Recent Reads: A Sanctuary in the City by Annu Subramanian

“Life in a city can be electric, fast and crowded. Whenever we step out of our urban homes, we join a network that’s packed with opportunities. The chances to grow and expand can feel endless, even if at times we can hardly stretch our arms out across the sidewalk. The flip side to having the city’s untapped wonders at our fingertips is that its energy can be exhausting and leave us craving a slower and quieter pace, one where we can roam unencumbered or savor a meal without a waiter asking, “You still working on that?”

Instead of shunning one mode of energy in favor of the other, we can learn how to perch in the middle ground with the quiet hum of our sanctuary in one ear and the blaze of an ambulance siren in the other. Some may call it compromise, but it’s best to consider it a kind of balance in contrasts.

Building a slow lifestyle in a fast-paced city feels all the better for its incongruousness, kind of like how stepping into a hot shower is much more satisfying when it’s cold outside.

Finding a bit of provincial solace in a city-bound home doesn’t have to mean solitude, though. Instead, we can partake in the long-table lore of country life in our own living rooms, even if that means a few people wind up perched on trunks or milk crates. Take note of how your conversations change when they don’t take place over expensive cocktails and urban din. Joining friends in their homes can make for evenings that move according to their own timetables without the presence of hovering servers silently nudging you to pay the check.

Best of all, crafting a rustic lifestyle brings calm into our own sanctums. It diffuses the pressures of the outside world so that we feel relieved as we cross the threshold into our homes. We can’t control everything that happens outside — from the lengthy bus delays to angry sidewalk-sharers — but we can find some peace and perspective in our spaces. Whether we come home to fall asleep or tackle a to-do list as tea cools beside us, we find joy in a serene space that prepares us for our next departure into the outside world.

The opportunity to have a slower domestic lifestyle within the city allows us to appreciate the streets’ hectic and intoxicating pace even more. By introducing a quieter, less hurried routine to our urban setting, we may achieve the best of both worlds: We can just as quickly visit a museum, pick up fusion cuisine from a food truck and rush to a swing-dancing party as we can spend an afternoon simmering stock and writing letters. We might not have the best view of the stars, but we can still look out at the bright lights of our skyline and feel content.”

Recent Reads: And Books on the Shelf

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I used to never give up on reading books that I’ve started. Call it stubbornness or pride. The thinking was two-fold. Firstly, I didn’t want to stop reading a book because I would not be able to add half-finished books to my list of ‘Books I’ve Read’, and what a “waste of time” that would be. Secondly, I didn’t want to be known as someone who didn’t have the GRIT to see to the finish line something I started. I wasn’t so concerned about knowing the end of the story as I was with the reflection of not finishing the book. Now that I’m older and a much different person, less concerned with other people’s perception, I have an easier time with letting these things go. My perspective has changed on the matter. I find that finishing a book for the sake of finishing is now what I consider a “waste of time”. I am more concerned with time well-spent over a list of accolades to brag about. I recognize the value in enjoying a book (perhaps only for the first half) and allow for the entertainment or the education that that book provided to be worthy enough of the time I spent reading it. Once things lose my fancy, there’s no use hanging on. And so I say farewell to Anna Karenina. 4 books of appreciation, but my heart is now elsewhere, and there’s nothing wrong with listening to your inner workings and abandoning all else. Anyone feel the same way?


Whenever we travel, I can’t help but be attracted to bookstores and libraries. It seems that whenever we walk by one, there is a lustful calling and I just have to step inside. Our recent trip to Seattle was no different. Out of it came a list of books that I am dying to read. Hence the need to thank Anna Karenina, let go, and move on.

Books On The Shelf:

Calypso

Moonwalking with Einstein

 

Beginning with the End

We all think that with the holidays ending, there’s going to be an opportunity for slow. A blank canvas for mindfulness. A time for new beginnings, ready to leave the hectic, rushed and busy season behind.

Instead we find ourselves diving headfirst into the list-making. Maybe not for gift-giving for others this time around, but rather, gift-giving for ourselves. For the life we want to lead. We drive to the car wash, rush to the hair salon, hit the yoga mats. New year, new me. Old rhythm.

Here’s the thing. Beginning with the beginning is the same as beginning the way we always have. We have new hopes for a bright future, but our tendencies keep us from making any real change. Some New Year’s advice? Go backwards. Beginning with the end changes everything.

If you interview anyone who ever experienced a tragic event, an untimely death, a natural disaster, they will likely begin their story in much the same way.

“It started like any other day.”

That single sentence alone tells us all that we need to know. It tells us of the ordinariness of events. It tells of the human tendency to take daily occurrence for granted. It tells of a mortality that easily escapes us. And it tells of the unexpected end.

This year, I implore you to begin at the end.

Right before we began our married lives, a few months before we embarked on our journey to freedom, we invested in our finances. The value of having a CFP such as Andrew could not be over-emphasized. The most important thing Andrew did for us had nothing to do with money. The first exercise we did together involved sitting down at a turquoise green dining table that I scrounged from a consignment store five years earlier and beginning with the end.

In lieu of marriage counseling, we were talked about our deaths.

We were asked the difficult questions. “If you would fall ill, and knew you were to die in a year, what would you like to do with your remaining time on Earth?”

If it were only a month?
If you were to die tomorrow?
If you died right this second, what would be your biggest regrets?

Not quite the easiest questions to answer on the spot! I would recommend some serious mulling over, because these are questions worth answering.

This is why our journey is not just about numbers and money. This is why we focus on experiences over material goods. This is why the community we’ve built is more important than the accolades we’ve racked up. This is why the things we own must be only that which we love and nothing more, and the things that we buy must do good for others and for the planet.

Because if you ask people about their death, you will see that the life they wanted to have led does not line up with the way they are currently living.

They may say they want financial freedom, but refuse to manage a budget. They may say they want to lose weight, but refuse to go to the gym every day or alter what they eat. They might say they want to travel the world, but tie themselves to a 9-5 that only gives 2 weeks of vacation a year. They might say they want to focus on family, but focus on material goods instead, thus taking them away from their homes and forcing them to work for said goods. They may say they want to pursue a passion, but never invest, never take that leap.

I say, I want to live an intentional live.
I say, we aren’t promised tomorrow.
I say, it was never about us, for we are transient beings. It’s about what we leave behind.
I say, if you want to write real resolutions, you begin with the ending.

A practice that I encourage people to do is to write their own eulogy. If you were to die, how do you want people to remember you? What do you want people to say? Limit it to four sentences. Ideally, revisiting it once a year would be great. And then ask yourself, is what I am doing today reflecting what I want people to say?

I guarantee you that you will see your resolutions change.

Slow Living: Slow Dating Advice in a Fast Paced World

I am the first to say that I am entirely unqualified to be giving this advice. I have not been remotely near the dating scene since before dating apps were created. I met my husband in our college days, when it was still common (and easy) for you to meet a significant other at a party or a social gathering amongst your group of friends. It was a time in our lives when we still felt the presence of a local community, which commonly vanishes as younger generations age and pursue careers and passions that take them away from a core group. I am not qualified because, frankly, I have never swiped right.

Yet a surprisingly large number of people are inquiring about this particular topic, seeking sage advice. They ask how to be frugal and still date. They ask how to practice slow living while developing relationships. They ask how to pursue financial independence and not be weighed down by a partner’s habits. While I cannot guarantee you that I can fit the bill in answering all of these questions, I do have a few thoughts as to how would approach the scene today, as a person seeking slow-living, frugality, and financial independence.

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Where to begin? I guess I should start by saying that there is a difference between people who date so as not to be single, and people who date with the intention of finding a significant other. I am assuming that those people who are dating so as to not be single are not the ones writing to me for advice. I am speaking of a long-term relationship built on the intention of creating a deeper understanding of another human being. Here I will be discussing my thoughts on a number of different topics.

On Apps

It’s a fast-paced world. Our lives are muddled by obligations such as work, family, school, social events, social media, et cetera. Who has the time to sit down and actually get to know anyone anymore? Who has the time to be present and to simply observe, without feeling the need to make a move? Not many, I presume. Enter dating apps. The faster way to find your next life partner, amongst the millions of potential people.

The apps themselves try to speed up a process that is meant to be slow. You have two seconds to make a first impression on someone before they choose the direction in which to swipe. In come cases, that impression is based on something entirely physical, such as the photo you choose to share. I am not saying physicality has nothing to do with dating (it DEFINITELY plays a role), but the decisions being made are sometimes based on the physical aspect alone, which is hardly a strong foundation to build upon.

In other cases, the apps act like a filter. You read through a resume, like you would at work. You choose a person that seems to fit the bill. But even that isn’t enough. Despite the fact that you have similar hobbies, interests, or backgrounds, there are so many other complex parts of a human being that cannot be written in a resume. Some of which you need to discover on your own, in due time. Who knows how they will react to a certain situation that isn’t going to come up until a few years down the road? You may both love music, but one might need a larger amount of personal space than another.

Off course, it isn’t realistic of me to say that everyone should do away with the apps. I met Mr. Debtist in an environment that was very conducive to meeting new people wheras today, our lives are less conducive to seeing new faces. The problem is that as we become more focused on work and making money, on being self-absorbed in social media, on independence rather than community… we as a society are getting further away from any real human interaction. Here’s what I would have to say about dating apps.

If it were me, I would do away with apps. Instead, I would revert back to the olden way of doing things. Get out there, and truly socialize, not to meet people, but for yourself! Do things that interest you. Volunteer at events that you believe in. When someone invites you out with their friends, don’t deny them just because you won’t know anyone and would feel awkward. Be comfortable with putting yourself out there. Return back to being a social human being who thrives off of social interaction. What this does is it forces you to surround yourself with PEOPLE. Maybe like-minded people who you can easily connect to at a volunteer event. Maybe non-like-minded people who inspire you to look at the world in a new way at a friend’s gathering. Additionally, don’t approach meeting people like you would a job opportunity. Don’t talk about yourself and who you are and what you’ve accomplished. Don’t ask about their job. Talk about what fuels you. Listen to what fuels them. Discuss ideas, not people or things. Ask questions. Actually…  ask plenty of questions, even the hard ones. We used to know how to open doors by asking questions as children, and we need to learn it again as adults.

On Frugal First Dates

There is an easy way to plan a first date. You take a pre-formed concept romanticized by media such as movies or music videos and you do exactly that. In fact, that’s what most people do. They meet up for coffee, or go to dinner, in the hopes of interviewing their way to knowing you. Some get more extravagant and include activities such as watching a movie or taking a cooking class. None of these ideas are frugal, especially when you expound it over multiple first dates.

Figuring out a frugal first date is hard. Most people do not feel comfortable inviting a stranger into their homes, so free activities such as cooking dinner or Netflix and chill isn’t exactly the best first date idea. And when I suggested to early twenty somethings to do what Mike and I did, which was to invite them out to a gathering with your already existing friends, they cringed at the thought. That’s how dehumanized we’ve become. Social interaction with your friends?! How intimidating! (See what I did there?)

Well here’s a thought. Get to know them before going on a first date. Seriously! Talk to them. Ask questions. See what they like to do. Figure out if there is a common ground, and then find a great way to start with that, instead of just plugging them into the automatic coffee date spot that you’ve taken everyone else. Mike and I talked for hours every night on AIM, which ages us I know. It took us five months of getting to know each other before deciding to date. Once you find a common ground, create an activity out of it. For example, did you both used to play soccer? Meet up at a park and practice. Do you both own pets? Take your dogs to the beach or a dog park. Go on a dog walk. A twenty minute dog walk gets the chore done and allows you time to chat. It shows you how you care for your pets.

Here is a short list of free frugal first dates, if you still don’t have a clue.

  • Go on a hike or take a bike ride.
  • Bonfire at the beach.
  • Find a free summer concert in the park.
  • Find an outdoor movie screening.
  • Check out a local farmer’s market. get to know the vendors, and try samples.
  • Volunteer together.
  • Wander art galleries (preferably on art walk, when they are free).
  • Walk or Visit dogs at the shelter.
  • Play a boardgame at the park (actually finish a Monopoly game!).
  • Build sandcastles at the beach.

Lastly, just do ANYTHING. Stop thinking so hard. Dates are highly romanticized acts. If it gets too complicated, you’re already taking away from any real connection. Is it bad advice to say, just meet up and talk? Why do younger gens writhe at the thought of inviting potential prospects to an already existing event, with family or friends? Mr. Debtist and I skipped all the superficiality and honestly, I think that’s why it worked out so well.

On Pursuing Financial Independence

So you pursue financial independence. How, then, to bring that up without frightening away any prospects. It’s hard enough bringing up the subject over happy hour with your closest friend, favorite cocktail in hand. Harder still when you’ve got to let someone know of your plans, if ever they want to be a part of it. Here’s what I got to say.

I do agree that your new potential significant other should know fairly early on your values, your goals, and your dream future. To withhold that from them would be unfair. But do so with your actions, rather than your words.

If you somehow meet a spend-thrift, don’t immediately assume that they can’t be the one. I am the first to say that I was a frivolous consumer, and had the IQ of a rock when it came to finance. But I changed too, over time. I changed as I spent more time with Mr. Debtist, who is the frugal OG, and I started to see the benefits of a financially independent lifestyle. You can have conversations about what you can both work on, but please keep the expectations at a minimum. Because the truth is, people won’t change for you. And should they have to? Rather, people change for themselves. They have to want financial independence, too, on their own terms. And if they don’t, then yeah it may make it harder for you or it may take you a few more years than you originally planned, but perhaps it’s worth it. As I say time and again, it isn’t all about the money.

Now, let’s say you are the stubborn type. You want to have financial independence gosh darn it, if it kills you. Okay, fine fine. There is a way, but it requires you to know your significant other really well. If you want to have them on board, you need to stop thinking and talking about yourself. You may want financial independence because you hate your job or want to pursue a different passion. But that’s not going to get your significant other to magically also want to quit work forever. Like I said, people change for themselves. You need to do some serious brainstorming and think of what your partner wants more than anything. Is it to be a stay-at-home-parent? Is it to travel the world? To work pro-bono in a third world country? Whatever it is, you need to convince them that financial independence can help get them there (because it can!). Andddd you need patience. Sorry, but it’s true! It isn’t going to happen overnight.

My most sage advice? Ultimately, it does not matter if they ever become a frugal weirdo or a financial freak. What matters most is that they are willing to compromise and to be supportive. That’s really all I have to say. It seems too simple to be true, but in my life, most things just are.

How to Simplify 2019

2018 for us was the year of less. I would say that it took a year of experimenting after dental school until I finally found my focus. This past year was the second year since leaving school and it was also the year that I finally identified myself as The Debtist, accurately reflecting just how much the student debt has shaped my life. When I left school, I was suffering from a feeling of overwhelm, and not just because I was an introvert. There was just too much of everything. Some were good, like accomplishments and accolades that I was proud of, but with the good comes the bad, such as obligations tied to those accomplishments and accolades. I owned too many things, knew too many people, had too many social events to go to, and I was drowning in debt. After a year of soul-searching and experimental living, we finally found our groove and spent all of 2018 perfecting our lifestyle by design. 

Here’s the truth. Balancing all aspects of your life can be exhausting. Trying to make sense of your financial life can be difficult enough as it is, especially if you are trying to control your spending, get rid of debt, save for a financial goal such as a house or your child’s college tuition, and plan for retirement all at the same time. Imagine doing so while balancing a job, spending time with your friends and family, and stealing time for your own health. Oh wait, you probably don’t need to imagine. Where, then, do you have time to add to your life? By the time the work day is over, most Americans are just praying to get to bed at an early enough hour in order to do it all over again the next day. Some desperately crawl their way to the weekend ahead. 

That’s not the life I want to live. I can argue that’s not much of a life at all. The problem is, the American Dream emphasizes the importance of having more to the point where our lives are over-extended balloons and we are all about to pop under the stress. When in reality, we can all benefit from less, and simplifying our life is one of the best ways in which we can enhance our focus, reach our goals, relieve our stress, and take our life back. 

The average American lives surrounded in clutter, both physical and mental, completely unaware. I know I was. Clutter comes in many forms. It can manifest as excess stuff in our homes, uncontrolled spending and consumerism, unhealthy relationships and habits, debt (can I get an Amen?!), unwanted obligations, unsatisfying jobs, mental clutter in the form of anxieties and worries, digital clutter, and more. Controlling all of this clutter can make life very chaotic, and when life is chaotic, it’s hard to focus on things that actually matter, such as close relationships, health, and personal growth. When I graduated, I didn’t know that I was suffering from excessiveness but I knew I had to change something or go ape. I landed on simplicity, accidentally, and it was my saving grace. 

After an entire year of stripping our lives to the barest minimums, we found that bare minimum kind of suits us. We de-cluttered, dropped relationships, said no to a million obligations, rejected lifestyle creep, avoided consumerism and subscriptions, and meditated and created our way to unearth versions of ourselves that were buried beneath all the responsibilities; versions that were unable to be born and grow under all the stress and the duress. What resulted was not only a self-discovery but also a forming of community, interested in our lifestyle. It shows that many people are just searching to be humans again, to escape the hamster wheel, the robotic interactions, the black hole of the American Dream that is so difficult to escape. 

Soooooo maybe 2019 is the year to simplify, if you haven’t experimented with it already. Simplifying looks differently for everyone, but here are some processes that I addressed in order to simply my life. I hope it finds you well in the year to come.

  • De-clutter (or downsize!) in 2019.  This addresses the physical aspect of clutter. Studies have shown that houses full of clutter actually affect our ability to connect with our homes and prevent us from associating the home with a place of refuge from the outside world. Meaning, having too much stuff surrounding us keep our minds constantly over-whelmed with stimuli, and thereby prevents us from fully re-setting. Additionally, cleaning up after our stuff takes up a lot of time when we just have too much. Plus, we have to deal with the paradox of choice. Having less stuff simplifies the decision-making process of trivial things (such as what to wear today), thereby allowing us to focus on making decisions for more important, and bigger life commitments. Lastly, de-cluttering (or down-sizing your home) will save you money, too! There are many pros with small-space living, and simplifying your life is just one of them! To read more about my thoughts on less and happiness, right this way.
  • Spend less time on social media. Logging off is one way to eliminate mental clutter. I’d be the first to admit that my ten fingers are miraculously glued to my phone. But after an experiment of logging off after a month, I was suddenly reminded of what life was like before I was endowed with constant connection abilities. I started to have time for things that I used to say I did not have time for. I even had so much time that there were moments where I had to sit and think of what to do! The average american spends 5 hours a day on social media. FIVE HOURS!! I mean, don’t get me wrong. I love connecting to friends, family, and you, readers, through social media. But there are days when I am seriously scrolling down my feed, eyes glazed, just because I had a long day of work and needed to soothe my tired brain with photos of pretty things and videos of cats. Hardly productive. I could have instead taken a nap and been energized from the rest of the day., I liken social media to useless carbs. We consume them because they make us feel good, but there is no way it’s good for us in the long run. 
  • Watch less Netflix/TV. We do not have cable, or a television for that matter. In fact, we lead a life of absolutely no TV. It saves us money, but more importantly, it saves us time. Similar to the social media rant, TV is one of those easy solutions to top off a stressful work day, but it’s a time waster. The average American watches 35 hours of TV a week, which I cannot even fathom because TV never was a big factor in my life. But I do believe it, since every social gathering has someone bringing up the latest news on TV or the most popular TV series. People even talk about funny advertisements, or trailers of new movies. And honestly, we can’t relate. Which is pretty awesome, because people ask about our lifestyle without TV and start to drift into topics of travel, being with family, tapping into creativity, and more. Sometimes, we even drift into politics, but rather than talking about what a politician just recently said or did, we talk more about the futures we want to see, and brainstorm our own imaginary solutions to problems that society faces. Instead of talking about other people’s lives, we become introspective of our own. 
  • Evaluate your relationships. We all know what unhealthy relationships are like. There are social obligations that we keep out of sentimentality or fear of cutting ties completely, but when you reframe your view and realize that these relationships can be keeping you from your potential life, it becomes much easier to let them go. You don’t have to do it in any awful way and the ties don’t have to be severed on bad terms. We’ve all had a falling out over time and it’s not that you don’t like that person, but just that they don’t really fit your lifestyle in this moment. They could have had a place in your past and maybe they will also have a place in the future, but maybe now is not the time. If they are your true close friend or family, they will understand the boundaries that you set. Evaluating relationships will let you know which are really worth your time. It gets rid of those social events that you dread going to, the awkward moments when you can’t connect with someone, or even the frustrating and bad moments where the drama happens. In the words of Bob Ross, “I can’t afford to hate people. I don’t have that kind of time”. 
  • Get rid of debt. I can talk all day about this. In fact, I’ve talked ALL YEAR about this. Debt can be restricting, taking away the freedom to live your life to the fullest. Especially when the debt is large like ours. It doesn’t matter if it’s student loan debt, credit card debt (ick! Those interest rates!), car debt, mortgage loans, or business debt. All debt is bad debt. Paying off all of your debt will greatly simplify your life. You will get rid of monthly recurring payments and you will alleviate some of that stress handing over you. Talk about mental clutter! Plus, getting rid of debt will give you more money to set-aside for longer-term financial goals, such as saving for retirement or investing for the future. If you have a large student debt hanging over your head like me and are ready to just get rid of it completely, try considering refinancing or switching to a different repayment program to save you BIG BUCKS. 
  • Organize, automate, and track your finances. Automating our financing has helped us a lot. Getting the help of a financial planner was the first step. Then we got our budgeting down with YNAB, which has helped us tremendously in paying down over $100,000 in student debt! We got rid of credit card debt (see #5 above), and automated all of our recurring monthly payments. We have focused our sights on paying down student debt, but have done it in such a way that we hardly have to think about finances at all. Everything is on auto-pilot, and the consistency of our work has showed some great results! 
  • Stop searching for external sources of happiness. There are three things we are constantly being sold: time, money, and happiness. Advertising agencies know that in order to sell a product, they need to frame that product in a way that makes life more convenient, richer, or happier. Many people subconsciously believe that they would be much happier if only they had a new car, or a home, a new tech gadget, or even something as simple as a new outfit. But we need to stop searching for external sources of happiness. We can’t just buy our way into being happy. I mean, I guess we caaaaaannnn, but that also means we are spending unnecessarily (and constantly!) whiletying ourselves more to our jobs than we need to. Happiness is a mind set. You can cultivate happiness with something as simple as a breath
  • Stay organized. I streamline my life in as many ways as possible. In order to do that, I try to stay very organized, which is very difficult for someone endlessly overflowing with ideas and thoughts! I carry a planner with me at all times, and jot down any notes or errands that require noting, before it slips away into the recesses of my memory, waiting to be discovered at the most opportune times. If you aren’t the type to keep a planner, maybe 2019 is the time to start (right this way!). I mean, when you look at the following statistics, it’s hard to imagine why you wouldn’t want to be more organized!
    • The average person spends 12 days per year looking for things they can’t find.
    • Every day, the average office worker spends 1.5 hours looking for things.
    • In a recent survey, 55% of consumers stated they would save anywhere from 16 to 60 minutes a day if they were more organized.
    • 23% of people pay bills late and have to pay late fees because they are unable to find their bills.
  • Practice saying no. Saying no is probably the best super-power in the world. That and teleportation, which I have yet to meet someone who has discovered just how to make that dream a reality. Saying no kind of gets a bad rap, but it seriously shouldn’t. Think of saying no to things as the equivalent of saying yes to other (more important) things. We live in a world where saying no means that you aren’t capable, and I say to that, SO WHAT?! We are human. We aren’t capable of all the expectations that society sets up for us, because to be frank, they are perfect little impossibilities! Instead of stressing ourselves out by adding as much as we can to our plates, and then some, we need to start limiting what we introduce into our lives to those that add meaning. 
  • Be kind to yourself. It is human nature to be too hard on yourself but a great way to simplify your life is to be kind. Sometimes, we grade ourselves using a metric system that is extremely difficult to beat. It is easier to be forgiving of others but when it comes to ourselves, we are our own worst critics. We need to trust that we are where we need to be, and that we are enough. Stop comparing yourself to people in tiny perfect squares. Simply trusting the process can get rid of the anxieties that we typically face, and the negative thoughts that we have towards ourselves. 
  • Avoid multi-tasking. It can seem like multi-tasking is the best thing to do when life gets busy but multi-tasking can actually make life more difficult. Studies have shown that we are not built to multi-task. In fact, we cannot truly multi-task. Our brains can only focus on one thing at a time and when we think we are multi-tasking, we are really just switching from one task to another, at a very fast pace. Talk about over-stimulation!  If our brains are trying to do ten things at once, we actually slow down real progress while putting ourselves under a lot of stress. Focusing on one thing at a time will deliver better results and will help with the mental clutter. 
  • Make your money work for you. I am all about passive income streams. I want my money to work for me, and not the other way around. We all need money to uphold a particular lifestyle. However, I don’t want to spend my entire life trying to make money. Instead, it’d be nice if the money makes itself, without me having to put in too much work. Investing is one way to make your money work for you. Mr. Debtist and I are in the habit of paying ourselves first. Before we even get a hold of our paycheck, we take away a percentage of our income and stow it away in our 401ks. Another way we make passive income is by co-housing. Each month, we earn $700 just by letting a roommate live with us. Sometimes, we let dogs stay with us too, via Rover, and that’s another way to earn money (almost) passively. If you feel the same about work, maybe this is the year you start looking at passive income!
  • Meditate. I used to have a monkey mind, jumping from one thing to the next. I used to live in the past and in the future, but never could keep myself in the present. Meditation was the best way for me to get rid of mental clutter. Deep breathing techniques and yoga are two ways I calm my mind. Sitting silently and reflecting, or practicing gratitude are other ways to hone in your focus. You may find that meditating allows your mind the space it needs to finally get something done!

How about you? How are you planning to simplify in the New Year? 

One Income Stream is Risky Business

There’s a recent happening at the Debtists’ residence that we have not yet spoken of. It’s one that I hope you consider heavily, and it emphasizes the risky business of relying on a single income stream. After revealing the going-on’s at our home, I sure hope it convinces you to re-think the way you look at yourself and your job, and to possibly start on this path towards adding side hustles to your resume in 2019. 


Real talk: A year and a half ago, Mr. Debtist pursued his dream job at a start up company working on electric vehicles. As with any start-up, there is risk involved, and one never quite knows if anything will come of it. Last year, we went through some difficult times with the company, and for a month or so, we didn’t know if there was any more growing left to be done. Luckily, they pulled through and at the beginning of this year, there was hope of moving forward.

Unfortunately, mid-October, we (and the rest of Mr. Debtist’s company) were blind-sighted by a turn of events that resulted in a laying off of 20% of the company, followed by a mandatory furloughing until further notice of anyone who joined in the last six months. A 50% cut on everyone’s salary was implemented, which is hardly the worst part. Last week, another wave of mandatory furloughs was issued, getting rid of all of Mr. Debtist’s friends at work, but one. All that’s left of Mr. Debtist’s team is him and two other mates. Now I am not ungrateful for the fact that he was kept on and still has a job, despite the 50% cut that he’s been working under the past two months. But it is a depressing thing, to see your company degrade, your co-workers leave, and your paycheck smaller than when you first graduated from college 8 years ago. I share this with you all to prove one thing: Having one income stream is risky business.


Sometimes, “what you do in your 9-5 is not as important as what you do in your 5-9”, my favorite quote from Side Hustle Nation’s Nick Loper. We need to stop thinking of ourselves as someone employed by a company who works in the 9-5. Rather, we need to start thinking of ourselves as entrepreneurs, who may be doing particular work from 9-5, but who are our own employers from the 5-9. Because we are our own employers, we are responsible for creating other income streams for ourselves outside of our 9-5. By doing so, we no longer remain dependent on a single job, or on an employer for that matter. Even if you own your own company and you work for yourself, you cannot assume that your single source of income will be there a year from now. You cannot assume that you’ll still be satisfied with the same work after a year. And who likes sticking to a job that they hate? We only have a limited number of days, and our lives have to reflect that. With other sources of income comes more freedom from any potentially unfavorable turn of events, and more power to call the shots as to what takes up your precious time. The minute you become an entrepreneur, you become your own person.

Even as a child, I knew deep down that I did not want to depend on anyone. In fact, I hated it when people told me what I could and couldn’t do. That’s just who I was. No one else but me gets to say how my life is going to be. I mean, should anyone else be given that right?! Here in this space, I write about ways in which we can live intentionally. Part of that requires ensuring that we are living for us. That our actions are shaped by neither our histories, nor our relationships. That we leave our own legacy behind, and not an empty shell of a life made busy with what other people thought defined our success, or worse, defined us.


For Mr. Debtist and I, we are absolutely lucky in the fact that we do not rely on one income stream. And I am not referring to the fact that we are a dual-income household. I would say that we are a hexi-income household, because we employ a number of different side-hustles to increase our income. And while we cannot necessarily replace our 9-5 jobs with the other income streams, we can stay afloat. We prove to ourselves that we can come up with something to replace it. We (hope to) inspire others to have the courage to make it work. If all of this jives with you, here are five income streams for myself that have helped offset the dramatic pay-cut. 

  • Work for 2 dental offices (and stay open-minded to help out fellow dentists in need at their offices). I work for two different dental offices in two cities about twenty five miles apart. One is three blocks from my home, the other is a five minute drive from my parents. Working for two offices gives me flexibility, but also, safety. Imagine one city suffering from a fire, or an office suffering from a sudden loss of staff. Dispersing my dependency between two offices that serves two different communities gives me a stronger sense of stability. Additionally, I have colleague dentists who occasionally message me and ask me to help out with their own private offices once in a while. If I have a day off, I am more than happy to work for them for that day, to help alleviate the work load or to give them time to take a vacation.
  • Act as landlord and rent out a room. We started this idea of co-housing in January of 2018. After having an emotional break-down over the stagnancy of our finances given the large student debt that we had to overcome (referring to myself, not the Mr. Debtist, regarding the debt AND the breakdown), we decided to co-house to alleviate some of the financial load, and more importantly, allllll of the stress. Another way of thinking of co-housing is as an additional income stream. Renting out a room in our home gives us an additional $700 a month! It’s actually the biggest thing that got us out of our stagnant stages (along with YNAB which helped us get our budget in order), and it was the best decision we ever made!  
  • Dog sit via Rover: This is a recent side hustle that I started to do and I think it has great potential. We do not have kids of our own, and while we love our toothless cat, we also enjoy the additional company of other pets, too (even though Theo may not). Dog sitting is a great side hustle because it does not add much to your plate. It is flexible in that you can create the timeline that works for your already existing schedule to feed and walk the dogs. For us, it is a great opportunity to play and love dogs who would otherwise be sitting in a kennel overnight. The dogs are welcome to sidle up by us on the couch during the day or on the bed at night. It gets us to go out on a walk three times a day, forcing us to exercise, but also giving us the opportunity to connect. With this side-hustle, I charge $30/night to dog sit, giving us the earning potential of an additional $900 per month. Via Rover, you can also choose to day sit, take dogs on a walk, check-in on someone’s pet, and more! You control your own calendar, making it easy to do without sacrificing your current obligations. For example, if you have a vacation planned, then you may block that day off from your availability. If you love pets as much as I do, then this is a great hustle to look into.
  • Use affiliate linking to generate income from the blog. This is fairly easy to do when you have an existing blog or social media platform. You can become an affiliate for a number of companies and help others by linking them to that company’s programs or services. Off course, I do not link to every company out there willy-nilly. I only choose companies that are in line with my lifestyle and my values. Most of the time, I have tried the product myself to verify that they make a good fit. For example, in an effort to help others who are attempting to wrangle their student debt, I have partnered with the following refinance companies (Laurel RoadELFICommon BondSofiSplash FinancialEarnestLendkey) to help people get lower interest rates on their loans. It’s a win-win situation, because I make financial independence, zero waste-living, and sustainable products easily accessible to my followers, and at the same time, I receive a small percentage commission from the companies I work with.
  • Take bread orders and sell bread loaves and croissants. Baking bread is like a science. If I am being honest, it took me quite a few experimental bakes before I even got to what I would consider edible bread. Eventually, I got to bread that was soft enough to digest, let alone bite into, but I still wasn’t satisfied. When I got into a bread baking habit, I wanted to improve my skills without wasting so much bread. A gal can only eat so many loaves in one sitting! So what I started to do was sell my bread to friends, family, and co-workers, which gave me the ability to practice honing in my skills without wasting resources. In return, they received fresh loaves of organic bread, without any preservatives of any kind, at a hugely discounted price. Even though I have stopped baking bread loaves every week once I developed a recipe that I was happy with, I occasionally still do get orders and requests. This isn’t to say that bread baking will replace our real 9-5 income. Rather, it’s to show you that you have hobbies and talents that people are willing to pay for. At absolutely no expense to you. Let’s say you love to read. Offer your services as an editor. Let’s say you like to cook. Sell your most popular meals to friends and family. Or better yet, start a blog and share your recipes with the world. If you like calligraphy, use the holidays or weddings as opportunities to make some income. If you own a camera, become a free-lance photographer on the side, starting with close friends and families to build a portfolio. Trust that you hold value , and share your interests and skills with others in a way only you know how.

We took over a $55,000 pay cut two months ago. But we aren’t going to quit. We will keep up the student loan payments and dig our way out of hyperdebt. We will flex those frugal muscles (a year of working out those frugal muscles has prepped us for this!). And we will not jump desperately to the next corporate job offer. We will stay afloat this crazy ocean ride. Why?? Because it is important (to us) to build a lifestyle by design. Part of that means that it is important to do meaningful work, however that’s defined by you. We knew the risk of a start-up company, but electric vehicles is what he wanted to do. He loves cars, and he believes strongly in a future of autonomous driving. Despite the unexpected turn of events, you don’t ever regret a decision like that. If you find yourself in a similar situation, I implore you to seriously think before you jump into the next job life throws your way. If it doesn’t align with your lifestyle or your values, why chain yourself up? 


We only have a limited number of days, and our lives have to reflect that (see paragraph 4).

Using Gifts to Talk About Mindful Consumption with Younger Generations

When was the first time you were introduced to the concept of gifts? If it’s like most people, it was likely at an age when you were not yet capable of comprehending what a gift was! Growing up, we all were taught to expect gifts and to ask for things, even when we were too young to expect anything at all. From our very first birthday, we were taught that gifts come hand-in-hand with any celebration. Aunts and uncles would ask for wish lists, and parents would prompt you to write a letter to Santa. In this sense, gifts were one of the first factors in propelling our lifestyles towards one of consumption. This Christmas, I implore you to change the way we talk about gifts with children.

ON TALK OF GIFTS:

Instead of asking children what they want to receive for Christmas, ask them want they want to do. Avoid the talk of gifts all-together. I ask kid patients who come into the dental office what they have done thus far to prepare for the holidays rather than ask them for their wish list. If a child says, “bake cookies”, I ask them if they plan to give some to their next-door neighbor or friends at school. If they say “write a letter to Santa”, I ask them if they are also going to write a letter to their sibling, telling them how important they are. If a child brings up gifts, I ask them to tell me the one thing they have in their life right now that makes them feel most gifted, whether that’s their family, their warm bed, a hobby, or a special moment.

ON WRITING WISH LISTS:

If you are writing a letter to Santa as a family, perhaps challenge a child to write only ONE material item that they “want”. I am not saying deprive a kid of STUFF. I am simply saying to limit how much of it surrounds them. Your child likely does not need a dozen more toys. A statistic states that the average child in the developed world owns more than 200 toys, but plays with only 12 of them on average a day. Additionally, the US children make up 3% of the children in the world, but owns over 40% of the toys in the world. So as a non-mother, I do dare say that your child should only ask for one material item. My suggestion? Ask them to request experiences instead. Perhaps your child will ask for their favorite meal, or a venture to the movie theatres. Mayhaps they ask to adopt a pet, or to spend an afternoon helping others at a soup kitchen. Maybe they’ll ask to see far-away grandparents this year, or for world peace. Children are so brilliant when it comes to ideas. They may surprise you, let alone Santa.

ON CONVERSATIONS ABOUT CONSUMERISM:

If you ARE gifting kids something, start a conversation with them about where their gift comes from. Let them know that their item affects the environment, and the people on it. Tell them how. Spend some time with them researching who made the gift, and what purchasing the gift means. It’s important to have them understand that things do not just magically appear from the sky, even if Santa does. In knowing this one simple fact, they will become more mindful about the source of everything that enters their lives, rather than dismissively assume that our consumption has no effect. In doing this, we can raise children with enough awareness to question.

ON MINDFUL GIFTS:

There are many ways to start the conversation with mindful gift-giving.

  • Fair + Simple launched their Fair + Little line this year. The collection consists of curated goods hand-sewn by women in the Philippines. Each gift is meant to change the way children views stuff. There is a card for every purchase, telling the child a little bit about the maker, and how the gift helps others. There is also a call to action that prompts each child to get out in nature, and become treasure hunters. Inside the pockets are hidden treasures from the founder, Molly. To learn more about Fair + Simple, check out my interview with the founder.
  • KrochetKids has a collection of children’s knitted goods, ranging from beanies to stuffed animals. Each product is hand-signed by its maker, thereby opening the doors for you to tell them that their items are made by hand by a human being, not a machine. You can also have them write a Thank You letter to their maker, and send it to them online!
  • Farmer’s Market and Artist Fairs are great ways to have a child actually meet the hands behind their gift. They can even speak with the maker and ask them questions, such as how they got started making these things and what was the hardest part about its production.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Writing A No-Gifting Holiday Letter

My favorite time of year is upon us. A time of brisk morning air, evening fireside chats, excuses to snuggle and wear socks to bed, and gathering for no jolly good reason at all except for the fact that it’s that time of year. Intermingled among all this is the season of gift giving, interlaced with all sorts of well-meaning intentions designed to show affection and care. How then, to break one’s bubble and tell them not to give gifts at all, in order to avoid waste, excess consumption, and negatively impact livelihoods and the planet? Such Grinch-like talk will surely get you uninvited to Aunt Sally’s Christmas dinner. But lack of such talk could keep you in a cycle of forever contributing to unnecessary waste production and consumption. Which idea can you be more at peace with?

For myself, preceding any sort of wish list requires a conversation, which could be substituted by a letter if you’ve got some ‘splaining to do for a large number of people or if the face-to-face interaction is just too awkwardly painful to sit through. It requires bravery fortified by resolve, THAT I can guarantee you. It also requires an openness on my part, since I have no control over the openness on their part. Meaning, I must accept the possibility of rejection. For some, gift giving is just something very much ingrained in their being. I know it once was the case for me. There used to be a time where everyone I knew got a gift from me, whether they wanted to or not. I used to think it was the best way I could spread joy and show love. Today, I see the holidays as a heavily marketed event that promotes large amounts of consumption packaged in the form of gifts. Not everyone shares my view point. But I know that I’ve changed, and maybe over time, they may too. Regardless, allow people to be themselves. It is important to share your view point and stand strong as a mountain around your values, but it is equally important to allow others around you to be fluid and flow as a river, going their own way. Be open to being denied your wish to veer away from gift giving, because it is, after all, a wish.

The hard part, off course, lies in finding the best way to communicate that wish. Each family is different, and the way you communicate greatly affects the way the wish is received. With my immediate family, I have had endless conversations (throughout the year) about my stance. But what of extended family and friends? The easiest thing to do if your family is keen on sending each other wish lists is to include a letter addressed to all. Every year, people ask me for a wish list. And when I say “You don’t have to get me anything”, they typically respond with, “Just send it to me, anyway.” So I do, attached with a written letter. I have included this letter last Christmas, for my most recent birthday, and yes, this Christmas as well. May you find inspiration and support.

Dear all,

Please do not feel the need to get me a Christmas gift this year. I’d rather Christmas be about spending time, not money. I am more than happy to receive NOTHING. Actually I would feel a weight lift, since I feel stressed knowing that our consumption choices do affect the environment. Our resources could be used elsewhere, like buying a Christmas meal for a low-income family, or sending the gift to a child in a third world country. Please consider.

On that note, if you cannot keep yourself from the gift giving spirit, I ask that you kindly respect my wish for having as little negative social and environmental impact as possible. I request no plastic packaging, which requires either picking up these items from the store or writing letters to the companies to request zero plastic packaging in the shipping. No gift wrap is necessary, but if you wish to wrap, please be mindful and avoid plastic wrap, including ribbons and bows made from cellophane. There will be no need for plastic tags stickered onto gifts as well. Lastly, please use the links specified in this document if you choose to gift. Do not substitute products with other products as a majority of these are chosen specifically for their sustainability in material, fair trade, or direct global impact in poor communities.

Future thank you, regardless of what you choose to do.

XOXO,

Sam

Yes, it takes guts. Yes, it may not be well received by some. But after sending letters of the like twice before, here is the change that I am happy to see.

  • This year, my siblings were open to limiting the gifts to under $25. We used to spend $100+ on each other, and limiting it to a small price really allows us to focus our dollars on what we truly need.
  • This year, my sister-in-law approached us and asked if her, Mr. Debtist and I could skip gifts this year. She said that she had also asked her closest friends to do the same, and it was received with open arms. She only felt comfortable asking us this because we have made it clear in the past that gifts are not important to us. The conversation had already been started.
  • We have requested to participate in only the Secret Santas for the parties we are attending. Meaning, for the years that we are attending the other side’s extended family’s party, we will be skipping gift giving for the side we aren’t attending.
  • My husband and I will not get gifts for each other. We gift to each other throughout the year in forms of travel, quality time, and everything else we do to create an intentional lifestyle. At the end of December, we will be traveling to Australia and New Zealand, which is “gift” enough.

I hope that in sharing these moments, you find the courage to speak up for the lifestyle you want to lead. Change can happen, no matter how minute, but it all starts with awareness about how our actions today affect the world we create for tomorrow.