Outatime

Hey makers-do! I have not written a post in quite a while. I registered for a course that is taking up SO much of my time that it’s better if I stop telling myself I will write while it’s still ongoing. I have about 3 weeks left. I think there’s a post somewhere in there about the value of spending my money on education, but I’m just too tapped out to write it right now. Does anyone else have some clever #makedo moments they’d like to share?

Talk soon,
Monique

P.S. Here’s a picture of my kid as a #makedo Marty McFly for Halloween.

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Make Two

wpid-wp-1441674915083.jpgNow that I have a year of making do under my old-ass belt, I think I’ve got my stuff problem more or less under control. One of the serendipitous side effects of making do was supposed to be all the extra money I’d have, which I would have used to pay down my consumer debt. That didn’t really happen. I have my suspicions about where all my money went in the last year. Since I wasn’t buying stuff, I got very lax about watching my money in other areas. I also had some surprise costs. The primary focus of this year is making better use of my money.

Here’s a little background on the how and why behind my Year Two Rules.

1. Track all spending.

This is something I started out doing last year, but quickly fell off. I want to get back to doing a weekly post of how much I spend on stuff, so keeping daily track is going to help with that.

2. Set and stick to a monthly envelope-style budget for all necessary and discretionary expenses.

I use an app and website called Goodbudget. I’ve used it for years (clearly sporadically). It’s free for a base-level membership and that’s all I really need. I have ten envelopes for monthly expenses, and ten more for annual expenses or savings goals. It also keeps track of my chequing balance. I fill my envelopes when I get paid, and once they’re empty, that’s it.

3. Food and other necessary consumables are not limited but must stay under budget.

It seems that since I was allowed to buy food last year, I just bought more of it. I stopped paying attention to how much of my money was going to consumables because I didn’t think they’d be a problem. This is the year we find out for sure.

Food budget this year is $206 per month. That’s $125 for the CSA and $81 for other grocery items. This does not include food prepared outside the home.

4. A predetermined personal monthly allowance can be used to purchase discretionary items or services.

Here’s the real departure from the first year of making do: I can buy stuff. Not a lot of stuff, but I’m not restricting any broad categories of purchases (except one, keep reading).

I am giving myself an allowance of $200 per month for discretionary spending. Just like any other budget envelope, once it’s spent, it’s gone. If I happen to have money left in that envelope at the end of any given month, I can choose to roll it over or put it towards a savings goal or annual envelope that’s looking a little thin. I can also borrow from this envelope if another necessary expense goes over budget, but I can’t borrow from other envelopes to top this up.

5. Discretionary items and services include clothing, shoes, tickets to stuff, all book/media formats, crafty supplies, haircuts, stuff for the house, and all food that is not home-prepared.

I will be the first to admit that my definition of “consumables” got pretty loosey-goosey along the way. I probably spent too much on movies and concerts and ebooks and I definitely spent too much on snacks. I also managed to put on quite the sixth birthday party by purchasing only art supplies which, while technically not cheating, was still rather dear. This is the part that I think will be the hardest for me, maybe even harder than not buying stuff.

6. Purchase no toiletries of any kind, unless I happen to run completely out of something I need. (I still have enough of these to go at least another year.)

I wish I were exaggerating, but I really am set in this category. I shouldn’t need a single item for at least six months, and I probably won’t need to buy shampoo until 2017. I will probably need toothpaste at some point this year. Let’s recall that this includes makeup purchases, which is a necessary rule because my first inclination when I’m having a rotten day is still to go buy a lipstick.

7. Clothing purchases must pass the Dollar-per-Wear Test. Thrift shopping is encouraged.

For those unfamiliar with this standard for clothes-buying, a brief explanation: Before you buy an item, imagine that it depreciates by one dollar every time you wear it. The goal is to let the item depreciate fully. If something costs $7 on Old Navy clearance, and you’ll only wear it once, it fails the test. Conversely, if something costs $50 and you know you’ll wear it at least 50 times, then it passes because it will have paid for itself. If that seems like a high bar to clear, you’re right. It is. That’s why it’s a lot easier to find things that pass the test when you buy second-hand. I love thrift shopping, so this isn’t a tough one for me. I do, however, have a certain pair of black ponte skinny pants in my closet that are probably floating around $0.25 per wear now, and I paid $49 retail for them. So it can be done.

8. Gifts may only be purchased with extra cash earned, and not from regular income.

I’m challenging myself a bit here. I am planning on taking any earnings I get from consigned clothing, plus I’m going to take another crack at selling some stuff myself. Selling my stuff is the only way I can think of to fulfill this requirement. Unless someone wants to pay me to teach them to pack or something. That would work.

9. Loyalty rewards and gift cards are not money, and thus may be used without restriction.

I told my husband today that Optimum Points are the only reason we have a Christmas some years. I am only half joking. I earn points at the drugstore and at the grocery store. I am thinking of canceling my gas card and doubling up on PC points at the pump instead. They are far more valuable to me. I still have a couple of gift cards in my wallet that I can use when needed. I shouldn’t be keeping them around. I got burned by a $100 credit note for Jacob which is now out of business. I got all those Target cards used though. Phew!

10. Keep credit card balances at zero and add nothing to existing debt.

If I keep to rules 1 through 9, this should happen naturally. The reality, as I’ve learned over the past year, is that I can’t control everything. I am starting Year Two in essentially the same financial position as I started Year One. It’s disheartening, until I remember that something’s changed. The most important variable in my little experiment is different this year: me.

The Rules, Revisited

wpid-wp-1441158950802.jpgIt’s September 1st, exactly one year after I started this little exercise in making do. I’m done. I (mostly) did it! Was there ever any doubt? I am, after all, a person who finishes things.

All day, I’ve been putting off writing this post because I don’t like the finality of it. I feel like because of what it represents, it should be profound, or enlightened, or at least mildly funny, but I am really not feeling any of those ways today, so you get what you get and you don’t get upset.

What you get is an honest evaluation of The Rules (est. 2014) and how I did with them. Here goes.

1. Buy nothing.

Seems simple enough. If you’ve read just about anything else I’ve written, you will know that there were some notable exceptions: new winter rims for my tires, a congratulatory Lego set for my kid for passing his swimming level, a new windshield for my car (technically the windshield was free, but I had to pay my deductible), those thigh shorts and bras (which were worth every penny). That’s just off the top of my head. I bought some dumb flip flops at Disney World last week because I wore Toms and it rained that day. That was just poor planning on my part, but I wasn’t going to wreck my feet over it.

2. Well, I have to buy food.

And I did. My food budget, in fact, is so out of whack that it needs a serious reckoning. I wouldn’t even call it a budget at this point. I have lost ground in this area.

3. But not convenience food.

Yeah, that didn’t work out so well. I think the initial rule was unnecessarily restrictive, and although I shouldn’t be buying or eating most of that stuff anyway, sometimes a working mom/mature student/good time gal deserves a break today.

4. And toilet paper. I have to buy that.

Yes. I bought toilet paper. I am not ready for family cloth just yet. I did not, however, buy any other paper goods.

5. Consumables, in general, are allowed.

Other consumables purchased throughout the year include, but are not limited to, essential oils, art/craft supplies, sunscreen, medication, vitamins & supplements, and deodorant (I was out).

6. But no toiletries of any kind. I have enough of those already.

Other than the above exceptions, this rule held. I didn’t buy so much as a bar of soap this year. Not a mascara or a lip balm. Not a single hair care product, even though I got my hair cut a few months ago and could really use some salt spray (I think I am going to make it instead). This was a tough one for me, since those things are usually small purchases that have a high enjoyment:cost ratio. Instead, I got right with my already healthy product supply and I’m still burrowing through it.

7. Paying for services is not prohibited, but should be limited.

I bought movie tickets a few times. Some concert tickets. Flights and hotels. All of these fall under the “services” banner and are not prohibited. I had my hair cut and coloured exactly once in the past year: June 19th. I think I did well on this one.

8. One carefully chosen, store-bought Christmas gift for my son allowed. No price cap.

I picked out a huge Lego set for my son as his Christmas gift, and it is still sitting, mostly unbuilt, in his closet. I think knowing that this was my one free purchase this year made it into a bigger deal for me than it needed to be, and I went a little overboard. I hope to not do that again.

9. Raw materials for making clothing and gifts are not limited, but must be used within one month of purchase.

I didn’t buy a lot of this stuff, but some of what I did buy was definitely around longer than a month. I thought I would make more things, but most of my time this year was spent dealing with my existing stuff. I had planned on learning to sew this year, and that didn’t happen. I’m not abandoning that dream just yet.

10. Buy nothing else.

I almost made it, you guys.

I bought a watch on the last day of my vacation, August 29th, because my current watch is broken and there is a Swatch store at MCO. I knew I’d need a replacement very soon and I really like the Swatch stretchy links watches, and there’s no store near where I live. Gather ye rosebuds, etc. I feel badly about this. I was weak. It proved to me just how easily I could slip, even after all this time.

So…

…this is not really the end for me. One year of making do has given me a good foundation. It’s changed old patterns and wrought new ones. A year seems like a long time, but it isn’t really. It’s only a start.

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Biscuits

I just bought something. Five somethings, actually. I don’t feel great about it and I am not looking to justify it, but honesty is important and I am not perfect.

I know how close I am to being “done”, but this was not a purchase that could wait. Not even 12 days.

(I’m going to talk about undergarments now, so if that’s not your deal, then thanks for showing up. The next one will be about something different, I promise.)

A few months ago, in the midst of the Longest Winter Ever, I decided I was going to take myself to Walt Disney World for my birthday. This trip was not cheap and not necessary. It was also not against the rules, and I can think of no better place to spend my 35th birthday than in the Magic Kingdom, so I regret nothing.

My birthday, unfortunately, is at the end of August, which is hot and humid lots of places, especially Central Florida. Those who’ve been following along will know that I have rid myself of a good deal of clothing in the past year, leaving me with few choices that are appropriate for both theme parks and stupid hot weather. It’s mostly dresses.

Some of you can probably see where this is going.

If I’m going to walk for ten miles a day, in 35-degree weather, in a dress, then I need a little help in the foundation garment department.

I would love for this not to be the case. I would love to have lost a bunch more weight by now and not have my thighs trying to kill each other under my skirt. This was my plan! Progress in this area has been slower than expected, although I have turned something of a corner and I plan to share my thoughts on this at some future date.

I did a pre-pack of my luggage last night, and discovered that I also own zero suitable bras for this trip. I own enough for normal life, but none that I could wear all day in that heat and not risk some kind of severe skin irritation.

It was at this point that I decided that purity of purpose was not more important than avoidance of actual physical pain, so I went to Walmart and I bought three stretchy, comfy bras and a two-pack of boy shorts. It was $50 (argh).

This was a clear rule-break. It was not an accident. I am not going to make excuses for it. I chose physical comfort over (nearly) perfect abstinence and I would do it again.

This is how much I cry at Disney when I’m wearing shorts:

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Just kidding. That’s right after my brother-in-law proposed to my sister DURING THE FIREWORKS. He’s laughing at me pretty good right there.

The Life-changing Magic of Throwing Stuff Out

kondoI read this book ages ago. I’ve had it on my Kindle since November, and I even encouraged my book club to  read it. I know loads of people have already read, adopted as practice, and written about Marie Kondo’s book on the internet so I am admittedly late to this party, but it has made such an impression on me that I would be remiss not give it some inches.

First off, the title doesn’t lie. My life is changed. I am changed.

In the past year, I have become a person whose space is less cluttered and generally tidier, and the effects of this shift in my environment have spilled over into all other aspects of my life.

Back in late fall 2014, friend of the blog Steph Johns came over to help me tackle what Marie Kondo suggests should be Step One in ditching excess: Clothing.

When we started, I had my half of the walk-in stuffed with current season clothing, plus a cedar chest, plastic tote and the guest room closet full of off-season stuff. My side of the closet was so crammed that the hangers probably would have stayed in place without the benefit of a hanging rod. And I was using those terrible felt-covered skinny hangers that permit even more hoarding of clothing. I hate those things.

The Konmari Method requires that you start with all your stuff on the floor. Okay. I would normally use the bed, but I went with it. I didn’t take a before picture, although now I wish I had, for shock value. The pile, she was large.

Next step in deciding what to keep is to pick up each item, one at a time, and discern if that item “sparks joy” as you handle it. This is a hard concept to explain, but an easy one to grasp if you play along. If you feel joy when you interact with a garment, then it stays; if not, out it goes. I know it sounds a little weird, but it really resonated with me.

I’m not going to get into the mechanics of the whole day, but once we were done, I was left with a pile on the floor…wpid-wp-1439818924312.jpg

…and all of my remaining clothing hung in the closet.

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That’s all four (or six, or three, depending on the year) seasons on one hanging rod.

All my folding fits in two drawers.

That was how my closet looked for a good three months, until I decided to take another pass and pruned even further. It’s now at about 2/3 of the above and I am this close to being able to ditch all those rotten felt crap hangers forever. I didn’t move two boxes of wooden hangers to the new house for nothing!

Once I’d completed Step One, I didn’t follow the rest of the Konmari method too precisely. I felt equipped to handle the rest of my space and its remaining stuff at a more methodical pace, and I’ve managed to de-clutter MOST of my house. I’d say 90%.

Marie Kondo’s book doesn’t really address one of the most prolific causes of clutter in my home: my child. It’s definitely a book written for the individual, but since this whole year is about changing MY habits, it was a perfectly appropriate place to start.

I find I am now able to enjoy having people in my space much more, since every occasion for guests is no longer accompanied by a week-long cleaning spree whereby things start out orderly, but end in a dozen “miscellaneous” bins being shoved in whichever room I don’t think people will see.

So that’s a little glimpse into how my life has changed in a very real way this year. Progress, not perfection.

The Slip

Is it really a slip if I bought something intentionally? I don’t think so. I made a choice. I stand by it.

My son is not a natural swimmer. Some kids are; mine is not. He has been in swimming lessons since he was about six months old, and now he’s about to turn six years old.

It hasn’t always been fun. There have been tears on some occasions. Mostly, he was nervous about water on his face, in his ears, up his nose, the usual gripes. He never fully trusted that the water would hold him up, and so he wasn’t really learning to “swim.”

Swimming (in my opinion) is not just a fun thing to do but a necessary life skill, like doing laundry and ordering pizza by phone. Quitting swimming lessons just because it wasn’t always pleasant was never going to happen. I have had discussions with a lot of parents about why they do or don’t have their kid in swimming lessons, and all of that is fine. We live next to an ocean. My kid is learning how to swim.

I have watched my son show up to lessons week after week, and seen how his skills have slowly developed over time. I have re-registered him for the same levels as many times as it took for him to get it. Until now, the actual swimming was never really required. A few Mondays ago, it was our last class of the session (third time through this level), and typically the instructors will let the kids play around a bit. My kid, who mere weeks before would not lift his feet up from the bottom of the shallow pool, donned a life vest and jumped off the diving board into the deep end three times. He went down the big slide twice. And at the end of the class, when he got his report card…

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…he passed the level! So I bought him a Lego set.

I considered this purchase before I made it. I thought about whether buying him a toy was really the best reward for something like this, especially given my own need to constantly reward myself (a daily struggle). This kid has been with me for this entire experiment, and he has been solid. He’s stopped asking for things and I think he really gets what I am trying to do. This is a huge accomplishment and I wanted him to know that.

I am so proud of him for sticking with this thing that was hard. He showed up, he did the work, and he succeeded. If there was ever a reason to break edge, I think this was it.

Book Value

Confession time: I have bought some stuff. Well, technically. Or not. I guess it depends on your view.

Since my objective was to decrease the amount of stuff I have by not buying any more of it, I am still clean. The stuff I bought, while costing me cash money, is not taking up any space in my house.

It’s eBooks.

I joined a book club last summer, and I did pretty well at first. I managed to not buy any of the books we were reading until after Christmas. I had some already, and I got lucky getting the others through the library. Then, I was getting ready to go on holiday and I didn’t want to drag extra stuff with me, so I figured, what the hell. I have a Kindle that I really love. I am not a person who keeps a lot of books, anyway. I love the library, but waitlists can be lengthy and I’m on a schedule.

I don’t really think of buying eBooks as a rule break, but I can see how it might be considered cheating, so I thought I’d better cop to it, especially because I just bought May’s and June’s selections on my Kindle last night. I have spent maybe $100 on eBooks in the last eight months. I still think that’s pretty good.

What’s your take? Am I a dirty rotten cheater?