Priorities

Sometimes, when I talk with people about money, I get the impression that they’re not sure what to think of my frugal ways.  In some cases, they’re actually dismissive. I’m not especially bothered by this, but it did get me thinking about what frugality looks like to people who are less inclined towards it.  At first glance, I suppose it might look like I’m saving just to save, or like I’m simply being cheap. I suspect it’s easy to see frugal living as a life of deprivation and constantly saying no, of self-denial and miserly fortitude.

But being frugal, as many, many people have pointed out before me, is really about priorities.  There are still things that I spend money on. In general, if I’m going to make a purchase I’m generally willing to pay more for something that’s good quality and that will last for a long time.  By saving in the areas that don’t matter as much to you, I can spend a spend a bit more in the areas that do and still save money overall.

My priorities largely centre on my values, particularly around living ethically, sustainably, and in a way that I can help others.  I find that being able to identify my priorities is that it makes it easier to save. From a practical perspective, any spending that doesn’t fit within my goals is something that needs to be carefully considered, if not outright eliminated.  On top of that, living frugally and saving money are not some nebulous things that I do because I’m supposed to.  They’re linked to some tangible goals and it makes it easier to stick with the plan because I know exactly what I’m working towards and can see my progress.

Right now, I have three main priorities that guide my spending and saving.

Buying a house. I’d like to own a place of my own both to build some equity and to start developing more of a homestead where I can focus on living even more frugally and sustainability.  I’m trying to build up as big a down payment as I can to reduce my mortgage and keeping this goal in mind helps keep me saving as much as I can.

Living sustainably and ethically. Most of my values centre on building a strong, resilient community. Part of this, for me, is supporting local producers and artisans. This can be somewhat more expensive than typical store bought options, but saving lets me put my money where my mouth is.

Taking care of myself and others.  My greatest fears have always centred on being able to take of the people I care most about.  I feel better knowing that, if need be, I have the resources to deal with adverse life situations and that if anyone needs help, I’ll be in a position to offer some assistance.

Although I’m sure my inclination is to be frugal anyway, I find that knowing what I’m saving for and why is really helpful and motivating. And, by knowing what’s important, that’s what I can focus my money on. Anything else I can either find inexpensive solutions for or, if possible, do without.

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Five frugal things

In the spirit of greater frugality, I’m borrowing a page from the Non-Consumer Advocate and and recording five frugal things from my days here and there.

1. I signed up for a free work wellness challenge. I walked over to pick up my gratitude jar this afternoon, which turned out to be a free canning jar.

2. I scored a piece of free leftover pizza from an event. It made for a very nice afternoon snack.

3. I took advantage of our fitness program and went to a free campus yoga class. Later this week I’ll be going to boot camp and a strength class.

4. I called my insurance company to get my snow tire discount, saving me $36 this year (yes, I’m completely ignoring how much the tires cost in the first place on this one.)

5. I drank looseleaf tea from my desk stash rather than buying it. I save $1.30 every time I do that. I also drank a lot of water, refilling my reusable bottle each time.

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.

 

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.

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.