My Latest Frugal Hobby: Photography

After creating Distilled Dollar earlier this year, I faced a photography dilemma — between using stock photos or my own photos.

In the process of deciding to use my own photos, I have learned a few things about photography, frugality & myself.

Photography, just like frugality, is about capturing the beauty that is already there.

The simplicity of it might cause us to overlook the value before our eyes.
Seeing as how this blog includes topics on frugality and finding ways to save money, it seemed like using stock photos would be the wrong choice. Yes; there are free stock photos, but every time I found a photo I liked, it required my credit card.

Stock photos look much better than what I am capable of capturing and so they naturally would lead to more readers.

I was tempted to make the purchase and move on to bigger and better things — like struggling with HTML code and fixing fonts.

Often with frugality, the initial choice is tough but yields more long-term happiness. I choose to walk 20 minutes to work each day instead of driving or taking public transportation. This decision has led to a healthier lifestyle AND an opportunity to save money. A win-win that has turned into a habit. I couldn’t imagine my commute being any other way now.

In a similar fashion, I decided to put my skills to the test and use my own photos. At first, this was a difficult adjustment as I was not one to usually take photos.

This decision resulted in more writing material; it provided me with space to reflect on some of my ideas, and it saved us a few bucks along the way.

Mark that as a win-winwin.

Sometimes, it is all about framing things in the right light.

You don’t need to exert any great amount of physical effort.

Taking the right shot can happen with a subtle change in perspective and you end up with something you never could have imagined.

Take for example, the picture I used for my Four Phases of Financial Independence post. It is a simple of photo of clouds amongst skyscrapers.

Clouds Amidst Skyscrapers
Compare that photo to this one. Same south facing angle, same location. Different weather conditions and different lighting.


There is a lot more going on in the second shot. You can see Lake Michigan, Millennium Park, multiple concert venues, people travelling to and from various destinations. Even the horizon is filled with more objects for the eye to be drawn to.

Despite the second photo having more detail, the first photo is more intriguing and appealing because of its simplicity.

Just as with personal finance, a simple analogy often has the largest impact on my finances.

The analogy that 1% extra in savings each year means I can escape the rat race 731 days early feels tangible and real because of its simplicity.

I can visualize each of those days, waking up on my schedule and doing what I want to do. Feeling the freedom and security that comes with Financial Independence.

Most of all, feeling the confidence to take on something new.

That 1% analogy has a clearer message for me than hearing, ‘save early and often,’ or, ‘put compound interest to work’.

Okay, back to photography…

My level of simple photography is achievable with any smart phone. I say simple because my level of photography does not compare with what professional photography is able to accomplish.

Only a few years ago, this level of photography would involve a list of expensive items such as a camera, lenses, film, possibly a tripod, software, filters and more. Now, you can get relatively high quality shots from a phone you already have.

As I move forward with this blog, I intend to include more pictures of my hometown, Chicago, as the cover photos for my posts.

This new hobby of photography has made my path to financial independence much more enjoyable, by helping me see the value that’s already in front of me.

What frugal hobbies do you enjoy? Are there any new ones you are thinking about picking up? (My other hobbies not mentioned here include cooking, reading & my latest hobby is obviously blogging.)

Master Distiller

24 comments… add one
  • [email protected] Apr 5, 2016, 1:15 pm

    Beautiful – the photos and your overall philosophy. There is so many rewards to be gained by doing things for yourself. Thank you for the reminder that sometimes focusing on the simple will help us make extraordinary gains.

    • Distilled Dollar Apr 6, 2016, 4:58 am

      I’m glad it helped and thank you! I often see the immediate benefits of frugality overlooked, which can be a shame given all the benefits associated with yourself projects.

  • Allan @ The Practical Saver Apr 5, 2016, 6:25 pm

    These are beautiful. I believe that many times, it’s good to take your own photos. This way you are able to capture the moment. I want to use my own photos for my blog posts but I am not a good photographer to make the story short.

    Congrats on having a new hobby.

  • Larry Green Apr 6, 2016, 3:52 am

    I love the linkage between your use of photography and frugality in general. It is amazing how much thought and technique actually goes into professional photography. My father was extremely into it as a hobby when he was in the Navy and I remember him talking about the different techniques. He is still astounded at the quality we are able to capture today in a smart phone without all the equipment that he needed. However, there is still a lot that can be learned in order to take the quality up a notch.

    • Distilled Dollar Apr 6, 2016, 5:06 am

      I’m finding most of my hobbies are linking to frugality these days, haha.

      I love the story about your father. Professionals and amateurs constantly amaze me with what they’re able to capture.

  • Tawcan Apr 6, 2016, 1:33 pm

    That’s awesome, photography is a hobby of mine as well. After a bit of work I’ve turn this hobby into a side hustle/business. Is this something you’re pursuing one day? It’s great to be able to take pictures and get money for that. I usually like to use my own pictures on my blog as well.

    Love your linkage between photography and frugality. There are so many analogies you can apply for both.

    • Distilled Dollar Apr 7, 2016, 6:52 am

      Whoa, that’s awesome! I don’t know if my pictures are of $ quality quite yet, but that would be an interesting day! Haha

      I didn’t think there would be much overlap between photography and frugality at first, but the more I tried to find better pictures, the more it dawned on me.

  • Rob @ Money Nomad Apr 6, 2016, 9:22 pm

    I love how you’ve associated photography with PF lessons. That’s one comparison I’ve never seen before, but think is well warranted. And I applaud you for using your own photographs. That’s one step I haven’t been able to take in the blogging world as of yet (largely because, as my wife mentions, every picture I take includes my finger). Great blog and best of luck as you continue on towards financial independence!

    • Distilled Dollar Apr 7, 2016, 6:59 am

      “…includes my finger” haha!

      I still take photos where I get home and then realize…my finger covered up a quarter of the screen. Recently, my biggest trouble has been getting some blurry photos because I move too much. As with any skill, we can all get better over time.

  • amber tree Apr 7, 2016, 3:47 am

    Some great shots that you make. I agree with you: Photography is a great frugal hobby. It is also a hobby of mine.

    Now hat the kids are getting older, I hope to have more time again. The goal is to have my blog filled with pictures of mine. For now, I am using mainly older pictures. I plan to go out and make new shots soon!

    I look forward to see more pics og Chicago. IT is a city that is on my wish list to visit. a little preview would be nice

    • Distilled Dollar Apr 7, 2016, 7:15 pm

      That’s good to hear as the pictures on your blog already look great. If those are older pictures then it’ll be sweet to see what the new ones will look like.

  • The Green Swan Apr 7, 2016, 6:25 am

    I’m definitely down with using your own photos. Learning just a little bit about photography can help you take some great photos. My wife has always had an interest in photography so I plan on incorporating more of her photos on my blog.

    • Distilled Dollar Apr 7, 2016, 7:20 pm

      Nice! If she’s all about sharing her photos then that’ll be a perfect way you can both be a part of developing your site.

  • Dividendsdownunder Apr 7, 2016, 9:57 pm

    Those are some really cool shots. We do like to dabble in taking pictures, but probably not quite to the standard that you are taking! We love to make memories, but sometimes it’s hard to remember a few years later, so a few photographs of the occasion is a great way to help you remember later.


    • Distilled Dollar Apr 9, 2016, 2:31 pm

      That’s a great point about having the photos be there for memories down the road. I enjoy the aspect that this blog is essentially a live chronicle of our lives, but since it is anonymous, it is quite the same. On a personal note, I am curious what I will think when I look back on these posts years from now.

  • Psychic Nest Apr 8, 2016, 1:57 pm

    Hi Matt,

    Having your own photos in your website / blog is what makes it unique. So it is what you said, a win – win situation. As for me, I love collage artistry (I have portfolios in my website) which helps me express my creativity and inspire my students too.


  • Vicki Apr 22, 2016, 3:03 pm

    Hi Matt,
    Just coming across your blog and enjoying it so far! I am just getting in to blogging/setting up a website and the pictures on your site caught my attention too. I haven’t done much research on stock photos but I wondered about finding free ones vs. the ones that cost. I wouldn’t want to infringe on copyrights, etc. If anyone has a good link to information about that – I’d appreciate it. Looking forward to more of your posts!

    • Distilled Dollar Apr 22, 2016, 6:40 pm

      The blogging community has been relatively open (in my experience), so you could probably just email bloggers you see who use stock photos and ask them for some resources. The added bonus is you’ll end up in contact with a few cool folks.

      Best of luck on your site!

  • KH Apr 23, 2016, 11:01 pm

    So strange! I guess “frugal” people think alike in lot of ways. Maybe someone should do a brain study of the “frugal” mind.
    My parents noticed I was “frugal” since at least the age of 6 or 7, when I would go to the supermarket with them and tell them, “don’t buy that one, this one costs less”.
    And I started taking photos in college after I borrowed a Pentax K-1000 camera that my father never really used. I asked him if I could take it up to school with me, and after that, just naturally started taking it everywhere I went.
    I’ve cut back in recent years because I like taking nature scenes much more than photos of people, and there’s less “nature” in a big city.
    Oh, and my undergraduate degree was in accounting. I took/passed the CPA exam, but stupidly went into computers and not getting certified because computers/PCs were just coming into their own at that time and I was transfixed by what could be done with a spreadsheet (and programming).

    • Distilled Dollar Apr 24, 2016, 10:51 am

      That’s interesting to hear you had an accounting undergrad and ended up with a tech career. I actually had similar thoughts as my career was starting off and I started to learn some basic levels of code. I had a few friends who were already making six figures within 3 years of working and I thought, hmm, maybe that’s a better route…

      That would be interesting to see if there’s anything significantly different in the brain chemistry of frugal people. It makes sense that frugal could have been an early advantageous trait amongst people. Frugal people would have conserved on resources and that would have increased the likelihood of success back in cave man days!

      Haha, this is just me speculating, but it is interesting to think about.

      • KH Apr 24, 2016, 8:12 pm

        I think you made the right choice in going the CPA route.
        I’m not saying that in accounting one can just stay stagnant, but tech constantly changes. You may be great at something in tech, only to find out that’s now considered yesterday’s news. And then there’s the matter of outsouring/insourcing and H1Bs to consider. Companies believe they can get the same amount of work and quality out of two to three unproven H1Bs for the price of one qualified person who actually knows what they’re doing. But an H1B can’t pretend to have passed the CPA exam and can’t pretend to have the work experience that is required for actual certification.
        Those letters “CPA” after your name should open doors even if you pursue work in other areas should you decide to make a change of career before you consider yourself financially independent.

        • Distilled Dollar Apr 25, 2016, 6:57 pm

          Those are some interesting points about the H1Bs.

          The one great part about the CPA is that it offers some flexibility as you mentioned. I avoid the risk as you mentioned, of studying one type of technical area, only to have it completely removed. Granted, there is some risk as I study taxes and those could be completely removed via a change in the tax code, but typically, change and simplification means more work for CPAs.

  • Kevin Mathew Jun 3, 2017, 9:31 pm

    Awesome philosophy, Matt! I find myself using my own photos as well, as I feel it adds to the personality of who I am and what I want my blog to be.
    Frugality becomes a passion and a lifestyle, similar to photography. You start viewing things from a different lens (pun intended) when you commit to frugality.

Leave a Comment

View the Best Finance Blogs