Ladies & Gentlemen! Midgets & Nuns! It’s time once again for your favorite game and mine…. SAGE WISDOM FROM A 9 YEAR OLD! In this week’s episode, we have the response to my attempt at bringing perspective to Trinity’s dilemma (not sure what the dilemma was any more, but that’s not the point). Seconds after I mindlessly spouted the age old saying “There’s more than one way to skin a cat”, and after a moment of thoughtful reflection, she says “Well I guess one way would be to hold it down and scrape it with a knife?”.
Um, yeah. That would do it.
Well, in a barely related point, today I’d like to talk about finances and how my family lives well on less than $2000 a month. I want to say up front that I’m not suggesting anyone else adopt my budgetary practices (although it’d be nice if the federal government would at least try). But there may be some principles here that some would find interesting, if not entirely helpful. For sure, there’s more than one way to skin a cat, and more than one way to approach a budget. So with that said, here it is. How to be poor as church mice, basically homeless, somewhat unemployed, and live like kings!
Now if you know me or have read much of this blog then you already know that I kind of have a unique way of looking at things. I have this habit of constantly examining my life and weighing my decisions against my values, and I find it entertaining to make ridiculous choices that stubbornly and dramatically reflect those values. I also do have one very distinct advantage when it comes to perspectives on money which is that I’ve never had much of it. That kind of makes it necessary to find ways of interacting with the tiny amounts I get my hands on so that it goes as far as possible. But I try real, real hard not to limit myself by this factor. In other words, in my family we don’t say things like “We can’t afford that”. Instead, we look at our values, see if something is a priority, and if so we find a way to do it. Frequently this means cutting back in a less-important category. Other times it means we ultimately decide this isn’t a high enough priority to pursue. But what we don’t do is say something is very important and really needs to be done but we just can’t afford it. It might be traveling to a family event, helping a friend in need, or moving in to a Rialta in order to be able to pay for it, but there is always a way.
So I figured it would be interesting for some folks to see how a typical month works out for us financially. Real numbers, in the real world. Last month (October) we tracked every penny we spent and it looked like this:
A few notes on this. “Clothes” was rain coats for the girls. The classes were an anomoly, as was the fishing trip. We had the hotel day because someone got sick. And our gas was higher than usual because of some unusual work-related travel. And about food? Well, that’s kind of our one “splurge” category. We could eat on FAR less than this. On the other side, there are two categories suspiciously missing, which are health care and benevolence. We have had major medical coverage but currently do not, and we usually do some strategic giving, but are just in a season where those things aren’t happening. That said, with those adjustments we’d still be somewhere near the $2,000 mark.
So that’s what we spend our money on. And there’s sure some room for improvement. I’m sure anyone could immediately identify some problem areas and a string of “yeah but’s”. Even so, please at least give me credit for what’s NOT on that list. Car payment (we only drive what we can afford to pay cash for). Debt maintenance (No credit cards! EVER!). Therapy spending (Do you REALLY need ANOTHER pair of brown shoes?). And of course, HOUSING (I realize I have a distinct advantage by living in an RV, but anyone can have a goal of not having a house payment, even if it take s a bit longer than a year to accomplish). And the crazy thing is, we all feel like we live extravagantly. We eat out a lot, enjoy lots of entertainment, travel a good bit, and spend lots of time with our community of friends. So although our budget is somewhat small compared, for example, to what our government tells us is the poverty level, our net experience is one of comparable enjoyment and provision.
So whadayathink? This is one post where I really would love to have some feedback. Let me know YOUR strategies for accomplishing your goals with limited resources. Shoot a few holes in my budget and let me know where you think I can improve it. Let’s help each other re-imagine the issue of finances, thinking differently about our money and weighing whether our spending matches our values. Thanks in advance for your thoughts!
Days like today are why I live in an RV. I’m sitting on a dormant volcano in the middle of Portland. There isn’t a soul anywhere to be seen, and it is totally quiet and peaceful. I’ve been working on some book keeping, which is awful. But the point is, I’ve got to do it somewhere; It might as well be paradise! As I’ve been working it’s been raining softly, creating that little pitter-patter which is a perfect background noise for a productive morning. Just now, however, the rain lightened up and the sun broke through, illuminating the scene and creating an angelic glow all around, reminding me that it’s just about time for a nap.
Thank God for days like today!
I read a book one time by this guy that seems like a real jerk but I gave it a read anyway because a friend said he wanted me to. And despite my best efforts, I just couldn’t bring myself to hate this guy. He kept saying stuff that really resonated with me. The book was called The 4-Hour Work Week, and the jerk was named Timothy Ferriss (I think everyone calls him Tim but he uses Timothy as his author name because it sounds fancier, which just supports my impression that he’s probably a jerk). Anyway, this guy likes to brag and blow and sound like hot bananas so he’s not really my cup of tea, you know, but what he talked about in this book was the kind of stuff that I like to hear people talk about, so I ended up liking that book pretty good and recommending it to other people sometimes.
Well, in that book one of the things he talks about is how most people try to get rich and some of them actually do and when they get rich they get to do stuff that lots of other people don’t get to do. But what if you could do that stuff that the rich get to do without having to bother yourself with all the trouble of getting rich? What if you could skip the hassle of mo’ money mo’ problems and just go do the stuff? Stuff like traveling, for example?
Fast forward to today. I am kind of like the antithesis of rich. My kids’ school and the nice folks at the DMV (this came up because we were trying to change our address and they discovered we live in a car which resulted in my wife being offered a bunch of applications for assistance) tell me I qualify for all kinds of assistance if I want to apply for it (I don’t). Some folks might say I’m what they call “poor”. But I don’t see it that way. I just like to think that I’m choosing a different existence that affords me the privilege of doing the things I want to do without having to spend 51 weeks a year doing something I hate in order to spend 1 week doing them.
So I guess it was pretty obvious when we started talking about relocating to Colorado from Oregon that we immediately started thinking about taking some extra time along the way to see some folks and do some stuff. And I guess it was a pretty short trip from that idea to the one about having an RV to do it in. And seeing as how I can’t begin to afford an RV, perhaps it was a foregone conclusion that I would reason I could buy one if I was willing to just live in it for awhile. And so today, on the 15 month anniversary of moving my family of 4 into a 99 square foot space, we have arrived just about to the place where we can say we got a free RV just by living in it. We were spending over $1,000 a month on our dwelling with rent, utilities, upkeep, furnishings, etc. and we paid $16,000 for the RV. BAM! Free RV. Now we pay nothing for rent, have no car or house payment, pay no utilities (OK, we pay $11 or so a month for propane), and live in a luxurious space with all
the amenities we need including hot water, air conditioning, shower, stove, fridge, sleeping space for 4, custom stereo, TV, internet, and a toilet that mostly doesn’t smell bad. And once we had lived in the thing long enough to get the hang of it I guess it was unavoidable that we’d figure out a way to travel around like rich people on an extravagant vacation. And that’s exactly what we did. We just finished up the first leg of a 6 month national tour where the goal was to visit America’s finest coffee houses, catch up with as many friends and family as we could, and see as much of the nation’s great destinations as possible. We call it the Rialta Coffee Tour, and it’s off to a great start. We are using our skills in minimalism and simplicity to pay for it, having a total blast, and learning a ton along the way. Here’s some of the things we’ve noticed as we go…
1. HAPPINESS IS FOUND WHERE YOU DECIDE TO FIND IT. This is a pretty obvious one, but we all know the stereotypical characters that have lots of money and are miserable, as well as the ones who have very little money but are happy. There are studies that show on a statistical basis that having more money only leads to more happiness up to a certain point (around $70,000/year). After that, money seems to literally create more problems and less happiness for those burdened with managing it. But within those statistics there is hidden this truth: Happiness is found where you decide to find it. If you are always wanting “more” then you can never be happy no matter how much you have. If you decide to find contentment in being grateful for what you have, you will have no problem seeing multitudes of reasons to be grateful for the love, relationships, health, and so on that you are experiencing.
2. WHO YOU LOVE IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN WHAT YOU HAVE. My kids are always revealing amazing truth. After we finished the first leg of our travels I asked the girls what they liked best. Without hesitation they started rattling off all the people they had gotten to see. Mind you we had been to the Grand Canyon, the California Redwoods, and experienced playing in the ocean for the first time. They didn’t even mention those things. For these little philosophers it was all about the people. Maybe they’re on to something…
3. BEING IN THE TOP 10% IS NOT THAT HARD (GETTING TO THE TOP 5% MIGHT TAKE SOME EFFORT). This is a life philosophy of mine that applies to just about everything. I always tell employees that to be in the top 10% of all employees everywhere is very simple. You just have to show up on time, do what you’re asked to do to the best of your ability, don’t steal stuff, and find some way every now and then to do something extra. Truth is, most people can’t do those simple things over an extended period. And we’ve seen this in coffee shops as well. Being in the top 10% of all coffee shops everywhere in a world full of nasty-joe-showcases is pretty simple. Get good beans. Get decent equipment (and keep it clean). Get some training. Use good water. Be nice to people. Utilize resources such as Barista Magazine or www.sprudge.com to stay connected to the coffee universe. In many ways, it’s just not that hard. But SO many shops just aren’t doing those simple things.
4. MOST PROBLEMS WE WORRY ABOUT NEVER HAPPEN; THE ONES THAT DO HAPPEN AREN’T THAT BIG A DEAL; THE ONES THAT ARE A BIG DEAL USUALLY AREN’T PREVENTABLE ANYWAY. I had this conversation with a lovely friend of mine while our kids were playing together. She was saying how she liked the idea of minimalism but felt it was also important to prepare for contingencies. She used an example of how her parents had done all they could to prepare for every contingency on a road trip and ended up hitting an elk, totaling their car, and going to the hospital. She totally made MY point! Truth is, most times we DON’T hit an elk. And when we DO, nothing we did to prepare matters anyway! Of course I’m not saying throw all caution to the wind. We have roadside assistance, jumper cables, and a little money in the bank just in case. But I promise you we don’t set around fretting about what might go wrong. We plan the best we can and then go live life!
5. IT’S IMPORTANT TO CONTRIBUTE TO SOCIETY, AND LEAVE THINGS BETTER THAN YOU FOUND THEM. I used to be a little conflicted about whether I was contributing enough. I don’t like the idea of being a drain on society, and we use our fair share of a city’s amenities (parks, public restrooms, streets, etc.) and then some. And someone I admire said that it is better to give than to receive, so I think about these things. So one thing we really work to do is always leave things better than we found them. We pick up our trash, AND some extra. We try to leave those public restrooms cleaner than before we entered. That type of thing. And this goes to an environmental level as well. It’s important to be a part of the solution, not the problem, as much as possible. That means being responsible with how MUCH of something you use, REDUCING where possible, REUSING what you can, and RECYCLING the rest. Regardless of your position on environmentalism, it’s good practice to live life taking only what you need, leaving the rest for others.
That’s just a few of the lessons we’ve been thinking about. And you know what excites me? That there are tons more on the road ahead. I’m gonna try to pay attention and see if I can learn ‘em. Maybe I’ll even write a little about it on here. And maybe if you’ve got some things to add on there it’d be nice to see a comment about that.
Yeah. I might like that real good.
One of San Francisco’s premier roasteries is Sightglass Coffee Roasters. So it isn’t especially surprising that they boast one of San Francisco’s – and I’ll go ahead and say the nation’s – premier coffee spaces. Their space is simply gorgeous. Not only is it gorgeous, but it’s also huge, with an entire mezzanine level from which you can view the center-of-the-room bar. And speaking of bars, one of my favorite things about the space is what they call “The Top Bar”. It’s a stand-alone slow bar where you are encouraged to slow down, enjoy some conversation, and experience the coffee. It’s called the Top Bar because it’s on that top level, so you kind of have to be looking for it, which accentuates the aforementioned purpose. I love it.
Front Coffee Roasters in San Francisco measures their pour over doses in corked lab beakers. Hmmm…. I can’t think of a better idea, can you?
One thing I do love is clarity. That’s why when I was greeted with a sign telling me where to order immediately upon entering it was a good start to my visit at Ritual Coffee Roasters in San Francisco. Right after that I spotted Che’ Garcia – winner of the recent BACC Latte’ Art Competition – and I knew this was gonna be good. After a bit of an ordering hiccup where I wasn’t sure if I was being told what to order or assisted by a very helpful order taker, we got an espresso and a machiatto. We were going for one of each, and honestly, I’m still not sure to this day what I drank. I do know this. The espresso was absolutely amazing. Easily one of the best on the entire tour. And the machiatto – poured by the Che’-master himself – was gorgeous and tasty.
Ritual is a San Francisco must-visit. I personally didn’t prefer the register being so close to the door (made for awkward lining up, but they did have that sign…) and the barista missed a couple hospitality points, but all in all it was a great visit. If you go, don’t miss the copper pour over station with built in digital scales, and make sure to order an espresso. Our was just AWESOME!