How to Live Abundantly on a Budget

abundance berries blueberries close up

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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. Even after that, I wondered, when would I ever feel like I have enough?

Abundance is a Choice

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, well, 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 told her attendant that 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 I have already decided to love it.

Most people would think, I’ll see what I get and then determine how I feel. That assumes that the external circumstances make the decision for how you feel; it takes away your control over your feelings. This might be ok if things turn out to your liking, but is devastating if the circumstances are devastating. Instead, this woman was making the decision that no matter the circumstances, she would be happy.  Rather than having the circumstances control her feelings, she was going to project her feelings onto her circumstances. Whatever the room would look like, she was going to project happiness upon it.

I think it’s the same with abundance. You can pick a number and say, “that’s when I’ll feel the abundance.” But there is no number that makes your feelings automatically change. You think the external circumstances are the chief factor in determining your happiness. But the money won’t change your feelings; you have to. Feeling abundance is a choice that we make for ourselves every day, every minute.

Creating an Abundance Mindset

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 (streaming on Amazon), and throughout the movie, people described 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.

Reframing 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. It’s not that you’re broke, it’s that you’re picky.

Counterintuitively, I think we feel scarcity when we have too many things. It’s because we haven’t properly curated our things. We have too many bad things clogging up our perception of what good things we have. If I mindlessly bought new clothes I could end up with 10 times as many clothes and nothing to wear because I would have to go through all these garbage clothes to find something I like. If I had all these toxic friends, it might make it hard for me to realize I have good ones. The bad people often can distract us from the good things.

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.

If you wake up and have to deal with a slew of bad things, you can have a feeling of scarcity. When you have only good things in your life, it’s hard not to feel abundant.

Giving

Another counterintuitive point is that giving is a key part of feeling abundant. I’m currently reading The Broken Ladder and it starts off by saying that feeling poor can have debilitating effects whether or not you’re actually poor. And of course the problem with this is that numerically there is a limit on the number of people who can be poor. (Technically, this could be a large percentage depending on how you define it, but if we’re assuming that some people have to fall under “rich” and some people have to be “poor”, I guess we’d understand probably the bottom third to be poor). Technically anyone can “feel” poor even if they’re the richest person in the world, because feelings don’t have to be tethered to facts.

The way we feel poor is to look at people who have more. Thus, to feel rich, we should look at people who have less. Obviously, that sounds really condescending. I mean, don’t criticize those with less. I mean, give to those with less.

There’s a wealth of research that shows giving activates a part of the brain that is typically associated with rewards (food, sex, drugs, money). Giving has also been linked with better health outcomes, promotes social connectivity, and increased feelings of gratitude. It also just changes your worldview from inward facing to outward facing, increasing our humility and empathy. Better health, more connections, a decrease in pride and an in crease in gratitude would all seem to help decrease your feelings of relative poverty and increase your feelings of abundance.

Treating Ourselves Well

But while it’s important to give, it’s also crucial that we be able to receive (or get, as in, give and get =D).

And I’m not saying you should give because you expect to receive anything tangible in return. First, I just don’t think life works like that so you’ll be mad at me for telling you a lie (although some research shows that giving is contagious, it doesn’t necessarily mean the contagion will come back to you). Second, there are perfectly good intangible reasons to give, as listed above.

But I don’t want to only say that giving alone is key to abundance. You’ll quickly be worn out. Receiving is also key to feeling abundance. I heard an episode of Rob Bell‘s podcast that really resonated with me: “You don’t take good care of yourself and you wonder why you have less and less to give.”

There’s all this talk about “self-care” and it sounds really mystical and self-indulgent. I’m not saying it is, but it just seems that way. I don’t like the terminology, but I understand the concept. There’s so much pressure to be masochists – to get by on little sleep, to be as productive as a factory-farmed animal, to give and give and give. And I don’t want to advocate for that. I want you to take good care of yourself. I want to take good care of myself. Microsoft’s Satya Nadella noted: “With all the abundance we have of computers and computing, what is scarce is human attention and time.”

We have no shortage of electronics or social media accounts or advertising. We have a scarcity of care, attention and time. And part of this will take some time to remedy by finding friends and family that will fill those needs but it starts with giving the attention to ourselves and being able to receive care and love from ourselves and others.

I think there is no better picture of a life of abundance than someone who realizes and receives love and attention from friends and family, and who give it freely to others. And if you have that, money becomes such a small factor in obtaining abundance. I mean, if you have that, what more could you really need?

How to Live Abundantly On a Budget

Marketers would have you believe that buying this or that product, car, or house is the key to abundance. That marketing ploy actually leads to discontent, which is exactly what the marketers want. You get on a treadmill of wanting, buying, being discontent and wanting again.

The only way to stop running is to get off the treadmill. Look at what you already have, get rid of what you don’t want, spend your time and money on caring for yourself and others. An abundant life can never be bought with money, but only with intention.

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 Two Cheap Products and 1 Free Action that Saved My Hair (and peek into my All-Natural Beauty Routine)

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. 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.

My Mostly Natural Beauty Routine

I’m one of those annoying people who will scrutinize ingredient labels on all my personal care products and eventually leave the store empty handed because nothing will match my expectations. Either that or if I find something with good ingredients, I’ll see the extravagant cost and just vow to buy the top two ingredients in their most natural form.

Now I’m not exactly a hippie. This is not my complete beauty routine – though it does represent a lot of it. I mean, I’m a blonde Asian, and my hair wasn’t bleached by any kind of natural process. But that doesn’t mean I should add to my toxic load. For me, it just makes sense to have the simplest products that I know will work without all sorts of other ingredients I don’t want. It’s also easier on the wallet. Plus, non-natural products can sometimes be filled with tons of ingredients, like silicones, that appear to make your hair healthier but are really wreaking havoc in the long run by creating a barrier to your skin and hair that prevents better ingredients from getting through.

So without further adieu, I’ve searched and found the following to be good, effective products, none costs more than $20 and they’ll last you a long time.

Skin

I don’t wash my face. I read a blogger write once that her face improved so much after she stopped washing it. So I stopped washing it and had the same result. I don’t work in a mine or some really filthy area so it’s fine. At the end of the day, I remove my makeup with coconut oil ($11) and take a cotton pad soaked in witch hazel ($2.5) and tea tree oil ($14) and remove any sweat or dirt from my face. For moisturizing my face, I alternate between Radha Argan Oil ($14) and Rosehip oil ($14).

I’ll do a weekly mask with Aztec Healing Clay ($9). I also like to do a little mini peel ($5) in the office when my skin needs a little pick me up. I know sheet masks are quite fashionable right now, so I bought a bulk order of cotton masks off eBay and I put some cocktail of oils and aloe vera gel ($9) and just zone out.

For the rest of my skin, I use grapeseed oil ($8) to keep it soft and moisturized. I will often just squirt some oil directly onto me and add it to my baths. In the summer, I use monoi oil ($15) on my legs to keep bugs away. It works as well as other bug repellants, doesn’t make me smell weird and also keeps my legs silky.

After taking some time in a sensory deprivation chamber, I’ve started paying more attention to keeping my hands in tip top condition (having little cuts on your hands and then going into a massive saltwater chamber is a new kind of pain). I’ve relied on old favorite, Burt’s Bees cuticle cream ($6). For a somewhat greasy hand lotion, I use lanolin oil. I just started this and more research may need to follow.

I find that I don’t really need deodorant but sometimes I like to use Schmidt’s rose deodorant ($10) because it smells good.

Hair

The fact that saved my hair was learning that my hair needs both moisture and protein in balance. And no matter how “moisturizing” a hair conditioner can say it is, it can actually be a major source of protein; thus, an oil may be the better way to go to get moisture without additional protein. A good, inexpensive oil that can really penetrate into your hair is castor oil ($9). Once or twice a week, or just when my hair is looking parched, I’ll pour castor oil into my hair (my hair just sucks it up) and let it sit for as long as I can stand – sometimes overnight. Then I wash it out with conditioner. Castor oil can also be applied to your lashes to make them grow or used in oil cleansing.

My hair can get really dry throughout the day, just being out in the sun or in the dry air of my office. I started using a leave-in conditioner from Mielle Organics ($13) and it makes my hair much more presentable throughout the day.  This is one of the only products on here with more than one ingredient but the ingredient list looked pretty good to me and it’s available at CVS.

Lips

The best beauty secret I have is pure lanolin($8)  for your lips. It’s super hydrating and I think makes them plump up over time. I also use a scrub made of kosher salt and olive oil to exfoliate.

What natural beauty products do you use?

This is the Secret to Being Healthy, Frugal and Happy

man wearing blue suit jacket beside woman with gray suit jacket

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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. I was rally surprised because I hadn’t been tormenting myself with terrible diets or 6am wake up calls. I hadn’t spent thousands on a skin care regimen. What was shocking about my transformation was how little sacrifice I had made.

My Simple Diet and Exercise Regiment

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 day. Every now and then I lift weights or do body weight strength training exercises. And I foam roll and stretch every day.

The Secret?

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.

How You Can Use the Secret To Live a Healthier, Wealthier, Happier Life

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.

How to Focus on Happiness

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?