January Money Diet Day #21 – Less is the New More

JENNIFER HOEY INTERIOR DESIGN

Photo copyright: JENNIFER HOEY INTERIOR DESIGN

Many of you know that I’m a full-time, self employed writer. One of my favorite side jobs is writing articles for home design magazines. Studying the beautiful rooms created by talented designers always inspires me.

Let’s look at the lovely living room vignette above, designed by Jennifer Hoey Interior Design. I fell in love with Jennifer’s work in 2012, when I wrote about her for Western Art & Architecture magazine.

We see that the room above does not include a lot of stuff. There are no Tuscany-themed throw rugs or gyro snack bowls or Brookstone TV remote pillows. Jennifer moved the furniture away from the walls in this beautiful, serene space, and kept the emphasis on just a few well-chosen pieces.

Most of the top designers I talk to invest in clean-lined, classic furniture of good quality and scale appropriate for the size of the room. They accessorize sparingly.

Are we ready?

In ten short days we’ll be reaching the official end of the January Money Diet, and we’ll be re-entering the world of shopping malls and impulse buys.

Much like addicts in rehab, we need to start preparing now for how we will deal with the inevitable temptations.

Many of you expressed joy after undertaking Monday’s challenge to clear stuff out and give it away. Let’s join our hands and pledge to honor those happy feelings and not crowd our homes with More. Doesn’t it feel good to have Less?

When I am at Target and I’m tempted to buy, say, a Tuscany-themed throw rug, I need only to remember the serene, simple rooms I love. Our home is a happier place with more space — and less stuff.

How about you?

What is the one area in your home that you’d like to edit and clear, so it’s a place of order and calm? (For me, it’s the basement. No, it’s actually the garage. No, wait — it’s my office closet.)

Your challenge is to take one step toward that vision of Less, and organize one space — one drawer, or one shelf, or one square foot — in that too-full place. Take one step, and tell us about it in the Comments section.

Hugs,

The signature for Eliza Cross

P.S. WELCOME to those of you just joining the January Money Diet, and feel free to jump right in with today’s challenge! You can also visit the main blog page and scroll down to read the previous posts.

P.P.S. I was so inspired by all of your comments from Monday’s post about taking unwanted items to a charity, I’m loading up another batch today! If you donate more this week, be sure to post a comment so it counts in the contest. The person who gives away the most stuff by midnight this Saturday will win an inspirational money book.

About Eliza Cross

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

Give Stuff Away and Win a Money Book

Homeless man and dog

“The difference between a helping hand and an outstretched palm is a twist of the wrist.”  ~ Laurence Leamer

 

We might be taking a little break from spending, but we January Money Dieters can still find creative ways to be generous. This week’s challenge is to give away a load of things we no longer need.

Giving stuff away is a win-win-win. We help others in need; we keep things out of landfill by putting them to use before they become obsolete; and we create calm space and breathing rooms in our homes.

In our neighborhood, we have a Goodwill drop-off conveniently located in a strip mall about a mile away. I’ve gotten in the habit of regularly loading things we no longer need in the trunk of my car. Then, whenever I’m driving in that direction I can swing by and unload stuff.

Coats, blankets, furniture, baby items, kids’ toys, dishes, bed linens, and clothes are all much-needed items that most nonprofits readily accept. Many charities have drop-off locations or regular pick-up schedules. You can also contact your church or homeless shelter to learn more about specific needs. Or try Freecycle, an site that connects people who have extra stuff with people who need things.

My friend Wendy told me that whenever the various charities call asking if she has any “household goods, clothing or reusable items to donate,” she always says yes. Committing to the pending pick-up deadline keeps her constantly weeding out drawers, closets and the garage.

A Challenge and a Prize

Money books

Just for fun, I’m going to give away a copy of a classic money book to the reader who gives away the most stuff this week.

Between now and midnight MST this Saturday, January 24, just have fun decluttering and gathering your donations. Let’s move that stuff out! Leave a comment below letting us know what you cast off.  Feel free to leave multiple comments if you make several trips.

The lucky winner will receive a copy of one of these inspiring financial books – your choice of a digital or paper copy:

  • The Millionaire Next Door
  • The Total Money Makeover
  • Your Money or Your Life

If you already own these books, we’ll figure out another one.

What I’ve Sent Packing So Far

Yesterday, I gave away a computer monitor we no longer need to a neighbor.  (It had been sitting on the floor in my office for six weeks!) I also stopped by the Goodwill and donated:

  • 1 box of books
  • 1 bag of clothing
  • 1 box of Christmas decorations
  • 1 bag of toys and miscellaneous household items

How About You?

What can you give away in the next six days? I’m going to join you and look hard at our stuff, with an eye for getting the clutter out, out, out!

Hugs,

The signature for Eliza Cross

P.S. If you itemize deductions for your taxes and donate something to a nonprofit, be sure to ask for a receipt so you can claim the deduction on your taxes.

P.P.S.  You could win a deluxe Happy Simple Living gift box by participating in the January Money Diet. The box includes a $25 Barnes & Noble gift card, $25 cash, pantry staples like bean soup mix and organic quinoa, signed copies of three of my cookbooks, homesteading supplies like soap, candles and eco-friendly cleaning supplies, and much more.

At the end of January I’ll choose one winner from among everyone who comments–someone who has participated in this 31-day challenge with heart and soul and achieved good results. Good luck!

Photo: Beverly Pack

About Eliza Cross

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

Filling the Gaps

Remove window trim

Hmmm. . . I wonder what’s behind here?

 

Dear friends,

Last week I wrote about radical ways to save energy, and I finally had time to tackle a little project here.

For a long time I’d been curious about why the window in our guest room felt so cold and drafty, despite the fact that I’d had a new window installed several years ago. I decided to pull the trim off from underneath the window and have a look.

Here’s what I discovered:

A drafty gap in the window frame

Yes, my friends, that is open sky and sunlight that you’re glimpsing through our guest room wall. We might well ask ourselves — did the installer use a dull bread knife to cut the hole? Or another thought:  has this person ever heard of a straight line? These are questions for the ages, pondered by all homeowners who discover such surprises.

I happened to have a can of insulating foam on hand, and it was a simple (and quite satisfying) task to fill the gap:

Insulating foam to fill a window gap

I replaced the trim and felt an immediate difference. The window felt snug, and the draft was gone.

My daughter slept in the room this week and remarked on its comfort, and how it was no longer chilly at night. I wonder how much expensive, heated air has slipped through the hole, and how much hot air has freely flown in during the summer. (Do you think this is why our guests never stayed more than a night or two?)

But the gap is closed, and that is one small step in the right direction.

Hang In There

I know that sometimes it can feel like our efforts aren’t very fruitful, and that we have so many literal and figurative gaps to fill on the journey to financial freedom. But collectively, the things we do will start to make a difference. I promise.

Putting our finances in order is much like decluttering the house. We might devote 15 minutes a day to reducing clutter, combined with self discipline not to bring more stuff in the house. In the beginning, the task seems insurmountable and the piles never seem to decrease. But with time and dedication, it does get better.

One day we look around and notice an improvement. We have more room, and with less stuff we can really appreciate the things we have. It becomes easier to keep the clutter out because we’ve developed good habits, and our home becomes a place of calm, not a source of stress.

Small Steps Add Up

The same is true with money. We might decide to save more, and resolve to have the self discipline to stop frittering money away on stuff. Some of our efforts — like making a homemade pizza instead of spending $20 for delivery, for instance — might seem so small we wonder if they will ever make a difference. But if stay dedicated to being resourceful and thoughtful about spending, over time the many dozens of things we do will add up.

One day we finally pay off a credit card, and then another, and then the day comes when we no longer spend every dime on credit card payments and interest…and that will be just the beginning of even better things.

Little by little, our efforts will make a difference.

So let’s stick together in this endeavor — and let’s keep filling the gaps.

Sending you hugs and encouragement this weekend,

The signature for Eliza Cross

About Eliza Cross

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

January Money Diet – Baby Steps and Resources

Take baby steps during the January Money Diet

It’s Day #16 of the January Money Diet, and we’ve officially crossed the halfway mark! How has this spending break been going for you so far? Has it been harder or easier than you expected? We have such a great group this year, and I have SO enjoyed getting to know you and read your comments.

Good Money Books

We’ve been focusing a lot on how we manage our money, and I wanted to share two books that have been instrumental to me in developing new money habits. You can probably get either of these books at your local library.

The first book that helped me is “The Millionaire Next Door,” by Thomas J. Stanley and William D. Danko. The authors’ research and findings about wealthy people is utterly fascinating, and for me it opened my eyes to the fact that most people who enjoy financial freedom don’t spend a lot 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.

The second book 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. I found his book to be both practical and inspiring.

Dave Ramsey’s 7 Baby Steps

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. Here are the steps he recommends taking to achieve financial peace, in this order:

Baby Step 1: $1,000 to start an emergency fund

Baby Step 2: Pay off all debt using the Debt Snowball

Baby Step 3: 3 to 6 months of expenses in savings

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

Baby Step 5: College funding for children

Baby Step 6: Pay off your house early

Baby Step 7: Build wealth and give!

Eliza’s Tiny Baby Steps

I would humbly like to add two steps to Dave’s. Here they are:

Tiny Baby Step 0.5:  Fund an emergency account with $100

Tiny Baby Step 2.5:  Begin a Vacation account (if you ask me, this is just as important as a retirement account!) and a Freedom account for large annual expenses, at an inconvenient credit union or bank with FDIC-insured accounts.

How About You?

Do you agree with these steps? If so, which step are you currently working on? (I’m currently trying to tackle Step #4.)

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

Have a happy weekend, and I’ll have a new challenge for you on Monday.

Hugs,

The signature for Eliza Cross

P.S. You could win a deluxe Happy Simple Living gift box by participating in the January Money Diet. The box includes a $25 Barnes & Noble gift card, $25 cash, pantry staples like bean soup mix and organic quinoa, signed copies of three of my cookbooks, homesteading supplies like soap, candles and eco-friendly cleaning supplies, and much more.

At the end of January I’ll choose one winner from among everyone who comments–someone who has participated in this 31-day challenge with heart and soul and achieved good results. Good luck!

Photo:  RSPCA WOAW

 

About Eliza Cross

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

Open an Inconvenient Savings Account

Open an inconvenient savings account during the January Money Diet

Many of you have shared your wonderful financial goals to crush debt — once and for all — in the months and years ahead.

I don’t know about you, but there are two scenarios that seem to spell “CREDIT CALAMITY” for me:

1. Unexpected expenses

Some years ago just before a “landmark” birthday, our sewer line broke and I had to pay $7,475 that very week to to have a new line installed from our house to the street. My friends, I didn’t happen to have $7,475 sitting around — and if I had, I would have already spent it traveling to Paris for a croissant-sampling tour. I ended up putting part of the expense on a credit card and part on a line of credit, and it took me four years to pay it off.

Isn’t that a crappy way to get in debt? I think so, too.

2. Unplanned travel opportunity

European MapWhen my daughter was accepted in a foreign exchange program in Denmark, I just had to go for a visit. We took a side trip to visit friends in Spain, since we were in the same general vicinity (Spain and Denmark are close if your geography skills are anything like mine).

I don’t regret the trip at all, but I do regret that I didn’t have a funded vacation account. With no money set aside I charged that trip to my Visa, even though I hadn’t finished paying off the **sparkling new** sewer line yet. That eventually led me to have $12,000 debt spread over four accounts — and too many sleepless nights to count.

The Solution

For me, the way out of my mess was this:  I opened three savings accounts at my credit union.

Account #1 – Emergency account

Account #2 – Vacation account

Account #3 – Freedom account – where I stash a set amount of money each month for large annual expenses like insurance, taxes and HOA fees.

Why It Works for Me

This credit union is not connected to my regular bank, and I don’t have a checking account there. If I want to withdraw money, I have to drive over there and talk with a human to get it.

This is an important key for me! While my regular bank offers a savings account connected to my checking account, it’s too convenient to transfer the funds electronically and therefore the money never really accumulates. Having an inconvenient savings account makes it tougher to get the money out, and I need that.

Some may argue that savings accounts pay pitifully small interest rates, and while this is true it doesn’t matter much if you’re just saving a few thousand dollars for short-term use. As your balance grows, you can transfer the money away to another inconvenient place that pays a higher interest rate.

Safe and Sound

The credit union’s interest rates are a little better than the bank’s, but the real appeal for me is that the account is FDIC-insured and the principal is not affected by the economy or market fluctuations.

The credit union doesn’t charge monthly fees, and the nice folks there will happily open as many savings accounts as I like with a $25 minimum balance.

Both of my children have learned about saving money with their credit union accounts, and the credit union gave my daughter her first car loan when she was 16.

I wouldn’t invest my IRA or long-term college savings here, but for simple, short-term saving I’m a big fan of the credit union.

Make It Automatic

When I worked for the publishing company, I arranged to have a set amount withdrawn from each paycheck and sent directly to a savings account. If your company offers this benefit, I highly recommend it as a painless way to build real wealth. If it seems impossible, start with a small amount. You’ll love seeing that balance grow, and with time you’ll be able to increase the amount.

I started having just $25 withdrawn from each bimonthly paycheck, which added up to $600 a year. I eventually eased that up to $50 a paycheck after my next raise, and then $100, until eventually I was having $200 a check sent to my savings account. The funny thing is, I really didn’t miss the money — as long as it didn’t have a chance to pass through my fingers.

Now that I’m self-employed, I budget for savings each month and pay the amount just like a bill. It takes a little more self discipline, so having an inconvenient place to stash the savings really helps.

How About You?

Your challenge in the remaining month, if you choose to accept it, is to open a savings account in a place where you can’t easily transfer the money to your checking account. If you’re interested in joining a credit union, you can learn more and find one at MyCreditUnion.gov.

Chocolate chip cookie recipe at Happy Simple Living blog

You may need these.

If you work for a company that offers automatic savings withdrawal, I double-dog dare you to set up a reasonable monthly deduction. You may have to sweet-talk someone in your company’s payroll department to set this up for you, which is what I did. Chocolate chip cookies can work wonders in cases like this.

If you already have an inconvenient savings account, or another system for managing unplanned expenses, we’d all LOVE to hear your thoughts.

Hugs,

The signature for Eliza Cross

P.S. You could win a deluxe Happy Simple Living gift box by participating in the January Money Diet. The box includes a $25 Barnes & Noble gift card, $25 cash, pantry staples like bean soup mix and organic quinoa, signed copies of three of my cookbooks, homesteading supplies like soap, candles and eco-friendly cleaning supplies, and much more.

At the end of January I’ll choose one winner from among everyone who comments — someone who has participated in this 31-day challenge with heart and soul, and achieved good results. Good luck!

Photo:  Gravityx9

About Eliza Cross

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

January Money Diet Challenge – Create a Calm Space

Reduce clutter during the January Money Diet

“Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” – William Morris

Welcome to Day 9 of the January Money Diet, a 31-day break from nonessential spending. If you’ve just joined us, jump right in. Today’s challenge is all about reducing clutter.

Clearing space is a gift we give ourselves.

When we create an open, clean space to live or work, we’re honoring ourselves by creating a pleasant place of calm.

Along with the inner peace that comes from working and living in an uncluttered space, organized living means we’ll spend less time looking for lost items and more time enjoying a visually pleasing, harmonious environment.

Some of you may remember when I cleaned out a cabinet that held vases. I reduced our vase collection by half, and now whenever I open the cabinet I feel good.

Empty spaces in a cabinet? Believe me, this was a whole new concept for me. But what used to be a jam-packed source of stress is a half-empty source of peace.

How about you? Would you like to create a little breathing room in your home or office?

This Weekend’s Challenge

In the coming days when you’re in the mood, spend at least 15 minutes decluttering one area. It can be a small or big project, depending on how much time you want to devote to it. You could simply straighten up your desk, get rid of unnecessary papers and clean your computer monitor until it sparkles. Or spend thirty minutes organizing the medicine cabinet.

You could clean out your refrigerator and wipe down the shelves. Or tidy your bedroom so it feels like an oasis of calm at the end of the day. Unclutter the coat closet. Tackle one wall of the garage. Spend the afternoon straightening up the basement. It’s up to you. Just organize one spot, and bask in the satisfaction of a nice, clear space.

You deserve it, my friends.

For inspiration, you might enjoy Unclutterer and Organized Home.

If you tidy up a space and like the result, we’d love to hear about your project in the Comments section.

Enjoy the weekend, and we’ll tackle a new challenge together on Monday.

Hugs,

The signature for Eliza Cross

P.S. You could win a deluxe Happy Simple Living gift box by participating in the January Money Diet. The box includes a $25 Barnes & Noble gift card, $25 cash, pantry staples like bean soup mix and organic quinoa, signed copies of three of my cookbooks, homesteading supplies like soap, candles and eco-friendly cleaning supplies, and much more.

At the end of January I’ll choose one winner from among everyone who comments–someone who has participated in this 31-day challenge with heart and soul and achieved good results. Good luck!

Photo:  Ron Brenner

About Eliza Cross

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