How did I become so frugal?

I know that I haven’t posted much yet, and more importantly I haven’t posted much about living frugally. But that’s about to change. The road to get here – to get to the point where we are physically resident in France – has not been easy. Any of you who follow my Instagram will know that.

So putting on my psychotherapist’s hat for a moment, if we want to know the present then we must first understand the past.

I’ve not always been brilliant with money. I came out of university with debt, student loans, and credit cards. I knew things weren’t good when I had to use a credit card to buy food. I even worked to try to earn enough to get by but it all ran out really quickly. I lived off my loan and shopped cheaply. My friends and I now joke about the dubious quality alcohol we used to drink – a poor man’s copy of Lambrini as I recall – but the truth was we couldn’t afford anything else.

Having my first job as a graduate was great and paid reasonably well, but I already had debts and was living with someone who earned a very meagre wage. I ended up subsidising our lives and somehow would always end up with nothing at the end of the month. Credit cards seemed like the obvious way to fix the situation, but of course it wasn’t.

I slowly became aware of the amount I was spending. Driving to work and back each day cost £30-£40 a week and I felt it keenly (shout out the Southampton’s traffic issues!). I was presented with an opportunity to make a change after I received a pay-out after a car-crash of around £3,000. At the time I knew that I had credit cards, a graduate overdraft and a loose understanding of how much I was spending at the time. £3,000 wasn’t going to make much of a dent in the balance, so I could decide to spend it (I wanted lots and lots of things back then, mostly from Topshop and ASOS) or I could use it to pay off some debt. To facilitate making the decision I decided to draw up a spreadsheet of all outstanding credit cards. I was horrified to learn that my grand total was around twenty-seven thousand pounds of unsecured debt. Aside from some fantastic memories of trips to America and a few places in Europe, a full wardrobe and an overfurnished home I really didn’t have anything to show for it.

Thankfully, I decided to tackle my financial denial and paid off a card. I proceeded to learn more about how to limit the expense of paying my cards off – moving to zero percent cards and doing some damage limitation on the interest. I quickly learned how addictive it is to pay off debt, to which I almost entirely credit the forum. If you’re in the UK, have debt and are unfamiliar, I highly recommend checking it out.

My frugality ebbed and flowed over the years, but when I decided to leave my career in IT and retrain to become a therapist I knew that I would be exchanging material comforts for psychological ones. Being self-employed added an additional strain to this adaptation and the years where my business was starting out were some of the hardest of my life. I had a large mortgage on a house that I had once intended to sublet the rooms of, however, due to some personal changes (i.e. getting into a serious relationship!), that didn’t come about. It meant finding a large mortgage payment every month along with covering bills and my newly rented office. Looking back on it now I almost wince. I remember taking a temporary role doing admin in the NHS for six weeks, and its no lie to say that I cried when I received my first incredibly meager payslip.

Fortunately necessity is the mother of invention, and I adapted my outgoings as much as I possibly could to limit the need for income. I ran an airbnb from my house. I sold things on eBay, I did small one-off jobs and opened another small business to supplement my therapeautic income. I easily worked 60 hours a week toward the end of my time in the UK. I was exhausted.

Do you remember where you were when the Brexit vote was reported? I do. I felt bereft. It was all anyone could talk about. It felt like grief, and in a way, it was. I was grieving the idea that I would never get to France. That place that I had loved but recently overlooked as I strove to make it out of the red. I certainly couldn’t afford to go on holiday there and it had grown distant in my memory. So I was poor, my country had voted (in my opinion, don’t @ me) to make itself poorer. I had ridden out the last recession in a well paid job using credit. I knew I wouldn’t be able to ride out another.

My partner is brilliant. He supports all of my crazy ventures and I feel as though he is my biggest cheerleader. But I wasn’t sure how he would feel about a suggestion to leave the UK. I knew I didn’t want any more debt, so I researched house prices in France (truth be told I had been a part-time French property tourist through various websites for years) and we worked out whether we could feasibly survive on what equity we had in the UK. It was obvious that one or both of us would need to continue to work – and I had enjoyed so much success with my psychotherapy business that I wanted to carry on whatever we chose.

Would I say that I am an impulsive person? Yes. Is my partner? Less so, but after a wine… also yes. So we made the decision that precipitated the adding of thousands of micro-tasks (and some positively maxi-tasks) to our joint to-do list. We decided to move to France. Over the coming weeks I’m going to go into the various ins and outs of that process, as well as any financial learnings which we have gained along the way – so that any of you following us might have some more insight than we did.

Speak soon – L x


  1. Paul Doust
    January 21, 2019 / 8:02 am

    Keep those blogs coming! I’m writing this on my commuter train to London when I should be doing my Frantastique course. Chapeau to you and your beau. x

  2. Maria
    July 29, 2021 / 7:31 pm

    Just found your blog and enjoying reading your story.
    PS oh yes, I remember where I was when I heard the result of the Brexit vote. Man, that was a depressing day.

    • Laura Harley
      August 18, 2021 / 1:12 pm

      thank you! oh yes, it changed my life – and the lives of so many. now I just hope that we can all make the best of it that we can.

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