Minimalism has not caused enlightenment, only mild annoyance

This year, with the exception of children’s toys which seem to proliferate wherever we go (in this case to thanks to decluttering friends), we are living the minimalist life.  Why?  We’re going back to our fully stocked home in less than a year and don’t want to spend extra money on things we don’t need.  We make do.

We have settled down to having exactly what we need and pretty much no more.  What a simple life we are living.  How fortunate we must be.  To cut down to the bare necessities.  Unencumbered by the clutter of daily living in our 2 bedroom, 1200 sq ft apartment.  I could totally start a minimalist blog.

We only have one big pot and one small pot.  We have one big bowl, which means that sometimes the small pot gets repurposed as a mixing bowl for dry ingredients.   We spend a lot of time washing things for immediate use.  Or sometimes we just don’t make the thing because we don’t feel like cooking *and* washing right away.  I’m sure if I were a minimalist blogger, I would write something about how this makes me more mindful and in tune with the rhythms of something or other.  Immediacy.  Sadly, as an economist, my thoughts instead flow to the inefficiencies of being unable to exploit economies of scale.

It is a lie that minimalism saves time.  It is true that having too much disorganized stuff takes time.  But having “just enough” stuff also takes excess time.  Sure it is easy to find our one big pot– it is probably in the refrigerator full of last night’s dinner.  But having to repackage the food and wash the pot before cooking takes time.  And then the repackaging will eventually have to be washed.  One big pot is enough, but it is certainly not time-saving.  Minimalism takes time.

We could, of course, just not cook the second thing until we’ve finished whatever is in the pot.  But again, that does not improve our quality of life, even if it may be ideal from a minimalist perspective. We like a little variety.  The stuff in the pot will get eaten, but not exclusively for several meals in a row.

Minimalism means not having extra.  Not having extra results in sore feet if you don’t replace your shoes quickly enough. It causes you to wear damp clothing when the laundry didn’t completely dry. Or a kid to sleep on an uncovered mattress after an accident. Minimalism requires the kind of time and flexibility that only minimalism bloggers have, because that’s, you know, their job.

While it is great to be mindful about purchases and possessions, cutting down to the minimum is unnecessary.

I suspect most people have an ideal amount of stuff, and when stuff gets cut below that amount, they go on shopping sprees. So yeah, don’t buy stuff you don’t need, get rid of stuff you don’t use, but it is ridiculous to conform to some arbitrary standard that makes your life harder instead of easier.

Link love

History rhymes.  Superman.

Dumb hicks are america’s biggest threat.  Also young men.

Just because we’ve been focusing on anti-Muslim bias doesn’t mean there still isn’t anti-black racism going on.  In this week’s F the police

Stop blaming women for making less money than men

someone photoshopped a sikh man to look like an alleged paris attacker

No one size fits all diet plan

Eat these animals to protect the environment

Reading self help books may make you feel worse

Why do people give david brooks money to talk about things?

a Haiku

moustachianism in action

Working together makes frugality more fun!

3 ingredient pasta dinners

beeline reader


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Should people exchange gifts at all at traditional gift giving holidays such as Birthdays or Christmas?: A deliberately controversial post

I know we just had a deliberately controversial post, but Mel’s comment got us thinking.  Specifically the parts where she writes:

I guess I don’t really see the point of gifts for adults. Either you have the money to buy yourself something when you want it (or the ability to save to get it), or you don’t but there is the expectation that someone else should spend their money on you for something you want.

Later she adds this about kids:

Our kids are saving all of their money for a big trip when they’re in high school, as Josh and I did when we were starting high school. I want them to have that experience of travel, so I feel okay purchasing toys and such now. Again, I rarely do it on their birthday. It’s more that they express that they want X, and if I think it’s a sound purchase, I get them X. In that way, they are never disappointed.

So that’s actually two potentially deliberately controversial statements there if we add them up.

First:  Should we give gifts to adults at all?

This one is a hard one.  Over the years the number of adults we exchange gifts with has gotten smaller.  We have stuff.  They have stuff.  We’ve moved, they’ve moved, we’ve met a lot of other people with whom we are at the same level of intimacy and we couldn’t possibly give gifts to all of them.  And so on.

DH and I don’t really exchange gifts, but #2 and her DH do.  This partly matches our different financial situations — DH and I share finances and #2 and her DH have more separate finances.  Except DH will often do something for me for Christmas and my birthday– like he’ll do some icky chore we’ve both been putting off, or he’ll buy me something I’ve been wanting out of his allowance (often sleepwear), or he’ll do something that makes me cry like turning my name into a poem to hang on the wall.  I suck at reciprocating.  We also bake cakes for each other on our birthdays.  And it is true that we could do these things at any point during the year, but it really does take one of these standard gift deadlines to, for example, clean out the shower grout.

I would be perfectly fine stopping gift exchanging with DH’s family, though I would have to come up with some other way of delaying purchases given that they have pretty well learned just to buy things off my Amazon list (though DH’s brother always ends up getting me duplicates because he doesn’t buy them directly off my wishlist, and my SIL is especially good at picking things off my list that say “lowest” priority or, the one time nothing is labeled “lowest,” giving me a generic item that isn’t on the list and gets given directly to charity*).  I would also be fine stopping gift exchanging with my sister who refuses to use my amazon wishlist because it is too impersonal and then demands to know what I want instead.

#2 and I have exchanged gifts for many years.  There are three reasons for the gift exchange over the years.  1.  Back when we started we were both poor and I, at least, had a guilt thing about buying myself stuff I really wanted.  So near the end of the holiday season, we would both sweep in and buy books on each other’s wishlists that said “highest”– maxing at just enough to get free shipping.  2.  At other points one or the other of us will be making real money while the other is still in school/unemployed/on leave/etc.  In those cases, the rich one would sweep through the amazon list and the poor one would send thoughtfully curated used books (like Ex Libris or a biography of Dorothy L. Sayers).  3.  Imposing our preferences on the other person.  You will own this book because I say you will.  Mwahahaha.

I like giving gifts.  I like giving gifts that make people happy.  Mainly though, if I’m being honest, I like imposing my preferences on the people I love (or at least who I like).  Gift giving is a time that I can indulge in that whim in a socially appropriate way.  There’s also a small element of charity with some of our gift giving– holidays are a time that we can write a check to badly off family members and they can give us something nominal in exchange (like fudge).

Receiving gifts is a bit bittersweet.  I love getting stuff off my amazon list from #2 or from my family or DH’s parents.  I love getting thoughtful stuff from DH and the kids.  But… we’re doing a lot better off financially than DH’s siblings and I’d rather they kept their money, especially if we can’t give more than we receive in terms of dollar amount.  I just do not understand the large amount of gift-giving that their family does each year.

So I guess bottom-line here is that I don’t know.  Among people who know each other and can afford it, these special times work as a nice way to be nudged into thinking about doing some gift giving.  Some people prefer no gifts at all or prefer to give “whenever” gifts.  But “whenever” gifts can be uncomfortable if they’re extravagant because the reciprocity aspect can be confusing.  So who knows.  With adults, you do you and be gracious about others doing what they do.

#2 says, for me it’s really just fun to give and get gifts.  I have money to buy my own books, but it’s a nice treat when someone buys them for me.  I like finding a gift that fits the person I’m giving it to, something I think they’ll enjoy that they haven’t thought of.  I also find it sweet and wonderful when people donate to charity in my name, particularly charities I support such as kitty ones or child’s play.


Should we batch up children’s gifts for standard gift-giving holidays (birthdays etc.) or should we give them throughout the year when requested by the child?

This probably depends on the family, but I like batching up the gifts so they’re only given at Christmas, birthdays, and to a small extent Easter.  (Though my MIL does send small presents somewhat randomly throughout the year.)   In the same way that my amazon wishlist keeps me from spending throughout the year, the hope is that getting presents later at specified times will teach them patience and give them the ability to delay their wants when they are older as well.  Anything that they want sooner, they will need to use their allowances on, possibly saving up to buy.

I realize this is an empirical question and I have read precisely zero research on the topic, so who knows.

So there, that’s our second deliberately controversial post about gifts.

*Every year I fight the suspicion that my SIL doesn’t like me and convince myself that it’s just that we have really different tastes.  Every year it is a fight.

What do you think?  Should we get rid of adult gift giving entirely?  Should children get gifts throughout the year or only at specified times?

Savings, sacrifice, and the “why” question

Here’s another post pulled from drafts.  Don’t you hate it when you leave notes to yourself assuming you’re going to know what you’re talking about and then months pass and you’re like, you know, you could have just left a link.

This post was initially inspired by a number of other posts happening around the same time period.

The SHUbox had a post, ClubThrifty had a post, and retireby40 had a post, and I really should find them and link to them.  We will see if I am successful.  Spoiler:  I wasn’t.

In any case, my commentary:

Saving for early retirement if you don’t want to retire early and are unlikely to need to retire early is ridiculous.  If you’re worried about being unable to work, then get disability insurance.  Still, worry about job loss because of age discrimination, working in a failing industry, or being forced into management (and thus wanting to quit) is a bit harder, and is a valid reason to save for at least partial early retirement– enough to fund a career change.

The fact that there are early retirement posts about how to handle (early) retirement if you’re not enjoying it and how to emotionally prepare for not going to a job so you’re not unhappy suggests not that there’s something wrong with people in that situation, but that perhaps early retirement was not the right option for them.  One suspects that rather than trying to come up with ways to make retirement less soul destroying, it might be easier to just stay in one’s job.  (A related recent post from Leightpf.)

But early retirement is not the only reason to save.  I really liked Rosa’s comment on this post (here I did myself the favor and actually linked).

we asked people who did save to write down why.. Most people gave the same set of answers – for unexpected expenses, for my kids, for retirement.

A number of people were unable to answer because the idea of not having savings horrified them. Why save? Why breathe?

But one woman gave the very best answer. “For myself.” That’s all. You might not know what your future self will want to do with the money, but the money will be there for whatever it turns out to be.

We save so our future selves aren’t in dire straights in an emergency.  So we have time to focus the time after a job loss on finding a good job rather than the first job that will pay a paycheck.  So that we can quit a miserable work situation without having another lined up.  So that we can focus on a medical emergency and not the cost of said emergency.  So that a car crash doesn’t make us unable to get to work because we can’t afford alternate routes.  Or a slow reimbursement or delayed paycheck doesn’t max out our credit cards pushing us into forced credit counseling or bankruptcy.  Or to get into the fancy nursing home.

We save for opportunity.  So we can take a year off or invest in something or someone important to us without hurting our future selves.

It’s ok to find the early retirement community demotivating.  It’s even ok to find paying off student loans unmotivating.

You don’t actually have to be motivated to save, you just need to save first, and enough that you will be living a reasonable lifestyle in the event of an emergency or job-loss.  Auto-deductions can help you take care of your future self.  So that way your future self will have money when you need it, and maybe even some when you really really want it.

Do you save?  Why or why not?

We got iphones, now what?

[Scroll down to the bottom for ask the readers question in bold and italics]

DH finally got DC1 signed up for piano, so the next thing on his list was  smart phones.  He presented me with a bunch of choices and after some discussion and a lot more waiting I chose the following somewhat randomly:

Carrier:  Ting* using the Sprint network.

Phone:  Iphone 6.  (Not 6s, not 6 plus, not 6s plus).   Purchased, not rented.

Memory:  64 mb.

Protection:  iPhone 6 Case, Spigen [HEAVY DUTY] Tough Armor Case for iPhone 6 (4.7-Inch) – Gunmetal (SGP11022)

iPhone 6s Screen Protector, JETech® 2-Pack Premium Tempered Glass Screen Protector Film for Apple iPhone 6 and iPhone 6s Newest Model 4.7

24 month applecare plan

If you want more deets on the decision-process, here’s what DH presented me with:

Summary: Ting could be $53/month on the 3rd/4th-best network. Or Verizon could be $70-$85/month for the best network.  Plus taxes on each.  Each iPhone 6s (not the Plus-size) will cost $650 (+ $100 for 64Gb) .  Still to consider: cases and insurance.

Current network performance:

In general, Verizon is best, followed by AT&T.  Sprint and T-Mobile are 3rd/4th, with Sprint having more coverage and with better calls, and T-Mobile being faster.

I’m only looking at carriers that take the iPhone, so Republic Wireless is out.

These prices do not include taxes and fees.  Ordered by
Verizon is $70/month for 2 lines with 1GB shared, $85/month with 3GB shared, or $100/month with 6GB shared.

T-Mobile: 2 lines are $80/month with 1GB each, $100/month with 3GB each, $120/month 5GB each, or $140/month for “unlimited” data each.

Sprint: $105/month for 2 lines with 2GB shared, $120/month with 4GB shared.!/

AT&T: $80/month for 2 lines with 2GB shared, $100/month with 5GB shared.

Cricket Wireless: $70/month (taxes and fees included) for 2 lines with 2.5GB each.  Uses AT&T’s network.

Ting: $53/month for 2 lines with 2GB shared, $83 for 2 lines with 4GB shared.  Ting uses either of the T-Mobile or Sprint networks, depending on the phone.

Consumer Cellular: $70/month for 2 lines with 4GB shared, up to 750 minutes of talk. Uses AT&T’s network.

Boost Mobile: $60/month for 2 lines with 2GB each.  I can’t figure out if this also has a per-line charge.  Uses Sprint’s network.

MetroPCS does not support iPhones.

Average data usage is 1.8GB per month, mostly video, according to

Looking at IPhone models,
We have to get at least a 4S for iOS 9, and a 5+ will be significantly faster. The more recent the model, the more data bands it can use, so the better data signal it will get. More recent models also get better wifi connectability. Also, the more recent the base model (4/5/6), the larger the phone.
The 6 has a better camera, and the 6S is better yet again.le’s 24-month plan because it includes accidental damage insurance.
We can get (assuming minimum Gb): a refurbished 5 or 5c from Ting for $277;
5S from Apple for $500, or refurbished from Ting for $383;
6 from Apple for $550;
6 Plus (almost 1″ longer diagonal) from Apple for $650;
6s from Apple for $650;
6s Plus (almost 1″ longer diagonal) from Apple for $750.

*This link is a referral code.  I can’t actually recommend Ting yet because I haven’t really used it, but, “Refer a friend to Ting by offering $25 off a device or $25 in Ting credit. You get $50 for your first successful referral and $25 for each one after that,” means that if you were going to get Ting anyway, here’s $25 off for you (and money for us too).  I will say their customer service has been good so far.

Now what? What apps should I get (if any?)? What should I avoid? What’s been life-saving? What’s been horrific?

Secret Santas and White Elephant Games Aren’t Frugal: A deliberately controversial post

One of the common suggestions for how to get holiday expenditures down is to suggest a Secret Santa or White Elephant exchange at the office or family gathering.

For those who aren’t in the know, the Secret Santa is where you put everybody’s name in a hat, and then each person pulls out a name.  You are only shopping for one person.

The White Elephant is a gift exchange in which you bring in one gift, usually something humorous that nobody would want, wrapped in a package.  Then a game is generally played in which each person picks a package from the pile or exchanges a package with someone who has already picked a package.  (This is involves a lot of crying/screaming when it’s played at children’s parties.)

Jimmy Fallon mentions the problems with Secret Santa in this clip.  Even when there’s a spending limit, these never seem to work out well.  If you don’t know the person, you’re likely giving them something they don’t want.   Chances are pretty good that in any pairing, either someone who doesn’t know you will get you or you will get someone you don’t know.  So you’ll end up with junk you don’t want or you’ll give someone junk they don’t want.

The White Elephant is even worse– you have to buy something that is actually already junk and bring it in.  Sometimes the rules state you bring something from  home that you already own but don’t want, but if you own it and don’t want it, then why do you still have it?  On top of that, sometimes the junk is truly junk, and sometimes the junk is actually something nice.  More often though, some number of people bring actual gag gifts that get a laugh and then take up space, and some people bring things that are pretty nice, making others (who didn’t get the nice gift) feel jealous or (who followed the rules) uncomfortable.  In the end, most people end up buying crap nobody would want and taking home crap they don’t want.  It’s a very American sort of game.

I seriously dislike both these games and would rather not participate.  I don’t see the point in anonymous reciprocal gifts.  I don’t like being forced to give things to people who I don’t know very well who don’t need stuff.  I’d rather keep my money and buy my own junk (or not buy it, as the case may be).

What suggestions do we have?  We suggest that offices not have these kinds of games, and that if they do choose to have them that they be voluntary and neither explicitly nor socially mandatory.  As for families, we really think it’s better that if someone is worried about money that adults not exchange presents at all rather than having one of these silly exchanges.  But that’s just us.  We still exchange presents with everybody.  Maybe the joy some families get from having different senses of humor than we have outweighs the annoyance of crap being exchanged.  Maybe it’s worth it to some families.

But it still isn’t frugal.  At least, not as frugal as not participating would be.  Still, if this is the only option for not having a full gift exchange, it’s better than nothing.

What are your thoughts on these kinds of gift exchanges?  Do you participate?  Have you participated?  What’s your philosophy on anonymous gift exchanges?

November mortgage update: Spending has stabilized

Last month (October):
Years left: 1.4166666666666667
P =$1,134.40, I =$80.00, Escrow =$809.48

This month (November):
Years left: 1.333333333
P =$1,138.89, I =$75.51, Escrow =$809.48

One month’s prepayment savings: $0

Our spending in paradise seems to have stabilized.  That’s good, because remember how I put a big lump sum into checking based on what I thought we’d be spending over and above our income?  Yeah, that’s all gone now.  100% gone.  It did not actually last 11.5 months.  Spending without guilt worked a bit too well.  Whoops!

That’s a little bit misleading– several thousand dollars went to pay for (unexpected) travel that got reimbursed, but to a different account (deposits are going into our Wells Fargo account, not our main credit union account).  So we didn’t really overspend our wad quite as badly as it seems.

Still, I was surprised to see that for the month of October we spent a little bit under what we earned.  The number in our savings account went up instead of down!  It helps that we have a tenant for our regular house now, and it helps that I’m now getting paid again, even if only at half my regular salary.  It helps more that we seem to have settled down with the right amount of furniture and our pantry is relatively full.  We’ve also figured out grocery stores and are not wasting money at the more expensive stores when there are less expensive groceries that are better.

The holidays will probably be pretty expensive, because they usually are.  We’ll have presents to buy and lots of restaurant trips to pay for.   But then February and March will probably be pretty cheap, because they usually are.

It’s a bit deceptive– it feels like we could live in paradise forever when we start saving instead of overspending.  But that’s only true with job security and high salaries.  If I left my job, we would lose job security, and they’re not going to pay me to not teach for more than one year every five years or so.  And there’s no guarantee rents won’t increase beyond what we could pay and without job security or a lot more savings, buying a house would be extremely risky.  So we’ll be returning home at the end of the year, where we can save and save and save… but never enough to quit and move out here.  I suppose that’s a problem with paradises– surrounded by beautiful slender people one feels fat, and surrounded by the wealthy one feels poor.


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