What your savings is NOT

Your savings is not EXTRA money! I’m very fond of the concept of a “paradigm shift” – a fundamental change in our underlying belief about the way things work. I love the way a slightly shifted perspective can make a huge difference in the way we see the “reality” around us. This, in part, is what makes life such an interesting puzzle.

Shifting your perspective on the famous drawing to the left is a perfect illustration of what can happen just by looking at something from a different vantage point. Do you see the young woman? Can you also see the old woman?

Too often, we get “set in our ways” – especially our ways of thinking. This can be the result of what we’ve been taught to think, or what we’ve just assumed to be true for a long time, or what we’ve found to work for us most of the time. And sometimes we believe a paradigm to be true even when it doesn’t work for us.

For instance, if you are waiting to start a savings account when you have some “extra” money that you can set aside without missing it, you will probably never have any savings at all. Extra money is like extra time: there’s no such thing. That’s because there is no end to the things we can purchase, and human beings have unlimited wants.

The trick is to shift our paradigm and think of savings not as extra money, but as one of our most important purchases – and we should “buy” some savings at every opportunity. Just like any other purchase, it will require giving up the purchase of something else. Always.

Instead of buying a brand new car, buy an adequate used car and put the difference away. All you really need is to get from point A to point B safely! Take the difference and buy yourself some savings.

Instead of spending $85 on a pair of designer jeans at the mall, check out your local thrift and consignment stores. The very same jeans will be there at some point, and they’ll probably be about 90% cheaper. And you’ll know they’re not going to shrink anymore! Then buy yourself some savings.

Instead of forking out $10 for lunch, brown-bag it with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and some cookies. They made you happy in the third grade, and they can make you happy now! Take the $10 and buy yourself some savings.

Put the savings aside and leave them there! If you save money on one purchase only to spend it on something else, you haven’t “saved” anything at all. You’ve only spent the same amount of money and gotten more stuff for it. You have to purchase only the “stuff” that’s absolutely necessary – and the rest of your money should be used to purchase savings.

You’ll be buying peace of mind, security, insurance, and – most importantly – choices in your future. You can work all your life if you want to, and if that “stuff” is really that important to you. Or you can invest in yourself and your future freedom from the 9-to-5 grind by buying some savings – as much as you can as often as you can.

And one day, you will find that you are really rich – because you will own the rest of your life, and have the freedom to live it exactly as you want.

What do hamburgers have to do with simplicity?

Many Americans have given up the plastic or paper bag debate – realizing that neither option is a good choice for the environment – and have gone to reusable cloth market bags. Many have switched from incandescent to fluorescent light bulbs, and other energy-saving devices whenever they can. Most Americans are trying to recycle as much as possible. We know these are small changes, but they’re not insignificant when large numbers of us make them.

Another relatively small change that can have a huge impact if we act on it collectively is Meatless Monday. Meatless Monday is an initiative of The Monday Campaigns Inc. (whose tag line is “The day all health breaks loose.”). This international campaign encourages people not to eat meat on Mondays to improve their health and the health of the planet.

The environmental impact of a diet rich in beef and other meat is staggering. To put the energy-using demand of meat production into easy-to-understand terms, Gidon Eshel, a geophysicist at the Bard Center, and Pamela A. Martin, an assistant professor of geophysics at the University of Chicago, calculated that if Americans were to reduce meat consumption by just 20 percent it would be as if we all switched from a standard sedan like a Camry to the ultra-efficient Prius!

“We got hooked on grain-fed meat just as we got hooked on gas guzzling automobiles. Big cars `made sense’ only when oil was cheap; grain-fed meat `makes sense’ only because the true costs of producing it are not counted.” –Frances Moore Lappé, in Diet for a Small Planet

Given that the consumption of meat affects everything from the damage we do to our bodies and the planet to the suffering of people who are hungry and animals that are slaughtered, it makes absolutely no sense to continue to feed our voracious appetite for meat.

This graphic from National Public Radio’s website shows one estimate of what you can save by skipping just one quarter-pound burger:
Source: J.L. Capper, Journal of Animal Science, December, 2011.

In addition, you’ll decrease global warming caused by the release of CO2 from burning forests for cattle pastures, methane from farting cows, and nitrous oxide from petrochemical fertilizers used on feed crops for cattle (which, combined, generate more greenhouse gases than transportation, according to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization). You’ll also reduce water pollution caused by the cattle industry’s direct role in land erosion from deforestation and pollution from the use of pesticides and antibiotics.

Interestingly, two separate conferences in 1996 and 1997 used the very same number – 800 million – in quantifying both the problem of, and the solution to, world hunger!

The formal declaration adopted by consensus at the end of the World Food Summit in Rome from 13-17 November, 1996, began: “We express our keen concern at a situation where close to 800 million people throughout the world, in particular in the developing countries, suffer from chronic undernutrition.”

Nine months later, David Pimentel, professor of ecology in Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, reported at the July 24-26 meeting of the Canadian Society of Animal Science in Montreal in1997: “If all the grain currently fed to livestock in the United States were consumed directly by people, the number of people who could be fed would be nearly 800 million.”

Is this just a coincidence?? Whether it is or not, it certainly validates this quote by Mahatma Gandhi:

“There is enough for everyone’s need but not enough for everyone’s greed.”

In the end, every small choice we make can have a big impact on the world around us. The following quote is sometimes also attributed to Gandhi, and other times to Mother Teresa. But no matter who said it, I think we all recognize it as a moral imperative.

“Live simply that others may simply live.”

It won’t kill any one of us to give up a burger or two. But it could kill a lot of us if we don’t.

The simple life equals ultimate freedom

My dad is here, on his annual 3-week visit.

Dad is in his 82nd year, and his age is finally starting to slow him down a little. The man who has loved golf more than anything except his children and grandchildren all his life doesn’t play the game much anymore because he’s losing his balance. Now he’s lucky to play 9 holes instead of his usual 18, and he has to ride a cart – which is a real admission of frailty for my dad.

So he has begun to consider moving north from his “happy place” (his term) in Florida – where he has lived for 32 years since his retirement from the Coast Guard – to be closer to family. I hope he does, because I think he is going to need help from us soon – for driving, shopping, cleaning, cooking … normal everyday things.

Both my younger sisters are tied to jobs and houses – and they live 200 miles apart. Having Dad near either of them would burden their busy schedules and full lives. They live in urban areas where the cost of living is high and every errand is dependent on an automobile in good running condition and every additional item on their “to do” list subtracts from the little enjoyable living time they have left at the end of the week.

But I am free to relocate. I sold my house long ago and quit my last “real job” 2 years ago to live the life of a low-rent bohemian writer. Believe me when I say I am poor in terms of money, but oh so rich in many other ways! And please believe me when I say it’s the other ways that matter the most!

I don’t have a house full of big rooms and nice furniture … but I also don’t have 30 years of mortgage payments to the bank. I don’t have a pretty yard with landscaping or a shady deck with a barbeque grill … but I also don’t spend my week-ends weeding and mowing and pruning. I don’t have a spacious walk-in closet full of expensive garments with designer labels … but I can spend the day in my jammy pants and a t-shirt if I choose to. I don’t have an impressive new late-model car … but I can walk everywhere I need to go and I couldn’t care less how high the price of gas goes.

I am as free as the wind – and I consider myself to be the richest of all of us. I will have the adventure of helping Dad find the little cabin in the woods that he wants now. I am the one who will move close enough to help him but far enough away not to be intrusive – to make him pots of soup and take him to Mass every Sunday and make sure he has clean socks and good books. I’ll be the one who gets to walk with him in the first snow of winter to gather kindling for his fireplace.

I will be the lucky daughter who gets to repay Dad for the life he gave me … and I can’t think of a better way to spend the next chapter of my life. Is there anything money could buy that would make me richer?

I honestly don’t think so.

The picture of the cabin in the woods was found at a blog by C. Travis Webb called The Rambler. His writing is mostly way over my head, but the post that accompanied this image had this to say about his aspirations to be a great writer:

“I’m talking about ambition. Great ambition. The precursor to great art, and soberingly, great failure–great failure, of course, being far more common. Indeed, the only thing that makes such ambition tolerable, if it is at all, is its proper relationship to the rest of life. Being a generous father, friend, husband, mother, lover, daughter and son is of far greater consequence than any sentence ever written or idea conceived. At least as much good is accomplished when burping an infant as when filling your mouth with Whitman.

“And yes, in spite of my profession, I actually believe that.”

I’ve been – at various different times in my life – a terrible wife, a lousy friend, and a pretty useless daughter. I’ve tried to be a good sister. I was never given the chance to be a good mother. So this is my chance to redeem myself.

And if I’m able to do it, it will be because a simple lifestyle and a lack of commitments and possessions gave me the freedom to try.

* This post was originally found at enuffstuff.info on Sept 11 2013 and I am re-posting it here to my new blog. 🙂 *

The hippies got it right

If you’re old enough to remember the 1960s, you remember the hippies and the whole peace-and-love vibe that permeated their subculture. Do you remember Woodstock and Jimi Hendrix? Bell-bottoms and tie-dye? Feelin’ groovy? Okay, maybe “drop acid, not bombs” had some inherent flaws as a slogan, but not many could argue with “make love, not war.”

The hippies were right about a great many things, but most people thought they were pretty “radical” back in the day. So the yuppies – young urban professionals – eventually had the bigger influence on society.
Continue reading The hippies got it right

Do you see the trap?

Have you ever heard anyone sigh and say, “I wish I had more stuff cluttering up my life!”

Sure, you will hear people wish for individual things – new towels, a rice cooker maybe, an iPad -but more clutter?

Not likely.

Most people I know want to simplify.  They want to downsize.  They want to dig out.  They want to be free of the mess, the dust bunnies, the crowding, the spill-over, the time- wasting, the constant moving of things in the way, the perpetual putting away of things out of place.
Continue reading Do you see the trap?