No spend month

In the interest of keeping both my budget and my stuff in check, I’m planning to challenge myself for January with a no spend month.  Y’know, because I don’t have enough going on.  Between travel, the odd gift, and a few anticipated but still unpleasant expenses, December’s been a bit on the spendy side.  On top of that, I’ve been thinking through some big financial goals and trying to curb my extraneous (mostly secondhand) spending. I think a month off from spending will do me good.

My usual expenses will be exempt from the challenge – I’ll be paying rent, phone, internet, and insurance, as per usual.  I’ll be allowing myself health-related expenses.  I go for regular massage therapy and physio and those will stay in the interest of maintaining my health.  I was also planning to do yoga this year and I’m willing to put the money towards a few classes – it should help some ongoing issues I’ve been having with my back and knees.

Food and transportation are a bit more complicated.  Although they’re clearly necessary in some instances, I do think I could cut back a bit so I’m putting a few restrictions into play.

To cut down on transportation I’ll be limiting unnecessary trips.  I drive to and from work daily, pay for a parking permit, and I do some reimbursed work-related travel usually once per week.  This makes budgeting somewhat challenging, since all the costs aren’t mine and the reimbursement covers more than the cost of gas.  The easiest solution seems to be limiting trips. I’m aiming for one non-work trip a week for errands and two out of town weekend trips, since they use a good bit of gas.  My goal is to stay under $125 for the month for my non-work transportation costs.

In terms of food, I’ll be focusing on simple, basic vegetarian food cooked at home.  I have a lot of pantry staples that I can use and will buy mainly the fresh veggies, dairy, and eggs that I need to round things out.  My plan is to spend no more than $25 per week on food, which will bring me in at $100 for the month, significantly less than the $250 I usually budget, which seems really high now that I’ve written it out.  I’m seeing lots of opportunities to break out some of my underused cookbooks and try out some new dishes with what I have on hand.

Usually this is where I start to talk about exceptions – the things that have been on my radar that I’ve been meaning to buy for awhile and would make a no spend month exception for if they suddenly went on serious sale or something.  I just don’t seem to have a lot to put on the list right now.  I do plan to buy snow tires for the car, but I’ve been saving for months for that.  I need a few more rubber rings for my pantry jars.  Other than that, even my usual suspects – a water filter, dehydrator, and a cookbook or two that I’ve had my eye on – aren’t pressing enough for me to put them here.  So, for now, the exemption list will remain short and, with any luck, my spending will stay low.

 

 

Thrift stopping

As I’ve been thinking through this year’s financial goals, I’ve been wondering if my beloved thrift shopping is kind of, maybe, somewhat undermining my budget. While I’m certainly spending within my means and saving upwards of 30 percent of my after-pension and after-tax income each month, the thrift shopping can still add up.  Since I have a few big financial goals that I’m working towards, cutting back is clearly in my best interests.

Now, don’t get me wrong – thrift stores are fantastic if you need to save money on things you actually need.  Looking for used first can save quite a bit of money, particularly with a bit of time on your side.  Speaking from experience, I’ve bought a lovely vintage solid wood coffee table for $15. Warm snow boots for $10.  Hankies for $0.25.  Camping chairs for $5. Wool blankets for $6. A sewing machine for $5 (yes, you read that correctly).

The trouble is that the thrift store is also filled with all kinds of lovely, wonderful things for pennies on the dollar.  I’m a bit embarrassed to admit it, but I have a really hard time resisting thrift temptation. This is why I own a waffle maker, baskets (upon baskets) of yarn, and more cookbooks than I can shake a stick at.  Standing there, I latch on to what a good deal whatever the thing is and my little aspirational mind scuttles ahead to imagine all of the lovely breakfasts I will serve, hats and socks I will knit, and cheeses that I will produce.

Ultimately, spending even a small amount on something that isn’t necessary – and that, in some cases, I didn’t know I even wanted until it was right there in front of me – isn’t really saving money.  At all.  This is all about crazy aspirational wants that are costing me a bit of money every month.  Not a lot, but enough that it’s worth my while to try to curtail them a bit more.

I put a few numbers into the latte factor calculator.  Even assuming a really low rate of return – the kind you’d find on a high-interest savings account, for instance – saving even $15 a week over a period of 30 years adds up to quite a lot of money.

Latte

My plan this year is to be a bit more intentional about my purchases and a little harder on myself about the impulse buys and recreational thrift shopping.  If it’s something I need, no problem, but there’s very little that I do actually need these days.  I have a lot of stuff – far too much stuff, really – and I need to actually make use of it before I buy anything else.

In an effort to keep myself accountable, I’ll be posting here about what I buy at the thrift store and how much it cost – likely with a whole pile of self-recriminations, because no one’s as good at being hard on me as me – in an attempt to dissuade myself from purchases that just aren’t necessary.

Financial goals for 2016

Between a new job, higher salary, a move, and a bunch of related extra expenses, 2015 felt like a pretty up and down year from a financial perspective.  Now that things are a bit more settled, I’d like to set out some specific financial goals for 2016 to work towards.

I typically save at least 30 percent of my after-deductions and after-tax income every month – with a tight budget, this means about $1000.  This is good, but it hasn’t been allocated in a specific way.  I just saved as much as I could and let it sit, which isn’t really all that useful unless you like having a large emergency fund and no plan to speak of.

This year, I have a few things in mind that I’d like to save towards in a more deliberate way.  I’ve very intentionally focused on base amounts that are grounded in numbers that I know about – primarily my work income.  I’m keeping the budget tight around these numbers to save as much as I can with a plan to top them up with amounts that are somewhat less certain – tax refunds, travel reimbursements, and reducing spending in other areas.

Net worth – This is a bit hard to calculate as my pension plan is defined service rather than defined amount.  Every month, $600 is automatically deducted from my pre-tax income.  This means I’ll be contributing $7200 per year to the plan.  This amount is matched by my employer, leaving me at a $14400 pension contribution for the year.  But…it doesn’t retain a specific value and instead is converted to years of service.  Since I’m not sure how to make that conversion yet (I know it was $46000 to buy in), I’ll be leaving it out of my net calculations for now.  Excluding my pension plan, my net worth currently sits at around $91 000.  For 2016, my hope is to increase that to at least $108 000.

Down payment – I’m hopeful that sometime this year or next I’ll be buying a house.  To that end, I’ll be setting aside $10 000 toward the down payment.  I’ll be setting aside $450 per month,  plus I’ve got myself a side gig teaching lined up for the first four months of 2016 which should bring in around $1000 per month after tax. I’ll also put in whatever comes in from my tax refund and any interest from my Tangerine accounts.

Retirement – In addition to my pension plan, I’d like to start investing on my own.  I’ve earmarked another 450 per month, or $5400 annually. The down payment takes priority right now, but any money that I save from my regular budget during the month will get put in here too.  I’m treating it like a challenge in the hopes of increasing the amount by a good bit.

Car – This is my first time owning a car and I’m planning for future costs already, especially since I drive a fair amount for work.  I’ll be setting aside 100 per month into a car fund for eventual repairs, or $1200 annually.  It feels a bit low, but I’ll also be adding to that anything that’s left over in my transportation budget category at the end of the month plus all of the reimbursements from my mileage claims.

As we move through the year it’s possible these numbers will change.  I usually try to reevaluate a few times a year to keep myself on track and it’s possible that something like a house purchase could alter the numbers.  Because of that it still feels a bit more nebulous than I’d like, but overall I’m pleased.  The goals represent a bit of a challenge on my part to keep spending low and saving high and I’m looking forward to taking it on.

 

Wayfinding chronicles

For weeks now I’ve been thinking about this space and what to call it. My general indecisiveness doesn’t lend itself to quick decisions about much of anything, let alone a blog title. Originally, I wanted to name this place after my much-hoped-for future land, but since I live in an apartment that seemed a bit disingenuous, something ending in homestead or farm seemed a bit disingenuous. Plus, I wasn’t relishing the thought of explaining, “no, um…I don’t actually have land yet” over and over again. Fortunately, a perusal of my bookshelf led me to the book The Wayfinders and suddenly I had a happy accident of a title.

The title is rather apt, as happy accidents often are. Wayfinding means a few different things for me right now. It means figuring out a new career, one that I’ve had for under six months and that I’m still adjusting to. It means learning about a new city and a new region and forging new social relationships thanks to the move that went along with the new career. It also means figuring out some personal things that need dealing with, most of which will probably be on the down-low for the foreseeable future.

More than that, though, wayfinding means reorienting myself after some pretty big life changes and figuring out how to best orient myself to my old values in my new life. My goal is to live a life in which I distance myself more and more from some of the more conventional ways of doing things. I have a long-standing interest in greater self-reliance and am looking to find ways to do more for myself. I’m looking to get myself out of the consumer society and to build a life where I can grow, make, mend, and generally do a lot more for myself. This place is a chronicle of these efforts.