Dining Out, Downshifter Style

Since I began my downshifting journey, I’ve read hundreds of books and articles on saving money and living below one’s means. Most of them recommend preparing meals at home and eliminating restaurant meals as a way to cut costs. I won’t deny that dining in is a great way to save. It’s a no-brainer, really, but…

I truly enjoy going out to eat. As the only person in my house who cooks, sometimes I just get sick of cooking. Seriously sick of it. For me, trying different foods and new restaurants is one of life’s greatest pleasures. So what’s a frugal downshifter to do?

Fortunately, I’ve discovered a few simple ways to save in this area, so if dining out is important to you too, read on. We really can have our cake and eat it too!

  1. I don’t do “DINNER.” Perhaps due to my early morning work schedule, I’m not a big night eater. I like to get most of my eating out of the way earlier in the day, when I’m working, moving around, and burning calories. (Also recommended for good digestion and weight loss too!) I love to go out for breakfast, brunch, lunch, and/or happy hour, then just have a light snack at home in the evening.
  2. I try to keep it light. Kind of related to # 1 above. When I go out, I usually opt for lighter fare: soups, salads, sandwiches, appetizers. Or if I get a bigger meal, I take half (or more) of it home and get another meal or two out of it. (Also another good diet tip!)
  3. I don’t eat a lot of meat. I’m not a vegetarian, but keeping my meals light and simple often means not eating much meat. Even when I cook at home, I often use half the meat and twice the veggies that most recipes call for. It’s cheaper, and again, healthier!
  4.  I take advantage of specials whenever I can. Weekdays are an especially good time to take advantage of happy hour deals, half-price appetizers, buy-one-get-one-free offers, coupons, etc.
  5. I enjoy a drink. One. Sometimes two. Not three or four. Booze is expensive — and loaded with useless calories! Have a drink, then switch to water. Your wallet and waistline will thank you.
  6. I pay with cash most of the time. I hate credit card bills even more than I hate cooking. Dining on plastic just doesn’t make sense to me.
  7. I tip well, especially at places where I’m a regular customer. When you take good care of your waitstaff and bartenders, they’ll take good care of you, sometimes with free drinks, “samples,” etc. They work hard for their money. Don’t skimp on the gratuity.

While saving money is an important component of downshifting, mindful spending is key to living life according to your priorities. For me, this means never passing up an opportunity to share a drink and a good meal with a loved one. After all, isn’t that what life’s all about?

~PEACE~

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It’s Just STUFF, Right?

Yesterday, I helped my best friend move her stuff out of the storage unit that she’d rented for several years. She was one of a dozen or so victims of a “suspicious” fire at the storage facility that turned their belongings into piles of charred and smoke-damaged rubble. My friend lost about half of her unit’s contents, mainly to smoke damage. Others were less fortunate.

Storage Fire

One of my downshifting mantras has always been “less stuff!” I love getting rid of things any way I can: give it away, throw it away, donate it, sell it, you name it. But it’s always been my choice, completely in my control. The tenants at this storage unit didn’t have a choice. Their stuff was simply gone one night. No questions asked. No decisions to be made.

I want to imagine that the fire was a blessing in disguise for some people. No more holding onto that wretched wedding gift from your colorblind aunt. No more wondering if you will ever fit into those pants again. Finally, an excuse to buy new furniture! Sometimes, our stuff — dealing with it, thinking about it, moving it, storing it — drags us down.  At some point, not having to deal with it or think about it anymore feels like a huge weight being lifted off our shoulders.

My friend and I breathed sighs of relief as we finished packing up the final truckload to bring to her new storage unit. But we were sad too. We took a final walk around, taking in the eerie scene and trying to identify some of the lost objects. Antique furniture. Motorcycles. Pictures. Childrens’ toys. Family photos. Christmas decorations. So many memories, all tied to the “stuff.”

Fortunately, no one was hurt in the fire. The piles of rubble will be removed. The building will be torn down and rebuilt. The old stuff will be replaced with new, different, better stuff. And the memories that were wrapped up in the old stuff will live on, because no one can take those away.

~PEACE~

 

A Different Kind of Spring Cleaning

Spring is a great time to clean house. Clear out those closets. Reclaim some free space in the attic, garage, or basement. Unload. Lighten up. Downsize. Simplify. Getting rid of stuff is so liberating! I feel freer just thinking about it, don’t you?

If you want to break ties with some of your baggage, but don’t know how or where to get started, here are a few suggestions and strategies I’ve picked up and perfected over the years. Trust me, once you get started, you won’t want to stop!

STUFF!

1. Start with one small specific area of your home, ie. the hall closet, the medicine cabinet, one bookcase, that catch-all dumping station by the front door, etc. Each small victory will drive you on to the next.

2. Decide on a short time limit, during which you will accomplish as much as you can without feeling overwhelmed. The thought of spending an entire weekend cleaning the house isn’t appealing to anyone, even a neat freak like me, but you’ll be amazed at how much you can accomplish in just an hour or two!

3. If even that seems like more than you can handle at first, try getting rid of just one or two things per day for, say, a week. Then another week. Then a month. Pull one thing out of the closet every morning that you can live without. Take one knick-knack off the living room shelf. Pass along a book or CD to a friend and tell them to do the same when they’re finished with it.

4. Once you’ve gathered together all the stuff you want to remove from your life, what do you do with it?

  • Have a yard sale.
  • Donate or consign newer or lightly-worn clothing.
  • Donate books, useful household items.
  • Sell larger or more valuable items on Craig’s List or eBay.
  • Sell books, CDs, etc. on Amazon.
  • Re-gift.
  • And, when all else fails, simply throw away some of the old stuff. It’ll feel great, I promise!

Then, the trick is to maintain. For every new article of clothing that comes into the house, get rid of two. This really works for me! Don’t let things pile up. Do a quick daily clutter sweep, even just 5 minutes when you get home from work. Keep it up! You’ll be driven by your new sense of weightlessness — freedom from stuff!

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE.

While clearing the space around you can be mentally liberating, you don’t have to limit the clean-out to just the tangible stuff in your life either. I started writing this blog post with the intent of giving you some tips and tricks for eliminating some of your physical baggage, but oftentimes, our mental and emotional “clutter” trips us up far more than our actual “stuff.” If you find this to be the case, perhaps some springtime spiritual cleaning is in order.

Consider freeing yourself from any negative thought patterns & bad habits that no longer serve you well. Change up your daily routines. Did you spend the winter eating unhealthy foods, drinking too much, and avoiding exercise? (Guilty.) Start fresh!

Guilt? Drop it. Anger? Let it go.

Consider cutting ties with any negative people and relationships that are keeping you down as well. Or at least limit the time you spend with certain people, even if you’re related to them. Be kind to yourself, and surround yourself with people who will do the same. You deserve that, don’t you?

Think about who or what is stressing you out, draining your batteries, wearing you out, taking up valuable real estate–in your mind, in your body, in your home, in your schedule? De-clutter your mind, heart, soul, and body while you de-clutter your physical environment. You’ll add years to your life. And they’ll be happier ones.

But above all else, try not to take anything or anyone too seriously. Ditch the darkness and drama. Un-complicate. Don’t forget to laugh. Life is too short, and it’s the only one you’ve got!

~~PEACE~~

 

 

 

Slow Down!

For the past week, I’ve been reading Ernie Zelinski’s book The Joy of Not Working. The title says it all, I thought. But does the concept of finding joy in not working really need further clarification? For a lot of people, apparently, it does.

Unfortunately, according to Zelinski, most working folks just don’t know what to do with ourselves when we’re not working. Our work-life balances are weighted so heavily on the work side, that we don’t know how to enjoy our leisure time, if we even allow ourselves to have any. For many, the prospect of being unemployed or retiring is terrifying. Some of us are so afraid to be alone with our own thoughts, it seems, that we just keep running on the treadmill to escape them. We’re sick, we’re exhausted, we’re bored, and we’re boring.

Instead of using our rare leisure time wisely, we waste it on “passive leisure” activities to distract us from our misery: watching TV, hanging out in bars, and wandering around shopping malls. So many of the things we think we want — bigger homes, new clothes, the latest electronic gadgets, expensive cars, etc. — are dictated by the media, our “friends” and relatives, and most of all, the people who are going to profit from selling us all of these things. So we keep chasing the money. To buy the things. To fill the empty holes in our boring lives, in our souls. Is this living?

I know, however, that there are plenty of people out there who are tired of the “live to work” mentality that has ruled our culture for so long. The tide is turning. Change is in the air; I can smell it, like springtime. Forget about trying to keep up with the Kardashians. We want time to think. Time to live well-rounded lives. We don’t want to be overworked zombies anymore. And we don’t need to clutter up our homes with more shit from Walmart either!

Do you feel like your work-life balance needs an adjustment? Then take a few days off from work, or even a week or two if you can, and dedicate yourself to reclaiming your time and your life. I mean it! Take the time to really think about the things that are important to you. Meditate on it. Don’t be afraid to dream. Think BIG. Forget about what everyone else says you should want or need or have or be. What kind of life do you want? How much money, how much stuff, do you really need? How do you define happiness, and what’s it worth to you? Come up with a plan, and implement it like your life depends on it, because it does.

Zelinski actually recommends making a list of at least 300 “Get-A-Life” activities, and offers his own list of 300 for inspiration. So climb a mountain if you want to. Quit your job. Write a book. Get a better job. Walk in the woods. Start your own business. Learn to play an instrument or speak a new language. Volunteer. Take a road trip. Work for free. Buy a hammock. Take a class. Clean out your closets. Chew your food. Play with your dog. Plant a tree.

Then after you’ve made your own list, and crossed off a few things, sip a glass of wine (or other beverage of your choice) on the front porch in the early evening and watch all your stressed-out neighbors race by on the way home from their miserable all-consuming jobs. Poor bastards.

We all have so much potential. Don’t waste it all on work. We are so much better than that, and we deserve so much more than that. Let other people run in the rat race. Smile and wave and cheer them on from your front porch, glass of wine in hand. We know better. The fast track is so yesterday!