“Aren’t you bored not spending money? I mean, what do you DO?” I get this a lot yet I’m shocked every time. Shocked I tell you. No, we are not bored! We do not need to spend money to enjoy our lives! On the contrary, it’s freeing. You should try it.

  • We don’t worry about “keeping up” or “competing” over material goods. We just don’t play that way.
  • We never fight about money. For realsies.
  • We don’t fret about money–we know we have enough because we live way, WAY below our means.
Frugal and fancy cocktails at home with friends!
Frugal and fancy cocktails at home with friends!

I’m not jealous of people who spend like mad; frankly I pity them because it seems as though they’re struggling to find meaning through money. For us, money sustains our basic needs–food, shelter, clothing, the hound–but it’s not a goal in and of itself. We’re not hoarding money just to have money, we’re doing it to free ourselves from the vicious cycle of lifestyle inflation.

Once you start saving (I mean really saving), you’ll baulk at how much your former self spent and you’ll be flabbergasted by how little you miss your past “necessities.” Seriously. Whatever it is that’s holding you back, you don’t need it!

Q: So why aren’t we bored?

A: Substitution!

While the overarching key to an early retirement lifestyle is prioritizing long-term goals, short-term delights are still important. Mr. Frugalwoods and I employ the method of substitution. We don’t deprive ourselves of the things we relish, we just do them on the cheap. Substitution is basically finding the frugal analog of your hobbies.

  • Date nights: instead of spending ungodly amounts at restaurants, we cook special meals at home, set the table all classy, light candles, open our boxed wine (I told you it was classy), and gaze into each other’s eyes. Frugal Hound serves as maître d.
  • Clothes: we shop at garage sales and thrift stores (I’m currently wearing a hot pink belt I got for 50 cents!).
  • Coffee shops: ok this one is pretty much just us making coffee at home. And then drinking it.
  • Snag free stuff: we attend any and all free events. Last Saturday, we walked 6 miles around our city to hear random people bands playing on their porches during an annual free festival called, well, Porch Fest. Quality varied, but it was interesting and we certainly heard music we wouldn’t had we spent $50 on a show. Bonus: we packed a frugal picnic!
  • Investigate your public library: books, yes, but also–free museum tickets! I don’t know if libraries nationwide do this, but ours does.
Frugal Hound goes to the public library (well, not inside...)
Frugal Hound goes to the public library (well, not inside per se…)

In addition to substitution, we derive joy from the little things, like watching our dog act ridiculous and finding a deal on sweet potatoes (full disclosure: we’re a tad obsessed w/produce prices).

Plus, we cultivate hobbies that are cheap or free to begin with:

  • Hiking and walking
  • Making our own music (I sing in a choir, which is totally free entertainment for me! And possibly even entertaining for some of the audience.)
  • Cooking
  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Yoga
  • Camping
Amazing sunset caught during one of our epic walks around the city
Amazing sunset caught during one of our epic jaunts around the city

Eschew the Mainstream

I’ve never been keen on other people “entertaining” me. And I don’t sit still well during movies or plays, so no need to go to the theatre. As a former dancer, I adore watching ballet, but I find plenty of free opportunities with student performances and the like. I also don’t appreciate being told what food to savor, when to laugh, or what I should be purchasing.

Let go of it all. Don’t be a slave to cultural norms–just because other people throw money down the drain every weekend at the latest oxygen cocktail bar doesn’t mean you should. I mean seriously you guys it’s oxygen, as in a natural component of the free air we breathe. Obviously don’t get me started on bottled water. Point is, don’t confine your entertainment standards to people trying to sell you things.

Spend When It Matters

I firmly believe there ARE times when one should spend money. We buy plane tickets a few times a year in order to visit family and friends. Yah, we’d save a couple hundred more if we didn’t do that, but it’s an expense that facilitates quality life experiences. Spend on meaningful value-added opportunities, not inconsequential throw-aways like lunch out every day (which, btw, is annually WAY more than a couple of plane tickets. No joke; do the math right now).

So how do you entertain yourself?

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  1. We too have a small entertainment budget. We play board games, ping pong, bicycle, martial arts, garden, read, I am learning how to make ceramics, crochet, knit and sew. We have been learning how to cook new recipes. Hubby has started propagating plants and transplanting them. I’m making birthday and Christmas gifts. I’ve been decorating our home with thrift shop finds. Occasionally, we go to a concert, rafting, ball game (all inexpensively near a college). There are tons of things to do cheaply! We think it’s important to keep learning and doing.

  2. Hey guys! Love your blog so far, just discovered it today. So my story is kind of long, but here goes….My name is Edwin from Aurora, IL and I’m currently 27 years old. Around 2008, I got laid off from a Krispy Kreme after 2 years of laborious and loyal servitude. Left with $20,000 in debt, I made a decision then and there that I would do whatever it took to get out of it. And so I did. I became an avid promotional marketer for Fortune 500 Companies and have been doing that for 8 years now. Fast forward, my yearly income grew from about $18,000 a year in 2008 to $80,000 a year to present-day and I am now over $40k in debt (lifestyle-inflation, anyone?). In that time, I’ve owned 4 cars (two leased, two used, purchased in full with cash), one apartment, and one home (that I currently live in, modest, $130k ranch with low payments and very-low interest). Along with that, I’ve always been a sucker for electronics (damn you Apple!) and good beer and food. I travel mostly for work and live with my wife, my daughter, and two stepsons. Nowadays, I sit around $45k of debt, after several home remodeling jobs, plenty of business expenses, etc, etc. I feel that at heart, I can be frugal with lots of other things (for example, I love travel hacking and getting free flights), but not so much with others. I have acquired more credit cards than any person should have in the sake of chasing points. I am considering closing accounts and getting away from credit altogether in order to pay off debt. Also, I have vowed to stay with my laptop and cell phone that I currently have till it croaks, no matter how cool new gadgets seem (didn’t give in to that iPhone 6s!). With the cars, as soon as my other lease is up (currently have one fully-paid SUV, family car) I plan on using savings to buy another car cash. I am also currently contributing to several investment/retirement accounts and try to max them out yearly. I feel that the source of my problem is finding meaning through spending (as mentioned in this article). As someone who travels for work, I do tend to get bored easily and want to “discover” the cities I visit. But as you know, that gets very expensive. Local eateries, local bars/beers, you name it. Not cheap at all. So, how do I fully embrace the concept of frugality as a business traveler? That is my biggest question as I get ready to embark to 7 cities in the next 4 months.

  3. Great blog! I just got started reading you blog and I enjoy it very much. I also like to go for walks and hikes. Although I have many free or nearly free hobbies (hiking, walking, reading, playing instruments which have been purchased a long time ago, art work using materials I have been given as gifts, playing cheap video games or borrowing games from friends) I still find myself spending on average $100/month on hobbies/entertainment. I’m a nerd who loves comic books and other such hobbies, so I find myself buying things I want to collect rather than use. I need to break the collector habit and enjoy what I already have. It’s weird I get a lot of enjoyment out of see the budget book with a big zero written for spending for my hobbies and collectibles, but then the next month a spend $200 on records and games. I think I just need will power to break the bad habits.

  4. this budget of $0 for entertainment is near impossible if you like watching musical shows, concerts, Ballet, opera, or want to watch a live show (very different than a recorded YouTube video !) I don’t think this type of artistic consumerism is possible for a $0 budget for those who want to experience the best live art possible! Even rush tickets or standing room tickets are $10-$25 minimum for SFOpera or SFBallet.

    1. Actually, I’ve heard from quite a few readers who volunteer as ushers for live performances in order to attend them for free. And I’ve had good luck getting free tickets through libraries and other special offers. It’s not easy, but it can be possible to find tickets for free :)!

  5. Another great post. I found your blog recently and you have inspired me! Regarding free events, I just try to make sure that “free” doesn’t cost me in other ways, such as gas usage and enjoyment. Do I want to drive ten miles to sit through a two-hour sales pitch because one person in the audience will win a gift card?

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