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!
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.
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?
September 1, 2011 § 6 Comments
I am completely dependent on my job. I have no significant outside source of income, and I have a mortgage debt that, if my bank would have it their way, won’t get paid off for 27 more years.
I am fortunate that I don’t have the consumer and student debt that a few of my peers do, but it doesn’t change the fact that we are all basically in the same debt-filled boat. I have a mortgage debt that I am required to pay every single month. I signed up for it. And if it takes me the full 30 years to pay it off, I will have paid twice what my house was worth when I “bought” it three years ago.
Unless I make some significant changes I will be working full time for the rest of my life.
I am a wage slave.
This was not what I envisioned for my life.
So here’s my plan.
First, through conscious minimizing I have significantly reduced the amount of money that leaves my hands every month. This process includes:
- insourcing as much home care as possible, including making my own cleaning supplies and de-cluttering to the point that my home is easy to clean
- managing our energy and water use meticulously
- growing some of our food in a community garden
- creating plant-based meal plans that use every aspect of the items I purchase, and only purchasing exactly what we need
- stopping recreational shopping
- seeking out free or very inexpensive sources of entertainment
- owning one car (for a family of four) and driving only when necessary
- ridding myself of extraneous expenses like a cell phone
- generally saying “no” to lots of activities and other things (but saying “yes” to long walks, birding hikes, bike rides and lounging around reading)
George calls this “lock down.”
What the last 12 months of lock down has allowed us to do is live off of George’s salary and put all of mine into savings, along with all of the extra income I’ve made freelancing this year. The goal is to get enough into savings to pay our mortgage off entirely within five years.
Why not send extra payments each month and start paying that bad boy off now?
Here’s why: Both George and I work in specialized jobs that would be incredibly difficult to replace if we were to lose them. While we don’t think that a layoff is imminent, we realized that if we don’t have a significant emergency fund, as wage slaves, we would be totally screwed if we were let go.
The point is that we can send the extra money each month, but if one of us loses our job our mortgage payment is exactly the same. So what if we’ve bought down $50k of the principle? If we can’t make our monthly payment we could still get foreclosed. (And you don’t even want to know what a Type A homelessness nightmare looks like…)
So what we’re doing is stockpiling cash to pay off the mortgage in a couple of lump sums while keeping a healthy emergency fund in case something goes wrong or that thing called “life” happens while we’re making other plans.
Phase two of this plan is to generate more outside income. I am going to actively work to find more freelance work, and so is George. He is also really beginning to hustle to sell his artwork and independent animated films. All of that money will go into the emergency fund since our spending is pretty well fixed at this point.
Ultimately, after five or so years, we’ll have saved enough, thwarted any unexpected financial disasters along the way, and paid off our mortgage. At that point if our jobs are still going strong then our salaries will pour into savings and investments (and long term care insurance). But I’ll no longer be a wage slave; my wages will work for me. (And maybe then I can relax a bit…?)
What are your tips and tricks for financial freedom?
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).
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.
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?
June 22, 2011 § 2 Comments
May 23, 2011 § Leave a comment
May 12, 2011 § 2 Comments
I just dropped a boatload of cash on two things for my home. One was a set of All Clad cookware and the other was a sofa for my patio. And even though these two purchases put my family way over our monthly budget, they were necessary – and here’s why.
For nearly six years we had been using a set of non-stick Kirkland cookware that I purchased at Costco. The set was durable, good-looking, easy to clean and very affordable. As far as I could tell, I had gotten a pretty great deal on a household item that we use every single day, and I had no plans to make a change.
While reading Annie Leonard’s brilliant book “The Story of Stuff” I learned the truth behind my non-stick cookware. Not only is it made of toxic chemicals that are leaching into our food, but the methods and practices used to make it are exploitative, environmentally catastrophic and irreversible. I had to get it out of my house. (I’ll spare you the details, but pick up this book. It’s a must-read.)
My Type A mind got to work. I had owned a set of All Clad before and knew that they were well made – and made in the USA. My research confirmed that this would be a smart, long-lasting purchase. I found them for 20% off, drove to the store and bought a full set. I gladly forked over my money knowing that this would be the last set of cookware I would ever purchase, and that I would more than likely be able to hand the set off to the nearest relative once I drop dead (hopefully not of toxic, non-stick cookware complications).
Plus, I cook over 20 meals, snacks, side dishes and other goodies every week in my kitchen. Having the proper tools to create meals at home rather than going out for gourmet seems to me to be a fine justification for such an extravagant purchase.
The outdoor sofa may be a bit trickier to explain. But I’ll try.
I live in northern California where the weather is stunningly, shockingly, astonishingly gorgeous every single day for about eight months of the year. In my family’s desire to downsize, we purchased a home in a walkable downtown area. It’s on the second floor of a retail building above a photography shop and we have no yard, only a small patio. Having come from homes with acreage — where I could endlessly wander outdoors and soak up the sun an commune with the birdies and the bunnies — this has been a difficult transition for me.
For the most part I’m glad we don’t have a yard to maintain. Our weekends are free to hike, kayak, lounge around… We planted a container garden on our petite patio, giving us a bit of greenery to putter around with, and we’ve even attracted several birds to our feeder. But we only enjoyed looking at it from inside the house.
Having cut down on outside entertainment, expensive trips and unnecessary car trips, we all felt we needed an outdoor room to get a little fresh air, get closer to our bird friends and just have a little room to breathe.
So we bought an outdoor sofa. I wanted to buy something used, but George put his foot down and I had to agree with his logic. (Just say the word “bedbugs” and I’m all yours.) But I put my foot down that it had to be as eco-friendly as possible. And we found one. Its origins are in Vietnam – I would certainly have preferred US made – but the space is small and this is the one we found that could fit. It is made from FSC certified wood and is solid as a rock. We wanted something that would last.
We could have gone for something much less expensive (with sketchier origins) from a national retailer, but this set just looks like it will last longer – the hardware is sturdy, the wood is solid and the cushions are very well made. We’re happy with the purchase, and we’ve each spent time every day outside in our garden.
While spending so much money all at once gives me Type A budget-related night sweats, I do hope that we made good decisions for items that will last as long as possible and that we will enjoy every day. We are done shopping for the summer. I’m putting my foot down about that.
Our next issue is figuring out the best method for recycling our old pans. Turns out that even though I paid a good price for what I thought was a smart purchase, the costs to the environment and my family’s health are much more than I ever imagined.
Is there anything you paid a lot of money for because you felt the quality, building standards and lower environmental impact was worth it? Is there anything you thought was a great deal that turned out not to be?