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Meet a Reader | M from the PNW

Guys, you are in for a visual treat today because M sent in some seriously lovely photos! Here she is:

1. Tell us a little about yourself

I’m in my late 30’s; I grew up and have always lived in the Pacific Northwest.

My husband and I have been married for 20 years and have two school-aged kids. My husband works a pretty demanding job and I currently am a homemaker/stay-at-home mom, and do some freelancing in my spare time.

I would consider myself a lifelong learner, and I am always willing to teach myself something new. Being open to learning to do something yourself can be very helpful to living a more frugal life. 

spider web.

2. How long have you been reading The Frugal Girl? 

I can’t remember how I discovered your blog, some random Google search led me here and I subscribed to your RSS feed. It’s been many years, though I comment very infrequently. 

3. How did you get interested in saving money?

We got married very young (high-school sweethearts) and when we were both working we made some poor financial decisions. Luckily, not poor enough to wreck our lives, but basically we lived paycheck to paycheck—our philosophy was “As long as the bills are paid, spend it all.”

We didn’t even really vacation; it was mostly frequent eating out and retail spending. It’s amazing how much “little splurges” add up.

mushrooms.

When my husband finished his apprenticeship program we wanted to start a family and so we had to make some real changes to the way we were living to survive on one income.

I’m thankful we had to learn how to cut back—how ridiculous was it to have dual full-time incomes/no kids and not save a cent?! I kick my past self but at least our young dumb stage didn’t last too long.

And as hindsight is so clear, I’m sure there is something I do today I’ll look back and wonder WHY!? Ha. 

4. What’s the “why” behind your money-saving efforts?

I want to be able to enjoy this time with our kids while they’re young, and yet still be able to save for our future. It’s such a balancing act because I want to do it all!

And we can’t—we can’t upgrade to a larger home and pay our mortgage off early and contribute more to retirement, especially since a priority is to be able to travel and have adventures while we’re all young and in good health, and while the kids want to spend this time with us.

Lake Louise.

Lake Louise in Banff, Canada

So we just allocate and try to balance all our needs and wants. 

5. What’s your best frugal win?

Learning how to cook well has saved us a significant amount of money, and made us healthier.

When I started my adult life I knew how to make spaghetti, grilled cheese, Kraft Mac and cheese, cold cereal… a restaurant sure sounds good when those are your meal options, haha. Over the years I’ve become a good home cook.

pecan pie.

Mostly anything I (or my family) want to eat I can make from scratch. I very much enjoy baking, and anytime there is an opportunity I’m trying something new in the kitchen.

curved cucumber.

Amusing Free Produce

Living within walking distance of our city library is another win. Not intentional, in fact when we purchased the house the library was in a different location miles away, but it’s been a huge boon for our family since it moved locations.

Also, thrifting—I very rarely buy new, it’s normally secondhand. I used to garage sale quite a bit for my kids’ toddler and preschool clothes but as they’ve gotten bigger and pickier I have better luck finding what they’ll wear in their size at the thrift store. (And better luck for us adults too.)

I’m super picky, I don’t mind taking my time, and shopping with their preferences in mind because I don’t want them to think ugh, used clothes! I want it to be what they want to wear within our budget!

thrift store sign that says,

A plea from the thrift store

My most recent thrifting score was a down coat I needed for my younger child for a backpacking trip. I went in thinking, last chance, I’ll have to buy one on eBay if I can’t find it today. And there it was, exactly what I was looking for! 

Sorry, that was three frugal wins.

6. What’s a dumb money mistake you’ve made?

Financing a fun car we didn’t need was an obvious dumb move in hindsight.

We did learn a lesson from that though: we prefer to save up and buy the car we need in cash. And neither of us is comfortable carrying debt beyond the mortgage. 

sunset in Idaho.

Sunset in Idaho

A dumb money mistake that ended up working out was buying our house, maybe we call it a risk we would never take now.

Honestly, we were very young and too financially unsavvy to realize it was a huge risk at the time. We took out an 80/20 adjustable rate, interest-only mortgage in 2005 to buy a house at the very top of our budget.

mushroom.

It was during the run-up to the housing bubble and we were definitely panic shopping as we had been looking for a starter home for a year and the cost had gone up probably 50% on average in that time.

We refinanced both loans into a single standard mortgage just because the rate was going to adjust and it was incredibly fortunate timing because the market crashed shortly afterwards and we were underwater for years. 

wildflowers.

Alpine Wildflowers

What seemed like a poor decision for years—while we were stuck and paying a mortgage on more than the house was worth—now seems like a risk that paid off.

Housing prices have gone absolutely bananas the last few years where we live and we have less than 10 years left on our mortgage with a payment that’s less than rent for a studio apartment here. (We did refinance again to a shorter term if you’re wondering how the math works on that).

Originally I imagined we would be able to upgrade to a “grown-up house” at some point, but with the prices being what they are we practice contentment here. 

7. What’s one thing you splurge on?

I think traveling, although we really do try to do it as frugally as possible.

A lot of our vacations are camping/backpacking out of our family sedan. If we go on a vacation where we’re staying somewhere I normally try to book a condo/airbnb with at least a kitchenette so we can cook most of our meals.

clouds on a mountain.

Backpacking, clouds rolling in

We’ve splurged quite a bit on quality (and compact) gear, it makes things safer, more comfortable, and fun. We’ve had such good times as a family hiking, kayaking, backpacking, climbing, skiing, and camping. And it builds grit and resilience in our kids. 

8. What’s one thing you aren’t remotely tempted to splurge on?

Coffee shops! I prefer to make coffee at home although we splurge a bit on beans and different ways of making coffee; Chemex or Aeropress when I want to be fancy, drip when I want it to be easy. What we’ve spent on that stuff is minuscule compared to the cost of getting coffee out regularly. 

Makeup. I have a skincare routine I follow, but I don’t wear much makeup. 

‘New’ clothes. I always try to find it secondhand or go without (if it was a want). 

Again… three things. Sorry!

9. If $1000 was dropped into your lap today, what would you do with it?

Some to the school fundraiser I just got an email about, and the rest to our high-yield savings account! Currently, we have a few home improvement projects and trips we’re saving for. 

10. What’s the easiest/hardest part of being frugal?

It is fairly easy for me to cut back on a lot of impulse spending when I am doing well on meal planning. There are so many fewer errands to run when you make a plan and stick with it—grocery store once a week, Costco every month or two. I try to buy what’s on my list and nothing else. 

I miss eating out! It’s just not in our budget. We will go out for the occasional date night, but eating out as a family is very rare and happens mostly when we’re on vacation without access to a kitchen/camp stove.

Those times always remind me why we can’t fit this into our budget on the regular!

sunset in the Grand Tetons.

Sunset in the Grand Tetons

Our kids will buy lunch sometimes when they are with friends, they get a weekly allowance and they have to make sure to spend within their means on these outings.

Sometimes I’m just so tired of cooking though and wish I could justify picking up takeout for dinner! 

11. Is there anything unique about frugal living in your area?

I’ve never lived anywhere else to compare! I’ve heard our thrifting scene is pretty good comparatively, and the “dress code” here is pretty casual. 

red mushroom.

Loved coming across this amanita muscaria

If you like hiking, biking, kayaking, etc., there are lots of outdoor activities to do for free or the cost of a parking permit.

lizard.

Central Oregon Lizard

There’s certainly plenty of free produce to collect where we live. Lots of people around here have pretty great gardens, but we don’t have a good space on our lot for more than a few little things. I like canning excess fruit.

jars of canned jam.

A few mornings spent with those invasive Himalayan blackberries can easily set you up with jam for a year. 

12. Did you ever receive any financial education in school or from your parents?

I learned how to write a check and balance a checkbook, was encouraged to buy a house as soon as possible, and took one year of accounting in high school, but other than that, really nothing! I hope to send our kids out into the world with more knowledge than we started with. 

13. Do you have any tips for frugal travel or vacations?

I answered a bit about how we frugal travel above, but sometimes when we are chatting with people about vacation they sound fairly appalled at what we consider to be a nice time.

I think perhaps everyone has to consider what they want out of a vacation and figure out how to achieve that within the budget they have.

barrel cactus.

barrel cactus

How often you vacation, for how long, to what destination, how many paid tours/activities you want to do, how much you want to eat out, quality of accommodations…these are all things that will dictate the price and need to be considered. Most of us can’t have it all!

river in Banff.

Banff, Canada

If you know credit cards are something you can be disciplined with (never carry a balance!!) earning points off your necessary purchases can help to cover your airline tickets. We’ve been able to cover all our recent plane tickets with the points we’d saved up.

____________

M, I love, love, love all the pictures you sent it. You have an eye for capturing the beauty of nature, and I love the way you notice things like little mushrooms or a beautiful spider web.

I have been to Banff before, but because I hail from the east coast, it was a long, long three-day drive to get there. I imagine your driving time to Banff is much shorter! We did the hike by Lake Louise in the summer, and I clearly remember that it was snowing up at the height of the hike.

Sometimes the “You can’t have it all” philosophy is framed in a negative way, but I like that you are using it in a realistic way, not a defeatist way. It is true that we all have to make choices, and radically accepting that fact frees us to make prioritization decisions.

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