Thursday, January 30, 2014

A New Mind for the New Year!

Sometimes life bumps along, and then you hear or read something — maybe something you’ve heard a hundred times before — and for some reason, this time your spirit is ready for the message, and everything changes.

My experience is that this doesn’t happen often. However, this is exactly what happened to me not just once, but TWICE in the past few months.

The first was this past November when I happened to surf over to a blog I’d seen referenced by other bloggers. This blog was Mr. Money Mustache. I’ve read many excellent finance blogs, but this one pulled everything together for me in one big 'aha' moment.

If you’re not familiar with Mr. Money Mustache, I encourage you to read him for yourself. His message is basically this — live on much less than the typical American consumer, socking away the large gap between expenses and income into retirement accounts and index funds; thereby providing yourself the means to live a joyful life doing the things that really matter to you, free of financial worries. It’s not an original message (see Your Money or Your Life or Early Retirement Extreme*) but there is something in his perspective I find deeply inspiring.

I think I was ripe for the message partly because in the month before stumbling across the MMM blog, I had grown annoyed with high monthly expenses that brought little return. The worst of these was the cable bill — $170 a month for a landline we barely used, a bunch of TV channels we rarely watched, and internet. In a moment of resolve, I canceled cable except for the internet, reducing our bill by $120 a month. Feeling great about that, I cut Netflix down to streaming only and downgraded our newspaper delivery to weekends only. 

These actions seemed to loosen things up for me a little, like having just a bit of the winds of freedom blow through, so when I read MMM, I was like — WOWEE SIGN ME UP!

But I am one half of a whole, and Kat and I have to work this out together. Although Kat wasn’t quite as gung ho as I was at first, she has definitely changed after having read a few of the blog posts and listened to me rhapsodize about the possibilities. 

Almost by unspoken agreement, we stopped eating out. That alone saves us well over $200 a month. We also are much more thoughtful about the things we think we need, and more often than not, we decide not to buy stuff that just a few months before we would have tossed into the Amazon cart. With knocking down our regular monthly bills (still working on this) and not spending as much on restaurants and stuff, we find ourselves with more than I thought possible to put into savings or toward our mortgage (our last debt). We’re at the lower end of income for MMM’s target audience, and even for us, it makes a big difference. 

The second message came on the heels of all this. In late December, we happened to watch Forks Over Knives, a documentary recommended to us by a friend. Don’t watch it if you don’t want to change what you eat.** 

Overnight we went from being typical Texas meat-eaters to almost vegans. Because I am an animal lover, I had often flirted with the thought of becoming vegetarian. But in Texas, it's more acceptable to be gay than a vegetarian, and since I already have one strike, I didn't want to add another. (Sort of kidding here; the main reason I hadn't gone vegetarian is that I like meat a lot).

Because we were already cooking all our meals at home, switching to a mostly vegan diet was not too difficult. We’re fortunate to live in a city with regular grocery stores well-stocked on diverse food stuffs, a Trader Joe’s, several Whole Food Markets and farmers’ markets. I thought the new way of eating might be more expensive, but surprisingly, even with buying all organic produce, our grocery costs have been the same and perhaps slightly lower (need more time to compare) because we’re not buying meat or processed foods. 

So, lots of changes over the past few months. Good changes. One of the things I like most about MMM’s blog is his optimistic and joyful approach to living. We can tap into that joy when we open our eyes to all the good things that surround us, appreciate what we have, and let go of the instinctive need for more, more more, when what we have is enough. Kat and I have a wider perspective, new habits, and a direction for the future we can agree on.

*MMM states in his blog that he was unaware of these books/blogs, but discovered and enjoyed them after he started his own blog. I'm sure MMM and others are not the only ones to stumble across this counter-cultural perspective of money and success. I am glad they share their discoveries for those of us who need the eye-opener. 

**Don't worry. This film is not about cruelty to animals but focuses on the science behind the health benefits of a whole foods, plant-based diet. It's persuasive in a positive way.