Sunday, August 30, 2009

Are They Really Necessities?

In the spirit of John Bytheway (I've never been to one of his firesides, but I have listened to a talk or two, and read one of his books, and Julianne repeats his stories from time to time), I decided to give up electronic entertainment for 30 days. For me, electronic entertainment means:
  1. Computer games (not very hard, I play them a couple times a month at most)
  2. Television
  3. Internet surfing, especially online news
I only watch television with Julianne, who enjoys it more than I do. Thus, I need to find good activities to fill up the time instead with her!

I love reading the news online, and this is the main reason I decided to set the goal. I want to see how different my life is if I cut that out completely. Besides my work, online news is the primary use I make of the computer.

This is basically an experiment to see how it affects my performance at work, my relationship with my family, and my progress with my other goals.

Recreation and relaxation are important, but I want to find out if my level and type of recreation was the best choice! I'll post here about how it turns out.

John Bytheway posted the chapter from his book about this:

PS I am cheating a little bit - I still listen to music on the computer and radio, and I read the comics that my wife has automatically update as her background. I figured those were fair concessions, since I don't think either of them really cuts into my productivity.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Things as They Really Are

Any sort of addiction can be a major obstacle to self-reliance. An addiction can result in spending a large amount of time and or money on things that get us no closer to (or even drive us away from) our personal goals.

Elder Bednar focused in a recent talk on a newer, but quickly growing, addiction - to virtual worlds, computer games and social networking.

Things as They Really Are

It reminded me of my earlier post: Priorities

When I was younger, I finally figured we only had so much time in this life, and there wasn't much point in spending a significant chunk of it in a virtual life. As one website put it, get a first life in a real-time, 3D analog world with no lag and 6.5 billion users.

Monday, August 17, 2009

We Can Afford It

These two lessons are the essence of provident living. When faced with the choice to buy, consume, or engage in worldly things and activities, we all need to learn to say to one another, “We can’t afford it, even though we want it!” or “We can afford it, but we don’t need it—and we really don’t even want it!”

Elder Hales gave a very good talk during the previous General Conference about being provident providers. He gave as examples two stories about times he wanted to buy gifts for his wife, but she turned them down. Each time, she had a different reason. When she gave her first reason, I just nodded, thinking that of course she was right to turn down a gift when they couldn't afford it.

It was the second gift that struck me - she asked him if he was buying the gift for her or for himself. He wasn't buying her a power tool, golf clubs or another type of gift that I think of when I consider the type of gift you are really giving to yourself, not someone else (like when I my little brothers decided to buy a computer game they really wanted "for the family" for Christmas - they were the only ones to play it, as you might guess). No, in this case the gift was one that was definitely for her - a very nice coat. What she meant then was probably that he was buying it to make himself seem like a good provider, and to show off his wife and his money to the world. It didn't matter that they could afford it - he was buying the gift for the wrong reasons.

I realized that I do this myself. Sometimes, when I buy something for my wife, I justify going over the budget because it's for her. Looking back though, I realize that I often had thoughts about how this would impress my wife's friends or ward members, and how she'd have to appreciate me being willing to go over the budget for her gifts! In fact, I realize now that I occasionally felt a little cheated when my wife stayed within the budget on my own gifts! I'm going to have to work on repenting, and when I want to spend a little extra on my wife, I'm going to just have to save money somewhere else first. Besides, I'm the one who set the budget numbers - I have no excuse to go over.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Buy as much house as you can afford, right?

Here's a great old article on how much to spend on a house:

Advice on Buying a House

The problem is that everyone seems to have taken this advice at once...

A few real gems:

The Claim: The basic rule is that you should buy as much house as you can afford. Stretch a little.

This advice started to get really bad once various sub-prime and ARM loans became available, making it so that people could suddenly "afford" a much larger mortgage.

The Claim: Use a mortgage broker.

Mortgage brokers aren't always on your side: When to Use a Mortgage Broker

The Claim: Homes are an investment, so buying bigger is better - because it appreciates faster.

Homes may be considered an investment, but they're not a great one. A larger house is going to increase utility bills and upkeep, and the amount of appreciation is, in general (besides the recent housing bubble), probably less than the interest rate on the mortgage. In addition, if you consider a house an investment, doesn't that make the mortgage leverage?

Friday, August 7, 2009

The Value of Mobility

To those who are currently unemployed or underemployed (and this is a lot of you!), it's pretty clear just how bad this recession is. For the rest of you:

The New Joblessness (New York Times)

One point made in the article is about the value of mobility. Many of the recently unemployed have low mobility, because their mortgages are under water, and it is so difficult to sell a house anyway. Job options are thus very limited, since they can't simply uproot and move to a different state.

Growing up, we moved around a lot. Four times, my parents bought a house. Two of those times, we only lived in the house for a year before changes in employment required moving again. Each time, I think my parents had planned to stay for quite a while, but life rarely turns out as planned. One time in particular, I recall that my father's was doing contract work. His contract expired right in the middle of an employment downturn in his industry. He had difficulty finding work, compounded by the fact that we couldn't afford to move, because we'd just bought a house a few months before.

A couple of years ago, we were living in a different state. I'm very glad that we decided to rent while we were there. We could have afforded a mortgage (though, during 2006, who couldn't qualify?), but I didn't like the looks of the housing bubble. It turned out well for us, since after only a little over a year, I transferred to a different team at the company which required a move to California!

In general (though during a housing bubble all bets are off), buying a house works out better the longer you live in it before moving. Renting works out better if you move often, or can't qualify for a mortgage with a good rate.

In the current economy, I don't think it's a good idea to tie oneself down with a house, unless you are quite financially secure. The standard advice to pay at least 20% down and get a fixed-rate mortgage is coming back into style...

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Two Recipes for Bean Soup

Beans are one of my favorite things. They are cheap, nutritious, and filling. Make them a staple, and you will save money.

Here are two recipes for bean soup--one simple, one fancy, both yummy.

Bean Soup, adapted from a recipe in the 1976 edition of the Crockery Cooker Cookbook by Better Homes and Gardens:

2 cups dry pinto beans
half an onion, chopped (or 1/4c dry chopped onion)
1 1/2 tablespoons chicken broth concentrate or 4 cubes bouillon
1 teaspoon salt (I sometimes leave this out)
pepper to taste
1/4 teaspoons dried marjoram
1 cup milk
1 tablespoon flour
grated cheese, bacon pieces, and/or sour cream for toppings

Sort through beans to remove any pebbles or dirt. Rinse thoroughly and soak overnight. Drain beans and put them in the slow cooker with the onion, broth concentrate, salt, pepper, and marjoram. Add enough water to cover all the ingredients. Cover and cook on high 6-7 hours, or on low 12-14 hours. 20 minutes before you eat, mix the flour with the milk and add the mixture to the slow cooker, and continue to cook 15 minutes. Serve with topping.

Caribbean Black-Bean Soup, from the 2007 edition of Light and Healthy Recipes, by Good Houskeeping:

1 package (16 ounces) dry black beans
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 medium red onions, chopped
4 jalapeno chiles, seeded and minced [if you carefully remove the seeds, these won't make the soup spicy hot]
2 tablespoons minced, peeled fresh ginger
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
8 cups water
1 1/2 pounds sweet potatoes (2 medium), peeled and cut into 3/4-inch chunks
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1 bunch green onions, thinly sliced
1 cup lightly packed fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
2 limes, cut into wedges (optional)

1. Rinse beans with cold running water and discard any stones or shriveled beans. In large bowl, place beans and enough water to cover by 2 inches. Cover and let stand at room temperature overnight. (Or, in 6-quart saucepot, place beans and enough water to cover by 2 inches. Heat to boiling over hight heat; cook 2 minutes. Remove from heat; cover and let stand 1 hour.) Drain and rinse beans.
2. In 6-quart saucepot, heat vegetable oil over medium heat. Add onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 10 minutes. Add jalapeno chiles, ginger, garlic, allspice, and thyme; cook, stirring, 3 minutes.
3. Add beans and water; heat to boiling over high heat. Reduce heat to low; cover and simmer 1 1/2 hours. Add sweet potatoes, brown sugar, and salt; heat to boiling over high heat. Reduce heat to low; cover and simmer until beans and sweet potatoes are tender, about 30 minutes longer.
4. Spoon 1 cup bean mixture into blender; cover, with center part of cover removed to let
steam escape, and puree until smooth. Return to saucepot. Stir in green onions and cilantro. Serve with lime wedges, if you like.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009


Simply consuming less is an important part of becoming self-reliant. Naturally, consuming less leads to needing less and spending less, making self-reliance easier to attain.

Another benefit of consuming less is that it makes the world a better place.

Imagine a collection of garbage, mostly plastic, perhaps twice the size of Texas, floating in the Pacific Ocean. Sound fun? Maybe we should turn it into a tourist site:

Wikipedia: Great Pacific Garbage Patch

Even when trying to consume less, we'll end up with garbage. Most cities now have decent, affordable recycling programs. Check out the services in your city.