The Man Who Quit Money by Mark Sundeen

Man-Who-Quit-MoneyI like thinking about money.

I enjoy creating spreadsheets and budgets. When the Sunday Seattle Times arrives, I almost always read the Business section first.

Thinking and talking about money doesn’t bother me or cause me anxiety like lots of other people. Quite the contrary. The more I research, assess and understand my own personal finances, the more comfortable, safe and content I feel.

So, when I heard there was a man living in the U.S. who quit money–just gave it up one day by putting his life savings of thirty dollars in a phone booth–I was very intrigued.

When I started reading The Man Who Quit Money by Mark Sundeen, I thought, how can anyone live without money? What kind of crazy person would do that?

But the more I read, the more I could see why Daniel Suelo chose to quit money. Even though I could never imagine living the way Suelo does–not earning, receiving or paying a single cent–I could understand why he chose, and still chooses, to live this way.

Reading this book made me wonder why I felt such a great need to save more and more money. Why was my sense of self and security so wrapped in how much savings I had? I started to question what is real security, separate from monetary means.

Could I feel secure in myself no matter how much money I had?

It’s a hard question for me to answer. I’m still grappling with it.

This book is beautifully written and very thought-provoking. Sundeen did an excellent job profiling this most interesting and fascinating man. I suspect I will be thinking about Suelo’s story for many, many years to come.

If you read it, please post what you thought of it. I’d love to hear your opinion.

NOTE: The book link on this page is an affiliate link, so if you end up using it for your own online shopping, Super Frug will benefit (thank you!).

What I don’t like spending money on

SmoothiesThere are lots of things that I don’t like spending money on.

Here are my top five.

1. Drinks
I pretty much drink two things: tap water and tea made with fresh, chopped ginger steeped in boiling water. That’s it. Because I don’t value drinks, I don’t buy them at the grocery store or when I go out to eat. Now, I do buy a drink when I meet a friend at a cafe and I have no problem with that. I am happy to pay for it because I think of it as paying my tax for sitting and enjoying my time in the cafe.

2. Insurance Premiums
No offense to the people out there reading this who might be insurance agents but I think of insurance as basically an institutionalized and legitimized form of gambling.

You are paying a recurring fee to protect yourself and your assets in case something bad happens. If nothing bad happens, you lose money through the premiums you’re paid, but that’s it. However, it something bad happens, then all that money you spent month after month, and year after year, finally kicks in and hopefully you get enough money from the insurance company to cover your costs. It’s the only kind of bet you hope you lose.

So, even though I don’t like paying for it, I do pay for health insurance, car insurance, and home insurance. Because one bad accident or one major surgery without insurance can mean going from a relatively good life to a toboggan ride to bankruptcy hell.

3. New clothes
After my self-imposed year of “No New Clothes,” I’m now a secondhand, thrift store, and consignment store convert! When you pay only $1.29 for a like-new pair of jeans, it’s painful to walk into The Gap and pay $70 or more for a new pair.

4. New house stuff
After shopping at the Goodwill and Value Village for the past year, I realized that I could buy all kinds of good stuff there for my house (especially the kitchen) for a fraction of the price of buying it new. Whether it be my $7 cast iron grill ($20-$50 new), my $2 spice/coffee grinder ($15-$30 new), or my $7 blender with glass pitcher ($35-$75 new), I can find great buys on used stuff if I’m willing to take the time to look…and look again.

5. New books
Don’t get me wrong. I love books. And I love bookstores. But ever since I stopped buying new books as my first resort for reading something new, I have saved a lot of money. Now if there’s something I want to read, I first borrow it from the library. If I really, really love it and need it for my home library, I will look for a copy at a used bookstore. If I call around and none of my usual used bookstores has it, then, and only then, will I buy it new.

There are more things I don’t like spending money on but these are my top five.

Please know that I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with spending. That’s not the point of this post. We need to spend money (or trade or barter) to get the things we need to live our lives. My point in writing this post, and the last post, is that knowing what you like spending money on, and what you don’t like spending money on, will help you to prioritize your spending.

When you prioritize, you are more conscious. When you are more conscious, you will save money.

Saving money means having more resources to do the things you want to do whether it be traveling to a place you’ve been dreaming about, taking a class, spending more time with the people you love, quitting a job you can’t stand, or retiring without worries.

So, why not try it? Write down your spending likes and dislikes. 

You might be surprised or pleased or frustrated or sad about what you write down. That’s okay. No matter what feelings it brings up, it’s all good to know.

Articulating your spending likes and dislikes is a great step towards more conscious spending and eventually, a more conscious and fulfilling life.

Smoothies photo by Vera Kratochvil.

What I like to spend money on

PeachesBeing frugal isn’t about not spending money; it’s about spending money according to your values.

Or as Marjorie Harris, author of Thrifty, says, “Being thrifty requires a brain; being cheap doesn’t.”

I’m frugal, but I’m not cheap. I will gladly pay money for things and experiences that match my values and that I will really enjoy. To do that, I’ve had to think carefully over what I really value in life.

When I first started my Super Frug lifestyle, I made a list of things I like spending money on and things I don’t like spending money on. Today, we will focus just on the likes.

Here’s what I like to spend my money on.

1. Mortgage
I love our house and I love our neighborhood. I want to live in this house until I die–which I hope is a long time from now. We took advantage of the great interest rates and refinanced twice in the last four years and now our mortgage is very affordable.

2. Utilities
I don’t know about you but I like having clean water, regular heat and electricity, gas for my stove, and the garbage and recycling taken away every week. I love that the city of Seattle composts! I’m looping in my mobile phone, land line, and Internet service under this category too. It may sound boring but I greatly value my utilities and I’m glad they are readily available and generally, reasonably priced.

Good food leads to good health and happiness. I’m happy to spend money on good food. I’m also lucky to live in a city where fresh food is readily available and reasonably priced. Marcus and I are able to buy all the fresh fruit and vegetables (mostly regular rather than organic), meat (sustainably raised only), seafood (wild only), nuts, grains, and a few processed foods that we need for about $200-$275 a month.

4. Haircuts by Jamie L. Scott!
My stylist and I always greet each other by calling out our respective full names. “Hello, Jamie L. Scott!” “Hello, Peg Cheng!” I love getting my hair cut and styled by Jamie at her salon CERES. She charges me $50 for my haircut and I give her a $10 tip. I know for some people, $60 for a haircut sounds like a lot, but again, being frugal is about spending money on what you value. I really value my time with Jamie and she always makes my hair look great, so paying $60 feels just fine to me.

5. Health club membership
This year, I joined a Tai Chi and Qi Gong dojo called Embrace the Moon. I’m taking classes twice a week and even though it costs three times more than my old gym membership, it’s totally worth it to me. It’s a great space with wonderful teachers and great students, and I’m learning an ancient practice that’s improving my mental and physical health every week. I feel that the money I’m spending now on Qi Gong and Tai Chi classes will save me thousands of dollars later when I have less (or no) health issues in my old age.

6. Travel
Marcus and I both love to travel! Over the past five years, we’ve developed better and better skills at traveling light and for less money. We love to experience and learn about new places, foods, cultures, art, architecture and people. Our goal is to travel to at least one international destination every other year and to U.S. destinations three times a year.

7. The Arts
This is a very broad category but for me it includes movies, plays, concerts, dance performances, museums, readings (usually free!), and lectures or talks by authors, artists, musicians and other creative beings. Because I want to go to many art events, I hunt down good buys such as pay-what-you-can nights and free events.

8. Art
This is one category where I don’t try to get a “good deal.” I admire people who are trying to make a living as an artist and I support them by paying the price they set for their art.

9. Excellent restaurants
If I love a restaurant’s food and service, I will come back again and again. While most of the places Marcus and I frequent are what we call excellent ethnic eats on the cheap, some restaurants we enjoy are more expensive and so we try to patronize them on special occasions like birthdays and anniversaries.

10. Exquisitely made, perfectly fitting shoes and boots
Need I say more?

Now that you know what I like spending my cold, hard cash on; what do you like spending money on?

Making a list is a great exercise for getting a grip on what you really value in life. I hope you’ll try it. Let me know what you discover!

Why personal finance is personal

Queen_of_heartsI don’t believe in dogma.

According to the Free Dictionary, dogma is “an authoritative principle, belief, or statement of ideas or opinion, especially one considered to be absolutely true.”

I think the key phrase here is absolutely true.

How can anything be absolutely true for everyone?

Through my experiences, and observing the experiences of others, I’ve learned that there isn’t just one absolute true way of believing or living your life. There are many ways.

This is definitely true when it comes to personal finance. When it comes to personal finance, I think the key word is personal.

It’s personal because it’s about your finances and not those of a business or organization, but it is also personal in that you get to choose how you handle your finances.

It’s about YOU and how YOU want to live your life.

When I was in my mid-twenties and finally working full-time instead of being a full-time student, I read the book, Your Money or Your Life (YMOYL).

I was amazed that it had a plan for becoming financially independent (F.I. they called it) before retirement. I had never thought that becoming F.I. early–really early like in your 30s or 40s–was possible unless you were rich. It blew my mind!

So, I tried it.

I tracked all the money that I made and everything I spent money on. I recorded all my daily expenses into an Excel spreadsheet. Every month, I’d look at the various categories that I had spent money on (Rent, Food, Transportation, Utilities, Clothes, etc.) and for each category, I asked myself the following questions:

  1. Did I receive fulfillment, satisfaction and value in proportion to life energy spent?
  2. Is this expenditure of life energy in alignment with my values and life purpose?
  3. How might this expenditure change if I didn’t have to work for a living?

It opened my eyes to how I spent my money and how I could decide if what I spent was of value to me. And if it wasn’t, I could change it.

During the years that I was working towards being F.I., I met some people in their 30s who were F.I. through following YMOYL. Some had come from money and some had high-powered jobs where they made a lot of money. They did what the book said: they tracked their spending and cut back a lot; they saved a ton of money and invested it; they made enough interest to live off of; and then they quit their jobs.

(YMOYL also details stories of people who became F.I. who were schoolteachers and such and definitely did not come from money, but I’m just letting you know about the F.I. people that I met in Seattle during the 1990s.)

I don’t begrudge these F.I. folks their good fortune and their high-paying jobs. They chose to create a more frugal and more fulfilling lifestyle for themselves. That’s awesome.

But, could I relate to them? No.

I tracked my spending for about three years and it drove my former husband crazy. (Sorry, Erik!) After all the tracking and all the analysis, I could see that I didn’t spend much money. We lived in a one-bedroom condo with an extremely reasonable rent that included free laundry, free cable, free parking, and free utilities. I didn’t have a car and took the bus everywhere. I brought my lunch to work and treated myself to a lunch out once or twice a week. I spent little on clothes or shoes. I saved 10% of my income for retirement and a little less for savings.

I tried to cut my spending so I could save towards being F.I. After a while, it started to make me miserable. After a while, the daily and monthly tracking stressed me out.

So, I stopped.

Now, my personal finance routine is very simple.

I still use Excel but only to list out how much our monthly and annual fixed expenses are (mortgage, property tax, utilities, car insurance, health insurance, etc.). I revise it about twice a year. Marcus and I have agreed on a cash amount that feels reasonable for using on food, eating out, entertainment, and personal purchases. We withdraw that amount of cash each month, split it between us, and that’s all we use. We add to our savings every couple of months. We have no debt.

Are we fulfilled? Yes.

Are we on our way to being F.I.? Yes. Someday.

It’s been over fifteen years since I read Your Money or Your Life and there’s a new edition that is “revised and updated for the 21st Century.” I’ve added it to my library queue and am looking forward to reading it.

Do I think Your Money or Your Life is a form of dogma? Sure. But so is every other personal finance book out there.

To me the problem isn’t that there’s dogma being sold and marketed in our society; the problem is if you choose to follow it, and only it. 

The great thing is that we, as humans, can choose what we want to believe and what we don’t want to believe.

We can try different ways of thinking. We are lucky to have that ability and it is truly a gift.

Experiment. Try. Adjust. Revise.

Find ways of managing your money that feels right, true, and good to YOU.

Why I save money

tortoise-and-the-hareEveryone has different motivations.

What works to motivate one person may not work to motivate someone else.

For me, I’m motivated to save money because I don’t want to have another job.

In 20 years, I’ve worked at 33 different jobs.

I’ve worked at everything from Public Toilet Researcher for a Seattle City Councilmember, to Communications Director for an environmental non-profit, to Pre-Law Adviser for the University of Washington.

I am grateful for the fact that I’ve had so many diverse opportunities. I’ve learned a lot about what I like and don’t like, met tons of interesting people, made some money, funded my retirement account, and gained some great skills.

Do I want to get another job? Not really.

I love being self-employed and I love being my own boss.

I am currently the founder, boss and sole employee for Prelaw Guru, a consulting company that helps people kick ass on their law school applications.

I love setting my own schedule every day. I love being able to take a break in the middle of a work day to go to my qigong class. I love sitting quietly and undisturbed for an hour just to think. I love making my own daily business decisions without having to check with anyone else. I love not having to go to staff meetings. I love being 100% responsible for everything that happens with my business–both the good and the bad.

The career of an entrepreneur is not for everyone. Many people would hate it. They consider it too risky, too much stress, and too much work. But it works for me.

Every day, I’m conscious of how I spend or save my money because I want to be an entrepreneur for the rest of my life.

Running my own business means I have to be able to ride the ups and downs of revenue (and losses). I have a hefty safety net because you just never know what might happen when you’re running your own business. I’d rather be extra safe than sorry.

I’m not going to say I’ll never take another job because I don’t know what the future holds. There might be an organization and a position out there that’s the perfect fit for me. Never say never.

But, for the time being, I know what motivates me every day to save money: being job-free and being my own boss.

It’s hard work but I love it.

What’s something (an experience, a goal, a lifestyle, an actual thing) that you love so much that you’d be motivated to save money every day in order to reach it?

What’s your motivation to be Super Frug?