Hey, everyone! Today we’re meeting a reader who lives in one of the most expensive areas of the U.S., but she’s managed to resist the siren call of lifestyle creep.
We know her as Hawaii Planner in the comments, but for the purposes of a first name here, she’s going by KD.
(Who, by the way, is not the same KD aka Kate from the east coast. We met that K D here!)
1. Tell us a little about yourself
My husband, two teenagers & I live in a suburb in northern California. We’ve lived here for about 10 years, and lived in Seattle before that. We both work in the tech industry for the same employer.
We have two teenage boys, and they are 16 & 17 years old.
The teens play plenty of sports (tennis & soccer), & are rarely home now that they both have a drivers license. The teens have played soccer since they were 5. I’ve spent an absolutely mind blowing amount of time on the soccer field, driving to/from soccer, & spectating soccer games.
My husband & I enjoy working out, and I occasionally try to grow things in our garden, with mixed results. I travel for work, and pre-COVID, averaged about an international trip a month. I’m now down to four or so per year, which is a huge win.
I also have an autoimmune disease (lupus), so I prioritize my health, & you can see that in some of our financial decisions. I get a lot of sleep, work out daily, try to manage my stress & stay on top of being at a healthy weight.
We are all very close to my family, and they live near Portland. When we moved away from the family for my husband’s job in California, we agreed that we would devote part of our increased salaries to travel, so we could continue to attend family events.
All of my family lives reasonably close together near Portland, so we travel back & forth quite a bit.
My husband’s family is in Iran, which makes travel & staying connected quite challenging. His family went 12 years without seeing us, due to travel restrictions, but we recently met up & spent time together this spring.
Travel is complex & incredibly expensive, but a priority for us as his mom ages. We are hoping to plan for one more big trip together, likely next summer, before his mom is too old to travel.
2. How long have you been reading The Frugal Girl?
I’ve been blogging for over ten years, and started reading The Frugal Girl before then (I was inspired by Kristen!), so I’d say maybe 11-12 years?
I also went through & read the entire blog, once I discovered it, so all of the early content looks familiar!
3. How did you get interested in saving money?
My parents were good with money, although they didn’t have much (my dad’s first year of teaching, I still remember that we qualified for food stamps (SNAP, at the time?) & the really not great “cheese” that they handed out.
While my parents didn’t have a lot of money, they definitely prioritized time with family, and making “experiences”, while still enjoying time together. I had a fantastic childhood, and feel so grateful for my parents. My sister is also my best friend, much of which I credit to my parents, and our great childhood.
4. What’s the “why” behind your money-saving efforts?
My husband & I are both very well paid, which makes us a bit of outliers in the frugal space. We’ve had some non-frugal times (and, certainly spend a lot on various budget categories – more on that), but that makes it even more important to me that we are good stewards of our money. It’s very important for us for our spending to align with our values.
Our values include
- lots of family time & experiences
- helping our extended family
- saving for the future
- ensuring our money is spent in the way we intended
- donating our time & money
- giving us financial flexibility & freedom in the future
We budget, track our spending, and review large purchases.
Making prioritized financial decisions (along with our salaries, which we feel really lucky to earn) has allowed us to pay off our incredibly expensive bay area house, and save for our future retirement, as well as for the boys college.
We also cover much of our extended family travel, so we can enjoy experiences together. We live in an area with a lot of wealth, and try hard not to fall into the trap we see some others fall into: you can outspend your earnings, regardless of how much you make.
Our number one budget category (now that the house is paid off) is actually travel!
5. What’s your best frugal win?
A few smaller ones:
-I leverage my Buy Nothing group heavily
-I use travel perks/status from work travel to cover personal travel whenever possible
-When the teens were babies, we realized how heavily we were relying on takeout & restaurant food. Our schedules were quite hectic during the week (the boys are 13 months apart), we were both working full time, and my husband traveled 50% of the time as well.
We got creative, and started cooking double meals on Friday, Saturday & Sunday, planning the second half of those meals on Monday-Wednesday. On Thursdays, there are sometimes leftovers, or we always have easy freezer options.
And, a couple of bigger ones:
I got a large scholarship for my undergrad degree, and worked three jobs in college to graduate debt free. I still remember my $25/week “spending money”, which had to cover everything from groceries to gas. Much frugality was learned during those times!
I also paid for an MBA by going local & part time. I did an executive MBA, which means you take the classes on evenings & weekends. This meant that I didn’t stop working during that time, and my employer paid part of the cost. I cash flowed the rest. The MBA was a huge investment in my future employment & the salary I could command.
But, overall, our best financial win has been our careers, particularly our move from Seattle to the Bay area. The change in our salary was huge, despite the cost of living differences.
6. What’s an embarrassing money mistake you’ve made?
Too many to list!
I used to shop as a form of relaxation & a hobby. We lived a few minutes away from a mall, and it was too tempting to look for stress relief in the stores.
I bought a pair of very expensive designer shoes & not only were they miserably uncomfortable, I never wore them, because I was haunted by how much they cost & didn’t want to damage them. I sold them on eBay.
We’ve also done inefficient things with our taxes more than once, due to opting not to pay for a professional, even with a complicated tax situation. Sometimes, splurging on an expert really does save you money!
7. What’s one thing you splurge on?
Fitness overall, and for sure good running shoes!
I love to work out, and belong to a reasonably expensive gym. My employer reimburses me for part of the cost, but my health is a top priority, and this gym really motivates me.
8. What’s one thing you aren’t remotely tempted to splurge on?
Beauty products are just not my jam. I use drugstore sunblock, and wear mascara & lipgloss daily.
9. If $1000 was dropped into your lap today, what would you do with it?
Splurge on a long weekend with my mom & sister.
10. What’s the easiest/hardest part of being frugal?
Money can definitely make your life easier, but hedonistic adaptation is also real.
I want to walk the balance between being good stewards of our money, enjoying life, living our values, but also not obsessing over what we spend. I find myself sweating some of the small stuff, and also really thinking a lot about how we’re raising our kids, and what messages we send to them about money.
We’ve been very committed to having our teens work over the summer, and it’s been great for them overall, but also teaches them a lot about the value of their own money & budget. They’ve been shocked by the price of fast food! 😉
11. Is there anything unique about frugal living in your area?
Very few people are frugal?
We live in a very expensive area, so even thinking about money or trying to ensure your values and spending match can sometimes make you feel like an outlier. But, it works for us, and we’re happy with our tradeoffs.
12. What single action or decision has saved you the most money over your life?
Marrying a partner who shares my value.
We actually have very different financial approaches due to our background, but we have the same core values: no debt, prioritize family & experiences, save for the future, give what we can.
We may choose to spend a bit differently, but we’ve learned along the way that the disagreement over the slightly more expensive yogurt is probably not worth the battle. I know I should be making my own!
(Note from Kristen: I actually do NOT think everyone needs to be making their own yogurt!)
13. How has reading the Frugal Girl changed you?
My life is in some ways different than a lot of readers, but I learn so much every week that I apply in my own life. People are incredibly creative, & I love how much I get from the community.
14. Which is your favorite type of post at the Frugal Girl and why?
I love, love a freezer clean-out, and also the weekly frugal posts. I am always trying to clean things out of our freezer, so those posts always speak to me.
15. Do you have any tips for frugal travel or vacations?
We use Costco travel a lot for vacations, and find that they are often the cheapest option.
We also consolidate our travel where possible, to earns status & perks. That’s only useful if you travel with some frequency.
We buy travel gift cards at a discount.
I have a spreadsheet where I track miles for every member of our family, track credits from flights, gift cards, etc.
Before any trip, I set our priorities, and then set a budget. If the budget seems unreasonable as we’re planning, we review our options & see what kind of tradeoffs we want to make (reduce duration, look for a cheaper alternative, etc). That helps to avoid surprises at the end of a trip, when you’re adding everything up.
-I have made 20+ trips to Japan, and have never been outside of Tokyo. (I’m usually on a very tight schedule, due to work & family priorities. It’s a goal to get to Kyoto & explore more of Japan.)
-I love fitness related adventures, and am regularly trying to talk my family into something. Family relays with our extended family, kayaking with my sister, skiing with my husband & the teens, running unprepared for half marathons, stand up paddle boarding yoga… One of my favorite things to do on vacation is to try a new adventure or workout class.
-My favorite reward meal (after a half marathon or the like) is nachos & a margarita.
KD, thanks so much for participating and sending all these great pictures! I love how adventurous you are and how much time you manage to spend outside. I imagine that living in California makes outdoor time much more feasible year round.
I’m so impressed you guys paid off a house in the Bay Area, since housing is wildly expensive there. Good for you!
I love that you are taking advantage of your high incomes by being financially responsible. I have seen so many cases of people earning high amounts of money but still being broke because they spend it all.
And that always seems like a crying shame to me…what a wasted opportunity! I’m glad you guys are operating differently.
Lastly: I’m so happy you enjoy my freezer clean-out posts. Those are so helpful in keeping me accountable, and I’m glad they entertain/inspire you too.