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I’ve talked a lot about where I came from with regard to money. My early days of motherhood were tough – I’m talking about eating out of a trashcan level poverty. I wrote in detail about living in extreme poverty here. When my girls were a bit older, things were better but still extremely tight. It took me almost 20 years to finally get my financial s*** together to the point that I rarely need to worry about paying the bills.
But the point of this article isn’t to talk about the struggle – it’s about the upside of frugality – the things I was able to do that most people say they “can’t afford.” This isn’t about being boastful – I just want to show you how far handling your money well can take you.
Over the years, a lot of folks have thought that I was “rich” or got a huge divorce settlement or had family money. I’ve been able to provide my daughters with some incredible privileges during their childhood and early adulthood. Once I got a handle on things, I’ve been relatively comfortable. I’ve driven reasonably nice vehicles, lived in decent neighborhoods, and traveled regularly.
For years, I never made much money. But we still lived large by focusing our finances on the things we found the most important.
I bought a house.
The first milestone I was able to hit with frugality was buying a house. It wasn’t a fancy house, it wasn’t a beautiful house, but it was mine. I managed as a single mom making less than $30,000 per year to save up the downpayment to buy my home. I did this by strictly rationing the budget toward essentials only for a year and socking away every spare penny. We lived there happily for 3 years and we fixed up every single inch of it.
It’s important to note that years later, in the terrible year after my father passed away, I was unable to keep the house. It was foreclosed on because I couldn’t afford the increased insurance costs after a flooded basement sent my rates skyrocketing. Just because things are better doesn’t mean you’re never going to backslide.
I took the kids to Disneyworld.
I was able to save up enough money to fly us from Canada to Orlando and spend a week at Disneyworld with the girls. None of this trip was put on a credit card. My daughters had yard sales, lemonade stands, and did all sorts of chores for neighbors in order to earn their spending money on the trip.
I survived two rounds of layoffs.
I used to work in the automotive industry – this was around 2008 during the previous financial crisis. I managed to hang on to everything through two rounds of layoffs during which I brought in only 60% of my usual income through unemployment. I had a big pantry full of food and household goods, as well as an emergency fund, and this allowed me to use the limited money coming in to pay my mortgage and utilities during the layoff.
I started a business.
The third time I was laid off, I decided enough was enough. We’d just spent a year dealing with terrible losses: my father, my daughters’ father, my house, and my car. I felt like an epic failure but the truth is, no amount of frugal living could have saved that year. As I mentioned, this was around the time of the last financial crisis, and although the same thing was happening to a lot of other people, it felt like I was all alone in my struggles.
I went into frugality overdrive, sold a bunch of our things, and rented the least expensive home in Ontario, Canada. It really was – that’s how I found it. I sorted through rentals on Kijiji (sort of like Craigslist in Canada) and I found a home for less than $600 a month. It had internet and that’s all I needed to begin my new business. I started doing some freelance writing, got hired to work remotely by a news website, and got the encouragement to start my own website. I started my first site, TheOrganicPrepper.com, with less than $20 and a whole lot of help from a mentor. That website went on to do pretty well and I’m still running my own business online ten years later.
I stayed home with my kids.
Once I was able to start my business, I had a privilege that is pretty unique for us single mamas. After my children’s father passed away, I was able to work from home and be there for them. I was able to take them to school in the morning and be there waiting with a snack when they got home. I was able to homeschool one of my daughters, who was not thriving in the public school system.
We weren’t living fancy, but those years I got with my kids were priceless.
I put two kids through college debt-free.
About the same time we first moved out to the boondocks of Ontario, my oldest daughter began college. Luckily she got a scholarship that covered a lot of the cost, and by living extremely carefully, I was able to pay for the other stuff so that she could begin her adult life without being overwhelmed with student loans. Six years later, I was able to pay for school for my younger daughter here in the US, too.
At the time, they didn’t realize what a big deal it was, but as they watch their peers struggle to get their feet on the ground while inundated in debt, they’re very grateful to have gotten a debt-free start in life.
I have traveled to 10 countries in the past 2 years.
Now that the kiddos are grown, out on their own, and working in their respective fields, I don’t have to worry as much about providing a stable “home” for them. The nest is empty and the birdies have flown off to their own nests. I sold my stuff, got a tiny storage unit for $31 a month, and gave up the house I was renting in the United States. For my 50th birthday, I gave myself “complete freedom.”
Well, it’s not exactly “complete” – I still have to work, but I get to work from much cooler places. Over the past years of nomadic living, I’ve traveled through Croatia, Bosnia, Greece, North Macedonia, Kosovo, Albania, Montenegro, Canada, Mexico, and the US. I’ve lived beachfront, in a beautiful midcentury modern condo, in an apartment with a rooftop view of the Acropolis, and in the spare room of one of my daughters with a mattress on the floor. I wouldn’t change a moment of it and by the time you read this, I’ll probably be heading out on my next adventure. In this article, I explain how I can afford to live in these awesome places on my single mama budget.
The key is to think about what you CAN afford.
By living frugally, I CAN afford to say yes to many things people with my income could not. By choosing what I say NO to, I can afford the things I truly want.
Don’t go into this with the deprivation mindset, because if you do, it’ll be like torture – you’ll see it as a punishment. Instead, embrace it and see it for what it is – the conscious decision to put your money toward the things that mean the most to you.
What are some things you technically shouldn’t be able to afford, but can because you make cuts elsewhere? Let’s talk about it in the comments.
10 thoughts on “What Frugal Living Has Done for Me”
So happy to have found this website. With the events over the last year, I just hunkered down. I am now getting back into the process of being more proactive again than just being reactive. We need to be more happy and appreciate what we have and can afford. Thanks for reminding me.
Thanks for sharing Daisy , totally agree it’s definitely about mindset. Still getting there but finally debt free .
Thank you for sharing this daisy funny enough I found your website the organic prepper around ten years ago and have been a faithful reader ever since I know exactly what your talking about as I was a heavy duty mechanic till I had an accident on my way to work and lost both my jobs lost my schooling due to my truck being stolen and had to start at minimum wage after working my way up in the previous two jobs as well as losing my home and having a new born baby and wife in tow but I managed to survive this and more and finally thrive again with several injuries to boot but it can be done please never stop writing it got me through some very tuff times and thank you
Dear Jon – it seems like some of us get hit with some pretty crazy challenges. I think our ability to get through those teaches us a resilience that others may never know. Thank you so much for reading!
Thank you for writing so many wonderful helpful articles n being so mindful of helping others. Great sharing!!!!
I ve learned a great deal from you!! I m now living in my van with my dog and have a small storage unit n couldnt be happier. Its a huge change but you helped change my mindset to make it more easily adaptable.
I love your tiny living experiment/existance btw.
I’m so glad I can help! Thank you for letting me know and I wish you the best in your new adventure!
Hi Daisy, such a wonderful article. I am living a very frugal life. But have no emergency fund so I’m about to start selling my stuff. The long term goal is travel. That’s why I’m writing. It’s absolutely fascinating that you have been to nearly all the Balkan countries. Words cannot even express how inspired I feel by your choices and experience. I read everything you posted by Selco. I first learned about these countries through a book called Balkan Ghosts. I read it when the fighting was going on there in the 1990’s. I still want to visit them all. And I might like to visit the Baltic countries, yet have no interest in the rest of Europe. Thank you so much for your awesome newsletter. Karen
The Balkans are a wonderful place to visit. I am sorry I was unable to visit the other Balkan countries but Covid cut my travels short there. One warning about the area – there are still many unexploded landmines, so hiking anyplace off well-marked trails is not at all advisable. I spent most of my time in cities or small towns. If I went out of town, I went with a local for safety. Greece is not in the Balkans but if you’re a history buff should not be missed. 😊
I’ve lost everything I owned 3 times. Been widiwed twice and appear to be heading down that path again. Yet I know life holds more good times also. After the losses I again own too much stuff. I live in a small but not too tiny home. 14.5’x 54.5′ one bedroom, one bathroom. Just right for two great grandparents.
I enjoy reading about your adventures. I raised 3 sons and a daughter plus a dozen others from a few months to several years. That included 2 mothers each of whom had 4 children. Its been an adventure finding food and clothing for so many. Sometimes a big garden. Sometimes selling food to help buy food. I sewed for all the girls and most of the boys.
Again I’m looking for some supplementary income. I’ll find something. I always have.
I liked this article. We have had our ups and downs as well. It has made me very frugal. But we will splurge on a few things. I like musical instruments and traveling. I hope to travel again someday. In the meantime, I will farm, play my instruments and be frugal so when that day comes to travel, I can.