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I’d like to be more like Barbara Raab. The NBC news writer temporarily traded her in her job to teach journalism at a public university. Although she took a big pay cut, she manages it in large part to her lack of stuff:

To me, having and wanting “things” just means more “stuff” to take care of, and I don’t want to be bogged down by “stuff.” Other than a second bedroom, and my own personal washer/dryer (sadly, my building does not allow the latter or I’d have it in a heartbeat), I can honestly say that I have pretty much every “thing” I want, so even though taking a giant pay cut to teach at a public university isn’t easy, I knew I could make it work for a short time without a lot of pain.

I’m in the process of moving and if my constant relocations (nine in four years) have taught me anything, it’s that I have a lot of things. This stuff is not only plentiful, but it’s also, for the most part, unused. Although I’m pretty good at avoiding the “stuff traps” at the mall, I’m still guilty of stupid souvenirs and buying too many pens. I’ve even impulsively bought records despite my lack of a record player. I am reminded of these stupid purchases every time I pack my things up and move.

Packing up and moving is a pain, but at least it forces us to stop and take stock of our belongings. We have to go through every nook and cranny of our homes and separate the things we want to lug across town/country/world from the things we don’t.This is a healthy thing. Not only do we get rid of excess in our homes, but it reminds us to think twice when we feel the impulse to buy something we don’t really need.

Stuff really weighs us down. For me, it’s an overwhelming psychological weight, the same kind of feeling I have when my apartment is so messy, I don’t want to spend time in it. It’s also an economical weight that eats away at our back accounts that has little or no return.

My goal for the rest of October and November is to get rid of stuff. So far, I’ve donated a box of kitchenware, set aside a box of books and CDs to sell or give away and freed a bag of clothing for donation. The stuff that I really hate is paper. I’ve got receipts, bills and bank statements that go back five, six, even seven years. They don’t take up much room, but when I get that organized, I’ll feel a lot lighter.

What’s weighing you down?


Photo by: iboy_daniel

OK, I did it. I bought a new laptop and an iPod Touch. But really, the iPod Touch was free, thanks to a back-to-school sale. I didn’t want to do it but I really needed a new computer. My previous laptop was quite old, dating back to January 2003. I took good care of it, updated its RAM a couple years ago and it has served me well. I don’t know any other laptop that has lasted as long as mine did. Unfortunately, in recent months, it slowed down significantly. I knew it was nearing the end. Then yesterday, I decided it was time to move on.

Now $2000 later, I have a new MacBook and iPod Touch. It’s a large figure, more money than I’ve ever spent on anything. My car down payment was $1000. My flight to Hong Kong was $1200. My apartment’s deposit was $1100. $2000 just might be the most I’ve spent at once. I will get a $319 rebate for the iPod, but still, why does it hurt so much?

One reason may be because I’ve been spending a lot of money lately. I just returned from a wedding in Calgary and I’m planning a vacation next month. I had to go to the wedding, I haven’t been on a vacation in two years (and we can only go next month) and I need a laptop to work on. Being frugal has been an exciting and productive experience so far, but I think I may have fallen off the wagon. I’m getting back on it, but I realize that trying to find the balance between getting what you need (family obligations/a break/professional tools) and what you can afford are more difficult than I anticipated. I just wish I could have spaced these purchases out more.

Lesson learned: There’s always going to be something you need to buy. If you can, spread the purchases out to soften the impact on your wallet.

Photo By: gromgull

My mother likes to boast that we have a really close relationship. We do, but we also disagree on a lot of things: music, bottled water, people. But more than anything, we disagree on how we spend money.

A few weeks ago, we argued over the purchase of a new umbrella. My mother’s method of consumption is: buy many for as little as possible. She suggested I go to the dollar store to purchase one for $1. Although they’re guaranteed to break easily, she’d rather spend $10 on 10 cheap umbrellas.

I love the dollar store. Dollarama is my go-to place for tin foil, party decorations and even drinking glasses. But umbrellas are different. If I learned anything while living in Hong Kong, it was that a quality umbrella is one of the most important things you could own. Through typhoon wind and rain, my trusty Eddie Bauer umbrella was my best friend (thanks to Dana who sent it to me).

With that in mind, I argued that spending $15 on a good quality umbrella that will not break is a better choice. Mom thinks that’s an unwise financial decision, especially for some one in debt like me.

I know that spending $1 now is a much smaller expense than spending $15 is now, but is it really saving money overall? For me, spending 10 dollars for 10 umbrellas is not only a waste of time (imagine making numerous trips to the store just to buy a new umbrella every couple of weeks,) but it’s a waste of resources.

When we all should be trying to reduce our ecological footprint, I think buying 10 umbrellas and throwing out nine) over buying one good umbrella, is bad for the earth. Also, one of my goals for 2008 is to declutter. The idea of having multiple umbrella carcasses in my apartment is a lot more annoying, stressful and unnecessary than purchasing one superior product for a few dollars more.

I haven’t actually bought a new umbrella yet. But I think this is an important debate regardless of what you’re buying. It goes without saying that there are times when quantity trumps quality, like when the quality is barely distinguishable (eg. generic drug brands). But what are your standards? When is it worth paying more?

Photo By: Shannon Mollerus

As I type this, I realize I am becoming what we call a “see lai” in Cantonese. See lais are typically stay-at-home mothers or grandmothers who go to the market and comparison shop for everything. They will argue for every penny. They study grocery store fliers, know the price of milk at more than one store and always check their grocery bill.

I did check my grocery bill last night, even though it was a whole 26 hours after I left the store. I know I should check the bill before leaving the store, but after spending an hour at a busy supermarket, I usually just want to get the heck out of there. I learned my lesson when I realized the cashier had charged me for toilet paper twice. I doubt she did it on purpose but it still made me a little angry, especially since at $11.49, it was the most expensive item on the bill. So I called the store, they apologized and said I could come in for a refund. She politely added that next time, I should check before I leave. Point noted.

Lesson Learned: Check your grocery bill thoroughly before leaving the store.

As other blogs and media have pointed out, it’s also important to watch the prices as the cashier scans in your items. Chances are, you’re being charged a different price from the displays in the store and it’s more likely in favour of the supermarket.