Earn more or save more…do we have to choose?

by Kristen on April 11, 2012 · 60 comments

in Simplicity

One of the criticisms often leveled at frugality is that it’s better to spend time earning money instead of saving it….that it makes more sense to work another hour than to spend an hour saving money on the grocery bill.

And the frugal community is usually pretty indignant about this…we don’t like the idea that working is a wiser choice than hanging laundry out or making detergent.

I’ve been pondering all of this lately, and I’ve come to the conclusion that this is a false dichotomy, and that choosing one over the other isn’t particularly wise.

I think that both are important.

Cutting expenses can only get you so far when you’re living on a meager income…you can cut back on a lot of things, but the fact of the matter is that you do have to eat and wear clothes and have some sort of dwelling place.

If you’ve been living a lavish lifestyle and then switch to a frugal lifestyle, you’ll have all sorts of expenses to trim. But at some point, even the most frugal among us start to run out of things to cut.

Frugality is great, but it’s got limits.

On the other hand, earning more money and more money and more money won’t get you ahead if you haven’t got any idea how to hang on to what you’re earning. There are a lot of people whose salaries are far bigger than Mr. FG’s and mine but who aren’t at all in a better financial place.

If you can’t manage to live on less than you earn when you’ve got a medium-sized salary, odds are very good than you won’t be living on less than you earn no matter how large your paycheck.

So, my thought is that a marriage of these two strategies is really where it’s at.

If you can increase your income while still maintaining at somewhat frugal lifestyle, you’ll be in much better shape than someone who relies on frugality alone or someone who relies on income increases alone.

For a lot of our married years (up until Zoe was born, actually), Mr. FG worked a manual labor kind of job, so his pay wasn’t particularly high. Living within our means required some pretty serious dedication to frugal, simple living, but we did manage to live debt-free, put some money in savings, and we even squeezed in annual trips to the beach.

Mr. FG hated the type of work he was doing, though, so he took some classes, got some certifications, and made the switch to an IT job. That’s a better-paying field, so our income has gone up even though he’s working the same number of hours.

For the most part, though, we’ve kept our standard of living fairly close to what it was before. We do spend a little more on some things now, like our takeout date night and local food, and we’re able to give more generously to other people and organizations, but our expenses haven’t increased at the same rate as our income.

This means that we’re in a place where we can do a much better job of saving money for future expenses like medical bills, car repair bills, car replacement (We use ING for these targeted savings accounts.) If we weren’t still embracing a lot of our frugal habits, though, I think we could easily spend all of our income, and we’d be no better off than we were before.

All that said, I do think that it’s important to be wise about the frugal activities we invest our time into, and I’ll talk more about that in an upcoming post.

Now, I’m really curious to hear what you all think about the topic of today’s post, so please do share your thoughts about the earn more/save more dilemma.

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Today’s 365 post: Handing off the reins

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{ 60 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Alison April 11, 2012 at 7:18 am

I agree with your conclusions. We have had little or no income at times, and although being frugal was an obvious choice, we still had to figure out ways to bring in more money. Balance is the key and we all need to balance our earning/saving plans individually.

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2 Lucinda April 11, 2012 at 7:31 am

You make some very good points. The motto around our house is we could work more or spend less. To that end, many of the buying choices we make not only are based on money but also on how much time that purchase will eat up. Many gadgets and whatnot require time in terms of updates, upkeep, etc. Same with our frugal choices. I could make my own detergent or yogurt or grow my own vegetables and those would save me money. But the amount of time they require, especially considering certain variables in our home, outweigh the cost benefit for us. So you have to individualize how you choose to be frugal to what works for your family (a point you consistently make which I appreciate).

Yes, there are limits to frugality but there are also limits to how much time you can work so balance truly is the key.

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3 WilliamB April 11, 2012 at 11:28 am

I found, to my surprise, that making laundry detergent was *quick.* About 5 minutes from water boiling to end of process; even less if you make powdered detergent. That’s definitely less time than I spent, coupons in hand, figuring out which detergent was less expensive.

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4 Gwen April 11, 2012 at 12:08 pm

+1

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5 Lauren B April 11, 2012 at 7:49 am

I agree FG! At some points growing up my parents brought home far more than average, but they blew the money carelessly and now that the economy has been in the shape it’s in for a few years, and their income is a fraction of what it was, they’re having a hard time making ends meet and I have thousands of debt in student loans. I don’t thInk there is anything wrong with helping pay for my own education, but I’m just making a point that they didn’t handle and save money effectively in the past when it was far more abundant. I love reading your blog with your refreshing, non-materialistic, etc blog!

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6 Stephanie April 11, 2012 at 7:49 am

So true, my husband and I have had a similar conversation many times. We learned to be very careful with our money, which proved to be beneficial, when his income didn’t go up for almost 3 years in a row and we had 2 more kids to our family. Now with a slightly higher income we are able to save more money instead of livng a “bigger” lifestyle.

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7 Valeri April 11, 2012 at 7:51 am

For my household, we have to spend less. After I lost my job our income went down drastically. We have a four member house, so feeding and just meeting basic needs had to be moved to the top spot. It has been an amazing journey learning all of this, and in the end, when I do find another job I will keep at it, so next time we won’t have to stress out as much. The time I have gained with my daughter has been priceless and I now know that when she is older and has her own family, she will be ahead of the game.

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8 Juliette April 11, 2012 at 7:56 am

I guess that means my husband and I are a good balance. I am always looking for ways to save money and cut back on expenses and he is always looking for ways to earn more money. Both have value. The main thing though is what you mentioned about spending habits. It doesn’t matter how little or how much you make if you don’t know how to live within your means.

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9 Lauren B April 11, 2012 at 7:57 am

That last word should have been mentality* not blog.

Also, people who say making homemade laundry detergent takes too long, maybe have never attempted at it. Not picking on one particular comment, as Ive seen this several times in frugal blogs. My first time making a 5 gallon bucket nearly 8 months ago, it took me 30 minutes from the time I pulled the supplies out, melted soap etc on the stove, did all of the 4 ingredient mix ins, and cleaned up what little mess I made and it STILL is lasting me.

Give homemade laundry detergent a shot I say! It requires 4 ingredients, 1 of them being water and takes 30 mins from start to clean up! :)

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10 WilliamB April 11, 2012 at 11:31 am

What’s your process? The liquid detergent recipe I use takes 5 min. Short version: grate half a bar of hand soap, dissolve in hot water. Add borax and washing soda, stir. Add cold water, stir. Add hot water, stir. A more thorough stirring (seems to?) lead to a more gelled product. Clean up is one grater, one measuring cup, one whisk.

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11 Terri S. April 11, 2012 at 8:16 am

We balance pretty well here. My husband will work and do whatever it takes to make sure we are comfortable. I also, being at home will do whatever..hanging laundry, cooking at home, etc. We keep in mind, that although the higher income is nice, it could change at anytime due to economy, sickness etc.

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12 Annie April 11, 2012 at 8:19 am

We have been on both ends of the specturm with regards to living above and below our means. In 2007 my husband and I resolved to go debt free and leave a different legacy for our children. I was raised in a pretty affluent neighborhood in Florida and my husband grew up dirt poor in West Virginia. We both ended up viewing money, spending and saving (or lack thereof) through the lens of “if we die with a penny in the bank we have miss managed our money”. Now, fast forward 5 years, and we are much more content with what we have and at peace with what we don’t. We still enjoy family activities, buy big ticket items that we really want rather than skimp on quality, but we are more careful and thoughful with how we spend our (the Lords) money and how we invest our time. I will echo what other commenters have said and agree that balance is truly the key. Our new view on money is a biblical one and we love the old Amish proverb, ” Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do with out. “

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13 Claudia April 11, 2012 at 8:32 am

Well said! Both are important. I am reminded, though, of Amy Dacyczyn’s conclusion that, because of taxes, a dollar saved (as in, not spent) is worth more than a dollar earned. This is not to say that one shouldn’t seek to earn more money, but just that taxes should factor into the equation in calculating work’s true earning potential.

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14 Emma April 11, 2012 at 9:00 am

Everything in moderation, even moderation.

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15 Candice April 11, 2012 at 9:06 am

I completely agree with this post! In the summer, my husband and I moved for my new job. He was without a job from August until mid-March. During that time, we lived on my income solely. Being frugal, we were fine. Now that he’s working again, we’re not increasing our expenditures. Instead, we’re saving his entire income. Such a good feeling!

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16 Katy @ Purposely Frugal April 11, 2012 at 9:22 am

I agree!!! But one of the benefits of frugality is that it doesn’t get taxed, like extra income. :) But you’re right, both in moderation is best!

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17 Cindy at The Christmas Plan April 11, 2012 at 9:30 am

Extremely well said. Reusing tin foil makes an overall difference, but if no money is coming in, there’s no way to pay the rent. I think so much of it has to do with figuring out your own personal tipping point — where earning extra money and the efforts required detracts from the lifestyle you’ve chosen for yourself and your family. It’s not, as you state, an either/or. More money, especially where it doesn’t mean compromising your values like family time, definitely provides more freedom and security.

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18 Danielle Murray April 11, 2012 at 9:35 am

I must concur. It reminds me of a friend’s words to my husband that good relationships (especially marital ones) are a balance between presence and provision. In order to be present with our families we have to be willing to cut costs instead of taking on more jobs. All the money in the world means nothing if we have no one to share it with!

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19 Cassie April 11, 2012 at 9:36 am

When my husband and I were married, a sweet old man pulled us aside and gave us some sage advice. He told us to never get used to living on over-time income or a double income. I worked outside of the home until I had our first child. Before we were married our decision was for me to stay home with the children. Since we were saving my ‘extra’ income we didn’t feel the pinch when I stopped working. Sure, we don’t have the jet-ski’s and we don’t eat out very often, but we also don’t have credit card debt (priceless) and we have a nice home and all the things that we need. We are also teaching our children the value of work and the value of saving for things before buying them. This is a long way of saying, I agree.

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20 Cindy@Rhinebeck April 11, 2012 at 10:02 am

For me, there came a time when all the frugality in the world could no longer cut it. Everything (expenses) was cut down to the bone and any more cutbacks would have equaled living on a poverty level. So, yes, you do have to increase income while living frugally. The two work hand in hand. The secret, however, is NOT to increase your lifestyle along with the added income. That’s called ‘lifestyle inflation’.
I’m happy to say we finally have our expenses at a comfortable level. Our income covers our livable frugality and the excess is put into savings and retirement accounts. Are there times when I would just love to go out and spend money? You betcha. But, we don’t do it. Everything now is carefully planned out, thought about and re-thought about. Mindless spending is a thing of the past.

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21 Amanda April 11, 2012 at 10:13 am

I think for some frugal people it is not just about saving money, but also the lifestyle. I’m in the process of giving up my high-paying corporate job. I loved the job, but one reason I’m leaving is that life felt too complicated. We made plenty of to support our lifestyle (nanny, nice clothes, convenience foods), but my husband and I decided it just wasn’t for us. I don’t feel like we choose to save more over earn more. To us it is about choosing simplicity.

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22 Christin April 11, 2012 at 10:42 am

Yes, yes, yes! My husband and I both feel that it’s better to pray for wisdom regarding how to use the money you have than to just pray for more money. Being “broke” results from a pattern of behavior that will exist whether you get a raise or not.

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23 Kristin W. April 11, 2012 at 10:46 am

I love this topic and love your conclusions! My husband and I make good money but do not live or act like it. We have always kept our monthly expenses in budget with only one of our salaries and saved the other person’s salary. I coupon, I shop sales, we drive 2 1999 vehicles, we purchased a house 5 years ago way below what the bank said we could afford and we don’t buy something new unless the old one is wore out. Where has this gotten us, our house will be paid off in 16 months and we are only 34 with 2 kids. Just because you make more money does not mean you need to go out and spend it on material things. Each household needs to find a good balance between being frugal and making more money.

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24 Megyn @Minimalist Mommi April 11, 2012 at 10:47 am

It’s funny because I just wrote about something similar. We keep our expenses quite low. I actually went out and got a job for a number of reasons, but it actually turns out that it SAVES us money if I do the job sans pay. There’s this weird gap in the US. There are the “poor”, like us, who qualify for state assistance (we just use health insurance for the boys and WIC). Then there are those who can afford those added expenses of health insurance, extra groceries etc. But there’s this in between where you could work more and not be eligible for state health coverage, but also not be making enough to pay for your own health insurance. That’s exactly where we’d be if I took pay for my new job. It drives me insane that we are sort of kept down at the moment and I HAD to turn down a paying job, just because of health insurance. My story is here: http://minimalistmommi.com/the-system-is-screwed/583

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25 JoAnn April 11, 2012 at 11:23 am

Great post and much food for thought! I totally agree that there must be a balance achieved. We have lived on both ends of the spectrum – consumerism, spending, and high income to barely $0 dollars, no work/unemployment, and tons of criticisms. We have learned life skills that helped us balance our head and our heart. We developed strategies that worked well for us to utilize income ($$$ or $) for the best overall options of our household. We qucikly learned just how little one’s true “needs” could be reduced to – and still live an abundant life! Our experiences have certainly changed our lives and we are most grateful to have gone the journey.

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26 WilliamB April 11, 2012 at 11:43 am

What you described is a fine example of “diminishing marginal benefit.” Marginal benefit is the benefit you get from one more unit of whatever. Diminishing marginal benefit means that the more whatever you have, the less benefit you get from one more unit. So if you’re stinking rich, one more dollar doesn’t really make you much better off. But if you’re broke, that dollar can make a big difference.

Which is why my answer is “some of each for me, please.” Earning half a million dollars a year doesn’t make me happy because I’d have little time to enjoy it. OTOH I do need to eat and prefer to have a roof over my head. I found a job that pays me enough for my needs and a large component of my wants. Part of what makes this work is that I think about when I want to spend a lot of money and when I don’t. I pay someone to mow my lawn, I buy and spread mulch myself. I buy mostly local pastured meat butchered to my specs, and cheap toilet paper.

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27 Katy @ The Non-Consumer Advocate April 11, 2012 at 11:43 am

I totally agree. It’s when you put a focused effort into both saving and earning that frugality pays off. I had years when I scrimped and saved to save pennies, yet had nothing in savings. I now make more money and am able to loosen up the frugality a bit, but I have never let up on pulling in extra money from here, there and everywhere.

Much less anxiety producing.

Katy

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28 WilliamB April 11, 2012 at 11:44 am

I read an article recently about a married couple with a small child, both parents in economics grad school. Even so they went into debt to buy services (cleaning, prepared food) and hire a nanny so they could focus on what was important to them: spending time with their child (the nanny packed lunch and made breakfast) and studying and graduating well. Their theory was they’d earn a lot more later so it made sense to go into debt now. This made me uneasy. I am economically trained so I knew they were justified … on paper. But what if they couldn’t find jobs?

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29 Kristen April 11, 2012 at 4:11 pm

That would definitely make me nervous, especially in this economy. It seems like it might be a tad difficult to find two jobs that need economic majors right about now.

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30 Ellen April 11, 2012 at 11:58 am

When both my husband and I were working, we still always thought about and planned to live on just his income. We structured our expense plans, large purchases and saving according to that. Now that I am home with our little one, we are managing just fine on just his base income, not counting bonuses or raises (which go in the bank or for something big we may need to do like paint the house, etc.). And being home, I have found ways to save even more, with the goal of being able to increase what we save from his income. Its funny how much me ‘staying home’ has made us more efficient and effective from more home cooked meals and less convenience foods, to our clothes lasting longer because I can take more care and time to do the laundry right. All this has made us more self sufficient and has saved money. Then, we have our cushion of savings if we need it, some available, some socked away in CDs and investments, but our goal is never to tap into it if we don’t have to. Do all of what we need with his income – normal budget stuff and other non-budgeted purchases by carefully monitoring any excesses in his income from mileage and other extra cash that comes in.

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31 Felicia April 11, 2012 at 12:37 pm

This is something Mike and I strive do. When we first got married he started a new job straight out of college. We went from me making barely 19k a year to mid 40′s almost over night. We made a lot of mistakes that first year but we learned a lot also. And now 5 years later our income has almost doubled but we keep a realistic head on our shoulders. In four years living frugally, but still having fun, has led us to pay off all our credit card debt, my car, buy a house, rent another, purchase a new (dream) car for Mike and still tuck away a great bit of savings a month. We do nothing until money is into savings.

It helps that Mike is huge on working with in a budget. It has paid off.

Keeping the mindset that just because we make more money doesn’t mean we need to spend it like we are rich has really paid off.

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32 Joy April 11, 2012 at 1:11 pm

Absolutely! I believe we have to begin in the area where we can make the greatest difference. Eventually, we have to employ strategies in both areas to succeed, though.

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33 Jennifer April 11, 2012 at 1:21 pm

I too have been pondering this very topic of late. We have much more earning potential than is utilized in our family. I could make 6 times what I make right now with my education and experience. However what I save my family by cooking, gardening, canning, freezing, mending, making things and buying second had and just being frugal is huge. If I worked all the time I wouldn’t have time to do these things so I would pay more for things out of convienice, I would do very little gardening and food preservation and much less cooking. Not to mention our home would be much less happy (because these things bring me much joy and if Momma ain’t happy…well you know! ), much more rushed and less “homey”. My husband could also earn more but his job perks are so good that it would be almost stupid for us to give those up and he really enjoys his work. We make it work on a fraction of what most we know make. The great thing is, unlike most everyone we know, we have no debt and a decent amount of money in the bank. We are blessed.

“Enough is abundance to the wise.”
“ Euripides

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34 Ivy April 11, 2012 at 1:52 pm

I completely agree! My parents are immigrants from the PI. My Mom didn’t make much money by choice (she could have, but chose her kids, my sister and myself, over management positions). My dad was in the navy, so he made military pay. Coming from the PI, my parents appreciated all the U.S. had to offer, but knew hard work was the only way to survive here. Many of their friends felt wealthy with the american $, that they bought the nice cars and nice homes, while my parents stayed humble with their things. They are bargain hunters and coupon clippers. With that said, again with the little pay that my parents got, my sister and I finished college with no student loans, our cars payed for and a nice start on our own adult lives. My mom is comfortably retired with my dad soon to retire, their home paid off and 2 rental properties, and they still have money to help my kids open their 529 plans. As a gift to them, my parents contribute every month to my 3 girls investment accounts. In meeting with their investment advisor, he mentioned to my Mom that he was impressed that she has the money that she does being that she didn’t make much all the years she worked while a Dr. client of his is planning to retire with only $150k to his name. He told him there was NO WAY he can retire any time soon.

I myself became a stay at home mom when my second child was born. I have always been a frugal person (not like my parents though. I like things every now and then), but now on 1 income, it is hard, but well worth being with my kids. No job can pay enough to replace the time with my kids.

If one works an extra hour and still take another hour to save on grocery bills, I think that is they way to do it. A lot would like to make the money and quickly spend it. I’ve know people to make $250k and still live paycheck to paycheck due to lavish lifestyles.

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35 {Adventuresindinner} April 11, 2012 at 2:00 pm

So, so true. Until I got a handle on my spending, it didn’t matter how much I made, my bank account was still always empty.

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36 Tina April 11, 2012 at 2:15 pm

Interesting topic…. I guess, the frugal person is suppose to want less material things and material experiences. I agree to a point but my lifestyle is different and it may be the result of our income (we tend to have more disposable income than the average). I wouldn’t say we are over spenders but definitely not 100% frugal. We are kinda of middle of the road. We did plan for things like our vacation lifestyle or neighborhood. We did not choose to homeschool and did not want to go the private school route so, school district was very important and unfortunately, some of the better school districts are in more expensive neighborhoods. We do like to experience things in other countries so we do travel a lot. Somethings we do to allow us this lifestyle is not eat out as much except on vacation, made some good financial decisions regarding our home loan and other rental properties we have, saved in our 401(k)s, live credti card debt free, drive older cars, we have a nice home but it isn’t lavishly decorated (but that is compared to my neighbors someone else might think we live well to do), we do like our electronics like computers, ipads, tvs, etc… But we do have a nice disposable income and we have made plans to be mortgage free in about 5 years including our rentals. At our age I don’t know if changing careers would be a good idea for us. We aren’t ready to give up our our vacations. I really enjoy those and I guess that doesn’t make me a frugal person. I do follow some frugal advice and try to save money all the time. For example, we own our own business and I purchase many things with a credit card that is paid off right away. But this allows me to earn points to buy plane tickets. We earn enough points to get 4 airplane tickets a year to Hawaii every year about $2400. We typically vacation 4 weeks a year. I guess, to me that is really important for our family. We aren’t particularly close to our immediate family as there was some family disfunctionality there. So, for me our vacation times are important. I can’t explain it well as I’m not a writer. I use groupons as much as possible. I make lots of homemade food at home. We typically stay in condos on vacations so we can save on meals and not eat out as much. I’m not saying my lifestyle is better than someone else’s but it makes me happy and I wouldn’t change much about it. I think, the only thing flawed in your analysis is that it isn’t a one size fits all and not everyone has had the same experiences. I think, people’s personal life experience molds their financial habits. There are always going to be people that live beyond their means and some people that live so cheap they don’t enjoy life much. I’d rather be middle of the road.

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37 Amara April 11, 2012 at 3:53 pm

There are so many factors here, yes?

Our situation is this: My husband works as an IT manager and is well-compensated, with excellent benefits.

I sometimes toy with little ways I might earn money.

However, we’ve found that because he keeps long work hours (often 65 hours a week) and I homeschool the kids, the actual “time” I have to pursue making a bit of money is “not much!” Our youngest of four children is still two, as well, which is delightful but somewhat limiting.

So, for now his “job” earns well and my “job” is to stretch those earnings.

I used to berate myself as lazy, as I see many women with little cottage industries that bring in a bit of cash. However, for me, just managing our family, our household, and the schooling is all I can seem to do well. I comfort myself with the reasoning that perhaps women with a home-business have husbands with more flexible scheduling. But, perhaps they are just better organized or in a different life stage. I also tell myself that my husband is able to earn a great salary because I keep things managed well at home (and he has the freedom to work longer, focus productively at the office, and have my support!), but I’m sure there are women who manage all I do PLUS a little extra.

I find that when I add just one additional thing to my plate, frugality seems to go out the window. So, I end up wondering if that cottage industry of mine would ACTUALLY make any real money. Smile.

This is a fun discussion.

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38 Kristen April 11, 2012 at 4:10 pm

Yes! When I get too busy, I inevitably end up wasting food, or I do things like sending Mr. FG to pick up a pizza. So, keeping my life pace manageable definitely does save us money.

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39 Megan April 15, 2012 at 11:38 pm

I have only just recently come to this conclusion myself and stopped trying to figure out ways to earn a little extra for the moment. I will come back to it only too soon when I don’t have a two-year-old in tow.

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40 Cynthia M April 11, 2012 at 5:18 pm

This is topic that I’ve struggled with myself especially the last few months.

Last summer I was working full time while homeschooling my children. We just finished paying off paying over $20K in debt. No longer being suffocated by debt I realized that I could afford to stay home more.

I felt guilty that I couldn’t do everything I wanted with homeschooling and public school was not an option because of the horrible schools where we live. Now without the debt we had freedom of choice.

My husband doesn’t make enough for me not to work but now we could afford for me to work part time. I work in a hospital and can get higher pay by giving up my benefits but the hours are not as regular. With no debt and some savings, I can handle the changes in hours throughout the year.

Around the time I decided to go part time is when I found your blog. It definitely helped on my decision that we can still be happy living on less and it will be worth it to be home more. I have a much bigger earning potential than my husband but the sacrifices for me to work more is just not worth it. I would much rather make my dollars stretch further.

So it’s definitely a balance. To earn enough to live comfortably and not struggle but not working so much that you sacrifice your family’s quality of life.

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41 Erika April 11, 2012 at 5:58 pm

Thanks Kristen! I agree and I think you’ve made a lot of really important points! Reading through the comments, it seems that it is much easier to find this balance when you have a spouse or partner, so one can be the (primary) earner and one can be the (primary) saver. I would imagine finding this balance is much more difficult for a single person who is trying to work or raise children by themselves, because there is only so much time and energy. Just a thought.

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42 Kristen April 11, 2012 at 6:30 pm

This would definitely be true when you’re talking about money-saving tactics that require extra time. But there are some money-saving habits that don’t require extra time…things like maintaining a smaller wardrobe, buying generic brands, forgoing some entertainment expenses, buying or renting a smaller house (that usually saves time, actually, since you have less space to maintain), and so on.

So, people who don’t have a partner aren’t entirely without hope!

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43 Erika April 11, 2012 at 7:01 pm

Yup, true! I was just thinking out loud. :)

I liked this post a lot and I’m enjoying reading the comments. Thanks for your thoughts on this subject!

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44 Michaela April 11, 2012 at 8:07 pm

I know I could be saving more, but I have been choosing to spend money lately. Basically in a short period of time I have been afforded the opportunity to make extra money, and instead of saving it I’m using it toward things we need. Things like new sets of tires on both cars, new water heater, gravel for the driveway, paid the car insurance in full, new mattress for my son, and many other small items here and there that we had put off because we were somewhat broke.

Now I have only allowed myself to do these things AFTER I have paid all the bills, paid extra on the house, paid extra on the car (yes, we have payments after five years of no car payments), socked some away in my IRA, and socked some away toward my son’s education (at a private school), and had the extra money to pay for the extra expenses (no charging!). I have done the frugal thing, but its almost a breath of fresh air to get some of these things taken off my to do list.

I think there is a time and place for everything. Sometimes you have to save. Sometimes you have to spend. You just have to make good decisions, and decide what priorities are really important. Then again, you live and learn. I know I can look back and see mistakes I have made, but I think they have helped me form the better decisions I’m able to make today :)

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45 Juli April 11, 2012 at 9:45 pm

I loved this post! As always reading your blog is an inspiration.

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46 Hiptobeme April 11, 2012 at 9:55 pm

I have been following for a couple years now, and I think this, of all the posts i have read, is the post I most agree with. Thank you!

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47 Kathryn April 11, 2012 at 11:48 pm

My father spent countless hours instilling money sense in me as I grew up and his favorite phrase has got to be “live”… (dramatic pause so I could finish the phrase for him) “beneath your means.” At 27, I have very few bills and contribute a generous percentage of my salary to savings and retirement accounts which is possible because I don’t splurge on every “must have” like cable, mobile internet, and fancy cars. The best thing I did was start my retirement account as soon as I got my job because I never noticed that I was getting less money in a paycheck. Even if you think you can’t afford it, see what the minimum amounts are (I believe mine is $25/pay period which is $650/year) and find a way to make it work. You’ll thank yourself for it in several decades.

Many of the frugal tips people share are things I enjoy. Thanks to your recipe, I recently started making yogurt. I like cooking and baking, so it was fun to try and I was impressed with my results, so I’ve kept it up. There are some things I just won’t do. I refuse to reuse plastic ziploc bags, foil, and the like. I think it’s a holdover from hating to wash these items when I was a kid. For the few cents that piece of foil cost, I don’t feel like I want to spend time washing it, drying it, and figuring out how to store it. (Don’t think I’m being terrible to the environment. I’ve been using the same roll of foil for 2 or 3 years now and go through perhaps 50 bags in a year. I prefer storage containers.) I also started shipping at Aldi when I’m near one thanks to your testimonials. I’ve been three times and I’ve been quite pleased. If only the closest store weren’t an hour away.

Everyone has to find their own balance. Smart people just have a few more frugal tricks up their sleeves than they do spendthrift ways. Thanks for giving us a nudge in the right direction!

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48 Alyson April 12, 2012 at 4:13 am

I like being a stay at home mum and I shall be disappointed when I have to go to work, eventually. Last year, I did jury service and the hassle of arranging for someone to take the children to school and look after them after school until my husband came home from work, the travelling to and from court certainly made me appreciate the choice that I have at the moment. I wasn’t even back home in time to cook the family meal in the evening. I bake a lot because it is cheaper and tastier(hopefully) and I wouldn’t have the time if I was working. My husband doesn’t earn much and we are considered below the poverty line in Britain, but I think we have more than enough for our needs. We don’t have holidays,TV and only 1 car for my husband’s work.But we are content and I think that makes a difference. Unfortunately, it’s borne out through experience. I had large debts that took 3 years of extreme frugality to clear without much support from my husband, much complaining from the older children and an income that was reducing every year. Now the family are reaping the benefits of a mother who is debt free and able to afford treats once in a while, such as takeaways and day trips during school holidays and the money to pay for the washing machine when it breaks down, whilst making her own bread and having fun making doughnuts or marmalade on an income thats only 5 a week more than when I was in debt 7 years ago. And my husband has seen our water bill go down now he flushes the toilet with bathwater.(Shower not included in our rented house). Living within one’s means has rubbed off on the older children. They paid for their own driving lessons, tests, cars, insurance and upkeep of their cars by themselves with their part time jobs and I am proud of them for that.

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49 Daniela April 12, 2012 at 9:53 am

I really LOVE your blog. (and I love Aldi too|) It is such an inspiration. I just started a blog myself, as others always refer to me as a very frugal person…and I like that!

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50 Daniela April 12, 2012 at 9:53 am

I really LOVE your blog. (and I love Aldi too|) It is such an inspiration. I just started a blog myself, as others always refer to me as a very frugal person…and I like that!

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51 efrugal living April 12, 2012 at 2:35 pm

Living simple is a challenge when your family is not on board with consuming less and strategies for reducing debt.
What are some tips on getting buy in from family members on frugal living?

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52 Madeline April 12, 2012 at 6:59 pm

I lived very frugally in the early years of our marriage, with one small baby at home and a husband in school. He painted houses to pay our rent.I did occasional work in a family restaurant to help tide us over now and again but not very often. It was a BLISSFUL time.I always valued TIME with my family over money.But it was a stretch–I had to be creative, and I was. Time moved on, we both got degrees, got good jobs, our son grew up, we expanded our lifestyle. I have never been HAPPIER with the larger lifestyle than I was in the early days. Family dinner nights are still the highlight of my week!

Now, we are moving towards retirement and we need to pull out the old frugal habits once again–I am actually looking forward to it.

I feel our culture promotes over consumption and upwardly mobile lifestyle over family, time off, naps, the library, long walks, and enjoying our pets.. long visits with friends and mother in laws over home brewed cups of coffee (NO STARBUCKS FOR US back then!!) and that’s just a FEW of the treasures that come from slowing down.

I admire you immensely and I can tell you for sure: You will ALWAYS cherish those years you have spent with your children! Our son is still close, I believe due to the time we put in early on.

Frugality is not about being cheap or about deprivation– — and it is often a necessity–but the PERK is: it is a healthier, happy lifestyle overall, and helps you have your Heart in the right place!

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53 Kelly April 15, 2012 at 4:49 pm

I have a full-time job working in the human services field. Even though I’m very frugal, my frugality only gets me so far when it comes to being able to stretch my budget and save money, as you suggested. Seeing as I make around $11/hour (a little over $20,000 a year, depending on how much overtime I get) I think it’s understandable. I’ve considered getting a second, part-time job, but I just cannot but a price on my mental health. I work with really challenging clients and I am busy pretty much every waking minute of my work day, so when I get home, I’m usually exhausted, mentally and physically. I think that if I got a second job, it would significantly affect the quality of my work, as well, and I pride myself on being a great employee. Since making the decision to go on to graduate school, I’ve decided to bend my own rule a bit and get a flexible part-time job. I do respite work, which has allowed me to limited the amount of hours as well as the times that I work. It’s not much, but it’s allowed me to save more. I’m excited about completing my graduate degree because it will allow me to at least double my income. Even with a huge increase in income, however, I still plan to stick to my penny-pinching ways! Not only will it help me pay off my student loan, it will also help me save for my future. I first learned how to be frugal as an undergraduate student, and ever since I’ve followed the same habits and principles that have allowed me to pay down debt, save money and even travel to Europe (twice!).

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54 GoToPushYourself March 21, 2014 at 6:09 am

About 2 years ago my income was $0. I was a stay at home mom of 2 children. 1 year ago I decided to study for a year. Straight after graduating I landed my first full time job and have been there for almost a year. A month ago I got a part time job after work, working 2 days a week. In just under 2 years, I went from $0 per year to $85k per year.
Drive, determination, belief and passion all got me to where I am today.

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55 eemusings April 16, 2012 at 12:21 am

Both have their roles in anybody’s financial strategy. What’s key is making that gap between income and expenses as large as possible.

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56 mary April 20, 2012 at 5:36 pm

I think for a lot of families they would love to make much closer to their potential. Many people are still under employed so they only have the choice of being more frugal to make ends meet.

In my family we are fortunate to also be able to make this decision. The surprising thing is that for many of our money saving tasks like gardening, mending, going to garage sales and hanging the clothes out on our clothesline, we have found that they are simply a real pleasure to do.

We have received so many fringe benefits of better health with less stress that I am glad that we decided to go the frugal route.

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57 Jamie April 23, 2012 at 5:27 pm

You hit it exactly, there is definitely a balance. Also, there is something to say for honest work outside the home. Some people, beleive it or not, do love their careers, my husband and i are those people. But by living frugally and efficiently we are able to work when and how we want to, not because we have to. This allows us the ability to have an amazing home life as well.

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58 Laura Vanderkam June 21, 2012 at 9:44 pm

No, we don’t have to choose. We can do both. I just worry about the gender dimensions of this, that often we picture “a woman who is good with her money” as someone who’s cutting coupons, not necessarily someone who’s negotiating for a higher salary. They can both help, but the latter can yield you a lot in a little time. I’m prone to under-ask, and at prior times in my life, I’ve had to train myself to take whatever number is in my head, and add a significant percentage to it. Training myself to ask for that higher number, calmly, has turned into more dollars than I think I could ever save at the grocery store. Also, when it comes to frugality, I think we don’t put enough emphasis on sweating the big stuff. Spending less than you can on housing (if it’s remotely possible in one’s area to still get something safe) can produce huge flexibility in one’s budget. People may not be negotiating hard on that last $50 in monthly mortgage payment, because it’s $10,000 in the context of a $300,000 house. But as you point out, $50 a month can do a lot!

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59 Dinah March 21, 2014 at 5:55 am

I don’t even need to try to save anymore because a year ago I just decided to earn more.

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60 Tracy April 9, 2014 at 12:44 pm

I like to do both- I mean there’s not much point working harder just to waste the extra. My goal is debt-free by the end of this year. The high cost of Obamacare threw me a curve-ball with that, so it might be next year now, but hopefully not too long.

I go over my finances regularly and see where I can save $5 here or there…last night I called my electricity company to drop a $5 charge which has gone up to $10 now, and the lady helpfully told me I could reduce my bill by 5 cents/kw hour by signing up for a year again. It took nearly an hour on the telephone ( free call ) but will hopefully save me $40 next month, and even more over the summer when we need a/c. I had already reduced the bill about 30% by switching off lights eg whilst watching tv. or using the computer.

My next-door library has free Wi-Fi now, so I think I can drop my internet service, which is $60 a month almost, at the same time I plan to drop cable as I get free basic cable as part of our HOA package.

And this week I am using up much of the groceries in my pantry. I find now I am living alone most of the time stockpiling leads to waste- keep the food too long and it gets freezer-burn, or I just don’t ‘fancy’ it any more.

I have a coupon for a free soup and another for a free cake for signing up to La Madeleine e-club; their soup is very good and comes with unlimited bread and butter! Pei Wei restaurant sent me cards for 2 meals in the mail, very much enjoyed them so I signed up for their e-club and got a coupon for $10 off $20, so my friend and I ate very well for $5 each that day.

To me it’s fun to do all this, but not so much to make 20 jars of jam I know I can’t eat- so I buy good jam when it’s reduced or BOGO…that’s the key, what works best for yourself.

Spending just $20 a day extra as a dollar here or there is $600 a month or $7200 a year- it all adds up!

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