No Spend Challenge Update

This No Spend Challenge is going pretty well. I haven’t really been tempted to break the rules and I’m proud that practicing gratitude has kept me satisfied.

I have chosen to spend some weekends sleeping in, doing some purging and organizing, and using the things I already own. Nothing makes you want to stop shopping like dumping a carload of donations at the thrift store.

That said, there has been some spending outside of bills, groceries and gasoline. Work lunches on travel days have added up more than anything else. Then there was the heat pump repair last week.

Cat food supply issues have posed a challenge. Scout only eats one brand and he doesn’t like anything that involves seafood or the the word pate. The three little boys who live with my folks eat a different brand and only want seafood flavors. They also don’t approve of pate. There are lots of rules.

It is rare to find more then a few cans of what they will eat so I am making frequent trips to the store to keep all these picky little mouths fed.

I tell you that to tell you this.

For most people, every trip into a grocery or big box store will cost a set amount of money more than intended. In other words, it’s more expensive to make frequent small trips than to make one big trip unless you are highly disciplined and willing to pass on your impulses.

Pre-pandemic that amount was about twenty bucks for me but it’s higher now.

This ties in nicely with the other issue I’ve had this month. Grocery shopping is one area that I’m not great at controlling. So when I pop to the store for cat food, it’s tempting to pick up snacks and things I probably don’t need.

After all, food is a necessity. Right? Never mind the freezer at home packed with supplies.

The other night, I finally found fully stocked shelves of kitty food that the little boys will eat so I bought a ton. Then I went to Kroger to grab some produce and bottled water. I got to the checkout and and realized I had somehow forgotten that there were only six things on the list – not the usual cartload of stuff.

I spent about $40 more than intended. Is this terrible? No. Could I afford it? Yes but I didn’t need those extras – especially during a No Spend Challenge.

I’ll have an opportunity to redeem myself this week as I really do just need some produce, water and yogurt. Luckily, I won’t need to buy eggs because my aunt’s chickens are laying again! They’re pictured above – aren’t they pretty?

As much as I hate to, I think I’ll order Scout’s cat food online to save myself some hassle this time. Here’s hoping I don’t develop temporary amnesia at the store again!

I’ll keep you posted.

Leave Nothing Behind

Products like toothpaste, shampoo and the above pictured Olay face wash are never really empty when you think they are. Cut off the end and you’ll be surprised to find there are several more days worth of product left.

Given how expensive everything is, it’s best not to leave anything behind. After all, a dollar saved is gas in the tank for your next road trip!

Food Waste And Travel Savings

If reincarnation is a thing, I was once a pre- war housewife. Waste bothers me and I’m pretty good at stretching resources a little further.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not washing out sandwich bags – mostly because I don’t use them much. Paper plates are ok for parties but not daily use and I average two rolls of paper towels year.

Food waste is super annoying to me and I’m always dismayed when I hear people proudly proclaim they don’t eat leftovers.

Why is this important to someone who mostly writes about leaving home and doing fun things? The short answer is that saving money now is how you afford the fun travels later.

So I spent some time Sunday salvaging some fridge food and transforming it into something better.

– Roasted some veggies that were on the verge. Some chunks of onion, a few mushrooms, half a zucchini and shriveling asparagus all got tossed in olive oil and sea salt. There’s enough to provide veggies for a few meals and this is terrific because I try to eat veggies at every meal, including breakfast.

– Chopped up a pineapple that was also on the verge. I relish fresh pineapple but there’s a disconnect between putting it on the counter and actually cutting it up to eat. From the fridge it disappears super quick either as yogurt topper in the morning or just a refreshing snack.

– Whipped up some healthy, gluten free pancakes using two sad bananas, the end of a peanut butter jar, a little applesauce and some other pantry ingredients. These are now tucked into the freezer for breakfasts and dinners when I don’t want to cook.

– Discovered some blueberry jam that will make a great topping for yogurt or pancakes. Or, ooh, yogurt and blueberry jam on pancakes!

– Half a head of raw cauliflower, sour cream left from another recipe, and the end of the butter were added to potatoes and pantry chives. Together these were transformed into some delicious mashed potatoes. I’ll eat them as-is for a couple of meals and repurpose whatever is left into potato cakes for dinner one night.

– A green bell pepper got diced and frozen. I keep leftover peppers, onions and mushrooms in the freezer for quick fillers and toppings for quiche, omelets, pizza, etc. Otherwise, I would be throwing away shriveled up veggies all the time.

– Made a plan for some leftover guacamole with tomatoes, black beans and the rest of the sour cream. I’ll add a little sweet corn from the freezer and the end of some shredded cheese. If I add rice, it can be burrito filler or it could be a dip. I will either buy some chips or some tortillas while out tomorrow. Decisions, decisions.

I also made a mental list of some things that will need addressed. Some leftover cucumber, an orange pepper and a bunch of carrots were not pressing yesterday but they will be soon.

All of this took practically no time. An hour?

Not only is there now food prepared or ingredients ready for lots of future meals, the fridge is nice and tidy now and money has been saved.

Life is expensive. With the cost of everything going up, it’s more important than ever to be smart with our resources. And yes, that sad asparagus is a resource. You evidently thought it was a good idea to trade your hard earned money to get it so it’s smart to use it.

The rising cost of groceries has certainly outpaced income for most of us. When we throw away food, it’s like throwing away money. And wasting money cuts into adventure savings. For me, it’s worth an hour of my Sunday now to have adventures later!

This is the least glamorous part of traveling on a budget but it is vital. How could we travel at all if we don’t save money at home?

So you have food savings tips? Share them!

No Spend Challenge 2023

Each year, I challenge myself to not spend money on unnecessary purchases during the winter. This No Spend Challenge began on December 30 so I’m starting day seven and feeling good. My initial goal is to make it through January but I really want to go through February.

Here’s the deal. This isn’t an excuse to shirk responsibilities. In my version of the No Spend Challenge, bills are paid and gas goes in the car. I eat out if I have to (almost always because of work) and I still tip generously. I buy the things I need. So if I blow the heel on my work shoes, I first shop my closet to see if there’s something usable. If not, I will go buy the needed shoes but won’t go looking for other stuff for fun.

My pantry and freezer tend to be well stocked enough that I am able to use some of those reserves. This is intentional as I live in the country and you never know when you won’t be able to make it to a grocery store when the weather turns sour. This week, I need some cat food and a dozen eggs. Maybe some bananas.

You get the idea.

It’s actually kind of fun. Ohio winters are an ideal time to hibernate. I stay home, try new recipes, feather my nest and catch up on my rest. This week I actually sat down at the piano for the first time in over a year and I have a list of small indoor projects to work on.

In fact, I wrote out a list of about fifty things I can do that don’t involve spending money. It’s mostly things here at home and using what I already own.

Society pushes on us these ideas of buying and needing stuff from the time we are born. It’s easy to forget that we are more than consumers.

When I was a kid my She-Ra action figures came with a small story book and checklist designed to help kids see how many more action figures they needed to collect the entire set. Spoiler alert- you could never have the entire set because there was always something new.

That’s right. There is ALWAYS something new. From home decor to fashion to a new flavor of chips, there is always something new to buy.

Advertising messages as far as the eye can see sell us creams to make us younger and pills to remedy all our problems. Foreigners are often surprised that pharmaceuticals are advertised as commonly as a box of cereal in America. There’s no end to the products being sold.

We even have access to the perfect pant. Yes, ladies. According to an ad in my Facebook feed last night, Spanx has created a fashion marvel so incredible they literally have named it “The Perfect Pant.” At just $158 a pair, these black pants are guaranteed to change your life or at least drain your checking account.

There’s a meme that sometimes appears on Facebook. I have mentioned it before. It asks what it takes to blow $10,000 a year. The answer is $27.40 in needless daily spending. You might not be wasting $192 a week…. Or maybe you are. It’s an interesting thing to consider.

Classic marketing slogans like Burger King’s iconic “Have It Your Way” and the unforgettable contribution from Rent To Own that assures consumers that we all deserve nice things tell us that it’s our right to drain our wallets by spending with their companies.

If I am to really have it my way, I’ll have my money in the bank where it can gain a few cents interest in anticipation of adventures on the horizon. And that is a great motivator – this idea that a dollar saved today will fund a trip to somewhere memorable later.

Lots of people seem to think I’m somehow neglecting myself or denying myself things I need. They often try to find ways around the rules on my behalf. They’ll offer to buy my lunch or argue that a gift card gives me permission to go shop. A kind, if not misguided gesture.

I tend to be quite strict with this, only occasionally stepping outside the box to buy deeply discounted items that are both a future need and a robust bargain. Last year, I found a box of Christmas cards for ninety percent off at the grocery store. They were cute and I was glad for my $1 box of cards this Christmas. Before purchasing, I did at least stop and consider my decision, choosing also to forgo the rest of the clearance section which was packed with stuff I did not need.

It is a fine line to walk. If there’s a true deal on something you will need soon, it’s silly to pass up the deal in favor of following the rules and spending more later. There’s another line to walk in all of this. You see, it is tempting to say no to everything now and then binge shop when the challenge is done. That’s why it’s important to modify behavior and thinking so the urge to spend is lessened by the end of the challenge. This could actually be a future blog story as there are several things I do to make not spending money much easier.

How will I occupy my time through this No Spend Challenge? Come back tomorrow and we will talk about it. I can assure you, I will not be bored.

Have you ever done a No Spend Challenge? I would love to hear about it!

A Key To Happiness

Anticipation is one of my personal keys to happiness. No matter what, it’s important to always have something to look forward to. Luckily, that something doesn’t have to be big.

Sure, it’s amazing having an exciting trip to anticipate. Yet, it’s just as effective to look forward to browsing at the library or settling in on the couch with some popcorn and a movie this weekend.

I suppose this is why I like to plan as much as I do. I looked forward to my trip to see the Franklin Park lights starting the minute we scheduled it. Today I’m looking forward to a much needed tune up at the chiropractor. I lead such a glamorous life!

It is much healthier to dwell on the good in life so I’m always looking for ways to be more satisfied with what I have and to be generally more happy.

I’m also anticipating the start of my No Spend Challenge. Officially, it begins on New Year’s Day but I’m thinking Friday would be a great kick off day.

I have enjoyed months of excess – holiday shopping, eating out, travel and fun have again defined this year. At least the good has tied with the bad – the thyroid issue – for top billing.

I crave the quiet of winter and the calm that comes from a No Spend Challenge. Consequently, I’m excited to get started.

When I do this, I focus more on self care and relaxation. I go to bed early and cook nourishing foods. I read more and cozy up with a soft blanket more often. I am kinder to myself during a No Spend Month than any other time of the year. That doesn’t mean I don’t do anything. Part of this month involves decluttering, getting organized, picking up old hobbies or even trying something new.

If I adventure out of the house, it will likely be a cold Saturday hike on the way to the grocery store or maybe a morning getting lost at the library. But don’t worry. Adventure season will be here in a few months and I’ll be back at it sooner than you think!

It is incredible how full and beautiful life can be when you focus on appreciating what’s before you at home rather than constantly running around seeking more.

Stay tuned. I’ll write another day about my own No Spend Challenge rules and my perspective on what it really means. I was kind of surprised that this will be my sixth year in a row and I’ll tell you about how it all has evolved since that first year.

It wasn’t always so easy and I have never before anticipated January so eagerly as I do now. Just a couple more days of commitments and vacation fun and I’ll get started!

Crossing Paths

Earlier this year, a very large metal object destroyed one of my car tires. I was in need of tires anyway and found myself sitting in the waiting room of the only tire shop in the area with four of my required tires in stock.

What could have been a mundane two hour wait turned out to be one of the most interesting experiences of my life.

I had brought some work to do so I simply nodded and smiled toward the other person in the waiting room – an elderly man who was fiddling with his phone. I settled into my work until he struck up a conversation, something or other about patience, waiting and how his career had kept him busy.

Being me, I couldn’t resist asking what he did and was delighted at the stories that followed.

He was retired Air Force and had once overseen the mechanics who worked on all the planes that fly in and out of an Rickenbacker Airport here in Ohio. Before that, his career took him all over the world, including to a hot spot in the Middle East where he planned the air strip and all the necessary buildings and plane parking necessary for American aircraft to efficiently fly in and out.

He has been to all fifty states and all but six countries. He has lived in many. Rather than just visit, he preferred to stay for a few months, make friends and really learn the culture. His favorite place is the South of France.

His career took him all over but he had a true passion for travel so he leveraged his Air Force benefits to travel even more.

He shared with me two lessons.

1. Travel as much as you can when you’re young enough to enjoy it. He said “don’t wait till you’re old and have bad knees like me. You’ll regret it because you won’t be able to enjoy walking around and won’t have the stamina to see what’s around the block.”

2. When you get a pay increase or any kind of windfall, save as much as you can, but don’t deny yourself travel money. See lesson #1 above.

Before leaving, he looked me square in the eye and said “go see as much of the country or the rest of the world as you can. If you like to travel, and you clearly do, you’ll never regret a single dollar you spend.”

I was delighted by this exchange and was a little sad to see him go but I went back to my work and reveled in the chat with my new friend and enabler.

A few minutes passed before a Hispanic man joined me in the waiting room. We smiled and nodded and sat in silence until an elderly woman named Victoria joined us. She was watching the news on television and asked if I knew anything about the story that was playing. She had missed the beginning.

It was about issues refugees are facing at a border crossing somewhere. I knew nothing about it but the man looked up and made eye contact. So I asked him and he shared a few things that he knew about it.

This led to a conversation about how scary it would be to leave everything you know to journey far to a strange land with an uncertain future for yourself and your family. How bad is life where you live that this kind of drastic move would seem like a good idea?

I will stop here to say that he spoke great English but with an accent. He occasionally used the wrong word or tense but these mistakes were no worse than any of the botched English I’ve heard from Ohio natives.

He seemed kind and open to conversation. It’s a good thing too because Victoria and I had many questions.

We asked him how long he has been in this country, how he found Chillicothe, if people are nice, does he like it here? He answered all of our prying questions both thoughtfully and patiently. He came to America legally when he was a young man. I suspect he was a migrant farm worker for some time because he said he traveled for work at first. He is a contractor by trade and is proud of his children. His youngest was to graduate high school soon and he mentioned a son who has a good job with a prosperous local employee.

He loves Chillicothe because people treat him well. It’s safe to walk down the street and people are friendly. They wave. He has a successful business and his family is very happy.

The conversation eventually turned to Victoria, a retiree who enjoys traveling and who has found the pandemic trying. She worked for a big employer in the area until it changed hands several years ago. She was in her early sixties with one eye on retirement a little later down the road. New management forced her into early retirement because she didn’t have a college degree. Never mind she had been doing her job for over forty years and could work circles around whatever young college graduate they got to replace her for a fraction of her salary.

At first, she wasn’t happy to be retired. In fact, she was kind of bitter. But then she realized she had time to travel and to do as she pleases.

She shared that she is single and childless. “I almost married a guy once but I dodged a bullet there. He was a jerk,” she exclaimed.

She talked about her wonderful life, friends, and saving money. She also talked about traveling and doing the things that make your life full and worth living.

Life lessons from Victoria:

1.”Never let anyone make you feel bad for being single or for not having kids,” she said. “Their choices don’t have to be your choices.”

2. Travel all you can, take up hobbies, fill your time with things that will make you smarter and happier. “Say YES as much as you can. By saying yes, you’re taking action.”

And just as suddenly as she arrived and sparked an amazing conversation, she was gone. Her headlight was repaired and Victoria was off, presumably on another adventure.

The gentleman and I continued our conversation with him showing me pictures and videos of recently completed jobs. He does remodeling work like kitchens and bathrooms. He also builds porches and decks and shared a video of a simply beautiful series of decks he built at a local home.

Here’s what I learned from him.

1. Love the work you do. He loves his job because he makes people smile when they get their dream kitchen or when he helps them select just the right shower tile. There’s meaning to each project, a deadline and sense of completion. You spend a lot of time at work so it’s best to be good at your job and to find it fulfilling.

2. Don’t listen to the pundits on television who tell you what to think about immigrants. Instead, sit down and talk to someone. Learn their history and why they chose to live where they do. Are their neighbors nice to them? Is there really such a great divide in this country? This guy loves his town more than most American born people and I found that inspiring.

My two hour new set of tires gave me much food for thought and made me think about people and the lessons we learn from them. Sometimes the people we cross paths with out in the world can teach us great lessons. Sometimes the lesson is in how not to treat people. Sometimes the lessons are substantial and life changing.

The lessons I learned that day were not new to me. Save, travel, engage with people who are different than you, and never let judgement of others wreck your life – these are things I already knew.

All the same, it’s nice when life hands you a refresher course when you least expect and maybe most need to hear it.