Getting to Know: Molly Acord of Fair + Simple


Molly Acord is the founder of Fair + Simple, a company created around the act of gift-giving. Desiring to give people a simpler way of gifting products that are fair trade and that have a humanitarian impact, Molly created a gift card that can be redeemed for any item in an ethically sourced collection. “Gift giving is my love language, handmade is close to me, and serving others is a privilege. This is where I fit.”

What inspired you to start Fair and Simple?

There was a point when I realized that my buying practices were likely having a negative impact on the world, and I began to educate myself on how to change.  It is so overwhelming, and almost paralyzing, at first.   I was inspired to start Fair+Simple from a desire to make it simple to give a cause-based, socially-conscious gift.

Where does the name Fair + Simple come from, and what does it represent?

The idea for a simple gift card fell from the sky, and I knew immediately it was a calling.  I called my husband, a school-teacher, and right away pitched the idea.  He also received an equally excited call a few minutes later with the idea for our brand name.  Fair means that every gift in our collection is fairly-traded and cause-based.  Simple represents this idea that a recipient of a F+S card can redeem it for any single item in the collection.  When you don’t know what to get someone but you want to shop ethically, you can give a card and let them choose their own gift.

Fair trading | Simple giving.


What values do you want your company to represent?

We desire to offer a meaningful gift that simplifies our customer’s life, while positively impacting the person behind the product.  We value sustainability which involves both ethical manufacturing and intentional design.

What do you hope to change in the way we as a society consume products?

Gift giving is a unique time to make a difference.  Instead of defaulting to a Starbucks gift card (no offense to Starbucks!) every time someone isn’t sure what to give, I want customers to use that opportunity to support fair-trade artisans around the world who have need.  Instead of careless and easy, it’s careful and simple.

What is the humanitarian impact of the companies F+S supports?

We seek to benefit those in high need.  The gifts in our collection support a series of impact including clean water initiatives, a recovery house for women, fair paying jobs for impoverished people, vocational training, micro-loans, and educational sponsorships.  While I love culturally rich and highly skilled artisan products, my heart is more geared for the marginalized people who have nothing: no skills, no startup money, no market access.


 Does Fair + Simple look into eco-friendly products as well, or do you focus more on the social impact primarily?

To me, environmental and social responsibility are inextricably linked.   I believe social impact starts at the supply chain.  If you are using natural fabric, that means it starts at the seed and the farmers who grow it.  This extends to how a product is made, how it is used by customers, and how it ends its life cycle.  People and planet are all over these steps.  We have also noticed that the fair trade world is a bit inundated with items like jewelry, scarves, and leather goods.  We will always have these items in our collection where impact is the greatest, but we are currently making strides for some products that support our values for simple living and high impact sourcing.


How do you go about choosing which companies to partner with?

We look for companies that have both a beautiful mission and product.  I believe women and education are the main catalyst for change in a community, so we primarily work with companies that support these two initiatives.  We also need to have a well-rounded collection, so this plays a factor in which companies are in the collection.  No matter what, the cause of the company must be the main reason why they exist and they need to align with our developed standards of production.  I have a deepening desire to connect customers with the person behind the product, so I have started to work directly with groups where there is a high need.  This includes single moms weaving coop in Peru and a sewing coop in the Philippines! These products are scheduled to launch in the Spring.  I only have so much buying power, so I make it count.


In a perfect dream world, what is your ideal future in terms of the way consumers and makers interact and trade and purchase goods?

In my dream world, consumers are intentional about purchases.  Over-consumption is obsolete, and people buy what they need and take care of what they have and give where there is need.  Less disposable, less carelessness, less disconnect.  More reuse, more intention, and much more connection.

To help with your gift-giving endeavors, Fair + Simple is offering TheDebtist readers 15% off with the coupon code debtist15“. As always, every item in the collection gives back to a partner company’s mission. Offer valid until March 31, 2018. 

Zero Waste: Consumable Christmas Gifts

Nothing makes me more happy than receiving a thoughtful gift that procured zero waste in the process of its making and of its giving. Recently, I have preferred consumable gifts over material gifts. This could be something as literal as food or drink, and as metaphoric as a e-book or experience. The idea is that the gift can be enjoyed by the receiver, but does not linger after the enjoyment has concluded. It doesn’t require additional storage, and does not call for de-cluttering at the end of the experience.

If you are interested in such a gift idea, may I recommend homemade Christmas treats? My best friend from high school and her family make homemade treats every year, namely chocolate covered toffee, peanut brittle, and candied almonds. When I asked her what started this tradition, she says that every year, her family makes peanut brittle to ship to her grandpa in Pennsylvania. She just started to make more treats in additionto ship to their friends and family as a Christmas present. The positive outcomes are two-fold. First, it requires a bit of spending time together (gasp!) and gathering as a family to create something for other people. In the spirit of giving, it gives the gift of time, hard work, and personal touch. Second, it creates what I would consider a zero waste present, that is enjoyed and then, well, digested. It may be argued that she does use a shipping box and paper to package the thing and ship to the home, an easily skipped process if one would like to deliver in person. But personally, I love opening my mail box and finding the surprise every year. If you can stomach the small price to pay in order to surprise someone, then wonderful! If not, wrap furoshiki style and deliver at the next gathering, which I hope are many during this time of year. In either case, here’s a little how-to, for some last-minute gift wrangling, minus the excessive spending.

Candied Almonds



  • 12cup water
  • 12cups sugar
  • 1teaspoon cinnamon (or more to taste)
  • 1lb almonds, with skins


  1. Bring water, sugar and cinnamon to a boil;stirring constantly.
  2. Add almonds and toss to coat.
  3. Remove almonds with slotted spoon.
  4. Arrange on greased baking pan.
  5. Bake at 350 for 20 minutes, basting twice with reserved syrup.
  6. Cool.
  7. Store airtight.

Peanut Brittle




  1. Grease a large cookie sheet. Set aside.
  2. In a heavy 2 quart saucepan, over medium heat, bring to a boil sugar, corn syrup, salt, and water. Stir until sugar is dissolved. Stir in peanuts. Set candy thermometer in place, and continue cooking. Stir frequently until temperature reaches 300 degrees F (150 degrees C), or until a small amount of mixture dropped into very cold water separates into hard and brittle threads.
  3. Remove from heat; immediately stir in butter and baking soda; pour at once onto cookie sheet. With 2 forks, lift and pull peanut mixture into rectangle about 14×12 inches; cool. Snap candy into pieces.

Chocolate Covered Chewy Caramel Candy



  • 1 pound milk chocolate
  • Your favorite chewy caramel candy


  1. Melt milk chocolate in a saucepan
  2. Cover caramel candy and place on a baking tray lined with parchment paper.
  3. Place tray in the fridge to cool.

A Simple Holiday Gift Guide – 10 gifts for the holiday season

Call yourself frugal, minimal, mindful, whatever it is, it doesn’t matter. There’s still the matter of gift giving for the holidays. Unless you’ve found a way to completely let go of gift giving without hurting or disappointing your closest loved ones, there’s the issue of buying more material goods that could do the planet more harm than good. Gift giving is a bit of a funny thing. You hand someone something to celebrate a birthday or holiday, as a way of saying, “Here’s a piece of the Earth I killed for you in your name.” Extreme much? Yeah, I am sometimes, but there’s a little bit of truth to that statement, don’t you think?

It’s taken a bit of time for me to find a balance in my gift giving strategy. There is the issue of giving someone something they actually want. If there’s a specific list or wish, I don’t stray much from that, only because the point of gifts should be making someone else, and not yourself, happy. But it doesn’t hurt to ask if you could do an alternative. And for those people that didn’t insist on a particular item, there are always these options. Here are my top ten gifts for the holiday season.


+ Home baked cookies – wrapped in linen napkin or placed in a reusable container (also being gifted). If your group of friends or family is anything like ours, bring it to a party Pizookie style. We recently served a pizookie this way at our Friendsgiving dinner, and it was way more fun to grapple over each other, digging in with our own spoons, and frantically trying to eat more than your neighbor. It was an awesome way to end a group dinner, bringing us together to literally share our meal. Grossed out by the idea of sharing? Make traditional individual cookies, plate, and top with a heaping scoop of ice cream.


+ Your best homemade sauce in a mason jar. This is great whether it’s pasta sauce, a secret dressing, or a favorite dip. It is a sure way to bring a little piece of your home into someone else’s. Mike and I share a love for Mexican food, and in the last year, we’ve found a Tomatillo Sauce recipe that tastes almost as good as our favorite sauce in Valle de Guadalupe. Made from scratch, we wanted to share this sauce with our friends and family. We gave away little jar samples as a gift for attending our Thanksgiving dinner. The “Thank You” email sent the next day included our three go-to ways to cook with this tomatillo sauce, from something as simple as chips and salsa, to chilaquiles and enchiladas, which added even more of a personal touch!


+ A bouquet of everlasting flowers from a local flower shop. I am a huge fan of supporting local farmers, florists, and small shops. Stop by your local florist and ask for a bouquet of flowers that dry beautifully. These in particular are Everlasting bouquets from Petals and Pop, a local floral shop in Huntington Beach. These bundles will last through multiple seasons, and technically, could last forever if left alone. Place in a mason jar or a vase to your liking.


+ A bar of soap, without the wrapping, tied with a reused bow. My favorite gift that Mike and I ever received during the days leading up to our wedding was a single bar of soap, unwrapped, from my friend Jo as a housewarming gift. On it was a handwritten note tied with a single bow that read, “In my culture, a bar of soap symbolizes prosperity.” The simplicity of the gift stunned me, but it’s something I never forgot. It was my favorite present because she gave us a gift that symbolized a wish.

+ A mini Christmas tree for holiday cheer. Having an early party this season? Bring in a mini Christmas tree, small enough to stand on a coffee table or on the floor. Nothing beats bringing some natural element or other into the home. Plus, the smell of pine is a winner.

+ A reusable shopping bag, with some produce bags and linen bread bags, or mason jars, collected over time. I love these items, and they are particularly useful and actually friendly to the environment. I have a couple of tiny produce bags for fruits and veggies, and a disarray of totebags. The point isn’t to match (although matching is a plus!) but to have a sense of sensibility and practicality when it comes to shopping for those holiday dinners your loved one is about to throw.


+ Homemade candles, infused with your favorite scents. There is nothing I love more than lighting scented candles. These are easily homemade in a mason jar or a jar that once held a previous candle. It’s great for lighting dark afternoons, when the sun has just gone done but the sky isn’t dark enough to turn on the lights. I love working by candle light in the evenings. There’s something romantic and peaceful about that, and it reminds me of childhood days in the Philippines when the electricity would go out and we only had candles to get us through to the morning. Click here to learn how to make one of your own.


+ A stack of your favorite books that you’ve read this past year, ready for de-cluttering. I had a goal of reading through the leftover unread books that I foolishly hoarded in my early twenties this past year. But the year flew by so fast, that it seems I only got through seventeen or so books. With my new ways, I no longer feel the emotional tie to books like I once did, and can’t wait to part with them once I have sucked all the knowledge out of their beautiful smelling, yellowing pages. But what to do with them has been a dilemma. I’ve donated a bunch to my sister’s charter school, which does not have a library and wherein she is trying to create a collection of books for her high school students to read. Some of my favorites, I’ve held on to and gifted to fellow bookworms for their birthdays. So why not do the same for the holidays? Choose some of your favorite reads, add a review or synopsis, and wrap them stacked and with a bow. Their book lives are not yet over.


+ A bottle of wine, brought to a holiday dinner party. Since giving up alcohol, I have constantly been trying to pawn off bottles and bottles of wine at every dinner party we’ve hosted at our house, and then some. It’s a great, merry addition to a party, and a good gift for any host or hostess. Plus, you and the guests may get something out of it too!

+ Handmade cards, for future birthdays and other well wishes. I love giving cards with every gift, but I hate paying $5 for them. I have recently acquired a novice level skill of using a calligraphy pen and could use some practice. I figured, why not practice by making a set of handmade cards? I started to do just that, then grouped ten cards together to gift to someone else for the holidays. Practiced a new skill, and saved someone $50 worth cards for the following year. Win win.

** All gifts were given sans wrapping paper, and tied with a bow that has been re-used from previous gifts that I’ve received.

Welcoming the holiday season

I always love the first day of November. For me, it marks the beginning of the holiday season (sorry Halloween!). There are only a little over sixty days left to the year, and you start to feel that magnetic pull towards the new beginning promised by the following year. The holidays hold a different meaning for different people. Many look forward to gatherings over candlelit dinners surrounded by loved ones and an assortment of delectable dishes. It becomes more of a nightly occurrence compared to the rest of the year. Some envision twinkly lights hung on decks and shrubs and trees, peeking out of dark windows and above fiery fireplaces. The holiday music comes on the radio, and everywhere else, which could be a good or bad thing, depending. The wish lists are being placed in stockings, the stores are being filled with toys, and the malls are being filled with people, gathering to see the tallest of Christmas trees be lighted for the first time. The parties and celebrations may start snowballing, passing the days by until suddenly, you’re screaming at the top of your lungs, “Happy New Year!” The holiday season is fleetingly beautiful and joyous, and is undoubtedly my favorite time of the year.

This has always been the holiday season that I knew growing up. But now that I am a little older, I try to hold on to the days a little longer, and anticipated November and December happenings start to shift towards other things. Quiet mornings with my husband and slow risings out of a comfortable bed. Blanketed humans with gloved hands, holding warm mugs, both on couches and walking the streets. Turning the Christmas music off to hold conversations or listen to a crackling fire. Focusing on being present, rather than buying presents. Writing down a list of things I’m thankful for and reading it aloud on Thanksgiving day instead of placing it in a stocking. Looking at old photo albums with my parents, rather than taking another photo with Santa.  Counterintuitively making slowing down a priority, and creating space a mission.

Admittedly, I will still continue to do traditional holiday things. But the hope is that it doesn’t consume my season with traditional activities for the sake of doing traditional activities. With only a smattering of dates left for the year, these few months, days, and hours really matter. So let’s find the space to fill them with what matters most.


About minimalism and letting go.

For the past few weeks, I have fallen into the trap (again) that everyone befalls at multiple points in their lives. The trap of putting living life on hold and falling into the endless cycle of worrying about money. Money is a tricky thing. It enters your mind and takes root, and it requires great force not to allow the roots to delve deeper and deeper into your body and eventually get under your skin. And while money was very easy for me to dismiss in terms of buying things and acquiring social status symbols, it nearly all together consumed me when it became the one thing holding me back from what I thought I wanted: Freedom. After all, I am human. So this blog post is a recap of what ensued the past few weeks, where-in I catapulted from practicing minimalism, to searching for financial independence, and then returning to minimalism and letting the rest go. One step forward, two steps back, and onward with the cycles of everyday life.

I’ve written endlessly about my transition from being a typical compulsive consumer representative of middle class America to being a loosely defined minimalist. A common misconception people have about minimalism is that it requires you to get rid of all your stuff and live with very little. I like to embrace the concept of getting rid of the excess stuff, and keeping the things that hold meaning or things that you love. Our home is far from bare, but I think we’ve done a pretty good job stripping it of its excesses. If it doesn’t pull at our heart strings, it is donated for someone else who could love it more. What you learn from minimalism is that it is a constant reassessment of your life, and as you rid yourself more and more of the excesses, it becomes easier and easier to realize that there are far greater and important things in life than just stuff.

So I entered a stage where I was reassessing other aspects of my life, and I became interested in a community practicing financial independence. As I dug deeper into the specs of the FI community, I was enamored by this idea of financial freedom, and the one thing holding me back from said freedom, is an already previously mentioned and endlessly bemoaned massive student loan debt hovering above our heads. Now we’ve done a great job controlling this student loan debt, decreasing it from our original 25 year plan, to 10 years, and currently, we are on track for 8 years of pay back. Not bad for something double the amount of a mortgage for a five bedroom mansion in other parts of the United States. But I digress. In the past few weeks, this student loan debt had the upper hand and did an equally great job controlling me.

I came upon the realization that we could save a year and a half of freedom by downsizing our current home. When Mike and I first talked about moving in together, we dreamed about living in a loft. When we started to look after I graduated from dental school, we miraculously found a space immediately, located in Orange County approximately equidistant from our two jobs. (“Approximately” because he will adamantly insist that his is a few miles farther than mine. Fair enough.) We fell in love with it immediately, and there was no going back. I don’t even think I thought through the pros and cons. The heart knows what it wants, I guess, and there were no doubts in our minds that we could be happy here. We happened to be the first people to respond to the advertisement and even though there were other applicants, we were given the first opportunity to snag the space. Snag we did.

We’ve been living in this loft for almost a year and a half, and it has been our dream space. 1600 square feet of space and 3 floors for a couple seem excessive, but it’s what we love. We are introverted and usually spend our time on different floors of the house, chasing our own interests and hobbies. We come together on the second floor to watch football or play board games, and we love to host parties and dinners for close friends and family. We often joke that we are so lucky to come home to a vacation home every night. So we’ve been practicing minimalism, a perfect example to show that even though a massive loft is a thing, and it may seem excessive for two, there is forgiveness in the practice because it allows you to keep those that you love. It’s not about getting rid of as much stuff as humanly possible, because it is inhumane and impossible to lead a happy life with deprivation from the actual components that make you happy.

But a life of deprivation is what I started to consider. I found that we could save about $1000/month if we downsized our home, which multiplied by twelve months per year, then extrapolated out to five years, and we are free at age thirty-four instead of thirty-six. I became obsessed about searching for a space that would fit our needs and cut the costs. I would wake up every morning and refresh the Zillow page that was left open on my computer screen from the night before. I was prowling the internet for deals, and killing myself slowly with the stress. I eventually found two contenders that I liked, given the circumstances. One was a vaulted ceiling loft with a deck situated right on a lake. You walk out of a sliding door that spans one wall of the space onto a wooden deck where you can hang your feet into the lake filled with minnows and ducks. All it required was cutting the size of our space by more than half, demoting Mike’s Lotus from a garage to a covered parking spot, and moving farther away from both our jobs to a neighborhood that is old and less ideally situated and more un-kept. But the space itself was nice (so long as you didn’t step outside), and I could live in the smaller square footage. The appliances were all new and the internal was completely renovated and we would be the first people to live in it after the renovations. The second consideration was a beautiful studio apartment, albeit quite small, less than one third the size of our current home (I think it was listed at 478 square feet), and steps away from the beach. In fact, the only thing separating our apartment from the sand was PCH, and a row of homes. Like the other, it was beautiful on the inside, but also stripped the Lotus of a garage and now stripped my Scion of any parking spot at all. It increased my commute to both offices, while keeping Mike’s the same, and we had no laundry unit, nor did we have much closet space. There was also the tiny problem that our furniture did not fit in this studio, and we would have to hang our guitars on the walls to save enough floor space for the couch. I think our bed literally has to sit next to half of our dining table (because the other half of it won’t fit either). Part of me was actually looking forward to sizing down this much, since I have been talking to Mike about tiny homes for a while, and I wanted the challenge of really practicing resourcefulness and mindful living. I don’t know what it is about tiny apartment living that seems so glamorous to me, perhaps because Reading My Tea Leaves makes it looks so easy and fun. We went so far as to look at both places and submitting our applications.

It wasn’t until we got the offer for the first space (the beach apartment), and then the second space (the loft), that I started to get cold feet. Maybe I was already over-stressed to the point that I could not make a decision. The poor real estate agents, we gave them a run around with our “yes, no, yes, no” answers to their offers. I must have seemed like a crazy lady, not making up my mind like that, and poor Mike had to be dragged down with me. Mike was my saving grace throughout this whole process. His only requirement was a garage for his car and motorcycles, and I got him two places without garages and hardly space for both vehicles. But he was on board with trying either space, if it meant making me happy, or otherwise, stopping me from my stressful constant obsessive search for the ideal house. All he wanted for me was inner peace. But when it came to decision time, the stress got worse. He coaxed me into trying to figure out what I liked about each space, and what I did not like. I had a lot of fear that once I moved into the tiny apartment, I would learn that space is more valuable to us than I thought, and it would put a strain on our relationship (introverts unite!). Or that moving into a (possibly) less safe neighborhood could put his other love-of-his-life, Elise (car), in danger. He helped me realize that my fear of regretting the move is an indication that the move is just not right. Compromise was needed if we moved into either home. A hundred percent happiness could be achieved by staying. My mind was continually telling me to move, but something deep down in my chest (my heart perhaps?) was pounding on the walls and screaming no. On the inside, I felt like a two year old toddler throwing a fit, wanting one thing but resisting. Like I said, Mike was my saving grace. He said, “I will move for you, if it means you will have internal peace.” It was then that I realized that Mike did not want to move, and perhaps, neither did I. Maybe it was life’s way of reminding me that sometimes, you just have to let it go. Control freak as I am, I get carried away trying to shape my life course towards one direction, instead of just letting it tread its course the way it was meant to. So, we decided to stay. Giving up happiness was not worth gaining a year and a half of financial freedom. And back I go towards practicing minimalism. And practicing letting go.

The problem with financial independence is that money is at the forefront of the conversation. And as I started to state at the beginning of this post, money is a tricky thing. But minimalism, I can do. Instead of money, it puts happiness at the forefront of the conversation. It focuses on what brings your life meaning and joy. It may not give you financial freedom as early as you would like, but it frees you from being tied to money, even if you are still tied to money. And that type of freedom, money just can’t buy. Call me a failure at being financially independent. Mister Money Mustache will laugh at my face if he ever gets the chance to. Call me fearful of trying tiny living, though I may accept the challenge one day, for it still has a little glamour in my eyes. Call me a faux minimalist, call me whatever label you want, including happy and content to live here another six months more.

So here we are, one step forward and two steps back. Letting go of financial freedom for a few more years, and letting go of trying to control life. Trying to pursue love and happiness. Onwards.

Zero Waste: Groceries Sans Plastic

Image result for whole foods bulk shopping

While it doesn’t come new to us that plastic pollution is becoming a more prevalent and pressing matter, it was new to me just how dire the situation actually was, until recently. We were on a fishing trip in Hawaii and I was sitting on a boat with my brother when it came up in our conversation that I was hoping to decrease my red meat consumption and to substitute that with fish and other sea dwellers. My brother suggested I watch the Netflix documentary, A Plastic Ocean. And while I won’t give away any spoilers, let’s just say that after I did, my resolve to cut down on further plastic consumption has hardened significantly.

While I have increasingly tried to reduce the amount of plastic waste in the past year, in the form of grocery bags and disposable dishware and ziplock bags, etc., it dawned on me that plastic is literally everywhere. I walked into grocery stores and department stores this weekend and I was shocked at how much plastic I saw. I think it’s safe to say that more than 99% of the store had plastic on it or was made with some part of plastic. There are so many one-time-use plastic capsules and containers that we never think of. Toothbrushes are made out of plastic. Your lip balm container is plastic, as well as your shampoo and lotions. Clothes with polyester have plastic in them. I mean, most people are wearing plastic! That’s crazy to me.

So this week, I decided to try a new project, which is to reduce (or all together eliminate!) the consumption of plastic. (Thank God we live right next to Mother’s Market!). But even Mother’s Market has their meat wrapped in plastic. I had to trek to Whole Foods, which was my savior! Otherwise, we wouldn’t have had anything to eat this week! Here are a few tips I have learned in the ONE day that I went grocery shopping without plastic.

  • BULK DRY FOODS, INCLUDING COFFEE BEANS AND TEA LEAVES. Whole Foods and Mother’s Market as well as other eco-conscious groceries sell dry foods such as rice, flour, nuts, granola, (fig bars even!) in bulk. Whole Foods also has a Bulk Chocolate section, as well as Bulk Cookies section for all you sweet tooths. What I love about the bulk section is the ability to purchase only what you need, which also helps to eliminate the food waste problem that is occurring. I can easily confess to buying a sack of flour in the past and then not needing half of it until past its expiration date. Wasteful and tragic. The bulk section allows you to simply bring your reusable container(or my favorite, glass jars!), and fill them up with whatever you need for the week. TIP: Go to the cashier first to weigh out your containers, that way you can subtract how much they weigh when you check out at the end of your grocery run.
  • PEANUT BUTTER AND ALMOND BUTTER. My husband loves peanut butter. So how excited was he when we came upon the section at Whole Foods where you could make freshly grinded peanut butter and almond butter?! With different flavors to boot! We ended up making honey peanut butter and it dispensed straight into our reusable glass mason jar. Pop the lid on there and you are all set! Oh, and the verdict: Best peanut butter ever!
  • MEATS. This one was easy. Most groceries, even Ralph’s and Albertson’s, have a fresh meat and fish section. All you have to do is remember to bring your container. You just hand them your container, they weigh it all out, place the meat into it and print out that sticker to hand to your cashier!
  • CHEESES. I was afraid this was going to be a toughy. We like to eat cheese at our house, but if you think about it, what cheese isn’t wrapped in plastic?!?! I think I purchase at least one of those shredded cheese packets every week that I’m at the groceries. And what about the cheese to go with our crackers and fruit? Wrapped in plastic. I was worried for a second that we would have to give up cheese forever. Then my husband figured it out! We headed over to the deli section and asked them to slice cheese for us and put it in our container. The selection is limited, and it isn’t the classy type that you serve with dried dates and cracked black pepper crackers, but it’ll do for your everyday cooking! For the nicer stuff, try stopping by your local cheesery (we’ve got one in Costa Mesa just down the street), and ask them to slice a big chunk off of their cheese wheels, to go!
  • BREAD. Bread usually comes packaged in plastic, but Whole Foods has fresh baked bread every day, and tons of different types too! It was so difficult choosing which one to get this week. The one covered in pumpkin seeds or the baguette? You just let them know your favorite and they have paper bags that can be used to carry the loaf out. Or, my more preferred option, you can bring in a large rectangular linen, and wrap that fresh bread up as if you were in France and were stopping by a bakery on your way to a picnic. Might as well bring a picnic basket with you while you’re at it.
  • MILK. We know we wanted cereal this week, but the problem was in the milk. Milk comes in those plastic gallons or half gallons which I definitely did not want to buy. They also come in cartons, but even the cartons are lined on the inside with a film that contains, you guessed it, plastic. So what solution did I find? Companies such as STRAUSS Creamery sell their milk in glass jars. And you can take the glass jar back to Whole Foods who will ship it back to Strauss and the creamery itself will reuse the glass jars. The only problem? They use a plastic containing lid, probably to seal the milk properly. I will keep returning the glass jar with the lid, to prompt them to think of a reusable option at least. The nice thing is, if you live close to their creamery, you can swing by and fill your own container, but alas, no creameries near me. Also, I was happy to see that there were multiple other companies that sold milk in glass jars as well, so yay for the movement!
  • MAKE YOUR OWN SAUCES. Okay, so I know it’s easy to find sauces in glass jars these days, but I wanted to go that extra step and try to reduce consumption of other individual containers as much as possible too. So this week, I made pasta marinara and green enchilada sauce out of vegetables and spices. And it was very rewarding. Mike says the enchilada sauce was the closest he’s had to the best enchilada sauce he ate in Mexico. I bet it’s because they make them fresh there too.
  • EAT FRESH. The subway mantra applies to this no-plastic campaign. I came to the sudden realization that if I am to cut out all plastic, I have to cut out all frozen foods. Including my ever-loved acai berry packets from Trader Joe’s. All frozen foods come in plastic packaging. There’s no other way around it. But you know what, it’s for the better anyway. Healthier meals, happier planet.
  • FRUITS AND VEGGIES. Skip plastic bags when buying produce. I use these reusable net mesh bags from New Zealand to put my veggies in, and when I get home, transfer them to a bowl so that the bags are free to re-use again. Usually, berries and the like are packaged in those clear plastic baskets, but you can head to a local farmer’s market, and fill your own container with your favorite summer berries. Or return those green plastic baskets to your local farmer’s market guy and he can re-use it again! The worst are those nets that hold multiple avocados or cuties. How many of those avocados go bad before you are able to use them anyway? Just grab one or two individual avocados and oranges instead!
  • SUPPORT LOCAL BUSINESSES. Ice cream isn’t the first thing that pops into most people’s head when it comes to grocery shopping, but it’s the first thing that pops into mine! One of my favorite local ice cream stores is Kansha Creamery in Torrance. They make ice cream daily, and give part of their proceeds to a charity, which changes every year. They also promote having their customers bring in their own containers to serve the ice cream in. And they will sell you ice cream pints, placed in your own container! The ice cream is great, albeit a little pricier than a tub, but you’re saving the planet, and hey, it might even help with your summer diet! Might I be so bold as to also suggest supporting local carnicerias by buying freshly made tortillas?  The second thing that pops into my head. They will welcome the business, and your belly will welcome the tortilla. Win win.
  • ASK FOR AN ALTERNATIVE. And the best thing you could possibly do? Start a conversation. Ask for an alternative. You may get weird stares, especially at large grocery stores such as Ralph’s and Albertson’s, but it does get people thinking. I asked for my meat at Ralph’s to be packaged in my container, and there was a moment’s hesitance, but he said “Ok” anyway. When I was ringing up my order, the couple in front of me were whispering, not so subtly, “Is that tupperware??”, when staring at my pile of check-out items. And then the wife goes, “I never even thought of that!”. The cashier guy himself paused in the middle of check-out and asked, “Did you bring all of these?”, to which I said “Yupp! Just trying to reduce plastic waste.” To which he shrugged and kept ringing up the order. You wouldn’t get these questions or stares or comments at places like Whole Foods or Mother’s Market, which is to say that you are surrounded by very like-minded people in those areas. But it’s important to continue this habit in other aspects of your life as well, to other grocery stores who might question you or think differently of your routine. One day at the grocery store can bring a lot of awareness to a lot of people.

I know that there are a lot of people out there who know about the situation, but don’t care. But it is also true that people cannot care if they don’t know. A lot of people simply don’t know. They don’t know the severity of it, nor are they aware of the alternative options that they have. And you know what, most people will be willing to change. How often do I see people bringing their reusable bags now that they have to pay to buy grocery bags in LA and OC and SF? Or opting to carry their items out in their hands instead of paying for a convenient piece of plastic? I like to believe that people are inherently good. That’s just how I am able to sleep at night. How about you?

Other tips for readers and me alike are welcome in the comments below! Thanks!

Future blog post on how I reduce plastic in other aspects of my every day to come! 🙂


Living Slow: The Hawaiian Fisherman and the Mexican Fisherman

I was in Hawaii this past week, and my family took a fishing trip up the coast of Kona on a beautiful sunny Tuesday. One of the crew members was a nice, happy man in his 60’s who has been a fisherman his whole career. We got to talking, and he proceeded to tell me that when he first made the decision to become a fisherman in his 20’s, his father was very disappointed in him. He went to UCLA and completed all his biology courses and was on his way to becoming a dentist. But he just couldn’t do it. He even worked as a lab technician and the margins gave him nightmares. It still gives him nightmares to this day, he joked. Shortly after working for a lab tech, he came to Hawaii and decided to become a fisherman for the rest of his life. His dad was embarrassed of this fact, because all the kids of his friends and family were becoming professionals. Lawyers, doctors, and engineers. And when his friends would ask him, “Hey, what’s Frankie up to?” He would have to tell them, “Fishing”.

Well eventually, his dad accepted it all when Frank caught the largest marlin on record. Over a thousand pounds! He even showed us the newspaper article of his catch. Well that day, they were walking back from the dock, and his dad said, “You know son, you did good.” At this point of his life, he had just bought his own boat, gotten married, bought a house and was about to have his first kid. And he got the record for catching the biggest fish. And he said, “Dad, I’m going to be just fine.”

I then asked Frank if he ever heard of the Mexican Fisherman parable. I had just read it on the flight to Hawaii from Erin’s Chasing Slow. He said he hadn’t, and so I told the following story to him:

An American investment banker was at the pier of a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked.  Inside the small boat were several large yellowfin tuna.  The American complimented the Mexican on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took to catch them.

The Mexican replied, “only a little while. The American then asked why didn’t he stay out longer and catch more fish? The Mexican said he had enough to support his family’s immediate needs. The American then asked, “but what do you do with the rest of your time?”

The Mexican fisherman said, “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take siestas with my wife, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine, and play guitar with my amigos.  I have a full and busy life.” The American scoffed, “I am a Harvard MBA and could help you. You should spend more time fishing and with the proceeds, buy a bigger boat. With the proceeds from the bigger boat, you could buy several boats, eventually you would have a fleet of fishing boats. Instead of selling your catch to a middleman you would sell directly to the processor, eventually opening your own cannery. You would control the product, processing, and distribution. You would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City, then LA and eventually New York City, where you will run your expanding enterprise.”

The Mexican fisherman asked, “But, how long will this all take?”

To which the American replied, “15 – 20 years.”

“But what then?” Asked the Mexican.

The American laughed and said, “That’s the best part.  When the time is right you would announce an IPO and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich, you would make millions!”

“Millions – then what?”

The American said, “Then you would retire.  Move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take siestas with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos.”

I told him I was glad he didn’t become a dentist. I told him that I was a dentist who looked forward to living a life like his. I love my job, and I can call my own hours and can pretty much do as I please. I pursued dentistry because I wanted to be in a profession that gives back to the community and helps others, that contributes to something past myself. But the loans tie me down. I am chasing the slow life, but it’s still a chase. He was already living the slow life and has always been. It’s nice to know that he was free from anything that could have tied him down. He said that a buddy of his says the same thing. His buddy is in his late 70’s and everyone keeps asking him, hey man, when are you going to retire? To which his buddy says, “Let’s see, when I retire, I would spend my days fishing and playing golf. Oh wait! That’s what I do now!”

We’ve all got an American Dream, but I am starting to think that some people have the dream all wrong.

Finances: My money egg

I was not always debt averse. Like so many millions of Americans, I used to embrace the idea of debt as a given, a necessary evil. Only recently did I realize that only half of that term “necessary evil” was true. I graduated dental school about a year ago, with a staggering debt of over $550,000. Many of my classmates graduated with a similar debt and the common concensus was, “God this sucks, but this had to have happened for us to be here today.” While part of that may be true, because none of us had half a million dollars lying around at age 22, or whenever it was that we started dental school, it did not have to be such an overwhelming total sum. There was a voice in my head telling me that this was just not right. I must have messed up somewhere (and I did) but I did not know where. This unsettling feeling in my stomach prompted me to get my financial story straight. I hired a financial planner even before I started work to start understanding why being in so much debt was bothering me.

Some people can have financial debt up the wazoo and not bat an eyelid. Apparently, I am of a different breed. In the past five years, I experienced an ever-growing discomfort with my ever-increasing debt. They came hand in hand. In order to tackle the debt, I had to first see where it all started and what led me to this moment. One of the first things our financial advisor did when he met us, even before he hatched a plan or gave us any insight on how to regain control of our finances, was give us an assignment. He had us draw our money eggs. The money egg was supposed to include every experience we have had regarding finances from birth until now. We could also only draw pictures of those experiences, with our non-dominant hands. At this point, Mike was rolling his eyes to the back of his head. I had convinced him that a financial planner was what we needed but this was turning into a sort of psych therapy situation for him. I, on the other hand, practically jumped up and down with excitement and worked on the assignment as soon as I could. It ended up being a very smart way to begin approaching our finances.

My money egg totally explained my progression toward debt aversion and ironically, my progression towards a minimalist lifestyle. This is my money egg. Warning: it’s basically my financial life story and then some, and I’ve been alive twenty seven years, so yeah, it’s long.

I was born in the Philippines, a third world country, to parents who came from opposite social classes. My mom was from what was considered to be a well-off family, had seven brothers and sisters, all of whom got what they wanted and more growing up. My dad came from a small province near Manila which my mom called the ghetto and from my dad’s childhood stories, I can believe that it was true. By the time I was born, my parents were what you would consider successful folk in Manila. My dad and mom were both engineers and when I was born, they were both working. We were well–off enough that my mom was able to quit her job, and they were still able to provide a personal nanny (or yaya) for me, my sister, and my brother. We had three yayas living with us in our home. I remember having two dogs, pet fish, two doves. My sister and I went to private schools and enjoyed privileges that our neighbors could not. But it was still a third world country. Definition of privilege there was like, as cute as a little girl wearing her mother’s heels.

When I was eight, my dad was offered a job in the States. In hopes to provide his children with better access to, well, everything, my dad accepted and we moved to California. We went from having three nannies to living in a single bedroom of a home of one of my dad’s friends (coworkers?), who I didn’t even know. I remember the single bed my parents shared with my two year old brother, and my sister and I were squished sleeping on the floor in the space between the bed and the desk. I vaguely remember having to step over each other to move around in that space. It was summer, all the kids were out of school, so we were stuck in that one bedroom all day long. We were rarely allowed out because my parents did not want us to bother the owner, but the few moments we were allowed to sit on the couch in the living room were the best. We were growing kids and we had to stretch our legs. I remember it always being hot, hot, hot. That’s what I remember most. The terrible heat.

Eventually, my parents moved us to a town home in Milpitas. I know that my parents were determined to give us kids a wonderful life, and they worked hard to do that. We started to get our bearings and move up the social ladder. My dad moved jobs frequently, always in search for a better life for his kids. I really appreciated his hard work, motivation, and pretty much, for just biting the bullet and doing what he had to in order to do what he thought was right. My mom was doing the same thing at home. One of the things that I really appreciated about my parents was that they worked. They worked their ASSES off.

After a few more years, my parents bought a beautiful four bedroom home in Pleasanton, CA. Each of us had our own rooms again! My dad also at this time was working three jobs. I hardly saw my dad during this time period. I remember begging my mom to wake me up at 6am so that I could go with her to the train station so I could drop him off and wave goodbye as the train took him off to work, not to return until midnight. Sometimes I’d try to hide silent tears rolling down my cheeks as he zoomed by. He worked a 9-5 job as an engineer, and then worked afterwards as a janitor for Blockbuster when it still existed (or was it Hollywood Video?), and later on as a janitor at Staples. At one point, he also was a retail salesperson at Robinsons-May (also when it still existed). He was in the lingerie department, and he hated it. But he did it anyway because he did what had to be done. It was also at this time that my brother started kindergarten and my mom started volunteering at school. Eventually, she started to work part-time for the school district. They were climbing up that social ladder real fast. We hosted parties nearly every weekend. We were the kids that always got the newest gaming console the night it was released. What I didn’t realize was that while I was getting every Disney sweater I wanted, my parents were working harder and we were eating mac and cheese and spam once a week. It was the most interesting paradox. We got every console that was released for Christmas, but I ate more beans from a can with rice and Vienna sausages on toast than my classmates. After two years, my parents decided to move yet again to Irvine in SoCal. They sold the house and my dad took an “even better job” in Orange County. All for the sake of searching for a better, more improved life.

This is where I stop and say, as kids, we hated the moves. I moved 10 times before I got into high school, including moves from house to apartment to apartment to motel to house etc. We lost a lot of friends along the way, and growing up, that was a pretty big deal. I was thirteen when we moved to SoCal, which in my head, the most “CRUCIAL” time in my life, aka the most dramatic time in my life. I think my sister took it harder than I did. I have never seen anyone resist my parents as much as she did. She fought until she got out. But I couldn’t blame my parents for trying to give us what they thought was a better life. In retrospect, I think if we just grew up in the same spot and established roots somewhere, (anywhere!), we would have probably had an improved life at home during our teen years. Less rebellion, less discontent, and more stability in general.

But on with the story about the continual search for more. We moved to Irvine and my dad started his new job and my mom started working at Irvine Unified School District. It only lasted one year before we moved into an extended stay motel, preparing to move yet again to Ladera Ranch. My parents bought another four bedroom home because my mom couldn’t stand living in a tiny apartment any more. My parents were ecstatic at finally owning a house again. A house located in a very affluent neighborhood, with well-paved streets and maintained parks, doggie bags included. 8 pools within a 3 mile radius, it was glorious. And off course, with each move, the accumulation of more stuff.

My dad continued to work for Robinsons-May even after it turned into Macy’s until he set his foot down in December when he said he did not want to work on Christmas Eve because he was going to put his family and kids first over money. I really admired him for making that move. He never went back to retail after that point. It was a wonderful Christmas, except I think my sister rebelled on the night of Christmas Eve and it actually turned into a tear-stained Christmas. Nothing short of usual family drama. Not shortly after, my mom took a second job in the afternoons at a tutoring company, Mathnasium. It is from here that she will eventually launch her own tutoring side business a few years down the road.

Up until this point, my parents have been trying to achieve an improved life for us. I would argue that they already achieved that in Pleasanton. We had what we needed and much more, and we kids were very happy kids. There’s a line between need and want. And then there is want-for-no-reason-at-all-just-because-you-can. The page turns, and that is where life took us. This is where I (slowly) started to learn that money cannot buy happiness. It can, but only up to a certain extent. Once you cover your basic needs, as well as ensure a stable income to the point where you don’t have to constantly worry if you will be supported next week or next month, money does not buy more happiness. Sometimes, I think the opposite could be true. It was the constant moving that got to my sister and I. Most of our arguments with our parents stemmed from that. Most of the blame and the resentment. My sister was never the same after our final move to Ladera Ranch. Granted, those were also the teen years and maybe it would have happened anyway, her turning rogue on us like that. But then again, maybe not.

At age sixteen, I started to work at Jamba Juice. My parents raised me to be a hard-worker too, and I liked the money I was making. I remember my mom telling me that, now that I was making money, I could start buying my own clothes, with the implication that I needed more clothes. When I started work, I opened my first debit card and my first credit card. My mom had her name assigned to my debit card so she could “help me monitor it”. What that also allowed her to do was to withdraw money from the account whenever she needed to borrow extra. By 18 years old, she had convinced me to open up 2 more general credit cards, which she later used to borrow to buy groceries and to buy other things that she needed. She also convinced me to open a credit card at Banana Republic, which I was now working at, so that I could make use of the discounts. I bought into it and spent paycheck after paycheck on clothes, saving very little for myself. It was a reward, she justified. I also bought clothes for her when sales were happening, and she paid me back, albeit a few days or weeks later. And I was okay with it.

When I was 18, my mom insisted on throwing me a traditional debutant ball. I told her that was not necessary, I dreaded the thought of going up in front of everyone and perform dances and speeches and whatever else. But she insisted and like a good daughter I went along with it. It was a $10,000 birthday party. With photographers, videographers, two gowns, everything. It wasn’t for me, and I don’t even want to say it was for her. It was for our friends and relatives, to show them how well-off we were. So well-off that she could flippantly throw a $10 grand birthday party for an 18 year old. The following year, my mom insisted my sister had one too, and despite my sister’s much stronger resistance to the thing, she got one whether she wanted to or not. After my sister’s debutante ball, my credit cards were maxed out, and they would stay maxed out until I was 25. One was maxed at $2500 and the other $8500. Where was all the money going? I did not know it then, but I know now that all that money went to buy social status symbols. Symbols such as debutante balls and Banana Republic clothes and gaming consoles, random dinners and social events, everything a regular American typically spends money on. Well, minus the debutant parties. But that’s where a lot of the money was going to. In fact, I started receiving letters in the mail addressed to me saying that the payments on my credit cards were not being made. They were overdue, consistently, month after month. There were threatening emails saying the cards would be suspended if minimum balances weren’t met. I kept asking my mom about it and she kept brushing it off and saying, “Don’t worry about it.” But I WAS worrying about it. Eventually, at age 20, I got the cards back and closed both accounts. I forced my mom to open her own Banana Republic credit card. And I removed her from my debit card account. Today, only the $2500 credit card is paid off. The other one still has money unpaid. But I give them props, because they are at least working on paying that down now, after repeated, heavy arguing over the last five years.

Let me pause here (again) and say that I am not an ungrateful child. My parents were doing what they were taught to be the right thing to do and I don’t hate them for that. They are good people. But they were misled by an American Dream. I am very appreciative of their efforts. They bought my sister and I brand new cars for our first car, which I am so grateful for! And compared to other kids I went to school with, these weren’t crazy expensive cars like theirs, but these were still brand new. That’s amazing and sweet and generous and kind. But as I look back on it now, I can’t help but think that that was also soooooo unnecessary.

Maybe in the back of my mind, I always knew we were short on money. I worried about money all the time. I worried about it enough that I felt the need to get a job at 16 years old. I even knew it enough that I chose my college based on how much money I would save living at home. I got into UCLA, which is where my boyfriend at the time decided to go, and which was viewed as a higher ranking college than UCI, but I chose UCI because I knew that I was the one who had to pay for my college education and I needed to save every bit that I could. My high school teachers and friends all thought I was crazy and tried to convince me to go to UCLA. But some part of me knew that I shouldn’t. I was slowly starting to become debt averse. However, even though I was smart enough to realize all of that, I was wrongly convinced that I could reward myself every time I got a paycheck with clothes and dinners and events and stuff in general. My parents sure supported that kind of lifestyle. You can never have too many shoes. And you need more professional clothes, even at 18! But I always had this feeling…

I graduated undergrad in three years and an extra quarter. I worked hard to pull that off so that I wouldn’t have to pay more money for the last two quarters. People asked why I did not just stay in school and take fun classes, and my answer what that I honestly did not want to spend more money. By this time, at age 20, I was working three jobs, just like my ole man. I was working as a dental assistant every day the dental office was open, at an average of 33 hours a week. It was an emotionally taxing job, serving a community of people who had very high expectations and demands in an environment that caused a lot of fear in patients. On the days the dental office was closed, I was working at Banana Republic (still!) on Tuesday and Thursday mornings before the stores would open. I lifted mannequins above my head and climbed ladders twice my height, nearly breaking my back every day to set up the shop windows before the customers came in. If it was a Sunday, I would work the floor, following consumers as they dropped piles of clothes on the floor and I folded it back for them into perfectly neat stacks. I saw customers throw clothes at sales people when they were displeased, complaining of the heat in the store when there were too many other customers walking around, and slamming dressing room doors because they waited so long in the lines. Retail was a place where I learned how NOT to treat people. And it was where I saw the first glimpse of how “things” could turn people into such monsters. After a long physical day at BR, I would have a few hours to myself before I would drive to Irvine to tutor high school kids from Corona Del Mar. Not exactly mentally draining, these sessions did provide me further insight into lives of very very rich people. Back then, I wanted that lifestyle. These kids were driving Mercedes and Maseratis like it was nothing. Their parents owned boats and they went on international vacations by themselves every holiday. Who didn’t want money when they saw that? What I didn’t internalize was that many of these kids were taking anti-anxiety pills. ADD pills. Disliked their parents, or never even saw them. They were stressed more than I was, because of the high expectations that were set upon them by their parents and their peers. They know of more people their age who committed suicide than I did from watching television. I mean, these kids were paying $80/hour to talk to me about their problems at school and at home. All I could see was the prestige, their beautiful clothes, their lavish vacations, their lack of concern for money. And I was blinded to believe that that was what I was working towards.

In between graduating undergrad and getting into dental school, I made a lot of dumb mistakes. I was making good money working three jobs, but I didn’t tackle my student loans. Instead, I went out frequently. Spent money on clothes, food, alcohol and more alcohol. I even did a celebratory trip to Hawaii with Mike to celebrate getting into dental school. My loans sat there and I paid the bare minimum which didn’t even cover interest. And so my loans grew. I was working my ass off, but my debt continued to grow. I was working so damn hard that I was sick for months at a time, because my body could not keep up with the stress. I couldn’t wait until I got into dental school so that the payments could be delayed another four years.

I didn’t apply to many dental schools, but I did get into two schools right away, as early as December the year before. Ohio State University and University of Southern California. I wanted to stay in California to be with Mike and be close to home, so I decided to choose USC, which happens to be voted THE most expensive dental school in the United States. I swear I wasn’t getting any smarter with the finances thing. I mean, I KNEW it was the most expensive. I got an apartment to myself across the street from campus, which also meant I was spending A LOT of money on housing alone. Two weeks after dental school started at USC, I got an offer to go to dental school at UCLA, which started a week later. I denied it! You want to know why? It wasn’t because I liked USC better. It was because of sheer laziness! I was already set up in my apartment, moved in, and I already met a few people at school. I did not want to start all over or commute across the city. That’s it! That is the reason I said no. It was probably the worst financial move in the entirety of my life. And I hope never to make a mistake like that ever again.

Debt is never a good thing. More debt in exchange for a supposedly more prestigious school does not make the debt valuable. It’s not worth it. End of story. Yes, in order for me to achieve my dream of becoming a dentist, I had to go into debt. But I had a choice to take less debt, and I was a moron.

It was also around this time that my parents lost their house to the bank. This was the same year they had to take money out of their retirement fund to pay for something or other and were slashed with a big tax fee at the end of the year. But who was I to judge them? I stayed at USC. That single decision put me more in debt than my parents. So I cannot judge them for their financial decisions. I should be focused on working on my own spending habits rather than over-analyzing theirs. Plus, it turns out, I was growing up to be just like them.

Since I was living by myself in an apartment across the street from USC, I was dwindling down the few extra bucks I saved working three jobs during my one and a half years off. I was taking out the maximum loans possible (over $100k a year!) and still, by the end of my first year, I had no extra money in my bank account. I decided to move in with a roommate a little further away from school, but still in downtown LA. It made rent $100 cheaper per month. But it still wasn’t enough. In my second year of dental school, to the shock of my dental classmates, I took on a job as a librarian on campus and worked 20 hours a week, on top of being at the dental campus over 40 hours a week. I was exhausted, sickly, hardly spoke to my roommate and released all of my stress on Mike at the end of the day. After all the money financial aid was handing me, and the extra hours I was working, I was still going into further debt. Mikey had to lend me $1000-3000 at the end of every trimester to make ends meet. I would pay him back the minute I got my funds for the following trimester, which meant that at the end of the next trimester, I would need to borrow even more from him. How was this possible?!

It’s all those little things that you don’t even think about when you buy them. It’s that one shopping spree that you went on just because you were feeling down. It’s the new picture frame your apartment needed. It’s the chips and ice cream that you had to add to your grocery bill. It’s the second pair of Nikes you have because the last one has a mark on it. It’s the wedding dress you had to buy to attend your friend’s wedding, because she has seen you wear all the other dresses you owned. It’s the fifty books you have yet to read but buy impulsively because the cover calls to you. It’s that one time you were too lazy to cook so you went out to dinner with your friends. It’s when you got hammered at your friend’s party and offered to buy everyone a round of drinks. I mean, the list goes on and on and on. One bad financial decision after another. And these were just the little things. The big things were worse. The choice of housing for the sake of convenience. The choice of school due to laziness. The choice to borrow money from someone else for lack of discipline. It’s not consumption that’s the problem. We are human, and we need things. But it’s compulsive consumption that is the issue. The failure to see the difference between need and want.

By the summer after my second year of dental school, I was drowning in debt and I couldn’t take it anymore. I told my roommate I was moving out by the end of the week. A bitch move, and I can’t believe we are still close friends after that. I moved to Torrance to live with my boyfriend and his two guy friends, where my rent changed from $1200/month to $345/month. I quit my librarian job and paid Mike back every single penny. I committed to cooking meals at home with Mike as much as possible, and started budgeting our grocery bill to $50/week. I still follow this budget until today. I was taking a step towards debt aversion. But I continued to be a bad spender, or rather, a spender period. After all the money I saved, I spent any excess loan amount I had to travel or to dine out! Oy vey. I was so excited that I had “extra money” that I could not wait until the end of the trimesters to see how much I had left in order to live the good life. The truth that we all know is that, I have never had any extra money. As long as you are in debt, you don’t have money. I have been in debt since the day I opened my first credit card. But I spent the “extra money” anyway instead of paying back my loans. I continued this toxic cycle up until the day I graduated.

I wish I could say all of this ended after graduating dental school. After the loans stopped coming in and I was left with whatever debt’s version of a black hole is. Unfortunately, it didn’t end there. The summer after I graduated, I had to borrow money from Mikey. I was out of loans. In our entire relationship, I was very adamant about splitting everything in half. Down to the last penny. So any money I borrowed from Mikey, I kept tabs on. Until I graduated from dental school, Mikey and I were Even Stevens. I owed him over $16,000 by the time I started work. $16,000! That’s a lot of money I didn’t have. That summer, I was even more obsessed with spending. I had to have a nice loft apartment and I had to buy new furniture for it. I spent his money to take classes and workshops. I was in denial that I had to face a burdensome monstrous debt. I knew I had a problem, then.

Here is my issue with money. You might not have this issue but I did. And it all started with things.

The more things I wanted to buy, the less money I had.

The less money I had, the harder I had to work.

The harder I had to work,

The more stressed I was.

The less time I had with my friends.

The more sick I became.

The faster I tired.

The less personal growth I had.

And if I wasn’t growing,

Then I was dying.

And that had to change. ASAP.

I was just like my parents. Just like so many other Americans. We have too many choices and that was a problem for me. I thought I needed to have every choice offered to me. When I had to present my money egg, I knew all of this. I was aware of the entire story as it was unfolding, as I was living it day to day. In fact, I was hyper-aware, and that’s what made me worry so often since I was a young teenager. I knew this because I watched my parents go through it.  But I was also in denial. I deserve this. I worked hard for this. This is my reward. If they can have it, so can I. I am in less debt than they are. This is worth the money. All of these are excuses and lies that I fed myself. When I finished presenting my money egg, I couldn’t help but think to myself, that for once in my life, I made the right financial move. I hired myself a financial planner who did not tell me what to do with my money, but had me change my whole perspective of life in general. After presenting my money egg, he had me and Mike discuss our priorities, our future goals, and our dreams. He asked us questions like, what brought us happiness, what projects we wanted to start, when we saw ourselves retiring, what retirement looked like for us. He asked us what we wish we could had done in life if we were told that we had an incurable disease and we were to die by the end of the year. Then he asked us what we wish we could have done if we were told we were going to die tomorrow. If you were to die and had a million dollars in assets, how would you divvy that up? By asking us these questions, and writing down all our answers, he came back at us and said, look. From all the answers that were provided, there were a few things that mattered to Mike and I. Family seems to be the most important thing. Next came travel, hobbies, and self-improvement. After that was contributing beyond ourselves. There was no mention of a house or stuff. So we had to approach our financial situation in a way that allowed us those things not only in the future, but more importantly in the present. It was like a switch flipped in me. I radically altered my lifestyle. It was around this time that I started to embrace what I would consider the simple life and the concept of minimalism.

Minimalism is the thing that gets us past the things so we can focus on life’s more important things, which aren’t really things, at all.

-The Minimalists

In the last year throughout this process of gaining more and more control over my financial life, this is what I learned.

The less stuff I bought, the more money I had.

The more money I had, the more focused I was on paying down my debt.

The smaller the debt got, the less I worried about my finances.

The less I worried about finances, the less time I had to work.

The less time I had to work, the more time I had to learn about myself.

The more I learned about myself, the more focused I was.

The more focused I was, the more clear my priorities became.

The more clear my priorities became, the better my relationships got.

The better my relationships got, the more meaningful my life got.

As I discovered what was meaningful to me,

I realized that it never had anything to do with stuff after all.