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Thursday, June 14, 2018

Reflections on the Evolution of this Blog and the Pursuit of Money Mindfulness


I'd planned on writing a whole long post in honor of my 8th bloggiversary... January 2 started my 9th year of blogging, which I have to say feels like quite the accomplishment.... But life got in the way and unfortunately this planned post is nearly six months late. Oh well.

In honor of my bloggiversary I wanted to reflect on all the changes that have happened in my life that have happened since I started my blog, and consequently the change in direction this blog has taken.

When I first started this blog my husband was working a minimum wage job and I was working a minimum wage part time job, and we were not making it through the month. We truly were Penniless, our expenses were minimal but even so they were more than we could afford, and we made the decision not long after starting my blog to downsize to an apartment half the size of our original small one, to a teeny tiny house with our two small kids, in order to save a few hundred dollars a month.

My blog reflected my life at the time. Extreme frugality. Cutting corners every single way we could. As someone put it 'pinching pennies so hard they scream'. Things like making every single thing from scratch, nearly only vegan meals, foraging most of my produce, using cloth toilet paper and cloth diapers and making presents from scratch. My clothes were all from clothing swaps and second hand stores and I literally tried to spend absolutely nothing extra that I didn't have to.

Quality of life? Well, I'm the type of person who is so good at pretending everything is all right that sometimes I even convince myself that everything is all right when it is not. I was all `mind over matter' and thought that if I just focused on all the good things I had in life, the areas in which I was a 'have not' wouldn't bother me. I blogged about that more or less, and while I wouldn't exactly say I was lying, because it wasn't intentional or 100% accurate, in retrospect all my posts about how amazing and rich my life was, even without money, might not have been a little misleading. Because in all honestly, I was misleading myself. But when you're going through such a situation, what other choice do you have? To just be miserable and mopey and think about how sucky your life is? The better alternative is to focus on the benefits of such a lifestyle and be on denial about how hard it is and how bone weary tired you are all the time from it. You might not realize, though, if you become good enough at faking it that you have yourself fooled as I did. Back then I might have written posts that seemed to glorify poverty or similar.

Fortunately with time, random occurrences, and some miracles and my mother's extreme generosity, our financial situation changed. My husband's income went up significantly, my income went up significantly, and we also get disability payments because of my son's autism. These things definitely made it easier for us to breathe financially, and I was able to stop doing some of the extreme frugality things I had been doing. I stopped making everything from scratch, especially gifts, and reconsidered my stance on gifting period, and instead started focusing on things that I felt were better from scratch, like most foods, which I am able to make just as good if not better quality when made from scratch, and for cheaper.

In short, my style of frugality changed tremendously. Instead of it being "do whatever I can as cheap as absolutely possible, and don't spend any money more than necessary" my motto and method in life when it came to frugality became something along the lines of "spend less on the things you don't care about so that you have the money available for the things that matter to you". This outlook, I'll admit, is one that I am actually privileged enough to be able to have. Because beforehand, when money is so extremely tight, you don't really have that wiggle room; its not like you can just "cut out those lattes" and be able to afford extra. You aren't spending money on lattes, you aren't spending any money on extras, and you still have nothing to spare. And it really sucks.


At the time, when people recommended that I do what I can to earn extra money, instead of just trying to look for ways to spend less, I bristled at them, because I said that it's not always easy to earn more... but at the end of the day, that's what we did. My husband started working longer hours, and fortunately laws passed that raised the hourly salary in his profession. I started hustling however I could. I taught classes, foraging classes and frugal shopping classes, taught soap making classes, sold homemade soaps. I started charging money to give people more personal advice on how to live more frugally in a way that worked for their family, I started making and selling gluten free products, like bread mix, decorated cakes, sushi, etc. I made and sold ebooks of recipes for my religion's holidays. My husband started making and selling wooden things. And slowly it paid off. My name got out, my reputation grew, and there was more demand for my services. And with that, fortunately we had that extra money that afforded us the privilege to change our money habits and perspective into what it is currently.

When I first started therapy, I'll be honest, that one of the things that came up most often, and even led me to breaking down in tears quite a few times, was that I felt I was such a faker, a fraud on my blog. That I led people to believe that it was great to live without more money, that frugal living was super awesome, that I had this most unbelievable amazing life. And really what I felt like was that it sucked big time. But I had to put on this front of "oh my gosh, look how amazing my frugal life is" or I'd lose all credibility I had on my blog, and my name would be tarnished. I had dreams of sudden cash windfalls so that we'd have so much spare cash and we wouldn't have to work so darn hard anymore. And it was really difficult.
So now I'm coming clean now to you.

I wasn't intentionally lying when I talked about how amazing my life was before. I was in denial because I didn't have much choice. I decided to shove my depression so deep down that I was living in a dissociative state for years, and didn't realize how much my lifestyle was affecting my mentally. How much it was breaking me. How much I was suffering but didn't let myself even acknowledge.

The biggest change happened when my mother gave us the down payment and allowed us to move to our larger home. Our larger home is still quite smaller than most people's houses. We're only living in 925 square feet, but that feels like a mansion compared to our old 484 square foot home. When we finally moved, I felt like a weight that had crushed me for the last 5 years suddenly was lifted from my chest. I allowed myself to breathe a sigh of relief and admit just how much of a toll it was emotionally to be living in that tiny place with 4 kids. I smiled every time I was able to walk across my living room without tripping across someone or something. I smiled every time we had guests and were able to offer them a place to sit down on our two couches. I was able to make my home into an inviting place and finally admit what I thought of my old place -- that it was a sh*thole. (Sorry for the coarse language. That literally is the only word I can use now to describe our old home.)

To be honest, I'm crying as I'm writing this post.

If I ever glorified tiny home living, I'm sorry. It's not. It's a great way to save money, that's for sure, and its what our finances demanded for all those years. And quite frankly it was less hard before our last two children were born. When I see people share videos of people on Facebook and their "tiny house living with families" I cringe and I wonder how many of them are just like me and post about how amazing it is because they have no choice about how they're living and they are trying to put on a positive face and make the best of their situation, and how many are authentically happy with their shoebox. Maybe I'm projecting, but those videos just make me sad.

I feel like I'm kind of veering off topic. So back to the focus of this blog.

I actually got inspired to write this post because someone left me a comment after a sponsored post I had about how to get new smart phones frugally. She said that talking about getting new smart phones when your old one was still functional was encouraging materialism and consumerism and went against what my blog stood for, and made me a fraud. I apologize. I apologize for misleading you into thinking that that is what my blog was about. My blog was and always will be a reflection of my life, and what I write about reflects where my head is at. I'm not against spending money. I am not against buying new things. I have no problem with upgrading to a new smartphone. In fact, I'm currently on my fourth or fifth smartphone. (A Xiaomi Redmi Note 4. It's awesome.)

So what is my blog about? What is the current focus of my blog? (And honestly, this has been the focus of mine ever since we had enough money to be able to breathe a little bit financially.)

I've wanted to change the tag line of my blog from "A Rich Life on a Minimum Wage" to something like "The Pursuit of Money Mindfulness".  (A new banner is currently in the works.) When I posted about this on Facebook, asking people for their input on that, I got a lot of flack for it. That "mindfulness" is stupid. It's a "new age fad" and all sorts of other negative feedback.

But you know what? I don't care.

In therapy, one of the most effective tools I've learned, especially to stop dissociating, especially to stop panic attacks and other extreme emotions that I've been dealing with, has been mindfulness. Mindfulness is used in therapy in conjunction with CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) skills and it is about remaining present in the moment, and aware, and not doing things mindlessly.

My current approach to money isn't "spend as little as absolutely possible whenever possible" but as I said earlier, it has been "spend less on the things that don't matter to you so that you have money on the things that do". This is the essence of being mindful with your money. Paying attention to where your money is going, so you can mindfully and consciously make decisions about spending money that are in line with your values or what is important to you.

The example I give to people about things that I do that work for me is that I forage. I get free and reduced rack produce from the open air market. I make nearly everything from scratch. My husband and I build whatever we can by ourselves. We live without a car. We buy from the scratch and dent store. All of this is because these are things that don't bother us. Its not a burden for us to do these things. (And when I'm just unable to function because of depression, these are a burden for me and I don't do them.) Doing them allows us to save money, and then have extra to spend on things like gluten free food, healthier oils (I nearly exclusively use olive oil, palm oil, coconut oil, and sunflower oil), more natural sweeteners, (frugal) vacations abroad, home births, and yes, even new smartphones.

Other people live their frugality completely differently. They would never dream of buying past prime or reduced rack or scratch and dent items. They might have a car. But they don't spend money on gluten free items, or more expensive oils or sweeteners. They would never spend money on home births. And they may not spend money on vacations ever or might do them less frequently. And you know what? There's nothing wrong with that.

Yes, you need to be spending less money than what you're making. (And if that isn't possible without making yourself depressed, see what you can do to bring in more money.) But within that, there's so much flexibility. Mindfully spend your money. Be aware of where it is going; don't let it slip through your fingers. Do as Dave Ramsey says and give a name to every dollar. Budget. But do it in a way that reflects your values, and not someone else's. Don't let anyone tell you that you're "doing it wrong". It's none of anyone's business how you're spending your money other than yourself and your spouse and maybe your children.

So, dear lady that I met the other day in the line at the smoothie place, when I told you that I write a frugal living blog and you questioned what I was doing at a smoothie place then, this is why. Because what I'm spending is my choice. How I spend my money reflects my values, and yes, being able to pick up a delicious smoothie from a smoothie place makes me happy, and your happiness is important. If you don't take care of yourself, no one else will. Self care is important.

For those of you who've stuck around my blog from the beginning and have watched it evolve with time, I apologize if you're upset with the direction it is taking. But I need to be true to myself and my values, and my blog needs to reflect that.

And that's what I'm all about lately. Money mindfulness. I'm not perfect at it, which is why this is the pursuit of money mindfulness.

And if you think mindfulness is just this new age mumbo jumbo, I'm sorry. But let me recommend that you find a therapist who works doing mindfulness with people, and you might completely change your perspective, and find what a life changing skill it is.

What is your frugality style? What are the things that matter less to you, that you're willing to save money on, and what are the things that matter more to you and you're willing to spend money on them?
Have you ever felt that frugal living was really difficult? Were you able to admit it at the time, or just after got out of the situation? What did you do to change things?

32 comments:

  1. Not a fraud. Everything always looks different in retrospect. Your blog presents a woman in all her roles striving to live as well as possible within her means, and striving to be happy and content with what you have regardless if how much or little that might be. I think it's a wonderful way to approach things whether frugal or not. And mindfulness about money and financial energy is just an extension of that. Looking forward to new posts

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  2. Living within your means.. rich or poor is never something to be ashamed of.

    Your blog is critical for many who don't know how to do it. A single tip can sometimes make a difference to someone who can save by doing himself what he would otherwise pay a lot for others to do.

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  3. Love your transparency! I am 73 and downsized, sold my Florida home at a loss, and moved to live by family after my late husband died from dementia. My apartment is twice as large as your place. I started blogging about his illness about the same year as your blog started, and am coming out with a caregiver Xlibris book this year.

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  4. I think that whatever stage you are in, whatever your income level, you adjust your expectations and standard of living accordingly.

    I don`t think that your being satisfied with your standard of living when you were living on a minimum wage was inauthentic, and if you end up selling your brand for millions one day, and living in a mansion with 24/7 help, you shouldn`t see this time in your life as inauthentic and "fakely" happy.

    Whatever your standard of living, you can be happy, or you can be unhappy.

    "Who is rich? One who is satisfied with his lot."

    Don't apologise for your attitude then; don't apologise for your attitude now.

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    Replies
    1. I agree...no apology is necessary. And even if deep down she wasn't satisfied then, maybe her efforts to try to be satisfied with that very, very tiny home, etc. caused good things to happen -- like, it changed her as a person, showed her kids a good example, etc.

      Also, when we aren't satisfied, that can help us hustle and do things we would otherwise have been too afraid of/distracted to/lazy to do. Like, maybe Penny wouldn't have published those books or started teaching those foraging classes?


      And finally, some study came out about life satisfaction a while back, and I remember they had an interesting finding. It was true that money didn't make you happier, BUT ONLY AFTER A CERTAIN POINT. There was this "sweet spot" of having enough to cover bills and not have to worry about a emergency that needed to be reached before money became a non-issue in the realm of happiness.

      Maybe that's really what's going on here, and I think it's a valuable lesson.

      Delete
  5. Penny, I've been with you from the very beginning of your blogging career. I don't think you are a fraud at all and I actually applaud your CHOICE to attempt to be content in all circumstances. I'm happy your family is prospering but the lessons learned in leaner times will go far. Thank you again for sharing your life.

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  6. I am DELIGHTED at the direction your blog is taking, because it means that you are achieving the goals you set yourself and becoming more financially stable

    maybe its time to change the name from Penniless Parenting.. because you are no longer penniless and you dont want to be!!!

    but its YOUR blog and it has to be whatever you want it to be!!

    Good work, P

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  7. This was by far one of your most read worthy posts. I applaud you for “coming out”. I think over these years my biggest problem was my feeling that you were lying to yourself and couldn’t imagine how it’s possible to keep preaching something to the point of adamant stubbornness.
    I’m sorry your life up until recently was so difficult, and i know i definitely said plenty of terrible things on your blog and to you privately, and i apologize.
    I’m happy you woke up.
    Mrs A.

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  8. I really enjoyed this blog post. I started reading your blog pretty early on, when things were tight for you. I don't think you are a fraud at all. You were trying to have the best attitude given your circumstances and that is a noble cause. I mean, who wants to read a bunch of complaining.

    When my 3rd child was born in 2011, my husband's income decreased dramatically. My 2nd child was born with a brain defect and has a lot of medical issues as a result so I could not work. Those were very tough times for us. In the last year or so, our financial situation has improved dramatically. Also, similar to you, we were able to sell our old house that was in a terrible, unsafe, rundown neighborhood and move somewhere so much nicer and into a house we LOVE! While its not a fancy or big house by any means, my mental health is so much better. Plus, I feel so much happier knowing my kids can grow up in a better environment and go to better schools. This year, I was even able to bring in some income by taking a job that allows me to work when I am free and my daughter is stable. This has also helped my mental health tremendously (and our financial situation obviously). All that being said, I do struggle internally sometimes when I no longer do some of the more frugal things I used to do. I feel guilty about it, even though they aren't as necessary anymore. I look forward to seeing where your blog goes from here!

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  9. Truth matters Penny, and I applaud your choice to live authentically and blog transparently. Even if that means feeling like now you're "changing the script" of the blog - because sometimes we didn't realize exactly where those negative feelings were coming from until years later. For the first ten years of my marriage we shared one car; even when I had a preschooler, a toddler, and a newborn baby, if I needed the car for a doctor's appointment or groceries or anything I'd have to get everybody up early to drop him off and then interrupt cooking dinner to go pick him up again. But most of the time we could make it work and several of the frugal books/blogs I read advocate the one-car or no-car lifestyle, so when it felt exhausting I just sucked it up and kept being cheerful about it. Then last year my husband got a new job that required a commuter car so we finally joined the ranks of the two-car middle class. And oh! it is SOOOO much easier now. He can work late without it derailing dinner, there's never confusion over who needed the car today, on the weekend we can easily take kids to two different activities, it just gives us so much more flexibility and relieves stress I hadn't even realized I was carrying. And I wasn't exactly lying back then: I COULD choose to be "glass half full" cheerful about it and most of the time it wasn't that bad. But I feel like my opinion is a lot more complete now that I can admit that the glass was also half-empty at times.

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  10. Dear Penny,

    I really love your post. It would be a strange thing if nothing had changed for you in those nearly ten years now.

    You made the best thing possible for your familiy and yourself with what you had. That is something to be proud of.
    There is a bright side of every thing so I do not think you were lying.
    A smal flat? Less cleaning to do.
    Buying from the reduced rack? Well more meat and or cheese for me. (Got Two pices of cheddar for half the price since they will be due on Sunday. lol they wont survive that long.)
    I always found your posts relaxing. No selfpitty, but kind words motivating people. I managed this year to get enought coins in my jar to rent a flat near the sea for a week and invite two friends to join me, who eould not be able to afford a holiday otherwise. It means the world to me to be able to do that. Your travle posts gave me the Idea to do this.

    I am thankful for all those smale and big inspirations your blog gave me in all those years.

    I guess I mean to say Thank you forvthe way you were and are and thank you so much for sharing.

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  11. This is your best post yet. Honest. Real.

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  12. Once again you lead a revolution... Truth.

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  13. Great piece, reminds me a lot of minimalism, in terms of defining what that means to you and living trust to your values. Thanks for sharing !

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  14. You were obviously lying back when you happily proclaimed that you'd keep all your frugal practices even if you had a lot of money- such as using cloth toilet paper. I knew that was nonsense. No one could be happy living like that.

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    1. First of all, theres a big difference between lying and being in denial about how hard things are. Secondly, of all my frugal practices, cloth toilet paper isnt one I stopped because I was miserable with it. I simply stopped because my husband was annoyed at the cloths in the laundry, and I found a bidet worked well even with toilet paper. But I still stand behind what I said then, wasn't lying. And I never said I'd keep all my frugal practices, just some.

      Delete
  15. You go, girl! You're on the right track! I'm a fan. Do you think Amy Dacyczyn of the Tightwad gazette was also in denial? I've wondered about that

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  17. Thank you for such a honest, raw, and emotional post. You may have been in denial about your living situation, but you were also trying super hard to challenge the status quo and find creative ways to increase your income. I don't know if you recall a blogger by the name of Emily who wrote about raising her family of 6 in a tiny apartment with a $1000 monthly budget. I think Emily may have also been in denial about her situation, but the difference between you and her is that you actively tried to improve your financial situation and really got in touch with your true feelings and desires. I think bloggers often feel pressured to maintain a certain image, but your post is a great reminder that bloggers are also real people with changing opinions and views. I love that you're letting people know that they can choose to be happy and content about a situation and still try to find ways to improve the situation. I have also expressed concerns about your kids in the past since I was worried about the effects of extreme poverty on their mental health, but it's obvious now that you're a great mom who tries hard to meet the needs of your growing kids. I hope the future holds great things for you and your family!

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  18. I think it's great you are coming clean, but I almost wonder if it makes sense to go through some of your older posts and edit them if you made comments that glorified things like dumpster diving and living in a tiny home since I think a lot of readers didn't believe it and saw past it and felt you weren't being genuine. Maybe even take down the entire 'Extreme Frugality' section with suggestions like not flushing a toilet unless there's a poop in it since it's not really honest and doesn't really reflect who you are. I think changing the tag line is a great idea.

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    Replies
    1. You assume that I don't still stand behind what I wrote there. I do still recommended those things and still do some extreme frugality stuff.

      Delete
  19. I really love how all the people who make these negative comments are too cowardly to use their name (or even *a* name)!

    Penny, I have long loved your blog and yours is one of the few where I eagerly look forward to each new post! This was a particularly excellent post, and I also do not think you have anything to apologize for. As we live we grow and change and aspire to new and different goals. With this blog, we readers have simply been privy to some of this natural evolution. All blogs change over time, and I don't think you were ever inauthentic or tried to present yourself as something you were not.

    I could go on, but suffice it to say that I love your blog and I don't care what you write about, as long as you keep writing!

    xxxxx :)

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  20. You did all you could to live your life the right way & I feel frugality is to use your money the best way for myself & forget what others think I also feel it should be to use it for fun & who cares what others think

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  21. Goodness, people are jerks (not you, some of the commentators here!)
    This post is very timely because I was just the other day reflecting how you are in a totally different place now. And that is an incredible feat, one to be proud of!
    Penny, you were not disingenuous or even lying to yourself. When in a situation, you do what needs to be done and moping or feeling bad for oneself never helps. You got yourself out of a financial pit and are slowly climbing upwards now. Of course things are sunnier above ground. Good for you!

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  22. Hi Penny,

    As a long time reader, I never felt like you were a fraud. You did the best you could do in the situation you were in and you tried to be happy about it. I'm really happy that you and Mike have some extra breathing room in your finances and I delight in you being able to purchase new furniture and things for the house. Being frugal doesn't mean you don't enjoy life - you taught me that.

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  23. Penny,
    You seem a bit ashamed of not being poor anymore. We are considered rich and we still do a lot of the very frugal things that you do. I save so we can help others around us and why would I be wasteful anyways? I think your frugal tips are valueable for everyone.

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  24. Dear Penny,
    Life can dish you lemons, but you made a beautiful lemonade out of it and taught us all wonderful things in the process. I applaud you for your efforts and achievements. I recommend your blog to all my friends. It is very inspiring. Eve.

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  25. I never needed to pinch pennies, but I've been reading since the beginning and I've always appreciated your frugal tips and learned from them, and implemented some because they were useful to any budget minded person. Its good that your situation has improved, and great if the blog helped you along in that path (financially and motivationally). You can be thankful that you no longer have to use all your tricks, while at the same time not being ashamed that you tried to be present yourself as happy with needing to use them at the time. Now you can use them by choice! You should look back with pride that you did what was necessary, and enjoy your increasing options as your income grows. I value frugality, and I don't agree that you were being false. Its ok to be happy that you don't need to live as frugally anymore, and to now admit that it was hard. Because you got through it and didn't add debt to your burdens. But of course it was hard! And having enough space is a great luxury. Best of luck.

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  26. This is a wonderful post. I have always followed your blog because it always seemed less about frugality and more about intentional living and spending. Comparatively speaking I would likely be one of your more affluent readers but yet I never felt I was excluded from your conversations. I never got the sense that you were glorifying your limited financial situation but rather were working very hard to create a glass half-full life.

    I am glad that your situation has eased. I will look forward to reading your new blog as well.

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  27. It seems wrong to say that you fooled yourself that you were happy. It is normal to carry on with life and look back and think "how did I ever live like that/ I would never want to go back there / I could never do this today/ this would be much too hard to do today / ...". It doesn't mean that you were unhappy - it just means that you have moved on, and that's a good thing. It happens in all areas of life, not just frugality.

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  28. And also, if you didn't have the money, what else were you supposed to do? Live a nice life and go and steal?? You were responsible and got yourself out of your poor situation.

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  29. Such a honest post penny.i loved it.have been reading your blog from more than last 4 years. Honestly i have been blessed with enough fianacial freedom but i loved reading your blog for motivation and a different view point in life.
    I am happy that your situation is improving, is nt it what we all want to be better than what we are? Just because someone is extremely frugal does not mean they cant enjoy simple pleasures of life when they can afford it.why should we want everyone to be always struck in that situation?
    Just wantee to say my husband always says that you cant have financial freedom by just being frugal ,you have to increase your income.as much as i feel its right ,i also feel that we all need to learn a little frugality as you can increase your expense as much you want and then your income will never be sufficient.
    So please dont feel bad ,its good your situatio is improving and even better that you know how to strech your dollar.
    Livleen

    ReplyDelete

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