In the last three years I have lived in three different states and one of them twice. I lived in Southern California from 1996 – 2008, then in New Mexico from 2008 – 2009, then Colorado from 2009 – 2010, and then I arrived back in California again late last year to set up shop. The story behind all those moves is long-winded so I will spare you from the details, but that’s not really the point of why I am writing this post– I really wanted to discuss the cost of living in different communities and what effect that can have on your financial well-being and stability.
Are you trading your life for money? One of my favorite books on personal finance/lifestyle choices is Your Money or Your Life by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin, and it explores this very topic in easy-to-understand, clear and concise language. I have read it cover to cover several times over, and it remains a staple item on my bookshelf. In fact, it was part of my taking a risk in leaving a high-paying career in the entertainment field for self-employment and freedom from schedules and bosses. Working at a job I didn’t like was financially rewarding for quite some time, but eventually it became a black cloud draining the life out of my soul. I realized I was trading my life away for money, and I had had enough; I up and quit and have been on my own for years now. I was no longer trading my life for money and it was the best decision I have ever made.
A while back, I had an unplanned conversation with an old friend about the expense of sending kids to school. Not having children myself, I don’t have first-hand experience with the costs involved, but I am smart enough to know that it costs a lot to raise a child. In fact, that’s the number one thing I hear my friends talk about – just how much money it costs! But my conversation with my friend was about the cost of school supplies they needed to purchase per the teacher’s request, because the public school district couldn’t afford to supply the items the classroom needed. We weren’t talking a lot of money here; rather, we were probably talking about maybe $40-$50 in supplies, or just enough to have enough on hand for their kid and to help cover the costs for those who truly couldn’t afford to spend the money. My friends have enough money to spend $50 on school supplies, especially considering that their kids go to free (taxpayer supported) public school. And yet, here I was listening to them complain about having to buy supplies with statements like:
A few months ago, I received a copy of the book Be Thrifty: How to Live Better with Less by Pia Catton and Califia Suntree to review. Because of the move and my own disorganization, I am just got around to reading through it. It’s so easy to lose things when you pack up your entire life! At first glance, I thought this was going to be yet another book about not buying a daily latte at Starbucks or washing your clothes only in cold water, but after digging a little deeper I found that it is actually a lot more than that. At 367 pages, it is a solid book packed with tips for being thrifty in your house, at the grocery store, with your family, on your body, and in your wallet. By concentrating on good old fashioned know-how, rather than just about how to be a cheap bastard, the book provides solid advice on how to make do with what you have, how to entertain yourself for little cost, how to fix broken items in your house, and how to shop wisely and avoid waste. There is a huge difference between being cheap and being frugal, as I have discussed before, and this book totally falls on the frugal/being smart side of things. In fact, right up front in the introduction, the authors ask a few questions I think that everyone should ask themselves before they buy any single product:
Sure, the convenience of those big-box stores is nice because you can get almost everything you need (and a bunch of stuff you don’t, if you are anything like the average person – myself included) in one place, but do you know where your money goes after you give it to the clerk? It heads right back to the big-box headquarters, paying out giant bonuses and perks to the bigwigs while leaving the workers to fight for minimum wage and meager benefits. I fight the urge to buy everything at the big-box stores as much as the next person, because of convenience and price, but when I think about where my money is going it does make it a little easier to try to search out smaller shops. When I lived in New Mexico, I lived in a very small town where most of the stores and restaurants were locally-owned, and I tried to make it a point of buying from them instead of driving the 63 miles to the nearest Target Superstore. (There was a Walmart in my town, but I never shop there for reasons I won’t get into here and that you guys have heard before) Sometimes it took going to 2 different stores to find what I needed, or spending an extra $.50 over the price it would have been “down the hill”, but it was worth it because there was a local human behind the storefront.