Monday, April 2, 2012

Exit Strategy Lesson 2: Basic Math

View from my home office. Spring is in the air!

One of my many satellite offices around town.
My conference room.
Since ditching the daily grind, flinging myself to foreign lands and landing in Paris, I've gotten a few questions about...

MONEY
Oh that vile subject.

People often ask me the million dollar question:

How did I save up enough to quit my job? 

An excellent question I'm happy to answer.

To start, I'm not exactly mathy. I'm one of those unfortunate souls who have a wall with math. If you ask me a math question, I’ll answer you with a blank stare. But I really wanted to figure out how much money I would need to quit my job, so I had to use basic math, which meant I'd start with $100 because even I can multiply by 100.

Scribbling simple math equations is nothing new. People across the nation are calculating what money is coming in and what is going out. They are looking at the numbers and wondering how to make more, save more, buy more, and pay off more. Or how to have more money left at the end of the month rather than more month left at the end of the money.

I figured if I spent an average of $100 a day (including rent, gas, movies, everything) and multiplied it by 365 days of the year, I'd have to save $36,500 to quit working for a year:

$100 x 365 = $36,500

And that is a shit ton of cash to save.

But the number wasn't so scary because it was completely arbitrary. I didn’t know at the time how much I actually spent in a day. Nor did I know how much money I’d spend in the future. But it was somewhere to start. And the math was easy enough to keep my pencil on the paper, fooling with numbers. So I continued.

I took my answer of $36,500 and divided it by a year to see how much I'd have to save per month. Then I divided it further:

$36,500  ÷ 12 months = $3041 to save each month

$3041 ÷ 2 pay periods each month = $1520 per paycheck to save

$1520 ÷ 14 days (approximately) = $108 to save each day

And when I got to the final number of $108, I realized that my preposterous, outrageous, ridiculously large, seemingly unreachable number of $36,500 was not so impossible. Why? Because anyone who has spent any time with religions of India, in a yoga class or watching the TV show Lost knows that the 108 is an auspicious, magical number.

The Buddhist mala or rosary has 108 beads, Hindu deities have 108 names, the sum of the numbers on Lost equals 108 and these numbers must be entered into the computer every 108 minutes. Plus, there are 108 stitches in an American League baseball and 108 cards in an UNO deck. And UNO just so happens to be my most favorite card game ever, but no one over the age of 10 seems to ever want to play it with me. People just look at me sideways, sigh and ask if we can get dinner instead. I will always be up for UNO. I will also take no prisoners, which could explain why they suggest dinner. Be warned.

So you could say I’m a fan of 108, but not as much of a fan as I am of the number 27, which is the date of my birthday, and when multiplied by 4 is, you guessed it: 108.

On the day when I was sitting at my desk with a pencil in my hand and the number 108 staring me in the face, I knew I could do this. I had the support of the deities of the East, my favorite TV show of all time, Major League baseball and UNO. There is no way I couldn’t make this happen.

Even though I wasn’t sure how to actually make it happen, but I’d figure that out later.

For now, I just knew I had to save $108 a day.

Every day afterward, I woke up thinking of that number. They say a dollar saved is a dollar earned. So how could I save $108 a day? Or better yet, how could I make an extra $108 a day? 

And then I got busy:
  • Saying no to group dinners that included Chad who always drank 7 glasses of wine to my 1 glass and then suggested we split the bill. No Chad. I don't want to buy your drinks, thanks. 
  • Suggesting free activities with friends such as hikes and UNO games. No one took me up on UNO but hiking worked.
  • Rolling my pennies (Canada is eliminating the penny, so there is now an entire nation of penny rollers) and taking them to the bank. A jar of coins is halted energy.
  • Using up what I had (art supplies galore) rather than buying more. 
  • Giving my paintings as gifts. They were appreciated (and wouldn't fit in my suitcase anyway).
  • Saying no to things I didn't want to do. This is big. For a long time I felt that the act of being invited meant I had to say yes. I didn't have to say yes to activities that drained my spirit and pocketbook. 
  • Selling stuff on Ebay, Craigslist, and yard sales that were good for someone but not for me.
  • Not taking the extra scoop of Mac & Cheese at the Whole Foods salad bar. 
  • Paying off my credit card to avoid nostril-flaring interest charges.
  • Forever avoiding Forever21. In the end, I tossed or donated sooo many flimsy dresses.
And a hundred other little things that added up to cold hard cash in my bank account that I now use to gallivant around Paris.

Full disclosure: I didn't keep track of whether I saved $108 a day.  Sometimes I'd save $20 and other times, like the day I sold my car, I made much more than $108. But I always had that number swishing around in the back of my mind, helping me make decisions on what to buy, what to not buy, and how I could make money for my freedom dream.

And that big number of $36,500? It stayed arbitrary. I just kept plugging away at the number $108, which seemed more manageable and doable.

In the end, I saved well beyond $36,500 and I never once felt like I deprived myself along the way. I felt only like I stopped the financial leaks (like dinner with Chad) and found creative ways to use up what I already had (art supplies, a desire to paint, and gifts that I loved to give). I still went to movies because I loved going to movies. I still ordered my coffee just the way I liked it even though I knew I could save more if I had coffee at home. I still bought clothes, but less of them and at a higher quality. Even if I paid more. I still donated to causes I loved. I put a lot of paintings up for charity auctions.

These days, the habit has stuck with me. I still have $108 swirling in my head and I try to make it or save it each day. It helps that I live in a small space in Paris. I simply don't have the room to acquire too much stuff. I also opened my Letter of the Month business on Etsy, which allows me to do something I love to do (paint) and get paid for it. Plus, I don't have the pressures of group dinner dynamics at play. The Chads of the world can go f**k themselves.

And it helps that I was single. There was no spouse or child to consider. No collaboration. I finally got glad about that instead of just wondering why I hadn't found love yet. It would come in time. But back then, it was just me, thinking of the magic number 108 and my freedom dreams.

What little or big things can you do to make your freedom dreams come true?

36 comments:

  1. Not to be indiscreet but the little orange donate button should also be contributing to your $108. At least I hope it is. Your writing is so good we should be paying for it, even before this book is published!
    I love your message. I am going to interpret it as "At what price freedom?.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh yes, the Donate button counts toward my $108. I'm floored every time someone donates. And I nearly weep with gratitude at the support. It's a marvelous thing.

      Delete
  2. After being here a couple of months, have you ever sat down and figured out if $100 was more or less than reasonable for long-term stay in Paris? I'm guessing you can eyeball your bank account and do some rough estimation since you know your starting point, but it might be fun to see how much you over/under shot your target.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well that depends. One month I had a big bill that went straight to the French government. And another I had the flu, which meant I barely walked outside and spent a thing. But overall, I overshot my target. $108 buckeroos at a time.

      Delete
  3. I don't know how to play UNO and would love to learn. I can't say I have ever been invited to play a game of UNO as an adult and I always declined UNO as a kid because, well, I didn't know how to play.
    Also, what to do if said paycheck is $900 every two weeks and hence not close to the suggested saving amount?
    I am hoping you know who this is and we can Skype about it if we are ever awake at the same time.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm not exactly sure who this is, but ya, Skype me if you can. As for your $900 every two weeks, you can average out your daily spending and that's the number you'll aim to save or make each day. It's doable. Your imagination can help you figure out how to save and earn more.

      Delete
  4. I have 108 reasons I'm glad my name's not Chad.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Chads are doochebags. Jeffs are awesome.

      Delete
  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  6. You give me hope Janice, or is it inspiration? Whatever it is, thank you my friend.

    ReplyDelete
  7. First of all, I just have to say that I love how there are chairs in all of the parks in Paris. So inviting - and nice to know the city trusts that its people won't steal them.

    The 108 stuff is crazy! I love it! And like you, I'm discovering how when you let go, the money will come. It all just works out somehow.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I can think of 108 reasons why I am glad that you and your sisters came into my life. Money isn't everything but it sure helps you get over some rough spots when you have a little extra cash.I always say just take one day at a time and your goal doesn't seem so unreachable, and you proved that it can be done.I'm almost very sure that when I'm coming to visit you in June Your wallet always seem to be staying at home...very clever but thats o.k ,mothers seem to expect that.I'm very proud of your accomplishments and of you

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  8. This is one of my favorite posts of yours. Not only do you break down math for us, you manage to be incredibly inspiring as well. I just Stumbled it and I may print it out and post it somewhere highly visible in my home to reference often.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Stumble away... blogsphere grandeur will be mine. Bwah ha ha haaaa.

      Delete
  9. you so rock! hugs, gregg

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Gregg!!!!! Je t'adore Gregg. Merci.

      Delete
  10. yup, ditto to Gregg...you totally rock!!!! My hair salon is called Salon108, jus sayin'. For now and forever, I will always think of you when the # 108 pops up. AND you've totally inpsired me to consider the way I save/spend my money so that I may live out my dream of traveling the world. thank you artist friend. For everything.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If anyone can do it, you can. This I know for sure.

      Delete
  11. Facebook alerted me to your post on the other blog, so the context for this should be taken from there, not from here (I can't comment in either place):

    http://www.greatwallofvagina.co.uk/home

    There are lots of terrible things that could be at the end of that link, but I assure you it's nothing but warm, fuzzy goodness.

    ReplyDelete
  12. WOW, that's a lot of money. I spend about $250 a month total on *everything*- food, gas, medicine, cat food, clothes, entertainment, etc. (Rent and utilities not included, of course.) You're incredibly lucky.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh Chrystal. My $108 INCLUDES rent and utilities and EVERYTHING. The spending money is the least of worries. It's the roof over the head. That's the bulk of the daily budget. But good for you for spending just $250 a month. Good on ya.

      Delete
  13. Math has never been my strong point.
    Love your approach - just make up a number you like that is easily multiplied and keep it in mind!
    Ever since high school freak if I see the words "If a train is coming....."

    ReplyDelete
  14. SO what you're saying is, I should probably start by figuring out how much money I need to save to open my cafe... Inspiring as always. I need 108 tips for saving money so thanks for the start!

    ReplyDelete
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