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June 1 – 30 day De-Clutter Challenge

One of the many fall-outs of our lives is too much stuff. Getting out of the habit of acquiring new stuff is the basis of balancing your budget.  Getting into a habit of getting rid of old stuff is the basis of balancing your life.

So, after about a week of trying it out, I am challenging myself to get rid of at least one thing a day for this month – sell, give or toss. If I can’t bring myself to do it, my penalty is that I must do whatever it is I was planning to do with the item in question – frame it, fix it, put it where it belongs.

 

June 1 – child’s label maker; a birthday present never used by my own child now 20;; left behind when re-gifted to my niece – who comes up with this stuff?  Going to goodwill.  Hopefully there is some child somewhere out there whose head can get around making their own labels

June 2 – two vintage dining chairs earmarked for reupholstering; great bones but they made a home for some warm-blooded creatures  when left outside over the past two winters and I don’t think I will ever find the time for them so they will go on the boulevard over the weekend.  I’m sure there is some industrious person who can turn their talents to these.

 

Reminder

To all girls and women:

Where ever you go

whatever you do

whatever you see

whatever you hear

The world is made up fully half of females.

 

So, when you see only men sitting at the front of the airplane

when you see only men yelling and shaking their fists in government

when you see only men at a construction site, or in a fund raising photo, or in a history book

or all the statues at the park are of men

Remember, that girls and women still make up half the world.

How can we make so much money and still end up broke?

 

I’ve been meeting with too many broke people lately.

Not people without jobs, or homes, or savings and investments.

Just broke. They have good salaries, nice homes, much nicer cars than I have ever had in my life, generous pension plans, inheritances – broke.

They are upset.  One of them cried in my office – how can we work so hard and have good jobs and still not be making it?

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There are lots of reasons which all end up reducing to one single thing – we are over committed.

In the old days it was called “over extended”, which seems a little judge-y now.  It’s not for anyone else to say we’ve over extended ourselves beyond our income.  We make our own decisions, we are adults, we know stuff. And if we are teachers or professors we know A LOT of stuff.

So I will use the term “over committed”.

Here are some things you may have “over committed” yourself to:

  • A house that cost too much
  • A cottage that cost too much
  • Two or three cars that cost too much
  • Activities that… well, you get the point

We do need a home, and we deserve to redecorate, and we need transportation, and we need to exercise, our kids need to play hockey or learn how to dance (do they, really? Maybe they just need to exercise – oops judge-y).

The difficulty is in justifying everything we need and committing to “the best”.

There are a lot of reasons why we can’t afford “the best”, even if our income is substantial.  We are trapped in a time loop between days gone by when people could afford the best, but the best didn’t cost as much (the sixties) and a time when people have borrowed far more money than they can ever pay off in their lifetime to achieve the best for themselves and their families, because the best is many times more expensive than it was 60 years ago. – relative to our income.

For example, my mother bought a home in the early 70’s.  It cost $4500 and her income was about $6000 a year.  It’s difficult to relate to those numbers (inflation IS a thing!) so the important take away is that her annual income was more than the cost of the home.

Younger clients with a combined income of about $90,000 recently bought a home for $360,000.  It may seem like a reasonable cost, or even low, depending on where you live until I point out that their home cost almost 4 times their income, compared to my mother’s that was less than her income.  In large cities, homes are selling for $1 to $2 million.  Even if you have Big City income, homes are still running at least 4 if not 10 times personal income – that is LITERALLY exponential!

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When the basic cost of living – a roof over our head – is out of whack compared to our income, and that cost mortgages us to a lifetime of debt, everything else we spend money on becomes part of that debt.  The definition of debt is buying something you don’t have the money for – something you can’t afford.

If we add to that a many-generations enculturated sense that we “deserve” the best, the stress on our income is exacerbated to a level that cannot be rescued.  While this young couple was careful in their choice, they probably could have found a home that cost less because it needed work or wasn’t in quite as convenient or comfortable a neighbourhood.

“The best” is good, of course, but I challenge you to start thinking in terms of “the best you can afford”.

It was “the best” in that it was move in ready with new granite countertops and refinished flooring.

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So when you are signing up for the latest gym opening, consider options because they don’t all cost the same and you can probably get as much out of the local community facility or Y.  Exercising at home costs virtually nothing given YouTube and if you can avoid buying unnecessary equipment and sports gear. Yes, you make a lot of money but there are too many areas of your life to commit to the best.

 

Travel Tip No. 34 – Don’t take the Midnight Train

As enjoyable as the memories are, travel is stressful for many reasons, one being that every decision made is a sliding door to many outcomes, some wondrous and amazing as in “we would never have found this place if we hadn’t missed our train”, and some regrettable and frustrating as in “we lost a day because we missed our train”.

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Faced with departing at 6:30 AM or arriving at 12:44 AM, I went for the later departure.  The arrival was only delayed by 20 minutes AND the baggage by another 40 – I am one of the few people who thinks that $25 is not a lot to pay for the privilege of letting someone else carry a week’s worth of clothes and supplies to the plane with the added bonus of not having to wrestle 30 or 40 pounds over my head so I waited with all the other travel zombies trying not to look irritable over the fact that there was ONE flight on the landing strip.  It was too late, even though I was crossing backward over 3 times zones and it should only have felt like 11 PM, the ghostlike environment of closed kiosks and picking my way over the tile-layer made being the last flight in feel kinda spooky.  I arrived at my bedroom after 2 AM, grateful that there are still drivers at the airport after midnight, and only panicking once when the driver seemed to be taking a different route than usual – probably because downtown Toronto looked abandoned.

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Having to get up the next day for an 8:30 AM appointment didn’t help.  Not only did I not have enough sleep but my body was back in the mountains thinking it was 3 hours earlier.  What followed the appointment was a jet-lagged 2 hour nap and an afternoon of battling my eyelids and kicking my immune system into order as the inevitable post-airport cold bugs try to have their way with you.

Making the sacrifice of getting up early – 4:30 – would have had me home about 12 hours later local time.  Even with horrible delays I would have been in my pyjamas watching Netflix by 9 PM instead of worrying about my phone battery dying on the plane while my restless legs literally kicked in as they do when it is night time and I am tired.  A decent night’s sleep – no matter how early I get up – will usually prevent any cold bugs from having their way with me.

So something to remember:  when you have a choice, take the earlier booking.

 

The Budget will Look After Itself – Part 2 – It’s not the Money, It’s the Stuff

Budgeting sucks and unless you’re Leslie Knope working on her parks project – not the kind of person reading this blog – it doesn’t work.  Financial motivators like Suze Orman will have us believe that living on a budget will fix our money problems and make us financially successful – however they define it. Instead, we end up feeling like a failure according to someone else’s definition.  So how do we stop the budgeting insanity?

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We know that we get this many dollars for doing whatever it is we do, but it doesn’t feel like enough.  It can be like a nightmare. Stuff we need to buy looms in front of us like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man in GhostBusters – gigantic tv screens, unstained couches, fitbits, interlocking stone driveways – larger than life and more important to us than they really are.  The money seems small by comparison.  Like Dan Akroyd trying not to think about it, when we think of our money, things pop into our heads and before we know it we’re thinking about stuff.

That seems simple – duh.  Why else are we busting our butts doing something we may or may not enjoy if it’s not to get stuff that we do enjoy?  It seems like a fair trade-off.

But in the history of people, money has only been a way to get stuff for about five seconds.  From the first homo sapien who picked some bananas and traded them for some berries, through thousands of years of shepherds exchanging sweet little lambs for textiles, to masons providing their expertise in exchange for someone else’s skills, to starving farmers who trudged to coal mines and then factories to give their time so they could get some money so they could buy the food that wouldn’t grow on their farms, through all that time human animals didn’t use money or trade time to get stuff.  They used it to live.  Hence the term – make a living.

It was only the beginning of the 1950’s (when returning soldiers had to be put to work) that stuff became a thing.  Stuff became the thing.  Stuff became the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man stomping all over our living.

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Living is better than stuff –  Just google what is life about and the internet will return thousands of images of puppies, children and people holding hands or meditating, flowers, clouds.

Living is a place to be, food to eat, maybe some heat and light to keep us comfortable; everything else we have or want or even need is stuff.  Without getting all minimalist on you, stuff is not the stuff that life is made of.

Stuff just as ugly a word as budget – stuff, st-u-ffffff… Stuff that in there, clean up your stuff, stuff a sock in it, stuff and nonsense, I feel stuffed, stuff it, take your stuff and go, overstuffed.  We generally use the word when there are too many things to name as in Don’t forget to bring the party stuff.

Before I lose you, no worries.  I’m not going to make you give up your stuff.  As human animals we are not alone in our enjoyment of collecting and acquiring.  Squirrels and rats do it, crows, Border Collies and Labrador Retrievers, beavers, ants, even some sea creatures.

And I’m not saying that we can never again experience the joy of handling a new phone – those first few hours of its scratch-and-smear-free screen, discovering all its smartness.  We will still feel the thrill of new shoes that give us blisters before they conform in unsightly bulges to our weirdly shaped feet. We will again breathe in the smell of a new car interior before eating fast food in it.  And we will stand back and feel the absolute satisfaction of a new vase in this season’s trendy colour placed strategically on an awkward entry table.

But if we can put living first and keep the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man out of it, then the budget will look after itself.  It’s the stuff that puts the budget out of wack because it tries to come first.

I said this isn’t going to be about having to do something that is hard and I’m trying to stick to my promise, so you don’t have to do anything.  In fact, you must do nothing.  Maybe that’s still asking you to do something.  I don’t know.  Anyway, it won’t be hard.  It will be simple.

For now, don’t think too much about it.

 

 

The Budget Will Balance Itself – Part 1

 Sorry  it took a lot longer to write this than I expected, mostly because it’s not a fun thing and I couldn’t seem to make it fun to read, but  here it is: 

Budget – it’s an ugly thing.  It even sounds bad.  Bud-get.  Bu-dget.  Budge-it – it doesn’t Budge.

We’ve all done it.  Either it’s New Year’s Day or we notice that the credit card balance is getting bigger every month so we decide to start a budget.

Right from the start, it’s bad – we find out that there isn’t enough money.  No wonder we feel so broke all the time!

Then in a pitiful, Marge Simpson-like effort to be improve our lot, we go down the list of things on the budget to try to reduce it:  the cable is usually the first to go, then donations, then a ridiculous oath to stop eating out AND give up the Starbucks runs. This usually requires buying a $300 Starbucks coffeemaker in a deluded attempt to save money.

After a few discouraging days of feeling like Rachel after she decides she doesn’t need her parents’ money anymore, what follows is a lucid nightmare of rationalizing why we “need” stuff – budget be danged!

LuLu lemon pants – fashionable, fitness related, AND work appropriate!  A Big Screen TV – we’ll stop buying tickets to games and watch at home! A tablet – it was only $200 with the new phone plan and I’m getting so much done while I make dinner! New tile in the bathroom – it’s so HARD getting mildew off the shower walls and doesn’t everyone need a “retreat”?.  The resulting stress from spending money we now know for we don’t have makes us feel guilty even as we cling to the hope that the stuff will make it better.

The budget falls off the stainless-steel fridge we needed for the party we had at home so could save money by not hosting a big dinner out.  Realizing we might have a problem, we turn to the internet and the financial geniuses.  Dutifully, we track our spending (sort of) for three weeks and THEN start a new budget, like somehow knowing what we did wrong will stop us from doing it in the future – hangover much?

The gurus tell us sagely to learn the difference between what we want and what we need – like there’s a difference?  To put 10% aside every payday – we’ve already established there’s not enough money and now we’re supposed to get by on even less?  To freeze our credit cards – and then what?  Use the debit card?

At that point we usually give up and go to the big box mall to buy something on sale so we can feel like we’re saving money.  The gurus set us up to fail and we feel like we’ll always be a failure so what’s the difference.  It’s the same as dieting.  If we were the kind of people who could live on a budget or a diet we wouldn’t need someone to tell us how to do it.

So what can we do to get out of the nightmare so the budget can balance itself?

We need to know why the nightmare happens and that it is not something of our own making, even though we do spend the money – next time.

For now – do nothing.  Wait for the signs. 

 

 

 

Why does advice make us feel bad?

My college kid’s electric kettle started leaking.  I offered to buy them a new one but they said it was okay using a pot on the stove.  When I went to stay with them for a few days I found I quite liked using the pot as well and started doing it at home because my own kettle has an awkward lid – not pointing any fingers Betty Crocker – and takes a lot of space on the counter, but I can’t delude myself that it’s retro and cool to use a pot on the stove. It’s like I’m so poor that I can’t afford a kettle with a lid that closes, or I’m so lazy and disorganized that I don’t get to buying one that works properly.  I’m not a college student so it just looks like I don’t have my shit together and it makes me feel bad.

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People who give advice seem to have it all together. Whether it’s real estate, getting things done, low carbs,  decluttering, it’s always the same. They tell their sad story about how they started out poor, adrift, overweight, a hoarder, and found that the only way to get their life together was to do a whole bunch of things that if they had been able to do them in the first place they wouldn’t have ended up the way they did. They start out worse than us and end up better, like J.K. Rowling – that makes us feel bad.

They talk confidently and pace up and down on the stage and tell corny jokes, often with a southern accent, and they’re just reg’lar folk. They’re just like you and me, so if they could do it, we can do it.  That makes us feel bad.

They tell us all these stupidly hard things we should do – ask 10 people we know to come to a meeting, make time to buy a new kettle, give up cookies, throw out our TY’s. It’s not that we can’t do those things, but we won’t do those things. Someone is telling us we should and that makes us feel bad.

We’re supposed to do the difficult things because we should want those other things – financial freedom, a new stainless-steel kettle, weight loss, a bamboo shower caddy, and a seemingly minimalist lifestyle. We aim to be the kind of people who decorate our living rooms with floating shelves that have vases on them, maybe we have a laundry room that looks like a spa or something. And yeah, we would like those things – but do we want them enough to do something about it?  Meh.

So we won’t do what other people say we should do to get what they say we should want, and that makes us feel bad.

The thing about J.K. Rowling is that she didn’t start out with the goal of being worldwide success. She wanted to tell her stories and the success was a lucky spin-off. The trick is figuring out what you want to do, rather than what you should have. But you may not want to write 11 books, so don’t get confused. You may prefer to read 11 books, or just watch the movies, or not. It’s kind of a zen thing – if you think about it too much you’ll get off track but then getting off track isn’t a bad thing, as long as you’re not trying to do something you really don’t want to do. I don’t know – I’m only here to tell you what not to do, so you don’t feel bad about not doing it.

Norm on Cheers had many opportunities to upgrade his life, but consistently chose not to, because he was doing every day the thing he really wanted to do – sit around drinking beer with his friends.  Norm wasn’t worse or better than us; he just was. Yes he had to make a living and he was married, but he was very clear with himself about what he wanted to do.  Imagine a life where you get to do every day what you really want to do.  It’s not what you want to have, but what you want to do. Or not want to do.

Disclaimer: You probably won’t end up a multi-millionaire writer. You may end up with a smaller place to live, boiling water on the stove, a paunch, and a pile of shoeboxes in your closet, but it won’t make you feel bad

Next Stop – The Budget Will Look After Itself