Hi blog friends. Somehow it is February 2nd, and we are at home because of a snow day and because COVID has hit our house. It’s been extremely mild so far, thankfully. I can’t believe we’ve avoided it for this long. So we’re quarantining, and it feels a lot like the cocoon of 2020 again.
Today is a beautiful crystal snow day, with that sort of light powder that whirls and dances, and the sun is just beginning to peek through the white misty sky. It is shining through the kitchen window as I type at our little blue table. The schools, the courts, and the city are all shut today; a rare trifecta that does not typically align for our family. The kids bundled up and made snow angels and jumped off the porch, Will is catching up on work and doing job applications, and I’m shoveling, making build your own hot cocoa platters for the kids, reading, and doing taxes. I love doing taxes, for real. I must not be the only one?
my month of frugality
My über frugal month (umlaut for emphasis and awesomeness) has ended on the calendar, but its effects are lasting, I hope. As I’ve said before, I’ve been preparing my heart for a couple years for this, but never had a concentrated go at ultra frugality before reading Cait Flanders and Frugalwoods this past December. When the student is ready…
My goals were to save money, and not spend on any non-essentials. And to examine what we deem as essential, and to resist against any pressure to spend more on those things (ahem, I’m looking at you, groceries).
We had to pay for six months of car insurance in January, and rec center swim lessons opened up (commence rabid moms on the rec center websites clicking fervently). So we saved less than we thought. But we did save over 25% of our income. And the best thing is that this is the first time we’ve tracked this intentionally. I know a percentage is not that helpful – it really depends on how much is coming in. And we’re working on this too. But we don’t have a big income, and never have. We live in an expensive city, but not the most expensive. It also depends on how much debt someone has. For me, for now, it’s more about behavior changes for the long run, with a hopeful heart for our family’s future.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I did not do perfectly, but I did pretty darn good. My one fail happened early in the month, when I received an email from Poshmark about a low price deal on a pack of three Old Navy Jeans – I know, fancy, right?! and I made a super lowball offer, thinking, no way will they take it. Well, they did, and I am now the owner of three pairs of jeans that all fit perfectly. Which I needed anyway. But I realized that I could probably justify any and all purchases as “necessities” throughout the month, so I needed to just say no to them. ALL of them. After all, it was only a month. And I did say no to all of them. I’m amazed, to be honest.
Also, I quit doing the daily yoga about two weeks in, and replaced it with walks and reading. And baths. It is what it is.
Here’s a rundown of thoughts, helpful things, hard things, and surprises from my month. Maybe they’ll be helpful to someone else.
the insidiousness of email
After the Poshmark kerfuffle, I made an effort to unsubscribe from email lists that are trying to sell me stuff. And honestly, most are trying to sell you stuff! They are sneaky. I sign up for them for promises of 10% off or free shipping or some other paltry discount. Many track your activity online and customize your emails: gross, yet so enticing. Not getting so many emails is beneficial on so many levels. There’s less clutter to wade through each day and my inbox is a happier and less tempting place. Now emails from friends and family float to the top instead of getting lost amongst the junk. I kept a couple of my most favorite crafty-themed emails coming, and try to only look at the articles and not so much at products. (Friends who I owe emails to, forgive me. I love you. I will write back soon.)
stores are quicksand
As obvious as it seems, I tried to stay out of all stores as much as possible. At one point during the month, I went into Target. Like all Target shopping, I cannot recall why I went or what I bought. After not being in an actual Target for a month +, I was overwhelmed by the shininess and beauty of the endless displays of things I do not need, but dearly feel compelled to possess. So many, many things. Like the most adorable lunch bags ever. I have several lunch bags to choose from already at home, yet these lunch bags are calling to me. Why?! So pointless. One aspect and philosophy of the über frugal month was an emphasis on choice, not denial. I’m not denying myself a new $15 lunch bag. I’m choosing to take that money and put it towards something that will be so much more rewarding, and will better honor the work (and time away from my family) that I had to do to get that money in the first place. I don’t need duplicate lunch bags. I don’t need duplicate anything. Recreational shopping is a topic I’d like to delve into in-depth; it’s shaped my life and detoxing and healing from that is an ongoing challenge.
pack it in pack it out
Every frugal blogger/podcaster/author/evangelizer recommends making and packing a lunch every single day. Including drinks and snacks. This isn’t new to me, and I actually love doing this anyway (or I’ve grown to love it). I’d just never committed to doing it every single day for a whole month. It saves so so much money. And is healthier. It’s also heavy, like literally, to lug all your drinks and stuff. So bonus points for excercise. The key is to pack enough stuff so I don’t get peckish in the afternoon and succumb to the sad vending machines.
I had a huge stock of Dandy Blend in my pantry, which I had forgotten about. Instead of getting decaf coffees from McDonald’s (a weird habit I picked up in the pandemic) or ordering a dozen beautiful new teas, I drank what I had. And avoided caffeine, and maybe cut down on headaches from it. Why must coffee and wine cause headaches? So sad. I do love Dandy Blend though! And at less than 8¢ a cup (if you buy the big bag), you can’t beat it. Not even at McDonald’s.
flosstube and instagram, you evil, wonderful friends
Since around 2006, if I’m being honest, most of my shopping has been inspired by things I see others doing and buying online. It’s not real life friends, or even real life stores, that are problematic. It’s being able to find and curate an online collection of people I can identify with who share tastes akin to mine – that is the kryptonite of shopping. Though I dearly enjoy watching flosstube and scrolling artistic and crafty and bookish accounts on instagram, I have to admit that that behavior directly leads to excess desire, which leads to excess shopping. Though they aren’t bad/evil/insertmoraljudgement on their own, I know how these platforms affect me personally. I kept both to a minimum this month. And now that I’m beginning to sit and watch my beloved flosstube once again, I really don’t feel the pull to want or buy all the things. And I’m enjoying using the supplies I already have!
kids, frugality, and weird guilt
There’s a lot out there about kids, minimalism, consumerism, stuff, on and on. My kids are lucky, in many ways, to have grandparents who spoil them with toys, trinkets, and other material gifts. From somewhere, I’m not sure exactly, rises a simmering feeling of guilt when I don’t buy my kids stuff. Who else feels this way? I don’t feel it for everything; it’s pretty random. Surely it’s another symptom of consumerist pressures and comparisons. The more I’m able to be present and really hang out with my kids, the less I feel the pressure to buy them stuff. I told my kids, ages eight and six, about the über frugal month, and they were interested and curious. And they didn’t seem upset when we didn’t buy any new plastic toy junk either. Unpack all this, please, armchair psychologists.
replace vs. deny
An overarching message within the über frugal month by Frugalwoods is thinking of frugality as a positive choice, rather than a denial of “better” things. Only by stepping way back, physically and (more importantly) mentally, from the relentless barrage of consumerist messaging in our society have I felt even a little bit capable of disengaging from its pull. And from that slightly removed vantage point I can see how we are set up to fail in such a situation: when we are told that the only way happy is to live beyond our means, we are forced to work more and more to “keep up”, and are left with less and less, especially less of precious time. It’s endless, ultimately unfulfilling, and at worst, incredibly destructive. I have felt destroyed by it, but also empowered to fight it.
This is where mindful spending, frugality, thrift, conscious consumerism (or whatever you prefer to call it) gets both interesting and philosophical.
If we refuse to spend money on things we really, really, honestly don’t need (and we don’t!) we are, if we are lucky, left with a bit extra money. And even more exciting, we may be left with a little more time on our hands. I did notice more time on my hands. Not a ton, but a bit. And I used every spare moment to walk, listen to audiobooks, and read.* And clean the house. All free things (thank you public library), and all so much more beneficial to health and happiness than shopping. This is where I overflow with gratitude.
There is so much free entertainment to explore. For another day.
*I read nine books in January. That is a LOT for me. Despite what you may think about librarians, not all of us get to read a ton. Especially those of us who work full time and have kids. The secret is to get an audioEbook and book/eBook and double time it. Magical.
the frugal future
What happens now, now that the über frugal month is a wrap? The weirdest thing is that I don’t want to stop. I may buy some things we’ve been needing or wanting for a while (after making a list and giving it at least a 72 hour cool off window before buying), but not much else. After seeing the impact that frugality can have on our family budget in only one month, I am absolutely enamored to see what more we can do, what more we can save, and what more we can do with those savings. I’m actually excited to see what other frugal hacks we can incorporate in our world.
Here’s to looking forward. And if we look back, may we do it with grace and forgiveness, and release. It’s hard.
Also I’d like to make some frugal friends to do this with. Folks to read finance books with, talk about taboo money topics, and hang out and do free stuff with. Do you already love doing this stuff? Are we friends? Let’s hang out. Have you done a frugal or no spend challenge? Let me know! I really do want to know.
How was your January? I hope good, healthy, and warm. And happy tax season, friends. ♡