Updated on 02.12.10

Our Towels Don’t Match Our Bathroom Curtains

Trent Hamm

My cell phone doesn’t let me watch streaming internet video.
I don’t own a pair of pants that cost more than $40 – and most cost less than $10.
We don’t have a flat panel television – we’re still using my old CRT one from my college years.
The back bumper of my truck has rust on it.
I don’t throw out socks until they have holes in them.
We use old t-shirts for rags.
There’s a juice stain on our couch that won’t come out, but we’re not going to replace it any time soon.
I make my own laundry detergent because the store stuff is overpriced.

Some people might look down their noses at us for these things. I don’t mind.

I’ll wave to them as they leave for their high-stress job while I sit in my office in my pajamas and write.
I’ll think about them for a moment as I load up the kids for a day trip to the science center.
I’ll thoroughly enjoy the time I spend working – and when I don’t enjoy it, I’ll get up and do something else.
I’ll talk to my wife and tell her that if she wants to spend a few years being a stay-at-home parent, we can make it work.
I’ll spend the late afternoon playing soccer in the backyard with my son instead of de-stressing in front of the television.

Those are trades I’ll always make.

It took me a long time to let go of the need to keep up some sort of false appearance of perfection in my life. The towels had to be perfect. I had to have the latest, shiniest gadgets. I worried constantly about the appearance of success.

Yet, in the end, the people I was really jealous of were the ones doing interesting things with their lives. I might admire the gadgets and the beautiful house (and I’m still envious of them in a lot of ways), but I was truly envious of the people doing exactly what they wanted to be doing. I envied the people who could make their own hours and follow their own muse. I was jealous of stay-at-home parents, too.

Those were the things I most valued – and most wanted.

What I learned along the way was that I had to make a choice between keeping up some sort of pretense of material success or going after the things I most wanted in life. I realized that there’s always something else material to want, some way to feel inadequate because someone else has better stuff, and some way to puff myself up because I have a shinier thing than someone else.

Once I framed things in that context, the choices became easier. Instead of making sure all of our linens matched, we just used them until they were worn. Instead of insisting on the latest and greatest gadgets, I would just get a freebie cell phone and use my gadgets until they didn’t work any more. I didn’t worry about the rusty bumper too much and I didn’t panic and start throwing money around when my kids spilled a bit of juice on the couch.

My stress level went down. Plus, I found that suddenly I had more financial and time resources than I ever imagined. I used both of those resources to my advantage, applying them both to the things I most wanted in life.

Yes, my truck has a rusty bumper and some people might raise their noses at it while they drive by in their Lexus. I’ll watch them go by, off to their stressful job, then I’ll go inside and do the things I’ve wanted to do all of my life.

Sounds like a good trade to me.

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  1. Crystal says:

    I have just recently decided that I value free time way more than money. I rather stay at my under-paid 40 hour a week job than make double or more for 60-80 hour weeks. I want to see my husband, visit family, talk to friends, and watch tv more than I want money. I will trade money for a true lack of stress. We will continue working and saving 50% or more so we can retire at age 52 as planned, but it is nice to know what trade-offs I’m willing to make.

  2. marta says:

    I am sorry, but this post was just off-putting; it reeks of smugness.

    Enough of the rusty truck; you’ve got a shiny Prius. This smug frugality theme has been revisited far too many times lately, can’t you think of something else to talk about? I do realise that PF posts tend to be repetitive, but…

  3. Amanda says:

    You actually HAVE curtains in your bathroom?? I have $5 mini-blinds…

  4. jgonzales says:

    I can understand completely. A small part of our laptop has broken. It’s mostly cosmetic & have nothing to do with how the laptop runs. We’ve had friends suggest we go buy another laptop because of this. We’re looking into getting it repaired because it could cause problems in the long run, but it’s certainly not worth spending the money to completely replace it.

    And since I don’t have a window in my bathroom, I don’t have curtains. The only reason the towels match the rugs on the floor is because they were all given to us as a set for our wedding.

  5. teresa says:

    I’ve been reading “the simple dollar” for a few months now. This towels/curtains post is great. I’m sending the link to my 31 year old daughter who is just now beginning to think about frugality. (No, I did not set a good example in her youth.)

  6. Angie says:

    Yipes, this post makes YOU sound like you’re the one who’s looking down at people. It’s a bit “frugal-er than thou.”

  7. Jenny says:

    I’m not sure how this can be taken as smug. The entire post is about Trent’s personal jealousies and fighting to overcome them and (sort of) succeeding. To me, he comes off as still jealous of some of the things other people have, like neat gadgets and a Lexus – otherwise, he wouldn’t notice them. That’s not smugness, that’s being flawed and realizing it and striving to get over it. How is it smug to say you’re incredibly jealous of the stuff and opportunities other people have?

  8. Jonathan says:

    I agree with Marta to some degree. As a longtime reader of the site, I think you’re painting a more frugal picture than may be totally accurate. In addition, this is the kind of stuff that makes people think you can’t be both financially savvy and have/do nice things. The message isn’t that smart people are totally cut off from the ways of “the rest of the world”, it’s that smart people spend on what’s truly important to them. I think that message got lost in your bragging about how much more clearly you see the world than those around you.

  9. Looby says:

    You say you don’t mind if people look down their noses at you, but you clearly do if you have taken the time to imagine their stressful, miserable debt-filled lives just so you can make judgements on them and feel better about yourself.

    Why do you assume their jobs are stressful, why do you assume they have debt? Maybe they won the lottery, or have rich parents.

    Maybe, just maybe, they wouldn’t give your rusty truck (or brand new prius) or mis matched towels a second thought.

    Maybe they are comfortable enough in themselves to not always be comparing themselves with others and trying to win in constant one-upmanship of who has the most value in their life.

  10. Carey says:

    Getting a bit preachy, aren’t we?

  11. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    My life, when I had all that shiny stuff, was stressful and miserable. I’m happy for people who manage to “have it all,” but I know from my own experience and the experience of thousands of others who have written to me that there are an awful lot of people swimming in debt to keep up appearances. I was once there and I was miserable.

    When I see others brandishing their material wealth, I’m immediately reminded of my own unhappiness (and the unhappiness of an awful lot of people who write to me and blog about this stuff) when I was building up a mountain of debt and I feel very good that I chose another path.

  12. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    If I’m smug because I admire their Lexus and their shiny gadgets while being glad that I don’t have a stressful job and a mountain of debt, then I’m smug. Mark it up as human flaw #392.

  13. Beth says:

    Trent, it’s great that you’ve come to that realization — and that you’re sharing the message. I think what put people off is that you strayed from describing your own experience into judging others. I felt that really weakened your point, especially since it was completely unnecessary to your argument.

  14. Michelle says:

    This post really resonated with me. I recently quit my secure job as a public school teacher to homeschool my son and work as a freelance writer. This decision cost me half my income, but I’ve never been happier in my life. What’s more, the happiness that my whole family feels is enabling us to save more money in spite of the fact that we have $1500 less coming in every month. I think I was spending a lot simply to avoid thinking about my son’s problems in school and my own dissatisfaction.

  15. Kat says:

    Why aren’t you darning those socks?! [snort! IMAGINE, throwing out perfectly good socks! ;-)]

    We all need to find our own comfort level/balance of wants vs needs. I appreciate hearing about yours.

  16. Jeannette says:

    A clean, well-cared for and well maintained home that may, or may not, include some “shiny stuff” doesn’t require lots of money and need not require a stressful job to “fund” it.

    I get what Trent is saying about his life and choices. But I don’t think, as others have noted, that having nice stuff equates with being unfrugal or unfiscally responsible.

    I know a number of people who have lovely homes and some shiny stuff and their lives, while stressful on some levels, are not unhappy and they are not miserable. IN fact, they would be far more miserable if their homes didn’t have a level of creature comforts, which they share with many others, both family and friends. Their lives are happier for having the ability to do this.

    They are not wealthy, their homes are NOT ostentatious or overblown and some even work from home in THEIR robes. They are also not in debt.

    I am getting tired of equating frugality with a somewhat spartan lifestyle that to me, has many discomforts of the kind that would distract me from living and working.

    Life is about compromises and it is not about stuff. However, some “material” items provide comfort, buffers, entertainment, etc. and do have a value in making our lives “better” so that we can be less stressed and have more energy for what matters along with our work.

    For all those folks who swear by roughing it, as it were, there are those of us who do not work or think or live best in barren, spartan homes that for some of us, who grew up really poor, just drag us back into what feels like poverty circumstances.

    It’s about knowing what works for you, not getting into debt and not overspending, but also feeling free to choose “stuff” and not think it makes you less frugal or fiscally responsible than others.

    Trent’s life choices may not work for others, but I think his point is that it’s about OUR OWN choices.

    I did not read any smugness, but I did get a whiff of defensiveness, which would be natural in a society where Trent’s choices are not (still) the norm.

    And the kicker is, Trent has the choice.

    Many people reading this? They don’t have a choice about what to fix, what shiny stuff to buy. They don’t have money. Period.

    The frugal lifestyle of choice is way beyond the means of many fiscally challenged folks.

  17. Kara White says:

    Thanks for this post! It reminded me to check out the fliers for the white sales this weekend. We have “gradiations” of towels…and some of them are in dire need of replacemnt. Thanks for the reminder! :)

  18. Ruth says:

    What a timely post. I am in the process of moving into a new house, and just yesterday I hung up my green bathroom set in the new blue bathroom and thought “well, guess I’ll have to buy a new bathroom set in blue.”

    I guess I don’t.

  19. Courtney says:

    Aside from the new Prius – haven’t you made several posts recently about shopping around for a new family-friendly vehicle to replace the “rusty old truck”?

  20. sarah says:

    @Ruth #18 — understand the feeling. Get a few inexpensive accessories that have both blue & green colors to coordinate to help you feel it’s more aesthetically appealing. It will look like the whole thing was coordinated intentionally.

  21. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    “Trent’s life choices may not work for others, but I think his point is that it’s about OUR OWN choices.”

    1000% spot on. YOU choose, not the people around you.

    In fact, I’d argue that you choose most of the things that happen to you in life by how you spend your time and resources when things are good. Are you the ant or the grasshopper?

  22. Misty K. says:

    I’m really thankful that I ever came across your blog,Trent. Mainly for the fact that your posts are sometimes just reminders of things i already know and it is nice to hear another persons way of doong things.Also,I read down through the comments and there will always be people who want to criticize what a person puts out for the public to read,hear,watch.And the best thing about life is we can CHOOSE to agree or disagree, but that doesn’t mean Trent, or whoever has to quit doing what makes them happy and that is giving us information they feel will benefit someone.Not everyone, just those who are interested.

  23. Nicole says:

    Oh yeah, well, I don’t throw my socks out AFTER they have holes in them. (My sister-in-law thinks I’m nuts. It’s mainly laziness though, not frugality.)

    The second half of the post sounds much less “frugal-er than thou” as someone put above than the first half. It’s wrong for people to judge other people by their possessions whether they have shiny new things or old rusty things. We don’t know what sacrifices other people have made to get the things they have. Some people with shiny new Lexuses enjoy their jobs and value having a nice automobile. Some Lexus owners don’t, but having nice things doesn’t automatically mean a person is caught up in status symbol wars.

    I hope that at some point what other people have will be immaterial and you won’t feel the need to feel smug because you’ll be truly happy and comfortable with what you have.

  24. Brandi says:

    It sounds like Trent does have SOME nice stuff, ie. kitchen equipment and the Prius. There’s nothing wrong with owning a mix of new-purchased and/or expensive items and old/used/worn ones-it’s all about figuring out what’s important to you. I have an ancient mac laptop that a friend recently upgraded with some extra RAM. Sure, I’d like a new one, but I’d rather save the money for awhile, and a cheap netbook isn’t what I want. Also have an outdated cellphone with an extra line on my parents’ plan. People have mocked these things, but I get to pay off debt and go on vacations.

  25. chacha1 says:

    I’m choosing to live with the towels we got for our wedding, even though they are faded and starting to fray, because our towel bars are on the back of the bathroom doors so our shabby towels don’t show to the world! But I’m really, really looking forward to retiring them for our 10th anniversary (in just under two years) … because I think keeping a set of towels for ten years is Long Enough.

    I believe that where the financial means exist to keep a home well-maintained and well-furnished, it’s a sign of respect to those who live in it to keep it so. Making do and mending are great and valid, but there does come a time when things wear out beyond repair (or beyond bearing) and I think it’s legitimate to replace them when that time comes. This seems to be where Trent is with regard to the famously rusty truck.

    Also, I think it’s hilarious that there is an ad for “Abyss Super Pile Luxury Towels” right beside this comment box as I type.

  26. MP says:

    Just for fun, I clicked on the “Abyss Super Pile Luxury Towels”. $16 washcloths, and $65 towels. But there is free shipping! How funny!

  27. brooke says:

    i think that as trent has always said, finding happiness in life is all about balance. personally as a working mom, decorating is one of my few hobbies, and i derive a lot of pleasure from making sure that our home looks good. i don’t do it at the expense of our more important financial needs, but i don’t feel bad about spending some of my time and money on something that i find interesting. i also have plenty of friends who have beautiful homes and were able to put them together on a budget.

    one suggestion – i know you are into investing in nice stuff – you always talk about how important it is to have a nice set of knives. may i suggest when you do eventually replace the couch to get one that is stain proof – it is great for kids and worth the additional investment.

  28. Megan says:

    I’m at a similar point. We’ve never been big spenders, but I go through phases where I want to spend–and usually give in to that want w/in reason. Lately, though, I’ve been so bored with the whole consumer thing, really, truly bored. I have just about everything I could possibly want and I have tons of things I don’t want anymore. So I’m in a paring down and getting rid of mindset. It fits me better, and it feels good. It’s not hard to avoid overspending when the focus is not the money but what’s good for myself and my family. I don’t expect this mentality to last forever (there will be something–a few somethings–I’m sure, that I will want to buy at some point in the future), but I am hoping it will last through the next couple of weeks, when my mother and sister will be here for a visit.

  29. Neil says:

    it’s posts like this which put me off finance websites, this blog should be to help people with their financial state not brag about yours.

    Not only have you came to smug, self-gratifying conclusions but you’ve posted them directly in the face of those who come to you for financial advice and help.

    I don’t come to this site to be preached to, I come for honest, friendly advice without ego, and this post just doesn’t deliver anything useful.

  30. I don’t know, the tone of this post started out pretty well but devolved into a somewhat bitter-sounding rant.

    Just because your neighbors haven’t chosen a job they do from home doesn’t mean that they are stressed or don’t enjoy what they do. I drive to work every morning, but I get to work with some of the most advanced technology in the world. I love my job.

    Just because your consumption was unfulfilling doesn’t mean all consumption is unfulfilling for everyone. Some people enjoy being surrounded by beauty, and some people, when they’re picking out towels, just pick some that match their curtains.

    Frugality doesn’t make you better than anyone, just like a shiny Lexus doesn’t make anyone better than you. Enjoy your time with your kids, and stop worrying about the Jones’ new car!

  31. LMoot says:

    Trent, it seems like you’re still occupied with “shiny stuff”, this time the occupation seems to be on what other people have. Lately your posts always seemed to be focused on how other people spend money…people who truly don’t care how others live life would not have such focused opinions on others. Even more so than smug, it seems defensive. Unlike the past “you” not everyone that has nice “shiny things” (I’m so tired of hearing everything that you deem extravagant referred to as shiny) just to impress others, or shove it in their face. I have designer style decor, whether I got it on sale, bought a knock-off, or it was a clever DIY, or used. I LOVE home decor, it’s practically a passion. I would personally not be happy with a stained couch, though I could care less that you have one. A rusty bumper, however, wouldn’t bother me and my cell doesn’t even take photos, it’s 3 years old, came free with the plan. I simply am not into electronics and I’ve never had friends make fun of me or look down on me for having my phone. I don’t look down on others whos homes are “shabby”, I could care less. If anything the homes that I have opinions on or ones that seem to share my aesthetic. Most people don’t care that others cars are rusty…not has much as you seem to notice people’s “shiny cars”. IMO you are obsessed with materials and the images attached to them…you’ve just flip flopped to the other extreme but the power, the connontations, the emphasis you place on material things as a means to judge others (shiny lexus, high stressed job) is still the same. Your mentality does not really seem to have changed. This excerpt is telling “I’ll think about them for a moment as I load up the kids for a day trip to the science center.” Again, you are thinking more about what you THINK people are thinking about you…more than they are actually thinking about you. Confusing, hunh? And lastly, I think it’s hilarious that you don’t worry about your rusty bumper….too much. Oh, if only some were lucky enough just to have the scarlet letter in the form of a rusty bumper. I’m sure all of the BMW & Lexus drivers giggle about your bumper at the water cooler of their insanely stressful jobs. And why does there have to be a “trade?” My goal in life is to be able to have everything that’s important to me. What if those Lexus owners don’t have kids, could care less about phones, don’t care about having gourmet kitchen appliances and knives, and as a result they can afford that Lexus without having to have a stressful job? Your towels don’t match your bathroom curtains because that’s not important to you…if it was, they would match. My towels don’t match my bathroom curtains because I have good style, and matching is so passe :)

  32. Mrs. Money says:

    Trent- please don’t get mad, but the title reminded me of “the carpet doesn’t match the curtains” LOL. Sorry.

    I get what you mean, though. I am willing to give up so many luxuries so that I can afford to spend more time at home!

  33. Vicky says:

    Nice post!

    The most important things in my life are my pets.

    This means I have dog hair in wierd places. It means my couch has a stained slip cover over it. It means my kitchen floor, though I mop it often, will always have paw prints. I have dog toys scattered throughout the house, and I have to keep a lint roller in my purse to remove the hair when I get to work, lol.

    I have seen more poop in my life than I ever imagined. My bed is full of dog hair, and though I swap out my sheets every 3 days, the sheets are still colored funny where the dogs lay.

    I drive a crappy little car that’s full of dog hair.

    I won’t spend more than $1 on a bottle of shampoo for myself, but I will spend $18 on medicated shampoo for my dog because of his severe allergies, and I pay $50 for a bag of dog food, and spent almost $4000 in vet bills last year.

    I don’t have fancy gadgets, or a nice car, or a big house.

    I don’t even have fancy pets. I have 3 throw-away senior dogs that I’ve rescued along the way, 3 unwanted ferret, and a hand-me-down cat. My fish tank was free. lol.

    But they mean more to me than anything else in the world :)

  34. Wendy says:

    I find it very funny that google chose this post to advertise some “super pile luxury” towels.

  35. Telephus says:

    I have been following your blog for almost a year. My first comment ever got lost in the glitch a couple weeks ago. I rarely feel compelled to comment on articles, I mostly like to read the debates in the comments and appreciates everyone’s point of view, but this article really irked me. I have been on a lot of frugality and personal finance sites in the last 5 or 6 years. I’ve always been on the frugal side, so I don’t know what it’s like to be keeping up with the Jones and not caring about debt. But I have worked hard and been financially responsible, and am now starting to enjoy some of the fruits of my labor. And some of that is being able to buy new towels that match the curtains. Or spend $200 on a pair of shoes. I can afford these things while savings for retirement, having an emergency fund, etc. Posts like this make me wish there was a term that’s the opposite of keeping up with the Jones – maybe keeping up with the Smiths? – that has to do with a fierce competition to be frugal. Instead of “Bob doesn’t drive a new Lexus like me, so I must be happier than him” it becomes “Bob went out and bought a new couch. He must have a miserable job he hates and charged that on a credit card. I don’t do that, so I’m so much happier than him” Instead of competing with the acquisition of “shiny things” there’s a competition to see how much you can live without. Instead of impressing someone with your million dollar McMansion and Ferrari, you;re trying to impress someone with a 20 year old pickup truck, half price day at the thrift store towels, and how many people (children and spouse) you can support without having anyone else bring in an income. This type of attitude isn’t specific to this website, but it’s becoming a growing trend among frugality and personal finance sites.

    There is also a magic ideal that the only lifestyle that is truly fulfilling is working from home/being self employed/owning your own business and having a stay at home parent. The negative stereotype is that anyone who chooses to work at a job must be miserable – they’d rather have oodles of free time working for themselves or parenting their children. While I suspect everyone occasionally dreams about having that much free time, I take issue with the suggestion that most regular paycheck jobs are miserable.

  36. Rosa Rugosa says:

    I cannot imagine anything less appealing (to me) than being a stay at home parent, but the towels must match each other and be compatible with the curtains. And in my house, the towels and curtains are pretty old, but good quality, so I can maintain that aesthetic without throwing a lot of money at it. Although I recently bought a beautiful and not inexpensive painting by a much admired artist. And I don’t have a cell phone or a microwave oven. I think the concept of not wasting money on things that don’t matter to you so that you have it to spend on the things that do matter, is absolutely key. And these things are different for everyone, but the most important thing is to actually think about it and realize you are making choices and trade-offs. I actually have a personal goal of hoping to never own a cellphone – so far, so good. The idea of being at anyone’s beck and call and having my personal peace interrupted while I walk down the street is abhorrent to me. But others could not imagine life without one. You just really need to sort out your own values and stay true to them. Anyone else who didn’t have a cellphone because I don’t like them would just be silly :)

  37. leigh says:

    wow, i have generally liked your blog but this post was considerably off-putting. i think you were trying to make the distinction between material possessions as a marker of success vs personal fulfillment as a maker of success and your shift in focus from the former to the latter. but it really came off as sanctimonious to me. in my experience, this is a tactic people tend to use when they feel inadequate.

    i had the (mind-numbingly boring) non-stressful job and i hated it. sorry to see that you feel this way about people whose values differ from yours- but consider that not everyone is looking down on you for your own choices.

    Your Money or Your Life was similarly off-putting to me because of the constant assumption that the reader hated their stressful and horrible job and just wanted escape. where this grand assumption so often found in the PF world comes from, is beyond me.

  38. You sounds very content! I’m not quite to the phase/level that you are yet, but I’m getting there.

    You should see my lawnmower, it’s held together by tape in some places… The neighbors probably think I’m a joke, but I don’t care! My goal is to make my lawnmower last another 5 year (twice as long as my neighbors!

    Hey, being frugal enabled me to pay of my house early! And in my book, that’ A-Okay!


  39. Hannah says:

    Off topic, but I find it really surprising that someone who advocates switching to CFL’s and planting trees to shade your house and save money on heating and cooling still has an inefficient old CRT television instead of an energy star TV. Stop patting yourself on the back and trying to justify your lifestyle. No one cares either way.

  40. J says:

    Some time ago I started just saying “good for you” to other people instead of judging them. You got a Lexus? Good for you! You got a new job? Good for you! You got some new towels? Good for you! You got another year out of your rusty old truck? Good for you!

    What I realized was that there’s far too much judgment and negativity in the world already, I didn’t need to add to it. The best I could do is support people along the way, and if they actually asked my advice, help them out. But if they didn’t want to hear it, I just kept my mouth shut and wished them the best.

    I also live my life by my principles, setting priorities that make sense to me and my family. I concentrate on the me, not the them, and let my actions speak for me.

  41. Maureen says:

    First of all,let’s abandon this notion that things have to match to look good. The very idea makes a lot of designers cringe. A room is much more interesting if they don’t. There is a huge wealth of blogs and books that can give you great ideas on decorating inexpensively. It doesn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful. Your home should reflect your personal taste and interests. Don’t even try to be like anyone else. You’re unique!

    From previous posts, you have made it clear that you were miserable with your previous careers. I think that you are projecting those feelings onto other people. I know a lot of people who are happy and fulfilled by their careers (in spite of grumbling about commutes and grumpy bosses). Since you mention it so frequently in your blog, I’m wondering if you are trying to convince yourself that you made the right career choice.

    I personally can’t see the attraction in spending the day in pajamas. It would make me feel lazy and sloppy. The only time in the last 25 years that I spent the day in pjs was when I was hospitalized after giving birth. Even when I was sick with pneumonia, I got up and dressed.

  42. Kevin WIlson says:

    LOL on the towels. Most of our (very nice) towels were free, because we live near a beach and people leave many towels there every summer. We now have a packed-full linen closet and take the extras to the thrift store. I don’t expect to ever have to buy a towel again in my life!

    None of them match though, and that’s good. Means each person knows which towel is theirs.

  43. Sarah says:

    Trent — nothing new to contribute on thoughts about the post, but i want to say thank you for participating in the comments. In the past your comments have come off as very defensive, but I think you did a good job of reiterating your message, participating, and not causing extra stir.

  44. This post crystallizes my thoughts perfectly–except for I’m still going after some of the things that Trent already has (i.e. working for himself).

    I respectfully disagree with all the “haters” in the comment section.

    The guy is not “esposuing” anything, just tellin’ it like it is.

    Sure, this lifesyle may not work for everyone, but if you’re drowning in debt, it may not be a bad idea to take a look at some of the things his family does

  45. Shannon says:

    There is an another alternative you know – instead of having towels that do not match bathroom curtains or buying cars that one cannot afford, one can chose to spend within one’s means and buy what is important, within reason. Your post is the reason why so many ppl have a negative attitude about frugality.

  46. Gretchen says:

    really good towels feel great and wash well. Therefore, can be a better deal in the long run.

    Maybe they got an awesome deal on the Lexus. You don’t know- and I think you are projecting onto them that they look down on your rusty truck.
    Which, as others pointed out, you have mentioned many times recently you are about to replace.

    This post highlights for me my major problem with this blog: I get and agree with (most) of the concepts. But the way you write about them is just odd.

  47. anna says:

    #33 Vicky -AMEN SISTER!! I have 2 rescue pups (no children) and they are my world. I also have a dog with allergies and have spent more on his doctor bills (in 2 years) than on my own doctor bills EVER but I wouldn’t trade him for anything. My dogs bring me more joy than any shiny car or matching towels ever good (although my towels all match, white towels ALWAYS match & can be bleached) I know that my dog will never go to college or take care of me in my old age but for the time I have them, they will bring me more joy than anything else I could imagine.

  48. mrsmonkey says:

    I don’t care for this post at all. I’ve been following you for a while, more than a year, maybe two and I’ve watched you as you’ve gone from a man on a mission to a man with maybe too much time on his hands. People who have made choices to spend too much are paying the price. They’re not writing about jerks who stay home all day, don’t buy matching towels, don’t fix their cars and then look over at them smugly.

    You’re changing. You’ve become arrogant and cruel and in a way seem to have lost your compassion. You’ve found THE WAY. And everyone else who isn’t following your rules of frugality are jerks to be pitied.

    Look…frugality is important. Right thinking about money, about life is about growing up and taking responsibility. But I feel sorry for Americans right now. WE the people have been sold a bill of goods, WE are on a treadmill that some can’t get off or won’t get off until they are thrown off, like YOU were thrown off, like I was thrown off. This isn’t the world our parents were born into. This is the world we inherited. Most of us have learned the hard way. Most of us don’t wake up with an epiphany of goodness! WE followed everyone else’s lead. JUST LIKE YOU. Just like we all.

    There but for the grace of God go I.

  49. Christine says:

    My goodness! I read this post about two hours ago and it so resonated with me that I decided to carpe diem! I spent the last two hours doing what’s important to me–writing–and checked in again just to thank Trent. So, thank you, and now I’m off to my frugal life–some windows don’t have curtains, and rather than buy a sleeper sofa I cannot afford, my next batch of house guests will still have to use a mattress on my living room floor!

  50. Michelle says:

    I too am really, really, put off by the “new, expensive stuff = debt” and “day-job = misery” tone. If Trent came to my house, he’d probably think we were one of those families mired in debt and miserable, but the reality is we have nice things because we live frugally, save our money and pay cash. My husband loves his job, and I stay home. We are not miserable and the only debt we have is mortgage, student loan, and one car, all of which we make extra payments on. And we save nearly 1/3rd of our income on top of that. Part of that savings is our “fun” money, which we use to buy things over $100.

    I’ve been judged by the “frugal-er than thou” crowd, and it really gets on my nerves. I try not to make assumptions about the lifestyles of others, and I’d appreciate the same consideration!

  51. littlepitcher says:

    I hate socks. Paid fifteen cents a pair for several and sew the toes when they get holes.

    My towels do match, and were a bad buy. I really wanted the camp towels which will take up a quart of water and dry in 15 minutes but didn’t want to spend the money, so I got 1-Dollar Store. Shed lint like cat hair and I took them back; 2-Microfibers from eBay which have nearly no absorbency. I should have spent the money to purchase the lint-free, energy-efficient kind I wanted.
    I want small, with small bills. Thus the iPod Touch with Skype, instead of the iPhone with huge bill plus a netbook. If I can get a good secondhand iPhone without the plan, I’ll change out to get the camera, and sell my digital.
    Think purchases through, including the potential opportunity to sell replaced items and the space requirements which may require bigger house/purse/car and a larger wage with ghastly boss and bitchy coworkers.
    And yes, the bumper’s rusted, but I’m saving for a commuter recumbent bike and a bike friendly job, so I can sell the treadmill.
    Buy what you love, not what the Joneses jones for.

  52. George says:

    Y’all have bathrooms with windows? I’m jealous because we don’t have windows in either of our bathrooms. I must go buy windows for our bathrooms now so I can hang matching curtains :-)

  53. lvngwell says:

    Trent – an excellent post as always. Yours continues to be the only ezine I read fervently. You do not sound smug or “frugaler than thou.” This was not you bragging but rather being transparent for our benefit. Only a truly humble person can lay their life as bare as you do day after day simply to help a group of people they will never meet. Don’t let the nay sayers get to you – frugality has EVERYTHING to do with money management – and it IS the only way. Anyone who rails against that is probably still in a post-spending euphoric haze – or perhaps a post-realization regretful funk. They will see your heart as many of us already have – some day. I found your post a call towards conscious responsibility, rather than uninformed recklessness. It challenges us to have the maturity to look inward towards our souls rather than outwardly toward the world to define our lives with what matter most to US. When I look inside I can honestly tell you that even if I got a “good deal” on a Lexus I would still rather have a van or truck to bring home all those garage sale finds! You see the great secret about an opulent life is that it is nothing special. It is easily attainable and can be had by all. Your income does not matter. You merely have to wait for the restless masses of status seekers to grow weary and unsatisfied with their recent “status” purchase and relieve them of it – for about a tenth of what they paid for it – or in many cases substantially less. The reason they divest themselves of their prize purchases so easily? Exactly the reason you outline in this post – they do not know what is important to them – they are still following the fickle winds of public opinion. THIS is the reason you pulled out your chair, stood on it, faced Mecca and declared – “I value people over things” and risked the jeers that followed. Because you KNOW. You have been there. You have never denied that. So few will admit they are living within their means for exactly the reason I have seen in the replies to this post – the outpour of negative public opinion for those who have the courage (rather than the gall) to proudly proclaim their financial independence from their influence. The public never has liked a rouge, let alone a vocal one. Stand tall and proud and never forget – there are enough of us out there that truly “get it” – you are not wasting your time.

  54. Kat says:

    @Hannah – actually the old CRTs generally use LESS electricity than most of the new (including the Energy Star rated ones) flat screens. That is one of the reasons we have not replaced ours – waiting for them to become more energy efficient. We do have it plugged into a power strip with an off switch and switch that off anytime we are not watching. It takes a few seconds longer for it and the DVD player to warm up, but it is not a large sacrifice.

  55. Denise says:

    I have been reading this blog for awhile. In this post, as with some others, Trent has a good idea but then backs it up with examples that can sound self riteous(sp) to others. I believe that he is a kind, well meaning man and doesn’t mean to do this at all. At this stage of my life, I have mismatching things,an old seen better days sofa and towels are two examples. I choose to not replace them and save up money for something else. I have never cared what the neighbors thought though my family is another story. I happily take their cast-offs and go on deprogramming myself as to what is important to me versus society’s expectations.

  56. good trade indeed Trent… having the latest ‘it’ thing comes at a price… the full extent of which we don’t appreciate in the moment. I think you have it figured out more than most.

    Thanks for sharing and inspiring.

  57. Stephanie says:

    I loved this post and think Trent makes some great points. How much stuff would we trade for time off work and a happier lifestyle ? Some people would not trade anything for time home, they would rather work hard and have all the fancy and new things they dream of, and they are happy with that choice,and that is a good choice for them, but many other people are started to consider how hard they really want to work for stuff and a particular life style they thought they wanted.
    I was shocked that someone thought he was preachy, I did not get that at all. I got that he was making decsions that make him and his family happier and they are based on personal freedom from owning stuff and having more time with his family. That is what works for him and what gives him happiness and makes his life what he wants it to be. Some people fall somewhere in the middle. There is no right or wrong, I think Trent just wants to make us think about what are we really working for and is it really worth it. If it is , then keep doing it, but if something inside says maybe there is a better choice, there are other options.
    I think it is great he can do what he does and be home with his family. I cannot see it happening for us right now where we are, but it is something to work towards.
    Thanks Trent, loved this post a lot !!

  58. Nicole says:

    I really do think that Trent is still on “the journey.” He’s still at the “Live like no-one else!” first stage of debt management and wealth accumulation that gets people motivated. Trent is still glorying in the idea that “Normal is Broke.” And it may be true, and it is definitely an important motivational tool when you’re getting started.

    But there’s a stage after that. One where you stop looking at the Joneses as competition at all. One where you truly accept the choices that other people have made because they’re optimizing their own functions. The one where you DO say, “Good for you” like #40 says. Where, say, you don’t have to justify getting a loan on a Prius to everybody because you know why you made that decision and you know why it is right for you.

    I really like Get Rich Slowly because JD (who is also 10 years older), has passed the “frugal-er-than-thou” stage (epiphany– the hot chocolate column) and is now at the “What Next?” stage.

    Liz Pulliam Westman has a great article on this concept … I’d link to it but I bet moderation is still broken. It’s called “Frugal or tight: Where’s the line?” but is really about more than stinginess, despite the title.

  59. Heather says:

    This is a great post – very well written too. It really resonated with me, and I’ve shared it with several people.

  60. Mary says:

    I’ve had this philosophy for as long as I can remember & always will. I don’t give a hoot if you’re only making .50 cents an hour, if your service is lousy (as you described) I’m not leaving squat for a tip. Crappy job equals crappy pay….grow up & do your job or live with it. I suppose people like that don’t learn a lesson but instead are bitter & feel cheated. Too bad.

  61. SP says:

    I recently read an article called “Loving Your Day Job and Your Life” on yahoo finance which talks about the balance of your day job and your life.

    “It was a light bulb moment when I recognized that earning money doing less engaging work that supports your values is a different kind of joy, but a joy nonetheless.”

    If I could spend my time 100% as I pleased, I wouldn’t work for myself. I’d just do things I liked to do that are pretty much of no value to anyone else, but that I really enjoy. Since that life won’t support me, I have a job.

    I enjoy my job. Love is a strong word, and I’m not going to lie, if I could get paid the same to NOT go, I wouldn’t. But if I could get paid much much less to do something different… no thanks. (This is because I don’t have a passion that could make any money.)

    But I really really love my life.

  62. SP says:

    PS – this doesn’t mean i think it is ok to have a soul sucking job that you despise, at least not as more than a stop gap while you figure out something else. That is a recipe for unhappiness

  63. Sharon says:

    Trying to live frugally but beautifully! I wanted to comment on the towels. Every year, various members of my family, ask me what I want for Christmas. Of course, being raised not to ask for things and finding that very hard to do, I have always acted like I didn’t need anything. This year, I decided to tell anyone that asked, that I would love some fluffy white towels. I was so ecstatic because they bought me the most beautiful, whitest, fluffiest, towels ever and my linen closet looks great!! Reminded me of the verse … “You have not because you do not ask….” Haha. Love your posts Trent!

  64. Michelle says:

    Wow, lot of vitriol re: this post. Perhaps the people who are reacting negatively are feeling judged by Trent? If you’re not unhappy at your job and you’re not in a pile of debt, I don’t believe he was talking about you. All he, or any of us, has to go on is his own experiences and these are his experiences. I don’t think you can invalidate someone else’s experience or opinion, which is all this is. To me, the point was to not let someone else’s opinion of you influence your choices and actions … and that includes Trent himself lol. Take it, leave it; your choice.

    @#40 J, I’m with you 100%. It’s not up to me to judge others. I can control only my own actions and reactions. I prefer to say “I’m happy for you” rather than “Good for you” because I’ve heard that specific phrase used too often in sarcasm so it elicits a knee-jerk reaction in me, searching for hidden sarcasm when I hear it.

  65. JP says:

    I have read this blog for many years but haven’t really posted that often. I have noticed lately that the post have started to change. I understand that Trent is writing from his past but it does come across as judgemental. This part of the post just seems odd to me:

    My cell phone doesn’t let me watch streaming internet video.
    I don’t own a pair of pants that cost more than $40 – and most cost less than $10.
    We don’t have a flat panel television – we’re still using my old CRT one from my college years.
    The back bumper of my truck has rust on it.
    I don’t throw out socks until they have holes in them.
    We use old t-shirts for rags.
    There’s a juice stain on our couch that won’t come out, but we’re not going to replace it any time soon.
    I make my own laundry detergent because the store stuff is overpriced.

    Some people might look down their noses at us for these things. I don’t mind.

    I’ll wave to them as they leave for their high-stress job while I sit in my office in my pajamas and write.
    I’ll think about them for a moment as I load up the kids for a day trip to the science center.
    I’ll thoroughly enjoy the time I spend working – and when I don’t enjoy it, I’ll get up and do something else.
    I’ll talk to my wife and tell her that if she wants to spend a few years being a stay-at-home parent, we can make it work.
    I’ll spend the late afternoon playing soccer in the backyard with my son instead of de-stressing in front of the television.

    Those are trades I’ll always make

    He assumes that people look down on him. I have never been in trent’s shoes i have to admit – I am frugal – have always have been – my problem was spending money – lucky I did take my money out of the market before the big drop and decided to start spending some and enjoying life that most of my friends my age can’t do because of debt. I still save for retirement but don’t save everything – the way I look at it is that I have gotten a 40% discount on everything by taking my money out of the market.

    To me Trent seems to make it seem he is looking down on the people who go to work – he can have his wife stay home – etc.

    Well so can a lot of people that drive to work – anyway not really sure what I am trying to say except that since Trent’s move to full time writing his blog has changed considerably, but they great thing about America is we can either read or not read.

  66. SLCCOM says:

    #52, George. You don’t need to buy windows. Just paint some on the wall and hang curtains around them!

    Seriously, I’ve seen it done and it really looks amazing!

  67. almost there says:

    SLCCM, #66. I took an art class once in Hawaii and the teacher made her living mostly from painting window scenes on walls without at various businesses around town. So, I guess if one is willing to pay for it anything is possible.

  68. Adam says:

    “What I learned along the way was that I had to make a choice between keeping up some sort of pretense of material success or going after the things I most wanted in life.”

    How’s your weight loss going? Did you drop 10 or 12 lbs yet of the 50 you need to lose?

  69. DiscoApu says:

    So why isn’t a Prius, a dvr, a snowblower, overpriced board games, nintendo stuff, and fancy kitchen tools consider shiny things? Just because you tell yourself that these things arent shiny doesnt mean others would do the same.

  70. Bill says:

    Post under: when I read this in 10 years I’m going to feel stupid.

  71. Trent – Oh boy did you hit the nail on the head. My website is primarily directed to lawyers and their personal finances, so the aspect that you mention in your article is a big part of their daily life.

  72. Becky says:

    I can see why some people thought the post was a bit “I’m more frugal than you are” but I don’t think he meant it that way at all.

    However, I can see how it turned people off. My mom can be that way. We can’t even talk about getting anything new because she will tell us we could have gotten it at the flea market in a year or two for $1 or $2–instead of getting it new now. So, it sometimes makes for uncomfortable discussions.

    I do not live in the states and thus do not have access to the great deals and sales that those who live there have. I also do not go shopping every day (except maybe for bread). In fact, it seems I mostly just go shopping for food and rarely anything else. Whereas my mom goes to the flea market Wed. and yard sales on Fridays and Saturdays. I’m grateful, however, because we had had a standing order if she finds a box of legos to buy them for us! They’are always a bargain.

    We all just have to decide what is important. Often we will look at the choices others make and can’t understand it. We see their new tvs and cars and vacations and think that they have it all. They see our bigger vehicle, more kids and get-togethers involving food and think we have it all. It all has to do with priorities and choices.

    My sister one time was listening to one of her employees be openly jealous of her nice vacation plans (Egypt, I think) and my sister told her kindly…”you’re sitting in your vacation” as she drove off in her brand new 60K pickup. My sister drives older cars and pays cash when she does buy one. It’s a matter of choice.

    We should make our choices, live with them and not waste emotional energy on jealousy of other people’s stuff.

  73. triLcat says:

    Trent: buy some rust remover for your fender. Seriously. Rust on the fender isn’t frugal. It’s lazy and it’s poor care of your truck.

    My parents kept their cars alive and running to about 20 years old, and we never had rusty fenders. My dad would buy rust-eze or naval jelly or whatever and clean them with an old t-shirt. Helps the resale value not to let the fender rust to death.

    I see a distinction between having threadbare, worn out, stained, things and having things that are perhaps unfashionable or outmoded but still serviceable. If I had a stain that wouldn’t come out of my couch, it would really bother me, because I would feel like my couch wasn’t clean – I would get someone in to clean it or even re-cover it/get slipcovers if steam-cleaning couldn’t get out the stain. That’s the main reason I went for IKEA couches which have washable and replaceable covers.

    Having a CRT television, on the other hand, would be a matter of not replacing something that is adequate and wouldn’t bother me at all. (I don’t have a tv at all, so it’s kind of moot.)

  74. Jonathan says:

    I didn’t have time to make it through all of the comments. I have to say, however, that it continues to amaze me at some of the reactions Trent’s articles cause. I guess it just goes to show how different people are.

    Personally, I can’t understand how anyone could take this article as being smug, although obviously many people have. Perhaps the way we view this (and any other, for that matter) article says more about who we are than it does about the author.

    To me, this article was spot on. Trent is giving great advice, in the form of examples from his own life. I do not read this as Trent telling me how I should live my life, or as him demonizing people who follow a different path. Perhaps my reaction to the post is colored by the fact that I have recently (within the past few years) come to the same conclusion as Trent, and have been trying to learn to prioritize in my life and cherish what is important without giving in to the societal pressures to value things over what is truly important. I would guess that many of the readers who disagree with the tone or content of this post are simply in a different place in their life, or have different views on the topic. There is nothing wrong with that, but there is also nothing wrong with Trent’s views on this topic.

    I am glad that Trent is willing to post this sort of message. I can think of several people in my life who could benefit from hearing this. Many of them have not taken the time to really think about the things that are most important to them and prioritize accordingly. Others seem to think they can have it all, they want nice things, the latest gadgets, and restaurant meals, but they also want quality time with the kids and time for their own hobbies and passions. Unfortunately, they have found a way to have it all… going into debt. Its easy to see that they are miserable, as Trent describes, but either they don’t see the source of their misery, are unwilling to give up the material things that are causing that misery, or do not realize there are other options. Either way, I’m thankful for people like Trent who are trying to help.

  75. Jonathan says:

    @Kat #54 – Would you mind providing some links regarding this? I have heard this several times, but so far have been unable to find any data to back it up. The closest thing I have is a claim that LCDs use more energy than the CRTs they replace because people purchase larger LCDs. I am considering purchasing an LCD to replace my CRT at the moment (plan to give the CRT to my parents) and would really like to figure out the energy usage comparison before making my decision. Thanks.

  76. Evita says:

    This whole post feels wrong…..

    I dont’ get it…… who in the world cares about holes in your socks or your $10 pair of pants? who would ever pass comment on your dated cell phone or your towels not matching your curtains? and why should YOU care enough to write about it?

    I guess I missed the point of your article….. it cannot be steretyping the person driving to work in a nice car, is it? like the schoolteacher going to work in a nice new Prius? (OK, I admit that I am envious, I would love a new car!)

  77. gail says:

    I go to work everyday at a sucky job, make no money, work like a dog, and still cannot afford matching towels, LOL

  78. Kat says:

    @Jonathan – Apologies for tardy response – saw your post but was too busy to address it until now. I have not been able to find the article where I originally saw this (possibly as much as a year ago?) – and searches only turn up information about *monitors*, where what I had read had to do specifically with *TVs*. Replacing a functional item is still ecologically unsound, but if you need to replace one, just pay attention to the Energy Star ratings and check how much they actually consume.

  79. Frugal Babe says:

    I enjoyed this post, and didn’t see it as smug at all. I think that Trent was giving examples of how happy a person can be without spending a lot of money – which might be exactly what some of his readers need to hear. If everyone were living within their means and not struggling with debt, we wouldn’t need articles like this. But the average American family has something like $8000 in credit card debt, and a quarter of homeowners are uunderwater on their mortgages – people ARE struggling financially. The recession over the last couple years has been a disaster for a lot of families, because they didn’t have savings to weather the storm, and had debt payments that had to be made, regardless of whether they lost their jobs. I think that there are plenty of people who are searching for inspiration in the form of living with less money (some by necessity, some by choice) and Trent’s post gives some great examples of places where we can choose to spend less money if we want to.

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