Hello readers! I am back from two weeks in Europe (well, I've been back for a week, but then I had a house guest staying with me and work to catch up on.)
Also, I decided to paint my living room this weekend... I forgot how difficult and time consuming painting is. I thought I would be able to do it all in one day, but of course, it took two. And there are so many more rooms to paint before the icky brown color that currently coats the walls is all painted over.
The paint is not a "necessary" expense, since I can certainly live comfortably even if the walls are painted the wrong shade, but I am really happy I did it. I haven't bought any living room furniture yet, but I couldn't even think about what colors of furniture to get when I didn't know what color the walls were going to be. I went with a light green, which is a bit more ... luminous than I had planned (more glow-in-the-dark shade than the soothing shade I imagined), but on the other hand, the room is MUCH brighter!!
Some home expenses that were more necessary - buying a lawn mower, swing blade, and rake... the grass/weeds in the back yard were getting up to waist high in some spots, and I had to get the lawn mower sooner or later anyway. We chose a Husqvarna reel mower (no motor), hence also buying the swing blade, which will let us cut the grass down to a more manageable height before trying to push the mower through it.
The problem with trying to follow the advice of frugal bloggers like Mr. Money Mustache, is that they already have living room furniture and lawnmowers and ladders and things. I mean, I can put off buying living room furniture for awhile, but eventually it gets a bit ridiculous, and plus, then I don't want to invite anyone over to visit me at home, because where will they all sit?
Does anyone else struggle with trying to save money when you're missing things that you don't really *need* but that it's odd not to have? (Like furniture!) I've found that if I wait long enough, free things do tend to turn up...
We often use "Keeping up with the Joneses" to refer to the phenomenon of people spending more than they can afford in order to act like they have the same income as their neighbors. (Who are probably also spending more than they can afford.)
But keeping up with the Joneses is not just limited to overspending. We live in a competitive society, and it seems like we can also get competitive about frugality - or even going green!
This family made headlines for their zero-waste household. They produce absolutely no garbage, and only a small amount of recycling. Of course, we should all be so good to the environment, and yet the comments on this article show how angry people get at this family! Many commenters acidly point out that the family can only do this because they are wealthy, and one spouse stays at home (making their somewhat cumbersome grocery shopping process easier I suppose?) Some commenters suggest that the family is lying about their success, that their kids are just as consumerist as their peers, but wait until they're over at a friend's house to show it.
But really, if we all implemented just a couple of their trash-saving techniques, we would be doing the world a favor. No one is saying you HAVE to be like this family. Maybe you can't afford the stuff they buy package-free and all-natural, but no one is saying that YOU must, just because this family does. They are simply shining examples of the trashlessness that is potentially possible to achieve. The value in their story to you lies in finding the bits and pieces that you can adopt in your own life to reduce your trash a little bit.
But people get angry because they're competitive. They think because this family is 100% trash free, then they will be expected to achieve that too. When you think about it rationally, there's no reason to be upset with these people - if we all reduce our trash by 10%, we'd have a huge effect on the environment. If a family reduces their trash 100%, they make up for 9 of their neighbors NOT cutting trash 10%.
I see the same reactions to "extreme" frugality. For example, I enjoyed this post from Mr. Money Mustache outlining how to take into account all of the true costs of commuting. The points MMM brought up made me realize it is more worth it to pay more rent to continue to live close to work. After reading through the post once, I left with the realization that MMM had recommended biking to work if possible, but as a driver, that the rest of the article was still applicable to my situation.
Later, I stumbled across a post on another blog viciously attacking MMM's analysis of commuting costs. Commenters on this blog agreed that his advice was ridiculous, that he thought everyone should bike to work, that the advice was useless since most people don't want to show up sweaty to work.
But MMM never held a gun to your head and said "bike to work!" so what's all the fuss about? He had some good points on how people don't sit down and calculate exactly how much more their commute will cost for each mile they move further from work. Based on my reading of the post, again, I saw a set of ideas and tools that I could pick and choose from to apply or not apply in my life, depending on whether they would work with my lifestyle. So why do people get so angry?
Again, I think our competitive natures cause us to lash out when we see someone else living the dream of early retirement - when we get their advice on how they manage it, and find it's not what we want to do, we try to attack THEIR lifestyle and ideas.
Do you find yourself resenting frugality bloggers for being able to bike to work when you can't? Do you feel guilty for not being as green as your neighbors are? Who are your personal Joneses? Who are the people you try (perhaps too) hard to keep up with?
If I want my dog to have a few hundred acres like this to run in one day, I'm going to have to start saving!
It's funny how things in life work out. If I didn't have a dog, I would probably be living in a studio apartment in a nice part of town paying $900/month in rent right now. Instead, when I moved into the city, I needed a place with a yard and roommates that would be willing to let my dog out for me when I'm working late.
So instead of $900/month in rent, I'm paying only $325. I share a house with two really conscientious roommates who have dogs for my dog to play with. I get more social interaction than I would living on my home, plus two people with more time than I have for cleaning the house.
As far as renting goes, I don't think that I could find a better situation. It's far from perfect - the house itself has some major heating and cooling issues - but I think it's unlikely I'd find another place that would work as well for me. However, now is a great time to buy, and in this city it would be easy to buy a house even with only a year of work under my belt.
But is it a good idea? I don't think that home prices will go down, but I think that compared to my rent now, I definitely will lose money on renting. Am I going to stay in the city for a long enough time to make buying worth it? Who knows!!
I am happy staying where I am for another year maybe, but if I'm in the city for the five to ten years needed to make a house worth it, then now is the time to buy! Not only are houses cheap, but my income is still low enough to qualify for some down payment assistance programs from the city.
The cons are pretty big though - a higher monthly payment, inflexibility if I need to move for work. The scary commitment of a mortgage. The responsibility for maintaining a house, and screening tenants.
The pros are also less tangible than the cons - more control over who I live with, being able to settle in more permanently (decorate, start a garden, etc.)
This week, my rational brain is winning out, and I understand that spending the next few years renting at this low rate will allow me the freedom to move wherever I want, and buy a much nicer house with the money I've saved up. But next week, the irrational desire to own my own home may take over!
So, I'm setting a goal to reach $6,000 in cash savings by December. $2,000 of that is for a trip to Spain, so the real savings will only be $4,000. I already have some cash saved towards an emergency fund, but I'm not including that in the $4,000. I am also not lowering my monthly payments to my student loan, or the amount I put towards investment accounts each month (cutting both of those to the minimum would make this way too easy!) I make enough money and have low enough bills that I should have met my emergency fund goal by now. I haven't.
If I decide after a few months that buying a house is the way to go, then the more cash I have saved, the better. If I decide to keep renting, having the extra cash certainly won't do me any harm.
I need to start practicing some more frugal habits - this became apparent to me when I looked at some items like my grocery spending in June. There are people out there with whole families eating healthier than I do for less than I have been spending. Cutting my grocery budget and cooking healthy meals at home instead of eating out is a big part of my plan to save more cash.
I have added a couple of goal meters to my sidebar to measure how much I'm putting away in my trip-to-spain fund, how much of the $4,000 in cash I save every month, and how far along I am in paying off my student loans.
Photo by BobMarley753 on Flickr