Today, we’re meeting a reader who has managed to live for 2.5 years with no car (and two small kids!). I am so impressed by the amount of biking and walking she and her family do, especially since it’s the functional sort, to get yourself from point A to point B.
1. Tell us a little about yourself
When asked the question “Where are you from?”, my response is always “How far back do you want to know?”
I’ve moved a LOT – not as much as a military family, perhaps, but quite a bit for someone my age! I’ve lived on both coasts, and my siblings and I were born in 3 different states!
My own kids were born in different time zones, too – one in MN, one in OH.
I’m a long-distance cyclist, a triathlete, a wife, a mother of two, a sister, a daughter, a friend, DIY-er, and a community member!
My degree is in mechanical engineering, but I’m just starting a transition to nursing – before I got pregnant with my son, I was working as a nursing assistant while my husband finished grad school, and planning to go on to nursing school.
Having our first child just one month after our first wedding anniversary was NOT in the plan, but so far it’s worked out well!
Our son is now 15, and about 25 hours into his private pilot’s license, which he’s funding by earning money working for my father-in-law.
Our daughter is 12, and very into the arts and science. She’s still exploring herself and the world to figure out her path!
2. How long have you been reading The Frugal Girl?
Oh, I think it’s been nearly 15 years now! I found Kristen while searching for a recipe for something, and just fell in love with her writing style & pictures.
The Frugal Girl is one of the few blogs whose URL I have memorized, so I’ve never missed an entry!
3. How did you get interested in saving money?
My interest in frugality is less about saving money specifically, and more about making good use of the resources I have.
Limiting waste is what really drives most of the habits I have that would qualify as “frugal” – reducing/eliminating food waste, returning unneeded items, pursuing refunds, checking on warranties, repairing things, etc.
Because I’ve lived so many different places, I’ve seen first-hand how good use of available resources can really improve overall community experiences, such as community gardens that utilize city-wide composting programs, to libraries, cycling infrastructure.
I’ve also learned how much more isolated and “trapped” one can feel in a community that doesn’t prioritize publicly-oriented infrastructure (hello, living in a suburb that didn’t even have sidewalks as a teen!).
4. What’s the “why” behind your money-saving efforts?
Making good use of the resources I have – not only money, but my health, physical abilities, skills, etc. I don’t want to feel like I’m wasting all the gifts I’ve been given, including my finances.
5. What’s your best frugal win?
I have two!
1. I learned how to cook and bake at a very young age, and I’ve always enjoyed kitchen work as both creative pursuit and scientific inquiry.
For me, being in the kitchen and making food for people is an act of love.
Even in college, when I was living in a dorm, and had a dining hall meal plan that meant I could get whatever I wanted whenever I wanted it, I still cooked and baked.
I stored all my equipment in a dishpan in my dorm room. I’d load up that dishpan with whatever gear and ingredients I needed, and carry it down to the one full kitchen in the entire dorm of 150+ students on the first floor.
There, I’d make everything from homemade bread to Steak Diane (seriously – my mom came to visit one time and bought $100 worth of beef tenderloin so I’d have leftovers – at the time, that was like 5lb of tenderloin! We made a lot of Steak Diane that night.)
2. I fell in love with pursuing a car-free life.
One of the moves we made, out to Seattle, the only way we could make our budget work AND have me be home with our young kids, was to not own a vehicle at all. We lived for 2.5 years without a car, and our kids were 4 & 14 months when we moved there.
Most folks find this absolutely bananas. I transported my kids everywhere either by walking, biking, or taking the bus. Early on, my daughter would be in a stroller, but as soon as she learned how to walk, she wanted nothing to do with that stroller.
By age 2, she was walking 4-6 miles per day. Not fast – we used to joke that she walked “at the speed of toddler”, which was about 2 miles per hour, so if we needed to walk 1 mile, I needed to plan at least 30 minutes into our schedule!
It’s pretty amazing how long and far kids will walk if you just keep putting in food & water, and taking breaks to rest a bit.
My history with loving car-free options stems from some experiences I had as a kid.
The summer after 5th grade, we were living in Grand Forks, ND, population 50,000 at the time. My dad had been working with me on learning how to read a map, and at the beginning of the summer, he handed me a paper map, a quarter to call home if I needed it, and told me to go ahead and explore.
I biked to the library, to the mall, to the TCBY, to visit my parents at their offices in the university, to the pool, basically everywhere a kid would want to go. The freedom was amazing. This was in the early 1990s, for reference.
When I was 14, right at the beginning of my freshman year of high school, we moved to Cincinnati, OH. To a land-locked subdivision where I went from having the freedom to go to the library whenever I wanted, to being completely, 100% reliant on my parents to drive me everywhere.
It was suffocating & awful, especially as a teen who was used to being able to get out of the house whenever I wanted.
I had to take a school bus just to get to the school that was barely 3 miles away, because there weren’t even sidewalks in my neighborhood, let alone along the no-shoulder 45-mph road that connected my neighborhood to the rest of the community.
That was a major lesson in how the built environment can force families to own an expensive vehicle, and I decided in high school I never wanted to be 100% dependent on a car ever again. And barring one job I had as a young mother, I never have.
6. What’s an embarrassing money mistake you’ve made?
I wouldn’t qualify it as embarrassing, given the time period, but we lost our entire downpayment on the first house we bought.
We had to sell it less than 3 years after buying it, and between that and the market timing (bought in 2009, sold in 2012), we were lucky to come out of the whole situation with our original mortgage paid off completely by the sale!
7. What’s one thing you splurge on?
Cycling equipment and gear.
I’m a plus-size lady, so finding bike components rated for my weight (most bikes are built with the assumption that the cyclist is 200lb or less, and I’m not!) or cycling shorts & jerseys that fit well is challenging to begin with, and I’m just not willing to put up with poor-quality materials that will break or make me physically uncomfortable to begin with.
Anyone who’s looking – Online Cycling Gear has some great plus-size options for men and women.
8. What’s one thing you aren’t remotely tempted to splurge on?
It’s just not my thing – I haven’t cut my hair for about 2 years now, I don’t like the way makeup feels on my face (and I have naturally good skin, plus what I think is a pretty face!), I use my hands WAY too much for nail polish to last more than a day, and I vastly prefer a kind of “uniform” over having to make decisions about my clothes every single morning (that sounds exhausting!).
I wear jean-type stuff on the bottom, black on top, and add interest/color with accessories like earrings or a duster (long cardigan).
9. If $1000 was dropped into your lap today, what would you do with it?
Throw it at a house project!
We have several we’re either saving towards, paying off, or working on right now – our current home was built in 1989, but we bought it just 3 years ago, so a lot of maintenance stuff is coming due!
10. What’s the easiest/hardest part of being frugal?
Easiest – saying “no” to things that I’ve figured out don’t really matter to me
Hardest – figuring out what matters!
11. Is there anything unique about frugal living in your area?
We specifically chose a community with biking, walking, and public transportation infrastructure.
If something happened to my car tomorrow, I wouldn’t need to buy a new one immediately – I can run almost all of my errands on a bike, even in the winter. My kids are able to bike to school and activities – my son even bikes to the airport where he takes flight lessons.
I don’t have to drive my kids everywhere, which means I have more time to do things like cook or projects around the house, or volunteer (and build connections) in my community.
My kids are learning independence and self-reliance by problem-solving issues that occasionally arise from biking themselves places.
- how much time they need to allow
- weather considerations
- planning a route
- what to do in a biking emergency (like when my daughter got a flat tire on the way home from school one day, and had to walk her bike to the library to call me because she doesn’t have a phone).
12. What is something you wish more people knew?
The built environment (roads, sidewalks, bike paths, housing density, etc.) has a major & direct influence on how easy it is to live a frugal lifestyle, especially a lifestyle that is car-free.
Car ownership IS optional, as is getting a driver’s license at 16. Pay attention to what your local communities are doing with dollars dedicated to the built environment, like roads, bike paths, sidewalks, etc.!
13. What single action or decision has saved you the most money over your life?
Knowing Kristin’s history, I feel weird saying this, but here it is: The person I chose to marry when I was 24.
I’ve been very, very lucky – Brian is not only a great romantic & parenting partner, and my best friend, but he is also a natural saver. I’m not – I’m more of a spender, and struggled with budgeting as a young adult. Being married to someone who is a natural saver has saved me the most money.
Brian is very good at living below his income, and that has made a big difference in our ability to stay on budget in general over the course of our marriage.
14. Did you ever receive any financial education in school or from your parents?
Yes to both! I have a distinct memory of being taught how to create a budget and write checks in 5th grade, and because my formal education is in mechanical engineering, I’ve also been taught project budgeting & estimating.
My parents were married for 7 years before having kids, and during that time they both worked – my dad is an engineer, and my mom’s a nurse, so they made pretty good money! They had me, and then my mom decided to go back to school full-time and get a PhD. Three years later, she graduated, and my dad decided to do the same.
His degree took 5 years, and during those 8 years of essentially being a 1-income couple with kids after 10 years of being a 2-income couple with no kids, they’d racked up $30k in credit card debt because they didn’t adjust their spending to their change in circumstances.
I was in 4th grade, and had 2 younger siblings when they began their debt-repayment journey. They finished around the time I was finishing high school, and then there was college – my sister’s freshman year was my senior year!
So they lived on a pretty strict budget for over 15 years, first to repay debt, then to build their retirement savings up while setting aside a little to cashflow helping us kids with college.
We all ended up with some student loan debt, but much less than we would have without my parents cash-flowing some of the costs. We also all had academic scholarships to help with costs.
My parents didn’t have a big chunk saved up to help us with college, but they were clear with how they could help when we were making school decisions, which I really appreciate.
Seeing them go through that on a day-to-day basis, of making a money “mistake”, and then the long journey to come back from that mistake, was a big influence.
15. Do you have any tips for frugal travel or vacations?
Eat at grocery stores!
In the US, many grocery stores (especially in cities) will have hot or cold bars where you can grab food that can be eaten immediately, or warmed up. These options are usually a LOT less than nearby restaurant food.
In Seattle, going to the hot bar at Whole Foods was the only way we could manage to get a full meal for 2 adults for under $20 and not end up at a place like McDonald’s.
Pack what you can!
On a recent trip that involved flying, I packed dry oats, dry chia seeds, frozen homemade applesauce, homemade cookies, a loaf of Jimmy John’s bread made into 3 salami sandwiches, and a bag of baby carrots.
When I got to my destination, I bought a quart of whole milk and some trail mix from a grocery store. That covered 2 breakfasts & 3 lunches plus snacks for the 2.5 days I was there – I only needed to eat out for 2 dinners during the whole trip.
Choose a place to stay where you don’t need a car
So many places I’ve traveled, I’ve deliberately picked a hotel or other accommodation near a bus line or bike trail, so I don’t have to rent a car when I’m there.
It’s usually cheaper overall between car rental costs & paying for parking wherever I’m visiting, plus you get to know the area much more intimately than you would from inside a vehicle.
16. What frugal tips have you tried and abandoned?
Hosting garage sales & reselling items.
For a while, I was really good about trying to get money back from items I no longer needed or wanted.
Then, I had a major decluttering experience during our move out to Seattle, and my focus changed – I try to be much more thoughtful about what I’m bringing into my home, and I choose to donate or “pay it forward” (give items away to people in my life that could use them).
For me, this is the right choice – the time it takes, plus the space required to store things that are in transition is just not worth it to me.
17. How has reading The Frugal Girl changed you?
Watching Kristin’s nursing school journey finally gave me the push I needed to actually get started on pre-requisites.
As I said earlier, I was working as a nursing assistant when I got pregnant with my son, even though my degree is in mechanical engineering. I’d worked in that job for 18 months before returning to engineering.
If I hadn’t gotten pregnant, I would have continued on to nursing school once my husband was done with grad school, but that just didn’t turn out to be our path.
I spent 6 years as a stay-at-home parent while Brian completed post-doctoral work, and then went back to engineering (eventually, after an initial testing-the-waters-of-working-again stint as a barista) when he got an industry job.
Since my first internship in college, I’ve worked in several different types of engineering jobs – mechanical engineering is one of the most universal engineering majors out there. You can find MechEs in pretty much every industry.
Yet, I’d never found a job I really liked – I missed working more directly with people and I didn’t like sitting still at a computer for 90% of my workday (despite what Iron Man can make engineering look like, most engineers don’t actually build things or even create plans – that work tends to get handed off to drafters & technicians).
But going back to school felt daunting – not because of the academic work (I’m a good student in general), but because the last time I was in school, I didn’t have any of the responsibilities I do now.
Back then, I lived in a dorm that had housecleaning for the bathrooms & common areas. I ate the majority of my meals in a dining hall where “cleaning up” just meant putting my tray on a rack near the exit. Someone else took care of all the landscaping. And I had no kids or spouse!
Watching Kristen go through everything she’s been through these last few years, and the excitement she communicates about her nursing studies, really made me think “I could do this. I could figure out how to pay for the classes at my local community college, and I could make space in my life for this work that actually matters to me.”
Aww, Liz, this last part made me smile. I’m cheering you on over here, and I have great faith that you can do nursing school. You’ve got a stable family life and a supportive husband, and with that in place, you’re definitely going to be able to figure out all the practicalities like cooking and cleaning.
Since you obviously have a serious winter where you live, how do you handle biking when the ground is covered in snow? Do you switch to walking during those months?