UFM 25: Just keep swimming


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.

#UberFrugal Month Prep List Part 2

Continuing from yesterday’s post, here are my notes on the last suggestions Mrs. Frugalwoods offers to prepare for an UberFrugal month challenge.

Examine Your Habits
I thought I could skip this one. I think my habits are pretty good! Sure, I spend more than I like on restaurants, but otherwise I’m pretty happy with my spending. But then I thought deeper, and I asked myself what is the root cause of my spending?

I have a habit of saying yes to ideas that sound appealing without thinking about how they fit in my overall plan or budget. I figure I’ll make it work and usually I do, but I’m not always comfortable with it afterward. So for July, I’d like to say yes slower. I’d like to wait, to say I need to go home and check first. I don’t think this will stop me from doing things I really want to do, but it will give me an opportunity to do a gut-check and to think of possible frugal alternatives.

Plan ahead

july plan

Every weekend is fun!

I love to plan. Frugalwoods gave examples like packing snacks and planning your day so you don’t have to spend money, but I took this in a different direction. I looked at my month to see what I’ve already committed to and where I might be tempted to spend money, so that I can make a plan. As you can see, July is already a full month with lots of fun things on the horizon!

Buy used (or cheap!)
Because we’re moving, and I don’t want to add additional stuff to our lives, I’m not really tempted to buy many things right now, though I suppose this could also apply to going to cheap restaurants instead of the best and most expensive one (even though it’s so good).

Unlike a lot of people, I’m not big on shopping for clothes. The last clothes I bought were some bras that I think I got in December or January, but I am feeling some pressure to get a different dress for the wedding we’re attending in a couple of weeks and for my trip to Barcelona. Both are events hosted by our fancier friends, and all of my dresses are sundresses or black. I’ve thought about borrowing a dress from a friend for the wedding coming up, but I feel a little weird about that. But I would feel okay about a trip to some of the second-hand stores around the neighborhood, and I’m not talking Buffalo Exchange–I’m talking the 5 for $5 places.

Banish excuses
This is the hardest one for me because I think I have a pretty ironclad excuse: we’re moving! We won’t see these friends ever again, or at least not for many months! Moving has all kinds of unexpected costs! This is the last time I can go to our favorite Thai place or the fancy but delicious vegan bar. Will they even have vegan bars in Rochester? It’s probably better if they don’t.

While there is truth to this excuse (I really am leaving, I really won’t see these friends again for a long time), spending money isn’t necessarily the answer. I’m feeling sadness and affection for my friends and the community we have here, and I’m trying to cover that sadness with a meal out or a drink or a fun day spent with them, but it’s those last three words that really matter. Spend (time) with them. That’s what matters. That’s what is significant and that’s what I need to remember this month.

Subtraction, Not Addition

Remember back in October when I made goals for this year? Could I have pictured where I am today? Not that today is so crazy different from any other day, but did I know what opportunities or interests would present themselves in seven months? No.

Back in October, I said I would submit for publication in April. That didn’t happen, though I did write an essay and I did get some poems rejected that I had submitted previously. For May, I said that I would write a romance novel (#secretpassion #dreamjob), but I’m not actually feeling it right now. Instead, I want keep working on essays, or just building the writing habit, rather than taking on a shiny new project.

In fact, projects are something I’ve been thinking about cutting out lately. Simplify is a word that’s been floating around my brain lately. Minimize too. I’ve been thinking about doing less, having fewer responsibilities. Instead of trying to fill my days, even to fill them better, I have been thinking about emptying them.

Of course, it’s a challenge. Yesterday on my run, I thought of a couple of friends of mine who just ran a half-marathon (I could do that, I thought), then remembered another friend who did a triathalon last summer (I could do that too, I thought), then remembered a friend’s sister who’d been on the rowing team in college (I’d have great arms) until finally, I had to say, almost outloud, whoa whoa whoa Canter, slow down. Wasn’t the point to do less? 

Oh yeah. Less.

Fewer meetings, less running around means more time to cook, to read, to sleep. More time cooking and reading and sleeping might mean more time writing, but if it doesn’t, well cooking and reading and sleeping are pleasures in their own right, not just a means to an end.

Fewer shirts in the closet means less folding. Fewer products in the bathroom means less digging around when I want the sunscreen. Fewer late nights might mean more time in the morning for writing, meditating, taking the cat outside, but if not, sleeping in is good too.

What would I rather do? What would make me happy? That was the point of this blog, once upon a time.

The best “challenges” I’ve ever done on this blog have been the daily present and cutting out restaurants. They were small (well maybe not the restaurant goal), and there was no definitive outcome attached; it was more about behavior change, an attitudinal shift. That’s what I’d like for May.

May challenge: spend 5 minutes (or more) outside everyday. Walking two and from the car doesn’t count.

In like a Lion, Out like a…

March has been a crazy month. It feels as though it flew by, and all my typical good-behavior habits flew out the window with it.

In a nutshell, I haven’t been writing. I haven’t been going to poetry class. I haven’t been writing my morning pages. I obviously haven’t been blogging. And I’d like to claim that it was all because I was in New York last week, but it wasn’t. I was skipping classes before that. It isn’t like you’ve seen a post.

So what have I been doing? Working, it feels like, though probably not much more than ever (except last week, which was just one whirlwind of work though it was amazing every minute as well). Sleeping some, it seems; at least, I’ve overslept enough times to skip writing or a morning run this month. Drinking a lot of coffee. Oh to see the number of times that Starbucks appeared in my accounting this month! Well, we’ll save that for another post.

I’ve read some: a book of essays by Jane Hirshfield (which might have been why I slept so much), The Master and Margarita, my favorite trashy romance, a lot of internet.

I don’t want to spend time on what I did to fill my time this month; I want to spend time on getting back on track. I call it “going into robot mode:” that time when I put life on autopilot so that the good things get done because I’m not thinking about them, just doing them. It means getting back into the regular workout routine, regular grocery shopping, regular writing. Not because I want to or because I feel I have much to say right now, but because I know if I do it, something will come.

I did write a bit this month, the start of an essay on my veganism, since everyone I meet seems to have an opinion (mostly the same dumb opinion) about it. And on Monday, my flash creative nonfiction class starts, so theoretically I might still get an essay in before the month is out.

Here’s to Fridays off, afternoons at the beach, and getting back on track.

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.

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.


No Meals Out Fail

This month’s goal, to avoid eating out, was entirely a bust. Overall, I spent $252 on eating out, some of it work/derbs related, much of it friend/company related. There is a part of me, a strong part, that would like to engage in justifications now, about the various mental states of my friends (or myself) and the need for restaurant meals to relieve our distress. This is perhaps sometimes the case. It was not the case for all, and in my heart, I wonder whether a meal out is the best relief for an anxious heart. It’s what we did, anyway.

When I was growing up, going out to eat was a special occasion, saved up for birthdays or huge, unexpected successes (I can’t quite think of any now, but I’m sure there were some–winning a debate tournament? Graduating?) When family came to town, we might eat one meal out, but certainly not more than two. The rest of the meals were had at home. One of my mom’s “love languages” is cooking, so a meal at home could be just as special and elaborately delicious as one out (in fact, she regularly made a face after eating and started scrutinizing how she could recreate a restaurant meal for less at home. Now I do the same).


These days, I eat out for anything. Work/relationship/life troubles? Meal out! Major work success? Meal out! Hectic evening with no time to prep tomorrow’s lunch? Meal out! Socializing? Meal out!

There are exceptions of course, book club and game nights, for example, but eating out is easily the default mode. My goal this month was to change that, at least in my own mind, and I didn’t succeed.

(Image right: I need more meals like this, breakfast in my new bowl).

So, it continues another month. I think what Barb said in her comment on my last post is right, doing is easier than not doing. So this month my “do” is to offer food alternatives: to invite others over for dinner and games, or a hike instead of a lunch.

My other “do” is to accept what is as enough. A hike without a lunch afterward is enough. A walk is enough. Time one the patio of my apartment with coffee and the cat is enough. There doesn’t have to be more.

I’m also going to try to take it week by week in January, rather than look at the whole month. It’s easier for me to think about what I’m eating each day in one week because I already do that, and to plan a “sociable meal” option in case I want to invite someone over unexpectedly and don’t want to serve them beans.

January is also “Drynuary” aka no alcohol for the month. I’ve done it before and it’s easy, but it’s a nice start the new year. Maybe that’s just yesterday’s bottle of champagne talking.

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.


What I Learned From Writing a Novel in a Month

Last night I finished a novel that I started on November 1st (novel as defined by 50,000 words, not a cohesive or moving story line). It’s the second time I’ve played this game, and here are a few things I learned, in the order that I thought of them:

  1. Novel writing is hard! I am reminded that I generally like to do things that I’m good at (#perfectionist) and I’m generally better at things I do often. I don’t write fiction often and I’m not very good at it, so most days, I didn’t want to work on my novel. That said,
  2. Novel writing is fun! Even when it’s painful and I’m annoyed by my own ham-handedness. It reminds me of what Ira Glass said about being a beginner and still having good taste. There’s a gap between what I like to read and what I’m capable of writing. Next step is crossing the gap.
  3. I have time to write. I wrote an average of 1,667 words each day this month, but really I was behind almost from the start, so I wrote closer to 2,000 words and sometimes 5 or 6,000 a day on the weekends.
  4. Nothing good comes from reading the internet. There are blogs I really like and people I really like on the internet. And then there’s Jezebel and Facebook. And where do I spend most of my time?
  5. I want to write more. Maybe not more fiction, but more in general. For some time, it has felt like poetry fits better into my writing life right now because I have time to write poetry. It’s short. It’s just one moment in time, one single thought (at least the way I do it). But this month demonstrated that I do have the time and energy for a more sustained work. Maybe that starts as just a 500 word essay. Maybe it is more frequent blog posts. Maybe it’s just an idea.

I’m glad to be finished with NaNoWriMo, in the same way that I am sometimes glad to be done with a run or a fourteener. In the moment, it is more tough than fun, but afterwards, it is satisfying to look back across a valley and see how far I’ve come.

Hopes and Dreams Revisited

I was going through some old notes when I found a list I’d made back in April of 2012. It seemed worth sharing, so here it is:

Financial Goals & Responsibilities, Hopes & Dreams

1. Pay off student loans
2. Pay off car
3. Have own car insurance
4. Have health insurance
5. Rent/food/etc.

Roller skates
A cat
A 3 day vacation with Scott somewhere nice-ish
Food processor
Nice blender
Trip for Kate by the time she graduates

What struck me about this list was that I’ve managed to accomplish all of it, and that’s a good thing to remember.

I wrote this list a year before I paid off my student loans. I wrote this list just as I was starting to get into roller derby. I wrote it long before I adopted Hillary, whose butt is by my hands as I write this. I didn’t exactly accomplish all these things on their original timeline, but I did each one.

This week I crossed off #2. I sent in my final check to my grandmother for my car, 610 dollars. It feels good to have taken care of this, and even better to think of the $500 each month that can go straight to savings now. I’ve had that car since 2011 and even though I only started seriously paying it off recently, I still can’t believe how long it’s taken me and how much relief I feel to have that debt gone (even though there was 0 outside pressure associated with it).

#3 came quickly after moving to San Diego, though apparently not as quickly as I remember. I think I was on my parents’ car insurance until the time came to get California plates, and then my insurance was in my name. This is not something that gives me wild satisfation, like paying off a loan does. It’s a little bit of a pain actually because it reminds me that I still drive way more than I would like to, but it also reminds me that I’m responsible about it.

Health insurance took a long time to get. I was on my parents’ health insurance for awhile and worried about getting sick because it was a pain to use in California. I had health insurance when I worked at the law firm, so I must have just gotten it around the time I wrote this. It was good to have, but I didn’t like using it then either. It’s actually only recently that I’ve started to feel okay about using my health insurance. Girl Scouts offers a good policy and I like my doctor and my dentist, so I make appointments (well, I make dental appointments, but I would make doctor’s appointments if I thought I needed to).

#5. Rent/food/etc. It’s a responsibility. An ongoing one. I always had enough to make rent (it was the worst when I worked part-time for G.S., but I still made it). It’s only recently that rent’s become an easy thing. After I started working for Girl Scouts the second time, I just set an automatic transfer for my part of the rent payment. No more thinking about it. Now the money gets transferred on the first of every month and nobody has to remind me and I don’t have to think about which check I’m going to use. I’m going to use the money that’s in the account already. I feel like this makes it sound like I was always on the edge when I was paying rent before and I wasn’t; I just acted like I was.

Those were the responsibilities. The unnumbered part of the list were the hopes and dreams.

Roller skates–still one of the best purchases I ever made. I haven’t been skating much recently, i.e. in the last six months. I haven’t been going to practice and I haven’t been skating. I’d like to say I miss it, but I think I’d have to go back in order to realize if I miss it. So I’m planning to go back to practice and I’m hoping that once I’m there I’ll miss it. But I don’t know. I still love my skates though.

A cat–she’s been on the list for a long time. And she’s so so great.

A three day vacation with Scott somewhere nice-ish. We took a three day vacation for my 24th birthday in 2012 to Joshua Tree and we stayed in an adorable air-stream trailer. Mission accomplished. For awhile we only traveled to weddings, then we went to Glasgow and almost stayed forever (real talk: I almost stayed forever, Scott was ready to come home). What I’ve learned in the ensuing years is that three day vacations are important for me, not so much for him. I remember wanting this vacation, being so excited to be on the road after work even when we were stuck in traffic. I needed the break. And I needed the break this weekend when I took a couple extra days off. It wasn’t for us. It was for me. It feels good to know that.

A bike. I used Scott’s bike for awhile and then it was stolen and now I have my own bike! It’s great. I love my bike.

Food Processor/Blender. I have both now. Part of me thinks I only need one, and then I think that’s silly. They are very different. I wouldn’t say that I have a nice food processor or blender, but they also didn’t cost $400 so I don’t really care. They get the job done.

Trip for Kate by the time she graduates. I didn’t get this done by the time she graduated, but this year I took her and my grandmother to Washington, D.C.  It was important to me to do that with my grandmother, while she’s still with us and still mobile enough to travel, and it was also important to me that my sister come with us. It seemed unfair for her to miss out on that time with our last grandparent, who loves us both so well, just because she was still paying off loans and getting settled. So I took her too, and it was entirely the right idea.

My current list of goals & responsibilities, hopes & dreams is just as long if not longer than this one, so sometimes it seems as though I’m not making any progress. I’d like to be saving for a down payment on a house (why? it just seems like the next grown up thing to do). I’d like to be putting more toward retirement, like double or triple what I’m doing now (#dreambig). I’d like an emergency fund and a next-car fund, and a second bookshelf and some better knives. It’s easy to forget with all those other dreams out there that there was a time when I just wanted to pay off my student loans and get a food processor.

We’ve come, if not a long way, at least a long time, from those days.