Author Archives: Annie

Baby Steps

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Two days after my friend arrived, she had a job.

When she received her first paycheck, she rented a house.

When she received her last paycheck from her job in Michigan, she had her utilities switched on.

Now her daughter has managed to secure employment.

Just a small series of baby steps and she is well on her way to a better life. She is amazed at how easy it was to find work in this area, at how inexpensive the rent is. For the first time in many years she has hope.

I am honored to be a part of it.

She still has a ways to go, of course. We need to locate a refrigerator that she can afford, but for now we are freezing gallon jugs of water that she can use with a cooler to keep food cool. She will need to acquire furniture as well since she had lived in a hotel for several years but bit by bit we’ll get it sorted.

As I tell her when she thinks the hurdles are insurmountable, I started here with even less.

So no matter where you are right now, I want you to know that if you are willing to work toward your goals, you can achieve anything. I’ve done it, my friend is doing it, and you can as well.

I have faith.

A New Gadget

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I am not a fan of single purpose gadgets. In my opinion, it is better in most cases to spend a little more money for a device that will serve many purposes than to have a collection of single-purpose devices laying about.

However, there are times when a single purpose device makes sense. For instance, it can be prohibitively expensive to purchase and repair a combination washing machine/dryer for your clothes. By investing in the single purpose washing machines and dryers, you will save money in the long run on repairs alone.

That said, there was one single purpose device that I told myself that I would never buy. I saw no point in purchasing a Kindle ebook reader since I could read the ebooks I purchased on my computer, my iPad mini, or a number of other devices. Unfortunately, since my injury I have a problem with backlit screens. While I can use them for short periods of time if I dim the screen, reading on a backlit device for long periods of time is entirely out of the question.

My friend’s daughter (technically my God-Daughter) loaned me her Kindle paperwhite as a test. When it ended up being a game changer I saved up the money and invested in a Kindle of my own. As a result I am now able to read my significant library of books in comfort again.

Part of me feels guilty about buying the Kindle. To ease the pain of my purchase, I went with the cheapest Kindle they had, complete with ads (as much as I hate them). Right now I could not justify spending an extra $20 to avoid them.

For the record, I am extremely grateful to be able to read my ebooks again.

What was the last single purpose item you purchased and why? Please share your story in the comments below.

Moving On

Published / by Annie / 4 Comments on Moving On

Going back to work has been a surprising success. While I still have my issues I have discovered that I am able to cope for the most part and bury my secret breakdowns in my pillow at night. Even now I am worried that I will be discovered as a fraud and a brain damaged failure.

Even so, during the day I am still working towards my goals. Bit by bit I am catching up on my rent but in a way that allows me to have a little money to spare for other projects. I’ve been broke for far too long so I have to cut myself a bit of slack in the finance department.

For the record, I’ve officially written off the past two years as a wash. I learned the hard way that there is no real safety net in the United States for those who truly need it. Because of that, I intend to continue building my own safety net through my writing. Unlike the government programs that promise to be there, my book royalties are an income source that I know I can count on. It may not be a fortune, but at least it is real.

While I could probably fight and receive some money for the past two years I would rather spend my time recovering and planning for the future instead of chasing some pie-in-the-sky dream. I would rather do the simplest work than sit on my butt crying ‘woe is me’ to collect a check. I don’t need a lot of money to live here so if I continue to work towards my goals I should be just fine.

I hope so, at any rate.

Have you ever had to make a similar decision? Please share your stories in the comments below.

Recharging

Published / by Annie / 2 Comments on Recharging

Between work, volunteering at the local animal rescue, helping my friend get sorted, and the myriad other things I’ve been doing lately my batteries ran down. I felt myself growing less and less energetic as the days wore on.

When the kid woke me up on my day off to spend time with me before she went to work and I found myself still feeling exhausted, I decided that it was time to recharge. As soon as she left I locked my door and went back to bed.

I turned off the ringer on Google Hangouts so I wouldn’t be disturbed by phone calls. I muted all notifications from everyone. I ignored the things around the house that needed to be done in favor of giving myself what I needed: rest.

I spent the day sleeping. When I wasn’t asleep, I stayed in bed and read a book. I turned on some music during one trip to the bathroom but other than that I didn’t touch my computer. I didn’t even bother to answer the door when people came knocking.

I feel a lot more rested this morning as a result. True, the house didn’t get tidied and my friends are wondering why the heck I dropped off the face of the earth for a day but that’s okay. I needed time for me, and I took it.

This is minimalism at its finest. Reducing or eliminating the unimportant to make space for what you truly need. As a result of my impromptu vacation from Life, I’ve had the energy this morning to work up several blog posts and take care of some other writing duties that I had started to fall behind on.

Life has a way of sweeping us along with requests and obligations for our time that can overwhelm us before we realize what is happening. If we’re not careful the day will come when we wake up, not because we want to, but because we have so many things we need to do for other people.

Every so often, we need to take some time to recharge. Turn off the phone, disconnect the Internet, curl up with a good book, or just sleep. Ignore the door when somebody knocks. Unless it happens to be Emergency Services (you can always peek out your window and check), everything else can wait until tomorrow.

When was the last time you took time to recharge? Please share your stories in the comments below.

A Quiet Solution

Published / by Annie / 4 Comments on A Quiet Solution

My friend and her family (I mentioned them in an earlier post) have finally moved down from Michigan. Until they find a place they are camped out in my tiny house. As a result, privacy is virtually impossible to come by at home and the quiet time I need in order to write is completely nonexistent.

I could gripe and complain but I see no point. I knew that things would be challenging from the moment my friend expressed an interest in moving back to Kentucky. As a result, I decided to get creative.

On the days I am not working at my day job I load up my two laptops and take a walk to the local library. I fire up my 11 year old XP laptop, work up my posts and other writings, then transfer them to my Linux laptop and upload them when I’m done.

It sounds like a lot of work but it is worth it. I have everything set up on the XP in order for me to write comfortably without distractions and have absolutely no desire to use a more modern computer that will go online.

The librarian looks at me askance when I arrive with my big bag of gear but leaves me alone otherwise. I honestly couldn’t care less if she does think I’m rather strange. I am solving a problem with a minimum of fuss and that is all that matters.

How have you gotten creative to solve a problem recently? Please share your stories in the comments below.

Maintaining Balance

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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

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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.