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Continuing my New Years Resolutions Rant, this is the time of year when all good little materialist consumer-conformists go marking down long lists of sacrifice and self-deprivation Shoulds as annual Resolutions, traditionally broken within January if not before January even has a double-digit date. Thus allowing "All or Nothing" thinking to allow them to overeat, overspend, oversmoke, overdrink and overconsume everything all year because they're losers anyway and couldn't keep their impossible list of New Years Resolutions.

No kidding, that's what it's about.

But thanks to the economy a lot of people who still have jobs and incomes will be looking at their debts and their incomes and feeling guilty over having ruined their lives. This is because a fair number of them are actually doing so, and making up for having no peace, no free time, no sanity or decent working conditions by spending what comes in as fast as they can including whatever they can borrow on Big Plastic. Then paying it off several times over on terms that would make Shakespeare's Shylock flinch before going bankrupt.

Bad news and it's the same binge and bust cycle psychologically as dieting, binging and winding up ever fatter as the diets teach your body that you're going to starve, so ought to hoard as much fat as possible against the inevitable newest fad diet.

There is a very simple rule for dealing with credit cards that hardly anyone sticks to -- it's to use them only for things you can afford and already have the money for, then pay it off completely when it comes in. IE don't buy anything big on time. Save up for it and when you have got the $1000 or whatever, THEN get it, pay the bill immediately and collect your frequent flier miles or special discounts and other temptations.

This is stealing the bait from the trap, and it is dangerous in the extreme. Because people who do it aren't counting on the kids getting a bad flu all at once and they all needed to see the doctor. Or that the car broke down and needed a new transmission. Whammo, something that could not be controlled or helped just stabbed the budget in the back but that big screen HDTV is already in the living room... and it is not paid off.

So don't try it unless you have already got reserves to cover any reasonable contingency that comes up. Consider the money that was spent on it already spent -- even IN emergencies, treat it as gone, treat all credit cards as debit cards.

So there is one thing you can do, a simple and drastic resolution -- Treat All Credit Cards As If They Were Debit Cards.

Now's the kicker.

There is an equally simple equation for real thrift and frugality that has nothing to do with deprivation. It has everything to do with Reality versus Perceived Deprivation.

Ignore what possessions anyone else has. No one but you knows if you have a giant screen television or not.

On top of that, sit back and think. Do you genuinely respect people who have more money than you do? Is that something that you look at to judge whether someone has character or not? Aren't they being just a bit petty and phony if they went into debt just to appear wealthier than they really are? Is that who you want to be?

If it is, then work on your scamming ability and steal enough money to keep up with the fraud. I have no advice for expert scammers and frauds because they usually learn fast anyway and most of them have a much closer connection with reality than the type of social frauds I'm writing about. Thieves know they're thieves and groove on pulling one over on everyone else -- that means they have to know it's fraud and think of doing fraud as cool to enjoy it.

Don't buy anything you don't need or want.

That's the simple old fashioned idea behind thrift.

This gets turned into the Puritanical "don't buy anything you don't need" which then promptly ignores most real needs in favor of social expectations that are in some cases real needs, but often get prioritized way ahead of, oh, survival needs like housing or food or medical care. It's absolutely horrible to say "and want."

Because if you want something, you do, and you may even be willing to sacrifice something less important to get it. This is the budgeting process for a sane person that comes after all the necessities get paid for -- housing, utilities, food, work expenses.

You're either going to eat out twice a week or go to the movies. You're either going to get a big screen TV at home or go out to the movies a lot. You're either going to purchase a computer game or a new iPod or a great lot of music. You're choosing among pleasures and luxuries that way.

And if you happen to get an iPod that isn't the latest-newest (which it will only be for a week anyway and you're better off refurbed electronics, refurbishers are VERY careful and compete seriously for quality with Untested New products), then maybe you can get some discount music and a used game and lo, wow, you got all three but cheaper.

So don't pay retail. Don't go to the snob-stores where you namedrop where you bought it for twice retail because of its location, go online and pay less by mail order, wait several more days to get it because it was shipped and put the rest in savings.

There's a frugality habit that has loaded me with an art studio many professional artists salivate at, and gives me the happy freedom to bounce between mediums anytime I feel like it with every color I really use a lot at hand -- and oddly, very few regrets or bad purchases. I usually just give those away to someone who likes it more if it happens, I got it cheap anyway and it does me some good by helping out a friend.

Don't throw away anything that's still good.

"Eeek but I'll turn into the kind of pack rat that has no room to move in my apartment, you can't mean that?"

I do mean it. Don't throw it away. Sell it on eBay or give it to someone, rework it and use it yourself, bump it down to the kids, donate it to a charity. Don't throw out things that are still useful or recyclable, take responsibility for your stuff.

Don't keep anything that you don't like, need or want.

See? Now you're not a pack rat and you've got some elbow-room money coming in because getting rid of it on eBay gets you side money and getting rid of it to charity gets you tax relief.

Unlike most of the All or Nothing resolutions, getting rid of everything you don't like, need or want in your life is something that can be accomplished in a massive blazing concentrated effort -- you can plan it for spring cleaning and really clear the decks for having a life, get some floor space back, get rid of the books you don't like at the used bookstore and get some decent new reading matter for the trade-in.

Take the time to do those things and lo, the results start to turn into luxury.

Because you did get the book you always wanted, found it on one of these trips. You did have a bit of ebay money to set aside in the bank and that tonsillectomy didn't ruin your life. You got the big screen television six months later, refurbished, at a quarter the price... and wow, if why you wanted it was that you're a sports fan and love seeing the action that huge it is just that satisfying next year and onward.

Things like that can have some long term pleasure if you choose them well. Refurbished electronics especially. I love my laptop. I wear out laptops from how much I live online, so every time I do pound one into insensibility I look forward to a serious upgrade and a new one that'll run faster, do more, make my favorite old game run superfast and fun and store more images and cool things.

I just don't like getting them new because the one that was top of the line six months ago and got refurbished is now going to be a trooper and do me good for some years before I have to upgrade again.

I'd like to have two of them again. It was nice having two computers for a while, it meant that I could write and be on the Internet at the same time with two full screens. Or I could write and have a game like Diablo going on the other screen and not have to wait for the computer to respond and shrink the screen if I just paused thinking of the next sentence. I use computer games like I do Solitaire -- for rumination -- so it was actually practical. Not to mention of course that if the older one did get pounded into insensibility, the other would still be functional while I scramble to replace or repair current laptop.

It's a need for me to have an actual laptop -- hand size, ergonomics really makes a difference on that. It's a luxury for the thing to have a battery. It's a luxury for it to run my favorite games. I know the difference and enjoy the luxury.

Thrift is not about giving up luxury.

It's deciding which ones you genuinely enjoy enough to put in the effort to get them and then thoroughly enjoy, get your money's worth out of it. I don't regret my laptop-murdering ways, seriously, I've also pounded out over 50 novels abusing these machines and that's where my keyboards get to where they don't work and the letters wear off and the moving parts wear down to nothing and it suffers and dies a good death as befits a noble machine.

Heh, maybe they'd last longer if I was running two of them in tandem.

So maybe start off your budget plan with a list of everything you want and figure out ways to get it without borrowing from MasterVisa at rates that Guido da Shark would respect.

Figure out what your habits and wants really are, while ignoring any televised ad-defined consumerist "wants" because a lot of those things are not practical. They are for other people who like them but if they don't really please you, what IS the point? I don't like watching television often and when I do, I like a small screen. I like a movie to be up occupying only part of a screen with several windows, or sitting on my widescreen laptop with a project in my hands while I'm showing Sascha how to draw something.

Thus, no matter how Kewl a 48" widescreen flat high definition TV is, it wouldn't be for me. I would not be comfortable watching it, I would have to sit farther away than the living room allows and I'd have to go out in the living room without all my stuff in reach in order to watch, sitting somewhere harder to Do Things unless I carry a whole bunch of things out there with me like art supplies etc.

On the other hand, a torchiere lamp out in the living room that'd let me draw while watching movies on the television we have would be rather nice. Or even just another lamp out on the table, which I carried out there the last time I went in to watch a movie. I got it free at a sort of "free yard sale" giveaway and it's a nice lamp, it looks cool. It's a style I personally like, swirling S-curves of iron lace on the base that remind me of the fences in New Orleans around Jackson Park and the St. Louis cathedral and most of the nice Quarter or Marigny houses. So that's a personal luxury, that iron lace lamp.

It's no less cool to me because I got it free than if I went and spent what, $80 to $150 for it in some store that sells nice lamps and probably has them that style.

If all you do to help your budget in 2009 is ignore the Big Lies and buy only what you genuinely need and want and can afford, whoa, you'll wind up saving yourself. Without deprivation.

So reward yourself. When you do save, when you turn aside from crap you don't want and don't need -- give yourself something off your wants list that's in easy reach. Get a little kick out of the bargain hunting.

Particularly good bargains -- things that keep, things that are still good years later. Sometimes they cost more than the cheapest versions but come out cost effective because you don't replace it over and over. Owning favorite books and movies are entertainment bargains, you can enjoy them again and again. Tools are good bargains, oh yes, because you can always make something new to you with them and sometimes even get rid of some trash by using recycled materials.

What you make for yourself is higher quality because you cared about how it came out. You're not doing this in a factory trying to keep up with the clock and trying to keep your head down. You're connected with the consequences of goofing it up because you'd live with the flaw. Have you noticed lately that most of the stuff you buy in stores is routinely defective? That clothes made in factories have errors in them you would not make if you constructed it carefully for yourself?

I look at expensive shirts, jeans, jackets and see these errors and get shocked that they don't get sold as seconds -- but the standards have been sliding for a long time. Same with furnishings and a lot of things. How often do you need to return something because an important part wasn't in the package or it was damaged at the factory?

It's not about "consumption." You don't exist just to consume. You're real, a person who does real things and uses the things that make sense to you and give you pleasure or fill real needs. And a need for something enjoyable to do during the time you get to structure for yourself, a need for goals and sustained effort to reach them -- that's human, it's a real need that gets trampled to nothing by Consumerism.

Can you take any real pride in being passive, in just doing what you're told and then going out and buying what you were told to buy? Then sitting there being entertained at by other people who get to have fun playing games or singing songs or dancing or reading their parts in plays?

Could you have more fun if you pick up a secondhand Compleat Shakespeare in a used bookstore or at a library sale, and get together with other Shakespeare-loving friends and read it -- and get to BE Hamlet when it's your turn to do Hamlet? Come on, is it more fun watching that on the tube or getting to declaim the Soliloquy? Or if that's not your taste, why not George Carlin's routines? Or making up your own comedy?

Somehow in the past in school it got drummed into so many people that they weren't Good Enough to do these things -- the things that humans have always entertained ourselves with, telling stories or dancing or singing or painting. That all you can do is work and overwork to pay for buying stuff and then sit there and be sung at and told what to do.

It's okay to have real likes.

It's okay if they're not the same as everyone else's. If you hate a popular singer or don't like a particular color or a particular product. It's okay if you're not thrilled with this or that, or never had the desire to own a fancy Bowflex. Or if you hate going out in the woods and always wanted a fancy Bowflex, a subscription to a workout magazine, a pack of sculpted muscles that shows that sculpting muscles is your supreme hobby. (Oh yes I have known some men and women who derive real joy from those things.)

For them, the Bowflex is worth it.

Maybe for you it's not.

So think about who you are and what you want and hang the multitude -- they're not there in your apartment and would not be impressed if they were. But if everything you own is something that delights you, if every book on your shelves is a favorite and every item of clothing in your closet cheers you up when you wear it, if every toy and object that isn't bare survival is something you'd be willing to save up for months to get and work hard at getting ... then wow, the whole thing comes into focus.

Without meaning to, your decor will have a powerful message -- it will become elegant. It is consistent. It has a theme and an underlying unity, the unity of who you are. It becomes a bold social message that you're not afraid to be yourself and could care less about the people who don't like it. The only ones who ought to matter to you emotionally are the ones who'd like you anyway.

And if you walk away from the Consumerist mentality... then it's easier to find friends who aren't frauds. Like attracts like.

Don't try to do everything. Don't try to do it all at once. Just start shifting your life over into your own track and your own direction, spend less on the things you hate anyway. Just don't bother if you don't like it or want it, and save with a goal as well as for crisis and emergencies.

Put things that would be fun onto those goals. I put certain art supplies it'd be downright frivolous to get on my wish list knowing perfectly well I'm not doing them anytime soon -- but some of those have made their way into my house and proved to be even more enjoyable for all that anticipation. That's a loved tin of 72 colors of Derwent Inktense and it's a joy to me every time I look at it or use it.

So enjoy the process and hang the deprivation, it's only perceived deprivation unless you are genuinely in deep problems at the moment. Even if you are though, chances are some luxury remains in your life, some things that aren't bare survival and do mean a lot. Cherish those in deep trouble because they can make the difference between whether you have any energy or morale to pull out of it.

When you don't have money, treat yourself to time and pamper yourself with attention. Give yourself the time to make something that is not for necessity, draw something for your walls or put together a collage, create something recycled out of junk that is better than you could get in a store. This is why tools are so valuable -- that and they're an emergency odd job you can do if you use them for money. A sewing hobby can be a mending odd-job to get past a bad month and make the rent. A drill or a table saw can be some custom bookshelves made out of scrap collected and sanded -- or built for someone else who bought the wood for their project. Anything you know how to do is real wealth.

I needed to post more on this again because I saw something elsewhere that said "most people are going to make belt-tightening resolutions this year."

So if you do, don't tighten it without looking for what you will get for that sacrifice -- look instead at how you can make your life happier. Tighten it till it fits and then cut off that flap that belongs to the fat-cats.
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Comments

( 13 comments — Leave a comment )
elialshadowpine
Jan. 1st, 2009 12:37 am (UTC)
Freecycle is awesome for getting rid of stuff you don't want that other people might have a use for, and most areas have a Freecycle mailing list. :)

When we moved, we gave away a whole bunch of stuff to friends that we didn't need/want/couldn't take. For instance, we were trying to cut down on large and heavy items that were not absolute necessity. One of those things included a large non-LCD TV that has some issues. Still watchable, but... well, it nearly broke two healthy men trying to get it out of the apartment, so I'm glad we didn't take it with. The friends that got it, however? Extremely happy, because they've been using a rinky-dink thing for a long while since that's all they could afford.

Our couch, which is in decent shape, but not worth moving, went to friends that had a torn-up, broken couch but couldn't afford to buy a new one.

Our landlord/friend was all but salivating at the amount of outdated computer and technical equipment we left. We have no real use for machines, cables, and peripherals dating back to the 80s, but he has a lot of old machines (enjoyment -- he collects) and can actually use the stuff.

A writing desk went to our landlord's son because it was in good condition yet way too small for any of the three of us. I tried using it as a laptop desk, and it was just... painful. But it'd be perfect for a kid.

The crappy bowing particle board bookcases -- Paul's going to make us better, and well, they're saving a few people from stacking books on the floor.

There was a lot that we ended up recycling or throwing away, because we were on a two and a half week time limit and didn't have weeks or longer to spend looking for someone to give the stuff to. The things that we knew people would want, we gave them to. Some other things just got tossed, because we couldn't find people that wanted them.

I much prefer giving something to someone that can use it rather than just throwing it away. Gods know I've gotten plenty of use from perfectly good furniture or other items that someone didn't want and had put out to be thrown away. *shakes head*
robertsloan2
Jan. 1st, 2009 03:12 am (UTC)
Go you! That sounds so splendid! I'll bet it's a lot easier to move around, clean up and get at the things you enjoy now that all of that stuff is out of your way. With the satisfaction of knowing someone else is using it and enjoying it.

Whoohoo, you and Storme are already living it.

But you're a writer, you ought to pick up my resolution and try it -- get a pro novel out the door in 2009. All they can do is send a rejection and it may even have useful critique in it.
elialshadowpine
Jan. 1st, 2009 03:19 am (UTC)
I'm trying to get my e-book career back on track in 09. I didn't get much done last year because of my health. I have an invitation from an extremely reputable e-publisher to send along what would be a reprint with the next novella in the series, even though they don't normally do that. I just need to finish the second novella, which has been proving difficult.

Between the economic crisis and my health, I'm probably going to hold off on submitting to NY pubs. For one, editors and agents already have been saying they're taking less from new writers at this time, and some publishers have put a freeze on new acquisitions. E-publishing has less financial risk and thus they can continue to put out books. They also cost less, so I think people are more likely to continue to buy them despite tightening purse strings.

The other thing is that I honestly don't know... if I sold a finished novel and got a two/three-book contract, which is the norm... if I'd actually be able to finish the next books. The pressure of a deadline would either help a lot or cause massive anxiety. It's been over a year since I've finished anything new.

So for right now, I'm going to be trying to get my writing back on track and get my e-publishing career fired up again. Hopefully, this time, I can stay on the damned horse. ;)
robertsloan2
Jan. 1st, 2009 07:44 pm (UTC)
Sounds good. I suspect that a contract would help more than create anxiety, but you may be right. Go for it. You've obviously thought this through and you've got a big point about the ebook publishers buying -- and thrift does lead people to get ebooks instead of print books.

We'll see what happens. I know that for what I'm doing I can't concern myself about outside conditions in the publishing world, just do it and send it out and see what happens. But the more success I have with my site, the more it'll support my submissions.
elialshadowpine
Jan. 2nd, 2009 12:12 am (UTC)
I've actually been on a deadline before to write and turn in a story in less than a month when I had no idea what I was going to write about. It was incredibly stressful, even though I got it done. That was before my anxiety was as bad as it is now.

On a business level alone, though, the book I have readiest for submission is the re-work of Stronger, and it's a very dark, gritty book. I'm kind of kicking myself, because if I had been able to get over issues from a certain writing group and finish the rewrite when I started it, I'd probably have a foot in the door when that was what they were looking for. I'm hearing that they want more happy-type stories now because stressed people want escape.

Even an epic high fantasy is escape, because it's set in a totally different world. Urban fantasy with frightening parallels to our own? Not sure how much that would fly.

Again, that's in addition to all the health issues, which really are the primary reason that I'm looking at sticking with e-pubbing for now. The market just at this point tends to back that up.

I think with what you write, escapist heroic fantasy, you're not quite as likely to run into the same sort of problem as I might with all my dark and grit. :P
robertsloan2
Jan. 2nd, 2009 05:52 am (UTC)
Oh that is good. I remember that, it's very powerful. I'd go ahead and try anyway, start with the top paying ones and work your way down. Something good will stick even when trends are against it.

Don't kick yourself for needing time to get over the shock of losing that certain writing group. I'm dealing with it myself now just from making one simple New Years Resolution -- and facing the possibility that I may succeed but wind up losing a lot of friends to the sudden shock of change in status. It's weird but it came up a lot in Bird by Bird.

So I'm building ties in nonwriting venues where to my pleasant surprise artists and fibromites and all take it for granted I'm a writer and sometimes out of the blue push me to publish because I'm good at it. When the average reader on a completely other topic starts mentioning "you should be a writer" because she didn't read your bio to notice you are, well, yeah that means I'm ready.

I also don't think there's that vast an increase in skilled writers for all that there's been such a vast wave of submissions from Nanowrimos.

Not when some of them send in things like precisely 50,000 word manuscripts with notation at the ends or middles of chapters like "1,669, done for the day."

If you want to go ahead and play to the trend, have you considered taking your general tone and doing the comedy version? Crossing the dark stuff with Terry Pratchett's sort of treatment, throw in a dash of Addams Family on top of it? Or just dark very dark humor like Christopher Titus.

It's encouraging to me that you think my type of escapist heroic epic fantasy will appeal in today's market. I hope you're right. I am starting to get an idea that's only barely crystallizing -- something that's almost a theme more than a concept yet or a premise. But it's growing and I know I'm going to write something after all this introspection.

I tackled some of it in this year's Nanowrimo, and I've recognized I need to improve on that. But this other one is coming up different and I'm not sure what it is yet at all. Might be SF actually. But if it's mine it's probably going to be some serious escapist stuff that folds around on itself to examine something taken for granted.

Some of my favorite escape fiction picks up and examines things that are immediate and topical -- but also a bit less narrowly topical than this-year's short term predictions. SF is almost seen as divination, it's about the future. Fantasy is a projection into a mythic past, a set of stories that ought to be true because they take place in cultural space, where meanings and symbols are that important.

I'm not sure what's bubbling up but some themes are colliding, and if a theme grabs a strong character in a bad situation then I'll probably just run with it.
elialshadowpine
Jan. 2nd, 2009 06:00 am (UTC)
I will say, if you don't mind hanging around Romance writers that are accepting of other genres (as long as you're accepting of theirs), Romance Divas is a great writer's community that has seen several (I think over a dozen by now) people agented and/or published. Nobody loses friends because they get pubbed. If anything, it just spurs everyone else to keep at it. :)

I know you don't have a lot of time though, but figured I'd mention all the same.

Unfortunately, I rarely do comedy well. The Alzia stories have yet to find a home despite how much beta readers and critiquers loved them, and that's the style of humor I tend to do. I'll stick with my weird fantasy porn for now. LOL
robertsloan2
Jan. 2nd, 2009 06:19 am (UTC)
I'm glad that you've found it, but I would not be comfortable in a romance writing community. I don't actually like the genre so I'd be a wet blanket and incapable of effective critique. The few works that did impress or please me would be those that wandered away from the core genre expectations.

It would become downright depressing since the darker side of romance is a fantasy of women getting their way and winning every argument with men over things that are gender expectations. It usually and rightly is centered on women's perceptions, needs, desires, fantasies. Of course it's escapist.

But it's a girls' club for a reason. It's not fair to either to impose myself on it.
robertsloan2
Jan. 1st, 2009 07:50 pm (UTC)
You know, if you're prolific enough and have the material to support it, you could also do an SBI site on the erotic-weird romantica that you do. Find some topical way to set it up, or do it like a bookstore with reviews or something and sell your ebooks off it while offering something like an online magazine at the freebie samples level.

Stories -- it'd be a small investment to actually pay for stories (and fill out the lineup with your own) to get high quality. Then sell ad space to other writers on it, turn it into a watering hole for readers. Dark Desires or something like that.

It's just a thought, you'd be the one who'd have to work out what type of content would attract your readers and get them warmed up to buying more of your writing.
elialshadowpine
Jan. 2nd, 2009 12:07 am (UTC)
Storme has actually been considering doing something similar to this in e-publishing (edit: like a cross between Strange Love and a regular e-pub), but we don't have the start-up capital right now, nor do we really have the collective time/energy. It's on the list, when we're in better health and can manage it. :)

Edited at 2009-01-02 12:08 am (UTC)
robertsloan2
Jan. 2nd, 2009 05:39 am (UTC)
Hmm. That sounds like it might take off, really. I guess it takes some costly software to set it up right and having good server space.

Good luck to both of you with all that.
elialshadowpine
Jan. 2nd, 2009 05:55 am (UTC)
It's not so much the software, actually. We already have the server, and the software can be found easily enough to run under linux. The largest costs would actually be cover art for e-books and magazines, since writers would get paid by royalty. Average payment for a cover from someone that knows what they're doing is between $100-200. That needs to be paid up front, and thus I'd want a couple grand set away to do it properly, since it can take time for a new pub to earn money.

Unfortunately, covers really aren't optional. E-publishers that don't have good covers or a professional-looking website do not have the level of sales as even a start-up e-publisher who do. Crappy covers say to a reader that you're not serious / don't care, and even worse if it's an embarrassing Poser cover.

It basically comes down to time/energy. We've actually thought a fair amount about this, and we wouldn't want to do it until we thought we would have the time to devote to the project, and/or could afford to bring on other people to help out with editing/marketing/etc. Right now's just not a good time, between my fibro acting up and Storme's constant cluster migraines. :-\
robertsloan2
Jan. 2nd, 2009 06:02 am (UTC)
Ahh I see your point. Well, one possibility is to study cover design and really look close at DeviantART. I'm thinking about stock photography and photomanipulation covers created with GIMP -- if you look through everything at Unrestricted-Stock and use GIMP to compose cover art you may come up with something attractive without hiring an artist.

Just some thoughts. I'm expecting to do my own covers on ebooks and POD.
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