Think you’re frugal?

If you think you are frugal you will feel humbled by this super couple of thrift:

On paper, my wife and I are poor. How poor? In 2005 we made $4,303.84 combined; in 2004 we made half that. We’re in such a low tax bracket that I have trouble convincing the government of our tax return’s accuracy; they simply can’t believe Americans can live on that kind of money.

Yet in many ways, we’re better off than a Wall Street banker: We’ve saved enough money to buy land without a mortgage, we have no credit cards or monthly bills, I work 20 flexible hours a week from home, and my daughter has two stay-at-home parents.

Simply put, we never want for anything, and we have a lot of fun.

Read the rest of his Mother Earth News article

for 75 money saving tips

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10 thoughts on “Think you’re frugal?”

  1. can i come and farm on your land and leave cheaply with you?

    we should start a vegan land-farm thing…

  2. I always thought that when you exchange service for service (or service for housing) as suggested by many of the tips in that article, the IRS was going to want you to pay tax on that exchange. Does anybody know for sure?

    It looks like in many ways, they’re not necessarily living more frugally than “normal” people, but instead they’re bypassing the step of earning and spending money. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s always interesting to see different ways of doing things.

  3. Having value stored in money gives you more flexibility in choosing how you get compensated for your work. Service < => service you only get one thing, though you have the potential to spend less time working for what you need.

    I find their amount of yearly income a bit low to seem real. I wonder if it is gross or what they net after everything is paid for.

  4. I know some people who live off about that much, so I know it can be real… if you’ve got somewhere to stay for free, dumpster food, etc you don’t need much $

  5. Here it is – I knew I wasn’t crazy:

    It sounds like maybe the people in the article have gotten in trouble with the IRS for failing to report bartering income, and they try to spin it by saying “I have trouble convincing the government of our tax return’s accuracy; they simply can’t believe Americans can live on that kind of money.” Or even if they did everything right and haven’t gotten in trouble, something about their tax return raised a red flag with the IRS to look for unreported bartering income.

  6. I saw that article when it came out…I used to be subsribed to Mother Earth News for a while…a decent article…and not to take anything away from them but the Earthstar website by Donna and Kevin, even though I don’t agree 100% with everything they write, is the most inspiring website I have found on these issues:

    “Thinking Small:
    How we Downsized from an Annual
    Income of $42,000 to $6,500

    And lived to tell about it!”

    If you have time for a second article,

    “What’s the Point?” including how we accidentally get on a NEW treadmill to grow our business more and more until we’re no long living independently off the grid in a relaxed fashion but are again stuck in a stressful long hours get-into-debt etc state..expands on many thoughts I’ve had myself…

    After you’ve read those two you’ll either pass or like so many of us you’ll have already have fallen in love with much of their work so don’t need any more pointers but when you are ready for a third article
    “Where Did All the Money Go?
    Rethinking the wisdom of simplicity”

    THAT SAID, there is a danger in looking at those living on $4k or $6k per year in that it can be DISCOURAGING to the rest of us being SOOO far away from where we are, just like reading about someone who has saved a million dollars by age 35 and is soooo far ahead of (most of!) us that it’s discouraging…realize that if and when you can live on 12k per year as a couple or even double that, on 12k per year as an individual, then you have a huge, huge amount of freedom, you can maybe work 30 or 20 hours per week eventually…

    If you earn 40,000 per year for 10 years (ok so you might make less than that on your first year but after 10 years many will be able to make more than that) then if you live very frugally you can save let’s say 1,000 per month for 10 years, which at 10 percent per year will give you…well punch those numbers into and see for yourself..Again you don’t have to save that much your first year, just keep plugging at it and earlier your 10-year average will be higher than what you can save your first or second or third year but less than what you save your 9th or 10th year..

  7. A few disclaimers..

    First, I’m not saying I did exactly that savings schedule..obviously, I was pulling easy round numbers, or powers of ten even, out of the air, 10 years, 1000 per month, 10 percent growth for investments, etc, without knowing what that would come to before running the javascript myself…but what I am saying is that, roughly that order of magnitude, roughly, is doable..the problem is when we make 40,000 most of us then go and increase our spending…by a lot..then if we’re lucky enough to make more, we spend even more, a LOT more…case in point:

    “Living paycheck to paycheck:
    We earn plenty of money, but we still live paycheck to paycheck. How can we stop doing that?”

    “My husband and I made $110,000 last year, but we still live paycheck to paycheck. How can we stop doing that?– Kim, Columbus, Ohio ”

    Enough said? The key isn’t to insist you _have_ to save a grand a month or even 500 a month etc, the key, I think, is to make either no or only _modest_ increases in one’s living expenses, when one transitions from college student to “adult worker”..and that’s something most find so far (your “the sad truth about relationships” covers some of the reasons, indirectly: the pressure to buy a huge house; the pressure to buy a house at all; the cultural norm in the middle class to spend a huge fortune on a wedding; and so on)

    The other disclaimer is I didn’t meant to “damn with faint praise” by saying “Decent”…it is in fact a good article..and while I only found a half dozen of their list of suggestions very directly applicable and useful, that’s saying a lot since most articles it’s hard to find much new at all (if you’re already frugal) to adopt or even be reminded of..they are to be commended for putting together an article with such a long list, sorted by subject area, of so many tips of going frugal!

    That said, do check out Kevin and Donna’s articles at


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