Why Downsizing To A Smaller Home Can Make You Happier

As the current lease on our rented condo rolls towards the end of the contracted dates, some of our friends are asking us, once again, when we plan to stop renting and buy our next home. When I share my findings that renting is still cheaper than owning in our town, some suggest we “should” move into a larger home. When I ask, “Why should we move to a larger home?”, responses usually include a quick shrug of the shoulders, a time-stalling “uhhhh,” then perhaps something like “your daughter will need more space as she gets older,” or “don’t you want to grow a larger garden?”

I’ve learned that everything you own owns you. Several years ago, we chose to free ourselves from the handcuffs of STUFF. We downsized our lifestyle almost 50% by moving from a 2450 square foot home into a condo with about half as much floor space. In doing so, our housing and utility bills dropped dramatically. We sold half of our belongings and made over $13,000 in cash. Decreasing our monthly expenses caused our net worth to grow exponentially.

More importantly, our minds are more at peace, and we live a more culturally rich life. We have more time and energy to consume experiences rather than things. We play more with our child, talk more with each other, and enjoy more of life.

Less space gives us more of everything we value most.

According to David Wann, bestselling author of Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic, many of today’s three-car garages occupy 900 square feet, which is about the average size an entire home was during the 1950’s. Today, most people use the extra garage space to store things they own but seldom use.

The number of “very happy” people peaked in 1957, and has remained fairly stable or declined ever since. Even though we consume twice as much as we did in the 1950s, people were just as happy when they had less! 86% of Americans who voluntarily cut back their consumption feel happier as a result.

This recession is putting the squeeze on many families. Perhaps it’s time to consider downsizing your biggest budget buster– your housing expense.

Renting is NOT throwing your money away

Whether you pay mortgage payments to the bank or rent payments to your landlord, you are paying for SHELTER. Contrary to what most people used to believe (but now we know better, right?), homes do NOT always go up in value. Your home is your shelter — not an investment. Often it is less expensive to rent a home than to buy one. Consider renting and investing your down payment savings and your monthly savings into income-producing real estate, businesses, stocks and bonds, or your education instead. You will often come out ahead financially in the long run.

And you might find yourself happier for it, too.

From Minimum Wage to Millionaire (Part 5: My Early 40′s)

Note: This post is part of a series about how I became a millionaire. The series starts here. The most recent installment (my 30’s) is here.

Happiness Is A Choice

After exiting the growing real estate bubble by selling our home, our intention was to take a year-long travel adventure across America in a recreational vehicle. We would submit our adoption paperwork before leaving and keep our eyes peeled during our road trip for the perfect place to call our next home. Then we’d decide whether it was better to buy another home or rent. We were ecstatic about the prospect of living as vagabonds for awhile before welcoming a child into our lives.

But then, two months later, my mother was diagnosed with leukemia.

Whoa. Not only did our trip preparation come to a screeching halt, but so did my carefree and positive outlook. My mom wasn’t just family — she was one of my dearest friends. She was only 59, she’d always been extremely active and up until this point, she’d been the model of perfect health. I was completely thrown for a loop.

My mom came to live with my husband and me for much of her two-and-a-half-year-long battle with cancer. I watched helplessly as her once strong body weakened, withered and starved. I’ve never before felt such intense and prolonged pain.

I realized I had to do something to avoid going completely out of my mind with fear, grief and overwhelm. I tried all the usual things: support groups, therapy, sleep. While these things certainly helped, I discovered something even better. And it was so ridiculously simple.

During this intensely difficult time, I realized that I could be happy anyway.

How? I made it my mission to look for at least five things each day that make my heart melt, my soul sing and my smile grow. I wrote a list of five happy moments everyday. I actively searched for things to add to my list. My focus changed and in turn, so did my mood. I learned that happiness takes practice. With practice, I developed a habit of feeling happy.

At first I felt like a traitor. How could I think about happy things while my mom suffered? Was I being unfair, insensitive? Fortunately, I realized that I couldn’t be a good caregiver for my mom when I felt bad. Fortunately, I chose happiness over guilt.

My Takeaway: It isn’t circumstance that dictates whether you live a happy life; it is a matter of choice.

Bonus: Happy people make more money!

Millionaire Milestone

The morning I calculated our net worth to be north of one million dollars, we were living in a rented apartment, driving a six-year-old car, and wearing used consignment store clothes. At age 40, we were “closet” millionaires.

I’ll never forget the walk we took that beautiful, sunny day. We lived in a nicely landscaped, well-appointed apartment complex half a block from a neighborhood park. Directly to the west of our community stood hundreds of $500,000 McMansions.

During our entire 20 minute walk, we saw no one else out and about. Where were our neighbors?

I suppose the kids were at school and the adults were at work.

I felt like a bird who had just been set free from the confines of its cage. My husband and I, completely unhindered by debt and financial obligations, had found freedom. Unlike our neighbors, we didn’t need to go to work!

Contrary to popular belief, most millionaire households do not live the extravagant lifestyles that many assume. In fact, a millionaire or two may be living inconspicuously next door to you. The authors of the bestseller, The Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of America’s Wealthy found the top reason for why some people manage to accumulate wealth is that they live below their means. Many millionaires have found that living in a status neighborhood is not only a poor value, but it makes one feel the need to keep buying status objects to keep up with the Joneses.

My Takeaway: Live life your way, not like the Joneses.

Two Becomes Three

This dream of mine took ten years to come to fruition, but we had stuck to it and we reached our goal: to be financially-free before starting our family.

We submitted our adoption paperwork and eight months later, while vacationing in Hawaii, we received our daughter’s referral picture.

Since bringing our daughter home from China, we’ve scaled way back on our construction business and work only when we want to. We can afford to be selective in the projects we accept. I hired a bookkeeper to replace me so that I could focus my time, energy and attention on parenting and pursuing my hobbies. Additionally, I’ve learned how to effectively manage our investment portfolio in such a way that this task requires just one or two hours per month of my time.

Our family hasn’t set an alarm clock in years. Whether it be work, parenting or play, we wake with the sun, eager to spend each new day doing whatever we choose. For us, this is financial freedom.

My Takeaway: Hold fast to your dreams and they will come true.

…  to be continued!

The beginning of this series started here: How I Became A Millionaire: Childhood

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Happy People Make More Money

I like to view Thanksgiving as a national celebration of gratitude. Three years ago on Thanksgiving Day, I started a new family tradition: I asked everyone present at the dinner table to share a few things they’re most grateful for and write them down on a colorful leaf cutout. Each year, I ask my friends and family to add another leaf. I adorn our Christmas tree with this colorful gratitude garland. Last Thanksgiving when I asked my then two-year-old daughter to decorate her leaf, she added sparkles and glittery gems. When it came time to help her write her message of gratitude on the back, I asked her, “what makes you happy?”. She replied, “Purple!”. It truly is all of the little things that make life so beautiful.

Since then, our family shares “happy things” during dinner, year ’round. It’s so cool – our daughter looks forward to our evening tradition and usually initiates the daily gratitude conversation.

Over time, I’ve learned something that is so ridiculously simple: that happiness is a choice. Even during intensely difficult times (caring for my mom during her long, debilitating illness and mourning her resulting death, for instance), I realized that I could be happy anyway. It isn’t circumstance that dictates whether I live a happy life — rather, it is a matter of choice. I can succumb to sadness and overwhelm or I can choose to focus on gratitude, love and happiness. I’ve witnessed that by focusing my thoughts on the happy things, rather than those that sadden me or stress me out, I attract more positive circumstances and contentment to my life. This simple act of gratitude literally transforms my experiences.

How do I change my focus? I make it my mission to look for at least five things each day that make my heart melt, my soul sing and my smile widen. I actively search for things to add to my list. By doing so, my focus changes and in turn, so does my mood. It doesn’t always come easy– I’m genetically predisposed to clinical depression. I’ve learned that happiness takes practice. With practice, I develop a HABIT of feeling happy.

“In our daily lives, we must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful, but the gratefulness that makes us happy.”
— Albert Clarke

For the skeptics in the bunch, I’d like to point out that the power of gratitude is PROVEN. Two psychologists say their Research Project on Gratitude and Thanksgiving indicates that gratitude plays a significant role in a person’s sense of well-being:

“The study required several hundred people in three different groups to keep daily diaries. The first group kept a diary of the events that occurred during the day, while the second group recorded their unpleasant experiences. The last group made a daily list of things for which they were grateful.

The results of the study indicated that daily gratitude exercises resulted in higher reported levels of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, optimism and energy. Additionally, the gratitude group experienced less depression and stress, was more likely to help others, exercised more regularly and made more progress toward personal goals. According to the findings, people who feel grateful are also more likely to feel loved. McCollough and Emmons also noted that gratitude encouraged a positive cycle of reciprocal kindness among people since one act of gratitude encourages another.”

Furthermore, happy people MAKE MORE MONEY! Newsweek reports, “although money doesn’t buy happiness, happiness can buy money. Young people who describe themselves as happy typically earn higher incomes, years later, than those who said they were unhappy. It seems that a sense of well-being can make you more productive and more likely to show initiative and other traits that lead to a higher income. Contented people are also more likely to marry and stay married, as well as to be healthy, both of which increase happiness.”

So dear readers, enjoy a HAPPY Thanksgiving! Please share your gratitude for the “happy things” in your life by leaving a comment. Here are a few of mine for today:

tickling my daughter awake
my husband’s laid back attitude
my sister and I putting aside our differences and enjoying the holiday– and one another
my book club friends
learning to play the Marimba
my massage therapist
watching the birds congregate at my birdfeeder
spiced apple cider
you, my reader, for sharing your thoughts with me

Is Your But Too Big?

Do you have a big but problem? You’ll never be successful, happy and wealthy if your but is too big.

Here, let me show you why…

photo credit: flickr.com/photos/86954993@N00/429461958/

“But I have so little to offer.”

“But I’m too scared.”

“But I don’t have anything worthy to offer.”

“But everyone in my life keeps bursting my bubble.”

“But I’m not pretty or skinny enough.”

“But I’m broken.”

“But no one believes in me anymore.”

But I’m a victim

“But I’m a victim.”

“But everyone tells me I can’t do it.”

“But no one loves me.”

“But I’m the ugly one.”

“But I’m too old.”

“But I can’t keep up with all this new-fangled technology.”

“But my life is too complicated and I’m too entangled.”

“But it’s a dog-eat-dog world and I’m terrified of dogs.”

“But my wishes never come true.”

“But I don’t have anything unique to offer.”

“But I’m stuck (in a boring job; in my marriage; in this godforsaken town).”

“But I don’t know where to find what I need.’

“But it takes too much work.”

“But I’m broke.”

“But no one wants to help me.”

“But there’s not enough time.”

“But it’s too complicated.”


Please, already…. Shut your big but up!

The next time you hear the “big but” voice in your head, confront it. Put up your dukes and pound it to pieces. Shove those poisonous buts into your garbage disposal and pulverize them. Wash the toxic remains away and watch as they swirl down the drain and become one with the rest of the sewage.

Kick your big but’s a$$.

Until you conquer your “big but” problem, it’ll hold you back and prevent you from achieving success.

Our lives are nothing but the stories we tell ourselves. If you don’t like the story your life has become — tell yourself a better one. Think about all of the things you can do instead of the things you can’t. Start a different internal conversation and you’ll become wealthy in more ways than one.

Imagine the kind of person you want to be and think the thoughts that person would think. Act the way that person would act. Once you start behaving like this person, others will start treating you like that person. You’ll start to believe it. Then it will be true. Then you’ll be open to learn. Open to change. Open to grow. You’ll be ready to allow success, wealth and happiness into your life. Researchers find that an optimistic personal outlook is more than just seeing the bright side of things. Believing in yourself actually produces increases in good health, motivation, and achievement in most people. (Schulman, P. 1999. “Applying Learned Optimism to Increase Sales Productivity”)

Make no excuses. Allow it to happen. If it works for me, then why not you? Your new life will astound you.

(Hey now, I said no more buts!)

How to Find Your Zingers

I attended a writers’ retreat at a scenic guest ranch last weekend and had two days of blissful solitude to dedicate to writing. As the twelve other writers in attendance furiously tapped out world-record word counts, I barely managed to scribble one hundred incomplete sentences.

If it sounds like a serious case of writer’s block, you’d be only partially correct. (I can blame this bout on the grief I experienced recently when I my website was hacked and I realized I would need to start over.) But more importantly, I discovered that I needed the solitude to reflect on more than just my writing.

The ranch was a gorgeous, inspiring place to move in and out of my head. I walked along the river, hiked up into the hills, exchanged warm greetings with the resident furry beings and admired the tranquil beauty of the place. I sat upon a gigantic pancake-flat rock along the river’s edge to watch the birds bathe and preen for so long that my butt froze. My camera accompanied me everywhere and it seemed that everywhere I turned, a picture was begging to be taken. If it’s true that a picture says a thousand words, than I suppose I “wrote” plenty.

Truth is, I’m feeling restless. Early winter always puts me in a bit of a funk. I know that I need a new, engaging project, especially this time of year. My intention is to wake each morning eager to do something that grabs hold of my attention with such vigor that time becomes a non-issue. My life, by intentional design, is open to endless opportunities. And with this blessing comes a seemingly impossible list of options from which to choose. Sometimes the enormity of choice feels overwhelming and I’m tempted to respond with apathy.

When I was a working stiff (meaning that my job wasn’t a good fit for me), I’d hit the snooze button on my alarm clock at least a half dozen times, then make my grumpy commute. At work, I’d watch the wall clock all day, urging the arms to tick forward faster so that I could punch out and make my escape. That was hell. I wasn’t making a living — I was earning a slow death. Once that realization hit, I was no longer willing to participate in that kind of “life”.

One introspective day, I asked myself what I wanted to do when I woke up. “Toss the alarm clock, sleep until I’m done and work at something I love to do, from home, in my pajamas.” the little voice said. I figured out how to make it happen. And I lived. This shift happened only after I could identify what it was I wanted to do.

And this is where I tell you about zingers and the 100 incomplete sentences that I wrote during the retreat this weekend.

My spare words came as a result of a simple ten minute writing exercise. Here’s how it works:

  1. Number the left side of your paper from 1-100.
  2. Write as fast as you can on one topic (see below for topic ideas)
  3. You don’t have to write in complete sentences. Just get it down, even if some of it doesn’t make sense.
  4. Repeats are okay.
  5. Write the list in one sitting. It is the sheer volume of entries that dredges up the information from your subconscious mind.
  6. When you are finished, look for patterns. Usually the first thirty items are pretty obvious to you. The second third often contains repeats, and somewhere in the last 10-20 answers, you’ll find a zinger that surprises you.

Some Ideas for Lists of 100:

100 marketing ideas for my business
100 ways I can make money
100 things I want to do
100 things I’m good at
100 things I’d do if I had the time
100 things I’m grateful for

I chose to write a list of 100 things I want to do. Many of my responses were predictable for me (places to see, ways to be creative, nature appreciation) and some took me completely by surprise (ride a zip line, attend a sand castle contest, stay with a host family in an African tribal village). And then, just as predicted in the instructions, the last dozen were my zingers:

89. hit the road and go wherever we want to go
90. settle in and snuggle
91. see the world
92. wonder
93. feel
94. experience
95. live
96. be awake
97. be amazed
98. feel content
99. find the story
100. tell it.

As soon as these items were out, I knew what I wanted: I envision hitting the road with my family in a cozy, snuggly home-on-wheels and letting curiosity lead our way. I want to experience amazing places and meet amazing people. With a camera in one hand and a pen in the other, I want to find the stories and share them.

Try it. Find your zingers. Live life your way.

How To Increase Your Financial Bliss

Everyone needs food, shelter and clothing. But beyond basic survival needs, there is an endless array of money-hungry possibilities that can consume disposable income. Many let money slip through their fingers without giving much thought to the big picture. We often buy the latest and greatest stuff simply because our neighbors do; so we can keep up with the infamous Jones family. Advertisers, the media and society influence how we spend.

But living according to your own personal values is the key to happiness and financial well-being. Once you’ve mindfully identified what truly makes you tick, your financial decisions can be guided into alignment with your value system. When you live (and spend) true to your values, you are bound to feel fulfilled, content, peaceful and happy.

You may value a beautiful home — so you spend generously on a home purchase and decorating, remodeling and furnishings. I may value freedom, travel and recreation above all else — so I don’t mind living in a more simple home. Perhaps you feel strongly that it’s important to protect the environment — so you’re willing to fork out more moola to purchase a vehicle that operates on alternative fuel. Your neighbor’s priority might be safety — so they drive a large SUV.

On the other hand, perhaps you are unconsciously investing in things that are not as important to you as others are. Financial happiness occurs once you figure out what is important to you and spend accordingly. Evaluating your key priorities provides a beginning structure for your spending plan– a budget that you’ll be enthusiastically motivated and happy to adhere to. Not sure what your top priorities are? Take a good look at your Treasure Map to a Rich Life — it will reveal important clues.

For purposes of illustration, I’m sharing my own list of priorities and values today. It’s been my experience that the ways in which we choose to think directly influences our actual behavior and in turn, our behavior powers our outcome. Therefore, note my choice of words that serve as affirmations such as “I choose to…” rather than “I wish…”.

My List of Priorities and Personal Values:

1. Family Relationships: I value spending quality time with my family each and every day. I choose to spend more time with my family than on any other endeavor, including my career. Therefore, I accept less income in exchange for more free time.

2. Friendships: I choose to have enough free time to nurture, maintain, and enjoy my friends. Again, I choose to trade income for free time.

3. Health: I value strength, energy, and longevity. I choose to take care of my physical self so that I am better equipped to do all of the things that I love to do. Therefore, I gladly trade money for organic foods and weekly massage therapy.

4. Fun: Life is a precious gift meant to be enjoyed. I choose to live an enthusiastic life; to enjoy my relationships, hobbies and interests; to laugh, smile and acknowledge my gratitude daily. Therefore, I choose to be a do-er, not a have-er.

5. Freedom: Freedom from money worries, serious health problems, stress, and time restrictions. I choose to be able to do what I want, when I want, where I want; and to be free from shoulda-coulda-can’t types of thinking. I choose to be free from the need to wake in the morning by the obnoxious bleeping of an alarm clock. Therefore, I choose to be my own boss and set my own hours.

6. Curiosity-Led Learning: I value a lifetime love of learning. I choose to pursue my own interests, and I facilitate the same curiosity-led learning opportunities for my daughter.

7. Environment and Sustainability: I believe that everyone has an individual responsibility to protect our natural resources. I choose a lifestyle that emphasizes sustainability over wasteful consumption. Besides, by owning less stuff, I have more money – and time – to spend on the activities that matter most to me.

8. Community and Compassion: I believe that each individual is an important and integral part of our world-wide community. I choose to feel and act compassionately towards others. Therefore, I am willing to work sans pay (volunteer) for the benefit of others.

When you review and revise your annual spending plan (aka budget), ignore the Joneses. Make sure that your plan reflects your personal values. By mindfully doing so, you’ll likely find that money can buy you happiness!

How to Create a Treasure Map to a Rich Life

If you had a million dollars and no debt, what would you do?

At age 30 I paused long enough to ask myself this question. Just ten years later, my husband and I were completely debt-free and had a million dollars in the bank.

How did this happen?

We didn’t win the lottery, inherit from a long-lost uncle, or invent the pet rock. I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth, either. When I was a child, my parents struggled to live paycheck to paycheck. My sister and I shamefully hid our free-lunch tickets, then spent after-school hours dumpster-diving behind our neighborhood grocery store. As a young adult, anxious to get out of the house and start making my own money, I dropped out of college… and landed the graveyard shift at the corner donut shop. Then I married a blue-collar construction worker.

Despite the odds, I became a work-from-home small business owner and self-taught investor, and by age 40, my husband and I were millionaires.

How did I go from free-lunch kid to millionaire mom?

You will never leave where you are, until you decide where you’d rather be.
— Dexter Yager

My transformational journey started when I discovered an important truth: Our lives are the stories we narrate for ourselves. If you don’t like the story your life has become, tell yourself a better one. Change starts with a thought, not an action. Think about all of the things you can do instead of the things you can’t. Start a different internal conversation and you’ll become wealthy in more ways than one.

If you don’t know where you are going, there’s an excellent chance you won’t get there. You need to create a crystal clear vision of exactly what being rich is for you. Your personalized image of “rich” needs to feel so real to you that you can literally smell it, touch it, hear it, see it, taste it, FEEL it. You need to own it.

Visualizing what wealth means to you shapes the way your mind thinks about money and your life. Your mind then sets in motion the actions necessary to begin achieving your goals. By taking the time to establish what real wealth looks like to you, you direct your efforts in ways that make becoming rich, in your own terms, simple.

I created my first “Treasure Map to a Rich Life” vision board in my early twenties. A few years later, I was living the story I had envisioned through the Treasure Map tacked upon my wall. Every few years, life experiences modify some of my aspirations and passions and my vision of wealth and happiness change, so I design a new Treasure Map. Lo and behold, my life soon morphs to fit my new vision. And it repeats over and over again.

My most recent Treasure Map (included above) reveals:

  • I choose to live an enthusiastic and playful life.
  • World travel, culture, nature and creativity continue to place very high on my list of interests.
  • I will share my passion for lifelong learning with my daughter. The world is our classroom – we can homeschool as we travel.
  • My heart is open. Perhaps we will adopt a second orphaned child in need of a loving family.
  • I remind myself that romance and parenting is a balancing act.
  • I yearn to give back and make a difference in the lives of others.
  • I am opening the door to new possibilities – perhaps I’ll write a book, offer financial education, motivational speaking, mentoring, teaching.
  • I choose happiness.

How to Create Your Own Treasure Map to a Rich Life:

1. Round up a poster board, some old magazines, scissors, glue, and colored markers.

2. Flip through magazines and cut out images, photographs, illustrations, titles, and quotes that catch your eye. Select images that evoke your feelings of happiness, phrases that put a smile on your face, and words that intrigue you.

3. Glue your cut-outs onto your poster board to create a collage.

4. Use your colored markers to add any additional words, quotes, or statements that make you feel happy.

5. Place a title on your poster board- something like, “My Treasure Map” or “My Rich Life Is…”, or “Happiness is…”.

6. Now step back and take some time to look at your collage. Do you like what you see? Do you feel happy when you look at it? If not, simply paste new images over the parts that don’t make you feel good.

7. Make a wild guesstimate. Write down how much money you think you’ll need to live the happy and rich life that you’ve just created on your Treasure Map. Don’t worry about being accurate, but do be specific. “I want to have lots of money” is not specific enough. You need to quantify how much money is “lots” for you, and include when you want it to happen. Write down some specific numbers and dates. Try something like “I want to make $100,000 next year and I want to have $1,000,000 saved by 2020”.

8. Proudly hang your Treasure Map where you will see it every single day.

9. Finally, take a photograph of your Treasure Map. Place this photo in your wallet or checkbook.

Consider your map a work in progress. As you look at it daily you’re bound to change your mind about a few things and clarify some details. Just pull out your glue stick and modify your map accordingly.

Now that you can visualize exactly what it is that you really want, you’ve taken the biggest step towards living a rich life. Your personalized image of wealth and happiness will drive your daily actions in simple and incredible ways.

Next, I’ll explore how identifying, prioritizing and living according to personal values is key to personal happiness and financial well-being.