Interview Series: The Frugal Vagabond

This is the fiftieth in a series of interviews with fellow personal finance bloggers. Today’s guest is The Frugal Vagabond.

The Frugal Vagabond is a blog about true love, early retirement, and slow travel.  Posts cover diverse topics that range from the best retirement vehicle for the self-employed, to finding the best paella in Spain.  More than anything, the blog seeks to speak authentically and honestly about the good and the bad of making the quest for early retirement a priority in our lives.   The blog seeks to show the doubters and naysayers that a life full of exciting travel, delicious food, and close friendships is possible while still achieving early retirement in less than ten years.  Life on a budget doesn’t mean depriving yourself of rich experiences!

Who is The Frugal Vagabond?
Frugal Vagabond: The Frugal Vagabond is a blog written by me (The Vagabond) with support and input from my fiancé.  I’m an engineer, and my future wife is a retail manager.  We live in the San Francisco Bay Area with our two dogs, and we both grew up here.

Both of us grew up in households that spent a lot, and saved very little.  When we met, we both had a lot of bad financial habits that were totally unsustainable.  Though I consider us to be very disciplined financially now, it wasn’t always so.

We are avid travelers (I’ve traveled to over fifty countries, and together we’re approaching thirty), but because of our quest for financial independence, our approach to travel has changed in recent years.  We are more open to traveling to unexpected places on error fares, credit card miles, and other travel hacks.  Just last year, we nabbed $320 round trip tickets to Egypt, $220 round trip tickets to Armenia, and free travel to Mexico, France, Croatia, Bosnia, Austria, and the Czech Republic on points.  That’s a lot of travel for $540 in cash spending!

Our goal is to retire before the end of 2019 and adopt a slow travel lifestyle around the world.  At the moment, Barcelona is the front-runner to be our first destination in retirement.

Why did you start your blog?
Frugal Vagabond: More than anything, I started The Frugal Vagabond as an exercise to stay motivated and focused.  In early 2015, just before I started the blog, my fiancé’s mother died very tragically and unexpectedly.  Even though we were already on the path to financial independence, it made the goal of total freedom to spend with the people we love seem more urgent and more important.  In the midst of so much sorrow, we were looking for a dream to hang onto, and FIRE was it.

I use the blog to flesh out my own thoughts on a lot of topics.  I often sit down to write an article with a general subject matter in mind, but find that I really discover my feelings about it through writing.  I think that even if nobody were reading, I would still write the blog. It helps me to work out a lot of things, both personal and financial.

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What are your favorite Blogs?
Frugal Vagabond: Mr. Money Mustache was my introduction to the concept or early retirement, so that is always my go-to.  I’m somewhat active in the forums there, and the discussion gives me a lot of inspiration for posts on my own blog.

More recently, Go Curry Cracker is a personal favorite, because they’re living the exact lifestyle we dream of.  Another thing I like is that Jeremy shares the positive and negative aspects of he and Winnie’s lifestyle.  I think that’s something people need in order to really believe FIRE is possible:  authenticity.

When did you first become financially literate?
Frugal Vagabond: I first started tracking my expenses in late 2010.  At that time, I was being crushed by high-interest credit card debt, despite my decent income.  I can’t say what it was that led me to Mr. Money Mustache, but I must have found him shortly after he started the site, as I was still starting to dig out.  It took me about two years to be free of consumer debt, and another full year before I was secure enough to start saving and investing.  By early 2013, I began to invest in a taxable account, entirely in VTSAX at that time.  This was obviously not optimal tax-wise, but it was a big step!

Around that time, I lost my job and had a five-month period of unemployment.  Without a job and freshly out of debt, frugality was even more important.  I started working as an independent contractor to make ends meet, but have since found that it’s a great fit for me.  In fact, I think self-employment has a number of advantages for aspiring early retirees.

Like everybody else, our financial knowledge and wisdom are always improving.  I am proud to say that most of our tweaks are minor now, but there is always room for a critical eye on the budget!

What was the last item you regretted purchasing?
Frugal Vagabond: I replaced my fiancé’s five-year-old smart phone at Christmastime with a refurbished iPhone 6.  I got a great deal and excitedly proclaimed to her that this wonderful, unlocked GSM phone would allow her to use it around the world, and would carry us through retirement.  The phone that arrived has a ton of physical and mechanical defects.  We’re in customer service hell trying to get someone (Apple or the vendor) to replace it.  I regret my smug attitude and getting this particular phone, but I don’t regret the money I saved!

If you died today, would your family be okay from a financial stand point?
Frugal Vagabond: It’s hard to say, truthfully.  My fiancé and I are at different places on our journey, but we’re improving together.  She grew up in a family where love was expressed by giving “stuff,” so things have a high emotional value to her.  I don’t have the same connection with objects, so when my fiancé generously spends to give me or someone else she loves something, it can slow down our progress a bit.  We talk about the logistics of FIRE all the time, but I could do a better job of making sure she was confident in how to manage our passive income and safe withdrawal.  I’m going to work harder on that in the coming years.

We’re also obviously not all the way to “FU” money just yet, either.  I write a series on the blog about where we could retire on our current safe withdrawal rate, and some of those places are wonderful.  I just wouldn’t want her or our future kids to be trapped anyplace.  The idea is to arrive at FIRE with all the options in the world.

I believe that if push came to shove, my fiancé and our future children will be well taken care of.  She’s tough and resourceful, and very hard working.

What are you teaching (or will you teach) your kids about money?
Frugal Vagabond: Money is a tool.  Just like any other tool, it can be used responsibly or irresponsibly.  If we FIRE when we expect, our children will grow up knowing only parents with all the time in the world for them.  That is both very fortunate and very dangerous.

We don’t want our kids to think that just because mom and dad no longer work, that money is infinite and disposable.  For that reason, our kids will be provided for and supported, but they won’t have access to infinite wealth.  They’ll have to make their own way in the world financially (though obviously, they’ll have our help).

What’s your dream job?
Frugal Vagabond: I actually had my dream job once.  I was a police officer.  For a variety of personal reasons, I’m not any more, but I was privileged to work with a lot of people who got up every day and genuinely tried to make things better and safer for people.  I had the opportunity to save lives, to protect the voiceless, and to go to sleep every night with a sense of deep satisfaction.

A career in law enforcement is a difficult burden to take on these days.  At best, people see you as the embodiment of government, and at worst, presume you to be evil.  I can only say that it was an honor to work with the people I did, and that every one of those I knew personally was a good person with noble motivations.  If that’s not the perfect job, I don’t know what is

I hope that your readers will consider checking out the site and joining us on our journey to financial independence.  There is so much great personal finance advice out there; It’s easy to find tax strategies, investment advice, and stories of incredible accumulation.  I think that we bring a fresh and authentic experience to the table.  Even our imperfect, always-improving approach is paying off, and we are moving to FIRE at a speed that neither of us expected.

I think the site has some content that you can’t find anywhere else.  Anyone interested in real estate investment, but who is having trouble figuring out exactly how to get started finding, analyzing, and buying properties may enjoy the real estate series.  If you’re adventurers like us who may be interested in a retirement abroad (or a period of slow travel), check out my series on retiring abroad on a fixed budget, as well as my more comprehensive articles about single countries like Spain or France.  To those interested in saving money through dental or medical tourism, please check out my ongoing series about my dental tourism trip to Thailand.

11 thoughts on “Interview Series: The Frugal Vagabond”

    1. Hey, Brian, thank you so much for including me in the series! It’s an honor to be included among so many other bloggers that I enjoy reading in your series, and to be lucky number fifty!

  1. Great interview. I love the part about the dream job. It’s very easy to forget that police officers are for the vast majority very good people who put their lives at risk for the community. I don’t have any police staff in my family, but I like to be reminded to appreciate the work they put in and risks they take for the community)

    1. Thanks a lot, Stockbeard. You’re absolutely right– most people get into it for all the right reasons. It was an privilege to spend a part of my life among them.

    2. Agreed! I do have a family member who was a police office for over 30 years. It can be a thankless job, we can not overlook their service and sacrifice.

  2. I love this interview. My father passed away 12 years ago at a young age. He and my mother had so many plans for their retirement that just didn’t happen so my husband and I are bound and determined to find our financial security early so that we wont have to worry about the small things and can focus on spending time and making memories with the people we love. Its cool to see someone else on a similar path.

    1. Thank you so much for the kind words, Elise, and I’m very sorry to hear about the loss of your dad. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you how much a loss like that can put things in perspective. My fiancé’s mom had suffered from many years of fallout from work-related injuries, and it just made us realize how toxic a long, stressful working life can be to your health.

      We’re 100% with you on priorities. It’s inspiring to see you and your husband’s focus for us, too.

  3. I love the idea of traveling the world with my family while being financially free to do so. Great interview and great inspiration. I love how he said he already had his dream job before when he was a police officer. It shows that life isn’t all about choosing the one thing that will always make you the happiest or that will make you the most money. Life has so much more to it than that. Great stuff!

    1. Thanks, Laura! If anything, our lives of the past ten years have shown us just how unpredictable life can be, and the importance of rolling with the punches. Despite the ups and downs, we are still very happy and enjoy our lives. FIRE is an amazing tool for withstanding the unexpected!

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