Autumn Colours

Relax by looking out of the window and enjoy the autumn colours of the beautiful trees in Finland. The photos are views from my windows/balcony. My apartment is located less than 30 minutes away from the city centre of the capital Helsinki. I’m glad that there are some trees and bushes outside the house, not only asphalt and concrete.

Ruska1

 

By taking a walk in the woods and looking at these colours can be a way to de-stress yourself. It’s an activity worth to give a try, get exercise and fresh air at the same time. This kind of hobby doesn’t require any expensive equipment. Sometimes it’s better to go out for a walk alone, at other times a conversation with a friend during a walk in the forest is a good way to calm down.

 

Ruska2
The view from my balcony one October evening.

Advantages of Meal Prepping

You can benefit from meal planning in several ways. The most obvious points, and probably the most important ones as well, are related to the money spent each month on groceries, cooking healthy and nutritious meals, and managing the time spent in the kitchen efficiently to avoid stress in the evenings after work.

  1. Money

When you do grocery shopping, save the receipts. At the end of every month I take my receipts and enter them into a spreadsheet (someone might now say there are apps for this). But by looking at each receipt I remind myself of what I have bought during the month. In the beginning I entered the receipts daily or weekly, because then it was possible to take corrective action in time, if I was spending too much money at some point. Now I know that by doing the grocery shopping in accordance with the current routines, the amount spent at the end of the month will be what I budgeted and expected. Having lots of receipts means more work, so every time I want to buy something my first thought is “is this something I need or is it just a feeling that I want it”. If I have overspent, I know whom to blame (only myself). By analyzing the contents of the receipts I can come up with new ideas – i.e. areas of improvement.

Save your receipts when you go grocery shopping
Save your receipts when you go grocery shopping.

budget pic meal
Enter the amounts of the receipts into a spreadsheet. It doesn’t take more than  a few minutes of your time. 

 

So how much is the grocery budget? I know I spend 400 euros on groceries every month (including soap, toilet paper etc.). The budget includes 3 persons, one adult and two kids. Before this book-keeping system I could just guess, and my estimate wasn’t very accurate and truthful. It could be possible to spend less on groceries, but I want to make sure I eat healthy food. Saving too much on groceries can end up in higher medical bills and health issues..

 

  1. Health

By doing meal prep you know what you eat. If you are on a special diet, it’s even more important to know the ingredients used. Snacks can also be prepared and they can consist of carrots instead of chocolate bars (yes, the taste is not the same, but one gets used to things after a while).

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  1. Time

If you are busy during the weeks, do meal prep e.g. on a Sunday when you know you have enough time. Do grocery shopping when you are not tired, busy or hungry. Instead of standing in front of the stove on Monday evening there are plenty of other activities you can do – why not go to the gym or out for a walk to exercise before having a homemade healthy meal that’s waiting in the fridge?

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Prepare meals when you have enough time to plan and cook.
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Food containers are easy to store in the fridge.

The Benefits of Self-Discipline and Frugality

Get things done efficiently. Distinguish between “want” and “need”. Self-discipline is important when making changes and reaching goals.

When I started studying again, like a poor university student, but as an adult with a family, I had to rethink how I was going to organize my life. At first it seemed like a loss, I had to give up on traveling, shopping and sell my car and my apartment with a view at the sea. All of this I would have been able to afford by continuing my 8-16 job, but I had a vision that there were more important things to experience in life. In 2014 I started a journey that I thought would just end up with a new education and another type of job, but oh was I wrong. And the funny thing about this is that I have never missed any of this expensive stuff.

Experiencing stress with my studies and upcoming exams I started doing what I had done before as a young student – cleaning! During my previous studies I remembered that my apartment had never been as clean as before an exam. I remembered cleaning the fridge several times – an activity I regularly never do. But this time, as an adult, the cleaning went further. Not being very familiar with any of the modern decluttering and cleaning methods, I just started somewhere. Little by little, shelf by shelf and closet by closet I gave away and got rid of a lot of stuff. At some point I tried to count how many bags of stuff had already been removed, but there still seemed to be quite a lot of things left. At the same time I sold some of the bigger items, like furniture. But it would take me two years to finish this project – and I thought I didn’t own much stuff! I used to consider myself a minimalist! No way.

It was not until I had got rid of most of my stuff that I started to realize what is important in my life and which issues were still to be solved. I had been familiar with the out-of-the-box thinking concept from before, but this time it was crucial to be able to think out of all the boxes available and figure out new boxes if needed! The most important insights were related to seeing things as something I “want” or something I really “need”. As my grandmother grew older and got ill I thought of her style of living and was wondering if we really need all the gadgets we spend so much money on in today’s world. She was able to live on a small income and still be happy.

It was a year during my studies when I was working really hard. Then I decided to have a long summer break, maybe three months. I had no plans at all. Mostly I went jogging, to the gym and to do some yoga (even though I hate it). After a while I was wondering how it was possible to feel so good. I mean I was physically in very good shape (and I still am) and the main objective of the day was to do more sports. A year later I realized this is the feeling I want back! It seemed impossible to achieve it, but I didn’t give up. This was my number one goal. My goal number two was to be able to have three months off in the summer if I wanted. Is this impossible? No.

And there seems to be a problem in common for many people – and that’s discipline. Yes, to plan something, think how it should be done and start doing so. If the action taken doesn’t take you to the goal you wanted, you have to change your way of acting, until you reach your goal. But this doesn’t happen overnight. Ever. You have to have patience, take small steps and work your way through the obstacles you face on the way to your goal. I can hardly think of anyone winning an international sports contest without having practiced with great discipline for a long time…

Another thing is this about socially acceptable norms and the daily habits we have. In my country everyone is supposed to eat porridge every day – especially in the morning. There doesn’t seem to be any other acceptable ways of having breakfast. Why? Who has come up with these norms that should be followed? Yes, there are certain laws and rules and it is not very friendly to disturb anyone, but except from this, who says how we have to live our lives? We, ourselves…? Yes. One can actually survive without porridge, believe it or not!

The result of decluttering, cleaning, thinking, rethinking, analyzing, changing and improving my daily living ended up in too much empty space in my apartment (which I thought in the beginning was quite tiny…) and I was able to study extremely efficiently in a decluttered environment (during one year more than doubled the usual number of credit points from university) and still had time to go to the gym, go out for walks, work with interesting projects etc. etc. Now I got really interested in all this, hearing so many people talking and complaining about their busy lives where they get nothing done.  If you stay in the rat race it never feels like you have obtained everything you want. The neighbour will always have a nicer car. Someone will always wear more expensive clothes. Your cousin will have a bigger TV than you. So what!! The rat race seems to increase the feeling of “wanting” lots of things. In the end, if you think of everything you have bought, for how long did it make you happy? Did you have to compensate the feeling of not having anything new in a while with buying something again? And for how long did that purchase make you happy? Let me guess… Not for quite long. It is though difficult in a social situation to explain that you are not in to these modern things. Everyone understands if you say you “need a bigger TV”. But what if you say you got rid of your TV? Not many people will understand, because they like to be lazy on their couches in the evening watching TV. I have chosen to do something else. I go to the gym or do meal prep. I have chosen a frugal lifestyle. Everybody should choose what’s best for them. But if you choose the TV, don’t complain about getting nothing done!

One of my last study projects was to finish the master’s thesis for my university studies in technology. My sprained ankle was the beginning of the icing on the cake for what had started as a cleaning project. This last project I started was about Lean. A model invented in the car manufacturing business simply saying: do what creates value, and get rid of waste! Change your mindset and be ready for continuous improvement! How easy does that sound? Studying the topic in more detail I found out that many had failed. Why? Because they were not able to relate how to apply the car manufacturer’s advice in their own case and they were just doing part of the improvements every now and then. Discipline is needed. Don’t give up when an obstacle comes in your way. Try again until you come up with a solution!

What kind of goals do you have in life? Have you ever written them down? How much effort have you really put on achieving your goals? Do you enjoy all the stuff you buy and waste money on? Could happiness come from something else, that’s not related to money? Has the way of working been disciplined? I think that by considering these simple questions and start working with self-discipline, lots of things can be changed, in small steps, by changing daily habits and working with the problems and obstacles that seem to stand in the way of achieving what you want to do.

Decluttering the Bathroom

Perhaps the most obvious areas that are easily cluttered every day are the kitchen counter tops and the living room. If you have kids, their toys and drawings may need your attention as well. If you want to do decluttering but don’t know where to start, or the work seems overwhelming, consider other areas than the most obvious ones. One of them is the bathroom:

How many types of different toothpastes do you need? Why do so many women use make-up? Can the whole family use just one type of shampoo? Have you ever thought about how much the different bottles and cosmetic jars cost? Are they really necessary?

Here is an example of what a decluttered toilet cabinet looks like. It’s easy and fast to clean both inside and outside. With one glance you know where everything is placed.

Peilikaappi kiinni

 

Peilikaappi auki

 

And a shower for a minimalist family:

Suihku

 

Suihkun purnukat

My bathroom is tiny (2 meters x 1.45 meters or 6.6 ft x 4.8 ft), but there is enough space for everything: a toilet seat, sink, shower and washing machine. And this is the only bathroom our family has!

Is This your Handbag?

Kasilaukku2

That’s a question I hear regularly. Yes. It’s my decluttered handbag.

Size: 20 cm x 10 cm (8 inches x 4 inches).

A small (if not minimalist) wallet is enough for me, it fits a couple of cards (debit/credit card, driver’s license, ID). I used to have a bigger wallet but then decided to get rid of some of the cards I seldom use.

I have a small physical pocket calendar. The logic behind it is that if my meetings and appointments don’t fit into the small space, I have too much to do. The paper planner doesn’t beep and send any reminders, but then again, it doesn’t need to. I take a look at my schedule the night before and again next morning and that’s it. I have thought about using an electronic one, but so far the paper calendar seems easier. I don’t need to worry about running out of batteries or receiving some error messages while trying to enter events into a digital calendar.

Financial Independence and Early Retirement – Another Point of View

Is your goal to reach financial independence and be able to retire early – or even extremely early? This blog is not about saving money and investing it in dividend paying index funds, because there are certainly better blogs already about this topic.

Instead I would like to introduce another point of view. It might sound like a difficult project to get enough money saved and invested in some funds which pay enough dividends that you will be able to live on. And if you haven’t tried what it means not going to work every day you might be trying to reach the wrong goal. Not going to work may sound like an easy life, but sooner or later you realize that most people you know are working hard all day long and you don’t have a social life sitting home alone. Either you like to sleep and read books all day long by yourself or have a very time consuming hobby that takes most of your time – otherwise you might get bored very quickly.

Take a longer time off from work (not during summer or any other holiday season) to find out if it is the right choice for you. Or start thinking about semi-retirement, where you have a part-time job (e.g. two days a week) but still enough time to do whatever you want. It does not take years or decades of extreme money saving or an extremely frugal lifestyle to be able to be semi-retired or to take mini-retirements or several sabbaticals.

Turning Adversity into Opportunity

Did you get fired? How can it be possible to see this setback as a possibility to achieve something better? During my career so far I have been fired three times, of which two times were during the same pregnancy. It was a chock back then. And very stressful. Perhaps the worst thing was to get fired for the first time. It was embarrassing to tell people I didn’t have a job, and the reason for that was that I got fired. I didn’t quit, no, they kicked me out. It’s easy to start blaming oneself, being afraid to say or do anything if you get a new job, because you start feeling that it might be another risk that’s again causing you to get fired.

What should I say at an interview when they ask me what the reason is why I’m not working at the previous company? Will no one want to hire me if I tell them I got fired? And then it’s the concern about money. How to get enough money during the unemployment to pay my bills? What if my next job sometime in the future isn’t offering a good salary?

How to turn unemployment into an opportunity? When you DO have a job, don’t spend every cent each month, instead start saving immediately. Live your normal life with a smaller budget than you would have to. If you get fired, you can continue your life by using your savings, take advantage of the time to attend courses, do sports or whatever to feel better and develop your skills and improve your health.

It was a great chance to see that living on a smaller budget actually made me happier and the periods of unemployment brought opportunities I otherwise would have missed. I understood that the key to everything was to have enough money saved to survive for, let’s say, 6 months because in that time it’s likely that I have a job again. When I got a job and an income I immediately started saving again. This way I don’t need to be afraid of getting fired. And if I do get fired, I know it’s an opportunity for me to spend time learning new skills, to travel or do whatever I want.

It’s possible to extend this concept to get out of the rat race. You don’t need to save millions, invest the money and strive for extremely early retirement. To probably most people it sounds like an almost impossible plan. If you live with a smaller budget and are able to save money, there are so many opportunities out there waiting to be explored! You can choose to take fixed-term projects and save some of the money, then have 6 months off and start your next project! Just gotten out of that rat race! Call it a mini-retirement or whatever. Take several mini-retirements regularly! You’ll have more energy for work and be able to do things you really want, like travelling, sports, carpentry, and gardening or just be there when your kids come home from school. To do this, it is of great advantage to have an accurate enough understanding of your expenses.

Lompsa ja laskin

You can adjust this philosophy to your own situation. How about working for a year and saving more than half of your income and have a year off…? Then do the same thing again. The most difficult part is probably the downsizing, giving up stuff and getting rid of expensive habits. It’s about making choices. Without getting fired I would never have seen this kind of life as a realistic possibility. But this is how I managed to study full-time and complete a degree. It’s possible.

How to Roll up a Futon Alone

Futon mattresses are usually heavy and difficult to move alone. In this example I’ve used a futon that’s 140*200 cm. Here’s how you can roll up your futon alone:

(1) Buy two cargo straps and place them next to your futon where you can reach them when you’ve finished rolling up the futon.

1 Strap

2 Strap

(2) Fold the mattress once.

3 Fold

(3) Start rolling the futon. Use your knee to prevent the futon from unfolding.

4 Roll

(4) Place the cargo straps around the futon.

5 Place straps

(5) Ready.

6 Rolled ready.jpeg

(6) Now you can move the futon alone, by carrying it from the cargo straps.

7 Carry alone

Merino Wool Clothes – Less Laundry

One of the most time consuming household tasks, at least in a family with kids, is doing the laundry. It not only takes time, but it also requires water and energy. As I have been experimenting on how to save time (and money) by reducing the number of tasks or improving processes related to activities that don’t make me happier (and I don’t love doing the laundry!!), I came to a conclusion regarding the laundry.

A couple of months ago I bought my first shirt made out of merino wool. The merino shirt has been a success!  My skin is quite sensitive and I can’t normally use clothes made out of wool. But the merino products are not itchy! At first it was difficult to believe that the shirt doesn’t smell after sweating and I was really doubtful about the usefulness of the product. If I use the merino shirt daily, during normal activities (not sports) I can wear it for a week before it needs to be washed! I sweat quite a lot during the day and the shirt really keeps what it promises.

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Merino wool is odour-free, machine washable and it most certainly reduces the laundry pile. There is quite a variety of different merino products on the market: socks, pants, underwear, dresses and blankets. It is not only time saving, but when using the washing machine less I am also able to save water and energy. It’s really an ecological product. My next idea is to form a small capsule wardrobe consisting of only a couple of merino items….

Merino clothing could also be useful for those who are travelling and are thinking of ways to manage with a smaller suitcase or backpack. I can’t think of any reasons why merino clothing couldn’t serve as a pajamas as well.

Ps. If you buy any merino products, make sure they are mulesing-free.

The procedure called mulesing means that skin is removed from the area of the buttocks of the sheep in order to prevent fly strike, i.e. keep the sheep free from insects. It’s a cruel procedure for the sheep. There are other ways to keep the sheep safe from insects. Please consider this aspect and buy only non-mulesed wool!

5 Steps to Save Money & Time

By doing some fairly easy changes you can start improving your financial situation and time-management skills immediately.

  1. Make a list of your income and ALL your expenses. Do not estimate! Be honest to yourself and look up your invoices and receipts. Next time you buy something, save the receipt. All you need is a pen and a piece of paper to keep track of your expenses! When looking at your receipts you might be surprised how much money you spend on certain things. I spend too much money on dry-cured ham… The next step is to find sources of improvement and forget attitudes like “I cannot live without newest iPad”. How much are you able to save every month?
  2. Do KonMari type of organization and cleaning until you only own the items you really need. After finishing this process your weekly cleaning does not take very long. For me it takes less than 30 minutes and the reason is mainly that I don’t need to declutter before I start the actual cleaning. After getting rid of unnecessary stuff you can start looking for a smaller and less expensive apartment.
  3. Create your own frugal food budget! Plan your groceries by having a detailed list for each week, and as boring as it sounds, you only buy those things mentioned on the list. Then you have a budget, you don’t need to spend too much time in the supermarket and you can cook in advance, take meals to work and save time in the evenings by not spending hours in the kitchen every day.
  4. Only have a couple of sets of clothing, colours that fit together. The same advice applies to shoes and purses…
  5. No impulse buying! Analyze if you have any other expensive or time-consuming bad habits. Don’t be lazy!