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Monday, August 10, 2015

Living on Less, Deliberately

I take saving money seriously. You have to when you consider we now live on less than half of what we made only a few months ago as full time employees.

Severe? To the uninitiated of the secret cult of retirees, maybe, but we've been preparing for our retirement for a long time. 

Here are some of the things we've done to stay ahead of the curve.

• I buy in bulk whenever something we use or eat goes on sale. 

• We're disciplined with our spending. We've learned to recognize impulse buys for what they are-- cash-sucking vampires.

• We buy used whenever possible. Garage sales help here. Last weekend, we spent twelve dollars for: 
-a Pyrex measuring cup
-15 dvds
-1 xBox game
-an electronic food scale
-an excellent hanging feed bucket (for my goats)
-an electronic range finder
-steel beams for Greg's metal working projects
-a metal work stand, also for Greg's projects
-a stone entry table that's tres chic

A lot of these things were 25 cents or less. Others were free (like the entry table). It had a broken metal leg that Greg welded back to new in seconds. By the way, that little piece of red decorative porcelain was a quarter.

• We still keep an expense journal which has helped in keeping us honest about what we really spend. To be fair, though, it's a pain in the tuckus to keep it updated.That takes discipline too.

• We reuse and repurpose whenever possible. For example, we need a hay barn. We could build it from scratch, but we have a HUGE greenhouse we're not using. We're going to dismantle it and use half as the skeleton for the hay barn and half for another building elsewhere.

• We sell what we no longer need. Our last garage sale was so successful, we plan another one with what's left over from the other house. We still have appliances and furniture over there. 

If you want to make some quick cash, sell the stuff you no longer use. It's not doing you any favors sitting in storage. Use Craigslist, eBay, or team up with friends to hold a yard sale. Even Facebook has groups that lets you sell your stuff locally.

• I freelance. Even a little extra cash softens the blow of surprise expenses.

• We don't care about keeping up with the Joneses. I used to be envious of friends who were ten years older than us. Gorgeous home, expensive cars, great vacations. I didn't know then that they were always in debt...and probably still are.

When you're used to a certain amount of income, it can be jarring when you cut it to the bone, but it's entirely doable. Before we both retired, we spent a long time calculating expenses. The hard part is calculating emergencies and major auto or appliance breakdowns. And replacements? Those are killers!

We're lucky in that Greg can diagnose and fix most anything. In back to back weeks, he's had to fix both our AC units, each with a different problem. Replacing the parts wasn't cheap, but still a helluva lot cheaper than hiring a specialist. You can't live in Texas without air conditioning. Well, you could, but you wouldn't be happy.

I am not handy. I can grow stuff and I'm pretty good at keeping man and beasts alive, but that's the extent of my practical home skills.

Sometimes I toy with the idea of going back to work. Fortunately, I've managed to talk myself out of it. I guess if we ever have to replace our ginormous roof, or put Greg through school for his doctorate, I might consider working for da man, but until then, I'll stick to making do with what we've got.

Do you earn income from something--aside from your regular job? If you were retired right now, what would you do with your time?

I've had to teach myself to be more easy going and not try to do everything in one day. Retirement is still a hard concept for me to grasp. 

In retrospect, I now know why retirees look younger than people their same age who work. We get to sleep more. :)

I highly recommend it.


Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

Sometimes the people who have the most money are the ones who don't look like they do, who don't have the possessions - the fancy car, etc. It was such an eye-opener to me when I learned that.

You all are so self-sufficient! When the apocalypse happens, we're heading to your place. :)

Maria Zannini said...

Madelyn: Ha! Most people wouldn't like our lifestyle. And I'm a real slave driver. Just ask my husband. :)

Seriously though, I read an article that said more than a third of people today have NOTHING saved for their retirement.

It's worthy of a post in itself and I might do that soon. My mother is one of that third and it's scarier than you can imagine. Luckily she has six kids to support her, but what about the people who don't?

Anne Gallagher said...

I'm one of those third who have nothing for retirement. I lost it in the crash. (Two crashes actually.) The books will generate income forever, which I'm looking at as my retirement fund. It's not a lot, but I've been living frugally all my life. I've always shopped at thrift stores for my clothes, and can make 6 meals out of one chicken. My only extravagance of late has been a new computer. And well, Monster gets a lot of things. But I don't spend money on me. Lucky that you have Greg. I have my own tools and do my own construction, but I need to pay someone for plumbing and electric.

Author R. Mac Wheeler said...

sleep is a good reason to retire.

betty said...

We lived for four years very intentional on not to spend money after hubby quit his job and we moved to his parents' home. Took him four years to find a job back in his field and that's why we moved to Arizona this past January. During those four years we were very careful with what we spent, didn't go out to eat, didn't buy anything unless absolutely necessary because our income dropped more than a half, more like 90% I think. I went back to how my mom shopped since she was a widowed mom feeding 3 children so she watched sales papers and planned food around that, I did the same. It was a great learning time for retirement. We do have a bit more disposable income now so its nice to get out and about a bit more than we did before, but those 4 years were definitely learning experiences in more ways than one.


Jackie Burris said...

Like Greg my husband can do a lot of "hands on" fixing things that are usually farmed out to professionals, but (and there is always a but is there not) he cannot do auto repairs on the vehicles out now other than change tires or change oil or fluids so once warranty is up we will be looking at some bid bucks to work on anything we drive.

Retirement right now is doing well, depending on what happens in the next few years with our world we should have a fairly steady income but our health insurance will probably eat most of it because of our ages if my husband retires before the age allowed by the posted rules. Plus I am 2 and a half years younger so that will mean a little bit of time before anything like Medicare/Social Security (if they even exist) kick in as well.

Maria you live in a great area for garage sales though and finding items free or cheap to buy is a wonderful way to get some usable stuff.

Good ideas too to reuse what you already have to 1. make some cash and 2. repurpose into something else you need.

Mike Keyton said...

Sleep saves you money :) Seriously though, much of what you spend during your working life is 'comfort spend' to make work barely endurable. The need for that kind of indulgence vanishes when you're retired - unless you have a demon on your back. Live long and prosper, as they say

Stacy McKitrick said...

I doubt I'll ever retire from writing. It not only passes the time, it's fun (usually--haha!). Hubby enjoys his job right now, but knows when it starts to become stressful, he can retire and not worry. We're actually spending less than we take in (and this AFTER I lost my job--can only imagine what it would be like if I still had one). It'll be nice if my books started generating lots of income, but it's not something we're banking on.

I remember living from paycheck to paycheck (ahhh, those military years), so it's not something I WANT to do again, but know we could if forced. It's just nice not being forced (and we DO have some hefty 401Ks and IRAs to live on when needed).

Lynn Viehl said...

I moonlight as a copywriter, mainly for editor friends who need something fast.

I "retired" from my day job back in 1989 to stay at home with the kids, and that's how I ended up writing professionally. :) I doubt I'll ever retire from writing, but if I do I'd probably volunteer part time at an animal shelter or public school. I can't see me ever sitting around doing nothing.

Diane Carlisle said...

I have my late husband's pension, but I still keep a spending journal because it helps me see where I'm spending as well as how much. Every now and then I'll look back on a week or even a month and go, "Whoa, where was my mind then?"


Maria Zannini said...

Anne: I feel your pain. I don't like seeing my mother in that situation. She was always a very independent woman.

The thing is, I don't understand how it happened. When we were little we were cash-poor. She was brilliant at making things stretch, but when things got better she opened her purse wide open and spent like there was no tomorrow.

Now she's left with a meager stipend living with her children and whatever money we can send her. She doesn't blame anyone but herself. Still, it doesn't change the situation.

In your case---we survived a crash too, which took us several years to recover--it's a very real problem for everyone regardless whether you saved or not.

This is why we continue to be frugal even though on paper we look great. You never know when another crash will descend. Anyone can get hurt.

Maria Zannini said...

Mac: I never realized how much sleep I missed until I had a reason to stay in bed. I still sleep less than most people, but for me the extra couple of hours is nirvana.

Maria Zannini said...

Betty: We live in a peculiar time. The current generation is weaned on instant or near instant gratification. Part of it is due to technology, but another part is due to peer pressure. It's not cool to be one of the frugal kids, even as adults. We're looked upon as weird or eccentric. It's hard to get people to look 20, 30 years into the future.

You are on your way.

Maria Zannini said...

Jackie: Our generation was probably the last one where kids actually got their hands dirty and did things without computers or other technology.

Computers are a godsend--but I never want to forget the days when there was no technology and no instant information. People were more in tune with the work of living.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

LOL. I highly recommend retirement too. I always noticed how when people retire, they seem to grow younger. My husband and I both retired from teaching, high stress jobs even though we liked it, but we both still work. My writing income makes up for my cut in income and my husband paints and makes more than he did teaching. One more year of college for my daughter and then he can quit painting or at least slow down. Then if we can sell our monstrous house, we'll save even more money on taxes and utilities.

Maria Zannini said...

Mike: When we're young we scramble to get 'stuff'. Maybe for comfort, but many times it was just to be like our friends.

But you still have to accumulate. This is why we need bigger houses. :)

Maria Zannini said...

Stacy: The best freedom of all is the freedom to retire. Not everyone gets to taste that fruit.

Maria Zannini said...

Lynn: Talk about jumping into the pool! And you succeeded magnificently.

re: doing nothing
What is that? :) Plenty of time to do nothing when I'm dead.

Maria Zannini said...

Diane: I get that way too. I see a big jump in some area and I wonder what was I thinking!?

Maria Zannini said...

Susan: I think it's the sleep, or at least less stress. I know my husband is a lot happier now that he's away from his high stress job.

Li said...

Great post! I've learned - the hard way - to be handy. I needed a replacement ddor but the door plus installation (I got 2 estimates) was over $600. So I went to Home Depot, bought a decent door for $150, checked out 2 handyman books from the library, and went to work. Yes, it took me 8.5 hours. I had to figure out how to chisel indents for hinges and hang the door with equal spacing top and bottom - and then how to keep the door in place while I installed it by myself. There was much cursing and sweating. But I did it.

Living on less has improved my life in so many ways - and not just by saving money.

You've inspired me to make more time for shopping at garage sales and flea markets, something that I've seldom done. (I do, however, get the majority of my clothes at thrift stores or clearance racks.)

Sandra Almazan said...

If I were retired, I'd definitely write more--which means I'd need more book covers!

Maria Zannini said...

Li: Nice to see you here!

I use YouTube a lot to walk me through things. And go you for doing it yourself! That's awesome. That experience is something no one can take from you.

Maria Zannini said...

Sandra: LOL. In that case, I hope I'm still your favorite cover artist.

Angela Brown said...

With my desire to retire comfortably already in my head, I am working towards reducing my humongous debt now so it isn't a horrible burden when I get ready to retire.

I'd like to focus on writing when I get to that age...writing and taking a few cruises a year :-)

Maria Zannini said...

Angela: You're still young, but now's the time to save all you can. You won't believe how fast time flies. And writing is a nice way to spend retirement.

Jenny Schwartz said...

Impulse buys as cash-sucking vampires made me laugh -- but you're right!

Maria Zannini said...

Jenny: Aren't they, though? I could cry over all the stupid things I'd bought on a whim.

Barbara Ann Wright said...

Getting sick with something that often limits my mobility helped me reevaluate life a lot. Not being able to go to the store as much reduced my spending. :) But also, since I"m not moving as much, I don't feel as hungry as I used to, and I don't eat as much. As a money saver, I wouldn't recommend it, but it has changed me.

If I ever retired, I would still write books. :)

Karen Jones Gowen said...

Most of us can be much happier living more simply on less. It can be hard to take that step though because everywhere around us we see stuff we think we need.

Maria Zannini said...

Barbara: With retirement you can almost assuredly count on your body being undependable. (You just started early.)

It's frustrating. I hate not being able to do the things I used to. That's life, I guess. Instead of food, I spend more money on doctors and drugs.

Maria Zannini said...

Karen: The media and peer pressure is to blame here. You think because "everyone" else has a cell phone, you need one too.

It's drinking the Koolade.

I wish I knew how to stop it. Not because it offends my sensibilities but because it's hurting people. They just don't know it yet.