Dear Mr. Trudeau: A Reformed Debtor’s Plea

Dear Mr. Trudeau,

Congratulations on the stunning majority that you and the Liberal Party of Canada have won as the result of Monday’s election. There is something larger than life about this victory. You brought your party from a distant third place to a decisive first. You did so against the backdrop of relentless negative attack ads aimed at you. You have summoned the richness of history with your name. Trudeau.

But I’m worried.

You have been refreshingly honest in stating that you intend to increase our national deficit in order to finance your promise of positive change. Honesty is a good thing. Positive change is a good thing. But debt isn’t.

I am among the majority of Canadians who have contributed to our nation’s record levels of household debt. As you know, our average household debt-to-income ratio has skyrocketed in the last few decades. In 1990, it sat at 93%, meaning that for every after-tax dollar earned, 93¢ was owed. Now it sits at 163%; we owe $1.63 for every take-home dollar earned in some form of debt. And the options are limitless: credit card debts, lines of credit, student debt, car loans, mortgages . . . Most of us don’t even notice the precarious situation in which we’ve put ourselves. We carry our debts comfortably, easily able to make minimum payments and always welcome to borrow still more to “make our dreams come true.”

But some of  us know better. When income is suddenly diminished through job loss, divorce, death of a spouse, or illness – and when expenses suddenly surge with the unexpected – those minimum payments aren’t so comfortable anymore. That’s why our record breaking personal debt-to-income ratio is accompanied by our record levels of personal financial distress and personal bankruptcy.

Some of us are trying to change. To turn our financial reality around. To pay off debt and increase savings. To recognize the siren call of marketers and to ignore it. To turn our knee-jerk “yes” into a sobered “not yet”. Delayed gratification. Frugality. Budgets. They don’t seem like the stuff of “dreams come true” still marketed so effectively by those whose interests are served by our debts. But they are.

I woke up Tuesday morning to what really felt like a different country. I could sense the change despite my reservations. There was a boosted energy and the hope of new beginnings. I want to share in your optimism, and I want to believe that your promises are attainable.

One of my earliest memories is of holding up a sign that said “Trudeau” in 1968. I was four years old, and my parents were utterly inspired by the entrance of your father onto Canada’s political scene. Intelligence, wit, boldness, charisma – he had it all. And he captured the imagination of a nation with his vision of a just society, leading us to a broader and deeper embrace of the French language, to a celebration of our multi-cultural composition, to forward momentum in our assertion of women’s equality, to new freedoms, new rights. And debt. Lots more debt.

The past and the present are intertwined, but that doesn’t have to be a point of contention. It is possible to rise above condemnation, to build upon all that is good in the foundation that history has provided us, and at the same time, to face all that is harmful in it and declare a resolute “Not this time around!”

The normalization of debt has crept upon individuals and governments with the same insidious deceit. Pervasive financial distress is the result. Weakened nations are the result. Margaret Atwood’s book Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth, timely in its 2008 publication, identifies debt as society’s latest addiction. Deeply rooted in systems of faith and law, the force of payback is one that we must not ignore. In disregarding it, we sabotage our financial present. The entitlement and the taker’s attitude that fuel indebtedness damage more than our money. With a broader understanding of debt beyond finance, and an application of payback to a pillaged planet, we must also recognize that by maintaining our state of denial, we threaten our future.

With a fierce wake-up call, a plan, and three years of working it, my husband and I have changed our financial reality significantly. We have faced our past errors with humbling honesty, and we’ve changed our direction with intention. We don’t finance our vision for our future with borrowed money, and that vision is becoming more and more attainable as our debt drops bit by bit by bit.

And so I can’t help but urge you, as you take on your new role and work towards the vision that has won your leadership of Canada, that you apply fierce and fearless honesty to all that must be corrected in our country. In pursuit of the social imperatives, yes, but also with respect for the financial imperatives that are so stubbornly connected to our well-being. Debt requires payback. My plea is that you approach it with caution and that you work with a zealous mission to reduce it.

I wish you well in the days ahead. I look forward to the fruits of your leadership. And although my optimism is cautious, I believe in you. Balance you passion with reason. Balance the books with honest, tough choices. Forge ahead with clarity. With prudence.

Sincerely,

A Reformed Debtor

 

 

 

 

Frugality Misapplied: Delay Getting New Prescription for Glasses

A visit with the eye doctor

I knew I needed a new prescription for my glasses. Distance was still OK, but I was having trouble reading. I already had progressives (for the under-40 crowd, that means glasses that accommodate for troubles in seeing both near and far) – they just needed to be modified. And sure enough, the results from my eye test indicated that change was in order.

New frames or just new lenses? The inner-battle

New frames or just new lenses? The truth was, I wanted new frames. Mine were getting outdated. The young woman who was helping me navigate the frames on display smoothly slipped in a reference to the ones I was wearing as “old lady glasses.” Ouch! So new frames and new lenses? And the price would be . . . another ouch!

An inner battle started to rage within me. You need new glasses! Just get them. Of course you want them to look good. They go on your face! said one part of my brain

But another part answered back.  She said “old-lady-glasses” just to get you to buy new frames! You don’t need to have the latest style! You’re on a frugal mission to get out of debt, and you have to rise above marketing pressures. Get new lenses and keep the old frames.

Voice #1 came back with, You didn’t like the frames to begin with. You’ll regret the compromise if you stick with the old frames, and you’ll resent your choice. That resentment will just end up sabotaging your frugality in the long term. 

A third region of my brain interjected with, It’s not THAT bad the way it is now, is it? You still see fine for distances, and you can just adjust for reading. Wearing your old frames for a while won’t bring on any resentment if you don’t spend anything on new lenses either.

I managed to work my decision-making faculties into a state of paralysis, and that final voice won the day. I left the optometrists with a new prescription, and the same old frames and lenses, feeling an uncertain sense of victory for my frugal move. I was no marketer’s pawn! More money to put against the debt! And I could tough out the sight thing. Hmmm….

That was my eye doctor visit. In 2013.

As the months went by, it became more and more difficult for me to read with my glasses on. Eventually, I got into the habit of taking them off to read books, newspapers, and magazines. This is a bit odd, I realized. But it worked.

There was a gradual change in my ability to read on a computer screen too. “You look so serious. Is something wrong?” asked a colleague one day as I checked my e-mails. “No,” I answered. “I’m just focused.” I had to hold my head at unnatural angles to be able to make out the words in front of me. My neck started to bother me.

This past summer, I realized that I had allowed things to go too far. I needed new glasses! And my frames, now even more outdated than they had been two years earlier, would have to go. No indecision. No opposing voices battling in my brain. I was moving forward with single-mindedness. I would just have to wait until November for an appointment. Ugh!

I asked to be contacted in the case of a cancellation, and October 2nd, I had my appointment. Not surprisingly, my prescription had changed yet again. I selected the frames I liked best – the very ones I had considered two years earlier. The price was high, but I knew it would be. Measurements taken, details decided upon, order made. Mission accomplished. I’d just have to wait for two weeks until the new glasses came in.

Shock and an eye-opener

This month, I’ve been struck by the speed at which the days have been shortening in nature’s march towards winter. It happens every year, but somehow, it has seemed more dramatic a change than usual this time around. Dark so early in the evening. Dark when I start my day.

This past Tuesday, I was in my car by 7:00 am. Light rain made conditions less than ideal. A little slippery. Overcast skies combined with my rain-splattered windshield and shimmering, light-reflecting roads to create poor visibility. The red traffic light seemed to last forever as I waited to make my left-hand turn. Finally green. I put my foot on the gas and steered – until an umbrella waved urgently in front of me. Hit the brakes! Through a mind fog, I became aware of indistinct words flying out of the mouth of the angry man who had appeared out of nowhere in front of my car. The moment passed, and I drove on in shock. I had almost hit him!

My face said it all when I came into work. I told the first two colleagues I saw about my near miss. “I just did not see him,” I explained, still absorbing the horror of what could have been. And what was their response? One of them asked, “Is the prescription for your glasses outdated?”

“Yes!” I answered – horrified again – at how obvious a mistake I had been making. I just didn’t tell him how outdated. “In fact, I’m getting new glasses this week.”

If I had made another choice after my visit with the eye doctor in 2013, would I have seen that man walking across the dark, rainy street under his umbrella two years later? If I had bought the new lenses – with or without new frames – would the visibility of the morning have been as bad as my experience of it was? Thank God it didn’t turn out worse!

I picked up my new glasses two days later – on Thursday after work. The difference is pretty significant. I can read both print on paper and digital text on screens without difficulty. Distances are sharper too. Only a few people have noticed the different look of the glasses, and while there might be a moral in that story, I’m still happier with what I see in the mirror.

As I continue on this journey out of debt, I believe I’ll be wiser in my application of frugality. There are times to say “No.” There are times to say “Not yet.” But there are also times when the best thing to do is to make the purchase. I won’t forget the shock of that umbrella waving me to a sudden stop any time soon. Another lesson learned. A real eye-opener.


Have you ever misapplied frugality? Have you ever experienced the shock of an accident – or a near-miss? Your comments are welcome?

 

Roadblock to Frugal Renovations: “We can’t clean that carpet.”

Our embarrassing old, worn, DIRTY carpet. Much worse than we realized

DH = Dear Husband

Frugal living with old, worn stuff

I just did a search to find out when I first mentioned our carpets on this blog. It was three years ago – in the post “Mickey Mouse and His Broom: Debt Illustrated in Fantasia”.  “After fourteen years, a household shows signs of wear,” I wrote. “I’m noticing stains on our carpet . . . The furniture in the family room is visibly worn . . . DH and I have no shortage of material wants.”

We ended up getting some of our carpets cleaned – but not the one in DH’s home office. A 10′ by 10′ space, it was filled up by desks and chairs and the equipment he uses to run his business. It would be impossible to clean that carpet – with the exception of a small area in the middle where people actually walked or sat on chairs. We could see that area was in need of a clean, but it didn’t seem worth the expense to have another “room” cleaned, when it would only be a fraction of that room.

Our evolving renovation plans

Three frugal years later – three years of accepting the old carpets and worn furniture in the name of debt-reduction – we’re making changes. I’ve written about our renovation plans – and about the evolution of those plans – a few times over the past six months. In a nutshell, DH outgrew his 10′ by 10′ home office space, and we’ve moved it to what used to be our living room and dining room – an area more than twice the size at about 24′ by 11′. His former office space is going to become our living room. Our family room is going to become our dining room.

Initially, our renovation plans gave me the kind of shopaholic, dopamine-release brain-buzz that I hadn’t experienced in a long time. “I was high on visions of tile, hardwood, and leather furniture,” I wrote for that first post about our renovation project. “I don’t even care how shallow that sounds!” I’m so glad we didn’t act upon it immediately! We would easily have spent twice as much has we needed to. No exaggeration there.

Four months later, we had a “sobered” renovation plan. Among the ways we were going to cut back on our initial ideas was this one: “Instead of installing two new floors, we’re going to install one – in what will be the new dining room. The new living room? We’ll have our old carpet cleaned and keep on using it. That’s about $500 not spent.”

The carpet cleaners

When we moved everything out of DH’s old home office, we were shocked by the carpet. With all of the furniture and equipment gone, the still-pristine areas of carpet – covered for years and protected from feet and rolling office chairs – were now exposed for comparison, and only then were we able to see just how bad the rest of it was. It was disgusting.

Thursday of this past week, the professional steam cleaners arrived. They took one look at that carpet and said, “We can’t clean that. We don’t perform miracles.” So they left.

Back to Plan A – with a difference

So much for our “sobered”, frugal plans! We’re back to plan A: We will rip up the carpet of the old office and install hardwood. DH wondered if it might be less expensive to go with new carpet, but since he wouldn’t be able to install it himself – and he can DIY hardwood installation – hardwood it is. We’re going to buy it today.

What’s the moral of this story? I think there are a couple:

  • Life doesn’t always unfold according to the plans we make. Even the frugal plans.
  • Sometimes, in our efforts to be frugal, we set ourselves up to need to pay more later. Three years ago, we chose not to have that small area of carpet cleaned. If we had taken on a minor expense then, maybe we wouldn’t have to take on a major one now.

But it’s hard to say. Maybe we would still be ripping the thing out. And in the end, although our current intention looks more like our original “high” plans than our modified and more frugal plans, they’re not the same. The dopamine isn’t there. We’re looking forward to getting rid of that gross carpet and to setting up a new living room, but not under the influence of a brain-buzzing rush. It’s Plan A sobered up.


Have you ever “saved” money – only to set yourself up to need to spend more? Does furniture removal in your house reveal dirty carpets? Your comments are welcome.

 

Budget “Date”? Not Even Close!

DH = Dear Husband

Budget meetings and bickering

I was relieved to read Hannah’s post at Unplanned Finance this past week. “It gets worse first” gives a little peak into the not-so-pretty reality of her initial budget meetings with her husband. “Although Rob and I were ostensibly on a team, we were barely putting up with each other’s financial eccentricities,” writes Hannah, “and our monthly budget meetings were our first opportunities to voice our frustrations . . . I remember seething with anger when Rob told me he wanted to buy new socks and underwear (he has expensive tastes in socks and underwear). I remember when I told Rob that I just wanted to be able to buy a $.75 soda, and he had spent all our fun money on windshield wipers. Windshield wipers are not fun!”

Why relieved? It was a reassurance that DH and I are not the only ones whose budget meetings are less than romantic. This morning, before going to church, we looked at our numbers for October. Our finances have become a mess since the beginning of the summer. DH’s off-the-chart business in June, his home office renovations, my taking on summer school, our de-cluttering mission – it all led to chaos on more than one front. We knew this was going to be a “clean up the mess” budget meeting. And it ended up being – well – messy.

I won’t go into details, but at a particularly low point, I said, “Now you’re just being an a**hole.”  As soon as we had finished with the budget, I marched upstairs in stony silence to get ready for church (the irony does not escape me), and when DH came up to do the same, we just looked at each other and laughed. When will we get this budget meeting thing right?!

“So, it took a year for us to be a team,” Hannah says. “Our budget meetings are now something I look forward to, but it took a year.” I wish I could say the same! We’re over three years into our journey out of debt, and we have yet to enjoy a pleasant budget meeting. They’re not always as bad as today’s, but they have never been something to look forward to. I believe that our budget meetings have been the single most important agent of our debt-reduction to date. They’re just so fraught with tension and irritability.

Financial Peace University

Church was particularly great today, and after the service, I spoke with a man I’ll call Andy. Right after DH and I spoke at church last November about our journey out of debt, Andy told DH how much our testimony had moved him. He’d had years of financial struggle, and he wanted to take the road to debt-freedom too. We lent him our copy of Dave Ramsey’s The Total Money Makeover, and he read it with intensity, sharing it with his wife.

In a conversation Andy had with his mother a few weeks later, he mentioned his intention to start getting out of debt by following Ramsey’s steps. As it turned out, his mother had purchased Ramsey’s Financial Peace University kit, and offered to give it to Andy so that he could lead a class at church. “I’m not ready to do that now,” he told his mom, “but I will some day.” Andy told us that he wanted our support in leading the course, and we told him he would have it.

Today, Andy said he felt ready. So in the next few weeks, there’s a good chance that we’ll be helping to lead a class at our church about getting to debt freedom. Andy made it clear to me that he is still struggling to change his ways. “It can be so hard,” I said to him in understanding. “We just had a budget meeting this morning, and we got into a big argument. It’s been three years, and we still argue when we make our budget!” Andy’s face showed some cheer. “That’s actually encouraging for me to hear,” he said.

I knew what he meant. Just as I felt relief in reading Hannah’s account of her (at least initially) unpleasant budget meetings, Andy felt relief in knowing that DH and I had argued about our budget this morning. He felt an assurance that he and his wife were not the only ones struggling with the ins and outs of finances.

I’m looking forward to seeing what Financial Peace University is all about. I’m ready to support Andy in presenting it to others who are looking for guidance to eliminate their debts. A few imperfect leaders is probably just what is required. I’ll keep you posted.


Do you feel relief when you realize you’re not the only one struggling with something? Have you taken part in a Financial Peace University class? Your comments are welcome.

 

 

Metacognition in Personal Finance

Great food on our anniversary camping trip: Proof that metacognition works. 

DH = Dear Husband

“I find that I loosen up my spending when things are going well financially,” wrote Amy fromDebtgal  in response to a recent post here at Fruclassity. “For example, if my husband gets a bonus check and I’m having a good month for sales from my Amazon store, my mindset shifts, and I feel less urgency to save.”

“metacognition”

Amy was engaged in metacognition when she wrote that comment. A simple definition of the word metacognition is “thinking about thinking.” Dictionary.com says that it means “higher-order thinking that enables understanding, analysis, and control of one’s cognitive processes (thought processes), especially when engaged in learning.”

Spending triggers

I know that for all of those years when I maintained and deepened our levels of debt, I wasn’t using metacognition at all. I definitely did as Amy did. When times were extra good financially, I felt a giddy compulsion to spend that extra. I also spent more when things were extra busy. And I spent more when I felt extra anxious about something. I spent more in accordance with bursts of extra love too – especially when it came to one of our children – and at times of celebration.

Click to continue . . . 

 

 


 

Surprise B-Day Plans // Debt Reduction: Keep Eyes on Prize

Birthday girl hugs Granny after the big “SURPRISE!”

  • DD2 = Dear second daughter
  • DH = Dear husband
  • DD3 = Dear third daughter

“I’m a bit worried about you,” said my colleague Cam last spring. “You’re connecting your debt reduction to EVERYTHING else.”

“It IS connected to everything else!” I said. And it’s true! Whether there’s a direct link or a connection by comparison, it’s there.

DD2’s 21st surprise birthday party

Yesterday was DD2’s 21st birthday, and we held a surprise party for her. I’m basking in a bit of a high as I write this. She was genuinely surprised – shocked even – and all of our efforts paid off in an afternoon that she won’t forget.

The plan

The plan was that I would invite DD2 over for a birthday dinner Sunday night, Sept. 20 – one day after her birthday – because “I would be out of town” Saturday at a convention for personal finance bloggers. (FinCon ’15 is a real event, and I really was considering taking part in it, but I decided not to go for a number of reasons – one being DD2’s 21st birthday.) With Saturday the 19th – her real birthday – clear of any family commitments, DD2 would be free to go out with friends. Her BFF Alannah, a fellow track athlete – and in on the surprise – was going to make arrangements to “meet downtown with friends” Saturday night. The idea was that Alannah would have to swing by our neighbourhood first to “drop something off” at our house. And that’s when the SURPRISE! would happen – 7:00 in the evening on Saturday September 19.

  • Obstacle #1

DD2 mentioned to me that she’d be running a 5 km road race Sunday morning at 7:00. There was no way she’d agree to go downtown with friends the night of the 19th if she had to be up at 5 am on the 20th to run a road race! We had to change things up. Alannah would “organize an afternoon at a restaurant” for DD2 on her birthday. They would have to swing by our house first to “drop something off”. And the SURPRISE! would happen at 3:30 instead of 7:00. Alannah posted invitations via FaceBook for friends from high school and track, and I sent out invitations to family via e-mail. We were aiming for 20-30 people.

  • Obstacle #2

My phone started to ring just as I was walking into the grocery store the weekend before the event. It was Alannah. DD2 had gone ahead and organized her own get-together Saturday afternoon at a pub downtown! Before Alannah had “organized” the fake restaurant get-together! At 3:00! Messages went flying out via FaceBook and e-mail. People would have to be at our house at 2:00 because the SURPRISE! would now be at 2:30.

  • Obstacle #3

3 days before the event, Alannah sent me a text message. The track coach was holding a practice Saturday morning and a boot camp for newbies Saturday afternoon! The more seasoned track athletes (including DD2 and friends who had been invited) would have to stay and help with the boot camp. Ugh! How could we get around this? And keep the secret? We begged the coach to end the boot camp early so that people would have time to go home, shower, and get to our house by 2:00. He changed the schedule so that boot camp would end at 12:30. Would that give people enough time? Would someone say something that would give it away? Was DD2 going to figure it all out?

  • Obstacle #4

The 12:30 end to boot camp did not give people enough time. At 1:14 Saturday afternoon, Alannah sent another text message. “I’ve pushed the time because people from track were going to be late. We will be arriving at your house at around 3:45.” Meanwhile, extended family members – and a couple of friends who had not seen the last minute FaceBook update – started to arrive at our house. They would have to wait an hour and a half for the SURPRISE! instead of the thirty minutes they had expected. “So sorry!” I said. But they were gracious. There were good munchies and drinks on hand, and everyone just hung out. Eventually, the track athletes and a few friends from DD2’s high school started to arrive. Many were not going to be able to make it, and some would be late. But we had 20 people ready to go.

SURPRISE!

At 3:05, a new text message came. “Hi! This is Priya. We just left Alannah’s so we’ll be there soon!”

It was finally time to put things into action. DH pretended to be weeding outside. He would ring the doorbell twice when Alannah’s car pulled up. On the pretense of “dropping something off” (which both Alannah and her father had made completely believable for DD2) they came into the house. At the entrance, DD2 commented on DH’s new home office space. We’re undergoing some renovations now (great time for a party!) and DD3 said, “Come and see what the old office looks like.” The few footsteps it took to get to our hiding spot passed, and DD2’s stunned face was our cue. “SURPRISE!”

A great afternoon

The high of relief for me and everyone else who had struggled to make this work just got elevated by the genuine delight of DD2 as she gradually took it all in. “I’m still in shock!” she laughed after several minutes of hugs and “Hi!”s. A few more guests arrived just after the surprise, and a steady stream of stories from behind the scenes came out: the plans, the obstacles, some close calls that had happened – right up to within minutes of the party . . . With 20/20 hindsight, DD2 had several “aha” moments – “Oh, that’s why you said that! I wondering why you  . . .”

Then it was time for my 90-year-old mother to give a speech. DD2 LOVES her. She has a tattoo of her grandmother’s birth date – in Roman numerals – running down the top of her spine. I have learned to count on great things whenever my mom speaks, but she really outdid herself this time. Funny, moving . . . just brilliant! One of the track guests actually cried on the shoulder of her boyfriend (who is almost certainly going to the Olympics in Rio next summer). “Her grandmother loves her so much,” she whispered through her tears – as we all found out later. And THEN, it was time for the video of DD2’s life – a product of more hours than can be conveyed – beautifully put together by DH. 17 minutes capturing her life from birth until now. Photos and home movie clips through the years, set to music that has meaning for DD2. More tears, lots of laughter. Just a rich, rich moment in time.

And what does this have to do with debt?

My concerned colleague Cam would be pleased to know that I haven’t thought about debt-repayment or budgets or emergency funds or savings at all over the last week. I’ve been all absorbed by DD2’s surprise 21st birthday party. But there ARE comparisons to make. I bet some of you have already thought of them:

  • A surprise party doesn’t happen on its own any more than debt freedom does. You have to set a plan and be vigilant about making it work.
  • We came up against plenty of obstacles in our quest for a surprise, and the same is true in our trek towards debt freedom. Unexpected expenses; a rise in grocery prices; a lower-than-usual business month (meaning lower-than-usual income) . . . And each time, we just have to rework that plan.
  • Just as DH and I were both convinced that DD2 would “find out” about our plans for her surprise, we have also been convinced at times that our pursuit of debt freedom was just not going to materialize. But just as we held on to hope for DD2’s surprise, we hang on to hope for debt freedom.
  • The focus, planning, reworking, trouble-shooting, hours of work, and periodic spikes of anxiety were all worth it for our daughter’s party yesterday, and we know that the same is true for all it is taking to become debt-free.

Have you ever planned a surprise party? Or had one held for you? How did it go over? Did you go to FinCon? How was it? Your comments are welcome.

 

My First Podcast Interview

Talaat and Tai from His and Her Money. My first podcast interview. 

His and Her Money

“Your Podcast is Live!” I received the e-mail notification Thursday morning. Almost a month ago, Talaat and Tai from His and Her Money interviewed me for their site. They had heard of our debt repayment, and since their mission is to encourage people to who feel overwhelmed by debt, they contacted me to see if I’d be interested in being featured as a guest. Of course I was!

I won’t lie; I was nervous. They assured me that they’d be able to edit, but still … AND it was my first time using Skype. I ended up feeling very comfortable talking with Talaat and Tai. “Just pretend we’re sitting on a couch, chatting,” they said. And it was like that. Have a listen if you’re interested by clicking here.

At Fruclassity this week …

I also wrote a post at Fruclassity this week about my sister Elly. She started taking up tennis in her 40s. Now 60, she’s playing at the National level. Some people say that “It’s too late” once you hit your 40s and 50s, to make significant changes in your life – whether in terms of physical or financial fitness. It’s NOT true. For the antidote to “It’s too late,” click here.


I’d love to hear your feedback. Your comments are welcome.

 

 

Correcting Priorities: Debt-Reduction = Means Not End

My “flower garden” never happened this summer. Sadly neglected.

It was brought home to me pretty powerfully this past week that I’ve allowed things to get out of alignment. My summer of teaching summer school, of accommodating DH’s off-the-chart business, of starting home-office renovations, and of aggressive de-cluttering – all very good things – has taken its toll. My focus got distorted, and important  areas of my life have suffered – my poor un-launched “flower garden” above symbolizing that sad neglect. A change is clearly needed.

My 20-year-old diary

Here’s a random fact: I kept diaries from the age of 10 to 25. There’s a stash of them that have remained essentially untouched in my closet for years – decades now – and this week, I pulled one out fairly randomly. It opened to the summer of 1983 when I was twenty years old. I had just finished my first year of university, and I was living for four months in England with my parents (who had been there all year for a one-year work stint that my dad had taken on). The summer was filled with fabulous experience, travel, sight-seeing – interspersed with periods of boredom for me, alone at my parents’ home, far away from my friends and the rest of my family.

July 17, I wrote, “I’m so glad that tomorrow, a schedule begins . . . I’m reading a biography of Thatcher, and one of the things she says is: ‘The secret of life is to make 90% of it habit.’ It holds some truth for me. I like it when when what I do with my time is out of my hands . . . [when] my actions are dictated by what the ‘divine schedule’ tells me to do . . . But in [a] sense, it’s a weakness to follow a ‘divine schedule’. It’s a self-subjugation to authority; taking your actions out of your own hands and forfeiting your free will . . . [but] I’m usually lazy when I’m left with unscheduled time.”

(That’s slightly embarrassing, but please bear in mind that I was a student just out of my teens.)

Stephen Covey on schedules

Stephen Covey, author of the book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, is big on scheduling, and it comes into play in Habit #3. If you aren’t familiar with the 7 Habits, here are the first few:

  1. Be Proactive. If you consider yourself to be a mere product of your upbringing, social class, education, relationships, and career experience, Covey encourages you to a paradigm shift: “. . . because of our unique human endowments, we can write new programs for ourselves totally apart from our instincts and training” (p. 70).  Don’t just react to circumstances as if you have no power over them, says Covey. “It is inspiring to realize that in choosing our response to circumstance, we powerfully affect our circumstance” (86).
  2. Begin with The End in Mind. “How different our lives are when we really know what is deeply important to us, and, keeping that picture in mind, we manage ourselves each day to be and to do what really matters most” (Covey, 98). It is in Habit #2 that Covey encourages individuals as well as organizations to write a mission statement. “It focuses on what you want to be (character) and to do (contributions and achievements) and on the values or principles upon which being and doing are based” (Covey, 106).
  3. Put First Things First. ” . . . if Habit 1 says ‘You’re the programmer’ and Habit 2 says ‘Write the program,’ then Habit 3 says, ‘Run the program,’ ‘Live the program’ (Covery, 169). It is in Habit 3 that Covey shares his vision for schedules – as being subordinate to and in service of  deeper goals and values expressed in the mission statement.

J. Money on Ben Franklin’s schedule

Given my thoughts about priorities, time, and scheduling this week, I was surprised to find in J. Money’s post at Budgets Are Sexy a bit about his own struggles with scheduling. I found out that he’s been on a schedule experiment since the beginning of August. “I have my moments where I get a bunch of stuff done and feel like a complete rock star,” he wrote at the end of July, “but a few days later I’m typically back to ‘trying to figure it all out again.’ And I think a lot of it has to do with finding that optimum schedule that works best for you . . . [S]omething needs to change. And I’m hoping Ben Franklin has the answer.”

You can see Ben Franklin’s schedule – or Scheme as he called it – in Jay’s post. Franklin’s morning started with “Rise, wash, and address Powerful Goodness!” and the question, “What good shall I do this day?” His evening ended with, “Examination of the day,” and the question, “What good have I done today?” Like Covey’s schedule, Franklin’s “scheme” is in service of the greater good – not an end in itself. Not just a tool of logistical efficiency.

What now?

I too know that “Something needs to change,” and I’m going to start with a more proactive plan for my days. Stephen Covey’s schedule is way too elaborate for me. Mine is simple. I have posted a big, laminated calendar in the spare bedroom that I use as my writing space. I’m starting to carve each day into morning, afternoon, and evening, and as I fill it in, I’m mindful of my priorities – of my own personal “mission”. Starting with a devotion to “Powerful Goodness!” (I love that), I’m trying to make sure that I allocate time first to what is most important, my family, and then to other areas of decreasing importance. Some things I’m restricting. To others, I’m giving more space.

As for the complaint of my 20-year-old self when she (I) said that following a schedule was “self-subjugation to authority; taking your actions out of your own hands and forfeiting your free will” – Stephen Covey offers an answer: “You’re the programmer . . . Write the program . . . Run the program. Live the program.”

As I face my challenges in scheduling and priorities, I hope to put things back in alignment. All things debt-reduction are important – but not the most important. They’re subordinate to and in service of deeper goals and values – just as my schedule will have to be. And as balance is re-established, as I “figure it all out again”, I’m hoping that there will be greater contentment, a slower pace. And flowers in my flower garden.


Financial fitness and debt-freedom are great goals, but have you ever found that you’ve struggled, in your pursuit of them, to keep a balance with other, more important goals? Your comments are welcome.

 

GARAGE SALE

The remains of our garage sale towards the end of the morning

  • DH = Dear Husband
  • DD3 = Dear Third Daughter

In the last few weeks, DH and I have been on a mission to get our house emptied of excess stuff. We’re in the midst of moving the office of his home business from a small den to the combined dining room and living room area. The den will become a mini-living room, and what has been the family room will become our dining room. Big, old furniture has had to be cleared out to make way for soon-to-be-purchased smaller furniture, and at the same time, all of the clutter that has been breeding in our home for years has grown more and more annoying, peaking our desire to purge.

Kijiji sales

Getting rid of things is no small deal. We’re selling a number of items through Kijiji, and it takes more effort than I would have guessed.

  1. First, isolate the item and position it so that you can get a good picture of it.
  2. Create a Kijiji ad.
  3. Respond to e-mails and have a game plan in place to respond to offers.
  4. Arrange to meet with the potential customer – sometimes more than once – as he/she decides whether or not to buy.

But Kijiji has been effective. We’ve sold:

  • our piano ($250)
  • a bag of Lego from when our kids were young ($20)
  • our old couch ($20)
  • a weight bench ($50)
  • DD3’s old drum set ($240)

We’re still hoping to sell:

  • two comfy chairs
  • one love seat
  • a large throw rug
  • a set of 3 tables (coffee-, couch-, and end-)
  • a box of wooden Brio train sets
  • a trampoline

Garage sale

And then there are all of the little items that, as I said, have been breeding all over our home. Everything from an old guitar, old books, shoes, slippers, stuffed animals, puzzles, games, toys, containers, dishes, lamps . . . To deal with these clutter minions, I organized a garage sale. It was A LOT of work!

  1. Set a date and asked 2 clutter-challenged friends if they wanted to join me so that it would be a more substantial sale.
  2. Printed off and delivered 78 invitations to all households on my street to see if it could be a street garage sale.
  3. Printed off and delivered 78 notices for all households on my street to let them know there was enough interest to make it a street garage sale.
  4. Put up ads on 2 online sites.
  5. Bought signs and prepared them for DH to put up.
  6. Thursday afternoon had a helpful friend and her daughter over for lunch as well as hours of sorting and pricing.
  7. Friday evening had 2 friends (and the husband of one) who were taking part over for a bar-b-que and garage sale set-up.
  8. Saturday morning, it was time to go!
  9. Saturday afternoon, I boxed up almost everything that hadn’t sold and drove it off to donate it.

The morning was beautiful, and a constant stream of customers kept us busy for the first 3 hours. 25¢ for tops. $2 for a pair of shoes. 50¢  for puzzles. $1 for 2-4 books. $20 for the guitar. $3 for the lamps . . . A fourth friend joined us with her wares, and we had a great time chatting with each other and the people who came to see what we had to sell. The last hour or so was very slow, and we were cheerfully exhausted.

DH and I made what to me was a surprisingly low $110. That’s what happens when you have a ton of sales for less than a dollar. But it was all worth it! We had fun. We de-cluttered. And as one of my friends said, “The whole process of going through my stuff and sorting things out for the garage sale has made me very conscious of every single little thing I buy.” Bingo! I am finding that to be true. When you’ve painstakingly sorted, priced, displayed, and sold – for a couple of dollars or even less – you come to appreciate the burden of things. And you want to avoid them.

Money earned

Add our garage sale earnings to our Kijii sales so far, and we’ve made a total of $690 in our de-cluttering efforts to date – all of which will go towards the emergency fund we are saving as per Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover Step #3. (Step #1 was to save up a mini-emergency fund of $1,000, and Step #2 was the debt snowball to pay off all non-mortgage debt.)

Many people can’t be bothered with a garage sale. It takes a lot of time and effort to prepare, and for the work that is put into it, the amount of money earned is quite low. But there are many side-benefits. A garage sale is a great motivator and focus for de-cluttering. The day itself is pretty well guaranteed to be a laid-back, fun, social time. And it reinforces the wisdom of minimalism and the value of a dollar.

DD2’s Infamous Doll

In a recent post, I asked whether we should keep or get rid of DD2’s infamous bride doll. It’s a porcelain doll that I bought for her when she was 5 years-old and threw a tantrum in the store where we were buying a birthday present for her friend. A very weak moment in my parenting life which effectively taught DD2 to make a fuss to get her way. Ugh! Almost 21 now, DD2 has come a long way – and so has her mother. Most people who responded to my request for advice said that we should get rid of the doll because it represented something negative. Others said we should keep it because it symbolized the positive changes we’ve made. Well, we decided to put it out with our garage sale stuff . . . and it sold. For $2.

I believe we made the right decision. Out with old makes room for the new. Soon enough, we’ll have a new office and some new furniture. But already, we have a renewed sense of the direction in which we’re heading. Towards the destination of freedom from debt. Freedom from clutter. Freedom from purchases that represent or become a burden. I was dealing with small change this morning in the busy rush of our garage sale. But in so many ways, I was dealing with big change.


Do you find that garage sales are a lot of work for a little money? Do you think they’re worthwhile? Your comments are welcome.

 

 

 

Obstacle to Frugality: “Rabid” Stereotype

Frugality’s bad reputation

In her post “You Won’t Get Hit by A Comet” this week, Abigail from I Pick Up Pennies laments the poor reputation that frugality suffers in our culture. In reference to reality TV shows about frugal people, like Extreme Couponers, she says, “These shows are hurting the frugal cause more than helping it . . . And they also reinforce the idea that you have to be rabid to be money-conscious.”

I liked her use of the word “rabid”. It did the trick in summing up the way I used to feel about money-conscious people, and it gave me pause for thought: Why did I think so negatively of frugal types? There were two parts to my answer, and I shared one of them in the comments section after Abigail’s post:

Part I: “I don’t want to be this person I’ve become!”

“When people who aren’t frugal first start trying to be frugal,” I wrote, “there’s an awkward learning curve. We do think about money too much; we do sweat the small stuff – all of the time; we’re not as relaxed as we used to be (when we were spending freely) because we’re in constant, intentional decision-making mode. And if we don’t recognize this state of being as the temporary pain of transition, we say, ‘I don’t want to be this person I’ve become!’ and we revert back to our happily-spending selves – even more convinced that frugal types are ‘rabid’.”

(Click here to continue reading.)