Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Freedom, Tastes Like Love and Peppermint Bark

I never dreamt I'd actually be able to capture a moment like this - the October moon rises over Big Bend National Park.   Isn't this a beautiful and blessed world we live in? 

I had a tiny bit of a frustrating day at work today. My work is really wonderful and a great job - I work with fantastic, smart people, in a safe, supportive environment, and am paid a king's ransom for it, but some frustrating issues came across my desk and I didn't deal with it too well, getting frustrated instead of finding the challenge and rejoicing in it.

The excellent part of that frustration was building fire in my belly for financial independence (FI)! I turned down a chocolate bar because (1) I was making peppermint bark later in any case and (2) I couldn't bring myself to spend $0.89 of my freedom in the cafeteria downstairs! 

I'm so excited that I was able to harness that frustration into something good - not spending $0.89.  Today, 89 cents, tomorrow, the world, my friends. :) Great things are done with small change(s)! 

Frustration is a good thing to practice. Now, I failed at harnessing my frustration and turning it into a fun challenge, but I did succeed at harnessing energy and desire for FI! So something good came out of the BLEH energy I had today. :) 

Another piece of joy in my day today was making my own homemade peppermint bark. I was perusing a very interesting blog called Living Well Spending Less and Ruth over there has an easy-peasy recipe for your own homemade peppermint bark! Check it out here: Ruth's Homemade Peppermint Bark

It is too delicious to be believed, friends. I am so excited to put it into baggies with holiday print and give it to friends and family who can enjoy a special holiday treat. Peppermint bark is never easy to find outside of the Christmas season, and it's all the more excuse for gobbling it up while it's here! ;-) 

Also delicious to gobble up is the joy of creation.  This joy is somewhat novel to me, though I've definitely put in time into knitting, baking and crocheting in the past.  The joy of frugality is that I'm finally seeing everything with fresh eyes - not only am I being conservative with my resources (I'm quite sure, once you cost it out, making your own peppermint bark is far cheaper than buying it!), but I'm experiencing the joy of making something greater than the sum of its parts. Me! I can't quite place it. I think the first time I noticed this was when my boss, aware of my sewing skills (I use the term "skills" loosely....) asked me to sew these two rather random flaps on the inside of an old gray Gap jacket into pockets. It was a very simple matter of pinning the flaps down to the side near the zipper was all - voila, pockets.

When I was done, I was amazed. (Yes! Two simple rows of stitches result in my amazement! Low expectations are the key to happiness!)  My own work, materials and effort had turned something useless into something useful. I felt like a wizard, as if Gandalf the Grey could not have surpassed my wizarding skills. 

That was two months ago that I sewed that, and today my boss remarked out of the blue about his jacket, exclaiming, "You have no idea.  Every time I put that jacket on and I tuck a CD or book in, I'm amazed and so happy that I have pockets now!"

It is so rewarding knowing that one's own efforts can bring so much joy, to oneself and to others. 

God bless frustration, pockets, and peppermint bark - which make me free to save for FI, free to help others, and free to be a great deal sweeter and sassier in my self-sufficiency. ;-) May you find unbelievable joy and happiness in all of your frugal, creative, and self-sufficient enterprises.  



Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Price of Stuff

Robert de Niro's character Rodrigo Mendoza hauls his stuff
across the South American landscape as he searches  for redemption. 
Hello! (You're wondering about that scraggly-looking gentleman on the left there. To be explained in a moment. Patience, dear friends.) 

Here's a little bit about me - we'll get to him in a moment. 

I work an entry-level professional job, live alone, and am in my mid-20s. I make about $47k a year now. When I first got my job, I was all "Oh! I'm a *grown-up! now! I have an apartment and an income and clearly I need to spend MONEY MONEY MONEY!" I went to Target nearly every weekend, hauled bags out of The Container Store (avoid at all costs, my friends), convinced that I needed these "things" for my apartment. I bought clothes, and shoes, and accessories, and just followed a lot of my whims.  My credit card statements (combined with my rent) ate up most of my income. Actually, I think most of the time my credit card statements were more than my rent, which was about $1100 at the time.

Then I went to Paris in October 2011 on vacation with my family, and found myself wandering around the worst Metro station in all of Paris - a veritable labyrinth in which we could not find the exit out to the street. I was lugging two heavy suitcases for an 8-day stay, as well as a huge laptop on my back, for almost an hour.

I learned about the price of stuff then, and vowed, from then on, to take a minimalist approach not only to packing, but also my life. I reflected on my study abroad experience in Germany, in which I lived in a 200-square-foot dorm, with a shelf for a bed, lived out of 2 suitcases and a backpack for 6 months, and had the time of my life.

Stuff itself does not bring us happiness. After a certain point, stuff for stuff's sake makes us poorer financially and spiritually, and burdens us with huge credit card statements, heavy luggage, large moving expenses, as well as chaining us, not freeing us to easily move on.

After my return from the City of Light, I took bags and bins of the Target "decorations" I "needed". I started using the stuff I already had to organize my things, made a pact with myself to keep the surfaces of my apartment clear, calm, and minimalist (most of the time), and immediately saw a boost to my finances. I shop at Goodwill for clothes, have a library card, am working on commuting to work by bike, and am much less focused on material wants.  I can't see myself changing. Once you let go like Rodgrio Mendoza, and realize your salvation is not what you own, you're so much freer.

I'm far from the most frugal or minimalist person there is, as you'll see in the coming months. I want to live a live that's pleasant, and I do want to spend money. However, I want to spend my money wisely and intentionally, and I want to become a little more self-sufficient in the process, and a little  bit more minimalist, and use my money to work toward more freedom - not stuff. Freedom is crunching over the fall leaves on my bike, enjoying a 80-degree sunny December day, spending time with the people you love.  The laughter of friends and the sound of the wind whistling by me as I ride my bike are much more glorious than the "ding" of the cashier's scanner, and being able to hug and touch and love the people in my life is far richer than the cold embrace of some thing. I want more of that - more time to spend with them, more time to write and create, more time to love.

Thanks for joining me on this journey.