Saturday, January 30, 2010

How to be Happy with Less

I can imagine people saying "But I can't give up my _________!", whether it be TV, computer, iPod, cell phone, or anything you think you need but that no other generation before you considered a necessity. They lived without all this STUFF, so can you.

Tell me, do you really need to interrupt a meeting to tell a friend that you're in a meeting and can't talk now? Wouldn't you leave the same message by not answering your cell phone? Do you need to divert your attention from driving and use up one hand to tell someone that you're on your way? Won't you be there in a few minutes anyway?

I think we feel so tired, over-worked, emotionally drained, and fiscally poor because we're working to support all these "necessary" mechanical devices.

My parents didn't have a dishwasher. We washed dishes by hand. We didn't have remote controls. We operated things by hand. If we wanted to turn the fan on or the garage door open, we got up and did it ourselves.

But I promised to talk about how to be happy with less. I've already showed that we can do with less, if we change our mindset, and separate what we NEED from what we WANT. We NEED the dishes to be clean. We WANT a dishwasher to do the work for us, so that we can rush over to the next machine (computer, television, etc).

I propose that we get rid of some of those machines, and simply do it ourselves. If you have an electric blanket, get rid of it. Buy a regular blanket or quilt. You'll be just as warm, and these days they're so lightweight that chances are, you'll not notice the difference in weight. Or buy a pair of pajamas.

It may be hard to live with less at first. There are times when I still miss my microwave. The microwave was so fast, so convenient! Toss something in and it's done in 90 seconds!

But now I use my stove top, oven, or electric grill to cook. It takes longer, forcing me to slow down and accommodate longer cooking times. But it also seems to add flavor (especially if I let my soup/stew slowly simmer for an hour or four).

We don't need a gadget for every purpose. We don't have to cling to our fast paced life. We can choose to slow down and savor homemade meals, handmade crafts, and do-it-yourself activities, just like every previous generation.

We can leave our heartless gadgets behind and rediscover the home, the family, our humanity. Is it really so important that everything be done with mechanical precision, or to say that we did it ourselves? Anyone can buy something. But it takes time, effort, and skill to make something.

And when we do have less; fewer machines beeping and flashing as they do everything for us, when we get rid of them and do for ourselves, we find that we actually have more rather than less.

More peace, not worrying if it will break down and how are we going to fix/replace it. More pride, that we did it ourselves and it didn't cost us anything. More time, to actually enjoy the things that really matter.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

My advice on Saving Money

I honestly don't understand how it can possibly be hard to save money. I guess that's because I never had any. Never.

Growing up we did without things that people can't live without today. We didn't have a cell phone, an ipod, a microwave, new clothes, expensive vacations (remember those long drives in the family station wagon?), or even a computer. But today we just can't do without them. Why? We could probably get rid of all of them, have a simple, more peaceful existence, and wind up with more money than you know what to do with.

We also grew some of our own food. So if you have some yard (front, back, side), you can tear out those flower beds and plant some vegetables. That will stretch your food budget, you'll know where the food came from and how it was grown (completely organic, which used to be the ONLY way to grow food), and have the satisfaction of eating what you grow yourself. It might even keep the kids busy enough to ignore the fact that you gave their game console away.

Which reminds me. When I was a kid, we gathered at the dining room table and played card & board games. Remember playing such games as Yahtzee, Life, Monopoly, Canasta? They didn't take any electricity and provided wholesome family fun for hours.

Another thing I remember from my childhood is that we used and reused everything. Old clothes were mended, then torn up and made into something else (your old shirt might become my winter hat and mittens), then torn up again and made into rags, blankets, rugs. But today we're too busy wasting everything, then we wonder why we're in so much debt and the landfills are overflowing with perfectly good items.

Allow me to make a few suggestions.

1) The ONLY way to stay out of debt is: Don't spend more than you have. Conversely, the ONLY way to get into debt is to spend more than you have. There is no other way to get in, no other way to get out.
2) Do not waste what you do have. Reduce, reuse, recycle. Just don't waste it!
3) Cut out spending on things that aren't necessary. Things you probably spend money on that are NOT necessary are: a) cell phone, b) ipod, c) television d) eating out e) vacations f) new clothes g) microwave
4) If you absolutely had to do without those things, you could. I've done without them for years. My parents never had them, either. I'm not saying to get rid of everything. But any you can cut out of your life will save you money.
5) You can vacation with relatives or go to a hotel for a few days in your own town. My dad took a vacation every Summer for 30 years and never left the State.
6) Instead of going to J.C. Penny, the Bon Marche', Target, or Macy's to buy your clothes and furniture brand new, check out the second-hand stores. Many times you can find a whole outfit for the price of just one new item elsewhere. And you can buy a whole set of furniture for the cost of one new recliner.
7) When grocery shopping, do not go to the center of the store. Stick to the perimeter. That will save you money, you'll eat healthier, and force you to cook meals at home (which will save you even more money).
8) Tear out your flower garden and plant vegetables. Get a pressure cooker so you can can your vegetables (remember Mason Jars?) and eat them out of season (the canned vegetables, not the Mason Jars).
9) Do not use credit cards. Just don't. Cut them all up (right now) and throw them away.
10) A deck of cards and a pitcher of lemonade make great home entertainment for a tiny fraction of the cost of going to a movie or a ball game. And you don't have to worry about finding a parking space.

These are tips I've heard and read my whole life. It's also how I've lived my whole life. Mostly because I've had no choice (I didn't have any money to waste), but also because I don't see the point in wasting things. Why spend $200 for a family of four to attend one baseball game when you can watch it at home for practically free and get a better view of the field?

Or even better, take a bat and ball and go out to the backyard with your family for a game of your own. Now that's saving!