Your Money or Your Life

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.


And the pendulum swings

I am back and recovered from Camp Exec. This past weekend (Thursday-Sunday) forty girls and executive women catgathered in the woods to learn from and help each other. It was hugely inspirational, and also hugely exhausting. By Saturday night, I was quite sick and needed some serious sleep to recover. I took today and yesterday off, mostly to make it up to the one who thinks my world revolves around her (—>) (hint: it totally does). Now, on Tuesday night, I’m starting to feel like I’m coming back to life.

I had these grand ideas last week before heading to camp that I would prewrite my Friday and Sunday blog posts, and set them to automatically release while I was gone, but as you can plainly see, that didn’t happen. And I didn’t do any writing while I was at camp either (why did I think that was even a possibility?). I was feeling pretty bad about that yesterday and Sunday because I’d deviated from the plan–the plan that I made up! But ugh, how am I ever supposed to be successful if I can’t stick to my plan, man? (this is how I talk to myself in my head).

And that of course led to me thinking about my spending in September, which let’s just say is not as pretty as it was in August when I enthusiastically began this challenge. Yep, there were definitely a few meals out, and a few unnecessary “gifts” meant for others, but which also mostly were meant to cheer me up. There was more than one, or two, or even three trips to Starbucks this month when I had vowed to only brew my own coffee at home. And of course there was a donation to my favorite political candidate even after I said that giving my time would be enough (but after last night can you really blame me?).

And then I thought, no.

No, you know what? No. This is a journey. This is an experience (this is how I talk back when I’m talking to myself). The pendulum swings strongly one way one month, and the next month it swings in the other direction, and I self-correct, and I get back on track. Sometimes that might mean that I need to loosen the reigns a little bit, not be so rigid. Other times, it means I need to pull up and think about what I really want in the long run, and whether spending this much on restaurants and coffee will get me there (it won’t).

So I didn’t write. So I spent more than I wanted to. I learn. I reset. I get better, which is a really valuable lesson, because almost inevitably, I’ll probably need another reset by November.


I’ve been listening to a lot of Sid Garza-Hillman’s excellent podcast, which introduced me to the Me-Not-Me game. Basically, it’s a tool to help you figure out what behaviors and habits fit with your values and sense of self, and which ones don’t reflect those values. It’s a way of analyzing your behavior without judgement, and then slowly creating change based on self-knowledge. My examples from this weekend:

Me: spending time on the patio, drinking a smoothie and writing my morning pages.
Not Me: turning off my alarm and going back to bed for almost three more hours.

Both happened, but “Not Me” is not who I want to be but who I think I am at my core.

If I’m not explaining this well, check out Sid’s video.

In writing my morning pages this morning, and thinking about the Me-Not-Me game, I realized that my budget is another version of the same game. It’s my way of checking in with myself and determining what spending reflects my values and goals, and what doesn’t (I’m looking at you Iced Grande Soy Chai Latte). I’m really happy right now ynab813because my spending this month has been aligned with my values and goals. I’ve put money aside for the house fund and my retirement, and I already have September’s rent socked away. Sometimes, I’m not as happy, usually when I haven’t been able to put aside money for my goals, but have somehow managed to spend several hundred dollars on restaurant meals and other fun stuff. I’m sure it will happen again (I’m not perfect), and I hope that I’ll feel a little unhappy or annoyed with myself and get back on track.

Actually, being so pleased with myself for how well I’ve done so far this month makes me a little nervous. There have been times where being self-satisfied has led me to reward my good behavior, and get off track. I’m trying to be really conscious of temptations or stumbling blocks, and planning ahead for how I’ll deal with them. For instance, this Thursday I’m going to a volunteer meeting that is taking place at a restaurant. It would be rude for me to go and not order anything, plus if everyone did it, the restaurant might not let us have our big meeting there anymore, so I’m thinking about how I’ll handle it and how much I’m willing to spend (plan: probably a small salad or a hummus/pita option).

I am me when my actions align with my values– the acts of spending, thinking, and treating others maybe most of all. I am most me when I am open, loving, kind and honest–to myself and others. Do I live up to that most of the time? Mmm, I’m working on it.

What about you? What is you-not-you?

The Rules of the Game (there are no rules)

This week has been all about thinking about money: how to save it, where to spend it, and how the upcoming changes in my life will affect the previous two.

In a nutshell, with my man moving across the country, my expenses will go up. Starting next month, I’ll be responsible for the total cost of our apartment and utilities. In addition, this week we opened a joint investment account in order to begin saving for a house (well, in order to begin saving together for a house—someone in this relationship is already ahead of the game on that front, and it isn’t me). We agreed that we’d each put $250 in this account each month, and hopefully more down the road.

On top of that, I decided I’d like to increase my retirement savings by another $250, mostly because $500 is a nice round number, but also because saving while I’m young is critical. What does that mean? It’s time for a savings fast!

What I can spend on:                              What I can’t:
Rent                                                                Everything else (aka)
Utilities                                                          Restaurants & coffee shops
Gas (some)*                                                 Booze (thank goodness we have all those leftovers)
Food (some)                                                 Books (hello library!)
Phone                                                            Music
Writing classes/submissions
YMCA Membership (#health)
Car Insurance
Medications/Drs. Appointments
Hillary Kitten’s stuff (within reason)

Basically, by only spending on “can” side of the list, and following a fairly close budget there too, I can set aside the $500 I want each month and still have $16 to spare. It’s already burning a hole in my pocket.

But then I remembered the other things I want to do, like attend a friend’s wedding and an HRC fundraiser that I’ve already coerced several coworkers into attending with me, and also buy a really expensive writing class, which I know technically is on my “can” list, but I was thinking more in the $5 or $10 ranger, rather than the $400 range. And maybe an InMotion membership and entry fee into the Carlsbad half, but probably not the InMotion one (but probably yes the Carlsbad one and ugh! Why do I want so many things?). Those are not wants that can be covered by my supposedly $16 per month wiggle room.

It took a couple days, but I can finally admit that my perfect plan, beautiful though it is on paper, is not realistic. And then it took a couple more days for me to realize that means I need to let go of the plan, of perfection. At least for now. I need to be okay with being better, not being perfect.

So what does the plan look like now? Well, I still think it’s possible to put $250 per month towards our house fund, and I think it’s probably possible to put another $100 per month towards my IRA (on top of what I’m already contributing to my 403(b) through work). But that last $150? I think I’d like to leave at as a cushion, or put it towards some of these other wants, rather than going full austerity instantaneously.  And realistically, I think I might need to reallocate a bit of my savings/emergency fund towards attending this wedding. And that’s something I want to be okay with.

Here we are. The basic rules. Spend only on the “can” list, plus maybe a few cheats from the really really really want list.

I think it’s important to acknowledge, right from the start, that this will not be perfect. That I will not be perfect. But I hope that by being better, I can get closer to where I want to be.

*I plan to continue to bike to work anytime I don’t have a meeting so that I can avoid spending unnecessary gas money.


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!


No Restaurants in December Update

So far in December, I’ve eaten out four times. That averages out to every other day. No restaurant month is off to a rocky start.

The first meal was work related and work reimbursable. The second was pizza after running six miles. The third was beers with the Man. The fourth was lunch for my sister’s birthday. There were also a couple of bags of stress chips from the vending machine at work.

I’m not trying to spend the month missing out on quality time with loved ones in order to save money. But I’m also trying to spend money wisely. And to me that means finding ways to replace spendy activities with less spendy ones of greater quality.

Some examples: last night I went to book club where the host made Indian food (the book was set in India) and we discussed it for hours, and I got to work on my scarf, so double points. Another couple of friends and I have been getting together on weekends to make bread (pretzels, bagels) and watch Man in the High Castle.

So what could I have done differently? Well, work paid for the first meal, so I’m going to let it stand. After running, my friend and I could have had a picnic instead of going out for pizza. The Man and I could have drank the beers we had at home instead of going out for beers. My sister and I could have made something at her place, but I’m going to let that one stand too because I love birthdays. I could have bought a big bag of chips and portioned them out instead of going to the vending machine.

I’m not saying that I regret the choices I made. The meals out this week were delicious and filled with good company. I’m just saying I could have made different choices without losing the quality of the food or company, and I think it is worth being aware of that.

There are opportunities to practice this in the weeks ahead. A friend of mine wants to meet up for coffee to talk about our fitness goals and being workout buddies. Maybe we can go for a walk instead? I’m going home for the holidays, which means seeing old friends, usually at restaurants. But maybe we can eat dinner at their homes or meet at a museum instead.

I don’t want eating out to be my default way of hanging out with people. I also don’t want to use eating out as a crutch for when I’m feeling stressed or to relieve poor planning (usually those two are tied). That’s what this month is supposed to be about fixing. I’m open to creative suggestions.


The Tortoise vs. The Hare

Lately I’ve been dreaming of the lotto again–a sudden radical leap to the finish line of financial independence with zero effort, zero waiting, and zero control. Like the hare, I want a quick and easy victory, a gift from the universe.

Reality is more like the tortoise. No great leap forward, not even $1,000 saved this month, but another $417 set aside like last month. Another step on the way to $5,000 saved this year, $25K in five years. Not fast, not exciting, but steady and boring. It could be worse.

September’s Final Numbers
Total Income: $2,664.71
Total Spending: $2,135.12
Difference: $509.59

I wasn’t as careful about tracking my spending in September as in August. I was surprised to tally up how much I spent in restaurants this month when if you’d asked me yesterday, I would have said that I’d hardly eaten out at all. Restaurant meals so easily forgotten probably weren’t worth the price.

I look at the individual totals and see big exceptions.  I bought a bike. I finally paid for my bridesmaid dress. It’s easy to say if it hadn’t been for those purchases, I could have saved $1,000 this month, so theoretically I should be able to save $1,000 next month. But, every month sees big exceptions. Next month my membership with the Clinton 2030 Foundation (tax deductible! still regrettable!) is due, an unusual $230 I already know is coming. There’s H’s wedding and my birthday and the work gala, and I have no idea how any of those events (especially the last one) will derail my spending.

It’s better if I can try to be the tortoise: take it slow, write down my spending, forgive myself if I *only* save $417 instead of keeping the big money. It’s still savings. It’s still progress. It’s not small potatoes. But it is hard to see it that way when a couple of months ago the higher bar seemed so achievable. Turtles climb under bars and keep going.

August Numbers

August was the month of $200+ expenses.
$213 for Hillary Kitten’s vet appointment
$243 for plane tickets to H’s wedding
$349 to give a mattress to my sister as a moving/early birthday/early Christmas/maybe next year’s birthday? present

There were some $100+ expenses too.
$125 for new glasses
$107 in DMV registration fees

It stressed me out, especially toward the middle of the month because I had this great new “save $1,000 a month” goal and I was definitely not going to achieve it. To be honest, I thought my expenses might outpace my income, and I’ve been on a pretty good streak. Plus, I was/am just stressed about life in general so big money costs (even ones I planned for like plane tickets) made me feel worse.

What’s funny to me now, looking back on the month as a whole (and at my trends overall) is that high ($100+ is when costs start to feel high to me) ongoing expenses don’t stress me out. Consistently paying $100-$200 in gas doesn’t fit with what I want for my life. Grocery bills around $300 (not this month, but in several months past) is ridiculous for a single person. When my spending is out of line, my life is usually misaligned too. 

On my August goals:

  • Groceries: according to my records I spent around $180 on groceries. No $150, but better than the $300 months.
  • I worked out consistently, probably close to 5 days a week, but as stress levels increased, tracking decreased, so I
    can’t really say for sure. Gretchen Rubin’s questions definitely helped.
  • I wrote poems consistently for one week out of the month. The rest of the time… not so much. Writing is usually the first thing to go and the last thing I do.
  • Save $417: check! I did not save $1,000 this month, but I could have come fairly close. I transferred the $417 into my savings account today, and I’ll probably try to write a bigger check for my car with some of the rest.
  • I stayed pretty thorough with my monthly tabulation, and it helped! My final tally was only off by $0.91 which is the lowest it has possibly ever been.

September goal: survive? It is possibly just survive. We’re trying to keep expectations low around here.

August Goals Update

My August goals fell by the wayside the last two weeks. My mom came to town, and then work/life/derbs was stressful afterward, and it showed in my ability to keep up with what is important. Isn’t that always the way it goes? Some little unimportant thing happens and it derails the really important aspects of your life. But anyway, here goes:

  • Groceries: I’m currently at $132.37 for the month, and that includes a couple of coffees, dinners out, and some movie snacks. I don’t think I was originally planning on counting food out (not technically groceries) but whatever. Including only food bought at a grocery store, I am at $93.37, safely under budget for the month with a week to go. Some proper planning on today’s grocery run and I should achieve this goal. 
  • Exercise: Doing fairly well there. Four to five days a week average. 
  • Writing: Hah. Here’s where it goes downhill. None? Zero? Zip? All true. I’ve done none, and it shows, maybe not to anyone else (not even sure if Boyfriend notices) but I can feel myself tense up. I’m a little more on edge, a little less happy, a little less patient. Because I know I’m not doing what I’m “supposed to” be doing (what I want to do too, but it’s the supposed to that kills me) and I don’t know where to find more time. It’s there of course, somewhere, maybe underneath the couch. I’m returning to an old strategy this week. Get up early and write one bad thing before work this week. We’ll see how it goes. Failure seems imminent. 
  • Saving. Miraculously, it seems somehow still conceivable that I could save $417 this month. This has been the month of big spending. Most months, it is a little here and a little there–dinners and coffees and Hillary Kitten treats, the occasional book. This month it has been Hillary Kitten’s vet bill and medication ($232), the gift of a mattress for my sister ($347), new glasses ($125), DMV bills ($107), the ominous threat of new tires, etcetera. Still, it is conceivable that my savings is not completely haywire this month. 

As for that fun goal? Well, fun seems to be mostly a state of mind. I’ve had fun. When my mom was in town, we went to the beach and made dinner and drank wine, and that was fun. I’ve had dinner with friends and that’s been fun. I’ve read a couple of deeply interesting books. I’ve eaten very good meals with good friends. Overall though, I’m not sure that fun = happiness. It seems like happiness has a little bit more to do with what I’m not doing than with what I am. I’m happier when I’m not dealing with people who annoy me. Or working. Or maybe it’s just that unhappiness is easier to remember and its causes are easier to attribute. 

August Goals Update

  1. So far, I have spent $54.61 on groceries in the first ten days of the month. I have eaten very, very well, especially last night when we had friends over for dinner and I made a bean salad, quesadillas and stuffed jalapenos. Fortunately there is a ton of the delicious bean salad left, so that will be lunches this week.
  2. I had derby on Monday and Thursday, ran on Tuesday and Sunday, walked on Friday, so I made my exercise goal for this week at least.
  3. Writing every other day didn’t really happen in the middle of the week. I posted a blog on Sunday, wrote a little on Tuesday, wrote on Friday, Saturday and today. So I guess I only really missed Wed/Thurs.
  4. Saving is on track, though right now my spending outranks my income. It’s early in the month. Rent and taxes have been taken care of. I finally bought plane tickets for H’s wedding in October, which I half-count as spending and half-don’t because I’d already set aside the money for these tickets, so I don’t really feel like it should count against my goals.
  5. Updated the tabulation today. Somehow I am missing 54 cents. I’m going to have to check my car.

It’s very tempting to online window-shop, but pretty unproductive. I see dresses and pants that I want to buy, but don’t actually need, so it makes me feel dissatisfied and distracts from my actual goals (saving $417 – $1,000 per month). So I’m trying to avoid it. It’s also time wasted when I could be writing or playing with H.K. But it is a struggle.

This afternoon I’m volunteering with G.S. then a friend and I are grabbing dinner and seeing a movie. I anticipate spending a little bit of money, but I also have a gift card from one of my aunts that has just been hanging around, so I’ll probably make use of it to lessen my costs.