Meet the ‘Frugalwoods’: The Cambridge couple planning to retire by 33

The Frugalwoods approach each day with the same question in mind: “How can we not spend any money today?’’
The Frugalwoods approach each day with the same question in mind: “How can we not spend any money today?’’ –Courtesy of Frugalwoods.com

Mr. and Mrs. Frugalwoods are like many other young married couples in that they enjoy hiking on weekends, eating frozen pizza on Fridays, and undertaking extensive do-it-yourself projects on their Cambridge home.

But there is one thing that radically sets them apart from their peers: They plan on retiring by the time they’re 33 years old, in the fall of 2017.

“We plan to move to a homestead in the woods of southern Vermont and live off the land and have a garden and do the things we really want to do,’’ Mrs. Frugalwoods told Boston.com.

The goal may sound dreamy, but the couple is relentlessly practical in their pursuit of it. “Frugalwoods’’ is an alias the pair adopted in 2014 for their blog, where they share frugality tips.

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One post details how the couple saves nearly $500 a year on seltzer (one of their few indulgences) by replacing the standard 14-ounce Sodastream capsule with a 20-pound CO2 tank they can fill from a wholesale distributor. Retirement just got a few days closer.

(Hat tip to Forbes for first uncovering the Frugalwoods’s blog.)

“We generally have a good time’’

The Frugalwoods decided on early retirement after they realized spending eight hours a day in an office wasn’t how they wanted to live their lives.

“We both went to college, I went to grad school, we got good jobs, bought a house and dog,’’ Mrs. Frugalwoods said. She’s a communications manager, while he’s a software engineer. “We had done essentially the standard track of what you’re supposed to do. But in early 2014, we realized it wasn’t making us happy or fulfilled.’’

They concluded the only way to save enough to retire at such a young age would be to approach each day with the same question in mind, Mrs. Frugalwoods said: “How can we not spend any money today?’’

This involves what the pair calls “insourcing.’’ What most people pay others to do, they do themselves. They cut each other’s hair. They don’t eat out. They do their own home repairs. They buy everything used (including their 19-year-old car), and always accept free hand-me-downs. They provide their own entertainment.

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“We generally have a good time,’’ Mrs. Frugalwoods said. The key to their lifestyle is embracing natural imperfections, and as she pointed out, “It’s not like we’re living in a hut with no electricity.’’ They’ve accepted they have to spend money on some things, like food and their mortgage. But they choose not to spend money on most things.

The Frugalwoods publish a monthly expense report to their blog, with the goal of spending under $1,000 outside of their mortgage payment. Last year, they spent only $13,000.

Mrs. Frugalwoods emphasized that the couple does not stress out over dollars and cents. She doesn’t bring a calculator to the grocery store. She said they just look at every situation as a challenge in frugality, and at this point, their thriftiness operates on autopilot.

Frugality can seem borderline impossible in Greater Boston, but Mrs. Frugalwoods said the opposite is true: “The city has so many amenities that you can save a lot on.’’ They walk and bike almost everywhere, and enjoy free activities like going to the Cambridge Public Library and checking out books or museum passes. There are a plethora of hiking spots within an hour of Boston.

Baby on a budget

Mrs. Frugalwoods concedes that the sparse lifestyle is not for everyone, and that plenty of people truly enjoy their 9-to-5 jobs.

“That’s fantastic,’’ she said. “But we have these seriously independent streaks. For us, a very simple lifestyle is what makes us happiest and brings us peace that we don’t have to make a lot of spending decisions.’’

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After being happily married for seven years, the Frugalwoods are also expecting their first child in a few months. They’ve spent $20 on the baby so far.

This was possible through the “Buy Nothing Project,’’ a worldwide social movement that began as an experimental hyper-local gift economy. Members can get rid of things that clutter their lives and save money by getting things for free. Mrs. Frugalwoods is a member of the Cambridge chapter and was able to acquire a stroller, crib, mattress, changing table, toys, clothes, and even maternity clothes.

They spent $10 on these baby clothes at a garage sale. —Courtesy of Frugalwoods.com

“We don’t need to create a perfect high-end nursery,’’ Mrs. Frugalwoods explained. “We want a life for her where she’s loved and taken care of.’’

Once they retire, the Frugalwoods look forward to spending most of their time exploring their varied interests. She will practice gardening and creative writing. He will pursue woodworking, welding, and astronomy.

They plan on renting out their Cambridge home after moving, and Mrs. Frugalwoods said if the odd opportunity to make money presents itself along the way, they wouldn’t shy away from it. But the couple will never return to office jobs.

“We have no aversion to making money, we just like being in charge of our time,’’ she said.

Most and least meaningful jobs:

Correction: A previous version of this article stated that the Frugalwoods replaced their Sodastream capsules with a 20-ounce tank. The tank holds 20 pounds of compressed air, not 20 ounces.

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