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Book Review: Meet the Frugalwoods

Meet the Frugalwoods: Achieving Financial Independence Through Simple Living tells the story of Liz Thames and her husband Nate’s journey to escape the conventional urban professional life and lead a life of meaning rather than trading their time to buy more things.

The story follows the pair through college, the purchase of their first house, cutting costs, learning to save more, navigating investing, and, finally, the birth of their first child, and the purchase of their Vermont homestead.

A Fresh Take on Financial Independence

The idea of financial independence is not a new one —- there are a number of books, blogs, podcasts, and movies on the topic. (Check out the ChoosingFI podcast and Playing with Fire book. Yet this story stands out, not because of what the couple achieves (which is intriguing), but rather because of Liz’s accessible tone, recognition of their failures, and acknowledgement of their privilege. She notes their family history and the lessons and support her parents provided and discusses how that gave them a leg up in leading a financially independent life. Acknowledging those benefits is crucial to making the story more accessible and less patronizing.

Investment Strategy

The book explores their investment strategy, which includes a mix of retirement accounts, taxable investment accounts, and a cash emergency fund. Thames recommends using index funds, which are designed to track the growth of the stock market overall. That’s smart because they often are less costly than mutual funds, when it comes to fees.

You can read more about their approach to investing in this blog post of theirs from January 2020. Even the comments are interesting.

Those who’ve seen gold back in the headlines may wonder why it’s not listed in the blog post. The “barbarous relic” is often included in portfolios for diversification purposes. Bloomberg financial journalist Tracey Alloway recently noted on Twitter that “In the midst of the worst economic crisis in decades, a portfolio split evenly between stocks, bonds, cash and gold is up 18% over the past 90 days vs. a 7% historical annual average.”

Using Creativity to Get What You want

When most people think of being “frugal,” they think of being cheap, depriving themselves of the things they love. Many view the Financial Independence movement as living a life of denial now so they can enjoy life later. That is the exact opposite of Thames’ approach. Rather than depriving themselves, the pair learn to rely on creativity and making do to solve problems rather than throwing money at it.

For example, when it came time to fill their new town home, Thames hit Craigslist to find the perfect couch, dresser, and dining room table — most for under $100 and in great condition from people who were upgrading or trying to clear out their homes.

As they learned to cut back on things they didn’t actually need, the couple also focused on learning new skills that could save them money, such as replumbing their kitchen and cutting their own hair.

But Thames also tells how she makes the things that do matter to her more affordable. For example, she wasn’t willing to give up yoga classes, which helped her feel peaceful and stay in shape. Rather than continuing to shell out cash, she learned that she could work a few hours a month at the studio in exchange for free classes.

But the most intriguing part of their story is how they learn to want less. As incomes grow, it’s easy to think we deserve this latest gadget or that expensive home item. Thames explores how to reflect on the difference between wants and needs and how to enjoy life without eating takeout or spending money on things that bring no real value to life.

Should You Read Meet The Frugalwoods?

Meet the Frugalwoods is an intriguing read for anyone interested in spending less, saving more, and enjoying a life of simplicity, community, and purpose. It is worth noting that the family are pretty high earners, which might frustrate readers who are frugal by necessity rather than by choice.

However, if you are looking for a book about frugal living that goes beyond “stop buying lattes,” Meet the Frugalwoods is an inspiring story of tossing off the mantle of consumerism to live a more meaningful life.

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