Tales of frugal & thrifty inspiration
February 2, 2015 4:09 AM   Subscribe

As I work to pay down my debt, while simultaneously learning how to better enjoy life without spending money, I am always in search of essays and books that demonstrate the same: a life well-lived that isn't dependent on having much (if any) money.

More specifically, examples of people who have developed excellent, or just plain unusual, strategies to still eat well, dress well, perhaps even travel well, and fill their free time with thoughtful, meaningful activities.

Examples could include people who were not necessarily known for being "thrifty" so much as proponents of enjoying the things that are free in life (such as wild food forager Euell Gibbons).

Or, say, stories of Westerners who became Zen monks and learned how to break from the materialist cycle and relish the beauty and simplicity of the present moment.

I like nature/living off the land tales even though I'm an apartment dweller; anything oriented toward the "urban homesteader" would be especially appreciated.

Can be non-fiction or fiction, although the former is preferred since I'm looking for as much real-life inspiration as possible.
posted by nightrecordings to Work & Money (15 answers total) 108 users marked this as a favorite
I thought "The Good Life Lab" was really interesting...From Amazon: "This is the inspirational story of how one couple ditched their careers and high-pressure life in New York City to move to Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, where they made, built, invented, foraged, and grew all they needed to live self-sufficiently, discovering a new sense of value and abundance in the process. Alongside their personal story are tips and tutorials to guide readers in the discovery of a fulfilling new lifestyle that relies less on money. Tremayne wholeheartedly believes that everyone has the skill, imagination and creativity to make it work."
posted by Shadow Boxer at 4:20 AM on February 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

This is an old obscure how-to book, but How to Live on Nothing by Joan R Shortney has been an inspiration to me since college. I think I found out about it through The Whole Earth Catalogue (final), which is also pretty old hippie stuff now but you might find it fun.

Also, Reflections on Walden Pond (Thoreau)
posted by maggiemaggie at 4:49 AM on February 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

I think one of the most interesting books on this subject is Your Money or Your Life by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez.

It talks not only of tips and tricks for saving money, but of a fundamental shift in how you see money as a tool in your life.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 4:59 AM on February 2, 2015 [5 favorites]

I'm looking for as much real-life inspiration as possible

I'm a regular reader of two fairly active online forums where people share frugal living strategies and practices balanced against lives well-lived:

Mr Money Moustache

Early Retirement Extreme

Both have a focus on financial independence and/or retiring early, so there is an emphasis on investing, but there are also subheadings on things like DIY, living a frugal lifestyle, travel and adventure.

The ERE "Journals" are especially interesting (to me anyway) as people describe their dreams and the steps they're taking to achieve them affordably.
posted by Short Attention Sp at 4:59 AM on February 2, 2015 [5 favorites]

Seconding the Mr. Money Mustache forums. The archives there are a trove of the type of inspiration you're looking for.
posted by katie at 5:09 AM on February 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

An oldie but a goodie -- The Tightwad Gazette. Perhaps not precisely what you're looking for, but for some reason, an extremely fun read.
posted by peacheater at 5:23 AM on February 2, 2015 [6 favorites]

+1 Tightwad Gazette, and also check out How to survive without a salary: Learning how to live the conserver lifestyle and, if on Facebook, the forum for the blog The Non-Consumer Advocate. Practically speaking. If you would like a bit more entertainment/stuff to ponder/history of self-sufficiency/etc try the Foxfire books. Sample entries: Rope, Straw, and Feathers are to Sleep on, How to Wash Clothes in an Iron Pot, Cornshuck Mops, Dolls and Hats, Cheese Making.
posted by kmennie at 6:23 AM on February 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

You may enjoy the Tumblr version of the comic book Poorcraft: 'Cuz being broke doesn't have to suck - that link goes to the title page.
posted by Happy Dave at 6:41 AM on February 2, 2015 [5 favorites]

M.F.K. Fisher's How To Cook A Wolf is de rigeur for frugal eating - not just because it's frugal, but because she also writes beautifully about appreciating the food that you have. She was kind of ahead of her time when it came to cooking - she initially wrote it during the second World War, as a manual for how to dine well when you were being rationed like whoa, but then updated it in the 1950's when everyone was tying themselves in knots trying to comply with the latest Nutrition Expert's advice about meal planning and she was advocating pleasure instead, and proving it could be found in a simple salad and an omlette if you did both right.

Tamar Adler's An Everlasting Meal is its modern-day spiritual child - all about how simple food made with care is deeply satisfying.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:28 AM on February 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

Anna at twelve22 has a really appealing lifestyle, imo. Not broke per se, but somewhat minimalist, and great inspiration for shopping/gardening in a big haul and making (freezing, preserving) healthy vegetarian meals for herself and for her daughter. She also did quite a bit of home renovation on the cheap, which is cool to read about.
posted by witchen at 7:41 AM on February 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

The people in Better Off go live near the [Amish? Mennonites?] and live a low technology, low cash lifestyle.
posted by salvia at 8:39 AM on February 2, 2015

I've always loved these stories and the stories about the stories. The main one that is people's go-to is often The Good Life (and other titles) by Helen and Scott Nearing. This long article should give you an overview. Of course, some of the things they were able to accomplish came about because they had income from speaking tours and other things not available to the average homesteader.

Then there's Possum Living (a book and a movie) about Dolly Freed (pseud) who had a weird urban homestead that she has written about in her own book and was the subject of an interesting journalistic exploration (now only findable via the Wayback Machine for some reason). The stuff in that book, some of it, is quasi-legal which may be why it hasn't made more of a splash.

Yankee Magazine published Living Well on a Shoestring which has a particular appeal to those of us in the Northeast. I also liked the now quite dated Vagabonding in the USA: A Guide for Independent Travelers and Foreign Visitors which focuses on travel mostly. The Vagabloggers are ski bum types who hole up a few months a year to earn money but then travel the rest of the time out of their van.

There are some good blogs talking about boondocking (free camping) that have good stories and advice.
posted by jessamyn at 9:29 AM on February 2, 2015 [3 favorites]

Hobo Artist Dan Price discusses his alternative lifestyle in the Moonlight Chronicles (book) as does Tammy on her blog Rowdy Kittens.
posted by jrobin276 at 11:52 AM on February 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

I should mention that Dan had leased some land and built various abodes including a hobbit hole and a tipi; mostly with electricity so he could continue to use his photocopier to produce his zine. He's sponsored by Sakura (pens) and I think tests camping equipment. Very novel in finding ways to keep doing what's important to him.

Now that I think about it, you may also like Buckminster Fuller and EF Schumacher.
posted by jrobin276 at 12:07 PM on February 2, 2015

I was a big fan of Ken Ilgunas' blog, where he lived in his van in order to earn a Master's degree at Duke without taking on student loan debt. He's written about other topics since, so I'll link to his "vandwelling" section.

Personally, I've had some multiple-month-long "sleep in my car" travel experiences; I'd like to say it's easy to be frugal when you're buying everything you need on the spot (food, water, gas) instead of "paying bills," and that it quickly becomes apparent how little is required to survive (assuming you have a car or van.) For me, the realization that I could do without most of the things I'd grown accustomed to was something of a spiritual experience in itself. Traveling during this time served to magnify the feelings of freedom and fulfillment I felt. I'd recommend a road trip of at least a few weeks to anyone seeking to re-center themselves; freedom of physical movement combined with freedom from obligation was enlightening.
posted by seiryuu at 12:12 PM on February 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

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