Design your life to include more money, health and happiness with less stuff, space and energy.

Design your life to include more money, health and happiness with less stuff, space and energy.

The World of the Super Frugal

Have you ever met people who seem fairly normal on the surface, only to find out they have a completely secret life? Perhaps you find out they’re a mixed-martial artist, compulsive gambler or superhero. Well you might know someone who dwells in the world of super-frugality (a common tipoff is the Ball jar mug). These are people who have made saving money into an art-form. Their goals, by and large, are to escape the workaday world and often enter retirement or semi-retirement at ages when most people are just ramping up their careers.

We’ve looked at one of these super-frugarians (frugaliens?) in the past: Mr Money Mustache. He’s a Coloradan cum Canuck who dispenses detailed and hilarious case studies in how to live well on a tiny budget. MMM, who lives off of $27K/year for himself, wife and child, is in his late thirties and functionally retired.

But MMM is just the tip of the iceberg. Their are scores of people preaching the gospel of thrift. We ran across the descriptively-named site called Early Retirement Extreme; on it were countless resources for starting your own retirement process such as a 21 Day Makeover that includes many suggestions we recommend here like “buying classics” and living in a walkable location. EME’s blogroll had numerous sites we’d never heard of but look forward to reading:

  • Brave New Life, written by a Colorado (does this mean something?) family man who got off the success hamster wheel and now is happier, working a low-stress job, made easier through a variety of passive income streams.
  • One Hundred Dollars a Month. Kinda like a ultra-thrifty Martha Stewart (meant in the best possible way).
  • To Simplify is written by Glenn, “a saxophonist, composer, arranger, orchestrator, full-time traveler, and big proponent of the simple life.”

They are all types of people in different locations with different flavors of frugality. Most of them point to “Your Money or Your Life,” by Vicki Robin, a bible of sorts for streamlining your finances and becoming financially free without making a ton of money. Most write about making your life more efficient: changing over to a cheaper cell-phone plan, buying food in bulk, etc. Most write about the societal pressures to “work > consume > repeat” and the spiritual discipline needed to escape that cycle and do your own thing. And given that the average American spends 30% of her income on housing (or 50% combined housing and transportation), most of these folks have figured out ways of significantly minimizing housing expenses, many by downsizing, almost all by owning their homes outright.

Many of the suggestions are not easy and require major paradigm shifts as to what constitutes success and a good life. On the other hand, working yourself to the bone, having no free time and constantly being pinched for money is no joyride either. It’s up to decide which is harder.

Piggy bank with belt image via Shutterstock

  • halcyonmind

    FYI: MMM is originally from Canada, not New Zealand. Thus, “Canuck”, not “Kiwi”.

    • David Friedlander

      you’re absolutely right. corrected.

  • paradoxicle

    mixed-marshall artist? 🙂

    • David Friedlander

      yes, it’s a type of law-abiding, multitudinous artistic medium. or a dumb typo.

  • wmstudio


  • DeWhit

    The entire background of Mr. Money Moustache needs to be scrutinized and understood prior to declaring his frugality and money savings as easily attainable.
    Actually, his story is very old news on other economizing and financial sites.

    • David Friedlander

      nowhere do i indicate his, or any of these folks’, frugality is either linear in its acquisition or attainment. i read a fair amount of MMM’s background and it was definitely a winding road to get where he got, and many of the systems that sustain him today were borne out of times when he and his wife made more money from what i can tell.

      as to “old news”–MMM and many of his ilk are still pretty fringy for the vast majority of the population. perhaps a little less so for the type of person who’d come to this site, but hardly common knowledge.

    • greg
  • Chris

    The question for me is,”Are the super frugal zealots or the consuming zealots happy?”

    There have been times in my life when I’ve had to be super frugal, I’ve done it but I didn’t enjoy it. It isn’t how I want to live my life. Nor do I want to be spending myself into debt. That’s why I had to be super frugal 🙂

    For me, it’s about having enough to cover the essentials and some money for a few luxuries that add value to my life.

    • I don’t consider myself a zealot, but I was mentioned in the article so I’ll answer the question from my point of view…

      Yes, I’m extremely happy. I thought i was happy making 6-figures, climbing the corporate ladder, and spending $7K-$8K per month while living in my oversized house, driving nice cars, etc. Now, spending $2500/month in a smaller but nice house, retired from corporate work, and spending as much time as I want doing anything I want – I can definitely say that I’m much happier.

      And, at least for me, it isn’t and never has really been about being frugal. It’s about measuring the costs of “wants” and deciding consciously where you spend your money (different than being super frugal out of necessity, as you mentioned from your experience). In my case, most of my “wants” weren’t all that wanted once I realized what they cost in freedom from work. That likely won’t apply to all people, though.

      • Chris

        So, we’re really pretty much in the same place. Being clear about our wants and deciding if the want is important enough to us or not.

      • MichelleKry

        Brave New Life, your comment is exactly my experience and feelings. I discovered ‘Your Money or Your Life’ about 5 years ago, and it changed my life. During the time it took to be in a position to quit my job, I discovered MMM. With MMM, I feel like I am not the only one out there doing this, and he brings up areas of frugality that I’ve not yet tackled. I’ll have to checkout your site.