Changes in the economy are forcing a lot of us into frugality. But what if there are more benefits to cutting down on our finances than just saving money? In this episode, Whitney Lauritsen chats with natural-born frugalista Jill Sirianni on the many life-giving outcomes of living well below your means. Jill is a licensed clinical social worker and co-host of the Frugal Friends Podcast. Her frugal lifestyle started when she got into RV living as a means to cut costs and pay off her student debt. This journey opened her eyes to the many benefits of living affordably, from finding community to engaging in sustainable practices. Learn more about her story and be inspired to live frugal by tuning in to this episode.
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The Life-Giving Outcomes Of Frugality With Jill Sirianni
If you have been reading this, you probably know that I love taking road trips. I got very passionate about that years ago. In 2019, I drove my then-new car. I had it and did a road trip to Colorado from Los Angeles. It ignited something in me that I hadn’t prioritized before. I started being interested in camping and road trips in 2012 but it felt like this far-off thing. I had to get the right car, a trailer, an RV or something. I needed to have money for all of this.
The 2019 trip was very minimal. It showed me how having a car and enough money to pay for gas and some places to stay was all I needed. In 2020, I took a cross-country trip in the same car and also recognized the same thing but got hooked on it. Over the past few years, I have been studying car camping and the adjacent lifestyle of RV trips. When our guest, Jill, was interested in coming on the show with her background of living in an RV, I was instantly interested.
To add in the element of paying off debt, which is part of Jill’s journey, budgeting, and being frugal as is the topic of her podcast the Frugal Friends Podcast, I have so many curiosities and interests in what Jill has to say. Thank you so much for being here, Jill. I can’t wait to see what directions we go, plus the mental health side of things that you are doing. You are in perfect alignment for me at least.
What a beautiful introduction. I’m so curious to hear about your road-tripping experience and go on our little trip and journey in this show. There is something unique about road trips that you miss out on in flying somewhere. There are the things that you get to see, the stop-off points, and the surprise happening. It’s sometimes welcomed and sometimes unwelcomed but it’s such a beautiful way to travel. I’m thrilled you got that experience. Doing it in a car is next level. I had an RV, so there are a lot more amenities when it comes to traveling in an RV.
There’s part of me that wants to try that one day. I saw a video of someone that looked like they were in a van, not an RV that was cooking this full meal on the stove while camping. I’m thinking, “What a luxury.” Not only have I traveled in my car but I have a small sedan. It’s not some big car, not even an SUV or a hatchback. Certainly, there have been a lot of challenges with it but in a way, I don’t feel like I need anything more than that.
A positive experience with this too is more of the minimalism side of it, not just financially because I didn’t have to buy another piece of equipment or another vehicle to do these trips but because it’s small, I had to think about everything differently and pack differently. I probably ended up saving money certainly on gas. My car is electric. That has also made a big difference. Number one, that must be so expensive. If you are trying to be frugal, how do you do that while living in an RV with the cost of gas, especially these days?Lack of money never hindered me from doing the things I wanted to do. Click To Tweet
My husband and I have been married for several years. We lived in an RV 2 different times at 2 different points. For a total of a little over two years, we have done that version of tiny living. Our main impetus for engaging in that lifestyle was primarily non-traditional housing or living within our means. We couldn’t afford or maybe didn’t want to afford a house. I didn’t feel the need for it but also wanted some version of housing that felt congruent with our lifestyle and finances.
I did want to pay off my student loan debt. I was having a hard time identifying how to do that with a social work job. For those who don’t know, social workers do not get paid a ton of money. That’s not why we enter the field. My husband was self-employed at the time. Our reason for living in an RV was mainly financial and living within our means and exploring non-traditional housing options. A lot of people did assume when we bought the RV, “Where are you going to travel?” We did do some of that but it was primarily stationary where we had our RV and lived our lives out of that RV.
Did that save a lot of money? I’m ignorant of what that’s like. Thank you for clarifying because I automatically think, “You are traveling in it,” but you can stay in one place. I’ve heard a little bit. I have also been to a number of RV parks on my trips. I was surprised by people that were staying there long-term. There were people that were living at some of these properties indefinitely. I knew that people lived in RV parks but I almost thought they were separate like the RV parks on a trip for travelers. There were different RV parks for people that lived there. Is that incorrect? Can it go either way?
It can go either way. It’s a blend. Usually, campgrounds will have spots for people who want to park more long-term as well as people who are going to come for a few days to a week at a time. We mostly parked on friends’ properties or people that we met through the internet. One of the most difficult things to find is a place to park your RV long-term.
For anyone interested in doing this as a lifestyle, that’s the most important thing to figure out first even before sinking money into this vehicle that you live in. We were in the North at the time. We were outside Philadelphia. Winter happens in a real way there. Many of the campgrounds that even allowed year-round parking or longer-term parking wouldn’t allow you to park there in the winter. You’ve got issues of pipes freezing and all of that.
At most, you could maybe find a place to stay for eight months out of the year. We had to get creative with where could we park it, stay long-term, and not get kicked out after eight months but it still did have some moving around for us. To answer your other question about money savings, as with anything, there’s a way to do the lifestyle in an inexpensive way and there’s a way to engage in the lifestyle in a very expensive way. There are multimillion-dollar RVs out there.
A big trend is renovating school buses into RVs. While it’s so cool, that is not inexpensive. You are talking at least six figures to renovate a school bus. You’ve got to know that it’s what you want to do before you sink six figures into this school bus that also isn’t made for the highway. School buses are made for city roads going a few miles each day. People run into a lot of engine issues with that as well. We chose the route of less expensive. For us, it certainly was cost-effective.
It did what we had set out to do, which was to save money on our living expenses. We bought used RVs that we found on Facebook Marketplace. My husband and I do have a background in renovations. We had a little business doing renovations. My husband is more of a skilled laborer. I do a lot of the finished work. We were able to renovate both of the RVs that we lived in and make them homey, cozy, and fit all of our needs. That was a bit of an investment.
Overall, once we were able to find a place to park, the living expenses month-to-month was a fraction of the cost of living in a house or an apartment. It’s just tinier. It’s less to heat, cool, clean, and take care of. Even when you talk about resources, not just financial resources, it took less energy, time, and all of those types of resources to even clean and maintain it. There are some maintenance pieces to it.
I don’t want to paint this picture that there’s nothing that you need to be concerned about. There are things that need to be taken care of. One of the things or a few things that also surfaced for me that I wasn’t realizing is I had hoped that it would help me financially but it also opened my eyes to a lot of other things about the way that I live. I eliminated some things that I thought I valued but turns out I didn’t. I made some lifestyle shifts that have stuck with me.
I don’t live in a tiny home. It’s not a massive home but I live in a home now. It’s a single house. Some of the things that I have taken with me are minimalism, waste reduction, sustainability, and living in a more environmentally friendly way. It did an incredible amount for me as far as growth, connection to self, and identifying what I value and how I want to live that out.
I imagine that it would. To me, that sounds so appealing but I imagine it’s a big jump at least. You have the background to renovate, which is cool because, for someone like me who doesn’t, that feels so daunting. There’s that big debate of, “Do I get something new that’s more expensive but I don’t have to do anything to it? Do I learn how to fix things?”I would rather begin, and then discover what I need to know. Click To Tweet
I see these videos of people getting a van and building a whole living space in there from scratch. Part of me is thinking, “I could do it.” I’m sure I could do it but there’s the amount of work and figuring out even the expenses of it as I’m sure you think a lot about when it comes to these things too. It’s like, “Where do you go and buy something? When are you getting a good deal? When is somebody taking advantage of you? What stores do you go to?”
I wouldn’t even know where to begin with renovating something. When you first decided to do this, I would love to go back to that journey of deciding. What was it that pushed you into RV living? How long did it take? Did you spend a lot of time thinking about it? Was it a fairly quick transition from how you were living to live in the RV?
The very first RV that we lived in was a motor home. It’s larger than the second RV that we lived in. It was about 36 feet long. It had a bedroom, a bathroom, and all of those things. At the time, I was serving as the Director of a home for women who are commercially sexually exploited. My husband had his electrical business. Combined, we did not make much money at all. There were years when we financially were living below the poverty line.
It was around that point that I also got it in my head that I wanted to get my Master’s degree. We were already not making a lot of money. We had inexpensive rent, which was great but I couldn’t work out the numbers. I still have student loan debt from my undergraduate program. Neither one of us make a lot of money, and now I want to go into further education. The type of program I was looking into would require me to let go of my full-time job. It’s not only cost money but I wouldn’t be able to be making as much money.
I’ve had a lot of crazy ideas that are crazy to the common person. I didn’t want to take on more student loan debt to get my Master’s degree. That was a no-go for me. It caused my husband and me to think outside the box, “How do we do this?” Thankfully, we both are so supportive of one another’s endeavors. The lack of money never hindered us from getting after the thing that either one of us said we wanted to do, which is fantastic. I’m so grateful for that. He was super supportive of that, “How do we do this?”
I still remember there was this at one point, we were on a family vacation with his family at the lake. My husband is a researcher and a problem-solver. He loves to be looking stuff up constantly. It’s usually to our benefit but sometimes it leads us to him wanting to buy a lot of things. We usually get incredible deals for that reason. At one point, he was looking at boats, and RVs and talking with his dad, “Wouldn’t it be fun to get an inexpensive boat that the family could have and use in the summers together? That would be fun.”
Through that boat search, an RV popped up. He goes down that rabbit trail of looking at an RV and then thinking, “That would be a fun way to vacation too.” He got it in his head, “It has everything that we need.” He starts showing me the pictures, “That has a bathroom, a bedroom, and a living space. You never are in more than one room at a time. It has everything that we need. What if we lived in an RV?” We were able to get at these other goals because housing, for most of us, is the most expensive monthly or lifetime expense that we have.
If we could reduce that, it might allow us to get to our goals. We are quick on it when we make a decision. It happened pretty shortly after that. We were pulling the trigger on purchasing an RV. Within a month, we purchased an RV. We were still able to live in the apartment that we were renting. We were month-to-month while we renovated the RV and then moved into the RV. It truly did help us to get after some of those financial goals. I will also add that with both RVs that we have had, we made a profit on the sale of the RV.
That was primarily what helped us to financially get after some of our goals. Once we lived in the RV, it was the final sale of it that helped me to pay for my Master’s degree. We probably made a profit of about $8,000 on that one. With our second RV, after all the expenses and renovations when we sold it, we made a profit of about $10,000. The second RV was the down payment on our current house. There were a few different ways that we were able to hack it financially even on a lower income.
I am always drawn to travel hacks. That in itself can get overwhelming for me. For instance, I’ve started to have an interest in canning food. I want to learn more about preparation. It has slowly been creeping into my mind, unlike a one-month decision to an RV. I bet you, I will have an RV at some point but probably years down the line. I have been examining it and having conversations.
It’s pretty amazing that you did all of that in one month. I’m also a researcher but that sometimes gets in my way because I feel like I need all the details. For instance, with canning, I’m like, “What do I buy? Where do I start?” They say, “Start with what you have,” but then you still need a few extra things. I don’t like to buy things if I’m not going to use them.
It starts getting in my head that I’m going to procrastinate. It’s the same thing with gardening. I have been wanting to grow some food. I’m slowly starting to get some plants for the windows sill and research gardening and what can I grow out on the patio. Some of these things depend on your personality. Do you already have that knowledge and passion for something?Frugality is a lifestyle, not a separate part of me. Click To Tweet
I don’t think there’s any right way. We are all wired in different ways and bring benefit to the world, one another, and ourselves in the ways that we approach it. It’s also beautiful to be very prepared before you jump into a decision either one has maybe some downsides to it but also some beauty to it. Interestingly, you say that because I too am gardening. It is so life-giving to me. 2022 is the first year that I have had my own garden. I’ve gardened at other places in the past but this felt like my biggest deep dive into it. I have raised beds. It’s not without trial and error.
I have a friend staying in town with me. I was saying to her, “My cucumbers are getting eaten up by something. There’s some insect. They were doing so good. All of a sudden, they are shriveling away to nothing. Everything else in my garden beds is doing great. I’m going to have to look this up.” She says, “There’s this book about planting certain things together that brings the good pests and insects rather than the ones that you may not want.” I’m like, “It’s amazing to me.”
There’s something exciting to me that I feel even as I’ve entered the world of gardening that there is an infinite amount to learn and know. There’s something that can be overwhelming about that but then there’s something so exciting that I will never arrive. There’s always something new to discover, uncover, and try my hands at but I said to her, “I would rather begin and then discover what is it that I need to know and what’s relevant to me.” It could be selfish.
I go to read all of the books but then I might have learned something that I don’t need to know. I’m going to look up what’s eating my cucumbers because that’s relevant to me. I’m going to keep learning and trying. There’s also a beautiful process to learning as I go and making my realizations and not just the realizations that someone else is going to give to me. All that to say, it’s an interesting intersection with what you are saying. I was talking about that with a friend. I’m like, “If I had waited, I don’t know if I would have started.”
I’m grateful that you are saying that because gardening feels so daunting. It’s similar to the renovation point too. I never had a green thumb but that doesn’t mean I can’t develop it. It’s just that it makes it a little bit harder for me. Like you, I love the idea of starting slowly. For me, it was buying a basil plant and seeing what happened. I put it in the window, “Can I keep this thing alive?” It’s still alive and thriving. I feel bonded to that plant.
You touched upon this briefly. It’s that joy you feel with taking care of another living thing. I graduated into a tomato plant, which is so far doing okay but I’m like, “There’s probably a lot more I could be doing to take care of this plant. I could go research it a little.” It’s a fun project because you are right. There are always little problems to solve. Hopefully, the rewards are good. Did you get into gardening because of frugal living? Was this a separate interest of yours?
I’m sure it goes hand in hand. I certainly see frugality and the frugal lifestyle as a lifestyle, not just this separate part of me. It certainly plays into a lot of the decisions that I make. The way that I define frugality is good stewardship of resources. It doesn’t have to do with finances for me but all resources. How am I stewarding that? It does blend into finances. We talk about that a lot. In that regard, the draw to gardening for me is a lot of things. It’s an outlet that feels life-giving.
As I talked about earlier, I do have a background in social work. A lot of the work that I do with people is difficult. There’s a lot of trauma that I encounter on a day-to-day basis. Part of self-care for me is working with my hands. In a variety of ways, renovations provided that to me for a time. Redoing furniture, painting rooms, and demoing is cathartic. Also, gardening, cultivating, nurturing, and making connections between what’s happening in my life, what I see going on in the garden, and the metaphors that can happen in the garden.
There’s a lot that draws me to it. Certainly, I also enjoy gardening which produces something for me. I love flowers. I’m excited to have a flower garden but I started with veggies because I also want it to be purposeful. There is nothing more satisfying to me at least at this point in my life than eating green beans straight out of my garden, providing for my husband and me a meal straight from my garden, having the fresh herbs, and watching the things grow in my backyard.
There are quite a few layers. Certainly, composting has become a part of my lifestyle, which is connected to frugality, eco-sustainability, and waste reduction. Why compost, unless you’ve got some fruits and veggies that are going to eat that stuff up? There are lots of things intersecting for me. That’s my long answer to why I’m gardening.
It’s very contagious. It made me think of 2021. I went to my friend, Toni‘s place. Toni has been on the show a few times. She writes about budgeting around the plant-based way of eating. I went to her backyard. I was in complete awe. It wasn’t a huge space but it’s the number of things she was able to grow. We went and picked fresh tomatoes for the dinner that we had and a few other veggies. I don’t remember what they were. It’s that amazing abundance.
Speaking of frugality, plants are one of the most abundant things that we can look at almost at any point. Most people, even if they live in a city, can find some plants outside their windows. Otherwise, it’s sad. Even if you put some plants in your window, that’s what I think about when I look at my little window sill garden. It is amazing. There are all the leaves on the tomato plant.Frugality: good stewardship of resources. Click To Tweet
It keeps growing and giving you more. Before I got the tomato plant, I would always go buy tomatoes at the store. They would be in plastic containers. I was paying money for something that I would use up, and then I would have to go buy more of it. With this plant that I’ve paid for once, I so far haven’t done anything else except give it water. It’s giving me fruit over and over again. It’s such a cool reminder. This time, many people feel frustrated, scared, and maybe powerless.
There are a lot of intense things happening with our government, our health, the world, and things that can feel very threatening. To be reminded that there are small things we can do like growing plants that let us focus on something that’s bringing joy but also giving back to us and simultaneously saving money is so healing. You have a passion for mental health too. It’s taking note of the things that we can do and that we do have some control over and the ripple effect that it can have on us.
It’s wherever we can engage in things that are life-giving to us. That’s different for every person. I get so excited about gardening but that’s not going to be everybody’s circumstances. It does empower me and gives me joy in life. It’s being outdoors. We all need to see living things, growth, and breathe in the fresh air, and sunshine. That doesn’t have to mean that you garden but it’s finding something that is life-giving and within our control.
Certainly, now and even if we were to think back over the past few years on what we have walked through, not to mention whatever anybody’s life was pre-2020, from 2020 and up until the present, we have not gone through easy things as a society, a nation, and a globe. That has the potential of wiping us out, defeating, deflating, and instilling fear, worries, and anxiety. I love what you are highlighting here. One of the concepts that I will talk about often with my clients is voice, power, and relationship.
Power and control go hand in hand. Voice power and relationship are key markers of personhood and humanity. We all have voice, power, and relationships. Sometimes it feels stifled, the relationship feels interrupted, and power feels taken or misplaced. When we are thinking about the individual level, it has been a helpful anchor for me at least to think about, “What is my voice? What is within my power? Where is the relationship that feels life-giving and aimed at well-being,” and to lean into that.
It does take effort and intentionality to engage ourselves in those components. All the other things that might take that away are readily available but it’s to be paying attention to where is their expression of self, this voice concept or identity of, “Who I am? How do I express myself? How do I live and engage in the world? What feels like an expression of the uniqueness that I possess and power?” Oftentimes we use power in a negative connotation but it’s the right power, the agency that we each have inside of us, and what’s within our control.
A lot of times, we love to focus on what’s outside of our control but what’s inside of our control that we can bear influence over and engage in a way that is enjoyable to us, helpful, and aimed at well-being? It’s those relationship components. You are talking about gardens, the production of fruits, and the power that gives to have a plant, water a plant, eat from the plant, enjoy the plant, express yourself through the caretaking of the planet, and have a relationship with the plant.
That might be a little bit too far for some people but sometimes I talk to my plants. I’m not going to lie. This hits on that. Sometimes we want to make it so much more complicated than it is but oftentimes it’s in the simplicity of things where we can find voice, power, and relationships that are life-giving. There’s a lot that can be very helpful when we go through trying and difficult times.
Speaking of difficult times, I’m so curious how you feel, especially with your work focused on mental health, money, and being frugal. How are you feeling about the possibility of a recession? Some people feel we are already in the recession at the end of June 2022. We also have inflation that’s happening. How is that impacting you personally and professionally? What are you noticing as people respond? What things are you thinking about differently as we go to a different financial time?
As I look at both my experiences and the experiences of others, this has been a tough time. I’m almost clumping it into even what we have come out of because where we have come from bears so much weight on where we currently find ourselves. A lot of people are entering into what’s happening now already exhausted or worrisome. I certainly see a lot of fear and concern happening but I also see a lot of hope. Where there is trauma, there’s also post-traumatic growth. Where there is difficulty and suffering, there’s also resilience.
I see these things going hand in hand for people. While there’s difficulty and exhaustion coming out of 2020 and 2021, I also see a lot of resilience built in people, “I’m already not where I thought that I would have been at this point in life.” Life has thrown us all a curve ball. How do we respond? That’s not to say that there’s no reactivity happening but humans can be amazing, especially when we can find community and be supportive of one another. It doesn’t have to be as daunting.
I am appreciative of the messages of hope that are happening even in light of the rising costs of living. I also feel, especially for marginalized communities who feel the weight and burden of what’s happening even more so than those who come from more privileged backgrounds or whose jobs may not be as volatile as others. It’s also recognizing we are all in different places within the context of what’s going on nationally and globally. Some of it is going back to what is within our control.Voice, power, and relationship are key markers of humanity. Click To Tweet
How can we respond well? If we are in a position of influence and privilege, how can we incorporate more of that community mindset to be able to help one another out? For me, this lifestyle of frugality has helped to provide a bit of an anchor and buffering to some of this. A lot of what we talk about is having emergency funds and knowing how and when to cut savings or spending so that we can save more. For some, there’s, “I can weather this. I have prepared for this.” That’s fantastic. Not everyone is in that position. There is no shame in that.
Hopefully, with the resources that are out there, we can help one another with knowledge and tangible resources, hope, and support in the community. It’s hitting all of us in different ways. All of it is relevant, normal, and valid. I’m discerning how we take the next right step in this and how the priorities need to shift as a result of this. One of the biggest mistakes that we can make, especially related to finances when finances are getting strapped, is not paying attention to it and maintaining our budget without taking into consideration the fact that groceries, gas, and living are costing us more.
There are many layers that we could look at here because there’s also so much on the macro level of what’s happening within the housing market and the way that is pushing people out of homes in a lot of areas, some very specific areas, cities, and places that are becoming more attractive to be living in. It’s happening a lot here in the Tampa Bay area. There’s a lot to consider and can be done on the macro, mezzo, and micro levels. It’s going to take each one of us, our attention to the various levels, and each one’s skillset in it. I’m mostly acknowledging that there’s so much to this. I appreciate messages of hope.
I appreciate that too. You said so many important things there. One that I’m resonating within this moment is the community element of it. It’s interesting because, from a business standpoint with my work on the marketing side, that’s what I do for most of my income. I support small businesses with marketing, social media, and figuring out their place in the digital landscape.
A word that has been coming up so much online has been community. I have been spending a lot of time trying to understand what makes a valuable online community. It’s interesting because my head is thinking of this from the digital side but what you are sharing is the more practical in real-life side benefits of community. I’m curious to see if the rise of the digital community is coming at a time when we need it in all aspects of our lives.
Part of it is that during the past few years, we certainly may have felt closer to people that we already cared for like our friends and family. Maybe the pandemic has helped us appreciate one another more, hopefully. It can go in the opposite direction if you have opposing views but it made me prioritize spending time with my family. My road trip is a huge part of it.
I take my road trips from California all around the country for the past few years. I’m planning for 2022. I got immense joy out of seeing people in person and family that I have either not seen in many years or had never been to their homes before because they lived in a part of the country that I didn’t normally go to. I started to feel this deep desire to spend time with people. I also see the community as the community beyond those friends and family.
It’s interesting living in a city like Los Angeles, at least in the areas that I have been in. I might be friendly with people that live in my building but it’s rare that I know anybody who lives in the next building over or across the street. Even if I know them, I don’t necessarily see them as people I can count on but what if we work together more to support each other with things that we might struggle with? We can share our skills with them. A perfect example is gardening.
Do I need my garden? What if we had a community garden? What if my neighbor had a big garden that I could help out with and then share some of their food? I recognize in so many people that have gardens that you typically have an abundance of food that you don’t even know what to do with. Certainly, you could try to pack it all up, can it, freeze it, or compost it but what if instead, you gave it to someone else who needs it but doesn’t have the time, resources or knowledge to have that?
I’m starting to think about the community and seek out ways to connect with people that are next door to me but I have no idea who they are. I can look out and see multiple buildings. I have no idea who those people are that live right across the street. It’s nuts if you think about it from a human history standpoint and how many societies.
I don’t know this off the top of my head but it seems from my limited knowledge of human society, we are probably in a rare time when we don’t know our immediate neighbors. We don’t have those communities where we are pulling resources and helping people. I wonder if we are going back in that direction because we are going to need to lean on each other more.
That would be a benefit of some difficulties. Being able to live life without relying on other people is in my estimation one of the cons if there was a pros-cons list of where we have come to as a society in the States. For many who are comfortable financially and with housing, there’s no need to rely on one another. Sometimes that means we are not engaging them either.Where there is difficulty and suffering, there is also resilience. Click To Tweet
I know so many people have the experience, “I drive my car to work and park in the parking garage. I go in and may or may not even encounter my coworkers. I sit in a cubicle, come home, park in the garage, walk straight into my house, and never need to interact with anybody outside of my experience.” There is something to be said for knowing your neighbors but I don’t think that’s going to happen unless we engage in some non-traditional types of experiences.
There are some commitments and intentionality by people to formulate a community. We were able to experience some of that. Going back to the RV circumstance, parking in someone’s yard is non-traditional but because of that, we were able to engage with whoever is the property we were parked on. This is an interesting and fun little fact. The second RV that my husband and I lived in was smaller. It was 170 square feet. It was a pull-behind trailer that we attached to our car.
Before the pandemic even began in February 2020, we came down on a road trip to St. Petersburg, which is where I live. At the time, I lived outside Philadelphia. I came down in the RV and stayed. We were planning on staying for the winter, and then you all know what came next. March 2020 happened. We came to this realization, “It’s still freezing up North. Everything is shut down. At least, we don’t have to worry about pipes freezing and not being able to go outside yet.”
In the North, you are stuck inside. We live in 170 square feet. We ended up staying longer. We parked on the property of my cohost of the Frugal Friends Podcast. We parked on her property. What that turned into was so beautiful. Granted we were friends, to begin with. It’s almost this communal living, which is not for everybody but we got our taste of community, specifically at the beginning of the pandemic.
We were able to be our little COVID bubble, make meals, share things with one another, and have some built-in friendships and conversations. We would text each other each day, “I’ve got some potatoes. What do you have to add to the pot for dinner?” It was amazing. That never would have happened if it weren’t for some greater levels of intentionality and living outside of the box in some ways. Not everybody needs to live tiny, nor do that everyone should or that it needs to last a lifetime because it didn’t for me.
To your point, “What if I had a community garden? What if I had an opportunity for all of us to get together at the park, get to know one another, and learn how we can support each other?” It’s beautiful. Community is knowing and being known. That’s what makes for a great community. Whatever we can do, if this is a desire for us to move towards that, I don’t think that it will happen but what can we do to be engaging in that knowing and being known process and having friends but also responding to need and receiving? There’s reciprocity that can exist in that exchange.
It’s helpful for me at least to keep that in mind because as I learn more about emergency preparedness, I think about all these things that I might get for myself. If the power goes out, it’s having a generator. I have some food around that I can eat. Over the past few years, we have had these interesting experiences where sometimes it feels like it’s every man for itself. We look back to when the grocery store shelves were empty. There was no toilet paper.
People were hoarding things and then getting mad at somebody else. It was like, “Are you taking more than you need?” That might not be the best thing for your community. You also can’t fully blame someone for being so afraid. They want to pile all their resources together because they don’t know how much they are going to need in the future. A community starts to feel more like the answer because what if you can all have a stockpile that you share?
It sounds so much easier than it is because then we add in all these different needs and states of mental health that people have and the way that fear affects us. It certainly had me thinking differently about things, “Once I can take care of myself first, can I also have enough to share with other people? What can I do to extend that?” I’m also developing more relationships. I have other people around that I could ask things of. It’s interesting.
I don’t know if you experienced this. I’m from the East Coast too. Sometimes there’s an East Coast-West Coast mentality. I feel like I have a mix of it, given where I grew up versus where I live in Los Angeles. Out here, it’s interesting because it’s a big city. There are people everywhere. You get used to not knowing everybody because if I tried to get to know everybody on my block, it would first of all take me a long time.
I would have to create a database to remember everybody’s names. Maybe as city dwellers, you think, “It’s too much work to get to know everybody. Why do I need to know them?” You move on, versus when I grew up in Massachusetts, it was the opposite because I was in a small town. You at least knew the names of most of your neighbors. You knew a little bit about them.
We would borrow things from each other, ask for things, and create those relationships but it’s a lot different in the city where you also have to manage the overwhelm. There’s a total number of people that you can reasonably be friends with. Isn’t there some terminology for that? If I counted up how many people lived within my block, that probably is over the number of people I could reasonably get to know anyway.Community is knowing and being known. Click To Tweet
We don’t have an unlimited capacity in any one of these categories of our mental, emotional, physical, spiritual, and relational selves. We are not unlimited. We all have different degrees of capacity but it’s still limited in some way. Certainly, there’s no way that you would be able to have a meaningful relationship with every person in Los Angeles. I don’t even know if that’s a great aim but I do appreciate what’s happening with some of these Meetup groups around similar interests.
Those are the types of communities that can be useful, especially when we hit difficult times. We don’t have to look for this when we reach difficulty, “Who’s going to provide for me? Who do I need to provide for?” People don’t need to be projects in that way but it’s who can I connect with and have a community where there is that reciprocity of giving and taking, and knowing and being known. It is in those types of settings that as needs arise, we can meet those needs, support, and care for one another.
It doesn’t have to be everyone in Los Angeles. It could be the people who enjoy mountain biking or gardening together and become their community. What’s so amazing is how many different hobbies are out there and all the different types of niches you could find yourselves in. There’s always a group for that, whether online or in-person. Finding your community, reaching out, putting some feelers out there, and getting involved in some capacity is going to be how you find it.
You reminded me of how I joined the Buy Nothing group from my area. It’s so fascinating because since Los Angeles is so big, it’s broken down into all these different particular sections of the city. You can only join the one that you live in, which is pretty smart. I’ve used it a few times. I was looking for a VCR. None of my friends had a VCR. Surprise. I was also like, “We are in Los Angeles. At least one of you should have one.” No one did. I thought, “I will go on the Buy Nothing group,” thinking that someone would have one to give away.
Instead, this woman responded to my post, which happens on Facebook. You can go on there and say, “I’m in need of a VCR.” Instead of someone saying, “Here, you can have mine for free,” she said, “I’m going to keep mine but you are welcome to borrow it from me for as long as you need it.” I went down the street and got it from her. She was the nicest woman. She’s a complete stranger but by her very kindly offering me to borrow something and trusted me to bring it back to her.
I remember thinking, “It’s so nuts that a stranger can trust you in that way of a possession of theirs.” It brought back that hope as you mentioned before. Sometimes when we have these experiences with our community, it brings us more hope because we can also identify these thoughts that we have, for me at least, carrying around, “Beware of strangers.” You don’t trust people.
Maybe you are thinking that somebody is going to do something cruel or take advantage of you but those moments when someone trusts you to do something created this whole trusting relationship together. I could message this woman now and borrow her VCR anytime I wanted. I thought, “That’s so cool.” It’s a great example of how many neighbors probably have something that I could use instead of buying. Speaking of frugal, how much money could we save if we shared some equipment?
You wouldn’t have had that experience if you hadn’t done something new and maybe even for some people unusual in a Buy Nothing group and borrowing from a stranger. The beautiful transaction that came out of that experience is so amazing. I think of this conversation, “We might be entering into a recession. What does that mean?” Certainly, there are fears and anxieties. That’s normal and okay. Also, it can produce creativity, problem-solving, and a community.
My grandmother grew up in the Depression. Some of the things that people learned through the Depression era can be relevant for us, certainly when we find ourselves economically in a difficult position. Even if we are experiencing difficulty in our personal financial lives, there is some beautiful stuff that happened during the Great Depression that can be implemented and is being implemented like borrowing, trading, spending less, conserving our resources, and not just going for convenience. What is a way to recycle or reuse this item and not be so flippant with the things that we have?
That certainly goes hand in hand with frugality. Also, when there are concerns about finances, there is still a pathway forward that can engage creativity, problem-solving, new experiences, life-giving experiences, communities, and relationships. There are both ends. That’s maybe one of my takeaways. It doesn’t have to be all bad, awful, and doom and gloom or all good, amazing, and rainbows and sunshine. Sometimes they go hand in hand in looking for, “Where is that silver lining. Where is the sustenance within what we are experiencing?”
Those are such powerful words during this time. Your whole way of talking about this and your positive energy which feels so authentic to me is also a beautiful example of hope because sometimes thinking about trying to save money or being frugal can feel daunting, especially if you are not used to it. It can feel like you are cutting back or restricting, “I have to do this now.” You can get immersed in the negativity of feeling like money is not on your side. You have to do something.
One of my takeaways from you is I feel inspired to do all of these things. All these things sound fun, exciting, and not easy necessarily but maybe they are a greater source of joy certainly for me. We didn’t talk about debt at all but we can touch upon it briefly before we wrap. You did talk about paying your debt and avoiding some debt with your school.Debt is neutral. Click To Tweet
I had credit card debt. It was building that for about eleven years. I kept putting it off. I thought, “It’s not that much money. The interest isn’t that high. When my income would fluctuate, I would put things on my credit cards. It was nice.” I would find these moments of feeling guilty or bad about that, “I’m a bad person for putting things on my credit card. This isn’t good.”
There are moments of thinking, “I’m so grateful I have these credit cards that I can put money onto during this time when my income is lower and my expenses are higher.” There was a turning point for me when I looked at all the interest I was paying and how much more was ahead of me if I kept on that path. I thought, “Let me see if I can pay this off in a year.”
I created a plan for myself and did it in 2021. That was great. I felt good. I still have car payment debt. I have two years left to pay my car off. The freedom of not having credit card debt was wonderful. I turned the money that I was using to pay off my credit cards into pain for savings. Now, I am putting more into my savings than I was paying off my credit card, which felt like such a big stretch.
I had pushed the limits of the money that I had to pay off those credit cards in a year but it taught me a little bit more discipline and gave me an important goal. Transitioning that into my savings, which is part of preparedness, has been so deeply rewarding. I don’t look at it as a restriction. I’m excited to put money into my savings account. Sometimes I open it up and stare at the numbers. Do you ever do that?
I am in my budget a lot for sure. I love what you are describing here of mindset shift. Not too much changed for you but your view on the thing of whether it’s restrictive or it aligns with your goals and is going to be life-giving for you in the long run. One of the things my cohost, Jen, and I talk about a lot is that debt is neutral. I know that you are going to get a lot of messages out there in the personal finance space but we believe debt is neutral. It can be a tool.
It is not a place we want to set up camp long-term but sometimes it’s necessary. Debt can come in different shapes, sizes, and forms. The interest rate is primarily what you want to be looking at. For us, anything above 7% is considered a high-interest rate. You want to be looking at that. What’s going to provide you with emotional, relational, mental, and physical bandwidth. What’s going to feel life-giving like well-being to you?
It sounds like you finally reached that point, “This is draining or depleting me rather than helping and aiding in my life. I don’t need this anymore. There’s creativity that can be implemented. There’s some problem-solving that I can engage in to pay that off in a year.” Congratulations. That’s so exciting. We all are on our journeys with that. It doesn’t happen overnight. We don’t snap our fingers, and suddenly we are in a great financial situation.
There is no shame and where we find ourselves financially but the hope is that we can take the next right step towards our goals, values, and what’s going to be most beneficial for us both now and in the future. It’s not staying stuck in one place. That isn’t beneficial for who we are. Much of that has to do with that mindset, “Are we viewing it as restrictive and stifling? Are we connecting it to our ultimate why? Why am I doing this? Potentially, there’s freedom, life, and future flexibility when I’m not being beholden to debt for a lifetime.”
There are lots of things to be said about that but I’m mostly celebrating with you and some of the freedom you found in the mindset shift. It’s exciting. It’s not restrictive. If I could help people understand that message and allow it to take root, there’s so much freedom in the journey of life and also in finances. It doesn’t have to look cookie-cutter or the way that some people might make it seem like it needs to look. It can be personal finance.
It also ties into what we have been talking about. Learning feels overwhelming to me sometimes with the amount that I don’t know about finances. Through the process of slowly starting and paying off my debt, I barely knew anything about credit scores. I didn’t pay any attention to my credit score until I started paying off my debt. I was watching my debt go down and my credit score go up.
It was so rewarding. It made me excited each month to pay off more. Even though paying off my debt required me to be frugal in some new ways, it was so worth it. With 2022 being about savings, I learned about high-yield savings accounts. I started playing the credit card game. I ironically got a new credit card because I wanted to start building up travel rewards points.
I had a guest on this show while I was paying down my debt. His name is Owen. He talked about using credit cards to travel. That felt so overwhelming to me. Through the process of paying down my debt on my old cards, I rose my credit card score and brought my debt down. I was able to apply to get a cool credit card that I probably wouldn’t have qualified for before.
In the process of getting that new travel credit card, two great things happened. I started to learn about how travel credit cards work, which felt deeply overwhelming. I’m figuring a few things out and starting with a card. I don’t know if you do any of this. There are so many options when it comes to travel cards. I felt overwhelmed and thought, “I’m going to get the one that feels the most joyful to me.”If we can push past overwhelm and just begin, we'll find that it's less daunting. Click To Tweet
That’s my starting point. It’s like getting my first plant for the garden. It doesn’t have to be the perfect plant. It’s just getting me started, and because I had paid down my debt, raised my credit score, and developed the discipline to pay off the card every month, I got a great card with all sorts of amazing perks, including a bunch of bonus miles and the amount of money they gave me for that card. The total credit I have on that card is the most I have ever been given.
My total credit limits are beyond what I thought I would ever have. That in itself could be very tempting. I hope I don’t get back into a place of why I put money on there but I’ve developed the discipline. It’s easy for me to pay off that card every month and not accrue more interest. Playing the credit card game is making me money because most cards have all sorts of points. You can learn about all these strategies to make your money work for you.
I charge everything to my cards, which went completely against how I used to live but because I paid them all off right away, I get all the perks from it without putting me back in debt. If you would ask me a year ago if I would be doing this stuff now, I probably wouldn’t have believed it. It happened over time through learning a little bit over and over as we talked about gardening, living in an RV, road trips, and all of these things we have discussed.
One of the biggest takeaways is if we can start and learn. I loved what you said about gardening on how instead of trying to learn it all before you started, you started and then you learned the things that you needed to know. If you sat down and read gardening books, you take in all this information that would be meaningless to you because you hadn’t even started yet. Maybe that wouldn’t even apply to what you were doing.
That’s a huge takeaway for me. As I start to dabble more in gardening, I want to start experimenting and not being afraid to mess it up because that’s where I’m going to learn the most like you with your cucumbers. I hope that you share with me what you learned. I want to know what the secret is because I want to grow some cucumbers too.
We will get to the bottom of the cucumber fiasco. I’m so thrilled to hear what your takeaways are. Thank you for sharing that with me. Where we cannot allow the overwhelm to hijack our endeavors, the better. It can be a barrier to starting. If we can push past that initial overwhelm and begin with one small step, we can often find, “That thing was less daunting than I thought it was.”
For me, finance was that. Finance would not have been my first choice of a podcast to do. A lot of that had to do with my cohost. Beginning to step into it made me realize there is room for all of us here. It doesn’t have to look one way. It’s a very male-dominated space. Many people for probably a variety of reasons try and make finance seem as complicated as possible. Certainly, there’s a lot to know about it but that doesn’t mean that the rest of us are not capable of handling our finances.
We don’t have to be so overwhelmed that it leads to parallelization and we do nothing about it. You can start with a credit card, use it as a tool, learn more, and grow. You don’t have to know it all. There are spaces where people are not going to make you feel dumb for what you don’t know. Find those spaces. Don’t find the spaces that are like, “Why don’t this? You should know this.” That’s what the personal finance space felt like to me.
I’m so thrilled about some of the freedom we are able to bring into that community. It’s okay to not know, ask questions, and learn alongside one another in anything as to how you’ve highlighted, whether it’s tiny living, gardening, building a community or fill-in-the-blank with whatever excites us but might feel a little daunting. There are resources, podcasts, books, and people we can talk to learn what’s that next step. Engaging in that is part of taking the first step and pushing aside that overwhelm.
That was so beautifully said. You have such a great way with words. I’m so thrilled to have had you here and introduce people who didn’t know about your podcast to it because it sounds so lovely. I can’t wait to go dive into some episodes. You have been doing that show for how long?
It’s over four years in 2022. April 2022 was four years.
How many episodes?
We released Episode 218. It’s about once a week but we are soon going to move into two episodes a week, which is exciting. There’s more free content for our community that we have built, which is fun.
There’s so much for someone to listen to. What’s a favorite episode that you’ve done? What’s the first one that comes to mind?
I love our interviews, honestly. No one can go wrong with interviews. We did one on creativity over consumption with Miranda. Her perspective on all types of resources in the way that we engage with resources and engage our creativity was beautiful. That’s not to say all of our other interviews weren’t great but that one is coming to mind and standing out to me. That was a good one. It probably would be a good crossover for your audience as well.
It’s a good starting point for someone who wants to check out the show and continue this beautiful journey with all of Jill’s wisdom and comfort. This show is called This Might Get Uncomfortable but you made it more comfortable, Jill. I didn’t feel any discomfort with you. Although these topics can be uncomfortable, you did such a beautiful job of bringing ease, joy, and hope. I love the phrase, “Life-giving.” It’s not a term I hear that much but it embodies the work that you are doing. I’m so thrilled to have gotten to know you through our time together. Thank you so much.
Thank you, Whitney. It has been a privilege to spend this time with you.
- Frugal Friends Podcast
- Toni Okamoto – Previous episode
- Buy Nothing
- Owen Beiny – Previous episode
- Episode 218 – The Frugal Friends Podcast Past Episode
- Miranda Anderson – The Frugal Friends Podcast Past Episode
About Jill Sirianni
Jill Sirianni is a licensed clinical social worker and natural-born frugalista. Her favorite frugal move was living in an RV to save on expenses and pay off student loans. When she’s not making people laugh on Frugal Friends you can find her digging in her backyard veggie garden or spending Saturday mornings at yard sales with her husband Eric.
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