Tiny House, Tiny Living, The Tiny Life.

Determining What You Actually Spend

In 2015, when my husband and I decided that enough was enough and we were ready to take control of our finances, one of our first steps was to determine what we were actually spending. I knew this was going to be scary. We had been spending more than we were earning and because of it, our debt had been increasing.”

What we didn’t know was where that money was going and how much we were actually spending. So it was time to do what I refer to as a “Spending Analysis”.

money leaving hand

 

I gathered up 6 months worth of bank, credit card, and line of credit statements, a few different colors of highlighters, a calculator, and a tall glass of wine and got to work.

How to do a Spending Analysis

  1. Pick Your Color: I first had to determine which highlighter color would represent a different category of my spending. For example, yellow was any food related purchases including dining out, groceries, and those quick trips to the store for a snack or coffee. Blue was designated for fuel purchases. Pink was clothing and kid related expenses (since most of the clothes purchased were for our growing girls), and green was for any miscellaneous purchases (a.k.a. Target, where you are never able to leave with just one thing).

highlight budget

 

  1.  Start Coloring: I carefully went through each statement, highlighting the purchases and debit transactions according to the categories that I had selected initially. As you go through, you may find that there are more categories than you anticipated in which case you add another highlighter or two.
  1. Time to Start Adding It Up: Once my statements were categorized, it was time to begin adding up all of the expenses. For this I would total up all of my food costs (yellow) and divide by that number by 6 (since I was looking at 6 months worth of statements) to determine what my monthly average was. I repeated this for all of my spending categories.

calculate expenses

 

  1. Letting Reality Sink In: When I sat back and stared at the numbers, I quickly realized where the leaks were. We were spending nearly $1000 a month on food for a family of four which seemed higher than it needed to be. More surprising (although not really if I was honest with myself), was the amount that was being spent at Target (darn you Target Dollar Spot!).

Determining where our money was going helped me to see just how much was being wasted by spending $10 here or $20 there. Although they those smaller purchases don’t feel like much at the time, when you add it all up and see in fact how much money is slipping through your fingers, it is an eye-opening experience.

money slipping through fingers

 

This whole process allowed me to see that we really needed to look for ways to cut our spending and consumption.

Your Turn!

  • What are some of your spending weaknesses?
  • What areas of your spending could you cut back on?

 

What Defines A Minimalist

What is a minimalist? The tricky thing about minimalism is that there isn’t an exact definition. I consider myself a minimalist, but you may not consider me a minimalist. I live out of a backpack, but I don’t own less than 100 things. There is a lot of confusion around what it takes to be considered a minimalist. To help clarify the term, I’ve come up with a few common values that most minimalists have in common.

1. They don’t prioritize things

Minimalists prioritize values over things. This means that they might choose to spend their day working on something they love (for me, it would be photography or hiking) over a day spent mindlessly shopping or engaging in some kind of consumer-related event.  When I began the journey to minimalism, I stopped focusing on buying a new Audi and started focusing on my passions and what I want in life.

2. They live intentionally

Minimalists use their time wisely and intentionally, focusing on what brings the most joy and happiness. Before I discovered minimalism, I would spend my weekends catching up on laundry and dreading the coming work week.

Once I started the journey to minimalism, I began focusing my schedule around doing things that I enjoy fully, instead of just trying to fill my time with something to do. I became so much happier and more fulfilled.

3. They are focused on freedom

A core value of minimalism is the ability to be free. This can mean something different to everyone, but to me it meant getting out of my dead end 9-5 job. Becoming minimalist helped me save enough money to quit my job and pursue my dreams of traveling. I now feel completely free, and I know that if I ever do have to work a typical job again, it will only be temporary. I no longer have to work to live, I now live to work.

4. They invest in quality

Living a minimalist lifestyle means choosing quality over quantity, every time. I would rather have one black tank top that is good quality and will last me years than five black tank tops which will get holes in a few months. Purchasing quality items means that you will need less, and will create a more minimalist and simple wardrobe.

Minimalists don’t just value quality in physical items. Focusing your time and energy on creating quality work, nurturing quality friendships, and preparing high quality, healthful foods are all an important part of the minimalist lifestyle.

5. They are accidental savers

Before minimalism, I was never able to save money, no matter how hard I tried. I missed out on so many trips throughout the years because I was unable to save money. I made enough money to put at least a little aside each paycheck, but without fail, every time I got paid, my last paycheck had already been fully spent. I usually couldn’t even tell you where the money went. I was spending money unintentionally – just picking up things here and there, mostly on impulse.

After my transition to minimalism, I had saved about $15k in five months. I was just living according to my priorities – I was spending my time hiking outside, writing, spending quality time with my family. I wasn’t focused on my bank account, and I wasn’t spending time at the shopping mall or out to expensive dinners anymore. My life became so much more simple, and it felt amazing.

Whether you call yourself a minimalist or not, it’s impossible to deny the benefits of living a more simple lifestyle. Focusing on your passions, concentrating on relationships and activities that bring value to your life; this is what defines a minimalist to me.

Your Turn!

  • How would you define a minimalist?
  • Do you consider yourself a minimalist?

Backyard Chickens: Which Breed is Best? What Else do I Need to Know?

Chickens bring so much happiness to our homestead. I could watch them scratch and pick in their yard all day. They clean up bugs and weeds and turn my kitchen scraps into beautiful eggs that nourish my family.

We have been keeping chickens for about 10 years now. While we are always working on improving our set-up and coming up with new ways to manage our flock we have a pretty good grasp on the basics. Here are a few tips for getting started with backyard chickens.

buff orpington

Room to spread their wings

Chickens are very easy to care for as long as their basic needs are met. The first thing to consider is how much room they require. Adequate space both in the coop (house) and run (yard) will keep them from pecking at each other and make it easier to keep things tidy.

When my husband built our coop he made sure there was enough space for us as well. It is our job to collect the eggs and keep the coop clean. I am thankful every time I go out to there that we can freely walk around and work in their coop and run. In southern climates, you can get around this a little easier with wire floors but not up here in the frozen north.

Giving your chickens 3-4 square feet per bird in the coop and 10 square feet per bird in the run will keep them happy and healthy. A flock of eight chickens would thrive in a 4’x6’ coop and an 8’x10’ run.

garden chickens

Choosing chicken breeds

Starting out with some of the standard, all-purpose breeds is an easy way to ensure you will have good layers that can handle most any climate. They will be good-natured birds that are easy to raise and easy to keep. Here are some great options.

  • Barred Rock – Black and white, has a very sweet temperament, and lay brown eggs.
  • Rhode Island Red – Dark red, easy to care for and lay brown eggs
  • Buff Orpington – Buff (golden), often very lovable and lay brown eggs
  • Ameraucana – These are like calico chickens. They come in a wide variety of colors and striping, sometimes a little flighty and lay blue eggs.
  • Leghorns – White or brown, a bit aloof, high egg producers that lay white eggs. Leghorns have very large combs so they are not as well suited for cold climates where they can easily get frostbite.

chicks

When our first batch of chicks arrived in the mail we were enamored with the mix of colors and sizes. We ordered an egg layer assortment that would yield white, brown and blue eggs. Little did we know that the different breeds all have different temperaments. We got some of the standard breeds but we also got some flighty little hens that managed to jump out of every fence we put up. They also preferred to roost in the trees rather than in the coop.

That sounds so sweet to let them roam and roost in trees, especially to my rebellious heart that loves to see animals in their most natural habitat. But I could not keep them safe and every last one eventually got taken by a dog or a coyote. It was heartbreaking.

A roof over their heads

An effective chicken coop will protect your flock from the weather, give them a safe place to sleep and home their nest boxes. This can be accomplished in so many different ways. Some people go all out and build what looks like a fancy doll house, some are built from salvaged materials and some have even been made out of old vehicles.

No matter how you choose to house your chickens here are a couple things to consider.

Ventilation: This is the most important consideration when setting up housing for your flock. In the summer, chickens can overheat very quickly. Make sure that there is adequate airflow to keep them from getting too hot. In the winter you would think the house needs to be buttoned up tight. While you don’t want a draft it is very important to have good ventilation. If the bedding in the coop is damp then your chickens will be much more susceptible to catching a cold or getting frostbite.

hen

Clean Bedding: We love the deep litter method where you lay down fresh bedding regularly without removing the old. If managed properly your coop won’t smell and your chickens will stay cozy and healthy. Another way to manage the coop is to take out the old and lay down fresh as needed. Both methods are very effective.

Chickens bring endless joy and add so much to a homestead. They can help you clear the ground in preparation for planting, keep pests at bay, and of course those delicious, and nutritious eggs. They ask for very little in return. A place to spread their wings, a clean house, food, and water. We will always have a flock of chickens whether we are in town or out in the country.

Your Turn!

  • How would your family benefit from backyard chickens?
  • What chicken breeds suit you best?

Setting Financial Goals and Knowing the Why

It’s a new year and almost half of all Americans use this as an opportunity to start fresh. Approximately 42% of  those Americans who made New Year’s Resolutions made a money related resolution, yet less than 10% of us will be able to say at the end of the year that we actually felt successful in achieving our goals.

money goals

 

When my husband and I first decided to get on a budget and pay off our debt we were facing close to $59,000 in consumer debt that consisted of 4 credit cards, 2 lines of credit, and a car loan. Our why? We were sick of feeling as if we were living paycheck to paycheck.

We were tired of seeing our hard earned money go right back out the door in payments. We were sick of juggling minimum payments and living with a feeling of financial stress.

That’s when we found our “why”, we realized this wasn’t the life we wanted and the money was holding us back.

Understanding your Why:

Maybe your why is also to pay off debt. Perhaps you would like to save up and pay cash for a vacation. Are you looking at creating a budget to feel more in control of your finances? Regardless of your reason, it’s important to understand why and keep the end goal and the feeling that will come from achieving your piggy bank and calculatorgoal in mind.

In order to achieve success with your financial goals, you also need to know your why. If you are just going to create a budget or set a goal to ma
ke better financial decisions because it seems like the adult thing to do, sticking with a budget is going to be pretty difficult.

Getting on a budget is going to mean making some sacrifices and changing the way you approach your finances. It’s important to have a deep understanding of why you are willing to make a change to the way you are currently handling your money.

Once you know your why, how can you make sure you don’t lose sight of it?  What are those 10% of people probably doing to ensure their success? They are creating explicitly stated S.M.A.R.T goals and they have a deep understanding of why they are trying to attain that goal in the first place.

Setting a S.M.A.R.T. Goal:

A S.M.A.R.T. goal takes a general goal,makes it more specific, and increases your chances of successfully achieving it.

For example, a general goal might be “I’m going to pay off my credit cards”. An example of a S.M.A.R.T. goal is “I’m going to pay off $16,000 in credit card debt by December 31st, 2017 by making monthly payments of $1,334.00 per month.” Notice the diffe
rence? The first is a great goal to have, but is lacking in specifics. The S.M.A.R.T. goal is much more specific and includes an action plan.SMART Goal

So What Makes a S.M.A.R.T. Goal? 

  • S = Specific (What are your trying to accomplish?)
  • M = Measurable (Can you track your progress?)
  • A = Attainable (Have you planned your steps wisely to ensure success?)
  • R = Realistic (Is this a goal that you are motivated to achieve?)
  • T = Timely (Have you set a date that you would like to achieve the goal by?)

Be sure to check out Ryan’s post about how visualizing his goals helps to keep him motivated.

Your Turn!

  • What is your budgeting why?

Evaluating Your Time, The Trick To A Happier Life

They say that when people start to track what they eat they generally start eating less, just because they’re being conscious of what they are eating.  The same rings true when you look at how you’re spending your life, what time you dedicate to different things.  Over the past month or so I’ve been taking a look at how am I spending my life, where is my time going and how do I feel about it all.

I wanted to map what my life is actually like and compare it to what I want it to be.  The difference between what it is and what I want it to be signals where I need to make changes.  To do this, I’ve found a few tools that I’ve really liked and thought I’d share some of them here.

Track your life with Life Cycle

This is a pretty neat app that automates the tracking of your entire day and it does it pretty well.  It uses your GPS to figure out what you do where and then tracks how long you’re doing it.  You tell it where you work, it tracks time spent at work.  You tell it where you work out, grocery shop, get dinner, do errands and it tracks it all.  At the end of the day you get a snapshot of what your day was.

So here you can see I spent 7 hours and 23 minutes sleeping, 6 hours 28 minutes working, and so on.  The app interfaces with the iPhone’s health app, tracking your steps and it also connect to their other app, Sleep Cycle (more on that in a minute).

Track your sleep with Sleep Cycle

This is from the makers of the Life Cycle app and interfaces with it, its basically required to use.  Basically it analyzes how you sleep by detecting movement on your bed and breathing patterns.  It operates on the premise that when you are in deep REM sleep (the kind that really gets you rested up) your body actually prevents itself from moving so we don’t act out our dreams and many other reasons.  This means when we are in deep sleep, we don’t really move.  The app tracks this and measures your sleep patterns.

Understand better how you work with Rescue Time

If you’re like me, when it comes to work, it’s almost all done on a computer.  Rescue time puts a little program on your computer to track exactly what you’re doing and for how long.  It can spit out reports to show you exactly what you’ve been up to, it can categorize those into “productive” or “non productive” activities.

rescue time tracking

This is really good for those who get distracted easily on the web or on their computers.  We know that just because you’re on your computer, doesn’t mean you’re actually working.  Since using this app (over two years for me now) I’ve found that I get on my computer, do only work, then shut down and move on with life.  In short, I don’t waste time, get my work done quickly and get on with more important things.

Dig into emails with Gmail Meter

One of the lessons I learned from using Rescue Time (above) was that I spend a lot of time in email.  Email is often a terrible use of time.  The saying goes: “an email inbox is a convenient way to organize other people’s priorities.”  I use an add-on to Gmail called Gmail Meter which analyzes your email.  I’ve taken some drastic steps to help reduce the number of emails I receive.  For example I used to receive around 400 emails a day, now 170 email per day.  I still have a very long way to go.

It also shows your top people who email you.  This helps me identify people who I need to break it off with if they are endless emailers or validate that the emails I do get and send are productive.

So What Does This All Mean?

After sitting with this data, I break out my life into three main categories:  Recreational, Sleeping and Business Activities. Having objective data is a very important step because we can get down to specifics and reality, not guesses and gut feelings.

I then can ask myself, what do I want my life to be like?  What do I want a day to look like?  Then after that I can delve into things more specifically: what do I want my free time (recreational) to look like?  When I run my business, what should that look and feel like?  How much sleep do I want to make sure I have?

The important part here is defining what will make you happy and then comparing it to reality.  The gap is where I need to focus and make intentional changes.

For me, email is a huge issue.  I also spend more time driving that I like.  My average sleep time is around 8 hours, which is good, but I need to work out more.

You can use fancy tools like I have here or simply jot down in a notebook.  The point is, how often do you take inventory on your goals and your life?  Most people don’t.  Most people do nothing or at best, work of guesses.

Your Turn!

  • How do you track your time spent?
  • How do you keep on track to your goals?
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