No Spend January

Illustration by Lore Pemberton.

January is a different kind of month for me and I have come to look forward to it. You see, I do what I call a No Spend Challenge.

It’s a simple concept. Bills are paid and necessities are purchased. So I put gas in the tank and buy groceries but try not to eat out or buy a lot of extra stuff I don’t need.

If the heel breaks on my good work shoes, I dig through my closet for a suitable back up. If I feel like it’s necessary to replace them, then I do so but the rule is I can only buy the shoes I need and not something I just want.

If there’s something I think I want (or need that’s not an emergency), I usually write it down. Often times, by the end of the month, I no longer care about the thing. In other words, there’s not a mad dash to the store to buy all the stuff I missed shopping for in the previous weeks.

This isn’t an outlandish concept. After all, many people live within these boundaries every day by choice or necessity.

I’m reasonably frugal and a smart shopper but have a weakness for buying sale groceries, books, and small items at the cash register like Tic Tacs.

These things add up.

January is a great time to do this as there’s no where to be and it gets dark so early that I’m pleased to stay home where it’s cozy and warm.

Focus is placed on using what I have and taking care of my home. I tend to tidy the kitchen cabinets, clean out the closet and purge a few things. I cook more, making extras for the freezer. Activities like reading, puzzles, movie nights and bubble baths take the place of browsing antique stores and running around. In 2020, I wasn’t out shopping in stores so much but did a fair amount of online shopping and driving around looking at stuff.

This month is a method of realigning habits and priorities while killing the urge to shop. Plus I save money.

Last year, I was so pleased with my no spend month that it ran over into February.

In preparation, I spent some time last week listing all the things I can do to entertain myself for free. Hiking, reading and painting made the top of the list that runs seventy items strong. This particular exercise is an amazing way to remember how much there is to do that’s fun or at least useful and that costs zero dollars.

I was practicing the Norwegian concept of Hygge long before it was cool or even before I knew the term for it. Nothing makes me happier than warm pjs, soft blankets, and delicious aromas emanating from a pot on the stove. I’m so excited to be home more and doing this right now.

January is the perfect time to start or to polish these cozy ways.

The image above is a fun illustration from artist Lore Pemberton. I found her on Instagram this year and immediately was entranced by her vision and artistry. I ordered a couple of small pieces from her for Christmas when she had a sale.

This particular image is a depiction of how I think of my life in January.

Home. Warm. Cozy. Reading.

If you have the time, take a look at her work on her website or follow her on Instagram.

Does a No Spend Month sound like something you would enjoy? Comment! I’ll be happy to chat about it.

Being Smart About Food

Earlier this year I figured out a way to shop for groceries every two weeks and to save money in the process. The goal was to have nutritious meals and snacks but to be more strategic about it during a No Spend Month. I’ve held onto much of what I learned because it simply works well for me.

First of all, you quickly learn which produce items last the longest. For example, apples and oranges have a longer shelf life than grapes or berries. So you use the grapes and berries during week one and save the rest for later.

Salads are best enjoyed for the first week while frozen veggies are a nice change for week two. Although, if I’m in the mood for salad, I’ve been known to cheat and stop at the store to grab a few things!

At some point I realized that all my bananas were going into smoothies so I could buy ripe bananas, dice ’em up, and freeze them to be ready when needed.

In fact, many things freeze well. I buy mushrooms for stir fry and flash freeze the extras for later. Lots of foods can be frozen for cooking and other things keep well when properly stored in the fridge far longer than most people think.

I prefer fresh foods but usually keep some plain frozen steak fries and lots of frozen veggies. I rarely buy the cook in the bag kind because they’re more costly and I never need an entire bag of frozen peas at one time. Buy a regular bag of cheap frozen peas and you can cook them as needed.

Plain and simple, you find ways to be less wasteful and to meal plan better. I made the above pictured pasta primavera using a combination of stuff from the fridge and fresh veggies that I had flash frozen last weekend. The sauce was something from a jar that I had leftover from another dish. The pasta was the end of a package I had opened a couple of weeks ago.

This ability to plan, salvage and preserve has come in handy these last few weeks. Very little is getting wasted right now. I even discovered that leaf lettuce can be frozen for smoothies!

Another thing – when I come home from the store I jot down a list of things that need to be used first and hang it on the fridge. Things tend to get shuffled around and forgotten to languish in the back.

Given how much food is wasted in this country, I would hope that people are using this uncertain time to be more careful and thoughtful about food. That’s probably a pipe dream but this seems like the perfect time to embrace the old adage- use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.

I’m not advocating that anyone do without but I would like to think we could embrace using and making do.

What about you? Are you being more careful with resources? Have your attitudes about shopping and using what you have changed lately? Let’s talk!

No Spend January Is Here!

January is a No Spend Month for me. It’s a fun little game I’ve played for the last few years where I pay for what is needed but there’s no frivolous spending (unless pre-planned), no impulse buying and no shopping for entertainment. Goodbye, antique malls!

So bills are paid and groceries are purchased but I work on using some things from the freezer and pantry. Yesterday, I stopped at the store for about $10 worth of produce needed to create meals for the week using things I already have. If I stop for gas, my reusable water bottle had better be full because I’m not running inside for a drink. Not even for just a dollar.

There’s a gift to buy this month and a planned dinner and movie with a friend that was postponed from the holidays. That’s all the extracurricular spending that should happen.

This month, I will spend a lot of time at home, using what I own, looking for creative ways to entertain myself for free and simply appreciating the life that I have built and all that I already have. The Depression era mantra “Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without” comes to mind.

After all the excess and gluttony of the holidays, a spending fast is a welcome relief to the bank account but it’s also a welcome break from commercialism.

We spend a lot of time making money to survive and on spending money on stuff to fill our homes but we don’t always go home and just enjoy the life we have.

It’s is an exercise in gratitude as much as anything else.

I wrote a Winter Survival Guide last fall and it’s here in January that these techniques are truly put to work.

Here’s what’s happening in my world right now:

Books are a priority this year and I’m finding that the more I read, the more I want to read. The problem is that there’s a new one that I’m dying to tear into. I usually have three or four going at once but want to focus on one at a time this year. It can be next.

Cooking is more fun. I always enjoy playing in the kitchen but winter is a great time to experiment with new recipes. This year is especially fun as I’m looking for plant based recipes for my new lifestyle. This week I made a potato corn chowder that was divine and the lunch leftovers were a welcome treat! I also made a pumpkin cookie that was disgusting but we’ll just call that an experiment gone awry and move on.

Organization and purging are another priority. I have a list of areas to hit – from the pantry to the sock drawer to the nightstand and all points in between. It’s shocking how much stuff accumulates over time even when you try to be tidy. The goal is to do one thing from the list every day. The purging extends into intangible areas too. One evening was spent purging emails while watching the Closer on TV. Brenda Lee Johnson caught the bad guys and I unsubscribed and deleted thousands of old marketing emails. The above picture represents a new set of Christmas dishes that need to be put away after some rearranging in the china cabinet.

Movie time! I can’t go to the movies but that doesn’t matter because there’s a stack of movies waiting for my viewing pleasure. One day I’ll make some homemade potato chips and hit the couch for a little movie marathon.

Self care is a priority. Outdoor activity is less common because it’s dark at quitting time but I am trying to prioritize some kind of exercise every day. Rest is also important. My philosophy for most of the year is that you can sleep when you’re dead. During winter, these cold, dark nights call for a warm blanket and an earlier bedtime.

Being happy with the Now is a common theme and resisting the urge to adventure plan involves daily internal negotiations. It’s much harder than it should be. However, the theme of this stage of the year is being satisfied with the abundance of everyday life. Adventure planning can wait a bit. I have started a list of day trip ideas based on suggestions from friends but that’s more about being forgetful than about planning. Being present in this moment rather than dream of the next adventure is a real challenge.

For me, a No Spend Month is an opportunity to get myself together for another year, to set new goals and intentions, to stop buying stuff I don’t need, to nourish my mind and body, and to practice gratitude for what I have.

It gets easier every year and, this will sound sound nuts, but I’ve been looking forward to January for weeks.

Want to do your own no spend challenge? You can set your own rules and make it what you want it to be! You might be surprised at how much money and time you save!

Cultivating a Better Life

I like to take vacation around the holidays. This period is perfect for a forced slow down, to transition from three seasons of busy into my season of quiet.

The rest of the year is occupied by a lot of running around but our unpredictable winter weather often makes it hard to get out. I look forward to this time of year- soft blankets and books, inside chores and quiet walks through the snow take the place of road trips, weekend adventures and breakfasts on the porch.

January is typically a no spend month for me. This organized spending fast means bills are paid and necessities purchased but making do is the common theme and there are no frivolous purchases. Recreational shopping is not allowed but that’s ok because there are many free ways to stay happily occupied.

I’m more apt to do puzzles, to go to bed early and to spin records while cleaning something on a Saturday afternoon.

Relaxation is key and I turn my attention inward, write more, focus on self improvement and on building a better life.

It’s a good time of year.

This vacation is about transitioning into that period. I spent a couple of days running around but today will bake Christmas cookies for my folks. From now until the New Year the plan is to be mostly domestic.

Although, if the weather is good, there may be one last little road trip for the year, a Christmas gift to myself. After Natalie died, I realized that life is too short to not live as we wish.

This week is also about refocusing on plant based eating, exercise and rest. The last couple of months have brought spurts of stress and busyness that have messed with my sleep and left me in a position that I’m glad to just eat vegetarian while away from home rather than the plant based food that makes me feel so good.

In other words, friends, I’m making this break exactly what I need it to be. My wish for all of you is that you get a few days each year to do that for yourself. Remember, today is a great time to start.

That’s Not On The Whole 30

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I really enjoy the food available to me on the Whole 30. It’s basically clean eating meant to change your relationship with food. It’s about eating lots of fresh produce, fish and healthy fats that are tasty and filling. With that said, I’m on day twenty-something of my second round since May and am suddenly dying for pancakes.

I had this order of french toast while on a weekend trip last month and I’m trying hard to hold on to one memory while I stave off this craving.

This plate of french toast that sounded so good, this french toast that I looked forward to ordering – didn’t taste very good.

My tastes have changed enough that I was happier with the bowl of fruit and eggs than with the buttery, syrupy goodness of that food I once loved.

Progress. I’m calling this progress.

So as I sit here craving pancakes and syrup, I’ll hold on to this memory a little longer. It’s not worth it because it won’t taste as good as I think it should.

I bought a cookie

I didn’t even make it through the first day of my No Spend Challenge without spending money.

Sigh. I bought a cookie.

Not just any cookie. A Subway chocolate chip cookie. It cost .49 cents. And it was worth every penny.

I was on my way to a class last night and stopped by the library which happens to be conveniently located across the street from Subway. It was going to be a long night and I was running on fumes. So I slunk across the street and pulled out my change purse.

Today is going better. No currency has left my hands so far. After work I will walk and go home to eat leftovers from my fridge. I intend to do a little cleaning so there won’t be time or opportunity to spend money.

Can you believe I didn’t even survive a day? How sad.