Monday, April 29, 2013

What is the Law of Attraction All About?

I downloaded a free e-book book from Amazon this weekend (it's now back to $2.99). It looked like a book about financial management, and since I want to learn more about this subject, and I've picked up some real gems from Amazon's list of 100 best-selling free Kindle books, I decided to try it. Well, I've only read a couple of chapters, but it seems to be mostly about the Law of Attraction (LOA) as it applies to personal finance. I may comment further on the book,  when I've finished, but I do want to comment on the LOA. It's been huge for the last few years.
 Link to Amazon Book Listing

Various permutations of the LOA attribute success, getting what you want and so on, to a process usually called manifesting. Manifesting is supposed to be a result of your ability to align your thoughts, vibrations, feelings, and/or internal images, with the Universe or God or something like that. So you don't so much get things as you manifest, or somehow assist the Universe, in creating them. On a first pass this seems patently ridiculous, doesn't it? But these books and movies, such as The Secret, are absolutely chock full of testimonials from people swearing that they, indeed, were able to manifest things such as Rolex watches, BMW's, and checks with lots of zeros in the amounts. So what's up with that?

Honestly, I'm not really sure. My opinion at this time is that it's mostly (or completely) about changing your own attitude. Your attitude is everything, and if there is any "magic" here, I think it may be in our ability to pick up attitudinal signals from people around us. For example, after reading a book on Positive Thinking years ago, I began to notice that when I was feeling positive and "up," strangers reacted very differently to me than when I was feeling "down." Even when I was down and made every effort to control body language, speech, and appearance, people still acted in accordance with how I really felt, not how I tried to appear to feel.

I remember a young woman who worked in my office. She was in no way beautiful. She had rather coarse features and was rather ethnic-looking at a time when that was not in vogue. But she seemed to believe she was a knock-out, and she totally projected that. Everything in the way she dressed, styled her long hair, and presented herself, said "beautiful lady." And men were very, very impressed. I've since noticed many other women with that "attitudinal beauty." I've also known a lot of women who had nice figures, good hair and features, but who did not project beauty, and were largely overlooked.

A second element is your own expectations, and what you will permit for yourself, what you will allow yourself to anticipate and strive for. If you don't believe in yourself, or in the world's ability or intention to provide for you, then you will tend to not see a lot of real opportunities, and you will have a pessimism-based risk aversion that prevents you from taking advantage of even the opportunities you do perceive.

I've read, and observed, that people's stations in adult life often mirror the socioeconomic levels in which they were raised. Men who were brought up by wealthy, entrepreneurial fathers are far more likely, regardless of education and intelligence, to end up at approximately the same level as their fathers. Men who grew up in poverty are much less likely to have achieved wealth. There are many elements that contribute to this phenomenon. However, attitudes, beliefs that support accepting for oneself this kind of achievement, and especially that support the effort required to get there, are probably near the top of the list.

Now, this is not what the LOA is supposed to be about, not at all. But, I've noticed that one of the almost-universal elements in LOA methods is a strong focus on gratitude. Becoming aware of all the good things that come to you, and that are in your life. Developing a strong concentration on these positive things, and a refusal to dwell, or do more than barely notice, the negatives. Learning to reframe negatives as positives. Isn't this actually a reworked form of Positive Thinking, with a strong overlay of magic?

Whatever it is, I believe it can work, if it results in people really changing their fundamental beliefs about themselves, their potential, and their abilities. And perhaps the element of magic makes it easier for us to buy into these new beliefs. By adulthood, most of us have formulated pretty concrete ideas of who we are and what we are capable of, of what we can have and what isn't for us, even though we think we'd really like it. I think the LOA method's primary role in change, then, is not invoking the help of some higher power, but in changing what we believe we are deserving and capable of.

Friday, April 26, 2013

You Get What You Pay For... Or Do You?

"You get what you pay for." All my life I've heard that said whenever somebody complained about the speedy demise of some cheapo item they purchased. The moral was that the value you got from purchases... quality, durability... was supposedly commensurate with price. I always believed this. Sort of. I realized there were exceptions, but thought it held up as a general rule of thumb.

But is it true? The longer I frugalize, to coin a verb, the more I find that it often is not true. But again, sometimes it is. So knowing when I can safely economize, and when I'm better off spending more, has been an important key to learning to live well on a small budget.

For example, I've found Suave shampoo, at $1 a bottle, to be as good for my hair as brands that cost many times as much. It cleans well and leaves no discernible residue. And it comes in wonderful scents that make my morning shower very enjoyable. This one, a lavender-lilac scent, is a favorite, but all are quite nice. The conditioners are good, too, although I don't use rinse-out conditioner any more. Instead, a couple of times a week I rub into my damp, just-shampooed hair, a pea-sized dollop of Pantene cream conditioner. It adds a bit of conditioning to my non-treated hair and makes it easier to comb out, but doesn't leave an oily residue and doesn't need to be rinsed out when used like this. Super-frugal, too, as a $4 bottle lasts for a year or more.

Another great personal care product I use is Clear BASICS Vitamin E skin care cream, with aloe vera and jojoba oil. I've been using it for several years now, and it is, hands down, the best facial and body moisturizer I've ever used. It is quite rich and moisturizing, but does not leave a heavy, oily residue. It soothes my dry skin even in extremely cold, dry winter weather, but works well in the summer, too. It lists fragrance as an ingredient, but never irritates my sensitive skin. I like it a lot better than the Elizabeth Arden, Clinique, and other expensive, big name brands I used to use. Best of all,  a 16 oz. jar sells for less than $2 at my local Family Dollar store. Unbelievable.

My favorite eye liner pencil and foundation also come from Family Dollar. On the other hand, I pay big bucks (well, sorta big) for Clinique's Brow Shaper, a powdered product that works way better than any pencil for adding color to my eyebrows. There are no rules for this. I just try the inexpensive stuff and see if it works for me. There are some duds, but sometimes I find real bargains.

Another example from the clothing category is a lightweight black rain jacket I bought six or seven years ago at Value City, a now-defunct discount store. The jacket was not a name brand, but the price was right and I needed a black jacket. It was just OK. Well, I hate that jacket! Every time I wear it, it feels cheap and tacky. I don't know why I haven't thrown it away. In hindsight, I realize I should have spent more, even a lot more, and gotten something I actually liked.

Same thing with perfumes. I just like quality perfumes. When students have gifted me with cheaper brands, Avon or drugstore brands, I never like them. It's worth it to me to get the good stuff. I've been wearing Caleche by Hermes and Opium by Yves St. Laurent this winter, and am switching to Spendor by Elizabeth Arden and Cabotine by Gres for warmer weather. But I no longer pay retail for these. Discounters usually have overstocked or discontinued eau de toilette and colognes for sale, so I just check each time I shop. I never pay more than $20 or so. This works for me because, although I like quality, I am pretty flexible about scents. Discounters never have testers - I just find a good name brand, usually a French or American designer, and take my chances. I've gotten a couple that were a little heavy and that I used sparingly in cold weather. But I've never gotten anything I couldn't wear and truly enjoy. I have a penniless friend who will only wear Diorissimo, and who is as a result perfumeless most of the time, poor thing. It pays to be flexible if you're frugal.

So - price? Quality? It all depends. The important thing in keeping myself happy when spending sparingly has been to really investigate and learn where it pays to spend more, and where I can meet my needs with a bargain purchase. This "needs assessment" absolutely must include emotional satisfaction as well as functionality, and since each person is different, each person will come to different conclusions, make different choices. I continue to learn from my mistakes.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Less is More

I see so many pretty flowers as I go for my daily walks. Spring is good to us, as usual. The flowering cherry trees and magnolias are fading, sunny yellow forsythia is hanging on, tulips are in full bloom, and trees have gone from bare, gray branches to feathery canopies of that particularly delightful pale spring green. But this year, my favorites of all have been the dandelions, poking their yellow heads out of the new green grass. They're everywhere!

I took this photo on Saturday in back of the local Lutheran church, which has an especially lush lawn and cheerful, abundant dandelions. It just makes me happy to look at them! The weeping cherry was spectacular, in all its pale pink bloom. But the dandelions, small and simple as they are, said "spring" to me more than any of the more impressive floral displays.

Sometimes... often... less is more. As a quote, this saying is attributed to Coco Chanel, the iconic French designer. The principle seems timeless and universal.
I think want to keep it in the forefront as I continue to redesign life - my routines, my surroundings, even my budget. I believe it is a true guide, to be seriously considered when making any changes, especially life changes.

Yesterday I wrote about consolidating my computer record-keeping and calendaring into a simple scheme that works together as a whole, and can be gotten to wherever an internet connection exists. I'm seeing how that has been a subconscious search for order and simplicity in the way I process and keep information. What can I apply this principle to next? Decluttering, definitely... 

Monday, April 22, 2013

Organizing and Using Cloud Storage is Frugal and Efficient

Keeping stuff organized can be such a time sink, whether it comes to storing all my things at home, or keeping track of the tons of information I keep on my computer, or more recently, "in the cloud" to be accessed by computer.

I really do store a lot of digital material:

  • E-mail, of course
  • Contact information for everybody I've ever interacted with
  • Document files for lesson plans and handouts for my ESL classes and tutoring
  • Student information, including scanned intake forms, pictures, scanned writing samples
  • Scanned PDF files of books and instructional and product manuals
  • Scans of out-of-print books and collections of worksheets for teaching use
  • Photos I take, and those I download from Facebook and e-mail, mostly of my family
  • MP3 files of recorded books, podcasts, and radio programs I want to listen to
  • More MP3 files of music and language course instructional materials
  • Recipes
  • Knitting and crochet patterns and pattern books in PDF form
  • My financial recordkeeping system, based on Google Spreadsheets
  • Scans and web clips of all kinds of financial information, including receipts, records of online payment and purchases, and tax forms
  • Documents I want to be able to later download and read on my Kindle
  • All kinds of lists, including to-dos, reminders, birthdays, and books to-read and already read
  • Clips from the internet of all sorts of things that I want to remember or purchase, and may want to find again "some day"
  • Calendar items

The challenge is organizing all this stuff so I can easily find it! Here's what I am doing these days:

Evernote is what I have been moving to for storing most of the above. Its tagging and notebook systems, plus a really robust search capability, make it hard to lose anything. And it's easy to use. It is the best for clipping whole web pages or parts of pages, such as a picture, and saving along with a reference URL. Much better than just saving a bookmark. When I was looking for a new computer, I clipped lots of pictures along with descriptions and prices, so I could go back and flip through to compare without revisiting every website. (Evernote automatically saves the URLs, so you can go back, you just don't have to.)

I use the free version, and have never come near to exceeding my monthly upload limit. There is no limit on how much storage you can accumulate. It's a really, really good product.

Gmail is my favorite e-mail system, and I'm not the only one - it's hugely popular. It's fine to use web-based, but you can download to another e-mail client such as Outlook. It's pretty easy to use, reliable, and Google gives you 10 gigabytes (GB) of free storage (that's a lot!) so you can archive everything forever. I recently learned how to send selected e-mail to Evernote using a funny little free service called If This Then That (IfTTT). Alternatively, I just clip and save the body of the an e-mail to Evernote.

Google Calendar  is my all-time favorite calendar. I use it as a web-based application, just like Gmail. I find it super easy to use, and both Gmail and Google calendar work well on my Kindle and even as web-based mobile apps on my clunky old Blackberry.

The important thing for me to be able to integrate these programs as much as possible. As an example, when I get an email about an upcoming book club meeting, with attached discussion questions, I first enter the meeting date in Google Calendar. I can upload the attachment to Evernote, generate a unique URL for it in Evernote (part of the sharing features), and enter the URL in the in the "event description" area of the calendar event popup. I usually also forward the e-mail to Evernote, too. That way, just before the meeting, I no longer have to hunt all over to find the discussion questions. Similarly, if I am planning to do a project of some kind, I can create a calendar reminder, and then attach the URL(s) for any notes, documents (anything web-based, such as Evernote or Google Drive), or web pages I'll want to use or refer to.

[Little known, very useful feature of Google Calendar: copy any URL and paste into the event description section of the calendar, then triple-click the link to open as a web page.]

Other Contenders for cloud storage include Google Drive (of course), which is good, cheap (they give you several GB free storage just for using it), and reliable. The main reason I very much prefer Evernote, though, is the ease of clipping material from the web and adding to Evernote. You can't do that nearly as quickly on Google Drive. I also use Dropbox for some things, such as tranferring photos or other files from my phone to my computer. It gives you 2 GB free storage. Microsoft SkyDrive is good, with a great interface. I keep my lesson plan materials backed up on it. They give you 7 GB of free storage when you sign up, and you also get free access to simple web-based versions of the Office programs Word, Excel, OneNote, and Power Point. There are lots of others, but these are the biggest names, and possibly will be the most reliable over time.

Two caveats I try to remember are, first, that any web/cloud-based storage service can be subject to reliability issues, and could go down for hours, days, even weeks or longer in the event of a natural disaster. Anything you're actively working on should be also kept on your computer. Anything particularly important should be backed up on another server, and for some things you should keep paper/hard copies somewhere safe. Second, security may be an issue for some kinds of information. Anything can be hacked. So use common sense.

That said, I've found paperless cloud storage to be a huge time saver. So long as you have reasonable access to the internet (something faster than dial-up, if anyone still uses that), it's easy to find what you need from any computer, and searching for things is a lot faster than hunting through boxes. The added advantage is that you can access your files from anywhere in the world you have a computer with an internet connection. If your home connection is down, you can take your laptop and go to McDonald's or the library. And you can do it all for free. Well, except for the home internet connection.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Is Reinvention Possible for Older Folks?

Magnolia and Forsythia in Bloom
Face it, when you are a bit dissatisfied with your life, and decide to dig into the self-help literature, you almost never read success stories about people our age, do you? Reinvention seems to be limited to people in their 30's, 40's, even 50's. Anyway, old people are too set in their ways to create effective change in their own lives, right?

These popular stereotypes absolutely pervade the media. We older folks don't see many examples of people our own age who have successfully made over their lives, who have made extraordinary changes. And yet these kinds of things can and do happen.

Let's take a closer look

In some ways, older individuals have some real advantages when it comes to self-improvement.
  • We've lived long enough to sort out what's important and what isn't.
  • We've learned a lot more about a lot of things, including human nature, what we do and don't do well, and how the world works.
  • We have more time to spend on learning and making changes. Most younger people's time is consumed by work, child care, getting ahead in general.
  • We don't need as much sleep, giving us even more time.
  • But we realize we DON'T have all the time in the world and so may be less apt to put off starting.
On the down side (AKA, excuses for sitting on our hands): 
  • We may not have the available financial resources we had when we were younger.
  • We may have become more risk-averse, and may hesitate about investing money and effort on projects that could fail.
  • We may have become discouraged through the inevitable failures, large or small, that everybody experiences over the years. 
  • We may have lost our confidence in our ability to learn new things, such as keeping up with all the new technology out there.
  • We may not have the physical strength and energy we had when we were younger.
  • We may have lost some of our emotional resiliency, and may find change more daunting than we used to.
  • We may just have gotten a little lazy, and have come to like the relaxed, low-pressure lifestyle of retirement. 

This second list  may explain why so few older people make major positive changes in their lives. And why so few even try to do so.

What the second list comprises, though, as noted, is a series of excuses. For example, you certainly might become discouraged by stuff that happens to you. The disrespect shown in the workplace to many aging workers could easily make you start to feel you're not as able as the younger folks... if you let it. Fact is, research has shown that older workers are frequently the most valuable workers. They tend to have a better work ethic, get along better with other workers, are better at handling customers in an appropriate manner, and have a much better attendance record. So this, like everything else on the list, is just an excuse.

Those of us who are dissatisfied by where we are at this point in our lives, who want to make some serious changes, need to give up the excuses in the second list. We need to learn that these things, even where true, are not significant. They will only hold us back if we let them.

[Note on the photo: I took this earlier in the week, as I walked to the library. The day was gray and cloudy, threatening rain, but the roadways were lined with trees and shrubs in full bloom. Beautiful pink cherry trees and magnolias, and others covered in small white flowers. And of course, the bright, sunny yellow of forsythia. This beautiful magnolia fronts my library. I often sit in its shade, on the bench beneath. You can also see a row of cheerful yellow forsythia in the right background.]

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Living Well: A Bit of a Moving Target

The term "living well" is pretty general. It certainly means something different to each of us.  Experts say that you need to know what you want - with a fair degree of specificity - if, in fact, you expect to get it. A target analogy is often used. You need to define the target you want to hit, or you'll be shooting arrows blindly, hoping to hit something useful.
It's a moving target, though, isn't it? When I was in my early 20s, I would have defined it in terms of elegant clothes, expensive cars, dinners at expensive restaurants, and a beautiful home that I did not have to lift a hand to clean or maintain.  In my 30s and 40s, the concept would have begun to include professional success, an impressive job, and a correspondingly impressive spouse. Having gotten some of that (but the spouse wasn't too impressive), by my mid-50s I was redefining "living well" to include more rewarding, if less impressive, work and circumstances, as well as more free time to pursue more thoughtful, leisurely pastimes such as reading, music, crafts, and time outdoors.
Now, into my 60s, I need to define "living well" with clear-eyed realism. It is now the ability to have a comfortable living and take care of myself well, with enough abundance welling up and spilling over to cover things like maintaining and improving my modest, elderly, and much loved home, lavishing creative presents on my family and friends, vacationing in distant places, and donating to causes I believe in.
I'm no longer interested in expensive cars and homes, or impressive but demanding jobs. One thing about getting older is that you finally realize that you can be quite comfortable and happy on relatively little money. (That's "can," not "will," and it's the difference between the two that makes all the difference.)
The best things in life truly, truly are free. However, many good things do require some cash. Realistically, at my stage of life, I'll not likely find a job that pays a lot of that cash. That job was always Plan A, and I did achieve it in the past. But things have changed, and now I need plan B. Many of us need plan B, don't we?