our living room is a storage unit

Two months ago, we did something drastic.

We were feeling the frugal-fever, excited to save money, and so we made a bold decision.

We moved our entire storage unit into our living room.

Our camping gear, 11 boxes of cosmetics (stacked against the wall…don’t ask), our childhood memorabilia, 4 standing lamps, a glass hookah, 4 bins of old clothes, a heater, and 15 smoke alarms (definitely don’t ask…); the accumulation of 53 combined years of living.

hey, this is a finance blog, not a housekeeping one...
hey, this is a finance blog, not a housekeeping one…

I know what you’re thinking – how did I end up with a storage unit in the first place?

Well, a couple months ago, when we downsized from a 1450 square foot 3-bedroom house to a 620 square foot 1-bedroom apartment, things got a little ugly. Some accusations about who owns more pairs of shoes were thrown, and as we emptied out our massive garage, with floor to ceiling racks filled with bins, I started to panic.

So we decided that we would temporarily get a storage unit. I found a deal on Yelp for 1/2 off the first two months of a 10×6 foot unit.

When the guy behind the counter asked if we wanted to sign up for direct withdrawal, I resolutely shook my head.

“We’re only going to be renting it for the two months,” I told him. “Just until we get settled.”

He gave me that look like, “that’s what they all say…”

And for a while, it looked like he was going to be right.

As Day 60 drew near, we discussed incorporating the storage unit ($72 once the promotion was over) into our monthly rent, and just accepting it as part of downsizing.

Our new apartment has no storage space, no closets, and no garage. It seemed impossible to ever store it in our apartment. We talked about slowly, box by box, going through our unit and getting rid of stuff. But weeks went by and we never went to the storage unit, or even thought about it.

And then one day I had an idea.

If we wanted to keep the stuff, shouldn’t we be forced to live with it?

By having our extra stuff safely stored away in a storage unit, we are having our cake and eating it too. If you have a clean living room and organized closets, but all your junk is being stored out of sight, does that really count as being a minimalist. What greater motivation would there be to get rid of our extra stuff than if we are seeing it every single day?

That night, I pitched it to A: “If we keep our stuff in storage, we have no incentive to get rid of any of it. But if we put it in the living room, we’ll get rid of 80% immediately because we’ll both go so crazy.” I also delicately pointed out that if a certain unnamed person in our relationship wanted to own 45 pairs of identical Nike sneakers, shouldn’t that unnamed person have to (literally) live with (and trip over) that choice?

Amazingly enough, he was on board.

I was actually shocked he agreed. I pitch him on a lot of crazy ideas…running a dog sitting business out of our home, eating canned beans to save money, having only 39 pieces of clothing (more on this soon), getting rid of our TV, going without internet, giving up the cars…but this was up there on the crazy scale.

Not only did he agree, but he offered to move the entire unit himself. For one week, he took a load every day before work, and gradually our living room looked like something on the Hoarders show.

On Day 52, we marched into that rental office and cancelled our storage unit.

It felt fantastic!

Until we got home, and saw our living room…

It was awful. So messy. So chaotic. So unorganized. It was like everywhere you stepped, or looked, or turned, there was stuff.

Weeks went by, and it felt like our experiment was working, but in the worst possible way. We were having to live with our consumer choices, and it was agony!

So, we decided that our Columbus Day weekend, a holiday usually devoted to sales and shopping, we would tackle our apartment and get things organized and cleaned once and for all.

We used the $20, 20 minute rule, and took 2 full car loads to the thrift store.

I went through three bins of school assignments, childhood writing, and saved birthday cards. Everytime I wanted to keep something, I asked myself, “is this item worth all the time I’m going to spend in my life organizing it, moving it, sorting it, and dealing with it, and all the stress I’m going to feel because of the additional work?”

Without further ado…the after picture.

tah-dah!!!!!!
tah-dah!!!!!!

 

What do you think? Pretty good, right?!

Happy Columbus Day everyone! I hope whatever your home looks like, it makes you as happy right now as my home is making me :)

I am not getting interviewed by the huffington post

Ok, it all started last Friday.

I was helping my mom create her capsule wardrobe, and I got an email from a producer of Huffpost Live asking to interview me on Monday.

They had come across my article in the billfold about buying a house when I was 21, and wanted to interview me.

I spent 5 seconds emailing back, 2 minutes screaming in excitement, 10 minutes explaining it to my mom, and the next 12 hours working on my website, trying to get it ready for my interview.

Remember this? Yeah, it's bye bye now.
Remember this? Yeah, it’s bye bye now.

I didn’t hear back all weekend, but I didn’t think much of it – people in NYC are busy, right? They don’t just willy-nilly answer back to emails.

Besides, I was on vacation.

I woke up at 7 a.m. the morning of the interview. Still no email. I started to wonder if they picked someone else…

I took a shower, connected to the La Quinta wifi, and sat in front of my computer, waiting for an email.

Finally, I sent the producer a note, “are we still on for this morning?”

And waited.

And then got this:

Oh no! I don’t know how I missed this – I can’t find it in my inbox anywhere.

I would love to add you but it is too late as we are going live in 20 — but we will def be in touch about future segments.

SAY WHAT?!
angry face

You guys, it’s sad but true, I was invited to be interviewed by the Huffington Post and they didn’t get my confirmation email.

I won’t give you the details of what happened in La Quinta, Room #331, but it was not pretty. This is a newbie financial blogger’s wet dream! I was pretty much devastated.

It didn’t help that A and I had picked that day to do one of the most dangerous hikes in the world! I was so mad, I didn’t even remember to be scared. I marched angrily up 1500 feet in elevation, and along a tiny ledge, holding onto a chain.

That's not a smile, that's me gritting my teeth in rage.
That’s not a smile, that’s me gritting my teeth in rage.

The moral of the story – don’t be afraid to check in if you don’t hear back :)

Honestly, I’m not sure exactly what to take away from this. Certainly, it was a really exciting opportunity, and I really wish I had been able to participate. I guess it shows that there’s a lot of opportunity out there and you have to just keep your eyes peeled.

Or that shit happens.

(a little bit of column A, a little bit of column B?)

I must say, the interview was still pretty awesome, and they spoke with some very intelligent and interesting bloggers. Definitely check it out…and superimpose my face onto the screen.

Alright, Huffington Post, you and I have unfinished business…

Now, I’d like to get back to my vacation.

 

blogging while under the influence...
blogging while under the influence…

 

on the road – 5 ways to travel as a couple without going insane

As I type this, it’s two minutes to midnight, A is in the shower, I’m supposed to be packing…

And we have a cab coming to take us to the airport at 4:30 a.m.

Yep, for the first time in a very long time, we are going on vacation.

photo credit - wolfgang staudt, creative common
photo credit – wolfgang staudt, creative common

Traveling in a couple is hard. Not only is there insane pressure to have fun and “make memories”, there’s often differences between what each person sees as “fun.”

And when you don’t talk about budgets or finances, every decision becomes fraught – “can they afford their half of this?” “should I offer to pay?” “Will they think I’m cheap if I say that’s too expensive for me?”

We live in this crazy culture where the size of your hotel room, the comfort of your airplane seat and the cost of your dinner actually means something, not just about your financial situation, but about you as a person.

I hear this all the time, “I only fly first class,” or “four star hotels or nicer for me.”

I’ve flown first class and I’ve stayed in four star hotels and I promise you, it’s the person beside you that makes the difference, never the thread count.

7874090632_121243629d_k

Here’s 5 things we do that I would suggest to any couple traveling together:

1. Understand Your Partner’s Definition of Fun.

When I first met A, he would tell me all these crazy stories about going to Vegas with his childhood friends – the drinking, the clubs, the fancy hotels, the $200 bar tabs.

I had been to Vegas before with my best friend. We stayed at a cheap hotel, packed our own liquor and snacks, ordered in pizza one night and a great time lying by the pool and talking together (and I won $9!)

My dream vacation involves sunshine, swimming, hiking, biking, and a comfortable bed. I don’t like fancy anything. I’m all burrito, no bling.

Up until me, A’s vacations involved drinking, drinking, and spending money. So I assumed that he liked to go big on vacations (yep, this caused several panic attacks before our first vacation…) but it turns out that what he really wanted to do was to see new cities / countries, instead of going to Vegas like his friends preferred.

The lavish spending was really a result of him just going along with someone else’s vacation plan. When I suggested an alternate spending plan, he happily agreed.

Now, when we plan a vacation, we make sure both of our “fun” ideas are included – nature and swimming for me, someplace new for A.

2. Start a Travel Fund.

This was a game-changer for us, and I suggest it for every couple, or even two friends, who are planning on traveling together.

Every month, we put $100 each into a shared travel account*. Even when we don’t have a trip planned, $100 goes in.

That money builds year round, and when it’s time to go on vacation, you already have a budget ready to go.

I don’t know about A, but once the $100 gets subtracted from my checking account, I forget about it.

So every time we start talking about our trip and check our travel account balance, it’s a nice surprise that our entire vacation is already paid for.

Planning a big vacation? Put in $300 each a month.

We also put random funds in there – like our piggy bank ($67!) and the money we got selling furniture on Craigslist ($400).

When it’s time to go on vacation, dust off the travel fund debit cards, and get started.

3. If You’re Feeling Anxious, Talk About It NOW.

The first trip I took with A was 2 months into dating. I remember standing in line to get on the plane, and asking him if he drank coffee every morning. I literally didn’t know if my (not-yet) boyfriend drank coffee! It quickly became clear we knew nothing about each other, including our spending habits.

From $100+ buffets, to a 4-star hotel, A did his best to impress me. And I was not a happy camper.

The entire trip, I was having a mini anxiety-attack about the cost of the hotel. How much was it, and was he expecting us to split the cost? (I had picked up the tickets, so wasn’t sure if he was planning on picking up the hotel bill).

“Just ask him!” my mom told me, when I called her crouched down by the ice bucket.

But I couldn’t. I didn’t want to seem cheap, and so instead, I spent my vacation stressing about our hotel bill.

Don’t make my mistake – if you’re unclear about who is paying for what, or how much something is going to cost, just bring it up.

4. Set a Financial Expectation.

You can’t control the costs of a trip, but you can realistically prepare and make sure you’re on the same page.

Flights, hotels, car rentals -> these costs don’t fluctuate that much, and can be figured out beforehand.

Drinks, dinners, $100 show tickets, zip-lining, ATV rentals, boat rentals, scuba diving -> this kind of trip add-on can get expensive pretty quickly and it’s good to know if your partner is planning on dropping some serious dough on your vacation.

For this trip, I figured hotels would be about $150 a night, car rental would be $200 for a week, and we already had our flights booked. So, we decided we were comfortable paying $400-$500 on gas, drinks, food, etc.

Sure, we might end up spending $300 more than we thought, or $300 less. But at least we’re not coming home with $1500 in expenses that we weren’t planning for.

5. Once the Plane Takes Off, Let It Go.

Vacations where I’m counting every penny don’t feel like vacations to me.

When the plane takes off, I force myself to let go of any anxiety about costs and just have fun.

Later, when I get back home, I can evaluate what I spent and make decision about future vacations.

Travel is one of the goals that keep me and A on track year-round with our frugality, and so when the plane lifts off the runway, money worries stay at home.

12903854895_695bc3f268_k

Alright folks, 3 hours until the cab gets here. Have an awesome week – I know we will!

*For an easy, simple no-fee checking account, I suggest USAA. It’s totally free (including checks!), easy to open online, and they offer great customer service while you’re traveling.

mind blown: millionaires are depressing

I haven’t been blogging so much lately.

A couple reasons – Quora, last minute summer-is-almost-over hiking, my co-worker’s obsession with giant rabbits, and also, this.

portlandhikers.org
portlandhikers.org

 

But seriously, Quora is insane. It’s liking having the deepest, funniest, most intellectual conversation of your life with a million new friends – all of whom are incredibly well-spoken. And the kicker? You can be in your pajamas!

Here is my absolute favorite Quora thread, and so applicable to this blog: What is it like to be wealthy?

Check out these snippets:

 

Read Quote of John-Charles Hewitt’s answer to What does it feel like to be financially rich? on Quora   Read Quote of Anonymous’ answer to What does it feel like to be financially rich? on Quora

The comparison of money to water just blows my mind. We can conceive of how lucky we are to have water on-demand, without limit, but we can’t really imagine the feeling of not having it. Is that really how it feels to be wealthy? To stop worrying? Fascinating!

That’s what I love about Quora: the answers are so authentic.

Read Quote of Anonymous’ answer to What does it feel like to be financially rich? on Quora Know any other good threads on Quora? Seriously, guys, it’s only Wednesday…I’ve got some work hours to kill here :)  

WARNING: giant rabbits are not a frugal pet...
WARNING: giant rabbits are not a frugal pet…

   

What’s $100, has 1 zipper, and is a total waste of money?

somebody was too cheap to buy his gown...
somebody was too cheap to buy his gown…

I graduated in a borrowed gown.

It was slightly too long, slightly too big, and slightly too blue (what kind of black graduation gown has a blueish tint?)

But it was free. I asked my co-worker if I could borrow hers since her school’s graduation was two weeks before mine. I even got it dry-cleaned after for a measly $8.

Everyone told me to just suck it up, and pay the $100 for my school’s official gown, the cap, and the tassel.

“You only graduate once,” my roommate told me (clearly, she didn’t think it humanly possible I would make it through grad school).

“I’m going to keep mine forever,” said a friend (and future hoarder.

“It helps support the school,” said another friend, because the $25,000 I’d already given wasn’t quite enough.

“We’ll pay for it,” my parents said, their go-to answer.

(Note to self: I really should have gone into the graduation gown business…)

Everytime that I’ve been told I should do something I don’t want because it’s the “normal” way, I’ll regret something if I don’t do it, I should splurge because “it only happens once”, they’ve been wrong.

I just spent 4 years hauling ass to get a degree, why would I give a crap what I was wearing on my graduation day?

Finding my first job, that was something I gave a crap about. Paying off my student loans? Check! Getting my photo taken with my grandma on my graduation day? That was pretty special. Am I wearing my gown in that photo? Nope. It was so hot out we all took off our gowns immediately after the ceremony.

Do I regret that I didn’t shell out $100 for the graduation gown? Definitely not. In fact, most of my friends later said they gave their graduation gowns to goodwill or they wish they had copied me and just borrowed one.

Four years ago, we thought graduation was the biggest freaking event EVER. The most important of our lives. Turns out, it’s not. You buy houses, get jobs and quit jobs, struggle to stay in touch with your college friends.

You want to know the thing that made me the proudest on my graduation day? That unlike 99.9% of the girls in my graduating class, I didn’t wear stripper heels.

Even an expensive graduation gown can’t hide heels that were meant for a different kind of stage…

heels