More Shocking Truths About Frugalwoods!!!

The Truth about Frugalwoods is one of my all-time highest read blog posts. As this is a topic you all like to read about, I’ve been doing some more digging. I have even shocked myself with what I’ve pulled up about them this time – hold onto your hats people!!! I share this because I want to warn others to be very careful where and from whom you take advice, not just on the internet but in real-life too. Some close family members were recently duped out of their entire retirement and inheritance from someone purporting to give ‘financial advice’. Not only should you check out what you are being told, but also their background. Do they have qualifications to advise you? Insurance? Does it all add up?

I had heard some rumblings on the internet that the Frugalwoods are not being truthful about their income. All you ever read on their blog is that they had good jobs when they were working, in the not-for-profit sector and they make out that they are now ‘retired’ in the country. Well, everyone knows about working for a charity in Britain – most people would be lucky to be paid the National Minimum Wage. But even higher up the career ladder, you will not be getting rich. I guess we could probably lump together the Public Sector as not-for-profit, as the NHS for example, certainly does not pay most of its staff well either. A nurse starts out on around £21,000 a year here in the UK.

So it was a little bit shocking to dig around for Mr Frugalwoods tax returns online, (thanks to this MrMoneyMustache forum thread) and find out that he earnt a mere £209,735 in the financial year ending 2016, as the Executive Director of a company. Not retired at all! According to what I’ve read online, that would make him amongst the top 5% of US earners. But here in the UK that kind of income is only paid to the top 1%. Let’s put it this way – the Prime Minister of Great Britain only earns £150,402! Gosh, it must be nice for all those people who think they’re donating to a not-for-profit company in the USA – to find out how much they are paying their staff. Claiming only to exist to do good and then having people taking home salaries like that!!!! Mind you, there was recently a shocking episode of Dispatches on Channel 4 which uncovered similar ridiculous amounts that Housing Association bosses are making, whilst plenty of people are going homeless. We do live in a very unjust world.

Frugality, when one half of the couple is bringing home that kind of money is a very different thing from the likes of say….Jack Monroe (a single mother trying to exist on benefits with her child and struggling to feed herself). That’s 7x the average £30,000 income for men in the UK. And then Mrs Frugalwoods earns money on top from writing for various sources. I stopped following their blog a while ago, as it just didn’t seem to ring true to me and this confirms my gut feeling once again. Let me know in the comments whether or not you’re going to continue reading their blog.

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More Truth about the Frugalwoods!

https://www.theguardian.com/money/2018/mar/08/how-to-retire-early-frugal-spending?CMP=fb_gu

I just thought I’d add this recent Guardian article on The Frugalwoods for your amusement. The truth is that they did not retire at 32, but they both still work (albeit mostly online from home). Sure, they may have abandoned the city for the countryside, but their so-called ‘Living the simple life’ would not be possible without a high-speed internet connection. So please don’t believe the hype.

Oh, it also helps that they both earn ridiculous amounts of money from their jobs (upcoming blog post giving more detail on that). I don’t disagree that they may have decided to stop embracing consumer culture, like many of us have. But once again I just want to warn people who might think they can emulate them.

They may think that they are only spending money on the very ‘basest’ of items. But I love this from the comments section:

       “Food, our mortgage, gas for the car, electricity, an internet connection, toilet paper. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, 2018”.

Whilst I’m glad that only spending on these things helped them to realise their mindless consumption. I think plenty of people in the World would consider the essentials to be food, water, shelter, warmth and rest. They probably don’t realise how Westernised their basics are.

Obviously you can read the article, but I think the comments are hilarious and really call out the truth behind some of the lies! But most of all, I’m still curious as to how they can claim not to be reliant on a salary from a job. Anyway, here’s a selection of my favourites and it’s nice to see I’m not the only one thinking this way:

“Reading the comments has saved me from reading the article. Thank you one and all”.

“Such a small, modest house they have too! I think the book should be called the The Smugwoods: Our transformational journey from city work slaves to rural phoneys who live very far away from everyone, only because we are so annoying”.

“I’m staggered by the fact that you think that living frugally in this way is exceptional. Having to make many of the ‘savings’ you describe in this article is just normal life for many people – and many are worse off than that…”

“I’m too frugalized to buy this ridiculous book”.

“And according to the article it only took them three years. 2014: decided to be frugal. 2018: Retired (!), own 66 acres and a house, book published”.

“Dear Liz (frugalized your name), Will you accept my well thumbed copy of The Bonfire of the Vanities in exchange for Meet the Frugalwoods?”

 

Financial Abuse

Today I’m going to write a topic that is very close to my heart. As a health professional, I have unfortunately witnessed this awful phenomenon on more occasions than I care to remember. Often within situations that would appear quite normal to an outsider – between apparently loving husbands and wives, or between families and an elderly relative. There are of course many more circumstances where financial abuse can occur.

I’m prompted to write this post today, after reading a post from a large and well-known US blog (popular within the frugal and money-saving community). The author basically promotes the idea of financial abuse within a relationship, as if it is the healthy and loving thing to do. Let me be clear right now – if you have to ask or have a discussion with your partner before you can buy something as insignificant as a kitchen spatula, then you are a victim of financial abuse.

Financial abuse is a discrete form of coercive control (a pattern of controlling behaviour which can be threatening or restrictive). It is considered to be a form of domestic abuse and as such, is incredibly serious. It involves the use or mis-use of finances, so as to limit a person’s current or future actions and freedom of choice. In the USA, they have identified 3 distinct components to financial abuse under the ‘Economic Abuse Scale’:

  1. Economic control – i.e. monitoring of resources
  2. Employment sabotage i.e. stopping someone working, making them work for free
  3. Economic exploitation i.e. use of money, generation of debts

Despite the many preconceptions, any person, of any gender and income level can be affected, even higher incomes and socio-economic groups. Financial abuse not only comprises of control of money, but also exploitation of income and time, and possibly sabotage of efforts to gain or maintain paid employment. Financial abuse is often accompanied by other forms of controlling behaviours or types of abuse – such as, emotional abuse.

To all intents and purposes from the outside, it may appear as though the finances are being addressed quite normally. But there are often very subtle cues to be picked up on. Such as; someone having to ask their other half before they can make any purchase, or perhaps an elderly person claiming that a family member just takes care of everything for them. This subtle blurring may not be obvious to the victim, particularly at the time. If the victim is living with the abuser, they may find it impossible to leave without means to do so.

In the blog I am referring to, I have noted the following characteristics over time;

  1. Being required to ask the partner before any purchase is made, however insignificant
  2. Reluctance to spend money on things like eating out, drinks out or anything new and having to justify every purchase – no matter how big or small
  3. Being given an allowance for household spending and having to document every aspect of this spending (control tactics)
  4. Not being able to buy new clothes
  5. Then spending large amounts of money and bragging about it to other people
  6. Moving to a remote location, so that one partner has a restricted ability to earn
  7. Money is the mood – everything revolves around money, it underlies everything, every conversation, every decision
  8. Being prepared to spend money initially in the relationship, but then holding back more and more as the years progressed

In the UK this type of behaviour is now recognised as a potential criminal offence and it is crucial if you recognise the signs, within your own relationship or someone else’s that you report it to the police or social services (it would fall under the protection of a vulnerable adult legislation). Financial abuse strips a person of their sense of self, and their personal liberty or freedom. It also commonly occurs with other types of abuse (in over 90% of cases), so it is very important that if you notice the signs – you mention it.

However financial abuse can be very difficult to spot sometimes, or to pinpoint when it started. Then over time, it so invades the relationship that one could be fooled into thinking that behaviour is normal. There are just tiny signs that tip over from normality to abuse. I can speak from experience to say that it can be incredibly hard to bring up with a friend, for this reason – be prepared for them to deny any problem.

References

Unequal, trapped and Controlled. Women’s Refuge. Available from: https://www.womensaid.org.uk/financial-abuse-report/ (Accessed: 12/02/18).

The Truth About Mr Money Mustache and Other US Financial Independence Blogs

Continuing in my series examining the real truth of US financial independence blogs, today we’re going to scrutinise ‘Mr Money Mustache’. This one is a real eye-opener and I encourage you to stick with the numbers and ask yourself whether you’d really trust this guy’s advice.

The short version is this guy must be at least a millionaire, if not a multi-millionaire. Hardly surprising then that he retired by 30, chooses not to work and can play around all day doing whatever the hell he wants. What shocked me more is he spends in 1 year the average starting salary of a nurse or teacher, here in the UK and states this is less than 10% of his annual income. Therefore, he’s easily bringing home in excess of £200,000, presumably in interest from a considerably larger sum he has invested – like millions of pounds!!! Hence my question, would you really take financial advice from this guy? Anyone can be frugal, I don’t knock that as a lifestyle choice. But it’s easy to be frugal when you have so much money in the bank that you don’t need to bother insuring your house because you have enough money to cover it, probably 10x over and some!

I don’t know anyone earning £100,000, I don’t actually know anyone making more than about £35,000 per year. I’d rather take financial independence advice from someone who’s living in the real world, who’s working a real job and making their way. I hope that’s what I’m doing here. So let’s look at his expenses in more detail and in English:

  • Property taxes – £1,456.35
  • Groceries – £4,595.76
  • Wine/ Beer – £246.75
  • Eating Out – £388.87
  • Medical – £8354.23
  • Car and other transport – £376.66
  • Home Renovations – £1303.72
  • Gym – £115.30
  • Clothing – £478.02
  • Sports Equipment – £75.33
  • Random shopping (presumably household items) – £768.70
  • Books, Games & DVDs – £294.41
  • Other – £324.49
  • Travel – £1794.91
  • Donations – £1,537.87
  • TOTAL £22,111.37
  • Spending £1842.61 per month!

I find it really peculiar that this guy does not have to pay for water, gas, electricity, sewerage or any kind of insurance. Of course he doesn’t have a mortgage or rent, like normal people do because he’s a millionaire. He doesn’t seem to pay for telephone, internet, doesn’t have life insurance, or a pension. He doesn’t even seem to get his hair cut. Maybe millionaires do not have to pay for these other things either?

I really hope this helps you not to compare yourself to people like this, it’s not reality for 99.9% of the population of the world. His monthly expenses may not be wild, in-fact they’re only £500 more than we pay to keep our household running and we are pretty darn frugal. The difference is whereas he’s only spending 10% of his income, most of the rest of us are probably spending 90% of our income trying to pay for the basics of life. I’d consider anyone able to save 25-50% of their monthly pay, to be doing pretty well.

So, over to you- does this change your perception f some of these US bloggers claiming financial independence in their 30s?

The Truth about Frugalwoods and other US ‘Financial Independence’ Blogs

If you are like me, you read a number of financial independence blogs for inspiration. I admit to reading the occasional bit of Frugalwoods or Mr Money Mustache. However, the more I have read the more I have pondered whether these US blogs can bear any relevance to UK readers hoping to achieve financial independence? Today, I hope to uncover more of the truth about this for my UK readers. This is as much to put my mind at rest, as yours.

Frugalwoods say that they own a large detached homestead with land in excess of 20 acres The only equivalent I could see here in the UK is buying a VERY large country property or ex-farm, with a lot of land. I’ll plump for the farm option, as they state they have outbuildings (from their photos it is a very large barn, the size of 2-3 massive houses here in the UK), as well as woods and more. From their photos, I would estimate the main residence to be twice the size of a large UK house, although that is not unusual by US-standards. Actually here is their run down:

Frugalwoods Homestead Specs:

  • 66 acres of primarily wooded land in central Vermont, 35 minutes from Hanover, New Hampshire (where Dartmouth College and every attribute of the ‘big city’ are located)
  • A 4 bed, 2.5 bath, 2,300 square foot house, built in 1991, with two woodstoves
  • An 1,800 square foot barn/shop with a woodstove
  • One pond
  • Many streams
  • Countless apple trees, several plum trees, and a forest of sugar maples
  • Two acres of cleared “yard” with extensive garden beds

They paid $389,000 for their homestead which equates to £300,000. So now you start to see how these US financial independence blogs are laughable here in the UK. I mean, no-one but a multi-millionaire would own a piece of property that large over here! And you’d be lucky to get a normal 3-bedroom, semi-detached house where I live, on a tiny plot of land. I doubt that would even buy you a studio flat in London. They would have put around £97,000 down as a deposit.

They also have a rental property in a US City, which they paid $466,500 for and that equates to approx £360,000. They only put a £50,000 deposit down on it. So, now we’re looking at that owning around £660,000 of property but none of it is fully paid for. They have 30-year mortgages (the norm is 25 years here in the UK). They are in their mid-thirties, so they’re looking at carrying that debt until they are 75. I wouldn’t want that noose around my neck until well into retirement!

You can read the reality is then that they worked solidly from University to their mid-thirties to be able to put £147,000 cash on houses. I’m not knocking that, but I expect most people in the UK would be able to sock that away as a deposit too, if they had the luxury of a well-paid job. 20 years of  2 people working full-time and saving 65% of their income, means they were only saving £7,350 a year. That’s as little as £3,675 per person. Undoubtedly achievable here, if not more- it’s just that you would never be able to buy a home or retire on that here!

The truth is that both of these properties still belong to the bank and they’re only a few years into the mortgages on each. If anything happened to prevent them from keeping up payments, they could lose both in a very short period. For example, if they couldn’t get tenants for their city house – one wonders if they would be able to cover the mortgage? They also only keep around 6 months worth of liquid cash which is a very small amount. The rest of their ‘net worth’ they have ploughed into stocks and shares. Whilst it is all very nice to base your ‘net worth’ on what the current selling price of the shares is, it’s all pie in the sky really. In 10 years the value of what they have put away could halve or worse. They are basing their ‘net worth’ on a projected rate of return of 7%, but the reality again is that if anything happened to the stock market (which I think is very likely given the volatility of world markets lately) they could lose a significant proportion of their money or the whole lot! They won’t even have the properties they live in to sell because they don’t own them. I bet you would then find they have stopped blogging and had to go back to work. Probably renting somewhere and lamenting their former choices, except they wouldn’t blog about that!

In actual fact, I think they are quite dangerous examples of how to live. Unless you like an extreme level of risk. I wrote this because I don’t want UK people to compare themselves to some unrealistic ideal. Unless you are planning to move to America, then you’d better expect to be working the rest of your life to pay off a small piece of modest UK property. I don’t think anyone lives under the illusion of early retirement here anymore! The best you used to hope for was retiring at 50, but certainly not 35!!!! You are better to pay off your mortgage before making too many other investments so that at least you have something solid that you own. I think it’s safer to pay into a pension, than invest all your money into stocks and shares.

If you want to read the RIDICULOUS nitty gritty about their finances –then click here – My ‘Frugalwoods’ earns £100K more than the UK prime minister! So frugal my arse!!!