Categories
Economy

Do What You Can, Where You Are, With What You Have

It is with a growing horror that I’ve realized over these past few days that my grandparents were right. My parents used to tease them for their decision to save most anything they came into possession of; even the tinest scraps of fabric were preserved to become quilts. Every winter, I would watch them sort through bags of old clothing and random fabric pieces, assembling those scraps into coverings that kept the family warm. I used the few quilts I had been given in my childhood until they fell apart, not because I understood their logic, but because I loved and missed them.

That memory has dominated my thoughts these past few days as I’ve kicked myself for some of the decisions I’ve made over the years.

Minimalism is the art of eliminating the excess in order to make room for the important. As practiced, it means that, when you no longer use an item you discard it in order to free up space and eliminate the need to care for it.

I experimented heavily with minimalism over the past 15 years or so. Due to that, when I moved here back in 2011 I eliminated a number of items that I never anticipated needing again.

I ran into problems almost immediately. Having left my stove, refrigerator, and other items behind, I found myself without a way to cook and store food when I moved to this house. I had to scramble in order to correct that mistake.

I made a note in my mind that, should I ever move again, I would make certain that I kept essential possessions. One doesn’t know what will happen in the future, and it is always best to be prepared. It is better to have a refrigerator one does not need than to do without when your current one dies, after all.

As the days ticked closer to marking a half-century of life, I realized that I made other mistakes while pursuing minimalism. Not only did I eliminate a number of books that would have been quite useful to have with recent events, I eliminated almost all of my sewing supplies. With the exception of a sewing kit that my daughters gifted me ages ago, every single piece of equipment I used to sew clothing and make quilts was given away – along with the massive supply of fabric that I had stockpiled over the years as I haunted yard sales and clearance aisles.

At the time, the decision made sense. Clothing and other fabric-made items were cheap and plentiful; it was easier to visit a thrift shop or a yard sale than it was to actually make things by hand.

But now things have changed. In some areas, one cannot even purchase seeds to grow a garden since they are not considered “essential.” Sewing supply stores have been forced to shutter because sewing is considered a hobby…far from “essential” in the minds of lawmakers.

Yet our medical and other essential workers need an item that we can no longer acquire easily on the open market. We all need one particular item that can no longer be easily acquired – a simple face mask.

I had more than enough tools and fabric to make a bunch of them. I even have the skills to assemble them fairly quickly in batches, but thanks to my belief that fabric would always be plentiful and that it would always be cheaper to purchase manufactured items, I eliminated every single tool I needed to construct them quickly. Even worse, I eliminated more than enough fabric to make a ton of them.

I felt horrible when my daughter asked me to make her some masks. While I knew that I had the skills to sew some by hand, I knew that it would take a lot longer than it would have if I had only kept my sewing machine and other tools. I hadn’t, so rather than continuing to curse myself I got started.

I got lucky. Come to find out, the kid had been given an old sewing machine several years ago. A friend donated some needles and oil, so I spent yesterday using a paper cutter to cut the pieces and started sewing. I watched a few videos on YouTube, combined that with my previous sewing experience, and made the first mask.

The kid wore it to work today, thankful that she now had a bit more protection as she works on the front lines.

I’ve began the process of stitching together an entire batch out of the fabric I had the kid grab for me at a local hardware store. They opened a fabric section several years back. The hardware store was allowed to remain open as an essential business; since the fabric section is in the same store, we can actually acquire a bit of fabric here.

After I ensure that my daughter has enough masks so that she doesn’t have to re-use them without washing, I intend to sew some masks for the local cashiers in the area. I’ll use what I can acquire to make that happen.

While our medical professionals desperately need masks, no one seems to be thinking about what will happen if our other essential personnel fall sick. I intend to do what I can to keep them safe.

This experience has taught me a valuable lesson. Never, ever eliminate something that has a practical use if it is still functional and you can afford to keep it. It may be considered clutter for a while, but in this world, we never know when something will happen that will cause those items to be essential again.

And as I watch the financial news with what knowledge I gleaned over those two years of researching the stock market and financial principle, I suspect that there are going to be a lot of things we need that might be a challenge to acquire for the foreseeable future.

In our current focus on medical personnel (which is completely justified), factories are switching over from making everyday clothing to medical garments. Clothing shops have been deemed non-essential, so they have been closed. I doubt that the factories assembling medical garments will be able to readily transition back to making clothes for the rest of us, so if you have it (and it fits) keep it. Even if it doesn’t fit, keep it. You can recycle the material for masks, towels, and even bedding in a pinch.

A friend of mine gifted me with a plastic tote. It has a few holes along the sides, but it will still hold dirt. I intend to use that to grow food. I’m also going to take the shovel I acquired when I buried my daughter’s cat and dig up a place in my back yard. I don’t have enough containers (or even sufficent access or money for potting soil) for dirt, so I am in hopes that I can grow a few vegetables in the back. Unlike my front yard, I doubt it has ever been graveled over and packed down for parking so it should grow food decently. I hope.

I am dreading that. I’m out of practice when it comes to growing food. That makes me nervous. However, with the shortages I am hearing about in the stores and my concern about what will happen as our essential workers fall prey to this illness, I am planning ahead. I refuse to go hungry when I know I can prevent that with a bit of manual labor.

Folks, some financial experts are already whispering the “D” word. When combined with the fact that it could take quite a while before they come up with a vaccine for coronavirus, the lockdowns might last for quite some time. In my lifetime, businesses were discouraged from keeping cash on hand to carry them through extended shutdowns. If they weren’t financed to the hilt, using “other people’s money” to expand, they were wrong. I only know of one major corporation who keeps a cash reserve, and that’s Apple. The others used their surplus over these past few years to buy back stock (the value of which has tanked and will likely go even lower). As their stock prices have tanked, highly leveraged businesses have already began to fail. One company I invested in went bankrupt so quickly when this started that I didn’t even have a chance to sell out.

And I suspect that will continue as this pandemic continues to sweep the world. The United States government can’t afford to save them all. At some point, they will have to allow Capitalism to properly rein by allowing those who do not have the resources to survive this to fail. As that happens, many businesses that we take for granted will go under. It is already starting to happen in the restaurant, hospitality and transportation industries. Airlines and bus companies are struggling alongside hotels, restaurants, and bars as well.

As people have less and less money to live on, items like computers will become unaffordable along with subscription services for software and entertainment. To me, it looks like a chain of dominoes, with the first one teetering. We can’t spend what we don’t have, after all.

So keep your stuff. Hold on to it until we get through this, at least. If I’m right, you may need those items in the future.

As for me, I have learned an invaluable lesson. This time, whenever I acquire something that is useful, I intend to hold onto it regardless if the world believes it is clutter. I intend to recycle what I can moving forward, and I don’t care what it looks like. Like my grandparents before me, I will wear the badge of conservation with pride.

I need to close for now. I have some masks to assemble.

Categories
Finances

Cautious Preparation

If you’ve paid attention to the news, some workers are discussing the possibility of striking due to what they believe to be unsafe conditions in the workplace thanks to the spread of Covid-19. I found an article the other day about Purdue workers walking out because of their concerns.

Before this hit our news feeds I realized that our supply lines might possibly be in danger due to Covid-19. If the current workers fall ill, would anyone want to step up and replace them? While I hope that my concerns are unfounded, I decided to do a little something now to ease my concerns.

I’ve recycled some containers, converting them into pots. Within these pots I’ve began to grow some vegetables from kitchen scraps and seeds. I have a challenge obtaining seeds since my daughters have joined the chorus echoed by friends and family that I need to stay home for my safety but my youngest has assured me that, as soon as her store manages to acquire some seeds, that she will buy some packets for me.

In the meantime I have started the few packets I managed to obtain before those around me began to pressure me to remain at home. It isn’t much, but it’s a start.

The modern food chain revolves around workers in the field, the shipping companies, and in the stores. What will happen when more of those workers fall ill to this virus?

While I am not panicked, I have given thanks that I live in a somewhat rural area. There is a slaughterhouse nearby for meat, and a number of my friends raise gardens out of habit. Even with that I feel that preparation is best.

I have personally taken a “plan for the worst, hope for the best” attitude to this situation. As I watch more companies struggle, in a worst-case scenario they will fall like dominoes in time. I don’t even want to think of what will happen to our medical system, local, state, and federal governments. I can’t change it, so I see no point in stressing over it.

I look around for the things I can do right here, right now, with what I currently have available. I can keep my house clean. I can recycle plastic containers to use for pots, I can grow a little bit of food, and I can distract myself by reading books and journaling to keep myself sane. I can also eliminate leftovers entirely as I do all of this, which is something I have done. These little things may prove to be helpful in time, or I may end up laughing at my over-reaction once this is over.

In the meantime, the steps that I am taking allow me to sleep at night without stress. They allow me to sit upon my front porch and enjoy the sunlight without worrying much over the future. What will come cannot be stopped, but I can rest easy in the knowledge that I am doing what I can just in case things become even worse.

What are you doing to pare down your expenses and prepare for a potentially darker future? Please share your stories in the comments below.

~#~

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I’ve written a lot of books sharing my odd view of life in hopes of helping others. My most notorious book is titled The Shoestring Girl: How I Live on Practically Nothing and You Can Too, but The Minimalist Cleaning Method is pretty popular as well. You can find them at the following places:

Amazon
Barnes and Noble
Apple iBooks
Smashwords (non-DRM)

Thank you for your support!

Categories
Economy Finances Financial Freedom Frugality

The Power of Lowballing Your Finances

The most important step in attaining financial freedom is cutting your expenses to the bone. I don’t care what the “experts” say, it is a hell of a lot easier to come up with a few hundred dollars each month than it is to come up with a few thousand.

A friend of mine reminded me of this when we began to discuss retirement. He shared his dream of building his passive income sources to $6,000 a month. While he only needs $4,000 a month currently, he wants to add some extra padding to his passive income flow in order to cover any cost of living increases during his retirement.

I don’t need that much money.

That is why I was able to quit my last job at the drop of a hat. It is also how I was able to become a stay at home single mother to my youngest daughter–a feat that everyone told me was impossible.

If you want the freedom to live life on your own terms you will pay attention to this.

In order to live at a comfortable minimum I need around $500 a month to cover my expenses. That means that I only need to have $16.67 a day coming in to meet my expenses and have some money to spare. To give you an idea of the difference that makes, my friend would have to find a way to earn $200 a day if he lost his job tomorrow.

Which one is easier to accomplish: $16.67 or $200? More importantly, if you were to lose your job tomorrow and had only $1,000 in savings, which path would allow you to take your time to locate another position?

Do the damn math, folks.

The greater your living expenses, the more you need to earn just to survive and the lower your chances of replacing the income from a public job with passive income sources. In fact, the higher your living expenses, the harder it will be to find a job that pays enough to keep body and soul afloat. If your living expenses are low enough, you will be able to pay your bills in almost any economic climate. You want proof of that? I can work a part-time job at minimum wage to earn more than enough to live on. In comparison, my friend would be screwed.

You listen, and you listen well. We live in a tumultous age. The jobs we know are in the process of being replaced by machines and yet despite that, our cost of living keeps increasing. I saw the first signs of this back in 2009 as corporations downsized to protect their profit and sent droves of people to the unemployment lines. I have no doubts that it will happen again.

If you want to protect yourself, the time to prepare is now.

The lower you can take your expenses, the greater your ability to survive.

I won’t belabor the point. I’ve already written a book on how to live on less so if you want to do the smart thing you will read it. I’d recommend other books if I could but I haven’t encountered anyone who lives on less than I do to brag about.

I pray that you heed my warning before it’s too late.

Categories
Economy Finances Security

The Importance of a Financial Buffer

The United States government shut down the other day. Regardless of your personal beliefs on the issue, one thing that we can all agree on is that the pay suspension for many Federal workers is causing many families to suffer. So many people the world over live from paycheck to paycheck; even a delay in the receipt of their income can be devastating.

The fear of financial insolvency has colored the choices I’ve made for decades. It’s one of the primary reasons that I favored low-wage, “disposable” jobs in industries such as fast food as a single mom. I selected those positions because I knew that if I lost one job that I would be able to secure another position within a matter of days.

It is much better to have financial security than it is to have a higher paycheck.

As I grew older and wiser I realized that job security wasn’t enough. It’s obviously not enough for the Federal workers currently suffering the political fallout from the current situation in Washington and it’s not enough for anyone with a family depending upon them. Things happen. A kid can become ill, forcing a parent to stay home and provide care, a car can break down making it impossible to go to work, a refrigerator can die, or the heat in your home can fail in the dead of winter. You can even become ill or injured, forcing you to take time off of work in order to heal.

This is why I began the practice of keeping a financial buffer.

My current buffer would provide three month’s of comfortable living in the event of an unforeseen disaster; five months in a pinch. Even with my determination to invest every penny I can I’ve still managed to continue increasing the amount of money I keep stashed in my emergency fund.

Everyone needs to keep a financial buffer. With our current political situation, this buffer would have allowed these families to continue providing for their families for the duration of the Government Shutdown with minimal disruption. It wouldn’t be fun, but it would be a helluva lot better than facing homelessness or food insecurity.

I don’t care how little money you make; if you don’t have a buffer of safety stashed away in a bank account or a lockbox at home you are taking a foolish, downright stupid chance with your financial security. Shit happens. When it does, your paycheck is usually the first thing you lose. Unless you want to live in a cave like Daniel Suelo you need to keep a stash of cash just to survive.

It’s not fair but that’s just how it is.

So suck it up Buttercup and face reality. It is not the world’s job to support you. Most people won’t even care if you lose your paycheck, they’ll just offer platitudes and go on with their day. It’s up to you to support yourself and your family; to do that you need to keep some cash on hand in the event that the unthinkable happens.

You can start out by saving your spare change. Instead of tossing your pennies on the ground, put those suckers in a jar at home. Roll them occasionally and stick them into a bank account you won’t touch, or convert them to cash and stash it in a lockbox at home or a safety deposit box at the bank. Put it somewhere you won’t be tempted to touch it when you stumble upon a sale of your favorite whatsit.

Instead of blowing money on a tattoo or getting your hair professionally done or a fancy manicure, take that money and stash it away. What’s more important to you? Is it more important to keep up with the Jones’ or is it more important to keep a roof over your head and food in your belly?

I don’t know about you but I prefer to eat any day.

You can splurge on the extras once you know you’ve gotten a buffer built up and will be safe in the event you go to work one day and discover your job has closed. It is much better to be safe than sorry when it comes to your finances.

***

Do something good today. Share this post on social media. You share cat photos all of the time; this post could be the wakeup call someone needs to prevent a financial disaster. Help your buddies help themselves for a change. Thanks for caring!

Categories
Finances Frugality

Small Steps to Financial Independence

My gas bill came in today.  I have gotten it down to $15.66.  I’m hoping I can get it a little lower, but don’t think I can lower it much more than that.

We went to the store and to my amazement my daughter did not buy a single toy.  Instead she bought a little candy, and chipped in by buying her burger at McDonald’s.  We got chips and drinks at the store, and got us a sandwich apiece off of the dollar menu for dinner.  Nice, inexpensive meal – and a cheap way to eat out on occasion!

As I walked through the store and looked at all the things they had for sale I reminded myself that all my needs have been provided for, that there was really nothing in the store that I needed, only a couple of things that I wanted.  I picked up a few things, like some tomato plants, a box of borax, some sulfodene medication for the dog, a bag of chips on clearance and a pack of capri-sun for dinner, then it dawned on me:  we really honestly truly don’t eat that many tomatoes, so instead of paying money for the plants,  transplanting them, caring for them, dehydrating the excess why not just buy the couple I want to eat green, or better yet bum a couple off a friend of mine who has several plants in the ground already?

I also reminded myself that I still had a little bit of borax at home, and considering how little I use I could safely let the store keep their box of borax for a little while longer.  So I put the tomato plants and the box of borax back on their shelves, double checked our purchases, and left the store happier because I managed to put things back than I was going there thinking I needed all of these things!

Every time I buy less, every time I reduce our consumption will make the next time easier.  Yes we did not have to eat out, but it cost us just a couple of dollars at the restaurant, and a couple of dollars at the store for additions to the meal that will actually last us for days.  The chips will still be around for snacking next week, though the drinks will be gone with the weekend.  Considering that I could have spent that amount and only had a single meal but instead have a little more makes me feel better, especially since we have drastically reduced the amount we eat out anymore.  We used to eat out once or twice a week depending upon my schedule, but now we may eat out once a week tops.  It has been two weeks or so since last we ate out, so I am content with how well we are doing.

I mean, I want us to save money but I don’t want us to be totally deprived.

I have managed to pick up some hours to make up for the hours lost these last couple weeks.  I am having to give up my weekend, but such is life. You do what is necessary to pay the bills.  Once I saw they were drastically reducing our hours at work I hoarded my last paycheck, so I have enough for rent and stuff next month, but every single hour I can squeeze in at work will keep me from getting in the hole.

Besides that, when they send me home early I try to submit more articles at Associated Content.  Every advance payment, every single page view helps me to pay bills that much better.  My content producer page is here.  Will you please read my articles and leave a comment on them, for good or bad?  Every article you read helps me better support my daughter.  You can subscribe for free as well.  Thank you!

I wish that I had enough articles, enough page views every month that I could just write full time instead of worrying about a day job, but I am thankful that I have made it to clout Level 4 in less than six months! Then I would never have to worry about my schedule or my daughter’s schedule.  But it will come in time.

A long time ago I got a fortune in a cookie.  It says, “Whoever wants to reach a distant goal must take small steps.”  I am making those steps.

Peace.