2019 Goal Check-In (Part 2 – The One About Money)

Money…that thing that so many of us obsess about. How best to earn it? How best to save it? How best to spend it? I know these questions are important, yet for more than a little while now, I’ve felt their importance was far too exaggerated…especially in my own life. So, at the beginning of the year, I set out to redefine my relationship with money and figure out where it fit into a simple, minimalist lifestyle.

As with any project I take on, I like to start with a bit of research. In this case, I read several books on money – but probably not the types of books you’re thinking right now. I read:

  • Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century by Jessica Bruder
  • $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America by Kathryn Edin
  • Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America by Linda Tirado
  • Flat Broke with Two Goats: A Memoir by Jennifer McGaha

Going into this project, I thought my biggest problem with money was my tendency to romanticize the concept of living without it. What can I say? The idea of a moneyless society has always appealed to me. My best friend growing up was born in a hippie commune and, while she hated it, I absolutely reveled in the stories she told me. It seemed that everyone took care of everyone else and the need for money was so minimal, she never even mentioned it. Of course, she may not have mentioned it because we were 10 years old and at that age, money wasn’t all that. Like I said, I may have glamorized the ideal just a bit. 

Like every other version of Utopia, a moneyless life is not very realistic. The Daniel Suelos of the world are extremely rare. Most folks living without money are not doing it on purpose and their life is far from sublime. Which is why I thought perhaps reading a few books about real people living in real poverty might give me some much-needed perspective. And did it ever! 

    First and foremost, let me say – I never want to own a goat. Seriously. They make great cheese, but they are nasty creatures. I also never want to work at Amazon in my 60s, permanently reside in a RV park, sell scrap metal for groceries, or donate plasma to pay the rent. You may think I’m being funny but I’m really not. Reading these books showed me (rather quickly, I might add) that I would never survive the realities of an actual moneyless life.

    Reading about extreme poverty reiterated for me the fact that I am privileged. Even in my leanest times, I had options – too many sometimes. For a lot of people, there are no options. My disdain for money is something I can afford to have. The ability to choose to live with less is just that – a choice, that I get to make because I am privileged. I know these things but sometimes, I simply need to remember them. So, while I let that tidbit of wisdom sink in, I also read a few books about frugality to balance the playing field, including:

    • Meet the Frugalwoods: Achieving Financial Independence Through Simple Living by Elizabeth Willard Thames
    • Money Secrets of the Amish: Finding True Abundance in Simplicity, Sharing, and Saving by Lorilee Craker

    Let me say again, when I started this quest, I assumed that I would find justification for my contempt for all things money related and perhaps even a path to living a close to moneyless existence. Imagine my surprise when I felt my heart (and mind) being pulled in exactly the opposite direction. In all my railing against consumerism and hating on excess, it turns out I was also inadvertently equating the act of earning, saving, and spending money with these things I found abhorrent. Um…note to self…these things are not the same.

    I soon realized my problem with money is that I don’t know what to do with it. Let me clarify that a bit. I am not financially uninformed. I’m a pretty savvy budgeter. I know to avoid debt, pay bills and save for emergencies and retirement, but I was raised (like most of us) in a spending economy. Even if you were saving money, you were saving it to spend on something – like a house or a car. When you are brought up this way then decide you don’t really want to own too many things, the idea of money seems arbitrary. And in some ways, it is; but money can do more than just buy things.

    Money is a tool, just like a shovel is a tool. Most folks dig gardens with a shovel but how many times have you watched movies where someone gets whacked in the head with one (or buried alive)? My point – all tools can be used for both good and evil. Money is no exception. In recent months, I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time seeing only the evil money can cause and now it’s time to focus more on the good. Always equating money with consumerism is where I lost focus. To fix this, I need to shift my mindset on money to match our lifestyle and find a financial goal that has meaning for us.

    So that’s where I’m at. No earth-shaking revelations on money management. No financial road map for the next 5 years. No match to light us on FIRE. Just more questions that we will continue to ponder.

    Side note – On the more practical side of things, we tried doing the “hands-off budget” for a few months. I’m not a fan. I thought I would be (again, imagine my surprise!) but I didn’t trust “our system” to work without my guidance and I didn’t like not having a plan. I’m all about purposeful spending but I know me all too well. I can find purpose in all sorts of stuff at the grocery store – things that wouldn’t normally be on our list, like Magnum non-dairy ice cream bars. We also opted not to micromanage our investments. That ended when E-trade closed one of our accounts for failing to fully fund it before the deadline – something I would have known about had I logged in sooner.

    Pennies For Produce

    Our Farmer’s Market opened late last month, and my mouth immediately started watering for homegrown produce like you would not believe! We were among the first to arrive on a rainy Saturday morning and it was more than an hour later before we left with 3 bags of microgreens, sunflower sprouts, and spinach; a bunch of radishes, a gallon of strawberries, a loaf of bread, a jar of sugar-free blackberry jam, and an aloe plant. We spent $46.50 (nearly a quarter of the “market money” we had saved over the winter).

    Though we love our Farmer’s Market and could talk for hours about the benefits of buying local, the story of how we came into our “market money” is what I really want to talk about today. You see, it never ceases to amaze me how much valuable stuff people throw away – including actual money sometimes.

    Last October, when our Farmer’s Market ended for the season, Angie and I came up with the idea to save our change over the winter to spend at the market next season. We thought we’d end up with maybe $20 – $30 at most but, pretty soon, we started finding change all over the place, from pennies at the car wash to quarters in the parking lot of our apartment. Then there were the carts at Aldi. We live next door and often walk through the parking lot on our outings. Despite having to pay a quarter to use a cart, there are still a lot of folks who leave them in the lot (or in the grass). We returned nearly $8.00 worth of carts. (That’s 2 quarts of fresh, juicy blueberries or 4 bags of spinach, by the way.)

    Another thing that we passed on our walks was the dumpster – 5 of them to be exact. In or near a typical apartment dumpster, you can find all sorts of stuff. We’ve been rescuing a lot of these items and taking them to Goodwill for years. This time, we started listing some of them on Marketplace. Though it was often a pain in the rear to meet up with people, we managed to make $38 on a couple of items that we found. And speaking of found – on several occasions we stumbled upon $1 and $5 bills at the park. We racked up another $12 this way.

    Then one random day in February, we decided to declutter the hall closet. There’s not much in the hall closet of two people who have been minimalists for the better part of the last 7 years, but we did manage to scrounge up some puzzles, a couple pairs of bowling shoes and a tiny space heater to add to our Marketplace listings. We also threw in the money we made from ditching our microwave, for a total of $55.

    On the night before the Farmer’s Market opened, we sat down in the living room floor, dumped all our change on the carpet, and started rolling. When we ran out of rollers, we were at $67 – and we hadn’t even touched the pennies! I would venture to guess that we left at least $20 – $30 in the jar for next time – the very same amount we thought we’d have in total in the first place.

    Our actual “market money” total was $180, enough to fund our trips to the Farmer’s Market for at least 6-8 weeks (even including our over-exuberance on week one). We’re pretty proud of that, but detailing our good fortune is not the only reason I started this post.

    In this world, there are two types of people – the ones who throw pennies away and the ones who pick them up. The penny tossers are also usually the same folks who throw away their dollars without much thought. How many times have you heard someone say (or have said yourself) – “It’s only a dollar (or $5 or $20)”- when contemplating some random purchase? The penny tossers don’t see the bigger picture. Small amounts of money don’t matter, they will never make you rich, so there’s no logical reason not to buy the candy bar, the mocha latte, or the lottery ticket. I mean, there’s a real chance that ticket could be worth a million dollars, right??

    The penny pickers on the other hand, they know the real score. They know that all denominations of money spend exactly the same – and they all save the same too. We pick up pennies because they add up, maybe not to enough to make you “rich” but then again, what is the definition of rich anyway? When we take our $180 in mostly found money to the Farmer’s Market this season and trade it for delicious tomatoes, squash, melons, and berries – I’m pretty sure we’re going to feel like we hit the jackpot.

    But, if that’s not enough to inspire you not to walk past unwanted change on the ground, this ingenious math from FI Tradesguy might:

    Let’s assume that picking up a coin off the ground and putting it in your pocket takes two seconds (it does, I do it all the time!) That means you can pick up 30 coins per minute and 1,800 coins per hour. Here is the simple table showing the hourly rate of picking up coins at two seconds each.

    1,800 coins X $.01 = $18/hour

    1,800 coins X $.05 = $90/hour

    1,800 coins X $.10 = $180/hour

    1,800 coins X $.25 = $450/hour

    I pick up change because of the mindset behind the action, but I also pick up change because I don’t want to pass by a couple seconds of really high paying wages. Every time you find a penny and pick it up, you can tell yourself that you just made $18/hour. Find a quarter and make $450/hour! Granted, you only worked for two seconds, but who wants to pass up $18 or $450 per hour? No matter how long you can work that gig.

    Honestly, I’d never really thought of it that way but the excited feeling I get when find a quarter says that there’s some truth to that logic. $450/hour is some serious cash. Who wouldn’t be happy to find a quarter??