I Would Do Anything for Love, but I Won’t Do That (for Money)

I did something I thought I’d never do – which is brave Bath and Body Works during the holidays. The place is crazy. But they were having  a(n equally) crazy candle sale and I will admit to being basic enough that I got quite excited.

After buying three candles, my mother realized that I had gotten a $10 off $30 coupon that I could use that day. She suggested, because I had spent $27 on candles already, that I return the candles and repurchase them and something else to use the coupon. Thus I would get all three candles plus something else, for less than what I had paid for just the three candles.

My first thought was that I didn’t want to do that because it seemed like a hassle. Additionally, it just seemed unethical. I wouldn’t have received the coupon if I hadn’t made the first purchase. That was not how the coupon was intended to be used. If it were, they would have given the coupon before the purchase.

Some people would say, Bath and Body Works is a big corporation and makes a ton of money, so it’s not the same as cheating a smaller company. But my ethics have nothing to do with who I’m dealing with and everything to do with how I conduct myself. If I treat nice people well and “bad” people poorly, that’s not so much a system of ethics so much as the path of least resistance. I don’t want to violate my own code of ethics for $10 or any amount of money.

I saw a personal finance blogger mention cheating a “bad” company by intentionally buying things to qualify for free shipping that he planned to return immediately. It’s not necessarily immoral, but the blogger had specifically justified his actions because the company was bad, and not because he thought his actions were ethical. It makes me wonder, who else will he try to cheat? Where are the boundaries to what he will do to save money? If he’s going to cheat for a small amount of money, what would he do with a large amount of money?

Personal finance is about money but it’s more than that. It’s about what you will do, how you will live, who you will become, in relation to how you treat your money. You become a certain kind of person when you treat money as your biggest goal, your idol. I never want to be the kind of person who does that. I will pay the money to live by my own code of ethics. I would rather have no candles at all.

Saving money is important, but there should be principles that are more important. What boundaries will you not cross to save money?

The Power of Community

There was a famous antidrug PSA during the 1980s that showed a rat alone in a cage with two water bottles. One bottle was filled with pure water and the other was laced with cocaine. Unsurprisingly, the rat became addicted to the cocaine water. The ad ominously warned: “Nine out of ten laboratory rats will use it . . . and use it . . . and use it . . . until they are dead.”

But here’s the catch: These tests were done in isolation. Each rat was by itself, alone in a cage for a prolonged period of time. The experiment was repeated a second time, but the rats were now living together. This time, the rats mostly ignored the cocaine water. They didn’t like it, and no rats died.

Community and togetherness, it turns out, can often overpower the most self-destructive threats. Like many people, these rats were less interested in getting high than in escaping a profound sense of loneliness. 

–Andrea Miller, Radical Acceptance

How many of our financial woes are due to an interest in escaping loneliness? Do you think a sense of community might help you spend less?

On Treating Yo’Self: How to Splurge Without Guilt


EW.com

I had lunch at Popeye’s – 3 piece platter with 2 sides and a biscuit. I had one of those sugarbomb Starbucks Holiday drinks the other day. I also ate a cinnamon bun. I’ve been known to eat whole huge desserts without sharing. I’ve never counted calories and I hate dieting.

I hate salads.

Judging from what I just wrote, it would seem that I’m overweight and pretty gross. Well, maybe the latter but not the former.

How do I do this? Well, what I’ve listed above are all aberrations to my diet. 90% of my meals are home cooked. I limit my intake of caffeine, snacks, processed and deep fried foods. I also have a very calorie-restricted diet. So when I eat my decadent meal, it’s really an outlier to my normal lifestyle.

I look the way I do because of my normal lifestyle – not because of my outlier.

I think most people in America eat some sort of quasi-healthy dish most of the time and then they splurge. A quasi-healthy dish is like a store-bought salad, but as the Internet is quick to point out, restaurant salads aren’t necessarily healthy. So they feel all of the restriction but get none of the benefits. If they splurge, and the button pops off their pants, maybe the splurge was the tipping point, but it’s the everyday lifestyle that got them to the tipping point all along.

So people may see me eating unhealthily in one instance and think, “she must have really good genes. There’s no way I could do that.” But they’re seeing a snapshot. They have no idea what the whole story is.

It’s the same with spending money.

Continue reading On Treating Yo’Self: How to Splurge Without Guilt

The Best Way to Deal with Bad Service

I took my mom out to lunch yesterday. Or to be more clear, I intended to pay for her but the meal was comped. A half hour after we ordered, we noticed the cooks were shutting down as the entire dining room had been served, except us (it was an open kitchen).

I caught up with my waiter by the open kitchen and asked about our food. The manager happened to be standing next to him (I didn’t plan this. I was lucky to find our waiter) and he asked if what I said was true. The kitchen expediter seemed to acknowledge the presence of a ticket for our meal and the manager apologized profusely and offered to comp our meal if we stayed. He also sent over some complimentary dip while we waited for our meal. The food was very good and I was impressed with the manager’s handling of the situation. I’ve had some not-so-great service as of late in restaurants and it’s made me less inclined to dine out.

And it got me to thinking, why do I get bad service? Part of it is that I don’t order drinks as often anymore and there is some anecdotal evidence that waiters are more attentive to big-spending parties. We could always go the racist angle. (My mom did, but there were some other minorities that got food). I’m sure this was an isolated incident. I’m sure it had nothing to do with us.

But of course, I’m still digging on the Internet on what to do. On Quora I liked the following suggestion on “If I receive poor service from a waiter/waitress in a restaurant, what’s the best way to show my displeasure?

Continue reading The Best Way to Deal with Bad Service

Abundance 4: Giving and Getting

I completely forgot two more things from my series of cultivating abundance – some really important parts too (so I guess it’s good that this blog doesn’t have a big following, phew!).

Counterintuitively, 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.

But while it’s important to give, it’s also crucial that we be able to receive (or getting, as in, the name of this blog =D). Continue reading Abundance 4: Giving and Getting

The Ability to Change

It always amazes me when people change. In a different crowd, I would probably complain about people’s addictions to drugs or sex or alcohol. But in my circles, too often I encounter people who complain and complain about how annoyed they get with people on Facebook. I tell them, you could just stop reading Facebook. They feign consideration of my idea and then go back to complaining about their heated arguments on Facebook.

My mom told me the other day, if my dad would just stop pestering her, then she could get her Bible study homework done. And she went on a diatribe about her life and the interruptions and the lack of support. It was really weird to me. My brother tried to get my mom to listen to a podcast about stopping procrastinating once and we laughed a bit because my mom does not procrastinate. She gets things done. If someone should be able to change, it should be her. If someone won’t tolerate excuses, it’s her. So it’s weird to hear her…excuses.

I’ve been lucky in not starting vices. I don’t do much social media – I instagram once a week. Never smoked. With the exception of law school loans, never been in debt. Not a big drinker. Can’t stand too much caffeine. No drugs. Never been overweight.

So it seems that I’m not in a place where a drastic change makes sense. And I wonder, even if I were, if I’d be able to. If I started taking drugs, would I have the strength to quit? I don’t think so. People who lose a ton of weight, quit smoking, quit drinking, pay back big loans – people who drastically change their lives for the better –
those people are superheroes.
If you’re someone who’s done one of those things, I think you’re a superhero. For what it’s worth. Probably isn’t worth much

Of course, when I was younger I tried a lot of new things. I got a pixie cut. I moved to China. I was a vegetarian for a year.

Those were fun things. Change seems to become more difficult when we’re adults. I think there may be more pressure to settle down and be set in your ways. There seem to be more advice columns telling us that people can’t change. Maybe we all just lose our optimism. We’ve resigned ourselves to this way of living.

But I’ve met people who’ve turned it all around. People who’ve gone from fat to jacked. People who’ve gone to AA. And because I’m a lawyer, I know a ton of people who have switched careers. And they give me hope. If you can change, then maybe I can change. Maybe people can change. Maybe there’s hope for all of us yet.

Have you ever made a big change in your life? Are you my superhero?

What Motivates you more – Environmentalism or Frugality?

I have been using swapacd.com for years to recycle my old CDs. For younger millenials, a CD is like 10 MP3s that you had to buy prepackaged on a disk, before iTunes became popular. Swapacd is a funny site because it looks like it hasn’t changed since the 90s (which would make sense because what’s more 90s than CDs?).

Years ago, my ex had 100 old CDs that he no longer listened to, that he just moved from apartment to apartment in a large green bin. Of course, he could have just donated all the CDs to Goodwill, but I’d seen the jumble of CDs that they sell at Goodwill. They’re not organized and there’s no guarantee of quality so they never seemed to get bought. It seemed like a huge burden to give them to a charity organization because they might never get bought.

I could have sold the CDs but that wouldn’t get rid of most of them in a hurry. I’d have to wait a long time for a buyer and most of the CDs weren’t worth much anymore. I could have just thrown the CDs away, but that hurt my environmental sensibilities. So instead I listed all the CDs on swapacd and got rid of most of them that way. (I did eventually donate the rest of them). Packing and shipping the CDs cost about $3 each and it would cost me about $1 for any CD off my list that I receive. This is approximately the cost of just buying a used CD.

It really doesn’t save much money. It’s much more effort. And I realized that I don’t do this to save money; I do this because I hate wasting things. And I find that environmentalism is more of a driving force in my life than frugality. I would pay to keep things from being wasted.

There’s a lot of overlap between environmentalism and frugality. Helping the environment is a great side effect of frugality and frugality is a great side effect of environmentalism. But if they come into conflict, I would pay more to reduce waste.

What are the principles for which you would give up frugality?

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?