Sunday, January 31, 2016

No Spend Month? No Problem!



I read an article recently. Apparently this older couple in Tennessee is making headlines because they decided not to spend any money shopping during the month of January 2016. They saw a movie in which a family didn't eat at restaurants for a year, and they were inspired to see how much they could save by not spending any money (except at the grocery store) for a month. They vowed not to spend any money on shopping or going to restaurants for thirty, whole days.

If I sound sarcastic, that's because I feel sarcastic. Judith Levine's book, "Not Buying It: My Year Without Shopping" was published in 2006, and the short film, The Story of Stuff, which showed us the real truth behind our consumerist culture was released in 2007. I'm just wondering where that Tennessee couple has been for the past decade to find the idea of taking a month off from spending so novel. Really? Not spending for a month? How's this news?

It just surprised me that there's anyone left who hasn't heard of and/or participated in these no spending challenges. I mean, some of us have even gone as far as to not spend, not at all, not even at the grocery store, for an entire month (shout out to Northwest Edible Life for the annual Eat from the Larder Challenge). Or we shop at the grocery store, but only for perishables, like milk or butter, and everything else we either have or we do without.

I'm not saying any of this to imply that I think I'm better than that Tennessee couple, because that's not it. We are in very different places. I'm trying to find ways to save money that include line-drying my clothes and heating with free dead wood we forage from the woods behind our house to save on the electric bill, because we've already eliminated the pure luxuries from the budget, and getting our expenses even lower so that we can be financially independent is our ultimate goal. They aren't eating out or getting manicures for a month just to see how much they can save.

Part of the No Spend month for the Tennessee couple was not spending on entertainment, which for most people is a luxury anyway, but it got me thinking. Not spending on things like manicures is just a no-brainer. Manicures are so far down the ladder of need and want for me that .... Well, I've had exactly one manicure in my entire life, and it was a gift for my birthday as a way to get me out of my house for a few hours so that my family could set-up for my surprise party. I didn't go on my own. I was driven to the spa and dropped off at the door. It was fun, but it's definitely not a monthly expense. Neither are salon haircuts. I haven't been to a hair salon to have my hair cut in so long that I don't recall when the last time was. I have a pair of scissors I use to cut my own hair. I have clippers I use to cut Deus Ex Machina's hair.

I guess there are things that other people do with their money that just seem a bit extravagant to me, but I guess it's their right to spend their earnings however they wish.

I'm still, kind of, stuck on the fact that it was an article in my local news, about a family in Tennessee, who is receiving accolades for their great thrift for doing without restaurant meals and manicures for a month.

At the end of the article, the Mom says that her adult children were inspired to make some of the same changes, and so her daughter and her daughter's boyfriend decided to not eat out for an entire year, and the Mom cautioned that "a year is a long time", and asked the daughter if she was really ready to make that kind of commitment.


Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words ... especially when the incredulity has reached the level that the proper words elude me.

Not eating out is as easy as ... not eating out. I got to thinking, though, about the not eating out and the not spending on entertainment, and I thought I could come up with a list of five ways we could have our cake and eat it too. That is, five things that we could give up spending money on, but still have.

So, without further ado, here's the list:

Movies

While there's nothing quite like going to the movie theatre, doing so can be incredibly expensive. With very few exceptions (like, maybe, Star Wars), seeing a film on the big screen isn't a life-changing experience. We all know that renting movies is a great alternative to hitting the theaters. A DVD rental is less than the cost of one ticket. If we want to watch the film with our whole family, DVD is definitely the way to go.

But if we're challenging ourselves to a no spend month, we're not going to be renting DVDs, either.

There is another way to see films without having to pay, and it's by going to one of my favorite places: the library! Libraries aren't just for borrowing books anymore. Our local library has such a huge selection of movies, television series, and documentaries that we could borrow a dozen different DVDs each week, and it would take a year before we watched all of them.

And that's not all! Part of the theatre experience is the community of seeing a film with friends, and yep, it's great to have friends over to sit on the couch, but how about heading over to the library for "Family Movie Night"? Ours has screenings of various films throughout the year, and during the summer, they have an inflatable big screen and show films outside.

Theatre

There is nothing quite like live theater. When Deus Ex Machina and I were first married and living down south, we were able to go to a Renaissance Festival in Waxahatchie, Texas. We saw some amazing live acts, and ever since, we knew we wanted to share live entertainment with our daughters. Big Little Sister went to the Ren Fest with us when she was still in a sling. Precious was an infant (still in the sling) when we saw Stomp! Little Fire Faery was four when we took her to see Cats. We've seen two different Cirque du Soliel shows, and two of my five children have seen a Broadway musical *ON* Broadway.

Going to the theater is a wonderful experience, but it is also expensive. Even a ticket to a show at a small community theater can be pricey. It's totally worth it, but if we're counting pennies, spending $20 for a theater ticket might not work for us.

An option is to be a volunteer. We've been volunteering at our local theater in some capacity for half a decade. We've done everything from acting in shows or working backstage to hanging publicity posters. Usually, we usher, and one of the perks of being an usher is that we get to see the show on the evening we usher. It's a nice perk, and we've seen a lot of wonderful shows. The girls usher, too. It's a family thing.

Eating Out

Personally, I like to cook, and I like to eat what I cook. In fact, most of the time, *I* think the food I cook is far better than most of what I get at a restaurant.

I've also discovered I'm a little picky when it comes to my food choices. Cooking for myself means that my food is prepared exactly how I like it. As such, eating out has become a chore. Aside from the fact that I'm usually disappointed by the poor quality for the amount of money we end up spending, between wanting to avoid GMOs, not eating gluten, and hoping to keep most of our diet local, eating out is a huge challenge. It's best just to eat at home.

The only benefit to eating out versus cooking at home (other than the fact that someone else does the dishes) is that it's convenient. I wonder, though, if eating should be convenient. Nutritionists have spent not insignificant hours studying various cultures' eating habits to try to figure out why some places are plagued with health issues and others aren't. They've discovered what they call the "French Paradox", which is basically that the French diet defies all of the nutritional advice available, and yet, the French are some of the healthiest people in the world. What researchers are discovering is that it's not what (exactly) the French eat, but how. They don't eat a lot of processed food or sugar, which is a plus, but more importantly, it seems, is that when they eat, it's not so much to fill their bellies, which is too often the case here in the US, but rather it's a social activity.

With that in mind, there are some great ways that we can enjoy a meal away from home without spending a ton of money, and also, get a little of that socialization into our meal times.

Soup kitchens are always looking for volunteers to prepare and serve meals. I know most people would balk at the thought of eating the food as a volunteer, the idea being, perhaps, that they are taking food from the mouths of the needy, but that's actually the wrong attitude. Being a volunteer at a soup kitchen isn't just about feeding hungry people, but building a stronger community. Breaking bread with other people in our community is a good thing.

Another option is a community dinner. These are usually open to anyone who is a resident of the community, and it's not based on income or socio-economic status. The point of community dinners is not just to feed the community, but to bring the community together AS A COMMUNITY, and what better way to commune with one's neighbors than to have a meal together?

Be a Guinea Pig

Ordinarily, I would not suggest this as a good idea, actually, but there might be a couple of cases where it's not a bad thing.

Big Little Sister has been experimenting with her hair recently. Her grandmother is a regular at a local hair salon, and so when she decided to go drastically shorter with her hair style, she went to this salon. While she was there, she started talking with the stylist about hair colors. Big Little Sister has this idea of a style that she would like that includes several different color applications. It's a project that would be very difficult for us to accomplish in our bathroom. There's definitely something to be said for having the right tools. The stylist was intrigued and offered to do the color for free. Big Little Sister just needs to supply the dye.

When I was in college, I served as a model for some students in cosmetology school and got free hair-styling. With the exception of a couple of really bad perms, I didn't have a terrible experience allowing students to style my hair.

Manicures

The mother featured in the news article I read lamented the loss of her regular manicures. She admitted that she could do without having her nails done professionally and do them herself, but she stated that her home manicures weren't "very good."

I don't really care about manicures, but it occurred to me that even a home manicure could look really nice and professional. Several years ago, my in-laws gave my daughters a huge box of nail polish and other manicure supplies. It was a neat gift for my girls, and Big Little Sister was inspired to get on YouTube and learn some nail design techniques. If I wanted a manicure, I'm pretty sure I could get a decent looking one for free from a family member, and it would probably look okay, too.



There is a common thread through each of the above money-saving tips, and it's community involvement. I'm not sure how it happened, or why, but in this country, we've stopped becoming personally invested in our communities. Sure, when our kids are young, we might get involved with the PTA or be a room parent for their elementary school class, but that's as far as most of us go. For those of us who don't have kids in school and don't have a religious community, building community often doesn't happen, which is unfortunate.

The fact is that having a closer, more supportive community could make a huge difference in our need to spend money. We may not all have hair-stylists who will do the work for free, and we may not all want to cut our hair at home, and volunteering may not work into our schedule, but there are dozens of ways our network of friends and family and fellow community members could work with us to build a better life. We just have to be open to the possibilities.


Sunday, January 10, 2016

If I Had a Billion Dollars ...

The Power Ball prize is estimated to be about One Billion Dollars on Wednesday night's drawing.

I'll be honest. Last Wednesday, when the pot was at $500,000,000, I bought my first, ever, Powerball ticket. No one won. On Saturday, the pot jumped to $800,000,000. I bought another ticket, and Deus Ex Machina paid for five more numbers.

Then, we came home, and while dinner was cooking, I read some articles about things like "What to do if you win." Some of that stuff was a little scary. One article said that if the winner can remain anonymous, that would be best, because, in the past, lottery winners have not only been robbed, but occasionally, they've been killed.

I can, easily, imagine someone wanting that money badly enough to not care about the health or well-being of the winner.

One billion dollars.

It's an amount of money that is simply inconceivable, and the only way a person could spend that much money in an average lifetime would be to make some very poor and costly investments.

We thought a lot about the kinds of things we would do.

There are a lot of things that I would love to be able to accomplish. I would like to eliminate homelessness here in Maine by offering free/low cost housing, but not rentals. My dream would be to purchase houses or apartment buildings, and then, after a minimum rental period to allow the person to get some stability in his/her life, the tenant would be offered a life-time lease (the equivalent of owning the house or apartment) for a dollar. Money for future taxes on the property would be put into an escrow account.

How much of that billion dollars would a project, like that, take up? Probably not too much, especially if the escrow account were interest bearing. Even the most conservative interest bearing account of 1% annually would earn $10,000 with an initial deposit of $1,000,000. That $10K would, probably, be enough to cover the taxes on the building. So, an initial investment of $1.3 million to pay for a building and any upgrading/maintenance and put future tax money into escrow would barely make a dent in the billion dollar cash prize.

We talked about giving money away, but then, realized that, for some people, giving them money might make things worse. Does the IRS tax monetary gifts? If so, the recipient of our million dollar gift, might find himself/herself in some financial dire straits because of our generosity. So, we thought, a better option, might be to invest in those people by paying off their debts to give them a fresh, financial start, and then, making their dream career a reality. A restaurant for a child who's always wanted to own one. Tuition assistance for a college student with a reasonable cost-of-living stipend (enough to support him without so much he would have a burdensome income tax). Publish a book for a new author. If a friend or family member of mine won the cash prize, and they wanted to give my family a gift, that's what I would want - to be debt-free with start-up cash to be able to pursue my passion and make my own living.

Money isn't always a gift. Sometimes it's a burden. Which is how I started to think of this lottery winning. At first the fantasy was all about the good we could do, but there was no imagining of our lives changing. We all like to pretend that being given that amount of money wouldn't change us, but it would. It would, because it would have to.

After reading that article about lottery winners becoming victims of violent crimes, I realized I'd have to move and maybe change my name. If I'm a target, so are my children, and so they'd have to give up their lives, too.

Is the money worth losing my entire lifestyle and community?

It would be cool to have that kind of cash, and I can imagine how incredible it would be to finally make someone else's dreams come true, but I can also imagine it being an incredible burden.

Things are easier, less complicated, when one isn't in pursuit of a dollar, but in pursuit of a life.

Are you planning to purchase a Powerball ticket knowing that the pot is a billion dollars? What would you do if you won?