One Month Down

January is typically a quieter time for me but this month has been extremely low key. I’ve been home a lot – stress has played a big role along with weather which has made it difficult to get outdoors for hikes.

This has actually made my No Spend Month a little easier. If you stay home (and away from your favorite online retailers), there’s little temptation to buy stuff you don’t need. Even still, I did have some unplanned purchases – a work function took me to a cute vintage shop which I wanted to support. So I spent $21 on two cute hats.

I ate out more than I wanted because of work travel and ended up exceeding my grocery budget as well. This was mainly because I found some deals that will save money in the long run. Even still, I ate well and came in under what I would normally spend on groceries.

There were a number of opportunities to shop for entertainment, to pick up clearance deals or seek out vintage treasures. However, I was so busy doing other things that I don’t feel like I missed out on anything.

I did buy tickets for a couple of upcoming local shows that I really want to see and I’m ok with that.

Perfection isn’t nearly as important to me as “good enough.” And I did good enough.

My little cat is happy having me home more and I’m better read, having plowed through a big stack of books in January.

I didn’t focus on exercise nearly as much as I wanted, opting instead for more rest. The treadmill isn’t nearly so inviting as the open trail.

In all, January feels like a success. It has been pleasant enough that I’m planning to continue through February with some new exceptions to the rules.

So, there you go. One twelfth of the year is now complete. One twelfth! How quickly did that pass?

No Spend Month Fun and Vegan Food

We’re 21 days into No Spend January and I have to say it’s been so easy that the prospects of ending it are not especially attractive. I’m thinking about continuing it for another month with a couple of small exceptions to the rules.

Weekends and most evenings have called for quiet times at home. I’ve had time to read, watch movies and catch up on chores around the house. It’s like a staycation every weekend.

Purging and organization projects have revealed some disturbing patterns. For example, just how many half used bottles of bathroom cleaner and conditioner does a gal need? I even discovered that I have two copies of Outlander Season three on dvd that I don’t remember buying.

Either of them.

The month began with a list of areas to purge like my sock drawer, kitchen cabinets and movie collection. About two-thirds of the list is complete. I also have a list of things to do instead of shopping or spending money but I haven’t referred to it even once. It’s going to sound weird but it’s sort of fun to just spend some time inventorying and appreciating what you have.

Cooking has been more fun this month and there’s been a fair amount of experimentation in the kitchen. I’ve been trying to figure out how to make vegan baked goods that resemble their non-vegan counterparts. Removing eggs and butter from the equation is harder than it sounds. While there is a vegan butter on the market, I refused to remove one processed food from my diet only to add in another.

Even with cooking more and experimenting a lot, I’m eating extremely well for less money than normal. Plus there’s been a lot less kitchen waste which is extremely pleasing.

I ran into Wal-Mart for cat food and also to TJ Maxx in search of a gift last week. I wasn’t tempted to buy a single thing and didn’t even buy the gift because everything just looked like cheap, unnecessary crap. A month ago I would have been all over the clearance section and would have walked out with a bag of stuff I didn’t need.

That, my friends, is a huge accomplishment.

For all this progress, there’s still much to do. First, I need to figure out this vegan baked good thing. And, at odds with this goal, is my desire to exercise more consistently. I’m still working toward that goal to run a mile. Perhaps another four weeks will get me there.

Are you interested in trying a No Spend Month? It doesn’t have to be as hard or as austere as it sounds. You set your own rules and have the ability to make a No Spend Month what you want it to be.

My rules are as follows:

  1. Pay all bills on time.
  2. Continue saving money for future goals including retirement, emergencies, vacation, etc.
  3. Buy groceries but attempt to use out of the pantry and freezer stockpile. Avoid buying processed foods by preparing fresh and healthy alternatives.
  4. Buy things that are needed. If I damage my work shoes, they need to be replaced but a cute pair of shoes that I don’t need aren’t part of the equation.
  5. Buy gas but make an effort to batch errands and to not drive unnecessarily.
  6. Seek free entertainment. For me, that’s hiking, photography, reading, play piano, movies and other hobbies.
  7. Write down wants and needs instead of buying immediately. So far the list doesn’t exist because I don’t need or want anything but the idea behind this is to delay gratification and to plan purchases.
  8. No more shopping for entertainment. No Amazon and no browsing for entertainment.
  9. Plan as much as possible. I can stop for gas but having a reusable water bottle and a snack in my bag means there’s no reason to go inside for a drink.

There were a couple of exceptions to the rules this month. Dinner and a movie with a friend (it was a delayed Christmas celebration), a retirement gift for a friend at work and retirement cards for some others were planned. I ate out a few times but, aside from that dinner with a friend, it was always because I had to while traveling for work. So far, I’ve stayed in budget and that’s ok.

If I continue this into February, there’s a comedian I want to go see and my mother’s birthday is in February. Other than that, there aren’t many reasons to spend money.

You can make up your own rules and make the exercise what you want it to be.

So who’s in? Anyone else want to try a no spend month? February is the shortest month of the year so it’s a great time to try!

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!

Time to tighten up

Some unexpected household expenses are about to leave me feeling pretty poor. Things could always be worse but it is apparent that my frugal self really needs to reduce expenses or increase income soon.

It looks like increasing income is an option as the newspaper where I freelance is allowing me to do more work. So there’s a little good news.

But it seems cutting expenses may be a challenge since I already attempt to live as frugally as possible. No cable or satellite and just a basic phone line for my dial-up internet because that is all I can access here in the country. My mortgage and insurances are reasonably low and I keep the electric bill as low as possible. Almost everything that plugs into the wall is on a power strip so I’m never wasting electric on a tv or radio that isn’t being used.  I keep the thermostat low in the winter and high in the summer and no burning light is left behind.

I do spend a lot on gas because my home is 10 miles from the nearest village and 30 minutes from the nearest larger town. Mr Wonderful lives 90 minutes away and I put a lot of miles on the car visiting him. Because I travel a lot I did break down and buy a Hyundai Accent  this spring but the fuel savings is remarkable so that doesn’t hurt so much. But I organize errands and trips as efficiently as possible so I’m not backtracking or making special trips.

I’m not a wasteful person and am not prone to buying a lot of stuff I don’t need. Thrift stores and antique malls call my name but I try to keep my splurges in those places to a minimum. The one area I could probably improve is in the food department. I struggle to find the balance between eating a balanced, nutritional diet and saving money. My real weakness? Fresh produce. I love to keep it on hand and I love to have a variety. I just can’t seem to tell myself no.

But I already avoid eating out as much as possible and tend to bring leftovers for lunch every day. I do some batch cooking and try to be proactive about using up what I have or at least freezing what I can’t use today.

Things haven’t been so great this week. With the air out I haven’t really wanted to cook at home so I’ve been relying more on Lean Cuisines (purchased with a coupon, or course) and even a few fast food meals. Sigh.

My one shame is a small amount of credit card debt and a student loan that I alternate between paying down like a mad person and just throwing extra money at when I remember.

Anyway, I will begin my audit of home expenses tonight and see what I come up with.  What are your favorite ways to save money at home? Would you like if I start posting lists of ways to save in various areas of the home?