30 April 2012

Our Facebook page

Debt Free Living now has a Facebook page. Living With Less focuses on inspiration for living a simpler life in our consumer culture. It's not easy to break the habits of a lifetime and to stop looking to retail therapy and expensive things to make us feel better, so seeing some inspiration on your newsfeed helps. We also share links to other minimalist-inspired blogs and articles to help you on your way to saving money and saving yourself from the stress of debt and a cluttered life.

26 April 2012

How to start uncluttering your family home

In the previous posts about saving money by living simpler and the benefits of uncluttering were discussed and how it can make you happier and live more free…but how does one actually go about this uncluttering business? You might feel like it will be very exhausting to try and sell all your unnecessary possessions. Not to mention, you will actually have to go through everything, sort it, bin it, box it, and clean the things you cannot part with. And then organize everything from the top down. Granted, this is very daunting, but taking small steps and seeing it as an on-going project to a better life is the key.

If you live with a family, getting them to help you will take some motivation. Luckily, once your other family members see how much better it feels to live in a house that is free from clutter, where everything is easy to find and clean, most of them will come around and help with the next room you sort through. For some, the fear of losing something of value that they could have sold is enough to make them help you sort the stuff. Don’t be scared to help them throw away something you know they’ll never use and listen to your family members when they tell you you’ve only used that foot spa once. When you’re all in it together it makes things much easier.

An uncluttered family room can still be comfortable, image by Posh Living, LLC

The same goes for keeping your home uncluttered: once your family values the new, open space they will be less likely to add new possessions or to allow others to bring in clutter. This may cause a few tiffs, but think of it this way: you won’t be fighting about losing stuff in your home as the fewer possessions you have, the less likely you will be to lose something and blame each other for not helping in the search for the car keys, the tog bag or the dog’s lead. Cleaning and tidying will also be much less of a hassle.

If you have kids, take the toys at the bottom of their toy pile and put those toys away where they can’t find them. If they don’t ask for the toy within the next month, they will forget about it. You can keep sneaking toys they don’t play with to the “missing toys” box in a cupboard they won’t look or the garage. Do this every few weeks. If your child gets bored with the toys that are left and asks for new ones, take some from the “missing toys” box and put the ones they are currently tired of in there again. Not only will they find toys exciting again after they were missing for months, making you smile because you don’t have to buy new ones all the time, but there will be fewer toys to lie around the house and clutter up their rooms.

Remember that it is an on-going project, that you have to tackle one area at a time and that it will take a change in your old habits and spending patterns. Kids will still nag for new toys if you go to the shops, so avoid taking them to the mall or toy shops. Not to mention, shopping will go much quicker and easier when you can focus on what you need to buy and you will spend less on things the kids want to eat. Normally, the things that your children want you to buy will be sweets or food with lots of colorants and sugar in them such as breakfast cereals and cool drinks that are expensive and have little nutritional value.

Not taking your kids to the shops will save you money or the guilt of buying them toys and “kids’” food when you know you are on your way to becoming over indebted. There are also much more productive ways for kids to spend their time: seeing friends, exploring new places, having picnics, doing crafts or starting a hobby will be of value to them in the long run. 

Where to start living with less

There’s so much to do!

Uncluttering can be daunting, but taking it step by step, room by room will motivate you. You will experience the freedom you feel when you have a minimalistic space.

Magazines, junk mail and books you have no interest in are major sources of clutter and easy enough to sort through, so start there. What you cannot donate, recycle. This is easy once you get the hang of it. Instead of putting junk mail or post on a table after reading it, throw it in the recycling or clip it on a board in the office space that says “to do” or “to pay”. Not only will you keep up with your bills and errands, but you won’t have newspapers, catalogues and letters piling up. Uncluttering makes life easier and saves you time in the long run.

Going through your cupboards is an important part of living with less. Not only will you be able to find things easier, but expired products won’t lurk in the back of your pantry and bathroom cupboards. When you know what is going on in your cupboards, you are much less likely to buy duplicate items and far more likely to notice when you run out of something. This will save you money and the frustration of wanting to bake a cake but there’s no flour.

A Japanese kitchen. The Japanese know the value of an uncluttered home
Image by Wootang01

Kitchen cupboards can be organized by only keeping the tubs that have lids and lids that have tubs, selling appliances you never use (waffle makers and potato shredders are nice, but do you really use yours?), throwing out the broken ones and putting the remaining things in containers that can be easily taken out and looked through. Sort things by type: you can even label your containers “bowls”, “large containers”, “lunch boxes”, “utensils” and so forth.

Once you have gone through located places, you can tackle the furniture in your home and sell furniture that no one ever uses. Keeping things off the floor is also an important rule: this will keep you from cluttering in the future and once you have no more piles sitting around, things will look and feel much cleaner and literally be easier to clean. Try keeping surfaces clear as well. Only have the necessary appliances in your kitchen and keep utensils in drawers or in containers in your cupboards where they stay dust free. We usually have way too many decorations in our homes of which most are rather unsightly. If you cannot bear to part with decorations, put them away and swop them around when you get tired of the ones currently on display. If you go back to them and you haven’t missed them, it’s time to sell or donate.

A minimalist home is not something you can organize and expect to keep if you don’t change your habits. Before buying something, think about how tidy your home is with few possessions, think about the debt you are trying to repay and think about what you are trying to achieve by making the purchase. Will you really be happier with a new TV or teacup set? Or are you trying to better your quality of living by accumulating things? As described in previous posts, life doesn’t work that way and owning less will mean less worries and more time to relax.

The best things in life aren’t things

A look at the benefits of living with less in your home

On your path to scaling down your lifestyle and the possessions you have, you might feel like you are being sold short of a lot of luxuries. In practice, however, this is not true. Living with fewer possessions, uncluttering your home, having less gadgets and fewer appliances are not just beneficial for those who are over indebted: many people have found that there are numerous benefits to this sort of lifestyle.

Of course you can sell everything of value you can live without to pay back your debt, but the rest, such as clothes and trinkets, can be dropped off at a charity’s shop or a less fortunate community. This way you not only unclutter your life, but you help others too and realize that you are indeed fortunate because you have the necessities.

Are you owned by you possessions?

Making your home minimalist means you don’t let your possessions own you: there’s nothing extravagant and you don’t buy the most expensive things, but the best quality you can afford so they last longer. When you own much fewer things, it makes sense that they are simple; to keep with the uncluttered life you are going for and to be value for money. The irony is that wealthy people tend to come around to minimalist living quicker than the rest of us. When you have all that you need and want, you realize that possessions don’t make you happier or calmer. Often the opposite is true.

When we don’t have large sums of spending money, we tend to think that something pretty, clothes or something to entertain us (magazines that will become clutter) will make our lives better. Yet, when you have less to spend, living a minimalist life will be beneficial to your sanity and your savings.

Less things to look after means more time for activities you truly enjoy
Image courtesy of Greg L. photos

The benefits you might not have realized

Besides having more money and getting free of debt, uncluttering your life of all unnecessary possessions and storing the rest out of sight has numerous benefits. According to Becoming Minimalist’s list of the benefits of minimalism, the second benefit besides having more money, is setting an example for your kids. Living with less teaches children that we don’t need possessions to feel secure and happy and that our worth is measured by more than what we earn. Teaching children this is very valuable in a very materialistic society.

When they experience happiness, contentment, entertainment and learning from a young age that is not centred around toys and gadgets, they will be much more balanced growing up. Seeking the approval of others is a part of growing up, but if children know that material possessions don’t make you fun or cool to be around, they will go through these growing pains much easier. They will also be able to discern which of their peers have fallen victim to relying on possessions for happiness and who are truly happy.

The other main benefit is being able to find your umbrella…or any other possession you truly need. When our homes are cluttered and our closets a mess we lose the things we really need much easier. Also, having one of an item means that you can remember where it is much easier. Furthermore, think how much easier it will be to clean a home with only one or two appliances or decorations on a flat surface and nothing lying around on the floors. Having guests over will be much less traumatic. You don’t have to worry about your home being tidy when there’s nothing to lie around, if they have small children the things you don’t want them to reach can be put away in a snap and if you have people sleeping over there’s much more space to put a blow up mattress – something you should invest in as minimalists also holiday in a minimal fashion, choosing camping and exploring nature over fancy hotels and seeing big cities.

Live a better life

When you don’t care to accumulate possessions you start to look at your life differently and make better choices. You don’t gravitate towards people who seem to be living the most glamorous lives, but have nothing more to offer. You look for a job that suits your personality, your values and is fulfilling because a salary is no longer your number one motivation. You don’t have the burden of fixing, organizing and cleaning so much clutter. You will find that your values and priorities change and that you no longer struggle to resist the temptations of shopping and using credit to accumulate better, faster, more expensive possessions.

Of course, you can’t achieve all this in a day. It takes a shift of your values and a re-evaluation of your life. Start with selling and donating the things you do not need and getting rid of the clutter room-by-room and see how much more free you feel in a clutter-free space.

25 April 2012

Earn more money

When all else fails, find creative ways to increase your income and get out of debt 

So, you’ve done all you can to cut back on your expenses for the month, but you still barely make it with your money. This could be because you are over indebted and you need to see a debt counsellor for help, as they help consumers get back on track by restructuring their debt and ensuring that they pay back their loans. The debt counsellor is not there to police you: on the contrary, you pay them to place strict guidelines on your finances because getting out of debt is the best you can do in this case. However, we will be placed under several restrictions during debt review.

The debt counsellor will draw up a budget for your current living necessities, but when you are over indebted you will have to learn to live without the expenses that are more of a luxury. This is a sacrifice many struggle to make. The other problem some people face is that they still over spend, but now they cannot get a loan during debt review. This can lead to them approaching unscrupulous credit providers, borrowing from friends or family or selling their possessions for less than their worth to put food on the table: the very thing they tried to avoid in the first place. It’s not only over spending that can cause this dilemma, but also emergencies that mean unforeseen expenses.

What do you do now? There is a solution: instead of spending less, which has proved impossible at this point, you have to earn more. This might sound impossible, but it is not. Even though the South African economy is struggling, businesses still hire temporary staff for weekends or freelance workers to work when the permanent staff cannot. These employees tend to come and go on a regular basis and you and other family members can look to find an extra weekend or part-time job. Tell yourself that this is not a permanent arrangement: you are simply doing everything you can to make ends meet and to work towards paying back your debt. There is no shame in hard work.

Granted, this can be very taxing if you already work more than five days a week or you have a very demanding and stressful job. Another option is getting a raise. James Clear gives tips to earning more money by working towards a raise. His main message is that your raise will not come simply by asking for one: you have to prove that you are an asset to your company and that you deserve more reimbursement because you are more valuable than the other employees. This will mean stepping up and taking on more responsibilities, making note of the ways in which you have contributed measurably to the company’s success and asking your boss for suggestions on furthering your career.

Another alternative is using the skills and tools that you have to start your own business. Some business owners have managed to build their fortune by starting out with almost no capital and just using what they know. You will also find that people are more willing to help you if it doesn’t cost them anything, such as asking friends to advertise your business to their friends and so on. Research how successful people worked themselves up, about opportunities in your field and become motivated to see a gap in a market that you can fill. Beware of investing any money in a small business in the beginning: losing money is the last thing you want to do. Instead, devote time to seeing it through.

And while you are doing all of this, look for a higher paying job. Search engines like Indeed.com make job searching easier than you might think. Do not hesitate to apply to all the positions you qualify for. It costs you nothing to email your CV and you can get lucky and start earning more. The other option is getting a job that is less draining of your time and energy so you can work on other ways to make money as well. Getting out of debt is not easy, but the harder you try, the faster you will be free from your financial burdens and the less likely you will be to fall in the trap again. 

A new way to approach financial freedom

Living with less can give your family a better quality of life

Image: Explore gardens, thrift shop to save money or go for walks
 instead of spending money at the mall
Downsizing your life and spending less than you earn is not a guarantee that you will not end up in debt. However, when you spend less than you earn you can pay back the debt you accumulated when an emergency came up. You also don't have to touch your savings: when you spend less than you earn you will not be tempted to use your credit cards and instead of taking out a loan to cover an emergency, you can use your “emergency fund” that you have set aside by living more conservatively. As you are already used to living below your means, in the months after the emergency you can pay back your credit instead of putting your 10% (or whichever percentage you keep) to your savings account.

Credit cards can be good for emergencies – however – they must be used with great caution and monitoring the balance on your credit card and making sure you pay off the monthly balance is adviseable in order to avoid sky high interest rates and penalties. Abuse of credit cards is one of the big reasons people get into debt, so be careful.

But how do we live below our means and ensure this peace of mind? It takes some sacrifices and a new mind set. You will have to focus on spending less and earning more. However, the benefits are countless. Also, you can reward yourself for your efforts with something you really want and it will be much more enjoyable than having everything you want but you are in danger of becoming over indebted by NCR standards

The Digerati Life gives some tips on earning more and spending less. This might seem very time-consuming, but you have to be smart about it. Once you get used to saving money and you find ways to earn more, you will have to spend less time running around and more time living a more care free life. Their first tip to saving money is avoiding temptation and focussing your attention away from advertisements and situations where you know you will be tempted to spend on things you don’t need. When you’ve made the decision to rather be defined by who you are than what you own, it will be easier to avoid TV advertisements, shopping trips with friends, expensive restaurants or any other situation that triggers you to spend. Don’t let instant gratification affect your saving resolutions.

Another smart tip is to pay yourself first every month. Draw up a budget, allow yourself a little extra (you’re not trying to live like a pauper, after all), and put the rest in a savings account at the beginning of the month so you’re not tempted to spend any of it when the end of the month gets closer. Living below your budget by shopping at discount stores and buying second hand will also mean you have more money to do something fun you really want to do, and not because there is pressure on you from friends or advertisers to spend.

There’s no way around this, however: you will have to cut out your vices. Luckily, most of these are bad habits that you can only be better off without, such as smoking, drinking, convenience foods and junk foods. Gambling, designer clothes and expensive hobbies might not be bad for your health, but you can certainly do without them.
When you have a family, looking for new ways to entertain yourselves can be a challenge in the beginning as everyone needs to adapt, but it can also be very rewarding. Getting off Facebook and seeing friends can only do you good. 

While it is fun to watch satellite television or go to family restaurants, it is much more valuable for a family to do other, more constructive and cost-effective activities that they enjoy. Look for activities that create stronger bonds, allow your family to get some exercise, develop new skills or see new places. Exploring the outdoors is a low cost way to entertain a family. Pack a picnic, set out for the day and you will be entertained and invigorated by the experience. Doesn’t that sound better than going to the mall?

Another big way to save is downsizing your house and car. And it’s not just your mortgage that will decrease when you downsize: the bigger your house, the more maintenance costs will be involved. A garden can be valuable - you and your family can grow your own produce as a hobby. Re-evaluate your transport: a new car can get you around in style and comfort, but you can still travel without it: minimalists will rather opt for cycling, using public transport or if these aren’t options, owning second-hand cars that are the most economical to drive. Look for a car that has low fuel consumption and get it serviced every time it is due. This will save maintenance and travel costs in the long run.

You will notice that a life with less is not only good for your pocket, but also for our planet and your health. Not only do you have to be more active to adapt to a more minimal lifestyle, but unhealthy convenience foods cost more than eating your own fresh produce or shopping for whole foods and cooking up a storm. You and your family will be happier, healthier and more positive for making the change to living with less.

Image courtesy of bvalium

Getting into bad debt is not the worst thing that could happen

Financial struggles teach us a lot about ourselves and managing our finances

When you find yourself over indebted you may find yourself wondering if you’ll ever be able to turn your financial situation around and live a debt free, stress free life. Of course, not getting into debt in the first place would have been the smart thing to do, but sometimes unexpected situations cause us to be consumed by debt or we simply don’t have the skills to stick to our budget and over spend. Getting into debt should be hard, according to Roshawn Watson, a writer who advises people on getting out of debt, investing and building wealth. He says that the struggles will teach you how to spend your money in the future, how to plan more carefully and where to cut back.

He points out that some of the richest business people today have experienced great financial difficulties in the past, but it taught them how to be better at what they do. Having failed financially does not mean that you are a failure: it means that you will have to work harder at finding ways to earn an income, using your creativity, living wisely and making smart investment decisions in the future. You shouldn’t forget the sacrifices you made when you were in debt and how hard it was to be free of it again, because this will keep you from going down that path again and seeing the warning signs early on.

One of the ways in which South Africans can save themselves from the debt trap is to apply for debt review. The simple reason being that if you cannot keep up with your repayments, you are probably over indebted and the last thing you should do is take out another loan to pay all of the others. If you couldn’t cover your living expenses and loan repayments this month, how will you learn to cut back enough to add ANOTHER loan’s repayment to your expenses by the next month? Debt review is especially valuable for people who have a bad credit record, don’t have assets to use as collateral to consolidate their loans and feel that they have gotten themselves in way over their heads with the amount of repayments they have to make every month.

Debt review forces you to take responsibility for you income because the debt counsellor works out a budget for your monthly expenses and you have to stick to it. Failing to do so will mean that you simply won’t have any money. Those under debt review cannot take out any more loans and if you try and skip on repaying your creditors they have the right to cancel the review and take you to court. However, debt review also takes a lot of stress off the person’s shoulders. The debt counsellor arranges restructured payments with their client’s creditors and handles the legal aspects thereof. The consumer has the right to work through the debt counsellor and creditors will be notified to only contact the counsellor during the review process.

Even though debt review means that people will have to make some lifestyle adjustments and give up their creature comforts and make other sacrifices, most consumers welcome it. It’s currently the most effective way for creditors to be repaid and for consumers to be protected from their creditors while getting the financial advice they need. Once you have completed debt review, you will receive a certificate and this will allow you to qualify for credit again. However, after going through the lengthy and often painful process of paying back all their debt, smart people work to make sure that they stay far away from being over indebted again and strive to use their credit wisely.

Indeed, credit can open a lot of doors for us: think of home loans, car loans, student loans and credit cards in an emergency. Without these, our lives would be much harder. However, they come with the major responsibility of paying them back. Don’t allow credit to take away your freedom, but use it to better your life; for instance the independence of owning a car or the opportunity to pay off your own place.

Image licensed to Itani stock photos

Living with less

Image: A minimalist lifestyle means less stress and more time for the things you love

Living with less means a simpler life with fewer possessions, being happy with second hand or cheaper possessions, fewer luxuries such as expensive dinners or holiday trips and not choosing the biggest house you can afford. It might sound like you’re trading in a life of creature comforts and luxuries for a plain and boring life, but people who succeed in living this way do not look at it as a sacrifice. People choose to live a more minimal life because living below your means actually means that you have more freedom. Capitalist society wants us to spend: this is hard to deny as we are constantly bombarded with advertisements and we are always encouraged to look up to those who have more.

A minimalist lifestyle is also referred to as frugal living. Having more money kept away every month means that you are far less likely to need credit in case of an emergency. This means that people who live this way have more financial freedom and little or no debt. The burden of debt often keeps us awake at night, but those who choose to live below their means make a conscious decision to save rather than buy on credit. These people don’t necessarily earn large amounts of money; they just intentionally don’t spend it all by having a different outlook on life than most. They value independence from financial worries higher than seeming successful or feeling empowered by the possessions that they own.

The other advantage of living with less is that you have less to budget for each month. However, this only applies to people who are good at earning more than they spend. The Digerati Life makes the distinction between earning more than you spend and spending less than you earn. People who spend less than they earn make a conscious decision to stick to a budget, while those who earn more than they spend make an effort to earn a bigger income than they need to cover their basic necessities. The first is motivation to keep your life simpler by keeping in mind that you want that freedom of having money left at the end of the month and the peace of mind that comes with it. The latter reminds you that money does not come easy and to live comfortably and worry free means hard work, so the less you spend the less you need to work and vice versa.

At this point you may think about how hard this is. After all, we often think for our lives to be fulfilling it is necessary to have a satellite dish, store cards, a new car, designer clothes, the latest gadgets and the like. We did not consciously decide this, but we are taught that possessions mean comfort and freedom when often the opposite is true. We tend to think happiness and comfort can be bought, and this is true to a degree as we need some basic things to be comfortable, but those who live minimalist lifestyles know that being content and appreciating the small things in life means living with less clutter and possessions.

The same principle of living with less goes for where we live: having a large house is great when you have people over, but it costs a lot more, is harder to look after or demands more maintenance costs than a smaller home. Those of us who live above our means also tend to collect possessions. This can mean that our living spaces become crowded and it creates some anxiety (even sub-consciously) when we live in cluttered homes.
But what if you are already over indebted? By now you are probably kicking yourself for living above your means and not saving as much as possible. However, a minimalist lifestyle can definitely help! Scaling down as much as you can will allow you to focus on getting back on track with your finances and beginning to focus on the important things in life. South Africa’s Credit Protection Act allows those who are over indebted the opportunity to hire a debt counsellor and to go under debt review. Adopting a minimalist outlook can make the debt review process much easier for you.

The counsellor will look at all your living expenses and budget for the necessities while the rest of your income will go towards paying back your creditors after restructuring your payment plan. If you can adapt to live with less, you can pay back your creditors as fast as possible and you don’t run the risk of running out of money at the end of the month. This can be a real problem and you are not allowed to take out a loan once you are under debt review. If your choose to skip a payment to your creditors, the debt counsellor or creditor can cancel the debt review because they seek to help those who are serious about getting out of debt.

No matter what your circumstances, living with less has definite benefits for those who want financial freedom or those who want to focus on the important things in life and escape the cycle of consumerism. 
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