Thursday, March 27, 2008

Frugal inspirations

Part of figuring out the whole simple living thing is deciding on which things to do without, and which things are worth working for. As I triangulate in on my personal sweet spot, I've found it helpful to look at examples of simple lifestyles for comparison.

Some are fictional characters:
  • The main characters of The Riches - a family of grifters that's accustomed to living in an RV
  • Various characters in reruns of Northern Exposure
  • Luke Danes, the owner/operator of the diner in Gilmore Girls
Others are real people:
All of these people have adopted standards of living that are simpler than mine, in different ways. I find it helpful to imagine myself in their place, and think about what I'd like and what I wouldn't, or what possessions or resources I'd miss, and which I wouldn't.

So far these thought exercises have helped me change my mind about some things that I used to consider necessary: a cellular phone, and living in an urban environment, for instance. They've also helped me figure out where my boundaries are. As frugal as it would be, I don't think I could handle living on a free Alaskan land grant that's only accessible by charter plane. I think it's safe to say Amanda would agree on that point.

I think eventually we'll end up in a lifestyle somewhere in between these sorts of extremes and a conventional American suburban standard of living. Looking at examples like these for inspiration is really helpful in figuring out exactly where our compromise lies.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Enjoying expensive hobbies frugally

A lot of simple living and personal finance advocates say you should drop expensive hobbies and take up cheap ones. This makes sense, but there's also a place for "frugalifying" hobbies that are typically expensive.

When I went to college I met Linux enthusiasts and became interested in Unix system administration and networking. To pursue those interests I needed multiple computers. I was a working college student, so buying several new computers was out of the question.

I poked around and learned three important facts: 1) computer equipment depreciates very quickly, 2) it's possible to tear down and reassemble a computer using with only a screwdriver and patience, and 3) free Unixes were available (Linux and BSD) and had very low system requirements. So I started scrounging around for free or cheap broken, derelict computers, pulled them apart, and built computers that met my needs from the parts.

This became a game: when I needed more hardware to try some new setup or run some new service, I would try to cobble it together from spare parts I had on hand. If this wasn't possible, I'd try to find some free or cheap parts that would be sufficient. I ended up with some weird solutions sometimes, but it was a fun creative challenge and I learned a lot.

The point of all this is that I found a way to participate in a hobby I enjoyed in a frugal way. Most of my computer geek friends pursued the hobby by running "gaming PCs" or by being Apple diehards. Those paths involve buying brand new hardware all the time, which gets very expensive (not to mention wasteful). I'm glad that I didn't give up due to sticker shock, since the hobby has given me a lot of enjoyment, and also bolstered my resume and helped open up some career options.

So it's possible to pursue conventionally-expensive interests in frugal ways, if you're willing to turn things on their head a little bit.

My other main hobby is cars...I've really got my work cut out for me there. More on that later.

State of the blog

It's been a while since we've posted. For the last month or so we've been absorbed in some big projects, which will hopefully make it on here in some form.

I have a growing backlog of half-finished essay style posts that I'll be doling out, but we're also working on getting shorter snippets out more regularly.

Stay tuned.