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We just got a notice from our health insurance provider, BlueCross BlueShield of New Mexico, that our insurance premiums are increasing by 30% in April. We are self-employed so we must buy an individual plan. Individual plans are notoriously costly to begin with, and the only way we could afford health insurance at all was to purchase a high deductible policy. Now, even a high deductible policy is out of our reach. In the letter we received, they suggested some options such as a $5,150 deductible policy. How much would you pay per month for the privilege of paying $5,150 out-of-pocket every year for your health expenses? There is a word for that. Extortion.

When I see something I want to buy, I ask myself if I really need it. This is a good practice for me, because as it turns out much of the time I just want to buy it, I don’t really need it. In the US we are immersed in rampant out-of-control consumerism. Advertising leads us to believe that we must have the latest or most fashionable whatever-it-is. It tells us that if we don’t buy the newest technology toy or this year’s fashions, if our appliances are avocado green and not stainless steel, or our countertops tile and not granite, that we are losers. This is all smoke and mirrors. It’s some kind of “group think” technique invented by the advertisers. Who can afford all these latest things? Only the rich and those willing to go deeply into debt. I suppose the rich can keep on going the way they are, but something tells me that for the rest of us going deeply into debt is not the most brilliant path to take. This is hard to digest because the rich, the greedy and the bankrupt seem to have a good thing going. In this economy they have made out like bandits. Why not say “screw it”, charge up a storm and go bankrupt or make a deal with your creditors so you don’t have to pay full price for what you have already “bought”?

The only reason I can come up with is that this is insane. If your financial life is insane, it seems like the rest of your life will quickly follow. I suggest that we not participate. Let’s stay sane. Let’s use our common sense and get our own individual acts together. Daily life has to make more sense – be more in our control – than buying everything the advertisers lure us into buying. Let’s separate ourselves from the masses flocking to buy. Let them all trample each other and crash and burn if that is their choice. We are smarter than that.

So here’s an example. I am fascinated by technology. I think I would love to have all the latest technology, mostly just to play around with. As you know, new technologies come out every day. In fact, many of the technology-based toys we buy are obsolete by the time we buy them. For instance, I have a beautiful red iPod nano that meets all my iPod-related needs. It is a 2008 model. Now there is an iPod that takes videos. Wouldn’t that be cool to have? But do I need it? No. I’m happy with the iPod I have. How easy was that?

I struggle with this all the time. Some urges are harder to resist than others. For instance, I have a book addiction that still gets the best of me. Even though I usually buy books with coupons or on sale, I have a hard time convincing myself that I don’t really need many of them. I work on this constantly, but first asking myself, “Do I really need it?” is a good practice in any case. I can now resist buying every book I want – I only buy some of them.

The next time you want to buy something, first ask yourself if you really need it. Be honest with yourself. This is only going on in your brain, so no one is watching or listening. Have a little mental conversation with yourself. It is probably your brain chemistry, an old behavioral pattern, or some childhood disappointment that makes you want to buy something you don’t really need. Take the upper hand over these limbic urges and do the right thing.

I never thought I would be saying this. I am always the one who is cold and wants to turn up the heat in our house. When I was a kid, making it warmer meant inching up the thermostat until the furnace fired up, the heat emerged from the baseboards and the house warmed up. Voila! When I moved to the Southwest 25+ years ago, we had wood heat. Wood acted a little differently. Now when I got cold, I hauled in some wood, stoked up the stove and coaxed the fire to a roar. By the time I did all this I was already warm from the exercise. Warming up the house with wood heat was a lot more work than turning a thermostat dial and I could actually see how fast that wood burned up (read $$$) just for a little more comfort. So, I learned to deal with a cooler house by wearing more clothes and moving around more.

Now we have radiant floor heating and it acts differently, too. It is not effective or efficient to control this kind of heat by constantly dialing the thermostat up and down. You fuss with the thermostats at the start of the cold season and leave them pretty much alone until it warms up outside in the spring. There is sometimes a lag of a few days between adjusting the thermostat and when the system stabilizes the room temperature (really, zone temperature – there are several rooms in one zone). By the time the temperature adjusts, it no longer needs adjusting. For instance, today it is cloudy so there is not so much solar gain in our house. It feels a little cool in here right now, but if I turned up the thermostat, by the time the radiant heating raised the room temperature, the sun would be out, the house would be warming up on its own, and between the sun and the increased heating it would be so hot in here we’d have to open the windows for relief. As you can see, it again makes more sense for me to put on turtlenecks, sweaters and thick socks to keep warm rather than turning up the heat.

These experiences have taught me to be more tolerant of a cooler house and to be more aware of how much it costs to turn up the thermostat.  I’ve learned to dress more warmly as a first line of defense. You can save some significant bucks by monitoring your thermostat-adjusting practices.

On their website Madison (WI) Gas and Electric has a tool that calculates how much you can save by setting your thermostat back. For instance, if you set your thermostat back 5° you can save 15% off your heating bill. They recommend during the winter setting the temperature at 68° while you are at home and 55° while you are sleeping or not at home. There is lots of other helpful information on this site including “Power Fiction & Facts”. Did you know that the thermostat isn’t like a gas pedal on a car? It is either calling for heat or not, so setting the thermostat really high does not warm up the house faster. In fact, this practice may cause you to overshoot the desired temperature, making the house too hot and wasting dollars.

For the record, we have our thermostats set back to 65° and this is requires me to bundle up sometimes – especially at night and on cloudy days like today. If I can do it, you can do it, too. Give it a try and let me know how it’s going.

Watch for Tip 3 on January 18.

With Christmas money from my Mom, I purchased enough Warm Window to cover the 3 windows in our guest room (using a 50% off coupon at Joanne’s!). I have yet to buy the decorator fabric and hardware I need for this project; however, once I get going, I’ll keep you posted on my progress. This Warm Window is supposed to really help save on energy costs. Have you tried this? Stay tuned.

Happy New Year!

Here we go. This is probably the most important tip of all, and one you can use throughout the year to help you cope with the new economy. Change your mind. Adjust your thinking. Adapt an abundance mentality. Look for the opportunities. Think about the positive things in your life. If you are spending lots of time thinking negatively you are ensuring that things in your life will stay negative. A huge windfall could come your way and you might not even notice it if you are focused on how bad things are. If you did notice, you might squander the opportunity due to your underlying negative outlook. Focus on the positive things in your life and things might just turn around.

Positive attracts positive and negative attracts negative

When you are down-and-out, feeling low and sad, angry that you cannot afford things, pointing your finger and blaming Wall Street for what they did to you, or focusing on the fact that they are still getting big bonuses while the rest of us struggle to make ends meet … you are giving the power to the negatives, the past, the loss, and the fools who got us here. Since that is over and nothing can change it (even your negative vibes) you are wasting your time and energy being there. When you are negative, you attract negative people and more negative thoughts, you get angrier, you shut down, and eventually it is nearly impossible for you to see anything positive.

Your MindHow to Start

Today, right now, decide to concentrate on the positive things in your life over the negative things. Look for the possibilities in your future and the opportunities that are coming your way. This is not easy and it takes practice, but I can tell you it is well worth the effort.

Some people are familiar with seeing how bad things are. It’s normal for them to feel negative most of the time. I have a friend who is like this. When she calls, writes or emails, chances are about 90% that she will tell me about her physical problems, financial problems, family problems, the grim political outlook, and her many disadvantages in the world. She was not always like this, so she must have learned to think like this over the years. Now this negative thought pattern has worn a groove in her brain and she doesn’t remember how to think any differently. As bad as it probably feels for her to be so negative, this place – this groove – is comfortable for her because it is familiar. Don’t get me wrong, there are many negatives going on around us. Things are not all hunky dory. We are going through hard times. We certainly need to try to solve the negatives in our lives if we can; however, wallowing in them is not the solution.

If you choose to focus on the positive things in your life as well as the possibilities for your future, you will find that things in general don’t look so bad. When you train your mind to think this way, you are much more likely to take action to solve the negatives, seize opportunities when they arise, and successfully come out the other end of this economic mess. Think of it as a way to prepare for navigating the new decade.

Step One: Stop and Decide

The first step is to notice that you are thinking negatively. For me, this sometimes happens when my husband and I are discussing what has appeared in the morning newspaper or what we have seen on the TV news. It is hard to see anything positive in much of what is being covered – from drive-by shootings and child predators to the war, lousy economy, and public figures’ indiscretions. When I feel my emotions stirring, my blood pressure rising, negative thoughts gestating, angry words emerging from my mouth, and a big dark cloud moving in to obstruct what was to be a good day, I STOP and DECIDE I don’t want to go there. When you start to do this, you can see that it is your CHOICE to get sucked into a negative place – or not. The more I practice this, the easier it becomes.

Try this out for yourself. It is amazing what you can do once you know that you are in charge of your own thoughts. Who knew? Stay tuned for my next tip on January 8. See you then. Meanwhile, let me know how this tip is working for you. Here is a link to some resources if you want to read more about changing your mind.

blank canvasI’ve started a folder with ideas for my 50 tips. Up until now I’ve been collecting ideas in my head, but keeping things in my head is really not the best organizational method for me. I’m writing lists and clipping articles so far, but I’m thinking there will be urls to related information that could be helpful for readers, too. So, maybe I’ll make another page for links. If there is something in particular you would like to see here, let me know. I just love blank canvases!

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