Sara Tetreault has discovered the beautiful secret of frugal living, freeing her family from financial stress, and enabling them to live stylishly yet simply. She has created a gorgeous blog to inspire others to trim their living expenses, and share her tips on how to thrive on frugality.
Sara is out to redefine the word 'frugal' into something lovely, natural and effective.
Her blog Go Gingham shares simple, money-saving tips for cleaning, gardening and cooking. Gingham is Sara’s favourite fabric, and to her it is “fresh, timeless, cheerful, just a little sassy, and a tad bit old fashioned.” This spirit infuses her blog and her whole approach to life.
Saving money isn’t the whole focus – it’s about living well, simply.
1.Before you started living frugally, you write that you used to work full time for Polo/Ralph Lauren corporate. What motivated you to start living frugally?
I didn’t start out to be a frugal living expert but I do like efficiency, being smart with money and resources, and not being wasteful. All of those combined equal frugal. It’s been a process over the years beginning when my husband and I were first married and working on our fixer-upper home and trying to pay off our student loans. The combination of living on less income, paying off debt, and saving more money than we were spending, really helped us clarify how our lifestyle could be enjoyable and yet not cost a lot of money.
2. What has frugal living allowed you to do that you otherwise wouldn’t have been able to?
Living frugally has allowed us to enjoy time together as a family and travel. By always saving as much as we could during our twenties, we’ve been able to have more choices about how much we want to work now and be prepared for the financial surprises that inevitably come up in life.
3. You’ve put a lot of your life onto your blog! What encouraged you to start blogging about your lifestyle?
I always thought everyone was living simply and saving for the future - or for a particular financial goal. After the financial melt-down of 2008, when I saw that so many families were hurting and their finances weren’t keeping up with their lifestyles, I decided it was time to share what has worked for our family. We’re always working to keep our costs down but keep our life experiences up.
4. Your website is gorgeous – very pretty and elegant. How did you go about building it?
Thank you. I’ve done all the work on the site myself which is a small miracle considering prior to launching Go Gingham, I was barely able to email a picture. Since I’m a DIY gal, I knew I could figure out how to do it myself and got a stack of books from the library about html, css and WordPress. My site is built on WordPress, which can have a steep learning curve at first but is the most customizable and it’s free.
5. A focus of your lifestyle is to use your time effectively and efficiently. Does frugal living give you more time to pursue your interests and goals?
Yes, it does. By approaching everything in life with the idea of “how can I do this simpler and with less cost” over time the small bits of money and time really add up. It’s allowed us to have breaks from the everyday grind of work, volunteer in our community, and to just be. Living frugally has allowed us to slow down and enjoy life.
6. Your website has a very community-focused feel. How do you let people know about your site and bring them to it?
I’m active on social media and tell everyone I meet about Go Gingham. I’m so thankful and appreciative when someone leaves a comment on my blog, and I try to reply back to them, as quickly as possible, much like an in-person conversation. By treating readers like friends and how I like to be treated, it’s become a strong, vibrant, and growing on-line community.
7. What do you hope to achieve in the future with your website? Are there any further goals you’re itching to pursue?
Do you mean after I take over the world with my stylish frugality?
I’m picturing a TV show that perhaps combines a DIY project, a cooking session, and a frugal living make-over. My husband and I are also working on writing a personal finance book. My husband started the book in 2003 and never pursued having it published because he thought it was too radical. We pulled it out recently and realized it’s not radical - it’s practical - and what people need to focus on today.
8. You offer coaching sessions for individuals and groups on the art of frugal living. How did you start teaching and coaching?
I began my speaking career by contacting our local library and offering my services. My first talk I did for free because I love libraries. Public libraries are a great place to start speaking if you’ve never done it before and you’d like to get started. I’m also collaborating with a financial planner on how to spread the frugal message, how it can help families, and how easy it is to make small changes to save money.
9. When you have a classroom of different people eager to learn about how to follow your lifestyle, what do you teach them?
First, I give them questions to think about to get them into a “frugal” mindset - Are you living the life you want to live? Can you afford your current lifestyle? Are you spending your time how you’d like? By getting people to think differently about their lives helps them view “frugal living” less as a sacrifice and more as a planned, well-thought-out experience. From there, I lay out straightforward and easy steps that everyone can apply regardless of their current financial situation.
10. You share some of your experiences on your blog of when you were home-swapping in Spain. Can you explain what home-swapping is and what your best experience so far has been?
Home swapping is trading homes with an exchange partner for a set amount of time. Experiencing life as a local, in a non-tourist area, and not in a hotel, is a much richer traveling experience. We’ve done 8 home exchanges - 4 to Europe and 4 in the US. We’ve enjoyed our experiences in Gouda, in the Netherlands and Alicante, Spain the most, probably because they were largely “down-time” rather than “high culture” as my kids call it - which means lots of museums!
11. Your two kids are now teenagers. How did they feel about frugal living and having chickens when they were growing up? Do they feel any differently about it now?
This is the life they’ve known so to them it seems regular. Both of my teens want to fly under the radar at school and right now - my son wants “store bought” granola bars for snacking on when he goes on the bus with his soccer team. My daughter doesn’t want to wear any clothing that’s “homemade” to school these days. Their wants are understandable during these transition years and ones that I can indulge. I know they’ll come back around someday.
My daughter is the one who talked us into our backyard chickens. There were 7 chickens in the backyard of our Gouda, Netherlands home exchange and we fell in love with them. They are funny creatures and my kids enjoy having them - although they don’t like cleaning the coop, which is one of their weekly chores.
12. You’ve been married to your husband for 22 years. How has he supported you in your lifestyle, and how does he feel about it?
My husband was really the idea-guy behind this lifestyle when we were first married. He’s my number one fan and helps me immensely behind the scenes at Go Gingham. He keeps us on track with our budget and appreciates how our lifestyle has allowed him more time with his family than most males in our society could only dream of having.
13. You say you save money by living frugally, so that you can live richly in other ways. We know ‘richly’ can be metaphorical, but is there anything material you really splash out on?
Apart from travel - shoes. I love shoes. I bought 2 pairs of Stuart Weitzman shoes (they were on sale) and my poor husband almost had heart failure! I bought the shoes almost 14-years-ago and I still wear them and they still look great. I try and stick with classic styles when it comes to shoes (and other clothing items) so that I can wear them for years to come.
14. If people are keen to give frugal living a try, what do you recommend as the best first step?
Start behind the scenes, start small, and pick things that work best for you. Behind the scenes can include things like saving on insurance costs or refinancing your home to a lower interest rate. Think “start small” because you want this to be successful. Don’t try and do everything over night, keeping in mind that it’s a process. Try not going out to a restaurant or getting take-out for a week and then see how it works. Not everyone wants to wear used clothing so maybe just take a break from shopping for a week and go for a hike or a walk instead.
15. You seem to really flourish from the way you live. What have you found to be the greatest benefit of frugal living?
Financial peacefulness has been the greatest benefit. I think by living below our means (or “living close to the ground” as we like to call it), we’ve been able to live a life that is simple and intentional. We’ve had our share of financial setbacks but thanks largely to living this way, we have been able to deal with them so far.
Another benefit to frugal living is that it’s green, too. I like to say that frugal living is good for the wallet and the environment. By thinking about our spending habits, by repairing and reusing items, and not wasting resources, we’re living frugally and respecting the environment at the same time.
Sara Tetreault blogs at Go Gingham, a website about "Living frugally allows you to live richly in ways that you choose." Sara cooks, gardens, sews and home-swaps her way through life, and loves to show us how she does it. Visit her on twitter at @GoGingham