Friday, July 29, 2016

Shopping and Allowance

No shopping but plenty of spending!  We've already made tentative lists for holidays coming this Fall/Winter and spaced out when we'll likely buy certain things.  (That's not really a new idea for us, but in the past it was less concrete.  I'm enjoying Evernote these days with pages for lists, class notes, brainstorming etc.)  We're also trying to be careful with our girls not to gift too much at Christmas.  As I look at the list we've made, it's still quite an expensive enterprise.  Yet, they'll hear of huge amounts MORE from friends and family.  Concrete spending plans make me feel less likely to be drowned by that tsunami.
The girls feel a bit more empowered since we started allowance.  We are doing $2 in the spend jar, $2 in the save jar and $1 in the give jar weekly.  As their "spend" amount increases, they ask for fewer things.  They talk about what they want to buy which functions as wish-fulfillment psychologically.  Whether or not they ever purchase the items, it's almost as if they have since they COULD (eventually).   They didn't even bring their spending money to TN (Dollywood etc.).  They don't seem to think of their allowance as possible "mad money."

Many simplicity and frugality peeps say we should write down our purchase hopes for 7 days (up to a month) when the item is $50 or less and then longer periods for greater purchases.  Cait Flanders said in our Simple Year webinar that she counted up $400 she saved one month from avoided impulse buys!  (Imagine what that looks like for a family of four rather than a single gal!)  To write it down and then decide a bit later really curtails impulse buys that aren't in line with our lives/values.

I'm trying to decide if I should continue my ban, making it longer (or opt for a write-down-and-wait method?  or just continue the mindful budgeting procedures?).  I'm curious to see if I'd start to feel worse about it as time went on or just the opposite?  I also wonder about the notion of personal discipline and character shaping.  (Those are certainly good things!)  The jury is currently out.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Update on First Shopping Ban

I have more tinges to buy intellectual or developmental things/digital products than probably anything else.  I get inspired or curious, and then I think I "need" something.  Lately, I'm learning to flex my waiting muscles which is just plain good for my character.  I'm enjoying those library books! :)

I'm grateful for the ban since we've had many extra household needs: a new washer, roto-rooter and a new family room floor (water damage tied to the washer issues).  In many past months, I would've considered these events actually stressful financially.  It's not like we're on easy street, but it's doable.

I'm still saying "no" to shopping, but I'm also saying "yes" for those approved purchases I consider necessary.  The girls need school stuff to get started.  I have a few exercise-connected replacements I had to work in also.  All that feels fine in my conscience.  What's interesting to me is that when I spent unconsciously, I didn't feel "good" about spending on anything.  There was always a little fear involved or a sense that I needed to keep any eye on it.  Now that I keep a much firmer eye on it and genuinely plan, I don't have that fear.

The clarity just keeps on coming with greater simplicity.  I don't find it so hard to make plans and decisions even about spending.  My priorities seem much firmer.  And when I deviate from my daily goals, even that feels okay when I need rest or a break.  This all equates to less stress.  Less stress even though we have a floor to rebuild and spent no-fun sorts of cash on household inconveniences.  (I can also say that the simplicity of our space is such a gift right now--it wasn't hard to move our things around to tear up the floor etc.--not a lot of "stuff" to store/shift.

If you do want a FREE-to-access thinking conundrum, check out a lot of Sam Harris' work.  He's quite a neurologist and is known as a calm, rational atheist.  Here's a talk on free will and why no one has any.  Good Twilight Zone concerns.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Hundred Dollar Holiday

This is a very small book, and I just re-read it.  As I prepare for us to start school and even think ahead to holidays coming up, I wanted to consider his perspective again.  He says more than once that it's not about the dollar amount but rather hemming ourselves in so that this "holy-day" isn't about money/goods.

McKibben gives a terrific run-down of the history of our traditions and how many of them were perhaps suitable to the people in those times and places.  "Over-the-top" makes sense if your life is laborious and rather removed from all the stimuli we face.  (Here's a stat from reading unrelated many years ago: we process in one DAY mentally what our ancestors at the turn of the last century 1800s-->1900s processed in a YEAR.)

Plus, their notions of "huge" fall amazingly shy of all our dreams of Christmas.  He gives ideas for homemade gifts in his little book, and the biggest focus is on what our needs actually are around holidays: we need a season of peace.  We're made for connection to nature, each other and the divine.  So he hopes our traditions and time spent around Christmas reflect those needs.  Christmas is an antidote to the onslaught we face daily, when our days feel less holy.  I think he published this book in 1998--how much more true it seems to ring!

7: An Experimental Mutiny against Excess

This wasn't your typical simplicity book.  It was spiritually-focused and relies more on humor than one might guess as a result.  She brings heavy things so Jen Hatmaker also has to balance that.  (Some of it is a bit too silly.) Her areas are clothes, spending, waste, media, food, stress and possessions.  Each of the months had a different use of the number 7.  She wore the same seven items for a month, spent money at only seven places one month, ate only seven foods (I couldn't do this one) for a month, cut out most/all media for a month, observed the seven sacred pauses with the Sabbath etc.  In Waste, she gardened, composted, conserved, recycled, used one care for her family of five, shopped at thrift stores and bought everything local.  Her family wasn't able to stick to the challenges absolutely 100% of the time, but they mostly did.  The clothes and food weren't imposed on her kids, but the others were.  I winced so badly when their seventh grade son had to endure having his skater hair-do shaved by his dad's unskilled clippers because of it all--not sure that was really necessary.  She references some great personal transformations, organizations and authors along the way also.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Reading Thoughts

It's All Too Much (Peter Walsh)--from the library
He does a nice job focusing on what a room's purpose is and then culling the things that aren't not wanted/needed for those purposes.  Before that, Walsh starts with personal questions about the ideal lives we want to live.  You also go from room to room evaluating how you feel there--what stresses you?  What do you like most about the room?  What do we need from this particular space?  Once in each room, he actually zones them off into the different areas for different purposes, and I wasn't feeling the need to go there.  If I had a much larger space or many more family possessions maybe I'd find zoning helpful?  Walsh challenged me suitably on seasonal decor.  I weeded out a bunch, but I still have things that make our home feel that transition and celebration of each season and holiday.

Walsh has a very direct tone with just enough humor and reality thrown in.  I did enjoy reading this one.  Especially helpful were the Spring Cleaning Tasks and what we do each month of the year.  I might adopt several of his suggestions.
The best thing I've read in a while is Greg McKeown's Essentialism!  I took so many notes on this one--I'll try not to get too crazy here.

It's a great book for the personal life, but a lot of what is central is our work lives.  We must say no to even really good opportunities in order to opt for the great ones.  Trade-offs are serious business--we ask ourselves "which problem do we want to solve?"

He supports a three-part cyclical process: explore, eliminate, execute.  Exploring means taking your time to really think, investigate etc. before coming to decisions.  It reminds me of my dad with his little notebook going to all the stores, jotting down measurements, notes, prices etc. before deciding which one to buy.  Make larger, discerned decisions that will in turn take care of all those small ones.  It's a disciplined pursuit of less (but better).  There's a point at which doing more does not actually produce more.

Protecting the Asset is making sure we sleep.  Did you know that pulling one all-nighter or sleeping only 4-5 hours throughout the week will produce impairment at the level of 0.1 blood alcohol level?  (The po-po will get you for 0.08%.)  Here's a parenting koan: a token system for screen time, money and kids.  Give out 10 per kid per week--each one is worth 30 minutes of screen time or 50 cents.  Reading for 30 minutes will get you an additional token which you can also trade for money or screen time.  (In their home, screen time when down 90%, and reading went up the by the same amount!)

He gives so many great details, ideas and stories for every aspect of the book that I can't imagine ruining it to spell too much out right here.  Most of us would benefit greatly from his perspective!
Leo Babauta's Zen Habits, Essential Zen Habits and Simple Guide to Minimalist Life

Stop judging events as good or bad, and stop expecting well, anything.  He doesn't advise this haphazardly--it's more in the aid of understanding.  If we judge, we have made up our minds and have not curiosity or an openness to understanding.  A lot of his other advice in the book is great too, but this first point was the newest for me to really consider.

He gave some great tech tips for programs that do an easier launch of whatever program you want (without all those icons on your screen) or for PCs.

Courtney Carver's Mini-Missions for Simplicity

The best things from this little book were the habit-stacking and refusing sections.  She offers pleasing ways to say "no" when you should.  Things like "this isn't the right time" or "I'm not the best person for the project."

Pia Edberg's The Cozy Life

Hygge is the main concept explored, and she didn't share anything I hadn't already read.  It was a sweet portrayal of connection, simplicity and warmth in any case.
Downsizing Your Life by Claire Middleton

The most helpful information was around moving and how to decide.  When people downsize and want to consider the benefits of a new home/location, they should look to reduce monthly costs by 25% or more.  If we want see possibilities, we can check out some websites she suggests.  One was

Shopping Ban: First 10 Days

I probably shouldn't need to do an update, but this ban is a big first for me.

I noticed the same triggers of trying to solve problems around shopping temptations--lots of times!  And for the purchases that were planned and necessary (for the girls starting school etc.), it was a similar feeling.  Those were more sizable purchases, but I felt much better spending money when it was planned.  We did backpacks and shoes which are quality sorts of purchases, but it was easier knowing had I had more resources (--that we weren't fiddling money away on little things everywhere).

It's interesting to note that at least that much pressure came from the girls always asking for things we don't need right now.  We're fairly generous with them just like their other loved ones.  This is a great fix to stem some of the junk/clutter tide as well!  They've done a great job making space lately since gifts have been coming in via birthdays.  So as the holidays come and are sure to bring stuff with them, we're a little more prepared.

Shopping might be a helpful thing to "ban" for another reason: credit card theft/fraud.  My parents had some weird scenarios around this last one, and the provider admitted that right now the hackers seem to be staying ahead of them.  Perhaps swiping isn't the best thing to do right now?  Paying with cash generally means we spend less anyway.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

The Opposite of Spoiled

I recently read Ron Lieber's The Opposite of Spoiled.
His take on kids' allowance is that it should not be tied to chores so that they can learn valuable lessons managing money divorced from the other lessons about hard work they will learn from teachers, coaches etc.  Most parents disagree with him, but I see his point.  He thinks they need the money lessons even if they're being a bit knuckle-headed by not doing their chores.  They do need chores, though.  He wants them to have to do them because that's what it means to be part of a family and household.  He thinks they should learning cooking as early as possible.

He advocates for three jars (spend-25%, give-25% and save-50%), but different stories mentioned had different approaches to what "save" meant.  He also mentioned families who match the "save" area and some who even try to teach tax a bit with a kid's money if they lose something or inconvenience someone.  Lieber allowed for a banned shopping list for kids spending their own money.  I can picture parents saying "not even your own money!" with regard to knives, tattoos, more barbies etc.

Lieber suggests some neat sites if you are managing allowance and/or chores with children (via actual banks).  Allowance Manager and FamZoo are two he offers.  There are others.

I remember when one of the girls came home with a "Wants vs. Needs" coloring sheet from a bank who had done a presentation at school.  What a gift.  I do think that conversation needs to be central.  I also think kids need to see what we donate to.  (Lieber said that most kids don't know.)  He also advocates for very honest conversations about our finances (appropriate for age), and he gave a plethora of examples that were quite inspiring.

One place I had a hard time connecting was along the lines of what materialism is/means and what our relationship should be to consumer goods.  He doesn't have trouble (as I do) with idealizing acquisition.  Also, his idea of moderate + decently-made is Lands End for clothes.  We don't live in the same universe, I'm afraid.  Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying I would never buy there (or Hanna Andersson!), but we usually go for used on ebay.  It's certainly not our "moderate"--especially for growing children  (But then again, for adults perhaps it could be since I have a small/capsule-ish wardrobe?  Quality over quantity.  I'm still an LL Bean fan myself.)

I liked his idea of trying to figure out the "fun ratio" in terms of toy/game purchases.  Have kids look at how many hours of fun relative to dollars/cents spent.  They realize they get more bang for their buck in certain types of purchases.  Lieber has fun with tooth fairy traditions like giving foreign money (from a traditions book) or different animal teeth from the tooth fairy.  (We give "fairy gifts" like stones, seeds, feathers, bangles.)

I found his mention of ECHOage compelling as a way to streamline birthday gifts and include the charity of their choosing.  Another exciting thought was helping them to some kind of life-changing summer camp one of these days (where all tech is left at home and they learn a little bit more of what they're made of).  (I've love it if anyone could share their favorite summer camps and why.)

Friday, July 1, 2016

Shopping Ban Prep and Details

I'm following the procedures that Cait Flanders outlined in our Simple Year Course and in her own shopping ban (which ends next week after two years).


Here is Cait's first step for a Shopping Ban.  She got rid of 75% of her stuff.  I have made simplifying a priority for quite a few years now, so this step is pretty much done.  I'll do a quick sweep to make sure.

One area of dangerous clutter around shopping is the digital type.  I previously unsubscribed from all shopping coupons, mailing lists, marketing facebook pages etc. (By the way, I LOVE Unroll.Me!  It monitors those kinds of emails and puts all your approved newsletters into one email per day.)

Inventory and Parameters

My personal for-just-me list is simple now, but there are lots of in-between items.  Those things belong to our whole family, and I don't feel the need to inventory them for reflection during the shopping ban.  Make no mistake though: I have personally cut down on a lot of the familial clutter where I could clear it without hurting others.

My personal list of possessions: water bottle, backpack, cloth totes (2), dessert rose (from my dad, Saudi Arabia), purse, yoga mat, Nutritious Movement stretch/prop pack, yoga/exercise DVDs (4), yoga CD, hiking poles (2), camel pack, sleeping bag + pad, e-reader, journal, notebooks (2), cell phone, iPod classic, flute + music, photos, memory book (made by G'ma Hall), (alarm) clock, Hapkido uniforms (3) + sparring equipment, Hapkido weapons (5), paperbacks (2), bolga basket.  Clothing/accessories (covering all seasons): long sleeve t-shirts (2), slippers, shoes (7), nice shirts (4), flannels (3), sweaters/sweatshirts (8), scarves (3), long sleeve basic shirts (9), vests (4), work pants (4), regular t-shirts (8), exercise outfits (5), jeans, overalls, PJs (2), necklaces (8), rings (2, aside from wedding set), bathing suit, cap, gardening/trekking hat, rain jacket, warm coat, wool hat, gloves, mittens, leg warmers, cowl, sunglasses.

The Essentials List/Approved Shopping List: anything I use on a daily basis but not replacing things until I need to.  These are consumables usually, but even my clothing counts unless it's out of season and I can wait.  One example (if gorilla glue doesn't work) is a pair of brown sandals that are essential to my wardrobe until it's quite cold.

Non-Essentials List: books, music, random toys, decor, furniture, cooking gear, hobby stuff, art supplies (unless it's a replacement issue for the girls), educational "stuff" for the girls, DVDs, stuff for my classroom (unless it's truly necessary!), me eating out when feeling lazy, yoga/exercise gear, programs for the girls that I instigate.

***I've changed my concept of books or exercise stuff as non-essential depending on how/why they are bought.  Are they recreational or important for some goal?  Are they replacements for a necessary item (especially in exercise)?

I'm currently debating the area of online courses.  I take them as I can and as really good ones are available.  I don't think this will be an issue since the Neufeld courses on my radar don't start for quite a while.  The classes are experiential the way going to the theatre, concerts, museums, hikes and camping are.  This area feels grey for now.  I will consider this area if I do a longer shopping ban.

Track Savings and Triggers

This will be multifaceted since there are other choices we're making in terms of mindful budgeting.  There could be other factors contributing to our savings.

Everyone's triggers are different.  One of mine is internet influence (via blogs usually) so I have to watch it carefully.  This concern gels well with generally cutting screen time because of the time it devours.  I'm catching the trigger feelings in the moment now some of the time rather than in hindsight only.  That's progress!  Now I'd like to observe other components of my trigger moments (like emotions, what kind of day I'm having, stress, where I am, what I'm doing).

Eric and I used to involve shopping in many of our dates.  We have lately chosen more of the hike-types but still included a good dinner/restaurant.  Some of the shopping doesn't have to be bad.  If there are things we need or he really wants to look at, I'm down with it.  Being in malls or Target doesn't seem to mess me up these days. I've tested that a bit lately and passed.  I'm not saying that there's no temptation, but it can fuel Christmas gifts later if we so decide.  The only time I come home with more than what's on my list is when it's consumable foods we can't access locally.  I want to be mindful of that tendency.  If it's for the girls, it feels okay; but when it's processed food that still qualifies as junk (just organic junk) for me, it's not okay.

I wonder if any triggers could be replaced by healthier movement habits like exercise, more walking, hiking etc.?  One habit I'm building for my health and wallet is really a re-do: better advanced food prep and planning.  When I have healthy options ready to go, I make much better choices.  The library is a resource I'm using more habitually. There's nothing crucial about reading just this book just this moment in terms of purchasing it.  If it's really great, I will get to it either with the library or later when shopping isn't off limits.

I feel some of my shopping ban and conscious consuming intentions have the flavor of Katy Bowman's new book coming out in November where she explores stacking her life to maximum benefit.  I'm looking forward to reading that book, but I probably won't buy it anytime soon.

Shopping Ban

I'm starting a shopping ban.  It'll be July for now and might turn into three months or longer.  What is a shopping ban?  "It's a period of time where you choose not to buy any of the non-essentials in life." (Cait Flanders)  

What's (non)essential changes for people at various points, and that's just dandy.  When I think of essential, I'm not going with the truest understanding of that word (food, shelter, clothing, relationships according to Leo Baubata) even though they're in the logic of it somewhat.  I'm including things that seem reasonable for the lifestyle I want within the context of my family.  I do want to be able to buy other people gifts for birthdays and Christmas even though handmade gifts are awesome (and often my preference).  I do want to have outings with my family that involve restaurants or entertainment sometimes.  We still love the simple things like a hike or a playground, but sometimes we opt to spend money.  I'll buy the girls things like comfy shoes and clothes that fit for seasons, but I will purchase them more intentionally/consciously.

Why would I do a complete ban?  Sometimes I'm very careful about what I buy.  I make a truly concerted effort to think about my relationship to things and how I would like it to be.  Still, I have habits around impulse buys: that album I've heard about, that ebook since it's cheaper than the physical book and since I can read it that instant.  Some of those purchases have been wins, and many more have been true losses.  I use buying as a problem solver more often than I'd like to admit (filling time for the girls, health trends etc.).  When I crunch the numbers at the end of a month, I notice all those things that seem rather insignificant add up to a lot of money and clutter.

I think what fluctuates for me and for plenty of people is the idea of whether or not we CAN buy something.  Just because there's cash on hand doesn't mean we can buy it (or does it?).  For example, if you're disciplined with a budget, that cash on hand will serve some purpose.  It could be savings/emergency funds, investments and retirement or something clearly delineated for this particular month or quarter.  Some of us assume since we are permitted via credit to acquire things that we can buy them.  It's all pretty murky, and I'd like to clarify this point for myself (and my family).  That might change over time obviously as we have more security built than we currently do; but for now, this idea of "can" will be more regimented at least for yours truly.

I'll get into particulars next.