Thoughts from India
I just returned from India this weekend, and while my jet-lagged brain is struggling to form coherent thoughts, I wanted to share some highlights.
I loved the overall experience. The people we met were warm and interesting, the food was amazing, and our itinerary included many powerful experiences. Much of what I learned is more personal than personal finance, but I’ll try to share the most relevant bits here.
I had the privilege of meeting a child we sponsor, and his mother. I didn’t know his mother was coming, or that she was his mother at first. She spoke a little English and was translating for us. Since they send translators from the children’s homes, I thought she was a caretaker there. She was blatantly mothering him throughout the meeting, and at some point I asked if she was his mother. When she said yes, the meeting suddenly became even more emotional. As a mom, I can’t imagine how difficult it would be find yourself unable to provide your child’s basic needs. She kept saying “very thank you” over and over. Rather than feeling like I’m so great for helping out this family, I felt very humbled. I don’t deserve the many blessings and advantages that allow me to help them. And although I don’t know the exact circumstances of their family, it’s safe to assume that forces outside of their control have contributed to their financial situation.
I was able to tell women that they are valuable in God’s sight. This is not a predominant message in many of their homes. We spoke to groups of 100-250 women, mostly from rural villages. We also got to hear a few of the women’s testimonies. Some recounted tragic stories, but the overall theme was one of overcoming through faith.
Since becoming a mother, I’ve been trying to imagine a more global and historical perspective on marriage and motherhood than what I’m immersed in here in suburban America. While we can barely keep up with ever-changing car seat laws, Indians pile a family of five onto a small motor scooter and zoom off into traffic that looks like anarchy to the Western eye. I adhere to my children’s nap time almost religiously, but saw Indian kids sleeping on said scooters, and floors or tables anywhere. The heat must help—I could have passed out on the floor, too! Contemplating the arranged marriage tradition and hearing the stories of traveling pastor’s wives also shed light on how cultural my notion of marriage is.
I didn’t miss much from home, except maybe toilet paper in public restrooms and being able to drink tap water. And there were a couple days that our schedule didn’t allow for a decent dose of after lunch caffeine. Turns out it’s really hard to stay awake while sitting for 10 hours in 95 degree heat! But I’ve returned with little taste for American food, and tried to recreate an Indian dish last night. I also didn’t miss Facebook, texting, or email. I’m sure the short-lived nature of the trip made it easier to get on without these. Of course, I missed my family and friends, though I never got homesick. I was able to call my family three times, including on my son’s birthday.
I also noticed that things didn’t have to be perfect. India is extremely diverse so I don’t want to over-generalize, but in the circles we were with, people didn’t seem to mind if the music wasn’t perfect, if the conference got off schedule, or if their clothes and sandals match or fit perfectly, for example. I’m sure a lot of this arises out of not having the option for perfection. They are used to the electricity going out regularly for brief periods (which is rough when your only cooling comes from ceiling fans). They are used to their kids wearing too small clothes we wouldn’t think of putting our children in, because we don’t have to. It struck me that I spend too much time trying to make my living room look perfect or my teachings for India perfect, when no one but me even cares. Striving to match our lives with the sleek, immaculate images of edited advertisements only wastes time and frustrates us as we fail to comply with impossible standards. I hope to take our principle that Life is Not About Your Preferences to a new level with this insight.
We were completely pampered. I don’t think I opened a car door or poured a cup of coffee for myself while there. We experienced a much more service-oriented culture, which was sometimes hard for us self-reliant American to take. However, I also feel pretty triumphant for having flown on 13 planes in 15 days, survived two weeks away from my family, conquered the squatty potty, feasted on spicy foreign cuisine without digestive distress, and taught large groups through a translator in significant heat & humidity. Venturing outside my comfort zone built my faith and confidence, and I believe this experience has increased my flexibility and usefulness in many ways.
Seeing real poverty has only increased my desire to pretend to be poor, (tongue-in-cheek a la Proverbs 13:7) so that I can have more to share with the truly poor. And it’s given me new vantage points on living with contentment, defining necessity, and the depths of human creativity for making do, or doing without.
What have you learned from traveling? How do you strive for perfection in unnecessary ways?
A Dream Disclosed
We were nominated for the Liebster award, a gesture of goodwill for new bloggers. Hannah at Unplanned Finance so graciously nominated us, saying “I appreciate the advice that they give on intentional living, and I think it’s pretty cool that we both read a book by Randy Alcorn (a not that famous author) that has influenced our view of money and financial management.” We think that’s a pretty cool connection, too. Many thanks for the nomination, Hannah!
The nomination comes with a list of questions to answer, which is fun because we might not normally share some of these random facts otherwise. Be sure to check out the last question for the disclosure of our little known dream. And then we give our nomination at the end.
#1: How did you decide on the name of your blog?
Neil plucked the phrase from Proverbs 13:7: “There is one who pretends to be poor, but has nothing. Another pretends to be poor, but has great wealth.” This describes the financial options available to most people well. We love the idea of living below our means, a.k.a pretending to be poor, so we can do something more useful with our money than inflating our lifestyle.
#2: Where does your blogging inspiration come from?
We started the blog because people kept asking us personal finance questions, and a friend encouraged us to start making our tips available in a blog. We felt we had something unique to offer because our motivation is not simply monetary. Our goal isn’t to retire early or get rich, but to have the flexibility to spend our resources on what is most valuable and enjoyable to us, and helpful to others. The wisdom about money found in the Bible also inspires us. Its principles aren’t about following religious rules, but about “being rich in every way” (2 Corinthians 9:11), living a fulfilled, well-rounded life that is more about people than money.
#3: What is it that you love most about blogging?
We love interacting with others who are interested in making good use of their money & time, whether they are very like-minded or have different views or goals. Also, writing is a great outlet that helps us better formulate our ideas and methods, while hopefully helping others do the same. The very best is when someone shares with us how the blog has helped them in a real way.
#4: What is your favorite food?
We both love Thai & Indian food.
#5: What is your favorite thing to drink?
Fresh carrot juice (Neil) or mango lassi (both).
#6: What is an item you cannot live without?
Kalie: Chapstick. I’m a total addict.
Neil: I’m ashamed to say, my iPhone.
#7: What are eleven random facts about yourself?
- We both subscribed to Zillions magazine (Consumer Reports for kids) as children.
- We both teach Bible studies regularly (Which is one reason we don’t write about “side hustling.” We’re too busy volunteering!)
- We lived in our friends’ basement for a year to save money, then bought a home on their street.
- Our Ford Focus has 180,000 miles on the original clutch. (Don’t worry, we have a car fund.)
- We turned our 2 backyard maple trees into a sugar bush.
- We raise backyard chickens.
- Neil’s seen the inside of a nuclear reactor.
- Neil went on a short-term missions trip to India 2 years ago and Kalie is going next week!
- Kalie loves dancing.
- Neil loves biking.
- Neil saw the Northern Lights for the first time this summer.
#8. If you could live anywhere in the world where would it be?
We really want to stay near our friends and family, though it’d be fun to live somewhere exotic. But we do hope to someday own more land with some woods.
#9. If you could meet anyone from history, alive or dead, who would it be?
Kalie: Laura Ingalls Wilder.
Neil: Louis Zamperini.
#10. What is your favorite outdoor activity?
Kalie: Sitting around a camp fire with friends.
#11. Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
We’d love to someday buy a shared home with our best friends, own more land, and set up a kind of farm co-op where we’d have at-risk students work as interns and receive spiritual mentoring. But that’s just a dream right now, so for the next 5 years we’ll be working to prepare for such a goal, or whatever else God may have for us.
And the nominee!
I nominate Ohio Farm Girl from the blog Adventures in the Good Land. She left the corporate world early on to become a farmer and gives a knee-slapping, rip-roaring account of her farming experiences. Check out her story about leaving her fancy, boring city life for “The Good Land” here.
Are You Too Chicken? (To Raise Backyard Chickens)
The first time Neil mentioned an interest in raising meat chickens in our (suburban) backyard, I thought he was crazy. But he seemed so excited about it and made it sound so easy that I encouraged him to give it a try. He promised the “processing” wouldn’t happen at our house and the chickens would come back looking like they were from the supermarket. That was five years ago and we’ve raised them every year since. But what’s the appeal of backyard chickens?
- It’s a ton of fun. Hoards of neighborhood kids visit the adorable baby peeps each year. It’s become a tradition for our playgroup to come and hold the fluffy yellow chicks. Thus it’s a fun, free activity we can share with friends.
- It’s a great hobby. Everyone has hobbies. We like ours to be a.) inexpensive and b.) productive. So while there is some cost involved (see FAQ below), it’s money we’d have to spend on food anyway. And rather than golfing, joining a pool, or taking up other costly summer pastimes, raising chickens is a kid-friendly, educational, natural activity that produces a useful and healthy commodity. Hobbies that produce rather than drain resources are another angle to increasing your usefulness instead of your lifestyle.
- It’s a learning experience for our kids. Our 3-year-old says “Cows give us milk. Chickens give us chicken.” Not only does see where his food comes from, he learns that this is normal, not gross. Feeding the chickens is his morning chore, from which he learns responsibility and maybe a little empathy, too. Every morning he whined that he didn’t feel like feeding the chickens. (And every morning I didn’t feel like finding everyone’s socks and shoes to get outside right away.) But I always told him they relied on him for food, and what if I didn’t feel like feeding him breakfast? “Then I’d be hungry,” he’d say, and out he’d go without further fight. Once outside he really enjoyed feeding them. His little sister even mimicked him by carrying tiny buckets of food to their feeder. So cute!
- Quality control. Knowing where our food comes from, what they’ve eaten, and how they’ve been treated is a real advantage.
- Like gardening or living like Grandma, it’s also a way of connecting with nature and how food was raised in the past. Once we found the shoes and got out the door, we all enjoyed being outside first thing in the morning. Doing faux-farm chores is therapeutic for suburb-dwellers like us.
- It’s a skill. Without being hard or technical, learning how to raise food is a useful skill to develop.
So that’s why we like it. Here are some FAQ on how it works:
- Is it cheaper? The start-up costs made the first year’s chickens some rather pricey poultry ($40 for the chicken tractor materials, $40 for water and food dispensers). Since then we’ve only purchased the chicks, food and vitamins, and a heat lamp bulb, bringing our total cost for 13 birds to $83, or $6.38 a piece. At around 6-7 pounds each they are cheaper than grocery store chicken, and much less than we’d pay for fresh, organic, responsibly raised meat.
- Do they taste better? It’s hard to compare to other fresh chicken since we never eat plain chicken. In my opinion they taste much better than frozen, solution-injected chicken. They are also more pleasant to cook with, as they lack the slimy feeling of typical supermarket poultry.
- How much care do they need? The chickens spend 2-3 weeks in our garage with a heat light. This is the brooder stage. Neil makes a pen out of a discarded box and fills the bottom with pine shavings. Then we transfer them to a box in the backyard called a chicken tractor, which protects them from raccoons and other predators. It has no floor, so the chickens get an all you can eat salad and bug bar every day. We replenish their food and water and move the box to fresh grass each day. Their life span is 6-8 weeks, and during the last couple weeks they need food, water, and a box move twice a day (3x for water when it’s hot).
- How are they processed? TMI alert: don’t read if you don’t want to know! Neil takes them to a friend’s farm where they use the modern, humane method of bleeding them out before they are dipped in scalding water and plucked using a mechanical plucker. Then their organs, neck, and feet are removed, and Voila! They look like they came from the store.
- Is it legal? Our city allows all farm animals, and another family on our street has them, too.
- What type of box do they need? Neil built a 4’ x 8’ box out of 2” x 4” boards, reinforced in the corners with 1” x 3” boards, to keep it light and mobile without adding wheels. It’s constructed from the cheapest wood you can buy, and scraps. Fits no more than a baker’s dozen of birds.
- Do they smell? My baby’s poop smells way worse than theirs. I can’t detect the scent unless I’m moving the box, and it really isn’t offensive. And that’s coming from a super-smeller who can hardly stand Neil if he eats too much garlic.
- Neil adds: We buy all roosters because they are cheaper. They come in the mail… the regular USPS mail, in a box, it’s hilarious. They don’t lay eggs because they are male and they wouldn’t anyway because in 6-8 weeks they don’t reach maturity to do so. Layers are a whole different game. Ours crow at the end of the 8 weeks but it’s a pathetic teenager crow. If you want more information to get started, get this book from the library: http://amzn.to/1HoX7Q2
Would you consider raising backyard chickens? Any questions for us?
Full House: Should We Buy a House With Our Friends?
So we’ve schemed up a very unconventional idea for saving money on a top expense. We are considering buying a home with our friends. Two families, one big house, one mortgage. No, we’re not swingers or sister wives. And yes, I watched too much Full House as a child.
Just think about all the potential for savings. Right now we both pay separately for property taxes, home owner’s insurance, trash service, a sewer bill, and Internet. Plus service fees and minimum charges for water, electric, and gas, and I’m sure our usage would be less than double if we were under one roof. Think about all the trappings of owning a home. Why own two lawnmowers and maintain two lawns? Two snow-blowers for two driveways? Two sets of tools, ladders, air compressors, and all the other junk in our garage? Two full refrigerators, ranges, and other kitchen appliances? Two sets of toys and baby gear (we already pass kids’ clothes back and forth every season). We’d probably both like to have swingsets in the backyard, but what if we could split the cost (and labor)? What if one person did all the grocery shopping or cooking while the other watched the kids? The possibilities are nearly endless! We wouldn’t be able to cut everything in half but we could certainly get by with a lot less Stuff, Stuff Getting, and Stuff Maintenance than we currently do. Even if the savings were only 25% off our current living expenses, that would equal well over $20,000 per year between the two families. I can’t imagine this scenario not making us more financially flexible, assuming we arrange the financial details properly.
Who are these people?
We have plenty of history with the family we’re scheming and dreaming with. The husband has been Neil’s best friend since high school, and the wife and I became fast friends when Neil & I met, over 12 years ago. Living with your friends is considered a good way to not be friends anymore. However, we lived with this couple (and their baby) in their home for a year, before buying our house just 8 doors down from theirs. Before moving in with them, we also considered buying a duplex together. We would’ve outgrown it quickly and possibly had a hard time selling, so I’m glad we didn’t go that route. Five years after buying on their block, we’re still best friends, we have very similar life goals, our children are very close, and we see them just about every day.
Why live together?
With our homes so close already, why go to the trouble and risk of living together? The idea came up one day when our husbands were out of town together for a seminary class. I asked Diana what she was doing. “Going to the store and then making s’getti for dinner,” she said (this is what our kids call spaghetti). “Oh, we’re having s’getti, too,” I laughed. She probably invited us over for dinner; I don’t remember. But the inefficiency of running two separate households struck me at that moment. Running a home is a lot of work, and while running a bigger one wouldn’t be easy, I could see some efficiencies, savings opportunities, and other synergies:
- We could find a house big enough to suit our needs for less than our combined current mortgages.
- We could both become mortgage-free faster, thus increasing flexibility.
- Our property taxes, utility costs, and incidentals would be less than our combined current costs.
- We could share household tasks like shopping, cooking, cleaning, lawn care, home maintenance, babysitting, etc.
- We could pool resources. From possessions to talent and time, we could share more, sell excess stuff, and hopefully create a synergy of complementing each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
- We could host more people in the larger living rooms that big houses tend to have.
- We could host more frequently, creating an open house feel that we’ve both always wanted.
- We could stop cutting off our conversations and our kids’ play to go home.
- We could support one another more in our personal lives, raising children, and ministry endeavors. While many people wouldn’t want another couple closely involved in their marriage or parenting, we trust them and value their input. After all, we don’t claim to know what we’re doing in those areas. Regarding ministry, we are both serving in leadership roles in our church and spend a significant amount of time teaching Bible studies, leading home churches and small groups, discipling friends, getting training, and generally trying to help people. We think we could support one another with these pursuits more effectively if we all lived together.
- It would be fun!
To be honest, the priorities are probably approximately inverted from this list, but since this is a financial flexibility blog, those reasons took the lead. The idea re-surfaced recently when Neil noticed a crazy-big, not-expensive house on the market nearby. The place needs too much work and seems hard to re-sell, but it got us talking about the idea more seriously. We haven’t thought of a good enough reason not to look into it further. At this time, that just means looking at houses that might fit our needs & are in our price range. It’s definitely not about getting a nicer home, but with 2 families and a total of 9 people, we’d need a bigger place.
Our scheme also seems to make sense from a historical and global perspective. Often people live(d) with extended families, out of tradition but also for the financial stability and personal support it provides. Maybe we’ve found a modern-day approach to gaining similar advantages.
We’d love to hear your feedback. What would be your fears or concerns? Why don’t people do this? Why should we do it? Are we crazy?