Monthly Archives: December 2009

A Student’s Guide to a Minimalist Diet in 5 Steps

what is a minimalist’s diet?

True to the minimalist mind-set, a MD (Minimalist Diet) is about reducing food down to what is essential. Although I refer to it as a diet here, in this case I mean diet in the case of ‘a way of eating’ or a long-term lifestyle, not a fad diet that claims you can lose several pounds in 30 days.

When it comes to diets, the important thing is to find a balance and to keep trying new things until you find what is best for you. Our bodies are all different in a thousand subtle ways; we all react to food a little differently. I am not a nutritionist, so please don’t take this as medical advice. I have also taken into account my current lifestyle, I am a student, with very little money to spend, so some of the steps have come out of necessity rather than choice.

For me, an ideal model for a MD is the traditional Japanese diet. Japanese cuisine is well known for the little cooking that is applied to the food. A lot of food is eaten raw or lightly vinegared, such as Sashimi, or otherwise just steamed or boiled. As for flavouring, the Japanese tend to season lightly, or use simple dipping sauces such as soy sauce. This doesn’t mean the food is bland and tasteless, it simply means that food is eaten the way it is, as close as possible to how it occurs in nature.

My take on a good MD is cutting down on too many foods that are processed and cooked for long periods of time. A lot of people cut out meat as well, and although a vegetarian or even vegan diet is definitely very ‘minimal’, you don’t have to abandon meat if you don’t want to.

what are the benefits?

Some of the advantages of a Minimalist Diet are that:

You spend less money. You’re on a student budget, which, unless you’re very lucky, isn’t much. Processed food tend to cost more because the manufacturer needs to make a profit over all of the ingredients and chemicals they used to make it. Buying carrots and chopping them up yourself makes a much cheaper side dish than oven chips which the food company had to grow, chop, flavour, process, package, market, distribute and store whilst making money to stay in business.

It is healthier. Most food companies, and restaurants, don’t care about your health. They care about money. So, they make their food products tasty and convenient because that is what will encourage you to buy them again. But at what cost? The tastiest foods are packed full of sugars and fats. And the most ‘convenient’ foods are sprayed full of chemicals so that they can be stored longer and cooked in less time. Cutting out processed foods means you’ll be filling your body with natural foods, so there are fewer ‘sugar rushes’ or ‘oily breakouts’, which leaves you in a much happier mood and better able to focus and concentrate.

Moreover, I was in the supermarket one day and I noticed that a burger costs £1, whereas a bag of salad was about £1.50. The question occurred to me: What is in that burger that makes it cost less than a bag of leaves to make? A bag of leaves!?

It’s better for the environment. Eating foods that don’t come with copious amounts of packaging saves from adding to landfill. Plus, eating fresh food means it probably spent less time travelling, which saves enormous amounts of oil and carbon dioxide emissions. If you cut down on meat, you will be ‘saving food’, since raising livestock costs more plant material than the energy and nutrition you would get from eating the plants themselves. There is already a global food shortage problem, and although realistically you won’t make much of a difference by yourself, at least you would know you are doing you best not to make it worse.

how to get started

Here are a few steps you can take towards a Minimalist Diet:

1. Make your own. Takeaways are extremely expensive compared to the cost of making a meal for yourself. You don’t have to make a profit over the effort you put into making your own dinner. Of course, there is a need for one every now and again, but if you make meals in bulk then all you have to do is heat up a portion for the next night. One of the biggest money-saving things you can do is making your own sandwiches for lunch. A quick price comparison shows how much you can save, the average cost of a sandwich is £2.00, if you buy 4-5 a week that comes to almost £10. But a supermarket loaf of bread is only about £0.60 and even adding the cost of most fillings like tomatoes, cheese, salads and butter that will last you more than one loaf still makes bringing your own much cheaper.

2. Cut out junk. If you know you eat a lot of chips, biscuits, crisps, cakes, pastries and drink a lot of fizzy drinks, you don’t have get rid of it all straight away, otherwise the chances are you won’t last very long and you’ll be tempted to switch back. Instead, you can just cut down little by little, and substitute foods at the same time (see below) to make up for it. This step can be difficult, and I know it is easier said than done but it is one of the quickest to implement and the results can be very rewarding.

3. Substitute. Replace the junk you left out with healthier snacks. If you can cut out fries as a side part of you main dish, replace it with vegetables. Perhaps replace your morning cup of coffee with green tea instead.  Try stirring honey into your tea instead of sugar. If you really feel like something sweet, try a handful of grapes, they’re packed full of the fruit sugar fructose. Instead of taking a bag of crisps for lunch, switch it for an apple. Get creative!

4. Think simple. If you’re not very good at cooking, or can’t afford to buy much (I mean, we are students), why not just make something simple? Buy simple ingredients. When cooking, instead of going for complicated recipes, why not try methods like steaming and boiling? These procedures are fairly easy and usually don’t take very long either. One of my favourite tricks is steaming practically any vegetable, or even fish in a sieve over boiling water with a lid on top, what is more simple/frugal/MacGyver than that?

5. Eat less. Now, I’m not suggesting you go anorexic here. But if you are overweight, it may be worth calculating a rough estimate of how much you eat in terms of calories and seeing if you’re over your Recommended Daily Allowance. If there’s one thing that remains consistent between all diets, even those dreaded fad diets, it is that in order to lose weight, you should replace junky carbohydrate heavy foods with simple, protein rich foods. Consuming minimally can help you slim down, reduce landfill, save money and improve your overall well-being.

Please remember that all of these tips are just suggestions. There isn’t an ‘Official Minimalist Diet’ rulebook that states you should not eat meat, or that you must eat less than you do now and so on. These steps are a result of combining some of the things I have learnt as a result of having an interest in health, nutrition and of course minimalism. I do realise that some of these points apply to a healthier diet in general, but I guess that is what a MD really breaks down to. This is an approach to food that I have found to work for me, I hope it will help others but of course anyone can change it around as they like.

What does a ‘Minimalist Diet’ mean to you? Do you have any ideas about how to be more minimal when it comes to food?

Dealing with Difficult People

When I first came to university, I strove really hard to be a positive and friendly person. Everyone does,  because that’s how to make friends, which is especially important since you are going to be spending a lot of time with some of the people you meet, at least a year, perhaps even more.

My immediate social response to almost everyone was automatically positive, because I wanted to be friends with everyone I met. But after a while, I began to discover new things about people that weren’t so positive. I found certain people to complain too much, or to be unreliable, arrogant or untrustworthy.

So what do you do when the honeymoon is over and you’re stuck with people that irk you?

You realise you can’t change them. I know, it’s not a fix, but it’s the truth. People aren’t going to change just because you disapprove.

If you really can’t take it, just drift away. You may find that people are much more tolerable in small doses. If you continue to have negative feelings, they may get a bad vibe off of you, which means that they come to think of you as you do of them. In that case, move away completely, it may not be the easiest task, but it’s better than allowing conflict to bottle up.

Another approach is to lead by example. Not that people will necessarily begin to copy you, but if you act like the kind of people you would love to be surrounded by, eventually you will attract those kind of people.

I heard once that you are the sum of your five closest friends. It’s up to you to decide what you add up to.

5 Ways to Get Rich for Free

by Jessica Dang
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A lot of people hate talking about money. One of the most annoying things I hear is that “there are more important things in life than money”, and while I agree to some extent, it should be more like, “there are more important things in life once I have enough money”, because the kind of people who say the former tend to be those who can’t sleep at night worrying about the bills, dread Monday mornings, are working 40+ hour weeks, can’t afford to do the things they really want to do, or don’t have enough time to spend with their friends and family.

Accumulating money for the sake of it isn’t the point. Money is a tool, like a boarding pass, it is your ticket to where and who you want to be. With it, you can get away from the long office hours with the boss you hate, the debt collectors or the mortgage hanging over your head and towards a life of freedom and fulfillment.

It’s not difficult either. There is a very simple formula. The money you have is the difference between what you earn and what you spend. That’s it. So logically, there are three main ways to get rich:

1. Spend less. Want fewer things, and you’ll end up spending less. Care less about what other people think and stop trying to keep up with the neighbours and you’ll end up spending less. Have some discipline and care more about your future self and you’ll end up spending less. You don’t need to live a monk-like existence, but everyone has something they can cut. It’s a matter of thinking before you spend and prioritising what’s really important to you over what only seems important to you right now.

2. Save more. First, and most importantly, make sure you have a rainy day fund that will pay for all of your essential expenses for at least 3-6 months in the event that you lose your job, or can’t work temporarily. Unfortunately, too many people live pay check to pay check, unprepared for things like illness, or a downturn in the economy, or any number of things that are outside of their control. You should also prioritise paying off the most expensive debt(s) that you may have, starting with the ones that charge the most interest, leaving the least expensive debt until last. You might consider not paying very low interest debt off yet if a potential investment yields more than the interest charged, but more on that below.

3. Earn more. Another way to get more money is to simply earn more. Ask for a raise, take on another job, or start something on the side. Don’t fall for lifestyle inflation, which is when you spend more because you’re earning more. Although the occasional treat is fine, too much normally results in very little net difference in savings. That’s how you get people on £60k salaries relying on each paycheck to cover their inflated bills.

Now, once you’ve saved your emergency fund and have accumulated a little extra, what do you do with it? Money isn’t made for collecting, you need to put it to work…

4. Switch your earned income to passive income. Most people think that the only way to make money is to earn it by doing some sort of office or labour job. This is simply not true. There are plenty of people who continue to make money even after they stopped work. Like the singer who earns royalties for a song she made years ago, the writer whose book continues to sell, or the business owner who leaves the day-to-day running to a manager. These kind of people put in an initial amount of work that took some time, effort, skills, and knowledge, but were rewarded with a passive income long after they stopped working. They had the freedom and income to do what they liked, move onto other projects, or to do nothing at all. You can switch your earned income (the money you make by working) to passive income (the money you make by not working) over time, by investing (see below), or starting a side business or income generating hobby. Eventually, you might be able to reduce or stop working, but even if you don’t get rid of your earned income source, at least your passive income can provide an extra layer or security, or luxury, that you otherwise wouldn’t have had.

5. Invest. Apart from inheriting or winning the lottery, investing is the only way to earn money outside of conventional work. All investing can be boiled down to a return percentage with a certain amount of risk. From low risk/low yielding bonds to high risk/high returning startups, there are thousands of way to invest, and it would be outside of the scope of this blog to explain and review individual methods. However, I have found property to be a good investment (in my city/country) in various forms including buy-to-let and crowdfunding. An important thing to remember is that inflation is eating away at your savings at a rate of between 2-6% per year or more, depending on which country you live in, so if you do nothing, you are essentially losing money. Make your money work for you, in the form of immediate/short term returns, or long term capital growth. Which you choose, or how you balance these is up to your own financial situation and goals.

There is a lot more I have to say, which I will detail in a future post. I am not a financial expert, and you should always consider any financial advice carefully. However, some things are common sense, and yet there are so many people stuck in debt, living on their paychecks, or in jobs they hate because they wouldn’t be able to pay the bills if they left. Worst of all, they complain yet do nothing about it, or they resent people who do have money. As a child of immigrant parents, I was not given anything more than most kids my age. I had exactly the same opportunities that were there for anyone who could identify them to take, and I worked extremely hard for them. I’m very grateful for the knowledge and experience I’ve accumulated, and I’m proud of how I was able to steer my finances to where they are now.

Finally, the more I earn, the more I’m able to give, which is one of the only reasons why I would want to earn above my means. I’m not interested in fast cars or fancy shoes, if I have more than I need, I would give it to the people who need it most, so that they could have some of the opportunities I was so lucky to have.

Resources

Image result for secrets millionaire mindEver wonder how people become millionaires and how lottery winners manage to lose it all? If there’s one book that helped me see things with a better perspective, it must be Secrets of the Millionaire Mind: Mastering the Inner Game of Wealth by T. Harv Eker which talks about our money mindsets. You can learn all you want about investing, but unless you have a rich mindset, you’re unlikely going to be able to succeed, and even if you do, you might not keep it for long. Having the right ‘money blueprint’ is the first and most important step to becoming truly rich.

You should also check out my Meditations about money from my other blog Minimalist Meditations (links below), as well as one of my favourite personal finance blogs Financial Samurai. I will have more posts in the future about

 

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Keeping a Reading Notebook

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One of the most useful things I own is a separate notebook for jotting down things that I find interesting, useful, funny, fascinating, inspiring and many other things that I read in books, novels, or even textbooks.

I can’t count how many times I used to finish reading a book, and after a while completely forget about the plot, the characters, good lines, great metaphors, or if it was non-fictional the good tips and motivational quotes. Perhaps it was the writing itself, but I would guess it has more to do with the fact that there is no way my fragile brain can remember all of the stuff I read (can you imagine if it could?!).

A reading notebook is like a journal of what I’ve learnt, and sometimes I write my thoughts or personal review of particular books in it. It’s not very well organised, really it’s just scraps of notes all over the place, with barely indication of organising (except it is in reading order). But the point is, that it usually lasts about a year, so by the end of it, I can flip through it and reread all of the things that I had explored this year in books.

It’s almost like a snapshot of my year. I tend to choose books that suit my moods, feelings and curiosities at the time, and looking back on it is an amazing experience. Sometimes it only takes one line for it to remind me where I was at that time, who the people around me were and how I felt about what was going on back then.

It also gives me something tangible, something to hold that represents all of the hours I had devoted to reading this  year. It’s proof that the time didn’t go to waste.

As the year draws to a close, maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to start a reading notebook for the year ahead.

What do you think? Do you keep a reading journal too?

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