3 ways to get richer in the Year of the Horse 2014

February 3, 2014 · 10 comments

in Money issues, Traveling

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This is the year that I makeover my finances by transitioning away from credit cards. So bye-bye, plastic. Hello, cash. This new strategy has also been kinda painful. To my surprise, it’s creating a completely different lifestyle. But in the long run, I’m sure I will be better off.

The Year of the Wood Horse is the perfect time to rethink money issues. Wood horses are considered Fire animals. They bring a productive year to those who carry on with enthusiasm (fire) and begin new projects (wood), according to my friend Jeffrey Yuen, a world-famous master in the Chinese healing arts.  

A wood horse embodies the type of energy found in a young horse or a wild stallion. These are magnificent, untamed creatures that must be nurtured well. He said the approach is “like teaching and rearing a young child.  The caution would be its immaturity and gullibility, which can be manipulated by others.  So avoid risk and impulsivity.”

The same goes with money matters, Jeffrey adds. On the money front, the theme continues. Impulse buying is a no-no. Beware of objects of desire that beckon with their colors and shiny newness. “Stay with things that are already in progress and that shown solid footing,” he advises. 

With this new focus, I’ve spent the past week celebrating the lunar new year by reorganizing my purse. The credit cards have been put away. Instead, I’ve been walking around with paper currency stuffed in my wallet. It’s been decades since I’ve shopped regularly with greenbacks. Returning to this prehistoric form of commerce is both a challenge and a revelation.

The other day, I pulled up to my local gas station and paid for a full tank. Handing over two 20s instantly thinned my wallet. From there, I went to the neighborhood drug store in search of a new hair clip. The one I liked came in three sizes. A week earlier, I would’ve thought nothing of buying them all for a $40 charge to a credit card.

But after one look at my flattening wallet, I chose only the smallest hair clip, which cost $5.91. Still, I was running too low on cash. When I headed down the block to the health food store, I didn’t have enough money left to cover basic groceries. Ouch, ouch, ouch.

Revelation #1: Paying in cash is a reality check. Benjamins don’t go very far these days. I’ve been peeling through $100 bills so fast that it’s scaring me. Paying cash is forcing me to weigh the value of my purchases in a way that was never possible with credit cards. Charging is so easy because I’m not really registering what’s happening. But parting with cash is tough; it’s a physical, real time, visual, on-the-spot transaction. This new process of watching my cash disappear is building greater self-awareness. I like how that feels.

Revelation #2: Apps make tracking expenses quite painless. I was never good at tracking expenses by hand with pen and paper in notebooks and ledgers. Thank God we live in the age of social media. I went on Facebook, asking if anyone knew of an effective app for helping me with my budget. After several friends commented, I checked out their suggestions and bought the $4.99 Pocket Expense for iPhones and iPads. Here are three views of what it looks like installed on my iPhone:

Pocket Expense is visually appealing, has jazzy options and is a snap to use. It also generates reports by categories and sub-categories that I can run on a daily, weekly, monthly and yearly basis. The reports can be emailed as PDFs, which is a nice feature.

Depending on your needs, there are hundreds of other apps to chose from, including totally solid free apps. One of my friends likes Mint for monthly and yearly budgeting. Two others recommend Spender Tracker as a bare bones, simple-to-use solution for daily expenditures.

Revelation #3: I’m richer than I realize. We live in a shopping culture. Yes, I do indeed enjoy spending money! But I might find it more enjoyable to conserve cash. My recent ruminations have made me appreciate what I already have. Shopping less has freed up my time too. With less errands to run, I am getting calmer. I might also be opening up more quiet space in my brain; those shopping lists create a lot of static. Relying on cash is starting to feel like a practice, a form of financial meditation.

Of course, I’m still going to hang onto my credit cards. They might be useful in a pinch. Then again, maybe not.

Stories about the growing number of credit card data breaches have me worried. We’ve gone from hackers stealing the personal information of tens of millions of Target store shoppers during December 2013, to news of a hack attack on Neiman Marcus. Last week, the arts-and-crafts retailer Michaels Stores was hit. And now comes word of security compromises at more than a dozen hotels within the Marriott, Holiday Inn, Sheraton and Westin chains.

While the FBI and the finance world’s brain trust wrestle with these crimes, I am going to simplify my life. Along the way, I expect to find all kinds of riches.

So with that, let’s have a great, prosperous Year of the Wood Horse. May we know what it’s like to run wild and free and minimize our days as workhorses. May we figure out ways to minimize stress and maximize our cash.  xo

 

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Cassandra February 3, 2014 at 10:11 pm

Kung Hee Fat Choy from Hawaii. We had jai yesterday at Little Village in Chinatown Honolulu. It was nice this year because everyone seemed to be waiting to have parties for the evening after the Superbowl! Of course, Chinatown was still busy with people shopping for duck, pork, etc. for their Superbowl family parties and of course tourists making their way there for good Chinese food for lunch.

2 betty ming liu February 3, 2014 at 10:56 pm

Cassandra, Happy New Year to you! Lunar New Year in Hawaii would sound fantastic any time, but especially when its 70 degrees there — and barely 25 degrees here. We’ve got ice and snow too. Hope you have a great horse year. :)

3 Tobias Grace February 4, 2014 at 8:01 am

I’ve been in cash/debit card mode for some years. It works! Shopping is my favorite recreation though. however, I NEVER go to malls or even to outlets. I do virtually all my discretionary shopping at thrifts or at the huge flea/farmer’s market not far away. Many people assume such places only have worn,obsolete junk. Not so! Many times the merchandise is new. It might be last season’s or bought in a big lot at a customs auction or something like that. Example: a recent purchase of moisturizer for $1 a jar, the same thing, same brand, selling in Bloomingdales for $40. The vendor bought a truck load at a US customs auction. Them there is always the chance of finding a real treasure. Last Sunday, at the market, I noticed a copy of “Miracle on 34th Street”, excellent condition, first edition, 1947, with dust jacket. It was in a box of otherwise uninteresting old books. The seller wanted $1. I knew it would collectable and I love the story so I bought it. ABE Books has first editions in good condition listed as high as $1,750.00 Not a bad return on an investment of a buck. No, I’m not going to sell it. The boys can fight over it when I’m gone – LOL

4 betty ming liu February 4, 2014 at 9:11 am

Toby, I love shopping at garage sales and church/synagogue attic sales. I am with you! Thanks for sharing your scores. Very, very inspiring.

True confessions — I still enjoy malls and shiny, expensive stores. And I just looked at the year-end statement on one of my credit cards. Horrifying to see that I spend nearly $5,000 at Whole Foods in 2013. How is that even humanely possible? Nearly $98 a week, every week at Whole Paycheck? Have I lost my mind?

5 Stephen Gerald February 4, 2014 at 11:01 am

Betty, Kung Hee Fat Choy to you–a few days late! Thanks for contributing to the economy of Austin, Texas by unloading your weekly contribution to Whole Foods. You may not know that the world headquarters of that store is in my hometown! So, I guess I benefit in some way: “trickle down theory.”

I noticed in the drawing of the horse that cash, love, and give are in that part of the animal that suffers from splints and breakage! OUCH!! Even credit got a higher rating on the beast that I’m anticipating will carry me to wealth beyond my wildest dreams this year–if I follow your sage advice, yah? Hmm…

I’ve taken inoculations against the spending disease. Malls are environments for the spreading of viruses and bacterias related to mindless purchases and “items I didn’t really want” syndromes. I even stay away from street vendors.

Good luck to us in this Year of the Horse! Let’s get good steeds and ride like the wind!

6 betty ming liu February 4, 2014 at 11:08 am

Well, Stephen, I’m glad you feel that I helped your local economy — last year. No more! For one thing, I’ve been shopping the farmers’ markets and small local, mom-and-pop shops. They are my top consumer priority. Gotta help the little guys. Plus, they’re not always higher priced, esp if I’ve been throwing my money away at Whole Paycheck.

But you are inspiring me to stop the stoopid shopping. Do I really need another pair of jeans? More shoes? Bottled water or a latte when I’m walking down the street in Manhattan? More colored Post-Its from Staples? The advice from the wood horse is to beware of colorful, new things that make for impulse buys. I’ve got my work cut out for me. But hopefully, the neigh will get me to yay, haha!

7 ingrid February 4, 2014 at 11:45 am

Betty: I share with you your dismay at our consumer culture of “stuff,”, where we buy things to make us feel good, because being able to buy things, whether we need them or not, is a sign of wealth and well-being. We impoverish ourselves to fulfill this ideal, and fill up our homes with stuff we don’t need, and then support a HUGE storage industry, paying large monthly rents to store a lot of stuff we don’t want to let go of, because having lots of “stuff” is a sign of wealth and well-being.

However, although most of that stuff is bought with credit cards, credit cards shouldn’t be confused with addiction to collecting stuff. I and my daughter wouldn’t own our apartments if we hadn’t maxed out our credit cards and credit lines to buy totally decrepit unmortgageable places (and then gotten a mortgage and pay everything off). If we’d relied on cash, we’d both be struggling with unmanageable rents. Used correctly, credit cards give you the ability to smooth the bumps in your cash flow, enabling you to buy critical stuff like dental work and pay it off over time rather than do without. As long as you don’t get in the minimum payment trap, credit cards are an important backup for modern life, and one that should not to be abandoned. .

8 betty ming liu February 4, 2014 at 11:56 am

Good points, Ingrid! I totally understand credit cards for big ticket items and transactions that can’t be made in person. In fact, I just ordered Off-Broadway theater tickets over the phone, which required a credit card.

And, it’s important to note that the credit card companies are saying they will cover any unauthorized charges, etc etc.

But still, I’m wondering how you feel about the data breaches of credit card info. Going forward, do you feel a need to do anything differently? Then again, maybe I’m over-the-top. After all, I won’t even post my birthday on Facebook for fear of identity theft.

9 jaimie February 5, 2014 at 10:04 am

hi betty!
as usual, you are sooooo forward-thinking, such a joyful rebel, such an inspiration! now, if only we could get frequent-flyer points for using cash, i’d be all over it!
xj

10 betty ming liu February 6, 2014 at 2:10 pm

You know, I totally understand, Jaimie. I’ve been addicted to the cash rebate feature on my credit cards. It felt great to earn more than a thousand points last year. That meant $1k of “free” money that helped pay off the thousands and thousands of dollars I spent on plastic transactions last year…

I want to see what happens this year if I track my cash more carefully. My hope is to spend thousands and thousands LESS. Even if I lose the thousand bucks in cash rebates, maybe my bank account will still be better off. I wish I had something smart and persuasive to say about flying points but there’s no substitute for that. So happy travels to you in 2014! xoxox

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