Thoughts on: Mundane Action

There are times when I think about what people will think once this loan repayment journey is over. The most likely truth is that most of my journey will be forgotten. All of the middle ground where the suffering happened will be overshadowed by the end result. The happy ending will supersede all. As humans, it is natural to only remember the beginning and the end as we take away the life lesson but forget the mundane events of the everyday.

It makes me sad to think that they’ll look at what we’ve done in paying back $575k in student debt and immediately assume that the going was easy.

Explanations will arise, however inaccurate, that dismiss the difficulty of the task, as people say things such as, “Well, she was a dentist and made a lot of money. Of course it was doable.”

Excuses from colleagues about why it wouldn’t work for them will also ensue. “She had a husband who also made decent income”, “She was fortunate enough to have a bakery that took off”, and “She had her writing to help support such a hefty loan repayment.”

It makes me sad because if that were the case, if everyone forgot the effort, then this would be for naught. People will continue to believe that paying back debt is an unreachable goal. People will still avoid pursuing financial freedom, viewing it as attainable only to those who have luck on their side, or to those who have more than.

But none of that is true.

They say that it would be difficult to pay back debt if it is more than twice your income. Well, mine was almost quadruple my income. But I still pushed myself to do it.

I want people to know that my success will not be a result of me making TONS of money relative to my loans.

It will be because of penny-pinching habits, mindfulness, diligence, and hard work.

I want people to know that any success I have will not be because of sheer luck.

It will be because of a constant refining of the self, a vigilant search for the essentials, and a questioning of the status quo.

I hope people remember that it wasn’t easy. I have days I never speak of, spent curled up in a ball on the floor, my hand in fists, my eyes flooding with tears. There were moments full of self-doubt around both my abilities and my choices. Days when I felt lonely because I worked so much. Days my back hurt from doing dentistry and my shoulders hurt lifting cast iron lodge pans. I have burn marks on my arms and bags under my eyes. It isn’t easy, but it’s a meaningful life, and I want people to remember that.

Maybe then, it would help push them through the tough times when they are most ready to quit.

I was ready to quit, too. Hundreds of times.

This story will never be told as widespread as other stories, because it is not an overnight success. The tabloids, the news, the audience … none of them want to hear about mundane action. But it is mundane action that will make ordinary people do extraordinary things. It’s a shame because, well, the non-telling of my story will mean that Regular Joe’s will never reach their potential to be super-heroes. Students will continue to carry debt. Society will continue on with their life-cycle.

But if my story gets shared once or twice, I have hope that it saves a handful of people.

The younger a person hears a story about personal finance, the easier it is to reach financial freedom. In much the same way, the sooner a person with student debt is convinced of their ability to pay it back, the more money they save. Every day that they wait to refinance is a day wasted and a few dollars lost in interest. Every day a person debates about whether they can dig out of debt, they dig themselves a bigger ditch.

I write to empower people in small ways, which over time lead to big results. After two years of writing this post, I still do not believe in the word negligible.

A water carves its way into solid rock, and over-time, forms the rock into an easier pathway.

This is how I want to transform people.

I am no SuperWoman.

I am so very ordinary.

If there is one thing people remember about me and my story, I hope it is that.

 

Living Slow: Season of Becoming

This post is in partnership with East Fork Pottery,  a company slinging hand-thrown, timeless pottery in Oregon using regionally-sourced stoneware clay. Their beautiful food-safe glazes are made in house and lend their pieces character, but in an unfussy and classic manner. The collection is, truly, a treasure trove.

It’s been a bit quiet here for the past week, which should be indicative of the fact that I’ve been restless in real life, struggling with a personal decision that’s difficult to make. Usually that’s how it is. Cyber silence equates to a madness that requires its own space and time. But I wanted to put thought to digital paper for a moment, as an observance of this period of growth.

DSC06210

Last week, I was presented with an alternative job opportunity that, when on paper, holds better weight than my current position. However, there are some non-practical reasons why I want to keep my current position. Ultimately, it came down to production limited by the number of days, or production limited by fees. I had to consider adding a 1.5 hr  round-trip daily commute to my currently non-existent one in exchange for much easier work. I had to decide whether having newer and better materials that made my job easier was more important than sweeter and easier patients who made my job easier. I was pulled between something new and something familiar. It was a week full of angst, emotion, and pressure to make a decision. I sat by the window sill staring into space, deep in thought, reflection, and sometimes just straight up brooding. Tears were involved.

If I took the easier job that is farther away which has more difficult patients but newer materials, I would only work 2.5-3 days a week, and still make the same amount of production at 4 days a week. But when you add the hours of commute and subtract the amount of money spent on gas, those 3 days really equate to 3.6 days, and is that difference worth it. The physical work will be easier due to newer materials, but demanding patients increase the mental and emotional energy required to work. The gratitude will be centered around the ease of work, rather than meaningful work. Both cups are half-full. Which would you choose?

DSC06198

The paradox of choice is real. Both options are starkly different, but both are also good. My husband pointed out that I couldn’t go wrong either way. It’s a fantastic position to be in. But the fear of choosing wrong is what cripples. If the opportunity didn’t present itself, it wouldn’t be hard for me to continue what I was doing. There would be a distant nagging of the things I could improve if the practice were my own, but I wouldn’t be restless like I am now. When there is an alternative, it is much harder to ignore what could be.

Equally crippling is the feeling that a choice needs to be made. If I am going to leave  the first office, it would be best to tell them as soon as possible. Meanwhile, the office of opportunity is waiting on the sideline, seeing if I would take their job offer. I think it’s hard to be in-between. The pressure prevents any real growth.

In my life, I‘ve tried to reduce choice in order to increase bliss. In general, it has worked very well. While I don’t like choicelessness, I like having reduced options. But I know making choices is the hard part of growth. So choices need to be made.

I have an evasive tactic that I turn to when faced with difficult decisions. I just pick one -the one that intuitively seems most appealing – and then I move on with my life. I do that because I know I can always pivot. I do that because I know that there are worse things to choose from, and that outcomes in general are not bad  in the grand scheme of things. But I also know that I do it to alleviate the guilt, stress, and responsibility of that choice. I am only ever choosing one real thing – to run a way from my own discomfort.

This has led me to even deeper consideration for things beyond the job itself. The job, it’s just a stage in my life. In the end, neither choice is perfect, but neither is also wrong. Both are transient, not one being the end point. But I’ve thought about my tendency to run when things get difficult. My wish to reduce, in order to ease. My need to asphyxiate in hopes of control. My obsession with doing, instead of just being.

I can say I’ve been much better the past two years. Slow living has been a great mentor in that. But this is one of those moments where I need to tell myself, “Wait“. Instead of searching for clarity, wait for the fog of emotions to roll out and clear. Instead of wishing to tell people about it, wait for them to ask you of your thoughts. Instead of trying to get every answer imaginable, wait for that inner knowing to surface from within. Stay to see what happens, instead of going to see where the river runs.

I came across this quote  from @trustandtravel’s Instagram, and it spoke.

“Do not fast-forward into something you are not ready for, or allow  yourself to shrink back into what’s comfortable. Growth lives in the uneasiness. The in-between. The unfinished sentence. You are a season of becoming.”

-Danielle Doby

Becoming is a hard thing. But it’s also necessary. So much of the time, we do, and therefore we are. But we never just “be”. How do we ever expect to become?

The espresso cups in soapstone are perfect for tiny hands, mid-afternoon espresso shots, as well as after dinner green tea. For the bold, sake shots and other libations fit well within this tiny vessel. We are very much in love with this cups and can only speak highly of the quality and the beauty of these products. They are not placed in cabinets with the other dinnerware but are on display on open shelving. Today only, East Fork will be having a Seconds Sale. A discount of 30% will be applied to a handful of clay goods that did not quite make the cut. Although with slight blemishes, these pieces are still functional and beautiful. I urge people who have been hankering for dinnerware to consider salvaging these pieces and including them in your home. I appreciate East Fork for their zero waste attempt. Seconds sale begins at 12pm EST, and pieces will go fast (or so I hope). This post contains affiliate links and TheDebtist may receive a commission if  you so choose to purchase.

DSC06193

Prepping for a Mindful Holiday Season

It’s mid-November and I’m left wondering where the first half of the month went, let alone the majority of the year. It seems that as we age, our perception of time quickens,  as if a reminder that the time we have left dwindles. Perhaps this is why mindfulness becomes more relevant as we get older. Perhaps it’s why senility exists, as a pungent way to signal the world that we are focusing on the things that don’t really matter. I wonder if this blog brings that same sort of light, without the heartbreaking undertones of senescence. Hopefully, it has brought you something.

Today, I want to take the time, before holiday rush, to instill mindfulness in the home before good cheer takes away all thought in our fervent search for comfort and joy. Let us welcome the holiday season in all the right ways. We will be wishing and receiving all season long, which isn’t wrong per say, but I think it would behoove us to approach it with some serious thought so as to avoid the need to de-clutter and figure ourselves out all over again amidst the noise in 2020.

A few suggestions, nothing unheard of especially in this space, if I may.

  • Take stock. Make a mental note of everything you already own. Figure out ways in which they can do double duty in function. Find what is enough in your life, with an intention to add less.
  • Declutter. Always declutter. It seems my advice runs redundant but it signifies the habitual act of. Get rid of the noise distracting from the important parts of the holiday season. Hone in on what brings you true joy. Strengthen the ability to know what holds value and what does not. This will also help with the selection of which social obligations you commit to, lest you run amok trying to please everybody and not enjoying the season at all.
  • Write your wish list early. And then publish it late. In the meanwhile, edit, edit, edit. Treat your wish list like a draft. It’s similar to pausing prior to purchasing things. Sometimes, it’s even more important to do because of the ease with which we can ask for things. Sleep on it. Search the house for dopplegangers of stuff (are you asking for things you already own?). Prioritize, putting needs at the top and considering making do without the wants. Perhaps you’d like to request consumable giftsFor ideas, a simple holiday gift guide.
  • Focus on the non-material. Not just in gift-giving and wish-making, but also in the doing. Forego the stresses of perfect Thanksgiving dinners and Christmas mornings. Rather, revel in the gathering. Spend less time thinking about what to wear in to the holiday party and more time focusing on the conversations you wish to have. Et cetera. If you need a reminder, create an advent calendar for a slow holiday season. If you’d like to take it a step further, write a no-gifting letter or say no to Secret Santa.
  • Simplify. Instead of asking for ten things from one person, ask for one or two thereby lightening their need to make even more decisions. Instead of decking halls this year, maybe go bare to save you from entering 2020 with a large amount of un-decorating to do. Instead of ordering holiday cards, email a digital picture. There are many ways to simplify, some of which I’ve written about here and here.

I am always of the mind that we need to prepare for the holidays in different ways. In doing less and thinking more. It’s worth a try, in hopes that we all enter the new decade with truer joy, and a lot more peace.

 

Words of Affirmation

Some days just don’t turn out right.
The bottom of the bread burned,
You didn’t meet the patient’s expectations,
The oat milk flowed over the latte mug,
It might as well be
The sun didn’t rise.

For a moment you feel all the disappointment,
You worry about the loss,
You apologize for the short coming,
You clean up the mess.
Then the moment passes
You’re standing on your own two feet.

It is here you see the sliver of sun.
How good is life that you can connect with bread,
Help others heal,
Make art in your drink.
How good is life that you had a choice
About how to spend it
And how to react
And who to be.

Rise my darling.
You are the sun.
You make the light.
It’ll be all right.

Recent Reads: Marie Kondo Interviews Elizabeth Gilbert on Tidying the Mind

May I start by saying that Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, “Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear” was one of the first catalysts that pushed me to embark on a creative lifestyle. I read the book on our flight home from our honeymoon in New Zealand January 2016, and I remember how powerfully I was impacted by her words. Needless to say, I am a huge fan and attribute this writer-baker-dentist-dog-walking lifestyle to her work. As many of you who have already been in this space for a while know, Marie Kondo’s book, “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing” was the starting point of my decluttering journey. Since then, I have found that cleaning my home was a reflection of cleaning out all the parts of myself that felt unaligned with who I am and who I wish to be. Alas, it comes as no surprise that this interview between the two is brimming with “all-the-feels”, and stands as my top read for this week. If anything I write on this blog jives with you, perhaps it would be relevant to take a gander at this quick interchange of thought between two modern influential women at this time. If you have more than a few moments, perhaps immersing into either of their books would better suit your taste? Below, I highlight a part of the interview that speaks the most to me at this time, as well as my thoughts on the matter.


Marie Kondo:

In the KonMari Method™, we encourage people to ask the question, “Does it spark joy?” to all areas of their lives. Is there a question or concept that you apply in making important decisions?

Elizabeth Gilbert:

I always say this to women: “Start knowing.
I say it to myself, too.
Enough of “Should I do this?”
Go deep and say, “It’s time to know.
You have to believe that the force of knowing is in you. We’ve inherited it from our ancestors; they’ve passed on everything they went through. There’s an old version of you that lives in yourself.
Ask her.

Often times I feel like the big changes in my life have come when the one in me who knows is appalled by the way that I’m living.
She’s so ANGRY.
She just looks at the way I’m living and says,
“No! This isn’t it! This isn’t good enough! This isn’t what we came here to do. We came here for better things than this.”
I don’t mean not rich enough, not famous enough.
I mean not accurate, not honorable enough for who you are.

THIS!! ALL OF THIS.

They say that, sometimes, when something in you is unsettled, you get a feeling. Like when Will in Stranger Things gets that eerie tingling at the back of his neck as the Mind Flayer draws near, I think we all have that little inkling towards auras that are dangerous to our well-being. It CAN’T only be me (and Will).

It’s like your inner-self “that knows” is screaming at your oblivious outer-self to listen. We get these uncertainties, but they’re stronger than our anxieties. I’m not talking about a quiet voice that whispers in your head. What I’m referring to is something waaaay more visceral. Something that comes from your gut … but deeper. The gut of your soul, if you believe in that sort of thing. A learned lesson from your past life, if you believe in THAT sort of thing.

I believe that Gilbert’s addressing of women, in particular, is important. Unfortunately, centuries of societal norms have failed in teaching women how to listen to their inner selves. We’ve historically been taught to listen to someone else (ahem). BUT! Times are changing, and it’s time we listen to us. I hang out with a lot of guys. They point out, in particular, my habit of answering simple questions with, “I don’t know.” Easy decision-making that revolves around where to eat, what to do, how I feel… the easy way out is to say, “I don’t know”. They hate it because I revert most decision-making about what we do and where we eat to them. UGH. I know. Thankfully, I have very progressive guy friends who force me to decide by saying, “No. This is an equal relationship, and you have to decide sometimes.” Thank goodness!

But I do see it in myself and in female friends a lot. This unknowingness. This repulsive impulsive reaction to just let men decide what to do with the simplest of things. It’s a habit that needs to change. It’s a matter of believing in our ability to know. “Ask her,” she says. Sage advice, if ever I heard one.

So in asking her, a topic that has been unsettling for quite some time.

Instagram. 

I’ve alluded to my addiction once before, here. I know my triggers (seeing my cell-phone) and my reward (public affirmation). I know my excuses (the need to have Instagram to grow my blog, the need to maintain my relationships however virtual, the need to have a creative output, whatever). I know the consequences (hours spent editing photos, writing up paragraphs, scrolling through feeds… mostly the latter). I know what it was like to quit for one month (more time, more calm, more REAL relationships, more energy, more creativity). From this, you gather that I know a LOT. So why is it that I always say, “I don’t know what to do about Instagram.”

Upon reading EG’s answer to MK’s question, something in me sparked. It wasn’t joy. It was a knowing. It was like that inner me was finally yelling loud enough out of absolute R.A.G.E. at my insensitivity towards the unhealthiness of the app. And it’s like EG spoke the exact words that my inner self was trying to get me to hear.

“No! This isn’t it! This isn’t good enough! This isn’t what we came here to do. We came here for better things than this.”

“I don’t mean not rich enough, not famous enough.” Everything I say Instagram promises for the blog.
“I mean not accurate, not honorable enough for who you are.” Everything that goes against what the blog represents. I always write about being good enough. About fighting societal pressures. About doing what’s aligned. All this and more clashes with everything Instagram sells.

The truth is this:

There are systems in place that sell us the things that are not good for us.

Added salts, sugars and fats that keep us returning to restaurant tables.
Advertisements that keep us spending hard-earned dollars on consuming goods.
Celebrities trying to sell us a glamorous lifestyle.
Wall Street analysts telling us that we can outsmart the market.
Instagram selling us a platform in order to stay connected and relevant.

You see what I mean? They all have their vested interest, while we are being stripped of things that matter most. Health, time, simplicity, financial stability, real relationships, all in that order.

Deep down, I know, just as well as you know. But do we listen?

It’s time to know.

It’s time to set boundaries and separate from Instagram.

It’s time to break the habit loop.

So here are the new rules.

I agree that platforms such as Instagram has its perks. But I also truly know that it has its consequences as well. So I will be deleting TheDebtist Instagram account from my phone. I will allow myself one day a month for ONE HOUR to log back on and post all my updates (new courses, new interviews, new happenings, all the pictures worth sharing – already curated) and check any missed messages, and then I will delete it again. This will allow me to break the habit loop and scrolling through feeds and forever editing in search of perfection. This will rid me of unhealthy dependence. This should free me to have more time to be HERE. I know this because it’s happened before. And it works. I started to wonder, “Why am I taking a picture of my avocado toast?”, and “Why am I carrying my camera on this run on the beach?” It brought awareness to all the little habits that were developed solely for the purpose of sharing on Instagram. Yikes.

Secondly, as I want to focus on growing the bakery, I will keep the AeroBakery account live, and limit my Instagram usage to 15 minutes per day. If I fail to hold myself accountable, I will also delete this account and limit it to once a month. If I had a true vested interest in growing my AeroBakery following, I will follow these simple rules. I know that I have the ability to enforce these parameters so I am not worried. If I am struggling, I have my husband. If I am still struggling, I have hundreds of you.

Instagram is a real addiction. Like alcohol, or over-eating, or gambling, debt, sex, drugs, hoarding, smoking, video-game addictions, emotional dependency and more, Instagram is a habit and the loop is difficult to break. It feeds on many things. The feeling of social acceptance and inclusion, the craving for public affirmation or approval, the creative outlet and the visually artistic appeal, the boasting of one’s life or accomplishments, the list goes on and on.

Worded like that, imagine how giving up Instagram could change a life.

Talk about catharsis.

Talk about Tidying the Mind.

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.

Related Posts:

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?