Although this site is primarily about cleaning and organizing, I find that the state of my house is directly tied to the state of my finances. When I am spending irresponsibly, my house is usually a mess. When my house is a mess, I get stressed and overwhelmed and start spending irresponsibly. Because of the connection between the two, I will occasionally talk about finances and our efforts to get out of debt.
I don’t like challenges, and I don’t normally do them. But reading this article helped me understand something has to give. I have been thinking a lot about my stuff in relation to my sons. Ideally, I am not middle-aged yet and still have a good 40-60 years left in me. However, I do think about all the stuff my kids would end up dealing with if something did happen to us. Neither of them are particularly attached to stuff, so it’s not out of the realm of possibilities for them to just toss the lot, including their own childhood stuff that I saved out of misplaced sentimentality. That’s a post for another time, though. In this post, I’m addressing the other part of her story, her impetus to stop buying stuff. I have discovered through Konmari that my house is messy for one reason— I have too much stuff. And yet I keep buying more stuff, sometimes because I am in a bad state of mind because my house is messy. And then I stress about finances and feel guilty about wasting money, which leads to even more buying of stuff to make me feel better. And I don’t really even like shopping!
Starting October 15th, I am going to avoid buying anything new until Nov 15th.
We live in amazing times. Many of us, likely anyone who’s reading this, can pretty much buy anything we truly need. People like me, who don’t really have a lot of cash but who do have a steady income, want for nothing. People like me are also wired to acquire. It’s how I play my games and it’s how I play my life. Accumulate all the things! But what do I really need? I haven’t bought any new work clothes since early spring (and what I did buy, I bought from eBay, Poshmark, and ThredUp) and I have plenty of clothes to wear to work. I have gone nuts on dance clothes, so that will have to stop. I could wear a different outfit to dance class for two straight weeks!
One of my perennial budgeting goals is to live on last month’s money, but I never quite seem to manage it (see above re: cute dance clothes). It is my hope that with this challenge, I can move forward on that goal. We have variable income with my part-time job and my husband’s freelance work, which he does in addition to a full-time job, so budgeting is interesting. Ideally, we would be able to live on last month’s full-time income while using the variable income for an emergency fund, debt repayment, and savings (and eventually, our son’s and grandson’s college expenses.)
At Flipping the Script, “FI Pilgrim” writes about setting boundaries. I have discovered that even though I am an adult, I have a lot of problems when I don’t hold myself to a routine and set boundaries. In order to act like an adult, I have to treat myself like a child. I have a bedtime, I have a chore list, and soon I will have to set myself an allowance.
I gave myself a week and a half to set my rules. My rules changed the other day when I was telling my husband about my fancy Baratza coffee grinder and my efforts to repair it. I got a new adjuster for it, but realized that it probably has a stripped gear. For $55, I can replace the gear with an upgrade. I told him I planned to get that on payday because in my mind, that didn’t “count” toward the challenge. He said, “I thought you weren’t going to spend any money!” That was when I realized that he was really looking forward to this challenge. He’s very tolerant of my spendthrift ways (he calls me “Lucy”), but I think he’s looking forward to seeing a healthier bank account. He has a point. I have an old whirly grinder that I’ve used for years, before I was able to upgrade to the Baratza while he was in Afghanistan
While it’s not as good as a burr grinder, it’s good enough. I’ve mentioned before that coffee is one of my most sacred rituals so that’s why the grinder repair parts seemed off-limits to the budget challenge. My husband is right, though. Why break my challenge when I have a perfectly adequate substitution? (To be honest, though, if it does need the gear upgrade, that will be the first thing I buy on November 15.)
There are a couple of things I am allowing myself to buy on payday. I’m trying to upgrade the light bulbs in my house to LED. My house eats light bulbs like candy, but LED bulbs seem to last a lot longer than either incandescent or fluorescent bulbs. I will be buying a set of bulbs to test, and these bulbs will replace bulbs that are already burnt out. I have high hopes for them, because we spend a lot of money on light bulbs! I’m hoping an upfront investment will pay off in the long term. If I like them, I will slowly change out all of the lights in the house (as they burn out) to match.
My first rule is pretty straightforward. I’m not buying anything I don’t need. My exceptions are the LED light bulbs (I could keep living in the dark, but that’s not a great idea) and a pre-order I made in June that will come out in November, before the end of the challenge. Everything else will go on my wishlist.
My additional, optional goals are to cut back on my grocery and gas spending. Those are the two categories not covered by the not buying anything rule above. For gas, I’m going to try to cut out one trip to the city each week. I live pretty far away from the city where I work and play. I have a great house, but the commuting is hard on my car and the gas gets expensive. I already try to avoid driving into the city on Fridays or Sundays, but I might also skip Mondays or Wednesdays for a few weeks, to help build up a buffer. I’ve switched to a gas station that seems to have better gas mileage and I try to get started early enough to avoid traffic jams. The jams are starting earlier, though, so I will have to leave even earlier to try to miss them.
For food, I’ll readily admit I spend too much money on food. I have a Chipotle addiction and despite my efforts to cut back, I can’t resist the siren call of that place. I also rely too much on protein bars, even on days when I don’t exercise. I subscribe to an excellent meal plan by the Happy Herbivore, so I really have no good excuse for not using it. In addition to sticking to my meal plan, I’m going to take out cash in the amount I want to spend on food for the rest of the month and stick to that. I’m definitely guilty of not feeling the pain of spending when I am using my debit card instead of cash. So I will have two food envelopes, one for my son and me and one for my animals. I will admit in this case I will have a nice head start because we shopped this weekend for the next week and a half. I got my meal plan groceries and will take some time tomorrow to prepare food ahead for at least Tuesday and Thursday, which are the days I’m in the city all day and the days I am most tempted to buy protein bars, Chipotle, or french fries.
Have you done a no spending challenge? How did it go? Please note that this entire challenge comes from a mindset of gratitude for all I have and awareness of how lucky I am to be in this position. I will not approve sanctimonious comments from people who enjoy making others feel guilty for abundance.