Frugal Living Doesn't Mean Doing Without

With an average annual income of $6,500 for a family of six, the Huff family built their own homes, took budget vacations and sent the children to college.

| January/February 1970

swimming pool

The Huffs were able to build their own home (complete with a swimming pool), travel internationally and send their children to college on an annual income averaging less than 6,500 dollars.

Photo by MOTHER EARTH NEWS staff

A few years ago an old friend from the East Coast came to visit us. He enjoyed his stay in our modern country house, roamed our wooded hills, rode our saddle horses, swam in our pool and sunned himself on the terrace of our guest cottage. One evening after dinner — there was wine from a neighboring vineyard — we projected some color pictures of a recent trip to Mexico. This led to lively talk about the year we were soon to spend traveling in Europe. A refugee from a crowded New York City apartment, our guest was obviously impressed with our way of life. In fact, when he got home, he sent us a letter larded with envy.

"You had led me to believe you were a poor man," he wrote. "Now I know you have been deceiving me. However, I forgive you because I was glad to catch a glimpse of how a millionaire lives."

My wife Fran and our two youngest daughters were sitting before the picture window in our living room as I read this letter to them. When I got to the word "millionaire," my daughters burst into giggles. I looked at my wife. Her face was serious. "Shall I disillusion him?" I asked.

As most women, Fran seldom answers a question directly. "The funny thing is that it's all true," she said. "We do have these things, and we do take those trips. In fact, I'm not sure that we don't come closer to living like the rich than the rich do these days."

Sixteen Years of Frugal Living

She was right. Fran, my four daughters and myself have for the past 16 years lived the life of millionaires — at least in most of the ways that we think count. We've had a handsome home in one of the loveliest parts of California. We've had plenty of space to move around in. We've had animals, we've had a pool, we've had many months of foreign travel. And we've sent two daughters to college.

But the curious thing about all this — and it's hard to make people believe it — is that during this time our total income has averaged less than $6,500 a year. As it happens, that figure is close to the average for American families. What's more, we have not supplemented our income by dipping into capital. We've never had much to dip into.

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