navel gazing

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.)

#UberFrugal Month Prep List

Frugalwoods’ July UberFrugal Month starts tomorrow! And like the high school students I work with (and the one I sometimes was), I’m doing my homework the night before. Mrs. Frugalwoods laid out a pretty lengthy prep-list to get the most out of the challenge. I did the first one… and then stopped. Until now! Like my essays in high school, this will be long, meandering, and mostly only interesting to me!

Establish Goals: See this post! 

Review last month’s spending & categorize expenses: See here’s why I stopped. #Excuses. I wanted to make sure that I was perfectly accurate, so I wanted to be done with all my June spending, which didn’t happen until today.

Anyway, here we go! Let’s do the numbers!

  • Rent: $720
    This is really the amount I pay into the joint account with my man to cover rent, utilities, cat expenses, when we go out (which we rarely do), etc.
  • Doctors/Medicine: 354
    Yep. An expensive month. Dentist and doctor stuff.
  • Travel: $1036
    Plane tickets, plane tickets, plane tickets. Language classes in Spain. Still need to rent an AirBnB.
  • Groceries: $212
  • Gas: $22 (oh yeah! I only filled up my car once this month!)
  • Phone: $28
  • Cat expenses: $104
    But wait, wasn’t that supposed to be included in the rent stuff? Yeah, but I forgot, so I paid for her vet appointment with my card. She’ll need to go back this month for the airline paperwork, but hopefully it will be less since she won’t need shots.
  • Restaurants & coffee out: $411
    Yeah, you thought I was cool with my $22 gas and my $28 phone. And then we get to this monstrosity! What was I thinking!
  • Entertainment: $15.28
    A movie and a song that I bought for work and will be reimbursed for.
  • Gifts: $73.61
    Mostly money for cool high school girls I know who are graduating. And cards to put the money in.
  • Moving expenses: $1,000. This isn’t necessarily spent yet. My man and I just both put in some extra money to the joint account this month to cover our moving costs. And confession time: I don’t keep as much track of our joint money as well as I do my money. Laziness? Subconscious misogyny? I don’t know.

So with the exception of the rent, all of these are discretionary expenses in that I could reduce or eliminate them if I really needed to. And tbh, I could reduce our “rent” spending if we needed to, but my man is really frugal and I trust his financial judgement on what we should sock away. We don’t end up spending the full $720 every month, but it’s nice to have when we want to treat ourselves or like, decide to move across the country.

What can I eliminate entirely? What can I reduce? Honestly, I don’t think I could eliminate any of these expenses entirely.

WHAT? I know. I’m a terrible uberfrugaler.

Here’s why:

Rent: It is what it is. This is what we’ve agreed upon and it doesn’t bother me.

Doctor: Yeah, this will probably go down I hope. But I do have to see my optometrist this month and buy a year’s supply of contacts, so it might be close to the same.

Travel: Now I’m committed. Need a place to stay. Don’t think there are other things I need to purchase in July though.

Groceries: I feel like this is pretty low already. I am committed to eating all the things we’ve already got in the apartment though, so I’m trying to plan meals around a lot of rice and beans.

Gas & Phone: Not even. I’ve got these on lock!

Cat: will come out of the joint account. So we’ll pay for it, but the cost won’t count against my budget!

Restaurants: This has to go down. I want to bang my head against the table every time I see that number. How is that even possible? For what it’s worth, all of that is with friends too. My husband and I haven’t gone out all month. Lessons for July: Have people over instead! Don’t go to the great but expensive bar! Don’t get apps! Don’t drink! Especially don’t get drunk and generous and pay for everyone because you just want them to know how much you appreciate them!

Entertainment: I’ve committed to going to Hogwarts before leaving California.

Gifts: Still have girls I love graduating. Still gonna give them $. It’s not a lot, but it has meaning in my heart which is a little weird for me. There aren’t many girls left, and I do have cards I can use instead of buying new ones, so I can lower but not eliminate.

Moving expenses: We’re going across the country! Who even knows!

This is getting long! Let’s wrap it up, Canter!

What can I substitute?
I could give thoughtful cards instead of gifts to coworkers for my good-byes.
I could use cards I already bought.
I could have people over to my cute apartment instead of going out and pack my own food at Hogwarts (at least some, gotta get some Bertie Botts).
I could sub water for alcohol. Better for my body anyway.

What can I in-source? I have no confidence in my ability to in-source the things we need for this month. I need to get my car and bike checked out before this massive move! I can’t do that myself!

But–I did see the property team at work changing the oil on one of their trucks this week, so I could buy oil and get them to show me, then wait until we’re moved to get the necessary 90,000 mile check (I’m still a couple thousand miles away from this so I’m not terribly worried about waiting a few months), and we’re shipping the car, not driving it. This has the advantage of giving me a new skill and letting me find a mechanic who knows about winterizing cars. Not a thing we really deal with here in San Diego. I could also just avoid having the bike tuned up until I’m in Rochester, again where people know how to winterize transportation devices.

Whew! Mrs. F still has four more steps to prep for the uber frugal month, but I’m running out of steam and words, so I will save them for tomorrow’s posting! Check back here tomorrow morning for more fascinating insights into my spending!


Priorities and thoughts and money… oh my.

Another month gone, and another year as well. My birthday is next week and I’m turning 27. Someone call the old folks’ home. I like my birthday and I’m excited for this one. I’m hanging out with my aunt on Saturday beforehand and going to Santa Barbara with a friend the day after my birthday.

I had a serious conversation with one of my mentors at work this week. She is in her forties and I look up to her for her sense of humor and her emphatic kindness to everyone. We talked a little bit about the goals of the organization and my goals, and she advised me to think about my whole life, not just my work life. She told me that she was at her last job for seventeen years, and it sounds like she made enormous contributions and had incredible experiences, but she also talked to me about the costs of such devotion to her work. I find it very hard to balance work and all the other things I want to be working on, let alone life outside of “work.”

I’ve been tempted (and given in almost as much) a lot over the last few weeks to bring work home with me–reports to read or processes to draft. And at the same time that I’ve felt relieved to be “getting things done,” I’ve also felt angry with myself for making that choice to prioritize work over rest, reading, writing, any of the other things I could be doing with my time. I know that constant work leads to being tired and grouchy the next day, feeling burned out, and making not-so-great choices (like eating Evolution vegan fish sandwiches three days last week… oh right, I was going to stop eating out, wasn’t I?) or skipping workouts and writing to get extra sleep.

It’s tempting to think about the next year in terms of how much work I could get done, the mission-driven things that I could accomplish. And it’s exhausting to even think about what I grump I’ll be if that’s the only thing I’ve got going on. It’s equally tempting (particularly on Wednesdays after poetry) to think about ditching work and writing all the time, which never works out either. It’s like I’ve set these ideas up as mutually exclusive, which a whole host of writers have proved is wrong, not to mention my own past experience.

On the other hand, it seems silly to think about the amount of dynamic, interesting work I could do in seventeen years’ time and then think “nah, I’d rather hang out with my cat and write instead.” So I guess even though I know I’m thinking in a mutually-exclusive-trap, I can’t seem to work my way out of it.

I’m stuck on this question though. In seventeen years and one week, I’ll be 44. At one point, I would have said  that by 44, I wanted to be able to retire from job-work at that point, but based on my consistent spending habits and persistent habit of aging, that possibility seems to be fading. Depending on the day, I might also have said I wanted to be a CEO or exec of a women’s nonprofit or that I wanted to be a working writer. All do-able things in seventeen years, but the pessimist in me (the one that hasn’t read enough self-help books/Oprah yet) thinks “but not all of them.”

What do I want my life to look like in seventeen years? How do I want to live each day for the next seventeen years?