How to Spend A Lot on Things that are Free

Yes, you read that title correctly. (And hey, you clicked on the link, so it’s your own fault). There are innumerable websites on how to get expensive luxury good items for cheap. Most of those are scams. This article, well this may also be a scam but I’m telling you upfront: the most valuable items mentioned in this article are free
We are in the holiday shopping season and people and companies are trying to sell you all manner of things to cure whatever ails you. The marketing tends to play on your emotions, promising happy family relationships, stress free and happy living.
1. Energy
There is no shortage of beauty products you can buy to make yourself look like you sleep. There’s concealer for the dark circles, brightening makeup for dull skin, eye drops, etc.  Then there’s coffee to trick your body into being awake.
The Free Solution: SLEEP!
On my to-read list if Arianna Huffington’s The Sleep Revolution. I remember hearing her speak on a podcast and quote Andy Murray, the famous tennis player, as saying something to the extent of “When you sleep, it’s like the ball comes to you in slow motion.” That’s something that you can’t get from a bottle.
2. Happiness
We buy toys for our kids and toys for ourselves. We buy expensive vacations that leave us yearning to return home.
There’s nothing wrong with a vacation. Of course we need time from work. But more than 4 in 10 workers say they don’t use all their vacation time and 35% of millenials reported working every day of their vacations.
Even if workers were using their vacation days, 4 weeks of the year isn’t really enough time to recharge from our stressed and busy lives. Just as intense workouts aren’t enough to counteract the effects of a sedentary lifestyle (consistent movement is key), thus, for our overworked culture, consistent play is needed.
The Free Solution: play! Take some time to doodle, frolic, go on a lark, a spree, a spelunk, and engage in some tomfoolery. Schedule some playtime into your day. TV-watching doesn’t count.
3. Good Relationships
This is the season for commercials about family togetherness, so treacly and saccharine that even the most happy families can still leave feeling wanting.
So we buy gifts! This is the season for feeling stressed about buying innumerable gifts, hoping against all hope that the gift can convey the message of how much we value each other and that the cards, gift wrap, shipping, travel, home baked goodies, and stocking stuffers only bolster our relationships for the future. And we also hope it won’t cost too much per person.
The Free Solution: tell your family and friends how you feel about them.

If you don’t sleep well one night and drink an extra cup of coffee to make up for it, that’s fine and inevitable. But once you make it a lifestyle, you can end up spending quite a bit of money for subpar replacements. Let’s not forget what really matters. And what really matters is often free, but the hardest to get.

What do you spend money on that is actually free?

What I’ve Learned from Reading My Journal

After many years of trying, this is the first year I’ve been able to consistently keep a journal since I was a kid. The research on writing in a journal is pretty settled. It reduces anxiety, clears one’s mind and helps one reflect. Also, if you’re anything like me, you change so many things in your daily life, that when some part of your body freaks out, it’s hard to pin down exactly what might be the cause.

In my head I knew keeping a journal was important but I couldn’t get myself to do it. I tried the gratitude journal, but it quickly became a meaningless list of every thing to which I have a positive association.

The only thing that worked for me was writing about what I learned that day.

Part of the impetus for this format was that I wanted to cull out the junk to which I was exposed. If the media I was reading wasn’t consistently offering tidbits that made it to the journal, then it was a goner.

Part of the impetus is that I have a terrible memory. I can rewatch movies  like new because I don’t remember the endings (the third time I watched Braveheart I was pretty shocked). So I had finally instilled in myself a habit for reading books and though I read 50 books last year, but I was afraid that I wasn’t distilling all that information for ready incorporation into my life. So it seemed like a huge waste if I didn’t write that information down.

It’s November now and I realize that I need to re-read my journal to remember what was in it. And it’s quite a funny read for the following reasons

  • I remember the stupid stuff I used to worry about.

I have a prayer list that includes my brother finding a job. I completely forgot that he was unemployed this year.

I have a prayer that my ex would get a job that he wanted. He’s now working at another firm.

I tell myself I’m at my wit’s end at my job. This was 8 months ago. I’m still at the same job.

It reminds me that everything worked out. I’m not saying it was clear that it would work out in this way or that it’s futile to pray, because prayer has a lot of positive benefits for the self, but it’s true what they say when they ask if what you’re worrying about will matter in a year’s time. Some things will, but most won’t.

  • I remember the stupid stuff I used to think.

I don’t think it’s necessarily fair of me to judge the stupid thoughts in my journal. It’s not a publication. It’s all a first draft that isn’t meant to see human eyes. But it’s not like I’m so much older now. I feel like a disinterested third party picking apart the logic I had back then.

Suffice to say, I had read a bunch of books about psychology and had really gone full arm-chair psychiatrist on my family and friends. But I can see clearly now that the diagnoses were flawed.

  • I remember lost promises I forgot to keep.

My very first entry was how I was going to use the app One Second Video to record the best moments of my year. Unfortunately, I only reread that section AFTER I got back from my Paris trip. Opportunity lost!

  • I see my growth

My natural hair color is black but this year I put some pretty blond highlights in the front. For me, it was a gradual process but for people I hadn’t seen often, I was unrecognizable. That’s how it is with change. You don’t notice the subtle changes in your life, in your habits or appearance, but it is readily apparent to people who only see the before and after.

That’s why it’s so useful to step back in time and see who you used to be. It seems like second nature what your character and habits are now. You’ve already forgotten who you used to be. You’ve forgotten that you can change. And now that you know that change is not only possible, but at times inevitable, you can be purposeful with your changes in the future.

All in all, it’s been really helpful to revisit my diary entries. I’m really glad that I didn’t keep my journal from last year though because I’m sure it would have been filled with happy thoughts about my engagement that I would have had to relive after the breakup. This year was about rebuilding and that’s exactly what I’ve been doing.

Do you keep a journal and do you ever reread it?

 

Kaizen Method: Read one page a day

Kaizen (改善), is the Japanese word for “improvement.”  And the Kaizen Effect is the idea of getting 1% better everyday.  Another way to look at it is “No Zero Days,” which is saying that every day you do at least one thing everyday to advance your goals.

And to alter a Bill Gates quote:

Most people overestimate what they can do in a day and underestimate what they can do in a year.

A one percent improvement every day will compound to amazing results in a year. Even, or perhaps more importantly, establishing the habit of thinking of improvements and consistently working towards your goal every day will do more to advance your goals than working for hours intermittently.

In this spirit, every week I will put up a suggestion on a 1% improvement you can make.

And in honor of my book reviews, which I started this week, and which will become an ongoing weekly feature:

Pick a book that you want to read, borrow it from the library (or take it off your bookshelf) and read 1 page every day this week.

What book will you start this week?

 

How to Let Go of Your Anger: Reviewing the Mistitled “How to Fight”

I’m a Christian but I understand that there is a lot of moral wisdom to be gained from nonChristian and non-religious books. I also often think that the Bible may be lacking sometimes in practical guidance. For instance, Jesus instructs us in Matthew 5:22, that even being angry at your brother is a sin. But he doesn’t tell us how to stop being angry. And the church doesn’t usually offer any advice beyond “call on the Holy Spirit to give you [patience, endurance, kindness].”

In Bible study, we are wrestling with the idea of God being our friend, while also being someone who was revered. The group agreed that “Sup, Bro” would be too casual to say to God. But they also agreed that getting angry at God was ok. But I think it’s got to be more reverential to ask “how are you” in vernacular than it is to express anger. Plus, though I realize that God isn’t a human, so we don’t really have to worry about God’s feelings, I think the act of getting angry, even when another person is not the victim, has damaging effects on us.

How to Fight by Thich Nhat Hanh has a really misleading name. It’s really about controlling your anger. Hanh shares my belief in the corrupting force of anger:

When you try to get anger out by hitting something like a pillow, it may seem harmless. But it’s not certain that you can release your anger by hitting the pillow, imagining it to be your enemy, the one who has made you suffer. You may be rehearsing your anger and making it stronger instead of releasing it. . . By rehearsing our anger we are creating a habit of being angry, which can be dangerous and destructive.

So Hanh is saying, the act of getting angry, even when there are no victims, is destructive to oneself. I think we know this instinctively to be true. My favorite passage is called “Killing Anger”:

…he cursed the Buddha to his face. The Buddha only smiled. The cousin became even more incensed and asked, “Why don’t you respond?” The Buddha replied, “If someone refuses a gift, it must be taken back by the one who offered it.” Angry words and actions hurt oneself first and hurt oneself most of all.

This passage reminded me that, many times, you have complete choice in how to respond to people. (It’s also helpful to think of in terms of gifts this holiday season. If someone gives you a malicious gift, you can just give it back. You don’t have to accept everything that is given to you). They may bait you, they may come at you with anger, but you don’t have to return the gift. They can take the anger home with them. You don’t have to take the anger home with you.

It’s funny that when you start reading books, they all start to relate to one another. The Longevity Plan , which I had discussed in another blog post, had also talked about the dangers of anger for the heart and breathing as a means to remove anger.

This book was really helpful to me for understanding my own anger. When I think of getting angry, I think of fighting. I don’t stop to think, did I misunderstand what the other person said or did? Do I need to fight back? If I started fighting, what would “winning” look like?

But when you’re angry and the other person is angry, you feel like you’re the only one suffering but the fact is, you’re both suffering. Hanh compares fighting in this scenario to running after the arsonist when your house is still on fire. By settling the anger within ourselves, we stop both sides from suffering, and we train ourselves not to become angry. This is the only way to truly put out the fire and prevent more fires from spreading.

What are your techniques for defusing anger?

Image via Giphy.

 

How to Live to be A Vibrant Centenarian: Lessons from “The Longevity Plan”

The Longevity Plan by Dr. John Day chronicles an American doctor’s journey to a bucolic Chinese village that has one of the highest rates of centenarians in the world (yes, Chinese. Everyone keeps correcting me to say, don’t you mean Okinawa? Nope. China! people). Not only are there plenty of centenarians, but the centenarians are in great health.

The tips described in the book aren’t really earth shattering, but it’s good to be reminded of them and sometimes, a certain way of describing the problem can finally spur action.

1. Eat good food

Continue reading How to Live to be A Vibrant Centenarian: Lessons from “The Longevity Plan”

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

The Three Items You Need to Add to Your To-Do List

Ugh, you must be thinking, three MORE things I need to do in a day? It’s hard enough finding time to complete the things that are already on your list. Why did you even click on this link?

Because you’re a masochist. That’s why. Anyone who has a to-do list is.

And I promise, I wanted this to be “The Only 3 Things You Need on your To-do List” but I know that you need to pick up your dry cleaning, fill out that registration form and order more toilet paper. Those are all important and worthy things to put on a to-do list and I don’t want you to run out of toilet paper. In fact, go ahead and pause from reading this post while you order more toilet paper. I’ll wait.

Ok. Ready? Fill in the following blanks and then add them to your to-do list:

Continue reading The Three Items You Need to Add to Your To-Do List

Everything You Have, You Once Really Wanted

The Christian God is described as both a loving father but also to be revered. Someone in my bible study stated that she couldn’t wrap her mind around this idea. The people who seemed to think it obvious gave their examples – but both were examples of dealing with powerful people who weren’t close enough to be thought of as a father or of dealing with a loving father who happened to be powerful. But even if my father were the President, I would still treat him like my father. He wouldn’t suddenly turn on me and demand a certain level of respectful clothing and demeanor.

I’ve been reading Esther Perel’s book “Mating in Captivity” and the dichotomy we have in our relationships between stability/comfort and excitement/desire. You can’t have both.

Continue reading Everything You Have, You Once Really Wanted

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?