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:

http://www.thefrugalgoddess.com/2010/09/23/frugality-in-a-consumption-crazed-society/

http://www.thefrugalgoddess.com/2010/08/30/false-economy/

http://www.thefrugalgoddess.com/2010/11/01/time-and-money/

Frugal Home Decorating-How to Make Your Home Comfortable and Beautiful without Breaking the Bank

Home Sweet Home!

To have a good life it is necessary to have a comfortable and inviting living space. Even travelers have to come home sooner or later. But the things that make a home into a haven can be expensive if you aren’t willing to invest the time. This is one of those things where the tradeoff of time and effort for money is most apparent. If you are willing to do the work of figuring out exactly what you want and then take the time to find alternatives to throwing money at the project, you will wake up one morning in love with your home.

Interior decoration, like fashion, is a place to really let your personality and spirit shine through. But, unlike clothes choices that are a relatively small expense and change with the seasons, your choice of home décor will stay with you for a long time. So take the time to really learn what you like. Go to the library and look at a bunch of magazines to see if your tastes run more to the antique, the modern, or something else. Take out a decorating book or two while you are there. Peruse the online home furnishing sites. You aren’t going to actually buy from these sources; that would be way too expensive. This is just to learn about your own tastes.

Once you get an idea what really makes your heart sing, it is time to start looking—in second hand stores, discount outlets, on Craigslist, even in the odd antique store for something really special. If there are built-in elements to the design you are looking for, such as cabinets, try a local cabinet maker. Sometimes they are really reasonable, and most would be happy to have your business. The same goes for all the fabric elements. If you fall in love with the comfort and style of an older chair, see about having it re-upholstered. A seamstress can also make window treatments, throw pillows, and much more. You may be able to trade with a skillful friend or join a time bank and trade that way. Of course if you are handy at either carpentry or sewing you could certainly do it yourself.

Paint is another really inexpensive way to add style to a room. Don’t be afraid of a little color. You would be amazed at how the right shade can change your mood. If you can paint at all do it yourself, otherwise have a paint party and buy everyone pizza.

By the time you have all the fabric and wooden elements created and installed you should have a stash of nice pieces from your second hand shopping expeditions. Try to get the bread and butter pieces for as little as possible to have some left over for a couple of really special things where it counts. Every room should have a focal point. You may want to save your splurge for that, or, if you can create an effect with something relatively inexpensive like paint, or if you can use something already in the room like a fireplace as your focal point that will free you up to get that great lamp or slightly pricy desk.

All of these ideas can be adjusted up or down to suit your budget. If you are voluntarily frugal and your environment is an important value don’t be afraid to spend a bit to get what you want. This is one area where spending is not wasting as long as you think it through.

If you are forcibly frugal, don’t give up hope. As long as you have a home at all you will be able to slowly improve it, as long as you keep focusing and looking for the things you need. You might have to rely on friends with too much stuff, curbside foraging, Craigslist freebies and freecycle.com. But if you persist you will eventually be able to create tranquility, functionality, and beauty in your home no matter what you circumstances.

Bring Frugal Beauty into Your Home with a Cutting Garden

 

Beauty

Being frugal does not mean giving up beauty or a gracious life. It simply means finding better ways to fulfill these needs. One of the things that creates a lovely atmosphere at home is the presence of beautiful flowers. But the flowers that are available in stores and at your local florist are very expensive. Not only in cost to you but also to the environment through factory farming and 8000 mile supply lines. Luckily there is a simple solution. A cutting garden can be as simple as a few flowering bushes. Even if all you have is a little side yard or patio you can have flowers.

The first step is to visit your local library and do some research on the flowers that grow well in your locale. While doing so you can also get an idea about what you like. Decide whether you are more concerned with visual appearance or fragrance. I like both myself.

Once you have a bit of a plan it’s off to your local plant nursery to chat up the owner and get your supplies. The people that work in nurseries can be a fount of wisdom for new gardeners. I would suggest buying starts instead of seeds if you are just starting out. They are much easier to handle, and you can collect your first bouquet sooner.

If you absolutely can’t grow anything, try foraging. Go walking in an area where there are wildflowers and remember to bring clippers. Just not your neighbor’s yard, please, unless you have permission. Maybe you can barter with a friend with a green thumb.

The selection may be a little sparse if you live in an area of heavy winters. Then you might expand your definition to include holly berries and pussy willow, or other less glamorous shrubbery. This is the time to get creative.

Once you have the flowers, all you need is a nice vase to place them in. If you don’t have a “real” vase, try a mason jar. Put the flowers in the water, and then play with them a bit. Pull some up a bit. Change the position of others. Flower arranging is a fine old art. You can learn much from books, articles, and the internet.

Finally, remember to keep your flowers fresh. Change the water, and throw them out and replace them when they start looking shabby. The reason you brought them in to your home was for the incomparable charm and feeling of prosperity that they bring. If they are half dead it is time for a fresh bunch.

Here are some links:

http://www.gardeners.com/Cutting-Garden/5011,default,pg.html Some ideas for what flowers to grow

http://www.perfectentertaining.com/article1100.html Flower arrangement tips

Frugal Abundance: Daily Rituals add Luxury to Life for Free

Sunday Morning

What is a Ritual and Why is it Important?

A personal ritual is anything that you do just for yourself that makes you slow down or stop completely and come back to your centered self. It can be done alone, as a couple, as a parent and child, as a family, or as a community. It can be daily, weekly, or seasonal. It is generally free or very inexpensive. That is why it is frugal. Money may not be distributed equally, but time is. Taking your first cup of coffee outside in good weather to drink slowly in the backyard while you watch the birds is a ritual.  Baking bread, getting your nails done or doing them yourself, walking to the park with your toddler, or having a drink with your pals every Friday at the same time can all be rituals if you do these things mindfully and allow the break in the frantic pace of life, with all the attendant obligations.

Rituals Should be Enjoyable

Whatever rituals you have incorporated into your life, they should be things that you truly love. Your rituals may even look like work to other people that do not have the same temperament as you do. One person may relish a five mile run, another a slow “getting ready” with time to do hair and make-up. A third person may rock out with loud music. The only two questions are “do you love it?” and “does doing it break the time sickness and bring you back to you?”

Rituals can Create Connection

The couple who takes breakfast together each day, or the family that has a traditional Sunday dinner are on to something really important. When we rush through our days without breathing we lose each other. Stopping and taking the time to do something together on a regular basis that involves giving each other our time and attention is really one of the only ways to enjoy true intimacy. The form of the ritual is completely up to you and your companions. The fact that it happens and happens regularly is what counts.

If You are Forcibly Frugal, Rituals can Help You Reclaim Your Life

In this economic climate, there are many people who feel displaced. Losing a comfortable economic place in the world can be very disorienting. But, one thing you still have and still control is time and your relationship to time. Being poor is hard work, and by definition keeps you from the type of comfort that money can buy. But—you still have twenty-four hours to fill. You still eat something every day, and likely have coffee in the morning, even if it is now made at home. If you can slow down enough to change your mind set you will notice that the sun is shining on the tree outside your window just so, and that you are still truly alive. You are still you. As long as you are alive your circumstances may change. In the meantime, what small thing can you do each day that will make you smile?

When I went through my own crash in late 2007 and early 2008 I though the world was ending. But, each day, no matter how bad it had been, I would pour a glass of (cheap) red wine and stop doing anything else. Sometimes we would sit outside and listen to the boom box. Other times it was a fire in the woodstove and curling up in my chair. It could just as well have been tea instead of wine. The important thing was the turning off of the day in favor of complete relaxation. The total cost of this exercise was near zero. You could do the same thing and if you do you will soon feel the results in the form of greater happiness and less stress. This is your life, no matter what.

Frugal Gardening—Seed Saving Saves Money and is Good for the Planet

Seeds from this Year's Harvest

Now that spring is officially here it is time to really get moving on those gardening projects. As every frugalista knows, gardening combined with cooking at home is the most frugal, healthiest and most fun way to deal with the problem of feeding ourselves and our families. So, how do you do it? Unfortunately, as a culture we have lost many of the basic living skills that our ancestors took for granted. This is a huge loss, but there is a great movement to regain that lost knowledge.

The basic method of growing plant starts from a package of seeds is to put them in small biodegradable pots indoors on a sunny table. The little plants are very delicate at first and need to be protected from too much wind or sun. They generally need to be kept wet. But, if you are buying packets, there are directions. Just follow them carefully. If this is the first time you’ve tried this that may be the way to go. But—if you want to support the seed saving movement you need to find a seed bank unless you have friends that are seed savers already. A seed bank is a repository of seeds that other gardeners have contributed. You can make a withdraawel and plant the seeds that you receive.

There are is a large seed bank in the mid-west, and many regions now have small local banks. To find a local organization, try doing an online search for seed bank followed by the name of your region. Most seed saving groups have regular meetings and very helpful members.

When you graduate to actually saving seed it gets trickier. The best thing is to contact your local seed bank and get advice from them. If you have received seed from a seed-bank, it is also good to offer some seed back. The seed saving movement is a great example of the gif economy at work. It is very interactive—with the natural elements, with the plants and the soil, and with the people in the seed saving community.

If you want to give it a try, check out these links:

http://www.seedsavers.org/ go here first

http://www.seedsave.org/

http://www.vegetablegardener.com/item/10380/seed-banks-and-seed-lending-libraries

 

Country or City—Which is the More Frugal Choice?

City?

It costs money to live no matter what, but there are differences in the expenses you will face based on whether you are a country dweller or a city dweller. There are several major needs that will be affected by your choice. Most cost of living indexes claim that the cost of living is higher in urban areas, but this may not be entirely true. These measures always assume that you own a private car that must be parked. But, if you live in a city worthy of the name, you can get around on public transportation or by walking, eliminating the entire automobile expense in the process. You may need to purchase a muni or bus pass to get around, but the cost of a pass pales in comparison to the cost of owning a private car. In the country it is very hard to live without a car, though it can be done.

When it comes to housing, the rural dweller may be ahead of the game. If we leave the higher end of the real estate market out of the mix, and concentrate on share rentals, it is the state and region that influence housing costs the most. That being said, rural areas have a slight edge on really affordable share rentals.

Food is the next great expense. The normal measures of cost of living assume that the urban dweller will avail

Or Country?

themselves of the great variety of restaurants in their city. But, if you are a frugalista most of your meals will be cooked at home from foods obtained at the best price possible. A few years ago, I would have said that even cooking is more expensive in the city, but that has changed in the face of farmer’s markets and community gardens, which are ubiquitous now in big cities. That being said, the country is still the place to cut the expense of food to the bone if you have the skill and the will. Even urban chickens don’t quite even it out.

Clothes don’t actually cost more in the city, but your requirements for more expensive garb will increase in the competitive social and professional atmosphere of the city. Like it or not, humans are visually oriented creatures, and clothing is social shorthand. In the country, after you get some serviceable boots and sunglasses to protect your eyes you are home free.

Those are the three expenses most sensitive to geography. It depends, like most things, on what kind of a life you want to live. If you are willing to endure the inconvenience and loneliness of life on a farm without a car, and you maximize your savings by growing produce and keeping livestock, you can live in the most frugal way possible. But if that is not for you, you can still make it work. Just cultivate friends that belief in voluntary simplicity, keep those urban chickens, and if you must drive get a Zip car, which is a short term rental based on membership.

There is only one bad choice for frugality, and that is the sprawling suburb, the worst of both worlds.

Here are some links to help:

http://www.zipcar.com/

http://urbanchickens.org/

Frugality 101-How do I Know What to Buy?

How do I Decide What to Buy?

There are many people that want or need to be frugal, but when faced with actual buying decisions they become overwhelmed and either do nothing or end up with the wrong thing. It would be nice if there were an easy formula, but there is not, and there can’t be. There are just too many variables. Luckily, however, there are systems that can be used to make the process simpler. The basic frugal equation is to satisfy a need or want by obtaining the highest acceptable quality for the least loss of resources.

The first question is whether this is a need or a want that you are seeking to fill. If it is a want, the process is as follows: Ask yourself what it is exactly that you are trying to achieve. If you think you want to go to Europe, for example, is it a desire for more excitement, or intellectual curiosity, or because you have friends there that you would like to see? How strong is the desire? And can it be satisfied any other way?

If the desire is strong and there is no substitute than you have identified one of your big dreams. That is a very good thing. It doesn’t guarantee success, but at least your compass is working. But, you might discover that it is not Europe per se that you crave, but the culture that exists there, at least in your imagination. This desire might be filled by a trip to a museum. Whenever you get the urge to shop, try this exercise. You may be very surprised at the results.

There are items that are in a gray area. You might “need” something for your work, but it doesn’t rise to the level of a true need as defined below. I had this problem recently with equipment I use as a writer. My computer is acting up, but I had no camera except the one on my phone. I didn’t need either item in the sense that my life couldn’t go forward without them. But, to do my job I did need both items. In the end I bought the camera, but am still using the errant computer. The reasoning is that I had nothing that fulfilled the function of a camera at the level required, while the computer still did what it was intended to do even if it is old and slow.

Once you understand what the true want is, and have decided to fulfill it, the next step is to apply the frugal equation of value for outlay. First-is there a non-monetary way to get what you want? Trade or gift economy? Can you get it used? If not, what is the likely best price available? I ended up buying a new camera at a deep discount. The price difference between the new entry level Nikon and a much fancier used one was not that great, and I didn’t feel I needed all the extra horsepower. I valued the warranty more. Sometimes the new thing is the best buy. But, nine times out of ten it will be the used item that is the best. The one thing that can’t be glossed over is the work. If you don’t dig around and ask questions you end up making an impulsive buying decision, and those are rarely frugal. Luckily, because this is a want and not a need, time is on your side.

Strangely, the fulfillment of needs is actually more complicated. There are only a few actual needs. The survival needs are clean air, potable water, a sanitary facility to get rid of wastes, food, some sort of body covering against the weather, shelter from sun, wind and water, and some kind of field medicine and first aid. But in our society, I must also include transportation, communication, clothing that is acceptable to the situation, and actual medical care.

The first question is whether these needs require a shopping solution or can be met in other ways. Can you trade, or do it yourself? Food, for example, is an easily DIY, easily barterable commodity, especially if you have a garden or livestock. Clothing can be made, traded, or obtained on the gift economy in a clothing exchange.

But, some things really do have to be purchased. Communication in our times relies on either phone or email, both of which involve interfacing with large companies. The answer to this problem will likely require a great deal of research. It is not often that I recommend pure price buying, but this is one of them. All phone companies are difficult to deal with, often sell less than optimal products and services, and charge outrageous fees. The same can be said, to a lesser extent, for internet service providers. And, as large communications companies continue to merge, this will only get worse. The only thing to do is be very careful, understand the true costs, and try not to get roped into long contracts. If you have been diligent in connecting yourself to a local community you may be able to by-pass all this and get by with a land-line at the lowest level of service use the library and yahoo mail for internet service. Or, better yet, go back to snail mail and personal visits. If you can do that you have come a very long way to reclaiming a gracious life.

As for transportation, I have already covered the possibilities in another post. Suffice it to say that you are blessed if you live in an area that is walkable and has good public transportation.

The other things on the list of true needs are more problematic, particularly the medical care. Even if you have the actual cash to make a health insurance payment there is no guarantee that the company will honor the contract after they have taken your money. I have written about this before. Healthy habits, a little knowledge of herbal and alternative medicines, and perhaps some barter are the main lines of defense. If you need some kind of regular prescription medicine things get much trickier. As long as no political solution to this problem is reached it is a street fight out there. There are clinics, but if you are truly at survival level you may not be able to eat and get your meds. I would recommend going to the soup kitchen and food bank, but spending the cash on the clinic.

It may seem odd that needs are more difficult than wants to analyze, but it makes sense, really. If you have a want that can’t be satisfied, it may bruise your ego. If you have an unfulfilled basic need, your life may be on the line.

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