How to Monetize a Blog

This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more.

When I first started writing, I was a person filled with angst. I couldn’t quite place it exactly, not realizing  that the unrest lied in my lifestyle as a millennial yes-woman. And so I did the only thing I consistently ever did since becoming a teenager filled with regret and discomfort – I wrote.

In that writing, I found myself – buried under all of  society’s imposed expectations, fetal position underneath all the rubble and trash. When I first started this blog, I didn’t expect anyone to read it. I didn’t even think myself brave enough to share all the darkest parts. I couldn’t imagine myself coming out of it positive and vibrantly alive. And I certainly did not expect a following, nor did I think that my written word would turn into a business. It’s been two years in the making, but now I’ve been able to create a community and a space in this vast interwebs, while also make money on the side to fuel my goal of paying down my debt.

And it all began with Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing!

Where Blog Monetization Began

Michelle Schroeder-Gardner runs a personal finance blog called Making Sense of Cents  and is the author of Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing. I first heard of Michelle on ChooseFI, as an interviewer like myself, talking about a life of side-hustling via blog work. It was then that I was introduced to affiliate marketing, which allows someone to share useful products relevant to their blog or lifestyle in the interest of helping others, while receiving a commission from the company if purchases are made through you. Prior to this moment, my blog made no money. Since then, I have had the joy of receiving additional side-hustle income while doing what I love. My blog became my first side-hustle. 

What I Liked About This Course:

  • It taught me how to sell without compromising my values. I am very much against selling for the sake of selling. As a minimalist and a frugalist, what I choose to purchase is very important for me, and I wanted that to translate into my blog. I dislike sales-pushy people and am very much against excessive consumption. This course helped me to balance the implementation of affiliate marketing without feeling like I sold my soul.  I use affiliate marketing as a means to share with others products or experiences that brought value to my life. I help others by directly linking them to note-worthy companies. I am very mindful about not infiltrating my blog with a cluttered handful of advertisements, generally limiting each post to one or two.
  • It allowed me to invest in myself and helped propel us forward with student loan repayment. This course is an investment in your ability to make money. More than that, it invests in expanding your skill set and abilities. I knew nothing about growing a blog, but learning about affiliate marketing was a great introduction into running blogs as more than a digital day-to-day diary. I am the first to say that my investment into becoming a dentist (costing me more than $550k in student debt) was not worth the education that I received, albeit it was worth the life lessons I learned and the person that I became. But this course is worth every penny! If you are interested in increasing your income, speeding up your trajectory towards financial independence, or a flexible job that allows you to stay home, I highly recommend this course.
  • It gave me a job that I love. I get to work as a part-time writer, staying at home working in my PJ’s, and doing what I love to do. All because affiliate marketing makes my blog a money-making venue. I always hear people say, “I don’t believe anyone can ever love their job”, and when I do, I feel very sad. I also feel guilty, because I DO love my job – in fact I love all my jobs! I love being a writer, a dog-sitter, a baker, and a dentist. However, if I never discovered how to monetize my blog, I do not think I would be able to make that statement. If I never fell into this  sphere of making money on the side, I would have probably been stuck working as a dentist, five days a week, burned out from the emotional stresses and mental challenges with a crick in my neck and an aching back at the ripe age of thirty. This course gave me my first glimpse of what it means to step back from a traditional work-life. It gave me the opportunity to limit my time in other jobs, which prevents me from hating a mundane existence. If writing is your passion, then maybe it’s time to carve out a job for yourself.
  • It gave me the confidence to start other side-hustle ventures. It’s hard to step out of  a comfort zone. It’s hard to leave a job that promises stability. It’s hard to do what others are not doing. It’s hard to chase freedom, when it also involves the freedom to fail. But once you’ve left the zone, there is empowerment outside of  it. Using what I learned in affiliate marketing gave me to confidence to believe in my ability to sell my skills rather than work for pay. I started to see value in my ability to take care of dogs. I saw value in the bread that I was making. I saw value in a lot of things. I left an egg-shell that was already shattered, I crawled out of a cocoon by putting myself out there. I think it takes one tiny step to fall fantastically forward into a black hole of bliss. This course was my one. tiny. step.

What I Like About Affiliate Marketing

There are many positives to affiliate marketing. In the interest of brevity, and in the hopes of allowing you guys to figure what you love about it yourselves, here is a list of the things I liked most.

  • It increased my income and quickened our pace with loan repayment.
  • It taught me a lot about myself, in terms of what I wanted to promote and what I did not want to promote.
  • It allowed me to share with my community what brought  the most value to my life.
  • It allows my readers to connect directly to the source, facilitating a sharing of useful resources.
  • It shined the spotlight on small businesses and companies just starting out, especially those who I believed has a great impact.
  • It provided me with the lifestyle I wanted, and is a great opportunity for writers just starting out, or people interested in working from home, nixing a commute, or being with their family.

How to Start Making Money with Your Blog

So if you are interested in writing and earning money, start with this course! It’s an easy transition for beginners like me, who knew nothing about starting a blog. Right now, the course is ON SALE (which hardly ever happens!). If you use my affiliate link here and use the code OCTOBER2019CC, you will receive $28 off of the course, making the total price $169 after the discount! Now I know frugalist followers will be rolling their eyes at this price, but do remember that it’s an investment for the FI lifestyle. When done right, you can make that money back quite easily, especially if  you approach affiliate marketing from a mindful place. But do hurry, because this deal won’t last long! It ends Sunday, October 20 at 11:59 pm PT.

As always, do not hesitate to contact me if you need any help or would like to learn more.

Intentional Living: A Sample Morning Routine

Firstly, a mere word on routines. Routines are founded on habits, and part of habit creation requires that one just bites the bullet and trains the self to have muscle memory. I was not born with great habits, nor am I always good about them. Habits continually shift, depending on your needs of the season. In my case, it’s due to an ever-changing philosophy. My list undergoes a remodeling quite frequently. I find that I work best when my habits have triggers – events that remind me to do something. Additionally, I have found that the reward system does not work well on me. I don’t care for rewards too much, so they are not good motivators. The best motivator for me lies in the doing. An afternoon in idleness makes me glum, so routines help me stray from that negative territory. Pursuit of happiness, et al. Of course, your routine formation and motivations may be different. This difference will change the way your routines are made, or even which ones you end up adopting. When I list my routines here, it is not the end-all by any means. Consider it just a sharing of what I do.

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For me, my morning routine looks like this:

Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays

  • 6am – Trigger: Theo the cat meowing –> Habit: Get up to feed the cat.
  • 6:01am – Trigger: Turn on the kettle on the stove –> Habit: Don’t go back to bed, lest you forget the kettle.
  • 6:05 am – Trigger: Kettle has hot water –> Habit: Make a pour over to take back to bed.
  • 6:10 am – 6:20 am – Trigger: Coffee in hand –> Habit: Sip on coffee and stare out the bedside window as the world wakes. Daydream, plan the day, reminisce on the past, what have ye.
  • 6:20am – Trigger: Coffee is awakening the senses  –> Habit: Read a book or write.
  • 7 am – Trigger: Mike starts his shower –> Habit: Get up and start putting last night’s dishes away and preparing breakfast
  • 7:20 am – Trigger: Mike gets out of the shower –> Habit: Eat breakfast together, pack lunches
  • 8:00 am – Trigger: Mike leaves for work –> Habit: Yoga session
  • 8:45 am – Trigger: Yoga is over –> Habit: Wash the morning dishes, sweep the floors, clean the house
  • 9:00am – Trigger: Dirty from cleaning and yoga –> Habit: Get ready for work.

Leave for the dental office at 9:00am.

Tuesdays and Thursdays

  • 6am – Trigger: Theo the cat meowing –> Habit: Get up to feed the cat.
  • 6:01 am – Trigger: Pull out the mixer –> Habit: Mix bread
  • 6:15am – Trigger: Bread mixed –> Habit: Make Coffee
  • 6:30am – Trigger: Need to add salt to dough –> Habit: Read afterwards or write
  • 7am – Trigger: Need to turn dough –> Habit: Start making breakfast
  • 7:30am – Trigger: Need to turn dough –> Habit: Eat breakfast and prep lunches
  • 8am – Trigger: Need to turn dough –> Habit: Yoga session
  • 8:30 am – Trigger: Need to turn dough –> Habit: write, write, write
  • 9am – Trigger: Need to turn dough –> Habit: More blog work
  • 9:30am – Trigger: Need to turn dough –> Finish computer work.
  • 10am – Trigger: Shape dough –> Habit: Start the rest of the day

The reward is  singular and the same: A productive morning by the time the day actually starts.

If you are having difficulty with changing habits, sometimes it is best to rely on others to make us accountable. Why not try creating a habit with a group? Lastly, in order to create a habit, one must have belief – in the cause, as well as the ability to change.

Care to share your morning routines?

Need help making one? May I suggest the following resources: The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg and The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp.

 

How to Get Companion Pass for 2020

This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more.

I wrote previously about how to travel for free using Southwest. I also alluded to the Companion Pass, which allows you to take someone with you at NO COST, neither in points nor dollars! The Companion Pass is by far our favorite perk for travel hacking. We essentially purchase flights using points for one person and the second person gets to tag along for zilch. When done right, it can last TWO YEARS! You can change your chosen companion thrice a year, like a piece of luggage or carry-on, but with significantly more endearment. How amazing is that?!

How to Get Companion Pass

Getting an elite status of having a Companion Pass requires the accumulation of 110,000 points in one calendar year. The Pass lasts for the rest of the year through the following year after. It is more beneficial to achieve Companion Pass status towards the beginning of the year than in the later part of the year. For example,  if you get the Companion Pass in February, you will have 10 months for that year plus an additional 12 months for the following year, summing up to a total of 22 months of privilege! Compare that to getting the Companion Pass in October, which would result in only 14 months of privilege.

The 110,000 points that you’ve accumulated in order to get Companion Pass status goes towards purchasing your future tickets from Southwest Airlines. Even though 110k points sounds like a lot to accrue, it is easily achievable using the credit card sign-up bonuses. It has never been more achievable than now, because for a limited time (until October 16, 2019), the new Southwest Business Performance card comes with an $80,000 sign-up bonus if you spend $5,000 in the first three months! This is the largest sign-up bonus that I have ever seen with Southwest.

How to Get Companion Pass for 2020

Because of this new deal, you can easily reach the 110k points needed by pairing the SW Business Performance card with a SW personal credit card of your choosing. The personal card will give you 40k points in sign-up bonus after you’ve spent $1k in the first 3 months. Together, both credit cards will get you 120k in points, thus reaching the minimum 110k threshold for Companion Pass. It is important to get both sign-up bonuses in the same year, preferably towards the earlier months. The Companion Pass considers when you get the bonus points only, not when you opened the credit card. So if you want to get companion pass for 2020, you can open both credit cards 2 months prior to January and hit the minimum spends IN JANUARY.

Here is a how-to guide for getting Companion Pass

  • Sign up for the SW Business Premiere CC sometime between now and when the deal ends (October 16, 2019). You want to make use of the 80k sign-up bonus deal. If you miss this time frame, you will only get the standard 60k sign- up, which will not meet the minimum 110k even if you pair it with a personal card.
  • Plan ahead on how you will spend the 5k minimum spend within the first three months.
  • Do not spent all 5k in 2019. You want to make sure that you get the sign-up bonus in 2020. For us, we plan to use the credit card for everyday spending, the holiday season, and booking AirBNBs and transportation for our Japan trip in March. We will spend only 4.5k on the credit card, which will give us a healthy buffer that ensures we do not accidentally overspend. In January, we will be spending the first few days of the year on a short trip to celebrate our third wedding anniversary, where we will likely hit the minimum spend.
  • Sign up for the SW Rapid Reward Plus personal credit card in November or December. I like this one because it has the lowest annual fee ($69) with $900 worth in bonus points, which makes it very worth it! If you would like more perks, applying for another personal credit card at a slightly higher annual fee may be for you. The Points Guy details them well in this chart.
  • Spend only $500 on this credit card in 2019. The minimum spend is very low ($1000) and you do not want to go over this amount! If you do, you cannot count these points towards 2020. In the first few weeks of January, you can easily spend the $500 on utilities, internet, groceries, and other everyday spending.

Tips on How to Meet Minimum Spends

If you are having trouble reaching minimum spends, here are some ideas:

  • Pay bills ahead, whether it be utility bills, insurances,.
  • Buy non-perishables that you will definitely use for the home.
  • Buy non-perishable staple food from the grocery store.
  • Purchase big ticket items during this time period.
  • Book future travel plans.
  • Offer to buy gifts for friends/family ahead of time.
  • Offer to pick up the tab for all your friends when you dine out, and then just have them Venmo you their fair share.
  • Ask friends and family if you could use your credit card to make big ticket purchases for them and have them e-wire you the cost. (Of course, choose your friends and family wisely).

Roadblocks You May Encounter

  • Being Denied a Business Credit Card: Gone were the days when you could apply for two Southwest personal credit cards. This method was how we got Companion Pass two years ago but alas, it is no longer an available one. They now allow only one personal and one business card. Thankfully, there is still a way! However, qualifying for a business card may be difficult if you do not have a business. Previously, I’ve written about the cons of depending on a single income stream, and credit-card-hacking-made-difficult is one of them. Off course, your life’s work shouldn’t depending on card hackability, although it’s yet another example why multiple modes of earning money could be beneficial. Often times, as reliable as they are, single income streams may lead one down the path of working for another rather than working for the self. Side hustles, however, open way for your own business. Take myself for example. I opened an S-corp for my dental practice which makes ME and MY SKILLS “the business”. My dental office pays Samantha De Leon Tillapaugh DDS, Inc. via a 1099 who then pays myself via a W-2. But even without that, I could also demonstrate my income and spending reports for Aero Bakery. I could demonstrate the dog-sitting business that I’ve grown via Rover, with letters of reference from dog owners. I can demonstrate this blog as a business, listing the affiliate marketing that I’ve entailed as well as the upkeep spending reports. Those are four “businesses” that I could use to justify the loose qualifying terms for a business credit card. Note how none of those have LLCs. I had a friend who got a business credit card from Chase when he detailed a business he wanted to start, indicating why he needed a business credit card to get the business off the ground. There are many creative ways to do this, and side hustles definitely help. If you babysit children, or tutor teens, you can rationalize why you need a business credit card. If you hold creative workshops or cook for others, you can again rationalize a reason. If you do photoshoots for special events or play music as a DJ …. well, you get my drift. Having hobbies turned side hustle can help avoid this pitfall.
  • Hitting the minimum spend in 2019 – This is definitely not a problem you want to have. Because you apply for the credit card earlier than 2020, you run the risk of hitting the minimum spend the year prior. You definitely do not want to split the sign-up bonuses between two years, because then you will have a very tough time reaching the 110k points. My advice keep track of all spending on the credit card and stop short a few hundred dollars. You can then resume spending on the credit card in January to make sure that both reach the minimum spend in 2020.
  • Not hitting the minimum spend in 3 months – If you fail to hit the minimum spend in three months, then the benefits of the card that would have outweighed the annual fee would be gone. It would defeat the purpose of travel hacking altogether. Since hitting $5k in 3 months may be difficult for frugalists, check the list above to see how you can actually use that $5k to plan ahead and relieve some of your future spending! However, beware of falling into the habit of spending just to spend. The purpose of the credit cards is not to allow you to buy more than you need. Rather, it is a tool to get you what you want without having to spend money for it (travel!). As always, spend wisely and well below your means.

A Lesson in Making Do with Where You’re At in Life

I like metaphors. I like them so much that I take mundane occurrences in the every day and aggrandize them into life lessons. Over-glorified moments twisted with a truck-load of positivism, spun into something better. Oh, the world in which I live!

So I’ve got a metaphor.

Last Sunday afternoon we were experiencing an Indian summer, not atypical of Southern California. It was hot, I was wearing shorts and a tee, my bangs were sticking to my forehead, and my skin was sticking everywhere else. We were at home, finished with the morning chores, the run to the farmer’s market, the 10am football games, an afternoon of nothing ahead. An ideal situation for me. Even more so for my husband. He had just sat down at the computer, when I suggested we go to the beach. We were there exactly twenty four hours prior, but I was hankering for a re-do and thought, it couldn’t hurt to ask.

It was not unfair of him to say no, either, but there I was, left with a decision to head to the ocean water on my own and trample in the waves, or stay. Due to a fear of being swallowed whole by fierce waters (to blame: a near drowning experience that resulted in a missing bathing suit bottom after being tossed around like a rag doll in the wash), I can never brave dousing more than my bottom half when I go alone to the beach. But the hot weather had me wanting more – a fervent dumping of my entire body into deeper waters. I needed a hand, though. Strung along were other excuses – I was avoiding the drive to the water which would sacrifice an hour of my weekend, en total, along with the cost of dreaded parking meters.

I realized that in that moment, the beach was something I did not have, but wanted. It was another case of wanting more out of life when plenty abound. In much the same way that travel can be a form of escape from the mundane, so too was the beach a way for me to escape an afternoon in idleness. In a matter of moments, I started to think of what I did have, and it dawned on me to apply my mantra of making do.

As crazy it this may sound, I decided to create my own ocean. I wanted to dip in water, to cool down, to play and frolick. I scoured the tub, dug the plugger from underneath the bathroom sink, and turned the faucet to Cold. I filled the tub with water and was reminded of the kiddie pools we used to own. Those tiny things we would spread out on the lawn and clamber into, practically sitting on top of each other, all arms and legs. For some reason, I wanted to replicate that childish scene. I put on my bathing suit (you gotta dress the part, you know?), and dunked right in. I moved around a lot, which caused the water to slosh. Just like that, I had created waves. I know it seems crazy, but I got what I wanted – an escape from the mundane. It was nice. I was happy.

Now let’s aggrandize.

In honor of World Mental Health Day, I wanted to share that on THAT particular Sun-day, I got something right. I didn’t run away from my unhappiness. I acknowledged what I wanted to do. I tried to make the situation positive and bright. I worked with what I had, which I know can sometimes be the hardest thing. And as this post is titled, Make Do with Where You’re At In Life, maybe today isn’t a day that you can will yourself out of bed. You sure can try but if your limbs are too heavy or the bed too soft, then make do and imagine you’re on a cloud. We need to raise a planet where there is no social stigma for these things. Where we protect people’s feelings. So what if a thirty year old wants to pretend she’s made an ocean out of a dingy bathtub? So what if an adult needs to be a vegetable for the day? It is only when we preserve and allow for these activities that we can make the world a bit more bearable, more light, more happy.

 

An Early Morning Baker’s Shift

I’m no longer what the patisserie world would consider an early morning baker, even though to the rest of the world, I qualify simply because I rise at an earlier hour to bake. But I have been meaning to share my experience as an early morning baker for a while, if only to reminisce on what I remember as some of the best mornings of my life.

I was working for RyeGoods back when they were slinging bread in a garage-turned-commercial-kitchen behind a blue house with an orange tree located at the end of a quiet cul-de-sac. We were a band of misfits in the most positive sense – dreamers creating magic. Headed by a pastry chef who disliked sugary treats and a carpenter who built out everything we worked on, the crew was made up of a business major who decided to quit paper to help his sister fulfill her dream, a surgeon’s son who fell in love with bread at a pizza restaurant, a chef who was interested in the mission of the bakery, two ladies who were also doing their own cottage food endeavors, and myself, a dentist who wanted “something more” in life. To be honest, I was probably the less fitted to the band of misfits – a straight-edge with neither tattoos nor insight into sports or pop-culture, and no formal training in the restaurant industry. I was there because I bake sourdough bread at home. But even misfits have families, and this place felt like home. We came together under that roof called upon by a shared love of what we do and a belief in the mission – make healthy, delicious REAL artisan bread using traditional methods while supporting local farmers preserving ancient heritage grain.

My shift began at 2 am in the morning, and I worked three days a week. My alarm was set at 1:40 am, in order to get the most out of my sleep. On weekends, it was around the time the bars outside my window would close. While others went home to sleep, I left home to start my day. Theo, my cat, would clamber into the warm spot that I’ve just vacated, as if to say, “I’ll guard this until you return.” By the time I’ve slipped on my baker outfit (an old pair of jeans, a New Zealand hat, and a Krochet Kids tee), he’s already drifted back to sleep. I’d hop into my car and drive the ten minutes to our bakery, avoiding indecisive rabbits and sleepy eyelids. I would park in front of the fenced yard where the orange tree sits, and walked down the long driveway surrounded by mist, past our delivery truck and into the beloved garage.

The shift consisted of myself and the surgeon’s son. Since I am always late, he’d have switched on all three ovens and loaded two of them with sixteen lodge pans. It won’t stay cold here for long.

We remove pre-shaped pastries from the fridge – sleeping babies awaiting us to give them life. All goods made with croissant dough are placed in the proofer to rise. The others await the pre-heating ovens on a baker’s rack. These first few moments are the slowest, giving our bodies time to wake. He usually checks the bread bake for the day as I pull out the banana bread loaf pans. Once loaded into the ovens, I return to mix vegan loaves. It takes about fifteen minutes. Divvied up into their pans, they join their bread counterparts in the ovens and are forgotten about for the next fifty minutes.

Next on my list of tasks is the assembling of pop tarts. Flour the surface, sandwich jam between dough sheets, and crimp with a fork. This repetitive movement was very calming to me, along with the background noise of clanging combo-cookers, a signal that the first batch sourdoughs were being scored and loaded.

The clock hands move slightly faster.

Occasionally, one of us will ask a question about bread, share some insight, or talk about a recent experience outside of the bread world. But most times, we worked in silent understanding of the roles that we’ve fallen into. We were both working 60-something hour weeks, having picked up midnight shifts like a pair of crazies, for the love of bread. For those four months, our thirty minute conversations qualified him as my only friend. We started work the same week, “the last of the OG’s” as the carpenter would say, and leaving the system we’ve made was the hardest part.

At around this time, we begin juggling roles. Whoever was free checked the state of the croissants. When they were ready, we shuffled around each other, egg washing, sugaring treats, loading pastries, all while eyeing timers. When a timer would go off, we just needed to look at each other to know which of us was leaving to check the ovens.

At 4 am, one of us feeds the starter and mixes the levain. The other holds the fort.

There’s still the cookies to be squashed, icing to be made, lavender sugar to be sprinkled on blueberry scones, and more loaves to be pulled out of the fridge. If we could sacrifice an oven for a larger bread production, we would, but often times, pastries were a priority as it neared delivery time. Our brains are calculating minutes as our muscles mechanically move in routine rhythms.

At this time, an occasional step outside may be necessary, as the tiny garage has turned into an oven itself. The pastries fill the space with that familiar scent of a grandmother’s kitchen. The outside air in February is the perfect contrast to the passion we had for dough. We stripped sweaters and wiped sweat from our brows. But we can’t stay away from the ovens for long.

Croissants that have cooled need to be twice-baked with almond filling, pop-tarts need to be iced, and cookies need sprinkling with maldon sea salt. Meanwhile, the banana and vegan loaves require slicing. I’ve honed in on the ability to slice them into equal portions using my two finger’s width to measure. We send the end pieces out for the baristas to enjoy. Whoever was free can bag the bread loaves and load them into the truck. We had worked out the system where pastries would be ready and the area clean so that once our delivery guy walks in, he would be able to box and prep efficiently. But on some days when the bakes were heavy, the arrival of the delivery guy will indicate our need to double our speed.

Throughout all this, we’ve tried to keep up with the piling dishes during whatever down time we had. We knew it was a good day when the dishes were low once the packaging and delivery crew arrived.

Sundays, though, were my favorite. Sundays were bagel days. We would rush to get everything done and out of the way to make time for bagel prep. Standing side by side shaping bagels in silence was something I think we both relished. It was the part where everything slowed down, and when I felt like I was really in my element. As much as I liked pastries, bread was really my calling, and that translated when I started my own bakery. Pastries were oh-kay, and I somehow landed the job of pastry prep along the way, but shaping bread was where everything lined up. After letting the dough rest, we would poke holes with our thumbs and spin them around thrice to enlarge the dough to the correct size. We set them on floured trays and once they were all prepped, we would take each tray into the back part of the house where a pot of boiling water sat on the stove. It was here, in the dim morning light, that the idea of Aero Bakery was born. As we were leisurely boiling bagels (six at a time because that was the biggest pot we had), we talked about how Rye Goods started, and I learned of cottage food operations. We were dreamers, after all, and my dream was born here. I remember everything about that back house. The way the darkness slowly faded away, the creak of the wooden floorboards, the direct view you had from the kitchen window into to bustling garage. I can still smell the mist and the bread, the morning fog and the stove top heat. Nothing made more sense in my life than those few moments of peace.

I left earlier than the other guys, committing to work only until 6 am. Before leaving, I loaded as much as I can into the trucks. We wanted the delivery guys to be out around this time, too.  I grabbed my sweater, waved goodbye to my fellows, and would slip into the morning dawn. Birds are chirping, the sun is rising over the palm trees, and there was bread in hand (when there were extra). My whole body is warm and humming, just like the ovens. My skin is crackling, just like bread cooling on a rack. My brain is light, like a bird’s feather, floating free.

I joined the “early birds” on the freeway heading to work before the traffic starts. I enter my home to a meowing cat, ready for food. Sometimes, my husband and roommate are already in their respective showers. I clamber into bed and wait for breakfast, when I turn on the kettle to make a cup of coffee.

When I quit, I told myself I will never put my body through a sleep schedule like that again. I also know that I will never feel that alive, unless I do.

Frugal Challenge: Practice Minimalism

In my life (as it is now), minimalism came first. By practicing minimalism, everything good in my life fell into place, financial clarity being one of them. Every time I choose a life of less stuff, I enforce a habit of not relying on external stimuli to make me feel whole. I am also deconstructing a fallacy that we were taught from birth, one that says we can buy our way to happiness. Minimalism is, after-all, a modern by-product of Zen teachings on how happiness resides within ourselves and the worlds our minds create. Any external stimuli only prevents us from tapping into our inner state of calm or peace by acting as a distraction from true happiness. Without the material things to distract me, I am able to focus on the more important (non-material things) in my life, such as paying down $575k in student debt! I can confidently say that I would not have been as successful with finding frugality and working towards financial independence without first practicing the art of saying Goodbye, Things.

My frugal challenge for the month of October is to start practicing minimalism. After all, it goes hand-in-hand with frugality. Practicing minimalism can cut down costs in many ways. Here are a few!

  • LESS SHOPPING, ERGO LESS SPENDING: After you’ve de-cluttered a lot of your items, you will naturally develop a hesitancy with buying something again (unless it’s something you realized you really need or want). The de-cluttering process, when done right, is a tedious process for the average American because of how much stuff we tend to accumulate. I guarantee that once you’ve really pared down, buying things is not as attractive as it once was, which means you will spend less money on shopping.
  • LESS STUFF MEANS LESS LIVING SPACE: Having less things allow for a smaller home, which usually leads to cheaper rent! Many minimalists find that once they are freed from the burden of material objects, they are suddenly free to live alternative lifestyles, such as pursuing the small space movement! Housing is one of the largest expenses in most people’s budget, so reducing the cost of housing will greatly catapult your path towards financial freedom.
  • LESS UNNECESSARY SPENDING FOR REPAIRS AND REPLACEMENT. Minimalism is a lesson in being grateful for the things we already have. Because minimalists surround themselves with only their most beloved things, they are more likely to preserve, mend, and fix a broken thing than they are to throw it away and replace it. They aren’t going to buy things for convenience sake and they are more invested in maintenance. Because of this, they save more money.
  • LESS KEEPING UP WITH THE JONES’S: Minimalists do not participate in keeping up with the Jones’s. In fact, they think the Jones’s are making a dying, rather than making a living. And minimalists prefer to live life rather than work themselves to death in order to buy material goods. And since minimalists do not participate in upward social comparisons, they are not as easily influenced or frequently bombarded by and with advertisements. They aren’t called upon to be consumers. And if they are, the calling is easily ignored. Overall, they don’t spend money in order to keep an appearance. Minimalists save their dollars, preferring to build wealth rather than build social status.
  • LESS STRESS RELIEF BINGES. When we are stressed, we tend to spend in order to make ourselves feel better. We want to take a vacation to run away from stressful work. We go out to drink during happy hour after a difficult 8-5. We binge on food and eat our misery away. We even have retail therapy. A practice in minimalism leads to more space physically, emotionally, and mentally. Minimalism reduces stress by reducing the external stimuli in our environments. With all this Zen, there is less cost dedicated to stress relief practices.
  • NO EXPENSIVE FRIVOLOUS EVENTS. Minimalists do not want to celebrate big life events with lavish parties, nor do they want to receive a tower of gifts. What will they do with all of this stuff? I may be speaking for myself, but my ideal celebration involves people and homemade food in a warm setting. I like gatherings in small spaces because you can feel the presence of others and there’s no nooks and crannies to hide in and stare lovingly into your phone. A good example of this was our wedding. We got married in an empty warehouse and the decor was handmade. My father tied gold streamers onto a string, and I made a backdrop for the photobooth area. My aunt collected wild flowers and put them in vases, and Mike’s grandmother made cookies and her famous magic bars. Our friends provided local beer for the reception as their wedding gift. We hired a taco truck and had donuts for desert. I’d imagine the same would go for children’s parties, funerals, graduation, & c. No frivolous events means no expensive events!

These are just a few ways that minimalism can help build a frugal lifestyle. The truth is, minimalism goes a step further than frugality. When I became a minimalist, I reduced the distractions in my life. I honed in on who I was and what made me happy. Because of this recently tapped in energy, I performed better at work and increased my income. I then found a few interests that became side hustles (writing being one of them). This further allowed me to make more money. And as I became happier, I also became less dependent on buying my way to happiness. My work made me happy, and I funneled even more time into my passions. And so the cycle snowballed, and slowly, our debt repayment changed from 25 years to 10 years to 9 year, to 7 years, to hopefully less than 6 years! All because I got rid of my things.

As all minimalists argue, if minimalism involves shedding physical burdens in the form of material possessions in order to be liberated to live the life that really matters, why isn’t is called maximalism? Frugal maximalism.

FREEDOM: Getting Out of a Rut

Alright, I’ll admit it. I’ve been in a rut. It took a long time to recognize it (too long!), but it is quite obvious to me that I’ve made a false start. I began this year with the intention of writing a course. It’s September and it’s 80% written but yet to be published. Meanwhile, it’s been slowly eating away at my bank account as I use a program that is useless without the course itself. Not only is it nibbling away at my account, but also at my inner peace. My mind is always thinking about the course. More accurately, I am always reminding myself that it has yet to be finished. Something is always nagging me, competing for attention space. I’m split spiritually, trying to go in two directions as half-ghosts of myself struggle in confusion.

The course is on budgeting. I wanted to write it to help people get out of their debt, much in the same way my CFP helped us get out of mine. But since deciding on helping people with this, my world was drastically changed, by BREAD no less! My focus is no longer on teaching people finance in a virtual space but on creating a local community around bread in my physical space. And still, I didn’t abandon the course.

I was essentially in denial. I made excuses such as, “I’ll work on it eventually”, “It’ll be worth my time”, and “People need me”. In all my self-glorification, I was disillusioned into thinking people’s budgets were in my hands. I’ve started to learn lately that that’s a big flaw of my Enneagram type 1 personality (more on that later, perhaps). After I got over myself, I finally realized what this course was:

  • A good idea, AT THE TIME. But the times have changed.
  • A self-glorified belief in my ability to help people and “set things right”.
  • A long withdrawn denial that this isn’t working out.
  • A hindrance to my advancement with what’s really interesting to me now – this bakery.
  • Unhelpful to me, unhelpful to anybody.

At times like these, we need to be brutally honest. I had to metaphorically stare myself down and say, “This is not YOU”.

There are three steps to getting out of a rut. The first is to see the rut. I see my bank account. I see my half-finished write-up. I feel nothing towards this course. The fire has gone out, which tells me it’s time to move on. Next, is to admit I’m in a rut. Which is why I am here. Forget all the assumptions I made about how beneficial this course will be. It’s just not happening. And thirdly, get out of the rut. The hard part. After spending hours of my days writing what must be a mini-novel on budgeting, I need to just abandon ship in order to save myself and get me moving again.

Here are a few ways to get out of a rut.

  • Make a list of new ideas. Brainstorm what can be done with one thing – see where it takes you.
  • Change your environment. Take a walk, get outside, go to a coffee shop. Sometimes we’re in a rut because too much is familiar and inspiration just can’t strike.
  • Challenge assumptions. Figure out why you can’t keep going, or why you are holding on. Challenge those reasons.
  • Just DO, as in DO ANYTHING.

The beauty of a creative life is that the path is never straight. It’s never carved out for you. It’s scary and confusing and downright dangerous. It’s hard work and frustrating and unclear. What it is not, however, is torture. In this experience, I am reminded of something my mom used to say. “We only torture ourselves.” You will know when you’re in a rut. You may also resist, at first, like I did. But eventually, there will be no hiding, and we have to be good at letting go.

We need to believe that part of the creative life means your work doesn’t depend on the first idea, but rather, the LAST. I see now that my new idea is being a baker. I see that my preconceived notion of writing a course limits my pursuit of bread-baking. A creative life will end if I cling to the first idea. My advice, always run with the last.

 

Intentional Living: A Separate Peace Space

Growing up, I thought working from home would be a dream. However, I craved it not unaware of its demons, too. When I was fifteen years old, my father who had always worked in a small cubicle as a sales engineer began working from home. Some benefits of this change included nixing the daily commute, always having a pitcher of brewed coffee at arm’s reach, having access to isolation or silence when needed, avoiding work drama, and having a flexible schedule that made him available when we kids needed him. Ironically, its shortcomings also include having a fridge full of food at arm’s reach, having family drama, and always needing to be available once the kids got home from school. I watched him struggle between sitting down to get a block of work done and getting up to complete a list of chores before my mom got home. I saw him cringe every time the dog barked as one of us strolled through the door while he was taking a conference call. He prepped breakfast and lunches in the morning between emails, spilled coffee around his work laptop, and took breaks a few too many times walking the dog and turning on the TV.

So here I am, fifteen years later, double the age I was then (GULP!), following in my father’s footsteps. When I’m not at my dental office taking care of teeth, I am working from home as a writer for this blog and other blogs, and an at-home baker for a bakery that I dreamt up out of nothing. Sometimes, my writing gets interrupted by a mid-morning snack, while other times I feel the need to complete household chores in between bread turns. I am going through similar difficulties with creating a healthy work environment at home as my father before me.

Of course, the situation looks much different for a person without kids. I can find silence easier, have more isolation, am without the family drama, and have a flexible schedule. It helps that one of my days off lands on a weekday while the other members of our household are out of the home, giving me full reign over my own space. Yet it still takes a certain level of discipline to resist the calling of a sink full of dirty dishes, the running of a vaccuum, or the organizing of an entire home … a discipline which is not as strong as I would like for it to be. It requires a delicate balance for switching on and switching off. For the sake of productivity, it is important (for me) to follow a set number of guidelines that create a division between my work environment and my home environment, the most important of which I suggest here. A separate space, for a separate peace.

Create A Designated Work Zone

The best part about going to work is the fact that the environment you enter is strictly professional. You dress professionally, act professionally, and speak professionally. At home, however, you are dressed in your sweats, you act as if no one is watching, and you mutter curses under your breath. When your work zone consists of a bed or a couch rather than a designated desk, the productivity greatly decreases lest you feel too comfortable in the sheets or fall asleep amongst the pillows. And just as we isolate ourselves to a place of work when we commute, it is equally important to isolate our work to a designated space when we don’t. The physical boundaries between work and home are imperative. My father struggled because his work desk was at our dining table, where us kids always gathered to eat, do homework, and watch TV. He set his laptop in the middle of our home to be more involved with family life, not realizing how much it disrupted professional life. I am lucky in that the distractions are much less when I type from the edge of a dining table. A table itself is my designated space. Whether it be at the edge of the dining table, at my husband’s unoccupied gaming desk, or on the table on our patio, the designation itself lies in the physical object. When it comes to baking, it is even easier since I must work within the confines of my kitchen.

Keep a Tidy Space

The habits that make up a creative space certainly includes tidyness. Keeping a tidy space helps with clearing the mind. The less the mind has to process, the less it is distracted, and the more open it is to insight, imagination, and order – all ingredients to productive creativity. This is part of the reason why I keep bare walls in my home. Since it is also my work space, I need it to be conducive to work. The same goes for when I bake. I need to first put away everything in the kitchen that does not involve baking. I cannot bake for the bakery and cook my own meals at the same time. Once dishes are used for the bakery, I have to wash them right away, which is unlike my methods when I cook for myself. Tidyness is a bigger key to a successful at-home work environments than most people think.

Be Near the Light

When I listed my three favorite places to write, I listed the three areas in our home closest to natural light. It has been said that light positively affects our mood and productivity due to our intrinsic, age-long connection with its presence and however apocryphal that may be, I would agree that when it comes to creative work, this is especially true and applicable to me. When it’s dark and gloomy, my mind tends to cloud over too. I lose the heat that makes my joints want to move. When there’s light, I feel motivated and inspired. So I set myself up for success each time. I choose work spaces that feed my creative soul. I position myself wherever there is the most sun, pull back the blinds, pull aside the windows, and shun the dark. And then, I begin.

Respect Timelines

This is by far the best advice when it comes to setting a boundary between work and play. It is also the most difficult boundary to achieve. A certain level of resilience is required in order to successfully switch on and off between tasks. I’m the first to admit that I fail sometimes. It’s so easy to think of something to write about and to ignore the time set aside for reading a book before bed in order to chase that thought. It is easy to all of a sudden accept a bakery order because you are at home anyway, technically available to bake, even if it means sacrificing your personal time. I’ve cancelled staycation plans, plans to watch a movie at home with my husband, coffee dates with colleagues, all because something came up “at work”. But working at home means that you DO have the final say. You ARE in control. Until you ignore all timelines, and then you are not. Something that I have learned but have still yet to master. My suggestion? Be intentional with your timeline rules. Be strict and treat yourself as both an employee and a boss by holding yourself accountable. Learn how to say no. Learn how to switch off. It takes great will power to create mental barriers, but create them we must, or else we may fail to create at all.

How about you guys? I would love to hear of ways in which you create a boundary between work and play. Feel free to comment below!