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.

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.



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.