When K emailed me to volunteer for a Meet a Reader feature, she expressed some hesitation because she and her husband both have high-paying jobs and are quite financially secure.
But I think variety is wonderful; we have readers from all kinds of economic situations here, and I love to see it. Also, it is quite possible to be a high-earner and live paycheck to paycheck, so I think it’s lovely to see that K and her family are taking advantage of the opportunity to use a high income wisely instead.
1. Tell us a little about yourself
Hi FG community, I’m a late thirties mom of two toddlers + a ten-year-old doxie mix who lives in suburban Chicago.
We moved here shortly before the pandemic after many years in New York City, so it’s been a change, but mostly good!
I’m a lawyer in private practice–I recently left a big law firm, where I was a partner, to lead the legal department of a small company. My husband is in finance.
We both work a little too much but we have great childcare (a very dependable nanny) and we make sure we have ‘blackout periods’ of time each evening where we’re playing with our kids and not on our phones.
I also have a good chunk of time with them in the morning before I start my day.
It’s a tough balance but I love my work. I used to travel globally, extensively, for work, so I’m glad that happened before we had kids!
2. How long have you been reading The Frugal Girl?
For a very long time! I first stumbled upon it after google searching for something else, and I loved Kristen’s tone, positivity, and the length of posts! I still remember stuffed animals in the grocery haul.
3. How did you get interested in saving money?
I was raised comfortably, with a sales executive father and a homemaker mother, but my parents always lived well below their means, and imparted the importance of that to my brother, sister, and me.
We were never in debt growing up, and I distinctly remember little things like not buying drinks at drive-thru restaurants during road trips because we would drink water, and never having a housekeeper or a lawn service because we were expected to do those chores.
My father loves to say that ‘inherited wealth ruins people’ (meaning ambition), and he is very charitable, with a big heart and good social conscience–my parents prioritized tithing and we have a family foundation that does a lot of good work to this day.
4. What’s the “why” behind your money-saving efforts?
My husband and I have had a lot of professional success, but I’m hyper conscious of lifestyle creep and golden handcuffs–in part because I’ve seen some of my husband’s network and/or colleagues overspend and find themselves in trouble (e.g. they don’t get the bonus that they expected and then they can’t pay their childrens’ school bills – well, don’t spend your bonus when it hasn’t been paid!)
I also think it’s incredibly important to give back and share some of our financial success with our broader community and worthwhile causes.
We’ve established our own family foundation, where we’re socking away significant money each year so we can make a strategic, impactful donation to a worthy organization at the right time.
5. What’s your best frugal win?
I’m not sure if this counts, but getting rid of debt and then socking away money early on. My parents paid for my private college, but told me I was on my own for law school. I had a solid scholarship to a great private law school but still had to take out loans to cover part of it, so I graduated with debt.
I was lucky enough to get a highly paid job at a firm right out of law school and prioritized payment of my debt — I lived cheaply and paid off $60K in student loans in a few years.
Another frugal win – brainwashing my husband to relative frugality! When I met him, he was spending everything he was making–and he was making a LOT. I don’t blame him–his parents never taught him fiscal responsibility and he was heavily influenced by friends and colleagues who also worked in finance in Manhattan.
I was horrified to find that he wasn’t buying anything on sale, ha. I brought him back down to earth, and he has been very grateful in the longer run, since we now have a significant net worth because the savings we earned in our 20s and early 30s has grown a lot.
6. What’s a dumb money mistake you’ve made?
When we first moved to Chicago, we bought a home, because we figured that it was a ‘buyers market’ and we had made a lot from the sale of our New York apartment. Terrible decision!
We ended up selling it two years later at a loss because we didn’t like the neighborhood and we wanted more green space with two toddlers after the pandemic. We should have rented first.
7. What’s one thing you splurge on?
Eeek. More than one – tipping, travel, my children, and outsourcing absolutely everything.
Like my dad, I am ‘selectively cheap’ or ‘selectively frugal.’ I will wash out ziplock bags to reuse them, but I also won’t think twice about giving a good waitress a 50% tip, paying for a really lovely hotel, paying $$ for an enriching activity for my children, or for a housekeeper/handyman/remote householde manager/meals.
It’s just time. We are so busy so if 1) I don’t enjoy the activity; 2) it doesn’t relate to work; or 3) it doesn’t facilitate quality time with my family, I try and outsource it.
8. What’s one thing you aren’t remotely tempted to splurge on?
Fashion and ‘cosmetic enhancements’. For example, some of my friends are very into handbags and botox.
I’m happy with simplicity and versatility – my wardrobe is heavily black and white – and I’m just not into the maintenance that’s involved with anti-aging. I want to age gracefully. I also know too many people who have had too much filler in their faces – no.
9. If $1000 was dropped into your lap today, what would you do with it?
Give it away.
Either put it in our family foundation or find a one-off donation. I like supporting friends or worthy causes, even if I don’t know the person (e.g. a friend of a friend’s gofundme) in addition to strategic charitable giving. I know how incredibly fortunate I am and I also absolutely realize that wealth begets wealth. It’s much, much, much easier to make money if you have money.
It’s much easier to get a high-paying job if you went to a fancy private school. It’s much easier to succeed when you have supportive parents or family who can help you on your way or step in if there’s trouble.
I’m not saying it’s right–it’s not–it’s just the truth and I work every day to recognize my good fortune and not take it for granted.
I love Kristen’s commentary about this–meaning Thankful Thursday or how to be content. No matter how much you have, there will always be someone with more, and no matter how perfect or easy a life looks like on the outside, there’s no guarantee that financial stability means happiness.
Maybe the opposite is true–I know a lot of very rich, very unhappy people who are not easily satisfied.
10. What’s the easiest/hardest part of being frugal?
Easiest – I think it’s in my DNA! I love saving money. Hardest – avoiding lifestyle creep! When you’re in a bubble, you lose touch with what’s normal.
11. Is there anything unique about frugal living in your area?
Our suburb is very, very wealthy. I was slightly horrified to go into a local boutique shortly after we moved here to see teenage girls shopping with their mothers, as the average sundress was about $400.
I went home and nearly cried – I was so worried that it would be impossible to raise down-to-earth, frugal, generous children in this environment. But ultimately I’m hoping parenting will outweigh the influence of friends.
We also haven’t been to church since March 2020, but we’re going to start going again soon, so I’m looking forward to instilling those values in my kids.
12. How has reading the Frugal Girl changed you?
TFG keeps ME down to earth! I think this community is so supportive, and I need constant reminders that my network is not ‘normal.’
13. Which is your favorite type of post at the Frugal Girl and why?
I love Kristen’s recipes. I do enjoy cooking and baking (especially cakes – I made my brother and my cousin’s wedding cakes) when I have time, and Kristen’s recipes are foolproof. Her enchiladas are in my rotation…
14. Did you ever receive any financial education in school or from your parents?
Yes. My dad would sit me down and make me go through financial information with him, like income statements or budgets. He also set up an IRA for me when I was young and basically insisted that I max out my 401K when I started working (thank you, dad, that really made a difference after more than a decade with my firm!)
K, I love, love, love that window in your first Chicago home. So beautiful.
I am with you on the anti-aging train too; I have not dyed my gray hairs so far, mainly because I do not want to deal with the upkeep!
On a related note, you might remember that I had my functional nose surgery done at a plastic surgeon’s office, and I still get emails from them, inviting me to cocktail events where you can take a tour of all the enhancement available. And this makes me chuckle, because I am SO not the target audience.
Friday 22nd of April 2022
I really enjoyed this perspective. I am not as wealthy as K by any means but I have all I need and more. I agree about selective frugality. I will pay for private school for my kids and a CrossFit membership to stay in shape/have fun (I'm very grateful the Lord has blessed me with the resources to do so!). However I will not purchase a new car when the not very pretty 2020 Avalon I have runs just fine. :) K - I love that you are generous and want to impart those values to your children. Great post!
Tuesday 19th of April 2022
Wait, what can a remote household manager do, and how did you find one? I have a similar situation (two bigger jobs, two small kids) and am outsourcing anything possible in this stage, so would love to learn more! It's a stage of life where I've gone from being frugal about money to about time.
Thursday 21st of April 2022
@Jackie, it's been amazing! I found her through a referral from another busy friend. Basically, once a week, I send her a list of random things to do - all those things that seem easy but suck up time (e.g. can you find someone to install this light, can you buy a baby present for my college friend, can you look into swim lessons for the baby, can you find and order more sand for the sand table to be delivered, etc.) and she charges me by the hour ($20, very reasonable for her value.)
Tuesday 19th of April 2022
K, it was such a pleasure to read your interview! I loved reading about how you can still embrace frugality even when it's not a necessity based on your income. No doubt that this will be a blessing to your children as they grow.
I really resonated with this: "It’s much easier to succeed when you have supportive parents or family who can help you on your way or step in if there’s trouble." When we moved to Michigan and went back to one income, we hit our savings HARD to be able to put 20% down on our house so we could have small monthly payments and be able to make it on one income. But we felt free to do that because my in-laws offered to loan us up to a certain amount of money if an emergency came up and we needed a big chunk of cash. Having that support put us in a better spot, even though we never ended up needing it.
Thanks for encouraging us all. I'm glad you participated!
Tuesday 19th of April 2022
Frugalwoods and Our Next Life blogs have information about effective monetary donation and investment approaches, and you don’t have to be a millionaire to use them.
I don’t have a link for this one but I remember reading an article of a family who set up a trust to donate money (maybe it was local scholarships?) even though they were low earners.
Monday 18th of April 2022
Lawyer K, I think we're twins at heart. Everything you wrote parallels what I think, or would if I were the same situation. Avoiding lifestyle creep is so hard when you know you're already living below your means. I, too, like buying time with services - a house cleaner was one of my very first grown-up luxuries.