Embracing a Funky Old Tool Shed

Siding: Cedar Shakes, Trim: Cedar Shakes/White, Door: Red, Roof: Light Brown/Metal - This is a custom building.

Photo by Sheds Unlimited

When we moved here ten years ago, I was very grateful that our house had a tool shed in the back yard. It’s a luxury to have storage space for garden tools, pots, soil, the wheelbarrow and other various outdoor odds and ends.

Since I’ve written for home magazines for many years, I’m often exposed to fabulous, high-end homes and landscapes. Most home design writers will agree with me that this is both a blessing and occasionally, a challenge.

It’s endlessly fascinating to hear about people’s crazy remodels and sloping lots and zoning issues and architects and builders and interior designers. It’s a rare privilege to see their incredible, perfect homes. On the other hand, sometimes I return home with a critical eye instead of a grateful heart for all that we have.

I recently wrote about a beautiful lakefront home in Montana’s  Whitefish  Lake for Mountain Living magazine. The homeowners Orlan and Debra Sorensen built the most fabulous stone garden shed you’ve ever seen, complete with a sitting area and porch overlooking the lake. You can peek at it here, and the shed is the last photo at the end of the story.

Dreams vs. Reality

If I were going to splurge on a new potting shed, perhaps I’d consider one like the custom structure by Sheds Unlimited posted above. Something charming, with windows to let in the sunlight, and maybe even with a little table inside where I could escape and read fine literature and sip something like…oh, I don’t know… a sparkling drink with fresh mint and lavender syrup.

But the reality is that our shed is of a slightly… different architectural style. Our shed, in fact, looks like this:

 

Tool shed covered with reclaimed fencing | Happy Simple Living blog

It’s rectangular with a flat roof, and the exterior is covered with old, reclaimed cedar fencing. Because it is so wonderfully utilitarian and because we’re trying to live sustainably with what we have, I’ve given up trying to class up the shed and have decided, instead, to celebrate its unique flair.

I added a few metal signs to the front of it to celebrate its funky siding, and nailed the warped boards back in place.

 

Funky old tool shed | Happy Simple Living blog

The shed is topped with a lovely faux owl that is supposed to scare the flickers away from our siding but which, in fact, does not fool fowl or the rabbits who visit the garden.

I had the structure re-roofed, and Pop kindly added vents to keep it cooler in the summer. It may not be a magazine-worthy shed, but it’s functional and fun and I am grateful for it.

How About You?

Do you have an area in or around your house where you’ve decided to simply go with what’s there? Have you decided to keep your rare pink bathroom fixtures or sturdy Formica counters and let them become part of your home’s charm? I’d love to hear your stories in the Comments section below.

Here’s to making the best of what we have, and embracing the funky!

Hugs,

The signature for Eliza Cross

 

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of a dozen books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

Happy Simple Money: An Interview with Steve and Jan Berger

Jan and Steve Berger

I’ve known Steve and Jan Berger for 11 years. I first met Steve, a writer, when I joined the Colorado Author’s League and he was the organization’s president. Over the years we’ve gotten to be friends, and last fall when we were at a gift show selling books together we started talking about finances. Steve and Jan told me they were retiring and enjoying life, and since they’re youngsters and both in the creative arts I wondered how they’d done it.

The Bergers have a shared philosophy about spending and an unusual way of saving money that has worked splendidly for them. I thought their story was fascinating and inspiring, and they generously agreed to let me share it with you.

First, a little background: Steve and Jan have been married for 39 years. Jan is a successful graphic artist, and Steve is a writer and author. His novels include acclaimed titles like Ursula’s Yahrtzeit Candle, The Fifth Estate and his newest mystery, Fat Chance. Jan designed the books’ striking covers.

The couple lives in a beautiful home in a Colorado community located between two state parks. They own an income-producing rental property, they live debt free, and are now comfortably retired. They are on the waiting list for the new Tesla 3, and are taking a cruise from Greece to Venice this fall.

In short, they live a good life.

Keep reading to find out some of the ways they’re worked together to build a solid financial foundation.

Jan and Steve Berger | Happy Simple Living blog

Q: As a couple, you seem to agree philosophically about how to best manage your finances. Since this is an area that many couples struggle with, can you share any insights?

A: We both believe in open communication about money. It’s like building a house; you have to be on the same page, or you’ll tear each other apart. It’s helpful to have shared goals and agree on a financial strategy, and trust is key.

Both of our parents came out of the Depression, and they influenced us to be thoughtful about spending and always save a percentage of our money for a rainy day. Being rich was never our goal, but we wanted to have enough.

Q: Can you describe your unusual system for saving money?

A: It’s simple, really.  We round up expenses to the nearest dollar, and we round down deposits. So if we spend $39.12 at the grocery store, we enter $40 in the check register. If we deposit $157.89, we add in $157.

We also put every “found cent” into the slush fund: birthday checks, tax refunds and refund checks all go into the kitty.

You’d be surprised how small increments of money, saved steadily over time, can grow.

(Here’s one of their actual checkbook registers, so you can see their actual process which includes credit card purchases as well as checks. When the statement arrives, the funds have already been set aside to make the payment:)

Checkbook register | Happy Simple Living blog

Q: If your checkbook register shows a different balance from what’s actually in the bank, how do you keep from getting confused?

A: Steve uses Quicken to track every penny, and reconciles the balances on a regular basis. We move the slush fund to an interest-bearing account periodically.

Q: Do you use credit cards?

A: Yes, but not in the typical way. We use no-fee, cash-back credit cards for every expense we can charge. Our current favorites are issued by American Express and FirstBank Visa. We pay the balance off every month and never accrue interest. We’ve found that a cash-back card is a better deal for us than cards that offer airline miles.

Q: What are some of your money-saving strategies?

A: We try to control recurring expenses. For instance, we installed solar panels when we could afford them so we won’t be at the mercy of the utility company that will continue to raise rates for the rest of our lives.

We’re also on the list for the Tesla 3, an all-electric car with a 200+ mile range priced in the mid- to upper-$30,000s. Available in late 2017, we will be able to charge the batteries off our household solar panels. We believe it is a given that oil prices will go up again. So we will be saving money, controlling expenses and, not insignificantly, helping the environment and contributing to the mitigation of climate change.

Again, as we could afford it, we’ve replaced almost every light in the house with LEDs, which has reduced electrical usage, leaving more generating power from the solar panels for our use and to go back into the grid until we get our Tesla; then we’ll use it to power its batteries.

We belong to Costco and purchase things like stationary and checks there. We also bought our refrigerator at Costco, after researching models and determining that they offered the best value.

We both like to cook, so we prepare most of our meals at home. We’re also fortunate that we’re in good health. We think part of this is due to reduced stress from not having to worry about money, which means not having to spend as much on healthcare, which means less stress.

Q: Do you ever use coupons?

A. Yes, but only on things we’d buy anyway. Using the same criteria, we also take advantage of sales.

Q: What is your philosophy about spending?

A:  We invest in quality and value. We use Consumer Reports to research every major purchase. We always save our receipts in case there’s a problem with something we buy.

We don’t go shopping to buy things and improve our moods. Doing this is hollow. It might bring very temporary enjoyment, but it doesn’t last. To get that feeling again, people just go out and buy again.

We prefer to buy what we need and take pleasure in its functionality, amusement (like some of the art we’ve splurged on), and lasting pleasure––because it works well, saves time and energy, is cost-efficient and reliable.

Q: What are some of the best things you’ve ever spent money on?

An antique, blue, Chinese rug for our living room after we went from carpet to hardwood. We both absolutely fell in love with it, but it was 2.5 times what we had mentally budgeted. We negotiated the price down 20%, which made it only 2 times more than our mental budget, but we had the money, so we bought it. We still enjoy it every day.

[Steve:] A few months ago, Jan saw an ad for a beautiful, expensive, ring. Half joking she said, ‘If you ever want to buy me jewelry (which we rarely do), you can get me one these rings.’ I tracked down where the ring is sold––Boulder–– and finagled a trip up there for fun and lunch. Our walk after lunch took us down the Pearl Street Mall to the only place in Colorado carrying that jeweler’s wares. You can guess the rest.

One of the best things we’ve done with money is to give Jan’s former boss, who was very good to us for more than twenty years, a gift card for $500. That made three people very happy at a time when she could really use the money.

Our other splurges include a couple of self-indulgent trips to Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs in New Mexico, including massages, great food and a serene setting with nothing to do but relax and enjoy. Steve took Jan to Italy for one of her birthdays, Jan took Steve to Washington DC for one of his, and we took Steve’s dad on a trip to Hungary. We like to travel and consider it one of the best things to spend money on since the experiences last a lifetime, as the mother of one of our friends always said.

Steve Berger and Jan Berger | Happy Simple Living blog

Q: Any final thoughts?

A: To be honest, we’ve actually never though this much about what we do with money. We think it’s because we’ve adopted many of these practices as needed, not all at once, and just assimilated them into our lifestyle. We do consider ourselves very fortunate for many reasons, and don’t take our good fortune for granted or feel particularly exceptional for these material achievements. To us, money has always been a means, not an end.

Thank you, Steve and Jan, for generously sharing your money strategies and giving us insights into how you’ve made a comfortable life through shared goals, open communication and smart spending.

How About You?

Readers, does Steve and Jan’s advice resonate with you? Do you have advice to add about strategies that have worked for you, either as an individual or as a partner in a relationship or family?

Would you like to see more real-life stories about how people manage their money?

I always love hearing your thoughts and comments.

Hugs,

The signature for Eliza Cross

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of a dozen books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

Day 29 of the January Money Diet – Baby Steps

Take baby steps during the January Money Diet

We have just a few days remaining in the January Money Diet. You’ve been such a wonderful, caring, generous group of dieters, and I have SO enjoyed getting to know you.

As this spending break winds down, I encourage you to drop by your library and check out a good money book to read and reinforce the financial concepts we’ve been exploring this month.

These are some of my favorite books, all of which have inspired me develop better money habits.

“Your Money or Your Life” by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez was recommended by one of last year’s JMD participants, and it quickly became my favorite financial book. Through a series of essays and questions, the authors challenge us to delve deep into our spending habits and consider what we might be sacrificing by our lifestyle choices. Their message of money mindfulness resonated with me so much.

“The Millionaire Next Door” by Thomas J. Stanley and William D. Danko opened my eyes to the fact that most people who enjoy financial freedom generally don’t waste money trying to impress other people. They drive reliable cars, for example, and make careful spending decisions about major purchases. They build real wealth, and tend not to fritter their money away.

“How to Get Rich Without Winning the Lottery,” written by my friend and personal finance guru Barbara Friedberg, demystifies saving and investing.  Barbara has a knack for explaining money matters in a simple, straightforward way, and I appreciate her solid advice about building and managing wealth. (A reminder: Barbara generously donated a copy of her to one dieter who completes Challenge #2 this month. If you figured your net worth, leave a comment on the page and you’ll be automatically entered.)

Finally, one of the most practical financial books I’ve read is “The Total Money Makeover” by Dave Ramsey. Dave is the founder of Financial Peace University, and I remember the first time I heard that phrase I took a deep breath and felt calmer. Financial peace…what a wonderful concept. Reading his no-nonsense advice was like having a trusted advisor take me by the shoulders and tell me exactly what I needed to do.

As you’ve probably gathered by reading this blog, I like things that are simple. That’s probably why Dave Ramsey’s 7 Baby Steps appealed to me so much. Dave recommends 7 steps to achieve financial peace, pursued in a very methodical order. With apologies to Mr. Ramsey, I have also taken the liberty of adding a few extra suggested steps to the list:

Dave Ramsey (and Eliza’s) Baby Steps

Eliza’s Baby Step 0.5: Start an emergency fund and build the balance to $100.

Eliza’s Baby Step 0.75: Start a separate Freedom Account to accumulate money for large annual bills. Save 1/12th of the total amount needed each month.

Dave’s Baby Step 1: Fund an emergency account with $1,000.

Eliza’s Baby Step 1.5: Start a separate savings account for a vacation fund. This is important!

Dave’s Baby Step 2: Pay off all debt using the Debt Snowball method.

Dave’s Baby Step 3: Build 3 to 6 months of expenses in savings.

Dave’s Baby Step 4: Invest 15% of household income into Roth IRAs and tax-advantaged retirement accounts.

Dave’s Baby Step 5: Save for college funding for your children.

Dave’s Baby Step 6: Pay off your house early.

Dave’s Baby Step 7: Build wealth and give.

How About You?

Do you agree with these steps? If so, which step are you currently working on? Because I bought a used car and took out a small loan last year, I’m simultaneously working on steps 2, 4 and 5.

Do you have any of your own steps or tips for achieving financial stability to add to the list? Do you have any other good money books to recommend for solid financial advice?

Happy Friday, and stay strong!

Hugs,

The signature for Eliza Cross

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of a dozen books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

January Money Diet Day #8 – Lower Your Energy Bill

Lower energy bills | January Money Diet

It’s January 8th, and we’ve now successfully crossed the one-week mark in the January Money Diet. I want to thank all of you who have taken time to share your ideas and experiences in comments this week. It’s so inspiring to hear how you’re saving money this month, and I appreciate how many of you have shared wonderful goals and action plans for getting financially strong in 2016.

I also want to welcome the new dieters who are just joining — so glad you’re with us! Just jump right in, and feel free to participate and comment on the topics covered in earlier posts.

Today we’re going to explore ways to save money by lowering our home energy bills. We’ll enjoy the financial rewards of our efforts when our utility bills are lower than usual.

The January Money Diet is an excellent time to experiment with some new energy-saving strategies. Here in the Northern hemisphere many of us are facing larger-than-normal energy bills due to colder-than-normal temperatures. Our friends in the Southern hemisphere are in the middle of summer and facing cooling challenges. Either way, being especially mindful of energy use is an excellent way to save money — and help the environment.

These are some energy-saving ideas for you to consider:

Get Caulking

Drafts increase home energy use 5 to 30%, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, with 11% of a home’s heat loss occurring through poorly-sealed doors and windows. If you already have caulk or sealing supplies on hand, go around your house when the temperatures are nippy and find any places where you have leaks. Sealing up air leaks now will permanently reduce the amount of expensive heated air that escapes, and will also help keep your home cooler during hot temperatures.

You DIYers might enjoy reading about my incredible discovery when I removed a piece of window trim beneath a drafty window last year. You never know what you’ll find in a 1970s home, but over time we have made many improvements to seal up the leaks and drafty areas.

Get Cooking

Baking and cooking not only warm us on the inside, they help warm the kitchen, too. If you don’t have young children or curious pets in the home, you can leave the oven door propped open after you turn off the stove to let some of that warm air escape and heat the room.

Let the Sun Shine In

On sunny days, open the blinds or drapes to allow the sun to shine in and warm your house with passive solar energy.

Dress Right

Before turning up the thermostat, try throwing on a sweater. It’s much less expensive to warm you than your whole house. Dressing in layers helps trap heat, and sometimes just adding a camisole or undershirt can make you feel much warmer. Good socks will help your toes stay warm, too.

Check Your Furniture

January is a great time to rearrange the furniture, and while you’re at it you can make sure that sofas, beds, bookcases and chairs are not blocking any heat vents or radiators.

Find the Right Water Temperature

There’s nothing better than a hot shower or bath on a chilly day. On the other hand, we don’t need to continuously heat all of that water in the tank hotter than it needs to be. (If you have an on-demand water heater, this tip doesn’t apply.) You may wish to turn down your hot water heater a degree or two and see how you like it. Maybe it’s fine, maybe another degree or two down wouldn’t hurt — either way, it’s just an experiment. (The U.S. Dept. of Energy recommends a water heater setting of 120 degrees F.)

Bust a Move

Exercise, dance, clean the house, run up and down the stairs — just get moving to increase your blood flow and circulation, and you’ll feel warmer.

Get Cozy

We keep warm blankets in the family room so we can snuggle up on the couch while we’re watching movies. You might also like to try sleeping with flannel sheets or an extra blanket on the bed at night. January is a great month to experiment with turning down the heater by one degree. Okay? Try another degree. We have warm comforters on our beds, and we’ve grown to love sleeping with the heat turned down, cozy under the covers.

Light Right

If you have some CFLs or LEDs on hand, are there any old incandescent lightbulbs you can switch out? I was amazed how much our bills went down as we transitioned away from incandescent bulbs.

Try eating dinner by candlelight, or light an oil lamp for light occasionally this month. (My son loves it when we do this). Get in the habit of always turning off lights when you leave a room, and take advantage of natural sunlight whenever possible.

Unplug Sneaky Energy Draws

Anything with a little power light on is drawing electricity, which means our plugged-in DVD players and stereos and coffee grinders and power drills are costing us money and wasting energy when we’re not using them. Unplug appliances so they don’t use power while sitting idle. Plug appliances you use often into a power strip with an on/off button for added convenience. Every little bit helps.

Be Snug As a Bug

Area rugs will help warm up hard floor surfaces. You can also reduce drafts under doors by making your own door draft stopper from materials you already have on hand.

Run the Ceiling Fan

This always seemed counter-intuitive to me until I tried it. Warm air rises, so if you reverse your fan to a clockwise direction and run it on the very lowest speed, the blades will gently push the warm air back down into the room. This works best in homes with tall ceilings.

Cover Drafty Windows

My insulation guy told me this trick: Close your blinds at night with the blinds pointed upward toward the ceiling so that cold air isn’t drawn into the house. Even when the blinds are open during the day, I tilt them slightly up to reduce drafts.

Be sure to close drapes and shades at night to keep the heat in. We buy window film kits on sale in April and use them to line a couple of drafty windows the following winter; I’m always amazed at how well they work. Some people cover their windows with bubble wrap for additional insulation; I haven’t personally tried that, but if you already have the supplies you may want to experiment.

How about you?

What are your favorite ways to save energy in January? If you try any of these ideas this month, will you share your experiences in the Comments section of this page? We’d love to hear about your experiences.

Hugs and stay cozy,

The signature for Eliza Cross

Photo: Geir Tonnessen

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of a dozen books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

Day #5 and Your Second January Money Diet Challenge

Save money by reading Happy Simple Living

Wow, I’ve been thoroughly enjoying all of the great meal and menu ideas you’ve shared from yesterday’s meal planning post. Thanks to all of you who have so generously taken time to tell us what you’re doing to save money and live large this month. Your comments inspire all of us!

As promised, it’s time for Challenge #2. Are you ready?

Let’s Dig Deep

In my humble opinion, the best and most honest way to measure where we really stand financially is by figuring our net worth.

Our family’s finances didn’t really start moving in the right direction until I began doing this calculation each month.

Before then, I could fool myself too easily. I could feel virtuous about putting $100 in our savings account, for instance, and conveniently overlook the fact that I also charged $100 on a credit card that month on impulse buys at Target.

Net worth, as I’m sure you know, is the difference between what we own and what we owe. On the first day of every month, I calculate ours. Now that it’s moving in the right direction, it’s an exercise I actually look forward to. My goal is to improve our net worth each and every month, even if it’s just a little bit.

If you do the same, you’ll discover that your finances can improve dramatically over time. Just focus consistently on moving that bottom line up, up, up.

How To Figure Your Net Worth

Figure your net worth | January Money Diet

To do this calculation you can simply jot the figures on a piece of paper and use a calculator, or you can create a simple spreadsheet with a program like Excel (Money Under 30 has one posted here).

Start by adding up your assets. If you’re a homeowner, list the current value of your home. If you’re not sure, a site like Zillow can give you a rough estimate for now. Your professional neighborhood realtor would probably be happy to give you an estimated market value, too.

Go out to your car and write down the mileage and condition, enter the info at Kelley Blue Book, and figure out the private party value. Check the current balances for your bank accounts, retirement funds, investments, etc., and add those to the list.

Don’t forget things like your grandpa’s coin collection, or any valuable jewelry, antiques, artwork, etc. you own. Just be realistic about the cash that the sale of such items would generate, which is sometimes considerably less than the appraised value. Add everything up, and you’ll have a pretty good idea of your total Assets.

Next, make a list of every single one of your debts: mortgage balance, car loan, credit cards, lines of credit, student loans, etc. Add these up, and you’ll have your total debts, or Liabilities.

Now, simply subtract the Liabilities from the Assets to figure your Net Worth.

The result will be different for each of us. If yours is a negative number, don’t despair! When I was 21, I had zero assets, $5000 in credit card debt, a new car I couldn’t afford and an upside-down car loan with a 21% interest rate! No matter what your financial situation is today, you can acknowledge that this is your starting place and resolve to get your net worth moving in a positive direction in the days ahead.

By figuring our net worth every month, we can see the effects of our financial decisions in a very real and immediate way.

If I charge a $25 sweater on my Visa card, our net worth goes down $25. If I instead contribute $25 to my IRA, our net worth goes up $25. So simple!

Will You Do Challenge #2?

How to Get Rich Without Winning the LotteryFigure out your net worth, and leave a comment below when you’ve finished the task. (You don’t need need to share your net worth, just the fact that you figured it out.) If you did this exercise last year and your number has improved, we’d love to know.

My friend and personal finance guru Barbara Friedberg has generously donated a copy of her wonderful book How to Get Rich Without Winning the Lottery to give away to one of you who completes Challenge #2 this month. Barbara has a knack for explaining money matters in a simple, straightforward way, and I know you will enjoy her book about building and managing wealth as much as I have. Complete Challenge #2 and leave a comment on this page, and you’ll be automatically entered for the random drawing of Barbara’s book.

I encourage you to calculate your net worth each month during 2016, and challenge yourself to increase your bottom line every month. Are you already in the habit of regularly tracking your net worth? Perhaps you’d like to set a Net Worth Goal for the end of 2016.

Finally, my friends, no matter what the spreadsheet says – YOU are worth more than the finest gold or silver.

Here’s to a successful January Money Diet, and a financially strong 2016.

Hugs,

The signature for Eliza Cross

P.S. Tomorrow on Twitter from 1:00 to 2:00 p.m. ET I’ll be live tweeting about the January Money Diet for @Experian_US’s weekly #CreditChat. Join me there for more money-saving tips!

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of a dozen books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

Join the 2016 January Money Diet

January Money Diet 2016 | Happy Simple Living blog

Dear friends,

In less than three weeks 2015 will draw to a close, and a bright, shiny new year will be upon us.

Would you like 2016 to be the year you stop worrying about money and start enjoying financial security?

The 7th annual January Money Diet begins on January 1, 2016, and I invite you to join us. Thousands of people have completed this 31-day challenge to live well without spending, while creating new habits and becoming more mindful about money.

“I saved almost $1,000.00, and I honestly don’t feel like I deprived myself or my family of anything. We still ate healthy, wholesome food. We are warm and comfortable in our home. And we are happy. To add to that, the house is more organized and clear of clutter. I can’t think of why I would ever go back to the way I use to spend.” – Lynn Louise, 2015 January Money Diet participant

Joining is easy and free — just click on the official January Money Diet page and leave a comment at the bottom. If you’re a repeat money dieter, we’d love to hear the number of years you’ve participated. If you want to share where you live, please do! Or just write “I’m in,” or whatever strikes your fancy.

This year I’ll be sharing 5 Money Diet challenges throughout the month to help you achieve measurable results. Everyone who completes the 5 challenges will be eligible to win special prizes.

For me, the best part about this money diet is connecting with all of you. Your stories and comments encourage and inspire our whole community. I hope to get to know many more of you in the days ahead.

A better, brighter, more secure future can be yours in 2016. I invite you to join us in the January Money Diet, and see for yourself.

Hugs,

The signature for Eliza Cross

Grateful thanks to Dennis Yang for the use of his beautiful photograph.

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of a dozen books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

10 Ways to Enjoy a Happier, Simpler Holiday Season This Year

Beautiful deer in snowy field | Happy Simple Living

Some years ago, a friend’s mother-in-law traveled from her native Norway to spend Christmas with the family. She was to arrive December 1 and stay for 3 1/2 weeks, so my friend spent November in a frenzy of preparations so that everything would be ready for her mother-in-law’s visit.

But then something extraordinary happened. With the decorations up and packages shipped and shopping done, my friend discovered that — for the first time in a long time — she was able to really enjoy the holiday season without last-minute trips to the mall, overspending, or stress. The family later agreed it was their best December ever.

This story resonated with me, and caused me to re-think my own holiday habits and try some new tactics. My goal is to be “All Done By December One” so we can have fun during the holiday season.

What do you think about these ideas?

1.  Simplify. Do less. Commit to fewer holiday events and obligations.

2.  Let go of traditions that aren’t working, especially those that involve a lot of work.

3.  Make a list of holiday tasks, and save it on your computer for future reference. Get as many holiday tasks and errands done as possible in November.

4.  Agree with friends and families to give fewer gifts. Have fun together instead.

5.  Don’t put out every decoration. Honor a few special pieces in simple arrangements instead. Declutter the holiday bins and give some stuff away.

6.  Make room for the spiritual side of the holiday season. Read a special scripture or story together as a family, or set aside a little extra time to pray and meditate.

7.  Allow for down time. Watch a family holiday movie in your jammies and drink hot chocolate. Play a game. Go for a walk.

8.  Spend more time outside. Enjoy the beauty of winter’s quiet rest.

9.  Don’t incur any holiday debt. Make a budget, and don’t overspend.

10.  Look for opportunities to give to those less fortunate.

If you need ideas, I have a “Happy Simple Holidays” Pinterest board with easy recipes, homemade gifts, and simple, natural decorations. I welcome your suggestions for this board.

If you’re a Type A like me, you might enjoy the process of breaking down holiday tasks into a daily routine. The Coach.me app is free, and if you search for my profile (Eliza Cross) you can join a group of people working on the daily goal of “10 minutes doing holiday-related tasks.”

For a real-life perspective, “One Real Family’s Real Simple Christmas” is a story about my friends the McDonalds, who tried a drastically simplified Christmas with great results.

How about you? Will you be simplifying your holiday celebrations this year? I’d love to hear your thoughts and plans.

Hugs,

The signature for Eliza Cross

Grateful thanks to Jan Tik for the use of her beautiful photo.

 

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of a dozen books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

A Funny Little Toilet Paper Tip

Dear friends,

Have you ever faced this dilemma?

Almost empty toilet paper roll

It’s the almost-empty toilet paper roll. Does it have 13 squares left or 5? Will it be sufficient for the next visitor? It’s hard to tell, but basic tenets of thrift suggest that we not waste it.

On our last hotel stay, our kind cleaning staff handled the dilemma in a clever way I’d not previously seen:

How to use up toilet paper

The near-empty roll tucks right above the new roll and stays nicely in place. Isn’t that nifty?

How about you – did you already learn this trick years ago? Or do you have a different system for managing your dwindling rolls? Inquiring minds would love to hear your thoughts. (If you’d like to flush out this topic further, you may wish to read “Let’s Talk About Toilet Paper – Part 1” or “In Search of Good Toilet Paper – Part 2.”)

Hugs and have a wonderful week,

The signature for Eliza Cross

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of a dozen books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

A Mini Money Diet to Begin the Second Half of 2015

Lettuce coming up in the garden

Today begins the seventh month of 2015, a fact that amazes me. For those of you who participated in the January Money Diet, it’s been 181 days since we first decided to begin the new year with 31 days of no spending.

I caught up with a few January Money Diet participants to see how things were going, and thought you might enjoy some of their comments.

“The gains we made with the January Money Diet jump-started our emergency fund.  We’ve been able to keep it growing because of the habit of thinking before spending, which we established in January. Thanks so much for your encouragement to start 2015 off with a more mindful use of our resources.” – Annie

I have really committed to not buying new items unless the old one wears out, or they offer a significant value and improve our lives. I have not purchased any clothing, instead culling my wardrobe down to those things I really like. This way I don’t feel like I need anything new. Goodwill received multiple bags from me! Cutting extra purchases now leaves some money at the end of the month for a vacation fund. I am finally starting to realize the value of experiences over things.” – Lisa

“I think about that January challenge a lot. I don’t spend nearly as much as I use to on clothing and have toned down a lot of the other “useless” shopping. I don’t even go to the stores that much anymore.” – Lynn

A number of you expressed interest in doing a Mini Money Diet this month, and I am with you! With the year half over, I’ve been reevaluating my goals and savings plans to try and finish the year strong. I think it’s actually easier to spend less during the summer, and these are some things you might like to do during the month of July:

1. Figure Your Net Worth

If you haven’t done this exercise since January, I suggest you calculate your net worth now to see where you stand. With six months left in 2015, you still have plenty of time to get your net worth headed UP, UP, UP!

2. Enjoy Seasonal Produce and Find Alternatives to Restaurant Meals

Homemade pizza

Take-out, pizza delivery and restaurant meals can quickly derail a budget. With so much good produce in the stores and farmer’s markets right now, vow to cook easy meals from home in July and save big. Cook on the grill, enjoy garden foods and try easy stir-fries, salads or wraps loaded fresh veggies.

If you make a batch of dough ahead of time and freeze it, you can make a homemade pizza in less time than it takes to wait for delivery–for a fraction of the cost. Here’s my easy homemade pizza recipe. You can also find easy dinner ideas on my Happy Simple Suppers Pinterest board.

3. Make Adjustments to Your Savings Goals

Life happens, and you may not have saved as much as you wanted to in the first half of the year. Why not set a monthly goal to set aside in the remaining six months? If you can scrape up just $38 a week to divert to savings, you’ll have a $1000 nest egg at the end of the year.

4. Plan to Eliminate or Drastically Reduce a Debt by Year-End

Could you pay extra on your lowest debt and completely eliminate it by the end of the year? Do a little calculation, dividing the total by 6 and adding back the monthly interest payment. Could you set up an automatic payment for this amount and enjoy the peace of paying off a debt by the end of December?

5. Hold a Garage Sale While the Weather is Nice

Garage sale

If you sell items you no longer need, you’ll enjoy more space in the areas you declutter and earn extra cash to apply to debt or savings. Maybe you’ll do as well as our 2015 January Money Diet participant, Lynn:

“We had an extremely profitable garage sale and made over $600. Even better, I got rid of so many unneeded items and organized the storage area. It was a proud moment.”

I’d love to hear how your year is going, what you’re doing to save money, and whether you’ve changed any habits as a result of participating in the January Money Diet.

Here’s to a prosperous, happy 2015 for each one of you.

Hugs and happy July,

The signature for Eliza Cross

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of a dozen books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.