Five years ago I started this blog. It was October 2009, a year after the Wall Street meltdown, and we were living in Manhattan at the time.
Our youngest child, Mark, was only one, but I knew that I needed to find another way to contribute to the world besides raising children. I wanted it to be something that could take me beyond the baby years into a possible career (something I had never found in my 20s).
I decided to combine my love of writing with my experience in raising a family on a tight budget. My friend, Jamie, helped me come up with the name, my mom designed the logo, my sister helped me get the website up, and my dad did the proofreading.
These four posts were on the site when I launched it via an email to all of my friends:
- 3 Super Fast Pasta Sauces Kids Love
- How to Organize a Clothing Swap Party
- Why I Don’t Worry About Grocery Coupons
- Never Ask Again: Where Does All the Money Go? which remains my all-time most popular post.
It turns out that both a blog and a baby were set in motion — our fourth child would be born nine months after I launched Frugal Mama. While we waited for him, I had fun building the new site I had just created. I treated the blog as a job, staying up late researching, studying books on blog marketing, and networking on Twitter.
Exciting things seemed to happen quickly. Within one month of launching the blog, I was asked to be the savings expert for a corporate blog, and within six months I was contacted by a publishing agent. I was noticed by bigger sites which sent traffic my way. I got invited to luncheons, parties, and speaking events.
But I began to see the tricky exchange that was involved in these invitations. On the one hand, it seemed smart to make connections, to get your name out, and network with other bloggers. On the other hand, you had to write about these events and, if you weren’t careful, your entire content could be hijacked by company agendas.
Mom bloggers were a relatively new figure on the scene, situated somewhere between the media and the consumer. And with the publishing industry crumbling, no one really knew who was leading whom and how anyone was going to make any money.
I remember going to a glitzy party for Teri Hatcher’s new site (now defunct) called GetHatched. It was a joint venture with Disney, and Hatcher was being photo-showered along with a bunch of executives and advertisers and starlets. I was wearing a plain, button-down oxford over a huge belly and feeling totally out of synch with the fast-talking, brazen slickness of the scene.
My old-fashioned version of the good life was not what was being presented by those with the power and the money, and that mismatch would reappear as a conundrum as the blog grew.
Anyway it was time to leave New York, because the odessey for Enrico’s career, which had started in Italy and had taken us to Cincinnati, northern Virginia, and New York, was now leading us to Syracuse.
We also welcomed Luke into the world. I took a three-month baby-moon, entrusting the blog to guest writers. When I re-emerged, I was ready to take aim again at my goal of becoming a professional writer. Focus is a very powerful thing, I discovered, as the heat of that focus smoldered until it sparked a fire.
It started with a local parenting magazine that began running my articles on childcare, traveling, and birth centers, and then the area NBC news picked me to do live segments as their “money-saving mom.” Soon after, TLC.com, a division of the Discovery Network, called to ask me to be part of their new website’s stable of writers, and then Babble wanted me to join their team of home bloggers.
Hard work really did pay off, I was excited to see, but the timing was nutty. It was time to pick up and move again — Enrico was done with his post-grad training and we were going to settle down. We found a fixer-upper in Washington, D.C., and thanks to a low point in the market, we were able to buy our first house.
We had only made a few emergency repairs when TLC wanted to start filming Frugal Mama Makeovers, a video series where I was to help contestants with money-saving challenges. I had become a working mother, but as with many small businesses, I had yet to make any profit and at times the workload was grueling.
After the video series wrapped up, we tiptoed into renovating, transforming our library into a foyer with coat closets and cubbies for backpacks, and re-landscaping to create fun stuff for the kids like a front yard vegetable garden and mini-orchard.
Then it was the ultimate compliment when The Washington Post wanted to do a feature on our simpler, slower lifestyle. Yet the irony of this climax was that the article put so much pressure on us that I wondered if being under the spotlight changes us to the point where we are no longer the very thing that is being spotlighted.
I found the answer to that question and more when I took an unplugged vacation with my family. I realized that the things that were really important to me — my family, my writing, my home and neighborhood — were becoming smaller as the gargantuan task of becoming Someone grew bigger. As I explained in this well-known post, the success of my blog was leading me away from the very values that were at the heart of it, and me.
So in a decision that I am still deeply grateful for, I took myself out of the game and scaled the blog back to the basics. I took down my ads, quit my job at TLC, took myself off media lists, and didn’t worry about all the “opportunities” I was missing. The peace was exhilarating.
For a while I had six contributing writers helping me, but taking on an editorial role was also more than I wanted to manage. Eventually I slowed down to publishing one post per month, or what I call slow blogging, and that rhythm feels just right.
There have been plenty of times when I wanted to take a hiatus, like when I got hacked and ended up losing all of the images from my site. (I’m still putting back the pieces from that calamity, but I’m happy about the new site design that transpired from it.) Or when all four floors of our house were under construction, and I was trying to manage the crew and keep it all under budget.
And then there was the time, two years ago, when I found out we were expecting another baby. Diana has been the best surprise of all. She has brought us all closer together, not only because she makes us laugh and fills us with love, but because she requires more of us, making every member essential to the family economy.
Sofia, 12, and Virginia, 10, now take turns getting their younger brothers, Mark, 6, and Luke, 4, ready for bed and reading the story. Everyone has a turn setting the table and sweeping the kitchen, and the boys have other jobs like unloading the groceries and entertaining Diana while I’m cooking.
They say if you want children to have their feet on the ground, then put some responsibility on their shoulders. We learned lessons like this during the lean years, and those experiences of being resourceful and paring down have molded us and made us who we are today.
A blog is hard to keep up for long years because it is based on a person’s life. People change. But even though our income has grown (thank God), I’m still a big fan of living simpler and slower. Not only does it save us money we can use for the future, but it makes me feel more connected to the people I love, the earth I live on, and the passions inside me.
I also have you to thank for helping me keep this blog alive. It’s not nuclear physics, but you have given me the sense that I am doing something worthwhile. I do love writing, but hearing from you is even better because it makes me feel useful. And that’s a great feeling.