Category Archives: making good choices

try using only half

Early in my time in Portland (before we hit our debt payment plan hard), I was exploring different ways to maintain quality of life, while living clean and healthy with less waste. Our little cottage is fully furnished but didn’t have much in the way of cleaning supplies. Since we were living out of our car for most of 2010, we didn’t have things like big bottles of shampoo or detergent sitting around, and were determined not to mindlessly clutter up our shelves with big plastic bottles full of chemicals. ((This was the time I discovered the wonders of Dr. Bronner’s, a nature-friendly soap that can be used for everything from doing laundry to personal hygiene. It’s kind of spendy when you first get the bottle, but a refill only costs about $3.))

One of the ideas that has been the most useful to me over the past year is a simple guideline: use only half. Whether it’s toothpaste or laundry soap or a sheet of paper, if you use half of something, you won’t need to refill or replace it as soon. You have doubled its value and shelf life. The easiest is with dryer sheets. I just take kitchen shears and cut all of the sheets in half or thirds and the results are just as fine, maybe better. There are certainly variations on this, and sometimes using half the recommended amount is not enough (start with half and then add to that amount a little until you reach desired end result). I was surprised at how many things in life, such as the daily dollop of shampoo, that I had defaulted into using as much as DOUBLE the recommended amount.

I don’t remember where I picked up this simple guideline; it was probably someplace like – but I have thoroughly enjoyed working that principle into the fabric of my life as we worked out our debt snowball and our struggle with materialism/consumerism in the past year.

It’s less about money and more about philosophy and habit.
Try using only half. It’s just a little thing but it can change your relationship with substances forever.

iphone or millionaire?

When the iphone first came out, I was not attracted to it at all. A lot of my colleagues – I was surrounded by photographers at the time – were really excited that they would take their “business” with them (and being able to immediately respond to wedding inquiries might mean the difference between getting a chance at a job and losing out to someone else). After going through initial curiosity stage, I began to see the iphone craze as just another expensive luxury that was being marketed as necessary to our overcaffeinated generation. And I was suspicious about the ability to check email from anywhere, because I already feel that I overcheck email as it is. I believe it is healthy to have some parts of life (vacations, car trips, and waiting in line) excluded from being plugged in.

As newer! faster! sleeker! generations of the iphone came out, more and more of my peers were sucked in. You could hear people calling into the Dave Ramsey show asking for advice to file for bankruptcy who had just spent a bonus check to purchase the entire family matching iphones instead of putting money toward paying off the credit cards or mortgage or putting food on the table. I shake my head, judgmentally, as friends who I know don’t have any extra money sign up for $40/month data plans and justify it with explanations about saving money because they put other family members on the same plan (what?).

I have to admit, I am still sometimes judgmental of iphone users.

I don’t want to be this way, and I have to recognize that most of the people I respect in life use these clever little devices. I admit that I too would check my twitter stream while waiting in the never-ending line at the Piedmont post office if I had a data plan in my pocket. I admit that I would feel a lot better if I had GPS with me at any time or could check a flight status in transit. And, if used properly, the device just might allow some of us to vacation better, leaving laptops at home.

But… iphone or millionaire, people? I choose millionaire.


I know it’s not perfect, but it makes you think, doesn’t it?

One little lifehack that has allowed me to have many of the benefits of the iphone but virtually none of the expense is the ipod touch. In the past four years, I’ve worn one ipod to death, and am dangerously close to wearing out a second. I use this daily to check in on blog feeds, twitter streams, and facebook in a noninvasive way, and also to reference my calendar and contact information on the go. The ability to access music, audiobooks, contacts, calendars, and photos anywhere, plus the ability to access internet, email and streaming pandora wherever there’s wifi available means that I can still travel light if I don’t need to access my photo editing software or write long email responses which encourages me to leave work at home. Note: suspicious of the “koolade” factor, I tried the ipad when it first came out but couldn’t justify the expense and the size versus the relative benefit against the simple little ipod touch.

So, I don’t mean to be judgmental about this, but I’m really glad I decided against the iphone and subsequent data plan charges back in 2008. There have been moments of weakness and data plan envy – especially when I am stuck somewhere and could really benefit from being able to access Yelp reviews or check for an important email notification… but I keep coming back to that idea expressed in the comic… iphone or millionaire? DELAYED GRATIFICATION!

Full disclosure: Ali does have a hand-me-down jailbroken iphone he hacks with a $10/mo data plan.

So, readers. I know I might have alienated about 80% of you with this manifesto. Do you love your iphone? Does it help you do life better? I won’t judge you if you share (unless you really can’t feed your kids this month).


My theme of the month is SPEND OUT. I want to wear dresses even on weekdays, use up the markers and notepads I have stashed around the house, and make sure to eat all the delicious fruit before it goes bad. I want to finish up gift cards I’ve been hoarding and read the good books I’m saving on my shelves. I want to spend it all, these resources I have stockpiled and these things that I have somehow come to believe should only be trotted out on rare and special occasions. What am I saving it for if not to enjoy today?

ABUNDANCE! I want to live in abundance mentality, not in fear of scarcity.

[Hat tip to The Happiness Project for the challenge]

Also, this wonderful little video is charming me today:

via @swissmiss


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How do we do it?

There’s no question that we’re paying off a load of debt every month. It’s obvious that many of our peers, regardless of current job situation, are plugging away on minimum payments every month, headed for a ten- or twenty-year payoff date. Some do this while leasing new (“reliable!”) cars, gaining mortgages on big houses, and enjoying luxuries like vacations, eating/drinking out, and new electronics. (Caveat: I was a music major, so my friends from college who pursued the arts as a career are often literally hand to mouth, a situation I do not envy).

We’re big believers in the money management principles set forth in the Dave Ramsey / Total Money Makeover plan, known as the “Baby Steps.” After putting aside an emergency fund, you move toward paying off all of your debts smallest to largest in what’s known as a debt snowball, building psychological and financial momentum moving toward freeing up your money for investments, building wealth, and a lifestyle of extreme generosity.

Within a marriage, to work a generalization, one partner is often a spender (the “free spirit”) and the other is often a saver/numbers person (the “nerd”). Opposites attract, right? (This old clip gives a pretty succinct explanation.) It’s probably obvious to most people that I am the free spirit in this marriage, often buying things for all kinds of reasons… it will solve my problems, it will be fun, it will make a nice gift, it’s a good deal, it will come in handy, I will totally do that project when I have time. I discovered that I even buy things to prove to myself that I am “not poor.” As I started to think deeply into my motivations, the revelations started to make me blush. My relationship with money is rooted in feeling like there’s never enough DESPITE MY MIDDLE CLASS UPBRINGING, and is tied into a deep fear I cannot yet name. I suspect that having signed on for huge student loans I didn’t understand as one of my first independent adult choices fuels many lingering feelings of anger and frustration.

As we move through this year making intentional choices to live on less and eliminate extra expenses, I do not find myself less content than when I was ignorantly buying whatever I wanted in previous years. I’m focusing a lot of my energy on finding creative solutions when I want something, and learning to defer large purchases in order to Make Do with Less, or Old, or Borrowed. There is deep satisfaction in finding a good solution to a problem without having thrown money at the issue (an old habit I’d like to eradicate from my system).

When we talk with people about our project, I often find myself sharing a few bullet points:

  • We stopped buying things we don’t need.
  • We spend less on things we do need.
  • We spend more on certain things we value (locally sourced goods).
  • We carefully audit our entertainment options. Eating and drinking out is rare, as is spending money to do “fun” things. (Plenty to do in Portland for free!).
  • Ali makes me a sandwich every morning for lunch.
  • We use the library more. And public transportation [Ali]. Shared resources are wonderful.
  • We rent a fully furnished, small home. Without the need to fill space with furniture, and no place to store extra things, there is little motivation for aimless shopping trips. (This is a surprisingly helpful factor.) Also: no repair/maintenance costs and all utilities included is a huge point of savings.
  • I got a job. Our income is up, with a second steady paycheck to help supplement our debt snowball.

I’d like to talk more about Day Job versus Self Employment later. And Bringing Lunch. And Public Transportation. They all deserve their own little posts.

Final point for today: if you followed the link above, you may have noticed that the last baby step is to give generously. If the end point of the lifestyle was piles of wealth, I would not be on board with the program. Instead, the end point is the word “GIVE.” I love hearing Dave speak about this topic, because he gets almost giddy encouraging people to get rich and give it all away. I am excited and look forward to months in the near future when we have freed up funds to give more away in support of people doing Good in the world.

Today, we bought a $60 book.

Mumsy is in town for a few days visiting Portland for the first time. We had a wonderful first day together – food carts for lunch, farmers market for fun samples, and walking Alberta to give mom a taste of local culture and people.

Along the way we visited so many delightful artisan markets. Alberta Street has a vibrant culture, rich in experience and flavor. I loved having an excuse to purchase a couple of Mel’s hilarious, whimsical, charming art cards from Redbird Studio and always enjoy the ambiance of the store – celebratory bunting, natural light, and beautiful art colors. I’m so glad we found them through Supportland! I also have a $20 gift certificate from an IHEARTARTpdx lucky win for collage so I was going in to check it out for the first time. I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised. I didn’t expect a “scrapbooking” store to be so well curated. Lots of fun bits to spend out my prize in a future shopping spree. Well done, collage! And thank you, iheartart! Finally, we wanted to stop by Back to Eden vegan bakery for a cool drink on the way back to the car, but the line was too long and we didn’t see tea on the menu. Luckily, next door is Townshend’s Tea. (Follow them on twitter! Check them out.) Ambiance, comfy seating, natural light, mellow vibe, a huge tea list and ridiculously affordable prices mean that this is one establishment I will frequent. Thank you Townshends People — I am happy to meet you. Mwah.

The reason I am sitting down to write this post is that I recognized a brand from yesterday’s work-related research of Portland-area designers. I really liked the name and branding for Ampersand Vintage (Twitter here). Highly recommended, whether entertaining your mother or just out to explore.

In Ampersand, we bought a book for $60. I didn’t hesitate to spend that much money on a book, and didn’t even want to go buy it from Amazon for half the price. The reason I immediately, unhesitatingly shelled out the money is that as Ali was browsing the book stopped him dead in his tracks. Asking questions about the product, his voice quavered a little and he said “this is beautiful.” We often joke about Ali’s lack of accessible emotions versus my constant life drama. We balance each other well, but when he sees me tear up when I walk into Therese Murdza’s art studio or when listening to a poignant moment of a soviet-era symphony, I think he is a little bit jealous because he doesn’t really feel things like that. Today in that little curiosity shop, looking at a well-designed book about math theories, Ali was moved. And that $60 to our new curator friend is a small price to pay for setting the stage for my husband to get a little bit emo. Thank you, Ampersand, for your well thought collection and artful displays. You helped set the stage for a milestone.

the elements of Euclid

April Spencer Update

This one is running a little late because we were travelling in the Bay Area for a wedding the past week. We have a pretty nice setup there. I am originally from there so we have a place to stay and a car to use to get around while we are there. My company also has a small satellite office so I can take several extra days and work from there. This allows me to fly on off peak days and still save up my vacation days.

It appears we are starting to get some consistency on our spending and budget.

debt snowball spencer rhino

starting total (12/1/10): $69,176.76
paid so far: $40,500.00
left to go before 12/31/2011: $29004.59

Your Money or Your LIfe…

My hypothesis – we think about money too much, but we don’t talk about money often or honestly enough.

There seems to be a great deal of baggage automatically bundled with financial topics. From what I can see most people experience extreme, negative emotions – shame, greed, and and scarcity mentality – when they consider their financial situation. It’s easy to think about money too much. So why don’t people talk about it more?

We discovered, since starting this journey to financial freedom, that sharing our financial goals seems to give others permission to share their own story. A chorus of me too resonates any time we talk about the huge size of our debt or the fact that we’re keen to be rid of this burden. And a chorus of Instead, you should… comes from many who have walked the path before and found a way they consider successful. It’s fascinating from every angle – socially, psychologically, spiritually.

Thinking back to my ignorant younger years, I wish I had honest and thought-provoking conversations about money when I was in college.  If only I had been able to realize how little I understood at the time, you bet your boots I would have gone right out and gotten some education to mind that gap – and certainly would have thought twice about those convenient sign-on-the-dotted-line educational loans. Boy, life would be different if I had understood how to make dollars mind their own business at an earlier age. But I digress.

I came here to share this – local Portland artist Jill Bliss recently blogged about a fantastic resource – a book called “Your Money or Your Life.” I’m so honored that she linked to our little blog from her post! Upon her recommendation, Ali went out and got the book from the library and has been enjoying it since.

Also, awhile back I came across a really cool post on one of those crazy-popular blogs called SimpleMom. This post talks very openly and honestly about money – and the comments are great! Let’s Talk Money at SimpleMom.

celebrating… the budget way?

We’re celebrating Ali’s birthday this weekend, and had a really fun time hanging out with friends at the bowling alley yesterday. Two hours of bowling for 10 people – $85. Not bad! The best part was inviting a special birthday buddy for Ali, a three year old who was experiencing bowling for the first time. Now that alone was worth the price of admission! We asked friends to bring some treats in lieu of gifts and ended up with a large booty – red velvet birthday cake, lemon and chocolate cupcakes, and the most delicious chocolate chip cookies. (Three cheers for people who know how to make delicious baked goods!) We also had a star sighting – Jenny Conlee (aka “Sparkle Pony” from Portlandia) who is apparently Kind of a Big Deal as a member of Portland-sourced The Decemberists (of course they have woodland creatures on their website!) was bowling a few lanes down with her husband and badass entourage. After bowling, we went across the street and tried valiantly to hit up happy hour, but a 45 minute wait at Hopworks Brewery pushed us out of that option into less budget friendly but still yummy territory. Overall, budgeting in the $100 price range for a birthday celebration with cupcakes, local indie rockers, and hoppy beer is not bad at all… with a nod to the fact that everyone paid for their own dinners!

In fact, while we are on the topic, this is a DOUBLE CELEBRATION WEEK! I’ve mentioned before, Ali and I were married on a day that doesn’t exist in most years… leap day! We decided early on that we would choose to celebrate yearly in a tiny way, but REALLY ROCK IT OUT every four years when out real anniversary date comes around — with a big [international?] trip of some sort. At the moment we are thinking about visiting Kenya or maybe Iceland for February 29, 2012 assuming we can slay this rhino before that time and pile up cash for international travel. Ali teased me that we’d have to take next year’s anniversary trip to the Oregon Coast and it made me sad (no offense to the coast, but… KENYA!).

This year we will celebrate modestly by doing our Bizarre Anniversary Portrait this afternoon, and perhaps eat a celebratory burrito on Tuesday. One of the things that charms me about Ali is that he has an innate ability to make the smallest things into adventures, so something as seemingly everyday as a trip to a food truck to grab a burrito turns into all kinds of awesome.

Celebrations are important, and I’m glad we have enough wiggle room in our budget to plan for spending time with friends for a bowling alley birthday party and taking an afternoon to stage a Bizarre Portrait.