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.

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. She writes about all the ways they try to save money and cut costs.

I did enjoy the book, mainly with how it motivated me to pursue our financial goals. But then I started to look into the Frugalwoods website and see other people’s reaction to their story.

Meet The Frugalwoods

Online Reaction

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 started finding out that even after “retirement,” they make more than $200,000 a year, they feel duped.

Part of me can see why they feel that way. They thought they could relate to their situation and what they accomplished is accessible to them. When they find out that their situations aren’t lined up, it can take the wind out of their sails.

Pretending to Be Scraping By

The fact that they were able to save over 70% of their income, not including their 401k contributions, 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 of $60k/year and save $140k/year. That amount of savings is going to build fast. And it makes sense how they were able to accomplish “retirement” in their early 30’s.

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

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

When we talk about 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 if they need more income to do the same thing.

Defining Retirement

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

But the key is they work doing things they want to do, 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 totally fine. But people read their description of retirement and get confused. This is partly why they started calling what they did as 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 important point is reaching a spot where you decide how you spend your time, and not doing it only for the 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 different incomes and scenarios. Even if I am reading a story about someone who makes much more than I do, I’m sure there are things I can learn.

The point isn’t to try to invalidate other people’s experiences. Sure, maybe they had certain things easier.

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

  • Validates other people’s stories
  • 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.

If I had as much money as them, would I be as frugal? Probably not. My desire to be frugal in certain areas of our finances is primarily driven by trying to increase 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.

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

Is 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 them considering themselves middle class to be semi-offensive. I don’t consider us to be middle class, based on our income.

Maybe they do this in an attempt to relate more to their audience. The idea is that by them believing in the belief that their income is similar to most people’s, 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, and I think this is one of my strengths.

In either case, even after I found out about what people thought about Frugalwoods, I still do believe this book is worth reading.

One thought on “Meet The Frugalwoods: Inspiration or Manipulation?

  1. You make several factual errors in your critique of their book and blog. First, while Mrs. FW has indeed left the workforce, Mr FW never left the workforce and in fact continues to work full time in a remote capacity. If you spent any time researching this or reading the book you would have known this. Second, they did not have children until ~6 months before purchasing their Vermont property. Thus, they were not really raising a family for most of the time they were saving that large a percent of their income. Third, Middle Class is not an official designation based on income. it includes both income and location, as well as a hefty dose of personal perception. A couple can live much more comfortably in Des Moines on $200K than one in Cambridge MA. In addition My household income is significant’y more than the FW’s, but I consider myself “middle class”. Personal perception matters.

    I would be careful in casting stones regarding who is being transparent.

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