Retire in Style Even if You are Broke!


The other day I saw a startling and scary statistic. Over 60% of Americans, when asked how much money it would take for them to feel absolutely comfortable at retirement, quote a figure of 4 million dollars. Yet the average amount of actual retirement savings is a mere sixty thousand. This is a huge disconnect. If what you actually have at retirement age is 60K, either you are going to be living on a tiny social security check, or you will not be retiring at all, but rather continuing to work.

This situation is complicated by those that were “forcibly retired” in the crash of 2008. If you are over sixty and lost your job in the crash, and you have not been able to get another job, it would not be stretching the truth to say you are “retired”. This is a frightening and unfair thing, but there it is. So what do you do?

First of all, if your unemployment has run out and you are approaching 62, go get that social security check. It may not be much but it beats the alternative.

Then, whether you retired by choice or by force, try these tips:

  1. If you are going to take up a hobby, consider one that has side benefits, such as vegetable gardening, sewing, computer repair, or carpentry. These are all useful skills that can save you money, but they can also enrich you in other ways
  2. Cook your own meals. Nothing else has such an immediate beneficial effect on your wallet, your health, and your quality of life.
  3. Cut your housing expense by getting a housemate. Studies show that living with another person will help you live longer and healthier than living alone. Even if you are married having a housemate can be helpful in other ways than just cutting your living expenses. And if your home is in danger of being lost, using it to create income could save it.
  4. Having deep friendships is more important to quality of life than money. Stay in close touch and find free or inexpensive activities to enjoy together. Things like picnics and movie night.
  5. If you have a little capital, start a small business. Just make sure it is rock solid. Buying an already successful business and changing nothing may be just the ticket. Things like coffee carts and vending machines are possible choices. The idea is not to take a risk but rather to carry on with a sure thing.
  6. If you are a good salesperson and very social, try a network marketing business. Many of them are require a very minimal starting investment. Just make sure you really love the product. These businesses are all based on word of mouth, and your integrity is important. Also, really succeeding is hard work, but if you have the right personality and the right product you can supplement your fixed income nicely.

Then there are a few techniques that involve the underground economy, so I am not recommending them but merely reporting what others have done to create a better quality of life in retirement. These techniques are barter and creating an all cash business. Remember those useful hobbies mentioned above? Can you trade your skills in these things for things you want and need? Can you sell your skills for cash? If so, that is how you get those small luxuries that are necessary for a rich and happy life. You could advertise with flyers on bulletin boards or by word of mouth through your circle of acquaintances, and get paid cash.  There are retirees that enjoy a much higher standard of living than they would otherwise by using their talents and skills to advantage. Some of them are even having fun.

If you are getting near to retirement and are worried about having enough, look into some or all of these ideas, and above all, enjoy this phase of your life. You worked hard and you deserve an abundant life!


How Much is Enough? Six Tips for Knowing when to Stop

If You Don't Know what you Want You'll Never Have Enough

The question “how much is enough?” is at the very heart of a frugal life richly lived. It is the backbone of frugal abundance. We live in a culture that resists the concept of enough. For the inhabitants of the “developed world”, the answer we must give is that no amount is enough. The economy we have created depends on MORE, and just enough is considered an ill.

But sensible people trying to live a good and pleasant life know that this is hog wash. Too much clutter in our material possessions or our time leads to a frenzied life where we don’t fully use or enjoy the things we have. So what is the cure? Try these six simple tips to get back to a state of happy balance:

  1. Before you bring in ANYTHING new, look at what you already have and ask yourself what the purpose is. Do you already have something that will accomplish whatever it is you are trying to do? For example, if you want to make crepes, do you really need to buy a special pan? Or would the cast iron pan you have work just as well. This also applies to time—before you add something to your schedule STOP and ask yourself why.
  2. Do you know the real cost of the things you want to acquire? Don’t forget to add in the cost of maintenance, repair, and auxiliary doo dads that you will need to make it work. When it comes to your time, remember to include travel and preparation time. These are things you need to know before committing yourself. If you don’t think it through you may bite off more than you can chew and end up with TOO MUCH.
  3. Where are you going to put the new thing? If it doesn’t fit in your house it won’t fit in your life. The same goes for new activities. When are you going to do the new activity, including prep, practice, and travel if applicable? Things without places create clutter and eventually misery.
  4. How does the new thing fit into your value system? If you don’t know, don’t buy it till you find out. You only have so much time, money, and physical space. If you let in a bunch of stuff that does not serve your value system, it just becomes a distraction. It also drives out the things that are in harmony with your values, and therefore robs your life of meaning to one extent or another. For example, if your values include bonding with your loved ones with a real sit down dinner, adding a lot of early evening activities is actually a form of clutter and will soon become TOO MUCH.
  5. Have a plan for buying things and committing your time. If you put the big pieces in first, such as travel or buying a house then the smaller decisions become easier. If you know that forgoing a new outfit will get you closer to a trip you want to take it removes some of the sting of saying no to yourself. This also works when dealing with family members. If you all agree that going camping is important it will help when you have to nix the new sneakers. Well, maybe not every time, but it will certainly help.
  6. Now apply these guidelines to what you already have. Do you need to purge anything? Cancel anything? Get rid of any time commitments, memberships, or subscriptions? Does all that you have serve you and your values? Be honest, and then start making a pile for charity. And don’t be too quick to fill up the spaces that get opened up. Open space and breathing room are essential to a happy life and a sign that you have just the right amount.

Try these six tips to create a life that is the right size for you. Not all of them will be easy, but the results will be worth it.

For more on this topic check out these links:

Start Saving Money Today–Avoid The Five Biggest Money Wasters!


What's Emptying YOUR Wallet?

Several years ago I clicked on a link about wasting money. On the list were several items that seemed very subjective, such as owning of houseplants, or reading magazines. I started searching for more such lists, and found that they all had subjective items on them. No one suggested that having children should be on the list, but some did list pets. The one thing all of these subjective items had in common was that each of them had some intrinsic value. And to the person who values an item it is not a money waster. The other thing about these list was that none of them caught ALL of the real money-wasters. You know, the things that nobody could possibly value. The financial losses that have no bright side. So, here is my list of the true money wasters.

  • Fees or fines for things that are avoidable. This includes parking tickets, tow-away charges, moving violations, and anything else where you run afoul of the law and have to pay when you get caught. What can you do about it? Park somewhere legal, leave earlier, stay sober or find another way home, and obey all traffic laws. It may be inconvenient sometimes, but not as much as paying a big fine or worse.
  • Unused memberships. The biggest offender is the gym membership, but there are others. Are you paying for an online subscription or premium service? You might be paying and not be aware of it, as in the case of 3rd party billing for “premium downloads” that can attach to your cell phone bill without you even being aware of it. To avoid this money drain, take a look at all the things you pay for automatically. Look closely at all your bills to make sure you don’t miss anything. If you aren’t using it, get rid of it. And next time you are tempted to join or subscribe to anything that costs money, think twice. Ask yourself if you have a bad track record. When and how will this new activity fit into your life? Can’t figure it out? Don’t do it!
  • Bank overdraft charges. I am not referring here to charges just to keep an account, though you probably can find a free one if you look. I am talking about what they charge when you write a check you shouldn’t. This may also apply to using your debit or credit card when the money isn’t there as well, though many states now have laws which force the bank to simply decline the card if there are insufficient funds, instead of paying the item and charging you an over-draft fee. To avoid paying any overdraft fees, set up overdraft protection with the bank or simply never go over what you actually have available. It might be a good idea to leave a small cushion just to make sure.
  •  Late fees. If you have any control at all over your cash flow you can avoid late fees. The problem may be that you procrastinate. Procrastination is fine in some situations, but not when it’s costing you. On the other hand, you may be late because you income has dropped. If it is in your monthly budget you should be able to pay for it. If you can’t then you must get rid of it. It may not seem fair. It probably isn’t. But this is the system we live with. If you have experienced a downturn in your financial situation you may start with a pile of bills and get rid of the services one by one. First the premium satellite for your TV, then the memberships to things, all the way down to the car if need be. If you know the difference between a need and a want you’ll know what to do.
  • Disorganization. This causes waste in many ways. It may be buying duplicates of things because you can’t find the first one. It may be massive food waste because you can’t tell what is in your refrigerator and cupboards. It could be paying higher prices because you don’t plan ahead. The only solution is to do an honest evaluation. If you know you are wasting money and overspending because you are disorganized, sit down and think about it. Are there areas where you are doing fine and others where you are suffering from disorganization? Or are you pretty much a mess across the board? Either way, start by trying to get a good friend to help you work on it. It may take a professional organizer in the end if your issue is severe. Just start today if this is you.

There are other behaviors that contribute to wasting money, but these five are the most common offenders. The good news is that all of them are fixable. Just think what you could do with the money you save.

Your Routines Could Be Making You Broke


Coffee and the Paper

Habits—everyone has them. Even the most freedom loving among us have some kind of daily and weekly routine. There are good reasons for this. One of them is biological. Our bodies are designed to run in a rhythmic fashion.  Our sleep patterns, for example, cause us to cycle on a daily basis. The second reason is psychological. Our minds are designed to categorize information. Huge amounts of undifferentiated data are just too much to process. Habits and routines are one of the ways we dial the information overload that comes barreling into our consciousness every day. In and of themselves habits are neither good nor bad.

If you are trying to manage your money and cut your expenses you must create the right habits to give you a push, and defeat the habits that cost you. The first step is to identify your current routine. Let’s start in the morning: You roll out of bed, and then what? For many people the answer is to get a stimulant such as coffee into their system as fast as possible, often coffee in the western world. How do you get your coffee? How much does it cost? In addition, many of us eat breakfast, and according to nutritional experts all of us should. So, how do you handle that, and how much does it cost?

To do a good audit, pay attention to your routines for a few weeks. Each time you identify one, ask yourself if there is an expense associated with it. Remember to multiply the cost by how often you partake in the habit. For instance, the cost of to-go coffee should be multiplied by 365 if you do it every day. Do this exercise on the daily, weekly, monthly, and even yearly levels.

Once you know what you are doing now, it may be time to tweak those habits. You may be shocked at how much money is leaking out of your sieve without you even being aware of it consciously. Changing habits, especially those that are deeply engrained, may take quite an effort. But it can be done. If your money wasting (and often unhealthy) habit is one known to be tough to break you may want to get some help from a support group. If it is something like smoking you may need medical help. But, with the right plan in place virtually any habit can be defeated.

You may also have some good habits, walking each morning for example. Don’t forget to include these. Knowing you are doing some things right will improve your morale. You may also want to make a list of habits to integrate into your life, such as making a healthy breakfast at home each day, packing a healthy lunch, or socializing outdoors instead of expensive indoor venues. Developing a little habit such as making your bed a certain way each day can anchor your day at no cost to you except a few moments of your time. These are the habits that enrich us and bring order to our lives.

Everyone has 24 hours each day, and we all fill them with habits. With a little work your habits can make you richer, healthier, and more fulfilled.

Making a Budget? Let Your Value System be Your Guide!


Reflect in Silence Before Deciding

What do personal value systems have to do with a frugal life? Everything! Your value system is the key to what you should spend money and time on, and where you can skimp without lowering your quality of life. When you make a budget, list your needs before your wants. Basic needs include shelter, food, potable water and water for hygiene, a bathroom, a way to do laundry, a small amount of clothing (enough to be cover your body and stay warm in cold weather), some kind of phone/internet connection, some form of transportation, education for the children, medical care, and some kind of entertainment.

Take your total income at this moment and assign a figure to each need. You may not have anything left when you are done adding, or worse yet, you may not even have all your basic needs met. This is true for many in this economy. If this is true for you, don’t despair. That won’t help. Try instead to get the uncovered needs met in some way that doesn’t involve money. Try barter or the gift economy.

But, if you are one of the lucky people with a surplus, you also have a potential spending problem. Unless you are very wealthy (and perhaps even then) you can’t buy everything on your list of wants at the same time. The process of values clarification will act as a beacon for your spending priorities. In the meantime, put the surplus away. You need to think and plan before you spend.

Many values clarification systems rely on a list of possible values and then ask you to pick the top three or five or maybe even ten. This is worthwhile to a point, but to practice values- based frugality you need to go deeper, and then you need to be very precise. The precision is a tool to help you translate a value, which is an idea, quality, or feeling, into a spending decision. When you spend you have to spend on a specific item, service, or experience.

Here is how it works—you discover that beauty is a quality you value deeply. Does that translate into buying a painting for your wall, or a trip to a beautiful place, or to getting your hair and nails done? What does beauty actually mean to you?

Or if you say you value the arts, which ones? Do you mean music, theater, or graphic arts? What is it that attracts you? Because you can’t buy “the arts”, but you can buy tickets to a concert or download some new tunes. Or, when you dive deep, you may find that it is actually creativity that you value. In that case, what medium do you want to use? That will guide you in your spending. As long as you don’t know what you really want, don’t make any big spending decisions.

Once you have done all the homework and know what you truly value you can start shopping. A frugal shopper always tries to get the best value for their money, but this does not mean buying the cheapest thing. It means buying the best tool for the job at the best available price. For example, if you have creativity as a high value and your medium is photography, it makes sense to buy a good camera even if it seems “expensive”. When you are spending in alignment with your personal values system, expense is a relative term. This is principle is not carte blanche permission to dump the whole budgeting process. If the photographer in the example buys an expensive camera and lenses, they may have to dial down the clothes expense or some other area that is not so important to them. That is why self-knowledge is so important to frugality.

One of the most common questions I am asked is about whether it is “OK” to go to out for coffee every day. The coffee habit is one often fixed upon by financial pundits as a budget buster. To discover the answer for yourself, look at your values. And then ask yourself WHY you are buying your coffee out. Do you buy a fancy expensive concoction to go and drink it while speeding down the freeway barely tasting it? Then it is likely a big waste. Make your own and use a commuter cup. But, if you are meeting you two best friends once a week and enjoying every sip, go ahead and get the jumbo chocalata supreme. It’s actually about friendship and connection. And that is a perfectly valid expense.

Here is some links for  books about values clarification:

Remember to try your library first, unless owning a lot of books is a high value for you!

The Art of Barter

Making a Deal

An essential part of the frugal life is to use alternatives to money whenever possible. There are several strategies for accomplishing this goal. Barter is one of the most basic and time honored.

Barter is an Ancient Economic System

The only system older than barter is the original communal sharing that dates back to the early bands of humans at the beginning of our history. Before money there was straight across trade. And, like many ancient things, it still works today. Though we may have more sophisticated  technologies for dealing with our trading partners, barter still requires at least two people, each of whom has something the other needs or wants. No matter how complex the world becomes there is always a barter economy if you seek it. During the last depression, a doctor or lawyer sometimes would come home to find a sack of potatoes or bag of apples on the doorstep, left by some cash-strapped patient or client. This is barter.

The Basics

In order to barter, you must first figure out what you want to gain, and what you have to give. These things have to be in some kind of reasonable balance, at least in the minds of the traders. A process of haggling takes place as the partners feel each other out. If an accord is reached the objects or services are then exchanged.

What Can be Exchanged?

There are really no rules. Services and goods are both possibilities. A good can be exchanged for a service. It really is up to the people involved. It is more like engaging in the exchange of favors than like going to a store. How the exchange takes place is equally up for grabs. Trust and relationship are key. If the exchange is between strangers than caution is wise. And if it is a service for a good, it may be wise to get the service before parting with the goods.

Three Way Exchanges

In recent years there has been a great resurgence of interest in the barter economy, along with some fairly sophisticated multiple party systems. One of the most successful of these is According to their website “For every hour you spend doing something for someone in your community, you earn one Time Dollar. Then you have a Time Dollar to spend on having someone do something for you” Check out their website here:  This system is for the trading of services, but there is no reason why this same concept could not be applied to goods as well. In Germany during the war there were people whose business was to facilitate what in German is called a “ringtausch” which is an exchange between three or more people.

How to Get Started with Barter

The best place to start is in your own neighborhood, with the people you already know. Next time you start to think about buying something, change gears and try to figure out how you could trade for it instead. Do you love to cook but hate to garden? Why not ask the gardener next door if they would trade straight across for gardening services. Do you have a beater car but need a computer? Start asking around. Most trades just happen in the natural course of life. You just need to keep your eyes and ears open for the opportunity.

Basic Frugal Tools-Defining Our Needs

Basic Needs

Needs vs. Wants

One of the first things we need to do when embracing a frugal life, whether this is by choice or by necessity is to figure out the difference between a want and a need, and then to faithfully fill needs at the lowest cost possible before even considering wants. I use the words “lowest cost” with some trepidation, knowing that some will take this to mean that we should by on price alone.  What I actually mean is that you establish a baseline in terms of acceptable quality, and then find the lowest cost to achieve that level. And when I say lowest cost, I am not limiting this to a monetary exchange. It could be a bartered deal. So what are the basic needs?


The first need for a human being (and most other life forms as well) is breathable air. This may seem like a no-brainer, and not worth thinking about, but if you live in a very polluted area it’s not so simple. Or, if you live in a very dusty or damp place your indoor air supply may be compromised. In that case it would be a reasonable investment to acquire an air cleaning system.


The next basic need is water, both for drinking and for hygiene. In most of the United States we take this need for granted, but we really shouldn’t. Water is a limited resource, more valuable than oil. And for the homeless it is a hard thing to get on a consistent basis. For the rest of us, consider switching back to tap water and sparing the earth and your body the crazy expense of all that plastic. The USA still has one of the best water systems in the world. As for water for hygiene, consider not flushing every time, and taking shorter baths. Just being aware is a good start.


Finally we come to a need that everyone will recognize, though many still take it for granted. In the inflation we are seeing at this moment we all need to focus on food security. The first pillar of food security is to grow your own garden. If you don’t have room, find a community garden or share a container garden with a neighbor. I have written a good deal about food, and will write more. Follow the posts here, or go find a cookbook with a name like “cheapest recipes” and you will learn. I am fascinated with 1930s and 1940s depression and war era cookbooks for this reason.


This is a complex need in our society. The basic stuff it takes to cover your body is not really an issue. This can be met very inexpensively by going to clothing swaps and your local Goodwill. If you buy sturdy fabrics they will last. But, because clothes are also a social marker that let other people know how we are to be treated, you may have legitimate clothing needs that can’t always be met this way. If you are trying to get a job that requires a “look” or if you have a job that requires a “look” it behooves you to fall in line. And this may also mean some “social” clothes to where when there is a party or event where business associates will be present. If this applies to you, careful consideration of the expense and the method for fulfilling this legitimate need are in order. There have been a few posts here on this subject, and there will be more, specifically on clothes buying when only a regular shopping trip will do.


This is the biggest single expense most of us face. Not paying has dire consequences. I have written fairly extensively on this. As the foreclosure crisis has deepened in the last several years this has become a national emergency. Being homeless is one of the most traumatic things that can happen to us. Even animals all have some kind of nest or den. And so do we.


This once meant fire, for heat and light. But in today’s world, it means some kind of power source ranging from pure solar to an energy company hook-up. We need this for more than just comfort. And for the forcibly frugal it is areal bite out of available funds.


Humans are social animals. We need to live together and care for each other. However, that being said, community is one thing that takes your time not your money to develop. Try sharing food, as in attending potlucks to start. You have to eat anyhow. It is healthier to eat with others.


If you are lucky you live in a place that has a high walkability index. In that case, need satisfied, for the most part, though you may need to supplement your walking from time to time. But if you anyplace else, this is going to be right after shelter and food in terms of competing for your dollar.


This wouldn’t have made the list a hundred and twenty five years ago. It would still have been a need, but as with air, no one would have thought about it much. All you had to do was talk to people you actually saw, and write letters (the snail kind) to people you didn’t see. Then came the telegraph, which was just a faster letter. All of this was either free of charge (as in conversation) or very inexpensive. Today, we all have to pay something to communicate. Though face to face conversation is still free, if you want to be part of the world, or the world of work, you need e-mail and a phone connection of some kind.

Medical Care

Though there are millions of people not getting this need met, it is still a basic human need.


All creatures educate their young. We need to do the same if we are to continue to survive.

Basic Entertainment

Some may be surprised that this is included as a need. Remember the caveat-basic. A combination of Netflix and getting outdoors either in built environments or nature will satisfy this need. We are curious creatures by nature, and boredom raises the chance of mental issues arising. Thank goodness the world is still full of things that are both mentally stimulating and free of charge or low-cost.

%d bloggers like this: