All posts tagged minimalism

Is that purchase worth it? Consider the cost per use, a simple strategy to help you decide.

 

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Technology can be a pain in the ass. Smartphones, Game Consoles, DVRs, digital thermostats, talking cars, and home appliances. A lot of this technology is designed to improve our lives, give us more free time, maybe even help us save a little money.  Most of it falls short. In fact, when multiple technologies are combined, they can often have a negative impact on our time and quality of life. Multiply this by a family of four or more, and all this stuff can make you its bitch. Constantly beeping, demanding upgrades, presenting you with unrepairable failures, offering multiple support options, mostly paid ones, none of which actually solve your problem, and all of which require your time.

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Planned obsolescence has become a science, hurling consumers into a constant cycle of upgrades and repairs on items that didn’t even exist 10-15 years ago, taking time and attention away from more important matters. It in an affluent society we often just throw money at the problem, replacing the defective item with the new shiny model, while the old one often ends up in a landfill.

It’s possible to step off this treadmill, embrace simplicity or minimalism. I believe these are viable approaches that can change people’s lives. The problem most people have is that they been on this hedonic treadmill so long they are afraid to step off.  It’s the transition from having your life managed by stuff to a simpler path. That is the challenge for most people. I’ve been working to simplify my life for over three years: writing about it, working on it, giving stuff away, but still have a long way to go. Some progress is forward progress, and that’s what I’m focused on.

Something I found that has worked is evaluating any purchase, item you want to replace, or something you’re having trouble parting with, on a cost per use basis. Here’s how it works. Cost Per Use is the price of something divided by the approximate number of times you use it over the life of that item. So something you use many times per day may be a better investment than something inexpensive you use infrequently. Based on this formula, my iPhone is one of the least expensive things I own, and after I finish with it, I’ll give it to a family member, lowering the cost of use even further. As an added benefit, my iPhone replaced about 20 other items helping me lighten the load getting rid of everything from music CDs to handheld GPS units.

Some other cost per use examples

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It’s best to start with the big stuff, so let’s start with automobiles. If you buy or lease a new SUV every three years you’re absorbing all of the depreciation and increasing your cost per use of that vehicle substantially. That vehicle loses most of its value in the first three years. If you buy a larger vehicle your cost per use is also higher based on gas and operating expenses.  To lower the cost per use, it would make sense to buy your next car like it’s your last. Purchase one high quality, fuel-efficient vehicle and keep it for at least 10 years. You can lower your cost per use even further if you know exactly the vehicle you’re looking for and can purchase a low mileage version just coming off lease, and keep that vehicle. Once those car payments end, you’ll find the maintenance costs required to keep the car in excellent running condition are a lot easier to swallow. I’ve also found that keeping a car in excellent condition, including the occasional carwash or detailing, makes me less apt to even think about replacing it.

Clothing can be phenomenally expensive when evaluated with cost per use.  It’s best to look at clothing as a wardrobe rather than trying to think about cost per use of individual items. Simple and classic items that go with everything and are very well made can really bring your CPU down. Steve Jobs was famously known for wearing the same thing every day, a black shirt and blue jeans. You can bet his cost per use on those turtlenecks was pretty low. The real savings here is time. If you limit your wardrobe extensively to a few types of high quality items think of all the time you save each day deciding what to wear. One of the things I’ve tried to focus on in redoing my wardrobe is not replacing things I get rid of, and working on wearing stuff out. At least as long as my wife Kelly will allow me to be seen in it!  The best way to do this is when you do purchase a new item, think about something of such high quality that it would last at least 10 years, stay in style, and replace at least five other items. When you compare it to running out to a big box store to buy crap, you’ll find that your overall cost per use goes way down, especially on items like shoes and jackets.

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When it comes to clothes, you often hear people say, “Well, I need a wardrobe for work.” With casual work environments and more people working from home  it’s easier to assemble a minimalist wardrobe than ever before. Courtney Carver assembled an entire wardrobe out of 33 items.  I think men have it even easier, less pieces, parts and accessories. Unfortunately, we tend to have expanding waistlines so there’s some additional benefits to staying in good enough shape to keep the same pair of Levi’s for a decade.

If you apply the cost per use formula to lots of things you’ll find you don’t have to give up much. I have a desk loaded with technology but both of my computers are now over 7 years old.  Using cloud-based software, faster Wi-Fi connections, and a few memory, and hard drive upgrades have kept them running like new.  I use them every day.

Next time you’re evaluating a new purchase, whether it’s a hoodie, a power tool, or even a new car, here are a few tips to maximize your cost per use.

  1. Avoid bells and whistles. This really applies to everything from small appliances to automobiles. Think of it this way, you can buy a product loaded with add-ons and high-tech features, sometimes for less than a simpler high-quality item. The more technology that’s loaded into any automobile or talking appliance with digital touchscreens, the more potential it has for failure. Evaluate the product on its ability to do what it was designed to do like wash clothing, vacuum the carpet, efficiently get you to your destination.
  2. Buy quality. It helps to look at online reviews on sites like Amazon. I always look at the average then remove one star, as people (including me) often overrate products they purchase to make themselves look smart!  Consider five-star reviews to be four-star reviews etc. Make sure there are enough reviews for a representative sample and average. On Amazon that’s like 100+ reviews.
  3. Do your research and wait at least one additional day before you make any big purchase. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought about purchasing something, going through the motions but then just skipped it, as I realized I didn’t really need it. Researching something helps me delay purchases.  For instance, I might research the new hot camera but realize my current camera is just fine.
  4. Are you replacing something that’s needed or just buying something because it’s on sale. I always ask my wife Kelly to go shopping in our closet first. There’s a very good chance there’s going to be a very nice pair of black shoes in there.  
  5. Wear stuff out. Make sure whenever you’re buying something you’re replacing something that you’ve worn out. 20 years from now when you look back on all the great steaks you cooked on that grill you’ll know it’s done its job. It can be pretty tempting to go out and buy a shiny new one but if you get it right the first time you won’t even have to think about it.

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A Short Guide to Lean Investing.

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By Brad Beckstrom

Have things gotten too complex?

Today we have more savings and investment options than ever before. Online tools and investment options that give us access to over 10,000 mutual funds and exchange traded funds, with another 40,000+ publicly traded stocks worldwide. Most of these investments are accessible without setting foot in a brokerage firm or bank. Online banking, trading, and mutual fund supermarkets give us access to sophisticated investment tools available only to professionals just a decade ago.

Yet, despite so many options, the US personal savings rate is hovering between 5% and 6% and has been in steady decline since the 50s. The retirement savings picture is even worse, one in three American adults has zero saved for retirement and 62% have less than $1000 saved. Many Americans like to blame the government for this predicament but in fact many countries with significantly higher taxes have savings rates that are 2 to 3 times ours.  On top of our tax advantages, we have a wide selection of pre-tax and post-tax savings options many other countries don’t have, including 401(k)s, IRAs, SEPs, Roth IRAs, Health Savings Accounts, 529 college savings plans, and about 10 more with various combinations of numbers and acronyms in the name. All of them are underutilized by any standard of measurement.

Part of the problem is complexity. We’ve made it easier to go out and get a loan for a new SUV or a 5,000 square foot house than to start saving or put that money away for retirement.  We’ve been incentivizing people to take out student loan debt instead of starting college savings accounts.

To solve the complexity problem we need to make it easier to save and invest. We need to create a simpler path to wealth through regular and efficient investing. I like to call this Lean Investing. Read more…

Living behind the cutting-edge.

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By Brad Beckstrom

There were 38 different types of cables and chargers in the box. Some of them were probably over 20 years old. Things like monster cables for stereo equipment, firewires from old hard drives, various USB cables and splitters, ethernet cables and about 10 different AC adapters from games, various peripherals, and crap from former cable providers. For the last several years, I’ve been at war with stuff, investing some time to simplify my life. I’ve recently kicked this into high gear. Kelly and I are playing the minimalist game. We will be giving away nearly 1000 things this month alone. I’m constantly amazed at how much crap a family of four can accumulate over the years. Sadly, some of that stuff ends up in a landfill, benefiting no one.

I’ll avoid these mistakes again. The best way to do this is by not replacing the things that we get rid of. I’ll take a hard look cheap products that are built to be discounted then discarded. I’ll skip the next upgrade cycle on my mobile phone and my computer.

Why can’t more things work like our blender or the microwave? We’ve had both since 1996. Over the years we’ve been tempted to replace them with newer versions but we stuck with them, even repairing the blender once. It’s funny, we probably use these two appliances more than any of the things that have become obsolete. So, my theory now is, if it’s not being used regularly we can probably get rid of it and not replace it.

First world problems Read more…

Working Lean – 8 things I do to make work fly and enjoy life.

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By Brad Beckstrom

It’s going to be 75° today. The sun is already blasting in my office window at 7:30 AM. When I’m working at home, it can be hard to focus, especially if there’s someplace I’d rather be, like out on my bike. We all have work to do, but it’s hard to get stuff done if you’re not enjoying what you’re doing. This is even harder if someone else is dictating your schedule, meetings, conference calls, commutes etc.

There are a few things that I do daily to make work more enjoyable. Since they’ve become habits, they take very little effort but are a crucial part of getting stuff done.

Work in zones.

I divide my day into three zones: prime time (for me, mornings), the dead zone 3PM to 6PM and home (evenings). I like to get the tough stuff out of the way in prime time. I like to schedule one big task during prime time. The best tool I’ve found for this is a free product called Momentumdash. Once installed it presents you with a beautiful image, and reminds you of your focus each time you open a new tab on your browser.  I also plan for the dead zone each day, scheduling the easy stuff, or a workout, during my least productive times.

Don’t work off big to do lists.

I treat to do list apps as a catch-all for any necessary task that takes over a few minutes. If you stay focused on the big stuff, sometimes you find a little items on this list fall away.  At the end of each day I’ll take some time to plan the following day, pulling some of the most important tasks off the big catch-all list and writing them down in my notebook. I put the heavy-duty stuff in prime time. The act of pulling tasks off an overflowing digital list and writing it down in a notebook, gives you a more realistic feel for what can get done in a day.

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Throw a tomato at it. Read more…

Living Lean, a 30 Day Giving Challenge.

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By Brad Beckstrom

Many of us forget how much stuff we have lying around, countless drawers, boxes and storage bins, full of unused things. Three years ago I declared war on stuff.  I pictured myself and my family living a simpler, leaner lifestyle.  We’ve been at it ever since, filling up a large box of stuff nearly every month, then like clockwork scheduling a pick-up with Purple Heart.  I keep one large box in the basement and another upstairs so there is never an excuse not to give something away.  You might be thinking, a large box every month for three years, he must’ve been some sort of hoarder.  Sadly no, most people who know me would tell you I’m organized. I guess I’d become pretty good at organizing all the stuff that a family of four accumulates living in the same house for 18 years. I was spending time researching, buying, organizing, cleaning, repairing, storing, and disposing of stuff. It was straight up batshit crazy.

Enter The Minimalists

We’ve made progress controlling our spending on stuff, but sometimes I feel like we’re running in place. Stuff in, Stuff out. This spring it’s time to jump start this process. To do this, I went back to the source, the Minimalists. I met Joshua and Ryan 3 years ago in Fargo, ND. They gave an inspired talk about Minimalism that’s now become a movement and a movie coming out this spring. The most popular essay on their blog is the 30 Day Minimalism Game.

Here’s how it works. Read more…