Building a life of freedom in the woods

Meet the Frugalwoods book coverIn 2014, Liz Thames and her husband, Nate, were a conventional young couple working nine-to-five jobs in the city. But they dreamed of another life, setting up home in the woods of rural Vermont while no longer having to rely on a monthly paycheque.

Meet the Frugalwoods: Achieving Financial Independence Through Simple Living is the story of this transition.

Thames describes how she and her husband embrace simplicity and turn their backs on keeping up with the Joneses.

She sets out a familiar world of office job monotony, with weekends constituting “a race to prepare for the next week”, before sketching out a route towards a different way of living.

Thames’ lament, as she finds herself bogged down by the daily grind, will strike a chord with many: “When was I supposed to figure out what I was passionate about? When would I do something that mattered? Where was the space in my life to uncover deeper meaning?”

The answer the couple fix upon is to use extreme frugality to enable them to become financially independent and begin a new life in the woods.

I wouldn’t say this is a perfect book.

A thoughtful disclaimer in the introduction, in which Thames acknowledges the privileges she and her husband have enjoyed which made their financial journey easier, can sometimes jar with passages in the book striking a different tone.

“I couldn’t understand why we weren’t getting pregnant. Had the fertility gods not read the statistics? That children do better with two parents? That children do better in a home that’s financially secure? That children do better when mothers have advanced degrees?”

(I’ll give the author the benefit of the doubt with this particular passage and attribute this to an attempt at a joke, rather than a genuine view that some people are more deserving of fertility than others.)

Other attempts at humour can also be a little hit-and-miss on occasion.

At one point early in the book, Thames describes at great length how she has been wanting then-boyfriend Nate to propose, to the extent that she makes a list of baby names that sound good with his last name.

He then takes her for a walk while acting strangely and carrying a mystery bag.

“Was this a sign that he was on drugs? Sweating, fast walking, a quick pulse, nervous eyes, and an unexplained backpack? I made a mental note to google it later. […] Nate said he wanted to go inside to use the restroom. To do drugs? I wondered.”

It would at least make a more interesting plot twist than what we know is inevitably coming.

But many passages are hugely evocative and skilfully woven.

“Consumerism made me into an insatiable, grabbing taker, whereas frugality transformed me into a mindful, grateful giver.

“Once I turned on this mind-set of spending less, and as a consequence using fewer natural resources, I was amazed at all the areas where I could simultaneously conserve money and fossil fuels. […]

“My frugality became about something broader and more momentous than simply the money I could save in my bank account. It was about my impact on our earth. It was about what I could do with my time and how I could interact with the world.”

Meet the Frugalwoods has come in for criticism from some in the financial blogging community. In her book, Thames does not reveal what the couple earns. Some argue that without spelling out the importance of a high wage, the reader is left in the dark about a major aspect of becoming financially independent.

Others question whether this is a true FIRE (financial independence, retire early) story when, even after the couple’s transition to a life ‘independent’ of jobs, both appear to continue working in some capacity.

I’d question both of these criticisms.

Firstly, this book’s strength lies not in its usefulness as a how-to guide but as an inspirational story. It is a memoir, not an instruction manual. What financial details Thames wants to keep to herself is her business.

Secondly, financial independence doesn’t have to mean giving up work forever. It’s about giving up the need to work.

This is at its heart a story not about the numbers but about a couple’s experience in stepping away from consumerism and finding freedom, rather than deprivation, as a result.

While in my view it has its flaws, it still has a great deal of inspiration to offer anyone who seeks a different type of life.

I was sent a complimentary review copy of this book.

Instagram and the Creme Egg doughnut

Picture the scene: you’re in the world’s most hipster coffee house. Everyone except you has a beautiful, floral neck tattoo.

An array of pristine, colourful and quirky pastry goods are set out in front of you as you queue up to make your order. You know you like the plain cinnamon doughnut: you tried it one before and it was perhaps the best you’ve ever tasted in your life.

But – oh! – how beautiful these others look. There’s novelty confectionary-heaps on top of each of them. Colour swirls here, glitter there.

You plump for an icing-smothered doughnut with half a Creme Egg on top of it, because…well, it’s just so Instagrammable.

And you take the picture. You post it. You bite into the pastry with a sense of satisfaction, then realise that of course, it’s far too sugary.

You should have gone for the plain one that would look like a dried camel turd on pictures but tastes…perfect.

You’re a social meejit.

So, yes, anyone looking at my Instagram account will realise that this scenario is not exactly a random figment of my imagination.

A creme egg doughnut

Before I go any further, I want to say that railing against the imaginary ‘perfect lives’ people post on Instagram feels really old-hat.

I do think that there’s a lot of hysteria about people wanting to put a bit of gloss on the photos they send into the world. I, personally, love pretty pictures. I love looking at beautiful travel snaps, nice interiors and cute puppies. AND I DON’T CARE.

We also want to put these things out in the world, when we’re sharing our own photos. We all want to appear creative, well-travelled and stylish. Of course we do.

But the problem comes when the Instagram tail starts wagging the living-your-life dog.

I don’t particularly want to become one of those people who takes it all too far and just posts sickeningly smug pictures on my feed.

So my fourth monthly challenge will see me deliberately doing the opposite.

Every day, I will post a photo on Instagram of something in my life that is mundane, disappointing, imperfect or embarrassing.

Something I’d never usually want to post.

Not to complain about it, but just as a reminder that the monotony of life makes up 98 per cent of our existence. It can still be marvellous in its own unremarkable little way.

I will call my April challenge Hashtag Underwhelming.

Follow along: I’m on Insta @wantlessblog

2018: My year of 30-day challenges

Heavy fog on a moor

There’s something dreary about this time of year.

The party season, with all its excesses and its pressures, is coming to an end. In its place comes the prospect of months of long days at work, dark evening commutes and cold, wet weekends.

If an image comes to my mind, it’s the photo I took, above, on Dartmoor at the beginning of this year. What should have been a stunning walk in one of the UK’s most beautiful places ended up being one part pointless and one part creepy-as-hell.

That’s why I’ve never really understood New Year’s resolutions. January is miserable enough without trying to get through it sugar-free, or by committing to taking early-morning runs in the drizzle each day.

You only feel like a failure when you inevitably find yourself hiding under your duvet one morning doing shameful things with a family-size bag of Revels.

Instead, for 2018, I’m hoping to set myself challenges in a different way.

Taking my inspiration from a talk by Matt Cutts (who was himself inspired by Morgan Spurlock), I’d like to try a series of 30-day challenges for each month of the year.

I’ll put no pressure on myself to stick with the habit after the month has elapsed. If it works for me, I’ll carry on. If it doesn’t, I can ditch it with my head held high.

For my first month, I’m going to try something which has been intriguing me for a while now: a shopping ban.

I’ve followed with interest as Michelle McGagh dived into her no-spend year, Cait Flanders completed her epic two-year shopping ban and other bloggers tried similar challenges, like trying not to buy new clothes for a year.

But as a reformed consumer who rarely goes shopping any more, I’ve always assumed that I don’t need to follow suit.

I’m now putting my smug assumptions to the test. Can I save a pile of cash by trying a shopping ban? Will it all be a piece of cake? Only one way to find out!

The rules for no-spend challenges can vary, so here are the groundrules I’m setting myself for January:

All purchases will be banned except for the following:

  • Groceries and essential household products (think loo roll)
  • Utilities and bills
  • Basic travel costs
  • A £20 monthly entertainment budget, not to be used on any physical goods

I’d be interested to know if people think some more rules (or more exceptions) should be on the list – thoughts, anyone?

Back by popular demand: brutally honest cosmetics reviews

Well, you spoke and I listened: I’m reviving my snarky cosmetics reviews.

So many readers said they’d like me to reprise the series, so after a brief break (for my own sanity – I can’t stand being this high-maintenance!) they’re back.

This month, I will be trying out four neglected beauty products from my cupboard to see whether they’re worth keeping.

As in previous months, I’ll be sampling the products on one side of my face/body/wherever and getting my wife, Ruth, to guess which side has been getting the treatment.

Only the very best survive. It’s like the Hunger Games – for my face.

For the third round of the experiment, I’ll be testing out:

Four beauty products

For the hands: Neal’s Yard Geranium and Orange Hand Cream

For the body: Ragdale Hall body scrub

For the face: Radial Super Acids X-treme Acid Rush Peel

For the lips: Korres Guava Lip Butter

If anyone needs to catch up on previous installments of my silly reviews, here they are:

Round One results

Round Two results

And, given that this is a fairly short post, let me point you towards an interview I’ve recently done with the lovely Gilbert Index blog here. We discuss low-tech finance hacks, panic attacks and getting drunk at a Japanese festival. What’s not to like?


If you like what you read, subscribe to Want Less via the arrow at the top of the page, follow Claire on social media using the buttons under the title or leave a comment below. Also, feel free to check out Claire’s other site, Simplicity Voices.

 

A non-grubby way to use affiliate links on Want Less

blossom

I think I’ve come up with a win-win-win.

Bear with me, but I reckon it’s a way that:

  • I can give personal recommendations for any tools I’m using to simplify my life and improve my finances;
  • You can get the unbiased lowdown and decide whether they might work for you;
  • And, as an added bonus, we might even raise some money for a good cause.

I’ve always been strongly of the opinion that this site should not contain advertising. So that’s why you see no banner ads promising ‘one weird trick’ to remove belly fat and no paid guest posts by companies or brands bigging up their wares. I understand why some people do that, but speaking as someone who writes about cutting back, saving money and living with less, well, it didn’t seem right.

This means, effectively, that I’ve been leaving some money on the table.

But what if we can harness some of that money for good?

Now, don’t panic, I’m not going to start plastering the site with click-bait ads. But what I am talking about is starting to use the occasional affiliate link.

Affiliate links work like any other link – they take you through to another website when you click on it. But they’re set up so the referring site can sometimes get a reward of a few pennies, perhaps per click or perhaps when the reader signs up with an account.

Honestly, I’ve been really torn about whether to start using these or not. On the one hand, I love discovering things that make my life simpler or cheaper and sharing my discoveries here. But I would never want my readers to think I was taking advantage of them or didn’t have their best interests at heart. YOU ARE MY PEOPLE!

I would absolutely hate it if people thought I was pushing some product down their throat in order to make a few pence for myself. I mean, ugh.

Affiliate links also don’t make a huge amount of money, so the idea of ‘selling out’ for a couple of quid seemed stupid.

But I’ve been thinking long and hard and … I reckon I’ve devised a non-grubby way of occasionally using affiliate links on the site. Here goes.

My pledges are:

  • All my writing will remain completely unbiased, objective and free from commerical interests;
  • I will continue to give my REAL recommendations for great services I use and get value from, which I think could save you either money, time or stress. Sometimes I may use an affiliate link, sometimes not, but it’ll never influence my writing;
  • Posts with affiliate links will be few and far between and I won’t shy away from raising any potential downsides of the products or services linked to;
  • Affiliate links will always be clearly marked as such;
  • ALL money I make through affiliate links, I will donate to the debt charity StepChange.

Yup, that’s right. Any and all money the site makes in this way will go straight to charity.

I’m finally emerging from a really long and painful battle with debt, but I know so many people have it so much worse than me. I haven’t faced long periods of joblessness, been chased by bailiffs or had my home repossessed. I haven’t had to support children or had to choose between paying off debts or buying essentials like food. Problem debt wrecks homes and families, and StepChange does great work helping those in crisis.

I think this could be a good way to tell you about services I get value from – which I would do anyway – while contributing to a great cause.

For example, I might recommend a book about minimalism, a survey site I’ve been using to make some spare cash or a meditation app.

But I’m keen to hear your thoughts. Seriously, if everyone thinks it’s a dreadful idea, it won’t happen. Simple as that.

Do you think it’s a good plan? Or would it make you trust the site less? Please feel free to leave an honest message below and let’s see where we go.


If you like what you read, subscribe to Want Less via the arrow at the top of the page, follow Claire on social media using the buttons under the title or leave a comment below. Also, feel free to check out Claire’s other site, Simplicity Voices.