Sunday, July 5, 2015

Simplicity and Saving Money: To do and not to do

After our "Special Announcement" post, folks have been casually asking us how we were able to take all of those awesome adventures over the last 5 years. I have been thinking about how to answer this inquiry. I have decided that it is really rooted in how we spend money in our day to day. 

As I mentioned in "Debt is Slavery", at the start of our marriage Joel and I had the opportunity to move back to our college campus so he could start full time work as a Residence Hall Director. While this was not a super glamours way to start our adult lives together, it did provide us with free housing that included free water, electric, internet and occasionally, free food. That was a really helpful move when it comes to turning our interests towards getting out of debt, saving money and eventually investing it. Even living in a situation where we had no living expenses, we still were very disciplined with our money and have remained this way throughout our married life no matter what our bills might be or how much money we are bringing in. Just like enjoying the harvest of the garden, all it takes a little planning and consistency to see the good fruit of this endevour. 

Before you can even begin a simple budget, it is important to decide what you want to spend your money on. What is valuable to you? For us, experience and travel is our value alongside of staying out of debt and saving money. This is where our extra cash will go. Making this decision and setting up some goals around it really is the first step to saving.

Next, we are very intentional as we decide what we spend our money on.To begin, let me start with what we don't spend our money on.

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  • Cable- we do not pay for anything that involves a TV, in fact, we have not had a TV that could be hooked up for over 10 years. This is also a great thing because not having a TV frees up a lot of our time so that we can do other things that we find important without being distracted. This also means that we have not bought a TV and don't have a need to keep up with the flattest-of-screens trends that seem to keep money out of your pocket and invested in an item that only decreases in value each day.

  • Car Payments- we do not buy brand new cars or cars we can't afford. We have two good cars that are dependable and one of them even looks really cool, but we bought them from family and friends, making sure to pay cash and pay in full each time. 

  • Oil Changes and basic car maintenance- Joel comes from a family that believes they can do anything themselves and should not have to pay the exorbitant prices that go alongside with anything automotive. Joel's dad has taught him how to change the oil, break pads, windshield wipers, etc on our cars that we do not have to pay for these service fees that go along with this common, truly simple, maintenance.

  • Clothing (Jewelry, Shoes, etc)- I really hate shopping. Joel isn't a big fan of it either so this is just not something that tempts us or takes our money. We both enjoy a really cool thrift store find, and will happily spend money on a unique item that fits just right but otherwise, we are just not tempted by spending money on excess clothing and accessories. There are the annual needs to update jeans, suits, work clothes, undies, whatever, but we tend to go for sales, second hand stores, or hit up friends who are giving away clothes they don't want anymore. In fact, when we were living at Queens, at the end of the year students would pile really nice, usually brand new clothes in the giant Good Will bins at move-out and we would have a blast going through those and "shopping" right in the lobby. If we do happen to get a new article of clothing, we make sure to clean our closet out of any item that we are not wearing anymore. When it comes to clothing and shoes, you already have everything you need and can get really creative with what you have if you just try. You don't NEED something new.

  • Processed Food- Pretty much any food items that are in the middle of the grocery store we avoid like the plague. All of that processed food is quick and tasty, but everyone knows there isn't much goodness in it and we find it to be too costly to add it to our carts. A box of cereal boarders $4-6 in some stores and we can make huge batches of delicious granola for next to nothing in comparison. Really, who actually needs chips and crackers in their homes anyways? That sort of food is way too easy to overindulge on and costs more than it should for the minimal nutritional value that it offers. Bread, these days, counts as a processed food too. We do not buy store bought bread because it is incredibly simple, and much healthier to make your own (Check out this recipe- it works every time and is delicious). 

  • Paper Towels- This might sound strange but we don't buy paper towels or napkins. They are handy, sure, but think about how quickly you go through them. We just wipe and throw them away. We keep lots of cloth napkins that are plenty easy to throw in the washer with the laundry and have hand towels that are efficient in cleaning up spills. There is just no need for the extra paper waste and those items add up over time and are not cost-effective. 

  • Alcohol- We love having drinks and enjoy all kinds of alcohol, but we have found that we can save  A LOT of money if we do not buy it regularly. Keeping beer and wine off the grocery list saves us and easy $40 bucks with every grocery visit. We don't NEED it in the fridge at all times. We don't need to drink it everyday. We would enjoy a nice glass of wine on the regular, but the truth is that we don't need it and it doesn't really add that much to our life experience. We will purchase alcohol for friend's visits, or special occasions, but we have found it is worthwhile to keep it off the grocery list on the regular day to day, not just for our wallets but for our bodies and minds too. 

  • Organic Foods- The organic food movement (at least in our grocery stores) is a joke. I love the sound of having food that is pesticide free, but there are very few regulations that guarantee this in our supermarkets. In fact, external advertising on products allows companies to write whatever they want to write, so it is difficult to know that the food you are buying is truly organic. Not to mention all the loops holes and ways companies are able to get that label on their veggies and products. With few guarantees that you are actually getting what you pay for, we avoid the high priced, small veggies that sit sadly in the organic sections of our grocery stores. We also don't worry too much about this since we do have our own garden that we can grow our crops the way we want to. You can also sign up to get local, in season vegetables and fruits from farms in the area and avoid the supermarkets all together if you can't grow your own. Here is an article to help people do a little better job figuring out what is truly organic and what isn't in our grocery stores. Here is another article detailing how companies use the "organic" label to sell products that are actually not organic. Here is a article and radio show detailing how companies are able to get away with corrupting the organic label. Not a good investment, I'd say.
  • Fancy Apartment Complex- We have tried living in a fancy apartment complex with the gym, pool, and hospitality facilities all included. All we found is that it was not worth the extra money that we had to pay for curbside trash pick-up and gated parking. We really love our rental house, in a cool neighborhood that is walk-able to everything. What's more, the rent is extremely low. When looking for this place we decided that no matter what we COULD pay each month for our rental, we would not pay more than $900 no matter what. It was not worth it to us. So we waited for the right offer and God provided in an incredible way. (PS- we don't even pay $900, that was just our max- such a sweet deal!)

  • Gym Memberships- I think these are really important things to a lot of people so I am not bashing it, we just don't pay for them. Joel and I both can workout for free at our churches if we want to. We also enjoy online workout or yoga classes we can do for free from home. But really, if we want to get our sweat on, we just go for a run. It's a great workout and it costs nothing.

  • Internet- We DO have internet now. We actually went a whole year without it and did not miss it too much. It is very convenient to have it back now (particularly for Waked Up's sake) but it was no problem going without for a while. Now that we do have it, we were really careful about how we got it installed. Internet companies basically charge you every month to "rent" their equipment so we bought our own router/modem from Walmart (on sale) so that this monthly fee would be off the table for good. We also did some research and found that out that paying more for high internet speed is a sham. Unless you are running some-sort of business from your home that uses multiple computers, streaming constantly, you do not need more than 5mbps (and that will be more than enough). Joel and I both use our devices at the same time, streaming video even, and have no issues with it slowing down or freezing at all. We save every month having kept our internet speed low. We are only paying $29.99 for internet now and have zero issues with it.

  • Smart Phone- Joel has a smart phone that was given to him and is paid for by his job, but I am still using my oh-so-reliable-never-have-to-charge-it flip phone. This is just a personal decision but I have no desire to be reachable at all times. I find this to be the most unnatural thing in the world and it is an expectation that I just cannot live into. I also do not need to be able to check my email, facebook, website, store, etc, from anywhere anytime. I am perfectly happy to check those things as often as I want from my computer at home. Calling, texting, knowing what time it is...what more do you really need? Certainly not a data plan. I am only paying $39 a month.

  • Eating out- If you want to blow money as fast as possible, eat out. We love eating out and we love really good food. However, we eat out about 2-3 times a month. We keep our eating out budget low so that we aren't tempted to just drop in for a quick meal or blow $50 on a dinner out for no reason. We do believe in celebrating and we do eat out.We just save it for a special occasion. For example, we love Thai Coconut Curry. We could eat out at our local Thai restaurant for dinner and have Green Curry with a side of spring rolls and hot tea for about $15 bucks a person ($30 for both) or I could make a batch of my own (which I have to brag is better than going out) for $5 total for the curry and spring rolls and hot tea and we will have left overs that will last two days. Not to mention, I will add vegetables and herbs that we have grown ourselves. $2.50 a person for a meal or $15? Eating out eats up your money.

  • Coffee- Joel and I enjoy a cup of coffee, but we just are not caffeine addicts. We don't long for a cup and don't drink coffee daily. This saves us in buying our own coffee to keep at home, but we also do not buy coffee out and about. We certainly do not patronize Starbucks and have no need for the extra calories for special flavors and milks or the $2 you will pay for a plain cup of black joe. Most American's spend around $5 a day on coffee. Just imagine where $35 a week could go if you invested it somewhere else. We save coffee for a special occasion or a meeting with someone. When we get coffee out we make sure it is part of a Coffee Culture movement because we would rather know that growers are treated well and the coffee we are drinking hasn't been pre-ground with garbage

  • Soda/packaged drinks- We don't buy or really even drink soda or packaged drinks. There is nothing good in a soda when it comes to the health of your body. Extra sugar, or even worse- FAKE sugars (which cause cancers and other gut diseases), and caffeine are just not necessary parts of our diets. Not to mention, we don't have any interest in accumulating lots of extra bottles and cans to add the environment (recycling or not- it's just extra stuff that we don't need in our lives).

  • Home Decor/furniture- I think our home is really cool and beautifully decorated, but we did not spend much (if anything) on our home decor. Our furniture is nice and comfortable and it was all free from family, friends, and nice neighborhoods where people just put really great items on the curb. When someone has something they want to give away, we are real quick to say YES if it is something that we need. We even have pieces of furniture that are antique from grandparents or great-grandparents. Joel's mom even made me a rocking chair. It is all nice stuff and it has all lasted, we just did not pay for any of it. Our decor in our home (artwork framed and nick-knacks) have come from family or friends who are artists or from our travels. Everything has a meaning and everything is a memory from something we enjoyed together. 

  • New- We very rarely buy something brand new. If we can't find what we are looking for on Craig's list, among our family or friends, or in the community, then we will decide if we will buy it new. Often we will look for clearance sales or shop somewhere where we know the prices are fair (Ikea is one example). We have found that you rarely have to spend money on what you want. There is so much that is accessible and ready to be given away or for minimal price if you are willing to just look.

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  • Name brand- We do not buy name brand items. When it comes to clothing and shoes or purses, I could not know less or care less about stuff like this. There is no way in the world that you could convince me that a $1,200 purse is worth the money. I don't even know how to discuss this topic except to say that you can find attractive, functional items anywhere that are a fraction of the prices of some name brand items that work just as well or better. I don't get this need at all. The same goes for food at the grocery store. We rarely buy products that are not generic. Again, there just isn't any need or practical application for buying something just because it has the right name. Cream Cheese is Cream Cheese whether KRAFT made it or not. 

  • Tampons with applicators- This came out of necessity when I was in college and I have never looked back. When I was living in Europe, I could not find tampons with applicators. I could only find the O.B. brand of applicator-less tampons that you can get in bulk for about $8. These are great because they are small enough to fit in your tightest jean pockets, they produce minimal packaging and waste that will just sit in a land-fill for a thousand years, and you can triple the amount of them for the same price. This was a no-brainer to me. 

  • Haircuts- I have been cutting Joel's hair for years and it is pretty easy to cut a guy's hair especially when it is curly. However, I was frustrated that I have to pay a minimum of $30 to get my hair cut halfway decently. I really just like my hair long and it is really straight, so a couple of years ago I decided I was going to learn how to cut my own hair. You can watch YouTube tutorials on anything and sure enough, there are lots of helpful lessons out there on how to not just cut your own hair and cut it well. I've been avoiding the salon ever since and cannot tell a difference. On that note, I used to highlight my hair. That was something I got into in college and once I started it was really hard to stop. I got tired of paying a minimum of $75 bucks (more like $100) to get my hair highlighted, so I started doing it myself over-the-counter. I liked how it looked better, honestly. Then I realized that I had totally fried my hair so I just cut it all off and started over. My hair is totally grown out now, it's all my natural color (which is pretty! who knew?) and I don't spend any more money on dying it or getting it cut. It has never been healthier.
Now to shift gears a little bit; we DO spend our money on:
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  • Sales- When we buy groceries or make the occasional clothing purchase, we make sure that it is on sale. We cut coupons and sign up for MVP cards and make sure that the items we purchase are on special. You will not believe how this adds up in savings. 

  • Co-Op- We do not deprive ourselves from healthy, delicious food, we just don't buy it at Whole Foods or Harris Teeter. We buy lots of our products from our Co-Op which supports only American grown, truly organic foods in bulk. We can get 10lbs of organic, wheat flour for $12, for example. We buy our dried goods from our Co-Op and make sure that we have a store of US grown, certified, true organic foods (that are actually food) that is half the cost. You can start your own by gathering a group of folks to make huge orders together from Something Better Natural Foods

  • Grow food and eggs- We do spend money on maintaining our garden beds and growing our own vegetables and eggs. These costs are minimal and the amount of food that is coming out of our garden is almost overwhelming. We pay $13 for 50lbs of high protein chicken feed for the quail and chickens. We occasionally spend money on fertilizer and vitamins for the soil which all amount to under $20 a quarter. What we get is a freezer, belly, fridge full of good food and a beautiful garden to look at.

  • Buy in bulk-  We buy in bulk. Paying top dollar for small amounts of an item will eat away at your money. So if you have the room (or even if you don't- we make the room) it is so worth it to buy in bulk. For example, Joel bought 6 quarts of Olive Oil for $25 which added up to $4 a liter. Or we could have gotten 12 oz bottle for $6 and kept buying those little bottles, over and over again. Instead, we have Olive Oil that will last for a year and it only came in two bottles for that price. You cannot beat it. We buy toilet paper, tissues, oils, razors, etc in bulk at Costco, but any store like this will give you what you need and help you save hundreds of dollars a year, not to mention reduce the amount of packaging you add to the environment. Here is an article by Reader's Digest about buying in bulk the right way. 

  • Cook- We cook a lot. We both have become really good cooks because we practice all the time and aren't scared to just create something or try something new. We save a lot of money cooking, we eat healthier and we enjoy doing this task together or sitting down to an actual meal with one another. The best cookbook I have ever used which has helped me become a decent cook is called More with Less. They have many versions and our favorite is called More with Less: Extending the Table. These recipes make cooking simple. They are easy to read and follow, they use ingredients you are sure to already have in your home, and the results are perfect every time. Cooking also is a great creative outlet. It is so nice to come home from work and just create something while you have a few minutes of quiet to process your day. 

  • Detail/clean our own cars- this is pretty self-explanatory. We don't do this much, but it is easy to do on your own and it can save you a minimum of $50 bucks and takes about an hr. 

  • Make gifts for people- At this point in our lives, most of our friends and family have everything they want or buy what they need, so we refrain from buying gifts as much as possible. When we do give a gift, it is something specific that someone has asked for or I will paint a friend something special or Joel will throw them a pot or two. These items make wonderful gifts and they cost us very little in supplies. There is a lot of time and thought that goes into each gift but not money. 

  • Accept gifts- When people want to give us something, we say YES. When there is a left over fruit tray at a party, a bouquet of flowers after church or a wedding, extra veggies that a friend is trying to give away, whatever it is, we tend to accept it. Gifts keep on giving. My Aunt was cleaning out her art supplies the other day and gave me dozens of canvases- this is a huge gift! Gifts are blessings however you look at it. In fact, when it is a holiday or birthday, we use these opportunities to ask for something practical that we need like tools, art supplies, yoga classes, etc. Things that are great to have but can add up in cost. People are happy to get you something that you want if you just give them a heads up. It's not that cool to just pick a random item and hope that someone likes it. Asking for what you need is a good thing. 

  • Filtered water- We drink a lot of water and we want to drink filtered water. So instead of buying water or creating excess bottles in our lives, we just use our Berkey Filter to keep ourselves happily stocked in H2O filtered right from our sink.

  • Tithe- We do give money away. We are really disciplined to give 10% of our income each month to a charity, a person, a church that we believe needs some support. We have found that when we do this every month this gift seems to cycle back somehow. I can't explain it and that isn't why we do it, but that is a cool little phenomenon. This is something we spend time praying about each month as well. 

  • Saving for travel- When I was working full time this was much simpler to do, but we would have $500 automatically transfer from our checking into a savings account just for travel. We would not touch it until we were booking a trip or on the road for that trip. We didn't even miss it. Every 6 months we would have $3,000 at our disposal for traveling. Not bad.

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  • Invest in ROTH IRA- I will write more about the benefits of starting a ROTH IRA in your 20's, but Joel and I both have chosen to invest the most that we can in this each month. No matter what, we put the maximum amount into our two accounts and let the market grow this investment to provide for our years of retirement. This isn't something that we get to enjoy now but it is nice to know we are doing something good for our future.

  • Savings- When I was working full time this was a more consistent number, but we agreed that we would put $1,000 a month into savings to be used for investments or emergencies. 

  • Make payments on time- We pay all of our bills on time so that we don't have to pay late fees or interest on anything. Those fees will bite you in the butt and really is just throwing you money into the wind. 

  • Preventative care- We do pay for preventative care- why? because it pays off! Medical care is extremely expensive in the United States and debt from medical care (even with insurance) is one of the main causes of debt in the country. We prefer to take good care of ourselves on the front-end so that we won't have to pay for expensive medical treatments down the road. We both get chiropractic care (which has been life changing), we take vitamins, I have gotten acupuncture at times, and we use essential oils for treatments. We get our annual physicals at our doctors and take care of ourselves in between. 
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    • Don't take medication- We have been fortunate enough to not take medication. The side effects of prescription medications are extensive and while they might help the problem you have, they tend to create new ones so we would prefer to avoid this situation all together. Not to mention, they are expensive. A couple of years ago, I had a doctor (during my annual physical) tell me that it looked like I MIGHT be moving into a stage of hypothyroidism and would need to start taking medication immediately. I protested and refused to do it. I did some research and and discovered that my issues was in my current diet. I changed it, got some acupuncture, started taking iodine supplements and all of my thyroid tests came back normal and I have not had any reoccurring issues of this kind. If I had just accepted what she said, I would still be taking Synthroid today and for the rest of my life. That is money wasted and my body wrecked. No, thank you. Here is the post I have written on these findings. 
These are just a few of the ways that we have been able to save money over the years and create a way of living that is rich in experience, full of joy, healthy and simple. All of these money saving techniques have also helped us enrich our diets, improve our physical health, decrease our mark on the environment while allowing us to save enough money to provide for our future and to see the world. I am not sure what else anyone could want. All of our needs are met, I want for nothing, and I don't feel like I am missing out at all. And we don't make that much money. Did I mention that? This is the beauty of simple living. You can see that you already have everything you need.

Simplicity, Savings, Soul-food. 

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