Welcome to February… Boom!

If January was marked by frugality, February 1st has been the feast after the famine. For the last week or so, I’ve avoided certain expenditures (all wants) in order to keep my net income for January high, but all that money has blown away with last night’s wind storm.

I exaggerate slightly, but only just. In one day, I have spent the following:

  • $33.71 – groceries this morning: peanut butter, oatmeal and coffee. The coffee was on sale, so I got three bags.
  • $77.12 – entry into the Hot Chocolate 15k. Turns out the chocolate is vegan!
  • $19 – entry into a children’s poetry contest that my mom sent me. The poem I wrote is not particularly geared toward children, but it’s not inappropriate for children, and the contest did say “poetry for children up to age 18” so I did it. I’d love to know more about what constitutes “children’s” poetry.
  • $250 – flash nonfiction class with Creative Nonfiction magazine. It’s a month-long class online and I hope it will help me get a feel for what a low residency MFA might be like. I also have wanted a subscription to CNF for forever, and now I have one.

Things still to come tonight:

  • $10 – Practice (and I owe $10 for the last time when I came late)
  • $? – More groceries because woman cannot live on peanut butter and oatmeal alone. She also needs bananas.


I did my numbers for January a little bit early (since, knock on wood, I’m not planning to spend anything in the next three days) and I have pretty awesome news.

January 2016 was my lowest expense month in the last 13 months (Jan ‘-15 to Jan ’16 inclusively). This month I spent $1,324.54 on my needs and my wants, and spent $0 on eating out. For reference, last January, I spent $2,241, which is a $900 difference!

Now, all of that wasn’t savings from just avoiding restaurants and drinking (most of it is probably not having a car payment), but it certainly reinvigorates my enthusiasm for cutting out restaurants from my budget. It’s awesome to see the numbers so low, and I think that avoiding restaurants helped me to stay mindful of my other spending and to keep it in line with my ultimate goals.

As a result of my awesome low expenses, I was able to put good money towards my goals:
$500 to retirement (not including payroll deduction)
$250 to “house” fund
$250 to emergency fund

Ideally, I’d love to be able to keep this up throughout the year (we’ll see!) but I know that there will probably be months when I can’t, so I’ve already socked aside $50 in each category for February, hoping that a little bit a time will get me there more easily.

Back in the doldrums of my last post, I told one of my friends that we’d go out to eat on February 2nd to celebrate the end of my restaurant ban. I think now that I’m going to have to come up with something else for us to do because it feels wrong to ruin this much success with the exact thing I’ve been avoiding (kind of like eating a big chocolate cake when you hit your goal weight). Plus, I want to see the same or better results in February!


Another Post About Food

All I have wanted all week is a beer and a “fish” sandwich from Evolution, a vegan fast food joint on the other side of the park from where I work.

That’s not completely true.

Sometimes I have also wanted pad se ewe from Plumeria.

Not eating out is hard.

I thought I was getting better about it, and I suppose I am if you compare January to December, but it is still really challenging. I still remember how good the food is at Plumeria and Evolution. I still want it.

Upon learning I’m vegan, or vegetarian before that, people have often asked “how could you give up meat? It tastes sooo good!” and, besides the ethical motivation, the fact that I don’t remember what meat tastes like makes it easy to keep up. It’s hard to miss something you barely remember. I can almost taste the pad se ewe now. It would go well washed down with a “fish” sandwich if I could find room in my stomach for both.

There are nine more days in January. What have I learned, besides that it’s hard?

Food is for comfort; at least, when I am stressed or anxious, I turn to food for comfort, and particularly, I turn to eating out as a way to relieve some pressure for providing for myself and as an escape from whatever has got me so anxious. What I make, at least what I made this week, doesn’t comfort me in the same way. It’s sustenance to keep slogging through, but it isn’t a break. Maybe that’s because I eat at my desk or with my computer. #Badhabit.

I plan to permit myself one “huzzah break!” meal in February, then it’s back on the make-it-yourself-bandwagon. I am saving money and I do like a challenge.

Changing Plans

Life has felt extra busy lately, and I know that I make it so. This week in particular work has been exhausting (probably because I worked all weekend as well) so I’ve been feeling unproductive, exacerbated by mega-exercise and derby tryouts. I need to slow down and think more about what I want, then put that into action, instead of letting myself get carried away by the tide of “busy.”

On that note, I’ve been looking at the monthly goals I laid out in October and I’ve decided I’m going to scrap February’s no sugar goal. Of all the things I could care about in my life, how much sugar I eat/drink is just not on the list right now. I’d rather focus on writing or meditation.

So February’s challenge is now up for grabs. I think I’m going to continue the “no restaurant” challenge into February as well. It’s a short month and not eating out is one of the biggest challenges I’ve set for myself, but so far I’ve survived January and my pocketbook thanks me. I’ve also noticed that there are a few online creative nonfiction classes that I’d like to take, and having a little extra money to put towards writing would appreciated.

Earlier this week, one of the poets in the Wednesday group I attend emailed me to compliment my criticism and to ask if I’m in an MFA program. This isn’t the first time I’ve gotten positive feedback on my analysis and it’s brought up for me again thoughts of going for an MFA and possibly going into teaching (#inevitable). It’s only been a few days, but taking an online class in nonfiction would give me a nice taste of what a long distance program might feel like. But a class is another way to get busier instead of calmer.

This weekend I’m looking forward to time. Time to run tomorrow morning and talk with the Boy and time to think about what we talk about. Time to recover from long days of work and if the weather cooperates, time to lie in the grass beneath the sun.

Frugal lessons I learned from my mom

Yesterday was my mom’s birthday (happy belated birthday, Ma!) and for the last twenty-seven years,  she’s taught me some valuable frugal lessons, mostly by her own example. Here are a few I can think of:

  • Early in my life, my mom chose to give up her fairly lucrative career to pursue her passion for writing. She was able to give up a job she didn’t like much and a terrible commute for more time to spend with us, to write, and to explore other avenues of income. This was possible in large part because my parents didn’t have an enormous house, new cars, a bunch of debt. She showed me early that happiness comes more from what you do than what you have.
  • She socialized with her friends by going to people’s houses more than going out to a restaurant or bar. Maybe this was a side-effect of having kids and not wanting to pay for a babysitter, but it was certainly less expensive, and gave my sister and I the added benefit of getting to interact with adults briefly before being sent upstairs to play.
  • In the same vein, Mom socializes by doing. She goes for walks with her friends (free!) or bookclub (free!) or volunteers at her church (free!).
  • And when she goes out to eat, it’s for lunch, which is cheaper than dinner.
  • Mom taught me that library fines are cheaper than new books.
  • While I have not adopted this method, Mom reuses every single container that comes into her house, even when she loses the lid. She’s also a bag  and box saver (good at the holidays).
  • My parents bought used cars, and never bought SUVs. Now, they currently have one car between the two of them, which seemed crazy to me when they started it, but it saves them money on repairs, insurance, fuel (maybe?), etc.
  • Mom is a great thrifter. I remember being in late elementary/early middle school and thinking that thrifted clothes were gross, but now I think that the prices for new clothes are what’s gross.
  • Mom introduced me to the documentary Affluenza (before that jerk kid used it as a defense) and the book Your Money or Your Life, both of which have been huge influences on my worldview.
  • This one is more entrepreneurial than frugal, but Mom is great at turning her passions and hobbies into income. She’s self-published several books and turned her volunteerism with the church into a position as their youth director. She’s always encouraging my sister and me to turn our talents into profits (for me, usually by cleaning and organizing other people’s stuff).

Probably the biggest frugal way my mom has influenced me is not by what she does but by what she doesn’t do. I’m lucky enough that neither of my parents suffer from addictions–drugs, alcohol, gambling or shopping. Where my friends’ moms would go to the mall to relieve stress, mine never did. She never took a trip to Blackhawk that I can remember (in fact the one time we went gambling on a roadtrip to Nebraska, neither of us could figure out the machines). She showed me how to live a good life, and how to spend on what is important, not what isn’t. Happy Birthday, Mom.

When it’s hard

Yesterday I worked twelve hours. Got up at 5, picked up a coworker at quarter of 6, work at 6:30 a.m., dropped my coworker back at her apartment at 6:30 p.m. By 1:30, I was crabby and brain-dead, and by 6:30, all I wanted was to drive to the Thai place I love, order some pad se ewe and a cocktail and call it a night.

Instead, I drove home. Ate some toast and soup and went to bed before 8. #Success.

There is a part of me that is learning that even when things are hard, I have to just keep doing what I know is good for me, even when it doesn’t feel like what I want at the time. Eat, exercise, sleep. Read if I can. Write if I can. Get angry that it isn’t easier, and then keep going anyway.

I will work everyday this week (probably, still trying to figure out a day off). I’m trying to remember to be kind to myself, even though I’m tired, and trying to remember that being kind to myself doesn’t look like indulging in a meal out or a beer.

Being kind to myself means going back to basics. What will make me feel good over the long term, not just for the moment? What will make me stronger and what will make this easier over time? I’m looking for real solutions, not bandaids to feel better. It means going in and talking to my boss about what’s tenable and what would really help.

I sound like a broken record, but it means getting enough sleep, eating well, being in the sunshine, letting myself be slow and quiet with myself. Why is it that these are the first things to fall by the wayside when work and life piles up?

Just to See

I’m trying to avoid setting any more resolutions or goals; I’ve got more than enough to occupy my energies, but that hasn’t stopped me from trying some new behaviors to see if they improve my happiness.

This week, I’ve tried not to use my computer in the evenings after work. When I’m tired, it’s tempting to veg out on the couch and read articles or browse the sites I like, even when there isn’t any content that’s adding value for me. So this week I just haven’t. Instead,

  • Monday, I was sick so I slept.
  • Tuesday, I walked, worked out and watched a movie with the Boy
  • Wednesday, I worked late, ran and did laundry
  • Thursday, I went ran and shopped for groceries
  • Friday, I cooked and invited friends over

I was most surprised that I had time to do laundry and get groceries during the week. Most of the time, those activities have to be relegated to the weekend because (I tell myself) I have no time.

Not being on the computer has helped me sleep better (at least I think it has) and it’s helped me be more ready in the mornings because I’ve used my time to get ready instead of look at Buzzfeed listicles or scroll Instagram (yep, trying to limit my phone screen time too).

The other thing I’m trying, since my nights have improved, is meditating in the mornings. I use the app, Happify, which has a guided meditation course. It only takes 8-10 minutes in the mornings and I think it makes a difference to have a few minutes to focus on my mind and thoughts. Even if it doesn’t actually do anything, it feels good and  I think that makes it worthwhile.

The reason I hesitate to call my meditation or my computer-free evenings a resolution or a habit is because I don’t want to make it into a rule that “I have to meditate every morning” or “I can’t ever use my computer after work.” The latter seems impractical and the former seems so rigid as to defeat the point.

So I’m in the “just trying” phase. I’m just seeing how it feels to meditate or to be on my computer less. The “real” resolutions are still the no-restaurants and no-drinking, which are going so fine it’s almost boring. But I think that “just trying” to use my time better in the evenings and meditate in the mornings may be the reason that not eating out is so easy and not drinking seems like a breeze.

Gotta go, Hillary is looking for a cuddle and the next chapter of Hamilton isn’t going to read itself.


A Good Morning

Over the break, my body decided it really wanted to sleep in, and since I had nowhere to be, I let it. By really sleep in, I mean I slept until 9 or 10 most mornings, which is crazy considering I used to wake up at 5. And it wasn’t as if I was staying up five hours later the night before; I was just sleeping ten or twelve hours each night.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t like it, but I also missed waking up in darkness and seeing light slowly fill the apartment. I missed the quiet of being the only human being up.

Even before the break, my sleep habits had been lax. I was sleeping later than I preferred, giving myself just enough time (sometimes a little less than enough time) to get up, grab a quick breakfast, and drive to work. I always intended to get up earlier, but that just ended up sleeping through three alarms instead of one, which annoyed the Boy.

So I’m working on rebuilding the habit. This morning, I got up with my alarm at 6, made a pot of coffee and sat down at the table to write my morning pages. Afterward, I tried a guided meditation with Happify which was pleasant, if a little long for this beginner.

Equally important to the morning is the evening, so I’m trying to make the last few hours before bed pleasant and restful. Of course, in my mind, I’d rather everything be exactly the same every evening, which is impossible given my current commitments (also undesirable except in my fantasizing brain), so I’m trying not to commit to specific routines, but just more enjoyable options. One thing that’s high on my list is cutting back screen time after work. I don’t do a lot of writing in the evenings, so if I’m on my computer, it’s usually Facebook or unproductive browsing. I’d rather read a book offline or play with the cat. So I’m going to try to cut back on the computer at night, especially as bedtime approaches. Isn’t eight hours at work enough?

It’s tempting to want to want everything to be perfect all at once. I want to jump out of bed at 5 a.m., write for three hours, meditate, exercise and be at work by 9, but that’s not something I can achieve overnight (or even achieve at all) just by deciding it’s right (I know because I’ve tried). What I can do is get up at 6, write a little, meditate, write a little more and pat myself on the back for a job well done this morning. That was enough for today. Right will come.

In Review and Anticipation

In December, I:

  • earned more than I spent, woot!
  • learned to make tamales and surprised my mom
  • learned to cable knit
  • submitted three poems

In 2015, I:

  • paid off the last of my car loan to my grandmother
  • started working full time for G.S. again, and got a raise
  • traveled to Scotland!
  • traveled to D.C. with my sister and grandmother
  • spent slightly more than I earned, about $300 more (boo)
  • published a poem

In 2016, I plan to:

  • give up drinking for Drynaury (aka January)
  • travel to New York
  • write and submit poems and maybe an essay or two
  • lift weights
  • hike/skate/run/bike/be outdoors
  • read a bunch/get smarter
  • save BANK

These are not resolutions. These are not specific goals. I like to make my goals around my birthday, and use this time to review the previous year and look ahead to the new one, recommitting myself to the plans I made back in October and to my personal values.

I wrote my “basic facts” thirteen-ish months ago, asking three basic questions: “what makes a family,” “what do I want to do with my life,” and “how do I have fun.” I still don’t have perfect answers to these questions, not even close, but I know more now than I did when I started.

This year, I want to throw all three questions into one pot, and ask “what makes a good life?” It’s a little bit of all three: relationships, purpose, fun, and some things I haven’t figured out yet.  I want to use my monthly goals to explore aspects of the big question and I want to stay open to new opportunities and challenges.

Come along for the ride.