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Meet a Reader | Kelly from Seattle (and France)

Hello everyone! Today we’re meeting Kelly, who I knew as a fellow blogger way back at the beginning of my blogging days. She’s an American, but she  lived in France for 12 years, which sounds quite lovely.

Here’s Kelly:

1. Tell us a little about yourself

Hi, everyone! My name is Kelly, and I live in Seattle with my husband, three teenagers, three cats, and one dog.

We have lived here since 2012, when we moved from France, where my husband is from and where I lived for 12 years.

Once upon a time I used to blog at Almost Frugal, and that led to me becoming a digital marketing consultant, before beginning work first at one, then a second, “Big Tech Company You Have Definitely Heard Of”.

My husband teaches guitar; our oldest two kids are in college and our youngest is a high school sophomore.

Kelly's three kids.

From a 25 minute, iphone taken, backyard family photo shoot.

We used this photo for our holiday cards in 2019 and it is still one of my favorite pictures of my kids. I have printed it out and it is my laptop background.

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

I’m not sure; I blogged about frugality between 2007 and 2011 and am pretty sure I discovered you as part of the frugal living, money-saving blogosphere.

I have been reading long enough to remember posts where you mention all four kids living at home and being in younger grades like middle school, so it must have been a while!

A girl holding two cats.

I obviously don’t have a picture of Kristen’s kids or cat, so here is a photo of my youngest holding Harry and Sam, two of our cats. The piano in the background was from Buy Nothing, we bought the couch on Craigslist for $25 8 years ago.

3. How did you get interested in saving money?

I grew up with divorced parents who had very different attitudes towards spending money: my mother has always been good at getting by on a very limited income, and my father had the attitude of “you can’t take it with you, you might as well enjoy it”, which inevitably led to him carrying some level of debt.

When I moved to France, after graduating from college, I had to adjust to a much lower level of salary, although of course the level of daily expenses was also lower.

Then my husband and I started having kids, and he was on short-term contracts during that period; between being out on maternity leave, having a lower salary when working, and my husband being on unemployment, we really needed to stretch our euros.

I happened to start my blog at the end of 2007, which turned out to be a good time to write about frugality given the global economic downturn in the next few years, but my interest in saving money was first and foremost driven by necessity.

Two kids in judo uniforms.

My two oldest kids showing off their judo moves back in my Almost Frugal days; we lived in a 550 sq ft house for 6 years, including with 3 kids.

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

At this point, similar to your past Meet A Reader participant who earns a healthy salary, being frugal is no longer an economic necessity for me and my family, but a moral priority

I never expected to do this well in my career and I now make more money than my parents ever did. We live a comfortable life where I can easily support us.

Pets sleeping on a sofa.

Penelope and Harry on the other major piece of furniture in my office: a LaZBoy sofa from, you guessed it, Buy Nothing.

Frugality for me is about priorities: being thoughtful about the resources we consume is important to me, as I describe below, and I am thankful (as is he) that my salary allows my husband to work a much lower-paying job that brings him much joy.

Additionally, being frugal means that we can help our kids in meaningful ways, that we can spend money on the things that are important to us like our pets, good food, nice vacations, and giving charitably to our synagogue, all without going into debt.

dog on a couch

My dog is one of the things I splurge on: good food and pet insurance have paid off over the years. Behind Penelope you’ll see the cloth napkin someone left on the couch; using non-disposable items is another way that I am frugal.

5. What’s your best frugal win?

Buy Nothing! I am an admin of our local group, and I love the community that we have created.

In case readers aren’t familiar with the Buy Nothing project, it was started in the Pacific Northwest by a couple of neighbors who were looking for ways to create community; the mission is to Give Where You Live. I often describe it as the digital equivalent of running to your neighbor’s house to borrow a cup of sugar, as most of the activity happens within local Facebook groups or on the Buy Nothing app.

In addition to the friendships I have made, I’ve received furniture, dog food, people food, clothes, mattresses, and more. I’ve also given away lots of stuff; I love being able to share what we have with others without creating additional waste or landfill.

Sometimes I post something that I am sure no one will want, and there is someone who wants it! Other times, people will ask for things, and we are able to share.

One of my kids got a babysitting job through Buy Nothing; not only has he been working for that family for four years, but we’ve also built a relationship with them and have given, loaned, and borrowed things like suitcases, air mattresses, and toys back and forth.

As well as Buy Nothing, my other major frugal win is budget tracking.

I created an excel sheet budget tracker more than 15 years ago and track every penny going in and going out in a zero-based budget approach. I’ve taught this to my kids as well, although they haven’t yet 100% adopted it. It’s fascinating to look back on what we have spent year over year, or even 15 years ago!

Cat on a desk.

Our cat, Harry, sitting on one of my favorite Buy Nothing finds: a fabulous, solid wood desk. He’s a great office companion who likes to join all my online meetings.

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

We have often carried too much credit card debt. Sometimes it was because we really couldn’t pay for something and used credit cards as an emergency fund, sometimes it was because we were enticed by “special offers”, or simply wanted to buy something but didn’t have the money in our account.

Now we put everything on one card but pay it off every month; the travel advantages we get are well worth it.

Kelly and her child in Paris.

I am not sure of how to take a picture of credit card debt, but here is a photo of me and my oldest enjoying ourselves in Paris. Both our tickets were purchased using points.

7. What’s one thing you splurge on?

Food! We like to eat good food at home, and we really enjoy eating out too.

I think it is incredibly important to pay fair wages based on the true value of our food, to think about the human and animal cost of producing our food, and to eat locally.

I don’t necessarily look for organic options, but there is something wrong with the system that can produce a fast-food cheeseburger for a dollar. What kind of suffering was involved just so I could eat a burger for a buck?

Kellys son and daughter together.

Just after spending *a lot* of money on really good sushi for my middle kid’s 18th birthday.

We also prioritize travel. Not only is it important for us to see friends and family in different countries, but I also just love visiting new places with my family.

This year—and I have to admit that our level of travel was exceptionally high post-pandemic—some combination of family members went to the following places: Oakland, New York City, Washington DC, Grenoble, Paris, and London.

Kelly and her family.

Taken in front of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris this summer; we are laughing because my husband always makes that face in photos.

I am not really a frugal traveler—I think of myself as well past my hostel-staying days—but we do pay attention to certain things.

For example, using our credit card for daily expenses throughout the year (and paying it off) gives us a lot of points that we can use for plane tickets. I always try to find a hotel that has a free breakfast, or an in-room kitchen, because feeding teenagers can be expensive!

And I spend a lot of time before each trip planning out activities, including things like trying to understand the local public transportation system, both so that we don’t waste money on things like taxis, but also so that we have pre-identified places to eat near each activity, so that we don’t make bad, hunger-driven decisions.

I also load up my kindle with a bunch of library books before leaving home so that I always have something to do.

Kelly in sunglasses.

Me, hanging out in front of the National Gallery on a solo trip to Washington DC. You can’t see my kindle, but I enjoyed my time reading on the grass!

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

Clothes, furniture, or cars.

I intentionally buy all my clothes except for underthings secondhand, and most of my kids’ clothes as well (my husband doesn’t really buy clothes at all).

I finally figure out what my personal style is, and I have a few favorite brands that I know fit me and I like to wear. Buying through Thredup, or Instagram accounts dedicated to buying and selling clothes, allows me to reduce my participation in the fast fashion world and on the environment.

I really believe in the motto of “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without” and this applies to my wardrobe, but also many other things in and around my house like furniture, often sourced for free via Buy Nothing or cheap on Craigslist, and cars: my 2009 Subaru Forrester has less than 90,000 miles on it and I fully expect to be driving it another ten years.

kids at bat mitzvah.

We didn’t even spend a lot of money on clothes for my daughter’s bat mitzvah! Her dress was the maid of honor dress I wore for my best friend’s wedding 25 years ago, and my boys’ shirts are from Goodwill; they already had them.

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

I’d spend it on our front garden!

We changed from an oil heating system to an electric heat pump last year after our furnace died, and when they removed the old tank, they discovered that it had been leaking.

Luckily, when we bought our house in 2014, we signed up for PLIA insurance and they are covering the more than fifty-thousand-dollar cost of cleaning up the soil.

hole in yard

The massive hole in our front yard.

To do so, however, the contractor dug a 13-foot-deep hole in our front garden, displacing many of our beautiful and mature plants. We have money set aside for a gardener to help us rethink the garden layout, and I hope that many of the plants we had to take out will survive, but it is going to be a lot of work to replant everything.

kelly's house viewed from the front.

A view of our garden in its lovely “before” state.

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

I don’t think that there is anything uniquely frugal about living in Seattle, but it was very interesting living in France and reading frugal blogs written by Americans! Many of the tips, like couponing, US bloggers gave their readers just didn’t apply!

We also benefited from many government programs not available in the US, like substantial monthly benefits for each of our children, or prepaid vouchers that I got through work that allowed us to employ a weekly housecleaner at very little cost to us; how I miss Anais!

Kellys kids when they were small.

Our kids enjoying a sunny summer hike soon after we moved here; one of the best frugal activities in the Pacific Northwest!

As far as frugal tips that I have tried and abandoned: couponing is still not for me. I find that a mix of buying store brands when appropriate, using my preferred grocery store’s loyalty program, and menu planning is a better way for me to use my time.

I will, however, spend time hanging my laundry! While we had a dryer while living in France, the habit of hanging delicates to air dry definitely stuck with me; I line dry 95% of my clothes, as well as things like graphic tee-shirts of my family members, and find that they do last a lot longer.


Kelly, I remember you from your Being Frugal blog and it is so fun to see your kids all grown up now too.

I nodded when you said 2007/2008 was a good time to start a blog; I started mine in 2008, and it was very unintentionally good timing for me too!

I share your love for the Buy Nothing groups (I wrote about my experience with the one near my current rental!) It’s such a wonderful way to get items into the hands of people who want/need them.

A question from me: How did you end up moving to France originally? Also, what do you miss most about France, other than your housecleaner?

Readers, the floor is yours! Leave your comments/questions for Kelly.

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Molly F. C.

Monday 31st of October 2022

Hello! Lovely meeting you, Kelly. Wondering what you feed your dog if you felt comfortable sharing that. Penelope is a very cute name. She looks darling.


Saturday 5th of November 2022

@Molly F. C., Thank you! She is the bestest dog ever and we love her very much! She gets a variety of food; she's sensitive to some things, and so we have found that a combination keeps her scratching at bay: Hills prescription kibble (the dental care kind) in the morning, Merrick kibble and canned food in the evening (the cats also eat Merrick food), and a variety of treats; she especially likes Fruitables, which are like a meat and fruit dried jerky. We do spend a lot on food for her and the cats, but they're important to us, so I think it's worth it.

Jody S.

Monday 31st of October 2022

Nice to meet you, Kelly. Your children's smiles are a testament to your mothering, I think. They look so genuine.


Monday 31st of October 2022

@Jody S., thank you so much; what a lovely compliment.


Monday 31st of October 2022

Hello, Kelly. I must admit to a shiver of delight at hearing about someone else with a spread sheet who tracks every single penny in and out and who likes to go back and see what the household was spending at other points in life. Go spreadsheet nerds!

Our Buy Nothing group should have been named Do Nothing group. Eventually it faded away but in the meantime we have neighbors on all sides and we have become the Share Everything group. Excess summer produce, equipment, furniture, and the sharing of fishing and hunting results are comon and constant. Half the group is retired and half is young marrieds with kids and the older ones act like a neighborhood watch, and do stuff like accept packages for each other, while the younger ones run over when they see the older ones struggling to lift something or put up holiday lights. I am seriously impressed that you have kept your Buy Nothing group functioning.

I love the pic of your kids on the porch! And of all the travels with mom and dad stories they will recall in later years.


Saturday 5th of November 2022

@Barbara, I think I started with a template from excel, but then I modified it to meet my needs, by adding in formulas and so on. For me, it is most important to track the bills that need to be paid, so I make sure everything gets paid on time (I don't really trust automatic payments because several times things have gotten screwed up and I have missed a payment). I am less concerned about tracking individual week's spending on groceries, for example. Here is a version of our spreadsheet: You will see that all discretionary spending is lumped into the credit card payment, because what I really want to track is the fact that I pay it off every month.


Tuesday 1st of November 2022

@Kelly, I enjoyed reading about you and your family and your frugal lifestyle. I too have been tracking our finances for over 20 years but through an off the shelf software. Unfortunately, the company quit supporting the software about a year after I started using it. It has been fine all these years but I keep telling myself I should switch to using Excel since I don't know when/if this software will quit working. I cringe every time Windows has an update because I wonder when it will no longer be compatible. I hate to think of all those years of history being lost because it has come in handy to search things, like when we replaced our washer, roof, etc. or how much we spent for xyz last time we bought it. I was wondering if you had any suggestions as to how best set this up in Excel. Did you use one of the templates online and modify to fit your situation?


Monday 31st of October 2022

@Lindsey, the Share Everything group, how amazing! I love that you are building that bond with your neighbors. I have a few immediate neighbors that I have gotten to know through Buy Nothing, but nothing close to what you describe!

And yes, spreadsheet nerds unite! I have to say that my budgeting in excel has paid off in my daily work; I spend a lot of time in spreadsheets and take a nerdy joy in making formulas work for me...!

Bella Lewin

Monday 31st of October 2022

Bonjour, Vos enfants vont allez en fac en France ou dans UE? Notre fils fait son master à Venice et bonjour les économies par rapport au EU. Le grand avantage des multi-nationaux. Profitez vous également des voyages birthright pour vos enfants ? Je suis une juive française vivant dans les Antilles néerlandaises.

Bella Lewin

Monday 31st of October 2022

I think for most Americans with dual nationality, studies abroad are a very good way to save money. For my son master we pay 1500 euro a year of university fee plus cost of living. And the birthright trip is a good move too. I presume other religions/ organizations have theses types of travels too? Going to Rome with the catholic youths?


Monday 31st of October 2022

@Bella Lewin, merci ! Mon fils aine est le seul qui fait les etudes en France pour le moment, mais juste pour cette annee (il pense); il aura plus envie d'aller en Irelande l'annee prochaine que de retourner a Grenoble. Le deuxieme a une petite- copine ici a Seattle, donc il n'evisage pas a partir loin d'elle... peut-etre ca changera dans l'avenir. Par contre, ma fille veut bien faire des etudes en France, mais pas d'habiter chez ses grand-parents, ou se loge mon fils, donc on va voir. ;) Et pareil, je veux les faire beneficier du Birthright, mais c'est que ma fille qui s'interesse pour le moment...

For all others, Bella was asking if my kids are going to go to university in France or in another EU country, and her son is doing his masters in Venice thanks to an EU exchange program. I answered that, so far, only my oldest is interested in it, given that my second son has a girlfriend here in Seattle and my daughter is too young. She also asked if my kids are doing Birthright, which is an organization that sends Jewish youth on a free trip to Israel; same, my daughter is the only one who is interested for the moment, although I would love to send all three of them!


Monday 31st of October 2022

Thank you Kelly; there are so many interesting things in your post! Your photos are great (as someone who has an older brother, I liked seeing the recurrence of the "knuckle sandwich to the head" (what my brother called it anyway) in your pictures - rings very true with me : ). It was fun to see the joy between siblings.

I really like how intentional you are about choices in all these areas of life. Do you and your husband tend to have a similar outlook in that sense? Our family had more of a mixed approach at first; it's interesting to look back and see how we've compromised and prioritized over the years!


Monday 31st of October 2022

@Suz, interesting question! I will say that my husband is very easy going, and tends to let me lead the way; I can tell that something is really important to him if he pushes back, and then he usually has a really good point. That said, he's also much more fiscally conservative than I am and is much more likely to want to stash money in savings and much less likely to want to spend than I am.

And yes, my kids really do like spending time together; it's a great joy to see them hanging out without me!

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