Maintaining Balance

Published / by Annie / 2 Comments on Maintaining Balance

Back to school season is always a bit hectic around here. A local church hosts a free yard sale that is packed with donations and yard sale discards that would normally end up in the trash while the local clothing closet has a yard sale where you can purchase bags filled with the clothing of your choice for a dollar apiece.

Along with that we have to go to school registration day and make the trip to WalMart for Katie’s and Donavon’s (my grandson’s) school supplies.

Each of these acquisition trips are accompanied with purging. When new clothes come in, old clothes go out. The ones that have been worn into rags are discarded while the items that are in good shape are bagged up and donated to the local clothing closet for them to either distribute among those who need clothing or to sell during their bag sales.

This is one way that we maintain balance in our lives. Since our space is limited, we refuse to allow our possessions to grow beyond what our house can comfortably handle.

What do you do to maintain balance?

Seven Truths About Minimalism

Published / by Annie / 2 Comments on Seven Truths About Minimalism

Modern minimalism is misunderstood by many in this modern age. It is believed that if you can’t fit all of your possessions in a backpack then you are not a minimalist. The truth about minimalism is far different.

I have practiced minimalism for close to a decade now—I didn’t even learn that I was a minimalist until several years after I began my journey. These are the truths I have learned from my experience. The true key to minimalism is to find the balance that works for you. I sincerely hope that this list helps.

  1. You can own things and still be a minimalist. The trick is to not allow yourself to become so attached to your possessions that you sacrifice your quality of life to acquire and care for your stuff.

For instance, say you decide to make a cross-country move or to travel. Instead of either discarding the desire or financing an expensive move (or storage in the event of travel) you eliminate everything but the essentials to reduce the cost and ease the burden of logistics. In the event of a disaster, you toss your essentials into a bag and bug out, leaving the rest to fate. If something happens that destroys your home, instead of mourning the loss of your possessions, you know that you have the most important things with you and just move on from the experience.

If your possessions begin to overwhelm your home, instead of spending money to rent a storage unit (or moving to a bigger home) you eliminate the excess until you get to the point where you are comfortable again.

  1. You can have children and still be a minimalist. You can even own pets if you want. While you can’t eliminate your children (and shouldn’t eliminate your pets) in the event of a move or a financial crisis, you can have these in your life and still practice the minimalist lifestyle.
  2. Extreme minimalism is not practical for the long haul. While it is a wonderful way to live while traveling and can save you a fortune in money and a bunch of headaches, if you decide to settle down in one place for a period of time minimalism can become a burden. You will end up sacrificing more time and money than if you were to stock up on certain items.

For instance, if you only purchase the minimum of personal care products (soap, shampoo, bathroom tissue, etc.) at a time, you will spend more money in the long run to keep yourself supplied. If money gets tight you might not even be able to afford these things. Therefore, buying larger containers and stocking up when items are on sale makes practical and financial sense if you are going to stay in one area for a time. Few things are more awkward than getting holes in the only two pairs of pants that you own when you can’t afford to replace them.

  1. Minimalist alternatives to certain items can be more expensive than traditional choices. Multi-function appliances and devices tend to cost significantly more to purchase, maintain, and repair then traditional items. A washer-dryer combo costs more to purchase and can be difficult to get repaired in the event of a failure than owning individual washer and dryer units. EBooks can cost more than purchasing a used copy of the physical book. Digital copies of music and movies can cost significantly more than picking up physical copies at yard sales and thrift shops. If you enjoy owning the books that you read, the movies you watch, or the music you listen to, you can save a significant amount of money by purchasing used physical copies over purchasing the digital editions in many cases.
  2. Extreme minimalism over time can become uncomfortable. It is nice to have a bit of variety in your wardrobe or to have a comfortable bed to sleep in. A simple table and chairs can work wonders for the comfort level of your houseguests. While you don’t need near as much as society wants you to believe, a certain amount of possessions can make life much more pleasant. It is nice to have a refrigerator to store cold items. It is wonderful to own a hotplate or some other way to prepare food. It is incredibly convenient to have the ability to toss things into a washing machine instead of having to arrange a trip to the Laundromat. If you live out in the country, lack of transportation can turn a pleasurable experience into a nightmare, and trying to read for long periods of time on a computer, tablet, or similar backlit device can put excessive strain on your eyes and cause headaches.
  3. Long term minimalism is best accomplished by baby steps. Drastic changes have a habit of backfiring into regret. It is best to start small by thinning out one area at a time to eliminate the obvious excess. Continue this procedure until you reach your personal level of enough.
  4. Everyone’s version of minimalism is different. We each have our own set of preferences and habits that will affect the choices we make in our possessions. For instance, I don’t like television so I don’t own one but I do have an assortment of older laptops that I use daily. Someone else may prefer watching television or playing games on a television but have no desire to own a computer. Instead of a collection of computers, they might own a television and a variety of game systems or media players. Neither choice is wrong if they fit the lifestyle of the person in question.

If you are thinking about pursuing the minimalist lifestyle, consider these facts before you do anything drastic. They may mean the difference between enjoying a better life of being miserable from what becomes a failed experiment.

A Word on Coping

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There was a study done about drug addiction a few years back. Scientists took two rats. One was placed in a basic cage with no mental stimulation, while the other was placed in “rat heaven,” a cage filled with mazes and other things that the rat could use to keep occupied. Each rat had two water bottles. One bottle contained plain water while the other bottle contained water laced with a common street drug.

Both rats sampled the two water bottles but the scientists noticed a distinct difference between the two. While the rat that was in the basic cage used the drug-laced water bottle semi-constantly, the other rat, the one that had other things to occupy it, preferred the bottle that contained plain water.

This difference helped the scientists to conclude that one of the reasons that drug addiction is so prevalent is because people either don’t have enough to keep them occupied or they lack hope for a better life.

When life is a constant struggle, when we see people on television or in certain neighborhoods, or even in our own extended families who have so much more than we do, it is easy to get frustrated and give up. Instead of fighting to improve our lives we focus on methods of escape, be they drugs, alcohol, or fantasies. We get to the point of “well, my life isn’t going to get any better so why bother? This helps me cope so I’m going to use it.”

After a while we become so attached to our coping mechanisms that we fail to even try to improve our lives any more. Once that happens we have a reason to use our escape mechanism even more in a vicious cycle that never really ends.

I’ve dealt with this vicious cycle many times in my life. As a child, I didn’t think that I would ever manage to escape the drama of my alcoholic parents where in reality all I had to do was wait until I was a legal adult and move out. As an adult trapped in an abusive marriage, I became addicted to fantasy since my reality was so miserable that there were times when I didn’t work to escape my marriage and pursue a better life.

And now, in this current challenge, there are times I want to sit on my butt, whine, cry, and say that “I can’t” continue to fight this damn disease in my head and continue to function as a normal adult. I want to escape into a fantasyland where I am hale and hearty. I want to forget the fact that I can’t do everything I want to do.

But you know what? I’m not going to allow myself to do any of that. I know from experience, from watching my parents before me, that if I allow myself to start down that path that I won’t have a chance in hell of beating this. Even worse, I will have to give up the hope that some way, somehow, my struggles will inspire others to keep fighting.

It doesn’t matter what you are facing. It could be something physical like an illness or an injury. It could be financial like a job loss. It could be something personal like an abusive relationship, a divorce, or your kids growing up and leaving the nest. Whatever it is, if you lose hope, if you allow yourself to give up, if you choose to try to escape your current reality and instead pursue something that makes you feel better, you won’t ever be able to overcome whatever it is that you need to overcome.

In other words, no matter what your current challenge may be, you need to get off your ass and do something about it. If you need to earn money, figure out a way to earn money. If you suffer from a disability, figure out workarounds for that disability. If you are in an abusive relationship, figure out how to get away or end the abuse somehow. Do not allow your challenges to define you. Rise above them and keep fighting until you kick them to the curb.

You can do this. It won’t be easy. Some days you might want to hide beneath the covers and cry. You might try and fail, then try and fail again, but as long as you are trying you are making progress, if only figuring out the things that won’t work. It took Edison hundreds of tries to figure out how to design the light bulb. When asked about his numerous failures he said that he hadn’t failed, he had just figured out XXX amount of ways that wouldn’t work.

We need to apply that to our own lives.

So no matter how many times you have tried and failed, remember that if you keep trying a solution will eventually appear. Keep that hope in your sights and never allow yourself to forget what you are fighting for. Remember, every sacrifice you make in order to achieve your goals is for a reason.

And never, ever give up.

What keeps you going? Please share your stories in the comments below.

Fighting the Good Fight

Published / by Annie / 10 Comments on Fighting the Good Fight

Life, no matter how you arrange it, is far from perfect. We all have things that we need to deal with. In my personal journey, I am dealing with a brain disease as a result of an injury I suffered some time ago.

I have a choice: I can sit on my ass, whining and crying, or I can plow forward and keep fighting. On the days that I glitch, when I transpose numbers at work , my hand refuses to work, I stumble over thin air, or the words that come out of my mouth sound like gibberish and the pain makes it hard to think it is easy to sit down and give up. I am terrified that my boss will figure out that something is wrong with me and fire me as a result.

But you know what I do? I keep trying. Every day I use the tricks that I’ve invented to keep moving forward. I get friends and family help me to remember things. I use notes and Outlook to keep track of stuff I’ve done and stuff I need to do. When my hand doesn’t work right, I switch to doing things one-handed until the glitch irons out. When my words turn into gibberish I play it off as I’m just dingy.

And when I hurt, I take whatever is available to dull the worst of the pain and I keep moving forward.

It would be so easy to give up and to say that “I can’t.” But you know what? Can’t never could do anything. Can’t never managed to get a damn thing accomplished. The only true failure is to stop trying and it will be a cold day in hell before I do that. I am going to fight, and keep fighting until I either beat this shit or I am dead in my grave.

And I want you to learn from that.

I want you to understand that, no matter how bad things are, no matter how bad things get, that the only way out of them is to keep fighting. You may make a lot of mistakes. You may hit a lot of brick walls, but if you allow these things to defeat you then you will never be able to achieve your dreams.

So please, whatever you do, keep fighting. Don’t let the darkness win.

What challenges are you facing that make you want to give up? Please share your stories in the comments below.

Crowded House

Published / by Annie / 4 Comments on Crowded House

The other day my friend from Michigan moved her family to this area. Until they get situated with employment and housing they are all staying here.

I must confess that I was concerned about this. Five adults (since Katie is almost 18), two dogs, and two cats living in a 500 square foot one-bedroom house means that we are stacked up like cordwood.

I have learned that it isn’t near as bad as I expected it to be.

For one, we all work together in a spirit of cooperation. While two of the adults have yet to secure employment (one is physically incapable of working), the rest of us are now employed. When schedules match up, my friend insists on driving me to work and picking me up to make my life a bit easier. We come home from work in the evenings to find that the others have prepared meals for the family and tidied up the house.

At night, since I have to keep a somewhat regular sleeping schedule due to my personal health issues (my brain glitches when my sleep schedule is disrupted) I am usually one of the first to go to bed. They move around stealthily that I don’t get disturbed. If one takes a nap in the evenings or is still asleep when I wake up, I give them the same consideration.

We even coordinate bathing schedules so that no one is caught unawares and has to go to the restroom while someone is taking a bath.

This experience has shown me that it truly is possible for a larger number of people to live in harmony in a small home provided you work together. While society tends to frown on such things, living in a small home can not only help families get on their feet after homelessness, it can help them live on less money when needed or desired. Let’s face it: it costs a lot less to live in a small place than it does to live in a big one.

I wanted to share this story because in my books I mentioned that I had reservations about a larger number of people living in really small homes. While I did point out that it has been done in the past, the thought made me nervous. Since then I have learned that it is definitely possible provided that mutual respect and cooperation abound with the family members.

I personally am grateful for the experience.

Have any of you lived in really tight conditions with other people? Please share your stories in the comments below.

I Hate Planned Obsolescence

Published / by Annie / 8 Comments on I Hate Planned Obsolescence

The other day a friend stopped by and announced that he had a surprise in the back seat of his car. Curious, I stepped outside to see what it was.

To my surprise, he had an ancient iMac sitting on his back seat. He explained with a grin that he had been visiting another friend when he saw their neighbors carry it out to the trash.

“I immediately thought of you, so I asked permission to have it,” he explained.

We carried it into the house. It lacked a keyboard and a mouse, but it fortunately still had a power cord, so I connected a spare Windows mouse and keyboard to the machine and plugged it in.

That old dinosaur powered on.

According to my research, this machine (iMac model M5521) came out around the turn of the century, which means that it is almost 20 years old. The hard drive is a bit noisy, the slot loading CD-ROM sticks, but it still works!

The more I played with that old machine the angrier I got. This computer cost someone $999 new. That’s the equivalent of two month’s expenses for me. The thought of someone tossing that much money in the trash just pissed me off, not because they discarded something they no longer needed or used, but because of the fact that this poor machine was obsolete just a few short years after it was purchased.

That’s the way it is with stuff anymore. You purchase a new phone, computer, gadget, outfit, or whatever only to be told it is useless or out of fashion before you’ve hardly managed to break it in, so what do you do? You go out and buy a new one, tossing the old one into a closet or—like this poor old machine—in the trash.

Heck, purchase a new appliance these days and you’ll discover that the lightweight gears and moving parts within the machine will fail within a few short years. Don’t believe me? Go to the store and buy a cheap fan. See how many seasons it will last you before it dies. Next, go to a thrift shop and buy one of those ancient fans with the old cloth-covered power cords. I’ll bet that thing still runs even if it is close to 50 years old. In fact, I happen to know a gentleman who uses an old percolator to make his coffee that is even older than that! He got tired of buying coffee makers every couple of years so he dug out the old percolator his mother used to make her coffee with.

Anyway, back to this computer. After tinkering with it for a while I decided to try an experiment. I’m going to see if I can acquire the parts needed to give this puppy an upgrade and make it useful once again. I want to get it set up with some simple games, configure it for printing, add a word processing program, and let my grandson use it to play and do his homework on.

This isn’t exactly a priority to me so I plan to spend as little as possible. I’m going to ask around for spare parts to upgrade the RAM and search online for a copy of the operating system that I can download and burn to disk. If I get lucky I’ll manage to score a new CMOS battery for it, since the original is long dead.

And piece by piece I am going to turn this ancient machine into something that can be used today, just to prove that it can be done. It won’t be the fastest but that’s not the point. The point is that we spend a fortune on items that manufacturers declare completely useless years before they actually are. We spend hours of our lives each week earning money to buy items like this old computer, only to discard them as worthless a short time later, when in fact, with a little love and a bit of work, they can last longer than Big Business wants us to keep them.

I’ll let you know when I get the old dinosaur running. I will also let you know just how much money I spent turning it into something that can actually be used (paperweight is not an option).

What was the last item you saved from the trash? Please share your stories in the comments below.

To The Simple Living Haters

Published / by Annie / 16 Comments on To The Simple Living Haters

Over the years I have had so many people tell me that I am insane for keeping my bills low and living such a simple life. They have told me that I’m cruel to my daughter by forcing her to live in a small one-bedroom house (despite the fact that she gets the bedroom), and that I am depriving both her and myself of things that we need.

But you know what? Those haters can take a long walk off a short pier. Living a simple, frugal life has saved my ass more times than I can count.

And in recent times it managed to save us from being completely homeless.

As you know, I’ve been unable to work a public job for around two years. But guess what? Thanks to my extremely frugal lifestyle, my books generating passive income, and with help from my friends all of my bills are paid off with the exception of my rent bill (I’m working on that).

And guess what? I’m starting a nice, simple, part time job at a grocery store today. I’m not sure if I can do the work but by golly I am going to try!

The lifestyle that so many have condemned allowed me sufficient time to heal to the point to where I am now able to try working a bit. The lifestyle that so many have declared insane will allow me to work just a few hours a week to keep my bills paid up and continue paying my rent debt down.

The lifestyle that people have declared impractical has once again saved my ass. Literally.

So to all the haters out there who believe that a simple life isn’t worth the effort, you can kiss my behind. This lifestyle has saved me yet again.

I have survived the impossible. Again.

So the next time someone tells you that you shouldn’t reduce your recurring expenses, that you shouldn’t live in a simpler, less expensive home and ditch the fancy stuff, point them to this post.

It is time the world got a wakeup call.

Smashwords Summer/Winter Sale

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Hello Everyone!

Once again I have joined the Smashwords Summer/Winter Sale. To thank you for being such loyal readers, I have listed all of my books at a sizeable discount or for free. You can find a list of my books here.

All you have to do is click on the book you are interested in. When the description page loads, simply choose to purchase it using the sale coupon on the right hand side. While you are there, please check out all of the other books that are on sale as well. You will find a lot of bargains.

Enjoy!

Annie

The Art of Teaching Yourself

Published / by Annie / 4 Comments on The Art of Teaching Yourself

Not everyone can manage to get a formal education. In some instances, the subject of study desired isn’t even offered in a class. I learned a long time ago that if I wanted to learn about something I would have to figure out a way to study it outside of formal methods.

This determination has served me well.

When I wanted to learn more about computers, I started reading books on the subject. I scavenged computer parts from discarded machines and used them to practice what I learned until such time that I managed to take an online course in computer repair.

When I desperately needed to make repairs on my home, I located a couple of books on the subject, read them, and applied what I learned to tear out walls, reinforce the studding, repair electrical wiring, insulate, and install drywall in the place of the ancient paneling that had originally covered the walls. I even learned how to take a rotting porch apart and rebuild it to make it safe.

I’ve done this with many subjects over the years. When I needed to learn something, I would either locate some books or find someone who was experienced in the subject to pepper with questions until I figured out what I needed to do.

In recent years I used this method of self-education to learn how to start writing online, then I expanded my research to learn how to self-publish books and create my own website. I built my writing business by simply teaching myself what I needed to know.

Since the markets have changed I have decided to learn how to write in a completely new genre. I’ve been studying the art of writing fiction for several years. Since romance authors are the most successful in the field of publishing (both traditional and self-published) I’m focusing on that narrow spectrum in order to build my business.

As with everything I learn, my first projects will doubtless stink. They generally do, in my personal opinion, and that’s okay. I need those first attempts in order to learn from my mistakes and to grow closer to my goal. I know that each project will be a bit better until I am finally satisfied with the results.

I have been collecting the most ubiquitous romance novels I know of to start: Harlequin novels. I am collecting every single book I can get my hands on to analyze construction, plot, and other features. I figure that once I master that format I can teach myself how to write longer works.

I intend to use the money I earn from writing these books to support my passion. I want to continue teaching people how to live on less while keeping this website as non-commercialized as possible since I cannot in good conscience encourage people to buy more than they need.

This project is not only how I plan to support myself with my current limitations; it is also a way that I can continue to afford to write about my passion. Barbara Ehrenriech discussed this dilemma in her article In America, only the rich can afford to write about poverty. It isn’t perfect, but it is the only solution I can come up with. I am not going to give up this website without a fight, any more than I’m going to just lie down and die because of an injury that severely limits what I can do to earn money.

So wish me luck, folks. I’m gonna need it.

Dealing with Challenges

Published / by Annie / 9 Comments on Dealing with Challenges

One of the things I haven’t written about lately is the fact that I’m laboring under a distinct challenge: due to the head injury I suffered a while back (2015?), I ended up with demyelinating disease. To sum it up, my memory stinks and is only going to get worse. I also ended up with some physical limitations aside from memory (speech, movement, etc.) but I’m working on those.

From what I understand, if I keep my mind active I can delay the deterioration of my gray matter. Fortunately, that is always something I’ve excelled at – if I can remember to do it.

Once I stopped feeling sorry for myself I resolved to figure out how to function despite the crappy hand Life dealt me. I tried a whole slew of methods to remind myself to do things as well as having to figure out a way to continue writing and publishing books. I have problems seeing, so I dug a spare monitor I had out of mothballs and connected it to my laptop. I can still remember how to format my books using Microsoft Word so I switched back to that program. I even dug out my ancient 11-year old laptop because it could not only connect to the larger monitor I needed to use, it ran Word.

During my desperate thrashing for a method to remember the stuff I need to do I stumbled upon Outlook. It was bundled with the ancient copy of Word that I now use to compose blog posts and write my books. I have figured out that if I put every single task in it as I think about it (or the kid points it out), then I can better keep track of what needs to be done. It even has a journaling section where I can write down the things I’ve accomplished so that I can remember that I’ve done them.

I’m still learning how to use the program but it is helping. I use it to remind me to write every day as well as to tell me when to write and schedule new posts for this website. That is how I’ve managed to start publishing once a week on a regular basis again.

I turn on that ancient laptop first thing every morning, look at the stuff I need to do, and slowly tinker on it throughout the day. I scan in any papers I need to save, logging them in that old program for when I need to retrieve them. That way I just need to run a search instead of trying to remember where I’ve (mis)placed the originals.

I’m telling you this not so that you will feel sorry for me, but so you understand that I don’t feel sorry for myself. Instead of focusing on the stuff I can’t do, I work on ways to get things done. I figure out ways to achieve my goals.

Like my father before me, who invented ingenious ways to solve the problems presented by his amputated leg, I am working out ways to take care of business and support myself despite my challenges.

I want you to remember that. I want you to know that, no matter what, that as long as you keep trying, as long as you keep working, that you can achieve anything. I also want you to understand that you won’t accomplish a damn thing if you sit on your ass and feel sorry for yourself.

If one thing fails, try another. And another. And yet another until you find something that works. Then once you figure out something that works, you use that to keep marching towards your goals.

What goals do you want to accomplish? What methods are you currently trying to achieve them? Please share your stories in the comments below.

Cheap Ventilation

Published / by Annie / 8 Comments on Cheap Ventilation

Day by day, my daughter and I are working to recover from the financial blow my injury caused. My daughter has managed to land a part time job at a grocery store and is contributing a portion of her paycheck every week to help with bills. It isn’t a whole lot (they don’t give her many hours, and it only pays minimum wage) but it helps.

In the meantime, I’ve hopefully recovered enough to try some simple part-time work. I’m greatly limited by my limitations (fast food is definitely out of the picture at present) but I’ve submitted some applications at the few places around here that I feel I might be qualified for. Even if I only worked a few hours a week it would help greatly to pay back the money I owe my landlord for back rent.

While I wait, I stay busy writing and working on my skills to improve them for the time when I land a job. I’m busy on another novel for the other pen name I told you about. It’s definitely not high quality reading but if it brings in a little money that is better than none at all.

We’ve resolved to keep our bills as low as possible while we recover financially. For the moment that means that we’ve decided to hold off on installing our little window air conditioner despite the warmth of the days. Instead, we’ve opted for a cheaper solution.

In order to provide ventilation in the house, we open the back door. We latch the screen door and place a small barricade in front of it to deter any potential intruders. While it only stays open during the day while we are awake, the little barrier makes me feel a bit safer. Since our front “screen” door doesn’t actually have a screen, I prop it open with a chair and place a baby gate from my grandson’s younger days across the opening to keep the dogs contained. This combined with the ceiling fan in the living room and a fan in my daughter’s room, allow for a crosscurrent of air to flow through the house.

It’s actually staying rather comfortable in here. I’m honestly surprised. The back porch is shaded due to the trees that surround our back yard, and the covered porch on the front allows some protection from the heat of the sun in the afternoons so the breeze that flows through the house is a comfortable temperature.

To keep even cooler I’ve shifted my primary hangout from the kitchen to the living room. That way we don’t have to invest in another fan. It stays darker in the living room, which also keeps it cooler in here. Considering that we’ve congregated in the kitchen almost since the first day we moved in here, this room is getting used more than it ever has. I’m sure that my poor kitchen is feeling neglected as a result.

Once it gets late enough that I feel uncomfortable, I shut and lock the doors. An open window in the living room and another in the bathroom allow for a smaller (but no less effective) breeze through the home while we sleep.

It’s a bit noisier at night with the windows cracked but that’s better than roasting, though usually before the night is over I shut both windows to hold in the cool air. This house is nicely insulated so the method is quite effective.

The next day we repeat the process, starting with opening the doors. Once I feel more comfortable with our finances I will install the air conditioner.

What are you doing to reduce your energy expenses? Please share your stories in the comments below.

If you would like to learn about more ways to save money, check out my book The Shoestring Girl: How I Live On Practically Nothing and You Can Tooavailable at the following retailers.

The Improvised Pitcher

Published / by Annie / 2 Comments on The Improvised Pitcher

The other day a friend of mine passed along three bottles of concentrated Cranberry Juice cocktail. I hadn’t had any in ages so I dug through my cabinets in search of something small enough to mix it in that would fit in my refrigerator. To my dismay I didn’t have anything. The only pitcher I had was a bit too big to fit in my fridge along with the other contents.

Disappointed, I placed the bottles in my pantry. I would wait until I used down the supplies in my refrigerator to make a batch, I told myself.

The next day I went over to have a cup of coffee with my neighbors. As I was finishing up my cup, one of the kids reached into their fridge, pulled out a two-liter, and poured the remaining contents into a glass.

My cheapskate mind started jumping in happiness. I had a spot on my refrigerator door that was just big enough to hold that bottle.

“Hey, can I have that empty bottle?” I asked as they went to put it in the trash.

“Uh, sure. What are you going to do with it?”

“I’m going to use it as a pitcher,” I responded.

“Go for it.” My friend handed me the empty bottle.

I took it home, washed it out, and carefully poured the contents of the concentrate into the bottle. I added water, mixed it up, and squeezed it into the one empty spot in my tiny fridge.

I am now enjoying a nice cold glass of cranberry juice cocktail, courtesy of improvisation.

Refreshment never tasted so nice.

When was the last time you improvised to meet a need? Please share your stories in the comments below.

The Best Solution is Often the Cheapest

Published / by Annie / 10 Comments on The Best Solution is Often the Cheapest

In today’s society we are taught that the best solutions are the most expensive. We buy the high-end phones, the expensive computers, luxury cars, high-end appliances, and many other items and services based on the logic that it must be wonderful if it costs so much.

I’m as guilty of this as the next person. In my hunger for knowledge, I have paid hundreds of dollars for information products that ended up being worth less than the paper it cost to print the crap. I’ve bought high-end computers (my other primary weakness) only to discover that in a year or so they were falling apart (compared to the cheap old laptop I purchased on sale back in 2006 that is still going), and many more items that I can think of counting.

Learning a lesson from this, when I faced a recent difficulty I decided to look at what I needed instead of what society said I should buy. My male cats had decided to rebel against the small but expensive litterboxes I purchased when they were kittens. They got tired of only being able to stick a portion of their bodies in the box to do their business so they started going beside the box.

Talk about a mess! I scooped, I cleaned, I did every trick I could think of, only to have those stupid critters glare at me balefully as they stubbornly did their business with the wrong end inside of their litterbox.

I searched online for a better solution and winced at the prices. Not a single litterbox was large enough for my needs, yet every single one of them cost a small fortune. The higher the price point, the greater the argument that this box would solve my problem.

I stepped back from the problem for a few days to consider. What did I really need? Ideally, I needed a box that was large enough for my cats to fit inside with sides that were high enough to minimize scattered litter. I didn’t care if it was pretty or expensive; I just wanted something that would work.

My eureka moment came when my grandson came over to visit. He marched over to his toybox, reached in, and started pulling out toys to play with. It dawned on me that a similar-sized tote, sans lid, was considerably larger than commercial litterboxes. The sides were high enough to prevent scattering litter, even if I gave them a nice deep pile of litter to do their business in.

I didn’t want to spend the extra money on what constituted an experiment on my part (I wasn’t sure the cats would like having to hop into the thing), so I started asking my friends to scrounge me up an old storage container that was missing a lid.

One of my friends came through. I found myself the proud owner of a grungy old Rubbermaid tote that had been destined for the trash. I cleaned it out, filled it with litter, and placed it beside their regular litterbox. I scooped up the cats one by one and placed them in the container to let them know “hey stupid, here’s a new litterbox for you to try” and then waited.

I woke up the next morning to discover that both cats had visited the new box. In fact, one of my cats made a point of visiting the new one as I scooped both boxes out! In a few days I plan to switch the cats over to the new box entirely, clean out their old litterboxes and either sell or donate the old ones to the local animal rescue.

This just goes to show that the best solution is not always the most expensive. I solved my problem without spending a penny. I love it when I can make the Gods of Consumerism cry. Every time I solve an issue without spending money, I feel like I’m giving Big Business the middle finger, so I do it as often as I can.

What was the last problem you solved by getting creative? Please share your stories in the comments below.

The True Cost of Stuff

Published / by Annie / 4 Comments on The True Cost of Stuff

My daughter Katie finally saved up the money to purchase her very first cell phone. She will be paying for the service out of her own pocket since she now has a part-time job.

When she told me how much the phone cost, I was struck by how much of her life she had to spend working in order to earn the money to pay for it. She worked an equivalent of two weeks to buy the phone and pay for the first month of service. It will cost her ½ of a week’s pay every month to pay for the service.

I asked her if the phone was worth losing two weeks’ of her life working in order to pay for it. Katie gave me a blank look before regaling me with how wonderful her new gadget was.

That made me realize that most people have no concept of the amount of time they sacrifice from their lives in order to pay for things.

For instance, say you decide to purchase a new computer. You want a nice one so you select a model that costs $1,000. If you are on minimum wage ($7.25 in this area), that means you have to work full-time for a month to buy the device.

If you decide to buy a new car for $20,000 (I’m just picking a random price here), you would have to work 20 months just to pay off the base price, not including taxes and interest if you finance it!

Calculate Before You Buy

Before you purchase an item, calculate just how much of your life you have to sacrifice to a job in order to pay for it then ask yourself: Is this item worth so much of my life?

If it is, you’re good to go. Buy that whatsit and have fun.

But if it’s not, save your money. Remember, the less stuff you buy, the less you have to earn to pay for it. Also, remember that there might be a less expensive way for you to get what you need/want. For instance, if you want to own your own car, instead of purchasing a newer one that you have to finance, take the down payment and buy an older vehicle outright. You will have transportation at a fraction of the cost—without having to worry about a monthly payment.

If you want to own a home, consider purchasing a smaller, older, simpler home instead of that fancy one the realtor shows you. I have personally purchased older mobile homes on a rented lot for less than $2,000—one time I even purchased one for $100 and some furniture taken in trade! Some mobile homes and older houses in the country can be purchased for $10,000 or less if you look and are patient. You could purchase one of these, live in it, and save the difference that you would normally pay in rent to buy something better. Once you buy a better place, you could sell the first place (saving the money if you want to upgrade again) or rent it out for extra income.

If you practice this method of thinking before you buy, you will end up saving a LOT of money over time. You can either put that money away or decide to regain some of your life by working less.

I discuss this and other ways of saving money in the book The Shoestring Girl: How I Live on Practically Nothing and You Can Too, available in print and ebook at many fine retailers.

Fun and Games Shoestring Style

Published / by Annie / 3 Comments on Fun and Games Shoestring Style

My daughter and I haven’t owned a Monopoly game since our last one bit the dust in a horrible accident. We missed it but such is life.

We struck gold the other day, however. Sitting on the top of a trash can was a Monopoly box. We snatched it up and brought it home to discover that only a few of the pieces were missing. We gathered up some of the stuff we had managed to save from our old game and created the items we still needed using pieces of paper and whatnot, then sat down and started playing.

We had a blast! Hopefully we will be able to scrounge the cards we’re missing over time, but until then the game is playable. We just have to remember that giving an IOU for rent when just two people are playing doesn’t work out so well. We kept passing that ticket instead of one of us giving up until we finally called a draw. It was fun, though!

Have you ever scrounged or created something you could use by just piecing it together from scraps? Please share your stories in the comments below.

Old Computers

Published / by Annie / 3 Comments on Old Computers

I have a confession to make. I really, really love computers. In my heyday when money was flush it was common for me to purchase at least one new system a year. One year I would purchase a new desktop, the next I would buy a new laptop. If a new version of Windows came out or a computer with an operating system that I wanted to try entered the market I would buy even more.

These past few years of being financially strapped put a stop to that. The last new computer I purchased was around 2015 when I sold my van and even that computer is long gone due to finances. At first I was upset about it but then I realized something:

Computers haven’t really changed much over the past decade.

The other day I found myself at Wal-Mart with some time to kill while my ride did their thing. I wandered into the computer section to check out the latest specs and drool. To my surprise, there was nothing to drool over. The computers being offered didn’t have any better specs than the ancient machines I already had at home. The only difference was the operating system.

In fact, the computer I use the most these days is an 11-year old Toshiba laptop that runs Windows XP. I don’t even take it online. I use it to play music, read the occasional book, and write. I connected an adapter to it in order to have sound (the speakers on it are shot), an external keyboard to type (since the keyboard is shot as well), and a nice large monitor that I traded for years ago and kept for troubleshooting purposes. It is an ancient piece of shit but it still works and does what I need.

While I do have another computer that I use to access the Internet (2011 laptop running Ubuntu Linux), I have realized that I no longer need to purchase new computers. In fact, the refurbished business computers available these days are actually more powerful than the newer systems and they cost a lot less. As an example of this, here is a link to the refurbished desktop I have on my private wish list. It runs Windows XP, which is what I want, but if for some reason my other laptop decided to die I would invest in one of these and install Linux on it to have a nice, powerful system minus the constant nagging from Microsoft to buy this or update that.

If you have any older computers in your home instead of buying a new one I urge you to consider using the ones you currently own. If it was manufactured during the last decade, chances are that it is more than enough to meet your needs. If the operating system is out of date (and you need to take it online) install one of the many wonderful versions of Linux out there or get a friend to do it for you. You might want to upgrade the RAM (commonly called memory) on your system, but that’s a lot cheaper than buying a new system.

If you have an older laptop with a busted screen or a failing keyboard, connect external devices to it and convert it into a desktop system. That’s what I’ve done with this ancient Toshiba and it serves my needs perfectly well.

In other words, stop buying crap you don’t need when something you have works perfectly well. Stop giving the corporations your money when you don’t absolutely have to. They’re not out to improve your life…they just want to improve their bottom line. They could care less about you.

What one thing do you have now that you could continue using that you’ve been thinking of replacing? Please share your stories in the comments below. And if this post has made you think, please share it with others. Thank you.

Busy Work…and a new Genre

Published / by Annie / 2 Comments on Busy Work…and a new Genre

Hello everyone!

I’ve been keeping busy writing here. I didn’t want to share what I was up to until I had something to show for it however.

I’ve managed to finally get around to publishing my little weight loss book for 99 cents. I’ve got the page up with all of the distributor links here.

And I’ve created a new pen name in order to try out another genre. My first title is a bit of erotica aimed at the geeky crowd. I’ve got it priced at 99 cents as well. I’m curious to see how it does since there’s not a huge amount of competition in the genre.

So that’s what I’ve been up to. I’ve been doing a lot of writing with the goal of entering into another genre so that I can afford to stand fast to my personal beliefs about commercializing this site. While I want to help others and make a little money doing it, I do not want to go overboard and constantly try to persuade you guys to buy stuff. I want it to be there and available if you feel it will help but not charge a fortune for the knowledge either.

What have you been up to lately? Please share your stories in the comments below.

Clothing

Published / by Annie / 5 Comments on Clothing

I have a confession to make. With the exception of my panties, every single piece of clothing that I am currently wearing was either gifted to me secondhand or thrifted.

My tee shirt was a handmedown from my daughter Katie when she became sick of it. The button-down shirt I’ve layered on top of it was purchased at the local clothing closet during one of their sales, where you can purchase a whole bag of clothing for a dollar. I bought the jeans I’m wearing at the same time as the shirt. My flip flops were originally gifted to my youngest from my middle daughter then later passed down to me.

You wouldn’t know it if you passed me on the street. I am clean and everything is in good condition. While I may not be dressed in the fanciest items, that is by choice and not by necessity. You can get some really fancy clothes at a thrift shop if you know how to look. In fact, I have a leather jacket that looked practically brand new when I stuffed it in my bag at the same sale where I purchased my jeans and the button-down top, which means I paid less than a dollar for it.

Of course, companies don’t like it when you do this. They want you to spend your hard-earned cash buying new stuff. They’re even selling clothing that looks ragged and filthy for hundreds of dollars these days, clothing that looks so nasty that I wouldn’t be caught dead in it unless I had spent the day digging a ditch!

So before you visit your local mall I urge you to hit the yard sales and thrift shops in your area. Instead of buying new I encourage you to look through your closet and use something you own already.

And above all, I urge you to stop spending cash to buy something you don’t absolutely need.

Where did you acquire the clothing you are currently wearing? Please share your stories in the comments below.

Constant Connectivity

Published / by Annie / 6 Comments on Constant Connectivity

The other day I found myself thinking of the days of dial-up Internet connections. You went online, did your thing, and then went offline to go on with your day. As a result of the intermittent connection you didn’t have the constant interruptions. Your email wasn’t constantly pinging, your Facebook contacts weren’t constantly demanding your attention…when you were online, you were online, but when you were offline your time was your own once again.

It is easy in this modern age to lose track of time with the constant demands of others. Instead of being present with your family and friends, we stare at our phones as we text and communicate with everyone but the ones we are with.

This needs to change.

Now that my daughter is working at a public job we are no longer able to spend as much time with one another as we have in the past. Our interactions are crammed in between her school, her work, and her studies, so it has become much more valuable. At first I didn’t realize this but when my daughter came home after a stressful day at school I knew what had to be done. I messaged my friends and told them that my daughter was off for the evening and I needed to spend time with her. I then shut my computer down and did just that. We sat and talked for hours, eventually settling down on the couch to read books. Not talking by that point, just enjoying the company of one another as we did our own thing.

Of course I was hit with a bunch of messages when I went online this morning but that’s okay. My daughter was more important and I gave her the time that we both needed to reconnect.

I went to sleep thinking about this drive we now have to be constantly online. This pointless need to check our Facebook fifty times a day and to converse online with everyone but the person we happen to be face to face with and it disturbed me to realize just how far I’ve fallen. Instead of spending time with the person I love the most I spend it online doing pointless stuff.

The thought made me so angry that I was tempted to cancel my internet on the spot. However, I realized that the problem isn’t with the Internet, it is with me personally. It’s not the fault of the Internet that I spend too much time online any more than it is the fault of food that people overeat or the problem of alcohol that people become alcoholics. The problem is with ourselves and a lack of setting limits in our lives.

So this is me, setting another limit in my life. Just like I only eat when I am hungry (and stop when I’m full) I am only going to use the Internet to check my emails and surf occasionally. Instead of being constantly online I will go on, do my thing, and then return to my peaceful offline existence.

For the record I’m not sure how well I will manage this. The hardest part will be managing the expectations of others but it is something I need to do in order to reclaim my life.

Will you join me in this new goal?

Simple Indoor Hobbies for Everyday Happiness

Published / by Annie / 2 Comments on Simple Indoor Hobbies for Everyday Happiness

Written by Zak Andrews. 

 

Living a simpler life means you have to see the beauty in everyday things and activities. But in the midst of a hectic lifestyle, it’s sometimes hard to have spare time to sit back and relax. People are so busy with work and some even have extra jobs on the side. Others have businesses that require almost 24/7 attention. While being productive is great and necessary in the long term, there are times people forget the simpler things they have that can also bring them joy.

Verywell.com emphasized the importance of hobbies. They not only serve as outlets to relieve stress; they also provide small pleasures and happiness. Here are some simple hobbies you can do in your home to have your everyday dose of happiness and relaxation.

Learn a craft or two

Photo: Pixabay

Picking up a craft or two will not only increase your knowledge, it will also give you a sense of fulfillment after each project you have completed. At times, the creations you make may even give you an extra source of income.

Immersing yourself in DIY tasks is an excellent hobby, due to the fact that you can choose any type of object you like to create. As such, you will be happy with what you are doing. There are furniture, decorations, gardening projects, etc. Blankets, cushions, vases and storage boxes are some of the daily house items which are easy to make.

Watch shows and play games

Photo: Pixabay

There are thousands of great TV shows out there. Shows like The Good Wife or The Walking Dead, which was conceptualized with our little town in mind, will appeal to audiences who want a dose of drama or suspense.

Meanwhile, the acclaimed fantasy title Game of Thrones may have paused after Season 6, but nevertheless lots of people are anticipating the next arc in the story and fans are temporarily getting their GoT fix through related media inspired by the sensational series. Video games based on the medieval show now attract global attention as well, thanks to the popularity of the show. The famous Telltale Games which created a version for The Walking Dead also has their own take on Game of Thrones as a decision-driven narrative game; while the popular slots game platform Spin Genie collaborated with the show to bring titles like Game of Thrones 15 Lines to GoT fans worldwide. Either way, whether watching an episode of your favorite TV series or playing its game iteration, the effect is the same: it can help you unwind after a hard day’s work.

This is not just a baseless claim either, given that the stress-reducing capabilities of these visual hobbies are backed up by science. For example, research shared by Men’s Health tackled interactive games in particular, which were found to “evoke a stronger sense of relaxation”. There’s an abundance of studies that correlate watching TV or playing video games with relaxation.

Indulge in cooking

Photo: Pixabay

Cooking is one of best hobbies you can partake in. Indulging in food is among the guilty pleasures we all succumb to from time to time. Considering that there are innumerable cuisines from various cultures, you will never run out of things to try out, not to mention that you can acquire kitchen techniques which are highly useful. In our Food section, we’ve shared topics like bread making and meat tenderizing, both of which can be utilized in everyday living.

Of course, it’s also recommended to balance the kinds of food you eat to maintain a healthy body and lifestyle. Aside from regular meals and dishes, you can also check out healthier alternatives such as gluten-free recipes.

To sum it up, happiness is all around, even in the simple things that people have or do in their homes. What’s needed is to just appreciate everything around you and make the best of what you have. Don’t worry, be happy!