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Debt Reduction, Veganism & Sobriety

The year of their marriage, Kayt and her husband made 3 huge lifestyle changes.

 I received a really interesting email a couple of weeks ago. “Hey there! I just stumbled onto your blog when I pessimistically googled ‘debt-free vegans’. We too are ‘plant-powered’, living on a budget and listing to Dave Ramsey’s plan to get out of debt and live like no one else!!! … Thank you for blogging about your journey towards debt freedom, and congratulations on your venture into the plant-based lifestyle! It’s been two years of veganism and almost two years of Baby Step 2…And sometimes my husband and I feel so alone because we are social outliers, avoiding meat, dairy, and debt. We are also two-years sober, so that’s another twist that can restrict standard social engagements and connection a little bit.”

Such an interesting story! And what an engaging voice! I asked Kayt if I could interview her, and she said “Yes.” 

What was it that made you want to get out of debt?

I learned about Dave Ramsey in my early 20’s, and when I got my first ‘professional’ position that didn’t include an apron or a tray, I worked the debt snowball on my credit cards and traffic tickets…But when I looked at my $70,000 in student loans…and realized those, too, were part of “baby step 2”; I basically gave up. I never used credit cards again, but I ignored those student loans for a couple years, and got myself into a car loan to top it off.

In 2015, my fiancé and I were trying to figure out how we were going to pay for our wedding after going down to one income. Thanks to a military relocation, I had forfeited my job and had a lot of trouble finding a new one. It was then we realized that our debt payments were siphoning away our income.

I introduced Dave Ramsey’s principles to my fiancé, and we started budgeting to save for the wedding over the next eight months. Of course, by the time we cash-flowed the wedding, we were both hooked on the Dave Ramsey podcast and decided to jump in and tackle the debt altogether so that we could begin to build wealth. Ironically enough, my husband started law school a couple months after our wedding, and it is a three-year program. Our debt-payoff between my income and his GI bill looked like a 36-month process. So we were off to the races to pay off the debt with the goal of being debt-free (except the mortgage) before he graduated.

I think what aligned for us was that we finally had a new perspective on money, and we wanted to use it as a tool instead of living at the mercy of payday. We couldn’t imagine not living paycheck to paycheck – even though when we met our incomes combined were well over six figures. Having a timeline and a plan of action made all the difference for us in deciding to get out of debt.

Why did you decide to switch to a plant-based diet?

I became vegetarian in 2010 after watching Food Inc., and realizing how little I knew about what I was eating, where it came from and how it was processed.  I originally told myself I would give it 30 days, I can do anything for 30 days…And it just stuck, I felt great and really loved that no animals had to die for me to live.

I’d been vegetarian for almost 3 years when I met Bryan. He was a sky-diving Army Ranger, hardcore Harley-rider who tolerated my vegetarian fare but definitely still required his own meat-ful meals. We lived in harmony in our different preferences, and I never tried to push any of my ideals on him.

At the end of 2014, I started running for the first time since before college. I wanted to lose a little weight and look good for the wedding, even though it was a year and a half away. I started listening to podcasts in 2015 like No Meat Athlete, and started thinking maybe I could make the full switch and give up dairy…Around that time Bryan read Born to Run and Finding Ultra and decided he really wanted to run his first marathon. So in late 2015 we both started training, he was focused on his marathon and I was after my first half marathon. I went vegan “for 30 days” as a New Year’s resolution on January 1, 2016, but felt so great that I just kept at it. Bryan joined me in the plant-based lifestyle in February and we encouraged each other and held each other accountable. We feel great, we recover so incredibly quickly, and we have been able to achieve fitness goal after fitness goal!

What made you decide to stop drinking alcohol?

Our move from Austin, Texas (where we met) to Columbus, Georgia (where the military moved my fiancé at the time) was a really tough change for me. Especially because we moved to a small town that wasn’t particularly interested in hiring military spouses (hard to blame them, nobody likes high turnover). So I was pretty miserable, and what had been a mutual hobby and not that big of a deal, started to bring out the worst in me and Bryan.

We hit a catalyst mid-2015, which I don’t really want to dive into in this forum, and we took a few months apart to really focus on what we wanted for ourselves and what we wanted for each other.  We realized that alcohol had become a huge detriment for us, warping the way we treated each other. We came back together and realized that we wanted to be our best selves, and that meant alcohol didn’t have a place in our lives. I do think that this greatly impacted our fervor to pursue our fitness goals, and even though going plant-based didn’t happen until six or seven months later, all three tie into the overall goal of wanting to be our best selves and to treat our bodies well.

 How did Kayt and her husband manage to make 3 huge changes in the same year? What do they do to counteract the “social outlier” phenomenon? To find out, come back next week! In the mean time, please leave a comment for Kayt.


Are you able to take on more than one significant lifestyle change at a time? Do you find that a change in one area of life helps you to change in others too? Your comments are welcome.


*Image courtesy of pxhere

The Awkward Question of Money Talks: Part 2

DH = dear husband

“Every comment expressed disagreement with me”

Two weeks ago, I wrote about when and how to talk with friends who are clearly sabotaging their finances. Every single comment from readers expressed some form of (very respectful) disagreement with me. I really appreciated the honesty!

New (and unexpected) perceptions

I’m wrestling with this issue since it is relatively new to me. For most of my adult life, I had no clue about anyone else messing up their finances because I was too busy messing up my own. Since starting our journey out of debt 6 years ago, I’ve become aware of the fallacies in my old ways of thinking and operating financially. And there has been an unexpected side-effect: I’ve developed a new perception of the same fallacies in others. It’s not comfortable!

It was more comfortable to be able to join in the defeated complaint-fest and say things like, “I know! Life is so expensive!” or “It’s never going to be the ‘right time’ to buy it. So just buy it!”

Now, I find myself dealing with thoughts like, “It really isn’t the right time to buy it. Please don’t.” These are not comfortable thoughts! They reek of judgment. I don’t want to be that person! But I can’t pretend that I don’t notice what I now do notice.

What to do? Seeking advice

So what is the best thing to do when someone you care about is managing their money in a self-destructive way? Let’s start by taking a look at what all of those people who disagreed with me had to say.

Tonya: ” … but the thing is for me, I don’t know the whole of anyone’s situation. Unless I thought they were going to do major harm to themselves or someone else, it’s really none of my business. I can feel concerned, but for the sake of my friendship, all I feel I should do is be there for them if anyone reaches out to me and/or lead by example … I’m not saying I never think judgmental thoughts. I definitely do, but I try to shake them off and keep them to myself.”

Brian: ” … It does bother me when I see family and friend make, what I deem unwise financial decisions, but like it’s been said sometimes I don’t have the complete picture. My usual approach now is to try and bait the conversation with our failures, and now success to see if they will bite, and ask “how”, and then I know I have a willing participant.”

Laurie: “Sometimes it’s necessary for a person to hit bottom before they acquire the willingness to change. If you want to inspire others to adopt good money management, the best thing you can do is to be a power of example. If a person wants what you have, they will ask about your experience.”

Kay: “I think the key is being able to express your beliefs without being preachy and telling someone what they should do. Telling them what you did or do can be a model if that’s what they want. But some people seem to enjoy the thrill of the oncoming bus. Those are the ones we need to pray for the most.

Abigail: “I’m never comfortable talking to people about how they spend their money … By and large people seem to get by. Even if they struggle a bit at times. I just don’t feel comfortable risking friendships … by talking about something that rarely goes well … If they didn’t want my input, I’d leave it at that.”

Revanche: “Some people have to be hit by the bus to stop walking in front of the bus. Some people get hit by the bus repeatedly and will KEEP WALKING IN FRONT OF THE BUS. Some people hear a bus coming down the road, remember that near miss or seeing their friend hit by the bus and step ten feet back … The people who want to learn use what I’ve already put out there and then ask me for nuanced advice. The ones who don’t already know me well and want me to answer really basic simple questions without doing any digging are often the ones who don’t intend to learn. They just want you to fix it for them.”

Hiro: “… I try to be cognizant of when they’re looking for advice and when they’re just whining about their own situation, and try to give advice when they’re looking for it, and laugh it off when they aren’t. It’s an iffy line, but we’re all adults … And I hate to be the preachy friend! Especially since I obviously don’t have everything figured out either!”

Kalie: “…It’s also invaluable to recognize I don’t know everything and my way of doing things is not best for everyone …  If I’m super close and very concerned, I’ll speak up no matter what. If I’m super close and it’s a mild concern, I will decide based on the other person’s openness and if they’re asking for help/looking for solutions. If I’m not very close, the person’s interest in seeking help is a bigger factor.”

Moving forward

It’s clear that many people are disturbed by the poor financial practices of their friends. It’s also clear that these people want to help more often than they’re welcome to help. To avoid being right but ineffective, here are some pointers to follow, based on the comments above:

  • Start with the humble truth that you don’t know everything and that it’s not your place to preach.
  • Try to discern whether your friend wants guidance or simply the chance to vent.
  • Don’t engage in the topic if the person just wants to complain.
  • Wait for your friend to ask the question before giving the answer.
  • To avoid being confrontational, instead of giving an answer, consider asking questions to encourage your friend to think about his/her situation and motivations.
  • Openly provide the example of your personal experience, sharing both mistakes and triumphs – but only if your friend is receptive.
  • Ask, “Are you open to some advice about that?” before offering it.
  • Let your friend be the one to move the conversation deeper or to cut it off.
  • Be there if and when your friend reaches out to you, but do not enable or “rescue” him/her.
  • Accept the fact there’s nothing you can say or do to stop someone from descending to rock bottom.
  • Only in the case of a really close friend about whom you are very concerned is it wise to initiate the conversation. Even though you might have the best of intentions, recognize that you’re risking your friendship by doing so.

Do you agree with these pointers? Are there any that you would add? Your comments are welcome.


Image courtesy of Pexels

Financially Parenting Strong-Willed Teens

I wrote this post for Brian at Debt Discipline as part of his series on financial literacy.

I wasn’t a “teachable” teen

Sometimes I read parenting articles that offer pointers on teaching teens about financial management – and I find myself shaking my head. I’m not convinced that good financial management can be “taught” in a linear, rational way to teens – at least not all of them.

Take me, for example. Wind the clock back a few decades, and see me as a teen, begging my parents for yet another advance on my monthly allowance. With every hesitation on their part, with every effort to explain to me that I needed to be more careful about how I spent the money, my begging would escalate – to whining, to exasperation, to wounded anger.

Every time I succeeded. I got my advance – which once again I spent too quickly. Rinse repeat.

Cick here to continue reading

 

The Awkward Question of Money Talks: Part 1

(I’m adding this note – as well as “Part 1” in the title – a week later just to say that the comments made by readers helped me to change my thoughts on this issue. Stay tuned for Part 2.)

Post by Tonya at Budget & the Beach

I read a post by Tonya at Budget & the Beach this week, and it got me thinking about an issue that I find difficult. In describing how she lived in the expensive city of LA on an average of $31,000 per year for 7 years, Tonya said,

“I strive towards frugality because it wasn’t that long ago when I was very financially stressed. I learned my lesson the hard way, and although my friends sometimes give me crap for being ‘stingy,’ I don’t ever want to repeat going through that experience again.

I could relate. That terrible financial reckoning when the unexpected happens is no fun at all. It took my husband’s job loss and years of reduced income for us to have our wake up call and to turn things around financially – because we didn’t “ever want to repeat going through that experience again” either.

“I’m not here to tell anyone else what to do and how to live their life, because in reality people are going to do whatever they want. Sometimes people DO need to learn for themselves.”

I certainly seemed to need to learn for myself. And although that was true, once I did learn, I made more than one mistake in spouting off to others about personal finances when it wasn’t welcome. Like many converts to many causes, I was over-zealous at first. So I now make sure to avoid even the appearance of “telling anyone else what to do.”

“My situation is way better than some, and way worse than others. I have lots of aerospace engineer friends doing very well and who own homes nearby and hardly spend any money, and I know people making a lot less than me taking fancy vacations and eating out every other night. You gotta do you!

And that’s where I find it difficult.

Getting real in the comments section

Tonya keeps it real at her blog, and I felt I could make an honest comment:

“… I sometimes find it difficult to balance a non-judgmental ‘You do you’ acceptance with my knowledge that some people’s money-management – like your friends who earn way less than you but spend way more- could bring them a lot of grief. I can’t pretend it’s OK …”

To which Tonya responded:

“I wouldn’t let my friends walk in front of a moving bus, but the thing is for me, I don’t know the whole of anyone’s situation. Unless I thought they were going to do major harm to themselves or someone else, it’s really none of my business. I can feel concerned, but for the sake of my friendship, all I feel I should do is be there if anyone reaches out to me and/or lead by example … I’m not saying I never think judgmental thoughts. I definitely do, but I try to shake them off and keep them to myself.”

What does “walking in front of a bus” look like?

A number of questions popped into my head:

  • Do you need to know someone’s whole situation before you can say they’re heading in the wrong direction?
  • What does financially “walking in front of a bus” look like? What if the bus is some distance off? Isn’t it better to give the warning well before it’s too late?
  • What if harm has already been done to them and to others, but they’re in denial?
  • Doesn’t the friendship become more distant when you feel you can’t express your concerns?
  • Is “judgment” perhaps the wrong word? Is it really concern – possibly tainted with frustration?

Money Talks

I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I do know that I feel an uneasiness about people’s bad financial habits that I didn’t used to feel (because I wasn’t aware of them since I had them too). And I’m not sure what to do with that uneasiness.

I think  that Tonya is right in saying that there is a time to recognize “it’s really none of my business” and a time to express concern. I just have a hard time identifying which times call for which responses.

In her book Money Talks, Gail Vaz-Oxlade addresses the awkwardness involved in conversations about finances. “Since no one talks about money,” she says, “we have no models on which to base our forays into these conversations.”

Impact of talking (or not) on relationships

I know 5 people who have had buses barreling towards them. After they approached me to talk about it – because they know I’m trying to become debt-free – I expressed my concern to each one.

  1. One hardly speaks to me anymore.
  2. Another says, “I know!” but feels powerless to change.
  3. A third one is reading more of Gail Vaz Oxlade’s books and plans to read Dave Ramsey’s The Total Money Makeover (the book that launched us on our journey out of debt).
  4. Another avoided certain expenses after I talked with her.
  5. One made some changes and became debt-free in response to our conversations.

Mixed results. In the case of #2, I’ll be there when she’s ready to reach out. And of course I’m so glad I spoke honestly with #3, #4, and #5. Should I have said nothing to #1? In her case, I’d say I had the choice between keeping my distance by saying nothing, or risking the distance that she might create if I did speak. It might have been wiser to keep my mouth shut, but I’m not sure.

In conclusion…

Overall, I think it’s more genuine to talk than to stay silent. If the friendship is important, it’s best to be authentic and speak. Your relationship will become stronger if your friend responds openly. If your friend responds with distance, that relationship was bound for distance already. For less important relationships, silence is fine.

A whole lot of wisdom needs to be applied in terms of the when? where? how? and to what extent? of money talks. But we’ll never gain that wisdom unless we start to open our mouths and say something.

Vaz-Oxlade tries to deal with “our unwillingness to tell the truth…” saying, “the only way money will stop being a problem for most of us is if we start talking about it – and talking about it honestly.”


Do you feel an uneasiness when your friends adopt poor pf habits? How do you decide if and when to have a money talk? Your comments are welcome.


Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

No Emotional Spending? Have a Heart!

“hungover”

I thought I was going to get through this winter without a significant sink into the winter blues. But alas …

In a recent post, Revanche from A Gai Shan Life wrote, “The truth is I’m hungover from last year.” I had a moment of recognition when I read those words – because I think I’m hungover from last year too – particularly November of last year. My mom’s passing November 20, her birthday, was a huge loss. The death of our dog Rocky, November 7 (strangely enough, my father’s birthday), was a sucker punch at a time that was difficult enough. The flea infestation he left behind him just added an element of the bizarre to our grief.

There was busy-ness leading up to the funeral, and then more leading up to Christmas. I don’t think I processed things fully then. So I’m hungover now.

Strong longings to spend…

… on a trip south

As the March Break approached this year, I really, really wanted to travel somewhere with sunshine and warmth. “We’ll just get in the car and drive south for two days,” I thought. It didn’t matter to me where we ended up,  so long as it was sunny. But DH had been having slow business, and even a frugal vacation would have cost us hundreds of dollars that we couldn’t justify spending. We didn’t travel south. And though I hate to admit it, I must confess that after the March Break I had a hard time seeing the happy, refreshed, tanned faces of colleagues who had enjoyed a get-away in the sun.

… on a gym membership

It was during the March Break that I got the chance to use a free day pass to a nearby gym – a pretty posh facility. I took part in a step class that left me properly exhausted, and then I did about 20 minutes of weights. After that, I swam laps – for the first time in years – and then just soaked in the hot tub. It was a great work-out, and I enjoyed the added bonus of running into a couple of people I knew.

Last September, when I gave up my gym membership to be more frugal, I found that I managed to do plenty of work-outs on my own. Bike rides, jogs, and two free visits per week as a Planet Fitness guest kept me as fit as I wanted to be. Once winter hit, snowshoeing replaced the cycling and jogging. But then a few weeks ago we had that awful combination of melt, rain, and freeze that left our part of the world a skating rink – not enough snow and too much ice for snowshoeing. And my Planet Fitness member friend? She’s in Florida for the month.

“Maybe a gym membership isn’t such a bad idea …” I found myself thinking after using that free day pass. But I know that warmer weather is just around the corner. The ice will melt; the roads and paths will be jogger- and cyclist-friendly again soon. I decided to wait. No gym membership for me.

… on an expensive restaurant meal

Last week was a crazy week at work. I wasn’t home until well after 7:00 from Monday to Thursday. As I drove home Tuesday evening, I started to fantasize about Pure Kitchen, a wonderful local restaurant we had discovered shortly after switching to a plant-based diet a couple of months ago. For us, the occasional $7-$10 veggie burger meal at fast-food places has been a recent form of treat. A couple of meals at Pure Kitchen would cost much more than that amount.

When I got home, I told DH I wanted to go out to eat. We never go out week nights, but I wasn’t pretending it was a rational suggestion. Much to my surprise, DH said, “Let’s go.” He added, “I think we have to work a little sanity-saving into our budget.” It’s only now that I recognize his recent search for a new-used car (which we didn’t buy) as possibly being his own winter-blues fix.

Is there a place for emotional spending?

Emotional spending can definitely be a problem. In our case, we could have gone south for the March Break in a new-to-us vehicle, and I could have signed up for a gym membership. The car, the trip, and the posh gym would have given me a relief from my “hungover” winter blues, but only a temporary one. The high from emotional spending only lasts so long. It’s a band-aid fix.

But sometimes a band-aid is a good thing.

DH and I thoroughly enjoyed our meal out together. We broke every rule in the frugality handbook – ordering appetizers, wine, coffee and dessert besides the delicious main course. It was a short-lived escape from the cold outside (and it was cold outside that night) – a mere band-aid. But I think it might have been just what we needed.


Do you sometimes indulge in emotional spending? Do you think there is some room for it? Your comments are welcome.


Image courtesy of Flickr

Want It & Can Afford It. But Not Buying.

Our ’99 Dodge Caravan has seen better days, but it’s still driving.

DH = Dear Husband

Ramsey’s indicator of financial wisdom

In May of 2012, I read Dave Ramsey’s The Total Money Makeover – the book that inspired us to start our journey out of debt. I remember a section in which Ramsey describes something that to me seemed strange.

  • You are out of the debt trap.
  • With enough money on hand, you look at something you’ve been wanting to buy.
  • You choose not to buy it.

I was annoyed by that image. With an eye-rolling attitude, I thought, “Why would you choose not to buy something you wanted if you were debt-free and had the money to buy it?” I couldn’t understand why, according to Ramsey, such odd behaviour was an indicator of financial wisdom.

1999: Purchase of van on credit

Our Dodge Caravan just passed its 19th birthday. When we bought it in February of 1999, I was eight months pregnant with our 3rd child, and the mini-van era of our growing family began. Of course we borrowed to buy the van – because that’s what we did for all large purchases.

2009: Couldn’t afford to replace it

By year 10, our van had become a source of embarrassment for our 3 daughters. Their friends’ parents drove much newer and cooler vehicles. But there was no way we were going to replace it. In 2009, we were just coming out of a 6-year limbo in DH’s career – and still living its resulting financial distress. Although DH started a promising new business that year, we had no idea if it would fly. Much to our children’s mortification, we kept driving the van.

2012: Journey out of debt = No new car in budget

When it became clear that DH’s new business was succeeding, we felt a great relief! No more money crunch! We could go back to normal living!

But as we did “normal” – with more restaurant meals, a bit of travel, a new car for me … – we felt uneasy. Something didn’t feel right.

I first listened to the CD version of The Total Money Makeover after a friend had loaned it to me, and a light went on. “We’re in too much debt!” I realized. DH was likewise convinced, and the two of us became psyched to become debt-free!

So although we were no longer in the financial-crunch mode that we’d been in before, we were on fire to pay off our debts, and there was no room in our “gazelle intense” budget to replace our then 14-year-old van. Sorry kids!

2016: When only a 5-figure mortgage was left …

In the fall of 2016, over 4 years into our journey out of debt, we reached a significant milestone. Of our original grand total $257,000 in consumer, business, and mortgage debt, only the mortgage remained. And that mortgage had crossed the $100,000 line! From 6 to 5 figures! It was a great feeling! The finish line was in sight!

In the throes of this celebration, DH pulled up in our driveway one day driving a new Dodge Journey.

I knew that our then 17-year-old van could die any day and that DH wanted to replace it, when the day came, with a Dodge Journey. “This is just a test drive!” he insisted when I was clearly less than thrilled. It was a whole year later when he admitted, “That was a close call.”

A 5-figure debt is definitely better than a 6-figure debt, but we were going for 0 figures. We kept driving our old van.

And now?

A few days ago, DH approached me with a print-out from a used car business in our city. (Notice we’re planning to buy used now.) A 2016 Dodge Journey was available. Extremely low mileage. Almost 40% off the cost for new. We could pay for it outright without postponing our debt-freedom date of September this year.

There were good reasons to go for it.

  • The van can’t last much longer.
  • This is exactly the kind of gently-used vehicle we plan to get as a replacement.
  • There is something to be said for buying proactively – in advance of the van dying.

On the other hand …

  • The van is not giving us any trouble.
  • If it did suddenly die, there would be no panic to buy immediately. We’d be a one-car family for a while, and we’d wait for the right used car to come along again.

We’re still driving the van.

Does this mean we’ve reached financial wisdom?

We’re within spitting distance of debt-freedom. We want a new-to-us vehicle. We can afford one that is just what we’re looking for. But we’re choosing not to.

How did this happen? How did I go from an eye-rolling, “Why would you choose not to buy …” to actually choosing not to buy? And how did DH go from a celebratory “test-drive” to agreeing with me in choosing not to buy? Have we reached that elusive state of financial wisdom Ramsey writes about?


Well, have we? Your comments are welcome.


 

The Hot Mess of Lifestyle Change

DH = Dear husband

Vegan panic-eating

An unexpected thing has happened since our household embarked on plant-based eating a month ago: I gained weight. Ever since we started our vegan experiment, I’ve been panic-eating. Why the panic? With no meat, fish, eggs, or dairy to stick to my bones, I’m afraid I’ll get hungry. Why this fear of hunger? When I need food, I don’t just get hungry; I get hangry – and it’s not pretty. So lots of proactive eating to avoid the hanger of hunger these days.

Before going plant-based, this panic didn’t happen. There was always a quick snack at hand – either at home in the fridge or pantry, or at work in my lunch bag. In weak moments, there was easy access to the cafeteria and vending machine too. Getting food to eat was a no-brainer. Now each meal takes planning, grocery shopping for strange new ingredients, focused prep-time. Quick snacks are rarely at hand.

So when there’s food in front of me, my instinct says, “Eat as much as you can while you have the chance!”

Scarcity mindset

Despite the fact that we in North America today are surrounded by ridiculous amounts of food, I’m feeling the scarcity of readily available plant-based options. I’m sure it’s a temporary feeling – one that will lessen as we learn more recipes and become more expert at prepping snacks and meals.

I would have guessed that a scarcity mindset would lead me to portion out our labour-intensive meals carefully. If there’s a true limit to the food going around, isn’t it more rational to make it last as long as possible? Yes, but who said anything about rationality? Especially when hanger is in the balance?

When frugality is perceived as scarcity

When DH and I started our journey out of debt, we decided to include in our budget discretionary allowances for each of us. Our respective discretionary accounts cover some essential items that have a broad range of price-points – like shampoo and clothing – as well as non-essentials like movie tickets and restaurant meals. We each get a generous monthly amount – $600.

I have no idea how much I spent on discretionary purchases each month before we started to attack our debt. What I do know is this: I always blew my discretionary allowance once it was defined – once it had limits. I’ve written so often about the frustration of not being able to get a grip on my discretionary spending. Now, I think I understand it. I’ve had a scarcity mindset about my money.

Panic-spending

It’s a bit embarrassing to recognize that I perceive such a generous monthly allowance as “scarce”. Of course it’s enough – more than enough. In the same way, although I’m feeling the limits of what I can eat, experienced vegans will claim there’s nothing scarce about a plant-based diet. Grains, nuts, vegetables, fruits, legumes … There’s more than enough.

It’s a matter of habit and mindset adjustment. When you’re used to eating anything and you suddenly limit your diet, it’s easy to fall prey to perceived scarcity, and to react with panic-eating. And when you’re used to spending however much money on whatever purchase and you suddenly define the amount in that money supply, it’s easy to feel limited, and to react with panic-spending. “Buy now while you still can!”

Learning curves involved in lifestyle change are complicated! In this one personal case – one of many – our simple budget plan for discretionary spending ended up triggering a panic I wasn’t expecting, didn’t identify, and couldn’t overcome until I painstaking worked through it. Ugh!

Seamless lifestyle change? No!

Lifestyle changes are not seamless. But sometimes they’re presented that way. We’ve all seen commercials featuring beautifully slim, healthy, happy people who explain their don’t-you-just-want-to-be-like-me awesomeness by making casual claims like, “I started to exercise for 30 minutes every day, and I always have a  _________________  (insert name of food product) on hand to give me the energy I need … (pause long enough for a simpering smile) without giving me the calories I don’t want.”

Sometimes financial advice is presented in the same “This-is-seamless” way:

  • Prepare a budget to live below your means.
  • Never carry a credit card balance.
  • Don’t buy things until you’ve saved up for them.
  • Buy on sale.
  • Pay off your debts.
  • Buy a house only if you can pay off the mortgage in 15 years spending no more than 25% of your monthly take-home pay.
  • Set aside ____% (10? 20? 30?) to invest in your retirement.

Learning-curve-mess-tolerance

Simple, right? Maybe in bullet points. But NOT easy when applied to the messiness of real life. For most people – especially those of us who have lived for years without any financial plan at all, there are multiple learning curves involved. And each one involves insecurity-riddled intention, frustrating inefficiency, and discouraging lapses in willpower. Again, ugh!

But I’m so glad that DH and I have tolerated our learning curves through the nearly 6 years of financial makeover that we’ve gone through to date. The most beautiful message that I can offer about our experience is that although it’s been messy, we’ve covered step after step after step towards the finish line. It’s hard to believe, but our journey out of all debt will be completed in just 6 more months!

Embrace the hot mess of change!

So let your life-change journey be messy! Tolerate whatever learning curve hits you with the full force of its  unexpected personal awkwardness and complexity. Whether you’re moving towards better health, better finances, better career, better relationships, there are tried-and-true ways of getting there. And while they look neat and tidy in their presentation form, they’ll be a hot mess when you apply them. That’s OK! Messiness never stopped anyone from getting to a desired destination. In fact, I’d say you won’t get anywhere worth going without it.


Have you ever made a real lifestyle change? Was it seamless? Or messy? Your comments are welcome.


 

Reduced Income Then vs. Now

DH = Dear husband

Roadblock to debt-reduction in the early days

In the first year of our journey out of debt – from June 2012 to June 2013 – we paid off more than we did in any of the 4 years that followed. $50,000 down! It was a year of good income with no extraordinary costs – unlike year #2 and the new roof and year #4 and the renovations. Our mission to reduce debt was fresh and fueled by lots of adrenaline.

Despite the great progress we made in that first year, there were two months  when we couldn’t put anything extra against our debts. Here was my response at the time:

“I haven’t been sleeping well lately … Thoughts of muffins, egg rolls, and melted cheese have beckoned to me from some deep recess of my brain, promising to be the answer.  Except for when the knot in my stomach has stifled my appetite … In both March and April, DH’s business was slow.  Remarkably slow.  After months of hyperactivity, the slow-down was at first a relief.   By the end of the first slow month, relief gave way to philosophy:  There are ups and downs in self-employment.  This won’t last.  After the second slow month, philosophy gave way to dread.”

Perspective from 5 years later

I have to muster up compassion for that angst of 5 years ago. From this perspective, I can say, “It was only 2 months!” as well as “You’ve had such great success in paying off debt so far! This blip will be absorbed.”

Of course I didn’t know it would be only 2 months then. DH’s business has always been subject to risk factors, and for all I knew, it was failing. And as for our progress up to that point, I actually had too-high ambitions. My original hope was that we’d pay off over $50,000 per year and be out of debt in 5 years. It wasn’t until later that I recognized that we were on a 7-year trek.

There’s something else I have to take into consideration. When I felt that angst, we were still over $200,000 in debt. We were still worse off than the record-breaking national average household debt-to-income ratio – and too old to be in that position. Yes, we’d made big strides forward, but we were still close to the poor financial health that was the starting point of our journey out of debt.

Our current roadblock

This past October, multiple stresses made our lives go off-kilter, and one of them had to do with DH’s business. Not able to disclose much (because DH didn’t want me to), I wrote “DH operates a home business, and there are always ups and downs with it – resulting in variable income, and variable debt-repayment. DH’s business is currently undergoing a stress test. We’re all feeling it. I can’t say much more than that.”

The change DH made in his business (which I completely supported) has resulted in significantly lower revenues for almost half a year now. It worries us, but I’m not being tormented by thoughts of “muffins, eggrolls, and melted cheese” promising to be the answer. And there’s  no knot in my stomach. No “dread”.

The difference? We’re in much, much better financial shape now than we were 5 years ago. Our remaining debt is a small mortgage that we’ll pay off later this year, and we’re cushioned by savings. We’re way, way below the national average for household debt.

What if? back then vs. What if? now

I did my best back then to get out of the discouraged funk I was in. “If I answer the ‘What if?’ questions, I come up with, ‘We’ll stop the business.  We’ll sell the house and move into a smaller one.  DH will look for another job.  I won’t retire as soon as I’d planned.’  Disappointing, but not the end of the world.”

Now there’s a difference when I answer “What if?” DH can keep the business going at a reduced level and start a phase of semi-retirement. I’ll retire in 2019 as planned, and we’ll see at that time if it would be wisest to stop the business and sell the house or not.

Freedom from financial stress

Good financial health doesn’t mean that worry goes completely away or that the passive, head-in-sand money management approach is an option. We do have worries about this extended blip in DH’s business, and we’re having to focus as we navigate through it. But it’s not overwhelming. It’s not distressing or depressing. And I promise you that it would have been 5 years ago.


Have you ever been through a time when reduced income was very stressful? Are you well cushioned with savings to see yourself through an unexpected reduction in income? Your comments are welcome.


Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Our Vegan Experiment

My breakfast of choice these days.

  • DH = Dear Husband
  • DD2 = Dear Second Daughter
  • DD3 = Dear Third Daughter

“It’s not an experiment,” DH says. “And I don’t use the word ‘vegan’; it’s got connotations of religious radicalism. I just say I’ve switched to a plant-based diet.”

I, on the other hand, can’t be sure it’s a permanent lifestyle change. I’ve tried this before. A few years ago, I ate vegan for 6 weeks, but I found it wasn’t sustainable. The big difference this time is  that I’m not doing it alone.

DH, DD3 and I have been eating more and more plant-based meals over the last two weeks as we’ve gradually finished off the meat and dairy foods in our fridge. The last of our items – butter and frozen fish – are going home with DD2 at the end of this Family Day long weekend. (And I hate to admit it, but we threw out our mayonnaise and left-over meatballs.)

The catalyst for our switch to plant-based eating

I think we were fertile ground for this kind of diet change. I have always been fairly health conscious, and DH has become more and more so – surpassing me – over the last decade. But our catalyst was DD3, now the only of our three children still living at home. “I want you to watch What The Health with me,” she first said several months ago.

In January, I finally did. Then DH watched it. A few days later, led once more by DD3, he watched Cowspiracy. And just like that, we were all committed to going full-on vegan – “for at least a month,” I said. But I was the only one who said that.

These documentaries were our tipping point, bringing home issues that had long registered on our cousciousness, but not enough to prompt significant changes. I’m reluctant to dwell on them here, probably because like DH, I’m aware that it can come across as “religious radicalism.” So just in point form I’ll say that we’re concerned about the following:

  • our health
  • the environment
  • cruelty to animals
  • sustainability of food production for the world’s population
  • water conservation

Our transition to plant-based foods

“So what are we going to eat?” was my big question.

DD3 showed me a video of Avant-Garde Vegan in an effort to assure me of all the delicious plant-based recipes there are out there. “You should buy the Oh She Glows cookbooks,” she told me. I did. We all poured over the recipes, ooo-ing and ahhh-ing over possibilities.

Our first vegan meals were staggeringly delicious. The breakfast you see above, the shepherd’s pie you see below, and the lentil-walnut loaf you don’t see at all – because in my excitement about eating it, I forgot to take a photo of it – convinced us that we would be happy to eat this food forever.

Time-consuming meal prep

I used to think salads took a long time to make. Ha! These vegan recipes are definitely time-consuming. The only way for us to sustain a plant-based diet for the long term will be to share the burden of meal prep. So far, so good. We’re still excited by it all. Sometimes, the kitchen verges on chaos with all three of us chopping, blending, and re-checking our respective recipes. With practice, I’m sure we’ll get more efficient. Right now, there is no flow – and plenty of painstaking effort.

We used to be in the habit of grocery shopping only once per week, but on Saturday alone, DH had to go out 3 times as we kept realizing that we were missing ingredients. Again, I hope we get more efficient with time. And the dirty dishes we produce!

As a step towards efficiency, we bought a basic Vitamix blender – in addition to the small Ninja we already had. Not a cheap purchase, and a real indication of DH’s commitment. “We didn’t buy that expensive blender for an ‘experiment.'” The onion and mushrooms (with lentils) you see on the left, neatly chopped by me, took far longer to prepare than the onion, celery, garlic, ground flax seed, and ground oat flour (with lentils) you see on the right, split-second chopped or ground by DH using our blenders.

 

Connection to personal finances?

This is a personal finance blog about our journey out of debt, and here I am talking about food. But if you’ve given focus to money-management for any amount of time, you already know that it’s connected to e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g. Including food.

At this point, I can’t say how a plant-based diet will impact our finances. So far, of course, it’s cost us. The cookbooks, the blender, the need to stock up on strange ingredients we’d never even heard of before … I’ll be able to talk more about our vegan grocery budget once it’s become the new normal.

Parallels between our shifts in finances and food

Apart from the dollar amounts involved, this shift in eating reminds me in many ways of our shift in money-management almost six years ago.

  • We had a financial wake-up moment after listening to the CD version of Dave Ramsey’s The Total Money Makeover – like our food wake-up after watching What the Health.
  • We had to get rid of old habits and make the effort to work out new ways of managing our money – like getting rid of our meat and dairy habits and putting in the effort to learn new ways of doing meal prep.
  • An ongoing fine-tuning of our money-management meant messiness in the form of tracking our spending, working out details of our budget, having disagreements, and facing conflicts – just like the mess involved in our inefficient grocery shopping, dishes, and intense/chaotic meal prep now.
  • We needed a team effort to change our finances – and it’s a team effort to change our food.

We started out $257,000 in debt in June of 2012, and even after the first month, we were encouraged by how far we’d come. Almost 6 years later, we’re grateful to our former selves for undergoing the paradigm shift involved in our financial makeover. Our remaining debt is $37,000 – just a small mortgage that will be gone by October of this year.

In the same way, we’re encouraged now by our victories in switching to a plant-based diet. If DH is right and this isn’t just an experiment, I believe that in 6 years we’ll be grateful to our present-day selves for undergoing this paradigm shift for our health.


Have you seen What the Health? Have you tried a plant-based diet? What connections between food and finances have you noticed? Your comments are welcome.


 

In Praise of Snowshoeing: Physical, Financial, and Mental Health

Snowshoeing out from our backyard with my daughter (who took the photo).

The personal finance bloggosphere is filled with comparisons between financial and physical fitness, and many FIRE bloggers are also marathon runners, tri-athletes, hikers… The “badass” way to go about physical fitness is to do it without paying a gym membership, but that presents challenges for some of us.

Obstacles to free physical work-outs in the winter

Snow covers my part of the world for a solid 4-5 months per year, and it limits free fitness options. Swimming? Not a chance! Cycling? It happens, but only with an element of danger and lots of odd gear. Running? On a mild winter day, packed snow on side-walks and paths, sure. But that’s not the way most winter days happen around here. Severe cold snaps, icy conditions, deep snow, and strong winds often make winter running very iffy.

“Well, what about skiing?” you might ask. Sure, but it’s not free! The costs of skis, poles, boots, and helmet – even second hand – add up, especially when combined with the expense of ski passes.

“Cross-country skiing is free,” you might say. “And outdoor skating is too.” True. But while you can step outside your front door to run or cycle in the summer, most of us can’t cross-country ski or skate with as much convenience. Usually there’s a significant drive involved. On a weekend, no problem. After a day of work? Not always appealing.

Snowshoeing: frugal and user-friendly

The answer to these obstacles? Snowshoeing!

“But it’s not free! You have to pay for the snowshoes.” True. The cost of snowshoes is on par with the cost of running shoes or a bathing suit, and it’s less than the cost of a bike. In other words, it’s in line with the expense of gearing up for “free” summer work-outs.

“There’s still a drive involved, and you said that’s ‘not always appealing.'” The expanse of nature necessary for a decent cross country ski is way bigger that the space needed for good snowshoeing. Chances are you can walk to a place that works for snowshoeing – a local park, for instance. And if you do need to drive, it will almost certainly be a short drive. You don’t need vast tracts of open land to snowshoe.

“What about the whole ‘severe cold snaps, icy conditions, deep snow, and strong winds’ thing?” You can snowshoe in all of the above as long as you bundle up (and use snowshoes with ice grips). The only condition that might limit your snowshoeing is a winter thaw that melts the snow – in which case you can put on your running shoes and go for a jog.

“But I’ve never done it before! It’s too hard.” No it’s not! Skating, skiing, snowboarding, and cross-country skiing all require unique skill sets. Snowshoeing doesn’t. If you can walk, you can snowshoe.

Snowshoeing and physical health

According to this article at Snowshoes.com: Your Guide to Winter Adventure we can burn from 420-1,000 calories per hour during a snowshoe trek. It’s a sport that accommodates a wide range of athleticism. If you’re a newbie or not in great physical shape, it’s fine to snowshoe for a slow-paced 15 minutes. As you get stronger and more fit, go for longer periods of time, speed up, and include any slopes or hills around in your path.

In the article, Dr. Declan Connolly of the University of Vermont is quoted: “‘Snowshoeing is an effective, low impact, and safe form of exercise to change body composition. It burns up to twice the number of calories as walking at the same speed … Snowshoeing utilizes major muscle groups which, when combined with a higher metabolic rate in cold weather and the added resistance of moving through snow, results in a high-energy activity.'”

Snowshoeing and mental health

SAD (seasonal affective disorder) strikes many of us who live where winter happens. Symptoms include low energy, problems with sleeping, and a general sluggishness.  I remember talking with a colleague about my own siginificant case of SAD last winter. “You know what made a difference for me this winter?” he said. “Cross-country skiing. Just being outside made a difference.”

He’s not the kind of guy to give pat answers to problems, but I thought that he was over-simplifying things. Still, I took his advice to heart this winter – via regular snowshoeing – and it seems to be making a difference!

The Mayo Clinic, offering “lifestyle remedies” to SAD advises the same:

  • Get outside. Take a long walk, eat lunch at a nearby park, or simply sit on a bench and soak up the sun. Even on cold or cloudy days, outdoor light can help — especially if you spend some time outside within two hours of getting up in the morning.
  • Exercise regularly. Exercise and other types of physical activity help relieve stress and anxiety, both of which can increase SAD symptoms. Being more fit can make you feel better about yourself, too, which can lift your mood.

Snowshoeing: What’s not to love?

It’s cheap, easy, and convenient. It offers a great physical workout and an effective remedy to SAD through the winter months. You can do it on your own or with others. What’s not to love about snowshoeing?


Your comments are welcome.