sumac journal

Where are you and where are you going?
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Joined: Wed Nov 27, 2019 12:35 pm

sumac journal

Post by sumac »

I've been lurking on this site for about 5 years now, and have finally tipped over into journaling. ERE has been a useful framework for me in part because I'm a somewhat "pointy" person. I have significant strengths and significant limitations, and have been working over the years to leverage the strengths and minimize disruption from the limitations (and improve them over the long term where I can).

I'm just under two years out of college now. Much of my personal work during school was focused on creating a solid base that I could build my life from. "Base" here meaning the fundamentals: mental stability, broad set of life skills, physical health, meaningful relationships to people and land. I struggled a lot with several of the above, especially mental health and social competency. You could say that I spent the first half of college teaching myself about theory of mind, and the second half muddling my way through systems thinking. My classes were useful in terms of introducing new frameworks for thinking and doing, but the doing on my own is where most of the lasting (experiential, internalized) knowledge has come from.

I got myself into $38k debt getting my degree. I made this decision as a teenager, but I didn't have the foresight to reconsider it as I learned more about myself and the world. I could have chosen to switch into a certificate or apprenticeship program as soon as I noticed those ways of learning worked better for me, which likely would have resulted in a better return. But no matter - I'd make different decisions for myself now, and I hope to have the vast majority of my life ahead of my to apply & improve those decision-making patterns. I also 100% do not regret spending more time on establishing healthy patterns than on my coursework - those patterns have paid off many times over in life satisfaction.

The past two years:

  • I've paid off about $22k of that debt, working one year in design/communications for $42k pre-tax and one full season in farming (9mo) for $11k pre-tax, plus odd jobs
  • I have $16k remaining; $13k at 5% and $3k at 3%.
  • I am focusing on paying off the $13k in the next 12-24mo while maintaining or increasing a cushion of savings
  • I've saved about $6.5k in a retirement fund and have $4k liquid (6mo core expenses plus $1000 sinking fund)
  • I made the considered decision to buy a car for about $3k - something I've been against all my life but decided to do given the circumstances and a target end date for car ownership.
As you can see, my savings rate has been fairly low, but the total proportion of my income going toward debt & savings has been reasonably high. Not quite at achievable ERE levels, though.

During my first post-grad job, my average monthly expenses were like so:

Student loans - $1300
Rent + utilities - $600
Public transportation - $380 (long rail commute plus bike or bus)
Groceries - $130
Discretionary consumables - $120
Health - $180
Travel - $150
Donations - $100
Clothing - $30
Misc - $70

Total sans student loans: $1760

Very poorly optimized on the big three. My long commute and poor fit for this office environment also created stress and reduced personal time.

The understandable question on this forum: why shift to a much lower-paying occupation? For me, small farming was a good choice because:
  • It's a great place to exercise systems thinking in the medium to long term while engaging in a variety of mostly physical tasks on a day to day basis
  • No office politics or need for social masking (the latter can be more draining for me than the job itself)
  • I'd tried it before (as a intern) and liked it
  • Connection to family background and fields of study (social, environmental)
  • Very concrete way to respond to large-scale challenges (climate, food, water, inequality, economic and social instability) on a human/local scale
  • Good for learning through experience while being paid
  • Opportunity to drastically reduce expenses
Downsides were that I was specifically required by my employer to get access to a car before starting, and the farm was 15 miles from where I lived. Still an improvement on before.

My average monthly expenses while farming (transition period):

Student loans - $210 (cut down to maintain cashflow)
Rent + utilities - $500
Car expenses (borrowed) - $90
Groceries - $70 (plus free veggies and eggs as part of work compensation)
Discretionary consumables - $45
Health - $40
Travel - $5
Donations - $100
Clothing - $30 (good rain gear was most of this)
Misc - $100

Total sans student loans: $980

Better, but still could be improved.

My average monthly expenses while farming (current):

Student loans - $300 (to increase to $700)
Rent + utilities - $50 (now exchanging a few hours a week of childcare for housing)
Car insurance - $115
Gas - $50
Maintenance and repairs - $75
Groceries - $60 (plus free veggies and eggs as part of work compensation)
Discretionary consumables - $20
Medical - $40
Travel - $5
Donations - $100
Clothing - $20 (if I don't spend it, it goes to fund for replacement boots)
Misc - $50

Total sans student loans: $585
Core expenses: $315

After debt is paid off, living on $7k a year feels very reasonable to me. $3k would be a challenge, and $11k would feel luxurious.


The near future

I now live about 11 miles from my place of employment, which I've biked a few times but would hesitate to do 5 days a week on top of a physical job. Maybe working up to a couple days a week? My boss also has given the option of semi-sheltered camping at the farm a few days a week, but not living there. These two things combined could significantly reduce my need for a car (maybe to the point that my employer would be okay with me selling it), but at the cost of more flexibility for social engagements in the city.

I like my housing situation and would like to stay in it for as long as I'm able.

I've recently been promoted at work, so starting next season I will be making $14/hr instead of $12/hr and will have closer to a full-time x9mo schedule. I've also started picking up side work in landscaping and odd jobs, which pays about $25/hr on average. I have tutoring and design experience that I'd also like to use on my own terms - many of the posted gigs are the fairly depressing "boost your scores and get into college" type, but my interest and experience tell me that lots of students might be interested in getting support in applying their learning to their lives in useful ways, and overcoming common mental blocks that arise in achievement-based learning environments. Perhaps something to test on a small scale, since I have more flexibility during the fall thru spring (overlapping with the school year). And even one consistent client makes a big difference at my current income level.

Skills: Related to the above, I'd like to learn more about landscaping with native plants and working with different types of soil (and soil-dwelling creatures). Also dealing with farming under more inconsistent climate conditions - my boss has farmed for about 20 years and has been seeing a trend of heavier storms, less consistent seasonal precipitation, and more intense heat waves. Other long-term interests are lettering, building, and strength training. I generally prefer analog and "soft" systems to digital or mechanical ones, and I figure I might as well work with that tendency instead of fighting it.

General thoughts:
My experience in the past couple years has shown me that quality of life, community, and living according to my values are by far the most important thing to me, and that I have the skills and flexibility to make even a low income work well. I feel more confident about my ability to make my chosen way(s) of life work than I did in college, when I felt a lot of anxiety about being able to make it in a typical degree-requiring job for years on end.

Phew! That's my very long intro, for now. I don't know how often I'll be posting, but it's a very useful way to reflect and consolidate my thoughts.

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Re: sumac journal

Post by horsewoman »

Great intro! I'll be sure to follow your journal, we seem to be on a similar vibe. Good for you that you found out relatively early in life that the mainstream way of life is not for you. While student debt is of course a burden, you got some education out of it. And who knows if you had figured out your learning style so soon without those experiences? I made some "detours" as well as a young adult that set me back financially, but now looking back at almost 40 I see that I put most things I learned in these years to good account in my life. A system needs nodes, and every experience has the possibility to become an additional node.

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Re: sumac journal

Post by sumac »

Thanks, and good points! I'm in it for the long haul, for sure.

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Re: sumac journal

Post by sumac »

Risk tolerance

As far as I can tell, mine is pretty low. Not to the point that I'm going to put all future income in TIPS or CDs, but I do lean toward reducing/replacing expenses rather than increasing income. I believe I can do both, but the latter requires fighting more of my tendencies.

Sample tiers of expense replacement

1) cheaper version of same thing (e.g. buying a used car)
2) find different thing to serve same purpose (buying a scooter to reduce maintenance costs)
3) change lifestyle to allow cheaper/more efficient use (move closer to work, bike/walk)
4) change mental state to allow cheaper/more efficient use (build habits that make biking/walking fun and easy)
5) all of the above and find ways to derive financial, social, and/or psychological benefit (teach skills at community bike shop; offer repairs in exchange for money, goods, or services; refurbish craigslist bikes; pick up roadkill as you bike along and sell articulated squirrel skeletons)
6) all of the above and inspire others to act in the way that unlocks new options on a political or systemic level (relationships formed through workshops and repairs allow for coalition that finally passes transit/ped infrastructure bill or changes single-family zoning; local companies understand importance of showering facilities and bike parking; critical mass of people biking/walking contributes to safer roads)
7) contribute to stable new paradigms?? (kids grow up thinking driving is bizarre)

At some point it becomes less about expenses and more about the quality of the environment we live in (which is a lot of what we spend money on, anyway). I don't mean to suggest that aiming for the highest tier is always the best course of action, only that experiencing the first few tiers can sometimes lead into actions on the next few. I used option 1 for handling my current commute, but absent outside influences my sweet spot is options 3 and 4. 5 is fun but limited for me, and 6 is aspirational.

More on low risk tolerance: I share Jacob's intuition that returns on most things are likely to regress in my lifetime.* Possibly negative on a global hundred years scale. This is given that most of the growth of the past several hundred/thousand years has been predicated on finding things that have not been priced (but perhaps are valued in other ways) and converting them to economic value. My belief is that people will continue to do this for as long as some are able to, and as long as the physical + social + economic infrastructure supports it. But I do not think that the current rates of conversion can be maintained, given the limits of a finite landbase, diminishing energy intensity (EROI), and the precarity of our complex global dependencies. More opportunity temporarily, more risk in the long run. Phosphorus is a less-discussed example of precarious dependency we've engineered ourselves into.

This gets into the ethics of how to value the future, current others, future others, and which others count. See biocentric vs ecocentric consequentialism for a discussion of possible interest; this link is way more academic than necessary, but imo gets at some of the roots of the societal battles we have: ... 3379790-10

Will leave that tangent there for now.

That said, it feels like a desire for a future of knowns is at odds with this worldview I've just described. Guess it's not for nothing that I spent so much time grieving the predictable world (that never existed). My gut and knowledge tell me to expect a precarious future, but I don't equate precarity with lack of abundance. Just that sources of abundance may shift unexpectedly, and many of them may be intangible (or not legible to an economic parser). Perhaps our tendency to return to a happiness baseline can be a good thing? All I know is that internal preparations feel just as important as external ones on this journey.

*A while back, Jacob cited 3% growth annually as a common average in nature - much lower than what the past century has brought for stocks.

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Re: sumac journal

Post by sumac »

Fighting Inertia, Using Inertia

Spent yesterday painting the bathroom in exchange for dinner and the next couple months' utilities. Very satisfying to mask things off.

I often take a long time to start projects, but once they're going they're usually effortless. So it's helpful to have small ways to short-circuit my "infinite loop before actually starting" process. One of them is to start a small piece of my project semi-carelessly: remove the soap and toiletries from the bathroom, tape off one window or cover the sink. Then I don't have soap, and I'm compelled to keep going.

Maybe on a meta level, if I get in the habit of starting things, it will be easier to start things than to not start them.

On the flip side, inertia is sometimes useful. I don't particularly want to add sugar to food, but it just *sounds* so cozy to have a cup of tea with milk and honey. Now my sugars are in weird places and it never feels worth it to use them, and having a cup of hot milky un-sugared tea sounds just as appealing each morning. Not to mention it still tastes sweet from the fat and fragrance.

Another example of inertia as test-stick: I moved into a unheated outbuilding in September, and spent some time thinking about options for staying warm in the winter. Since I have access to kitchen, bathroom, and living spaces in a heated house, I figured it wouldn't have to be overly energy-intensive. Things I considered include 1) building a small wooden canopy with quilted hangings over my bed, attach kotatsu-type heater low down and use before bed so my sleeping-hole warms up; 2) putting an electric blanket under my sleeping bag and quilt, heat for 15 min before bed; 3) wearing sleeping hat, layering up, and taking advantage of 15deg sleeping bag + down quilt.

So far, nights have gotten down to the teens and 20s and option 3 is working perfectly well. Especially when I leave my clothes in the main house and put them on before bed. We'll see how it goes when it's below freezing for days on end, but I don't think it'll be necessary to add much more heat than a hot water bottle or two. In this case, it was easier to use what I had and make small behavioral adjustments than to preemptively add energy.

Of course, a different question is whether I should build my canopy anyway just for the sake of making a sweet cave. It would be nice to have something to attach my pull-up bar to, since for some godforsaken reason zero of the doorframes on this entire property will accept a pull-up bar.

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Re: sumac journal

Post by sumac »

Good Enough

It's hard to set a threshold for this, but I know for sure that mine needs to be lower. Enough has been said about the value of trying things that you know you might be bad at; here's what I'm trying to do in practice.

Using the 60% rule when responding to gigs

My job leaves me enough free time to respond to postings for various types of paid work that look interesting to me. I remember reading somewhere that on average, men will apply for jobs that they meet about 60% of the requirements of, while women tend to take listed requirements at closer to face value. I decided to try using a heuristic similar to the former: If I feel 60% sure I can do something, I will try to do it and fill in any gaps as I go. Following this principle, I've ended up doing a lot of new things for pay (or things newly for pay):
  • Landscaping with native plants
  • Learning new power tools
  • Giving scissor and clipper haircuts
  • Building wood implements
  • Doing website usability research
  • Overhauling information architectures
  • Building shadow boxes
  • Interior painting
  • Writing and organizational help
  • Moving lots of boxes very quickly
  • Designing logos for small businesses
  • Hand lettering
The other day, I saw a posting seeking a private introductory woodworking class for a small group of children and adults. This sounded like a fun and scary challenge for me: I can cut common joinery (lap, rabbet/dado, miter, mortise and tenon, dovetails) by hand and with machines, and I know when to use them. I can turn simple pieces on the lathe and use hand tools and jigs to make complex shapes. I've enjoyed converting different types of lessons for kids in the past. But I haven't taught these skills or applied them to larger pieces that I'm truly proud of, mainly out of fear of disappointing myself. Which is silly. So, being over 60% sure that I can create a simple and enjoyable curriculum, I responded to the posting. If they bite, I have a few weeks to set up a small shop space (building a workbench, buying or borrowing a couple missing tools, and preparing the materials).

I've decided that even if I don't end up doing the class, I should go through with setting up that space. The cost has felt prohibitive, but it really isn't much to get just the basics. Plus, I know a local guy who takes downed wood for free and mills it into boards he sells at below market cost. I know people who have tools they want to use/share and no place yet to use them. I know people who want to build bookcases and toys and viking chess and more. It'll be a worthwhile investment to make a space where we can do that.

Alright, back from that detour. I thought I had other concrete things to say about establishing a more useful threshold for good enough, but when I think about it, they all reduce down to this. Recalibrating from "only doing things I feel 100% sure I can do" to "do anything that looks fun or meaningful that I have at least the fundamental building blocks for; if I don't yet have the building blocks, decide whether the process or outcome is worth it and tackle them if it is."

Sounds simple enough. But it's hard to unlearn mindsets that are focused on reducing risk and (over)optimizing outcome. The people I most respect often wade into things with an exploratory mindset, produce laughably poor results, and then turn around in a couple iterations and make something amazing. I'd much prefer that to setting a high bar at the beginning, meeting that high bar by restricting possibilities, and then having to live with those restricted possibilities out of fear of "regressing."

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Re: sumac journal

Post by sumac »

Things my dad could do at 18:
  • build furniture using hand tools, without screws or other fasteners
  • hunt birds with a slingshot and fish using nets
  • forage and process a variety of wild foods
  • cook for large groups
  • plan and grow staple foods for a year
  • build several types of houses using local materials
  • design and build a small dam
  • raise animals from birth to consumption
  • build simple tools and machines
  • speak multiple languages/dialects
  • understand practical physics
  • mend clothing
Of course, he lived in an environment where learning these things was for granted (aside from the furniture-making).

In contrast, a similar list for kids to be functional in the current US environment might include:
  • basic reading and numerical literacy
  • managing information overload
  • choosing in-group(s) and being convincing members of them
  • relatedly, social masking and communicating in different registers
  • managing uncertainty
  • dealing with various forms of alienation
  • controlling their own narratives
Jeez, no wonder anxiety is through the roof in today's teenagers! This compulsory/default learning list is a bit cynical, and doesn't include many the ingenious ways that kids become experts at navigating their own specific environments. Maybe others have things to add? I also didn't include a lot of the disciplines that are taught in public school because, while compulsory, they aren't compulsory due to inherent characteristics in our living environment.

What sorts of learning do we want to build into the world for future generations?

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Re: sumac journal

Post by 7Wannabe5 »

My job leaves me enough free time to respond to postings for various types of paid work that look interesting to me. I remember reading somewhere that on average, men will apply for jobs that they meet about 60% of the requirements of, while women tend to take listed requirements at closer to face value. I decided to try using a heuristic similar to the former: If I feel 60% sure I can do something, I will try to do it and fill in any gaps as I go.
I think this is a great idea! Have you read "The Adventures of Augie March" by Saul Bellow? It offers the perspective of a young man making his way mostly on his own in early 20th century Chicago. Kind of like a third point on the triangle with your father's experience and 21st century affluent youth experience as the other points.
I am an American, Chicago born—Chicago, that somber city—and go at things as I have taught myself, free-style, and will make the record in my own way: first to knock, first admitted; sometimes an innocent knock, sometimes a not so innocent. But a man's character is his fate, says Heraclitus, and in the end there isn't any way to disguise the nature of the knocks by acoustical work on the door or gloving the knuckles.

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Re: sumac journal

Post by sumac »

@7w5 - I haven't read it, but I do like that this forum is like a slot machine for book recommendations. Pays out more often than gambling, too.

And ha, I was trying to write the modern list to be as broad as possible. Seems like switching registers is a requirement almost no matter your background in the US*, given that job and home demands are usually different. It took a really long time for me to learn how to do it. And now that I'm passable, my SO gets mad at me because he thinks it's dishonest to ever switch registers. Which I understand. I just tell him that he has to be willing to accept the consequences, which are many, and so he does.

*although I suppose other cultures require even more of it, including within your family.

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Re: sumac journal

Post by sumac »


I always had a cavity or two whenever I went to the dentist as a kid. That's better now, but my gums are eroding. The dentist says it's because I grind my teeth at night. I think the cavities were fixed by clearing out my airways, which allows me to breathe better through my nose at night, which keeps my mouth from getting dry and sad. Maybe the teeth grinding can be fixed by removing (subconscious?) stressors, which is a lot harder. Being less of a reductionist might help with that.

Double standards

Giving space for others to have nuance, and none for yourself. Or vice versa. Cheering others on when they do things that are important to them, but telling yourself that personal desires can wait until you & everyone else are safe (which is never).


Not trying to argue anymore with my mother's health beliefs, which are restrictive and many. She has cancer but isn't telling me (my grandmother did, and told me the best thing I can do for her is to pretend I don't know). It took me a long time to learn how to be kind to her from her perspective. So for as long as I can, I will. We fought a lot. There are some things she wants that I can never do, and I learned to stand up for my values there. But in many other areas - especially how family ties are expressed - I've learned that it's okay to choose to live by norms I would never enforce on others.

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Re: sumac journal

Post by Vaikeasti »

Delightful journal! I for one would like it if you'd elaborate on the mental shifts and registers mentioned. How is life currently?

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Re: sumac journal

Post by sumac »

@Vaikeasti Mental shifts are a bit hard to describe, but some key parts are: finding ways to cut off unhelpful thought loops, gaining confidence in my decision-making, thinking about more things as gradients and processes rather than hard thresholds to be met. My biggest internal struggle right now is giving fair recognition to progress I've made internally that can't be easily measured from the outside. I think I'm more adaptable, compassionate, and capable than I used to be, but my life and goals are harder to communicate to others now.

Re: registers, I'm thinking about everything from the code-switching required for professionalism in an office job to the veneer of enthusiasm required for customer service. There are certainly still jobs that don't require so much of that (often with a labor component), but it seems that administrative and service jobs are grower faster than those. That, and all of the body language and tone shifts needed to smooth interactions with authorities (which almost certainly changes depending on assumptions made based on appearance).


I just finished teaching a woodworking workshop for kids, which was a lot of fun. I may have overprepared, but it was exciting getting back into a mindset of exploration. Note for posterity: 12 year olds are capable of making hand cut joinery, but they will probably appreciate all the fun demos (lamination, steam bending, dowel joints, taking glueless furniture apart) a lot more until their patience catches up to their ability.

Also had fun teaching someone to drive stick as part of a getting-over-breakup process (on their part). I offered to do it for gas money or food barter, but was pleasantly surprised to receive $40 and a request for a second session.

Farm work starts up again next week, just 10 hours a week until March. I'll be in a semi-supervising role this coming season so the hourly is a bit better, but will be supplementing with graphic design and tutoring work until June. I feel bad charging market rates for my work even though people offer those rates when seeking me out. Something to work on. It's better if I can meet my needs with 10hr/week at market rate and leave time open to use as I please or donate, than if I have to do 30/hr week side work for what comes out to less than $10 an hour.

It's also hard to explain that I have done all these different things for many years, and that being able to teach in one field doesn't somehow make me less capable of creating in a different field. Perhaps this is why freelancers sometimes do well with an online persona for a niche topic.

My ERE goals don't seem to have a heavy financial emphasis, even though I enjoy tracking those metrics. I have trouble imagining accumulation, even if it leads to small steady flows. For the next few years, I'm content to be building up skills while living well and paying down debt on a modest income. This might reflect my (suppressed) internal belief that money is fake and cannot be trusted. We'll see how this changes with time, since I can obviously see the very real effects money has in the world even though it feels to me that it's not appropriately pegged to survival or other "real" measures. I'd like to avoid becoming a doomer even though I believe we're unlikely to sustain the current complexity of our global systems through my whole lifetime. My future flows will probably include cash, but the more valuable portions seem likely to be composed of other things.

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Re: sumac journal

Post by sumac »

Farm is getting back into full swing, which I'm happy about. Been filling my time with pretty eclectic work: graphic design retainer, landscaping a few hours a week, teaching. Some of these will taper off by the time things get really busy out here.

Kale, spinach, lettuces, and cutting greens doing well in unheated greenhouses. Dozens of trays of onions and leeks in the heated greenhouse, along with micro mix and pea shoots. Digging parsnips and burdock that overwintered, though the warm winter meant that voles were able to get to more of them. Potatoes, carrots, radishes, rutabagas, beets, and onions coming from winter storage. Goats are happy. Chickens feel some indeterminate chicken-y way.

Way too warm out here and a winter of little snow, but so it goes. Might have to put in drainage for the fields to deal with the heavier and more concentrated rains. Luckily not much erosion due to the no-till and cover cropping setup.

Most successful small farms around here seem to either have found an affordable land/equipment arrangement, or have diversified through some combination of education, value-added products like jams or prepared foods, specialty items, and events. There's a big gap between the small hand-tool market garden and the precision mega-farm where it's hard to survive, so it's pretty remarkable that my employer has turned a profit for over ten years. Land and equipment costs about 30-40% of revenue, but will go down to 10-15% once the land mortgage and equipment loans are paid off.

Why tractors even though we're no-till? They help a lot for shaping the initial raised beds, raking amendments into the top couple inches of soil, mowing spent plants, and moving heavy compost and mulches around. Is it worth it? It's hard to say. I don't know if I would go with tractors if I started my own set-up, but I'm also young and [relatively] unbroken.


Still working on my main loan, hoping to put an average of 40% of my income toward that each month until it's gone. Saving an additional 10-20%. Maybe it would be smarter to put 10% of my income toward the loan and save/invest 40-50% in my particular situation, but mental comfort rules the day. I know that building my income back up would help a lot given where I'm at with costs. After another year or two in my current role I should feel confident applying to salaried farm jobs that pay more than the median, if I choose to continue on this path.

Projected living expenses for the remainder of 2020: $585/mo average

Housing + utilities: $100 average (partial work-trade of 5hr/wk)
Insurance - $80
Gas - $50
Car maintenance and repairs - $75
Groceries - $60
Discretionary consumables - $20
Clothing - $20
Medical - $40
Travel - $15
Donations - $75
Misc - $50

Projected loan payments: $600/mo average

Projected savings: $175/mo average

The remaining $300 or so per month will go to a combination of additional savings, additional loan payments, family obligations, and acts of god.


My brain is certainly still in budgeting mode to some degree, and it will probably take me a while to work my way out of that. I also tend to seek out activities that pay for my time rather than for my value added, so maybe that's something to shift in the future. Right now I don't mind because I've set up a combination of work activities that I enjoy. But I've done so at the cost of flexibility in other areas, and in teaching/design I don't do a good job at setting rates commensurate to what I can contribute. (The rates offered by outside parties who contact me have consistently been 2-5x what I charge when I set rates myself. This sounds like an easy fix, but it's another thing that's unusually hard for me to change. Theory of mind, working with what I would pay rather than what others can afford, etc etc.)

There are crocuses around, I have a jar of ginger honey tea, all is well.

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Re: sumac journal

Post by sumac »

It's been a sec. Interesting times. Rough, but maintaining.

Some changes:

I'm finally fully to terms with the fact that even though my employer required it, owning a car only to get to a farm job is monumentally stupid. The thing is on its last legs, too, so I'll probably recoup what scrap or parts value I can and go forward with a 14mi one-way bike commute.

Things to make this possible:
  • I currently own a reliable steel touring bike (Trek 620 from the 80s)
  • I don't need to make the commute every day - there's a little covered shelter at work that we have permission to sleep in on work days, and I have a bivy sack, mat, and access to a sleeping bag. I've slept there a few times and it's really peaceful to wind down and wake up at my own pace.
  • I can keep a pressure cooker or electric wok at work. Tons of veggie seconds to use, some oil and seasonings and a few grain buckets should take care of food. Oh, and a kettle! The boss supplies coffee but I'm a tea person in the morning, what can I say.
  • I'm pretty slow for having biked as a primary means for transportation for 10+ years, but I can probably change this if I was planning to make the same commute regularly. Currently 90min there and 70min back, I think it's realistic to get this down to 70min there and 55min back.
  • I can become much more comfortable in shoulder seasons with an upfront gear investment of ~$250.
  • My boss likes me and if I keep showing up at work reliably, I don't think he'll let me go over how I get there.
I ran the cost comparison including things like insurance, maintenance, repairs, fuel (gas for car vs extra food for bike), gear, occasional car/truck rental, depreciation, parking/registration, etc. The short of it is that biking will save me around $17.5k over five years, or $300+ a month. That's not a big surprise, but it's a kick in the pants to figure out how to get rid of my car faster (rather than just nebulously planning to do it).

I also ran the calculations for an ebike, and it seems like reasonable ebikes cost about a quarter of what used cars do over 5 years, while a regular bike costs about an eighth. If I do eventually live in a situation where an ebike will help I might go for it, but I think I should test things out with my tried and true to start.

Other updates:

I now live in a rented apartment with a couple roommates - it's a nice change having personal space, extra time from no childcare, sound insulation, and guaranteed lack of insects/mildew/freezing temperatures. Side benefits are it's easier to do things I enjoy or value, like woodworking and teaching online. I still see the family I used to live with every couple weeks or so, and it's been nice planning something fun and relaxing each time. Overall, I think not having car + living in comfy apartment setup is a significant improvement over having car + extremely low housing costs.

I know that I'll benefit in the medium to long term from getting a job that is less hard on the body and that includes benefits. My tentative plan is to work in my current assistant manager position for one more years, gaining skills and experience. After that, I might go for a job at a seed company, especially one that includes education benefits. I'd love to learn more about horticultural research and open source seed distribution as well (yknow, the classic), especially given our rapidly destabilizing climate. Working in that type of role + maybe getting further education in the area seems a good way to do it.

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Re: sumac journal

Post by ertyu »

Sounds like a solid plan on all fronts, keeping my fingers crossed that all works out!

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Joined: Wed Nov 27, 2019 12:35 pm

Re: sumac journal

Post by sumac »

I did end up selling my non-functional car for $600 to a very enthusiastic man who came and towed it away last Sept. The downside of buying a $2k Civic SI on craigslist is that it will probably have major issues within a year, the upside is that wrenchy people love them and will gladly take them off your hands within half an hour of a fb post.

Commuting to work by bike has been nice and roughly as projected. I've had most of December and January off, but up till then I was doing the 28mi round trip about twice a week and sleeping at the farm the other nights. My goal was to reduce my commute time to about 70min there, 55min back. I'd say I got close enough - 75min there, 60min back. I've never enjoyed pushing my aerobic limits (let alone doing it right before working a physical job), so I'm happy with that as a comfortable pace.

It's been a huge relief not having the existence of a car weighing in the back of my mind. I think that alone has been worth the change - I'm just not mentally built to own a vehicle, and neither does it fit into my values. I've been able to enjoy my time off these last couple months and invest in learning topics of interest, rather than gigging around out of anxiety from not being able to predict car expenses. The extra time spent biking to and from work is even a plus, thanks to the nice scenery and reflection time and cardio that I'm otherwise very reluctant to do.

Farm boss texted out of the blue this month to give me a $2/hr raise, so that also reduces my internal pressure to take on more work. I'll continue applying an "inherent enjoyment + $25/hr" screen to any one-time gigs I take in the coming year.

In the past year, I increased my NW by $14k while earning $25k (including stimulus etc) before tax. Maybe $1k of that increase is from stocks. I think my current state could remain on autopilot for 15-20 years and I would still be progressing nicely in my web of goals. That's all I could ask for. It's unlikely that I continue to make only $20-25k/yr inflation adjusted for each of the next 15-20 years, but it's a comfort knowing that it's not a problem if that does end up being the case.

See those few of you lurkers in (probably) 3 to 6 months!

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Location: The Mountains, USA

Re: sumac journal

Post by AxelHeyst »

Thanks for the update on going carfree, I'm hoping to (re)join the club this year sometime. That 'huge relief not having the existence of a car weighing in the back of my mind' sounds quite nice!

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Re: sumac journal

Post by sumac »

@AxelHeyst Thanks, I wish the same for you in the near-to-mid future!


I suppose I am back much sooner than my predicted 3 to 6 months, but this is because I do (once-secretly but now no-longer-secretly) desire companionship and validation from the boards here. Though I don't think it makes sense to seek the latter - I'd rather be in-validated if somebody thinks I'm an idiot than be told I'm thinking clearly when I'm not.

In particular, I think that I'm on many Mt. Stupids in various parts of my life, and would like to continue to change that. I think my relationship with money is one of the loftiest peaks of stupidity that I'm on (hopefully the downward slope). I have generally focused on the personal life side of personal finance, at cost to the big picture. I have spreadsheets that I am sure do not optimize for the optimal thing to optimize for, or even a good thing to optimize for. Most of them do not optimize for anything, which seems normal and fine. Others do not provide very useful insights, but function mainly as a way to scratch an itch.

Other examples of my probable location on said Mt.: I have a hunch with very little to support it that stocks and money will be less useful by the time I die than they are now. I think that money and its derivatives are a form of abstracted float that will ultimately have to answer to the fundamentals of land, water, sun, (derivatives thereof), and the global systems that influence those things. I think that government, other Powers That Be, and regular humans have the ability to continue this float for decades beyond where it should (logically? fundamentally?) end, and that it is totally possible and even likely that this float crash will be much after I die. Because I feel that misalignment of value and valued in my gut, I have trouble acting on my belief that the "big float" will be relevant for most, if not all, of my life.

In the coming year, I would like to spend some time filling in my personal learning gaps that come from seeing economics as being simultaneously scary and boring. I know that seeing economics as scary and boring is not a useful position for upholding my values (or honestly any values), because understanding economics can increase the likelihood that our intentions and outcomes can align. I know that this forum contains a wealth of information for changing that lack-of-knowledge, so I have some of my work cut out for me.

I love small, mainly self-contained systems. I don't think I'm going to change that aspect of me. They have an appeal to me that borders on the erotic. Language systems, many forms of agriculture, many forms of movement, many forms of image and text manipulation, many forms of organizing lives. (I know that agriculture is far from self-contained, and it's arguable that the other fields also aren't, but I at least take a more small-tactile-system approach to each of them.)

But it does feel important that I push against my natural tendencies a bit with regard to big, general, or universal systems. Climate change, of course, is an example of a Large Set of Changes that I feel compelled to engage with. But perhaps I can't engage with it properly if I don't spend more time with physics, or chemistry, or economics, or math. It's possible that I can't become an active participant in my own interest in ecology, psychology, and social dynamics without spending more time with the above.

I have a disproportionate number of close friends who do theoretical research in math and computing, which suggests that there is something mutually enjoyable about our ways of being even though we apply our minds in rather different directions. I like to toss mathy word salads into the mix because a lot of the time these friends will have cogent responses (that probably exist at least three levels above my original statement). But I have never felt an inkling of a desire to walk the path that they have walked, outside of the social motivation to be able to contribute closer to their level in the areas they feel most called to.

I'm 95% confident that 5-years-future-me will think current me is an idiot, and that 10-years-future-me will think 5-years-future-me is an idiot, but it's hard to guess what verdicts of past idiocy those future versions will settle upon. I thought it might be useful to have a written record of my current beliefs, including ones that I find questionable or uninformed, so that I have something to compare against in the future.

What do you think?
Have you ever forced yourself to engage deeply with an area that you feel only extrinsic motivation to engage with?
How did it go?
Have you ever had shifts from extrinsic to intrinsic motivation in surprising areas of your life?
Do you think my actions are appropriate to my level of (not) understanding?
Do you think my actions would change drastically if I did level up said understanding?

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Re: sumac journal

Post by RoamingFrancis »

Hi Sumac, just read your journal. Sounds like an interesting life you've got going on and I wish you the best.

With regard to your comment on companionship and validation, I think this forum mainly serves as a weirdo support group :) ERE is not a conventional life strategy, so it causes social friction for many of us.

I also resonate with your hesitance to dive into finance and economics. I've been resisting it myself, and have been mainly focusing on ecological literacy recently. I'm interested in hearing about your project, as it may inform my own future projects.

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