Shoestring Living: Frugality in action

Molly Logan Anderson

For me, there’s no better way to learn than seeing something in action. Frugality role models and financially prudent every day Americans, Eric and Melissa Marohn of Downers Grove, Ill., open up to give some insight into how frugality works for their family.

Choosing frugality

Most couples don’t have the exact same feelings about money, and the Marohn’s are no different. Eric, a retail research team leader for a management consulting firm and Melissa, an at-home mom and group exercise instructor, came to frugality via varied paths. Eric’s German immigrant grandparents instilled a saving mentality early on. “We as kids grew up with my Oma's black-and-white TV that was like 30 years old and we call cried when it died as we didn't want to go out and get a new TV,” Eric says. “We didn't need the latest or greatest and found value in the history/story behind things vs. the monetary value.” 

Melissa grew up with parents who always taught the value of hard work and the dollar. “My parents were well off, but they didn't give me everything they financially could,” Melissa says. “I don't mean that negatively at all.” Melissa tends slightly more toward spending, but learned that debt was something she wanted to avoid after venturing out on her own.

Making frugality work

The Marohn’s work together to stay on track with their financial goals. “Melissa and I talk about what is important to us and what we are willing to spend a bit more money on,” Eric says. “That means that we save money in other areas, but it allows us to enjoy life.” This means a favorite cup of coffee once a week, or saving for a dream vacation in celebration of their 10th anniversary. “We knew we wanted to enjoy some really good dinners so we got a hotel package that had breakfast included and ate a lot in the morning,” Melissa says. “We went to a Costco and bought things we could snack on for the lunch time and then had no guilt when we would go to out to dinner.”

Striking a balance

“The goal is to enjoy our life as we go through it, but also to be smart enough about saving so that we can enjoy our retirement and do things we love to do now and later in life,” says Eric, who’s thankful that Melissa helps him see the value in spending on important things. While Eric is in charge of managing retirement savings, Melissa takes an active role in the plan. Her ability to live in the moment keeps Eric from getting buried in planning too much for life’s unpredictable scenarios. 

Best advice

So what are the top tips of this fiscally wise couple? They recommend living by a budget to track spending and tweaking it over time to reflect priorities. In addition, keep lines of communication open so both parties in a relationship can vocalize their spending/saving comfort level. Get the most out of life by keeping your financial goals in check. “Don't go overboard either way,” Melissa says. “It is great to save money, but if it rules your life, then it doesn't make any purchase or thing that you do fun.”

Molly Logan Anderson is a freelance writer who lives in the western suburbs of Chicago with her husband, Mike, three kids and two labs. Join Molly on her family’s journey of living a frugal life and making financial freedom their reality.