Monday, September 24, 2012

A Few Questions...

Soooo... Lois over at LivingSimplyFree, as well as P over at HowIGotThisFar were so kind as to nominate me for the Wonderful Team Member Readership Award.

This award is meant to thank regular blog readers for being part of your community, an idea which I find both very nice as well as somewhat redundant. In my opinion, reading people's blogs is its own reward!

Anyhow, as usual, there are "rules" that come with this award, and as usual, I'm not going to follow them. I'm supposed to nominate some of my own readers, but to be honest, I really hate the idea of singling people out.

Truth is, I LOVE it whenever anybody comments on my blog. I mean, I don't consider myself to be the the keeper of any great wisdom, nor do I posses a great wealth of knowledge that I'm sharing with people. I mostly just like the conversation.

I love having a place to blather about whatever happens to be running around in my brain, and it's always refreshing when somebody gives me a new perspective or a new way to look at things.

All that being said, I know from looking at my web logs that there are WAY more people visiting my humble little corner of the interwebs than there are folks who actually comment. I understand... there are plenty of blogs that I read but don't comment on. Sometimes I just don't have anything to say (unbelievable, but true,) and sometimes I feel "unqualified" to comment - like on the bicycle blogs where people talk about their 100 mile "recreational rides." Oy!

So, I'd like to give my Readership Award to all of the lurkers out there, along with an open invitation to de-lurk any time you feel like it!

Here, I'll make it easy. Let's do our own little "getting to know you" quiz... So if you'd like to play along (whether you're a regular commenter, first time visitor, longtime lurker or whatever) here are the questions:

1) What's your name (real or made up... doesn't matter) & what part of the world do you live in (you can make that up too if you don't want to tell us.)
2) What's your favorite movie? (It can just be your current favorite)
3) What household task to you loathe?
4) What are you looking forward to today?

Here, I'll start.

My name is Cat and I live in Denver, Colorado.

My favorite movie is 12 Monkeys. I mean really... I loves me a good apocalyptic thriller, plus, Brad Pitt has got to be the funniest crazy guy ever.

And I never met a temporal distortion that I didn't love. Besides, it's Terry Gilliam, and somehow his warped sense of humor gets me every time.

I loathe vacuuming. Oh how I have tried to make peace with it, but I just find it to be a horrible unrewarding task. It's noisy, and smelly, and it scares the cats. Plus, it's sort of like wrestling an octopus, and no matter how thorough I am, it's NEVER done. There's always more cat fur and litter just around the next corner. Sigh.

Today, I'm looking forward to movie night with CatMan!

OK, your turn!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Thoughts on Entitlement, Fairness and the Consumer Culture

Recent events have my brain churning.

First of all, there's my new bicycle. Rachel's comments really got me to thinking about the whole concept of whether or not we "deserve" things. It's an interesting and somewhat complicated topic when you really start to think about it. Do we "deserve" recreational items or expensive shoes? How about paper plates? What about health care or food?
Speaking of food, Katy over at The Non-Consumer Advocate is running a SNAP challenge where people are challenged to keep their food budgets within the food stamp allotment for a family of their size.

This, of course, set off a contentious and somewhat moralistic discussion about food choices and spending choices in general. One woman related a story about a family that was on public assistance yet refused to give up their iPhones and cable television.

I, of course, weighed in with my general observation that people waste their money on stupid stuff... admittedly not the best context in which to make such an argument, since I fear some folks thought I was saying that people on public assistance somehow didn't "deserve" the help or simply made poor spending choices - which was not my point at all.

At any rate, one woman who was struggling financially piped in with the comment that everyone "deserves" some luxuries and conveniences - even poor people. There's that word again.

And then yesterday, CatMan spent several hours talking with an old friend that he's known since they were teenagers. Part of the discussion was his friend's confession that although he's been earning a six digit salary for over 20 years now, he's completely broke. Oy!

Sooooo... all of that has my little brain hopping with complicated and often contradictory thoughts. Part of just me feels like shaking some sense into people.

How in god's name could someone fritter away hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars and have practically nothing to show for it?!? I mean, I know this guy and it's not like he lives a particularly luxurious lifestyle. What on earth is he spending it all on?

And what about the "poor people" and their "luxuries." Do they "deserve" them? Do any of us "deserve" luxuries? Is it "fair" to spend tax dollars helping people who might not make the "best" financial decisions? Aren't these people a drain on our economy... gobbling up tax dollars for their "benefits?"

Well... in reality, no - they're not a "drain" at all. I mean, whatever you think about the "fairness" of it all, the fact is that if you want to stimulate the economy, one of the best things you can do is to give money to "poor people," because they will immediately spend it, which circulates the money and makes the economy grow.

So there we have the conundrum in a nutshell. Our entire economic system is based on consumerism. If people don't spend money, the economy collapses.

Now, I might think that CatMan's friend is being "irresponsible" by "wasting" his six figure salary on whatever it is he's been spending it on, but in a very real economic sense he is the upstanding citizen, and I am the dangerous radical who's threatening our country's well being by keeping so much of my "wealth" locked up in the bank. How's that for bass-ackwards?

So the reality of the situation is that all of these people who are spending money on iPhones and cable television, and convenience foods, and whatever else they're spending it on - they're not doing anything other than filling the role that our society wants them to fill. In a very real sense, they're doing what they are "supposed" to do, they are consuming!

I mean really - I'm the one who's not following the instructions here, not them! How on earth can we expect people to "resist the urge" to spend money when everything about our society tells them that spending is what they are supposed to do?

But it occurred to me this morning that part of the problem with all of these lines of thinking is that they are based on a false premise - that spending money is somehow more desirable than not spending money. Now, clearly everyone really does need certain things - food, water, shelter, access to healthcare - and to my way of thinking, in a society as wealthy as ours these things ought to be rights not privileges.

But beyond basic necessities and yes - a few luxuries, does more spending really equate to more happiness? In my experience the answer is a resounding NO! And when you look at it in that light, it really turns the whole "fairness" argument on its head.

Is it "fair" that CatMan's friend has had to work is ass off 60-70 hours per week for the past few decades in order to fulfill his role as consumer? Is it "fair" that I get to sit around enjoying the luxury of time because I have refused to "do my part" for the consumer culture?

I honestly don't know the answers to any of these questions, and in a sense I guess it's sort of pointless to even try to figure it all out. I mean it's not like any of us has the power to change our economic system even if we did have all of the answers.

I guess in the end all we can do is try to make the best decisions that we can for ourselves and our families, while remaining compassionate to the plight of those around us - both the folks struggling to get by as well as those struggling with their roles as "consumers" in this crazy culture of ours.

I'm curious... what do y'all think about all this?

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Something Strange is Happening

I have heard the ancient ones speak of this odd phenomenon...

I myself have had dreams of this occurrence... a memory almost... as if from a previous life...

And many are the times I have prayed to the heavens, never dreaming I would actually live to witness it myself...
Water... falling from the sky. I believe they called it rain!


Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Thoughts on Frugality, Luxuries and Personal Prisons

I sometimes have to remind myself that frugality is a means to an end, not an end unto itself.

I live frugally because it allows me to support myself through passive income streams and not have to have a job. I live frugally so that I can have time to dedicate to things that I enjoy and people (and cats) that I love. I live frugally because it frees me from the trappings of modern life.

In short, I live frugally because it makes my life better.

But, as with all things designed to make your life better (exercise, healthy diet, cleanliness, etc.) it's very easy to get one's internal wiring crossed and forget the point of it all.

I find that if I'm not careful my internal dialog can quickly switch from: "I'm not spending money because it gives me freedom"

to: "I'm too old, lazy, stupid, incompetent, or fill in this blank with personal failing du jour - therefore I don't deserve to have XYZ item."

Am I the only person out there who occasionally confuses freedom with a prison of my own making?

I'm not quite sure why I do this. Perhaps it was programmed into me during my dysfunctional childhood, or perhaps it's just a convenient way to give myself something to get worked up about so I don't have to deal with other things.

But whatever the cause, it's not healthy. The point isn't to see who can die with the most money in the bank - the point is to enjoy your life.

I guess the universe gave me a little reminder of this recently. The friend I mentioned a few posts back lost her battle with breast cancer last week. And I just can't stop thinking about how, of all the people I know, she was the one who was always focused on retirement planning. Even when the doctors said her chances of surviving were under 10%, she was worried about dipping into her retirement money to pay for treatment. Sigh.

Anyhow, with all that as a backdrop, I decided last week to stop putting off a purchase that I have wanted to make for a very, VERY long time. Sooooooo....

Meet Ruby:

Isn't she beautiful? She's an 18.5 pound carbon fiber road bike with fancy schmancy Shimano Ultegra components, and the most comfortable frame geometry you can imagine. I've already put about 75 miles on her, and CatMan & I even rode the loop yesterday!

I'm absolutely ecstatic - we rode for over 40 miles in just over 3 hours, and while I wouldn't say it was easy, it was WAY easier than it would have been on my old 30 pound Trek!

My main problem at the moment is that all I want to do is ride her, and I don't seem to be getting anything else done! I could have gotten away with a slightly heavier bike with cheaper components, but in the end I decided to look on her as an investment.

Because, you know, this is the point! You don't spend money on stupid things that don't matter so that you have the money to spend on a few luxuries that you really, really want.

I think I am entering strange territory here, because I believe my bike is probably worth more than my car at this point! But since I have ridden more miles than I've driven this year, I suppose that's how it should be.

So how about you? Have you ever had to escape from a prison of your own making?

And what are the luxuries that make your frugal lifestyle worthwhile?