Saving Money Through Routine

If you’re of a certain age (eh-hem, late 30s and 40s), you’ll remember well the opening scenes of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, where the delightful Fred Rogers walks through his TV set’s front door, walks down the stairs, heads to the front closet, removes his dress coat, puts on a cardigan, takes off his dress shoes, puts on his sneakers, and then sits down to tell us about the day’s episode.

This daily ritual was purposeful. Pastor and psychologist Rogers knew that young children craved routine, and indeed, watching that opening sequence brings me, to this day, a sense of peace and serenity seldom found when I watch television.

Routine is necessary for maximum efficiency in life, and maximum efficiency is very often necessary for saving money.

If your life is highly routined, then you and the people you live with know what is coming. You can plan for it, and save for it. More importantly, your brain doesn’t have to waste precious neurons deciding how to manage unexpected decisions.

If you currently waste money repeatedly in the same way, a routine will allow you to examine that cost and change it so that you save yourself money again and again simply by making one decision at one point in time.

Let me break this idea down a bit more.

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Living Your Values

I have several friends I’ve made during the two-and-a-half years we’ve living in North Carolina. We’ve been fortunate to meet some very nice, interesting, generous people.

Some of our friends happen to have much larger incomes than we do. While we may not know exactly how much larger, we’ve had enough hints to know that some of our friends easily make double or triple what we make.

Good for them. I think that’s awesome that they’ve developed businesses and careers to generate large incomes. I am happy to hear that they are doing well financially.

Sometimes, though, it’s hard to listen to a litany of purchases and decisions that feel so counter to my own values. I certainly don’t want to not make friends with someone just because they spend more than I do, and in fact, I think it’s important to have at least a few friends with different financial situations than your own, just to ensure that you don’t live in a bubble.

But I also regularly feel like the poor friends, which is funny given our above-average net worth. However, we do live in the smallest house in the neighborhood, drive older cars, and eat out way less often than some friends.

We also have several friends and neighbors who have similar values to our own, and usually after talking with one of them, I am reminded that there are plenty of people like us in the world, making similar decisions about time, spending, and energy.

One thing I’ve had to learn, over and over again, is that I must make choices that make me happy. I have spent large amounts of time worried over the choices we’ve made in our lives, especially when others’ values are different from mine. I’ve said yes to things I didn’t really want to say yes to, in the name of friendship or what I thought was the right thing to do. Gone on trips, met people for drinks, put my kids into more activities than I thought we could manage.

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Less is Now: A Review

I have followed The Minimalists for years. I don’t remember where I first heard about them (probably on a personal finance blog), but I do remember loving the clean aesthetic and feelings of control I got from the idea of a drastically simplified home.

I’ve undertaken experiments to simplify my house for years, and back in 2013, even Marie Kondo’ed my entire 3400-square-foot home, including the kids’ toys.

While the story of two bachelors with no families didn’t jive with my own experience, they also pointed me in the direction of family-man Joshua Becker, who gives practical simplification advice for families, and Courtney Carver, who had specific and extremely effective ideas about how to cull your wardrobe.

For years, I listed to the Minimalists’ podcast, so when their first documentary came out, I watched it as soon as I could get it on Netflix.

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Ending 2020

Hi guys! I meant to publish this on December 31st, but I’m here at my parents’ house, visiting, and didn’t get it done. So I’ll backdate. Hope you are having a good 2021 so far. One of my goals for 2021 is a more regular blogging schedule so I hope to be back soon with more content!

What a year. I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s had fantasy conversations with my past self about our current unbelievable reality.

Me, circa February 2020: “What’s with the masks?”

Current Me: “Girl, how much time you got?”

Also unbelievable: Moderna Inc. started working on the vaccine in early January of this year. Before any of us even had a clue what was coming. From Bloomberg Businessweek:

“The biotechnology company Moderna Inc. had downloaded the genetic code for the novel coronavirus from researchers in China. Within a few days, scientists there had developed a vaccine with the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the research agency led by Anthony Fauci. By mid-March, they’d started a clinical trial.”

There’s a lot that goes on in the world that I don’t know. Thank goodness, right? Both the good and the bad parts.

But this post isn’t about those things, so much. It’s about how my little neck of the woods did, benchmark-wise, this year.

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20 Plant-Based Dinners

In our quest to eat more veggies in 2020 (and less meat), I thought I’d put together a post to help myself organize some of our new, favorite plant-based dinner recipes, ones that we have tried and given the thumbs-up to.

I originally started this post way back in January, but, you know, 2020 happened, and we got a little distracted from our goal. But since reading How Not to Die, I have been working to change how I cook and I think this post is more important than ever, if nothing more than a reference for me.

When I get home from work, around 4pm, if Mr. ThreeYear is not in the middle of a conference call, his first question is usually “What’s for dinner?” I try to have dinner ready by about 5:00 or 5:30 because of kid activities and husband hunger. So, I need recipes that are fast.

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The Answer to That Question I Asked Myself in My 30s

Several years ago, now, confronted with yet another friend whose spouse was dying of cancer, I asked myself, “Why are our cancer rates so high? Isn’t there anything we can do to stop cancer?”

This wasn’t a hypothetical question. I really wanted to know why we went from a cancer rate of 1 in 100 in 1900 to 1 in 3 women and 1 in 2 men in 2010 (I don’t know now where I got those statistics–I just memorized them for a presentation I was doing at the time).

I never bothered to figure out the answer, until I happened to pick up a book with an intriguing title last week, and had boxes of evidence, and the answer to how to stop cancer, dumped over my head.

But first, a detour. At the beginning of this year, I read another book and changed my habits, as I so often do. I read the book Blue Zones Kitchen by Dan Buettner and was super inspired to eat more vegetarian meals.

We started eating that way at the beginning of the year, but then Covid hit, and we quietly put vegetarian eating aside and went back to our typical fare. No big deal. We eat pretty healthy. Healthy proteins, like eggs and chicken, some sausage and bacon, but not a ton, veggies, like kale, carrots, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, pasta.

Eating vegetarian is good, I vaguely knew, but so much had happened since I read that book, that I just couldn’t remember why it was worth the trouble, especially during a global pandemic.

So when I picked up this latest book, with lots of leafy greens on the cover, provocatively entitled How Not to Die, I didn’t really know what I was getting into. I actually had no idea what the book was about. It was in my Kindle Unlimited picks, so I dived in.

Turns out, the book finally answered the question I’d asked myself back in my 30s. I honestly didn’t think there was a clear answer to why cancer rates had increased so much in this country, just thought it might vaguely have something to do with increased toxins in our groundwater.

But the author, Michael Gregor, MD, has made it his life mission to collect as many double-blind, placebo-controlled (etc.) top-flight studies as possible to figure out how to reduce various types of diseases, including cancer, that kill us.

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How to Be Happy

We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.

Joseph Campbell

Grasping, grasping, always grasping. We are a dissatisfied species, no?

Maybe you’re someone who looks out over your backyard, as you’ve just hand washed your dishes, noticing the beauty of the sunset, grateful for the ups and downs of your day, convinced you already have every single thing you need right in front of you.

I have those moments, occasionally. I do. I also have a monkey mind that’s always planning, yearning, seeking things to change and improve. “Does she like me?” “When will I get a new fridge?” “My house is outdated. I’m never going to get it fixed up.” “I need, I need, I need…”

Writing helps me tame the beast. It is my form of thinking with my fingers, of taking the ephemeral whisps of thought, of what I know to be true, and pinning them down, shaping and creating them into a philosophy, into meaning, into, perhaps, a plan for living.

I’ve been reading over my old journals. My writing, especially the writing I did pre-blog, was an exercise in formulating meaning, in figuring out a purpose, in discovering my authentic self. While my thinking patterns can often drive me batty, I like the self I find in my journals, the person I am on paper.

My authentic self (in my quarantine outfit). Proudly a mama, first and foremost.

Um, what about happiness?

How does this relate to happiness? I imagine you didn’t start reading this post to hear my self-congratulations.

So let me get to the point. Reading my past words has reminded me of some things. Reminded me of the candescent ideas I read, back in 2016, and then wrote down, as I suspected I’d forget their wisdom.

To be happy, I have to be my authentic self.

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We Doubled Our Net Worth

Pardon me for not writing about this back in June when it actually happened, but we doubled our net worth. That was one of two giant goals I had on this blog when I started it.

I think I told you that we went out to a fancy dinner to celebrate.

The dinner was anti-climactic, in part because of Covid restrictions.

The reaching of our goal, however, has left me happy. Every time I check our net worth I’m happy. Especially because it keeps going up.

I know, I know. Major bull market; we’re undoubtedly in for a major correction. But let me enjoy it while it lasts, ‘kay?

How did we get here? Well, let’s back up. I wrote a post back in October of 2017 called How We Plan to Double Our Net Worth.

Basically, we planned to pay down our mortgage principal, save money in our retirement accounts, and add money to our taxable accounts.

Here is our total net savings rate over the past three years:

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How I Went from Spending $1250 to $600 on Groceries in Two Months

Well, well, well. It seems I have FINALLY managed to stay within a $600 per month grocery budget for the first time in recent memory.

You may be shouting, “amateur!” I don’t care. I have never been able to figure out how to reduce this expense until now, and I am PROUD of myself.

In June, we spent $1243.61 on food.

In August, we spent $597.13.

How in the world did we manage to HALF our grocery budget in the space of two months?

Well, if you want the short answer:

I started budgeting my grocery money weekly.

If you want the long answer (which, I think you do, because, come on, who wants a one-sentence answer when you can get something long and complicated?!), then read on.

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Austerity Measures

For the most part, we haven’t been worried about losing our jobs during Covid, so we haven’t been especially worried about our financial situations during the pandemic.

Lately, however, my husband has had some unpleasant situations at work, and we have been reminded of how much we depend on our salaries to cover our everyday expenses.

Mr. ThreeYear and I made the decision that for the next six months, we’re going to buckle down and save as much as possible so that we can beef up our emergency fund.

Contemplating joblessness, even as a thought exercise, is scary. It made me realize that we don’t have enough in our emergency fund.

For several years, I’ve kept a smaller emergency fund of $10,000-$15,000, plus the money in our budget, which is generally about $10,000-$15,000 as well. The money in our emergency fund sits in our Ally Savings Account, and earns a nominal amount of interest each month ($10-$15 at the current rate). Our budgeted money is in our checking account.

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