What You’re Actually Paying For

I was dismayed to find out that my very expensive shampoo and conditioner contain the very ingredients I try most to avoid – mineral oil, silicones and sulfates. They were products that were recommended on blogs as panaceas for the hair and I blindly complied, thinking this many people can’t be wrong. (Note: no one cares as much about your hair as you. Or at least no one cares as much about my hair as me.)

So these bottles are family-size and only half used. I think I’ll just leave them out in the free section of my apartment building for others who are interested. Ten years ago, I would have continued to use them to the last drop in some misguided attempt to “get my money’s worth.”

My sister taught me something useful a long time ago. I had bought some snack that I did not enjoy eating and, like a good Asian child, I was continuing to eat it until it was empty. But she said, that was not the only -or optimal- way to think about the price. What I was paying for with the snack, was not the food, but the choice to eat the food. I had already obtained the full value of my purchase by having the snack in my hands. What I chose to do with it was up to me.

What an interesting thought! And it really makes sense. Yes, you’re getting the full caloric value of the snack but you’re putting this 75 cent snack’s value ahead of the value of your own body. If you found out you were allergic to a snack, you wouldn’t keep eating it out of some misguided attempt to get more value. It shouldn’t be different if it just doesn’t impart any value for you or you just don’t like it. There similarly isn’t much more value from coating my hair with chemicals I don’t want and using a product that doesn’t impart the expected benefits to my hair nicer, just so I can say I got my money’s worth.

I think it goes to our Puritan ideals. We should punish ourselves for making the mistake of buying something incorrectly. But maybe we don’t have to beat ourselves up. Maybe we can note the problems we made, and vow not to make them again as we go to the store immediately to buy a replacement.

Cultivating Abundance Part 3: Clearing the Chaff

So now you’ve decided to feel abundant, you have the right mindset, but you still have all this STUFF and nothing to wear.

I’ve heard the criticisms over Marie Kondo and minimalism- that these concepts are only for the rich. While it’s true to some extent that most people can’t live on very little without some degree of privilege, it’s a straw man. Neither one of these clutter gurus say you have to live on very little. It’s more that you should get rid of whatever is unnecessary and whatever is actively bad for you.

So I had a letterman jacket in high school, but to my great shame, I never lettered in anything. I never wore it because it looked odd without the letter. It was very expensive and it represented to me all the failures of my high school life. It’s not like I could ever wear the jacket even if I had lettered. Who wears a letterman jacket outside of high school? And I couldn’t sell it because it had my name embroidered on it. And I kept the jacket in my closet, where I would look at it everyday and feel the shame. (It’s kinda funny how stupid your high school problems seem when you’re older but then again, the shame and fear are still very real.) I could hear the voices that said “you’re not good enough” every time I saw this jacket.

So one day, I just threw it away. I felt like a huge burden had been lifted off my shoulders and mind.

Part of me thought that having things that made me feel shameful were good for me. Maybe it would remind me of when I didn’t work hard enough and make me work harder in the future. But all it did was cast a shadow on my day, every day. It just sucked my energy and provided nothing good. It was better gone. I realize that now.

And I guess you could say, well you had a jacket so you could get rid of that jacket. What if that’s your only jacket? Well, I guess if you had very strong negative feelings towards your only jacket, you could try swapping it with someone else for their jacket. Or put money in a fund to get rid of this jacket. Or worse to worse, try to change your relationship with your jacket. And I realize that sounds pretty stupid to have a relationship with your products, but it makes it much easier to change the relationship because the jacket can’t talk back.

Or you could still just throw it out. If you cannot stand the jacket, it might be worth it to be cold. You have to weigh the options there but hate is a strong word.

Marie Kondo’s tagline is everything in your house should “spark joy.” To me, I’ve turned her tagline around.

If it sparks joy, or is useful, then keep it.
If it sparks hurt or fear, and is not very useful then get rid of it.

So what does this all have to do with abundance? Well, I’ve been most successful at decluttering my closet. I have all my work clothes in one closet. When I wear something, I move it from one side of the closet to the other side. So how do I get dressed in the morning?

I pick something at random from the side of the closet that hasn’t been worn.

I don’t worry about it being something I hate, something that doesn’t fit, something that needs to be mended. I got rid of that stuff or I had it fixed. Though my closet has far fewer clothes, every thing I have is a winner.

It seems that even when we have a lot of something, we can feel like there isn’t enough. We have too many bad things clogging up our perception of what good things we have. If I had three times as many clothes, I might not have anything to wear because I would have to go through all these clothes to find something I like. If I had all these toxic friends, it might make it hard for me to realize who’s a good one. If I have all this clutter, I might not be able to find the precious things.

So I guess my advice on abundance is this: you have to choose it, you have to reframe your mindset to focus on gratitude and only bringing good stuff in, and you make sure to get rid of anything bad that would rob you of your abundance.

What things can you get rid of to make your life feel more abundant?

How to Cultivate Abundance, Part 2 – creating a mindset

The book, The Secret was a best-selling self-help book based on the ‘law of attraction,’ which claims that thoughts can change the world directly.

So yes, to the extent that The Secret causes you to believe that if you imagine wining the lottery, you may actually win the lottery, The Secret, is total crap. Still, research and some common sense consistently show that your thoughts are incredibly powerful in changing your life.

Harvard research shows that, in certain instances, just thinking about doing something can give nearly the same benefits as doing the activity. And it should come as common sense that if you enter an interview thinking you’ll do great and that the interviewer wants you to succeed, that you’ll likely do better than if you think you’ll bomb the interview and that HR is out to get you.

In my previous post, I already discussed how the feeling of abundance is a choice. But what happens after you decide that you want to feel abundant? How do you actually get the feeling?

The nuts and bolts of feeling abundant even when you have to live frugally is to reframe how you view your life.


Thought Pattern 1: You focus on what you have.

When I think of abundance, I think of a bowl full of cherries, because I read an article about abundance that had a picture of a bowl of cherries. When you think of abundance, it’s probably about health, social connections, money and peace. And I hope you have all or a mix of those things. But even if you lack in some areas, it helps to focus on what you do have. Think about what blessings you have. Think about if you have shelter, food, a job. Think about your friends, your family, people who’ve been nice to you throughout your life.

I watched a documentary recently, Kindness is Contagious, and throughout the movie, people would describe a time when someone was kind to them. Some were truly amazing and miraculous and some were silly. But if we all thought about our lives, we could come up with a few anecdotes about people who were nice to us. Be grateful and focus on these things. It’s hard not to feel abundance when you frame your life as one filled with amazing blessings.


Thought Pattern 2: Reframe frugality as curation.

Too often, frugality is framed as denial. You can’t get a new pair of shoes because you don’t have the funds.

Well what if you thought of yourself, instead of a miserable frugal person, as a fancy museum curator. Pretend you work for the Louvre and there are no shortage of painters/shoes who want your attention. But you don’t have nearly enough space for all of those vying and you can only take the very best. You want to be right so you can wait to take your time until you have the right funds. It’s not that you’re broke, it’s that you’re picky.

Imagine you meet a guy with 7 Hyundais and another one with a Tesla. 7 Hyundais cost more than a Tesla. But do you think Hyundai guy is rich? No you think he’s weird. Why would one person own so many cars. This guy hasn’t properly curated his life. You don’t want to be like that. It’s quite a privilege to enter your home so you make sure everything is finely chosen.

Every day, you make the choice to live feeling deprived or feeling abundant. And though I don’t believe in The Secret, I believe that feeling abundant will lead to abundance, even if only in your head. But maybe that’s enough.

What do you think about creating an abudnance mindset?

How to Cultivate Abundance, Part 1

The problem with frugality is that it seems to go hand in hand with a feeling of scarcity. When I was paying down my debt, it certainly felt like I was fighting for every last scrap. And even after my debt had been paid, I looked at my paltry bank account and still felt fear. After I had saved some more, I wondered, when would I ever feel like I have enough? What is the exact number?

I tried to answer this question by reading books. As if there was some set value that was scientifically proven to make anyone say “aha! I’ve made it!” But of course there’s not. There are billionaires who want more. There are people who have nothing who want for nothing.

I read a story on Quora about an elderly woman who was about to be shown her new room in a retirement center. The woman said she loved her new room. Confused, the attendant pointed out that she hadn’t even seen the room yet. But the woman said, I know I love it because she had already decided to love it. It didn’t really matter what the room looked like. As she reasoned, happiness was a choice. And she was choosing it before she knew about the circumstances.

I think its’ the same with abundance. You can’t pick a number and say, that’s when I’ll feel the abundance. Because you will find that you will reach that amount (hopefully you’ll reach that amount) and your feelings won’t change. You think the external circumstances affect how you feel inside. But it’s not the money that changes your feelings. It’s you. You make the feeling. You make the decision. Abundance comes from within. Feeling abundance is a choice that we make for ourselves every day, every minute.

What do you think? Do you think you can ever truly feel abundant?

The Secret to Getting Up Early

I come from an early morning family. Sleeping in on a weekend meant waking at 7am. On a typical weekday, I had to leave the house at 6:05am to get to school but I loved sleep so much that I slept until about 5:55 and spent every morning running down the driveway.

Surprisingly, it turns out that I’m a morning person. I can lay in bed languidly killing time, and when I finally look at my watch, sometimes it still says 5:40.

Though I find WAKING pretty easy, it makes no difference for productivity if you don’t actually get out of bed. I can see 5:40 on my watch and then stay in bed until 7:30. This is where I find the most difficulty. Sleep is wonderful. It’s hard to think of a reason to leave the beauty of sleep for what lies ahead of me in the day. I find, unsurprisingly, when my sleep life is better than my waking life, that I have a lot of trouble getting out of bed.

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On Minimalism and Remembering What Really Matters

on minimalism and what really matters

What Happens When Stuff Takes Over Your Life

Outside the customs area of Detroit Metropolitan Airport, I saw a swarm of activity around a couple with a small child. It appears that they had left their passports on the plane (or at least that was the best case scenario). I have no idea what happens if you show up at U.S. Customs without your papers. I can only assume it’s not good. Maybe not terrible but definitely a huge hassle.

And I thought, ok this couple has a small child and traveling with a small child is difficult. But there are two of them and they could have tag-teamed with one person remembering the child and the other person remembering the passports. I’m sure they remembered the diaper bag and their luggage after all. But the most important things by a long margin are 1) remembering the baby and 2) remembering the passports. Third would be remembering money or a phone, but those things could be remedied after customs.

And I thought, they were probably distracted by the luggage. If they had only brought the baby and the passports, then there wouldn’t be a problem. The more things you have to remember, the more likely you are to forget something. Unfortunately for them, they forgot the most important thing. Really the only important thing. They were too distracted with things that could easily be replaced that they forgot the things that couldn’t be replaced.

How Minimalism Reminds You of What Really Matters

It reminded me of minimalism. If we stop and think about our lives, we can name a few things that are the most critical and the rest is nice, but it can be replaced. It’s the stuff that you run back into your burning house for (usually people, but certain items or documents make the cut as well). The rest of it is just stuff.

There’s nothing at all wrong with stuff. But we each have a different amount of stuff we can handle before we start to forget the most important thing. For me, it’s a pretty low number because I’m disorganized and easily overwhelmed. But I’m sure your house could be filled with stuff and it doesn’t bug you, you can still find everything and you are still properly prioritizing your life. And we should be wary even if we have very few things, that those few things aren’t distracting us from what really matters. Because there are travelers with tons of luggage who still get everything together and there are backpackers who can’t keep it all straight. As long as you have your passport and your baby, it doesn’t matter how much other stuff you have.

Why It’s Still Ok To Own Stuff

Minimalism isn’t about how much stuff you have but rather, recognizing the amount of stuff that we can handle without forgetting what’s most important. If we have too much stuff for us to handle and care for, or the stuff we have takes too much of our attention, then we may need to check ourselves.

What are your thoughts on minimalism?

The Three Cheap Products and 1 Free Action that Saved My Hair

I’m a little obsessed with hair. I have naturally thick black hair, which I have dyed, at times, red, brown, purple, green, and blonde. Needless to say, my hair has been through the ringer.

My hair has been really dry and broken ever since bleaching it. I have read tons of blogs and magazine articles that advocated keratin treatments but no matter how many treatments I tried, my hair was brittle and dry. But after much trial and error, four things (3 products and 1 action) helped me fix my hair and they were, surprisingly, not the most expensive ones I tried.

1. Castor Oil
I learned from Reddit that hair needs a balance of moisture and protein. Only using keratin treatments made my hair drier and more brittle. There were a number of oils recommended for optimal moisture content but castor oil was the cheapest and most readily available. Once a week my hair soaked up a ton of castor oil and my hair steadily improved. After a few weeks, my hair didn’t look or feel as parched. It still wasn’t that soft yet though, which led to:

2. Nuance Buriti Oil Hair Mask
I’d been trying to find a product that would impart softness and shine back to my hair without silicones. Silicones coat your hair shaft with their plastic-y shine-y sheen but they don’t actually repair the hair. Further, removing the silicone takes different and harsher products. I wanted something fairly natural but silicones are everywhere, even in the so-called miracle hair products that cost an arm and a leg. After searching far and wide, I found this Nuance Hair Mask. I only used this specific one though because the other masks had silicones. This hair mask made my hair unbelievably soft. It was also incredibly cheap, didn’t require that much product and the texture of the product was pretty fun.

This is currently on clearance at CVS so I would grab it as quickly as possible. I cleaned out my local CVS as they were less than $3/pop.

3. Mielle Organics White Peony Leave-in Conditioner

This product was invaluable for protecting my hair from the change in weather, from the sun and wind when I ride my bike or walk outside and just kept my hair safe and manageable while it was still healing with the castor oil.

4. Wearing my hair down

Even after my hair got much softer. I noticed that it was bent at the ends. I did some research online and discovered it might have to do with my hair elastics. Whenever I take a hair elastic out, it always takes a fair amount of hair with it. So I decided to wear my hair down for a few days and sure enough, the kinks in my hair disappeared.

Now this isn’t necessarily a forever situation – I will probably need to get hair elastics in the future. But for now I’m using more gentle barettes, hair claws or just leaving it down. I even wear it down when I go running – but it stays out of my face with a headband. It also gives my scalp a rest.

What tips and tricks do you have for healthy hair?

Making Frugality Fun

I’ve always been a frugal person and I consider myself a disciplined person. But sometimes I read personal finance blogs and it all seems like….a drag. If you read these blogs, it seems that to live a frugal life, you have to aim to be a monk. You have to live a life of deprivation. You have to deny yourself, deny yourself and then deny yourself some more. And then you retire or die.

I think your self discipline gives way though. And even if it didn’t, at some point you realize that life is short and you don’t want to spend it denying it and being unhappy.

So if not a life of deprivation, then how does one become frugal? I thought about this when I was selecting a restaurant for dinner. One place looked much fancier, was packed and looked fun. The other was half the price in a much simpler atmosphere. But after we picked the cheaper restaurant, choosing foods was much more fun because, for the same price, we had so many options. And it dawned on me, frugality can have benefits beyond saving money.

Frugality can lead to more options
Rather than look at frugality as a way of limiting your options, frugality can allow us to have more options. If we are at a cheaper restaurant, we can choose more foods for the same price.

Frugality can lead to more creativity
If you get an expensive piece of furniture or clothing, you invest resources in trying to protect it and care for it as is. If you get a cheaper piece of furniture, you can spray paint it, reupholster it or have money to add pillows or decor.

Frugality can let you optimize your results
I am a woman who loves reading about beauty. I don’t necessarily love spending the big bucks on beauty but I voyeuristically look at other women’s medicine cabinets, as posted all over the web, and I’m shocked to see so many tiny bottles of very expensive potions and primers.

I know if I bought a lotion or “miracle product” for $100 or more a pop, I would use as little as possible to preserve the product. See, look at this. I would have spent $100 and I would be tiptoeing MY life to preserve IT. It’s pretty weird. It’s like having a child or a dog. Except it’s a beauty product. The products you buy should serve YOU. Not the other way around.

And the thing with skin care is, your skin needs moisture. Maybe this miracle product is better at moisturizing your skin than a cheaper product. But is it better than products that you actually aren’t afraid of applying multiple times a day all over your face and in indiscriminate quantities? Likely not. The moisturizer can’t moisturize skin that it doesn’t touch.

So I say, buy the products that you are not afraid to use, that serve you, rather than the other way around. And while you may feel frugal using a nonfancy moisturizer, it feels incredibly abundant to be able to use your products without abandon.

Frugality can save time.
Piggybacking off the previous idea of saving product because it’s so expensive is that expensive things make us think we should take better care of them. I take the time to be gentle to my expensive purses. I would consider saving an expensive face cream in case of a fire. But doesn’t that make you feel rather poor and insignificant? Again, you’re spending your money to WORSHIP A PRODUCT. The product should serve you, not the other way around.

Yes, you should take care of your things. There’s no need to be reckless. But there’s something wonderful to be said that it can all burn in a fire and I wouldn’t risk my life for anything (but my laptop would certainly be nice). It’s also nice to think, ok so my stuff is getting a bit of wear and tear. Well that’s what they’re there for.

Frugality can just be fun
A lot of frugal activities are recommended because they save money but often they’re just more fun to do. Hosting people over at my house is one of my favorite things to do and creates great memories. It’s great that it’s cheaper than paying for the same number of people to go to a restaurant and may even be cheaper than one’s own portion at a restaurant, if you factor in gifts of food and wine and leftovers. But mostly, I do it because it’s fun. I bike to work because it’s fun, but it does save money.

I think if you live your life in a way where most of the reasons you do things are because they’re frugal, you’ll burn out and get sick of it. You’ll get so tired of being a slave to money that you might give up on the idea of saving money altogether. If you do things for the reason that they are fun, but they could also be frugal, you are so much less likely to burn out. You’re living your life according to what makes you happy and really enriching your life by being frugal.

What kinds of things do you do because they’re fun but that are also frugal?

Why Everyone Should Learn to Cook

I have such beginner’s luck with cooking and baking. The first time I cook or bake something, it comes out pretty well. So I get cocky and the next time I don’t check the recipe as well and it turns out much worse.

I baked some bread tonight. I used the wrong oven temperature. I put the lid on at the wrong time. I used a different kind of flour and didn’t adjust the recipe. It came out flat and weird.

But I was kinda excited about this bread. I mean it’s a Monday and I failed at something. But I’m safe. I’m in the safety of my own home. No one knows except me (and now all of you). I’ve learned several lessons for the future. And it’s fun and creative. When else do we get to try something new, fail, learn and feel ok about it?

It makes me sad when people don’t try to learn how to cook because they think it’s hard. Learning to cook can be hard. But learning everything can be hard. The difference with cooking as opposed to many other hobbies is that you lose so little when you fail at cooking. I mean, I lost 3 cups of flour, a pinch of yeast and salt and some water. And I got to experiment. I got to try to do something. I got to be creative. And I get to fail and try again. And I get to do it again tomorrow.

This is the Secret to Being Healthy, Frugal and Happy

It dawned on me recently that I had lost ten pounds and was keeping it off. My legs had never been so toned, my skin was glowing and I was BM-ing like a rock star.

And it wasn’t because I had amazing willpower. It wasn’t because I was forcing myself to eat iceberg lettuce or dragging myself to the gym. What was surprising about my transformation was not so much the transformation itself but how little sacrifice I had made.

This is exactly what I do for eat and exercise:

Meal plan: I eat one meal a day, usually. I don’t have any restrictions on that meal. I can eat carbs, sugar, starches, dairy, whatever I fancy.

Exercise plan: I bike to work most days and go for a long run or bike ride on the weekends. This amounts to half an hour to an hour of cardio. Every now and then I lift weights or do body weight strength training exercises.

So am I saying you should do these same things and will get the same results? NO!!! The secret to losing weight and getting toned aren’t what I do.

The secret is: I love this diet and exercise program.

I don’t eat this way or exercise this way in order to change the way I look. If these activities made me fatter, I would probably reduce them, but I would still try to find a way to keep doing what I’m doing. I look forward to them.

I mean, I generally have excellent self-control, just not for diets. I have only ever been on 2 diets and I quit both early. Gained back the weight. And you know why? Because people aren’t great at making themselves miserable. People hate telling themselves they can’t have what they want. And you know what? That’s ok!

It’s ok if you want to be happy. The secret isn’t to learn how to deal with misery. The secret is to find a way to get to your goal that you frickin’ are addicted to.

So if you love binge eating, as I do, and hate restricting yourself from certain foods, maybe intermittent fasting is for you. Maybe it’s working out so much that you can eat as much as you like. Maybe it’s savoring your food. Maybe it’s going for a walk after you eat.

If there’s a healthy food you love, focus on incorporating more of those into your diet rather than what you “can’t” eat. So if you love apples, eat an apple before your biggest meal. If you love radishes, roast them, saute them, eat them raw with salt and pepper. Make the healthy thing you love the appetizer and it turns out, you’ll end up eating a delicious craveable healthy food and there will just be less room for the unhealthy.

The secret to being frugal is not to deny yourself everything but to concentrate spending on the things that you love. As an obvious first step, stop paying for stuff you hate. Stop paying for the gym if you hate going to the gym. Get rid of anything that’s only ok or that you just do on autopilot.

And then focus your attention on things that you love. Focus on travel and then it becomes easier to stop shopping. Focus on seeing loved ones and you start bringing your lunch to work. Focus on getting your company off the ground and you will gladly cut cable.

Whatever it is, the secret to being happy and being healthy is to make it consistent. And to make it consistent, think about adding more pleasure instead of adding more pain.

The problem is not with you. It’s not that you lack willpower. It’s that you shouldn’t use willpower for everything.

What craveable healthy or frugal habits can you incorporate into your life?