The Importance of Telling Yourself a Great Story

We’ve all read articles about the importance of positive thinking, and a lot of us have probably read articles outlining how to stop the negative thought-cycles that can exacerbate apathy or depression.

 

 

When I was not-so-recently divorced and worried about my future, I remember reading advice along the lines of Think Happy and Happiness Will Follow, and thinking that those people obviously never had to feed their kiddo cheese tortillas for three days straight because there wasn’t anything else until payday, or ride a bike for an hour just to get to the bus stop because the car broke down again, or lay awake at night wondering if life would ever get back to “normal”.

It’s easy to see now that my emotional health was not the best during that time — but an important lesson from that period in my life was that my brain literally did not see a way out of that fog. I could tell myself a thousand times that I could get through this, but it didn’t seem real.

 

It’s the same for me and finances. 

It took me years to pay off my former debt. Years of feeling deprived, even though I was still spending on lots of little unnecessary things that felt needed at the time. Years of feeling inadequate as an adult and mom for not having it all together. Self-induced guilt that, if I could have only retrained my thinking, would have been better served in figuring out strategies for spending less. And so forth.

I knew logically that my mindset wasn’t working in my favor, but my next tactic of looking for external inspiration led me to grand stories of 20-somethings paying off tens of thousands of dollars in mere months by cutting out cable, selling some shoes, and dropping the bar tab from the weekly spend. That didn’t help 😉

Somehow I never stumbled on the well-loved references like Your Money or Your Life, or the Tightwad Gazette, or The Millionaire Next Door. I was relying on my not-seemingly-spendy-but-secretly-very-spendy peer group of mamas for my financial outlook, and their purchasing decisions were definitely based on form over function. I didn’t buy into the hype with my wallet, because I didn’t have the money, but it should have occurred to me that I could find equally healthy food choices at the corner store (instead of the spendy co-op) or I could bring my own coffee and snacks to the playground (how many hundreds of dollars did I spend on “necessary” coffees and pastries?).

I kept trucking along, my habits and social groups reinforcing the idea that I just didn’t make enough money for the lifestyle I “needed”.

Eventually I changed jobs, and was now surrounded by stereotypical middle-class Americans – two mortgages, new cars, vacation to the tropics or Mexico at least once per winter, new phones every year, season tickets to sporting events, and new clothing every season. It helped that I am more interested in camping and hiking over watching sports or TV, so I avoided the culture creep when my income started rising.

By summer of 2015 I was finally in a position to see my way out of the chronic debt cycle. It was the first time in maybe ten years that I felt like I was on the right path. In fact, I was feeling pretty darn smug. I’d saved cash for a car, but after weeks of shopping and hating the entire process, I financed part of my current vehicle. During that process, I refinanced my mortgage through the same credit union, for a slightly higher monthly payment but slashing a huge amount of interest by the final payment.

Then in a span of months, I had dental surgery and other dental procedures, and my son had a series of urgent medical appointments leading to urgent surgery. We kept our vacation plans and by simply not paying attention, I racked up enough debt to nauseate myself when I finally faced the bill.

Once again, I found myself in negativity-land, berating myself for getting into a deeper hole than I’d ever been. I took a second job that worked around my odd hours, and contemplated selling my car and using Car2Go on the days I took call.

I spent a few months slogging along, until I stumbled across a blog that talked about living frugally as a choice, in order to save a large enough portion of income to be able to retire early.

For some reason, this clicked. Instead of telling myself that would be impossible in my situation, I had the sudden thought, “I could hike almost every day if I did that!”  Instead of wishing that were me, I found myself thinking in terms of the actions being taken. I’d found my quest — and as anyone who’s read any story of a grand quest knows, it has to be BIG. And hard. And glorious when you reach the goal.

My whole mindset shifted — it had never occurred to me, in my few years of making a modest but livable salary, that I could choose to live as frugally as I had in the lean years. I could choose to ride my bike to work instead of drive – and realized it was not only fun, but way less stressful than driving in traffic! I could choose to eat the same thing every day, and save money, with the wonderful side effect of not worrying what was for dinner. I could choose to love the clothes I already owned, and suddenly I stopped noticing clothing ads, freeing up that subconscious slot for something more meaningful to my life.

I’m choosing to be someone working toward financial freedom. Always before, I would wish I had the money savvy of “those people” but never really saw myself as anything other than slowly paying off debt. I’d never stopped to envision the why of being financially free, so when I stumbled across an example of people living a life very close to my ideal, it just made sense.

Last night when I was tempted to stop by the store on the way home, “just for eggs”, I reminded myself that I’m now a savvy menu planner that shops on Saturdays, and I’d be just fine for one day without eggs. I saved myself the effort of not buying anything else (oh look goat cheese is on sale, and oh hey I haven’t had Pringles in ages and ages), and my oatmeal was just fine this morning.

I tell myself I’ll be financially independent in ten years, because it sounds AWESOME. I tell other people sometimes too. According to calculators, I am off by about, oh, only 73 years 😉 but when I started documenting my progress a couple months ago I had almost 90 years to go — so I’m already narrowing the gap in a rapid fashion!

Telling myself that I’m a frugal goddess has resulted in me being happy with my choices. I don’t feel deprived, I feel like life is so much simpler and easier now without all those spending decisions cluttering up my mind. 

 

This is working in other areas of my life, too — I told myself a year ago that I could be a cyclist like my son. I bought a bike, got a little practice on city trails, then we rode our bikes from Pittsburgh to Washington D.C. and I loved every moment.

I told myself I am a cyclist, and then I told myself that even though I’m an introvert, I’m awesome, and I joined a monthly group ride. I’m definitely the slowest rider in the group, but luckily these rides are at exactly my pace and they’re all about the love of biking and meeting kind souls.

I told myself it’s perfectly okay not to want to date people right now, because I’m having too much fun creating my amazing life, and it’s become so much easier getting to know folks without that awkward social pressure — or spending money needlessly, ha!

 

I can’t create a formula for how to get from the point of mild depression and an inability to see a grand life, to finding the joy in the journey, because we all have different experiences that lend a subconscious hand in our thoughts and habits. I simply stumbled on an internal road map unlocking a whole new section of my world I hadn’t previously imagined, and I’m so glad I did.

I’d never been one to make long-term goals, even though I know it’s a key component of attaining success in many realms. Even at work I found it pointless to make serious 5- and 10-year plans (since my position is static, aside from continuing education). I do sometimes wonder, however, if I would have taken a moment (in likely disbelief) to really consider the answer to “What Is My Ideal Week?” ten years ago if my attitudes and habits would have started to shift earlier.

What is the best story you’ve told yourself about yourself? Take a moment to let it sink in that you already are that fantastic!

 

 

Batch Cooking For One

After 18 years of cooking for a family, I’m now living solo for most of the year while my son is at college. It’s taken some adjusting, but perfecting my food preparation routine in January netted me a total grocery bill of $55.26.

I know a lot of us that work full time outside the home have learned the time-saving trick of batch cooking, but I’ve come to realize the true magic of batch cooking for just myself: It’s ok to be boring!

sweet potato salmon patties

I cook all my meals at home and during the workweek take breakfast and lunch to work. I have endocrine issues that require watching my food intake more carefully than I did years ago, and my body greatly prefers I avoid all grains and processed sugar. In the last four years I’ve radically changed both how I cook as well as what I cook, and to say it’s been a learning curve is an understatement — as my inflated grocery budget can attest.

Meal planning was never my strong point, especially when I lived less than five blocks from three different grocery stores. In the past six months, however, meal planning has gotten easier and easier and I’m learning how to streamline every step, from grocery shopping to food prep to cooking and packing my lunches.

 

I thought I’d lay out step by step what I’m currently doing, in case there are any others out there for whom kitchen skills are lacking 😉 and also to hopefully be able to look back in a year and be proud of how my planning and executing skills have grown!

cutting a spaghetti squash

My first big change – I stopped grocery shopping on my way home from work. 

When I started riding my bike to work last summer, I realized I’d either have to detour off my bike route and fill up a backpack or change the day I did my shopping. At the time my routine was to cook dinner each night and take leftovers for lunch the next day, so I’d buy two or three days’ worth of food at a time. I started shopping on Saturdays — at first I was terrible at getting this accomplished before Sunday, and I wasn’t great at planning out my meals past my weekday off work.

Why this habit change helped my frugal ways – Stopping on the way home often led to impulse temptations, and created a habit of stopping for “just one thing” on the days I drove to work.

My second big change – I started meal planning for the entire week.

I started with tried and true family recipes that I loved. Breakfast I kept simple with either eggs and veggies or eggs and yogurt. Starting in January I’ve been making simple egg bakes that will last me my four work days. I take whatever leftover produce/veggies are in the refrigerator, top with 6-12 eggs, a layer of cheese and spices, then bake for 30-50 minutes (I check at 30 minutes and increase as needed). If I have any meat leftovers I’ll throw that in the bottom layer. I’ve also started planning for bigger dishes (casseroles, one pot meals) and use the leftovers all week.

Why this habit change helped my frugal ways – in theory I’m more mindful of food waste – sticking to the meal plan definitely helps prevent wasted ingredient purchases that languish in the back of the freezer.

squash in the pressure cooker

Something I’ve done for a while but am getting much better at – a big cookup on Saturdays.

This week before I went to the grocery store I took note of what should be used up soon in my fridge  – some carrots/celery and a couple of avocados. Apples were still good, as were sweet potatoes, onions, and a spaghetti squash.

I planned on making sweet potato salmon patties (canned salmon in the pantry), a pork roast (on sale and my favorite dish), an egg bake, and salads.

cooked squash (oh how I detested spaghetti squash when I was a kid!)

When I got home from the store I first put two whole sweet potatoes in the pressure cooker with a cup of water for 10 minutes, then walked the dog. When we got back I took the potatoes out to cool, then halved the spaghetti squash, and tossed it in the pressure cooker with leftover potato water for 8 minutes. While that was cooking, I mixed the salmon patties and put that bowl in the refrigerator for a bit. The skin of the sweet potatoes peeled off easily with my fingers, and I cut thin disks, arranging them on a baking sheet.

found bag of spinach!

Once the spaghetti squash was done, I scooped out the threads into a baking dish, looked in the freezer for veggies (an open bag of spinach! hurrah!), added a bunch of eggs and half an onion and mixed it all together. Topped with cheese and paprika, then put it and the potato slices into the oven for 35 minutes.

egg bake ready to be cooked

The salmon patties could also go in the oven, and during the summer if I need to bake I definitely do everything at once. I turned back to the pressure cooker and started searing all sides of my pork roast. While it was browning, I cooked the salmon patties in my waffle maker. Once the roast was browned and salted (applewood smoked salt or red Hawaiian salt, whichever I have on hand), then stuffed with garlic cloves, I set it to slowly roast overnight.

I mashed an avocado with the other onion half, squirted in some lemon juice, red pepper flakes, and garlic, then topped a couple salmon patties with some of the lazy guacamole. The rest was saved for the sweet potato chips.

Once the egg bake and chips were done, I packaged everything in containers for the fridge and for work. In the morning I shredded the pork, took some to top a salad for lunch, and put the rest in the fridge.

Snacks this time of year are mostly veggies and nuts but I’ve been buying fruit every couple of weeks to supplement my apple and berry stash from last summer/fall. These same meals will be on repeat for the rest of the workweek, then I’ll do it all again with a slight variation for next week 🙂

sweet potato chips

I used to struggle with meal planning – deciding ahead of time what to eat every day was difficult when I hadn’t done it before, and then actually making those dishes on schedule was even more challenging on days by myself where I’d eaten a late lunch, or ended up working on call and didn’t get home until midnight, for instance.

Why this habit change helped my frugal ways – Simplifying my meal prep is helping me to relearn the basic meal-planning skills I lost somewhere along the way – checking what I have on hand and basing meals around those ingredients, for one.

Putting my menu on repeat is saving me a lot of mental time, and by streamlining the whole process, is also saving me money. 

What were your biggest challenges when you first started cooking for either a family or just yourself?

January Spending and February Goals

The Uber Frugal January Challenge was a big success.  It was exactly the jump start I needed to solidify my thoughts and habits around money in the direction I’ve been working toward.

I made it the entire month without buying wine, which was surprisingly much harder than I expected. I don’t drink much at all in the summer, so realizing that wine in particular is such a psychological crutch in the depth of winter was quite an eye-opener. The ritual aspect of a drink at night was replaced by tea, but there is some physical component of wine itself (not just alcohol) that my body appreciates this time of year. I toyed with the idea of trying apple cider vinegar instead, but just held out and ignored the sensation.

On to the spending!

  • Fixed Expenses – I had a budget plan adjustment for my gas utility, which gave me a nice little bump to put toward debt.
  • Groceries –  !!!! Wow. I did better than I thought I’d be able to! This could be sustained for several months if I ate less variety than normal and stuck to the basics.
  • Pets – One bag of cat food and two containers of cat litter.
  • Gas –  I didn’t bike nearly as often as I thought I would.
  • My spending – $0! My eyebrows aren’t perfect, but my wallet is happy 🙂
  • Family/Friend Funtimes – One dinner out with my son and his friend, one brunch with friends.
  • Everything elseRoad trip to take my kiddo back to college, including lodging and gasoline during the trip.
  • Kiddo – His groceries, college-related costs, and spending money.

 

The thing I found the most challenging was not putting more toward debt when my overall spending was less than normal. I have lean paychecks this month and next, so need to make sure bigger expenses will be covered (car insurance, annual professional dues, veterinary care, etc). It was also hard toward the end of the month to spend at all, when I knew I was doing so well. I don’t think a challenge mentality would be healthy for me long term.

lazy Sunday in a ray of sunshine

Goals for Mostly Frugal February:

Continue meal planning like crazy — buying ONLY to a list makes a big difference, and buying ONLY during my weekly shop makes an even bigger difference! Not giving myself the option to “just stop for one thing” on the way home saves me money but also helps stop the impulse purchasing habit from resurfacing. I’ll continue to work my freezer down in February- there are still quite a few bags of strawberries from last summer that will make my winter nights much happier!

No spending on anything that is not groceries, toothpaste/floss, bar soap, cat/dog food/litter, or wine purchased mindfully and to the meal plan.

Walk or bike whenever I can. I’m not making as hardcore a goal as I did for January, to bike commute daily, because my lungs are apparently NOT a fan of the subfreezing very dry air. I haven’t been ill yet this season (knock on wood) and listening to my body is a big factor in that. I’ve started walking to the grocery store with my small hiking pack, and it’s been quite fun and helps the winter blahs. Much nicer than having to find a parking spot and deal with weekend traffic! I’m aiming to spend less on gasoline than I did last month.

Utilities – I’ll continue keeping the thermostat at 64, until I can determine how big a difference it makes in my overall usage.

Say Yes — February and March are usually months that I completely hibernate and miss the sun dreadfully, so it is easy for me to stay home and be a miser. I will spend minimally when possible to maintain relationships.

I’m again starting with a mindset of zero spending and working from there. 

 

We’ll see how my not-Uber-anymore frugal ways shake out, and reassess next month!

Raising Consumer Savvy Kids

For those of you with young children, think back over the media aimed at families that you’ve seen in the past week. Television, magazines, ads placed next to your Facebook feed, and so forth.

How many ads can you recall promote a product for children? Toys, clothing, vitamins, sports equipment….

How many ads or even plain images can you recall promote just being a kid? Running, jumping, making up stories, dancing to no music, making swords out of sticks, singing nursery rhymes?

There’s an overwhelming message in our society that children’s culture is consumer culture.

 

Somewhere in the timeline of families becoming more child-centered and the advent of family social time being focused on watching a television show together, companies started researching marketing tactics that hooked consumers at an earlier age. Companies like Disney have spent huge sums of money finding ways to create “cradle to grave” brand loyalty. Studies show that infants as young as 6 months can recognize brand logos, and splashing a nursery with corporate characters just reinforces those connections in developing brains.

Food with cartoon characters featured on the packaging is placed at a child’s eye level, and before we know it, a toddler has to have a Frozen dress and lunchbox and listens to the soundtrack in the car and eats Frozen-themed chicken nuggets and gets Frozen toys in the drive-through. As busy parents we think we are making choices for our kids, but in reality the corporations behind child marketing are making the choice for us if we are mindless consumers ourselves.

 

The first step in minimizing the effect of childhood marketing is to minimize the exposure. 

 

In 2011, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, 90% of parents said their children under 2 watched some form of electronic media one to two hours per day.  At the time the academy recommended no screen time for children under two years of age. Even with the AAP’s recommendation changing in 2016 to allow for families’ habits changing over the years, multiple studies show that sleep patterns and language development are disrupted in children who do have media exposure before age two.

When I was pregnant with my son (nearly 20 years ago) I found myself reading numerous journal and research articles in the neuroscience section of my university library, specifically on then-current studies of infant brain development and the importance of free play and parent interaction.

For me and my son’s father it was easy to choose not to let our baby watch TV – even without my readings and our pediatrician’s recommendation, in our new parent bliss we didn’t want or need our baby in front of a screen. We wanted to play with him, read to him, and cuddle and bathe and sleep. Sure, we recorded new episodes of X-Files to watch on the rare night we weren’t exhausted and the baby was sleeping, and we loved movies, but we were also active, outdoorsy types and were living in a town where it was easy to find like-minded people and things to do.

We mostly had second-hand clothing and selected items that were free of logos or characters. We limited toys and asked that gifts from grandparents were books, or free-building Lego sets when age appropriate. We cooked at home and made baby food by mashing up what we were eating.

For us, then, limiting exposure was the easy part. Or so I smugly thought. I vividly remember a day driving with my baby strapped in his rear-facing car seat, and seeing his little arm excitedly pointing out the window. “Do you see an airplane?” “Unh, unh!” “A car?” “Unh!” What in the world was he looking at?? And then it dawned on me: “Are you pointing at that yellow sign?” “Gai!” (which meant “yes” in his made-up language). He was pointing at the sign of a place he had never been to, never seen a commercial for, and never heard a word about: McDonald’s. Even though we were positive he didn’t actually recognize the logo, he responded to it just as enthusiastically as if we’d gone there the day before.

From that point on we became much more proactive with our anti-consumer endeavors. It was no longer good enough to keep our kiddo in our little bubble until he was walking and speaking actual English instead of a mishmash of sign and his own language, because he already understood way more about the world around him that we’d expected.

Like many issues we as parents face with our children, it’s important to talk. Repeatedly. At different ages and throughout our children’s lives. 

We started calling out various marketing ploys we saw wherever we went. At the grocery store, “See that toy display on the end of the shelf? See how easy it is for you to reach the toys? That’s because the store wants you to like that toy.” “But I do like that toy!” “And we can visit it next time we come here to get food.”

Then, a couple of years later, “See that toy display on the end of the shelf? The store wants you to think that you need that toy.” “But what if I do need that toy?” “Do you have a toy at home?” “Yes!” “Then you want that toy, you don’t need it, and that’s okay, we’ll visit this toy the next time we come here to get food.”

Then, a couple of years later, “See that toy display on the end of the shelf? You know how the store wants you to like that toy so you will buy it? Let’s try to find how many other places you can find that same character in the store. How many times does this store try to make you buy that toy?”

Then, a couple of years later, “See that toy display? Remember when you were little and really wanted that toy? Would you still play with it today?”

kiddo riding no-handed while I’m naturally envisioning him falling into the river to the left

 

It’s also important to talk about the different types of messages used in marketing – and not just marketing directed at kids. 

It’s simple to spot toy product placement, but messages about what we as humans need in order to be happy is force fed all of us every day. Any media we exposed our son to we did very deliberately and talked through the entire thing – every radio commercial, every videotaped children’s movie, even books.

We talked about how these things made us feel. We talked about what the intent might be (of the author, or the commercial writer, or the movie character that just said something worth discussing). We talked about the things our family valued (always being able to talk to each other, honesty, being kind, being true to ourselves and standing up for what we believe is right). We talked about how the message in whatever we were passively interacting with fit into our family’s idea of a healthy world.

The first time I realized that all my ramblings did in fact have meaning to our son, we were once again driving, listening to the radio, when suddenly after a truck commercial a little voice announced, “Oh MAN! That one GOT me! That GM vehicle really got me! I really want a GM vehicle now!”

 

Realize that it’s not just messages about stuff that reinforce the idea we need to buy in to a certain way of living to be happy.

Here’s where you might think I’m a nut, and as with all things parenting, take the pieces that work for your family and leave the rest 🙂

As a toddler my son loved purple and glitter, loved trucks and construction equipment, loved his toenails painted like his friends, loved playing with sticks as if they were swords, and loved his weekly dance class. Every week I overheard other moms speaking in hushed horror that they’d never let their son wear nail polish and a sparkly shirt. Sometimes other kids would ask if he was a girl, and he’d cheerfully say, “Nope, I like this shirt when I dance, it’s fun!”

When we went clothes shopping, we talked about how the stores decide what is for boys and what is for girls when it comes to t-shirt colors. I remember more than once uttering, “Target is trying to tell you girls don’t like football and boys don’t like purple. I think that should be your decision about your body.”

We also discussed that most families didn’t think the same way as we did, so other kids might say “boy” colors or “girl” colors, and that’s okay for them if that is what makes them feel happy. Because these were concepts we’d talked about for years, our kiddo had no problem being confident in his choices and explaining them to anyone who asked. His wardrobe changed quite a bit over the years, but his ability to find his own way without worrying about what society expected of him remained steady.

 

Don’t get me wrong, our son was still a material-driven kid — he’s collected things over the years from Legos to Hot Wheel cars to Yu-Gi-Oh playing cards to video games to computer parts to bicycles, in roughly that order. But he can tell me exactly why he chose to let every single one of those items into his life. He also has no trouble letting those things leave his life once he’s moved on (um… I’m the one that still has a tote full of cars and Yu-Gi-Oh cards, and I hope he never outgrows his Legos!).

 

It’s not just what we buy, but why that makes us mindless spenders. 

I readily admit my parenting experiment was conducted with just one child, but our choices as parents have hopefully helped shaped a discerning consumer. I’m sure he’ll have things happen in his life that shape his relationship with money, just as we all do. I’m hopeful that being able to identify his impulses and how they are affected by his surroundings will be a solid enough foundation to avoid the mindless spending traps so many of us have spent years trying to reverse.

Finance Friday: January, Part Two

We’re nearing the end of the Uber Frugal Month Challenge, and my budget is well in line.

Wins for the past two weeks:

Frugal foods: I stuck to my meal plan for all my meals, including breakfast and lunch at work each day.

Snow biking!

Frugal fitness: I walked around the lakes with a friend. I walked to the drugstore for a prescription (2.1 mile round trip). I walked to the grocery store (4.5 mile round trip) and carried my groceries in my hiking pack. My shoulders could tell I hadn’t carried more than dog treats, small snacks, and water for quite some time 😉

Frugal friendships: Walking the lakes with my friend is something we both try to do whenever we see each other, but this time we avoided coffee shops and I brought my own tea.

I saved money by planning ahead — since I’m not spending on wants instead of true needs, I didn’t have the option to pick up a juice at the grocery store if I was thirsty. I took my water bottle and dried nuts everywhere. I planned all my meals, prepared them on Saturday, and just reheated for meal time. I bought only what I needed for those meals: 2 dozen eggs, carrots, celery, 2 grapefruit, one package of kiwi, cheese, and cream. A year ago this method would have made me crazy, having to eat the same thing days in a row. When my son first moved away for college, I found it very challenging to start cooking for just myself without getting bored. After nearly a month of eating this way, however, I’ve found it much easier than I would have imagined. Streamlining my food saves me cash, but more surprisingly, saves me a lot of time and decision-making energy.

On to my Challenge progress!

Six months from now I’ll be eating these with gusto

Eliminate spending entirely on:

  1. salon visits – $0
  2. alcohol for home consumption (currently $20-30/month) – $0
  3. bath/grooming products other than bar soap, toothpaste/floss – $0
  4. DRIVING unless I’m on call – erm, not so much. Driving less overall, yes. Not driving at all on my days off and walking instead, yes. Commuting…..noooope. 
  5. buying meals at work – $0
  6. buying coffee out just to buy coffee – $0
  7. going to shows (music) – $0
  8. clothing that wasn’t directly related to winter biking necessities – $0
  9. haircuts for the kiddo – $0
  10. mindlessly shopping at spendy food stores without making a meal plan for the week – $0

 

Reduce spending on:

  1. Groceries – so far my total is $38.09
  2. Utilities – I’ve reduced gas usage, but won’t know how much my bill is affected until next month. My electric usage may be the same due to using an oil-filled electric radiator in the living room for part of the day when I’m home. 

 

Say Yes:

  1. Completed: 2 day trip to take my son back to college – assumed spend of $300 including all gasoline, lodging, and food. $228.12
  2. Completed: snowshoe rental and hike with a longtime friend – assumed spend less than $20 (website doesn’t list rental rates and I’m unsure if my address qualifies for free admission to nature area) – $0 – walked around the lakes instead
  3. Completed: monthly outing with longtime friend(s) – usually a cafe – assumed spend less than $10 – $8

    Sunset ride last summer (yep it’s that time of year that I need reminders summer DOES exist)

 

I’m still happy with my progress.  The occasional temptation to “pick up something on the way home” is completely gone, which I hadn’t realized until I needed to wait for a prescription at Walgreens and didn’t even think about picking up chocolate 🙂

 

How is your Uber Frugal January going?

Happy Friday!

 

My First Season Winter Biking: Part Two, The Clothing and Gear

After years off a bicycle, I started riding again in spring of 2016. I started commuting via bike in late summer, and decided I was going to try through winter as well.

I was comfortable riding through fall in my normal clothes and shoes until the temperature was below about 38F. At this point learning to layer my clothing became the norm, especially in the fickle temperature swings of my region.

In the depth of winter, however, it’s still about layering but it’s most important to make sure my layers insulate while keeping sweat off my skin. For years I wore a synthetic base layer, but this year I finally purchased merino wool and it is a world of difference! Merino is soft, lightweight — and therefore good for all seasons — and insulates even when wet, so it’s perfect for people like me that sweat like crazy. I spent over 30 years feeling cold all winter because my armpits were damp where my clothing touched my skin – not anymore!

As I mentioned in Part One: The Bike, I don’t have fancy clipless pedals or clips, just flat pedals that are a little wider with bigger spaces to allow for snow or dirt to fall through. Therefore I wear my normal winter boots, a pair of Columbia snow boots I’ve had for over ten years. The small nubs on the pedals give me good traction – so far even in a freezing rain storm I’ve been able to stay on the pedal.

I wear my regular Columbia winter jacket – I bought it on clearance for around $60 five or six years ago and it still looks new. In extreme wind I have thin Columbia snowpants I found secondhand for $6 – they’re thin enough to layer easily over other clothes.

The layers I wear in deep cold:

  • Merino wool T-shirt ($30 clearance at the end of summer through Ibex) – I wear this literally every day, whether I’m biking or not
  • Merino wool arm warmers (on sale via Amazon)
  • Fleece long sleeve shirt (Cuddlduds 60% off sale a few years ago) – I wear this nearly every day. I’m definitely a repeat-clothes-all-week kind of girl.

 

ignore my helper… he doesn’t know how to ride a bike 😉
  • Fleece leggings (Cuddlduds 60% off sale years ago) – on long rides these are enough, but for my commute I’ll also wear merino wool leggings if it’s very windy or below 15F
  • Bike pants that are wind blocking and water resistant, with reflective details (secondhand; the brand is from China)
  • Wool socks (Smartwool ski socks that were on clearance during summer) – if I’m riding more than 30 minutes I’ll add a thin liner sock underneath

 

  • Secondhand Shetland wool vest ($3) – worn if it’s below 20F or very windy
  • Variety of head coverings depending on temperature: Cotton blend headband, lightweight cotton blend buff (tube scarf), or fleece face mask. I find I need to keep my ears covered in any wind (even in summer) or below 40F. I also need to keep my mouth covered below 35F
  • Merino wool liner gloves – on a long ride I’ll use my pogies and just wear these or regular gloves
  • Split-finger mittens – these are intended for Nordic skiing but purchased off-season and were a lot cheaper than the bicycle-specific gloves split in the middle. For my bike with drop handlebars they are perfect. With the straight handlebars of the winter bike they’re a little more clumsy as I’m used to having two fingers on the brakes – now I know why the bicycle gloves are split in the middle 🙂

 

  • Helmet with a cheap rain cover (maybe $6 on Amazon) – covering the air vents keeps my head much warmer
  • Reflective arm bands – the more lit up I am, the more likely I am to be seen
  • My beloved ski goggles (purchased during post-holiday clearance online) – these make such an incredible difference in my comfort and ability to see properly! I’ve been known to wear them just to walk the dog (the dog who lasts less than 90 seconds outside if it’s cold enough for goggles!)

 

My go-everywhere essentials: 

  • Backpack – hiking day pack that I’ve had for at least 15 years. I keep coveting a Banjo Brothers brand cycling pack that would hold more groceries but it’s not a need, just a very much want.
  • Pack cover – rainproof, high visibility color, and the entire thing is reflective. I use this even when walking on errands now after noticing how much harder it is to see pedestrians than cyclists in the dark.
  • Portable bicycle pump
  • Two U-locks for my commute – if I’m going somewhere other than work, I’ll also bring a cable lock. I want my bike to be more annoying to steal than the bike next to mine.
  • Small bicycle tool – hex wrenches to adjust my pedals and my saddle (seat) if needed.
  • Inhaler! This is probably the most important piece of my kit – I’ve been advised to use a couple of puffs before leaving my house, and I definitely need it prior to hills. This time of winter I skip hills entirely and commute to the metro station, which makes my lungs happier.
  • Water – In summer, even though I always have water with me, I’m usually ok during my hour long commute. In winter, though, I’m thirsty as heck by the time I’ve ridden the few miles to the metro, so I fill my bottle up with warm water before leaving.

 

My tips if you’re just starting to ride during colder seasons: 

I’ve read a lot of guides on winter biking – and I mean a lot, because I am a researcher through and through – and most of them recommend using what you already have and building piece by piece over the years.

My biggest tip is to listen to your body. I know my body doesn’t do well in the cold; I’ve never really enjoyed winter in the Midwest even with synthetic base layers and a good quality jacket and snowpants. Merino wool base layers have completely changed my life for the better! It was very difficult to spend $70 on leggings, but I’ve been at least 20 times more active outdoors than I have in any year since moving here. The purchases made at the beginning of the season, then, before I’d tried cycling without, have absolutely been worthwhile. If I would have tried to tough it out I might have given up, thinking I’d always be too cold.

If, like, me, you’re always cold when you’re on a winter walk, or while shoveling snow: bicycling is different. You generate a surprising amount of heat from pedaling, and I’ve found I’m toasty warm within about 10 minutes of riding – enough to fog up my glasses due to heat coming off my face. I’ve learned to keep my calves and forearms warm, as this seems to help keep my feet and hands warmer.

Keeping your face and head warm and protected from the elements will make you feel much warmer. I kinda think everyone should experience a snowflake to the eyeball while moving 10mph to justify purchasing ski goggles when you don’t ski (oh, wait, that was my tactic). But in reality, everything we know about heat dissipation through exposed areas and especially our head is even more important when there’s a -30F windchill. I’ve been amazed how warm I am riding when I can’t feel the wind but can only hear it.

Most of all, experiment with different layers and types of clothing. I’m on the freeze-baby end of the spectrum, while there are folks out today in our balmy 38F wearing a lightweight hoody and cutoff jeans. You might be totally comfortable in your regular clothing, but if you start to feel chilly on rides or feel extra fatigued afterward, try a non-cotton layer underneath.

Happy winter riding!

 

When Treats Become Tricks

One of the Uber Frugal Month Challenge homework prompts from Mrs. Frugalwoods is to evaluate the little ways we “treat” ourselves and eliminate that spending entirely. She wisely describe how these little expenditures can easily add up to whole years of your working life if you’re aiming for early retirement.

For myself, one of the key aspects to my financial journey this time around is really taking a look at my behaviors and habits in the context of my emotional history. Starting this blog coincided with realizing I need to write out my thought processes to better understand my impulses, and to hold myself accountable. The concept of little purchases adding up to giant gaping debt holes is something I’ve thought about a lot in the past five months.

pouring water for tea-making

Rewind my life ten or so years…. yep, that’s right, we’re talking VHS now…. waiting, waiting….

Ok. Play.

Katscratch circa 2004 finds herself a newly single mama, living in a bitty one-bedroom apartment with her kiddo and two cats, a first month / last month / security deposit expenditure that broke her bank account (literally, the security deposit check bounced the first time through) while she waited for 401(k) loan funds of $1200 to clear (Kat shouldn’t ever do the math on what that $1200 would have earned by now, just sayin’), no credit card debt yet but no assets either, and maybe a bag of rice in the refrigerator.

Kat was in survival mode. The first few months after moving were especially tricky as she relearned monthly billing amounts for utilities including a prepaid flip phone for $10/month and a bus pass to get to work. Her only credit card was a department store card, and there were more than a few occasions where she took her kiddo to that store to buy “food” at their coffee shop on days there was no cash: juice (20% juice 80% junk), rice krispie bars, cookies, muffins….not ideal, but edible. She was emotionally wrung out and probably depressed, and didn’t really think past the day to day for quite some time.

It took several months, but she figured out her expenses and was able to keep everything on track and live within her means. Once she had a little left over each month, she saved all her pocket change and used it every other Saturday to spend at the coffee shop with her kiddo, reading books, drawing pictures, playing games, and drinking a macchiato (for her) and hot chocolate (for him). These days would etch themselves into her DNA: the feel of the hand-hewn wood table tops with their shiny poly coating, the warmth of the sunshine on her left side, the tickle of the hint of foam on her coffee, the happy humsinging of a child with a fresh drawing paper and a pencil. They were absolute magic to Kat, these afternoons in total luxury, sipping coffee and having time to just be with her son.

2004 Kat had a lot of luck and privilege on her side: she was reasonably educated, had an okay job with the ability to purchase health coverage, lived in an area with a robust public transportation system, had a healthy child, and had existing clothing/toys/personal items from her previous life. By the numbers however, Kat was living in poverty, and those Saturdays made her feel Real. Those macchiato purchases made her feel not-broke. Spending half a day with a book and her kiddo made her feel like someday she’d actually get Past This phase of her life.

And she did!

 

Let’s fast forward back to the present day… ok…. ok…. wait, not quite to today, but about a year ago, before I found my frugal inner warrior.

Before-Uber-Frugal-Kat thought she was doing alright managing her money. She once again had no credit card debt, had no problem paying her small mortgage and associated house expenses, and had a job that paid a living wage. She picked up coffee at the neighborhood shop on the weekends, chatting with the locals. She ate the giant cafeteria breakfast on big work days where she’d be on her feet for 8 hours without taking a break. Every once in a while she walked to the corner store to buy a pint of sale ice cream, just because she could. She and her son still loved going to the coffee shop, but in between those weeks they’d go to brunch at their favorite breakfast cafe.

Then Kat replaced her car a year before she’d planned, and took out financing. It was still well within her budget – she thought. Within six months, she had two major dental procedures and her son had emergency surgery with a slew of associated doctor’s appointments. Tightening up a bit, she simply cut down on eating brunches out and started meal planning. After all, she didn’t eat dinners out all the time or shop for clothes, so she was sure her budget would be back to Savings Mode in no time. No problem!

But it was a problem. 

————————————————–

I was still “treating” myself to small items that were completely unnecessary: coffee out at least once a week, a new lip balm here and there, cafeteria meals whenever I “forgot” to make my lunch. The problem wasn’t so much that I was still spending on these things, but that they had become habits instead of treats!

I always thought of lifestyle inflation being represented by New Stuff. New late model car, new TV, new clothes…. I didn’t have any of that, so I actually believed I wasn’t a keeping-up type. But over just a few years, the small purchase that used to make my very soul sing to the stars in gratitude became routine. ALL those little things were just little things to me now! I thought so flippantly about these types of purchases, I just lumped them in with other budget categories — they didn’t even stand out, it was so ingrained in my spending behavior.

Yogi tea sayings make bagged tea worth using

Even though I could technically “afford” these expenditures as part of my monthly spending budget (until last summer when I dug a debt hole), my relationship with money wasn’t serving me well. I didn’t value the things I’d once revered. Instead of savoring the very rare treats, I’d tricked myself into complacency, not just with spending on the little stuff, but with the idea of having debt. 

As I’ve said before, my mindset toward my finances has changed drastically in the past few months. Regardless of where I am on my path to financial freedom, I don’t want to mindlessly consume my way through life!

 

I know now, too, that I work better on an all-or-nothing challenge when it comes to competing with myself. It took a long time for me to realize that those little things made a really big difference to my monthly bottom line – it wasn’t really noticeable when I cut down, but cutting out entirely? Yep, that I noticed. It is not an option to spend money on something I thought was trivial six months ago. Those spends don’t serve my Future Self financially, and they really don’t serve my present self emotionally.

Until the start of Uber Frugal January, I often drank a glass of wine with dinner. I looked forward to it daily, but it had certainly become part of my nightly routine. A habit. Nothing special, good or bad, just something I did regularly.

I’ve substituted tea to help with the winter chills and maintain the sipping-beverage ritual, but now it is truly a ritual. I heat the water in a little pot on my stove until it just starts to bubble and then pour over the tea in the teapot my mom searched through catalogs for and sent me one year for my birthday. I think of her every single time I use this glass pot because it’s so representative of her thoughtfulness in gift-giving. Once it’s steeped I pour it into a china teacup from a set I inherited from my grandmother. I take notice of the sound the base of the cup makes as it greets the saucer. I almost always marvel for a second that I’m drinking tea from the same cup my grandmother drank tea from over fifty years ago. I usually let the steam warm my face before I take my first sip, and there are some nights like tonight that I feel my eyes tear up while I’m thinking about how connected I am to my past: my motherhood, my daughterhood, my habits, my choices, are all part of the millions of moments that brought me right here.

Royal Derby of England, c. 1933

Now this is a treat. 

 

Happy weekend, all. 

My First Season Winter Biking: Part One, The Bike

I’ve had bicycles off and on since childhood, and for a period of several years a borrowed cruiser was my primary transportation in the warmer months. I certainly didn’t consider myself a cyclist, and my son’s cycling skills were exponentially better than mine in no time.

Last year, however, we decided to take my love of camping and exploring, and my kiddo’s love of cycling, and merge them into one epic vacation. We rode our bikes from Pittsburgh to Washington D.C. along the Great Allegheny Passageway and the Chesapeake & Ohio canal towpath. To say it changed my life is an understatement, and I’m now madly in love with seeing my world from a saddle at 10mph (I am definitely slow). Even though I rode all summer, I still feel like I’m learning from scratch because my body and physical ability is quite different now than when I last rode regularly more than ten years ago.

I’ve never ridden a bike during winter, and in fact until mid-summer 2016 I didn’t know what most parts of a bicycle were even called (saddle? you mean the seat, right? aaaaahh so much to learn!).

Between internet research, a really fabulous local bike shop and community, and a very generous bike loan from my kiddo who’s at college, I’ve managed to outfit my son’s mountain bike for winter commuting.

I live in a metro area in the upper Midwest that gets a fair amount of snow and ice, leaving the bike lanes on roads rutted by mid-winter and often throughout early spring. The off-road bike trails here are usually very well-maintained (often through separate city or county budget items so their schedule isn’t tied to road snow removal), but my winter commute is mostly on the street. I surveyed every local cyclist I met about winter tires, and consulted my shop, and set up the bike based on the conditions I assumed I’d be riding in.

While most cyclists may say any bike can make a decent winter bike, there are definite advantages to a newbie like me in having someone knowledgable convert a very nice ride into a winter beast. Less overall maintenance (since I don’t know how to do a lot yet), better ride quality (more noticeable on long rides), and most of all, we already had the bike 🙂

The bike itself

Being a new rider whose handling skills aren’t yet very good, I think the most important decision was switching from my regular bike with drop handlebars (like you see on road racing bicycles) to a mountain bike with straight handlebars. The straight bars give me more control over the steering and brakes while I’m wearing thick gloves and 137 layers of clothing. This setup also puts me in a more vertical body and neck position than my regular bike, which makes me a little bit more visible to drivers and also helps my own vision a tad.

I’m pretty sure the intended use for this side of my kitchen was winter bicycle parking, right?

I am lucky that my son and I are close enough in height it was easy to fit his bicycle to my body (with the help of bike shop eyes). Making sure your bike actually fits properly is the biggest factor in how comfortable you will be while riding. My son’s arm and torso length is bit longer than mine, but I’m riding shorter distances in the winter so it’s ok, and being stretched a little bit there is much better than being too cramped.

The tires  

my you’re studly

For my road conditions, studded tires give me so much peace of mind and have already proven themselves more than once. I rode in a group ride during a freezing rain event where it was scary to put my foot down because the road surface was so icy, but my tires didn’t slip at all, even on (slow) downhill turns. The falls and slide-outs on ice in the group all happened to riders with regular tires. I chose the Schwalbe Marathon Winter studded tires based on my shop’s recommendation and the rave reviews of everyone else I asked.

 

The saddle

The saddle, or seat, is the second most important factor in comfort on the bicycle. When I first started riding again last spring, I quickly realized that my body did not get along with the saddle that came with my bike. Thanks to REI’s generous return policy, I tried multiple saddles and found one that has a center cutout in the right spot for how I sit and lean while I’m riding. Making sure the saddle is the proper height is also important – too low and the rest of your body’s angles are affected, too high and your hips will “rock” causing bruising or soft tissue chafing.

The lights

My winter commute is entirely in the dark. My area is used to seeing cyclists all year, but I still light up much more aggressively than I do at night in the summer. I want to be seen from the front and back, but also from the sides. I do use blinking modes in city traffic, as I’ve noticed when I’m driving they stand out to me much better than solid light patterns. I currently use two headlights, one on a blinking mode aimed slightly downward so it isn’t blinding to drivers, and one on a bright enough setting to see dips and ruts in the roadway myself. I use a blinking taillight that is mounted to the post under the seat, and another clipped to my backpack. So far I haven’t had trouble with the rechargeable lights malfunctioning in below zero temps, but on longer rides I carry cheap AAA-operated backups in my inner coat pocket just in case.

I also use battery-operated spoke lights to be better seen from the side. I get a lot of comments on them at stoplights, and once had a waste company truck driver stop to yell out that he loved them and could tell I was a bike from halfway down the alley. One of my headlights also has side-lights for better visibility. 

The fenders

I have full coverage fenders on both wheels. The front fender needed to be cut and specially installed because of the suspension on the mountain bike. This bike allows me to “lock” the suspension which is recommended as the fluid can become thicker in our winter temperatures, and suspension isn’t necessary – even with our potholes 😉 This model of fender also has mudflaps for extra protection. I chose the full coverage instead of a more typical “blade” type fender because I do often have other cyclists behind me, and the blade style only protects your own backside. The front fender gives decent protection to my legs and feet.

The gears

I have one gear 🙂 The bicycle I rode all summer is also a single speed, as was my beach cruiser for years before, and I love the simplicity while riding. For winter riding, it’s even more simple – no fussy shifting mechanics to try to keep clean and lubricated. For me, the simpler the better as I still have a lot to learn about caring for my bikes.

The pedals

platform pedal with knobs

There are a lot of different options for pedals on the market, but I’m a beginner who is already worried about handling ability so regular ol’ platform pedals it is. For winter I have an inexpensive pair of mountain-bike style nylon pedals with small knobs for better grip. In my climate, metal pedals can act as a heat sink, causing your feet to be cold.

 

Just for fun

pogies!

My bicycle mechanic handmade my pogies (or bar mitts) and for longer rides they are absolutely fantastic — totally wind-proof, and I can take my gloves off and just wear liner gloves. If I had gears this would be invaluable for being able to shift more easily. As it is, I find that they keep my forearms warm as well, which seems to make my upper body feel warmer overall. Even though they weren’t needed to be comfortable enough, I have been happily surprised at the difference and am always happy to support local makers and creators.

 

The majority of winter bicyclists I’ve talked to pick up a cheap beater bike for the season. A handful have higher end bicycles just for winter. Everyone I’ve spoken with so far knows how to do fairly extensive repairs and maintenance. I’m not yet at that level, so I feel that my investment in having my bike set up by my shop was a great decision. Could I have ridden for commuting without all the extras? Sure! Could I have waited a season and sourced items used? Probably! My son rode his regular road bike with skinny tires for multiple winters in high school. But I’m at an age where I can finally appreciate the wisdom in doing things right instead of forcing myself to make do to the point of discomfort and resentment. I budgeted for the expense as I would my car, and I think the combination of things I already had (lights and pedals) and items I purchased (fenders, tires, pogies) have added up to a commuting machine that I truly enjoy. 

 

Have you ever bike commuted in the winter? What did you love about it?

Stay tuned next week for Part Two: My Clothing and Gear!

Finance Friday: January

It’s now 12 days into the Uber Frugal Month Challenge, and I’m paid biweekly (the first paycheck of the year is today), so I thought I’d check in with myself to make sure I’m on track.

Thermostat dropped to 65F = pets that normally don’t get along are suddenly cuddle buddies! That experiment didn’t last long…. back to 68F for now.

First, let’s recap my Frugal Month spending goals:

Eliminate spending entirely on:

  1. salon visits
  2. alcohol for home consumption (currently $20-30/month)
  3. bath/grooming products other than bar soap, toothpaste/floss
  4. DRIVING unless I’m on call
  5. buying meals at work
  6. buying coffee out just to buy coffee
  7. going to shows (music)
  8. clothing that wasn’t directly related to winter biking necessities
  9. haircuts for the kiddo
  10. mindlessly shopping at spendy food stores without making a meal plan for the week.

 

Reduce spending on:

  1. Groceries
  2. Utilities

 

Say Yes:

  1. Planned: 2 day trip to take my son back to college – assumed spend of $300 including all gasoline, lodging, and food.
  2. Planned: snowshoe rental and hike with a longtime friend – assumed spend less than $20 (website doesn’t list rental rates and I’m unsure if my address qualifies for free admission to nature area)
  3. Assumed: monthly outing with longtime friend(s) – usually a cafe – assumed spend less than $10

 

Alright, so how am I doing so far?

  1. salon visits: $0 
  2. alcohol for home consumption (currently $20-30/month): $0 
  3. bath/grooming products other than bar soap, toothpaste/floss: $0
  4. DRIVING unless I’m on call: week one: 7/7 days.  week two: 1/4 days so far
  5. buying meals at work: $0
  6. buying coffee out just to buy coffee: $0
  7. going to shows (music): $0
  8. clothing that wasn’t directly related to winter biking necessities: $0
  9. haircuts for the kiddo: $0 – he took a clippers back to school with him after he and his girlfriend cut his hair. Looks like this is an ongoing win. 
  10. mindlessly shopping at spendy food stores without making a meal plan for the week: $0

Notes: It’s been easier than I thought to not purchase wine, harder than I thought to not drink it. I’ve consumed no wine this month. I can say with certainty that a glass of wine on cold evenings is a firmly ingrained ritual for me – substituting with tea is working ok so far but there are still some days I really crave wine instead. It doesn’t seem to be an alcohol craving – I made a gin/elderflower liqueur cocktail last weekend – but wine itself.

I have no good reason for driving to work, but I do have lots of excuses, like “I am so tired after my mini-vacation” and “it is cold outside”. The rest of the list has been remarkably simple – I haven’t even considered any purchases in those categories. My only grocery stop was at Aldi so no temptation to stop at the co-op on the way home.

 

  1. Groceries – so far I’ve spent a total of $9.13 on eggs. Partly due to a big shop at the very end of December; partly due to cooking from my freezer. I’ll have to buy a bit more this coming weekend to replenish eggs and greens.
  2. Utilities – so far I’ve kept the thermostat at 68 while I’m home, but I’m curious to see if the increased usage of the electric oil-filled heater during my week off of work will result in a big increase on my bill next month. 65-66 was too cold for my animals – the actual room temperature was quite a bit chillier, and they didn’t move all day.

 

  1. Planned: 2 day trip to take my son back to college – assumed spend of $300 including all gasoline, lodging, and food.  Actual spend: $228.12.
  2. Planned: snowshoe rental and hike with a longtime friend – assumed spend less than $20 (website doesn’t list rental rates and I’m unsure if my address qualifies for free admission to nature area) – it was too cold with a -20F wind chill last weekend so we rescheduled for this Saturday.
  3. Assumed: monthly outing with longtime friend(s) – usually a cafe – assumed spend less than $10.  Not yet scheduled. 

 

Thoughts on my progress so far:

I’m definitely pleased with my lack of *wanting* to spend. I’m not sure how much of this is real, and how much is due to cold temperatures and just wanting to read books all day, however! My week off from work threw my early to bed routine out of whack and I’m still catching up. I know about myself that not getting enough sleep throws me off in multiple ways, and historically that’s when I’ve tended to make “small” money choices that add up very quickly, like grabbing food at work because I was “too tired” to cook or pack my lunch.

I’ve started trying to streamline my food during the week, and have done so with breakfasts for about six months. This week I went further and cooked up a bunch of chicken and rice, as well as a 9 x 13″ pan egg bake on Saturday to last me through this entire week. I pack my lunches each weeknight so I can just grab and go in the morning. Ways in which I’m making meal prep easier, tastier, and more frugal for myself:

  • Using homemade canned purple tomatillo sauce (a salsa verde recipe) on the chicken and rice – holy smokes, that little burst of summertime on my tastebuds is so good!
  • Grinding enough coffee to last the week. Not having to get out and put away the grinder every morning makes a bigger difference than I’d like to admit 😉  So far I haven’t noticed any difference in quality — I use an Aeropress and love getting up early to sip my coffee and read. That ‘reward’ motivates me to stick to my waking schedule when it’s dark and chilly.
  • Egg bake on the kinda cheap: 5 or 6 parboiled potatoes as the base layer, followed by onions and a whole lot of back-of-the-drawer veggies, then ground pork that was nearing its lifespan, then a dozen eggs. The veggie scraps made 12 cups of veggie broth.
  • Pressure cooking my steel cut oats. Previously I soaked the oats overnight then cooked stovetop for 10-15 minutes in the morning. This week I started using my electric pressure cooker instead – I place oats and water in a Pyrex measuring cup inside on a trivet the night before, set the delay timer and my cook settings, and I wake up to cooked oats! I am still perfecting the timing to get the texture just right for my taste, but this is a big time saver!

Meal prep and grocery planning are by far the biggest pieces of my frugal puzzle, and they haven’t been nice easy corner pieces! I feel like I’m making real progress in this area and it’s starting to show, not just in my finances, but in the amount of time I spend preparing my food.

My favorite kitchen appliance!

 

Now that I’ve made myself hungry again, it’s time to head out for the metro (if I put it in writing here, I’ll feel too guilty to drive to work, right??).

Have a warm, frugal Friday!

Starting From Scratch

….again.

You see, I’ve been down the debt payoff road before.  I even briefly followed Build Wealth Boulevard.  But a year of higher than usual bills, a bunch of impulsive purchases, and a few months of not tracking my spending sent me back to In the Hole Neighborhood.

I started this post just before New Years’ but I wasn’t yet sure that I was ready to admit my mistakes here.  I’d made a commitment to moving forward, and was feeling great about it, and didn’t want to dwell too much and derail my emotional wins.

Running toward Financial Independence! Or a cookie.

The last time I paid off debt I was actually discouraged by most of the blogs I found. It seemed that everyone was in their early 20’s, unmarried and without children, and had hundreds of dollars worth of shopping for clothing, shoes, meals out, and high-priced cable TV packages to cut out monthly. None of those things matched my life. On the other side was increasing income – every successful blogger seemed to have a slew of profitable side hustles. I considered side hustles or getting a second job, but as a single mom I greatly resented the time I already spent away from my kiddo. Even though it meant I’d be in debt longer, I chose not to work more hours than I already did. I slogged away month after month after month, paying the little extra I could a little bit at a time.  I still read a fair number of articles and blogs, to educate myself, but finding a story that resonated with me didn’t happen very often.

But it wasn’t my circumstances that caused me to get into debt, and it wasn’t my circumstances that caused me to get into debt again. It was my mindset.  

In the past year or so, I’ve learned to truly appreciate the blessings that I have.  I’m finally at a point I’m not just comfortable in my own skin, I feel amazing — even though I’m fluffier in the midsection than I’ve ever been and I’m at an age where there’s a never ending battle against chin hair 😉 I find myself in absolute awe of the world around me almost daily – a slice of moon hanging in the sky won’t ever fail to make me happy.

Look at that moon!

I can’t explain exactly when this happened — when I realized I am happy with myself and my life. A few years ago, I would’ve said I was happy and grateful, but I can feel it now.

How does this affect my finances? As I said in my last post, I consider my Past Self’s choices to be stepping stones to where I am today. Yeah, I made some big financial blunders, but I also know now that I have the ability to correct my mistakes. This time around, just like last time, I’m looking toward research and reading for external motivation, but my view has been widened and for some unknown reason, the stories that continued past debt repayment to financial independence and early retirement do resonate in a way that other stories hadn’t. I found a name for the goal that had been hidden in my heart the whole time — I now can envision a life after my hourly wage.

On paper, it will take years, maybe close to two decades, to reach that goal. A few years ago I wouldn’t have even dreamed of financial independence, because it would have seemed impossible — and this was when I had no debt!

But now I have something to work toward, instead of just working away at my debt. It makes a big difference.  

In the past two months, I’ve cut out most unnecessary spending like coffee away from home, music shows, and occasional meals out. I cut my auto insurance by 55% by switching companies. I decreased my already cheap cell phone bill and compared it to landline prices – it’s cheaper to stick with the cell phone. I cancelled Netflix. I started biking to work and on cold days drove only to the train station instead of all the way to work. I decided to keep biking in winter. I made all my own food. I drank wine only on weekends.

These were all relatively small things that a few years ago I probably thought wouldn’t make a difference. I probably thought somewhere deep in my brain that I “deserved” coffee out and Netflix. I definitely thought that the money spent on shows was worthwhile, even though I haven’t missed it at all. I now love meal planning, even though I’m still not very good at it. I love going to bed early and getting up early to make coffee and really savor my mornings. I love riding a bike!

So….starting from scratch.  Where exactly is my scratch, these days?

Here’s my starting point for 2017:

 

My monthly payment minimums are currently almost $1000. The last time I paid off all my debt I was struggling with $300/month payments! But I can do it.

And hey, after an automatic payment to my student loans yesterday, I’m already 0.5% of the way there!