Frugal Friends Don’t Let Friends…


“Friendship is the soul’s heaven,” according to Bronson Alcott, and it’s also a key to unlocking frugal synergy. Expensive friends certainly exist; they aren’t pretending to be poor and always invite you on expensive outings. Even frugal friends have their costs (weddings!). But a network of friends is invaluable, financially and otherwise, as friends can naturally share talents, time, and possessions with each other. Not to mention the many immaterial beauties of friendship. Here’s how to increase your financial flexibility with frugal friends synergy.

Frugal friends don’t let friends…

Pay for professional services. Don’t worry, I don’t let my friends drill cavities or deliver babies. But there are lots of skills you can trade for or discount among your comrades. For example, Neil took graduation pictures for a number of high school students we knew and charged only a fraction of typical studio costs. More recently, my brother-in-law shared extensive labor and expertise to help Neil DIY a major home repair project. It’s always good to know a mechanic, a computer whiz, a cosmetologist, a pastry chef, a remodeler, and people from any number of other fields since it’s cheaper to enlist a pal’s help than to pay a professional.

Of course you should always show appreciation for your friends’ time. Give a thoughtful gift, buy lunch, or offer your own talents next time they need help. Lending a hand is a great way to inflate your usefulness instead of your lifestyle. When you do need a professional, ask friends for recommendations.

Buy stuff they can borrow. Does every homeowner on earth really need to own a 15-ft extension ladder? Or pick-up truck? We lend and borrow tools, gadgets, and other special-use items among friends regularly. Currently we’re in possession of a friends’ electric smoker. Neil and his buddy even bought a bike tool set to share between them. It just doesn’t make sense for everyone to multiply the cost, storage, and maintenance of special use equipment. Borrowing is a great option to consider before buying used.

My girlfriends and I also lend everyday items like clothing (especially baby and maternity), books, baby gear, and special occasion shoes or accessories. All of the punjabis I’ll wear on my trip to India this summer are on loan as well (thanks!).

Being part of a community also opens opportunities for receiving free or friend-price items. Almost all of our furniture has come through our network of family and friends (and their network of family and friends). With hand-me-downs it helps not to be too picky; remember, life is not about your preferences.

Pay movers. When we moved into our home we didn’t have to rent a truck or hire movers because 25 people showed up to help! I’m sure if we were going farther than eight doors down we might’ve needed a truck. But we’ve always moved for the cost of pizza for our volunteers. And we’ve helped many other friends move. That’s how frugal friend synergy should work.

Pay babysitters. We spent less than $100 total on babysitting during our first four years of parenting, despite leaving the kids with sitters a couple times a week. We are very blessed to have help from family and many trusted volunteers from our church. However, much of the free childcare we’ve received has come through swapping with friends. For example, we have a date-night co-op where we trade off babysitting on Friday evenings. When we do need to hire a sitter, we’re happy to use references from people we know personally. (Update: Three years later, this has changed and we have spent more in this area, but the date night swap is still a great idea for many people.)

Over-spend on entertainment. While it’s fun to go to restaurants or movies with friends sometimes, we’re more likely to invite people over for dinner, a cookout, or a bonfire at our house. Hosting has its costs, but can often be done inexpensively when you shop sales, cook homemade, or ask people to potluck or pitch in toward pizza. Plus hospitality is a habit we’re willing to spend on.

Get lonely. An American epidemic of loneliness is in effect as we work extra hours, shuttle kids to extracurriculars, and zone out in the front of the TV in sheer exhaustion. Instead our family opts for building community. We believe close relationships, along with generosity, are a integral part of a good life so we make them a priority by setting aside several evenings a week for social and church gatherings (these two are often one and the same for us). We aren’t side-hustling during these times, but we also aren’t over-spending on recreational shopping or entertainment.

Whatever your faith or schedule looks like, don’t end up lonely at the top. Make time for friends. A good pal will offer their power tools, sewing services, and a listening ear. It truly pays dividends to have friends.

How have friends helped you save money? Share your examples of frugal friends synergy!

Why Everyone Needs to Think About FIRE

You’re never too young to plan for retirement. Okay, maybe 2 is too young.

We’ve been chiming in on the trending topic of Financial Independence/Early Retirement (FIRE) here lately. But what if FIRE is the furthest thing from your thoughts? Maybe you’re just making it. Maybe you’re retirement age, but with no end in sight. Or maybe you’re still in college, just trying to get through the semester. No matter what your phase of life or financial situation, you owe it to yourself to think about at least the FI in FIRE.

We’ve critiqued some of the philosophical/theological implications of the phrase “financial independence,” but we can’t argue with the math. We would all love to be as free financially as possible, right? While that might be far from your reality today, there are realistic steps everyone can take to work toward freeing up your finances in the future. Rather than focusing exclusively on the finish line of “financial independence,” we like to think of it as a continuum of increasing freedom, which we call financial flexibility.

The basic recipe for financial flexibility looks like less expenses and more passive income, especially from investments. The less money we need to actively earn via a traditional job/paycheck, the more options we’ll have. More options for taking opportunities that come our way. For changing careers or our reducing workloads. For family, travel, service, and charitable giving. And options for retiring.

Sounds great, but some common misconceptions get in the way of planning for retirement and/or financial flexibility. Are any of these holding you up?

  1. I’m never going to retire. Not with that attitude, you aren’t! But there are lots of real reasons people feel pessimistic about money. Overwhelming debt or other large financial responsibilities can make us feel like we’ll never dig our way out. Rather than getting defeated by the obstacles, try to focus on what you can do. At the very minimum, strive contribute enough to your retirement account to get your employer’s match. Otherwise, you’re essentially kissing part of your paycheck good-bye. More on next steps under #3.
  2. The stock market isn’t safe. We don’t believe true “safety” comes from any financial source. But as far as destinations for your retirement savings go, the stock market is where it’s at. While it certainly takes its dips, the roller coaster has steadily trended upward over time, generally at a rate of 7-8%. That’s far better than you’ll get in a savings account–and the only way to beat inflation. And the power of compounding interest really takes off over time.
  3. Investing is for the wealthy. I used to believe this, not realizing that investing is exactly how “average” people get wealthy. Investing slowly and steadily over the course of 20-30 years can get you where you need to be to retire without doing anything extreme. Start by getting that employer match. Next, work your way up to 15%. Got that down? Then see if you can max out your 401(k) ($19,000 per person per year) and IRAs ($6000).
  4. You never know what will happen. I used to feel like declaring a big financial plan was unwise because you never know what life will bring. If we set a big goal and didn’t meet it on time due to unforeseen circumstances, this would feel like a failure. Yet life’s unexpected nature is exactly why you should be saving and planning for the future. Yes, sickness, emergency, career change, or other surprises could dramatically modify your financial outlook. So why not be prepared? In addition to investing, get a good life insurance policy for both spouses, and long-term disability insurance.

What can you do today? It all depends on your situation. But everyone should consider the following potential steps toward increasing financial flexibility–and therefore freedom.

  1. Reduce debt. If you’re still in school, seek alternatives to paying for a portion of tuition, such as scholarships, grant, work-study, and summer/side jobs. And please, don’t take out loans to cover living expenses. When you’re out of school, resist the urge to defer loans unless absolutely necessary. Try to keep living expenses low at least until you’re done paying off those loans. And avoid consumer debt by starting an emergency fund of $1000, and then building it to 3-6 months’ living expenses.
  2. Spend less. I know it sounds obvious, but the less you spend, the less income you need. At the same time, the more you can invest for the future. You can also spend more on causes you care about, like charitable giving and pursuing dreams like travel, being home to raise kids, or entrepreneurship. There are a million and one ways to cut expenses, and it all depends on what’s worth it to you. Some of the top areas to cut are:
    housing (mortgage/rent no more than 25% of your income; get a roommate)
    transportation (try saving up for an older car vs. taking a loan),
    food (cook at home, pack lunch, pre-game restaurant outings).
  3. Learn about investing. If the stock market sounds intimidating or confusing, read about it in straightforward books like The Legacy Journey (see appendix) or The Simple Path to Wealth. The thing I love about investing is that we don’t have to spend a lot of time side-hustling to earn future passive income. We can build wealth without additional effort, simply by putting money in low-fee index funds (we use Vanguard) consistently over time.

What are your hang-ups when it comes to planning for retirement? And what step could you take today to invest in your future?

FIRE Safety

Maybe we’re not the best people to take fire safety advice from.

Although it presents less raw danger than a physical flame, FIRE (financial independence/early retirement) is not necessarily safe for the soul. So what is the stop, drop, and roll of the FIRE movement?

Fire safety is drilled in our kids at a young age. Even my preschooler can tell you what to do if you catch on fire: stop, drop, and roll. Kids have fire drills at school and on the bus, and are encouraged to plan escape routes for home. It makes sense that fire safety is a big deal, and that teachers and firefighters know how to make it memorable.

Even if you never plan to retire early, we all need safeguards against losing ourselves as we navigate money, work, and life. That’s why I believe we should all pursue financial flexibility; there’s no benefit to being enslaved by our jobs by over-extending ourselves financially. So, what’s the soul-risk in pursuing FIRE or even financial flexibility?

Last week we talked about Luke 12, where a man retires early and decides to live unabashedly for his own pleasure. The catch? He dies on day one of retirement. It’s a parable, so it’s meant to teach some lessons about relying on God, living for yourself, and the foolishness of putting all your hope in this short life.

And then there are verses like this one: What do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? (Matthew 16:26). You could gain freedom from work, freedom from worrying about money, but lose yourself in the process. Even the popular blogger and early retiree Mad FIentist admits he fell into depression on the intense journey to FIRE (scroll down to Dark Times here).

Like money itself, FIRE isn’t inherently good or bad, it’s a tool that depends on how you pursue it and you use it. Here’s the stop, drop, and roll of FIRE soul-safety as I see it:

Purpose. Many people advise you don’t just retire from something, but retire to something. I believe this should mean more than projects, hobbies, or travel. Life is most satisfying when it’s lived for a bigger purpose. How will you connect your interests and talents with your values and purpose? Finding how these connect before retirement will help you find contentment and fulfillment when you leave behind traditional work.

Practice makes perfect. What do you dream of doing with your time in retirement? Makes sure you do some of that now! This will help you avoid living for the future but missing the present and make sure you’re living a useful life. And it will also hone your dreams and plans and you figure out exactly what your why is for retiring early. Here are some areas worth practicing:

Generosity. There’s no better way to guard the heart against greed than to give charitably and sacrificially. I’m not necessarily talking about extravagant gifts or buying your friends dinner. It’s great to be generous to those you know, but sometimes greater to help those you’ll never even meet. There are no end of good causes and reputable charities supporting them. Read more on the benefits of giving and how to find an effective charity.

Volunteering. Giving your money is not interchangeable with giving your time and talents. But both are undoubtedly important ways to make sure you’re not just living for you and losing your soul along the way. For us, this looks like volunteer ministry such as leading and teaching home group Bible study, serving as elders, and discipling new leaders.

Relationships. Staying connected with people along the way to FIRE is invaluable. Making time for the people in your life ensures you have a healthy family and friendships to enjoy your retirement or flexibility with. It’s part of living for more than yourself. And it also opens you up to the possibility of accountability and feedback along your journey to FIRE.

What else do you see as important for FIRE safety?

The Raging FIRE Debate (And Why I Think Everyone Is Asking the Wrong Questions)

The Financial Independence/Early Retirement is making national news left and right. It’s been featured in many major media outlets, from Forbes to PBS. The secret is out: more and more people are opting out of work in their 30s, 40s, and 50s, and they claim it’s really not that hard to do.

On top of all that, Suzy Orman has come out of retirement and stated no one should ever retire early, kindling a fierce debate. She claims there is no “safe” amount of money to save because you never know what will happen.

We’ve had our own qualms about FIRE movement, yet are on track to retire long before age 60. But the questions we’ve wrestled with are perhaps a bit different than the ones that get debated so often in this space.

There’s no doubt in my mind that many people can save enough to retire early. I fully acknowledge that we don’t know how much the future costs. We don’t know exactly how much raising kids will cost. We don’t know exactly how much aging and health care will cost. And we don’t know what unexpected challenges or opportunities life may bring.

What I do know is that our income happens to be more than we feel is reasonably necessary to spend. And as we aren’t making an extraordinary amount of money or living an extremely frugal lifestyle, I imagine there are many, not all, but many who could save enough to exit early, too.

Our question about early retirement isn’t whether it’s possible, but is it good? Is it spiritually wise? Passages like Luke 12:13-21 should leave us wary of socking away so much wealth that we never have to work again. Give it a quick read:

Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”

Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”

And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’

“Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” ’

“But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’

“This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”

A far as I can tell, the real problem isn’t that the man in the story was rich, or was able to retire early, but rather: 1. He thought he didn’t need God, and 2. How he planned to spend his retirement.

We’ve always hesitated to latch onto the phrase “financial independence” (the first half of FIRE) because we view ourselves as ultimately dependent beings. We are not in total control of our health, our opportunities, our circumstances, or even our aptitudes. This is not to say that we aren’t dynamic beings who are responsible for our choices We just aren’t the end-all, be-all of our existence. We also want to acknowledge that we have abilities and opportunities we didn’t deserve or earn. While highly valuing our ability to make choices that impact our lives, we simultaneously see our talents, intellect, employment, and money itself all as provisions from God.

So while I know people use FI to refer to a mathematical reality, i.e., I don’t need to keep earning money from work, we prefer the term “financial flexibility.” First off, it doesn’t declare an independence we don’t believe is possible. And secondly, it suggests a continuum along which we are always moving. We can have the same mathematical/financial goal as someone pursuing “FI,” but we want our terms to reflect our worldview.

Our other qualm with FIRE is how retirement is to be spent.  The common objections of “you’ll be bored,” “you’ll miss work,” or “who wants to golf all the time?” again fall flat for me. There are no end of interesting ways to spend your time outside of full-time employment. And I’m sure most early retirees continue to work at something, and often continue to earn money. People who are smart, talented, and hard-working enough to retire early probably aren’t decaying in front of Netflix or endlessly golfing.

The subject in Luke 12 has the hedonistic goal to “eat, drink, and be merry.” For those of us who don’t happen to struggle with gluttony, it would still be tempting to indulge in a different type of hedonism: self-improvement. This could look like learning new skills, a new language, reading, exercising, creating….but if it’s all about a better me, I’m still living a different version of “be merry.”

The sad ending of the Luke 12 parable is that “tomorrow you die.” And whether you live to 18 or 80, we all die some “tomorrow.” Human life is short, and it’ll be over before we know it. The only way to outlast ourselves is to live for eternity, for a purpose bigger than us. So by all means, we should invest in ourselves, but all self-improvement should serve the purpose of improving the lives of others.

So we only feel okay with RE if we use our freedom as a way to serve others. What will that look like? We’ll let God show us as the time draws near. Which is not to say we have no ideas, but if it’s going to service-oriented, we want to be sensitive to needs and opportunities as they arise. Next time I’ll talk about the key to pursuing FIRE without getting burned.

What are your qualms about financial independence/early retirement? Are they mathematical or moral?

He Became Poor

Photo by Neil Brooks

Christmas has me thinking about a man who pretended to be poor. He left the wealthiest kingdom of all time to become a simple tradesman. He left the most powerful social status to become a peasant. He left glory to be scapegoated, and left honor to be humiliated. He released the use of divine power to take the form of a helpless human infant.

You know the generous grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty he could make you rich. (2 Corinthians 8:9)

He became poor so we might become rich. This phrase has haunted me this holiday season. What does it mean? The love, joy, and peace that comes from knowing Jesus cannot be surpassed by the best investment portfolio, the nicest house, or the most successful career. We owe our family, friends, health, talents, material provision, and so much more to the Giver of all good gifts. We truly have been made rich in every way by the One who pretended to be poor for our sake. He paid the debt we owed Him, that we could never repay no matter how hard we tried. He paid it at great personal expense–becoming poor, and giving His life.

This is why we write about pretending to be poor and sharing with the truly poor:

“He will make you rich in every way so that you can always give freely. And your giving through us will cause many to give thanks to God.” (2 Corinthians 9:11)

We are far from perfect at giving freely. But we will continually the beat the drum of generosity here and in our own lives because we’re forever astonished by the sacrifice Jesus made for us.

Merry Christmas!

The Danger of Christmas


I love Christmas, but I’m also afraid of it.

I’m afraid our kids will feel entitled by all the gifts they receive. I’m afraid they will lose sight of the true meaning of Jesus’ birth. I fear it will reinforce their tendency to believe life’s all about them. I’m concerned they’ll turn into greedy over-consumers.

We’re committed to not over-doing the gifts, but we do enjoy making Christmas morning magical for our kids. Surely that will look different as they grow up, but at their ages, this doesn’t cost a lot.

We’re grateful to have relatives who are generous but reasonable (not over-gifters). But even one or two reasonable presents from a number of relatives, plus “Santa,” adds up to a fair amount of stuff. (I do see the toys as a resource to survive the long winter months ahead!)

I’m also tempted to fill the precious days off of school and work with fun holiday activities. There are more special events than we can possibly attend, plus simple pleasures like sledding, baking cookies, and watching Christmas movies. I want to be sure that helping others is prioritized in the midst of seasonal entertainment, and that will mean passing on some fun activities, even if they’re free.

We want to celebrate Christmas with special treats, gifts, and family activities. We also want our kids to learn generosity, empathy, and service. Here’s how we’re trying to combat the greedy, entitled, all-about-me mentality that kids (and all of us, if we’re honest) are naturally prone to.

“It is better to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35)

We first introduced this verse to my son when he was three. He replied, “That’s not true,” and refused to memorize it. We didn’t force the issue. Two years later he was voluntarily quoting it (sometimes to his sister) and trying to understand it. He asked if getting presents on Christmas morning is bad. I explained that both giving and receiving are good and fun, but giving is special because it helps others and can bring them happiness.

To involve our kids in giving, I encourage them to buy or make something for each other and their dad. Sometimes with their closest friends they might swap toys they already have or chip in toward a small gift.

“If you help the poor, you are lending to the Lord—and he will repay you!” (Proverbs 19:17)

Our kids live a strange existence in which all their needs are abundantly met. Without scaring them, we try to explain that not everyone lives this way. Some kids don’t get toys for Christmas; others don’t have enough food or even clean water. (Compassion International’s Explorer magazine was helpful for this.) We can’t solve all those problems, but we can share some of what we have with others. We use Dave Ramsey’s suggestion for give, save, and spend jars, and set a deadline in December for choosing a charitable destination for their money. This year they chose to give to a children’s ministry through the outstanding organization India Gospel League.

Two years ago I took my son to help out with a “Christmas with Dignity” store through a local ministry in a low-income neighborhood that’s home to many refugee families. The children work throughout the year to earn digital “dollars” by attending after school tutoring, completing homework, and participating in programs. With these funds they can shop at a Christmas store featuring a large variety of new, donated items. We volunteered with the set-up, which involved carrying lots of items down lots of stairs.

The store featured toys, but also many practical household items ranging from coffee makers to diapers to toilet paper. Friends who volunteer at the store noted how many of these items the kids choose over the toys.

Once we got through the explanations and he got to carry stuff around he got increasingly excited. He talked about the kids choosing from the different items. He was also bragging about how strong his muscles were getting from all the hard work. Maybe he still thinks it’s all about him (& his muscles), but I was grateful he had a chance to help others in some way. He left in an exceptionally good mood because he got to experience firsthand the joy of giving rather than receiving.

“Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress…”(James 1:27)

A friend suggested that the kids from our church visit nursing home residents and sing carols. Yesterday we did just that. Yes, visiting people you don’t know feels awkward. And children aged four to seven barely remember the lyrics to the songs. But I hope our short little concert went a long way toward brightening the residents’ day, and showing our kids that they’re not the center of universe.

The book The Me, Me, Me Epidemic  includes some more great ideas for involved kids in both planned and random acts of service.

I don’t share these experiences because I have it all figured out, but because I don’t. My kids are more entitled and self-centered than I want to admit. So am I. The path to financial success is fraught with danger for the soul. But serving those often forgotten by society can be a great antidote to turning into a Scrooge.

I’d love to hear more ideas for promoting a giving attitude in kids at Christmas. What are some practical ways you’ve tried to teach generosity and service, especially during the holidays? How have you seen your children’s attitude toward giving change over the years? Or perhaps you remember how your own perspective changed?

Simple Christmas

It’s December. Here come the articles encouraging us to relax, simplify, and just enjoy the holidays. We all need these reminders to slow down, remember what we’re celebrating, and take joy in the people we love. At the same time, this advice can come off as yet another stressor, leaving us wondering, What’s wrong with me? Why am I not relaxing and enjoying this enough? Why do I feel sad or overwhelmed?

Sip a cocktail, laugh, and don’t worry about observing any of the trappings and traditions of Christmas, one article advised.

My reality as I read it? Chugging coffee, crying tears of exhaustion, and spending every precious free moment prepping for the holidays.

The truth is, holidays involve family, family involves love, and love involves sacrifice. If any food is eaten at your gathering, someone had to prepare it. If any gifts are exchanged, someone had to shop and wrap. If the setting is festive, someone had to clean and decorate.

It’s not that we should center our holidays around living up to others’ expectations or striving for a magazine-spread Christmas. I believe that holiday shopping, cooking, baking, and decorating can all be done in a spirit of joy. But for many people–those with kids, extended family, or those opening their home to people without a home base—it’s just not as simple as sipping a hot toddy and shrugging off tradition.

That doesn’t mean Christmas has to be complicated. In the past few years, we’ve found new ways to simplify. We’ve shaved our Christmas day stops down from four to one or two. We attend fewer Christmas parties. We host a small low-key fireside gathering rather than an epic get together. Our decorations are beloved but minimal. Some years we hang Christmas lights on the house. Other years we don’t. Our shopping list (and pile to put away) has shrunken as we’ve asked our families to do gift exchanges. I’ve whittled my baking list down to two or three favorites. I wear the same few outfits to every party and family function, year after year.

Last year we even took a weekend in the busy season to get away as a family and just hang out, hike, and play together.

Every year, I’m excited for the festivities leading up to Christmas. But every year, at some point I find myself exhausted, stressed, and feeling too busy. The “slow down and simply” philosophy would have me think I’m doing something wrong if the year’s biggest holiday, the most wonderful time of the year leaves me feeling anything but wonderful.

But then the feeling passes as I take time to reflect on Jesus’ sacrifice as the reason we celebrate. I’m sure it didn’t feel great for him to leave perfect fellowship with His father and become a human baby, subject to all the suffering of this earth.

And then I know it’s not wrong to feel stressed and overwhelmed sometimes in the midst of a joyous but hectic season. It’s okay for sacrifice to feel hard; that’s what makes it sacrifice. After a sacrifice, you know the difficulty was worth it. If it’s not, it’s time to cut that activity or obligation.

So don’t stress about feeling stressed this year. Cut what you need to cut. Talk to someone if you’re truly down. But don’t shy away from the sacrifice that comes with making Christmas a beautiful time for others.

How do you handle holiday stress? What ways have you found to simplify?

Christmas Gift Ideas

Still shopping? Me, too. And who wants to gift junk people don’t need? Forget about jelly of the month club. Give gifts that will keep your frugal friends and family members saving all year long.

  1. How about an electric throw blanket or a space heater for the frugal freeze baby on your list?
  2. Rechargeable batteries. Keep powering toys, flashlights, and other gadgets with less cost to you and the environment.
  3. Glass storage containers. Packing lunch and storing home-cooked leftovers is so much easier with the proper containers, and glass ones are healthier and easier for re-heating food.
  4. College fund contributions. This is the gift that keeps growing with the child, and adds value throughout his or her life. While toys and clothes begin depreciates as soon as a kid touches them, compounding interest will grow your gift over the next decade or more. And it’s tax deductible if you contribute directly to the fund.
  5. Wool. Barring wool allergies, wool sweaters, socks, or scarves are a great way to help a frugal gift recipient stay warm throughout the winter, ‘cause you know they’re too cheap to turn up the heat.
  6. Camping gear. Open the Door to a Lifetime of Vacation Savings by lowering the entry cost of camping. We save over $1000 a year on vacations by camping, but wouldn’t want to without our tent, camp stove, air mattress, and sleeping bags.
  7. DIY reference materials, such as books on gardening, DIY home repair, cookbooks, backyard chickens, honey bees  or any other book supporting a money-saving hobby or endeavor. Here’s my favorite Indian cookbook.  And my favorite bread-baking book: Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day book.
  8. A bike. Biking for frugal transportation seems to have made a comeback.  Helmets are also a good gift for anyone whose brains or beauty you wish to preserve.

For the new parent:

  1. temporal lobe thermometer: This thermometer is so quick & to use, my kids like getting their temperature taken. It also seems more sensitive than traditional ones.
  2. Miracle swaddler: This blanket gently helps keep those arms swaddled much longer than other styles.
  3. white noise: A small, portable white noise machine is ideal for travel, even if it’s just to put your baby down to sleep at a friend or grandparent’s house. It’s also great for hotels and camping.
  4. rechargeable batteries: Battery-operated toys are bound to enter your house. This set will save you loads in the long run.
  5. Caffeine paraphernalia: How about a French press, K-cups, or a hot pot and Yorkshire English breakfast tea.
  6. Free babysitting and a restaurant gift card. Need I say more?

For the handy man: (suggestions from Neil)

  1. drive socket set: I’ve been preaching this to anyone who will listen lately, once you go 1/2″ for automotive work, you won’t go back. If you or a loved one will be doing any work on their car in the near future, I cannot recommend highly enough to get 1/2″ drive sockets. Most people use 3/8″ drive, and it’s nothing but frustration and busted knuckles.
  2. wire strippers: These auto-stippers are a tool you didn’t know you needed until you use one. They perfectly strip wire of any common size without breaking the conductor. Much better and faster than using scissors or traditional strippers.
  3. loupe – LED illuminated: These loupes are really fun. Easy to use and show the kids stuff close up. Bugs, carpet, newspaper, wood, all fun when viewed through a loupe.
  4. wood-splitting ax: This Fiskars Axe is the only way I am able to split my own firewood. I am not a giant lumberjack; I cannot wield a 8-10# maul for a few hours at a time. This thing is light, swift, and well designed. It makes splitting wood fun.
  5. drill bit set: Get these if you own a 1/4″ drive impact driver. Makes it into a small electric impact gun. Very useful and fast for backing out bolts/ nuts.

13. For the home chef:

  1. These amazing pots and pans. The best, affordable pans with no weird coatings, that still come clean. I’ve had mine for 10 years and still going strong.
  2. pressure cooker: I never knew how amazing pressure cookers are until I received an electric one as a gift. It has saved dinner on more than one occasion when I forgot to thaw meat, or got home later than expected. It can cook bone-in frozen chicken pieces in less than half an hour. It also makes meat way more tender than other cooking methods.
  3. instant pot: I don’t have one of these, but I’ve heard it’s the pot to end all pots. It’s a programmable pressure cooker, slow cooker, rice cooker, yogurt maker…you name it, it can do it. It’s priced very reasonably compared to purchasing one or two of these other devices. If I didn’t already own a pressure cooker and slow cooker, this would be on my wish list.
  4. good knife: A good knife makes cooking sooo much more enjoyable–and safer.

14. For the kids:

K’nex, Legos, or Duplos: My son spends countless hours playing with these building toys.

Narnia book seriesLittle House book series: Classic children’s books make a great gift kids and parents will like.

Craft supplies or Play-dohReplenish crafty consumables.

Zoo or children’s museum membership, sports class, Highlights magazine subscription: keep them entertained throughout the year with fun activities or subscriptions.

15. For the fit (or those aspiring to be): For those skipping the gym membership, my favorite workout videos are Zumba,  Ballet Beautiful, & P90x.

16. For the whole family:

Whirlypop: We make all our popcorn in this stovepop popper. It makes excellent kettle corn as well.

Board games such as the Busytown Game (for younger kids): This game has the whole family work together to win. Zingo is also a fan favorite around here.

Book sets such as Narnia book seriesLittle House book series

DVD sets such as Narnia, Harry Potter, or Star Wars

Museum or zoo memberships.


Happy shopping! I hope you find something for everyone on your list.

What other gifts keep on saving? What is the most useful gift you’ve ever received?


This post contains affiliate links. 

How to Buy an Electric Bike

Step 1: Research Electric Bikes. What are the kinds? The makes? The models? Read about them. Test drive them. When you travel for business, find the e-bike store and test drive some more.

Step 2: Set a major financial goal, and say the reward for accomplishing it will be an e-bike. Work toward goal for years, all while casually researching and test driving the e-bikes.

Step 3: Meet major financial goal, and keep over-analyzing researching and test driving e-bikes. Research building own e-bike. Set up Craigslist search for used e-bikes (rare).

Step 4: Buy a car for $200. Think maybe this justifies e-bike purchase. But then think how could I spend 10x as much on a bike as my car? Keep dreaming researching.

Step 5: Replace possible e-biking hobby with reading about e-bikes hobby. For years.

Step 6: Give up on ever buying motorcycle for nerds an e-bike.

Step 7: Craigslist search shows e-bike for sale nearby for $500. Buy e-bike. Assemble. Ride. Love.


Does anyone else approach purchases like this? What’s the longest it’s taken you to pull the trigger on a purchase?

My Grandma’s Legacy

How do you keep writing when your biggest fan is gone?

My grandma died, rather suddenly, a few weeks ago. She was the first and most faithful reader of this blog. Last winter she talked about wanting to help edit the content into a book. She said she had it all outlined and organized in her mind already. Can you see where I got my love of writing?

When I tell my friends and Neil’s family about my grandma’s passing, they’ve said things like, “She was a very special lady” and “I really liked her.” Those close to her knew her faults, too, but she was truly impressive. People tend to brag about the deceased, but I bragged about her while she was still alive, including the post My Financial Heritage: A Mother’s Day Reflection, that I’m so glad I posted when I did.

The short story is that she had many jobs before having three children, then became a special education teacher for children with severe emotional/behavioral difficulties, fostered 17 children, and in retirement became a guardian ad litem, a child’s voice in court. She garnered awards in all her endeavors.

She was also an avid quilter, scrap-booker, reader, and Wizard of Oz afficianado. Her name was Dorothe.

Her financial personality? Spender. She’s the ultimate example of a great person who was not great with money. Fortunately her late husband, a banker, was.

She never gave me money advice, and, in response to my blog, said she wished she’d learned these things sooner. But she did pass on two personal finance lessons:

  1. If you find a sweater you like that fits well, buy it in every color. (Somehow I never latched onto this.)
  2. Live generously.

My grandma was extravagantly generous. Generous to a fault. And while her children may literally be faulting her for this as they deal with the messy aftermath of her finances, her generosity remains a powerful example to her naturally stingy first grandchild (that’d be me).

Even in my giving, I want efficiency to rule. I want to give to the most effective, efficient organizations only, and tend not to be very generous to fellow Americans who already have what they need (read: my friends and family). My grandma saw the value of both. And I’m trying to learn to be spontaneously generous to the people around me as I reflect on her habits.

She didn’t leave an inheritance, but she left a legacy. She changed my life far beyond impacting my very existence. She passed her faith on to me and that has transformed me from a sad, stingy person into a joyful, generous one. An invaluable impact.

In essence she spent any inheritance on us while she was alive, and it brought her great joy. It came in the form of frilly dresses and too many toys at Christmas when I was a kid. And in adulthood, it was kitchen gadgets, multi-level-marketing company products, and college fund contributions for my kids. And while I’d only recommend the latter as a solid use of money, my frugal soul has benefited more from these extravagances than it could have from any size inheritance.

Of course, it isn’t an either-or between leading a great life and being good with money. We should all think about leaving our finances in order for our families, whether we want to leave an inheritance or not. There are many good resources available that explain how to manage your assets, what documents to create, and how to organize them for your family. One such resource is found at the end of Dave Ramsey’s The Legacy Journey.

Leave a legacy. Plan for your funeral–not just financially, but relationally and spiritually.  “Tell them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life” (1 Timothy 6:18, 19).

What are your thoughts on leaving an inheritance and leaving a legacy?