I am definitely known within my own family as the frugal one. Sometimes I will bring down the hammer on tightening things up for a better future, only to have the frugality slowly loosen up again over time. Holly has called me the “fun police” before when I put the kibosh on something fun sounding or a luxury but expensive.
I cut my own hair and that of my son. Most of my clothes are several years old and I maybe do one or two minor wardrobe refreshers every year for a couple hundred bucks total. Our home gym is now fully furnished after a few years of adding to it (no membership fees anymore), and anything else I would want there (like a big ass tractor tire or a homemade prowler to push) can be had for free or made with relatively minimal cost. I have a working road bike from my triathlon days and all that I could really want. My free time is filled with fun family activities, working out, hiking, reading and writing, and because of that, I may be the most difficult person to shop for. If it were up to me, or if I were a bachelor, my life would be even more spartan and with less things and clutter.
Now my wife, on the other hand, enjoys shopping and has a vision for our house or yard or wardrobe. While I’m content with a minimalist approach and functionality over looks, she has a grand vision for nicer end tables, matching dressers, $175 purses and a private, well screened and nicely landscaped yard (hard to argue over the last one). This isn’t to say that she is some big-time spender wasting money left and right on keeping up with the neighbors, but it is several steps lower than my frugal level. I am thankful that she would rather treasure hunt at the local thrift store than at the fancy department store, but we don’t see eye to eye on the number of purses, shoes or outfits one really needs. With all that said, the more I look around at other families and wives, it is plain that we are the exception in that we both make above the average household income in the U.S. and roughly the same salary in professional fields. Because of that, I am flexible to a large degree of what she spends money on since she too brings much to the table and she uses this as mental health boost. And overall, we’re on the same page. Trying to save enough to retire early. Buying and owning cars until they start to break down. Cutting cable together. Doing house and yardwork ourselves. And as tonight proved once again, the kids don’t need expensive things to find happiness and enjoyment either. Backyard soccer with the kids is a big hit right now, and Birdsnest (8) spent 45 minutes playing with a piece of string (she called it her chinese jumprope and did all sorts of tricks). The problem is I still see way too much clutter and way too much “stuff” coming into the house on a regular basis and it drives me a little batty. She knows how I feel about this and she reads this blog, so it’s not a big secret.
We’re roughly close to 20% savings (gross income) right now, have a half-way decent nut at our age (38), but I can’t help but think we could be doing so much more. Financial Samurai had this article about the Average Net Worth of the Above Average Person. Now Financial Samurai owner/author Sam comes under a fair amount of criticism for making it seem impossible for regular people to reach these admittedly ambitious levels (and I’m as regular as you can get – I’m still paying off student loans and came from a lower-mid class family), but I’ve come to think that for those savers, strivers and dreamers, he’s not that far off. By the way, we aren’t close to his net worth numbers as individuals but are at least creeping our way into the conversation as a family. If we had made better decisions younger, took on less consumer debt, purchased less vehicle as younger adults, were more frugal and so forth, I think we’d be a lot closer. But that is the direction I want to lead my family, but need to get my wife more on board.
She asked about consulting with one of her banker friends to see what else we could be doing to reach our financial goals. I can tell her right now, the main answer is for both (I’m not without my own frivolousness and thoughtless spending) of us to be more frugal and to embrace the abundance we already have, living an even more frugal life. Mr. Money Mustache had a good article about selling the dream of frugality to a reluctant spouse (and Part 2 of the article series). I have recently become a big fan of Mr. Money Mustache and his forum after being a Boglehead for years already (indexing and passive investing vs. actively managed funds).
Big picture, my wife is great and brings so much to the table in our family. We’re lucky to be fully on the same page on overall goals, family and life, but it’s just dialing it in a little more (for both of us) while striving for her to understand that her life happiness won’t be sacrificed very much if she didn’t have that new “thing” or that brand new minivan she’s had her eye on.
I did a big picture budget breakdown today and there weren’t any glaring dysfunction, but a lot of little holes that were draining hundreds of dollars a month of mostly unnecessary things. The bigger ones included gifts (birthday, Mothers/Fathers/arbor/Valentines – days, Christmas, baby showers, friends of kids b-days, etc.), a higher food expenditure than it should be, more clothing than was likely necessary and purchase of things that weren’t really used that long or had limited utility. Again, tightening up more than a glaring shop-a-holic syndrome, and I own some of that blame as well.
PBS was recently running running a documentary called Mister Rogers & Me about Fred Rogers, that I happened to catch. It was great, and a couple of the quotes Mr. Rogers said really struck me as the core to keeping things in perspective in this modern consumer world:
- “Deep and simple is far more essential than shallow and complex”
- “Human life is very deep and our modern lifestyle is not”
- “Simple is not the same as easy. Simple is often very difficult. Simple is right.”
A reminder to all to celebrate simplicity and hopefully you too can live a happy and fulfilling life while being frugal at the same time. Mr. Money Mustache has done it. J.D. Roth at Get Rich Slowly has done it. The AMD family is trying to do it it too to some degree (we’ll never be as frugal as some of those people, but we’ll do the best we can).
Being financially independent to pursue the life and dreams we want without being tied down to debt and obligations is critically dependent on saving and frugality, but we can still have fun while doing it. Frugality is not as exciting as having a “side hustle” or entrepreneurship (which aren’t mutually independent by the way. Billionaire Warren Buffet has been frugal his entire life), but it’s the meat and potatoes of creating wealth over the long term, and certainly shouldn’t be a large detriment to being happy and enjoying life. We live in the wealthiest nation in the world with many free parks, activities, bike paths and social programs. By all accounts nearly all of us in the top few percentage of wealthiest on the entire planet (check out the Global Rich List to see how you rank worldwide).
We should all look to celebrate more what we have and not what we don’t, and stop comparing ourselves to what we see on TV or across the street.
-Peace, health and abundance to all of you from the Average Married Dad.