I’ve been MIA. Not that my mind hasn’t been here, it’s that I’ve been struggling with where to place my thoughts. I needed some time to detach, figure some things out, and set my mind back up on the right track.
I realized a weird phenomenon while I was closely tracking my spending and writing my blog. I would crash and burn hard, every couple months or so, as if it was clockwork. It’s kind of like the person who gains weight when dieting because of the frequent binges that shake down whenever one deprives themselves too much.
Was my yo-yo financial dieting truly due to deprivation? Were my shopping bans actually depriving me, or were all my crash-and-burns happening due to a deprivation/poverty mindset?
April came and went and boy, do I have some mixed emotions on my No Spend Challenge.
To start, I’d like to report that I’ve magically managed, for the first time in ohhhh, let’s say about 14 years, go a whole month while only spending money on my pre-determined grocery budget. Even as a backpacking student meandering with near-empty pockets through other continents, I managed to find a way to break away and go buy a trinket, a shawl, some memento – maybe more for the need to buy something than for the actual souvenir (as a sidenote, isn’t that awful? I couldn’t break away from shopping even as a broke backpacking 23 year old…these rivers run deep).
Normally, I would be thrilled to report this. I managed to accomplish something that I truly, in my heart, wasn’t certain I could do because of the innumerable failed attempts. But no… I’ve had some unexpected bad luck some darken my doorstep that’s robbed me of the joy I was hoping to have over this big accomplishment.
I am seventeen days in to my No Spend April challenge.
These first week reminded me of this yoga pose called Pigeon Pose that always gave me initial grief, followed by an odd sense relief. The first bit feels doable, and then swiftly becomes horribly uncomfortable. Then a painful, almost tingling/burning feeling sets in to your muscles as you contort them into a position they are not familiar with, and they quiver and twitch to adjust. Then that sensation of being exposed to something so hot it turns into a numbing cold – you know the one – sets in, and you start screaming in your head that you can’t take it anymore. Then suddenly, you reach a breaking point where everything feels eerily great and it’s bizarre that it does, because you know you’re technically engaged in a position completely foreign to you and if you move even a half inch the pain might set back in, but it also feels … really nice. You realize you can do this, you almost can’t believe that such intense pain has led to this almost sublime feeling, and you start thinking you can hang out in this pose for a while. That, my friends, is days 1 to 11 of No Spend April.
This challenge has given me a very unexpected and also very liberating sense of freedom. No more agonizing over if I should spend or not. No more calculating my balances as nothing is going out. I used to stare at my debt balances every couple of hours, as if I was harbouring a secret hope that they would miraculously disappear if I checked in on them just one more time, and then again one more time, and again one more time…. My thoughts are now completely released from all the time I spend wondering what to buy, no more hunting, no more justifying and no more guilt over the push and pull of to buy or not to buy. This is freedom. This is lucidity.
I’ve embarked on a No Spend Month.
I’m not going in guns-a-blazin’ and I’m not standing up and shouting it from the rooftops, as I’ve tried and failed before (and documented the epics fails on my blog, for all the world to see) so I’m flying under the radar, hat in hand, head down and focused on the work ahead. This time around feels more somber, more serious. However I feel more motivated than ever before.
So to keep this short and sweet, these are my green lights for the month:
- Bills (utilities, insurance, etc)
- Budgeted grocery allowance
- Monthly transit pass
- Emergencies (I have a $500 emergency fund set aside, but knock on wood, I hope I don’t need it)
That’s it, folks! It sounds Spartan, and it is. However I don’t feel I’m depriving myself whatsoever. I have more than enough creature comforts bursting out of every cupboard and closet in my home, so that I am constantly surrounded by luxury (when I look at my normal Western life as someone who would be labelled “low to mid income” versus the majority of the rest of the world’s inhabitants, I truly do live in unabounded luxury) so I have nothing to want for. If anything, this forces me to actually enjoy everything I already own, as opposed to mentally dumping the love I had for an item immediately after acquiring it and shift my focus on the shiny new thing I want just moments after purchasing the last thing. The hedonic treadmill is a very real thing in my psyche, and I plan on eliminating it.
So although this No Spend Month concept isn’t new or original, I do plan on documenting it as a way to keep me on track and accountable. I hope to write what I did on all these no-spend days that allowed them to be no-spend, that way I have a template for if I want to continue No Spend April into No Spend May (and beyond!) and it perhaps can be a source of ideas for anyone else wanted to start this challenge.
Wish me luck!
I was having a tough time, emotionally, with my debt load yesterday. I was at a coffee shop I’m not the biggest fan of (I had a coupon for a dollar coffee to try their new blend) and I needed a space to study for a work course free from the distractions of home and my adorable little puppy (insert shameless brag here) so there I was. However studying was a struggle; I had a shopping relapse earlier in the day and the guilt was setting in.
I knew I shouldn’t have walked in to my favourite resale/thrift store when I saw the 50% off sign. I should’ve kept going. I walked in and I did the whole mind-blank thing; no logic or reasoning could push through as I bee-lined with my items to the cash register. A never worn before Columbia fleece jacket for $15. A J.Crew dress with its $200 price tag on it for $20. Old me would’ve been on Cloud 9 at those “deals,” but nearly $60k in debt me should’ve stayed the $%#$# away.
Now that I’ve decided 2017 will be my most frugal year ever, I’ve been working on finding lots of free things to do to fill my days (boredom is a huge spending trigger, after all). Earlier this week I went to go see a free showing of the 2006 documentary Manufactured Landscapes, followed by a Q&A with the producers. I’m not just happy I saw this film because it was a free way to spend an evening; I’m thrilled I saw it because it shook me to the core.
Have you ever looked at an item you wanted to buy in a shop, under bright store lights and posed tantalizingly on it’s display, and think, where did this object come from? I know it may say made in China, or India, or Italy, etc, but do you know exactly where? Have you thought about the person who held that item in their hands as they made it, or assembled it, or packaged it up, so it can eventually land in your hands? Speaking of packaging, where did that wrapping come from? Who are the people that helped produce that wrapping, then ship it out to wherever your new item was, wherever it was at that stage? Who put it all together? Hey, how did item arrive to my country, my city, my local mall? Did it come on a ship? Then trucks? Oh wow, how much fuel did that all take?! How journey did this shiny new object take to get here?
I originally was going to name this post “you should go love yourself” but stopped short because a) as a millennial, I don’t want to be automatically pegged as a “Belieber” *shudders*and b) I’m going to discuss some stuff that might come across as a little “woo-woo” (that I’ll make a solid effort in proving it’s markedly un-woo and rooted in human psychology) and don’t want to harm my case any further.
Once upon a time, before I was in a relationship (and before my debt made me into a bad girlfriend), I was recommended a book called “Why Men Love B!tches” (I realize my editing is a pathetically thin veil to hide the cuss) by Sherry Argov. I can almost see you rolling your eyes at the title, and I really wish this book was named differently so it can get some more cred for some of its strong points, but bare with me.
This book was recommended to me by a former female powerhouse boss who said it’s a great place to learn sales negotiation. As the author explains, she uses the term “b!tch” as a tongue-in-cheek way to imply a person who is incredibly grounded in themselves and in their self-respect, puts their well-being as their top priority and always acts in a manner of confidence, poise, and a healthy high self-regard. My old manager claimed it was a great way to learn that how to confidently put your offer on the table, and be willing to walk away when the terms weren’t going to be good for you. No doormats here.
I’ve been having a hard time fleshing out a good time to post my round-ups. Should it be monthly? Or whenever I make some big strides? Should I do bi-weekly, so report how much money I put on my debt with each paycheque? I’ve put my foot down now and said monthly; if it’s not consistent and I only report on the wins, that’s a biased report on what I’m actually doing with my money. Bi-weekly may just be too cumbersome. So I’ve decided I’m going to do monthly, on the last weekend of every month. I will be doing February’s catch-up post below.
Before I get into the numbers, I want to note that I put some solid money down on my debt. I feel great about it, but it comes with the big asterisk that this was due to my 2016 sales bonus having come in. Back before I started this blog, I would eagerly seek out other PF blogs that had a debt count-down chart, and every so often, many of these scenarios would have a massive decrease in a short period of time that helped gain momentum. I’ve seen things like my piece of art I made suddenly got sold, or I sold my house, or I moved in with my parents and didn’t need to pay rent anymore. And I’d think great, so now I completely can’t relate as I can barely even draw stick figures, I have no house to sell and I pay my own way and will continue to do so. How will I ever get this awesome windfall to help lower my interst payments and help get some momentum going? It was straight up discouraging. So I’d like to note that although I’ve worked my buns off for my sales bonus, it does act like a “windfall” when it comes to my debt pay-off, and I acknowledge that. I am solemnly aware that the real work still lies ahead – the working with my regular salary to make wise choices and little sacrifices daily that will slowly but surely eat away at my debt.
Once upon a time my debt didn’t consume me. I hung around other people in debt, and I was young and foolish enough to think I can put a stop to my spending addicition whenever I really decided to put the brakes on it. Those were happier times. Ignorance truly can be bliss.
When I finally woke up and started to realize that I was way in over my head, I became terrified at what I got myself into. My big revelation and then obsession with beating my spending addiction and getting out from the mountain of debt I’ve accumulated happened about a year into dating my boyfriend (we’ve been together 3 years). There was definitely a shift in my personality as I went from the happy-go-lucky girl that wanted to squeeze the joy and life out of each day (even if it cost me a fortune I didn’t have) to having an emotional load almost bigger than my debt itself be placed squarely on my shoulders. The emotional cost of debt is real, and it could knocks the happy right out of you.
From my revelation onwards, I know I haven’t been the same person to live with. My debt has made me depressed, worsened my insomnia, and has made me constantly stressed, fatigued, scared, and anxious. To add insult to injury, relapsing into having a bad spend day (or bad spend week….or sometimes bad spend month) just exacerbates those feelings to an extreme degree, with an added heap of guilt, regret, and shame to top it off. Overall, my debt has put me in a bad place. Living with my boyfriend means he’s the unfortunate roomate of that bad place that I seem to be permanently residing in.
I am proud to be the child of an immigrant family. My parents left their tiny Mediterranean villages and all their families back in the 70’s with the intent to gain a good life, but also to invest their livelihoods into contributing and giving back to this nation and its fabric in return. I believe that is a common wish for all those who come here seeking a new start.
I have a lot to say on this topic but I hold back; if I began the outpour, I wouldn’t even know which of all the points I should start from, and I don’t think I would ever be done. My heart is sick since the attack in Quebec City, and I feel broken that in 2017, we still haven’t realized that the differences between us are miniscule compared to the overarching unity we share by all belonging to the human race.
What I will do, seeing this blog is about my journey with money and frugality, is write this post in honour of my immigrant mother, who has been the best financial role model for frugality and conscious spending that I could have asked for (woe has befallen me for not having followed in her footsteps!)
My previous life of flagrant consumerism has always been a source of confusion and worry and likely even insult to mom, who has taught me by both example and admonition how to save and stretch a dollar. To date, she has never made more than 30,000 a year, and managed to single-handedly raise 2 kids in a paid off home that was always full of delicious food, lots of guests, and all the important creature comforts that kept us happy. I didn’t even realize we were a low-income family until I turned 18 and worked for a bank and realized how much other people make. That’s how richly we lived on so little, thanks to my mama’s money principles. To this day, she will tell you she’s always been blessed with more than enough.