25 July 2012

Affording companion animals

When people are struggling financially it is often their pets who get a raw deal. Not that animal abuse and the neglect of pets are only limited to the cash-strapped, not at all, but when people cannot afford their own food or healthcare, the animals they are responsible for suffer as well. Animal clinics charge almost as much as human doctors, which is only fair since vets also study many years and animal medicines are also expensive. Getting a companion animal should therefore not be considered lightly.

I am the first to agree that a dog that is well-fed and loved by people who are not well off is much better off than an abused or homeless dog, but we also have to think what will happen to the animal if things go downhill for the owners or the dog gets sick? Jason Garner, a financial planning coach, says, "We have to understand exactly what our responsibilities are to the health and happiness of that animal and then take the necessary steps to ensure that we can fulfil our obligation without unnecessarily burdening ourselves or being forced to make decisions that cause financial distress."

A dog and cat share a crate
Our local animal welfare is situated near a township and people often bring in their pets that they cannot afford vet bills for when they are sick or get hurt. In these instances they get discounts or the animal gets treated by use of donations from the public. Another thing that happens is that animals that got injured are surrendered and rehomed once they are healed again. Some animals are not so lucky: one dog’s owner brought him in days after he was hit by a car and he had to be put to sleep because his infection was that severe.

It is therefore extremely important that you have a plan in the event that your companion animal needs medical attention. No being deserves to suffer and humans do not have a good reputation when it comes to looking after the animals they choose to share their homes with. You don’t want to be a part of the problem, even if it is because you are over indebted or struggling financially. Be sure to take note of the animal welfares in your area that offer discount services to people who cannot afford vet care or look into medical aid for your pet. You can look here for quotes on health insurance for animals. It can save your furry or feathered friend’s life.

23 July 2012

The more repaired, the less wasted

I heard someone say “I’ll just leave it to professionals to clean” a few days ago and it struck me that I have never given any thought to professional cleaners! Growing up my mom always had tips and tricks for cleaning every stubborn stain from blood to red wine. In general, my family has always been very DIY about things.

My dad often repairs electronics, our cars (for simpler mishaps) and other gadgets. He even goes so far as to buy broken electronics off the internet and fixing them. He bought a working digital camera for next-to-nothing because the previous owner didn’t think to check if the rechargeable batteries were still okay before deciding that the camera is “broken”. He simply put other batteries in and voila. It’s not always that simple, but it did surprize me that people don’t try to fix things themselves.

While my family are thrifty in this regard and we’ve saved money by repairing many things from clothing to luggage to furniture, many people don’t develop those skills. And even worse, it’s becoming more and more prevalent that corporations are cashing in on the fact that people don’t insist on gadgets being repairable.

In this article, Jaymi Heimbuch says that if this is the case, you are simply renting that product. You can’t customise it, repair it or hack it to better serve your idea of what it should be doing. Not only do you have to pay to own it, but if it breaks, your only options are to either buy a new one or pay the manufacturer top dollar to fix it (and anyone that has experienced this knows how expensive it can be) or live without it.

If you do manage to repair or modify your device, there’s also a catch. The manufacturers usually put seals on everything so they can tell if you’ve “tampered” with your own property and then your warranty expires. This makes it virtually impossible for repairers who do know their CPU from their LCD to repair your electronics.

Heimbuch’s article makes very valid points about gadget repairability making jobs possible for small businesses and how it is a much more environmentally conscious route for manufacturers to go. We can deduce from this that companies who manufacture unrepairable gadgets are looking to milk the consumer for all they’re worth and don’t support an environmentally friendly culture of “reusing” as a gadget that is not repaired will only be disposed of.

20 July 2012

What friendship taught me

I once heard a friend say that friendship and our relationships with other people make a major contribution to how we turn out as they help us to get to know ourselves. Our interactions with other people are immensely valuable when it comes to self-exploration as our patience, personality, compassion and even life skills are developed through trial and error from a young age.

Through interacting with others we also learn what we value in life and what we don’t, even if we don’t realize it. When a friend starts to be an annoyance, it’s probably because there is a conflict in what you and your friend want out of life. The other main reason things don’t work out is because people want different things from a relationship and that can lead to disappointment and frustration for the person wanting more and make the person who is happy with less interaction feel smothered. But in the end, it just teaches us what we want out of our relationships with others and make future connections even stronger.

We shouldn’t forget the value of friendship and make time to invest in our friends. I know I’ve often been guilty of forgetting to contact someone, as I put them to the back of my mind, which is easy when you get wrapped up in your day-to-day activities. I’ve made excuses for not contacting them, such as being broke or being too busy, but these are never very good excuses. But I’ve also noticed that by making less of an effort to contact someone, they don’t contact me either. Maybe this is just because of the kind of people I connect with, normally independent spirits who don’t cling to anyone. The ones who don’t disappear out of my life when things get busy or circumstances change are the friends who I thank my stars for.

Great friendship taught me to love myself more and to appreciate my life and my family that much more. The few friends who I don’t want to live without have always been encouraging and we are fans of each other. I feel like there has to be something you admire in another person because you tend to absorb those qualities to an extent and it keeps the relationship strong. This is not the same as jealousy, as admiration makes you more of yourself and jealousy makes you depreciate what you have.

Friendship is teaching me how to live less attached to people and things and how to give without expecting to receive. This is an on-going process and I don’t think we can learn how to live unattached and selfless in one lifetime, but the more I strive for this the more I enjoy my friendships. There’s something very joyous about seeing your friends and having them brighten up your day because you enjoy their company, compared to seeing friends because you don’t want to be alone.

Friends are truly a mirror of ourselves, or at least mine are! I like to surround myself with only a handful of people, but we get to know each other so well and we can be very honest and still not hurt each other as we understand what constructive criticism is. Our friends sometimes know us better than we know ourselves.
Even scientists know that friendship is wonderful: Studies have shown that friends keep us healthier. Some encourage us to learn better habits, but the stress relief associated with friendship is especially valuable.

12 July 2012

What are you apologizing for?

This is a debt free blog, but we also focus on living free and debts that we owe ourselves and in this post we look at what we might owe other people without realizing it. It’s not just an apology, as we can do better than that!

Erin Pavlina writes about excuses and says that saying “sorry” doesn’t mean much if you’re just going to repeat what you did. Saying sorry is asking for forgiveness, in an attempt to shift the responsibility from the person whose behaviour was overstepping some boundary, to the person who they want to forgive them. It’s kind of like a free pass to do it again because you see that your actions don’t have very unfavourable consequences. It’s not that you are a bad person, you just have a nasty habit and it’s an inconvenience or even hurtful to those around you.

Apologies only mean something if you mean it! Pavlina
means that teaching a child to apologize is quite senseless

Of course, forgiveness is a good thing in the sense that holding a grudge is poisonous, but forgiving someone over and over means that you are accepting of their behaviour even though it is hurtful to you. We can’t go through life without being inconvenienced, but we can insist on being treated with respect. And as we’ve all heard before, you have to demand respect. Don’t think of it as being rude, you might even be helping the person you are asking to change their behaviour.

If you’re the person always saying sorry, ask yourself why you’re not changing you behaviour and if it won’t be better for your well-being and those around you if you consider others with your actions. Of course, some people just say sorry too much, even to the irritation of those around them. Just as some expect too much of others. Of course we all mess up sometimes, so instead of saying sorry a hundred times, rather promise to be as careful as you possibly can not to repeat this behaviour in the future.

It might also be necessary to try and make up for what you did, even if it can’t make things the way they were. My friend recently broke her ankle after a friend was joking around with her and she fell off a porch. Saying sorry won’t make her ankle magically heal overnight, but to this day he has made no effort to visit her while she’s stuck at home or made any effort to make her healing time more comfortable. I guess things like making mistakes are what really test a friendship.

One thing that can ruin friendships at the speed of light is money. I have vowed to myself this week not to loan my friends money again. It’s not that I mind them not giving it back when they said they will, as they are my friends and I don’t want to put unnecessary pressure on them. It’s just really awkward asking for my money (in case they forgot) and them apologizing profusely or avoiding the subject! I don’t know what’s worse. What I actually want to hear is “sorry it’s late, but you will have it by Saturday”, and that promise being kept of course.

Most people aren’t unreasonable, but all of us want to know where we stand. In the future, try to say sorry only when you mean it and back it up with a promise to change and stick to it! If you’re on the receiving end of an apology, tell the person that there’s no need to apologize profusely, we all mess up, but you will expect them to change in the future, otherwise there is no point to an apology.

11 July 2012

Information overload! Can we do with cutting back on the clicking?

Have you ever thought of an information diet? The idea of “information overload” was first devised in the 70’s by Alvin Toffler to describe what happens to someone when there is too much information on a subject, especially when they have to form an opinion or make a decision based on that information. Isn’t that what we are currently experiencing on a day-to-day basis? We can access information easily, everywhere, using cell phones, laptops, TV’s and so forth.

Social media and the rise of user-edited information on the internet (think Wikipedia) has made sharing opinions and facts easy, but also unreliable. At the best of times, you can’t believe everything you read online. At the worst, people spread rumours and unchecked facts that can be detrimental. We tend to believe what fits into our set of morals and our way of thinking. Whether there is any point or value to these exchanges online is a different question. Are we all just in it for laughs? To share with our friends? To gain a feeling of self-importance by looking at our online presence? Ten notifications, six retweets, twenty likes! I must be really relevant today!

Who doesn't want to be relevant? We don’t want our friends to forget about us! On the other hand, virtual socializing has the way of bringing out the best and worst in people. You can get really annoyed with someone by the way they handle their Facebook, the things they tweet and so on, but is it a true representation of the person’s character?

On the other hand, social networking can connect people who wouldn’t have met otherwise and it can even inspire, get you a job, a loan, a partner or the house you’re looking for. Just by venturing in the virtual “towns” we create where things sometimes find us when we need them most. The idea of going on an information diet is taking a step back from always being in the virtual world and connecting with people on a face-to-face level that is probably less annoying and certainly more fun.

We can get addicted to the information we find online and end up always searching for the next most-amusing thing. But what if you counted all the hours you spend in a day using technology and thought of what ELSE you could be doing with that time. We tend to lose track of where we are and what else we can do when we are online. It can also affect your work, relationships and even your health, because you have found a safe place where little effort and responsibility is required and all your whims are catered to.

Can this make us more unsatisfied with our lives? It certainly seems so. Balance is necessary in all things in life and we need it to adjust to any situation. The more flexible you are, the more content you will be. The more you work at changing what bothers you, the more you will be rewarded. Most of the time, this involves scaling down and not getting more of something. Also, think of the money you’ll save if you didn’t want all the new gadgets on the market.

I read this quote today and I've experienced the wisdom behind it, how cutting back can enrich your life, and it made me think of other areas in my life where I can cut back to gain more. Time spent using technology is definitely one of them since I use it for work all day, I need an escape at night and my new resolution is to avoid hanging onto my laptop every second I’m at home.
"The transformation of consciousness undertaken in Taoism and Zen is more like the correction of faulty perception or the curing of a disease. It is not an acquisitive process of learning more and more facts or greater and greater skills, but rather than unlearning of wrong habits and opinions. As Lao-tzu said, ‘The scholar gains every day, but the Taoist loses every day."
Alan Watts, The Joyous Cosmology

10 July 2012

Dress for less

For some it’s easy to stick to a budget when it comes to clothes, because they are satisfied with wearing the same threads month after month. Others deprive themselves of nice clothes to save money, and it shows. The rest of us who want nice things, but also want to make it to the end of the month with our pay check, have to find ways to shop for less. I want to share some tips on how to shop and dress in such a way that you will always have something to wear, without using your credit card or store cards because you are desperate for a new outfit!

Mix it up for new looks
If you fall into the category of people who feel lost in dressing themselves or who shy away from dressing fashionably because you think it will cost too much, this is for you as well. We all have to wear clothes, so we might as well feel good doing so!

When you feel like you have nothing to wear it’s usually just because you are bored with what you have. If this is the case, get creative. Look for DIY tutorials on the internet. You can convert a boring old t-shirt into a bling mini dress with some skill and scissors! Also, search for fashion ideas with what you already have or the style that you like. Wearing the same clothes in new ways can be very exciting.

However, if you really don’t have anything to wear to a certain occasion, I have a few pointers. We all need more formal clothes, but to get the most out of these, ask yourself if you can wear the jacket or dress or shoes you are buying for a formal occasion mixed up with casual clothes or accessories for a semi-formal look. Also, buy items that are classic and suit you and not the fashion trends. Chances are you won’t be wearing these very often, so you want to get a good few years out of them.

Plain colours are a good idea as you can transform the look of the item with different accessories or complimentary items. With prints or something that’s more than one colour (excluding if it has white or black in) it will be much more noticeable that you are wearing something over and over because you probably won’t have a lot of other clothes that go with it and prints are to memory what tape is to paper: they just stick.

For items that you will need more of, such as work or formal wear, stick to a palette. Wearing the same colour all the time, in a desperate bid for all your clothes to match, is really boring and you will get that “I have nothing to wear” feeling all too often. Instead, decide in a palette and in this way, all your clothes will go together and it will make shopping easier as the colours that you like most will grab your eye first and you will feel less lost.

A pastel pallet
For instance, my palette is jewel colours because I like pastels AND I like dark colours like navy and dark purple and black on occasion. So to make sure almost all my clothes go together, I avoid anything that will clash with light pink. So red, and green are no-goes, but turquoise and most dark colours can work. This is easy for me as I don’t like primary colours like yellow or green, but I love secondary colours.

My best friend is the opposite: he wear a lot of red, coupled with grey, blue, navy blue, green and white. He tones down primary colours by wearing them with more neutral colours like grey or black. Never wear two primary colours unless you really know what you’re doing. Most people end up looking like their wearing a uniform of some forgotten sports team.

Lastly, buy less but buy quality when it comes to wardrobe staples such as denim, plain t-shirts, warm jackets or whichever items you cannot live without. Clothes that are worn regularly will take more punishment, so you want them to last. Staples are also typically fashion items that don’t change from one year to the next, so you will want to wear them for longer periods of time as well. Buying for bargains is fun until your clothes start to stretch and fade, when you know you could have worn them forever (almost).

I hope this helped you feel more confident about shopping and dressing on a budget. It really doesn’t have to be boring and unfashionable. It’s all about knowing what you like wearing and sticking to more classic pieces.

6 July 2012

Saving success: Advice anyone can follow to stick to their goals

In the past we’ve discussed ways to save money by spending less in order to get out of debt. Today I’ll be looking at ways to make your money grow when you’ve already conquered the debt mountain. It’s something to look forward to if you aren’t there yet. However, even if you still have debt, remember that you need to have an emergency fund and you should start contributing to that as soon as possible.

The first step to successful saving is setting saving goals. This article on How to Save Money sees anything from a house to a video game as short term goals because we can establish how much it is that we need to save or put towards down payments. Long term goals are those things that need more planning, like a retirement fund. You need to keep on top of this one to be sure you are saving enough to last you 20 to 30 years after you’ve retired!

With the retirement plan the time frame is easier to establish, although the amount you will be saving needs to increase as inflation increases to be sure that it doesn’t catch up with you. When you are saving for something, set a time-frame within which to achieve you goal. One car, saving for twenty months, one happy camper after twenty months!

 Be sure to set realistic goals that you can afford to stick to and reward yourself when you’ve succeeded. In this case the reward will be the car, but if you’re saving for something less exciting a reward is still in order. You need to feel like you’ve achieved something, because you have! And a reward will make you more motivated to save in the future. The reward can be something you’ve put off buying in your efforts to save. It’s always a good idea to wait before buying more expensive items as this will establish if you really need them.

The next part is less fun: keep track of every little expense you make for a month. Carry a notebook or download an app for your phone. Put the expenses into categories: food (but not treats like going to a restaurant), entertainment (include restaurant meals here), relaxation (something we often forget about, but it’s important for you overall health and sanity to relax), clothes, transport, fines, toiletries and so forth. Then look at how many of these items you can cut back on in the months to follow and basically trimming the unnecessary fat of your expenses. Set up a budget for each category and stick to it.

 Remember to go back to your saving goals often enough to see if they are realistic and if you are sticking to them. If your pay check minus your living expenses is still  less than what you intended to save per month after doing the debt diet described in the previous paragraph, you need to extend your goal and save for a longer time period or get a more realistic goal altogether. For instance: do you really need a brand new car with all the trimmings or will a small second hand model do the same job? It might even do a better job if you can find a second hand car with low fuel consumption.

In your efforts to save, don’t let credit cards hold you back! If you’re not religiously paying the full amount you spent back every month, they’re not worth the benefits as you will be making the credit card company rich instead of yourself!

Set up a savings account and put your savings as far away as possible so you’re not tempted to dig into them, they can accumulate interest and remember to set a debit order to pay your savings first thing every month.

If you’re saving over a long term, you can arrange that your employer pays the amount you want to save each month into that account so you never see it being transferred into your normal account and so it’s even easier to stick to saving. Just remember to keep track of the savings account in terms of how much you will have at the end of your savings’ time frame and if it will be enough.

I hope this gave you some valuable information on saving and planning for your future! Remember to reward yourself and to stay motivated. Debt free is great, saving is even better. You want that financial-stress-free feeling forever!

5 July 2012

How to get moving from the couch to the crunch

Take this from a born slacker: it’s the first few minutes that are the worst. I’ve experienced this with almost everything I’ve tackled in life. At first it seems daunting. You tell yourself “that’s just not me”. You imagine the scenario and even that is exhausting. So sitting still and forgetting about it is easier. This goes for exercise especially.

I used to procrastinate everything I had to do and try to get out of things I didn’t have to, even if it meant I’d be happier and healthier in the long run. These things ranged from quitting smoking and binge drinking, going vegan, starting the next essay when I was studying or working on the craft projects I did. Everything just seemed like too much effort until I motivated myself enough to keep to the plan.

Working out is my newest project to living a better life. I’m no size ten, so initially it felt like everyone would be judging my round behind in the gym, but luckily there’s always someone bigger or more unfit than you. The other thing that held me back was a lack of interest. My sister got me motivated because she wanted to start exercising and I wanted to see what the fuss was about and do yoga classes.

The next thing I knew, hitting the gym was the highlight of my weekdays. Feeling yourself getting fitter and have more stamina is almost addictive. Exercise is also a great mood booster, which is often referred to as the “runner’s high”, which keeps you coming back for more. That’s why pushing yourself is better than a half-hearted jog. You want those benefits, you want to feel good and you want to see results, whatever you’re aiming for.

Of course, you don’t have to go to the gym to get the benefits of exercise. You can follow at-home exercise routines. Bodyrock.tv is great because they upload YouTube videos regularly so you don’t get bored and you can join the community and see how other people are training and the results they’re getting. They do a lot of strength training, which requires some guidance to get the most out of your work out. Then there are also great yoga videos and everything is free so you don't have to break the bank.

So what are you waiting for? Today is as good as any other.

Exercise to save your health and your sanity

Few of us exercise regularly, for a variety of reasons. If you can move without pain or discomfort, you need to! I remember driving past a squatter camp on my way to work and seeing many people jogging in the mornings, looking happy and motivated no matter what their shape or age. Built like a plank or an exercise ball, it doesn’t matter, exercise is good for all of us lucky enough to be able to move our bodies.
Maybe that’s one of the reasons why kids have so much fun. They’re always moving, exploring and seeing how far they can go in every respect. As adults we slip into a comfort zone, we surrender to life and try to get by with as little effort as possible. However, this is often counterproductive as living this way can mean more effort in the long run!

 The draw backs of not getting enough exercise definitely outweigh the effort of getting up and moving. Chronic health problems, of which many are caused by lifestyle factors, will always cost more in Rand than looking after yourself. Not to mention the price you will pay as it shortens your life and the quality of life you will be trading in when you get sick.

Because exercise releases endorphins, it makes you feel better and it is strongly recommended for people suffering from stress or depression, along with other medication or therapy of course.

 Health24.com has a brilliant article on the benefits of exercise and I’ll sum it up here. The biggest benefit of exercise to your body in the long term is that it strengthens your heart and even keeps heart disease at bay if you are already genetically prone to it. Exercise reduces LDL cholesterol (the bad kind), reduces blood pressure (and in effect the stress on your heart) while simultaneously making your heart stronger and function better.
Then the obvious one: exercise promotes weight loss. You might think that SA is safe on this one, seeing as we’re a third-world country, but more people are dying from obesity-related illnesses than starvation. To lose weight and keep it off you only have to exercise energetically for thirty minutes every day. Pushing yourself further will have better results, but almost anyone should be able to manage 30 minutes.
Exercising regularly prevents osteoporosis, high blood pressure, colds, diabetic complications, impotence, insomnia and stroke. It helps manage many forms of arthritis, promotes brain function and has anti-ageing benefits because inactivity is more of a threat to your health than the ageing process itself. It is a great de-stressor and you will always feel better after a work-out. We look after our hair and clothes, but why not regularly look after our health? Exercising should be part of your daily routine like brushing your teeth or eating vegetables.

Look for part II, How to get moving from the couch to the crunch, on how and when to get that exercise in, on a budget!

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