July 21, 2011 § 12 Comments

We’ve become a nation of outsourcers. Not only are we sending our jobs and manufacturing overseas (a company in my backyard just shuttered its doors and sent its manufacturing to China, laying off 40 people in the process), but in our own lives we are beholden to a cadre of “experts” to help us manage the smallest details.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, in no small part to the excellent e-book by Jacob Lund Fisker, “Early Retirement Extreme.” He proposes that we should become “Renaissance [Wo]men” rather than “Wage Slaves” in order to take back control of our lives so that we can ultimately be free.

What he means by “Renaissance [Wo]man” is a person who not only can generate income from a variety of useful sources, but also someone who can manage the little disturbances that come up in daily life without having to call in an expert. A Renaissance [Wo]man knows how to fix the plumbing, repair the bike, change the oil, mend a hole-y sweater…  Renaissance [Wo]men have a diverse array of talents.

A “Wage Slave,” according to Fisker, is someone who is completely dependent on job income for everything. They specialize in one area of expertise, their career, and leave the rest to others. The garden is weeded by a gardener. The roof is repaired by a contractor. The clothes aren’t even mended, rather replaced at the boutique down the street. You get the picture.

I’ve fallen somewhere in the middle. I’ve always had a job, and it has gotten even more specialized over the years. Right now I actually just do ONE thing for the company I work for, and absolutely nothing else. However, in my personal life I have, for many years, been slowly discovering the things I can rely on myself for – and the list increases every week. My job may be specialized, but my life skills are varied and ever-changing.

Things I currently insource:


I’m a vegetarian and a foodie. This is a tough combo. Even though I live in an area where people are pretty enlightened when it comes to food, many restaurants still have very limited vegetarian selections. I’ve realized that if I want to eat in the decadent manner to which I had become accustomed when I was a carnivore, I have to take matters into my own hands. I’ve read, studied, practiced and learned everything I can about vegetarian cooking, unique ingredients, unusual spices… I’ve made my own granola (it’s so good and so much cheaper than store bought), soups, sauces, salads, hummus… Some have been complete failures, but for the most part I eat like a queen because I was willing to learn how to do it myself. (I’m converting to vegan at this point and it is a LOT of work – I’ll post on that later…) Next, I’ll be making my own tahini. I also just signed up for our community garden – no more outsourced, garlic, potatoes, beets, herbs or onions for me. I’ll be growing my own.


I had a team (a team!) of housekeepers for years, but now I clean my own house. I keep it manageable by eliminating clutter wherever possible. I just made my own laundry detergent (click here for a really solid post on this at exconsumer, which was inspired by this one at thesimpledollar). I make my own cleaning products using baking soda and vinegar. I don’t buy plastic bags to store things. Instead, I re-use jars that had things in them that I have already used. I never purchase plastic utensils or paper napkins – I just take my silverware and wash it when we get home. I recently made my own toothpaste, giving me one more way to save money and eliminate unnecessary packaging. (George is SO not on board with this one…)


I gave up organized entertainment long ago, and I was recently reminded why. After paying $60 for two of us to get into an aquarium we were unable to even see anything because of the crowds. That’s just one example. I haven’t set foot in a mall in years because I don’t outsource my amusement to retail outlets. Aquariums, zoos, amusement parks, putt-putt places – all of these are out. For fun, we hike, bike, play Killer Bunnies, read, cook, identify birds, spend time with friends, nap and listen to music. We attend free concerts. One exception I’ll always make: Art museums. I love me some art.


I understand the need for joining a gym or hiring a trainer if you A) live in a region where you’re snowed in for several months and you like to have a warm place to work out or B) you have a particularly dicey weight, health or medical issue that requires some assistance by a pro. I’m lucky in that I live in a region where I can be outside pretty much every day and I can walk. Walking regularly combined with biking, hiking, kayaking and all those other things I naturally love to do, have helped me remain fit while I kept the money I would have spent on a gym in my wallet instead. I even do yoga workouts at home with a pretty decent library of DVDs (you can also check these out from the public library.) Basically, I’ve always insourced my exercise – and you can, too!


I reject the notion that I NEED a car.  Cars are dangerous, expensive and dirty. Car culture is making us fat and unhealthy, and it is destroying the environment. The only reason I still have a car at all is so that I can get to the coast for hiking and to get to the corporate office when I need to. I’d be more than happy to rent a car every time I need to go a long distance, but I’m not on my own so I must compromise. But we CAN reduce our use even more. At this point, the kids can either walk or bike to school, and there’s no single destination in my hometown that can’t be reached by foot or bike. I avoid the car whenever possible, thereby insourcing my ability to move around.


I never hire painters. George and I do most of our home repairs and updates including tiling, appliance hookups and small plumbing jobs (George installed our cork floors himself, saving us thousands of dollars.)

Things that I could – and maybe should — insource, but haven’t yet:


I need my feet to look sweet in the summer because I’m always in flip-flops. But why can’t I do it myself? I bet I can.


Although George already cuts the kids’ hair, I can’t seem to talk him into learning to cut mine. This will probably never happen (and probably shouldn’t).

Auto repairs:

I don’t know anything about my car or how to fix it. Right now the shocks need to be fixed and the quote was nearly $500. I don’t even know where to begin to learn how to fix a car.

Bike Repairs:

Ditto above. Fortunately we haven’t needed to do too much, but there’s a bike shop a block away so it’s hard not to just pop in.


I don’t know how to make my own clothes. But I do know how to mend things, so that’s a start at least.

Products we use:

I don’t churn my own butter or make my own mustard. I don’t know how to make hairspray or dryer sheets. I don’t know how to make miso or vinegar or press my own olives for oil. Are these things I can learn, or should I learn to live without?

By learning to insource, you not only take back control from marketers who have made you believe that you need their products in order to be happy, but you also save gobs of money.

One small example: We used to buy delicious hummus every week from “The Hummus Guy” at our farmer’s market. It cost $7 and came in a plastic tub. I now make my own with bulk beans and herbs and it costs us about 75 cents for the same amount. It takes more time, but it’s fresher and cheaper. And what better way could I be spending my time, really?

What products/services could you insource?

Ten Ways to Save Money Right Now

June 22, 2011 § 2 Comments

I work hard for my money. Don’t we all? I like to make sure that I’m spending my ducats as wisely as possible, which is why I’m fiercely committed to eliminating all unnecessary spending.
My family has made some big decisions, like only owning one car and shutting off my cell phone. But we’ve also done a variety of smaller things that have helped us eliminate some wasteful spending, and gotten us even closer to our goal of paying off our mortgage.
Since we all work so hard, here are just a few money saving ideas that I can recommend to you that are easy as pie.
1. Put a plastic bottle filled with water and gravel in your toilet tank. Save gallons of water and buckets of dollars with each flush simply by displacing some of the water in your tank. In the past, people have used bricks for this same purpose, but over time the bricks can disintegrate and cause damage to your plumbing. This is by far one of the easiest money-saving tricks on my list. You’ll see the benefit on your water bill instantly.
2. Stop drinking soda. I’ll save my rant about corn syrup-laden sodas for another post. But I will say this: Not only will cutting soda out of your life save you money, but you’ll be healthier, you’ll feel better and the disposable containers used to convey these sugary poisons will stay out of the landfills.  The average American spends more than $300 on soda each year – what better use could you find for that money? Your teeth, your waistline, your wallet and your planet will thank you for making this small change.
3. Turn off your cable or satellite service. I haven’t had these services in so long that I don’t even know what they cost anymore, but it seems to me that spending any amount of money per month to watch TV is a rip-off. This is not to say that I don’t watch TV. In fact, I have the worst taste in television imaginable (it’s too embarrassing to even talk about…). But I watch everything online at or on the network websites. I have never once missed having cable or satellite (I have also never once missed an episode of Jersey Shore – I told you it was bad) but I do love that I have one less monthly bill to pay.
4. Walk. Where I live, gas is topping $4.25 a gallon. This is incentive enough for me to hoof it to the store or the post office! With the weather heating up, this requires a little planning (i.e. gotta go in the morning), but that’s not a huge deal. If you live in the burbs where walking is just not an option, try combining trips or ridesharing with a neighbor. Or, if you can, take the bus. The bus takes a little longer so take a book along and make an afternoon of it.
5.  Shop the bulk aisle at the grocery store. You won’t believe what’s waiting for you in bulk! Cereals, oatmeal, cookies, candy, dried fruits, honey, maple syrup and spices – all at ridiculously low prices! Here’s an example: I was recently making a recipe that required a specific spice, but I only needed a tablespoon. The full-sized jar of this spice cost over $10. In the bulk section, I bought my one tablespoon for 45 cents. And now I don’t have a full jar in my pantry that I have to use up before it loses its verve. Your local store may also – like mine – offer shampoos, conditioners, moisturizers and other cosmetic needs in bulk as well. Just bring your own containers and save big!
6. Cancel credit cards that have yearly fees. I look at my credit card statements and bank statements online almost every day. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that my current credit card slipped in a $60 annual fee! I canceled it and am now only using one that doesn’t have any fees attached to it. Check your statements regularly to make sure there aren’t any hidden surprises.
7. Get more sleep. What does sleep have to do with saving money? More than you think. If you’re getting enough rest, you won’t need to rely on costly energy boosters (afternoon Starbucks run, anyone?), you’ll have more energy to devote to exercising which will keep you healthier in the long run and you’ll be less likely to suffer from depression and anxiety – which can lead to irrational spending.  A recent study released by the University of British Columbia points to lack of sleep as a main indicator in our obesity epidemic, increased risk for a host of scary cancers, and the unregulated release of stress hormones. Tuck yourself in for at least nine hours a night – you’ll feel better. Plus, you can’t shop while you’re unconscious.
8.  Get a library card. There are books you can read at the library! For free! And movies! And CDs! And magazines! And audiobooks! You can request things and they’ll get it for you! FREE! For years I just ordered whatever I wanted from Amazon, and then I discovered this amazing resource (I felt like a dummy for not discovering the library sooner… duh.) But now I’m an absolute convert. Your taxes pay for this amazing service, so I highly recommend that you find your local library and spend some serious time there. If you’ve shut off your cable, you’re going to probably want to get some reading material or some DVDs…
9. Identify a few household things you can live without. I learned about six years ago that I don’t need paper towels. I learned about six months ago that I don’t need Ziploc bags. I’ve also managed to eliminate toxic household cleaners and replaced them with good old baking soda and vinegar. Cheap! By just cutting out one thing that you think you can live without, you’re already saving money.
10. Develop the 30-Day Rule. You’ve probably heard this one before, but let me tell you,  it works! Basically if I am jonesing for something other than an absolute necessity, I make myself wait for 30 days to purchase it. If I’m still thinking about the item in 30 days then I may give myself the go-ahead to buy – but not always. If the item is expensive, I’ll make myself wait another 30 or longer. (There’s one particular item I’ve wanted for over two years, but I’m still waiting because it just seems so impractical). More often than not I forget about the item completely. What I have realized through this little exercise is that sometimes just imagining I have something is enough to make me feel that little retail therapy boost. Crazy, but true. And I’ve pretty much trained myself out of impulse shopping.
There are probably more things I could throw on this list like meal planning, eating everything in your pantry, high-interest savings accounts or stopping the catalog deliveries to your house. But those things are a bit more complicated and probably require a longer post. For now, I’d like to hear from you.
What easy things do you do to save money? 

Ten Things I Learned When I Shut Off My Cell Phone

April 12, 2011 § 5 Comments

To be truly minimalist I really should use one of these...

Radical simplification requires looking at everything with unblinking honesty. When I looked at my cell phone I realized I was eyeballing yet another thing I could no longer justify.

I had one of the crappiest phones on the cheapest plans from the world’s worst providers. At only $50 it really wasn’t one of those situations where I was forced to decide between groceries and mobile communication, but I had thousands of unused rollover minutes because I just never used it. Everyone I want to communicate with is on Facebook. I rarely even used it for work. I work from home and the stupid gizmo didn’t get reception in my house!

So we got a cool landline plan from a local provider that’s cheap, cheap, cheap. When someone leaves me a voicemail I get an email with a sound file sent to my email address. I love this feature because I can work in a coffee shop and still know when someone has called my home phone. If it’s important I just email the caller or head home.

If you’re thinking of saying goodbye to your cell, consider 10 things I’ve learned:

  1. Very rarely are there emergencies that require that I call someone right this minute, or that I receive a call right this minute. Yes, bad things can happen, but in my case I was paying over $600 a year on the off chance there would be a catastrophe and there wouldn’t be someone else with a phone I could use – or a payphone.
  2. But what about emergencies involving the kids? The school can call my landline. When I am at the corporate office an hour and a half away, there’s nothing I can do right then anyway. I have given the kids’ schools the receptionist’s number and she can find me if need be. Plus, if I’m out at the office, their Dad is probably home and reachable on the landline (and here’s some disclosure – he’s still got a cheap cell…)
  3. I hardly ever need to carry a purse. The cell was the last thing I was toting around other than my small wallet. Now everything I need fits in my pocket.
  4. I never have to worry about losing my phone or dropping it in the toilet – which is something several of my friends have managed to do (although I’m not really sure how…)
  5. My phone never rings at awkward moments.
  6. It’s illegal to talk on a cell in the car in California. I will never get a ticket for this.
  7. I don’t waste a single minute playing Angry Birds.
  8. “I was out,” becomes a lovely reason not to get back to someone right away.
  9. I control my on-the-phone time, not the other way around.
  10.  The freedom of being unburdened by an additional expense far outweighs the convenience of having a phone on me all the time. It is called a “cell” after all.

Every day I’m chipping away at the belief that we have no choice but to be consumers. (I love this interview with Kirk, Jenny’s husband over at, where he expresses a similar thought.) It’s just not true. I would call you to tell you all about it, but I’ll be out without my phone.

Could you live without a cell phone? Do you think a cell phone is a luxury, a necessary evil or a helpful companion?


Ditching the Joneses

March 21, 2011 § Leave a Comment

You don't need anything here.

I never wanted to keep up with the Joneses.  I wanted the Joneses to eat my dust.

“Suck it, Joneses!” was my battle cry when throwing wide the doors at Nordstrom, Restoration Hardware and Williams-Sonoma. Thousands of dollars I spent making sure I had the better furniture, better jewelry, better everything. Because, you know, having better stuff makes you a better person.


The reality is that in our flurry of consumerism, in our breathless “need” for just the right look or latest discovery, in our willingness to max out cards that we’ll be paying off until our eternal dirt nap, only one truth will ever prevail:

The Joneses are so busy being Joneses that they don’t give a Funyun* about what you’re doing anyway.

The need, the want, the belief that what we wear or what we own matters to other people… It didn’t. It doesn’t. It never will.

What matters is that you fully and completely become yourself. And you are not your cashmere sweater, suede couch, All-Clad pans or your [insert your personal consumer fetish here].

But the process of letting go hasn’t been easy. When you spend over 30 years attaching your self-worth to how things LOOK as opposed to how things ARE, it’s a long road to get yourself back. You have to take the time to understand what parts of you are real and what are your own illusions (delusions)?

Letting go of my attachment to material possessions doesn’t mean that I walk around in an moth-eaten sweater and never brush my hair (even though this is a perfectly acceptable look in Northern California). But it has allowed me to give away nearly 75% of the unworn items in my closet, to eliminate the need for chemically questionable, costly and time-consuming trips to the hairdresser (see Live Free or Dye in a later post), and to focus my attention and hard-earned money on purchases that truly enhance my LIFE rather than my IMAGE.

So to the Joneses out there: I apologize for using you as an excuse to contribute to a culture of rampant, unchecked consumerism. I’m sorry I diminished you to a shallow representation of greed, competition and malice when in truth you are people with all the magical complexities that make each one of us a unique reflection of the universe’s perfect image, not just credit card cowboys with ninja-fast signatures. I’m deeply ashamed that… Wait, what? You weren’t paying attention to me anyway? Oh. Okay. Cool. Nevermind then.

Are you ready to ditch the Joneses in your life? What purchases have you made recently that are image-based instead of life-based? Is there any delusion about yourself that you’re ready to let go?

*Type A Minimalist does not endorse the eating of Funyuns.

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