A long-favored G.K. Chesterton quote I share in my book:

There are two ways to get enough. One is to continue to accumulate more and more. The other is to desire less.

A text message from my girlfriend last weekend:

That Chesterton quote, the one about enough. Does it work for shoes?

I have always been mindful of budgeting. My parents were wise to raise me with the most basic tenent in money management: Always, always live below your means.

We were frugal, is all. I was frugal because my parents were frugal, they because theirs. Once I became [somewhat] gainfully employed as a summer lifeguard, I was taught to make choices with my paycheck: Splurge it all on the new Adidas or spend a little on Bonne Bell Dr. Pepper lip balm and save the rest?

My decision was always the same: May it be known that the summer of ’97 was a very good year for me in terms of lip hydration.

Here we are, then. Twenty years later.

The paycheck has changed, the circumstances have shifted, the foreseeable needs and wants and musts have all been altered. (Although I hear good old Bonne’s Dr. Pepper flavor is still all the rage, as it should be.)

And yet, my parent’s example continues to serve me well: Always, always live below your means.

Ken and I are sometimes approached for advice on living a dual-income freelance life. How did you pull it off? How have you managed to carve out a life of flexibility – both of you setting your own schedules while neither of you maintaining a secure, stable paycheck? Isn’t it scary? With two kids, especially?

And you know, I do have a few thoughts on the subject…

  1. Put in the work up front.
    Ken and I lived a very disciplined life throughout our 20’s. We were both interested in saving the bulk of our paychecks and investing wisely (we chose real estate at the wrong time, but you’ll get to read alllllll about that in the book). When friends were shelling out cash for expensive dinners and late-night concerts in downtown L.A., we packed a loaf of whole wheat and a jar of Jif and people-watched at the dog park. It didn’t quite matter what we were saving for as much as it mattered that we get in the habit of spending far, far less than we made. It’s a habit that has never led us astray.
  2. Be content.
    Our incomes have changed with our circumstances, but our spending habits haven’t. I still drive the same car I first purchased in college (shout out to my Toyota Echo!) over 15 years ago, because it works in getting me from A to B. It’s functional, and I’m content with it. This is hard work, certainly (confession: I get mildly envious of those luxurious seat warmers, although truth be told, I’d even settle for automatic locks and windows!), but it’s a secret I’m convinced of: Contentment is always a worthwhile choice, in finances and in life.
  3. Trim the fat.
    Ken and I used to make traditional budgets with spreadsheets when we were newlyweds, and a few years later, we began using Mint to track our everyday expenses (head’s up: those automatic categories are a dream come true when tax season rolls around). Once you watch Mint tally up your $4.50 latte habit, you’ll rethink that daily coffee shop visit.
  4. Get on the same page.
    Ken and I were lucky to grow up in similar families where both parents valued budgeting, so this is an area where we’ve always been in relatively good alignment. But, that’s rare. If money’s a tension point in your relationship, try sitting down with a third party financial consultant, or even forming a budget together. Both are great ways to work toward a compromise in creating your best future while still enjoying the present.
  5. Offer wiggle room.
    Even though Ken and I have always been in agreement with our saving habits, we know that our spending habits won’t always align. What one deems a valuable purchase might not be viewed worthy to the other, and for us, this is 100% OK. We both work toward the same goal of living far below our means, so as long as we’re well within that margin, we don’t micro-manage each other’s small purchases. As for larger purchases, we’re quick to communicate with each other; it’s often helpful to have a second opinion in ensuring the spend is in line with our family’s long-term goals and values.
  6. Get creative.
    Ken and I are big believers in the idea that limitations enhance creativity, so for us, spending less is often a fun challenge. In Los Angeles, we scoured through thrift stores to furnish our home – a plant stand became a hat rack, a Houdini magician’s trunk became our coffee table, a vintage curtain as a table runner. When we moved to the Midwest and decided to renovate the least expensive home in our area, our resourcefulness served us well and we were able to stretch our dollars even further.
  7. Learn from your mistakes.
    We all make poor financial choices (the once-used breadmaker in my pantry is my own evidence of this), but often, failure is the first step to learning. Over time, you’ll learn your triggers. Love shoes? Steer clear of the mall. Penchant for trinkets? Avoid the Target $1 aisle. Often times, budgeting is about avoiding short-term comfort in favor of long-term comfort. The more you learn about yourself, the easier this will become.
  8. Ease up.
    With financial planning, it’s easy to be either all too lax or all too rigid. What good is planning for tomorrow if we’re not attempting to enjoy today? Take a good look at your family’s values and invest in those, whether that means violin lessons for the little ones or a backyard pool for the neighborhood. It’ll look differently for everyone, as it should. For everything else, we’re big believers in automating (Mint’s Bill Pay Tool offers a free 2-tap payment system to track amounts and due dates so we can review and expedite payment within 24 hours). The less we find ourselves focusing on money in our day-to-day, the easier it is to remind ourselves that saving money is a tool to achieve our goals, but not the goal itself.
  9. Lower the overhead.
    This is especially helpful when opting for a freelance route, because a set paycheck is truly never guaranteed. For us, living below our means has meant avoiding overhead, whether that means a home mortgage or car financing. Saving your dollars until you can afford to make a purchase in cash means you get to own your things, and your things don’t get to own you.
  10. Be generous.
    Sure, it’s simple to hide all of your funds for a rainy day, to amass piles of cash for someday use. But for us, allowing room for generosity and investing in kindness toward others has always offered far greater rewards. We’d rather be rich in love than in dollars.


Yes, Chesterton was right.

There are two ways to get enough.

You can want for more, or you can want for less.

But there’s also a third way to get enough:

You can want for precisely what you have – not more, not less. You can enjoy what you’ve been given and enjoy when you’ve been given it, and you can be good stewards of the rest.

(And yes, that works for shoes.)





These tips are written in partnership with Mint – our favorite, oft-used resource for money management and financial planning. Thanks for reading!

  • Erin, I see it the same way.

    My parents were also great examples of living below your means as I was growing up. Our grandparents lived this way years ago when the only option was to save some money to buy whatever you needed or wanted.
    I like to live this way now. I try to resist the temptation to buy more thing, and I refuse to take a loan for anything.

    Thanks for sharing!


    • We are so lucky to have been raised this way, Katka! I’m so grateful to my parents for teaching me such wisdom.

  • Six months after getting married, my husband and I quit our jobs, sold most of our belongings and went to travel Europe.

    Now, we’re not rich by any stretch of the imagination. Both of our families immigrated to the States with little more than a suitcase or two. So when we announced our plans to our friends, the first question out of everyone’s mouth: “Did you win the lottery or something?” I was blown away and a little disheartened by how many people thought a trip like that wasn’t possible unless you’re rolling in dough.

    As soon as we got married, we vowed to live on only one salary – saving 100% of the other for precisely this trip, and six months later, we could finally make it happen.

    All that to say, budgeting is simply prioritizing your needs and wants. For us, the daily latte and occasional nail salon trips and going out to the movies (as opposed to renting from Redbox) will never be as high of a priority as travel.

    P.S. Love that you too read Chesterton. It’s a rarity these days.

    • Oh, I can so relate to this, Oksana! So much of everything is prioritizing, yes? Biggest hugs to you. :) (And we are so so familiar with the Redbox date night!!!!)

  • Yes! I can’t relate to the freelance income thing but the rest, I totally relate to. We’ve always lived under our means and I’m learning how much better I do with few options – mostly meaning less clothes and such. It’s so nice not to WANT more and be content with what we have, for so many reasons!

    • It certainly is, Diana! And I smiled at the name of your blog – so creative! :) Big hugs your way.

  • I had to laugh, Erin, I too drive a 15-year-old Toyota Echo! Roll down windows and push down locks, I am so thankful it keeps humming along. And this, “You can want for precisely what you have – not more, not less,” are guiding words for sure.

  • Dang, I love this! I feel so lucky, like I have discovered the secret of life, to have been able to shift my focus and heart to live like this. I grew up frugal as well. Rebelled a bit when I began to make my own money, but then fell in LOVE with the art of living below my means. Getting to work part-time while my child is young is the ultimate reward. One I will cherish for all of my days. You, Erin, are who I love spending my frugal screen time budget on! Thanks for the continued inspiration, girl!

    • Oh I can completely relate, sweet Jenn – living below our means is certainly one of the many lovely secrets of life. And thank you for your kind words!

  • Yes, I love this! When my husband and I were newly married we were living off of a youth pastor’s salary. We attended a class and learned valuable tools about having a budget. I started working to put him through grad school, and we paid off our car debt (my used Honda Civic that I bought straight out of college.) We enjoyed LOTS of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches during those years. Fast forward seven years and we were living in a different place, managing life with two little ones and had the opportunity to adopt a sibling group of 3. We needed time at home with the kids more than anything else, so working more to get more income for our family of 7 wasn’t an option. It was because of what we learned in those early years, and being able to adjust our budget…We need more in groceries and clothing but less is coming in with Sam cutting back his hours at work to provide more time at home to adjust. We learned how to adjust the categories of our lives (what we were spending $ on) to make it work. Living below your means could mean the chance to adopt three kids one day, and for that I am forever grateful.

    • I love this, Sarah! So much about life is prioritizing, isn’t it? Love and respect the choices you’ve made. Big hugs to you!

  • I love this! I am going to show this to my friend tonight because we have been talking about ways to budget! Thank you as always!

  • Your thoughts here are gold, as usual. I would love to hear more about the types of freelance work you acquired and how it worked to get started. But I am always on board with hearing about finding contentment and pursuing creativity. Isn’t gratitude like a magic potion? I feel like we need constant reminders that all of our basic needs being met, and even the opportunity to pursue an alternative lifestyle, is a gift beyond measure. Thank you!

    • Amen, amen, amen! I write a bit more about my work life in the book, and there are bits about my blogging career here!:

      Basically, I said “Yes!” a whole lot of times and figured out the rest later. I raised my hand a lot for side gigs that sounded interesting. Very little plan or strategy, but ever so full and fun and exciting. I wouldn’t change a thing!

  • Great blog as usual Erin!
    My husband and I both grew up poor and were constantly told “We can’t afford that”, “There is no money for that” but they were not frugal and in fact we both had Mothers who were hoarders who often spent money on silly unnecessary things. When we became adults and started making money of our own we thought… great now I can get all the things I want and so were spenders. In my late twenties I learned the pains of living this way and slowly became much more frugal. We talked extensively about finances before getting married but my husband was still a spender and it has taken every bit of grace within me to show him through my actions the beauty of not spending and being okay with less, even more so how less can feel like so much more. We are both on the same page now, having our little guy helped us both see with a new clarity what kind of live we wanted for our family and the values we wanted to teach our son.

    The tips you give here can be truly life changing and I thank you for sharing your wise frugal ways with the world. :)

    ps: We also use Mint and love it!

    • I love this story, Shayla – life offers such interesting experiences, doesn’t it? So happy you’ve found such clarity together, even in the most winding of fashions! What a gift.

  • I love this! Resonates with me in so many ways. I think the greatest way to live a wealthy life, is by being content.

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