Estelle didn’t get a single gift from her parents for her 1st birthday. The same no-gifts rule applied to Christmas, too.

“She had a wonderful time,” says Estelle’s mother, 33-year-old Liz Frugalwoods, which is the name she blogs under. “There’s more to life than buying things … none of the [parenting philosophies] talk about the importance of buying things, it’s about engaging your kids and spending time together.”

The thrifty mommy blogger says she’s never bought her 16-month-old daughter books, clothing or toys, not even a car seat or a crib.  

“It’s all hand me downs,” she says, adding that she doesn’t care that Estelle sometimes wears boy’s clothes or stained items. “We aren’t worried about crafting a perfect wardrobe, getting perfect things,” she says. “For me this is a great deal of relief, life is a lot less stressful for us,” she says.

Liz and her husband Nate, a software engineer, got freebies from friends, family and local parents’ and buy-nothing groups — these groups allow members to trade all kinds of goods — to get everything they needed for little Estelle other than things she can consume like food and medicine.  “When people are done having kids, done with the stuff, they want it out of their house,” she says. “I offer to pick it up and I offer to take everything. I sift through it, donate what I don’t use … It’s taking the burden off the person gifting you.”  (To make sure the car seat and crib were safe, she got it from a trusted friend who confirmed the seat had never been in any accidents and the crib was in good condition. She also looked online to ensure these items hadn’t had any recalls.)


Liz and Estelle Frugalwoods. (Liz Frugalwoods)


To save even more cash, Estelle and her mom don’t do any activities that cost money. Instead Frugalwoods looks for  free events at local libraries and community centers, hosts and attends playgroups, and goes on hikes nearly every day. (Estelle doesn’t watch any TV.)  “We live in the middle of nowhere [rural Vermont],” she says. Still “if we wanted to, we could go to a free playgroup any day of the week.”


Frugalwoods doesn’t even fall for the but-it’s-educational trap. She gets books for free or checks them out from the library and doesn’t believe that kids need brand-new educational toys, noting that what kids really need is love and attention from their parents.   “It’s easy to get caught up in the material goods arms race … I used to spend a lot of time and money worrying about what other people would think,” Frugalwoods says — adding that kids clothes often get dirty within minutes of putting them on anyway. Now I just worry about “what’s meaningful to me,” she says.

Frugalwoods calls herself a “frugal weirdo” but it’s this mentality that helps her spend only about $75 per month on items for her daughter, while the average American family with a child of that age spends about $260 per month on food, clothing and miscellaneous items for their kids. When you add in healthcare and childcare — which the Frugalwoods don’t pay for because Liz and Nate both work from home, so they watch Estelle, and get their health insurance fully paid for by Nate’s tech job — that number jumps to $600.

“The only things we buy for her [Estelle] are consumables,” Frugalwoods says. This includes organic milk from warehouse club BJs ($9 per month); food from various places including BJs and Hannaford’s ($30 – $50 per month); store-brand diapers from Wal-mart ($17.50per month); bulk wipes from BJs ($6); baby Motrin ($2 per month; replaces every 3 months roughly), diaper rash cream ($4); and vaseline ($2).

The roughly $75 per month on Estelle is only a small fraction of their total monthly costs, which typically  range from about $2500 – $3000 a month, most of that being their $1400 mortgage. Other larger expenses include food ($400 – $500 a month), gas and high-speed internet (about $75 a month each) and utilities ($60 a month). .

She says she’s able to do this, in part, because she and her husband were frugal for years before they had a baby — a topic she has blogged about extensively on her site — so they’re used to living cheaply. Even when baby Estelle grows up and begin asking for things, Frugalwoods says the family won’t be rushing to the local Toys R Us: “We’ll try to find the item for free or used (from a garage sale or thrift store), we’ll discuss whether it’s a need or a want, we’ll see if we can borrow it from a friend (if it’s a short-term use item), or [Estelle] can ask for it for her birthday or Christmas,” she says.

The frugality has a bigger purpose than just saving a few bucks: It’s teaching important lessons to Estelle. “I think it is teaching her to value things other than money, other than consumption,” Frugalwoods says. “I want her to be focused on what she can do in this world, not what she can buy.”