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How To Reduce, Reuse, And Save More Cash

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Hi, this is Michelle’s editor, Ariel! You may have seen me here before talking about taking my side hustle full-time, living in a small house, and real life frugality. When I’m not working for Michelle, you can find me spending a lot of time over at M$M, working as a staff writer and editor-in-chief. 

The other day I found myself asking this question in a popular FIRE (Financial Independence Retire Early) Facebook group:

Anyone else focusing on a zero/low waste lifestyle and merging that principal with FI?

I asked this question because, while I don’t hang around in those kinds of communities a ton, I find that what I often see is more focused on sexier topics like investing strategies and increasing your income.

Both of those are incredibly valuable tools when you’re working to improve your financial health, even if you aren’t working towards FIRE, but I was searching for advice that felt a little more relatable to my personal goals.

It turns out that I wasn’t alone.

There are a number of people who are actively making choices that are making a positive difference on the environment while helping them save money.

One of the most interesting responses to my questions was, “I just started a process of focusing on my waste… literally.” What they went on to suggest was that we are essentially buying our trash.

There was something about that comment that really hit me. I mean, if you’re working towards FI or FIRE or just trying to keep your head above water, wouldn’t it make sense to stop pay for as little waste as possible?

As I started marinating on this idea, I started thinking about accessible ways to reduce your waste while you work on improving your financial health.

5 thoughts on reducing your waste as a way to save more money

 

1. Reduce, reuse, recycle, and why the two Rs are the most important 

Most of us learned about the three Rs in school – reduce, reuse, recycle. The way it was taught to me is that each R had an equally positive impact.

The reality is that this isn’t the case at all. If we consider what’s happening with recycling in the U.S., it becomes pretty obvious that we need to focus more now that ever on the first two Rs.

Reduce and reuse are so important because it takes a significant amount of energy to create new products – raw materials have to be extracted from the earth, the product has to be made, and then it needs to be transported to where it will be sold.

For every item you don’t need to buy new, you’re eliminating that entire process, and the benefits can be felt environmentally and financially. 

Here are some examples of how you can reduce and reuse in your daily life:

  • Buying used clothes. A $5 pair of jeans from Goodwill is much better for your finances than a $50 new pair. And, a new pair of jeans costs the environment about 33.4kg in carbon emissions.
  • When you buy things, make sure they can be reused. You can start simple with cloth napkins and refillable water bottles. 
  • Start reusing things that you might typically throw away or recycle. You can wash and reuse Ziploc bags, use yogurt containers as Tupperware, reuse cleaning spray containers by making your own cleaning spray, turn old candle and jam jars into vases or cups, etc.

 

2. Kick convenience

This one is so hard to fall for when you’ve got a family, a job, a side hustle, etc.

Your time is finite and it’s really easy to say, “heck yeah, let’s hit the drive through because I don’t have time to make dinner.”

Going through the drive through doesn’t make you a bad person, but if you’re like me, you think about all of the trash you’ve just bought (I’m leaning on that comment I mentioned in the intro). There’s the fry containers, individually wrapped ketchup packages, plastic straws, etc.

In moments like this, embrace the power of a quick meal –  PB&J, scrambled eggs and toast, a bowl of cereal and a banana, tuna salad sandwiches, cheese and crackers, whatever. You’re saving cash and trash.

Paying for convenience when it comes to foods is an easy trap to fall into. Like I said, it’s hard when you’re busy and trying to shave precious moments off daily tasks like making dinner. 

The problem is that when you’re trying to save time with convenience, you’re paying a high financial and environmental price.

Here are a few examples:

  • A package of prewashed, pretorn lettuce can cost twice as much as a head of lettuce. It’s also packaged in plastic, whereas you don’t really need to put your produce in the plastic bags in the first place.
  • Paying for grocery delivery services like Instacart cost nearly $5 for every delivery.
  • Ready made meals impact the environment at a rate of 35% more than home made meals.
  • On average, it’s 5x more expensive to order out than cook at home.
  • Meal delivery services like Blue Apron or Hello Fresh produce more plastic waste than grocery shopping, and they’re considerably more expensive.

The one bright side with meal delivery services is that if you actually use everything in your package, they do reduce your carbon footprint because you’re reducing your food waste by only paying for exactly what you need for each meal. 

Now, if you’re able to make a meal plan and shop accordingly, it’s entirely possible that you can reduce your food waste without paying for meal deliveries. And at an average cost of delivered meals being around $10, this is actually fairly expensive when you consider that it’s pretty easy to make dinner for closer to $5 a person.

One of my favorite resources for cheap meals is Budget Bytes – this food blog has inexpensive recipes and shows the dollar cost of each.

 

3. Source your food locally

My family recently decided to start buying groceries from a local CSA program.

CSA stands for community-supported agriculture.

The idea is that we get a weekly share of groceries that comes from within 150 miles of our house. We pay a little more for some items, like locally made bread and dairy, but it’s actually been a good financial choice for us because it’s gotten us more excited about cooking at home.

Whether it’s a CSA, shopping at a farmer’s market, or finding local foods at your grocery store, buying local has significant financial and environmental impacts:

  • Reduced CO2 emissions as local food travels an average of 100 miles, whereas produce typically travels an average of 1,500 miles.
  • Supporting local food supports your local economy – good for your home value, schools, etc.
  • Local produce is seasonal, and that can cost less than out-of-season foods.

There are some locally sourced foods that do cost more, especially if they’re organic, but it’s okay to only buy what you can when you can. It’s important for us all to remember that small changes go a long way, which brings me to my next thought… 

 

4. Remember, small acts are just as important

One of the things that I’ve recently seen on social media are people doing something called sustainability shaming. This is when you’re called out for not doing enough for the environment. 

An example is someone who’s reducing the amount of meat they eat, then being shamed for not reducing the amount of plastic they use. Attacks like this do more harm than good.

When you add up lots of small changes, you get something big.

The same goes with your money – and it’s why spare change investing apps are popping up left and right.

What I’m getting at here is that there are little things you can do that will help both your finances and environment:

  • Do you live in a place that you can bike to run your errands? You’re saving on the cost of fuel gas and emissions.
  • Bring your own cup when getting coffee. Your local coffee shop might give you a small discount and you’re reducing your waste.
  • Turn the lights off in your house. Reducing the amount of energy it takes to power your house saves you money. You’ll probably get a little more life out of your lightbulbs too.
  • Stop buying paper napkins and paper towels. By using cloth napkins and towels (scraps work well), you’ll save several dollars a week and reduce your waste, save some trees, reduce the impact of bleaching, etc.

No, none of these things alone will help you save up enough to retire or reverse climate change, but you’re still making a positive impact.

 

5. Remember why you’re doing this

When my kids were babies we used cloth diapers, and we caught a lot of side eyes and weird questions about what it’s like to clean poop out of diapers. At least one or two close family members just outright said it was ridiculous.

Those remarks are really hard to hear when you’re doing something that’s important to you, and that’s exactly why we did it.

No one wants to shake poop out of diapers because it’s fun.

Most of the stuff on this list is pretty mild in terms of how extreme you can get with your financial and environmental practices, think dumpster diving and using leftover shower water to flush the toilet

But, even the tamest choices can be hard for others to understand. And when someone feels strongly enough about a cause that they’re willing to challenge the status quo, you often wind up with a little pushback.

Remind yourself why you’re no longer buying paper towels, why you’re walking to work, and buying used clothes – your doing something that will have a positive impact on your finances and the environment. 

In the end, how easy is it to make good financial and environmental choices

We are living in a moment when it’s easier than ever to make positives choices.

There is a huge push to rectify what’s happening with our environment, and we’re also living in a time when household debt has hit all time highs.

That means more and more people are actively making the kinds of choices I’m talking about in this article. I remember just a few years ago when you felt out of place for bringing a reusable bag to the grocery store, and now we have states that have banned plastic ones.

There are bloggers like Michelle who focus on frugal living and minimalism, and while they’re not outright environmental statements, many of the tips these articles contain will help both your money and the earth.

We’re in a time when there’s more innovation and competition among companies that can help you manage your money or provide environmentally friendly resources and products.

There is so much information out there, and now it’s your turn to start embracing and implementing these ideas and see the difference.

What are you doing to reduce, reuse, and save more money?

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The 60 Best Sci-Fi Books all Science Fiction Fans Must Read

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Are you looking for a new science fiction book to read?

Great news we have compiled the best sci-fi books that all fans should read, everything from sci-fi classics to up and coming indie authors.

Science fiction and fantasy novels provide us with allegory, cautionary tales, and the human condition told through the lens of the fantastical and the cutting-edge. Find your favorite genres and the classics within!

The 60 Best Sci-Fi Books  Fans Must Read

Sci-Fi Origins (Best Sci-Fi Books of all Time)

Where did it all begin? Read these early tales with impossible futures, fascinating creatures, time travel, and alien invasion!

  1. Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein brought us the iconic monster made by Victor Frankenstein. Considered the first true science fiction novel of the modern era, it would foreshadow genetic tinkering stories of the future.

  1. The Blazing World by Margaret Cavendish (also called The Description of a New World, Called the Blazing-World)

Considered to be the first science fiction work, in the 17th century, Duchess of Newcastle Margaret Cavendish wrote of a utopian world.

  1. Ozma of Oz by L. Frank Baum

The third Oz book by L. Frank Baum features Tik-Tok, the wind-up clockwork man Dorothy Gale encounters in the Land of Ev. Tik-Tok is basically one of the first robots in literature. Other wacky features in Ozma of Oz include a sand-sailing boat and lunch pail tree.

  1. The Time Machine by H.G. Wells

A 19th century classic by Wells, depicting time travel and inspiring science fiction tales for over a century.

  1. The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells

The book that would inspire a radio program that terrified people into thinking Martians were invading Earth. Wells would kickstart first contact stories and alien invasion at the same time, offering up a cautionary tale that touches sci-fi to this day.

Space Epics

Transport yourself across the universe with these pillars of world-building in science fiction.

  1. Dune by Frank Herbert

Frank Herbert’s Dune is considered a masterwork of world-building and family intrigue, inspiring other famous series and their respective houses. In the first book, Paul Atreides encounters the resident free people of the planet Arrakis (Dune), the Fremen, and achieves a destiny of messianic proportions.

  1. The Lensman Series by E.E. Smith

Starting with Triplanetary, the Lensman Series would influence writers for decades and receive nods in shows such as Babylon 5.

  1. Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

A Hugo and Nebula award-winner, novella Binti and its sequels launched a new era of 21st Century science fiction in general and Afro-futurism in particular. Intergalactic world-building and cultural heritage blend in this unique series, led by the title character.

  1. Foundation by Isaac Asimov

The beginning of the Foundation series reveals the “psychohistory” developed by mathematician Harry Seldon. Seldon would establish a new empire called Foundation to preserve the culture from societal collapse.

  1. Rendezvous with Rama by Sir Arthur C. Clarke

A strange spacecraft enters the solar system, and humanity investigates. The secrets within the enormous craft, called Rama, reveal the heritage of an advanced alien civilization.

Hard Sci-Fi

If you like your science fiction taut with the edginess of battle and the implication of future wars, you must add these books to your collection!

  1. The Forever War by Joe Haldeman

This classic military sci-fi epic details the tragic effects of time dilation on a group of soldiers fighting a seemingly endless war.

  1. Ringworld by Larry Niven

Set in the 29th century, Louis Wu and his companions explore a vast, Earth-orbit-sized, constructed world. Their adventures uncover the alien civilization that built it.

  1. The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu

First set with the backdrop of China’s cultural revolution, this new epic involves secret scientific experiments, alien invasion, challenging moral dilemmas, and impressive world-building.

  1. Old Man’s War by John Scalzi

A man in his 70s is recruited as a soldier in the Colonial Defense Force, and altered physically in unexpected ways. Strong on character development, this kickstarts the Old Man’s War Series.

  1. Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein

This classic military sci-fi tale follows Johnny Rico and military recruits who become involved in a battle between humans and aliens nicknamed Arachnids or “Bugs.”

If you love Starship Troopers, check out our review of the wisdom of Grand Admiral Thrawn – Michael

Robots

The future of robots is here and is complex and necessary reading in these sci-fi tales.

  1. I, Robot by Isaac Asimov

Isaac Asimov’s intriguing work introduced the laws of robotics that all robots must adhere to work alongside humans.

  1. All Systems Red by Martha Wells

The first novel in the Murderbot Diaries, All Systems Red, follows a cyborg that goes by the name Murderbot contends with self-awareness in the corporate-dominated future.

  1. Cinder by Marissa Meyer

The beginning of the Lunar Chronicles series is a retelling of Cinderella from the point of view of a cyborg.

  1. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick

Famed for its eventual big-screen adaptation, Blade Runner, this novel recounts a future in which highly realistic artificial fugitives are on the run from bounty hunter Rick Deckard.

  1. The Alchemy of Stone by Ekaterina Sedia

Mattie is an automaton in this steampunk and urban fantasy novel involving gargoyles, Mechanics, and Alchemists.

Mars

Our neighbor, the red planet Mars, beckons to us. What would it be like to walk on the shifting red sands of Mars? Find out in these Martian classics.

  1. The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury’s mesmerizing prose introduces us to a Mars full of exotic possibility, soon plundered by humanity’s arrival.

  1. Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson

The first in the Mars Trilogy, Red Mars, involves the colonization and terraforming of Mars and the conflicting moral questions that result.

  1. The Martian by Andy Weir

Astronaut Mark Watney is left behind on a Mars mission and must draw upon his skills and ingenuity in order to survive.

  1. Mars by Ben Bova

Navajo geologist Jamie Waterman joins the first expedition of scientists exploring Mars. The grounded approach Bova takes to all the interaction, politics, and bureaucracy help achieve a plausible future story.

  1. Red Rising by Pierce Brown

The first book in the Red Rising Trilogy envisions a future of planetary colonization in which caste systems abound. Darrow must fight against this system of overlords.

Best Sci-Fi Fantasy Books

Fly high with dragons, roam lands on epic quests, and learn the hearts of true heroes in the fantasy masterpieces.

  1. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien

J.R.R. Tolkien’s magnum opus spans three books, opening up a fantastically detailed and wholly invented universe in Middle Earth that was hinted at in The Hobbit. Considered the ultimate work of fantasy, The Lord of the Rings brings myth, allegory, poetry, song, war, and melancholy to heights of realism and wonder.

  1. A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin

The first novel in The Earthsea Cycle tells the tale of the wizard Ged, and his journey to redeem his reckless past.

  1. A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin

Beginning with A Game of Thrones, Martin’s elaborate, dark fantasy series covers land in which seasons last decades, and a terrible force from the north threatens to bring an icy apocalypse to an area filled with rulers jockeying to take the Iron Throne.

  1. The Dragonriders of Pern Series by Anne McCaffrey

This remarkable series takes place on the world Pern, where people telepathically bond with dragons. Dragonflight is the first in the series.

  1. The Fifth Season: The Broken Earth, Book 1 by N.K Jemisin

The Fifth Season marks the first book of award-winning The Broken Earth trilogy. Set against civilization’s collapse and natural disaster, Essun endures great personal tragedy in her quest to rescue her daughter.

Dystopian & Apocalyptic

Set in a nightmare future, these dystopian and apocalyptic legends will keep you up at night.

  1. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

In a totalitarian future America, handmade Offred is forced to bear children to men of a ruling class. The tale follows her harrowing life in a bleak future, and the attempt to escape and bring down the subjugating class to restore rights.

  1. The Stand by Stephen King

A deadly pathogen escapes a military installation, rapidly spreading and bringing civilization essentially to an end. A group of survivors makes its way to a form of a promised land while battling a malevolent group seeking domination.

  1. Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler

In the near future breakdown of the society of Los Angeles, empathic teenager Lauren believes in a better future entailing traveling to other planets. Lauren gathers followers to her belief as she makes her way north.

  1. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Set in the Great Lakes region of America, a group of nomadic creatives picks up the pieces after the fall of civilization due to pandemic flu.

  1. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

The first book in the Hunger Games Trilogy follows the immense challenges that Katniss Everdeen faces in the post-apocalyptic version of America called Panem. She takes her sister’s place in the government-sponsored Hunger Games to compete for survival in a no-holds-barred and deadly competition.

Near Futures

The future is here, or nearly so, in these ground-breaking novels set close to our present day.

  1. Contact by Carl Sagan

Scientist Ellie Arroway detects a potential extraterrestrial signal from space, which appears to instruct humanity in how to build a machine. She faces self-doubt amid scrutiny to uncover the mysteries of the discovery.

  1. Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton

This cautionary tale about genetic engineering in which scientists make living, cloned dinosaurs for an amusement park. Mayhem ensues.

  1. 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke

Mysterious monoliths appear across many worlds, seeding life with intelligence. Following the discovery of one such monolith on the moon, Dr. Bowman and a team of scientists investigate the signal it sends to Saturn’s moon Iapetus. The onboard AI begins exhibiting dangerous behavior during the journey.

  1. Flashforward by Robert J. Sawyer

A physics experiment creates an unintended consequence of everyone on earth losing consciousness for two minutes. Each person sees a “flash forward” decades in the future while they are unconscious. The resulting accidents and visions challenge everyone’s ideas of free will.

  1. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

In dystopian 2044, impoverished Wade Watts navigates through the virtual reality world of the OASIS, seeking to reverse his fortune.

Younger Readers

Take adventures through time and space, no matter your age!

  1. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

The Murry children and Calvin O’Keefe crosses universes and space-time to try to find their missing father. Their tale is a mind-bending adventure of good vs. evil.

  1. His Dark Materials Trilogy (The Golden Compass/The Subtle Knife/The Amber Spyglass) by Philip Pullman

The Golden Compass/Northern Lights begins this sweeping saga of two children, one born in a parallel universe, one born in our own. In Lyra’s world, people’s souls exist in animal form, called daemons. Her father and mother represent warring factions determined to control all universes. Filled with talking animals, witches, airships, and strange creatures, His Dark Materials packs an emotional punch.

  1. The Apothecary Series by Maile Meloy

Set in the 1950s, The Apothecary starts this highly entertaining, thrilling adventure series in which American Janie Scott meets Benjamin Burrows, the son of an apothecary. After Benjamin’s father is kidnapped, the teenagers uncover a terrifying plot that could result in humanity’s end. They use potions with magical effects to try and stop the impending doom.

  1. The Serpent’s Secret (Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond #1) by Sayantani DasGupta

The first of the Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond series, book one begins with Kiranmala discovering her parents are missing, and there is a demon in her kitchen! Two princes recruited her and sent to another dimension, where she must battle the Serpent King and the Rakkhoshi Queen to rescue her parents and save the Earth.

  1. The Wild Robot by Peter Brown

This delightful middle-grade novel recounts a discarded robot named Roz and her search for love and acceptance.

Ponderous

These mind-bending sci-fi novels will have you thinking for a long time afterward.

  1. Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein

Raised on Mars, Valentine Michael Smith returns to Earth and tries to fit in. His unusual upbringing makes him seem superhuman, but he attempts to help his Earth kin understand things from a different perspective.

  1. The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester

Set in the 24th century when telepaths (“Espers”) are common, and police are telepathic as well. Ben Reich tries to evade the telepathic police for a murder he wants to commit. The story opens up the moral issues of using telepathy, regulated mostly by a guild, but raises concerns about the exclusion of telepaths who run astray as well as psychological intrigue.

  1. Solaris by Stanislaw Lem

Solaris follows humans’ failed attempts to communicate with extraterrestrial intelligence. The sentient planet tests the researchers with their memories and emotions.

  1. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

A story spanning time and space and connections between various characters, Cloud Atlas explores the theme of fate with a mind-bending narrative.

  1. The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin

This classic tale follows the journey of Genly Ai on his mission to the planet Gethen. The ambisexual Gethenians present challenges and growth for Ai.

Cyberpunk

If you dream of the future lit by neon, shadowed by noir and fueled with intrigue, these seminal cyberpunk novels are for you!

  1. Neuromancer by William Gibson

In the first novel of the Sprawl Trilogy, hacker Henry Case is hired to help an AI take over the global network called The Matrix.

  1. All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

A modern cyberpunk tale is weaving together magic and science, with wit and feeling.

  1. Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan

Set in the 25th century, humans have spread through the galaxy and can be preserved after death via cortical stacks, then essentially regenerated or “re-sleeved” into another body. Takeshi Kovacs stumbles upon a vast conspiracy after his latest “sleeve.”

  1. The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester

This early entry into cyberpunk sci-fi follows teleporter Gully Foyle, an outcast considered dangerous.

  1. Synners by Pat Cadigan

The synthesizers, or Synners, are people who can turn mental images into products for consumption. The story is told via various characters’ viewpoints.

Indie Authors

Discover the latest sci-fi and fantasy stories, while supporting independent authors!

  1. Mindful Things by Mya Duong

Nineteen-year-old Lauren begins to experience visions and uncovers the fact her deceased parents were witches. A madman hungry for power pursues her, and she must embrace her magical heritage to try to stop him.

  1. The Infinite by John W. Akers

The inventor Pax works on a secret project that can revolutionize human cognition. His plans are derailed by a computer virus that could end civilization, so Pax is forced to choose how he can help humanity survive.

  1. Threadwalkers by Joanna Volavka

Miranda Woodward undergoes a discordant series of events following her father’s death. This is a young adult time travel tale.

  1. Beasts (Beginning Vol. 1)  by Mary Catherine Gebhard

Set 1000 years in the future, the World Collective seems utopian. Atlia, a member of the World Collective, soon uncovers a horrifying truth about her society.

  1. Resonance by Jennifer Greenhall

In Book One of the Resonance Series, Sophia Walsh uses her psionic abilities for good but finds herself the next target of a killer.

Science Fiction and Fantasy Books

At Your Money Geek, we are huge fans of the science fiction genre, everything from military science fiction to novels about space travel, parallel worlds, and fantasy novels. We are always looking for new books to read and exciting sci-fi writers to profile, let us know in the comments what authors you are currently enjoying. – Michael

 

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What I Gave Up And What I Gained

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There’s a strong perception out there that living on less than you earn translates into some kind of miserable existence where you don’t have any of the things you enjoy and you sit Scrooge-like in the corner of some decrepit room counting your coins. It’s not hard to see some variation of this in popular culture, which constantly portrays spending above and beyond your means as “cool” and being thrifty as either outright weird or only something that a few specific subgroups care much about.

I believed that for years. I believed that if I tried to commit to a life of spending less, it would be a miserable existence. I believed that if I tried to change financial direction, I would just be a Scrooge-like miser. I believed that anyone cool couldn’t possibly save money. I believed that I had to spend every dime I had to keep up appearances and to keep myself entertained. I believed that, sure, being financially responsible might gain me something in the long term, but in the short term, life would be pretty un-fun.

It turns out that none of those things were true. I gave up far less than I thought, and I gained far more than I thought, both in the short term and in the long term.

Let’s take a look.

I gave up one hobby — among quite a few — that I cared about, and had to change a couple of others.

The one hobby I gave up was golfing. I used to go golfing with a small group about once every other week for years. We’d get a golf cart, cruise around, hit some balls badly, talk some trash and go back to the clubhouse. It was fun, I’ll admit, but it was honestly just one hobby of mine, something I did about once every other week.

I had to somewhat change two other hobbies. I’ve always been a big reader, but I bought a lot of books, enough that they were overflowing our shelves. I simply scaled back my book purchasing and started focusing more on “collecting” a list of books I’ve read (I’ll get back to this in a bit). I was also an avid player and collector of Magic: The Gathering, a hobby I really got into in college and one that expanded in expense after graduating. Rather than just buying and buying more cards, I transformed this hobby into one that was focused on trading for value. Those things both remained a part of my life, just with some tweaks.

Those three changes — giving up golfing and tweaking two other hobbies — cut my hobby spending by something around 90% by my best estimates at the time.

I basically didn’t touch any of my other hobbies. I loved going on hikes, reading books, taking long walks, and I love them now, too. I still enjoy playing computer games and video games, though my tastes and style of play has changed due to my own changing interests — I’m now much more of a completionist and a deep-diver into specific games rather than getting games and playing them for a short while before moving on, and I don’t really enjoy playing games that rely on fast reflexes at all anymore.

I gained a few other hobbies.

In the process of learning how to be more frugal, as well as simply having children and exploring new things because of them, I picked up a few new hobbies along the way. My life didn’t become some kind of empty shell.

I became much more interested in board games and other tabletop games, kind of as an outgrowth of my Magic: The Gathering hobby. I started building a collection of these games and playing them with family and friends, mostly funded by trading Magic cards for them and trading games that didn’t click with me for other games. Trading games to acquire other ones so that I eventually have a shelf full of games that I deeply love is a big part of this hobby for me, though it’s secondary to actually playing the games. This also helps keep the cost low.

I’ve become very passionate about cooking and making food items. I love preparing dinner for my family and trying new things while balancing tastiness and healthiness. I love making food items like fermented pickles, sauerkraut, homemade bread and tortillas. I love the process, and the end result is usually something delicious for my family to eat that’s often less expensive than buying the equivalent at the store.

My entire family practices taekwondo together as a family activity. A local school tries to get whole families involved and offers a really nice family group rate, so we go to lots of classes and work on techniques at home together as we all progress toward improving our belt rank.

In the end, I actually have more active hobbies now than I ever have. Some of my other hobbies have actually declined in the amount of time I spend on them simply because I have so many things to choose from, and the time I used to spend on golf has been more than eaten up by other hobbies.

I learned that I don’t have to throw money at a hobby to deeply and passionately enjoy it.

I gave up a lot of forgettable incidental spending.

One big misconception about cutting back on your spending that people have is that you’re going to cut back on things you really care about. People always envision “cutting back” by thinking about things they love and about how “cutting back” on that thing will be miserable and un-fun.

Guess what? It is miserable and un-fun to cut back on things you care about.

The real trick is to figure out where you’re spending money on things you don’t care about or that you care little about in the big scheme of things and cut back hard on those things.

I cut back on trips to the convenience store near our apartment — in fact, I basically deleted those.

I cut back on stops at the coffee shop and gradually migrated to making cold brew coffee at home because I realized that I really liked a cup of good coffee in the morning but it didn’t have to be made by a barista and cost $7.

I switched to buying store brand versions of a lot of things at the grocery store rather than name brand versions.

I took on a lot of little projects around the apartment (and, later, the house) to make everything more energy efficient with little or no further effort.

I looked at how I did a lot of common tasks (like doing the laundry) and worked to make them as time and money efficient as possible.

None of these changes altered anything I really cared about. When I thought about spending that mattered to me then, or spending that matters to me now, none of these things are touched upon.

Perhaps some of these things — like the coffee shop visits — really matter a lot to you. Great. Don’t cut them. Look for the stuff that doesn’t matter much and cut that instead. Does buying name brand dishwashing detergent versus store brand really matter much to you?

I gained a more low-stress life.

When I first started changing my finances around, I didn’t really appreciate how much low-level stress our financial difficulty was adding to my life.

I felt additional professional stress because I knew that a job loss, even for a little while, would be apocalyptic. Even a late paycheck could be a problem.

I felt stress about my own future because I knew I was getting older but I wasn’t really preparing for my old age. This was small and subtle, but real.

I felt stress about my child’s future and my wife’s future, too. I knew, on some level, that I wasn’t taking care of my family.

I felt stress about checking the mail because I knew there were often bills in there that I didn’t want to face.

I felt stress about a lot of spending situations because I was always worried about a declined credit card or an overdraft.

I felt an enormous flood of stress every time something went even a little wrong because I was unsure how to pay for it.

I felt these stresses, but I didn’t really understand how much they added up or how many of them were directly tied to my finances.

As I began to get a better grip on my finances, every single one of those stresses began to melt and fade into the background. They gradually became less and less prevalent.

I gave up a lot of stuff I didn’t use.

One big step I took initially was to go through my closets and collections and do something of a Marie Kondo strategy in terms of processing all that stuff. I simply went through each thing and decided if I really loved that thing a lot or whether I didn’t, and if I didn’t, I sold it off.

I was under the impression that this would be a very painful thing to do. It really wasn’t. It mostly just required some honesty about my possessions. I just kept the stuff that was really meaningful to me, and that meant honestly thinking about what stuff mattered and what stuff didn’t. When I started realizing which things mattered and which things didn’t, this actually became really easy and not painful at all.

For me, the breakthrough came when I considered whether I had used each item in any significant way in the last year or so. If it had just sat on a shelf or in a closet for a year untouched, my actions were showing me that it really wasn’t very important to me. I might want to think it was important, but if I hadn’t touched it in a year, was it really that important?

For stuff that I was in doubt about, I put it in a box and wrote a date on top, a date several months in the future. Anything still in that box after that date could be sold off, no questions asked.

This served a few purposes.

First of all, it generated some quick cash to tackle my debts immediately. I took a lot of those items straight to Craigslist and eBay and converted them straight into cash, which I immediately used to pay off my highest interest debts.

Second, it showed me that I was in the habit of buying a lot of things that I didn’t really care about a month or two later. Those kinds of expenses are really, really wasteful. They don’t make your life any better in the long run, but spending that money so foolishly certainly does make your life worse. This was actually pretty useful in terms of positively affecting my spending habits going forward.

Third and finally, it freed up a lot of space in our apartment. It was getting pretty cramped with stuff and clearing out a lot of items made it feel a lot more livable. I didn’t realize how cramped things had become and how much time and energy I was spending moving stuff around and looking for items.

This “item purge” was a huge net positive when I initially expected it to be somewhat negative.

I gained a ton of professional freedom.

At the time of our financial turnaround, I had a job in a very different career path. I wrote software in a research environment that was intended to help researchers make sense of large quantities of data. This meant that I was doing some data mining myself as well as writing tools to help scientists that weren’t programmers perform specific data mining tasks on very large data sets.

I enjoyed the intellectual challenges of the job a lot, and I enjoyed the people I worked with, especially the small team I worked most closely with. Unfortunately, that was balanced with a lot of things I didn’t like. I spent a lot of time on paperwork and bureaucratic tasks. I was traveling a lot and I felt like I was missing my child grow up. I was also charged with a lot of work tasks that were way outside of my field of expertise and held responsible for things that I didn’t really understand and didn’t have time to learn about, but my neck was on the line if anything went wrong with those things.

As time went on, the interesting and joyful parts of my job became smaller and smaller and the parts that made me unhappy became larger and larger.

What made this worse is that I was financially handcuffed to this job. Our financial instability made it such that I couldn’t risk rocking the boat at work, or at least I felt like I couldn’t. Looking for a different job in the same field felt pretty risky, too.

All of this meant that I was very prone to unreasonable demands at work. I was thrown all kinds of responsibilities way outside of any sort of reasonable expectations of my expertise. I was asked to work unbilled hours on weekends. I traveled far more than I wanted to. If tools weren’t working, even if I had nothing to do with the reason, intense pressure was put on me to get them working immediately. The team size was downgraded at the same time that our production schedule was accelerated. I was actually asked to do work tasks while my wife was in labor with our first child.

This was not the life I wanted.

What I learned was that it was my own overspending habits that kept me handcuffed to that job. As I began to improve our financial state, build an emergency fund, get rid of debts, and stabilize, I felt a lot less handcuffed to that job. The sense of threat and foreboding that I had about almost everything I was doing there began to ebb away. I started refusing unreasonable things that I would have meekly accepted earlier.

Eventually, as I started writing about my experiences on The Simple Dollar, I began to realize that writing was a career option for me. It meant a pay cut, but it had a lot of other benefits. It was an option that was on the table for me.

At the same time, I also looked at a lot of other options within my data mining career path. I even started considering going back to school and studying a completely different field.

Those options weren’t really there before our financial turnaround. Because our financial state had improved so much, I felt free to walk away from that job and try something new, and I eventually decided that writing full time was the best path for me for a number of reasons (the schedule flexibility was a big part of it). That would never have been an option without a vast improvement in our financial flexibility.

I lost a few friends.

During the process of making these changes, I lost a few friends. It wasn’t due to some kind of blowup or disagreement. Rather, in each case, I found that the friendship was actually more about the shared activity than actual friendship.

The other people that I went golfing with disappeared out of my life in short order. I didn’t play golf anymore, so we didn’t have that common activity to share, so we just had much less in common. What little we did still have in common was replaceable. They found someone else to golf with. I bump into one of them occasionally and we get along fine. We catch each other up on our lives, then go on our merry way until we happen to bump into each other again. I haven’t seen the others in a decade.

I used to go out for drinks with a group after work and thought of several of them as friends, but when I started spending less time with that group, I was no longer involved in the group texts or anything else. It was a group of people to drink with, not friendships.

This might seem like the end of my social life, but it wasn’t. I actually retained a lot of friends and I ended up gaining quite a few more very strong friendships, but I’ll get back to that in a minute.

What I really learned is this: there are some people in your life that will hang out with you because you enjoy a shared activity of some kind, but if you don’t engage in that activity, they won’t engage with you. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it can feel like a lost friendship if you place too value on that connection.

If you change your social activities, you’re going to lose some people that you might think of as friends. That’s okay. Deeper friendships will last, and you’ll find new casual friends with whatever you switch to.

I gained more friendships than I’ve ever had in my life.

As I dropped out of those other social activities, I started filling my evenings with different ones. I consciously decided to explore what was going on in my community, so I started looking at things like Meetup, the community calendar, the local library’s calendar, the local news, and so on. I was simply looking for new things to try and events and groups going on in my community.

I tried out tons of things. Many didn’t click with me. Several did.

Through those activities, I have a more robust social life than I’ve probably ever had in my entire life. I know far more people in my local community than I’ve ever known before. I’ve also built a handful of really strong lasting friendships, the kind where we talk about things far beyond the group, do things together outside of the group that have nothing to do with the activity, and generally keep in touch with each other. Several friendships have lasted far past both of us ending our participation in the activities in question.

Making financial changes to my life forced me outside of my comfort zone a little. I had to try some new things, and my life was richly rewarded for doing so.

Simply spending less than I earned, week in and week out, month in and month out, was the key to all of this.

Literally every area of my life benefitted in the long run, and most benefitted in the short run, from turning my financial life around.

My physical and mental life benefitted from the pure reduction in stress. My hobbies and my social life benefitted from trying new things. My marriage improved because we basically eliminated money arguments. My parental life improved due to a reduction in stress and more time at home. My professional life improved due to the increased amount of professional freedom and the vast increase in professional options.

What did I really give up for that? I stopped spending money on things I didn’t really value very much. I lost a few people that weren’t central to my social life. I sold off some stuff I didn’t use. I dropped a couple of hobbies that were quickly replaced by other things.

To me, that’s a no brainer trade, even from a short term perspective. It didn’t take long for most of those benefits to start appearing, and they grew rapidly.

It’s time to turn things around. Make some changes, look for new things to do instead of lamenting what’s lost, and go with it.

You’ll never look back.

The post What I Gave Up And What I Gained appeared first on The Simple Dollar.



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Finance

Brigette’s $89 Grocery Shopping Trip and Weekly Menu Plan for 6

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My older sister, Brigette, shares her shopping trips and menu plans every week! You can go HERE to see all of her weekly menu plans and you can go HERE to read all about her family!

Aldi

3 bags Frozen Broccoli Florets – $2.85

2 cans Green Beans – $0.76

1 8-oz tub Baby Bella Mushrooms – $1.19

1 bunch Bananas – $0.66

1 pkg Cherub Tomatoes – $1.79

2 Avocados – $0.78

1 3-lb bag Pink Lady Apples – $3.89

1 plg Fresh Zucchini – $1.68

1 bag Baby Carrots – $0.89

1 bag Mini Cucumbers – $2.09

1 pkg Broccoli Crowns – $1.59

1 10-lb bag Russet Potatoes – $3.49

1 large tub Organic Spring Mix – $3.69

1 bag Mini Sweet Peppers – $2.79

1 bag Romaine Hearts – $2.39

1 head Cauliflower – $1.79

2 dozen Eggs – $1.96

1 pkg Cheese Sticks – $1.99

1 8-oz pkg Sliced Deli Cheese – $1.79

1 pkg Goat Cheese Crumbles – $2.39

4 Single-Serving Greek Yogurts – $2.36

1 2-lb bag Shredded Cheddar Cheese – $5.19

1 2-lb bag Shredded Mozzarella Cheese – $5.19

1 jar Organic Ketchup – $1.65

1 16-oz pkg Deli Meat – $2.85

1 pkg Fresh Boneless Skinless Chicken Thighs ($1.69/lb)– $6.30

1 3-lb bag Frozen Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts – $5.89

1 pkg Turkey Bacon – $1.89

1 64-oz carton Orange Juice – $1.64

1 32-oz carton Half and Half – $1.55

1 gallon Skim Milk – $0.97

1 64-oz carton Unsweetened Almond Milk – $1.65

1 gallon Whole Milk – $0.97

1 jar Spaghetti Sauce – $0.85

1 carton Table Salt – $0.35

1 large can Black Olives – $1.05

1 Family-Size Box Honey Nut Crisp Oats – $2.45

1 box Raisin Bran – $1.59

1 32-oz box Spaghetti Noodles – $1.12

1 bag Pretzels – $0.82

1 bag Gluten-Free Pretzels – $1.85

2 loaves Sandwich Bread – $1.34

Grocery Total for the Week: $89.97

Weekly Menu Plan

Breakfasts

Everyone is responsible for making/cleaning up their own breakfasts. Choices include:

Cereal, Oatmeal, Toast, Fruit, Yogurt, Smoothies, Scrambled/Hard Boiled/Fried Eggs, Veggie Omelets

Lunches

Pretzels and Peanut Butter, Cheese Sticks, Apples, Cucumbers x 2

Deli Meat and Cheese Sandwiches, Bananas, Mini Sweet Peppers x 2

Leftovers x 3

Dinners

White Chicken Chili, World’s Best Honey Cornbread (I bought the ingredients to make this last week, but then our stove wasn’t working all week, so we ended up doing grilled chicken instead! Since our stove is fixed now, this Chili is back on the menu this week – all I needed to buy to make it was chicken.)

Barbecued Meatballs (I make these using a mixture of ground venison and ground beef), Twice-Baked Potatoes, Broccoli, Tossed Salad

Crispy Baked Chicken Thighs, Roasted Cauliflower, Tossed Salad, Biscuits

Dinners at a Friend’s House

Venison Roast in the Crockpot, Baked Potatoes, Green Beans, Tossed Salad

Spaghetti Carbonara, Easy Italian Breadsticks, Broccoli

Date Night Out (kids eat Grilled Cheese at home)



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