What does a blogger’s spouse do while the blogger is out of town? Hang out with other bloggers and their spouses, of course! While Chris Guillebeau was off playing with the tigers in Thailand, his wife Jolie spent some time with Kris and me.

Last Friday morning, we picked peaches (and then Kris and Jolie canned them). In the evening, the three of us had dinner with Erica (from erica.biz) and her husband Richard. As you might expect, the conversation had a tendency to stray toward personal finance. Because I’d just published my article about life in the third stage of personal finance, we talked a bit about that.

Third stage frugality
“How does frugality work when you have more money?” Richard asked.

I was confused. “What do you mean?” I said.

“Well, when your income increases, how do you stay frugal when your expenses go up? How does frugality scale?”

“Ah,” I said. “Well, frugality works pretty much the same way as it did before. I mean, if you’re doing certain things to be frugal when your income is smaller or you’re digging out of debt, you should probably continue to do most of those things, even if you get more money. For example, we just picked and canned peaches this morning. Growing and preserving our own food is one way we stay frugal. Plus, we buy a lot of our clothes at thrift stores. That sort of thing.”

I thought for a moment. “I guess it all comes down to conscious spending.” Richard hadn’t heard the term before, so I explained how it’s important to remember at any income level that you can have anything you want, but you can’t have everything you want. In other words — and as I said the other day — we choose to skimp on some things so that we don’t have to skimp on others.

“Here’s an example,” I said. “In Your Money: The Missing Manual, I profile Chris Guillebeau. He spends a small fortune on travel every year, but he doesn’t own a car. He bikes or rides the bus or walks everywhere he needs to go. Plus, he and Jolie have a spartan home. There’s no clutter.”

And here the conversation suddenly changed directions…

De-cluttering once a week
“Oh,” said Jolie. “There’s no clutter at our place because I make sure we de-clutter every week.”

Every week?” Kris asked.

“Every Saturday night,” said Jolie. “We go through the house and get rid of the stuff we no longer need.”

“Is it actually getting rid of Stuff?” I asked. I found it hard to believe that anyone could de-clutter every single week. (I have a hard time de-cluttering a few times a year, though I know I should do it more often.)

“Yes!” she said. “And it’s so much fun. It clears your headspace.”

“How much of your home do you reclaim every Saturday?” asked Richard.

“Well, not a lot. But it’s mostly about getting in the habit of letting go,” Jolie said. “Sometimes I’ll see something say, ‘I like the idea of this, but I’m never going to use it.” So I chuck it.”

“What do you do with the Stuff you might need someday?” Kris asked.

“Then someday when I need it, I’ll buy it or borrow it. But usually the Stuff I might need someday, I don’t need any day. Not enough to keep it around, anyhow. So I get rid of it.”

“I have a problem with keeping too many books,” Erica said. “I can’t get rid of a book if I think I might want it someday.”

“Yeah,” said Richard, “but we still got rid of a lot of books when we moved to San Diego.”

“We purged our books several years ago,” I said. “We had thousands of books, and we sold them to used bookstores or donated them to Goodwill. I think we got rid of almost two-thirds of our collection. And you know, I do find that sometimes I want a book that I got rid of — but not very often. When that happens, I either buy it or borrow it from the library.”

“Me too,” Richard said. “I think I’ve had to re-buy maybe three books since we moved.”

“What do you do with the Stuff people give you?” asked Erica. “You know, gifts and so on.”

“It’s gone,” Jolie said. “If it’s clutter, we get rid of it.”

“Even if Chris gave you flowers?” asked my Kris.

Jolie smiled. “I don’t like flowers because they’re clutter.”

We all laughed at that, and then the conversation moved on to other things. We ate our desserts (chocolate lava cakes all around!), said good night, and headed home.

Shared knowledge
I enjoy meeting readers and colleagues for lunch or dinner, and precisely because we tend to have conversations like these. We compare notes. We share what works for each of us, and we ask questions about how other people manage money. Meetings like this used to scare me — I was worried the people I met might be psycho-killers! — but I’ve come to see them as one of the highlights of this job.

Vicki Robin (co-author of Your Money or Your Life) has long suggested that most folks would benefit from talking about money in a small-group setting. I think she’s on to something. (In fact, starting next month, she’ll be conducting a series of Financial Intelligence telephone workshops that some of you may be interested in.)

There’s a sort of tacit taboo against talking about money in our society, and that’s a shame. By not talking about our financial successes and failures, it’s difficult for anyone to see what does (and doesn’t) work except through painful trial and error. But if you have the courage to approach a friend or colleague to ask them if they’d be willing to compare notes, each of you can come away better equipped for financial success!

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