Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Simple Living Isn't About Deprivation

I will celebrate New Year's Eve with a lobster tail and crab leg dinner, a side of steamed broccoli and a baked potato or rice pilaf. I will have a glass of sparkling apple cider. Since I am preparing this meal at home myself and the seafood was on sale at my local market, this meal will cost me about $10 per serving and I bought enough to serve myself another round or two tomorrow, New Year's Day. So, I exchanged three seafood meals at home over two days for same cost of one in a restaurant.

Like half of the women in America, I am single. Unlike most of the single women I've met, except for a couple of select friends, I am both single and happy. Who wouldn't want to be in a good marriage or in a relationship leading to the nuptials? (And I really mean a good one 'cause anyone can marry and be with the wrong person. That's very easy to do.) I only have total control over my own happiness on a daily basis not making Mr. Wonderful appear. So, in lieu of searching for anyone at someone's party tonight, I am going to enjoy a simple dinner with contentment and joy on my own. As in years past, I will likely go to bed around 9 or 10 and wake up around midnight, say a thank you Lord prayer, and go right back to sleep. No drama, no deprivation! Freedom!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Marching to a Different Beat in 2008

(This photo was taken in my backyard a couple of days before Christmas. It must have been around 55 degrees that day. Cold for Southern CA)

I just made another pot of chicken veggie soup from scratch and it is probably the best one I've ever made. Of course, I say that each time I make a very tasty soup. The chicken was from the one I baked for myself on Christmas. I added the last of this season's fresh herbs from my garden plus the usual base of red bell pepper, garlic, onions, celery. Threw in some frozen green peas. Yummy!

In terms of my simple, frugal lifestyle, I learned more about what I can live without and altered a few practices throughout the journey:
  • I began driving to work again about 2 months ago after gas prices shot down far below what I paid summer of 2006 when I started taking the train/bus to work - 25 miles away from home. I learned more about community on the buses/trains of Los Angeles County and encountered the everyday extraordinary people you never hear about on the news. The advantage of taking the bus allowed me to read, on average, 2-3 books a month. I read mostly free library books.
  • I drive the street to/from work during rush hour so I don't sit in traffic and I enjoy driving through different communities.
  • I took my lunch to work every single day except for the one or two days when I forgot it. YIKES! It hurt to buy from the cafeteria. I brewed my own coffee each morning at about 11 cents a cup including my favorite creamers. You do the math of spending $4 a day on Stuckbucks coffee...never mind, I'll do it for you: comes to about $1460 a year.
  • I gave up buying bottled water except for the ones in my earthquake kit and bought 2 large reusable bottles for lunch and working out. I will miss my periodic trips to the recycling center to claim my $5 but the tap water does taste very good.
  • I reduced my DirecTV bill to the family plan which eliminated another $30 from my monthly expenses and forced me to stop watching all of the gloom and doom news. (I have been known to scream at the TV for the ridiculous programming they throw at us.) I average about 7-10 hours a week watching the TV I bought about 13 years ago.
  • I reduced my grocery bill by $60 to $100 each month by buying more of what I already like when it is on sale and freezing or storing it. (Lots of websites and blogs out there on the benefits of buying like this.) I still don't care for coupons, though. So, I just try to go the store every 8 to 10 days instead of once or twice a week.
  • I totally gave up red meat. I gave up pork years ago but I will sample it if I am invited to someone's house. I was still enjoying an occasional steak but I no longer miss it.
  • I reduced my visits to restaurants to about 1 or 2 a month, including my favorite Pollo Loco drive thru binge.
  • I paid cash for every single thing that I bought in 2008.
  • I was able to give over 10% of my gross income away and I never missed it. God has a way of making this all work out and it is essential to the way I've chosen to live.
  • Just received my water bill for December and I cut water usage for the 3rd month in a row: We received free rainfall over the last couple of weeks which directly affected how often I watered both front and back yards and I have consciously been washing larger and fewer loads. I bought more towels from Target a few months ago so that I could wash that load less often. Plus, I don't own that many clothes. I never wash my car at home and prefer the little drive thru one at the gas station. (I stopped going to full service car washes in 2008 and I vacuum the inside myself.)


DIY: Steph the Plumber

Above is the new bathroom faucet I installed myself! Although over the past 9 years I've installed kitchen sink fixtures, a garbage disposal, and a dishwasher (which was very easy), I found this particular project a bit challenging since I hadn't tackled this one before. I always aim for near professional without settling too much for slipshodiness. The best thing about plumbing is that you must get it right or you will have water everywhere. I am so grateful to all of the online resources available and my handy DIY books. I was just a little slow taking out the old, playing with the new, and finally installing it. Such is life.

After 6 hours (5 hours the first day and 1 hour the next) including a couple of extra trips to the hardware store for a new tool and new drain, I felt that good pride of not giving up and completing a near professional installation. The whole project cost me $50 (or $8 an hour) which includes the faucet. I am thankful for plumbers and I don't fault them for what they charge but I am so happy to be willing and able to do the work myself. Freedom!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!

The simple message of Christmas serves as the foundation of my simple living: Jesus was born to give us an abundant life that surpasses anything you will find on Earth designed by mankind. It can't be bought because it was freely given. It's all about love and freedom.

The beauty of the Christ(mas) story provides a wonderful outline for simple living even if you don't believe in the spiritual message: Most of the Bible is hands-on and very practical. It is full of timeless wisdom.

Striving to love God with all you have in you and genuinely loving others, which I find impossible without God's help, delivers us from the residue of this crazy world system. All of us face problems regardless of our faith but I have found that applying God's biblical instructions empowers us live beyond the rat race mindset and allows us to move forward collaboratively while living without burdens of the past. Freedom!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Payday Lenders' Enslavement Process

(Article on Payday Lenders is linked in this blog's title.)

I have nothing else to add to the practice of payday lenders: Their businesses remain legal and rely on voluntary subjects who prefer another form of modern day slavery to freedom. Businesses cannot excel without willing customers and the government for bailouts when they fail.

I can only speak to the fact that when we choose to live on less than we make and less than what we want, when we provide ourselves with a cash cushion for the inevitable storms that will come into our lives by saving 10-20% of our income, we remain free or at least right at freedom's gates. I noticed in the article that customers were visiting payday lenders to pay car payments for a new car! !@#$% Another customer needed money for repairs on a BMW. HELLO! It seems that a viable solution would be to sell the cars and drive a previous owned (used) Toyota or Honda and pay off the debt. (I've driven the same Toyota pickup for almost 14 years - which I bought new. My next car will likely be an affordable Toyota or Honda .)

I am fully aware that most Americans don't want to be free but want to live the "TV Life" of glamor: You rarely see anyone on TV driving a 14 year old vehicle nor do you see the hundreds of hours per month real-life multi-millionaires work to increase their net worth . TV isn't real. Turn it off and live! Don't let the media/the Joneses steal your payday money you've worked so diligently for and enjoy a good night's sleep without all of this foolishness.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Sustainable Living - Sifting Through Fantasies

"He who works his land will have abundant food, but the one who chases fantasies will have his fill of poverty." - Proverbs 28:19

Everyday I have the choice to pursue reality and contentment or fantasies and self-destruction through choosing a mindset that forces me to chase more unrealistic lifestyles that don't offer me peace and joy. The reality of living well for me includes the basics: healthy food, clean water, decent clothes, shelter, and transportation, life long learning through both informal and formal education at the lowest rate possible, and participating in a community of others who strive in the same direction I'm going. That's it! My driving force is to first please God according to Biblical standards which some would argue is a fantasy but it's been working for me for the past 9 years.

Self-destruction is by far my greatest fear. If a natural disaster overtakes me or I am a random victim of violence, I have no control over that at all. However, if I choose to chase unrealistic fantasies way above and beyond my skill set, my personality, my core being, my private points-of-view, I will self-destruct. I need to control those behaviors. Like you, I have done so many self-destructive things over my lifetime and by the grace of God, I'm still standing and pursuing a better life that works for me. I'm not talking about the big obvious actions like drinking and driving or addiction to drugs. No. I'm talking about the small daily conflicts that accumulate to disastrous results like using stupid credit cards without paying off balances just so I can appear "fabulous." Such actions for me have proven to be empty.

To me, real poverty includes lack of self-control, wisdom, joy, peace, love, little interest in learning anything new, and a strong resistance to getting along with other people using collaborative versus controlling strategies. These dignified riches make life worth living and have nothing to do with the psychology of money. Freedom!

Monday, December 22, 2008

"Perfect People"

"The need to be perfect is a terrible burden. It means there is no rest, no serenity, only striving and failing, since perfection can't change and to be alive means to change. So even if it were possible to be momentarily perfect, that would be the end of the line - as a verb, "to perfect" means "to finish." The gnawing sense of imperfection can taint the simplest pleasure and the greatest triumph....being critical of others is an integral part of maintaining the fantasy that you are perfect and others must strive to keep up with you." - Dr. Joy Browne, radio psychologist, author of The Nine Fantasies that will Ruin Your Life.

I've also experienced that hanging around "perfect people" will drain your bank account because they are rarely satisfied with simple living even in its most costly forms. They often spend, spend, spend and those of us who won't go along with the program will PAY, pay, pay: financially, emotionally, and psychologically. Resisting their criticism is futile.
Run! Start and get your own life without them. Freedom!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Primary Gifts

Well, Christmas is a week away and I've learned that the primary gifts of living are loving, forgiving, and letting stuff go. Some might wonder why I would include these thoughts in a blog about being frugal but the challenge of these three threads are core to a free life with less emotional baggage/stuff. The more I learn to love difficult people, (cause it is always easy to love those who love you back), the less time and wasted energy I spend trying to make them live up to my so-called standards in my mind. When I accept folks for who they are, I am free to let them be as God intended within the core of their personalities. I choose to not comment on how they should live as long as their choices aren't severely choking out how I have chosen to live my life. Loving one another produces an exhilarating life with unexpected twists and turns!

When I forgive, I am depending on God's power because I know I don't have it in me to do this on my own. I am reminded of just how dependent I am on someone greater than me to maintain peace within me and all around me. Forgiving does more for the forgiver than the one being forgiven: It totally frees you to move on in your life and pursue your greatest potential in relating well with new people who appear before you. When I choose to hold a grudge, I am giving away my power, my future, and possibly my physical/mental health. (Some studies connect an unwillingness to forgive to poor physical/mental health.)

Finally, letting stuff go symbolically represents frugality: Whatever you don't need should be eliminated to increase efficiency. When I let go of past hurts and injustices, I can freely create a meaningful life in the moment which I hope will in turn produce tantalizing memories later in my life or even next month or next year. I have control over how I want to remember today by how I choose to relate to others right now. Life moves so quickly so I decided a while ago that it was easier to flow with life and let stuff go instead of holding on to the past and drowning. Freedom!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Joy of Giving Throughout the Year and Less in December

A couple of decades ago, I totally gave up shopping for the "Christmas" season. As I became a more consistent giver of my time and resources throughout the year, I found the holiday rush to be frivolous and shallow. It unnecessarily raises my anxiety so I gave it up.

As a discipled Christian, I believe in looking for opportunities to love others through giving and that includes far more than just shopping or giving money ALL YEAR LONG. This practice has made my life more meaningful and manageable because life really isn't just about me and buying more stuff that brings more lasting clutter than joy.

For the past couple of Decembers, I baked cookies and gave them away to neighbors and a few friends. This year, I don't even plan on doing that: I lost 14 pounds in the last 18 months from working out more and simply eating less so I will neither tempt myself nor deliver butter-filled and sugary calories to my neighbors. I may pick up a couple of under $10 items for the neighbors this year or give them a poinsettia but over the past few years, we have learned to be good neighbors during sickness, abandonment, and simple checkup greetings on the way to work or after arriving at home, sweet home. Two or three of us have given ourselves as gifts throughout the years, as needed, and so, there's no need to overdo or outdo each other each December in giving more stuff.

I enjoy my simple friendships that only require an e-card, a traditional holiday card, or an email to let each other know that we care during this season. Since we succeeded in our efforts to see each other throughout the year, there's no anxiety about seeing them before the new year starts. We don't have crazy expectations that we must spend time together in November/December if it isn't a win-win for each of us. Calm, relaxing relationships give me more than any of them could go out and buy in a superstore. Our friendships are far more precious than stuff.

I have an 11 year old "millenial" in my life whom I've had the daunting/exhilarating task of mentoring and tutoring for almost 2 years and I am happy to do so free of charge. What I didn't expect was the joy I have in teaching him about giving throughout the year and how to manage December in spite of the intruding commercials he consumes at home: We have had several cheap or free experiences intermixed with costly outings as I attempt to share a balanced frugal life with him. He is starting to understand that being frugal doesn't mean you never spend money but you spend less on many things so that you can enjoy a few expensive things/experiences every now and then. Living extravagantly is never the goal of my frugal life but I am not against enjoying a few of the things that money can buy as long as I can safely pay cash for them. Of course, I will purchase a couple of items on his wish list and he really enjoys them because he doesn't get them all year long...and those wish list items aren't cheap!

I've learned to give more of my time to co-workers in angst or lend an ear to hurting hearts. I've learned to give myself more naps and all play Saturdays so that I can give more of my existence to others on weekdays. I've written more checks to charities working in 3rd world settings - including a few found in America - throughout this year and I've been able to give more cash away when I felt moved to do so and I don't care about not being able to write it off of my taxes. God is keeping count :D. The best gift I've given myself is the choice to eliminate debt from my life (9 years left on my mortgage contract but I will shoot for 7) and the simplicity of paying cash for everything and saving for tomorrow. Freedom!