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Frugal at Fifty

by Mrs. Roy

I read lots of articles and blogs about people in various stages of the frugal lifestyle, but I don’t see much written by folks like me, folks who have been living frugally for a while. I can tell you first hand whether or not eating store-brands has caused us any injury, whether or not our children have been psychologically damaged by having to eat chicken noodle soup every day for lunch or whether we gave up on the whole thing and are now neck deep in debt, living the American dream.

Does it work?

Yes, yes, yes. My husband and I go to work every day, as we have for the past thirty years. However, we have no debt except our mortgage and we will have it completely paid off in less than five years. We live in a very nice neighborhood and drive nice cars. We are both professionals and have work clothes that are appropriate. (No one knows I buy mine at consignment shops unless I tell them.)  We have money in the bank (over and above our emergency fund), in IRAs, and company deferred comp programs, all resulting from frugal living over our lifetime. In other words, we are incredibly close to that magical land of financial independence.

We might have gotten to this point a lot sooner, but like most people, we had to repair some financial damage before we started moving forward. My husband worked for many years on a commission basis, meaning sometimes there was more than enough and sometimes not everything got paid. We used our credit cards to cover the shortages but somehow never quite got them paid off. Living on what we made (it took a while to reach living on less than we made) was a struggle, but it got easier as we went along. Don’t get discouraged. 

I began this journey long ago after reading Your Money or Your Life. That book explains what money really is and how we should relate to it. I’ve read it several times since then. If you haven’t read it, you should. I am also a huge fan of Dave Ramsey. Dave has been there, done that and his advice is practical and doable. He’s also been living the frugal life for many, many years so he also can testify that it really works. 

Over the years, we have had a pretty simple money management formula. We gave to our church and charity, saved some and spent the rest. The percentages have fluctuated, but we always include all three types of spending in our budget. I believe we have been blessed by sharing with others and I encourage you not to be tight-fisted with your money. 

Do you really need an emergency fund?

Yes. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve been saved from having to go into debt because we were faithful to save a little on a regular basis. Saving is hard. I used to get a real paper paycheck (remember those?) every Friday and I would physically walk to the bank and put some in savings, some in checking and get cash for the rest. We had a mortgage, two kids and used vehicles that were usually one pothole away from disaster so that emergency fund helped me sleep at night. What kind of emergencies qualified for dipping into the emergency fund? Our son rode his bicycle off a loading dock and broke his elbow. Our car backfired in the driveway when my husband started it one morning and caught on fire. Our daughter’s teeth all came in crooked. (We didn’t have any dental insurance but we were able to get a big discount by paying cash up front.) Our heat pump bit the dust and had to be replaced. You get the picture. Life just happens. You might as well be ready for it.

Don’t people think you are weird?

I thought frugal living was pretty weird when I first started it, but I soon found out that there are a lot of penny pinchers out there and most of them are the “rich folks.”  Yes, sometimes people think I’m a little goofy but they get over it and usually admire us for our ways. Thirty years ago, it was not common for people to take their lunch to work or to drive old beat up cars. And shopping at thrift stores or consignment stores just wasn’t talked about. Now all those things are commonplace. Just keep doing what you think you need to do to succeed and don’t worry about what other people think.

Thirty years ago, I honestly believed that everybody in America lived with credit card balances. When I decided to start getting out of debt, part of my Friday paycheck routine included making a payment on my Visa at the bank that had issued it. The teller I dealt with most often tried to get me to just copy my monthly statement and mail the payments so that she wouldn’t have to process them, but I needed the discipline of handing her the money every Friday. She thought I was weird but I got out of debt. 

I’ve held up the grocery line with my stacks of coupons. I’ve held up the fast food line with my coupons. I’ve lugged my own snacks and refilled water bottles to the ballfield instead of buying from the concession stand. I still won’t run the A/C until I just absolutely have to and we burn wood in our fireplace insert instead of turning on the central heat. And yes, people are going to think you are weird sometimes. That’s okay. I’d do it all again; I have no regrets.

Things I Didn’t Do

I have never felt comfortable giving used gifts. I just save money all year for Christmas and birthdays so that I can buy nice new gifts for my friends and relatives. I’d rather preserve the relationship than save a few bucks. I know that isn’t how everyone sees it, but that’s what I do.

I’ve never had a clothesline. My husband likes his clothes done in the dryer and so I’ve spent the $250 a year most people estimate is attributable to dryer use. 

I didn’t cancel cable. My husband loves to watch television so we have always had cable or a satellite. We don’t rent movies often. We have been to the movie theater together about 10 times in 30 years, and we rarely eat out or spend money on other forms of entertainment so I can justify the cost.

I don’t bake my own bread or grow my own vegetables or have chickens in the backyard. When my kids were small, I bought bread and snacks at the day-old bread store. I buy store brand canned vegetables, and eggs are a good deal even if you do buy them in the grocery store. 

I don’t have the latest greatest phone technology. We do have cell phones but we don’t have data phones and we didn’t have cell phones at all for a long time. We tend to lag behind this technology at least five years most of the time.

I don’t do yard sales - buying or selling. As far as holding a yard sale, I tried it a couple of times and I never made enough money or sold enough stuff to make it worth my while. I came out better mentally and monetarily by donating it to charity and taking the tax deduction. As for buying at yard sales, I just love other people’s junk, so I come home with stuff I don’t really need, which I then end up donating to charity. 

Busting the Myths

We fed our kids the store brand macaroni and cheese and it didn’t kill them. 

I had a friend who ate cream of celery soup every day for two years after her divorce because of credit card debt. That was an unpleasant experience, but she’s a better woman for it. It didn’t kill her and she now travels extensively and drives a sports car, all paid with cash. It can be done.

We don’t look like refugee camp escapees or aging hippies. We wear nice clean clothes that are current and stylish. My son loves labels so he finds a way to afford them (sales, employee discounts, consignment shops). My husband prefers a certain brand of dress slacks so we just watch for sales. I shop consignment stores, Goodwill and clearance racks. 

You are not missing out on one of life’s great pleasures just because you don’t eat out several times a week. We cooked at home instead of eating out and consequently, we are very good cooks. I’d much rather eat my husband’s cooking than anything the restaurants can prepare. 

Our kids didn’t have all the greatest, latest toys and they are not warped and socially inept because of it. In fact, our kids got to do pretty much whatever they wanted in school and extra-curricular activities. We went on all the field trips, participated in all the fundraisers and played lots of sports and band instruments. You just have to choose to do those things instead of something else.

We live in a 4 bedroom house on a lake in a nice neighborhood. Frugal doesn’t mean living in a shack on the edge of town unless that’s where you want to live.

You can have a good credit rating without living in debt. I often come across experts who say you should maintain some credit so that you will have a good credit rating. The best credit rating is being able to pay cash. I recently checked mine so I know. 

You can go on vacation, eat out, watch cable and drive a new car, but you may not be able to do all those things at the same time. I’ve found that everybody has to choose and prioritize in life, no matter how much money you have. Being frugal just means making different choices than most folks. 

You don’t have to be miserable to be frugal. In fact, if you are miserable, you need to make some adjustments. Having money in the bank is worthless if you aren’t happy. On the other hand, if you can only be happy if you spend money, you may want to think about why that is so.

Do you ever get to splurge? 

Yes. We recently bought a REALLY BIG flat screen television. This was our first television purchase in nearly 15 years and watching television and movies is something we enjoy. Yes, we have digital satellite television, but we don’t have a DVR and we don’t pay for premium channels.

Over the years, we splurged on vacations with our family, celebration dinners and graduation gifts. I don’t regret any of it. That’s exactly why we have lived frugally, so that we can enjoy the special times of life.

(Not Totally) Unexpected Benefits

We were able to buy cars for both our teenagers with cash. They weren’t brand new and they weren’t top of the line, but they loved them and eventually were able to trade them in on other vehicles that they paid for themselves. 

We were able to pay for college for our kids without having to burden them (or us) with student loans. We never had a special “college fund,” but by living on less than we earn, we had the money to pay for tuition. I would never have believed we would be able to do this, so I’m really proud that it worked out. Our kids also helped make this possible by living at home and going to the local college. Frugality is definitely a family event. 

With the economy the way it is right now, it is wonderful not to be worried about what would happen if we lost our jobs. The peace of mind knowing that your life isn’t driven by financial concerns is incredible. 

Our elderly parents have become, well, elderly, and we are able to make decisions to help them that might not have been available if we weren’t frugal. For instance, my mom is coming to live with us so we are remodeling the bedroom and bath she will use. Because we lived frugally, we were able to buy a home several years ago that will allow her to stay with us and still have some privacy. And we know we will be able to absorb the cost of an additional person in the house.

We enjoy being able to travel to visit our children and grandchildren whenever we want. How sad it would be to be far from our loved ones and financially unable to visit them occasionally.


Whether you just woke up this morning and realized you were hopelessly in debt or whether you’ve been cutting expenses for a while and just need to know it’s not all an exercise in futility, I hope my experience will encourage you to continue living frugally. Americans have discovered in the past couple of years that there is a big difference between wants and needs, which is something that frugal people figured out a long time ago. Once you get that straight in your head, you are on your way! 

If I could only give you one piece of advice, it would be to have fun every day. Life is really short and the memories of good times you carry in your heart and mind are much more valuable than the money in your pocket. At the end of the day, it really is a choice between your money or your life.

Mrs. Roy is a wife, mother, paralegal, and Sunday School teacher who has been living the frugal life since long before it became fashionable. She is most proud to be a new grandmother, the wife of a decorated war hero and an award-winning quilter. She writes about her faith, family, the environment and the frugal life at



Mike Killian said:

You made such a solid point when you said "The best credit rating is being able to pay cash."   In fact I use to teach that the only thing good credit is for is getting more credit.

I have since had to adjust my thinking a bit... not that I disagree with my statement.  However, credit and credit scores do play a more important role today than in former years.  Today for example a credit score can affect insurance ratings, getting some jobs, and of course affect what interest we will pay on that car we need to buy.

But overall I totally agree with your philosophy.  

On a subject close related, I offer a free course where the average consumer can eliminate all debt including the mortgage with their current income  in an average of 7.5 years.  

My point is this.  The end result is that it offers a debt free lifestyle which requires 40% less income for the same level of living.  Put another way, the average person without debt just gave themselves a 40% tax free pay raise.

Frugal living at any age pays big dividends.

April 28, 2010 7:08 PM

Brooke said:

Man it sure is nice to hear from someone who has been doing this for a while. My family is really having trouble breaking the "eating out" habit. We aren't very good cooks though, so that might have something to do with it. That, and lack of planning.

How did you start getting organized to do all of this? It's easy to see that the article here is the culmination of a lifestyle. Nice also to know that your kids are doing just fine. Gives me hope for my own.

April 28, 2010 11:33 PM

BrookeK said:

My family and I are really having a difficult time learning not to eat out. I think we are missing out a lot - on the family time as well as the extra money we would have.

Have you always cooked for yourself? I'm a terrible cook (learning as fast as I can) and my husband hates to do it too. How did you get started? I end up spending more on ingredients per meal than I would at Wendy's.

I'm assuming you plan out your menus every week so that you know what to shop for. (It seems like half of being frugal is taking time to plan and the other half is having the disciple to follow the plan).

I never thought it would be hard to be frugal, and I am thrilled to read that you have been doing this for a long time - it was amazing encouragement for me. Also nice to know that you donate, and that your kids are "just fine" - and definitely much better off by being raised with some financial sense. Gives me some hope for my own if I ever get this right!

April 28, 2010 11:48 PM

Mrs. Roy said:

Brooke and BrookeK - much as I would like to say we had menus and a plan, the truth is we were just like everybody else - dragging home from work and tired some nights.  As I said in the article, we ate a lot of boxed mac and cheese.  I used my crock pot and we ate simple food.  Campbell's soup's website has some easy, good recipes.  Get Tawra Kellam's cookbook, Dining on a Dime - she sells them online - easy recipes using normal ingredients.  I'm glad I could encourage you along the way.  

April 29, 2010 6:23 AM

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April 29, 2010 11:02 AM

Mrs. A said:

The fact that you were able send your kids to college without debt, gives me hope.  

My husband and I are pretty frugal, but my kids are 12 and 10 and we don't have a special college fund. I've been worrying about that a little. We're always improving our finances, but the time is going by fast!

You give me hope that if we just keep plugging away we will be able to achieve that goal.

April 30, 2010 8:59 PM

BethH said:

Lovely, positive blog!  We have two teenagers, one paying her way through college while living at home and one soon to go to our state's Running Start program. Running Start mean the child attends the community college his junior and senior high school years, basically free, and graduates with a diploma and an AA degree.  I know all states don't have this, though.

Each child was told from Day 1 "You are paying for your own college education like we each did".  The fact is, most Bachelor degrees are merely a ticket to a higher level of employment opportunities or to a graduate degree.  Yes, your school for a graduate degree is worth more money.

Look how many parents slave away to pay expensive tuition and then the child bails out.  My college student recently told me that she sees that she appreciates her education more than her peers do because she is paying for it.  She's had a job in a market since she was 16, and is quite frugal.  There are tons of scholarships out there.  I see no reason for parents to do without or kids to leave college in debt, if both parties plan ahead.  

May 5, 2010 10:59 PM

Vedis said:

Hi, Mrs. Roy,

Finally, ... I found someone who can live frugally and also <i>happily</i>.

Ya, your experience definitely gives me hope that living frugally can also bring happiness.

I shall remind myself to have fun every single day while practicing frugal living.



May 6, 2010 9:38 AM

Barrie Abalard said:

What a fantastic article! I like that Mrs. Roy emphasized that choices need to be made. You can have most, if not all, of the things that are important to you if you live frugally in other areas.

My husband and I are both unemployed, and money is quite tight, but we have no debt except a tiny mortgage and a good amount of money in our retirement accounts. We would not be in as good a shape as we are if we hadn't started living a frugal lifestyle years ago. By the time you get past fifty (or sixty), it is so good to know that, come what may, you can make it.

Barrie Abalard

See my tightwad column every Thursday at

May 9, 2010 8:10 PM

sharonan said:

What a fantastic article! I like that Mrs. Roy emphasized that choices need to be made. You can have most, if not all, of the things that are important to you if you live frugally in other areas.

My husband and I are both unemployed, and money is quite tight, but we have no debt except a tiny mortgage and a good amount of money in our retirement accounts. We would not be in as good a shape as we are if we hadn't started living a frugal lifestyle years ago. By the time you get past fifty (or sixty), it is so good to know that, come what may, you can make it.

Barrie Abalard

See my tightwad column every Thursday at

May 9, 2010 8:13 PM

haverwench said:

Regarding secondhand items as gifts: it really depends on who is receiving them.  If the person getting the gift perceives anything secondhand as "cheap," then you are probably better off spending a little extra money than trying to educate him/her.  But if you are giving to other tightwads, secondhand gifts are likely to be appreciated just as much as new ones--if not more so.  Sometimes you can find unique gifts at yard sales or on eBay that it wouldn't be possible to buy in any store.  (For some examples, take a look at my article on using yard sales for holiday shopping:

May 10, 2010 3:27 PM

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May 12, 2010 9:23 AM

Mumstheword said:

I've really cut every corner I possible could to make ends meet, but it's my boy's grammar school graduation and I feel like I really need to get him a cell phone. i just don't feel schools are as safe as they used to be and having him with a cell phone would give me peace of mind. So, I've decided to get him a prepaid cell phone, which is definitely the best option. The Samsung T401 slider phone, looks and works great, specially with the NET10 prepaid plan, the best one out there right now and the best for a kid's first cell phone I think. It's going to cost me about $15 a month for 150 minutes. At 10 cents a minute and 3 cents a text, it should last him enough a month. I'm thinking he will also learn the basics of budgeting by starting his cell phone experience with a prepaid phone since he will really need to be careful how he decides to use his limited  allotment of minutes. All in all a good deal right?!?!?

May 22, 2010 11:44 PM

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