No-spend February

Given both the successes and failures of my January no-spend challenge, I’m going to do a similar challenge in February to try to step up my game a bit and hopefully meet with a bit more success.  This time, I’m adding in a few side challenges intended to support my primary goal.

As usual, I’ll still be paying rent, insurance, utilities, and all of the necessary things.  I’ve also decided to not put any limitations on health related spending, since it’s something that’s important.  If I need to see my chiropractor or restock the supplements that I take, that’s fine.

For transportation, I’ll be setting the same goal as in January.  I’ll be reducing my driving locally and limiting my out of town trips to two weekends. Since the weather’s been fairly nice, I’m setting a side goal of walking or biking to do all my errands – it’s good for my wallet and my health.

In terms of food, I’m taking on a goal similar to January’s, but giving myself a bit more leeway.  I’ll be setting my budget at $150 to make it a bit easier to focus on getting locally produced food.  My related goal is to go to the farmer’s market once per week to see what’s available before I go to the grocery store.  It’s a bit far, but if I can bike when it’s safe enough, so much the better.

Beyond that,the plan is to not buy anything.  To this end, I’m aiming for not going to any thrift stores or book stores.  Period.  At all.  For the entire month.  Just…no.  Of course, that didn’t work especially smashingly last month, so I’m setting four side goals that I’m hopeful will help.

First, I’m aiming to exercise at least three evenings per week.  I’ve been able to take advantage of some exercise classes for free at work, so if I can do yoga, strength, and bootcamp, that’s three evenings that there’s no chance that I’ll be hauling my sweaty post-workout self anywhere but home.

Second, I’m going to have a look through my closet, see what fits now that I’ve lost a bit of weight, and focus on building some additional work-appropriate outfits.  I often wind up at thrift stores because I’m trying to fill out my work wardrobe.  I don’t buy a lot of clothes, but when I’m there I’ll see other cool things and that’s when the trouble starts.

Third, I’m reestablishing a reading habit.  I love reading but have gotten away from it a bit in recent years.  My hope is that by getting back into moving, exciting, intriguing, and informative books I’ll be more motivated to come straight home (and maybe also realise that I shouldn’t buy any more books until I get through enjoying the many that have yet to be read).

Fourth, I’ll be decluttering.  I have more than enough stuff and realising how much I have is always eye-opening.  On top of that, the trouble of sorting it and getting it out of here usually drives me to not buy anything for awhile.  Although I expect I’ll be slow about this, getting some stuff out of here should help me to not spend for awhile.

So, that’s the plan.  I do feel bad about last month’s purchases, but I suppose I should just see this as baby steps and the building of better and better habits.  Here’s to another month of less spending and more saving!


No spend January wrap-up

With January drawing to a close, I wanted to revisit my no spend month challenge to see how everything shaped up.  Looking at the numbers, I spent somewhat less than I normally would but more than I wanted to.

The good: I did manage to stick to my $100 grocery budget by focusing on eating what I had in the freezer and pantry and buying mostly fresh produce, eggs, and dairy.  I reduced my travel and only went out of town twice, which kept my transportation costs down.

The bad: Although I minimized thrift store visits, I did make a few trips and wound up with some books, linens, a pair of shoes, and a food processor.  I didn’t spend a lot of money and it’s stuff I’ll use, but it’s still more than I was planning to buy for the month.

The ugly: I bought three cookbooks from the local outlet store – Artisan Cheese Making at Home ($14), The Art of Simple Food II ($14), and Salt Sugar Smoke ($15).  The first two were books that had been on my Amazon wish list for a year, so I was pleased when the showed up for half of what they were on amazon.  The other was new to me.  Given that I already have a lot of cookbooks, I don’t have much of a justification.  Cookbooks are a weakness I need to get more under control.

Looking back at this month, it’s pretty clear to me that most of my justifications for buying things are focused on how they’ll save money in the long run.  I tell myself that napkins will save me money on paper products.  That making cheese and preserves will be less expensive than buying them at the store.  That buying hiking shoes at the thrift store will be less expensive than getting them new.

While not necessarily wrong, these justifications make it easy to buy things that I don’t really need when I could instead be saving that money for one of my bigger goals. Although I’m pleased to have cut down my spending in January, this is something that I’ll need to work on if I want to keep increasing my savings rate and cutting extraneous stuff from my life.



Thrift stopping report

The background: I’ve been wondering if my beloved thrift shopping is kind of, maybe, somewhat undermining my budget.  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.  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 in an attempt to dissuade myself from purchases that just aren’t necessary.

Three weeks into January (how did that happen?) and, I confess, I have not been as good as I would like about the thrift shopping.  A few instances where I’ve gone to drop things off have ended in a bit of shopping.  I’ve kept it to a minimum, but I still made more purchases than I was planning for.

The temptations:

I talked myself out of some things.  I’m not buying any fiction because I have so much left to read.  I shouldn’t buy furniture that I don’t yet have room for, even if it’s old and lovely.  I’m done with glassware until I sort out the pantry situation a bit more and I need more kitchenware like I need a hole in the head.  Given all that, I wasn’t really tempted all that much (okay, except by books…books are my vice).

The damage:

Books: Guerrilla Gardening ($3), Anthology of Children’s Literature ($1), This Changes Everything ($1.50), The Human Age ($1.50)

I love children’s literature and bought An Anthology of Children’s Literature – it was marked $10 on a day when it’s colour tags were on sale for $1.  Guerrilla Gardening is a book I’ve been wanting to read for awhile and I’m thrilled that I found it secondhand.  I also happened across a half off all hardbound books sale, so I got This Changes Everything and The Human Age on sale, both of which have been on the list of books that I very much want to read.

Hiking shoes ($8)

Unworn North face hiking shoes one size too big so I can wear my thick wool socks.  I was pricing out new hiking shoes a month ago and couldn’t bring myself to take the plunge, so this is a good alternative.  It’s been quite chilly to go walking, but I’ve found on their first outing that the combination of wool socks and Gore-Tex seems to do the trick.  I’ve been trying to walk to errands, but some evenings it’s been bitingly cold and my usual leather boots have been leaving my feet very cold.

The verdict:

Although I am pleased with them I probably didn’t need the books, so that’s $7 in unnecessary spending.  The shoes are also somewhat questionable – it’s not like I don’t have shoes and boots, but I’m tired of very cold feet and they were a good deal, which I suppose makes sense for something I’ll be wearing only in the coldest of weather.  But again, the goal is to not be spending, and spend I did.


The things that slide

The last two weeks have been busier than expected.  My first week back at work involved facilitating a intensive workshop complete with very long days and evening review and planning.  My second week involved catching up on all of the things that I didn’t have time for in that first week.  On top of that, I’ve got a part-time second job teaching online until the end of April that’s taken up quite a bit of time between getting everything ready to go and launching the course.  It’s been good for my savings account but not so great for all of the other things that need to be done.

That’s really just a long way of saying that I haven’t had as much time to write here as I’d like.  Not that I haven’t been thinking about it, it’s just that there hasn’t really been much time to actually sit down and get words out.  That said, I do have posts in the works about this month’s spending, stopping hitting the thrift stores, and ethical consumer choices.

The one thing these last two weeks have highlighted for me are how quickly work can take over and how easy it is to let things slide.  In my case – as for many people, I suspect – it seems that the things that slide are often the healthy ones – exercise, healthy eating, meditation, budgeting, and downtime for things like reading and writing.  It’s been all too easy to slip into bad habits, so this week will be an exercise in getting back to good ones.  On the up side, I’m done most of my work for today and am planning for a grocery trip, evening run, cleaning session, and some meditation before reading in bed for awhile. It’s a start, and it feels like that’s what counts right now.

Thrift stopping report


The background: I’ve been wondering if my beloved thrift shopping is kind of, maybe, somewhat undermining my budget.  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.  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 in an attempt to dissuade myself from purchases that just aren’t necessary.

With the start of January and my no spend month challenge, my hope is that this will be the only thrift stopping report for awhile.  That said, I did manage to hit up a few stores while on two weeks of break prior to deciding on the challenge, and so there are some things to report.  I seem to have been driven by inclinations towards projects – well-meaning, fit-with-my-values-and-personal-goals projects. It’s not a great excuse, though, so I’m going to keep an eye on my justifications going forward.

The temptations:

I talked myself out of four pieces of art ($50), three notebooks ($6), a lamp ($6), two mugs ($2), a tote bag ($6), two cookbooks ($6), and two novels ($5).

The damage:

Linens – tablecloth ($1), 20 napkins ($4), 4 placemats ($1)

This is a lot of linen.  I’m torn about whether so much was truly necessary.  Some of the napkins will be used as hankies to replace throw-away tissues.  Some will be used to line the baskets that I proof bread in.  Some will serve their intended purpose.  The placemats and tablecloth I was hoping to use to make reusable produce, bulk, and bread bags.  They’re in service of my no waste goals, but I’m not sure I needed quite this much.

Winter gear – hat ($2), mittens ($2)

The hat was in place of buying a $40 merino balaclava to run in, so I don’t feel too badly about it.  It’s wool and it fits well.  I’m hoping I won’t need a face covering later in the season or that I can find a secondhand balaclava between now and then, but I guess we’ll see.  The mittens were wholly unnecessary. I bought them for their wooly handknit loveliness.

Books – 3 cookbook ($7), 3 novels ($3)

Not so good.  I need more books like I need a hole in the head (although I’m pretty pleased with the sourdough one).  As much as I think books are undervalued and I love having them around, I don’t have much space for more and, more importantly, I don’t really need any more.  Time to stop and read what I already have.

Jars – 4 flip-top canning jars ($5), vintage canning jar ($2)

These jars are pretty great. I use the big ones for food storage and the small ones for spices.  Since I’m now buying more bulk foods and avoiding all plastic bags, large jars are handy.  I do have a lot of these, but I think a well-stocked pantry is important.

Cuisinart food processor ($10)

I’ve been looking for a food processor and this one is ugly but fantastic.  It’s a 1970s Cuisinart – weighs a tonne from the metal motor, made in France, has a good bit of power, and should continue to last a long time with a bit of luck.

The verdict: 

Not so terrible, but nowhere close to great – Linens to reduce waste, a hat that saved over $38, and jars for bulk food. The food processor has been on my list for awhile and seems solid.  I think that’s $25 somewhat reasonably spent, although the fact that some of it was perhaps not strictly necessary is largely what I’m trying to combat with my January no spend challenge.

Bad news – Six unnecessary books and mittens. $12 spent that I didn’t really need to.  In particular, I have to stop with the books – they’re an Achilles heel and are taking over my apartment.  And yes, I have a library card.  I just happen to be a slow learner with a library card.  Lots of room for improvement here.

Grocery questions

So, I went to pick up a few groceries today, intent on staying within my self-imposed $25 per week budget, and walking out of the store I found myself seriously wondering whether I have drastically underestimated prices and overestimated my ability to pull this off.

I spent $33 on a huge bag of frozen berries ($12), four liters of milk ($4), a large package of mushrooms ($4), 18 eggs ($5), greek yogurt ($6), and 10 lbs of onions ($2), which puts me at $8 over budget already. And that’s with planning to use up the leftover veggies that are in the fridge before buying any more.

Thinking it through, I know that the berries, onions, and milk (which I freeze) will last me well over a month, so that won’t be a cost again for awhile.  That should make it possible to buy only fruits and veggies on the next trip.  This is probably do-able, but it’s always somewhat disconcerting to see how much groceries cost even before factoring in reports that prices will be rising around five percent for 2016.

But once I had that sorted, that’s when the really deep questions started.

Once I got home, I got to thinking about the ethics of sticking to a budget like this.  First of all, I’ve artificially set my budget pretty low for no real reason other than taking on a financial challenge.  If I go over it’s not a big deal, although I’m striving not to.  I also have the benefit of using up food from my pantry and leftovers from the fridge.  And I have the means to easily drive myself to whatever stores are having the best sales.  But this isn’t the reality for most people, and I wouldn’t want to give the impression that a $25 a week budget is easy or something everyone should or even could be doing.

On top of that, I started to factor in the disheartening ethics of the food system and the fact that we pay so little for food.  Another reason I can stick to this budget is because food here is really inexpensive compared to many areas of the world. This is largely because many of the costs of its production are taken off us and put onto the earth and other people.  The true cost should be a lot higher.

Sitting here now, I’m questioning whether this is the right choice.  I don’t think there’s any question that it’s a good financial move.  But, would it be better to raise the budget and head to the farmer’s market, where I can get free range eggs and locally grown apples and the amazing sourdough from the bakery just a town over?  Is saving my money worth it in terms of all of the other costs that are offloaded to other people who shouldn’t have to sustain them?

Given the present food system, many people can’t make this choice for a whole host of reasons.  But if I can make it I feel like I should.  It’s true that the local market tends to be more expensive than the discount grocery store, but maybe there are some ways to find a balance between financial savings and supporting local businesses. Over the next week I’m going to take some time to think a bit more about this challenge and how I can do it in a way that doesn’t lead to me feeling quite so guilty after a grocery trip.

New year’s everyday

As much as I’m inclined to make resolutions and goals for the new year, I also recognize that the date is an arbitrary one and that it’s important to keep up the momentum of the new year throughout the year, or none of my goals will actually be met.  I ran across this quote from Antonio Gramsci today and want to keep it in mind through the year.

I want every morning to be a new year’s for me. Every day I want to reckon with myself, and every day I want to renew myself. No day set aside for rest. I choose my pauses myself, when I feel drunk with the intensity of life and I want to plunge into animality to draw from it new vigor.

Personal goals for 2016

In thinking about my financial goals for 2016 I’ve also been giving some thought to my personal goals.  I have a lot of interests and a lot of things that I want to work on at any given point in time.  Many of these things are some combination of self-improvement and world-improvement combined with a hefty-dose of self-reliance.

With so many things to do, it’s often a struggle for me to focus.  My tendency is to be a Jill-of-all-trades and to try to do it all.  This doesn’t usually work so well, particularly when I have a busy full-time work schedule and not a lot of energy left at the end of the day.  In fact, if I’m honest, it means that things often don’t get done because I’m so overwhelmed that it’s just easier to turn on Netflix and veg for a bit.

This year, I’m trying to narrow the focus a bit more and to choose the things that are most important to me.  For 2016, it’s looking like that’s going to be a combination of working on my health, getting more involved in my community, producing a few more of the things that I need, and reducing my environmental impact.

Health – After a doozy of a flu, a move to a new city, and the start of a new job, 2015 wasn’t off to the healthiest of starts.  I actually felt the effects through to the summer.  Now that I’m feeling better I’d like to improve on some of the steps that I’ve taken this year.  I plan to continue running three times per week but would like to add in three strength training sessions too.  On top of that, I’m going to start a daily meditation practice and ensure that I make time for reading a book, drinking some tea, doing yoga, or taking a quiet walk at least once weekly.

Community – I’ve done next to nothing community focused since I moved, but recently I’ve been doing some research on community groups that I could become involved with.  Unfortunately, most volunteer opportunities won’t work with my work schedule, but I’m looking into working with Out of the Cold and getting involved with a local environmental group.  Beyond that, I’m hoping to join a sewing or knitting group for some more social interactions.

Production – Last year I was good about cooking almost all of my meals and I grew in the same community garden plot that I have reserved for this year, so those things stay.  On top of that, I’d like to add to my culturing activities and make some yogurt and cheese.  On the non-edible front, I’m going to improve my sewing and knitting skills so I can make more for myself.  The initial plan is to knit a hat, vest, and pair of socks and to sew an apron and a dress.

Environment – I’ve been good about buying only secondhand and using my water bottles, but would like to step things up this year.  I’m going to work my way towards no waste by buying more locally and in bulk, replacing throw-away items, and using my skills to make some reusable items from secondhand materials.  It’s somewhat challenging thanks to the route and no shower facilities at work, but if I can manage a few days of week biking to work I’ll do that too.

It seems like a long list, but it’s nice to have a map of where I want to go this year.  I just need to remember that this doesn’t need to happen all at once and that I can do one thing at a time moving forward.  Up first? Get meditating, start on the hat, contact the volunteer groups, and dig out some hankies.  Let’s get things going…