How to Live a Frugal Life Without Feeling Like You Need to Give Up Everything
Featuring Jen Smith from modernfrugality.com
Do you feel like you’re giving up just about everything to live a frugal life? Are you twiddling your thumbs because to do anything costs money? Have you given up things you love to do all in the name of debt payoff?
Well, friends, you don’t have to live that way just to profess a frugal lifestyle!
Jen Smith, host of the Frugal Friends Podcast and founder of Modern Frugality, focuses on all things personal finance, friendship, and making frugal living fun. Jen and I discuss how frugality doesn’t have to mean living under a rock. According to us, It’s possible to live a frugal life without scarcity and we explain just how to go about that kind of life!
Why trust Jen when it comes to how to live a frugal life without scarcity?
When Jen proudly moved her tassel on graduation day from graduate school, she also walked off the stage with over $50,000 in student debt. Then she met Mr. Jen, got hitched, and wound up with $78,000 of debt combined, consisting of two student loans and a car. Jen was making $35,000 a year and her new husband was unemployed.
She was 25 years old at the time and didn’t want to live under a rock for the rest of her twenties just to pay off debt that she thought could never be paid off.
Ultimately, it was Jen’s husband who got her on board the debt payoff train. Together, they planned it out and what was originally supposed to take five years to pay off debt, only took two.
With a beginning salary of $35,000, they paid off $78,000 in 23 months. Since 2017, the Smith’s have been debt-free, besides their mortgage.
Jen now spends her time helping other people reframe their concept of frugality so that they can do amazing things with their money in the future, without sacrificing what that means in the present.
Jen’s Top 3 Ways to Get on Board the Debt Free Train
The key to any good friendship, relationship, or collaborative journey is communication. In the beginning, Jen was adamantly against paying off debt because she didn’t want to miss out on life.
“It didn’t take me very long to get on board, but we had a conversation and at the beginning, I was like, “I’m not doing this. I don’t want to live under a rock.”
Then her husband, Travis, started asking about her goals for the future, what she wanted from their life together. If fostering was something that was really important to her.
She started to realize that the answers to his questions, especially the foster care question, would take time, energy, and many resources.
She didn’t want to be beholden to debt payments every month, with added stress, and the absolute necessity to work. Jen wanted income and work flexibility.
Conversations, honest questions and communication is what can get you started on your debt-free journey.
Find an outlet
“Once we were paying off debt, it felt really isolating. We were the only people we knew that had this goal.”
Once the Smiths began paying off debt, Jen felt that they were isolated. After all, they were the only people they knew that had this goal. So, she needed an outlet to regain her motivation for me. That outlet for Jen ended up being writing.
She began her blog, Modern Frugality, because it gave her accountability and the opportunity to reflect on her debt-free journey and celebrate her wins. It also helped other people, which was rewarding and opened up a new passion.
Through writing about her experience, Jen learned how to have a rich life on less, when before this journey, she thought that to have a full life, you needed all these “things.”
“In reality, I needed maybe like half of them, but I would have never realized that had I not taken them away.”
Find an outlet that works for you and keeps you inspired to continue paying off debt.
Find an accountabili-buddy
Doing anything alone makes a challenge much more difficult, and that’s why Jen credits having her husband along on the journey with her as 90% of the reason they succeeded.
“To be on the same page and have the same goal was integral. It was essential. So that’s what was most of it.”
The other 10% of success was finding people that were on the (new) same page as her and Travis. When Jen was spending money and living without a second thought to debt, she attracted people who were doing the same thing.
When she and Travis became serious about frugality, they found couples and friends that were okay doing the activities that they suggested that were free or low cost. Once they started attracting those people, they began building relationships with them. That last 10% is being in a community with likeminded people.
Now, Jen says this community includes Instagram.
“That [Instagram Debt-Free Community] was not around when I was paying off debt, but I would have used it.”
Become part of a community that “gets” you. That can be your spouse, a friend, or an online community like Instagram.
How to Have a Rich Life on Less: According to Jen
Participate in self-care
A much-contested topic in the debt-free community, Jen says that self-care is essential.
“Self-care is so important and I neglected a lot of it while on my debt-free journey. Now it’s something that I preach — about having balance because even if it sets you back a few months, it’s worth saving your sanity.”
Jen even contracted shingles from the stress of working on so many side hustles. She literally ran her body into the ground. That’s why she is so adamant about adding self-care and love into debt free journeys.
Jen says prioritization is key, so if you’re working side gigs to earn more money to pay off debt, just take a hard, honest look at the work you’re doing and decide what is truly worth your time and efforts.
“I had to do higher-value side hustles. That translated to me as a low impact side business.”
By “low impact,” Jen meant a side hustle that was easy to start and capitalized on the skills she already had. For her, that was acupuncture at the time. She did acupuncture at a rehab facility once a week and also worked in a foster group home.
At the same time, Travis was doing paperwork at the hangar he worked at for his day job as an aircraft mechanic.
These were independent contractor (1099 tax form) jobs, but they could make more and do them in fewer hours than other side hustles.
Sometimes it is worth it to spend money on self-care if it sustains you being on this trajectory towards a big financial goal.
If your big financial goal is paying off debt, saving for a house, saving an emergency fund, or maybe retiring early, you have to incorporate self-care and you’ll usually have to pay for it. The level of self-care you’re going to need to sustain such a long road isn’t going to be a one time $10 event.
“I think of [self-care] like the oxygen mask in the airplane. Put your mask on before you can help other people– before you can get back onto your debt-free journey. Sometimes, you really do have to be like, “I need a half an hour, I’m going to go get a massage.” “I’m going to go get a pedicure.” “I’m going to go and go to the gym and beat up on a punching bag,” whatever it is that floats your boat. Sometimes you just have to invest in it because that’s important.”
Jen says that “side hustle culture” is big right now, and put on a pedestal. Sometimes, that puts rose-colored glasses on folks and allows people to ignore red flags of true return on investment of these gigs.
Do your due diligence and make sure you’re taking care of yourself before diving into 5 side hustles plus your full-time job. Debt freedom is a marathon, not a sprint.
Frugality ≠ taboo
We want people to understand that frugality isn’t a bad “F word.” We’re not talking about something that means that you have to sell everything and live in a cardboard box under a bridge.
“It gets this bad rap. When I was growing up, my family was always living paycheck to paycheck and that didn’t mean we were responsible for our money or clipping coupons either.”
Since Jen grew up in a family where shopping was a hobby, she grew up thinking “we have no money.” She thought being frugal meant always buying generic and skipping out on the fun of life.
In reality, frugality is having a rich life with less. It’s a simple life.
“It is healing from a scarcity mindset where I have to buy everything as cheaply as possible. Where I have to use a coupon on everything… healing from that mindset and giving yourself the freedom to spend on the things that you love, but just love fewer things.”
When Jen started her journey, she started taking inventory on what she had around her. She quickly realized she didn’t actually know what she loved.
“I thought I loved eating out. I thought I loved that culture. What I really loved was the efficiency of having someone cook for me and not having to do dishes. That’s what I really loved.”
By taking restaurants out of her life, she figured that out. That became her method for discovering what she couldn’t live without and what she wanted to incorporate back into her life.
She brought back just a few things that she loved and she gave herself the freedom to spend on them.
Everyone has a different “thing” that they love, so frugality doesn’t mean taking that away — it means spending intentionally on it. Frugality doesn’t have to be taboo, frugality can mean spending unapologetically on the things you love in your life.
Budget to shift your mindset
There are many people in the personal finance community tout the lines:
- “You should be saving money.”
- “You should be clipping your coupons.”
- “You should never eat out.”
To Jen, it all comes down to a “never enough” mindset. A scarcity mindset. Jen has found that budgeting has healed that mindset.
“[A budget] helps. Knowing every month that what you are spending is less than what you’re bringing in, and if it’s not, starting to get in that direction, and get on the right side of that, is very healing. It’s a work in progress. I’m still a work in progress.”
Jen grew up in a scarcity mindset, so seeing solid numbers in a budget is crucial to her healing from that. 25 years of scarcity mindset doesn’t just go away overnight, but self-care and knowing where she stands helps her.
It’s a lifelong process, not just a “blink and you’re done” process. Jen says you have to look at your budget and prioritize. If you give up two cheaper things, you can have one premium thing.
Jen says that healing from this comes down to:
“Making those choices over and over and over and empowering yourself with choice and giving yourself that freedom from anxiety, by having the budget and knowing where your money is going. It just takes time of doing that over and over and over.”
Budgeting gives you permission to spend on what you love without feeling like you’re losing control or like you will never have enough.