Friday, December 31, 2010

Sign up for Mint.com

Before going out to your News Years Party tonight, sign up with Mint.com and put a few of your financial accounts in. When 2011 begins, you'll be all set to watch your finances more closely, and get a better handle on where your money is actually going.

I got a free copy of Quicken Basic recently, and I test driving it. I'll let you know how it compares in a future post, but it supposed to do the same as Mint. It's even published by the same company, Intuit. I imagine it's better, since it's a paid product. Regardless of what you use, Mint, Intuit, pen and paper, it's impossible to save money if you don't know how it's being spent.

Signed up now? Good. Now go party!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

What I got for xmas

Here's a list of what I got for xmas and how it conforms or detracts from my Minimalism, and let's see if I can take my own advice!

Odd-size measuring cups - I don't need these to bake, but they're make some recipes go quicker because I won't have to measure twice.
Books to read with Viola - Books are great! And when Viola moves up in age, we can give them to her younger cousins to enjoy.
Blocks to play with Viola - I'm a sucker for blocks. Now Viola and I can build temples and play gods and smite the infidels. My favorite game.
Wine - Consumable. Not a bad gift.
Mazipan - I eat sweets so rarely, but I have a soft spot for this almond sweet.
Coffee - Also consumable. And organic!
Weather Station - Completely anti-Minimalist and extraneous--and currently non-functional. Grrrr!)
Lots of shatter proof dishes and plates - Viola likes to throw her dishes (sometimes on accident, often on purpose). These are practical.

All of this stuff came in packaging which I had to either recycle or throw away. Even in our household of three we only need trash pickup every other week, but at xmas we start looking like every other American. Our trash can was full the Monday after xmas, as was the recycling bin (to be fair, most of the waste came from the packaging from the new dish washer, purchased at the last minute because the old one died right before our house guests arrived. Grrr.)

One way we reduce on our waste is that for years we've been reusing our xmas wrapping. We have several sizes of draw-string bags that at the end of xmas we re-distribute and save for next year. Advantages abound, but the obvious reduction in waste, wrapping time, and paper recycling is enough.

To make room for all of this, I'm going to have to sell some stuff on craigslist and give other stuff away to Goodwill. This is way more efficient than paying for public storage. Next week I plan to go through our cabinets and see what utensils and gadgets have lain fallow for several seasons. Uncluttering is a process, not a goal. Earlier this year I got rid of a set of plates that was taking up precious storage space and were never used; there's no reason to think I can't do that to more stuff.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Food and clutter

Your New Years Resolution (if that's the sort of thing you do) should be to eat in more, eat out less. Refer back to my post on Pizza. By doing this, you'll bank more money, eat better, and thereby be healthier in body and finance.

The only thing that eating in is more expensive than is eating fast food. Fast food is ridiculously cheap and subsidized by my taxes (grr, thanks a lot Farm Subsidies!) If you eat a lot of fast food, reduce it to four times a year (or zero). That stuff is bad for you. The average US household burns about 7% of their income on eating in. The French, in contrast, are at 14%. Salaries are lower in France, so it might be hard to push the US average up to 14%, but if you're closer to 7%, try to push it up to 10%.

What's that? The Minimalist is advocating spending more money? No, I'm advocating reapportioning the slices of your income pie. Spending more on food does mean that something else will have to give, but that could be driving less (biking or walking more or telecommuting), turning down your heater or hot-water heater, buying fewer new clothes and more thift store items (you'll look trendier :-), and the big underline of all Minimalist advice--live within your means. Emphasis on live. You won't have much fun with Type II diabetes, heart disease, and hypertension, no matter how much money you've saved. And since Americans also tend to spend what they've got (our national savings rate is terrible), we're eating bad food and buying useless unused crap to clutter our garages.

More food, less junk. You can do it! I even found that once I started eating better, it made me want to even more delicious food. And the more stuff I give away, the more I want to unclutter my life.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Reduce your junk mail

You can reduce the amount of catalogs and direct mail that you get in the mail (in the U.S.) by registering with dmachoice.org and catalogchoice.org. I opted out of insurance of and credit card offers. The next time I get a catalog, I'm going to use the site to get off the list.

Why do this?

Well, catalogs are wasteful. If you're reading this, you're "wired". Chances are you buy, sell, and trade online, with ebay or craigslist, or from an e-retailer. Snail mail belongs to another century.

Still, why?

Paper is wasteful, especially if it just goes into the recycle bin. Minimalism isn't just minimizing one's financial footprint, it's your eco footprint as well. In other words, don't kill trees for no reason. Kill bits instead :-)

Monday, December 27, 2010

Buy it on craigslist

After sorting through the donations and what you can convert to cash, you still didn't get the gift you want? Buy it on craiglist or another online vendor! Somebody out there got electric socks and doesn't want them, and now's your chance to get them on sale, nearly new, and local, too!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Sell it on craigslist

You left some stuff out of the Goodwill bag, didn't you? Well, you have a second chance. That waffle iron is pretty cool, but the old one works really well. Somebody out there really wants that item, and it's the day after xmas. Take advantage of it. Post it. Sell it. Pocket the dough for something really important (like a new smartphone, gosh I'm guilty of conspicious consumption this year!)

How to sell on Craigslist:
1) Take a digital photo of the item
2) post it and ask for more than it's worth
3) wait for someone to lowball you
4) graciously accept the offer, on your terms
5) when the buyer flakes, sell it to the next guy who wants it. Never wait more than 5 minutes for a buyer. If they flake on you, they lost the item.
6) feel free to over commit to more than one buyer at a time. First one to show up gets the item. I don't care if it's your best friend who promised to buy it, sell early, sell often and don't wait for slow pokes.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Give it away

It's December 25th. You've opened all your presents, and drank all your nog, now what?

Give all your presents away.

Say what?

Well, give most of them away. You won't need most of that stuff anyway (except the pocket soduku and the warm socks, mmmmm, warm socks), and you're running out of time for charitable deductions for 2010. Assuming they're true gifts (i.e. you didn't buy them), they're pure gold in your itemized 2010 Schedule A. As long as your donations don't exceed $166,800 ($83,400 if you are married filing separately), then there's no reason not to itemize.

While you're at it, look through your cramp living quarters for other non-essential goods. Tammy and I give to Goodwill every other month. There's stuff lying about that you don't want, much less need. (Easy candidates include anything you tripped over to get to the computer to read this post). Free up your life. Free up your home. Live free!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Twelve Days of the Minimalist

The day after xmas The Minimalist will begin a contiguous twelve day series on Minimalism, culminating in the celebration of Twelfth Night.

The first day of xmas is December 25th. Stay tuned!