Four Months of Frugal Life

Credits: This Link
Update. This post that you are reading was made in end of July. Since then, here are the updates on how I fared on living a frugal life. Here is the update from August

Now that I am probably the most expensive city in the country with no stable income, I need to somehow stop spending as much I used to once upon a time. In fact lot of my gurus in life (Warren Buffet, VS, VK etc) are proponents of Frugal Living. I never understood the importance of the same before this. Now that I am jobless I will try an experiment with it. It cant really hurt more than a bank balance of Rs. 3417. No?

So first things first.
At any given point in time, I have had just one stable job. And that has been my only source of income. So whatever I make from that job, I survive on it.

I have used buxfer and a custom made excel sheet (mail me if you need the sheet) in the past to track my spends. And the categories where I spend the most are petrol, travel, flights, eating out, gadgets and gifts. Apart from petrol, I could have avoided pretty much all other expenses. When I had a steady paycheck, it did not matter much, now they would. I would work on not spending money like I used to when I was earning.

My spending policy has been, its one life and rather than saving money to help you when you are old, save experiences that you can recall when you are old.

Thanks to my attempts at tracking where money goes, I can clearly see there are few areas where I could stop spending immediately. Gifts for example. I have always given expensive gifts, even when I couldn't afford them) to friends, family and strangers. I was like the secret "secret Santa" that I even I wasn't aware of and even the recipients did not realize that they have been on the receiving end of pseudo-largesse. I dont know why was I doing it. Now I will stop it all. Family and friends would understand. If they don't, good, Id know who to avoid. Strangers wont care anyway.

I can completely avoid eating out. I can reduce it to bare minimum if nothing else. I would stop working out of coffee shops and make my desk my best friend. I would spend more time at home and thus reduce the cost of intra city travel.

I can live without buying any more gadgets. I have the best smartphone in the market and I think I dont need to change it for another year or so. I have a decent laptop that I am ideally supposed to return but I wont unless my office calls for it. And I dont really need anything else. I would want a large television and a playstation and all that but no. I would give it all to younger cousins etc and try and live a simpler life. More on it later.

Having said all this, I will not compromise on
  • Cost of living. I would continue to stay at my current place, expensive by all standards and continue to maintain the same lifestyle (food etc). I dont booze so that saves a lot of money and heartburn.
  • Travel. This is my biggest passion in life. I would not let travel opportunities go by. Even if they are expensive, I would take up loans if required.
  • Internet. Whatever I am and whatever I am not, is because of my excessive exposure to Internet. I would not stop it. But I would change the consumption pattern. More on this later.
  • Time. And finally, I will save time, rather than saving money. So if this means taking a flight to Delhi, rather than train, I would take a flight.

Baby steps to Simpler Life
I read somewhere that its better to err on the side of action. Its been a few months and I have taken it to my heart. So before I wrote about a frugal life, here are the things that I have actioned already

  • One of my two phone connections is a Blackberry. It translates into a fixed bill of Rs. 399 per month. I stopped using it. Although this is not a big number, its more of a symbolic thing. I am thus no longer connected on email 24 x 7. Also this would mean that I am no longer stuck in the rut of immediate replies that push emails demand.
  • No to long phone conversations that I am dearly fond of. I dont know of an alternative but maybe less talking would help me save money, energy and time that I could use on other pursuits. 
  • Reduce the amounts I spend on coffee shops and eating out. I would ration em out. And Even when I am forced to wait a ta coffee shop, I shall do so by ordering the cheapest thing on the menu, without any add on. I am ok with facing the wrath of social proof but I wont spend money. In last three days, I have spend some 300 bucks on coffee. If I was not jobless, I would have spent atleast 5 times than this.
  • When traveling I would try and use public transport (read local trains) as much but I would not compromise too bad on this. Its expensive and I would live with it. I would thus walk a lot more and try and spend time close to home only. No more extravagant travel bills to meet random people. This also means that I handpick people that I meet and thus avoid all unhappy, depressed, sad people. I would ofcourse spend on meetings that can get me work et al. I would maintain a separate account for it. Last two days, I have walked lot more, compared to what I would have done in regular situations.
  • And no more expensive gifts. Period. 
  • And no more gadgets, like I mentioned already. Except one. A music dock. I dont really need it (I evaluated it on this flowchart by Vishal). I  WANT it. Dont know why. I am in that waiting period of ten days that Vishal recommends

On Internet and On living a simpler life.
When I say Simpler Life, I mean a life where I am completely free and I dont get emotionally attached to objects and hoard them in closets. Probably to never open them again. Us humans have that stupid tendency to attach ownership and names to stupif things like books, gadgets, objects. I have been guilty of that. I never give my books to anyone, not even to VG. Starting now, I will start parting with these lifeless objects. They would hopefully free my head of conversations about ownership et al and let me think of other things.

And on Internet, I have been the connected kinds. I have million updates all the time. From facebook, twitter, foursquare, emails from five email accounts that I have, membership to multiple groups (MDI Alumni, Mensa etc). When my phone doesnt ring, I tend to get jittery and am scared to know if the world was falling apart. I always wanted to be the first one to know about anything happening anywhere in the world. Now that I dont have a BB and I have disabled all push notifications, I select times when I login to Internet and check everything. This is keeping my mind at peace and I am not in that constant state of living multiple lives - one in present and other on the TL. Someone said on twitter, "life is what happens to you when you are refreshing your TL". Its a brilliant insight. I would live in the moment lot more. With no notifications to drag me towards them, I would have only one thing to focus on. The present.

Plus I believe if there is something that I need to know, it would permeate through my network and reach me irrespective of my use of Internet or not. So, if the world does fall apart, I would get to know about it. Sooner or later.

Thats it.

What next?
I would spend these four months chasing frugality like its nobody's business. I would try and write about it as well because I have realized that writing makes me structure my thoughts better, apart from helping me hone the craft. I would also continue to make changes in my lifestyle to help me get fitter, calmer and happier. Of course I want to get richer as well.

Do help me if you think I must know of something that would help me in this "project".

The keywords for next four months are freedom, frugalily, life-hacking, simplicity and action. More on these in the next post. Dont know when, but soon.

Yesterday I called up my mom and I have never been happier while talking to her. Its probably toughest to mask real feelings when we talk to our folks. My mom, despite all the distance between us, she could sense and see that I was happy. Happy as in the Pursuit of Happyness happy. And I was totally loving it. Never before I have been so relaxed and happy.

And, do pray for me. This time, for a change, I mean it. 

Jul 27, 2013. Ajeeb sa din.

Bill Gates, on a couch, cooking up ideas. Source: Unknown
Today was day 1 after that july evening. And I had told myself that starting today I would watch every penny paisa that I spend. And I would be super selfish about my time. And Id become nobody's fool. And other such things.

But destiny, or rather I, had different plans for me. I dont know why but I decided to go to a mall and I ended up wasting half a day. I did nothing at the mall. Just walked and window shopped. I did not even eat there.

I then had to run a couple of long overdue errands that I got finally out of the way today.

Then I booked a wrong flight and ended up paying twice the fare that I should have.

Then I accepted a meeting request from an acquaintance and then I ended up waiting for a couple of hours for a friend, for dinner.

And in between, since I was so bored, I spent money. And lots of it. About a week's salary. A salary that I no longer earn get. And on things that I didnt need. And on things that are of no value to me and things that I know I would not use.

But then, the meeting with an acquaintance went really well. I got a few ideas that I could work on in the next few days. It actually made that light bulb in my head spark. Like that image of Bill Gates where all he does is cook up ideas. That was a favorite when I was growing up (posted with this post). I then connected this acquaintance with a friend (taking Altucher's advice) and I know the two of them would find each other interesting. And in the end I am really happy that I accepted that meeting request. What if I had to rush like crazy, park my car at a metro station, take the metro and spend an hour to reach him?

The friend I had to meet, she was fun as always. I wish I was even half as cool as her. She does not read blogs or something. She things blogs is for wusses (whatever that means).

And finally I was worried that I had lost papers of my car but I hadnt. I found them in the glove box.

And on top of everything else, I managed to move the Nidhi Kapoor story a bit further.

And yes I read some pages from Eat Pray Love and I am totally loving it. You must read it as well. If there was a man's version, it would have been great. Maybe I'd write one?

But this was an ajeeb sa din. A strange sort of a day. A day that kept me on my toes and kept me cribbing and yet made me content, as I am writing this. Would love to have more of these.

Yet another july evening

This day, in 2009, I quit from Creativeland Asia. And in 2007, on the 8th of July, I quit from my role at GE Money. For the curious cats, this is what I have done in life (my linkedin profile) so far.

I dont know whats with July, but from this day onwards, in 2013, I am taking a break from my full time employment at Gravity India. To work on a few personal projects, that include the Nidhi Kapoor Story (other things are listed below).

However, unlike the other two July dates that I mentioned above, this time the break is temporary and I am hoping once I have done things that I have planned to do in this break, I am accepted back at Gravity. I think they call this sort of an arrangement a sabbatical.

So, while I am on this sabbatical, I want to focus on the following...
  1. Achieveing the goals I setup for myself in the beginning of 2013. Some may be almost impossible, for all I have is five months, but bring them to closure for sure.
  2. Finish Nidhi Kapoor story. And publish it. Even if it requires me to publish it myself.
  3. Travel as much as I can. In fact I am willing to work for free if I am given an opportunity to travel. See below.
Thats all I want from the next few months. Simple.

Oh, for the concerned, I have enough savings to see me through till the end of the year at least. So I think I would be comfortable. But then you never know with the money matters, I can only hope for the best. To mitigate the risk, I would indeed try and take up few freelance assignments with things that I am professionally good at, 1 - Brand Planning and 2 - Events conceptualization, ideas, planning, management. Apart from these two, startups and writing excite me as well. I thus want to explore opportunities to work with, 3 - marketing / product management with startups and 4 - writing (anything and everything).

I do not want to compromise on free time available to me and thus I would look for temporary arrangements only. If you are looking to hire a freelance professional to work on any of the disciplines listed above, please do write in and I'd send my credentials (here is my Linkedin profile). If you cant help directly, please do point me to leads, inputs, tips and anything else that you think I may need to know while I am by myself.

My contact details are here.

And thats about it. This is the second time I am taking a leap of faith. First time around, it dint really work for me (in the hindsight, we were doing some good things but we were doing a lot of bad things as well). I am not really anymore wiser this time around but this time, Inshallah, the leap of faith would help me take off, rather then send me crashing down a steep hill.

Hello, Dear Existential Crisis

Once upon a time when I was young, I took pride in my inability to cope up with the QLC that I knew I was going through. I just did not know how to live through it. There were confusing thoughts and emotions. So much so that I even boasted about it in parties.

But thankfully this was way back in 2009 when it was still in vogue and people would ask what was QLC and you'd get 15 minutes seconds of fame. But then like any trend wave, everyone I know seems to be riding onto it now and everyone is seemingly clambering through it.

Like a real trend setter and "early adopter" I thus needed to move on. And thus, now I have a new muse. My suffering from Existential Crisis.

Every morning before I set out to seize the day (hello Mr. Cliche), I lie in bed and try to focus my old eyes onto the ceiling and think about purpose of life and the reason why I am here. Despite concentration that can put a yogi to shame, I cant seem to find the reason, purpose or meaning of life. Not all life mind you, but my life. Saurabh Garg's life. Everyone else around me seems to have figured out things. Some people are happy playing the cog in a giant wheel, some are happy in the rat race, some are content with being just a number in large payrolls at giant corporations. Hell, I am not even a number. But then I cant think for the entire day, the AC bill would be huge that way. So I am forced to move out from my bed and find answers to my perennial  problem.

And like any other thinking human, I am trying to drive the blues away by indulging into various experiments (and projects). Thankfully, I am so much of a scatter brain with attention span of few nano-seconds, I have been able to hop on to multiple projects easily. While I continue to explore more, the notable experiments have been
  • re-reading English, August (everytime I read it, it gives me a new perspective on life, so much so that I believe that it must be made a mandatory reading for anyone older than 18)
  • discovery of interesting music (now a days my favorite song is this song called Harvest Moon by Neil Young, here is a cover by Pearl Jam)
  • watching interesting films (amongst all the films I saw, notable is Eat Pray Love. Do watch it. It can change your life. It may change mine as well. Time shall tell. It did give me my current favorite song)
  • learning to write code (I started with Python, moved onto PHP and now enjoying working with CSS. I use Coursera and CodeAcademy. These tools are amazing. Do try them out. And I think I would end up as a front end guy rather than complex behind the scene code)
  • writing (the blog and Nidhi Kapoor Story
  • playing lots and lots of tourneys of online poker (for play money of course and losing miserably at all those)
  • toying with multiple business ideas (been toying since I was 10 and yet havent been able to close on any)
  • watching a lot of TED talks for inspiration (but inspiration for what?)
  • and finally evaluating myself on the goals that I had set for myself when 2013 began (there are more on my Evernote and at the half way mark, I seem to be failing on every count).
Of these I am very kicked about the code bit. If you know me, you would know about Kunal (linkedIn) and my exploits with C when we were in college. And there is no reason why I cant get good at code again. Just that I am on the wrong side of age and common sense says that I need to work on things that I can delegate, rather than getting involved into. But then I know I am scatterbrain and I would move on. Lets when the fatigue sets in.

And most disappointed about my mid year review and my inability to stick to medium term goals (6 mo). Thankfully there is time and I can still take corrective actions. 

On an unrelated note, since I have been spending a lot of time on TED, here is a screenshot of a slide from this TED talk on flow.

This slide is apt here because this slide demonstrates the reason of my existential issues. I think my problem is that I am in the Apathy and Boredom zone of the chart. To be able to find meaning and other such things, I need to move right and up. Ideally I would want to reach the Flow zone but even a shift to Anxiety would do. The question that I cant seem to find an answer to, is how do I move to the Flow bit.

Any clues?

I am alive!

I am alive.

Not alive as in experiencing the Icelandic colds or doing the African safari or living the American dream etc but alive as in breathing and standing on my feet. If the past few days are any indication, I would've been dead by now.

What started as a bout of fatigue from a long drive in the hinterlands on a car clearly not suited for the purpose, turned into a case of acute diarrhea and I suddenly found myself shitting all the time for almost 5 days. So much that it hurts to even sit again on a pot.

And since I dont trust doctors in general and dont go to them for minor ailments, I suffered the attack of the bowels.

Thankfully I was forced to take medications and I am on what seems like the road to recovery. I am finally  able to work on my computer again. This means I would resume work on Nidhi Kapoor's story and the new idea that I have had. And this does not mean that I have started to trust the medical profession again.

This post, is to let everyone (whoever cares) to know that I am back. Thank you for asking.

On dreams. And yet another project.

Today I made the first tranche of payment for yet another project. For the record, this is the third time when I am paying for a project and substantial amounts at that. Both the previous ones, sadly did not do well. Heck, what do I mean "do well"? I didn't even work on those apart from outsourcing a few simple tid bits and paying through the roof for those. FYI and FMI, the other two projects are Saboon (aka Made With Love) and Brownie Points.

This one, unlike the last two where I sunk money and did nothing about, I plan to get off the ground. Let me park this bit, for a bit.

Unrelated note, Neo sent me this awesome quote, which is apt here...
Build your own dreams, or someone else will hire you to build theirs. -Anonymous
So far I have spent my entire adult life in building dreams for others. I have spent countless sleepless nights working on those dreams, I have lied for those dreams, I have done things that I have hated doing for those dreams, I have almost sold my soul for those dreams and I have put in my best years to work on those dreams. And if not a major one, I have definitely made notable contributions to those dreams.

Connecting this and the thought I parked above, its about time I did something about my dreams. I mean I dont really know what my dreams are but I know that it definitely does not include what I am doing right now. I dont even know if this project is my dream. But its a step up for sure. After 55555, this is the second thing that I am working on in 2013. And unlike the previous ones, I promise myself that I would bring this to an end.

While I am writing this, I remembered, one of my ex-bosses captured me in a brilliant line. He said that I am a very good beginner but a very poor finisher (prospective employers, judge me). When I look back, I realize that not finishing has been a common theme in my life across all spectrum - relationships, work and my dreams. And its time to bring things to a conclusion, on all the three facets.

Starting with this one.

More details on this as and when I come close to the finishing it. Like always, I am looking for co-conspirators. If you liked Jerry Mcguire, you could be interested in this. Please contact me of leave your details in comments below.

Alice? Who the fuck is Alice?

Facts, before I get into a long drawn rant.
  • A. I do NOT belong to a family that teaches their kids to speak English before they could start walking. In fact English is a very new phenomenon to me, so new that I can clearly see the day when someone asked me to talk about "honesty is the best policy" for 1 minute for a job interview at a call centre and all I could do was repeat the same line again and again for about 30 seconds before I was interrupted and was told to leave. 
  • B. Since I am new to English, I do not really enjoy western music as a matter of policy. There are some that I do love but in general I do not like western music.
  • C. I went from a totally nondescript college to one of the best in India for my post graduation. And since I was at this totally cool place I wanted to be accepted in the herd. So much so that I faked all I could. Not that it helped me. I am still as socially inept as I was when I got there but I did learn how to mingle without getting noticed. I think I am so invisible in a party that if it was crashed by kidnappers wanting to take hostages, I could dance in the middle of the room and not even one person, hostages or kidnappers, would notice me. 
And here is the rant.

So we have this tradition of a freshers' bash at college where they throw a party for the incoming class and everyone gets drunk like shit. The lucky ones get to score, the partying ones get to party hard and people like me get to learn. And the first thing I learnt there was, how to dance. Not dance as in contestants on Indian Idol or Dance India Dance or something but like a chicken, who's feet have been tied together and is trying to escape the butcher. Its a huge step up for me, the last attempt to dance before this resulted in my parents getting worried and calling a doc.

The second thing I learnt was this song called, 24 years living next door to Alice. The song was like any other English song that I had heard till then. Someone sang in English that was mostly incomprehensible to me, save a few words here and there. And then the singer would take a break, a riff would play and the song would hit the crescendo and send the audience in maddening frenzy. However, on the Alice song, when the singer took a break and the riff came, I learnt that I was supposed to yell, "Alice! Who the fuck is Alice?" as loud as I could and if I did that, I'd become part of a really cool set of people. The ones who know their music, English music. And who knew all the cool things to say. And the ones who laugh like mad people after that. I loved it. For the first time ever, I was a cool dude. I thanked God, for I was a  believer then and requested the DJ to play it over and over again so that I could yell the expletive again and again.

And after that freshers' party on a summer sultry day in 2004, its been almost 10 years now, every time I hear the song, my mind automatically inserts "Alice! Who the fuck is Alice?" in that silence. Like the Pavlov's dog. Life was all good and I got giggles and smiles from the members of opposite sex when I yelled those words out loud. I thought it was the secret to the game. So I mastered it and whenever I wanted attention, I would get the song to play and then I would yell out the magic words and lo and behold, I would become a huge magnet to attention and envy. Totally loved it.

But then one day last week, en route to office, I heard the original Alice and my whole world came crashing down around me. It never occurred to me that the song could exist without the reference to the question. I mean I have often pondered over the song and I could never understand why such a beautiful love song has those agonizing words. The song is like a beautiful tribute to the memory of a girl that you could never talk to. It has happened to me so many times that I could be my story. In my case the names would change to D, M, A, R etc (each word is the first letter of the name of a crush that I have had for long but could never express).

I had to stop my car, park it on the side of a flyover that looks down to a huge green park and I thought and thought about it, till my head starting hurting. And then I said, "what the fuck, who the fuck is Alice" and I moved on. And then, it hit me. The real meaning. Of Alice. And who the fuck is Alice.

Do listen to the original. Its one of the most beautiful songs ever written. And yes, if you are curious, you may read about it here. And yes, this page, someday would be a part of my biography. And like all my other books, you may pre-order my biography here.

My First Angel Investment

Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls and Children of all ages, I proudly announce that I am now officially an Angel Investor. I made my first investment (tiny by all standards) in a friend's venture. He is quitting has quit his plush job to start a business that he and another friend first discussed three years back. Its an online business that attempts to sell things that people cant live without. Its nothing new to be honest, there are 4-5 direct competitors in the market. For these guys, their edge is their confidence and impeccable focus on execution.

It couldn't have come at a better time. People are warming up to using Internet to buy all kind of things, they dont mind using credit cards and they are ok with the concept of ordering things without touching/feeling the material.

As an Angel Investor, I understand that my role goes beyond merely being the Uncle Scrooge (and providing with monetary support). The job is more about helping the business grow with expertise in a certain domain and contacts. I am not too sure if I have either but I can try for sure. I may not be good with marketing but when it comes to brainstorming, I believe I can contribute well. I am also good at situations that requires one to draw lessons from multiple disciplines and as the cliché goes, connect the dots. I am hoping that these guys can make good use of whatever limited skills I have.

In terms of measurable contribution, I am supposed to help them with marketing their service and help them reach their target audience. The good part is that they have been able to define their target consumer in so much detail that I can see her walking down the street. The bad part is that we dont really have any money to reach our target customer. But like they say, what is life without a good challenge. This is the first new thing that I am doing in 2013. Wish me luck.

And if you think you can help with giving me ideas on how to market the product, please do let me know, I would be happy to share more details.

The Nidhi Kapoor Story

Did you like this post? May be you want to read my first book - The Nidhi Kapoor Story.

Check it out on Amazon or Flipkart?