Monthly Archives: May 2015

Saving for College

7067727893_b68dce54fc_mLast month, Ronnica talked about how she paid off the last of her student loan debt–five figures in a a mere eight months.  *thunderous applause*

It got me to thinking about the many ways one can fund their (or their children’s) education and which way is the “best”.  Here are a few I’ve come up with:

1.  Student pays it all.

2.  Parents pay it all.

3.  Some sort of combination between parents and student.

4.  Loans

5.  College savings plan (Coverdell, 529, etc.)

Of course, there is the combination of the above, and the “other”, which, in addition to scholarships, is how I funded a good portion of my education (my mother died when I was young, and her life insurance was her final gift to my brother and I).  And there are those who opt to join the work force or military (which pays for education) in lieu of going straight to college.

Realizing that my young kiddos will be leaving the nest sooner than I care to admit, this idea of “how to pay for college” is something I’ve been struggling with lately; I can see merit to many of the options available.  Having a student fund all or part of their education commands the student take ownership of their degree.  It may also inspire them to make different choices (like in-state versus out-of-state).

But you don’t have to look far to see stories regarding the mountains of debt the average student accrues today.  At the same time, the economy seems slow to recover from the Great Recession, so many parents can’t fund a savings account (529, Coverdell, or otherwise) for their children’s education even if they wanted to.

So what’s a parent and good steward do?

Good question. It’s something I’m still trying to figure out for myself.  I certainly don’t know what’s best for every family.  Circumstances (and priorities) are different within each.

For our family, we nickel-and-dimed a start to a Coverdell Education Savings Account (aka Education IRA) for the kids.  I say “nickel-and-dimed” because that’s literally what we did (incidentally, this is a tactic that Ronnica hits on in her debt-free post):  We funneled extra change into the kids’ piggy banks until there was a decent enough amount to start funds for them, and we add to them automatically each month.  Unless something changes in our circumstances, however, our kiddos will likely have some sort of combination of the payment options above.

What have you done in your family?

Photo by TaxCredits.net

Moving Like a Minimalist

I’m not sure I would call myself a minimalist. I would like to…minimalists are my people. I simply have too much stuff to be a minimalist…but I’m constantly fighting the fight to reduce.

Last month I shared a little about my cross-country move from North Carolina and what I didn’t need to bring with me. This was my 2nd cross-country move (the first being when I moved from college in Oklahoma to North Carolina), but I’ve made a half-dozen in-town moves since being an adult.

While my credentials as a minimalist are a little lacking, I feel well-qualified in moving. While I don’t like some aspects of moving (like the actual hauling of furniture or boxes), I actually really enjoy packing. I love that everything gets a place (somehow, I’ve never been able to accomplish that in an unpacked apartment).

So what can you do to move like a minimalist?

1. First, unpack EVERYTHING.

Oh, don’t tell me that you don’t have anything still in boxes from your last move. Even if you’ve de-cluttered, you probably have out-of-season decorations or personal mementos in a box somewhere. Pull all things out, and only put it back in a box if you’re sure that you want to keep it.

In my big move, I pared down my Christmas decorations by half, and got rid of an entire box of personal letters: after I sat down and enjoyed them all again one more time. Just because you thought something was worth keeping the last time you opened the box does not mean that it is still worth keeping.

numbered boxes stacked2. Number and record the contents of every box.

For me, this entailed an Evernote file on my phone where I kept track of the contents. I would record something like, “box 1 – Christmas decorations, wreath.” I didn’t list everything, but the general contents and listed specific items I would want to know where was when I got to my destination.

3. Use your belongings to pack other belongings. 

Towels can be used to brace dishes. Mason jars can be used to transport smaller items. Plastic containers can be used as filler in heavier boxes.

Doing so, not only means that you’ll have fewer boxes to unpack, you’ll also have less of a need for packing materials.

4. When in doubt, throw it out.

(And by “throw it out”, I mean preferably sell, donate or recycle.)

Consider each item for it’s value to you. Does it retain it’s value when you consider the time and energy it will take to pack, move and unpack?

If you don’t know whether or not to get rid of something, do it. You will almost surely not regret it.

5. When unpacking, find a place for everything.

This is the one that I’m not as good at. But the truth is, if you can’t find a place for something, it has to go.

Now, I just need to finally empty that last box in the corner of my bedroom…

last box to unpack

 

Joint Book Review: Junkyard Planet by Adam Minter

downloadWhere does the stuff you get rid of wind up?  For many, any thought regarding a piece of trash or recycling ends at the dumpster, but in Junkyard Planet:  Travels in the Billion-Dollar Trash Trade, Adam Minter goes to great lengths to show what and how junk is recycled into new items.  Having grown up in a family of scrap dealers, Minter approaches the “trash trade” like you might expect:  with an eye on reuse and finances.

Amanda’s Take

As I read through this (surprisingly engaging) book, I found it hard to get past one thing:  just how much STUFF humans (specifically Americans) consume.  Were it not for all that we obtain and then throw out, there would be no basis for this book.

Another interesting idea for me was the over-arching theme of the book:  what happens to the “stuff” we throw out.  Some of the places that the trash ends up surprised me; I guess I thought that everything landed in a landfill or recycling center, but beyond that, I never stopped to wonder (as Ronnica notes below).  I was certainly surprised at some of the locations Minter traveled to.  To think that some of my trash has traveled farther than I have is pretty mind-boggling!

This book served as a great reminder that what some may consider trash, others consider not just a treasure, but their livelihood.  While I appreciated a new perspective on recycling and all things junk, I became an even more fervent believer in just reducing my consumption at the outset–an idea which Minter does touch on throughout the book.

Ronnica’s Take

A few years ago while I was watching the recycling center scene in Toy Story 3, I remember thinking, “Why have I never thought about how they sort recyclables before?”

Junkyard Planet answers the curiosity that Toy Story 3 sparked in me.

As opposed to most books we read on stuff and consumerism, I found it interesting how much Minter takes a relatively pro-junk stance. Given his background, that makes sense.

While I’m rather anti-junk (in theory…don’t take a look at my kitchen table right now), I actually think his perspective helped him see the good in the recycling industry while not being shy about pointing out the negatives.

I think the biggest takeaway from the book for me is that I shouldn’t be so quick to throw something out. Everything can have a second life.

Sacrifice What?

scale balanceWhen I shared my news last month of finally slaying my debt dragon, one of the frequent comments I got was that I had sacrificed a lot to do so.

I understand what they were saying, but at no point did paying off my debt feel like a sacrifice. After all, it’s not really sacrifice to give up something lesser for something more important.

So what did I “sacrifice” these last 8 months to pay off my $10,678.28 in debt? The following is a estimation based on my previous spending habits. Let’s call this alternate story “Nicki’s story.”

While I paid $10,865.27 in payments, Nicki made $2,575.12 in payments. While this represents more than her minimum payments, today she still owes $8,252.59 after interest.

At this rate, Nicki will be debt-free in August 2017.

Nicki did not opt to work as much overtime or odd jobs, so she had 72 more hours of free time. As this time was spread out over several months, she used almost all of it to watch mindless TV and surf social media. This free time cost her $1,258 that she could not put towards her student loans.

Not only that, but Nicki splurged on more entertainment options (Netflix/Hulu, a few movies and events) to fill those hours, spending $228 more than Ronnica on entertainment.

Nicki prefers to eat out regularly (6 times/week), as preparing and cooking meals takes more time and energy than she wants to give them. For this convenience, she has paid an additional $1,456 than Ronnica did.

Nicki, thankful to have a job again, spent $1,808.15 more on stuff than Ronnica did. Among this cache of goods are a new laptop, extra gardening and hiking goodies plus some new clothes to refresh her wardrobe. This amount also includes money not redirected from over-budgeting items, as that money would have been spent on little things instead. In fact, Nicki regularly overspent her grocery budget by a few dollars.

Nicki is a generous person and gave $540 more in gifts and financial donations than Ronnica did.

I’m happy that Nicki’s story is not mine. I find more pleasure and joy in being debt-free than I would have in fast food, entertainment and stuff.

As for the giving, I do give less monetarily than I used to and spend less on gifts. But I’m working on using my creativity and talents to make my giving go farther. I’m trying not to buy into the idea that love is expressed by spending. And I’m going to work on upping my financial giving again, too.

As you can see, living a more minimalist lifestyle isn’t about sacrifice. As Amanda shared last week, we really aren’t “doing without“, but choosing what we value more. For me, that was being debt-free instead of spending more on my temporal pleasures.

Photo by Hans Splinter

Updates on the Striving Stewardess

It’s that time again to give some updates on some previous posts.

Ronnica’s Updates

Quitting Food Waste

I am getting better about wasting less food. I still throw out way more than I’d like: but I’m conscious when I do so. Just as before, my food waste is most often cause my inattentiveness. All the more reason to boost my diligence and mindfulness of when things will go bad.

Time to boost my creativity, too!

balcony container gardenRonnica’s Garden Plan

My garden is doing great. As I write this (May 10th), my cucumbers, peppers and tomatoes are currently hiding from the winter weather under various containers I found around the house.

One thing I’ve done differently this year is doing a garden journal. I’m hoping this information will help me to revise future garden plans to incorporate what I’ve learned from previous seasons.

Reviving the Art of Biking

Well, I haven’t taken another bike ride since that post.

I suppose I’ve been prioritizing other things (including my own laziness). My garden has taken a lot of my energy on my days off, which I’m fine with. I’ve also gotten back into hiking.

I need to do a little maintenance on my bike to get it working for me, and I just haven’t done that yet.

Amanda’s Updates

Giving Our Time

I still love the idea of giving of my time and talents, but as of this writing (mid-May), I haven’t done much in the way of exploring options for doing just that.

As Ronnica mentioned above, I, too, have been prioritizing other things.  Quite a number of things have been happening on the family front lately–that’s my justification.  The hope is that when things settle down some I will have more time/energy/desire to serve others outside my family.  There are two worthwhile organizations that have personally served my family that would be logical places to start my volunteer search.

Bartering

Count this as a work-in-progress.  One of the things I have discovered is that my friends with whom I would feel most comfortable bartering with are perfectly content to give me what I need without strings attached, which is both awesome and humbling.

It’s also forcing me outside my comfort zone.  If I want to hone my bartering skills, I will have to do so with people who are not as close to me, which is something that does not come naturally to me; as a result, it will have to be an item or service I really want!

Mechanical Turk

My earnings on Mechanical Turk are a lot more than this now!
My earnings on Mechanical Turk are a lot more than this now!

I was pleasantly surprised at the amount of conversation this garnered on our Twitter account.  Nearly all of it was encouraging me to stick it out.  (You may recall I argued that, unless you have considerable time at your disposal, MT is not a way to rake in a lot of dough.)

I’m glad I did because once I established a good rating, more lucrative opportunities came my way, and many of the tasks were actually sort of fun and not too time-consuming.

There may be some who claim to make hundreds on this site, and while I will never have the time/energy/desire (see above) to make that a priority, I do see myself making enough to help pay for Christmas presents when the time comes.  A definite bonus!

Do Without, Amanda’s Take

Despite what some may think, I don't feel deprived by my lifestyle choice...cuddling with my girl reinforces that!
Despite what some may think, I don’t feel deprived by my lifestyle choice…cuddling with my girl reinforces that!

Today begins the last segment of the “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without” series.  It’s my turn to talk about “do without.”

Here’s the thing:  I’ve racked my brain trying to think about what we “do without” and I truly can’t come up with anything.

To me, “doing without” conjures up images of deprivation–and the popular understanding of simple living seems to emphasize the image of Spartan living and militant anti-consumption.  I’m sure that’s the conclusion some of our readers come to, but I hope most understand that’s not where Ronnica and I are coming from.

Living with the end goal of being good stewards of our gifts has enhanced our way of living–we do not feel deprived, even if we experience challenging moments in our lives.

So while we may live small, with one car (or aspire to no car), and make do without luxuries like cable, my family and I don’t feel like we are doing without anything:  what we have is what we need and what we don’t have is what we don’t need.

We are privileged to have a choice of what we “do without”–what do you choose to use up, wear out, make do with, or do without?

Do Without, Ronnica’s Take

Today our journey through, “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without” comes to a close. I hope that you have found some inspiration to find new ways to be a wise non-consumer and take advantage of what you already have.

All the parts of the saying kind of working together. After all, when I talked about what I made do with, I was indicating some things I’ve done without.

I’ve already written posts about how I do without air-conditioning and shampoo so I won’t write more about that here.

A couple of other things that I’ve done without:

I let my guests write on my cups. Unlike disposables, I have a record of my visitors!
I let my guests write on my cups. Unlike disposables, I have a record of my visitors (in this case, tween girls).

1. Paper products. 

As much as possible, I’ve stopped using paper towels, plates,  napkins and disposable cups. I do have disposable silverware, but I use and reuse them.

Paper towels in some instances seem necessary so I still have them, but I only go through a roll about once a year.

I use cloth napkins, and I have a dozen plastic cups and plates for larger gatherings.

2. Internet.

I do currently have home Internet, but I have gone without when I’ve been unemployed. With a smart phone with a data plan, it’s not that hard. Job searching and other things can be done at the library. It gave me added reason to leave the house.

While I’m working, I prefer to have Internet at home as my free time is a lot more limited.

What do you do without?

Tomorrow Amanda will bring this series to a fitting close.

Make It Do, Ronnica’s Take

Yesterday Amanda shared her take of what “make it do” means for her. Today I’ll share a few ways that I’ve made do…and enjoyed it.

1. Netflix and Hulu plus subscriptions.

Amanda already shared how her  family lives without cable. I have done that before, but right now I get cable for nearly-free, so I take advantage of that. But before I had that, I would regularly start/cancel my Netflix and Hulu Plus subscription.

I’ve enjoyed binge-watching shows on both, but a month at a time is enough. If you cancel your subscription, you can continue to use the service for the end of the 30 days you paid for. When you come back, all your preferences are retained.

Eight bucks a month is a good price, but even better is if you’re only paying in the months you’ll actually get your money’s worth out of it.

Getting my library card was one of the first things I did when I moved!
Getting my library card was one of the first things I did when I moved!

2. Taking advantage of the library.

Though I’ve always been a library patron (thanks, Mom!), I have come to realize I can get almost any book I want to read through my local library system. More obscure titles can be located through their partnership with other Colorado libraries or the inter-library loan program.

Now that I’m in a library system that also has DVDs, I have given up Redbox (going to the movie theater had already been saved for special occasions only).

3. Exercise on the cheap.

I love swimming laps for exercise. Hopefully one day I’ll be able to join a gym or a pool, but right now it’s not worth my money. Instead, I get my exercise by walking in my interesting neighborhood or park. I’ve got free weights for strength exercises at home and can take a dip in my apartment pool when I want a swim.

How have you made do?

Tomorrow I will share how I’ve done without.

Make It Do, Amanda’s Take

In preparation for the next phrase in our “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without” series I brainstormed what I “make do” with…and was sort of amazed at what all we manage to make work in our household.

The two that top the list, though, are our kitchen and our car.

First, let’s go through a brief tour of our “vintage” kitchen, because in this case, a picture truly is worth a thousand words:

unnamed (16)

The other side of the kitchen isn’t noteworthy–it houses a “peninsula” (not an island) and a few cupboards and the microwave.  You get the idea.

It’s safe to assume our yellow counters, orange flooring that’s coming off, and the mismatched purple backsplash isn’t going to win us many design awards.

But this kitchen, dated though it may be, is functional.  Do I want to gut it?  You bet.  But right now, it is simply not in our budget; we’d rather spend our money on other things, like experiences.  So for right now…we make do.

On to our car.  I’ve written on here before how we have made one small car work for our family, but it is becoming more of a challenge, especially now that both dogs are full-grown, and lengthy summer vacations are on the horizon.

But as with the kitchen, while our car situation may not be ideal and can be downright uncomfortable, the car still does what we need it to do, and a bigger car is not practical for us on many fronts, including (but not limited to) the financial front.

We make do with what we have.

Tomorrow Ronnica will share what she makes do.  Stay tuned!

Wear It Out, Amanda’s Take

This week and next, Ronnica and I are giving our thoughts on the old adage, “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.” Yesterday Ronnica discussed the “wear it out” aspect from her point of view.  Today it’s my turn.

I will refrain from showing you what I wear to do heavy labor–even though that’s the perfect example of “wearing it out.”  My work clothes have definitely seen better days and are more holes than fabric!

No…in our house, wearing it out encompasses items a bit bigger (and costlier) than clothes.

First up is my smartphone.  I’m a bit of a Luddite, and a cheap one at that, so even though this one already has quite a bit of wear and tear (despite being relatively new and owned by a technophobe) and I am not a fan of it, this is one of those instances where I will suck it up and deal with it.  I will use it until it is no longer usable.

Next item currently being worn out:  our carpet:

unnamed (15)

The carpet is high-quality and about five years old, but with two littles and two big dogs, even regular cleaning and taking shoes off at the door can’t save it from wear and tear.  Next time we will refinish the wood floors underneath, but until then, we wear it out!

Final item is our washing machine, though just between you and me, I think this one is beyond the “wear it out” stage and has officially entered the “dead” stage:

unnamed (14)

We bought this machine used, so it had a good, long, productive life even before we killed it  wore it out.  I’m pleased we dragged it along as long as we did.

Stay tuned–next week we discuss “making it do” and “doing without.”

In the meantime, if anyone has any leads on a washing machine let me know! *wink wink*