February 1

It’s February 1 which means the sun has set on my No Spend January Challenge. I’ve been doing this for a few years now and have to say that it gets easier every time. This month was great.

In short, there was no recreational shopping to speak of and I bought nothing online. No books were purchased and it didn’t hurt a bit.

I did hit TJ Maxx this weekend for a gift. However, that was necessary and I didn’t shop for myself. I ate fast food just a handful of times and only when I really didn’t have a choice.

I did continue grocery shopping as normal instead of only buying the necessities like I have in past years. This is partly because I had opportunity to stock my freezer with sale items that will no doubt be more expensive when I need them thanks to rising grocery prices. I also am attempting to clean up some bad eating habits and was sort of particular about foods I wanted to eat.

The other benefit is I spent my free time resting, walking outdoors, reading and doing stuff around the house. I purged and organized, donated some stuff and got the house ready for spring cleaning.

There’s value in appreciating what you have and realizing that all that unwanted stuff was once something you were dying to buy. It kills the urge to go out and buy more.

My plan is to continue the challenge into February with a few rule changes. I have plans with a friend one day and intend to buy my February Book of the Month. I have a haircut appointment next week but I view that as a need.

So there’s the rundown. It’s not very exciting but I’m calling the challenge a success!

Around Here

Around here, it has been cold and snowy. I have been enjoying hibernation, trying to balance relaxation with tending to my own health and wellness.

I have been taking the easy way out where dinner is concerned. This bag of stir fry is a step up from the egg sandwich and fistful of chocolate I would rather be eating when I’m cold and tired.

This book has been keeping my mind engaged.

As always, Scout keeps me on my toes.

I joined in a free art history webinar the other day and got a nice overview of the progression of early art through the Impressionists who happen to be my favorite artists.

This is a famous Claude Monet painting that I was lucky to see in Washington DC last year.

The webinar instructor had a down to earth approach to art and a wonderful ability to simplify big topics. If I had hundreds of extra dollars I would sign up for a paying course she offers on the Impressionists. She gave voice to what I have long felt but didn’t understand about these lovely works of art. I’ll talk about that another day.

For now, I’m trying to find a balance between work and home, self care and doing as I please, healthy skepticism and unhealthy mental ruts.

Winter is a time of hibernation. We recede into our homes as animals take to their dens. Even the hardiest of plants conserve their energy and rest in anticipation of brighter days ahead. Aside from a few walks, I have been happily hibernating and wondering what kind of rebirth might accompany the arrival of spring.

Around here, life is pretty good these days

A Chili Kind Of Week

Cold weather calls for soup if you ask me. This weekend I made a small pot of chili but even a small amount goes a long way for just one person. That makes it important to have a game plan for when you’re sick of the chili.

Luckily, I don’t mind leftovers and enjoy the art of reinventing food so that I don’t grow too tired of it.

People who make chili seem to obsess over their recipe and claim to make the best. I make no such claim. Since I don’t eat meat, I use kidney, black and great northern beans along with corn, tomatoes, onions, bell peppers and spices. But not too many spices because I like to keep it mild enough to be reinvented.

I’ll eat some as a simple bowl of chili but then it will get repurposed. Drain off the juice and suddenly it is perfect for taco salad. It also makes a terrific meal on a baked potato with a little steamed broccoli and shredded cheese.

I could use some as a sauce on a veggie hot dog or I could add some elbow macaroni to make an entirely different soup. It will more likely be used for Cincinnati chili before the week is over. If you’re not familiar, Cincinnati chili is not really chili but is a Mediterranean spiced meat sauce served over spaghetti. The Smithsonian named it one of America’s most iconic foods several years ago.

Cincinnati has a rich immigrant culture and this dish is one of the gifts these immigrants have given us.

There are a couple of Cincinnati based chili parlor chain restaurants that specialize in this dish and other local spots that sell it too. The most common way to order it is as a three way which is the meat sauce over spaghetti and topped with a ridiculously large pile of shredded cheddar cheese.

I feel my arteries hardening just thinking about all that cheese.

You can get it topped with beans and onions and everyone seems to eat it with oyster crackers.

My version isn’t remotely authentic but I like it and that’s all that matters. I’ll top mine with some fresh diced onion and a modest bit of shredded Colby Jack cheese. It will be good, even if I am breaking quite literally all the rules. But you know, my house, my rules.

I appreciate foods that can be reinvented so that I’m cooking once and just reworking it a bit later. It’s not always the easiest thing to do but it certainly is possible.

For example, I often roast extra potatoes to turn into a breakfast hash later. Have excess eggs? Boil them for snacks and turn the leftovers into egg salad. Leftover spaghetti can be baked in a shallow pan with mozzarella cheese and your favorite pizza toppings for a type of pizza casserole. Even the humble stale bread takes on new life as French toast casserole. When I still ate meat I would roast chicken and repurpose it into a sandwich, salad topping and eventually soup.

The possibilities are endless and the effort saves time, saves food from spoiling and allows you to flex your creative culinary muscle.

Preparing For A No Spend Month

This is the fifth January that I have done a No Spend Challenge. While some people live this way all the time, others think it’s impossible.

It is possible and with the right mindset, it’s actually relaxing and fun. There is a trick to get myself into the right mindset and it involves nothing more than pen, paper and a few minutes of brainstorming.

You see, I always sit down a few weeks before the challenge begins to make a list of all the things I can do in my free time that don’t involve spending money. My list includes tried and true things I enjoy like reading, going for walks, bubble baths and playing with my camera.

I also list small projects that need done like tidying up the kitchen cabinets, cleaning out the freezer and organizing my clothes and accessories. I tend to purge unwanted stuff during this time, aiming to send at least one or a few items a day either to the trash or the giveaway/yard sale pile.

When you have to face the excess stuff you own, the idea of shopping for more stuff is less appealing. Read that again. Every item you own is something you chose to bring into your home and probably really liked at one time. If you’re an impulse shopper, you probably own more stuff than you even know and much of the stuff you own is nothing more than clutter.

Cleaning out the cabinet where I store extra sheets and curtains was a staggering lesson in excess. I own about a dozen sheet sets for one bed because they’re different colors and fabrics. Some aren’t very nice anymore but I’m holding onto them anyway.

More importantly, a few weeks ago I purchased a set of curtains when the identical curtains were in my linen closet all along. Luckily I figured it out and was able to return them before hanging them.

Many Americans are blessed with more than they can use and more than they even realize they own. Why keep buying?

This reminder to be grateful for what I have and to stop buying what I don’t need is a powerful way to start the year and to save money. Want to try your own challenge? Today is a great day to start!

No Spend Saturday

Welcome to day eight of my 2022 No Spend Challenge. Some people do the challenge just to save money. For me, it’s about resetting all my habits and taking an intentional step back from the activity that typically defines most other months.

I usually like to be on the go from April through December. But after the decadence of the holidays, the overspending, over eating and all around overexertion, I’m pleased to slow things down. So I aim to stay home, drink more water, rest more and eat better while saving my money.

This challenge me gives me license to stay in and cozy on a chilly day. I’ll feed the birds and maybe take a little walk around the yard but have no intention of leaving the property.

Instead, I have some small projects in mind for today. My utility room could use a little freshening up and I badly need to reorganize the freezer. After that, an All Creatures Great and Small binge may be in my future. The PBS series returns for season two tomorrow night and I want to be ready.

Scout will gravitate toward the window where he can watch over his birdies but will check on me periodically. He likes to supervise and see if there are any boxes, bags or crevices where he can cram his little body while I’m begging him to please move. It’s a fun game we play, he says.

In other words, it will be a plain old ordinary day at home and I’m excited for it. Happy Saturday, friends.

No Spend January

January is a special month for me and I have come to look forward to it. This is the start of a slower period and one where I intentionally keep things quiet.

You see, I do a No Spend Challenge where I intentionally stop spending money, stay home, use what I have and focus on being happy in the world I have created here. It’s a type of winter hibernation and I savor these quiet, cozy days at home.

How does it work? I’m so glad you asked.

First off, I pay my bills and buy needs. This should go without saying but you have to pay your bills, put gas in the car and buy food to eat.

That’s about the extent of it.

During most of the year, I don’t typically eat out a lot. It’s mostly when I’m traveling for work or on adventure days. My biggest weakness is buying books, accessories and bargains at TJ Maxx. Another weakness is at the grocery store. I like having lots of fresh produce and tend to shop sales to stock up on pantry items.

That said, compared to most people, I live frugally and without a ton of waste. In fact, I live this way so I can afford to travel and to do the things I enjoy.

During my no spend months, I question every purchase. I don’t buy a candy bar without questioning motivation and need. You may find it shocking to realize how many things you consider buying in a month when you say that you can’t buy anything.

I know people who spend five or ten dollars a day just on snacks and drinks while they’re at work or commuting. That’s upwards of a hundred dollars every month and way more than I spend on car insurance for a month. Is a snack really worth more than a grand a year?

I’m going to say no. Yet these very same people often complain that they have no money and make snide remarks about how it must be nice to travel so much.

There are some exceptions to the no spend rule. For example, genuine need shouldn’t be ignored. If you work in an office environment and break the heal on your dress shoes, you’ll either need to repair or replace them. But first, shop your own closet to see if you have something appropriate to use for a while.

If I’m traveling for work and can’t pack a lunch, you bet I’ll eat out. If the car needs a repair, that’s important too.

Instead of going on adventures and spending money on museums or movie tickets, I spend my Saturdays at home. This gives me a chance to sleep in, to work on my hobbies, have a movie marathon, dive into a book or take a walk. I focus on getting things done at home and doing things I enjoy.

I shop my pantry and freezer to experiment and create meals. Instead of buying a package of cookies, I make homemade cookies or muffins with pantry ingredients. I also usually make a few kinds of soup that I can freeze in two serving containers so I don’t feel the need to buy canned soup.

My grocery trips typically involve produce, eggs and whatever ingredients are needed to fill the gaps.

Whenever I feel the urge to buy something, I make a list of all the stuff I want to buy. I review that list at the end of the challenge and consider two things. Do I still want the thing? How much money did I save by not buying the thing?

After being in the habit of shopping and spending over the holidays, it’s a healthy move for me to say no to spending on extras. It isn’t always easy and sometimes it feels like work. However, it is eye opening to realize how many times a day I say no to buying.

If you’re looking to pay off holiday debt or to save for the adventures ahead, this is a super way to do it.

One more thing. What does it take to waste $10,000 a year? Just $27.40 a day or under $200 a week in unnecessary spending. Think you don’t do that? Maybe you don’t but you might be surprised at how much you do waste.