[As part of our new weekly column by Mr. 1500 of 1500Days.com]
The most frugal times of my life were my college years. While my apartment rent was paid with loans, I had to come up with money for everything else. To support myself, I worked for minimum wage ($4.25/hour) at a computer lab. This income had to pay the utility bills and everything else. I kept the air conditioning off.
Another casualty of low income was a healthy diet. Dinners during those years consisted almost entirely of spaghetti. I’d make a huge bowl of noodles on Sunday evening and store them in a big plastic container. I’d reheat them along with some cheap spaghetti sauce for dinner almost Every. Single. Night. Breakfast was cold cereal and lunch was a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I ate for under $20 per week. My poor diet must have scarred me because the very first thing I bought when I received my first paycheck from real work was a pound of ground beef.
Life is better now. Through a lot of hard work and diligent saving, my net worth is about $1,800,000. While I don’t eat spaghetti every night, I still retain my frugal ways with rare exception. I’m careful with my dollars, I have a modest home, and I don’t eat out often and am not afraid to clip coupons.
However, I recently spent time with someone who is younger, far better off and maybe even more frugal than I…
Calling Doctor Frugal
PoF is an anesthesiologist who makes a healthy income. According to one of his recent posts, the average pay for his specialty is $350,000:
PoF happens to live in a red county, so his pay probably exceeds $400,000 (about four times more than the average American household). Despite the big income, he’s not a big spender. The PoF family went through $62,000 in 2016, less than $63,784 that the average American family plowed through in 2013.
Lifestyles of the Rich and Frugal
On a recent vacation, I visited the PoF and his family and was eager to see how they lived. Any time the conversation turned to money or I noticed something related to dollar signs, I made a mental note. Here are some of my favorite observations:
Home: PoF lives in a modest space in a 1950s subdivision. The house is tastefully decorated with mid-century modern furnishings, right down to the dishes and silverware. All of it could have been purchased at expensive antique stores or through auctions. However, the PoF family bought it here and there, piecemeal from thrift stores, Craigslist and garage sales.
The picture at the top of this post is a custom ceiling in a screened-in room at the PoF house. When I asked PoF about it, he said this:
I found the old wood flooring on Craigslist and thought it would make a neat ceiling. I stuffed it into my car and nailed it up myself.
While PoF’s home is 3600 square feet (equally divided between above ground and basement), it cost less than PoF makes in a year. And PoF ‘s vacation home set him back just $15,400.
Grocery shopping (PoF’s wife speaking here):
We shop at Aldi. They have the best fruits and vegetables.
Aldi is a discount grocery chain in the United States. No Whole Foods here!
Vehicles: PoF’s wife drives a modest minivan and he sports an HHR with over 100,000 miles on the odometer:
Bicycles: PoF has a load of bicycles in his garage. While they are nice bikes, they aren’t made out of carbon fiber or exotic metals. He bought most of them used:
I picked up my road bike and these two mountain bikes on Craigslist.
Going out to eat (or not): The PoF and I sampled beers at local microbreweries, but we never went out to eat. A couple of our outings overlapped lunch and we simply packed sandwiches.
And when PoF and his family do go out to eat, they don’t visit high-end steakhouses. Before I departed, I asked PoF for advice about a town that we were stopping at:
Yeah, we’ve stopped off at the Arby’s there for lunch a couple of times…
Vacations: I asked PoF his opinion on signing up for a hotel credit card. I’m going to New York and this card would get me two free nights in a super swanky hotel that would set me back $1,600 otherwise. I told PoF that I’m not really comfortable staying in fancy places like that and he said this:
I don’t like it either. I can open my own doors and carry my own bags.
The PoF family isn’t cheap. Cheap is serving guests Spaghettios, using generic toilet paper (just don’t do it) and tipping poorly. I ate very well at the PoF household and the toilet paper was plush, just how I like it. PoF tipped generously on our microbrew expeditions.
Deprivation or Optimization?
I get into arguments with spendy people frequently:
Why don’t you just treat yourself?
Just buy it!
And my personal favorite (is the sarcasm coming through?):
I could never live your life of deprivation.
The PoF family isn’t deprived in any way. They’ve been to Iceland and recently went on a cruise. PoF’s children have loads of Lego ($$$$$). PoF’s beer making operation is sophisticated and his refrigerator contained many fancy brews.
They spend money on what matters to them and save when it doesn’t. Cars don’t make them happy, so the HHR is all they need. Neither does a big home or designer clothes.
The PoF family has realized that stuff doesn’t bring happiness. Money isn’t an issue when you have a net worth north of $3,000,000, but that isn’t the only cost of stuff. Managing stuff requires your time. Accumulate enough stuff and it owns you.
PoF and his family have optimized their lives for what is important to them. They live minimally and with intention. They optimize their spending and more importantly, optimize their time.
Be Like Dr. Frugal
It’s easy to be frugal when you have no money. Frugality by choice is much more interesting. People like PoF have life figured out. He knows what matters and if it costs money, he spends it. However, figuring out what matters is the true hard part, and it looks like PoF has succeeded.
You may not be able to earn like the PoF family, but you can certainly live like them. I recommend that you do!