Tuesday, July 11, 2017

frugality from grandparents

My grandmother grew up in a poor, rural family in northern Philippines. Although she wound up marrying money (my grandfather was high society), the super frugal habits she was raised on persisted in her new life after moving here to America and allowed her to accomplish things people all over the world (including here in the US) can't even dare to imagine.

Once here she took up work as a secretary, a position she was quite content with and retained until her retirement around 40 years later. She started out here alone in a one bedroom apartment in Washington, D.C. Her adult children followed shortly after, and they all bunked up together in that tiny apartment for the first few years.

My grandmother always took the subway to work, and never went out 'for fun' to things like restaurants or movie theaters. She was a homebody and cooking was her idea of a good time. It was through her uber-frugal lifestyle that after just a few years she realized she had enough money for a downpayment on a house in the suburbs. She got one within walking distance of the subway and continued to use mass transit for commuting to work throughout her career.

She was so frugal that by late mid-life with a secretary's salary she was able to cover the downpayment on a second house where her son took up residence, loan my parents the money for the downpayment on their house, pay large chunks of the bills for four of her grandkids' college tuitions and vehicles.

My mother started out with admirably frugal habits early on in life, saving enough working in the Philippines to pay for six months of backpacking through Europe with a college buddy. However as she settled into the conventional 9-5 career with mortgage and two kids she slowly became entrenched in the mindless-shopging-for-fun consumerism typical of middle-class America, and lost a lot of her frugal edge over the years. My was dad even less so, relying on my mom to alert him to when it was time to tighten the purse strings. I wasn't the worst with money but was far from great, and had terrible latte-factor habits that kept me stressing over being unable to afford pricier goals in life (like world travel or a high quality instrument).

Growing up here in America, surrounded with advertising messaging, pop culture, and conventional thinking feeding each other in a vicious cycle, it's very easy to get suckered into festering credit card debt from 'treating yourself' (usually far too often) and lose sight of much more important things like emergency money, fiscal freedom, and things you dream about most in life (like adventure travel or simply less stress and more spare time).

It took me stumbling upon the early retirement blogging community to wake up and start working on thinking about money more like my grandmother would, realizing that things in life that I'm more interested than a nonstop job that pays the bills are still possible, without needing to adopt the dreaded monk-like lifestyle.

Monday, May 1, 2017

lazy habits can support frugality

Every year both laziness and improvements in my frugal mindset lead to gradual habit adjustments. Last year grocery shopping was one the few remaining places through which DH and I achieved our shopping 'high'. Being part hippie and foodie, we'd not only visit the neighborhood Giant but make the trek out to the area Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, and Wegmans at least once a week, each. It was also an easy way to get out of the house with our night-owl toddler after the sun had set, especially when the weather was bad.

After keeping that up for a while it eventually started to get really tiresome. Fortunately our neighborhood Giant has expanded their hippie/foodie offerings in recent years, allowing us to downsize those very unfrugal driving habits.

Another example is that DH used to like making the drive out to a specific Farmers Market in the region because it's the only place our favorite local beef producer sells his product. But as it is a  far drive, there's only a window of a few hours on Saturday morning to do it, and lately he's been feeling as lazy as I have about driving, we've simply gone without beef for over a year now.

A while back we started hauling kiddo to the library every week to get outta the house. While a worthwhile time killer, it did start to feel terribly far after keeping that up for several weeks. Nowadays a trip to the libary is also down to just a once a month or two.

Travel farther afield has also fallen into our widening category of so-not-worth it. We attempted a few overnight trips last year, concluding all of them feeling worn out and ready to take a break from big travel for most of this year.

While we strive to keep our very active pre-schooler engaged in the world around her, we've also reached the point of insisting on relaxing and making do at home and the neighborhood within walking distance more often.

This I think is where laziness can compliment frugal living goals.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

a few steps back

While DH and I get progressively better with our spending habits each year, we do still go through phases of backsliding on occasion. The last few months of 2016 was a good example, as we had definitely let ourselves go quite a bit.

At times we'll get discouraged with our quest, thinking if we've got at minimum several more years to go, we may as well get comfortable and loosen the purse strings a bit. Factoring into this issue is that as desires for expensive things, habits, and hobbies fade out of our system we sometimes feel at a loss for ways to spend our spare time, and so spending on consumables like alcohol and fancy chocolate will have a tendency to tick up. Adding to this equation is the need to take our toddler into consideration when coming up with ideas to occupy down time (since it's tougher to pull off with frugal loner hobbies like reading with any length or regularity).

But as our kid gets older, things have started to get a little easier and more parent-friendly with routines, sleep, and play.

Like most people at least when each New Years comes around we feel a bit more motivated to get back on track. At least between progress and regress, I can say that we accomplish a net gain of increased savings and frugal values each year, progressively feeling less desire to buy new stuff or get into pricey diversions.


Friday, January 13, 2017

clothes

Ah one of the vices in my former life. I was on the path toward stereotypical spendy female with closets stuffed full of clothes, shoe, and bag collections that I don't use. I hadn't gotten so bad as Emelda Marcos or Carrie Bradshaw, though still quite wasteful so still I've been working to increasingly reign in the habit for years now. One of my worst habits was buying clothes online, which nine times out of ten I would regret because it wouldn't come out looking quite the way it seemed to in the picture or I wouldn't like the shape or way it fit. I'm also always reluctant to bother with returns because I'm very lazy and the shipping sevice shop in my area that stays open past 5:30 is four miles away. Lose-lose.

It's taken years for that expensive lesson to sink into my skull but I believe it finally has. Partly because DH and I now have an annual tradition of making a trip to the local outlet mall's IMAX theater for our one and only movie excursion a year and we take the opportunity to do some shopping afterward.

This way I can do the proper thing and actually try on the clothes before I buy them, with the added benefit of heavy discounts on higher-end clothes. I've realized that if I rely on this one annual trip for new clothes, then I will spend money on clothes that I'm far less likely to consign to the Purple Heart donation bag in short order. Thereby continually reducing my need for new clothes each following year.

In the name of minimalism I've also spent the past few years whittling my wardrobe down to my half of the master bedroom closet and half of the dresser, consisting of everything I wear regularly. (With a few seasonal things like thermals, swimsuits, and very heavy hoodies tucked away in their own location when not in use.)

The hangers up in my half of the closet are still pleasantly spaced out, too, so I'm even a bit further than just my half of the closet as it's not stuffed or even close to. But, I still feel like I have more than enough clothes to wear.

So this year so far I'm feeling pretty pleased with myself and optimistic about my habits in regards to clothes. Resolution: no new clothes until the next movie trip in next holiday season (a goal I definitely did not attempt or accomplish last year)...

Monday, December 19, 2016

holidays

As I've said before, every year I grow a little more bah-humbug about the holiday season. There's so much pressure to 'be happy' and make others happy that many people tend to end up making themselves and each other miserable if their Christmas doesn't fit into some ideal they've conjured up in their minds due to media or family traditions and/or pressures.

I was raised by parents who went with the consumer tradition of purchasing nice gifts to give to friends and family at Christmas, and for a long time I felt obliged to keep up that tradition. As I approached my mid-20s I really started to loathe the practice. Not only was it expensive and time-consuming, but managing to pick a gift the recipient would truly be excited about was always very hit or miss. It's a risky exercise even for the most thoughtful of people. I started going with consumables (boxes of chocolates, tins of cocoa-mixes, etc), since it's easier to gather them in one trip and they tend to have a higher chance of being enjoyed or at least could easily be passed/regifted to others.

Leaving town for the Army spared me a lot of the unnecessary pain of hunting down annual gifts for a minimum dozen other people among immediate and extended family and friends.

Around the time DH and I were separating from the military, DH got a bug to learn how to make his own fancy desserts. He mastered chocolate truffles and after relocating back to my home town we started making goodie bags stuffed with them to pass out at the annual gathering of my extended family - mostly to spare us from the effort and expense of all the 'traditional Christmas shopping'.

We've done different treats like chocolate chip cookes and meringues. As our kiddo sails through toddlerhood we've gotten lazier - this year was chocolate bark and fudge (the quickest and easiest treats I could think of to make). More effort than most conventional shoppers would care to make but I say still beats endless time in malls (either brick OR online ones) and hundreds to thousands of dollars on gifts that your loved ones may or may not even like.

DH and I don't even get each other things anymore; except on occasion if he mentions some gadget or goodie (and it's not terribly expensive or hard to find) I might pick it up and shove it under the tree. Certainly no his and her motorcycles, bling that neither of us ever have the occasion to wear, or overpriced smartphones. There is plenty of spontaneous purchases and picking up of restaurant tabs for each other throughout the year. But in general as far as 'stuff' goes, it seems to work out much better if we treat ourselves when we want to. (Of course as we get better at frugal living new stuff becomes an ever rarer occasion as well.)

Monday, October 24, 2016

real estate and real life

There seems to be an endless real-estate debate over the virtues of renting versus owning. Being indecisive and uncommittal myself I understand the pros and cons of both sides and as with many issues tend to be a fence sitter.

When I got out of the military and snagged a nice-paying contractor job, I had by that point been sucked into the conventional American dream of owning a single-family home.

We ended up in a small townhouse, however, shortly after buying our home, glaring problems started to surface that we hadn't seen with our inexperienced, first-time-buyer's starry eyes. In the first year we needed the roof reshingled and gutters redone, and the fire-hazard electrical box, missing bedroom ceiling lights, and ancient water-wasting toilets were also replaced. In the second year the basement, hastily and cheaply carpeted by flippers, flooded badly due to a tropical storm. We ended up getting the entire room down there re-walled and re-floored (with porcelain tiles and proper 5/8ths-inch mold-resistant drywall, to minimize risks of future expensive headaches). The third year we had to replace the heat pump.

There are many shoddily-done parts of the house that we still plan to renovate. Some are choices that we could get by without doing, which leads to the "temptation to upgrade" argument against owning.

I've heard it said that if you're not particularly handy or inclined to be, then you're probably better off renting over owning because the maintenance costs will rob you blind. Costs that could've been money put to better use elsewhere. I wonder how many people feel the weight of that statement as heavily as DH and I do.

So while we are content in the house (for now), I find myself often wishing we'd opted for renting an apartment from the newer complex in the neighborhood. The rent for a two-bedroom would've been a couple hundred more than our current mortgage payment, but if you factor in HOA fees plus a monthly average for all the upgrades and repairs, renting there comes out much more cost effective.

On the other hand I will concede that it does feel good to "build equity" as opposed to handing money to a landlord indefinitely. (But I'll also concede that arguments of that being a psychological trap are fair.) Additionally rent rates tend to drift uncomfortably upward which could undo potential cost benefits. I do heap a good pile of cash on the principal each year with the goal of both increasing equity and decreasing the total interest cost at the end. The tax deduction is also some consolation for the headaches of owning.

I will also admit to the anchored-down feeling that home-owning gives, which grates against DH's and my desires to keep moving around and having new adventures. Having a kid seems to counterbalance that a bit; instilling an increased desire for stability over adventure. And since we're both bringing home robust salaries from very tolerable jobs, for now we're content to stick it out in this house for a while.

In the end, we've grown content to appreciate the mortgaged house for what it is, at least for the medium-term future. But, I also think renting that apartment in the neighborhood could very well have fostered a similar (if not greater) contentment with our living arrangement. Live and learn.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

news diets

I used to go through phases in which I would feverishly watch, listen to, or read the news, thinking it was part of my duty as an American to be a well-informed citizen. But in my journey to become more frugal over the past few years I've attempted a thing called a news diet (or media-in-general diet) and, as I've gotten more used to lower media consumption, have found it very helpful to my state of mind.

In college I had this aggravating communist professor. While I still consider her "out there" in many ways I'd have to admit that she was right about one thing - modern news is still very much like it was in the olden days: sensationalist half-informed hyperbole that tends to promote hysteria instead of mitigating it. It's not much different from fictional programming that's designed to push you on an emotional rollercoaster purely for entertainment purposes. Conventional news outlets seem to only be a contributing source of stress in life. Living without it, or at least with a minimum of it, can be liberating.

These days I rely almost entirely on theSkimm, The Christian Science Monitor, and FactChecker.org to know about what's happening in the world. I've come to believe that relying on these written outlets for my nutshells of news has led to an upgraded personal radar for detecting red flags on questionable reporting, trolling by bored jerks, and fictional click-bait. It's also led to more freed up time and precious little brain space to focus on other things in life.

And, like other frivolous, distracting, and even stressful pursuits in life (too much TV/news/adverts, too much gossip, too much going with the crowd, etc.), relieving yourself of it helps with things like discovering what's important to you, the individual, and sifting out things in life that you realize aren't worth your time, money, or energy. Hence, more life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.