Recently, Mrs. Frugalwoods of the amazing blog, Frugalwoods, released a novel of their story towards Financial Independence called Meet the Frugalwoods. There have been many mixed reviews of this book. One response article in particular that I would like to address is called “Bring Frugal is for the Rich.”
The premise of the article is that while Mr. and Mrs. Frugalwoods claim to have only been able to have retired so early because they lived their lives frugally, they really only could do so because they had extremely high incomes. Part of this makes sense. Part of it comes from a bitter place. I will address both.
How This Article is Right
Privilege and earning a high income DOES affect not only the Frugalwood’s ability to pursue FI, but also mine. I grew up also not having to worry about where my next meal came from or knowing what it truly meant to have to scrimp and save. My parents also paid for my first year of college. While I did still have ~$60,000 in student loans by the time I graduated college, I was able to get a high paying job and immediately start paying down my debt. It is ridiculous to think that my upbringing and high income did not affect my ability to pursue FI and I acknowledge how lucky I am. The Frugalwoods also acknowledge their “leg up” that they received.
How This Article is Wrong
While growing up with privilege and earning a high income does help with the pursuit of FI, that does NOT mean that someone who earns less cannot pursue FI. The bitter tone of this article suggests that ONLY people who can buy a $460,000 home in Cambridge to rent out can afford to achieve FI. This is bogus.
The advice stated by the Frugalwoods, Vicki Robins, MMM, Mad Fientist, ChooseFI and so many other blogs and podcasts doesn’t apply to only niche people. There is advice that can be gleaned for everyone regardless of what position you find yourself in. The pursuit of FI isn’t about following the exact path that someone else did. It’s about seeing life differently than going to school, getting a job, working for 45+ years and maybe retiring once you hit the age of social security. Once you acknowledge that there are other options, then you can take the advice that can be applied to you and your everyday life.
It’s not about being exactly like someone else. It’s about how to move the needle towards your goals, regardless of your starting point.
Low Income Does not Equal Hopeless
The tone that really grinds my gears in this article is how the author made it seem like if you earn less than the norm, you may as well resign yourself to working until you can get your social security because that’s all you’ll be able to do.
I CALL BULLSHIT
This shows an utter lack of respect and belief in the intelligence of those who may earn less than the average income. It may take a bit more work and ingenuity to get things done, but it is possible. Not to mention that someone pursuing FI is fairly likely to find ways to raise their income in order to achieve financial freedom sooner. Whether that means starting a side hustle, creating passive income, or maybe just demanding that raise that has been long overdue, it can be done. I don’t agree with the suggestion that if someone earns $30,000 right now, they will always earn that much and never be able to save anything.
Frugality is for Everyone, But it’s only Half the Equation
Being frugal IS for everyone. The difference between high income earners who thrift and low income earners who thrift is that those with a higher income can choose to be thrifty while those with low incomes have to be thrifty. This can make it a bit harder to increase your savings rate if you’re already pinching pennies to find any savings, let alone 50% savings. However, this is the basis for why I describe the decreasing expenses vs growing income debate as part of the same cycle.
It’s not just about how much you spend or make. It’s about how much you spend as a percentage of that you make. The difference being that if you make $1,000,000/year and spend $50,000/year your timeline is far shorter than someone who makes $35,000/year and spends $25,000/year. Both will get to FI. They’re just traveling at different speeds.
Part of working towards FI is the pursuit of learning more so that you can save more and earn more through activities like DIY and side hustling. For example, DIY home repair. The more that you are able to handle around the house yourself, the less you have to spend and (assuming you have access to the internet since you’re reading this) you have the ability to learn how to do anything.
No One Cares More About Your Money Than You
Yes, Millennials earn less now than Baby Boomers did when they were our age and the cost of college in terms of current income levels is abysmal and things need to change!
This is just wrong.
However, should you resign yourself to being broke, in debt and working yourself to the bone to get to retire by 70 if you’re lucky just because that’s the way it is?
There are talks of all kinds of free education and loan forgiveness programs to help young professionals with student debt. Does that mean they should stop paying their loans and wait til one of these programs comes to fruition?
Taking radical responsibility for yourself and your situation can only better you. You are the person who cares the most about your financial situation so don’t wait for the world to catch up.
Summing It All Up
It’s indisputable that privilege and a high income help lead someone down the path to FI, but there are plenty of people with privilege and a high income who don’t do this. It’s not as though every high earner retires by 30 and it’s not as if every lower wage earner works their entire lives. There’s a balance for everything. Find yours that allows you to love a full life while putting yourself on the path you want.
What are your thoughts on privilege and pursuing FI? Let me know in the comments!