Thursday, June 13, 2013

Champagne Tastes on a Beer Budget

During the heady days of the 00's housing bubble, I was in a business-to-business sales job. Before that bubble burst, times were good, optimism reigned, and I lived it up like so many other fools living beyond their means via debt financing.

Buying shit I didn't need, with money I didn't have.

When the bubble went bust, so did my financial situation. I could no longer service my debt. Bankruptcy soon followed.

That was nearly four years ago, and I'm in a far better place today, financially. Much poorer in terms of income, but much wiser in knowledge and experience. I've learned to make-do, repair, recycle, reuse, and focus on the finer points of frugality. I am no longer in any debt save for a few grand in student loans that could not be discharged in bankruptcy.

Of course, back when I took out those student loans in the 90's, you COULD discharge them in bankruptcy...then Dubya signed the law during his second term making student loans ineligible for bankruptcy discharge.

Not that I had any intentions of doing so...I was a good little debt serf for the banksters. I made all my payments on time for close to a decade, until I hit the point where my commissioned pay check was zero and only my meager base salary was the only income I had...until my company I worked at for 12 years went belly up and I got laid off. I reached the point where it was a choice between either making my credit card and auto loan payments or paying the rent, buying food and keeping the basic utilities on.

That's what I get for voting. Consider my lesson learned, and my consequences just. Thanks to the borrow-and-spend RepubliCON warmonger and original bagman for the TOO BIG TO FAIL TARP-heist that I cast my ballot for (not once, but twice!), student loans are now like herpes.

During the heady days of irrational exuberance and a six figure income, I lived it up like a Rockefeller.

Oh Virtuous Vice!

I developed a taste for the finer vices of life. Single Malt Scotches and Kentucky Straight Bourbons aged for 10 or more years. Premium cigars. Expensive, boutique micro-brewed beers. Organic gourmet coffee.  I used to only put 92 Octane gas in my cars and motorcycle. I ordered every pay per view MMA events from PRIDE Fighting Championships and the UFC.

I would regularly eat out at restaurants, and thought nothing of ringing up $100+ meal and bar tabs around town. Movies, concerts, raves, nightclubs, weekend trips to the neighbor islands and regular visits to California and Las Vegas to visit friends and families. Multiple vacations to Europe and Australia. I built up a moderate collection of guns, knives and guitars, as well as an extensive collection of high end whiskey. I used to buy a bottle of $30-$80 single malt or premium Bourbon or Irish Malt every pay day. I used to have subscriptions to a number of magazines and newspapers. All the premium channels on cable TV. I used to buy the latest game consoles, newest releases of video games, and hundreds of DVD's and CD's.

Then I discovered the Paleo Cult on teh Interwebz, and I turned my expensive tastes in dining towards obtaining the highest quality foods I could find and really getting into the joy of cooking from scratch. Grass-fed meats, organic sausages, fresh-caught, raw fish. Organic dairy. Grass fed butter from New Zealand. Highest quality Olive and Macadamia nut oils. Artisanal cheeses. Organic produce. Free range eggs and poultry, all bought from upscale, high end grocery stores and deli's around town. The gains I made from ceasing to eat out at fast food, franchise chains and upscale restaurants was easily offset by the higher standard of groceries I was buying.

I was a quintessential, 21st Century human resource in Corporate America and a consummate consumer typical of the times. I was living high on the hog, clueless about the economic hard times that were about to come. I was still drunk on the idea of the American Dream (called so because you have to be asleep to believe it!), and under the delusion that my career was on a perpetually upward trajectory. After all, for 8 years after I graduated from college, my commissions increased every year. I thought that was just the natural career path that comes with obtaining a college degree and working as a white collar sales and marketing cog in the American corporate machine. Little did I realize that I was simply getting my small share of the bubble mal-investments, and that I was blowing it all away under the mistaken notion that I would be earning even more of it in the future.

About the only thing I didn't do when I was in the heyday of bubble excess that many of my Generation X cohorts did, was sign up for a mortgage to try and realize the dream of Home Ownership. I came within inches of signing on the dotted line for a 3 bed/2 bath/2 car garage house in an upper middle class tract of Hawaiian suburbia...but I got cold feet and walked away. The idea of 30 years of debt and the 5 year adjustable rate scared me too much. That decision was based on nothing more than irrational fear (at the time I thought is was irrational...lolzolzolol). That ended up being the smartest choice I ever made, back in my blue pill days of financial and economic naivete. I had more than enough of a monthly average income at the time to afford the payments. I would have made it to about 4 years before the bubble went pop and my commissions went to zilch.

I guess the most memorable and meaningful lessons we learn, are the ones learned the hard way.

Life has become much simpler now.

I no longer order Pay-Per-View events or movies. I got rid of all my premium cable tv channels. I downgraded my smart phone to a dumb phone and pay the minimum monthly plan with only a small allotment of phone call minutes. I no longer talk for more than 2-3 minutes at a time on the phone so as to avoid going over my monthly minutes. I no longer eat out at restaurants, save for very infrequent and special occasions. About once a month, I take the family out to a Vietnamese noodle shop for some bone soup  (high quality nutrition at fast food prices.) I no longer shop at deli's and upper end grocery marts. I buy most of my produce from the local farmer's market. I also found it much cheaper to raise a flock of free range hens rather than pay a premium for free range, organic eggs at the grocery stores.

I cancelled all my magazine and newspaper subscriptions. I only use 84 Octane gas. I got rid of my motorcycle and two of my four vehicles. I set up a routine for doing my errands so that I do all that needs to be done on one round trip to town for a single week to save on gas. I haven't bought a gun or a guitar in 5 years. I stopped going to the shooting range on a regular basis (ammo has gotten way expensive ever since Obama got elected!).

Nevertheless, one thing I really got from all that, was the proverbial champagne tastes, of which I can no longer afford to regularly indulge. Adjustments have been made...but there are certain things I will not compromise on. The behaviors have been modified, but I've reached a point where I'd rather go without than settle for cheaper substitutes.

Life's too short to eat bad food, drink shitty booze, smoke crappy leaf and  watch bad TV and movies.

Rather, I've become more moderate and circumspect in my consumption. In this regard, my favorite corporate multi-national cartel, Costco, has been the only thing keeping my expensive tastes for quality foods and vice sated.

High quality microbrews in bulk ($10-$14 a six pack elsewhere, $20-$22 a case at Costco). I now almost never drink more than 3 of those in a single day. I used to easily drink 2 cases of beer or more a, I stretch one case over 2 weeks. While there are economic considerations driving this behavior, I've also become conscious and conscientious of the difference between alcohol use and abuse.

I no longer buy Single Malt Scotch, unless I come across a ridiculous sale (I once came across three bottles of Dalwhinnie 15 year Single Malt at a clearance price of $25 - typically a $55 bottle. I bought all three). Almost all the bottles in my collection have been drank below the halfway point, and I rarely open them up anymore to have a dram. That's only on special occasions now. I stick to Kentucky Straight Bourbons and Rye Whiskeys, and even with that, I typically only buy the cheaper/mid-range end of that particular classof spirits, and usually only drink only a dram or two in any given day.

Put this same Whiskey in a different bottle and you'll pay twice as much...for almost the exact same juice.

But even the price of Bourbon has been on the rise as of late. Again, thank the heavens for Costco - they now carry Kirkland brand Bourbon, which is really just Jim Beam's small batch collection of Baker's Bourbon sold in bulk to Costco. $20 for 1 liter...whereas a 750 ml bottle of Baker's will run you twice that price at specialty liquor stores. Great Whiskey at a great price. If I could afford it, I'd prefer premium brands like Pappy Van Winkle or Old Weller Antique, but the Kirkland stuff at that price is more than good enough to satisfy.

Mexico produces so much more than unskilled and undocumented labor...

Same goes for the Kirkland brand tequila - it may be cheap, but the quality is still there.  You can get a 1.75 liter bottle of  100% puro de Agave blanco, smooth enough to drink straight and excellent for mixing,  for the same price of a 750 ml bottle of typical mixto rotgut tequila sold everywhere else. (I don't always drink tequila...but when I do, it's NOT Jose Cuervo - "silver" or "gold.") I'd prefer Cazadores, Herradura or Patron, but again, the Kirkland brand is some damned fine Agave Azul, and at that price, a true bargain.

Another great offering from Costco is artisanal cheeses in bulk. I've seen the same types of cheeses at half the size for twice the price at most deli's and grocery stores. Oh, and while I still buy organic free range meat at the farmer's market, I do also buy the cheaper factory farmed fare from Costco as well. Bacon, sausage, ham, salami, etc. I wish I could afford to buy higher end meats from Whole Foods, but I've resolved to not let perfect be the enemy of good.

Processed, Factory Farmed Meats: Paleo Cult Heresy!

In those cases, I make sure and cook the cheap meats in high quality fats (Kerry Gold Butter and Macadamia Nut Oils) to at least mitigate the poorer nutritional quality of the cheaper meats. Where I used to exclusively eat free range, organic/grass fed meats, that now makes up only 50% of the meat we consume in the Galt household.

If there's one thing I never skimp on when it comes to food, it's with buying the high quality fats.
Nobody round these parts beats the prices Costco's offers Extra Virgin Coconut and Olive oils.

Another innovation with Costco here in Hawaii has been the recent installation of fresh coffee roasting machines in several of the outlets around the island. I used to pay close to $20 a pound. for organic coffees from a boutique coffee shop in downtown Honolulu. The highest quality beans from Sumatra, New Guinea, Tanzania, Guatemala, Venezuela, Jamaica and Kona. I love me some high end coffee in the morning. But now, Costco fresh roasts organic Sumatra beans right there in the store and sells it in 2.5 lbs. bags for $16...and that fresh roast is unbeatable! Every time I buy a bag and throw it in the car, by the time I get home, my entire vehicle smells like fresh roasted java.

I've paid triple the amount for more gourmet coffees like Organic Kona and Jamaican Blue Mountain...and none of them ever tasted as good as that Organic Sumatra that had been roasted within a day or two of purchase. Even still, with that excellent bulk pricing for premium grade beans from a certified organic farm in Indonesia,  with the economic downturn and personal financial decimation, I still cut back from a 4-5 cups a day routine -- always with a healthy dollop of organic heavy whipping cream -- to now only 2 cups a day, the first black, the second with organic half-and-half. I make that 2.5 lbs. bag last two weeks...just like the beer.

Now I didn't start out writing this post to turn it into an endorsement for one of our modern day equivalents to the East India Company...but sadly, the fact remains - America is a Corporatist-Mercantilist-Fascist State. We the sheeple must procure at least some of our food and drink and other consumable products from one of the mutli-national corporate cartel's...we don't really have any other choice - especially when comparable goods that are locally made can cost up to 10 times as much as the likes of Costco can offer, due to it's cartel advantages in procuring premium products on the global market at discount rates for bulk distribution. It is what it is. You don't have to go to Costco. I'm sure there are other "wholesale clubs" and bulk warehouse distribution establishments that offer similar premium products at discount bulk rates. YMMV and all that.

 I buy local wherever and whenever I can...but you're just not going to find Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, Mexican Pure Agave Tequila, nor French, Dutch, Norweigan, Italian or Wisconsin cheeses in most locales either. We live in a globalized word of trade whether we like it or not. May as well enjoy the nominal benefits of artisanal produce and products from all over the world the cartel provides.

Is THIS corn on the cob considered "paleo?"

Another modification in my indulgences in vice, has been to change my recreational use of tobacco. I quit smoking cigars on a weekly basis and save 'em only for special once a month - at most. If I feel like indulging in some good tobacco, I now have a puff on my cheap ass Missouri Meerschaum pipes with some bulk pipe tobacco. You can buy high end pipe tobacco in bulk from teh Interwebz every bit as potent and flavorful as premium cigars, but at a fraction of the cost. I'm even finding out that I like premium Balkan and English blends, cakes, flakes, twists and rolls better than many of the premium cigars I used to smoke several times a week.

For the price of 2 mid-range, premium cigars, I can buy 4 ounces of high end pipe weed. I'm not a member of the Brotherhood of the Briar, and I don't plan on joining anytime soon. I just don't want to spend the money on a high end briar wood pipe ($50-$500), when the $4 hardwood and corn cob pipes are perfectly adequate and satisfactory for smoking good quality tobacco at far cheaper prices than my old cigar indulgences.

When it comes to making due during The Return of the Great Depression, sacrifices have been made, corners have been cut, compromises and foregoing past indulgences have been the norm. But there is a certain point I'm willing to go before the small joys in life are no longer worth the money that could be saved by eating, drinking and smoking substandard fare. PRIORITIES, PEOPLE!

Stay thirsty my friends.


AverageMarriedDad said...

I think we're cut from the same cloth of financial frugality. My wife, while a mindset of not being wasteful or excessive usually, has champagne tastes in certain areas. It's a constant battle to remove the tchotchkes picked up at thrifts stores and things the kids somehow acquire. We both had very high paying jobs until three months ago, and when she lost hers at that time, we were able to drop a few auto savings programs (401k, 529, auto withdrawal to savings account) and cover all expenses on unemployment without dipping into our emergency fund. We wouldn't have been able to do that a couple years ago when we were essentially living paycheck to paycheck. Having the peace of mind that we could last nearly 2 years on one of us losing our job is priceless.

We too utilize Costco extensively. We too purchase the Kirkland brand bourbon and blanco tequila, hard to beat that price. Berries and coffee are other frequent items we purchase there, though local organic whole milk and pasture raised eggs are much cheaper buying local. We too cut the cable when we moved (Netflix and the main networks only now), drive cars well past their expiration date until the reliability starts to be an issue (having no car payment is awesome), raise our own veggies in our garden, make homemade fruit wine (at about $2-3/bottle), and maybe spend $20-30 per week as a family at a local restaurant. We also EXTENSIVELY utilize the local library system for books, DVDs, Blu-Rays, audio books and even video game rentals for free.

Life's a lot sweeter when the debt boogie man isn't peering into your living room and when you've got a cushion to fall back on. If I were a single guy, I'd be even in a better situation, but compromise just enough to have a happy wife.

dannyfrom504 said...

been thnking of getting into pipe tobacco. this might have solidified it.

i'm 8 months from going off into obscurity. travel trailer, few acres, MAYBE work 2-3 days a week, micro farm....

can't wait.

KJ said...

I've enjoyed Missouri meerschaums for years. I have several expensive briars that get passed up quite often for my corn cob pipes. The Briars look better on display, but I like the taste of cob pipes better. Glad to see you enjoy them.
Anyway thought I'd throw out some other ways to be frugal and get good flavor out of life:
Home Brewing. My wife and I have been making our own wine and beer for years now. Beer brewing is an excellent way to make really good beer inexpensively. Wine can also be made well and inexpensively (it's a patience thing).
Buy your meat straight from a farmer and pay the butcher for cutting. I think at one time (if memory serves) the big island had the largest cattle ranch in the US. Perhaps there is a local butcher that contracts in quarters and halves. Usually when you're paying for the cutting and buying the half or quarter you get your t-bones for less then your hamburger. Granted you need freezer space, but it pays off in the long run.
Good luck

AverageMarriedDada said...

KJ has it right. I forgot to add that we usually purchase two half-sides of grass fed beef (not big enough for a whole) per year and a hog raised locally. Want a great ribeye for dinner, just grab it from your freezer. A pretty price, but not if health and good eats are a high priority in your life.

Unknown said...

I have a cheap meerschaum pipe and buy bulk organic tobacco...a lot cheaper than the cigars I used to smoke.

Tim said...

An alternative to buying less is consuming less. A less desirable option to be sure.

An a related note, my favorite author, Jeffery Tucker, wrote in his new book, A Beautiful Anarchy, that he once attempted to become a wine snob but has since decided to drink wines he once turned his nose at.

KJ said...

Thought I'd share some other ideas, but understand I'm a DIY'er.
Build a small smoker: I got my ideas from youtube now make my own smoked cheeses, bacon, jerky, you name it. All around yum.
Small garden boxes or small hydroponics for salad greens. Greens are great for paleo eating.
Otherwise we also make our own cheeses. (surprisingly easy to do)
Suddenly enjoying good food on budget is more then doable.

Spike Gomes said...

I've always been on the simplicity boat since I was young. I was raised by a single Mom on the North Shore, and the fact my Mom sometimes had to borrow money from me to fill her gas tank and that there wasn't enough dinner for seconds many nights made me frugal as hell.

Pipes generally are the cheapest way to get quality tobacco at great cost point. The 2 oz tin highest end pipe tobacco (G.L. Pease) costs less than an Opus X, and provides 15-20 smokes. Buying bulk from a quality mixer like Hearth and Home and jarring it yourself can give you 6 months worth of daily bowls for under 50 bucks. I'm not much for coffee, but quality teas are dirt cheap when ordered in bulk online. I can get an assortment of whole leaf premium blends that will last me for months for about 50-60 dollars. Between that, Amazon and the used bookstore my monthly entertainment and relaxation needs breakdown to about $100 (that's factoring in the occasional instrument or effects unit purchase).

One thing, I agree that one doesn't need to go all out on a pipe purchase, but over time, I think 3-4 low cost briar pipes (like Dr. Grabows and Savinellis) at about 40-60$ each is a decent investment. Properly cared for, they will outlast you, even with regular smoking. Corncobs and especially non-briar pipes will eventually go sour and have to be replaced regularly.

Anonymous said...

Edward Snowden - Does anyone know exactly what his position was? What IT certifications did he have? I'm presuming a 29 yo high school dropout making $120,000 per year (in this economy) has specialty IT certs.

Anonymous said...


You mention purchasing high end pipe tobacco (in bulk) online. Can you recommend some companies/suppliers?


Sundance said...

I made the changes you mentioned several years ago. As a result, I no longer have to work for a living, my money works for me IF I LIVE FRUGALLY! If it was up to my kids, I would be back as a working slave.

Anyway, my newest frugal adventure consist in buying a 1 liter toasted oak casket off of ebay ($60), and then aging my booze. It works amazingly well for the Kirkland tequila. And you can taste it every day to dial it in on your preference. I may try wine since it only takes 4 days to age tequila to a delicious golden color and your supposed to keep the cask filled.

Thanks for your post,

Giovanni Dannato said...

I've arrived at a startling number of the same conclusions. I love aged booze but good scotch and brandy are very expensive.
So like you, I switched to aged bourbon and rye that's much cheaper.
I find it to be a great deal because the higher proof alcohol extracts more of the oak and it stretches further. Not to mention they use new barrels to make bourbon!
I get my dose of quercetin and ellagic acid and with that refreshing oaky feeling in my chest and lungs it's almost like sipping a sauna!

I've adopted exactly the same tactic with tobacco for just the same reasons. I'm a very occasional smoker so a couple ounces of nice tobacco makes for a habit that costs me pocket change per month.
My luxury tastes end up being incomparably cheaper than a cigarette habit!

And yes, I've just recently had bulk artisanal cheese from costco. I've definitely got a weak spot for hard cheeses like manchego and gruyere.

I wondered if I was the only one valuing good food, booze, and experiences over "big ticket" dead things that just sit there and suck up money in "payments."

If this is becoming some kind of trend, I find that highly encouraging.

All my life I've been dumbfounded that millions of people blow all their money just to have a basic house and car that traps them on a treadmill of drudgery for the rest of their lives!
With some savvy strategies they could have hoarded up a small fortune instead, enough to give them fancy food, high end booze, and international vacations for the rest of their lives.
But for some unfathomable reasons...they tied themselves down in suburbia managing to live paycheck to paycheck on middle class salaries most of humanity can only dream of.
I guess I'll never understand their kind.
And they certainly do not understand me.
One should see the look on their faces when I mention a car is a bad investment and that I do without when possible. said...

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Keoni Galt said...

KJ - Yeah, I went through a home brewing phase in my early 20's. Me and my buds brewed for about 4 years. It went through a fad phase during the mid 90's and we had several stores selling all kinds of supplies. My equipment got all old and worn out (I had cheap plastic bucket set up - brewed about 20 or so batches before they wore out) and after the fad died, there's no place to buy it anymore around here for reasonable prices. I could order it on the internet, but I just never got around to it.

Spike - Thanks brah. You convinced me. I just got my first cheap briar churchwarden yesterday for $30. I'm liking it.

Anon -

Sundance - now that's something I never thought about trying! That Costco Blanco would be perfect for aging your own Reposado!

But for some unfathomable reasons...they tied themselves down in suburbia managing to live paycheck to paycheck on middle class salaries most of humanity can only dream of.
I guess I'll never understand their kind.

I understand it, because I was there. This is in fact the essence of "the blue pill." Brainwashing to make you a cog slaving away to prop up the matrix.

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Saint Velvet said...

Dammit kg I just spent nearly a grand at Costco. That place is like one giant crack dealer. But I got such a good deal! I love my cracko.

BC said...

Keoni, do you by any chance take the Strategic Investment newsletter? The current issue (July 2013) is about The Big Fat (processed vegetable fats) Lie and reads like many of your posts here. The author (James Dale Davidson) has written about this and related subjects (corporatocracy, promotion of consumerism, vested interests, etc.) before, and this letter in particular is IMO good enough to be passed on as a primer to get a person interested in starting to investigate things on their own.

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was-was said...

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