Category Archives: Debt

Breaking the Unhappiness Curve

It’s all downhill from high school. Recent  studies indicate that Americans in general show their level of happiness steadily decreases

Happiness level by age

from their late teens and bottoms out in their late 40s, early 50s.  The good news for those of us in our 50s is that the study also shows happiness levels increasing through the rest of life.

Not everyone’s life follows this curve.  No matter what age you are, you can break the curve!

It’s the American way of life.

In my last post I said that no one would hire me as a politician or a financial planner.  This post I will add that no one would hire me as sociologist either.  However, I did do some research for this post.  I don’t want to bore you with all the research, but I would like to share this excerpt from one of the articles I studied.

“In explanation of the non-linear age effect,  it is argued that aspired consumption (including marriage, etc.) grows faster in age than do one’s financial resources for its realization, finally resulting in what is often called “midlife crises”.  From the age of between 35 and 50 on, a re-evaluation of aspirations occurs that leads to their downward adjustment.”

In plain English this study says that our desire for things (great marriage, fantastic kids, nice home and car, successful career, etc.) occurs sooner than our ability to obtain them.  We want to own things right now, even though we don’t have the money for them, and we want success in our careers, marriages, and parenting before we have paid the price of experience.

This difference between our aspirations and our ability to achieve them can lead to stress, debt, depression and finally result in mid-life crises.  When the crises point is reached, we re-evaluate our wants and begin to determine what we truly need to be happy. Maybe that 3000 sq. ft. house and the $50,000 car weren’t really that important.  And maybe we notice that the guy who got the job we wanted has the nice house and car, but is never there to enjoy them, his wife is divorcing him, and his kids are a wreck.

What can we learn from our senior citizens?

Ask yourself why happiness improves in people from their mid-50s until old age?  I think there are several reasons.

A big reason is that their financial situation has improved. Their salary has continued to climb with time and experience and they are at the peak of their earning potential.  The house is close to being paid off and the children have left the nest and are making their own way.

Another reason is that there is usually less demands on their time, freeing them to do things that they enjoy.  The soccer mom days are over. They may have grand kids in soccer now, but they don’t have to buy their equipment, take them to practices and help coach the team if they don’t want to do so.  Many older people stay active, but they have discarded the activities they did not enjoy and focus on doing the ones that make them happy.

A third reason is that they have already re-evaluated their lives and have determined what is really important to them.  They are no longer chasing the American Dream as portrayed on TV and are instead chasing their own dreams.

You can break the curve.

You don’t have to wait until your mid-life crises to change your life.  You can break the curve no matter what your age.  Taking what we have learned from the study about the causes of the unhappiness curve and from the example of senior citizens, we can deduce these curve-busting solutions.

  1. Determine what truly makes you happy.  Don’t base your decisions on what TV tells you will make you happy or on what your neighbors and co-workers are doing.  Make a list of everything you think would make you happy, and then review each item and question the reason why you included it on the list.  Focus your time and resources on the items remaining on the list.
  2. Control you spending and your debt.  The study shows that people desire things before they can afford them.  Unfortunately, many people turn to credit to fulfill those desires.  Everyone knows the stress debt can cause on families and health.  Base your purchases on the items you really need and the things on your happiness list.  Avoid making purchases based on false need created by advertisers or because it looked good on a neighbor.
  3. Clear the clutter from your life.  Clutter is the stuff we no longer need or want that is filling up our closets, garages and storage sheds.  Clutter is also the activities that take time away from doing the things that are needed and/or important to us.  Read “Clear Away Clutter – 4 Steps to get Started” to begin decluttering your life.

If you determine what is really important to you and focus your time and resources towards those things, you will break the unhappiness curve.  I know accomplishing the above three steps is not as easy as I make it sound.  In fact, it is hard to do, but well worth the effort.  Fortunately for us, there are books and resources we can draw on help. My Recommended Reading page has books to help you in all three of the steps above.

Please feel free to comment or contact me with any questions and concerns you may have.  If you have not read my post “A Call for Change, Make 2011 the Less of Less, I recommend you do so now.


If you liked this post, please it share with your friends, like it on Facebook, and/or tweet it.



If You Want to Win, You Have to Buy a Ticket

Recently my wife and I watched the movie Eat Pray Love.   In the movie the main character, played by Julia Roberts, tells the story of a man who went to church everyday and prayed in front of a statue of his favorite saint that he would win the lottery.  “Please, please, please let me win the lottery,” he prayed day after day after day.  Finally, the saint could take it no longer and made the statue come to life.  “Please, please, please,” said the saint, “buy a ticket.”

Mega Millions tickets

Image via Wikipedia

Like the man in the above story, many of us hope and pray for a better life but do not take the necessary steps to make it happen. We don’t buy the ticket!  Instead, we just wait for something to come along that will bring us the life we desire.  Most of the time we don’t even know what it is we are waiting for.

Where do I get the ticket?

Playing the lottery involves making a lot of decisions.  Do you want to buy your ticket at the convenience store, the local drug store or the big chain grocery store?  What kind of game do you want to play?  You can choose from buying a scratch ticket, playing a state level game like Pick 3, or go for one of the big prizes by playing Powerball or Mega Millions.   If you pick one of the big games, you have to choose the numbers you want to play.  Are you going to play your lucky numbers, or birth dates and anniversaries?  Of course, you can let the computer pick your numbers for you.  Unfortunately, I think most  people let others pick their lot in life for them.

How much do I spend?

Scratch tickets can be purchased in amounts from $1 to $20+ with top prizes ranging from $500 to new cars and trucks.  Powerball type game tickets generally sell for $1 each, but the more tickets you buy, the better your odds are of winning.  Top prizes in the national lottery games can reach 100s of millions of dollars.  Like most things in life, the more you risk, the greater the rewards.

You already have a ticket!

Like deciding which lottery game you want to play, you have to decide what it is you want in life.  Do you want to get out of debt, find a job you enjoy, spend more time with your family, or travel around the world?  Spend some time reflecting on what you want to change in your life.  Like the lottery, once you have decided what you first want to work on, you have to choose how much you want to risk.  Small risks can safely make small positive changes in your life. Bigger risks can lead to even bigger rewards.  Unlike the lottery though, you don’t have to go somewhere else to get your ticket to change.  If you look for it, you will see that you have always had a ticket to change your life,  and you always will.

What do I win?

If you want more time with your family, your ticket might be finding a committee you are on or another commitment you can eliminate to free an extra evening at home.  You may choose to risk more and find expenses you can cut and unused items to sell which allows you to quit that second job and have much more time with the family and to work on your hobbies.  If you are unhappy with your work situation,  you could might risk a pay cut to go to work for another company.  You could start online classes to get training in a different field in preparation to starting a new career. Or you could go “all-in” and quit if your work is making you that unhappy and dive right in to trying to make a living doing work you love.  There are as many choices as there are combinations of numbers on a lottery ticket.  It’s time that you are the one making the choices.

My ticket.

I knew that I wasn’t happy with my life several years ago.  I’d grown tired of working in retail management, my home life had gotten stale, I had too much debt, too much stress and little hope that the future was going to be any better.  Last August my wife found Tammy Strobel’s Rowdy Kittens blog and we realized that our life didn’t have to continue in the depressing path it had been going.  Together, we decided to go “all-in” and change our lives forever.  I quit my retail management job and do independent contractor merchandising jobs (which I usually enjoy) to support us until I can make it as a writer.  We have sold most of our possessions and cut most of our expenses and have reduced over $13,000 of debt.  Relatives are giving us a place to live until we decide where we want to settle.  We have taken a huge risk and our lives have been changing for the better.  I’m not sure exactly where we will end up, but I do know that I’ve bought my ticket, and soon I will win my prize.


In 2011 I have committed to Own Less, Buy Less and Do Less.  Please join me in this commitment.  Read my post A Call For Change…Make 2011 The Year Of Less and sign the proclamation at the top of the right-hand column.

A Call for Change… Make 2011 the Year of Less

There comes a time when the people recognize the need for change.  The movement begins with a few pioneers brave enough to voice their dissatisfaction with the way things are now and who paint a picture of how things could be.  The movement grows as their voices resonate with the hearts of the people.

Such a call for change is echoing around the world.  Voices for change tell us that we can opt out of a culture which preaches that buying more will buy us happiness.  They tell us that a fulfilling life is not about who has the newest car, the biggest house, and the most toys, but that  fulfillment comes from truly caring for the possessions and people that surround us.   Instead of working more hours in jobs that penalize our creativity, these innovators show us how to turn our passions into our occupations.

Are the voices for change calling out to you?  Is it time to end the destructive pursuit of more possessions and to begin construction of a fulfilling, uncluttered life?  The path to your new life will be difficult, but trail blazers have forged ahead and cleared the way.


It is time to make your Declaration of Independence from the consumer-driven, workaholic culture and join the movement to make 2011 the year of less.


Official Proclamation, 2011 is the Year of Less

When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for a people to dissolve the ties that bind them to a life of bondage to their jobs, possessions and commitments, mankind requires that they should declare the causes that impel them to separate from such way of life.  To support said separation, let the following facts be presented to a candid world.

  • Corporations and their marketing agencies have led the people to take the wrong path in the pursuit of happiness, a path leading to an excess of possessions and expanding home sizes to house these possessions.
  • These excesses have the people climbing over mountains of clutter and swimming in oceans of debt.
  • Governments encourage this excess consumer spending to stimulate their economies and raise tax revenue to pay on their insurmountable levels of debt.
  • The people have become trapped in jobs for which they have no passion, working too many hours in a day and too many years of their lives, to pay for things that they are told they need, but bring no happiness.
  • Work and obligations leave the people with little time and energy to do the things they love.

Knowing these facts to be true, we must separate ourselves from the pursuit of excess material possessions and free ourselves to live and work where and how we choose.  Therefore, we do solemnly publish and declare the year 2011 as The Year of Less.  In support of this proclamation, we, the undersigned, swear to Own Less, Buy Less, and Do Less in 2011 and the years beyond.


Are you ready to break away from a life where you are owned by your possessions and debt?   Do you want the freedom to support yourself and your family doing work that you truly enjoy and love?  No matter your age or your current situation, it is possible  to change your life for the better.  There is a clear direction for the pursuit of happiness.  Take the first step today.  Sign the 2011, The Year of Less proclamation by leaving a comment stating your participation.   Share this post with your family, friends, and co-workers and give them the opportunity to join you on the journey to freedom and happiness.

Become a voice for change and sign the proclamation.

The Stuff You Need For the Stuff You Got

Blu-ray Discs

Image by William Hook via Flickr

The week after Christmas brings almost as many customers to the big retail stores as the week before Christmas.  Shoppers flood the stores to exchange clothes for different sizes, spend their gift cards and refund items so they can buy what no one got the hint to buy them.  Customers are also looking for accessories to go along with the presents they received.  You need batteries for all the new toys and electronic items and new shoes and a purse to match the new outfit.  One of the retailers I worked for had an ad campaign that started after Christmas based on the theme “the stuff you need for the stuff you got”.

It seems that stuff just leads to more and more stuff.  A new TV leads to a new TV stand, a Blu-Ray player and home theater system.  You’ll need someplace to keep all your new Blu-Ray discs and someplace to store all those old DVDs you just replaced.  New clothes lead to matching clothes and accessories.  Stuff grows exponentially.

Every general merchandise store has every kind of storage crate you can imagine advertised.  They know that you need at least one more crate to store the new decorations you bought this year.   Old toys need to be packed up to make room for the new toys.  You’ll need a closet organizing system to fit in the new clothes and accessories.  Where are all the new storage totes going?   Even with the new organizers, the closets are packed.  Last year you started parking one of your cars outside so you could use half of the garage to store your barely used exercise equipment.  Space is getting tight.  It’s time to check the budget and see if you can afford a bigger house or if it would make more sense to just put an addition on the current house.

You can get so caught up in stuff that you never notice when the line is crossed and the stuff starts owning you instead of you owning it.  Take this time to resolve to make 2011 the year you return to the right side of the line.  Instead of buying the closet organizer, go through your closet and remove the items you haven’t worn in the last year.  Donate them to a local shelter.  Don’t buy totes to store old toys.  You know the toys that the kids never play with anymore.  Teach your children about giving and let them come with you when you give their old toys to a Children’s Home.  Sell the unused exercise equipment and use the money to pay down debt.  Resolve to make 2011 the year you evaluate everything you own and simplify your life by clearing out your clutter.

I got my start in minimizing my possessions through the writings of Tammy StrobelEverett Bogue, and Leo Babauta.  The books “The Art of Being Minimalist”  and “The Simple Guide to a Minimalist Life” are great resources that can help you begin and complete the process of simplifying your life.  If you follow their advice, you can empty your storage totes, park your car in the garage again and move to a smaller house.

A common Christmas wish is for Peace on Earth.  You won’t be able to grant that wish, but you can bring some peace to yourself and your family.  When you choose to take control of your stuff, when you remove the clutter surrounding you, when you cut the unnecessary expenses out of your life, you free yourself from the responsibilities and the financial burden associated with them.  This freedom leads to peace.

If you already bought those new storage totes and organizers, TAKE THEM BACK!  Get a refund and use the money for something practical, like one on the resources on my recommended reading page.

Will you resolve to make 2011 the year of less stuff?  Please leave a comment and let the world know that this year, stuff is not going to win!

I Didn’t Want to Change the World, I Just Wanted to Change My Life

“You write in order to change the world…

the world changes according to the way people see it,

and if you alter, even by a millimeter, the way people

look at reality, then you can change it.” – James Baldwin

I didn’t set out to reduce carbon emissions.  Digging water wells in Ethiopia was not in my plans.  I’ve always done a little bit through my church and other charities to feed the poor, but it was never a mission in my life.  No one ever accused me of being a tree-hugger and I never really did a good job of recycling.  Like many people, I was more concerned with meeting my daily obligations:  got to pay the mortgage, make sure the kids have school clothes, keep two cars operating and have 100’s of channels to watch on our HDTV.

Over the last few years, I had lost enthusiasm for the field of work I had been involved in for over 25 years.  Credit card debt had piled up to the point that I was barely able to make the minimum payments each month.   A recent law forces card companies to inform you on your monthly statement how long it would take to pay your balance to zero making only minimum payments.  One card in which we carried a $5000 balance informed us that we would be customers of theirs for 22 years if we continued to make the minimum payment.  Can you imagine still paying for 2009’s Christmas presents in 2131?   It made me physically sick to face up to that prospect.

Something had to change or I would be working into my late 70’s just to get out of debt.  Those of you who have read my blog before know that my life changed the first time I visited Tammy Strobel’s blog, RowdyKittens.   She showed me that there were people in the world who were cleaning the clutter from their homes and lives.  People were reducing their expenses and paying off debt.  Pioneers were walking away from their day jobs and making a living with their laptops.  Nomads were traveling the country and the world without owning a car. Tammy’s work led me to the works of Leo Babauta, Everett Bogue, Eric LaForest, and Karol Gajda among others, and my life was forever changed.

Over the last few months, my life has changed dramatically.  I no longer have a full time job.  Over $12,000 in credit card debt has been paid and I am hoping to be totally debt free soon.  By the end of January, we plan to be clutter free.  By reducing our debt and expenses, I plan to be able to totally support myself and my wife by working online.  But what about changing the world?

Picture from Chris Guillebeau's Charity: Water in Ethiopia

The high unemployment rate is all over the news, but books like Passionate Living and You Don’t Need a Job, You Need Guts show us how we can make a living on the internet doing things we love.  These books show us it is possible to escape the traditional 9-5 and find security by turning your passion into your job.  This new way of working is changing the world.  Recently, a group of writers combined forces to offer over 1000 dollars of books for $97, with a portion of the proceeds going to Charity:Water, an organization supported by Chris Guillebeau and his Art of Non-Conformity book.  My purchase of these books will help build 5 new water wells in Ethiopia.

Although at this time I may not be a crusader for world change, I realize that everything I do can make some kind of change.  For now, I’m going to continue to work on changing my life.  I know that the things I do may supply clean water for a child, or something I write may change the life of one of my readers.  Every act and every word can change the world.

What are you doing to change the world?  Share your story with my readers below.

Hard Work That’s Worth It…

Many writers in the minimalist area make it sound so easy to clear your house of clutter, but it is hard and often tedious work.  Sell Your Crap is a book about using services such as eBay, Amazon and Craigslist to turn your no longer needed items into cash.  The point of the book is that most of us probably have thousands of dollars worth of stuff sitting around our houses that we no longer use or care about.  That stuff can be turned into cash which can be used to pay off debt or, if you are lucky enough to be debt free, the cash can be saved to fund your future plans.

Our "stuffed" basement!

The plan works!  My wife and I have sold more than a couple thousand dollars worth of  stuff and applied it to our debt.  Lately though, we have come to an almost complete stand still in selling our stuff.  Why?  Because it is hard and very frustrating work.  After you decide what to sell, you need to set a price, then descriptions of the items need to be written (you have to make sure your crap sounds good).   Pictures of the items need to be taken and uploaded to your computer.  If you sell on eBay or Amazon, you will have to figure shipping charges.   When the items sells, you have to package it and travel to the Post Office or UPS to ship.

Craigslist has its own set of frustrations.  Once you’ve written the descriptions and posted the ads, you begin a seemingly endless series of email exchanges with people wanting more details about the item or trying to schedule a time to come and look the item over. Be sure and post pictures of everything because if you don’t, people will ask for them. (C’mon people, its a 4-cup coffeemaker, do you really need to see a picture to know what one looks like?)

Once you think you have a buyer all lined up, they don’t show up or change their mind when they see the item.  Then you start all over again with another prospective buyer.  After going through this process dozens of times, it begins to wear on you and discouragement can, and has for us, set in.  When you reach this point, it is easy to quit, to return to the status quo.  I refuse to quit!

One activity I have found helpful when I am discouraged is reading the blogs of the people who originally inspired me. Writers like Tammy Strobel, Everett Bogue and Dave Bruno of the “The 100 Thing Challenge” often address the obstacles that can get in your way and offer ways to overcome them.  A few days ago I ran into this timely post from Henri Junttila on his blog Wake UP Cloud and it reminded me to listen to my heart and remember my dreams.  The only way the dream can come true is by pushing through these obstacles.

We decided to avoid some of the Craigslist issues but not posting any items we were selling for less than $25.  Anything less than $25 was not worth the time involved.  Items under $25 would be either donated or sold at a yard sale.  December in Nebraska is not a good time for a yard sale, so we are going to set the sale up in our basement.  Ebay is going to get a shot at selling some more of my collectible items.  Also, we are going to decide on an end date.  Anything not sold at that time will be donated to our local Goodwill, City Mission and our books donated to our local Library.

We are all going to run into obstacles and become discouraged at times, but the final goal is worth it.  When feeling down, we need to turn to each other for encouragement.  I know that I would appreciate any encouraging comments you readers would like to leave for me.  I am always here to help you when you feel down.  We can always rely on the expertise of the people I have linked to above.  Together, we will achieve our dreams!

I’ll Retire When I Die

“I’m going to work until the day I die.  That’s my retirement plan.”

I was doing an audit at a major pharmacy store when I heard the long-time manager of the store give the above response to a customer who had asked him if he was ever going to retire.  I laughed when I heard that and told the manager that was my retirement plan also.  By the time I shared this with my wife that evening, I could no longer find any humor in this encounter.

At this point in my life, I really felt like I would be working at a job I no longer enjoyed until I died or I just wasn’t able to work anymore.  I was manager of a small bookstore making a moderate salary with little upside. Days off from the bookstore were spent doing audits and merchandising jobs at other retailers.  On top of our normal living expenses, we had credit card debt and medical bills.  Even making minimum payments left no money for savings.  If I didn’t make some changes, it would be years before I had my debt reduced enough to start saving for retirement.  It wasn’t a pretty picture for my future.

Cover of

Cover via Amazon

There are lots of resources available if you are looking to reduce debt.  One of my favorites is Dave Ramsey’s book, The Total Money Makeover: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness A common theme among most resources is to live a frugal life – cut your expenses and only make necessary new purchases.  You then apply every dollar available to building an emergency fund and to paying off your debt.  My wife and I moved to an apartment where our rent was about $400 less, we went to one cell phone instead of three, and instead of having 100s of TV channels, we now have only basic cable.  The day may come when we just throw the TV out completely.  All of these things helped us pay down some of our debt.

Just recently, we discovered another set of resources that have really put us on the fast track to, not only getting out of debt, but also to living an independent lifestyle.  Our lives really started to change when my wife discovered Tammy Strobel’s website called Rowdy Kittens.  This site was my introduction to what it means to live a minimalist lifestyle. The first time I visited, I spent hours reviewing the archived posts and following her links to the sites of others writing about minimalist living.  In addition to reducing expenses and spending, Tammy’s site showed us the importance of reducing the clutter in our home and life.  We really took a hard look at all the stuff we owned and asked ourselves how important it was to us and had it even been used in the last 6 months, or 6 years.

What we discovered is that we had 100s of things that we never used anymore.  We moved a lot when I was  in retail management and it is amazing how much stuff we had that never got unpacked from place to place.  It was time for us to downsize!  We begin to look at each item we owned and to make decisions whether the item should be kept, donated, given to family/friends, sold, or trashed.  The book, The Simple Guide to a Minimalist Life by Leo Babauta, was very helpful in suggesting a process for dealing with our clutter.

We still have a long way to go in our journey to remove the clutter from our home and lives, but I am confident that we will be successful. I am also confident that I can show you how to take this journey.  Will you join us?



I need to tell you about a great sale that is running just through Wed. Dec. 1st.  Some of the best writers on the subjects of blogging, working for yourself and making money on the internet have put together an awesome packages of books and training courses for a 72-hour sale.  Over $1000 dollars worth of resources are being offered for just $97!!  I have purchased this myself and cannot believe the value in this special.  Clink the link above and check it out.  You owe it to yourself and your future.