Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Cutting The Majority

Since turning my Spending Diet into a Spending Fast, I've made quite a bit of progress. I did learn that I pay more per month in medical bills than I thought. A co-pay here and there really can add up, and I should have been paying attention more closely. That aside, I've also made some strides in changing the trajectory of my finances. I have avoided excessive spending in the following ways:
  • I gave my nephew a birthday gift that I already owned. He wanted the game of Twister, and I had actually purchased it for myself a few months ago. It was in my closet, still unopened. I made his birthday card using existing scrapbook supplies. That was easy!
  • I purchased groceries using coupons and a $20 voucher I purchased last month for half price. I'm still using up produce from my CSA, and my freezer and pantry are very well-stocked, so I only bought a few things: tomatoes, peanut butter, almond milk, hummus.
  • I have dined with the beau several times this month, but he has always generously picked up the tab. He knows about my spending fast and doesn't pressure me to pay when we go out, but I am starting to feel bad and don't want to seem like a mooch. I paid for my share of dinner one night. I also bought lunch while out with a friend I hadn't seen in a while. Otherwise, I have not purchased any other beverages or meals at restaurants or coffee shops.
  • I have not purchased any clothing, accessories, or luxury items. I did pay $25 for a haircut... my first in four months.
  • I have minimized my driving by not going out to restaurants or bars or entertainment venues, so I've only had to fill my tank once this month.
I calculated my average monthly spending in these categories: mortgage, energy, water/sewer, internet, cell phone, car insurance, gym membership, credit card payment, groceries, gas, entertainment, clothing, house repairs, medical bills, tithe, and miscellaneous. I did this by adding up the total spending for each of the past four months, then combining the total and then dividing by four.

I have been on budget for this month's fixed expenses (mortgage, energy, water/sewer, internet, cell phone, car insurance, gym membership, credit card, tithe). I have spent $126.56 less on groceries. I have spent $100.17 less on gasoline. I've only shelled $16 all month on dining expenses. For entertainment, I've maintained my Netflix account but nixed any other spending in that category. I have spent zero on house items, clothing, and accessories (and donated over $700 worth of items to Goodwill!). My medical bills have decreased by half. My miscellaneous spending (a gift for a baby shower and a haircut) totaled $57.

When comparing my November spending to the average of the previous four months, I have cut my expenses by 51%. Yep, you read that right... I spent less than half of what I normally do... cutting the majority of my expenses. And I didn't even have to cut out my Netflix or internet or gym membership. It was that simple. It seems so wasteful, in hindsight. I didn't need to spend money on any of those things I used to, all while believing I was being fiscally responsible. Just goes to show the belt can almost always get a little tighter.

My spending fast has been so successful that I plan to continue it into December. It will be a welcome challenge to navigate the national holiday spending frenzy in a minimalist way.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Giving in the Season of Buying

Miss Minimalist's string theory has been on my mind a lot lately. I referred to it in an earlier post:
Francine Jay (Miss Minimalist) mentioned something in her book "The Joy of Less" that rattled me and will stick with me forever: she asked readers to imagine tying one end of a string an item you own, and then tie the other end to a part of your body. Imagine doing this for literally every single item. This includes every sock, every fork, every pen, every bathroom product, every DVD, everything packed in those boxes in your attic. Would you feel trapped and weighed down by your possessions? Jay's book goes on to explain in further detail how to pare down your stuff so you can help lift that burden. It's a short read and I highly recommend it for anyone anywhere who buys things (in short, everyone).
Over the weekend, I severed a lot of those strings. Just in time for the season of "buying"--- the season of "giving" doesn't have to involve layaways and credit card payments, in my opinion--- I took an entire truckload of my possessions to Goodwill. I wrote down each item as I packed it so I could itemize the list for tax purposes later on. My mom was in town for a visit, so we loaded up her SUV to full capacity and drove it to the nearest donation center. It felt like a huge weight had been pulled off of me as I watched men haul away half a dozen garbage bags full of clothes. They lifted from me boxes of household items, outdoor gear, Christmas decorations, bedding, and DVDs. (I even saw someone donating a pair os skis! How cool is that?) I also have a box full of books, but I plan to donate them to my local library.

I came home, feeling great not just for giving someone else the opportunity to own and appreciate those items, I felt great for me... for my journey towards owning less and valuing what I do have.

Then I looked around my house and realized I'd only made a small dent in what I hope to eventually accomplish. Everywhere I looked, I started thinking "Do I really need that?" "I could get rid of that." "Could I sell that on eBay?"

Once I had parted with a fairly significant amount of stuff, I caught the bug. I wanted to have even fewer possessions. So I went through my closet again. I pulled another two garbage bags worth of shirts and dresses and pants to donate. I filtered through my shoes, throwing out my favorite pair of heels because they were so worn that they barely held together. I pulled boxes out of my basement storage and photographed more toys to post for auction online.

Still, it's not enough. I want to keep going. My first itemized donation was valued at over $700. That sounds great, but it also means I initially paid far more than that to own those things. The earth's resources were used to make those items. Energy was expended to make them, package them, ship them, clean them, fix them. And then there's the depreciation value of market price versus what they are worth upon donation. If I had been more discerning about my buying in the first place, I would have reduced my impact in all of those areas.

It is never too late to start freeing yourself from the cycle of spending, owning, and purging. In this upcoming holiday season, I challenge you to be very discerning of what you choose to buy. If you do make purchases, I recommend shopping at local establishments to help support community businesses. But don't feel compelled to buy just for the sake of it. Just because it is the popular thing to do this time of year doesn't mean it is mandatory, or even beneficial. Please consider giving homemade gifts or the gift of quality time over buying more stuff.

Remember, you could have more money in your bank account. You could have less clutter in your home. You could spend less time cleaning and fixing things, less time wrapping gifts, less time in the crowded store where you tempt the notion to buy even more than you really need. On a macro level, you could reduce the use of precious non-renewable resources. You could reduce your energy consumption and dependency on foreign oil used to power the factories that manufacture your purchases and the trucks that ship them to their destinations. You could reduce waste in landfills caused by throwing away packaging, or eventually even the items themselves when you're done with them.

(Even donating your goods doesn't necessarily mean those former purchases are going to be repurposed. Sometimes donation centers get overwhelmed and they need to sort through what they get, getting rid of some of it. And then where do you suppose it goes? That's right... the trash.)

My next donation pile is rapidly growing. I may have to undo a bit of what I've accumulated over the years, but now is as good of a time as any to reverse the process and continue my quest to minimalism.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Spending Diet: A Regression

Times are tough, people.

What started out as a very encouraging journey on this Spending Diet has become just another ball of financial stress. My pay(though my hours are the same) reduced by $4 an hour due to budget cuts in my current line of work. I was happy to score a second job, a freelance gig doing what I love, but I haven't been paid for my first project yet. This weekend I needed to get a new front door for my house, but due to issues installing a standard door into a formerly custom frame (in a stucco house, where nothing is square), I ended up shelling out over $500 for the new door, framing supplies, and a new kitchen faucet because mine conveniently broke. And now, I am conveniently broke.

I've been doing my best to remain optimistic about my finances. Christmas this year will consist of all homemade gifts like breads and cookies and mix CDs. My house is well stocked with food, so grocery shopping should only need to be minimal for a while. No need to eat at restaurants or buy lattes and snacks, so saving on that should be easy. I keep my thermostat at a brisk 64 degrees and wear lots of layers and microwavable slippers (yes, those exist!). And yet, still, I feel like the darkness is growing. I feel like there is only a finite amount of time to be able to keep paying my bills, let alone set money aside for the future.

I know I'm not alone in this, but it makes my stomach turn just thinking about it. I've already had to dig into my emergency fund, but it worries me even more to see that nest-egg deplete. My parents have been incredibly helpful in the past, but I feel like a deadbeat asking them for help when I'm 28 and should be able to handle this by myself.

I could blame any number of circumstances for my current situation (budget cuts, economy, divorce, home repairs), but the bottom line is that these things happen and blaming them is not going to fix the situation. I need to accept responsibility, to take action, to turn it around. I need to do more, like fight harder to get that appointment with my boss to ask for a raise (though I've been trying for three months just to get a meeting, in vain). I need to stop spending on anything that isn't absolutely necessary. I may even need to put out a want ad for a roommate, if that's what it takes.

So if you are my friend (and if you are, I love you dearly), please understand that I will be declining any invitations to outings unless it involves playing a board game in someone's living room. I won't be buying anything new, so please don't take offense. I'm going back to a Spending Fast for the time being, and my new favorite word is going to be (it has to be) "no."

Monday, November 5, 2012

Oh, Crap

Changing my dietary lifestyle has rendered all sorts of changes to my body. The first was that nasty sugar withdrawal, where I felt hungover all day. Then my skin started to clear up and I had fewer breakouts. My blood test results were astounding. And, also, I've noticed that altering what goes into my body has changed what... um... comes out.

It's not a topic that many people like to or choose to talk about, but our waste can be a great indicator of our health. (Remember this book?) For example, my old eating habits resulted in one movement a day, and I thought I was healthy because it was like clockwork, at the same time every day. Other people I've talked to about this don't even have one movement every day. (That means all that, er... crap... is staying inside of you!)

Then, when talking to a close friend who recently changed to a plant-based diet, she told me she was  had started having several movements a day. Eating better food, but creating more waste? It seemed like an odd paradox, and a little alarming at first.

Though I have not become a vegan or even a vegetarian, I did switch to a more whole foods diet with minimal processed products. And, wow, did I begin to notice a change! The same thing started happening to me. Maybe it was all the fiber in the plant products? Could it be that now that I was eating more "real" food, my body wasn't confused about how to process it? Perhaps my body was resetting itself to work more efficiently? Regardless, I do know that more waste leaving my system means less of it is staying in my body, and that's a good thing.

I once heard or read somewhere that three movements a day is optimally healthy. I don't have any source or data to back that up, but it has become a running joke where I say things like "I'm only 33% healthy today," or "Time to go get 100% healthy for the day!" with my closest loved ones who have supported me on this journey.

Again, I know this is a little bit of a taboo subject, and that this may be TMI for many. However, I do think it's important to pay attention to not only how often we go, but how we feel when we do. Is it a lengthy and painful process, or relatively quick and easy? Is the experience reminiscent of having the flu or does it "hold its own," so to speak? Is it only an occasional event or does it happen regularly at about the same time each day? Is everything bright red and you're in a panic, but then you remember that you ate beets yesterday? (Because, yes, that happens... and it can be pretty freaky!)

Analyzing your movements is just one way of understanding what your body is telling you. Other examples of "reading" your body's cues:
  • headaches that possibly come from being dehydrated
  • heartburn that can come from eating heavily processed or acidic foods and from being inactive
  • fatigue that often derives from eating foods with little or no nutritional value  (no food energy)
  • abdominal pains maybe caused by IBS due to lack of waste excretion from the body
Many people take pills to offset symptoms such as these. While there are some clinical and chronic cases that may require medication, many of these could be easily prevented in most people if they better understood how to acknowledge their bodily cues.

Instead of covering up the sign that something is "off" in your body, why not address the source? Try eating foods with more fiber instead of taking supplements. Try drinking water and resting instead of popping aspirin. Try eating fewer processed foods and replacing them with whole foods to boost your energy instead of consuming energy drinks. Opt for fewer deep fat fried foods and acidic products to see if you digest your food better.  These methods are much cheaper than buying medicine, and they may actually fix most of these common issues.