First, I want to preface this article with a disclaimer: I am not a gardener in any professional sense. In fact, when I can keep anything alive, I am thrilled! This is absolutely a novice’s take on getting a frugal garden going! 

Now that I’ve set the bar incredibly low, let’s talk plantin’!

This is my second year planting a flower garden. I have not tried my hand at a vegetable garden yet, though I do have some tomato plants in the works, thanks to my Buy Nothing group! Prior to my current garden, I’d been raising plants in pots for a few years. 

This Fascinating Adventure

How to Start a Frugal Garden

A raised garden bed with two large hibiscus plants in the back, a small rose plant, and 5 other smaller colorful flowers planted across the bed.
Here is our newly planted 2019 garden! I’ll be sure to share “After” pictures in a few months!

Here’s how I have pieced together a frugal garden:

A Place to Plant

Last year, my husband and I purchased a Build-Your-Own Raised Garden Bed kit from Lowe’s. We have a Lowe’s credit card (which we pay off in full every month to avoid interest!) which gives us 5% off every purchase. The kit wasn’t cheap, and neither was the dirt to fill it, but once we had a place to plant, we were set!

Raised garden beds aren’t the only option of course! If you have space in your yard for an in-ground garden, or even a few pots/planters, you’ve got all you need to get started.

By far, the raised bed purchase has been the most expensive part of our gardening journey, and this is absolutely optional. When moving into our house, gardening was one of the surprise expenses I didn’t anticipate. However, personally I find the result of a raised garden bed much more pleasing to the eye and more enjoyable to care for than flower pots!

The Plants!

Next, plants need to be acquired. Sometimes, in my busy day, catching the glimpse of a well placed flower can really brighten my spirit. Picking out new plants for my garden is an absolute joy! (I acknowledge how cheesy all this must sound, and I don’t care! I really do love flowers.)

Free Plants

There are several options for acquiring free plants, but ultimately they all come down to one thing: community. 

As I mentioned earlier, I was gifted 3 tomato plants through my Buy Nothing group on Facebook. (P.s. if you are interested in joining a Buy Nothing group in your area, you can check it out here.)

Friends and family have given me various plants throughout the years, both as gifts, or due to plant splitting. If you have any gardening friends, put it out there that you’re interested in any plants they don’t have room for. Perhaps the next time they prune and clean out their garden, you could get lucky. 

Building this community is helpful as it goes both ways. When I have an excess of plants, I am sure to share them with anyone who I know is interested.

Store Sales

The bulk of my flowers come from the store. I am especially keen to purchase new plants when there is a sale, usually around a holiday. 

While I normally unsubscribe to any email advertisements from various stores, I keep my Lowe’s emails close to my chest. They regularly have gardening sales, and are sure to not disappoint (plus I get that 5% off)! 

When shopping, I keep an eye out for marked-down plants, or cheaper, smaller flowering plants. They’ll grow! Why pay $5-$10 more for a larger version of a Lantana, when I could have the joy of raising it up as a pup?

Side of Road Plant Sales

One of my Mom’s most gorgeous flowers to date was a small Hibiscus she bought on the side of the road for 50¢. Fully grown Hibiscus plants can sell for $20 or more! She nurtured it since it was small, and had it for 18 years!

This goes for school fundraisers, carnivals, garage sales, or any other table-ran plant sale.

Check out gardening centers or local annual events in your area where education is the focal point. There are usually freebies, or dramatically discounted plants you can take home for a spin!

Borrow Tools

When we initially assembled our raised bed garden, we borrowed a wheelbarrow from a friend. We used this to to transport the dirt from a tarp on our driveway to the garden bed. 

We’ve borrowed countless tools, and have been gifted countless others, from friends and family who happen to be downsizing, or recognize they aren’t using their tools. 

Talk about your project with your buds and see if you can borrow what you need before buying. Of course, be sure to return the tools in a timely fashion, and in the same condition as when they were loaned. 

Use the Internet

Everything I’ve ever learned about gardening, I’ve learned from someone else. Of course my friends and family are great resources, but I’ve also learned a ton on the internet. 

You can Google anything. Google doesn’t think you’re silly. Google can guess and figure out what you mean even if you’re not sure what something is called. If you’re not sure of the right time of year to prune, or how far apart you should put certain plants, Google has got your back. Google that shit!

Let Them Live!

If you are even half-way conscientious about watering and trimming off any deadheads or browning parts of your plants, some will survive! 

Last year, we transplanted some Perennials from our raised-bed garden into pots to make it easier to bring them in and out of the house during the winter. Most of our garden last year consisted of Annuals, and their life span is only for one year. However, we did have 3 Perennials that made it through the winter and are blooming again! One of the Perennials is a Hibiscus plant that I’ve had for years, going back to my apartment days!

Save Money—Go Outside

Everyone has a bias toward their hobbies. That’s why they are yours! Hobbies give us an individual pleasure that work can’t possibly provide. 

This year, we spent $88 dollars on 8 new flowering plants and 10 bags of mulch. We usually buy smaller plants, and splurge on one big one. Our splurge this year: We got us a Rose plant! 

Living in Texas where the sun shines until November, a garden is an excellent investment for a frugal hobby. I’ll have a way to keep myself entertained for at least six months! All for $88!

The hobby of gardening is one of the things I do that give me great pleasure in life. I like the exercise, frustration with weeds, victory over the weeds, watching my small baby plants grow into giants, watering my garden in twilight…the list goes on and on. 

Most of all, I love that it gets me outside. It’s meditative and therapeutic. Whether I’m working in the garden, or sitting outside on a lawn chair and admiring it, it makes me happy. 

The joy I already am deriving from the $88 I spent to get this year’s garden going is immeasurable. And besides, you just can’t put a price on quality of life!

This post may contain affiliate links, and this blog could earn a small commission if the affiliate links are used. I would never link to a product or service that I have not used myself.For more information, check out my disclaimer.

Here is another weekly installment of Living Frugally where I share my frugal accomplishments for the past week. Be sure to share your frugal successes in the comments!

I had a late work night this week, so I used up some bananas and cold brew coffee to make a coffee-banana smoothie. It was a nice consolation treat to myself for working so late!

I re-watched Brené Brown’s Call To Courage show on Netflix. Even re-watching it—well worth my time. 

This week we ate Tofu Stir-Fry, frozen pizza, grilled cheese, and nachos for dinner at home. 

This Fascinating Adventure

Living Frugally—Week 19

A cast iron skillet on a stove-top, filled with sautéed tofu, broccoli, zucchini, and green beans.
Yum! This fed us both for 3 day!

We also packed all of our lunches as usual this week. The only exception was, my mother-in-law stopped by my husband’s work this week, as she was in the area. They were able to go out for lunch and have a nice time. Well worth any money spent!

Continued to read a new book from the library. Also listened to a couple new audiobooks from the library on my commute. 

Picked up a few things from my Buy Nothing group on Facebook. There were a few articles of clothing, and a plastic pumpkin that I will store to use as a Fall/Harvest decorative item. 

We did a significant amount of yard-work this week. We pruned our shrubs out front and I weeded my raised garden bed to prep for the planting we will do soon. We are looking at some pre-Memorial Day sales to purchase the plants and mulch needed for our flower garden. 

This week I worked out only once, courtesy of my BeachBody app (I am not an affiliate of BeachBody, just love their product).

I also used our foam roller a significant amount this week. Especially after weeding our garden, it was a nice way to massage out all the kinks and practice self-care!

Spent a significant amount of time outdoors this week. Some of it was spent doing yard-work. Other times, I just hung out on our porch with a cup of coffee and relaxed. I definitely want to make a point of doing that more often!

My mom came over to hang this week, and she offloaded a ton of sewing stuff to me. This included patterns and other odds and ends that I will enjoy using for various craft projects. 

My mom also helped me mend several articles of clothing. Most were minor repairs. These clothes had been piling up for a few months, and now that they are mended it is like having an infusion of new clothes back in our closets! 

Listened to several podcasts this week. Most of the podcasts I listen to are financial related, but this week I got into Oprah’s Super Soul Conversations. So nourishing for my spirit. 

What are some of your frugal accomplishments for this past week?

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This post may contain affiliate links, and this blog could earn a small commission if affiliate links are used. For more information, check out my disclaimer.

“6 Strategies for Working Alongside Difficult People”

This Fascinating Adventure

Side view of a Blonde woman sitting at a table with her forehead resting on her hand and an annoyed expression on her face.

I work with a difficult person. Believe me, calling her “difficult” is kind. I could regale you with all the bizarre behavior that makes working with her especially difficult, but why bitch-bond? We are better than that. And besides, you know who I am talking about. You might be working with someone like her now. 

There have been jobs I’ve worked in where the team dynamics are beautiful. As I’ve mentioned before, I work in a profession that can be emotionally exhausting. Having a supportive team can make all the difference for longevity and stamina within a career riddled by burnout

As I am already combatting burnout, and trying to rein in my workaholic nature, I am choosing to eliminate some work commitments I currently have. There’s a real pill at one of my jobs, “Sandra”,  and I am finding it increasingly difficult to work with her. It would make sense to eliminate this work commitment first. The problem is: I actually like this job. Sort of. 

I Care About This Job: But I’ve Stopped

For someone who works mostly within a freelance economy, this is a dream job. The work I do at this particular entity as a part-time employee is meaningful and gives me a deep satisfaction. I am extremely good at my job and it pays well.

My current situation concerning one difficult person has allowed for thoughts like “this job isn’t worth it.” More frequently, even before my come to Jesus moment on being a workaholic, I’ve considered quitting. Which is a damn shame. Because sans this person, the job is perfect. 

The truth is, with my current level of resentment, this isn’t sustainable. While the external circumstances are challenging and seemingly unchangeable (Heaven knows I’ve tried), my internal state is my responsibility. 

I Control My Response

While not necessarily recommended for every situation, here are some ways I keep my sanity:

Bite My Tongue:

My ego bucks at this one, but it has been essential for me to not say everything I am thinking. When I am faced with a rough attitude or when “Sandra” oversteps her role, I weigh the importance of the specific situation as objectively as possible.

Approximately 90% of the time, it’s just not worth engaging with her. Friends, I’ve learned this the hard way. When I speak of “difficult people” I mean the kind of person who won’t listen to logic, or rationally discuss the issue at hand. Usually God-awful passive-aggressiveness comes into play, and I determine it’s game over at that point. I’m not showing up for the fight. 

With certain difficult people, a friendly discussion is out of the question. Especially when they sense disagreement at hand. And I’ll be damned if I’m going to argue with a co-worker. While some relationships with colleagues turn into friendships, this isn’t one of them. She is firmly in the camp of people who, beyond our working relationship, do not matter to me. 

I have the luxury of moderate-to-high autonomy within this job, so it’s fairly simple for me to let nastiness slide. Simple, but not easy. I remind myself, her attitude is not my problem. 

Count My Money

It’s a job that I get paid to do. I want and need the money, and remind myself if for nothing else, it’s why I am there. The paycheck. Now, there are times when no amount of money is worth dealing with especially unsavory characters. 

But if I can remind myself why I work, and for who I work (I’m Team This Fascinating Adventure all day!), it makes it easier to not let someone else dictate the status of my pocketbook. 

Hone-In on My Loved Ones

There are a number of reasons I work. However, the primary reason I work are my loved ones. I work to support and provide for my family. If a family member is in a jam, they call me. When my nephew needs school supplies, I buy them. There is almost nothing I wouldn’t do for my loved ones. 

As Brené Brown writes in Daring Greatly, “I carry a small sheet of paper in my wallet that has written on it the names of people whose opinions of me matter. To be on that list, you have to love me for my strengths and struggles.”

The list on your sheet of paper may consist of your family members or friends—whoever you care about, and who cares about you. If all of this world faded away and I was eking it out in a cave, it’d suck. But if I had the people on my list with me, I think I’d be ok. (P.S. No brainer, but “Sandra” isn’t on my list.)

This doesn’t mean I hate everyone else. It’s more like the opposite. I just don’t care. We all have a certain comfort level with how much emotional bandwidth we can allot to caring about and for people. It serves us to take inventory of this and know who we want to expend emotional energy on. 

Brené Brown goes on to say that when she receives criticism from someone, she asks herself, “Are they on my list?” If not, their opinion doesn’t matter.

Practice Self-Care Intentionally

Another thing I’ve learned the hard way, is not to make self-care an afterthought. On my version of Brené Brown’s list I mentioned above, I am on that damn list too. I am important. 

So when someone is making you feel unimportant, and this is something that can’t be controlled, control your response. You make your own self feel important and worthy. 

For me, this looks like hot baths and meditation. Working out and eating good foods. Pulling weeds in my garden. Laying outside on a picnic table and looking at the sky. When I’m at home in the evening with my partner, sometimes I pause, look over at him, and remind myself how good I’ve got it. 

Even at work, I step outside for a few moments and catch my breath. Look up at the birds, and look to all the people on the sidewalk to whom this problem means nothing. It helps to gain perspective on what is really important. And it’s not this work pseudo-drama. There’s a million things that can be done to take care of ourselves (here’s a few), and we are best served when this is a priority. 

Have Friends Outside of Work

I’ll be the first to admit, my personal and professional life blend quite a bit. Many of my friends are people I’ve met through various working opportunities, and they’ve made a mark on my life that can’t be erased. 

A few of my closest friends are people who I once worked with, and our friendship has evolved to something much more significant. We talk about our families and our goals, and have reached a point where we hardly talk about anything professionally related at all. 

Simultaneously, I have found it important to maintain friendships with people I do not work with. To have an identity that has nothing to do with the job I do. This has been priceless and provided balance in my life. 

When work becomes too much, I retreat to my family and friends. They remind me who I truly am deep down. I am not my job. 

Plan an Exit Strategy

This is not my forever job. Even just knowing that brings relief. The team I am on is a team of four people. It’s extremely difficult, especially on a small team, when one person is so unpleasant to work with. While my resentment began as being directed toward “Sandra”, it’s now directed at the entire job. 

Team dynamics are important, and I am not getting the support I want from this team. Don’t get me wrong, the other people are straight-up lovely! Because our professional community is so tight-knit, if I leave this job at some point, I am not fearful I will never see or work with them again. I’m extremely grateful for them. Without my other exceptional team members, I would’ve reached my “WTF” state a long time ago. 

Nevertheless, I control my response, and I acknowledge I would be happier elsewhere. Rather than giving away the responsibility of my happiness to someone else who isn’t as invested in Me as I am, I am the decision-maker here. And I’ve decided to plan my exit strategy.

Dates are not set in stone, but I have positioned myself financially to where I will be just fine if I give up this income. Relationships are so important within my field, and I have some very strong ones which will make any transition to other employment easy. 

Essentially, I’ve got my money right, and my opportunities right, and could leave tomorrow if I wanted to. Staying any longer is now my choice, which reduces any feelings of helplessness and frustration. This is just a passing phase in the adventure of life, much like anything else. 

Thankfully, the work and my other teammates are enjoyable. And when the bad outweighs the good, I have a plan to protect myself and leave. 

Choose Yourself First

Working with difficult people isn’t as easy as “ignoring them” and just watching your paychecks get deposited. What I’ve tried above isn’t perfect and won’t work for every situation. 

All we can do is our best. Even when we falter at being our best selves, we can pick ourselves up and try again. When I interact with the world, I genuinely try to Do No Harm. This includes to myself. Life is too short to let other people make me miserable. Part of my self-respect includes always choosing myself first. 

This post may contain affiliate links, and this blog could earn a small commission if affiliate links are used. For more information, check out my disclaimer.

Being a Workaholic (and Masquerading as Ambitious)

This Fascinating Adventure

The back view of a woman holding her head with a desk in front of her. Strewn across the desk is a laptop, planner, notebook, and a pair of glasses.

As I’ve alluded to in a previous post, and I’ve now accepted with certainty: I’m a workaholic. Through introspection and asking myself questions I’ve never asked myself before, I came up on this hard truth with a screeching halt. 

I’ve always been an over-achiever and it has served me well throughout life. Despite having some hiccups in my personal life in my early 20’s, I generally do well with whatever I set my mind to. Having an “All-In” approach toward goals in my life has always been reinforced by seeming success. 

This has made it difficult to even see that I have a problem. In a culture where a strong work-ethic and ambition are heavily rewarded and lauded, I’ll admit, this leaves me a little stunned. Shit. Now what?

How Did This Happen

When my husband and I decided to buy a house, my approach to this goal was no different than any other goal. I reverse-engineered putting down a hefty down payment by mentally working backward from our target buy date. Using that time-line, and the amount we determined we needed, I broke it down into monthly savings goals spread out over something like 15 months. 

During this time, I was shifting into more Freelance work and with the established goal of buying a house, I simply ramped up the volume and hours I worked. Blessings abounded. 

With each completed assignment, I was offered more work. I was recruited to work at 2 different locations as a part-time staff employee. My professional reputation blossomed. I had arrived. 

We bought the house, but I continued to work with the same vigor. My next goal was to max out my retirement vehicles. Then, my next goal was to crush my husband’s student loan debt. 

Enter: the invincibility complex. I am still young enough (32) that I forget I cannot conquer every obstacle single-handedly. Grappling with perfectionism has also allowed me to justify throwing myself at something full-force, even if it means I have to behave like a machine. 

My privilege must be acknowledged, in that I really haven’t experienced many institutional setbacks. I also have seen some shit in my life (trauma, alcoholism), and I catch myself truly believing that nothing can hold me back. If I got through all this other crap, I can do anything. 

While I appreciate the confidence overcoming adversity has allowed me, at the same time, it has left it’s mark in not so positive ways. 

I want to overcompensate for past mistakes. There is a desire to distinguish myself. As if I need to reinforce to myself past bullshit didn’t affect me. An F-You, if you will, to anyone who has ever tried to make me feel small.

As if that is not enough, add to this a small rankling in the back of my head, that by working less, I might sacrifice some financial leverage in my relationship. My partner has never made me feel this way, but I’ve seen financial abuse and I’ve seen women not have anything to call their own within a marriage. Part of me bucks against allowing my household to become more dependent on my husband’s income, rather than both of our incomes.

Oh brother. 

Chasing Work-Life Balance 

All of this maniacal working was for a purpose. I wanted to strategically position my family to be debt-free (sans mortgage), with healthy retirement accounts that had plenty of time to grow, and then eventually drastically reduce my workload. I even entertained leaving the workforce entirely. 

Ironically, for me to feel financially comfortable to ever leave the workforce, I needed to work evermore. If I hustled harder now, I could reap the rewards later. Being able to throw extra dollars toward debt, savings, and retirement accounts now, would give me the financial luxury to not have to work so hard in the future. 

So I worked more hours, picked up more challenging projects, and banked more money. 

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy my job. It can be a real pleasure. However, my profession is mentally, emotionally, and physically taxing. To provide my best work, the ideal would be to work something like 30 hours a week. 

Combining the above professional ideal of working a reasonable number of hours, and the personal goal of crushing my personal finance to allow for more future-freedom has proved impossible. At least in the way I’ve been approaching it. 

Merits of Ambition

In no way is this an attempt to denigrate ambition. Having purpose and goals in life are, at times, the life-blood of us even kicking around on this planet. 

Having ambition allows for an excited feeling while throwing off the covers, jumping from bed, and entering each day with purpose. It allows for self-esteem to flourish, meaningful contributions to our societies and communities, and a sense of accomplishment and worthiness. 

I wouldn’t be where I am now without my ambition. When I see it in others I am inspired and touched. Without ambition our desires might just be wishes. 

Pursuing my career with a passion is the only way I would’ve wanted to do it. My job has never been just a job to me. I am certain every employer who has ever worked with me would agree, I am an all-in employee. I envision my employer wanting quality work, reliability, and team spirit from me, and in return I want a paycheck, growth opportunities, and a sense of gratification from the work I do. Most times this works out. 

The Evolution of All-In Mentality 

Throwing myself all-in to my job, and into my personal/financial goals, seemed to go hand-in-hand. With my eye on the prize, and my standard method of working toward goals (reverse-engineering to see what steps and actions need to be taken), I put one foot in front of the other. I focused on doing the next right thing. 

The strangest thing happened. It’s as if I grew blinders on the sides of my face. I could only see what was right in front of me. The goal of eventually not needing to work so much faded and became more of an afterthought. The immediate action was to work my buns off. The means were more important than the end. 

It took a long time for me to realize the way I was living my life, was the exact opposite of what I wanted for myself. It was exactly why I set my goals in the first place: because I didn’t want this

Over time, I’ve realized, I don’t want to work the number of hours I am working. I’m hardly home. When I am home, I don’t know what to do with myself. I struggle to rest and be idle, as I am constantly thinking of the next productive thing to do. I began to feel like the character Oblomov, as Ivan Goncharov writes in Oblomov, who says, “But when am I to live?” 

Gradually accepting that my work schedule wasn’t sustainable, I hoped to power through the burnout. Just until we hit a few more financial milestones. Folks, I’ve changed my mind. 

My Next Steps

Beginning in June, I am cutting down to a 4-day work week. Because I create my own schedule, it simply rests with me to not accept any work on Monday’s. I am grateful this change doesn’t rest upon an employer’s approval. It was in making this decision when I had the revelation I am a workaholic. Even the thought of cutting down the number of days I work per week makes me uncomfortable. However, I’ve done uncomfortable things before, and I can do this. 

I also will not take any work outside of the hours of 9am-6pm on the Tuesday-Friday’s that I work. The cushy pay differential for night/weekend work be damned. 

If I like this schedule, I’ll keep it. If it’s not enough, in the Fall I have a plan to go down to a 3-day work week. 

Another conscious action I plan to take is to fall in love with my free time. Enjoy my workouts more, rather than something to squeeze in between jobs. Dawdle. Putter. Play in my sewing room for a few hours. Be in my garden. Sit on my front porch and read. Or stare off into nothing. My inspiration is heavily drawn from “How to Be Idle” by Tom Hodgkinson.

Embrace Change

Just like with any decision, but especially financial decisions, I will remind myself to be flexible. My own goals are just that: they’re mine. I can change them anytime. 

I also must note, my husband loves his job (or at least likes it most days), and has no desire to retire early or leave the workforce anytime soon. Thankfully, we are a two income household, living as a one income household, so the pay cut that goes along with this change can be easily absorbed in our budget. 

And as a shout-out to my ambition, I might not be in the luxurious position of reducing my work hours on a whim, if I hadn’t put in all the work I have in the last few years. So maybe, after all, I got what I was working for all along: the financial luxury to not have to work so hard. 

Here’s to the next great experiment in this thing we call life! Cheers!

This post may contain affiliate links, and this blog could earn a small commission if the affiliate links are used. I would never link to a product or service that I have not used myself. For more information, check out my disclaimer.

Here is another weekly installment of Living Frugally where I share my frugal accomplishments for the past week. Be sure to share your frugal successes in the comments!

Recently, I went to a dermatologist and got some over-the-counter recommendations. I’ve noticed an improvement already so I cancelled my follow-up appointment. If I need her services again, I can just reschedule. 

A friend of mine sought me out to chat about budgeting. She’s got a great goal of buying a second home, so we spent some time chit-chatting about budgeting and tracking all spending. It was a fruitful conversation for us both!

Spent $2.50 at a vending machine at one of my jobs. I hardly ever buy food when I’m out working—I’m all about that packed lunch, baby! Because I rarely do this, it was a treat! I find when I allow special things to be “special” (yes, even a coke and chips can be special), I enjoy it so much more. 

For dinner this week we ate: burrito bowls, frozen pizza, and grilled cheese. Of course we had our standard salads, fruit, nuts, cheese, etc. in our packed lunches. 

Living Frugally—Week 18

This Fascinating Adventure 

Cover of a book. Book is orange with beige lettering reading: How to be Idle, A Loafer’s Manifesto, By: Tom Hodgkinson. Below the title is a hand drawn image of a man sitting at a cafe table smoking a cigarette with a beverage resting on the table.

Began reading “How to be Idle.” So far, I’m loving it. All courtesy of the library. 

Ordered bras online. It has been an embarrassingly long time since I’ve shopped for bras. It was time. 

Finding a healthy work-life balance has especially been on my mind this week. Mr. TFA and I have talked it over and I am hoping to incorporate some changes in my schedule this summer. Stay tuned!

One morning I forgot my coffee! Thankfully it was a short two-hour job and I was able to come home and drink some of my trusty cold-brew coffee. Crisis averted!

My darling nephew had a birthday this week! I sent him some gifts but also put a little bit of money aside for him in his “Bank Account” with me. I’ve been paying him interest on all money he leaves/deposits in the bank account. It’s been an amazing lesson for him on the power of compound interest!

Swung by Goodwill looking for a specific item. They didn’t have what I was looking for. Though I spent some time browsing, I resisted buying anything I didn’t need.

I have a library card through my local library (which I love). This week I picked up a library card from the big city nearby! *said in country twang* Through our library share program, I now have two library cards for different libraries!

Self-care was the theme of this week, despite working 60+ hours. I worked out three times using my Beachbody app, practiced meditation multiple times, journaled, went to therapy, and spent time with loved ones. It’s been a good week!

What are some of your frugal accomplishments for this past week?

Want more Living Frugally? Click here.

Making any sort of decision can sometimes be overwhelming. Some of the biggest decisions we’ll ever make in life have far-reaching consequences that affect us for a long time. And if these decisions have financial repercussions…shooooo. If I allowed myself, I’d easily pore over these numbers for days!

I am a thinker and planner by nature. Any time I need to work toward something significant, I prefer to organize my thoughts and come up with a plan to help reach my goal. When I need to make a critical decision, I tend to look at the scenario from every angle. 

I like to think this allows me to be thoughtful and thorough in my decision making. Ideally, this makes me more effective in achieving my goals. After all, what’s the use in goal-setting without an action plan?

If you’re reading between the lines, you might pick up on my blatant attempt to justify what sometimes translates into plain ol’ overthinking. So how do we harness the power of thoughtful decision making (especially regarding our finances), without overcomplicating every move we make?

Be Curious Without Judgement

One of the kindest things you can do for yourself is be curious about your life. To me, this is an act of self-love. Look at your circumstances with detachment and see what your options are. 

To be curious without judgement requires me to separate myself from how I want to be perceived, and look at pros and cons of various scenarios. 

For example, I control the volume of work I accept. I sometimes find myself attached to different judgements when I am not working the maximum amount I can. These judgements can vary in appearance, but ultimately are one and the same: I am not doing enough. 

When I am not working the maximum hours possible, or decline work, I can feel I am not financially contributing enough to my family. Other times I am worried I will be perceived as an inflexible employee by the various entities I work for. Still other times, I judge myself for not doing all I can to hit my own financial goals. Whoa. That’s a lot of people to let down. 

Instead, I can get curious and acknowledge I have allowed my self-worth to be attached to a particular outcome. That acknowledgement allows me to separate myself from the single outcome I have honed in on. The outcome that seemingly pleases everyone (to accept every job I am offered), but practically, sounds awful. I can then look at my options a little more neutrally. 

Consider Your Options (and Keep Your Eyes Open)

When I am curious, without judgement, the number of choices that become available is amazing. Without this curiosity, it is easy for me to get sucked into a single-track mindset, with blinders on. With this mindset, it is difficult to accurately consider all of my options. 

To give more context (this is an actual example I am grappling with now), I have front-loaded the month of May with a ton of work. So far, I have scheduled a “light” end of May. If I do not make a conscious decision about this, I will end up filling up the rest of my month without a thought. I’d like to pause and act with intention on this, so no matter what I do, my choice is an educated one. 

Financial Decision Making

This Fascinating Adventure 

Pink background with black text reading: You either walk inside your story and own it, or you stand outside your story and hustle for your worthiness. —Brené Brown

In the example above, where I am literally hustling for my worthiness (shout out to Brené Brown!), I have to ask myself, what are my options? 

1. Accept any and all jobs offered: 
  • Pros– I make a ton of money, I contribute my absolute maximum (financially) to my family, I continue to satisfy my clients by being flexible and covering all the work they ask me to do, I exceed my financial goals 
  • Cons– I have no free time, I work odd hours, I contribute less of my time to my family, I risk burnout, I may not provide quality service to my clients if I am spread too thin, I’ve done this before and generally am unhappy working this much
2. Discern between jobs and only choose those that fit with my goals:
  • Pros– I make some extra money, I can first decide what my goals are and base my work around them, I can contribute some to my family (both in time and work/financially), I can meet some of my own financial goals, I can practice flexibility, I can practice self-care, I will have some free time
  • Cons– I will not make as much money, I will likely not be able to exceed my financial goals, I will have to find other ways to define my self-worth (than just making money), I will have to say no to some clients
3. Do not take any more work, other than what’s already booked on my calendar
  • Pros– My schedule is fixed, I can make other plans, I can practice being bored, I can be content knowing I already scheduled what I needed to in order to hit my May target earnings, I can practice setting boundaries with work, I can decide that my self-care is my only priority for the last part of May 
  • Cons– I could be contributing more (financially) to my family, I will have to find something to do to fulfill myself other than work, I will not exceed my financial goals, I will say no to many clients 

Stay Thoughtful and Thorough

After my options are laid out, I can review them thoughtfully and thoroughly. What is my priority? Work? Myself? Both? Do I understand all of the trade-off’s that come along with each option? Where do contentment and happiness fit into these options?

Make My Decision. And Then Let it Go. 

Once the decision has been made, hunker down in your bunker with your support system, and ride it out. In the above case, I chose a combination of option 2 and 3. I will accept very few jobs in the upcoming weeks that suit my wants and schedule, but for the most part, I will decline all additional work until June.

If, throughout the month, I question my decision, I will turn to my support system to help remind me of the values I chose to prioritize. At times when I question myself, I literally say aloud, “No, you were thorough when you made this decision. You thought this through, and you can trust your decision.”

In this case, I asked myself what my priorities were, weighed the trade-off’s, and considered what would make me happy. I talked it over with my extremely supportive partner. Through this thoughtful and thorough process, I gleaned I am moving rapidly toward workaholic-ism (I may already be there). If I am not careful, life and work will just happen to me. It is up to me to pump the brakes if I feel I am not being an active participant in my life.

Say, instead, I chose option 1, and ended up second-guessing myself. If I found myself feeling overworked, I could review the pros and cons again, remembering that I thought this through, from every angle. I do not need to waste time wondering if I made the right choice. This was not an impulsive decision—it was thoughtful and thorough, and I can take comfort in that. 

Most Importantly: Stay Flexible

June is a new month. I can review what I want my workload to look like then. Perhaps I will be refreshed and ready to veer toward option 1: Take any and all work. Maybe I’ll need to stay near option 2 or 3 and breathe in a little more of life. I will remain open and in touch with myself. 

If instead, I’d chosen option 1, I could abort at any time. The only person I am promised to, is myself. If I decide I will be intentional and thoughtful about my life, I will rarely let myself down. Staying soft (rather than rigid) is the key to trusting the decision making process. 

Other Examples

A friend of mine is unhappy with her job. She is disappointed and grieving, as this is a job she once loved. It’s slowly transformed into something unrecognizable. She is unsure if it serves her anymore. 

Weighing the pros and cons of looking for other employment, or staying at her current job might be helpful. Uncovering other options (like going down to part-time, planning an exit strategy within a certain time frame, or creating a plan to avoid burnout while powering through) might provide some relief. Treading water, and making no decision, is exhausting. 

We are contesting our property taxes. As this is our first year doing it, we reviewed all the comps and price-per-square-foot of our neighborhood. We are still unsure as to whether we could confidently get our property taxes reduced. 

We weighed all of our options. Some of the options we came up with included trying to protest ourselves, forgoing the protest entirely, or hiring an outside agency to protest. Because this is unfamiliar territory, and we’ve exhausted all of the options we feel comfortable with, we chose option 3.

We decided to hire an outside agency to work on our behalf. If we win, their fee would be paid using 1/3 of our tax-bill savings. If we lose, they will charge nothing. In this same circumstance, another person may have chosen differently. However, we were thoughtful and thorough when considering our circumstances and are satisfied with our choice.

Decision Making is Hard

Decision making is not just about the actions you are taking, but also about the actions you aren’t taking. You can decide to work extra hours or invest your money (do something). You can also decide to work less hours or not upgrade your car (not do something). 

There isn’t a right or wrong when it comes to our lives. However, a happy responsibility we all have to ourselves, is to be kind. Kind enough to be curious, thoughtful, thorough, and flexible, with all the things we choose to do and not do. 

And then, we hunker down with our families and loved ones, and enjoy the ride. Financial decisions are extremely important, and should be considered thoughtfully. But after all, money isn’t everything. 

Faux wood background. White shadow with black text reading: April Spending Report. This Fascinating Adventure

Welcome to my first ever monthly spending report!

We do spend money, and live a comfortable, privileged life. However, there is some intentionality in how we spend our money. The objective almost always is to spend money on things which enrich our lives. So I talk about money all the time, and love budgeting. How does this play out in my real life? 

Here’s a summary of what This Fascinating Adventure spent money on in April:

For privacy reasons, we aren’t sharing our income. Some expenditures will be notated as a percentage, some as a dollar amount. This listing does not include every category we spent money in this month. However, it does cover the larger and more common categories for us. 

We are able to review our monthly expenditures because we track our spending using Mint (not an affiliate link).

Note: In honor of full transparency, our household is in the top 5% of income earners in the United States. We recognize the advantages of being high income earners. 

Expenses (With Dollar Amounts) 

Cruise: $627

This month we went on a cruise! It was a belated Honeymoon trip and we had a fantastic time! We paid for our cruise in-full months ago, partially out of our own pocket, and partially with generous gifts from our Celebration of Marriage guests. 

What we ended up spending on the cruise this month went toward casino money, extra drinks/food, some tips, and a couple of souvenirs. 

Donations: $167

This month we donated toward the DeafBlind Camp of Texas, and a local scholarship fundraiser for students at our Deaf school in town. 

Medical: $140

These were co-pays for a specialist, and my weekly counseling sessions (I can’t stress the value of this particular expense). 

All of these expenses are reimbursed through HRA benefits at Mr. TFA’s workplace. 

Quarterly Taxes: $3430

While we both pay taxes through payroll for our W-2 income, I also pay quarterly taxes on my Freelance income. I did a Roth conversion and a Backdoor Roth this year, converting some money I had hanging out in a Traditional IRA to my Roth IRA. This tax payment includes projected taxes for these situations.

We save throughout the quarter to prepare for this payment.

Food: $498

We grocery shop a few times a month (one big trip every 3 weeks, and weekly trips for produce), and this total includes all our paper products and household items (toilet paper, trash bags, etc).

This also includes a handful of restaurant outings. Our average monthly food expenditure for 2 people is about $500. It could be lower, but we value having yummy, quality food. It could also be higher. 

Gas: $226

I drive a lot for work, and fill up about once a week. It’s an absolute drag. This also includes 2 round trips to cities about 3-4 hours away. One trip was a weekend visit to my nephew, and the other trip was to the port where we took our cruise. 

Shopping: $72

This month I bought a sun hat to wear on the cruise (and while working in the garden). My husband bought a couple of swimsuits at Sam’s Club. 

Expenses (With Percentages)

Housing: 17% of our post-tax income

When we purchased our home, we intentionally looked at homes we could afford on one income. This includes the mortgage, property taxes, home owner’s insurance, utilities, etc. 

Student Loan Payment: 31% of our post-tax income

We are in debt-payoff mode, and are coming to the end of our last debt (sans mortgage): a student loan. Every dollar we can spare is siphoned toward the student loan balance (in addition to the minimum monthly payment, of course).

At this rate, our balance should be paid off well before the end of the year. 

Retirement Accounts/Savings/Taxable Investments: 23% of our pre-tax income 

This is between a small pension I have, Mr. TFA’s pension and 457, our taxable investment account, and our savings accounts. 

I contribute to my solo 401k separately, and did not make a contribution this month. 

Goals for May:

  • Continue to attack the student loan
  • Begin saving for the next quarterly tax payment
  • I would like to work fewer hours this month, for self-care and burnout reasons
  • Plant our garden
  • Continue paying our savings account first

Hey, yo, May! We’re coming for you!

Here is another weekly installment of Living Frugally where I share my frugal accomplishments for the past week. Be sure to share your frugal successes in the comments!

Since we went on a cruise a few weeks ago, we budgeted a significant amount for spending on the cruise. It was our honeymoon, and we wanted to be sure we had plenty of money for any shopping, gambling, or foodie purchases. We came in dramatically under budget. After waiting for all the credit card purchases to clear, we made sure to pay that off in full (of course) and sent the rest of our unused spending money toward our outstanding student loan balance. 

This week I journaled. It is a free way to practice self-care, and gave me the ability to reset in the middle of my week. I’d like to make this a more recurring practice. 

Gave myself an at-home pedicure.

I had several jobs in close proximity to one another. Rather than drive home, just to drive back, I sat in my car and caught up on emails, readings, and a wee bit o’Twitter. Even though it was sometimes 2 hours to kill, I was glad to take the built-in break, and not waste gas driving back and forth. 

One of my assignments was relatively slow, so I was able to simultaneously complete some online trainings for one of my W-2 jobs. Nothing like being able to double-bill (both for the assignment I was at, and for the trainings). 

My husband got a gift card for $150 in-home massage service from American Express for his birthday. We re-gifted it to my mom, as she was complaining of neck pain. It was nice to pamper her, at no cost to us!

Began building out my summer schedule. Summer is notoriously slow in my profession, so I try to overlap my vacations and time off during this slow period. However, I was able to put a few things on my calendar, guaranteeing some reliable income. 

Speaking of work, I front-loaded my May schedule. These next 10-ish days will be jam-packed with work, but I will enjoy some respite later in the month. Wish me luck in powering through these next couple of weeks!

I napped a few times this week. Gotta take care of the mind and body!

I’ve been listening to a new audiobook this week, as well as finishing up another paperback. Since the beginning of this year, I have read 28 books, all through my library (courtesy of the Libby app)!

I picked up some free tomato plants from my local Buy Nothing group. Normally, our garden is filled with flowers, but I am excited to try my hand at some vegetables. 

Over the weekend, my husband and I attended a fundraiser. For the price of the ticket, we ate all-you-can-eat crawfish. We also were able to donate one of the silent auction gift baskets. The fundraiser was for a college scholarship fund for the local Deaf school. 

Living Frugally—Week 16

This Fascinating Adventure 

Image of newspaper on a table, covered with cooked crawfish, shrimp, corn on the cob, and orange halves.
Image of Said Crawfish

For the same fundraiser, we returned a tent that was loaned to us for our Celebration of Marriage party last August. The friend that loaned it to us, is the same friend who hosted and coordinated the fundraiser. When we borrowed it to use in our backyard, it saved us $300-400 on a tent rental. I was grateful to my friend for loaning it to us, and was grateful to finally return it and have the freed up space in our garage. (I’ve been hinting at returning it since August, but we weren’t able to coordinate that, and I think my friend didn’t mind having us store it for her, ha!)

There was a free workshop over the weekend where I could’ve attended and earned CEU’s required to maintain my professional certification. Because CEU’s usually are coupled with paid workshops, I enjoy taking advantage of these free opportunities. However, I decided to skip this one, as I realized I needed some personal downtime

This week we ate spaghetti and lentils, veggie casserole, and nachos. Nothing fancy, but delicious!

I worked out twice this week using my streaming Beachbody app. (I am not an affiliate of Beachbody, but enjoy the $99/year membership which allows streaming workouts in my home.)

There were a few flights I was planning on taking, but cancelled due to a change in plans. Some money was credited back on my credit card which we are using to plan ahead for Mother’s Day meals with our moms. 

What are some of your frugal accomplishments for this past week?

Want more Living Frugally? Click here.

There are many different types of retirement accounts out there; it’s hard to keep track of all the nuances between them. Like, why do some employers offer a 401(k), and others offer a 403(b)? Is one better than the other? 

If you’ve done any research on the two plans, you may have come across information that implies 403(b)’s aren’t as advantageous as 401(k)’s. Why not?

Anyway, whatever your employer gives you, you’re stuck with, right? It may not feel like there is any point in knowing the differences. I’m here to kindly disagree. 

[Drumroll!] 

There are always good reasons to try to understand your retirement options!

403(b)’s: The Good, Bad, and Ugly

This Fascinating Adventure 

Image of cloudy sky with man standing on a hill. We see the backside of the man and his fist is raised in the air.
Let’s super-charge our retirement!

What is a 403(b)?

**All numbers/laws referenced are 2019 figures. Always check the most current tax year to see if things have changed.**

A 403(b) is very similar to a 401(k). Both plans have the same maximum contribution per year ($19,000 as of 2019), and both are defined-contribution plans. You usually have access to either plan through your employer, and the contributions are deducted through payroll. Traditional 403(b)’s and Traditional 401(k)’s are considered tax-deferred retirement plans. 

Defined-contribution means the amount you put in is pre-determined. Your contribution is defined . When you set up (or edit your retirement account), you choose how much will be taken from your check each pay period (usually a percentage). 

This also implies, you can’t throw lump sums into your retirement account when you have the extra money. Instead, it is a steady amount taken from each check, and moved to your retirement account. However, you can edit your contributions at any time, though the changes may take a few pay periods to go into effect.

Tax-deferred means the amount you sock away in a Traditional 403(b) will not be taxed until you withdraw it (Roth 403(b)’s are taxed differently). You more than likely will not withdraw this amount until you retire (you are eligible to start withdrawing penalty-free at age 59 1/2). At that point, it will be taxed as regular income. (There are ways to withdraw these funds sooner than age 59 1/2 , without the 10% penalty, but that is outside the scope of this article.)

403(b)’s and 401(k)’s are treated the same in the eyes of law and the IRS. If you happen to have both (maybe you work 2 jobs and each offer one of these plans), your total maximum contribution is the combined dollar amount of both of these plans. Basically, even if you contribute to both plans, your grand total cannot exceed $19,000 for the tax year.

Why Not a 401(k)?

What a 401(k) is to the private sector, a 403(b) is to the public sector. Usually tax-exempt organizations and/or non-profits offer 403(b)’s. 

For example, I work part-time at a University and also part-time at a Mental Health clinic. Both facilities offer 403(b)’s. Other examples of those who might be offered 403(b)’s: teachers, ministers, health care professionals, etc. 

Origins of the 403(b) Plan

The difference in the naming and establishment of both the 403(b) and the 401(k), lies in the laws that founded each plan. 

The 403(b) was put into place circa 1958 through section 403(b) of the IRS code. Prior to this, a tax-exempt employer might put aside money into an annuity contract for their employee. These individual annuities were owned by the employee, and could be moved when the employee left the employer. 

In 1958, the IRS established section 403(b), which limited the contribution amount allowed for these annuities. Because the 403(b) originated as a plan to fund tax-sheltered annuities, you may see your plan labeled as a TSA.

However, in 1974, Congress added paragraph 7 to section 403(b), which allowed participants to invest in both mutual funds and annuities. Allowing mutual fund investments brought the 403(b) in line with the offerings of a 401(k). 

The 401(k) is also known as such, due to the specific section of law (The Revenue Act of 1978) in which it was established as a plan that allowed tax advantages for deferred compensation. 

Roth accounts were born later (1997). 

A Quick Note About Roth’s 

Roth 403(b)’s and Roth 401(k)’s operate under the same rules. Roth accounts differ from Traditional accounts in how they are taxed. 

Roth 403(b)’s are not tax-deferred immediately. Instead, when you receive your paycheck, you are taxed on the entire amount earned. Then, your retirement contribution is moved to your Roth 403(b). There it stays, to grow just as a Traditional 403(b) does. The difference is, it will never be taxed again. This means when you withdraw later in life, you do not pay taxes on the withdrawals. 

You can also withdraw any amount you contributed to this account before age 59 1/2 penalty-free (you cannot withdraw the growth without penalty). The advantage with a Roth is, the growth your account has seen over time (through interest, price appreciation, and dividends) is never taxed. While you do have to pay taxes immediately, you have the advantage of not paying taxes on alllll that beautiful growth afterward. 

Which is Better: 403(b)’s or 401(k)’s?

Because both plans have so many similarities, it would make sense they are interchangeable, right? Not quite. 

In the eyes of the law and the IRS, they are essentially interchangeable (other than which type of employer gets to offer which type of plan). 

But for us, the participants in the plans, there can be a big difference. The difference lies in the types of investments each plan typically offers. 

Remember, 403(b)’s were born as annuity-centric plans. Some plans still offer heavy annuity options, and little to choose from on the mutual fund side. Why does this matter?

Annuities

Annuities are essentially investment funds with an insurance contract. As a result, most annuities provide insurance benefits. This translates a couple of different ways. 

One approach guarantees a predetermined percentage of your premiums can be withdrawn annually. This set percentage is not contingent on how your account has performed in the market, or the account value.

Another approach allows for a guarantee that at the end of a specified period of time, the value of your account cannot drop below the amount you initially put in—regardless of how the market performs. If you make money, great. If you don’t, you won’t have lost anything. 

The biggest advantage with annuities is the insurance. If you have low risk tolerance, this may be right up your alley. It sounds great, right? The insurance mitigates almost any risk! 

With such a sweet deal, how do annuities stay in business? Welp. They get you with fees. Because these funds are actively managed (similar to most mutual funds), and insured, there are money management and commission fees that are several percentage points higher than what mutual funds charge. 

Annuities can charge commission fees (or sales charges) of 5-7% (or even higher), compared to the 3-6% mutual funds charge. 

Annuities also often levy a surrender fee if you sell out of the annuity before the agreed upon investment period has expired. Meaning, if you are invested in annuities and left employment, when trying to rollover your entire 403(b) you may have to pay a fee to do so. The fee is usually a percentage, and not a flat rate. 

If you are leaning toward annuities, no problem. However, it is important to recognize any risk you trade for security, does comes with a price. 

Am I Stuck With Only Annuities?

Again, this will depend on the investment fund options your 403(b) plan offers. Most plans will have some type of mutual fund offering, however, it may be you are only offered mutual funds with high expense ratios.

An expense ratio is a percentage of the amount you have in the fund that will be used for management and operating expenses. The higher the number, the more money will be taken from your account. Expense ratios of mutual funds usually range from 0-3%. 

There are pretty decent fund options in many 403(b)’s across the country—especially relative to what used to be offered. However, 403(b)’s are still notorious for generally carrying poor investment fund options. These funds may have high fees, high expense ratios, high commissions, and high surrender charges. 

This all translates to more of your money being diverted from your account to pay the fund for managing your money. 

Side note: The lowest fee fund out there at this time is an index fund, a type of mutual fund. This is where you will see 0-0.5% expense ratios.

Is it All Bad News?

The 403(b) offered through the Mental Health entity I work for offers low-cost index funds within their plan (I do not invest in the 403(b) through the University I work for, so I am not sure of their offerings). This option is fantastic for me, and where my money is invested. 

I suggest anyone who has any type of retirement plan, but especially a 403(b), check out your funds. Look at them individually and see what the expense ratios are. Check with your plan administrator about surrender fees. 

If the fund options are truly horrendous, you may consider other ways to utilize your 403(b). 

If you have a very short time horizon (like you are changing jobs soon) you can continue to contribute to your 403(b), but leave all contributions as cash within the account (versus investing in any funds). At least you get the tax break. Eventually, when you change jobs, you can roll it over into an IRA, and invest there. The devastating downside to this would be, your money won’t grow. The funds would have to be truly awful to constitute this, but it‘s one avenue. 

You could also contribute to the 403(b), only up to the employer match. Then, you could choose to max your IRA, and/or invest in taxable accounts. If you invest in taxable accounts, you’d lose the tax break, but it may be worth it if the fund fees are too high. Again, it just depends on your 403(b) fund options. 

Having poor 403(b) options is not an excuse to not save for retirement. If you don’t want to do anything else, or research other options, you might be better off saving what you can in a 403(b) and letting it ride—fees be damned. 

My mom worked for the state for decades, did no research on individual funds, and retired just fine with her 403(b). If she paid a little more attention to individual funds, she might have ended up with more money. But she certainly is not destitute. 

Why Work in the Public Sector?

So do public sector retirement options suck entirely? Not necessarily. There are plenty of advantages for working within the public sector, despite your 403(b). You may potentially have access to an alternative 457 retirement plan in addition to a 403(b). Your retirement might transfer to a new employer more easily, if your new employer is a similar entity (like working for two different State entities). Simply, you may love your job, and retirement benefits aren’t why you got in the game. 

And who knows. You may have some great fund options within your 403(b), and this is a non-issue for you. 

You’ll never know unless you check. 

Here’s a fantastic resource from 403bwise.com if you want to know more about 403(b)’s!

Any information in this article is meant for entertainment purposes only. Please consult a professional if you want financial advice or retirement planning.

Does your employer offer a 403(b) instead of a 401(k)? Wanna know the difference? Let’s do this!

I am always trying to learn. Usually, I read at least one Personal Finance article a day—most days, multiple articles. One suggestion I see often, that I absolutely love is: avoid lifestyle inflation.

Oh snap! This is genius, relatively simple to do, and makes a huge difference. It’s also really challenging to reverse engineer if lifestyle inflation has already creeped in. 

Lifestyle Inflation: Can it be Reversed?

This Fascinating Adventure

Image of light grey marble countertop. Strewn on counter are a few rolled up one dollar bills and a handful of coins.

What is Lifestyle Inflation?

Simply put, lifestyle inflation (or lifestyle creep) is: increasing my spending because my income has increased. As we move through our careers, hopefully our income will increase. With years of experience and new skills mastered, we are in a position to receive raises and/or look for employment opportunities that pay better than entry-level positions. 

Generally (not always), we will make more money as time goes on. Simultaneously, life goes on. Things are added to our plates, where there wasn’t room before. Travel, kids, work wardrobes, socializing outside the workplace—all these things arguably add value to our lives. And we pay for them. 

Whenever I read about someone who lived as a broke college kid, graduated, entered the workforce, continued to live as a broke college kid for a few years, and saved the difference—well I just think this is magnificent. 

However, I can’t envision how this could’ve been my path, unless I was a completely different person at 22. I just wasn’t in that headspace then. There is no sense in wishing I did something differently, especially when I just wasn’t capable in the past to act differently. But I think avoiding lifestyle inflation is awesome. 

As a result of my lifestyle inflation, my spending certainly did increase as my income increased. So how do I reverse engineer this?

Why Avoid Lifestyle Inflation?

You Can’t Miss What You Never Had

One reason rests in the idea that you won’t even know what you’re missing. If I lived as a broke college kid for a few years, graduated, entered the workforce, and avoided lifestyle inflation, I would ideally continue to spend roughly the same as I did as a college kid. 

I might keep a roommate for a while to be sure I am not eating the entire cost of my housing. Perhaps, I continue to grocery shop frugally rather than eat out 5x/week. Essentially I would operate under the mindset that if I couldn’t afford it when I was a college student, I can’t afford it now. 

I wouldn’t know how glorious it is to live without a roommate. Or how nice it is to attend happy hours a few times a week. Or what it would be like to go shopping and buy just about anything I want, just because I can. 

If I don’t know what I’m missing, I can’t miss it. I can’t sacrifice something I’ve never had. 

An example: My husband and I recently went on a cruise. We went on Carnival Cruise Line, which apparently is “the working-person’s cruise line” (eye-roll). Well, this turned out just fine, as we are both working people. But we could’ve probably swung a swankier cruise line. 

This was his first cruise, and my second (my first having been with Carnival back in college), and we didn’t know the difference. Having never been on a swankier cruise line, we were just fine with the type of cruise we went on and had a great time. However, if, in the past, we had been on a swankier cruise line, or had adopted the mentality that we deserve “only the best”, we may have been dissatisfied. 

It Buys You Time

Another reason avoiding lifestyle inflation is encouraged: I’d have more time. This is phrased deceptively, as we can’t truly get more time. Time is finite. However, since I’d be making more money, I could save/invest the difference, and get a fantastic jump-start on my finances at a young age. Since time is a lovely friend to have within personal finance, the earlier we start saving and/or investing, the better. 

You may have seen the graphs showing investments made in a person’s 20s versus investments made in their 30s. Here’s a link to an article showing said graphs from Darwin’s Finance. I will use their numbers: 

If I invested $5,000 a year, every year, from ages 25-35, and then never invested again, I would invest a total of $55,000. By age 60 (assuming an 8% average growth) I would have $615,580. In contrast, if didn’t begin investing until age 35, but invested $5,000 every year from age 35-60, I would invest a total of $130,000. By age 60 (assuming the same 8%), I would have $431,754. 

If you didn’t catch it: you’d have more money at 60 investing for only 11 years starting at age 25, than you’d have at 60 investing for 25 years, starting at the age of 35. Mind-blowing. 

The earlier we start investing, the better. Also, if we are investing some money, and saving some money, we are less likely to get into debt. When it’s time to buy a car, we potentially save the money, buy it outright (or have a hefty down payment), and avoid paying interest on this debt

Ultimately, if we do not spend more as our income increases, we have more surplus monies to put toward investments and savings. This allows for some tremendous outcomes.

What if I Already Allowed Life Inflation?

When I was 22 years old and making $40,000 thing were tight. Mostly because, I didn’t know how to budget, and I really struggled to manage my finances. This struggle went on until age 27. 

At age 27, I was making approximately $60,000 and things were still tight. This was when I began the process of cleaning up my credit, paying off debts, and budgeting with a fervor. Once I felt confident in those arenas, I began to have some freed up cash, as I wasn’t paying off so many debts and playing damage control. With this freed up cash, I explored my saving, investment, and retirement options, and have honed a strategy that I feel works for me. 

During this time, my career has blossomed. My income has tripled in the last ten years. Despite all of the favorable evidence for reduction of lifestyle inflation above, I still don’t live on what I made when I entered the workforce.

So how have I shifted from spending every dime I make?

  • Any raises since age 27 until now (age 32), I have infused into retirement accounts and taxable investment accounts. 
  • I have an allowance. Recently, I spent all of my bi-weekly allowance in one weekend. There were several events that weekend that were important to me (I valued) and I chose to spend my money this way. As a result, I didn’t have any spending money for the next couple of weeks. In the past, I would’ve just shifted some money over and gave my allowance an infusion. This time, I did not do that. It didn’t feel like deprivation because I was able to spend my allowance as I wanted. I also knew I would get my allowance again in two weeks. The power and choice rested with me, and I made an educated decision. 
  • I began to track my spending. With this, I have been able to see how much I spent on things I don’t value (clothes, eating out), and shift it toward things I do value (saving for large wants, travel, etc.)
  • Beginning to budget has changed how I look at my money. I am able to decide where my money will go ahead of time, which reduces emotional and impulsive spending. With a budget, I am able to assess what I value ahead of time, and set a plan to spend in alignment with my values. 
  • I budgeted my savings. Once I was able to have a solid budget in place, tracked my spending, and see my surplus, I was able to set a line item in my budget for savings. I pay my savings account, just like a bill, every month. Same for my taxable investment account. 
  • I established an Emergency Fund, and defined what an emergency was. In the past, a close friend or family member needing a loan gift might’ve constituted an emergency. I was always susceptible to someone else’s emergency becoming my emergency. Now, I have clearer parameters on what I am willing to consider a true emergency. 
  • I learned how to say ‘No’. This includes saying “no” to certain social events (that I may have not wanted to go to anyway), to requests for loans, to solicitations for certain charitable giving, and to things that felt like obligations (but cost money), that I did not find value in.

Can Lifestyle Inflation be Reversed?

Sure! I am sure, with a certain level of dedication and determination, and allowing for some cost of living adjustments, I could live like a broke college kid again. Or at least on something close to my entry-level income. 

Frankly, I don’t want to. I like my life. It’s quite comfortable. My husband and I are privileged enough to be high-income earners. We are still able to save a significant amount, while living comfortably. Our frugality is optional, and we are willing to be frugal in some areas, and are unwilling in other areas. 

However, we have still implemented the above strategies to curb any further lifestyle inflation, and to dictate where our money goes. Lifestyle inflation is sometimes called ‘lifestyle creep’ because it just creeps in. Sneakily.

The most notable change for me now is, I am now in the driver’s seat of my finances.

Here is another weekly installment of Living Frugally where I share my frugal accomplishments for the past week. Be sure to share your frugal successes in the comments!

Last week I didn’t post my weekly Living Frugally installment because we were cruisin’! (I was on a 7-day cruise. It was magnificent.) But I’m back now!

Living Frugally. Week 16. 

This Fascinating Adventure 

Image of clear blue water. Swimming in water are eight Caribbean Reef Sharks.
Sharks! We saw sharks while cruisin’!

When we arrived back home from the cruise, we did all kind of chores. Mostly unpacking and laundry, but while unpacking our toiletries, I took the opportunity to reorganize our bathroom cabinets. I consolidated all of our medicines, sunscreens, etc. so they are easy to find. This reduces our need to buy replacements because we can’t find what we need. 

Our refrigerator was bare for a couple more days until we made it to the grocery store (we made sure to eat anything that would expire before we left). We scavenged and ate tomato soup, grilled cheese, tuna sandwiches, and microwaved nachos for a couple days. 

We finally made it to the grocery store and spent ~$199 to fully stock our kitchen for the next 3 weeks (minus any fresh produce we may pick up in the next couple of weeks). My husband made burrito bowls which fed us for three days. We even used some leftover Taco Bell hot sauce packets in lieu of salsa!

We used a ton of ziploc bags to pack our toiletries on our trip (good thing too—my lotion went everywhere). I rinsed them out and saved the bags for future travel/storage (not to be used for food, of course). 

Rather than send a suit of my husband’s to the dry cleaners, I convinced him to let me wash it in our washing machine on the hand wash cycle. Came out just fine, and didn’t have to pay for the dry cleaners!

My husband and I both worked out 3 times using streaming workouts (through Beachbody: $99/year). 

Visited my mom to return the luggage she lent us for our trip. She gave me a whole bin of fabric to use for various upcoming sewing projects. 

Picked a baby bath from my local Buy Nothing group (on Facebook). 

Started a new audiobook (free via the Libby app). 

A local university I work for recently launched 457 retirement plans. Though I am a part-time employee, I was still able to open an account and look forward to having another retirement vehicle. Though my investment contributions will be small until we pay off the last of my husband’s student loan, I still opted to get started and deduct a nominal amount from my paychecks. I am thrilled to have access to this account, my solo 401(k), and a 401(a) from another part-time job. I have the trifecta! (Not to mention my IRA). Now to see how much money I can divert to all of these accounts…

Caught up on phone calls this week. Paid my quarterly life insurance premium, straightened out some flights I will be taking this summer, and called my bank since I got locked out of my online account. These phone calls were tedious, but worth staying on top of. 

Received our tax refund check. It wasn’t much, but it went straight toward the student loan. We are looking forward to being debt-free (sans mortgage)!

What are some of your frugal accomplishments for this past week?

Want more Living Frugally? Click here.

Maybe it’s your first time having access to a 401(k), or maybe you are now playing catch-up (like me). Here, I hope to share the basics of a 401(k), and how to get started investing in one. No fretting necessary. This is something you absolutely can do. Sun’s up, guns up, folks! (Just kidding. I support reasonable gun ownership laws.)

Getting Started for the First Time With a 401(k)? 

This Fascinating Adventure

A blue background with yellow bumper sticker in foreground. The bumper sticker has a black border and black text reading: My Other Vehicle is a 401(k), Playing With Fire.
Nifty Bumper Sticker from the Playing With Fire Project

401(k)’s: The Nitty Gritty

**All numbers/laws referenced are 2019 figures. Always check the most current tax year to see if things have changed.**

A Traditional 401(k) is a defined-contribution, tax-deferred retirement account. You usually have access to this through your employer, and the contributions are deducted through payroll. 

Defined-contribution means the amount you put in is pre-determined. Your contribution is defined. When you set up (or edit your retirement account), you choose how much will be taken from your check each pay period (usually a percentage). This also implies, you can’t throw in lump sums into your retirement account when you have the extra money. It is a steady amount taken from your check, and moved to your retirement account. 

However, you can edit your contributions at any time, though the changes may take a few pay periods to go into effect. The maximum you can contribute annually (as of 2019) is $19,000.

Tax-deferred means the amount you sock away in a 401(k) will not be taxed until you withdraw it (if you have a Traditional 401(k)—Roth 401(k)’s are taxed differently, which I will discuss later). You more than likely will not withdraw this amount until you retire. At that point, it will be taxed as regular income. (There are ways to withdraw these funds sooner, like a Roth Conversion Ladder, but that is not the scope of this article.)

Other Types of Retirement Funds

Other (mostly) employer-provided defined-contribution plans include 403(b) plans for nonprofit institutions, 457 plans for governmental employers, IRAs, and 401(a) plans. What you have access to, depends on your employer. 

A 403(b) and a 401(k) are treated the same in the eyes of law and the IRS. The $19,000 maximum contribution applies to both these accounts. If you happen to have both (maybe you work 2 jobs that each offer one of these plans), your total maximum contribution is the combined dollar amount of both of these plans. When I refer to 401(k)’s in this article, just about everything I say will also be applicable to 403(b) accounts. 

A 457 account has a maximum contribution limit of $19,000. You can contribute to this independent of your 401(k). If your employer offers you both, and you are able to max out both for a total of $38k, do it! Your future self will thank you with full-frontal hugs. Or a polite handshake. Whichever you prefer. 

An IRA is a separate account, that you have control over. It is not through your employer, and the maximum contribution for 2019 is $6,000. You can set this up, through the bank of your choice, and contribute to this on your own. If you do not have access to a retirement account through your employer, definitely look into setting up an IRA. This is not technically a defined-contribution plan, as you can add money whenever you like, but I wanted to include it anyway.

A 401(a) account has a few more nuances that I am choosing to not go into today (mainly because I want to stick to 401(k)’s). However, here is a fantastically simple breakdown by The Finance Buff

Traditional 401(k)’s vs. Roth 401(k)’s

Back to 401(k)’s. There are two variations of 401(k)’s: Traditional and Roth. The difference lies in how they are taxed. 

Traditional 401(k)’s

Traditional 401(k)’s are tax-deferred immediately. When you get paid, your retirement contribution is taken off the top of your paycheck, out of your gross pay. It is moved to your retirement account where it stays and grows (depending on what investment options you choose). 

You can begin withdrawing from this account at age 59 1/2. If you withdraw earlier, you will pay regular tax on the withdrawal, and a 10% penalty. 

You will pay taxes (on both your contributions and your earnings/growth) as you withdraw the money. The advantage to a Traditional 401(k) lies here. It reduces your tax burden immediately. 

This can be beneficial, especially if you are in a higher tax bracket now. Since your contribution isn’t included in your Adjusted Gross Income (AGI), your income reported to the IRS is less, thereby reducing the amount taxed in the year you earned the income. 

Roth 401(k)’s 

Roth 401(k)’s are not tax-deferred immediately. Instead, when you receive your paycheck, you are taxed on the entire amount earned, and then your retirement contribution is moved to your Roth 401(k). There it stays, to grow just as a Traditional 401(k) does, never to be taxed again. This means when you withdraw later in life, you do not pay taxes on the withdrawals. 

You can withdraw any amount you contributed to this account before 59 1/2 penalty-free (you cannot withdraw the growth without penalty). 

The advantage here is, the growth your account has seen over time (through interest, price appreciation, and dividends) is never taxed. While you have to pay taxes immediately, you have the advantage of not paying taxes on alllll that beautiful growth afterward. 

Why You Should be Using Your 401(k)

Now why would I (or you) want to take home less money, and instead put it in an account I can’t touch until age 59 1/2? Well. I’m so glad I asked. 

  • My Future: I care about me! No matter how much I love my job, I don’t want to have to work forever. Not to mention, I have no idea what the future holds. As healthy as I am now, I may not be later in life, which may make it harder to work as I am now. Financial security for the future is paramount.
  • Lowers My Tax Burden: Whether I pay the taxes later in life (Traditional 401(k)) or up-front (Roth 401(k)) I win. Why? 
  1. Traditional 401(k): I reduce the amount of taxes I pay now. Say I am in the 24% tax bracket while filing as single, and I earned $125,000. My tax burden after the standard deduction ($12,000), would roughly be $21,409. Instead, if I contributed the maximum amount allowed ($19,000) to my Traditional 401(k), it would be deducted from my income. My tax due would amount to roughly $16,849. That is a difference of $4,560!
  2. Roth 401(k): I reduce the amount of taxes I pay later. Yes, I’d have to pay taxes now, but the growth wouldn’t be taxed. Im 32 years old now, and if I contributed the same $19,000, I’d pay taxes on it now. By 59 1/2 I would’ve earned $118,063.48 in growth (annualized at 7%) all of which wouldn’t be taxed. The tax advantage with a Roth is, the growth isn’t taxed. And as you can see, the growth can be tremendous. 
  • Reduces Lifestyle Inflation: Contributing the full $19,000 isn’t always possible, depending on income. However, as my career progressed, and as I earned more, the pay bumps allowed for me to bump my retirement contributions up. First by 1%, then 5%, then 8, then 10. Finally, I went all in used the calculated percentage of my income equaling 19,000. Rather than blasting my raises at a new car note, or restaurants, or chic clothes, I’ve bumped my retirement contributions up. This way, I don’t allow for lifestyle inflation to creep in. Lifestyle Inflation: increasing my spending because my income has increased. 
  • Employer Match: Some employers will “match” your contributions. A previous employer of mine would match every 1% of my contributions up to 4%, and then match .5% for every 1% after up to 5%. This means if I contributed 6%, they would contribute 5%. That’s free money your employer is giving you! It’s yours! If you are starting out, I strongly suggest you contribute at least up to the amount that will give you the full employer contribution. 
  • Psychology: It is more difficult to manually transfer money out of my checking to my savings account, than it is to have it taken out of my check before I see it. Take the second-guessing out of savings: use your retirement accounts. Socking money away in savings is fantastic, and definitely a priority, but your savings account isn’t going to pay you the same interest as your retirement accounts. The compound interest and growth in retirement accounts vs. a savings account can’t be beat. (Another option would be to put money in taxable brokerage accounts. This is awesome, and will more than likely generate nearly similar returns as a 401(k). However, you will lose the tax advantages the 401(k) holds.)

Summary:

  1. There are two types of 401(k)’s: Traditional and Roth. Each have different tax benefits. The tax benefits are fantastic. 
  2. The maximum contribution annually to either accounts (or both) is a combined $19,000. 
  3. You cannot start drawing on your 401(k) accounts penalty-free until age 59 1/2 (with the exception of Roth accounts. Here you can only withdraw your contributions before 59 1/2—not the growth). 
  4. There are other retirement vehicles you can use (401(a), 457, and IRAs) in conjunction with your 401(k). Each vehicle have their own rules.
  5. You earn waaay more money over time investing the money in a 401(k) than if you put it into a savings account. 
  6. You can only defer money you’ve earned into 401(k) accounts. This is usually done through your employer’s payroll. 
  7. Always take at least up to the employer’s match when contributing to retirement accounts. 

Did I miss anything? Still confused? Shoot me a comment and I will be happy to respond! 

Should-ing All Over Yourself (What it is and How to Stop)

This Fascinating Adventure

Image of a road with construction cones in the background. In the foreground is a red street sign with the lettering “Wrong Way”
“‎Though nobody can go back and make a new beginning… Anyone can start over and make a new ending.” 
― Chico Xavier

I have made a ton of baloney decisions in my life. Among these include developing a drinking problem in my late teens/early twenties (arguably genetics played a role in this), all of the dating choices I’ve ever made (except for my current partner of course), and spending every dime of money I earned up until age 27-ish. I “should’ve” done a ton of things differently. I didn’t and yet, here I am. 

The Should-ing Mentality is the idea that a person should’ve done things differently. She should’ve been more aggressive in that raise negotiation. He should’ve worked through college and paid his tuition in cash, thereby not taking out any student loans. They should’ve waited to have kids. And so on. 

Not only is judging other’s choices by Should-ing them not insightful, it’s backward. Let’s apply it to ourselves. When I tell myself, or say aloud, “I should’ve started saving money at 22 when I began my career,” I reek of shame. Shame that I didn’t know, what I didn’t know. Frankly, I didn’t know a damn thing about money back then. Why, on God’s green earth, would I berate myself for not knowing something? And why would I do this to someone else?

You may be able to gather, this gets me fired up. Not so much in an angry way, but in an indignant, crestfallen way. Why the heck are we so mean to ourselves, and so mean to each other?! When we blame ourselves, or blame others, for a lack of knowledge and skills, we forget our humanity entirely. We were all born not knowing very much at all. Life is a hands-on learning experience. Let us not be upset with ourselves (or others) for not having learned something yet. 

Mistakes

Example One:

When I was 25 years old, I entered Recovery for my alcoholism. I thought my world was over. How had I become like…this? Heartbroken was an understatement. I knew I had a genetic predisposition for the disease, and every drink I took brought me closer to the line. Then, as I drank more, I crossed it, never to return to my non-alcoholic state. Because I can’t drink responsibly, I choose to not drink at all. If I were to drink again today, I have no doubt I would drink alcoholically. 

As a youth, knowing what I knew about my family history, should I have not drank at all? Or perhaps, should I have tried to manage my drinking, be aware of every drink I ingested, knowing I probably have a finite number of drinks before I cross that line? Maybe. 

Brace yourself for my true self. My corny self, that loves with my whole heart wide open, and thinks emotionally before I think logically: recovery showed me who I was.

The inner work I had to do to get sober, and the continuous inner work I have to do to stay sober, has brought me so much closer to the person I love most in this world: me. Throughout the process I learned how strong and fierce I am, and how loving and empathic I am. These are things I didn’t know about myself before. I wouldn’t trade that knowledge to be able to drink like a “normal” drinker. 

To go back in time and do things differently (like I should’ve), means I wouldn’t be who I am now. Hard pass. 

Example Two: 

When I was 27 years old, I decided to buck up and get my finances in order. I owed some money to the IRS, was living paycheck to paycheck, and couldn’t build money in my savings account to save my life. 

At the time, should I have not blown through all of my earnings for the last nine years (back to age 18 when I was working and had excess scholarship money to spend)? Maybe. The problem was, I didn’t know how to budget or save. In fact, it never even occurred to me to Google it and try and figure it out. Just like with my alcoholism, at first, I didn’t even know I had a problem. I knew what drowning felt like, but didn’t know that was the name for what I was experiencing, so I didn’t know where to start in finding a solution.

It’s like having an itch in your nose, and no matter how much you rub it, nothing will ease the itch. I had no idea I had a big booger, and the itch wouldn’t be relieved until I cleaned out my nose. How was I supposed to know?! I didn’t have a mirror. 

And we don’t have a crystal ball. So how were we supposed to know how each decision would play out? Simply put, we didn’t. So what?

Not to mention the financial literacy I gained through my ass being on fire at the age of 27. It got bad enough that I wanted a change. I read everything I could get my hands on about personal finance and financial freedom. This has absolutely shaped how I approach my finances today. Would I have found all of those life changing resources (like this and this) if I hadn’t reached my financial bottom? Probably not.

Why The Should-ing Mentality is Trash

For starters, using this framework to approach our past is unkind to ourselves (and others). Thinking this way only sets us up to pick on ourselves and denies us something that is innately human: permission to make mistakes. Frankly folks, we’re all going to make mistakes, so why deny that it’s a natural part of growth? This teeters dangerously close to perfectionism which is unattainable and detrimental. It’s unrealistic to expect ourselves to make the exact “right” decision all the time. It’s just as unrealistic to hold others to this standard.

Secondly, research shows using the phrasing “should” instead of “could”, or “would like to”, is shame-laden and puts us on the defensive. Even to myself, when I say, “I should be working out more” I set myself up to resent the act of working out, because I already feel I failed at it. Instead when I say, “I would like to be working out more” I set myself up to start looking for solutions. Perhaps I look at my calendar to see when I have time to schedule a work-out date with myself, or I set a goal to increase my work-outs for the week. 

Thirdly, it’s unrealistic. If I say, “I should be saving more money every month” I feel dejected that I am not doing enough. That I am lacking in some way. If I say instead, “I could be saving more money every month”, I fact-check myself. Could I? If after all my budgeting, cutting unnecessary expenses, and a small monthly allowance to keep my sanity (personal choice), I can save more money, then great! I might just review my income and my spending to see how much more I can bump up my month savings rate.

But, if I review everything and realize actually, I couldn’t save more money without forgoing sleep and family time to work more hours, I can relax. I am doing my best. Every time the thought “I should be saving more” crops up, I can counter this thought with “No, I reviewed this. I am doing my best. I am so awesome.” Shame spiral arrested!

What to do Instead

So instead of Should-ing ourselves, or someone else, let’s step back. We can choose to use the words “would like to”, or “could”. This helps us fact-check ourselves to see if, indeed, we could be taking different actions. Our options stay open this way. 

Diminishing the use of this word also aids us in taking in the entire context of a situation. Yes, my husband could’ve worked his way through college rather than taking out student loans. But he would’ve had to spread himself very thin to make enough money to pay for each semester’s tuition, and also remain a full-time student.

He also could’ve chosen to be a part-time student to reduce the burden of tuition due per semester, but he would’ve had to graduate later. This would’ve postponed his entry into his current career, and reduced his lifetime earning potential. I am not arguing for or against student loans. It really depends on your personal situation. But, by shifting from should’ve, to could’ve, we realize we’ve always had choices, and there was always a trade off to be made. How empowering!

If we find, ultimately, that we just made an unfavorable choice, and if we could go back in time, we’d do it differently, let’s have some compassion for ourselves. Remember, we don’t know what we don’t know. If you didn’t know, so what? That was your thing to not know. Someone else has something else they didn’t know. We’re all just kinda hanging out on this earth winging it. At least we’re in it together! 

Here is another weekly installment of Living Frugally where I share my frugal accomplishments for the past week. Be sure to share your frugal successes in the comments!

Last weekend, my mom and I visited my nephew who lives a few hours away. We spent the night at his parents’ house while they were out of town. Money was spent on gas (~$30), groceries (~$45), and a Red-Box movie ($1.89). Additionally, we attended my nephew’s swim meet as entertainment (free). A fantastic, frugal weekend!

Donated a small amount to a charity that is near and dear to my heart. If you’re interested in checking them out (and maybe donating as well!), here’s the website for The DeafBlind Camp of Texas (DBCTX). 

I have talked about how much I love DBCTX to my friends, and the local cigar shop my husband works at once a week decided to join in! In their shop, they are encouraging donations for DBCTX all month! This is happening through a raffle prize (gift pack of cigar accessories) for those who donate! This warms my heart, demonstrates the generosity of the people who work there (I told you they were awesome!), and helps a fantastic local cause! Talk about what is passionate to you, because you never know who is listening. 

Read a great new book from the Libby app (A Discovery of Witches), and began a new audiobook. Both were freeee!

It rained a few days this week (hard!) and we enjoyed the coziness of the indoors. This also helped water our plants for free!

Weeded the garden and applied some fire ant killer to an ant pile (shaking my fist). All while wearing my new sun hat (my first clothing purchase in over 9 months). 

This week my husband made lentil soup (lasted 3 days), we ate frozen pizza, and picked up Mexican food one day. We also tried to raid our fridge of anything that will expire soon. This included several smoothies with produce, yogurt, and almond milk. We also boiled eggs to throw in our salads for work this week. Soon, we will be out of town and wanted to avoid any food waste. 

Living Frugally—Week 15

This Fascinating Adventure

Image of glass blender. Inside blender are unblended layers of milk, spinach, yogurt,and frozen blueberries.
Add some maple syrup (or chocolate syrup) and you can’t taste the veggies!

Because we will be out of town, and I didn’t want to come home to a messy house, I did some tidying and general cleaning. When we come back from vacation and dive back into the work-week, we won’t have to do anything except our laundry.

I gave myself a pedicure. I use some essential oils and this electronic foot file to get smooth, baby-soft feet (one of my best investments ever). 

My husband used a coupon to pay for parking while we are out of town. Where we’re going, we can’t take our car, so saving 15% on a week’s worth of parking was awesome. 

Cut up some old underwear clothes of my husband’s to make cleaning rags. 

Picked up a rack to hang decorative plates and a changing table (for a future baby!) from our local Buy Nothing group. Full disclosure: I’m not pregnant, I’m just gettin’ ready waaay in advance. Hi, I’m a planner

My husband’s A/C fan in his car stopped working for a few hours. We anticipated having to take his car in, but it started to work again. He drives a 2009 vehicle, and at some point I’m sure the A/C will go out for good. As of now, this expenditure was delayed! If/when it happens, we will use funds we have set aside for car repairs/random maintenance expenses. 

My mom cut my hair. I also plan to dye it tomorrow using box dye from our grocery store. 

Tidied my home office. It was like a tornado went through there, and I spent a good hour or two shredding old documents and filing loose papers. The cleared and clean space makes me happy. 

I had an appointment this week to do allergy testing. I have seasonal allergies, and I was mostly curious as to what else I may be allergic to. However, they called giving me the cost of my test, and even with insurance, it was too pricey for my tastes. My husband has done allergy testing and shots, and noticed a major improvement with his migraines. As I have no serious health concerns, I did not view this as a worthwhile way to spend my money and cancelled my appointment.

I listened to The Fairer Cents podcast. It’s great. If you like podcasts, or wanna have a broader financial talk with women at the helm, I strongly encourage you to check it out!

To prep for our trip (did I mention I’m going on vacation?), my husband went to Sam’s to buy a new bathing suit for himself, and some sunscreen. While he was there, he picked up paper products (TP, etc.) so we’re stocked! We got a Sam’s club membership last year when we hosted a Celebration of Marriage party and needed a ton of supplies. We also used our membership to buy a dramatically discounted TV during the holiday sales. Other than that, as a family of 2, we haven’t used it too much, and will not renew our membership this year. 

Our in-laws will stay at our house while we are out of town to do some house-sitting and plant watering. Living near family is a blessing. 

We borrowed luggage from my parents for our trip. As of now, we have small pieces of luggage that have suited us, but for a longer trip we definitely needed larger pieces. While we may eventually purchase our own larger set, at this point, borrowing works just fine. 

What are some of your frugal accomplishments for this past week?

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How to Receive Criticism (And Shake Haters Off)

This Fascinating Adventure

Image of confetti background with white text inside black shadow box. Text reads: “I carry a small sheet of paper in my wallet that has written on it the names of people whose opinions of me matter. To be on that list, you have to love me for my strengths and struggles.” ~Brene Brown
Brené Brown: A Fellow Texan

When someone doesn’t sign off on what we think, feel, say, or do, it can be hurtful. When I started to save money, pay off debt, and generally work toward financial stability, oddly, there were a few naysayers along the way. Why it matters to other people, I don’t know. Nevertheless, we are an opinionated species, and I certainly encountered my share of criticism. 

Making changes can be hard, and it becomes even harder when we start to sense disapproval and potentially question ourselves. From the opposite end, watching someone change can be hard, and others may have a hard time adapting. What to do, what to do…

For the Standard Hater

To begin with, I am not talking about getting feedback from someone I admire and respect. That is a different animal, which I will address as well. At this point, I am talking about the run-of-the-mill, shits on people to feel better about themselves, picks fights on the internet, no dog in the fight, malefactor. 

Now I am not vain enough to act as if there is a whole trope of trollios watching my every move and discussing it amongst themselves as they ooze jealousy. This isn’t my reality, and most times I am surrounded by the most supportive people. Every now and then, though, a hater pops out of the bushes and startles me.

Long ago, when I was a wee pup, and very much a naive people-pleaser, I asked my aunt, “Why do people hate people?” (Awww..tres cute—I can say that about myself, right?) My aunt is extremely intelligent and has seen some shit in her life. She is also strong, gentle, and compassionate. While things happened in her life that could’ve hardened her, she remained soft, but tough. Her response was “Well hon, haters gonna hate. It’s what they do.” A lightbulb moment for me. 

When asking why someone is giving us such a hard shakedown for apparently no reason, sometimes the answer simply is: It’s what they do. It’s not personal. If it weren’t directed at me, it would be at someone else. It’s all they know, and there isn’t anything I can do, except steer clear. 

Sometimes knowing the “why” is helpful. Knowing why someone responds the way they do can allow empathy to be cultivated, minds and hearts to be opened, and new perspectives to be considered. This ain’t that. It’s unfortunate, but a truth I try to live by is: Choose yourself first. It’s not selfish. It’s surviving and thriving. Don’t get sucked into the hater’s web at your own expense. Choose yourself first. 

For the Acquaintance

There are countless situations where I have tried to do something awesome, and have been faced with criticism or feedback discouraging my awesomeness. I feel certain that every human being has experienced this to some degree. 

An example for me is: this blog. While it is not up to the awesome standards I want it to be (someday Daniel-San), I gain a lot of joy from writing and general dabbling. Sometimes I do my writing at the local cigar shop. My husband works at this cigar shop for fun as a side-gig (he luuurves cigars), and we’ve met some really phenomenal people there. We know all of the regulars, and have fostered some truly exceptional friendships. 

While clacking away, writing the next post, I’ve been asked what I am working on. 90% of the responses have been variations of, “Oh that’s so cool, you’re so cool, let’s be friends, I wanna read it.” These people exhibit true interest and are appreciated more than I could ever express. 

But there’s the inevitable 10% who respond, “Weird, personal finance, how boring, how cute, most blogs aren’t successful, good luck with your little project.” What do I say to these people, some who don’t know me at all? I say, “Oh thanks so much!” And get back to work. 

Their opinion doesn’t matter to me. This could be unrelated, but I am also a petite lady who looks much younger than I am, so I am used to condescension. At this point, it rolls off me. In all aspects, whether it’s professional or personal, I don’t stop to argue with inadvertent superiority. 

Instead, I keep my eyes on my lane and either the person moves on, sometimes never to be seen again, or they eventually take me seriously. Obviously I prefer the latter, but if they don’t, I don’t stay in this place too long. It’s possible this is just the introvert in me, but I don’t see this as a worthwhile space to spend my life’s energy. 

For Loved Ones

These are the people I respect and admire. This group usually consists of family and my dearest friends. Do we always agree? Nope to the nth power. However, we do collectively try to understand one another. Being curious about another’s point of view has only ever served to make me a better human being. 

For my loved ones, thankfully, we all generally have healthy boundaries. Or at least, we try to! Part of this includes remembering that We Are All Grown-Ups. I may not sign off on someone else’s choices, or they on mine, but good news! Mutual approval is unnecessary for individual choices. If there are certain topics that I know someone else is uninterested in, or disagrees with, I rarely bring them up, unless it is in the context of talking about myself. I receive this same treatment in kind. 

Boundary Setting

Boundaries aren’t easy to set into place TAT TALL. For me, it has taken thoughtful effort and true consideration of the other person, as well as myself. It has also taken time and patience. Here is another take on boundary setting from Oprah (I feel the same way about Oprah as Liz Lemon does).

First, I begin by asking myself, what boundary do I want to set in place? An example could be: I don’t want commentary on my choice to not spend money on things I do not value. 

Second, I set the boundary. Most times, I try to do this in the moment, the next time it happens, or I can choose to set it separate from an event. I might say, “I want to discuss the statements you made about me being cheap. It’s not ok with me that you choose to comment on my spending habits. I’d like that subject to be off-limits.”

Third, I enforce my boundary line if necessary. If my boundary line is violated, dpending on the scenario, I may say, “I noticed you brought up my choice to not spend money on certain things. I’m concerned you aren’t respecting my boundary. We cannot continue this conversation if you will not respect my request.”

Fourth, I follow through. If they persist, then I leave the conversation. I try not to leave in a huff, but I am sure to stick to my guns. I can’t expect anyone to adhere to my boundaries if I don’t. 

Dealing with loved ones can be difficult. Some loved ones are more understanding than others. I cannot pretend to have all the answers to especially challenging situations. All I can do is try my best in the moment, vent to someone outside the situation, and try to practice love and compassion toward others while extending the same courtesy to myself. In that same vein, when someone sets a boundary with me, I remain mindful of their request. 

Take-Aways

Haters suck. I will have a million acquaintances in my life, I don’t have to win over every single one. Loved ones are worth devoting time and energy toward. 

About four years ago, I received a strongly worded email from a colleague about a statement I made in a staff meeting. This colleague (incorrectly) assumed I was negatively talking about her when I made a comment in the meeting. I wasn’t, and I was floored. I asked a dear friend who is quite level-headed what he does when he receives unfounded criticism. He advised this:

Ask yourself: 
  • Are they right? Is their feedback fair? Is there a perspective I am missing when I look at the situation?
  • Do I respect them? Does their opinion matter to me? Do I value their insight?
If both of these questions are answered with No’s, move on; no change necessary. Not your circus, not your monkeys. 

This is not to discount any and all criticism we may receive over our lifetimes. There are many times where I have been corrected, or made to see a different point of view. This, I am so very grateful for.

Shaking haters off does not release me of reflective thinking or my responsibility to be considerate of others while maintaining my integrity. However, sometimes, haters are just gonna hate. It’s what they do. What I do next is my choice, and this is where my power lies. 

Since the days of old, I’ve held the highest standards for myself. I tend to set bizarre expectations, that only matter to me. From elementary school until college, I’d rewrite my notes or homework assignments if I didn’t like my handwriting or the pen I was using. I used to be extremely meticulous about my appearance. Though my “symptoms” of Perfectionism have evolved through the years, I find signs of it in my current life all the time. I am still recovering from Perfectionism. 

Recovering From Perfectionism

This Fascinating Adventure

Black and white image of crashing waves. Black text diagonal across the image reads: “Perfectionism is self-abuse” —Anne Wilson Schaef
(My) Definition of Perfectionism: Set the highest expectations for yourself, that you can’t possibly meet consistently, only to be disappointed, and experience self-loathing when you fail.

Why Perfectionism? It sounds awful. Unfortunately, its not a conscious choice—its more like a maladaptive defense mechanism. And simply put, I long-ago learned to incorporate the ideal of being perfect into my core beliefs, because it served me

It’s been touched on slightly in previous posts, but my childhood was a mix of happiness and trauma. I didn’t realize I grew up in an abusive home until around age 26. It was just my normal.

Who knows why we turn out the way we are? We are like a recipe for stew with a million ingredients and the final product is us. In all our glory. Which specific ingredient made us a particular way? That’s hard to pinpoint. Nevertheless, a skill I learned at a young age was: don’t make a mistake and no one will be angry with me. Of course, this isn’t how it always worked, but hey—in a world where I had little control, here was something I could control: myself. 

How it Served and Hindered Me

My dutiful and obedient qualities transferred well at school. I was well-liked (by teachers and peers), at the top of the class throughout my entire academic life, and involved in a million extracurricular activities. Again, here, my Perfectionism served me. I worked hard to be as good (which equalled perfect) as I could be at school, and in that setting I was rewarded with friends, approval, awards, and all the recommendation letters I wanted. 

Of course, there is a dark side to Perfectionism. I remember when I received a ‘C’ in High School Geometry (a 10th grade class that I was taking in 8th grade). I cried. Or a few years ago, when I sent an email to a prospective employer addressing the wrong person. My self-talk became “How could I have been so stupid to not proofread that?!” (I called her Sonja instead of Sophia! And I knew her name!) My self-esteem was low for a long time. I have countless examples of self-deprecating thoughts. 

And With Money?

In my Financial Stability journey, Perfectionism has also reared its head. Before, I thought I was too stupid to know a single thing about finances. Now, I follow my budget like a religion, and can get pretty disappointed if I veer too far off. The solution? Don’t go off budget. It ends up looking great for my savings rate and my net worth. However, this is still a cognitive distortion which sets me up for severe disappointment when I inevitably cannot meet my own expectations. 

The weird thing is, I never considered myself a perfectionist at all—because I knew I wasn’t perfect. As smart as I am, I had a warped way of defining that word. About six years ago, when I realized (or rather, it was pointed out) I am, in fact, a perfectionist, I insensitively thought, “How silly and pathetic was I, to expect perfection?!”

I want you to know, dear reader, I am not that unkind to myself anymore. But I still find strange manifestations of perfectionism in my life. 

How Do I Know I am a Perfectionist?

  • Extremely High Standards: either I post 3 articles a week on my blog, or I’m not cut out for this and should quit blogging altogether. (Also an example of All or Nothing thinking). 
  • Not Allowed to Make Mistakes: don’t be late, don’t make an error at work, don’t send an email without proofreading it, don’t let anyone down, don’t cry, etc. 
  • All-or-Nothing Thinking: don’t try anything I won’t be great at; either I’m the best or I’m the worst. This was an idea I tried to challenge when I started this blog (an example of poor writing and my first brave attempt here).
  • Mild OCD: is it true Obsessive Compulsive Disorder? No. However, it shows up in mild ways: I like my spaces clean, and if the space isn’t, I’ll imagine a host of germs everywhere. Things have to be “Just So”. I like to be organized and I love my planner. Things have to be done in a certain way, or put up in the “right” place. I’ll set goals like I need to read one book a week, or check off 3 things on my Things-To-Do list today. If I don’t, I’ll feel I’m falling behind. I am the only one setting these standards. But, I forget that and believe if I don’t meet them, I’m a failure (extreme, I know. It’s an extreme way to think. See All-or-Nothing thinking).  
  • It’s the Destination, not the Journey: I will hunker down and power through shitty jobs, shitty relationships, etc. The thought I have is, if it’s worth it in the end, all the shitty stuff will have been worth it too. (See this post about burnout). I’ve overstayed in many destructive situations because I get married to an ideal end-result and I hoped the gamble would pay off.
  • Hard on Myself: For this post, after writing out some of the self-talk phrases I’ve used in the past, I cringe. It’s pretty self-evident I am my own worst critic. Again, going back to my upbringing: If I find the flaws first, I might be able to fix them before anyone notices. And if I can’t, at least I am braced for negative feedback from the outside. If I’ve said it to myself first, there’s nothing you can say that can hurt me. 

These Things Suck, Right?

Yup, being a perfectionist can suck. When I don’t achieve my self-imposed goals, I can feel down. When I suspect someone is disappointed in me, or that conflict is around the corner, I can feel anxious. As obviously maladaptive as it appears in a collated post like this, Perfectionism can be insidious. There are people just like me walking around in this world, seemingly unaffected by setbacks on the outside, but on the inside they are uuupppppset! Perhaps, this article resonated with you. 

Here are some ways to alleviate Perfectionism:

  • Acknowledge Your Perfectionism: See it for the problem it is. It doesn’t foster an accurate perception of ourselves or our place in the world. It’s harmful. If we hold onto it, we can’t be rid of it. 
  • Tell on Yourself: If you have someone you can bare your soul to, do this. Tell them the mean things you say to yourself. Hear how ridiculous they are, and let someone rational dispute those things. This was one of the harder things to try, because being vulnerable was unfamiliar to me, but it has made all the difference. Now, when I find myself feeling low because of a minor (or major) error, I will simply tell my spouse: “I’m feeling shitty about this weird situation that happened earlier today…” Talking it out reminds me of my self-worth.
  • Write it Out: Journal the thoughts, self-talk, and fears you have. Then try to come up with counter-narratives for them. A common piece of advice I hear is: Play the Tape Out. Movies have a beginning, middle, and end. The middle (climax, or catastrophe), is where a perfectionist might stop the narrative. Play the whole tape out. Then what? If you don’t meet X expectation, it will suck and then…you’ll probably be fine.
  • Practice Self-Compassion: There are a million ways you can do this. All of these Self-Care strategies, by seeing a counselor, through positive self-talk, etc. Your self-compassion doesn’t have to be perfect. It is too powerful not to work, even if it’s flawed. Whatever you do, you deserve it. 
  • Remind Yourself You’re Human: No shit right? But if you berate yourself for crying in an argument with your spouse, or for being socially awkward from time-to-time, or bungling something at work: you’re human. Everyone does it. I will sometimes make light of my reactions by saying to myself: “I guess I was just being a human today.”
  • Practice Setting Realistic Goals: If you don’t ever workout, and decide to start a 6 day/week workout regiment, that might be unrealistic (I’ve done this). It is ok to slowly incorporate something into your life, give yourself a learning curve, or fail and try again. Above all, enjoy yourself. 

The Problem With Perfectionism

Perfectionism is reinforced by society at every turn. If I spent an hour on my appearance, I am complimented and cooed over (I know some really nice people, ha). This reward encourages me to over-emphasize the value of my appearance. If I am successful within my profession, my finicky and fastidious work-ethic is strengthened. Being “detail-oriented” might serve my employer, but it doesn’t serve me if I take it to the extreme. When I buckle down and get my financial house in order, my net-worth grows, and also allows for inflexibility to creep in. All along the way, I might forget to enjoy the ride. 

So here I am, doing my best to fail, scrape my knees, and try again. Though I still have a long way to go, I’ve gotten so much better (laughing maniacally at my mistakes helps). I’ll keep practicing valuing my relationships more than my successes and loving this fascinating adventure, instead of “Good Job” stickers. Because I’m alive. And that is the wildest, most euphoric, undeserved triumph I know. 

Interested in learning more about Perfectionism? Check this out!

How do you practice Self-Compassion? Did this post resonate with you? I’d love to hear from you!

Here is another weekly installment of Living Frugally where I share my frugal accomplishments for the past week. Be sure to share your frugal successes in the comments!

A colleague of my husband’s was leaving the company, and we all went out to enjoy free live music. Afterward, everyone came to our house and we ordered pizza. It was a blast!

Attended a Professional Development opportunity in my area that was helpful and free. Since CEUs are on average $10/.1 CEU, and I earned .3 for free, this was a $30 saving. Though I can write off my Professional Development, it was nice to not have to pay anything!

Visited with several friends this week where we just sat around and talked. No money spent just to maintain friendships! One of our meet-ups was at the cigar shop my husband works at on Friday nights (as his side-gig) and they had free food. Yum!

This week we ate veggie casserole, rice and beans, leftover pizza (from my husband’s work gathering), BBQ, and a frozen pizza. 

Received a free signed copy of Playing With Fire in the mail. I won this through an online giveaway by the author. I am psyched to read it!

Living Frugally—Week 14

This Fascinating Adventure 

Image of book and sticker resting on kitchen counter. Book cover is white with alternating wide diagonal orange and yellow stripes. Book reads: Playing With Fire, Financial Independence Retire Early. How far would you go for financial freedom? By Scott Rickens, Foreword by Mr. Money Mustache. Sticker pictured is yellow with black border. Sticker reads: My other vehicle is a 401K, Playing With Fire.
Eeek! Plus, look at this nifty and hilarious sticker!

We both slept in on Sunday morning. To an embarrassingly late time! But I have no regrets!

My husband and I also had a quarterly household finance meeting where we discussed our upcoming plans for the year. We agreed on one more house project (either gutters, or blinds for our outdoor enclosure). We also played with numbers to see what it will look like when I reduce my workload in the next year. As I mentioned in a previous post, I’ve been feeling burned out, so we did a few projections for the future that factored in the reduced income. 

I’ve been using this foam roller to roll out my back. This week I’ve been feeling sore, and using it several times throughout the week has made a huge difference. 

Took a hot bath with Epsom salts. Ahhhh! One of my favorite things in the world.

I bought a hat to wear on my upcoming vacation! Though I haven’t bought any new clothes (by choice) for the last 9 months or so, I decided to buy a wide brim SPF hat. Since I’ll be taking another trip in the Summer, I will get a lot of benefit from this. Not to mention tons of use while gardening!

Worked three evenings this week. The pay differential is usually the deciding factor for me to take this type of work, but one assignment particularly was interesting and high-profile. My team and I knocked it out of the park and laid groundwork for future assignments from this client. 

Went to the dermatologist. Recommendations were all over-the-counter, and generally tweaked my already existing skin-care routine. This means I already had the products on hand so no need to purchase anything new.  The co-pay will be reimbursed through my husband’s HRA at work. 

Went grocery shopping to supplement our produce/other needs for the week. Spent $15.16 on salad, granola bars, apples, and freezer bags. 

I finished one audiobook this week, and began another one. I also began reading a new e-book. All of these were borrowed from my local library’s database using the Libby app

Downloaded a new meditation app. It’s called Waking Up and so far I am enjoying it. If you want to try guided meditation, but don’t prefer any religious undertones, this is a great app!

Attended a networking happy hour. It was hosted by a well-respected client and only a select few within my field were invited. Though I really wanted to head home after work, I swung by and had a great time. If I missed it, it wouldn’t have been a negative outcome. However, attending the happy hour definitely allowed me to make a great impression and build working relationships. I don’t drink, so I didn’t spend any money there, and just enjoyed myself instead.

What are some of your frugal accomplishments for this past week?

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17 Ways to Reduce Burnout

This Fascinating Adventure

An image of a riverbank with the sun bursting through trees across the bank. With a branch of a tree peeking through the side of the frame, a figure with a ponytail, holding a water bottle stares across the river. Only the backside of the figure is visible.
Me in nature: One of the ways I decompress

Burned Out? Same.

In approximately 10 days I’m going on vacation. I. CAN’T. WAIT. For the last two-ish years I have worked an intense schedule. A light week is anything that clocks between 40-50 hours, and a standard week is easily 50-65 hours. Add to this, the nature of my work is physically, emotionally, and mentally taxing. Most days, I love my job. I am so very grateful this is where I landed career-wise (it was not what I planned, but that story is for another day).

Alas folks, I am burned out. I’ve felt this way for the last seven months or so, and have chosen to just kept plugging away. My rationale is: We are so close to the finish line. The remnants of my husband’s last student loan are being attacked in full force. It should be paid off by the end of this year (hopefully sooner). Until we pay that off, I am (currently) unwilling to step away or reduce work. I keep telling myself, when we are debt-free (sans the mortgage), I will take a long, hard look at my schedule and design it to be what I want.

This is not to say, you should stay in a miserable situation. If you hate your job or relationship, by all means, do what you can to change it! Life is too short to be miserable. Thankfully, I am more of the worn-out variety (rather than miserable). I have to be extra-aware of capitalizing on the good, when I am powering through the exhausting.

Why do I Feel Burned Out?

It is important to always stay curious. About life, about people, and above all, about yourself. So naturally I asked myself, “What’s going on?” The realization that my work schedule was not sustainable is (surprisingly) surprising. Like I’ve stated previously, I truly enjoy my job and the challenges it brings. It also pays very well. Understanding that my current set-up wasn’t going to work out long term, was a mild blow to my career plans. These were facts I had to accept.

Once I worked through the disappointment I was, in fact, a human, and not the quasi-machine I envisioned myself to be, I felt relief. I don’t have to keep doing this forever, this way. And the choice to keep my current work hours rests with me. Where I previously felt powerless, I remembered that I have the choice, and this has emboldened me.

Part of my aggressive work schedule has been influenced by our desire to want things. We wanted a house (it makes more sense to buy vs. rent in our area), to adequately save in our retirement accounts, to have a healthy Emergency Fund, and to obliterate student loan debt. 

Accomplishments In 2018:
  1. Paid off ~$47,000 in student loan debt
  2. Bought/mortgaged a house
  3. Paid off my car
  4. Got married—frugal wedding 
  5. Maxed my 403b
  6. Maxed my IRA
  7. Husband got a big time promotion
  8. Husband picked up a side hustle on Friday nights at the local cigar shop
  9. Totally frugal Christmas/holidays
  10. Helped two family members obtain/pay for attorneys (2 different legal issues)
  11. Put in a flower garden
  12. Accepted free furniture (upstairs sofa, office desk, etc.)
  13. Willing to DIY things to save money and learn skills (picked up free furniture, sealed shower, assembled flower bed, an endless list)
  14. Both of us earned more money this year than in previous years
  15. Did a year-end financial review for first time
  16. Started investing in taxable accounts
  17. Saved up for new living room floors in full
  18. Ran Walked a 10k with my mom

Alas, the euphoria of knocking out all of these goals and building my business has waned. That doesn’t mean these things aren’t important to me anymore—quite the contrary! Rather, the momentary high at accomplishing some of these things has faded. At times, I have difficulty keeping my momentum going. What to do?!

How to Reduce Burnout (and How I’ve Kept my Sanity)

  1. Adequate sleep: Make sure you’re getting your Zzz’s. Babies get cranky when they don’t get enough sleep, and so do we.
  2. Do a little Self-Care everyday: Even if it’s 2 minutes of breathing exercises, listening to a solid audiobook on your commute, savoring your coffee, or a nice hot shower/bath, do something to love yourself.
  3. Reduce impulsive decisions: Sleep on it. Once of my saving graces has been realizing “I don’t need to make a decision/respond to this/take an action right now”. Some things do require immediate attention, but most, don’t.
  4. Unplug: Now, I don’t mean everything! But if you find yourself scrolling through trolls or depressing news on Twitter, close/delete the app, even for a few days, and do something else instead. 
  5. Leisure activities: Relax! If you can relax outside, even better! Let the kids run around while you sit in a lawn chair. Every single moment of your day does not need to be productive. 
  6. Rest: If you can take a nap here and there, great. If you can’t, even just sitting in your office chair with your eyes closed and hands folded for 3-5 minutes, will allow your busy mind to rest. 
  7. Keep a journal: Mine is nothing special, just a notepad on my tablet where I recount my accomplishments of the day. Anything as minor as “slept in” to “washed dishes” or “spent 4 hours on the phone to get a insurance quote reduced” goes on the list. See what you’ve done for the day. This has especially helped me when my Things-To-Do list feels never ending. I have found I do much more than I give myself credit for. 
  8. Exercise: Whether it’s HIIT workouts 6 days a week, or Yoga With Adriene once a week (Odd factoid: I know her dad!)—do what you can. 
  9. Structure your day: If you’re an over-scheduler, this may be an area to rein in your multi-colored pens and planner (that’d be me). But if you aren’t, maybe having a rough outline of your day (e.g. work til 5, come home and make dinner, clean up kitchen, respond to a friend’s text, wash a load of clothes, veg out with the spouse/kids, shower) will help ensure you are working and playing in a balanced way. 
  10. Laugh: watch a dumb/smart comedy on TV, google “funny things kids say”, horse around with your friends or your spouse—do your part to make life fun. It’s those little moments that keep me going the rest of the day when I’m grinding it out.
  11. Eat good foods: fuel your body with foods that will nourish it. It makes more of a difference in mental health than we might give credit. Though you don’t need to go meatless, here is a list of our go-to healthy meatless meals.
  12. Hobbies: Do you like reading? Video games? Gardening? Try to spend some time, a few times a week, doing what you love. I promise you, the world can wait. 
  13. Meditative breathing: Take a few minutes to breathe consciously, eyes open or closed. Focus on your breath, expanding your belly, and exhaling through the mouth. Remember, you are alive!! Isn’t that wild?!
  14. Drink plenty of water: it’s good for you! And staying hydrated is paramount to our bodies operating efficiently, therefore not tiring out so easily. The rule of thumb I use: Half your body weight in ounces. Meaning if you are 150 lbs, you need about 75 oz of water a day.
  15. Acknowledge that life changes: Even if your days feel the same, they aren’t. Even if you feel stuck, everything is temporary. For better or worse, it‘s ever-evolving. This time next year, things will look different. Stay present and remain hopeful about the future. 
  16. Do nothing: Sleep in, putter, watch trash TV, do whatever you want. Doing nothing is just as important as doing all of the things.
  17. Make a list of accomplishments: It’s nice to get some perspective. See my above list.

When All Else Fails—Go On Vacation

As I ramped up work these last few years, I diligently worked on self-care and kept a watchful eye on my mental health. And even with all of that, now, it’s just plain time for a vacation.

Don’t get me wrong: I have taken time off in the last couple of years. But not for more than 4 days at a time, and not without family (parents/nephew, etc). Our upcoming trip is a belated honeymoon and we will be gone over a week. No Wi-Fi, no obligations. Just reading, the sun, and relaxation. 

What do you do to reduce burnout? 

When I say “Home Economics”, it might bring to mind an era when folks were taught in school how to care for flour babies, cook, and mend all of the items. Especially if you were a woman, in Home Economics you might learn how to sew full wardrobes for your entire family and vacuum covers that look like bunny rabbits. Essentially, you might think of these classes as “home making” lessons, for all the future Home Makers in our midst. 

Don’t Knock Home Economics

This Fascinating Adventure

An image of the front cover of a Simplicity Crafts pattern. The print reads: Pattern #8177, One Size, Simplicity Crafts. Pictured is a bunny vacuum cover and a maid vacuum cover.
A pattern for the infamous Vacuum Cover Bunny. Growing up, our house had one of these.

The Case for Home Economics 

I’m not knocking the cooking and cleaning and sewing aspects at all. I love me a good sew. That, however, is not how I envision Home Economics. Here, I am suggesting a re-working of that definition. 

When I think of Home Economics, what comes to mind includes: budgeting, prudent shopping, frugal living, earning money, making intentional choices with my money—basically, how money enters my home, and how it leaves my home. 

Thankfully, there is an abundance of knowledge on the internet. To live in this era, where we can Google anything, is exquisite. I’ve come across a litany of articles written by Personal Finance/Financial Independence bloggers who really break down investment strategies: “Don’t just work for your money, make your money work for you!” An absolutely simplified summary. Truly, there is extremely sound advice out there. Here is an example of a fantastic article on such a topic.

In that same vein, I’ve seen some side-eye thrown at budgeting, coupon clipping, and “How to Save on a very common expense that everyone has” articles. From the real personal finance savants, these things aren’t advanced personal finance, they are usually written by women, and aren’t the answer to Financial Stability, Freedom, or Independence. 

Not to be contentious but…

How you bring money into your house, and how you allow it to leave your house, is absolutely the most important thing regarding personal finances. 

What You Bring In

I’m not going to dive too deeply into this, but…your income matters. Poverty is real, especially the generational variety. Not everyone starts in the same place. Safety nets are a privilege

If you are caring for an elderly family member, kids, are a one income household, receive government assistance, or have any other situation to where working a side gig or a second job isn’t feasible, I get it.

Side gigs and second (or third) jobs are cool if you can do them to bolster your income. There are a ton of articles on side gigs, asking for raises, resume building, how to apply to a better job, etc. If you have the luxury of relatively straightforward socioeconomic mobility, Google That Shit. 

Having a healthy income can make all the difference in how much you contribute toward retirement, your savings account, any investment accounts, etc. There are definitely some people out there who have high incomes, and still live paycheck-to-paycheck (back when I struggled with financial literacy, I used to be one of them). While the money you bring in is extremely important and can’t be discounted, if you spend it all, it doesn’t help you save for your future. 

What You Spend

This is the bread and butter of Home Economics to me. At this point in my field, I’ve reached the highest pay I will receive, and am Master certified. I aggressively worked toward getting myself to where I am now, and it shows. Because I get paid by the hour, the only way I can make more money at this point, is work more. 

My time is precious to me, as is the ever elusive work-life balance. Since I am not interested in working more, or trading my limited free time for money, I have chosen to hone in on my spending. 

My spending includes our mortgage, utilities, food, gas, and other living expenses (some essential, some not). Tracking my spending has been key to narrowing in on where my money goes. No matter how much I make, if I miss this crucial aspect of the process, forget saving for retirement. Forget VTSAX or any other index fund I want to invest in. It won’t just happen for me—I have to spend less than I earn to make it happen.

So Give Home Economics a Chance

When I see an article that espouses how to save on groceries, or frugal hacks for gift-giving, I might read it, or I might scroll by. I’ve read so many of them that it might not hold any new information for me. But I will never knock those articles, or pretend I’m too good for that kind of advice. We all have to start somewhere. And Home Economics is where it started for me.

Here is another weekly installment of Living Frugally where I share my frugal accomplishments for the past week. Be sure to share your frugal successes in the comments!

This week I listened to two new audio books (from my library!) and began a third. One of the books, “Why Not Me?” by Mindy Kaling was so stinking hilarious and I recommend it to anyone who likes women and/or humor. 

I took a power nap once this week, and was able to sleep in twice. Being sleep deprived is a thing many Americans struggle with. While I do not have my sleep hygiene perfected, I recognize the value of resting and napping when I can. 

My neighbor is working on getting her Master’s in Counseling. She needed someone to practice on for a school assignment, so I’ve been going over there weekly to work with her. It’s not real counseling, so we are only addressing superficial things, but it’s been a pleasurable way to help someone out. It’s also been beneficial to me and entertaining (for us both)!

Hung out with a dear friend chatting. We chose a public place and didn’t spend any money to visit with each other. 

Went to brunch with another friend, where I did spend $20 on my meal. It was delicious though, came out of my allowance, and we had a great time! I brought leftovers home for my husband. 

Took a hot bath. Taking time to do something for myself, like a bath, is part of my Self-Care routine, and is quite precious to me. 

My husband had food catered in at work one time this week, and he brought home some leftovers for me. I guess you could say things are getting pretty serious.

I cleaned my car!!!! This is something I’ve been meaning to do for months. It was refreshing to get into a spotless car the following day. I am in my car so much for work, and having a clean car makes all the difference. As much as I procrastinated, getting it detailed runs $80-100 so I was happy to do it myself.

My husband and I spent a few hours over the weekend tidying up our yard and garage. Of course, we did our standard light cleaning of the house and laundry this week as well. Loving on our new(ish) home is a delight. Ok, I won’t lie, sometimes chores are a drag, but we managed to enjoy ourselves and the end product!

This week we ate Tofu Stir-Fry, various leftovers, and Beans and Rice. We packed our lunches all week as well. (Links to our favorite Meatless meals here.)

Living Frugally Week 13

This Fascinating Adventure

A kitchen counter with a candle warmer in the background. In the foreground are two lunch bags. Both bags hold plastic containers filled with salad, a green apple, oranges, and a cheese stick.
Two packed lunches—coming right up!

I did yoga twice this week using the Beachbody app. I am not an affiliate for Beachbody, I just really like paying $99/year and getting access to streaming workouts (and yoga!) in my own home.

Won an online contest for a free book. I can’t wait to get it in the mail!

My nephew’s birthday is in a couple of months. I ordered him a book from Amazon to read on a trip we will be taking this summer. Using points from my Amazon credit card, I only ended up paying $1.05 for the gift. 

My husband and I are heading on a cruise in a few weeks as a belated honeymoon. We were married last August by the Justice of the Peace, but hosted a “Celebration of Marriage” party with all of our friends. Our wedding registry was through the cruise line, and we were gifted contributions to the honeymoon fund. Thanks to our loved ones’ generosity, our honeymoon was fully-funded. We are super psyched and this week did some of the prep work for the cruise including online check-in, etc.

My mom came over and we enjoyed a nice walk around the neighborhood. It was good exercise and great company. She also brought over a few items including leftover spray paint (for a future craft project) and baby clothes she picked up from her Buy Nothing group.

What are some of your frugal accomplishments for this past week?

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We are a family of two and we love food! Frankly, there’s nothing quite like the satisfaction of a good meal. Healthy and frugal grocery shopping can be a challenge on a budget, so here’s a run-through on how my household tames this beast.

Now, the price of groceries depend on the cost of living in your area and your proximity to grocery stores. (The Grocery Gap is a real barrier to some areas having access to healthy and fresh foods). I’d love to pretend that we are just geniuses at optimizing grocery shopping, but the truth is, we’re privileged to live in an area with a fantastic, reasonably priced grocery store. 

**We’re in Texas, and that grocery store is H-E-B. This isn’t an H-E-B promo piece—though I’ll happily promote their store at no charge.

Grocery stores aside, eating healthy while remaining frugal can feel like an ordeal. My family has recently gone meatless, we eat mostly organic, and we do not eat out very often. Both my husband and I work over 40 hours a week and planning/prepping/cooking food takes time—time that is very dear to us. We’ve landed on some simple compromises which allow frugal and healthy eats to work for us!

Breakfast

In the mornings I usually snack on a banana, some almonds, and a cheese stick. Occasionally, I will make a batch of banana bread that we can pre-slice and pack. We also have been known to make egg cups at the beginning of the week, packed with onion, bell peppers, and spinach. The egg cups are good microwaved or cold, they will keep for several days in the fridge, and if we store these individually (in packs of 2), it makes for an easy grab-and-go breakfast. 

Lunch

Salad, salad, and more salad. We pack salad in these Rubbermaid containers each night for the following day, and alternate the toppings. Beans, cheese, avocado, celery, carrots, and hard-boiled eggs are our go-to’s. When we ate meat, we would throw chopped chicken or canned tuna in there. A hack we’ve read about, but never used: buy a pre-cooked rotisserie chicken from the grocery store and throw the shredded chicken in a variety of meals (including as a salad-topper). To round out our lunches, we usually have a piece of fruit (bananas, oranges, apples, or peaches), and a cereal bar. 

Dinner

This is where my husband truly shines. He makes an array of dishes and we usually have enough to feed us both for 2-4 nights. This way, we aren’t obligated to get home and cook every single night. Having leftovers also helps us not begrudge the 2-3 nights a week we do take the time to prepare and cook a meal, because we know it will keep several days. More complex recipes are cooked on the weekend when we have more time. We try to purchase products that can be used across multiple recipes to maximize every dollar spent. You can find a list of recipes for our favorite meatless dinner meals here.

Healthy and Frugal Grocery Shopping

This Fascinating Adventure

A close up image of a red bowl. Inside the red bowl is a stir fry of rice, tofu, zucchini, broccoli, and green beans covered in a brown sauce.
Up close and personal with yummy Tofu Stir-Fry—yes, I’m a grown adult and I use the word yummy.

Leftovers

A vicious rumor I’ve come across on the internet is some people don’t like leftovers! What the heck?! Leftovers are delicious! Being willing to eat pre-prepared food is the key to our frugal food success. We save precious time by only cooking a few times a week and we don’t have to play mental acrobatics trying to trouble-shoot what to eat every night. It reduces food waste, which is good for the environment and good for our wallets. If you hate leftovers, try to find at least a couple things you don’t mind pre-prepared that you can fall back on. Having food at home, ready to eat, greatly reduces the desire to eat out or order in—especially when tired and hungry.

Snacks 

This is where we have been most challenged. A lot of the quick snack options are carb-loaded and pre-packaged processed foods. We’ve fallen back on fruit, popcorn, cheese sticks, almonds, bean and cheese nachos, a smaller serving of leftovers, chips and salsa, and raw veggies. We also will blend up some frozen fruits and veggies, add yogurt, water, sometimes peanut butter, and a little maple syrup and it makes a damn good smoothie. If you have any ideas of snack foods that require minimal prep and are healthy, I’d love to hear them!

Beverages

Pretty basic options here. We drink iced coffee made at home using a Toddy and we drink water. Everyday I have a large coffee cup and a large water bottle filled and packed along with my lunch. This helps avoid frittering away a dollar here or there to keep my thirst satiated throughout the day. At home, we mostly drink water. It’s delicious, and our bodies need it to function!

Frozen Foods

We keep a couple frozen pizzas in our freezer at all times. If we’re really in a pinch, we have something that’s quick and easy to prepare. We also are always stocked on frozen fruits and veggies, both for our smoothies, and also to supplement any dinner dishes. This keeps the amount of fresh produce we let spoil to a minimum. 

Grocery Shopping

When we shop, we try to stay on the perimeter of the store for the most part. Our cart usually consists of produce, dairy products, frozen fruits/veggies and the occasional pizza, beans on beans on beans, rice, lentils, spaghetti sauce, olive oil, peanut butter, etc.

We have divvied up our large grocery trips to occur every three weeks. I don’t know why we settled on that, except that grocery shopping every two weeks was too frequent, and every four weeks wasn’t frequent enough.  This means every three weeks we go “Big Time Shopping” and load up on staples. We then supplement with weekly trips to fill in gaps with fresh produce. Going weekly is still kind of a drag, but it’s usually just for salad (spinach or spring mix) and some bananas or other fruit, so it’s an in-and-out trip. 

If you hate going to the store, consider paying a fee to get groceries delivered (via Instacart, Walmart, or your local grocery store). The service charge to get a few weeks worth of groceries will probably end up being what I could someone might spend for a meal or two at a fast food place. Perhaps paying this charge makes all the difference in getting the kitchen stocked with foods you will eat.

Restaurants

Going to restaurants isn’t our thing, but we sometimes eat out with our parents/friends. When we are feeling frisky we pick up some Mexican on the way home. We have a set amount budgeted for food which includes all grocery shopping and the occasional restaurant. If we decide to eat out, we take it out of the grocery budget. This allows for the freedom to treat ourselves from time to time. It also discourages us from eating out too frequently, as we know it will come from our grocery budget and we are pretty diligent about staying within budget. Any eating out we do on our own, like my dates with girlfriends, can be paid for using our individual allowances.

Recipes and Substitutions

So you’re cooking at home, but not sure what to make? Google “easy” + “pretty much any type of food” and you can find a simple recipe for just about anything. Left with a bunch of odds and ends in your pantry/refrigerator before your next grocery trip? Try Supercook.com and enter the ingredients you do have. It will pull up a recipe using the ingredients you listed. Does the recipe call for shallots, but all you’ve got is an onion? Do you need a bed of rice but only have quinoa? Feel free to substitute ingredients in recipes by using what you have. You (probably) won’t screw it up to where it’s inedible.

Meal Prep

The time it takes to prepare healthy, frugal food can be a barrier. First, there’s grocery shopping, then there’s prepping/packing, and finally there is consuming it.

  1. Grocery Shopping: Start with a menu and use this to help plan your grocery list. Flexible menu-planning might look like, “We’ll probably make spaghetti, tacos, and a casserole at some point this week.” A more structured menu might have an assigned meal for Monday, Tuesday, etc. Find what works for you. If you have the time to grocery shop, great! We prefer to do it ourselves, so we can pick out our produce, etc. We also make it a point to stick to our list (and our budget). However, if time or impulse buying is problematic, a grocery delivery service may be right for you!
  2. Prepping/Packing Food: We pack our lunches the night before, and we usually make dinners 2-3 times a week. This works for us, but it’s definitely not one size fits all! Perhaps you want to prep all things on Sunday and be done for the week. Maybe you’d rather take it day by day. If you have other family members who can help, see if you can get them on board (in a positive way)—they eat too! Remember whichever approach you choose, this might be a new habit you’re building. Be gentle with yourself, and above all: be persistent.
  3. Consuming: Eat the food you made! You spent all kinds of time (and money) to arrive at this step; make sure you follow through. It’s absolutely tempting to skip what you’ve planned for what your tastebuds are telling you to eat right this moment. Remember, your tastebuds don’t pay the bills. Eat what you have, so it doesn’t go to waste, and make sure to plan for some “treat foods” too. If you feel like Taco Bell, but you packed a salad for lunch, eat the salad. You can plan for Taco Bell tomorrow, or next week! Eating all kinds of good food is possible, if you’ve planned and budgeted for it. (*In no way is this medical/nutrition advice!*) Once you’ve eaten the delicious food you’ve made, you will be full, and Taco Bell will lose its momentary power over you!

So How Much Do We Spend?

For a three week time period, we budget $375 for two people. This includes the weekly produce trips, the Big Time Shopping trip, make-up, toiletries, paper products (toilet paper, etc) and any restaurant spending we do. That averages to about $500/month. Since we have gone meatless, we have consistently been under budget, and at some point we may revise that budgeted amount. If you aren’t sure how much you spend on groceries each month, try to track your spending and see how much you need/want to budget each month.

We know if we don’t buy the food we like, we are tempted to eat out or order in. It’s all about setting ourselves up for success, so we buy plenty of foods we love to eat. With this, we are more inclined to choose those foods over any fast food or restaurant meals. I’m sure there are cheaper ways to grocery shop, however, there are also more expensive ways. We prep our foods in increments throughout the week so we aren’t bogged down cooking every night, nor spending an entire day trying to cook everything. 

An important thing is to allow for a little trial and error to find what works for you and your family. Loving yourself enough to buy healthy foods can be tough. If healthy eating is difficult, remind yourself every time you make a healthy choice, “Through this food, I’m nourishing my body, and I am loving myself.” Find the happy medium between healthy food you enjoy, and what doesn’t break the bank, and you’re golden. 

One year ago we moved into our first house! Through diligent savings, we came up with the down payment. Despite our own nay-saying that we could get together that much money, we have arrived! Home ownership is ours! [Trumpets! Fanfare!] Now we are done saving and our previous “frugal apartment” budget is transferable to our new house! [maniacal laughter]

Nope, nope, and… [checks clipboard] nope.

Costs Of Buying a House

Listen, I am damn proud of us pulling out all the stops to make the down payment happen. Having that tangible goal in mind really helped us hone in on our budget and cut excess spending. Since then, we’ve kept roughly the same type of budget. With my husband also getting a raise last year, our savings rate is the best it’s ever been (~41% of our income).

We also had enough money saved to account for closing costs and all of the new, recurring bills that we expected (like HOA fees and property taxes). These expenses were anticipated, and we made sure we had a buffer in our savings account in addition to the down payment. In a vague way, we knew we would spend money on various other things, but we had no idea how much it would actually cost us!

Other House Expenses In The First Year

Washer/Dryer/Refrigerator: These were expenses we knew we would have upon moving in, so we saved a set amount for appliances. We opened up a Lowe’s card to get 5% off the purchase and paid it off immediately with the savings. 

Whole House Water Softener: On this, we hemmed and hawed before we got it installed. Ultimately though, we had just lived four years in an area with hard water. Our new house (despite being 35 min away from our previous residence) also had hard water, and we were not-in-the-mood-tat-tall. My skin was begging me. I acquiesced. We opened up a Home Depot credit card and got a promotional 0% interest for 20 months (or something like that). Paid it in installments before the promotional period was up, so no interest accrued.

New Floors: When we moved in there was some real trash carpet downstairs. It didn’t look awful, but anytime I did floor exercises or Yoga, I could smell the previous owner’s dog. Originally we planned to wait a few years before replacing the floors, but admittedly we impulsively decided NAH! I wanted to exercise without being grossed out. Also, I wanted to walk barefoot on the floor and trust I wasn’t walking through old mess. Before we pulled the trigger, we spent a lot of time researching floors and priced for materials/labor.

Gas/Car Maintenance: Now we live in the suburbs, so we pay more for our commute into the city each day (both in time and money). This, we expected, but nevertheless I have to include it. I am hoping to decrease my workload in the next couple of years, and this expense will be slightly reduced. 

Outdoor Enclosure: We opted to enclose a portion of our back patio so we could enjoy the outdoors in the winter (complete with a space heater). My husband and handy/awesome step-dad are doing the labor themselves (it’s still a work in progress), so we paid for materials only.

Lawn Service: Having never lived anywhere in our adult lives with a lawn, we unexpectedly became geeks about our grass (husband) and garden (me). The maintenance takes a little work, but we truly enjoy being outdoors and the exercise it provides. For this, we purchased some lawn tools (like a lawn mower…I don’t know the names of the other tools!) and gardening materials (plants, soil, etc). Fear not! We have taken full advantage of “Get off my lawn!” jokes.

Our First Year of Home Ownership: Hidden Costs

This Fascinating Adventure

An image of a raised garden bed with over 10 different types of flowers. Includes orange, purple, deep red, pink, yellow flowers. In the foreground of the bed there is a small wooden fairy house with small rocks surrounding it. To the right of the fairy house there is a succulent in a wooden box.
My flower garden, complete with a Fairy House

Organizers: Despite all of our new space, we don’t have a lot of things, so we haven’t needed to buy too many organizational products. Nevertheless, we did buy racks to mount in our garage for storage. Also, we coughed up money for shelf paper, and I spent several weekends papering all of the surfaces. Any unopened, excess shelf paper was returned to the store. 

Alarm System/Cameras: For our own peace of mind, we opted to get an alarm system and security cameras installed. Frankly, I sleep better, so this optional expense is worth it to me. However, if we were hit with a financial catastrophe, we could eliminate this recurring monthly payment. 

Miscellaneous: $250/month is budgeted for any and all household expenses/projects. We cash-flowed our back patio enclosure and lawn tools using this monthly stipend. This fund was also used when we decided to purchase a new rug, odd kitchen items, winterize our sprinkler system, and some wall art. Basically, anything for the house, we use this fund. When we want something large, we save a few months worth of this fund for it. And when we’re out of House Fund money, we wait until the following month for another infusion. 

Things We Didn’t Buy 

Furniture for every single room: Friends of ours were moving out of state and gave us their living room set to use in what we call “The Game Room” upstairs. Our parents and grandparents gifted us a new bedroom set and new living room furniture for downstairs. Our old living room set was smaller than what suited our current living room, so we put that in the loft. We still have 2 completely empty bedrooms upstairs, and we are fine with that. My husband’s uncle gave us a really nice used desk for our office, and my parents gave us a beautiful bookcase they refurbished and stained. Essentially, we were gifted a lot of things from family/friends as Housewarming gifts, and we have purchased very few new furniture items.

Curtains: Just not necessary at this point. If we ever decide to go that route, I would probably enlist my mom to help me sew them. If we’re gonna spend money on them, I’d rather do it to my liking, rather than purchase some ill-fitting curtains. 

Decorations: Conveniently when we moved in, my parents happened to be downsizing and getting rid of a lot of household decor. I took anything and everything. This means, our Christmas tree was decked out Cowboy/Western theme, and I have more wicker baskets than a sane person would ever buy (I’m looking at you Mother)! But, I am happy to be able to use what was gifted. In no way is our house bare, rather it’s cozily decorated.

A Grill: There wasn’t room on our apartment patio for a grill, but we enjoy grilling (especially when we were eating meat). We held off on purchasing one, because there were other things we needed to buy. A friend of ours has a business repairing grills, and had a used one he fixed up and gifted to us. It’s way nicer than anything we would’ve ever bought. I literally cried when he brought it over as a surprise (mostly because I was so touched, though I do love grilled food).

Utilities: Surprisingly, our utility bills aren’t more than they were in the apartment, though our square footage is much larger. Thankfully the house is extremely well-insulated, so even a hot Texas summer didn’t cause our electricity bill to increase. If our home wasn’t equipped with solid insulation, we would’ve been sure to check and replace any weather stripping, and increased the foam insulation in the attic. 

What Has Home-Ownership Given Us? 

Not only did it make sense for us to rent rather than buy in our area, we truly love our home. We are both homebodies in many ways, and this past year has been such a pleasure. I’ve received a lot of joy through setting up and loving on our home, and we’ve been able to host several events, including some holidays! We are looking forward to being here for many years and raising a family in this house. 

Did we still spend a ton of money? Yup! Not including the actual price of the mortgage/property taxes/HOA fees, etc. we’ve spent a lot of money this past year. Were all of our additional expenses necessary? Not at all! Could we have found other things for the house to spend our money on? Sure! We bought what we felt was important to us, and skipped what wasn’t.

Having a monthly amount set aside for these various expenses has been so helpful in mitigating any budget-interruptions, while still allowing us to add some personal touches. Also, being willing to accept gifts and second-hand items has been a huge help. It’s all new to us, so we were still able to get the thrill of furnishing our space, at a fraction of the cost. 

For Us, It Has Been Worth It

We began the whole process by asking ourselves some searching questions before we even started house-hunting. We weighed the pros and cons of living near work, living in a suburb, small town vs. big city, the commute—all of it. These are choices that suit us, but they wouldn’t necessarily be for everyone. Most importantly, our final decision was thoughtful and thorough.

For example, I have a goal of decreasing work within the next couple of years (I drive all over for work anyway) and my husband works in an upscale part of the city (that we couldn’t afford to live in). Because of this, we accepted we would not live near our jobs. Neither of us are willing to switch professions or employers to work closer to home. This might not be reasonable for someone else, but for us, we understand the trade off and it works.

You guys…The town we moved to has a actual Main Street complete with holiday parades including the local high school band and drill team. For July 4th, we watched a pretty impressive fireworks show—from our backyard! We are fortunate enough to have both of our parents living nearby and our move only brought us closer (awww!)—but literally we live closer to family now. There are local businesses, medical facilities, grocery stores, etc., and we are near enough to the city (about an 8 minute drive) if we need anything our town doesn’t provide. Though home ownership isn’t for everyone, it was for us. The increase in our quality of life isn’t quantifiable. If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing.

Here is another weekly installment of Living Frugally where I share my frugal accomplishments for the past week. Be sure to share your frugal successes in the comments!

Last weekend we spent some time playing Skip-Bo before my nephew had to go back home. It was fun and free! 

Since his Spring Break was over, I drove my nephew back home. We entertained ourselves on the drive by pointing out all the cows (I live in Texas, people), sharing random animal trivia, and admiring the wildflowers. We ate before we left, so we wouldn’t be hungry on the 3 hour drive. I packed a couple of snacks for the way back (another 3 hours) just in case. Gas was the only thing I spent money on.

In a few weeks I am going to head back to my nephew’s hometown and catch one of his swim meets. While dropping him off last weekend and chatting with his parents, they offered me use of their home on my next visit, as they will be out of town. My nephew is my sister’s son, but he lives full-time with his dad and stepmom. They certainly don’t have to be so generous to me (a non-family member) so I appreciate it very much. I won’t have to pay for a hotel!

My parents took me out to eat, and I brought home leftovers for my husband.

We hung out with friends a couple times this week, and took home the leftover pizza after one of these gatherings. We also ate a ton of BBQ at another event, but we opted to not take any home. Too stuffed! Usually, we contribute potato salad or chips to these gatherings, and end up eating such good food! Potlucks with friends are the best (but we are still eating Meatless at home)!

In addition to eating BBQ, pizza, etc., we also ate leftovers this week, took my father-in-law out to eat for his birthday, and made a batch of burrito bowls! 

This Fascinating Adventure

Living Frugally—Week 12

Image of a white cutting board on a kitchen counter with a knife off to the side. On the cutting board are a rainbow of vegetables. Right to left: red bell peppers, orange bell peppers, yellow bell peppers, green bell peppers, purple onion.
The veggies we use in our burrito bowls! YUM!

Picked up some extra work this week. I worked one early morning, and one evening shift to earn a pay differential for the odd hours. 

A friend of mine was told by her physician that she needs to get on a special diet because of her weight and some heart issues. She was stressing about these changes, and I was able to help Google. That. Shit. At one point, she considered hiring a nutritionist so she could find some resources and recipes. However, through the bless-ed internet, it looks like she has found what she needs to get started. Sometimes, just having information makes difficult things seem more manageable. 

Had a doctor’s appointment (this time a specialist). It’s that preventative care y’all!

Met some friends at a juice bar this week. I did spend $10 on a large juice (plus tip), but I opted to eat my packed lunch, so I didn’t spend money on food. I wanted the juice, and bought it using my allowance, but as easily I could’ve ordered nothing and it would’ve been fine to just sit with my buds. 

Made my first contribution to my newly opened Solo 401k. Previously, as my main retirement vehicle, I was using a 403b from one of my part-time jobs. The fees for the 403b were too high, and at the end of last year I opened up a Solo 401k through my LLC. This will help me reduce fees and control my retirement funds a little better.

What are some of your frugal accomplishments for this past week?

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There has been a lot of talk about privilege in varying circles I run in. Like I’ve mentioned before, my parents are both Deaf, and I encounter regular mentions of Hearing Privilege in my closest circles. There are conversations on social platforms and in the mainstream media on White Privilege or Cis Privilege. 

And in the Personal Finance sphere I see talk of Class Privilege. As allies, there are a lot of people who are examining their own implicit biases. To these people I say hurrah! And to anyone who has ever called attention to injustice I say: Thank you. 

When The System Does (or Doesn’t) Work For You

I am a white, cis, straight, abled, college educated, married (to a white guy) woman who makes an above average income. My blog posts come from this framework. Perhaps for that reason alone readers may stop by my site and not relate to me. My ego is mildly bummed by that, but damn my ego. It never makes rational decisions. Thankfully, my head and my heart understand. 

I did not grow up with a lot of money, but my parents are both educated. This alone stymied any real poverty for my family during lean years. While my parents are Deaf, and do not personally identify as disabled, society at-large views them as such. This is how they have been treated in infinite encounters with the general public. Side note: in American Sign Language, an out-dated sign for “hearing” was the same sign for “public”. As a hearing child I went to “hearing” school (or public school). **footnote: the sign is used less frequently these days, and another sign has been adopted to mean public**

Since my parents are educators, I cannot express how much this shaped me as a person. My love for learning is one of the biggest privileges that isn’t societally imposed and I am grateful for it. If you are an educator, thank you. 

There are a million ways the world is not designed with Deaf people in mind, but it is not my story to tell. And I have to be very careful to not appropriate the events I have witnessed as my own lived experiences. No matter how much I may understand about the world being inaccessible to Deaf people via education, financial literacy, employment, incidental learning, access to resources and information, ad infinitum, I am not Deaf and I do not know what it is really like. What’s also noteworthy is that it’s not all doom and gloom: most Deaf people love being Deaf, love their language and culture, and have no desire to hear—nope, not even for music (odd how often that question comes up).

I mention this example, the marginalization of Deaf people, because it is the most blatant one I am familiar with. Of course, as a woman, I have experienced discrimination, but because of the way our culture is socialized to accept the idea of female inferiority, it is strangely harder to pin-point. The situations I find myself in as a woman are so normalized, and happen so frequently, sometimes I don’t even register them.

However, in summary, my life is mostly a privileged one and I know this.

My Own Privilege

I have been thinking of writing a post on privilege since I began this blog (just 3 short months ago) because it almost feels like a necessary disclaimer for all I write. However, I have seen so many posts in the Personal Finance world about it, and I wasn’t sure what else I could really contribute. (If you are curious about Personal Finance and Privilege, google those 3 words and you will see a ton of stuff.) 

Nevertheless, I still feel the desire to speak for myself. After all, just because someone else says injustice is bad, does that mean it’s not worth me saying it too? Also, how full of shit do I have to be, to not mention the elephant in the room, when talking about money?

A google search of Class Privilege helped me set a baseline for myself (quizzes can be found here and here). I knew I wasn’t poor, but at points in my childhood it felt like it. I grew up wearing mostly hand-me-downs, rarely having the coolest new toy, sometimes re-used school supplies from year-to-year, didn’t fly on a plane until adulthood, ate Ramen Noodles and hotdogs by the truck-full, and regularly walked places because at one point we did not have a reliable car. But I knew I wasn’t truly poor. 

My parents divorce was an ugly one, but my single mother re-built our lives in a few short years. She paid off all the debt my dad left her with, worked through the summers (as a teacher) for extra pay, and finally pulled from her retirement to put a down-payment on a new house (which I wouldn’t recommend, but I also don’t know what it’s like to have 3 kids in a 2-bedroom apartment. She built her retirement back up, and is now living comfortably as a retiree). Because she was educated, had a safety net via family members, had a reliable job, had self-esteem, was an attractive white woman, etc she was able to do this. Do I think she busted her ass and faced some pretty tough odds? Absolutely. There is no way hard work isn’t part of that equation. But it isn’t the whole equation. 

By the time I was ready for college, I had all of these advantages rallied behind me. In addition to being white, straight, young, etc, I must (again) stress the gift of being raised by an educator. Even when she was tired, burnt out, irritated (at one point we were all teenagers at the same time), she never stopped teaching us. I have already written about how I excelled at school and my test scores were above average. I went to college on a full scholarship because of this gift. Did it take hard work? Sure! Was it me against the world? In no way. 

What Does This Have to Do With Money?

Acknowledging privilege can be a struggle for people who have it, because of the helplessness that follows. If there are advantages and disadvantages for certain people, how do we make it just and fair? I cannot speak for everyone, so I will speak for myself: I struggle with the helplessness. And even this new helplessness reflects my privilege. Very rarely do I feel this helpless. Imagine if this was my lived experience? 

A resource I have found when navigating some uncomfortable introspection, and a desire to translate it into action, is this website called: Guide to Allyship. They list the Do’s and Don’ts of Allyship, and is meant to be what it advertises—a guide for people who want to be effective allies.

This Fascinating Adventure
“Tell The Truth About Your Wealth”
White background with black lettering. 

THE DON’TS

Do not expect to be taught or shown. Take it upon yourself to use the tools around you to learn and answer your questions
Do not participate for the gold medal in the Oppression Olympics
Do not behave as though you know best
Do not take credit for the labor of those who are marginalized and did the work before you stepped into the picture
Do not assume that every member of a marginalized group feels oppressed
THE DO’S

Do be open to listening
Do be aware of your implicit biases
Do your research to learn more about the history of the struggle in which you are participating
Do the inner work to figure out a way to acknowledge how you participate in oppressive systems
Do the outer work and figure out how to change the oppressive systems
Do amplify (online and when physically present) the voices of those without your privilege
The Do’s and Don’ts of Allyship
Source: guidetoallyship.com

So Tell The Truth About Your Wealth

And I’ll tell the truth about mine. Life has given some of us really raw deals, and this isn’t to diminish real struggles or trauma that seem unrelated to institutionalized discrimination. I’ve experienced trauma that has gotten in the way of my happiness, mental health, and success. Others may have experienced far worse things. 

What I think is helpful, however, when drawing attention to privilege, is to begin with ourselves. When we tell the truth about our wealth and our privilege, we expose the system for what it is. It’s unjust and unfair, and the myth anyone can escape poverty if they just “try hard enough” or “work hard enough” keeps the system strong and intact. Being born into privilege isn’t a merit system. I didn’t do anything to have my privilege so I do not have to collapse and apologize at anyone’s feet. It is when I pretend it is not a part of my story that I am complicit.

Challenging Consumerism on a Budget

This Fascinating Adventure

Image of a woman’s hands, holding a stack of one dollar bills, as if she is counting them.
Oomph money! Parting is such sweet sorrow!

Spending less than we earn, or living below our means is no small feat—especially living in the United States, or in any consumer culture. Advertising is the best it’s ever been, with never-ending new techniques. We have the technology to impulsively click “buy” when we feel the desire. Others’ highlight reels are literally at our fingertips via social media on our smart phones. 

All of this (sometimes overt, sometimes crafty) pressure can influence our self-perception. It can drive us to compare ourselves to others in ways that have unhelpful results.

How Does This Happen?

In a simple way, these pressures can make us feel we need something to make our lives easier, better (or better than someone else’s), more comfortable, etc. They can allow for uncharitable and harsh behavior toward others (think judging someone’s choice for insert whatever here). Or we can turn the criticism inward and indulge in self-deprecating talk. These negative attitudes toward ourselves can take root and become an internalized new “truth”. 

At times it may feel like we are swinging on a pendulum. We oscillate between feeling justifiably superior to others, or feeling inferior, and that our lives are less than what they could or should be. 

Unfortunately, a seemingly quick-fix to the external messages we receive, is to buy something. Buy that nicer car, the “right” clothes, jet-set to an exotic locale, pick up a trendy new hobby, pick up fast food on the way home—anything to give relief and just feel better. Treat yo’ self!

Emotional Purchases

Arguably, even people who wouldn’t normally identify themselves as “emotional” are susceptible to making purchases based on their feelings. After all, no matter how logical we are, we all have feelings. There is some motivation behind every choice we make, no matter how ordinary it is. How we choose to spend our money is no exception. 

Paula Pant, of Afford Anything, made the fantastic proposition that “We don’t buy things. We buy stories.” Whether it be clothes, transportation, or even our food, she argues we are buying stories, feelings and identities. 

Now, I am not sure we can truly separate our purchases from whatever identity or story we are trying to create. I don’t know that we have to. The challenge is to ask, what story are we trying to buy for ourselves?

Know Thyself

When I started my Financial Stability journey, I began by designing a budget for myself and attempted to live by it. At the oddest times I found myself more challenged than others, which allowed me to learn what kind of story I was trying to tell myself (and others). 

One example readily comes to mind. I had only been at a new job for about four months and I hated it. I already accrued some PTO so I called in sick and immediately felt guilty. The day was spent in a way any reasonable person would spend a day off—Netflix and online shopping. Understand, this was contrary to everything I was working toward at the time—a little debt payoff, an attempt at budgeting, living within my means—all of it. 

As self-indulgent as it may seem, I have always been curious about myself, my brain, and why I do what I do. This curiosity is more like an expression of self-love. It translates into curiosity about people in general and is part of why I think life is such a fascinating adventure. This life, our existence in earth, can be quite enthralling!

A self-admitted perfectionist, I have intentionally worked toward leaning inward, without judgement. On that day, when I blew an ungodly amount of money on random online items, despite my conscious decision to not spend on non-budgeted things, I turned inward. 

What story was I trying to tell myself? 

I felt guilty for calling into work when I wasn’t really sick and that was an uncomfortable emotion. More than anything, I was disappointed I wasn’t feeling successful at this new job I did not (yet) know I hated. The assumption was, there must be something wrong with me for not jiving with this new work experience, as qualified as I believed myself to be. 

Without any intentional thought (other than I felt kinda lousy and restless), I purchased several hundred dollars worth of clothes online. Professional clothes! More clothes, to add to my closet full of clothes, to wear to a job I hated, because I felt incompetent. If I couldn’t feel competent, at least I could look competent. 

Buying Things Does Not Equal Feeling Good

The day I bought a bunch of nonsense to squash my feelings of unrest, I was buying a story. I was spending money to get a quick feel-good. It was a short term effect that faded. In a few days, the feeling returned and I was back to not liking my job (one I had quit my previous job for). Back to feeling insecure for not fitting in like I expected myself to. I was buying time (ha! puns!), trying to avoid the tough question: was this job for me, or should I take the risk and try again elsewhere? 

(Spoiler alert: I chose to go part-time and began my self-employment journey. Eventually I quit the job entirely and established my LLC that I operate today.)

This example may not translate for everyone, which is fine. However, I hope the sentiment I am attempting to express is relatable enough. I have found myself signing up for memberships, buying clothes or household items, purchasing gifts for others, all for varying motivations. 

Get Curious About Consumerism

Some intentions have been more noble than others, but ultimately I just wanted to feel good. Whether it is an item for myself I think will make my life easier or better (and sometimes it actually does), or a hefty donation to a charitable organization, I would like to feel like I am doing this life thing right. 

Rather than feeling downtrodden or cynical about the pressures of consumerism, we can take this as an opportunity to get interested in ourselves and our underlying wants. I’ll keep meandering through this wild experience we call living, and I’ll keep being curious about myself and asking myself hard questions.

Will this purchase bring me joy or relief, or am I trying to bury something uncomfortable? At the very least, if I find myself stepping outside my budget, rather than it being an impulsive escape, it can be a thoughtful choice. Life is meant to be enjoyed—yup, I said it! I want to allow my budget to be flexible so I can make decisions which truly benefit myself and others around me. 

What questions do you ask yourself before you make a purchase? How do you resist the bombardment of consumerism? Comment below, and let me know what you think!

Here is another weekly installment of Living Frugally where I share my frugal accomplishments for the past week. Be sure to share your frugal successes in the comments!

This week I had my 13-year-old nephew with me for his Spring Break! A lot of our activities were focused around him, and we definitely spent a little more money than usual. However, we still found some ways to approach situations Frugally!

We ate leftover veggie lentil soup, frozen pizza, veggie casserole, Mexican take out, and lasagna. Basically, we ate goooood this week!

Made bread from scratch using this recipe. This was my second attempt and I was much more successful than my last attempt (no smoke in the kitchen)!

Frugal Friday Week 11
This Fascinating Adventure
Resting on a black kitchen towel is a cooling rack. On the cooling rack is a large round loaf of freshly baked bread.
Bread!

Picked up more baby stuff (clothes) from my local Buy Nothing group on Facebook. Also picked up a pair of swim goggles for my nephew to use in our neighborhood pool.

Weeded my garden. This allowed me to prep the soil for planting this year’s garden, and it was free exercise.

My husband and I realized we were overpaying for carrots. We had been overlooking a brand of organic carrots on the shelf—it’s significantly cheaper than the bundle we were in the habit of grabbing. 

During this busy week, I practiced breathing meditations a lot and also took a hot bath.

Went jogging around the block with my nephew—free exercise!

Took my nephew to a free youth group. It’s a really cool group my city offers that provides snacks, is 4 hours long, and aligns with his interests. It’s pretty much perfect and any time he’s in town, we make sure to swing by at least once. As an introvert (who loves my nephew very much), dropping him off is a break for me as much as it is for him. 

 My nephew was sick for a few days this week (poor guy!) so we did a ton of stuff to help him feel better without going to the store. We did hot baths, hot water with lemon, tea, medicines we had on hand, soup, fruits, water, and rest! He was not down to try my Apple Cider Vinegar concoction.

I booked a vacation for this summer using mostly credit card points. For 3 people, we got hotel, airfare, and entertainment covered, using cash for about 25% of the total cost of the vacation. The remaining 75% was covered using points and I am excited!

We had a Spring Tune-Up on our lawn sprinkler system. It cost some money to have the guy come out, but he found a leak that would likely cost us more in water bills than if we hadn’t checked. 

Reached a minimum spend for a new credit card I opened. I was able to book my summer vacation using the bonus points earned from various credit card promotional offers.

My nephew withdrew money from his bank account for a haircut. (My nephew has opened a “bank account” with me. Since I help out quite a bit with his various wants/needs, I went ahead and started giving him an allowance that I keep in the bank for him. He can deposit/withdraw money as he sees fit, but if he leaves it in the bank I will pay him interest. By setting it as a structured amount that he can practice managing, I am attempting to offset how much money I would spend on him anyway. I also want to teach him the value of leaving money in savings and watching it grow.) 

Picked up some early morning work. Because I had my nephew in town, I tried to finish my work day as early as possible (by 12 pm or 2 pm at the latest). To compensate for the early end times, I picked up some early morning shifts to make up the difference in my income. He sleeps-in through the early morning hours anyway. 🤣

What are some of your frugal accomplishments for this past week?

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Since about mid-January my husband and I have gone meatless! Sort of. Originally we wanted to try to not eat meat for one month, and see how it went.

[In cockney accent] Why the Dickens would we want to do that for? 

Glad you asked.

Why We (Sort-Of) Stopped Eating Meat

We bounced around the idea of going vegetarian for quite a while before we took action. We both grew up as meat-eaters, so it was familiar. I (only sorta-kinda) wanted to, because I felt ashamed of killing animals to eat. This is totally a personal thing, and I am absolutely 100% non-judgmental for anyone that does eat meat. Hell, I felt bad about it for years, and continued to eat meat, before I took any action. This was mostly because I was too lazy(?) and fearful to change a habit. Also, shame is a lousy motivator. 

Additionally, I knew if I removed meat from my diet I would potentially eat more healthy vegetables. Because I work some weird hours, and I’m always in my car with a packed lunch, prepping vegetables to pack was a dreadful chore. Lunch consisted of a salad, but dinner was where I got my veggies most times, and half my meal was meat. I was full quickly, and my vegetable portion was quite small. 

Understand, we have gone through really healthy phases where we meal prepped everything, and counted our veggie servings. However, I think it’s a fine line between that, and obsessing over food—feeling bad when we “failed”. We wanted a healthy relationship with food, and this militant (to us) approach wasn’t helping (again, shame based).

There are cost benefits to not consuming so much meat. Frankly folks, it’s cheaper to not eat meat. We’ve noticed a significant reduction in our grocery bill since we’ve switched, even with buying a ton more produce, lentils, beans, etc. 

And there are environmental considerations to eating meat at every meal (or even every day)—it takes quite a toll on the Earth. While we could be better, we are generally environmentally conscious people. It left a bad taste in my mouth to be so flippant about consuming our Earth’s resources (more shame).

Shame

Oh shame. You useless emotion. Unlike guilt, where we acknowledge we did something wrong, shame makes us feel like we are wrong. We are bad. It’s paralyzing because if I’m bad inside, how do I ever get good? It feels impossible, so I continue to do what I am doing, because what’s the point? I’ll never be a good person. (Here’s a great Ted Talk by the wise Brene Brown on shame.)

These are subconscious thoughts, and it’s not always easy to recognize that we even have them. In the case of eating meat, I had this choice (to not eat meat) that aligned with my values, yet I was afraid of change. I was afraid if I tried to live by my values I’d fail at it (thereby have no integrity), and it was easier to not try. Now, not even trying appears quite lazy, yet, look at all the mental energy I spent talking myself out of it! Such black-and-white thinking! This may seem extreme, but shame is insidious like that. 

How We Stopped Eating Meat

Shortly after the New Year, my husband mentioned he would like to cut down or eliminate meat from his diet. His biggest motivator was to lose weight and he was inspired by a close friend of ours who made the change to a meatless diet (you never know who’s watching and learning from you folks).

I jumped at the chance. Since he makes most of our meals, it would be so much easier for me to just eat what he makes. Also, I was being a supportive spouse, or something like that. 🤪

We decided to use up all the meat we had in the house, and not buy any more. Through meal planning a week or so out, we had a rough idea of when we would run out of meat, so we could mentally (and emotionally) prepare. We continued our grocery shopping schedule (one big trip every 3 weeks, and supplementing weekly for produce), but began shopping for products that would be used when we transitioned into a vegetarian diet. Research was done on what vitamin deficiencies we could watch out for, and supplements were purchased that included B12 (which apparently you can only get from meat products). 

We. Were. Ready.

This Fascinating Adventure: A Shame-Free Meatless Month

Image of a casserole dish on a stovetop with a tea kettle in the background. Inside the casserole dish, is a cooked veggie casserole with carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, cream of mushroom soup. Topping the casserole are melted cheese and fried French onions.
Veggie Casserole goodness

Recipes

Since my husband is the chef 99% of the time, he curated a list of recipes we wanted to try. Here’s a short list of what we have been eating the last couple of months. 

Tofu Stir-Fry

Burrito Bowls—we cooked these veggies and threw them on a bed of rice with black beans, added cheese, Greek yogurt, etc.

Veggie Casserole

Veggie Lentil Soup

Beans and Rice

Salads: with various toppings for our daily lunch

After Effects

Our intention was to eat this way for a month, to allow new vegetarian recipes to make their way into the rotation. Then, we planned to go back to eating meat, but we’d at least have a handful of recipes to incorporate into our cooking that weren’t so meat reliant. 

What we found after a month of eating this way, was that we did not miss meat at all. We decided to keep it going! I mean, we hadn’t even cooked half the stuff we wanted to yet!

It’s worth noting, that we weren’t extreme enough to forbid any meat-eating. We decided outside the home, we were allowed to eat meat. My husband has work lunches on the regular, and when food is catered in, it’s not always vegetarian-friendly. When we go to an event with friends, sometimes there is BBQ and other goodies we like to partake in. Knowing our diet was flexible (just like a budget), we didn’t feel restricted, so no meat in the house didn’t feel like a sacrifice at all. 

“It’s Kind of Fun to Do the Impossible”—Walt Disney

So we’ve continued to not buy meat, and only eat it rarely when we are out. While it takes time for all the vitamins and nutrients to be reflected in bloodwork, I recently went to the doctor and she had no concerns about my bloodwork or my diet change. Our grocery bill is down, and we feel great. 

This approach can work for any new habit being built. What helped effect this change for me were flexibility, a teammate, and focusing on the new things we were trying (rather than what we weren’t having). Shame didn’t help motivate me, and in fact, hindered me from making this adjustment long ago. Eagerness to try something new—that inspired me more than anything. 

Have you overcome shame before? Got any good vegetarian recipes? Comment below! I’d love to hear from you. 

One evening, in the fall of 2016, my husband (at the time boyfriend) came home to our quaint apartment, bursting with excitement. He was holding a fistful of brochures for houses in a suburb outside of our big city, and yammering something like “Let’s buy a house!” 

What the what?!?

Apparently he was visiting his parents in said suburb and drove by a neighborhood being built. Spontaneously, he decided to swing by and talk to someone at the model house. Now, I’m usually the person who is making impulsive decisions, so I was stunned. Buy a house? Us?

How To Make it Happen?

Eventually, I came around. Some of my hesitance had to do with my financial self-esteem, and some of it was just uncertainty about pledging to something so major. However, my husband talked me through the financial sense of buying versus renting in our area, and I eventually saw reason. We didn’t end up buying the initial house he showed me, but the wheels started to turn!

At the time we weren’t avid savers, so we weren’t sure how to execute. Not knowing the first thing about home ownership or home buying, we looked into the different types of loans for first time buyers. We settled on putting down roughly 15-20% which would be a hefty chunk of change. How on earth were we going to save that much?

Start With The End in Mind

To begin with, we discussed how much we were willing to spend on a house. It was important to us to purchase a home that we could afford on a single income. Life is magnificent, and also unpredictable (which makes it fascinating)! We wanted to choose something that would not end in catastrophe if one of us became unemployed. 

We also didn’t want to be house-poor. Being “house-poor” is when a person spends a significant percentage of their income on housing expenses (mortgage, property taxes, utilities, etc). I’ve seen varying amounts for the recommended percentage of income that should go toward housing, but generally it’s between 25-30%. 

Of course, if you live in a high cost of living (HCOL) area, this can inflate how much you spend on housing. We DO live in a HCOL area, with no plans to move, so we landed on 35% of one person’s take home pay. We chose to not use our gross pay when calculating this number. Mostly because we don’t get to use the money that is taken off the top (for taxes, retirement, etc.) on housing. However, if you find yourself in this same position, you do you! Just like with anything I write, there is no one-size-fits-all. 

Crackin’ Numbers

Basically, we wanted a mortgage payment that would allow us to breathe in our jobs and in our budget

We used a mortgage calculator to play with numbers and came to an agreement on how much we were willing to spend per month on the mortgage. That number was used to help us determine the total price of the house we were willing to buy. 

The bank may have approved us for way more (almost double the number we came up with), but the bank doesn’t have to budget month-by-month for us, or feel the sting when things get tight. We made the decision ourselves before we ever went to the bank, to be sure we didn’t get sucked into spending more than we intended. 

How to Save a Target Dollar-Amount 

Because we had the goal in mind to put down 20%-ish, we calculated the exact amount we needed to save. By doing the leg work of figuring what kind of mortgage/total price of the house we could comfortably afford, we protected ourselves from future financial stress, and simply took 20% of that total price. We also picked a rough date on when we wanted to have this money saved. This happened to coincide with when our lease would be up, i.e. when we wanted to move. Now we had a Target Dollar Amount, and an end date to help us stay motivated and on track. 

After that, it was simply counting how many months there were between then, and the time we wanted to move. We divided our targeted amount by the number of months. Because there are two of us, we divided the amount into 2. Now, we each had a set amount that we would “pay” into our high-yield savings account each month, just like a bill. 

A yellow legal pad, blue marker showing how to save for large purchases:

Total Price: $300,000
20% = $60,000
$60,000/19 months =
$3157.89/2 people =
$1578/month/per person
A rough visual of the process we used to arrive to our monthly savings goal.

By doing the research and the math, we were able to plan our savings strategy. Without this, we would’ve just been magically hoping over time the money would appear in our account (unlikely). Using this approach, we “set it and forget it” and when the time came, viola! The money was there and ready to use. 

Side note, my husband and I are high income earners, and we chose to have a shorter timeline.  I acknowledge the savings amount set in my example (in the image above) is high. Do not be discouraged! The timeline is your own, the amount that a person can realistically save per month is income-dependent. However, the method holds true even with these variable numbers. I ask, please do not lose sight of the forest for the trees. 

This Skill-Set is Transferable

I used the example of saving for a down payment, however, this can be used for any large purchase. We used this strategy when we replaced the floors in our house, and it can also be used for a vacation, a car, etc. 

It should be pointed out again, that one size does not fit all when it comes to personal finance. Personal finance is…personal. Also, our approach to buying a house specifically, does not need to be your approach when you are home-buying. 

What I do want to emphasize, is through planning, saving for a high priced goal isn’t out of reach. If you know how much you want to save, and set a rough end date as a goal, it just takes a little math to work backward and figure out how much per month you should be saving. Then, add the line item into your budget like a bill and you’re on your way! It may take time, discipline, and persistence (which can be annoying), but it is achievable. 

Here is another weekly installment of Living Frugally where I share my frugal accomplishments for the past week. Be sure to share your frugal successes in the comments!

A birds-eye view of a pot with lentils, carrots, celery, onion, and broth simmering on the stove.
A bunch of lentil goodness!

This week we ate leftover burrito bowls. My husband made tofu stir-fry which fed us for two days, and I made veggie lentil soup (I hardly ever cook, so this was miraculous) which is enough for 4 days for both of us. A side note on the veggie lentil soup—it’s delicious (most important), organic, and it costs us just $1.20/meal to make. Not bad!

Had an impromptu conversation with a colleague about budgeting. Of course, I didn’t share anything about my blog, but she seems to be doing really well and it was nice to find someone like-minded who enjoys “household economics”, savings, and simple living as much as I do. 

Did our grocery shopping for the next 3 weeks (our tri-weekly grocery trip?) and spent $196 for two people (includes household items, paper products, etc). 

My husband bought a probiotic (per his doctor’s recommendation) at CVS, and later checked the price on the same item at our local grocery store. It was 38% cheaper at our grocery store. He will be returning the unopened product this weekend to capitalize on those savings. 

We had an old batch of bananas, so we made smoothies twice this week. We used the bananas, some frozen fruit, spinach, yogurt, and water in the blender. We also made a batch of banana bread for the week. I decided to not buy any bananas for the next week-ish, so the next time I grab them I might be more enthused about eating them!

My husband and I are planning to have a baby in the next year, and the mothers in my Buy Nothing group have been fantastic. I picked up a changing pad with covers, unexpired pregnancy tests, and a few other items. I figure why not start planning to offset the cost of baby things? 😉

Bumped my savings rate by 10%. While we are paying off my husband’s student loans, we are still saving a small amount. I have been increasing it by 1% every month, but it was so negligible that I decided to push for 10% this month. We will see if that hurts, and if so, we can always pull back next month. 

Downloaded a free e-book online. Also started a new audiobook this week from my local library using the Libby app

We have vaulted ceilings and there was one lightbulb we could not reach to change. We debated purchasing a special ladder, or maybe even hiring someone from TaskRabbit to come do it, but instead it came up organically in conversation with a friend this week. He had a pole-tool-thingie that will do it! We borrowed it, and changed the lightbulb—no problem! 

My husband purchased a lightbulb for the change, and realized we already had one sitting on our shelf in the laundry room. He will return the lightbulb we didn’t need this weekend (along with his probiotic—batching them errands!).

We had several freezing nights here this week, so I’ve tried to bring my potted plants outside during the day to maximize sun, and bring them in every night. I want them to survive so I can re-plant them in my garden bed when the weather is warmer. I am ready for winter to be over! 

This week I read several blogs (as I usually do) and one by The Fioneers was so fantastic, I wanted to share it here. It is about our culture of busyness and the value of slowing down. I also was listed in an online directory for personal finance blogs at Rockstar Finance, and highly recommend this site as a place to find other personal finance writers. 

I batched errands this week, making sure to hit key places when I am in that part of town already (usually for work). This helps me squeeze random productivity in my day, and also to save on gas. 

Negotiated and solidified rates with a new client, and also discussed with a colleague another possible work opportunity. 

Went to the doctor for my annual check-up. Alls well, but I did get some referrals for other services. Some things (like dermatology, seeing an allergist) have been on the back burner for me a long time, because I had lousy insurance. Being self-employed I purchased mine from the marketplace (without which I would’ve been uninsured, so I am grateful for it), but since I was married last year, I’m now on my husband’s awesome insurance through his employer, and you can bet I’m maximizing that.

My lovely mother bought a second sewing machine for me to use. I have been holding off on buying one, partially because I can always use hers, and also because I wanted to be sure sewing was a hobby I’d stick with before I invested in the equipment. Her gifting me one is generous and sentimental, since sewing is always something we do together.

What are some of your frugal accomplishments for this past week?

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Black background, white text. Reads: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)
Random Shakespeare quote. Blog titles have to be born somewhere, folks!

A good credit score is the ever elusive goal that we (who are trying to get our money in order) strive for. But how do you get that good credit score, and what does it mean anyway?

Let’s Start With Some Definitions:

A credit score (also known as your FICO score) is a 3-digit number calculated through a wonky formula mathematical algorithm based on your credit report. 

A credit report is a list of your history with various lenders, banks, credit card companies, etc. It will record your payment history, the length you have had an account open, how much credit you are using (e.g. your debt), credit inquiries, and other pieces of information. 

A soft pull happens when your credit history is pulled, but does not count as an inquiry. It is not factored into your credit score. This can happen when employers, insurance, or credit card companies (when soliciting promotional offers) check your credit. 

A hard pull is the opposite of a soft pull. Your credit history gets pulled and reviewed, and does count as an inquiry. It is factored into your credit score. This usually happens when you apply for a new credit card, a loan, or a rental. These hard pulls can stay on your credit report for up to two years.  

What Does It Matter?

Your credit score is reviewed when you are applying for just about any financial vehicle. When you apply for a credit card, your approved credit limit and your interest rate both hang on this number. If you need a loan for a house or a car, whether or not you are approved and your interest rate also will depend on your credit score. As a renter, your apartment leasing office or your landlord will likely check your credit report.

For all these reasons, arguably it is important to have a good (or at least decent) credit score. 

Creditors use your credit score and credit report to weigh how much of a financial liability you might be. If you have a ton of on time payments, or very little debt, they are more likely to approve and lend to you with favorable conditions.

What’s “Good” Anyway?

A ring divided by color indicating the credit ranges. Hot pink: 16% of Americans have a score in this range, Very Poor, 300-579. Magenta: 18% of Americans have a score in this range, Fair, 580-669. Purple: 21% of Americans have a score in this range, Good, 670-739. Light Blue: 25% of Americans have a score in this range, Very Good, 740-799. Dark Blue: 20% of Americans have a score in this range, Exceptional, 800-850. In the middle of the ring: 66% of Americans have a good FICO score or better. Sourced from Experian.
Image sourced from Experian.com

How Do I Get From Here To There?

There are several factors that play into calculating this score.
  1. On-Time Payment History: Since the majority of your creditors will report to the 3 major credit bureaus, it is important to pay bills on (or before) their due dates. Not only does this help you avoid any interest or fees, but it also creates the impression that you are a responsible borrower. Lenders will be more likely to work with you if they can trust you to pay them back. This is the most heavily weighted category when calculating your credit score, and if you are trying to pull up your credit score, start here. 
  2. Oldest Credit Line: The length of your credit history shows responsibility over time. The longer you’ve had credit, the more information the lender can glean about what type of borrower you are. For this reason, closing old cards should be considered carefully. Unless it’s an exorbitant annual fee to keep the card, it might be worth it to leave your oldest credit line open, to preserve that history. 
  3. Credit Utilization: Lenders look at how much of your available credit is being used. Meaning if you have a $3000 limit on your credit card, and you have $1500 charged that carries over to the next month, your credit utilization would be at 50%. The amount of credit you are using is helpful for lenders to review, to see if you typically max out your credit cards, and if you overextend yourself when it comes to borrowing. The recommended credit utilization number is 30% of credit used, and the lower the better. This factor is also weighed pretty heavily in determining your credit score.
  4. New Accounts or Recent Inquires: Too many new accounts, or too many recent inquires (hard credit pulls), could be viewed as a risk by lenders, so keeping this number to a minimum is best. Only apply for loans or cards that you need to avoid any unnecessary inquiries on your account. 
  5. Credit Diversity: Being able to handle multiple types of credit is interpreted positively. Spreading your accounts over bank credit cards, installment loans of some kind (student loan, car loan), rental history, etc. create the impression that you are a responsible borrower, no matter the type of financial vehicle you are using. If you do not have diverse credit, before you run out and unnecessarily open new accounts, be sure to consider the drawback of having too many new accounts/recent inquiries.

I’m Not Just Sayin’ This Neither!

Back in 2016 my credit score was a lowly 603. This was the beginning of my Financial Stability journey, and I wasn’t sure where to start. I had just figured out a rough budget and payment plan for my IRS tax repayment.

I wondered what else I could do. 

So I hopped onto www.annualcreditreport.com and pulled my credit history for free. This is the only website accredited by the Federal Trade Commission to provide free credit reports. I ordered it from all 3 credit bureaus (TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax) and got to work. 

Through pulling my credit report, I found a delinquent medical bill that I mistakenly thought I paid, and hadn’t. Though the credit report will not show my credit score, it can give me an idea as to what makes up the credit score that lenders might see. You can pull your credit history once a year for free from the above website. Now, I have it in my calendar and it is part of my annual routine. 

You can also use websites like CreditKarma for free credit checks, and there are resources through some credit cards (if you’re a customer) that allow you to view an estimated credit score. Staying on top of your credit report is also a good way to catch identity theft or errors by creditors, by noticing any accounts or inquiries that look unfamiliar. 

It’s a Long and Worthy Road

Just like with anything on our financial journey, it takes time to repair credit. It might have taken us some time to throw our credit out of whack, so it will take time to clean it up. It’s worth the effort to work toward a good credit score. In this way, you can position yourself to have some leverage when going to creditors and asking for financial clout, whether it be a loan or a credit card. 

Paying your bills consistently and timely, and using credit responsibly (and only when you need to), will set you on a path to that achievable good credit score. And remember, a credit score is only a number, it is not a definition of you. While it is helpful, you are so much more valuable than that. 

Grey background with black text. Text reads “You either walk inside your story and own it or you stand outside your story and hustle for your worthiness” Brené Brown. Caption below reads: “Oh Brené, how right you are.”
Oh Brené, how right you are.

Self-esteem in some ways is akin to self-trust. It can include trusting yourself to have good judgment, confidence that you are capable, and generally liking yourself. In my journey, I have certainly struggled with self-esteem, as I suspect many of us do, at one time or another. This struggle, and the bizarre and gratifying experience we call life, inspired this blog’s name: This Fascinating Adventure. Personal self-esteem has a significant impact on healthy living, and financial self-esteem does the same for our money-life.

What is Imposter Syndrome?

The imposter phenomenon, often called imposter syndrome, is not an actual diagnosis. However, it has been researched and discussed in depth in various corners of the internet, including Forbes and Time. The American Psychological Association has seen fit to weigh in (read their article here), and a quick Google search will reveal lengthy exploration on the topic.

Quoted from the APA’s article referenced above “impostor phenomenon occurs among high achievers who are unable to internalize and accept their success. They often attribute their accomplishments to luck rather than to ability, and fear that others will eventually unmask them as a fraud.” 

Imposter syndrome goes hand-in-hand with my experience of low financial self-esteem. For a long time I operated under the limiting belief that I was terrible with money. Some people are good at it, and I just wasn’t. Any personal success experience that translated to financial success (e.g. landing a good job, getting a raise, etc) was a lucky accident. I assumed I would always live paycheck-to-paycheck, as I couldn’t imagine myself making prudent financial choices. What I was familiar with, was just getting by.

And who was I to imagine I might be financially successful? Heck, in some subconscious way, I didn’t even want to date someone who was financally stable. They were too good for me (seriously folks, when I started dating my very smart husband I thought these words “He is too ‘together’ for me.” Talk about the opposite of an empowering belief!). I am reminded of a quote by Marianne Williamson anytime I find myself playing small:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.”

—Marianne Williamson
“A Return To Love: Reflections on the Principles of A Course in Miracles”

My Experience With Financial Self-Esteem

My Upbringing

I came from an educated family, was raised in a bi-cultural household, and my parents divorced when I was in elementary school. My parents are Deaf and faced oppression in their everyday lives, both through job opportunities, and economic opportunities. However, my single mom was a teacher, and while my dad was MIA for a few years, she managed to pull through and her 3 kids were raised in an amazing home. 

But, we didn’t have a lot of money. We didn’t have conversations about investments around the dinner table, we wore hand-me-downs from a family friend’s kids, and when we wanted a snack, we ate a slice of bread. 

We were not truly poor by any means, though some years were leaner than others. My mom had some financial help from aunts and uncles in the years she was reeling from a divorce. In that time she managed to pay off all of the debt my dad racked up in their marriage (he filed bankruptcy so she was liable for all of it). She’s the most amazing woman I know. 

College Years

The privilege of being raised by a professional educator led to a lifelong love of reading and learning. This positioned me to do well in school, view my teachers as allies, and to thrive in all of my academic experiences. 

With a phenomenal transcript in my hand, my mom found a way to shell out for a good ol’ fashioned scholarship book at the bookstore (I hear it’s all online these days). I was also equipped with a couple rolls of stamps, a carton of envelopes, ink in our printer, and an old, rickety computer. Through this home office set-up, I spent my junior and senior year of high school applying for any and all scholarships. 

I applied for over a hundred scholarships, wrote countless essays, and earned myself 6. Of those six, four were for $500-$1000 one-time amounts. The other two were my saving grace. They covered all the rest of my tuition, room-and-board, books, and left me with some money for living expenses. 

I was emboldened by this victory, and thought myself 100% independent at the age of 17. In typical rebellious teenage fashion, I did not recognize the part my mother played in this success, yet I wasn’t sure who to credit. Surely not myself. I was certain I had bamboozled everyone into thinking I was far more brilliant than I was. As much as I craved success, I was playing small, for fear someone would find me out.

The high school I attended was a low-performing school, and coupled with my love of learning, my grades stood out. I was convinced had I attended a more academically rigorous school, I would not have looked so good on those scholarship applications. 

When I attended college, I was sure everyone was smarter than me, and I did not make many new friends. Instead, because the school was in my hometown, I hung out with my high school buddies for most of my college years.

Post-College

Part of my story includes alcoholism. My father is an alcoholic, my siblings both have struggled with substance use, and at least one grandparent on both sides of my family tree had alcoholism. The genetics, coupled with my self-doubt and low self-esteem set the stage for my own alcoholism. Between the ages of 18 and 25, my consumption escalated quickly to drinking in the mornings, drinking everyday, and heading to the bars every night. Alcoholism looks differently for everyone, and that is what it looked like for me. 

Thankfully, I got sober at 25 and haven’t had a drink in 7 years. I am the only living member of my family with a substance use problem who is clean and sober.  

Influences on my Self-Esteem

Being raised by Deaf parents who were treated like “the other” in almost all societal interactions, feeling like my home-life was different than other kids (translate: I was different), and developing a substance use problem myself, my experience with self-worth was virtually non-existent until my mid-20s. 

However, I was raised with a phenomenal example of a mother and woman, who modeled triumph over adversity. I did graduate college on time without losing my scholarship despite my developing addiction, and I landed a decent job post-graduation. 

But I will say, I felt like such a fool. I felt I had always only squeaked by, and others were more deserving of the opportunities I felt had been handed. I did not have experience with managing my money well (addiction is a Hard Master, and can take every dime you have); chronic stress was my daily condition. 

Ready for Change

I’ve made several financial mistakes. I’ve done 3 payday loans with all that predatory interest. Because I wrecked a car (3 weeks after I bought it), I had a large outstanding car loan that insurance didn’t cover. I was making payments on this, in addition to the car I was actually driving. All I could do was keep showing up to work and try to juggle all of the debt. Meanwhile, I prioritized buying clothes and junk at Target trying to feel like what I imagined a self-sufficient adult felt like—someone that worked hard, who could have nice things. 

Low self-esteem can lead to an altered perception of the facts. Reality can be skewed when viewed through a dark pair of sunglasses. At times, I have considered promotions to be out of my reach, because I just wasn’t smart enough. I have been intimidated to network and chat up colleagues and my boss because I felt I was not competent enough to be in that professional environment. All this to say, my earnings were affected for several years. Low self-esteem has led me to make professionally and financially harmful decisions just to feel ok in the short-term. 

Things That helped:

  1. Support: I leaned on friends and family for emotional support. I became transparent about my internal struggles and how that was translating into life decisions, including money decisions.
  2. Became teachable: I started to listen to people and their advice and experiences. Previous to this I oscillated between extremes. Either I knew what I was doing, dammit, or I knew nothing and I was the biggest dummy walking the earth. 
  3. Inventoried what I did know: part of moving away from the extremes of knowing everything, or knowing nothing, included examining what I did know. There were things I was good at. And there was still room to grow. 
  4. Read: as a lover of books, I shifted to reading Brené Brown, Oprah, Marianne Williamson, and other authors who discuss the value of knowing and loving yourself.
  5. Changed the script: I stopped being mean to myself in my head. When I would catch myself thinking unkind things to myself I practiced thinking “That’s not true. And I don’t talk to myself like that anymore.”
  6. Created a budget: I attempted to look at my money without fear. Debts and all, mistakes and all, all the while not beating myself up for not knowing, what I didn’t know. 
  7. Wrote mantras: I wrote positive things about myself and posted them on the mirror. It helped remind me who I truly am. It’s corny, but our self-talk is so very precious and the best compliments are truly the ones we pay ourselves. 
  8. Allowed myself to be human: being human means doing some things really well, and other things not so much. Compassion comes seemingly natural to me, but financial prowess did not. I had to practice it and work on it like a muscle. Any skill set can be exercised and grown to be strong. 
  9. Do esteem-able things: a very smart person once told me “You know how you gain self-esteem? You do esteem-able things.” Once I made even a small move in the right direction (like applying for the better job, or starting to track my spending), I gained slightly more confidence to do the next right thing. 
  10. Owned my money story: I looked for mistakes I made, and for things I did right, all without judgement. Mistakes are learning opportunities in disguise. Just because I once did things a particular way, doesn’t mean I can’t start doing them differently. Wanting to improve doesn’t mean I must feel shame or foolishness about past decisions. It all has helped me to get to where I am today.

We Are Worth It 

These are just a few things I did to change my attitude about myself and my capabilities. It has taken time, perseverance, patience, and making a few more mistakes along the way (I’m sure I’ll still make a few more). Above all, it’s taken believing that I deserve to be happy. 

I’ve practiced (with effort) not comparing myself to others. This has helped me not feel better than, or feel others are better than me. There’s been conscious practice of trusting myself to make solid decisions regarding my money. If I am unsure, I research, and I ask those who’s opinions I value. I’ve gotten comfortable with not knowing how to do everything. How would I know?! We are born without knowing very much at all. We learn it on the way. If we haven’t learned it before, so what? We can learn it now. Life is one fascinating adventure indeed. 

Here is another weekly installment of Living Frugally where I share my frugal accomplishments for the past week. Be sure to share your frugal successes in the comments!

It was time to change the filters in our water softener. It is cheaper to pick up the supplies than it is to get them delivered, so while I was on that side of town for another reason, I picked up the supplies. Saved on gas by batching the drive, saved on delivery by doing pick-up myself, and we are saving on labor by doing the replacement ourselves. Youtube is our friend, folks!

Listened to really good free live music.

There was a Free to the Public day at a local wildflower garden, and I was able to go out there and spend a few hours wandering. It happened to be a beautiful day (smack in the middle of a rainy week), and it worked out wonderfully. 

My mom stopped by with surprise pizza from the local gourmet pizza shop. We ate delicious food, and enjoyed even better company. 

Visited with a friend without spending any money. We had a long, deep talk about anything and everything. It was one of those visits that made us closer friends than we were before (which I didn’t think was possible!).

My husband and I are still working on enclosing our back patio (the weather has been holding us up). We reached a point in the project where we needed a particular tool, and were unsure if we wanted to purchase a tool that we probably wouldn’t use again. Lo and behold, a friend of ours happened to have the tool we needed, and was willing to lend it to us. Gooo friendship!

For food this week, we ate leftover lentil spaghetti, lots of baked potatoes, another round of burrito bowls, and a frozen pizza.

I made a batch of banana bread with some soon expired bananas, and also tried my hand at making regular no-knead sandwich bread in the oven. Making the no-knead bread was an experiment. I literally filled my kitchen with mild haze of smoke, and the bread was rather flavorless, but I will attempt it again!

Living Frugally
On a kitchen counter: Picture of 2 plates of lentil spaghetti, a couple of forks, and a big red bowl with plastic wrap covering it. Inside the red bowl is dough for bread, set to rise.
The bread is hanging in the bowl to rise. Also pictured: lentil spaghetti leftovers. Yum!

Enjoyed coffee at home and slow wake-ups a couple of times this week. Talk about that Self-Care!

I balanced the lazy mornings with a few early rises for work this week, and was able to capitalize on the higher pay-rate for taking 6am shifts. 

As a result of those early-to-rise mornings, I napped. It all came full circle (Self-Care y’all).

I received a contact from a potential new client, and we’ve scheduled to meet next week. This potential new client came out of a referral from a social acquaintance. All the more reason to treat everyone as a potential client, as you never know where your next lead will come from. 

Picked up new book from my local Buy Nothing group, read one from the library, and listened to 2 audio books. 

My husband was sorely due for new work shoes, and we discussed how he at some point would need some new everyday sneakers as well. He went off on his own to buy the shoes and came home with 2 new pairs within the Budget we set aside for the one pair of work shoes. 

What are some of your frugal accomplishments for this past week?

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Having multiple streams of income can make a seamless budget feel unreachable. Income may be sporadic and variable, but fear not! This post is dedicated to taming that beast and making life just a little more simple.

About half of my income comes from 2 part time jobs, and the other half comes from contract work. When filling out taxes for 2018, I counted 14 sources of income. With all of this fluctuating income, and some entities paying me twice a month, budgeting can be a little different.

When dealing with variable income and paydates, I have found planning my money to be a two-fold process. The first part is the “hustle” in making sure my schedule is full. The second part is budgeting the money and being sure when I get paid, my bills get paid.

The Hustle

A key part of me being able to budget in any form with a bananas pay schedule is knowing how much I need to make. The starting place for any budget-making process includes listing all monthly bills with amounts and due dates.

Step One: Divide bills up into essential bills, and non-essentials goals. 

Essential bills are the things that must get paid or there will be some consequence (i.e. my lights will be turned off). I choose to include my monthly savings amount in my essential bills list, because paying myself first is essential (future me is worth it, after all).

Non-essential goals include things like debt repayment and my semi-monthly trips to visit my nephew. I will not be evicted if I can’t go down to the coast very often. It’s a priority to me, so I plan accordingly, but it’s not required for my survival. 

After I have my list(s) I total the amounts and come up with two numbers: my Barebones number (all the essentials), and my Target number (everything I want). My goal is to make the Target amount per month, but if I just make enough to cover my Barebones number, I know I will be fine. 

Step Two: The Monthly Target amount is divided by 4 (for the average 4 weeks in the month).

Now I know how much I need to make per week. This is the number I choose to attach myself to. I’ve even divided it further (by 5—for the 5 business days in the week) to find the amount on average I should be shooting to make per day. However, for me, the weekly number suffices. 

Step Three: Fill my weekly schedule with work that will total the Target Weekly amount.

If I hit my weekly goal, I know I will hit my monthly goal. I can then be confident I’ll make enough money to pay my Barebones Monthly amount (all my essential bills) and ideally my Target Monthly amount (all my goals). 

Having a weekly Target amount helps me discern if I need to take additional gigs that aren’t my favorite assignments, or are at odd hours. Having a Barebones number helps me recognize if I need time off, or Self-Care time, financially I will be just fine.

Image of a weekly planner with a week’s view. Includes various appointments with the amounts earned per appointment. Also includes a list in the corner with the total for the week per paying Entity.
Using a Weekly Calendar, I track my earnings*

Knowing whether or not I’ve made enough money for the week aids me in practicing good judgement and avoid overworking myself. It has taken some time, but thankfully I have built up my business, and work for several entities. I typically am able to fill my schedule and reach my Target amount. 

With the “hustle” and schedule in place, I am sure to take care of the back end piece of my business. I send invoices every week (sometimes at the close of business the same day the job was completed) to make sure there are no delays in getting paid. This is a habit I’ve embraced, and in my field it’s just a good business practice. Some prefer to invoice every month—whatever works for you and your profession. 

The Budget 

Once upon a time, I had a traditional job, and fell into relying on a biweekly paycheck. I enjoyed that consistency, so that is how I approach my current budget system. One of the entities I work for regularly pays every other Friday so I chose that “payday” to work around. I have chosen my Personal Payday to align with a consistent check I receive, but arbitrary dates like the 1st and the 15th work just fine.

Personal Paydays

I list all of my anticipated “paydays” from each entity and split them between my Personal Paydays. For example, if I know Entity A pays me on the 1st of every month, Entity B pays on the 5th, and Entity C pays on the 7th, I will lump them together and use it toward a Personal Payday that hypothetically is on the 8th. Any paid invoices I receive after the 8th will be lumped together and I will “receive” these amounts on my next Personal Payday (say the 22nd). Anyone who pays me on the 15th, or 20th of the month, will be lumped together for the 2nd Personal Payday of the month. 

A list of random Paydays with amounts earned, and then totals for each Personal Payday.

02/27 ABC Inc. (Jan) $450
03/01 XYZ  Corp (02/03-02/16) $1253 (after tax $939.75)
03/05 CRP (02/16-02/28) $613.42 (after tax $460.06)

Payday: 03/08 = $1849

03/12 Imaginary (Feb) $742—401K
03/15 XYZ (02/17-03/02) $1352
03/20 GWS Job (03/01-03/15) $296—Tax Fund
03/21 Random (Feb) $578

Payday 03/22 = $1930
Random Paydays are categorized into Personal Paydays*
Bills

Separately I have a chart which organizes my bills by amount and due date. I chart and assign bills using my Personal Paydays. This ensures no bills are paid late or fall through the cracks. Whether it is a paper chart, or a spreadsheet on the computer, the idea is the same.

A chart/spreadsheet with bills listed at the top, and dates listed in the margin, with amounts in the corresponding boxes showing what bill is due when.
Any chart that helps divvy up what bill is due which Personal Payday will work!*

Set it and forget it 

I get the hustle down, and schedule myself accordingly to make the money I need to make. I then divvy up that money into 2 self-set Personal Paydays that I use to lump income together to make it manageable. I use my Bills chart to help me determine which bills are paid with which Personal Payday. 

It requires minimal effort to set this system up. This is how I am able to operate my business, and my household economics so efficiently. I do not work in the finance field, so small business practices initially were not my realm of expertise, despite being a small business owner. This process has been cultivated through trial and error, but once this system has been set in place, it’s quite effortless. 

Other Considerations

Taxes: Certain income is earmarked for my quarterly income taxes because I am technically self-employed. I have found it easiest to delegate 1-2 entities that I work for regularly to be my “tax” money. I do not include those amounts in my Personal Payday. Instead, when I am paid, I immediately move the money into my Tax Fund (a separate savings account) until I reach the amount due for that quarter’s taxes. I follow my accountant’s advice as to how much I need to pay in quarterly taxes. 

Retirement: For retirement contributions, the approach is the same as my Tax Fund. A few sources of income which are reliable are earmarked for my solo 401k. As I do not receive benefits from an employer, I have set up a solo 401k through my LLC. Only money paid to my LLC (meaning my 1099 income) is allowed to go toward my 401k, and I reserve paychecks from certain entities for this purpose. I do not account for them in my Personal Paydays. I happen to have a solo 401k, but this approach would work for anyone, even if there is no LLC. The retirement vehicle instead of a solo 401k could always be an IRA account (which anyone can open).

Vacations: The nice thing about knowing how much money I need to make per week is the ease in planning for vacations. I can save and budget for an upcoming vacation, and also know how much money I need to save to offset the missed work. If I plan to take a week off, I know I need a certain amount saved in advance to offset the loss of earned income that week. This way, I can take a vacation, have money saved to serve as my Paid Time Off (since I don’t have PTO through an employer), and not scramble when I get back to make up the money I didn’t earn while off.

A list of Paydays, paying entities, amounts due to be paid, a Personal Payday lumping the amounts, and a list of that pay cycle’s bills due. 

02/27 ABC Inc. (Jan) $450
03/01 XYZ  Corp (02/03-02/16) $1253 (after tax $939.75)
03/05 CRP (02/16-02/28) $613.42 (after tax $460.06)

Payday: 03/08 = $1849

03/08 Need $964 ($1849)
-375 groceries
-150 Allowance/Gas
-100 Synchrony (Savings)
-75 Husband new work shoes
-14 Netflix
-250 House Fund
= $885—Student Loan

03/12 Imaginary (Feb) $742—401K
03/15 XYZ (02/17-03/02) $1352
03/20 GWS Job (03/01-03/15) $296—Tax Fund
03/21 Random (Feb) $578

Payday 03/22 = $1930
Add the bills due via your chart for that Personal Payday and you’re set!*

Taking care of your money is taking care of yourself

This is one approach to budgeting with variable income. I’m sure there are a ton of self-employed people who find themselves in a similar situation. Just like with any of my writings, there is no one right way to operate your personal finances.

I have found a sense of peace in operating my business in a way where I am able to spend 1-2 hours a week doing invoices, scheduling, and budgeting. It frees up my time to perform the service I am being paid for, and to enjoy my free time. Managing my money so it is not a point of stress in my life, is absolutely a form of self-care!

*I chose to do a mock-up of numbers and bills with all the images shown, rather than show actual images from my personal budget. The field I work in has a Code of Ethics regarding the work we take, and I did not want to reveal anything, including who I’ve worked for, to protect the privacy of my clients.

This post may contain affiliate links, and this blog could earn a small commission if the affiliate links are used. I would never link to a product or service that I have not used myself.

Pay Yourself First

Beige background with quote “and if I asked you to name all the things that you love, how long would it take for you to name yourself?” With caption: Paying Yourself First is a way to love yourself
Paying Yourself First is a way to love yourself

“And if I asked you to name all the things that you love, how long would it take for you to name yourself?” —Unknown

I saw the above quote years ago, and I felt as if I had to catch my breath. Perhaps all humans struggle with loving themselves first in some form. Getting to know ourselves is a most fascinating adventure. Part of honoring ourselves in all ways, includes honoring ourselves through our finances. This can be done through reducing as many stressors as we can (debt, paying interest, scarcity mindset). But another way we can honor ourselves through our finances is to pay ourselves first! 

That’s right, I said it! Pay yourself first! It may sound like I am promoting self-absorption when I say: To yourself, you are the most important person! However, I don’t think it is a classic definition of selfishness at all to care about yourself. It is not an either/or equation. It’s not: either you get to care for yourself and not care about others. Or care only for others and not for yourself. You can absolutely do both, and I sure hope you are. 

When we apply this concept to our personal finances, it still holds true. We don’t have to only pay others, and not pay ourselves. Or only pay ourselves, and not pay others. We can certainly do both, and I sure hope we are. 

What does Pay Yourself First Mean?

Pay Yourself First means, when you get money, you take some of it and put it in your savings account. Then you pay your other bills. You do not pay all bills first, see what is left, and slide that in your savings account. Of course, if you’ve already paid yourself first, paid bills, and have some left over, you can certainly slide the surplus into your savings account. The main point is: money does not go into your savings account as an afterthought! You are not an afterthought!

This concept can mean different things to different people. I can only speak to my own experience. For me, it means when I get some money (usually in the form of a paycheck), I pay myself a certain amount off the top, and then I budget the rest. The money I pay myself goes into a savings account or an investment account where it stays until I decide I need it. I am planning for my future and I am ensuring no matter what happens in life, I will take care of myself. I love myself that much. 

How I began using Pay Yourself First

When I first started Paying Myself First, even while I was doing debt pay-off, I moved $50 into my savings account every pay period no matter what. I then would budget using what was left. If I got paid $1000, I would move the $50, and be left with $950, which would be used to pay bills, give myself an allowance, and throw what I could at debt.

Of course, any amount will work for this, whether it be $10 or $50 or $500. I continued to do this every pay period, without thinking too hard about it. This account served as my Starter Emergency Fund for a long time. Over time, as I was able to pay off some debt, I was left with more un-assigned dollars in my budget. When I was no longer making as many payments toward debt, I was able to bump up the amount ($50) to a higher number and keep paying my savings account (aka me!) regularly.

Are savings really that important?

It may seem I harp too much about the importance of a savings account, an Emergency Fund, and spending less than you earn. Yet, I still found Paying Yourself First a topic worthy of its own article, because of the integrity and self-love behind the concept.

If I don’t believe I deserve this, I end up viewing my savings account as one more difficult thing I have to do. I then miss out on the benefit of confidence and self-esteem that comes with honoring myself. Instead of viewing my payments to myself as a victory, if I view them as something to slog through, I am not only making the Financial Stability journey harder, but I am also not being very nice to myself. 

To yourself, you are the most important person! Above anyone you care for, above your employer and your creditors, you are important! Without you, none of this matters! You play an important role, and you deserve to benefit from your hard work and your perseverance. 

When I am treating all of this budgeting and finance stuff as a chore, I am unkind to myself in my thoughts for making financial mistakes (when I did not know any differently). In turn, I actually find it harder to stick to my goals. I am more likely to splurge on an expensive haircut, or buy myself some nonsense at Target, even if I did not design my budget for those things. If I view paying myself first as another obligation, I will cheat myself in the future, thinking I am rewarding myself now. 

Taking care of ourselves financially is Self-Care

Anyone can benefit from the reminder that we are doing this for ourselves. We are not afterthoughts, or the least important person on the list of people to pay. We are the most important!

And we deserve to be treated as such. So when you make your regular transfer to your savings account this next pay period, know that through that action you are loving yourself. It is growth to put ourselves first, and we become better citizens, and lovers, and parents, and neighbors, and yes, even bill-payers, when we do this. 

Here is another weekly installment of Living Frugally where I share my frugal accomplishments for the past week. Be sure to share your frugal successes in the comments!

Last weekend, my mom and I drove down to visit my nephew in a nearby coastal town about 3 hours away. We packed pretzels, ginger ale (both leftover from my husband’s poker party), and popcorn to snack on in the hotel (which I paid for in full with credit card rewards points)!

One evening while we were in the hotel, I ordered a pizza for the three of us. With pick-up, it was $9 and we also got free breadsticks! We were all stuffed, and I even had leftover breadsticks to snack on the drive home the next day.

We also got up early one morning and went to the beach to watch the sunrise. It was cloudy and foggy, so not as breathtaking, but it was a lovely way to start the day and didn’t cost us a thing. 

Image of a perspective view under the pier, staring out to sea. The posts of the pier look smaller and smaller the further out to sea.
A view under the pier, staring out to sea

Took my nephew to a free Teen/Young Adult book fair. There were about 30 authors there promoting and signing books. We didn’t buy anything, but we enjoyed perusing the books and I put a few on my list to get at the library. 

We stayed 2 nights and swam in the hotel pool both nights. 

My mom and I split the cost of buying my nephew new gear for the swim team and the track team he’s joining this year. We were happy to help offset some of the costs for his parents, and also to spoil him with practical gifts that he will use and enjoy for a while.

I dyed my hair using a box of dye I bought from the grocery store for less than $3. I stopped going to the salon about a year ago, and have been using a box dye to cover some sneaky grays. I have been growing my hair out, but when I am ready for a haircut, I am going to ask my mom or my husband (if he’s brave enough) to give it a try. My mom is pretty good at trimming hair, so I’m not scared!

Took a couple of hot baths with Epsom salts this week to relax and nurture myself. 

Practiced several guided meditations this week from YouTube and from the Plum Village app, and also practiced walking meditations. 

I’ve made the drive to see my nephew at least 50 times in the last 5 years (probably more) but this time, on the way home, I mapped it through Waze (a mapping app). I managed to take a different route that got us home an hour earlier than planned. Definitely going to do that more often, even for routes I’m familiar with. Saved an hour of our time, and also whatever gas we would’ve used driving for that additional hour. 

Picked up a few things from my Buy Nothing group on Facebook. Our pizza cutter was rickety and would only work if you held it a certain way, and my husband has been wanting a salad spinner for when we make zucchini noodles. We got both, for free! I also was able to re-gift a nice mug that I never used. 

Went to the dentist! Hey, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of care!

Made plans with a friend to lend her our Air Fryer. She has been debating getting one and we happily will loan her ours so she can decide if it’s a worthwhile purchase before spending any money. 

Received a quarterly check from Ebates. It’s an app/website you can use to make purchases you would’ve made anyway from your favorite stores and earn cash back. Since I purchased all of the Christmas gifts I bought this year, and a few other things, through the app, my cash back check was $107! Ain’t bad!

What are some of your frugal accomplishments for this past week?

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Image of a table with a newspaper, coffee cup, calculator, papers, bills, pen, checkbook, and a woman’s hands holding a smart phone.
Debt Payoff: No Prior Knowledge Required

Some of us start our journey to Financial Stability at different places in life. We may have no credit and no debt or we may have a long credit history and large amounts of debt. Or we may be somewhere in between. Debt can be a big barrier to being financially stable, but paying off your debt definitely is doable. So let’s do this!

Paying off debt simply requires a plan

  1. Starter Emergency Fund: Make sure you have $1,000 in savings as your Starter Emergency Fund. This money is on reserve to ensure any small emergency doesn’t derail you while you are in Budget and Debt Repayment mode.
  2. Gather up all your debt: You might have done this when you began Tracking your Spending, but if you haven’t yet, go ahead and list all your debt out on a piece of paper. Include total amount owed, monthly minimum payment amount, interest rate, monthly due date, and final payoff date (if you have a payment plan in place). Also include any amounts you may owe friends or family members, and include your car payment and your mortgage payment. It is eye-opening to see how much we owe everyone. (Note: You may need to pull your credit for this, or call some of the banks/creditors and ask for this information if you didn’t keep any of the paperwork.) Leave no stone un-turned.
  3. Look at your budget: Determine how much money you have in surplus at the end of each month. You may decide while you are in serious Debt Repayment mode, some things on your budget need to go. If you have $50 a month earmarked for coffee, or lunches out, you may decide to reduce that amount or eliminate it entirely. Or not—this is definitely your budget and you are the only one who decides what is valuable to you. Re-evaluate essential expenses and non-essential expenses and come up with an amount that is your surplus. *A surplus: The difference between what you spend and what you earn. If you do not have a surplus, but you have debt, you may need to trim the budget and be sure you are only spending on essential items. If you have trimmed all you can trim, and still do not have a surplus, you may want to consider picking up a side job (babysitting a couple times a month, or a second job) so you can have some extra income to go toward your debt.*
  4. Divert your entire surplus toward your debt: This is the point where you decide which debt you will pay off first. There are a couple different methods you can choose, and there is no right or wrong.
    1. Avalanche Method: Pick the debt with the highest interest rate, and shove all your surplus toward this debt, every month, until it is paid off. Attacking the debt with the highest interest rate may save you tons of money in additional interest payments if you get it off your books. The name implies, once you knock off the debt with the highest interest rate, your Debt Repayment will begin an Avalanche, eliminating debt quicker because of the money not unnecessarily paid toward interest.
    2. Snowball Method: Pick the smallest debt, and shove all your surplus toward this debt until it is paid off. Attacking the debt with the lowest dollar amount owed may bolster your confidence because it knocks down the number of creditors on your list faster. The name implies, once you knock off the smallest debt, you can roll that minimum payment into your next largest debt (like a snowball), and by the end of your list, you will have a large amount rolled together to tackle your largest debt. 
    • You will always continue to pay the minimum payment toward all debt while you are practicing either of these methods. This helps avoid any additional fees or penalties for late payments which would only increase the amount you owe. 
    • With either of these methods, when you pay off a debt in full, you will then roll that payment into your surplus and it will free up available money to go toward debt repayment. For example, you were paying $20/month to a Furniture Store for items you purchased on a payment plan. If you pay that debt off in full (either through the Avalanche Method, or the Snowball Method), you now have an extra $20/month freed up in your budget to be put toward the next debt on your list.
  5. Methodically pay off your debt: Whether you do Avalanche or Snowball, rinse and repeat until all debts are paid off. Depending on how much you owe, this could be a years long process. It was for me, and that is ok. Remember how important persistence is to your future of Financial Stability. As daunting as it may feel, you will thank yourself when you are finally debt-free. 
  6. Emergency Fund: When you become debt-free, begin throwing that surplus, and all the money you were previously putting toward debt repayment (minimum payments, etc.), toward building your Fully-Funded Emergency Fund (3-6 months of expenses).

Exceptions: 

Anything interest-free: if you aren’t paying interest on the debt (sometimes stores will offer promotional interest-free financing), there may not be a rush to pay off the debt. If you would feel better having it all paid, by all means go for it, but the urgency doesn’t exist in the way it does for the debt that carries an interest payment as well.

Your house: This is absolutely debatable, so if you disagree with this, feel free to attack your mortgage in the same way you have attacked all other debts. At this point, the only debt my husband and I have remaining are his student loan payments and our house. We are on track to have the student loans paid off this summer. The debt we have already paid off together includes my IRS bill, some outstanding medical bills, my car, and a few other odd debts. We are choosing to focus our surplus on fully-funding our Emergency Fund after the student loans are paid off, because we want to have that safety margin. I feel more comfortable doing this, as we never know what emergencies could happen, but it ultimately is a matter of opinion and personal risk-tolerance.

Retirement Accounts: Depending on how much debt you owe, how much you have in retirement, how far off you are from retirement, if your employer offers a match, etc. you may decide to hold off on contributing to retirement while you are paying off your debts. I didn’t, because the longer you are in the market, the more opportunity you have for your retirement investments to compound and grow, but that is a post for another day. 

That’s The Plan

As you can see, there definitely is a plan and some design around debt repayment. However, there is also a lot of room for personalization and tweaking to suit your own circumstances. This may be a fast or slow process for you, but it is a worthwhile one for all of us. Come back to this article to keep yourself centered and on-track during the process. Eventually, the budget gets to have fewer line items, and the gap between how much we spend and how much we earn becomes larger when we aren’t diverting a ton of money toward minimum payments every month. 

Above all, be patient and kind with yourself. You are worth the time and energy it will take to become debt-free. It is absolutely possible to rein in our spending and follow a budget that will lay out a plan to freedom from debt. I used to think I was terrible with money. As I slowly started to follow a budget, and spend money only on what I truly valued, I gained confidence and financial literacy. We can all do this together, and I am on your team. Onward and upward!

What is an Emergency Fund and why do you need one?

A critical piece to being financially stable is the Emergency Fund. An Emergency Fund (EF) is typically 3-6 months of living expenses set aside in savings to be used in the event of something unexpected and requiring immediate action. Examples of emergencies can be a car accident, a major medical (or dental) expense, a drastic home repair, job loss, etc. Examples of non-emergencies can be any travel, gifts, home remodeling, treat-yo’self expenses, etc. 

As fantastic as life is, sometimes there are stumbling blocks. In 2016 I was in a car accident that thankfully left me with minor injuries (though I do have the scars!), but also left me with no car. I struggled in the aftermath, but thankfully I had enough money in savings to put toward a down payment for another car. In that way, I didn’t experience the inability to get to work which would’ve furthered my stress. At that time, I didn’t have a fully-funded EF, but what I did have got me through!

Outdoors: Picture of a gray Honda Civic with front part of car smashed in from an accident.
The after-effects of a *surprise* car accident!
(Are accidents ever NOT a surprise?)

The actual dollar amount of this fully-funded 3-6 month fund will depend on how much your monthly expenses total up to be. If there were a medical catastrophe or a job loss, 3-6 months of expenses in the bank might be all the difference between a bump in the road and the feeling you were thrown off a cliff. 

How can I build up to a Fully-Funded Emergency Fun?

Now, 3-6 months of expenses can be a laughable amount when you are starting out. It was for me! No worries. A modest start, is still a start. As a Starter, $1000 is a good amount to work toward. One reason for this amount is most car insurance policies have a deductible of $500-$1000. A car accident would be one of the emergencies that we could not predict, but we could prepare for! When a car accident occurs, and we need to shell out for the deductible, it’s on-hand and ready. 

This amount might also be enough to get by in a medical/dental situation. You may need to pay out of pocket for something necessary, and not meant to be put off. For the home, an imperative roof inspection, or a service call for a funky washer or dryer situation could also be covered by this amount. 

By having a $1000 Starter EF in savings, your budget does not have to be thrown off course, just because life happens. Instead, these minor, unexpected expenses can be paid for with cash. You can go about your business, and work on replenishing the funds back to the baseline of $1000 in case of another emergency. 

Which is more important: an Emergency Fund, or paying off debt?

I’ve stressed how important savings are, and how we serve ourselves by not spending more than we earn. If a solid budget is in place, and we are living by it, then adding a line item for savings is not as difficult as we might think. If you have no money reserved for your Starter EF, that is where your savings will go until you hit the $1000. This is your biggest priority.

It may feel uncomfortable to save toward anything if you owe money and you are trying to get out of the red. If you have any debt, definitely continue making minimum payments so you do not get hit with any penalties. However, any extra money should go toward getting that $1000 funded. After this Starter EF is reached, you can then shift your attention to debt payoff.

So if my budgeted savings amount is $25/month or $150/month or whatever, I continue to shove that money every month into a savings account. Then I pretend it does not exist. At the end of the month, after I have lived by my budget, if there is any excess cash leftover, I can sweep the leftover money into my Starter EF. The money will continue to grow, slowly but surely, and one day you will wake up and realize, you did it! You have a Starter Emergency Fund!

Then what?

Once you’ve done this, you can examine your debts and get into full-fledged debt repayment mode. When you shift to debt-repayment mode, you should continue to have a line item for savings in your budget. You can adjust this savings amount to free up some money for debt repayment, but should never stop saving entirely. Saving consistently, every month (even just $10/month), is a lifelong habit. This will continue to build the savings/Emergency Fund in the background while you focus on more pressing things. Your debt repayment is a new type of “emergency” (yay)! You want to avoid paying more interest than necessary so we want to get these interest-carrying debts paid!

When you have knocked out your debt (more about this in another post), you shift right back to your Emergency Fund. Your line item for savings will continue to go into this account to build up to 3-6 months in expenses. The nice thing is, you will have some surplus cash in your budget because you are no longer paying any minimum payments (or extra) toward your debt. You can roll in all that debt repayment with your savings account and start pushing larger amounts into your Emergency Fund. 

Now, you’re ready!

The concept of an Emergency Fund isn’t an original one, penned by me, by any means. Everything I have learned about an EF, came from various rabbit holes I fell down on the internet when I was starting to get my financial house in order several years ago.  There are several different approaches, and you can merge a few different approaches to suit you. The important thing is, you do something. 

Remember persistence is the key to any large goal. If we live by our budget, make a Starter Emergency Fund (and then a Fully-Funded EF) a priority, we are certain to get one step closer to Financial Stability. 

Here is another weekly installment of Living Frugally where I share my frugal accomplishments for the past week. Be sure to share your frugal successes in the comments!

A friend of mine invited me to an arcade with her kids. While I love her, and enjoy spending time with her and her kids, I declined because an arcade isn’t my thing. I am trying to not spend time or money doing things that “aren’t my thing” and I was proud of myself for honoring my values. We made plans to spend time together in another setting.

I accepted a gift from my mother-in-law for an item she was planning on donating anyway (see image below). It is a bowl meant to hold dip, and there is a space underneath to keep ice, thereby keeping the dip chilled. Instead, I am using it as a nice, new-to-me decoration in my living room.

Brown shelf with a red statue shaped like a heart, a blue bowl with clear marbles inside, and a floral printed vase.
Re-Purposed Dip Chiller is now a Decorative Bowl!

I gifted 3 items in my local Buy Nothing group. Two of the items were brand new gifts I received and never used, and the other gift was my wedding dress. The woman who received my wedding dress was so gracious and thrilled. It made me happy.

I also received a decorative platter and a bag of Epsom salts (y’all know I like my self-care) in the Buy Nothing group this week.

Went out to eat with my in-laws for a belated Birthday Dinner for my husband. It was a nice treat and I had leftovers enough for 2 meals!

My husband cooked a new veggie casserole that included broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, cream of mushroom soup, and Swiss cheese. It fed 2 people for 2 days and it was soooo good. 

My husband hosted a poker night at our house, while I was out visiting with friends. I came home to a ton of leftover snacks which we have been enjoying all week. Most of the snacks we provided, but people did bring goodies like pie and pretzels that we were left with. We also brought some of the leftover cookies and an unopened cheeseball to an event we attended the following day. 

Loaded up on groceries this week, which included all of the poker night snacks. Our total for 2 people for 3 weeks (minus produce replenishments in the next few weeks) was $240.29. Not bad for mostly organic, healthy foods for 2 people.

I am in the process of signing up for life insurance, and I had my physical examination this week by the life insurance contracted nurse. It was painless (other than the drawing of blood—ha!). I will be comforted when the process is over, and my family will have some financial relief in the event of a catastrophe. 

Cleaned the garbage disposal with ice, 1 cup of baking soda, and 1 cup of vinegar (all items I had on hand). Insert items in garbage disposal while it’s running. Viola! Good-bye odors!

Worked on an ongoing craft project. My mom and I are making The Book from Hocus Pocus using craft materials and old books we have on hand. I plan to add this to my Halloween decorations to be used later this year. That movie is a blast, and the project is a lot of fun to do together. 

Used points I’ve earned from a credit card to book a hotel for this weekend. My mom and I are heading out of town (only 3 hours away) to spend the weekend with my nephew. All we plan to spend out of pocket will be for gas and food (and maybe some entertainment). Of course any additional spending over the weekend will be on a credit card with rewards so I can keep rolling in the points for any future trips. However, I will definitely pay my bill in full to avoid any interest!

Submitted my LLC tax info to my CPA so that I can maximize my business deductions. Thankfully, I keep meticulous records so it wasn’t too overwhelming to submit all the requested documentation. 

Napped a few times this week! I also did guided meditations through the Plum Village app (though there are several meditation apps out there), enjoyed several cups of tea, and generally tried to slow down during a busy week. 

My husband and I attended a social event on Valentine’s Day. We didn’t do gifts (nor do we do gifts for Christmas or Birthdays), but we enjoyed each other’s company, and enjoyed the company of our friends. It’s corny, but we make a point to express our love and appreciation for each other year-round. We don’t feel additional pressure on this day over other days, which is nice.

What are some of your frugal accomplishments for this past week?

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A beige polka-dot background. A black shadow box is in the center with white lettering reading: 12 Things You Can Do Today To Save Money

Boosting how much money we put into our Savings account each month can sometimes be difficult. Especially when we are first starting out. It may seem daunting to look for places within our spending to save a few dollars, but here are twelve things you can do today to start saving money:

  1. Pack your lunch: I started packing my lunch for work everyday about 2 years ago. My lunch usually consists of: almonds, a cheese stick, a salad, a couple of cereal bars or crackers, and a banana. Occasionally there are variations to this, but I do not mind eating roughly the same thing every day, and I make my salad the focal point for any variety. I am a freelance contractor, so I am often driving from job to job. This means I need to leave my lunch in the car, and I do not have access to a microwave. I use this cooler to keep my lunch cold throughout the day. 
  2. Use containers instead of Ziploc bags: I use these Rubbermaid containers to pack my nuts and salad, and the occasional banana bread or other anomaly in my lunch. I also pack a fork for the salad, but I do keep a couple of individually wrapped forks in my car in case I ever forget! If you prefer glass over plastic, here are some Pyrex ones that come highly recommended from fellow lunch-packers.
  3. Clean your own house: For some, this is a crappy suggestion. Perhaps for you, paying someone to clean your house (especially if you have kids) is how you keep your sanity. I totally get it. If the benefits outweigh the cost, I genuinely think you should keep doing what’s working. If not, maybe consider in-sourcing this task. I use the method of doing a little tidying every day most days, to reduce the heavy cleaning I do once a week. I have a rather large house and it takes about 1-2 hours to clean it thoroughly once a week. Sometimes I skip it, and sometimes I vary the degree of cleanliness, but I enjoy loving on my home, some chores are great exercise, and I don’t spend any money to do this.
  4. Use washable rags for everything: When cleaning my house, I use these microfiber cloths to clean everything. I stopped cleaning with paper towels a few months ago, and between my husband and I, we can make a bulk package of paper towels last several months. Bonus: Use cloth napkins instead of disposable napkins/paper towels for meals. 
  5. Make your meals at home: While cleaning is my purview, cooking is my husband’s, and he batch cooks all of our evening meals at home. We might go out to eat for a special occasion (a birthday, or a retirement meal for a relative), but it is very rare we go out to eat or order-in on a random night. Batch cooking helps for those nights when we are rushed and hungry, or don’t feel like firing up the stove. Preparing meals at home also helps us eat healthy and mindfully, which is a long-term savings win. When I take care of my body, I am in better health, and statistically less likely to have (expensive!) preventable health problems later in life.
  6. Go meatless: My husband and I have been doing a “Meatless Month” where we are challenging ourselves to get creative with our food choices and incorporate more vegetables into our meals. I love meat, and I thought this would suck, but it has been surprisingly enjoyable. I might write more on this in another post, but the pros of going meatless for the month (or even for one day a week) are: 
    1. Spend less money at the grocery store (meat is expensive)
    2. Cook time is less because we aren’t waiting for the meat to cook through
    3. Batch cooking vegetarian meals last much longer (because there are a lot of stir-frys, soups, etc, we can make leftovers last several days!)
    4. Use overlapping ingredients in recipes (ex: an onion or a few bell peppers can be partially used in one recipe, and then again in another, to reduce waste)
    5. Delicious and Healthy!
  7. Do a no-spend month (or week, or day): Occasionally we will challenge ourselves to a No-Spend month. This is when we try to go a whole month without spending money on anything that is not budgeted for, or not a bill. We have yet to make it through a whole month (because life happens!), but this has taught us to refrain from impulse buying. Example: “Oh shoot, we really need to get some more Post-its for the home office! Wait, its a no-spend month. Wonder if I can wait until next month? I suppose I could.” BAM! No money spent. Now, next month I might end up buying these, or maybe in 1 week I realize, I truly need to get some. But the best case scenario, is when I find that old stack of index cards I’ve been carting around since college *in case*. I can cut these up, use them with tape for now, and avoid spending money, and wasting what I already have. Random example, but using what you already have as a substitution for a new purchase is a great way to save money.
  8. Brew your own coffee at home: I see this often as a tip to save money, and I have also seen the backlash stating “I do not have enough money to buy coffee at Starbucks every day, this is not the reason I am struggling to save!” Fair enough. But if you are buying coffee while out, try to start brewing coffee at home. I use this Toddy Cold Brew system to make a week’s worth of coffee at a time, and just pour and go in the morning. You can also prep your hot coffee maker the night before, so it brews on a timer, or at the push of a button in the morning. This goes for water too. Invest in refillable water bottles, and never buy a bottle of water again.
  9. Increase your monthly savings rate by 1%: If you are already saving a certain amount each month using your budget, great! No matter the amount, bump it up by 1%. So if its $10/month, make it $10.10/month. If its $100/month, make it $101/month. You will not even notice the difference. If this works for you, continue to increase your monthly savings amount each month.
  10. Check out your local library: Even if you haven’t been to your library before, walk in and ask for a library card. You’ll get access to free internet, tons of books, apps you can use to check out e-books/audiobooks on the go, music, movies, magazines, and so much more. Check out their website and see if there are any free events or classes in the upcoming month that look cool. Invite a spouse, a friend, or your kids, and make it a date!
  11. Join a Buy-Nothing group: Search on Facebook for “Buy Nothing (insert your town here)” and see if anything pops up. A Buy-Nothing group is a place where people can post items they are looking to get rid of for free, and you can also post pictures of things you no longer need for free. The goodwill and the generosity makes everyone happy! This is also a cool place to check if you are in search of something during a No-Spend month (see the Post-it example above). * While you’re at it, Like This Fascinating Adventure On Facebook to get easy access to all the articles I publish 🙂 *
  12. Visit with a friend without spending money: You can host a game night at home, or a potluck, or go out for a walk, or to the library for a free class, or so much more! You don’t have to schedule a dinner or a happy hour, or even buy an obligatory cup of coffee at the coffee shop to see a friend. Don’t let not spending money prevent you from maintaining relationships with awesome people! See if you can find a way to not spend money and instead, focus on the real treat: the person who is with you.
A kitchen counter with a cooler, plastic containers, a plastic water bottle, and cold brew coffee. Captioned: My Frugal Living Survival Kit
My Frugal Living Survival Kit

All of these suggestions are things that you can do today, and I hope they help you save money! Over time, not buying coffee, lunch, bottled water, every book I want to read, every item that crosses my mind that I think I need, etc, has certainly made a huge impact on how much I am able to save every month.

If you can widen the gap between how much you make, and how much you spend, you are in great shape! If you turn even one of these suggestions into a new habit, it surely will make a difference.

There are several priorities in life I value. Among these priorities are kindness, family, contributing to the world, working smart (and budgeting smart), loving others, and self-care. While I try to approach life with a thoughtful, joyful, and frugal lens, sometimes it feels like a lot of high-caliber experiences cost money.

Frugal Self-Care Honors All of My Priorities

Small aside on why Self-Care is worth every second. Simply, you deserve it. I have found I am a better partner, worker, friend, family member, citizen, and person when I love myself. Self-Care is one of the most impactful ways I have found to practice compassion for myself. 

Some of the approaches I list below on practicing Self-Care made me feel silly when I first started consciously trying to incorporate them into my day-to-day. The good news is, no one has to know you’re doing these things! These things can happen in private moments, when no one is watching. It doesn’t matter if you feel silly! It’s a moment with yourself, and you may find you are more fascinating than you ever imagined.

One of My Go-To’s: The Frugal Self-Care Trifecta!

A hot bath (using Epsom salts), guided meditation, and cup of tea! I can’t tell you how much I adore this ritual I indulge in at least once a week. These things are solid as stand-alone approaches, but when their powers unite—no words! Youtube has a bunch of guided meditations to choose from. Just search “guided meditation” or “guided meditation + whatever topic you want to be inspired by.” It is well worth the time to experiment and find a meditation or channel you like. Though the hot bath uses a lot of water, and the tea and Epsom salts cost money, these small prices are well worth it to me. 

Other Frugal Self-Care Strategies 

  • Take a walk (bonus points if you incorporate your breathing)
  • Rest
  • Listen to music 
  • Google “Noble Silence” and give it a shot for a few minutes
  • Read a good book (bonus points if it’s from your library!)
  • Have a conversation with someone 
  • Spend time looking at the sky
  • Schedule a date with yourself 
  • Call or schedule a date with someone you haven’t seen in a while
  • Sleep in or take a nap
  • Focus on your breathing
  • Journal
  • Clean your house with the mindset that you are loving and honoring your home 
  • Fly a kite (it gets you outside, you can be childish, you only need a kite and the outdoors!)
  • Volunteer
  • Look at cute pictures of animals
  • Write a gratitude list
  • Meditate
  • Look for inspirational or positive quotes online
  • Color in a coloring book
  • Exercise (even if it’s some jumping jacks and a jog around the block.)
  • Look in the mirror and say: “I love you and I am proud of you.”
  • Consciously give yourself permission to be a human and feel any and all feelings

The Best Investment You Can Make Is In Yourself

While massages, the spa, or a day at the golf course are wonderful things, you can take care of yourself at any moment throughout the day—frugally!

Some of these things might not be up your alley. No problem! Do what is up your alley. These practices are beneficial when we are having any kind of day or moment. They are called practices, because we practice them. We aren’t perfect, and we don’t have to do a single thing perfectly, including any of the above suggestions. However, if you are having an especially challenging moment, maybe try something you wouldn’t normally try. See what happens! You have nothing to lose.

Did I miss anything? Feel free to add in the comments how you practice Self-Care Frugally!

Here is another weekly installment of Living Frugally where I share my frugal accomplishments for the past week. Be sure to share your frugal successes in the comments!

Learned how to two-step. I count new things as frugal wins, because if it’s new, it’s usually thrilling (insert cheap thrills joke here). We were out listening to live music (free) and a friend was willing to show me how to two-step.

Cooked a batch of lentil soup that lasted both of us four days this week. 

Made the choice to decline some offered weekend and evening work. I sometimes take this type of work because of the pay differential, and sometimes I don’t. When I don’t, I am equally proud of myself for honoring my personal time over my money. (If you’ve never read Your Money Or Your Life, go read this now!)

Listened to two audiobooks on my commute this week and also read one e-book, all courtesy of my local library.

Grocery shopped prudently. Only spent about $26 for the week (mostly on produce). Next week will be our larger grocery trip, so I anticipate a much higher bill. 

Considered picking up food on the way home one night this week. We have a delicious Mexican restaurant nearby, and while I was hungry, and it was tempting, I went home and made breakfast for dinner instead. By doing this, I was also able to use up some eggs before they went bad, and I didn’t spend any additional money!

Made a frozen pizza one night, when we didn’t feel like cooking, and ate the leftovers for lunch the next day. 

My husband enjoys cigar smoking and a dear friend gifted us a hand-crafted ashtray. It easily could sell for $50, it was beautiful, and most of all, the gift was very thoughtful.

A wooden, hand made ashtray resting on a table.
Wood-working + Skill = This Lovely Creation

Unrelated to the above gift, it was also my husband’s birthday this week. While we do not exchange gifts for birthdays, we were able to go to the local cigar shop hang-out and my husband was showered with cigar gifts from all his friends. 

Celebrated the Super Bowl with friends. We brought several bags of chips to the party, and we also ate a lot of delicious BBQ. We went home full and happy! At the end of the event, most of the food was gone. There were a ton of artisan bread rolls left, and when the host offered some to take home, we happily did. We paired this with our lentil soup. (I’m also realizing a lot of my frugal successes involve food!)

I took 2 hot baths this week and drank numerous cups of my new favorite tea. I love frugal ways to nurture myself. 

Hung out with friends several times this week, all without spending any money. The real treat is the quality time and conversation. 

Began a new 80-day work-out program this week via Beachbody. I am not affiliated with BB in any way, but I love that it is only $99/year, it streams to my living room, and there are hundreds of workouts to choose from. I am always challenged. 

We are planning on purchasing a piece of furniture for our bedroom in the near future. My mom owed me a small amount of money, and she happened to also have store credit to the same store we plan to buy the furniture. She previously returned an item and didn’t know what to do with her store credit. I accepted re-payment in the form of store credit, and in this way, we both were helped. 

Pruned my plants. They are surviving so far, as long as I remember to bring them in when it freezes. This winter has been pretty mild (so far!) and I am looking forward to planting new plants in my raised garden bed in the spring. I am glad to have some surviving ones from previous seasons, to reduce the cost I will spend at the Garden Center in a few months. 

Received refund checks from our previous home/auto insurance policy. We cancelled our policies recently, and switched carriers for a cheaper rate. Receiving the prorated checks from the cancelled policy was a nice reward.

What are some of your frugal accomplishments for this past week?

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Imagine going to a gas staton and asking the attendant if you can have $20 of gas on pump 3. Oh, and by the way, does he mind if you pay him later? Impossible right? In today’s world, there aren’t any IOUs, or running up a tab in the local grocery store. Things have to be paid up-front and in full. This is difficult for many people who live paycheck-to-paycheck, and also for those who buy what they want, when they want. What happens when we want something we do not have money in the bank for? Or, even worse, what happens when we need something we do not have the money for?

Recently, I was talking with someone very close to me who is in a bit of a financial pinch. He has made some wrong turns and is looking at about $8,000 in credit card debt. He was very nonchalant about this amount, and emphasized over time, he could knock out that $8,000. I realized he did not understand the credit card interest was eating away any minimum payment he might be able to send toward the balance. This is why I am writing about something as seemingly simple as interest.

Interest Isn’t All That Simple

Credit cards, staggered due dates, payment plans, and other financial hokey pokey all make spending money seamless. Why might this be problematic? It makes it very easy to spend more money than we earn, every month, and not even know it!

What’s the big deal? If everything gets paid at some point, and I am still bringing in money every month, what’s the problem? The problem is, it is expensive to spend more than I earn every month. Not just because I am spending all of my money, but because I am likely paying interest on some of my spending. 

Fascinating Example of Interest: Credit Card Debt

Back to the example of my friend who owes $8,000 in credit card debt. Say his annual interest rate is 17%, and he pays the minimum payment every month of $25. Using calculator.net, I plugged in these numbers to see a bone-chilling result: “It is unlikely that you can pay off the balance with a monthly payment of $25”. Wait, what? He will pay that forever? Not exactly, but it’s still pretty grim.

Here’s why: every month the remaining balance is “taxed” with interest. Initially, he charged things on his credit card when he did not have the money. In return for “loaning” him the money, the credit card company will charge him interest if he does not pay off the balance in full by the end of the billing cycle. If his interest rate is high, and his payment amount isn’t high enough, he may end up not paying down much of the debt at all.

Credit Card Interest Broken Down

Credit card companies use an annual percentage rate (APR), but assign billing cycles and due dates using a monthly time frame. To complicate matters, when he reaches the end of his billing cycle while carrying a balance, the interest accrues daily. So we’ve got months, days, and years all jumbled into a formula that spits out an extra amount to be tacked onto the initial balance. Translation: It is not as simple as 17% on the entire balance (in our example, 17% of $8,000).

So How Do We Translate an Interest Rate to Real Dollars Owed?

A simplified version: Divide your APR by the number of days in the year. Multiply this number (your daily rate) by the balance you are carrying at the end of the billing cycle. Then, multiply this number by 30 (the number of days in your billing cycle).

When his billing cycle ends and his payment is due, the 17% APR will be broken down to a daily rate. This daily rate will then be multiplied by the balance owed ($8,000), and again multiplied by the number of days in the billing cycle. Result: The amount of interest added that month. In this case, his owed amount shoots up to $8,111.78. If he makes a $25 payment that month, great—it will bring his balance due down to $8,086.78. Notice this amount is more than he started with, even after he made a payment.

Then he chugs through the next month, not using his credit card, and therefore not adding to the debt. The month is over, the billing cycle ends, and his credit card payment is due again. Interest is charged on the balance due (which is now $8,086.78). Using the formula above, he now owes $8,199.77! He will have to pay much more than $25 a month if he wants to ever be free from this debt.

Another calculator showed that paying $25 a month would allow for the credit card debt to be paid off in 33.8 years. Over the life of the debt, the total amount paid would be $17,332.58, or $8,000 in principle and $9,332.58 in interest. That’s a pretty hefty charge from the credit card company for this “loan”.

Editor’s note: The formula to calculate interest on a credit card is likely more complicated depending on your credit card company. Your credit card company might take your average daily balance for the billing cycle, rather than your end of cycle balance. Or the interest rate might negatively compound each day beyond the end of your billing cycle, rather than negatively compounding monthly. The interest could also be higher if you have a variable APR (instead of a fixed APR) and your bill is past due.

Bottom line: Don’t carry a balance so you won’t have to pay interest at all!

Fascinating Interest Example: Car Loan Debt

Credit card interest isn’t the only way we can pay more than the actual value for an item. What if I need a car to get to work so I can make some money? I am not going to go into detail the merits of buying used vs. new at this point. Let’s just say I get a used car, a couple of years old, for about $17,000, with $2000 down, and 5% interest (in 2015 I actually did this very thing). Using calculator.net I can plug in the numbers to see how much interest I will pay over the life of the loan.

Whatever the interest is, its worth it, right? I need to be able to get to work. With no car, I am seriously jeopardizing any shot at bringing home any money. So I sign the papers, and am happy to pay whatever in the future, so I can have this car today. In my mind, this loan puts me at an advantage. 

Car Loan Interest Broken Down

Perhaps it’s (arguably) advantageous to have a car loan, if it means getting a car. However, I might not realize for a loan spread over 5 years, I will pay over $2000 in interest alone. Now, compared to the price of the car at $17,000, this 4 digit interest payment feels like pennies. But it’s not! It’s a decent chunk of change no longer available to put toward my savings, emergency fund, investments, retirement, vacation, living expenses, etc. Now the $17,000 car becomes almost $20,000!

This is not to say, never get a car note. I did, and I paid it off as quick as I could, well before the 5-year payoff date. Driving all around town as a free-lancer, I am in the car at least 25% of my day, and I am happy with my car. If my car was totaled tomorrow, and I needed to make this decision all over again, would I? For me, probably not. Knowing now, what I did not know back in 2015, I would probably look for a quality, used car and pay cash up-front.

What’s My Point?

Pay our credit cards off in full, avoid paying interest and spend less than we earn! A fool-proof way to avoid paying hundreds of dollars in interest (or tens of thousands over a life time) is to save money and pay for things in full. The problem with paying cash up-front for anything, whether it be a new car, a new TV, a tank of gas, that month’s groceries, whatever… I have to have cash! I can’t pay anything up-front and in full without cash on-hand. If I don’t have it, I just might put something on a credit card without having a plan for how I will pay the bill ASAP to avoid interest. Or at the dealership I might sign a stack of papers with tedious language I don’t understand, and be indebted to someone for 5 years.

When I am able to not spend all my money, and especially not spend more money than I earn each month, I am able to set aside some “power” money to be used at a later date. “Power” money is exactly what it sounds like. It’s money on stand-by that gives me power. With “power” money I can pay for my groceries in full; I can even pay for a car in cash if I was diligent and saved. Who calls the shots? Me! Who decides how much I am going to pay for something? Me! I can make well-thought-out decisions that allow me to not overpay for an item via interest. 

Are Credit Cards Really That Awful?

I admit, I do almost all of my spending on credit cards. I have a few credit cards open that provide really top-notch rewards programs. However, once I got myself out of debt, I did not start using credit cards again until I was certain I could pay them off every single month. It was crucial to avoid any interest, and not pay the bank and the store for an item I purchased. Initially, it was challenging to send way more than the minimum payment to my debt every month. But, with a little persistence, and some budgeting, it happened. I have never heard anyone say they regret getting themselves out of debt. And anyway, who doesn’t like a challenge?

My first experience with an allowance was back in elementary school, where every Friday I would get $2. Up to this point as a kid, I never got money or toys unless it was a birthday or a holiday, so when I was told I would be getting an allowance, I was psyched. I would dutifully go to Target or Walmart or wherever, and spend as much time as my parents could tolerate, perusing the toy aisle looking for what I could buy with that amount of money. I inevitably landed on Barbie wigs for $1.99 each. Yup, wigs for my Barbie dolls. 

Oh Barbie. As a kid, I would’ve done anything for you!

I never was much of a saver, so instead of saving up a month’s worth of allowances and hopefully purchasing a more exciting toy, the money burned a hole in my pocket until I could beg my mom to take me to the store to pore over the toy aisle and inevitably walk out of the store with yet another Barbie wig. I didn’t necessarily want the wigs—they were super hard to squeeze on my Barbie’s head—but that didn’t stop me. They were all I could afford, and I wanted a taste of the autonomy that came with spending my own money.

Fast forward to high school, when my mom started giving me both my lunch money and monthly allowance on the first of the month. This must have been an attempt to allow me to practice budgeting, but all this did was make me count out exact change for a slice of pizza per school day for that month, and then go straight to the mall to buy clothes with the rest of the lunch money (combined with my allowance). My mom caught on and stopped doing this since she wasn’t sure I was eating enough (I wasn’t) and went back to giving me my lunch money weekly. She was right in assuming I was less likely to save up my weekly lunch money over time to go clothes shopping—I still had not learned to delay gratification.

This behavior followed me into early adulthood. When I was younger, money was a scare resource and some years were leaner than others. As I got older, when I had money, I spent it. It’s as if I didn’t trust that I would ever get more, and really, future planning was scary anyway. It was short-term thinking only for me.

As I eased into my late 20s, I discussed with my mom the novel idea of me giving myself an allowance. I was so proud of myself for coming up with a way to budget for any “extra” spending. I learned that she had been giving herself an allowance for decades! This woman was a single mom for a lot of our lives, had 3 kids, and did a fantastic job of providing (without child support some years). Y’all, in the thick of it, I literally didn’t even know we were poor for several years of my life. She struggled and parented and raised us into adults, and I can’t express how much I admire her. I digress—the point is: the most fiscally prudent person I know has an allowance!

In my current life situation, a big part of taming my spending included giving myself this personal allowance. Very similar to when I was a child, I can use this money for coffee while out, a product off Amazon, lunch with friends, nonsense, whatever. I pay myself an amount biweekly to be used for anything or nothing. I can spend it right away, or save it, but I won’t get another infusion for 2 weeks, so I have to keep this in mind.

Initially, when I began giving myself an allowance, I admit it was a rather high amount. I wasn’t sure what the upcoming 2 weeks would hold, and I didn’t want to have to put myself in a position of saying no to myself, or not getting what I wanted. As I have mentioned in previous articles, spending money on what I wanted, when I wanted, was part of “being an adult” in my eyes and made me feel capable and successful. Like I was doing this life thing right. 

As time went on, I was able to parse out things from my allowance that come up frequently enough to be their own line item on my budget. For example, I visit my nephew in a town about 3 hours away pretty frequently. He moved there 5 years ago to live with his dad, and I went from seeing him 4-5 times a week, to seeing him, at most, 1-2 times a month. Visiting him was a huge priority to me, but the travel, the spending on dining out and kiddo activities etc, needed to be budgeted for. After trying to eek out weekend trips like this on my biweekly allowance, I finally gave up. I reduced my allowance, and made those monthly trips for the weekend their own budgeted item. 

While I became more familiar with spending only what my allotted allowance would cover, I incorporated the habit of checking out the 2 weeks ahead on “Pay Day” (aka Allowance Day). I usually glance over my calendar for the next two weeks, see if there is a friend’s birthday coming up, or a lunch date, to make sure I reserve from my allowance whatever amount I think is necessary for that special event. With this strategy, I am able to not blow it all on the first day, as I did when I was a child, because I know that something more exciting and worthwhile will require the very same spending money in the future. 

My allowance today, compared to a few years ago when I first started this exercise, is quite small. I have built a life around not spending money on things that I do not value, so I have no desire to buy lunch every time I meet a friend, or pick up a new make-up product. Having to make value-based decisions on how I will spend my limited allowance has made me more aware of what things I actually value. Without meaning to, I began spending less and less of the amount I was giving myself for an allowance, and was able to build my cushion, or savings, quicker. At one point, I actually ended up reducing my allowance, then realized that I reduced too much. So I bumped it back up (I am not trying to deprive myself after all), and have been using the same allowance amount to fund my “fun times” for the past couple of years. My set amount and your set amount may be different, and this does not matter. The important thing is, we have a set amount.

Throughout this process, I have been able to build up the skill of delaying gratification to where I don’t rely on my allowance for every little thing I want; I instead budget for it. If I know I want to get a massage next month, I will make sure I can put it as a line item. If Christmas is coming up, I begin setting aside money for it months in advance. If I want an expensive face cream (this is one of the few items I am unwilling to cut from my personal care spending), I track how long it takes for me to use it all up, and budget accordingly (in this case, its every 3 months). 

Surprisingly, putting a “restriction” on myself, like a personal allowance, has made me feel more free, than when I was spending as I used to. There is a contentedness and a satisfaction from spending my hard-earned money only on things that I value and enjoy. A personal allowance can be budgeted, just like anything else, and will keep your budget unharmed as you work toward Financial Security.

Here is another weekly installment of Living Frugally where I share my frugal accomplishments for the past week. Be sure to share your frugal successes in the comments!

Ate packed lunches all week.

Used my refillable water bottle all week while I was out at work and running errands.

Renewed my cell phone service for the year through Mint Mobile. I pay $240/year (yup! A YEAR) for 8GB of data, but they have different packages. It’s one of the best financial decisions I’ve made to date. They use T-Mobile’s towers and I was able to bring my own device and keep the same number I’ve had for years. I am thrilled to sign-up with them again for another year.

Listened to free guided meditations on YouTube as a way to wind down. I like these guys, but find whatever resonates with you. Paired best with a hot bath.

Offered to bring the cake for a friend’s birthday party. I wasn’t sure what to get him (he pretty much has everything he wants). I was just going to get a gift card to Target (cause I figure, who doesn’t want a Target gift card?), but I felt the cake contributed more and gave me the satisfaction of bringing a “real gift.” I didn’t have time to make one, but thankfully our local grocery store is pretty good about gourmet cakes so I was able to pick up a nice one that was cheaper than if I bought it at an upscale grocery store, or bakery. I spent probably about as much as I would have spent on his Target gift card, but felt better about the gift.

Listened to several audiobooks on my commute, and started a new e-book from my local library using the Libby app.

Used an essential oils/massage oil concoction on my feet a few evenings this week. I made this massage oil for free when I attended a class at the local public library.

Collected all of my W2s/1099s and organized my tax info somewhat. I still have some left to do, but I find that I am more productive and peaceful when I have things orderly. Although I pay a tax professional to do the heavy lifting on my tax prep (my taxes have gradually gotten more complicated through the years), I am still able to learn a little bit more about my taxes each time I ready the paperwork to hand off to my CPA.

I picked up a short job on the weekend, and a couple evenings this week. Doing work outside of standard business hours pays a differential (aka more money) and is worth it to pick up from time to time. However, I have learned that I like to be at home evenings/weekends and I do not serve myself by forcing myself to regularly take jobs at all hours just to make some extra money. In this case though, the occasional infusion of extra cash is nice.

At a social event this week, there was a ton of pizza left over. Not only did I eat for free while there, but I was able to bring home a whole extra pizza to enjoy with my husband. 

I worked out 5 days this week. I use a streaming service for $99/year (Beachbody) to work out in my home, but Youtube also has a ton of workouts/yoga for free. Investing in my health and fitness is a huge long term frugal win (think savings on doctor’s appointments, medications, etc).

Almost made a purchase on Amazon for some free weights for my husband. We ended up being able to modify what the exercise required using equipment we already had, and did not have to spend money on an extra piece of equipment. Pausing before making a purchase really allows for the time to be creative and come up with a frugal equivalent.

I have a setting on my washing machine for “hand-wash” and I use it for some articles of clothing that are dry-clean only. I washed a heavy coat this weekend using this cycle. I don’t remember the last time I sent clothes to the dry cleaners.

A friend of mine was looking to part with some extra rubber bracelets and a mason jar mug that she got from a local indoor skydiving arena. My nephew loves that place, so I was able to receive these things for free and store them away to begin stockpiling knick-knacks for birthday and Christmas stocking this year. 

One of the entities I work for tries to host staff meetings at a local coffee shop to break up the monotony of the work day. I attended, but did not order anything or spend money. I did not even notice the difference. It is nice to not feel obligated to spend just because I am in a particular setting.

A credit card I hold was offering an additional 2% cash back for the month of January when purchasing gas (for a total of 4%). Though I had half a tank left, I filled up one last time to maximize the rewards points. Keep in mind when taking advantage of credit card rewards, it is important to always pay off the card in full every month. 

Tried a new tofu/veggie stir-fry recipe (it was sooo good) and it ended up being plenty to feed the two of us for 3 days. It was nice to not have to cook so often, and also what a great, frugal recipe to make in bulk! We used veggies, tofu, rice, and seasonings. This was the first time I have ever tried tofu in my life and it was surprisingly delicious! 

We also made burrito bowls again which fed us for 2 meals each, and also used similar ingredients as the stir-fry so we didn’t waste any produce (e.g. the other half of an onion, etc).

Doesn’t look like much but add some beans and cheese and it makes for a delicious burrito bowl!

Thought I would need to get a new phone, because my current phone (an iPhone 6s) was running out of battery quickly. I resigned myself to this, figuring the phone was pretty old and it was time, but then I remembered I just updated the operating system and perhaps something in my settings was changed that caused the battery drainage. Sure enough, after a quick Google search, I figured out what settings were changed after the update, reverted them back to my preferences, and my phone is working great. I’ll eventually get a new phone, but no sense in replacing it when it still is working great.

What are some of your frugal accomplishments for this past week?

Here is another weekly installment of Living Frugally where I share my frugal accomplishments for the past week. Be sure to share your frugal successes in the comments!

This week was a little crazy schedule-wise and stress-wise. I practiced a lot of self-care this week which included free activities such as taking warm baths, making tea, and taking a nap. While shelling out for a massage or some other self-care sometimes is helpful (and I definitely do this at times), there are many things I can do to nurture myself that are free. 

It was nice having an extra day off this week and I spent a lot of quality time with my husband. 

I enjoyed coffee made at home all week. One especially crazy day I felt like a (caffeine) treat, and while I normally drink my iced (Toddy) coffee black, I added some almond milk and maple syrup and made the coffee an extra large.

It tasted like gourmet coffee, but was made at home with ingredients on hand and was DELICIOUS.

I ate a packed lunch during the workweek every day. 

I hung out with friends a couple of times in public cafes and chose to not spend money on ordering anything. Two times I just hung out while they snacked and I enjoyed their company, the third time I enjoyed some fries with my allowance. I’m glad that I can have a good time without spending money, and that at times, I can spend money on things I want using my allotted allowance.

I went to a social event that served tamales and enjoyed a free meal while hanging with friends. 

Cleaned my whole house using washable rags and cleaning products we have on hand. I appreciated not having to outsource any chores, and its great physical exercise for me! Plus, I admit, I love a clean house.

Went grocery shopping for the next 3 weeks. While we bought a lot of household items (toilet paper, etc), we also have decided to go meatless for the next month (an experiment!) and I was happy with how much lower our grocery bill is when we do not purchase meat. 

Ate leftovers often this week. We batch cooked Burrito Bowls, Lentil Soup, and Beans and Rice and these dishes fed us for dinner all week. 

I had some leftover cilantro that I used last week to make guacamole. As cheap as it is, I didn’t want to waste it, so I threw it into the Beans and Rice to give it a little kick. I also made a batch of cilantro rice for our Burrito Bowls. Who knew cilantro was so spicy?!

When we chopped up the carrots for the Lentil Soup, we used the green leaf (stems??) from the carrots in our smoothie. It was a little grainy but it felt good to not waste a single bit of the food we bought, and to get the extra nutrients. 

We made smoothies a few times (once with the carrot heads!) using frozen fruit and fresh veggies to satisfy our sweet tooth.

Usually, because of the nature of my job, I drive a lot! This week, I was able to keep my driving to a minimum (partially because of the holiday on Monday, and partially because I scheduled jobs close together in town) and only used half a tank of gas. There have been weeks where I have used 3x this amount, so I am pleased it is Friday and I still have a decent amount of gas left.

A friend of mine is reading a book series I love and I happen to own. He was bemoaning the local library for not carrying the entire series and I was able to loan him the next book. It is nice to share what we have so others don’t have to use their own resources unnecessarily.

I read several ebooks from my library, and finished up my audiobook. I checked out a new audiobook that is fantastic so far.

My smart husband called around and got a better deal on our home and auto insurance. We are going to save over $100/month. This extra work is so worth it.

I completed some online trainings for one of the entities I work for. It was a slow week work-wise for this particular entity, so being able to pad the time with some trainings will help my income flow.

I was able to transfer a significant amount of money from one paid invoice into my savings account. I am preparing for some upcoming large expenses and make sure to move some money into a high-yield savings account periodically in order to capitalize on the interest. Also, by having it out of my checking account, I am less likely to be tempted to spend the money on non-essentials. 

I helped a family member out with some money. While I try to be careful when doing this, because my family has some codependent habits, I was grateful I had the surplus to help when someone I love truly needs the help. My partner and I made this decision together, as we do all financial decisions. 

What are some of your frugal accomplishments for this past week?

As someone who used to spend every last dollar every pay period, I am familiar with the sensation that there is just no way I could put money into a savings account and not touch it. Life would happen, and any surplus left after I paid my bills would be allocated toward a need like an oil change or new tires. At other times, after mildly majorly stressing over money every pay period, I would have a surplus and I would treat myself to a new article of clothing, or an expensive haircut, or gourmet coffee. Then I would feel what (I thought) everyone else on the planet must feel like: capable; like I had my stuff together. Because see…I can give myself nice things from time to time. 

This isn’t a commentary on real poverty by any means. This is a recognition of my spending cycle: Not have enough, finally have a little extra, spend it, not have enough, and so on. 

Part of the journey to Financial Security includes some savings. This should come as no surprise, but building money in the bank can be daunting to someone who has never had any. How to start building your savings is quite simple: figure out your surplus at the end of each pay period, and put that amount into a savings account (preferably a high-yield savings account).  

When your zero-sum budget has been filled out, and you have given yourself a small personal allowance (more on this in another post), look at what is left. Are you typically left with $15 extra every month? $150? $500? Whatever your dollar amount is, add this amount on your list of bills you made when you created your budget. Then, pay this dollar amount every month into your savings account, just like a bill. Pay it faithfully, and automatically. The only exception is if there is a true emergency that comes up, and you need the funds to get those new tires, or pay that parking ticket. Otherwise, you keep paying that Bill every month. This is an important bill, not to be made light of, because the person who is getting paid is you. 

See how I have several savings vehicles listed with dollar amounts? I pay them every month, on time, just like my utility bill.

The objective is to reach a point where you have a month’s worth of essential expenses saved up in your savings account. At this point, we can divert our attention to other endeavors (retirement accounts, etc), but in the meantime, this step is crucial to stopping that vicious spending cycle that always ends in not having enough money. 

The reasonable allowance allows for you to treat yourself from time to time, and this Savings account will be the beginnings of your Emergency Fund, to be used only for an emergency: Something unexpected, requiring immediate action. Unless you already have a healthy Emergency Fund set up (the eventual goal is 3-6 months of essential living expenses), this is not to be used as a travel fund, a shopping fund, or any other invention of the mind. This is for situations when “life happens” and this cushion preserves your budget. 

If you are able to build an Emergency Fund, you do not need to wreck your budget if something comes up. You can pull out of your EF, pay the surprise medical bill, and keep your budget intact and on track. No other bills have to be put on the back burner because you already have the money set in “reserves” to cover the truly unexpected. A major purpose of budgeting, (other than making sure you pay all your bills on time and have what you need, and a few things you want), is to cushion yourself with a savings account.

There is no way to “get ahead” without savings. Frankly, I don’t like the phrase “get ahead” because (brace yourself) I believe life is a journey to be enjoyed (not a race) and every moment on this earth is a gift. Cornball, I know! I also know from experience, that some moments suck, and life can be hard. But my word! We are all here alive on this planet. What a trip. 🙂

So while I don’t like using “get ahead” I spent most of my 20s playing “catch up”. We can use the linear analogy of forward and backward, ahead and behind, and I hope you know what I mean. Basically playing catch up sucks. Its rough worrying about each paycheck and feeling like you can’t catch a break. There’s some pleasure in the whimsy, but not usually when it comes to money. Being uncertain about money threatens our instinct to feel secure.

Building this savings may seem intimidating, and maybe imagining a life with Financial Security seems fanciful and even impossible. However, when the situation inevitably arises where you need some extra funds to cover the unexpected, you will be relieved and proud of yourself for making this a priority. If you’ve ever heard the expression “Pay Yourself First” that’s what this means: Savings! 

And its nice to watch your money stack up. It will strengthen your financial confidence to watch your money grow, no matter how slow. Once you’ve made it a priority, and pay your savings account just like a bill, you will be amazed at how simple it turns out to be. 

Getting your financial house in order is no small feat! It takes time, patience and most of all, persistence. For any lifestyle change, whether it be fitness, clean eating, or really anything, the most important thing to do is not give up. You can get frustrated, you can slow down your efforts, you can do a half-ass job, but as long as you don’t quit, you can potentially cycle through low motivation and inch forward until you’re ready to commit full effort again. Below is your cheat-sheet checklist on steps to take, even when you don’t want to, to keep yourself moving toward the end goal: Financial Stability. Budgeting and Tracking your Spending are meaningless concepts if no action is taken. So get ready to make moves!

1. Track Your Spending: If you haven’t already sat down and input your accounts into a spreadsheet or software that tracks your expenses (Mint, Personal Capital) do this now. Just like assembling a new TV stand or whatever, you only have to do this once, and then you won’t have to do it again, so go knock it out and get set up!

2. List Your Fixed Bills: Write a list of your monthly bills and the amounts and due dates. These should be fixed amounts that do not change month-to-month (ex: rent, internet). You can make a separate list for any quarterly (and another for annual) expenses if you prefer, but if thats too complicated, hold off for a couple of weeks and for now, just focus on what you pay per month. You can add quarterly and annual expenses into your budget as you get more practice using the budget to guide your money. 

3. Make a list of any and all debt: If you have input every single account you have into one of the Track your Spending apps, this should be easy to view in one place, but write it down separately anyway. What are your minimum monthly payments on this debt? What are the interest rates for each of these debts? When will these debts be paid off? See it all in one place. This will help motivate you when you hit step 5.

4. List Your Variable Expenses: Look at your monthly living expenses and hone in on the variable categories. What amounts change every month? Make a list of what those are (groceries, utilities, gas) and see if you can come up with some goals for the upcoming month to reduce any frivolous spending. You can use this opportunity to cancel any ongoing non-essential expenses (monthly subscriptions you don’t need, etc). Again, this will vary depending on values, and there is no right or wrong. This step simply requires honesty with self. If you acknowledge that there is room to trim the grocery budget, or cut down restaurant spending, figure out what you are willing to do. Remember you always get to be the one to make the choice, but the choice (and results) are yours. Maximize this.

5. Prioritize Your Expenses: Review all of the line items you’ve now created. Put them in order of importance: 1. Bills you need to pay to live (rent, groceries). 2. Minimum debt payments. 3. Discretionary/optional expenses. Your list may look different from mine, or anyone else’s and that absolutely makes sense. You and I value different things, so our priorities will reflect that.

6. Build Your Zero-Sum Budget: Put all the pieces together using zero-sum budgeting. For simplicity’s sake, I am going to pretend we are getting paid once a month, but of course pay dates differ for all of us and definitely modify this to suit your own situation. Start with your monthly income, and subtract essential monthly living expenses, making sure you include groceries and utilities. These are variable categories, but still essential. You can determine the average amount of what you’ve spent on these variable categories, and what you are now willing to spend, based on the previous steps. Then start subtracting minimum debt payments. After this, any amount you are left with can go toward non-essential categories that you value, starting a savings account and extra payments toward any debt you have. 

Do not use the last part of Step 6 as an opportunity to fool yourself about priorities. No matter how massive your debt, start putting extra money toward it every month. Track those extra payments to bolster your motivation, and always continue to look for places where you can trim variable costs. If I can cut my grocery bill by $10, thats $10 I can either stick in my savings for an Emergency Fund, or throw toward my debt. You are carving a beautiful ice sculpture and you’ve gotta chip-chip-chip away at it. There is no inconsequential amount of money. No matter how small the amount, if you use your money wisely, you will have access to freedoms and possibilities. If its spent on fleeting, unimportant things, those possibilities aren’t on the table.

This is a simple guide to get started. I know that sometimes income isn’t enough to cover essential expenses, let alone extra payments toward anything. I also recognize that debt-payoff, boosting your savings account/Emergency Fund, and setting aside money for retirement each are topics that deserve their own post and more in-depth discussion. However, budgeting and tracking your spending is a good starting place on the journey to Financial Stability. These somewhat tedious and slightly annoying steps are some of the most important things you can do.

With any goal you want to keep, difficulties may arise. We are changing habits and patterns and its uncomfortable to try new things, or face challenges. But it can be done. Its ok if its not pretty, its ok if a ton of mistakes are made along the way, if you have to erase and start all over a couple of times, if you need to take a break (as long as you commit to returning to your task at some point), or if when you are all done, you feel like you completed a piece of artwork that belongs in a Kindergarten class. Its ok. 

You’re doing something new, and its in the new and the doing where your skills get sharpened and you are building a tool kit that can serve you forever. You can’t start investing in the market, or become debt-free, or have 3-6 months of monthly expenses in the bank as an Emergency Fund, without budgeting. This is the only place to start, it is your foundation, and once you get this part down solid and strong (or even rickety and wobbly at first), you can begin to build your Financial Future on top of it.

Here is another weekly installment of Living Frugally where I share my frugal accomplishments for the past week. Be sure to share your frugal successes in the comments!

I attended a free class at the library that taught about Essential Oils. I was able to make and take home 2 different massage oils (one to soothe muscles, and one to reduce stress). I attended this class with my mom (who also made some take-home oils), and we enjoyed our time together. 

My husband and I packed our lunches for work all week.

I picked up a few last-minute jobs this week and was able to generate additional income.

Used washable cloths all week for my cleaning needs.

I cleaned and sealed all of the grout in our kitchen, dining room, entryway, and laundry room. I priced paying someone to come do this (because it was hard work!) but was quoted $400+ and was happy to spend the course of the week working on it myself. I am enjoying the finished product more, especially because I labored over it myself. It was also great (free!) exercise.

Here you can see the difference between the dirty and clean grout!

One assignment I worked this week is in a downtown area where parking is hard to find. Last time I paid $20 to park in a lot because I was tired of circling the block! I left my house early enough and found parking at a meter paying only $2.40. I can write this off through my business, but because I am the only employee, any money I don’t spend on operating costs goes straight to me.

I batched my errands so I was able to complete a few things on the other side of town on the way home from a job. This would have been inconvenient if I had done otherwise.

I grocery shopped for the week and only spent $35 on additions to what we already had. In the upcoming week it will be a larger grocery trip, but I was pleased to spend so little.

I attended a free meditation class that ended with a Noble Silence walk. I was apprehensive about trying something new, but it was pleasant to spend a couple of hours with friends in a peaceful setting and I was glad I went. 

I signed the agreement with my CPA to complete my LLC taxes through him again this year. Though his price has gone up since last year (ouch!) I had the funds available and was able to pay this with no problem due to planning and saving. Last year was the first time I used him, and he saved me several thousand dollars, so the expense is well worth the savings I anticipate this year.

Read several free books from the library using my Libby app, and also listened to a new audiobook on my commute (also from the library). 

Enjoyed a lot of leftovers this week from some batch cooking. We only cooked 2 times this week and we still have enough to feed us for a couple more days. We also went out to eat this week to celebrate my Father-in-Law’s retirement. It was enjoyable to pick up the check and honor the hard work he put in over a 40-year career, and I was able to enjoy leftovers the following day. 

After making too much coffee in my coffee pot, I saved the remaining coffee in the fridge using a mason jar and drank it the next day. 

I was gracious with a customer when they made an error and I could’ve billed them nevertheless, but didn’t. This maintains good relations and I am comfortable enough with my income/savings to where this was possible with no resentment. 

I completed a sewing project that I worked on with my mom. It was wonderful spending the time together and I now have a beautiful tree skirt and a set of stockings to use for next Christmas. 

One of the completed stockings!

I was able to socialize with friends several times this week, all just hanging out, without any money spent. 

What are some of your frugal accomplishments for this past week?

A muscle

In previous posts I have chronicled how to begin tracking your spending, and how to start a budget. But why are these things important? 

These habits help you to spend less than you earn, and get you on your way to saving. Saving money opens so many doors. It opens the door to an Emergency Fund, to retirement (which isn’t a given without saving for it), to investing in the stock market (not just for the swanky folk), for travel, for financial security in the event of an injury, illness, or job loss, and so much more. I know many people, especially those who make a healthy income, who think that budgeting and tracking spending is unimportant. As long as you have enough money in your bank account to pay your bills, alls well…right?

Surprise!! That is not ideal. I will refrain from referring to that philosophy as wrong, or incorrect, because I have made my share of spending and (lack of saving) mistakes, and frankly, sometimes that is the only way to learn. However, I am equipped, through those experiences, to explain why approaching money in this way will inevitably put you in a position to be at a disadvantage when it comes to financial security. 

I have already shared how I was in my 20s, earning a decent income, and didn’t have a care in the world when it came to paying my bills. Yes, I had outstanding debt on my credit cards, and I had a few negative accounts on my credit report, but the money was coming in, I was not afraid of hard work, and I had no concept of the future and what my future self would want. I did all the things I thought I needed to do: graduated high school, went to college, and was now employed in a (albeit not related to my college degree) decent paying job at the age of 22. I drifted for several years, experiencing personal hardships while putting any future-planning on the back burner. I had no idea what my future looked like, and did not want to make any decisions or plans, as I couldn’t predict what might happen, and had no true grasp on what I wanted to happen. It was a transition period, one that is all too familiar for many young people who are venturing out into the world, and for the first time, sitting in the driver’s seat. 

After floating along for several years, not thinking about money (except when I didn’t have enough), I finally became tired. I was tired of the grind, of working evermore hours to make more money to keep up with doing whatever and spending whatever I wanted to. I was ready for a change.

This is in the face of a higher than expected tax bill due to the IRS ASAP. This also coincided with driving a piece of junk that truly needed some TLC to be sustainable, a couple of medical bills that were left unpaid because I (mistakenly) believed that there weren’t any consequences for putting medical bills off indefinitely. Any time I needed new tires, or needed to make any purchase that was more than a couple hundred dollars, I had to exert mental effort to see how I would make the numbers work. This has included anything car related, dental work, taxes, anything electronic (hello, ever-increasing-in-price new phone), any referrals to a specialist, insurance premiums, and definitely anything that constituted a “financial emergency” (a car accident, anything health/medical related, a death in the family that required travel, ad infinitum). 

Actually, anything that wasn’t a regular monthly expense was an “emergency”. I did not plan for these things, and when they inevitably occurred (good to see you, annual car registration), I had to shift and adjust and tighten up my bank account to be sure I could squeak by. This kind of living promotes an underestimated exhaustion. It is tiring to live paycheck to paycheck, and not because I didn’t make enough, but because I did not plan enough. Or at all. 

These trivial things I listed above aren’t life-shattering, but ignoring them can have far-reaching consequences. Flat tires, an inoperable car, ignoring my health, etc affects my ability to work, to earn money, and most importantly, my quality of life. 

And that is the real answer to the question above. Why is tracking your spending and budgeting important? Because it leads to a better quality of life. I sleep better, I breathe better, I work better, I love better, I open mail better, I answer my calls better, and I respond to life better. I am not afraid, or nervous, or looking desperately to escape from reality. I am here and now, and able to face just about anything that comes up. An exorbitant car repair is just an inconvenience. Needing to see a specialist, is stressful only in the severity of the medical reason, not the financial hit. A needed vacation is something I can plan for and enjoy because it does not feel like an escape. A random last minute weekend away is doable and available to me if I feel the urge to wander.

In the invincibility of youth, I had a hard time seeing why I would need money saved up for an “Emergency Fund” and I had no grasp of retirement, or even how to read my pay stub. If I was told that I would sleep better if I saved money, I would have rolled my eyes and resentfully thought “easy for you to say.” It was unfathomable for me to imagine a life where I had financial security. I didn’t have it growing up, and I had no idea how to attain it as a young adult. My financial literacy was extremely poor (no pun intended), and I accepted that I “just wasn’t good at it”. No matter your age, or your financial state, this is a predicament many Americans find themselves in. And just like with kindness, or riding a bike, or multiplication, or how to make scrambled eggs—it just takes a little practice and some learning. Financial literacy is like a muscle that can be exercised. Even if at first, it is weak and we struggle, with time, we will grow stronger and be able to do more. We are all capable of making good decisions with our finances. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it. I promise.  

Here is another weekly installment of Living Frugally where I share my frugal accomplishments for the past week. Be sure to share your frugal successes in the comments!

Began a project to enclose part of our back porch. We are hoping to have a nice place to sit during the colder weather days, and some hot summers (we have a ceiling fan out back already). By doing the labor ourselves, we are only out the price of materials. 

Here’s the first wall of our Enclosure Project! It will probably take several weekends to complete as we are squeezing the work in between other projects.

I re-gifted a gift card I received to a restaurant that my husband and I will never go to. It was a nice gift for a friend’s birthday. 

I attended several social events this week that had fantastic food spreads and was able to eat several good meals for free.

My husband packed our workday lunches all week.

We ground our own quality coffee beans and make our own Toddy coffee to-go for the week. 

I chose to take several hot baths and listen to guided meditations on YouTube this week to relax and pamper myself. 

I mopped our tile floors using a Vinegar/water spray and re-usable microfiber cloths that fit our Swiffer. 

I listened to an audiobook on my commute that I got from the library. I also read an e-book from the library. Additionally, I downloaded a free e-book on personal finance from the internet. 

I consolidated some errands I needed to run, so I was able to minimize the gas usage.

I got a grab bag of various silly toys from a mandatory training I attended this week. I was able to throw those in with some clothes I bought on sale as a birthday gift for a family friend’s 4-year old. 

I ate leftovers several times this week. 

I also used a coupon for a free medium 1-topping pizza from a local pizza place. I just paid for the tip.

I was able to pay my quarterly tax payment for January. This is my last payment going toward 2018 and I have to budget in advance for this hefty amount since some of the work I do is as an Independent Contractor. I was only able to make this payment with no stress because of prudent planning and saving throughout the quarter.

I made a smoothie with some produce that was close to spoiling. 

I upped my monthly savings transfer by 1%. I intend to do this every month.

I participated in a program to buy back my dying iPad and received a $120 gift card to Apple. 

I continued work on some sewing projects with my mom. We are making a matching Christmas tree skirt and stockings that we can use for next year (and hopefully many years to come!)

What are some of your frugal accomplishments for this past week?

In my last post, I discussed how I rely upon zero-sum budgeting to arrange how my dollars will be spent. Over time I have honed my budget with precision, but when I first started out, I didn’t know what to budget for, because I didn’t know how much I spent. 

Sure I knew how much rent was, and I had an idea of other fixed bills (like my cell phone, auto insurance, etc.), but how was I supposed to budget for gas, or spending money, if I wasn’t sure how much I spent on those things? I couldn’t very well predict what to put down for groceries, if I had no idea how much it cost to feed me, and if I was using a zero-sum budget, every other dollar was supposed to be spent/allocated elsewhere. What if I didn’t budget enough grocery money? Would a different bill not get paid so I could use the money for groceries instead? Or would I starve?

Fear not, my friends! I began my budgeting adventure by tracking my spending. There are fantastic websites/apps that can do this for you (Mint, Personal Capital), or you can use an old fashioned spreadsheet. I do all three because I’m weird like that (and people…I really do love budgeting). 

I began with Mint. Its free (so is Personal Capital), super user-friendly, and uses different methods of displaying your spending habits (whether it’s graphs, transaction listing, or my favorite: pie charts). You can sync all of your accounts to a single Mint profile, and see your spending across all accounts. For example, I have a few credit cards (that I use responsibly and pay off in full each month!), my checking account, my savings accounts, a joint account with my spouse, some retirement accounts, and some taxable investment accounts. I am able to view the balances and transaction history for all accounts, in one platform. I will note that Personal Capital is more conducive for viewing any of my investment accounts, which is why I added a PC account as I got out of debt and began to amass some savings, however, it is strictly personal preference. Both are free and secure and can help put all of your spending data in one place. 

A screenshot from a random month in Mint. Obviously I have blacked out any personal information 🙂

When I initially began tracking my budget, this allowed me to see that I was spending a whopping $600/month on gifts/donations (I really loved to shop for my nephew), about $250/month on shopping for myself and for household items, and $200/month on personal care products/services. I could go on and on about other embarrassingly hefty spending categories, but no need! Already that was about $1000/month on things that I couldn’t remember buying! Things I thought I needed at the time, that I couldn’t do without, but quickly realizing the exhilaration I got out of making those purchases was long gone. 

Instead of trying to cut out all extraneous spending cold-turkey, I tapered it down. I initially allocated $250/month on gifts/donations, $100/month on general shopping, and $100/month on personal care. Over time I dropped these numbers to smaller and smaller dollar amounts, and during that process I was really able to ask myself what was a priority to me? If I only had $100 for personal care, do I buy the expensive new face cleanser that swears it will “fix” my skin? Or do I spring for a massage instead? Or do I take a hot bath to pamper myself and instead use the money for some quality make-up? Having to make these choices forced me to be creative, so I could still get what I wanted (in the case of personal care: to be pampered), and through my creativity and substitution methods, I was able to reduce it from a monthly budget item, to a quarterly budget item. 

You might find yourself saying “But I don’t spend money on personal care like that. I don’t even wear makeup!” No problem. Maybe your spending is for books. Or entertainment. Or dining out. If you are trying to curb your spending, or pay off some debt, there might be an area that is hogging all your hard-earned money that you aren’t aware of. This is why tracking your spending is so important! Once you have a couple of months of data you can narrow in on what you truly spend, ask yourself if it aligns with your values, if it truly is worth the dollar amount on your monthly bank statement (or Mint profile if you so choose), and if it is, great! Throw it on the budget. If it is not, then great! You now have freed up some of your income to go toward more long-lasting freedoms, like your freedom from debt, or saving up for your future.

By no means am I suggesting you ignore any budget attempts until you have the necessary spending data. Do your best to practice a zero-sum budget with the best information you have offhand. Once you accrue the true, cold, hard, facts from whatever method you use to track your spending, then you can fine-tune your budget to reflect more of what you really value, and you can sprinkle in some long-term goals as budget line items when you are ready. 

Of course I understand that everyone is coming from a different place. Some of this may be right up your alley, or this may sound like the worst thing in the world. I am not saying you have to give up everything except basic necessities (unless you want to, of course) and I am not implying I have all the answers. When I started budgeting, I never would have considered not spending my money on most of the things I had been. I just wanted to rein it in a little. Wherever you are in your process, while I strongly advocate for this opportunity to be an eye-opening and mind-opening experience, I also hope this is an opportunity for you to be as gentle with yourself as you can be. There is no wrong way to learn, and there is no such thing as too late. 

To live, you gotta eat, to eat, you gotta work. To make my living, I am a contractor for about half of my time, and I am a part time employee at various locations the other half. Whether I am working as a contractor, or as an employee, I perform the same job and get paid a reasonably high hourly rate. I recognize my privilege in being able to have access to the volume of work that I do, and to make an above-average income. 

With that, however, I have not always been fantastic with money (gulp)! When I began my career, most of my paycheck was spent at the bar with friends, or at the mall to buy outfits to wear and attempt to impress my friends at said bars. Over time, I stopped going to the bars, but instead would go to Target every paycheck and spend money on things I thought I needed, but most certainly did not. I would regularly overdraw my bank account, and my credit cards were maxed out at all times. It was a stressful way to live, and yet, I continued to live that way for about six years. 

Making The Decision To Do Something Different

Inevitably, my spending caught up with me, and I couldn’t keep up any longer. Something had to give! Because I am an hourly employee, I was finding myself having to work more hours than I wanted to, just to keep buying things that I didn’t need, and I was approaching some serious burnout at work. The only way to cut down on the amount of work I “had” to take, was cut down on my spending. I am not sure exactly how or when the paradigm shift occurred, but I suspect, like anytime I have found myself re-examining my values, it was gradual. I remember having to slowly warm up to even toying with the idea in my brain before I allowed it to take root and become a part of who I am. 

Strangely, deciding to rein in my spending was scary. At the time, I did not think of it in such terms, but spending was how I coped with difficult things in life. When I was bored, I went to Target, or ordered clothes online. When I was having a tough day, or needed a quick recharge, I found myself in the drive-thru line for a sugary Starbucks drink. When I was out with friends, I offered to pick up the check, because I didn’t know a way to do nice things for people without using money. 

I suppose it ultimately came down to a desperate dissatisfaction with my hectic work schedule, and the realization that it would always be this way if I did not do something different with my money. Especially because I am an hourly employee, I would always have to work more, and give up precious hours of my life, to earn money to continue to live as I was. Then I’d be right back in the same position once I blew through my checking account. I mean literally folks, I didn’t have a dollar in retirement, or in my savings account. I was around 27 years old and didn’t know how to manage my money to be able to view my future with any security. And I was getting to the point where security was more valuable to me than it had been before (I am now in my mid-30s).

Zero-Sum Budgeting

So I started to budget. I “gave every dollar a job” as EveryDollar recommends, though I had never heard of that philosophy at the time. I gave myself an allowance, and attempted to start putting money toward the debt that I had accrued. Meaning if I received a $1500 paycheck, I would list out what each dollar was allocated for, and try to follow the spending patterns I chose. It was shaky going at first, but I frantically wanted to determine my spending patterns, rather than let my spending patterns determine me.

Ledger of a budget reading:
As of 01/07 
$1319
-100 buffer
1219
-375 groceries
844
-150 allowance/gas
694
-250 savings/acorns
444
-50 James’ b-day
394
-92 Chase CC
302
-114 Lowe’s CC
188
-115 HOA fees
73—extra to student loan
0
An example of zero-based budgeting.

I still follow this simple pattern of a zero-sum budget (budgeting my money until the ledger read $0) and it has served me well. I made sure to include regular bills, any debt, a personal allowance, any upcoming expenses I foresaw, and an amount to go toward savings. When a paycheck would hit my account, I would pay the assigned bills and transfer the earmarked money right away, the way I laid out in my budget. This prevented the temptation of not making that “extra” $25 payment toward my credit card next paycheck, and treating myself to dinner with a friend instead.

The Results

Slowly over time, I paid off my debt, started putting small amounts of my money into a savings account, learned to not immediately transfer the savings money right back into my checking account (ha! The joke was always on me), and have even been able to put away significant amounts per check toward my retirement. In order to align myself with my intention (of being more fiscally responsible), I had to curb the spending. So I found other ways to entertain myself while bored, or cheer myself up when things got tough. I found other ways to connect with my friends that did not revolve around money. When I was able to start chipping away at some of the debt I had amassed, I felt the results. I wasn’t so stressed about creditors, and I closed accounts that I knew would not serve me if left open (I’m looking at you, department store cards).

The peace is worth it, and there are many budgeting strategies out there that have helped people just like me (and perhaps you!) A quick Google search on “Budgeting Strategies”, “Getting Out of Debt”, or “How to Save More Money” will lead to a plethora of results. It seems like a boring concept, but I get excited about budgeting! It puts me in the driver’s seat of my finances, and allows me to call the shots. Where I previously felt out of control of my finances, my work-life balance, and my serenity, I now feel powerful and capable! All because of some discipline, and a budget that worked for me. 

Hi Everyone! This is the first in what I’m hoping to be a weekly installment of Living Frugally. Here I plan to talk about what I did this past week to practice simple living and frugality, and my plans for the upcoming week.

My husband and I felt like we were coming down with colds, so we made an Apple Cider Vinegar home remedy with ingredients we already had at home. We are feeling better already.

I picked up one day of work this week (though it is my two-week holiday vacation) to make some money I otherwise would not have. 

My nephew was in town and wanted to make a long-time family recipe of his Great-Grandmother’s for fudge and peanut brittle. There was sentimental value in it, as he is very interested in the family and he never met his Great-Grandmother, in addition to being able to have enough desserts to enjoy at home. We purchased the ingredients we needed at the grocery store for less than $20, as we had most of the items on hand. 

We attended a New Year’s Eve party at my parents’ house, where we brought the fudge/peanut brittle as our potluck item, and we brought the rest of the dessert to a New Year’s Day party we attended with friends. 

Our Razzle-Dazzle new floors!

A long time home project of new tile floors was completed today, and while we outsourced this project, we spent a lot of time researching tile prices. We chose to go through a contractor who’s work we know, rather than hire someone to do the labor from the same store we bought the tile. We saved around $1100 going this route, and the floors look fantastic. I also was able to schedule the labor to occur during my pre-planned two-week holiday vacation, so my spouse and I did not need to miss additional work. 

I returned an iPad case I ordered to Target as it was not what I expected. I ended up ordering a different one off Amazon that is much hardier and less than half the price.

I returned a jug of peanut oil to Wal-mart that I did not use when we deep fried our turkey for Christmas. 

I read an e-book from the library. I also listened to a different audio book (also from the library) while running my errands this week.

My nephew, husband, and I played a lot of card games this week. 

I ate leftovers from various holiday meals all week. Tonight will be the first night this week that we are cooking dinner. 

I began planning a trip to Disney World that my nephew and I will take this summer. We plan to pay for the flight and hotel with rewards points I’ve earned on my credit cards (that I always pay in full every month). I’ve earned these points through my regular spending on food/gas/etc. over the last few months. 

What about you? What are the frugal highlights of your week?


On New Year’s Day, around 6pm, I started to feel something not right in my body. I was stuffed up, and a little weak and stiff in some places. As much as I wanted to brush it off and call it good, old, reliably miserable, allergies, I knew it was something much grosser. 

I wasn’t hung over, hadn’t eaten too much junk food over the holidays, and it was definitely related to my respiratory system. I’ve had my share of bronchitis in my lifetime, and once, even had a case of Walking Pneumonia (where I cracked a rib from coughing so hard). I am leery of anything respiratory as it has its own timeline, and left unchecked, the misery can last a couple of days, to a couple of weeks. I am here to share what cures my ails: Nine other things you can do if you’re coming down with something:

  1. Take a hot bath with Epsom salts.
  2. Or a steamy shower (more than once a day if you have the luxury).
  3. Wash your hands regularly.
  4. Drink plenty of water—and then drink more.
  5. Drink hot teas…they smell good, and the heat (and most varieties of herbs) soothes your passageways.
  6. If your cough/runny nose is productive, get it out! Blow, spit down the toilet, whatever. It’s nasty, but even nastier if you leave it in your body.
  7. Eat healthy foods. At the very least eat something! It’s hard to want to eat when you feel lousy, but your body needs quality fuel to keep fighting the good fight!
  8. Rest. Sleep. Wake up, and rest. Repeat.
  9. Most of all…if you really feel like trash, and it’s not improving at all—go to the Doctor. Skipping this step is how I ended up getting that Walking Pneumonia I referenced earlier. Yuck!

When you’re done being sick, wash your sheets, and run a wipe over your phone, bedside table, etc. If you’re wild like me, you can spray your couch with Lysol, vacuum, clean everything in the house, do all the laundry etc. Just get them germs out of your house! I’m off to rest (read: watch Netflix shows I’ve already watched multiple times). Cheers to healthy lives!

I had never been one to buy into the whole New Year’s Resolution gimmick (or whatever it is). I haven’t had much success with making a promise to myself and keeping it. Believe me, there have been a lot of things in my life that have brought pain and consequences, that I just couldn’t magic away. You’d think I would be more motivated to keep a promise to myself of all people, and yet…

A few years ago, after some introspection, I realized why my resolutions were not successful. I was making a promise or a goal, and then sitting back and waiting for the results. I did no planning for any course of action. There are adages such as “Fake it till you make it”, or “Act your way into right thinking”, that sound bogus and conjure mixed emotions that are opposite from my inner compass that points me in the direction of authenticity and transparency. However, sometimes, I have to put action first, before a new habit becomes a part of me. So, I began setting plans of action to reach certain goals. 

For the New Year, while I do not set “Resolutions”, I do think it is an appropriate time to review and potentially reset. I am looking back on the past year, and I admit, I really like what I see. I have worked hard, and accomplished more than I thought I would. At this time last year, I was trying to convince my soon-to-be spouse to get on-board with some financial goals that I thought would really push our family in a direction of comfort and security and peace. He was generally less than enthusiastic, but I had his buy-in on saving for the down payment for our future home. When we hit our goal, he was amazed at what we could accomplish when we got dedicated, and we began setting broader goals, together.  

Whether its a promise, a resolution, a goal, a dedication, every time I have been successful in changing something, committing to something long term, changing a knee-jerk reaction into a thoughtful response, it has required a plan of action. When we wanted to save up for the down payment it took several steps to work our way toward that accomplishment. We looked at our time line, decided when we wanted to start looking for a home, reviewed what we could comfortably afford (not necessarily what the bank approved us for), and worked backward counting how many months we had between now and the time we wanted to buy and divided the amount of money we needed by the number of months we had to save. We then took that dollar amount and set that as a savings goal for each month. We “paid” our high-yield savings account (where we were getting 1.89 % APR) that calculated amount every month, as if it were a bill, and continued to chug away within our careers, and within our relationship. When the time came, and we were ready to start looking for a house, we had the amount we wanted in our account, ready to pull the trigger the moment we found a place we were in love with. 

This is how I approach anything I want to do in life. I don’t always love to exercise (my motivation ebbs and flows) but I do want the end result: a healthy body that is functional and well-taken care of. So I set goals (work-out 3-5 times a week) and I check them off as I accomplish them. I train myself to do something massive that requires long-term commitment (have a healthy body, save up tens of thousands of dollars for a down payment), and I break it down to something bite-sized that I can work toward every day/week/pay period. Then I go through the motions. I Fake it till I Make It, I Act My Way to Right Thinking and I wait for the motivation, or the euphoria that comes from seeing my progress to come after. Once the thrill of noting progress kicks in, my motivation feeds upon itself and I am able to get the momentum going. It is like kicking off on a bike: at first it’s a slow pedal, but once I begin moving, I start gaining ground and I am able to move my legs with minimal effort because the pedals are already spinning forward from the initial effort I put in. Its a beautiful thing, and the confidence it brings allows for more traction, more progress, and the results follow. I don’t know of a more powerful thing.

So this year, I am not brushing off the opportunity to look within myself, look outward at my life, and review and reset. I am setting a few more goals (some personal, some financial), and looking at actionable steps I can take to break down some of the more lofty changes I want to see in my life, into manageable pieces. Do you have any goals you want to take this “Day One” of the year to speak into motion? Let me know in the comments below what you will do to maximize learning and growing opportunities in this upcoming year. Maybe we can hit it hard together 🙂

When I started this blog, I admit, it was completely out of my comfort zone. I didn’t know how to start a blog, or what a hosting sever was. Brené Brown talks about how humans are hardwired for storytelling, and I’ve always wanted to write something real. A fear of mine has been that I would put myself out there, share my story, and no one would find it interesting. Ergo, not find me interesting. I have decided that even if no one reads this, Future Me will always wish that I gave it a try. Here’s to practicing A Year of No Fear. 

This past year has been a year of great accomplishment for myself and my spouse. We got married, bought our first home, and paid off more than half of his student loan debt. We maxed out our retirement vehicles, paid off my car, and even managed to save a small amount. All the while, we managed to live thoughtful and purposeful lives without feeling as if we were depriving ourselves, even while less spending money.

It Wasn’t Always Like That

But…Finances can be scary. In my mid-twenties, I owed a ton of money to the IRS and a handful of other creditors and at the time. I long had accepted the belief that “I’m just not very good with money.” I would say this aloud to my friends and family therefore speaking its truth into existence. Every time I said it, I’d believe it a little bit more! I am so grateful that one day, I decided…this shit stops now

It really was that big IRS debt that got me. Up until that point, I always earned W-2 income in some form working part time. I eventually began working more as an independent contractor and that year I happened to earn more 1099 income than I had previously. Side note: Basically, 1099s and W-2s are two separate tax forms depending on what kind of worker you are. If you’re an independent contractor, you get a 1099 form where no federal or state taxes are taken out, or paid for you. Sounds great, right? Every dollar I earned was sent straight to me! That I promptly spent!

Not so great when April 15th rolled around and I owed more money to a single entity than I ever had in my life. I had no idea what quarterly payments were, or how I was going to come up with the money to pay the government. The difference between this tax-surprise, and other years, was I previously had been primarily a W-2 employee. Payroll taxes were automatically deducted from my paycheck for me. My employer chipped in for part of it, and the money was sent to the government automatically. Oh boy, I had a lot to learn about taxes, and Learn. I. Did.

Mistakes Aren’t So Terrible After All

Looking back, I am grateful for that IRS debt. It forced me to look at my non-existent budget and have a Truth-Talk with myself. I made a list of all my bills and debts (for the first time ever) and figured out how much money I made a month. Armed with that information, I knew what I could commit to when making a payment arrangement with the IRS. Previous to this, in dealing with all my other debt, I typically ignored all phone calls from numbers I didn’t recognize (in case they were creditors). Occasionally, I called in to make a payment if I could, when I could. I feared the IRS enough to not try to pull this stunt with them, and it forever changed how I interacted with my money. (The IRS actually was quite pleasant and willing to work with me, if you happen to find yourself in that same boat.)

I plan to go into depth about budgeting in another post, but I did want to highlight how once, I felt incompetent and incapable of managing money. I thought it was a part of who I am. Instead, I found that I am much smarter than I thought. When I started this blog, I was a little overwhelmed. And then I remembered who I used to think I was, and tried to hone in on what I was telling myself this time, to make myself believe I was not smart enough to figure all of this blogging “stuff” out. I remembered that there are a lot of things I once thought I could never understand, and now I do. What makes this any different?

Even when it’s scary, when things feel foreign, and seem like they are for “other people only”, remember, no one gets to decide if things or skills are off-limits for you, except for you. It may be slow progress, but progress we will and I am so grateful for the opportunity to learn something new. 

Fear permeates much more of our lives than we suspect, or would ever want to give credit to. It has been revolutionary for me to realize that, recognize what I am so afraid of, and actively work toward acknowledging those moments in my life when I am reacting out of fear.

Fear, in many ways, makes sense. We need it biologically for survival. When someone sneaks up on us, we jump—to avoid a surprise attack by a predator. I know when I see a snake, I am repulsed (to the extent of making a face, hunching over my body like I am gagging, and usually emitting a drawn out grunting noise—it’s dramatic, and absolutely unintentional). Fun fact about me, when I was a child and read Zoobooks (a magazine for kids about various animals), I’d flip to the double-page spread of a snake with its mouth open, ready to strike. The magazine would magically drop to the floor and I would be frozen in fear for a couple of seconds. I even would leave the magazine on the floor and walk away, too disgusted to even touch it. 

Our minds are fascinating. The snake was not in my house, my spouse startling me by appearing soundlessly is not going to hurt me, and yet I react. What the heck is going on in my brain to simulate something that feels so threatening and real? Similarly, fear of not being accepted by our peers is in many ways a biological response. Harkening back to the idea that we are a tribal species, if we were truly rejected by our tribe or community, we would potentially die on our own. We wouldn’t have the advantages of shared knowledge, resources, and protection.

Human connection is so important, for that, and so many other reasons. But, pettily, if a colleague of mine doesn’t seem to be too crazy about me (or, perish the thought, a family member) the rejection can be hurtful and I can react in ways that aren’t helpful (to myself, or anyone else). Our minds are fascinating. 

How to Manage Fear in Daily Life

So when someone doesn’t seem to care for me, or says something I perceive as rude, or lies to me, or betrays me, I decide how I will let it affect me. Sometimes, I allow myself 5 minutes to be pissed, maybe rant to someone about it, maybe give myself time alone to cool off. Sometimes I allow myself an hour, and at certain times I have even allowed myself a week. Sometimes, I seem to have moved on, and months (or years later) an old hurt will resurface, and I will feel surprise at the way the hurt reared its head anew. There are hurts that do not go away just because I decided I was done feeling hurt. But they will definitely not go away unless I make that decision. 

I remember someone once telling me that “You alone are responsible for whether or not you are happy.” Oh man, that really got my goat! At that time in my life, I was terribly unhappy, and thought to myself: “Brother, if I could make myself be happy, I would be. This isn’t optional for me. Who would choose this?” I don’t know that forcing happiness is possible in a tangible way, but I let the general concept ruminate in the corners of my mind while I trudged through some very dark days. Eventually, the concept became less foreign and came to be a truth. I felt so very powerful. I am responsible for my happiness. Me! No one else can get in my mind and flip switches for me.

Let’s Take Our Power Back

It doesn’t mean that every interaction with every person creates pleasant feelings. I am responsible for feeling pleasant, just as I am for feeling less than pleasant. When I am upset, or angry, or bothered by some injustice, that is ok. Those are normal, human emotions. I do, however, get to decide how long I will allow these things to hang out in my brain, and whether or not they fester.

Fear is an amazing actor. It has many faces. It looks like anger, or hurt, or even irritability. So when I am any of those things, and I am gearing up to take whatever negative idea that resulted from that emotion and go ahead and add it to the list of the things I think I am, or am ready to lash out, or shut down for an indeterminate amount of time, I ask myself “What am I really afraid of here? Does it make sense to be afraid of the result I think might happen? Am I afraid what this person thinks of me might be true?” With those (and other) questions, talking to my own best friend (me), I show myself I am valuable enough to be curious about. After asking these questions of myself, while the hurt may still sting, it becomes a dull sting. 

Today marks a new beginning on a path to living my best life. I know that if I do not eventually make the decision to start, my best life will be out of my reach forever. At some point I have to make the decision to begin; it will not just happen for me. It requires a consciousness and a commitment and there is no better way to help me not to forget who I decided I wanted to be, than by documenting it. 

Upon a quick Google search, “Living my best life” is an entry in www.urbandictionary.com, meaning “having fun or relaxing”, and I see this as a hashtag on social media regularly. This isn’t meant to be one of those facetious appropriations of a term already being used in a mainstream way. This is a genuine attempt at transparency and a documentation of myself as I know myself. And so here I am. 

Oprah said “The biggest adventure you can ever take is to live the life of your dreams.” And that is what This Fascinating Adventure is about. Living the life of my dreams. Taking pleasure in precious simplicity. Shying away from the acquisition of stuff as a way to show the world my value, and instead being bold enough to know my value, no matter what happens. 

This may sound somewhat “woo-woo”, and in truth, it is. I am, most times, quite practical, and I hope to share some of that practicality in my writing, but I also want to share my real self, the one who lives in my body, who loves finding a way to optimize life, to save money, to live with what I need and a few wants, and who also cares very, very much about how to truly connect with others and to love. That, I believe, is why I am here in the first place, and what I think my life’s mission is. I suspect, this is why we are all here. 

I have always found it interesting (or dare I say, Fascinating) how humans are tribal by nature—how we cannot survive on our own as young, how we need each other, just for basic survival. Brené Brown defines connection as “the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.” I need you, and you need me. And I look forward to it so very much. 

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