Archive for life

Life really doesn’t need to be that complicated

Posted in simple living with tags , on 04/04/2015 by Fox

In the long run, I believe that honesty is definitely the best policy. One can get away by being dishonest for a short term, but ultimately, honesty is what pays.
~Kapil Dev

When I began actively looking into buying a house, I visited my credit union to inquire about how much I could get a loan for and the general interest rate I could expect. I had exactly enough credit history to apply for a loan. The broker said “You must live a very simple life.” I replied with “I don’t like debt.”

And it’s true. My life is drama-free and relatively simple. The key is being honest with yourself and with those you deal with.

My neighbor is losing his house. He’s moving into an apartment, and he wondered aloud to me what would happen if he left the utilities in the complex’s name. I told him he’d probably be fined by his complex and then evicted if he didn’t take care of it. Then he decided to put the utilities in his roommate’s name so he didn’t have to pay the balance he owes the utility company. Now he’s going to stop paying on one of his rent-to-own furniture sets because he doesn’t want it anymore.

This is exactly the sort of dishonesty that gets people into these situations. He is, sadly, not the only person I’ve seen work as hard at not paying as some people do at just making the money to pay what is owed.

But being honest with others is easy. The hard part is being honest with yourself.

You have to know what your weaknesses are. You have to acknowledge when you’re making excuses in order to stop making them. Admitting that “I’m going to just buy shit and that’s just the way I am” is failing to be honest with yourself. “I’m just going to buy shit and I don’t have control over my finances” is much more truthful. There are times to just buy shit, but those should be few and far between, depending on your financial situation. Eventually you know when and where to spend and how much to allot yourself to indulge your particular weaknesses. You don’t stress out about your purchases because you know it’s okay. You’ve got it covered.

Being honest with yourself is realizing your mistakes and correcting or mitigating them. It’s knowing that you’re losing your home because you’ve chosen to spend your money on rent-to-own furniture, DVDs, and late payment fees. It’s knowing that buying that thing isn’t the best move, but you’re not going to lose your home because your mortgage payment has already been sent out for next month, you’ve got everything else covered, and your emergency fund is rebuilding itself nicely.

Trying to fix your mistakes is costly, trying to prevent them is hard, but trying to get out of them dishonestly will bite you in the ass every time. What I didn’t tell my neighbor was that the utility company requires the name on the lease to match the name on the account. The digital age will ensure you pay your pound of flesh, there’s no way around it.

What a real minimum wage budget looks like

Posted in simple living with tags , on 01/18/2015 by Fox

Poverty entails fear and stress and sometimes depression. It meets a thousand petty humiliations and hardships. Climbing out of poverty by your own efforts, that is something on which to pride yourself but poverty itself is romanticized by fools.
~J. K. Rowling

I’m far too late to discuss McDonald’s idiocy regarding what it’s like to make minimum wage. But I want to touch on it a little, anyway.

I should start off by saying that I don’t believe raising the minimum wage is going to do shit. The issue is systemic and requires a top-down solution that would go against American cultural and political ideals.

The budget I’m about to set down is an approximation of the budget I used for several years while hauling my ass out of debt. I’ve no doubt forgotten some of the exact details, but it should get the idea across to anyone who hasn’t been stuck in a dead-end minimum-wage job for years. Keep in mind, too, that this is a budget set in Texas. In this area, we have very low cost-of-living. I also had a roommate with whom to split rent and utilities. We did not live in a nice apartment, but it wasn’t in the ghetto. I worked two jobs, sometimes as much as fourteen hours a day, and I did not utilize any form of community assistance or welfare programs.

Job 1: $800/mnth
Job 2: $200/mnth

Monthly budget:
Rent: $250
Utilities: $50
Car note: $300
Car insurance: $50
Food, clothing, cat supplies, gas, toiletries, fun money, etc: $200
Emergency fund/Debt reduction: $150

I did not have health insurance. Buying clothing, going to the movies, or taking the cats to the vet removed money straight out of my food budget.

This is not fucking sustainable. Even with my emergency fund, a sudden serious issue could have ruined me. As you can imagine, selling possessions or Christmas gifts isn’t a solution. I was already eating less.

I got lucky in that my second job was willing to take me on full-time and, in time, pay me a living wage (or what is a living wage when you’ve become as frugal as I). The worst part of living on a minimum wage budget is the feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness that come with that sort of life. There’s no light at the end of the tunnel. The light at the beginning fades, and eventually it’s dark all around and you don’t feel you’re making progress. You could be going backward for all you can tell.

And as long as the people at the top are willing to alienate and exploit those at the bottom, raising the minimum wage will do nothing. Prices will rise to match, and a living minimum wage will never be achieved.

Just paying the bills isn’t enough

Posted in simple living with tags , , on 01/01/2015 by Fox

I’m working so I won’t have to try so hard
Tables, they turn sometimes
~The Strokes, “Someday”

My co-worker just wants “to make enough money to cover the bills.”

In my mind, that’s the attitude that will get you where my mother is right now. Working and working and working with no light at the end of the tunnel. My co-worker also said that she doesn’t want to buy an old house, because of all the hard work she hears another co-worker and I doing to update our own houses. (Which is hilarious, given how much work my bosses have done to their far newer homes. Don’t like work? Stick with apartments.)

Buying this house and updating it is, to me, integral to my ultimate financial goals. Rather than locking me into a mortgage, it frees me up a bit financially. I have a second bedroom to rent out, should things go south, and once the major updates are complete, the value of this home will increase in case I do need to sell. My “rent” will not go up (aside from property taxes and insurance), and honestly, I’m paying only a touch more than I would for a decent apartment. The only reason my rent was cheaper than my mortgage before was simply due to the shitty nature of the places I was renting. My last apartment didn’t even have hot water in the kitchen, and only barely had it in the bath.

I also honestly enjoy tinkering about with the house. I have a FUCKING AWESOME backyard that will be even more awesome when I have the funds to xeriscape it properly (I’m lazy and don’t plant anything that can’t survive on its own). Part of the appeal of an older home is getting to learn how to do minor electrical work, how to patch drywall, how to nail in baseboards without a nail gun, and other nifty things. My own labor is far cheaper than someone else’s. The exception is painting. I hate painting.

But the house is Step One in my ultimate takeover of the world (or at least my part of the neighborhood). In a couple more years I anticipate beginning to save up the down payment to buy either one of the neighboring units and thus hopefully have a second income independent of my day job (in addition to controlling the occupants of said units). This takes more than “just paying the bills.” It takes foresight, and planning, and hard fucking work. Retirement funds also take foresight, planning, and either more hard work, or a willingness to go without.

I’m working so I don’t have to try so hard. Tables, they turn sometimes. Don’t I fucking know it.

It’s not that time of year yet, dammit

Posted in simple living with tags , on 11/21/2011 by Fox

The Christmas season has come to mean the period when the public plays Santa Claus to the merchants.
~John Andrew Holmes

The day after Halloween, the grocery store was stocking Christmas stuff in the seasonal aisle.

Walmart was playing Christmas music, selling trees, and had the store decorated this past weekend (the first time I’ve been in a Walmart in…months, at least).

WHAT HAPPENED TO THANKSGIVING, DAMMIT?! I WANT TURKEYS AND CORNUCOPIAS AND PILGRIMS AND SHIT.

You know, Thanksgiving. The holiday before Christmas that’s like Christmas, only better because there’s no pressure regarding presents (although it’s not better than Beer Christmas, but that’s something else entirely).

Maybe up north it’s different. Maybe you get into Christmas earlier when it’s not still 80 degrees Fahrenheit outside. Or maybe it’s just the retailers hoping to extend the amount you spend by attempting to prolong the season.

For me it just ruins it. While I abhor Christmas music from years spent working retail, I like the feel of Christmas. The decorations, the snap of cold air that’s still kind of nice because it hasn’t gotten old yet. Christmas is somewhat enjoyable when you’re not working retail, but only in December and only if it’s at least somewhat cold.

But walking into Walmart from the 80 degree Texas fall and hearing “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” and seeing the sad little Christmas trees wilt just ruins the season. It doesn’t feel like Christmas yet. It’s not fucking Christmas season until at least after Thanksgiving. Waiting until December first is better.

Of course, I’m all for getting the Christmas shopping over and done with early. But I get soured on that, too, if the seasons are out of sync. And speaking of presents…hello, Etsy. Perfect place to do my Christmas shopping. Or some of it, anyway. Discovering that someone has actually made a Zombie Sushi Soap Set just makes my day every time I think of it. Too bad none of my family’s into that sort of thing. And by thing I mean both zombies and sushi. Thankfully they are into soap, although they prefer the slightly annoying body wash (usually unnecessarily antibacterial).

Soon, though. Thanksgiving will be over and I’ll have a ton of leftovers and it’ll get cold and the weather will finally sync with the retailers. And then Christmas will come and go and St. Arnold’s Winter Stout will be here again.

I’m the jackass friend

Posted in simple living with tags on 08/08/2011 by Fox

We tell lies when we are afraid… afraid of what we don’t know, afraid of what others will think, afraid of what will be found out about us. But every time we tell a lie, the thing that we fear grows stronger.
~Tad Williams

Jackass friend. That’s what I got called by a fellow “jackass friend.”

See, I can’t help sometimes but just pop out and say something when others wouldn’t. It’s difficult at times since I try to respect another’s right to live their life their own way, but sometimes I just can’t help it. For me, it’s not so much the case of “Honey, that’s not your color,” and more along the lines of “Why the hell are you buying that?” and “Don’t text while driving when I’m in the car, please, and I don’t care if you only do it at stop lights.”

I’ve found that I’m growing increasingly intolerant of some behaviors and increasingly more likely to call people out on bullshit. I’m more likely to refuse something being offered if I don’t want it, more likely to point out when the person driving is making me nervous, more likely to say something when someone’s buying something they don’t actually need, and very more likely to honk at people who are impeding the flow of traffic.

Sometimes I feel bad about it because I don’t want to be that person that nags and nags and nags. But on the other hand, I also don’t want to be the person that just goes along with things and doesn’t say anything.

And on the other other hand, I’m sick of hearing about people’s money woes when they’ve got a satellite dish and DVR or are going out to buy something they “need” when they’ve got something that will function quite well in that capacity already.

Honesty’s a good policy, but should one be honest all the time, or just occasionally? When is the line between jackass friend and mere jackass drawn?

Book Review: The Simple Living Guide

Posted in book reviews, simple living with tags on 07/04/2011 by Fox

Sometimes I can tell that my kids need special “nurture nights.” I pour each one a bubble bath, bring candles into the room, turn the lights low, and then serve them special “finger food” while they sit in the bubbles.

The Simple Living Guide by Janet Luhrs

Is it just me, or does anyone else find the quote above kind of creepy? What’s creepier is that she mentions this several times throughout the book. No joke. I just find the mental picture kind of disturbing, especially the part about feeding the kids “finger food.” Creepy.

Anyway. This is a book by the woman who created the now-defunct Simple Living Newsletter, which I never read because it wasn’t free. Or I don’t remember it being free.

Like so much else out there in print on simple living, this book is pretty damn basic. Covers pretty much the same ground everyone and their blog does…work, possessions, money, travel, housing, holidays, families, etc. Anecdotal stories abound, along with the same old advice about living within your means and doing only what you love. Basic, like I said.

What sets this one apart from the others is that Janet Luhrs has taken the simple liver preoccupation with mindfulness to an extreme, tainting the book with New Age-y sentiments about everything being a “whole-body experience.” That may float Janet’s boat, but it sinks mine. I’m not into simple living as a means to a “whole-body experience” or because I want to be more mindful. I’m into it because it’s fucking practical. I found the book’s feel a major turnoff and skimmed entire sections of the book when it got too prevalent.

I don’t have anything more to say because there really isn’t more to say. It’s a basic simple living book with a New Age-y feel. And so back to Half-Price Books it goes.

Let’s try this again: Balance in simple living and environmentalism

Posted in simple living with tags , , on 05/28/2011 by Fox

Our moral theorists seem never content with the normal. Why must it always be a contest between fornication, obesity and laziness, and celibacy, fasting and hard labor?
~Martin H. Fischer

Lesson learned: one should not assume that people are going to be familiar with your blog when writing. That’s not something I can completely avoid, if I want to refrain from restating the same damn thing every week. And I’m not going to talk down, because that’s just not my style. But with a blog this small, it’s hard to not automatically write for the people who actually are regular readers. So let’s see if I can remain from digressing this time.

I don’t live in Portland. I’ve never actually been to Portland, although I have been to Seattle. I live in Texas, and not even Austin. The town I live in you probably haven’t ever heard of. I don’t have the luxury of being surrounded by a community of people who live like me and think like me, even remotely (and I’m 100% positive not everyone in Portland thinks and lives alike, either). The nearest Whole Foods is in Houston. There is a little natural food store in town, along with a farmer’s market, and a double handful of bicycles, mostly owned by students and minorities, although there’s a growing population of non-student white people on bikes.

I live a “normal life,” surrounded by “normal” people. You know, people who don’t subscribe to simple living, minimalism, or environmentalism. And you know what? Most of them aren’t interested in signing up for a life lived with less than 100 things. Hell, I’m not interested, either. Going extremist isn’t going to appeal to these people, who, believe it or not, actually constitute most of the American population.

I do believe that most people I know would benefit from, and would be interested in, a simpler life. A simpler life. They don’t want to sell everything and move into an RV (although my parents do live in theirs at the moment), nor are they really all that interested in reducing their carbon footprint via drastic lifestyle changes. However, the idea of paring down to what you really want and letting go what you don’t is something that almost everyone can get behind to their own extent.

But if simple living wants to become widely accepted, it needs to tone it down. Cut the crap about the 50s, using only one bowl for every meal, and living in a studio apartment, and focus on something a little less extreme and a little more applicable to the non-alternative portion of society. Balance isn’t achieved by switching to the opposite end of the spectrum, it’s achieved by realizing that going to either extreme is unhealthy and that ultimately, everyone’s going to fall somewhere in between when it comes to how simple they want their life to be.

For example, my parents, who live for months at a time in their RV (downsized from a HUGE house), also cook much of their own food, and can and make their own jellies and jams. But suggest they ditch the fridge and they’ll laugh like you’ve lost your mind. They’re willing to go simple, and have, but eventually they’re going to draw the line. And they’re going to draw it long before I do, and I draw it long before the extreme simple livers and minimalists do. The environment is more important to me than ditching my paper books for a Kindle. Yes, I am saying that a Kindle isn’t green.

Now, like I said earlier, going to an extreme to push yourself into realizing how little you really do need has its merits. But it’s merely a tool and nothing more. Once the tool has been used, it may need to be discarded until a future date. Extreme minimalism is a nice place to visit, but I’m so not living there.

So instead of trying to play How Minimalist/Simple Can You Go? try playing What Level of Living Gives Me the Most Happiness and Comfort? The answer may surprise you. And yes, you can still inspire people while living at a moderate level of minimalism.

On Monday we will return to our regularly scheduled broadcast of Posts Not About Balance.