Finance Friday: Week Three

Summer events are slowly winding down.

This weekend looks to be the last in a string of fully booked days off, so my spending should have a corresponding downturn as well. I hadn’t tallied the numbers before today but feel good about my spending choices this week. They were considered and fell in line with Saying Yes to social events, without going too far overboard.

 

Friday I met friends for happy hour and spent ZERO! They very sneakily paid for my one drink and I stuck my one-and-done-no-food guns for the night. Skipped dance night where I’d have spent more money and went swimming while the water and air were still steamy and delightful.

Saturday I spent $75.89 on groceries and $28.80 out and about. I was at a conference for most of the day, eating lots and lots of catered food for free. I met friends for dinner out where they’d kindly ordered me a drink while I was biking there (oops…they’ll learn my cheap ways eventually) and I ordered one appetizer. Topped the night off at another friend’s music performance which was worth far more than the door price we actually paid. SUCH a great night of biking and laughing and singing and storytelling!

Sunday I spent $73 on a long-held-the-money-aside purchase of two floor stools from Ikea. I have no typical sitting furniture in my living room, which I love as does my back and joints, but my son’s friends aren’t as keen. These were their suggestion and so far they’ve worked out great! The cat is especially in love 😉 This has been a delayed purchase for about a year,and totally not a necessity, but I finally bit the bullet because two of my kiddo’s friends are moving in with me next month. I actually caught myself looking at couches on Craigslist but these were a cheaper option that better fit my hate-sitting-in-furniture-that’s-terrible-for-my-body lifestyle 😉

Monday I spent $32.33 on one tank of gasoline.

Tuesday I spent ZERO.

Wednesday I spent ZERO.

Thursday I spent ZERO.

Today I spent $6.10 on cafeteria food after forgetting half my food for a late shift.

Meal planning is back in full swing, but has NOT been worthy of posting here, ha! I am realizing that keeping it automated and boring is the key to losing impulsive behaviors. No more “I feel like chocolate chip cookies! Let’s go to the store!” or “I feel like Pringles! Yum!” when I stick to a boring list of boring food. Weekends have been so busy lately, I haven’t noticed how redundant my overall meal spread is, but true fall brings out the former foodie in me so it’ll be fun to add my favorite soups and casseroles back in to rotation.

How about you? Are you feeling different spending urges now that the seasons are changing? Have a great week!

Frugal Finance Friday: Week Two

This week feels more like my normal low key money self.

Less outings with new friends, more introspection and gettin’ stuff done around the house. It’s not quite fall weather yet around here so I plan to spend this coming weekend outside in the free hot steamy cloud-lined world.

 

Friday I spent ZERO.

Saturday I spent ZERO. I decided not to see a dance performance and caught up on sleep instead.

Sunday I spent $69.43.  $18 on wine (hmph), $13 on allergy remedy, and the rest on groceries. I purchased a new bag of wheat-less flour and read the price label wrong…. it was $10 more than I thought. I’d better get to baking!

Monday I spent ZERO.

Tuesday I spent $11.83 on one bag of dog food.

Wednesday I spent just under $10 for fancy cheeses to take to a friend’s where we sat in the sunshine and ate yummy snacks and caught up on life.

Thursday I spent ZERO.

Today I plan to spend under $10 meeting friends this evening.

I feel that I’m headed the right direction again, but will likely post here for a couple of weeks to make sure it’s not a temporary blip of mindfulness 🙂

Happy weekend!

Why My Kiddo Attends a Private University

I’ve felt from day one that my job as a parent is to see who my child is and help him navigate the world through that lens. My former husband and I always agreed that whatever vocation our son was drawn to was just fine with us and we’d help him figure out how to attain that goal. What we didn’t feel was necessary: college just for the sake of attending.

 

My son knew from very early on that he wanted to be an engineer. His specific interests varied but he was always designing things and modeling ideas on paper and was obviously adept at higher math.

School itself, however, wasn’t a total cakewalk; some subjects were quite difficult. He developed study habits and a work ethic that put me to shame, and made an effort to discuss assignments regularly with his teachers. We live in a very sports-oriented state, but he made a decision going into high school to give up his sport so that he would have more time to study.

The high school he chose offered an engineering track in their curriculum and he took all the classes allowed. He applied for and was accepted to an internship in an engineering department where he learned from both mechanical and civil engineers.

When he first looked at schools, one particular university kept popping up over and over as a great fit for his interests. He was never keen on the liberal arts classes in high school and the idea of paying tuition for a year or more of general classes wasn’t appealing. We discussed a variety of schools’ programs and different housing options including living at home.

He always circled back to the curriculum of the one school, but I discovered by accident that he wasn’t going to apply because of the cost: over $50,000 per year.

We had a long discussion about not ruling out his dream school; he could apply to a variety of schools and we’d talk through the decision once acceptance letters came in. He applied and I began researching (and of course kicking myself for not getting my financial house in order sooner in life, ha).

Our local university, which required general courses and isn’t especially outstanding as an engineering school, is approximately $16,000 per year for tuition and books. Room and board if my son chose to live on campus instead of at home would be $9500 per year. I personally am biased toward students living on campus at least for the first year so that was a realistic option for us. Miscellaneous fees and a meal plan weren’t accounted for in our initial investigation, but can range from several hundred to a few thousand dollars.

His dream school added up to $50,015 when he applied – for tuition, room and board, meals, all fees including a school issued laptop, and books. Their curriculum had only one general course that was designed to ensure all students were researching and writing at the expected level. From the day he applied, he was assigned a liaison at the school. His contact checked in regularly throughout the admissions process, making sure we had all the forms submitted on time for financial aid, for example, and answering any questions about individual majors and classes. My son’s liaison called him personally to tell him he was accepted.

In the meantime, the state school he applied to was silent. Eventually he received a postcard saying, “Welcome to XXX” and the admissions packet sluggishly followed.

After he was accepted to dream school, they required we attend an education weekend, where there were a variety of presentations emphasizing how rigorous and difficult their programs are. Halfway through the day, the prospective students were split up by intended major and taken on a tour that included challenges using actual lab equipment and doing a lot of math 🙂 We parents stayed behind and attended lectures on campus safety, the dedication of staff to ensuring their students succeed, and even more emphasis on the intensity of the academics.

Kiddo was super excited after the weekend trip. The curriculum is exactly what he was looking for, and every single employee we spoke with was incredibly engaged in getting to know the students. We felt like the school’s “customer service” was far above any of the other schools we’d visited, and they especially did an excellent job of not sugarcoating their expectations for academic dedication.

The factors that ultimately swayed my son’s decision:

  • The overall interaction with people at the school made the process very personal. They were evaluating him as him: his experience, talents, and academics, not just test numbers.
  • He plans to pay for school himself (with loans and money saved from working summers and breaks) so wanted his money well-spent. This school more than fit the bill of not “wasting time” on classes that didn’t pertain to his major.
  • He was originally looking at a four-year Civil or Mechanical Engineering degree followed by graduate school for Aerospace Engineering. This school offers a 5-year freshman to master’s degree. He will have the same level of education in four years that most students do in their second or third year of graduate programs.
  • Because of the academics, job placement rates are very high. My son expects to have job offers in his junior year. He will be almost guaranteed to find a job where graduate school would be paid by his employer.
  • He wants hands-on experience throughout college, since he was exposed to that in high school. This school has some major companies offering summer internships, and these often turn into jobs.
  • He wants to be in a school that values diversity, which ruled out some of the big hitters early in his search. This school attracts remarkable students from all over the world (I attended a final speech he gave last spring and some of the students’ stories absolutely blew my mind. I was the weirdo with tears running down my face and a giant smile through nearly all the presentations).
  • He wants to be challenged, and there was no question this school would provide a stimulating environment.

From a financial standpoint:

  • Dream School offered a tuition deduction that varied in amount for Kiddo’s ACT score. State School did not.
  • Dream School offered a tuition deduction varying in amount for Kiddo’s GPA. State School did not.
  • Dream School offered a tuition reduction for attending a summer camp (that Kiddo didn’t attend). State School did not.
  • Dream School offered a tuition reduction for Kiddo’s engineering-related classes in high school. State School did not.
  • Dream School offered a tuition reduction for Kiddo’s high school internship. State School did not.

State school would, at bare minimum, cost us $17,000 per year, and more likely $27,000 at least the first year.

The amount left for us to pay at Dream School? $11,000 per year. 

 

Early on in his college research, my son was reading finance blogs and was even leaning at one point toward tech school due to cost, with the hopes he could leverage it into a four-year degree then graduate school. By following his true interests, however, he found the perfect fit for what he wants out of his education.

This isn’t meant to be an advice piece. Rather, it’s one example of one kid who made a choice based on his personal values and goals rather than on money, that turned out to be a better choice financially as well, and will likely pay off even bigger as a newly graduated engineer in a few years.

 

 

 

Frugal Finance Friday: Week One

Well. Last week initially started off great.

Saturday I packed food for two meals, and coffee and water for a planned bike ride.

BUT. It turned into an entire day of activities with new friends that ended up at a pub. I spent more there than if I would’ve been purchasing street food throughout the day. So that clearly backfired in a financial way; but was absolutely glorious in an adventure-with-new-friends-all-day kind of way. I definitely spent too much, though: $50!! I haven’t even spent that much on my birthday dinners in the past few years! ((I left that number out until the very last moment before posting. It’s one of the only purchases I’ve made in the last year that I’m embarrassed about! Which is a good lesson!)) Next time I think I’ll leave my card at home and just take $10 cash as late night impulse purchases of $7 zucchini fritters is NOT in my current budget!

Sunday I spent ZERO. Putzed around the house.

Monday I spent $22 on groceries at Aldi and STUCK TO MY LIST. Usually I’ll visit a nearby grocery store for the few things that end up not in stock at Aldi, but I decided I’ll make it work without (potatoes, squash, onion).

Tuesday I spent ZERO. Day off from work; prepped my meals for the rest of the week. Thought about going paddle boarding since this is likely the last hot week of the year, but decided my $50 purchase on Saturday meant I’d pre-spent any fun money for the remainder of the week. I also declined going to a show with a friend for the same reason (also I’m old enough to not enjoy mornings after going out on a “school night”).

Wednesday I spent $46. I realized I’d forgotten to buy cat litter so stopped at Aldi and bought two jugs of litter and potatoes for $13. I had let my gas tank sit at near-empty in hopes of not driving until absolutely necessary, but was on call overnight Wednesday so filled up for $33. 

Thursday I spent $31. I had free biking plans with a group ride and made sure I ate at home first. Per Saturday’s lesson, I had cash to pay for an order of fries and a tip. A new friend asked if I wanted to meet up for happy hour beforehand, and I checked the menu online before leaving my house. When I arrived, my friend had ordered me a whiskey I particularly like that was definitely not on the happy hour menu so I spent a lot more than the $6 I’d planned. I’m glad I had my card on me after all to cover the charge and I’m glad I ate a good meal beforehand. I did stick to my french fry order at the end of the night.

Friday I will spend $0. I’m off work again today (slow week), and have nothing scheduled. Time to make coffee and start a pot of yogurt.

Total spending for the week: $149.

$68 for groceries/gasoline/household items and $81 for frivolity with friends. The latter number is what I most need to focus on – I think my new friendship is established enough now to start avoiding going out to diners and pubs. All my friends are lovely people who would certainly be accommodating if I flat out said I don’t want to spend any money but with new friends I’ve had it backfire a few times where they start offering to pay all the time, which isn’t the point. I feel ok about the why of my fun spending but am not ok with the dollar amount. But it gives me something very actionable to focus on for next week, right? Ha!

from vacation in PA last summer

Frugal plan for the coming week:

Weekend plans: I’m declining attending a performance by a visiting Indian dancer that is very highly regarded in the arts world. I’ve seen her once before and it was incredible. But I pre-spent the ticket price last Saturday and last night. I have yoga in the morning that is pre-paid and will avoid walking by the new location of my favorite neighborhood coffee shop to see if they’re open yet, ha.

I’m going to continue focusing on meal planning, eliminating pub/diner spending altogether for the rest of September, and bike to work.

I have plenty of yard work to keep me busy this weekend as well!

 

How has your week been?

 

Frugal Finance Friday: Checking In

 

I let mindless spending habits creep back in over the past two months. It’s time for another hard look at what I’m actually spending versus what I think I’m spending.

The budget categories I especially need to focus on are:

  • Groceries/Household Items
  • Gasoline
  • Friend/Family Fun
  • My Spending

 

For the month of July in each category I spent:

  • Groceries/Household Items $388
  • Gasoline $89
  • Friend/Family Fun $260 (dining out, paddleboard rentals, life jacket purchase, several tickets to outings <$15 each, camping trip)
  • My Spending $58 (yoga, paddleboard rentals)

For the month of August in each category I spent:

  • Groceries/Household Items $421 (!)
  • Gasoline $59
  • Friend/Family Fun $110 (dining out, 24 hr community bike ride costs/food, dance night)
  • My Spending $75 (yoga – worked out to $6/class)

 

Meal planning fell by the wayside and it absolutely shows in my budget.

I’ve made progress in expanding my social circle and establishing new friendships, but I’m definitely spending more than I want to on food/beverages during outings.

Even though my gasoline usage isn’t extremely high, I have no good reason to drive to work instead of bicycling. I have a weak excuse about sleeping in now that it’s dark in the morning when I leave. I feel so much better physically when I’m biking regularly so it’s high time to get back in the saddle!

At the end of this month I’m planning to drop down to weekly yoga classes now that I’m starting to feel better about not injuring myself without hands-on instruction. It’s been so good for my chronically painful back and overall stress level so I don’t want to give up the motivation of being in a group class.

My plan to hold myself accountable:

Post here weekly with itemized purchases in each category. I’m hoping that the subtle threat of having to list “$2 coffee in the cafeteria when I had perfectly fine free coffee available in the breakroom” will be the motivation I need to buckle down.

Post meal plans weekly. Don’t get your hopes up for great ideas, though, I tend to be a boring repeat eater and take horrible food photos 🙂 I need to curb the recent development of stopping on the way home for “something I forgot”.

Bicycle to work.

I’m aiming for zero family/friend spending this month. Starting now, anyway – I already spent earlier this week. But I’m attending a festival tomorrow and another Sunday, so it will be a good test of my preparedness and commitment to getting my budget back in the green zone.

 

Do you also find fall a time you need to button up more than just a sweater?

August Spending: How Summer Ran Away From Me

The last two months flew by, and my lack of attention to detail around here (and in my budgeting app) are all too obvious. Historically I’ve tended to spend the most in July and August as these are the only two months I’m socially active every weekend. But wow, did I take this to a level I shouldn’t have this year! My spending is actually down from last year at this time, but still– I’m going to have to buckle down now that fall is rapidly making its presence known.

 

I use YNAB for budgeting and tracking my spending. I average annual expenditures monthly, so occasional bills such as car insurance have money put aside all year. Thus, in months where I have smaller income I still have enough set aside to cover my expenses.

 

 

  • Fixed expenses $1383: My electric bill has been on a budget plan of $109. I’m currently paying $75 due to credit from low winter usage. City utilities are average. Internet is fiberoptic.
  • Repayment to my Past Self $1610: Not as much extra toward debt this month. Budget will be a bit tight for a little while because of two months in a row of the following:
  • Groceries $421Not meal planning is REALLY starting to show. Some of this was for family meals instead of just me, but dang my food spending has gone up!
  • Pets $19: Dog food.
  • Bikes $0
  • Auto Maintenance $90: Replaced the right front strut. Thank you potholes 🙂 This was yet another frugal win via my kiddo sourcing a discounted part through his job and doing the installation himself!
  • Gasoline $59
  • My Spending $75: Yoga membership. This has been SO good for my back. So far with the number of classes I’m attending this has worked out to around $6/class, and I’m new enough post-injury that I really value the eyes on my form. 
  • Family/Friend Funtimes $110: Spending during a community bicycle event; dinner out with a new friend; paddleboarding rentals through my membership doubled w/Groupon; dinners with my kiddo in exchange for walking the dog during the day.
  • Kiddo: he’s paying his own bills now that he’s home for the summer! Yeah!
  • Everything Else:
    • $24 +1.00 cheater glasses for work – I now have a pair at home and a pair at work. Not necessary but much easier.
    • $33 prescription contacts through Hubble – they are a teeny bit big for my eyes but work just fine and cost close to $200 less per month than what I was prescribed!

 

The Overly Personal But Wow Does It Affect My Spending:

I have been in a social flux over the summer. Spending a little more than I’d like on outings, but more importantly spending more the days after I’m lonely. This year has been difficult on that end, with my son away and my two closest girlfriends having babies in the last year or so. I’ve realized just recently that I feel so adrift because I’ve lost that “daily blah blah” outlet. A jump in usage of personal social media correlates that, but it’s obviously not a suitable replacement for close friendships.

I also am conflicted with feelings for someone that initially pursued me in a dating sense but changed their mind before things got off the ground, and who lately has been making an effort to be friends in a buddy-telling-me-about-his-dates way (ugh). The normal Kat with a well-rounded satisfying emotional life would have no problem simply moving on from that friendship, since my feelings are not subsiding and I don’t care for that dynamic at all. But current wah wah I-want-to-go-do-all-the-outdoor-things-before-summer-ends Kat is drawn to the daily conversation and (free) activities we both enjoy.

How it’s affected my cashflow: I’ve noticed that I don’t go on spending sprees when I am emotionally preoccupied or down, but I DO let all my careful planning go right out the window while I spend the day drinking tea and reading fluff mystery novels or neuroscience books that keep my brain engaged and my heart quiet. This lack of preparation leads to increased spending during the workweek by stopping at the store every couple of days for dinner ingredients rather than sticking to a list.

I’m having a late cocktail with a new frugal friend tonight, so it will be easy to stick to one beverage and not order food. I initially hesitated to go out at all (rather than just meeting to bike on the weekend), but I think I need to start putting energy into ongoing friendships that don’t cause my heartrate to bound all over the place. For the sake of my net worth, of course 🙂

When We Make Spending Choices We Don’t Like

I currently read a fairly narrow span of subjects when it comes to blogs – personal finance of course – followed by simple living, home improvement, and homesteading sites.

At least once a month I come across a statement in various posts along the lines of, “We were lazy so we ordered takeout,” or “Too lazy to mow and now the weeds are taking over!”

my city – from a rooftop where I totally spent $4 on kombucha

 

The concept of “laziness” in relation to spending choices especially bothers me. Using that term implies an inherent slothfulness towards money in the moment the choice was made. I believe, however, that it also creates a cycle of guilt. Say that we logically hold the belief that we should cook our own dinner instead of ordering in, to further our financial goals. One night we get home late, tired and overly hungry, trip on the cat because he’s hungry too, stub our toe on that same dang corner cabinet, and we recognize that preparing dinner is going to be more of a chore than our current mindset wants to tolerate. So we order Thai food.

We order Thai food, and there’s a little voice in our head that reminds us we don’t want to spend all our money on takeout. Then there’s another little voice that chimes in reminding us we are accountable to an audience and we’ll have to admit we spent money on takeout. Before long there’s a whole chorus admonishing us for a simple choice made in a simple moment where our wants didn’t align with our goals.

Three days later when we’re writing and tallying up our spending for the week, we pen the seemingly innocuous phrase, “We were lazy so we ordered takeout,” and have reinforced to ourselves that we made a “bad” choice.

I believe it’s time we stop labeling our spending decisions as “good” or “bad” — especially to ourselves. 

To me this dichotomy just reinforces the “treat” mentality many of us fight so hard to overcome. Assigning emotional value to spending choices is also how many of us got into debt situations in the first place! Making ourselves feel guilty just adds to the pile of subconscious beliefs we have about our ability to manage our finances well.

If we take the emotion away from how we frame our decisions, choices become yes or no questions. “Does this spending fit the clearly defined goals I’ve outlined for my financial future?” 

this guy wants you to stop making yourself feel badly about money

If the answer is yes, great!

If the answer is no, it gives us an opportunity to examine our spending habits and the stories we’ve unknowingly told ourselves about why we spend. In the takeout example, perhaps we’ve just started cooking at home recently and it’s not yet enjoyable or quick. Or maybe we’re really struggling with meal prep for busy days and the idea of yet another warmed up frozen meal is not appetizing. Or it could be as simple as we’ve really, really been craving authentic Thai food from that place down the street where we spent so many great nights last summer with friends. None of these possibilities are “good” or “bad” scenarios, right? They just are. Understanding which one is the reason we chose to order Thai can help us in the future, if we can look at it objectively.

If we identify that cooking is slow and tedious, or we’re just struggling with foods being routine, we can look at changing prep time to include music, slicing and measuring portions of veggies and fruits ahead of time so all we have to do is dump ingredients together (I’ve been known to premeasure even things like cheese days ahead because I am still slow!), and trying one new recipe a week that looks plain fun. If we realize that we have had a hankering for Thai because we associate it with easy companionship and good conversations, maybe we can plan to invite friends over and make a crock pot curry next time.

The key is reframing our decisions to encourage an empowered mindset. If I thought about my cafeteria breakfast purchase this morning as a bad decision (yes, I totally did just this morning spend $8 on eggs and potatoes!), I’ve now reinforced the guilt cycle internally. Next time I get home late I’ll tell myself “Oh I’ll just make breakfast in the morning,” and when it doesn’t happen again I’ll be thinking, “Ugh! See, I still can’t get this right!” I had a little twinge at the $8 price tag, for sure, but I know by now that if I chastise myself internally over this, I’ll be more likely to do the same next time. Now instead of being able to shake off this one purchase as an aberration in the giant picture of my financial wizardry, it’s becoming a pattern associated with negative emotions. Feeling badly almost never leads to success in big endeavors.

So what the heck do we tell ourselves, then? Instead of being annoyed with my purchase this morning, I realize it’s simply a choice that I don’t like. I can clearly identify the variables that led up to this decision: I worked late last night and thought I’d prep my food this morning; I sure did sleep hard and didn’t get up on time; I forgot to boil eggs in my water for making coffee while I was showering (I thought I was a genius the first time I did that); I remembered I don’t have any bananas because I’m having an internal conflict about the ethics of buying bananas; and I hit the door with just coffee in hand. Did I berate myself all the way to work? Nope. I had a good chuckle about the very obvious outcome to my lack of preparation and the grand assumption that I could suddenly be expected to function before 5am when I don’t on any other day. I know I’m still committed to my finance journey, and I won’t allow a blip here and there to keep me from making forward progress. 

If I start noticing a pattern, then yes, it’s time to revisit my goals and make sure they still match my values. Because every spending choice at its core boils down to that yes or no question, regardless of what caused us to spend in the past.

It helps, too, to remind ourselves of how awesome we are for being on this journey at all. I know that I’m a pretty amazing human woman that has the ability to choose how my money is spent — just think about that! That is power! Most of us are in a position right now to have the privilege to choose where our money goes! Even for those of us that are choosing to fulfill minimum payments that stretch our budgets incredibly thin, we are choosing to move forward. That’s incredible!

If you soon find yourself disappointed in an impulse buy, take a moment to stop and examine the feeling, then send it on its merry way. “Thanks, guilt, for showing  up so I can look at this situation from a different perspective.”

“Does this spending choice align with my financial goals and my personal values?”

Happy Friday, finance friends!

The Importance of Feeling Abundant Without Money

Every summer I scale back my digital use to reconnect with sunshine, with nature, and most importantly with myself. Winter is often a time of deep reflection for me, and often leads to good changes in my habits, like starting to document my journey with finances here. While I didn’t anticipate that it would be difficult for me to maintain a writing schedule once summer hit, it’s been surprisingly insightful to put my ideas into practice without the daily support system I’d created for myself by reading the fantastic finance blogging community.

 

By far the biggest shift in beginning to achieve my finance goals has been changing my mental and emotional relationship to money. I’ve never been a typical consumer in the sense of clothes, shoes, or electronics, but I’ve certainly spent years of my adult life frivolously throwing cash at food, at music (primarily concerts that often meant more food and beverage spending), at experiences with my kiddo that I know now could have been done practically for free if I’d researched a bit more.

I thought I felt good about myself that I didn’t “want” the clothes and shoes that a lot of my friends enjoyed buying, but the truth is that I felt I “couldn’t afford” to buy unnecessary things and therefore I was a bit self-righteous in not desiring those things. Then I turned around and easily justified to myself the spending on lunches out with friends, coffee treats on payday, music shows where friends’ bands were playing, science museum passes, cheap seat movie tickets, and car rentals to drive to a far suburb where a friend was a theatre production designer for free admission to musicals that my son loved. I’m sure I spent a lot more on those choices than I ever would have on my style of clothing and shoes!

 

The difference now is that I’m not looking at my strict budget and feeling that I can’t purchase something — I’m looking at all the things I DO have and feeling grateful for my home, my pets, the appliances that make daily life easier, my car, my bicycle, and the fact I have a job that allows me the money for all of these things. It’s a choice not to “treat” myself to something that’s not really a treat, because I know that that $4 coffee isn’t worth losing sight of my goals. The choice not to treat myself with that $4 coffee is now self-rewarding, because I deeply love the ritual of making my own cup in the morning and sipping it while waking up slowly.

 

I’ve seen a lot of advice over the years regarding gratitude, such as ending your day with noting things for which you are grateful. I’ve been doing something similar for a few months, but I start my day in gratitude and thanks. Right as I wake up, I write (ok scribble, this is pre-caffeine and lacking glasses) something I am truly grateful for right that moment. Usually it’s my elderly dog snuggled up with me, but today it was the realization that it was only Sunday and I could read for a few hours instead of jumping up to go to work (this doesn’t happen very often, but what a GIFT that calendar-mis-awareness is!!). When I first started this practice, I was writing more along the lines of setting an intention for the day. I’ve found, however, that feeling thankful for what is already present in my life first thing has been even more profound. I don’t need to choose a specific intention, because everything I want is already present. This doesn’t mean all my debt is magically gone and I can retire tomorrow, rather, it does mean that right now I already have the tools and the drive to make that happen.

 

And so do you! Wherever you are in your financial journey, the fact you’re on the internet reading, researching, or making connections with folks in the finance blog world means you already have taken steps to move in the right direction for you. You already have everything you need to start that journey. I’ve realized that I have everything I need and more, and the pull of spending has rapidly lessened the more abundant I feel.

Have an abundantly frugal week, friends 🙂

June Spending: Post-Vacation Amnesia and a Cracked Tooth

walking path in Washington Park, Portland OR

I use YNAB for budgeting and tracking my spending. I average annual expenditures monthly, so occasional bills such as car insurance have money put aside all year. Thus, in months where I have smaller income I still have enough set aside to cover my expenses.

We’ll get right to it with self-analysis to follow 🙂

  • Fixed expenses $1245: My electric bill has been on an averaged budget plan of $109. We’re on a several-month streak of minimal or no charges! Cell phone bill was a little higher due to using data on vacation. City utilities are average. Internet is fiberoptic.
  • Repayment to my Past Self $1686: I set auto payments while I was gone, so it was easy peasy to keep up and not be tempted to “borrow” the extra to spend while on vacation!
  • Groceries $254 EEEEEGADS! This was for only 3 weeks! I can tell I didn’t take advantage of my extra day off after vacation to meal plan! There were a few cafeteria purchases as well, as I tried to readjust to my time zone and completely forgot my lunch a couple of days. 
  • Pets $344: Dog food, cat food, and the dog’s annual dental cleaning with antibiotics since he’s a very old guy 🙂 He kept all his remaining teeth this time, though!
  • Bikes $0
  • Auto Maintenance $234: The throttle sensor broke on our way home from vacation – just as we got back into the metro area, actually. Luckily for me, my frugal ninja college student knew that AutoZone lets you read the check engine light for free and prints out a report, and what do you know but we broke down literally right next to AutoZone! We managed to limp home at 20 mph, where my industrious kiddo then researched the part, purchased it, and installed it for me. $234 is for the part alone – I have a great shop that charges very fairly, but I’m assuming it would have been at least $500-600, more at the bigger shops around the city. The fact I already try to bicycle commute made it easy to avoid needing a rental car for the week my car was not in tip-top shape. A major win even though it was a surprise expense! And I had fun watching the install and learning how this doohickey is connected to my car’s computer.
  • Gasoline $28.19: One fill up, not including vacation.
  • My Spending $10 while on vacation
  • Family/Friend Funtimes $66: One ice cream shop stop (with a doggie cup of course) and a Groupon purchase for paddleboard rentals. SO MUCH FUN!
  • Kiddo: he’s paying his own bills now that he’s home for the summer! Yeah!
  • Everything Else:
    • $28 for drill bits and a chuck key (I have no idea where the chuck key went! The drill bit size I needed to repair a table was broken last summer); as well as a cheap roll of Caution tape to mark off the lawn where I’ve spread new grass seed and now fertilizer.
    • $33 prescription contacts through Hubble – they are a teeny bit big for my eyes but work just fine and cost close to $200 less per month than what I was prescribed!
    • $522 dentist – routine cleaning, x-rays, onlay (partial crown) of a tooth that was cracked
    • VACATION! $1645 for over 5000 miles, three people, one dog, 26 meals and a LOT of gasoline!! This is a HUGE decrease from my spending last year which was half the mileage, half the bodies, and straight camping.

Lessons: 

I am STILL annoyed that SIX HUNDRED DOLLARS of my vacation spending was for a hotel room! But I really think it’s bugging me more because I turned down a house stay option only because I hadn’t seen that friend in a few years and didn’t want to take advantage adding an extra guest and my dog at the last minute. Of course we picked up right where I left off and I’m so bummed I didn’t take the opportunity to spend more time with her!

PLANNING is the key for me, in EVERYTHING. From lunches to a cross-country road trip – the hours I spend preparing and pre-frugalizing my decisions always save me money and also save me from decision fatigue. I spent the first 40 years of my life winging it, so I still definitely have some work to do in this area, but the last nine months or so have put me on a good path. I wouldn’t say planning out my weeks are habit yet – in fact, it still feels very novel, but it’s getting easier and a tiny bit faster to do so. The week after returning home is proof that I need to keep working at this skill – my food spending was completely mindless on some days (I even bought coffee at work!) which was a bit eye-opening since it had previously felt very easy to avoid those little expenditures.

YouTube is an invaluable resource. We (ok, my son) fixed a car part that I’d never heard of and he’d not yet seen on a car built after 2000 (so the computer aspect and some of the hoses were a little more complicated). In the last six months I’ve used YouTube to learn how to rewire electrical outlets, repair small appliances, and have started using guided meditation videos daily.

Saying Yes to social opportunities is still important to me – purchasing vouchers for paddleboard rentals is already turning out to be a great decision. The three of us spent a gorgeous sunny afternoon on one of our many city lakes, and I can tell I’m hooked. Now just for more days off of work that aren’t raining 🙂

I’ve continued to walk around the city lakes with a dear friend regularly – costing us nothing but delightful time.

I’ve also joined my bike shop for a couple of overnight camping trips, which are loads of fun and incredibly frugal – my only expense has been my food; the shop pays for the campsite. I have more bicycling events coming up this month, that are also essentially free.

It finally feels like summer and I can tell it’s going to be a good one! What fun frugal activities do you have planned? 

Frugalizing a Cross-Country Superfun Roadtrip!

Myself and two lovely teenagers just returned from a two week trip to the other side of the U.S.

 

The addition of the third person in our merry band was fairly recent, and at the last minute we decided to bring the dog as well, which changed our plans a bit and in previous years could have completely derailed my budget.

The past six months of redefining my relationship with money served me very well on this trip. I managed to stay within budget in spite of making a few not-so-frugal choices that were for the benefit of our whole group. There were definitely some key elements to my success:

I planned ahead.

We’d planned this over the entire year, and I’d put money aside each month. We knew after returning from a bike tour last year that we wanted to do another family vacation. I requested my vacation time in November and specifically chose a time of year that wouldn’t affect my paycheck much or my son’s ability to get a summer job.

We knew we wanted to go to the west coast, since it had been six or seven years and we’d previously visited regularly. We knew we wanted to see friends and family but also to go on a bikey hikey adventure of our own. I started looking into possible destinations that would be within a day’s drive of visiting loved ones.

My budgeting for this trip was ruthless. I did have one month where I used a portion of my vacation savings to pay down debt- a month without as large a surplus as I’d been accruing. This worked because I’d worked out a solid debt payment plan that I’d been sticking to and knew I had a little wiggle room.

 

We meal planned and purchased groceries.

This saved an incredible amount of cash! We did end up eating more gas station snacks on the way home, but comparing notes I think I spent $1000 less on food than the last time just my kiddo and I traveled out west years ago! I’m proud of my co-travelers for agreeing to this idea. We did go out to eat once when visiting family/friends, and visited a coffee and ice cream shop, but continued to eat our grocery store stash otherwise even in the “urban” part of our adventure.

 

We camped rather than staying in hotels.

If I’m adventuring solo, I tend to camp for free – there are multiple directories online showing public lands that allowing camping. This was initially our idea, but with the addition of the (elderly and deaf) dog and another person, both of whom hadn’t done a lot of backcountry camping, I decided it would be wiser to stay in established campgrounds. I’ve had great luck staying in KOA campgrounds in the past, and especially like that they allow check-in after hours without a reservation, which we did to be able to drive longer hours. Another benefit of car/tent camping is that there are always sites open in campground that also serve RVs.

When we did stay in a hotel, we got one heckuva deal.

My one regrettable decision of the trip: we have generous friends that offered us a place to crash during our urban adventure, but I felt awkward taking them up on their offer since I hadn’t seen them in years, we had so many other people to visit, and wouldn’t have been around any one place much. Of course, after seeing them, I am kicking myself that we didn’t, because we would’ve had each night together and like all lifelong friendships we’d picked up right where we last left off.

We therefore stayed in a hotel that we price shopped, talked down to a weekly rate that was even cheaper (I’ve never done this, being an introverted weirdo, but it paid off!), and used a discount code to book. The hotel offered a full breakfast (eggs, meat, yogurt, loads of veggies/cheese/fruit, cereal, oatmeal, waffles, biscuits and gravy, almond/soy/dairy milks, and on!) and had a refrigerator and microwave in the room for our other meal purchases, so that brought the value to the equivalent of staying in campsites. It was nice having our own space to retreat to and use as a basecamp, and it probably made the daily routine much easier for our dog.

 

We didn’t buy trinkets.

This may sound trivial, but I cannot tell you how much I’ve spent in the past on souvenirs or T-shirts or a new pair of shoes just because I’m on vacation (yeah that one) and of course, always books in local bookstores! Collectively the three of us spent less than $30 on items that we didn’t bring with us.

We made do with what we had.

This goes along with the last point as well as planning ahead. In the past I’ve done things like not bother to pack toiletries and just pick them up along the way. We made sure we brought everything we needed, and shared amongst ourselves for the times we were lacking (like an extra blanket, sweatshirt or dental floss) rather than purchasing new items.

 

We sought out free activities. 

On this trip, it was easy to find free things to do, since our main goals were to bicycle and hike. Our friends also share a love of the outdoors, so even in the urban portion of our trip we went hiking on two separate days (bringing our own food). For families with younger children, many campgrounds, state parks, and city parks have free events all summer long – all the campgrounds we stayed at had activities planned each night, from bonfires and s’mores making to star gazing walks through the forest. City museums often have free family days if you have the flexibility to plan around the dates they are offered. As a kid just staying in a campground and swimming in the pool every day was a luxurious vacation!

 

We practiced good communication and checked in regularly with one another to ensure we were all having a good time. 

This has always been important to me on trips – to make sure my son was able to do something he wanted to do, and not just being dragged around from family event to family event then whisked back home. I feel it was even more important this time, since the three of us haven’t traveled this extensively together and we all had slightly different goals. We had a rule that we’d stop off anywhere that looked interesting to any of us, which led to some great finds in places we hadn’t seen before. We also had discussions on the way home that led to skipping a day in Yellowstone, which had been on the docket “For Sure” the entire time, but all three of us felt good about the decision.

trail running on fallen redwoods: divine!

We had a fantastic adventure and bonded as a family.

I had a few hesitant moments at different times throughout the year, realizing that I was pushing my financial freedom date back by saving for this trip. But my biggest “why” for achieving that goal is to have more time with the people I love. With my son being an adult and his life taking its own shape, we both relish the adventures we are able to experience together now, and I spent too many years pushing off vacations (weekend camping trips and the like, nothing extravagant by any means) in the name of saving money. The kicker: I can’t tell you where the heck that money went, because it didn’t end up in my portfolio. It’s important to me to find a balance between my long term badassery goals and cherishing the relationships I have right now.

This trip was the right now, and it was so good to reconnect with old friends, my family, and to deepen my relationship with my son and his girlfriend. This experience only motivates me even more to buckle down now that I’m home, because it’s exactly what I want more of down the line.

 

Happy summer, frugal friends!