Meet The Frugalwoods: Inspiration or Manipulation?

Earlier this year, I read the book Meet the Frugalwoods.

I found their story fascinating. They created a plan to reach their goals and prioritized their spending and savings.

She writes about how they try to save money and cut costs. The gist of their story is they both had jobs in the non-profit sector. They quit their jobs and bought a homestead in Vermont.

I enjoyed the book mainly because it motivated me to pursue my financial goals. But then I started looking into the Frugalwoods website and seeing other people's reactions to their stories.

Meet The Frugalwoods

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From what I can tell, Frugalwoods already had quite a blog following before the book was published. People were fascinated with her ideas and liked her story. And then, I started reading the reviews on Amazon for the book.

It seems as though Frugalwoods made themselves out to be “middle class.” And when people discovered that even after “retirement,” they make more than $200,000 a year, they felt duped.

Part of me can see why they feel that way. They thought they could relate to their situation and that what they accomplished was accessible. Finding out that their problems aren't lined up can take the wind out of their sails.

Pretending To Be Scraping By

They could save over 70% of their income, not including their 401k contributions, which should have made it evident that their income is way more than the average.

If you have a family and make $50,000/year, the most frugal people aren't going to get anywhere close to a 70% savings rate. But if you take home more than $200k/year, that becomes much easier. That means you could live off $60k/year and save $140k/year. That amount of savings is going to build fast. And it makes sense how they accomplished “retirement” in their early 30's.

We don't make $200k/year but are way above average. I don't pretend to be poor and would probably classify our income as upper-middle class.

I'm not ashamed of how much we make. We worked hard to get where we are and will continue pushing things forward. But I'm not going to pretend we are poor, either. Our struggles pale compared to where some other families are, and I know we are well off.

When discussing our finances and ideas, I think it is essential to be transparent about our situation. Not necessarily sharing exact numbers, but giving people an insight into where you are at. Because that could inform them if they can replicate what you are doing or need more income to do the same thing.

Defining Retirement

I honestly don't consider what the Frugalwoods did as a traditional “retirement” is where you stop working. Because it is clear both of them still work.

But the key is they work doing things they want, where it is 100% their choice. Maybe they are trying to pad their nest egg more or find enjoyment in what they do.

In either case, both of them are still working.

And that is fine. But people read their description of retirement and get confused. This is partly why they started calling what they did reaching “financial independence” instead of “retirement.”

We can argue all day about the definition of retirement and how that should look. Having young kids does change the available options. The critical point is reaching a spot where you decide how you spend your time and not the only paycheck. This idea is what defines financial independence, and this is what I'm passionate about.

Learning What You Can

We all like to read stories that we can connect with.

But we all start at different spots, with other incomes and scenarios. Even if I read a story about someone who makes much more than I do, I'm sure I can learn things.

The point isn't to try to invalidate other people's experiences. Sure, maybe they had certain things more accessible.

But what matters to me is what I can start doing. This does a few things:

  • Validates other people's stories
  • It helps prevent the need always to compare yourself with others

When we set ourselves against one another, we don't do anyone good.

Don't Feel Bad About Where You Start.

We don't choose where we were born, how we look, and our personalities.

Some people are going to make more or less money than me. The goal isn't that we should all make the same amount of money because we are on different paths.

We can accuse Frugalwoods of misrepresenting their income class, and I think that has some valid points. But even with a high income, they've done some great things. And what they are doing appears to be making them happy.

Even if Frugalwoods could afford to cut back and not be as frugal, I appreciate how they haven't let their income and net worth stop them from pursuing what matters most to them.

Would I be as frugal if I had as much money as them? Probably not. My desire to be economical in some regions of our finances is primarily driven by increasing our net worth as quickly as possible. But even with some of our budget cuts, they take being frugal to a much deeper level than we do.

Maybe being ultra-frugal is more embedded in their genes. If I compare our lives to theirs, I might be tempted to feel guilty for not doing enough. But then I remember we are on our path and still figuring this out.

Are Frugalwoods Trying To Manipulate Us

I do get the sense they are sincere with their audience. That what they are writing about is true to what they are doing.

But I also do feel like they consider themselves middle-class and semi-offensive. Based on our income, I don't believe we are middle class.

Maybe they do this in an attempt to relate more to their audience. By believing their income is similar to most people's, the idea is that what they accomplished becomes inflated.

I'm learning that not everyone is willing or desires to be as transparent as I am. I'm not saying this to make myself look good or “wise.” But some people are more self-reflective than others, which is one of my strengths.

Even after discovering what people thought about Frugalwoods, I still believe this book is worth reading.