How Mrs. Frugalwoods Does Pregnancy, Pet Care, & Other Could-Be-Costly Things
Ester: Hello! My toddler locked herself in someone else’s bathroom and had to be rescued via a window. How’s your evening going? :)
Mrs. Frugalwoods: Oh my goodness! I’m so sorry! My evening has been much more tame :)
Ester: Right! So, can you give us some context, a little bit about who you are and how you became Internet Famous?
Mrs. Frugalwoods: Oh gosh, I don’t think I’m famous. Although our dog Frugal Hound might be.
My background on how I became Mrs. Frugalwoods is that in March 2014, my husband and I came to the realization that we weren’t fulfilled by living the standard, conventional trajectory that one is “supposed” to follow through life. We’d gone to college, gotten good grades, graduated, secured jobs, bought our first house, adopted our dog and, at age 29, we suddenly realized that this was essentially the sum total of what our lives were supposed to comprise. We’d work these, or similar, jobs until we were 65. We’d consume goods and services, we’d buy a bigger house, and we’d devote the majority of our creativity and life energy to working for other people.
We asked ourselves what we’d do if we didn’t need to work traditional jobs. And the answer came pretty quickly: we’d move to a homestead in the woods and pursue things we’re passionate about, but that don’t necessarily generate revenue. Since we’d been living frugally together for nearly 10 years and saving the majority of our income, we calculated that if we ramped up our frugality — to a level that we describe as extreme — we’d be able to reach financial independence and retire to just such a homestead by 2017, when we’re 33.
So, we made the decision in March 2014 to buckle down and start saving over 71% of our income. We frugalized and economized every aspect of our lives and in the process, we discovered the incredible joy that stems from living a life devoid of the pressures of consumerism. Through frugality, we’ve strengthened our marriage, our confidence in our ability to do things for ourselves, and we’ve discovered the passion that stems from pursuing what you want to do in life — not what you have to. Our blog, www.frugalwoods.com, grew out of this self-discovery and it’s a living catalogue of our journey to financial independence at a young age.
Ester: And then you decided to add a baby into the mix! Was that a difficult choice?
Mrs. Frugalwoods: Mr. Frugalwoods and I always knew we wanted to have kids, so Babywoods (who is due on November 25th) is very much a planned part of our journey. One of the reasons we want to live on a homestead in the first place is that we feel it’ll be an awesome venue for raising kiddos. We enjoy living in cities — we’ve lived in Brooklyn, NY, Washington, DC, and now Cambridge, MA. But, we love the idea of raising our children where the pace of life is slower, they’ll have the ability to explore the woods, participate in chores around the property, and learn to create using the natural world around them.
It actually took us awhile to conceive, which is something I’ve shared on Frugalwoods, since it’s not a topic commonly discussed. I figured since I already talk about money, which is supposedly taboo, I might as well talk about another taboo topic: infertility!
Ester: I was glad you did! And it seemed like your community was incredibly supportive and grateful, even, to you for being so candid.
Mrs. Frugalwoods: They really were. Frugalwoods readers are amazingly supportive and I can’t tell you how many people either commented on that post or emailed me privately about their own struggles with infertility or miscarriage and to thank me for being so transparent about this typically invisible topic.
Our road to pregnancy was very, very easy in comparison to the profound hardships that many couples endure, and we feel enormously fortunate to be pregnant now. I wanted to share our story to open up a dialogue about infertility and to show that it’s OK to feel upset about these unexpected experiences in life.
Ester: You may have mentioned this in the post you wrote about your struggles, so forgive me if I’ve forgotten, but were you willing to pay for infertility treatments / IVF had you not conceived?
Mrs. Frugalwoods: Yes, we were willing to pay and it was definitely an instance in life where we were yet again grateful for our frugality. Thanks to how much we save, we would’ve been able to easily pay out of pocket, which is not a luxury many people enjoy. Frugality, for us, is not about what we’re giving up, but about what we stand to gain. Having that cushion of savings makes life so much less difficult when you’re facing a potentially traumatic situation or decision.
And then, we actually conceived the month before we were scheduled to start IUI treatments. I already had the appointment made for IUI and I was crying with happiness when I called to cancel it.
Ester: Did you have a figure in mind that you were willing to spend but beyond which you were not willing to go? So many couples struggling with fertility have to make that difficult decision, to put a price tag on how much they want to have a biological child.
Mrs. Frugalwoods: We didn’t have a specific dollar figure in mind. At that point, we were very much taking it one month at a time. It breaks my heart that infertility treatments are so expensive and that people have to make that sort of decision. I think my honest answer is that since we didn’t find ourselves in that situation, I’m just not sure.
Ester: That makes sense. I also remember from a post you wrote relatively early on, at around 16 weeks, that you hadn’t had to spend very much, if anything, on or to accommodate your pregnancy. Did that change at some point as you progressed?
Mrs. Frugalwoods: It didn’t, actually. I feel tremendously fortunate that at 35 weeks, we’ve spent very little money on this pregnancy and on baby prep. I haven’t purchased any maternity clothing and am instead wearing hand-me-downs that I received from my older sister, various friends, and through my local Buy Nothing Project. They don’t all fit perfectly, they’re not all the right season, and they’re not all my style, but they totally work and I’m very grateful for them!
A lot of our frugality is about accepting the imperfect and even relishing the quirky and whimsical nature of not spending money. So I’ve been deeply thankful for the hand-me-downs I’ve received and it really doesn’t bother me that most of the maternity pants are too short for me ;)
Similarly, the hand-me-downs we’ve received for Babywoods aren’t “perfect,” but we’re completely happy with them. There’s a lot of freedom in accepting what comes our way and not torturing ourselves with trying to have the ideal nursery or clothes or anything else for our child.
Ester: I was jealous to read about your involvement with the Buy Nothing Project. I’d never heard about it before and there isn’t one in my area of Brooklyn. The ones in other Brooklyn neighborhoods are very strict and won’t let outsiders in.
Mrs. Frugalwoods: You should start one! Anyone can form a Buy Nothing chapter in their community. I learned about Buy Nothing from a Frugalwoods reader — I’d never heard of it before, but our readers are constantly teaching me new frugal hacks.
Let me tell you, it is basically my most favorite organization ever. It’s a wonderful, caring community of people giving the things they no longer need to their neighbors. The concept of the true sharing economy — where no money changes hands and people give freely — is very much in line with the ethos we try to live. I’ve given away many, many items through the Project and been delighted to see people able to use stuff that was just gathering dust in our closets. It even inspired me to seriously clean out and de-clutter our house this fall, knowing that I had stuff just sitting around that other people could use!
And the secondhand baby items and maternity clothes we’ve received are beyond fabulous. I’m so thankful for this community of people.
Ester: Have you had a shower, or did you find that, what with all of this, you didn’t need / want one?
Mrs. Frugalwoods: I chose not to have a shower because I have so much for Babywoods already, all of it used, and I don’t like the idea of asking my friends to buy things for me that I can acquire secondhand either for free or for a fraction of the price.
A dear friend of mine offered to host a shower for us. However, she understands my frugal ethos, and so what we decided is that instead of her hosting a baby shower, she’s going to babysit Frugal Hound when we go to the hospital to have Babywoods. I am deeply touched that she’s willing to do this labor of love for us. She realized that what we really need is her time and I’m thankful that Frugal Hound will be well cared for while we’re at the hospital. This type of skill and time sharing is what Mr. Frugalwoods and I try to incorporate into our lives whenever possible. We love being part of a community that helps one another with our talents and time.
Ester: That is very much the mark of a good friend, someone who’s willing to give you what you actually want and not merely what it pleases her to give. So has anything surprised you about the costs of pregnancy? Was there anything you didn’t expect or plan for?
Mrs. Frugalwoods: Honestly, not really. Mr. Frugalwoods and I are fortunate to have excellent health insurance, which I am well aware makes all the difference in terms of prenatal care costs. We have purchased prenatal vitamins and $20 worth of used baby clothes and items from a garage sale. And we’ll have a co-pay of $450 for the birth itself. But beyond that, our spending hasn’t increased over the past nine months.
Ester: Have you been tempted to buy different or more expensive foods?
Mrs. Frugalwoods: I’ve certainly been eating more protein throughout pregnancy, so we’ve purchased more eggs, almonds, beans, and salmon. However, our grocery costs haven’t risen because those foods just supplanted the foods I was eating before.
During the first trimester, I was quite nauseous so I ate a lot of saltines, but fortunately those are cheap! And then during the second trimester, I craved tomato sauce like nobody’s business. So, my personal chef, aka Mr. Frugalwoods, whipped up homemade tomato sauce for me every week, using canned tomatoes purchased in bulk from Costco. And now in the third trimester, I find the cravings and nausea are gone and I’m eating more normally. Lots of small, frequent meals throughout the day seem to work well for me.
I’ve also been committed to having as healthy a pregnancy as possible — I figure I might as well control what I can in this unpredictable life stage — so I’ve eliminated sweets for the most part (with occasional allowances for my homemade banana breads … I mean, a girl has to have some sugar).
Ester: Even Superman has Kryptonite. Is there anything that’s been an unexpected challenge? Or anything you think might pose a challenge, once the baby arrives?
Mrs. Frugalwoods: I’ve been really lucky to have a super easy pregnancy, so I haven’t felt the need to spend on anything specific. For us, the challenges haven’t been spending-related, they’ve been new parent anxiety-related. We were very scared that we’d miscarry during the first trimester and now we’re praying for a safe and healthy delivery.
We’ve entered the cycle of constant worry that most parents feel for, oh, I’m assuming 18 years ;) Will our daughter be healthy? Are we adequately prepared to care for her? Things of that nature have definitely been the challenge for us.
Mr. Frugalwoods and I are natural researchers and over-planners for everything in our lives (my husband is a man who researched chest freezers for 8 hours before deciding which one to purchase) and, much as we try to plan for Babywoods, we know there will be plenty of unexpected surprises and challenges. We’re first-time parents and we know we have no idea what we’re doing, so the whole thing will be an adventure for us. I’m looking forward to learning about frugality-while-parenting and I’m sure we’ll uncover all sorts of bizarre and interesting things on the journey.
Ester: Maybe. We were pretty lucky the first time around too and we got by with relatively little, all gotten secondhand or as gifts. There wasn’t really anything expensive it turned out we needed. I mean, I still don’t know what a layette is and my first child is now three. She’s doing fine.
Mrs. Frugalwoods: That’s awesome. I have no idea what a layette is either.
Ester: Sounds pretty, though!
Mrs. Frugalwoods: I love hearing from experienced frugal parents like you who’ve charted the waters and found that kids do just fine without all the expensive trappings of the baby industrial complex. It’s inspiring! I’m actually not sure that our daughter will have a single new thing in her entire nursery … hah!
Ester: Listen, she has a nursery? She’s ahead of the game. We did buy a wipe warmer because it was so cold in her bedroom all the time and I overidentified with how uncomfortable she must be getting doused with something wet and chilly; but other people dismiss those as a total waste. And I definitely remember buying some bottles and pacifiers, since those, I was told, it wasn’t advisable to get used. But yeah, you can very much get by without succumbing to the Industrial Complex, or even setting foot in one of those big-box baby stores.
Mrs. Frugalwoods: Yes! You’re speaking my language! That’s been a goal of mine — to not set foot inside a baby store. So far, so good! I do need to buy some consumable items like diaper rash cream, but I’ll likely order that off of Amazon and use our Amazon credit card rewards points, so hopefully that doesn’t count as a big-box store :).
Ester: I don’t think of it as a big-box store, or at least, not a big-box baby store, so as far as I’m concerned, your goal is safe.
Mrs. Frugalwoods: Fabulous. It’s the little things in life that make me excited.
Ester: Oh totally. How is Frugal Hound handling all of these changes, by the way? And does she pull her weight in this frugal adventure? I was just reading about Sam Simon’s dog, which apparently cost him six-figures annually, and I know that Ira Glass has been up front about having to spend huge amounts on his as well. My best friend Charrow put together a great illustration for the site once about how much she has to spend semi-regularly on her wonderful but occasionally high-maintenance rescue.
All of which is to say: pets are great and yet can be hard on the wallet.
Mrs. Frugalwoods: Too true! We always say, it’d be cheaper if we didn’t have Frugal Hound, but it’s much more fun having her in our lives. Our goal isn’t to live as cheaply as possible, it’s to live the lives we want to live. And so, even though pets and kids are expensive, they’re priorities for us, so we’re happy to spend on them.
That being said, Frugal Hound clocks in at under $900/year. We care for her responsibly but frugally, so she’s very much a participating frugal member of the household. She’s a rescued greyhound and greyhounds are a calm, laid-back breed that doesn’t require expensive care, grooming, or diet. When we decided to adopt a dog, we researched breeds and learned that greyhounds make ideal city pets since they’re fine living in small spaces, they don’t bark or shed much, and they’re able to stay home alone all day. Frugal Hound (and greyhounds everywhere) are the laziest, most loving dogs. When we first adopted her, we put a webcam on her while we were at work to make sure she was OK home alone and, let me tell you, that dog slept all day long. She barely rolled over. Needless to say, she’s fine at home without a dog walker or doggie daycare.
Plus, we purchase affordable, generic salmon and sweet potato grain-free kibble from Costco and preventative heartworm, flea, and tick meds to stave off those illnesses. We also insource all of her grooming: we brush her teeth, bathe her, trim her claws, clean her ears, and brush her fur ourselves. She’s a pretty frugal gal!
Ester: Aw, that’s great! So any last thoughts, things you want to add?
Mrs. Frugalwoods: I think that having a baby is like a lot of other major events in life — weddings, graduations, buying a new house — we often build them up as excuses to spend money. But in reality, there’s usually no need. There are certainly required expenses associated with having a kid, but I don’t think it has to be as expensive as our culture makes it out to be.
I’ve found that marketers and advertisements attempt to prey on the fears that all parents-to-be have. We’re all worried about whether or not our child will be safe, healthy, happy, and loved. But there’s really not much we can buy to ensure those things. I know that charting the path-less-purchased is unusual, but I think it’s something everyone can apply to a degree in the context of whatever life event they’re experiencing. No one runs ads for how spectacular frugality is, so I like to be a one-woman frugal promoter, along with fellow frugal devotees like you!
Ester: Well, this is a very friendly audience for that message, and I imagine our readers are cheering you on. Lots of luck as you enter this last month! B’sha’ah tovah, as my people say. (May everything happen at the right time.) And thanks for chatting with us.
Mrs. Frugalwoods: I love that: “May everything happen at the right time.” That’s such a perfect articulation of loving life and savoring the present while anticipating what’s in store. Beautiful! It was my absolute pleasure — thank you so much for having me!