Category Archives: Finances

Breaking Up with Mr. Monopoly

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I’ve had a bad relationship with this guy.  He’s the man from the board game Monopoly — otherwise known as the man who teaches kids to hoard money and screw their friends out of everything they own.  He’s the one who pushes everyone to buy buy buy.  He’s consumerism and greed.  I’m sure I’m not too far off when I say every one of us raised in today’s capitalist society has met this man.

Luckily, I was able to break it off with Mr. Monopoly fairly early.  I still remember the exact moment when I knew I was out  of his clutches.  It was eleventh grade, and my English teacher had me on the verge of tears.  He told me I was too abrasive, that I interrupted people, and I would never be rich and successful because of who I was and how I behaved.  He saw that I was getting upset, and his idea of comforting me was to say (rather nastily, I might add), “I’m teaching you how to be rich.  Don’t you want to grow up to have lots of money?”

“No,” I said, “I’d rather be happy.”

My teacher replied, “Oh — you’re one of those.”

And that, my friends, is how Mr. Monopoly and I broke up.  I was upset at the time.  Everything in my life was telling me that my teacher was right: I should want only money, and I should adjust my personality so that money could find me later.  I was wrong for focusing on something besides money, and I was going to be an outcast because of it.

But here’s the thing.  It’s been eight years since that conversation, and I’m not an outcast.  I’m happy.  I like not focusing on money.  Just as it’s unhealthy to focus solely on one person in a relationship, it’s unhealthy to make money the end-all, be-all in your life.  If you spend all your time devoted to money, there’s no time for anything else, like reading all of Jane Austen’s novels in one summer, or cooking meals from scratch, or learning a new hobby or daydreaming or walking your dog to the downtown pet store every day.  These are things I have time for because I don’t have to make it work as much with Mr. Monopoly.

I still have to talk to Mr. Monopoly on a regular basis.  But he’s not my first priority anymore.  Is he yours?  There are a few ways to tell if you’re focusing too much on acquiring money, and then a few more steps to take the sort them out.

You know you love Mr. Monopoly if…

  • You are standing in line to buy the new iPhone as soon as it comes out — and you already have last year’s iPhone in your pocket.
  • Every conversation with your friends revolves around how much money a new idea/gadget/car/problem is costing you.
  • You hate your job, but you go to work anyway because you really want a new pair of designer jeans/shoes/purse/sunglasses/watch to match the ones already in your closet.
  • You feel out of balance with your work life, but don’t want to change it because you couldn’t afford the Stuff you’re planning on buying.
  • You have thousands of dollars in credit card debt, and still keep using your cards.
  • You feel a pang of regret when you think about the environment, but don’t change any of your consumer habits because you deserve the Stuff you’re buying.

The list could go on and on.  In fact, it tends to, because actively practicing these behaviors leads to the next ones.  It’s horrible loop to be in, and often it feels like there’s no way out of this one-sided relationship.  But there is.  You have to break up with Mr. Monopoly.

You can break up with Mr. Monopoly by…

  • Readjusting your idea of comfort.  Do you really need three bedrooms if there are just two people in one house?  Use the outdoors as your third bedroom, or use your community’s resources like the library and wi-fi in coffee shops.  Get out.  Be with people.  How about your cell phone?  Do you take pictures with your camera phone often enough to warrant buying a new phone for the built-in flash?  Think smaller in terms of space, less in terms of Stuff.
  • Identifying the money-mongerers in your house — and then removing them.  This includes things like the television, where both commercials and TV shows try to sell you a “standard American lifestyle” that involves lots of new clothes, big houses, and angst over very attractive people; magazines, where advertisements and articles tell you about the next hottest life cures (here’s a hint: they’re not really cures); junk mail; even friends who care too much about money and not enough about spending quality time with you without a TV on in the background.  It’s hard to remove friends from you life, and they may turn out to be your biggest support system if you try to include them in your changes.  I suggest gently steering the conversation away from money (“do you mind if we don’t talk about what kind of car you’re planning on buying next?  I read a really great book last week, and I’m excited to know what you think.”), or asking if you can hang out without playing video games or watching a movie one night.  Let your friends know what topic is acceptable, instead of what is unacceptable.  Positivity goes a long way.  That, and finding a community of people who share your interests.
  • Giving yourself permission to move on, by saying, “I need money to survive, but it’s not the most important part of my life.”  Then going out there and try new things to figure out what is the most important part.  I promise you, by the time you actually get to getting out there and figuring yourself out, you’ll be in a much better place than when you were with Mr. Monopoly.

These steps sound easy enough, and there’s a good chance that you’re reading this thinking, “yeah, that sounds all right.  Maybe later.”  That’s cool.  File this away, until the day when you’re feeling dissatisfied with your role as a consumer in today’s society instead of an actual breathing person — when you know Mr. Monopoly doesn’t care about your feelings, and you’re tired of feeling that way.  Then come back, roll up your sleeves, and get ready for some hard work.  It’s worth it.

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©2010 at Simple Savvy, the simple living blog where I had a few awesome teachers who taught me how to get away from Mr. Monopoly.  Maybe I’ll tell you about them some time.  Image courtesy of rutty.

Green Wedding Recap

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I have a confession to make: we did not choose every greenest option possible for our wedding.  Like most couples getting married, Mr. Savvy and I had a budget, and had to compromise on quite a few of our choices.  Was it beautiful?  Yes.  Did we end up married at the end?  Yes.  Did we have fun?  Well, you be the judge:

The day started with a hair appointment with my sister and a friend, and lots of smiles.  We used hair products we already owned.  They weren’t natural or organic in any way, but they also weren’t new.  (Second confession: I have a habit of keeping hair products I don’t use, sometimes for years.  My hair just does its own thing.  I try not to get in the way.)

My dress was made from bamboo, with a polyester lining.  My sandals were leather and new.  I’ve been wearing them nonstop for the past two weeks, so I’d consider them a good return on my investment.  There was also quite a bit of tape involved in keeping the back of my dress up, which was unfortunate, but necessary as I’d lost a little weight and things didn’t fit quite right.  Oh, the best laid plans

Mr. Savvy’s outfit was entirely new, but one that he’ll use again.  We don’t go shopping often, see, so we didn’t have many nice clothes, and didn’t mind spending a little dough on things that we know we’ll reuse.

Our rings are one of my favorite parts; mine belonged to my grandmother, and Mr. Savvy’s was made from wood and recycled white gold.  My engagement ring is made up of two recycled emeralds, one new emerald, some recycled diamonds, and white gold.

We asked our attendants to wear a particular color, but gave them free range inside of that so they would pick something they’d wear again, or something they already owned.  I think we turned out well!

We used a florist who dealt only in local and organic flowers, and cut way, WAY back on the number of flowers we used.  The venue was already gorgeous — no need to dress it up any.  We either owned or rented the vases and baskets involved.  Our one splurge was a basket full of flowers so guests could tuck a flower behind their ear.

No placecards meant less paper used overall.   We created small signs printed on paper we already owned for the four reserved tables.  We did end up going with programs, something which we had hoped to avoid because they are such a waste.  In the end, we decided that saving paper took a back seat to explaining the fact that both of us changed our last names to something completely new.

Our caterer was kind enough to source local vegetables for us, especially once we explained we wanted to keep things as in season as possible.  We offered one meat and one vegetarian dish, served family style, and I believe none of the food was organic.  Our cakes were made by a friend, and our pies were brought by guests in lieu of presents.

Of course, not everyone brought a pie.  But in our Alternative Gift Registry (please note that the link points to a sample registry!), we specified that we already had so much Stuff from living together for four years that we didn’t need a wafflemaker and another set of wineglasses.  Instead, guests brought us handmade items, consumables, and gifts made by local craftsmen.  We ended up with many unique presents, including some vintage family things and a donation to Heifer International.  I was truly touched by the thought that went into the gifts we received; people went out of their way to give us something creative.

We had a kids’ table full of toys we’ve amassed over the years and leftover art supplies from my collection.  It was a big hit, and cleared out some of our clutter to boot!

We didn’t give out favors, (although there would have been some plant centerpieces to give away if I had remembered to pack them in the car…) and I don’t think anyone missed them.  We had a few things for people to take home, however: we included a basket full of flip flops so our guests could play outside without getting their good shoes dirty, and a bin of temporary tattoos for everyone to have fun with.  I gave my bridesmaids vintage presents, although you don’t get to see a photo or know what they are — handing them out slipped my mind on the day, and I still have one left for my friend who reads the blog.

We used recycled seed paper for our invitations, sealed with cotton thread and a flour/water paste.  They were made to fold up so that there wasn’t a separate envelope. We  opted not to include an RSVP card, but had our friends and family call or email us, and we relied heavily on our wedding website to disseminate important information.    Our save-the-date cards were postcards, printed on regular paper in the interest of time and money.

We decided to step away from the traditional guestbook and asked our guests to write their names and a note on a square of fabric that we then tied into a handfasting cord.  Now that the wedding is over, I’ll sew the squares into a quilt that we can show off in our home.  We used one yard of new fabric and a bit more than one yard of vintage fabric.

For our honeymoon, we drove the three hours to a greenish hotel in Vermont.  I say greenish because they’re not LEED certified, but they do compost, grow some of their own food, encourage recycling right in the guest rooms, and ask their guests to consider reusing their towels.  They also donated some of their 2700 acres of land to the town’s conservation program so that it would never be sold for development.   I’ll give you a hint as to where we stayed:

Phew!  And that’s it in a nutshell: nine months of planning summed up in one post.  Any questions?

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©2009 at Simple Savvy, the simple living blog where I wonder why tearing down trees and putting up concerete buildings and roads is considered “development.”  Images of the wedding are courtesy of Andrew Coutermarsh, a fantastic photographer and friend.  If you would like to contact Andrew for your own photography purposes, let me know and I’ll set you up!   All other images belong to me.

PLEASE NOTE: I normally don’t have any comments policy (although I will delete spam).  But for this blog post, I reserve the right to delete comments that I think are rude and derogatory.  It is my wedding we’re talking about, after all.

Guest Post: Switching from the Purge Mentality

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This first guest post comes from Katie at the fantastic Making This Home.  Katie and her husband Martin moved to Berlin, Germany last year, where they reside in a 480 square foot apartment.  Be sure to check out their amazing kitchen remodel, and some of the ideas they have for saving space — I love their hanging, sliding bike garage in the hallway.

My husband and I move a lot, so you can probably guess that we go through our stuff all the time.  Each time we’re moving, I get really excited to purge the clutter.  But after our last move overseas to Germany, I realized we needed to switch from the purge mentality and into the stop-buying-all-that-stuff ideology.

If your house is like ours sometimes, it’s easy to grab a cute little item from the $1 bins at Target or grab a cute pad of paper from the shipping center.  In addition to being a very un-green habit, our tendency to buy here and there will also unknowingly bog our lives down.  We don’t always realize how much stuff we’re accumulating and not using (like every one of those $1 items I’ve ever grabbed) and how much we’re spending until we stop and really look at our habits.  We just get sadder and more frustrated for having so many things.

Here’s some of our diehard habits we’ve been working on because we’re not always going to have the chance to declutter several times a year, which is how often we move:
First we stopped grocery shopping at super centers.  It’s just too easy to venture into the other end of the store, you know?
Second I share my purchases with my husband.  If I feel embarrassed showing him what I buy (like two of the same shirt in different colors), it’s probably a good sign that I don’t even need what I’m spending our money on.
Third is asking myself when I’ll need or use something.  If I need it in the next week, I should get it.  A lot of women love to buy huge quantities of fabric that never get used.  It’s easy to do if you love to sew.  But fabric often just becomes more stuff.  If you’re not going to use it this week, skip it.
Finally do the math.  How many hours of work will it take you to pay for this item?  Is it worth that type of commitment?  The worst is when you can’t actually pay cash for something and end up paying interest.  Suddenly the little $3.50 magazine bill is collecting interest over the months.
Thanks, Katie!  Find more of her great content and some truly awesome photos of her apartment at Making This Home.

How to Shop at Whole Foods

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Whole Foods is crazy

If you’ve ever been to a Whole Foods store, you know that it can be crowded full of people mesmerized by the displays of expensive organic foods in front of them.  At least, that’s the way the Whole Foods is near me: There are masses of humanity, all paused in their shopping routines, mulling over conventionally grown broccoli and organic Belgian endive, and deciding between the least smelly cheeses available.

Our food budget is small, so we don’t shop at Whole Foods for staples, but I like to pop in once a week to pick up organic meat and certain other items, like gluten free pasta or vegetarian taco mix, depending on who I plan on feeding in the coming week.  I find that shopping at Whole Foods takes a certain strategy.  Here’s how I go about it:

1.  Grab a basket and head inside.

2.  Use evasive maneuvers to weave through the produce section.  Avoid shoppers entranced by the exotic foods, like white asparagus and baby bok choy.

3.  Drool a moment over the chocolate and cheese sections (strategically placed next to each other, you’ll notice).

4.  Stop by meat counter to buy sale meat, and only sale meat.

5.  Try to find specialty item not available in your local supermarket.

6.  Try to find staff member who can help you find specialty item not available in your local supermarket.

7.  Crash into someone’s cart parked in your way as you sight staff member.

8.  Apologize profusely to other customer.  Lose sight of staff member.

9.  Head back to aisle where specialty food item would be, if it was available in your local supermarket.

10.  Stare at shelves one last time without sighting specialty item.

11.  Attempt to make your way to cash registers.

12. Every aisle is blocked by carts.  Keep walking until you hit bakery at opposite end of store.

13.  Circle around to front of store.

14.  Narrowly miss toppling a sampling station of salsa and crackers.

15.  Reach cash registers.

16.  Decline to donate a dollar to Whole Foods charity.

17.  Thrust reusable bags at bagger, who has already bagged half of your items.

18.  Exit store.  Breathe.

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©2009 at Simple Savvy, the simple living blog where there are no local butchers near us that I know of.  Maybe when we don’t live in suburbia.  Image courtesy of Midtown Lunch.