Among my tests of food coloring in tonic water and vitamin B2 solutions, I have done one experiment with glowing gelatin in the past. Now, I decided to combine the knowledge I’ve gained to make a variety of glowing jello blobs of varying colors with multiple coloring media.
Using some packets of clear gelatin, I was able to make colored blobs using food coloring mixed with tonic water, 1/2 diluted tonic water, and a vitamin B2 solution made in the manner described in my glowing drinks post. The gelatin came in pre-measured packets which each made one cup of jello.
I divided one cup of each solution into a volume of 3/4 cup and a separate volume of 1/4 cup. To the 1/4 cup, I added the contents of the pre-measured packet and mixed it. This was allowed to sit for some time at room temperature while i heated up the 3/4 cup volume to boiling point on the stove in a small pot. I added the hot 3/4 cup to the 1/4 (which was now solidified) and mixed for 5 minutes each as directed by the gelatin packet. This resulted in having 1 cup of each hot solution mixed with gelatin.
Then, I took the base gelatin mixtures and divided them further into small, plastic cylindrical containers. To each cylinder, I added a couple drops of various food colorings and refrigerated them overnight. The directions said to refrigerate for 3 hours, but this could take more or less time depending on the surface area of the container you pour your gelatin mixture into.
-Top row left to right: tonic water with magenta, yellow, blue and no color added.
-Middle row left to right: 1/2 diluted tonic water with magenta, yellow, blue color added.
-Bottom row left to right: Vitamin B2 solution with red, orange. blue and no color added.
The next day, I removed the containers and exposed them to black light. It is important to note that when I added magenta dye to the tonic water solutions, that the dye partially precipitated. This is likely due to the low pH in the tonic water, but I was using dyes beyond their expiration date (don’t do that if you intend to consume the jello).
The 1/2 diluted tonic water solutions were noticeably dimmer than the undiluted tonic water solutions. By far the brightest colors were the tonic water and vitamin b2 solutions with no color added. I used a skewer to loosen around the perimeter of each cylinder and then forcefully shook the container to eject the jello molds.
Next, I built a small cardboard enclosure to test elastic properties of each cylinder by dropping them and recording their impact in slow motion.
Then, I proceeded to drop the cylinders onto the base of the enclosure individually and in unison. Next, I dropped them into reservoirs filled with tonic water to make fluorescent waves. I noticed that the tonic water cylinders were denser than the vitamin B2 counterparts. The vitamin B2 cylinders were more likely to fragment and were also slimier. All of the cylinders floated on top of the tonic water.
The end results were very cool, and also pretty messy. I did not eat any of the gelatin because no sugar was added to any of the mixtures. The taste would have been very strange. You can see the resulting video below:
1.) It is possible to make multiple colors of glowing jello using tonic water and vitamin B2 solutions mixed with food dye. Try making dilutions with juice or add sugar/alcohol for jello shots.
2.) Undiluted tonic water and vitamin B2 solutions glow brightest without any additional color additive.
3.) Tonic water jello molds are denser and less slimy than ones made with a vitamin B2 solution.
4.) All jello mixtures float.
I wanted to create an explosion of beautiful color without the mess of cleaning up paint and the danger of reactive chemicals. Instead, I decided to try to create one with small neon paper fragments and balloons. The picture above from front to back shows neon paper fragments colored red, pink, orange, teal and green.
My plan was to fill a balloon with the fragments in a confined dark environment, then pop the balloon and capture the footage in slow-motion under black light. You can see my experimental setup below:
The explosion footage was definitely worth it considering there was still some significant clean-up. Here is some of the explosion aftermath:
The real proof is in the video. I’ve compiled the slow-motion footage along with normal speed tests repeated 3 times each. You can check it out below:
I learned a few things after testing out various explosions:
1.) With smaller paper fragments, you can fit more into the balloon and cause a more dynamic explosion.
2.) Under black light, white printer paper gives off a bright blue color.
3.) The explosion direction moves away from the direction that the balloon was pierced from.
4.) The brightness of the color increases as a function of the closeness of the black light. The closer the light source, the brighter the explosion.
I made a spiral painting a while back with glow-in-the-dark paint and other neon colors. The purpose was to see how the various color paints reacted under different types of light. Pigments in paint perceived by our eyes can change drastically depending on the type of light they are exposed to.
The picture above shows how the painting looks when exposed to black light. If you can imagine this painting as a compass; the northern outermost crescent is painted neon red , the southern is neon green, the eastern is neon blue and the western is glow-in-the-dark paint.
Below is a grid showing side-by-side how the colors we perceive are changed when the color of the light cast on the painting is different.
-Under white light, all the different pigments of paint can be differentiated very well.
-Under light from the visible spectrum (red, green & blue), the respective pigment seems to disappear into the background, while the pigment at the opposite end of the visible spectrum becomes starkly contrasted (e.g. blue pigment looks almost black under red light).
-Under black light, the colors become offset and bright to accentuate the fluorescence and wavelengths closer to ultraviolet.
-In the absence of light, only the residual fluorescence from the glow-in-the-dark paint can be seen.
I took the time to examine this phenomenon in motion so I fastened the painting to a turntable. All the same color light effects are retained except that the glow-in-the-dark effect fades very quickly once the light is turned off. The pattern also makes for a mesmerizing spectacle. You can check out the video below:
Sunrise from balcony at Hana Kai Maui hotel
People are not created equal. Each of us has a unique body and mind. Consequently, we all have different needs with regard to sleep, diet and energy levels. Health professionals have guidelines on how to regulate the proper amount of sleep which includes a range of hours depending on your age. Some people have bodies that require more sleep while others require much less on average. We hear people say “I’m not a morning person.” or “I do my best work right after I wake up,” indicating that people are aware of their unique needs. Unfortunately, most jobs do not meet the individual’s unique energy needs.
The majority of workplaces have people run on a predictable routine in order to make money in a consistent and foreseeable manner, but this routine does not optimize the workers’ happiness, motivation or effectiveness. As a result, many of us have to force ourselves to be overworked, inconvenienced and/or medicated to get through each week. I recently read a paper on work flexibility from a collaboration between researchers at Penn State and the University of Chicago that indicated a flexible schedule can increase a worker’s happiness:
Golden, Lonnie and Henly, Julia and Lambert, Susan, Work Schedule Flexibility: A Contributor to Employee Happiness? (December 1, 2013). Journal of Social Research and Policy, 2014
“If the scheduling of hours does not fit a worker’s preferred timing, individual welfare tends to be diminished (Barnett, 2004).”
“For example, among those not permitted to change their own work schedules toward their preferred schedules, 45 percent experience symptoms of “overwork,” three times the rate among those who are permitted (Galinsky, Bond & Hill, 2005).”
“This may be in part because workers that have more flexible daily schedules are also more likely to be working very long hours, perhaps as an act of reciprocation or exchange (e.g., see Golden, 2009; Kelliher & Anderson, 2010). Moreover, when combined with employee participation, schedule flexibility moderates adverse effects of longer hours, such as work-life conflict (Wang, 2011).”
“Control over work schedules, including days off, is associated with reduced fatigue, sleep problems and depression, which also promotes employee performance (Takahashi et al., 2011).”
“In sum, the empirical findings suggest that discretion over the timing of one’s work matters far more for happiness than does the duration of working time or income.”
This research seems to indicate that having a flexible work schedule can be extremely beneficial to a worker’s happiness. Furthermore, work flexibility can have downstream effects that benefit the employer. I would also conjecture that commuting times would also be widely reduced if people were able to select their own schedule. Many people would opt for arriving/leaving work earlier or later if possible, instead of everybody flooding in by 9AM and out by 5PM.
I was recently able to negotiate a flexible schedule at my workplace that allowed me time to go on multiple vacations without compromising my results as an employee. Below, you will find various photos from my experiences the island of Maui, Hawaii.
A few words about Maui. I considered this trip more of an adventure than a vacation. Maui is rugged and only partially developed. The road to Hana and the Kahekili highway are legitimately dangerous. There are long sections of one-lane roads with no guard rails on cliff sides. One false move and it’s game over. Absolutely do NOT travel on either of these roads at night. I ended up on the Kahekili highway at night and it was by far the most intense driving I have ever done in my life. I strongly recommend renting a 4-wheel drive car.
There are resort areas that are obviously developed for tourists but are extremely costly and overpriced. You can definitely relax at one of these resorts if you are willing to pay for it, but potentially at the expense of a genuine island experience. The most commercial areas I visited are Kahului, Lahaina, Kihei, Wailuku and Paia. Additionally, I did not find that the native employees readily exhibited the same “Aloha spirit” that was apparent at most places on Oahu, HI.
Maui definitely did have its share of good things, too. My favorite part of Maui was definitely Mt. Haleakala. It’s an environment type I have never seen anywhere else; like the surface of Mars. You can drive to the 10,000ft high summit and see planes and clouds flying below you. There were also seemingly endless cliffside views and waterfalls on the road to Hana. The local cuisine was also very good. You can see photos of food I recommend below:
If you’re confused about some of the food names in the gallery captions above, then check out the definitions I mentioned in my post from Oahu, HI.
Overall, Maui was an exciting experience with more beautiful photo opportunities than anywhere I’ve traveled. However, I would preferably recommend Oahu to travelers if they could only afford to go to one Hawaiian island. Maui is more expensive, wild, and unaccommodating with a sprawling homeless population. There is an overtly apparent disconnect between the native culture and gentrified tourists.
1.) Having a flexible work schedule can improve worker happiness, work-life balance and motivation.
2.) There is a quantifiable improvement between workers allowed flexibility vs. those who follow a strict routine.
3.) Work flexibility can reduce burn-out.
4.) A flexible work schedule can benefit a worker’s happiness more than giving them an increase in pay.
Lately, I’ve been researching more about how to improve overall happiness. In the past, I’ve found information on factors that effect happiness through reward chemistry, usually in the context of stress or addiction. That research did not offer an obvious solution to cope with unhappiness or the symptoms that result from it. However, in my recent searches, I think I found a direct way to improve well-being. The answer is vacation.
Most people have to work full-time jobs 40+ hours per week to survive or sustain their finances. Working this much consistently does not necessarily lead to a happier life, but almost certainly does lead to burn-out. Burn-out can detract from your life in a way that is not easily perceptible and can lead to depression, anger and a broken home life. This often results in coping behavior that can further damage your health or finances. It’s important to frequently take time away from the unrelenting work cycle to recuperate.
The Department of Physiology at the University of Vienna, Austria designed a study to validate that vacation improves well-being. You can find the study here with some relevant excerpts below:
G. Strauss-Blasche, C. Ekmekcioglu and W. Marktl, Does vacation enable recuperation? Changes in well-being associated with time away from work. Occup Med (Lond). 2000 Apr;50(3):167-72.
“The current study sought to investigate the short- and long-term effects of vacation on well-being and to document factors moderating these effects. It was found that well-being generally improved from 10 days before vacation to 3 days after vacation”
“These results are supported by the findings of Westman and Eden, who found that the feeling of burn-out declined during vacation.”
“The results also show that one of the ways to promote recuperation is to take time for one’s self and for one’s needs. This notion is supported by Caldwell and Smith who define leisure in correspondence to Csikszentmihalyi and LeFevre as ‘that experience or stream of consciousness associated with self-determined participation in any activity/experience which is characterised by pleasure, enjoyment, fulfilment, competence and control’ ”
From this study, it appears we positively anticipate an upcoming vacation and experience some residual emotional benefits post-vacation. Furthermore, the perception of freedom we get during self-directed recreational activities on vacation can contribute to our well being.
To reinforce the value of vacation, I will be having a series of upcoming posts dedicated to additional research I’ve done on this topic. Included in each post will be an album with pictures from one of my recent vacations. Below, you will find various photos from my experiences the island of Oahu, Hawaii.
We know from reference 1 in my post about consumption that novel (new) surroundings/experiences can elicit a variety dopamine responses. Therefore, it is safe to postulate that vacations to drastically new environments can cause changes in neuroplasticity, potentially increasing neuronal flexibility. The idioms “broaden your horizons”, “live a little” and “get outside your comfort zone” come to mind.
On vacation, I try to have many unique experiences that I cannot reproduce during my regular life in order to efficiently maximize my reward system benefits. In addition to seeing new landscapes and trying new activities, I like to broadly sample the local cuisine and “take a chance”. Below you can find a secondary album containing pictures of the best food I tried at Oahu:
For clarification, I tried the traditional Hawaiian dishes at The Highway Inn. Rough definitions of each dish are below:
Kalua pork – pulled-pork slow roasted underground
Chicken Long Rice – like chicken soup with glass noodles
Pipikaula – like thick broiled beef-jerky
Laulau – pork & butterfish inside tarot leaves
Poi – tarot paste
Lomi salmon – like raw salmon pico de gallo
Coconut Haupia – dense coconut pudding
Squid Lu’au – like creamed spinach with squid & ink
Overall, Oahu, HI was a great experience. It included a variety of delicious foods tending toward Asian inspired flavors. There were beautiful landscapes everywhere. I would definitely recommend hiking outside Honolulu, the beaches, exploring Waikiki, Honolulu Zoo and trying native Hawaiian cuisine. Also, plan to rent a car to maximize your exploration potential. You might want to scope out some cheaper parking alternatives before you go, and brush up on your budgeting potential to save for the flight there. Don’t let the rat race perpetually tear down your emotions. Vacation is worth much more to your mental health than the dollars you spend on it.
1.) Vacations can significantly reduce burn-out.
2.) The emotional benefits of vacation can be anticipatory and retroactive.
3.) New experiences can yield dopamine reward signalling and likely improve components of neuroplasticity.
Applying knowledge from my glowing drinks post and combining it with my recent ebru post, I was able to create some beautiful pictures. I made aqueous paint colors using mixtures of food coloring and a vitamin B2 solution. The vitamin B2 gives the paint a glowing property when exposed to blacklight. It is difficult to produce a wide array of colors using vitamin B2, since its endogenous color is yellow. The yellow tends to bias the emitted wavelengths of other colors closer to the middle of the visible spectrum. Regardless, I was able to produce various depths of green shades in addition to an orange color.
I mixed the vitamin B2 paints with skim and whole milk basins, which resulted in a difference of color retention. Whole milk was able to retain the colors more prominently than the skim milk. Additionally, when mixed vigorously, the colors homogenously dissipated into the milk – causing the color to disappear. This is different from my previous experiments using acrylic paint as a medium. The paint did not mix homogeneously with the milk. I decided to combine the vitamin B2 colors with a pool of mixed acrylic paint. I also decided to mix in some oil and soap to change the surface tension.
Overall, I consider this method of ebru less beautiful than my original experiments with paint. However, this method is less toxic to the environment. As usual, I have provided a video of my testing process below:
1. Vitamin B2 aqueous color mixtures homogeneously disappear into milk when disturbed.
2. Whole milk retains vitamin B2 colors better than skim milk.
3. Oil and soap have the same effects on surface tension regardless of the colors being aqueous vitamin B2 or acrylic paints.
Since my previous work with neon paint ebru on milk with soap was so cool, I decided to take the concept further. Using some of the knowledge I gained from before, I decided to move ahead using canola oil as an additional medium.
Oil and aqueous solutions do not mix homogeneously without great effort. Oil is primarily fatty acids which form micelles spontaneously. Almost every cellular membrane is composed primarily of fatty acids. This allows the cell to keep bad chemicals outside the membrane and therefore protect the sensitive systems on the inside. It is because of this fact that cellular life as we know it came about in the first place. I figured this phenomenon would produce some interesting pictures/video if added to my previous ebru conditions.
I prepared paint mixtures that had a 3:1, Paint:Water ratio and a basin of skim milk. Then, I added a few drops of each paint color to a separate basin of canola oil. When the paint drops touch the oil, they form into globes of color that will stay in place unless physically disturbed. Using a skewer, I vigorously swirled at the globe to try and break it apart. The original globe broke into smaller globes.
I poured the paint/oil mixture into the milk basin, which formed a completely separate layer on top of the milk. Some of the oil created membranes the milk, forming globes of milk. Additionally, some of the paint droplets dispersed into the milk, yielding more dynamic color dispersion reminiscent of my original ebru testing.
Using a 1:3, Soap:Water ratio, I coated a skewer and dabbed the basin in different spots. Dabbing a globe containing milk and paint caused a familiar dispersion effect. Dabbing a spot with oil caused the surrounding globes to slowly disperse. The soap does not cause the globes of color to collapse. Finally, I swirled the entire basin around, forming globes containing mixtures of all the different liquids.
And of course, the best part is watching it all happen dynamically in real time. Watch the video below to see the true beauty of this experiment:
1.) Oil forms a segregated layer on top of milk (an aqueous solution).
2.) 3:1, Paint:Water droplets form globes of color when introduced to oil.
3.) The color globes break apart into smaller globes when agitated.
4.) A 1:3, Soap:Water solution disperses color intensely when dabbed into micelles containing paint and milk.
5.) A 1:3, Soap:Water solution slowly disperses surrounding globes of color when dabbed into oil. The cohesion of the globes is unaffected.
Filmed and photographed by C.
In my first neon paint ebru test, I used fat free milk for all my experimental conditions. As a follow-up experiment, I wanted to see if milk with different fat content made a difference in paint behavior. I made up some 3:1, Paint:Water mixtures to drop into the various milk basins.
In the picture above to the right of the black light. you can see 4 basins of milk. From bottom to top the basins contain fat free milk, 1% milk, 2% milk and whole milk. I added multiple droplets of paint to each basin.
Fat free milk above.
1% milk above.
2% milk above.
Whole milk above.
At first glance there appears to be no significant difference between the milk basins. The paint seems to exhibit similar behavior regardless of the milkfat content. I coated a skewer with a 1:3, Soap:Water ratio and dabbed each of the basins to see if that produced any varying effects.
Fat free milk above.
1% milk above.
2% milk above.
Whole milk above.
The most noticeable difference occurred in the whole milk basin. It is unclear if there was a distinct difference between the soap dispersion intensity since it is hard to control the volume of soap used in each dab with the skewer. However, there was a difference in the amount of fragmentation in the paint after treating it with soap. In particular, the pink paint (shows up orange in photos) fragments into little particles in the whole milk basin. This effect is less pronounced as a function of milkfat. Less milkfat means less paint fragmentation. Next I swirled each mixture around.
Fat free milk above.
1% milk above.
2% milk above.
Whole milk above. Paint fragmentation is very obvious here.
The basins also looked kind of cool under normal light. You can see those pictures below:
Fat free milk above.
1% milk above.
2% milk above.
Whole milk above.
Below you can see pictures of all 4 conditions simultaneously as this experiment progressed:
Feel free to judge any minute differences for yourself by watching the experiment in action. I uploaded a video online that you can watch below as well:
1.) Milkfat content does not seem to effect paint behavior under these ebru conditions.
2.) There is a notable difference with paint fragmentation patterns after being treated with soap in a whole milk basin.
Filming and photography by C.
Ebru art is a very old method of paper marbling that originated in ancient China. It was later adapted by Turkish artists, and given the name “ebru”. Upon searching for various art techniques, I found some great videos online of people using ebru to make beautiful patterns.
Additionally, I found videos of people using milk, soap and food coloring to yield more exciting footage. I was interested if it was possible to merge the two methodologies from the videos and create something beautiful myself. So naturally, I designed some experiments to learn more about the properties of paint in milk while treating it with soap. First, I made 3 dilutions of paint in water and dripped them onto a small basin of skim milk.
Dilutions in the photo above from left to right are:
-1:3, Paint:Water ratio (1 part paint, 3 parts water)
-1:1, Paint:Water ratio (equal parts paint and water)
-3:1, Paint:Water ratio (3 parts paint, 1 part water)
I thought the 1:1 and 3:1 mixtures looked cooler than the 1:3 mixture. I decided to move ahead with my soap experiments using basins with the 1:1 mixture.
Next, I wanted to test how dabbing different dilutions of Soap:Water mixtures onto the paint would disperse the design. I made mixtures like above, substituting paint for soap. I then coated the end of a skewer with each soap dilution and saw dramatically different dispersion intensities of the paint. You can see a video of this experiment below:
I decided that a 1:3 Soap:Water ratio was best for dabbing on the paint. Any higher amount of soap caused too intense of a dispersion pattern. With this knowledge, I decided to dab each of my paint dilutions from earlier (also in the video). The pictures below show the results:
Ultimately, I decided to use a 3:1 Paint:Water mixture and dab with a 1:3 Soap:Water mixture in my final ebru painting. I made my ideal mixtures with multiple paint colors and set up my work space with a large basin full of skim milk.
Dripping all the different colors onto the milk basin together looked really cool. Things expand and push each other out of the way almost like the paint is alive. Since it’s all fluorescent in the black light, the colors are intensely vibrant.
Once you dab in the soap, the colors disperse and make little pockets absence of color, adding contrast and pushing surrounding colors aside.
I tried running the skewer through the paint to drag the colors in one direction. It sort of pinches the colors together and swirls depending on how aggressive you are. The colors swirling together is probably one of the most satisfying things to observe about this whole process. But once they are done swirling, the paint ends up being a dense mess of color. Still beautiful, but in a very different way.
When you zoom in closer with the camera, you can get a bunch of detail about each of the patterns. Below are some of the best close-ups:
It even looks kind of cool under normal light too. Maybe it looks a little bit like puke. But very colorful puke.
But the true work of art is watching it all happen in real time. That’s why I made this video below:
So why does this work? Milk is an emulsion of protein and fat. The paint floats on the surface because it is less dense than milk. Soap contains surfactants, which change the surface tension of liquids. Once the soap touches the surface of the liquid, it disrupts the cohesion of fat and protein molecules, resulting in the paint dispersion effect.
It would be interesting to try further experiments regarding the fat content in solution. Maybe using milk with higher fat content or treating the paint with oil (which is basically all fat molecules).
1.) It is possible to make ebru art using acrylic paint as a medium, and skim milk as a canvas.
2.) A 3:1 Paint:Water mixture is ideal for making soap dispersion patterns.
3.) A 1:3 Soap:Water mixture is ideal to prevent rapid surface tension collapse when introduced to the paint.
4.) Swirling the paint can produce beautiful designs, but eventually results in an aggregate of color particles.
Filmed and photographed by C.
You actually have more power than you think. Every time you buy something, you are using that power. We are effectively casting a vote to support companies by buying the products they sell. Each dollar we give a company encourages them to manufacture more products or improve existing products. Depending on how you spend your dollars, this is both good and bad.
It is good that we have the freedom to spend our money on things that potentially improve our quality of life. You could be helping to sustain products that keep humanity alive. Or you could be contributing to the invention of products that will help improve us as a species.
But, you also have the freedom to spend money on things that only serve to destroy our planet. Frivolous, unnecessary and superficial things just end up contributing to waste and climate change. If your dollars are not adding utility to the survival and progression of the human race, then you should reassess your purchases and values.
Unfortunately, our decision-making is biased. Companies are very good at manipulating us to spend our dollars unwisely. It is in their best interest to get as much of our money as possible. That way, they can produce the products we want and use the extra profits for their own agendas. Ultimately, a portion of the money we spend to buy the products we love will be used to fund the unknown affairs of the manufacturers.
Below is a simple flow-chart of how most companies in America operate.
Companies scale their manufacturing processes up or down depending on how much people buy their products. If people buy more products, the company increases manufacturing and also increases the damage done to the environment. If people buy less products, the company decreases manufacturing and also decreases the damage done to the environment.
Normally, we like to know about our presidential candidates well before we vote for them in a election. So why don’t we care to know the companies well before spending our dollars? Most of us work more than a third of our lives away just to get these dollars. Isn’t it worth spending every dollar wisely?
Apparently not. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, people spend more than 20% of their income on luxury expenses. Below are three different pie graphs that represent how an average American family spends their money by category. The first graph represents spending according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The second graph is a color-coded representation of this graph. Red represents expenses that are absolutely necessary to survive. Green represents expenses that might be necessary to survival in the majority of American households. Blue represents expenses that are luxury items not necessary to survival. The third graph is a consolidation of these categories.
Let’s do a little bit of math regarding the numbers presented from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. They claim the average household unit annual income is $69,629 per year before taxes. Once you take out Federal taxes based on the 2015 tax brackets, this number gets a lot smaller. If you subtract an additional 6.2% for Social Security tax, 1.45% for Medicare tax and 6% for state taxes (rough average state tax rates), then you end up losing almost a third of your income right off the bat. For people married filing jointly you end up with $50,603 in profit. If you are filing single then you end up with $46,924.
I have put together some tables to represent the dollar values and percent of income spent for each category. This way, you can easily see how much of your hard-earned money goes to frivolous things.
With these spending habits, the average American household is actually losing money each year. This might explain why so many people are in debt. The average American household in 2016 had a $16,061 in credit card debt and/or, $49,042 in student, $28,535 in auto and $172,806 in mortgage debts.
Take a good look at the blue sections first. If you could just cut each blue category in half, then you would save $6,000 per year. Follow the tips below and make this a reality.
Do you spend $3,008 dollars on take-out in a year? That equates to $57 in take-out every week. The easiest way to cut that number in half is to spend $57 every other week, order smaller portions or buy cheaper dishes instead.
Maybe your take-out cost includes a coffee every morning from your favorite brewing chain. Just start making your own coffee at home before you leave. You will also save time and gas waiting in the drive-through and using all those wasteful paper cups. Or better yet, drink free coffee your work provides. Otherwise, you’ll be paying over $1000 per year and generating 365 wasted cups just for your morning fix.
What about your lunch break? Do you always get take-out for lunch? Then this probably costs you somewhere between $6-$15 every work day. If you work 5 days a week, then you are paying between $1500-$3000 per year. Take the time to pack your lunch each morning. You can easily make a substantial meal at home for $2-$5 a day. That will save you $500-$2000 per year. It’s a trade-off of your time spent making lunch in the morning vs. working more years of your life to make up the cost.
Entertainment includes a lot of different things and costs an average of $2,842 per year. Apparently, it includes watching a lot of television. According to this chart, Americans spend more than half their leisure time watching TV. Cable bills cost $99 per month on average,which equates to $1188 per year. That’s almost half of the entire entertainment cost per year. Cable channels also force you to watch ads and offer a ton of television content you probably don’t care about. This leaves you more vulnerable to cognitive bias influences.
Chances are, you probably have internet connection in addition to a cable subscription. Why not just get rid of the cable altogether and stream your favorite content online for free? This WikiHow guide teaches you how to watch shows and movies online for free or cheaper than cable. Most TVs nowadays should have hookups to HDMI or VGA inputs, which can be used to display your computer screen onto the TV.
The Misc. section could mean anything, but for some people, it is probably alcohol and/or tobacco. I already made a guide on how to understand drug mechanics, which can be used to help you reduce the amount of alcohol and cigarettes you need to feel good. If alcohol is your drug of choice, stop buying expensive whiskeys and craft beers. Buy in bulk instead. A handle of vodka will last you a lot longer and be more fun that a 6-pack of beer at the same price. With cigarettes, switch to lozenges or gum. Ingesting nicotine orally instead of smoking will make it easier to lower your active dose threshold. You also will avoid inhaling over 5000 potentially carcinogenic additives cut into cigarettes by tobacco companies.
According to the American Society Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, at least 37% of households in America own pets. It’s a good bet some of you spend a bunch of your “Misc.” money on pet food, toys and clothes. Pets don’t need fancy food unless they have strict dietary requirements. Nor do they care about fashion. It’s also very easy to improvise toys out of regular household objects. Buy pet food in bulk and just stop wasting money on pet toys and clothes altogether.
Pets also cost a ton in unsubsidized veterinary bills. A lot of people end up killing their pets because they can’t afford to pay for the medical procedures. Instead of buying a new pet when your current one dies, just save yourself thousands of dollars and live without an animal in your house. You won’t have to clean up their messes, they won’t damage your belongings, you won’t have to pay to train them and you don’t have to worry about them while you’re away on vacation.
How about cosmetics and spa treatments? Most cosmetic products used at home or by spas have dangerous chemicals or chemicals with unknown side effects. A chemical can still be considered unsafe even if there is not a warning label on the product. The FDA allows chemicals into public hands without fully understanding the repercussions. Don’t go wasting extra money on hazardous chemicals to rub all over your body or you might actually be making your beauty problems worse in the long run.
Maybe your Misc. section includes gifts to friends or family. I already did a post describing ways to avoid the pressures of gift giving.
Just don’t buy useless decorative items for your house. The decoration police aren’t gonna bust down your door asking where you put the bowl of plastic fruit. It isn’t a federal requirement to match the color of your room with every piece of furniture. If your bathroom is clean and your trash doesn’t smell, most guests won’t even notice how many little trinkets are littered along your mantle.
With regard to kitchen appliances: you don’t need to spend anywhere close to $1000 to get most appliances. You can substitute any appliance with a basic set of kitchen utensils and a little dexterity, unless you are a professional cook who needs specific tools. There are a million different free YouTube channels out there with easy and creative things to cook.
This is the easiest one. Charity is optional to begin with, so just give less or not at all. You can either choose to give to charity, or save yourself another $1,819. Or throw that charity money into a savings account or stock investment instead, then use the earnings to donate later if you really want to make a big difference.
That’s it for the blue section. Let’s look at an updated table to see how cutting half of your luxury spending solves your annual debt problem.
Cutting your luxuries in half certainly helps a lot. If you are married filing jointly, you can finally start to dig yourself out of that hole of debt. But wouldn’t you rather be doing better than “just scraping by?” If you’re single, you’re still in debt and have to get a little more creative with your spending habits.
Let’s now consider how you can cut down expenses in the green section. These solutions will often require some extra planning and forethought. Before I dive into each individual category, it’s important to understand how loans work.
How Loans Function
Most loans work like this: you need to borrow some amount of money (let’s say $40,000) from a bank. This is called the “principle” balance. The bank gives you a time frame (let’s say 10 years) in which you have to pay back all of the principle balance in addition to interest. Interest is a percentage of of the principle balance, which accumulates over time depending on the rate you pay back the loan. The rate at which interest accumulates depends on how often the interest compounds. Once the interest compounds, the debt you have to pay back increases. The bank then calculates how much money you have to pay per month to fit exactly into the time frame and factors in the interest rate with the projected number of compounding events. Then they bill you for the amount they calculated for each month.
If you pay off the loan faster than the bank anticipates, then you will reduce the amount of interest compounded in the future. Paying extra money up front can save you thousands in interest payments down the line. The diagram below easily describes this process. The top timeline depicts a payment plan following the bank’s anticipated 10 year pay-off. The second timeline depicts a scenario where you pay off the loan in 8 years. The third timeline depicts a scenario where you pay off the loan in 5 years:
Notice that the “Total Payment” and “Interest Paid” values decrease significantly from the top timeline to the third timeline. If you pay off your loan in 5 years instead of 10, then you could save yourself $4,340 in interest or $868 per year (distributed evenly). Okay, now you are informed enough to understand strategies to cut expenses in the green section of our tables above.
Life Insurance & Pensions
Honestly, this is one category you actually want to spend more money on. If you should put your extra savings anywhere, it should be into this category.
Pensions include retirement funds like 401k or IRA. These are the accounts that will let you quit working earlier at the lowest price. Still, you can save thousands of dollars if you start paying into your retirement account early. Putting money in your retirement earlier can have a huge positive impact on your savings later in life. Money put into your retirement grows over time. The more time that money has to grow, the less you have to contribute later on. Paying for your retirement needs will likely cost much more than your mortgage or your student debt, so get started as soon as possible. Check out my diagram below to understand how retirement growth works:
There are 3 different retirement scenarios in the diagram above. In each case, the person is contributing $6,349 every year. The green curve indicates a scenario where the person begins annual savings when they are 25 years old. The blue curve indicates beginning at 35 years old. The red curve indicated beginning at 50 years old.
Notice that there is a huge difference in the table section “Amount Compounded by Market” between each of the 3 scenarios. The green person’s retirement is comprised primarily of money they earned from gains in the stock market. They only had to contribute 28% of their own money to the total account value. This way their retirement savings will last them until 81 years old if they retire at 62.
The blue and red scenarios are much worse off. The blue person had to pay 45% of their own money into an account that will only last them until age 70. The red person had to pay 90% of their own money that will only last them until age 63. Neither the blue or red person has saved nearly enough money to last the rest of their lives.
In addition, the model presented in the diagram above is optimistic. It is calculated expecting an average annual rate of return on investments of 7%. The real life average annual rate of return is closer to 4%. It may also not accurately account for inflation over the years. If you really want to be confident in your retirement, you are going to want to either start saving a lot earlier, save a lot more money or both. There are federal limits on how much you can contribute each year. Make sure your plan includes these functional constraints.
Some employers offer what is called a “retirement match.” This means your employer will match a portion of the amount of money you contribute to your retirement fund. Find out if your company has a retirement match and try to take advantage of that as much as possible. It is literally free money.
I found this retirement calculator very useful in figuring out how much money is needed to save for a viable retirement. Don’t rely on social security either. With people living until approximately 80 years old on average, the Baby Boomers are going to be the last generation with viable social security resources. You NEED your retirement savings unless you plan on working until you’re dead.
If you’re young, start with an aggressive stock portfolio to grow your retirement savings quickly. Once you start getting into your late 40s and 50s, gradually convert over to more conservative investments until you retire. That way you can retain your money even if their is a large stock market failure.
Still confused? Check out this link to better understand more details on how exactly retirement accounts work.
Life insurance is different from retirement accounts/pensions, so don’t get confused. Life insurance is there to protect your family from sudden financial burdens in the event of your death. It is good to give just enough money to life insurance such that your family can pay to process your death and pay for bills long enough to gain financial independence after your loss. Make a plan of how your family will take steps to recover, then decide what kind of life insurance expenses you should make.
Cars & Trucks
Get the smallest, safest car you can reasonably afford. It’s disgusting how many big gas guzzling trucks and SUVs I see driving down the highway with only a single person in the car. If your vehicle spends the majority of its time with empty seats or open storage space, then don’t waste your money. Bigger cars mean more carbon emissions and higher gas expenditure.
In the vast majority of circumstances you are not going to need 6 or 8 cylinders of engine power. There are no public roads in the USA that require you to accelerate from 0 MPH to 60 MPH in less than 10 seconds. Only get a car with 8 or more cylinders if you are regularly going to be pulling cargo that weighs thousands of pounds.
Don’t pay for luxury models of cars or features that add no necessary utility to the car. Who cares if you have silver trimming on your doors or a big spoiler on your trunk? You’re more likely to look like an arrogant douche than a respected noble. If you have extra money to spend on an expensive car model, make it an electric car. At least then you don’t have to pay ridiculous gas costs.
We all need to pay for maintenance on our car. Dramatically extend the life of your car by keeping up with the necessary maintenance in the appropriate time frame. You can find a calendar for different part replacement time frames here. Adding years to the life of your car can save you thousands on potentially buying a new one.
Regardless of what car you decide to buy, follow the loan advice section above if you plan on getting an auto loan.
If you don’t own a car, then you probably have to pay for commuter costs or regular taxis. Consider paying for monthly passes for buses & trains instead of buying individual tickets. Instead of taxis, look for competitive prices on a service like Uber or Zipcar. Better yet, instead of paying for tickets to commute around the city, invest in a bicycle and the necessary safety equipment. That way, you don’t have to pay for commuter costs and emit zero carbon.
People pay a lot in plane tickets to travel. Book your flights well in advance and pick off-hour flight times. Planes produce a ton of carbon emissions, so explore long distance train rides as a potential alternative. The tickets might be significantly cheaper too.
I already pretty much covered this one in the cars & trucks section, however, to reiterate, buy a smaller car with less cylinders in the engine or just get an electric car. If you have to get a car with a heavy-duty engine, then get the most fuel efficient one that meets your needs. If you need a lot of engine power intermittently, consider renting a truck temporarily instead. That way, you only have to pay a large gas expense for a short amount of time.
Plan out your routes before you drive. If you have to visit multiple stops, then think of the most efficient way to visit them instead of backtracking multiple times.
This is one of the most ridiculous categories. I honestly can’t believe that people are spending anywhere near $1,000 for clothes in a year, let alone $1,846. If we didn’t need clothes to exist in society, this category would definitely move to the blue section.
Designer clothes are a trick. It’s as simple as that. The vast majority of our clothes are made from third world countries with unskilled and underpaid laborers. Whether you are buying clothes from a discount store or a fancy designer, the clothes are probably made under similar working conditions. What you are really paying for is the brand name, not the quality or utility of the item.
Why would you pay $100 on a shirt that you can get for $20 at a different store? You are paying to be perceived in a certain way, but the joke is on you. Most people don’t even care or notice what brand of clothes you are wearing, unless you specifically mention it to them. Making a point to brag about your designer clothes just makes you look like a dickhead. Even if you are wearing an item with the designer plastered across your chest, then you are just an unpaid advertiser for that company. You are paying them money, so that they can make more money off your advertisement. You are being used.
Consider reducing to a “capsule wardrobe.” You have a minimal set of items that are interchangeable for many different outfit scenarios. I only have a little over a week’s worth of work clothes and that’s all I need to make over 40 different outfits. Then, I only really need to replace undergarments regularly and i get the most time out of every other item. This way, you can easily cut your clothing costs to $500 or less.
If you’re a millennial with a higher degree, chances are, your education expenses are significantly more than $1315 per year. All the more reason to take this post seriously. Follow the loan advice in the section above to intelligently pay off your student debt.
If you are planning to enter college in the future, consider applying to any scholarship programs available to you. You can find a very helpful list of scholarships here. This can save you thousands of dollars in loan interest down the road.
You can also save a lot of money on books by getting them used whenever possible. Sometimes, campus libraries offer textbooks for loan. There might be limited copies available, so consider picking the library copy first, before someone else reserves it for the semester. Also consider looking online for used or imported textbooks. You might even be able to get instructor editions imported that include answers to more problems. Team up with a classmate to share one copy of the book. That way, you each effectively pay half price.
That’s it for the green section. Granted, implementing some of these solutions will be harder than it was in the blue section. Hopefully, over time, you can at least shave 10% off off each category, except pensions. But seriously, you can definitely cut the clothing category in half because it’s basically a luxury.
Look at that! If you’re married filing jointly, then you have a pretty significant profit each year. That’s enough money to seriously beef up your retirement or save for your kid’s college. If you’re filing single, you still have a little bit more to go unless you got really conservative on the blue and green sections.
Finally, we can move onto the red section. Keep in mind that this section is the hardest to save money in because any change definitely can affect your quality of life.
The easiest way to save on housing is to live at home with your parents. If your parents let you live at home with reduced rent or rent-free, then that saves you the majority of housing costs right away.
The next easiest way is to live with other people who contribute to housing costs. Living with roommates or working spouses can cut down housing expenses dramatically. The more people paying into the bills, the less each individual has to pay.
If you are trying to get a place of of your own, consider whether it is cheaper to rent or buy in your area. In lots of metropolitan areas, it is definitely cheaper to rent a space than to buy one. But for more rural places, you can sometimes find homes for dirt cheap. Use this online rent vs. buy calculator to help you make a more informed decision.
If you end up renting, then you will likely have assistance with routine maintenance and will be able to move around more easily depending on the conditions of your lease. But ultimately, the lessor owns the property, so you will not end up owning any of it in the long run. Your lifestyle may also be limited by conditions set by the lessor, and you might be flanked by surrounding tenants. Always be on the lookout for cheaper places, too. Since you have the mobility, why not use it.
If you are going to buy a home, then you will have to pay for the maintenance, repairs and utilities all by yourself. However, after paying off your mortgage, you will legally own the property and can sell it off/modify it in whatever way is allowed by your local government. Additionally, you will be much more secluded than when living in an apartment complex.
If you are going to buy a condominium, consider that there might be additional condo fees associated with your purchase. You will end up owning the condo outright after paying off the mortgage. But because you will be living in a facility with other people, you will need to contribute additional funds for upkeep. Keep in mind, when you purchase a house or condo, there will be additional fees upon purchase, such as the closing costs, home inspection and realtor payment.
Regardless of whether you buy a house, land or a condo, you should follow the advice in the “How Loans Function” section above. Then, you can save thousands on your mortgage.
This is potentially the most complicated category. There are a multitude of health plans available; each with their own limitations and guidelines. There is also not a “one size fits all” type of plan out there because we all have unique health needs and cannot predict emergencies. Usually, employer plans offer both an HMO plan and a PPO plan. HMO plans are often cheaper, but have restrictions on what doctors you can choose for care. The insurance company has a number of specialists that it prefers to use due to cheaper labor or special contracts.
A PPO plan is usually slightly more expensive. It generally offers you more choice in which doctors you choose, but also has associated “out-of-network” costs. This might be a better plan for people who have a preference to their physician or a specialist they rely on specifically.
Some employers offer FSA (flexible spending accounts), which are essentially tax free or tax subsidized accounts to hold your money for healthcare costs. These accounts are good, especially for people who have predictable routine health costs like prescriptions or physical therapy sessions. The problem with these accounts is that they are “use it or lose it” from year to year. If you put money into an FSA, but do not use it within that year, then you lose all the remaining money in the account.
The best recommendation I can give is to examine multiple options closely. Even if your employer offers you a health insurance plan, you do not have to choose it. Not all employers pick plans competitively. They might pick a plan that is more expensive to you for no reason or makes you pay for services that you will never use. If you find a cheaper or more reliable plan, then opt out of your employers health insurance and just start paying for your own plan. That way, even if you lose employment at your job, you will still have health insurance available.
There are a ton of good ways to save money on groceries. The easiest being to buy in bulk. If you anticipate using a lot of a specific item over time, then just buy more of it up front. That way, you can spend less money per item, and avoid potential future inflationary costs.
Shop at wholesale clubs. BJ’s, Costco and Sam’s Club are the most common wholesale retailers in America. All of these places offer groceries and other items in bulk and usually for cheaper than conventional stores. You usually do have to pay an annual membership fee to shop at wholesale clubs, but they often pay for themselves quickly if you are a regular shopper. Not to mention, wholesale clubs offer additional coupon deals that can’t be found elsewhere. That brings me to my next point.
Use coupons. Most grocery stores offer coupons for products they are trying to sell off quickly. If you meet the coupon criteria and will legitimately use the product, then why not get it for cheaper? Just be careful about buying something you don’t need just because there is a coupon. Marketers sometimes distribute coupons that are poor deals just to motivate shoppers to buy.
Make a list before you go and don’t shop hungry. If you go to the grocery store without sticking to a strict list, then you are very likely to buy items you don’t need. Companies have spent a lot of time and money researching how to bias your mind into buying a product with colorful and familiar packaging. Even if you do crave unnecessary items, just check if it’s on the list first. If it’s not on the list, then just move on.
Plan your meals in advance. If you know exactly what reagents you are going to need for your future meals, then you can more efficiently devise a grocery list. This will also help you prevent producing more food waste, which can cause more carbon emissions in landfills.
You can save on most utilities by simply using less of the base resource. To save money on heating costs, turn down your thermostat in the winter and turn it up in the summer. You can also get a “smart thermostat” system which automatically learns the routine travel patterns of people in your house and adjusts temperature in various rooms of the house appropriately. Smart thermostats are the most efficient way to ensure you are not heating a room unnecessarily.
To save money on electricity, then use less electronics. Unfortunately, you can’t just do this by turning off your electronics when they aren’t in use. Turning off the device helps, but a lot of devices still draw some electricity in a standby mode as long as they are still plugged in. You can save the maximum amount of electricity by unplugging devices completely when they are not in use.
The next best way is to plug your devices into a surge protector, then turn off power to the surge protector when you are not using anything. This way, only the surge protector draws any standby power.
Or you could buy a “smart surge protector” which automatically detects whether a device has been turned off. Once the smart surge protector detects a turn off, it disconnects that particular outlet from the grid.
To save money on water, consider reducing how much you use for various tasks. Taking a shorter shower can save gallons within a single session.
There are a number of devices out there to reduce laundry washer water waste, like this one. You can also just hang up your clothes to dry to save electricity. This will also increase the lifetime of each garment.
If you absolutely have to use a large appliance, then buy a high-efficiency one. High-efficiency household appliances are designed to minimize resource usage while still getting the job done.
If your state allows, collect rain water to use on non-potable projects. You can use collected rainwater safely for grass, yards and gardens. I’m sure you can find plenty of plastic containers lying around to improve your rainwater collection. Increase the surface area of collection containers or funnels to maximize your capabilities.
A longer term investment is solar panels. Solar panels can help you reduce electricity costs in a big way. They cost a lot up front, but if you are planning to live in your home for 10 years or more, it’s definitely worth the investment. Imagine being able to cut out your electricity bill almost entirely while saving the world thousands of pounds of carbon emissions. Many solar companies also have lease plans for solar panels that let you pay the panels off over time. That way you don’t have to drop thousands of dollars at one time.
Finally, we have covered all the sections. Since the red sections are necessities, let assume you can only shave 5% off each category. Let’s leave out healthcare from that reduction, since a health plan change might not be right for everybody.
There you go. Now you can hopefully get through a year without accumulating more debt even if you’re single. In my opinion, you can do even better than this.
My final table below indicates areas where I think significant earnings can be still be retained. Imagine a life where you actually paid off your car and student loans. You stop wasting money on junk you don’t need and adopt a more minimalist approach to life. It is definitely possible if you commit yourself to strengthening self-discipline. Take it one step at a time and enact routines. Once saving money becomes a regular activity, you can actually have fun and feel good about spending less.
I have assembled one more “stretch table” to show such an ideal scenario. Anywhere marked in blue is a stretch goal to get serious control of your finances. All blue categories have been reduced except for the pensions category, which has been increased to meet a more viable retirement need.
That looks pretty good to me. Imagine having your retirement under control and saving thousands of dollars each year. Really take a hard look at the money you spend and the activities you do. Are these things worth the constant stress of debt and poverty?
Of course, there are a lot people out there who do not make anywhere close to the average $69,629 pre-tax income reported in this post. Those people are going to have to dig really deep to get any type of savings in a year. I encourage you to do better than this stretch table. Even if you can’t get rid of debt altogether, you can decrease the rate of your inevitable decay. That will give you more time to construct longer term contingency plans.
It’s no mystery that the American economic system is broken and it’s painful to know that most people do not get a fair chance to live debt-free. Use the power you’ve got and make the changes in your life that you can. Even if you can’t change the system, no one can stop you from changing yourself. Regardless of whether you are rich or poor, we all live on the same planet. Making smart purchase choices will have long-term positive effects on the environment. We all have the power to help the earth, even if we don’t have the power to help the American economy.
I have summarized a quick reference sheet for each section in the conclusions below:
How to save money quick references:
-Cut take out frequency in half
-Buy smaller portions and cheaper dishes
-Make your own coffee or get it at work for free
-Make your own lunch
-Stop paying for cable television and movies (link)
-Use digested nicotine alternatives to cigarettes and titrate down your dose
-Switch to liquor and buy cheaper brands of alcohol in bulk
-Stop buying pet toys and clothes
-Buy pet food in bulk
-Don’t get another pet once your old one dies
-Stop using cosmetics due to their harmful chemical nature
-Avoid the pressures of gift-giving events and holidays (link)
-Stop buying useless decoratives
-Learn better cooking techniques to save money on appliances
-Don’t give money to others because your conscience tells you to. You need that money just as much as anybody.
Life Insurance & Pensions:
-Only spend enough on life insurance to buy enough time for your family to recover in the event of your death.
-Start paying into your retirement as early as possible
-Start young with high yield stocks, then gradually convert to safer investments as you age
-Use your employers contribution match, if possible
-Make a retirement plan using a retirement calculator and stick to it (link)
Cars & Trucks:
-Buy the smallest car you possibly can
-Don’t waste money on luxury car models or features with no necessary utility
-Keep up with your regular car maintenance to extend the life of your car (link)
-Pay off car loans faster than the bank schedule and save thousands of dollars in interest
-Buy monthly commuter passes instead of individual tickets
-Use competitive services like Uber instead of expensive taxis
-Consider riding a bike instead
-Book plane tickets far in advance and on off-hours/holidays
-Consider long distance trains instead of airplanes
-Get a car with less cylinders or get an electric car to save money on gas
-Research a car’s fuel efficiency rating before purchase
-Rent trucks when needed instead of buying a truck that isn’t used to capacity
-Drive shorter distances and plan your route ahead of time to avoid backtracking
-Don’t waste money on designer brand clothes
-Switch to a capsule wardrobe
-Pay off student loans faster than the bank schedule and save thousands of dollars in interest
-Apply to as many scholarships as possible if you plan to enter school
-Get books used, imported or from the library when possible
-Share a book with a classmate
-Pay off mortgage loans faster than the bank schedule and save thousands of dollars in interest
-Live with your parents
-Live with responsible roommates
-Research whether renting or buying is better in your area
-Constantly be on the lookout for cheaper apartments to rent
-Research various health plans to meet your need while reducing cost
-Understand the values of HMO vs. PPO plans
-Consider using an FSA
-Do not default to your employer plan if it is more expensive than your needs
-Buy in bulk
-Shop in wholesale clubs
-Make a list before you shop and don’t shop hungry
-Plan your meals in advance
-Turn down your thermostat in the winter and up in the summer
-Invest in a smart thermostat system
-Use less electronics
-Unplug devices, use surge protectors or smart surge protectors
-Take shorter showers
-Wash dishes by hand
-Wash clothes by hand
-Let clothes air dry
-Invest in high efficiency appliances
-Collect rain water for non-potable purposes
-Invest in solar panels