Frugality: Co-housing, An Update

It has been six months since Mike and I decided to take on a roommate and give co-housing a try. The verdict? It has been such an awesome and wonderful experience! We could not have been happier with our decision, and today, I wanted to share an update, for those who may be considering it themselves, or for those who have never thought about the possibility but are looking for options.

All too often, when we tell people that we have a roommate living with us, we get these incredulous stares or looks of confusion. They ask questions like, “But you’re married, right?” or “Isn’t that weird?” Which implies that there is this societal expectation that explicitly states in a rule book somewhere that a newly wedded couple should be living on their own. I don’t know if the concept is tied to the idea that a couple should be independent, or if it’s a sign of being able to provide for yourselves and therefore is more so tied to responsibility. Whatever it is, I think this expectation is just as detrimental as the idea that once you are married, you are “ONE”.

I believe that it is important to retain your individuality while married. It’s important to discern the difference between finding someone who adds to your life, and finding someone who completes your life. I do not believe in the latter. I do not believe in molding into one, but rather, in retaining our individual two-ness and working together, contributing equally, in our own unique ways. When we see ourselves as a single entity, it is easier to shut the rest of the world out with this “Us VS Them” mentality. When you consider yourselves as individuals, then it is easy to open up your life (and space) to other individuals as well. And maybe this is where our thinking differs from the rest.

Either way, the benefits of having a roommate are multi-fold, and I would like to address the ways in which it has enriched our lives.Obviously, having an additional roommate really helps with the finances. Before we welcomed K into the downstairs floor, we were looking for ways to decrease the monthly recurring rent payment,  which in Orange County, CA is not the easiest thing to do. We were looking at 450 sq. foot apartments that would decrease our rent to, well, what we have now. Adding a roommate allowed us to stay in the 1600 sq. foot space that we love, that was ideally located for both of our jobs, and that had a two car garage. Numerically, the savings have been over $4,000 in the course of 6 months! And it isn’t just on our end. I am not sure I ever mentioned this on here, but K is my younger brother’s girlfriend. She found a job nearby so she was looking for a space and we offered her her own floor downstairs at a much much cheaper price than if she rented a space on her own. It saves her money too! Everyone wins. But there is more to the story than just the finances…

On top of adding an additional person to talk to in the evenings, I actually get to see a lot more of my younger sibling too, which is awesome! I have really enjoyed the Sunday coffee dates we host at home, or random weeknight dinners, or occasional boardgame nights. I think for Mike and I as well, it has been such a difference having a third person to talk to. When it was just us two for the first year of our marriage, there came a point where we had squeezed out every last little story we had to tell. When you add a third person to the mix, the stories abound anew. There are so many fun discussions to be had, different perspectives to be told, and always, a mediator between two people. It’s a reminder that we as humans really do benefit from social interaction. Mike and I learn new lingo from the younger crowd, K teaches us about finance through her her business and accounting background, while we share with her our financial experiences and mistakes, and Mike and I share a lot about bread and coffee (although I am not sure that’s such a fair trade-off). But really, we have so much to share with each other and I just feel like Mike and I have grown so much more by adding someone back into our home.

Also, there is the perk of always having someone to house sit! Mike and I are constantly traveling, and I guess so is K. We usually have someone watching over the loft every time one of us is away, which is a perk I actually never thought about before. When we went Hawaii last year, we returned to a sprinkler flood on the first floor that was occurring for who knows how long. When we returned from Germany, we came back to the annoying, high pitched beeping of a fire-alarm battery dying. We hoped that was not going on for the whole week that we were away! Having someone watching the house allows all of us to go on vacation, worry-free.

We have enjoyed co-housing so much that we decided to renew our six month lease again, with all three of us on board! Which means another $4000 in savings, another 6 months of after-work stories and long chats and weekend adventures. I first learned of co-housing from a documentary about Denmark, one of the happiest countries in the world. I am surprised it is not more popular here. I think a lot of our stress comes from our isolation from others and co-housing is a way to decrease some of that unhappiness. I say try it! It’s not much different from living with roommates in our college days. Weren’t those the best days of our lives?

 

Frugal Challenge: Avoid Shopping for Clothes for an Entire Year & Reap the Benefits

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

I love promoting clothing brands that embrace slow fashion, which is to say that they make an effort to create products via ethical ways and/or with sustainable resources. Despite that fact, my closet is actually pretty sparse, according to some people’s standards. That wasn’t always the case. My closet used to be a monstrous mess. So much so, in fact, that there were clothes that I wouldn’t see for months, tucked away under piles of even more clothes, most of which I hardly wore. It took over a year of constant de-cluttering and re-assessing and letting go and organizing before I was able to get to a point of peaceful reconciliation with my never-ending closet. And still, I feel I have too much.

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In the early stages of creating a curated closet, what I found most difficult was that for every hour it took me to de-clutter would be a two minute moment where I would feel the urge to buy something new and add it to the collection. At some point, I realized that this habit of shopping “just because I felt like it” was not only counter-productive, but also extremely wasteful and unnecessary. So along with my purging of excess clothing came this challenge for myself to nix the act of shopping all-together.

In all honesty, it began as a frugal challenged fired by the awareness of how much clothing is being deposited at our landfills. I figured that the benefits of abstaining from the addictive act of buying more clothing are multi-fold. Firstly, I save money. I used to work at a retail store in my late teens and early twenties and I distinctly remember walking out with a handful of clothes every week. I’d consider it good if I was able to limit myself to one item per week, a thought that makes me woozy now. Secondly, I am no longer fueling the industry of fast fashion. And lastly, I am ending the ridiculous cycle of buying and de-cluttering. Eventually, I pared down my closet in such a way that de-cluttering does not have to take up my free time every weekend.

This year alone, I have only made two purchases: A pair of sneakers and overalls, both from Eileen Fisher, both made on the same day. Prior to those purchases, I have not allowed myself an article of clothing for 8 months. Just recently (during Fashion Revolution Week 2018, in fact!), I have made the decision to not shop again for an entire year, in an attempt to model the curbing of the excessive demand for more clothing to be produced. Also, it will continue to help us in our efforts to do just as well this year with student debt as last year. The funny thing is, the more I challenge myself to not buy clothes, the easier it becomes to not buy other things too. The habit has spread to other aspects, and it really teaches one to make do without, and to be completely satisfied and proud of that decision. Plus, the results are undeniable. Next month is my birthday and two weeks after will be Mike’s birthday. Sometime in between, we will exit the $500,000s and enter the $400,000s with the student debt! I definitely wouldn’t trade this feeling for a trendy wardrobe.

 

How I Flew to Mexico City for FREE with Southwest Airlines + 40K Bonus Points

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

When our financial planner first sat down with Mike and I to discuss our long-term goals, travelling the world was up there on our list. It was the one common ground we had. A future home? Maybe. Kids? Not sure. Interests? Cars. Art. Travel? YES! ABSOLUTELY!

All of this was learned before we decided to change gears and pay back the student debt, full-force. Unfortunately, a $6,500 monthly student payment for ten years does put quite a damper on the travel. So, we found another way.

It’s no secret that we travel the world by travel hacking. Using credit card sign-up bonuses to rack up free flights was something we started doing last November. It has been a little over six months, and we have been able to buy the following flights for 2018:

Mexico City, San Francisco, Portland, Calgary, Sydney, and Christchurch. Also on the list, Costa Rica, for which we have the points, but are waiting for a few of our travel hacking friends to catch up so that we can all travel together!

Now I know that with travel hacking, one may not need to pay money for these flights, but they do still pay for them in points. What if I told you that I was able to fly to Mexico (and San Francisco, and Portland, and Costa Rica) for COMPLETELY FREE? As in, I did not spend any points at all to fly there, nor did I spend money. How, you ask? Southwest Airlines!

Southwest Airlines has an awesome program that grants a person a Companion Pass. The Companion Pass allows you to take someone with you on any flight, for free. Since Mikey has the Companion Pass, I (his companion) can fly with him wherever he goes for zilch. For those of you without a permanent significant other, no worries! You can change your companion up to three times in one calendar year. So take multiple friends on multiple vacations and voila! Problem solved!

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How to get Companion Pass:

There are multiple ways to get Companion Pass. Mike and I were lucky enough to strike a deal in November of last year, which we shared with all our friends, who also got in on it. The deal was an automatic Companion Pass until the end of December the FOLLOWING year (2018) as long as you open a Southwest Airlines card. This is the one we opened in particular, although there are other options to choose from. Additionally, you receive $40k bonus points if you hit a minimum spending of $1,000 in the first 3 months. This was very easy to do since Christmas time was around the corner from when we signed up. So we used our new Southwest Credit card to pay for upcoming gifts and events that came hand in hand with the holidays, and planned to hit the minimum spend by January of 2018! Free 40,000 points, to spend however we want!

If you missed the deal, there IS another way. Reach 110k points in their rewards program in one calendar and receive the Companion Pass until the end of December the following year from when the points were unlocked. It is crucial to note that all 110k points must be reached in the same calendar year. You may be saying, “This seems like a lot! How am I ever going to reach 110k?” The answer lies in opening multiple Southwest cards. Opening one personal SW card and one Business SW card will give you 40K bonus points and 60K bonus points respectively! Additionally, everytime you refer one friend to their credit card, you will receive 10k bonus points. So referring one friend on top of opening two cards will lead you to the grand total of 110k points in one calendar year!

Since the Companion Pass lasts until December of the FOLLOWING year, you can see how the best tactic would be to hit the 110K points in the beginning months, such as January and February. If you do this, then you can get close to 2 years of Companion Pass privileges. In order to do this, you may want to consider opening the credit cards before the holidays and spending as you regular would on the cards WITHOUT hitting the bonus in those last few months. Once January hits, spend the little additional amount necessary to hit the target minimum spending in order to get your two bonuses, and refer a friend. Simple! It is very important you DO NOT hit your bonus before January, otherwise it counts for the previous year. All the points for the 110k needs to be in the same year. It is crucial. The worst that can happen is you divide the bonus points between two years (December and January), thus disqualifying them from counting towards the same Companion Pass.

Why Choose Southwest? 

Undoubtedly, there are a lot of credit cards out there that one can choose to start with, but we decided to make Southwest one of our first ones because Companion Pass is just too good to pass up. We do not know of other cards that will give you a free flight for every flight you take. With the Chase 5/24 rule, we knew that 2 Southwest cards have to make up 2/5 of those 5 cards. (The Chase 5/24 rule states that you will only be approved for a Chase credit card if you have opened less than 5 credit cards in the last 24 months. Which means that if your tactic is to open two Southwest credit cards in order to get Companion Pass, the sooner you open them, the less likely that you would accidentally violate the 5/24 rule prior to achieving Companion Pass.)

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Another great perk is that Southwest flies all over the United States, as well as  to international destinations such as Bahamas, Mexico, and Costa Rica, to name a few. Love Hawaii? Rumor has it that Southwest will be opening up flights to Hawaii sometime this year too!

Any hidden costs?

It is important to note that while there are two Southwest personal credit card options, Southwest has recently disallowed the application to both personal credit cards for one person. You must apply to a personal card and a business card in order to gain points that can combine. Also, it is important to note that there are annual fees associated with some of the credit cards that we use. These fees could be considered as a “cost” toward the flights. However, the bonus points rewarded to you after hitting the minimum spending offsets these fees, since they can be used to redeem flights that add up to much more than the single annual fee. Because annual fees are charged at every anniversary, it is important to remember to close the credit card prior to the anniversary date, to prevent being charged a renewal fee for another year.

Lastly, if you purchase flights with points, there may be taxes associated with the purchases. For example, Mike used points to buy flights to CDMX, San Francisco, and Portland, but he was taxed with roughly $11 for SF and Portland and roughly $25 for CDMX. These prices are minimal compared to the price of the flight, but they do still exist, and as a firm believer in full disclosures, I think it is imperative that this is stated in this post.

If travel hacking is something you are new to and would like to try, I really recommend starting with the Southwest Airlines credit card. Especially if you have a travel partner with you at all times! If you feel like you need to learn more about travel hacking first before committing, I suggest starting here.

Happy travels!

 

Frugal Challenge: Become Vegetarian One Week, Every Month!

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

I’ve attempted a lot of frugal life hacks in the past year, all with the goal of paying down my student debt of over $550,000 in less than ten years. These include co-housing to reduce rent, travel hacking to jet set around the world for free, and more. It seems I am very much up for these challenges, so I figure, why not start a series detailing some of the frugal hacks we come up with!

This month, we decided to start a new challenge. Become vegetarian for one week, every month. Seems arbitrary, but you can’t really deny that meat and fish are very expensive to buy. Even more so, when you have a determination to never come home from the grocery store with anything packaged in plastic. Because of that, we cannot buy meats and delis from large discount stores such as Costco and Sam’s Club. We also cannot buy them from cheaper sources such as Albertson’s and Ralphs. Pretty much, we have only been buying meats and fish and deli and cheese from Whole Foods, which sells them wrapped in paper. With the change of going zero plastic last year, we have watched with heavy hearts as our grocery bill went up and up and up. The fact that I gave up beef and alcohol more than a year ago hasn’t helped. So we decided that it’s time we wrangle in the grocery expenses, without going back to plastic.

We were talking to our friends about the meat dilemma when we were visiting San Francisco. It’s amazing what everyone else is thinking but not saying. Once the topic was brought up, it seems that we’ve all struggled with the concept of pricey meats at one point or another. One of our friends said that he knew someone who split an entire cow among him and his guy friends to reduce the cost. It requires contacting the farm and ordering the cow at a discounted rate, but, split an entire cow?! That’s SO much meat going into the freezer. It’s a great idea, but I am not sure it’s one I am ready for, especially since I gave up beef and Mikey will have to finish all of that. Also, the minimalist in me shudders at the thought of so much excess in the house. So Mike and I kept on thinking…

Our solution? Vegetarian for one week per month, to test two things. Firstly, if we can get better about eating more greens, and secondly, if it helps the financial aspect. This was week one. The verdict: Our grocery bill was LESS THAN $25! For two people who bring lunches into work every day and dine at home every dinner, that is spectacular!

How did we do it?

We meal planned our way to a lower amount. Mostly, all we bought this week was produce. I cut down the costs as well by baking my own bread, as well as preparing pizza dough from scratch and freezing them, so that they were readily available for the weeknights. Before we even stepped foot into the market, we took inventory of things we had at hand. For example, olive oil allowed for homemade pesto sauce that required just a handful of pine nuts and basil. Since pizza requires just a smear of the stuff, we now have pesto for weeks of pizza, readily available! Additional toppings for a pesto pizza included two mushrooms, one red onion, pepperoncini, and a can of olives. Since we were already getting basil, why not add margherita pizza to the list? This would only require us to buy two more ingredients: tomato sauce ($0.89 per can) and a single tomato ($0.99 per pound). The tomato sauce will also last for weeks upon weeks, or could be used for pasta at a future date. The total cost for 8 pizzas (with extra sauces for the future) was less than $6. Granted, home-made sourdough took half of Saturday to do, but I enjoy the task and it was so worth it.

Our meals this week consist of:

– Egg sandwiches using homemade bread with homemade tomato soup or pasta salad for lunch, a couple days of the week.

– Vegetable pizzas – I prepped enough dough for 8 personal pizzas. To be honest, neither of us can finish one personal pizza per meal. At most, maybe 3/4 of a pizza is eaten, therefore leaving 3/4 of a pizza (each) for lunch the next day given that I cook 3 personal pizzas in the evening. Which is what we do!

– Fried Rice – The most basic of fried rice was taught to me by my dad. It used to be a staple at our house when we were growing up, because it feeds many mouths and costs very little. I carry that tradition, today.

– Vegetable Stir Fry – It was the simplest and easiest thing I could think of, after the fried rice. Plus, more veggies!

– Vegetable laden omelettes. Breakfast for dinner, anyone?

We did cheat a little… but only because there was left-over ramen from last week, which also meant left-over pork belly slices. Mike was happy we were able to eat meat for a day. But no meats were purchased this week, thus resulting in a total of $25 in groceries. So that’s fine by us. Final ruling: roll-over meat from previous weeks does not count. Additionally, no intentional cheating allowed (a.k.a. purposefully buying extra meat the week prior!). We make the rules up as we go.

Let’s see what we come up with next month!

How about you guys? Willing to try going vegetarian for one week? How do you go about cutting the grocery bill, without purchasing plastic?

Frugality: Travel Hacking, An Introduction

From the get-go, when Mike and I were asked to lay down our priorities in terms of lifestyle and life goals, traveling was near the top of our list. It goes without saying that traveling comes with a price that can interfere with our equally important goal of gaining financial independence. It’s hard to commit to a trip across the world when I know I will come back to an ever-growing student loan. So I am so excited to share with you guys a way that allows us to travel the world, without breaking the bank.

We do something called travel hacking.

I first discovered Travel Hacking on Choose FI’s Podcast, Episode 9: Travel Rewards; How to Travel the World for Free (here). In less than an hour, they had me hooked! I remember coming home and re-listening to the entire episode with Mike. We forwarded the podcast episode to our core group of ten friends, in the hopes that they also would like to join us in this adventure, so that we may travel the world together. We continued to study Travel Hacking by taking the free Travel Miles 101 course. We reached out to our financial adviser to ask if it was too good to be true, and were happy to learn that he, too, dabbles in this life hack, and that it would be a very beneficial thing for us to do. I highly recommend anyone interested in traveling the world for (nearly) free to first listen to the podcast episode (in order to get a taste of what this entails), and then to take the free Travel Miles 101 course. I think it would be best to leave all the nuances to the pros and to simply refer you to these two sources, giving all credit where credit is due.

What is travel hacking?

Travel Hacking entails using the benefits of Credit Card Reward Programs in order to gain points that can be used to buy flights, hotel stays, and even car rentals. The idea is to open credit cards and hit the minimum spend criteria in order to attain the massive 40k, 50k, 80k points. These points are incentives for the new cardholder to hit a certain spending within a certain amount of time (usually 3 months) since opening the card. So that is exactly what we do. There are multiple strategies in order to do this, which the sources detail really well, and which I won’t touch on in this post. If you’d like to learn some of these strategies, I refer you to the Travel Miles 101 course.

Keep in mind that while this is extremely useful and beneficial for traveling, it can be destructive if attempted by people who have not achieved disciplined, financial responsibility. The credit card companies win if you open credit cards, purchase products with them, and do not pay off the total amount in full. This leads to high interest rate charges that will lead to more financial harm than good. It also isn’t good if it results in you spending more than you would normally. The card holder needs to be well-restrained. Mike and I treat the credit cards as if they were debit cards. We don’t increase our spending for the sake of gaining more points. In due time, the points will come.

Alternatively, the credit card companies will also win if you fail to hit the minimum spending. You would have opened a credit card for no reason! This requires a very organized person who will keep track of minimum spends, and dates the credit cards were opened, and dates when minimum spending should be reached. So how do you responsibly meet minimum spend when your day-to-day activities do not meet it? There are many ways to ensure you hit your target spending before the time is up. You can use the remaining amount needed to buy grocery or gas gift cards, which could be used in the future. This is a way to guarantee getting the massive point-payout without reckless spending. Another way to meet minimum spend is to prepay bills, such as electrical bills for upcoming months. Having the bills off your mind is a big plus.

Why is this so great?

Imagine this scenario. You open a credit card that requires a $3000 minimum spend in three months. When you spend $3000, you will get a points equivalent to $1000 in flights, which is a 33% rate of return. You can’t get that anywhere! If you were to get that in a taxable investment account, you’d have to pay taxes on your gains. This is 100% tax-free. And may I say that 33% rate of return is not the best rate out there. This should be even more appealing for people who are in higher tax brackets. For people who make six figures, you are sitting in a 25% tax bracket, and if you add to that health insurance, FICA, etc., you may even be approaching closer to 40% marginal tax. For you to take a $5k vacation in a year, you will need to earn $7, 8, 9k to pay for that vacation. With travel hacking, you can do that for free. You can then keep that $7k available to other aspects of your life (aka student loans).

What’s the catch?

Our biggest concern, obviously, was credit rating. Even though we have absolutely no interest in signing up for even more loans right now, mortgages and car loans included, we still don’t want to completely obliterate our really good credit scores. Turns out, there is a very minimal impact on your credit score. Credit scores will go up and down, naturally, within 10 to 30 points within a normal month anyway. That’s just how credit scores work, and it is not a precisely fixed number. Now, if the people attempting travel hacking are financially responsible people, so their credit score would likely be around the 800 range. The maximum that it has dropped for some travel hackers is 25 points, which is irrelevant, because a score of 750 is sufficient to guarantee you most loans. And the funny thing is, these scores jump right back up, because you are constantly paying (in full) multiple credit cards. By spending responsibly, travel hackers can increase their credit score to more than what they started with in the course of a few years. Yes, initially, the hard pull when you apply for the credit card leads to a 2-5 point drop, but it is temporary and it is completely gone within 18 months. Now if you are, for some reason, extremely worried about your credit score or you have a low credit score, or you have plans to take out a mortgage or a loan in the next year, then this strategy is not for you. Do not do travel hacking if for any reason, whether psychologically or financially, you need your credit score to be a certain number.

For Mike and I, we started this journey with decently high credit scores. We decided that, even if our scores dropped as much as 30-50 points, would we be okay. The answer to travel hacking for us was a whole-hearted yes. If the trade-off is $6-7k worth of travel (for free), that would save us $10k (pre-tax) a year, which we can then attribute to other assets or to paying down debt. Since we have no plans to buy a house in the next year, we are not very worried with the short term negative effect it could have on our scores. And our credit scores would still be considered good, if not great! We are more excited about the long-term benefits.

So where has that led us?

We discovered Travel Hacking in October 2017, which is very, very late compared to a whole community of travel hackers who have been doing this for multiple years! It has been almost 5 months.

For 2018, we are able to book the following flights, for free.

Mexico City, Mexico

San Francisco, CA

Portland, Oregon

Calgary, Canada

Sydney, Australia

Melbourne, Australia (from Sydney)

Christchurch, New Zealand (from Melbourne)

Christchurch, to LAX

Pending trips: Costa Rica

The best part?

Slowly, our friends opened up to the idea of travel hacking too! Our trip to SF reunites our group of ten college friends, and the pending Costa Rica trip is being planned among a group of us, as well. It has increased our ability to grow with people we care about, and to spend time with them, and to just see the world.

Travel Hacking is fantastic, but not for everyone. So learn about it, to see if it’s right for you!

Ways to Celebrate Valentine’s Day

Before we get the nay-sayers out there screaming that this is a fake holiday, let me just say that yes, maybe it is.  It doesn’t mean I like celebrating it any less, all the same. Despite the commercialization of this (and every other) holiday, I believe there are ways for us to celebrate, mindfully. And while this may seem like my excuse to be a romantic, if only for a day, I’d like to plead my case and convince you otherwise, that this is in the interest of getting away from the commercialization and coming a step closer to the actual deal, which is to celebrate love. In other words, hopeless romantic on the loose.

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While the advertising companies are spending billions of dollars trying to convince the world of the different ways one needs to show love, I’m over here singing a song of a different tune. I view Valentine’s Day as another opportunity to celebrate without getting carried away with the spending and the accumulating. And while some may bitterly feel a bit left out this holiday, why don’t we just gravitate a little further away from the traditional Couple’s-Only Club, since we’re already uprooting conventional observances of Cupid’s holiday anyway? Here are my ways to spend Valentine’s Day, frugally, and with less waste.

Frugally  – To Do List for the 5 Love Languages

Quality Time – Avoid the crowds and stay in. We all know the cliche of spending “quality time” with your loved ones by going out for a lovely candlelit dinner at a fancy restaurant, or getting some concert tickets to your favorite band, or watching a movie at the theatres, thanks to movies toting these very things. But might I say that all of these require spending? It may be the inner introvert in me, finding every excuse to avoid large congregations of people, but it’s also the super frugal Fran inside of me, dreading dropping hard-earned pay for something so trivial. So instead of dashing out the front door to spending time driving and waiting in long lines, why not just spend real quality time with each other, by substituting with a home-made dinner for two (left-overs abound!), the playing of your favorite records, or Netflix and chill. Likewise, if you must go out, get outdoors and play.

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Acts of Service – Skip the buying of gifts, substitute acts of service. So I know this isn’t for everyone. There are five love languages, gifting being one of them. Some people just really appreciate gifts. This one just happens to be easy for Mike and I, because we both fall under acts of service. Because of that, we have an easier time letting go of the gifts. Last Christmas, in an effort to disconnect from gifting and everything it brings, I substituted some the present of actions rather than things. I went to the local library and borrowed books on coffee so we may learn about it together. I YouTubed a way to pickle red onions, Mike’s favorite condiment for tacos. I stitched new Velcro onto Mike’s 3 years old motorcycle gloves, so that the latches stick again. A $5 cost instead of a $200 cost. My hands were sore from sewing through stiff leather with an easily bendable needle, but he was pretty stoked. For this Valentine’s Day, I asked for a particular gift from Mike. That is, to remove the rust from the bottom of our cast iron pans, simply because I’ve been too lazy to do it myself. If this style of loving just isn’t for you, then read on ahead for the gift list, below.

Words of Affirmation – Memorize a poem, nix the card. I like words, there’s no doubt about that. My clinical notes in the office are jokingly referred to as essays, and birthday cards just never have enough space. But I have a confliction with buying cards in general. It is undoubtedly much more aesthetic to add a store-bought card to any occasion, and I do have an achilles heel for all things presentable. However, the cost of the fancier stuff run north of $5, sometimes even going so far as to cost more than $10! Additionally, layers of paper that pop up from these gorgeous cards are drool-worthy, but also a bit gut wrenching. Drama aside, I’ve tried to avoid buying cards lately, and have substituted either a small handwritten note, or just a verbal  expression of emotions. For the Whitmans out there, why not memorize a poem? For those who just can’t do without a card, try the card alternative below.

Physical touch – Let your imagination run wild. Not much needs to be said with this one. Probably the most frugal of the five, good old fashioned loving is all it takes. Skip the expensive spa dates and learn massage techniques together. Find ways to get in touch throughout the day, by phone, via text, in a game of tag. Its quite obvious which love language I speak the least. Ending all awkwardness here and now. You just be creative.

Receiving Gifts – Welp! This one can’t be helped. If acts of service did not make the cut, then may I suggest a few thoughtful gift ideas, that won’t break the proverbial piggy bank, and would be loving to the planet at the same time?

Less Waste – The Gift List

This is what my Valentine’s Day wishlist would look like if ever I had one. Unfortunately, I used my wish on the de-rusting of an aforementioned Lodge pan. That was enough for me, but if you are in need of other gift ideas, have at it.

A haircut. I actually asked for this for Christmas last year. I hardly get haircuts. As in, once every 2 years, or once every year and a half. I would love to get them more frequently, but honestly, it gets to be too much for me. Hair is one of those things I used to obsess about as a tween, but it’s all been-there, done-that. I chop it off shoulder length, then just let it grow to the small of my back. On repeat, since college. I also attend one of those generic Fantastic Sam’s places where I pay $20 to chop off most of my hair. Although I did find a location in San Diego once that had happy hour, where the haircut only cost $8 between 5 and 6pm. Score!

A tree instead of flowers. In the U.S.A., about $2 billion worth of cut flowers are bought each Valentine’s Day. While flowers are a compostable gift, and not entirely bad for the environment, what if we try gifting plants itself. A plant can stay alive for a really long time, care-taker depending. These can range drastically, from a $5 succulent from Home Depot, to a $200 tree. Pick what works for your price range. For me, I’ve got my beautiful fiddle leaf, pretty as can be.

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A plantable cardSooooo, after my long spiel about my issue with cards, I did come across these plantable versions. You read right. These cards are made from seed paper, which is 100% compostable. Alternatively, when planted in the ground, these cards claim to grow wildflowers (!!). Which conveniently goes in line with my thinking above.

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Self-Care Products. As I grow older, I embrace this concept of self-care a lot more. There are plenty of self-care products out there that are paving the way by being environmentally friendly, cruelty free, and all natural. Ranging from luscious bars of soap, to shampoo, to beard balm, you name it. These are products that we would use on the daily anyway, so why not gift them something they need?

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A collection of Recipes. Better yet, your recipe collection, attached to a tin can of home-made cookies (or bread, what have you).

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Valentine Celebrations with Everyone

Galentines Day –  popularized by single ladies all over the world, this is now being celebrated by besties everywhere, regardless of the relationship status. Ways to celebrate? Do activities together, such as a yoga class in someone’s living room, or a cooking session in one’s kitchen. Just make sure not to fight over who gets clean up duties.

Dudes’ Hangout – pretty standard kick back, commonplace among Mike and his friends. Pizza and video games? Or have everyone bring a six pack of different brews, and do a beer tasting at home. Coffee cupping sesh also an alternative.

Hosting for Friends and Family – I love to host. Gathering twelve people around our table just makes my heart sing. Why not invite the entire family or crew over and use this holiday as an excuse to eat, drink. and be merry? Cheers!

A Little Bit of Self Love

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  • Early morning meditation.
  • A cup of coffee, made the slow way.
  • Find the time to relax in the middle of the work day.
  • Skip work all together, and spend time at home with family.
  • A decluttering session, mid-February.
  • A candle lit bubble bath for one, music optional.
  • Cuddling up with a book and a blanket.
  • Go to bed at an early hour.

Honestly, the self-love category is my favorite list.

Happy heart week!

 

The Ever Growing List of Things I’ve Given Up in the Name of Frugality

My ultimate goal is to pay down my student debt of $550k as fast as possible. I turned to frugality as a way to do that. I’ve given up some excesses in my day to day life in order to reach my goal quicker. I find that it’s not a shame to be more selective, but rather a source of pride. Plus one if the decision ends up being eco-friendly. And the list goes on…

  • Gym memberships, specifically yoga-related. Substitute yoga at home, swimming laps at the community pool, and biking everywhere.
  • Weekly Sunday brunches. Learned how to make equally as good breakfast dishes at home.
  • The thought of a new car. Still driving my high-school ride.
  • Happy Hour Thursdays. Weekly football viewing now occurs at home.
  • Regularly dining out at trendy, fancy restaurants. Once a month Ramen date, still a likely occurrence.
  • Shopping, in general.
  • Cable TV at home. Thought about nixing the internet too, only for a moment.
  • Buying books. Exchanged my habit for public libraries instead.
  • Alcohol. Initially, paying money for it was a main factor. Additionally, positive health outcomes.
  • Outsourcing house-cleaning and maintenance jobs. Learned how to fix a continually running toilet, efflorescent cement floors, and clogged drains to name a few. Also a fan of touch up painting as a “hobby”.
  • Paying $15 to watch movies at the theatres.
  • Drinking anything but water at restaurants.
  • Buying music.
  • Paper Towels. Substitute washable dish rags instead. Also eco-friendly.
  • The idea of buying things new. Became a big fan of buying things used. Even bigger fan of hand-me-downs and borrowing.
  • Driving everywhere. Biking to local errands becoming more common.
  • Paying for parking spots. Will walk reasonably extensive distances to avoid paying for parking.
  • Personal space, specifically, an entire floor in our loft. Got a roommate in order to decrease monthly rent, a not-so-traditional way to reduce spending, in order to live in the house of our dreams.
  • Buying bottled water. Opting for filter water not only saves the environment but also saves money. I carry a water bottle around everywhere and fill up at public water fountains.
  • Buying lattes every week. I learned how to make them myself at home, latte art included! Also applies to $8 avocado toast.
  • Buying bread. I bake my own bread, and feed my own yeast. Also, started selling my extra loaves to people as well.
  • House decorations. I really embraced the minimalist esthetics, and it’s a plus for me because there are less things to clean and organize, and the space always looks neat.
  • Frequent haircuts. I cut my hair once every 2 years, which people say is sooo unhealthy, but is it really when my hair continues to grow faster than most people I know? I don’t have split ends and I still consider my hair pretty thick. Then again, I don’t shower in hot water and I don’t blow dry, curl, or dye my hair, barring twice a year exceptions.
  • Make-up and beauty products. I no longer wear make-up on my days off, and I only wear a dash of eyeliner and mascara on the days I go to work. I wash my face with regular soap, and avoid moisturizers and other unnecessary (and at times, harmful?) products. I used to have a habit of painting my nails every week, but I am haven’t painted them in over a year. They’re healthier than before, always trimmed, and match every outfit.
  • Snacks. When I was still in college, I realized that I was being unhealthy by reaching into the pantry for chips or the freezer for ice cream. I challenged myself to stop buying snacks to prevent myself from eating bad foods, but also to cut my grocery bill. It’s worked and I stick to the habit of cutting out snacks from the grocery list to this day.
  • Going to theme parks and concerts and festivals. This kind of goes in line with the movie theatres thing, but I substituted all of these hyped and commercialized experiences for explorations and hikes with friends.
  • Speaking of friends, I gave up the relationships that were centered around spending. I realized that we unfortunately had different visions as to how we want our lives to be, and it comes down to our core values being different. For those that were willing to hang out with us without the instagrammable scenery, we remained friends. Some of these things were harder to give up than others.
  • Going to Target, “just because”. This is the worst, am I right? (See also: Trader Joe’s.) I will have a mission and a list when I go into stores and groceries, and I stay focused on my goals.
  • Fast food. We originally stopped getting fast food because we didn’t want things that involved plastic and single use containers. However, getting rid of fast food is also amazing since it reduced our spending. It is so easy to think, “Oh, it’s just cheap fast food, so no big deal.” But the pennies do add up. And it is important to remember that fast food is not entirely healthy, so the cost of treating things such as high cholesterol and diabetes down the road will be increased if eating fast food is a common occurrence. Don’t get me started on our college days…
  • Buying pre-made meals and sauces. Cooking most things from scratch was initially started to reduce plastic, but it also prevented me from buying things that are wayyyy too overpriced for what you are getting.

More to come…

The True Cost of Gas

Today was my day off and I woke up to a beautiful, sunny, blustery day. In a cheerier mood, I thought to myself, maybe I deserve spending $3 to buy myself a coffee today at a local coffee shop where I could work on my blog. Typically, I wouldn’t be so thrifty, but today is such a good day and we have been pretty good the last couple of weeks on our spending. I could also swing by the local public library and borrow as many books as I can find on coffee, to start my adventure on becoming a knowledgeable coffee connoisseur. But there was one thing that was nagging me, more so than the overpriced coffee that I was about to purchase. It was the thought of driving, albeit a few miles, to the downtown area to reach the coffee shop and library. Granted, there are 7 mph winds, so while the distance is very easily biked, I was being a wussy pants and was trying my best to avoid the biking. However, I’ve also been avoiding driving for unnecessary ventures the last couple of weeks. While no one is interested in my own personal report, I will anyways report that I have been really good about clumping all of my errands on the same drive in the same area. Aiming to decrease my carbon footprint in terms of miles driven, I asked for my dad’s 15 year old bike, whose front brake doesn’t even work, and who’s handlebar rubber handle is missing. It doesn’t shift gears well anymore, risking unhooking the chain every chance you take at getting to a different gear. But I’ve asked for it to avoid buying a brand new bike, and it has given me a lot of joy in the last few months. On top of using it for pure enjoyment, I’ve tried biking to work and to the local dry cleaners. But I am still a novice and a wussy pants when it comes to biking everywhere to decrease my car usage.

Enter Mister Money Mustache and his ever reliable extremism. If you’ve never read his blog, you definitely should, because a majority of time, it’s just the slap in the face that I need to build up my reserve to get things done, to save money, or to just be a decent human being. While trying to make my decision about what to do, I figured I’d read just one blog post from him, and lo and behold, the one that ended up being next on my list was called, “A life lesson on gasoline”. Life has a sense of humor that I will never get tired of.

I came upon a video on the price of gas, and while there may be inaccuracies in the numbers (who really knows), I think the take away message is well-known, but highly ignored.

The video mentions the price of gas in Germany, and I can confirm this as true (now that we’ve driven the Autobahn and had to fill up our own gas tanks in Germany). But honestly, you don’t have a lot of Germans complaining about the gas prices, because the majority of them bike everywhere. Visiting big cities such as Frankfurt and Munich, there were very few parking spaces, and a plethora of bicycles. People used their bikes to commute to school in Heidelberg, or commute to work in Munich, grabbing an early morning baked good at a bakery, and grabbing coffee at a local cafe. It was so prevalent that, while I did not go to Germany to photograph bicycles in particular, I noticed that they somehow found their way into my photos.

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Instead of pedestrian signs, you were more likely to see signs telling you when there’s a bike crossing, or where bikes were allowed and not allowed.

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You don’t see  bicycle parking lots in Los Angeles, a city where there are allegedly more cars than people. In the State of California, there are reported to be 775 vehicles per 1000 people, which is a ludicrous number to me, assuming children and teenagers do not need a car for themselves. So I guess we can all strive to make a change, especially after all the global warming that has been occurring. In order to implement that change, we need people to be less of a wuss, myself included. The only way to do that? Strengthen our belief in our ability to bike in gorgeous, freaking, California, by showing bicycle parking lots in the snow in Amsterdam. Or bicycle parking lots in Germany on a rainy day. Or by reading Mister Money Mustache early on a Wednesday morning.

Not wanting to steal any of his content, let me just refer you to the article, and other articles that can fire up your reserve.

A Life Lesson on Gasoline // The True Cost of Commuting // Get Rich with Bikes

So that was it. I question it no more, and bike I must. Might as well be outdoors, enjoying this blustery, sunny day and getting a workout while I’m at it. Plus I’ll save on gas, and downtown parking. Not sure if I’m willing to give up the coffee today though. You win some and you lose some.