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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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?