Tuesday, December 30, 2014

A Small House Should Cost You Less, Not More!

While at the public library, I saw a book about small house living. It was full of very modern and expensive-looking new small houses with lofts, stone siding, high-end appliances and pricey floors. I felt like the author and publisher were missing the point.

One of the biggest benefits of small-house living is that it keeps your costs down, freeing up your money (so you can stay solvent) and time (so you can do other things instead of working like a dog to pay for an expensive house). Having a small house filled with expensive features requires a certain level of income that an increasing number of people don’t have anymore. So it seems silly to focus on so many showy small houses with inevitably large price tags.

Small houses were once very much in vogue, and can still be found all over the country. Now that small houses are making a comeback, people are realizing that an older, well-built small house in a good neighborhood makes more sense than anything else in the real estate market. Unlike condos, there are no HOA fees or rules. Unlike large homes, there are low utility bills and property taxes.

Some of the houses in that book I saw had fancy stairways with backless steps made of metal. Many existing small houses also have two stories, but I prefer a ranch. It’s a lot easier to move into a one-story house than a two-story house. Also, as I age, I can see that someday, steps will become my nemesis. Many other baby boomers are coming to the same conclusion, so I think ranches will be extremely desirable for the foreseeable future. 

In any case, once you age out of the need or desire for a large house, small-house living becomes very attractive, whether you want a basic small house or one of the modern ones like I saw in the library book. It just makes so much sense in the times we live in now.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Downsizing for Freedom

Our downsizing experience was driven by a desire to regain financial peace, but another by-product of it is that we gained a lot of freedom.

Did you know that freedom is scary? At least it is after years and years of falling into a familiar pattern. In our case, we always had to live near my husband’s job. Even after he started his own business, we had to stay in the area because that’s where his contacts (potential clients) were. This meant that we lived in the same general area for nearly 30 years.

Then economic change reared its ugly head, his business closed and we had to find a new place to live. Where? Anywhere. Sounds great at first, but for us, having far too many choices was scary. How do you determine where to go when you don’t even know how to support yourself anymore?

We did have a couple of small Internet-based businesses, but we could live anywhere we could get Internet access, so that didn’t really help us narrow down our range of choices.

In the end, we chose to move to an area where we often went on vacation. We rented a lovely house (quite cheaply because we were signing a one-year lease instead of a summer lease), and figured we would eventually buy a house there. But while we loved living up the road from the beach, we learned that it was not the right place for us to live full-time. The natives weren’t very friendly to outsiders, and we got lonely.

We ended up leaving after two years, and we did so easily because we had the flexibility of being renters. The experience helped us see that our ensuing freedom was quite wonderful. Having had a few years to think, we were ready to take advantage of that freedom. We traveled to different places, looking for a new hometown, and finally found one.

That was nearly six years ago. In the new town, we rented a lovely restored house from the 1920s. Both of us had always wanted to live in a historic house, but weren’t crazy about the time and money involved in restoring and keeping up one. Instead we got to spend two years in an absolutely beautiful old house, and whenever something went wrong, we just called the landlord. Now that’s freedom!

While living there, we had time to get to know the town and its people, and found that we were comfortable with both. When the landlords told us they wanted to put the house on the market, we used our recently gained knowledge of the town to find and buy a very small house in a great neighborhood for cash. Our utility costs (and our property taxes) are quite low, giving us the freedom to live on a relatively modest income in comfort. Should we decide to move elsewhere, this house shouldn’t be hard to sell, or we could rent it out for a few years.  That flexibility, in addition to the financial peace we still have, is due to the freedom we found by downsizing.

(My downsizing eBook has 20 reviews, 4.5 out of 5 stars, on Amazon. Learn more HERE.)

Monday, December 15, 2014

Downsizing for Flexibility

As I said in my last post, for years I’ve kept a record of how much money we spend each month and each year. It includes categories, which is very helpful because you can see which categories are becoming too large and eating up too much of your money.

In our case, it was obvious which category was becoming too large, and its growth was beyond our control: housing.

The irony here is that we had paid off our house several years earlier. But the property taxes had been going up from 5-10% annually, and were approaching $600 a month. My husband’s business was declining, so the bulk of our income was shrinking. Once he had to close the business, how would we pay nearly $7000 a year in taxes? (Since he’d worked in that industry for over 30 years, he wasn’t trained to do a different high-paying job; $10 an hour at Home Depot was not going to be enough to cover our expenses.)

We didn’t want to risk losing our paid-off house because we couldn’t pay the property tax, so the issue of downsizing finally became very real for him as well as me. We had to find a cheaper place to live; once we did so, we could figure out the income end of the equation.

Downsizing wasn’t an easy decision, even though it was an obvious one. It meant moving away from nearby family and friends because we had to go some distance to find housing that we could afford in an area that we knew and liked. But doing so gave us a lot of flexibility in terms of figuring out what to do next.

If you’re in this position, or suspect that you are, you’ll need to crunch numbers even though you already know you need cheaper housing. You need to find out just how much money you spend each month vs. how much you earn; then you can determine the number that qualifies as an affordable housing cost for you.

It’s possible that you can find more affordable housing nearby. If housing costs aren’t exceptionally high where you are, you may be able to go from a big house to a smaller one, or from a house to a townhouse or condo.

Another option is renting. That’s what we did, and I must say we enjoyed the break from homeownership. Renting is also a great way to buy time while figuring out your next step.

Whether you buy a more affordable home or rent one, trying to put yourself in the black (or stay there) is always a good thing. Earning less than you spend is the only way to find financial peace; it’s worth whatever changes you have to make to your lifestyle.

Making those changes is where flexibility comes in. Releasing yourself from high costs gives you the flexibility to move anywhere, work anywhere, live anywhere. As you consider the possibilities, you realize that downsizing isn’t just about finding a cheaper place to live. It’s about changing the path that you’ve been on for years to do something different. I share stories in my eBook about people who have been able to pursue their dreams once they realized they had to downsize their lives.

So many people find themselves trapped in order to maintain their lifestyle. By downsizing, you’re no longer tied to one way of living. Even if your housing costs aren’t climbing like ours were, or if they are but you can afford them, downsizing might let you switch to a career you like better that pays less, or move to an area where loved ones await.

The flexibility that lets you consider such possibilities is a wonderful by-product of downsizing.

Next: Freedom

Monday, December 8, 2014

Downsizing for Financial Peace

Freedom…Flexibility…Financial Peace

Though I put those reasons for downsizing in the title of my eBook, they didn’t occur in my life in that order.

The freedom part had been an ongoing issue. With a big family in a big house, and despite organizing and donating things to charity over the years, there was still a ton of clutter in our house, and I never seemed to find time to deal with it. But it weighed on my mind daily, and I sometimes dreamed of waking up to find most of it gone.

The flexibility part did not come into play until much later, and it was actually the financial peace part that caused the entire downsizing episode.

I knew we would have to downsize a few years before we actually did so. I told my family about it, but they either didn’t believe me or didn’t want to believe me. But I knew.

How did I know? And how can you know if you’ll need to downsize in the near future?

It’s all about the bottom line. You have to know how much you spend, how much you earn, which number is larger, and which way the trend is going. It’s really that simple. But it takes effort to figure out the first part, how much you spend. Not a lot of effort, but regular effort.

For many years, I’ve kept track of what we spend in a notebook. (Younger people not so set in their ways might want an app for this, or even just an Excel file.) I round off amounts to the dollar, and categorize as I go along. I use one sheet of paper for each month, and I write down our expenditures under the following categories:

Property Tax
House Insurance
House/Yard Costs
Health Insurance
Entertainment/Out to Eat
Car Insurance
Car Gas
Car Expenses/Repairs
Disability Insurance
Life Insurance
Cell Phone

At the end of each month, I add up the numbers to get a grand total of what we spent that month. And at the end of each year, I add up the monthly numbers to see not only what we spent in each category that year, but how much we spent for the entire year.

You can imagine how much my husband enjoys hearing how much we spent, given that he prefers not to think about how much anything costs him.

But I’ve always felt that it must be done, and by doing so year after year, I had a good idea of where we were at financially, and where we were headed. By the year 2004, I could see that despite our debt-free status, we were spending more money than we earned (the difference was coming out of savings). To make matters worse, our annual income was declining, because my husband’s business was slowly dying.

For me, it was like being on a hill, watching a car coming from the north and a car coming from the south heading toward each other on a one-lane road; you just knew what would happen very soon.

As I said, my insistence that we were going to have to downsize did not make me popular. But it gave us time to talk and strategize about what we might have to do, and as time went on and the numbers showed more clearly that we were spending more than we were earning, even my husband came to see that something would have to be done. To live in denial would only make things worse.

Besides, we had experienced many years of earning more than we spent and saving the difference. That’s where we found financial peace. And we wanted to get back to that place.

Next: Flexibility.

Friday, November 28, 2014

It's Black Friday.....

...and I'm glad to be snug in my cozy little house. I also slept well last night while others jostled for position outside of big-box stores and malls, looking for those great Black Friday bargains.

I guess I've always loved sleep more than shopping, because I've never gone out on Black Friday. Seeing video of people fighting over gigantic TVs doesn't exactly encourage me to get out there, anyways.

But the main reason I don't go shopping on Black Friday is the same reason I shop very little these days: when we downsized, I got rid of so much stuff, and I don't want it back!

I like open floor and counter space, closets that are only half-full, drawers that close easily. I've found that if I don't go shopping, I'm not tempted to bring things home, things I really don't need.

As for Christmas gifts, I'm trying to give gifts that don't create clutter; I'd hate to think my family members might feel stuck with something they don't really need just because "Mom gave it to me and I'll feel guilty getting rid of it." That's how people end up with houses full of stuff.

So I'm getting them gift cards as well as consumable items like gourmet food, items that they'll enjoy but don't clutter up their homes. The fact that I can buy these things without leaving home is a bonus!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Collectibles Usually = Clutter

I was recently shopping in a thrift store when I happened to see a stack of Norman Rockwell collector plates. I remember seeing them advertised in magazines back in the 1970s and 1980s, and they weren’t cheap. In fact, I think people could pay for them in monthly installments. But now they’re only $3 each at the thrift store.

Then there are Hummel figurines. My elderly relatives think their Hummels are worth hundreds of dollars each, because they paid a lot for them back in the day and they assume that prices have only gone up since then. I don’t have the heart to tell them that most Hummel figurines sell for $15-30 on eBay nowadays.

And of course anyone over 20 remembers what happened with Beanie Babies. They became popular and people bought and sold them for outrageous prices. Now you see them for a buck each at garage sales.

The fact is that once-collectible items often become clutter that’s hard to get rid of, either because you paid so much for them or because you’re aware that they were once valuable and you feel guilty getting rid of them. Neither of these are good reasons for keeping this stuff, especially if it’s getting in your way.

Consider that any items that were once highly sought after are probably not worth as much now because there are so many of them in existence: their popularity doomed them to eventually become commonplace, just because of the sheer quantity of them that were created.

Nevertheless, it’s still hard to get rid of such things.

The key, I think, is to make a strict rule to only keep items that you truly love. They may have once been collectible, or they may be something no one else wants. But if you dearly love them, they can stay. And if you don’t love them, they need to go. You must be picky, picky, picky, if you want to live in a clean, uncluttered and lovely environment. It’s the only way.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Creative Retirement: Mortgage-Free Means Freedom

Wow! I had no idea so many people retire owing money on their homes; according to this article, nearly a third of them do. That's up from 20% in 2001.

I could never do that. To me, having a mortgage is like having your ankle tethered to the ground. Your options are so limited. Besides, those of us (and I know we're legion) with no pension or big fat retirement account waiting for us consider having no house payment to be a huge asset in retirement.

When you retire with no mortgage, the traditional largest monthly expense just isn't there. It makes a huge difference in your bottom line, and gives you peace of mind that you'll always have a roof over your head. And should you decide to sell your house at or before retirement (a wise move, in my experience), you now have a nice chunk of change to work with. You can:

  • Pay cash for a more suitable place in a different area.
  • Buy something cheaper, leaving money for other things you need.
  • Rent for a year or two, keeping your cash in reserve while you investigate your options.
  • Buy a small used RV and travel for a while, leaving your stuff in storage until you're ready to put down roots again. (When, if you're lucky, you can sell the RV for not much less than you paid for it.)

Oh, the things you can do when you don't have a house payment anymore!

Now I understand that mortgage rates are incredibly low and that you can probably earn higher returns in the stock market, IF you have the stomach for it these days. But I'm no gambler. I'd rather have zero debts so I know for certain that I owe no one anything, than hope that I'll make a greater return in stocks than I pay in interest for my mortgage.

That's why I've been mortgage-free for the past 12 years, and I'm not even retired yet. How about you?

Monday, September 29, 2014

New Small Houses for All Ages

Recently I learned about a home manufacturer who understands that these days, people want attractive, affordable housing.

Clayton Homes offers small, efficiently designed manufactured homes for those who want smart design at a modest cost. Whether you're just starting out or thinking about retirement, an efficiently designed home for around $80,000 may just fit the bill.

Check out this brief video to see the innovative ideas this company has. While the video is aimed at younger people, a home like this would also be great for those retiring on a budget. Clayton's Home of Tomorrow is the perfect antidote to the McMansion!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Wasting Our Youth on Chasing Stuff

As others are discussing, my memories of my college years involve living simply (though not by choice) and loving it. I had no car but traveled most places by bike or on foot, with an occasional bus ride thrown in for good measure (Rides were a quarter and transfers were free). Entertainment involved going to school-sponsored movies for 75 cents and splitting the $5 special at Burger King (two Whoppers, two fries and two drinks, as I recall) with my boyfriend. I also spent my free time socializing, reading for pleasure and sewing. Good times.

Some of the old folks I know live similarly. They may not drive anymore, so they walk or take the bus. They don’t buy much in the way of stuff, either because they can’t afford it or they don’t really want anything. But they read and cook and relax and enjoy their loved ones while living simply.

Why is it that we know how to enjoy life when we’re young and when we’re old, but in between we get caught up in stylish clothes and fancy cars and impressive houses and pricy vacations and technological toys, not to mention all the work (and time) it takes to pay for those things that we think we must have? Why do we exhaust ourselves by chasing a certain lifestyle right in the prime of our lives?

Wouldn’t it be wiser to live simply in those in-between years so we can relax and enjoy our lives while we’re (relatively) young and (relatively) healthy?

That leads to one more question: If I had to do it over again, would I pursue the big houses and the new cars? 

I’ll be honest: I’d have to answer yes. Speaking only for myself, the pursuit of “new” and “big” is something I just had to outgrow. Now, in my 50s, it looks like a waste of youthful energy to pursue such things. But at the time, it was what I wanted.

Sure seems silly to me now, though.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

What a Legacy...

My local free newspaper often has auction notices; many of them are for estate auctions. Here’s the description at the top of one upcoming auction of an elderly couple’s estate:

In 1959 this couple started aggressively collecting and warehousing an unbelievable amount of antiques and collectibles. Rooms are stacked to the ceiling, many more items than listed. Watch for dates of more auctions.

In other words, this couple collected so much stuff for 55 years that it will take multiple auctions to get rid of it all.

Isn’t that sad? What was the point? It almost sounds like they were hoarders. Their heirs must have been so overwhelmed, and even the auction agent must be shaking his/her head (while happily figuring out what multiple auctions will do for their bottom line).

A house full of rooms stacked from floor to ceiling with stuff. What a legacy…..

Friday, August 15, 2014

The Truth about Tiny Houses

I’m seeing articles about tiny houses all the time lately, and I understand why people like them:

  • They’re cute, and often cleverly designed.
  • They’re good for people who want to live very simply.
  • Since they’re on wheels, you don’t have to pay property tax on them.
  • Since they’re tiny, they don’t cost much to heat or cool.
  • They’re sturdier than a modern towable trailer.
  • They’re cheap enough that you can pay cash and live mortgage-free.
Nevertheless, I can see some problems with tiny houses, particularly for those who are looking for a cheaper way to live:

  • They’re very expensive per square foot. A new 18-foot long model (163 square feet including loft) sells for $57,000, or $350 per square foot. Consider that many nice small homes sell for $100 per square foot or less. (Of course, tiny houses can be cheaper if you build your own.)
  • There’s little room for storage, meaning you can’t save money by buying on sale in bulk, nor will you have room to store the tools needed to make repairs or create things (ouch!)
  • You’ll have to find a landowner who will give you permission to park your tiny house on their property.
  • Tiny houses often have wooden exteriors, which will require regular maintenance to prevent weather damage.

Finally, there’s the fact that most tiny houses have upstairs lofts for sleeping, and they’re usually accessed by tiny ladders or steps. Being a woman of a certain age, I think I’d be courting disaster when making my routine middle-of-the-night bathroom trips down to the bathroom and back up to bed using a ladder. So tiny houses might be better suited to the younger set.
Nevertheless, tiny houses are a popular topic right now. No doubt the lousy economy has something to do with this surge in popularity. Seems to me that some people are getting kind of ridiculous about it: check out this very tiny house.

Personally, I find that living in a small house with a basement solves the affordability problem very well. Our purchase price worked out to $84/per square foot (not counting the basement or garage). Our basement is finished, making it great for entertaining and useful for extra storage. And even though I can’t take my house with me when I travel like people with tiny houses can, I find that a well-appointed hotel room or vacation condo suits me just fine and makes a nice change of surroundings.

But that's just me. If you're convinced that a tiny house is the only way to go, why not rent one to see how you like it? It would be fun to spend a month in something as cute as this tiny house, and it's in a lovely location to boot.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Hot Off the Press: Secrets of Small-House Living

Today's the day! My newest eBook, Secrets of Small-House Living, is now available! The publisher is offering it for only 99 cents for a limited time as an introductory special. You'll find it at:

Barnes & Noble

I wrote this book for people who want or need to downsize to a small house but are used to living in a much larger house, or even a McMansion. I learned a lot on my own journey from large house to small house, and I share my experience along with the research I did while making the transition. In my book, you'll learn: 

The advantages of living in a small house
How to find the right small house for your needs
How to choose which furnishings to take with you
Decorating tips to make any small house feel comfy yet roomy
Strategies for living well in a small house

Living small is a whole new way of life for us, and we love it! Here's an excerpt from my new book:


The McMansion Era is over! We’ve learned that a big house may look impressive and feel spacious, but in a lousy economy, its negatives really stand out. They include higher taxes, higher heating and cooling costs, and higher decorating costs. Worst of all, McMansions eat up a lot of their owners’ free time because there are so many rooms to clean (and keep clean). Even when a cleaning crew does the housework, someone has to work to pay the cleaning crew.

No wonder more and more people have decided that they want to live in a small house. Whether it’s due to a financial reversal, an empty nest or a desire to live sustainably, today’s home buyers are snapping up small houses while McMansions linger on the market.

I’m one of those people. Several years ago, my family and I sold our large house with its two-story foyer and 42’-long kitchen/family room combo. Now we own a 1,000 square foot ranch, and we’re very happy with our little home.

But it wasn’t a seamless transition, logistically or psychologically. It took time to downsize our possessions so we could fit in a smaller home, and it also took time to get our brains around the idea of living small. But it’s been well worth the effort. We now have a much more manageable cost of living. We’re no longer burdened by too much stuff. And we finally have time to relax because there’s far less upkeep around here than there was at the big house we lived in for years.

Some people don’t need this book. They’ve always lived in small places and know how to do so successfully.

No, this book is for people who don’t know or don’t remember what it’s like to live in a small space. Maybe you were raised in a large house, or you’ve been living in one for years. Now, you want to downsize, and you’re just starting to realize that living small requires a completely different mindset. In fact, it’s actually a different lifestyle than the one you’re accustomed to living. But you want the freedom that comes with living in a small house. You just need some help making the adjustment.

I’ve been in your shoes, and I’ll share more of my own story shortly. But first, let’s look at what you’ll learn in this book. You’ll discover:

  • The advantages of living in a small house
  • How to choose the right small house
  • How to move from a large house to a small house
  • How to make your small house a home
  • Living well in a small house

There are things you can do to make life in a small house very enjoyable. As you read this book, you’ll find many ideas that you can apply to your own situation. So let’s get started!

The Joy of Small House Living

For years, some in our society have looked down on those who live in small houses. They assume people live in small houses because they don’t make enough money to live in large houses. Fortunately, this attitude is becoming less common (though certainly not rare yet) thanks to the economic downturn, the trend for single households and smaller families, and a renewed appreciation for living sustainably.

That said, you may have grown up believing that bigger is better. It’s a common malady of our times. But it simply isn’t true.

Yes, there are people who need very large houses. They may have a large family, or run businesses from their homes, or entertain frequently and on a large scale. For them, bigger may very well be better. Hopefully, they can handle the high expenses, the high purchase price and taxes, and the high maintenance costs that come with a big house.

But many of us can’t, or don’t want to do so. We value time over space. We want to spend our free time doing what we want to do instead of devoting our lives to taking care of a large house, or working long hours to pay for one.

We also like the idea of having less stuff (a functional result of living in a smaller space). After so many years of living in a consumer-driven economy, badgered by commercials and pursued by advertisers, we’ve become overwhelmed by all our stuff. The idea of paring down our collection of possessions has become very attractive to us.

Fortunately, we’re seeing more positive examples of small-house living as our culture changes. There’s even a trend toward tiny houses (less than 500 square feet) that’s gaining steam. It appears the pendulum has begun swinging back toward a more sensible, sustainable way of living.

But it’s been a long time since small houses were appreciated. We need to learn (or relearn) about small-house living. That’s what I had to do a few years ago.

I grew up in a series of spacious ranch houses. Then I went off to college, where I learned to squeeze my belongings into half of a dorm room.

Had I gone straight from modest college dorm rooms and a few tiny apartments to a small house, I wouldn’t have needed any instruction on how to buy and live in a small house. But I got married while I was in college, and my husband and I bought our first house less than a year after graduation. It was big and cheap because it had a lousy location and terrible decorating. So we spruced it up. Several years later, we sold it for a nice profit, bought an even bigger house, and filled it with kids.

Over the years, we were too busy raising kids and working to mess with clutter, but we had plenty of room to let the clutter sit and grow, so we did. And a large family can produce a lot of clutter! Our basement slowly filled up with outgrown clothes, forgotten toys and sports equipment, and many, many boxes of paper clutter that were mostly unnecessary but contained important papers, so that we couldn’t throw out a single box because it might be holding one of the important papers.

Then there were the birthday gifts no one played with for long and the old television that still worked (so why not put it in the basement just in case?) The giant air hockey table the kids finally tired of quickly evolved into the perfect place to park bags of paper and old clothes. Soon it was piled up like Mount Vesuvius, getting ready to blow should someone accidentally bump it.

Plastic boxes full of old crayons and tiny cans of dried-out modeling clay sat next to bags of old cassette tapes that had arrived with books that were in boxes elsewhere in the basement, or possibly in one of the younger kids’ rooms. After the computer age arrived, tangled piles of old cables began to appear here and there, along with old modems, a few spare keyboards and the occasional burned-out CRT.

Eventually, the kids began leaving home, taking some (but not all) of their things.

“Sure, you can leave that stuff in the basement until you get a bigger place, dear,” I said to more than one adult child. By this time the basement and crawlspace were full, save for a narrow path leading from the steps to the washer and dryer.

About that time, the economy began its steep decline, and we had to sell our big house and downsize our lives. A traumatic event to be sure, though we came through it in better shape than we expected after we moved three times in four years, all the while juggling a couple of storage units that had to be rented, filled, emptied and given back again.

We were forced to deal with our many possessions once and for all when we bought a small house, because there simply wasn’t enough room in it for all of our stuff.

You might be wondering why we bought a house that wasn’t big enough to hold all of our belongings. The answer is that buying a small house made sense: our nest was nearly empty, so we didn’t need lots of bedrooms. We didn’t know what the future held financially, so we wanted to keep our expenses low. And at just the right time, we found a little house with a great location. So we bought it, figuring we would just have to get rid of most of our things so we could fit comfortably into it.

Once we moved in, our small house education began. Living in a small house is so different from living in a big house. It’s not just a matter of square footage. It’s a matter of attitude, of mindset. I’m a different person, living in this house, than I was in our big houses.

I loved our big houses, but I think I’m happier in this one. In A Pattern Language, author Christopher Alexander suggests that people like small spaces, that they feel safer and more protected in them. That may be true, but in my case, there’s something else going on. As much as I loved our two-story foyer, big roomy living area and a master bathroom larger than the bedroom we sleep in now, life in a big house was too much work and worry for me. I realize that now.

For one thing, I had to psyche myself to clean house, which was a multi-day job that required all my energy. (Yes, I had children who helped clean, but let’s face it, that may be character-building for them, but it doesn’t make the cleaning job much easier. Either you have to crack the whip on them, or go back and finish it yourself.)

Our utility bills were big, and often huge: every heat wave required that we either run the central air conditioning and dread the impending electric bill, or sweat guilt-free. Every fall brought with it the annual discussion about how low to set the thermostat, while the kids complained that we were trying to turn them into popsicles. Sub-zero days meant heavy sweaters and slippers. Since we both worked at home, there was no escape to a comfy office via a heated or air-conditioned car, either.

Then there were the property taxes. As house prices soared, so did our taxes, to the point that they were becoming a pretty big burden at over $500 a month. By this time, our house was 20 years old, and we could see that some home improvements needed to be made; ironically, making improvements would drive up our taxes even higher.

Issues like these made us decide to go the small-house route. Benefits include:

  • Lower rent or purchase price than a large place
  • Lower tax bill
  • Lower maintenance costs
  • Lower utility costs
  • Less time spent cleaning (leaving more time for fun, friends, etc.)
  • You can afford a better neighborhood than you could if you bought a larger house
  • Resale is easier for small houses because today’s families are smaller, and there are more single-parent households and lots of baby boomers who are looking for something smaller and easier to take care of.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the advantages of a small house.

 To buy my new book now, go to:

Barnes & Noble

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Creative Retirement: 7 Reasons to Sell Your Big House…Now!

Although financial experts urge us to think about retirement soon after we begin working as 20-somethings, most of us don’t think very much about retirement planning until we reach a certain age…you know, once we start feeling that age, with the usual aches, pains, and thoughts like, “They stopped recording good music in the 70s.”

The fact is that most people don’t like to think about planning for retirement. And with all the experts out there insisting we have to have at least $1 million saved up (right, that’ll happen for most of us), who can blame them?

But there’s one thing you can do right now that can only help your retirement plans: sell your big house. A big house is nothing but a burden to anyone in their 40s or older. Here’s why you should sell, now:

1) A big house requires many hours of your time paying for it and keeping it up, hours you could be spending on the golf course or reading good books.

2) A big house usually means higher taxes, costing you dollars that you should really be putting away for retirement, especially if you have no pension or retirement account to speak of.

3) A big house encourages your adult kids to move back home, or to never leave in the first place. Times are tough, I know, but how will they learn to cope if they have your basement to hide in?

4) A big house lets you keep the clutter instead of dealing with it. One reason people postpone freedom in the form of downsizing their lives is that they don’t want to go through their possessions and make decisions about what to keep and what to give up. But if you don’t do it now, the job will just hang over your head until you (or your heirs) are finally forced to deal with it.

5) Big houses aren’t as popular as they used to be, thanks to smaller families and a lousy economy. Sell now so you don’t take a bigger loss down the road.

6) Big houses are often two-story or multi-level houses; at some point you’re not going to want to deal with stairs, or you may not be able to. So it’s unlikely that you’ll want to stay in the house in your old age.

7) If you have enough equity in your big house, selling it and using the proceeds to buy a small house, townhouse or condo will let you face future retirement with a paid-for abode.

I think that last point is especially important if you don’t have a pension waiting for you. The biggest item in most budgets is the mortgage payment or rent. Imagine not having to pay that someday if you have only a modest retirement income to live on!

Friday, June 20, 2014

Embarrassed by Downsizing?

We recently saw some distant relatives at a family gathering, people we hadn’t seen for years. One asked my husband why we had moved from our big house in the suburbs to a small house in a small town.

One of the things I love about my husband is that he’s honest and direct. He simply replied, “After my industry moved overseas and I had to close my business, we couldn’t afford to live in our area any more.”

Simple enough, right? But it’s very hard to admit that despite your best efforts, things aren’t going well financially. The responsible way to handle things is to be proactive and downsize willingly, before you’re forced to sell everything just to keep the electricity on. But there’s a huge temptation to pretend like nothing has changed.

It’s dangerous to live in denial. Many people face financial difficulties in these hard times, and some actually make things worse by using credit to continue a lifestyle that they can no longer afford. Even when they reach the end of their rope, and are finally forced to downsize to a smaller house and/or a less desirable area, they may try to keep the fa├žade going by putting a little spin on the situation (“We sold our house because we’re going to travel a while before moving to the Hamptons.”)

Being honest about your situation means you don’t have to wear yourself out pretending that nothing has changed. You also free others who are having financial challenges to be open and admit that the smart thing for them to do right now is to downsize. Your example can show them that there’s nothing to be embarrassed about and that life goes on…..a happy life, too.

Years ago, I would occasionally see bumper stickers on cars that said “Don’t laugh. It’s paid for.” I’ve thought about putting a little sign with that slogan in my yard (don’t worry, my husband would never go for it!) But we love our little house, and we’re happy with it. No, we don’t live in the McMansion anymore, and we don’t live in the suburbs, either. But I’m being completely honest when I say we’re fine with that. Downsizing our life has actually made us quite comfortable. And we don’t care who knows it.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

The Burden of Collections

I love going to estate sales.

I love rifling through books from long ago. I like to see juice glasses like the ones my grandma set on her breakfast table, and framed pictures like those people had in their homes when I was little.

Since we downsized, I’ve learned to admire these things without buying them, because we simply don’t have the space for them. If I should find something I absolutely must have, I’ve promised myself that some item I currently own will have to leave the house before the “new” (to me) item can come in. That’s the only way I can stay on top of my possessions and not let them get out of control, as I once did.

Recently I went to the estate sale of an elderly lady. It was held in her 1930s frame two-story house, and run by a group of tired-looking middle-age women that I assumed to be her daughters and/or daughters-in-law, because they kept referring to “Mom” in their conversations.

They had done a great job of setting up the sale, and what a job it was! All through the house were tables covered with tablecloths and neatly arranged items for sale. I could barely walk around the L-shaped living/dining room full of tables without bumping into someone or something. Every surface was covered with stuff.

There had to be at least five long tables of glass and ceramic figurines, all neatly arranged and shiny, as if someone had recently cleaned them (what a job!) Along one wall was a long display of costume jewelry, many pieces in their original boxes, all priced individually. There were also tables with lamps, glass and metal ashtrays (remember them?), wall plaques and artificial flower arrangements. There was no furniture except a few chairs for the sellers to sit on; the furniture must have already been distributed within the family or sold before the sale.

The kitchen was packed to the gills with dishes, pots, cooking utensils, and other kitchen items, many with mushrooms on them. Apparently “Mom” was into the 1970s mushroom craze and had amassed quite a collection of mushroom-decorated items.

The rest of the house was filled in a similar fashion, with various collections displayed neatly and price tags on each item. I can’t imagine how hard those women worked to get that sale ready. But I have to wonder how they really felt about all of Mom’s collections because no one seemed to be choosing many of those items, buying more useful things like lamps, yard tools and clothes instead. If they didn’t mark down Mom’s collections toward the end of the sale, they were likely left with the items and more decisions to make about what to do with them. Ugh!

I once had quite a few collections myself. When we downsized, I still liked my collections and didn’t want to give them up. I put off making decisions about them for a while (there were certainly plenty of other things to do at that busy time anyways) until it finally occurred to me that there is no law that you have to keep a collection together, and that if I was honest with myself, I really preferred some items in my collections over others. Hence it was OK to break up my collections.

Once I made that realization, I could finally do what I needed to do. I reduced my teapot collection from dozens down to three. I reduced my enormous collection of back issues of Country Living down to one small stack of clippings after committing to flipping through a few issues while on my exercise bike each night and tearing out anything I just had to keep. I did the same thing with my many quilt magazines, some of which had been published in the 1980s (!)

Both my husband and I have always been bookworms, so we had hundreds of books, maybe more than 1,000 counting paperbacks. We gave up about 2/3 of them.

I won’t list my other collections that were broken up; to be honest, I can’t even remember all of the stuff we got rid of! But I’m doing just fine without it, and someday when I die, my kids won’t have to go through all of it like that elderly lady’s family did for her estate sale.

I sure felt sorry for those gals.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Why My Profile Photo Looks Like Carlotta Vance

I chose Marie Dressler as my profile photo (see right column of this blog) in homage to her character, Carlotta Vance, from the classic 1933 film, "Dinner at Eight."

Carlotta is a woman who once had fame and fortune, who knew what it was like to live in luxury. But in the movie, she is no longer young and beautiful, no longer pursued by men who want to woo her with furs and diamonds. In fact, as her career wanes, she finally reaches the point where, as she tells her dear friend Oliver Jordan, "I haven't got a sou!" Yet she faces life with courage, concern for others, and as you see in the clip above, a sense of humor.

The character of Carlotta is a role model for me. Over the last decade or so, the lousy economy has dealt my family some hard blows. We lost a business and had to sell our family home. Our income is nowhere near what it once was.

It's often tempting to feel sorry for myself, and sometimes I do. But most of the time, I want to be like Carlotta. I want to face the future with a sense of hope and charity.

In that spirit, I wrote Downsizing Your Life for Freedom, Flexibility & Financial Peace. It's had a good response, and I'm grateful. Now I'm writing another book related to it that I hope will also help and encourage others.

Times are challenging for many people these days. I want to help my readers by sharing what my family has learned, and by telling everyone that being proactive about change, especially change you didn't ask for, is the best way to get through hard times and keep enjoying your life.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Where Should You Go When You Downsize Your Life?

For some, downsizing their life is simply a matter of finding more affordable and smaller digs within commuting distance of their job. But if you don’t have a job or you’re about to lose yours, it’s possible you may need to find a new town to live in, possibly even a new state.

Yes, I’m aware of the increasing number of ex-pats out there (people who have left the U.S.), But I’m assuming most people, like me, want to stay in this country. They just need to know how to find a good place to live that doesn’t cost as much as where they live now.

I shared a great tool for discovering your perfect new town in Downsizing Your Life for Freedom,Flexibility and Financial Peace. Now I have two great links to share, which I’ll probably have my publisher add to my book, but that you can check out right now.

First off, here’s a wonderful document (PDF) that lists all the metropolitan areas of the U.S. in order of affordability. What a find! It starts with the most expensive areas. We moved from page 1 to page 5, making our lives so much more affordable in the process. Find your current town in the document and start looking further down to see where you might go to make your life easier, financially and otherwise.

Then, if you’re wondering where other people are moving, check out this amazing interactive map, which shows who’s moving where and what the per-capita income is in every single county in the country. Be warned, though, you can waste a lot of time playing with this, it’s so interesting!

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Moving Back In with the Folks? Eeeek!

Oh, the joy, fear and excitement of leaving home to go off on my own. How well I remember it, even though it’s been, um, a while.

Once I was on my own, I couldn’t imagine moving back home with my parents. So when I read this article about how the economy is forcing some adults in their 50s and 60s to move back in with Mom and/or Pop, I was both alarmed and sympathetic.

But when you think about it, it makes sense. Wages are stagnating but costs are rising. It’s been this way for several years, and something’s gotta give. If moving in with the folks keeps a roof over your head, what can you do?

Most people won’t be “moving back home” anytime soon. But to make sure it doesn’t happen, we need to be realistic about our personal financial situation. Are we facing layoffs at work? Are we barely making it on a pension? Do we see lower income but bigger bills in the future?

You have to be honest with yourself. If you refuse to face reality, you’re only postponing the pain, and you may be making it worse, in the long run. But if you make the tough decision now to downsize your life, and make your bills (and your lifestyle) more manageable, you may be able to avoid the fate of those who are moving back in with their elderly folks.

We downsized after an income loss and came through in much better shape than we expected. Life in our McMansion is just a good memory now, but everyone once in a while I look our old house up on Zillow to see how high the property taxes have gone, and think about how we dodged a bullet there. Even the $300+ monthly electric bill is just a bad dream. Best of all, we’re now so comfortable that the thought of moving in with my folks (who are still living and just as hard to get along with as they ever were!) doesn’t even turn up on my radar.

My motto is: Bite the bullet and do what you must so you don’t end up sleeping under the watchful eye of your Bobby Sherman poster ever again!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Small House Regrets?

If anything could make me regret downsizing to a small house, Easter would have. And it almost did.

We can squeeze eight people into our eat-in kitchen. Our growing family now numbers 16. You do the math.

By Good Friday, I was thinking about putting up a table for eight in our living room (which would require moving furniture out of there first). The living room isn’t connected to our eat-in area, so it would be like having two separate parties. Bummer.

We couldn’t use the finished basement like we usually do because it’s so darn cold down there right now (it was a long winter) and Grandma and Grandpa get too chilled in the basement even when the rest of us think it’s comfortable.

So, thoughts of “What were we thinking buying such a little house?” began to surface.

But here’s the thing. We love this little house, and 95% of the time, there’s more than enough space for us. It’s only when the entire family gets together that it feels a little too cozy.  

All year long, I enjoy the low utility bills.
All year long, I love that it only takes me a few hours to clean the entire house.
All year long, I enjoy the mental freedom of knowing that we have no mortgage. (We chose a small house so that we could remain debt-free.)

Weighing those things against a little coziness made it clear that we were thinking just fine when we bought this house. But in the end, it didn’t matter. We had our first 80-degree day of the year on Easter Sunday, so we were able to have our family gathering under a canopy on the patio. What a lovely day!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

RIP Coldwater Creek

I was sorry but not surprised to read that Coldwater Creek is closing their stores. I used to shop there often. Not that I could afford most of their clothes, but they had lovely, nice quality items that were appropriate for women over the age of 25. I would go in and have a look, then wait patiently for a sale, where I would happily buy a few of my favorites at a discounted price. I still wear some of those clothes, survivors of a major wardrobe purge when we downsized.

At one time, going to Coldwater Creek was fun. The salespeople were mature, helpful and not pushy. The clothes were displayed with accessories, which is very helpful for those of us who need a visual. They wrapped my purchases in tissue and carefully packed into them into a nice brown paper tote.

So what happened? Going only by my own experience, I believe the death knell for Coldwater Creek began when they started doing two things: they cut back on larger sizes (a foolish move when much of your clientele is “older”) and they cut back on quality. How well I remember one big sale they had, where I came home with four pretty t-shirts. Three of the four began shrinking lengthwise and stretching crosswise after the first washing. This was the problem I’d seen with lower-priced clothes, but never before at Coldwater Creek.

After that, I was more cautious when I shopped at Coldwater Creek. I could no longer assume that whatever I bought there would hold up. They became like every other store, where it was hard work to find something stylish and age-appropriate that wouldn’t shrink or fall apart in the laundry.

For me, the last straw occurred after they began sending me coupons for $25 off anything. By that time, I had to drive some distance to the nearest Coldwater Creek, but did so in hopes of finding something nice in my price range. But I looked through the entire store and could not find a single item I liked. In some cases, the items were cheaply made. In others, there were plenty of size 6’s but nothing over size 12. I used one coupon to get a cheap necklace for almost free, but decided it was too chintzy-looking to wear. After that, I just threw away the coupons whenever they showed up in the mail.

What a shame! For many years, Coldwater Creek held out against the despicable trend of selling cheap trampy clothes that so many other merchants converted to several years ago. But once they joined the crowd, they joined the race to the bottom. No wonder we now see Goodwill stores popping up all over the place; they seem to be the only place where you can find well-made clothing at affordable prices.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Why Clutter isn't a Problem for Me Now

Many years ago, in a different time and place, I worked in an office building across the street from a lovely outdoor mall. Naturally, I spent many happy lunch hours shopping.

At Crate and Barrel, I bought all sorts of things for my kitchen. They even had a discount corner, which I always made sure to check out. Then there was Marshall Fields, where I could drool over linens and housewares. At John M. Smyth, I worked hard to find just the perfect solid wood sofa table and end tables to go with our living room sofa and loveseat.

The difficulty back then was staying within my budget. So when I found a great deal, I pounced. That was the start of my clutter habit, I know now. But it was also a time when I learned to identify high-quality furniture, fabrics and household goods.

Today, my clutter problem really isn’t a problem at all. We downsized a few years ago, and since then it hasn’t been hard to keep from filling up the house again. Why? Because when I go shopping now, I see very little that I want.

Everything looks so boring and cheap to me! I used to agonize over which set of sheets to buy because there were so many pretty choices. Now I look at them and think “Meh!”

Furniture is so poorly made and ugly now. Fortunately I'm intimately acquainted with an excellent woodworker (here’s my solid red oak coffee table), but I see nothing like what he makes in the stores.

My adult kids buy furniture and home goods, but they don’t seem excited by it, and I understand why. To them it’s just a sofa, or just a chair. They found it at Target, or Shopko, or the cheap chain furniture store across from the mall. No big deal. And it’ll fall apart in a few years and they’ll buy another one.

This makes me sad. I love good design, beautiful fabrics, wood with distinctive characteristics. You used to find such things in the stores and the malls. But not any more.

(Fortunately my most-loved pieces survived our downsizing and we continue to enjoy them.)

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Clutter: What We Can Learn From Younger Folks

You start out in life as a young adult with few belongings. Your music, of course, whether in your day that meant albums, 8-track tapes, cassettes or CDs. Some clothes (more if you're female), a few mementoes from your youth, some treasured books and maybe some posters for your walls.

And then life kicks into gear, and you become so busy working and doing that you don't realize how the clutter creeps up on you. Each stage of life brings more stuff with it, and before you know it,  you're anchored in place by everything you bought or were given since those long-ago days when your prized possessions only filled a couple of boxes.

Been there, done that, and am relieved that most of the stuff is gone now. There's nothing like a good decluttering to give you a new lease on life. But I sure wish I'd done it sooner, or better yet, hadn't hung onto so much stuff from the get-go.

Not that I'd want to be like this gal. Yes, she travels very lightly (and kudos for that!) but she appears to be rootless. That sounds lonely. Besides, I'm one of those people who quotes Dorothy ("There's no place like home") when I come home from a trip, whether I've been gone a day or two weeks.

But this guy: he's got the right idea. Yes, he's smart because he's only 31 but is already mortgage-free. In these tough economic times, that's very wise. But better yet, by living in a small space, he's limiting how much stuff he can take on in the coming years. This will save him so many headaches!

We who are facing retirement, or have already retired, can learn from these younger people. They're a reminder to us that we are not our stuff! There's plenty to do in this world, no matter what your age, and it's a lot easier to pursue such things when you're not anchored down with decades' worth of belongings.

What kind of opportunities are you missing because of your "anchor"? In my book Downsizing Your Life for Freedom, Flexibility and Financial Peace, I share the story of a dental hygienist who retired young and discovered the joy of helping children in Haiti after going on a mission trip there. When a long-term opportunity to do even more good there arose, she was all pumped and ready for it....until she realized that she'd have to do something about her overflowing-with-stuff, 3-bedroom ranch first. That'll dampen your enthusiasm!

These young folks who are trying to live lightly have the right idea. Those of us who are a bit (ahem) older may not have their youth or energy, but we can still pursue our dreams with gusto once we jettison the weight of too much stuff.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Creative Retirement

Most Baby Boomers will have to be more creative when it comes to retirement than our parents had to be.

After reading about this woman whose elderly dad is in much better shape financially than she is, I relate to being in a completely different situation than my parents. My folks are elderly but live quite well on three military pensions. They downsized from a house to a condo 20 years ago, so their bills are small, yet their income is higher than it was when my dad was working.

I, on the other hand, only have the downsizing in common with them. We have no future pensions around here, so we'll be living on what we were able to save up while self-employed. We paid quite a bit more into Social Security than people who worked for an employer, but will be lucky if S.S. lasts long enough for us to get it all back.

Like the woman in the article, we're doing our best to manage costs now, in order to prepare for retirement. One thing this woman does that's very wise: she rents living space from a friend. Many financially challenged Boomers should consider buddying up with someone if they currently live alone. Dividing expenses and helping each other out will make the path much smoother.

And, of course, downsizing as soon as possible is a great idea for Boomers regardless of their current financial situation. Giving up the McMansion for the little house has saved us so much money, and as a bonus, has given me more time to do what I want to do than I ever could have imagined. (Learn more about it HERE.)

Friday, February 28, 2014

Thursday, February 20, 2014

First Rap Video I've Ever Liked

I'm not into rap and I never was, but this video from the new "Tonight Show" with Jimmy Fallon is pretty darn clever. I suppose they used software to find the clips more quickly, but it still seems like a big job to put something like this together. Enjoy:

Excerpt from Downsizing Book

Downsizing your life isn’t just about getting rid of a lot of stuff you don’t use. It’s also about looking at your life, including everything you surround yourself with, and removing the extraneous while considering what would make you happy and what would make more sense for the life you’re living today (not last year or two decades ago).

This often requires a move. So the first step in downsizing is deciding what to do about where you live now.

Should You Move?

Is your home too big for you?
Can you no longer afford it?
Are you tired of taking care of it?

If you answered yes to any of those questions, then you need to decide about moving before you start going through your things. It can mean the difference between just whittling down your belongings and doing a great purge.

If the idea of moving scares you, yet keeps nudging at you, it’s probably something you need to do. To get past the fear, arrange for a trial downsizing. Rent a small cottage or cabin somewhere and take only daily necessities plus a few things for entertainment, such as a music source, tablet, eReader or a few books. Go for a week. (If you can’t afford to rent a place, ask friends or acquaintances for a line on someone who might own a place that would let you stay there free for a week.)

Afterwards, note how you felt without your home, without your possessions, away from your current living situation and living in a smaller space. Most people who temporarily downsize like this are surprised to find that they become quite relaxed; they especially enjoy the lack of stress they experience during their time away from their life and their stuff. (This is part of why vacations are so much fun, too, don’t you think?)

Making the decision to move is just the first step. If you’re downsizing primarily for financial reasons, make sure the math works out. Do you know where your money goes now? Figure that out first, and then determine whether the place you’re thinking of moving to will actually cost less than your current situation. Chuck neglected to do that before he sold his house in the suburbs and bought a condominium in the city. But within a few months he realized that the condo owners’ association fees and parking garage fees made his new lifestyle more expensive than the old one. Not wanting to take a loss by selling so soon, he took a second job instead to help cover his added expenses. Remember, numbers don’t lie, so do the math first.

If you’re looking for a cheaper place to live, or wondering whether you can afford a certain place, check out http://www.bankrate.com/calculators/savings/moving-cost-of-living-calculator.aspx. Another great site for learning about new places to live is the forum at www.city-data.com.

Some people believe a downsizing move is only worthwhile if it will reduce your annual expenses by at least 25%. But there are intangible rewards as well, so keep that in mind by considering both your budget and your desires.

Costs of moving include movers or truck rental, and the realtor’s commission if you have a house to sell. Be realistic when you estimate the proceeds of a house sale; you may not get as much for your house as you once hoped, thanks to the housing crisis of recent years. You can check out recent sale prices of homes in your neighborhood at www.zillow.com for comparison purposes.

If you’re single and money’s tight, consider moving with someone else. A good friend or a sibling or cousin who’s also looking to save money and live somewhere new can split costs with you.

Finally, if you decide to move, don’t buy a house or condominium. Our economy is unstable, and the housing market has varied wildly. Buying something could trap you somewhere. Besides, part of the fun of downsizing is knowing you’re free to move if you want to go somewhere else or if you find a new job. You’ve likely spent your adult life doing what was expected of you. Now it’s time to relax a little and stay flexible. Renting lets you do that. And when the heat won’t come on or the refrigerator stops working, it’ll feel so good to call the landlord and know you won’t be getting the repair bill.

It may take a while to find a location that’s right for you. After we sold our house and downsized, we rented a house in one town for two years, then moved to a different town and rented there for two years. The first experience taught us that the first town wasn’t for us; we sure were glad we didn’t have a house to sell before we could leave. The second experience taught us that the second town was for us, so we felt good about eventually buying a house here. But we also knew (from experience) that there’s a tight rental market in this town; should we get the urge to move somewhere new, we can easily rent out our house and increase our monthly income. Since we work from home, we can live almost anywhere.