Sunday, July 16, 2006

Money Magazine Article

Well, it is now "out." We were selected as the feature family for August 2006 Money Magazine. I just received an advance copy and learned that others have read it. I don't know what type of feedback we will receive. It is an interesting article - well, it is interesting to have an outsider's perspective. I do think that there are many people who live much more simply than we do. I don't think anything that we do is remarkable in any way. I guess that we seem more like the typical American, yet make choices to live with less (while we could purchase much much more).

The following is my gist of the story including some things that were not included in the article. This is really a story about how we "chose" to live simply - first out of necessity and then by choice. There are also 8 pictures within the article!

The article starts by stating how we spent last Christmas - not exchanging many presents with the children. It truly was minimal (by choice). The article does not state that the children made some gifts and that I made gifts for others. Madison knit 6 scarves for gifts. They were absolutely beautiful! We also save change throughout the year. That pocket change is what we use to spend on gifts. Nothing more. I made many different food gifts. We have always made gifts or given gifts that will be used. J's mother, for instance, is a neat freak (in a good way). So, we always give her cleaning supplies. I don't like how my family (my parents and siblings) spends the holidays -- as a gift card exchange. I think the pressure to give is horrible! My favorite events have to do with gathering of people and having good food.

The article also talks about our path to simplicity. This path started in 2001 or 2002. The path was necessary to get out of debt (my debt) in combination with my marriage to a very frugal man. J is the environmentalist in our family, yet he also is extremely tight with money. This has been modified in the past year or two. I think he is relaxing a little on the money issue.

We did live extremely frugally for our first few years of marriage. We found a way to get cast off wood at a very cheap price. This wood was less than $20 a cord and was planned to be burned in a brush pile somewhere. So, we figured that we might as well burn it instead. We bought a very good quality fireplace insert (90% efficient) and heated our house mostly with the firewood. Our house in Duluth was built around this beautiful large fireplace - which meant that using this fireplace created a lot of radiant heat. We could get our house to 80 if we wanted! The walls upstairs were very warm. We did keep the house set at 55 (for gas), but supplemented with wood. It was rare that the gas furnace even kicked in. There was a time, however, when we found that it was best to just heat on or two rooms. We had rooms blocked off that were not going to be in use. So, we did heat more than one room - just not traditionally.

The 50k of debt was paid off through the heat savings, electric savings, and food savings. We did cut our food bill from about 700/month to under 400/month. What the article did not state is that a lot of this debt was joint with my ex-spouse who refused to pay his share of the credit card bills. The collectors came after me instead. So, the 50k was made up of my college loans, my credit card debt, and the ex debt. Remember, we also paid off ths debt in well under 2 years time while I was in grad school (and working FT) and J was a FT med student. I call Jonathan "Jonathan Greenspan." This whole period from our wedding to graduation from med school is what I like to call - The Frugal Years.

So, once we were "matched" for residency we had not only paid off all of the debt, but we had also saved enough so that we could put a sizable down payment on a house. We were pre-approved for a 250k house, but chose a simpler less expensive house instead. We were also approved for no down payment. We chose to put over 20% down and have an extra 20k put aside for house improvements. We could save all of this because we were still in "frugal years" mode.

We lived simply the first two months of residency. J was working hard as a medical resident and I was staying at home. I found, however, that the area college was in desperate need of a graphic designer with an MFA. So, I applied and got the job teaching college students. Suddenly, for the first time in my life, I was part of a two-income marriage! We were making a lot more than mentioned in the article because I was offered a second position (they were desperate). In one semester I was making about 50k. That is, in 4 months time! btw, I will never teach 8 courses in one semester again! So, I was teaching and making a ton of money, and I felt like - "I can spend again "- and I did. I gained that adrenaline rush. It was exciting- for about 5 minutes.

The Compact. One morning in March/April I was watching the Today show and saw an interesting segment about a group of people who formed a compact not to purchase anything new for a year. Things could be borrowed, purchased second hand, etc. J was at home that morning and turned to me and jokingly said "you should try that." I don't think he ever thought I would. Later that day I did a search on the web and found information about the group. I decided to join their Yahoo group. It was over a month later that I told Jonathan that I had joined the compact. I don't think he thought I would ever follow through. What I learned on the group gave me direction. I did not mind living simply, but I needed a reason to do it. I finally found my reason. I realized that the mass consumerism and the abundant amount of stuff generated and purchased every day did not add value to life. If anything, it reduced value. There was more to worry about!

So, in April I joined the compact and made the vow not to purchase new items. In every month after that I saw other changes I could make that would be good for me, good for my family, and good for my environment. The article does not state all of the other changes we have made (mentioned throughout this blog). I can say that choosing to "opt out" of the cycle has been liberating! It was choice instead of being dictated. :) It is nice that Jonathan and I are at the same spot - he doesn't want to spend money out of frugality, and I am choosing not for other personal reasons.

The advice - we have taken some of the advice. I have already opened accounts for each of the children (College savings Plan). We have also agreed that we could "lighten up." We have agreed that it is okay to make purchases if we cannot find it used or if it will significantly help our lives. That has been difficult for both of us, but knowing that we have agreed upon it makes it okay. We have yet to do it. We also prefer to eat at home (I love to cook), but agree that a date night once in a while would do us some good. Now, if only his schedule would allow it! We don't know about investing as much as we were advised - we would like to keep a little more "liquid" (for personal reasons), but do plan on investing more.

The kids - I do have significant worries about raising children who expect to have everything handed to them. I could easily see this happen - especially once J is in practice and could make over more than 5x what he does now. I have the kids earn things that they want (not need). One of the pieces of advice was to let the kids choose what they want to get with the money they earn. I do - in a sense. For instance, Madison did a ton of work on the side of the house and earned $20 toward something. She wanted to get a specific movie, but is now thinking about earning more money toward something else. It is up to her. My advice, however, is to rent a movie (or borrow) before purchasing it.

Yesterday Madison came home with $30 in babysitting money. We talked about saving vs spending. So, she has decided to save$20 and have $10 to spend as she wishes. I promise that I will bite my tongue! I am taking some advice from the financial advisors to allow the children to choose what to purchase with their money. I only hope to have a positive influence.

The article states that I was furious when Madison came home with a haul of clothing from her grandmother's house. Well, I was. However, it was mostly because less than a week before that she had insisted on going to a used clothing store because she "needed" some new clothes. I agreed that she had outgrown many clothes and we purchased a lot. So, I would not have been furious if she had not shed so many tears about needing new used clothing. I considered everything very wasteful (purchasing more than needed).

So, that is my synopsis and story. I hope that by being a part of the article and this synopsis that we may have a positive influence on some of the readers. We really do not need all of the "stuff" that we are told that we need! Again, I do not think that anything we do is that extreme or unattainable. We just do what we can. There are many others who have chosen other steps in the Compact.

Please feel free to leave comments if you do have any comments or questions!


~Dawn said...

Congrats on the write up! Maybe others will see you did it and cut back on a few things themselves.

Jane Kathryn Kolles said...

Thanks so much for writing all this up. I am not very trusting of the mainstream media, the writing is so skewed, so I appreciate getting the inside scoop. I really enjoy learning about how other people come to simplicity and The Compact. (I can trace my own path to simplicity and the Compact to ten years ago when I stopped supporting Coke and Pepsi by no longer drinking pop...imagine that.) Our paths can all be so different based on various motivations, but we end up at the same place.


Anonymous said...

Congratulations on having your article published! Your blog has definitely given me some ideas to think about. - Linda

Anonymous said...

the part i love is cutting down the food expenditure! i need to do that!!!


Anonymous said...

Hi Emme,
Good to read your story. I'm not surprised that the author chose to leave out the food/home made gifts; this is a culture that values gifts only if they were bought with money rather than time, creativity, and love.

Did you read the article, in this same issue, on raising money-savvy kids? it looks to me as if you're doing just fine.

For investments: DH and I are also very conservative in our investments. We like laddering CDs, and have a money market account paying good interest for our emergency funds and savings toward the next CD.

Hang in there!


emme said...

Suzanne, I like your recommendations for investments. I know we can do better. This issue did have some great advice on how happiness, kids,and money....

I keep updating responses to the article (with new postings). So, check back (click on simple living above).

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Thanks for the link! I will check this out. said...

I like your reasons for pursuing a simple life style. Preserving the resources the earth produces and its environment are so very important.

Susan said...

Right on! is what I say to you two loving parents. I think your children will look back on their childhood and see that their parents made them strong survivors in a world that heralds material acquistion over our inherent Divinely-inspired creative abilities and inner resources. Of course it may take years or until they become parents to appreciate the lessons they are being given.
You are breaking new ground and I find it extremely refreshing and hopeful given the world's current consumer-driven maniacal pace.

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