Why “Frugal” is My Least Favorite F-word

why frugality is my least favorite f-word

What Frugality Isn’t

Don’t you hate it when you share something with a friend and instead of mindlessly complimenting it, and you, by extension, they offer completely valid criticism?

Me too. Please keep mindlessly complimenting this blog. Thank you very much. =D

So anyway, I was a little gaga over The Minimalists’ documentary, which I told my friend about. He texts back: “Lol I’m watching it. It’s funny.”

Um, it’s not funny. It’s deeply moving and profound, I say. So he says:

All these guys are doing is chasing happiness from a different angle.

I was initially taken aback because this wasn’t a clear compliment regarding either me or the film. But after my initial shock and irrational anger subsided, I realized that he wasn’t wrong (ugh! friends who aren’t wrong!). Though The Minimalists’ minimalism was a rejection of consumer culture, there isn’t as much difference between minimalism and consumerism as I had initially thought. Whereas consumerists may compete over who has the most or the nicest stuff, minimalists can compete over who has the least stuff.

And both of these competitions are, let’s face it, kinda stupid.

Why We Can’t Define Ourselves by Our Frugality

Defining yourself by how much stuff you own is weird (“Hello, my name is Lisa and I own 500 things”); equally weird is defining yourself by your lack of stuff (“Hello, my name is Lisa and I don’t own 500 things”). One person has a lightly packed backpack and the other has three overstuffed suitcases, but the kinds of things they pack are similar. If both people enjoy their respective luggage and both get to the same destination, then who’s to say one way is better than the other?

I think a similar line of thought applies to people who define themselves as “frugal.”

Dictionary.com defines being “frugal” as “not wasteful.” But “wasteful” is a subjective term. I see articles by bloggers bragging about their uber-frugal lifestyles and dismissing unnamed others for their perceived extravagance. Spending on designer clothing, going out for drinks with coworkers, having a nice house – these are seen as anti-frugal. Meanwhile, “frugal” people apparently shop at used clothing stores, avoid get-togethers that cost money and flaunt the modesty of their homes – so they can retire and travel the world. If that’s the only way to be frugal, then I’m not interested – because I love get-togethers.

The purported difference between minimalists and consumerists is that minimalists think having nice stuff is wasteful, but spending money on experiences is not. But you’re not  saving money choosing one route over the other – you’re just making different choices with the money you have. And I am uncertain why one set of choices is less “wasteful” than the other. If I save money on travel in order to have a nice house that I get to enjoy with my family and friends everyday, why is that not considered frugality?

Why Everyone is Frugal

There was an article awhile back on Iwillteachyoutoberich that reasoned that spending a lot doesn’t necessarily mean one is wasteful if the amount spent is conscious and aligned with one’s values. One shouldn’t assume that spending on what others may perceive as frivolous is unwise if it’s meaningful to the person who spends it. And MixedUpMoney once proclaimed: we are all frugal.

I believe everyone is frugal (sorry I stole your idea MixedUpMoney!). I’ve never met a person who tries to be wasteful – who tries to pay more and get less, who finds loopholes to pay MORE in taxes, who trashes perfectly good stuff because they like the feel of plastic clogging the Earth’s landfills. Everyone tries to use their dollar to get the maximum good. After all, there are 83 million hits for “how to save money” on Google because everyone is looking for ways to save money and there are approximately 83 million different ways to be frugal.

Everyone is frugal. They just might not be frugal in your eyes, according to your values and judgments. Everyone is trying to obtain the right amount of “stuff” so that they can achieve their goals – but their number of items will be higher or lower than yours. It makes us all look stupid (and sad) if we are trying to out-frugal each other.

Why Frugality Is Not the Answer

The idea of “frugal” v. “unfrugal,” minimalists v. stuff-ists, makes it seem like we have fundamentally different values than people who define themselves differently.  Some may negotiate a deal on a luxury car, some may buy a cheaper model, some may lease  and some may go car-free. You may have your biases about which one of these is the “frugal” option, but in the end, isn’t the type of car you drive less important than where you’re going?

Minimalism and frugality aren’t the destinations – they’re just different cars we drive as we figure out where we’re going.

In the new year, in a very divided country, we don’t need more reasons to be divisive. Of course, tips for saving money are always good and can be helpful. But there is no reason to put down some people’s choices or elevate others’. Personal finance is above all else, “personal.”

Why We Shouldn’t Judge Each Others’ Spending Decisions

We are all striving for the same things – happiness, security, love, meaning.  Our decisions are different, our values are different, our stuff is different, but overall, we are very similar, more similar than we care to remember most of the time. To quote one of my favorite poems by Maya Angelou:

I note the obvious differences
between each sort and type,
but we are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.

We are more alike than we are unalike.

Faith, freedom, finances, even failure, and other F-words are useful from time to time. But I’m done with “frugal.” “Frugal” is used as a term to judge one set of personal finance choices as better or worse than others. I’d rather err on everyone having the freedom (best F-word) to finesse their finances to fit their own life. And we can all just fire (another good F-word) each other up along the way.

Wishing you all the happiness, security and love, stuff or no stuff, in the flipping fantastic new year.

 

Gif source: giphy

My Favorite Books and Podcasts of 2017

It’s sometimes surprising that I have a full time job because I consume an inordinate amount of media (it probably comes from being single and not having kids or friends). So far this year, 68 books cover-to-cover, 22 books skimmed and probably 100 podcasts.  I also have a killer library and podcast game, which I will detail in a post sometime.
These are my favorites of the year – many, if not most, of these items did not come out this year. I’m a little slow to the game. And I wanted you to know that I worked hard to cull the list down to something manageable. This list could easily have been (and was at one time) twice as long.

My favorite books of 2017

Books I need to reread, but not in any order:

Rob Bell is apparently a very controversial figure in the Christian world, and I don’t know if his ideas are correct (because any time I mention his name, people seem to get excited about tearing him down), but his book made me thirst to reread the Bible. And that’s uncontroversially positive.
I swear I have the same dream about the white room. Just a beautiful and fun to read book. Sometimes it’s nice to dream.
So this is how you become a James Beard award winning cookbook author. The introduction made me feel so warm inside, I hardly needed the crockpot!
I can’t vouch for the advice for dealing with grief, having never had to do so before, but I thought it was such a beautiful and vulnerable look at how Sheryl Sandberg is dealing with grief.
It reminds me of How to Win Friends and Influence People, but with more practical tips.
Sometimes I marvel that I’ve been on so many long-term relationships without ever really questioning if I understood what a healthy loving relationship looks like. I need to study this book for life.
I am reminded of this book often because of the anecdote in the beginning where the author notes that he graduated in the same class as the CEO of Enron. What happened between the time he was a bright graduate to when he was running a fraudulent company? Bad people don’t set out to become that way but through their choices, and imperceptible and microscopic changes in perception  – we become the person we are today. 
I discussed my thoughts here.
Books that were eye-opening
Pastor Hamilton’s perspective on 2 Timothy 3:16-17 (regarding all scripture being God-breathed) really colors how I read the Bible now.
I wish I had read this before my broken engagement, but hey, I’m learning. I love how proactive it is.
I would say this encouraged me to get outside my political bubble, but I actually know very few people with my political views. In any case, it provides me with hope for civil discourse in our country.
I accidentally taught my nephew a bad word, but it was worth it because this book was interesting. The thing about self-help books is that they typically say the same things, but sometimes you need to read several of them to get accustomed to the ideas and then find the one that finally speaks to you to really get it. I think I’m getting closer, particularly with this book.
Books that I haven’t finished but will go on this list
The idea that my vision can improve is something that I’d never considered before.  But as the author notes, no one expects someone to stay on crutches for the rest of your life.
It’s like that form listicle that is repeated on a million sites “7 habits of successful people” except it’s a million really weird and obscure habits from the world’s most successful people. Some of the ideas are clearly contradictory but it’s a must for people who like to experiment.
Favorite Podcasts
I think about this podcast every time I get on my bike in 30-something degree weather or take a cold shower. I’m getting more resilient.
Also, I love listening to the Art of Manliness and it’s the source for so many of the books I choose to read.
Where Should We Begin? – I’ve Had Better
People tell me I should be happy to be single because of podcasts like this. It still makes me yearn a bit that these people have the project of a relationship, even if they’ve let it get so far away from them. They still have something to fight for, and if they didn’t still want to fight for it, they wouldn’t be in therapy. But yeah, it’s pretty tough.
I saw  Esther Perel at Sixth and I, and wow, she’s just so brilliant, I could listen to her talk for days.
The Robcast – Pete Rollins- An Introduction to Love – Parts 1-3
I know so little about love. These podcasts were a deep dive into, what must be for others, basic concepts of love. Like for most people, people are just objects, but when we love, we make these people into “subjects.” They become fully formed in our minds and stand out from other humans because of our love. I also loved what Rollins says about how loving gives our lives meaning – how if we love, we can’t really not find meaning in life.
The James Altucher Show – Tyler Cowen – What the Future Holds
I took Cowen’s Complacency Quiz and got Trailblazer, even though I’ve moved all of 20 miles away from home. So I clearly liked this podcast because he says that I’m basically going to make America great again. =D But really, anything that involves getting out of our comfort zones is totally up my alley.
What were your favorite books and podcasts of 2017?
*Disclaimer* this post contains affiliate links. These views are mine and I was not paid for them.

 

Three Reasons Your Budget Sucks

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Let’s face it – following a budget sucks. Setting the monthly food budget, for instance, may be easy but following the budget requires a never-ending slew of decisions and judgments.  Caviar or foie gras? (maybe these aren’t your actual choices, but it makes it more fun to think about). What’s a good price for caviar? If I get the caviar, can I still go out to dinner at Le Bernadin next week? And so it goes.

Budgets are cruel dictators, mean CEOs. They don’t care about us, the little guys, the minions that are carrying out their wishes. But even though we may all complain about how arbitrary and unhelpful our bosses are (I know I do), we may not all question our budgets. Even the best laid plans need to be evaluated and revised as conditions change. Budgets are no different and this is the perfect time to determine whether your budget is ailing from one of the following three woes that make it a sucky boss.

1. Your budget sucks because it’s based on someone else’s life. 

I looked at my food spending for 2017 and I was aghast and how large a number I saw. Then I thought, well what should the correct number be? So I looked at what I spent last year. I went to Google and compared my spending by city and then according to USDA guidelines.

And what I determined: who cares what they think?

I always wonder how people come up with their budgets. Every time I look at sample budgets, people are spending $400 on rent (whoa that’s low) and $300 on entertainment (whoa that’s high) and I throw up my hands and think, who are these people and where do they live? There’s no way I can use that person’s budget as a guide because their life is nothing like mine.

How to Get Your Budget to Align to Your Life

I’m not saying it doesn’t matter at all how your spending compares to others, because it can be useful in benchmarking in areas you don’t get enjoyment from spending more  (like insurance, cable or utilities), but for areas where it’s discretionary, if I’m happy with my food budget, and I’m meeting my spending goals, then who cares what other people do or think? No one sees this budget but me. No one is affected by this budget but me.

It’s really great (amazing even) when you set goals for yourself and then achieve them. But it doesn’t make any sense to meet other people’s goals. You have to set your own goals.

2. Your budget sucks if you’re not growing. 

I hear that the 50-20-30 budget is very popular (that is 50% needs, 20% savings and 30% wants) but I don’t really understand why. Why are those the right numbers? And are those numbers supposed to stay the same as you age?

Let’s say you’re an exceptionally wise young person and you follow the 50-20-30 budget religiously while making $30,000 after tax. So $15,000 needs, $6,000 savings, $9,000 fun. Let’s say that over time you double your income to $60,000 after tax. So $30,000 needs, $12,000 savings, and $18,000 fun. Wait, why do your needs double just because you make twice as much? And wow $18,000 is a lot to spend on wants. That’s $1500/month.

If you get skilled at following your budget, it’ll only get easier when you make more money. But that’s the trap of lifestyle inflation. Having the same budget year after year is like lifting the same weights over and over. As you get stronger, it gets easier to lift the weights. Good, right? But you didn’t start lifting weights because you wanted an easy activity; you started lifting waits to get stronger. Lifting the same weights doesn’t help you get stronger. In fact, at some point, you’re probably just risking injury.

How to Grow Your Budget Along with You

If you’re saving the same amount or percentage of money as your income increases, yes, you’ll be following a budget, but you’re basically treading water. Can you imagine watching someone tread water for the next 30 years? At some point, you’d just have to ask them, with all that energy being exerted, wouldn’t you rather go somewhere?

Part of the reason you follow a budget is because you want to save money, ideally enough money to have options in the future. The more money you save, the better your future could be and the faster you can get there. I think part of the reason is also to condition yourself to a certain lifestyle. You’ve learned all these skills to save money so why not keep them fresh?

Finally, things get more expensive as you get older so you often really do need to save more over time. To do that, you need to keep shifting your budget goalposts. Over time, you should be getting lower numbers on many budget metrics (like fast fashion and novelty electronics) so that if you have to increase costs on rent, insurance, and family needs or downshift your career, you have options.

3. Your budget sucks because you’re just looking at the numbers. 

I know what you’re going to say. Of course I evaluate my budget by looking at the numbers. A budget is basically just a spreadsheet of numbers.

I mean, kinda.

But let’s say I look at my budget and I see the following metrics:

Coffee Shops: Up 50%
Restaurants: Up 30%
Vacation: Up 100%

Clearly, my budget is going haywire, right? I need to tamp all these down in order to save money.

But if I think back on the year, I know I went to coffee shops more often because it became a ritual with my coworker, which makes my workday much more enjoyable. Restaurant spending increased partly because I made a habit of going to fancy dinners with a friend, who was recently diagnosed with cancer.  His treatment has made him lose his sense of taste – making me cherish the memories more.  And I took 3 weeks of vacation this year – and I don’t regret any of it.

How to Look at Your Budget Beyond the Numbers

Your budget is literally, just a sheet with numbers and letters, an estimate of your income and expenditures for the year. But metaphorically, your budget is a description of your life and your values. It’s a record of the choices you made. And the choices you make create the person you become.

This is what’s so exciting about evaluating my budget (to a personal finance nerd like me). I can look at my budget and see what I value. I can look at my budget and see what direction I’m heading in.

Yes your budget may be going up in certain areas and that might not be a concern so long as you know why it did that and if it’s a conscious decision. If your budget for gambling or drugs is increasing, well you may want to look into that.

I think it’s important to measure your budget holistically, not just by the numbers. For me, I like to see if I like the way I’m living and if I’m getting better both at budgeting and at becoming a better person every year – more compassionate, more curious, more alive. I think I am. And my budget reflects that.

What did I miss? What are other ways to evaluate if one’s budget sucks?

 

 

Gif credit: Justpo.st

Cook at Home: Save Money, Save the Country

When I was just starting out as an adult, my mother chastised me for eating out too often (which was never more than a few times a week). She said eating out would make me sick and fat. I didn’t know if she was correct, but since that time, if I ate out more than twice a week, her voice would haunt me and I would eat at home for weeks as penance.

My mother has always been my food role model. She worked full time but still cooked dinner from scratch every night (we ate leftover too). We would often eat around 8pm but we never ever ordered delivery and we would only eat out once a month. So it’s not even that I could fall back on being a fancy lawyer to prove I didn’t have enough time to cook – she always cooked and she had way less time than I do. Plus I was handicapped by lacking familiarity with the concept of delivery.  It was cook or starve. So I cook most of my meals, but it’s not to save money; it’s to avoid the wrath of my internal mother.

It also helps that I love food. I saw this documentary about Asian Americans’ love of food, and it rang true for our family. Asian culture is all about the food. Part of it is taste and part is adventure but there’s also the inevitable element of community. I grew up in a Chinese church that would serve the most disgusting fried rice for lunch. But it was cheap and more importantly, because there was food, everyone in the church stuck around. This is how I got to meet the people in my church. Even today, the only reason I get to know anyone at a church is because I attended functions that involved food. There’s something about sharing food with people that brings people together in a way that business meetings, for example, cannot.

Something I had noticed in my reading of the Longevity Plan was the idea of sharing every meal with someone else. It’s much rarer these days as people are staying single longer and are getting takeout and staying in. Even when people are coupled, they might only eat with each other. There’s less of a community aspect to eating.

My mother used to throw these big Thanksgiving dinner parties where 40 people from church would come. It was utter chaos. And even though my mother is an avowed introvert, she loved throwing these parties. She loved hosting and giving. Those are some of my most fond childhood memories. If I look back, nearly every great memory involves food. Why would I want to shortcut my relationship with food when it has given me so much?

Michael Ruhlman basically shares the same sentiments, when talking about his late father, Grocery: The Buying and Selling of Food in America:

He carried the deep, intuitive understanding of the power of food to connect people, knew that food was not simply a device for entertaining or filling our bodies and pleasing our senses but rather that it served as a direct channel to the greater pleasures of being alive, and that it could be so only when that food was shared with friends and lovers and family.

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But it’s a love that’s becoming more elusive in American culture. Women look down at cooking. People are too stressed and busy to cook, and sometimes even to eat. They’re obsessed with nutrition, convenience, and speed – i.e. everything but taste.  There’s also this weird meal prepping craze that basically turns your preparation of food into an assembly line. I realize it saves time and money, and encourages one to eat at home, but I would literally rather starve. It seems so cold and lifeless.

And what’s wrong with making time to cook food? We’re a culture that is obsessed with famous chefs and cooking shows, but won’t take the time to carefully prepare something that we should nourish our bodies. You might as well tell me how to be more efficient in the time I spend gossiping with my friends. It’s not that I need a lot of time, but what would I rather be doing?

As Ruhlman notes, it’s our lack of priorities that has led to the disarray in American eating and cooking habits. But once we realign the priorities, we find we’ll get the nutrition, the weight loss, and the savings.

Here’s my diet plan: Cook it yourself. That’s it. Eat anything you want – just as long as you’re willing to cook it yourself . . . . The only way [increase the proportion of nutritious food in our diets] is for society to recognize the long-term benefits of carving out the time to cook. That’s all it really is: being organized and making time. You never hear people say, “You know I would really love to shower more, but I just don’t have the time.”

The shower comment rang so true to me. And this is basically my diet in a nutshell. In my kitchen, a nutritionist would be appalled to find such staples as bacon, butter, regular flour, nonorganic vegetables, many types of real sugar, and condensed milk (not that I eat these things together). I’m sure diets revolving around “real food” would also be dismissive of my diet. I mean this isn’t the healthiest of the healthy, but it’s all real. Everything is made from scratch – like bread, pie crusts, peanut butter. It’s not super processed. It’s not grab and go. It requires me to slow down and to appreciate the ingredients.

Also, bacon is delicious.

There’s so much else in Ruhlman’s book bout the history and business of shopping for food and how grocery stores are reacting to new trends in culture by making more prepared foods (because again, Americans don’t cook), and how all of this is affecting us and our futures. I love everything there is to know about food. (I mean, I read a book about grocery stores). But this book made me think of the past, of my culture and what we’ve lost, and what we stand to lose in the future. I also got all teary-eyed when he was talking about his father because it reminded me of my parents. And nothing reminds me more of my family than the act of cooking food.

What’s your favorite food memory?

You Are What You Give: A List of Charities Worth Supporting

In case you need some inspiration about which charities to which you should direct your year-end donations, these are the ones I support:

Groceryships 

I read about this charity from goop, Gwyneth Paltrow’s magazine. They are simultaneously tackling obesity and hunger by offering “grocery scholarships,” cooking classes and support groups so that families can learn about nutrition and cooking and be able to support themselves – and each other – through cooking. I’m such a cooking at home enthusiast, this really spoke to my heart. I visited their graduation ceremony and it was really moving.

DC Books to Prisons

A DC-based charity that speaks to my compassion for the imprisoned and my love of reading. They receive letters from all over the country requesting books to read. This is the most bare bones charity I’ve ever seen. The books, the storage, and the packing materials are all donated and volunteers read the requests and pick the books. I’ve been to one of their volunteer events and they’re even stingy about how much tape they use! All your money goes to postage. Give people a second chance and the chance to better their circumstances. PLUS I love their newsletter. The thank you notes really get me teary eyed.

Modest Needs

I’ve been supporting this charity for years. It helps people who are a financial emergency away from poverty by directing funds to help pay for the potentially devastating emergency – which can run the gamut from cancer to leaving an abusive home situation to delayed paychecks. PLUS, you get to pick the person you want to support and you often get a lovely thank you letter.

Polaris Project

Human trafficking is that one cause (besides prison reform) that just makes me spend all my money to fight it. The founders came to my college when they were just starting out and I was really impressed.

Sixth and I

Ok so my charities are a little DC-centric. I love this place. It’s a synagogue that puts on the most amazing book talks and events. I’ve seen Esther Perel, Atul Gawande, Joshua Radin, Tim Ferriss and Amy Tan just in the past 6 months. It makes me a little sad I’m not Jewish.

Evermore

This is a charity that I volunteer with that is trying to change how society interacts and supports families who’ve lost a child. It’s a pretty random choice for me, having never had a child, but the founder is pretty inspirational.

Other ideas: your library (the link is to my local library, where I’m a lifetime member), your church (my church, which does so much to help the community), your local homelessness help organization, your local PBS station (because they are the ones that run the Great British Bakeoff!), NPR.

I think giving is so important, not only to make the world a better place, but also to show appreciation for all that the world has given us and to get us out of our own bubble and to build empathy. I have a relationship to most of the charities I support and it keeps me grounded.

What are your favorite charities?

How to Conquer Your Fears

I did something scary the other day (I can’t remember what it was exactly). And I remember a moment of fear when I thought I would just turn back. So I thought of the worst case scenario and told the world (in my mind) “yeah world, bring it on!”

Whatever it was, it became much less scary.

(Sorry, this story would probably have been a lot better if I remembered what it was! I think it was biking to work in the cold? Even though I do it quite regularly, I still have to amp myself up for it).

I learned of this technique from Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning*, which he calls  the idea of paradoxical intention, based on the twofold fact that:

fear brings about that which one is afraid of, and that hyper-intention makes impossible what one wishes. In this approach the phobic patient is invited to intend, even if only for a moment, precisely that which he fears.

The example he gives is a man who sweats too much. His fear of sweating and his desire to sweat less actually makes him sweat even more. But if he visualizes sweating up a storm, he paradoxically sweats less. When he imagines what he wants to happen, the stress paradoxically causes what he most fears. Only by accepting the worst case scenario can he make a better result for himself.

On the other hand, I went to a holiday party and only talked to a few people. If I had just visualized everyone rejecting and mocking me as the worst thing that could happen, I probably would have gone out of my shell a bit more.

What do you think? Do you want to try this paradoxical intention?

 

*A similar technique is in The Tools, but this one stuck with me, probably because I’ve heard it at least twice now and am more receptive to the technique.

Why Having a Purpose is More Important than Having a Budget

If you read biographies of successful people, the beginning is often very tragic (and sometimes the middle and the end, as well).* I remember reading about Mission Chinese Danny Bowien’s early years as a cook at a fancy French-Japanese restaurant where they threw pots at his head and hazed him mercilessly.  He made so little money that he ate scraps. And you think, of course he kept going because he became a wild success later. But he didn’t know that was going to happen and how hard it must have been to go through the abuse. The poverty. For years. Always doubting if he was on the right path. All because he had a passion and a dream. He endured because he had this glimmer of hope that it would work out.

In Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, it’s a lot worse than that. But the happy ending is survival.

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As a quick summary, Frankl recounts his years being tortured at a concentration camp and he finds that what sustained the survivors, what sustained him, was having an ultimate purpose. For him, he lost his life’s work, the manuscript that comprised his life’s research, upon entering the camp. He needed to stay alive in order to recreate his research. Throughout the book, he echoes the quote by Nietzsche:

He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.

Frankl sees the modern problem** as:

people have enough to live by but nothing to live for; they have the means but no meaning.

I see this lack of meaning always underlying today’s blogs and articles about saving money. I can see why it’s hard to think “stop buying coffee and avocado toast, save for retirement!” Because retirement is when people die. Also it’s a long time away. Why would you delay your happiness for death (or 40 years, whichever is sooner).

You should live now. And I don’t mean live recklessly on drugs and rock and roll (or whatever the kids are doing). But if you really loved something or had a dream to do something with your life, it would be a lot easier to say, I’d rather put the latte money towards that dream. I’d rather find ways to cut corners so I have money to help me on my dream.

I think most of the time we have no idea what to save money for. That’s why we just fritter it away towards things we think are meaningful but have no overarching purpose. We work to have enough money to chase the lifestyle we want. We don’t work to chase a dream. But if we did, I think a lot of the wastes of money would just dry up.

It’s a lot easier to give up the lattes if you have a reason to give them up. 

For the super short term, it could just be a little thing that you want. For the short term this might mean a great vacation. For a longer term, it might be getting rid of debt, quitting your job and writing your book or starting a business. It could be donating to charity or starting a family or seeing your family more often.  It could be whatever your amazing ridiculous dream is, and it’s very likely that money will help you achieve it.

What about you? What’s your meaning in life? (ooh big question).

*They’ve done studies where successful people with tough childhoods drew strength from their hardships. It’s not just that it makes for a better story but it could be a secret to their success.

**Don’t worry – he puts in a caveat that some don’t even have the means. Also note that Frankl died 20 years ago but his assessment of modern problems are still relevant today.

***A good book re passion and finding your purpose.

What Amount of Money is Not Worth Saving?

When I was a kid, I thought my family was poor. So poor in fact that when we would eat out, I would get the cheapest item on the menu – chicken fried rice. I’ve always hated chicken fried rice. But I love shrimp fried rice. The difference in cost was probably 50 cents. 50 cents was a lot of money to me when I was a kid, so of course I thought it was a lot of money to my parents. I thought I was being quite a good selfless daughter.

Of course I didn’t realize that my family wasn’t actually poor and certainly not so poor to care about 50 cents. They also didn’t want me to eat something I hated.

I wasn’t necessarily the smartest kid.

Fast forward to today and I see that Uber charged me $7 more for my ride than I was expecting. Now $7 is a lot more than 50 cents, even with inflation. But I have a much better view of my finances and I know I’m not poor. And I know the $7 won’t make any difference in my budget, in my savings, in my retirement goals. And contesting the matter with Uber seems like a hassle. On the other hand, it’s not like I’m getting anything better by paying an extra $7 – the ride already happened. And while we’re at it, $7 is probably enough to buy some delicious shrimp fried rice!

Clearly something has changed in my valuation with money. I had discussed this issue with my ex a year ago. I had paid off my debt and had amassed quite a bit in savings and he was well on his way to paying off his debt. We both make six figure incomes at pretty stable jobs. We were at places in our financial lives where saving a dollar here or there didn’t seem quite worth it. It doesn’t mean that we would willingly pay more for no reason, but there were now limits to how much trouble we would go to in order to save a buck. We realized we don’t need the buck, the buck saved means nothing to us in terms of short or long term goals and our time and desire not to deal with hassle became more valuable. We could blow thousands of dollars and we’d still have enough. We can order anything off the menu and I like that.

I still clip coupons, because it’s a habit that I find calming, but even when I was watching every dollar, I still ignored the 5 cent or 25 cent coupons. I mean, that amount of money wasn’t worth cutting out, remembering the coupon and presenting the coupon. There’s still a part of me that loves the thrill of saving a few bucks on my ridiculously expensive contact lens solution. And I still remember when I thought these habits were so important, because these amounts of money were critical. It doesn’t mean, however, that we have to keep the same habits for all time or that we can’t adjust for inflation.

I did go through with pestering Uber and Uber readjusted my fare. Old habits die hard.

What about you – what amount of money is not worth saving?

How Watching TV Can Help you Reach your New Year’s Goals

Screen Shot 2017-12-17 at 11.19.28 PM.pngI would love to see the meetings where TV commercial directors make pitches. Like who thinks up these Geico commercials? Or car commercials?

Or this recent commercial I saw? Johnny Depp narrates saying how he needs to escape, drives into the desert while an ominous guitar riff plays. He buries his jewelry and watches the sunset. End scene.

How can someone sell this concept as an ad to sell cologne?

Then I started to think about it. I can understand that it’s hard to sell perfume when you only have visual and auditory communication. And a large part of what draws us to particular scents is not the actual smell but the memories associated with them. If it’s a new perfume, you don’t have any memories with it. So the pitchmen make a memory for you.

I should know how this works after watching Mad Men and specifically the amazing episode, The Wheel, where Don Draper is pitching for Kodak slideshow equipment:

But he also talked about a deeper bond with the product: nostalgia. It’s delicate… but potent. Teddy told me that in Greek, “nostalgia” literally means, “the pain from an old wound”. It’s a twinge in your heart, far more powerful than memory alone. This device isn’t a spaceship. It’s a time machine. It goes backwards, forwards. It takes us to a place where we ache to go again. It’s not called the Wheel. It’s called a Carousel. It lets us travel the way a child travels. Around and around, and back home again… to a place where we know we are loved.

The marketing execs are trying to tap into your nostalgia. Especially in times of stress, uncertainty, shame, vulnerability (hello 2017!) we tap into our minds to find those memories where we felt free, we felt certain, we felt beautiful and smart and strong and secure. And I can understand having trinkets or talismans – I guess we call them souvenirs when we return from a vacation – to help us remember the fun times, the good times. And marketers want their product to be your talisman. They want all their products to serve as talismen until your home is overloaded with products and fake memories.

Still, I think it’s interesting to watch advertising as an introspective exercise. These Dior perfume commercials in particular have been appealing to me and I believe it’s because they have this idea of freedom and romance.

In the Miss Dior perfume commercial, in a variety of vignettes, Natalie Portman jumps off a bridge, fights with her lover, screams, runs along a beach in a pink ballgown, recklessly drives a pink convertible and then asks “And you? What would you do for love?”

Well, I probably wouldn’t do any of those things for love. But even if they’re not necessarily all positive actions, the passion is appealing. (Also Natalie Portman looks so pretty).

So what should I do? Well, I like the Miss Dior perfume but I already have my signature scent (Chloe – Roses, if you’re curious). Watching the commercial does reinforce the idea that I feel inadequate in the lack of passion in my life. It’s something that I’ve been working on, and I still feel the yearning in my heart. I need to work on my passion for life, not buy the product.

On the other hand, these family memories commercials have no effect on me. I guess I feel ok about my relationship with my family.

I’ve heard that a big reason (not the only reason) people don’t keep their New Year’s Resolutions is because they don’t even really want them. They set a goal but it’s the wrong goal. It’s like what they tell you in the Bullet Journal Start Up video – if you keep setting the same goal every month and you never complete it, do you really want it? It may be time to reevaluate.

This may all seem silly. We all know what we really want, right? I recently read, for whatever reason, a summary of a 2013 interview with Brad Pitt for Esquire. In it, he states that he felt that he was wasting his life away during his marriage to Jennifer Aniston and that in Angelina Jolie he saw “a very adventurous person who was grabbing on to life and taking it to its nth degree.” So Brad Pitt wanted adventure and he saw adventure in Jolie. This is not to say he didn’t also want Jolie, the most beautiful woman in the world. But there was something stronger than her looks because most people don’t leave their spouses for the other person. He left Aniston because of the marketing. It was the missing adventure that touched his soul.

Of course, we know how this eventually played out because of their messy divorce.  Maybe if he had learned to work out the longing for adventure within himself, instead of looking outwardly, then he could still be married to Jennifer Aniston and I wouldn’t have an irrational hatred for Angelina Jolie. #TeamAniston

So sometimes you think you know what you want (most beautiful woman in the world), but you’re actually going after your hidden desire (adventure, meaning).

The guys who make advertising are masters at drawing out your emotions. By watching commercials (or TV) that really move you, and understanding why they’re moving you, you’re letting the masters direct you to the goals you really long to achieve. What is it that resonates with you? What is the pain from an old wound that you seek to rectify?

I love this quote from Sean Brock, chef: “Suffering is suffering. It doesn’t matter if you are addicted to porn on the internet or you’re codependent or you’re addicted to gambling or if you’re addicted to ‘The Real Housewives of Atlanta.’ You’re suffering, and that’s what gets us into trouble.”

We are all suffering and we are all seeking out ways to fix that suffering, consciously or not. And if we are not consciously figuring out the solution, we definitely can get into trouble trying to find solutions where there are none.

So the first step is to figure out the suffering. And watching TV is the cheapest therapy you can find (so long as you don’t buy the products they’re selling and maybe even if you do). And once you find your weakness,in the future, you’ll be able to see how advertising is manipulating you. No, I don’t want that perfume. I want passion. I want to look like Natalie Portman. I do kinda want a pink convertible.

Go create your own memories, find your passions, repair your relationships with your family. You’ll never find the solutions in a product or even outside yourself. But perhaps you can find what you’re really missing in the New Year by looking at advertising.

Have any ads exposed to you about your inner desires?