Uber Frugal July Challenge

In five-ish days, I’ll embark on Frugalwoods’ Uber Frugal July Challenge. Even though I’ll have a fair number of unavoidable expenses related to moving (and probably an equal number of avoidable ones) a month-long frugal challenge will hopefully ameliorate the damage and help me focus my spending and saving on what is most important to me.

In preparation for a month of extreme frugality, Mrs. Frugalwoods suggests the following five questions to help participants set their goals. Below are the questions and my answers.

  1. Why are you participating in this challenge?
    I have a lot of expenses coming up and a lot of temptation to spend money where I


    How I feel about my spending

    don’t necessarily need to out of a sense of nostalgia and probably fear of the uncertain immediate future. I want to mitigate unnecessary spending so that I can enjoy the experiences I do choose to spend money on without guilt. I want to be able to enjoy the experiences I’ve already committed to (#Barcelona), and also feel like I”ll be okay financially when I get back and am job hunting.

  2. What do you hope to achieve?
    I want to end this challenge feeling like my spending was deliberate and like I have set myself up for success in the fall. I also want to return to a practice of thoughtful attention to my finances, which I think this challenge (and blogging about it) will achieve.
  3. What are your long term life goals?
    Buy a house, have a kid, stop working or work for myself in another way. Write and publish things. Work with teens.
  4. Where do you want to be in ten years?
    Ideally I’d like to have all the things listed in #3.
  5. What about your current lifestyle might prevent those goals from coming to fruition and what can you do about it?
    I really don’t save enough right now to make those things happen. On my own, I don’t know that I’d ever have enough money to buy a house. I spend more time (and money) enjoying myself with friends (which is valuable, not knocking friends here, just questioning my spending) than I do working on my own passion projects. I say yes to immediate experiences rather than long term goals.
    I suppose I can mind map a little more to be really clear on my goals and then stick to my guns and not go over my “fun” budget. I could be honest about what I’m feeling to my friends and let them know that I’m feeling tight on funds and I want to spend quality time with them, that they’re more important than whatever we’re doing that takes money. I could say no to things or propose alternatives.

My intention is to blog each day about how the challenge is going, and respond to the daily mantra or action. I think this will help me stay focused and get more out of the experience, and leave me with some long term changes.

Wish me luck! Click here to sign up for your own frugal month challenge!

June Gratitude

2017 has been a great year so far, even if I have been mostly absent from this blog (not the great part). Let me count the ways:

1. Work: I took on a new role at work, which, while being incredibly stressful and time consuming, has also been fairly enjoyable. I’ve gotten to spend a bit more time directly with girls (my passion) and had the chance to work with a new group of people. I’ve been consistently praised for my work this year, which is satisfying. I have a hard time feeling successful when I’m new at something so it is nice to hear positive reactions. Right now, I’m in the midst of planning next year’s events and activities, which is fun because I can be creative and build the kind of events I would want to do, instead of just delivering on what was already promised.

2. Changes: My man and I are moving! Yes, this is a little sad because I won’t actually get to see the events I’m planning come to fruition, but it’s also exciting. San Diego was beginning to feel like an enormous waiting room, and I’m excited (and anxious) to be moving on to the next thing. We’ll be going to the opposite side of the country so I’m also excited for all the differences (mostly snow and less expensive cost of living).

3. Writing: An essay I wrote won second place in a writing contest! I thought it would be published, but it won’t be and that’s disappointing, but second place is great! And second place paid $75! This is the first time I’ve ever been paid for something I’ve written.

4. Travel: I’m headed to Barcelona in September. After the man and I move, I’m taking a week and going to visit a friend in the city while she celebrates her ten-year wedding anniversary. It’s hard to imagine where I’ll be in ten years. But in two months, I’ll be taking Spanish classes and wandering the streets looking for Gaudi.

5. Love: My man is back! We lived apart from September (just after we married) until May when his year of teaching ended. While we were lucky enough to visit each other often, it was hard to be apart, and I definitely noticed a change in my energy and mood while we were apart. Now that he’s here again, I feel calmer, I sleep better, and I’m actually waking up in the mornings to do things again, even if it’s just getting up to make coffee and then coming back to cuddle or look at our phones together. It was hard to know what to wake up for when he was gone. I’m glad that it’s over, but the experience also reaffirmed how important he is to me.

What inspired this post? My man and I had a short conversation about the future, what

hk may

HK is also one of the good.

we’re doing for the next year and also what we want to be doing in ten years. Sometimes those conversations are inspiring, this time it was depressing. I began to wonder what I’ve been doing with my time, especially in the last six months, especially since it hasn’t been writing here or anywhere else for that matter (it has been spending plenty of money though). I feel like I had a lot of great ideas in December and January and then… nothing happened. I started spiraling and then I read Leo’s first Zen Habits post, which is a gratitude list. So I tried it. And I feel better. There have been plenty of not great things about 2017 as well, and it’s easy to focus on them, but I feel better when I remember the good.

Mid-January Check In

Hello lovelies! It feels good to be back and writing, especially since I’ve basically given up on all forms of it for the past week, being sick and excruciatingly stressed about work (the latter may have caused the former actually) so actually having time to write a blog post on this Monday morning is just glorious.

Speaking of work stress, it was extremely wise of past-me to decide that I would set no new resolutions in January as I would have inevitably failed at them by this point. Starting a new position at work right in the department’s busiest season has been insane, and naturally I have certain standards (ie perfection) that I like to live up to… standards that led to me crying in my boss’s office for almost an hour on Thursday through no one’s fault but my own. Literally no one expects perfection of me except me! Fortunately all that crying made me sick and then I basically gave up on life. Also known as: I reset my standards and now feel a lot happier and less stressed.

But that doesn’t mean it’s been easy to avoid resolutions. It’s been really hard and painful (see perfection again. I like starting new things so that I can be really, really good at them). I’ve thought of a number of resolutions I’d like to start or experiments I’d like to try, but I’ve managed to hold strong and start nothing new. I tried for awhile to keep up the things I started in December: daily Duolingo, a pushup every morning, and daily writing, but even those things have fallen off in the last week between work and illness. Fortunately before they stopped, a friend of mine warned me that work might get the better of me this month and that I should just accept it and set a restart date for those habits. I scoffed at the time, but then it happened just like she said, so I’ll try to pick them up again starting next Monday after my major work event is over.

(Buy Girl Scout cookies everyone).

Despite being sick and feeling like all of my internal organs are made up of snot right now, I managed to run  my first half marathon yesterday, which felt pretty great. Running is one area where I have no ego and therefore no perfectionism or expectations, which is a huge relief. I ran very slowly because I didn’t want to make myself sicker and I could feel my cold moving into my chestanne-running as I ran (which is so weird), but I ran the whole time except through a few aid stations where I walked while I drank water and sports drink.  So I was happy with that. Happy enough that I’m thinking about doing another half marathon soon… I started looking at race options after waking up from my post-half-marathon nap.

So what effect has no-resolutions had on my budget?

Not much to be honest. I’ve spent more than I’ve earned so far this month, but I paid rent yesterday and I’m still due for another paycheck so I should come out ahead for the month if I don’t go crazy and nothing bad happens. It won’t be a wildly impressive month either though. I won’t have saved anything for travel, and I’ll only barely save my monthly allotment towards retirement and a house. But it could be worse. I was expecting a bit of a bender. I’ve allowed myself to go out to eat with friends when I’ve felt like it, and even went out to eat with my cat last weekend after she decided to eat something bad and then needed a trip to the emergency vet. It was stressful and we weren’t finished until after 3 p.m. so I was hangry and since she was already in the car, we just went to the vegan drive through, because I’m lucky enough to live in a town with a vegan drive through.

And what do I hope for the rest of January? To survive it, to be honest. To avoid another crying jag in my boss’s office (at least I have a boss who can handle that kind of thing). To do some yoga today and get back out and run more this week even though it’s going to be hell at work. To enjoy the last few days of my man’s company and make plans to see him again. To take it easier on myself in the second half of the month than I did in the first half.

Welcome to 2017

It doesn’t feel that different. But, the week between holidays has been a good week to take stock of how the year went and what I’d like to do in the next one.

And I’ll be honest, one of the things I’ve wondered about is whether I want to keep up this blog. I have limited time decision-making power, and there are a few writing projects that I’ve got burning right now, and this blog? Well, it just hasn’t been making the cut. Which is why you didn’t see me around here in December.

But, I like using this format as a way to see what I’ve been doing and where I’ve been improving. I like some public accountability (at least to the three people who read this on a regular basis). So I want to take the pressure off. In 2017, my goal is to write 2 blog posts a month: one at the beginning and one in the middle, just to see how I’m doing with whatever I’m doing. That’s it. I’m dialing it back to see how it feels.

Speaking of dialing it back, I am an inveterate resolution maker. I love resolutions. I’ve already made an uncountable number of resolutions for 2017, but the first one is the most important one: nothing new in January.

Yep. That’s my first resolution, my first experiment of 2017: do nothing. No new fitness program. No new healthy eating. No new writing resolutions. Nope. Just get through January doing what I’m doing and taking care of myself. Am I already planning to cheat? Maybe. Doing nothing is hard when the whole world seems to be embarking on some new project or aspiration!

I’ll still be checking in financially here too (oh yeah, those goals aren’t going away). Here’s how 2016 stacked up:

Total Income:   $28,985
Total Expense: $26,770
Difference:           $2,215

The Last Days 28-30

Nov. 28 & 29 – zilch
Nov. 30

  • $108.90 – Car insurance
  • $5.70 – Brick literary journal + absurd shipping
  • $3.99 – River Teeth lit journal kindle edition
  • $39.67 – Beers and pizza with a coworker to pump her for work information (no joke) (kind of a joke).

I’m somewhat worried about December. My rent goes up, but that’s not really the reason. It’s not really the holidays either; I’ve bought enough “gifts” for other people to cheer myself up over the last few months that I have a pretty good stockpile.

I suppose it is that reporting my spending “every day” didn’t really seem to do much to reduce my spending in November (okay, it’s down by $363 compared to October). And I suppose it’s that the numbers I really look at–food and drinks out–are basically unchanged. Gifts spending was down significantly in October. Travel spending was up. I am certain that all of these will increase over the holidays (except maybe travel) and that stresses me out because I’ve got an essay that’s ready for submission so I’m spending more on submission fees and also back issues of literary journals to see if it is appropriate. And I’m just sure that all these things will put me into negative territory (which doesn’t mean debt for me, just that my monthly spending outweighs my monthly income). Plus I am due for an oil change soon and the 90,000 mile check up for my car.

So I’m feeling the pressure and I’m looking for ways to decrease my spending an increase my income. My ideas so far:

  • Sell my plasma again. Not ideal. It takes a long time and lowers my iron count over time, which then means I can’t donate until it’s back up to a certain level. Plus it’s a pain to go to. But it can be up to another $200 per month.
  • Eating lots of chili. My groceries normally aren’t very expensive, and now that it’s colder I can basically just eat chili every day all day.
  • Bike to work. It’s not much because work is less than 2 miles away, but it keeps me from going anywhere else during or after work.

I probably won’t sell my plasma. I might think about some other things that I can do to earn a little more, but I also might just try to keep my costs down and see if I can make it work. Because that has gone soo well in the past.



Days 24-27 and Priorities

Day 24 – $4.80: apples and flours or something, last minute T-day stuff
Day 25 & 26: nothing
Day 27-$14.58: lunch at The Meraki Cafe for the SD NOW brainstorming session

The San Diego chapter of NOW brainstorming session was great. The sandwich I ate at the cafe was outstanding. Definitely the best $15 bucks I’ve spent this month on food and drinks out. And that’s interesting to me, because this month I spent $132 on food and drinks out. Now, some of that was being in New York, but is that really an excuse? Were those meals as high quality as this little sandwich and coffee? Would it have been any less satisfying to eat a few of those meals in my man’s studio apartment?

I set out this month with the goal of not. spending. anything. And that… did not work. There are things that I have to spend money on! And there are things that I want to spend money on! Like the many dishes I made for Thanksgiving or today’s brunch.Or a couple of my morning coffee’s in New York.

But… the vending machine at work? Probably not. The three trips to Starbucks? Maybe one of them was worthwhile.

Maybe a better option, for December, would be to prioritize instead of reject all spending entirely. To prioritize things like submissions to literary magazines, or a nice meal with the man while he’s home. Or fully funding my retirement and house savings accounts. And perhaps remembering those priorities would help me to remember what I really want, what really comforts me. Not a Starbucks latte. Not another gift. I know Christmas is coming, but fam-bam I have already bought most of your gifts and I need to remember that!

Hmm. Probably more thoughts than I should have after a healthy glass of wine, but maybe my next post will be about my priorities for December.


Days 22 & 23

Day 22

  • $13.51 – fresh tortillas, chipotle peppers and canola oil (I am trying to emulsify the canola oil even as we speak and trying not to watch it too carefully. It is the actual watched pot that never boiled problem.)
  • $7.62 – chips and snacks
  • $2.95 – hot chocolate and brainstorming

Day 23

  • $2.41 – mailing a present
  • $36 – a project I’m not ready to talk about yet.

I love Thanksgiving. Love Thanksgiving. I love the excuse to try new recipes, even if it means trying to emulsify oil, lemon and garlic by any means necessary and covering my entire previously-clean kitchen in canola oil in the process. I love returning to old recipes, like my dad’s cranberry relish and my man’s garlic and herb bread. I love bringing my old favorites to new friends. I love when my friend’s share their recipes with me, like a killer pecan pie I can’t wait to try (will be attempting it for friendsgiving in the next few weeks). I love doing new things, like going to the mountains, and old favorites, like long bike rides.

I’ll be out of commission for a few days. I don’t expect to spend anything, but will report back on Friday in case I do.


Day 21

$3.73 – chips and chocolate from the vending machine at work. I had a good lunch, but also a stressful day with a number of interruptions, and when I get stressed, I go to sweets and salt.

Days 19 & 20

$109.68: Groceries. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

What this will become: sweet potato and pecan tamales (done and delicious), more tamales (flavor tbd), pumpkin pie, root vegetable salad, banana smoothies, beans for days, and to be honest, that’s about as much as I have planned. I picked up a few things that I was running low on (baking soda, baking powder, corn starch), a few things I’d never used before (tapioca flour…actually I think that’s it).

I’ve been really excited about Thanksgiving all week. Visions of pumpkin pie and stuffing have danced in my head. But that’s not really what I’m thinking about now.

Today after work, a friend brought me coffee. It’s been rainy all day and the treat–the expression of their affection–meant a lot to me. It reminded me that there is sweetness in people, that our humanity and our kindness is not lost. That’s a lot to get from a Starbucks cup.

But I also know that this person’s family struggles financially. And that makes me wonder, is spending the $5 to tell me I matter to them the right call? Their words tell me I matter. Their smiles tell me I am important. Why can’t that be enough?

Of course afterwards, I went to hang out with a friend who is going through a rough time. I brought her a card already purchased) and thought about stopping by the grocery store for some nice, ethically sourced dark chocolate. Something that would comfort her. Something that would show her I care.

These events–the gift I was given and the gift I wanted to give–occurred probably within twenty minutes of each other, and it was enough to remind me that my presence, my kindness is enough. What I carry in my heart is what matters, not what I carry in my hands. So I brought the card and not the chocolate, and we ate leftovers and played games.

And yet there is a part of me, even now, that says “you could have brought the chocolate. You could have done all that–the card, the leftovers, the games–and brought the chocolate too and it would have been better.” And I wonder if that’s true. I wonder if what I did was enough to show my friend I cared.

I have to believe it is, but that doubt, that fear that it is not, makes me wonder. It makes me want to buy the chocolate just to be sure.

How much of what we buy is meant to be an expression of love? Love for others? Love for ourselves?  And this week in particular, of high gratitude and higher spending, I think these are good questions to ask.

Day 17 & 18

Day 18: Gas & electric–$15.45

I am more than halfway through #NoNoNovember, and it’s possible that I’ve somewhat fallen off the wagon. I have spent the same amount of “fun money” this month as last month (thanks, Word Bookstore in Jersey City) and only $50 less than last month on food and drinks, and the month isn’t even over. I’ve spent significantly less on groceries which is… not helping. But, with T-day next week, I will probably spend way over my groceries budget this week. #Allthefood #Bestdayoftheyear

I should be blogging more, like a full post, but I’m sleepy and this is all I’ve got right now.