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This is not a soundbite.

It’s the end of a little vacation at home for me, and I’m feeling a flickering combination of contentment and depression.

I am content with the food in my kitchen (bolstered by a trip to Costco today), and the dinner to come. One of my housemates made homemade guacamole and chips as an appetizer, and I’m about to eat chicken and dirty rice and drink sangria, all made by him. I’m excited about the variety of meals I ate these four days, and all of the lunches I can bring to work for the remainder of this week. I’m hopeful that the bulk-sized container of unsalted mix nuts is enough to sustain me during my snack cravings there for quite a while. I’m looking forward to making a white bean fennel soup for tomorrow’s dinner.

I am feeling a sense of accomplishment about further research and tweaks to my finances – I set up a new ING savings account set up just for the Surly bike (which I got to see and touch in person on Sunday), and also asked Alex to explain compound interest formulas to me so that I could calculate the benefits of paying off my low interest student loans versus investing in retirement.

Part of being sustainable for me is getting my expenses really low through natural means (gardening, cooking, buying used and making my own stuff whenever possible) and ultimately marginalizing my involvement with the full time work treadmill. I need to continue pulling in a full time salary now, but the more of that I save, the better my options get. This may sound like sacrifice, but it’s really more about being satisfied with the little things.

When I go back into work tomorrow, everyone is going to ask me what I did with my vacation, and they’re going to expect stories of events and faraway places visited. My answer won’t fit into a few soundbites. But here it is:

I fed chickens out of my hand, rode my bike, planned a meal budget, put (half) of a border up around the garden, read books, sat in the sunshine, reveled in finding a beautiful old glass butter dish for $2 in a thrift shop, ate delicious food, made granola, researched options for our upcoming conference in Seattle, and basically allowed myself to pretend, for just a few moments, that I had achieved early retirement. I wasn’t bored. I still worked, but I did what I loved. And those fleeting moments were the kick in the pants needed to see life in a whole new way, and to do even more to structure my life so that I achieve that status much, much sooner than I ever believed possible. 

Why Simply Living Sideburns?

I’m going to start with a big, uncomfortable truth. I’ve made some shitty financial decisions in my life.

Most of them happened in my early twenties, when I was somehow convinced that I could move out my parents’ house and live on Starbucks barista pay and finish my last year (which turned into three years) of college all at the same time. This was in New York, a city well known for ridiculous rent. 

By my mid twenties, I was making just enough money to be paying all of it back toward my earlier mistakes.

Now I’m 30, and free of all debt except student loans (which are manageable, but I’d like to get paid off), and looking bright eyed and optimistically toward the future. I’m determined not to live within such a tight margin again. And on May 7th, 2012, the East Bay Bicycle Coalition linked to www.mrmoneymustache.com as part of their Bike to Work Day celebrations. The article was about how much money biking can save you, but I hungrily consumed the rest of the site, going back and reading every article since the beginning. I finished this last night, on 5/27. It’s been quite a journey.

I’ve been congratulating myself for the things I already do, kicking myself for the things I’ve known I should be doing but haven’t, and learning a hell of a lot. What I love about MMM compared to any other finance blog I’ve read is that his version of the good life is sustainable and good for the environment. It makes sense in a very old fashioned way – live within your means, don’t waste, don’t buy anything unless you really need it, and then, if you must buy something, try to get it used. Don’t fill up landfills with packaging, and don’t eat fast food!

I think that the trap that I fall into is that I work hard and don’t make a lot of money, and then my bitterness about that reinforces that little voice in the back of my head that tells me to indulge myself by buying pricey meals whenever I have extra in my account. But no – if I want to have a good life, I need to save, and get rid of those student loans. I can do that even at my current income, and if I get to the point where I’m pulling in more, I’ve already developed the frugality muscles to put that extra money in helpful places.

Even before learning about Mustachianism, I had gotten rid of my car, gotten into biking, and bought (or found for free) most of my furniture on Craigslist or from yard sales. I had begun to put a healthy chunk of my check toward my 401k. I’m a natural homebody, preferring my homestead to paying for social events. My big expense has been food, because I *love* good food. But if I want to eat well, I need to cook it, or convince someone in my house to. 🙂 And even at Walgreens’ prices (which I will quit paying after I make use of our free Costo membership next week), buying bags of unsalted mixed nuts as snack food is *much* cheaper than buying crappy junk food, and it makes me feel much more even-keeled throughout the day. Bananas are relatively cheap, too, even organic ones, and don’t involve such a sugar crash. 

I’ve got some expenses coming up – a trip to Seattle in August that I’m already committed to (and damn excited about), and at some point, I need to get a multi-geared bike and trailer so that I can do smarter bulk shopping trips. That means it’s even more important that I save my cash and do my homework on how to make these purchases as frugally as possible. 

I chose the name “Simply Living Sideburns” for this blog because at one point, Mr. Money Mustache references such a character. He prefers the mustache. In real life, as in finances, my mustache is patchy and a work in progress. But I maintain Tenth Doctor-esque sideburns year round, and would rather go bald than shave them off. My frugality sideburns are hopefully just as luscious. 

 

A homemade and homegrown food week

We’re now at two weeks, and only one lunch out at work, mainly because I forgot to throw my lunch into my bag. I am saving so much cash and eating much more balanced food than before!

I haven’t gone out for lunch at work this entire week, but I’ve eaten very well! We’ve been making big batches of food for the house, all with a few ingredients from our garden thrown in, and I’ve been taking the leftovers to work. 

I’ve had funky dal (red lentils, garlic, olive oil, tomatoes and a lemon finish) with rice and steamed chard. Then there was Alex’s potato, pea and spinach curry, with the latter two ingredients coming fresh from the garden. Alex made a superb mushroom risotto on Tuesday, with our own chard. Tonight, I’m making a Caribbean influenced coconut chicken curry – the scallions, chives, thyme and hot pepper all came from the garden on that, as well! I got a late start, but it should be ready soon, and the house smells heavenly. 

I’ve been mostly snacking on bananas and unsalted mixed nuts at work. I’m feeling good, and feeling frugal, too. More on the frugality in a future post.

And of course, every morning has been starting with a mix of homemade yogurt and homemade granola. 

Last night, I also had a My Drunk Kitchen, Oakland edition, and made a batch of brownies from Bob’s Red Mill GF brownie mix that’s been sitting in the kitchen for a few months. It was awesome to pull out my little brownie square as an afternoon indulgence at work today. I made them for the house, so they’re going pretty fast, but I should be able to take another square for dessert tomorrow. 

As long as the tupperware in the fridge is filled with a variety of delicious, sustainable food, I don’t feel sad about cutting back on my meal spending. I feel damn lucky to be able to know so much about the origins of my food, and know that it was lovingly crafted. 

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Biking has changed my life for the better.

In the midst of another adventure

Next month is my one year anniversary of learning how to ride a bike.

A week after I got the basics down, I started to use my bike to commute. I had purchased a $70 retro mountain bike on craigslist, mainly because I still thought that big knobbly tires would somehow help me balance. As I got a little better, I traded those knobblies for smooth fat tires, and then got myself a light little singlespeed bike for my birthday in September. Once I discovered the joys of Bikelink lockers at BART, I started commuting on the singlespeed.

I was never a big fan of driving; while I admit that it can be fun to drive down a quiet country road, freeways and urban traffic always made my rage levels in a car go out of control. I always drove with at least one window open, even in cold weather, so I could use more of my senses – sound, the whoosh of the wind – to guide my driving endeavors. Driving anywhere there are lots of cars is a giant game of moving about in queues, with tons of people who would never cut you in line in person happy to barrel their way in front of you in a car.

When I bike, I avoid the main roads. Whether I ride down a small side street with multiple “speed humps” or a main arterial, I’m going to be going the same speed – but on the side road, I’m enjoying the scenery, not fighting for space, and passing by happier people who are out walking their dogs, playing with their kids, or working on their gardens. It feels more humane.

I used to do all of this with walking, but my range was more limited, and my feet haven’t been cooperating as much. Natural flat-footedness, years of working retail jobs, and possibly my excessive walking in my teens and early 20s have left the spot where the top of my foot and my ankle meet a little tender. I ended up in a orthopedic boot with a bruised nerve last year, and now I have to wear thick socks to keep my shoes from digging into me in that spot. I feel no pain whatsoever on the bike.

The bike also encourages me to exercise. I am the kind of person who slacks off on exercise for the sake of doing it; there has to be another built in motivation. My arms have gotten bigger because I lift heavy things at work, and my legs have gotten stronger because I want to explore farther with each ride. (I’m sure my cardio strength has gone up, too.)

I have some biking related life goals – one is to get a bike trailer and be able to haul anything I need home without a car. The other, loftier goal is to train up to touring standards and do some long rides – maybe even attempt a cross-country ride!

Finally, not attempting to nurse an old beater of a car back to health and randomly dropping hundreds of dollars for unexpected part failures has done wonders for my finances.

This is my sports car. It has since acquired lights, a small back rack, and a rack trunk bag with an awesome snow owl pin on the side:

Image

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