Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Good, the Bad, and the, um, Attractive

Many people have shown great interest in my family's quest not to spend money on things we do not need to survive. Other people have suggested that if you don't spend a little something now and again, it makes life humdrum and stressful. After about two weeks now of following this strict monetary diet we put ourselves on, we have learned a few things. Having a tiny bit of experience under my belt due to this trek, my beliefs now fall somewhere between the camps of spending nothing and spending a little bit on the important things.

As with any diet, the first week was glamorous. Like the dieter who gets excited while watching the loss of water weight make the scale more friendly, we were thrilled to see money roll in and stay in. The second week was when we realized that we had forgotten things we had promised to do (that cost money), which thwarted our efforts to stick with our plan. Aaaaaand, since I want to be completely honest, we messed up a few times without anyone else's help.

So, without further ado, here is your fascinating recap:

Starting on day one, I was fabulously excited about this. With no effort or remorse, I passed by local snack shops and other wasteful places I wouldn't have thought twice about before. Awesome Mike and I used to be horribly guilty of having this conversation:

A.M.: We've gotten a lot of errands done today, huh?
Me: Yes, and we've been on the road for so long! We really need to stop and get something to eat.
A.M.: True. I am hungry.
Me: Yeah. Me, too!
A.M.: We really should eat leftovers at home.
Me: That's true.
A.M.: Well, where do you want to stop to eat?
Me: How about [this place]?

We must have done that a hundred times. I don't know why we always have a lot of errands to run, but we're frequently out running them and getting hungry in the process.

However, during these last two weeks, we almost always remembered to bring food and drinks with us from our own kitchen. (What a novelty!) During the times we did forget to carry anything along with us, I happily declined to buy anything. I even (gasp!) stayed thirsty for a half hour until I could get home and have a free drink from my own refrigerator. That would have been unheard of before this project. I may have, however, gone overboard once: As we were driving around, and still a bit far from home, I suddenly developed a coughing fit for seemingly no reason. I told Awesome Mike that, ok!, I'd give in and get a drink at the next stop. Well, when we arrived five minutes later, the coughing fit was over, and I decided I no longer wanted to buy a drink. And I didn't. See? Probably a bit overboard since my throat was then sore and the coughing fit may have returned. Still, I had become so enamored with the game of not spending any money, that I just couldn't allow myself to buy this drink without a true need to do it.

One thing that has made this so fun is the fact that it is a game. I'm constantly looking for ways to save any bit of money possible or to gain it through adding on more hours at work or selling things. I find myself remembering to use less water and turn off lights that are not in use. I find myself hounding lovingly reminding my family to do the same. I've heard that doing the speed limit is cheaper than speeding, so I've told my lead foot to lighten up. We're borrowing items that we need only occasionally, rather than buying something that will sit around the house or in the garage. We're combining more errands to make each trip more productive and less of a gas-guzzler. We have repaired a few things rather than throwing them out, and we're finding ways to make other things last longer.

I'm really proud of my kids for stepping up to the plate and making some good decisions, too. My youngest told me that he had decided months ago that he was going to wear his sneakers to the point of almost falling apart, which he did. (Since I do not dress my children, I also do not pay attention to how worn their shoes are. They are old enough to tell me when they need new shoes and also give me the reason why.) When he showed me his shoes, I agreed wholeheartedly it was time for a new pair and then congratulated him on his frugality. Additionally, when he picked out a new pair of sneaks at the store, he looked for a pair he liked that were also a good price.

On another day, I was about to throw something away (I forget now what it was) and my daughter reminded me that it was wasteful to toss it out and that I could reuse it. Excellent catch on her part! She was completely right.

My oldest made the most surprising comment lately; it's something I never expected to hear from someone who is about to get his driver's license for the first time. We were discussing how much car insurance would cost for a year for someone his age. He was immediately outraged that it could potentially empty his bank account if he were to pay a whole year's premium upfront. So, on his own, he decided that he was going to get his license, but then he would not drive for a year so that he could save money instead of spending it on insurance. Wow!

I am a member of four local groups on Freecycle and receive emails daily about what people are offering. I also will occasionally check the items offered on Craigslist, especially in the free section. Many times, I have considered switching from wasteful paper napkins that are used once and trashed to cloth napkins that are washed after each use. On Craigslist, I found a woman who was offering homemade napkins for 50 each. The various styles of pretty napkins now sit in our napkin holder on the table, and I smile whenever I look at them. Once the cloth napkins found their new home, Awesome Mike suggested that we should pack away all paper and plastic products so that we wouldn't be tempted to use them. I loved that idea. We rounded everything up - the paper napkins and the plastic bowls, forks, knives, spoons, cups, and straws - leaving only the paper towels behind for us to use. I'm just not ready to give those up yet. There are some messes I am not cleaning up with a real towel.

I'd love to say that I kept track of every penny we saved or earned in the last two weeks, but I didn't. Here is what I remember:

We got five pounds of free Matzoh crackers
We received a free bathroom item worth $100
We found two items we had purchased and no longer needed; we returned them and pocketed $17
We sold about $50 worth of items belonging to me
I looked through my jewelry and found two necklaces given to me by boyfriends from about 20 years ago; I sold them to a jewelry shop and received $70
We were given a free antenna for our now cable-less television
Like I said earlier, we realized some important things during the past two weeks. The first thing that struck us was when we remembered promises that we had made weeks to months before making the decision not to spend money, and it just so happened that it was now time to make good on those promises. Last fall, one of the kids discovered he loved playing driveway basketball. I priced nets at the store and found they were $100 or more, so I told him that I would search around for a cheaper one. I put the word out on Freecycle and Craigslist. I found nothing. Then, winter came and there was no need for driveway basketball. A few weeks ago, we started having some spring-like weather and I began searching again. Days after deciding not to spend money, I got an email from someone in town selling an unused net for $60. I kept my word to my son (doing so is extremely important to me and my family) and I bought it.

Awesome Mike and I had also made a promise to take an elderly friend out to a local diner for one of her favorite meals. This plan was made about a month ago, but we hadn't been able to get to the diner due to our friend's poor health. When she feels up to it, we will still take her out to lunch and enjoy each other's company.

We also realized that family customs are too important to ignore just to save a few bucks. One thing we have always done was buy shamrock shakes from McDonald's on St. Patrick's Day, which is a big holiday in our family. My kids have had one every year of their lives on that day, and they always look forward to it. On March 17, we will take my little leprechauns over there and buy the milkshakes. I will enjoy their smiles as we continue to share that special moment. As times goes on, I'm sure there will be other occasions like this where we decide spending money is worthwhile. We are also considering loosening our stance for once-a-month family outings (there are seven of us now) and a frugal vacation. We don't know when or where yet, but we have these possibilities under consideration.

I am really happy we went cold turkey initially, but that we are learning to relax in some areas as we go along. Cutting off all spending initially put us in a great frame of mind; it initially caused us to put a lot of focus on all areas of our spending and, because of that, we found the areas where we needed the most work.

Despite our failings (such as the night we bought a pizza rather than cooking one), we have begun to learn a lot, and we have experienced many great days where we saw how awesome it feels not to spend. We are going to continue on this quest to save money and to curb our spending significantly.

Most of all, we're going to continue to look for joy in our new endeavor. I hope you'll join us.

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