No-Spend Month: September 2018

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“2013_04_18” by Dennis S. Hurd on Flickr

We’ve launched our latest no-spend month in the 30 days between back-to-school season and birthday/Christmas season. It’s a well-timed effort, aiming to prep us for the gauntlet of birthdays that starts in October and runs all the way to early April (amidst which Christmas just happens to fall smack in the middle). What’s a frugal gal to do?

This being our third or so no-spend month, the rest of the family is well-trained now to know what to expect. No special treats at the grocery store. No runs to the corner store for chips or pop. No pizza lunches. We wait to get that movie at the library. I still buy groceries, pay for the kids’ lessons, and of course would fund any medical needs that arose, but we strictly limit “extras”.

From past no-spend months we have learned some skills and mindset hacks:

  • we enjoy home-popped popcorn–and sometimes even buttered steamed rice–while watching movies instead of chips
  • we make lemon-flavoured sweetened iced tea, or home squeezed lemon juice instead of pop
  • we have lunch in the park or a walk with friends instead of grabbing a coffee together
  • my partner started walking home on his lunch hour instead of buying lunch or snacks downtown
  • we are generally all home-bodies, and the no-spend month is no different, but during the month we make an extra effort to do more special (free) things all together like family walks, family basketball, family disc golf, puzzles on the living room floor, and maybe learn a new card game

(Plus I am trying to generate joyful chore routines that teach the kids some skills while enjoying our time together. So far: it’s kindof a chore, maybe not so joyful . . . yet! But it sure is nice to walk into the dining room later in the evening and see a clean table, with the leftovers safely stored in the fridge instead of sitting out getting dodgy.)

The not-so-fun Money talk

When I first introduced this round of no-spending, my partner was bummed. We had a conversation, and it didn’t go so well, though he was still willing to see it through for the month. He said it made him feel really restricted and sad to not be able to just grab a coffee or something at the corner store when he wanted it. And when I thought about it, I could really understand where he was coming from. I mean, he’s not the one with the blog about frugal living. This is MY nerdy thing, not his–for him, it’s just restrictive.

I thought about what he said in our conversation, about how this kind of extreme cutting back made him feel, and slept on it. The next day something I was reading inspired me, and I introduced a second conversation. I really tried to see things from his perspective, and then I asked him what financial goals he could see for us in the next couple of years.

It’s all about goals

Despite all of my blogging about saving money and living frugally, we have had surprisingly few conversations about our financial goals. Maybe he’s been afraid our goals would not line up with each other; maybe I’ve been afraid our they would not line up with reality.

But despite our fears and our silence, I pointed out that so far, we have achieved every single financial goals we have set:

  • we bought a house
  • we paid off all our student loans
  • we have set aside a growing chunk in our kids’ education savings plan
  • we got out of consumer debt, and have managed to live consumer debt free (apart from our car & mortgage) for many years
  • I was able to stay home with the kids and even homeschool them for six years
  • we have weathered several bouts of unemployment
  • I am now able to work part-time

Our incomes may seem meagre, but looking back, we have been able to achieve so much!

The best part of the conversation was when he told me he appreciated all of my work on the family finances. It’s not every day you get told you are appreciated! Believe me, it made me feel pretty good about all the work you see me post about, plus all that gets done behind the scenes.

Talking about goals can be a bit scary, but I think we were in a good place in our conversation because we were able to come to three goals for the next short term:

  • save money to get our roof fixed (the shingles have seen better days)
  • finish paying off our car (a 0% loan with just one more year left)
  • save for a trip to New York City!

All of these are reasonable goals, and the vacation goal makes it a bit more fun and motivating for everyone. Who knows–maybe we can divert some of the birthday/Christmas money into that pot and move that goal to the top of the list!

I would love to hear how others talk money with their spouses and family members. Do you have any tips to share for keeping everyone on the same page financially?

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Got Debt? #SpenditDown

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A few weeks ago I shared my “Five Tricks for Painless Debt Payoff“. Right after posting it, I put the tricks to use here at home. I quickly found out that one of those tricks stood out for me above all others. It has led me to pay off hundreds of dollars of our debt this month, putting us ahead of our expected freedom date, and saving us significant amounts of interest.

The surprisingly useful trick was #3:

Whenever you decide not to make a purchase, immediately take that amount and put it towards the debt.

Or as we’ve come to call it, #SpenditDown.

What we’ve discovered is, the effect of SpendingitDown actually carries the same feeling of momentary euphoria that buying something does, with the added bonus of improving our financial situation.

How does it work? It’s really easy. Every time you are about to buy something “extra”, stop, figure out what you almost spent, and immediately put that amount toward your debt. Then high-five the nearest person.

For example:

  • Tempted to order pizza? Make home-made, take $25 and #SpenditDown.
  • About to stop at Bulk Barn for a post-library treat? Go home and eat chocolate chips, take $15 and #SpenditDown.
  • Longing for a fancy bar of soap? Use up what you’ve got in the cupboard, take $6 and #SpenditDown.

You may have to try it to believe it, but it’s actually fun for the whole family! The kids were thrilled that I let them #SpenditDown after we opted for home-made popcorn instead of making a trip to the corner store for chips. I logged into my online banking, my little guy dutifully typed in $5, and I invited him to hit enter. When it was my daughter’s turn, she looked up with a twinkle in her eye, typed in 1-5, and hit enter. Really, it was more fun than an extra toy at the second-hand store.

One day we opted against another corner store trip, and my son asked in his sweet 7-year-old voice, “Mommy, can I Spend it Down?”

I think the success of this method is that it gives a reason and a framework for diverting funds towards paying off debt. You don’t even realize how much extra you’re spending until you start playing the game. It disrupts automatic habits of spending, while actually making you feel *good* instead of guilty, and at the same time, making progress toward debt freedom.

Without a reason and a framework, you will always tell yourself, “We will just put all our extra money toward our debt.” The problem is, in reality,

THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS EXTRA MONEY!

When it comes to the end of the month, if you’re anything like me, there’s never much extra left over, and if there is, it’s hard to justify putting it toward debt when “you never know if you might need it”.

By playing the game, you have a chance every day to put extra funds towards your debt.

So, we’ve been having a lot of fun with this. The surprising thing was, when I did my big Debt Repayment Round-Up, I only saw this method mentioned in one or two articles.

The world needs to learn how to #SpenditDown! Will you help me by posting when you decide to #SpenditDown? You can link back to this post so people know what you’re talking about, and help me inspire a revolution of debt freedom!

Triple Hitters: Frugal, Green and Healthy

There are many things in this life that are not only frugal, but are also good for the environment AND good for your health. Here, off the top of my head, are a few of these amazing triple hitters:

– hanging laundry to dry

– riding a bike instead of a car

– curb shopping (good for your health if it involves walking around neighbourhoods sleuthing out stuff, as well as hauling the stuff, and potentially fixing it. Which leads me to . . .)

– learning to fix stuff up (often uses muscles you didn’t know you had. Also, learning new skills is good for your brain, which in turn is good for your health!)

– walking instead of driving

– giving up coffee (assuming you don’t replace it with something worse!)

– growing your own food

– harvesting your own wild food

– baking your own bread (especially sourdough 🙂 )

– soaking your grains (this is frugal as it reduces cooking time and makes them more filling, thus requiring smaller serving sizes. And it’s healthier because it makes the nutrients easier to absorb)

– getting out to neighbourhood events (lonely people are less healthy than people with lots of social contacts, and getting to know your neighbours can lead to resource sharing which is both frugal and easier on the environment than everyone buying their own thingamawhosit)

The funny thing is, many of these triple hitters also hit the Resiliency mark: building community, fixing stuff, traveling by foot or bike, growing your own food, learning about wild plants . . . almost everything on the list can also make people more self-sufficient and interdependent in their communities.

Strong communities are cheaper, healthier and better for the environment. So why is it that most advertising and media are trying to drive us all apart . . .

Some lessons from the cottage

We’ve been back for a bit over a week. The clothes are washed and put away–no smells of camp fire remaining. The suntans are still there, and to some extent so is the deep sense of rhythm and calm that set in somewhere during the middle of the second week. While I was there I had this realization: simplicity! Simplicity is a beautiful thing.

Here are a few aspects of simple cottage living I decided to take home with me:

Lesson One: We don’t need a lot to have a good time. We packed for the long weekend and stayed for a month. We had six books, a box of crayons and some paper and a small bag of toys. We had about 3 to 4 outfits each (though some of us spent more time naked than creating dirty laundry). What we did have were sticks, pine cones, sand and water. Plus some wonderful family members who spent a lot of time with the kids!

Bringing it home: Knowing how few clothes we got away with removes any pressure to amass a large wardrobe for myself or the kids for the fall. It also gives me courage to further limit the amount of toys that are accessible at any given time. The kids do just fine with a limited supply, and the fewer there are out, the easier it is to tidy.

Lesson Two: We don’t need screens. One month, no videos, very limited email and web access. Even limited phone access. We really thrived in this low tech bubble!

Bringing it home: Knowing how well we did without videos or internet access helps with reducing our screen time at home–both mine and the kids’!

Lesson Three: Mother Nature has it all. Trees were castles and fairy houses. Sand was cakes and pies. Sticks were people and crutches. We even found a piece of drift wood that looked very much like a circa-1980s car phone.

Bringing it home: While I have read and believed that unstructured natural play areas are the best for kids, this experience really proved it for me. So we’ll be seeking out the corners of nature that are available to us in the city, at least as long as it’s not too cold to ride the bike! I’m also making sure we have lots of sticks, pine cones and sand around at home.

Lesson Four: We don’t need to do a lot to have a good time. We had a rich environment at our home base to explore, so we didn’t push ourselves to go out and do a bunch of stuff while we were on Manitoulin Island. We had a handful of outings scattered over the whole month. It never felt boring, it just felt relaxed and calm.

Bringing it home: With the beginning of homeschooling this fall, I am going to keep our routine here simple. There will be a hole created by friends going /going back to school, and other friends leaving town, but we don’t need to rush to fill in that hole with a lot of activities and playdates. We can hang out and explore our own back yard–both literal and figurative.

So, while we can’t live at the cottage all year round (darn!), we can try to bring the essence of the place back with us. And when it gets all stressful, as I know it will, I will try to remember breathing the forest air, and somehow come back to this feeling of peace.

The Rhythm of Days/Slowing the Pace

I’ve been reading the wonderful Waldorf homeschooling blog, The Parenting Passageway recently, and at the same time reading Sleepless in America: Is Your Child Misbehaving or Missing Sleep. Both resources (not to mention my beloved Flylady) are telling me the same thing: find your rhythm and get your waking, eating, outside time, playing and housework on a schedule.

I’ve never been good at keeping a schedule. For some reason, even though I do some things ritualistically every day, I almost always do them in a slightly different order. These resources say that setting a schedule is even more essential and beneficial for someone like me who resists it. It sounds sortof counterintuitive, though when I look at the benefits, I can see the point.

The book also highlights many benefits of maintaining a regular schedule and thereby setting the body’s clock to know when to sleep, when to wake, when to eat and so on. When a kid’s body clock is “set”, they are more likely to fall asleep easily, stay relaxed and focused throughout the day.

So we’re giving this a try. Right now we’re in observation mode to see what rhythm out days already have, though I’m finding that simply by recording what we’re doing, I’m already nudging us toward a better schedule.

Two major changes are that we’ve stopped preschool, which is allowing us to make the second change work: having both kids nap at the same time. So far my girl (who is now “officially four”) has napped two days in a row. After a year and a half of not napping. Now, this could be because she has a cold, but I’m hoping we can use the cold to help set her body clock so she keeps napping even after her cold is all better.

In any case, a frugal change: replacing preschool with sleep! From what I’ve read, it might even grow her brain more than a structured activity!

As a part of figuring out our rhythm, we’ve been keeping our days much calmer and more home based. I’m seeing the benefits already. Fewer meltdowns, more happy minutes of the kids playing quietly together, and as a bonus, I’m feeling more relaxed.

So, this is officially day 1 of 40 days of our family rhythm project. What rhythms guide your days?

Hunkering Down

It is our first month of no Mat leave money. After rent and student loan payments, we aren’t left with much to carry us over until the next paycheque. We do have a bit of savings, and a bit of a budget for gifts, and lots of available credit, but I think we can make it without dipping into any of those accounts.

In honour of our new reality, we’ve just had two “double-zero-dollar days”, which means neither I nor my partner have spent a dime in two days. These days have been few and far between over the last few months, as we’ve had a bit of breathing room and haven’t had to worry too much about our finances.

But this month we are going to have to shift gears and once again start thinking about not spending money. (To be perfectly honest, part of me enjoys the challenge–a sick, strange part of me.)

To start with, we’re going to be eating from our stockpile as much as possible this week. That means clearing out the freezer–I have some spaghetti sauce, some frozen tortellini and ravioli, and one last bag of tomatoes from last summer. I’m also planning on using some of our dried beans in a big pot of chili mid-week.

The cooler weather also helps as it means I can use the oven again–woohoo!! I made sourdough bread today–my first in a long, long time–and a banana bread to share with friends.

I figure baking saves money in two ways: it gives you food for cheaper than buying, and it also gives you something to do that doesn’t cost anything. My 3-year-old daughter is starting to get quite good at it, and it is such a joy to work beside her and teach her all the stuff my mother taught me.

I suppose it saves in a third way too: sharing baking can be a wonderful act of giving, in that small but important give-and-take currency between friends and neighbours.

So, as always, my saving money plan centres around my kitchen–staying in it and away from stores, and making nourishing food from simple, healthy ingredients. Really, it’s the life I’ve always wanted!

Confessing my sins

Garage Sale find: a crock for Sauerkraut
Garage Sale find: a crock for Sauerkraut

Well, today was the Great Glebe Garage Sale, and I definitely took a holiday from my no spending month. Here is my list of sins:

We got our bike for our girl, $30 for a Dora 2-wheeler with training wheels. It was more than I wanted to spend, and it weighs a TON, but hey, now we have it. Some better deals were some red Tommy Hilfiger running shoes for her for $1, a few dolls for $1, an old school red bandanna for $1, a Joan Didion book for 50 cents, and a crock for making sauerkraut for $2. Besides that was a plate of cookies for $10 (proceeds going to charity) and a sandwich mid-day for $5. Oh, plus one extremely packed bus ride home.

Overall, the yard sale itself was exhausting, but I’m fairly happy with what I brought home. Afterwards, my friend hosted an amazing brunch.

And now I’m home–both kids melting down and feet aching–it was a huge effort to not just go with the flow of my spendy day and get pizza. No, I chopped and whisked and grated together a little omelette for supper. Can I count that as a savings of $20 that would have been spent on pizza? Does that help atone for my spending sins???