Frugalwoods’ Uber Frugal Month Challenge

Part 1 of my Challenge homework helped me work through the mental and emotional aspects of my financial goals.

Today I get into the nitty gritty!

Step 2 per the Frugalwoods’ challenge guideline post:  Review Spending.  I review my spending a few times a week through YouNeedaBudget — I love the clean look of the software and have figured out over the years how best to use it for my particular habits and needs.  I am not yet at a point that I can forgo a budget so YNAB has been invaluable.  I’ll post December’s spending (it was a lot, eek) after I close out the year in not-so-frugal style.

Step 3: Categorize Expenses 

Monthly fixed expenses

My health insurance is payroll deducted along with my retirement contributions.

My water usage is higher in the summer while my gas/electric are higher in the winter.  Internet is by far the cheapest and most reliable (I’m very lucky to live in a neighborhood with fiber optic).  Cell phones include pay-for-usage data which we rarely need.  Debt payments include student loans, an auto loan, and a boatload of medical bills.

Monthly average spent through 2016

Bicycles were newly acquired in 2016 so the spending from here on out should be less.  Groceries include household items such as toiletries and kitchen doodads as well as all food.  My spending includes all the cafeteria breakfasts and drive through coffees I mindlessly indulged in for the first ten months of the year!  Vacation was a life-changing trip that my now-adult kiddo and I will both always cherish so I’m ok with those choices even though I still have considerable debt.  Kiddo categories include all of his spending:  on his car, school expenses, food, clothing, entertainment and so on.

Step 4 — What can I eliminate entirely?

  1. salon visits — my eyebrows will take over the world!
  2. alcohol for home consumption (currently $20-30/month)
  3. bath/grooming products other than bar soap, toothpaste/floss
  4. DRIVING when I’m not on call
  5. Things I eliminated in November 2016: buying meals at work, buying coffee out just to buy coffee, going to shows (music), Netflix (it ended two days before the Gilmore Girls reboot and I didn’t restart my account!), driving without combining errands, any clothing that wasn’t directly related to winter biking necessities, haircuts for the kiddo, and mindlessly shopping at spendy food stores without making a meal plan for the week.

Step 5 — Substitutions

  1. salon: I’ve been waxing my eyebrows, not prettily, but good enough for all the men I know and most of the women 😉  NO HAIRCUTS will be easier than it sounds because my head is covered at work and this time of year is covered everywhere else outside my house as well.
  2. alcohol: Tea instead of wine.  I loooooove my wine, in the winter especially, but it will be good to take a longer break than the weekdays I usually take ‘off’.  I’ve noticed this last year that wine consumption affected my bicycling if I was doing a long ride the next day, so I’ll have to evaluate this line item for a number of reasons at the end of the challenge.
  3. grooming products: I have a shampoo bar that should last me the whole year (I use it every couple of weeks; otherwise I just use water).  Once my current lotion runs out I’m going back to straight coconut oil because it works much, much better.  I mostly use lavender oil instead of deodorant so my deodorant will last all year (it definitely took several months for my body to acclimate to this! but was a huge benefit while bikepacking for ten days last July).
  4. no driving: This will be a major mental challenge for me!! I do drive on days I’m on call because my response time would be too long if I was called back on my way home.  I’ve been bicycling to the transit station but during our week of subzero temps I happened to be on call every day so I haven’t actually ridden below 0F yet.  In the spirit of No Driving, I will forego my shop-on-the-way-home rule and will only drive straight to work and straight home, and otherwise bicycling for commuting and errands.
  5. My previous cuts will continue.  I’m getting better at meal planning and am looking forward to a month without food-centric holidays to see if my spending estimation is on track.

Step 6 — Reduce Spending

I have been pretty good about making my lunches for the week ahead, and I eat the same thing for breakfast every day, but I could automate more of my meals.  I have health issues that require skipping many of the economical meals I lived on in past years, but I am confident I can keep my grocery bill lower than before.

I turned my thermostat down to 60 in November and came home to the dog and cat snuggled up on the couch several days in a row (they are not usually that friendly).  I’ve since settled at 68.  My house is smallish and well situated to take advantage of passive solar warming when I’m home.  I moved my bedroom from the coldest room in the house to upstairs where it’s toasty, saving me from using the oil-filled heater as often as I have in years past.

Step 7 — Insource

For my Christmas gift, my kiddo is going to teach me how to change my own oil.  I adore my car shop, but routine maintenance is, well, routine.  I’ve learned how to clean and lubricate my bike, which is even more important in salty road season.

Step 8 — Examine Your Habits

I plan to look up my utility usage and see if things like lowering the thermostat a little more will make a measurable difference.  Most of my spending impulse habits have been mitigated by making cuts in November, and things just not being an option (like buying coffee out just to get coffee) is definitely working.  I do need to start bringing more snacks to work so I’m not as hungry and cold by the time I’ve biked home.

Step 9 — Plan Ahead

Meal planning is by far the biggest impact on my week.  I do need to be a little better about having snacks on hand both at work and during my commute.  I’m starting to get the hang of eating before heading out for social events.  YNAB has helped me plan ahead for occasional expenses.

Step 10 — Buy Used or Cheap

I don’t foresee needing to buy anything in January but I’m no stranger to thrifting.  I’ve started keeping my receipts and snapping photos of prices at stores so I have a better idea of what’s really worth getting at Costco (McCann’s Irish steel cut oats at the moment!).

Step 11 — Banish Excuses


Bonus step — Say Yes

As outlined in my previous post, I’m making a conscious, intentional effort to say Yes to the good things in my life this year, especially when those choices involve people I care about.  This means I likely will spend money a few times this month — post-bike-ride libations, snowshoeing, and probably the first theater movie I’ve seen in a few years.  My newly formed frugal muscles will keep these things to one beer and fries (rather than a few and a meal), snowshoe rental but bringing my own coffee and snacks (rather than eating out before and after), and Star Wars at a theater that lets us bring in coffee cups (I don’t need snacks but I do need a warm beverage lest I fall asleep.  Even during Star Wars).

This also means that tonight I’m saying yes to reflecting on my year and making plans instead of spending money at a show; I said yes to going to the mall with my kiddo today but ate beforehand (AND avoided getting coffee even though my brain was quite insistent); I said yes to buying board games that are at this very moment being enjoyed across the table from me; and I said yes to staying overnight in a hotel when I take my kiddo back to school so that we can spend time together the following day.

I’m looking forward to the coming year, and I’m excited it’s starting off on a frugal foot!

Happy New Year!


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