Pay Day

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What would you say if I told you that every night I cook an extra meal and then throw it away? Or better yet, that Sarah and I own an apartment that we let sit empty and a third car that we never drive? Seems a little ridiculous, doesn’t it? Well, for some its true. (in a way)

Recently, I’ve been scouring our expenditures and really thinking about where each dollar we earn goes and whether or not we are happy with how it is spent. The answers are sometimes harsh, but we are getting better at putting  our money where our interests lie. The area where we seem to have the least amount of control, is the  25% of it that gets wheeled off to the government with each paycheck. This is something that would cause most people to complain, (in times of war, I am one of those people) but to me, it just makes me want to use what I’ve bought.

In an effort to squeeze the best bang for the buck out of all of our investments, I’ve decided to try our best to access all of our government funded facilities (libraries, parks, etc…) with a new found zest (I will not, however, be setting my house ablaze. The fire department can keep my money.)

I’m treating the local library like my personal book shelf. Each morning I’ve been taking a walk to a park a mere block from my house, and acting as if it is my own back yard. (fortunately, no one else seems to see the value and I stand alone with an epic view of the city). Sometimes, during my lunch break, I go out and lay down in the street, just cause I paid for it.

I did a quick search at http://www.colorado.gov/taxtracks/  so I could see where my tax dollars were going. It turns out I pay a mere $1.36 cents a year to fund our local park system so I’m getting an expanded back yard on super-sale. Don’t tell my neighbors, they’ll probably trample me to get a great deal.

There are lots of things I pay for and I want to make sure I don’t waste any of them. If you’d like to join me, I’ll see you in my back yard tomorrow morning. Just don’t obstruct the view.

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Schmeasypayment

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Most financial books I’ve read include at least one chapter dedicated to the idea of side-stepping Starbucks and instead investing that five dollars a day for retirement. It seems like a reasonable request, but I wonder how many people actually do it.

I remember in my early twenties, fresh out of college, my mom advised me to begin investing now even if it was just $50 a month because with compound interest it would snowball into a large retirement fund. I was making about $10 an hour so $50 seemed like a fortune and like many young men, I ignored my mother’s advice. As it turns out, Einstein, the man who actively contributed to the first split atom said that “The most powerful force in the universe is compound interest”. I’m not sure those devastated by nuclear warfare would agree, but I think it profound nonetheless.

Yesterday I got a text from my cell provider, (although I don’t think it was a personal text) that told me that I had made an EasyPayment of $173.97. “Sweet Jesus!”, I thought. It may have been “easy” for them but to me it felt like crossing the Sahara with a broken leg and a thimble of water. I immediately logged on to our cell provider’s website to see what it was that cost us so dearly. As it turns out, our bill was a mere $16 higher than it is supposed to be due to someone in the family who went over on their monthly text limit. (It wasn’t Isabelle, and I don’t have that many friends.) This got me thinking about that Starbucks analogy I’ve seen repeated ad nauseam and the serious amount of ching I drop to stay connected through my cell phone.

The computer nerd in me immediately pulled up an excel spreadsheet and ran a few numbers. If Sarah and I were to cancel our phones tomorrow (which we can’t, as I signed a deal with the devil that doesn’t expire for approximately 18 months) and instead invest a year’s worth of that money in something that gave a mild 5 percent return over the next 25 years (that would roughly be the number of years until my fictitious retirement) we would end up with a return of about $7,000.

I actually gasped a sigh of relief. I was worried that I’d find out something I didn’t want to know, but fortunately  $7,000 will barely buy us a used Geo Metro today and in 25 years will likely be the cost of  a movie plus popcorn and drink. But what if…what if we gave up cell phones all together? What if we became Luddites, disconnected from the rest of the world, sacrificed the convenience  of our connectivity and instead continued to invest that cell phone money each and every year? Now we are getting somewhere.

As it turns out, over the next 25 years with the power of compound interest we would have amassed roughly $104,000 by discontinuing our cell service and instead investing that money. (an additional $100,000 if we did it for 35 years) Now, to the wealthy, this may seem like a small chunk of change, but given our history I’d be willing to wager that Sarah and I could live off of that in a small coastal town somewhere in Nicaragua for at least a decade.

So it has me thinking. But mainly just thinking.

Frankly, given my over-dependence on technology and the enjoyment I derive from frequent interactions with friends it is unlikely that we would do away with our cell phones all together. My 20 year old self would have scoffed at the idea of paying that much for a phone (admittedly, my 20 year old self would have been using a pager), but for whatever reason my current self hasn’t been totally devastated by a cost that continues to creep upward. I wonder why that is?

I’ll tell you what though, as long as we are spending this kind of money on our phones I think I’m going to try and use it for actual phone calls.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.

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I have a neighbor who does amazing things with used materials. Last week I stopped by and he had built a beautiful fence for his garden out of used pallets. Shortly thereafter he completed a full size, insulated chicken coop out of partially re-used materials. (Yes, he built a house for chickens in his Metro Denver backyard so he could have unlimited access to fresh eggs) Standing in his backyard reminds me of a childhood trip to the petting zoo, except now I get permission to be on the other side of the fence.

I’ve often referred to the ingenuity of the depression era families. Their tenacity towards turning trash into treasure is truly tremendous. They probably wouldn’t glorify it the way I do, they would probably tell you that they were very hard times and you treated everything you owned as though it were your last. (they might also tell you that it was their desire to make sure their children had everything that the depression-era families never had that led to our current culture of consumerism) I sometimes wonder how much better I’d feel about culture in the U.S. if we still held onto our things like this. If we still manufactured products that were meant to last and weren’t designed to become obsolete. If we took responsibility for our landfills, or at least considered the implications when standing in the store.

As we aren’t buying anything, these thoughts have churned around more often than normal. We’ve recycled since Denver made it easy with their big purple bins. Reducing and reusing on the other hand, is something that I think many of us conveniently ignore. In the past month, more than once, I’ve had to put on my thinking cap and find a solution to repair something that has broken without money to fix it, build something from leftover parts or just leave it as is. It is interesting when the solution to your problem isn’t buying a new one. You learn new skills, build upon old ones, and sharpen abilities to problem solve. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle is more than just a Jack Johnson song, it is something we should all consider doing more often. Of course, that is very un-American of me, buying is the new black, owning is the new green or something to that effect. (Homeland Security is probably on their way to my house as we speak)

I do this as an experiment. (although, hopefully a longitudinal experiment) I envy my neighbor, because he does it instinctively (and because envying your neighbor IS very American). It is ingrained in him. Like most things I envy, I hope to learn from it and perhaps even do more of it in my life. In the long run, it might even teach my daughter some important values.

Soda versus Beer.

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Why choose?

A man without a vice, is a little too nice. That is a saying I just made up to justify drinking beers and over indulging in diet soda. It isn’t simple, and perhaps one day before I enter the seminary or after I die, I might give them both up. Sarah has her fingers crossed but I remind her that this isn’t about deprivation, its about eliminating the superfluous and focusing on what’s left. Shouldn’t beer and soda be left?

(I can’t seem to convince myself that either of these are a luxury, though I would be curious of anyone out there that has kicked the habit and why.)

Everything and Nothing

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If all of your belongings were lost in a fire, what would you replace tomorrow? What would you forget you ever owned? What would be irreplaceable?

A couple of questions I’m asking myself as we are looking to reorganize some of our spaces and downsize some of our stuff. The answers are making it easier to prioritize space for the important and create less space for the inane.

Keeping Up with the Flintstoneses

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I’ve had a wickedly busy week, stuffed with a work training that has absorbed every free moment of time. Savoring the moments of silence.

Of note though, is that people who have similar goals have been popping out of the woodwork in the past weeks. One I talked with today has a media free family, another owns no car, and yet another buys only the basics for her small studio apartment and uses left over money to put towards rich experiences. I tell ya, it’s hard keeping up with the Flintstoneses.

Defeating the Dragon

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“I got my finger on the trigger, so niggaz wonder why, but livin’ in the city is do or die”  -Dr. Dre

It has been a little under a decade since I was smoking two packs of Marlboro Menthol Lights  a day. Never thought it was possible? It is, it takes a lot of hard work and dedication, but it can be done. I wanted out. I had tried every program in the book with the exception of a hypnotherapist, but for those “exes” out there, you know quitting very rarely sticks on the first few tries. One day, after having “quit” what I estimate to be about seven different times, I finally succeeded.

I did it with the help of a book. The only part of the program I remember was a chapter entitled “Identifying your Triggers”. The chapter was dedicated to guiding you through the process of recording each and every moment you felt the urge to smoke. Then, at the end of one month, you could examine your urges on graph paper and compare and contrast the peaks. Driving a car? Check. After a meal? Check. After..er…kissing? Check. Mentally, once I was able to pit myself against these moments and sit with the process, I was finally able to stop smoking. It has been eight years, and I’ve never felt better. It should be said though that those urges don’t go away, their triggers are never stymied, only muted, if ever so slightly.

Our experiment in simplicity thus far has brought many things to the surface, but as I’ve sat with the process I’m reminded of “the book that shall remain unnamed” on how to quit smoking. Not buying anything is a challenge. If you don’t believe me, I suggest you try it for a month and check back.

Are you back? Good, let’s continue…As the urge to buy comes and goes, instinctively I’m watching the ebb and flow of my desires and noting the triggers. Boredom, the most prominent trigger, just happens to be a little more frequent with the absence of digital entertainment. Often, the trigger is as a solution to a problem. If I just had “it”, then this or that would work better. Those from the depression era very rarely found the answer in a new purchase, but rather through ingenuity.  Other common triggers have been the obvious ads I receive through email, but also billboards, pop ups etc. Loneliness, as a trigger, almost immediately has me reaching for my laptop to see what things I may procure to fill the emptiness. Interestingly, cooking from home more often has been a trigger. As I spend more time in that space I realize everything that it is lacking, some can be fixed by rearrangement but those who know me know it doesn’t stop there. I’ve mentally mapped out a kitchen renovation project that will revolutionize the way our kitchen flows and as a result I’ll probably end up with my own cooking show: Dining with Dave. Or maybe I’ll just find a way to make do with what I have.

Identifying the triggers is the game changer. Now its me versus them. Knowing who they are is almost enough to destroy them. They are nothing but a psychological trick, and I do not like to be tricked. It makes me feel stupid.

This month will be easier, we have committed to not buying anything. Black and white, right? Next month, and the month after will prove more challenging. We’ve both acknowledged that there are many pieces of living this way that we love and hope to preserve with perhaps only a few tweaks. In terms of defeating our dragon, and beating the urges, our newest in-house system includes a 30-day list. When the urge to buy comes along, no matter what the trigger, that item is added to our 30 day list. It sits on the fridge, awaiting its tenure. After 30 days, if the desire is still there then perhaps we will buy it, or maybe relegate it to another 30 days of listdom (Parole DENIED!), just to see. Either way, I’m seeing the benefit of the process and enjoying the ride the whole way there.

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