Meet the Frugalwoods | Elizabeth Willard Thames

Elizabeth Thames, commonly known as “Mrs. Frugalwoods,” is the creator of the popular personal finance blog the Frugalwoods. She gained recognition for documenting her and her husband Nate’s journey to financial independence and their choice to lead a more frugal, intentional life, allowing them to retire from conventional work and move to their rural Vermont acreage the ‘Frugalwoods’ at age 32 to raise their family.

The deeply personal story of why award-winning personal finance blogger Elizabeth Willard Thames abandoned a successful career in the city and embraced extreme frugality in order to create a more meaningful, purpose-driven life and retire to a homestead in the woods at age thirty-two with her husband and daughter.

Elizabeth W. Thames, describing her book

The Good

  • Includes examples of practical frugality Liz and Nate used such as buying used and mastering DIY techniques
  • Well-written and entertaining read
  • Gives some more raw personal details than you get on the blog, such as how they overcame relationship issues
  • Explains the first decade of Liz and Nate’s working lives, their frugal start to life, the trap of lifestyle inflation they fell into and the work they had to do to get their spending back under control
  • Goes through the process of discovering their ‘Why’, figuring out their ‘How’ in order to achieve their ‘What’ (FI and rural living)
  • Highlights the importance of family and work-life balance
  • Highlights the importance of time as our most valuable non-renewable commodity

The Bad

  • Not really an actionable ‘how-to’ Guide for financial independence for everybody
  • Lacks transparency and details about their FI figures, their high-income levels and existing assets
  • Lacks emphasis on the importance of high incomes to effortlessly achieve the high savings rates needed to reach FI quickly

Verdict: Meet the Frugalwoods is an awesome book, and well worth reading. Whilst it’s not your conventional FIRE ‘how-to’ guide or money book and does lack some crucial details, it is a beautifully written memoir offering a unique perspective on Liz and Nate’s personal journey to Financial Independence and exploring what success meant to them.

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Meet the Frugalwoods

Introduction to the Frugalwoods – Elizabeth and Nate Thames

Elizabeth Thames, commonly known as “Mrs. Frugalwoods,” is the creator of the popular personal finance blog the Frugalwoods. She gained recognition for documenting her and her husband’s journey to financial independence and their choice to lead a more frugal, intentional life, allowing them to retire at age 32 to their rural 66 acre farm they named the Frugalwoods..

In her writings, Elizabeth shares about their decision to save aggressively, invest wisely, and ultimately move to a homestead in rural Vermont, all while achieving early retirement in their early 30s.

Beyond just financial advice, her blog delves into the philosophy of simple living and finding contentment without the need for excessive consumerism.

Elizabeth Thames has also authored a book, “Meet the Frugalwoods: Achieving Financial Independence Through Simple Living,” where she expands on their story and the lessons they’ve learned.

The Book: Meet the Frugalwoods – Elizabeth Willard Thames

Meet the Frugalwoods is a fun read. It is not about hard and fast rules for investing and early retirement, but rather an interesting personal story about a regular American family and their journey to Financial Independence. Although there are some important lessons you will pick up amongst the pages if you read between the lines.

Elizabeth and Nate lived a normal suburban life, they had a house, careers as professionals (Liz was a media executive and Nate was a software developer), they had good savings and had started a young family. But they were becoming increasingly tired spending the majority of their days working without really seeing an end in sight.

They decided to pursue a ‘tree-change’ dream and to become as self sufficient as they could. To achieve this, the young family embraced frugality to achieve an average savings rate of over 70% (which peaked at 82%, or 93% if you could their 401K retirement savings account contributions). For three years Elizabeth blogged about their journey, which some saw as extreme frugality, but to them just became the new normal.

Instead of catching a movie, the family took their *frugal hound* down to the dog park. Instead of going to a restaurant, Elizabeth and Nate cooked up many wonderful whole food Veggie based meals at home. Their frugal lifestyle was less about sacrificing, but more about replacing expensive activities; substituting them with more wholesome community and family based events.

We don’t stress out about impressing people with material possessions, buying the latest gadgets, or keeping up with the Jones’. In the process, I discovered self confidence and liberation that stems from disavowing our culture’s promise that we can buy our way to ‘the good life’.

The Frugalwoods

Elizabeth and Nate eventually reached achieved their goal, reaching Financial Independence and buying their dream acreage in Vermont. To maintain Financial Independence and their current homestead lifestyle, they continue many of their ‘frugal’ ways. This has brought them a sense of peace and accomplishment, as they have removed themselves from the rat race.

They continue to live there to this day, where they raise their two girls amongst he tranquility of the Frugalwoods. Liz and Nate enjoy a ‘semi-homesteading’ type lifestyle where they practice becoming more self-sufficient through things like growing their veggie garden, fruit trees, harvesting firewood and engage in occasional freelancing work such as money coaching.

What does Captain FI think of the Frugalwoods?

Meet the Frugalwoods is an awesome book, and Liz and Nate have an inspiring story that I personally love, and I hope to achieve a similar lifestyle with an acreage to raise my family on. Reading their story is almost like a glimpse into my potential future.

The Book is more of their memoir than a FI guide and focuses heavily on frugality, but it lacks a bit of focus about their existing savings and assets, their high professional incomes and the importance of these to achieve high savings rates – a crucial component of reaching Financial Independence quickly.

After a bit of research online, I was able to find a few interviews where Liz and Nate had shared some more of their financial details.

Liz and Nate embraced frugality in 2014 where combined they took home approximately USD $162K after tax, peaking at an 82% savings rate, and reaching FI to retire to the Frugalwoods two years later in 2016.

A two-year journey to FI is only possible with some combination of existing assets, insane levels of frugality, and/or very high incomes. For reference, a 70% and 82% S.R equates to an 8.5 and 4.5 year journey to FIRE from zero assets, respectively (using the 4% rule).

Doing some ‘back-of-the-envelope’ maths to account for their “time shortcut” based on conventional FIRE asset planning (using the 4% rule) means they could have had somewhere between USD $350K to $737K in assets / net wealth at the start of their frugal FI journey.

However, Liz and Nate still occasionally work freelancing part-time -(for example, Liz offers money coaching services), which might suggest that either they didn’t have such a large net wealth at the start of their journey, or that they plan their finances on a much more conservative withdrawal rate and prefer to supplement their investment returns with some earned income.

Whilst some might say this means they haven’t technically “fully reached Financial Independence as per the 4% rule”, I personally think this kind of FIRE dogma is unhelpful, and actually that this is the whole point of FI: to take control of your life, achieve your ‘Why’ lifestyle and allow you to engage in meaningful work and passion projects in areas you truly care about.

Sitting around doing nothing is well… boring! (at least for me, anyway) and I also choose to work part-time on passions such as my Aviation, Permaculture, and Financial Independence blogs which allow me to earn money online from websites to boost my income and allow me to invest even more!

Overall meet the Frugalwoods is well worth reading, and I highly enjoyed the book. I think they Liz and Nate are both amazing people with an inspirational story. It’s a great example of discovering your ‘why’ (health and lifestyle), figuring out your ‘how’ (sustained frugality and investing over time), in order to finally achieve your ‘what’ (in this case, retiring to an acreage).

Check it out on Amazon here, listen to it through Audible or buy it from Australia’s local bookstore Booktopia

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4 thoughts on “Meet the Frugalwoods | Elizabeth Willard Thames

  1. I enjoyed Meet The Frugalwoods but was left wanting to know more about their actual investments. Elizabeth was more interested in the frugality side and not really interested in the investment side. At least that’s how it seemed to me.

    1. Hey Jeff, I also liked Frugalwoods, but I think you might have missed the subtlety of this point – Liz and Nate are focusing more on the behavioral side of wealth because that is where all the massive gains are made. They deliberately don’t talk about investing as much because its the opposite – with investing, the LESS you do the BETTER you will perform. Aka an index approach, which is how they do it with regular investing. To take a quote from Elizabeth’s blog;

      “To the contrary, I find that the less we poke at our money, the better off it–and we–are. A lot of folks tell me they don’t have the time to handle their money and so they think they should hire a professional. False again. It takes precious little financial acumen, and even less time, to successfully manage the average family’s finances. If you are marginally organized, can do basic math, and know how to use a computer, then you can manage your own money. Because the vast majority of what you should do with your money is… wait for it… nothing.”

      “Our assets are distributed across the following vehicles: cash, real estate, and investments (comprised of both 401ks and low-fee index funds).”

  2. You’re right; The Frugalwoods have mastered the psychology and behavioural aspects around money. I think the investment ‘nerd’ in me just wanted more details about the ‘nuts and bolts’ of their investments!

    1. haha yes don’t worry, you and me both! The investment landscape is slightly different in the USA to what it is in Australia, but this post gives a great breakdown of how they manage their finances I believe They use two broad market index funds (US and international) as well as an investment property on their old home, buying their current acreage, and max out their tax deductible investment accounts (401K or super equivalent)

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