Over the past few years, my life has drastically changed in ways that I never really thought it would. It doesn't seem that long ago that I graduated from college and people were constantly lecturing me for being too cheap or making fun of my frugal lifestyle.
When I look back on it now, it's actually pretty crazy to think about how I used to do things.
My wife and I were living in this tiny little bedroom at her parents' house while I was paying off my student loans (and actually for a couple years after so we could save up money). I literally didn't even have a closet for almost three years.
Instead, I had a drying rack that stayed in my in-laws' garage year-round. Every morning, I would wake up, go out to the garage, and pick out my clothes for the day. Sometimes they smelled like gasoline because they were stored pretty close to the lawn equipment, so I'd throw them in the dryer while I showered to get the smell out.
The other problem? I barely had any clothes.
I was so determined to pay off my loans quickly that I basically refused to buy anything new. After I got my first job, I went to the store and bought just enough clothes to make it through two weeks of work. I had this “system” going, where I would try my best not to wear the same shirt and pants combination in the same week.
As a band director, you have to stand up in front of a large group of humans every morning. Unfortunately for me…half of them were teenage girls that took note of what I wore every day and made sure I knew when I was messing up!
It was pretty common to stand up in front of the class after the bell rang and hear something along the lines of, “Mr. Hoyt, I think you wore that shirt four days ago“, or, “Ugh Mr. Hoyt, your shoes look terrible.”
Teenagers are bad enough as it is, but when they have legitimate ways to make fun of you it kinda sucks as a teacher haha.
After I was done at work, I'd walk to my car (which was arguably the cheapest car in the parking lot) and unlock the door manually (no automatic locks or windows) and drive back to my in-laws' house.
Lack of clothing and old shoes weren't the only frugal habits I picked up
Honestly, I really just didn't do very many things that cost money. I was putting up such a massive amount of my paycheck towards my student loans every month that I literally couldn't afford to. My wife (then long-time girlfriend) was also putting most of her paychecks away to save up money for a wedding someday.
So what did we do for fun? Not too much.
Every once in a while we would go out to eat just because we literally had to get out of the house or we would have gone nuts. Her parents were super cool to live with, but the house was very small and sometimes you just get a little crazy when you have four adults in a 1,600 square foot house.
We didn't take any vacations for years, and both of us continued to drive old cars instead of buying new cars like everyone else kept telling us we should.
In fact, we still drive cars from 2004. My wife literally has had the same Jeep Wrangler for almost fourteen years. I “upgraded” from my 2006 Chevy Colorado to a 2004 GMC Yukon.
Last but certainly not least, we both slept on a full mattress because a queen wouldn't fit in our bedroom. My wife sleeps super crazy, which meant I would wake up with an elbow to the head pretty regularly (she doesn't proofread my posts anymore, so she won't see this muahaha).
Eventually, all of those small sacrifices paid off. I was able to pay off my $40,000 of student loan debt in 18 months, and then afterward my wife and I put together a year's worth of my salary. I quit my job to run M$M…which has worked out pretty well so far.
Now when I look back at that life, I don't even recognize it…and it wasn't that long ago
I'm literally sitting on our king sized mattress in our brand new house writing this post right now. The freaking ceilings are 11 feet tall and doors are 8 feet tall, which make you feel like a midget when you're walking around in here.
We have a really cool wakeboarding boat, have gone on great vacations in the past few years, and ultimately haven't had to worry about money very much.
My business took off this year, and I think it will reach pretty incredible levels next year (my business goal is to gross $500,000 between the blog and my small marketing business).
Outside of the mortgage, we don't have any other debt and have been able to get a great start on investing. We aren't rich or anything like that yet, but I know for a fact that we are ahead of the curve for our age.
Now please don't take any of that as bragging, because it's certainly not meant to be. That's not my game. It's really just to outline how quickly we were able to change the quality of our life by being extremely frugal early on.
We very easily could have taken the path that most of our peers did. We could have had an OK house with almost no money down, maybe be on our second set of new cars, and essentially be locked into that lifestyle for the next few decades.
And honestly…it might have been kinda nice at first, but then I'm sure we would have felt trapped later on like most people unfortunately do.
By practicing fairly extreme frugality and making ourselves uncomfortable in the short term, we set ourselves up for *hopefully* an incredible life in the long-term.
As cool as it was to have success through frugality, I'm glad we aren't doing it the same way anymore
Here's the awesome part – we have for sure let our lifestyles inflate. But we've been able to do it at a rate that's less than our financial growth.
Even if we become millionaires in our 30's, we'll never live at the level of our net worth. We just have too much practice living below our means to ever let it happen.
Frugality is more a skill than a lifestyle, and you can bust it out as needed throughout your life once you learn how to do it right the first time.
We have a great emergency fund now and have plenty of cash left over every month to invest and do fun stuff whenever we want to. When we have a kid, we know that we'll be able to create a great life for them (assuming M$M doesn't completely blow up or something).
And even if my business failed, I know that my wife and I have the skills and discipline to claw our way out of whatever happens.
There are still flashes of that frugality that we used to have that we incorporate in our newer (and frankly better) lifestyle.
I still try to do all of the work on our old cars that I can reasonably do to save money. Even our boat, which is basically the anti-frugal, has been worked on by yours truly any time a mechanical issue has come up. The only time I've had to pay for work was after I ran into mud one time and did some pretty nasty damage to the hull haha.
So what's the point?
I know so many of my readers are staring at the reality that the only way they can truly get ahead financially is to cut back on their lifestyle or let their friends and peers pass them up drastically over the next few years.
It's scary. Why would you want to seemingly move backward or in slow motion while everyone around you keeps getting nicer stuff and seems so happy from the outside?
That's the key to getting ahead though – nicer stuff and happiness are not inexorably intertwined. In fact, they're completely unrelated. The average person chases nice things with the hope of magically finding happiness without ever understanding that. Fortunately, if you're reading this site, you aren't average. 🙂
I'm not happy because the ceilings in my house are tall and our boat looks cool on the water. I'm happy because my wife and I have more freedom in our lives now and can do the things that we are truly passionate about. The nice house, boat, and vacations are just a by-product of that.
It took some tough years and definitely tested our relationship (and each one of us personally), but the result was essentially a fast-track to success when the process was over.
So if you're looking at a leap of faith into frugality, here is my advice to you:
Don't be scared to cut back. Don't worry what people will say. Don't care what they think when you've passed them up.