Although mostly positive, a handful of the reviews on Amazon for the newly released book Meet the Frugalwoods: Achieving Financial Independence Through Simple Living by Elizabeth Thames caught me completely by surprise.
I’ve been a regular subscriber to the Frugalwoods.com blog for over a year now. I find Mrs. Thames writing to be eloquent and thanks to her well-developed vocabulary, the words flow seamlessly on the pages. The photos she shares on her blog are both clever and witty, and relay in living color breathtaking images of their homestead in Vermont.
The book itself offers few tips on frugality, but instead focuses primarily on Elizabeth Thames herself as she describes her personal journey with frugality, which began in the city and ended in the country. I would best describe the book as a well-written autobiography.
To be fair.
I understand that everybody is a critic, and to Mrs. Thames defense, I never in my wildest dreams would be able to write a book. If I were to give myself a letter grade for my own half-assed written blog, I would probably give it a letter grade of D.
Now that I cleared the air regarding my own
ego blog, I must confess. I don’t know what to believe. Allow me to share excerpts taken directly from the comments section in Amazon.
“Also, talking about “middle class income” while her husband made in 2014 as executive director of Actblue a salary of 226,995 USD working full-time (Actblue is a non-profit therefore all salary infos are published openly) and herself working as a “writer” is a punch in the face of all the millions of real middle class households around the word.”
“The promotional copy of this book clearly claims that the couple became “financially independent” and was able to “retire at age 32” to a 66-acre Vermont homestead. Good for them; sounds interesting…Tell me more. And where do I sign up? But it turns out they are both working from their Vermont home. So they are not “retired” are they? Actually, he is a software engineer/farmer and she is a writer who both work from home.”
“Hard to take financial advice from someone who selectively feeds the audience only pieces of information. The tone of the narrative is – we get by on very little. The missing piece is – we are a high earning couple with substantial resources and savings.”
There are two conflicts as I see it.
- Numerous posts on the Frugalwoods blog emphasized their extremely high savings rate and claim they are saving over 70% of their income. Assuming Mr. Frugalwoods alleged salary/employer is correct, and their savings rate is indeed 70% of the $226,995 salary or more as written in the blog, then they are saving approximately $158,896.50. This leaves about $68,098.50 to live on.
To put this in perspective, according to the Census-ACS for 2016, the U.S. median household income was $57,617. For Massachusetts, the median household income was $75,297. I’m sure we’ve experienced some small wage increases since then but you get the picture.
I, too, may have misinterpreted their income, and assumed they purchased a home in Cambridge and a homestead in Vermont on average or slightly above average salaries using frugality as their main tool.
On the flip side they never allowed lifestyle inflation to get in the way of their dreams. That’s impressive because this is something so many Americans have trouble achieving when their income increases.
- Allegedly, Mr. Frugalwoods healthcare costs are covered 100% by his employer. I was curious about how the Frugalwoods were handling health coverage/costs while in retirement, but if this is true this answers my question.
Securing adequate healthcare while in early retirement has always been a major concern of mine, but if one is still raking in an income and utilizing health benefits from their employer, in my opinion they are not technically retired yet.
On the flip side if they are both working their dream jobs you could make the argument that they are semi-retired because they no longer need to rely on the corporate world for their income. So in that sense they have achieved financial independence.
Regardless of all this nonsense, I still highly recommend the book.
It wouldn’t be fair to assume that the Frugalwoods misrepresented their financial or retirement situation. There are two sides to every coin and that would be an ignorant assumption to make. And who knows, some of these comments may be complete fabrications. Only the Frugalwoods know the truth.
However, this is why transparency matters.
Could this effect their readership? Probably not. I’m still a fan of what the Frugalwoods preach and will continue to enjoy the blog.
Why OFE needs to be more transparent
I believe more than ever that transparency should continue to be the main objective of our blog. The last thing I want at OFE is to have the reader make incorrect assumptions simply because I did a poor job of explaining the facts.
To be honest, as new blogger I wasn’t quite sure how this blog gig was supposed to go. I discussed this in more detail in the post What We’ve Learned from our First Month of Blogging. Regardless, excuses are nonsense and I must do a better job of relaying an accurate picture. This helps hold us personally accountable and prevents us from appearing as something we are not.
Some obstacles to consider:
I did try a couple of posts about our actual net worth, but our email was taken over by spammers trying to pry personal information out of us, so I deleted the posts. To be honest, I don’t know how bloggers share this while keeping their families and finances safe, including those (like OFE) who have chosen to remain anonymous. It’s just another reminder on why sharing too much information can be a dangerous game.
One fix could be returning to our monthly expense reports. We could also reveal our income that month and actual savings rate, along with the amount we were able to contribute to our savings overall. And possibly some other ways that would portray a more accurate picture of our finances.
There are also a major health issue I must face. This presents a challenge in deciding how much we should share. It’s not that we care whether or not you know all the facts, we just have no desire to turn this into a health blog.
In any case…
As for the Frugalwoods, I congratulate them on achieving their dream of living on a homestead in Vermont, and wish Elizabeth Thames great success on the release of her new book!
Bottom line: Transparency matters.
Disclaimer: This post is based on opinion only and is not an official review of the book. This is not an affiliate post. I was not asked by any party to review the book nor was a paid a single penny. My only wish is to share my own personal thoughts on what I had read. I enjoyed reading the book and I highly recommend you read it yourself!