Monday, July 30, 2012

Path to Minimalism: The Book Dilemma

I love books. I hate clutter. I hate e-readers.
I will never part with my Diana Gabaldon books!
Do you see a problem here? These competing statements mean that I go back and forth...I’ll purge my books, then I’ll ask for more for Christmas or my birthday, just to have to purge them again. It is a cycle that I just can’t avoid! I won’t buy an e-reader because I hate them. The reason for that is an e-reader has no personality. Books, with their cover art, typeface, and page layouts, have character. They go with the story. When I’m reading a good book, it becomes my best friend for a while. I invest myself, emotionally, into the world that is enclosed in the pages. I can even remember where I read a book. For example, I read The Unbearable Lightness of Being in my host family’s apartment in Russia when I was 20 and I read Dragonfly in Amber at a Double Tree hotel in Omaha, NE when I was 15. I can picture myself in these locations with the book in my hand. I love recalling these moments, it is one of life’s small treasures.
So what to do? I can’t deny myself the joy a physical book brings to my life. But I also don’t want to accumulate a huge amount of books right now. I have no where to put them!
Well, I decicded to donate some of them again. Not the books I reread every so often, of course, such as the Outlander series or Harry Potter books. Instead, I will donate the ones I know I won’t read again.
This time, I took my used books to Books for America. They build and support libraries and schools in the DC area as well as support reading programs. I stopped by their store recently to see what kind of selection they have. I was surprised to see that they practically have everything - including a book about the Pskovian Russian Icons (in Russian even!). So, if I really want to buy a book instead of check one out from the library, I can do so at Books for America at a reasonable price - most books are around $2 and they are in great condition.
I’m happy to report that they took all of the books I brought them (two bags full) - so now the books I decided to keep actually fit nicely on the shelves!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Achieving Financial Freedom: What I Cut Back On

This is part two of the "Achieving Financial Freedom" series.

1)Massages: I love massages. LOVE them. To the point that if I could afford it I’d have one every week. No, every DAY. But alas, I’m not a billionaire. I’ve decided to treat myself to two massages a year. Sigh...I wish it was more. But at $100/massage I can’t afford more than two right now!

2)Happy Hour and Restaurants: Since I work part-time at a restaurant, I can get that social fix without having to spend money. I have started to view going out as a luxury instead of a daily thing. I allow myself a certain amount of money every month to go to a bar or restaurant and when that money runs out I’m done (although sometimes if I have grocery money left over I’ll use it at a restaurant). I can’t give up these things entirely because, well, I’m single and need to mingle!

3) Spending In General: Unless I have a gift card or I have budgeted for it, I don’t buy it. That’s my motto and I’ve done a good job sticking to it. Sometimes I fall out of line a bit, but for the most part I am right on track here. It doesn’t hurt that I don’t have a clothes/jewelry/shoes/games/DVDs/etc. obsession. I’m sure this would be harder for other people. I guess you could say my “obsession” is becoming debt free!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Why Get Out of Debt?

Why do I want to get out of debt? It is just a number on a page, right? WRONG.

There are so many reasons why I want to get out of debt, that it is hard to count them. But I’ll try to quantify it here

1) I want to be comfortable in retirement
Yeah, I’m only 27, but I’ve learned through others and through my parents and grandparents that retirement and old-age care isn’t cheap. If I have a family, I don’t want them burdened by taking care of me or worrying that I won’t be able to buy groceries or go to the doctor. As long as I’m still bound to a monthly loan payment, that is money towards retirement that I’m not saving.

2) I want to put my money towards other goals.
Again, if I wasn’t spending all of my extra income on paying off my student loans, what would I do with the money? I’d do the following:
a) Max out my Roth IRA retirement contributions and increase my contribution to my 401k
b) Save for a home
c) Save for future children (if I ever want to adopt I know I’ll need $30,000)
c) Save for trips to places I’ve always wanted to go, such as Ireland.

3) I want to have only ONE job.
Right now I work as a hostess three shifts a week in addition to my regular 40-hour work week. I do this because that’s extra money I can throw at my debt. If I didn’t have debt, I wouldn’t need to work a second job.

4) I want to contribute more to society.
I want to volunteer. Perhaps walk dogs or play with abandoned cats at an animal shelter. Or maybe I’ll loan money to someone in the developing world who could use it to start a business. See for information on that. There are so many people in need out there that it won’t be hard to find something to donate my time or money to.

5) I want to participate in more social activities.
Such as going to yoga classes, participating in a Tough Mudder, or just taking a weekend trip out to a winery in Virginia. I feel like I’m not really social anymore, because I just work work work. That’s okay for now, but I don’t want to live like this forever.

So those are my top five reasons for getting out of debt. It WILL happen, and then I can start working on all of these more important life goals.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Path to Minimalism: Wardrobe & Consignment

Over the past year, I decided I really needed to get serious about minimizing my wardrobe. I’m a confessed shopping-hater (seriously, malls make me want to cry), so it always baffled me why I ended up with so many clothes. It is easy for me to blame my mother on this one, who can’t deny that she buys me clothes even if I don’t ask for them. But there had to be a reason why I kept so many of them. I think I finally figured it out - my frugality actually works against me when I try to cut down on clothes. My thought is always “Well, what if I need this? I don’t want to have to go out and buy this again.” But there came a point in the last year where my closet just annoyed the crap out of me. Way too many clothes. I decided it was time to GET SERIOUS about my desire to be more simple and attack my closet. I had two goals: consign what I could sell, and swap/donate the rest.

1) When I moved to DC almost two years ago, I discovered a neat little consignment shop in my neighborhood called Sequels Consignment. They are a boutique shop and because of their limited space, they only take higher-end clothing, shoes, and jewelry. I don’t have that many high-end clothes, but I found out that my Ann Taylor and Ann Taylor Loft clothing is high-end enough! I was surprised when I discovered the kind of split I get (50 %!), but also surprised at the prices they put on their clothes. They take good quality clothes so they can sell them at a higher price. To date I’ve made about $50 from the clothes I have taken to Sequels. Not bad!

2) Before I donated the rest of my clothes, I participated in a clothing swap with some friends. I have to say that clothing swaps are a great way to enjoy time with friends at no cost to you at all! On a Sunday night we gathered at a friend’s house and put all of our clothes out, arranged by size. There are probably many ways of doing this, but our method was the “free-for-all.” No one was disappointed, though. We all came away with nice pieces and I took home less than what I came with - which was my goal all along! It also turned out that one of the girls was leaving for a mission trip to Africa and took all the summer clothes we had left over with her to take on her trip. 

3) Now I was down to “all the rest,” which was actually four bags of clothes. I ended up taking these to the local Planet Aid bin. Planet Aid takes the donated clothes and sells them to exporters, who then make them available to people in the developing world at low prices. Planet Aid uses the proceeds generated from the sale of clothing to support international development projects throughout the world. As this is obviously a good cause, I was very happy to walk a few blocks to the nearest bin in my neighborhood.

In the end, I am very happy with the room I now have in my closet. The clothes I kept are allowed to breathe again, and now I don’t have to re-iron things because my clothes are no longer smushed together! I only wish I could have had a garage/yard sale, but since I don’t have a garage or a yard, that really wasn’t an option!

In a few months I’ll be going through my fall/winter clothes and will start this process all over again. I’m actually looking forward to it. I already feel like it is easier to pick out an outfit because I have less to choose from, and the pieces I kept are the ones I feel comfortable and confident in. Win-win!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Freecycle Is My Friend

I’m a huge fan of Freecycle. For those of you that don’t have it or know what it is, Freecycle is a list (mine is managed by Yahoo Groups) where you can post stuff for people in your community to take for free. You can also post something you want. It works like a mailing group (think old fan groups from the late 90s-early 2000s when message boards weren’t as popular).

I’ve given away and received things on Freecycle since I’ve lived in DC. Recently, I took two window fans off someone’s hands who had no use for them. It cost me a few dollars to ride the train to this person’s apartment, and has allowed my roommate and to avoid running the A/C as often. Plus, a regular window fan is somewhere between $20-30. Why buy one when you can get it for free from someone who wants to get rid of it?

My favorite Freecycle story involves a few refugees from Iraq. A woman posted on the list that she needed some kitchenware. I had a few things I wanted to get rid of, so I wrote to her and told her what I had. I also said I had a few other household item that I’d like to give away. She responded saying that she was actually collecting all sorts of things for a refugee family that had just come to the U.S. from Iraq. She came over and picked up my things and I thought that was that. Then, a few weeks later, I got an email from one of the refugees, thanking me for my kindness and telling me how much they needed the items and that it really helped them get settled in their new home. I was so happy that I could do good by just giving something away. Such a simple thing really highlighted for me why I participate in the community and why I love the simple, frugal lifestyle.

In short, Freecyle is fantastic and everyone should sign up!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Achieving Financial Freedom: What I Give Up

When I went back to grad school in the fall of 2010, I knew I was taking on a huge chunk of debt. I decided I needed to cut back on things that I enjoyed in order to minimize the eventual cost (in the form of outrageous interest) over the long-term. I’ve never been a materialistic person, but there are still things I enjoy having. This has been a process, and I will say that I didn’t get really serious about cutting out most frivolous spending until January 2012, when I had to start repaying some of my student loan debt. Here is a list of things I’ve given up to achieve financial freedom, why I have given them up, and how I feel about it.

What I've Given Up

1) Cable TV: This one was so easy. I have enough movies to keep me entertained (probably too many movies...on my path to minimalism I really need to go through them and decide what I will re-watch and what I won’t). And with Hulu and streaming showings on network websites, who really needs cable? The only time I miss it is when I want to sit down and have a Law & Order or CSI marathon on TNT or Spike :) I don't have Netflix either.

2) Riding the Metro to Work: Another easy fix. The bus is half the price of a metro fare during rush hour, and I’m lucky enough to have an express bus that stops a block away from my apartment and drops me off a block away from work.

3) Driving: The decision not to bring my car to DC was the best decision I could have made! Sure, sometimes I get annoyed when I want to go to H Street and it takes forever to get there via public transportation. I also really want to explore the beautiful nature in Virginia and I can’ it is for these reasons that giving up a car has been hard. BUT - I don’t have to pay for gas, I don’t have to pay for parking, and I don’t have to pay for insurance. And most of all, I don’t have to sit in traffic! When I used to drive home from work in Chicago during rush hour, I would arrive just as stressed out as when I left work. Now, I use the time on the bus to read and decompress from the day. It is wonderful. For those times that I do need a car I just use Zipcar. But because Zipcar has an annual fee, I’m thinking of switching to Car2Go when my Zipcar is up for renewal. With Car2Go you pay for how long you drive and there is no annual fee. Pretty cool!

4) Expensive Alcohol: Since I’m not much of a drinker, this isn’t hard. But, when I do choose to buy alcohol, I by the 3-buck-chuck wine at Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s. I don’t by liquor or beer unless I am going to a potluck and I’ve been asked to bring it. When I go out for happy hour, I have the cheapest thing on offer. Spending on alcohol is such a waste of money that sometimes I wonder why I haven’t completely cut it out of my life. I’m going to think more about this one and possibly give it up altogether.

5) Buying Books: This one hurts. I adore books. My best friend can remember the time I famously said “I like having books just to have them.” That’s the truth. But books cost money, and why buy one when you can check one out at the library for free? Books are also heavy, so when I move I am always annoyed by the amount of books I have. I don’t buy books anymore, but I do ask for them for Christmas or my birthday when people ask me what I want. I’m never going to refuse a book :)

6) Gym Membership/Exercise Classes: Giving up the gym membership wasn’t hard since I hate treadmills, but giving up exercise classes (yoga!) was really hard. But I found a few really simple ways to keep me in shape, and I’m happy to say that I’ve maintained my lowest weight for a full year! I walk everywhere or take public transportation, which means I get in exercise every day. There are also some great trails near my apartment and I go for walks there on weekends. To get my yoga fix, I have downloaded free podcasts via iTunes from Yoga Download. These 20-30 minute sessions are perfect for me. I also play softball in the summer on a slow-pitch league, which is free. Sure, it isn’t the best workout, but at least I run around and throw a softball instead of eat ice cream while watching TV on the sofa.

7) Weekends: That’s right, I work seven days a week. In addition to my regular 9-5 job, I work as a hostess at a restaurant three times a week and two of those shifts are on weekends. This brings in an extra $400 a month and I put all of it towards paying off my debt. My weekend consists of Saturday 5pm - Sunday 3 pm. What do I do during that time? I might have dinner with a friend on Saturday night, or I’ll read or watch a movie by myself. On Sunday I’ll go to church and/or the farmer’s market. I've become quite used to this limited weekend. When the day finally comes that I won’t have to work an extra job, I’m not sure what I will do to fill my time!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

How I Use the Debt Snowball Method

The Debt Snowball was made popular by Dave Ramsey, a personal finance author who writes about getting out of debt. If you haven’t read Your Total Money Makeover, I highly recommend it.

The purpose of the Debt Snowball is a way to help you eliminate your loans as fast as possible. There are two ways of doing this. By Amount and Interest. Let's look at both of them.


Write down your debts from smallest to largest. Then in the next column, write down your minimum payment on each debt. Once you have done that, total it up. Now, determine how much you can afford to spend extra paying towards your debt. Then you apply this extra money to the first debt on the list. Here is an example:
  • Car loan: $3,000 at 5.9%, monthly payment: $75
  • Student loan: $10,000 at 6.8%, monthly payment: $150
  • Credit Card: $15,000 at 16%, monthly payment: $200
  • Total monthly payments: $425

So, you know that you need to pay a total of $425 a month towards your debts. But you know you can pay a total of $625. You take that extra $200 and put it towards the first loan. Now your payments look like this:
  • Car loan: monthly payment: $275
  • Student loan: $150
  • Credit Card: $200
  • Total monthly payments: $625
By putting an extra payment towards the first loan, you can have it paid off within a year (according to my calculations at this lovely site). After the first loan is paid off, you still pay the same amount, only you now apply the excess money (in this case $275) to the next lowest loan. Your payment on the student loan would now be $425 and your payment on the credit card would be $200. Once you have paid off the student loan, you take the $425 and apply it to the credit card payment, bringing your payments on the credit card up to $600. This method starts to snowball your debt, whacking them out faster and faster without a change in how much you are putting towards your debt each month.


Write down your debts from highest interest rate to lower interest rate, then repeat the steps above. This could take longer, but in this scenario you will actually pay less interest over time, which means you are saving money by not paying more interest than you would in the first method, but you might not feel that personal “victory” as early.

I am using the debt snowball method, but I also have a policy that if I come by any “extra” money during a given month (a gift, a $5 bill in my coat), I put it towards my lowest debt. This is called a snowflake, because it is a small speck that will eventually make a larger snowball.

Luckily for me, I didn’t have to choose between the “smallest debt” or “highest interest” when ordering my debt snowball. My smallest debt also has the highest interest. Therefore, it is to my advantage to pay that off as quickly as possible. I have the peace of mind knowing I’m paying less interest AND I am on track to eliminate my lowest debt by early 2013!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Hello & Welcome!

My first post!

To my readers (hopefully there will be some?) - there are two reasons I have started this blog:

1) I want to share my tips on frugality, getting out of debt, and living simply.

2) Since I live far away from my family, I want them to see how I live and how I decorate where I live.

My dad is a carpenter and my mom loves shopping.

So, you can see how they might be interested in my projects!

However, I hate shopping and I'm a real beginner when it comes to building things. I'm going to rely on my dad's advice though - "just read the instructions."

Off I go!