We’ve got another reader-requested interview subject today: Ruby, a Georgian reader who, like many other FG readers, was originally inspired by The Tightwad Gazette!
1. Tell us a little about yourself
I’m in my early 60s and a life-long Southerner, having lived mostly in Georgia and for the past eight years in Tennessee.
(Note: I doubt my own mother would recognize me with my Covid mask on, but this photo tickles me because I sewed the mask out of remnant quilting fabric, my shirt is thrifted, I’m sporting a self-haircut, and I’ve reused those glasses frames for six years running, just putting new lenses in them. So it’s my portrait of frugality.)
My parents grew up on small farms during the Great Depression, which shaped their thinking about money all their lives. My husband and I have been married for coming up on 35 years.
We have a young adult son who is on the mild end of the autism spectrum and who lives with us. He works, drives, has friends and just needs some occasional help navigating life now.
I was a stay-at-home mom with him for seven years and for the past 21 years, I’ve worked as an office manager for churches and in various university jobs. Right now I’m working in student services at a university.
We have five rescue pets: two cats and three dogs, so our house is always full even though our family is small.
I love to sew, cook, read, and grow an herb garden when the weather cooperates.
2. How long have you been reading The Frugal Girl?
Oh, gosh, years. None of Kristen’s children were taking high school classes when I started reading, as I recall.
3. How did you get interested in saving money?
Being frugal was pretty much baked into me by my parents, who had a big garden, raised a calf for the freezer, and both my mom and my dad knew how to sew and taught me. My dad was very creative: give that man a soldering iron and a junk pile, and he could have made anything.
When our son was born, my husband and I were facing the reality that babies can be expensive. We both worked in low-paying white collar jobs and were buying our first house, so we had to really buckle down and use every skill we had. It was still very hard and we were scraping the bottom of the barrel every month.
Around about 1992, I was in the dentist office and read a magazine article about The Tightwad Gazette. I subscribed to the newsletter and it completely changed my life.
My husband used to grumble about the penny-pinching extent I’d go to: he was served some meals he definitely did not care for, but we:
- used old-fashioned cloth diapers and hung them to dry in the back yard on a clothesline
- bought a little chest freezer from Sears that we still use today
- wore thrifted clothes
- sewed the baby’s outfits
- had a fully stocked pantry
- couponed judiciously
And we did a thousand other little things that made a lot of larger things possible.
I think it’s much easier now, with community resources and the information offered by the internet and online communities, to be frugal than it was for my parents in the 1970s when they were hit by inflation and high oil prices.
Cars are reliable and last much longer. Clothes and shoes were so expensive new then, and now we can cherry-pick from thrifts for pennies on the dollar.
Word of what’s a deal and what to avoid is at your fingertips.
Information on how to make repairs, how to container garden and a thousand other topics are there for us. It’s great!
4. What’s the “why” behind your money-saving efforts?
The why is to have a comfortable retirement as early as possible. I do not want to work until I’m dead!
It’s been a rocky road, as my husband and I started in low-paying jobs and had employer-provided health insurance that was often not particularly good, leaving us with sizeable medical bills outside of insurance almost every year.
For a couple of years, none of the therapy our son needed was covered by our insurance. It was like making a payment on an expensive car every month to pay for that.
We started catching up in the mid-90s when he went back to school to retrain for a career in IT. However, we realized last year that if we stopped all “silly spending,” we’d most likely be completely debt-free, including our mortgage, by the end of November 2021.
“Silly spending” is shorthand for saying “nothing not required for food, shelter, and maintenance of the house, cars, and ourselves” and even that’s going to be scrutinized and done with utmost frugality. So we’ve been eating down the freezer and pantry.
I used a work perk and cut $33 a month off two of my husband’s newspaper subscriptions by getting the educational rate. I just did a deep dive into our online check register to see exactly where and what we spend money on and what can be cut back and out.
I did the math and determined that over the course of the year, the budget frozen entrees and bottled drinks I’d been buying on sale to take for my work lunches added up to TWO house payments. So that gave me incentive to always bring leftovers and drink home-brewed iced tea or water.
Sometimes I hear people talk about frugal fatigue, but I always remember something Amy D. said in The Tightwad Gazette, that frugality without creativity will feel like deprivation. So I look on it not as an onerous slog but as a challenge with little prizes along the way – we saved X this week! – and the big prize at the end.
5. What’s your best frugal win?
I don’t tend to have big frugal wins. My wins are small and add up over time, but probably my best one was last year looking at our Verizon cell phone bill and saying, “Hey, this is way, way too much for two people.”
We switched to Google and save $100 a month and have no complaints about the service. We briefly tried Mint, but the service did not work well enough for us.
6. What’s a dumb money mistake you’ve made?
One made rather out of desperation instead of dumbness: We sold our last house in the depths of Great Recession for $25K less than we paid for it after it had been on the market for 11 months.
However, we had sold our previous house for $27K more than we paid for it, so I guess it balances it in the big picture.
But at the time in the Great Recession, we really needed to move out that deeply depressed area and closer to where my husband was working. That move ultimately saved us thousands of dollars of year in taxes and commuting costs, but it hurt to lose that much on a really lovely house.
7. What’s one thing you splurge on?
They all have health issues related to the circumstances that led to them being rescued which we have spent a lot of money sorting out. They live like princesses since they came into our family.
8. What’s one thing you aren’t remotely tempted to splurge on?
A fancy car. I love my little ten-year-old econobox Honda.
9. If $1000 was dropped into your lap today, what would you do with it?
Make extra mortgage payments!
10. Share a frugal tip with other Frugal Girl readers
Unless it’s a basic necessity, always ask yourself, “Is this a need or a want? Is it an urgent need, or can it wait until next week? If I buy this, can I get it repaired? Do I own something else that can do the job?”
You’d be surprised how often you don’t actually “need” something when you ask yourself those questions.
Ruby, thanks so much for participating and answering my questions. And I especially appreciate you sending the picture of your cat with his tongue out; so cute!