Yesterday I had a birthday. I got to do my favorite things, which are being at home, spending time with my family, and doing some small things I love.
Since I’m doing an uber frugal month, things looked different than they may have in the past. Originally I’d scheduled a manicure, and was going to go buy coffee and maybe a book.
I cancelled all that.
The most surprising thing, something I wouldn’t have expected when I was 30, or 20, was that this year I didn’t feel sad about not doing those things. I only felt extreme gratitude for the many, many blessings in my life.
It’s easy to think about the past. I’ve fallen prey to regret, in spite of philosophical aversions to it. But this past year has been an unveiling of a change of heart that could only have gone down as it did, in the time it did.
This year my birthday was a beautiful day. I took the kids to the bus. I had my “free” birthday Starbucks. I got my yearly health screening. I took a long walk with Bim while I listened to an audiobook. I read and read. I took a bath in the middle of the day. Will and the kids made me the exact cake and icing I requested. And we ate it together after they sang happy birthday.
What are you reading lately? Are you listening to any wonderful books/podcasts/music these days? What are you making for dinner this week? What do you do with the tiny sliver of time you may or may not have at the end or beginning of your days?
It is in these seemingly mundane topics I am and always have been fascinated. I really do want to ask you these questions.
Earlier this week I mentioned fresh starts at the new year. Similar to September and the beginning of the school year, this time does fill me with hopes and ideas. A clean slate can be liberating and inspiring. It can also be intimidating, and make one freeze with too many choices.
This month I’m trying a couple of things, neither really all that novel. But both I’m really happy and excited to do.
the uber frugal shopping hiatus
Last month I listened to the audiobook The Year of Less by Cait Flanders (library / bookstore). In it, the author gives us a memoire about a year long shopping ban challenge. Put that way, it sounds gimmicky and loud, but it’s more of a thoughtful exploration of why we do what we do with our money, and how our decisions are rooted much more deeply than our Amazon clicks might first appear. Flanders, a millennial (I’m an elder millennial), tells the stories of her youth, jobs, and relationships, and how everything is intertwined with decisions about money and the stuff she buys and owns. I recommend it, and plan to read her newest book soon.
One of my favorite, and aptly named, podcasts, Frugal Friends, featured Mrs. Frugalwoods, who writes a blog about, not surprisingly, frugal living. Each year she does a free email Uber Frugal Month Challenge, which involves getting a daily message with tips, thought exercises, and actionable steps to practice uber frugality. I think you may still be able to sign up.
So between these two influences, I’m doing my own uber frugal shopping hiatus for the month of January. First, I have to acknowledge that many folks’ money challenges are not fixable by cutting spending alone. There is only so much one can cut, and issues like income, systemic discrimination and disadvantage, costs of education and training, caregiving duties, the list goes on, exert pressures that compound and outweigh the power of frugality.
All that being said.
This month I’m not buying any non essentials. What are some of my favorite non essentials to buy?
House things like candles, oils, kitchen gadgets, etc.
Stuff to delight and amuse our kids. This is especially compelling this month after the recent stuffplosion of Christmas.
And what am I deeming essential?
Mortgage, utilities, any absolutely necessary house repairs that come up. No cosmetic or optional home expenses.
Food. But first we eat the stuff we have in the fridge and the cupboards, then we can frugally shop for any food to amend the pantry stuff, then finally whatever else is necessary. No Trader Joe’s.
Any self care items that legitimately run out (i.e. toothpaste), and not if there’s a duplicate in the house.
If this sounds like a huge drag, it isn’t. This whole past couple of years I’ve been knowingly and unknowingly making little steps in this general direction. And because I am privileged and lucky enough to be employed and have a family safety net, I can do something like this as a behavioral exercise. Some people live like this, out of necessity or choice, all the time as a matter of course, without making a big deal about it. For me, I haven’t done this ever before, and am curious what feelings, thoughts, and changes may emerge.
I already messed up on one of these goals. I am letting you know because we all mess up; we are each just one human swimming along the stream of life with SO many challenges and variables coming at us everyday. Also, I am a perfectionist, and typically if I were to get off track on a challenge like these I’m doing this month I would probably quit. But I’m not quitting, even if I miss a day. When I miss a day.
What are you doing this month? Resting is a very valid answer. So is surviving. Take care 🖤
This week we drove over the mountains to meet my folks and reunite with our kids after they had a visit in grandparent fun land. The mountains were bright and vivid; one of those gorgeous Colorado days where the sky is crystal blue, there’s fresh snow on the ground, and everything just sparkles. It was gorgeous.
But it is real life, and we did see remnants of several wrecks. People still driving so fast and so close, and me sitting there in the passenger seat with my eyes smashed shut, praying that everyone has time enough to stop if anyone should slam on their brakes.
This is sort of what the past couple of years have been like – moments of heart exploding love and beauty, contiguous to moments of horrific loss and sorrow. There was a terrible fire and a mass shooting near/in our town this past week. We hold onto one another and try to do our best to live and care as much as possible each day. I am so sorry to everyone who lost a friend, a parent, a loved one.
It is a new year. I still feel an effervescent hope this time of year when January comes. New lists are made, new calendars are opened, and things really do feel fresh and, well, possible. I’m so grateful for the seasons’ rhythms and the magical way they brighten my days and moods. I’m so grateful for everything, or try to be. To practice noticing all the tiny, miraculous goodness around me, even when things are hard, or annoying, frustrating, or downright awful.
Do you make new years resolutions? I’ve tried variations, like choosing a word of the year, or setting goals, etc. I’ve never gotten so fancy as to make a vision board or the like. The past couple of years I’ve been noticing more and more my tendency to complicate things. It’s all in good fun – like deciding to set up a bullet journal and getting all excited about that, or planning to do a big monthly craft project, or taking on some ambitious reading list. And while some of it is actually fun, many things just steal time, or causes stress, or I accumulate a bunch of stuff that eventually ends up on a shelf someplace gathering dust in a forlorn neglected heap.
This past week, while the kids were out of town, Will and I moved furniture around the house and took down all the Christmas decorations. This involved a lot of corresponding sorting, sifting, dusting, and pondering. We’ve done this a lot together over the years. When we moved overseas, or moved apartments a bunch of times, or when we moved into our house we’re in now. We are really lucky, in that we share a similar sensibility when it comes to our ideas around stuff. And really, there are so many ideas about stuff. How did we get all this stuff?!
For the past ten+ years I’ve been reading every book I can find about minimalism, mindfulness, and the general detritus of living a life in this world. From Marie Kondo to hygge to maximalism to minimalist/zero waste challenges, I’ve been fascinated by all of it. I cannot get enough. Has it really had an impact on my actual life, though? Have I gotten rid of all my stuff and stopped buying crap? Or have I decided to not care and join the consumer landslide that is our culture? No. Not totally. Not either.
For a long time in my adult life, I never thought much about money. I’ve been working since I was 11 years old (babysitting, to start) and haven’t stopped for any substantial time since then. I knew money came, and money bought the some of the things I wanted. My decisions about money were made almost on a lark. I never got into major credit card debt (small miracle) but I took out a heap of student loans. I distinctly recall a conversation with a friend in my mid 20s about how student loans actually “didn’t count” and how we could just keep deferring them and paying the minimum for eternity. Oh, our precious 20-year-old selves. Honestly, I don’t think I’d ever heard about the dangers of student loans, and how they are administered and really work. Other than neglecting to read the fine print of all the loans I signed. Oops.
Fast forward 15 years, and I’ve finally seen that compound interest is a real, actual, impactful thing that happens, and is not a mythology used by the international adult conspiracy to scare me into not having any fun. Only I’ve seen it on much more vividly play out on my debt, than in any small amount of money I managed to save. It really hit me around the time I had kids, when a few circumstances transpired in my life and in my community. First, I watched the interest on my federally consolidated student loans expanding moment by moment, while every payment I made never even touched the principal on what I’d borrowed. I also watched inflation happen (again, that had only appeared as a legend, a myth, to me). And I watched as our city grew at an exponential rate as the housing market skyrocketed after recovering from the crash in 2008. Suddenly, or so it seemed, I could not seem to make ends meet even though Will and I had “good” jobs and were trying to be grownups raising tiny humans in the best way we could. Rent nearly doubled, and I couldn’t figure out what exactly to do to stop sliding backwards.
Why am I writing about this? There are always a few reasons, and a few truths. I guess the easiest one to talk about is that I’ve become preoccupied with learning about all things finance, and I need some other friends to talk to about it all. Will is a good sport, but there is only so much one man can take. Another is that I think it is a good thing, for humans, to talk about hard things together. It’s very easy to start to feel isolated and alone, but for some reason, and fascinatingly so, money seems even harder to talk about than other hard topics. My friends and I discuss religion, relationships, politics, death, but we don’t talk about money. Why is that?
I think it’s because money is a finger pointing at the moon. (thanks to Will for reminding me this)
What that means is that money is a barometer for so many things – self-worth, privilege, skills, luck, mental health, etc. etc. etc. – but is not those things. There is so much emotion embroiled in the topic of money that it’s impossible, I think, not to have baggage around it. And I fully know that even though this analogy makes sense to me, money has power, really brutal power, to affect a person’s life.
Also this month I’m turning 40. And I’m pretty excited about it. And I want to talk about what I want to talk about, the things that I find fascinating.
So, this is to say I might talk a little bit about money around here, about joyous frugality. I might share a bit about my story, in hopes that it may normalize someone else’s story, or make someone feel less alone. And, of course, it could, maybe, help me feel less alone too. Because isn’t that the really true truth? That we are not alone, despite what our brains may sometimes tell us. We’re all in this together.
Thanks for reading, friends. Happy New Year and love to you.