UberFrugal Month

UFM 31: The Question at the End of the Challenge

I spent nothing today. Which was probably good because I filled the fridge with delicious food and drink yesterday, no thought to what I already had in the cupboards and no thought to the cost of fresh fruit and vegetables. With the help of friends, I made a delicious dinner last night and enjoyed everything thoroughly. Yes, I spent plenty on food and drinks, but I also successfully had fun with friends in the comfort of our own apartment, a thing which should not seem so remarkable, but is! And we had more fun than it would have been possible to have in a restaurant (my experience of working in restaurants is that the staff doesn’t like it when you fall over with laughter or shout bizarre phrases, both of which happened.

Saturday was my man’s and my anniversary. We went snorkeling and ate a fancy dinner. We agreed that it had been a good year. A weird year, a challenging year, a fun year.

But overall for the month, I spent $400 more than I earned. Am I surprised? Not really. To be honest, I feel pretty good that it wasn’t more given all the reasons/excuses/life events that happened. There were a number of not-quite-goodbye-yet dinners and drinks. There were a few moving expenses and travel expenses to cover.

There were also successes. I changed my own oil for the first time. I got rid of a lot of stuff (not so much related to the frugal challenge, but I think there’s a connection to explore here). I rode my bike more than I have in months. I learned a bit about coding and a bit about podcasting. I ate things in our cupboards I would have never thought we could finish.

That said, it feels a bit as though I took on this challenge as a way to avoid thinking about what else was happening in my life: leaving my job, getting ready for a big move, a big trip, a lot of uncertainty and some big expenses. Focusing on avoiding cocktails and clocking miles was a way not to think about the big things coming. I can feel it happening still, thinking about what I can do in August as a “challenge,” an excuse not to think about what’s happening right in front of me.

I suppose the real challenge would be to do… nothing. To just let myself move. To clean and pack and travel and be wherever I am (San Diego, Santa Fe, Rochester, Barcelona) without trying to avoid the present.

This seems like a non sequitur but it’ll come back around: While we were snorkeling yesterday, I kept popping up to look for where our guide and the rest of the group was. We were always behind, and our guide was often gesturing to us to catch up. It made me anxious for probably half the tour: trying to stay with everyone else, getting used to the strange feeling of flippers, breathing underwater and getting salt water up my nose (I am a bad snorkeler by the way).

Finally, I just asked myself, “why am I so worried about being up there when I’m right here?” We’d already paid for the tour, we were in a safe place, there was no reason I needed to be up ahead instead of where I was. So I just stopped. I let myself float, deadman style, with my face in the water, looking at the patterns in the sand. I saw a lobster.

That’s the question I’m asking myself tonight. Why do I need to be somewhere else besides where I am right now? I don’t need another challenge to distract myself from the loss and the uncertainty of what’s coming, anymore than I need a fancy meal or a new dress. Have I been filling my time with goals and challenges and aspirations as a way to avoid being present?

(The answer is probably yes, but it’s worth exploring further in another post.)

UFM 27: What we repeatedly do

It’s amazing how quickly human beings can acclimate to their conditions. I’m thinking specifically of frugality and spending right now, but it applies to most things. Last week, when I went out to eat with friends four times, I found myself craving restaurant food, instead of the humble (but delicious) quinoa and tomato stew I had at home. The same is true of my frugal habits. When I bike to work, I want to keep biking to work.

Aristotle said, we are what we repeatedly do. If we repeatedly stop at Starbucks each morning for our coffee, we will spend a shit ton of money on coffee. We’ll also habituate to the act of getting coffee at Starbucks–the interaction with the barista, the smells and sounds of the cafe, the branding of the cup and walking into work with it. Skipping the daily Starbucks trip can seem like a loss unless you can build a different habit, and maybe more importantly, a different mindset to go in it’s place.

In this coffee example, you might buy nice coffee to make at home (it’s really easy to get nicer than Sbucks) and savor the act of making coffee in the quiet of your own kitchen. You might take a few minutes to enjoy the peace and quiet. Or you might pack it to work in a travel mug that brings back favorite memories. I bought a mug from my favorite coffee shop in college and I carry it with me to work almost every day. It’s a little dented because it’s survived falling off my bike, but I love that thing, and it makes it easier to build the habit of self-sufficiency.

It’s still hard. Right now, I’m struggling because I haven’t found a really good way to replace restaurants and bars with friends. We can eat at home sometimes, and that’s good, but all the time? It’s just not the way people my age do things. I know, peer pressure and excuses, but I haven’t come up with a better alternative yet. I need to figure out a way to make eating at home (or packing a picnic or going for a walk or whatever) as appealing as going out. I’m playing with it in my mind though, and that’s the first step.

 

UFM 25: Just keep swimming

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This is the part of the month where shit gets hard. I’ve lost interest in my frugal quest, and there are still 6 days to go. I haven’t looked at my spending recently to see if I’m doing well and should be happy, or doing poorly and should be sad. This past week, I went out with friends four times. Twice we split, twice they treated (it was owed–I’m not leaching) but going out is certainly not part of the UberFrugal Month plan. I’m not really interested in if I’m saving, and I’m finding excuses not to write (as you may have noticed).

So what to do in the doldrums of a financial journey? Well, today I rode my bike to work, partly because there will only be a few more days when I can, and partly because it means I may not have to get gas until August (I will definitely have to get gas before August). I packed my lunch because it was there and I didn’t want it to go to waste. For entertainment, I’ve hit up the library (almost as often as I’ve hit up a restaurant–three times last week) and downloaded books online. I can do these things without really thinking about it (well, the biking I think about, but it’s getting there). They are habits, ones I mostly don’t have to think about.

And sure, there are more habits to develop. The habit of always having people over. The habit of saying “I’ll think about it” before agreeing. The habit of writing. But even if nothing else happened this month, I’ve written more than I have in the past six months. And I missed that. It’s important to remember that it’s not all about doing everything perfectly the first time (or the second or the ninth) but about making regular forward momentum. Even if you are a tiny fish with tiny fish fins, you can cross the ocean if you just keep swimming.

UFM 21: Oil Changes and Excuses for Not Blogging

Well, I can check one thing off the bucket list! Today I learned how to change my own oil. Did I actually change my own oil? No, my coworker did it for me, but did I see how it was done? Yes. Is that the same thing? No. Is it close enough? Maybe. Is that enough of this question-answer thing? Yes.

Late on Wednesday night (when I could have been writing), I went to an Autozone and bought quarts of oil, an oil filter, an air filter, and a timing belt. If that was all I had accomplished, I would have felt pretty proud because in the past I would have been nervous and frustrated to not know exactly what I was doing. This time? I looked up what I needed, bought what I thought was right, and if I was wrong, I would return it. No need to stress.

And today I took all my newly acquired car parts to my most mechanically minded coworker, our Director of Property, and he showed me how to do car things. Like for example, the oil filter is underneath the car. And car oil is remarkably clean until it goes in the car car where it gets gross. The air filter is wildly easy to change. I can identify my timing belt now (it was in fine shape), and my front tires need to be replaced. He suggested a place to go, and I will do it before we move. Tires seem like an important car feature. While I didn’t actually do the changing of the things, I observed carefully and it really didn’t seem that hard. Messy, maybe, but hard? No (guess we’re not done with the question and answers). And it feels good to understand more about something that was pretty intimidating to me before.

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Inside the Blue Thunder. 

So, where have I been the last few days? Oh, Frugal Reader. I have been spending the money and avoiding spending money. Last night, I went out to dinner and caught up with a coworker and mentor that I am really going to miss (and who I think might actually miss me even more). Tonight I went out with more coworkers, but someone else grabbed the bill at the fancy place this time (holla at your generous ladies!). I went to an optometrist appointment that it turns out my insurance did not cover, so I did not go through with the appointment. Costs delayed! Instead, I wandered around Target and looked at things I wasn’t going to buy. This was more fun than it sounds. I went to the library and paid my library fines. I worked on my résumé. I drank more beer than was probably necessary.

People keep asking me if I’m excited to be leaving, and I don’t know what to say. I haven’t really thought about it. Thinking about it means thinking about all the people that I’m leaving, and that’s sad. It also means thinking about all the things I don’t know, and that’s scary, so I’ve preferred to think about all the things between me and the move. My work. The errands. The cleaning. Packing. The trip.

It’s only really been the last few days when I’ve started to think about the possibilities, the excitement of a new place and a possible new job. Partially, it’s because pieces are beginning to fall into place which makes this big change feel less scary. We’re getting a place, I’ve got job options, things are coming together. So instead of writing I’ve been working on those things. I’ve been talking to people I won’t get to see for much longer. It’s an excuse, yes, but it’s also life.  It’s starting to feel real, which is scary and exciting, but mostly just real.

UFM 17: Plan Ahead (aka A Planner’s Autobiography)

I am a planner. 100% Type A personality, the type to have a five-year-plan in 6th grade. The tips and tricks I learned then still serve me well.

It all started back when I was playing the double bass, and getting pretty good, despite the idea that I had “no time” to practice. I made the mistake of mentioning this to my private teacher, Ms. Crisman, one day, and she suggested I try tracking my time. She gave me a handout from her side-hustle, Mary Kay Cosmetics, which was basically a spreadsheet (this one, in fact!) of the week from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day. “Just see what happens,” she said.

Immediately, I noticed where all my time was going. Television and playing The Sims, and just the knowledge that this was how I was spending my time (and that my idol Ms. Crisman was going to see it) was enough to get me to practice more, and probably to read more, clean my room, and do all the other things that I thought I didn’t have time for.

It wasn’t always so effective. Often, I’d start the week great right after my lesson, and by the end of the week, I was playing a lot of computer games again. But just the accountability of the chart helped.

From there, I moved into planners, and fell in love with them. The new planner was my favorite part of the new school year, and I liked looking back through them at the end to remember everything that I’d done and the things that had mattered to me at the time.

Sometime in college, or maybe a bit before, I started writing out full daily schedules, either in my planner or on slips of paper, which may have been where my planning and attention to detail really spun out of control. I liked the satisfaction of crossing items off the list as the hours ticked by, and I was overly influenced by a brief passage in Jane Eyre, when she was visiting the cousins who were horrible to her as a child, and one had become self-indulgent and the other puritanical. The puritanical one, Eliza, advised the other, “Take one day; share it into sections; to each section apportion its task; leave no stray unemployed quarter of an hour, ten minutes, five minutes–include all; do each piece of business in its turn with method, with rigid regularity.”

Eliza was not meant to be a model, but I made her one, and tried to contort my days into that kind of clockwork. It was not a great system, though I was extremely productive. It finally ended with me showing my week’s schedule to my therapist and her pointing out that I had not scheduled a break for in five days. This was apparently unhealthy and she made me change it, which made me less efficient, but ultimately got me out of therapy, so win.

Nowadays I use a bullet journal and I’m pretty pleased with the system. It has the shapejuly 17 of a planner with more flexibility, the space to schedule every hour of my day (including breaks) if I want to, and the ability to see what I actually do if I remember to write it down. It’s the system that works for me now. It helps me see where my day has gone, to note anything I want to be aware of like what I ate or how I felt, and to make longer, more elaborate plans whenever I feel like it.

This morning that meant planning out the first part of August with packing and cleaning the apartment. I also added a few things to my monthly to-do list which helps me see where my likely spending will happen. For instance, I need to change the oil in my car and I have a number of things to take to the dry-cleaners july(normally I would just take my chances and throw my clothes in the wash, but these are actually nice interview-y type outfits and my wedding dress so it’s probably not worth it). This helps me remember, even more than my budget, that I actually will spend money on my optometrist appointment and the cat’s vet appointment, etc. and that keeps me from giving in to the temptation to spend on a meal or a drink out. Though I may have actually scheduled one of those with a coworker today as well. At least I’m planning ahead?

UFM: things I’ve in-sourced and things I want to try

This list has been developing over time, and most of these things were things I started doing well before the UberFrugal Month Challenge began. I don’t want anyone to think I’ve been this productive in just sixteen days! But these are some things that I am glad I have “in-sourced” and that I don’t pay absurd amounts of money for anymore:

  • Cutting my own hair. I would only ever go to a salon every six to nine months before, and I always had sticker shock, and even though I loved the way my hair looked immediately after, I didn’t much care the rest of the time. So I watched some videos on youtube, got a good pair of shears that I don’t use for anything else ever, and now every six to nine months I just snip my own hair off. I don’t think it looks noticeably worse; in fact, most of the time I don’t think anyone notices that I cut my hair at all, which is fine with me.
  • Threading my eyebrows. This one I still miss a bit. I can be quite vain about my eyebrows (they are very good brows) and I’m lazy and don’t like to tweeze, so often they are a hot mess (thanks genetics). I used to go to the salon and it was a lot like getting a hair cut: I’d come out feeling fabulous, but within a couple of days I wouldn’t really notice anymore. And unlike haircuts you have to go back every month or so, so the prices are about the same as my six month cut. Now I’ve given up and I tweeze when I think they look unbearable, and try to accept that I won’t ever get them to look as good as they do from the salon. And that’s actually okay.
  • Learning web design. This is a pretty recent development, but I was planning to just pay for it previously, but it’s satisfying and fun to learn a new skill, and I feel much more confident with my computer in general.
  • Biking. As mentioned before on this blog, biking boosts my happiness by at least 10%. When I bike I’m happier, I’m fitter, I have to spend less money on gasoline, and I don’t lose my hard-to-come-by parking spot.
  • Doing my own taxes. I’ve paid to have them done before, and it was nice not to have to think about it, but it also meant I really didn’t understand what was going on, and that decreased my confidence. Now even though it’s more work, it’s satisfying to have a better understanding of the system.

I still have a way to go on things that I could in-source and a lot of excuses for not doing it, most of them around my perceived idea of time and return on investment. But, I tend to think that these are mostly excuses not to change, so here’s a list of the things I’m most interested in learning how to do myself.

  • Change my oil. I don’t understand a lot about my car, and doing even one thing myself would make me feel more comfortable with it. I know there are a lot of arguments for not changing your own oil, like the hassle of finding a proper disposal site, but we have a great property team at work that changes the oil on company vehicles, so I think it would be pretty easy right now to get a quick lesson and not have to deal with the messiness of disposal. Even if I never changed my oil again, I think I’d be glad to know that I knew how.
  • Sewing. Again, taking time and labor into account, I don’t necessarily know that this is really efficient (knitting certainly isn’t), but it seems like it would be a fun, creative outlet, and that has value. Not everything has to be about priming efficiency.
  • Gardening. We don’t have any space here, but fresh produce is such a wonderful treat (and the good stuff is so expensive) that growing my own would be pretty satisfying.
  • Woodworking. I have a really beautiful bookcase that I paid a reasonable amount of money for, but that is essentially pretty basic boards and two by fours screwed together. I feel like I should be able to do this and also charge people reasonable prices for attractive furniture pieces.

I’ll talk to the property director about helping me change my oil this week. Other than that, these other in-sourcing opportunities may have to stay on the list for awhile, but they are nice to think about!

UFM 12 & 13

The challenge for Day 12 of the UberFrugal Challenge was to banish excuses. I’m still not quite ready to banish my excuses because they’re so good, but I’m willing to acknowledge that frugality might be more fun. Time spent baking bread, reading, learning new skills is time that is enjoyable and satisfying. A restaurant meal is certainly enjoyable, but it isn’t satisfying in the same way.

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Day 13 was a reminder that you can look good without spending a bunch of money on makeup. Which, yeah, you can. Guys do it all the time.

I don’t wear makeup almost ever. I got started late to the makeup game because my mom didn’t wear makeup, so I didn’t have anyone to learn from besides girlfriends, and I never really felt like I got the hang of it. I remember one of the first days I wore makeup to school, a boy in my math class pointed it out to everyone because it was so unusual(so not the point of makeup, dude).

At the time, I remember being embarrassed and thinking my mom was weird because all the other women I saw wore makeup. What can I say? I was a teenager. All teenagers think their moms are weird, and if they don’t then they are the weird ones. Now I look back on it, and I’m appreciative because I have a role model for my own non-makeup-wearing journey.

I wore makeup regularly from high school into my early twenties, but when I started working with girls, I stopped. First it was because I was working at camp and I was sweaty and dirty most of the day. Then it was because I was still working with girls, and I began to realize that most girls didn’t often see adult women without a full face of makeup. Did they even know what that looked like? I wanted them to know it was okay not to wear makeup. I figured all the rest of society would let them know that it’s also okay to wear makeup. And then I just sort of forgot about it for the most part.

Nowadays I’ll put on some lipstick if I’m feeling fancy, or a full face if I’m going to good as hellsomething important and I don’t mind breaking out the next day, because I also still only buy cheap, drugstore makeup because the non-drugstore, non-make-you-breakout kind is expensive! And I just can justify that for something I only wear once or twice a year.

I’m not committed to my no-makeup stance. It’s not a political statement, except in the sense that I want girls to see women’s faces as they really are, but I’m not saying I won’t ever wear makeup again. I still sometimes dream of closets full of power suits and bright lipsticks and whatever that creamy stuff is people put on their skin to make it look even, but also not like a corpse? Foundation? Also blush maybe? But that’s not where I am in my life right now. And I’m okay with that. I’m feeling good as hell (follow link for a great song).

UFM 10 & 11 Grocery Shopping & Friendship

Coming in the middle of the week, Mrs. Frugalwoods’ reminder to shop from a list, buy in bulk, buy raw ingredients, etc. is not immediately relevant. The earliest I will be able to tackle her challenge–to go through your grocery routine and look for ways to economize–is Friday.

That said, I did have a pretty big frugal food win today:beautiful basil someone left a huge bunch of fresh basil on the free table at work! I brushed a bit of spiderweb off one of the leaves, and snagged it for myself! This, plus the tomatoes that I failed to add to my 3 grain salad, as well as a quick loaf of french bread that’s baking as I type, will be the basis of tonight’s dinner. I had been planning to make the lentil pumpkin curry, but I’ll save that for another couple of days!

So my frugal grocery suggestion is look for groceries in unexpected places!

Today’s email from Mrs. F was about friendships and frugality. This is an area where I struggle. Many of my friends like to go out to eat. I like to go out to eat! And it seems particularly tempting to go out to eat with said friends when I am about to move all the way across the country.

That said, I don’t want to throw all my friends under the bus here. Tomorrow I’ll be meeting up with one to learn some computer coding and hang out. Frugal and skill building at the same time! I’ll probably bring over the rest of the pesto and loaf of bread from tonight to snack on. My friends are often content to sit around, or go for a walk, or drink wine and gossip. All activities that are fairly frugal, especially when the drinking happens in our own homes.

So I suppose my challenge with my tempting friends is to suggest inexpensive alternatives–a hike, a picnic, etc. It seems like it should be easier than it feels! But, I also thought I needed a new dress for the wedding this past weekend, and look how nicely that turned out.

And nearly all of my friends like to come over and eat my bread. So, there’s that. dinner 711

A quote from one of my favorite books (Olivia Joules and the Overactive Imagination by Helen Fielding FYI) goes, “No one is thinking about you. They’re thinking about themselves, just like you.” I think it could be expanded to say, “No one is thinking about your money. They’re thinking about their money, just like you.” And actually, it could also be added (and probably has been somewhere), “No one is thinking about your money except you.” Not your friends. Not really your family. Just you.

A little scary and a little empowering, isn’t it?

UFM 8 & UFM 9, plus a realization

Actually, the realization comes first. I’m nine days into this little month-long frugal and blogging challenge and I’ve already missed posting two days. It’s possible that I’ve bit off more than I can reasonably chew! And as I would like the frugal changes and writing habit to stick, this means I need to sloooow down and get the most out of this process that I can.

This realization came around after Thursday when the Frugalwoods’ email had 4 steps of tracking your money, three of which I’d done before, but wasn’t up to date on, and one that I’d never tried but now highly recommend: calculating your savings rate. I was writing after work and running and dinner and dishes and probably some relaxing (real talk) but it was getting later and later, and I was getting grumpier. Staying up late to manage my finances and then write something about it was a lot to add on! And things that feel like a lot don’t stick.

As a perfectionist, it’s hard for me to back down once I’ve set myself up for a challenge, so I’m going to practice taking a small step back: I’m going to keep up with the frugal challenge, but I’m going to drop my blog posting down to every other day (the odd days in case you want to keep track). I’ll cover whatever was interesting in the previous two days of the challenge, and on my off days I hope to spend a little more time on other writing projects (as soon as I started back up with the blog, my other writing stopped and I don’t like that).

So, now that that’s out of the way, what’s been happening!

Yesterday was the wedding that I thought I might need to buy a dress for. Turns out, I had a perfectly suitable one in the my closet! I’ve actually worn this dress at other weddings before (there’s even a picture of me in the dress on our dresser) but I hadn’t even thought of it until a friend suggested it. I did feel a little under-dressed because I forgot my heels at home, but–guess what? No one cares! And my feed didn’t hurt at the end of the night, so that was a win.

My man and I drove back this morning, and I spent the day pretty casually. I read my book (Helter Skelter currently–really enjoying it), napped, and then we met up with some friends for an inexpensive happy hour. Two of our friends are departing on a months-long tour of the United States before moving abroad, so it was important to wish them a fond farewell. This is the couple that got me back into biking to work, which I’m very grateful for, and I hope to see them again someday. 3 grain salad

Then the evening was spent meal prepping. I used up some more amaranth, brown rice, and all my quinoa making a Mexican inspired 3-grain salad with black beans, frozen veggies, and cilantro. I meant to add a tomato and pepper, but forgot, so they’ll have to go in the curry later this week.

waffleSince I have a lot of flour to use up and I ran out of oatmeal on Friday, I also decided to make waffles for my breakfasts this week. My plan is to take a couple of waffles with me to work and eat them with some homemade jam, peanut butter and banana. Yum! Not the healthiest breakfast, but certainly one of the most decadent for its price. I also had one this evening for a small dinner. I got the very basic recipe from Spice Up the Curry, but subbed more regular flour for whole wheat since I didn’t have any.

What about the challenge you ask? Well yesterday’s challenge was to talk about money with your partner. I didn’t, but only because my man and I already talked about money and our goals recently. While we’re not always in perfect agreement, we respect each other’s desires and support them. And this move has been helpful in opening up our communication about money because it’s one of the bigger expenses we’ve had as a couple.

Today’s topic was the options that frugality provides. Having set aside money and saved has allowed me to leave jobs I haven’t liked, to handle stressful car repairs quickly, and yeah, travel when the opportunity has presented itself. Only the last one has really felt like an option, but it’s been a huge relief to know that the money for major expenses, and pleasures, is there. I always think I could be doing a better job of setting aside more: for the move, retirement, eventual car and laptop replacements, emergencies, etc. but at least so far I’ve been lucky to have always had enough. I hope that by strengthening my frugal muscles I can set aside for those things I know are coming so that when they happen I can focus on the joy, the adventure, maybe even the sorrow, instead of the cost.

UFM 7: Groceries

Today’s mantra: I will eat everything I buy at the grocery store!
Today’s action: Make this week’s grocery list with the above parameter in mind.

I made the grocery list and also bought the groceries! I like grocery shopping on a Friday afternoon because no one else is doing it. Apparently grocery shopping does not count as fun Friday times but it’s also when the stores are the least crowded.

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I’m not sure if I’ll actually be able to make it through the week with what I’ve got, but here’s my plan:

  • I have some basil that I need to use up, so tomorrow I’ll make some cashew basil pesto for use with pasta, maybe throw in a tomato (not pictured–all stuff I already have).
  • Saturday night we’re going to a wedding, so who knows what will happen there. But at least there will be food.
  • Sunday is my meal prep day. I’m planning to make a big three grain salad with black beans and a Mexican-ish flavor (hence the peper and onion) plus some frozen mixed veggies because veggies. I ran out of oatmeal this morning, and we have a lot of flour so I’m going to try something new and make waffles to freeze and then eat them like breakfast sandwiches with peanut butter and jam and banana all week. I’m pretty bad at making waffles so this may be a horrible plan.
  • The can of tomato paste and the broccoli will with a lentil pumpkin curry I’m planning, plus more rice (hopefully this week I can make it without burning everything) which I’ll make once I’ve run out of the three grain salad.
  • Coffee and almond milk should be pretty self explanatory.

So that’s my plan for the next week! I also have some lemons that I need to use up so there may be some lemonade or some lemon scones or some something. I like meal planning almost as much as I like budgeting. It lets the control-freak side of me and the creative side of me do something productive together.

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