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Meet a Reader | Mary Beth: America, Scotland, Canada

Today we’re meeting a longtime reader who has lived in America, Scotland, and Canada! Here’s Mary Beth:

1. Tell us a little about yourself

I’m an American living in Atlantic Canada with my husband and our four children.

kids on swings.

our kids at the beach

My husband and I met in Scotland and lived there for the first two years we were married. We relocated to Canada when my husband finished his Ph.D. and our oldest child was 6 weeks old.

Orkney standing stones

My husband and a friend walking near standing stones in Orkney. When we lived in Scotland, my husband and I loved getting inexpensive train tickets and exploring.

We own a professional services company. I always imagined that the business would just be my husband working out of our home and that I wouldn’t really have anything to do with it, but eight years later, we employ eight people and I handle all of the financial administration and HR.

I was a librarian when my husband and I met, so running a small business (in a field very different from my non-profit background) is a big departure from that. I have one dedicated workday a week at our office and the rest of the time, I’m at home with our kids.

MB's garden.

I really enjoy being home and having the time for gardening, cooking, canning, and projects. I love to travel and there are a lot of beautiful things to see in our area of the world.

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

I think I’ve been reading The Frugal Girl since about 2009.

It was before I got married in 2010. I loved that time period for blogs. So many people had them (including me!) and I really enjoyed that way of connecting.

‘Blog rolls’ were popular at the time – a list of blogs the blog owner read – and that’s where I found The Frugal Girl, on the blog roll of a friend’s blog.

3. How did you get interested in saving money?

I’ve always been naturally frugal. Even as a child, I thought a lot about how I spent my money, and as a teenager, I read The Tightwad Gazette for fun.

Now that I’m in middle age, I realize that I really hate waste of any kind, and being frugal helps me use all kinds of things – money, time, clothes, etc. – in the best way I know how.

a kid helping to make jam.

Making strawberry jam

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

I like the freedom frugality gives me.

When I was newly out of graduate school, I took a part-time professional position to be near my sister and her young family. I remember once at a work party my boss’s husband expressed shock that I only worked my part-time job (many part-timers in my department worked two).

He said, “Oh, you can’t live on that amount of money.”

But I could. Easily.

I later advanced to a full-time position in that organization and that was wonderful to have more income, but after a couple of years, I wanted to travel, so I left my position and took four months off to travel through Europe, which I could do because of my frugal lifestyle. I actually met my husband on that trip.

For the last 10 years, I’ve been able to stay home with my children, which is important to me, and wouldn’t have been possible in the early years of our business if we hadn’t been able to live on a small income.

5. What’s your best frugal win?

For some reason, I find this question really hard! I don’t know.

My best frugal win is probably that my husband is so handy that he does a huge amount of the work on our fixer-upper of a house himself and can often repair machines and vehicles.

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

Most of my dumb money mistakes have to do with our business. There were just so many things we didn’t know when we started.

We didn’t require contracts and retainers when we first opened the business and I was shocked to learn how many people would happily have us do work for them and then just not pay.

It’s also been a hard lesson to learn that sometimes spending the money for the right equipment and staff seems like an expensive or even impossible move, but actually makes or saves us much more money than trying to limp along without the resources we need. That’s probably a good lesson for frugality in our home, too.

7. What’s one thing you splurge on?

I don’t mind spending money on travel.

Scottish gravestone

I love cemeteries and especially 18th century Scottish gravestones.

We still do it frugally, but I love taking trips and enjoying the food in the places we go.

Some of our kids are still really picky eaters, so it’s not uncommon for me and my husband to get takeout from a nice or interesting restaurant on our travels and then feed the kids cereal we brought from home. Cereal’s a once-a-week treat for my cereal-loving kids, so we all end up feeling like something special’s happening.

When I was pregnant with our fourth child, my husband hired someone to come clean our house once a week. She just did the bathrooms and floors, which I’d always said sounded like heaven to me, but it turns out it was a splurge I didn’t enjoy.

wooden air conditioning vent

I loved how clean the house was when I came home on cleaning days, but I’d bring my three children inside and they would immediately spill yogurt on those clean floors and I would spend all week thinking about what else I could have done with that money we’d given to the cleaner.

I was also appalled one day to hear one of my children tell me that he didn’t need to clean something up because the cleaner would do it. It was really interesting for me to try on a splurge and find out that it wasn’t the right one for me.

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

Beauty products and services. I’m really basic when it comes to a beauty regime.

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

I’d put it in our retirement account. We’re behind on retirement savings because of all the investing we’ve done in our own company.

Our hope is that the company will turn out to be worth something when we retire, but I’d still like a healthier traditional retirement account.

10. What’s the easiest/hardest part of being frugal?

I find it thrilling to find a great thrift store deal and enjoy a lot of frugal activities, like cooking and canning, but I sometimes feel constrained by my own frugal limits.

cold storage room.

The cold room where we keep our canned food and our over-wintering squash. My husband built the shelves and he also does a lot more of the canning than I do.

My husband occasionally has to drag me out of the house and remind me not to get too miserly when my frugal choices make me irritable.

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

For me, frugal living in rural Canada is a lot different than frugal living in the other places I’ve lived – the US and the UK. I was shocked at the price of dairy products when we moved here. Dairy, poultry, and eggs are all supply marketed, and the average price for all of them is substantially more than what I paid for them in the US.

Also, some of the resources I used for frugal living in other places – eBay, ThredUp, etc. –  just don’t operate well here.

On the flip side, the Canadian government pays a monthly tax-free benefit to families with children, so we receive money every month just for having children.


MB, I smiled when I saw that you read the Tightwad Gazette for fun when you were a teenager. ME TOO! I bet a number of us in this community can relate. 🙂

Is your husband from Scotland? And does your business relate to his PhD?

And I’m curious: how did things progress with your relationship with your husband, since you met him while you were on a trip? Did you stay in Scotland after your planned four months? Did you come back home and do a long-distance relationship for a while and then go back and get married?

Readers, the floor is yours!

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Mary Beth

Wednesday 16th of November 2022

Thanks for all the kind comments! What a lovely community.


Thursday 17th of November 2022

@Mary Beth, Loved reading your story! I'm also an American transplant to the Maritimes (Fredericton). My email is hello if you'd like to connect!


Tuesday 15th of November 2022

Great to meet you! Amy D. has had a lot of influence on most of us--I enjoyed her approaches and her well stated views on needs being inner decisions, not market decisions by others. It changed my life to decide before I left the house what I was going to buy, instead of waiting until I was in the store(s) and influenced by the moment.

Rural life comes with a lot of chores related to food, although central Ohio where I live offers more options than it sounds like you have. Weren't fish readily available in Atlantic Canada until recently? Is it cheaper than other meats?

Best wishes, from another fast decider--I met my husband in October and married him the following May! We are still very happy 44 years later. We just smile when people tell us they believe in long engagements.

Mary Beth

Wednesday 16th of November 2022

@Kristina, Seafood used to be very inexpensive here. In fact, my husband's great uncle was a fisherman and he said that lobster used be worth so little that they gave it to the farmers to plough under in their fields as fertilizer. I buy local frozen haddock (the broken 'bits' that cost less) at a nearby farm market. It's the least expensive fish I've found, but it's still $4.99/lb.

I appreciated you sharing about your fast engagement. That's wonderful that you've been together 44 years!

Anita Isaac

Monday 14th of November 2022

So nice to meet you Mary Beth. Wonderful post. Scotland is so beautiful. I visited on a trip when I was a college student. I subscribed to the Tightwad Gazette until Amy retired. I often wonder what became of her. We live in NYC with no air conditioning, no car and 750 sq ft. hubby, two teens and a ten month old cockapoo. Gas and electric is included in our rent. Love your photos. Moving so far with an infant is a real accomplishment. You are amazing.


Tuesday 15th of November 2022

@Anita Isaac, unless i have missed it, I would LOVE to see your meet the reader!


Monday 14th of November 2022

Oh my goodness. That pantry is swoon worthy. I’m in awe. Truly inspiring

Did you have those skills from an early age or is gardening and preserving self taught?

Mary Beth

Monday 14th of November 2022

@Lisa, My mother always canned, so I grew up snapping beans and preparing jars, but my husband is much more enthusiastic about gardening and preserving than I am, so I've learned a lot from him. He and I have always had a garden since we got married. Even when we lived in apartments, we rented community garden space. I find it really satisfying (the harvesting anyway - I could do without a lot of the prep).

Sarah C.

Monday 14th of November 2022

Hi Mary Beth! I didn't know food was so expensive in Canada...why do you think that is? I know food prices vary here in the States based on demand and competition (at least that's what I hear, if you live in a very populated area, grocery prices are cheaper). For example, you'd think every Wal-mart would have the same prices, but this isn't the case. Just curious about Canada!

Beth B.

Monday 14th of November 2022

@Mary Beth, Wow! Cheese smuggling! That's really interesting. I guess we shouldn't complain about high food prices here in the US. It sounds like Canada's food prices are much higher.

Mary Beth

Monday 14th of November 2022

@Leann, cauliflower at our grocery store was that price last winter, too. Crazy! We're fortunate because we do have a couple of farm markets close by and their prices on produce are always much lower, mostly because they supply more seasonal and local items.

Mary Beth

Monday 14th of November 2022

@Sarah C., I think there are a few reasons that particularly impact grocery prices in Atlantic Canada. 1) There's not a lot of competition. There are two large grocery stores and a Wal-Mart where I live. We don't have any budget grocery stores like Aldi or Lidl or enough larger grocery stores to actually see companies competing too hard for business. 2) Employment and business costs are high. Minimum wage is $13.60/hour, but in our area there are labor shortages, so fast food and grocery stores start closer to $15/hour. There are other expensive business costs as well. 3) Supply management system for certain items - eggs, chicken, dairy - means that prices are set by the Canadian Dairy Commission or equivalent bodies for the commodities instead of being naturally regulated by competition. You can't just decide to start a dairy farm; there's quota that has to be purchased and it's all controlled to regulate supply and pricing. There are a lot of people who want to see this end and a lot of people who are fiercely protective of this system and would consider my opinion about it very controversial, but the prices on those items are high. Boneless, skinless chicken at my closest grocery store is $8.29/lb and a whole chicken is $14. Pork is much cheaper because it's not supply marketed. Because eggs and dairy are expensive, everything that has those items in them are more expensive too. (As an interesting aside, there was a big cheese smuggling ring brought down about 10 years ago, when people were bringing cheese from the US to supply pizzerias because Canadian cheese costs so much more). 4) Other expenses in the production and delivery of groceries is expensive. Diesel is currently sitting at about the equivalent of $10 USD/gallon, so trucking prices are high as just one example.

That turned out to be longer than I intended!


Monday 14th of November 2022

@Sarah C., One of the reasons that food is so expensive in Canada is the short growing season. Last winter one small cauliflower cost $8.99 at my grocery store. Pretty much all produce is imported for many months of the year and with increasing fuel costs across the world, this makes it even more expensive. Taxes are a factor too, and although we're not taxed directly on healthy food (high taxes on junk food, lol), they all contribute to the high cost. But quite honestly, everything is more expensive in Canada. From houses to clothing to food to electronics. We do have universal health care though and some great programs like the one Mary Beth mentioned for children. And I try not to complain about food prices when I hear what the people way up north here are paying!


Monday 14th of November 2022

@Sarah C., I don't really know but I would guess government subsidies, which are crazy in the US.

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