'm the luckiest piece of shit that ever lived, because I started out running, and even the hazards, hurdles, and disasters in my life fed the stream that's always flowing in the gaps and channels, carrying me downstream. I could be wealthier, smarter, more accomplished, less lazy, and less prone to the procrastination that is my number one problem, but I am just me, still me, just carrying on with the considerable collection of tools given to me by nothing more magical or empowering than dumb luck. The fact that I had a tremendous head start that everything good is owed can't be forgotten. I've worked very hard at mastering the things I do well, but they are inseparable from my head start, so no book deal will ever be forthcoming and the best advice I can give anyone is to be grateful for one's good luck and use that gratitude to fuel compassion, kindness, and understanding.

If you've been lucky—share. Share your luck and your wealth, not your smug.
posted by sonascope at 4:14 AM on March 9 [41 favorites]


The real question here is why on earth has the BBC not rebooted The Good Life?

Because you don't mess with perfection.
posted by elsietheeel at 4:50 AM on March 9 [9 favorites]


How does their "about" post fail to be aware that they could only move to the country because Mr IT Manager/coder's company will let him work remotely?
posted by MattWPBS at 5:14 AM on March 9 [5 favorites]


I don't know; in the cold light of day, feelings towards the couple are nihilistically empty. They can go and do their thing, and people can either follow or ignore the rule that if someone needs to sell you their get-rich-quick formula, then it's not a good formula.

How the article is placed in The Guardian is, however, annoying. A comment on the piece chimed:

"This kind of article is exactly why people don't like The Guardian and why all the genuinely good journalism that the paper does is so readily dismissed. Every month there seems to be an article about going mortgage free, owning a house in your early 20s, spoiled rich kids living "cash free" in yurts on their family's estate in Devon or similar and the answer is always "have rich parents that give you a few hundred grand, chums from your private school that give you loads of stuff and a very highly paying job in banking for a few years." Owning a multi million dollar farm in a very expensive part of the US is not living frugally and as others have pointed out here they also own rental property."

Maybe I've become Disgusted from Tunbridge Wells in my middle age, but I've written a "letter" (using, uh, paper and pen and an envelope and stamp)(weirdly retro) to the editor of The Guardian, pointing out that the use of 'retire' is straight-out dishonest clickbait. In addition, this piece should have been clearly flagged as an "infomercial" or some other wording to make it clear that it's selling a book. Just sticking it in the Money section, where you would reasonably expect some independent, useful money news or advice, doesn't cut it.

(I tutted several times while writing it, so it is a stiffly worded letter. Now I have to find a "post box" and I'm suddenly not sure they exist in rural England any more. It's been a while.)
posted by Wordshore at 5:22 AM on March 9 [41 favorites]


RedEmma: Dumpster diving and how to hide it from your middle school aged kids was one chapter. Another on how to feed your dog on next to nothing. And how to forage the woods for things to eat. How to get a free car from a dead lady you didn't know after your van dies and you can't afford to replace it (which was quite a project let me tell you...) etc etc ad nauseum. I come from plenty of privilege in a lot of ways. But I've also made less than $10,000 a year for twenty plus years, so I'm the Mistress of Frugality. But I'm also pissed off about it, so that doesn't read all that well.

I disagree. I think that being pissed off about it would read perfectly. I think it would make a great book.

At very least, I'd love to see your story in The Guardian as a counterpoint.
posted by clawsoon at 5:30 AM on March 9 [20 favorites]


From another forum: "In one of her blog posts, she says that she and her husband were able to graduate college debt-free due in part to 'major assistance' from their parents."
posted by clawsoon at 5:34 AM on March 9 [4 favorites]


"it can transform one’s relationship with our consumer-driven culture" [right next to picture featuring a Mac laptop, logo artfully positioned]
posted by clawsoon at 5:42 AM on March 9 [6 favorites]


zachlipton: I did come across one of their blog posts where they acknowledge the privilege that led them to this position. Which is great, but

"but" indeed. They acknowledged their privilege about as convincingly as James Damore acknowledged sexism.
posted by clawsoon at 5:46 AM on March 9 [3 favorites]


I'm getting more and more EAT THE RICH in my old age. True, these people might not qualify as rich enough to be eaten, but I'm still willing to put in some vigorous gnawing.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 5:56 AM on March 9 [24 favorites]


I love these stories, they are a nourishing broth to me.
posted by Think_Long at 5:57 AM on March 9 [4 favorites]


I'd let them off with covering them in maple syrup and staking them out in the parking lot of a Phish show
posted by thelonius at 5:57 AM on March 9 [5 favorites]


Wondering if Twitter has calmed down a bit over this "ArticleAdvert" now. Having a look...

@euancx: Their sex life must be shit, because this article is some furious masturbation.

@charlieknight91: Have you noticed how it's only ever wealthy middle-class people who write articles about how great an austere lifestyle is?

@danielcave_: Ah, I see the professional classes managed to management-speak-ify what most couples call helping each other out. 'Insourcing within a partnership doesn’t mean that one partner now has 9 billion more chores to do.'

@isibuko: It’s Friday, so let’s read an article to raise our collective blood pressure. In this episode, a couple describe painting their own kitchen as ‘frugal insourcing’, and creatively problem solve by asking a friend to look after their dog.

@rachel_london: I can only assume these people whom the Guardian loves to profile have to move to the woods because everyone hates them.

@ProfDaveAndress: 1. Start out comfortably-off,
2. Decide to live like a poor person for fun, but still with all your stuff,
3. Profit!

...and, nope.
posted by Wordshore at 6:00 AM on March 9 [29 favorites]




I have developed a catchy hip take on living a fabulous fantastic frugal life on an 800 to 1200 dollar budget:


1. Give up all your dreams of school. NO STUDENT LOANS. DEBT FREE LIVING. Hot take!

2. Rent in a place that's falling apart. Sure people might literally fall through your balcony because the wood is rotting, but it's an affordable impossible to find legally 300 per month. Don't worry about the roaches, they're your new friends. SO FRUGAL.

2. Your grocery budget is 350 when you're on foodstamps or 150-200 when you're not. Learn to live with your stomach growling and certain exhaustion that comes from not really getting filling meals. I mean they always tell you all you need is rice and beans? RIGHT? SHOVE THAT SHIT DOWN. KEEP EATING. EAT IT. Every day. After day.

3. Fuck it smoke cigarettes and drink lot's of coffee to suppress your appetite and then eat off the dollar menu at a fast food joint every now and again. Agree with everyone who blames you for the poor health that results. Because YOU'RE A MORAL FAILURE. However... your budget is now 20 dollars a week for dollar menu food and ramen, 21 for cigarettes and 3 for coffee. AND YOU GET TO EAT SOMETHING WITH TASTE OCCASIONALLY.

4. Use the FREE services ( MONEY SAVING!) at the domestic violence center to help you when you scary ex is drunkenly raging and talking about his violent fantasies against you all the time. Realize that because you can't afford a good lawyer and you have no physical evidence you are counselled you have very limited chance of reducing his custody with your kid. MONEY SAVING TIP, SKIP THE LAWYER, WHO NEEDS TO SURVIVE THESE SITUATIONS ANYWAY?!! Get prepared for the continued panic attacks and PTSD while you see your abusers retain visitation of a child -YOUR CHILD- while you're powerless to stop it. You feel your body falling apart yet? Oh you have recurring shingles now and you can't even keep working through the pain? FAILURE. Just remember all the hip frugality points you scored by not paying for a lawyer.

5. As your health deteriorates, just don't get health insurance because you can't afford that shit anyway. Make peace with the fact that your life is literally physically destroying your body and you will have no breaks, no mercy, and no aid to repair your broken body or soul. BUT YOU'RE SO FUCKING FRUGAL OH MY GOD. It's so hip and amazing and stuff.


6. Realize that your kids life sucks, swallow your pride, who needs that shit anyway, give up all hopes of social respect, being seen as an adult or equal human being and accept your parents offer to move in with them. BURY THOSE FEELINGS DEEP WITHIN. Let them churn in your stomach and eat at your body increasing physical illness with every time people, even supposedly progressive inclusive people, laugh about adults who live in their parents basements, or give advice about not dating people who aren't real grown ups because they live with their parents. It's fine.

7. Don't own a car. Borrow your parents if they'll let you! Your soul sinks into an abyss of shame but you remind yourself you know you're a good person even though the world doesn't. It's ok! Eat more ice cream which you can now afford because you live with your parents. PLUS YOU PAID FOR IT WITH YOUR OWN MONEY SO YOU'RE ALLOWED THIS SMALL PLEASURE. It's ok. Offer to pay for gas and maintenance and feel like you're "really contributing" now... It's as close to being a "real person" equal to the other real adults as you will get so enjoy it.

8. ARE WE FEELING FRUGAL AND AMAZING YET??!!! I will be accepting book offers and lot's and lot's of money for all these hot takes because FUCK THIS SHIT IT SUCKS TO LIVE THIS WAY.
posted by xarnop at 6:12 AM on March 9 [47 favorites]


Geez...Reading her stuff is like hearing someone say "snap out of it" or "look on the bright side" to a depressed person. Utter cluelessness.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:15 AM on March 9 [11 favorites]


Coming up after the break on EXTREME FRUGALITY:

* Lauren makes the choice to take public transportation to the store!
* Ben & Christine dare to leave their kids with Grandma while they take a walk!
* Jenna & Mark make the difficult choice to buy another brand of tea that's on sale!
* Can Jack do his taxes on his own?

Check out these amazing new lifehacks and more on EXTREME FRUGALITY!
posted by eschatfische at 6:21 AM on March 9 [37 favorites]


How the article is placed in The Guardian is, however, annoying. A comment on the piece chimed:

"This kind of article is exactly why people don't like The Guardian and why all the genuinely good journalism that the paper does is so readily dismissed. Every month there seems to be an article about going mortgage free, owning a house in your early 20s, spoiled rich kids living "cash free" in yurts on their family's estate in Devon or similar and the answer is always "have rich parents that give you a few hundred grand, chums from your private school that give you loads of stuff and a very highly paying job in banking for a few years." Owning a multi million dollar farm in a very expensive part of the US is not living frugally and as others have pointed out here they also own rental property."


I used to the read physical Guardian when I lived in England and my all-time favourite article was about how to have a carbon neutral ethical swimming pool. One of the core functions of the Guardian is to give people who drive Land Rovers a way to feel that they are good people.
posted by srboisvert at 6:36 AM on March 9 [13 favorites]


Oh heck suddenly realised who they reminded me. In the food bank I sometimes help out in, there's a couple who used to come in once a year with a "we're back to hand over our regular donation!" loudness . After much attempted chumminess, they would hand over a few pieces of the worst possible stuff e.g. perishables that are not months but years past their use by date.

When they rolled up last year, the new no nonsense manager was around, looked at their offerings, then said that we couldn't take tins with advanced corrosion and perishables that had an obvious damp or mould problem. It's more of an annoyance as the hassle of disposal then falls on us, when we'd rather spend time getting good nutrition to those who don't get it, rather than making them ill. They flounced off, red-facedly outraged, using the word 'ingratitude' repeatedly as they stormed out, and have not been back so far this year.

Somewhere, out there, there's probably a very distorted blog post written by this virtuous couple, slamming an East Midlands food bank for turning away food.

Anyway, there's a sign now up saying pretty much 'If it's not fit to eat, we can't accept it', which they inspired. So, some good came out of it.
posted by Wordshore at 6:39 AM on March 9 [35 favorites]


I think this is where I reached my limit. She writes about hiring people to do stuff for you as if it's some kind of universal symptom of modern culture - and something that she and her husband, uniquely, learned to reject.

Yeah, me too. It's bad to hire somebody to mow my lawn? And then therefore bad that the guy I hire has a lawn/landscape business? Sounds like they're not interested in contributing to the local small business economy much.
posted by JanetLand at 6:52 AM on March 9 [8 favorites]


Idk, I really enjoy the Frugalwoods blog. I find it a refreshing counterpoint to incessant messages of "this specific type of consumerism will make you happier!" and helpful when I need a role model for a path I would love to work toward in my life & career. I don't know that this article really captured the messages that I've gotten from their blog well at all.

Especially given that my current social network is...not robust, sometimes it's very hard to see beyond the easy & obvious ways to spend money to solve a problem (whether that problem is finding somewhere to go on a date, or fixing something around the house, or getting a haircut that actually works for my hair type, or finding an enjoyable workout, or whatever). It's such a privilege to even have those expensive options as things I could even consider, but yeah, I do look to the Frugalwoods for an example of people who really interrogated the idea of what makes them happy. Especially because, while saving, they lived a life that was still urban and social and such, unlike the families in LCOL areas that I often see cited as role models for frugality (also great people I'm sure, but less relatable for me!)

I definitely won't be able to retire at 32, for many many reasons, but I still enjoy what they advocate for.
posted by mosst at 7:15 AM on March 9 [4 favorites]




The thing about the blog that bothers me is that they don't really talk much about their income. They often get really into their savings rates, ie 'we saved 70% of our income in 2014', but that's pretty meaningless to me without knowing what their net income was.

In general all of their 'this is how we saved 60% in 2013' posts are heavy on the "we made coffee at home!!!!" and low on the actual amounts that they're spending. I mean, if I made 180k a year, I could save 90% of my income without changing anything about my lifestyle. Who cares?
posted by geegollygosh at 8:35 AM on March 9 [23 favorites]


I've been reading frugalwoods off and on for a long time and I think they do a pretty decent job of admitting it when they recognize they have advantages but there are some things that a lot of people just can't emulate. When she was pregnant, they basically got everything they needed for the baby for free by asking around, including really nice maternity clothes and a top of the line stroller. You have to have a network with nice stuff to give away to get nice stuff.
posted by TheLateGreatAbrahamLincoln at 8:40 AM on March 9 [14 favorites]


As a fellow graduate of the University of Kansas I feel like I can say, The University produces excellent quality basketball games, underrated indie rock bands (Appleseed Cast/The Anniversary) and sex ed classes (Dennis Dailey!!) but lifestyle gurus are somewhat...lacking?

If counterexamples are present please advise.
posted by Dillionaire at 8:44 AM on March 9 [5 favorites]


I have some amount of sympathy for these people being dropped into the firing range by a Guardian reporter who surely knew what the response would be.

That said:

Money, class, and politics are embedded in everything in ways that the public is becoming increasingly conscious of. To write about frugality and living without constantly examining that concept is just incomplete. The problem with these people isn't that they have money and privilege - lord knows most of my favorite creators have loads of that - it's that they are only touching on it in the most superficial ways. They're bad at their job of writing about not having a job.
posted by Think_Long at 9:00 AM on March 9 [14 favorites]


Well I have a pot in which I boil water, that I then pour into my French press over ground coffee beans. Ha! What do I win?

Wait, hold up. There's prizes for this?

I just did 3+ years making cowboy coffee or instant over a DIY alcohol burning penny stove and homeless.

My big Christmas splurge this year was getting a pourover filter basket and an electric stove burner. And I only ended up with the burner because it was on sale and $3 cheaper than the gallon of denatured alcohol I usually buy that lasts 4-6 months with very careful use.

I will also drink any coffee. Any coffee. I don't care if it's Bustelo instant, Cafe du Monde or Folger's. I will take cheap/free k-pods and remove the coffee for pourover brewing. The only coffee I've snubbed in the last 5 years is some weird starbucks instant peppermint mocha crap that's like drinking a greasy candy cane and probably has less caffeine in it than a potato.

Hell, I have a favorite instant brand and it's the generic store brand knockoffs of Nestle's Clasico, unless the Clasico is cheaper and on sale.

When I visit friends for longer than a couple of days I usually try to show up with a pound of coffee just so I don't drink all of theirs.

I even keep a plastic spice shaker jar full of instant coffee in my pockets or shoulder bag. I often go into coffee shops just for hot water for instant coffee. Hell, the only time I even think about buying coffee when I'm out any more is if I really need the bathroom or I want to actually sit down for a while.

If there's anyone out there who is more frugal about their coffee short of "don't drink coffee" I want to subscribe to their newsletter.
posted by loquacious at 9:04 AM on March 9 [8 favorites]


I have some amount of sympathy for these people being dropped into the firing range by a Guardian reporter who surely knew what the response would be.

They're writing a book, so.

I mean, look, I'd like to think that I've done a pretty good job of thinking carefully about what I want in life rather than just going along with "consumer culture" (whatever that is). I took an 80% pay cut for a more worthwhile job; my income's recovered a bit since, but it's still less than 1/3 of what I used to make. And that required rigorous consideration of what I value most in life, both back then and down to the present day. I live in an apartment that, judging by comments on real estate posts, is small enough to give many Mefites a nervous breakdown. I don't own a car, I don't have cable, I use a cheap prepaid phone. I find these tradeoffs worth it (mostly), but I don't hold myself out as some kind of beacon of moral frugality. Having grown up in a family that wavered back and forth over the line between lower middle class and poor, I know I am not poor now and I do not live like a poor person. I have the luxury of considering, within a certain range, whether an item is good value, rather than just the cheapest. If I do get something cheap and it turns out to be lousy, I can afford to replace it with something better. I can decide whether to "insource" or "outsource" many tasks. In short, in some ways I'm much like these people, and I would hardly consider myself to be living in conditions of austerity.
posted by praemunire at 9:19 AM on March 9 [13 favorites]


Hey I don't even drink coffee so I already win the contest. And can you really claim to be environmentally conscious if you have dogs and children?
posted by Justin Case at 9:19 AM on March 9 [4 favorites]


We buy our coffee at Costco. And it makes me feel superior and frugal to buy a giant bag of beans, instead of a giant box of those Keurig cup things like those Costco spendthrifts.
posted by lagomorphius at 9:26 AM on March 9 [2 favorites]


And can you really claim to be environmentally conscious if you have dogs and children?

i bet they don't even use family cloth
posted by halation at 9:28 AM on March 9 [9 favorites]


If there's anyone out there who is more frugal about their coffee short of "don't drink coffee" I want to subscribe to their newsletter.

He doesn't have a newsletter, but one of my coworkers used to cut out that wasteful "hot water and cup" routine and eat spoonfuls of instant coffee at meetings.
posted by lagomorphius at 9:29 AM on March 9 [13 favorites]


Why burden yourself with a spoon -- just snort the coffee!
posted by JanetLand at 9:38 AM on March 9 [8 favorites]


Well loquacious, at the moment I have a precision made coffee mill and a temperature controlled pour over system.

But back when all I owned was what fit in a backpack, and timeshared 2 mattresses and a shower with seven other people, I was frugaler with my coffee than you are now.

Every day I would walk to this part of the city with tons of tiny cafes with sidewalk seating, catering to the high powered suits working in the high rises. On good days I could get a shift as a busboy, most days as dishwasher, or get paid to take out the trash or clean the friers.

But just in case, on my walk there, I would swoop down like a hawk when I saw one of the suits look at their watch fold their newspaper and start speedwalking to work. Delicious still hot espresso dregs left in the cup, warm half eaten pastries on the plate. I drew the line at lipstick smeared cups and food. Sometimes.

I was kind enough to bring the dirty wishes to the counter afterwards.

Now that I think about it, I could write a book on how to live frugaly and save 70% of your income in central London.
posted by Index Librorum Prohibitorum at 9:39 AM on March 9 [7 favorites]




People who drink Bustelo for frugality's sake haven't met Café La Llave yet. It's cheaper and (I think) it tastes better.
posted by elsietheeel at 9:48 AM on March 9 [3 favorites]


I have taken on 'don't count other people's money' as a spiritual practice and I'm not even kidding.

If I really thought about this shit, then had to listen to wealthy people congratulating themselves for their voluntary frugality? I don't know what I'd do, but it would probably be referred to as some sort of spree.
posted by Space Kitty at 9:54 AM on March 9 [15 favorites]


You can't simply declare your privilege, and ::poof:: your narrative is magically cleansed.

These folks are using the terms retire and frugal in ways that actually feel more deceptive to me than the Achieve Financial Freedom Now! multi-level marketing/real estate schemes on late-night TV. As lifestyle porn, well, okay, I can get that. It’s like tiny house and clean eating blogs.

But, come on: $3,000/month is not being frugal in most people's lexicons. Rental income, blog income, and high-end remote commuting is not being retired. Their lifestyle is not generalizable. It is also incredibly #sowhite. It’s a hack available primarily to (straight white) professionals, who were lucky enough to: be born to the right parents, not get sick, pick the right job, pick the right geographic location, put their money in the right financial instruments, at the exact right time in the market to take advantage of a limited-accessibility opportunity so that they could opt-out of...consumer society, or something.

Would this economic cheat code be available to: people of color, chronically ill or disabled people, queer people, people without employer-sponsored health insurance, people without a big rainy-day got-laid-off fund, and so on? Yeah, not likely.

It reminds me of an earlier article I saw posted on MetaFilter (probably in one of the politics megathreads) about a study (MIT?) showing how most rich people are rich primarily due to luck, not skill or intelligence.
posted by skye.dancer at 10:07 AM on March 9 [19 favorites]


It's actually sort of interesting to me how culturally specific ideas about frugality are. I bought my first house in July, and I'm slowly figuring out home ownership. One of the first things I learned was that I need to clean the gutters twice a year. So I was chatting with my neighbor, and I asked her who she hired to clean her gutters. And she looked at me like I was totally nuts and was like "I will lend you my ladder, and it will take you about an hour to clean your gutters, and it will be free." Which turned out to be totally true. My parents would have considered cleaning your own gutters to be frugal (and stupid and possibly suicidal.) Where I live now, it's considered extravagant to hire someone to do it unless you are disabled or have some kind of huge multistory house, which most people don't. Similarly, I've repainted a couple of rooms myself, and that didn't seem frugal. It just seemed normal, partly because I've helped a couple of friends paint rooms in their own houses. But the Frugalwoodses seem to think that's like an epic act of extreme frugality that merits a newspaper article. So I'm doing a lot of the things they talk about and not considering myself especially frugal, just because those things are culturally the norm in my current social circles.

On the other hand, they would probably be horrified by the amount of money that I spend on stationary and sparkly gel pens, which is fair. But I am not claiming to be frugal.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 10:31 AM on March 9 [20 favorites]


I’ve never had a lot of money, so I sort of freak it when I have to spend any. I have to justify it to myself, and I always feel guilty if I buy a muffin or something while I’m out. If the thing I buy turns out to be lousy, I’ll get all depressed about having wasted my money. I’m not living in poverty, it’s just that I have negative attitudes about money.

I should write a lifestyle blog, is what I’m saying. Lots of posts like “Waiting until you get home so you can have some toast instead of paying $2.25 for a bran muffin” or “Walking two mikes to save $2 on BART fare” or “Flipping out and buying something sort of expensive online at 2 AM because you’re tired of being so cheap, then feeling horribly guilty and regretful after you’ve had it for a week.” #simpleliving
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 12:28 PM on March 9 [11 favorites]


Yeah I would have said hiring someone to paint the outside of your house, normal, hiring someone to paint the inside of your house, luxury (unless you're unable to paint for whatever reason, obviously).

I also find the narrative they're selling with the lines about hiring people to be counter to my experience? My middle class Boomer parents had someone clean their house for a long time, but I know very few people who do. My wife and I make good money, we're not especially frugal, and hiring someone to clean is a once and again treat for, like, before Thanksgiving.

That's one area you hire people and there are areas my family pays money for things we didn't growing up (organized activities for kids is a big one that jumps out at me), but when you start talking about this as a symptom of how we deal with our hectic lives, I wonder if you're actually comparing now to recent history or to some kind of imagined past.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 12:31 PM on March 9 [1 favorite]


how most rich people are rich primarily due to luck, not skill or intelligence

BING BING BING BING BING
posted by grumpybear69 at 12:36 PM on March 9 [4 favorites]


Short: The high-tech industrial economy and its life-style is a murder-suicide pact we’ve made with our fellow humans and our environment. We’re all F-ed anyway, some people enjoy their lives, some-people enjoy hating other people’s lives. I too enjoy mocking the class-criminals of affluent america who think they can escape the consequences of the world we have made. Because I’m one of them.

Long: So I live in 105sqft self-made tiny home heated by body-heat and a small dehumidifier. 1625 nominal watts of solar panels. $10k expenses/yr. At 35 I left a 65hr/wk futile salaried job that I came to hate, now at 38 I’m working 16-24hr/wk night job that is physical, and people find distasteful, but is not stressful nor dangerous. I “work” 2-3 days a week. I am also homesteading on 4.11 acres. So when I’m not reading Metafilter, I’m felling trees and making fence posts, or de-rocking a garden bed, or what not. Am I retired? I feel like it, but formally no. Am I helping the environment? My carbon footprint is ~23% of the median American, but that is still more than is sustainable for a planet of 7+billion with a climate crisis. Am I privileged? You bet, I’m white cishet male USian with higher-education, healthy, debt-free, addiction free, child-free, god-free… I’m doing fantastic.

People who live out of their cars by necessity suffer from ill-effects of poverty, powerlessness and social ostracism. The people in the rat-race are often in toxic lives. The privileged early adopters of (Frugality, eco-austerity, poverty-tourism, intentional communities, communes, luddites, hippies- take your pick) get the benefits that come from making this lifestyle switch before we are all forced to be materially poor, poisoned, climate&war refugees.

The rising tide won’t lift all boats, it will smash them into the flood-prone highly populated coastal lowlands. You can wait, and run for your lives, or you can start jogging comfortably now if you have that privileged. And vote, vote, and vote. The sky really is falling and we don’t know if the revolution can come fast enough.
posted by Anchorite_of_Palgrave at 12:36 PM on March 9 [5 favorites]


I also find the narrative they're selling with the lines about hiring people to be counter to my experience? My middle class Boomer parents had someone clean their house for a long time

It's likely that it was fairly common in the circles they moved in in Boston. Use of a cleaning service is verging on ubiquitous above a certain income level in the East Coast cities, even when a parent is staying at home.
posted by praemunire at 1:18 PM on March 9 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I'm always surprised to hear how many people use a cleaning service. I always used to wonder how my wealthy or wealthy-ish friends (or sometimes neighbors) kept their places looking so tidy. It never occurred to me that a couple in their early 30s might be hiring someone to clean their little apartment.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 1:35 PM on March 9 [3 favorites]


This is probably worth an FPP on its own, but it sort of fits here, too: Rethinking Work-Life Balance for Women of Color:
The pushback against institutionalized work patterns and the movement for work-life balance is an emerging, yet critical wing of feminism that is long overdue. But this wave can’t ignore the unique circumstances of women of color nor the socioeconomic dynamics of how white women came to even begin to have the conversation about work-life balance in the first place.

Throughout history, white women have used the labor of women of color to reduce their own domestic burden and free themselves up for corporate and civic pursuits. Simply put, the labor of Black, Hispanic and Asian American women has raised white women’s standard of living.

So if we’re talking about work-life balance, let’s be clear that many white women of means have achieved that balance standing on the backs of women of color.
posted by clawsoon at 1:41 PM on March 9 [14 favorites]


(My daughter is at an after-school program being taken care of by a woman of color right this instant, as it happens...)
posted by clawsoon at 2:02 PM on March 9 [1 favorite]


Parts of my life are pretty similar to this couple's, with some changes in geography. My wife and I are well-educated and without student debt. I work an office job, no telecommuting, but I can walk to work. We have a toddler and a second on the way, and we luckily timed the local real estate market. She's staying home with the kid/s for a few years. We cook most of our meals; I packed a lunch to work today like I do nearly every day. But to tout ourselves as examples of frugality or virtue would seem... dishonest.
posted by craven_morhead at 2:26 PM on March 9 [6 favorites]


Frugal insourcing led us to a more egalitarian partnership devoid of traditional gender roles

I kind of feel like "stay-at-home mom" is pretty traditional as gender roles go?
posted by Ralston McTodd at 3:01 PM on March 9 [11 favorites]


Yes, but "retired" isn't.

I honestly have no issues with these people's lifestyle. It seems to be a nice lifestyle and to be working for them. What's irritating is entirely the way they talk about it, which is unfortunate if you make a living talking about your lifestyle.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 3:13 PM on March 9 [5 favorites]


I wonder how online advertisers feel about articles like this. Lots of eyeballs - great! It makes all of those eyeballs angry - hmm... how's our online brand positioning working out for us?
posted by clawsoon at 3:35 PM on March 9 [2 favorites]


so rich people are hogging more than there fair share of the economic pie, are consumi g finite resources unsustainably fast in a futile effort to soothe their narcissim and inadequacies. I would thibk anythibg that convince them to allow other people to have access to resources, including jobs etc.. is a good thing. If smug ostentatious abstinancy is their luxury, the better for everyone else. We have enough "wolf of wallstreet" a-holes. Imagine a better worls where those jerks were bragfing about their home-made granola instead of drunk-driving ferraris. Frugality might be a great way to quarantine us.
posted by Anchorite_of_Palgrave at 5:46 PM on March 9


I didn't bother read their blog, but it didn't sound like they're subsistence farming, so wtf are they doing with that 66 acres? The house and tractor certainly didn't look super frugal to me.
posted by TwoStride at 7:20 PM on March 9 [3 favorites]


As Nate and I were rescuing a perfectly good lamp and dresser from a roadside pile of trash one Saturday morning, I had an epiphany: frugality is also excellent for the environment.

That's not an epiphany, that's something we were taught in primary school. Reuse, reduce, recycle.
posted by daybeforetheday at 8:31 PM on March 9 [12 favorites]


I reached out to fellow dog-owning friends. We worked out an informal dog-sitting swap that didn’t entail money changing hands. We were happier, the dogs were happier, and we reaped the tertiary benefit of creating a community, another artifact we were resurrecting from our ancestors that’d been all but stamped out by commercialism.

This is the general structure of how I want to live. I love the stories of people who have a regular monthly food day and make a ton of food and invite everyone they know to come over and eat. "Second Sunday of the month is always meatballs at bendy's house!"

I always read stories like this with a grain of salt. People have different priorities. I really like my job and the work I do and the people I work with. I also have a lot of debt and it makes me happy to pay it down. "Retiring" is definitely not on my list of priorities right now. I don't mind being a servant to my debt right now because I have a clear plan for my future which is dependent on eliminating this debt.

I know that in order to buy my next home I may have to start with something on the small side. Since buying a home is my priority I don't buy a lot of stuff and I'm on a tear to get rid of a lot.

Going back to the phrase I quoted, I think a good community is one of the tenets of living happily. Each of us can only do so much on our own but I think that sharing and bartering with your friends and neighbors is worth so much.
posted by bendy at 10:25 PM on March 9 [3 favorites]


PS. I really don't mean to come across as a snob. A strong community will lift us all.
posted by bendy at 10:29 PM on March 9 [1 favorite]


Oh damn, I thought it was just me, but apparently freaking out over small purchases is a generational thing.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 2:51 AM on March 10 [5 favorites]


Up here in Ontario you need to be a fucking millionaire in order to afford a "homestead" out in the woods like that. It doesn't matter how "frugal" you are.

> I honestly have no issues with these people's lifestyle. It seems to be a nice lifestyle and to be working for them. What's irritating is entirely the way they talk about it, which is unfortunate if you make a living talking about your lifestyle.

A million times, this. We could all retire if we each had a nickle for every faux-humble "your life could be just like ours if you just did what we're doing!"-type lifestyle article that publications like to throw out as clickbait hate-reads. And it always works, because they're always ANNOYING AS SHIT.
posted by The Card Cheat at 6:29 AM on March 10 [8 favorites]


I like others heard the author on Here and Now. I was appalled especially when she described how she gave up lattes.... FOR A BURR GRINDER AND SPECIAL (as I learned in this thread) 70$ WATER HEATER. And the oh yes, we (she) prioritize TRAVEL! and prioritize our daughter to an expensive WALDORF school! Man, is it possible to be more clueless in talking about your life? I mean, ok, go do whatever you want but don't try to sell other people your incredibly privileged lifestyle as 'frugal'. And the eventual reveal that they make bank by renting their Cambridge area house - geesh. Retired? I don't think so.

Thank you Metafilter for (mostly) sharing my outrage!
posted by bluesky43 at 9:53 AM on March 10 [5 favorites]


It's true thats it's pretty easy to save money when you make ten times what you and your family need but I feel kind of bad that this woman is being torn to shreds. I've followed her blog for a while and as a person who makes maybe 1 1/4 times what I need to survive, I've still found value in it. I agree with mosst that it's a good counterpoint to all the depressing mega-consumption lifestyle of perfection crap that permeates social media. It's stuff I can actually do to make my financial situation a little bit better and be happier with what I have (though I'll never be able to retire early or maybe even retire). I didn't hear her radio interview, but especially in responding to comments from readers of her blog, she seems like a very kind and non-judgmental person. I also find her to be a likable and funny writer.
posted by Brain Sturgeon at 10:20 AM on March 10 [3 favorites]


Oh damn, I thought it was just me, but apparently freaking out over small purchases is a generational thing.

This happens to me every time I end up at McDonald's, which is maybe twice a year. Full on existential dread. Like most people with their wits about them I only really end up there on accident when I need some kind of vaguely warm and foodlike object in my face in a hurry.

And it's always a mistake. I'm training myself not to do that and have found what I think is a much healthier and usually cheaper alternative, which is hitting up supermarket delis for quick snacks. Say, a single baked chicken breast, maybe a drumstick and then an apple or an avocado. I can get a baked chicken breast, drumstick and an apple for about 3 bucks, and it doesn't make me hate myself for the rest of the day.

Hell, I necessarily get like this about small household purchases, too. A couple of months ago I broke my cheap $1 hardware store mirror, and they don't have them in stock in the cheap $1-2 crap aisle any more, and this lead to about a month of looking for mirrors at every damn store in town, and only finding "expensive" bathroom and shaving mirrors that were all too bulky or too big and waaay too expensive at, oh, $10-ish.

My eventual solution? A $2 clip on visor mirror from the auto parts store. It has clips and hooks on it and thus I can clip it to things in the shower, and it has a good plastic frame on it so it doesn't break when I drop it.

Another time I was at the hardware store looking for replacement quartz lamps for a worklight, so I could help my housemate work on his truck. They wanted $12 for replacement bulbs, and since the work lamp was a cheap piece of crap anyway I knew they wouldn't last. Instead I found a box of plain old LED bulbs on sale, like an 8 pack for about $4, and just hauled my old school clip-on work lamp out there with an LED bulb in it.

And since it's an LED bulb and not a flaming hot quartz lamp you can hang it or clip it right next to your face in the engine bay and bash it around - and then I can reuse the LED bulbs in my room, which I needed anyway.

I was also looking at trash cans and ran into the same problem. You want how much for a frickin' basic trashcan? Solution? $2 plastic bucket/pail from the cheap crap aisle. Bonus: It has a handle for convenient and sanitary carrying!
posted by loquacious at 11:12 AM on March 10 [4 favorites]


They're nice people who seem to be living sensibly and maximizing their privilege. They are blase about their privilege, of course, that's part of what defines privilege. They're a bit smug, but mostly sincere. They have the decency to thank their parents for the educations. They are living in the whitest state (waves from Maine, the 2nd whitest) and having a swell time.

I like them better than lots of people, I guess, but as everyone has said We got a lucky start in the world and were smart enough to not totally screw it up. You can, too! is disingenuous and annoying. I don't wish them ill, but if I want to read some Incredibly Obvious Insights, I'll go re-read Stephen Covey.

The book to write is How To Get a Lucky Start In Life, which gets written all the time, and is always fakery.

I would read the daylights out of RedEmma's > I almost started writing a book about frugality in the depths of the 2008 Depression.
posted by theora55 at 2:28 PM on March 13 [3 favorites]


I probably sprained my eye-rolling muscles while reading the article, but it was worth the effort because it made reading the above comments that much more fun. However, I lost my sense of humor on the subject after following the link to Amazon where I read this, posted by a (one star) reviewer:
husband made in 2014 as executive director of Actblue a salary of 226.995 USD working full-time (Actblue is a non profit therefore all salary infos are published openly)...Update: Seems his job is running pretty well coming close to 300k in 2016. Note: similar info re husband's salary appeared in another review.
She writes: "My husband, Nate, and I are not exceptional people. We’re not rich...". Last I checked, his salary alone puts their household within spitting distance of the upper 1% in terms of income.

She cannot NOT know that they are, in fact, "rich" by conventional measures. Claiming not to be is just blatantly and insultingly dishonest.
posted by she's not there at 12:47 AM on March 27 [5 favorites]


From another Amazon reviewer:
According to public records, Nate made $225,000 in 2014 and $271,000 in 2016
I retract my earlier "not rich enough to eat" statement. Bring on the artisanal barbecue sauce and authentic hand-forged cutlery.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 2:12 AM on March 27 [3 favorites]


And we're gonna need some hand forged egg spoons for the eyeballs. Check their kitchen.
posted by flabdablet at 4:57 AM on March 27 [4 favorites]


They take $271,000 in donor funds from a charity while considering themselves "retired?" That's not frugal living, that's embezzlement. I take back any nice thought I ever had about them.
posted by miyabo at 8:17 PM on March 28 [4 favorites]


« Older At 4am, the glamour of cowboy life loses some of...   |   “...it’s not really about shooting people at all.” Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments