Monday, May 4, 2015

Financial Freedom: Decluttering Your Way to Freedom. Watch Out for Those Emotional Barriers

From 2600 square feet (2010) to 1500 in 2010.   From 1500 square feet to  697 square feet in 2014.  I’ve cut my living space and stuff by 66% in the last five years and never felt freer or happier.  But each time I scaled down, I had to step over and toss out more than unused clutter – I had to face the accompanying fears and bogeymen haunting my psyche. 

Where would all the stuff go?  How would I manage without (fill in the blank).  Could I really live without a dresser?  Sounds  ridiculous now.  But as I consider downsizing to 280 square feet, I’m even more perplexed and wondering "good grief, how am I going to live without a living room??"  The rewards of downsizing draw me forward anyway:  pure joy, a new view of the world, a new view of me.
For those of you facing the same kind of emotional collapse that is either slowing you down or halting the process all together, I’m sharing some of the tools that helped me and recent photos from my current use of the KonMari, the process laid out in The Life Changing Magic of TidyingUp by Marie Kondo. 
Marie suggests that you start de-cluttering your clothes.  NOT your closet, because clothes are stored many other places too.  And clothes are the easiest.  So here goes my Saturday: 


messy closet before organizing


Clothes Stage I – Denial

“This doesn’t look too bad, but I would like more space.”   Right.  Such an inviting closet.   I had to move the vacuum cleaner over to get to my favorite dresses in the morning.  And what was the laundry basket doing on the top shelf?  Storing something I really didn't need.    Truly I was in denial.


Clothes Stage 2  – Overwhelm and confusion

clothes before organizing with KonMari methodThe next step in the clothes clean out means that everything goes out onto the floor, so that you can see it.

“Oh good grief, what have I done.   And why do I have two black skirts with stripes that are almost identical?  And twenty-four pair of underwear?  Who knew???  My legs hurt from standing.  I need a nap."

Goodwill Haul KonMari Method


Clothes Stage 3 - Feeling Stronger and Clearer

As I went through Marie's steps of asking myself "do I love this, do I want to re-hang this in my closet or refold it into the drawer?” game I began to get excited.  Suddenly I had permission to toss lots of things in my closet that frankly didn't fit, never would fit, and made me feel bad every time I tried them on and hoped against hope that they would finally fit.    Wish I had weighed all these bags!


Clothes Stage 4 – Just about Done.   Whoop!

Closet Organized with KonMari Method

Real Life Underwear Drawer KonMari Method
Sigh.   There’s even room for a full-length mirror in my new space.  This feels so good that I have to stop myself from tossing out more clothes.   I even needed less sleep that night, the feeling of new energy and hope was amazing.
If you aren't a fan of the KonMari method, here are other Tools I’ve used in the past:  Marla at Flylady has a baby step method that gave me the first structure to getting rid of “the stuff.”    Her welcoming, encouraging tone and the simple process steps like "one box for keeping, one box for giving away, one box for trash" along with the “just do what you can for 15 minutes at a time” ushered me through my first struggles.  - the visual inspiration from this blog reminded me of how beautiful tiny spaces can be and offers ongoing ideas on how to store things in a Tiny Space.

Your Money or Your Life – Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez.   The most motivational and basic book for de-cluttering and money management.  It's not about budgeting, but about being aware of the value of every second of your precious life. 

Which makes you hyper-aware that you don't want to spend another minute buying, moving, storing, insuring or tidying up "things" that you don't love.

Have you been following the KonMari method?  I'd love to hear more about how your journey with the closet "right angle" is going and any other tips you've discovered!   Please share...

Friday, April 10, 2015

Finally Financially Independent: Can You Live a Rich Life on $3,000 a Month?

Yesterday was my last day at Megacorp (gulp) and I'm not 65 years old yet, I'm not even 59 1/2!   Anxious?  Excited?  Terrified?  Yes, yes, yes.    Is it something that you could do too?  Yes, you too.

Call it semi-retirement, retirement, a mini-retirement, early retirement, embracing the simple life, the mid-life crazies, taking a break from burn-out...I'm not sure what label fits yet.   The truly kind people at Megacorp gave me a subtle kick-in-the-pants and I am eternally grateful.  The choice was to conform to a job that just wasn't a great fit or get the heck out of the way.  

I took it as a sign from the universe to RUN, not walk, from a bad fit to finding the people who need exactly what I have to offer.   I may never work full-time again and just volunteer, or work by-the-hour, or even find another, better-fitting job -  not sure yet.  But I do know that this will test the financial freedom plan I'd been preparing for years.  Nothing is more satisfying that being the master of your own life.

Game.  On.  

$3K per month financial road map - This is a high level outline of my financial readiness checklist that may help you if you are planning or even just dreaming about walking away from the corporate cube.  If I can stick to the $3K per month plan, I can choose where and when I work and keep my financial independence for the reset of my life. 

1)  Debt.  

None.  The only credit card debt I have is paid off each day.  I use the credit card every day in order to score the rewards and pay the card each night with a transfer from my online bank.  

No mortgage.  Sold the townhouse I was renting out and added that cash to my "cache."  Found a place to rent that is cheaper than a mortgage plus upkeep (thank you Michael BlueJay!).    I do choose to help my daughter pay on her student loans, but I can opt out at any time.  My name isn't on the loans.  (No worries, honey, I'm not planning on stopping payments in this lifetime.)

2)  Cash in the Bank. 

Over $350,000 in retirement funds plus almost $80,000 in cash.   I have two pensions I can tap into beginning in 3 years.   It's squeaky tight, assuming my nest egg growth is equal to my personal inflation rate, around 1.3%.  

3)  Monthly Overhead -  $2,999 per month

  • Housing - $600 per month for 280 square feet.  

Hello tiny house living!  (See photo above. It sounds cheap, but it's actually expensive for my area -- the rent is a little over  $2 per square foot which is double local rental pricing.  But it's in a great neighborhood, covered by a canopy of 100 year old oak trees.  I can walk to the grocery store and say hello to my neighbors sitting on their front porches.  It's truly a juicy spend - frugal yet satisfying
  • Medical, Dental, Vision, LTC - $800 per month.
$500 for COBRA coverage, $100 for long-term care, $125 for meeting annual deductible and $75 per month for prescriptions.   I do take advantage of an HSA, so may get a little back next year in tax benefit.
  • Utilities - $229 per month
$60 for electricity - another benefit of tiny house living is that you just don't need as much cooling and heat.
$35 for water and sewer.
$68 for cell phone service
$66 for high speed internet (yes, this is my juicy enough splurge).
No cable television, I use rabbit ears and get all the public television that I need, plus ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox.
  • Food -  $430 per month
$220 from the grocery store, $210 budgeted for dining out, coffee, etc.  I save on dining out by doing a lot of happy hours - fun, social and satisfying but cheaper; and I use strike point pricing for grocery items.  I'm also blessed with a significant other who likes to take me out to eat a couple of times a month.  Love, love him.
  • Transportation -  $450
My state is notoriously backwards in providing public transportation and has a high insurance rate, so this is a tough category.  Not much wiggle room.
$125 per month for insurance.  $80 a month for fuel. ( I have a hybrid Honda Insight)    $200 per month in a savings account to build up funds for repairs, new batteries for the car, a new-to-me car when this one draws it last energy-efficient breath.
  • Gifts/charity/helping daughter with student loans - $250 per month.
This category might get shaved down a bit, but there's no way I'm going to stop giving.  It makes me happy to give gifts and to donate to every high school car wash and Girl Scout cookie sale I stumble upon.
  • Clothing - $65 per month
I have plenty from years of clothing purchases in corporate world.  But do need new running shoes and sundries from time to time.  Can you say "Goodwill.?"
  • Personal supplies, grooming, etc.  - $75 per month
  •  Household supplies - $100 per month.  Includes food and litter for cat, paper goods, cleaning supplies.  
(caveat - this plan has so little room for error, as my friends/experts/free financial gurus over at Early Retirement pointed out.  So I will continue to work as a freelance digital marketing consultant for awhile.  Expected monthly income from that will offset costs of new computer.)  

Does this seem extreme to you?  Or is it close to your monthly budget per person in your household?  Would love to get thoughts, comments and suggestions here from the readers.    

Friday, March 27, 2015

Financial Freedom: The Best Frugal Tips Starting with Coffee

Maybe it's because I live in South Louisiana, sometimes called "French" Louisiana.  This part of the state just drips with warm weather, great food, free music festivals and other creative talents shared with all.   

And we share some of the same "frugal, squeeze the best juice of every moment" lifestyle habits as the Europeans.   

You don't have to live in Louisiana or Europe to recreate these same delightful daily experiences!   

Take  coffee.   It's a $4-6 per day habit.  Some say cut it out of your budget, it's a waste.   I say that's ridiculous.   In fact,  I propose that you cut something else out of the budget just to keep coffee in! 

Why?  1) It has been proven to be good for your health (and this is from the people and research at Harvard, mon ami).  2)  It's one of the best inexpensive ways to add a frugal juiciness to every day of your life. 

The Belgians love coffee so much that they serve chocolate with every cup -- free of charge.  It's a visual AND a gastronomical treat.    If you want to immerse yourself in the Belgian way, check out this blogger's post  about the Belgian café society.     "Drinking good coffee is a spiritual experience..."    Just reading the post made me happy! 

Other ways I like to enhance my  daily coffee: 

1)  Using a French press when you have time.  This is a photo of mine.  Nope, I don't make any money from Mr. Coffee recommending this French press!  I started with a Bodum, but I like my Mr. Coffee better.    Here is a nice visual tutorial if you are interested. 

2)  Try to limit drinking out of a paper cup.  Enjoy the ceramic or china in your life.  

3)  I try to buy coffee at the .50 cents per pound limit.  Frugal also means practical, of course.  I make sure to save my pennies so I can buy the best. 

Sometimes Tuesday Morning has a deal on European coffees pre-ground that are around $6.00 for 12 ounces.  Trader Joe's coffee is also about .50 per pound.  Community Coffee is one of my favorites, of course, and you can often get a coupon code for it from Retail Me Not

4)  Or sometimes I just  go to Lukes on St. Charles in New Orleans.   Chef Besh's casual dining pub has some of the best coffee service at the bar.   An inexpensive way to really enjoy the city. 

Coffee at Luke's

How do you enjoy your coffee?  Please share tips! 


Monday, January 27, 2014

Is Frugal Becoming the New Black?

I like how we are beginning to think in the blogosphere (and in the real world!) about money.    Bigger is not always better.  Less can be more.  You aren't defined by what you own.  Debt can suck the life out of you -- avoid it at all costs.

See this post from June of 2013 that is still attracting comments.

I'm constantly reminding myself that Frugal didn't always mean "cheap."  It derives in part from the Latin word frux, "fruit, produce," and "value, success."  Juicy!    As Vicky Robin says in the audio version of "Your Money or Your Life," -- it's about squeezing all the juiciness out of every expenditure so that your life is as fabulous as possible.