Book Review: How To Be Alive

How to Be Alive cover

Book Description:

The author of No Impact Man and founder of the No Impact Project returns with this trailblazing guide to living a meaningful and fulfilling life while also contributing to the wellbeing of our communities and the planet.

When Colin Beavan embarked upon a yearlong experiment to lead a zero net-impact existence in the middle of New York City, he had no idea what a profound effect it would have upon himself and others around him. For Colin, the project—chronicled in a book, a documentary, and an ongoing lecture series—formed the basis of a radical “lifestyle redesign” that reached beyond just environmental activism. And, in the course of his travels and lectures, he encountered scores of people who were similarly breaking from traditional ideas about work, home, and even family in order to take their futures, and the planet’s, in their own hands. In the process they made a startling discovery—a happier way of life that is also having a deeply positive impact on the world.

For most of us, though, even contemplating this kind of transformation is overwhelming and confusing. In How to Be Alive, Beavan shares his insights on finding the path that’s right for you. Drawing on everything from classic literature and philosophy to current science, and combining that with his own experiences alongside those of the many people he has met along the way, Colin explores a broad array of transformational lifestyle adjustments—small and large—that offer security and meaning in a world confronted by ecological crises, economic upheaval, and ongoing war and social injustice. In the process, he helps readers embark on the quest for a “good life” of their own—lives both better for them and the planet.

My Thoughts:

It’s the beginning of a new year, which seems like a fitting time to read a self-help book. Although I didn’t write a single new year’s resolution I still wanted to reflect on my life. What is working for me and what isn’t? What should I change, if anything, and what should remain the same?

When I received an invitation to review this book I jumped at the chance. After all it’s difficult to refuse a book promising to be “a guide to the kind of happiness that helps the world.”

I don’t know the author, but I bet Colin Beavan and I would be good friends in real life. I could picture us sitting across the living room on comfortable, but ordinary living room chairs discussing the “Own What Really Makes You Happy” chapter in great detail. Over the years I have pared down my belongings, minimized my wardrobe and curtailed my spending. As time goes on I am less and less attached to things. I find it easier and easier to rid my house of unwanted stuff and to ensure that unwanted stuff doesn’t find its way back in. While I found myself nodding along in this chapter I think the advice is sound: understand your relationship with stuff and focusing on owning only what makes you happy.

As a personal finance blogger I felt most connected to that chapter, but I enjoyed Beavan’s advice overall. This book guides you through the baby steps to a more enjoyable life. Many of us have big dreams and goals, but simply don’t know how to make any progress on them.

Beavan’s advice is to take baby steps and he sums it up in a wonderful example. Beavan meets a man who wants to play the guitar, but that man never buys a guitar or takes lessons or makes any attempt to learn how to play. The man says its a goal, but never takes a single action to meet that goal. Then one day he meets a woman playing the ukulele. In a few minutes he learns how to play a song on it and quickly realizes he doesn’t need to buy a guitar that may involve spending a lot of time and money on equipment and lessons. Instead he feels quite fulfilled playing the ukulele.

It’s an instrument that is inexpensive and easy to play. He can  learn songs easily and gains immediate enjoyment. It’s not a guitar, but it meets his goal of making music in a fun way.  Will he ever meet the goal of playing guitar? Maybe, maybe not, but the point is we can take baby steps to find fulfillment.

Beavan writes of other examples of this. Rather than deciding you need to exercise, cut out all sugar, never eat a carb or whatever else your health goal might be, just take it easy one step at a time. One day drink a little less soda, the next go for a short walk, the next make dinner from scratch. Rather than changing everything at once, make a tiny change and let the momentum build.

If you are looking for inspiration to make changes in your life, think baby steps, then read this book.

About the author:

Colin Beavan is a writer and activist best known as the author of NO IMPACT MAN: The Adventures of a Guilty Liberal Who Attempts to Save the Planet and the Discoveries He Makes About Himself and Our Way of Life in the Process and founder of THE NO IMPACT PROJECT. He is the author of two previous books that have absolutely nothing to do with the environment: Fingerprints: The Murder Case That Launched Forensic Science and Operation Jedburgh: D-Day and America’s First Shadow War. His writing has appeared in EsquireThe Atlantic, and The New York Times. He lives in New York City.

Find out more about Colin at his website, and connect with him on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

February 4, 2016 at 9:00 AM 2 comments

Saving Pennies and Dimes

 

Thoughts on my compulsion to save:

Money

  • My husband keeps telling me to look at the big picture and stop saving pennies and dimes. I hear him, (even though he thinks I am ignoring his words), but I have a hard time actually foll0wing through on that. When diapers are on sale at the local drug store I feel compelled to clip my coupons, circle the ads and head to the store to save. I bought three packs of diapers for less than two dollars a pack! Does anyone ever get over this compulsion?
  • I need to remind myself that Costco and/or Amazon are almost always cheaper than any other alternative. The other day I rushed to Target after a dentist appointment to stock up on toilet paper. We were running desperately low! Between coupons and sales I twenty-seven rolls for nearly half the original price. I patted myself on the back, then checked out the Amazon price before driving home. You guessed it. Even with the discounted price, coupons and gift card after purchase the items were nearly the same price on Amazon. I could have skipped the store, the line and dragging those darn rolls out of the store in favor of one click and a box at my door. When will I learn?

January 25, 2016 at 9:00 AM Leave a comment

Homes and Possessions

Random thoughts on a snowy day:

snow

  • I have extremely mixed feelings about moving a few years from now. After a long fifteen years in our current house it finally feels like home to me. I don’t love the layout of our kitchen or the fact that the bedrooms can fit little more than a queen sized bed, but I have many happy memories of raising my children within that house and I will be sad to say goodbye to the place where I’ve spent the majority of my adulthood. Unfortunately, the public schools in our area aren’t the greatest. Even if we send my son to the local elementary school the middle school is NOT an option, which means we could hold off moving for awhile but not indefinitely. Of course, we could send our sons to private school, which is an option, but it would cost roughly $35,000 for the two of them and that is a whole lot of money!
  • If I could go back in time I would nix my money hoarding (aka: saving) habits and instead invest those funds into our home. We had a cat that prevented us from fixing up the place, but ultimately we were living in the broken window scenario where everything was old and dilapidated. Unfortunately that had a much greater weight on my happiness then I realized.
  • I am constantly at war with stuff. I clean out my house, get rid of everything I think I can possibly purge and then realize that my house still has too many possessions. We limit toys and donate unwanted items, but the influx of stuff from Christmas and birthdays is absolutely overwhelming. I know it sounds crazy but I didn’t realize two children meant two sets of gifts. I am so tired of moving toys and rearranging them.
  • I’m trying to take a new approach to the items in my home. Since moving is on our radar I keep asking do I really want to box this up one day or should I just find it a new home that isn’t mine?

January 24, 2016 at 9:00 AM Leave a comment

Questions about Flying with Kids?

A few thoughts/questions about travel on this snowing evening:

  • We plan to fly out west next month and I am unbelievably concerned about a four hour flight with an eleven month old. We opted NOT to buy a seat for the little guy and I am a bit terrified that he’ll fuss the entire time as he tries to climb on and off our laps. My husband isn’t great with crying babies let alone the other passengers on the plane. Is this one of those times where saving money will come back to haunt me? There are still seats available. Should I buy one for him?
  • We are staying in a condo for three days and a hotel for the fourth. Since the condo has a washer and dryer I plan to pack only three sets of clothes for each of us. By the time I pack coats, snow pants, gloves and all that other fun ski gear I figure I won’t get much else into the bag. Since we’re carrying a car seat and a booster seat I’d prefer to check only one bag and have my husband, four year old son and I carry lightweight backpacks on the plane. It’s tough to hold a baby, hold my older son’s hand, a car seat and luggage. I think it would be best if we can cram everything into one bag so my husband can carry the car seat and roll the luggage while I keep hold of the kids. Does that seem possible?

January 23, 2016 at 5:37 PM 4 comments

What is Your Monthly Mortgage Payment?

lego house

$8510.00

I kid you not!?!?!

January 20, 2016 at 11:38 PM 2 comments

Book Review: Celebrity and Entertainment Obsession: Understanding Our Addiction

Celebrity

Book Description:

“Our celebrity captivation seems out of proportion,” says Michael S. Levy, PhD, addiction expert and author of CELEBRITY & ENTERTAINMENT OBSESSION: Understanding Our Addiction

Dr. Levy wrote CELEBRITY & ENTERTAINMENT OBSESSION to shed light on why we as a society are obsessed with people who work in the entertainment field—movies and television in particular—but singers, musicians sports figures and people on reality TV as well. Dr. Levy, whose previous book, Take Control of Your Drinking…and You May Not Need to Quit, resonated with many people, finds it remarkable that people who work in the entertainment field get more recognition and adoration than a competent brain surgeon who saves people’s lives, or a pathologist who has made inroads in cancer treatment.

This wasn’t always the case. Sixty years ago, a Gallup Poll study showed that people who were most admired included Einstein, Winston Churchill, Eisenhower and Douglas MacArthur. Not one entertainer, sports star or media personality made the list. Fast-forward to 2000 – 2009 and we have stars like Bono, Tiger Woods, and Denzel Washington making the list.

Dr. Levy can discuss society’s obsession with beauty, how our vulnerability to addiction, our need for idols and our voyeuristic predispositions all contribute to our celebrity obsession as well as:

• How the mass media controls our thinking, the nature of our social intercourse and interactions with each other and our preoccupation with celebrities

• How the media exploits our voyeurism and how our voyeurism serves as a form of distraction and amusement

• Why being entertained has become our primary preoccupation

• Why celebrities’ real-life, off-screen stories get more publicity than anything they have done in their careers

Dr. Levy laments that television news programs focus as much, if not more, on the lives of high-profile celebrities than about other more important issues of the day. He believes that our obsession with entertainers is something to be concerned about since we will have missed opportunities to learn from others who could provide us with valuable ideas and standards for our young people. While the entertainment machine has given us a quick fix to feel good, Dr. Levy asks: “is our obsession with celebrities the best use our time? What will be important to reflect on at the end of our lives: Will it be what we knew about some celebrity or might it be something else?”

My Thoughts

As a child I vividly remember looking at the cover of tabloid newspapers on my neighbors dining room table. There always seemed to be some story about big foot or aliens or some other far-fetched creature that someone had captured on film. My friend’s mom couldn’t seem to stay away from this stuff. Every time I came over to play a new edition of that same newspaper sat right on the edge of the table where the previous version sat a week or so before.

Eventually junk magazines replaced those tabloids. You know the type I’m talking about. The ones that claim Jennifer Aniston is still upset with Angelina Jolie or secretly married or expecting her first baby. Poor Jennifer Aniston has been on the cover of those magazines since Brad Pitt left her so many years ago. Why does the public have such a fascination with her love life or her desire to have a baby?

Why do Americans love to watch The Kardashians or any other celebrity family? Doesn’t Facebook seem like it’s own little celebrity show? Show me the beautiful pictures of your glamorous vacation, gorgeous children or sparkly new wedding ring. How many of us seem to strive for our own limelight these days with pictures of our children’s straight A’s and prom pictures?

Have you ever wondered why our culture is so obsessed with celebrities? With all that we have going on in our own lives why do we spend any time watching, listening and learning about the lives of people who aren’t all that special anyway?

Michael S. Levy’s new book Celebrity & Entertainment Obsession Understanding Our Addiction gets to the heart of this very interesting phenomenon. Why are people so interested in the lives of the rich and famous? Are we all trying to live vicariously through the images projected on film and video?

How has our perspective on celebrities changed over time? Why does it seem like people now care about the famous just because they are famous, not because their fame is warranted by some great accomplishment? If you’ve ever wondered why our culture seems so addicted read Levy’s book. It’s an interesting look into the psychology behind this growing obsession.

Meet the author:

Michael S. Levy, PhD is a clinical psychologist who is the director of substance use services at North Shore Medical Center in Salem, Massachusetts. He also maintains a private practice in psychotherapy in Andover, Massachusetts and is a lecturer in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. He has often been interviewed on radio and television. Levy has published numerous articles and book chapters, gives many lectures and workshops, and is the author of one previous book, Take Control of Your Drinking…And You May Not Need to Quit.

Connect with the author: Website   Twitter   Facebook

January 15, 2016 at 8:00 AM 1 comment

Ways to Save Your Family Big Money on Dental Care

Dental care is big business in the US. For ordinary families, it’s incredibly expensive. Nevertheless, you can save big money on dental care if you go out of your way. We are going to show you some smart ways to save your family big money on dental care.

Use Low-Cost Dental Providers

Did you know there is a whole segment of dentists who are providing dental care to people without insurance and without the means to pay? You will have to prove your income, but these dentists operate on a sliding scale. Generally, you only pay exactly what you can afford.

Online Coupons

Daily deals don’t just apply to pretty dresses and massages at your local spa. Look at them long enough and you will occasionally see coupons for deals on teeth cleaning and fillings. This can be a great way of paying for the family’s dental care. You have to be flexible with timing, but if you have lots of time and no money, this can be a lifesaver.

Enroll in Discount Dental Plans

Discount dental plans are only valid with some dentists and there are varying membership levels, but when used correctly they can save a lot of money. The way it works is you pay an annual fee for a certain level of coverage. Whenever you need dental care, you pay for the care yourself and put in a claim with the organization running the program. If accepted, they will give you the money back. Do inspect the terms and conditions to make sure that they cover the treatment you want.

Insurance and Getting an Affordable Policy

Insurance can save you money in the long-term because each time you receive care, you claim the money back, in full from the insurer. This can save you money, particularly when you get the whole family covered. If your teeth are healthy when you take out the policy, you can get fixed premiums and receive expensive care even if your oral health deteriorates. The key to making insurance work for you is to use online comparison websites. Plug in what you need and look at the prices that come back. There are companies out there that can help get you dental insurance with no waiting period. Also, it may be possible to get any discounts for adding multiple people to your policy.

Paying in Advance

A little known fact is that if you pay in advance dentists will lower the price. Dentists love to have guaranteed payments, and they love it even more when you pay before you receive your treatment. The price can drop by as much as 5%. When it comes to expensive treatments, this can add up fast. Nevertheless, this isn’t something you’ll see advertised. You will have to ask the dentist whether they would be willing to give you a discount for advance payment.

Conclusion

It’s easier than you think to save money for your family on dental care. As long as you are willing to go down a more unconventional route, you can have perfect oral health without the huge bill to match.

What are you favorite ways to save money at the dentist?

January 13, 2016 at 3:38 PM Leave a comment

6 Practical Tips to Managing Your Money in 2016

If finances aren’t your strong suit, attempts to manage your money often feel futile. However, with the new year comes new opportunities to improve yourself, and striving to understand spending and saving should be at the top of your resolutions list. This year, money management is easier than ever, thanks to a bevy of new technologies that work alongside age-old finance strategies.

Photo 1

1. Design a Calendar

You have more bills than you can count on two hands, and you know as well as I do that remembering all those due dates is close to impossible. However, paying bills on time is crucial to keeping a healthy credit score and avoiding unnecessary penalties and fees.

Because most bills follow a regular monthly schedule, it is easy enough to create a calendar to track your due dates. Though in the past, you would have to write down each and every bill each and every month, today, you can rely on digital calendars that automatically complete your due dates and alert you when a payment is coming up. A calendar that shares information across all of your devices, such as the iCloud Calendar or one saved on Google Docs, is perhaps most beneficial, but certain financial smartphone apps provide similar bill scheduling services.

2. Build a Budget

Budgeting takes time, energy, and practice. You must review your past spending habits and consider your necessary expenses while trimming the fat wherever you can. Without familiarity with the process, you could easily create a budget that is impossible to stick to, which negates all your hard work and keeps you in a financial hole.

Instead, you should rely on budgeting software. Personal-use options abound, but some of the best include:

  • You Need a Budget (YNAB)
  • MoneyWell
  • BudgetPulse
  • Inzolo
  • Quicken

Additionally, a number of smartphone apps can help with budgeting, and unlike computer-based software, many of these connect with your accounts to automatically keep track of your monthly spending.

3. Monitor Your Accounts

There are several good reasons to pay close attention to your bank accounts, including becoming acquainted with the banking system as well as knowing how much money you have available to spend. However, perhaps the most important reason you should watch your checking and savings is to catch fraud. Crooks have more opportunities than ever to reach your money, and monitoring your accounts regularly allows you to spot theft before it gets out of hand.

Photo 2

Most banks offer smartphone apps that boast a plethora of features designed to make banking easier, especially on-the-go. Once a day, you can look in on your accounts while depositing checks, transferring funds, and more, all from your mobile device. For added protection against fraud, you should install security programs on your phone before using mobile banking.

4. Grow Emergency Savings

When everything is going well ― your car runs, your house is standing, and you feel healthy ― contributing money to an emergency fund seems superfluous. However, it is precisely in calm periods when it is essential to grow your emergency savings. Eventually, you will have an expensive surprise, and it is much better to have the money on hand than rely on credit during times of trauma.

Direct deposit is a pain-free way to contribute to your emergency savings fund. Either through your work or with your bank, you can set up automatic transfers of certain sums, so you will hardly even miss the money when it goes. You can allow similar transfers for retirement or college funds if you have trouble saving for these, as well.

5. Pay Your Debt

This should be close to the top of your financial resolution list, but it may very well be the most difficult goal to achieve. Fortunately, because many Americans struggle to pay down their debt, several useful programs and applications exist to help you become debt-free. Here are some of the most useful tools available today:

  • Debt Calculator from CNN. Perhaps the most useful information regarding your debt is when you can be free from it, which this tool provides you with straightforward ease.
  • Me. Not all debt repayment strategies work for all lifestyles, and this simple calculator helps you understand which plans are best for you.
  • ReadyforZero. This app takes in your bank accounts, credit cards, and loan information and produces a number of useful charts to make you debt-free faster.

6. Be Frugal

Finally, managing money on a tight budget is impossible if you continue to spend without restraint. A frugal lifestyle may seem less-than-luxurious, but in truth, it is possible to thrive on less than you regularly spend. You can use the Web to find a multitude of savings, from digital coupons to online-only deals. Plenty of retailer apps also provide secret savings on the items you absolutely need. Frugality is easy once you get in the habit, and there is no time like 2016 to get motivated to manage

January 7, 2016 at 1:36 PM Leave a comment

Pocket Money: The 2015 Tally

In 2015 I brought in a grand total of $5,702.15 from online endeavors and various other side gigs.
Pie Chart with PercentagesHere is the breakdown by category:

Category 2015
Ads $2039.07
Book Review $40.00
Book Sales $210.50
Consignment $269.59
eBay Sales $357.19
Focus Group $125.00
Prizes from Giveaways $1,085.00
Goods Received $208.97
Rebates $189.89
Recovered Expenses $245.95
Reward Programs $99.99
Surveys $660.00
Other $171.00
TOTAL $5,702.15

The total is $928.33 more than last year, but still nearly $1,000 below the money I earned in 2013.

My advertising revenue was down for the second year in a row. I receive quite a few requests for advertising, but I will not publish content if the rates are too low.

I participated in a few review programs this year, which were a lot of fun. I received a number of free products that were all quite useful. Among the list were two boxes of diapers, laundry detergent, dishwashing detergent and a box of brownies.

This year I expanded avenues for earning. I participated in two focus groups. The first one took place online via video conference. The second one was an in person, round table type event that included twenty other women.

My son and I also participated in a psychological study at a local university. An interviewer asked me questions while my son participated in a number of different activities, where he was studied and filmed. He had so much fun he begged me to find another reason to take him back there. I didn’t realize we would be paid for our participation, so that was an added bonus.

I sold quite a bit of baby items, including all of our baby equipment to a local consignment shop. Although I was sad to see some items go I am happy that a good amount of our floor space has been reclaimed. After four trips to the store I am quite certain I could earn more through consignment sales or even another consignment store, (this one pays less because they provide the entire cash value up-front), but I like the idea of getting rid of things as my son outgrows them and getting paid on the spot for them.

I certainly didn’t earn a fortune from my eBay sales. A total of twenty-one sales resulted in only $357.19. Nonetheless I am happy to rid the house of unwanted items. I think of earning money on these as a pure bonus.

I banked $660 from surveys this year and earned enough points via one particular survey site to purchase a one-way ticket on Southwest Airlines.

It’s certainly not a ton of money, but it does go to show that a few dollars here and there really do add up.

January 5, 2016 at 5:37 PM Leave a comment

Tricks to Spending Less on Christmas Gifts

lights

I managed to limit Christmas spending this year through a variety of techniques.

First, I took advantage of Kohl’s Veteran’s Day sale. The store offered $10 off a $50 toy purchase plus $10 off a $25 purchase and an additional 20% off. I bought $54 worth of toys for roughly $29.

If you aren’t aware Kohl’s has a Yes2You Rewards program that offers one point for every $1 you spend in store or online. For every 100 points you earn Kohl’s will email you $5 worth of Kohl’s cash. It’s free to join and a good deal if you plan to shop there anyway. If you join via referral you’ll receive $5 worth of Kohl’s cash just for signing up with a referral link. If you’d like an invitation leave me a comment with your email and I’ll send you one.

In December I used $10 worth of Kohl’s cash and a 30% off coupon to buy a $50 toy for $28. I returned an unwanted baby gift to the store earlier this year and used $15 worth of merchandise credit to whittle down the cost to just over $13.

As a side note: Kohl’s prices are often much higher than other stores, but through a combination of dollar off coupons and percentage off coupons I can often buy items at roughly half price.

Chase card holders received a $15 credit for purchasing items via Visa Checkout. I bought a cute little Christmas outfit from Crazy8 for the little guy and pajamas for the older one. I took advantage of this promotion with both of my credit cards.

Amazon also ran a number of promotions for Chase credit card holders this year. I received $15 off one purchase and $10 off another. As an extra perk Chase Freedom card holders will earn 10% cash back on Amazon orders. Hooray!

I also took advantage of the 30% and 20% promotions on books. Although we typically use the library these days it’s still nice to maintain a small shelf or two of my children’s favorites. Books also make great gifts, especially when the sea of Christmas toys seems to overwhelm me.

I used CamelCamelCamel to track various toys and books and purchased items only when when my target prices were reached. I tried to wait until prices were near record lows. I also used CamelCamelCamel as a way to track prices after I purchased items. I received a refund when the price dropped five days after I ordered my son’s present.

I used Google shopping to compare prices across stores. Amazon is not included, so I just searched for the item on Amazon and then compared it to the stores listed. While Amazon was often the cheapest option it wasn’t always. If I used a store other than Amazon I used Mr. Rebates to receive additional cash back on my purchase. There are other cash back sites but Mr. Rebates seems to work more consistently than others and they have really prompt and helpful customer service reps.

I also spent previously unused credits from a variety of stores including BeyondTheRack, which offered me $10 worth of credit for absolutely no reason at all.

How did you do with your holiday shopping? Did you use any special promotions or tricks to spend less?

December 22, 2015 at 5:04 PM Leave a comment

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