The Modern Minimalist

April 30, 2012 § 6 Comments

I’ve been without a cell phone for so long now that I hardly remember what it was like to have one. I’ve enjoyed the cost savings, and have found that our circumstances really only require one cell phone for our whole family – and it doesn’t have to be mine.

The problem I’ve been having lately, strictly from a minimalist perspective, is that when we hit the road, trail or beach, we cart along all of these things: A photo camera, my Flip camera for videos, one or two birding guides, George’s cell phone, an iPod for music and a GPS for geocaching. Sometimes we forget one of these items, causing much stress and anguish. Other times the batteries die, causing anger, frustration and swearing.

The upshot is that I’m thinking that my modern mode of minimalism might make me a candidate for a smartphone. A smartphone would allow me to have all of these things in one compact unit.

I bristle at the idea of sending any more of my hard-earned dollars to the House of Jobs, and I reeeallly hate the idea of a monthly fee for the dubious privilege of having a phone that seems just so consumery. But I love the idea of having just the one thing. It seems more minimal than what I’m currently doing. In fact, when I was playing with George’s sister’s iPhone at the birthday dinner, taking photos, videos and getting names for the constellations (coolest thing ever!) on one screen, I found myself really liking it for its simplicity.

I also really like the idea of Instagram. That sounds like fun, and it could be good for the blog. Right now, uploading photos is such a chore that you’ve probably noticed that I stopped doing it altogether.

So what’s a modern minimalist to do? Succumb to the consumer trappings found in iPhones, Droids, Noids or whatever phones are out there? Or be the last remaining non-smartphone user on the planet?

I would tell you to call me with your answers, but, well, I don’t have a phone.

 

 

 

…And We’re Back

April 25, 2012 § Leave a Comment

I fully subscribe to the idea put forth in that Waylon Jennings lyric: “I’ve got the right to disappear.”

But I also have the right to come back. And here I am!

I took a little unannounced hiatus from blogging because, truly, I was just so very into living my life. My fortieth birthday has come and gone. Tax season left me a bit poorer but for the most part unscathed. Family visited. Some beloved people in my life have died, others have been born and one dear friend was diagnosed with cancer. I had some minor health issues that are very close to being resolved. There’s been a a boom in my freelance business.

But through it all, I have to report that it has been such a blessing to live in a clean and uncluttered space, to be able to eat the plant-based diet that keeps me healthy (although the birthday weekend did find me chowing on four lamb momos at the local Himalayan joint – savory!) and to have the free time to run, walk, hike, bird and cook.

When I first started exploring minimalism it felt a bit gimmicky. Let’s de-clutter the closet, let’s take our own packages to the grocery, let’s eliminate plastic bags, spend less, make our own food, grow our own food, cook our own food, eat our own food, etc. and so on…

But now that I have been on dedicated path for all this time, none of it feels affected or forced. I don’t think twice about sending unused items to Goodwill. But I do think five or six times about buying things! It’s become effortless — second nature even — to research products to make sure they are safe, non-toxic and as cruelty free (to animals and humans) as possible. Exercising, sharing a meal, reading a good book, feeding my backyard birds – all have become the most rewarding ways for me to spend my time that don’t tax my anxieties, my wallet or the planet.

Life happens whether or not we’re organized, centered and serene. And I am here to provide my testimony that when a simple, deliberate life becomes your top priority, all of the difficulties, changes and challenges become much easier to manage. Wanting less, spending less, owning less has given me more than I ever imagined possible.

Namaste, minimalists!

Delightful Discoveries

March 8, 2012 § 2 Comments

I’ve stumbled upon a few things over the past few weeks that have just thrilled me to no end, and I’d like to offer them up to you…

Sandwich Solution: The kids make their lunches every morning and this usually consists of some kind of sandwich or wrap. Since we don’t use Ziploc bags at all, I’ve been stressing over the best way to contain these things for clean transport within their lunch boxes. They’ve been using wax paper (fairly acceptable, but I’m not sure if it’s recyclable), aluminum foil (totally wasteful, expensive and ridiculous and it drives me absolutely bonkers when I catch them doing it), re-usable sandwich bags (never, ever big enough and then the kids lose them anyway – another thing that sends me over the edge), and plastic wrap (I hate this option. Every time I look at plastic wrap I can only envision some poor, furry sea animal being choked to death).

So you can see why this was an issue. Apparently I have some sort of sandwich wrap mania.

It occurred to me while just sitting around one day that the kids can wrap their lunches in one of our cloth napkins, use the napkin instead of the paper ones at school and then bring the napkin home to be washed. Problem solved.

I can’t believe it took me this long to think of it.

Cereal Solution: If it wasn’t for the kids I would never, ever buy boxed cereal. It’s expensive, marginally nutritious (even the “healthy” ones are suspect) and the packaging is ever so wasteful. In fact, I don’t usually buy the cereal, their dad does, and I bite my tongue every time he walks into the house with nine boxes of pandapoop puffs or whatever it is that was on sale.

I decided to combat this cereal menace head on, and I found these two marvelous recipes:

Vegan Skinny Bitch Granola: A bit time consuming to make, but it is SO delicious. I have been quadrupling the recipe (takes the same amount of time, really) and there’s usually enough to last for about a week and a half. They eat less because it is so much more dense and filled with goodies than their cereal and I don’t have to toss out five cardboard boxes a week – which makes me happy.

Vegan Overnight Oats: This takes three minutes to whip up and the kids nearly lost their minds over how good this dish is. Big score. Just make a batch before you go to bed, stick it in the fridge and voila! Breakfast.

So we still have some cereal in the house, but we’ve cut waaaay back, and I am feeling all the more relieved for it.

Bread Machine: I had a United mileage plus credit card with a bunch of miles on it. It cost me $60 a year for the privilege of earning miles that are in no way useful for air travel, so I decided to shut it down.  But before I did, I spent the balance of my miles on a Cuisinart Bread Machine and it’s the best thing ever.

The kids, with their crazy sandwich needs, were going through at least two bags of bread per week. We never had enough bread, were always on the verge of running out of bread, buying bread, thinking about bread, needing bread… Enough! Now that I have the bread machine I spend about 5 minutes every other day baking a fresh loaf of whole grain bread and we always have bread! I haven’t really crunched the numbers to determine the total cost savings we’ve enjoyed, but we sure love not having to run out to buy bread all the time. Plus, it’s just a few less plastic baggies out there murdering otters, or whatever other mayhem plastic baggies seem to cause.

My Yoga Online: I love me some yoga. I love yoga classes, yoga clothes, pretty pictures of yoga, yoga, yoga, yoga! But since we’ve been on lockdown to pay off the mortgage, I haven’t wanted to spend the $15 per yoga session at my favorite local studio.

In January, I signed up for myyogaonline.com at a special “New Year” rate. Now I have access to hundreds of yoga classes, yoga tips, wellness articles and more for about $5.80 per month. Admittedly it’s not quite the same as being in a room full of people with an instructor, but I can do as much or as little yoga as I want on my schedule. It’s been a wonderful experience to be able to come home from a hike and pop in a 20 minute cool down, or to spend a free hour brushing up on my raven – whenever I feel like it.

That’s the news that’s fit to print from Type A Minimalist! I’d love to hear about the delighful things you’ve recently discovered.

Things Every New Minimalist Tries at Least Once

February 2, 2012 § 10 Comments

I have joyfully embraced my status as a nobody, and now, friends, I am also ready to embrace my status as a total cliché.

I have suspected this for months. I visit a lot of simplicity, minimalist and green blogs and I’m finding that my fellow bloggers are beating me to the punch on several topics. (I’m lookin’ at you minhus! I was SO going to write about coconut oil…)

This isn’t a bad thing! In fact, it reinforces a lot of my decisions and also helps me feel connected to a community of like-minded souls when I often feel like I’m on an island surrounded consumer-infested waters.

I also had my fair share of belly laughs when I watched Portlandia for the first time and realized, yep, I do all of that, too. (I did stop at asking for the chicken’s name when I ordered it, but I have asked about the farm. I also may have screamed “bike rights” once or twice while pedaling to the store. There may be a bird or two on some of my things.)

So I’m a nobody and a cliché, and that’s fine with me. If you’re looking to dip a toe into minimalism, here are some things you’ll probably find yourself doing at least once:

  • You’ll run the numbers to see if you can get rid of one car.
  • You’ll make your own toothpaste
  • You’ll make your own laundry detergent.
  • You’ll clean, and clean, and de-clutter and clean. Then you’ll start all over again. 
  • You’ll bake your own bread.
  • You’ll attempt to minimize your wardrobe by “Garanimal-izing” all of your basic pieces.
  • You’ll walk or bike to the grocery store.
  • You’ll take a yoga class.
  • You’ll meditate.
  • You’ll create a plan to eliminate all of your debt, including having a yard sale where you decide to sell everything in your home. 
  • You’ll shop at the farmer’s market.
  • You’ll silently judge others as (insert sneer here) consumers. Then, you’ll chide yourself for not being more compassionate. 
  • You’ll go meat free on Mondays. Then you’ll go veg. Then you’ll go vegan. You’ll swoon over homemade hummus.
  • You’ll obsess over tiny homes.
  • You’ll start a blog.
  • You’ll write an e-book about something.
  • You’ll consider living with just 100 things, wearing the same dress every day for a year, or eliminating all unnecessary shopping forever.
  • You’ll try to repurpose everything you bring home.
  • You’ll read labels on everything to make sure it’s natural, local and not made in a sweatshop. You’ll forgive all or one of these offenses if the item you want is especially a) delicious b) unique or c) adorable. You’ll beat yourself up about it later. Then you’ll forgive yourself because you’re doing “so well” in other areas.
  • You’ll freak out over thezerowastehome.com. No one in your circle will share your enthusiasm.
  • You’ll compost. This may or may not include worms.
  • You’ll re-asses all of your beauty products and eliminate everything but soap and eyeliner. Then you’ll go out and find a bunch of all-natural alternatives that may or may not work as well as your original stash.
  • You’ll read Walden, The Story of Stuff, Your Money or Your Life, Born to Run, The Four Hour Body, and every post by Leo Babauta at zenhabits.net. (You should read The Freedom Manifesto, by Tom Hodgkinson.)
  • You’ll watch Forks Over Knives, Maxed Out, The Story of Stuff, Supersize Me, Who Killed the Electric Car, Zero Impact Man and Dive!
  • You’ll seriously consider dumpster diving for a meal. (See Dive! above). Someone will talk you out of it. Thank them.
  • You’ll breathe more, panic less, find beauty in small things, discover your own path to health and wellness, spend less time shopping and generally just feel more in control of your destiny. (Hopefully this last one will stick).

It’s OK to be cliché! Those of us who seek a more peaceful existence will try all of these things because many wise people who have gone before us have done the same — and some of these things really work.

If being a cliché means that I work less and live more, that I waste less and appreciate more and spend less but have more, then slap a sticker on me and call me a cliché. I’ll proudly wear it on the one organic cotton T-shirt (with a bird on it) I still own as I ride my bike to the farmers market.

 

My Problem with Paula Deen

January 20, 2012 § 7 Comments

I never paid that much attention to Paula Deen. It’s clear that we’re on different sides of the culture spectrum, so I never had any reason to read her recipes or watch her show. All of my Paula Deen knowledge could be boiled down to just one of her creations: a doughnut, beef, bacon and egg sandwich known as the Lady’s Brunch Burger. Reading that recipe was enough for me to know that Ms. Deen and I have nary a thing in common.

Her announcement that she has Type 2 Diabetes was hardly a surprise to me, although I did feel a twinge of sympathy. Having been a smoker myself for several years, it’s pretty difficult for me to muster up the sanctimony required to call someone out when their own bad choices lead to a disease. Every time I get a cough I secretly wonder if my foolish choices have resulted in a disastrous consequence.

The problem I’m having is that she has known about her illness – an illness widely believed in the medical community to be directly linked to a high fat, high sugar, high grossness diet* – for three years. And for those three years she has continued to amass a fortune peddling her food to her viewers and readers. AND she only disclosed her diagnosis after inking a lucrative deal with a pharmaceutical company that makes diabetes medication. To me, this is the height of cynical, money-grubbing consumerism. Ms. Deen has now officially made a career of getting you coming and going. What’s next, Paula Deen brand extra-wide coffins?

Ms. Deen’s handling of her illness is a prime example of just how sick our consumer culture has made us. She knows that her product is dangerous. She has probably become afflicted by her own product. Yet rather than destroy her precious brand, she hides the truth until she finds a way to profit from it. It’s like a cigarette company announcing their new chemotherapy division.

How incredible would it have been if Ms. Deen had instead used her unfortunate diagnosis as an opportunity to encourage us to change our eating habits? She once famously said, “I’m your cook, not your doctor.” What a revelation it would have been for her to step away from the money trough for long enough to realize that our food is our medicine. What we put into our bodies not only affects our health, but it ripples out into our communities, our politics, our spirituality – everything. Instead, she continues to make herself sick, she’s making her fans sick and her magic bullet solution is for them to send dollars to big Pharma. Pop these pills or inject yourself with this and you’ll erase years of unhealthy eating. Let’s hope you don’t go blind or lose a limb. Here, have a cookie.

What Paula Deen’s hypocritical brand of entertainment eating combined with chemical solutions overlooks is that we eat to nourish our bodies and prevent disease. We eat to build energy to accomplish great things throughout the day. We eat together to grow relationships. The food choices we make directly contribute (or show that we choose not to contribute) to the suffering of others. Our food can heal us. Or our food can make us very, very sick.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: Feeding yourself is the most important thing you do all day. The food choices you make can lead to health and prosperity or listlessness and disease. I find it unbearably tragic (and so blatantly consumerist) that someone who makes their living feeding others is fine with making her clientele fat, unhealthy and sick while she herself is riddled with a diet-related disease. It seems almost too greedy to be true. But there it is. And here we are.

I wish Paula Deen the best with her illness, and I know that she has the money and the resources to secure the ultimate in medical care. I just hope that those who, from her example, find it to be giddy fun to stuff themselves with fat, sugar, lard, cellulose, and other poisons have the same access to the life saving medications they’re going to eventually need. In the meantime, I’m going to eat more kale.

 

*Disclaimer: I have read some articles that claim there is no causal link between a diet of disgustingness and Type 2 Diabetes, and I am willing to concede that I am not a doctor and therefore do not know for sure. However, there is no dissension in the medical community that continuing to eat this way after your diagnosis will probably kill you.

New Year’s Realizations

January 10, 2012 § 7 Comments

I hope that you had a delightful holiday season and that you and yours are settling in to 2012 with peace and happiness.

Like everyone else, my holiday was a frenzy of travel, guests, activities and gifts. My routine went completely out the window, of course, and I was only able to exercise sporadically. My vegan diet was a joke, not so much because I was tempted — I wasn’t  — but more because Christmas foods apparently consist of meat wrapped in cheese dipped in an egg-and-milk batter, fried and then dusted with sprinkles. I was a guest in people’s homes and away from my own kitchen, so whaddaryagonnado? (I didn’t eat any meat, though…)

I’m a big fan of New Year’s resolutions. I never would have started figure skating three years ago unless I had resolved to do so after several glasses of wine on New Year’s Eve. It is still one of the great joys of my life and I skate every single week. But I don’t really have one this year. What I have instead is a realization.

I’ve realized that it’s okay to be nobody.

As a classic Type-A automatron, I have spent the vast majority of my life doing things that will be seen, appreciated and applauded. I was a theater geek, a public speaker, a performer – all things that would draw attention to me, me, me. And I loved to bask in accolades. In my career, same thing. I always put myself front and center to get the praise. My ego was on fire and praise was its fuel.

But over the past few years I’ve found myself pursuing more internal pursuits. My journey has led me away from the shiny spotlights and directed my focus inward. I can’t pinpoint when the shift actually occurred. It’s been a slow evolution, a gradual sloughing off of the things that no longer seem to serve me.

The things that interest me now are learning to prepare meals that nourish my body and my family, not starting a restaurant, catering business or online food source. Just cooking for cooking’s sake. I love to skate, but only two people I know, other than my coach and the people who are already at the rink, have ever seen me do it. In fact a full 95% of my friends and relatives don’t even know that I own skates, much less that I know how to use them. I’ve recently taken up running, and far from winning any races, I’m just enjoying the time with myself to get some exercise and check in with how I’m really feeling about what’s going on with me.

I’m also much less interested in making an impact on the people around me with my wit, charm and cleverness, and more interested in making less of an impact on the earth by creatively managing the waste in my home, eliminating superfluous spending habits and re-using the things I have. I don’t care so much how my body looks, as opposed to how it feels and what I can teach it to do. I don’t want to win any more awards, but I do want to make sure my neighborhood is trash-free.

As J.D. Salinger famously noted, it takes courage to be an absolute nobody. So it is with great courage that in 2012 I am embracing my own status as a nobody. And so far, it feels like one of the most freeing things I’ve ever done.

Occupied

October 26, 2011 § 8 Comments

I wholeheartedly support the Occupy Wall Street protesters, and I share their outrage.
 
It was, in fact, the recent crashes and bailouts that fanned the flames of my anger to the point where I decided to take serious action to reduce my involvement in corruption, greed, warmongering, abuse and arrogance of every kind.
 
Further compounding my desire to find my way out of this system is how the company I work for has reacted to the recession. In a knee-jerk move after the last crash, my employer cut our employee discounts, doubled employee contributions to health care and stopped matching our 401(k) contributions. And at that point no one at our company had received a raise in two years. We all just shrugged it off and felt grateful to still be working.
 
Flash forward to now, and the company is having a boom. We are, quite literally, enjoying profits never before seen in our company’s 53-year history.
 
The CEO now drives one of these:
 
 

This is a $95,000 car.

 
I have not received a raise, nor have any of my counterparts. They have not re-instated matching funds for 401(k) benefits. Our health care costs are still higher. Our workload has tripled (gotta make those numbers!) as our headcount has decreased.
 
And yet, at the end of the day, I find myself breathing a sigh of relief that I am still employed.
 
I can’t quit my job yet. But I’m diligently working my way out of the system so that I can stop contributing to these ills, and so I am no longer a victim of them.
 
I’m occupying my life. And here’s how you can, too:
 
Know where your food comes from. Stop contributing to the oil-churning machine that is our national food system. Big companies are making huge profits off of inhumane, unhealthy practices at the expense of your well-being and your wallet. Much of what your grocery store is selling you is from China, Australia, South America and Mexico. Read labels before you buy. Do you really want your kid drinking apple juice from China? I don’t.
 
Eliminate your debt. Do whatever it takes. Sell whatever you can. Don’t let the banks have any power over you.
 
Stop shopping.  Buying the latest thing is not going to give you the life you want. Stay away from the mall and spend some time thinking about what your soul wants for this life. Whatever it is, it’s probably not right next to the Cinnabon.
 
When you do shop, buy quality-made products from companies that promote ethical treatment toward the environment, their employees and their customers. Research companies at goodguide.com or do your own research.
 
Support local, family-owned businesses. Keep dollars flowing through your own community where it will do the most good. Say no to Wal-Mart!
 
Do not buy fast food. It’s not cheaper in the long run when you consider the cost to your health and the environment. Plus, the business practices of fast food companies are notoriously unethical.
 
Drive less. Gas isn’t getting any cheaper, and Big Oil is subsidized by the government. My guess is that you aren’t. Walk more, take public transportation – just do whatever you can to get out of your car. Besides, walking is a very pleasant form of transport.
 
Move your banking to a credit union or local bank. Credit Unions are non-profit. Local banks employ your neighbors and, frankly, have better customer service. I just re-financed through my local bank and the experience was pleasant and I got a great rate.
 
Take care of the things you do own so that you replace them less frequently – or never. Mend those holes, fill those scratches. Extend the lives of the items you own so you spend less.
 
Refuse to bring things into your home that you don’t know how to responsibly dispose of. This is tough, but if you think about the entire life cycle of an item, you may think twice about bringing it home. If you know it’s just going to end up in a landfill, perhaps you could reconsider…
 
Proactively take care of your health in order to stay out of the health care system as much as possible. I have nightmares about insurance companies. I can’t promise that I will be free of disease or injury all my life, but I have eliminated some bad habits and embraced more healthy habits in the hopes that I can maintain my health and vigor without pills or costly procedures.
 
Invest only in companies that share your values. Why would you want your dollars supporting practices that you wouldn’t be involved in? Learn about the companies you give your money to, and decide if their ethics align with the things that are important to you.
 
Live simply.
 
Want less.
 
Give more.
 
All of these things will help you to build a life of self-reliance — a life where you’re not subjected to the vagaries of the market or others’ greed. These actions have helped me save enough money to have a healthy emergency fund, plus pay down my mortgage enough so that I can refinance to save $1500 a month in payments. These actions have slashed my food costs and helped me find creative ways to ensure wellness for my family and myself. These actions have helped me help my own community.
 
As I buy my way out of mortgage debt, as I create mindfulness about what types of behaviors my money supports, as I learn to do for myself what I used to pay others to do, I’m getting closer to occupying a life of freedom.
 
I am proud of the members of the 99% who are occupying Wall Street and Main Street. I would love to join them but, if I am to be perfectly frank, if my employer found out about it I would lose the job I need to keep paying the big banks for my house. And that’s how we live today.
 
How can you occupy your life?

Turn Off Your Lights

October 20, 2011 § 2 Comments

One of the simplest ways I’ve found to save money is to turn off the lights when I’m leaving a room.

Just by employing this very simple practice (a little fanatically, I have to admit), I have lowered my monthly PG&E bill from an average of $150 per month to an average of $100 per month.

The sacrifices with this simplifying tactic are virtually nil. I do not have to read by candlelight. I have not stubbed my toes because I stubbornly refuse to flip the switch into the upward position. I have not been attacked by closet monsters. I just turn off the lights when I leave a room, and I turn off lights in uninhabited rooms when I discover them.

I’ve also gotten the kids in on the fun, having explained to them that every time they leave a light on a baby polar bear dies.

They know I’m joking (they’re 10 and 12 and pretty snarky – I wouldn’t recommend this tactic on a tenderhearted 4 year-old). However, I did get their attention and they are much better about extinguishing the illumination when they leave.

Plus, there’s the added benefit of saving energy. Why have lights burning when no one is using them? Seems silly when you think about it.

I’m also more mindful and appreciative of the fact that I can just brighten a room at my whim. Electric light on demand is a luxury the vast majority of the now 7 billion of us will never enjoy.

Just because something seems commonplace to us doesn’t mean that we should take it for granted. It’s a privilege to live this way, and I’m happy that this simple pleasure is something for which I can express gratitude.

Turning off my lights turned me on to a whole new way of seeing my little world.

Now go turn off some lights!

The Proper Care and Feeding of Money

October 17, 2011 § 3 Comments

While I would never promote myself as a financial wizard, I do have a set of beliefs around money that have served me very well over the years. By adhering to these beliefs I have managed to avoid many of the financial pitfalls that are considered by many to be “the way we live now.” For example, I only had credit card debt for a very short time in my twenties and I eliminated it as quickly as I could – and I never did that again.

Far from restricting me from having a prosperous and abundant life, my rules have given me freedom from a lot of stress around money (I still stress about money, but not as much as I would if I had loads of debt, I think). I’m sharing them with you here in the hopes that they are useful to you in your own money management, but also that you share with me the things that work for you that I may never have thought of.

Rule #1. The minute you go into debt you give someone else power over you. This is the heart and soul of all of my money beliefs. By assuming any sort of debt, be it credit card, mortgage, student loan, car loan or a loan from a family member, you give an entity power over how you move through the world, where you work, and what you can use your money for during the entirety of your indebted life. Debt gives others the power to harass you, charge you extra fees for late payments (or even early payments!). Debt dictates during what time of the month you have to have money available and it requires you to continue working in order to pay it off. Non-payment of debt gives others the power to garnish your wages, take your things or put you in jail in some cases. Then there’s the emotional toll of debt, which is too numerous and varied to even comprehend. Anxiety, fear, anger – that’s just the tip of the iceberg. I see this now with my mortgage debt. It’s driving me crazy, and I am almost obsessively working to pay it off in the next 18 months (and believe me, my lender is not making this easy. They have the power, after all.) Do everything in your power to get out and stay out of debt.

Rule #2. The way you treat your money is how it will treat you back. A long time ago I read a magazine article about Will Smith and for some reason his financial management came up. Will Smith – who is a very wealthy guy, I think we can all agree – takes great pains to keep his money organized in his wallet by dollar amount. At first I thought this was just very fastidious. But when I started doing it myself, I realized I had inadvertently given myself more control of the money in my wallet. I knew how much I had, where it was and what I was spending it on. It was magic, sort of. If you spend the time to organize your money, look at your money and study your money, you’re more likely to know where your money is going – and decide if you want it to keep going there. I have extended this philosophy to the loose change I find around the house. I immediately pick it up and put it in a special jar. I look at my credit card statements and bank accounts every single day. When bills come in, I pay them instantly rather than letting them stack up.

If I encounter someone who has coins in the cushions and wadded up dollar bills on the counter I know that this is someone who’s money is spending them rather than the other way around. Don’t avoid your bank and credit card statements because you’re afraid to face what’s really going on. Don’t hide bills and pay them late (adding late fees to your monthly outflow). Treat your money like a good friend and partner — care for it, look after it, don’t take it for granted. By managing your money carefully and thoughtful you’ll show respect for your money and in return it will show respect for you.

Rule #3. Think in terms of the total yearly cost and you’ll save money. So often we get a new cell phone plan because it’s “just” an extra $10 per month. Or we pay our auto insurance monthly because it’s “just” an extra $3 processing fee to pay it that way rather than all in one lump, yearly sum. I took a hard look at all the monthly fees I was paying for services, added them up to see what the yearly cost was, and realized that I could cut a eliminate some of these things for a massive overall savings.

For example:

Cell Phone: $480 per year

Insurance Monthly “Convenience” Payment fees (for 4 separate policies): $144 per year

Professional Salon Hair Color: $1800 per year

Pet Insurance: $240 per year

Power Bill at $150 per month: $1800 per year*

I was spending $4464 per year on things I really didn’t need. I eliminated all of those things and *decreased my power bill to around $1000 per year by turning off lights. I also pay all of my insurance in one lump sum in January so that I don’t have those extra “convenience” charges. I stopped coloring my hair because that’s just something I no longer need to do. So basically I’m pocketing an additional $3400 a year by cutting out extraneous spending. And this is all before we calculate the savings from only having one car. That’s where we really see the savings!

Look at how much you’re spending on gas per year to see how much you can eliminate by taking public transportation or ride sharing to work. Find out what your yearly laundry detergent bill is and make your own. I did, and it’s actually fun. Calculate what you spend on beauty products, dinners out, bottles of wine. When you see the yearly totals I guarantee it will be eye opening. And when you cut out the spending that no longer serves you it’s like giving yourself a raise.

Rule #4. Establish the 30-Day Rule. I use the 30-Day Rule for purchases both large and small. I I think I want something I will wait for 30 days or more to see if I still want it. Usually I don’t. But if I do, sometimes I’ll make myself wait even longer by trying to find less expensive alternatives, better-made alternatives and better pricing. Sometimes during this research I learn something I don’t like about the product and I find a better replacement or decide not to get it at all. This practices has completely eliminated my impulse buys and also saved me money on items that I want, I love and that I know will last forever.

And the most important of all…

Rule #5. Spend less than you earn. In American consumer culture, this is practically sacrilege. As soon as we make more money, we must buy a better car, bigger house, fancier smell-pretty stuff… But where is it written that if we make $40,000 we should spend every penny? Why not make $40,000 (after taxes) and live on $20,000 of it? By thinking this way you’ll discover whole new realms of creativity for managing your money, managing your time and finding more fulfilling ways of spending your day. I mean, if you’re putting $20,000 in savings every year, you’re probably not dropping $300 every weekend at the mall. You’re walking, playing games, reading… You’re probably also teaching yourself to cook, decorating your house with DIY projects… The fact is that when we just throw money at every problem, we rob ourselves of the chance to grow creatively. Spend less than you earn to discover what you’re really made of! Plus, you’ll get the benefit of always being free from debt.

What are your money rules?

 

 

Ten Things I Would Have Done Differently

October 11, 2011 § 4 Comments

Twenty years ago you could not have convinced me that a life of simplicity had anything going for it. I wanted stuff and lots of it. I wanted an important job, a big house and gobs of money. These were the trappings of a life well lived, I believed.

Funny how we use the word “trappings” in that connotation… It implies “accessories,” when in reality  ”trappings” are just that – a trap.

It’s overwhelming to me how much my perspective has changed. I now understand that, far from the freedoms my career promised me, I am actually a wage slave. I now realize that by signing up for a mortgage I am an indentured servant to the bank. And I also know that outsourcing my life to chefs, maids, repairmen and other so-called “experts” leaves me feeling inept and insecure rather than competent and independent.

If I had to go back and do it all again, here’s what I would do differently:

1)    I would know that I didn’t have to spend every penny I earned. I would have lived simply and saved 2/3 of my salary from the very beginning  – no matter how much I made – so that I could have enough savings to support myself.  This way I wouldn’t have so much anxiety around work, layoffs, promotions, etc. I would have made my work work for me, rather than be a slave to my jobs.

2)    I never would have signed up for a mortgage. I would have used my copious saving skills to stuff money in the mattress until I had enough to buy a house for cash. This would have required patience, but seeing how disciplined I am when I save money this would have been totally attainable for a 30 year-old me if I had done things differently.

3)    I would never have fallen into the trap of believing that I had to have the fanciest-most-expensive-everything in order for people to like me. In fact, I would have understood from the get-go that people mostly thought I was a shallow, frivolous person because of this belief.

4)    I would have spent less time shopping and more time hiking.

5)    I would have understood that it is best to buy once and forever, rather than throw out and replace poorly made items repeatedly.

6)    I would have been mindful of where and how the items I purchase are made.

7)    I would have spent more time learning about people rather than trying to impress them.

8)    I would have gone to a less expensive college and taken more time to finish. I attended an expensive private school and, although I had lots of help from my parents, I didn’t feel I could afford more than three years. I took extra classes and attended summer school so I could graduate early. I did work, but I spent all of my extra money on clothes and going out. I wish I had gone to a state school, worked full time and saved my money — and taken at least five years to finish. I started working “on my career” at age 21 and have not stopped. I’ll be 40 next year, and I feel like I missed out on some experiences because I’ve been building a totally unfulfilling career my entire adult life.

9)    I would have really edited my stuff before moving it all over the place. I’ve moved at least 12 times I can remember in the last 20 years and paid movers to schlep mountains of boxes with me. During my recent de-clutter I threw several unopened boxes in the trash and haven’t thought about what was in them once.

10)  I would have taken more yoga classes and tossed back fewer cocktails.

I’m proud of my progress (not perfection), and I’m on a path to the life I envision for myself. Every day, with the help of my family, I get closer to to freedom from my wage slavery, I embrace the little things that make my life richer, and I see even more ways to contribute positively to the people in my life and the planet. Now that I acknowledge what I could have done differently in the past, I can let it go and embrace better decisions in the future.

What have you learned by accepting your past?

Where Am I?

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