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 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?

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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 gone on a crazy diet and had amazing willpower. It wasn’t because I was 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.

So for those of you that don’t know – this is what I do to be healthy (but don’t focus on this, because the specifics aren’t the key).

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 (but not usually) I lift weights.

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. But I have only ever been on 2 diets and I quit both early. Gained back the weight. And you know why? 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.

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 secret to being frugal is not to deny yourself everything. The secret is to concentrate your spending on the things that you love. Get rid of anything that’s only ok or that you just do on autopilot. Don’t concentrate on what you can’t do but focus on the wonderful things you want to do. 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.

The problem is not with you. It’s not that you lack willpower. It’s that you don’t need it.

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

My Cheap 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?

How I save over 4 hours a day (your mileage may vary)

Who couldn’t use an extra hour a day? I will admit that the ways I save time won’t work for most people, but maybe some of this could be useful to someone.
1. I combine my commute with exercise. (savings: 1 hour)
I actually exercised pretty irreglularly before I changed my commute so it’s hard to say that I actually save an hour. I really just get an hour of stuff done that I wouldn’t normally do. If you counted the time I spent feeling guilty about not working out though, that would bean hour a day in adn of itself.
2. I combine weight lifting/stretching with work and TV (savings: 20 minutes)
I try to stand while reading or on the phone. I try to do squats and lunges while working as well.
Limiting TV is important for saving time. But I still love watching TV when I get the chance (The Great British Bake Off mostly). I tend to only watch TV while working or foam rolling or doing housework. It doesn’t constitute JUST dead time. I wouldn’t allow it.
3. I only eat one meal a day (savings: 2 hours)
This counts savings in planning for, buying, prepping, cooking and eating food and cleaning up for 2 meals. This also saves the time of digestion lethargy. Technically it could count the hours I spend working to save the money to pay for these meals too but that’s a bridge too far).
4. I limit time for decisions in the morning (savings: 20 minutes)
It took me years but I finally have a work wardrobe where I would be happy to wear any outfit from. I still have favorites and there are some that I would rarely reach for if given the option, but I will wear everything. This saves me time in the mornings because sometimes I just can’t make a decision and during those moments, I just pick the next thing on the line. And it’s fine!
5. I use dead time (20 minutes)
This includes playing a language lesson while I’m brushing my teeth and getting ready. I also carry a book so I can be prepared for inevitable metro delays. I listen to podcasts when doing particularly monotonous tasks at work.
Part of this involves having these things queued up. Whenever I hear of an interesting book, I immediately add it to either my hold list or to my later list on my library account. It will go on the hold list if there’s a long list of holds but it will go on my later list if I can get the book immediately and already have books at home or coming up on holds. Every week, library holds become available and my library lets me keep them out for 3 weeks each. This is often plenty of time when some books I just skim, or ultimately don’t like, and some I read and relish.
6. I limit social media (20 minutes)
Well for the rest of you this probably could save 4 hours a day, but the only social media habit I adopted was Instagram, which I scroll through weekly instead of daily.
Basically my tips boil doing to cutting out extras (some would say, necessities), limiting choices and multitasking.
What do I do with all this extra time? To be perfectly honest, if I didn’t bike to work, I wouldn’t work out during the day. So it’s not exactly like I have an extra hour a day – I’m just getting in an hour of biking that I normally wouldn’t. The same goes for stretching and foam rolling. Overall, I’m in much better shape and probably less likely to get injured. I guess it just means I can’t use lack of time not to exercise.
But I also always make time to sleep or just stare out into space and play. If I was just a machine and wouldn’t let a second go by unproductively, I would get too stressed!
What are your tricks and tips for saving time?

Marveling At Our Dumb Luck

Sometimes I read stories on the internet about people failing on their spending bans or whining about how being in debt means they are in constant FOMO and it makes me really sad.

Sad that these people exist in the world. And that they’re typically from my generation.

When my parents came to this country, they had nothing. My mom ate rice and soy sauce as her meals and worked multiple jobs to get herself through school. My dad served in the Navy. I mean, there was a level of sacrifice that people in my generation do not have any concept of.

I’m not saying I in any way shared with the tough experiences they had. I had a much easier life because of their sacrifices. But I think it’s because I know what they went through, and because of how I was brought up, and knowing that money doesn’t grow on trees and we are so privileged to have anything at all that these little things we do to “save money” are not tough – they are ridiculously fun and wonderful.

I drove the same car for almost 18 years and I was ridiculously happy doing so. I spend on average $34/week on groceries and that’s luxurious.  Deciding NOT to buy clothes for A FEW DAYS is an AMAZING PRIVILEGE. Skipping lattes and spa services for the rest of your life – all of this stuff should be super easy to do.

I read this story recently on a Quora answer to What Motivates You. It’s got a lot of really great answers to I recommend you reading it. But this one was the one that showed up in my feed and honestly it’s something I think anyone who can’t figure out how to stop getting manicures needs to read on a daily basis.

After I read this story, I wanted to try to find it again. I remembered the man’s name was Idris and that he was a cleaner in Bangladesh, which turned up this result:

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It links to this article that discusses the worst job in the world – diving in liquid sewage to claw out blockages, without any protective gear and with only a stick for safety. I’m not sure this is the same Idris. But I can understand why Idris may have washed himself literally in public toilets to clean himself before going home.

Risking his life diving into raw sewage as his livelihood and this guy is still happy! How could I not be?

A (small) life hack for a better world

In Tools for Titans, Tim Ferriss interviews the comedienne Whitney Cummings, who mentions that she has a tattoo in white on her arm that reads “I love you” and it reminds her to speak to everyone with that thought in her mind.

In light of, well everything going on in the world really, but particularly Charlottesville, which I consider to be my second home, I hope that we can all try this out in our interactions with others, particularly including those with whom we differ.

I’m a type-A nut job so I am basically mad at everyone all the time. I tried it on my barista when she had forgotten about my order. I was getting peeved and I thought, I love you. And I thought about how much she must have going on, the irate customers she must face everyday, how low-paying the job is, how she was probably trying to do a great job but sometimes people just screw up. And I’ve definitely screwed up before, so who am I to judge?

Try it.