Away we go again…

Time has passed.  I have clearly been anywhere but here.  And the world spins madly on…

The short version of things is that for the past three months, I’ve been working a part-time job in addition to my full time job.  In addition to my regular, full-time work, I’ve been teaching an online course.  There are a few reasons for this.  It’s highly applicable to my job now and good for keeping my online teaching skills honed.  It keeps my foot in the door with respect to teaching, which makes it more likely I could go back if I ever wanted to.  And, on top of that, the extra income means that I’ll be adding upwards of another $5200 to my house down payment fund, which is lovely.

All that means that I haven’t had much time for anything much beyond hunkering down, particularly since there’s been a good bit of grading over the last two months.  Unfortunately, that also means that although I have a lot of ideas rolling around in my head, I haven’t done a whole lot that would really make for great blog fodder.  At this point, it’s a good week when the dishes get done, the plants get watered, and I’ve managed a bit of exercise somewhere in the mix.

On the up side, no time for much of anything means that it’s been pretty easy to keep to my monthly budget.

So, that’s where I’m at.  It’s nether exciting nor scintillating, but I am anticipating more time soon to get back to some of the other things that I value.  I’m hoping to get in a good spring cleaning, clear out some clutter, and set the apartment straight. I plan to start looking at local open houses to get a sense of what the market’s like.  Nicer weather means more hiking, biking, and exploring locally.  The farmers’ markets will open soon and there will be local produce to cook with and preserve.  I have a strong desire to get in more knitting, sewing, and possibly some soap-making, too.  It’s been a very busy few months, but I’m looking forward to spring and a bit more of a relaxed schedule.

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.



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.

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.

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…