Our life hasn’t always been about minimalism, financial discipline, and living out our dreams. We spent the better part of a decade acting as mindless consumers, wasting money and worse along the way. Shocking? Maybe not. Join me on a walk down memory lane as I expose our not-so-thrifty past.
Before we jump in, we need to take a minute to cover something - getting everyone on the same page of my definition of thrifty. Given that it’s in the name of this site (Keep Thrifty) and I have a tendency to choose my words carefully, you can bet that this name didn’t just come up by chance.
Before I launched this site almost 18 months ago, I had agonized for weeks over what to call it. It’s like naming one of your children - you know this is something that you’re going to have to live with for a long time! I went through a ton of iterations and finally settled on Keep Thrifty. The meaning here goes a lot deeper than buying your kids’ clothes at online consignment stores.
Here’s how I define thrifty, with a head-nod to Oxford Dictionaries for a great start.
- using money and other resources carefully toward one’s most important dreams and values
The reason this definition is so important to me - and why I used this as the name for this site - is because of how un-thrifty our life used to be.
Our Not-So-Thrifty Past
After graduating from college and getting engaged, my wife and I dedicated ourselves to our jobs, regularly working more than 50 hours a week.
When we did spend time together, it was typically renting a movie or watching shows on TV. We probably did this for an average of three or four hours a night…seven days a week..fifty-two weeks a year.
That’s about 20% of our waking hours, staring mindlessly at a screen.
We weren’t engaging with each other and we certainly weren’t engaging our brains.
We earned a healthy amount of money for two recent grads but focused our spending on Pottery Barn furniture and decorative junk from Target instead of on creating adventures for ourselves. We figured travel would happen later when we were “better off”.
Instead, we bought a house and quickly got to task on figuring out how to fill the space.
Got a living room? Go get that furniture set - couches, coffee table, end tables, lamps, keep it coming!
Got a great room too? This calls for another set of couches and another TV!
Four bedrooms for a married couple with no kids? Fill those empty bedrooms with office furniture!
When we created our wedding registry, we filled it with everything the registry guide said we needed. Naturally, our life wouldn’t be complete without 8 margarita glasses and 8 martini glasses. (Did I mention that neither of us likes mixed drinks?). In addition, I threw in a Playstation because…well…video games.
We fit in a short honeymoon, our first vacation as a couple, before I started classes to get my MBA. While I used this as an excuse to scale my full-time work back to 40 hours a week, the time I spent on school more than made up the difference. Between studying, projects, and commuting an hour away every Tuesday evening, I spent more than 20 hours a week working on my degree.
And all the while, the screen obsession continued - TV and movies just about every night.
Two and a half years later, my MBA was wrapping up and we had our first daughter on the way. We leaped head-first into parenting with a new Pottery Barn crib and changing table. While friends saved money by buying used kids clothes at garage sales, we insisted on getting our clothes brand-new from the store. Toys filled the house, eventually laying full claim to our 600-square-foot lower-level.
Even before our twins arrived, we had a house full of really nice stuff.
We had everything we had been saying we wanted - two new cars, tons of expensive furniture, a playroom covered in toys, and three TVs. Mind you, at this point, only two of us knew how to use a remote.
We’d acquired everything we had been saying we wanted and yet we still weren’t happy.
Jaime and I had spent the early years of our relationship talking about our dreams. Jaime wanted to travel. I wanted to start my own business. She wanted to be a stay-at-home mom. I wanted to be home with my kids as much as possible.
Seven years later, we hadn’t accomplished any of these.
We had wanted to spend quality time together, creating and chasing dreams.
Instead, we did what we thought we were supposed to - buy lots of new, expensive stuff and watch TV
Is it possible that this isn’t the key to happiness?
The Three Scarce Resources
We realized that we were just floating along aimlessly in life. No intention. No plan. No real dreams or goals.
We were being incredibly un-thrifty.
We weren’t being careful with our resources - we were obviously wasting money like crazy. That said, we came to an even bigger realization - we were wasting the two resources we could never get back: our time and our attention.
Living without intentionality, we had let the days, months, and years slip by. The details of our life had come from all manner of outside sources, but there was very little coming from the place we had started at - our shared hopes, dreams, and values.
Our money, time and attention were being spent on meaningless possessions and empty activities. We needed to change or our lives would disappear in an aimless blur of decades.
It started small, with decluttering some of our toys and furniture.
We committed to watching less TV, selling our two bigger TVs and picking just a handful of shows we wanted to make time to watch together. With less TV time, we were able to focus more on personal passions: my wife took up bouldering and remodeling; I started working on rebuilding my software development skills.
We made time for a small family vacation - taking our three kids (ages 2 and under) to a waterpark hotel overnight. We started a tradition of Friday-night pizza and a movie as a family, which we continue to this day.
All throughout, we slowly chipped away at the clutter that had built up in our lives.
We set aside time for annual “Mommy Dates” and “Daddy Dates”, where each child gets a one-on-one date once a year with each parent.
Emboldened, we experimented with having just one car, which eventually became a permanent transportation solution.
Then, in 2014, we had one of our biggest life-changing experiences - our first road trip as a family.
With 12 days on the road, we had lots of time to talk - more time than we’d seemingly had in ages. A couple days in, we talked about the states each of us had visited and realized that there was a good portion of the country we’d never seen. By the end of the trip, we’d hatched a crazy plan to visit all 50 states with our kids before they graduate high school.
On that road trip, we talked about the life we wanted - the life we envisioned for our family. Those old dreams came back but this time with new framing: dreams with intention behind them. We talked about traveling as a family. We talked about my wife having the time and resources to remodel our house, using it as her own personal canvas. We talked about how we could have more time together as a family and how we’d chart a path toward me starting my own business where I could code, write, and create.
We had accomplished something amazing - we’d resurrected our dreams, but this time we were armed with the thing we’d previously been lacking: intention.
Once we knew where we wanted our family to go, the path there became much clearer. Our time, our attention, and our money were all precious resources that we couldn’t afford to squander.
Not because we didn’t have enough of them, but because wasting them is a tragedy.
With our newfound purpose and direction, it became much easier to declutter the things and habits in our lives that weren’t getting us closer to our values and dreams.
We got rid of most of our stuff, finished with my wife’s amazing remodeling our house, and now are ready for the next step in our next adventure: downsizing to a 2-bedroom apartment.
By the end of this year, we’ll have visited 46 of the United States and I should have some exciting new things to offer here on Keep Thrifty.
This whole journey has been a mindset shift of how we use our resources - from habitual, mindless spending, to careful application toward our dreams and values. This mindset shift was us becoming thrifty.
Which brings us back to how this site got its name…
Keep Thrifty isn’t just a catchy name, it’s a reminder of what we’re trying to do and to stay the course. There’s constant pressure from the world around us to slip back into old habits - to give up our money, time, and attention without a purpose.
So, every time I see Keep Thrifty, I’m reminded of where we came from, the challenges we face, and where we want to go. Every time I write a post, check my e-mail, or send a tweet, I see those two words and remember the life I want to live.
For you? All of this is what I hope the articles and tools here on Keep Thrifty can do for you - to support you in understanding your dreams and values and help ensure you are keeping thrifty with your resources.
If you’re looking to get thrifty, or to stay there, check out my personal finance tracking app - Thrifty.