Interview: Ruth, Mrs Hawkins House – A Zero Spend Year!


In my opinion this latest interview post is an exceptionally emotive story of real grit and determination whilst pursuing ambitious and personal goals. Well done from me Ruth!

I personally believe at my core that when the odds are stacked against us and we start to look for the edge in our situation; that our true growth and forward motion takes place in life. It is not when we are comfortable that we grow, but in fact when we are “uncomfortable” that we become resourceful.

I started FIRE Dave as a passion project in the Financial Freedom space, yet I knew deep down that it is a holistic approach to the 4 pillars of life that helps us achieve real FIRE and lifestyle by design.

In this brand new interview Ruth from Mrs Hawkins House details yet another real life example of living a “No Spend Year!”.

Particularly I like how Ruth refers to the simple things in life as what really matters, and learning to say “No” is something I still struggle with at times.

Wherever you are right now.. whatever you are doing.. put the phone on silent and give yourself permission to jump into Ruth’s FIRE world for 5 or 10 minutes, I certainly enjoyed this one..

Who are you, and how did you discover FIRE?

My name is Ruth and I run the blog Mrs. Hawkins House. I discovered FIRE several years ago during my ‘No Spend Year’. I came across a video about Mr. Money Moustache and from there I disappeared down the Youtube rabbit hole about financial freedom.

A few years ago I had to leave the workforce to care for a family member. This situation forced me to be at home almost all of the time. Work outside the home was not an option for me because of my caring duties.

Up until this point I had been in full time employment and I had been doing ok. I was fairly frugal and I saved regularly. I had very little in the way of debt and was always studying to improve my prospects of earning more.

I had made efforts to set up a business so that I could work from home. I borrowed to complete my training and to buy equipment, but the business failed. After a year and a half of beating my head off a brick wall in relation to increasing my income, I found my savings were almost completely gone and my debt was rising.

I had been separated from my ex husband for several years at this point, and it wasn’t until I had to submit a statement of means to my solicitor for divorce proceedings that I realised I was digging a dangerous hole for myself financially. The act of writing down my income, expenses and debts for my solicitor was the shock I needed to begin to look at money from a different perspective.

All I had ever really wanted in life was to earn enough to own a house and live a quiet life. I had tried so hard to make that happen and took it as a personal failing that I did not seem to be able to achieve this simple dream. If hard work had been the answer to financial stability I should have been rich already.

In a state of desperation I googled, ‘how to get out of debt’ and found that there was a whole world of people working towards financial freedom. In the next few weeks I learned that there was another way to set your life up and it didn’t involve being an employee. I began to learn about remote study, remote work, debt pay off, investing and passive income.

Changing my financial future had begun. A period of extremely frugality and debt pay off followed. I listened to Dave Ramsey a lot in the early days. Alongside Dave’s teachings and a severe no spend challenge, I paid off €10,000 in debt in just shy of 12 months.

On my income, I really did not have an extra €10,000 to pay towards the debt in one year, but I believed it was possible to, at the very least, give it a really good go. These are some of the things I did to find the money to pay off my debts;

• I slashed our food bill by 50%,
• I sold stuff on Facebook and DoneDeal
• I had a stall at our local car boot sale
• I hand washed all of our dishes by hand and dried all of our clothes on racks
• The heat was only on when the kids were at home
• I batched errands so that they were all done on one day of the week to save on diesel
• I used the last of my savings (about 14% of the overall debt)
• We had the cheapest Christmas we ever had at €500 for everything, including sending a few quid to Santa to help out with the presents
• Other presents and cards were made from scratch that year
• Clothes were repaired
• Bread was baked
• And no was my favourite word

Unless I had made it we weren’t eating it, and unless it was free we weren’t attending it. This was only going to be for one year so I knew we could do it. Talking to one of the kids about it recently, he was surprised to hear that we had done a no spend year. He hadn’t even noticed. He was 9 years old when I did my no spend year. This is testament to the fact that all kids really want is you and your attention. They don’t really care if they are having a homemade picnic or a paid for takeaway. Spending quality time with them is what they will remember in years to come.

What is the backbone of your FIRE strategy?

My FIRE strategy is in its infancy. Following the no spend year I put together an emergency fund and completed my degree. I graduated into the pandemic more determined than ever to make my life into what I wanted it to be.

I invested in some of the conveniences I chose to sacrifice in my no spend year by improving the insulation in my home, buying a dishwasher and buying a clothes dryer. I bought some office equipment, upgraded our internet connection and set up a decent workstation at home.

These purchases were all investments in my time. I had learned the hard way, that unpaid work done in the care of a family and the home should not be underestimated when trying to improve productivity. Frugality can leave you exhausted and the care of a family and home is unrelenting if you parent alone. Throw a special needs kid into the mix and you’ve already got full time job with overtime.

These might not be seen as FIRE strategies, but they have proven as important to me as learning about investing in the stock market or about compound interest. There is no FIRE in my life without a happy family and an organised home environment.

While I had begun to accept that work outside the home was always going to be a challenge for me, the pandemic cemented my notions about remote work. Notions became plans and I am now focused solely on replacing my income.

I’ve recently learned from Youtube about how to set up a website. I didn’t know a widget from a plug-in before the pandemic. After 5 months I published my website, I talk about family life on a budget, offer free resources to budgeting beginners and document my approach to financial freedom.

With replacing my current income as my sole focus for now, I am investigating various means of passive income.

I know this will take a couple of years to achieve. However I am a great believer in the concept of compounding efforts. Deliberate, intentional work done daily in a disciplined manner has always paid off ten fold in my life.

What do you plan to do once you reach FI?

I am not interested in being very rich nor am I interested in retiring early. My goal is still the same as before. I want to own my home outright and live a peaceful quiet life with my family.

The no spend year was merely a means to an end. I am very aware that the frugal life can become its own prison. Over the years as a part of frugal living communities, I have heard of people choosing to do things that I would never wish to experience in the name of frugality.
I have bottomed-out in the frugality stakes. I’m as frugal as I am comfortable with. Now I’m looking up, to see how I can move up.

I am due to get married in the next couple of years and move house to live with my future husband in the UK. Our separate goals will combine to help us to achieve our joint goals. We want to own a house outright as soon as possible, to grow a garden, to cook together everyday and to have a quiet life with our children and grandchildren around us.

As long as we have access to decent live gigs and occasional cold pints of beer we are both happy to live a simple life!

What are some books, podcasts or YouTube channels you recommend?

I recommend a mix so for money related topics:

The Total Money Makeover book by Dave Ramsey

12 Rules For Life, book mindset, by Jordan Peterson

Mr Money Moustache – classic FI blog, by Peter Adeney

 Jamerrill Stewart  – Home cooking, schooling, business!

Lydia Senn– Frugality Simplified, on YouTube


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