The Legacy of Owning Stuff: Be careful what you don’t purchase

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I will call her Mrs. Denial. This hardworking American mother never bought herself a beautiful dress.  She made do with what she had, what was passed-down to her, or what she found on clearance.  The kids are grown and she can afford more, but still she does not buy the dress that makes her feel the loveliest.  The reason she states are plentiful,”The grandkids may need something, the kids inheritance….”  She sacrificed and continues to sacrifice because that is what moms do.

But is it right?

Sadly something happened in Mrs. Denial’s methodology, her children didn’t witness this as selflessness.  Instead these actions made them see mom as not valuing herself.  The message got mixed up, “If Mom can’t have what she needs or dreams–neither can we.”  Today, her adult children all struggle with valuing themselves, and there may be a myriad of reasons why. Mostly, children emulate what they see and not necessarily what they hear…

I talk and write a lot about simplifying and minimizing what we own.  I think that message is important–we can’t continue to consume at the level we are in our nation and in the world and possibly sustain it.  I’ve wanted to live what I preach and I make do with what I have a lot.  It is a game to me, “How long can I go without, how can I use what I have to get the job done, can I borrow it, can I buy it used….”  I call it being resourceful and my children participate in the “game” with me and often it is very fun for all of us.

However, something has changed in the past few years and I’ve stopped consuming to the point that buying the shoes I badly need has become unbearably hard.  I have the money and yet I haven’t purchased them…do I deserve new shoes when others have so little and think of the resources, the questionable labor…?  Seems crazy doesn’t it–this self-created martyrism?  But there it is in my head this very instant…and the thing is I think others who journey through voluntary simplicity or minimalism struggle as well. It is a tricky business owning and consuming things.  The wants and the needs get confused, the voices of humanity and fairness echo in your head, and with so much vying for our money and time it is almost easier to completely deny ourselves than have to deal with figuring out what has true value or what is truly fair.

But shouldn’t we value ourselves?

If we cannot value ourselves then how can we value others in this world around us?  Maybe it’s about making ethical choices in our purchases and finding quality and not succumbing to the quantity.  It is the quantity that is the problem–we as a world own too much stuff, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t own anything?  (And yes I know the idea of “owning” can be philosophized to death–so let’s skip that part.)

If Mrs. Denial had bought a beautiful, solidly made dress that made her feel lovely…maybe she would have smiled more…her children would have echoed that smile…maybe their stories would be different…a different legacy.  Perhaps, some will think how stupid a dress is a thing and it can’t bring joy–no, it can’t…but sometimes our minds can be altered because of the way we perceive a thing…

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It is a tricky business owning and consuming things, but I can’t talk about it anymore…I’ve got to buy some solidly made, lasting shoes…and I might just smile about it.


Ten Steps to Begin Taking Back Your Financial Freedom

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Financial denial.  Yep.  That’s what many of us live in, but ironically that is what many of us should plunge towards.  Financial denial can mean two things:

A) I (and possibly my significant other) are in denial about how poorly we manage our finances.Financial denial.  Yep.  That’s what many of us live in, but ironically that is what many of us should plunge towards.  Financial denial can mean two things:

B) I will deny my wants and desires today, so I can better serve myself in the future.

They are two denials at odds with each other, and if you can grasp hold of A then B seemingly falls into place.

Let me explain.

For many years I paid my bills (when I could) and refused to look at the total of what I owed–too scary, and too hard.  Every month, I would pay the minimum balance on credit car payments when it was possible (I had a lot of debt) feeling relieved that this chore was over.  However, I knew that I really hadn’t done much but kept this paperwork off my desk for another month.  So what changed?  I added up all I owed, face reality, and figured out how long it would take to pay it off with minimum payments.  I was going to harnessed and indentured to these payments for the next two decades at least!

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Money is a terrible master but an excellent servant. –P.T. Barnum American Circus Entertainer

Bankrate offers a calculator to figure out how long it will take to pay off your credit cards with minimum payments.

Twenty years is too long.  I paid off my credit cards in less than two years. This is how I did it.

Ten Steps to Begin Taking Back Your Financial Freedom

  1. I cut them up. I cut up all of my credit cards–I didn’t close the accounts at this point however, closing too many accounts at once can hurt your FICO score.  I slowly closed them one by one over time.
  2. I wrote down everything I bought and paid for. Everything!  I wrote it down in a small notebook I carried in my purse.  This helped me see where the money was being syphoned out. Much of they syphoning was quick and wasteful.  At the end of each month I categorized my expenses and added up each category.  That act alone is the most eye-opening to how money can be quickly wasted.  I plugged those holes and slowed my spending.  For more information about categorizing debt read and really making your money work for you read Your Money or Your Life by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin. 
  3. Writing down everything in itself slowed down my spending because I’m lazy.  Do I want to write down the dollar I used in the vending machine?  Nope.  Skip it.  That act alone saved me plenty.
  4. I took ALL the extra money I saved each month from my plugged holes and paid it towards my smallest debt and created the snowball effect a la Dave Ramsey.
  5. I skipped eating out, new clothes, unneeded extras, and payed it towards debt.  More holes were plugged!
  6. I got a second job.  That money went solely towards my debt and kept me from spending money in my free time.
  7. If I got a lump sum–tax returns, a small cash gift, a bonus–it all went towards my debt.
  8. I read everything I could about debt, saving, and finance.  These authors supported a debt free lifestyle and were my coaches/cheerleaders when others laughed at my homemade lunches, thrift store purchases, and other quirky money saving measures.  My best cheerleaders were found in the voices of the The Tightwad Gazette community.
  9. I realized this wasn’t forever.  When my debt was paid off I was able to ease up on my saving and spend some of my money for things I truly enjoyed.  However, I had changed over time and senseless spending just didn’t work for me anymore.  I am my money’s master and that is a terrific feeling.
  10. I had gratitude for the opportunity to get right financially.  In history past debt could mean a sad and desperate situation for a debtor.  Today, however I was able to take control and make things right with the companies I owed money to.

I hope in the early months of this new year, you find yourself working towards making money your servant rather than your master!

Ten Ways to Save Money This Week

We are a society of instant gratifiers–the faster the better…that could possibly be why we are a society in deep debt. Get it now!  Pay for it and the interest later.  Well for those of you who like your food fast, your coffee instant, and results immediately–here are several approaches to saving money that you can feel the benefits of (nearly) now–or at least at the end of the month when that end actually meets the other.

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1. Walk, bike, ride the bus, or ride-share to work (

2. Take a lunch to work and/or take a lunch while running errands. (My favorite is a thermos of cold water and some PB&J sandwiches–this stops my kids in their tracks when away from home–they say they are hungry and they’ve just spotted golden arches.)

3.  Cook your meals at home–its healthier, cheaper and in most cases more rewarding.

4.  Follow the rule “Less than a mile walk or bike in style.”

5.  Avoid phantom electrical charges–even when electrical gadgets are not in use they still consume energy.  Unplug those babies or put them on a power strip and shut it off at the source.

6. Disguise and use up your leftovers.  Here’s the skinny on leftovers, add a broth to leftovers and it’s soup–add a starch; potatoes, pasta, rice, quinoa it’s a casserole.  You can also use those leftovers as lunch (see #2).

7.  Get a library card–free books, movies, magazines, books on tape.  Additionally, many libraries offer free discussion groups, classes, and lectures.  Who needs to pay for media entertainment (when you have a resource like the library for FREE)?

8. Hang your clothes in your basement or attic to line and air dry.  Indoor drying during the winter adds moisture to inside air.  Winter drying is a bonus as a humidifier for your home.

9.  Put your debit card out to pasture–calculate exactly how much money you will need to get through the week for gas, groceries, etc. and take only that amount out or use an envelope system to truly manage  your money with cash.  It is those small unexpected (and often unnecessary charges) expenditures that push us away from financial goals.

10.  Go on a money fast.  Jeff Yeager, The Ultimate Cheapskate, is passionate about money fasting–not spending for a day, a week, or A MONTH!  Go ahead and try it–if you could avoid spending any money one day each week–what could that add up to for you?

This list is not exhaustive–I barely scraped the surface–but none of these items cost you in initial investments and you can start now.  Have a happy and frugal day.

Simple Living: Do You Own Your Stuff or Does it Own You?

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How much of our lives could we buy back if we cherished our lives instead of our trinkets?  Gerry Spence-American Lawyer &Writer

Trinkets.  I love them.  Exquisitely beaded jewelry, hand-kilned furniture, beautiful shoes, original artwork, the classics bound in leather with gilded pages, fancy porcelain teacups…  For those of you who know me this may sound strange–what I present to the world through my home and clothing seems to run on the side of simple, boring–anything but gilded!  In reality that is not wholly my true tastes.  Wallpapered elegance and finery really would suit a little part of me–wouldn’t it suit us all?  Some would say, “Life is too short…live what you dream…sample the finery…Carpe Diem!”  Part of me would agree.  Except I love something more than this attachment to finery–I love my time.  Not pursuing the finer things means my goals do not have to constantly be guided by gaining monetary wealth.  Of course, I should strive to do well in my career and know that my salary will likely indicate some achievement–but simplifying my desires for trinkets allows for the freedom of time and not a concentrated effort on finding more wealth.

Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. This too is meaningless. As goods increase, so do those who consume them.And what benefit are they to the owners except to feast their eyes on them?  Ecclesiastes 5:10-11

Even if you are not a Christian, the verses in Ecclesiastes hold true for our current society in huge measure–we watch “others” in pursuit of and loving this wealth–and so shouldn’t we as well?  It is on billboards, commercials, social media, reality shows–it infiltrates and leaves a strong desire for more money, but does it benefit us?  To a certain degree “yes.” Research declares the new number in the United States is $75,000–that is now considered the monetary happiness mark.  If your household declares an income similar to this making more is not likely to make you happier.  However, a one income fits all scenario seems ridiculous–cost of living, family members being supported by income, debt to income ratio, level of consumption increasingly effect what is “needed” to “be happy.”  …And if you have read The Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacyczyn or Your Money or Your Life by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin you know “happiness” or comfort can be achieved on less.

Life Requires Action, Not Necessarily Cash Flow

The actual action of putting one’s heart and hopes out there is so much more effective for realizing our dreams than buying.

Wealth is synonymous with possessions and riches.  For many of us this means stuff.  Wealth means those beautiful shoes and porcelain tea cups, but why are we in pursuit of wealth?  I believe with stuff there is a dream.  If I wear Jimmy Choo shoes then my life is going to get better…people are going to notice me, like me, and I’ll have more friends.  There is a hope tied to the stuff we possess.  If I buy beautiful furniture for my home…I’ll keep it clean, entertain more, and have lasting and satisfying relationships.  If I buy tickets to the ballet…I’ll be among the socialites, befriend them, and my business prospects will increase.  Maybe?  …But what if in all of these scenarios we skipped the stuff.  I want more friends, so I’m going to put myself out there and be a better friend.  I want to have lasting relationships, so I’m going to open my home to others despite my old couch and coffee table.  I want my business to be successful, so I’m going to listen to my intuition and find a mentor to help me get there.  These scenarios seek the same final results, and stuff really wasn’t required for any of it–the actual action of putting ones heart and hopes out there is so much more effective for realizing our dreams than buying.  You can read more about love and money here: Rich People Talk About How Happy Money Make Them 

Moderation in All Things, Even in Owning Trinkets

The author of Ecclesiastes continues to point out that the increase of goods and consumers does not do much–it benefits only by being a feast for the eye.  That feast though is so tantalizing.  I have four beautiful mugs.  I bought them 15 years ago and spent more than any twenty-something should have for something so small and unnecessary.  They are lovely and artful, and I do enjoy my morning tea in these cups.  I do appreciate their beauty, but I do not treasure them–if they broke that would be okay too.  I enjoy beautiful (and sometimes expensive) things in moderation.  I think enjoying an object because of its beauty is what separates us into this humanness we possess–beauty is in the man-made and in the natural as well–and our human eye and soul seeks many kinds of beauty.   It is when owning trinkets becomes our only pursuits it becomes our idol and this lessens our spirituality (maybe even our compassion).

Just some Monday Meanderings–what is an upside to pursuing beautiful things? Downside?