Our $200 Christmas

December 12, 2013


We have a $200 Christmas budget this year.  I feel neither sad nor deprived about this.  We’ve been leaning into simplicity over the last few years in order to focus on what’s important.  This is just an extension of our goals around voluntary simplicity or frugality.  How did we get to the $200 amount?  It’s the amount that we have in our virtual Christmas envelope.  Let me back up a few steps.  Charlie and I have been fundamentally pro-budget since we’ve been married.  Over the years, as Charlie’s income has gone up, our spending to the budget has declined.  We would do a budget, track our spending, but then mostly use it as a tool to look back and see how we did.  We had considered going to a total cash budget, but we were both enthusiastic about travel hacking and maximizing airline miles on credit cards.  Thus, we put off the cash budget.

We have periodic budget meetings.  Over the last few years, they’ve been (roughly) quarterly and mostly grim.  In other words, we spent more than we wanted to.  We were continually frustrated with ourselves.  I usually brought up the cash budget, and Charlie usually wanted to continue to try to get our acts together financially and optimize airline miles.  Over and over again, we seemed not to be getting ahead.  Not saving as aggressively as we wanted to, although we knew that we should be able to with Charlie’s income.  In early autumn, Charlie did some detailed analysis for our spending over the last year.  What he found made us both get a catch in the gut.  We were actually spending more than Charlie’s salary.  I know.  Rookie problem.  The reason we were able to keep going and not go into debt is that we were making ends meet using his bonuses.  Our lifestyle didn’t seem over the top to us.  It just seemed sort of normal. Normal for Menlo Park.  Which is to say normal here is different from “normal” in other areas.  Menlo Park is the hub of venture capital.  So, there’s a lot of money here.  People have a lot of cool stuff.  Really big, nice houses.  Cool cars.  Which is all fine, except that it can distort your sense of what is actually normal.

This is where my being involved with poverty alleviation gives me a bit of perspective.  Being involved with issues surrounding poverty helps me remember what’s true.  What’s true is that most people on the planet live in a space the size of my dining room.  What’s true is that access to clean water is considered a clean water source less than a mile away.  With that definition, 345,000,000 people still don’t have access to clean water.  What’s true is that if your family earns $35,000 a year, you’re in the top 1% of global income earners.  So, I can look at Menlo Park and set my norms based on that.  Or, I can learn about what is actually normal for the majority of the world and re-set my norms based on what I know to be true.

This has led our family to an attitude of abundance.  I recently took an on-line class from Brene Brown.  It was wonderful for so many reasons.  One of them was that there was a ton of emphasis on practicing gratitude.  Practicing gratitude is different from “trying to be grateful”.  Practicing gratitude is like practicing yoga.  You actually have to make yourself slow down and be grateful.  There is a mindfulness and an intentionality.  Sit down and write about those things for which you are grateful.  Write them down.  Look at your list.  Ponder it and add to it.  Once you start down the rabbit hole, you find an unending list.  I know where my next 365 meals are coming from.  My kids never go to bed hungry.  I have shelter every single night.  I have central heat.  My kids have access to a great education.  I’m married to a man who I deeply love and respect- and who feels the same way about me.  We live in a safe neighborhood.  I have five places in my house where you can turn on a tap and get fresh, drinkable water .  We have access to hot water whenever we want it.  I don’t even have to heat it myself.  If my kids are sick, I take them to the doctor without even thinking about it.  Which is to say, we are rich.  There is plenty.  There is more than enough.

This attitude of abundance was incredibly helpful when I looked at the $200 in our Christmas envelope.  Knowing how good we already have it, I can look at our $200 budget and realize how rich that is.  Because we started our new budget on November 1, we only had two months to save for Christmas.  Thus, $200.  Next year we’ll likely have more money to spend.  That being said, I like our Christmases to be quiet and peaceful.  There is so much to gaining white space in your Christmas.  I’d love to hear from you in the comments on how you’re slowing down or spending less during this holiday season.

Click on my other posts below on slowing down during the holidays.

Christmas with White Space

The Gift of Nothing

Hundred Dollar Holiday

Advent Conspiracy



Fair Deal Christmas Special

December 10, 2013


I would love to invite you to check our our Fair Deal Christmas Special over at the Frustrated Farmgirl store.  We love Bryan’s recycled chopstick soap trays over at Chopstick Art.  Buy three bars of Frustrated Farmgirl soap, and we would love to give you a Chopstick Art soap dish for free.  It’s an $8.50 value.  We think you’ll love our soap (and Chopstick Art soap dishes) as much as we do.

Open Arms Scarf Give Away

December 5, 2012


I’m thrilled to be giving away this super cute scarf from Open Arms!



Open Arms is a wonderful for-benefit business out of Austin, Texas. They are making beautiful up-cycled clothing and providing sustainable, dignified employment to refugee women. They have a wonderful on-line offer running through the holidays. If you purchase two items, they will give you this beautiful scarf for free. You can also leave a comment below and be entered into a drawing for a free scarf. If you tweet, post on Facebook or pin the give away on Pinterest, you’ll get additional entries. I’m going on the honor system- just let me know you did it in your comment. I’ll put the names in a hat and pick one on Saturday. Good luck!


October 17, 2012

Just a bit about our packaging today. My sister Betsy generously offered to help me with branding and packaging. She worked with our designer Lora to do the logo, and she also did all the packaging prototypes. Phew- big help for me! I love what she came up with.

Honestly, from an environmental standpoint, I love the idea of having no packaging. But, packaging is important. For most people in the retail setting, it’s what moves the product off the shelf initially. If the customer buys it again, it’s because they loved the product. The initial draw, though, is the packaging. For now, we’re going with variations of what you see above. These bags are made by Fair Trade Federation member Distant Village. Distant Village is a great company. They’re very ethical, and they make beautiful packaging. The material is called sinamay. It is made from renewable banana fibers in a fair trade shop in the Philippines.  Here’s my quandary: I’m not sure how durable the fabric is. I would love to have packaging that is reusable. I ordered a few colors. In the long haul, I think I’ll only be able to get their bags in natural. We’ll see how they perform and how people like them.

I also ordered some burlap bags with a jute draw cord. What I like about these bags is that they’re more durable, and I think that people will be more able to re-use them. There are a couple of drawbacks, though. They are more expensive, and they are not Fair Trade.

Please let me know what you think of the packaging. If you love it or hate it, we want to know!

Our shipping materials were the most environmentally friendly ones that I could find. The boxes and paper shred  are both made from recycled paper. Here’s what they look like boxed up and ready to ship:

That’s it for today. Thanks for reading!

We’re Up on Etsy

October 16, 2012

Our webstore is up on Etsy
. We’ve already had our first order (Thanks, Trish!).

It’s our rough first try, and we’re thrilled. We still have a lot of work to do. Better photos. Refining the copy. Zeroing in on postage. But, we’re up, and we’ll learn how we need to grow and change. This is where the rubber meets the road with getting the business going. I’m uncomfortable with drawing attention to myself. To cozy up to promoting the site, I’m choosing to think of it as promoting the people who made our ingredients. The Etsy site represents people coming out of poverty. It represents children going to school. It represents children who were never trafficked because their parents weren’t desperately poor. It represents dignity.

Thanks for reading. I hope to see you over at the Etsy store. We’ll be moving to our own web store by the end of the year. For now, we’re thankful to be up on Etsy.


I would love to get your input on my newest creation. I’ve made 20 lbs of this soap, and I’m wondering how much I should make for our launch in November. I want to make sure that I have enough to keep customers happy. At the same time, I haven’t tested this soap with customers. I did test the lavender geranium soap, and people seemed to really like it. But, I haven’t tested it with pink peppercorns on top. If you have an opinion, I’d love to hear from you. I’ve made 40-50 lbs of all the other kinds. An important data point is that It takes 30 days for soap to cure.

Freaking Out My Family

There is a difference between recklessness and calculated risk taking. Recklessness is attempting an open water swim when you’re not really sure if you have the fitness to do it. I think it would be reckless to finance our business on a credit card. Calculated risk taking is different. It’s still a risk and a gamble. But, it’s a gamble that makes a little more sense. Yes, I know that great white sharks are in the Santa Cruz area this time of year. That being said, people are rarely attacked. I could choose not to go into the ocean at all and miss out on a fun open water race. Or, I can take the calculated risk knowing that the chances are very remote of anything happening to me. I choose to risk. The benefits outweigh the risks. With our business, we are in the fortunate position of being able to finance the initial costs out of savings. We’re not wealthy by Bay Area standards, and we are feeling the financial strain. That being said, if we lose all our initial investment, we won’t be in debt. Charlie has the business savvy, and I’m hoping that I have the creative talent to be able to create a product and a business that delights our customers. We have talented people behind us who are giving of themselves in order to give this business an honest shot. We’re taking a gamble with the potential upside of being able to make a modest living doing soul-satisfying work. If the business goes, there is tremendous potential to be a part of people lifting themselves out of poverty. So, it’s a risk, but I don’t think that it’s reckless.

Open Water Swimming and Life

As I was looking into how open water swimmers deal with fear and anxiety, I was comforted by the fact that there has been a lot written on the subject. In other words, I wasn’t by myself in dealing with fear and anxiety. Triathlon coach Steve Trew had some of the best advice I’ve seen. He started by saying that fear is a part of open water swimming. It’s something that almost everyone who does the sport deals with at one time or another. So, when it comes, recognize it as normal. Then, he gave some very practical advice. When you’re afraid in the water, the goal is to relax and breathe. You’re trying to prevent hyperventilation or a full-on panic attack. The strategy is that you flip onto your back and breathe deeply until you’re more relaxed. Then, flip onto your belly and take ten strokes forward. If you need to, flip onto your back and breathe again, or take ten more strokes forward. For me, this was meaningful advice. Meaningful in the water, but also meaningful in life. Risk and fear are companions. If you’re taking risks, you’re going to feel some fear. Recognize it as normal, take some deep breaths, and then continue to move forward.

So, we breathe deeply and press on.

Image by Stuart Grout via flickr used under a Creative Commons