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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?