less is more.

11 01 2011

so i was reading this weird article last week about a restaurateur in new york who is opening up a temporary fine dining restaurant (in a building that will either be demolished or sold within a year). it was sort of an interesting read in and of itself, but about halfway through, i ran directly into this quote:

“sometimes no money is better than money.”

in the scope of the article, they were talking about how the budget forced them to make creative design choices. but in the scope of my life, i think it might be my new mantra.

in my past, i have lived comfortably with less (much less). in fact, in my very earliest years on welfare with my mom and sister, i don’t even remember being poor because my mom was a magician. she made quiche out of government cheese and picture perfect little bo peep costumes out of our bedroom curtains (just like scarlett o’hara!). she taught me that being broke doesn’t mean not having what you want. it just means being resourceful with what you have to create what you want. dear lord, how did i forget?

though it may provide a momentary jolt of pleasure and feeling of fullness, there isn’t a whole lot of satisfaction to be had in going to the mall and buying a sweater. knitting a sweater on the other hand is a triumphant experience. for example, my brilliant friend cindy unraveled a damaged cashmere sweater and made it into the most stunning pair of cable knit mitts ever. an amazing and thoughtful xmas gift that i’ve been wearing like crazy, and that cost her virtually nothing (except time, and of course, love).

true ingenuity comes from necessity, and when we’re broke, we’re forced to be creative about how we use our resources. buying stuff is my crutch. it solves the problem in the moment (although it often creates greater problems down the line), but i feel like my “makin do” muscles have atrophied. i may not be as broke as i once was (but worry not, i still have like $16 in my bank account right now), but that doesn’t give me an excuse to forget the value of maximizing what i already have.

10 days ago, i made a resolution to PAY ATTENTION! to how i spend my money (and my time and my calories…). i also declared that this would be my only resolution this year. well, i lied. sort of. technically it isn’t new year’s anymore… so consider this to be a mid-january resolution addendum.

number 1 will still be PAY ATTENTION!, but 1a will be BE INGENIOUS. if my mom managed to materialize a fantastical christmas out of food stamps and home made barbie clothes when i was 5, i can certainly figure out how to reel in the excess and stop solving my problems with my bank account.

i need inspiration! tell me how you have been creative with limited resources, so that i can try to outdo you.

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24 responses

11 01 2011
Bobbi

I wish I could tell you how I’ve been creative with limited resources, but I’m very much in the same boat as you, with less debt. Although I have actually done two things that are going to help me:
1. Take clothes into Find to sell.
I got store credit so that when I have the shopping urge, I can just go in there and get something by using the credit that I already have. This helped me in another way since I need to get rid of a lot of stuff. Which moves onto two:
2. Take books into Longfellow to sell for store credit.
I have so many books and yet want so many more. I’m trying to limit the amount of books I bring in, but I still would like some new ones.

My main goal at the moment is reduce the amount of stuff that I have and don’t use. It ties into trying not to buy new stuff that I will end up not using.

12 01 2011
bessmarvin

you’re totally getting creative- or at the very least practical with your limited resources! i had no idea that longfellow bought books! i will definitely have to look into that. and i really love the idea of having store credit somewhere in case i get overcome with the urge to shop. that’s totally smart! i could probably stand to reduce my stuff-print (like a carbon footprint?) too. just consider yourself lucky that you never needed government cheese 🙂

11 01 2011
liz

i wish i had some brilliant example of creativity springing from limited finances! i think cooking is actually a great place to be creative for very little money. it’s maybe the only example of broke ingenuity in my own life, possibly because food is the thing i’m really good at making. otherwise? what’s coming to mind is these flowers i made out of wax paper, yet another art project that ended up looking like it was done by a very talented eight year old.

12 01 2011
bessmarvin

food is an awesome place for creativity and money saving. i’m all about the baking days in 2011. cooking in bulk saves cash, and i’m much less likely to eat mozzarella stix for dinner. i highly doubt that food is the only thing you’re good at making. what about your beautiful t-shirts? and for the record, i think waxed paper flowers sound really beautiful.

11 01 2011
~ danielle

“sometimes no money is better than money.”

I tanked financially a couple years ago after a breakup from a relationship that was fraught with poor spending. A few thousand dollars and a chapter 7 bankruptcy later and I sworn off credit and credit cards (no flack plz, it was an arduous decision with many consequences). If I have no money, I don’t spend it. I’m forced to budget and believe it or not, it’s SO freeing! I have what I have and that’s all that I have. Period. I wish I could go back and tell my 18yo self to walk away from that shiny table at Freshman Orientation because the credit card is SO not worth the free t-shirt. Seriously.

12 01 2011
bessmarvin

i would never give flack for filing for bankruptcy! if i lost my job and fell behind on payments, i would probably have to do the same. i’m treading water right now. i’m getting better at making do with what i have, but i too wish i hadn’t been seduced by the siren call of the free frisbee. but you know, when that debt is gone, it will be an incredible accomplishment- and i’ll never make the same mistake again.

11 01 2011
Elisa

It’s interesting, I hear people comment all the time about “not having any money” but I feel like that sentiment is variable.

Like you, I grew up in an extremely modest home. My parents were loving, but budget and money management are not their best skills. This transferred to my early-mid twenties and I just began digging myself out about 4 years ago (though starting a business has not helped!)

So when I say “I don’t have money” it means I have $32.57 in my checking account (this didn’t happen 3 weeks ago, I swear…) and my sister is buying me ramen noodles cause she is worried I don’t eat during the day. For others it means they can’t get Bard coffee EVERY day or they can’t buy the completely unnecessary but nonetheless very pretty sweater at the mall they want.

As someone who knows too well the extremely sparse end of the “I don’t have money” spectrum, I find myself very irked by the “I’m just tight on budget” end of it. Still working on getting over that… 🙂

11 01 2011
Elisa

Oh, and to pay attention and ACTUALLY answer your question…my 2011 is similar to yours. It is to make decisions, engage actions and live life with more intention. So my recent post outlining my 2011 goals is pretty ripe with “how I’m doing more with less” ideas.

12 01 2011
bessmarvin

i love what you said about earning $5,000 in a month from writing. you have bold intention, and i don’t doubt you’ll do it. i need to start sticking up for what i’m worth… as soon as i figure out what that is.

12 01 2011
bessmarvin

man if i went to bard coffee every day, i would definitely have to file for bankruptcy. i’m making more money now than i ever have (which in the grand scheme of things still isn’t very much), but i got myself into so much trouble when things were light… that almost all of it goes toward my debt. more than i pay for my mortgage every month! it sucks. in fact, after the bread i bought this afternoon, i have $9 in my bank account to last until tuesday. FUCK!

but the way i look at it is that everyone had different financial goals and ways of saving- different ways that they relate to money. my boyfriend says he’s “broke” when his checking account is below $500 (he also has thousands saved in CDs and other accounts), but he’s a money hoarder with a perpetual anxiety about poverty. i’m happy if i don’t bounce a check, where he is already freaking out about not having enough in his IRA at the ripe old age of 29. to him, less than $500 causes him more stress than having only $9 causes me. i completely understand your irritation, but i really do think that budget is a relative term. plus, can we really scorn anyone for trying to save (whatever their financial status)? mostly, i’m jealous.

11 01 2011
InfamousQBert

neither of us is outdoorsy in the camping/hiking sense, but we both love spending time outdoors. when it’s not raining, we like to spend a lot of time at our local parks and ponds, playing with the ducks, having picnics, etc. it’s a good way to spend time together and it costs only as much as whatever snacks you take with you.

11 01 2011
InfamousQBert

the point of the prior comment is that, when we were REALLY tight, this was how we entertained ourselves, and it’s something we still go back to, especially when we’re stressed about something. i think we, in the grander WE sense, have a tendency to think you can only be entertained by something that costs money (a movie, or shopping, or even an outdoors activity that involves pricey equipment like bike or camping). but it’s amazing how nice it can be to just get out in the little bit of nature provided by our big city.

12 01 2011
bessmarvin

you’re so right! that’s the thing i think about the most when i’m having money troubles. our welfare days were some of my favorite memories from my childhood. my years in the suicide apartment on $22K a year were good. really good. in many ways, money makes us boring. we don’t have to try, we can just buy (hey, i’m a poet!) instead. we get lazy. we lose our ingenuity, and our actions no longer carry as much satisfaction as they did when we really had to work for it. what’s that they say about “mo money mo problems”?

12 01 2011
bessmarvin

we hike a little, but badly! mostly we walk our dog around to show him off. although there is this one amazing island that we spend a lot of time on in the spring and summer. also, our art museum is free on fridays which is kick ass. really, as long as the person you’re with is good company, it doesn’t really matter where you go.

11 01 2011
Miss Catherine

I’ll have to think a bit on my own creativity. For now, let my plug Cindy’s awesomeness a little more. One year she made me a Prince tree. It’s exactly what it sounds like. One of those little purple Christmas trees she got super cheap. For ornaments she printed tiny pics of his album covers and glued them to hot pink felt, and used the same felt to cut out Raspberry Berets too. Finished with a plastic diamond and pearl looking garland and a homemade tin foil Prince symbol topper. This was the best gift I ever received. I still have it, even after the year I moved THREE times and ditched at least half of my belongings.

Ah, there’s a suggestion. Anytime ya wanna buy something, imagine you’re moving for the third time in a year…

12 01 2011
bessmarvin

i totally owe you a cookie bouquet for introducing me to cindy. she’s an amazing girl. i can’t believe she made you a PRINCE TREE. if you ever do need to ditch it in a move… i know a girl who would give it a very happy home. speaking of…your advice about moving is actually really brilliant! your circumstances have turned you into a minimalist!

11 01 2011
Cyndel

That is the best phrase ever.

During my childhood, my dad was a construction worker, which means being laid off for the entire winter. In addition to not having much money as a child, I also spent the last year (August 09-August 10) as a VISTA. That basically means I lived on $11,000 a year. Luckily, I have an amazing boyfriend/roommate who was happy to split the bills 50/50 with me. Otherwise, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have had a place to live. Now, I’m faced with losing my job (the first one that I would actually make money at!) tomorrow. I really get not having money as well.

However, after those experiences, I do know how to have a realy good time without money. As a child, they mostly involved camping (even in the backyard) and yard sales (having them and going to them). As an adult, they mostly involve board games and hiking. Seriously, the most fun I’m had this year was playing Settlers of Catan while drinking cheap alcohol. Everyone should try it. Cheap alcohol not required. I guess the idea here is that the best way to creatively not spend money is to convince adults to do normally child-like activities (board games, decorating cookies, puzzles, coloring, ect.)

P.S. I’ve always been a lurker here, but a phrase like “Sometimes no money is better than money” had to bring me out in the open. Sorry about the inappropriately long comment about my life story.

12 01 2011
bessmarvin

$11,000! that’s pretty freakin’ impressive (even if you are cohabiting). i actually had the most fun i’ve had in a long time recently playing outburst (a game with pop culture questions from 1999!) with some friends around a kitchen table. when we were kids, we could play for HOURS (possibly days) with a big cardboard box. and you know, i bet i could still have fun with a box (box of wine not included). the more i consider it, the more i see the brilliance in your child-like strategy. i would love to decorate cookies and color! you’ve inspired me (so glad you decided to break out of your lurking pattern!).

12 01 2011
Erica @ Just Call Me Cheap

When my husband and I moved out of our parents’ houses at the age of 20 (we moved from Massachusetts to Georgia) we were basically young and broke. We had enough to pay our bills with a little left over and we had no credit cards.

I look back on those days and am amazed that we lived on our own and had no help from our parents. We had no credit cards to fall back on and being so young we somehow lived within our means. It really baffles me now.

I really do feel like somewhat of a dumbass now because at the age of 20 we were more financially set debt wise than we are now (or we just had no choice because no one in their right mind would give us a credit card).

So as for your question- it really is hard to be creative with limited resources when in reality you really could spend more if you wanted (I am the queen of zero will power).

12 01 2011
bessmarvin

ME TOO. if i have it, i will spend it. i recently had a conversation with my mom about this (who wholeheartedly embraces this ideology all the way to her 52″ flat screen), and am worried that i too will someday have a really nice tv and no retirement fund. we did it once, we can do it again! i’m strongly considering locking up my debit card for the month of february and just giving myself a cash allowance to last the whole month. i wonder if i could even do it?

12 01 2011
~K

I am a new follower of yours, and I love this post! I am currently going through a major downsizing phase in my life. I grew up poor, but unlike you, my parents were not good at being ingenious, so I never inherited those skills. When Hubby and I started out living together we had cheap rent, not a lot of bills, and two regular incomes. We did put away a little savings, but we never really payed attention and so when life changed, we got broke fast.

Now we are on a tight, tight budget and trying to learn how to be ingenious and watch every penny. Neither of us had any good role modeling in this department so it has been a 3 steps forward, 2 steps back kind of process, but we will get there.

Right now I am learning to plan grocery trips really well in advance, taking full advantage of coupons and using the sale flyer to plan meals around. I am donating PILES of stuff to goodwill. I tend to want to hoard, so this is hard for me, but since becoming a Mom I am able to ask myself to role model for my son what I wish had been role modeled for me. I don’t want him growing up surrounded by boxes and junk, so I need to just let go of all these material things.

Good luck! Keep us posted!

12 01 2011
bessmarvin

thank you so much, and welcome! even though i had good modeling early on, my mom would eventually marry a man with a sizable income, and would lose the majority of her ingenuity. my financial education overall was not great (sorry mom!). everything was put on credit cards, and shopping solved EVERYTHING. i think that they should teach personal finance in school, so that everyone gets a fair shot at a solid financial future. in the meantime, we just have to clean up the mess and try not to make the same mistakes again. hooray for careful planning (and cleaning out the hoard)!

12 01 2011
Winnie P.

When I was growing up, my family had “camp-outs” in our living room where the wood stove was. I thought they were fantastic! I mentioned those camp-outs to my folks years later as an adult and they just laughed at me. It seems that our camp-outs took place at exactly the same time that the oil was about to run out and they didn’t have money to fill the tank.
When my huband and I were in college, the McDonald’s near our apartment had .50 cheeseburgers on Sundays. If we knew it was going to be a tight week for money, we would buy a bunch and eat them for the whole week. That would make me completely sick now but we were young and could eat junk all we wanted to. We laugh about it now…it’s amazing what you can deal with when you have to.

12 01 2011
bessmarvin

i feel like that should be a moment in a novel. especially the part where you didn’t know about it! it’s amazing what loving parents will do to protect their kids from worry. although i do think that some parents worry so much about not being able to give their kids “stuff”, that the real important thing (time) gets lost in the shuffle. also, i can’t believe you at so many mcdonald’s hamburgers. although this is coming from a girl who once ate 40 chicken mcnuggets in one sitting (obviously pre-vegetarian days). i think it is safe to say that our eventual corpses will never decompose.

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