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The Shoestring Girl
The Shoestring Girl
The Shoestring Girl
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The Shoestring Girl

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This second edition of The Shoestring Girl: How I Live on Practically Nothing and You Can Too is filled with tips and tricks for living on very little money. 

Subjects range from living in the country to living in the hood, with special attention given to food (recipes, raising your own, wildcrafting), medical care, fashion, how to deal with excess clutter, budgeting...even how to make money when you're broke. 

This 131,000 word book is several times the length of the original and is sure to have information to help anyone start saving money.

Release dateJan 30, 2017
The Shoestring Girl
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Annie Jean Brewer

Everyone should live on less. When we simplify our lives we liberate ourselves from the mind-numbing struggle just to survive. I started out working four jobs as I struggled to raise my kids as a single mother but we never had enough but when I began combining minimalism with frugality my life changed. I went from working four jobs to taking summers off to spend with my kids. I even stopped working a public job entirely for a few years but it eventually got to be boring so I went back to work part-time. I live on less a month than many earn in a week but my bills are paid and the majority of my time is my own to use as I please.You can do it too if you want. Read my books to learn how.

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    The Shoestring Girl - Annie Jean Brewer


    I published my best-selling book The Shoestring Girl: How I Live On Practically Nothing and You Can Too all the way back in 2011. Over the years I've leafed through it and wondered at the things I know now that I didn't know then. I've wondered at how I could make it better.

    But let's start at the beginning, shall we?

    I grew up poor, raised by parents who grew up during the Great Depression. Since we lived in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky, jobs were hard to get. Actually, they were virtually impossible for my dad to find since he had lost his leg in an accident. In order to make ends meet we had to use what we had and, even with that, turn to illegal means in order to survive. A good portion of my formative years were spent helping my father bootleg, run a card game, and even manage an informal pawn shop of sorts: Dad was always willing to take in items as security for small loans to his friends. If I recall correctly, the first dollar I ever made was from running an errand for one of Dad's customers.

    Needless to say, growing up surrounded by alcoholics was not the most-rounded way to learn about life. As a result my early adulthood was rather eventful. By 20 I was an unwed mother, by 22 I had a second child by the man I would eventually marry, and by the time I reached my 30th birthday I had three kids and realized that I needed to make some serious changes.

    I did.

    After I escaped marriage I found myself trying to raise three kids on my own with a minimum wage job. Looking around our tiny mobile home I knew I needed more. I couldn't even afford cable, much less clothes for the kids and all of the things they wanted and needed so I went back to school for computer repair and started my own computer repair business. By the time it was all said and done I was working four jobs: fast food worker by day, computer repair technician in the evenings, house/business cleaner on the nights and days I didn't have to work at my other two jobs, then finally as a bookkeeper for a local business a few hours a month as time allowed.

    On top of all that I still had three kids and a home to take care of and I wasn't going to slack. I was going to bed at 3am and waking back up at 6am. To say I was burning the candle at both ends would be an understatement. I was exhausted and no matter how hard I tried there just weren’t enough hours in the day to do what needed to be done, much less take care of me.

    One afternoon after rushing home from work I had hopped in the shower to scrub off the fast food aroma in preparation for a repair job when my phone started ringing off the hook. It was a gentleman friend wanting to know if we could spend some time together.

    I'm not proud of it now, but I snapped. I very rudely told him that I didn't have time to sleep, much less socialize so leave me alone! I fumed about that for the rest of the evening. What did he think I was doing? Sitting on my butt all day eating bon-bons? I had bills to pay, darn it; I didn't have time to waste hanging out and having fun, the nerve!

    Much later that evening the kids were in bed and I found myself trying to tidy my home in preparation for the next day. By this point I was feeling sorry for myself. How come others have time to relax and socialize when I don't even have enough time to sleep? I wondered miserably. What did they have that I didn't?

    I was so disgusted that in my frustration, instead of putting everything away, I started tossing stuff instead.

    Over the next few weeks I pondered those questions and analyzed my life. When I had left my husband I had done it knowing that in order to survive I had to get my expenses as low as they could go and keep them that way but I admitted to myself that I was still struggling. What was I doing wrong? That was when it hit me: the kids hadn't even noticed that I had started throwing stuff away during my harried cleaning sessions. I had been spending money on stuff for myself and the kids that was ending up in the trash and no one in the house even cared.

    Even better: my disgruntled purging was making my home that much easier to clean. I was tidying my home considerably faster, which freed up several precious minutes that I could use for sleep.

    Fast forward a year or so in the future. My income had increased to the point where I was able to just work a single job and have money to spare while my housecleaning duties had lessened due in a large part to the purges I routinely did by that point in time. I took the advice of some friends and purchased a washer and dryer on credit, despite the fact that I only needed a washer and could have paid cash for a new one. I took the rest of the money reserved for the washer and, you guessed it, bought even more furniture on credit.

    Cue the music folks cause you know what happened next. My income took a huge, unexpected dip and I was struggling to make the payments and put food on the table. There were times when I would not eat so that I could save the food for my kids.

    It took a while but I finally managed to pay everything off. When I did I promised myself to never make that mistake again. Today's modern world is too uncertain to rely upon any sort of income source. I experienced it again when my job was eliminated in 2009, a few years later when my book royalties took a dip, and more recently when an injury took away my ability to work a public job.

    For the record, I'm still recovering from that last one.

    The sad part is the fact that I'm not alone. I know so many people who are struggling to make ends meet. I even know people who, in desperation, turned to illegal means to meet expenses and ended up in jail.

    The gap between the haves and have-nots has widened over the years and it is probably going to get even wider. The only way to survive this is to buckle down, tighten our belts, and ride it out the best we can.

    Hopefully this book will help.

    ~Return to ToC~


    In this sue-happy age I am forced to add a disclaimer. I am not your mother and there isn't any warranty implied or implicated in any form on any of these pages. This book is written for educational purposes only. I am not responsible for any loss, dismemberment, or jail time you incur because you tried the stuff in this book. Use your head and check your local laws. I do this stuff but you might not want to take the risk.

    Really, this book isn't that bad; I'm just trying to cover all of the bases.

    ~Return to ToC~

    How to Use This Book

    Within these pages you will find not only the tips and tricks that I have personally used over the years, but tips shared by my family and from my lovely readers that they have used to pare their expenses to the bone.

    This book is written so that you can read it in its entirety to get an overview and then bookmark the things you want to try yourself. As with the first edition of this book, I have no intention of reinventing the wheel so if there is a resource available that can help you I will lead you there with a note or reference. That way you can learn more about the subjects that interest you.

    That said, in this edition there are some things that have become rather important to understand in our current economic climate. As a result I may end up sounding a bit preachy, and for that I apologize in advance. I refuse to water down my words and turn this book into some half-baked piece of nonsense that tells you everything but the truth. I am going to call it like I see it because I have absolutely nothing to lose and your future survival (or at least survival in some sort of comfort) is at stake. I'm not going to be all fire and brimstone here so don't worry. I just want you to know how to survive when times are tight and I can't do that if I'm not honest.

    But if you don't like an idea, that's okay, just move on to the next one. No one is going to come knocking at your door if you don't implement these suggestions.

    Above all, I hope you have some fun while you try these things. If you try an idea and don't like it then feel free to go back to your previous ways while you figure out something else to try.

    If this book just makes you think twice about how you spend your money then I have done my job, and I hope that you will help others by leaving a review on your website of choice. If you know of any way to make this book any better please do not hesitate to email me at annie@annienygma.com to let me know. I would love to hear from you.

    By the way, I’ve added a lot of comments and helpful information in the footnotes¹, so if you are reading the ebook version of this please don’t skip them.

    ~Return to ToC~

    The Story of the Shoestring

    The world is an uncertain place. While humans individually are incredibly warm and caring the onset of big business has so removed those in charge from the workers beneath them that, instead of human beings, they are just numbers on a spreadsheet. Why care if 1,000 people won't be able to provide for their families - the business will save X amount of dollars. It's not as if you know them anyway. Cutting those jobs will improve the bottom line - and increase your bonus.

    Working as a claims adjuster? Well, every case you manage to turn down increases your savings for the company. The more you save, the more valuable you are. The more valuable you are, the less likely you are to be eliminated. Besides, they're probably trying to get something for nothing anyway.

    If you are an attorney working for a big company, chances are they are a major client and you want to keep them happy. You will do everything in your power to accomplish that even if it means throwing people with legitimate claims under the bus. Who cares? Court cases are a competition and the best man wins.

    These are the attitudes we are facing today. Warm, normally kindhearted people are doing what they feel is best to survive and prosper. Businesses are more concerned for the bottom line than they are for people so they reward those who make their numbers better.

    That's just how it is. Wrong or right, this is the world we live in and we have to adapt to survive. But how can we? If we can't count on our jobs, expect help from the safety nets or justice in the courts what can we do?

    The answer is in the shoestring. I consider the shoestring to be a type of tightrope; a line we have to balance between excess and deprivation. The shoestring lifestyle is just that, finding a balance between what we have, acquire, and save in order to prepare for tough times - or to help survive, even thrive in these economically unstable times.

    Hopefully things will change in the future. Hopefully the time will come when we can go back to the job security our parents and grandparents had, where they were able to work at a single company until they retired with a comfortable pension but until that time comes (if it ever does) we have to learn how to survive right now.

    The very fact that you are reading this book means that you are struggling, that you are looking for answers about how to live better on less money. But while I can tell you how I do it and explain my methods, it will only work if you put the lessons into practice. Just like you can't read a book and immediately expect to be able to ride a bike, you can't expect to experience the benefits of the shoestring lifestyle if you aren't willing to make some changes.

    A Temporary Situation

    In a perfect world, living on a shoestring would only be a temporary measure. People would become shoestringers in order to recover from a job loss or other disaster and then set it aside when their finances cleared up.

    Unfortunately the world has changed. Single parents are struggling to pay the rent and feed their kids. Millennials are leaving college to discover that there are no jobs waiting that will pay them above minimum wage or are told that they have to accept an internship for next to no pay in order to get their foot in the door at Company X. Some have just become so disgusted with the rat race that they've decided to check out and start their own business.

    Whatever the reasons, the odds are that while you may be thankful that you have the ability to live on less money you don't want to be forced to do it forever. If that is the case, you also want to know different ways to earn extra money, not only to survive now, but to help you in the future.

    While this book is not really about making money I will share something I have learned since I wrote the original edition of this book and that is the value of a passive income stream. If it were not for the royalties I earn even when not actively working, my daughter and I would have ended up homeless. It wasn't much since I was unable to actively promote my books but that little bit helped a lot more than you could imagine.

    Not everyone has the desire to write a book however, and I accept that. Fortunately there are other ways to build income, both passive and regular. Some involve investing money² you already have while others allow you to start with almost nothing. I will share what I know in the relevant sections.

    Be warned that the shoestring lifestyle can be addictive: once you discover just how little it can actually take to live well you may not want to go back to your old lifestyle even if you hit the lottery!

    ~Return to ToC~

    You Are Richer Than You Realize

    Right now you are probably feeling down about your finances. The phone is ringing off the hook and the bill collectors are banging on your door.

    You are still richer than you realize.

    You are still alive. You have food in your belly, clothes on your back and a roof over your head. You even had the money to buy this book. Your home is filled with clothes and furniture while there is probably a car or two sitting in your driveway.

    There are people out in the world who own just a single outfit to their name. In the book Down and Out in Paris and London, George Orwell lived among people who owned even less than that. Within those pages he told the story of these two gentlemen; one would come in from work and be greeted by the second, wrapped only in a blanket. The second man would offer the first some money to buy his clothes. The money would exchange hands and the first person would get undressed. He would don the blanket and go to bed while the second person got dressed in the clothes he had just bought and go out to work. At the end of his shift the first person would buy the clothes back, get dressed, and go out to work as well.

    Emilie Barnes mentioned in one of her books³ that when she was a child they were forced to eat stone soup. They would find a stone, wash it off, and place it in the bottom of a pot. The pot was then filled with water and sprinkled with any seasoning they happened to have around. If they were lucky enough to have carrots or other vegetables these would be chopped very fine and added to the water, but many times they didn't even have that.

    I once met a woman who had had to farm her children out in desperation while she moved in a van when she became homeless; when her van broke down she was well and truly desperate.

    There are people in the world right now who don't even own themselves, much less anything else.

    Compared to them you are truly wealthy.

    So yes, things may look bad. You may not have enough money in the bank to buy what you want but look around you! Look at all of the wealth that you have surrounded yourself with. Look at all of the clothes in your closets, that TV in the living room, and the furniture you relax upon.

    The problem isn't that you don't have enough money; the problem is that you don't know how to spend the money that you have so cheer up sunshine! Things aren't as bad as they seem.

    ~Return to ToC~

    Welfare, Social Security, and Jobs

    My belief in Social Security went out the door with Santa Claus. While there may be some who managed to get benefits, I have encountered far too many who, in their time of need, were turned down flat. The application process alone can take upwards of a year, and then expect to get turned down even if you're half dead.

    Think about it: You are sick or injured, unable to provide an income for your family. You are already desperate or you wouldn't have applied for help in the first place. How in the world can you expect to survive another year or so until you can wade through the paperwork and qualify for benefits⁴? The only people I know who have been capable of that feat had some other income source while they waited, and out of those people a few actually worked jobs for cash money⁵. Now if you can work and earn money while you are waiting for Social Security disability to kick in....

    Now there are people out there who had family and friends willing to help. Others managed to get loans to help float them through the hard times. Not everyone is defrauding the system but here's the honest truth: if you count on Social Security or some other so-called safety net to come to your rescue it ain't gonna happen in a reasonable amount of time. It may not happen at all, so don't count on it. As I mentioned in the first edition of this book I didn't count on help being there when I needed it from these programs, and my experience since then has solidified that belief.

    Regular Jobs

    Regular jobs are nice if you don't count on them. As I explained earlier businesses look at the bottom line instead of looking at the people anymore. Loyalty in the workplace is gone.

    I know several people at a local factory who have worked there for decades. They always showed up, many times even when they were sick but now that they are getting older the company is doing their best to force them to either retire early or quit. At least one of them suspects that the factory is trying to find a reason to fire him. He couldn't even access his retirement account with the business the last time we talked and was worried that they were going to cheat him out of his retirement benefits.

    Other businesses will hire a surplus of workers during the busy season and then cut their hours to almost nothing when the extra work dries up, or simply make up excuses to fire them.

    I worked at one factory who mainly hired temp workers for that very reason. They would work everyone 60-70 hours a week during the winter but as soon as spring hit they would start letting people go. I remember the stink of fear in that place every time the managers of the temp service would start walking around come spring and summer to this day⁶.

    Job security simply does not exist anymore. We work in a world where hard workers can lose their jobs on a whim just because their boss is having a bad day and there's not much that can be done about it. The only real security to be had in this nation is by those who count upon themselves.

    However, you can be prepared in advance. By reducing how much money you spend you can save the difference so that you will have a financial cushion in the event you lose your job. You could take that money and invest in a business of your own, a business that no one can fire you from⁷. That way instead of relying on a single source of income you will have money coming to you from lots of little sources, so it won't hurt as much if a single customer decides not to hire you again.

    Take the money you earn and invest it into a passive income source so that you will still have money coming in even if you aren't able to work. There are a lot of different options out there; my personal favorite (aside from writing) happens to be rental properties because they can't make more land and everyone needs a place to live.

    The sooner you reduce your expenses and diversify your income the sooner you will gain real security.

    ~Return to ToC~

    Live on Less...

    But don't throw everything away!

    One thing I have learned over the years is that we all have the ability to live on much less than we think we can. The amazing part is that living on less will not make you feel deprived but will instead make you feel liberated if you do it in a rational manner.

    There are numerous reasons to live on less:

    * It is cheaper. It is much cheaper not to buy something than it is to buy it, bring it home, care for it, then toss it in the trash or donate it.

    * It saves time. It takes less time not to buy something than it does to wade through the checkout lines.

    * Less to clean.

    * Less to care for.

    * Less to store.

    * Less to move.

    * Less to trip over.

    * Less to get rid of when the novelty wears out.

    There is a trick to living with less, and that trick is to start small.

    When you feel the desire to acquire something ask yourself if you have something else already that will meet your needs.

    If it is a decorative item imagine it dusty and dirty or tossed in a box that's been stuffed into a storage shed. Imagine seeing that same item in a yard sale with a ten cent price tag stuck to it. Seriously, if an item is solely decorative, why are you even thinking about getting it anyway?

    One major thing I did when I first started shoestringing was I put a moratorium on acquisitions while I started eliminating things that did NOT get used. If I had 20 knives but only 5 were used regularly, 15 were purged. The same went for clothing and other items.

    In hindsight I would have handled that differently. I think back now on the times when I've had to purchase silverware due to attrition and new items when the ones I kept wore out, and I realize now that I could have saved a lot more money if I had kept my extra items⁸ and used them up completely before discarding them. If I had to do it all over again I would have saved those things and reserved the extreme purges for moving day.

    That said, just putting a halt to extraneous purchases has saved me thousands of dollars and when combined with networking⁹ I have saved thousands more.

    There are tons of decluttering websites so I will not reinvent the wheel here, and in your particular situation, while you may have a surplus of items, those items may need to be saved and used up instead of discarded. Just know that acquiring less stuff can save you a lot of time and greatly improve your finances. In fact you may be able to save a fortune on clothing alone if your closets are full. Just make sure to eliminate the items that are worn out or don't fit properly.

    If you would like to see a list of bare minimum items that you need to own you can check out my other book How to Start Out or Over on a Shoestring. This will give you an idea of how low you can go when it comes to the things that you own, which can help to inspire you in your current home or aid your selections should you decide to move into a new home. I started out with even less than what I listed in the book when I moved here, and I did just fine.

    While a lot of information available these days invokes an active saving of money. These methods include clipping coupons, switching to generic brands, buying in bulk, watching for sales, and thrifting but the best form of frugality I have found is to stop buying stuff in the first place.

    The Best Frugality Is To Stop Buying and Using

    Instead of looking around for the best deal on a new pair of pants wear the ones you have and leave the new ones in the store.

    Instead of searching far and wide for the best price on a clothes dryer, string a line and hang your laundry out to dry.

    Instead of using a dishwasher to clean your dishes wash them by hand and sell that machine for scrap when it dies.

    Instead of using a car you can walk, ride a bus, arrange to ride with friends, or use public transportation.

    Instead of leaving things on, turn everything off when you aren't using them or don't use certain things at all. This is especially true for water and other utilities to help save on those bills.

    While it is practically impossible in our modern age to stop buying entirely, consider the fact that not purchasing something will save you more time, trouble, and expense than shopping for the best deal, especially if you already own something that will meet your needs.

    For instance, instead of buying paper towels wash and reuse the cloth ones you have stuffed in a drawer or dedicate some of your overstocked wash cloths to the use. Instead of buying bathroom tissue consider giving that mountain of washcloths you caught on sale an extra use. Instead of buying the latest and greatest spray cleaner, clean your messes with the soap and water you already have in your home.

    This is much more than use it up, wear it out. This is about refusing to bow down to the artificial needs that have been created by advertising.

    Seriously, what do you think your ancestors did before all of that stuff was invented? When I was a kid it was common to find a pile of newspapers in the bathroom (read: outhouse) for wiping after you did your business. Even in houses that had indoor plumbing you would occasionally find older people who still used newspapers for this purpose. They would toss the used papers into a trash can to avoid stopping up the commode.

    Bandages for wounds were not the disposable gauze ones we have today. My grandfather kept strips of cotton cloth that he would wash and bleach to keep sanitary for that purpose. I wore cloth diapers before I was potty trained, and when you wanted to clean something you grabbed a bar of soap and a cloth or a scrub brush.

    If you had clothes in your closet that fit, you wore those before you even dreamed about buying new ones. When those outfits became stained or worn the good pieces were clipped out and turned into quilts. When those quilts wore out, they weren't just tossed in the trash - they were used as batting for new quilts.

    How many shirts can you wear at one time? If you wore a different shirt every single day just how many weeks or months would it take for you to wear EVERY shirt that you already own? Do you honestly think that a new outfit will make you prettier or more successful?

    It won't, and if someone likes you just because of the clothes that you wear they're not much of a friend now are they? Do you really want to have people like that in your life?

    Did you know that some of the wealthiest people actually dress the simplest? Look at Mark Zuckerberg. He dresses in the same exact outfit every single day. This guy is super wealthy and one of the reasons he will stay wealthy is because he has the sense to know that clothes don't make the man. Steve Jobs was the exact same way.

    Story Time

    Once upon a time there was a farm on sale at an auction. One of the bidders was an old man in ratty overalls with a gunny sack (burlap bag) slung over his shoulder. The auctioneer took one look at that man and thought to himself there is no way that old man can afford this farm so he refused to accept the old man's bids. After a few minutes the old man gave up and started walking back to his vehicle.

    As the old man left the other bidders started walking away as well. The auctioneer grabbed one of them, asking why they were all leaving. The person pointed to the old man walking away. You see that man over there, the one you said couldn't afford to buy this place? That man is the richest man in this area, and that bag he's carrying is filled with cash. He was going to buy this place and pay cash on the spot. If he can't afford this farm none of us can.

    That man, instead of spending his money on clothes and other things to look rich, saved his money and actually became rich. That is something you need to remember.

    I wish I could remember the details of that story but I knew a person who witnessed the event when he was young. His family wasn't there to try for the farm (they were selling other things at the auction as well) but what happened that day stuck with him until one day he shared the story with me.

    That is what showed me that you are so much more than the clothes that you wear or the things that you own. Since the day I heard that story I have paid attention to the people around me, ignoring the clothes on their back and the other external trappings and you know what I discovered? I discovered that the richest people are the ones the dress the simplest and have some of the simplest homes. I've made friends with folks who had millions in the bank but lived in what many people would consider a ratty old shack, people that were considered poor and stupid and worthless by most others, but who is really the stupid one here? The one who fights to keep their bills paid because they have a fancy house and a car payment and tons of other stuff, or the person who doesn't have all of that but can live life as they please?

    Think about that the next time you go shopping.

    Minimalist Moderation

    While it is much better to live on less, the best and wisest route to frugality isn't to eliminate everything you own. In fact, if you pare down to an extreme it will actually end up costing you more in the long run, due to the fact that you will spend more time acquiring (borrowing, renting, etc.) the things that you need.

    I have done it both ways. I've practiced frugality with both a lot of possessions and very little and I have learned that while it is best to completely eliminate the things that you don't actively use or really need that it simply isn't as practical or as enjoyable to live your life without everything as it is to simply curate the items around you.

    Some things in our modern life are so essential that we can suffer negative consequences when these items break down. Since we absolutely need them, we end up spending more money or suffering financial losses as we rush around to replace them as quickly as possible.

    For instance, one day you come home to discover that your refrigerator has died. You need a refrigerator ASAP to prevent the food that you own from spoiling so you rush out to the store and buy one on a high-interest credit card without checking on sales. However, if you had a backup plan in place¹⁰ you could take your time and use the backup while you search for the best, least-expensive way to repair or replace your refrigerator.

    If you rely on your vehicle to get to work you run the risk of losing your job if that vehicle suffers a breakdown. In this case you have to have transportation or your family won't be able to pay bills. Having a backup vehicle (even a neighbor or family member can qualify as long as you are guaranteed to get to work on time) can reduce your stress levels and allow you sufficient time to repair the vehicle without having to rush out and buy the first one you see on a car lot.

    In the event of essential items like the above I encourage you to have some sort of backup plan in place; it is better to have a duplicate of these essential items waiting in the wings for when the unexpected happens than to scramble for a replacement when disaster strikes.

    However, you don't need to have a backup of everything. You do not need to own fifty plastic bowls if you only use two on a regular basis. You are not going to die if your coffee maker quits¹¹. Your boss is not going to fire you if your curling iron refuses to curl and your food is not going to suddenly become inedible if you don't have a food processor to prepare it in.

    This is why moderation is essential. You need to carefully walk the shoestring and balance your needs with what you can comfortably own. For instance, if you live less than 10 miles away from your job your backup plan could be to ride a bike or even walk¹² to work instead of acquiring a second vehicle. If your coffee maker dies¹³ you can place the coffee grounds in a fine strainer and pour boiling water through them to get that morning cup of caffeine. You could even buy a box of coffee singles¹⁴ (coffee that is packaged in a tea bag setup, not the instant stuff) and keep it on hand for if your coffee maker fails.

    However, (and I am repeating myself here because it is important) you do NOT need to have backups of everything. Your kids do not need a thousand toys any more than you need a room crammed full of books that you won't ever get around to reading. You don't need to have a storage building full of extra clothing and furniture - and you definitely do not need boxes of knickknacks stored in your attic for when you want to redecorate.

    This includes more than just physical items. If your job is essential, have a small business on the side to help pay bill