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It's So Cheesy

November 20th, 2006 at 06:02 pm

Sometimes I think people think I am depriving myself. However, the times I am most unhappy about the Challenge is when I spendon Entertainment.

I budget $20 to $25 a month on entertainment; thatís mostly eating out. (I do have a separate line item for Netflix, for some reason, and my 12 channel cable too). Well, when I go out to eat, I usually feel good about it. But when I spend that money on take out, itís rarely a feeling of relief or luxury or a treat; itís usually a sign that Iíve just gotten sloppy. Besides the Challenge, I happen to be chubby, out of shape, and prone to migraines, which may partially be triggered by a number of foods more likely to be found at a restaurant than in my fridge (nitrates). So what the heck am I doing ordering pizza last night?!?! Iím spending out of my overspent category, and Iím not getting joy. Iím getting crankiness and bloat and a feeling of letting myself down.

I would have been so much happier having an omelet or bulgur or spinach. Spending money resulted in less happiness, not more.

In month nine, Iíd have thought Iíd have figured it out. But no, I had to give up money and self-esteem for fifteen minutes of pizza love.

Meh.

Here I go trying to catch the flight to Sacramento that was cancelled this morning.

Rain On Me

November 15th, 2006 at 05:46 pm

I love the sound of rain, and how it gets dark and clouds look almost purple, and how it rushes in the streets and makes puddles. I enjoy it when itís crazy raining, at least when Iím not driving; when the rain just falls in sheets and windows have a constant solid stream on them instead of drops. Mostly, I love the rain because it reminds me to be grateful.

I have a house to come home to, where I can have a hot shower or bath, or get into flannel jammies. The house may be chilly-those 12 foot ceilings-but I have lots of warm blankets and sweaters. I have tea and cocoa and popcorn and soup and grilled cheese makings. I have lots of books and I have a television and DVDs. I can come to home my refuge, and I can be reminded how those very small things can be so big Ė for someone homeless, my cocoa and comforter may seem very, very far away.

If I think about these things Iím grateful for, I realize that during not one second of My Challenge have I had to forego the things I love most. Most of my flannel jammies have been a buck or two at thrift stores. (The best were $1.25, thick dark blue, on me right now.) I got a bunch of tea in a free box at a garage sale, but even my purchased teas are pretty cheap-the fancy stuff I spring for is nine cents a bag. My comforters and blankets are years old, my cocoa is homemade from powdered milk, sugar, and baking chocolate, my popcorn is microwaved in a brown paper bag. My hot showers and baths do take some gas, but my utility bill has been reasonable because I scrimp elsewhere. The DVDs are a luxury, but $9.65 for my half of the monthly bill is an acceptable entertainment expense to me-again, I scrimp in other areas. Books? Buck-a-bag book sales! Or the library, or garage sales or thrift stores or hand-me downs. Television? Non-cable channels 2-13 only, and a VCR to tape good stuff for when the networks have a bad night.

I really do think about gratitude in November, because I actually hold Thanksgiving dear; not for the turkeys and pilgrims, but for the reminder that I have much to be grateful for. One thing Iím grateful for this year is My Challenge, which has had, as a happy byproduct, the effect of making me more grateful. So, Iím grateful for increased gratitude. Man, thatís a little mushy touchy-feely silly, but when Iím grateful I am also looking to be a better person. The more grateful I am the more kind I am, and as the years have gone by I am less and less inclined to revere intelligence and more and more inclined to hold kindness in high regard.

IĎm a fan of the 1950 movie Harvey, with Jimmy Stewart. At one point the main character Elwood, says, "Years ago my mother used to say to meÖ'In this world, Elwood, you must be oh so smart or oh so pleasant.' Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant. You may quote me." I know a fair number of very smart unhappy people; I canít think of any really kind person I know who is unhappy. They may have sad events in their lives or challenges to face, but at heart, they are certainly not unhappy.

So ends my rainy Day Fourteen of Month Nine.

Double Posting

November 14th, 2006 at 09:19 pm

Got back from Sacramento a little earlier, by asking very nicely to take an earlier flight.

Re-discovered for the billionth time that I just adore freeway driving with the radio cranked crazy loud. I walk to work or drive about 4 minutes; thatís good for me and the environment. But I just love listening to the radio (no satellite, no XM, no Sirius, no CD player, no tape player) and discovering old songs I love and finding new ones, blues and country and rock and a little of this and that thanks to the scan button. I just love it. I have so little traffic, that I can look at the redwoods and rock out.

And speaking of wish lists, I wrote mine down during idle moments in trainingÖdoes anyone else have things like silicon rubber scrapers on their long term wish list? Or am I just a tad nutty?

No Remorse

November 14th, 2006 at 04:16 am

On Monday, I bought a travel alarm clock. I thought and thought about that $3.97 purchase out of my Household fund. A travel clock had been on my wish list for a few months. I hadnít expected to see it in a grocery outlet store, but there it was. I am very grateful that since I keep items on my mental wish list for a long time, and buy items as cheaply as possible, that I rarely have buyerís remorse. I think itís an under-looked bonus of being frugal. I am not a fan of regret, so the more I can avoid the better. When I finally buy the bookcase and shelving Iíve been wanting and looking for, I know Iíll be happy with it, partially because I didnít run out to the furniture store, point, buy, and run home. When the right bookcase at the right price appears, Iíll buy it with confidence.

When I decided to post every day, I had forgotten that I was leaving the house at 4:30 am and getting back at 10:30 at night. Iím flying to Sacramento for work. I wonít be able to bring my own water, which does chap my hide. The truth is I wrote this Tuesday post Monday night. I can live with it, same as I can live with my purchases!

Invisible

November 13th, 2006 at 07:12 pm

I never really thought about how invisible frugality can be. Iím usually so open and unapologetic about it that lots of people that I know are aware Iím frugal. Today I was at a meeting with a lot of people in the community, from three counties. I was looking around and it struck me funny that there was no way to tell who had bucks, who spent bucks, or who owed bucks.

I was in a pair of Freecycle dark Leviís, with a fifty cent pure wool menís sweater, a $3.97 clearance top, and some thrift store shoes. I felt my outfit was nice, if in my usual more boyish, more casual style (itís a good thing I live in Humboldt.) I knew I was going to this meeting and I felt good about these clothes. (Later on in the day someone said, ďNew shoes? Cute!Ē They were surprised I had bought new (looking) shoesÖ.but less surprised when I admitted they came from a thrift store.) Looking around, I was trying to spot any fancier or funky clothes, and was stumpedÖthe nice Oxford shirts could have been $40 or $2 clearance/thrift store and I wouldnít be able to tell. The flattering womenís suits could have been a few years old and well kept, or brand new, or a hand me down.

In the parking lot, looking at all the sedans and hatchbacks, again, I couldnít tell anything? Some of the nicer cars may have had a lot owed on them. Or maybe not. Iím not in an area that runs to Jaguars and BMWs; and the economical cars could easily have been bought by the more affluent as an ecological purchase (again, I live in Humboldt).

Does this matter? Well, no. If someone asked me, ďDo you hang clothes on the line?Ē or, ďdo you shop at thrift stores?Ē I wouldnít have any objection to admitting it. Iím proud that I use resources wisely and reduce unnecessary spending; Iím proud of My Challenge, as odd as it is. I know, though, that other folks may be tightening the belt out of necessity, or may be new visitors to The Land of the Thrifty, and may feel a little out of the mainstream; some might rather that the newly acquired thrifty habits werenít immediately visible.

Some people I know this year are giving home made gifts because they are excellent bakers, or avid crafts hobbyists, and some folks who are giving homemade gifts because itís easier on the pocketbook-I only know because they felt like sharing the information. (My Challenge brings this out in people.)

Wrapping it up, I couldnít tell who had cable today, who had low utility bills, who had cell phones or used furniture or mortgages or rent. So use coupons, hang the laundry, shop the thrift stores, give home made gifts, watch broadcast network TV...no one can tell. Unless you do.

Title-less

November 12th, 2006 at 11:19 am

I canít blame bad spending on my lack of posts. However, I did spend $2.13 twice out of my Entertainment budget. Doesnít sound bad, except it was fast food both times. In some ways I suppose getting two items off the value or dollar or whatnot menu is a good thing, but I really donít want to eat any fast food ever. There are a slew of socio-economic-political reasons I could cite, but Iím not going to, because 1) no one is interested and 2) the fact that Iím chubby and get migraines is reason enough to stop eating fast food right there. Fast food places donít specialize in whole food, no nitrate, no MSG, low bad-fat, high fiber, lower calorie foods.

(Yes I know MSG and nitrates donít trigger all folks to get migraines, and that only 40% or so of folks are food sensitive. Well, my little calendar Iím keeping of food/sleep/headaches/exercise/etc. seems to show that there is something in fast food that doesnít agree with me.)

Iíd just rather spend that $4.26 on something better, thatís what it comes down to.

In other news: small changes, small things can be so great. I sometimes buy the little yogurts, non-fat and low sugar, at the Canned Foods outlet when they are three for a dollar. (I also get large tubs of non-fat plain.) I like them for lunch, or as a snack or dessert. Well, I splurged and spend an extra nickel, 38 cents each, for a brand that has lids instead of just the peel off metal lid. I did this to have baby storage containers that Iím now using for sugar free gelatin. Good for lunches, and cheaper too because the 33 cent gelatin packs make it 17 cents a cup. And I can put my plain large tub yogurt in there, with fruit and home-made granola. Actually, I was surprised to realize that the gelatin wasnít that cheap; I plan to use some Knox gelatin I have to play with homemade gelatin soon.

In further news, this weekís goal is going to be to post every day. Itís not lack of material; every day I think of something related to my habits or the Challenge or frugality or building skills, I just get sloppy and donít sit down and write it. Eat breakfast daily, bike/walk to work 5 times from Monday through Sunday, keep up Calendar, develop a strategy for having more fun outside the house, and post daily. Thatís five goals, but two of them Iím doing pretty good at making habits, and a third is on its way towards being a habit, so I donít think thatís too much.

Time on my mind, on my hands

November 7th, 2006 at 08:29 pm

I have a fair amount of time available to me. Iím childfree. I donít have family that lives nearby. My commute is 10 minutes roundtrip driving, or 40 minutes walking roundtrip. I work a 40 hour week. Sometimes I have longer days or weeks, especially due to travel, but I also get a fair amount of holidays, personal days, vacation days. I keep the house simple and tidy, and while I keep it uncluttered Iím not a big cleaner. I have five bills to pay a month, and I like to shop no more than once a month. No dry cleaning, no manicuresÖnot a lot of errands. I have time.

Iím grateful for the time, because Iím not stressed out. Because I can putter around and drink tea and read. I like it because I donít need time saving gadgets, and because I donít ever need to spend money to buy time: I can do it the long way, cook whatever I want from scratch, wash the dishes in a wash tub, use actual dishes. I always have time for a bath or a book; Iím not deprived of me time. Iím not going out to lunch or coffee and spending money; Iím not spending much on fuel, I. Many people I know seem to complain about the lack of time; some of them sound perfectly happy, but to me they sound uncomfortably busy. (Some parents seem to spend an awful lot of time on child related things, fun or obligation. ).

I should be 100% grateful that my life is not crammed full. What can throw me off is that sometimes I do wish I had more structure, or obligations. Not necessarily chores, but I can be a mighty hermit, and it wouldnít be a bad idea for me to have a monthly book club, or museum trip, or hiking trip. I have all this beautiful time, and I donít always use it as well as Iíd like. Even in a perfect world Iíd still want plenty of ďnothing going on but my slippersĒ time; take away my baths and Iíd be much less mellow.

Boy, sometimes I really have to mull things over before I can articulate what it is I want, and even then itís still a process to work towards it. So now that Iíve put some of my antsiness in words, I know what a goal is: time management. Not the time management of people trying to do it all, or balance work, romance, kids, hobbies, housekeeping, and gardening. Iím just looking to feel more like Iím taking a bite out of life.

So whatís a concrete step I can take? Iím not good at telling myself broad things, like ďbe healthy.Ē I need concrete, like drink a lot of water and walk to work three times a week. The concrete step might not be the final answer, but it will take me there. Iíll further mull. Iím thinking along the lines of: host one game night this month, make social plans one day this month, and make a commitment to see a site once this month (could be a gallery or a hiking trail-but drive or walk to a place for fun).

This may not have been about finances. But I think of it this way: by being debt free and living simply, my biggest problem is needing to have more fun.

(And to be less chubby.)

Darn My Head

November 6th, 2006 at 08:59 pm

I did do the exercise bike. I really didnít want to tonight, so Iím even more proud. Considering I decided not to budget any money for working out, since I have an exercise bike and live walking distance from work, I had freakiní better get my exercise. Otherwise, Iíd have that whole regret thing going on.

Thereís a phenomenon that confuses me: Iíll plan to do something, then dread it, then when I do it itís fine. Now, youíd think the next time, I wouldnít dread it, because I know it turns out fine, right? Not right.

This happens to me when I make social plans. I really look forward to them, then as it approaches I balk at the idea of going out, then I go out and have a great time. With exercising: the idea sounds great. Then the time to work out or walk to work approaches and I get all angsty. Then I do it and it feels great.

How come I canít tell my brain, ďHey, you donít need to worry about this. When you do it, you like it?Ē

The only spending this month ahs been on rent, filling the tank (which didnít need filling in October!) and going out to eat once. Iím planning on a low spend month; however, faced with holidays on the march, I can easily see my gifts budget, entertainment budget, household budget, and grocery budget having demands placed upon them. Of course my wild spending equal $75 total; thereís only so nutty I can get on the Challenge.

$20 and Minimum Wage Challenge Update

November 5th, 2006 at 03:54 pm

I'm two-thirds through the Minimum Wage Challenge.

I spent $1592 a month last year. My savings are the difference, $1592-$1026 (see below) = $566 times 8 months = $4,528.

Add to that $190 in ďsavingsĒ and $14.21 in my emergency fund, Iíve saved $4,732.21. If I take out what I spend in Europe, $1809.64, which is not part of my Challenge, Iíve saved $2,922.57 living on CA Minimum Wage for 8 months.

* My income is calculated as follows: CA minimum wage of $6.75 for 40 hours a week, at 4.33 weeks in a month, $1178 total. Iíve taken FICA and SDI (CA State Disability Insurance) out for a total of $1073. I made $4.74 in recycling this month. That gives me $1077.74 in income; however I ďoverspentĒ $15.14 last month (in the gifts category) and under the ďYouNeedaBudgetĒ system (an Excel-based budget Iím using to track my Challenge Budget) if a category is overspent the money is taken straight out of the next month. Therefore I had $1062.70 to spend.

** When I originally began the Challenge March 2006 I assumed no federal or state tax liability. Wrong! Iíd actually owe $47 a month, so I have to budget $95 a month to catch up. So my actual spendable income averaged over each month is my original calculation of $1073 less $47 for $1026.

***$584.64 is the sum of the positive numbers; thatís the amount I have banked and unspent for non-monthly expenses. It is obviously not what was budgeted less what was spent. Each month I budget for non-monthly purchases; for example, I budget $13 for AAA and car registration every month, but have yet to spend it because it has yet to be due. Thatís why the balance is up to $104.

Day 247 Cocoon Time

November 2nd, 2006 at 06:13 pm

This is Day Two of Month Nine of my Minimum Wage Challenge. I havenít closed the October Books but I know I came out fine. The extra ninety-five dollars I have to budget each month for taxes I hadnít accounted for hasnít been as bad as I thought. At this point I am so very used to spending little, that it has become a habit. I got a raise last check, about $125 extra net per month, and itís comical to me that I donít actually get the $125 to spend. Well, my savings and retirement does, but not my Challenge Budget.

I believe the rest of the Challenge should be okay; Iím not foreseeing any big bumps. I have enough of a cushion that even if I take a knock or two I can weather it. For me Christmas has never been a budget buster; the only thing I really do is gifts. No decorations, no big travel, no cooking for a dozen guests. My shopping is mostly done for Christmas, because Iíve been shopping all year long and got a few good deals in Croatia and Bosnia.

I love winter and the rain. The north coast is a rainy place, and we just got out first of the season. Itís getting cold, and it gets da5k early. Even though I love it, or maybe itís the reason I love it, I start to cocoon in winter. I know Iím not particularly unique that way. I grab my tea and books, and get out of the hot bath and into bed./ That happens to always be one of my favorite things; I think I feel less guilty doing it when it is cold and dark outside.

Part of me is mildly fantasizing about what I might spend money on post-Challenge. It probably wonít be much; I sometimes enjoy the fantasy of thinking about it enough to not need to do it.