Saying Yes and a Challenge for the New Year

I’ve never been one to make a list of resolutions at the end of each year, but I do like to embrace the the time from the solstice through the calendar new year as a fresh start and a time to reflect.  My new commitment to writing here to keep myself accountable, however, has led to being quite enthused about setting finance goals for 2017.  After tracking my spending for a year, and really looking closely the past few months, I feel like I finally have a handle on the good and the bad of my money habits.

The Frugalwoods’ Uber Frugal Month challenge came at the perfect time for me — and did all the prep work that I’d been musing over for several weeks, by outlining specific steps to identify goals and set plans.  My first step is to figure out why I’m doing all of this in the first place (aside from paying off debt!).

 

My biggest reason to aim for financial independence and at least partial retirement in the next 10-15 years is to have more time for all the things I love to do.  Right now I spend approximately 46-52 hours per week related to my job when I’m not on call, and in the winter I find it difficult to do more than laze about reading and drinking tea on my days off from work.   I am passionate about the work I do, but if I were part time I’d be more likely to be equally passionate about house projects, gardening and canning, bicycling, and scheduling time with my family and friends more than twice a year when our calendars miraculously align.

I would like to be financially independent so that I can visit loved ones without agonizing over my budget.  Most of my family lives across the country from me, as do many of my friends.  While I don’t anticipate ever being a person who jumps on a last-minute flight to attend a birthday party in another state without having planned ahead, I would like the flexibility to make planned visits happen more frequently.  My parents’ age is also a motivation for me to attain financial independence, as I would want to be there if anything were to happen that required assistance from myself or my brother.  Right now this would mean taking a formal leave from my job, which would be unpaid after I used up the paid time off hours I bank each year.

Now that I’ve identified for myself the longterm goals to inform my choices, it’s time to break down specifics for the challenge.  From the Frugalwoods’ goal setting prompts:

Why am I participating in this challenge?

I’m hoping to better define my frugality muscles.  I’m hoping that my cutbacks in the past couple of months lead to new ideas and habits of frugality that I haven’t yet discovered.  The challenge itself is aligned with goals I wanted to focus on anyway, but the camaraderie will be a huge boost.  The motivation of following along with Mrs. Frugalwoods’ emails and with other participants will be great fun!

 

What do I hope to achieve?

Finding new savings in my monthly budget will help me pay off a larger chunk of debt, and may lead to ongoing savings.  I’m anticipating the challenge will provide continued enthusiasm for my financial and personal goals.  Admittedly I’m still in the honeymoon phase of frugality, but starting the year with a fresh mindset and a concrete outline will certainly help.

While my longterm life goals were touched on above,

What are my ten year goals?

I am a person who has always resented having to articulate a 5- or 10-year plan.  It’s not at all a surprise, then, that I’ve floundered about for 15 years with minimal growth in my retirement savings.  Based on my current spending needs, in ten years I would like to be fully financially independent but will at least be close (15 years is my outside goal based on several calculators).  I think being flexible and able to adapt to sudden life changes is essential to emotional peace, but unless something radical happens, this is a very concrete and attainable goal.

In ten years I would like to have the choice to retire, depending on healthcare options for my ongoing medication needs (primarily allergy and asthma related).

In ten years I would like be able to perform most of my home’s routine maintenance and repair projects myself.

What about my current lifestyle might prevent reaching these goals and what can I do about it?

Not saving enough!  I am committed to sticking to an aggressive savings plan and feel that flexing my frugality will become easier as new habits are formed.

I also don’t wish to let my newfound frugality focus negatively impact my relationships.  So far my close friends are very supportive, but this has the potential to backfire if I allow money to become an excuse for not participating in events.

I’m going to focus on saying Yes more, to social opportunities with my friends and family.  This sounds counterintuitive to spending less, but I’ve never been a social butterfly and it’s too easy for me to turn down a loud cafe when I have delicious coffee at home.  The tipping point for me was being invited by my son and his friends to the mall before Thanksgiving…. I declined, then realized I’d just passed up an increasingly rare chance to spend time with young adults I truly love having in my life.  I made a commitment to myself to say Yes in those circumstances, even when it means I’ll end up spending more money than I would on my own.

Say Yes….

Aside from being a really great Elliott Smith song, Say Yes will be my undercurrent for the coming year.  I find it so much easier to embrace changes in my own habits when I can frame them in terms of what I gain rather than what I lose.  For example, starting in October I committed to creating an early-rising morning ritual, getting up at 4:30am and leaving to bike to work around 5:30am.  I’ve tried this many times in the past, but the only time I was able to make rising before I had to a habit was when I worked out at the gym before work with my carpool partner.  This time, instead of dragging myself out of my warm bed and resenting how dark my windows were and how tired I was, I started thinking about looking forward to making a cup of coffee, that I would get to enjoy while sitting with the cat rather than sipped at stoplights.  I take the time to absolutely savor that cup, noticing the warmth in my hands, the steam rising, and my favorite morning smell of roasted coffee beans.

I’ve started rephrasing the stories I tell myself.  Instead of thinking “Ugh I wish I didn’t have to work so early tomorrow,” I have actually written down, “I am looking forward to my morning coffee and the quiet of predawn, and I will awake refreshed and rested!”  I’m telling myself Yes, and after 20-odd years of struggling to get up in time, I’ve embraced and now love the quiet meditation on my day that starts me off in a peaceful, pleasant mindframe.

Several years ago when I had to do a restriction-based food trial, I found that looking at the foods I could eat was vastly more useful than thinking about the things I couldn’t.  Because of seeing those six weeks as a learning opportunity rather than one of deprivation, I greatly improved my cooking skills as well as my health.  Now I find myself saying Yes to choosing to feel healthy and whole rather than saying ok to the frequent cookies and candy in the break room, and it has gotten easier every time.

Other ways I am saying Yes include enjoyment in sitting down with my notebook and my favorite cooking websites to outline my meals for the workweek; saying HeckYeah to invitations to go bicycling even when it’s icy and cold outside; taking transit through the middle of my bike commute to keep my lungs happy in the winter air; and saying Yes, I have enough and I am grateful for the things I have.

I’m looking forward to starting the Uber Frugal Month challenge!  Later this week I’ll outline the specific tactics I have planned.

Are you joining?  Is January a time for you to “reset” or do you update goals throughout the year?

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It’s My Birthday! Birthday Fun on a Scratch Entertainment Budget

How can you have a birthday party without the hassle of invites or money or providing food?  Attend a public event and party with strangers!

 

My birthday has always fallen on or around Thanksgiving, and I am ridiculously introverted, so it’s been easy to forgo celebrations of the party type.  There was a year, however, in which I spent waaaay too much money on a “fancy” dinner that taught the kiddo and I we much prefer simple home cooking to noisy trendy restaurants.

Last year's spread with homemade strawberry-balsamic-jalapeno jam. Yum!
Last year’s spread with homemade strawberry-balsamic-jalapeno jam. Yum!

In my younger years I’d sometimes lament the fact that all my friends were out of town for the holidays, but embracing my solo nature has led to absolute delight at staying in with a book, a bottle of wine and some good cheese. And pumpkin pie! This has been a tradition for several years and doesn’t make a dent in the grocery budget since I typically have plenty of Thanksgiving leftovers to stretch a few weeks.

 

This year, my birthday fell on Friday and the kiddo was home, so we decided to join a bicycle ride open to all skill levels.  We met the group at a local brewery at 4pm, and received a gift provided by a local bike shop (Free Present!).  Rolled out at dusk and I was grinning the entire 11 miles to the break site — I was well-layered, there was almost no wind, and the 35F air was rejuvenating.  I’d only ridden one group ride prior to this, an introduction ride with a local bike club, so I found it incredibly fun riding in a gathering of 25+ people (Free Party Guests!), following taillights and riding in the glow of strong headlights along the riverfront.  I saw parts of my city I’d never noticed before, and a view of the skyline that glittered against the cloudy sky.

The bonfire site was nestled in a semi-secluded wooded section next to the river, with snacks and drinks hidden earlier (Free Birthday Drink!) and food donated by participants (Free Birthday S’more!).  Stories were bantered back and forth, and the atmosphere was relaxed with a lot of laughter.  After the site was cleaned up and the group readied to leave, fireworks were set off (Free Fireworks!).  The ride back was just chilly enough to feel special, and in full darkness the surrounding bike lights and a few bluetooth speakers made for a very festive ride  (Free Adventure!).

Bikes, Beers and a Bonfire!
Bikes, Beers and a Bonfire!

Back at the brewery, we each received drink tickets (Free Beer!) and congregated in an area of the bar.  The bartender, on learning it was my birthday, wouldn’t let me pay for my second beer or any other drink for my kiddo and his girlfriend (Free Birthday Drinks!).  The group was large enough to make chatting easy with no pressure to socialize, and everyone already had at least one common interest in cycling. I learned a lot of good winter biking tips from a few folks, and am pretty excited to attempt the next ride in December (Free Gift for the Future!).

Our total dollars spent: $5, in the tip jar.  Total hours of sheer joy at being alive and hearing laughter and bicycle rubber on pavement:  Seven.  I fell asleep with a smile on my face and woke up the next morning feeling so grateful for my family, my community, and having the rest of my life to look forward to — THAT, for me, is what’s really worth celebrating.

 

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