The Totally Unsexy Skill That Makes It Easier To Go After What You Want

It might not be the inspirational tip you're looking for, but learning how to live within your means will make it a million times easier to chase your dreams.
When I was 32, I celebrated one of the biggest accomplishments of my life with a plate of nachos, a vodka gimlet, and gathering of friends at my favorite neighborhood bar.

Over a plate of melted cheese, we cheers-ed my upcoming 11-month, nine-country trip. As the night wore on and more cocktails were consumed, one of my friends leaned across the table and said “Okay, I’m just gonna say what we’re all thinking. How are you paying for this?”

I laughed because of course Midwesterners have to get lightly drunk to talk about money.

After I was done laughing I spilled the beans. I told them how I managed to live sans-roommate in a nice neighborhood, pay my $375-a-month school loan, wear these cute leather riding boots, and save enough to finance this huge trip … on $34,000 a year non-profit salary.

Want to know how I did it?

(leans in close and stage whispers)

I lived within my means.

Well, that’s wildly unsexy, isn’t it? Whenever I share this not-particularly-exciting information, I can see people become a) skeptical b) disappointed. It’d be a lot more exciting if I shared a salacious investment tip or confessed that I had a trust fund or that I was just putting it all on a credit card and hoping for the best.

But that’s not what happened. I got to take my dream trip because I did things like:

  • Bring my lunch to work

  • Buy pretty much everything, ever secondhand

  • Host potluck dinner parties rather than eating out

  • Stay with friends when I traveled – or camped!

  • Split wifi with a neighbor

  • Go to matinee movies, used my library card, had picnics in the park, etc etc etc

  • Didn’t buy stuff I didn’t need

When we talk about going after what we want, we usually talk about things like talent, luck, networking, and a tenacious work ethic. All those are important! And they will certainly help you get you closer to what you want – whatever that is.

But I’d like to posit that one of the most underrated skills necessary to chase your dreams is learning to live within your means.

What now? What does budgeting have to do with becoming an artist or a stay at home parent or opening a sanctuary for stray dogs or taking a round-the-world trip?

According to a recent survey, the average American spends an estimated $697 a month on non-essential expenses – that’s more than $8,000 a year. The mean income per capita in the U.S. is $48,150, about $24 an hour. That means the average American is working about 30 hours each month to pay for those non-essential purchases.
The average American works 360 hours a year to pay for their non-essential purchases. How much of our lives would be we get back if we made fewer of those purchases? Click To Tweet

Now, I’m not saying we should stop making every non-essential purchase, ever. Of course not! I spend thousands of dollars every year on travel, pedicures, supper club dinners, and outfits for my dog. Dog outfit are not essential!

But it’s worth remembering that we pay for our choices with the lives that we lead and all those non-essential purchases? They lead to less money in our bank accounts > longer hours at work > less time, money, and energy for the stuff we’re really excited about.

What if you dialed in those non-essential purchases by just 10%? Totally doable, right? I bet it’d be pretty painless to wear the same outfit to multiple weddings or bring lunch to work once a week. It’s not hard to make a frozen pizza rather than having one delivered.

Reducing non-essential purchases by even just 10% could free up 36 hour this year. Imagine what you could do with that! You could practice your stand up set, launch your Etsy shop, work on your novel, or train for a marathon.

And buying less shit you don’t need might also mean you can drop the side hustle, the overtime, or the second job. Which means – I bet you can see where I’m going with this – you’d have more time and energy to pursue things that light you up.

Real talk: dreams + goals require time and energy. It’s hard to find either if you’re working 60 hours a week to support expensive spending habits. Click To Tweet
Now, any conversation about money should acknowledge privilege. Because of the realities of life in America, some people will have to take jobs they hate because they need the healthcare coverage. Some people really do need to work 60 hours a week in order to pay for the bare necessities.

Not everyone has the time to wander the aisles of Goodwill, digging through racks of cheap secondhand clothing. Some people live in food deserts and they can’t do a huge shopping trip and then meal prep + freeze seventeen healthy, affordable meals that break down to $3 per person, per meal.

However, many of us – I’d hazard a guess most of us – could make one or two different financial decisions that would free up hundreds or thousands of dollars a year. Which would free up the time and energy we put into earning that money. And we could put that time and energy into something we’re really excited about.

If you’re really honest with yourself, where you could you rein in spending to free up money, time, and energy to spend on things you’re excited about? Tell us in the comments to create public accountability!

P.S. If you want help reducing those non-essential purchases in a way that doesn’t feel like deprivation, my incredibly popular program Bank Boost opens for enrollment on May 6th. Last time I ran it, it sold out in four days so you might want to jump on the waitlist!

Photo by Fidel Fernando on Unsplash

Web Time Wasters

How was your week, friends? I was on Twin Cities Live talking about what to do with your tax refund – if you were lucky enough to get one! I promise my suggestions aren’t as dry and joy-less as you’d think! We hosted Passover this year and were excited to serve the meal on Kenny’s great-grandmother’s fine china; I love traditions like that.

Links for you!

This week I learned that worldwide, the equivalent of almost 27,000 trees is either flushed or dumped in landfills every day in the form of toilet paper. We decided to switch to Bim Bam Boo which is made from bamboo – which grows much faster than trees, making it much more environmentally-friendly. Now, you’re not going to confuse it with your tripled quilted Downy or anything but it’s fine! You can order it online but it’s a Minneapolis company, so if you live in MSP like me, you can probably find it in your local grocery store!

I went to grad school in Wellington, New Zealand – an amazing city that doesn’t get enough love online. This apartment tour of a Wellington apartment is great; I know exactly where they are based on the view from their windows!

I’m sloooowly starting the process of building a Yes & Yes podcast and the Messyfm Instagram account is full of SO many good tips!

Also: If you’re an author, I highly recommend watching Laura Jane William’s Instagram Stories. They’re always great, but right now she’s promoting her new novel and she’s doing it in such a lovely, interesting, educational, non-pushy way. Let’s all learn from her!

A great Mothers’ Day or graduation present

And this is a good gift for anyone in your life who cares about racial justice

This would happen to me.

A gorgeous essay: Notre Dame will rebuild. I will too.
Notre Dame was on fire, and I desperately want to talk to Jamie about it. Instead, I’m reminded once more that we can’t control things — no matter how hard we try or how much we believe. We can and should plan for the best, but we can never fully protect ourselves, our loved ones, and our loved places from the worst. At some point, we have to let go.

Jamie’s death gave me plenty of reasons not to revisit Paris. But I did anyway. Our promise to return continued on — albeit in a very different way than we hoped — and served to remind me how resilient I am. And just like they have many times before, Parisians will once again prove their resilience in the weeks and months of rebuilding to come.

One of my favorite foods when I lived in Taiwan was dan bing. It is SO GOOD and I have no idea why it hasn’t reached cream cheese wanton status here in the U.S. Here’s how to make your own if you’re curious!

Fun fact about me: I love bats. If you’re skeptical, look at this Flying Fox. She looks just like our rat terrier/chihuahua!

I don’t drink much – only if I’m on vacation, I’m celebrating something big, or we’re at a supper club and I’d be remiss if I didn’t sample their Old Fashioned. What are your thoughts on the rise of elective sobriety?
 “I used to think I lost my social anxiety after I had the first drink,” says Joy Manning, one of the party’s co-hosts. “Now I realize, the first 15 minutes of anything is just awkward. Once I adjust to the environment and start chatting with someone, I relax. And it’s amazing to see that happen across a whole room of people who aren’t drinking. We’ve been giving alcohol a power it doesn’t really have.”

Hope you had a lovely weekend!

Why You Need A Smile File + How To Make One

Looking for cheer up ideas? Want to make a smile file but you're not sure where to start? Click through for inspiration ideas and ways to cheer yourself up! #cheerup #happinesstips #selfhelp #selfdevelopment

Picture this: you’re grumpy AF. You overslept, you spilled coffee on your shirt, and because she wants to cheer a friend up, your co-worker is trying to tell you about something called a ‘smile file.’

Do you
a) roll your eyes so far back in your head you get a migraine
b) tell her she’s never allowed to speak in your presence again
c) pretend that you’re listening while quietly plotting her death

If this cheer up idea makes you want to punch someone, hear me out!

Really, a ‘smile file’ is just a personal collection of things that cures a bad mood – your bad mood. If the things that cheer you up are interviews with Nick Cave, hair metal music videos, and gifs of people falling on ice, that’s what you should put in your smile file.

Just as importantly, you are not required to call it a ‘smile file.’ If you think rhyming is dorky, you can call it something else! Or you don’t have to call it anything!

All I’m saying is: We all have bad days. Our bad days will be shorter + less awful if we take some time to create our own personal antidotes when we're NOT in the midst of one. Click To Tweet

Why do you need a smile file at all?

None of us are required to be happy at all times. In fact, that’s impossible!

I think it’s worth noting, however, that bad days and bad moods usually trigger our less-awesome behaviors and choices. Think about the last time you did something you regret – an expensive impulse purchase you can’t afford, snipping at your partner, mindlessly eating yourself into a cookie dough coma, stalking your ex all over Instagram and accidentally liking one of their photos from 2015.

There’s a pretty good chance that these things started with a bad mood. And if you could short circuit that less-than-awesome behavior simply by revisiting some self-esteem-boosting emails or watching a few funny animal videos, isn’t it worth a try?

How to make a smile file

Create an email folder that’s filled with only sweet things

Every time a client, co-worker, or vendor sends you a thank-you note, put it in your Smile File. Praise for a job well done, an amazing testimonial about how your ebook changed someone’s life, a thoughtful response to your newsletter, put it in your Smile File. Funny email from your kid’s teacher or your dog walker – you guessed it! – put it in your Smile File.

In short: any email that makes you smile and will likely improve your day on a second reading, put it in a specific email folder that you can easily reference.

Save all your favorite Instagram images to a ‘smile file’ folder

Did you know you can save all the  insightful captions, funny photos, and inspirational quotes you like on Instagram? It’s true.

Next time you see something you like on Instagram, just click the little pennant icon under the image and you’ll save it to your Instagram account. You can organize your saved images into folders like ‘funny animals,’ ‘memes about the 90s,’ and ‘inspirational quotes’ – or whatever would cheer you up!

Create a day-improving Youtube playlist

A 2013 study in the Journal of Positive Psychology found that people who listened to upbeat music could improve their moods and boost their happiness in just two weeks. But we didn’t need a study to espouse the healing powers of sing-shrieking along to ‘The Dog Days Are Over” while flouncing dramatically around the living room, right?

No joke, I have a 33-song Youtube playlist entitled ‘happy dancing’ and it improves my mood faster than an episode of Brooklyn 99 and a bag of pizza rolls WHICH IS SAYS SOMETHING.

If you use Spotify or Itunes, you could also compile playlists there!

Make a physical ‘smile file’ – like a real, actual paper folder in a filing cabinet

There’s something to be said for holding mood-improving things in your hands, rather than just clicking through emails and online photos.

If you have tangible evidence of the things that make you happy – handwritten cards, photos, ticket stubs and receipts from memorable outings, the application paper work for the big project – put it all in an actual paper folder and put it at the front of your filing cabinet so it’s easy to find and access.

It’s seems like a little thing, right? How could an email folder, a playlist, or some saved Instagram photos cheer you up?

How could something so small (and free!) be the difference between a good day and a bad one? Why not try. Worst case scenario – you have another email folder. Best case scenario – you’ve got a stockpile of things that make you happy and remind you of how awesome you are.

P.S. How to restart a bad day + 101 ways you cheer yourself up

photo by Laura Olsen // cc

Web Time Wasters

This trailer made me so uncomfortable I couldn’t watch all of it – which means I need to watch the movie.

How was your week, friends? Minnesota was buried in a blizzard, as I’m sure you heard. I had coffee dates with friends, painted the bathroom, and shoveled SO MUCH SNOW.

Links for you!

A very intriguing pasta recipe!

Less than thrilled about how the president has treated Ilham Omar? Here’s a script for calling your reps and telling them that.

I was on the Creatively Human podcast talking about why I do online business the “wrong” way and habits that leads to happiness. Click here to listen!

Related: I’m in the beginning stages of creating a Yes & Yes podcast and I am forever lol-ing at Creative Commons music. Did you know there’s an entire album called ‘Corporate and Motivational Music‘ with track titles like ‘Driven To Success’? It’s true.

Body positivity applies to men, too. I appreciate the type of bodies this brand is using.

I wish my 2002 self had read these thoughts about ethical traveling, poverty, and photography.

If you fantasize about buying an abandoned mansion and returning it to its former glory, this six-bedroom, three-bathroom historical home is $185,000 in St. Paul. I would watch a reality tv show about who ever buys this house!

Related: I’m reading this book and this book as we start to consider house-hunting.

If you watch my Instagram Stories, you saw me share the tale of my averted financial-assholery (trying to get everything for free and not supporting people or businesses who benefit me on a regular basis when I can absolutely afford t0). Related: 15 ways to support artists for free!

Our collective cool aunt Anne Lammot is getting married!

Wowsers is this house gorgeous.

I loved Amy’s budget-friendly advice on starting an online business.  I ran a profitable business for YEARS with a $300 netbook, a Paypal account, and a yahoo email account. It’s not nearly as complicated as we make it!

Gorgeous photos from … SNL?

I have SO MANY FEELINGS about money, consumption, competition, the way we talk about + think about all of the above. I loved what Paul wrote about keeping up with the Insta-Joneses.

The act of trying to keep up is an inaccurate comparison though and debt doesn’t photograph well.

We’re comparing the things others want us to see, with our own reality. Because flaws and overdue credit card bills, problems and the sometimes-mundane of day-to-day existence doesn’t photograph that well. We get to choose what we share (and what we don’t), and in this never-ending game of one-ups-person-ship, we act as if we’ve got things together at all times, for the sake of our own social status. Picturesque vacations (we can’t afford), private jets (rented on the runway), and on-trend clothes (we can’t wear twice on camera).

This comparison trap with the Insta-Joneses isn’t just a thief of joy. It’s a thief of our pay cheques as well. The lie this “keeping up” tells us is that everyone else is living well except for us. Everyone else has the nice things they deserve except for us. Everyone else is more interesting, more picturesque, more socially accepted than us. And we end up feeling bad because shouldn’t we have nice things too? Don’t we deserve to be happy enough to conspicuously consume as well?

Hope you had a lovely week!

Web Time Wasters

How was your week, friends? On Monday, I taught high schoolers about how to use Instagram to find internships, brand partnerships, and collaborators (if you’d like me to teach something similar at your company, organization, or school email me at sarah@yesandyes.org). The rest of the week was devoted to lunch and coffee dates and last night was a friend’s yearly lip sync party. Fun!

Links for you

Related to teaching those teenagers on Monday: a Twitter thread from a teacher who incorporates phones into lessons, rather than confiscating them.

Such a cute way to start the day!

I’m definitely trying a few of these nine things to refresh for spring.

A book I am extremely enjoying!

I’ve written several ebooks: The No Grocery Challenge Guidebook + Cookbook, How To Get What You Want, the ebook version of Bank Boost … and I wish I would have read this super helpful post about how to market ebooks! I just, uh, wrote them and mentioned them a few times!

Related: 7 Honest Ways To Spring Clean Your Mind + Life

I was on the Own It All podcast talking about how use your time wisely + productively. Listen here!

P.S. If you have a podcast, I’d love to be on it! Drop me a line at sarah@yesandyes.org and we’ll get something sorted!

A very good post about making responsible choices + how it’s hard to be perfect:
In the face of it, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed or cynical. I don’t think we need to throw up our hands and declare the whole project useless, but I do think it’s helpful to know that in seeking sustainability, we’re not always going to get it right. It’s wise to acknowledge that the least detrimental form of consumption is to abstain from consuming altogether, but that abstinence isn’t always possible (and not always pleasurable). I guess most of all, I’m hoping to remember that ultimately we’re in it together. 

A recipe I’ll be trying for my next No Grocery Challenge: Easy Dukkah

True story: when Kenny and I got married, I tried to convince him that he, his dog, and his two sons should join me in my 850 square-foot apartment. He could not be convinced. This family of four makes living in a 750 square-foot apartment look great!

Totally co-signed on these eight things to do for yourself before you leave for a trip.

Funny!

An excellent Twitter thread about being okay with people disliking you and releasing the desire to control everything.

I hope you had a lovely week!