- Personal Finance
Green Luxury -- Less Pain, More Gain!
Apple Tree in Spring
Green Luxury Starts with Freebies
And some of the best freebies may be right out in your yard. I posted a photo of an apple tree in full bloom last Spring, because our apple tree just produced a good crop of tasty bright red apples. For a while there, the cost of apples per pound was higher than the price of meat!
So if you are a homeowner with a yard, look into planting edibles. Some take relatively little care, others take work and gardening but can save you a lot of money. It takes a little research to figure out what foods you can grow in your region. The more you choose plants that are native to your area, the better success and more results you'll have.
This isn't an instant-success tip. But it's one that if you do it this year, later on you will have it every year. I count good deals as being both cheap or free, and easy, labor-saving. Berry bushes are one of the best deals for that, because once established, they are like weeds. They just grow and proliferate and fruit year after year.
The cost of berries usually makes the cost of apples look pretty darn cheap, on top of it. Plus picking them and eating them outdoors is a lot of fun.
Gardening is a hobby that pays for itself in savings on food and flowers. The more of your time you put into hobbies that pay for themselves, the easier it's going to be to make the bills and purchase the things that don't pay for themselves but are worth getting, like a new MP3 player.
Any hobby or activity that goes beyond self supporting into bringing in side money is the reverse of a budget problem. That becomes part of the solution, especially if hard times hit or you're between jobs or a paycheck bounces. (Yes, this happened to me once in the 1980s!).
Environmental awareness, frugal thrifty living and personal luxury are not incompatible goals. All three can dovetail into the same life decisions, and when you start thinking of it as Green Luxury, it's not as depressing as having to tighten your belt. Budgeting becomes a happy process of deciding which extras and pleasures to purchase instead of what necessities to cut back on.
The answer to a Green Luxury budget is always unique and personal. Only you know what you enjoy doing, what you use and enjoy more than other things, what you're willing to trade off to get what else. So the start of Green Luxury budgeting is simply to know who you are and what you like.
Make a list of everything you like and want. Go ahead and put all the extravagant things on it. You may find that you can eventually get them by cutting out things you don't want and don't care about at all, or even things you hate and put up with and still waste money on out of habit.
Then take a day off from commercials, or a weekend, or an entire week. Just skip the TV. Turn it off. Do other things, hang out online, read, write, do hobbies, enjoy yourself but do not look at a television set. You can even rent movies and programs, just don't watch any commercials. I am not kidding. Turning off the TV is not for deprivation. It's to measure for yourself how much you respond to advertising pressure on TV. Also don't listen to live radio, listen to recorded music or online radio stations where you're not getting commercials.
Make the list of things you enjoy, want, want to do and want to buy again after a period of time without loud commercials. If you find at the end of the week that you're still well informed and enjoyed yourself as much as you did with TV/radio, had more time for doing things you wanted to get around to and were less stressed, that may even become a habit. But if it doesn't, you will at least see just how much effect constant pressure from invasive commercials has on your buying habits and views of stuff you want.
If your list looks very different, trust the list done without commercial pressure. Most of us think of ourselves as savvy, full of consumer resistance, don't take commercials seriously. But they work by reminding us of things we want repetitively, and they are effective in the same way that a loud annoying toddler's demands eventually get met. Listen to them long enough and some of them start to get through, especially in gray areas of things you want but can't afford, can afford but only vaguely like, and social expectations about spending.
Without commercials, Green Luxury says something simple. Buy what you actually will use and enjoy and don't waste your time and money on anything else. Then after figuring out what you do want, find the best combination of coupons, where to shop, clearance sales, online shopping, ebay, freecycle, swap lists and used goods stores to get the thing you really wanted as cheap as possible.
Also, let's fund this little spending spree. While you're hanging out online waiting to make your second list, go through your house and find all the junk you don't like and don't use. Sort it out. Slap it up on eBay and do a virtual yard sale so you have some unbudgeted money for goodies you can buy after getting the second list. Using ebay requires getting a verified PayPal account, which requires having a bank account to back your PayPal purchases.
Some of this hub is about avoiding money sinks that suck out all your spending money before you get anything good. Responding to commercials is one of those sinks. The thing that sounded good on a commercial over and over and over again that isn't something you actually like but might supposedly impress coworkers in an industry you don't work in is taking away spending money from the thing you wanted all your life since you were six and would do every day if you had it around.
There is no deprivation to this approach, just knowing yourself and prioritizing what you actually enjoy and want.
Cats Don't Worry
Just Sort It Out
I don't know anyone who would, if asked how to get the best deals on anything, would answer "I want to borrow a load of money to get it and then pay so much horrendous interest that I've bought the dang thing at full retail price four or five times over before I go bankrupt from debt." Yet this is what most Americans do when they use actual credit cards from credit card companies. This is why, on the grassroots level, the whole economic crisis is hitting.
Credit card companies offer perks like travel miles, coupons and bonuses to lure you into it and put the terms into the fine print. They know people are easily suckered in by an apparent bargain. But the best way to get any stuff you want is to actually get the money for it first and then buy it without borrowing anything or paying any interest.
What they don't say and what drives them totally buggy is people who treat their credit cards like debit cards and do not use them until they have the money to pay the entire amount as soon as the bill comes. Yep. Don't Make Payments. If you forget it's a Credit Card and treat it like a Debit Card, your credit cards can actually become a source of frequent flyer miles, added discounts, and other perks the card companies are using to get you to use their high interest short term loan service.
Do not do this if you don't have the self discipline to treat it as a debit card. You are much better off cutting up all your cards and just using a debit card from your bank instead if you can't remember that your credit limit is NOT the amount of cash you have available. It is the amount of money these companies are willing to lend you on terms that Greedo the Gangster would be familiar with.
In fact, set up a plan to pay off and clear all your cards at the start of your thrift plan. Just budget that in before actual savings other than a contingency fund. You will save more by eliminating credit card debt than you'd get on interest on a savings account, and freeing up your credit balance gives you emergency credit if you have a real emergency, like the baby's sick and needs to go to the hospital.
My daughter is paying off my grandson's medical bills for bronchitis he had when he was a few months old now, two years later, and the interest on that medical bill was ruinous. So treat buying down your debt as a top priority in budgeting -- and squeeze out some joy by not treating that as a Crash Diet.
Nobody sticks to a Crash Diet or a Crash Budget. I've been good at buying things cheap and not paying more than I have to for anything I want, and for always paying my expenses before getting luxuries for a decade now. But I had trouble making myself save up at all, even to save up for something bigger than I could do in a month's spending money. I don't have credit cards because I went bankrupt and cut them all up in the 80s. But you can substitute "buy down credit card debt" for savings with this plan and it'll still work.
So I started bribing myself to do it. I decided that since I love Terry Pratchett's Diskworld books and want to own all of them, and he's published dozens, I would buy myself a new (to me) Terry Pratchett book every month I put at least $50 into my savings. I did it last month and really enjoyed the book. This month when I planned what to do after necessities, I automatically lumped "savings" into a category with "monthly expenses and bills" and am happily choosing my next Pratchett book instead of feeling deprived because I have to do a smaller Blick order.
I know that doing this with my savings may eventually let me get a five or six hundred dollar new laptop to play Diablo 3 with. When you're planning this kind of strategy, do NOT blame yourself for any of your desires and needs. Just prioritize them by how much you're willing to do to get it and why, and understand that the most important "why" on luxuries is "Will I actually enjoy it for a long time as opposed to something I thought I wanted because ads screamed at me like a toddler with a megaphone?"
Budget a set amount of spending money every month and entertainment budget. Then put the rest of your disposable income into buying down the debt. Split unexpected windfalls in favor of buying down debt with some to spend, anywhere from 10% to 40% spending is reasonable on a windfall. That is still an unexpected chunk of money to do something fun with, but it will pay off in more spending money the first card you clear off to where it has no bill at all!
Imagine what your life would be like if you could just skip one of your monthly bills because it's not there any more. This is an awesome goal. One that will let you get more stuff later on and get the stuff you really want.
So with this section, you have the means to create a livable budget change. A set of habits to add to your life that will gradually reduce your bills and increase your financial security, while also giving you a reasonable amount of spending money. If you are so far in debt or underpaid that you have zip zero spending money, some of the ideas in the next section may help you close the gap. But every financial adviser I ever talked to said to give yourself an entertainment budget -- or it will soak your food budget, your bills and other necessities.
You deserve perks, rewards and treats. Use these bribes to do the sensible things that'll help you live well. Next section is on how to get them cheap, free or paying for themselves.
Getting Stuff Cheap, Free or Paying for Itself
Hobbies, Toys, Treats and Rewards
That is what my Green Luxury plan is all about and what drives it, what makes it possible to both save money, pollute less and get more of what you really enjoy in life. My habits are an example, but comparable stores and online shopping or thrift store stuff applies to just about anything you can do. What we're doing here is just planning and organizing in general before actual spending occurs, so that we don't get suckered in by screaming-toddler ads to buying something dumb and overpriced in the worst way just to make them shut up.
They never do shut up. The day after you bought the new iPod you're still saturated with the ads. So it doesn't even serve the purpose of making the toddler shut up, which a lollipop can do with a real toddler.
I'm a professional writer. Drawing, painting and sketching are my top hobby and my once and future profession too. I used to live in New Orleans on less than $5,000 a year doing street art in the French Quarter and I was happy there. I ate steak and butter. I lived high on the hog. I bought everything I actually wanted, wore whatever I wanted to work, got up at the crack of noon, stayed up all night and played, and until my health failed I was in the lap of luxury... in terms of real things. I had cable TV back then, and I got a computer too.
I'm now disabled and living on Social Security working toward becoming self supporting again. I learned something in my New Orleans years. Art supplies always pay for themselves once you reach a certain minimal level of skill. You can self teach from books and hang out with other artists to learn, and from that point you will be able to get the very best supplies.
The thing to understand about art supplies and high quality is that the very best ones are actually easier to use and so you accomplish more when you set out to use them. You can also tell your client that you are using artist grade pastel paper and artist grade pastels and they'll be more likely to invest their money in your sketch of their kid or their dog or a landmark.
But any hobby can be treated this way if you write about it and publish, and find markets where you can sell the results of your creativity. If you collect things and are knowledgeable, there are markets for your writing and getting paid will help pay for the next cool ACEO or glass lampshade for your collection. I collect ACEOs now, it's one of my hobbies.
ACEO is Art Cards Editions & Originals, trading card sized artworks. ATC or Artist Trading Cards are the same thing but can't be sold. ACEO can be sold on http://www.ebay.com/ or http://www.etsy.com/ or http://www.bonanzle.com/ or any online market. We all have the French Market as close as our keyboards. I'm good at drawing and painting so I'll naturally drift to drawing and painting things.
But maybe you do leather crafting or clean old car parts and repair them or grow vegetables more than you can eat. Farmer's markets, craft fairs, offline things like that are good too. Maybe you enjoy hunting. Don't just take the trophy and have it mounted. Get the hide tanned and get the meat butchered, use every part of the deer or sell it.
Another way to monetize your hobbies -- teach them. You will get good at them the longer you do whatever your passion is. This is inevitable. You can't get into something passionately and do it a lot without practice and skill developing, so you will get very good. So write about it, teach others how to do it, share your enjoyment. You know where this is leading.
You're reading it, a Hub. You can monetize your hobbies here. You can also write for other online paying sites or self publish a book by way of http://www.booklocker.com/ or http://www.lulu.com/ -- the two companies I like best for Print On Demand publishing.
Writing a book will soak a lot of your time and give you prestige. People think well of authors. Check out http://www.nanowrimo.com/ if you ever wanted to become a novelist. It's free, it's not too late to start one for 2008 and it's a lot of support, help and encouragement.
Most hobbies can be made to pay for themselves by writing and teaching and selling the products. I have known people who sold artifacts they won on Battlenet playing Diablo -- they were good players who got a lot of great stuff and communicated with other people who play and want an advantage. Same with Everquest and those things. There are a lot of ways to turn your online time into money, so your computer is Very Cost Effective as something to spend your time and money on.
Games you own as opposed to pay to play cost less. Owning movies is cheaper than going to the movies. Owning books is a good bargain because you will reread and enjoy them again or be able to trade them in for more books at a used bookstore.
So now that you have rediscovered everything you like to do, and jotted some notes on how to make it pay for itself (and how much it will pay, this is a way to rate the things you're doing that I think of when I'm tight for money and trying to squeeze in something extra I want that isn't as cost effective), let's look at when quality matters and why.
It matters a lot in tools and materials, especially once you know what you're doing with them. Talking to others better than you are at using them will be a good way to identify the best bargains though. Look for Clearance sale items that are Artist Grade art supplies. Look for Clearance gift sets off season. Oh boy you can get brand new good things after the holidays when they're bundling a lot of stuff to sell gifts packages but the item didn't sell out. Last year's discontinued gifts sets can give you four times as much for the same amount of money.
Buy used, either at thrift stores or online at ebay, et cetera. This can be very good for bargain hunting, look for good condition if it matters. A broken set of Sennelier oil pastels that has several sticks missing might go for only a few dollars versus the $200 it'd be at an art supply store. Online it's only $69 on sale -- I watch for things like that.
In fact, shopping online is almost always cheaper. Online sellers ONLY have to pay for warehouse and shipping. Yep. Mail order is the cheapest way to get anything because the overhead is less. You literally have fewer middlemen to go through and you're getting exactly the same thing as the store. So go to the store to look at it and think about it and test it, decide what you want. Then get it from a mail order place or online. Collect catalogs.
Dick Blick is my favorite art supply company online, followed by Jerry's Artarama. Both of them run regular email coupons in your inbox. Once you have a special interest and know what you're going to get, have a big Wish List of toys for the future, it becomes easier to wait for a couple of days for the next good coupon and time your purchases to them rather than just buy it on the day you got your pay check.
Slightly delayed gratification can get you a lot more stuff. Physical art stores and many other stores also keep up by running deep discount "Loss leader" sales. If it's something you really want, take the time to hunt down coupons and check all the coupons ads. Tiger Direct is good for that for electronics, and their prices are good in general. http://www.pricewatch.com/ helps me find good refurbished computers.
Computer and electronics quality is constantly rising, newer is usually better. But I have found the sweet spot is usually just one step behind the latest -- only one, and that is the point the Newest Latest gets refurbished. Like New refurbished computers actually seem to perform better and last longer than brand new ones. I have some ideas about this, and it may be that the refurbishing is more thorough than the inspections on new products -- also these have shaken down and been tested an extra time. The best bang for my buck in electronics is Good Refurbished.
If you go more than two or three steps back from cutting edge, you still get a good product and the price drops to dirt cheap. I don't buy new electronics any more for anything unless it was a freebie. Some of the shakedown takes place in the first wave of consumers, and I don't want the experimental lemon. I want the refurbished version that comes up a month later where its native problems got fixed!
So... buy online, buy on sale, spend the time hunting down the lowest price for the best quality.
Buying lousy cheap things that are flimsy and wear out fast is false economy in a lot of things. Clothes. I'm a guy. I don't like spending a lot on clothes and want a lot of wear out of them. I know what I like. Getting real Levis may last me three times as long as getting a pair of the cheapest discount store jeans.
So I look into stuff and test it before I buy it. I plan whatever I'm going to buy every month right after I shop, it's become a rhythm in my life. Oh neat! I place the order, get all excited like a kid at Christmastime waiting for my packages. Then start filling the cart with next month's goodies at the places I regularly shop. I leave stuff in the cart all the time and throw it in and out.
This itself has become a pleasurable hobby - but it means I'm more likely to get my wish list stuff on sale. I don't have to make snap decisions. But I watch my wish list for how many of them show up on it. If I see that a set of pastels is shown that I want 20 of them, that means I have customer-surveyed ME and discovered that yes, I really DO want that set that much. And the one that's only in there twice can be put off, it's not as important.
Same thing with marking up catalogs. If I turn to the page so many times I dog ear it, maybe that item should go on my wish list or in and out of the cart a few times.
Then there is the pleasure of shopping in person and being waited on.
This is worth something in itself, being able to take Impulse Money and just go somewhere with no plan and no idea other than Treat Myself. The way I brought that into reason with my income back in New Orleans was simple. I discovered it was just as much fun going to the flea market end of the French Market with five dollars as it was going to a mall with five hundred. No kidding. I would find just as many things I really liked, wanted on the moment and enjoyed -- and spend only the five dollars on me.
So this is a point in favor of CASH spending money for physical shopping, and choosing places where there's variety but you know everything is cheap. Dollar stores. Used bookstores. Swap meets. http://www.freecycle.com/, Thrift shops. You find all sorts of cool things you didn't expect, and the bargain hunting becomes its own game. That leaves some spontaneity in the process. By using money you withdrew from an ATM instead of a credit card, you're not going to overspend what you have. And handling the money is cool for something like that.
An advantage of anything you get used from a store, open market or flea market is less packaging. Even buying things online, you may have less cellophane and cardboard and wire and styrofoam to get rid of after getting it than buying new things in fancy stores that have shoplifting tags to clip and shoplifter-foiling tough packages a child can't open on Christmas. Used items can just go in a backpack or bag you brought with you along with the receipt.
Recycling your trash in bulk generates a little spending money too. I knew too many people on the fringes who make their living picking up cans and bottles and rags, there are a lot of things that if you just sort your trash in the process of tossing it can turn into pocket change and another trip to a used bookstore. The little stuff like that adds up!
For big things like getting a new computer or buying a car, I would hold off and nurse the old one until I could save up for a better one. On cars, buy used-good. The depreciation on ANY new car is so huge it isn't worth what you paid for it -- but any car over about five years old that's still in good shape has proven itself sturdy and will last a good long time.
Your budget may allow newer refurbisheds if you're into that, but the same principle applies as computers. The very newest model is only that for a brief time and none of its inherent problems have surfaced. You don't want to pay tons more just to be an unpaid beta tester, do you? That's what "new car" boils down to.
I hope this Hub has given you some new ideas on managing money, getting what you want and squeezing out more fun from what you have. Sometimes I buy the very best, most expensive quality art supplies... but never at full retail price, and those are always a bargain. Sometimes just something used for a dollar is good enough for what I want to do with it and I'd rather do that so I have more money for art supplies.
You found a beautiful piece of good jewelry in a pawn shop for you wife or girlfriend. You only need ONE good diamond to make her yours for life... so why is it that how much you paid for a good one is supposed to be a big deal? Get one for way under market value by bargain hunting and make sure it's genuine, then have it appraised to judge its value. You can find stuff like that when you take the time.
None of this is effortless. But effort is fun when it's devoted to something you care about. People are chronically bored when they have nothing to do. So find the things to do that you enjoy most, and the rest will fall into place. Know yourself and then decide for yourself what you want to do and you're way ahead of the game.
Once you know your resources, know your habits, know your likes and dislikes and walk away from "keeping up with the Joneses" -- you will find yourself living with elegance. Taste is being real and everything being something YOU like. The Joneses may be driving themselves into the poorhouse trying to buy the stuff you got half price or less, when they don't even like computer games... because they're listening to ads and living Consumerism rather than Green Luxury.
The only person in the world your luxuries matter to you is you. So get the ones you really want, give the important big ones the saving-up time they deserve and ignore what anyone else thinks of them. They're not the one living with your black leather couch, but you might have got it on http://www.freecycle.com through three yuppies all of whom hated how it looked when they got it home.
For thousands of ideas on frugality, luxury and personal financial independence, check out The Tightwad Gazette from your local library or buy it online. This book has a lot of ideas you won't find right for you, but I haven't met anyone who didn't find at least some cool useful ideas, concepts, hobbies and recipes in it. My general ideas on frugality are strongly rooted in its philosophy with a big dollop of bohemian experience, when Not Needing A Day Job was the biggest luxury I could buy by pinching pennies.