Sunday, February 26, 2017

The real value of material things

This little guy doesn't need expensive toys to be happy, there's a swing set at the park
In my last post, I described how our family has been embracing a more minimalist lifestyle lately.  This has been a big job for us and has involved a ton of organizing, cleaning and eliminating things around the house. 

Over the last few years, we have slowly been accumulating a ton of excess stuff.  When we first moved into our home back in 2010, friends were very happy to donate their unused tables, chairs, and desks.  Once my wife got pregnant, we received a ton of baby supplies donated to us including: a crib, bassinet, various baby swings, stuffed animals, clothing, books and more.  We’ve also purchased a bunch of random knick-knacks like vases, teacups, and lamps.

We are very thankful that many of our friends were able to give us great quality used furniture and baby items.  Many of the hand-me-down baby clothes could only be used a few times until our son grew out of them.  This has helped to keep our expenses to a minimum.

Now that we no longer have use for many things around the house, we’ve been trying to reduce the amount of material items that we have.  Minimizing the amount of stuff we have has been a slow process.  It took years to accumulate all these items.  Every day, we have been organizing things to keep and things to toss.  It’s amazing how much the monetary value of something can drop when no one else wants it.  Some people may be good at selling used junk, but I have no interest in it.  If I can’t sell something easily, I will donate it or trash it.  There are several Goodwill donation centers close to our home.  We’ve also had to call trash services to come pick up a few big items. 
The Tempur-Pedic mattress foundation we finally ended up giving away for free
We finally got rid of an old mattress foundation that we’ve been hanging for the last few years.  I’ve been hesitant to part with it, since it cost $500 back in 2010.  When I tried to sell it, I realized that no consignment stores in my area would take it and no one was interested on Craigslist.  I ended up offering it for free on, a neighborhood online social community.  We have parted with plenty of items that cost quite a bit when first purchased, and now are pretty much worthless. 

With tax refunds coming back to millions of Americans, companies are trying their best to get consumers to part with their new money.  I’m seeing tons of advertisements on ways to “get the max out of your tax refund” by spending it on sales.  When I was younger, I would always treat my tax refund as “free money” and quickly use it towards some type of frivolous spending.  New companies try to get you set on monthly recurring subscriptions for new clothing, toys, shavers, and even dog toys.  What people don’t realize is that many of these material items end up creating clutter. 

Experiencing first hand how little monetary value many material things hold helps us choose very carefully what type of items we will buy in the future.  In the future, we would rather spend money on experiences, rather than material goods.  And if we’re going to buy any material goods, we will aim to purchase high quality items only.  Our lives are too valuable to spend chasing material things.     
Time spent playing outdoors with my dog is priceless, and yet it does not cost any money

Monday, February 13, 2017

Mustachianism and Minimalism

Long time readers of this blog know that we have been trying to focus on living a life based on Mustachian principles, inspired by Mr. Money Mustache. MMM and his wife saved around 66% of their income and retired after ten years of working.

MMM has said that “your current middle-class life is an exploding volcano of wastefulness, and by learning to see the truth in this statement, you will easily be able to cut your expenses in half – leaving you saving half of your income.”  MMM focuses on saving more of your income; “spending much less money than you bring in is the way to get rich.  The ONLY way.”

Now that he is retired, the MMM blog and lifestyle has quite a large audience with the blog bringing in about $400,000 a year.  Yet he barely spends any of it on material things because he hates the consumerism lifestyle.  His self-proclaimed purpose is to change the world by shifting our culture.  He is a good mentor to look up to because he does practice what he preaches.

Our lives have changed since discovering Mustachianism.  In order to save 50% of our income, we’ve made some big and small changes.  We’ve cut out a ton of expenses.  We canceled DirecTV, I stopped paying for haircuts, we stopped taking clothes to the dry cleaner weekly, we do our own dog grooming (baths, haircuts, nail clipping, tooth brushing) and we stopped routinely eating out for lunch.  We’ve also worked hard to get promotions at work, max out one 401K (working on the other one), manage our rental property, and continue to hustle on the side to steadily save and invest.

Another lifestyle I’ve been recently introduced to is Minimalism.  A few Mustachians recommended I check out this movie on Netflix called Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things.    According to The Minimalists, “minimalism is a lifestyle that helps people question what things add value to their lives.  By clearing the clutter from life’s path, we can all make room for the most important aspects of life: health, relationships, passion, growth, and contribution.”  Although minimalism can mean different things to different individuals, “each path leads to the same place: a life with more time, more money, and more freedom to live a more meaningful life.”  I love this quote from them: “Today’s problem seems to be the meaning we assign to our stuff: we tend to give too much meaning to our things, often forsaking our health, our relationships, our passions, our personal growth, and our desire to contribute beyond ourselves… Minimalism simply allows you to make these decisions more consciously, more deliberately.”

Becoming a minimalist involves thinking carefully about the material goods that you own or will purchase.  If you have a shirt that you haven’t worn in the last 90 days, and you likely won’t wear in the next 90 days – is it worth keeping?  Maybe that shirt is better served donated to a shelter?  Being a minimalist does not mean not owning or buying anything.  It means being conscious about your purchases.  It means buying products materialistically (in the absolute sense); focusing on quality, long lasting and durable goods instead of cheap and disposable ones. 
Not a garage in our neighborhood but many really look like this, if not worse.
It’s amazing that my neighborhood is filled with cars on driveways because the homeowner’s garages are filled completely with boxes of stuff.  People tend to attach an emotional connection to material things, and many find it difficult to donate or discard them.  Next thing you know, even though homes in the United States are getting bigger, there’s still not enough space to store peoples’ things.  Maybe that is why almost 10% of Americans own a self-storage unit and there are more self-storage facilities in the United States than there are McDonald’s, Subway, and Jack in the Box restaurants combined.  As a society, we have become way to sentimental towards are things.  

Over the last few weeks, we have been working to discard clutter and donate unused goods.  Getting rid of all this unnecessary stuff has lifted a burden off our shoulders.  We’ve cleared shelves filled with random souvenirs we haven’t touched in years.  Luckily, neither of us are collectors of things.  Our closet is finally starting to look organized and peaceful.  We still have a ton of toys (mostly gifts) for our son.  Interestingly, fewer toys benefit children in the long term.

Some things have been difficult to discard.  One example: my yearbooks from high school.  A year ago, my mom was cleaning out her house and asked me if I wanted to take my old yearbooks with me.  I took them with me because I could not bear to see the yearbooks thrown in the trash.  I graduated from high school in 1999, over 17 years ago.  I haven’t looked through any yearbook then.  Yet, I kept thinking that these books had sentimental value.  I kept thinking that I might want to flip through the yearbooks one day in the future, as if 17 years of not looking through them didn’t give any preview on how I would treat these books in the future.  I left them on the dining table for a few days. After realizing that I had no desire to look through or keep them around occupying space, I was able to discard my yearbooks.
Not our living room, but it is something to strive for.
Having less stuff surprisingly lowers your stress level and increases happiness. Our house hasn’t looked this clean and organized in years!  We still have a lot of work to do, but it’s been fun finding things to discard or donate.  Going through all these worthless things really makes us conscious of future purchases.  I don’t think it will be difficult to live life with fewer material possessions.  Less really is more.  More money, more time, and more happiness.  

Both Mustachianism and Minimalism focus on attitude adjustments to help you transform your life into one that maximizes happiness and minimizes worry.  You can go as mild or as extreme as you like to fit your life.  If you’re looking for purpose in your life, explore what Mustachianism and Minimalism can offer you.     

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

January side hustles 2017

The great thing about doing side hustles to generate extra income is that you can hustle on your own terms.  The more hard work, time, and creative effort you put in, the more extra money you can make.  You can hustle as little or as much as you want, whenever you want.  It’s your extra money, and you can choose how you want to spend it.  Instead of focusing on what ideas don’t apply to you, try focusing on different side hustle ideas that you can implement to work for your situation.

Welcome to February, a brand new month.  Did you all have a good month of January?  Every month I like to write a quick summary of a few fun things we had going on the month before.  I also like to share details about the side hustle income we bring in.  Some of our side hustle income is passive.  Some requires us to put in work.  We are always trying to come up with different ways to bring in extra cash.      

January has been a great start of the year for us.  I am thrilled that I just received another big promotion and salary increase.  I truly love the work that I do; being recognized for my contribution to the company with a salary bump makes me love my work even more.  This means that we can supercharge our savings this year. 

In doing our year-end summary for 2016, we discovered that last year was quite an expensive year for us.  This year, we will be focusing on saving more, investing more, and buying with purpose.  I just read a great articled on Raptitude called “We Are Not Materialistic Enough.”  The author stresses that we should be more discerning with our material purchases, and buy better quality products that are built to last.  We should avoid making purchases of crappy goods that either break down too early or won’t be put to good use.  Conscious spending with purpose ensures that we get more value out of our purchases. 

While we try to keep our purchases of material goods down to a minimum, we don’t hold back when it comes to spending on experiences.  In our free time, we try to find fun and interesting places to take our son.  We get much more value out of short little family trips than anything material item we can buy.   

We visited the Huntington Library and enjoyed all of the botanical gardens.  Our son loved running around and exploring. 

We took our son to the Children’s Museum of La Habra where he had the chance to play in all the random exhibits. 

My wife’s company had a retreat in San Diego and our family enjoyed a short one-night stay.  In our free time, we took our son on his second visit to the Birch Aquarium.  Our son was really fascinated by all the unique sea creatures.   

Our little guy is growing up so fast.  He'll be 2 years old in a few months. Time really flies and we aim to make the most of it.  Here’s our monthly summary of side income that we have generated in the previous month of January.

Award Travel
On 1.18, I received a $550 statement credit on my Barclaycard Arrival Plus credit card by redeeming 55,000 miles towards $550 worth of an Airbnb stay we have booked for our trip to Tokyo, Japan. 
Cash back
On 1.1, I received a PayPal deposit of $26.26 from Mr. Rebates, my favorite cash back site.
On 1.7, I received a $100 statement credit on my American Express Premier Rewards Gold card for utilizing the card’s annual airline fee credit benefit.  I wrote a little blurb about this here.  I purchased a $100 Southwest Airlines gift card and received the $100 credit a few days later.

Paid surveys
On 1.10, I received $3 PayPal deposit from Pinecone Research
On 1.23, I received $3 PayPal deposit from Pinecone Research
On 1.25, I received $3 PayPal deposit from Pinecone Research
On 1.28, I received a $150 check from Olson Research Group for doing a medical telephone interview

On 1.31, I received $3 PayPal deposit from Pinecone Research

Side Job
On 1.23, I received a check for $137.50 for teaching at the local university

Rental Income
On 1.1, I received a check for $700 from our temporary housemate.
On 1.4, we received a net profit of $430 from our rental property.

Miscellaneous Income
On 1.12, my wife received a $400 bonus deposited into her Citibank checking account (open new Citibank checking account and deposit $15,000)
On 1.30, I made a net profit of $151.67 from selling a piece of unused medical equipment on eBay.  My item sold for $169 + $15 shipping and handling fee for a total of $184.00.  eBay took $18.40 in fees, PayPal took $7.48 in fees, and shipping the item cost $6.45.   

Monthly Totals:
We saved $550 towards award travel
We earned $126.26 cash back
I earned $162 from paid surveys
I earned $137.50 for teaching at the local university
We earned $1,130 from rental income
We earned $551.67 miscellaneous income

All of this totals $2,657.43 from our side hustles for the month of January.   This is a great way to kick off our new year.  Side hustle income continues to help us live a rich life.    
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