Living Frugal – Back to the Basics

A quick note before we begin today’s post.  This came from Safecastle the other day.  If you haven’t made a submission yet, but are interested you’d better get busy!

The reminder from Safecastle:

Hello. Once again, thank you for participating in the 2011 Safecastle Freedom Awards contest–the new Media recognition program in the area of survivalism and preparedness.
The deadline for contestants to submit and actually publish to your website is December 31, 2011. Please get the word out about that now so that if anyone still wants to enter, they have some time to do so.
Also, please note that I will be needing YOUR selections for your site’s 2011 “submission champions” in the two categories we are recognizing: original video and original written non-fiction. Once we have those site winners, we will post them at our blog through January and determine overall winners for the grand prizes to be awarded in February.
Here is the latest release on the contest that you may want to refer to:
Also, here is the original blog post that includes contest rules:

On to the post….

Every once in awhile I get the urge to buy something I really don’t need.  I recently bought a Kindle Fire, which I really didn’t need, but man is it fun.  The thing about the Kindle is that it’s a device made for consumption and not creating.  I can watch a movie on it, or a read a book, or listen to music, but the device is not meant to create any of these things.  I went into the relationship with the Kindle understanding this, but I didn’t realize how easy it is to buy stuff with it.

It's all about keeping the spending down.

And that goes for all things online.  I love to draw and found a website awhile back that taught step by step how to draw portraits and other cool stuff – for a price.  I’ve been drawing for a long time now and when I saw the results the guy promised I bought in and I wasn’t disappointed, but now there’s always email from the guy’s site showing how to do more and better things with your art.  I haven’t bought his other stuff, but it’s tempting.

Frugal in the 21st Century

What does living frugally mean to us today?  Other than these small extravagances I like to think I live a fairly frugal life style.  I drive a truck that’s about 15 years old and has almost 250,000 miles on it.  It’s not beautiful, but it’s rugged and gets the job done.  We have a fairly big TV set we bought on sale, but all we have is the basic cable package.  Our phone plan is simple and is combined with the cable and Internet to keep the costs down.  We burn pellets and only use oil for hot water.  Heating oil is expensive here in the Northeast!

This year we bought a 1/2 pig and a 1/4 of a cow from a local farmer and grew some of our own vegetables and plan to do the same next year.  The meat was a lot cheaper when we bought it that way.

We don’t have any credit card debt or other outstanding debt.

Could we get by on a lot less?  Sure, if we had to we could cut back even more, but at this point we’re happy and comfortable with our lifestyle.  And isn’t that what life is all about?

Living Comfortably

By my standards we are very comfortable.  We’re warm and dry, we have a nice house with a lot of forest acreage behind us, and we have plenty of food.

But if someone were to break in looking for valuables they’d be terribly disappointed.  Mrs Jarhead doesn’t care for expensive jewelry and I don’t wear expensive watches or go in for any of that “metrosexual” bull… crap.

I’m a Maine guy pure and simple and I don’t need a lot of stuff to make me happy.


So where are my riches?

My children.  Mrs. Jarhead.  My parents.  My sister and her family.  That’s where true wealth is measured.

We go for experiences together rather than stuff.  I’d much rather take the family up a difficult mountain here in Maine than on an expensive cruise we’d be paying for over the next five years.

Our family likes to get together for a fire behind my parent’s house at all times of the year.  We’ve spent many weekend afternoons in the snow standing around the fire, laughing, joking, and talking while the kids run around playing with sleds.


I’ve been a slave to the credit card in the past and it’s no fun screening my calls because some creditor wants a piece of me.  If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time you’ve heard me tell the story of my credit card debt and what I had to do to get rid of it.  Is it fun cutting back?  No.  Especially if you’re used to living a life of entitlement, as in:  I’m entitled to this because I work hard.  Or, I’m entitled to that because I’m an American.


If you go into to debt you’re entitled to pay back the credit card companies what you owe because you’re the one who racked up the debt.  They might have made it easy for you, but they didn’t put a gun to your head and demand you take the two week all-expenses paid trip to Cancun.  If you have medical expenses or some such I can understand that, but simply because you bought too much stuff?  Nope.  You’re on the hook.

Want to get out of debt?  Stop spending and start living frugally.  When I started paying off my debt I didn’t have cable or a lot of other things people assume they’re entitled to.  It’s no fun, but it can be achieved if you try.  Check out Dave Ramsey’s site.  I don’t agree with some of his financial advice, but the getting out of debt part is spot on.

The only reason I live comfortably today is because I went on the “debt diet” and got rid of all my credit card debt.  These days I pay the bills on time and I have enough left over to put in the bank and still live comfortably by my standards.

I’m an avid reader and let’s just say a writer from the 1800’s caught my attention during a dark period in my life.  Walden showed me that having stuff isn’t necessary as long as you can enjoy life for what it is.  Check it out:

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion.”

-Henry David Thoreau

Is that cool or what?  How do you measure riches?

-Jarhead Survivor

19 comments… add one
  • The Prepper December 12, 2011, 8:19 am

    Well said! I used to have a lot of debt about 10 years ago. One day I realized I was a slave to the system, and went on a “debt diet” just like you did. Ate Ramen noodles, didn’t go out to eat, justified every dime I spent and took on extra work to pay it off. Within a year I was debt free and now I’m very cognizant of my finances. I have also learned to appreciate the small things in life, and “stuff” just doesn’t give me the same joy as watching birds in a bird bath, listening to nature, sipping coffee with my wife on our porch or grilling up some chicken on the back porch. I’ve also become a devoted Christian, and I’m certain God is the reason I went down the path to simplicity. I’m much, much happier now!

  • Spook45 December 12, 2011, 9:19 am

    I measure in tangible STUFF not money. IF I have STUFF that I can use, barter trade for other STUFF that I might need, im in better shape than the guy who has lots of money(that has been devalued and wont be worth anything anyway) I would rather have food, ammo, blankets, tools, wood, guns , knives etc than any amount of fiat currency. Even gold and silver in a true breakdown would have limited value for people who are trying to survive. YES, precious metals are good to stave off inflation and eep the wealth you already have, theoreticaly, but when people are hungry cold and sick, you can have that chunk of metal, give me some food and some firewood. In the end, lead and copper are FAR more valuable than any other metals available.

  • SurvivalWoman December 12, 2011, 12:01 pm

    Wonderful article.

    Like you, I live a comfortable life. But this is far different from extravagant. I have a tiny one bedroom house but it is in a very nice area. I go to restaurants 3 or 4 times a year but cook at home the rest of the time. I use the public library for reading materials that are downloaded to my eBook reader. I do not have a smart phone or a landline (just a plain, dumbed down cell phone) and no debt. I do go on cruise ship vacations but those are funded by my job. For those that think I have it easy – well yes – I think I do. But I still work as does my husband who is 71 years old. We do no not rely on entitlements to live our life.

    My riches are many: a brother and his family who I love and cherish, an adoring husband, good health and a peaceful and serene lifestyle. These to me are far more valuable than a new car, the latest designer clothes and the latest in fancy toys. Like you, I feel quite blessed.


  • Jason December 12, 2011, 12:03 pm

    First a sort of off topic question – I want to learn to draw & my 6 year old seems like he enjoys to draw & would love to add to that creativity, what is the name of the website where you got your info?

    About debt – I am on the same page with you my friend but I don’t like to call it living frugal, I like calling it living wise & think there is a difference.

    Some things I buy quality & is more expensive because it lasts far longer the less expensive counterpart.

    Next, if you really analyze some purchases or expenditures, do you really need the item?

    Today, I find the joy with possessing little & living more. Walk or ride a bike when it is reasonable, always make my own meals, eat left overs, live in a much smaller home, drive an older – free & clear car. I moved into a neighborhood where people put their laundry outside to save a nickel on dryer costs, kids play outside because TV has very limited choices.

    It is my opinion that kids & how we mentor them & our own personal character is what people really pay attention to and is the only real legacy we leave behind.

    • Jarhead Survivor December 12, 2011, 1:50 pm

      Hi Jason – here’s the site I like the best:

      Darrel Tank is a pretty good artist and he offers free drawing lessons – just scroll to the bottom of the page. He uses five types of pencils in his drawings, which he explains in the videos.

      Remember, art is in the eye of the beholder, so this may not be what you’re looking for, but I like his style and his teaching style. Good luck to you and your six year old!

  • Survivor Mike December 12, 2011, 1:47 pm

    I measure riches in experiences and those who you can share them with. Still working on living with less as my family has become accustomed to having certain things. It’s a process – a slow one.

    Also, agree with Jason in that our offspring and character is the legacy that remains when we leave this earth.

  • sam December 12, 2011, 3:20 pm

    in 2003 i got fired, was deep in credit card debt (about $10k) and had zero savings. my parents bailed me out and taught me how to take care of everything (better late than never). i paid them back within 16 months and celebrated with a 2 week trip to europe.

    i’ve since marreid and my wife and i are really, really on the same page. we buy everything primarily second-hand. we own a duplex, not a single family home. we drive used cars. we garden our asses off. we now have 12 months cash and 6 months food stored up. we pay bills early, we sleep very soundly. all this on a pretty meager income (about $60k). many of our friends have lost their jobs and they keep up with the personal trainers and iphones. i’m confused by their choices. they seem to think that just as it goes, it must surely come.

    i measure riches in terms of stability and resiliency. i have enough money to be an ethical person (the proverbial “F-U money”). i can quit and still feel proud that i’m not out in the cold.

  • Frostheev December 12, 2011, 4:10 pm

    It’s not what we lack, but what we see others have, that makes us discontented.

    • Jason December 12, 2011, 5:11 pm

      Exactly right & the basis of most all advertising.

      Ten years ago I bought a bottle of Hawaiian Tropic tanning lotion & am still waiting for those bikini girls to show up at my beach towel!

  • Calamity Jane December 12, 2011, 4:37 pm

    The part about consume versus create/produce is spot on to my objections with such gadgets. Hubby wanted a Nook (like the Kindle) this year. And finally a few relatives went in together to get it for him. I thought it was silly, but I couldn’t put into words my objection to it. It’s totally the consume aspect of it though. The ONLY thing you can do with these things is view already created material, most of which you’ll need to pay for, all while cheerily consuming pennies of electricity a day. *sigh* The things I put up with for my husband… :-D
    For the same cost he could have gotten set up with a hobby that has the potential to create things, maybe 2 hobbies.

    • Jason December 12, 2011, 5:19 pm

      I have to agree with you Jane. I looked at a Nook many times but just couldn’t pull the trigger for the same reasons. Besides, I like physically turning pages because it gives me a truer sense of accomplishment & enjoy seeing the bookmark slowly go down.

      • izzy December 18, 2011, 3:24 am

        Someone tried to give me a Nook, and I have to say I didn’t find much use for it. First Barnes & Noble wanted to link it to a credit card – and you should’ve seen the blank looks when I said I’d rather NOT do that. Also it was unwieldy to use and the battery died quickly. I have a friend who got something like an IPhone, and her phone seems to have the same reading capabilities as well as navigation tools, YouTube etc. I borrow it a lot & envy it – it’s like a computer in your pocket.
        (But, if you do get a Nook, use it with Google Books or Project Gutenberg. They have a lot of FREE old, unknown out-of-copyright books that would otherwise be lost to history. A lot of them describe old-fashioned, pre-electric skills, in detail you won’t find nowadays, and would be really useful for off-the-grid living.)

    • irishdutchuncle December 12, 2011, 8:05 pm

      consumer demand creates jobs, nothing else can.

      most people find conspicuous consumption distasteful. (a fool and his money…)
      artists, artisans, mechanics, builders, miners etc. still need to feed their children too.

  • Carol In MA December 12, 2011, 4:40 pm

    I have only been reading this site for a few weeks now, and am new to prepping within the last couple of months. Like so many other people, my husband and I were slaves to the almighty dollar. My husband is self-employed, and over the last couple of years we have watched over 50% of our customers close their doors due to financial hardship. We are a small company (just my husband and I do the books), and most of our customers were the same. Because of this, it has caused extreme financial hardship to us. However, we were able to pay off our mortgage a few months ago, and as of today, my husband is closing the doors to the business after 40 years. He started it when he was 18 and were certainly not considering retirement quite yet. We both have a lot of mixed emotions about it. Another company has purchased the business and of course, it is not longer worth what it used to be, but we’ll come out of it with enough to pay off ALL our debt. Over the last couple of years, we were forced to live frugal, and now I wouldn’t have it any other way. It brings such peace of mind, and that is so much more important than “stuff”. I have de-cluttered my home, which gives me more time for the fun things than dusting the “stuff”. My idea of fun these days is a cup of tea on the porch and watching the birds and squirrels … or making a quilt … or canning my tomatoes that I grew myself. I have learned to make my own bread because $4.00 a loaf is ridiculous. I go to the library instead of Barnes and Noble. If I need a new winter coat, I go to the thrift shops. They are much more fun to rummage through than a fancy department store, and what a great feeling when you find those bargains! My friends keep saying we should go on a vacation now that the company is sold, but after paying off the remainder of the bills, it will give me more piece of mind to spend what could be vacation money on my wish list … dehydrator, grain mill, dutch oven, etc. We will be paying cash!!

  • gat31 December 12, 2011, 7:01 pm

    Well l have raised four kids on my own for the last 15 years. Frugal living? Yeah l got that. Thank Goodness the last one turned 19 last week. I have been downgraded in my job twice in 3 years. I went from 40,000 a year to according to last weeks pay check 8997.43 so far this year before taxes.
    However, l have a job l like most of the time, plenty of free time to spend in my garden and with my grandchildren, and the stress levels in my life is non-existant. I haven’t had a bank account in 2 years and have never had a credit card.l watch tv through my laptop so just a internet bill, and l share a plan with my oldest daughter so the cell phone bill is like 20 a month. I’ve never been happier.
    I found out Santa is getting me worms for Christmas but just can’t seem to get the chickens yet lol They tease me here because l told them l wanted a truckload of dirt and worms for Christmas but that makes me happier than anything electronic ever could. Maybe chickens for my birthday………

  • Kathy December 12, 2011, 8:55 pm

    I love this post! I think too many people put value on all the wrong things. There is this song by this band (Metric) I like and there is a line that says “Buy this car to drive to work… Drive to work to pay for this car”….and I really never wanted to be one of those people.

    Free time is how I measure my riches….time to spend with the people I love…. Not saying to not work…but work towards having freedom (from debt, loans, and tied to some job you don’t even like)… but don’t get caught in that cycle of working to buy.

    I have been fortunate that most of my life I have been able to work from home (which helps at tax-time and in not having to invest in special office work clothing) and I am always trying to figure out ways to make my money stretch. I do like to buy quality products as I feel you get what you pay for. And if you spend money on something, let it be something that will last a long time. Although in todays world that is hard to find, as it seems the powers that be just want to sell cheap items which break easily and have to be constantly replaced.

  • Joe December 13, 2011, 8:03 am

    GREAT post, Jarhead.

    Don’t be surprised if you receive a couple of write-in votes during the next Presidential election. ;) You make far more sense than anyone I’ve seen a commercial for. We need that in Washington these days.



  • Chef Bear58 December 14, 2011, 2:31 am

    For me, having ritches is all about the folks who you care about, and them caring about you in return. For example, my brother and I would fight CONSTANTLY when we were young (OK so maybe it was more like me, as the older brother, beating the crap out of his little brother to toughen him up!), In recent years, we had started getting close finally, we would hunt, fish, do some off-road driving, play video games, go to the gym together, and work on our vehicles together (he helped me put a 75hp shot of nitrous on my ’94, 4 cylinder Ford Ranger). We were really making progress before he found his wife… needless to say I don’t care for her, she doesn’t care for me, but as long as I get to spend time with my neice I don’t care.

    My folks, god I love my folks… We don’t always see eye-to-eye (for example, I get fussed at DAILY by Ma for dippin’). If it wasn’t for my folks, especially Ma, my butt would either be in the pen, or in the ground! I didn’t really know my Dad when I was a kid, because he was constantly deployed, he was a Field Grade Logistics Officer, during most of my childhood there were only like 50 folks with his qualifications, security clearance and training; But none of those other guys had their Masters Degree, 3 Bachellors degrees, and 3-4 Associates degrees, and could fluently speak 7 languages (I remember Spanish, French, German, Portugees, Latin and I can’t remember the others). He would typically be deplyed almost every month for 3 weeks. One year I didn’t see him for 10 months, he came back for 3 days and left again for another 8 months. Most of his missions were highly secretive, he was assigned to work directly with the Special Forces and Rangers. He still can’t talk about the majority of his missions. So another one of my “riches”, is having him around, and getting to talk to him about all kinds of things, almost any and every topic that comes into my ADD rittled brain!

    My friends make me “rich”, I don’t have a huge number of what some folks call friends… I have a small group of friends that are pretty much family. Everybody calls my folks Ma and Dad, a few of them Ma says she has “adopted”, which means that whenever we make a big meal they get called to join us, or I run servings to my friends at their home!

    I have many folks in the church that are like family, the Sanchee’s always get a striper or two, some catfish, blues, rays, shark, bonito, flounder, crappie, bass (Florida-strain Largemouth and smallmouth) whenever I go fishing and manage to catch something. They also get whatever other goodies I come across in my outdoor excursions, like when I found a HUGE patch of morel mushrooms a couple years ago… they still thank me for that!

    So as you can see, I pretty much measure how “rich” I am by the folks in my life. I guess you could measure it with how much money you have, but money is a hell of a lot easier to get than honest, trustworthy, caring friends that will be there for you whenever you need them, even if you don’t think you need them!

  • izzy December 18, 2011, 3:19 am

    I think you all have it exactly right!
    I also read “ultralight” hiking sites (I don’t always think all their ideas are the best, but they’ve given me some ideas on lightening the BOB), and I just saw this one essay, “Cannonballs for Backpacking”:

    He makes the point thru humor, that for one reason or another we are guided into thinking that we should be doing/getting certain things. People don’t always recognize marketing & peer pressure, so it might look “normal” to someone – until they take a step back…


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