Before we meet Emily, I just wanted to tell you all that a number of readers have felt a little nervous before participating in this series. But every time, they have told me they are so pleasantly surprised at how fun the experience is! This is a friendly group of people, and all of us love to see how other people live their money-saving lives.
So, if you need a little pick-me-up, consider joining in. It’s usually a really fun day for the person who is being featured. 🙂
1. Tell us a little about yourself
I’m a mid-30s Ohioan living in mid-Michigan, which is where I think we will be long term!
I’m happily married to my husband with a 2-year-old daughter. We both work at a local university (in very different fields/roles), which has been really good to us.
In my free time, I enjoy a variety of things – including volunteering, DIY projects, cooking, reading, playing board games, crafting (mainly sewing and papercrafts), traveling, hiking… the list goes on!
I’m a big money/personal finance nerd and am a little obsessed with budgeting. I get a lot of enjoyment finding good deals. I also flirted with the idea of being a financial coach and have helped several friends with their budgets, but I realized it’s not something I want to pursue more seriously.
2. How long have you been reading The Frugal Girl?
I started reading The Frugal Girl in 2009 while I was living abroad in Germany.
I was very into The Simple Dollar (which, unfortunately, is no longer what it was) and was looking for other similar websites on frugality and found this blog, which has felt like a constant companion through all the life changes I’ve had since then, which has been A LOT.
3. How did you get interested in saving money?
It sounds cliche, but I truly have been a diligent tracker of money (if not saver) my whole life.
I used to keep METICULOUS track of my money as a kid – I had a notebook where I wrote down each transaction including things like “+$0.01 –> found on sidewalk.
My extended family is super into thrift stores and sales, so maybe it’s in my blood?
4. What’s the “why” behind your money-saving efforts?
My husband and I also really would like to retire early or, perhaps, explore going less than full-time.
I like to economize in many places so that I can spend money where I want to.
This philosophy was on display in full force at our wedding; we economized on things we didn’t care as much about by getting a store-bought cake and doing lots of decorations ourselves so that we could have a bigger guest list for our large group of family and friends and an open bar.
5. What’s your best frugal win?
I think I have two.
First is being a part of the sharing economy, especially for baby items. We got SO, SO much stuff for free (and some for pretty cheap) for our daughter, including her high chair, baby swing, play mat, baby bath, TONS of clothes, etc.)
We also were able to borrow a projector to project some pictures on the wall that I traced/painted for our baby’s nursery! I also borrowed a projector to help me paint a mural I designed in our new house.
The second frugal win is being handy.
Being able to do my own repairs and DIY projects REALLY saves a lot of money. We’ve repainted things ourselves, built bookshelves, and done minor repairs instead of hiring it out.
We just had our bathroom remodeled. It was a complete gut job, so we hired out all of the stuff we couldn’t do confidently (or quickly, since we DO have full-time jobs and a toddler!!), like framing, plumbing, etc.
However, we saved over $3000 by sourcing some of our own fixtures, buying our own tile, and then doing the painting ourselves.
We are also building the closet ourselves, but since that was never part of the scope of work, we don’t know how much we’re saving. It’s conservatively a lot – probably at least $2000.
6. What’s an embarrassing money mistake you’ve made?
Pretty much any time I buy something that would be perfect for “ideal me” without really thinking whether “real me” will actually use it.
For example, “ideal me” was convinced that I wanted to learn Arabic when I was working at a bookstore in college, so I convinced myself that I should buy the expanded version of Rosetta Stone, but…
“Real me” didn’t have time or the discipline at the time to actually pursue it, nor did I have a “why” for learning that language! It cost almost 3 paychecks at the time.
That’s perhaps an extreme example, but I’ve learned a lot about myself since then, so I am *mostly* able to stop those kinds of purchases.
7. What’s one thing you splurge on?
Like Kristen, I like to invest in things that will last.
So high-quality items I know “real me” will use is something I don’t hesitate investing in. In addition, we love to travel, so we put a lot of money toward that each month.
8. What’s one thing you aren’t remotely tempted to splurge on?
Beauty products. I started going gray at 18 and spent many years dyeing my hair. I gave it up just over a year ago and have some pretty big white streaks going on.
While it has been a little uncomfortable when people see the gray hair and assume I’m my daughter’s grandma (eek!), I really am happy to not have to worry about when I need to take time to dye my hair.
9. If $1000 was dropped into your lap today, what would you do with it?
I’d put it toward more of our house renovations – we bought a pseudo-fixer-upper (not in BAD shape, but with some VERY outdated decor with a few urgently needed repairs) and are finishing off a portion of the basement so that I can have a dedicated office/craft room and we can have more family space.
10. What’s the easiest/hardest part of being frugal?
Seeing Instagram life from some people my age who are either making WAY more money than me or living beyond their means.
Either way, I can have certain twinges of jealousy every now and then. However, if I’m being honest (“real me!”), some of those more flashy things wouldn’t be my style, since I don’t choose to spend money on things I don’t value.
Would I drive a BMW or Tesla if someone gifted it to me? Yes. Would I be likely to purchase one on my own? Nope.
When you do frugal things for a long time, those things become habit and don’t seem unusual or hard anymore!
11. What frugal tips have you tried and abandoned?
I was really into SixthContinent (now UnitedFree) for a while, but as Kristen also experienced, the user experience really went downhill (and now I can’t even get the site to load).
While it lasted, we saved at least $1000 with the deals on there.
12. Do you have any tips for frugal travel or vacations?
Oooh, now *this* is the kind of stuff that gets me excited!
I’m a big fan of credit card rewards points – my husband and I splurged on upgraded (but not business/first class) seats for our honeymoon in Thailand by cashing in our rewards points. We put all of our regular spending on credit cards (paid off in full each month) and then use the points toward travel.
We also make strategic use of grocery stores while we travel. We almost always stay at places with kitchens so we can cook some meals, but even when we don’t, we pack snacks and shelf-stable items that can be used for at least one meal per day. We don’t skimp on trying local food, though!
We try to combine personal and work travel where we can if it’s a time/place that works for us. For example, my family joined me when I had a conference in Chicago. We were able to get our mileage paid for by work and our hotel room was paid for by work except for the personal travel days we added on.
(Granted, I had to work instead of play most of the time, but by adding on a personal day, I got some time for vacation!)
We also research free deals or discounts we may be able to apply when we travel.
As an example, during the aforementioned trip to Chicago, my husband was able to use our membership from our local children’s science center to get 50% off admission at the Chicago Children’s Museum and the Museum of Science and Industry and we got in for FREE to the Field Museum. Our local zoo membership got us 50% off at the Shedd Aquarium!
The savings alone on our children’s science center reciprocity paid for the cost of that membership – and it doesn’t count all the use we get out of that throughout the year! Don’t sleep on those reciprocity agreements with your local museums when you’re traveling!
Emily, I love the felt fruit you made for your daughter! Did you use a pattern or did you just wing it?
I think your bookshelves are beautiful and I’d love to see a picture of them when they’re finished! And I’m so impressed with your flower wall. Remember how I tried some watercolor flowers this past summer? That was very, very small-scale compared to what you did.
I used to read The Simple Dollar back in the day as well (I think it’s one of the first blogs I ever read, actually). I don’t know what’s up with that site now; all I can see on it is a mortgage calculator; I believe Trent sold the site, and now some other company is running it.
Readers, the floor is yours!
(And I am curious how many of you used to read The Simple Dollar. Do tell.)