A Designed Life, Frugality is Not Enough 

On a ferry in the Norwegian Arctic, Senja Island in the background
On a ferry in the Norwegian Arctic, Senja Island in the background
On a ferry in the Norwegian Arctic, Senja Island in the background

While Ju and I have been back in the UK,  we’ve had conversations about our unusual lifestyle, in particular about living frugally. While it is true we’re careful in how we spend money, just being frugal alone would never give us the lifestyle we have, where from age 43 neither of us,  realistically, have to work again. To do what we do,  we had to deliberately design our lives,  much like an architect would design a house.

Life architecture: that’s what this post is about, deliberately designing your life.

It would be untrue to make out we were as organised as an architect throughout this process. Thinking about it,  it’s only after the fact we realised we’d done this design work. If we had known what we were doing some years back,  that we could create our lives rather than letting them just play out, we’d have stepped out of the rat race some time earlier.  That’s why I’m writing this down,  in the hope that it might help someone else atttain their chosen lifestyle more quickly.

During the iterative lifestyle design approach we ended up following (which we are still following),  we came up with these requirements for our lives:

  1. We wanted to live in bricks and mortar while in the UK.
  2. We wanted to be able to travel as and when we pleased, for a long as we wanted to.
  3. We wanted to avoid being forced to spend long periods of time in negative and cynical environments.
  4. We wanted financial security through a range of passive income streams.
  5. If and when we chose to do either paid or volunteer work,  we wanted it to feel ethical and fulfilling to us.
  6. We wanted to live close to our families while in the UK.
  7. We wanted to live in a town centre,  within walking distance to shops,  restaurants, pubs, library, gym, bus into the city and so on.
  8. We no longer wanted lives in which anxiety and depression played any part.
  9. We wanted all of this by age 50. Then by age 45. And finally by age 43.

Thinking back, this was a lot to ask!  Somehow we didn’t let that deter us,  and we worked out what we broadly needed to do in life in order to meet these requirements. This is broadly how we ‘designed’ our lives to meet the above requirements:

  • We realised our financial education was lacking,  so taught ourselves the basics of investing through various books and blogs. We also leaned heavily on positive thinking resources,  just Google Tony Robbins and you’ll get the idea. Everybody say Aye!
  • We realised limiting our spending would enable us to meet our goals far more quickly.  After travelling for months in North Africa and Eastern Europe, our previous (already reduced) spending patterns looked wildly extravagant anyway, so this area turned out to be quite easy to achieve.
  • We noted that small space living had numerous positive effects for us. We had less space to store stuff,  so we bought less. The less space we used, the more rooms we could let out to others. And general costs fell too: heating, repairs and so on.

Those three areas formed the cornerstones of our ‘initial life design’.  Frugal living, you’ll notice, is only one of the stones. Without the small space living and investment knowledge,  we’d still be commuting to the cubicles for another decade at least. I even find it difficult to think of our lives as being particularly frugal,  if I’m honest, we’re efficient in our spending,  that’s all. We think purchases through, we consider the downsides of buying (the initial cost is just the start), we use our own skills where we want to rather than paying others, and we’ve designed ourselves the time to get the things we need for less. We travel endlessly, we eat out, we have a broad array of gadgets, we are well fed,  warm and clothed. And no,  we no longer feel anxiety or depression.

The design process goes on. After writing this we’re sitting down for another goal setting session with one another, to assess our next set of requirements, to build on what we already have.

Can I recommend designing life?  Of course I can, although I fully accept it isn’t easy. Once you get started with it though, the idea of letting life drift by, or letting others design your life for you, suddenly feels quite outrageous. Your life, your time,  which can never be bought back, is passing.  You can’t have a second crack at it.

Own your life,  design it to be whatever you want it to be.

Cheers, Jay


  1. What I really enjoy abut reading your posts is that I know, whatever the subject, it will have a positive message. Great words and I’m looking forward to following your preparation for the next trip. Cheers Deb :)

  2. I found it very liberating when I realised that I don’t have to worry again about buying new carpets or curtains, washing machines or cars or TV’s etc…As you say, if it doesn’t fit in the motorhome you don’t need it or want it.
    Good luck in all your future travels.

  3. Val and I are both now retired and just love the freedom of just going wherever we please, for as long as we want with Sparkey ( our Springer). Not knowing what is round the next corner or other side of the wonderful Luberon mountains and now we have you three with us in Bessie each night. Enjoy, take care and we are looking out for Dave.

  4. Life seems to us about choices, each choice takes you in a different direction. We now view life nearly as a process and one to be enjoyed. Your advice and assistance through our adventure has made it better. So thank you so much for being you guys. You rock, as my god daughter no 1 says.

    ATB David and Karen

  5. So you are now within the top section of Maslow’s hierarchical needs pyramid. Not many people get there. Now work your way to the very tip :-)

    • We’re trying Tim! There’s usually some element or other of the lower sections of the hierarchy which we have to keep a focus on too. Cheers, Jay

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