Friday, January 30, 2009

Personal Economy

The economy is on everyone's lips these days. Companies are no longer matching 401(k)s, or there are layoffs, and the stock market is in the toilet, and there is a lot of fear around. Turn on the radio, open a newspaper, or just listen to people talking on the street, and the news isn't good.

Right now, the global economy isn't impacting us as much as some others. The rising costs of food (well documented in other places) are troublesome, and our food budget continues to rise even as I cut costs all over the place, because I become more committed each day to grass fed beef, free range organic poultry, and organic produce. We have some of the fear - if Ryan got laid off we'd be in trouble - but we are hopeful that we are in a good position right now. Ryan's job is going well, and the work isn't drying up. We are hopeful in that regard.

But right now, our finances are actually looking up.

If I talk to you in person, it won't seem like our finances are improving. Ask me if I want to go out for dinner, and I'll mumble something about not having enough money, or needing to go somewhere cheap. Our gift giving has fallen off to almost nothing. We're avoiding stores altogether when possible - I used to go to Target and Costco and the like almost every week, and now I rarely go. We quit the YMCA, despite their reasonable rates, solely to save money. We really are eating rice and beans (but we have fruit and veggies with them). I only rarely go out for coffee, but when I do, I often have a cup of drip instead of a more expensive latte, or I have tea. I like to invite people over for coffee at my house instead of meeting them for coffee at a local place. (I do still love our weekend trips to C&P, though.)

With all of this cutting back, I do feel some deprivation - don't get me wrong. I'd love some new Seven jeans; I want to fix our porch and put in something with slate and river rock and heavy wood; and I would really, really, really like to take a trip to somewhere warm with the family. And it's not going to happen, not for a long time.


We're finally getting ahead. Finally.

We are committed to living within our means and getting out of debt. Facing the reality of the numbers was no fun at all (oh dear), and figuring out where to cut things out was even less fun. I will never enjoy the agony of grocery shopping as I try to come up with creative, interesting meals for the family that are gentle to the earth but also tasty....and don't cost much.

And after a few months of this, we're adjusting, and I can't believe it, but it's getting easier. We don't eat out much, and when we do, it's not a "oh I don't feel like cooking" it's a "let's meet friends and have a really wonderful time." I am spending more time reading and writing (loves of mine), and much more time on beaches (isn't that why we love West Seattle anyway?).

And every month, Ryan puts the new numbers - pay this much to this company, reduce the total this month - into a spreadsheet that he's made (it has lots of tabs and formulas; very nice work) and we watch the right numbers rise (emergency fund) and the right numbers fall (amount owed). In June, if we stay on track, we will be paid in full to the PolyClinic AND Swedish, and we will apply those amounts to the totals on our credit cards. We might be able to get totally out of debt by the end of 2010.

So, for the next two years, things will be tight, but I've decided I don't care. I want to get these debts off our backs so that we can kiss them goodbye forever. If we did, we'd feel so much more relaxed....and as we write these checks and send them off each month, I think "wow if we didn't have debt that would be money for us to keep!" and I look forward to 2011 when we'll get to keep that money for ourselves to invest or spend.
And we're not exactly hard done by. Here we are, with a decent car (not fancy, not worth much, but does the job), a lovely home, comfortable furniture, a kitchen filled with the tools of the trade, bicycles, toys, iPods, computers, music, candles, books (LOTS of books). We're being more creative with how we spend our free time. We make popcorn*, we get movies from the library, we take the bus downtown and go to the market, we go to the Seattle Art Museum. We have play dates, we go to Lincoln Park. Tessa still gets to ride on horses.

So we're determined to stay on track. Little by little, we are making progress, and I'm proud of us. Upward and onward.

I am jumping off the American bandwagon of "more more more stuff." I want "more more more" it's true, but I want free time, happiness, peace, relaxation, better world. It's great to be comfortable, and I'm not giving up my life for an adherence to poverty (I'm not giving up my iPod, I love my GoreTex coat, and I do enjoy nice things). But I'm really happy to be out of the mall.....and I'm not missing it at all.

For those who are considering making some financial changes in their own lives, I'll mention that we're following Dave Ramsey's "debt snowball" program. Dave Ramsey can drive me nuts - he's a bit high on himself and I don't agree 100% with everything he says - but his basic advice is excellent....and it's working. He has a podcast that you can download (which I listen to because it helps me to stay on track and focused), and books that are available on his website or from the library. He's on the radio, too, and he does seminars around the country.

* Popcorn: I read about microwave popcorn and how people working in those factories were getting horrible diseases and cancers from inhaling the fake butter, and I promptly threw out the popcorn in our house. However, I have an easy solution! For those who don't have popcorn poppers and don't want to do the stovetop method, try this: put 1/4 cup of popcorn (from your bulk section!) in a paper bag, and tape it shut. Put this in the microwave and pop until you can't hear it any more. Viola - microwave popcorn with MUCH less packaging, and it tastes good

PS Here are two pictures from a recent (Monday) family day. The weather was nice, Tessa had an in-service day and Ryan had the day off, so the three of us took Shep on the bus and went downtown to visit the Olympic Sculpture Park (dogs allowed on leash). We walked through town, we had lunch in the market (Piroshky Piroshky for me; Le Panier for Ryan and Tessa. We sat outside with Shep, sitting on the curb in the sunshine, watching the market bustle as we ate.). We picked up some veggies for dinner while at the market. It was a lovely day, unrushed, relaxing, fun.....and CHEAP. I recommend it highly!

Tessa's birthday

First, I just have to say that I haven't done all of my Christmas thank you cards, and now I'm behind on birthday ones, too. Hold on, friends. Don't give up on me. My intentions are good and I will get to it.....really!

But I know you all want to see pictures of one six year old child with big blue eyes, so here you go.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Green and Easy

Sometimes being green (environmentally conscious, practicing sustainable living) is hard. Really, I admit this. If it was totally a cakewalk we wouldn't be so messed up.


There are some things that are really, really easy. They don't cost extra, they're not inconvenient. You don't have to change your whole life to live this just need to grab this, and not that.

Some examples:
- Choose glass over plastic. The honey or maple syrup in the glass bottle instead of the plastic one, for example.

- Buy powdered laundry and dishwasher detergent instead of liquid. I don't know if the chemical content is any different, but the packaging is. The cardboard box takes fewer, and less toxic, resources to make, and is less toxic to the planet. (Of course, I also suggest eco-friendly brands like Method or Ecover or Trader Joe's Next to Godliness or Seventh Generation, but I admit they are often more expensive.)

- Use bar soap instead of liquid. Liquid soap comes in plastic containers that get thrown out; bar soap comes in a little paper wrapper. Plus, bar soap is cheaper.

- Use CFL lightbulbs instead of regular. (You've heard this before. It's still true.)

- Stop. Buying. Bottled. Water. Really. Right now. Just decide to stop.

- Bring your own coffee cup. This will save you a few cents per cup as most shops give you a discount, but even better it saves some more junk from going in a landfill. If you forget your cup and need one, try a "for here" in a ceramic cup. If you have to go, try it without a (plastic) lid, as the cup itself decomposes much better than the lid.

- Give up straws. More plastic. You don't drink out of straws at home, do you? No need to do so when you're out.

- Use rags instead of paper towels. Don't have any rags? Well, look in your bottom drawer; the one with the t-shirts you never wear. See that one with a small stain that you'll never wear again? Voila - four rags.

- Use a real mop and real broom instead of disposable substitutes.

- Choose snacks with little packaging. A piece of cheese instead of string cheese. A handful of nuts from a bigger container. Fruit. If it comes wrapped in fancy plastic it's probably not good for you anyway.

- Use half the amount of shampoo and/or conditioner that you usually use. Shockingly (to me), it didn't make one bit of difference on my hair. This means less overall consumption, and only half the wasted bottles in landfills.

- Vinegar and baking soda for cleaning. My sink has never been shinier.

- Read the newspaper online - no waste. (And no cost.)

- The library. Only buy those books you want to reference, read again, or share with friends.

- Stop using paper napkins. Cloth ones are easy, often go on sale.

- Shop your local thrift stores when you need household items like platters, picture frames, pots and pans, etc. (I love to find old china teacups for a bargain, too.) Bargains, they often support a cause (in West Seattle one supports the ACS and the other supports the senior center), and they prevent things from going into landfills. Even more importantly, they prevent items from being produced with more packaging and waste.

- Carry your own bag with you. Chico Bags is Ryan's favorite (solid colors), mine is Envirosax (cute patterns). My Envirosax bag has been used daily for at least 6-9 months and still looks great. But my guess is that you have a bag at home you could use without going out and buying one.

Not one of these things is difficult, time consuming, or expensive. Not one. And you don't have to adopt all of these changes to make a difference - just pick one or two if the whole list is overwhelming to you.

Little changes add up. None of these items, individually, makes a huge difference. But they add up, and as more and more people start to follow these no-nonsense ways to go green, it WILL make a difference.

And then you can join me in making your own granola and bread, learning about compost, canning tomatoes, and walking everywhere possible..... But I'll wait for you if you're not ready!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

checking in

All is well - despite some big time fatigue. Tessa's birthday came and went, and it was a lovely success. A sleepover where she stayed up til midnight, horseback riding, and lots of cake.

I missed Melissa and Ross's shower, and I'm sad about that, but I couldn't fit it in with the birthday craziness. Ugh!

Anyway, just touching base to say that all is well, just overly busy. I'll update something more later.