Wanna Be More Frugal? Try Under-scheduling.

I hope that this post isn’t head-smacker obvious in its conclusions, but I had an epiphany of sorts yesterday at my kids’ swim practice.

First of all, I’m not super frugal but I’m always trying to get better at spending, because it’s my Achilles’s heel, my Kryptonite.

Second of all, I believe very much in a simplified schedule. This year, I don’t have a full-time (or even part-time job), so my schedule has been very bare, on purpose. That’s been nice. We’ve enjoyed a blessedly busy-free schedule for the entire school year. It’s very much in keeping with our location independent lifestyle. We’ve made last-minute decisions to have a beach weekend or travel to see a relative several times, even skipping a day of school if we needed to.

However, this week, I’ve had a taste of what an over-scheduled life might feel like. The kids have only had one activity each for most of the year, but as of two weeks ago, they both tried out for and made swim team. We have practice every evening.

During the day, after I get the kids on the bus, I’ve been running, writing, applying for jobs, and quickly tidying the house. Then, I run off to help my sister with her new baby, so she can work her Etsy business. After that, I drive back home, pick up the boys on the bus, get them changed, take one to swim practice, come home, eat, then take the other to swim practice.

I’ve had one week of this, not an entire school year, like many parents. But already I’m feeling the effects.

Yesterday, I ordered groceries from our grocery service (which continues to be a major, huge, wonderful help in my life that helps me spend less on groceries despite its cost). After putting them away, I realized that I hadn’t taken inventory of the food we currently had in the house. Because our week had been so busy, and we’d eaten out once during the week, we had a lot more food left over than usual.

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What I Learned After a Month of Digital Minimalism

In late March, I read Cal Newport’s insightful new book, Digital Minimalism (affiliate link). In it, he proposed a digital fast–that is, a time period of at least thirty days where you would dramatically curtail your social media usage and steeply curb the amount of time you spent on electronics devices.

He proposed setting strict boundaries for yourself around your electronics usage, such as only checking email once per day, and taking a break from all social media for the month.

The idea, he said, was to interrupt your social media usage patterns to get a better idea of how and how much you were using social media and to break the mindless usage.

At the same time, he recommended cultivating some new activities for your leisure time, something he found to be critical as you broke the hold of your social media on your life.

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Enough

I’ve been thinking about enough lately. In this country, enough has become a concept that’s almost unpatriotic. Saying you have enough implies you’re satisfied. It implies you’re not endlessly striving for more, better, faster, perfection.

I’ve spent the last week on Spring Break. I meant to blog, had packed the laptop, but left it at home. Rather than type into my phone I said, “it’s time for a break” and let myself have a vacation for a week.

Taking a week off of anything, even a hobby, is something it’s becoming harder and harder for us to do. Mr. ThreeYear took a week off of work for the first time in a long time, but still checked in to his email daily. “We’re expected to,” he explained.

Enough has been allusive this year, a year of transition for my family. The house needs so much, I’m not working, we have a new dog, we live in a new town. Mr. ThreeYear endlessly searches for just one more device (used, on FB Marketplace) that will make the house a home. I’ve been searching for the perfect curtains, bedspreads, toilet seats, patio furniture.

And yet, we live in a place where the excess bothers me, daily. I drive along perfectly manicured streets, watch as landscape crews dig up large, beautiful cherry blossom trees in the median and replant smaller, beautiful cherry blossom trees. I see people replace perfect, new late-model SUVs with perfect-er, newer late model SUVs. Our across-the-street neighbors now have more cars in their driveway than they do people in their home.

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A Year of Good Money: A Digital Fast

What does a digital fast have to do with getting better at money? I think it might be quite a lot, actually.

This year, my family is focusing on making better spending decisions. To that end, we’re (I’m) engaging in twelve eleven (I forgot in March) money experiments designed to help us reexamine our spending patterns and hopefully, get better at them. I’m calling this A Year of Good Money.

In February, I took on a no-spending challenge, my Frugal February challenge, and we spent less than we had in a year. The crazy part was, I was the only one in my family engaged in the challenge. I set rules for myself, which were that I would spend nothing outside of groceries, gas, and bills, but I wouldn’t involve my family members in the challenge, since Mr. ThreeYear was traveling a lot and I didn’t want to make things harder on him, and I didn’t want to stop the boys from their activities.

I think the experiment showed me how programmed I am to spend money. Sadly, in March, I went back to my old ways, and spent more than ever, as some commenters predicted. To be completely effective, it’s clear that I’ll need to engage in a no-spend period that’s longer than a month, because I did delay spending for a month, rather than stop spending in a certain category at all. Here are all of my thoughts on what I learned during the month.

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Why Simplifying is So Hard

Ahh, simplicity. So simple, yet so illusive.

The simplicity paradigm, of course, is that the less we have, do, and schedule, the better off we are. Less really is more.

Nowadays this truism is something like common knowledge. Our lives are inundated with so much stimulation, consumer goods, and social media that we somehow know we’re due for a step back. To borrow Joshua Becker’s quote, “Busy is the new Fine.” When I ask a friend how she’s doing, of course I’m going to hear how crazy busy she is with her kiddos. I might hear, “Fine. Busy!” But that word is usually thrown in somewhere. Badge of honor in our modern world.

I don’t say that to people (more on that below), but I know what she means. Just scrolling through my feed and reading seven articles on different important topics leaves me feeling stuffed. Can you relate?

Back in the ’90s, when I was growing up, and busy was not yet the new fine, I was busy. I share genetics with a father we affectionately call The Renaissance Man. He is always learning something new, going on a trip, picking up a new hobby. I, too, wanted to experience everything.I was a child who wanted to sign up for every after school activity. In high school, I was going to be the editor of the yearbook and the drum major of the band, amongst myriad other activities, until my parents called fowl.

In the ’90s, with cheap plastic goods beginning to flood in from Asia, our homes were filled with stuff. Kids got toys outside of Christmas and birthdays. I had a lot of toys. So many that I would fill my piggy toy chest to overflowing, and still have only started cleaning up my toys. The beginning of our over-consumption and over-scheduled lives didn’t start overnight.

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Are You the 1%?

I’ve been thinking a lot about the dumb luck of being born in one of the world’s wealthiest countries. It reminded me of this post, which is one of my favorites. Every once in a while, I find it really helpful to go drone-like and fly up above my privileged circumstances to reflect on how fortunate I and my family really are. Videos like the one below help me to take a few minutes to put things in perspective. 

Last night, my son asked me to replay a video I’d shown him last year.  It’s called If the World Were 100 People. Maybe you’ve seen it. One of my professors in my Master’s course introduced me to the video last Spring.

If you’ve got two and a half minutes, it’s a great watch.

The company that developed the video, GOOD Magazine, used research from the Central Intelligence Agency’s World Factbook to give us an idea of what our world would look like if its almost 7.5 billion inhabitants were reduced to a mere 100 people. 100 is a number we can wrap our brains around fairly easily. We all know 100 people. We’re probably friends with 100 people. Continue reading “Are You the 1%?”

Combatting the Mid-Winter Blues

Hello everyone in the midst of winter! It’s February here in North Carolina, and though the ground isn’t covered in four feet of snow, I’m still battling the same seasonal affective disorder as years past, thanks to the endless rain and lack of sun. So, in honor of this auspicious time of year, I thought I’d republish a reminder of things I’ve done in the past to get through the very hardest parts of the winter. 

If you’re in the thick of bleak midwinter (and possibly staring down several more weeks or months of frigid temps, snow, and ice), hang in there! I know how you feel!

Midwinter is always the time of year that gets to me in New England. We’re in the thick of the cold and snow and, despite being teased with some 50-degree days recently, we’ve been staring down -4 for the past week. A blizzard with 18 inches of snow is coming tomorrow.

This time of year causes certain problems.

One, I find it almost impossible to drag myself out of bed for a run if the temps are below 15 degrees F (if that sounds horrible to you, believe me, it does to me too). I do not take running lightly. It is critical to my being tolerable to the rest of the human race, so imagine how fun I am to be around in the winter. Two, Spring feels forever away. And I need the hope of Spring.

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On Staying Married

Little ThreeYear and I spent a little time counting our blessings yesterday as we talked about his New Year’s Resolution, to work on his anger issues. Sweet thing, he hardly has any anger issues. He has major anxiety and sometimes that causes him to freak out a little. But he’s gotten so much better this year! So we talked about that and about all he’s good at, and all we’ve got to be thankful for. And I spent time counting my blessings after reading Mr. Money Mustache’s really honest and thoughtful post on his divorce.

Mr. ThreeYear and I have a best friend who’s a divorced, single-parent dad. For years, we watched many things happen with his former spouse and have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly that came from his divorce.

It takes such strength of character to be able to write about such a wrenching and difficult subject, with all its associated social baggage and judgment, in a way that’s designed to help others get better with money and life, and I admire MMM for writing about such a hard topic. I’ve read plenty of posts lately about people getting divorced, but not as many about staying married, and so here I humbly offer my own situation and lessons for better or for worse (no pun intended, of course).

The most helpful part of Pete’s post for me was where he gave tips on how to stay married. Staying married is really important to me. I remember in middle school, telling a classmate that I was never getting a divorce. She, with much more maturity and insight than I had at the time, reminded me that it wasn’t always within your control. I told her I’d do everything I could not to get divorced. I feel the same way twenty-eight years later.

My dad’s parents, my grandparents, got divorced after 34 years of marriage, and it kind of wrecked the family. It really messed up my aunt and uncle, who were born much younger than my dad. They were little kids at the time and got shuffled between two homes, one of which contained their mother who was losing her mind to grief and booze, and the other of which had their self-absorbed father who was more involved with his new wife than worried about his kids.

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Winter, Hygge, and Embracing Home

I moved from New Hampshire to North Carolina to get away from massive snowfall. And I did, honestly. My old town in New Hampshire suffered through a record three snow days in November, way before the snow normally starts. While things were chilly in Charlotte, the ground was brown, not white.

But, irony of ironies, Winter Storm Diego hit us a couple of weeks ago and not only did we have two snow days of our own, we got a solid week before the white stuff melted.

Honestly, I was kinda digging it. While I can’t make it through seven long months of white ground, seven days is manageable. 

There’s something so cozy about winter. I find that in wintertime, December excluded, we tend to bunk down at home and spend more time together but less money. Probably because for the last few years, we’ve embraced the concept of hygge and home.

Hygge is, of course, the famous Danish concept of coziness. It’s the idea of making your home a warm and welcoming cave by lighting tea candles, building a great big fire (or turning up those gas logs), playing soothing music, and basically leaning in to the short, cold days of winter. Winter isn’t to be endured, according to the Danish, it’s to be embraced! 

Since we only have to embrace a few months of cold weather (and it’s currently 55), I’m more than happy to enjoy what little truly cold weather we have, and transform our new house into a cozy nook.

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It’s All Relative

Yesterday I went running with a group of women from my neighborhood. We recently moved to a large neighborhood in Davidson, North Carolina, and the neighborhood we moved into, to use terminology from The Millionaire Next Door, is “income affluent.” That means that people in this neighborhood tend to have high incomes, but also spend large amounts of money so that they have a low level of net worth.

In other words, they’re broke.

I was proud of myself–I had gotten on Facebook and posted a message to the neighborhood women’s group we have there. I found several women who were interested in starting a runner’s group, something I sorely needed since I have about motivation to run as I do to clean the toilets (read: none). But running, unlike toilet cleaning, is good for me in myriad ways, predominantly mental health-wise, so it’s helpful to have accountability partners in the journey. Continue reading “It’s All Relative”