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.

Continue reading “Why Simplifying is So Hard”

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.

Continue reading “On Staying Married”

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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Holiday Gift-Giving Guide

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I am so excited! I’ve been wanting to create a holiday gift-giving guide for a while and I’ve finally done it. I hope you enjoy. I really love everything I’ve picked.

Holiday Gift Giving Guide www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

Christmas is upon us! Hanukkah starts in two short weeks. Get your kinara out; Kwanzaa is coming. Festivus is right around the corner.

Whatever you celebrate (or don’t) in December, this is one of my favorite times of year. If you’ve been reading for awhile, you know that I absolutely love Christmas and tend to go a little crazy at Christmastime.

My love language, if you know about that, is giving. Over the years, I’ve dramatically toned down the level of gift and amount of giving I do, but it still brings me great joy when I can find that perfect gift for my loved ones.

Last year, we gave the gift of experience to our family: a paddle board lesson for my dad, a cooking class for my sister and brother-in-law, and rock climbing for Junior ThreeYear.

Giving experiential gifts is fun, but it can get expensive. So, this year, my sister recommended we adults give each other stocking stuffers only, under $20. I love this idea because you’re not spending a ton, the gift can be practical (and/or a consumable that the recipient would buy anyway), and adding parameters somehow makes it easier to choose for each person.

In the spirit of stocking stuffers, I decided to create a gift-giving guide to highlight some wonderful gifts I’ve come across this year. And because I love books so much, I’m throwing in some book ideas, too.

All gifts come in under $20, to boot!  Continue reading “Holiday Gift-Giving Guide”

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”

A Frugal Reputation Pays

When we lived in New Hampshire, it was pretty standard to be frugal. New England is a region of the country that was settled by English Puritans. A group of Puritans settled the area around Boston back in 1640 in order to escape increasing religious persecution in England.

Putting aside the theological, Puritans believed in living Godly lives both as individuals and as a community. They believed that hard work was the epitome of such a life, and eschewed owning servants or slaves for that reason. They stripped their daily lives of “worldly distractions” such as entertainment and ornate adornments or decorations in the house.

Fast forward four hundred years, and the descendants of that group continue to value some of those core beliefs, like dressing simply and practically (trust me when I tell you that makeup and highlights aren’t big in New England), using their resources wisely (ie being frugal!), and simple entertaining (people don’t have big parties and it isn’t very common to be invited over to your neighbors’ house for dinner).

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8 Cheap Purchases that Have Lasted Years

There’s something to be said for well-made items, items you can depend on to last you for years. Many times, we expect these products to cost an arm and a leg. But this post is a homage to ten items that were cheap, and have lasted me years and years.

On Friday, I wrote about ten items that I’ve spent a lot of money on that I absolutely love. These days, I’m working to conscientiously buy products that are well-made and will last, so that I won’t have to repeat buy these products again.

But you don’t always need to buy such expensive products to find items that will last. Sometimes, you stumble upon jewels that are inexpensive and will last for years. Here is a list of my favorites:

Rain jacket

In 2008, when Junior Three Year was just one, my grandmother took our entire family on an Alaskan cruise. It was amazing. Mr. ThreeYear and I were newly married, battling layoffs, and adjusting to one income, so we had very little extra money for the trip. We needed to get a rain jacket for the inevitable sprinkles of the Alaskan climate, so I headed to Walmart to see what they had. I found a jacket that cost about $16, and brought it with me. It was made by a brand I’d never heard of, Stearns. Continue reading “8 Cheap Purchases that Have Lasted Years”