January 23rd, 2020


meet the frugalwoods

a woman at my book club recommended this memoir of a young woman struggles for financial independence: meet the frugalwoods. I enjoyed it. Good quick read with a healthy balance of philosophizing, admitting privilege, ideas to save money and told chronologically, as a story.

The author graduates college, nearly starves, but eventually has a decent career in non-profit fundraising that she absolutely hates. she and her husband have always been very thrifty people, but they had some slumps into materialism that they recognize as "not fulfilling". they eventually realize that what they really want is to quit their jobs and live in the woods, just hiking and gardening every day. they have high incomes, spend a few years on a strict "buy nothing" diet that includes things like cutting each other's hair, dumpster diving for baby gear, offering to clean up the yoga studio in exchange for free classes, or quitting the gym altogether to just bike to work. but they still buy wine. cool with me.

along the way they learn some things that I agree with - buying stuff doesn't make you happy. it is fun to try and score free/cheap used items when you need them. limited selection means you relax more, accept and be grateful for what life brings you. they spend more time together working on projects and grow closer in their marriage.

rather than any complicated budget ratio system, they just try to spend as little as humanly possible on everything, track how much they spend and where and try to cut it all out, even shrinking food expenses to the minimum.

Every financial book you read is like a buffet, I figure. take what you like, leave behind what you don't. the things I don't like:

1: I'm pretty sure this double income, no-kid couple were earning a cubic shit ton of money. they were eventually storing away over 70% of their income in savings, right after having bought a $400,000 house in Cambridge. I can't throw too many rocks because I myself am "above average", but if you quadrupled my mortgage and took 70% of my income I would be NEGATIVE, not frugal. I find it much more interesting to read financial stories of "here's how we survived" than "here's how we could have been overrich assholes but opted out, praise us!"

As the great philosopher Tevye says in Fiddler on the Roof... money is the world's curse? may the Lord smite me with it! And may I never recover!

2: she figures out by the age of 23 that she hates her career and her degree was a mistake. she studied creative writing and political science with no obvious plan about what to ever do with those. she becomes a non-profit fundraiser, and hates it... but drags herself through it for ten years or something just to haul in money. besides being concerned for her poor coworkers, I couldn't help but wonder... isn't it easier to just find a job you like? I'm not going to say my career hasn't had some depressing points or less than satisfying times, but lots of days I go in feeling really excited about what I'm going to learn and who I'm going to talk to. I can't think of doing anything else 40 hours a week.

now she is a blogger and her husband does some kind of telecommuting thinktank gig, but that means we don't have a story about how to do money, we have a story about how to become a professional blogger. which is interesting. but different.

I just think it's weird to look at a young person and say hey, if you don't like your job it's cool. just tough it out and save money and look forward to quitting. there's a lot that can go wrong with that plan. I like career advice books better. figure out what you love, what you're good at, and how it can feed the needs of the world, and work hard, and have a good life whether you retire or not.

anyway I won't hold all this against them, the bestselling book deserves to be a bestseller and I like how the story is told. nothing is a one-size-fits-all solution. they add a healthy amount of disclaimers... admitting privilege, admitting their plan isn't for everyone, but here it is, maybe it will help.