Crossing Paths

Earlier this year, a very large metal object destroyed one of my car tires. I was in need of tires anyway and found myself sitting in the waiting room of the only tire shop in the area with four of my required tires in stock.

What could have been a mundane two hour wait turned out to be one of the most interesting experiences of my life.

I had brought some work to do so I simply nodded and smiled toward the other person in the waiting room – an elderly man who was fiddling with his phone. I settled into my work until he struck up a conversation, something or other about patience, waiting and how his career had kept him busy.

Being me, I couldn’t resist asking what he did and was delighted at the stories that followed.

He was retired Air Force and had once overseen the mechanics who worked on all the planes that fly in and out of an Rickenbacker Airport here in Ohio. Before that, his career took him all over the world, including to a hot spot in the Middle East where he planned the air strip and all the necessary buildings and plane parking necessary for American aircraft to efficiently fly in and out.

He has been to all fifty states and all but six countries. He has lived in many. Rather than just visit, he preferred to stay for a few months, make friends and really learn the culture. His favorite place is the South of France.

His career took him all over but he had a true passion for travel so he leveraged his Air Force benefits to travel even more.

He shared with me two lessons.

1. Travel as much as you can when you’re young enough to enjoy it. He said “don’t wait till you’re old and have bad knees like me. You’ll regret it because you won’t be able to enjoy walking around and won’t have the stamina to see what’s around the block.”

2. When you get a pay increase or any kind of windfall, save as much as you can, but don’t deny yourself travel money. See lesson #1 above.

Before leaving, he looked me square in the eye and said “go see as much of the country or the rest of the world as you can. If you like to travel, and you clearly do, you’ll never regret a single dollar you spend.”

I was delighted by this exchange and was a little sad to see him go but I went back to my work and reveled in the chat with my new friend and enabler.

A few minutes passed before a Hispanic man joined me in the waiting room. We smiled and nodded and sat in silence until an elderly woman named Victoria joined us. She was watching the news on television and asked if I knew anything about the story that was playing. She had missed the beginning.

It was about issues refugees are facing at a border crossing somewhere. I knew nothing about it but the man looked up and made eye contact. So I asked him and he shared a few things that he knew about it.

This led to a conversation about how scary it would be to leave everything you know to journey far to a strange land with an uncertain future for yourself and your family. How bad is life where you live that this kind of drastic move would seem like a good idea?

I will stop here to say that he spoke great English but with an accent. He occasionally used the wrong word or tense but these mistakes were no worse than any of the botched English I’ve heard from Ohio natives.

He seemed kind and open to conversation. It’s a good thing too because Victoria and I had many questions.

We asked him how long he has been in this country, how he found Chillicothe, if people are nice, does he like it here? He answered all of our prying questions both thoughtfully and patiently. He came to America legally when he was a young man. I suspect he was a migrant farm worker for some time because he said he traveled for work at first. He is a contractor by trade and is proud of his children. His youngest was to graduate high school soon and he mentioned a son who has a good job with a prosperous local employee.

He loves Chillicothe because people treat him well. It’s safe to walk down the street and people are friendly. They wave. He has a successful business and his family is very happy.

The conversation eventually turned to Victoria, a retiree who enjoys traveling and who has found the pandemic trying. She worked for a big employer in the area until it changed hands several years ago. She was in her early sixties with one eye on retirement a little later down the road. New management forced her into early retirement because she didn’t have a college degree. Never mind she had been doing her job for over forty years and could work circles around whatever young college graduate they got to replace her for a fraction of her salary.

At first, she wasn’t happy to be retired. In fact, she was kind of bitter. But then she realized she had time to travel and to do as she pleases.

She shared that she is single and childless. “I almost married a guy once but I dodged a bullet there. He was a jerk,” she exclaimed.

She talked about her wonderful life, friends, and saving money. She also talked about traveling and doing the things that make your life full and worth living.

Life lessons from Victoria:

1.”Never let anyone make you feel bad for being single or for not having kids,” she said. “Their choices don’t have to be your choices.”

2. Travel all you can, take up hobbies, fill your time with things that will make you smarter and happier. “Say YES as much as you can. By saying yes, you’re taking action.”

And just as suddenly as she arrived and sparked an amazing conversation, she was gone. Her headlight was repaired and Victoria was off, presumably on another adventure.

The gentleman and I continued our conversation with him showing me pictures and videos of recently completed jobs. He does remodeling work like kitchens and bathrooms. He also builds porches and decks and shared a video of a simply beautiful series of decks he built at a local home.

Here’s what I learned from him.

1. Love the work you do. He loves his job because he makes people smile when they get their dream kitchen or when he helps them select just the right shower tile. There’s meaning to each project, a deadline and sense of completion. You spend a lot of time at work so it’s best to be good at your job and to find it fulfilling.

2. Don’t listen to the pundits on television who tell you what to think about immigrants. Instead, sit down and talk to someone. Learn their history and why they chose to live where they do. Are their neighbors nice to them? Is there really such a great divide in this country? This guy loves his town more than most American born people and I found that inspiring.

My two hour new set of tires gave me much food for thought and made me think about people and the lessons we learn from them. Sometimes the people we cross paths with out in the world can teach us great lessons. Sometimes the lesson is in how not to treat people. Sometimes the lessons are substantial and life changing.

The lessons I learned that day were not new to me. Save, travel, engage with people who are different than you, and never let judgement of others wreck your life – these are things I already knew.

All the same, it’s nice when life hands you a refresher course when you least expect and maybe most need to hear it.

No Spend January

January is a special month for me and I have come to look forward to it. This is the start of a slower period and one where I intentionally keep things quiet.

You see, I do a No Spend Challenge where I intentionally stop spending money, stay home, use what I have and focus on being happy in the world I have created here. It’s a type of winter hibernation and I savor these quiet, cozy days at home.

How does it work? I’m so glad you asked.

First off, I pay my bills and buy needs. This should go without saying but you have to pay your bills, put gas in the car and buy food to eat.

That’s about the extent of it.

During most of the year, I don’t typically eat out a lot. It’s mostly when I’m traveling for work or on adventure days. My biggest weakness is buying books, accessories and bargains at TJ Maxx. Another weakness is at the grocery store. I like having lots of fresh produce and tend to shop sales to stock up on pantry items.

That said, compared to most people, I live frugally and without a ton of waste. In fact, I live this way so I can afford to travel and to do the things I enjoy.

During my no spend months, I question every purchase. I don’t buy a candy bar without questioning motivation and need. You may find it shocking to realize how many things you consider buying in a month when you say that you can’t buy anything.

I know people who spend five or ten dollars a day just on snacks and drinks while they’re at work or commuting. That’s upwards of a hundred dollars every month and way more than I spend on car insurance for a month. Is a snack really worth more than a grand a year?

I’m going to say no. Yet these very same people often complain that they have no money and make snide remarks about how it must be nice to travel so much.

There are some exceptions to the no spend rule. For example, genuine need shouldn’t be ignored. If you work in an office environment and break the heal on your dress shoes, you’ll either need to repair or replace them. But first, shop your own closet to see if you have something appropriate to use for a while.

If I’m traveling for work and can’t pack a lunch, you bet I’ll eat out. If the car needs a repair, that’s important too.

Instead of going on adventures and spending money on museums or movie tickets, I spend my Saturdays at home. This gives me a chance to sleep in, to work on my hobbies, have a movie marathon, dive into a book or take a walk. I focus on getting things done at home and doing things I enjoy.

I shop my pantry and freezer to experiment and create meals. Instead of buying a package of cookies, I make homemade cookies or muffins with pantry ingredients. I also usually make a few kinds of soup that I can freeze in two serving containers so I don’t feel the need to buy canned soup.

My grocery trips typically involve produce, eggs and whatever ingredients are needed to fill the gaps.

Whenever I feel the urge to buy something, I make a list of all the stuff I want to buy. I review that list at the end of the challenge and consider two things. Do I still want the thing? How much money did I save by not buying the thing?

After being in the habit of shopping and spending over the holidays, it’s a healthy move for me to say no to spending on extras. It isn’t always easy and sometimes it feels like work. However, it is eye opening to realize how many times a day I say no to buying.

If you’re looking to pay off holiday debt or to save for the adventures ahead, this is a super way to do it.

One more thing. What does it take to waste $10,000 a year? Just $27.40 a day or under $200 a week in unnecessary spending. Think you don’t do that? Maybe you don’t but you might be surprised at how much you do waste.

No Spend Month Update

When you decide to do a No Spend Challenge, the first thing you’ll notice is that everyone is trying to sell you something.

There’s traditional advertising like tv, mail, Facebook and email. Then there’s the person you haven’t seen since high school trying to guilt you into buying bags and soap and plastic containers from multi billion dollar companies.

It’s kind of discouraging the first time you realize your value to the world is as a consumer and nothing more.

When I check email each day, I try to unsubscribe to as much as I can but there are some marketing emails that I find useful when I am spending and don’t want to part with in the future. I just delete these without reading them so I’m not tempted today but can still get the coupons later.

The next thing you’ll notice is how much marketing is designed to make you unhappy with your life. Women’s magazines are enemy number one. They are filled with stories that are glorified advertising telling you about the cream that will lift your eyes, the jacket that will make you look taller and thinner, and the new furniture line that will make your home feel like a spa.

How’s your relationship? Shouldn’t you lose weight? Here’s a complicated recipe to make you feel completely inadequate in the kitchen. Better yet, let’s talk about expensive meal subscription boxes to cater to your gluten free, vegan, paleo or fruititarian lifestyle!

For most, the goal of a no spend month is to save money. That’s a great reason to start. In fact, that’s why I started doing this a few years ago. However, I quickly realized that there is a greater purpose to the exercise.

As the days turn into weeks, I find myself growing more satisfied with what I have and even a little skeptical of most purchases.

THIS is why I do the no spend challenge now. The saved money is nice but the deep sense of satisfaction is the true reward. With satisfaction comes gratitude and a sense of peace that there’s not much you can buy that will make you happier than you are right now.

After all, will that expensive cream really make you look younger?

It’s ok to want things. I like my home to be cozy, neat and comfortable. I want it to look pretty. There are things that I would like to have but few things that will elevate my feelings of happiness beyond where I am now.

When I have a large chunk of time at home, I tend to put down my phone more and gravitate toward projects – cleaning out a drawer or closet can’t be done while reading news. You’re less apt to kill time on Facebook when you’re engaged with something that keeps your hands and mind busy.

I tend to cook more and to use up those odds and ends that somehow accumulate in the freezer and pantry. The creation above is basically my favorite meal of all time – a baked potato topped with scrambled eggs and leftover vegetables that are lightly sautéed. Hey! Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it. It’s tasty and it uses up odds and ends.

But I digress. The point is that these changes in habits make an enormous difference and help you to appreciate that it is not just about the money.

In case you are wondering, it’s day thirteen and I have paid bills but have bought nothing else. I do need a new phone case but that is a necessity to protect my very expensive iPhone from – well, from me because I am clumsy. That needs to happen soon as this one is no longer water proof.

Are you doing a no spend month? Give me an update!

Adjusting Expectations

Today’s theme is adjusting expectations.

Since the first of the year, I have been living very quietly and enjoying this time of a No Spend Challenge which has allowed for more self care, planning, reading and lots of other activities at home. I’ve been saving money for this year’s adventures too.

Lunchtime walks, upcoming events and the promise of travel have given me something to look forward to. Plans include one of my favorite old(er) movies on the big screen, a weekend trip away, an author talk, and a concert.

And then this little global pandemic hit, containing me to home at least for a while longer. While the last couple of months have been centered on voluntary self seclusion, I’m not thrilled about the involuntary kind.

In fact, I’m downright irritated that my adventure season isn’t starting this week as planned and am already concerned that my summer trip won’t happen either.

That’s why it is time to adjust expectations.

Here in Ohio, the governor has closed schools and banned gatherings of a hundred or more. Limitations have been placed on restaurants too. Churches are cancelled or holding services online. Communities like mine are scrambling to provide lunches to low income kids, and many working parents have no clue what they’ll do with their kids for the next few weeks. Lines are long in stores and people are clearing shelves of everything from toilet paper and medicines to ramen noodles and pizza rolls.

The messaging surrounding this virus has been unclear. We’ve been told to wash our hands and to be smart about germs while we’re watching Italy and China shut down entire cities. No one knows what the future holds but, from what I’m seeing, there’s potential for a lot of bad to find it’s way to this country before it gets better.

From what I’ve seen of my Facebook friends, people seem to be continuing life as usual when it comes to recreation and fun. We’ve closed schools but parents continue to drag their kids to the store, to the movies, out to eat, and basically anywhere else they wish to go because they don’t want to be stuck at home.

When I started my January No Spend Month, I jotted down a list of things to that didn’t involve spending money and most of them were things I could do at home. For me, that list included household projects like organizing kitchen cabinets and weeding my clothes closet. I had a list of recipes to try and a list of fun things too! Taking my camera for a walk, puzzles, movies, books, playing the piano, and long bubble baths are just a few things on that list.

This is a great time to spring clean and to freshen up your house by rearranging things you already own. If you have kids, give them art supplies and ask them to make cards for residents of nursing homes and hospitals who aren’t getting any visitors right now. That should entertain them for a few minutes anyway!

And remember, you’re still able to go outside. I’m making a mental list of work that needs to be done in my yard and there’s a shed that needs cleaned out and torn down.

Yesterday, I experimented in the kitchen, making up my own potato soup recipe, tried making tomato jam, roasted broccoli, chopped up some salad veggies and made a few biscuits. I read, did some laundry, began researching cruelty free companies (this has been in the list for a while), strategized for the week, and watched a little tv.

Exciting? Hardly. But I was busy, productive and completely disconnected from the mass hysteria that has caused so many people to lose their minds. 

It was a good day.

So I am going to dig in and devote this time to getting some stuff done and getting back to basics. If nothing else, I’ll be well read and rested by the time this madness is over.

I have an inner old lady who survived the Great Depression who believes in the Depression era mantra – “use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.” She sits in the back of mind every day but I’m hoping that I don’t need her services more than I already use her.

Look at the bright side – we may find some wonderful new hobbies, authors, recipes, family traditions and habits! Meanwhile, stay calm, avoid people when you can, and wash your hands. This too shall pass.

And one more thing – our communities are filled with people who are older, who have mobility issues or who have weakened immune systems. If you’re healthy and able and going to be out anyway, offer to run some errands for them. They might really appreciate the helping hand!

Have a good day, friends. It’s all going to be ok.

 

 

Money Revelations

There’s this post going around Facebook that asks a very simple question.

What does it take to blow $10,000 a year? Just $27.40 of unnecessary spending in a day.

You probably are saying you don’t blow $27.40 a day and that may be true. However, most people don’t realize how much small purchases add up. Whether it’s buying more food than you can use before it spoils, picking up clearance clothes just because they’re cheap, or eating out when you could eat food from home, most people are wasting at least some money every week.

Those small purchases do add up.

If you shop for entertainment or comfort, your weekly waste would probably shock you.

I did a No Spend Challenge in January and have continued the challenge off and on beyond the original 31 day commitment. This is partly because I’m trying to save for adventure season (which will be here soon!) and partly because it’s become so natural to question spending temptations.

This challenge was designed to reset my spending and consumption habits after the gluttony of the holidays. It’s also great for quieting my mind, fostering a sense of gratitude and for coping with some bad habits.

One thing I have learned is that the more time I spend in a store, the more money I spend.

Case in point – I have saved a ton of money by reducing my Walmart trips to just twice a month. I despise Walmart but have to live in the world I wake up in and that world is a place saturated by Walmart.

It’s the cheapest place around to get Scout’s cat food and supplies so I go twice a month for these things and for a few other items that I can only buy there. But each trip always results in impulse buys and it doesn’t matter if the trips are two weeks apart or two days apart.

In this store I develop a kind of amnesia where I can never remember if I have enough shampoo and where I’m certain the dish soap is nearly gone. And then I notice socks on clearance and that cute Pioneer Woman scoop that’s perfect for my laundry detergent and things fall apart rather quickly. The next thing you know, I have gathered $30 worth of cheap socks, shampoo and pecans that I don’t need.

And I’ve always been ok with this because I believe in having a stocked pantry and in keeping myself in a place that I never have to buy anything. However, you can only use so much stuff.

Guys, $30 will fill the tank of my Nerdmobile and a tank of gas will take this fuel efficient car far from home.

So I’m training myself to ask more questions. Is that lunch out or clearance junk worth skipping an adventure?

Not only that, I want to retire without worry someday. Is it worth working longer just to have that stuff in my cart?

Nope. No. No way. It’s not.

Friends, money is a tool to be used to reach your goals. It’s not just for spending. It’s for making life better, for happiness and it’s for security.

Is there something you habitually spend money on that you are willing to cut for an important savings goal? I would love to hear about it.

One Month Down

January is typically a quieter time for me but this month has been extremely low key. I’ve been home a lot – stress has played a big role along with weather which has made it difficult to get outdoors for hikes.

This has actually made my No Spend Month a little easier. If you stay home (and away from your favorite online retailers), there’s little temptation to buy stuff you don’t need. Even still, I did have some unplanned purchases – a work function took me to a cute vintage shop which I wanted to support. So I spent $21 on two cute hats.

I ate out more than I wanted because of work travel and ended up exceeding my grocery budget as well. This was mainly because I found some deals that will save money in the long run. Even still, I ate well and came in under what I would normally spend on groceries.

There were a number of opportunities to shop for entertainment, to pick up clearance deals or seek out vintage treasures. However, I was so busy doing other things that I don’t feel like I missed out on anything.

I did buy tickets for a couple of upcoming local shows that I really want to see and I’m ok with that.

Perfection isn’t nearly as important to me as “good enough.” And I did good enough.

My little cat is happy having me home more and I’m better read, having plowed through a big stack of books in January.

I didn’t focus on exercise nearly as much as I wanted, opting instead for more rest. The treadmill isn’t nearly so inviting as the open trail.

In all, January feels like a success. It has been pleasant enough that I’m planning to continue through February with some new exceptions to the rules.

So, there you go. One twelfth of the year is now complete. One twelfth! How quickly did that pass?