How to Make Decisions (Uncomplicated)

When I describe the KonMari method to people it is so simple it seems stupid at first. “Make a pile of like-objects, hold each one in your hands and as yourself, ‘does this bring me joy?’ Discard the nos and keep the yesses.”

This is as basic as addition (subtraction?) and is a method that has proven effective for both me and millions of others around the world.

I would never attempt to say that I have an idea as amazing as the KonMari method, but I can’t help but wonder, “what if there were a similar method, not for objects, but for making decisions on how we spend our time?”

 

With that thought, I created this diagram a long time ago, when I was at the height of my Mustachian fandom. I wanted to illustrate the idea that making educated, controlled decisions, no matter how minor they may seem, add up to a more meaningful life over time. A great example of what a best choice might be is probably the most Mustachian activity imaginable: riding a bike. It saves you money by not using gas or increasing the wear and tear on your car (Increases Wealth) it gives you an opportunity to exercise (increases endorphins=Increases Happiness) (increases heart health and muscle tone= Increases Health). Some examples, such as riding a bike, are universally obvious. Others are more personal and depend greatly upon your specific situation, personal values and circumstances.How to Make DecisionsStarting a side business, for instance, could easily end up costing you money if you’re not careful. On the other hand, if your business requires little in the way of overhead and is flexible enough for you to keep your job, it would end up satisfying the goals of increasing health, wealth and happiness- making it a best choice for you. Off the top of my head the idea of walking dogs could be perfect for someone who loves dogs. You would get outside, get exercise, spend time with fluffy animals who are always happy to see you, and increase your wealth by making some extra money. Even if your side business does not satisfy all of these requirements, it is still worthwhile even if there’s only a chance it could meet all the requirements in the future.

Selling jewelry, for instance, may not increase your health and it may cost you a lot to buy supplies, meaning you’d just break even. If the happiness it brings you is worth it however, it might be something to stick with because it is quite possible in the future to have enough business to increase your wealth through it. Overall, I’d say even if your choice only includes two out of three criteria, it is worth pursuing if it’s not possible or practical to make a choice that includes all three.

If the choice meets one requirement, it’s a “good choice.” If it meets 2, it’s a “better choice,” and if it meets three, that it’s the “best choice.”

Though it may seem obvious at this point, if a prospective choice doesn’t enhance your health, wealth or happiness it should no longer be something for we should consider at all. Like the possessions you need to ‘let go’ when you’re tidying, there are choices in life that we have to decide for ourselves to walk away from. Leaving a time commitment, hobby, job or relationship can be a painful decision- especially if we have invested a great deal of time, money and energy on the endeavor. If the choice affects someone else, it can be downright scary to even consider abandoning the commitment. As a motivating thought there is a fundamental defect in staying in these scenarios that are solely for the benefit of other people.

The problem is that all the little choices we make for other people will slowly accumulate into a life that doesn’t advance us to our true destiny.

On the flip side, the more we examine each choice we make in the present moment and evaluate its potential to propel us forward, the closer we come to living to our true potential. No one else can decide for us what it means to be healthy, wealthy, and happy- although there is a great deal of research that points to what can statistically contribute to a higher quality of life for most people. If you’d like to learn more about this topic, I’d highly recommend the documentary “Happy” on Netflix instant. It is a captivating film that I am positive will be worth your time.

To give a quick recap in case I lost you:

We make choices at almost every minute of every day.

The choices we make affect our mood, our health, and our financial freedom (or bondage).

When we make choices that increase our health, wealth, and happiness we generally become better people over time.

We can think of it like a software program that mandatorily updates to the newest version every day. Do you want your newest version to work well, to be fluid and run at optimal performance or do you want your newest version to run slow, have kinks and crash all the time? Of course you want it to be better than before! This philosophy and diagram is simply an external cue for being present in every moment; having awareness of our own free will and life force.

Simply trying to feel happy in the moment actually can backfire, but as this wonderful article points out, we can make an effort to plan our time out in a way that incorporates our most rewarding activities.

I’m currently choosing to use mine to spend time with my family and close friends, to make art and music, to learn web development, garden, eat well and move closer to a more minimal, intentional and eco-friendly environment in my home.

How will you use yours?

 

 

Earn Huge Savings with Tiny Changes

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There are endless amounts of small changes we can all make to lighten our environmental footprint, which you can learn a comprehensive amount of information about from Zero Waste Home, (Read the book for a definitive guide), this blog specifically focuses on those little habits that keep money in our bank account (which most often does add up to a savings in consumer waste as well). It’s a hassle sometimes to acquire the right tools to keep more money in our pocket. For some examples, it can be a pain to walk outside in the cold to compost a bowl of table scraps. It can be painful to turn down a trip to the ice cream shop. It can seem damn right counter-intuitive to sell something new for the exact same thing in an older model. But all these things are examples of small changes I’ve made, some of them were one time changes while others are daily changes.

Deciding Which Changes Will Be Worth it

A big part of the name of this blog, “The Scratch Paper Saver” comes from the idea of using scratch paper to casually predict outcomes depending on certain variables into the future. For someone who struggled with math my whole life (I swear to god it was a miracle that I passed each math class I took from Sophomore year of high school up until university), this is very doable as long as you take the few minutes to look up the variables to make sure they’re accurate.

one will save $0.61 per coffee by using reusable filters in the Keurig

Oftentimes a quick google search can come up with articles in which others have already done the calculations for you, such as in this case where I quickly googled k-cup vs reusable filter cost comparison and found this awesomely detailed and compelling article  by the personal finance blogger, Squawkfox toward the top of the simple google search pile. So by this article’s rather diligent explanation, one will save $0.61 per coffee by using reusable filters in the Keurig rather than the severely trashy and expensive K-Cups that are relentlessly marketed for use by Keurig owners. So with simple back of the napkin math, if you drink 2 cups of coffee a day (a rather modest estimation by stay at home mom and dad standards), that’s a savings of about $37 a month. And to magnify the savings, just multiply that amount by 12 to find out the savings in a year (Around $450)! With every change, you also have to evaluate the time/effort factor that goes into each change. This is a personal decision that depends on the amount of spare time you have and how flexible you can be with external expectations (not going out to lunch with your co-workers for instance).

Using a Compounding Interest Calculator to Estimate Long-Term Savings

To make things even more mouth wateringly juicy, use a compounding interest calculator to play with the savings amount when that yearly savings is invested in an index fund with a 7% average return. This is where you put the pedal to the metal when it comes to the phrase, “A penny saved is a penny earned” my friends, as we are now very  quickly and easily going from 61 cents to thousands of dollars. Now when you throw away one of those flimsy K-cups you can simultaneously imagine reaching into your wallet, pulling out several dollar bills, and tossing those in the trash too. That thought right there should be enough to get us to take the 30 seconds needed to compost those coffee grinds and rinse out our own filter in the sink with a smile!

Small Changes Worth the Effort

    • Go to the library over purchasing new books. If you do purchase new, resell them on eBay.

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    • Sell your unused stuff on Craigslist. Learn from my mistakes here

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    • Make as much home made meals as you can from scratch.
    • Prepare a to-go breakfast the night before such as soaked steel cut oats or chia seed yogurt
    • Take a sack lunch to work
    • Freeze prepared meals for the work week on Sundays
    • Use the crock pot to make dinner while you’re at out
    • Stick to the memorable slogan, “Something to Wear, Something they Need, Something they Want, Something to Read” for your child’s holiday gifts
    • Simplify or opt out of traditional family/friend gifting

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    • Discover even more money saving (small) change that are worth the effort in this post.

 

What other money-saving changes have you made? Please share in the comments!

10 Ideas for an Eco-Friendly Christmas

1. Keep it simple.

Just pick the most important traditions that have meaning for you, leave the new fads behind. When I was pregnant I babysat for a family with three kids who had the popular “Elf on the Shelf.” The kids all loved the elf but one day when I arrived the mom explained to me her kids would be upset because she forgot to move the elf. She was frantically pouring out flour onto a cutting board and trying to set the elf up so it looked like it was making a snow angel before they woke up. The holidays already have enough traditions to keep everyone happy, do we need to buy into marketing’s attempts to make more just to increase profits?

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2. Reevaluate the gift giving tradition altogether.

Gifts can be wonderful to give and receive, but often gifts may not be the right fit for the individual, or maybe they already have everything they need. The wrapping, shipping and packing materials of presents on such a large scale uses precious resources and creates a monumental amount of waste in the environment. Everyone can donate to one another’s favorite charity, volunteer together, or just spend time doing an activity like going to the movies or for a hike. Gifts can also be in the form of gift cards or certificates for experience activities such as a wildlife reserve, a playhouse or a museum. You also could simply ask your loved ones to spend time with you instead of getting gifts. You can see the letter I used this year: Dear Friends and Family.

3. Re-imagine gifts.

If you do give physical presents, select items that you know for sure the receiver will need and use. For instance if you know they drink a specific type of tea regularly, you are guaranteed to give them something they will appreciate and use. Alternatively, any gifts that are made from natural materials, or that can be used up such as homemade cookies, soap or candles are likely to be well received. Thrifting items such as vintage cookie tins or eclectic frames to use to children’s artwork can make wonderful heartfelt gifts as well.

4. Promote an existing tree to “Christmas Tree.”

 

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By using a tree (or a bush, or a plant) that’s growing instead of going out and chopping down a Christmas tree or supporting an industry that does, we’re honoring the beauty in a living tree’s ability to absorb carbon and emit oxygen.

On first glance it would seem that buying a fake tree would be eco-friendly but the truth is that these trees often are made from synthetic materials that emit harmful gases, they tend to break or become bedraggled after a few years, and eventually find their way into the landfill. Not so cheery. Alternatively, you can string up your ornaments across a threshold, mantle or wall which actually causes you to look at them more often and more closely, enjoying them every time you walk by!

 

5. Use nature, or food items as decor.

It is a wonderful thing to have heirloom ornaments you use year after year, but unfortunately the vast majority of ornaments today are the exact opposite- quite disposable. What better way to bring beauty to your home than creating ornaments from the beauty of nature? String a popcorn garland, use found pine cones, create snowflakes out of sticks, or try drying orange slices to create beautiful 100% free and biodegradable ornaments.

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6. Go out into nature.

Going out around the holidays often encourages needless consumption, whether it be buying a Styrofoam cup of hot cocoa or sparkly mass produced ornament that catches the eye. If you do go out, it’s best to have a plan that is sustainable- think a tree lighting, the ice rink, going caroling (do people still do that anymore?) or visit a friend. Though it is probably cold, bundling up and going out into nature fosters appreciation for the natural world, gives us a chance to exercise and breathe fresh air without creating waste. Snow can be very beautiful and playing in it with our family provides us with endless fun and precious memories.

7. Rethink the Christmas card.

Send an e-card or family video instead of greeting cards. If you must send greeting cards, select postcards which cut on paper used and require a cheaper stamp as well.

8. Cook and bake from scratch.

Cooking and baking as a family can be an enjoyable tradition unto itself while also being practical. Not only does making food from scratch taste way better, it also cuts down on packaging (especially when you buy bulk and bring your own bags and jars!) and is almost always cheaper in the long run. When we bake from scratch we know exactly what went in to the food we’re eating, and we don’t have to worry about toxic preservatives and artificial dyes.

9. Give back.

Go through the cabinets and donate any unwanted canned food. Also go through the closets and give any spare coats or other items to a homeless shelter or other charity shop. Host a soldier, pick an angel from a giving tree to prepare gifts for deserving children, volunteer at a soup kitchen or make baskets to give to families in need. There are so many ways to give back. Check your local library, community center or college to see what opportunities are available to serve your community. This simple act allows us to feel the magic of community, feel happiness in giving and lets us have gratitude for what we already have in our lives.

10. Consider staying home.

Of course, public transportation is the next best thing. Traveling cross-country? Take the bus for the smallest carbon footprint. Next best, a fuel-efficient vehicle, train and at the bottom of the list-air travel.

However you choose to spend the holiday season, I hope it is filled with peace, joy and simplicity!

Introducing: The Scratch Paper Saver

I’m so very excited to present to you a new look, a new name, and a new blog. I wanted to be able to share something that was easy to say and remember, that I felt described me but also appealed to a wider audience. As the gap between the upper and lower class gets smaller and smaller, the landfills become bigger and bigger. There is a huge concern among the families that I come in contact with about both saving money (or being able to live on what little money can be made) and saving the environment (or at least not exacerbating the currently growing list of ecological disasters that humans have instigated on this planet.

Of course I also share these same concerns. There are many many great solutions to these troubles, and the more individuals that make more positive decisions and proactive choices, the closer we all will come to peace, prosperity and individual freedom. Welcome new friends, and thank you so much to my followers.

I look forward to helping you all to grow, lean and thrive along with me. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

(Photo credit: Blackzheep at freedigitalphotos.net)

The Only Personal Finance Blog You Need

Decluttering my bathroom a few days ago, I came across a tired looking little bottle of Burberry perfume. It was purchased roughly 4 years ago for me by my now husband. I don’t remember what the occasion was but it was some holiday. it may have been valentines day, my birthday, our anniversary or Christmas. Like most Americans we have traditionally bought each other and everyone else we know often extravagantly expensive and unnecessary presents for every occasion. That is but one leak in our huge explosive geyser of waste that has been our financial situation from the time we just met each other 7 years ago to just about 6 months ago when I discovered the Mr Money Mustache blog. since discovering that blog my life has changed so dramatically.

Not only am I more active, I’m way more practical, healthy and financially competent. I am actually way enthusiastic about making the changes I have, such as deciding to sell my car, buying a bike and bike trailer and getting really really really cheap cell phone plans. Also preparing all my meals at home from scratch and no longer buying unnecessary stuff has made my life not just more frugal but actually more enjoyable. I enjoy thinking up ways to save money and can’t wait to do even more in the future. I started this blog originally because I have so many ideas bouncing around in my head, but this concept of easy frugality has been a game changer.

I no longer care about what other people are doing with their money. Of course, deleting Facebook caused me to look more closely at my own life- my own priorities and values instead of everyone else’s. I have gone on a low-information diet, and I now see so much clearer than I did when my mind was cluttered with unnecessary information from magazines, commercials, advertisements and the regular onslaught of meaningless shit from random people, most I may barely know.

I admit, with each change I make it does feel as if I’m about to step off a cliff. In the end I usually decide to take the leap because I have assurance that there will be a wonderous net of a beautiful, simple naturalistic and free lifestyle that will catch me as I let go of all the trappings of my consumer driven life. The feeling is an intense and addicting combination of excitement and fear. the more stuff I get rid of the more stuff I want to get rid of.

A big part of me is still afraid that everyone who comes over to my house will judge me for not having all the makings expected of an average target-shopping suburban housewife home. I’m also afraid that my husband will start/continue to think I’m crazy and will be unhappy to leave his comfortable bubble of consumption. Even with all these looming possibilities, what I want is to be surrounded by the items that mean something to me. I want my dwelling to be filled with only the objects and tools that make me smile, that serve my life in a positive way and help me to become the person I believe I am meant to be.

Right now, for me, that means getting rid of my TV. Not just my TV, but also the Xbox and Netflix. I will still have my computers which I can use to get entertainment and information and watch DVDs (as I have a Mac from 2008 that still plays them.) I’m afraid that if I do this there will really be no turning back. I will no longer be able to lay back on the couch and flip on the screen and forget about my problems. I will no longer be able to keep up with all the new episodes and series that are coming out, leaving me with a little bit less to talk about with other everyday people.

The only downside is that the more I let go of the more I am becoming an outsider. I hope that one day I can find a community where I can truly learn and grow and not feel ashamed of the lifestyle I am choosing. Until then I will keep making small steps and jumping off the cliffs as they come up. Of course I will report what happens strait back to you. Thanks for coming along with me on this journey.

Why I Broke Up With Wholefoods

You know when you were a little kid and you knew a field trip was coming up? And the night before the field trip you’d toss and turn with excitement? Well, I used to think of making the journey to the Wholefoods in Sacramento with the same feeling. I had just become vegan at the time (I was a teenager living at home in the suburbs), and Wholefoods was like the golden ticket to eating all the food I was used to eating in my sinfully omnivorous days. Tofutti Break! was a popular outcry in my house, and I had several brands of soy burgers always in rotation. There was also a point a few years later when I had just finished reading Alicia Silverstone’s The Kind Diet that I spent $500 on a whole slew of macrobiotic groceries that filled up my personal mini fridge and a dedicated pantry shelf at Wholefoods. The checker did not bat an eye.

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Now that I live an hour from the nearest Wholefoods, I’ve learned to completely live happily without it, and have grown to respect the many ways in which taking Wholefoods out of my grocery equation has saved me time, money, and a whole lot of empty calories from my diet. First I started with the organic options at my nearby HEB, which I’ve found you really can get by with most of the basics such as spinach apples, and all kinds of pantry staples. In the produce department I graduated to using Bountiful Baskets, a more direct supplier-to-customer type of group that has spread nearly everywhere.

They have the regular basket and also the organic basket, which is regrettably quite a bit smaller than the regular basket at while a full $10 more is tacked on to the price tag. Now I am so happy with a strait up CSA (community supported agriculture) program brought to me by Austin’s own Johnson’s Backyard Garden. Not only is the organic produce so much more fresher, it is very local and a farm that is actually a family business that cares about its customers. There is no huge line to wait in either! I just pick up my basket at my local organic restaurant So Natural.

I have been very excited in stocking up on most of my bulk dried items (such as beans and grains) at In.Gredients, the FABULOUS zero-waste market in Austin. But because of the distance I only go by when I have other activities that call me that direction. Otherwise, it’s the organic options for these one-ingredient packaged foods at HEB. I also use SAM’s Club for their surprising offerings like organic agave nectar, almond butter, bananas and Chia seeds.

Melluvia Babe enjoying organic whole rolled oats for brekkie

Nowadays, most of the food I eat is very simple, and made of extremely basic ingredients, such as oatmeal with raisins for breakfast, a simple salad with leftover veggie soup for lunch, and a flavorful asian stir fry with rice for dinner. As you stop buying packaged, frozen, canned and otherwise processed foods you really begin to stop craving them. As you only have the basic items in your arsenal, you are forced to get creative in the kitchen. I’ve started to love cooking again, and really knowing that the food I’m eating and feeding my family is not only completely healthy but didn’t cost me an arm and a leg.

I still have many friends that continue to shop at Wholefoods and love it. One friend on the Dr. McDougall diet fills her cart with frozen fruit. Another is an overweight vegan who stocks up on the wildest of novel concoctions of foodstuffs like lemon bar flavored sugar free raw paleo dessert morsels. While I do think Wholefoods can be an exciting place with a world of flavor possibilities, it is so easy to spend a WHOLE lot of money on (when it comes down to it) what is simply energy for your body.

I look forward to posting my next blog about other new changes going on in my life right now!

Finding Exponential Happiness in Empty Spaces

I’m finding that the more “stuff” I get rid of and the more “activities” I actually accomplish the happier I am, and the more I crave just going even further down the rabbit hole. If you haven’t yet read or heard of it, please do yourself a huge favor and check out the Mr. Money Mustache blog. It is an exceptionally written blog that is both smart and funny, both philosophical and practical. It has been one of the major inspirations for me to make such radical changes in my own life.

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My kitchen before it was filled up with appliances on the countertops!

I don’t even know where to begin with all the changes I have/am currently making. I have deactivated my facebook account. I am getting rid of my gas lawn mower and replacing it with an old fashioned manual push mower. I just bought a hybrid bike and am selling my big Japanese boat of a car (2011 Toyota Camry). I’m getting rid of most of my living room furniture soon. I keep making more and more trips to the local homeless shelter and Goodwill to drop off donations. I’m getting rid of all the appliances, spice racks, holders and other do-hickeys on my kitchen counters (besides my Vitamix which I’m stowing in one of the cabinets). I’m listing several items on eBay. In fact, I’ve already sold more than $500 worth of my old items that no longer served a purpose in my life. Happily, I’ve also been able to save up $2000. Some of my far-off goals are becoming financially independent and curing my rheumatoid arthritis, as well as becoming 85% self sustaining, and running a zero-waste household.

The main idea I’m contemplating right now is that living with the items and in the setting that makes you happy is more important than impressing everyone else, or even meeting their expectations at all. If you find something is no longer making you happy or is causing you stress, do your very best to change it so that it can make you happy. Sometimes what that amounts to is just knowing when to graciously let something go. The immediate reward to doing so is the wonderfully freeing area of space or time that is created when you let go of things, activities, and people that drag you down and steal your energy.

This is the snowball effect that happens- because as you have more energy and space you find that you have the confidence and motivation to let go of even more. You find things in your life that you can tweak or replace so that it most perfectly fits your own needs. One of the hardest things for me to do has been to get rid of gifts that people have given me. Even if it is an ugly outdated article of clothing that never fit right, it’s still hard to say goodbye to the little part of it that reminds you of the person. The best technique I’ve used that helps me do this is to just remember that the item itself was not the gift. In fact, the real gift was that special person selecting that item and presenting it to you, with the intention of showing you they cared. That should be the special memory, and that actually has little to do with the specific memento that they chose.

My foot is so swollen from the RA right now that sometimes it is painful to walk. People keep telling me I should get on disability but in all honesty I feel more excited than ever to get things done for myself. I know I can heal my disease, though I’m not sure how long it will take. I know I’ll keep trying to do it by creating a stress-free (or stress-minimized) environment for my mind and body to exist in. Even if I don’t heal my RA, I am happy to take this journey and am looking forward to seeing the results that come about.