Six ways to increase productivity and get shit done.

I used to give in to being a lazy sack of shit. I would spend afternoons doing nothing. I would sit on the couch in sweatpants eating ice cream while participating in the the laziest type of marathon ever: the Netflix marathon. I called this “relaxation time”. I was an unproductive human being, and didn’t realize how much I was losing by parking my ass on the couch everyday.

Mornings used to be impossibly hard for me. I was, in general, a fairly useless employee until my 3rd cup of coffee. And weekend mornings were spent in a haze — in front of a television (again, in sweatpants), usually until lunch time.

My periods of actual productivity were met with much resistance. The temptation to use the Internet as a procrastination tool was too great. In most cases the Internet won the battle, and I would leave work for the day without having accomplished anything. Just to go home to use the Internet more.

This is the cycle of the lazy and unproductive. This was how the old me spent nearly every single day.

It may not seem like there’s a problem with this lifestyle. Your employer is still paying you. You get to watch all the TV shows you want. You get to wear sweatpants EVERYDAY. But what are you sacrificing by being so unproductive? Money? Time? Friends? Relationships? Other stuff?

I had a personal A-HA! moment a few years ago. I realized that there was more to life than work and television. I developed a personal mantra, and with a supportive spouse who also encourages productivity, we have transformed our family life into an unstoppable force of relentless productivity.

Before we started caring about being productive, we focused on filling our time with shopping, the Internet, television, and eating out.

After applying our core concepts of productivity, we shifted our priorities to money generation, using the Internet for a purpose, furthering our education and cooking.

Here are some of the basic principles that have helped us achieve a better, more productive life at home and in the office.

Stop checking email every 5 minutes.

For months I was getting about 200 emails per day between my various email accounts (personal, work, other work, and Johnny Moneyseed). 200 friggin’ emails a day!

For a while I was opening every single email. Whether I was reading the content or not wasn’t the issue. It was the fact that I was allowing myself to be constantly distracted every time my phone buzzed to tell me that I had a new message. I just wanted to clear my inbox of new messages so Google would tell me this:

Yeah, I was one of those people that had to have a cleared inbox. I still am, but I go about it in a completely different way now.

The first thing that I did to reduce the volume of email that I receive in a day was unsubscribing to every company email list that was sending me garbage advertisements. Instead of doing this all at once, I waited until companies would email me, then I would click the ‘unsubscribe’ button on the bottom of the email. I’m sure my name is still on a few automailers, but they don’t send me anything, so they aren’t doing any harm.

The next step was to eliminate automatically generated messages from hitting my inbox. As a website owner/administrator I get a ton of these messages. Every time someone signs up to receive my articles by email I get an email. Every time WordPress does anything I get an email. But I need some of these emails, I just don’t want to see them unless I have a specific reason to (I almost never have a reason to).

To get rid of these emails from my inbox I created filters in the settings menu of Gmail. By adding specific words that each of these automatic emails contain, I was able to create rules that would mark these emails as “read”, and auto archive them for me. They’re safe if I need to see them, but hopefully I won’t ever have to do that.

The final step I took to reduce email distractions was to only check email once per day instead of whenever I got an email, or whenever I was bored. I set a time to check my messages (9am for work, 4pm for personal) and I use a predetermined amount of time to respond to each one (roughly 15 minutes, tops). I also let people know that I only check my emails once a day, and if they need to get in touch with me for a serious matter they can contact me by phone.

If you follow this approach you’ll notice that you’ll spend less time every day dealing with email.

Stop living other people’s lives through Facebook.

I’m a fan of social media. I always have been. It’s a great way to keep up with your friends and family. It’s a great way to share pictures of your kids for those people that you hardly ever see. But it has major pitfalls as well. Your productivity being #1 on the list.

Spending a few minutes here and there checking your news feed, and posting status updates turns into hours wasted away in front of a computer or smartphone. It stifles productivity. It’s just another distraction that takes you away from the reality that is your life. You can’t get shit done when you have to let the world know what you’re doing every 5 minutes (followed by refreshing the screen repeatedly to see how many times people liked your status update).

Most of us aren’t social media managers, so there is no reason to be spending hours of our daily lives reading about what our friends or acquaintances are doing with their lives. Do you really care that everyone is watching the Olympics right now?

If something actually important happens in real life, you’ll hear about it through other means. Whether a new law is being passed, or a major storm is headed up the coast to bury you in snow, you’ll find out about it by interacting with people in real life. If no one bothers to bring it up in conversation, it probably isn’t that important.

Unless you deal with Facebook marketing (ie, you manage a company Facebook page, you work FOR Facebook, etc) then you should follow my approach: Only log into Facebook ONCE per week. Set a time limit on your activity, preferably 15 minutes. This is enough time to digest anything of near importance and to “catch up” with people whose lives you’re interested in.

After saying all of that, don’t forget to share this post on Facebook!

Stop staring at statistics and price charts.

When I started investing a few years ago, I was obsessed with Google Finance. I plugged in all of my investments, and watched the market nearly every day. I could generally tell you why the market was up or down on any given day. But, in retrospect, this was completely irrational and wasteful behavior.

Watching the stock market move up and down doesn’t help you accomplish anything. Unless you’re a market analyst, or a hedge fund manager, there’s no reason to concern yourself with the daily dealings in the stock market.

If you’re brand new to investing you SHOULD take a few weeks — maybe a month — and watch how the market moves. Read the news about why the market is doing what it’s doing. It will allow you to feel comfortable, and make you somewhat knowledgeable about your money. But after that, stop looking at market charts!

Investors aren’t the only people who waste time checking pointless statistics charts and graphs either.

There are also a fair amount of website owners and bloggers out there that are obsessed with their statistics dashboards. They’ll keep a Google Analytics window open and watch how many active visitors are on the site. They’ll stare at how many page views they’ve gotten since they posted their last post, while hitting refresh every 5-10 minutes.

While it’s great that you have the ability to watch your website grow, it isn’t necessary to know exactly how many views your site has gotten in the past hour.

I’m sure there are 100 other jobs where statistics watching may occur, and just like the examples above, you’re probably wasting a shit-load of time by watching these numbers. The same advice applies, ignore the flashing charts.

Summarize your statistics checking by viewing your statistics-of-choice once per week. You’ll still be able to figure out how well your stocks or your website are doing. Take about 15 minutes (if necessary) to complete this task.

Don’t just plan. Be actionable.

How many times have you gotten home from work and pulled my “sweatpants and ice cream” routine? How many times THIS WEEK have you done this?

While it’s okay to have an “I don’t feel like doing anything today” kind of day once in a while, if this is your post-work routine you’re wasting the part of day where you’re allowed to do whatever you want. No boss. No co-workers. No Jeff from HR (man that guy is a douche).

Sitting in front of the TV every day after work is a failure to live. It provides a sense of false relaxation. It can be damaging to your mind, your health, your self-esteem and your wallet.

To stop myself from being a lazy, unproductive waste of space at home my wife and I started keeping a Black Book. In our book is a plan of everything that needs to get done in our lives. It has everything from fixing the house to doing homework to publishing blog posts. Everything we do is scheduled in some way. And we hold ourselves accountable to our schedule.

The Black Book is a very powerful creature. If used properly and taken seriously it has the potential to motivate the shit out of you. Ours is the lifeblood of our family’s Action Plan. It IS the Action Plan. If you don’t have one, get one. Don’t just write goals on a napkin. Write out the stuff you want to accomplish every day and be actionable. Complete your goals or they’ll be as worthless as the paper they’re written on.

Stop eating like shit.

Science has proven over the years that most food is pretty terrible for you. Our choices of food, or lack of food are the main reason that we either have energy or don’t have energy throughout the day.

Foods that are good for you have gotten a pretty bad wrap in the past 50 years. This is mainly because processed foods and added sugars are so fucking addictive and delicious. But generally this stuff is poison.  Our wallets are shrinking and our waste lines are expanding because of our love of Fast Food. We’re slowing killing ourselves a fist full of french fries at a time.

Improving your diet can have a serious and positive impact on your emotions, your energy levels and your productivity (and your wallet).

More water + more protein + less gluten + less sugar = More energy. Higher productivity. More money.

Over the past 4 years I’ve drastically changed my diet, and it’s made me feel incredible. I stopped drinking energy drinks and soda. I stopped eating french fries and I have a low-gluten diet. The only beverages that I normally consume are water and coffee (with almond milk). And I rarely drink alcohol.

Automate your finances.

It used to be a point of pride for me to move my finances around. Paying bills put a swagger in my step.

It took me a while to realize that automation is king. It reduces error. It eliminates the necessity of me logging in to 30 accounts every month to make sure that I schedule a payment. While I wasn’t logging in to my accounts on a daily basis, I would spend a couple of hours every month making sure my transactions were all set up AND I would spend a few more hours making sure all of the payments actually went through.

That was until I set literally every recurring payment that I have to make on autopilot. Every credit card gets paid in full on their due dates. Every mortgage payment gets made on the day they’re due. And I don’t have to lift a finger. Now I have an even bigger swagger in my step, because I gained back more of my time every month.

I still check Mint twice a month — on the 1st and 15th — to make sure all of my bills did in fact get paid properly. This takes far less time, energy and brain power than our previous hands-on approach to our finances.

Whatever you do..

Don’t sit on your ass everyday. Find a side hustle to make some extra money. If you have nothing better to do than watch TV or YouTube videos all night, sign up for night classes. Even if you feel like the laziest, most unproductive person in the world there is hope for you. I WAS YOU. And now I’m publishing an article about “how to be more productive”. Think about that for a second.

There’s more than one path to a First Class life

Your life and my life are completely different. Even though we’re both living (or striving to live) the First Class lifestyle powered by frugality and optimization, it doesn’t mean that we’re necessarily going about it the same way.

It also doesn’t mean that our definition of First Class is exactly the same either. You may require certain things in your ideal life that I might find to be ridiculous. I’d be surprised if you didn’t feel the same way about the way that I choose to live.

You don’t need to cut your own hair, be an extreme couponer or ride a bike to work in the snow. I do NONE of these things, yet maintain a nearly 70% income savings rate.

**This isn’t the type of First Class that I’m talking about! If you’re unfamiliar with my definition, read this article before proceeding.

But there are core concepts that define our collective movement. We have a shared ethos, and values, and our bond in creating a self-sustaining life separates us from the average Middle Class consumer. We abhor waste. We strive for personal betterment on a consistent basis.

We’re choosing to live a lifestyle that differs from the norm. It goes against the general nature of the American Dream and from an outsider’s standpoint we don’t seem to have the essence — or stench — of wealth found in members of the Old Rich. To us, moving up in the world doesn’t imply moving in to a bigger office or a house with 2,500+ square feet of living space.

This is for good reason, as we didn’t have trust funds or Million dollar salaries to support us into our independence. Standard Middle Class jobs and Middle Class paychecks alone with allow us to craft lives full of endless wealth and bounty.

When I see regular Middle Class citizens, who earn far more than their international peers, complaining about their financial situation, it doesn’t really make sense to me. The math doesn’t add up. Our American brethren should be prospering with the blossoming economy, not complaining about a subtle new tax or Federal politics in general.

We live in an era where everyday items like cell phones, transportation and clothing are extremely affordable, but most people are too blinded by their bad habits to realize how inexpensive a luxurious First Class lifestyle can be. This doesn’t mean that we don’t have our own bad habits, but we’re more aware of our deficiencies and blunders — and we try to prevent them whenever we realize our faults.

We look like the average Middle Class family, too. Take my family for example. We’re attached to the grid, and are seldom without portable electronic devices (phones, Kindles, etc). We dress well, and our kids are well-kempt and well-mannered. You wouldn’t be able to pick our family out of a lineup for being the most frugal based on appearance.

Not until you look at our six-figure investment accounts, and our steadily building passive income stream, would you realize that “shit, these aren’t normal people”. Especially, because we’re part of the ‘lazy’, ‘self-righteous’, ‘entitled’ Millennial generation that grew up on the Internet, microwave dinners and handouts.**

We choose to reject the modern conveniences that so many take for granted, because we are trying to build a self-sustaining life. Every financial move we make favors our future instead of the present day. This is apparent by the way we shop for groceries, our plans for renovation and remodeling of our properties, even in our interest in carbon-neutral/eco-friendly technologies.

Instead of listening to people complain about health care laws, I surround myself with like-minded people who enjoy talking about investing, finances, and functional minimalism. J. Money (a blogger friend of mine) and I were discussing ways that we had been applying minimalist principles within our households. He told me that he reduced his wardrobe down to almost nothing.

This kind of shit really inspires me. And it was something that I never really thought about. My dress shirts took up half the closet. I used an entire 5 foot tall dresser to house my t-shirts, socks, underwear, jeans, etc. I had a second closet where I kept work-related clothing items as well. I took ALL of my clothes out and created a perfect, minimal wardrobe and donated the rest. I reduced drawer space by over 50%. And as an added bonus, it now takes me less time to pick out an outfit.

Your quest for independence and sustainability doesn’t necessarily have to align with my values. Just realize that all of the expensive conveniences in life add time to the end of your working career. And spending habits don’t just magically disappear after your working career is over. If you have a shopping problem, an eating-out problem, or an obsession with leaving every light in your house on all-day-every-day, you’ll face a constant stream of expenses throughout the rest of your life.

To save money, you’ll have to take on “cut-backs”, or lifestyle reductions — austerity measures that you aren’t used to. I equate this to a Sumo wrestler, who normally maintains a daily caloric intake of nearly 5,000 calories per day trying the SlimFast diet. Their body will reject the change, and more than likely they will submit to their old habits.

Instead of an eventual financial failure caused by 180-degree lifestyle change, we can ease into the First Class life through a slow process of adaptation. We can challenge ourselves with voluntary hardships to test our limits. We can slowly reduce the amount of money we spend every month on our Chipotle burrito addictions. We can pinpoint our financial failures over time through budgeting, which we can then correct and learn from our mistakes — because everyone will have a budget snafu at some point or another.

One thing that sets us apart from the Middle Class is our ability to save and invest in our futures. We realize that saving 20% or less of our income just isn’t going to cut it in the long run. While we’re fully funding our 401k’s, as well as our IRAs, the general public looks at this type of behavior as overkill and excessive. Obviously, we know better than to listen to the mainstream media for financial advice, and to ignore complaints from over privileged Middle Classmen.

If you haven’t started investing yet, you should check out Betterment to start a Roth or Traditional IRA today. Through Betterment you can start investing with as little as $5.

In the end, the strategy that takes you to financial independence will be different than mine. But it’s the similarities that we share that make our choice to leave the Middle Class such a powerful thing.

**All of these words and more have been used to describe Millennials.

The Easy Road and The Hard Road

I’ve spent the better part of my life on this planet in the driver seat on a reckless collision course. With nearly 30 years behind the wheel, I’ve added countless miles to the odometer. And until just a few years ago, I never had an actual destination in mind. The worst part about this aimless, wasteful driving is that I spent most of my valuable time and energy on this planet traveling down the Easy Road.

The Easy Road is the place where MOST other drivers are. It’s convenient. It’s popular. It’s well traveled. It feels normal.

It’s lined with SUVs and strip malls, as well as people who are coming or going from work. No one ever thinks twice about changing course, because the familiar landscapes provide a natural — almost hypnotic — path toward our collective destinations.

But the Easy Road is intrinsically flawed.

The Easy Road.

You can think about the Easy Road like the freeway. It has a high speed limit, is stoplight free, and under optimal conditions can get you from point A to B very quickly.

But it’s not all cherry gumdrops and rainbows. On the Easy Road drivers are prone to accidents. And road work should always be expected.

What happens when too many people are traveling down the same freeway? They end up in miserable lines of endless brake lights. Thus, decreasing its convenience level and reducing its dependability.

We can think of these Easy Roads in terms of our finances. We can think of choosing the Easy Road as choosing to live the “normal” consumer lifestyle. We can think about the Easy Road as a magnet for a herd mentality.

The more we make decisions based on their popularity and convenience, the less likely we will be able to break free from the poor financial habits that are commonplace on the Easy Road.

Think about the average person for a second. The person whose life is stuck on Easy Mode who spends their entire life on the Easy Road.

Does that person have a vast, endless fortune? Do they have an ever increasing Net Worth? Do they think about their financial future at all? Do they have the freedom to change professions at their discretion, or to leave the workforce altogether?

No, because all of that stuff takes a lot of Hard work.

It should be pretty obvious by now that Hard Road is the far less popular option.

The Hard Road.

This is the less advertised path. The one that Google Maps would have you avoid.

The Hard Road is a more scenic route. It’s very slow-going, but is always traffic free. It’s best to turn off the GPS, turn up the Spotify streaming radio and allow yourself to travel carefree while drinking a delicious cup of homemade coffee.

The Hard Road isn’t paved for your convenience, but is alive with endless choices and opportunity; with optimism and relaxation. The other travelers you encounter will become your lifelong friends. The experiences you have along the way will be genuine and relatively inexpensive.

This isn’t a mythical place, idea or concept. This is the difference between those who optimize their expenses and plan for the future and those who don’t.

It’s Hard to save money. It’s Hard to invest money. It’s Hard to cut back on monthly expenses. It’s Hard to break the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle. And it’s super Hard to see other people constantly buying new high-quality devices and inflating their lifestyles, while you live below your means.

The average person is going to steer clear of the Hard Road. They’d rather stick to Easy decisions like “what cable package to sign up for” or “what big name store to buy brand new appliances at”.

Taking the Exit for the Hard Road

There are hundreds of off-ramps to the Hard Road — which is essentially why I write this blog — but I’m only going to list a few.

First, you need to stop letting yourself be advertised to unless the products will actually SAVE you money. Those are the only type of products that I endorse. My advertising range goes from awesome budgeting software like You Need A Budget to smart and awesome investment services like Betterment. AKA, stuff that will save you money.

Two ways to avoid being advertised to are to stop watching broadcast television, and to stop listening to broadcast radio. Thankfully, there exist various options to replace both of these outdated forms of media.

Start choosing Hard decisions over Easy ones. It’s easy to go grab a greasy cheeseburger and fries on your lunch break. It’s harder to bring food from home to eat.

It’s easy to shop aimlessly at the mall. It’s hard to budget for the things you want, and save up enough to buy them.

It’s easy to  buy brand name products that you know and love. It’s hard to figure out what the good, cheap alternatives to these things are.

Other hard decisions include:

  • Paring down the crap that you own.
  • Clearing out and getting rid of storage units.
  • Choosing less expensive entertainment options.
  • Avoiding extremely tourist-centric vacation destinations (Disney, cruises, etc).
  • Learning how to utilize credit cards to your benefit.
  • Choosing to KEEP money from every paycheck for the future.
  • Eliminating excuses and complaints from your life.
  • Getting in shape and maintaining a healthy diet.

This is an extremely condensed list, because almost every decision in life has a hard option.

Why should a harder life appeal to you?

The Hard Road requires that you become more resourceful. It requires learning. It requires a great deal of mental focus. And it requires it’s travelers to use advanced thinking skills. Sometimes life on the Hard Road is absolutely shitty.

No one would purposely choose to live a harder life for no reason.

But the Hard Road doesn’t exist for no reason. It provides a path for us to escape the mundane. It allows us to save money for the future, so we can have the choice and freedom to decide what to do with our lives.

Our hard decisions have the ability to make our lives EASIER in the long run.

Reducing or eliminating expenses from our lives have a permanent financial impact. It frees up money in the present day. That money can then be invested so it can grow over time, and the original expense will never appear again in your life.

I gave up drinking soda 4 months ago. It was a hard decision, and initially it was an extremely hard transition for me. But it will have a permanent impact on my life, both physically and financially.

I NEVER HAVE TO BUY ANOTHER SOFT DRINK FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE!

Think about that for a second. 4 months ago I reduced an expense that would have occurred tens of thousands of times over the course of my existence.

I’d like you to think about yourself and your life for a few minutes. Think about all of the shortcuts you take. Think about all of the ways that you allow yourself to take the financial or mental Easy Road.

Now that you know what’s keeping you on the Easy Road, you can start to change course. Make a Hard decision this week, and don’t look back on it. Think about how much of a badass you are for making a decision like that and for sticking to it.

Once you understand how easy it is to live on the Hard Road, you’ll never go back to the traffic on the freeway.

**This article is mostly metaphorical. While I would definitely encourage people to drive less, I wouldn’t encourage ANYONE to take longer, or less efficient path toward their destination.

Everything You Need to Know About Leaving the Middle Class

Since January of this year I’ve been sitting down at my computer a couple times a week and jamming my thoughts into my WordPress dashboard. For reasons I won’t claim to understand, more and more people find their way onto the blog every month to read what I have published.

Recently, the site has seen a huge uptick in traffic from Lifehacker and the AARP blog (due to a nice article by personal finance legend Jean Chatzky). These articles led to an overnight doubling of subscriptions, and brought many of you here.

Since there are a bunch of new readers trying to figure out what’s going on here, I think it’s a good idea to welcome everyone and reintroduce myself and the purpose of this site.

Should you be reading this site?

There are over 500 personal finance blogs on the Internet. I know this, because there were at least 500 blogs represented this year at FinCon (the conference for finance bloggers). Is Johnny Moneyseed the right blog for you? Are you better suited for one of the other 499+ blogs that aren’t this one?

I’m not going to claim to appeal to everyone. My goal is to encourage, and help individuals or families fund an early self-retirement through saving, investing and creating passive income streams. If you’re looking for a coupon site, or for a place to find “10 ways to save money at the grocery store” this is not that place.

However, if you’re looking for a way to figure out exactly how many years you’ll have to rot inside a cubicle, while learning how to reduce your overall working career, then this IS the place to be.

If you’re interested in leaving the Middle Class behind, with all of their Starbucks-fueled weekend shopping binges, and are interested in becoming a self-declared member of the First Class, this IS the blog for you.

“But what if I have debt?”

When I was younger I was pretty terrible with my finances. I was living paycheck-to-paycheck, and carried an enormous debt-load. After reading pretty much every finance book on Earth, my wife and I created a Debt-Attack Plan that helped us eliminate $60k of debt in 18 months.

We haven’t had any consumer debt in years, which is why I hardly ever write about it.

This site is dedicated to the pursuit of Financial Independence. With that, I will assume that most readers are either debt-free, or are preparing themselves for when they become debt-free.

What is this blog all about?

The primary goal of this site is to teach you to think differently about your finances. Forget EVERYTHING you’ve ever been told about money, unless one of these bloggers happened to say it.

You may think that eating gourmet food is expensive. You may feel like it’s necessary to be in constant competition with your neighbors. You may think that it’s important to get larger, more extravagent houses, as you make more and more money.  You may even think that you have the ability to save money when you’re buying stuff. This is all silly Middle Class thinking.

Over the past year I’ve made a lot of changes to my financial lifestyle. I saved myself almost $600/year by cancelling cable TV. I started selling stuff around our house that we had no use for. I reduced the cost of my daily commute by moving within a few miles of work. I decided that my children would be paying for their own college. And I started experimenting with new investment options. I even switched to a $10/month no contract cell phone plan.

You can start making changes in your own life by treating everyday like a recession is right around the corner. You can realign your values, and understand that there are alternatives to  40-hour workweeks. Eventually you’ll be able to save over half of your take home pay — especially if you can entertain the crazy idea of trying to earn more money.

Keep in mind that there are literally thousands of people who are interested in Early Retirement. This is one of the places that they come together, and provide an amazing, empowering support system to help people do things that most people wouldn’t believe is possible.

I can honestly say that even though my wife and I save around 70% of our post-tax income, we don’t ever feel like we’re suffering, or living a lower quality of life than anyone else. If anything, we are living a higher quality lifestyle by avoiding unnecessary expenses. We’ll be able to leave standard employment in less than 7 years. We’ll be in our mid-30s and living so efficiently there will never be a need to work ever again.

Welcome to the site. If you still think we can be friends then make yourself a nice cup of coffee, get comfortable, and enjoy!

How to Act Like a Human Being During the Holidays

1. Holiday traffic is a nightmare. Plan ahead.

It’s 2013 and we’re an advanced civilization, yet 99% of travelers tend to hit the highways and airports at the exact same time. There has to be a better way. Why not try an alternate mode of transportation this year like a Greyhound Bus, or the Amtrak? One is a traffic reducer, and the other is traffic-evader.

If you choose to drive your POV across the country, state or county, try to time your driving against the other 100 million drivers. Depart a couple days earlier? Take the trip home a couple days later? I highly recommend using the Waze app on your Android/iPhone. It will get you to your destination in the fastest manner possible.

2. Don’t fight over electronics in Walmart (no matter how inexpensive they are).

There isn’t a TV on this planet priced low enough that it would be worth a night in jail.

3. Avoid shopping during big sales.

Obviously, being a frugal-minded individual, you prefer to buy stuff on the cheap — BUT — big sales lead to bigger than anticipated purchases. You might walk into Best Buy looking for a cheap TV and walk out with a new cell phone, some Blu-Rays, and a new oven.

This time of year EVERYTHING is on sale, so it’s hard to avoid the temptation to buy all new stuff. How about blocking yourself from visiting Amazon.com, and limiting mall and department store trips down to zero as well. Sales are intended to get you to spend more money.

The super-low priced products are used as bait to get you into the door. Choose to not bite.

4. Stay away from crowded areas.

With crowds comes stress. With crowds also comes enormous lines (which are even more stressful). When you’re forced to stand in a line for any long period of time you’re prolonging your exposure to the goods and products that surround you.

The crowded mall food court starts to smell delicious, and before you know if you’re spending $20 on lunch which only adds to the spending you’re at the mall for in the first place.

5. DIY gifts can be super affordable and totally awesome.

Unfortunately, the masses have been conditioned to purchase all of their gifts pre-assembled. It can be a huge time saver to hit the mall, grab a few things, and be done shopping for the year like it’s some kind of chore. Or you can create stuff for your friends and family that is completely badass and insanely inexpensive.

Check out this photo pin-board my wife made recently for less than $20. Yeah it took a little bit longer to physically make it, but she didn’t have to battle her way through the mall to purchase it either.

6. Remember books?! They, too, make great presents.

When I was a kid I loved getting books as gifts. Then, when I was a angsty teenager I hated it. Then, I became an adult and I began loving books again. They make the perfect gift, because they’re fairly inexpensive and they can be entertaining, educational, or spiritual. Whatever the recipient is into.

You can pick up used books at thrift stores for $1 or less. Sometimes you’ll find a gem of a book, and it will be in GREAT condition, and it will come to $1.06 after tax. How’s that for a great, cost-efficient gift?

You could even print out every Johnny Moneyseed article ever. Bind them. Put a sweet cover on it. And give it as a gift. Holy shit — that’s nearly a free gift and it’s amazing.

7. Less is more when decorating your house.

You may have recently watched National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, but hopefully you weren’t inspired to have the brightest Griswold-style house on the block this year.

There are many reasons to keep your holiday decor to a minimum:

  • The more lights you have the more electricity you will use which will lead to a bigger than normal energy bill.
  • The more things you have plugged, the higher the risk that you’ll burn your house down.
  • It costs a lot of money to buy a ton of decorations.
  • AND, your house probably just looks tacky if you load it with tons of lights and giant blow-up characters.

8. Keep drinking to a minimum (level of intoxication).

95% of the people that read Johnny Moneyseed love to drink alcohol — in moderation. Personally, I love a great craft beer or 5. But, when you’re hanging out with people you haven’t seen in a while a few drinks could end up in an impromptu wrestling match, or countless other bad decisions.

While we all love a good excuse to throw a few back, leave it at a few and don’t end up in jail for the New Year.

9. Don’t buy people shit unless they asked for it specifically.

Starting on December 26th, millions of people will be heading back to the malls with gift receipts in hand, for the purpose of getting rid of the crap they didn’t want.

Why enable this behavior? You’re going to avoid the mall in the first place, so it would be fair if no one else had to head to the mall to return stuff either. This is pretty easily avoided by getting people stuff that they actually want.

10. Gift cards are garbage.

I need to set the record straight on this. Why the hell would you ever buy someone a gift card? It’s like giving them money that they can only spend in one place.

It doesn’t mean that you want them to be able to pick out whatever they want, or even that you understand where they like to shop. It means that you’re lazy, have absolutely no creativity, and you just feel bad giving someone cash for whatever reason. Just give them the damn cash!

11. Set a limit on gift buying. and DON’T buy yourself ANYTHING.

I’ve seen it on Twitter and Facebook multiple times already “I went to the mall to buy gifts and ended up buying myself a few things. That’s okay right?” NO, IT’S NOT! Well, it is if you absolutely NEED something, but unplanned purchases typically fall into the ‘want’ category and should be avoided at all costs.

Without creating an upper-limit for holiday spending, gift buying can add up very quickly. With $200 you should be able to buy gifts for 10-20 people easily.

12. Great deals and saving are NOT the same thing.

Keep in mind that if you spend money of any kind, you essentially aren’t saving any money. You’re spending less than you normally would typically, but in no way are you saving anything.

Marketers have done their best over the years to make you feel like a good sale is extra money in your pocket, but this idea is complete lunacy.

13. Craigslist will be loaded with actual deals starting on December 26th.

Something magical happens right after a few hundred million Americans exchange gifts with each other. Tons of those people need to make room for the new stuff by getting rid of the old stuff.

You can find cheap appliances of all kinds, TVs, electronics, cell phones, games, etc. Pretty much everything you actually want is going to be on an instant fire sale, so set your Craigslist alerts and make sure you have a friend with a truck on standby.

14. Be grateful for what you do have.

Thanksgiving isn’t the only time of year that you need to be thankful of what you have. It should be an ongoing process, and shouldn’t be influenced by what you don’t have.

If you don’t receive the thing you really want, reflect on all of the things in your life that you do have. Think about the kids in Third World countries that have absolutely nothing. Think about your family. And, just think about how great the holidays really are.