- Patagonia founder Yvonne Chouinard has lived a frugal life since his early days as a mountaineer and surfer.
- This includes eating cat food and taking soda bottles from trash cans to redeem for money.
- Even now, Chouinard still wears vintage clothes and drives a Subaru, The NY Times reported.
Patagonia founder Yvonne Chouinard saved money wherever he could.
Despite founding a company that prides itself on prioritizing employee well-being and sustainability over profit, Chouinard grew up scrimping and saving during his career as a professional rock climber.
Patagonia, which he founded in 1973, is now worth $3 billion. Earlier this month, Chouinard announced plans to spin off the outdoor-apparel retailer to a trust and nonprofit.
Chouinard lived an unusual life in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, partly because the nature of living in the wilderness as a mountaineer and surfer in beach shacks deprived him of modern comforts, and in part because of a desire to save money. , especially in the early days of Patagonia.
Here are some of his worst budget tricks from his early years, as recounted in his 2005 autobiography, “Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman.”
As a young adult, Chouinard had to adapt his life to the great outdoors so he could get the best of climbing and surfing. For example, in 1957, Chouinard and his friends spent a month in a beach hut in San Blas, Mexico, eating fish and tropical fruits and waxing their surfboards using local church candles, he wrote.
In the late 1950s he also earned gas money by “diving into trash cans and retrieving soda pop bottles.”
“Once I got a whole freezer load of partially frozen meat,” he added.
Before founding Patagonia, Chouinard made a living selling climbing equipment from the back of his car.
“Profits were small, though,” he wrote. “One week I lived on fifty cents to a dollar a day.”
One year he and his friend bought a few cases of damaged cans of cat food in San Francisco and took them to the Rockies for the summer, where their diet consisted of oatmeal, potatoes, ground squirrels, blue grass, and killed porcupines. With an ice ax, he said.
It wasn’t just food that he saved money on. While traveling with his friends in the late 1950s, “we were always sick from bad water and couldn’t afford medicine,” he said.
He said they would take charcoal from a campfire, mix a glass of water with half a cup of salt and drink the mixture until they vomited. Over time, he gradually acquired a natural “immunity” to low-quality water, he claimed
Even as his business grew, Chouinard continued to cut both personal and business expenses.
In 1966, Chouinard established a base for his equipment business, Chouinard Equipment, in the rented tin boiler room of an abandoned packing company slaughterhouse in California. The company’s first retail store was in an “ugly tin shed” furnished with old wood, he wrote.
Chouinard also had some unorthodox living arrangements.
“I sleep two hundred days a year or more in my old army-surplus sleeping bag,” he wrote. “I didn’t buy a tent until I was about forty, preferring to sleep under rocks and the branches hanging under an alpine fir.”
In the early 1970s, he and his wife lived in a beach shack for half the year and spent the summer months in the back of an old van until his wife converted the basement under their retail store into a temporary apartment.
Today, Chouinard still wears vintage clothes, drives a Subaru and has two modest homes in California and Wyoming, the New York Times reported. According to the publication, he does not even own a computer or a cellphone.