My wife and I drove last month from our home in New Jersey to Illinois for our son's college graduation (it was wonderful, thank you). We tried to pack very light, leaving plenty of room in our Toyota Camry for our son and his clothes and other junk we'd bring back on the return trip. But we did put seven original acrylic paintings in the trunk to give away to people we didn't know and probably would never even see.
By doing so, we'd be taking part in the fast-growing Art Abandonment movement, which allows people with little or no money for art to acquire original works, while artists (and their friends and relatives) can let their art live.
Here's the backstory of how we joined the movement: Our friend Eleni Zatz Litt lost her father, Leonard, last year at the age of 87. After dealing with all of the legal and financial issues, she tackled a much bigger project -- what to do with nearly 600 paintings he had created and stacked up in his Philadelphia home.
She didn't want to throw them out, but there was no way she and husband, Neil, could keep them in their home in Princeton Junction, New Jersey.
"We had all of this wonderful art," Litt said, "but didn't know what to do with it." So they decided to give it away. One painting at a time.
The first one, she left at the commuter train station less than a mile from her home. Attached was a sheet of paper informing passersby: "It's your lucky day!! You have found FREE ART!!!" along with a description of the Art Abandonment movement and a link to its website. When she went back the next day, it was gone. And she was hooked.
On the Road With Art
So now, back to our trip to the Midwest. We wanted to help our friend out by leaving some of those paintings at highway rest stops along the way.
We placed the first piece near the entrance to a rest stop along the Pennsylvania Turnpike. We were about to do the same at the Blue Mountain stop in central Pennsylvania, but before we could even set it down, two 20-something women came running over, gushing about how much they loved the work.
This was indeed one woman's lucky day. She couldn't believe that we were just giving it away. One said she was studying painting but didn't have enough money to buy anything. She was literally jumping up and down with excitement as though she had just won the lottery. Her friend said she loved the art as well, so the four of us went back to the car and pulled out another piece to give away.
My wife and I thought: This is exactly how this is supposed to work. Let the art find a home where it's valued, where the new owner can revel in owning an original piece of art, even if they don't have the money to buy it.
This Art Abandonment project isn't about the value of art, but rather the love of art. You can spend spectacular sums on art (the "Balloon Dog [Orange]" by Jeff Koons recently sold at a Christie's auction for $142.4 million), or you can find paintings at a highway rest stop. In addition to the Art Abandonment project, other peer-to-peer art swaps and art meet-ups are popping up across the country.
We left other pieces in Ohio, Indiana and at the Noyes Cultural Arts Center in Evanston.
So far since March, Litt has abandoned about 250 of her father's paintings. She has a Facebook page and an email account so that people who pick up the paintings can tell their stories. One young woman wrote to say that she had just moved to this country and had only bare walls in her first apartment -- until she found one of the paintings.
"My dad so wanted his art to go out in the world," says Litt. "It's his love letter to the world."
Leonard Zatz was a dabbler in art during his careers in education and business. Then later in life, especially after illness limited his ability to get around, his art output became prolific.
Litt describes her father's style as whimsical -- a little bit of German expressionism meshed with influences of Gauguin and Matisse -- what she calls "delicatessen style, with vibrant energy and bold colors." She says her effort to redistribute the art is "like a letter in a bottle. You don't know where it's going to go. That's the whimsy of it."
6 Little Changes You Can Make to Save Big Bucks
The Art of Letting Go: Trend Sets Paintings Free, Randomly
Most of us spend a ton of time researching our options when we first sign up for a plan or policy, then forget all about it and make monthly payments like a robot. But this can cost you.
If you've been on the same cell phone plan for a while, or you haven't looked at the terms of your insurance policies (home, life, auto) since you got them, it's time to do a review. Your circumstances may have changed, and new plans or deductions may have come out since you first signed up. Call up customer service (or your agent) and have them walk you through your options if you're having trouble comparing things on your own.
One of the biggest budget sucks is our own forgetfulness. We miss payments and incur late fees because we've misplaced our statement or didn't manage to get our mail out in time. We fail to save as much as we'd like because we just never remember to do it.
The easiest way to save yourself some money (and hassle and stress) is to set it and forget it. Sign up for auto-pay so your monthly bills are automatically deducted from your checking account. Have a certain amount automatically transferred each month from your checking to your savings account. Remove the human error factor, and your budget will be better for it.
We charge so much nowadays -- whether on credit cards or debit cards -- that it's easy to spend a lot of money without really registering it. When you have a set amount of bills in your wallet, however, it's extremely easy to see how much you've spent so far this month and how much is left.
Take those budget categories of yours -- groceries, entertainment, etc. -- and turn them into real, physical envelopes. At the beginning of each month, put that month's allotment of cash into each envelope. When you're running low, you'll know you need to be careful with your purchases. When you're out, you're done spending on that category till next month.
If you're prone to impulse purchases, imposing a waiting period on yourself is an easy way to break the cycle.
For large purchases, a 30-day waiting list is best. Write down the item that's calling to you, then wait 30 days before allowing yourself to buy it. You may realize in that time that you don't need it after all. Or you may forget why it called to you in the first place.
For smaller impulse buys, like that fancy new product you spotted in the grocery aisle, follow a 10-second rule. Before the item can go into your cart, spend 10 full seconds asking yourself if you really need it and how you will use it. Simply analyzing why you're getting something can disrupt the siren call of a product.
It's all too easy to blow $5, $10, even $20 on something, whether it's an extra meal out or a coffee on the run. In the grand scheme of things, it "doesn't seem like much" to us. But if you start thinking of your money in terms of the time it took you to earn that money, suddenly you find yourself evaluating your spending choices a little closer.
Figure out what you make per hour if you're salaried (if you're hourly, this will be easy). Let's say you make $15 per hour. For every $15 you spend, you'll have to spend another hour of your time at work to pay for that item. A coffee a day for a week can cost you an hour or two. And bigger items, like that flat screen TV you're eyeing? You get the drift. Framing purchases in light of time spent can help you make sure something is worth it.
In the end, a budget is simply a means of making sure your money is working for you. It allows you to see how much you're brining in and allocate it towards the things that are most important to you. If you can hold those bigger goals in mind, everyday budgeting becomes easier.
If you're wondering whether or not to buy something, ask yourself if that money would be better spent towards your big goal. Put a visual reminder in your wallet to keep you on task-like a photo of a sandy beach if you're trying to save up money for a trip. Viewing your budget in terms of what it will allow you accomplish-not the things it won't allow you to buy, can revolutionize your spending.