Category: Money

My Ideal Home

Sometimes my wife and I think of projects to do. One of them involves a plan to buy an empty lot a little further out from the city where we will build a very plain looking home, with the inside under built so we can finish it ourselves. Then we’ll till the land and do our own small scale organic farming. We also plan to raise some chickens and maybe sheep. My wife prefer sheep but I prefer goats because they are hardy and can eat weeds. We’ll have guard dogs to protect us and our farm animals.

Ideally, the house will sit on the higher elevation of the land, with a small stream at the bottom of the grassy meadow. We will probably dig a well so we can have our own water supply and attach solar panels so we can have electricity without depending on the grid.

The best part of living this dream is planting and harvesting our own vegetables and herbs and cooking our own produce. It’s almost a self sufficient lifestyle. We studied sewing so we might even end up doing our own drapery or patio covers or anything that a sewn fabric is needed. We will add colorful LED lights to trees and in fences so the place would have a festive atmosphere all year long.

Oh, it’s great to dream. All we need now is funding and lots of time.

Here’s the funny part. I grew up in a rural area just like I describe above. The house is a lot smaller than what we plan to have but it also sits at the higher elevation of several levels of terrace protecting us from any flooding from a stream below.

Yes, there were chickens roaming freely, except at night when they go to a wire enclosure to protect them from predators. We had dogs and geese giving instant alarm when any stranger is within a dozen yards of the fence. We didn’t raise any goat or sheep but we had hogs. Hogs are not fun at all. The aroma of the pigpen is not something I wish on anyone.

We had our own well which supplied water for us and for some of our neighbors. Years later, my father added a concrete water tank complete with an electric pump to pump water from the now enclosed well and deliver it to the house via gravity.

We had some plants:  citrus plants, coffee tree, corn at times, sweet potatoes, peanuts, several leafy veggies and squash galore. We had avocado, banana (not a tree) and papaya trees that oversupply us with fruits. We enjoyed eating our own harvest of fruits and vegetables.

We were off the power grid for at least several years Our area was still kilometers away from town center that it cost tons of money to have electrical connection. Television? I didn’t watch TV until I was in high school. I was glad because I was able to focus on my studies and reading dozens of books.

We finally had electricity in our village after about seven years. It was fun having it because now we could really light the inside of our home and the front and side yards at night. It looked festive at times even when it’s not the holidays.

So my life had come full circle – from living in a rather primitive lifestyle to moving to the city to work and take college classes. Then joining the Navy, living on a ship and shore installations.

I lived in a city environment almost all my navy career. It’s not too crowded back then but it’s still a city. Now I want to go back to a simple life – being in the country, enjoying what nature has to offer.

Oh, it’s great to dream. All we need now is funding and lotsa time.

 

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Where Do We Waste Money?

I was reading an article from http://www.cheatsheet.com the other day and in it is something about where Americans waste their money. As you know, I’m totally opposed to gambling because it is a losing proposition for the average guy or gal. Someone even called gambling “tax for the stupid” because a gambling place is always designed to win (mathematically and in reality). But gambling is barely discussed in that article.

In the actual article or post, the money-wasting categories were divided into different generations:  Baby boomers, Generation X and Millennials. In this post I will try to simplify it and just point out a group of them common to all generations. It is in no particular order. I think we can add a dozen more to this but we don’t have to. We can use the list to check whether we have something we want to change.

Here’s the List:

Eating out

Drinking Alcohol

Cigarettes

TV cable subscription

Bottled water

Entertainment

Hobbies

Car or Gas

Credit card interest

Expired or uneaten food

Hobbies

Streaming services

Let me give you some little footnotes on some of them. These are from experiences, some are not necessarily mine – but it may be helpful.

I remember the days when we drank out of drinking fountains with filtered water. These days there are many good filters out there, that can filter tap water way better than commercially bottled water. There’s even some that filter viruses, bacteria and fluoride.

I cut off cable TV subscription and it was one of the best decisions ever. No, we don’t miss regular programming. We pay for some streaming services which is a whole lot cheaper than going to the movie theater or paying monthly cable bill.

About cars – someone wrote “buy (not lease) the best car you can afford and keep it for a long time (at least 7 years). I think that’s a good advice. Good gas mileage in a car saves hundreds of dollars a year. When gasoline prices go sky high (like in 2008), many full-size trucks can be bought at a bargain.

Alcohol probably gets millions of people in trouble and causes many fatalities especially if taken just before driving. Enough said.

I think the best way to quit smoking is cold turkey. It will be hard the first few days, but it is much better than buying nicotine patches because it still cost money and puts poison in the body.

Entertainment expenses uses up tens of thousands of dollars per year for some people. We don’t really need to be entertained every single waking hour, but high pressure and advertising at every corner makes us think that we “deserve” to be entertained, after a hard day’s work. Do we, really?

One of the ways to avoid interest rates on credit cards is to avoid buying things we don’t need and cannot afford, to impress people we dislike.

Hobbies: I like to do have many hobbies, but I’d rather concentrate on the ones I like most. Two hobbies is my limit. It’s less expensive that way and I still don’t have excess time to do them all.

Maybe when I semi-retire?

These are just some of the stuff that’s worth mulling in our minds over and over. Is it a necessary expense?  Maybe we’ll have a fuller life without those things mentioned above? OK, it’s not maybe – it’s for sure. But even a small decrease amounts to much. Eating out one day a week less equals $600 savings a year. Maybe more.

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Minimalist Me

The other day I was reading an article about two minimalist guys – I think they are called “The Minimalists” on their website. Then I happened to watch a documentary on them. It’s kinda interesting. If you are interested, please search for them. It’s a liberating lifestyle – they don’t have to rely much on materialism to live a fuller life.

That got me into thinking about my own place in the world of minimalism. Am I a card carrying member of minimalism? I guess we’ll find out. Don’t take me seriously in this post. It’s a light hearted banter about living a simpler life.

Here’s my take on my attempt at minimalism:

I read about this guy who owns more than 60 suits? Wow, that’s more than my entire wardrobe. He was a fashion writer, but 60? In comparison, I have one. I guess that qualifies me to be a minimalist.

The other day, I was contemplating about getting a new pair of shoes. Instead, I ordered replacement outer soles and contact cement. I decided to become a cobbler – at least for one of my shoes so I won’t have to buy a new one. Minimalist at heart, good ol’ me. I have a feeling that this outer sole will come off my shoes within a few weeks so we’ll see.

For almost 8 years now, we used jelly glass jars or pickle jars as drinking glasses. We use them as lunch containers sometime too. They are also great containers for things you wanted to be able to see without opening the container, and they are free.

This year, we are taking a vacation from vacations. We may have some time off from work but we’re not going anywhere where we will spend $$$.  Minimalist moi indeed!

I plan to continue to be absent from any sporting events in person and watching on TV this year and in the years to come. That will result in hundreds of hours saved per year, and more rest or productivity from yours truly.  Hundreds of dollars saved is the icing on the cake. Sometimes I read sports articles and I am secretly happy that I don’t know some of the sports figures discussed.  Minimalist forever!

In case you haven’t noticed, the paragraphs above are a feeble attempt to qualify me as a minimalist. Am I really? I could tell you dozens of things that I do that are not minimalist in nature. For example: I eat good – the only thing stopping me from eating five full plates of dinner is it’s a sin (and the dire consequences, health-wise).

I wrote this hoping maybe it will serve as an inspiration to those thinking about becoming minimalists. People can be minimalists in their own small way – maybe buying a fuel sipping car (I don’t like them because they’re not quick enough), or shop daily for groceries to avoid wasted food (I’m too tired at the end of the day), or don’t eat out anymore (but many people love to eat out).

Find your own path to minimalism and enjoy it!

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My Need To Improve

I started writing this just before the last few days of last year. I might as well title this as “New Year’s Resolution” but that would be too obvious. Days passed by, I still could not figure out how to organize my thoughts but I kept on coming back and editing and finally, four weeks later…

We all need to improve, right? What do we need to improve on? There’s many facets of our lifestyle and behavior that immediately comes to mind. However, it’s only us that can honestly say which ones are subject to improvement. Without an honest assessment, it would be regression on a slow slope to mediocrity and below.

Let me start by patting myself of the back for improving on a few aspects of my life last year: namely, going to bed early and getting up early. I also got rid of watching sports on TV (I don’t watch sports in person either because it is an expensive undertaking). We got rid of cable TV also which gave us hours of productivity.

It took me years to really get into the changes stated above. I always had it in the back of my mind that to do those changes but it still took me approximately 2-4 years before I changed each habit. The intent was there, all I needed was the proper timing to make it work. It finally happened after we moved to a new place because I got so tired from moving that I chose sleep over activity.

For this year’s improvement, I had to figure out what I really wanted in life:  Time, Health, Relationships, Financial Independence (in no particular order).

From those values, I picked a few things that will enhance it.

Here’s my short list. Short so it’s doable, yet has significant positive impact.

Bible Reading

I need to read the bible more because this is one of best ways to get closer to God. I used to go cover to cover every year. Did I think I will be able to fully understand it after the first two years? No, I thought that it would give me a little familiarity for future intensive reading. The last few years I handpick the books (mostly New Testament) I want to read each year. Problem is I give myself too little to read. Goal:  One Chapter of 3-5 Books per night.

Exercise Consistency

We started a comprehensive exercise program a few months ago by joining a gym. This is just a matter of maintaining our physical fitness by going a few times a week. We do mostly 30 minutes sessions – any longer takes too much time and any lesser does not do much. Bottom line: one year at a time – consistent physical exercise by gym workouts and bicycling.

Austerity

I have discussed how we managed our finances and given advice on how to save on things and to spend wisely. I want to dive deeper. Why austerity? Because we really don’t have control on our income. But we definitely have control on income received. We become financially better off by strictly controlling our expenses. Target:  Concentrate on saving and cutting expenses daily.

There, I laid it out in the line for all to read. That makes me accountable for those goals. I’ll give you an update just before the year ends.

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Don’t Buy

Just recently I have been thinking hard about finances. It involved short term and long term planning, mostly a general picture for the future. I know even the best laid plans don’t amount to success but it’s still better to have a plan and then adjust as obstacles show up. It’s always good to look five, ten years into the future and make a financial plan.

During my deep thought process – I came across something that’s been the common denominator of any personal finance – beginning with mine. It’s spending in general, spending wisely in particular. I’ve seen many people with very high incomes yet can’t maintain their lifestyles for more than a year if their income stop. So the expenditure portion is equally important to the income and investment part of finance planning.

Here’s a few instances where spending (or not) is highlighted:

Case #1 – After preaching about minimalism, I ended up owning three bikes.  I bought the first of the three bikes in 1999. The three bicycles do different things – trail riding, cruising and fast road bike – I think I won’t be riding enough each one to justify the cost.  What’s the common denominator? I bought them. Things would have been simpler if I stayed with one bicycle. Now I would have to get rid of two…

Case #2 – I pick only a few colors for clothes so I don’t have to think much what I’m going to wear next. However, I always end up getting a new one unplanned. Common factor:  I bought a few every time I see a sale price. My justification? Buying before I need one ensures I get the best price on things.  Justified? This one is and does not require much cash outlay so it’s OK.

Case #3 – I almost bought a new car just a few days ago. It was the estimated cost of the repairs that prompted me to look at a new car. I agonized over the decision – should I buy it? I prayed for guidance (especially for major purchases). In the end I was still in doubt so I decided to cancel it and just do repairs on my 8-year old car.  My conclusion: Repairs are still much cheaper than the monthly principal and interest payments. I patted myself on the back after.

Case #4 – When choosing produce or groceries, we opt for organic food instead of the regular ones. It is more expensive but in the end it’s cheaper because it will save us from unnecessary medical costs.

For major and minor stuff, I made a list of things that I really need (and want) like tools, clothes, equipment and just purchase them whenever there’s a sale (after rethinking it a few times). Of course not all of them will be on sale. I also know from experience that some of them will be discontinued in the future so buying them today would be prudent (See Case #2 above).

For the things I consider superfluous stuff (Cable TV, Watching Live Sports, Zip Lining, TV in backseats of cars, electric skateboards, lottery tickets, chips for casino slot machines) I practice what I preach at least 95% of the time:  I don’t buy them.

How about not spending on personal items for the next six months? Hmmmm.

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Rightsizing 2016

In the previous post, I mentioned about my attempt to multi-task. I didn’t mention that it didn’t apply only to my plan to get extra income but also in my hobbies and favorite forms of exercise.

I decided to simplify without being too minimalistic.

Want a quick story? I remember buying my first truck. I told the salesman I want it with manual shifting, no radio, and no power windows, no power steering and just the most basic model. The salesman retorted: “Would you like me to include four wheels?”

That truck was able to serve 90% of my needs (mostly commuting). However, it’s kinda scary on the freeway because it refuses to go past 60 miles per hour. In emergency braking, the rear  wheels swerved from side to side making it almost uncontrollable. That purchase was a good example of being too minimalistic.

My plan for the rest of 2016:

First, let me enumerate two accomplishments:

We eliminated distractions:  the daily TV news and watching TV sports. Early this year I was still in the “watching news at 10PM mode”. But the news tend to give me negative vibes just before bedtime. Same with sports – the last sporting event that I didn’t stop watching was the Tour de France (since 1989). This year I didn’t watch it. Hold the applause, please! How did we do it? We cut cable. You should too!

Games on smartphones:  Yes, I wasted many hours on games on smartphones which I could have used to rest or sleep. Finally, I was able to get rid of playing them in the last few months. I still play but only for no longer than five minutes and only a few times a week. Major savings in time!

Now it’s time to tackle a few more concerns:

Hobby:  I’m taking on too many interest (bicycling, woodworking, manual photography, electric bicycles, electric skateboards, acrylic and water color painting) and it’s dividing my leisure time. I’m sticking to bicycling – but getting rid of two bicycles. (Don’t worry – I may get an electric bike next year). I’m still waiting for the e-bike technology to mature.

See, there’s the problem. I’m eliminating bicycles but wanted to add an e-bike. I’m also super interested in an electric skateboard. Would I use it? Probably! Would I have time to use it? Prolly not! So there you are folks, final decision is only one bicycle.  Problem is which one stays?

Equipment: I’m sticking to kettle bells for weight training. I was going to buy a barbell set and build myself a pull up bar but for now, I’ll stick to one set of equipment.  Or we can join a gym and not worry about storing any equipment.

Vehicles:  We have two SUVs (one with good gas mileage and one with great gas mileage). However, one of them is almost 8 years old and another is having issues with California emission standards. One has to go – to be replaced by a small hatchback that even sips less fuel.

Extra Income Projects:  I started with four (ebay, amazon, affiliate marketing, and this blog). I’m sticking to one: affiliate marketing. I now know that I need to focus on it until it starts rolling in the income. The rest will be shelved indefinitely. If it clashes with my day job – then it will be shelved too! The right priorities make the world go round!

There it is, dear readers! I have opened my heart for all the world to see! Is it doable? Of course!   There’s only about 14 weeks left in the year so this plan to rightsize is easy to accomplish.

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Single Tasking

About three years ago, I decided to get extra income from the internet. I did eBay and was mildly successful at it although I mainly sold all the “junk” that others considered as “good find”. I was going to start selling at Amazon too, but then I’m getting ahead of myself here.

I did a grand plan to start on four projects: I wanted to sell at amazon.com, at the same time creating a new website that will earn money from ads and affiliate marketing, as well as continuing this blog. In order to do that I concluded that I had to properly manage my time. I got a yellow pad and wrote down my schedule.

I was still recovering from my heart bypass surgery back then. So I have plenty of available time.  My daily routine is to walk 15-20 minutes twice a day for exercise, eat healthy food and I’m good to go for the day. I decided I needed about 8-9 working hours for my grand plan. First two hours dedicated to researching about amazon.com sales. Two hours for affiliate marketing. Two hours for research on improving websites, and the final two hours for this blog.

Little progress happened a few months later, I was still researching what type of website I would need for affiliate marketing. I could not decide on a topic that’s interesting for others, which at the same time is  also interesting for me. As far as Amazon, I felt I need more research because amazon.com is strict on good customer service. I was good at that in eBay (ahem) but I think amazon.com is a step higher.  This blog continued but I was unable to increase my blog output.

While working those projects, I was also honing my skill in photography using a DSLR camera.  I also decided that woodworking is for me so I started researching basic tools I would need to work on wood. I decided to get quality tools so I don’t have to buy several of the same tool. I also needed to learn which type of wood I would like to use for my projects.

A few more months and I noticed almost nothing is getting accomplished. Even this blog is not updated as much as I would like to. I wanted at least 5-10 posts per month but sometimes I just end up with four.

What’s a guy to do?

I engaged in what is widely-known and highly popular word known as “multi-tasking”. It’s very popular in the white collar workplace. With the arrival of smartphones, tablets and high powered laptops – our employers are able to squeeze every single minute of productivity. Employees loved it too because they can work any time, such as while driving a car, mowing the lawn and watching TV, and (you’ll love this one): while eating dinner with friends or family.

But based on my personal experience above – it really doesn’t work. Well, maybe for HAL (the computer in 2001: A Space Odyssey) it might work – but look at what happened to HAL. Ha Ha!

Of course, there are a few people I know that’s able to do it but I won’t even mention their names as they might buy me presents.

It took another year before I realize that I’m taking on too many projects at the same time. This year known as 2016 is especially hectic for me. A family emergency overseas, moving to a new residence and getting rid of the an old one, then another family medical emergency which lasted weeks. Life was getting too complicated. That’s when I decided I better do some down sizing or drawing down.

That would be discussed in my next post.

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