Sustainability

My lifestyle overhaul will revolve around the acronym SHIP (Sustainable, Health-Promoting, Interest-Free, and Permanent).  Many of this blog’s posts will focus on the principles contained within the SHIP approach.

We’ll begin with Sustainable – reducing the amount spent every month on things whose benefits are temporary.  Examples of this include:

  • Heating
  • Electricity
  • Transportation
  • Insurance
  • Entertainment
  • Food
  • Rent

I need some of these things to sustain life, such as heating and food, but even with these, there are many ways in which we can reduce their drain on our monthly finances.

Staying Warm and Out of the Weather

I spend about $400 per month to keep my house warm.  It’s 4600 square feet – far more than my wife and the three children that live at home really need, so we’re downsizing to a home that’s less than half its size.  We’ll have to get rid of a lot of accumulated stuff that we don’t need, but I think it will feel great when we’re done.

We’re going through a bankruptcy, so in the short term, we’ll have to rent.  I’ll work to get into my own home as soon as possible, because renting feels like flushing money down the toilet, with no long-term gain.

However, this time around, we’re not getting a huge mortgage.  Instead, we’ll build one step at a time, paying as we go.  I have a somewhat unusual plan to make this happen that I won’t go into now, but let’s just say that my goal is to never pay another dime in mortgage interest if there’s any way around it.

As long as I must rent, I hope to find a rental that has a wood-burning stove, since I’m moving to an area with plenty of forest nearby.  If I can’t reduce my heating bill by burning wood, I can at least lower the thermostat in the winter.  Besides, cuddling with the missus is my favorite kind of warmth.

The home I plan to build will make use of passive solar heating to reduce the amount I spend to keep my family warm.

Electricity

Maybe I’m the only one who can’t seem to get their teens to turn off the television when they’re done watching it, but it’s a bit frustrating.  Walking around the whole house each night to turn off lights and appliances can save good money on your electric bill.  Until I can figure out how to get the kids to buy into the idea of conservation, I guess I’ll just have to police the house each night.

Solar panels have become more efficient in recent years, so when I buy my next home, I’ll purchase some as another way to reduce my electric bill.

Food

I plan to plant a garden and I’d like to raise a couple of cows so I can produce much of my own food.  As long as I’m in a rental, the cows are probably out of the question, but I can grow some of my own vegetables, even if it’s just in containers that I can take with me when I buy my own home.

In the meantime, I’ll economize.  First, I’m cutting down on waste.  I’m not exaggerating when I say that at least a third of the perishable food we buy gets thrown away.  We buy too much bread and it molds.  Vegetables and meat don’t keep long, either.

To reduce waste, we’ll plan meals well ahead of time, so we shop for just the things we need for the meals we planned.  When we buy extra, it will be non-perishable food with a long shelf life.

Frozen foods?  Don’t get me started on how much money has gone to waste when past freezers broke down or when a child tripped over the cord powering the freezer, causing all the food in it to spoil.  We’re going to keep the amount of food that we keep in the freezer to a minimum to prevent these losses.  Besides, fresh meats and vegetables almost always taste better and are better for your body than frozen.

Entertainment

Our cable television and internet bill weighed in at over $300 per month.  We called our cable provider and said that we would keep our current internet service (which I need for my work at home job), but we were getting rid of cable altogether if they couldn’t come up with a really great deal.  We axed three of our five premium services and lost scores of channels that we didn’t watch anyway.  We dropped our bill to $110.  It’s still not cheap, but putting an extra $200 each month in our pockets feels great.

Next Steps

For me, the biggest challenge may be to get the rest of my family to really buy in on how aggressively I’m going after our budget, but they’re coming around.  As they see how many more fun things we can do as a family and the permanent things we’re able to buy by shedding wasteful expenditures that bleed our budget dry each month, I think they’ll be happy that we made some short-term sacrifices to make things better over the long haul.

Besides, when I feel like I’m making progress, I’m not such a grumpy bear, which they should appreciate.  See?  Everybody wins.

Life Overhaul

Everything is about to change for me.  Not because I recently filed bankruptcy. Not because I’m moving 500 miles.  It’s not because my old job vanished and I started working in a different role.

No, everything is about to change because I re-evaluated my life.  I decided to live purposely, focused on what’s most important to me and my family.  I’ll no longer settle for choosing from the limited, multiple-choice options that have enslaved me in the past.  I’m finding that when you open your mind to a wide variety of options, many of life’s questions become open-ended, with countless choices.

For example, rather than asking whether I want to rent a home or buy one, instead I’ll ask, “How am I going to provide safe shelter for my family?”  While that might include renting or buying a house, I might cast a wider net and consider living in a Recreational Vehicle for a time, staying with relatives a few months to save up money, or any number of other options that fall outside the traditional “Rent or buy?” question.

My new-found freedom started with what appeared to be a series of unfortunate events.  Due to a number of poorly made choices, unemployment, and just plain bad luck, I found myself increasingly herded into deciding between more and more limiting and undesirable options.

Liberation from what was becoming a life of quiet desperation was born in the most unlikely of places.  Sitting in a bankruptcy lawyer’s office, I stared at my budget.  The Excel spreadsheet stared back at me.  (I could swear that it sneered back.)

My monthly bottom line showed nearly $2,000 in the red.  I took a chainsaw to my budget.  Cable television would have to go.  Entertainment budget?  Yeah right.  I deleted that line item, too.  Soon $150 in school lunch for the kids got the axe, along with a spendy phone plan, and several other items we had convinced ourselves that we “couldn’t live without.”

If you’re thinking, “These are certainly first world problems,”  then you came to the same conclusion that I did.  For example, my family could live without HBO, Showtime, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, music on demand, and the rest of the cable television lineup.  I did it as a kid, who grew up poor, so I know it can be done.

I asked myself how I had arrived at the point where so much of my discretionary income silently bled away, month after month.  When I graduated from college and got a job as a newly-minted technician for Hewlett Packard, I felt like I had really arrived.  My income doubled overnight when I went from working as a night janitor to debugging hard drives.  Working the night shift, I earned an additional 15% differential, bringing me to almost $17 per hour.  I decided that I deserved a reward for all my hard work, so I ordered cable television, complete with HBO.

So it began.  Since then, I added premium movie channels and 4 DVRs (you sure wouldn’t want to miss a minute of mind-numbing network TV).  Of course, we “needed” a television in the living room and bedroom, but wouldn’t it be nice to have one in my office?  The kids don’t always want to watch what I do, so they’d need televisions in their rooms too… and so it went.

When my wife asked me which cable television service I wanted, she mentioned every available option except one… “None of the Above.”

Desperately wrangling my budget numbers in a bankruptcy lawyer’s office, and after deleting one line item after another, I finally did it.  I managed to shrink my expenses until they were less than my income… $16 per month less, to be exact.

Depression broke over me like a wave.  If I were a drinking man, I would probably have engaged in an extended group therapy session with Jack Daniels, Jose Quervo, and Captain Morgan.  Since I don’t drink (and now couldn’t afford to take up the habit) I had to face the hard truth, sober – something would have to change.

I decided to try something different.  Rather than starting from my current budget and cutting things, how about starting from the point of basic needs?  What do you need to survive?  Here’s what I came up with:

  • Sustenance – Healthy Food and Clean Drinking Water
  • Taxes – Pay federal, state, and local taxes and licenses (Don’t get on the wrong side of the law.)
  • Shelter – Safe, warm Protection from the Elements
  • Transportation – Reliable, Insured Vehicle
  • Sanitation – Keep clean to stay Healthy

We could add in health care and many other line items, but I decided to at least start with the ones above, which I refer to with the acronym STSTS (Sustenance, Taxes, Shelter, Transportation, Sanitation).

This entry is the first in a series of blog posts I’m going to write as I begin my life transformation.  I’m pretty flexible on most things, especially since I haven’t worked out all the details of my future lifestyle, but the following are the guiding principles I’m working with:

  • Sustainable: Reduce the constant flow of money for goods and services I can provide myself (or do without) and drastically reduce waste and overspending.
  • Healthy: Lose the flab, get in shape, and eat health-promoting foods.
  • Interest-Free: Unless there is absolutely no way to buy “must have” things with cash, do no incur debt.
  • Permanence: Spend most of my money on things that have lasting value – things I can enjoy both now and well into the future.  Money spent each month should provide a lasting lifestyle upgrade of some kind. I’ll delay gratification and spend a minimum amount of on momentary entertainment or recreation.  Those things will come as I achieve financial independence.

Acronyms help me to remember lists of items.  When I refer to the term SHIP, I’m talking about the four line items above: Sustainable, Healthy, Interest-Free, and Permanence, which I use as the foundational principles directing my lifestyle transformation.

I’ll document my journey to self-sufficiency in this blog.  I’m very open to ideas and suggestions, so feel free to contact me with your feedback.  I can’t wait to start making my life SHIP-shape, and I hope that you begin to catch the vision of the Life Overhaul I have set in motion.  If not, feel free to get a chuckle out of my misadventures.  If it turns out that I’m crazy, someone should at least get a good laugh out of it.

Showing Emotion: Amusement

In the first lesson in The Fictional Character’s Guide to Acting, we tackle our first emotion, Amusement.

You’ll learn how to teach your characters how to show this emotion in their body language, their actions, their thoughts, and the related emotions they might feel.

Learn How To Make Your Characters Effectively Show Amusement

The Fictional Character’s Guide to Acting

As a writer, you hear it everywhere.  “Show, don’t tell.”  Don’t tell me that it was a beautiful sunset.  Describe the colors, the chill of the air, scents, and let me hear the crickets chirp.  Most of us get that, and work the senses our characters experience into our writing.

Strong Characters Should Communicate Without Saying a Word

I write contemporary, and one of the things I enjoy most about the genre is describing interesting people, things, and places.  But when it came to showing emotion, I struggled.  My characters seemed to shrug and nod a lot.  They just didn’t know how to act, so before my readers boo’ed them off the stage, I took action.

I realized that the reason my characters didn’t express outwardly what they experienced on the inside stemmed from one thing.  I don’t pay enough attention to the body language of those around me.

Assumptions and Biases – Sometimes Good Things

Why?  It’s simple.  Your mind does a lot of pattern matching in the background.  You don’t think, “That person lowered their head, so maybe they’re sad.”  Your brain picks up on signals it has noticed before, and makes a lot of assumptions based on the “tells” of those around you.  And most of the time, the pattern matching proves correct, so the mind confirms the assumptions, helping you pick up on more and more subtle cues as you learn and develop.

This saves a lot of thinking and helps us to deal with the barrage of data with which our mind must cope, without suffering from information overload.

However, for writers, since so much of this processing happens at the subconscious level, this can prevent us from accurately describing body language, tone of voice, and other ways in which we pick up on what others feel and think.  Those around us communicate an incredible amount of information, all without saying a word.  Some body language experts estimate that as much of 80% of all communication happens non-verbally.

To cope with my own deficiencies in describing non-verbal cues, I researched how to “show, not tell” how my characters might let you, the reader know what they’re thinking and feeling, from a variety of sources, including body language experts and authorities on effective public speaking.

I have compiled this research into 50+ categories of emotion, from love to hate, from confidence to fear.  I will release these emotion-specific articles frequently, until you have them all.  These entries include body language, broken down by parts of the body.  Beyond this, they also describe common reactions to emotion, how they affect how we interact with those around us, as well as thoughts and feelings that often accompany the core emotion.  We also cross-reference related emotions and words one frequently associates with the emotion.

Begin to Teach Your Characters How to Project Their Thoughts and Emotions

Get started by visiting The Fictional Character’s Guide to Acting or go directly to the first emotion we’ll explore – Amusement.

Product Review: The Synonym Finder by J. I. Rodale

As a writer, we sometimes struggle to find that elusive word that’s right on the tip of our tongues, but when we find a descriptive noun or a powerful verb, it’s worth the effort.  In the words of Mark Twain, “The difference between the almost right word & the right word is really a large matter–it’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.” 

In the past, I would reach for my handy Roget’s Thesaurus, but lately, it hasn’t gotten much use since I recently upgraded to The Synonym Finder, by R. I. Rodale.  It’s 1361 pages weighs in at 2.6 pounds (over 1 kg), and works just as well for fighting off an assailant as it is for finding just the right word.  I am astounded at the number of synonyms it includes, both command and obscure.  For example, I opened at random and pointed to the word feast.  I counted 146 different synonyms, ranging from “celebration” to “ring the bell for.”Looking up synonyms is a one-step process, unlike my massive (and now, largely unused) Roget’s International Thesaurus (5th Edition), for which you first look a word up in its index, which gives you a reference number, which you then use to find the actual term for which you want to find a synonym.

I will warn you that this work may be difficult to find in your local book store, but you can find it on Amazon.com, though sometimes you may have to settle for a used copy, since at present, the book is no longer in print.  I read recently that the rights to reprint the book are in negotiations, so hopefully this most excellent resource will be more available in the not-too-distant future.

When I reach for a physical thesaurus, the Synonym Finder is my first choice every time.  If you can find a copy, I highly recommend it over every other thesaurus I have used to date.

The Synonym Finder

By: R. I. Rodale

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