The Chinese equivalent of what I spent most of 10 years writing about at Wise Bread.
…decided he could get by on odd jobs and $60 a month from his savings. He called his new lifestyle “lying flat.” — NYT
Here’s a quote from a good post on the difference between “feeling broke” and “being broke,” that also touches on tactics for getting by when you’re pretty close to that latter category—topics I wrote a lot about for Wise Bread.
What made me want to comment is a bit right near the beginning where the writer talks about the discontinuity in housing prices: Down to a certain price point you can pay a little less and get a little less space and slightly downgraded amenities, but there’s a breakpoint where that quits being true:
That’s the drop-off you experience at the lower price levels – there’s nothing between “This is a tiny but acceptable apartment” and “Slum apartments in stab-ville”.On The Experience of Being Poor-ish, For People Who Aren’t – Resident Contrarian
The point I want to make is that this is only true in general. If you had to find 100 apartments that were cheaper-than-basic but not in a slum, you’d probably be out of luck. But unless your job is to find apartments for poor people, that doesn’t really matter. For your own household you only need to find one apartment that’s cheap but not in a slum, and across your city there’s probably several of those. (Maybe a small apartment building that’s not part of a complex, maybe a three-plex or four-plex, maybe a duplex owned by a retiree who is looking for a very low-maintenance tenant, maybe a big old house that was cut up into apartments, etc.)
The author is clearly aware of this—he goes into some detail on applying similar thinking to furniture (where you only need to get a great price on a great dining room table once and it’ll last the rest of your life). Applying it to apartments is different for various reasons (mostly having to do with urgency and risk—you can’t just wait indefinitely, because being homeless is different from eating off a TV tray table while you look for a great deal on a dining room table), but it’s not completely different.
For the first decade after my former employer closed the site where I’d worked, Jackie and I did a lot of that—looking to satisfy each need we had with one instance where we could get something of very high quality at an especially good price. It’s a tactic that works great, but only in a narrow range of circumstances. It’s not so good for people working long hours at a difficult job, because they lack the time and energy to do the search. It’s also not so good for people who are really broke (not just broke-ish), because these sorts of deals often require that you have cash on hand to close the deal immediately.
Here’s one of my old Wise Bread articles applying this thinking more broadly: How to have an above-average life for below-average prices.
At some point in the last few years, presumably related to my writing for Wise Bread, a whole bunch of PR flacks started sending me their press releases—mostly about money stuff, with a little writing stuff and journalism stuff thrown in.
It has been very tedious, but I have hesitated to mark these messages as spam, because the topics are things that interest me (even if the actually email messages are almost never of any interest whatsoever).
After spending a year or two just deleting all that crap manually, I’ve spent a few minutes today making a filter that grabs that stuff and puts it in a folder called “Lame PR” so I don’t have it cluttering up my inbox.
So far I’m sorting by sender, because I think there are only about a dozen senders behind the majority of this crap. Maybe I’m mistaken. There may be too many senders. But I doubt if they’re doing the spammer tricks to make this stuff hard to filter. (They’re hoping that I find their “content” so useful, I’ll be using filters to make sure I do see their content!)
Once I get them filtered out, my inbox will be much more useful than it has been.
Just from her title I was pretty sure that Christa Whiteman’s post Living simply: reclaiming sanity + authenticity would be right in my sweet spot, and I was not surprised to find more than a little overlap with what I’ve been saying for years at Wise Bread. I’ve talked about living a life of “luxury and splendor,” but recovering our “original opulence” sounds good too.
Christa suggests three starting places: food, movement, and stuff—adding that the proper course to take is a spiral, coming around to the same points over and over. She is right—where you start means little—and yet, her course is so completely different from my own I thought it might be worth pondering those differences to see if they told me something useful about what I’ve been doing, and about how I’ve been writing about it.
As anyone who has read my work at Wise Bread knows, I’m all about the power of frugality as a tool for living a life of full of exactly what you most want: Basically, I started with the “stuff” piece. I probably have a hundred articles on various aspects of figuring out the difference between needs and wants, covering your actual needs, identifying and focusing on those few wants that matter most deeply to you, and dealing with others who care how you satisfy your wants.
I wrote quite a bit about food, too—about how to eat at the intersection of cheap and healthy. I’ve just now reread a few of those posts and I’m pretty pleased with them, even if I’d write them differently now.
Christa’s third piece is about movement, and that is where my writing at Wise Bread falls short. In fact, I’ve really got exactly one post that’s right on topic. The editors gave it the unfortunate title of Get a Great Workout for Free With 11 Simple Moves, but it’s straight-up natural movement advocacy. Before that, I had some good stuff on how walking and bicycling for transportation were frugal and healthy, but it had a pretty limited perspective.
I think I need to write some more pieces on both food and movement for Wise Bread. I can certainly write a new Wise Bread post on how to eat paleo on the cheap. (Not that I eat a paleo diet, but there’s a lot of overlap between what’s expensive in my diet and what’s expensive in the paleo diet.) Maybe I can also write some more movement pieces. What should be the focus, I wonder. The frugality of natural movement for exercise? The frugality of staying healthy? Or the luxury and splendor of being a fully capable human? I guess I’ve done that first one. Hmm.
One of my fellow Wise Bread writers, Nora Dunn, has been posting some of the financial details of her travel-heavy lifestyle, including this post on her 2011 Income. (It’s got a link to her earlier post on her 2011 spending, and promises a forthcoming post on why she chooses to earn this much money and not more.)
It’s pretty interesting for anyone who’s thinking about the sort of issues that I write about in my Wise Bread articles—how and why to spend less, and how and why to earn the money to support that frugal lifestyle (and not some other lifestyle).
In his article Saving Yourself [Note: article is now behind a paywall] Daniel Akst buries at the end a particularly good statement of the central point I try to make in my personal finance writing:
Thrift is thus a way to redeem yourself not just from the unsexy bondage of indebtedness but also from subjugation to people and efforts that are meaningless to you, or worse. Debt means staying in a pointless job, failing to support needy people or worthwhile causes, accepting the strings that come with dependence, and gritting your teeth when your boss asks you to do something unethical instead of saying “drop dead”. Ultimately, thrift delivers not just freedom but salvation—which makes it a bargain even Jack Benny could love.
To get there, though, he takes you on a wonderful journey through the American history of thrift, from Jack Benny to the Puritans and back again, with a couple of side trips to Sexyland.