Less Money, Still Happy

by Katy on April 19, 2012 · 35 comments

My husband does our taxes himself, (always grumbling because of how many Goodwill donation receipts I always present to him) and he was surprised to learn that we both made less money than we did last year. Because we’re both paid by the hour, our income fluctuates greatly. However, because of our frugal choices, it always seems to be enough.

But how can this be? Shouldn’t we have noticed a decrease in our standard of living? After all, we’ve had to put thousands of dollars aside this year for our trips to Japan.

You may be surprised to learn that The Non-Consumer Advocate does not track her spending and income on a spreadsheet. I’ve tried to make myself do it in the past, but I hate it so much, and I feel that we’re able to pay all of our bills without a hitch, so what’s the big deal? Also, neither my husband nor myself shop impulsively, so we’re not needing to add up the long term cost of our daily lattes or our shoe addictions.

We’re not perfect. We get occasional takeout and treat ourselves to goodies now and then, and my husband buys a lot of tickets to go to Portland Timbers games. But it’s all within the context of financial responsibility.

In a society where everyone is encouraged to make more money, take a higher position at work, upgrade your wedding ring, remodel your outdated, (but still functional) kitchen, it’s okay to stay where you are or even take a step backwards.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without”

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{ 35 comments… read them below or add one }

Alison April 19, 2012 at 7:16 am

We also discovered that we made less this year than last year. We did not even miss the extra income. We would definitely say that we are content with what we have and are blessed.


NMPatricia April 19, 2012 at 7:34 am

Another way to look at this would be your encouragement of being to live a lifestyle without being obsessive about it – tracking every penny. You are frugal AND you have take out once in awhile. There is a balance. And you make it work. Thanks so much for your blogging.


sherry April 19, 2012 at 7:34 am



Diane April 19, 2012 at 7:36 am

Being happy is key! I’ll soon be making less. My office is closing and outsourcing work to offices in other states. I am determined to still be happy and find another way to bring in income to supplement my meager retirement benefit. This is my new mantra:
” Cultivate an optimistic mind, use your imagination, always consider alternatives and dare to believe you can make possible what others think is impossible.” Rodolfo Costa


Katy April 19, 2012 at 7:41 am

That is an awesome mantra, thanks for sharing!



Dogs or Dollars April 19, 2012 at 7:44 am

Thanks for sharing this Katie! I love it. Stepping down our income is actually one of my goals. I would like to make less money. Which is such an odd thing to tell people. I am firm believer in “enough”. Less money would mean more time, and (potentially) a job I find easier to stomach.


Ashley S :) April 19, 2012 at 7:56 am

Love this! My DH just turned down a promotion at work, which his boss couldn’t fathom. He would have gone from hourly wages working around 40 hours a week to salary working 70+ hours a week with a 20% pay bump. With 3 little kids there are never enough hours in the day and we didn’t even need to talk about it really – why work so much more only to be able to afford stuff? Our oldest is 5 and the youngest is 1 and we have friends who can’t believe we’ve never taken them to Disneyland or Hawaii or Mexico. Yet they get quality time with us daily – walking to the park, nature hikes, working in our garden together, reading books every night before bed (thank goodness for the Goodwill and 3 for $1 book sales so we get some variety!). We are happy where we are at right now, I get to stay at home, we have our needs met and some wants as well, and we have enough.
Next year we will both be going back to school (yay for finishing up my nursing degree!) and I’m scared and nervous and a million other things, but also excited to see how creative and frugal we can be with our finances!


Margaret April 19, 2012 at 12:52 pm

Wow. It is amazing the differences we feel from our peers. I was really touched by “…Disneyland or Hawaii or Mexico…”

I’m kind of at a loss for words… really? It’s so important to set your own priorities with your partner, no?


Bauunny April 19, 2012 at 5:55 pm

It sounds like you and your family have “everything money CAN ‘T buy” which makes you truly richer and more sane than most of the rest of us. What an authentic life you are modeling and making for your kids. I applaud you.


Lilypad April 19, 2012 at 7:22 pm

Ashley, your husband was wise to turn down a salaried position. My husband works 65 hours a week in a managerial position, and even when he’s home, he’s never “off the clock”. He has to keep track of email, Twitter, and Facebook for his company and that takes him away from us mentally, even if he’s physically there with us. It stinks. I wish we lived in Europe and had a 35 hour work week!


Lilypad April 19, 2012 at 7:23 pm

p.s. and of course, he doesn’t get paid one penny more for any hours over 40 per week, so the company wins and we lose!!


Sarah April 20, 2012 at 1:25 pm

I’m with you Ashley! It is wonderful to be My hubby has also allowed promotions to “pass him by”. *grin* We already feel like he is gone too much from us when he works his standard 40 hours (with overtime it is usually more like 55 hours a week). We also refuse to move hours away (outside the city) and force my husband to commute just to be able to say we “own” a house. In actuality most people really never actually own their house – they just rent from a bank instead of a landlord. Around our area, renting is ALWAYS much less expensive than owning and if/when the neighborhood starts to go bad, you just move.

Having a threshold you refuse to drop below of time together is the only way to protect what really matters in life.


Jessie : Improved April 19, 2012 at 8:03 am

Funny, I just commented on the Frugal Girl’s website this morning that I’d rather stab my eye with a fork than track my spending. We’re in the same boat your are though, very conservative spenders by nature so we do just fine.


Katy April 19, 2012 at 8:35 am

Wow, you really hate tracking your spending! 😉



Ann April 19, 2012 at 5:52 pm

I’m an accountant. I don’t track my personal spending either. LOL


Carla April 20, 2012 at 7:57 am

oh, I hate tracking spending too! I do it the reverse way: I made a budget and keep the money for our fixed expenses (including savings for retirement and kids education) in our bank account and take out every 2 weeks a cash amount that is what we have for groceries, entertainment, allowances for the adults (kids too young) and other maintenance expenses (shoes, furnace cleaning, sink replacement, what have you). And we just make do with that amount, when it’s over well, we wait for the next 2 weeks,or if it’s a sale we can’t pass up, I substract it from the future 2 week period. And, I love it! it’s very very clear how much we have and makes purchasing decisions very clean cut, and keep us frugal and saving.


jen April 19, 2012 at 8:16 am

Amen to that! We’ve taken two major steps backward: we halved our income moving back to the US from Japan and then halved it again when I quit to be a stay-at-home mom. Each time I felt so good about the choice and a lot of people couldn’t understand that. Too bad their happiness is tied up in money, I say!


Cate April 19, 2012 at 8:17 am

I must chime in as someone who loves tracking spending. I get a kick out of seeing how little we spend. It also helps us plan for retirement. My hub is 15 years older and is looking at retiring next year, so tracking spending is a must for retirement planning. I have a easy breezy spreadsheet. We don’t have a budget, we just track everything (been doing it for 12 years) Takes 10 minutes at the end of each month. I feel very empowered knowing the numbers.

I took a 60% pay cut when I became a community college teacher. I haven’t missed the money at all and have loved the extra time with my dogs and hubby.


Lily April 19, 2012 at 11:52 pm

I like to keep track of my progress as well, even if it can be a little pain sometimes. In a hard time it gives me satisfaction.


Laura's Last Ditch--Adventures in Thrift Land April 19, 2012 at 9:27 am

Already I’m getting a chance to use the new ‘like’button. I’m sure it will come in very handy.

We, too, made less money than last year. I’ve never budgeted, either, because we never have money problems. With a far less than average income, my husband and I have managed to fully fund our Roth IRAs, SEP IRAs, Health Savings Accounts, saw an increase in our bank account balance, while donating over 20% of our income. Since we don’t enjoy travel or shopping, and our house is paid off, money tends to collect quickly, even though we’re “poor” if you go by our income statements. It’s absolutely AMAZING what a difference frugality makes. (And, yes, we do have fun, it’s just cheap fun.)


M April 19, 2012 at 9:37 am

(I definitely do not mean this as a slam to you, Katy, I really like you and your great blog, but just to offer a different perspective on this…)
I am a frugal person generally by nature, and I think no matter how much money I have I will always shop at the thrift store, DIY, etc. This is a big reason I like to read blogs like yours– like minded people, and all that.

However, I have to admit that I get very tired of reading posts like this one, simply because our family does NOT have enough. Despite every frugal trick in the book, we struggle to pay the bills, and a drop in our income would most certainly be noticed.

I feel like there is a frugal living trend that (rightly) encourages people to live with less so they can stop worrying and enjoy life, but it forgets about the people who are living with less and still worrying.


Katy April 19, 2012 at 9:51 am

I’m sorry if this blog post makes you feel left out, this was absolutely not my intention. I have certainly been in your situation where making less money was an insane notion.

I’m happy to hear that you like the blog, and I’ll try to remember to be more inclusive.



Ellie April 19, 2012 at 10:32 am

What M said also crossed my mind while I was reading the post.

I’m fortunate enough to be in Katy’s type of situation – my DH and I can choose to make a little less and live more frugally, painlessly. But I do sometimes remember to ask myself, “less in comparison to what?” – and I imagine many others (including Katy) also remind themselves to ask that question.

Frugality is great, but it has its limitations in solving everyone’s problems. Some people really need to make more money, but can’t, often through no fault of their own. Living with “less” isn’t an option when you’re already living at the bare-bones minimum and can’t find any way to increase your income. The truth is, there is a lot of real hardship out there.

But I never got the impressoin that Katy was unaware of this, even if she doesn’t blog about it directly.


Megyn @MinimalistMommi April 19, 2012 at 4:00 pm

I can understand where both Katy and M are coming from. We too are a tight family where even a thousand less per year would be very noticeable. However, more doesn’t always help either. I was just offered a job, but once we realized that I would not have enough guaranteed hours to cover paying for health insurance (our boys are currently under state paid healthcare), I decided to just “intern” instead. It’s hard when you’re so low down financially to envision that having more doesn’t help, but if it’s any comfort, sometimes more is actually less overall.


Rebecca B.A.R. April 19, 2012 at 10:49 am

I understand where you’re at right now. My husband has a master’s degree and has only been able to find a job at Walmart, stocking food. He gets less working than he did with unemployment, we have to pay out more in gas money for him to go to work, and we don’t have any health insurance. I didn’t have to work before, b/c his former job was more than enough, but now, even with our frugality, our savings has all been used up, and I’ve been looking for a job. I’m very happy for Katy and many others that have found that time with family is more important than money, with this recession, though. We have been very blessed that my parents have been able to help us out, and I know that a lot of other people don’t have that kind of support. We just keep hoping and praying that a great job will come along here soon. I hope and pray the same for you, too.


Sarah April 20, 2012 at 1:34 pm

We have been where your family is (and probably will be again) where we are super frugal and still worry (and worry and worry). Hang in there, the flush times will come back around. My Hubby and I talk about that year (or month, or week) where we didn’t have two cents to our name and all the crazy things we did to scrape by – at the time we were having NO FUN (in all caps) but we look back and realize those were the GOOD TIMES (also in caps) too.


marianne April 19, 2012 at 10:00 am

My DH and i own our own business and do not get a guaranteed paycheck every week or two weeks. Sometimes its feast or famine. We have learned over the years just to keep banking it. I keep my eye on the prize-a retirement where we are going to travel the country in an RV and see all those quirky places you see and hear about. We may do some world travel too. It makes it easy to pass up shopping for stuff and allows me to make time for a very fullfilling pasttime-DREAMING! 🙂


Indigo April 19, 2012 at 1:59 pm

I’m making more than I ever have though it is still probably a lot less than most folks on here. I haven’t “upgraded” my lifestyle because any extra funds have gone to helping my Mum and younger siblings who still live at home, or assisting friends who have hit serious snags.

Every once in a while I do think about how much a little bit of extra income would help. In all honestly though, what I would like most is simply for my job to stop invading my non work hours as much as it does. For every hour on the clock there is a half an hour spent working at home so that I can do my job.


CanadianKate April 19, 2012 at 5:14 pm

The line about upgrading wedding rings struck a chord with me. We have entered semi-retirement so have just gone through the first drop in income (about 50%.) So far, that is absorbed by spending changes and saving less (okay, nil.) In the next year or so we’ll have to look at starting to draw our investment income to live on.

We also have a very expensive retirement hobby. My wedding rings broke last month and it really bothers me to spend money to rebuild them (repair is out of the question – they were repaired once and it didn’t last more than a few years.) Every time I look at what my options are, I find myself saying, “that will cost me x days of our retirement hobby and I’d rather do that than have a stone on my finger.”

But that isn’t entirely true. I’m currently wearing an inherited gold band and have decided I want something that is a symbol of our marriage, not someone else’s. So I will spend some money on this. Just not without whining.


Candice April 24, 2012 at 9:16 am

I take the same position about the wedding ring. I lost a LOT of weight since I got married and my original band did not fit me. I was stuck wearing $20 pieces of junk just to show I was married. When my husband finally found a job, we spent part of his first paycheck on a replacement band for me. It makes me so happy to be able to wear a decent ring again. It was money well-spent to us.


Diane C April 19, 2012 at 10:18 pm

Hi Katie,
I’m squeaky frugal and I hate tracking too. I do a simple Excel spreadsheet for my taxes and that’s about it. I save in and out of my 401K. I used Quicken for a few years and haven’t significantly inflated my lifestyle since then. Too many other things to do. I think if I did see how little I’m not spending frivolously, I might feel deprived. No thank you very much!


JoeAnne April 20, 2012 at 4:07 am

Thanks for this post, I really enjoy reading your blog and the helpful comments from readers. This particular post comes at the perfect time for me–we are keeping our eyes open for homes for sale in our area for a relative. At the same time, we are working on refinancing our mortgage from a 30 yr to a 15 yr. Of course, once you start looking at homes online it is very easy to become tempted. I call it the HGTV principle. Our house is on the smaller side (by today’s standards) and one particular house with much more square footage, an inground pool, gleaming hardwoods (well-you get the picture) really got my husband and I thinking. Should we sell our house and upgrade? That Siren was really calling me–we even did more than one drive-by! In the end, we got our heads out of the clouds and decided that we will stick to our original plan. We do not want to work and have more stress just to have a bigger house. Who knows, if we can afford it someday, maybe we will add a room on to our home. We like our neighborhood and we don’t really give a darn about the Joneses 🙂


JoeAnne April 20, 2012 at 4:16 am

@ “M” I just read your comment and I certainly understand your position. I certainly don’t mean to be insensitive either. I understand what it’s like haing to “rob Peter to pay Paul” and have worked multiple jobs at one time just to make ends meet (or almost make them meet.) I also realize that we are lucky to even own a home. I am sure there are folks who are at all different levels of financial comfort or insecurity. Hang in there and I hope things improve for you soon.


Practical Parsimony April 20, 2012 at 7:23 pm

I am truly happy for Katy’s position of comfort. Often, I do wince at the ease with which she gets things without working full-time. None of my problems are her fault. But, neither is my financial position my fault. Okay, she worked hard and I worked hard. Then, there are all the differences in other aspects of our whole lives. Her attitude is not an attitude that make me seeth. So, I read, enjoy, and applaud her success.

I have never gotten the attitude from Katy that she is so out of touch with reality that she is callous or intentionally tries to make herself look better by making people feel horrible. However, less income each year for me would be catastrophic. I am about to lose my home because of condemnation, but still try to stay positive even when Katy can make less and still be financially fit.

Now, if she tells me women don’t like her because she is so pretty, I can unfollow as easily as I followed her.


Beth R. April 26, 2012 at 8:43 pm

THANK YOU for this post. So refreshing.


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