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Why am I Writing a Frugalwoods Book Review?
“Through frugality, Nate and I elevated our baseline to a permanent state of contentment.”
Up to this point, I’ve reviewed no books on MSoLife. There are several reasons for this, but mostly I wasn’t compelled to write book reviews and I wasn’t aware of any new exciting titles coming out.
However, this all changed as soon as I saw Liz Willard Thames’ announcement for “Meet the Frugalwoods” (“Frugalwoods”) back in October 2017.
You see, I love the Frugalwoods blog. What makes the Frugalwoods story unique, to me, is the fantastic way that they’ve combined frugality and thrift with proactive DIY-ism (is that a word?) and used these tools to create an amazing life on their rural Vermont homestead.
I ordered the book as soon as it was available on Amazon and read it from cover to cover in less than two days.
Let’s start with the cover. I know we’re not meant to judge books by their covers but who are we kidding, we all do it.
The cover art is brilliant and exudes much of the warmth found in the book. It features the Frugalwoods family (sans their latest arrival), juxtaposing both the urban setting that birthed their desire for a life in the country and the rural environment in which they’ve set up their post-FI life.
“Rather than work jobs we don’t enjoy in order to afford hits of consumerism to sooth the discontent we feel over working those jobs, we stepped out of that loop entirely.”
What’s inside the cover is, in short, excellent and a must-read.
What “Frugalwoods” Isn’t
It’s not a quick list of frugality hacks. In comparison to what this book is, that seems almost vulgar.
Neither is it a trove of brand-new information. Liz writes about most of the frugal tricks and tips she uses on her blog. Financial independence isn’t “rocket surgery,” it’s achieved through the steadfast application of basic core principles.
Why, then, should you read this book?
What “Frugalwoods” Is
This is a book that gives you an intimate look into the lives of two sharp but otherwise ordinary people who achieved something extraordinary.
Whereas the blog mostly describes the highs of their journey to financial independence, you get the full picture including the not-so-pleasant lows in “Frugalwoods.”
This fuller picture is useful because it’s easy to forget in our own stories that life doesn’t always go according to plan. Liz and Nate’s story reminds you to persevere, embrace the suck (my words, not theirs), and find another angle to achieve your goals.
Liz is a gifted writer. Her descriptions of some of the absurdities found in modern consumer culture are enlightening and comical. As you read the story, you feel like you’re sat in their living room (naturally, on furniture that was found or bought at a deep discount!) and experiencing the journey alongside them.
Liz eloquently expresses an idea I’ve had for years. Frugality breaks down the sick programming that our consumption-focused society has foisted on us most of our lives. We don’t need to spend money to feel a sense of belonging or live a fulfilling life.
“I was a double agent who’d figured out that our consumer culture had co-opted our need for community, for safety, and for love, and packaged it up as something to be bought”.
For those of you who are already familiar with the Frugalwoods, much of what follows won’t surprise you. However, if you have no idea who they are (or you want to know more about what’s in this book), here are some tasty crumbs to entice you to buy the book.
Liz grew up in the St. Louis area and attended college in Kansas. In part due to a small spat with the then non-committal Nate, another Midwesterner, Liz decided to take a job in New York City.
Liz’s first job as a fundraiser at Americorp paid her a $10,000 per year stipend. She managed to save a decent percentage of that small income, which is incredible. Her description of the bewilderment felt by everyone on their first walk through Grand Central Station is bang-on. The flash of Rolex-clad investment bankers surrounding her clashed with her 50-year old real estate agent attire. She lived in a sketchy unsafe neighborhood but managed to pull through unscathed and full of gratitude that the situation was temporary for her.
“…when you’re paying off a car loan or other debt with interest, your money is compounding in your creditor’s favor. When you instead invest money in low-fee index funds, for example, your money is working for you and compounds in your favor.”
Living in Crown Heights while working as a fund raiser trying to extract donations from the 1% of the 1%, Liz saw extreme ends of the wealth spectrum. She lived in a food desert where she had to babysit her laundry lest it got ganked, soaking wet, from her coin operated dryer but spent considerable time around people with designer wallpaper and genuine Picassos in their opulent “beach cabins” in Martha’s Vineyard.
Liz lived off of canned tuna, black beans, peanut butter, and pasta as well as all the office party pizza she could stuff into a one-gallon Ziplock bag. Despite her difficulties at the time, she saw that extreme wealth didn’t seem to make wealthy people happy. In fact, a lot of them define themselves through their wealth.
During this period of her life, Liz had a mini-freakout and realized she wasn’t fulfilled by her job or her lifestyle. A couple of years later, during an earnest coffeeshop conversation with Nate, the Frugalwoods were born.
Liz is a typical Type A that has to think through every single potential outcome and plan for it. Nate is more laid back and easy-going with the confidence of someone who is sure of themselves and that everything will work out. The pair complements each other well, and this is obvious in the book.
Once Liz and Nate made the transition from naturally thrifty to full-on Frugalwoods, they made several lifestyle changes that drastically increased their capacity to save. Using the techniques below, they took their already-high 50% savings rate and hit the 80%+ savings rate that is a mathematical prerequisite for very early retirement.
You’d think that having a baby would crush your ability to save a lot of money, but you’d be wrong. Ever resourceful, the Frugalwoods spent next-to-nothing getting ready for their first child to arrive.
“Baby things are like Christmas trees: when it’s in season, you really want it, but once that season is over, you want it out of your house like yesterday.”
Liz goes into great detail about their hunt for the perfect property in which to potentially spend the rest of their lives.
“….speaking with a previous owner of a home, but not the person trying to sell it to you, is a fabulous way to garner high-quality, unbiased, unvarnished advice.”
27 Frugal Tips You Won’t Believe, Financial Advisors Hate Them, This One Thing Will Make You Rich and Other Clickbaity Headlines
I won’t give all the Frugalwoods secrets away, but here are some to convince you (if you still need convincing) to get their book RIGHT NOW.
- go to real estate open houses as a form of free entertainment that makes you understand your local real estate market extremely well
- stop paying people to do things you can do yourself: haircuts, plumbing, house repairs and refurbishing
- eliminate your expenses to only what’s necessary and what you love
- find ways to get what you love for free or at a discounted rate (example: Liz loved yoga and got free yoga classes by working part-time at her local yoga studio)
- instead of buying expensive CO2 refills for a SodaStream (another must-have of theirs), rig the machine up to a 20-pound CO2 canister
- don’t wear makeup (I have a new appreciation for what a brutal practice this is for women after reading Liz’s words)
- never buy furniture or cars new
I’m a fan of this book. “Frugalwoods” reinforces many of the beliefs that put me on my path to financial independence and is beautifully written. I also want to live in a rural setting one day, and this book reminds me why I want to pursue this achievable goal.
“Meet the Frugalwoods” puts you into an uber-frugal mindset and opens up your mind to create other ways to stop wasting money and the most valuable commodity of all, time.
The book is a quick, easy read and should be next on your reading list!