EDITOR’S NOTE: As a personal finance reporter, I meet all kinds of people with all kinds of money problems — and a few with fascinating solutions. “Mrs. Frugalwoods” and her husband write an anonymous blog at Frugalwoods.com. They live up to their nicknames as extreme frugalists in Cambridge, Mass., who are saving up to move to rural Vermont. I asked for their weirdest frugal habits, in their own words…
Mr. Frugalwoods and I are extreme frugal weirdos. We’ve created a hilarious life outside the mainstream and profited from it greatly. By avoiding consumer culture and seeking the frugal path in all things, we save 65 percent of our income and plan to retire to a homestead in the woods at age 33. Not exactly your typical tale of working for the man for 40 years and succumbing to ever-increasing levels of lifestyle inflation and debt.
How do we do it? We don’t see money the same way that you do. Every dollar we spend is a debit against our future. When you think about money through that lens, you only spend on things that are truly meaningful and add value to your life.
While there are obviously arenas where we have to expend resources (I’m looking at you, groceries and healthcare), we’ve found that most things people think they have to spend money on are either unnecessary, or can be found for free.
1. I didn’t buy any clothes in 2014
And by no clothes, I mean not a scrap. OK, true confessions: I bought a hot pink belt for 50 cents at a garage sale. But other than that small slip-up, nothing.
Sure, most of my clothes were purchased from thrift and consignment stores to begin with, but they still cost cash. I realized that every frugal tip in the world isn’t going to save as much money as simply not buying anything.
2. Mr. FW bikes to work all winter — in Boston
Despite sub-zero temperatures accompanied by snow, sleet, and ice, Mr. Frugalwoods commutes by bike year-round. The money this saves us in gas and public transit passes is substantial. Nothing beats a free mode of transit.
Added bonus: Since he routinely shows up at the office with icicles in his beard, I’m pretty sure his coworkers think he’s some sort of fearsome Visigoth raider rising out of the mist. Or they just think he’s insane. Either could work to his advantage.
3. We built a franken-seltzer machine
Mr. Frugalwoods hacked our standard Sodastream to hook-up a 20-pound CO2 tank, which yields a savings of $461.40 per year over the cost of Sodastream canisters. Not many people have a 20-pound CO2 tank in their kitchen, but I tell you what, it makes some awesomely thrifty seltzer.
A key component of the Frugalwoods style is spending on the things that we dearly enjoy in life. We don’t believe in depriving ourselves of every creature comfort, and for us, seltzer is the nectar of the gods. We don’t drink anything else (other than coffee, tea, and the occasional beer/wine) and so we reap great savings over buying soda, canned seltzer or Sodastream canisters.
4. We eat the same thing for breakfast every single day
Cheap, healthy, and easy to make, our 10-cents-per-serving rolled oats are the ultimate frugal meal. By optimizing our breakfasts, we have more latitude in other parts of our grocery budget. Breakfast is by its very nature a simple meal, which makes it an easy target for implementing ultra-frugal tactics.
Take a close look at your grocery budget. Breakfast just might be a thief in the night, running away with your dollars and tossing you overpriced yogurt and bagels in return. By frugalizing our breakfasts, we’re saving $913.44 per year vs. our previously conventional, non-frugal breakfasts.
5. We often look down and realize our outfits were pulled from the trash
This happens more often than you might expect. My supremely warm down-filled coat was found in a trash pile, as was Mr. FW’s favorite dress shirt and a passel of other fabulous clothes finds. Pulling furniture, clothes, kitchen utensils, and the occasional art object out of the trash is standard Frugalwoods fare. After all, why pay for a fondue pot when you can find one in your neighbor’s refuse for free?
6. We bought our dog a heating pad so we can keep the thermostat at 58
Frugal Hound loves basking atop her hound-heating pad, which is nestled into her doggie bed. The electricity required to power this little pad is vastly cheaper than heating our entire house above 58 degrees. Since Frugal Hound is an epic all-day snoozer, she’s toasty warm while we’re away at work in the daytime (and at night while we all sleep).
7. The cheapest, thinnest toilet paper on the market is good enough for us
Costco TP for the win! People, it does the same job as the stuff that’s twice the price. Ask yourself: Do you really want your money going towards something you’re literally flushing down the sewer?
Speaking of the sewer, if the financial incentive isn’t enough for ya, we learned the hard way that thick, fluffy TP can actually clog your sewer line. That wasn’t a fun discovery for us to make on New Year’s Day 2013, right as guests were arriving at our home. Suffice it to say, we now go with thin TP and prosper.
8. We haven’t been to a movie theater in six years
Basically, if something has a ticket price, we don’t go. The sheer quantity of free entertainment available to us here in the city is more than we could ever hope to consume. And the idea of paying for entertainment is essentially anathema to our philosophy.
Instead, we enjoy free opportunities as they present themselves. We’ve been to free plays, musicals, art museums, festivals, lectures, and more! Otherwise, we occupy ourselves with free hobbies: hiking, walking, coffee dates at home, yoga, reading, and writing.
9. We brush Frugal Hound’s fangs
Every week, Mr. Frugalwoods and I don latex gloves and bust out the hound toothbrush and hound toothpaste. Frugal Hound is not a fan of this ritual, but her healthy teeth are reward enough. In addition to brushing her teeth, we trim her claws, bathe, groom, and otherwise care for her entirely ourselves, save her annual trip to the vet.
We intentionally adopted a frugal breed of dog to begin with: a rescued former racing greyhound. Not only are they inexpensive to adopt, rescue greyhounds are notoriously lazy and perfectly happy to spend all day home alone lounging while the humans are at work. Hence, we have no need for doggie day care or a dog walker. Having Frugal Hound in our family is important to us and she’s another example of how we live well, yet spend far less than the average American.
10. We became quasi-vegans
While we do still consume the occasional meat or dairy item for special occasions or if it’s on super-sale, we’ve eliminated these pricier protein sources from our diets on a regular basis. We prefer to spend money on quality fruits and vegetables, and our dollars stretch a lot farther in the produce aisle than at the meat counter.
Our sub-$330 monthly grocery bill for the two of us is testament to our frugal yet healthy approach to food. We buy mostly fresh, raw ingredients and cook everything from scratch. Since we never eat out, economizing our grocery purchases and eliminating food waste are critical elements of our monthly savings rate.
11. We bought a used mattress from Craigslist
Yep, I’m sure you’re not surprised to hear that we bucked the pervasive advice to never buy a used mattress. And you know what? It’s perfectly fine. We sourced it quite carefully — purchased from a home in one of the wealthiest suburbs of Boston — and it’s been our guest bed ever since.
Almost every stick of our furniture (yes the couch included) traces its origins to the magical world of Craigslist. New furniture is basically a scam. You’ll never recoup the cost, and it’s terribly overpriced, and, you can actually buy higher-quality items used for a fraction of the price. Similar to cars and clothing, furniture depreciates immediately and should be purchased used if at all possible.
There’s a frugal approach for just about everything in life. Once you tap into your inner frugal weirdo, you’ll be amazed at how little money you actually need to spend. I encourage you to free yourself from the constraints of consumerism, ignore the Joneses, and frugal it up!
What’s the most extreme thing you’ve done in the name of frugality? Do you think we’re weird? We’re OK with that.
Mrs. Frugalwoods blogs at www.frugalwoods.com about her journey towards financial independence and a rural homestead, which she hopes to reach in three years at the ripe ol’ age of 33. Until then, she documents adventures in frugal city living in Cambridge, MA with her husband, Mr. Frugalwoods, and their greyhound, Frugal Hound.